Friday, 03 February 2017

Book Reviews: 3 February


once-were-sistersONCE WE WERE SISTERS by Sheila Kohler (Canongate, £14.99)
‘We are the blind leading the blind,’ writes Sheila Kohler in her memoir. Isn’t that so often the case in families?

Not that the author’s family background is, in any other respects, typical. Born in Johannesburg in 1941, Kohler grew up in a house with its own golf course and an army of servants (as well as a nanny hired, of course, through the pages of The Lady).

It was a privileged upbringing that Kohler shared with her sister Maxine, and even when the two siblings became married mothers, living separate lives on different continents, their strong bond remained. But then, disaster struck: just before she turned 40, Maxine was killed by her abusive heart surgeon husband in a car crash, leaving six young children behind.

Even 35 years after this devastating event, the author’s grief and regret are palpable, and her questions remain unanswered. But Kohler never wallows in the tragedy she so vividly describes: an award-winning novelist and short story writer with 13 previous titles to her name, her narrative is at once intensely evocative and rigorously pared back. Its restlessness is the reflection of a grieving mind still struggling to make sense of her loss.
Stephanie Cross

Wait-for-me-JackWAIT FOR ME, JACK by Addison Jones (Sandstone Press, £8.99)
Wait For Me, Jack is the fifth novel by Scottish writer Addison Jones, who previously wrote under the name Cynthia Rogerson. Beginning in the early 2000s and working backwards to 1950, this is a story of a marriage told in reverse.

Milly and Jack meet in San Francisco at the age of 21; he is a war hero, and she a secretary. When she marries and has children, Milly begins to feel as though her identity has been stolen. Jack is working in a job he hates and is frustrated at how his life is panning out. And so the conflict begins, and escalates as the years go on.

We meet the couple when they are elderly; Milly has trouble with her mobility, and Jack despises his role of caregiver and often reflects on his secret life, a world of infidelity and children with other women.

As they examine their lives, they realise they have simply settled for less – she fights her inner thoughts about her children and how they do not fulfil her, and he feels short- changed by the American Dream. But the experiences they have shared over 60 years ultimately bind them together. Told from both of their perspectives, with a dash of black humour, it is an insightful book that reveals home truths about love. A compulsive read.


Stranger-in-my-HomeA mother's nightmare

THE STRANGER IN MY HOME by Adele Parks (Headline Review, £7.99)

Having published two historical novels recently (If You Go Away, Spare Brides), Adele Parks has made a return to contemporary fiction. However, those expecting ‘chick lit’ will be disappointed. But those who are aware of Parks’s literary genius will trust the author and her chosen subject.

Her latest begins with a knock on the door from a stranger who delivers the news that Alison Mitchell’s daughter, born 15 years ago, was accidentally swapped at birth. Until then, Alison’s life had been picture-perfect: she had a nice home and a loving husband, and was obsessed with her daughter, Katherine. She believes what the stranger has told her – and so a nightmare begins.

Parks has taken a sensitive, albeit uncommon, subject and given it a focal point. In her characterisation of Alison, she explores identity and the complexities of a mother’s love, before the life-changing news introduces suspicion, fear and doubt. Parks’s handling of the characters and plot invites the reader to question their own morals and loyalty, so this novel has a darker premise than her previous ones. A slow-burning story that speeds up halfway through, its pace mirrors Alison’s psyche as it unravels, holding the reader in suspense before packing a final punch. Unpredictable and gripping until the end.
Lyndsy Spence


Braiding, camouflage, nautical details: the influence of military attire on civilian fashions goes back a long way. In his introduction, fashion historian Colin McDowell traces this conjuring trick of ‘turning dress meant to terrify into a fashion statement meant to beguile’ to the slashed sleeves of German 15th-century Landesknecht militiamen, later adopted by courtiers. This impeccably designed book is a glittering parade of examples from contemporary fashion.


A selection of arresting photography from catwalk fashion and street style is structured around the themes of Ceremony, Campaign, Legionnaire, Dazzle, Nautical, East meets West and notorious – interspersed with images of historical influences and quotes from fashion luminaries. A fashion feast trimmed with interesting cultural insights.
Juanita Coulson


THE FACE OF WAR: Writings From The Frontline 1937-1985 by Martha Gellhorn (Eland Publishing, £12.99)
Striking-looking, confident and fearless, journalist, travel writer and novelist Martha Gellhorn (1908-1998) was the third wife and muse of the American writer Ernest Hemingway, and one of the first female war correspondents. After leaving Hemingway – she couldn’t bear his alcoholism and bullying – Gellhorn spent the rest of her life seeking out war zones and coaxing military men into doing her bidding. This book is a collection of 50 years of crisp wartime journalism, selected by Gellhorn herself, covering conflicts in Spain, Germany, Finland, Israel, China and Vietnam. In The Third Winter, written in Barcelona in 1938, she describes crowded cafés along the Ramblas, with everyone out ‘enjoying the cold afternoon sunlight’, and empty flower stalls, as the flowers had all been sold for the funerals of those killed in the morning bombings. Although her writing bears a marked similarity to Hemingway’s, Gellhorn has far more sympathy for the suffering people she observes. Recommended for history lovers. Rebecca Wallersteiner

MADAME SOLARIO by Gladys Huntington (Persephone Books, £12)
First published anonymously in 1956, this is a tale of infatuation, deception and abandonment. Set on Lake Como in 1906, it vividly captures a leisurely, lost Edwardian world – the ‘voluminous chiffon veils’ thrown over women’s large hats, silk parasols, the ‘almost excessive beauty of the winding lake surrounded by mountains’ and ‘classical villas standing among cypress trees’. In this sensuous atmosphere, impressionable young Englishman Bernard Middleton is instantly attracted to Madame Solario, a beautiful woman with a shadowy past – just as mysterious as the author herself. In her youth, Gladys Huntington spent summers at the Italian lakes and died shortly after this book was published to great critical acclaim. Enchanting, if a trifle long. RW


As the season of dieting ends, it’s time to enjoy food again – but you needn’t pile on the pounds. By Juanita Coulson


DELICIOUSLY ELLA WITH FRIENDS: Healthy Recipes To Love, Share And Enjoy Together by Ella Mills (Yellow Kite, £25))
With dreary January drawing to a close, we can begin to think again of dinner parties and conviviality – no one wants to put effort into hosting and cooking, only to be told by your guests, boringly, that they’re on a diet. In her hotly anticipated third book, bestselling food writer, healthy eating guru and love-her-or-hate- her phenomenon Ella Mills (née Woodward) turns her attention to recipes for entertaining. From kitchen suppers to weekend brunches and celebrations, she offers great ideas for easy, healthy party food; clean eating has never looked or tasted such fun. A great way to ease yourself back into social eating, but without undoing all the good work.

YASHIM COOKS ISTANBUL: Culinary Adventures In The Ottoman Kitchen by Jason Goodwin (Argonaut Books, £25)
A cookbook inspired by a series of detective novels is an unusual and intriguing premise. Jason Goodwin’s bestselling investigator Yashim mysteries, set in Ottoman Istanbul, feature mouthwatering descriptions of food – the sleuth turns out to be a gourmand. The book is a fascinating glimpse into the city, its history and its culinary traditions. Infused with the exotic flavours of the region, dishes include fragrant ruby pilaf, coriander chicken with lemon and sumac, and a five-star hummus – you’ll never want the bland ready- made version again. An attractive cookbook-cum-travelogue, packed with indulgent yet healthy food – perfect for reawakening your taste buds.

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