Friday, 05 May 2017

Book Reviews: 5 May

The Lady reviews the latest books available to buy or download now


secret-well-keptA SECRET WELL KEPT: THE UNTOLD STORY OF VERNON KELL, FOUNDER OF MI5 by Constance Kell (Conway, £16.99)
In 1909, spy mania gripped the country, whipped up by a frenzy of outlandish media reports and fictional accounts of German invasions. In response to the public outcry that secret agents were hiding all over the country, the government established a secret service bureau to counter espionage in Britain and collect intelligence from abroad. Not long after its conception, the fledgling bureau divided into two separate organisations: intelligence collection became known as MI6 and counter-intelligence as MI5. For the first 31 years of its existence, the head of MI5 was Vernon Kell.

First written as a family memoir by Kell’s widow, Constance, in the late 1940s, this book recounts his journey from a talented Army linguist to the longest- serving head of any British intelligence agency. More than half of the book is taken up by the early years of the Kells’ marriage. The couple travelled to China for Vernon to learn Mandarin in time for the Boxer Rebellion, and they soon found themselves on the frontline of a violent insurgency. Wonderfully recounted in the laconic style of Edwardian England, with comprehensive historical footnotes.
Stephen Coulson

id-die-for-youI'D DIE FOR YOU: AND OTHER LOST STORIES by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Simon & Schuster, £16.99)
One of the greatest American writers of the 20th century, F. Scott Fitzgerald is as celebrated for his novels as he is for his short stories. Famous for documenting the jazz age in classics such as The Great Gatsby, he was also in possession of a more serious side and, after the partying had ended, this is what he intended to express most. Scott Fitzgerald’s darker side is captured in this unique collection of short stories, all of which were either lost or rejected by publishers for being too unsavoury. They document poverty, divorce and suicide – at odds with the usually frivolous themes needed to sell magazines.

Spanning his entire career, the volume includes The I.O.U, a parody of the publishing world, written when he was only 23. Nightmare, a fantasy that’s set in a psychiatric hospital, is a daring exploration of insanity, while I’d Die For You is an unsparing tale of suicide. Accompanied by detailed notes, the author’s handwritten changes to manuscripts have all been duly incorporated into the stories, honouring his editorial wishes. And, almost 80 years after his death, this volume bears testament to a towering literary talent, one who remains at the pinnacle of modern literature.
Elizabeth Fitzherbert


cape-horners-clubSailing to the world's end

THE CAPE HORNER'S CLUB by Adrian Flanagan (Bloomsbury, £18.99)
At the southernmost point of South America’s Tierra del Fuego archipelago, Isla Hornos belies its tiny size with a legendarily fearsome reputation. This is Cape Horn, and to round it from the Atlantic to the Pacific is to conquer the world’s most treacherous seaway. With no land east or west to temper the elements, storms lash this stretch of ocean 300 days of the year, hurricane-force winds and roiling currents charging mountainous, boat- splintering waves. For a yachtsman, this is the ultimate test of seamanship, the equivalent of the climber’s everest, and the roll-call of sailors to singlehandedly prevail against the fury of nature glitters with legendary names: Francis Chichester, Chay Blyth and Robin Knox-Johnston among them.

This beautiful book by Adrian Flanagan, a ‘Cape Horner’ himself, celebrates these dauntless adventurers. Alternating with chapters on meteorology, wave formation and the region’s maritime history are biographies and excerpts from accounts of various voyages that present a fascinating insight into the character of the lone yachtsman (and indeed the lone yachtswoman). Their impulse to push human endurance to its furthest horizon and risk all in the pursuit of some unknown may inspire, or it may bewilder, but with Flanagan at the helm it is never less than fascinating.
Richard Tarrant


BOTANICAL SKETCHBOOKS by Helen and William Bynum (Thames and Hudson, £29.95)
Botanical sketchbooks is a thoughtfully edited collection of plant sketches from the 15th to the 20th century, as recorded by amateur artists and plant hunters from all over the world, as well as famous names such as Leonardo da Vinci, John Constable and Beatrix Potter. Eighty-five painters are featured and filed under Collectors, Naturalists, Making Art and a Pleasing Occupation. Adjacent text presents the provenance of plants and interesting snippets about the illustrators.

For example, Redouté is now famous for his depictions of roses, but in his lifetime, his prints were a financial disaster. For anyone who loves to draw or is a gardener keen to discover the origin of exotic plants, this fascinating book, printed on quality matt paper, is something to treasure. Hugh St Clair


VINEGAR GIRL by Anne Tyler (Vintage, £8.99)
First commissioned for the Hogarth Shakespeare series, featuring retellings of the Bard’s plays by leading writers to mark the 400th anniversary of his death last year, Tyler’s Ttake on The Taming of the Shrew is a bittersweet comedy with some stinging contemporary resonance. Her eye for family dynamics and telling domestic detail make her the perfect match for this tale of arranged marriage and intergenerational power struggles. Feisty Kate lives with her father, Dr Battista, an academic who is on the verge of a breakthrough, in present-day Baltimore. When his immigrant laboratory assistant Pyotr is about to be deported, Dr Battista then tries to marry him off to a horrified Kate. As this is a retelling, there is no need for spoiler alerts: and the ‘kiss me, Katya’ moment, when it finally arrives, happens to put a surprising twist on this acutely observed and quirkily humorous novel. This paperback reissue is an ideal light but intelligent read to take on holiday. Juanita Coulson

MEMORIES: FROM MOSCOW TO THE BLACK SEA by Teffi, translated by Robert Chandler, Elizabeth Chandler, Anne Marie Jackson and Irina Steinberg (Pushkin Press, £9.99)
Nadezhda Alexandrovna Lokhvitskaya (1872- 1952), aka ‘Teffi’, was a literary sensation in Tsarist Russia, until the revolution forced her to emigrate. A symbolist poet, playwright and satirist, she was famed for her breezy, comic sketches and had a huge following. This heartrending memoir, written as she fled into exile in 1918 by cart, freight-train and dilapidated steamer, paints a fascinating picture of a troubling period, detailing what refugees ate (sawdust- bread), fantasised about (pastries filled with cream) and feared (Red Guards). This was to be Teffi’s last journey across Russia, but many of the political currents swirling around her have resurfaced, making this re-issue timely. Written with a poet’s sensitivity, it examines what it means to leave everything behind. A compelling but disturbing read. Rebecca Wallersteiner


The latest healthy cookbooks liberate us from the tyranny of fads and free-from in favour of real food. By Juanita Coulson 

Forget fashions and fads; this fabulous cookbook cuts through the hype to offer a balanced diet for the health needs of middle age. No restricting or superfoods here, but common sense: less sugar, better fats and good carbs. Mimi and Sam use a star anise with each point representing a ‘midlife health’ category, such as hormone harmony or heart health, to signpost recipes. Simple nutritional advice is offered alongside dishes that are high on exciting flavours as well as health benefits: three-ginger fire cake, or the ultimate Greek salad. This is food that is enjoyable, easy to prepare and will make you feel energised.

HOW TO EAT BETTER by James Wong (Mitchell Beazley, £20)
Otanist, writer and broadcaster James Wong has teamed up with registered nutritionist Dr Emma Derbyshire to help us navigate the maze of supposed ‘miracle ingredients’, demonised food groups and free-from fads that dominate the healthy-eating scene. What this offers, instead, is an accessible guide, informed by science, to healthy eating. The book’s 80 recipes appeal, but the real genius here is the shopping, cooking and storing tips to maximise the health benefits of ingredients. Choose a Braeburn apple for double the antioxidants of other varieties; or cook broccoli with mustard to increase its cancer- preventing potential. Who knew? Store your spiraliser and start enjoying proper food again.

Tweet us your recipe reads @TheLadyMagazine using #ladyrecipereads

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