The Picador Book of 40

(Picador) ISBN 9781447219040

 

It is fitting that my last review of the year is this book with a selection of 40 interpretations of the number forty by some of the authors whose books I have discussed in 2012, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Picador.

 

Kevin Wilson (from The Family Fang) wrote an eccentric story about a family with forty children, the peculiarity of the family Fang ringing through.

Naomi Wood, known for her dystopian novel The Godless Boys, describes, in a thought-provoking way, a woman travelling back through the day of her 40th birthday.

 

The author of The Sea on Fire, Howard Cunnell, wrote a story about a memorable experience when scuba diving 40 metres down in the Baltic Sea.

Other contributors are Alice Sebold (Lovely Bones), Ellen Feldman (Next to Love) and Stuart Evers (Is this Home).

 

The authors have each interpreted the number forty in a different way, with poems, a reflection on working for Picador, or a list of forty parties in forty weeks. My favourite one was Emma Straub’s ‘Gifts I would like to receive for my 40th Birthday’, with ‘one butter sculpture, preferably in the shape of a horse,’ on her list.

 

The book is entertaining and good for a holiday break.

 

Pauline Vijverberg

3.5/5

 

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White Truffles in Winter

by N.M. Kelby (Alma Books) R206 ISBN 9781846882074 

This beautiful, well written book has enthralled me completely. It is a book so special that as Markus Zusak says, I want to carry it around with me just to stay near it. 

If, in the words of Escoffier, ‘cooking is the marriage of science and poetry,’ then this book is the marriage of love stories and cooking. 

Delphine, the poet and wife of French chef Escoffier, is dying and her last wish is that he creates a dish for her, because with a dish named after her, she will live for ever. Escoffier has designed meals in his restaurants at the Ritz and the Savoy for emperors and queens and for the famous actress, Sarah Bernardt.

No one remembers opera singer, Nellie Melba, but everyone has had a pêche Melba. 

But he has always refused to make a meal especially designed for Delphine, because ‘one should never attempt to define the sublime’. Delphine asks the kitchen girl Sabine to help her convince him. The book is set just before the Second World War, when Escoffier is writing his Memoirs in Meals

White Truffles in Winter is full of unforgettable phrases and mouth-watering descriptions: a delight to read. 

Pauline Vijverberg
5/5

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The Bees

by Carol Ann Duffy (Picador) ISBN 9780330442459

 

British poet Carol Ann Duffy, winner of the Costa Prize for poetry 2011, has produced a gem. There are no other words for it.

 

She knows how to capture rhythm (Echo). She has an eye for composition. Her poems are accessible. There is synchrony in the lightness and intensity of her poems. The Bees is delicate and hard hitting, poignant poetry.

 

Duffy deals with a variety of subjects in a broad cross section of life: grief over a mother’s death (Water), the life of a soldier told backwards (Last Post), the lament of the world’s suffering (Atlas) or a poem written for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (Rings).

 

And bees: weaved through all her poems is the spirit of the bees. They stray into a poem or hover at its edge. The bees are a metaphor for grace and for what is valuable and for what needs to be protected.

 

I can’t remember the last time that I was moved so much by poetry. Duffy’s poems have left me longing for more.

 

Pauline Vijverberg

5/5

 

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The Light Behind the Window

by Lucinda Riley (Pan) ISBN 9781447218425

 

The cover promised a breath-taking and intense story of love, war and above all, forgiveness. I was disappointed. It is written without soul.

 

The story is set in France and England and moves between 1943 and the present.  During the war, Connie is trained as an agent and sent to Paris. Instead of working for the resistance, she ends up living with an aristocratic family and looking after the blind Sophia.

 

The preconceived ideas of the roles of men and women irritated me most. Sophia is ‘not equipped by birth to deal with what was happening to her’ and the brother is the hero with clenching jaw lines and hard passionate kisses.

 

The woman in the present, Emilie, also from an upper-class family, is like her distant relative depicted as vulnerable and helpless. She is the sole heir of an estate in the South of France. She is lured into marriage by a greedy, but dashing Sebastian. His handicapped brother lives in their dilapidated castle close to York. Can it be more clichéd?

 

Lucinda Riley has sold over 180,000 copies in the UK for her previous book, so there must be a market for this. For me, this book was a waste of time.

 

Pauline Vijverberg

1/5

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How Stella Saved the Farm

by Vijay Govindarajan & Chris Trimble (MacMillan) ISBN 9780230761360

 

This business fiction book uses a fable to show how to make innovation happen in a company.

 

A farm run by animals is on the verge of bankruptcy and may be acquired by their (human-run) competitor. The innovative idea is to expand the (sheep) wool business by introducing a luxury item: wool of Peruvian Alpacas.

 

In the second part it goes through the eight key points to implement this idea. It mentions the challenges and risks the animals are facing. The book ends with questions and lessons to remember, like the importance of disciplined experimentation.

 

Story telling works and it is a good tool to catalyse the learning process, as the authors say in the preface. I think this book would work best as a syllabus that is part of a workshop or seminar. It shows how a company or organisation can successfully incorporate innovation initiatives in simple ways. It provides practical methods, without threatening the core business.

 

The storyline is straightforward, and because of that, easy to remember. The illustrations by Keny Widjaja are cheerful. The tone of the book is maybe intended not to intimidate, but with that I think the authors have limited their target market.

 

Pauline Vijverberg

3/5

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The House of Memories

by Monica McInerney (MacMillan) R195 ISBN 9780230763012

 

Ella lives in a nightmare. Her child has died. She blames her husband and her half-sister for her baby boy’s death.

 

After twenty months, her uncle, Lucas has invited her to come from Australia to his house in London. It is the House of Memories in the title. He needs her to investigate who of his four tutors is stealing from his clients. This is the pretext. Lucas and Ella’s stepbrother, Charlie have made it up in order to help her piece her life together again. Will they succeed in a reconciliation of Ella with her husband and with her half-sister?

 

The tone is light-hearted, but written with enough depth that it made me want to turn the pages and keep reading.

McInerney is the bestselling author of nine novels. In her books family values, love and relationships are recurring themes. One of the critics calls it comfort-reading.

 

I can recommend this latest work of fiction. It was well written and fast paced. 

 

Pauline Vijverberg

4/5

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Scrumptious

by Jane-Anne Hobbs (Struik) R260 ISBN 9781431702244

 

Creating memorable meals for the people you love is the author’s aim, and she writes about honest food, cooked with love, generosity and an open heart: beautiful words, but do they meet my expectation? Yes! This book has a wide range of recipes, from Thai and Middle Eastern to Italian and typically South African, with good vegetarian options.

 

Hobbs mixes old-fashioned recipes and gives them a modern twist, like onion soup with a mustard and cheese soufflé topping or lamb curry with coriander gremolata. Or she transforms a Caprese salad into a hot Caprese tart.

 

My favourite one is the white gazpacho with tomato granita. This cold soup is served in a bowl made of ice. Hobbs describes step by step how to make such a bowl. I have been looking for an unusual conversation piece at the dinner table and this will be the one.

She explains each recipe with precision: ‘one slice of lemon, no more’ and most of the ingredients are easily available. Hobbs started Scrumptious as a food blog and maybe that experience has made this cookbook so successful.

 

The photographs are also beautiful and inspiring. If only each recipe had a picture, the book would have been perfect.

 

Pauline Vijverberg

4/5

 

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The Forbidden

by F.R. Tallis (Macmillan) ISBN 9780230760806

 

The title refers to an incident at a mission hospital in the tropics in the 19th century, where young doctor Paul Clément witnessed a ritualistic murder and was prohibited to speak about it and cursed if he did.

 

Clément is fascinated by near-death experiences and back in Paris he becomes a pupil of Duchenne, the pioneer of electrical resuscitation techniques and later works for Charcot, father of neurology. Tempted by the accounts from his patients of a voyage to the frontier of eternity, he endeavours on a daring experiment.

 

Based on true historical facts and with a good dose of intellectual discussion, the book got me enthralled. The complexity of human decisions and how people are influenced and responsible for their acts are major themes. Halfway through however, it turned into too much of a blood sucking story to my taste, when Clément is possessed by a demon.

 

F.R. Tallis is an experienced writer and a clinical psychologist. A few of his crime novels have been shortlisted for crime awards. This latest work is beautifully written and imaginative, with a lot of Faust-elements and philosophical concepts, which I found fascinating and because of that I can recommend it.

 

Pauline Vijverberg

4/5

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Home

by Toni Morrison (Random House) ISBN 9780701186074

 

As a big fan of the Nobel laureate and Pulitzer Price-winner Toni Morrison, I was excited to get hold of her newest book.

 

Morrison has succeeded, again, in creating a beautiful novel, or rather a novella with its 145 pages. It is rich in allegories and her sentences read like poetry. ‘The sun, try as she might, could not scorch the yellow butterflies away from scarlet rosebushes, nor choke the song of birds.’

 

Disturbing memories of the Korean War haunt 24-year-old veteran Frank Money, a year after his return. The atrocities of the war and the death of two of his hometown friends are the reason he is now almost homeless and nearly losing his sanity. His girlfriend, Lily never asked about the war and he has never brought it up.

 

Everything changes when he gets a note that his beloved sister, who ran off with ‘that waste of the Lord’s air and time,’ is very sick. ‘Come fast. She be dead if you tarry,’ her friend writes. He returns to his birthplace Lotus in Georgia, despite his vow never to go back after an unhappy childhood.

 

In Lotus, ‘the worst place in the world, worse than any battlefield,’ he tries to come to terms with his past.

 

Pauline Vijverberg

5/5

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It worked for me

by Colin Powell and Tony Koltz (HarperCollins) ISBN: 9780062135124

 

When I picked up this book by Colin Powell about Life and Leadership, I wondered how relevant four-star general Colin Powell still was, and just then a breaking news story of Powell endorsing Barack Obama again, interrupted my thoughts. I think Powell has earned a place in history and because of that, his book is important.

 

The book is set up in six parts. In the first part he explains his famous thirteen guidelines, like get mad, then get over it, followed by four parts full of advice: kindness works, potential not just performance and mutual respect, and the last part with his reflections. I think most of his advice is something everyone already knows, but it is useful to be reminded of now and then.

 

It is a good book, full of anecdotes, personal stories and experiences of growing up as a black kid in New York, his life in the army and as Secretary of State. He mentions his regrets and writes about the achievements he is most proud of. He admits that he should have listened to more people with ground truth experience in the region and fewer idea-heavy, big egos in Washington. Maybe a lesson for the leaders of this country?

 

Pauline Vijverberg

4/5

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