Archive for March, 2013

true history of black adderThe True History of the Black Adder is, as one would expect from the title, a history of the Blackadder TV series. What it is not is a dry who talked with whom (with or without menaces) to bring the comic geniuses that are the Blackadder together – because, Balders, there was no cunning plan about this one. It was just crotchety, malign Fate who just happened to standing in the shadows with a sock full of lead as the BBC executives took an attractive wad of cash out of the ATM of light entertainment programming and inflicted four six-episode series on the dribbling, puling masses. What were they expecting? A man in a gorilla suit? Historical accuracy? The recipe for turnip jam sandwiches? No; they got more success than they bargained for, which is no feat I can assure you. And that’s what this book is all about – malign Fate. I meant “success”, forget that I mentioned malign Fate; she’ll be getting her own book next week.

This book is for lovers of the Blackadder TV series, but better than that it is also for those who had a passable interest in the shows and wanted to know that little bit more. It’s also for those who have an interest in the British comedy flowering of the late seventies and early eighties and how it became interconnected. The book also tracks what the stars, writers and producers of the Blackadder series did after it all stopped happening.

So saunter down to shops before the hoi polloi open another chain of crepe and kebab shops and get yourself a copy of this book. If nothing else it has some great pictures of the cast, which you can tear out and pin to a dartboard – or not.

Published by Preface Publishing

Supplied by Random House

Reviewed by Simon

iron winterIt seems that Baxter really does believe in torturing the inhabitants of his alternate history with natural disasters far beyond anything that happened in the actual past. In “Iron Winter”, in the equivalent of our fourteenth century, he ramps up the “Little Ice Age”, bringing in the cool climate change much faster and harder than actually occurred. Extelur rapidly ices up, and millions of people across Europe die or are displaced. The Hatti evacuate and head for Carthage (in this world, Hannibal won, the Romans lost) where they are not exactly welcome…

It’s in the midst of this turmoil that Baxter sends one of his central characters, the aging philosopher Pyxeas, all the way from Extelur, across Europe and then along the Silk Road to Cathay, seeking the missing pieces of the puzzle that will explain why the world is cooling. I’m not entirely certain that Baxter’s explanation works to account for the full amount of variation from reality, but it’s credible enough for the story.

This is an epic disaster movie of a novel – and I don’t mean that as a criticism. It has a great background, and strong characters, struggling to survive in a world that is rapidly turning hostile. Yes, that sometimes turns them against each other, but the great enemy is not in the least human, it is the implacable force of climate change. Are there lessons to be learned here, as our society faces a similar enemy? Quite possibly, and in any case, this is undoubtedly a good read.

Gollancz

Supplied by Hatchette New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

Bronze Summer review

bronze summer Now, I’ll admit that I cheated. I borrowed a copy of “Stone Spring” from the library to read first and get some of the background before reading “Bronze Summer” as it is the second book of the trilogy. Now, while it did give some setting and context, it wasn’t essential as the three books are set millennia apart, and have an entirely separate cast of characters.

The “Northland” trilogy is an unusual take on alternate history in that the turning point is so far back that we are actually talking alternate pre-history. “Stone Spring” is set deep in the Mesolithic, when the ice caps are melting and the seas rising, threatening Etxelur, the drowned lands beneath the North Sea that archaeologists know as Doggerland. Baxter brings a character all the way from ancient Jericho to introduce new building techniques—featuring the humble brick—and those skills are used to construct a wall to hold back the sea.

Which brings us to “Bronze Summer”. It’s now the Bronze Age, around 1159 BC, and everything is about to go to custard with the eruption of one of the more notorious Icelandic volcanoes, Hekla a.k.a. the Hood. The Greeks have demolished Troy—and our primary villain is an obsessive Trojan who finds his way to Etxelur. Our heroine is Miliqa, daughter of the Annid of Annids, matriarch of Etxelur—who was thought to have died in a hunting accident. But she was assassinated, an iron arrowhead found in her chest. Miliqa must find out who did this, and why… and then she must save the Wall, or Etxelur will perish. The Year of the Fire Mountain is a year without a summer, which means famine, which that leads to war, across the known world. This is not a small-scale story!

Baxter has done his homework, and his altered world is almost perfectly believable. I just had the odd quibble about marching entire armies across Bronze Age Europe in time of famine. Mind you, Alexander the Great got to India…

Gollancz

Supplied by Hatchette New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

private no 1 suspectEx-marine Jack Morgan runs the largest security firm in the world – Private – with offices in 24 countries.  Returning home from a business trip, he finds his former girlfriend in their bed, dead, shot with Jack’s own gun.  Convinced of his guilt, the police are looking for evidence against him, not anyone else.

Private steps in to find the real killer, while juggling other cases; a killer targeting business in hotels owned by the same person, an out of control movie star, and finding a stolen van full of illegal prescription drugs.  Jack is dealing with the grief of losing his ex-girlfriend, while trying to win back a former lover and work colleague.  Hovering in the wings is a pretty hotel owner he likes.

I enjoyed this book; the intertwine of the various cases made for an intriguing read, and the chapters were short enough to remember details as the characters POV changed.

The plot was fast paced with plenty of action, and the characters were likeable (if they were the good guys).  I was a bit exasperated with Jack sometimes; he was a nice guy but doesn’t think when it comes to women.  Wanting to reconcile with Justine while waiting for Jinx to bring dinner?  What a jerk.  Only he’s not a jerk, just confused.

Good if you want an easy read with plenty of action and some mystery.

Arrow Books

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

rise up and bakeI own a lot of cookery books, including half a dozen specifically about baking bread, so it takes a bit of persuasion to get me to shell out real money for a bread cookery book, but this one won me over with its friendly presentation, and just as importantly, a couple of recipes that really caught my eye. There was a ham hock terrine that looked like a great way to use up a hock from the freezer in summer (it goes with a crusty baguette). And there was a new method for sour dough bread that I thought might be worth trying.

It wasn’t until I got it home and started reading that I realised something that would have made my mind up even quicker. I got to “Local Cheese Loaf” and read the introduction “With our bakery just a few miles from Cheddar…” A bit of searching on the internet, and I found that the “Thoughtful Bread Company” is based in the village of Farrington Gurney, just a handful of miles from my childhood home village of Rode, near Bath in England. I was so glad I’d bought their book. Just to look at the pictures (there are plenty of them, and they’re not just of food) is to bring back memories.

But that is, of course, no recommendation for the rest of the world. No, what commends this book is its excellent selection of bread recipes, old and new, written in a clear, modern, and easy to follow style, with tempting photos and recipes for things to serve with the bread. For example, the “Crunchy Cracker Bread” – a great way to use up that leftover lump of pizza dough – comes with a selection of dips to try. I made that cracker bread and it vanished…

This is a bread book that makes you want to bake. It begins by explaining how to get started in bread making with exhaustive instructions (including pictures) for an “Everyday White Bread”. It goes on to share the secrets of “Tiger Bread”, “Rye Crackers” and “Sourdough” among lots of others. Many recipes come with suggested variations – like the “Chocolate Brioche Buns” and the “Focaccia of 1000 Toppings”.  Finally there is a selection of recipes for “Crust-2-Crust Eating” and they’re so right, you should never have to buy breadcrumbs. It’s all good, and I’m very glad this book found me. (Oh, and as an added bonus, the authors are the professional bakers featured in “The Big Bread Experiment” which recently screened on Food TV).

Murdoch Books

Purchased from Book Clearance, Onehunga

Reviewed by Jacqui

empty spaceI have this thing about modern art – I know what I like to look at, and it generally isn’t the stuff that art critics seem to make so much of. And it seems to me that this book is a modern art installation in the form of a science fiction novel. The central image of a corpse, suspended in empty space, slowing fading away, surely belongs in an art gallery. I am sure that the literary critics will love this novel, and I’m fairly sure that many SF readers will find it as difficult to read as I did. It’s disturbing, it’s bleak, and it’s full of genitalia, many of them juvenile (which I have to admit I found very distracting, in an “is this really  necessary?” sort of way).

I have a sneaking suspicion that I’ve seen one of the other stories in this trilogy previously, but I’m not sure that it matters that much – “Empty Space” is presented as a stand-alone novel, although it clearly draws on “Light”, and “Nova Swing”. There are three main threads in this novel, one set in the near future, focusing on Anna Waterman, whose first husband, Michael Kearney, was a physicist who committed suicide in one of the earlier novels. What was most interesting about her (she’s quite demented in the medical sense) was the world of 2050 she lives in – much like the world we live in, except on the other side of an economic meltdown, beginning when China collapses in 2020. But most of the action takes place farther in the future, somewhen around 4510, in the worlds around the Kefahuchi Tract, a naked singularity hanging in deep space, spitting out quantum weirdness. Fat Antoyne works on the shady side of the law, and just now he’s got a job collecting mort safes and stowing them in the hold of the Nova Swing. Meanwhile, Epstein who is a cop, Gaines the EMC fixer, and the nominally challenged assistant are all variously trying to figure out what is going on and why Toni Reno’s corpse is floating in mid-air…

At the end it all collapses together in a strange cross-temporal singularity, something I was starting to anticipate as the only way all this weirdness could end—though it did so abruptly and without quite enough exposition. That said, it is by no coincidence that this book is sub-titled “the Haunting”, because I guarantee it will haunt you…

Gollancz

Supplied by Hatchette New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

get fresh with al brownOnce upon a time there was no such thing as a distinct Kiwi cuisine – unless you count colonial goose followed by pavlova and ANZAC biscuits! It’s apparent right from the introduction to this book that Al Brown believes that not only is there a New Zealand style of cooking, there ought to be regional specialities as well, based on what’s available and fresh in that part of the country. This contention is supported a discussion of ingredients and producers from some of the regions (arranged in a somewhat eclectic order), each accompanied by a menu showcasing the area, all directly taken from his TV series.

The book is beautifully presented, with sumptuous photographs, not just of the dishes, but also of people and places around New Zealand. Unlike a lot of cookery books it’s cleverly bound in such a way that it sits flat on the kitchen bench. This is a bit of a waste because there are only thirty recipes, many of which are a bit daunting for a home cook! Although Al is quite good at detailing the method, he is definitely a chef, and the sheer length of the ingredient lists is likely to deter most cooks from trying these dishes – a pity, since some of them look delectable.

If I may compare “Get Fresh” with other books from my collection that are also based on the kind of cookery TV that combines food with travel – such as the “Hairy Bikers” books or even “Kiwi Kitchen” – I have to say that “Get Fresh” has a relatively low ratio of recipe content to other content. Now, this is probably because it’s based directly on the series, but to only present the recipes seen on TV, while adding extra material in other areas, means that the book is a lot less than it could have been.

I also suspect a lot of that other content, mostly relating to food producers and markets will date quite quickly. I was most interested in the pages on the Otara market – it beats me why people always go on about the Otara market, and never mention any of the other South Auckland markets (like the Mangere one I visit most Saturdays). His South Auckland menu begins with an appropriately island-style raw fish dish, followed by an Indian chicken curry, and a rice pudding with tropical fruit that I really doubt I’ll ever see brought to a church dinner here in Mangere! Or anything like… There’s so much more that could have been done to show off the cross-cultural cuisine of this city!

This is more a book about food and cookery than a cookery book, the sort that relates more to a comfy chair and a coffee table than the kitchen. It’s about New Zealand and its food producers, filling in the details that weren’t able to be covered in the TV series – and I’m sure that if you liked that series, you’d love this book. It’s written in a very chatty style, so it’s easy to pick it up and browse an article or two. It would be a great resource for any foodie who should happen to be travelling around New Zealand. It even comes with a CD of quite acceptable local music….

Random House New Zealand

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui