Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

935885._UY200_Title: Scoop

Author: Evelyn Waugh

Review:

Lord Copper, newspaper magnate and proprietor of the Daily Beast, has always prided himself on his intuitive flair for spotting ace reporters. That is not to say he has not made the odd blunder, however, and may in a moment of weakness make another.Acting on a dinner-party tip from Mrs Algernon Smith, he feels convinced that he has hit on just the chap to cover a promising little war in the African Republic of Ishmaelia. One of Waugh’s most exuberant comedies, Scoop is a brilliantly irreverentsatire of Fleet Street and its hectic pursuit of hot news.

William is a wonderfully brilliant, eccentric and quintessential Englishman who you fall in love with immediately and who brings so much entertainment and mirth throughout the narrative. I really wanted to be his friend especially when he was choosing his equipment to go to Ishmaelia and it included a canoe for no reason whatsoever. Equally his absolutely bonkers wider family who all reside at Boot Magnet are genius and reminiscent of a scene from Charlie Bucket’s grandparents house. Lord Cooper is also fantastic and provides a character through which Waugh cleverly satirises the elite classes and the media.

Waugh’s flair and ability to capture people’s character traits is genius and this is a brilliant read that isn’t that long if you’ve got a to be read pile that’s quite high.

I’ve already got Vile Bodies on my Christmas list for this year.

Rating: 9 out of 10

 

 

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Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan

Screenshot 2015-07-25 10.11.01 Title: Bonjour Tristesse

Author: Françoise Sagan (translated by Irene Ash)

Publisher: Re-issue by Penguin Essentials (2011)

Pages: 112

Screenshot 2015-07-25 10.16.08Where to read: Ideally by the French Riviera but if getting there isn’t logistically possible a quiet corner of a park – I chose Battersea Park on a bench near the water fountains one sunny day and happily whiled away a very pleasant few hours reading.

Where to buy: Belgravia Bookshop – I’m not on commission I promise I just simply love everything about this bookshop -location, atmosphere and of course the titles it sells-  a real haven for book lovers.

Refreshments: I was in the park so didn’t have much at my disposal aside from my packed lunch which was an Ottolenghi recipe of chicken and couscous salad which isn’t exceptionally French. However, I did finish the final pages sat on my tiny balcony drinking a dry gin martini (with Tanqueray No’10  which was rather delightful -and perhaps more refined!

Review:

The French Riviera: home to the Beautiful People. And none are more beautiful than Cecile, a precocious seventeen-year-old, and her father Raymond, a vivacious libertine. Charming, decadent and irresponsible, the golden-skinned duo are dedicated to a life of free love, fast cars and hedonistic pleasures.

But then, one long, hot summer Raymond decides to marry, and Cecile and her lover Cyril feel compelled to take a hand in his amours, with tragic consequences. “Bonjour Tristesse” scandalized 1950s France with its portrayal of teenager terrible Cecile, a heroine who rejects conventional notions of love, marriage and responsibility to choose her own sexual freedom.

Cecile is our narrator for the heady three months of summer spent in a villa on the Riviera. Vibrant, manipulative and conflicted in her every waking thought and action she epitomizes the confusion of a woman emerging into adulthood and one whose equilibrium is upset by an outsider. Her father Raymond is a romantic and has his head turned by the swish of a skirt and a teasing smile the thought of growing old and domesticated is both appalling and appealing. I quickly fell in love with both of their characters and was drawn into the swirling vortex of their superficial lives and captivating beauty – one that caught anyone within a mile radius and swept them away so they forgot themselves and their lives before Raymond and Cecile.

Remarkable and aloof, Anne, entangles herself into their lives and attempts to adapt them to a life both decent and bourgeois. She is depicted as being acerbic and condescending but in actuality is trying to find her footing in a game that is being played with rules she doesn’t understand.

Sagan weaves these individuals lives with aplomb and the descriptions and detail of Cecile’s inner turmoil is simply stunning. A novella that will fit in your back pocket, handbag or simply your hand as you stroll off to the park I would recommend reading this to everyone -it’s a triumph and just so…French.

Rating: 10 out of 10

Hobnobbing at Nobu

DSC_kjpgWhere: Nobu, Berkeley Street London

When: Saturday Lunch Time, July 2015

Ambience & Service: 

Upon entering the foyer of the restaurant I thought it was going to be a dark and gloomy affair, but thankfully we were directed upstairs and into a light open restaurant and seated at a banquet.

The service was attentive and friendly -and didn’t show any sign of disapproval when I quietly requested a knife and fork, bringing one as well for my dining partner although he didn’t need them in order to make me feel better!

Food: Set lunch menu 4 courses £39 p/p 

sashimi-salad-003-mld109712_vertTuna sashimi salad with matsuhisa dressing – three substantial slices of light and fresh tuna with  a pleasant meatiness brought to life with a sharp and zingy dressing – delicious.

Nobu sushi selection – two nigiri pieces and two maki rolls with a seriously hot wasabi and agreeable pickled ginger palate cleanser. The stand out was the fresh salmon and avocado -always a crowd pleaser- with the avocado wonderfully soft and buttery against the fish.

Chicken teriyaki & steamed rice – in a word mediocre. The chicken -and there was a lot of it- was perfectly cooked but the sauce lacked flavour -as did the steamed rice- and the accompanying tomatoes and raw green beans just seemed out-of-place and a bit sad.

Whisky cappuccino dessert –  a triumphant end to the meal. A slightly harsh ground coffee bean crumb at the bottom rising up to an iced cream before finishing with a velvety whisky foam – delightful, refreshing and most welcome on a hot day.

 

Drink

Glass of prosseco on arrival was pleasing, not too fizzy and had notes of pear, the rest of the lunch was accompanied by tap water. However, diners around us looked like they were enjoying some rather exotic fruit juices and the wine list appeared extensive.

Price tag: £39 p/p + 15% service = £90

Rating: 8 out of 10 – certainly go again but next time order a straight selection of sushi as this is what they’re -quite understandably- best at.

A Debut Author and a bit of Spice

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Title: The Girl in the Red Coat

Author: Kate Hamer

Summary: She is the missing girl. But she doesn’t know she’s lost.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the story was written from two different voices, that of both Carmel and her mother Beth. A style of writing which I always find gives a richness and depth to the story by offering two distinctive view points on one incident. As the chapters are quite short, and in order to accommodate this technique, you really do need to read this book in relatively big chunks (not half the book!) in order to follow the story and get drawn into the pace and intrigue of the kidnapping and resulting fall out.

The more poignant and heart-wrenching story is that of Carmel’s mother Beth. Carmel is her world, especially after her husband left her for another woman. Even before her daughter’s disappearance she is a worrier and struggles with being overprotective. After the kidnapping, her life is blown apart and as the time passes her plight becomes more desperate as the police and well-meaning friends soon forget and leave her to her own guilt, fear and loneliness.

This is a stunning and intricate debut that draws you in and keeps the momentum and question of whether mother and daughter will be reunited to the bitter end.

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Where: Cinnamon Soho

What: ‘Signature modern Indian food with a nod to British favourites’

Service: Not great they were either understaffed or just surprisingly busy but it was slightly haphazard and inattentive – waited quite some time for both menus and a simple jug of tap water.

Drink: A welcome cocktail – this was a mango smoothie tasty but unnecessary. Then we asked about what beers they had from a waiter rushing past and without much information we defaulted to Tiger – a pint was brought and ended up being £5 which seemed expensive – also we weren’t offered any size options.

Food: Booktable deal offered 8 dishes tasting menu for two people.

  • Steamed chickpea cakes with coconut chutney (v)
    When this arrived we weren’t 100% sure what it was – it was bit like eating a spicy Victoria sponge cake with a green mouse –  but it was surprisingly light and had a hint of spice.
  • Indo-Chinese style chicken with burnt chillies
    This was my favourite. The chicken was moist and sticky with the sauce and the burnt chillies packed a mean punch that lingered long after the chicken had been demolished. Definitely could eat this as a main course!
  •  Papdi Chaat – crisp wheat, spiced potatoes & chutney (v)
    This was served surround by a nice cooling yogurt, the crisp wheat was a new taste and texture for me and was really well balanced with the soft chunky chutney.
  •  Stir-fried shrimp with curry leaf & black pepper
    Great helping of prawns that were slightly crispy and tasted lovely and fresh with zesty undercurrents from the lightly pickled cucumber and carrot salad.
  •  Slow braised pork belly with honey & chilli glaze (GF) 
    Melt in the mouth the sizable piece of meat cut like butter. Although I have to say we both thought it was beef cheek or braising steak as the flavour and colour was unlike pork – either way whatever meat it was,  was utterly delicious.
  • Tandoori salmon with dill & mustard (GF)
    Flaked beautifully, nice and soft the spices weren’t overpowering. The dill mustard tasted like wasabi – which I usually love but this wasn’t at all pleasant.
  • Plain naan OR black lentils (we somehow got both!)
    Naan was thin and light which I prefer to the stodgy thick versions you can often get. The lentils (24hr coooked?!!!) were amazing it was like a saucier version of dahl.
  • Sticky toffe pudding with banana ice cream
    Dark, sticky, rich and delicious – would have preferred a simple vanilla ice cream as the banana version made it super thick and a bit of a heavy texture.

Price: £24 p/p for the dining deal + £5 pint of tiger beer + service = £32 p/p

Rating: 7 out of 10 – Overall fantastic food and great value for money – the only thing I’d like is a bit more service, especially if you’re going to charge me 12.5% for the pleasure.

 

Two food stops and a finished book

notes-music-coffee-london-01Where: Notes, St Martin’s Lane Central London

What: A chain of speciality coffee, food and wine bars around London.

Thoughts: After googling coffee bars in central London this was the first on the hit list after I had discounted the big three (Starbucks, Nero and Costa). Coffee was on the cards when meeting my friend for a post-work catch-up however, the day had taken its toll and so our chosen tipple was selected instead, from the wine list. A very decent and modestly priced wine list, we both had the Malbec – usually an expensive choice but £5.50 for a 125ml glass (we had three). Tap water was topped up by attentive waiters and although there was an overall bustle and busyness about the place it was the perfect setting to have a good conversation without having to shout to be heard. It should also be noted that the sharing plates of food being served around us looked delicious and will definitely be sampled next time.

murder-underground

What : Murder on the Underground by Mavis Doriel Hay

1934 When Miss Pongleton is found murdered on the stairs of Belsize Park station, her fellow-boarders in the Frampton Hotel are not overwhelmed with grief at the death of a tiresome old woman. But they all have their theories about the identity of the murderer, and help to unravel the mystery of who killed the wealthy ‘Pongle’. Several of her fellow residents – even Tuppy the terrier – have a part to play in the events that lead to a dramatic arrest.

Why: I – and I suppose the whole of London – couldn’t help but notice the vast marketing of this book and its adornment in most bookshop windows – also a colleague had bought a copy and failed to finish it so I thought I would give it a go.

Thoughts: A cosy and delightful murder mystery that trundles along and welcomes you into it’s gossipy bosom. Don’t bother reading this if you like a fast-paced thriller or any type of violence in your crime as you won’t enjoy this book at all – I however loved it and felt like I’d been invited to afternoon tea with Miss Marple.

polpo11

Where: Polpo, Soho London

What: Small Venetian Plates, Proseccco and Spritz (according to the menu)

Thoughts: Wandering aimlessly in the afternoon around Soho London the stomach started growling slightly, with the idea to go to Pix for some Spanish tapas my companion and I  ended up walking past Polpo first – we had the cookery book at home and had tried out some successful recipes so decided to try the real deal.

Sat at the bar we ordered Aperol Spritz to start followed by

  • Chopped Chicken Liver Crostini course, delicious and packed an offaly good punch
  • White anchovy and smoked mozzarella Pizzetta – the base was so thin, almost like eating a big crisp. Light and tasty although couldn’t ascertain any smokiness in the cheese.
  • Cod Cheeks with Lentils and Salsa Verde I have been wanting to make this from the recipe book for ages and it didn’t disappoint. The cod cheeks were lightly battered and had a nice crispy edge until you bit into the pillowy meat and the lentils were rich and smooth without being mushy or over-cooked.
  • Zucchini Parmesan and Basil  – this was a ribbon sliced, cold and refreshing salad a lovely balance of fresh flavours and a nice side to the cod with lentils.

Price for two people was £43 including service so not going to break the bank balance especially for what is in essence deliciously cooked food with seasonal ingredients – perfect for an un-planned and informal late lunch.

Also would recommend the cookbook…

 

Oscar Wilde and the Ring of Death by Gyles Brandreth

3084081Title: Oscar Wilde and the Ring of Death 

Author: Gyles Brandreth

Publisher: John Murray, Hachette 

Genre: Satirical crime thriller

Pages: 448 pages

Why I chose to read this book? Love the author he is a tour de force in the entertainment industry.

Where to read this book? Beaufort Bar in the Savoy London.

Refreshments: Dry gin martini with smoked salmon and caviar – anything you can put your hands on that nods to excess.

Review:

Featuring Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle, a parlour game of ‘Murder’ has lethal consequences ‘I see murder in this unhappy hand…’ When Mrs Robinson, palmist to the Prince of Wales, reads Oscar Wilde’s palm she cannot know what she has predicted. Nor can Oscar know what he has set in motion when, that same evening, he proposes a game of ‘Murder’ in which each of his Sunday Supper Club guests must write down those whom they would like to kill. For the fourteen ‘victims’ begin to die mysteriously, one by one, and in the order in which their names were drawn from the bag. With growing horror, Wilde and his confidantes Robert Sherard and Arthur Conan Doyle, realise that one of their guests that evening must be the murderer. In a race against time, Wilde will need all his powers of deduction and knowledge of human behaviour before he himself – the thirteenth name on the list – becomes the killer’s next victim.

The characters of this story are naturally well-known spanning Wilde, Conan Doyle and Walter Sickert however, I despised the character of Wilde he was arrogant, superior and overwhelmingly smug. The one I enjoyed the most was Sickert he was whimsical, innocent and enormously entertaining and throughout the narrative wandered in an out like a welcome friend. Equally notable is the gorgeously statuesque individual of boxer McMuirtree whose mysterious nature is improved substantially by his ability to mock whilst being completely charming.

Brandreth’s central crime is interesting but quite slow-moving and it is not until half-way through the book that we get to anything close to grit – and indeed it is only one murder that truly makes you rather uncomfortable as a reader. The depth of the psychology of the crime makes the story stronger but it does pootle along with Wilde at its core that does result in a certain blandness.

The style of writing is quite simplistic and, as I touched upon in an earlier post, it’s irritating that a number of the known characters are full-named repeatedly and for little reason for a good few chapters. However, dotted throughout the entire book is Gyles’ acerbic wit and devilish turn of phrase that provides the ingenuity and talent that we know and love Brandreth.

Overall, and loathe to admit it, I was slightly disappointed with the book. This may be partly because I am a Brandreth super fan and therefore had unreasonably high expectations however, it could also be that the narrative was on the side of, dare I say, dull.

Rating: 6 out of 10

The Taxidermist Daughter by Kate Mosse

taxidaughter
Title: The Taxidermist’s Daughter

Author: Kate Mosse

Publisher: Orion 

Hardback: 432 pages

Why did I chose to read this book: Love her Labyrinth, Sepulchre & Citadel books so thought I would investigate her further as an author.

Where to read this book: To fit the book’s dark and let’s say rather creepy storyline I would chose somewhere like the catacoombs in Paris but to be more realistic I would suggest The Horniman Museum in London which is, unsurprisingly where the author had her book launch.

Refreshments: The subject matter doesn’t really lend itself eating…at all. I instead supped on a full-bodied red wine my tipple, influence by my recent sojourn to Chile, was a bottle of La Postolle’s Carmenère – highly recommended!

Review:

In a churchyard, villagers gather on the night when the ghosts of those who will die in the coming year are thought to walk. Here, where the estuary leads out to the sea, superstitions still hold sway.Standing alone is the taxidermist’s daughter. At twenty-two, Constantia Gifford lives with her father in a decaying house: it contains all that is left of Gifford’s once world-famous museum of taxidermy. The stuffed birds that used to grace every parlour are out of fashion, leaving Gifford a disgraced and bitter man. The string of events that led to the museum’s closure are never spoken of and an accident has robbed Connie of any memory of those days.The bell begins to toll and all eyes are fixed on the church. No one sees the gloved hands holding a garotte. As the last notes fade into the dark, a woman lies dead. While the village braces itself against rising waters and the highest tide of the season, Connie struggles to discover who is responsible – and why the incident is causing memories to surface from her own vanished years. Does she know the figure she sees watching from the marshes? Who is the mysterious caller that leaves a note without being seen? And what is the secret that lies at the heart of Blackthorn House, hidden among the bell jars of her father’s workshop?

Mosse’s descriptions are sublimely atmospheric and gothic creating a realistic and dramatic scene to the psychological thriller that is about to be laid out to the reader. Unfortunately, Constantia isn’t my favourite of female characters she is too strong to the extent that she becomes quite irritating – her useless alcoholic father is probably a reason for this extreme self-reliance. However, her journey back into her memory and the ardent need for the truth is heartening and eminently translates into a fascinating storyline.

In between the chapters there is diary-style entries from an unidentified women which starts to unravel the story and the sinister event that triggered her actions and dark retribution on those culpable. It is this character that hooks the reader and drags them into the uneasy history. Her narrative is often shocking and on a par with scenes that are more common in scene of the TV series Hannibal.

The love story that develops through the story between Constantia and Harry is a little slapdash and hurried one glance and there is infatuation. Their lives are intrinsically linked so it is obvious that their relationship will develop in this manner I just wish it was done in a more subtle style.

Not on a par with Labyrinth – one of my favourite books especially as I was living in Toulouse at the time – but still entertaining in a dark and extremely disturbed way.

Rating: 7 out of 10