Category: Books

Book Review: Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany — Bill Buford

By the time Bill Buford's Heat and its impossibly long subtitle came out in 2006, the modern era of food writing was well and truly kicked off; Anthony Bourdain was on his fourth book and second television series. Buford is not Bourdain, but no one was. Rather than being from a chef turned writer, Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany is the tale of its author's journey from writer to at least cook, if not a chef.

Heat is different to read fourteen years later, especially as the man who opened so many doors for Buford was ultimately revealed to be a sex pest (to put it mildly), but fortunately it's about so much more than that.

Book Review: A Song for the Dark Times — Ian Rankin

After taking a breather in 2019, John Rebus is back for dark times indeed. In a post-Brexit-vote but pre-COVID world, is there room for a retired detective for whom everything is changing too fast? Ian Rankin returns with his most enduring character and his two sidekicks still on the force, for whom he feels varying degrees of affection, and none of them are found wanting.

Book Review: The Survivors — Jane Harper

Before The Survivors, Jane Harper had written three books: two set in drought stricken and lonely Australian wilderness, and one set in dense forestation. The drier books were intense and deep, but the forest floundered in not being able to locate a purpose for its characters or a compelling setting for them to come apart in. In The Survivors, Harper offers readers a new environment in the cold beaches of Tasmania, and she works it. That it's her third book about a pariah returning to the society that shunned them to reckon with their past is something that we'll politely gloss over at this point.

Book Review: Westwind — Ian Rankin

Westwind: the Ian Rankin novel that got away. Published to little fanfare and few reviews back in 1990, Rankin's attempt at the "the sort of high-tech thriller that sold by the pallet-load in airports and railway stations” disappeared without trace after scarcely receiving a first printing. Fortunately for Rankin, the Rebus novels started to pay off, rendering Westwind a mere footnote until 2019. An unlikely cocktail of Twitter queries and, presumably, the concept of a calendar year looming without a new Rebus title, lead to Westwind being reissued, slightly renovated and given an introductory segment more interesting than the book that follows.

Book Review: The Thursday Murder Club … Richard Osman

The sun may have set on the British empire, but if there is one thing that the assortment of isles has perfected over the years, it's the panel show. Countless comedians (from within an admittedly countable pool) are kept in work by virtue of being grist for the mill of the panel show. Our Pointless friend Richard Osman is responsible for much of this reverie, both in front of and behind the camera, often hiding his prodigious legs behind a counter and a fake laptop.

It's no real surprise that Osman would go on to try his hand at writing a crime novel, or that it would feature a band of mystery hungry sept- and octogenarians; the only question anyone can reasonably ask is what took him so long. The Thursday Murder Club is the gentlest a multiple murder mystery can get without being classified as "cosy”; there are no cats or recipes between these pages, but those familiar with that venerable genre will feel right at home.

Book Review: Catherine House — Elisabeth Thomas

If you knew how Catherine House ended, you would never start it. The book is enough of a hodgepodge of blind alleys, ciphers of characters, and that deadly mix of hedonism and anhedonia granted only to the particularly privileged already, and then you hit the final sentence. You are in the house and the house is in the woods. But the book is thrown across the room.

With its conclusion, Catherine House transforms from an unenjoyable novel to a loathsome exercise. This ending was better in 1985, but so was the whole book leading up to that functionally identical conclusion. Readers do not forget.

Book Review: Ancillary Sword — Ann Leckie

What happens when you concatenate something that had taken place over thousands of years across a galaxy into a short hop through a space gate and a visitation to a space station and a planet which practices slavery in all but name? You have Ancillary Sword, the compact second instalment of the Imperial Radch trilogy. Now Ann Leckie is wasting no time, and she's straight to business: one way or another, the Radch must go.

Book Review: Ancillary Justice — Ann Leckie

In 2013, Ohioan debut author Ann Leckie cleaned up all of the major science fiction awards with Ancillary Justice, a slow burn, pseudo-gender-neutral, dual timelines, interstellar space opera that spans thousands of years. It makes sense, even without looking at the other titles it was against, but Ancillary Justice is not to every taste.

Book Review: Conversations With Friends — Sally Rooney

There are books destined to make you feel old if you read them after a certain age. Conversations With Friends was written by a 26 year old about a pair of 21 year olds. If you're over the age of, say, thirty, the young upstarts of this novel make a lot of dubious decisions — but really it's the fault of the thirty somethings who string them along.

Book Review: Station Eleven — Emily St. John Mandel

You may have noticed that there are things happening in the real world, hopefully outside your window, and that you will never have to venture outside again. Station Eleven is (was?) due to become an HBO series starring Mackenzie Davis and Himesh Patel this year, so it was already on a reread list. 

This particular reading of Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven commenced after things had kicked off globally and ended the day before "shit got real”, as Danny Butterman has been known to say. Station Eleven is a novel about a global pandemic, for certain, but it has something that the real global pandemic of 2020 currently lacks: hope for humanity.