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BOOK REVIEW: The Midsummer Garden by Kirsty Manning

Friday, November 17, 2017




The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Travelling between lush gardens in France, windswept coastlines of Tasmania, to Tuscan hillsides and beyond, The Midsummer Garden lures the reader on an unforgettable culinary and botanical journey.

1487 Artemisia is young to be in charge of the kitchens at Chateau de Boschaud but, having been taught the herbalists' lore, her knowledge of how food can delight the senses is unsurpassed. All of her concentration and flair is needed as she oversees the final preparations for the sumptuous wedding feast of Lord Boschaud and his bride while concealing her own secret dream. For after the celebrations are over, she dares to believe that her future lies outside the chateau. But who will she trust?

2014 Pip Arnet is an expert in predicting threats to healthy ecosystems. Trouble is, she doesn't seem to recognise these signs in her own life. What Pip holds dearest right now is her potential to make a real difference in the marine biology of her beloved Tasmanian coastline. She'd thought that her fiance Jack understood this, believed that he knew she couldn't make any plans until her studies were complete. But lately, since she's finally moved in with him, Jack appears to have forgotten everything they'd discussed.

When a gift of several dusty, beautiful old copper pots arrives in Pip's kitchen, the two stories come together in a rich and sensuous celebration of family and love, passion and sacrifice.


My Thoughts:

Kirsty Manning is an Australian journalist and author who has previously co-authored a book on gardens and cooking called We Love Food. These two passions are apparent on every page of her debut novel, The Midsummer Garden.

The novel travels back and forth in time between the stories of Pip, an Australian doctoral student in 2014, and Artemisia, a cook at the Chateau de Boschaud in 1487. The two are linked by the discovery of a small book of hand-written recipes hidden within a set of antique French copper pots given to Pip as a wedding gift. Artemisia is planning to marry also, although she must keep her romance a secret from the cruel Abbot Roald who would never give his permission. Pip’s marriage plans are also in danger of falling apart, as her studies into Tasmanian marine life do not seem as important to her fiancé Jack as they are to her.

As both women’s hopes and dreams unravel, the story travels to Spain and then to Italy as Pip searches for her true calling. This is a rich, sensual, and evocative novel, fragrant with the smell of crushed herbs and flowers, and haunted by the high cost that women must sometimes pay to find both love and their vocation. 


For another book about food and France, see my review of Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard. 


Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment! 

BOOK REVIEW: My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

Wednesday, November 08, 2017



The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley is raised by his benevolent older cousin, Ambrose. Resolutely single, Ambrose delights in Philip as his heir, a man who will love his grand home as much as he does himself. But the cosy world the two construct is shattered when Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence. There he falls in love and marries - and there he dies suddenly. Jealous of his marriage, racked by suspicion at the hints in Ambrose's letters, and grief-stricken by his death, Philip prepares to meet his cousin's widow with hatred in his heart. Despite himself, Philip is drawn to this beautiful, sophisticated, mysterious Rachel like a moth to the flame. And yet... might she have had a hand in Ambrose's death?


My Thoughts:

I first read My Cousin Rachel as a teenager, and decided it was definitely time for a re-read. This was partly prompted by the new movie starring Rachel Weisz in the title role, which I wanted to see, and partly because I re-read Rebecca last year and was absolutely thrilled by it.

I bought the book at Hartchards in the St Pancras International train terminal in London, ahead of a day trip to Paris, and was utterly absorbed in it from the first word. I was just beginning to worry that I was reading it too fast and would have nothing left for the return journey, when we arrived. I had not even noticed the kilometres slipping past.

My Cousin Rachel is told from the first-person point-of-view of Philip Ashley, a young English man who has been brought up on a large country estate in Cornwall by his cousin, Ambrose. Suffering in the cold damp English winters, Ambrose decides to spend some months in southern Europe for the sake of his health. He writes regularly to Philip, and soon informs him that he has met, in Florence, a family connection of the Ashleys, the widowed Contessa Sangalletti. It is not long before Ambrose begins to call this cousin by her first name, Rachel. By the time spring arrives, Ambrose and Rachel are married and living in Italy, much to Philip’s distress. Then another letter from Ambrose arrives. It is strange and paranoid in tone, and accuses Rachel of always watching him. Philip travels to Italy, but arrives to find Ambrose dead and Rachel gone. He suspects she has murdered Ambrose.

Philip returns to England, and within a few weeks his cousin Rachel arrives on his doorstep. Determined to hate her, he finds himself falling in love with her. As new pieces of evidence are revealed, Philip swings back and forth between trust and suspicion, adoration and animosity, and the reader swings with him, never quite sure of the truth of the matter.

It is a masterpiece of slow-burn suspense, and also, I thought, an early and shining example of what is now being called ‘domestic noir’ – books like Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn or The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins which feature unreliable narrators, shifting ground, and crimes committed behind closed doors. Just brilliant!


You can read my review of Rebecca here. 


Please leave a comment, I love to know your thoughts! 



SPOTLIGHT: A Brief History of Fairy Tales

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A BRIEF HISTORY OF FAIRY TALES

For your enjoyment ...  a brief history of fairy tales!



Myth, Legend & Fairy Tale

The differences between myth, legend, fairy tale & fable can be can simply described as:

Myths: narratives about immortal or supernatural protagonists
Legends: narratives about extraordinary protagonists
Fairy Tales: narratives about ordinary protagonists
Fables: narratives with animal protagonists which convey a moral


History of Fairy Tales

Fairy Tales have their roots in ancient oral storytelling traditions.
 
All cultures have their own myths & legends. Many fairy tales wear ‘the easy doublet’ of myth.
 
A.D. 100-200, Ancient Greece – “Cupid and Psyche” written by Apuleius 

A.D. 850-860, China - The first known version of “Cinderella” is written


C. 1300 – Troubadours and travelling storytellers spread tales throughout medieval Europe 

C. 1500 - One Thousand and One Arabian Nights is first recorded 

1550 & 1553, Italy - Gianfrancesco Straparola publishes The Pleasant Nights - he has been called the 'grandfather of fairy tales'

1600s, Italy - Giambattista Basile writes The Tale of Tales – published posthumously in 1634. This contains 'Petrosinella', the earliest known version of 'Rapunzel' 



1690-1710  - The French Salons invented and played with fairy tales - Marie-Catherine D'Aulnoy invented the term 'conte de fées'

1697 France - Charles Perrault's Mother Goose Tales is published in Paris 

1697 – Charlotte-Rose de la Force publishes her collection which includes the tale we now know of as “Rapunzel”

1740 France - Gabrielle de Villeneuve writes a 362 page version of “Beauty and the Beast”

 1756 France – Jean-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont publishes much shorter version of “Beauty and the Beast” - first tale written specifically for children.



1812 Germany - Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm publish Vol 1 of Childhood and Household Tales

1823 Great Britain - Edgar Taylor publishes the first English translation of the Grimms' tales in German Popular Stories. The book is illustrated by George Cruikshank

1825 Germany – Grimms’ first edition for children - known as The Small Edition - illustrated by Ludwig Grimm

1835 Denmark - Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales Told for Children

1889 England - Andrew Lang publishes The Blue Fairy Book -  the first multicultural fairy tale collection 


1890 Russia - Tchaikovsky's “The Sleeping Beauty” premieres in St Petersburg 

1893 Great Britain - Marian Roalfe Cox publishes her book, Cinderella: Three Hundred and Forty-five Variants of Cinderella, Catskin, and Cap O' Rushes’- the first fairy tale scholarship



1910 Finland - Antti Aarne publishes ‘The Types of the Folktale’. Later, Stith Thompson translates and expands it into English in 1961


1937 United States - Walt Disney's first feature length animated film is released, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs



Now – fairy tales have never been hotter! They dominate our TV and movie screens, and influence advertising, music, and fashion. Plus of course ... fairy tale retellings ...



Fairy Tale Tropes
Pure distillation of plot

Setting is anywhere and nowhere

Traditional sentences & archaic language: Once upon a time ... Long long ago … Once, twice, thrice …. 
‘Abstract style’  - dark forest, brave youth, golden bird

Fairy tale numbers and patterns: the numbers 3 & 7 & 13 i.e. the third sister, the thirteenth fairy

Magic & metamorphosis – talking mirror, prince into frog, girl into bear

Binary oppositions i.e. good & evil, rich & poor, beautiful & ugly, strong & weak

Memorable language i.e. rhythm, rhyme, repetition, alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia 

Motifs & metaphors: ‘the language of the night’

Structure – a series of trials & tribulations (often three)

The Fairy Tale ‘happy ending’ .. 

(Though not all fairy tales end happily. Many of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales are very sad, for example) 



FURTHER READING




BOOK LIST: Best 25 Books Set in Italy

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Italy is one of my favourite places in the world, and I have a particular love of historical novels set there. My own novel BITTER GREENS is set half in Venice and in a tower on the shores of Lake Garda - t gave me a wonderful excuse for a trip there! 



Today I've gathered together a list of what I consider the BEST 25 BOOKS SET IN ITALY:
(in alphabetical order)

1. The Wedding Officer – Anthony Capella

I loved this books so much! Its set in Sicily during the Second World War, and is all about food and love. It'll make you want to cook, I warn you!


2. Four Seasons – Laurel Corona

A beautiful book about Vivaldi and the women musicians of the Pieta in Venice.

3. A Thousand Days in Venice - Marlena de Blasi

This is really a memoir and not a novel, but I really loved it and so wanted to include it. Another gorgeous book about love and food. 

4. The Principessa – Christie Dickason
Set in the Italian city-state of La Spada, the gateway to Europe, this is an absolutely wonderful book of romance, palace intrigue, murder and fireworks. 

5. The Birth of Venus – Sarah Dunant

I loved this book - its bold, passionate and brilliantly brings the world of Renaissance Italy to life.

6. In the Company of the Courtesan - Sarah Dunant

One of my all time favourite books!

7. Sacred Hearts - Sarah Dunant

This one is set in a convent in Ferrara, Italy, in the year 1570 - I sat up till after 2am to finish it. An absolute zinger! 


8. Leonardo’s Swans – Karen Essex
Set in Renaissance Italy, the book charts the lives, loves and marriages of two sisters. Isabella and Beatrice, and their relationship with Leonardo da Vinci. This is historical writing at its best, vivid, alive, crackling with sexual and political tension, and uncompromising in its reality. 

9. The Glassblower of Murano – Marina Fiorato

This novel tells the parallel stories of a glassblower in Venice, 1681, and his descendant centuries later, a young woman who dreams of being a glassblowing artiste herself. It’s a simple, romantic story, but well told and with lots of lovely Venetian details. 


10. The Madonna of the Almonds - Marina Fiorato
A story of love, art, war and the story behind the making of the Amaretto di Saronna liquer - loved it! 



11. The Botticelli Secret - Marina Fiorato
A grand romp of an adventure through Renaissance Italy and Botticelli’s most famous painting, ‘La Primavera’, this was a great read (though you may need to willingly suspend your disbelief about quite a number of things). I loved it, though. The heroine Luciana is a delight, and the illumination of some of the possibly meanings behind the figures in the painting quite fascinating.

12. Daughter of Siena - Marina Fiorato

This lush historical novel set in 18th century Siena is a fabulous read, with a perfect blend of action, mystery and love. 


13. The Venetian Contract - Marina Fiorato
Her latest book and just as good as all her others. 



E.M. Forster

14. A Room with a View- E.M. Forster
An old favourite of mine and one I like to re-read every few years. A beautiful, subtle love story set partly in Italy and partly in England, with a gentle satire on English manners and mores – a wonderful book.

15. Where Angels’ Fear to Tread – E.M. Forster
Not as well known as A Room with a View, but just as good - romance and misunderstandings among English ex-pats in a small Italian village


16. Juliet – Anne Fortier 
A brilliant read! I really recommend it. This book tells the story of the original Juliet of Shakespearean fame, in parallel with the modern-day quest of a young American woman to find an ancient family legacy. I love books which parallel two historical periods, particularly when it is done as well as this one. 

17. The Thief Lord - Cornelia Funke
An absolutely wonderful and magical children's book set in Venice. I love all of Cornelia Funke's books but this is my favourite.  A must read for all ages. 

17. The Confessions of Catherine de Medici – C.W. Gortner 
An absolutely fabulous historical novel told from the point of view of Catherine de Medici, one of the most maligned women in history. The parts dealing with her childhood are set in Italy; the rest in France. 

18. The Falconer’s Knot – Mary Hoffman
‘A tale of poison, bloodshed and passion’ ...  a fabulous book, and one I can highly recommend.

19. I, Mona Lisa – Jeanne Kalogridis 
This was the first book I have read by Jeanne Kalogridas and it won't be the last. I really enjoyed this book, which tells the story of the woman behind Leonardo da Vinci's most famous painting. So little was known about Lisa Gherardini, Kalogridas was able to position her right in the heart of the intrigues, murders, and religious fanaticism of Florence in the days of Savaronola. A really good, exciting, romantic book.

20. The Borgia Bride - Jeanne Kalogridis 
The tagline for this book reads ‘Incest. Poison. Betrayal. Three wedding presents for the Borgia Bride.’ This sums up the book really well. It’s a real historical page turner, set in Italy in the 1490s when the Borgia family ruled Rome. Riveting stuff. 

21. The Book of Unholy Mischief – Elle Newmark
An utterly fabulous read! Set in 15th century Venice, with a boy who seeks to protect an ancient book that holds the secret to unimaginable power. Lots of intrigue, drama, danger and cooking. 


22. Vivaldi’s Virgins – Barbara Quick
Another wonderful book about Vivaldi and the girl musicians of the Pieta in Venice - full of atmosphere and beauty.

23. Miss Garnet’s Angel – Salley Vickers
This novel tells the story of a prim and proper Englishwoman who goes to Venice and finds her life transformed by the power of art and love. It made me want to move to Venice!


24. The Passion of Artemisia – Susan Vreeland 

A novel inspired by the life of Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the few women to ever be admitted into the salons of Renaissance Florence. Read my Interview with Susan Vreeland for more.





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