Archive for December, 2010

Present Tense Book Review – Lady Audley’s Secret: Part 4

(Part Three of this Present Tense Book Review.)

Ok, so there is a bit of a twist at the end, and I didn’t see it coming; but still, as I whinged about in the last instalment, the end of this book sags badly. If the last 120 pages were condensed into 20 pages, it’d be great. As it is, it’s good. And interesting, as outlined in the ‘Case Notes’ at the end, by Robert Giddings, in its portrayal of women, and its feminist subtext. I won’t rehash his points here, suffice to say that he writes well and does a splendid job of placing the novel in context, and filling in some biographical detail. As, indeed, he has done with the other Atlantic ‘Crime Classics’.

Merry Christmas! *wink*

Chestnut Hash

Not exactly sure if this qualifies as a ‘hash’, but it’s close enough. Very nice with wholegrain rice, since the nuttiness complements the chestnuts.

Serves two.

  • Ingredients (Core)
  • 15 (sweet) chestnuts
  • 2 small(ish) carrots, grated
  • ½ can green lentils
  • A small handful of sprouts, sliced
  • ½ a normal-sized onion, diced
  • A vegetable stock cube
  • Ingredients (Recommended)
  • One or two cloves of garlic
  • Ingredients (Optional)
  • A few spring onions or a bit of leek

Roast the chestnuts: cut a slit in each, then pop them on a tray in a pre-heated oven, 180C should be fine. They’ll be done in 15-25 minutes; or according to the instructions on the packet. Let them cool a bit before shelling them, then slice into a few pieces. I reckon the vacuum-packed ones would work pretty well, but half the fun of this is making the kitchen smell lovely, and sneaking a couple of chestnuts hot from the oven…

Fry up the onion in some oil, over a low heat. After a few minutes add the garlic, and spring onions or leek; shortly followed by the sliced chestnuts and sliced sprouts (fairly thin slices, each sprout should make about 4-6 slivers, depending on size). Fry up for a couple of minutes, then add the grated carrot, and crumble in the stock cube. Add a bit of grated pepper; don’t bother with any salt, there’s enough of that in the stock cube.

Give it all a good stir, then add the green lentils, plus some of the water from the can (or from the tap, if they’re already drained). You don’t want the mixture to end up sloppy, you just need enough liquid for it to simmer up together, and to prevent it all drying out. Pop it on a low heat for 5 minutes, and you’re done. Serve with wholegrain rice, and maybe a bit of cabbage.

Stalin-cat scorns your pitiful Christmas banner

Present Tense Book Review – Lady Audley’s Secret: Part 3

(Part Two of this Present Tense Book Review.)

Lumme, the third quarter of this ‘ere book ain’t ‘alf draggin’ guvnor, and no mistake. It’s even caused me to lapse into the argot of my youth for no good reason. The book was originally published serially in magazines, and it feels like the author is stringing us along solely to wring out every last opportunity for a chapter fee. A character goes to a mental asylum – which takes a chapter. A character returns from the mental asylum and does some thinking – another chapter…

It’s a real slog to get through the pages; it’s all “tell” rather than “show”. Instead of explaining the actions of a character, and letting us infer his/her mental state and motivations, they’re tediously and needlessly described. Who exactly is narrating is a bit muddled throughout the story, in fact, most likely another consequence of the serial format. Sometimes we are privy to characters’ thoughts, and occasionally the narrative slips into preachy first-person bits that mostly pontificate about the importance of accepting our Lord in order for your life to have meaning.

I’m hoping that all this exposition is leading up to a dramatic finale, some crazy, leftfield twist. But I’ve got a feeling that all the tension that was carefully ratcheted up in the first half of the book will, regrettably, be wasted.

Hmm, Something Around Here Looks Different…

Present Tense Book Review – Lady Audley’s Secret: Part 2

(Part One of this Present Tense Book Review.)

Robert Audley is still assiduously trying to uncover the eponymous secret, and entertaining me while he does so. He’s a bit of an odd character, and he reminds me of myself, sometimes. He likes his idle pleasures, is phlegmatic (in a good sense), and looks after any stray dogs that come his way. But when he does have something to do, he sets about it with a single-minded obstinacy. There’s a smashing quote from Bob, when talking to his melodramatic (and smitten) cousin, Alicia:

“Life is such a very troublesome matter, when all is said and done, that it’s as well to take even its blessings quietly. I don’t make a great howling because I can get good cigars one door from the corner of Chancery Lane, and have a dear, good girl for my cousin: but I am not the less grateful to Providence that it is so.”

An unusual aspect to the story is Bob’s motivation: his friendship with the missing George, and the impact of his absence. He’s also concerned about his family, and there are a couple of eyelash-fluttering lovelies involved, but, for me, the chief strand running through the narrative is the friendship between two men, which I don’t recall having often encountered in fiction.

Cats I Have Known – Fluff

Fluff turned up on our doorstep, with the unerring instinct that some stray cats have of finding a soft touch for a saucer of milk and a stroke. At the time we still had Heidi, so we had some food to offer this rather scruffy tabby and white cat, who had at some point lost a decent-sized portion of tail. With the inspired obviousness of a small child, I decided to call her ‘Fluff’, since she was a longhair.

Over time she worked up the courage to enter the kitchen, then the hall, and the living room, and ultimately to adopt us. She was quite affectionate, in a sort of serious way – she liked to lick your hand, but she did so in the manner of a solid, middle-aged matron wiping the corner of your mouth with a moistened hanky. She liked laps too, and would purr like a steam engine, while drooling onto your jeans. She couldn’t half snore, too.

She was there for pretty much all of the childhood that I can remember – she certainly had a good innings, not stalking off to the cat bed in the sky till I was away at uni. I think all of our Christmas photos from my youth have a few shots of Fluff, mostly refusing to pose nicely for the camera. Naturally, she got some cat treats for Christmas; initially these were wrapped and placed under the tree, but she could sniff a treat at 1000 paces, and after shredding the wrapping paper one year (well before Xmas morn), these had to be hidden until the last minute in subsequent years.

Present Tense Book Review – Akira

I was a big fan of the majestic film of the same name, directed by the author of the books (Katsuhiro Otomo), when I was a pimply youth. And if I’d ever been bored (boring?) enough to write a list of “X things to do before I’m Y”, reading the original comic books would certainly have been on it. I finally got round to buying them with some Christmas money earlier this year – there are six telephone-book-style tomes, and even doing some bargain hunting on the internet, together they represent the most expensive book I’ve ever bought. Worth it so far, though.

Why have I had these on my shelf for almost a year before starting them? I don’t know, I guess they look fairly formidable all lined up, but I think I was also worried that they would disappoint. I needn’t have been, as, two volumes in, I’ve enjoyed them tremendously. The drawing is sometimes stunning, from big, immaculately realised futuristic landscapes, to emotion-filled faces, via action sequences with a bewildering sensation of urgency. And the story is good too, complex but involving, with fun moments that leaven the sometimes brutal violence. Looking forward to the next one…