New Read: Lives of Notorious Cooks

At the start of March, having tackled some big and/or challenging books in the previous two months, I decided that I needed to treat myself to some shorter, lighter reads. With that in mind, I finally picked up the Lives of Notorious Cooks by Brendan Connell, a fictionalised collection of biographies of famous cooks. Which was published back in 2012 and embarrassingly not long after that, I realise now, I must have received a copy from the author.

Making up for lost time, I went into this not really knowing what to expect and the blurb wasn’t much help either, as it simply told me I would ‘Learn of the outrageous and sometimes dubious lives of Peng Zu and fifty other notorious cooks from the pages of history and legend, in a picaresque dictionary of delicious and playful story-telling’. Well it certainly sounded interesting, if a little mysterious too. On reading the book, what I discovered was a collection of very short biographies of fifty cooks, known of whom I can claim to have heard of before, which were written in a surreal prose style.

These cooks included: Peng Zu, a legendary Chinese figure known for cooking excellent soup; Marie-Antione Carême, an early exponent of the elaborate French grande cuisine; Joseph Cooper, a cook to Charles 1, in 1654; Coroebus (Koroibos) of Elis, an Ancient Greek baker and athlete; Lala Sukh Lal Jain, founder of the Ghantewala sweet shop in Delhi, India in 1790; Robert May, author of The Accomplisht Cook (1660); Marcus Vergilius Eurysaces – a Roman baker, whose tomb can still be seen today in Rome; and Ibn Sayyār al-Warrāq, compiler of the earliest known Arabic cookbook, in the tenth century.

As you can see, Connell’s has included a wide range of interesting figures, from across history and the world in his collection: spanning the cultures of Ancient Rome, Greece, Egypt, China, Japan, Europe and the Middle East. Having not heard of any of them before it meant I learnt a fair bit, even with most of the biographies being very brief. The unusual style in which they were written reminded me of poetry, and so the collection did have a nice flow to it, but at the same time it wasn’t always clear if the cooks were legendary or real. I did find myself looking up the figures on the internet to find out more and to better understand what I was reading.

Overall, I found the Lives of Notorious Cooks to be an interesting collection of  surreal, succinct biographies of cooks from across the globe and throughout history. Not the type of book I would usually go for, however it made a nice change and I was able to dip in and out whenever I liked, thus making it the lighter, shorter read I was looking for. Okay read.

Thank you to the author for providing a review copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Have you read any biographies of famous chefs, past or present?


Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10… Books on My Spring TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. If you love books and making lists, this is the meme for you! This week’s topic is:

Books On My Spring 2019 TBR

There are many wonderful books awaiting me on my bookshelf and Kindle, however here are ten books, ordered alphabetically, I am looking forward to reading this spring:

  1. Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist by M. C. Beaton – The sixth book in Beaton’s long-running, cosy-crime series.
  2. By Sword and Storm by Margaret Skea – The eagerly anticipated conclusion to Skea’s brilliant, historical Munro Scottish trilogy.
  3. Cold Fire by Dean Koontz – A mystery recommended by my dad that will be perfect for my What’s in a Name 2019 reading challenge.
  4. Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett – The next book I have, chronologically, from Pratchett’s fantastical Discworld series.
  5. Howards End by E. M. Forster – For some reason I think this turn-of-the-century classic could be a perfect spring read.
  6. The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory – After loving The Red Queen, I look forward to continuing Gregory’s popular Cousins’ War series.
  7. Love Wins by Rob Bell – This controversial look at God’s love and judgement is an upcoming read for my church’s book club.
  8. River Rising by John A. Heldt – After finishing Heldt’s American Journey series, I look forward to this, the first book in his Carson Chronicles series.
  9. Runemarks by Joanne M. Harris – I am hoping for another refreshing, re-imagining of the Norse Gods and legends, like in The Gospel of Loki.
  10. The Tudor Crown by Joanna Hickson – After loving First of the Tudors, I also look forward to continuing Hickson’s new historical series.

Have you read any of my choices? What books are on your spring TBR? Also, please link in the comments below if you have taken part in this week’s TTT topic too.

New Read: Origin

Knowing how much I had loved Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code and Inferno, my dad bought me a paperback copy of Origin by Dan Brown for Christmas. So excited was I to find out what Robert Langdon would possibly get up to next, I bumped this straight to the top of my to-be-read pile.

This new, thrilling adventure starts as Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain to attend the unveiling of a controversial scientific discovery. The evening’s host is one of Langdon’s former students, Edmond Kirsch, who is now a dazzling high-tech billionaire and futurist. But before Kirsch’s precious discovery can be revealed, the meticulously orchestrated evening erupts into chaos. Reeling with shock and fearing imminent danger, Langdon flees with Ambra Vidal, the elegant museum director, to Barcelona on a perilous quest to locate a cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s secret.

Gripped, I was borne along the dark corridors of hidden history and extreme religion, as Langdon and Vidal follow a trail of modern art and enigmatic symbols, which will take them from the Guggenheim Museum, to Gaudí’s Casa Milà and Sagrada Família, and Barcelona’s Supercomputing Center. All the whilst trying to evade an eerily, all-knowing enemy, who seems to emanate from Spain’s Royal Palace and who will stop at nothing to silence Kirsch’s discovery forever. Racing around fascinating locations is one of my favourite, quintessential elements of Langdon’s adventures, and this one was no exception, although the locations were of a more modern nature than I usually prefer.

Another quintessential element of these books is controversy! After uncovering all the clues, Langdon and Vidal are able to reveal Kirsch’s shocking discovery and the breath-taking truth that has long eluded us: Where did we come from? Where are we going? A truth that Brown builds us up, throughout the novel, to believe will shake the major religions to their core… However for me, who is happy to have science and God, it wasn’t really that Earth-shattering, although I did find it very interesting. There was also an absolutely spine-chilling twist at the end – Unfortunately I had already guessed at it about half way through, but had put it to the back of my mind!

So while Origin was another thrilling adventure, that gripped and fascinated me in parts, it is sadly not to become one of my favourites of the Langdon series. Although it was very good, escapist fun and I did enjoy it more than The Lost Symbol. Good read.

Have you read this? Or other books from the Langdon series?

Cookbooks: February – March 2019

Hello my fellow bookworms and foodies, well – except for one glorious week of sunshine, during the school’s half term break – the weather has been wet and miserable in February and the start of this month, so comfort food has been high on my agenda. With that in mind here are the new recipes I have tried:

Lean Lamb Hotpot
The Hairy Dieters (1) by Si King & Dave Myers
Pies – Page 93

One Sunday for lunch, I decided to try King & Myers’ new-wave version of this traditional hotpot of lamb, onions, carrots and potatoes. Just by trimming the lamb well and reducing the amount of potatoes, the calories are lowered without losing out on taste. It was simple to make and made a cracking supper served with garden peas and minty cabbage. Great recipe.

Meaty Mushroom Stew
Plant Based Cookbook by Trish Sebben-Krupka
Soups and Stews – Page 101

I am so pleased I finally got round to making this rich, meaty-tasting stew, with its delicious mixture of onion, celery, carrot, mushrooms, potato, herbs and red wine – It reminded me of beef bourguignon, minus the beef of course! And once all the chopping was done it was a very easy, one-pot dish to make and economical too, as I was able to use a large, value pack of mixed mushrooms to make it. Perfect for veggies and meat-eaters. Great recipe.

Vegetable Chowder
The Hairy Dieters (5) Go Veggie by Si King & Dave Myers
Soups and Salads – Page 60

This veggie take on the traditional chowder keeps the potato, milk and sweetcorn, but swaps out fish for cauliflower and sweet potato. This was my first time making a chowder and I thought this mix of vegetables would be a sure-fire hit for me, but while it was rich, creamy and had a nutty sweetness… it was actually a little too sweet for my taste! I think I need to try making a more traditional fish chowder for a comparison. Okay recipe.

Prawn Stir-Fry with Courgette ‘Noodles’
The Hairy Dieters (3) Good Eating by Si King & Dave Myers
Friday Night Suppers – Page 54

You’d probably never know, or care, that this colourful, vegetable-packed stir-fry with spicy marinated prawns and courgette ‘noodles’ was a dieting recipe! Plus, once you’ve prepped the vegetables, courgettes and prawns, it takes only 10 mins to cook! While there is an extensive list of required vegetables to use, I easily swapped some out for the fresh, seasonal vegetables I had to hand and I used a can of bamboo shoots. Simple, quick, tasty! Great recipe.

So altogether that was four new recipes tried over the last month and a bit. Over that time, I also remade The Hairy Biker’s Cajun Spiced Chicken, which I got the timings right for this time, and well-practised, old favourites: Creamy Haddock With Broccoli and Beef Stroganoff.

Do you fancy any of these recipes?

What cookbooks are you reading? Have you tried any new recipes?

New Read: The Story of Reality

As a practicing Christian, I like to read Christian literature to help with the growth of my faith and I am very lucky that my church has it’s own book club to help me with this. In January, we met to discuss the classic, Christian allegorical novel, The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Next up was non-fiction The Story of Reality by speaker and bestselling author Gregory Koukl, which the group met to discuss last week.

In this book, Koukl makes the big claim that he will tell us how the world began, how the world will end and everything important that happens in between! Starting with creation and moving through to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and finally, judgement day; Koukl takes the reader step by step – in concise, bite-size chapters – through how Biblical Christianity is more than just another private religious view. More than just a personal relationship with God. More than just a source of moral teaching. But how instead Christianity is a picture of reality.

Initially, I found Koukl’s style a little patronising and dismissive, however I was soon pulled into his interesting discourse on different world views, including: Matter-ism, Mind-ism (officially known as Monism) and Nihilism, as well as Creationism, of course. While I am not one for taking the stories of God making the world in seven days, and Adam and Eve being the first humans completely literally (although I got the feeling Koukl might), I do find myself most definitely falling into the Creationism camp and I feel Koukl made some very interesting points and comparisons of the different views.

Then Koukl went on to chapters discussing the role of man, who Jesus was, and what happened at the cross – All of which were interesting and I continued to make many notes, but it wasn’t till I got to part about the resurrection that I really found myself grabbed again. I thought Koukl made some very persuasive arguments for the resurrection, based on the great sacrifice and suffering endured by those who attested to Jesus rising from the dead. Plus the miraculous U-turns of the sceptic James and the infamous enemy of Christ’s followers, Saul. However sadly Koukl did lose me again when discussing the burning fires of Hell a little too literally for me again.

So I went into my book club meeting, last week, with mixed feelings and many, many pages of notes. I certainly wasn’t the only one who had some misgivings about the literal view on the creation story and Hell, and it fuelled a great discussion on how you can believe in the Big Bang, evolution and God! A discussion which proves the Atheist view of Christians  being ignorant and backwards, presented in this book, wrong straight away. Except for this issue though, everyone else really enjoyed and felt it had been a worthwhile read, and I did thoroughly enjoy sharing mine and hearing others’ favourite parts, quotes and ideas.

All in all, I found The Story of Reality to be an interesting, thought-provoking and challenging read, that I had to take my time with – Generally only reading one or two chapters at a time to give myself chance to reflect. It did however generate a great discussion in our meeting and I definitely think it is good to be challenged once in a while, especially about one’s belief. Our next read is The Death of Western Christianity by Patrick Sookhdeo. Good read.

Have you read this? Or any other books on religious and world views?

Adaptations: February 2019

Hello my fellow bookworms and adaptation lovers, here is what I watched in February:

Les Misérables (2018)
Not Read     TV Series     Television

Finally, I caught up with the BBC’s sumptuous new miniseries of Victor Hugo’s classic novel about a desperate time in French history. All of which was vividly and starkly brought to life by some superb performances by its star-studded cast, including: Dominic West (Valjean), David Oyelowo (Javert), Olivia Colman (Madame Thénardier), and Lily Collins (Fantine). All in all a fantastic production – the only problem is the better the story is done the more depressing it is! Good watch.

That’s one new-to-me adaptation watched and with no re-watches, my grand total is just one adaptation for the whole month. You might be forgiven for thinking I didn’t watch much, but in fact I have been watching a lot! As this month saw the return of two of my favourite crimes dramas: ITV’s nostalgic Endeavour (Series 6) and the BBC’s atmospheric Shetland (Series 5).

As for non-adaptations, I watched the BBC’s new history documentary series, American History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley (2019), which was a fascinating look into the myths and legends that have grown up around the American Revolution, the American Civil War and the emergence of the United States as a superpower. All of which was delivered in Worsley’s wonderfully eccentric and colourful style!

Have you watched any of these? What have you been watching recently?

Goodbye February, Hello March 2019

Hello my fellow bookworms, I hope you are all well, but where on Earth did February go?! Apart from work and a gloriously sunny half term break, I have no idea what I did to warrant the month racing by so quickly! With nothing else to share personally, here is what I read:

Fiction: 1          Non-Fiction: 1

Most of the month, my reading was dominated by the Christian non-fiction The Story of Reality by Gregory Koukl, which was for my church’s book club. A challenging and in-depth book, that I needed to take my time with – Generally, I read just one or two chapters a day, so I had time to reflect. Once I had finished that, I was able to give my full attention to Origin by Dan Brown, the latest Robert Langdon book. Another thrilling adventure, that had me racing round Spain, as Langdon tries to release his friend’s earth-shattering, scientific discovery.

Pick of the Month: Origin

Altogether that is only two books read, exactly the same as January, again a perfectly reasonable amount for me normally. However I do find myself still rather disheartened, because I actually feel like I read a lot! During the month, I also read some more of Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley and I started reading Little Men by Louisa May Alcott. On the other hand, this down-turn in reading does mean I have caught up with my large back-log of reviews. The only outstanding I now have are the two books from this month.

Looking forward to March, it should be a busier month, what with my dad’s birthday and Mother’s Day to celebrate; a school trip to Water World; and a special evening of music and talks about dealing with anxiety and depression at my church. Hopefully, even with all that going on, I will be able to up my reading – maybe some lighter reads are needed?!

What did you do and read in February? What are your plans for March?