The River House- Margaret Leroy

When I picked up Margaret Leroy’s The River House I assumed it was a murder mystery.

Wrong I was.

While the murder is central to the novel, the narrative and voice is why you will absolutely love this book. Its definitely why I did.
More so if you are a woman as the novel touches on many of the internal struggles that mothers face.

Ginnie Holmes is a 40-something psychologist stuck in a dull, passionless marriage and about to bid goodbye to her daughter who is moving out of home for college.She meets Will Hampden on work related matter and finds herself transformed by the intense passion that she feels for him. An otherwise smart and sensible woman, Ginnie finds herself risking her family and children as she loses herself in this tempestuous affair.

One Thursday( the lovers meet every Thursday noon in an abandoned boathouse near the Thames), she spies a man through the river house window, hurriedly walking along the river path. Later when that man’s wife’s battered body is fished out the river Thames, Ginnie finds herself torn between calling the police as she is a potential witness and preventing the grief and destruction of two families that will come with her disclosure.

This brilliant novel creates a gloomy but ethereal atmosphere. Leroy almost effortlessly manages to pull the reader into Ginnie’s head and life with all her domestic and parental worries …all the small intimacies of ordinary day to day life. The agonizing emotional tension and moral dilemma that Ginnie faces is so tragic and and expertly put….no easy task that..
The writing is just hauntingly beautiful and dreamy and although the story may not be original the authors superior quality of writing makes it an exquisite book.

I cant wait to pick up her other titles.

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I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti


I usually love books that have recipes in them…though I must confess that the ‘love’ stems from only the very few I’ve actually read.
Giulia Melucci’s I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti. was however a disappointment as far as good story go, though it fares as a fantastic source of recipes….

Daughter of Italian immigrants , Giulia is a journalist who has had her heart broken umpteen times but never had an empty stomach (”I can count on my breasts the number of times I have missed a meal”) She strongly believes that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach but in her case it never proves true.
The book is basically about her numerous failed romances and how her boyfriends lead her not to the altar but to the kitchen.
If you are looking for a strong storyline dont bother reading the book…. Melucci , towards the end comes across as so desperate ..I mean I couldnt even relate to her. She was ready to date ANYONE young and old alike…drunks, druggies, cartoonists, writers.she loves and loses them all…Can one really get so desperate….she really lost me there….Also she clearly has food-emotion issues.She seduces men one meal at a time.

But here’s what I did like..it seemed brutally honest..a very brave book for her. There are also some nostalgic parts about her family and past which I thought were well written. But the best part about the book are the recipes(although most are ‘adapted’ from various sources.Yet all simple no-frill recipes originally written.

Parts of the book are originally funny …especially the titles of the recipes such as No Nookie Gnocchi”, “Pear Cake For Friends With Benefits,“Ineffectual Eggplant Parmigiana” (“Serves the two of you plus the three people you wish were there to keep the conversation going”)and the F***You Cakes -they totally cracked me up:)

Read it for the recipes , if not for much else!

A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam

A heart rending tale about a young widow, Rahana Haque, who loses her husband and is forced to deal with life headlong and protect her children when war erupts.

The book begins with the words” Dear Husband, I lost our children today.” And no her children are not dead but rather her children have been snatched from her and given to her brother and sister-in-law , as she is deemed unfit to raise them because she took them out to watch Cleopatra at the movies. Eventually she does get her children back but this event traumatizes her and she spends most of her life fearing for their lives.

Written by Bangladeshi native,Tahmima Anam, this moving debut novel, is set in Dhaka, East Pakistan in the 1970’s, a city simmering at the center of the Bangladeshi war of Independence. I must admit that although Bangladesh is close to home and the 1970 civil war was closely associated to India, I did have to do more reading into the history of the war.

Rehana, the protagonist is willing to go to any lengths to protect her children, Maya and Sohail but finds herself unable to shied her children from being sucked into the war. Before long the entire Haque household as well as neighbors are in one way or another affected by the war.

At the heart of the novel is a mother’s love for her children but also how one’s personal struggles are indivisibly related to the struggles of their nation. I enjoyed reading this book not only because it was a moving story of love,heartbreak, hope and war, but also because I was impressed with Tahmima’s ability to scale the war and all its accompanying horrors down to a level I could relate to.

Homesick – Eshkol Nevo

Jerusalem born Eshkol Nevo’s first novel Homesick takes place in Castel, a hilltop village between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and is ostensibly about Nova, a budding Photography student and her psychologist in the making boyfriend Amir. They move into a little apartment separated from their landlords Moshe Zakian and Sima by just a thin wall. Then there is Yutam, the young boy who befriends Amir, even as he deals with the death of his brother in the war in Lebanon and his parents inability to cope with the tragedy. Saddiq is a Palestinian refugee whose family lived in the Zakian home until 1948, and who lives in an unnamed West Bank village but wants to return to his old house and reclaim what is his. Modi is Amir’s friends a wanderlust whose adventure filled life entices Amir , but who finally does pine for home.

This skillfully written book reads like an art move, a beautifully made art movie. Slow paced yet powerful , Nevo develops each of his characters with such detail that I felt I knew them all. Set against the historical backdrop of the Rabin assassination, Nevo manages to weave a terrific tale of friendship,nostalgia and longing. There is nothing very political about the novel yet the bombings, the state of the Israeli Palestinian conflict all give an underlying sense of gloom that pervades the novel. The reader is constantly aware of the state of permanent war that around them and the And more than the political struggles, it is the struggles of the heart that the novel deals with.

While not obviously tragic or sad, a sense of fore brooding hangs over the novel, like a dark cloud. When Noa and Amir first go to view their apartment , by accidentally enter the house of mourning of a family of a young soldier killed in Lebanon.The tension out in the world slowly seeps into the lives of the unmarried young couple as domestic drudgery threatens to pull them apart. Moshe and Simi too face their share of problems. Moshe, a bus driver in his 30s, longs to raise his children in a religious set u plike his older brother unlike his wife Simi who wants a secular upbringing for her children. This leads to friction in their until now peaceful marriage. The friend ship that develops between Yotam and Amir is beautifully etched as is the scene when Yotam’s family leave for Australia to make a new home and start afresh.

In all it is a beautifully scripted novel. But don’t expect it to be an easy , light read. The books narrative was mostly of inner monologue and sometimes moved between characters thoughts so smoothly that I was always on the look out for clues as to whose thoughts they were. A very compelling book and a fantastic first novel.

Twelve Bar Blues

Twelve Bar Blues :The 12-bar blues is (or blues changes are) one of the most popular chord progressions in popular music, including the blues. The blues progression has a distinctive form in lyrics and phrase and chord structure and duration. It is, at its most basic, based on the I-IV-V chords of a key.

Books, Music.
Music Books.
I love them both.


And Patrick Neate’s Twelve Bar Blues is one such stupendous book that reads like great music.
It is a dazzling gem of a novel deftly moving through three centuries and exploring issues of identity, the quest of the black soul, family and sorrow amidst the background of the early days of jazz.

At the heart of the novel is Lick Holden “the greatest…horn man that was ever lost to history”. His life in Mount Marter Louisiana is recounted in the beginning of the novel as is his stint at the Correctional School for Negro Boys where he learns to play the cornet.We are also introduced to his family including his light skinned sister Sylvie(“who wasn’t no blood relation”).In telling Licks musical journey Neate insinuates lick into the history of jazz and blues in Africa interweaving legend and imagination. Buddy Bolden, Fate Marable, Louis “Dipper” Armstrong, Kid Ory, and King Oliver are all made a part of this stunning tale.

Lick’s search for Slyvie forms a main part of the novel and leads him on a journey to New Orleans. The love story between Lick and Sylvie meanders through tragedy, and lust and guilt , redemption, fate and choice and is interspersed with other equally mesmerizing magical tales. Neate’s genius is undoubtedly in his story telling. His unhurried style takes us on a tour of New Orleans, New York and Africa is a journey that is as realistic as is magical. It was not so much the plot( which was fantastic too) as was his style of writing that left me howling with laughter AND weeping tears of tragic loss..and in ONE page! Pure Genius!

Halfway into the book and almost eighty years later, we also meet Sylvia Di Napoli, a coffee-coloured British prostitute(“retired”) and singer(“unemployed”) who is on a quest to find her roots and the true meaning of her “blackness”….along for the ride is Jim, a white young scrawny big-hearted drifter, tagging along for a “drunken tour of America”.

We also travel back in time to the world of African legends and history and its present day continuation with the hilarious tale of Tongo, an African Chief and Musa his permanently stoned ,sex addict-ish witch doctor.

Neate tales are as fresh as new melody and yet each new story resonates with the older stories to create new meaning.

The brutal truths about the sufferings and violence of the black folk back then is so powerfully drawn up that it pulsates with the details and makes everything and everyone (prostitutes, pimps, thugs, jazz players, magic men) believable.

Reality and dreams, history and myth, physical and metaphysical, past and the future all combine in this fascinating book that has its soul in music.

Julie Julia – Blog to Memoir to Movie

You know the kind of person who exasperates you so much you want to give them a GOOD SMACK?
well Julie Powell is exactly that kind of person…
I wanted to shake her till her head fell off….What the fuck..oops..(maybe Julia’s bad language is getting to me…)
But I mean why did she whine so much. She makes whining WHINING, you know what I mean?

Stuck at a dead-end secretarial job,Julia decides to dramatically resurrect her life by taking on a deranged assignment- to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s cookbook in a year’s time- and blog about it.

The rest of the book deals with her culinary journey including sometimes really mordant descriptions of meals made by soaking and boiling calf hooves, extracting bone marrow Putting chicken livers in jelly (from the hooves) and refrigerating it (and then eating it cold),kidneys, brains most of which resulted in her kitchen smelling “like a tannery”.

If you are not vegetarian you will be tempted to convert…

I guess the only saving grace is probably her determination to go through with the project…. and Eric, her husband, a paragon of encouragement. He comes across as very sweet and accommodating (she loves Buffy the vampire slayer, for godssake!!!!and he still loves her- If THAT’S not accommodating ..what is?)Its totally another story that she goes on to cheat on him AND write about it!!!

Well I must admit that I did feel a tinge(OK it was waaay more than a tinge) of jealousy about her rise to blogdom fame…. and almost felt inspired to try something OUTSIDE of my comfort zone…

But that aside…..the book just chronicles Julia’s cooking ‘project‘ and how she got lucky because she did the right thing(blogging) at the right time.

Strangely ,although the book revolves around food ,one just doesn’t get the feeling that she really loves food or cooking…its all a big chore to finish what she started.

I haven’t watched the movie so far..I just hope it’s better than the book…..

Climbing the Mango Tree

Although my knowledge of the works(on TV or otherwise) of Madhur Jaffery are extremely limited(read zilch), I was extremely excited to read Climbing the Mango Tree, her childhood memoir.

If you look at the book you will know what I mean. It’s a good looking book, if I may say so. I also enjoyed reading this delicious book; full of history, culture,food and beautiful childhood memories.

Although this is not a ‘novel’ as in it has no real story to tell, Madhur keeps us ( well..me, anyway) captivated with her recollection of life in a joint family household( sometimes there were up to 40 members of her family for dinner; Oh the logistics of it all!).
Make that super wealthy joint-family.She invokes beautifully detailed images of the lavish parties they held, the gilded childhood in Delhi mansions and Himalayan hill stations, the family picnics with a retinue of servants ,the summer breaks when the entire household shifted to Shimla, her school life or even of the dry heat of the summer garden

“I loved history in school,” Jaffrey writes in one of the early chapters of Climbing the Mango Trees. And she definitely shows us her love. Early on she discovers the “Red Book,” chronicling the history of her family and so we are given detailed description of the history of her ancestors.

She also infuses history, in the form India’s transition from empire to independence when she recounts the partition, Gandhiji’s assassination, and the resulting violence, riots and massacres. Her family, while Hindu,was progressive enough to have ties with the Muslim culture of northern India, and even embraced many aspects of Muslim culture. Thus her viewpoint makes for interesting reading.

Her graceful prose is however best when she describes…YES , FOOD. Check this out…“venison kebabs laden with cardamom, tiny quails with hints of cinnamon, chickpea shoots stir-fried with green chilies and ginger, and tiny new potatoes browned with flecks of cumin and mango powder”…I mean, Boy!! She can make me hungry.

And as bonus Jaffrey also includes several family recipes for her favorite dishes in Indian cuisine….a treat for the mind and the stomach.

Especially for the stomach.

I have 2 recipes to share with you from this delicious book…one of these I will share today. ( I am still looking for the pics of the other:))


Cauliflower with Cheese
This turned out to be too bland for my tastebuds…but Im sure many of you may like it//.

Ingredients
2 Tbsp. olive oil or other vegetable oil
1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1½ lb. (8 cups) medium-sized cauliflower florets, cut so each floret has a stem
1¾ cups grated fresh tomatoes
1 piece of fresh ginger, one inch square, peeled and grated to a pulp on the finest part of a grater or Microplane
2 fresh hot green chiles, cut into slim rounds (see Note)
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
¼ tsp. ground turmeric
1 Tbsp. ground coriander
¾ tsp. salt, or to taste
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 Tbsp. heavy cream
¼ cup coarsely grated sharp Cheddar cheese
Steps

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Pour the oil into a large, preferably nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat. When it is hot, put in the cumin seeds. Let them sizzle for 10 seconds. Add the cauliflower florets and stir them around for 2 minutes. Add the grated tomatoes, ginger, chiles, cayenne, turmeric, ground coriander, and salt. Stir to mix. Stir and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the tomatoes are almost absorbed and the cauliflower is almost done. Add the cilantro and mix it in.
3. Put the contents of the pan into an ovenproof dish about 8 inches square, add the cream, mix, and sprinkle the cheese over the top. Put in the top third of the oven and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and developed a few light brown spots. Serve hot.

Notes

Do not use jalapeño or serrano chiles for Indian dishes; they have the wrong texture and flavor. Green bird’s-eye chiles or any long, slim, thin-skinned variety, such as cayenne, are ideal. If you can’t find them, use 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper instead of 1/4 teaspoon.

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