A few weeks ago I got to read an ARC of Mohsin Hamid‘s latest novel Exit West.
Nadia and Saeed live in a city at the brink of war. When the militants take over the city it is time for the two of them to leave. They have heard of the black doors leading to places all around the world and so they decide to use one of those doors to make their escape.
With the refugee crisis, Mohsin Hamid chose a current theme for Exit West. We get to experience the crisis from the perspective of those directly affected – the refugees themselves. This way, we can see that the foreigners coming to our countries, looking for safety, are just humans like us, that they often come from a background similar to ours, and that war or displacement can change them for the better or for worse.
The novel also shows what people, what our own neighbors, are capable of if they are scared of the unknown, and what the world could come to if we give in to our fears.
Exit West is a quick and fluid read up until the middle of the book where Nadia and Saeed end up in London. Their stay there drags on quite a bit. What I really enjoyed were those few short glimpses at other people’s lives during the crisis that are interspersed into the main plot.
Mohsin Hamid wrote a short book packed with information and themes. Exit West is a novel that couldn’t be closer to reality and still there is a pinch of magical realism to illustrate that the whole world is on the move. It’s one of those books that should be a compulsory read for those who lack empathy and humanity.
If you know me, you’ll know that I love food and cooking. I also love collecting cookbooks, something I must have inherited from my dad. Luckily enough, I recently got my hands on a copy of Annabelle Schachmes’ Jewish cookbook “Die Jüdische Küche”. It was originally published in 2015 by Gründ cuisine under the title “La Cuisine juive“.
With “Die Jüdische Küche”, Annabelle Schachmes tried to create a collection of Jewish dishes from all over the world. To find the recipes, she traveled to different continents and brought back gems from Russia, Tunisia, Israel, the USA and various other countries.
The book is divided into eight sections: “spices, pickle & condiments”; “appetizers”; “main courses”; “sides”; “soups”; “street food & New York delis”; “breads & pastries” and “desserts”. Usually these chapters are there to help you find recipes, in this book they only confuse. Everything is okay up until we reach the “soups” section which is not where I would look for it at all. It’s in the middle of the book while it should be somewhere near the beginning. I also don’t get why “street food & New York delis” is so far away from the main dishes. The placing of “breads & pastries” as well as “desserts” is perfect but what I don’t get is why “desserts” is full of pastries again with some lemonade recipes sprinkled in between. The whole thing is quite chaotic.
Among over 160 recipes you will find favorites like falafel, hummus or challah as well as lots of dishes you’ve never heard before. Many recipes are accompanied by a description or even a photo but some aren’t and it is really hard to guess what cholent or loubia are supposed to be if all you’ve got is a recipe. “Die Jüdische Küche” is a beautifully illustrated cookbook full of photographs of markets and people in the streets but wouldn’t it be better to cut back on those photos and accompany every recipe by a picture instead?
While all this sounds harsh, you can’t judge a cookbook without doing some cooking. For Valentine’s Day, I chose to cook falafel and bake challah.
I didn’t make a falafel sandwich as it is suggested in the book, but chose to serve the falafel with cucumber salad and sour cream. The recipe lets you choose between frying or baking the falafel, so I did the latter. I was a bit confused because the ingredients didn’t specify if the weight for the canned chickpeas meant the drained weight or not. In another recipe that was stated and here it wasn’t. Anyways, the falafel turned out great, maybe a bit on the dry side, but they tasted heavenly and they were assembled in no time. This will become a go-to recipe in my home for sure.
I chose to pimp the challah recipe by making cinnamon challah. I did the dough just like the recipe stated and before I braided it, I brushed it with melted butter and dusted it with cinnamon and sugar. The challah was just as yummy as the falafel. So recipe-wise, “Die Jüdische Küche” is a great book.
Annabelle Schachmes collected Jewish recipes from all over the world. She took the recipes and her photos and had them bound into a book. What she forgot is that there are people who will want to use this book as a cookbook. There isn’t an introductory chapter telling us about the ingredients and the measurements used, or about possible substitutions – something you’ll find in every good cookbook. I also miss the possibility to see the geographical origin of a recipe at a glance. This would have been so easy to accomplish. And then there is the big question that hasn’t been asked or answered: What is Jewish cuisine? Why are all these recipes considered Jewish and not German, Eastern European, or Tunisian? We’ll never know.
If you are an experienced cook who wants an extensive collection of good Jewish recipes and lots of beautiful pictures of people and markets, then go for this book, but remember: “Die Jüdische Küche” is just a collection of recipes and not much more.
Today, I’m going to tell you about an audio book that has been on my shelf for quite a while. It’s BBC’s Benedict Cumberbatch Reads Sherlock Holmes’ Rediscovered Railway Mysteries by John Taylor.
The audio book features four short stories -“An Inscrutable Masquerade”, “The Conundrum of Coach 13”, “The Trinity Vicarage Larceny” and “The 10.59 Assassin”- inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Each story is approximately 30 minutes long and is read by actor Benedict Cumberbatch.
When I started listening to the first story, I noticed right away that the British accents Cumberbatch uses to narrate the stories take some getting used to. He voices each character differently which makes them easy to distinguish, but some of them a bit hard to understand. Fortunately, I soon adapted to Cumberbatch’s reading style. Sometimes however, he tends to overdo his voice acting, like when he tries to imitate a woman’s voice, which turns out to be rather comical.
As some of you might know, I usually don’t read crime fiction, but these four whodunnit stories aren’t scary at all, so I was okay listening to them. Unfortunately, most of the stories aren’t really that engaging. I only really liked “The 10.59 Assassin” which is very clever and held my attention throughout.
In my opinion, Sherlock Holmes’ Rediscovered Railway Mysteries could be good company on a two-hour train ride. You should, however, listen carefully or else you’ll miss important details. Even coloring my Grumpy Cat Hates Coloring book turned out to be a bit too distracting at times. 😉
Okay, I get it, it might be a bit too late for that. But hey, it’s less than 49 weeks until Christmas, so you might as well start your preparations. 😉
Today I got two books for you. I read Matt Haig’sA Boy Called Christmas and The Girl Who Saved Christmas in one go and thought it would be appropriate to just review them together.
Nikolas and his father Joel live in a humble cottage in Finland when one day Joel joins an expedition to find elves in the Far North. When he doesn’t return after more than three months, Nikolas gets worried and follows him on a dangerous journey that will change his life forever.
It’s Christmas Eve when catastrophe strikes and Elfhelm and Santa’s sleigh are destroyed by trolls. There is no choice than to cancel Christmas. At the same time Amelia, the girl who once had enough hope to create the magic necessary for Father Christmas to travel around the world, loses all hope when she is locked up at a horrible workhouse. Will there still be enough hope left for Father Christmas to deliver toys next year?
If you aren’t drawn to these novels by their beautiful covers with illustrations by Chris Mould – which can also be found throughout the books – I can’t help you, but you might want to know that I think Matt Haig has written another Christmas essential with A Boy Called Christmas in particular.
This story of a small boy setting out to find his father touched my heart. It teaches us a lot about bravery, friendship and forgiveness. Throughout his journey Nikolas also learns one very important thing: that family isn’t necessarily about the blood you share.
The Girl Who Saved Christmas, which is set in London and Elfhelm, deals with similar themes than its predecessor A Boy Called Christmas. Under desperate conditions, young Amelia has to learn to believe and trust again. Her perseverance has shielded her from becoming one of the many robotic faces at the workhouse that has become her home. Unfortunately, the second narrative thread revolving around the preparations for Christmas in Elfhelm pales in comparison to Amelia’s story. It is a nice background story but nothing memorable.
With A Boy Called Christmas and The Girl Who Saved Christmas, Matt Haig shows that he is a versatile author who can write more than fiction and non-fiction for adults. These two novels have the potential to become Christmas classics that will enchant children and adults alike.
We’ve got lots of snow over here right now, which is the perfect weather for Rachel Joyce’s short story collection A Snow Garden & other stories.
A Snow Garden features a woman having a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit, two parents deconstructing their marriage on Christmas Eve, as well as a young woman giving birth at a crowded airport. There is a chance encounter at a Boxing Day Ball, two little boys spending the Christmas holidays with their divorced father, a superstar coming home for a belated Christmas party and an elderly father asking his son to plant trees on New Year’s Eve.
In seven loosely connected short stories, Rachel Joyce reintroduces well-known characters as well as new ones and shows us how they experience the time between Christmas and the New Year. Each story deals with interpersonal relationships on different levels and they all teach us that the time we spend with our loved ones is precious.
I guess which stories we find more memorable than others depends on our own experience in life. My personal favorites were the last two – “A Snow Garden” and “Trees”. Rachel Joyce did a great job depicting the difficult father-son relationships in these stories.
Overall, A Snow Garden & other stories is quick read for a cold, snowy winter weekend. I enjoyed this book much more than Perfect and Queenie.
Some of you might know Sally Gardner, a British children’s book author. She decided it was time to write a book for adults as well and in November she released her first novel An Almond for a Parrot under her pen name Wray Delaney.
In 18th century London, Tully Truegood, one of London’s finest courtesans, finds herself in prison because she is accused of having murdered her husband.
Growing up in an isolated household with only the cook to keep her company, Tully is glad when she can finally escape the influence of her father, a heavily indebted gambler, who always treated her like a maid. She finds a new home at Queenie Gibbs’ Fairy House where she soon becomes one of the most sought after women and a magician’s apprentice – because what many don’t realize is that Tully has powers that even she doesn’t quite understand.
An Almond for a Parrot is written like an 18th-century autobiography. It very much reminds me of Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders. Our heroine Tully writes about her fortunes and misfortunes, about how she turned from an uneducated child to a well-read, rich courtesan who wants to be her own woman.
The novel’s writing style fits the time it is set in. While it is still readable for someone living in the 21st century, the language carries you back to 18th-century London. This also means that the large amount of graphic sexual content reads like a poetic description of a vegetable garden.
In this 400-page novel, Wray Delaney keeps you glued to the pages. If it weren’t for the magical element, you would almost believe you were reading a true account of a courtesan’s life. An Almond for a Parrot is a mix of historical and erotic fiction with a pinch of magical realism. If that sounds good to you, you should give this novel a go, you won’t be disappointed.
Bridget Jones has once again gotten herself into a love triangle with Mark Darcy and Daniel Cleaver and to her surprise, she soon finds out she’s pregnant. There is only one problem: she doesn’t know who the father is.
Bridget Jones’s Baby is set between Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy. The novel starts out five years after Bridget and Mark have broken up over a misunderstanding.
Bridget and her friends are around forty and still I got the feeling that the characters haven’t matured at all. Bridget’s friends haven’t stopped drinking and partying, Daniel is acting like a child, Mark lacks empathy and Bridget is naive and hasn’t learned one bit from her past mistakes.
Nevertheless, with about 200 pages, Bridget Jones’s Baby is a quick and entertaining read. I laughed here and there, but I didn’t find the story overly funny. What bothered me was that the ending felt very rushed. It didn’t fit the overall pacing of the book. There is lots of drama up until a certain point and then the story is quickly wrapped up like nothing ever happened. Overall, reading the book was a nice diversion and I liked the idea behind Bridget Jones’s Baby, but I would have wished for it to be better executed.