Tag Archives: books

Staff Picks – British Edition

24 Jun

Greetings! I’m Clay, a part-time library assistant in the Circulation Department of the Hoboken Public Library. I didn’t really intend this staff picks to be a celebration of British pop culture, it just turned out that way. (All items mentioned are available in the BCCLS system.)

Sherlock

sherlock

BBC television series, 2010-continuing

The iconic character Sherlock Holmes is updated to modern-day London, in a world where there is no Arthur Conan Doyle character to emulate–this is an original Sherlock, insufferably arrogant and inarguably brilliant. Creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, who were also behind the successful re-launch of Dr. Who, have created a delightfully sinister London, crawling with evil geniuses a la Holmes’ nemesis Dr. Moriarty (who appears in altered form). The character interplay remains faithful to the original pairing of Holmes and Watson, with every episode making subtle allusion to the Conan Doyle canon without descending into straight homage.

Only nine episodes have appeared–three seasons of three episodes each since 2010–a pace grown all the more leisurely after the show made film stars out of Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock turned dragon) and Martin Freeman (Dr. Watson turned hobbit). Just repeat “quality over quantity” through a British stiff upper lip, while marveling at the mind-blowing end of Series 2 and trust that Gatiss and Moffat can escape from the intriguing corner they painted themselves into at the end of Series 3.

Life on Mars

life-on-mars

BBC television series, 2006-2007

A modern-day cop crashes his car and is thrown back into the 1970s. If that sounds familiar, it’s because this BBC TV series spun off a U.S. version (with a different ending). But this is the superior model.

Chief Inspector Sam Tyler, played by John Simm, is rushing to save his girlfriend from a serial killer when he is hit by a car, as David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” trickles out from his car’s iPod. Coming to, Tyler finds himself sporting a leather jacket and rocking a collar the size of a New York slice–not on Mars but somewhere almost as foreign: the blighted smokestacks and shabby wasteland of industrial Manchester, 33 years in his past. Bowie is still playing, but on an 8-track player in a 1973 model car: He’s been literally knocked into the 1970s.

Stranded without a cell phone or web connection, Tyler must cope with dodgy tape decks and noisy rotary phones. The anachronisms aren’t used as cheap gags, as in the show’s inferior, Tyler-less sequel Ashes to Ashes, but are smoothly incorporated into the gritty action. Besides solving the essential mystery, Tyler must eventually make a wrenching decision–in which world do his true loyalties lie, and what makes for an authentic life, anyway?

It works on many levels: Besides being a conventional good cop-bad cop police procedural, it’s also an ambiguous, sometimes surreal science-fiction mystery and a humorous fish-out-of-water tale with strong, appealing characters. It tells its story in 16 tight episodes over two seasons, topped with perhaps the single most fitting final scene since the dawn of television.

Series 1
Series 2

Watership Down

watership-down

1972 novel

The novel by British author Richard Adams is about a group of bunnies who leave their warren. From that benign description emerges a profound tale that contains everything you could ever want in an adventure story–action, suspense, horror, even a mythos relayed through tales passed generation to generation (and given these are rabbits, that’s a lot of generations), delivered at a thumping pace. Adams’ rabbits could have easily been silly or twee, but the characterizations feel right–like actual rabbits, not humans in fuzzy suits, with their own language and worldview, and a puzzled hatred for a humankind that seems to want to wipe them off the earth. The animated movie is quite impressive too, though definitely not for young children. Hrududu!

Hot Fuzz

hot-fuzz

2007 film

This British comedy throws a control-freak policeman–exiled from London for being too dedicated to his job–into a mercilessly quaint English village that harbors a secret, deadly conspiracy. It’s the middle entry of director Edgar Wright’s thematically connected “Cornetto Trilogy” (named after the cameos made in each of his movies by that British-based frozen treat) alongside Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End.

Your favorite may depend on your favorite genre: Shaun for zombie fans, Hot Fuzz for police procedural/cozy mysteries, The World’s End for a Big Chill type pub-crawl reunion that abruptly turns into….er, something else. They’re all involving, grisly, and hilarious, but while I found Shaun a little short and The World’s End a little long, Hot Fuzz was just right. The director commentaries are well worth the listen, as Wright and his pet actor Simon Pegg (who stars in all three) points out all the little loving, enriching details you took in only subconsciously the first time around.

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.

clothes-music-boys

2014 autobiography by Viv Albertine

Albertine was guitarist for The Slits, the influential (deep breath) British-reggae-feminist-punk-girl-band, back at a time and place–1970s England–when girls did not play guitars in bands. Albertine escaped an abusive childhood through music, and taught herself to play, albeit crudely. Enthusiasm and energy, not musical virtuosity, was all you needed in the punk era.

The Slits, led by singer Ari Up, still in her teens when the band formed, are a respected obscurity now, best known for their ground-breaking 1979 debut LP Cut. But while never quite making the punk pantheon, Albertine was present during the creation, dating Mick Jones of The Clash and being in a band with Sid Vicious before he joined the Sex Pistols.

Albertine names names in Clothes…Music…Boys, even telling off her (former) manager for insisting she employ a ghostwriter for this autobiography. We’re the beneficiaries: Clothes…Music…Boys is feisty and direct, peppered with earthy, scabrous wit and graphic, brutal self-effacement, and Albertine is blessed with either voluminous diaries or a photographic memory. Sometimes it’s even touching, as when she describes seeing her brutal father, thin and wizened in his coffin, with Albertine and her young daughter the only ones at the funeral: “How sad to be lying there, all dressed up in your Sunday best, and no one wants to come and see you, no one wants to say goodbye.”

Alice in Sunderland

alice-in-sunderland

2007 graphic novel by Brian Talbot

For fans of Lewis Carroll or hard-core Anglo-culture afficionados, this veddy British project makes the case–via an overwhelming collage of fact and opinion delivered by cartoon pastiche, whimsical homage, and historical scrapbook–that it was the industrial Northern town of Sunderland that inspired Carroll’s wondrously nonsensical Wonderland, not the academic atmosphere of Oxford, where he taught and the milieu with which he’s identified. It’s a dizzyingly erudite dose of scattershot history, and if you don’t mind having your brain feel full to bursting, it might be your cup of tea.

Shameless Plug (also British-based):

Death in the Eye, my self-published murder mystery in the cozy Agatha Christie tradition, is available as a Kindle book and a paperback, and through the Hoboken Public Library’s Technology Lending program.

Death in the Eye

From the back of the print edition:

The year is 1924. Gwendolyn Parks, the blind young heiress of Pibble, a grand house outside London, has miraculously regained her eyesight after a tumble down the stairs after a dinner party. But it’s no cause for celebration. For Gwen did not fall — she was pushed, by someone at the party. Yet she tells no one, relying upon the miracle of her reclaimed eyesight to solve the mystery herself.

-Written by Clay Waters, Library Assistant

Four Tasty Treats for a Variety of Appetites: Bon Appétempt, An Appetite for Violets, El Bulli, and Antique Bakery

17 Jun

Whether you crave fiction or memoir, something to read or watch, the library has a variety of enjoyable delights to checkout.

Bon Appétempt: A Coming of Age Story, by Amelia Morris

bon-appetempt
Fans of Amelia Morris’s blog and budding home cooks and writers will enjoy her memoir Bon Appétempt.  Morris is an aspiring writer, who spent her teen years and early twenties dieting and seeing food as not a comfort, but as calories to count; this makes her seem unlikely to have a popular food blog.   However, she is inspired one day to throw a dinner party for friends and after a beautifully impeccable layer cake featured in Bon Appetit she recreates fails to live up to its promised perfection and must be served in a bowl, she is inspired to create a blog that juxtaposes the food styled version of recipes from magazines and cookbooks with her own more humble attempts.  She dubbed her blog with the pun Bon Appétempt.  Her memoir by the same name, however, starts well before the blog’s creation in her childhood detailing her experience growing up with divorced parents and eventually falling in love with her best friend from high school.  Morris’s life often seems to be similar to the food in her blog, not quite reaching the perfection she had hoped for.  Yet as my French grandmother would often say about a lopsided cake or fallen soufflé, “You can’t eat the looks” and sometimes the moments that are not as expected are the sweetest and most nourishing in the long run.  Morris learns to embrace her life, imperfections and all and along the way finds joy and success in food writing.  Bon Appétempt includes recipes, many of them reinterpretations of not just dishes from cookbooks, but also from family and friends on which Morris puts her own distinctive twist.

 

An Appetite for Violets, by Martine Bailey

an-appetite-for-violets
For fans of Downton Abbey, there is Martine Bailey’s An Appetite for Violets to sample.  I was intrigued by the title since I’m a fan of the flavor of violets (violet ice cream is delicious), but it is something unusual to find now a days, especially in the US.  In Bailey’s novel, violets become symbolic of more than a taste, but also a desire for a life that leads to the downfall of some of the characters.  An Appetite for Violets has elements of mystery and romance.  It focuses mainly on a servant at Mawton Hall, Biddy Leigh, who though she was about to get engaged, instead is swept along on her new mistress Carrina’s journey to Italy.  A few chapters also focus on another servant Loveday, who is seen in flashbacks of his time in his village before he became a slave.  I felt this at times distracted a bit from the main story, but his friendship with Biddy was a sweet spot in a novel that contains a great deal of scheming and social maneuvering.  We learn in the very first chapter that Carrina has died under mysterious circumstances, which adds a level of suspense in the chapters that unfold after that flash back to a year before.  Most chapters begin with historic recipes that though less detailed than our modern ones are charming in their language such as a recipe for Taffety Tart where we are told that it should be filled, “with pippins and quinces and sweet spice and lemon peel as much as delights.”  An Appetite for Violets should surely delight readers of historical fiction.

El Bulli: Cooking in Progress

el-bulli
If you are curious about molecular gastronomy, the documentary El Bulli will be riveting.  I was fascinated by this Spanish documentary of famed molecular gastronomy chef Ferrarn Adria as he works with his team for the six months before the yearly opening of his world renowned restaurant.  The process moves from the chefs’ ideas and playing with different techniques effects on a variety of ingredients to the final scenes of that year’s finished menu.  The year the documentary was produced they were working on a water theme and one dish actually uses small chunks of ice to add texture and a unique sensory experience to a dish.  So many cooking shows involve challengers tasked with throwing together ingredients on a time limit so it felt like a unique perspective seeing how actual restaurant dishes evolve over time under the masterful taste buds of expert chefs.  Adria has since closed El Bulli, but the documentary remains to be savored.  Hoboken Public Library Resident Card holders and other resident BCCLS library Card holders can access the documentary online from Hoopla or on DVDFerran: The Inside Story of El Bulli and the Man Who Reinvented Food by Colman Andrews is also available for those looking for more insight into the legendary chef and restaurant.

Antique Bakery

antique-bakery
Those looking for a comic animated series will enjoy a visit with Antique Bakery.  When I saw that the anime (Japanese animation) for Antique Bakery was available on Hoopla (as well as on DVD), I was curious to check it out since the Hoboken Library also has some of the volumes of the Manga (Japanese graphic novels) that the series is based on in our collection.  Like many animes, Antique Bakery is intended for an adult audience.  The series centers on Keiichiro Tachibana who is compelled by a childhood trauma to open a Western style bakery, even though he doesn’t like to eat sweets.  He hires a motley crew to work at the bakery including a former boxer with a sweet tooth.  Pastry chef Yusuke Ono can attract any man he wants, except Tachibana who is immune to Ono’s charms.   The animation is unique with both two dimensional and three dimensional animation used.  I especially liked the clever intro with the drawings of the characters surrounded by what looks like a real model of the bakery.  Despite only being drawings, you’ll wish that you could taste the fanciful European style pastries the bakers create.  I found this series to be delightful fun, though it does at times touch on some serious issues such as domestic violence. At only 12 episodes it is not an overly large commitment for binge watching (and less calories than snacking on actual sweets).

-Written by Aimee Harris, Head of Reference

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