Category Archives: Blasts From The Past

Call the Midwife – the true stories behind the hit TV series

Review: Vivien Horler

Call the Midwife – a true story of the East End in the 1950s; illustrated edition, by Jennifer Worth (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

call the midwife I have been an enthusiastic viewer of the TV series Call the Midwife, so when I came across this illustrated edition of the Jennifer Worth’s bestseller, originally published in 2002, I fell upon it with glad cries.

In fact it turns out Worth, known as Jenny Lee when she was a midwife in London’s Docklands, wrote three books, Call the Midwife, Shades of the Workhouse, (2005), and Farewell to the East End (2009). The trilogy has sold almost 2million copies worldwide. Continue reading

The key to being an aspiring Englishman

rosenblums listReview: Vivien Horler

Mr Rosenblum’s List – Or friendly guidance for the aspiring Englishman, by Natasha Solomons (Sceptre)

You sometimes make delightful finds on the shelves of beach cottages. One I found on holiday this week is Mr Rosenblum’s List, published in 2010, and described on the cover as an international bestseller.

The Times shout says the book is “Hilarious and touching… prepare to be seriously charmed”. Continue reading

Why local food, honestly grown, is good for us

animal vegetable miracleReview: Vivien Horler

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – Our year of seasonal eating, by Barbara Kingsolver (faber and faber)

We’re descended from a long line of Cornish tin miners, with not a farmer among us, so the fact my nephew Shaun is now living and working on an ostrich farm near Oudtshoorn is something of a novelty.

We were talking about sustainable farming and good practice and I mentioned Barbara Kingsolver’s book, first published in 2007. Best known for her bestseller novel, The Poisonwood Bible, she has written a non-fiction account of a year in the life of her family on a small farm in Virginia in the US. Continue reading

Brilliant story of Klimt’s ‘The Lady in Gold’

lady in goldReview: Vivien Horler

The Lady in Gold – the extraordinary tale of Gustav Klimt’s portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, by Anne-Marie O’Connor (Vintage Books)

My reading year has started with a glorious, muscular book that, while it has the story of the Gustav Klimt portrait as its centrepiece, is so much more than that.

It is a tale of fin-de-siècle Vienna, a city of opulence and elegance and high society, of anti-Semitism, of great art, of the Holocaust and Nazi war crimes, of a post-war Austria that tried to forget its enthusiastic collaboration in Hitler’s war, of the desolation of refugees and a glimpse into the multi-million dollar contemporary art world.

Adele Bloch-Bauer

Adele Bloch-Bauer

Adele Bloch-Bauer grew up in pre-World War I Vienna, when that city was at the centre of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She came from a vastly wealthy assimilated Jewish family, and married Ferdinand Bloch, a sugar-beet baron who was twice her age. She was an atheist and a free thinker, and despite her wealth, liked to describe herself as a socialist.

Also living in the city at the time was the artist Gustav Klimt, a man who had thrown off the straitjacket of conventional Austrian art, and painted works that were rejected by Viennese society for their eroticism, symbolism and boldness. He was embraced by the city’s wealthy Jewish elite, and received many commissions, including one to paint a portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. Continue reading

A bookshop’s magic

collected works of aj fikry

Review: Vivien Horler (2014)

The Collected works of AJ Fikry (Little, Brown)*

This is one of those books you put down with a regretful “aaah”.

AJ Fikry runs Island Books on a Massachusetts island, and has stuck up a sign over the door that reads: “No man is an island; every book is a world.”

But in fact AJ has become something of an island; ever since his pregnant wife Nic died in a car crash he has lost his zest for life. Surly to his customers, he spends his evenings drinking himself to sleep. Nothing matters.

He does have one treasure though: a first edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tamerlane. Copies sell for around $400 000, and his plan is to auction it off in a couple of years, close the bookshop and retire. Continue reading

A bleak view of hope

Review: Vivien Horler

A Man of Good Hope  (Jonathan Ball Publishers) 2014man of good hope



There’s a cooldrink stall on St George’s Mall outside our office, where cans of Coke and Fanta lie in zinc baths full of ice. Cigarettes are also sold there, and people light them from a lighter hanging on a string.

The Somalis who run the stall are busy with customers; I rarely buy from them and for me the stall is simply an obstacle when crossing the mall.

Until I read A Man of Good Hope. Now I wonder how much of their story is mirrored in this book. All around us there are people living their lives, trying to make enough money to support themselves and their families, and most of us have no idea where they have come from, how they got here, and what perils they survived on the way. Continue reading

The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger

the perfect storm

The Perfect Storm – a true story of men against the sea (Harper Perennial 2007)
by Sebastian Junger

I found a copy of this dazzling good example of creative non-fiction on the secondhand books table of our local Saturday morning market, and bought it at once. There are some books that are just so good you have to own them.

It was first published in 1997, and was on international bestseller lists for four years. A movie directed by Wolfgang Petersen was made of it in 2000.

It tells the story of two weather fronts that collided in the Grand Banks off Newfoundland in October 1991, which created 10-storey waves and winds of up almost 200kmh.

And in the middle of this was the Andrea Gail, a fishing boat out of Gloucester, Massachusetts, on its way home from a more than a month at sea longlining for swordfish. There were six men on board.

The storm was described as “perfect” in the meteorological sense, writes Junger in his foreword: “a storm that could not possibly have been worse”. Continue reading

Some favourite books

My dad worked for an oil company, and growing up, we moved every two years. I went to eight schools – the record was four in one year – so every two years I was the new girl in the classroom.

This slows you down in the making friends department, so I learnt very early on that books are a comfort and a joy.

As a book reviewer I get sent regular parcels of books which cover a wide range, thrillers, love stories, current events, travel, history, politics etc etc. As I’ve got older I find I’m more drawn to non-fiction, although a good novel is a wonderful thing, putting you inside another reality.

Some of the books I review, some I give to others to review, and some never get reviewed at all. A recent one in this category was called something like A List of Angolan Plants. Continue reading