Capsule Review

Grant was an admirable figure: animalistic in his approach to earning a victory for the Unions in the Civil War – a noble war, fought to limit expansion of slavery from only seven states, he followed up the win by becoming the 18th President of the United States. Although, he wasn’t as remarkable of a President as he was a military general, Grant’s morality was always in the right direction; he was an honest figure, he had good military strategy and the remarkability doesn’t stop there – Grant was actually made leader of a battlefield because there wasn’t anyone within sight in the military, with a West Point background. The book is not heavily reliant on analysis, trusting original letters and other such materials instead to do the talking of a very unlikely hero. It’s an important piece of biographical work for the little details into an inspiring military general’s life, from the measly breakfast he ate of cucumber in vinegar during a battle to his raging problems with alcohol.


Celebrating Women Authors

Tales which manage to thrill and entertain

Someday, Someday, Maybe

Franny Banks is nowhere close to living the dreams that brought her to New York: in the mid-nineties, Franny can instead be found in an ad for unpretty festive sweaters and waiting tables. Franny wanted to make it big in Broadway but all the fans she has after nearly two-and-a-half-years at it, are her two friends: Jane and Dan. Because of such minute progress, as would perhaps be common nature in deep waters, Franny finds consolation in simpler thoughts of just moving back in with her ex and leave all of these dreams behind, especially since she’s almost out of money, her agent seems estranged and Franny’s father is at her tails asking her to leave her acting classes and come back home. But Banks cannot bring herself to live out any portion of it because her dreams are valuable to her. Fighting random attention deficits caused by the acting class flirt: James Franklin, who suddenly notices her and holding out on hopes of impressing people who could recruit her, or even just a speaking role, the book is good lighthearted reading on the hopeful journey Banks undertakes to become another Meryl Streep someday.

The Forgotten Room

It is the year 1945 and Dr. Kate Schuyler, practising privately at a Manhattan hospital, discovers a mysterious picture: one of the patients in the hospital, Captain Cooper Ravenel has a tiny portrait where a woman is wearing a ruby pendant passed down to Kate by her mother. Kate and Captain Cooper begin to investigate on the story and in the process of that fall into Olive Van Alan’s life stories during the late 19th century in the the United States of America. Olive, has had an interesting life: bouncing from richness to abject poverty; the duo also encounter Lucy Young, who travelled from Brooklyn to Manhattan during the twenties in search of a father she did not know. I liked the theme of this book and the years of rich history explored through numerous characters’ lives – it’s not so very often that you come across a tale which begins in a timeframe characterized by war but still overwhelmingly portrays people’s lives affected by something other than the war.

The Perfume Collector

Grace Monroe and Madame Eva d’Orsey are two women whose lives intertwine in the most unexpected of ways. Grace is a London socialite in the fifties, married into a world she does not belong in and everyone seems to think so. Madame Eva, on the other hand, is a much older lady who leaves her entire estate to Grace, at the time of her death, even though Grace does not know who she is. But because of that entirely unexpected inheritance, Grace goes to Paris to learn more about Eva, whose life trails from New York to Paris in the twenties; she had also won the heart of a very famous Paris perfumer. Eva’s life is mesmerizing – it was imprinted onto perfumes, three of them, but what is extraordinary in the novel is the mystery inheritance left to a woman, fallen to hard times and her journey to discover more about her generous benefactor, who from the looks of it has had no ordinary life.

The Other Mrs Walker

A mystery unravels in cold Edinburgh

The early days of spring calls for the perfect read and there is nothing quite like a piece of murder mystery fiction, which spans several decades, from pre-war London to today’s Edinburgh. The Other Mrs Walker is the debut novel from Mary Paulson-Ellis. The story of the novel involves the death of a Mrs Walker, who dies surrounded by a collection of objects gathered together during her lifetime, and Margaret Penny, who works for the Office for Lost People, and is on Mrs Walker’s tail after her death to get paperwork on the peculiar lady and her family.

What was intriguing about the book were the two characters’ backgrounds and they are very different too. Margaret is in her middle-ages, she is flat-broke and without a job. She spontaneously decides to come to Edinburgh from London, wearing a red coat (which was looted) and unfriendly shoes, on a nightbus as a means to escape from her previous life. Penny has had a difficult relationship with her mother, which is probably why upon first arrival in Edinburgh, she sleeps burying her broken past, with her doubt-filled future in a junk-filled room, shaped like a box, after offering to broker peace with her mother, unsympathetically aided by a nearly empty bottle of rum.

Mrs. Walker, on the other hand, probaby died because of alcohol. Whisky all over the floor from a cracked glass and nineteen bottles, all ridden empty of whisky, point towards how it might have also contibuted to the old lady’s death, apart from natural causes in a near-frozen Edinburgh flat on a snowy night. Walker’s collection of objects excrutiangly painfully refuse to reveal any details about the owner because they comprise of an emerald dress, a brazil nut boasting the ten commandments and and a fair few orange seeds. If anything, the curiosity surrounding who Mrs Walker really is enough to make this book a page-turner, and there is also the whole scenery that the fiction takes place in, which is interesting and rather rare to come across.

A Book of Mediterranean Food

A collection of fine recipes
A collection of fine recipes

I have always been a big fan of Mediterranean cuisine. I like it because it is a blend of tasty cheese and a certain fruity flavour with salty food that is not always done right. It’s a shame though because I want to have my olive-based salad done perfectly everytime I eat out, or want to snack on prepared meals. When I think of Mediterranean food, several important foods spring up on my mind, such as lentils and sweet potatoes. Even in dishes, like pilaf rice and potato salad, with a Mediterranean accent, which act as a staple part of a good diet, it’s hard to escape the mediterranean element. With those thoughts in mind, how do you know where to go for good recipes?

This book by Elizabeth David published in the 1950s when she was still a food writer at Harper’s Bazaar, is a rare classic on Mediterranean food, which has been drawn from the author’s own experiences with local food during the rationing era of postwar United Kingdom. How did she manage to do that? Well, she looked towards the country’s neighbours: Greece, the Middle East, Portugal, Italy and France, for recipes. What I found extraordinary was that Elizabeth actually wants people to sample another cuisine rather than soak in the overdone British mealtime plan at the time of the rare corned beef, carrots, onions and bread.

I know it sounds so off-putting and tawdry because meals are supposed to be enjoyed but local food is still local food. How much of another cuisine can you really afford to try out cheap, when the local food climate is so scarce? Nevertheless, there should always be room for Mediterranean food because some of it’s ingredients and recipes can be incorporated into daily diets, such as colourful veg, butter, saffron, garlic, herbs, spicy food, apricot paste sheets to make drinks, almonds, pistachios, dates and raisins – Elizabeth David’s book provides a good variation of recipes to do just that.

A Reporter’s Life

9780345411037Walter Cronkite’s memoir A Reporter’s Life is not scattered with journalism debris. Famed for signing off from reporting regularly with the line “And that’s the way it it is…”, Walter was known not for his very distant experiences with famous figures, such as Richard Nixon and Robert Kennedy, from whom he couldn’t extract any information on his Presidential hopes, but more for his trustworthy reportage. In fact, the only compliment that Lyndon Johnson had thrown his way was that Cronkite should be regarded as the reporter to turn to when looking for a neutral-tone in reportage on the Vietnam War in the presence of most of CBS turning a blind eye to what’s happening in Vietnam.

The compliment made by Lyndon Johnson still felt a little bit neutralized because it came with that famous encounter of Lyndon meeting Cronkite for an interview, with a set of questions personally prepared by Lyndon, who then demanded that Cronkite ask him answers to his prepared questions on-air – even though Cronkite had to politely turn it down because of how differently news programs were structured, what came out of that interview was very little or nothing at all. But naturally, not every sound byte in television is a rejection of a total put-on and Walter describes this particular scenario as ‘political theater’.

Walter Cronkite had served as an anchor for the CBS Evening News news program (which he had co-founded) for nineteen long years, and his career span during the sixties and the seventies included covering some of the most important news stories around the world. As a reporter, Walter had announced the assassination of JFK, reported on the Watergate scandal, been to Vietnam to report on the Vietnam war, alongside reporting on the Nuremberg Trials and the North African segment of the Second World War.

In the late sixties, Walter had considerable control over influencing how United States functions and it’s not hard to see why: before the birth of the digital age in the nineties, pioneered by Silicon Valley in San Francisco, were also the years which had made television very accepted, much like how Silicon Valley still dominates from the 21st Century onwards, despite the dot-com crash (dated 1999-2001).

Reporters and bloggers, in journalism, can actually stand so close to a story they can smell it – it is tough for those reasons to personally not find Walter a very inspiring figure because of his rare accomplishments. But Walter didn’t start out easy: after dropping out of The University of Texas at Austin, he worked as a news reporter for various mediums, at first. There was even a time when on-air he had to cover a story with a broadcast name because the convention with radio stations at the time was that if a reporter left, he or she might just take the station’s audience with them.

Indeed, Walter’s initial days as a news reporter wasn’t even remotely glamorous: he had no scriptwriter and only wire service reports as his scripts, and Walter covered the Korean War using a Korean war map he had sketched out himself depicting troop movements, with the help of a blackboard and chalk. But fame soon found him because of his job at CBS Evening News and the president of CBS News, at the time, Sig Mickelson, had advised him to get an agent to maintain his newfound million-dollar-anchor status.

However, Walter’s relationship with CBS wasn’t always so cushy: strangely, I find myself agreeing with Walter’s criticism of CBS‘ love for infotainment and slashing of news coverage. These days there’s either too much of a need to have excessive fast-paced glamour in the form of human drama (or “celebrity news”) or too much of a need to make more and more money rather than do regular (and dependable) news reportage.

Golden Hill

In the New York of 1746, there are two items that an English immigrant must take: cash and the will to survive in a new setting. A certain Richard Smith comes to New York by boat with that exact kind of will but nearly in debt because of a £1000 tally. What I really liked about Francis Spufford’s debut novel was the exploration of the debt scene in the United States, where quite often because of bad money decisions people fall into crippling debt. The whole scenario then spells a lot of trouble for the national economy and it was very heartwarming to learn that colonial America was no different from the America that was to follow thirty years after a revolution made it independent for forever.

A lively tale of a new New Yorker
A lively tale of a new New Yorker

In the New World, Richard is interested in reinventing himself and we meet the place where people often fall prey to debts: Wall Street. Richard doesn’t have a lot of friends in his new country and he often arouses the suspicions of Americans who speculate if he might be a shady character in town. But he does meet and fall in love with a caustic and witty lady called Tabitha. A few rather hot romantic episodes naturally follows in the narrative in spaces and it is striking – the blend of humane faces, from an African slave to a full-figured officer’s wife, who use to be an actress on stage.

Richard comes across as fast-talking in the British colony, and before you know it, he gets involved in a rooftop chase, a game of cards that is quite a gamble given how difficult it is to avoid debt from such ‘boys toys’, and an encounter with The Capting – a perilous and disreputable person, during Richard’s brief stint in prison. New Yorkers in the 18th century are caricatured as merchants, thugs, slaves, with the odd richness creeping in here and there. I wish there was a greater diversity added to that interesting bunch of American lives because even though the population of New York was seven-thousand, there must have been people with a wide range of jobs, and an equally compelling range of disposition at the time. Other than that, Richard and his animated English-turned-New-Yorker life is a good, detail-oriented, and action-filled portrait.

Inge Morath: On Style

Inge Morath liked to speak through her photographs and that she did with peculiar topics somehow rendered magical because of her risky morale

I had never really heard of Inge Morath before. Her former husband, Arthur Miller, had dated and wed Hollywood sex symbol Marilyn Monroe, and the relationship in my point of view was rather tepid in comparison to her previous very difficult affairs. And then, one fine day, Miller and Monroe had ended their marriage almost as suddenly as it had all began, following which Arthur went off and got married to Morath; Arthur described Morath to be a compassionate young woman who didn’t eat meat and a lady that for many years exhibited poetic talent when it came to the portrayal of people she was surrounded by, and the places they all lived in.

Morath comes across as a lady with finer tastes than the extraordinarily mundane because she does not photograph war due to her personal experiences as an Austrian stationed in Germany: during the Second World War she had flat turned down the offer to join the Hitler youth in Berlin and made to work in an aeroplane factory with Ukranian prisoners of war. It is interesting, to say the least, because owing to Morath’s factory work, she had actually resided in a town heavily bombed over by Allied forces.

Morath's Wonderful Photographs


Morath was born as Ingeborg Morath in 1923, and following the war she became fluent in numerous languages, from French to Russian, before earning the attention of Robert Capa, one of the patriarchs of the 1947-founded, Magnum agency. Capa was born to tailors himself, and soon enough started to feel that Morath had rare skill when it came to photography but the episode never really began uneventful. Capa had once invited Morath to dinner, and it was in Paris, so the young photographer went to it dressed all over in Balenciaga (a longtime contributor to Inge’s fashion selections).

Morath needed to dress stylishly upon Capa’s request, so she had managed to get a good handful of suits that came with enough number of pockets. The choice of suits for dinner certainly seemed rather odd, but whatever it might have been it most certainly didn’t need to be looked at as a need or an overarched feminine thing, even though Morath certainly had to think about cameras and films for her job as a woman. Inge, more likely, had shown early flashes of the decision to associate herself with good fashion, which later on professionally went on to count Dior and Yves Saint Laurent.

What was striking about Inge was that she really had a lot of relationships, which were forces of good in her life, worth conversing about: she was also friends with John Huston with whom she had a satisfactory-enough working equation. Morath had even exhibited a unique sense of nerve once, precisely when she had managed to save one of the actors cast in a Huston film, with Audrey Hepburn, from drowning in a lake, with the aid of her bra strap’s ability to pull him out of the lake.

Morath’s brilliant photography work has been explored in good depth in Inge Morath: On Style, but remarkably with a fashion angle. Morath had traveled to so many locations (including Iran) simply to capture that moment in time through her lens. One particular episode in London that proved to be mesmerizing was London in the fifties, when debutantes made their first appearance at the height of seasonal functions; the forked out subjects from those twinklings were diverse, from tailors in Mayfair to cocktail parties.