Book Review – The Maid

The Maid
Nita Prose

This New York Times best-seller is getting a lot of press and the folks who like it really like it. As in, book club picks, and a Netflix movie deal with the main character already cast. However, readers who dislike it, really dislike it. Both sides have valid points.

Molly the maid (really) works in a grand hotel and digs her job. The order and cleanliness and restoring rooms to a state of perfection make her very happy. Molly misses a lot of social cues and people around her mostly think she’s weird. It’s never explicit that Molly is neurodivergent but Prose gives so many signs that she might as well hit the reader smack in the face with a big cartoon-style diagram that says “Autism Spectrum”.

One day while cleaning rooms, Molly finds a dead body. Comes with the job when you’re hotel housekeeping staff, honestly. And then Molly gets framed for killing the dead guy. Also a standard occupational hazard. Being the polite, naive soul that she is, with no one to guide her since her Gran passed away some months previous, Molly has put her trust in the wrong people.

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Book Review – When We Lost Our Heads

When We Lost Our Heads
by Heather O’Neill

Heather O’Neill’s unique voice makes for engaging storytelling. Her interest in telling the stories of talented or precocious children, with recurring themes of circuses, repressive living situations such as schools or orphanages, special powers, and life-long relationships, make for books that read very much like fairy tales. In the process of visualizing O’Neill’s words, I see her stories as if they were animations of drawings by Edward Gorey.

How We Lost Our Heads is a tale of two girls in late 19th century Montreal, a grave accident, and the separation and then coming together (twice) of these same characters. In the interim, they lead very different lives, and come to represent two different ways of looking at the world.

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Book Review – The Biscuit: The History of a Very British Indulgence

The Biscuit: The History of a Very British Indulgence
Lizzie Collingham

Tea and a biccie? The biscuit is ubiquitous in British culture (see what I did there?), but here in North America, there’s been a distortion of usage over the years. What we know in North America as a biscuit — a light, flaky, risen cake — is known as a scone in England. Crackers — a  plain or savoury, dry, flat unleavened bread, cut into equal sized shapes — are biscuits, but biscuits can also be sweet, although they’re usually still plain. And what we call a cookie isn’t really a biscuit either, cookies being thicker, softer in the centre and containing other ingredients such as chocolate or fruit. The exception to this might be the shortbread and its ilk which can be both. Confused yet? Author Lizzie Collingham will enlighten you. Continue reading “Book Review – The Biscuit: The History of a Very British Indulgence”

Book Review – Fight Night

Fight Night
by Miriam Toews

I usually give a book to the 10% mark, maybe 15% before deciding to keep going or pitch it; life is too short to read books you don’t enjoy. I started to really hate Fight Night at around the 60% mark, but stayed with it because I had invested the time. I’m glad I held out because the ending was worth the wait, but maaann… it was a tough slog to get there.

Fight Night is narrated by 9-year-old Swiv, a precocious girl who keeps getting kicked out of school. Swiv lives with her Mom and kooky Russian grandmother Elvira. Mom is quite pregnant, Dad is… somewhere, it’s never clear if he has bailed or something else. Grandma is not in the greatest of health and Swiv acts as her personal carer in a way, to the point that they embark on a trip to California together where much hilarity ensues.
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Book Review — Miss Eliza’s English Kitchen: A Novel of Victorian Cookery and Friendship

Miss Eliza’s English Kitchen: A Novel of Victorian Cookery and Friendship
by Annabel Abbs

Women with writerly aspirations in the early 1800s had few options for publication. Most female writers were advised to stick to gothic novels, bits of poetry, or cookery. Even if they had never cooked. Such was the case for Elizabeth Acton, whose desire to become a poet was derailed by a publisher who rejected her manuscript but offered her the opportunity to write a book of household cookery.

Annabel Abbs creates a fictional world that gives life to Acton’s plan to create her book by taking everything wrong with previous cookery books (such as the lack of an ingredients list, concise temperatures, measurements or cooking times) and making them better. In real life Acton’s family was destitute and she and her mother ran a boarding house where she tested all of her recipes with the help of one kitchen assistant, Ann Kirby.

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TV Party Tonight – January 17, 2022

Stuff we’ve watched recently…

Films

Boiling Point (2021)
We were poking around on Hoopla looking for something else when this popped up. Love that Hoopla gets these odd new releases; love that a Toronto Public Library card gets you access to both Hoopla and Kanopy.

Anyway, Stephen Graham plays chef Andy Jones; his life is falling apart – he’s split up with his partner and is missing his kid, his water bottle is full of vodka, and he’s become a detriment to the smooth operation of his business, but it’s a Friday night and his hot new restaurant is full, so he’s busy with a health inspector, a kitchen team that are either high-strung or incompetent, front of house staff who are far too busy chatting with guests and each other, and a hostess/manager more interested in getting the place pumped up on social media than in competently managing her staff and ensuring good communication with the kitchen. His old boss/mentor shows up with a restaurant critic in tow, there’s a pending engagement proposal to a customer with a nut allergy on table 13, and the Black waitress refuses to tell anyone that she’s having trouble with a racist customer.

And it’s all done in one seamless 90-minute shot. Continue reading “TV Party Tonight – January 17, 2022”

Book Review — The Hiding Game

The Hiding Game
Naomi Woods

That first year at university, college or art school, when young people leave home for the first time and form new relationships with the world around them can become the framework for the rest of their lives. Thus begins Paul Beckermann’s journey through the Bauhaus school. It is 1922 and he and the other Bauhaus babies treat the town of Weimar and the surrounding forests like their playground. A quickly formed group of six offers up love triangles and jealousies. Paul loves Charlotte, Charlotte loves Jeno, Walter loves Jeno…

Told from Paul’s point of view decades later, he’s moved to England and is now Paul Brickman, famous abstract artist, The Hiding Game traces the life of the six friends and the Bauhaus school as it moves from Weimar to Dessau and finally Berlin, each time being pushed out by conservative (fascist) forces that dislike what the place stands for. Continue reading “Book Review — The Hiding Game”

Book Review — The Kitchen Front

The Kitchen Front
Jennifer Ryan

Kent, 1942 — the war rages on and the rural villages under the path of Hitler’s blitz on London are starting to feel the grip of food insecurity. The Dig for Britain campaign is in full swing and rationing is the only way to get meat, butter, and eggs unless you have a farm. This period was resplendent with contests and competitions to keep up people’s spirits and share advice on how to make the best out of limited resources.

In The Kitchen Front, The women of Fenley Village are encouraged to show off their best recipes and win a spot as an on-air radio host demonstrating their skills in the kitchen.

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Film Review – The Man in the Hat

The Man in the Hat
starring Ciarán Hinds, directed by John-Paul Davidson and Stephen Warbeck

There’s a theory, when it comes to reviews – of anything – that the reviewer needs to have a background, some level of expertise, to be able to effectively assess that which they are reviewing. In food writing, food critics will insist that to write a good review, there should be an understanding of how the food was made, flavoured, grown, etc. Meanwhile, sites like Yelp thrive on reviews based on whether or not an individual liked the taste of what they ate and little more. Does knowledge change our level of enjoyment and understanding of something?

I bring this up here because it’s an important point when it comes to The Man in the Hat as well as the reviews of this film published so far.

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Smörgåsbord: Easter Feasting: Tanto, L.U.S.T., and Salt

We may have gotten a little bit greedy. Three big, multi-course meals over a long weekend… a decade ago, when we ate out for a living, that might have been achievable with stretchy pants and strategic naps, but now, when our constitutions were less enthusiastic? Sure, we’ve put on the Covid 19 (pounds) like everybody else, from a year of eating as a form of self-care, but as we perused the menus, we were unsure… that was a whole lot of food. But heck, we’re troopers, let’s take one for the team and support our local dining establishments.

Of course, we failed. 5-course dinners got split into two or three meals, leftover duck got reworked with blueberry preserves and waffles for breakfast. Desserts got cut in half and shared rather than eating a full portion each. We did manage to eat it all, just not all at once. But when a great meal is the only high-light of an otherwise dull existence, then why not splurge occasionally, especially for a holiday that you don’t technically celebrate?

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