Welcome to the book blog of writer and creative writing tutor, Diane Paul.

Thanks to the publishers and kind PR people who send me books and releases about their clients' books for review. Press releases and review copies of fiction and non-fiction are always welcome. (No sci-fi, fantasy or erotica please.)

Due to the barrage of requests from self-published authors for reviews, I'm unable to deal with them all, although I'm sometimes drawn to non-fiction for the subject matter. And because I love print books, the smell, the touch of the paper and the sight of the words, I don't have an electronic reader or review e-books.

E-mail to: bookblogforbookworms@keywordeditorial.com for the postal address.

My writing website: http://www.keywordeditorial.com/

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Donate a book to Glowinski's Library in Poland

Meet an extraordinary man. Tadeusz Glowinski, or Teddy to his friends, lives in Poland in a pretty little town called Olesnica. Behind him, on his apartment wall, you  can see a colourful map of the world. It's there because there isn't enough space for it in his library. On it, you will see all the places from which kind people have donated books for The Foreign Language Social Library section of Glowinski's Library; and illustrations (digitals and pictures) for its Gallery of World's Illustrations. Not only illustrators and writers are keen to send Teddy their work but librarians, publishers and kind-hearted folk around the world have contributed too. He's always looking for donations to help boost the library's shelves (especially if they're signed or dedicated).

Glowinski's Library

Teddy (67) began his library in 2000. Since then donors from 83 countries have sent him books as a result of masses of emails that he whizzes around the world, persuading people in the book world to send him their books. He's a visionary and single-minded. And he's dedicated to books and to the growth of his amazing library, ironically at a time when our libraries are closing down or morphing into coffee shops with books on the side.

A graduate in speciality librarianship and information science from the University of Wroclaw, Teddy worked as a teacher for many years before embarking on his life's project. He works in his library as an unpaid volunteer and the books are lent free of charge. 

I would like to encourage those of you with a big heart to listen to his call and send what you can. Log on to the Glowinski Library website at http://glowinski.olesnica.pl/ and if you'd like to contact Teddy, his email is teddy@box43.pl or teddy@olesnica.pl  

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Gluten-free bread is good! Check out your fingerprints!

Artisan's gluten-free Quinoa bread

As a postscript to my gluten-free cookbook post, the Artisan bread arrived in a neatly-packed box and well within the use by date; sliced them and put them in the freezer ready for toasting. Can recommend the quinoa as it's soft and springy and the pea and alpine herb bread tastes like, er pea and alpine herbs.

Good customer relations

The thing I really appreciated about Artisan was that at the end of their phone sits a human being, ready to answer questions and chat about their products, so that I didn't have to waste valuable time pressing buttons, being cut off and running up a phone bill in line with my blood pressure; no recorded messages that brought me round to the place I first started, or that produced a human robot who read to me from a script. Big business hasn't got around to listening to public opinion yet and instead of dispensing with these ridiculous, time-wasting technologies, they seem to be on the increase. So, top marks to Artisan and firms like them who've understood that keeping the customers happy is the key to keeping customers.

And another thing...most firms who send goods via snail mail don't give them another thought once they've taken the money and sent them off. Artisan ask where to deliver the goods if you're out when they arrive and they're plastered with labels warning posties of the perishable goods inside that need to be handled with care and delivered fast. I realise this is beginning to sound like an advert for Artisan Bread Organic (ABO) but I think with today's attitudes in the marketplace, any company that shows care and respect for their customers deserves a public acknowledgment.

ABO's Real Bread award

Fingerprint clue to gluten intolerance

Ingrid Eissfeldt, director of ABO says: 'We care about what happens in your body after you have eaten our bread - we don't stop at "mouthfeel"'. Their products have been influenced by the work of naturopathic physician Dr Peter D'Adamo, noted for his Blood Type Diet. So their breads are labelled with the different blood types and genotype compatability. 'Did you know that you can tell the digestive power of your guts by looking at your fingers?' asks Ingrid. She tells me that if I can see my fingerprints I'm OK. I can't, of course. They're covered by little lines going this way and that. Gripped by fear, I learn more. 'If the lines are worn and hard to see you are probably gluten intolerant.' So that painful bowel biopsy was all for nothing...I rather suspected as much when I came to in the middle of it.

Gluten-free fresh flour

Artisan also sell fresh gluten free flour and Ingrid warns that it needs to be fresh as once it's milled it oxidises and tastes bitter. 'That's when industry reaches for potato flour and egg powder to mask the off flavours. Because they don't understand the water absorbing properties of gluten free grains, they stick the bread together with Xanthan gum.

'Ever made a pancake with rice flour? It's so crisp and delicious you'll never use wheat flour again,' she says. Their website contains vegan recipes using fresh flour. Who's for truffles on a quinoa Glutini? Log on to http://www.artisanbread-abo.com/ and check it out for yourselves. You can order by phone (01227 771 881) or online.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Love, lust and loss during World War II - The Night Watch

Helen Giniver runs a dating agency round the back of London's Bond Street station. Viv Pearce is her colleague, who takes care of the admin. Helen lives in Streatham with Julia Standing, a well-known author. She is besotted with Julia and prone to irrational fits of jealousy over what looks like a relationship brewing with another woman -- not without reason if you follow the book's backward drifting timeline from 1947 to 1944 when Helen bumps into Julia for the first time, having heard about her from her then lover, Kay Langrish, Julia's ex.

Kay now lives in the attic flat of her neighbour and landlord Mr Leonard, a Christian Science healer in Lavendar Hill. She spends her time watching various disabled people on their way in and out of consultations with Mr Leonard or just wandering about the streets, looking mannish and just generally looking, though back in 1944 when she was co-habiting with Helen, she was an active and dashing member of the ambulance service, rescuing victims of the blitz or dealing with their remains.

Viv's guilty secret is Reggie, 36 and married. Viv is single and lives at home with her widowed father. Her younger brother, Duncan lives with Uncle Horace -- not his real uncle but none other than Mr Mundy, the prison warder who befriended him when he did a four-year stretch at Wormwood Scrubs for something we don't discover until the third section of the novel in 1941 in a poignantly described episode. Kay observes them as they visit Mr Leonard regularly for Uncle Horace's bad leg to be healed. Duncan works in a candle factory doing menial work and here it is that his old cellmate in the Scrubs, Robert Fraser, now a journalist, re-discovers him. Viv recognises Kay from a harrowing incident during the war, skilfully related, when Kay - a stranger to her - helped her out of a serious predicament in an act of human kindness that could have cost Kay her job.

Having set out her stall, Sarah Waters in The Night Watch (Virago, 2006), works backwards to unravel the stories that connect her main characters and explain how they got where they are in the first place. The more I read, the more I was sucked into their past lives, the better to understand how Viv came to have an affair with Reggie and the part Kay played in saving her life. Ironically, neither Viv nor her boss, Helen seem to be aware that their lives are linked by the various people they know. Duncan's sad and poignant past is revealed, uncovering aspects of life that were illegal or taboo in the 1940s and enabling us to compare the differences in attitudes and tolerance levels between those times and today.

The human condition is laid bare in those years of rationing and deprivation, where nightly enemy bombing raids were part of the normal way of life and fear was a constant bedfellow; where generosity of spirit compelled people to hold out the hand of friendship to friends and strangers alike. Waters' cast embraces a spread of 'characters' in the absolute sense of the word, superbly created and developed with their own distinctive traits and foibles.

This is a beautifully crafted piece of work, displaying a wealth of meticulous research and attention to detail that brings the story to life in a three-dimensional form. The bombing raids are so realistic that you can see and hear the planes droning overhead dropping their insidious load, imagine the searchlights scanning the night sky and smell the acrid smoke of the fires; you can imagine the shattering of people's lives and homes, the abject horror of the blitz and how it destroyed their world.

The Night Watch is a revealing historical document and story of love, lust, loss and change. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker and Orange Prize and you can read an extract on Sarah's website at http://www.sarahwaters.com/  An adaptation by Paula Milne will be shown on BBC-2 this Spring. 

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Gluten-free cookbooks for Coeliacs and wheat intolerants

Anyone who has a wheat intolerance, like I do, will know the misery of coping with the symptoms and how socially debilitating it can be. And if you're intolerant to the wheat, the chances are you may have issues with other gluten grains like oats, barley and rye, so substituting wheat for rye bread, which I can only liken to eating the sole of my shoe or chomping my way out of a cardboard box, can be soul-destroying when you're in need of a comforting fix of hot, springy buttered toast.

Since food manufacturers began tampering with our food in the hopes of making it last longer and look more appetizing, consumers have begun voting with their digestive systems which have finally lost patience and it can only be consumer demand that accounts for the plethora of gluten-free food shelves that have appeared miraculously in the supermarkets (I suspect, rightly or wrongly, all made by the same source but packaged corporately); not to mention all the new food products that have emerged, often from sufferers themselves or with suffering relatives, after experiments with healthier ways of cooking (which reminds me, I'm still waiting for that box of gluten-free bread samples using non-gluten flours and no yeast (hurrah!) from the Artisan Bread Organic bakery (online bakery at http://www.artisanbread-abo.com/).

The problem for some of us, though, is that most of these mass-produced gluten-free foods on the shelves contain other substances, like sugar, citric acid or corn products which, if you have systemic candida or other gastric problems, are also likely to create digestive disturbances. The upside is that at least someone is making an effort and there are now all sorts of once-forbidden products that are free from intolerance ingredients on the market, like flour, stock cubes, pasta, chocolates and ice cream (http://www.boojabooja.com/)

Food for Friends gluten-free recipe book

So you can imagine my delight when Infinite Ideas, the Oxford publishers, sent me a copy of Food for Friends - Modern Vegetarian Cooking at Home, by Jane and Ramin Mostowfi with Kalil Resende. Included in the recipes are vegan and gluten-free options and they're taken from the menu at the restaurant of the same name that they run in Brighton. Ramin and Jane took it over in 2004, joined by Kalil six months later and they have since built up a good reputation for inventive vegetarian cooking using local ingredients and exotic flavours. 'One of the features of our book is that many recipes are dairy and/or gluten-free, and that simple adjustments are often suggested for adapting dishes to specific diets...' The book is a collection of their customers' favourites and for the ingredients you don't have to drive 60 miles to find the only supplier of obscure foodstuffs in a barn down a cobbled street.

Beginning with the Basics - stocks, sauces, dressings - salads and soups lead on to pastas, grains and pulses, fritters and burgers, tarts and stuffed veggies, ending with big pots and slow cooking and a section for special occasions, desserts and baking. So if you're gluten-free, you can take your pick from Spiced Pumpkin, Sweet Potato, Coconut and Ginger Soup to Puy Lentil, Aubergine and Red Wine Moussaka and much more.

Phil Vickery's Gluten-Free Cooking recipes

TV chef Phil Vickery goes a step further in his book, Seriously Good! Gluten-Free Cooking. He became interested in gluten-free cooking when selling some of his Christmas puddings at a fayre and noticed how many people thought they couldn't buy them because they had Coeliac Disease. Phil already knew about it from his past cooking experience and was delighted to tell them that the puddings were gluten-free. He joined up with Coeliac UK to produce his cookery book and it begins with a lengthy explanation about Coeliac Disease, its symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and suggestions for choosing and eating alternative foods.

Although many people on a gluten-free diet can't tolerate gluten, they are not necessarily coeliac, though recent research suggests that a large percentage of people diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) - an umbrella term used by medics for 'I don't know' - are in the process of becoming coeliac. It isn't something that happens overnight and it can take many years to develop. And it's worth remembering that tests and biopsies for Coeliac Disease can produce false negatives and positives. (And can be very painful - I remember waking up in the middle of a Coeliac bowel biopsy and being unable to convey how excruciatingly painful it was.)

Phil's recipes are not vegetarian but there is a special section of vegetarian recipes. I looked for the Christmas pudding recipe but ironically, it isn't there, so I'll have to make do with Millionaire's Shortbread with Bramley Apple Dip. But he does cover Breakfasts, Smoothies and Drinks, Snacks, Outdoors, Comfort, Salads, Parties, Baking and Desserts. Both these books are lavishly illustrated with beautiful colour plates and are in hardback format.

By coincidence, as I was writing this, a friend arrived home from a cruise on Cunard's recently-launched Queen Elizabeth liner to tell me that they provide a full gluten-free menu for anyone who requests it. I'm finding that more and more savvy restaurants are providing gluten-free alternatives on their menus, so there is hope for humanity yet.

Cooking Without...

And I can heartily recommend Barbara Cousins's cookery books, which cut out just about everything a sensitive stomach could wish for - Cooking Without, Vegetarian Cooking Without and Cooking Without Made Easy (Thorson's). I've been using them for years and they're great everyday cookbooks.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Sarah Waters and The Little Stranger

Hilary Mantel, writing in The Guardian, called it 'A perverse hymn to decay...' 

I didn't find Sarah Waters's The Little Stranger (Virago) frightening, unnerving or chilly as other critics did. In fact, for most of the time I was waiting for something sensational to happen. A dead child's name scratched on the walls, odd knockings, bangings and bell ringings didn't induce me to sleep with the light on (although a fox screaming outside my window as a I read, as experienced by Suzi Feay of the Literary Review, certainly would have made me reach for the Rescue Remedy).

My mother and aunt were ardent followers of things that went bump in the night and were constantly tripping off to eccentric old ladies in turbans to find out what the future had in store for them. When my mother died, she left behind a diary full of automatic writing that nobody could decipher. The Sister and I were used to pushing upturned glasses round a circle of letters with Yes and No at the top and bottom and asking daft questions that always ended up in riots of laughter, so we were no strangers to the 'supernatural'. This came to an abrupt halt one day in our mother's absence, when we 'borrowed' the forbidden equipment from the sideboard. By the time she arrived home The Sister and I were clutching one another in terror, scared stiff of the terrifying atmosphere we'd created in the room and a ghastly smell like bad cheese that permeated it. I said it was her feet; she swore it was mine and we became hysterical.

Author Sarah Waters
If I'd wanted to be scared it wasn't happening for a long time in The Little Stranger but I did enjoy reading the book and found it hard to put down, finishing it in two sittings despite its length. And I must admit that were I any of the characters in the novel, I would have been terrified out of my wits. The narrator, Dr Faraday gives us the background to the focus of the story -  Hundreds Hall, a Georgian mansion in Warwickshire - which provides the perfect setting for a creepy Gothic novel. Faraday has visited the pile, as a boy. Now, as an adult in the 1940s, he strikes up a friendship with the remaining Ayres family, who are all basically damned, living eccentrically in decaying splendour in a forgotten era.

Faraday, now a qualified doctor spends a lot of time with the widowed mother, Mrs Ayres and her two grownup children, Roderick and Caroline. But his logical medical mind attributes the strange happenings there to psychological issues, so that if he and his colleagues had had their way the entire clan would have been locked up in mental homes. Readers are given the option of deciding whether it is paranormal activity and an entity is at work in the house to destroy the family or whether it's possible for a frustrated human being to subconsciously convey their angst into the house to attain the freedom they desperately desire by terrifying them all into insanity or worse. This is what is so fascinating about the author's extraordinary tale.

The drama and conflict at the climax is enthralling and skilfully handled and her research impeccable. She weaves her knowledge into the plot, mainly through dialogue so that it's given naturally and not in large chunks of indigestible exposition or as an academic lesson in how knowledgeable she is, like some writers do (though I have to say that Faraday certainly has his fair share of introspection).

The doctor is an unexciting man and some of his tale is repetitive and long-winded but Sarah Waters controls the pace this way and builds up her story slowly until events explode. She also manages to get inside the male mind and evoke the various moods and reactions of Dr Faraday when his expectations are damned in circumstances beyond his control. In parts, the style of his narrative reminds me of Daphne du Maurier. And she exposes the weaknesses of the British upper classes in their cloistered environment, a dying ember of a bygone era declining into a post-war world in which they are unable to adapt. Enlightening but sad.

The Little Stranger was shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize in 2009 and the South Bank Show Literature Award. Film rights are under option. A firm devotee of this author, I'm off to read The Night Watch.

You can learn more about Sarah Waters's work on http://www.sarahwaters.com/