Book Review: Tanya Bakes, by Tanya Burr

Available at bookshops nationwide.

cv_tanya_bakesTanya Burr is, by all accounts, a British You Tube vlogging star. I’m about 20 years too old/ too resolutely unhip to have heard of her, so I figured I would take her second book, this time a cook book, on its own merits.

It’s a very nicely produced book, with lots of colour photos, and the end results of her baking are stylishly shot. The recipes all start with a nice personal explanation of the recipe’s provenance – some from her childhood, some her current favourites, recreations of baking she’s had at restaurants and cafes that she’s enjoyed, and some recipes reproduced from her favourite famous bakers like Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver and Mary Berry.

I think when I’m reviewing a cookbook that it’s only fair to try a few of the recipes. I am a pretty good baker, so felt confident to try my hand at most of the recipes. The range of recipes feels pretty Nutella-heavy – not my favourite taste, so I avoided those. I largely chose recipes that I could prepare for my regular contribution to the fantastic work of charity Good Bitches Baking, so my trials were mostly on the biscuit/slice side of things.

First up I tried Cornflake Choc Chip Cookies. These are sort of like a caramel Afghan biscuit, but chewier. I had to reduce the heat as the first batch burned at her recommended time and temperature, and I shudder at what Burr thinks is a reasonable portion size – the recipe stated “makes 12 large cookies” but I made more than double that, and the cookies were the size of my palm – so pretty generously proportioned. The unburnt ones were very tasty and had a nice texture, as promised.

Next I tried Kate’s Mum’s Lemon Slice. To Kiwi home bakers, this is our very familiar Citrus Slice. Again, Burr’s serving size freaks me out – the recipe says serves 10-12, but it’s double the quantities of any Citrus Slice recipe I found in NZ cookbooks or websites, and I cut it into at least 50 decent size squares as it’s pretty full on as baking goes and a little bit goes a long way. I also adapted her method, melting the butter in the traditional Kiwi way with the sweetened condensed milk, rather than using softened butter. It was extremely delicious, and very popular with the multitudes who got to share the mega-batch.

I then tried the Earl Grey Tea Loaf, a fruit loaf that Burr recommends serving spread with butter and a cup of tea. I followed the recipe faithfully. While a delicious result ensued – it really was very tasty – the mixture felt too wet and sure enough, it didn’t rise at all in the tin, so was kind of stodgy.

Lastly I tried Burr’s Oat and Cinnamon Health Cookies for another GBB bake. I really wish I hadn’t, because I had high hopes for these wheat-free biscuits. The method looked reasonable enough, so I stuck to her instructions. There was no promised spreading of the cookies, they fell apart as they baked, the raisins burned at her recommended temperature despite me pulling them out early when I got the tell-tale whiff of over-caramelisation, and despite smelling deliciously of honey and cinnamon as they baked they were exceptionally bland when I tasted them. That batch went straight in the bin.

My overall verdict, I’m afraid to say, is that Tanya Bakes is a triumph of style over substance. I will probably make the first two recipes again as the results were tasty once I adapted the instructions, but I’m reluctant to try any further recipes except perhaps the ones from other bakers. I just don’t have the time and energy to adapt her methods so that they’ll work every time.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Tanya Bakes
by Tanya Burr
Published by Michael Joseph Ltd
ISBN 9781405928199

Book Review: The Malice of Waves, by Mark Douglas-Home

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_malice_of_wavesA few months ago I read and enjoyed the first novel in this series of Cal McGill, The Sea Detective. Cal McGill is a most interesting character – an oceanographer with a good back story who uses his skills and knowledge of the sea and weather to solve murders, washed up or missing bodies, and parts thereof. There were a number of plots happening in the story, which came together nicely at the end, very well interwoven with a cast of diverse characters and situations tightly held. It was great.

In this one, number three in the series, for me, something is missing. I didn’t feel a connection with the story or the characters. Which is disappointing. This is actually more about the community that Cal finds himself in, rather than Cal himself, this really different type of detective and interesting person to boot. And so I think something has been lost in this shift. Perhaps there is just too much going on, too many threads to hold together.

Great opening, with Cal in a boat off a small island (fictional) in the Outer Hebrides – yes, the physical setting is still very awesome – undertaking bouyancy experiments with Millie, who is a dead pig. Gross really, but as pigs are similar to humans in their physiology, very useful to Cal in his area of work. He is actually in the area looking into the disappearance on the island five years earlier of fourteen-year-old Max Wheeler, who was on a boating trip with his father and sisters. No body had ever been found, and now Cal has been called in by the father’s lawyer to see if his knowledge of ocean currents, winds, storms could shed some light on where the body, if there is a body, may have gone. A mystery – was it murder, accident, suicide, abduction?

The father, David Wheeler, has never come to terms with the disappearance of his son. His purchase of the island created considerable conflict with long time users of the island, which continues into the present. The issue just never goes away mainly due to the bitter and angry Wheeler returning to the area every year on the anniversary of his son’s disappearance, which is what is about to happen in the story. Tensions are simmering throughout the story, not just between the Wheelers and the locals, but also amongst the local residents themselves. Cal’s presence, on Wheeler’s behalf, is further fuel to the fire.

Over the course of the book, what happened to young Max does eventually come out. But surprisingly, it is not all due to Cal and his knowledge of the seas. The focus of the story is really on the local community, in particular Bella, who owns and operates the local cafe, the hub of this small coastal village. Bella takes on all the dramas of the community, is guardian for her niece, and looks out for a number of other, mostly young people. This leads her into a murky and dangerous alliance with a peculiar man who collects rare birds’ eggs, and whose arrival in the area probably contributes more to the eventual solving of the mystery than Cal’s expertise.

It is a good read, but with numerous sub-plots going on, it did jump around a lot, becoming disjointed in parts. I really wanted to have more of Cal solving the mystery using his unique knowledge and skills, and more of him as the lone, slightly offbeat detective character he was in the first novel. Although Millie did pop up again during the story, which was interesting!

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

The Malice of Waves
by Mark Douglas-Home
Published by Michael Joseph Ltd
ISBN 9780718182755

Book Review: Little Boy Blue, by M.J. Arlidge

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_little_boy_blueLittle Boy Blue is the first M. J. Arlidge book I had read, so despite this being the fifth book she has featured in, the character of DI Helen Grace was not familiar to me. Having said that, the book was a great stand-alone crime novel and I don’t feel not having read the earlier books was a hindrance.

Along the same lines as Ian Rankin’s Rebus and Mark Billingham’s Thorne, DI Grace is a copper who isn’t universally liked by her colleagues. She also has a secret that could threaten to ruin her career.

When a body is found in a nightclub, Grace discovers she had a very personal connection to the victim. She decides to keep this information to herself and work hard to hunt down the killer and get justice for her friend, but will this be her undoing?

The book drags the reader into a world that most will not be familiar with, that of BDSM. Many participants are keen to keep their involvement in the scene a secret, so working out who was at the club on the night of the killing is not going to be easy. No one wants to talk to the police and tracking down the items used in the murder is next to impossible.
When a second body is found, Grace decides to advise a colleague of her connection to both victims – with potentially devastating consequences.

Obviously in one of the earlier books Grace managed to get on the wrong side of journalist Emilia Garanita, and now Garanita is working hard behind the scenes to bring her down. When she finds a witness who lets slip some damning information about Grace, she knows she has a scoop on her hands.

There is tension at the police station, which isn’t helped by two young up-and-coming officers fighting for Grace’s approval. When investigations appear to point in one direction, they both start to wonder whether their boss is more involved with the murders than she’s letting on.

The evidence against Grace appears to be overwhelming and the order is given to arrest her – but she’s not about to let that happen without a fight. The ending is a real cliffhanger and readers will have to wait for the next book, Hide and Seek (released later in 2016) to discover if the killer is caught.

It was no surprise to find that Arlidge has worked in television for the past 15 years, specialising in high-end drama production. He has also produced a number of prime-time crime serials for ITV. The ending of Little Boy Blue is worthy of a television series and I hope the books make it to the screen one day. I’ll certainly be tracking down the other books in the series and I’m now eagerly awaiting the next one.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Little Boy Blue
by M.J. Arlidge
Published by Michael Joseph Ltd
ISBN 9780718180836

Book Review: After You, by JoJo Moyes

cv_after_youThis book is the sequel to Me before You. Not having read the previous book didn’t make any difference to my enjoyment of After You, but on saying that, there are a few gaps that I need to fill now!

Louisa Clark is not coping with her grief after losing her partner/employer Will Traynor. Louisa has moved out of her parent’s house in a small English village into her own flat in London. Her flat looks as though she is only visiting – devoid of all personal touches. Her wardrobe is full of quirky colourful clothes but she prefers to dress in drab shapeless clothing. She is working in a bar at the airport but in her down-time is drinking more than she should. Her excess drinking takes a turn for the worse when she has an accident that changes her life with her having to move back to her parent’s home.

When she is finally able to move back into her flat, Louisa joins a group called ‘Moving On’, made up of people that are all grieving for partners and their lost lives. In their own way, they all help each other move on.

This takes some time, with some of the characters wallowing in their grief for what seems like an inordinate amount of time. I did though feel some frustration with some of the characters, but if you’ve read the previous book, I’m sure you will find that this nicely concludes the story of Louisa Clark.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

After You
by Jojo Moyes
Published by Michael Joseph Ltd
ISBN 9780718177010