Five Minute Review: The Classic Cocktail Bible

How do I sum up this book? Alcohol, that’s how. Lots and lots of alcohol.

Amusingly you open the cover and see not a Drink Aware message, but instead a warning against consuming raw eggs (a foodstuff that features in some of the recipes.) Sandwiched between the hard covers of this recipe book are some very attractive looking images and nice little introductions to each drink (where their name comes from, the type of ingredients in the drink etc.). You’ve got the classics, your Mojitos, Bloody Marys Martinis, but you’re also got the different, for example Kinky Witch, Rusty Nail and Bobby Burns. In many ways there is something for everyone here* (unless you’re teetotal or under eighteen, in which case no, there isn’t).

All this however doesn’t detract from the simple truth that, as with all cocktails, you need about 100 different spirits and mixers tucked away in the cupboard to make them. The Classic Cocktail Bible is a classic by name and a classic of its genre; it is a book which sits on one’s shelf for many months/years until one day you think “oh, I really fancy a Cosmopolitan right now, I’m sure I can make that”. You open this book to mild disappointment when realise you can’t so instead you reach for a can of cider and consume that instead.

The Classic Cocktail Bible is a must have for the coffee table of the young professional or the kitchen cupboard for the impulsive buyer but be warned, it takes more than vodka and coke to make a good cocktail.

Catherine Mayer on Equality, Red Heads and the Manifesto She Wants You to Steal

“Crossing the stage, Catherine Mayer strikes a formidable figure as she throws down her bag and proclaims, “will there be rock?!””

Check out my review on Catherine Mayer here:  Catherine Mayer on Equality, Red Heads and the Manifesto She Wants You to Steal


Five Minute Review: Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

One classic novel, five modern minutes to write up its review…

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy is a novel which depicts the relaxed pace of life in the countryside of 19th century England. It essentially tells the tale of three men from different backgrounds fighting for the love of one woman. You come to dislike them all to more or lesser degrees. Bathsheba (yes, that is her name) is a character with little warmth to her personality and, like all urban dwellers of the period, treats her rural tenants like dirt on her shoe. There’s Gabriel Oak, a hapless shepherd which following disaster finds himself working for the rich and snobbish Bathsheba. To say Oak is obsessed with Bathsheba would be a vast understatement. It’s no plot spoiler to say he proposes to Bathsheba and gets turned down within the first couple of chapters (keen much?). Then you’ve got the more maturely aged farmer Boldwood who, after receiving a wicked joke Valentine’s card, becomes infatuated with our female lead. Finally there’s Sergeant Troy, a passing army figure and notorious womaniser. Guess which one Bathsheba takes a shine to?

People often get doe eyed with the English rural landscapes depicted in this novel, but I don’t see it. To me this novel depicted country folk as a backwards breed who spend all their time rambling on and on about nothing at all. One of the few times I felt sympathy for Oak was when he was trying to get urgent help but had to contend with a bunch of idiotic drunkards in a pub. Who is going to give you money for booze if your mistress is dead Mr. Poorgrass, WHO?

Like a lot of literature from this period of writing, footnotes take dominance across most pages and the copy had religious and general ‘thing’ references which I imagine very few people would be able to understand two centuries later. I started off trying to read all the footnotes but quickly gave up when I found I was spending more time reading footnotes than I was when I was at university. Unfortunately it meant that supposedly hilarious jokes and witty comments made absolutely no sense.

If you’re a fan of Austen you’ll like this but Stephen King obsessives keep well away.

Five Minute Review: The Food of Love by Anthony Capella

Ergh, do I have to spend five minutes on this? Ok, fine.

The Food of Love by Anthony Capella is a rom-com novel, based in and around the streets of Rome, Italy. The plot follows the story of two Italian men who work in the restaurant industry, as they fight for the love of one woman (what’s new there?) The more attractive of the two, self-styled player Tommaso, woos the fair American student, Laura, first by convincing her of his extraordinary culinary skills. The catch? He cannot cook to save his life. However his roommate, the less attractive and uncharismatic chef Bruno, can. Secondary catch, he too is in love with Laura (dun, dun, duuun). So instead of confessing his love what does he do? He helps his player friend by teaching him culinary skills to charm the fair lady, thus becoming the ultimate wing man/gooseberry. Unsurprisingly as the lie gets bigger so too does the (supposedly) hilarious consequences.

As my sister noted when I told her the synopsis, The Food of Love story is basically an Italian version of the Disney film Ratatouille. If you liked that story, but wanted something with more sex, swearing and over sexualisation of mushrooms then you’ll probably enjoy this. *

I should have known that this book would not be an Austen or Orwell when I picked it up in a charity shop for 50p (on sale). At the time I needed a light read as a rest bite from more serious subject matter. No guesses for where my copy will be swiftly going back to in the next week.

*FYI rats and bestiality do not feature in this novel, at least the author didn’t stoop to that level.

Writer’s Block: Not Quite What I Was Expecting

To be honest this wasn’t quite what I was expecting when I hit the dreaded ‘writer’s block’. For years I’ve been able to type away, through thick and thin, and yet I’m now sat behind a screen not knowing what to do. I knew it had to come at some point, I just didn’t expect it now.

Let’s make this clear, the writer’s block I *think* I’m currently facing is not due to lack of ideas or inspiration. That is very much not a problem right now (unless you can count an overabundance of ideas as a problem). The problem is more that when I type something the words feel dry, as if they lack energy or flavour. Out will pour multiple paragraphs of content, then I look back at it an hour or a day later and just want to delete it all. It is unfair a comparison to make, but it feels like some kind of post-natal blog depression. Some days I can’t even bear to write something new, for fear that it will never match up to my demanding standards.

There’s no need to consult a doctor or Google over this text-based disease, I know exactly where it stems from and why it’s not something that can be cured overnight. Over the past couple of months I have ploughed as much time as possible into writing a novel. Not just any novel, the novel which I have been telling myself I am going to write for quite literally years. I’ve worded and reworded the synopsis hundreds of times in my head since I was seventeen years old and, like this frustrating itch or swelling lump on my body, I feel like I can no longer deny myself and my mind the injustice of not putting these thoughts into black and white. I need relief. For many nights I have woken up in cold sweats having seen the lead character in my dreams and I find myself frequently walking past colleagues blindly just because instead of seeing them, I see the scenes of an unwritten novel play out right in front of my face. You may think me romantic for saying these things, but it’s all completely true and happening right now. The mind my a beautiful thing, but it is by no means simple to understand. Needless to say my novel needs writing, if not to free me from fictional torture.

This is where the difficulty comes in. The novel I’m writing is not all sunshine and rainbows. It’s not a comedy, but it’s dystopian. If you’ve never come across the genre before then think titles such as 1984, Brave New World, Handmaid’s Tale. They’re books which relate to a fallen world, one which has strived for perfection but failed. This where the blog gets heavily impacted because, on top of work, life and investing heavy amounts of time writing a dark storyline, it is difficult to be upbeat and funny with the little remaining energy I have to write the blog.

So you’d think therefore the novel would be the best dam thing in the world, that Nobel prize winning literature would be flowing like rivers from mind to PC. It really feels like it isn’t. My hope had been that by reading other novels I’d be inspired in my writing style and tone of voice but instead I feel pig-sick. I (wrongly) convince myself that I could never write anything as good as my literary predecessors and I even start doubting my own storyline. Despite having it rattling around my brain for seven plus years I find myself questioning if what I have really is a solid story. “Surely someone would have written this already if it was any good?” At which point I glance back to my open Word document and feel empty and the sight of pages stuffed with text.

This was not what I expected from writer’s block. This unfounded self-loathing, self-criticism, mild self-disgust. I think to myself that I should stop reading, but I then shake my head of this thought. To tell a writer to stop reading really would be literary suicide. Another recommended fix would be to get someone to read my work, but I can’t even bring myself to do that and then I get angry with myself for not taking the pride I should in my work. And thus the endless bitter circle repeats itself once more. I said it above and I’ll say it again, there is no quick fix to this. Based on this acceptance I’m therefore going to adopt the third way, to keep writing and editing and writing until I shake off all these negative thoughts. Tackle the problem ‘word on’ so to speak. After all, 1984 wasn’t written in a day and I’m pretty sure Orwell didn’t publish his first draft. Let’s get words onto paper and go from there. You can do this Alice, you can dam well do this.

If there is one thing to take light from this unpleasant situation it’s that, in developing a form of writer’s block, I finally feel like I am becoming a serious writer.

Five Minute Review: Five Go on a Strategy Away Day (Parody) by Bruno Vincent

Five little minutes, one little book. This one should be easy…

Five Go on a Strategy Away Day (hereafter “Five Go…“) by Bruno Vincent is a short story based on the original Famous Five classics written by Enid Blyton in the 1940s/50s. At only 105 pages long, Five Go… is a quick book to pick up and complete in one sitting. As a slightly slower reader I was able to read this title cover to cover during my train commute (and that’s with two train changes in between). Perfect if you want something to easily tackle in one go, less of an interest if you’re looking for a more long term investment that you’ll come back to time and time again.

The story follows Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy the dog as they tackle the nightmares of a poorly managed team away day. As I read this there were certainly some laugh out loud moments. More than anything because, as someone who has previously had to help organise team building days on a budget, I can heavily relate to some of the scenarios contained in these pages (Eg, “I’ve got 485 unread emails back at the office, so why am I here?” [sic]).

Five Go… isn’t a book to go for if you’re looking for value for money, no doubt my copy will stay on the shelf for a number of months before it gets relegated to a charity shop (as per the millions of other copies in circulation around the country), however it was a nice little pick up to cheer me up and take my mind off work and world issues, even if for just an hour or two.