Perth: A Guide for the Curious, Terri-ann White (editor)

Lately, I’ve been quite generous with my reviews, but to be fair, the books definitely deserved it. Some of you may be aware that I’m rather enamored with Perth, the capital of Western Australia. I enjoy listening to local musos, reading local writers, and I own a few traveler’s guides to the city, as well. This particular book was released just before my last trip Down Under. At first, I waffled whilst thumbing through it at the bookstore, but then decided, primarily due to the blurb on the back, to go ahead and add it to the collection. After all, it promised a different view of the place. Except, that’s not what happened… the review below was first published on Goodreads, where I gave the book two stars.

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From the back cover: “Perth: a guide for the curious is meant to be thumbed through in cafes, stuffed into satchels and walked around the city like a tireless companion.” Translate that into “read in the bookshop, steal but don’t waste your money, and if you need help drowning yourself in shallow water, feel free to use as weight in your backpack.” The title makes a promise that the content of this erratic, badly edited and boringly illustrated tome cannot keep. For one thing, not a thought was wasted on who the intended audience might be. Some of the essays are entirely pointless drivel that provide neither illumination nor illustration of the nature of this most isolated capital city. Few of them bother to scratch up any substance beyond flimsy personal anecdotes that cannot remotely be connected to Perth as it exists today, partly because the photo material is so tiny, one needs a magnifying lens to make out any detail, partly because the included “maps” are merely strip maps of the former wetland glory dotted with random landmarks, as if someone had invited a drunken darts player to create illustrations. So, if the “curious” addressed in the title are already familiar with Perth, it is doubtful they would bother purchasing this book, and if it is aimed at a broader audience, I recommend buying an additional road map.

Somewhere in the book, the authors claim that content goes beyond nostalgia, but the old-fashioned photographs dividing individual sections say otherwise. All these points, together with the ridiculous foreword by current Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi, who is clearly creating credentials for a future career in tourism marketing, should have been enough to warn me to keep the credit card in the wallet and run, not walk, to the nearest exit of the bookshop. Perhaps the final review copy of the book was a bit of a rush job, or else Terri-ann White should have spent more time with actual proof-reading, because when I said “badly edited” before, that is just what I mean.

Some of the essays are rambling pieces that provide no clear connection to Perth at all, and sadly, that does include the mumbo-jumbo chapter on Nyoongar place names. If you cannot get enough quality submissions for a whole book, look further or print a magazine instead. Page 143, in Peter Kennedy’s chaotic piece on local politics and name-dropping, features two whole lines, neatly enclosed in parentheses, that clearly constitute a text correction of some sort. Geoffrey London’s Urban Reflections not only boast a sadly obvious grammatical mistake (“…becoming a keen student of the city and it’s architecture”, p. 183) but also a complete disconnect from Perth then and now, as it is wholly unillustrated. Websites such as Lost Perth feature vast vaults of photographic material that could have been used to bring these remembrances to life for those readers who are not old or local enough to be familiar with the city at that time.

All in all, this collection reads like a hurried assembly of random writings without direction. The small handful of actually insightful and interesting articles cannot balance out the rest, and one must look very, very closely to “find the city’s soul” or discover anything about its personality. Save your money for the excellent Perth by David Whish-Wilson, instead and satisfy your curiosity by visiting the local tourist office and exploring on your own.

Postscript: today I actually officially finished the book. I stand by my original assessment. The only reason to elevate the rating at all would be that David Whish-Wilson’s essay was a fabulous example of what the book could have been, had standards for content been set and applied.

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu

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No, I’m not closing the blog again already; I have far too many goodies lined up for you in the future. It just so happens that I’ll be away from the (or any, really) keyboard until late May, so there won’t be new posts until then. To get you through the waiting period, I may post a couple of older reviews I’ve done elsewhere. Meanwhile, I promise to put any downtime I may have to good use, so expect fresh reviews upon my return!

Review: “Plants Taste Better” by Richard Buckley

It may be that the mojo is strong right now, or perhaps I’ve just been lucky with selections, but I have reviewed some great cookbooks recently. Richard Buckley’s “Plants Taste Better: Delicious plant-based recipes, from root to fruit” stands out even among those. Before I continue with what this book is, I should perhaps spend a moment explaining what it is not, from my perspective as someone who loves spending time in the kitchen and is always eager to try new recipes. This book is not for cooks who prefer to take as little prep time as possible. Yes, there are a few recipes that will accommodate you, but the majority will seem like frustrating exercises. Buckley features quite a few recipes whose individual parts must be made in advance, and even though that sometimes means up to days in advance, I realize a good number of casual or busy cooks won’t want to bother.

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So, who is “Plants Taste Better” for? Anyone who enjoys recipes that feature commonplace ingredients with a twist and beautiful presentation. Cooks and gourmands who love to tickle the taste buds and don’t mind a little extra effort. One refreshing feature of the recipes is that the ingredient lists are generally relatively short to moderately long.

Buckley begins by offering a bunch of no-nonsense, down to earth advice on cooking, combining flavors, and choosing and buying produce. Unlike most other chefs, he offers a word of wisdom on using salt and cayenne pepper properly, as well. He spends some time explaining what exactly ‘umami’ is and how one can achieve it when cooking. Finally, he goes over essential and nice-to-have kitchen equipment.

The book is divided into Snacks; Soups, Pates, and Light Lunches; Salads; Mains; Desserts; and Breads. The recipes are frequently amended by helpful hints. Nothing is left to chance for those who enjoy stocking their pantry, fridge, and freezer with homemade essentials: From making stocks and pickles, a variety of garnishes like spiced nuts and dukkah, to making pasta (with photos to help with more complicated shapes like tortelloni and an entire section on making perfect gnocchi), oils, butters, and milks, the options are virtually endless. I was particularly impressed with the fact that the Breads chapter begins with a sourdough rye bread, something I have tried to find in our area for ages.

So, is this a must-have? If you feel about food and its preparation as I do, then definitely. More timid cooks may be happy to know that every dish is featured in a photo, as well.

“Plants Taste Better” is published by Quarto Publishing Group – Jacqui Small. I received a free copy for review via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Great Expectations

Here we are, another day, another blog. I had gotten lazy on the personal blog for some time, but then I started reading short stories which led to crime fiction which led to poetry which led to poetry guides, and many moon and even many more book purchases later, I need a good home for my reviews. So this is it. What can you, the reader, expect? Well, I am not a professional reviewer. I write what I think about a book, including weird grammar and misspellings, because I notice those, even when I try not to. My preferred genres include travel books, cookbooks, mystery novels, thrillers, adult literary fiction, fiction for young people, biographies (especially about or by musicians), short stories, and poetry. That doesn’t mean I don’t read anything else. But most of what occupies my nightstand… and my end table… and my dining table… and the bathroom… you get the idea… belongs to one of the genres I have just mentioned.

If you would like me to review a book of yours, please contact me via Netgalley or email me at vyvienn(at)gmail(dot)com. You can find many older examples of my reviews on Netgalley, Amazon, and Goodreads. Just be aware that I take the honest review idea seriously: I am equally likely to say what I didn’t like about a book as what I did like. So if you are merely looking for accolades, Kirkus Review might be more up your alley.

What do I expect from you, dear readers? I expect that sometimes you will disagree with my review, possibly violently so. While that is your right, I will not tolerate comments that are personally insulting to me, authors, or other readers or commentators. Netiquette may seem terribly 1998 at this point, but I insist on good manners around here. If you’ve read a book and are curious if I have, too, and what I thought about it, you can certainly ask or even suggest what I should read next. Just let me warn you right now: the waiting list is quite long already and likely to grow a bit longer by next month.

From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. (…) On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.

Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn