Tag Archives: review

Two years of Goodreads

I first joined Goodreads in September 2015 and have been using it on & (mostly) off ever since. In the last eight or nine months my activity on the book review site has accelerated. Before opening the first page I immediately update my “book shelf” and after final sentence I award the author my stars. My visits to Goodreads have probably increased due to ‘Reading Challenge” function. This feature allows the user to set a reading goal for the end of the year, so that whenever you complete and update your latest favourite you’re also reaching a goal.

For this year’s reading challenge I set myself an attainable target of 45 books. Now we are roughly half way through the year and I’ve managed a respectable 27 titles (60% apparently). This pile of books has been bolstered this year by being able to update eBooks from my kindle devices. Opening up my Goodreads to electronic texts has been helpful in finding new books as well. Sometimes, one of the worst aspects of being a heavy reader is that you simply run out of books, or rather you can’t see the wood for the trees. Perhaps a more subtitle metaphor for this stage in the paper’s production would be ‘not seeing the pages for the books’? Whichever allusion you choose, it’s handy to have a community of people, across several platforms with varied reading interests that mirror and inspire your own.

The other function I’ve recently discovered (I shall exorbitantly name) is multi-platform reviewing. This allows me to share my recent Goodread reviews on my WordPress blog. Sharing the reviews onto my blog is something I am excited about because it enable me to join two areas of my writing experience together. Now that the reading challenge is slowly rolling downhill towards the goal I intend to focus more intently on the reviews and hope you enjoy them.

Happy Reading

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The Most Moreish Mozzarella

Now that I’m approaching my mid-twenties my perfect Friday nights have become more demure. No longer are my weekends spent drinking away hours in clubs or sipping a cocktail at a bar. Instead, my idea of the ideal evening is a plate of various snacks and a glass or two of red wine. The sundries can vary depending on where I have been shopping but my plate must always have some cheese and olives. I have yet to encounter a cheese I do not enjoy and each lazy evening I sample a new variety. However, there is one cheese that must always be present: The humble Mozzarella.

There is something irresistible about the creamy spheres that I always enjoy. When I pick up a pack and hear the slosh of water around the cheese, I am immediately content and know the evening will be peaceful. Over time I have had the pleasure of slicing many varieties under my cheese knife. It has reached the point that I feel  my understanding of the food has reached beyond the level of novice and I can now advise the newly initiated on the correct purchase.

In order to determine what constitutes a good cheese we must set ourselves some categories. I propose two empirical perimeters that will allow for comparison: Texture/Shape and Flavour. Beginning with Texture/Shape we must understand that supermarket Mozzarella spends most of its life in a bath. Once the packaging has been opened a considerable amount of liquid must be drained. Now the cheese is squeezed free of excess fluids we may now consider how it appears and feels upon the tongue. Has the ball lost its shape and now resembles a creamy puddle or hold its shape? Does it slice and tear away easily in fleshy strips? The sad truth is that some retailers sell overly saturated mozzarella that is an immediate disappointment upon opening.

Our second and perhaps most important category for comparison is flavour. It seems absurd that different brands of such a mild cheese can have distinct differences on the pallet. However, every Mozzarella producer will procure their ingredients from different dairies and have an individual process in the making of their product. As with all cheese, Mozzarella is largely made up of fat and the levels of the unhealthy substance impact on the taste. In an attempt to be more health conscious there are now reduced fat Mozzarella readily available. Broadly speaking these cheeses are an abomination and if you are inclined to ingest these for health reasons, then I would suggest eating less of other foods or exercising more. It is better to relegate Mozzarella to a rare treat than compromising on one of life’s purest delights.

Now we have our guidelines for understanding quality, we can move on to comparing some common varieties. I have picked up three readily available samples from a Northern English town and applied to them the rules of Texture/Structure and Flavour. This brief comparison will hopefully guide you in your purchases and lead you along the road of Mozzarella appreciation.

ASDA Mozzarella Cheese- £0.63

The first cheese on the list proudly proclaims to have been made in Italy. This claim should be a considered mild international offense to the Italians. At the low price of 63p the supermarket’s mid-range, own brand offering could be considered fair value for money. That is by paying so little for the cheese you will receive little in return. Once you’ve opened the packet, poured away the liquid and given the sphere a small squeeze  you’re left with a melted snowball. This Mozzarella is excessively saturated and fails to hold the ball shape. Only the center is an enjoyable texture because the enormous amount of fluids makes the majority of the cheese into a mild milk slush. The water gives the cheese a diluted taste and promotes the impression of eating a new terrible form of Mozzarella flavour protein shake.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend offering this option on a cheese board. Instead, I believe the true destiny of this offering is for cooking. When exposed to heat the liquid will evaporate, concentrating the flavour and allowing the cheese to shine. For the bargain price it’s definitely worth exploring on a pizza and is mild enough to be enjoyed by children and strong cheese abstainers.

Rating: Raw eating- 2/5 Cooking-4/5

Galbani Santa Lucia Mozzarella- £1.30

This is perhaps the most readily available option in most retailers. The reason for this is because it’s a really dependable option. Galbani offer a wide variety of choices from the maxi (large tube), to dainty pearls and a light Mozzarella that is only good as substitute wall filler. The standard Mozzarella ball is solid, soft and tears away in satisfying fleshy strips. It doesn’t ooze liquid on the plate to taint other cheeses. Instead, it stands firm to knife pressure and retains a proud shape. The flavour is mild, creamy and feels indulgent to eat. After eating one sphere I look at the other cheeses I have purchased with minor disappointment- I should have bought two Mozzarella instead. I would recommend this Mozzarella for all general eating and is always my standard choice.

Rating: Raw eating- 4/5 Cooking-Just eat it now

Fattorie Garofalo Mozzarella di Bufalo Campana- £2.39

Now we’ve reached the top end of the Mozzarella scale. This is your Champagne of the cheese world. Just like champagne it can be a little overrated. Sometimes your standard Prosecco will be just as good. However, there are times when only the best will satisfy. I imagine that when I win my Nobel Prize for Literature because of my seminal cheese reviews, the after-party will be flooded with the fancy stuff.

This Mozzarella has a fluffy outside texture that immediately places you onto a cloud of eating. It is intensely creamy which makes you jealous to have not been born a buffalo, able to drink the goodness from source. The price and availability doesn’t make this everyday eating. The good stuff should be a treasure for when you truly deserve the best Mozzarella has to offer.

Rating: Raw eating- 4.5/5 Cooking- HEATHEN!

One Hundred Years of Solitude

For New Year’s Eve I attended a dinner party in Stockholm. I donned a new suit, (from the H&M boxing day sale) and not to sound too immodest looked particularly handsome. Whilst we had coffee and dessert conversation turned to books. I mentioned my recent obsession with Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his most highly regarded novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. Only one other person at the table had read the book but she immediately replied, “it’s rare that a book lives up to the hype”. This review (by the most esteemed reader Lina) is exceptionally accurate.

Initially I had bought the text from a second hand book store for £1 and was apprehensive about opening it. There were other books I bought that day I wanted to read first and One Hundred Years of Solitude filtered its way to the bottom of the pile. This was a mistake. I should have devoured Marquez’s words fresh upon purchase because it quickly became the most captivating story I read in 2016.

In 1982 Marquez was correctly awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In the directions of Alfred Nobel’s last will and testament, writers may be awarded the prize for producing, “in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”. It seems verbose to describe my favourite book of the year with Nobel’s words but Marquez managed to do just that. He weaved a story unbound by the normal passage of time and follows a whole family, with their interweaving life and relationships, over the span of a century. So much detail is compacted into a small space. It’s an achievement to fully explore the history of the whole family through the generations. A testament to the number of characters and various relations is the family tree that is printed in my edition.

Not only does the book cover an expanse of characters but manages to do so simultaneously. The chapters are long because whole family’s life is explored at the same time in a fluid manner. There’s no stopping to focus on a particular person for a chapter, despite how pivotal the drama is. This creates a different approach to the passing a time and saves excessive leaps in chronology to catch up on people’s lives, allowing for fuller characters. If you add to this the magical nature of the story, the remote location family reside and the tone of isolation, you’re quickly immersed into the lives of the clan.

The tragedies of the household and rare their joys are easily felt. It swiftly became a book I couldn’t stop reading on the commute, at lunch and before falling asleep. Unfortunately, disaster struck one lunch time after I returned the book to my bag along with an unopened bottle of cola. As I returned my bag to the storeroom, before sitting at the desk, I noticed it felt damp. The liquid had exploded over the book when I had less than twenty pages left. The paper was soaked and no radiator was working for a quick rescue. I started working under the sways of melancholy; the train home was in mourning with nothing to read.

I managed to rescue the text on the bathroom radiator. I paced the tiles all night hoping the words would be legible. Eventually I awoke, slumped against the bathroom sink. The book pages struggled to be separated but the words were fine. In fact, the book smells better than before. The heat curled and splayed the pages into a fan as large as the story they hold. It’s now the most beautiful book on the shelf and possibly the best story as well.

Joanne

When I heard the first single off Lady Gaga’s new album (Joanne) I anticipated the record to be a flop. Initially I wasn’t keen on Perfect Illusion. I set it as my alarm, using the almost screamed vocals to scare me into the shower every morning. I’m not proclaiming Perfect Illusion is bad but a generic pop tune that most recording artists churn out. It certainly lacks the catchy nature of her other major songs but unlike her other work seems to come from a more emotional place. This is true of the whole album. Gaga has ditched excessive electronic sound and penis metaphors for a country, rock and roll vibe and lyrics fueled on feeling. The new employment of a classically American sound has taken the artist in a new audio direction and along with the more personal rhymes has possibly help create her best collaborative work.

Mark Ronson has heavily been involved in the making of the record. His renowned affinity for sampling becomes obvious in songs like Come to Mama which reminds me of the Beatles. A lot of the album carries this feeling with Dancin in Circles being a re-imagining of Madonna’s La Isla Bonita with Gwen Stefani style vocals. Similarly, Diamond Heart and Grigio Girls feel like heavily stolen melodies and a result of this is that parts of the song structure, when transitioning from verse to chorus, tend to sound clunky and oddly rushed. However, the record is overall much more enjoyable and less aggressively synth than previous sounds resulting in an album that is a lot easier to listen to even if the vocals are a lot louder, harsher and emotionally unrestrained.

Selina Meyers for Seven Seasons

The USA has a minor history of stealing things: expanses of land from indigenous people and TV shows from the UK. These are arguably the nation’s most savage crimes. Focusing on the latter, entertainment theft has generally been unsuccessful. British people don’t watch Steve Carrell and co’s attempt at The Office and even though neither side of the Atlantic has much in the way of talent The UK wins with the gentle art of spoon playing. However, as with all rules there is an exception: Veep. Stolen primarily from the BBC political comedy The Thick of It there are almost no fingerprints of another clumsy theft. Veep reduces the level of blue language and Capaldi rage whilst maintaining the same narcissistic and corrupt political party play.

Veep follows the egotistical Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) from her position of excluded Vice President, into her tenuous ascension to the Oval Office and her grasping to maintain presidency. Supported by a staff of neurotics such as Gary Walsh (Tony Hale) her incompetent bag man and her own eventual “veep”, the charming but devious Tom James (Hugh Laurie) , the role of President is rarely ethical, never P.C.  but always hilarious. Whilst I miss Capaldi’s originally worded insults, Meyer has corkers of her own and the large process of American politics provides grander story lines for the cast to blunder through. It is the only show that I will sit through the credits as the screen is cut in half and more comedy is delivered. I weekly risk square eyes by up screen for the endings. That is not to say that the show is without a fault. If I could change one thing about the show (and it would only be this) the opening titles display newspaper headlines relating to content of the season. Including previous episode specific headlines in the opening titles would make them as engaging as the end credits.

Currently, Veep is part way through season five and has been given a sixth season by HBO in 2017. I can only hope they vote Selina Meyer again for President and give us the gift of a season seven as well.