Best of The Blog: Booktopia’s Caroline Baum reveals her favourite books of 2012

by |February 1, 2013

Caroline Baum's Highlights

HEAVY HITTER OF 2012

BRING UP THE BODIES 

by Hilary Mantel

What is there left to say? I just wanted to join the chorus of universal admiration for the second volume of Mantel’s remarkable feat of embodying Henry Vlll’s chief strategist, Thomas Cromwell. Like many, I found it easier to read than Wolf Hall, because the narrative treads more familiar ground (the waning of Anne Boleyn’s power and Henry’s manoeuvring to rid himself of her) and because the point of view is well established so that being inside Cromwell’s head seems entirely comfortable.

My favourite moments in the book are the telling details: Henry recycling jewellery to offer to prospective wife Jane Seymour, careless of whether evidence of the previous owner’s initials have been quite erased; Cromwell calculating that the king will want his discarded first wife Catherine’s costly ermine furs back on her death. And a brilliant scene in which Henry falls at jousting, is feared dead and Cromwell, like a modern day spin doctor, swings into immediate damage control mode.

Chilling in its portrait of the arbitrary raising and lowering of individual fates and fortunes at Henry’s intrigue riddled court, this is a sumptuously entertaining majestic pageant of human ambition. Hurry up Hilary, and write the third volume.

Click here to buy Bring Up The Bodies from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore


BIOGRAPHY OF 2012

PATRICK LEIGH FERMOR: AN ADVENTURE

by Artemis Cooper

If I’d been born a man, this is the kind of life I’d like to have lived. Charming, handsome, debonair (now there’s a word no one uses anymore) courageous, witty, bohemian, Fermor was a natural and prodigiously talented writer, as his classic A Time of Gifts demonstrated. An account of his walk across Europe in 1933 it is fresh with adventure and enthusiasm, truffled with anecdotes and characters from a world that has vanished, written in language opulent with imagery and playfulness.

This biography captures the spirit of that journey as the opening chapter of an eventful arc of ridiculously rich experiences. Fermor embraced every kind of social encounter with equal curiosity whether talking to a Greek fisherman or a Transylvanian Countess. Cooper knew Fermor well and her affection for her subject shines on every page of this well researched, lively portrait of one of the true originals of the twentieth century, who deserves to be more widely known. It will make you want to jump on a plane to Greece immediately, in search of the country that Fermor fell in love with and where he eventually made his home after a life of nomadic wanderings.

Click here to buy Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore


BEST OF CRIME FOR 2012

LIVE BY NIGHT

by Denis Lehane

Denis Lehane is the bomb when it comes to gritty American crime fiction. But as well as his work about contemporary America (including his episodes of The Wire) he can summon up the past with equal muscularity.

His latest offering is a sequel to The Given Day but can easily be read as a stand alone. It’s the story of Joe Coughlin, the youngest son of a top ranking Boston police family, who falls in with the bad guys and develops a taste for a life of crime in the Prohibition era when mobster rule is at its height.

The flamboyant characters in Lehane’s gritty world live by night, operating by a different set of rules and values to the rest of society who go about their legitimate business in daylight.

The writing is harsh, brutal and explicitly violent but also full of subtlety, tenderness and humor. It pulsates with the vitality of violence.

The fast-paced action, punctuated by unpredictable double crosses, shifts from Boston to Florida where the steamy locale provides welcome colour. Lehane gives some of his gangsters the swagger and charisma of movie stars but the glamour cannot mask their ugliness forever. Chilling, gripping and full of dark menace.

P.S. if you want to stay in gangster mode, this is the perfect companion to Sutton (reviewed in the November Buzz)

Click here to buy Live by Night from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore


THRILLER OF 2012

GONE GIRL

by Gillian Flynn

How well do you know your lover?

Just how well can you ever know the person you love? This is the question that Nick Dunne must ask himself on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy suddenly disappears.

The police immediately suspect Nick. Amy’s friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn’t true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they aren’t his. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone.

So what did really did happen to Nick’s beautiful wife? And what was left in that half-wrapped box left so casually on their marital bed? In this novel, marriage truly is the art of war.

Click here to buy Gone Girl from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore


BEST IN THE KITCHEN FOR 2012

JERUSALEM

by Sami Tamimi

Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi are the men behind the bestselling Ottolenghi: The Cookbook.

Their chain of restaurants is famous for its innovative flavours, stylish design and superb cooking.

At the heart of Yotam and Sami’s food is a shared home city: Jerusalem. Both were born there in the same year, Sami on the Arab east side and Yotam in the Jewish west. The two only met when they worked together in London nearly 30 years later, and discovered they shared a language, a history, and a love of great food.

Jerusalem sets 120 of Yotam and Sami’s inspired, accessible recipes within the cultural and religious melting pot of this diverse city. With culinary influences coming from its Muslim, Jewish, Arab, Christian and Armenian communities and with a Mediterranean climate, the range of ingredients and styles is stunning. From soups (frikkeh, chicken with kneidelach), meat and fish (chicken with cardamom rice, sharmula bream with rose petals), vegetables and salads (chargrilled squash with labneh and pickled walnut salsa), pulses and grains (beetroot and saffron rice), to cakes and desserts (fig and arak trifle, clementine and almond cake), there is something new for everyone to discover.

Packed with beautiful food and location photography, thoughtfully designed and inspired by two very different childhoods in the same city, Jerusalem showcases sumptuous Ottolenghi dishes in a dazzling setting.

Click here to buy Jerusalem from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

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About the Contributor

Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.

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