Monday, 14 November 2011


Well, it's been a while and I do apologise... Holidays and life has got in the way and a general dearth of what I call GOOD books.  I knew I was in trouble when I was sitting at the airport waiting for a flight to Sicily and I realised that I had no shampoo or conditioner with me but I did have a lemon zester and seven paperbacks. Most of them old books that have recently been re-issued.  Holiday reading fills me with panic.  Madly dash around the airport books hop - NO.  I once relied on that at Heathrow and it was closed - can you imagine the horror? So I bought a load of Stella Gibbons old novels that have just been released.  Hmm, well... Oh dear.  I mean I know that if you're written a big stonking best seller like Cold Comfort Farm you probably never need to write another book - and really, I wish she hadn't - or that I had lower expectations of them and simply hadn't bought them. 'Nuff said.
However due to the joys of The Harpies (book club) I have certain prescribed books that i would never have normally read - A Visit for the Goon Squad is one of them - I adored it....and I am just about to start The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - yet another I would never have bought -so for that much thanks.  But  I find myself when going away always throwing certain books into the bag ( yes, I do see that a Kind;e would help here but I'm going to side step that issue for the moment) Saki, Waugh, Mitford, and Forever Amber are usually to be found in my luggage as you cannot rely on airports.  Heed the advice - do take some comfort re-reads with oyu!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Risotto with Nettles

Gosh, I love foodie books.  NOT cookery books (though I do of course like 'em) but books that lovingly recall forgotten meals along with memorable friends and relatives.  Of course *ahem* I wrote one myself, so I would, wouldn't I?  But Anna Del Conte who wrote Risotto with Nettles raises the bar.  The first thing I learnt which really surprised me was that whole towns were built in Italy to capture the sea breezes, purely for drying out pasta.  So whole streets had massive fringes of fresh spaghetti drying in the sun.  Must have been a wonderful sight... Also, fresh home-made pasta was in such demand and held in such high regard that women in the war would gather together over the kitchen table, often pulled out in a sunny square and make ravioli or tagliatelle to sell - and then with the money buy dried pasta to feed their families.  The food is mouth watering in itself but her life story is amazing too.  Shot at, nearly thrown in prison, her first job as an au pair in England, her marriage, her career as a cook are spellbinding.  And then, there's the irresistible pull of the Italian food. This is dear to my heart too, so much so, that I am off an a Sicilian adventure very soon to a cookery school in that sun drenched island of lemons.  No doubt I shall be making pasta but I sincerely I hope I avoid being shot at.
Oh - the jar next to the book is that wonderful thing that I make this time every year: Damson vodka - perfect for a Winter Twinkle cocktail (one part damson vodka, two pats frosty prosecco)

Sunday, 21 August 2011


Yes, it's cull time again. I try to be ruthless.  Honest.  But then sentimentality gets the better of me.  Politeness, too.  I mean, I KNOW some of these authors and even if I'm never, ever going to read them again, I can't chuck them.  And then I'm vexed as to what to actually DO with 'em.  Yes, yes, of course I do charity shops...well, to be honest, I do when I can cajole someone with strong arms to carry them there.  Then we have the 'library' in the entrance hall where the top post shelf are full of the 7 flats here unwanted books.  The theory is of course that you 'borrow' one and replace one.  That's the theory.  In practice what happens is that it gets chock with unwanted Dan Brown and Jeffrey Archer (NOT mine I hasten to add)  Then I take a book bag to book club every month and dish 'em out.  Ditto to friends.  But even with all that I swear the pesky things are breeding.  Then, the other night, it happened.  The thing that I'd been dreading and yet expecting for some time.  An avalanche in the middle of the night.  A tsunami of books flooded the bed.  Crashing down on me (and Flo who really was no help at all.  In fact if I had ever thought that she would be any use as a guard dog, that theory was firmly quashed as her trembling body tried to wriggle under my pillow whilst making imploring yelps of distress.  Not growls of attack.) So, the bedside table is looking a little empty, the shelves are groaning, there are three book bags ready for the next strong armed friend to take to the shop and Flo is looking, well, a little more secure...

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Penguin Classics

It's my own silly fault.  I was seduced.  Yes, yes, by the 'one click' on Amazon.  (I swear it will reduce me to bankruptcy) But those Penguin classics look so, well, classic. Who can resist them?  Also, and I lay my hand on my heart here, I thought that I would have binge of GOOD books. Now don't get me wrong there is absolutely nothing wrong with chick lit - or - women's contemporary fiction as we are all meant to call it now, Indeed, I have written books myself of that genre.  But I wanted something a bit more, well, classic... So, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers seemed to fit the bill.
I'd heard of her, and she also wrote The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, so I thought I was on to a winner.  But, then, oh dear... the eye started to skip paragraphs, the fidgiting got worse, and in the end I'm sorry to say I gave up.  But then, what a fool I was to think that I could appreciate it anyway.  Set in small town southern states in the fifties....that ALONE should have told me that it wasn't for me. I dislike the decade, I dislike anything to do with small town America, (unless of course it's Little Women) I don't want to read about mill workers, I have only the haziest of ideas as to what a Cotton Gin is (and frankly care even less) and then there is her talk of negro workers, which makes me squirm.
I perservered for a while longer, but the main protaganist is a deaf mute, the town is dreary, teh people are quite horrid and nothing much happens really....Or it hadn't by the time I gave up and irritably tossed it off the bedside table and reached with relief to Joan Wyndham and Dawn Chorus (another one click and SO jolly and uplifting I thank the book gods that I did)
Now, in the case of Carson I can say that I know it to be a case of 'It's not you, it's me,' as I know that she has been lauded, and still is, as a fantastic writer.  But definitely not for me.  If anyone wants it - just let me know and I'll pop it in a jiffy bag to you.

Saturday, 2 July 2011


Of course, it isn't called Keef, but it should be... Life by Keith Richards published by Phoenix is a whirlwind of read.  The question that's always, with unfailing regularity, asked about Keef is - HOW is he still alive? Shouldn't he be dead? Well, yeah, but that's rock 'n roll baby.  Actually he answers pretty early on why he's NOT dead.  Quality control.  Yes, you got it.  Quality control.  He's never been in the awful position of taking really, really cheap drugs - or as he puts it - 'Mexican shoe scrapings'.  Not our Keef.  It's TOP DRAWER stuff.  And - hold the front page - he's never mainlined.  He just banged it straight into a muscle. Phew, well that's OK then...
Keef comes over as rather a sweet old fashioned kinda boy.  I think we all knew a Keef when we were younger, he never made a move on you, but somehow you ended up in his arms.  Or bed.  And there have been many of the laideez in Keef's life, not least his rather formidable mum, Doris, who once told them all off in a studio in Jamaica for wasting time when they could be recording because 'this studio's costing money, now get on with it!'.
His infamous getting together with Anita Pallenberg after falling for her when she was still with the late Brian Jones is a lesson in pure hedonistic rock'n roll romance, involving hanging out in Morocco, driving through teh desert in a Roller, taking god knows how much drugs and booze and waking up in Tangier.
The rows with Mick Jagger remain, but they have been through so much together, seen and done things that us mere mortals will never comprehend that the ties are too strong to be broken.  They will forever be The Glimmer Twins.
That makes the book really readable, although I did skip the very geeky musico bits, the loving descriptions of so many different guitars and recording techniques are a bit dull but the back stage gossip and bitching makes up for it.
I'm off for a tequila shot and a dance round the flat to Brown Sugar....After all, I know it's only rock'n'roll but I like it. Like it.  Yes I do.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Bloody Vampires

Oh no.  Not another bloody vampire book I hear you groan.  Well, umm, yes.  Sorry about that.  The Twilight saga, True Blood and all the others that seemingly breed unchecked on the shelves have been joined by a new trilogy.  Well, new to me, that is. Kim Newman (a rather glorious eccentric figure himself and an utterly impeccable film buff) and his Anno Dracula series.  It seemed appropriate reading somehow.  It's an English summery weekend in June.  The heating's on, I'm wearing a jumper and the dog is warming my feet. Pimms?  No thanks, I'll have a hot chocolate with a slug of rum in it.  To warm up.
Let me introduce you to the world of London 1888.  Queen Victoria has sensationally remarried to the Prince of Darkness himself - the Wallachian Prince known as Count Dracula. His (polluted) bloodline is sweeping London as more and more people are choosing to 'turn'.  It's quite fashionable really.  Oscar Wilde turned, still hiding his bad teeth behind his hands.  Smoked glasses and the gothic look are affected by the fashioables.   Of course, all that rubbish put about by Van Helsing about garlic and crucifixes doesn't work.  Silver does though, a bullet or  scalpel, followed by ripping the heart (or any vital organ) out of the body. 'Newborns' who are not looked after are horribly burnt by going into the sun and have to go to a sort of Vampire rehab, knows as The Hall.  Some of the 'warms' are sympathetic to the dark side, but gradually London is turned upside down by the Vampires,  In the squalor of Whitechapel prostitutes sell their blood to hungry vampires, and gin sodden sluts tote children around on leads offering up their necks for a bite. A killer roams the streets in the shape of the Silver Scalpel - later known as Jack the Ripper.  But why?  With enough blood puddling the pavements anyway it seems a redundant occupation. There's a rather dapper spy - Charles Beauregard, a vampire patrician prime minister, a wonderful 450 year old heroine vampire Genevieve and a whole constructed world of darkness in the fog ridden streets of London.  Pretty compulsive.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm feeling a bit peckish...

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Fairy Tales

Now, I must admit that the re-working of fairy tales with a modern twist never appeals to me.  Too much whimsy and it can border dangerously with magic realism. You know, one minute your protagonist is looking in a mirror and the next minute she's turned into a snake.  Oh no.  Not for me thanks. So this book - well, I say book, but it's an unbound proof copy in the tiniest print you can imagine, has languished for weeks under a pile of books beside my bed.  On the floor, actually, as said bedside table is about to collapse under the weight of far too much printed material (another nudge to buy a Kindle?  No, banish that thought) Anyway, the time came when I had run out of reading material and I reluctantly picked it up.  The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey published by umm...gosh, I don't doesn't say.  I'll google it in a moment and let you know.  But my goodness I'm SO glad that I did.  I had to finish it one swoop. It's wonderful.  It made me realise that I really love anything set in the snow - it's so seductive...and it reminds me of those wonderful Scandinavian and Russian paintings that I adore.  The snow blankets everything, and pillows sharp corners, and people have to stay huddled inside around a fire whilst gazing outside at the icy brightness.  Snow of course covers all things with a virginal innocence, but doesn't cover the sometimes dark secrets that lay lurking beneath.  It's a re-told fairy tale indeed, one of a childless couple that one winter builds a snow child that comes to life.  Of course, like all fairy tales the poor snow child comes to a sticky end - usually through human love, or the start of Spring... but this is a no nonsense tale set in the harsh landscape of Alaska and I knew that I could rely on the author not to stray into whimsy or mirrors turning onto snakes... My heart was lost to the tale of the middle aged couple struggling against all odds in that snowy landscape, beating out a hand to mouth living. Then the flight of fancy and a much needed break of grinding habit leads them to make a snow child one frosty evening... the rest is pure magic. (Reagan Arthur Books)

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Language of Flowers

Aren't librarians nice? And most publishers, too.  I was at The Reading Agency Roadshow which was held at Brighton library (an opportunity to pitch new books to libraries) and at the end of the day the generous publishers gave some books away (or perhaps they just didn't want to carry them home - no - banish that unworthy thought) And I was given The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh published by Macmillan.  Now, clever, clever Macmillan have also published a little handbook as well by Mandy Kirby with a forward by Vanessa to accompany it.  Double whammy huh? But well worth it.  Enchanting.  I loved it.  The novel is fascinating, but the concept of the Victorian language of flowers bought up to date is charming.  Of course, the Victorians didn't actually make up bouquets telling a story (of a love affair - natch) but they were used as talking points on a dinner table, or a conversation piece on an over mantle.  Geranium? True friendship.  Marigold? Grief.  Nasturtium?  Impetuous love.  Moss? Maternal love. Violet?  Modest worth. Periwinkle? Tender recollection.  Awww.... Roses of course had many, many meanings depending on the colour.  So I leave you with....

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Marvellous Party

Don't, what ever you do, read Redeeming Features by Nicholas Haslam in one sitting.  You may be tempted to, but don't.  You'll be exhausted.  Honestly.  It's like going to a giddy cocktail party that you can never leave.  One more enticing nibble, maybe another of those prawny things and half a glass of champagne and a quick chat to that fascinating man who's wearing a rather divine paisley shirt tinkling on a piano and you'll make your goodbyes.  Two hours later and the room is even more crowded and somehow you're drinking a Manhattan and agreeing to go on holiday in a villa share in rather a marvellous undiscovered island somewhere in the Adriatic. 
When you finally tear yourself away, you have to go and lie in a dark room and sip ice cold water for a few hours and then feel that your life up and till now has been rather dull indeed. 
It then give you time to wonder if maybe it would have been all so different if a) you had been born a pretty gay boy with a sparkling wit, a good eye for the finer things in life b) you had gone to Eton and c) had you been born into a very wealthy family....
The names alone in this book make for delirious reading. At a random name check (p135) there are Arthur Jeffress, Nicolette and Alastair Londonderry, Chips Cannon, Peggy Guggenheim, Marchesa Casati, Max Ernst and Alexander Calder.  On one page. One.  Page.  I.m still reeling.  There are some great jokes and some scurrilous stories, too (Did he ever get sued, I wonder? Or are they all too grand to care?) And irrefutable proof, according to our Nicholas, that Wallis Simpson was a hermaphrodite. (Her lady's maid was bemoaning the fact to another maid that although Wallis had beautiful silk underclothes there was 'always a little urine stain.  There.  On the front')  Gosh.
I've been to a marvellous party.
And now, if you'll excuse me I simply have to go and lie down.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

As sure as eggs are eggs

A clutch of freshly laid eggs were delivered to me yesterday by Mr B who keeps bantams in his garden.  The Girls, as they are known, practically have their own web site, so popular are they.  They are indeed splendid creatures and have regular spa days chez Mr B. I was pretty bird-phobic till I met them, but they have won me over with their endearing habit of 'pock pocking' calls of greeting and being very fond of being stroked till they fall into a pretty feathered coma of contentment in your lap. 
Anyway, I got to thinking about all things hen-like in books and a remarkable thing arose:  All clearly bonkers people have, at some time, lived in a hen house. In fact and in fiction.  I adored the story of Lady Gladys, who had one of the first nose jobs that went a little awry.  She had demanded a nose based on a classical bust, and it was duly done but filled with wax, so that she could never sit in front of a fire lest it melt (which apparently it did).  She had great beauty and wealth and married into the aristocracy but it all went horribly wrong when she lurched from charmingly eccentric to completely batty and retired amongst the hens.  Chips Channon saw her once on Bond Street and doffed his hat and was about to greet her, when she froze him out with an icy sapphire stare.  Then of course, there was Great Uncle Ulick who is drafted in to partner a Molly Keane heroine who to her shame, is splattered with chicken manure as it is rumoured, and she suspects it is true that he lives with his chickens.  And Ma Kettle - oh my goodness, the star of The Egg and I.... You have been alerted Mr B. Stay out of the hen house!

Sunday, 6 March 2011

World Book Night

Well, I am quite aware that some of you, well, thousands of you went to Trafalgar Square to hear starry authors (amongst them the perfect poppet that is David Nicholls and the sublime Margaret Atwood) but here in Brighton we made do with Brighton Library.  And being Brighton is was... well, it was somewhat different. We had performance poetry about dog poo, we had pirates, we had a 90 year old woman reading her first book that she'd had published last week into a non-working microphone and a blind woman was emoting in Children's Corner to a group of spellbound kids.  There was also Shedman (don't ask, I haven't got a clue.) Oh yes, and there were the Library Whisperers - a group of thin young men in dodgy looking raincoats who accosted you to 'whisper' about their favourite books, but they were all a bit too nervous and congregated in the Green Room eating kit-kats.  Our brave author, Andrew Kay read aloud from his favourite book (My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell) straining to make himself heard over the unprecedented noise and chaos of the library.  And jolly well he did too.  There were storytellers who had 3 minutes each, and a lovely woman who had written the Brighton Encyclopedia.  There were book give-aways that were eagerly snatched up and a very cute looking scruffy white dog that got a lot of attention (I think he'd got an agent by the end of the evening).  Fun, chaotic, noisy, and quite bonkers.  The saving grace for me was that people had been asked to fill in a questionnaire about books and I leave you with the best comments that I saw. Q: "What do you like best about books?" A:"They are nothing like life ...(they are better) Quite right too.

Sunday, 27 February 2011


Love it loathe it.  Personally, I love it. Thinly spread over warm toast with butter.  What's not to like? Umami to the nth degree. And I was given some marmite chocolate to try a few months ago.  Sounds horrible.  T'was delish. But I was breakfasting with six Germans, one Dutchman, a Norwegian and a lady from Kenya last weekend and I saw their reactions. Good grief.  International relations had never looked so rocky. Moues of distaste rocketed around the table.  They had to be distracted by a 7 mile muddy walk and a country pub, where thank goodness, Harvey's ale redeemed the taste buds. 
Books can be the same, I know.
Lord of the Rings? Well, I'm with CS Lewes.  'Not another f****** elf?" he was reported to have uttered as Tolkien read aloud another chapter to the prestigious Inkies.  I struggled through it when I was about fourteen I think, only because it was the book at school and it was too dreary to have to pretend that I had read it when I hadn't. Oh dear. Hobbits Schmobbits. Who cares? Yes, I know it was all about Nazi's and evil spreading over the land, but really... I also felt the same about Melvyn Peake. Smike.  Gormenghast (which I do think about every time I go past Lancing College, which isn't that often) what a sprawling turgid page turner that is. Awful.  Just awful. The TV adaptation was just abut bearable, but even that... Other massive bestsellers have left me cold too. But then of course, others that have never been out of print can still grip me.  Forever Amber? Oh, yes please... the attention to detail, the account of the plague, the theatres, the royals, the inns and the streets of London have me gripped every single time.
Some bestsellers, just like Marmite, provoke a strong response.  Which is about the best an author can hope for.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Mucho Macho Chefs

Well, yes.  And what red blooded female doesn't? Fancy 'em.  That's what. When Gordon stripped his chef's whites off down the corridor on The F Word to that music, I always gave a little grin, and a frisson of pleasure rippled over me.  Swearing? check.  Rude comments? Check.  Battered charm? Check.  Then there was the Christmas special.  Oh dear.  We saw him in his kitchen being all dadsy with the kids.  No. Really.  Leave that to Jamie.
But of course the Grand Fromage of the lot was surely Anthony Bourdain. When I first read Kitchen Confidential I was cooking on gas. High octane.  No protective oven gloves, so to speak.  Phew.  It was that good. Reckless and fast and furious.  What a bad boy made good, and through food.  I mean, what's not to like? Nothing.  Not in my case anyway as I've (along with countless others) have a soft spot for the rogue, and a rogue, let's remind ourselves, who COOKS.  Wow.
So it was with huge delight that I turned to Medium Raw his follow up. Hmm.  Well. I persuaded myself to read it again, carefully this time, instead of chomping through it like a starving woman on a diet let loose on a groaning buffet table. Yep, it's OK.  But.... there's a bit too much of whining going on for me.  Poor man.  Travelling round the world to his chosen location so that he can be filmed for his US TV shows.  No one understands the pressure.The TV people don't get it.  The food isn't as good.  The ego becomes super sized. But - there are still some wonderful sickening moments.  The description of the forbidden (and therefore hugely enjoyable) illegal meal of ortolans, the visit to a mafia ridden Russian restaurant are first class, but it certainly doesn't have the fire that I needed. He's mellowed, married, has children, has stopped smoking.  He's changed. But we haven't.  We still long for the bad boy. Come on Anthony - live a little.  Just for us. Pretty please?

Sunday, 30 January 2011

To Kindle or not to Kindle?

I freely admit I am an obsessive reader.  You know, the sort that reads the label on a marmalade jar over breakfast, the sort that has to scan the back of other peoples newspapers on a bus.  Oh yes, and I simply cannot sleep till I have read for at least half an hour and I never leave the house without a book in my bag - and can I say - jolly useful that has been, too - delayed trains, gruesome waits in the dental surgery or just a boring journey.  So you can but imagine the weight of my bags when I go on holiday.
Last year I went to Argentina (lovely place - hideous plane journey) and I was going for three weeks.  I had a separate suitcase just for the books.  Then I had a bit of a panic attack and spread them over the two bags in case one got lost en route.  Then I had another panic attack in case three books weren't enough for the flight (how right I was.) So.... I can quite see the use of a Kindle. Have I got one? No.  And I don't really know why....A friend of mine (Damian Barr) wrote an article not so long ago claiming 'No-one will ever fall in love with you in a coffee shop whilst you're reading a kindle'  Or words to that effect.  He's very good with words.  And I think he's right.  I love BOOKS. I love the jacket design, the fonts, the turning of the pages, the fact that if you have a favourite book that you re-read, it falls, quite by its own accord to the favourite chapter.  I like second hand books that people scribble on (I once bought a Molly Keane book from a market and it had scribbled in the front - Do not forget eggs, gin and watercress and for God's sake call Maggie) Or that when you buy an ex-library book page 42 has been circled by someone to let themselves know that they've read it.  I enjoy the rustle of paper and the smell of new ink.  I quite like the gluey smell, too. I can live with the odd crumb or two that find their way into it, but I draw the line at a hair.  Eeow.
But.... I heard someone rather high up on Amazon on Radio 4 the other day saying that for every 100 paperbacks that are sold in America, 150 e-books are sold.  Crikey.  But that's America, right?  Enormous place America.  Fewer bookshops per capita and all that.  But still...... Maybe we should look at it this way.  A Kindle for journeys would be useful, no doubt about it, but no-one's gonna fall in love with you whilst reading from it.  Am I going to get one?  Probably.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

One Chicken. Three meals.

There's something very appealing about making something from nothing.  Well, not nothing of course, but very little.  I expect one chicken to make at least three meals for two.  Roast chicken, chicken and leek pie enlivened with some chestnuts perhaps and maybe a risotto.  Then soup. Or at the very least some gorgeously golden home made stock. Or you might want to go the Asian route - chicken with ginger and garlic, or a five spice and pomegranate chicken salad with some fresh mint, the possibilities are pretty endless.  Though a keen cook I have remarkably few cookery books in my kitchen.  I don't know why really - well I do, I suppose.  Sheer laziness on  my part.  I never have all the ingredients for a recipe , I never measure anything, and frankly, I can't be bothered.  But what I do like doing is taking the suggestion of something and making it my own.  A book that has been described as 'The Bible' and  'The best friend you can have in the kitchen' (Nigel Slater) is Leiths Meat Bible by Max Clark & Susan Spaull. It's published by Bloomsbury and is a hefty £40, but goodness me, it's worth it. Unless you're a vegetarian, of course.   Not only does it have everything in it, but the best bit is that after every recipe it tells you what might have gone a bit Pete Tong and how to remedy it. Oh, and also what wine to drink with it. Boned leg of pork with sour cherry and lime stuffing? Roast suckling pig with coriander? Smoked woodcock with broad bean salad? Navarin of lamb? Osso Bucco? Glazed lamb tongues with creamed puy lentils? Pas de problem....  It also tells you how to buy, store, bone, carve and nosh away till your buttons burst.... Beautifully laid out, great photos (but not too many) and top tips.  An all round winner.  Now, where's my carving knife?

Sunday, 9 January 2011


Sometimes it's better to just give up on a book.  Though it pains me to do so.  I can usually finish anything right to the end (skipping if I have to) But not this one.  Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami.  It's not him, it's me, I'm sure. He's been described as 'one of the world's greatest living novelists' By the Guardian, no less. He's written oodles and noodles of books, and has legions of fans, so it really doesn't matter, but, oh crikey... Doomed love, suicide, an expensive clinic set in the mountains of Japan and endless music. What can I say? Just not my cup of tea. And...and I missed the details.  It's painted with a broad stroke and if you are not Japanese, surely half the pleasure in a foreign book is in the detail.  I want to know what the trains are like, what the noodles are, what the mountains are like, but that's all glossed over.... though the concentration of a certain butterfly hair slide that re-occurs with monotonous regularity made me want to scream. 'Foreign' means foreign to ME.  So I want to be swept up in the very foreignness of it, if you see what I mean.  I've never been to Japan, or got lost in Tokyo, or been to a bath house, but I want a book that takes me there (without being a guide book) I want a sense of the place and the people, the smells, the customs, the style and the sheer differences of being there rather than here.
So, I gave up and made a cake instead.  Banana bread with rum soaked fruit and walnuts.  And very delicious it was too. No pictures as my camera is on the blink, but take my word for it.  Every crumb was savoured.