THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SPICES AND HERBS: An Essential Guide to the Flavors of the World by Padma Lakshmi doesn’t really qualify as “culinary reference” for me (I’m happy with whatever spices the cookbook tells me to use) but it is interesting as an exhaustive look at many spices unknown to me (nigella, galat dagga) and information about many I do use (I had no idea mace was taken from the outer wrappings of nutmeg seeds). Interesting to browse, if nothing else.
THE WOMAN’S OWN BOOK OF THE HOME was more fun, a 1931 book on home management that I assume belonged to my Granny back in England. Want to know how to make brains on toast? First, wash the brains to get off blood clots and loose skin. Did you know boiled mashed parsnips are a poultice for abscesses (I rather doubt that’s true)? Or that when you serve calf’s head (not a metaphor) you can cook brain sauce by mixing cooked calf brain with a pint of melted butter plus some salt and cayenne? Or that cannabis is a wonderful garden plant, very easy to grow? The publisher apparently wanted a one-size-fits-all book, as it ranges from the upper-class (have your servants entertain your friends’ chauffeurs during visits) to things like making axle grease, which I assume would be something only farm families needed to know. There are some bread and pie recipes I wouldn’t mind trying but this dates to days when ovens didn’t have temperature gauges so the instructions are “bake in a moderate oven until browned.” That might not work so well. Still, it’s a cool read that makes me wish I were writing something that could use all the cool real world world-building.
OVER THE HILLS AND FAR AWAY was Ballantine Adult Fantasy‘s final Lord Dunsany collection (the line itself would put out only a couple more books before Ballantine became Del Rey Books and did away with it), and more varied than either At The Edge of the World or Beyond the Fields We Know. In addition to several of his secondary-world fantasies we have some set in London, a couple of Dunsany’s plays (he was better known in his lifetime as a playwright than a fantasist) and four of his stories about Jorkens, a clubman who trades outrageous tales for a free whiskey. Some of them, such as Unpasturable Fields are just fluff, but there’s more than enough good stories to be worth reading. I’m particularly fond of Where the Tides Ebb and Flow, which I used in speech contests in high school. Cover by Gervasio Gallardo, all rights to image remain with current holder.
THE NINE-POUND HAMMER: Book One of the Clockwork Dark by John Claude Bemis is a Y/A historical fantasy (late 1800s) in which a young boy finds himself and the Barnumesque sideshow he’s traveling with caught up in a battle between the anti-life Gog and the heroic Ramblers (portraying the clash as Civilization vs. Frontier Spirit didn’t work for me, but it’s a minor problem) which involves a siren, a pirate queen, and the son of John Henry. Fun enough I’ll pick up Vol. 2 eventually.
The same cannot be said for STRANGE PRACTICE: A Dr. Greta Helsing Novel by Vivian Shaw as I didn’t even finish this volume. This is an urban fantasy about a London doctor treating supernatural patients, then helping them against a cult of anti-magic fanatics. Nothing in this was particularly fresh, and the vampires were generic — they could as easily have been in Vampire: the Masquerade.