E-/audiobook reviews: non-fiction
Working for the Royals
by Brian Hoey
Amazon Digital Services
Brian Hoey’s stories about Buckingham Palace are fascinating – in a Daily Mail way. In this Kindle Single he tells us about the ghosts that haunt the world’s most expensive private house – £1billion (HK$12.8 billion) if it were for sale – and spotlights the roles of the living, specifically the royal household, whose primary function is to help the queen carry out her duties. The lord chamberlain is head honcho but it is the “Personal Assistant, Adviser and Curator to Her Majesty” who sometimes has more clout when it comes to who visits Queen Elizabeth II: her former dresser, Angela Kelly. According to Hoey, no one joins the palace to get rich; in fact, salaries are so low some employees make ends meet by moonlighting, perhaps as waitstaff for outside parties. Inside “fixers”, however, know never to offer the services of the royal chef. Other odds and sods include the piper, who plays the bagpipes every morning beneath the queen’s window and the steward, who measures dinner place settings so everyone has the same space. This is one for fans of upstairs/downstairs tales.
by Brian Benson
Road-trip yarns often become chronological records about as interesting as shopping lists: readers grow increasingly bored the farther they read. Going Somewhere, however, is increasingly entertaining. You'll see a promising relationship straining with every murderous hill climbed by author Brian Benson and his girlfriend, Rachel, in their bid to cross America by bicycle from his hometown in Wisconsin. So much, yet so little, happens in the months taken to traverse the country by the pair, whom we first meet when the relationship is budding. He's infatuated with her and she dreams of a bike adventure. So off they go, with little training, which is why, before long, legs feel as if they've been injected with pudding and wrists ache. In between blown spokes, unforgiving headwinds, spectacular scenery, generous strangers, there's sex, and a lot of it, couched, Benson admits, in "masturbatory adjectives". Going Somewhere will most appeal to cyclists and other adventure seekers, especially those writing their first book about life's undulating terrain.
The Third Plate
by Dan Barber
Dan Barber's menu of the future is a brave attempt at farming and eating that does not involve cherry-picking ingredients: one course could be parsnip steak with poached marrow, braised beef shank and Bordelaise sauce made with the bones. The "lowly shank, a tough cut (to eat and to sell), will act as a kind of sauce for the parsnip", the chef writes; the whole point is to create deeply flavoured dishes from lowly cuts. This menu comes from a realisation that good food cannot be reduced to individual ingredients because of the interconnecting relationships needed to support it. At the centre is the health of the soil, which chemical and bad organic farming kills. The Third Plate, which Barber also narrates, refers to a way of cooking, orchestrating a dish or sourcing ingredients that doesn't revolve around conventional tastes but what fits together to nurture the environment. Barber urges readers to consider the foie gras produced by Spaniard Eduardo Sousa, who eschews force-feeding and instead encourages his geese to feast freely on acorns and wild grasses. Barber also urges fellow chefs, in this age of celebrity worship, to lead the way.