01 July 2016

Etc — June 2016

Jika Jika
Although I spend more time than I would like walking between King's Cross and Euston Square, I was surprised not to have found out about Jika Jika until relatively recently. I was helping to run a conference across the road from the coffee shop's North Gower Street location and just had time for a quick coffee before we kicked off. Small and cheerful with mint green walls and a La Marzocco to match, Jika Jika was a welcome respite from the chaos of the Euston Road. I had a piccolo, which was very good, although the breakfast menu was also rather impressive; it was just a shame I had already eaten.

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
One of my all-time favourite Shakespeare adaptations is Gil Junger's 10 Things I Hate About You. I saw it as a teenager with my family and we all loved its smart but sweet take on The Taming of the Shrew. In Anne Tyler's new retelling of the play, Kate Battista is a 29-year-old preschool teacher who still lives at home to look after her teenage sister Bunny and grumpy scientist father. Kate does everything for her father and sister but her father still wants one last favour: for Kate to marry his brilliant Russian research assistant, Pyotr, so that he can get a green card and continue to work for Dr Battista. The eponymous vinegar girl isn't going to be won over without a fight, though, or without plenty of bile being spilled along the way.

Tyler's reimagining is charming and enjoyable, with its tongue firmly in its cheek (watch out for the 'shrew' joke and Cole Porter reference). Kate herself was perhaps too sympathetic and neither feisty nor truculent enough for the role. Will the shrew be tamed? Will Pyotr run out of proverbs from his country? And will any of the other characters learn to say his name correctly? All of these will be revealed in due course but, like, the ending of the novel, you probably have a good idea.

Disclaimer: Vinegar Girl is out now, published by Vintage Books. I received a pre-release copy via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

White Mulberries
Every time I go to White Mulberries, it reinforces my view that the diminutive café is one of London's finest. It's actually pretty close to home for me — just the other side of Tower Bridge in St Katharine's Docks — but because it's slightly tucked away, out of sight occasionally becomes out of mind. White Mulberries really shines on sunny days like last Sunday, where you can enjoy your coffee with a view of the boats bobbing in marina. This time I had a piccolo, which was pretty close to perfect with the latte art running all the way down, but I've always had great coffee here, whatever I order. My only problem is that I get distracted by the toasties on the counter and forget to order the avocado toast. A rookie error.

Eleanor by Jason Gurley
I was drawn to Jason Gurley's novel Eleanor by the stunning, ethereal cover, which jumped out at me from the shelves of Portland's wonderful Powell's Books. I didn't have room for the weighty hardback in my suitcase but I borrowed it as soon as it became available in my local library. It's a hard novel to describe — it is better experienced — but essentially it tells the story of three generations of women from a single family (two of whom are called Eleanor) and set on the Oregon coast during three different decades. Each one is haunted by loss and seeking redemption, meaning and perhaps happiness. Ripples of tragedy seep across the generations, wreaking consequences for decades to come.

There is also a strong fantasy component interspersed within, and in fact integral to, the story — strange, other-worldly beings may offer some form of redemption. I was less interested in these elements and think Eleanor would have made a stronger story if they had remained more ambiguous, more implicit. Gurley's prose is beautiful, poignant and haunting, however, and although I wasn't always sure where Eleanor was going, it was an imaginative ride.

Game of Thrones season six
After The Good Wife ended, I was feeling hugely uninspired by TV. I wasn't even going to watch the latest season of Game of Thrones at all as I hadn't been impressed with season five, but I persevered and boy am I glad I did. The whole of season six was great entertainment, especially the last two episodes and, in particular, the spectacular opening sequence of the finale, which was fantastic television. The music is spot on as usual, but most importantly the audience finally gets some pay-offs for years of loyal viewing. If you aren't yet caught up to the latest season, it's worth doing. Besides, you have about ten months now until season seven starts.

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