Book Review: How to Eat a Small Country by Amy Finley

How to Eat a Small Country: A Family's Pursuit of Happiness, One Meal at a TimeHow to Eat a Small Country by Amy Finley
Memoir, France
Source: Library Copy
Publisher: Broadway Books,
ISBN: 9780307984968

To be quite honest, I’m not sure how to summarize this book at all. It’s about Amy Finley’s troubled marriage, it’s about how she makes her family go overseas to spend 6 months eating their way through France in an attempt to save her marriage. However, she doesn’t really talk about her marriage, or how this trip overseas resolves any of their problems. As a food memoir, the book is pretty decent. Finley provides some wonderful historical looks into the lesser known areas of Southern France. Provence usually gets all the accolades, a few specific cities in particular. I liked that I had no knowledge of the cities she visited and it was interesting to learn about the food history in those regions.

Beyond that though, the book was disjointed, vague and the author’s tone was that of a petulant child writing in a diary than of a women trying to convene some sense of balance back into her life. Her descriptions and depictions of her family were horribly cruel. Her husband came off as controlling and somewhat mentally abusive. Although what he did and why he did what he did was never explained. She makes a casual reference to having won a Food Network Cooking show and having to choose between her marriage and career because he threatened divorce. She signed up for the show because she was bored and depressed at home. However, I don’t think either of them expected her succeed and he was particularly not ready for her to win and have a career in New York when they lived in Santa Barbara, California. I still have no idea what he did that shook up the entire family so badly that they had to go to France to save their marriage.

Although her descriptions of food and the food history were enlightening, it seems like Finley had a penchant for picking mediocre restaurants for their trip. I’m still struggling to take seriously her 2 page complaint about a waiter having changed into his street clothes before leaving them with the bill at the end of his shift. Her children were poorly behaved in virtually every mention of their names and they by far seemed to have suffered the worst from the marital strife their parents were going through. I could go on and on about what this memoir is not. What it is though, are disjointed and vague thoughts about a struggling marriage. It is about Finley running away from her problems and not wanting to address them, only complain about them. What was she looking to find in France? She didn’t find it by the time the book ended. There was no resolution, there was no sign towards resolution. According to the book blurb, they are still married. So I guess they figured it out somehow.

Book Review: Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth / Audio Book narrated by Nicola Barber
Source: Library Copy

I’ve been a big fan of the TV for the past couple of years. I think season 4 aired its last episode in May. I’ve been wanting to read Jenny’s memoirs about her time at the East End of London since I began watching the show. I was happy to find the audiobook at my library yesterday so that I could hear these stories while I did my travelling around town for work and personal errands. I’ve been a big fan of the TV show for years and have just finally picked up the audio book. I’m sad to say that the TV show gave many of Worth’s stories happy endings that sadly didn’t happen in real life. But I guess that’s the fact of life, there are no happy endings for everyone. So many of the tragic and heartbreaking stories that Jenny discusses in full detail in her book were given a somewhat happy ending in the show. Although I know its unrealistic of me, but I’m in a state of shock of just how horrid life was in London less than 100 years ago. So many of her stories had me crying in my car, rushing home to hug my toddler in appreciation.

The ones that particularly clung to me where about poor Mrs. Jenkins and Mary. My heart broke for Mrs. Jenkins and the loss of her five children one by one. Particularly since her youngest child was just about the same age as mine is now. To imagine going through what she went through, which just horrible disdain from the government that was supposed to care for her was so wretched.  Also with Mary. Her story was equally deplorable. An abusive childhood in Ireland that led to forced prostitution in London. I’m glad the value of human life has evolved since then, but that such atrocities were happening less than a hundred years ago in the reputed-to-be noble England was mind-boggling.

What I appreciated about Jenny’s memoir is that despite the inescapable realities of poverty, she and the nuns manage to find a sense of peace and humanity in Poplar. The relationships they build with the community is so trusting and caring. The few bright lights of happiness in the city can show that not all humanity is lost in the world. It’s just hidden, and you really have to look to find it. Jenny as a narrator and observer of the East End really grew on me. Although she came to the region biased and naïve, she left slightly more aware of the world. Her compassion and understanding of poverty developing throughout her time there and her experiences with the families. It really is a touching memoir and I’m glad the TV show did the stories and all the Poplar characters justice in their depictions. Especially Sister Monica Joan. She’s far more likeable in the show than in the book.

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Thériault

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Thériault
Source: Library Copy
Publisher: Hesperus Nova, 2014
ISBN: 9781843915362, 108 pages

Bilodo is, as the title suggests, a lonely postman living in Montreal. He’s an introverted, quiet man who delivers mail by day, returning to his lonely and empty apartment at night. Despite the monotony of his life, he’s found a way to break the cycle. He pockets personal letters and steams open the envelope in his kitchen at night, reading the contents. The letters do eventually find their way to their intended recipients, albeit a few days late. It is during one of these intercepted letters where Bilodo first comes across Ségolène’s letters to Gaston. Their letters, an exchange of haikus, excites Bilodo as he wedges himself into their world as an invisible interloper. During one of his delivery rounds, he witnesses a horrific accident, where Gaston is struck by a car on his way to deliver a letter to Ségolène. From here, Bilodo’s world takes an unexpected twist as he finds himself that much closer to Ségolène.

This short novella is quite peculiar, as the title states. The postman, Bilodo is a creeper who steals personal letters to steam open and read at night after his shift. The book is a tragic love story with elements of fantasy. It’s more psychological than anything although we don’t really get into Bilodo’s head. I wish the story was told from his point of view rather than a 3rd person narrator. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to feel sympathy for him or see his downfall as a warning. It’s a bit shallow on that end. It could have been a better novella with a bit more depth and introspection into Bilodo’s fragmented sense of sense and his deteriorating sense of life. Maybe this was lost in the translation? There were also a lot of little details that were left unanswered. How does he afford to keep two apartments with one postman’s salary? How does he suddenly learn to write haikus just by putting on a kimono? How does he go two years without anyone noticing their mail being tampered with? I have more questions. The fantasy elements were too subtle, I couldn’t suspend reality to accept its overlay throughout the novella.

The Postman: Il PostinoAt times, it felt like the book was more about poetry than about people. In those instances, I was reminded of another novella about a postman. Il Postino, The Postman. Set in Italy, this is the story of a humble and sweet postman who learns how to write love poetry from the famed Pablo Neruda to win the admiration of a beautiful girl in his village. This is one of my favorite movies and one of my favorite books. The love story, the poetry and the tragic ending are heart-breaking and so genuine. If you want a book about a postman and poetry with a love angle, I’d opt for the latter book. If you want a book about a creepy 27-year-old who spies on his neighborhood, go for the first book.

The Future for Curious People by Gregory Sherl

The Future for Curious People: A Novel


The Future for Curious People by Gregory Sherl
Source: Library copy
Publisher: Algonquin Books, 2014
Genre: Sci-fi, Magical Realism
Find this book at your local library


Set in a contemporary, yet alternate universe of Baltimore Maryland, this novel centers around the search for true love amongst a group of 20-somethings. Envisionists are quite popular and are quickly becoming mainstream by delivering one promise to their clients. A glimpse into their future life. The novel centers around two people in particular (Evelyn and Godfrey) and their relationships.  Evelyn breaks up with her indie-band boyfriend because of a sad, sappy envisionist session in which they celebrate their cat’s birthday and have a fight about tacos. Godfrey’s girlfriend insists that they go through three sessions before she fully accepts his marriage proposal.

At the outset, this book reminded me so, so much of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, albeit with a different spin. There’s even a girl obsessed with famous quotes life in the movie. Although, rather than deleting someone special from your memory and forgetting your past, Sherl’s novel is about looking into the future with the desire of adding someone special into your life. Evelyn is a ghost child. A child born after her much older sister had passed away in a tragic car accident. Evelyn was never quite able to claim the same love from her parents as her sister and was left with a rather large hole in her heart that she constantly tried to fill. This is what constantly drew her to Dr. Chin’s office for multiple sessions.

Godfrey was skeptical of the envisioning sessions and only went reluctantly because his girlfriend made him. Although he grew up with a happy enough childhood, his adult-life was less than spectacular. He gave up his passion of teaching children for a business degree, but ended up with a dead-up job that he hated and a life of un-fulfilled potential. It isn’t until he bumps into Evelyn at Dr. Chin’s office one day that the two somehow manage to seep into each other’s subconscious, revealing themselves through the various envisioning sessions they attend. This then sets off a domino effect of change in their personal and professional lives as they try to sort through their feelings, relationships and emotional baggage.

Virtually everything about this book was well-done. At its heart, it’s a quirky sci-fi romance. Although the technology to see into the future was there, nothing more about it is explained other than exists. I actually liked that. It’s just the slightest element of magical realism to a simple love story. The writing is witty and sharp. I’m not sure how old the author is, but he nailed the 20-something mind-frame. The pacing was a bit quick, especially the ending. But even though the ending was predictable right from the start, I enjoyed the ride and all the various twists in the road. Sherl created a cast of well-rounded characters full of life and curiosity.

What I’m Reading

This has been an epic year of reading for me. Nearly every book I’ve picked up to read, I have enjoyed. Its bizarre, its wonderful. I’m on a roll and I can’t stop. I forgot how much fun books can be. How engrossing they can be. Its so easy to get bogged down in the poorly written stories and characters and be put-off, but no. This has been a wonderful year of reading and there’s still so much left to do!

In the past week, I’ve checked out these books from my library. I’m not sure what order I’ll be reading them in, but I’m excited to get started.

The Little Paris Bookshop How to Eat a Small Country: A Family's Pursuit of Happiness, One Meal at a Time The Rosie Project (Don Tillman #1)

Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection

Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily PerfectionDrop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by A.J. Jacobs

Source: Library copy – audio book

Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2012

After being hospitalized from a freak encounter with pneumonia, Jacobs makes a promise to his wife that she will not be a 40-year-old widow. From then, he embarks on a 2 year expedition to be the healthiest man on Earth.

This is my 3rd A.J. Jacob’s book, and its the one I’ve liked the least. Although I appreciate all of the information he provide and all of the avenues he explored in the realm of health and longevity, there was just something off about this book. I picked up the audio book version because Jacob’s narration is quite funny. I liked listening to him tell his story. But I think maybe the fact that it was audio made the book feel choppy. Jacobs left no stone unturned in his research. That left the listener with a lot of small tidbits of information about health fads and crazes that sometimes felt very specialized to New York eccentricities. The chapter on safety had me shaking my head at the ridiculous bubble-wrap on life that his expert would have us live in. The calorie restriction group was baffling. It felt like a slight promotion of anorexia, despite it being more about savoring your food than not eating. But I’m out of the loop on mainstream diets and fads, so maybe marathon running barefoot in the park is something Americans do all around the country.

All in all, he leaves you with a few key tips that are nothing more than common sense. Eat less processed foods, move more, and eat more fruits and vegetables. Nothing we don’t know. His quest to find out the why and how to do all this was what intrigued me about the book. But the chapters were short and few were insightful. Just as it was getting interesting, he jumped ship onto the next craze.

I found the moments where he talked about family, particularly his grandfather and Aunt Marty to be most touching part of his memoir. I could listen to him tell stories about his family for hours. They seem like such a lively and engrossing family.

Other titles

  • The Know-It-All – Wherein AJ Jacobs attempts to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and become the smartest person in the world. Humorous and full of random trivia.
  • The Year of Living Biblically – Wherein AJ Jacobs attempts to live life according to the rules prescribed in the bible. I didn’t read it, but a good friend of mine did.
  • The Guinea-Pig Diaries – Wherein AJ Jacobs tests out different theories on himself and his family. I haven’t read this one or come across any reviews.

© 2015 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld This was originally posted on The Novel World on 9/14/2015

Weekend Cooking: The Kitchn’s Kitchen Cure

The Kitchn Cure 2015

One of my favorite recipe websites, The Kitchn hosts an annual Kitchen Cure event to declutter, tidy, clean and organize the kitchen. Its a 20 day program. Once you sign up with your email, you’re given a daily alert as the day’s task. This is actually going to be my first year partaking in this event. Its one I’ve seen, but always forget about, or see after the fact and don’t actually finish.

Now that I’ve been working full, the attention I give to the kitchen has dwindled to scouring the pantry and the fridge for midnight snacks. Although my tummy is happy, I am not. Stuff has just been piling up (those damned Tupperware containers) and its really time to downsize the junk. I’ve been wanting to re-organize it all summer, but I keep putting it off. I’m hoping that this 20 day challenge will actually get me to make some valid and much needed changes to the kitchen.

Does anyone else want to join with me?

A More Mindful Kitchen

This year’s Cure is led by Dana Velden, the author of our Weekend Meditations column, and of the new book, Finding Yourself in the Kitchen: Kitchen Meditations and Inspired Recipes from a Mindful Cook. Dana will offer you a daily assignment to get your kitchen a little cleaner and your mind a little clearer when it comes to cooking and loving your home just a little bit more. You’ll end with a cleaner kitchen and a refreshed love of your space


Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page.

Almost French by Sarah Turnbull

Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris…

Paris in July…goes into August and into the rest of my life. I just can’t stay away from a good Parisian memoir, and Turnbull’s account of her 6 years in Paris is no exception. Its actually one of my favorite memoirs due to its honesty and Turnbull’s ability to depict Paris in a thoughtful way. What really stuck out to me is that Turnbull doesn’t glamorize Paris and she doesn’t sugar coat the negatives of the city. Her experiences there, for better or for worse are her experiences. It’s a hard feat, and I’m realizing how many of the other memoirs just gloss over the racism, the cold façade of locals, the bureaucratic mess that is the government offices. Turnbull actually addresses these topics. Her’s was a memoir that did not leave me jealous, or rushing to move to Paris.

She loves the city, and she has fully adapted to Paris life. But it was a long and hard process. One that other memoirs don’t really address. This is a good one to read when I get that travel itch and crave freshly baked baguettes and inspirational architecture. I’ve been watching more French movies and listening to more French music this month, maybe due to Turnbull. Who knows. I wish I had her life. She went into Paris as already well-established world traveler. She meets Frederic at a party in Eastern Europe and they chatted for only less than an hour before he invited her to stay with him in Paris. What was meant to be a two-week stay turned into 6 years. Along the way, Turnbull dealt with a lot of culture clash, as Paris is much more restrained than her native Australia. She went through a quiet and low metamorphosis, although true to the title of her book, never really became French.

The book takes places in the mid 1990s, but Paris is timeless in a way that not much has changed socially. Contemporary memoirs and those going father back still seem to hit upon the same themes of French life. 1. The food 2. The fashion 3. Manners 4. Family and close friends 5. Bureaucracy & 6. Feeling like an outsider, but then winning over the local butcher/cheese monger, etc. I think virtually all French memoirs cover these 6 themes extensively. Turnbull added the growing racism and resentment of immigrants in France, as well as going into detail about how blunt Parisians are to offer “advice” and criticisms. Paris is a country full of contradictions Turnbull finds out. Contradictions that the French innately know and navigate. Contradictions that always leave others always peering through the window rather than inside with the party.

Almost French is an entertaining and revealing book that I would recommend to anyone interested in travel memoirs or books on Paris.

The Guardian’s Top 100 Novels Written in English

The Guardian recently released their list of the Top 100 Novels Written in English. Its a decent mix of UK and American authors. Mostly UK authors.

I’ve bolded the books I’ve read and in italics are the books I didn’t finish. My list is pitifully low, but so many of these books are new-to-me titles. And they do go back quite a ways to the 1700s. Its definitely an eclectic mix. I’m not so sure if this can be a definitive list. But its a list nonetheless. Its a list I can refer back to when I’m looking for something to read.

Bold: 24                                        Italics: 3

  1. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (1678)
  2. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719)
  3. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726)
  4. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson (1748)
  5. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (1749)
  6. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (1759)
  7. Emma by Jane Austen (1816)
  8. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)
  9. Nightmare Abbey by Thomas Love Peacock (1818)
  10. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe (1838)
  11. Sybil by Benjamin Disraeli (1845)
  12. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)
  13. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847)
  14. Vanity Fair by William Thackeray (1848)
  15. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1850)
  16. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)
  17. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)
  18. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
  19. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1868)
  20. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868-9)
  21. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871-2)
  22. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (1875)
  23. Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
  24. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1899)
  25. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (1900)
  26. Kim by Rudyard Kipling (1901)
  27. The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1903)
  28. The Golden Bowl by Henry James (1904)
  29. Hadrian the Seventh by Frederick Rolfe (1904)
  30. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)
  31. The History of Mr Polly by HG Wells (1910)
  32. Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm (1911)
  33. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (1915)
  34. The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (1915)
  35. The Rainbow by DH Lawrence (1915)
  36. Of Human Bondage by W Somerset Maugham (1915)
  37. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (1920)
  38. Ulysses by James Joyce (1922)
  39. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis (1922)
  40. A Passage to India by EM Forster (1924)
  41. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos (1925)
  42. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925)
  43. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
  44. Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner (1926)
  45. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926)
  46. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1929)
  47. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (1930)
  48. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
  49. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (1932)
  50. Nineteen Nineteen by John Dos Passos (1932)
  51. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (1934)
  52. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (1938)
  53. Murphy by Samuel Beckett (1938)
  54. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (1939)
  55. Party Going by Henry Green (1939)
  56. At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien (1939)
  57. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
  58. Joy in the Morning by PG Wodehouse (1946)
  59. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren (1946)
  60. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry (1947)
  61. The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen (1948)
  62. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949)
  63. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene (1951)
  64. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (1951)
  65. The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow (1953)
  66. Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954)
  67. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
  68. On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)
  69. Voss by Patrick White (1957)
  70. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
  71. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (1960)
  72. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
  73. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing (1962)
  74. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)
  75. A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood (1964)
  76. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966)
  77. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1966)
  78. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth (1969)
  79. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor (1971)
  80. Rabbit Redux by John Updike (1971)
  81. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (1977)
  82. A Bend in the River by VS Naipaul (1979)
  83. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1981)
  84. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (1981)
  85. Money: A Suicide Note by Martin Amis (1984)
  86. An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro (1986)
  87. The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald (1988)
  88. Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler (1988)
  89. Amongst Women by John McGahern (1990)
  90. Underworld by Don DeLillo (1997)
  91. Disgrace by JM Coetzee (1999)
  92. True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (2000)

Weekend Cooking: Haute Cuisine

Haute Cuisine (2012) Poster

The simple story behind Haute Cuisine is that this is the story of chef Danièle Delpeuch, who was brought in as a personal chef for President François Mitterrand. The more complex story is one of a single woman plucked from her country farm and brought into the bustling world of the Palais at N 55 Saint Honore to cook in the private kitchen strictly for this president and his guests. In this fictionalized version, Hortense Laborie portrays Delpeuch. The movie is told through flashbacks juxtaposing Hortense’s time between Paris and Antarctica. Hortense is cooking her last meal as the cafeteria chef for an Antarctic expedition. Her year-long commitment is over and she is planning on returning home to her truffle farm in France. The movie goes back and forth, starkly displaying the differences in how she is treated, respected and considered by the two worlds she inhabited. During her two-years at the Palais, she dealt with staunch sexism and opposition from the male staff of the main kitchen. They dubbed her “Du Barry” in reference to King Louis the XV mistress. What really brought the movie together was its devotion to simple yet intricate meals. What the President and Hortense consider to be simple meals reminiscent of what grandmother cooked seems so overly ornate and complex to my peasant taste buds.

For the most part, the movie is about food. Despite the tension between the two kitchens, there isn’t really much of a developed plot. Its about Hortense’s struggles to cook what she and the president want against the rules set against her by the president’s staff. The movie is… I don’t know what. I wouldn’t classify it as a drama, but its serious in tone. I do love the friendship between Hortense and her pastry chef assistant Nicolas. The quips they share back and forth in the kitchen are endearing. I should note that the movie is in French with English subtitles.

The meals concocted and devised in this movie had me staring at my kitchen in resentment and jealousy. I’ve been working as a full-time librarian for the past 2 months and as a result, I haven’t been cooking or baking anything besides peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunches for the family. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I began watching this movie. The care and thought that goes into planning each meal in the movie is so mesmerizing. I want those skills. I want that knowledge of food and how to incorporate it all together into one amazingly “simple” meal.


Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page.