Category Archives: Books

Book Review: How Paris Became Paris by Joan DeJean

How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City

How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City by Joan DeJean

Source: library copy

Genre: non-fiction

How Paris Became Paris is a wonderful book for anyone interested in a brief history to the City of Light. DeJean’s book covers a lot of ground, focusing on the 17th century developments happening in the city. However, she doesn’t go in as much depth as say a history book. Her writing style is much more casual, although you’ll be inundated with interesting facts about the structuring of the city of Paris.

She starts with the Pont Neuf bridge, and from there, the chapters discuss the ripple effects of this bridge on French social society. The invention of this bridge quite literally paved the way for modern French interactions, fashion as well as development throughout the city. The widened bridge became the first in Europe to be of such a width as to allow the public to parade through the streets. It is as a result of this bridge, that the French started leaving their homes to go for walks. These walks led to the necessity of being fashionably dressed. The need for fashion led to the invention of clothing stores and the hobby known as shopping. The availability of shopping allowed for people of all class caste systems to be able to dress and intermingle with people above and below their rank. This intermingling led to many more social developments, particularly in relation to women’s freedoms.

The chapters have a very easy flow to them, picking up where the previous one concluded. I found them to be the perfect length. Neither too long, nor too short. There are a number of illustrations, photographs and maps dotted throughout the chapters to break up the text and help highlight the author’s opinions. The author has a clear love for the city, and it strongly reflected in her writing. Paris can do no wrong and had apparently been an inspiration to other European capitals over the centuries. I’d strongly recommend this to anyone planning a trip to Paris. Having some historical insight will make the tourist stops that much more meaningful.

A Jane Austen Book Guide

I found this gem on Tumblr from the Austin Public Library. Apparently it was Jane Austen’s birthday on Dec. 16th. What a fun way to celebrate! I now have even more books to add to my to-read list.

photo

  1. Longbourn by Jo Baker
  2. Jane Austen and the Canterbury Tale by Stephanie Barron
  3. Pride & Prescience by Carrie Bebris
  4. Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James
  5. Pride & Prejudice & Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
  6. For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund
  7. Mr. Darcy Takes A Wife by Linda Berdoll
  8. The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy by Mary Simonsen
  9. Sass & Serendipity by Jennifer Zigler
  10. Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg
  11. Prada & Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard
  12. Emma adapted by Nancy Baker
  13. Sense & Sensibility adapted by Nancy Baker
  14. Pride & Prejudice adapted by Nancy Baker
  15. Northanger Abbey adapted by Nancy Baker
  16. Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding
  17. Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid
  18. Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope
  19. Lost in Austen
  20. Bride & Prejudice
  21. The Jane Austen Bookclub by Karen Joy Fowler
  22. Austenland by Shannon Hale

2015 Reading Challenge

This 2015 Reading Challenge complied by PopSugar seems very feasible, for me at least. I’ve never been good with reading challenges, but I think I could accidently read a number of the books on this checklist. That’s another plus, is that its a checklist form. There’s nothing I love better than checking something off a list. I think I might print out a number of these to pass out at the library this month. What reading challenges are you signing up for next year?

Book Review: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

 

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes Mysteries #1)

121 pages – Penguin Edition

Find this book at your local library

My experiences with Sherlock Holmes have been scattered and never direct. I’ve heard people talk about him, misquote the book (Its Elementary, my dear Watson), and I’ve seen many a TV show that parody or references him (Monk, and a number of Star Trek the Next Generation Episodes).  Most recently, I’ve been obsessing over the BBC’s Sherlock. Meaning, I’ve seen each episode twice and have watched all the special features that Netflix has to offer. However, there’s now going to be a nearly year-long gap until the next (and single) episode of 2015. I figured I might as well try my hand at reading the Sherlock Holmes mysteries to become better acquainted with the story, the characters and some of the mysteries. The BBC series stays ridiculously close to the books, but does an excellent job of modernizing elements of the book, and amending plot twists and character reveals to make the show its own being. It’s a very fine line to balance, especially with a work of literature as popular as the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Mark Gatiss and Stephan Moffat have done an amazing job though. The first episode is A Study in Pink, linking back to the first book, A Study in Scarlet.

The book starts with the introduction of John Watson to Sherlock Holmes. Both men looking for a flat to share. They wind up at 221B Baker street. Unlike the show, it takes a while before Watson is drawn into Sherlock’s career as a consulting detective. However, the two were a match made for each other right from the start. The book also starts with a mysterious death, the mysterious message Rache, and a set of poisonous pills. Holmes, in the book is just as arrogant as depicted on screen, but I couldn’t hold that against him. I found it kind of endearing. Well, I really found the way Watson wiggled into Holmes’ heart endearing. The two are polar opposites, but make for a great team. The book was definitely not what I was expecting though. Its broken down into two parts. Part one was the mysterious death and Holmes’ reveal of the murderer. Part two provided the back story to the murder. That part was very confusing, long-winded and bizarre. Particularly its depiction of Mormonism at its worst with power-hungry elders. Told through Watson’s point of view, we never really pick up or know what clues lead Sherlock to his great deductions. That part kind of irks me. He just announces information as facts and we, as the readers have to accept it as the gospel truth. The mystery was resolved rather neatly, but this departure from England at the beginning of part two was just plain odd. I wasn’t overly impressed with the book, but then again, I did jump from the show to the book with lots of mix-up Sherlock representations in my head, so I’m sure my expectations were higher than they should have been. I do plan on reading more of his work though. It’s so well-regarded, that it seems silly not to give them another chance. Mostly, I just want to get to Moriarty.

Nonfiction Reading Challenge 2014

I’ve been on a big non-fiction kick lately. I’m mostly interested in history right now. As well as all things European or British. (We can thank the BBC Sherlock for this obsession). I think my obsession with England is overtaking my obsession with France. In my rather insane desire to learn about all things Europe, I’ve been scouring the websites for quality nonfiction books. I want to learn something when I read. Actual facts and figures, not just opinion pieces or funny anecdotes. I feel ready to step away from fiction from a while and really give my brain a challenge. Hence, the Nonfiction Reading Challenge, someone reminiscent of my Dewey Decimal Reading Challenge I attempted a few years back. I’m quite tardy in signing up, but better late than never. Here’s hoping I find some interesting titles to add to my list in the meantime.

There are 4 levels for the challenge. We’ll see where I wind up by the end of the year.

Dilettante–Read 1-5 non-fiction books

Explorer–Read 6-10

Seeker–Read 11-15

Master–Read 16-20

Book Review: The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner

The Red Necklace (French Revolution, #1)
The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner
Audio book: Narrator Tom Hiddleston
YA – Historical Fiction

Set during the tumultuous times of the French Revolution in the 18th century, this novel tells the tale of two unlikely teens caught up in the whirlwind of confusion, and tensions between the aristocrats and the peasants in the streets.

The publisher’s synopsis:

The story of a remarkable boy called Yann Margoza; Tetu the dwarf, his friend and mentor; Sido, unloved daughter of a foolish Marquis; and Count Kalliovski, Grand Master of a secret society, who has half the aristocracy in thrall to him, and wants Yann dead. Yann is spirited away to London but three years later, when Paris is gripped by the bloody horrors of the Revolution, he returns, charged with two missions: to find out Kalliovski’s darkest deeds and to save Sido from the guillotine.

Although this is a YA novel, I wouldn’t label it as a romance novel. Although there is a strong connection between Yann and Sido, it is definitely not at the center of the novel. The novel is more about the tensions in Paris, the fervor spreading across the city as hatred for the rich is mounting and mounting. Sido is swept up in the middle of it all due to her Marquis father, who doesn’t even want her around. Cound Kalliovski is vile, cruel, and wants Sido as a wife. But then there is the wonderous Yann. He needs to figure out a way to save Sido from two very distinct types of death. Marriage to the count and the guillotine. The book itself is a bit iffy on the facts of the revolution, but the revolution is really just a backdrop to the interwoven story between Sido, Yann and the count. There were a number of plot twists that I anticipated, but just as many that I didn’t see coming. There is a magical realism element with Yann’s ability to see threads of light hovering around objects and people around him, allowing him to telepathically move things at a whim.  The novel is well-paced and I like the variety of characters that are introduced. Gardner doesn’t dwell too long on any one element of the novel, but I didn’t feel rushed through the novel either. For reader’s advisory, I think this could be an easy sell for boys, despite the girly cover art. A book about death, revolutions, and a man who can control the entire city of Paris with blackmail and murder threats isn’t an easy book to turn down. This is also book one in a series. Book two is The Silver Blade.

Narration:

I was lucky enough to listen to the audio book narrated by Tom Hiddleston. His narration is flawless. His accents, the voices are all so unique, he really does bring the book to life. His menacing Count Kalliovski that he portrays is spine-tingling. I think he’s narrated one other audio book to date, a James Bond novel. I’m eager to listen to that one next.

© 2014 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld

Book Review: High-Rise by JG Ballard

High-Rise

High Rise by J.G. Ballard
Published 1978
Setting: London, England

In a city block sized high-rise, residents of 40 floors have access to everything they would need in this mini-city within walls. A bank, a grocery store, a junior school and a restaurant. Although the residents tolerate each other, tensions build as mechanical breakdowns start the eventual downfall of the hierarchical society and mass chaos ensues as tenants form packs and their primal instincts kick in for self-preservation.

This book is an eerie look at society falling apart & turning on each other, like packs of wild animals. Apart from being isolated in a high-rise building, it was never very clear why the society in the building decayed beyond technical malfunctions of the elevators. Of course, there was clear jealousy between the haves & have-nots with literal ties to the poor on the bottom & the rich on top. However, the actual cause was murky which bugged me for the entire duration of the book.

The women are passive and victimized in horrifying amounts and are portrayed as neglectful of their husbands and children. The men are aggressive, full of sexual frustration with urges to pee on everything to mark their territory

Did I like this book? No. Did I like how Ballard was able to dehumanize society? Yes, actually. The changes that take place over one character in particular, Wilder, were a fascinating character study to me. This transition from mild social climber to ferocious beast was gradual, frightening and seemed to mirror the entire mood of the high-rise. Most of the other lead characters (all men) where dull in compassion. Laing & Royal in particular offered very little to the book.

The book was recently adapted for the big screen. I’m curious to see what the movie will be like. There is quite a bit of violence (both physical & sexual) throughout the book as people attempt to assert their dominance & status.

© 2014 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld

Book review: A Town Like Paris by Bryce Corbett

A Town Like Paris: Falling in Love in the City of Light
A Town like Paris: Falling in Love in the City of Light by Bryce Corbett
Broadway Books, 2007

Bored at work and nursing a broken heart in London , Bryce Corbett applies for a job in Paris on a whim. He exaggerates his resume, and somehow lands the position. While in Paris, he takes advantage of everything the city has to offer, from the food to the nightclubs to the women.

This isn’t really one of the better Paris memoirs, although I did find Corbett to be funny at times. He is either witty and self-deprecating or pompous and narcissistic. The book is more like a series of essays, there is no structure or form to it really. He constantly refers to his girlfriend as “the showgirl” which is demeaning. Maybe the book is meant to be really light-hearted, but it came off as unprepared for print. Although the book is set in Paris, Corbett’s quest for love could have taken place anywhere in the world. Paris actually has very little to do with the book other than being a backdrop to his escapades.

I read this book so long ago, and on as an ereader, that to be honest, my memory is a bit dusty. I do remember laughing a lot when I read this book, but in regards to the actual substance of the story, I’m at a loss. I won’t lie. This book clearly did not stay with me as other Parisian memoirs have. Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence hit the right notes of humor, wit and culture insight. Stephen Clarke’s A Year in the Merde is the book, if you are looking for something hilarious, sarcastic and snarky.

© 2014 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld or at my Tumblr.

Book review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2012)

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a mystery/adventure tale of a young man in San Francisco who is recently laid off from work. He finds employment with Mr. Penumbra, working the night shift at the bookstore. What he soon discovers is that the bookstore is more than it seems. There is a secret society that comes in, using the books to break codes and solve the clues of a grand mystery.

The main character is kind-of-likeable, but also kind-of-annoying with two sidekicks:  Neel, a computer-obsessed best friend and Kat, an unusually intelligent young woman ( A Googler who also happens to be the  love interest). The central mystery involves a peculiar library in the bookstore and a centuries-old encoded book, and the use of modern technology and software to help solve a very old-fashioned riddle. This book had a very strong beginning. The characters were interesting and well-developed. The writing was funny, but very on point with what life is like in the Bay Area right now. The book is set in San Francisco, so there are a number of local site mentioned throughout the book that I was easily able to identify.  The rest of the book though… it had an iffy middle and a very blah ending.  I’m still trying to the decide if it’s a tribute to Google for all its glory and magnificence, or a warning against Google for all its glory and magnificence. Either way, there is only Google. For a book with so much potential to be awesome, I wasn’t expecting the ending to be so…anticlimactic. The book also has way to many convenient details. This was one of my big complaints about the book Ready Player One. Neel is a millionaire who can pay for everything the group needs and Kat can get them into Google and utilise all the company’s resources, etc). There was never any real tension or peril in the book. I wasn’t really sure what direction the author was headed in most of the time. Is it a love story? A mystery? An adventure? Where do the three overlap? What does it all mean?

So much build-up for nothing. I think Sloan did a wonderful job of keeping an even balance between technology and tangible books. I never got the sense that one is more important than the other. Despite a lackluster ending, I do still recommend this book, especially for the high school age-range.

© 2014 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld or at my Tumblr.

Book review: How to be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits

How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits
How to be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style and Bad Habits by Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline De Maigret, Sophie Mas
Doubleday, 2014
 

Written by four best friends, who are also French, this book takes a more unique approach to the French je ne sais quoi. The book doesn’t really have chapters, and it doesn’t tell a story. Well, it tells a broken down story of a Parisian woman, describing everything from her hair, to her clothes, to her parenting style, to her affairs, and throwing lavish dinner parties. Apparently, the hardest part about being a Parisian woman, is making everything seem effortless. Also, it should be no surprise to find this book loaded with delicious recipes. Ones that I want to make right away. The book is funny, although the Parisian woman sounds ridiculously high-maintenance in her attempts to appear low-maintainence. I wonder though, how much of this book is real and how much is parody? How obsessed are we non-French folks, that we’ll readily believe anything and everything written about how to be French?

This is definitely not a memoir, no big insights into the culture other than their fascination with appearances and simplicity. I guess simplicity is really the best definition of the French way of life. You either live a simple life, or you make sure that your complicated life appears simple to passersby.

I did find a few profound nuggets of good advice in the book though. This one is my favorite. I like the concept of cheating on myself. Its like “treat yourself day” but more indulgent.

Nowadays more than ever your life is organized like clockwork, everything ‘a planned, you go from A to B, yet at this instant your phone is turned off , no one knows what you’re doing or where you are. It’s exciting to break your own habits; you’re cheating on yourself, expanding the scope of your possibilities.

© 2014 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld or at my Tumblr.