Category Archives: Books

Book review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (Gabrielle Zevin)

The Storied Life of A.J. FikryTitle: The Storied Life of AJ Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Source: Library Copy
Publisher: Algonquin Books, 2014

Although this was published over a year ago, this is a title I’ve been seeing making the rounds on book blogs and on library carts over the past few months. It was actually this month’s book club selection for a library book club that I incidentally ended up skipping.

I fall into an odd spot with this book. My memory of the book is fonder than my thoughts were while I was reading it. This book is an ode to readers and their books. From the first page to the last, the book is filled with notions and quotes that readers will cherish, relate to and appreciate. Although those sentiments and the general story were memorable, there was still much left untouched within the story. The story begins with an awkward sell to a bookseller, A.J., from a publishing sales representative, Amelia. A.J. suffers two major losses at the start of the book. The first is his wife Nic in a tragic car accident. The second is a rare manuscript of Tamerlane, an extremely rare collection of poems by Edgar Allan Poe, said to be worth 400 thousand dollars. After returning home from an early morning job, A.J. finds something unexpected and life-changing tucked away into his store. This then starts a change in his life, taking his down different paths than what he could have ever imagined.

The characters are interesting, diverse and quite dysfunctional on many levels. Those parts of the story I liked. At times the story and the quotes were too sentimental, maudlin even.  It was very purple-prose. Much of the story was predictable and many of twists were cliché. The pacing was too choppy for me. Things just happen from leaping over years, with no transition and no depth. Everything just falls into place, no trouble or effort involved. It was a cop-out gimmick. For all the drama purported through the character’s and their descriptions, there is virtually no conflict in the book. Everything resolves neatly, everyone communicates, is empathic and sympathetic all the time. Its an ideal world of fiction. Maybe that was the author’s intent?

Weekend Cooking: Picnic in Provence

 Picnic in Provence: A Memoir with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard
Source: Library Copy
Publisher: Little, Brown & Co, 2015
ISBN: 9780316246163
 
Picnic in Provence: A Memoir with Recipes This is the sequel to Lunch in Paris which I absolutely adored. Its one of my favorite French memoirs. The sequel finds us in a small Provencal town of Céreste with Elizabeth, Gwendal and their newest addition to the family, baby Alexandre. What I appreciated the most in this book was Elizabeth’s insightful views on parenting and the difficulties of parenting that no one ever wants to talk about. She spent a good portion talking about her difficulties bonding with her son. I think its something all new parents go through at some point of the early years.
 
Although Bard has lived in France for 10 years, she still feels like an outsider, always learning and growing. Although, as a side-effect, she lives inbetween worlds. Neither fully at home in France nor in the US. Her observations are poignant, and her chapters are short and to the point. She doesn’t dwell too long on any one topic and at times it seems like the chapters are lifted directly from a journal she kept. What I liked about the book is the small town they moved to. Céreste is incredibly small, and hardly even shows up in the guide books. Although it’s now found a place on the map with the emergence of Elizabeth’s and Gwendal’s ice cream shop,  Scaramouche, in the town square. I’ve always loved Provence. When I think about my honeymoon, I think most about my time in Arles, not Paris. Surprise, surprise. I like the small glimpses into the casual everyday lifestyle of the country, rather than the generic generalizations of big-city living. I sort of wish I reread Lunch in Paris before picking up this book, because I feel like Elizabeth’s voice as a narrator has grown and matured in the years between the books.  
 
At some point between books, Bard also wrote a cookbook? She makes a slight mention of it in one of the chapters, although I haven’t come across any cookbooks penned by the author. Unless she meant the recipes in these books. These wonderful sounding recipes that make your mouth drool with hunger and anticipation. One thing that I’ve always loved about Bard’s recipes is that she provides a mix of recipes from her life in the states and her life in France. Each recipe has a special story and place in her heart. It makes me want to jot down little stories that go with some of my family’s favorite meals and kitchen concoctions.
 
Sadly, with the book having a large number of holds on it at the library, I couldn’t keep it for as long as I would have liked. I didn’t get a chance to make any of the recipes in this book, although reading it did inspire me to pick up some new-to-me ingredients in the grocery store and try to create my own recipes for dinners. Most of which were semi-flops, so nothing worth reposting, unless you want a what-not-to-cook guide.

Reads and Reviews

I’ve been in and out of a reading slump lately. I have 3 very well-written books that I’m reading right now, but I just haven’t been in the mental state to want to read. But alas, the tide is turning and now I’m rushing through these books, reading them at any free moment I have. So there should be some new reviews coming soon.

Completed:

Picnic in Provence: A Memoir with Recipes Picnic in Provence: A Memoir with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard.

This is the sequel to Lunch in Paris which I absolutely adored. Its one of my favorite French memoirs. The sequel finds us in a small Provencal town of Céreste with Elizabeth, Gwendal and their newest addition to the family, baby Alexandre.

Currently Reading

I’ll probably finish these next 3 books in the order they appear in this list. I’m reading The Storied Life of AJ Fikry for a bookclub meeting in the middle of May. I’ve given up on the BBC series Wolf Hall, so I’m not in as much of a rush to complete Bring Up the Bodies. Trigger Warning I started months ago and it keeps getting pushed to the side because…well, reasons.

1. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry  2.Bring Up the Bodies (Thomas Cromwell, #2)  3.Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances

Weekend Cooking: Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.com

Title: Little Beach Street Bakery
Author: Jenny Colgan
Source: Publisher
Publisher: William Morrow

Little Beach Street Bakery Not only is Polly’s long time relationship with boyfriend Chris going downhill, but so is the graphic design business the two had built up from the ground. As their lives diverge, Chris moves back home to his mother, leaving Polly alone to find her own way. Where, though is the main question in this book. Polly finds a run-down flat on the island Mount Polbearne, a seafaring village in Cornwall. Both figuratively and literally, Polly is on an island, trying to piece back what little is left of her life, starting anew and rediscovering hidden talents and passions that soured due to a stressful relationship and failing enterprise.

The “my life is ruins, I’ll fix it by baking/cooking” books are seriously becoming my favorite guilty pleasure reads. The plot in this book is very thin and parts of it are incredibly unbelievable. Polly & Tarnie for one. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but the way the entire town reacts to their friendship and what happens afterwards is just so…sugary? I don’t know the word of it.  There are a number of twists in this book but they only delayed the inevitable and predictable love story. All that aside, I loved this book, the characters and the little village of Mount Polbearne. I love these types of books that really focus on finding your inner talents and following your dreams. Even though in all of these types of books, things just  seem to land onto the main characters laps. I guess that’s partially why I love these books. The other reason is that reading these books gets me excited to be in the kitchen.

Polly, has a passion for baking bread. It was a skill she worked on during her weekends apart from Chris, when he was traveling, moody or otherwise unavailable. The US cover of this book is incredibly misleading with its picturesque cupcake. Polly bakes bread, not desserts. Very little, if anything is said of desserts in the book. There are 7 recipes at the end, although you will need to convert them from the metric system to bake in the US.

foccociaSince I started this book, I’ve baked two loaves of French bread and two loaves of Focaccia. The focaccia was ridiculously easy to make. It only took an hour from start to finish out of the oven. That recipe will be on steady rotation with my weekly meal-planning in the future. I’m curious to learn more about quick-bake yeast recipes. I love that I only had to wait 15 minutes for the focaccia dough to rise before putting in the oven. I need more recipes like that.

PS (other foodie books)

On What Grounds

Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. 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. For more information, see the welcome post.

© 2015 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld

Wolf Hall BBC v Wolf Hall the Book

So, did anyone else watch Wolf Hall last night on PBS? What did you think? I was so excited and then exceptionally let down. Particularly by the character of Cromwell in the show. He was so…bland and lifeless. Cromwell in the book was quiet and thoughtful, but there was a cleverness to him that the show completely neglected to highlight. I think the show overall did a good job summing up the high points of the book, at least the first half of the book. Costume and scenery were wonderful as well.  I’m curious to see how the next 5 episodes progress. I just hope that Cromwell is given an injection of life sometime soon. I’m not sure if its the acting or directing, but Cromwell is definitely not the powerful man he appears to be in the books. Maybe that comes later after Wolsey’s death? I’ll just to wait and see I suppose. His love and relationship with his wife is disregarded in the series, as is his relationship with his family. The entire show seemed choppy and problematic for anyone who hasn’t read the book. There is so much background knowledge and action that ease the flow of actions that take place in the book. I know not everything can be translated to film, but far too much was left out, in my opinion.

Book Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall by Hilary MantelTitle: Wolf Hall
Author: Hilary Mantel
Source: Library Copy
Publisher: Picador, 2009
Awards: 2009 Man Booker Award

Wolf Hall is soon to be aired on PBS as a highly anticipated miniseries highlight the scandals of sagas of the Tudor court as Henry VIII tries to annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon to wed Anne Boleyn.

That is the entire premise of the first book of the Thomas Cromwell Trilogy Hilary Mantel has produced over the last six years. From reading various reviews online, this book has been met with equally vicious and loving reviews. It’s a love-it or hate-it type of book, and I fall into the love-it category. One note, any use of the pronoun “he” more often than not refers to Thomas Cromwell. This writing quirk has a bit tricky to keep up with earlier in the book when there were many men present and active in the chapters. Although once I accustomed myself to this usage, the book had a wonderfully enticing flow that seemingly transported me back to 16th Century. Although I love historical novels and Henry VIII is my favorite monarch, I have not read any historical novels set in this era. I’m glad I started with Wolf Hall. Mantel’s minute descriptions could have been boring, and dragged on. But they did not. They created wonderful visuals in my head of an impatient, intelligent and multi-layered King who wanted a male heir to the throne. While Katherine had been first married to his older brother Arthur, Henry married her upon the death of his brother. Inheriting the queen and the crown at the same time was fine and dandy, but after 20 years with only a single daughter to boast, Henry was ready to move on.

His prime confidant, Cardinal Wolsey, has already fallen out of favor with the king at the start of the book. Wolsey is Cromwell’s entryway into the royal courts and into the royal lives of King Henry, Queen Katherine and Queen-to-be Anne Boleyn. The fall of Wolsey is the rise of Cromwell. I appreciated this unique perspective on such a scandalous time of England’s history. So many of these books are written through the eyes of the royals themselves. It is nice to get an outsider’s view of the royals, although it is still such as intimate as from the Kings, queens and princesses themselves.

Mantel’s research into this era is inspiring. Her understanding of the cultural norms, fashions, religious controversies and policies is educational, and very vividly described. As I said, I felt transported back in time reading this book. It was so engrossing for me. I’ve quickly jumped into book two, Bring Up the Bodies so that I won’t be caught unawares when the mini-series starts on April 5th.

I definitely recommend this book for historical fiction readers. I’m curious to see how the adaptation of book to mini-series will pan out and if Anne Boleyn will have a meatier role in the TV production versus the book. She’s been a pretty silent character in the first book, but then again, the first book isn’t centered on her as queen.

PS

a photo of an open book with writing in it

The book showing inventory number 282 and Gamon’s signature at the bottom© Stephen Haywood. National Trust

© 2015 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld

Wolf Hall BBC Series coming to PBS

In the midst of reading Wolf Hall, I found that the books (Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies) have been adapted as a BBC miniseries. While the series aired overseas in January, the series will be on PBS in the states starting April 5th!

I finished Wolf Hall on Saturday and promptly started the sequel that same day. Is anyone else going to watch the series? Its looks amazing!

You can watch the trailer here

© 2015 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me on Twitter @TheNovelWorld

Lonely reading

Do you ever find a book that you just can’t stop reading. You actually force yourself to read slower, taking time so that the book doesn’t end? I have a book like that right now. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. From the reviews, its seems like readers either immediately hate it or love it. I fall in the latter group. But its a lonely read, because I don’t have any other outlet besides this blog to discuss this book. I want to talk history, politics and 16th century gossip. Its books like this that make me wish I had an active book club. Or was still in college getting my English degree. Or had more friends who actively read. Alas. I’m one a lonely isle.

© 2015 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me on Twitter @TheNovelWorld

A Memory of Violets by Hazel Gaynor

A Memory of Violets: A Novel of London's Flower Sellers

A Memory of Violets: A Novel of London’s Flower Sellers by Hazel Gaynor
Source: Publisher
Publisher: William Morrow, 2015

A Memory of Violets is a well researched book about flower sellers in Victorian London. I kept thinking of Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion or, rather, the movie version My Fair Lady when reading this book. The book is set in 2 timelines, both during the Victorian era in London. The two stories tell the saga of two sets of sisters. The novel is written through many perspectives. We learn about Tilly in her devoted chapters. We learn about Florrie through the diary entries. This diary takes Tilly, and by default the reader, into Florrie’s world of 1873. We learn about Florrie’s family’s struggles with money, with an abusive father and finally about how she lost her mother to death and her beloved younger sister to an attempted kidnapping. 

Then there is a third section where the author tells us about Florrie and what becomes of her sister Rosie. Although, Tilly is used mostly as a vehicle to reveal Florrie’s story. I think if the author spent some time talking about Tilly’s relationship with the girls she cares for, there would more to her side. There is very little to Tilly’s back story. We see virtually no interaction between Tilly and the girls she cares for (minus Queenie). Although I felt for Tilly and her troubled relationship with her family, her storyline just wasn’t as detailed as it could have been. There were too many missing details that could have made it so much more rich and engrossing. The love story that developed was expected, and the entire phantom ghost story of Florrie felt cliché and unnecessary.

I did like that each segment of the girl’s lives was introduced with a special flower and its meaning:

Part One – Purple Hyacinth “Please forgive me.”
Part Two – Pink Carnation “I will never forget you.”
Part Three – Primrose “I can’t live without you.”
Part Four – Pansy “You are in my thoughts.”

I still enjoyed the book immensely. I love books about Victorian London and this one did not disappoint. It is a fairly light read, but I do like the segment of history it highlights. All I knew about the flower sellers of London is from My Fair Lady. I never knew that there was an entire home dedicated to the disabled orphans of London who create beautiful fabric flowers with their limited resources. Although the disabled and poor in London remained mostly invisible at the time, one man, a christian preacher and philanthropist, John Grooms, (portrayed in the book as Albert Shaw) founded the Crippleage and Flower Girls Mission. His mission was to provide a safe shelter for these girls and provide them with the skills necessary to see them succeed in life after leaving the home. It’s a wonderful side of London’s history that is often neglected in historical fiction.

© 2015 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me on Twitter @TheNovelWorld

Mademoiselle Chanel by

Mademoiselle Chanel

Mademoiselle Chanel by CW Gortner
Source: Publisher
Publisher: HarperCollins, March 15th 2015

Gortner’s historical biography of Coco Chanel spans her entire life, from her poverty-stricken youth to her return to Paris’ fashion empire. We see how she developed and grew her fashion empire, her struggles in balancing her life between two worlds. One of her past and one of the rich and famous who she adorns with her outfits.

Gortner’s novel is well-researched and his admiration for Chanel is quite evident in the text. At times, it felt as if she could do no wrong. Even when she did mess up, it was easily excused or explained. Despite that, I think the book paints an accurate portrayal of her life in France. Chanel is a hard-working person who is not easy to get along with. Starting off making hats in her lover’s house, she eventually moved into a little shop in Paris and survived two world wars, her fashions leaking throughout Europe and eventually overseas into America. Although it took nearly her entire lifetime to be appreciated in her home country, Chanel is now one of the craved-after fashion labels.

For a fun night, I’d say read the book, then watch the Audrey Tautou film “Coco Before Chanel” with some wine and cheese.

Coco Before Chanel (2009) Poster

© 2015 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me on Twitter @TheNovelWorld