French Friday – New Books to Read

It seems like there’s a slew of new travel memoirs coming out this summer! Here are a few that caught my eye. Just in time for Paris in July too!

My Good Life in France
“One grey dismal day, Janine Marsh was on a trip to northern France to pick up some cheap wine. She returned to England a few hours later having put in an offer on a rundown old barn in the rural Seven Valleys area of Pas de Calais. This was not something she’d expected or planned for. Janine eventually gave up her job in London to move with her husband to live the good life in France. Or so she hoped. While getting to grips with the locals and la vie Française, and renovating her dilapidated new house, a building lacking the comforts of mains drainage, heating, or proper rooms, and with little money and less of a clue, she started to realize there was lot more to her new home than she could ever have imagined. These are the true tales of Janine’s rollercoaster ride through a different culture—one that, to a Brit from the city, was in turns surprising, charming, and not the least bit baffling.” (via Goodreads)
A Paris Year: My Day-to-Day Adventures in the Most Romantic City in the World
I loved the author’s first book, Letters from Paris. I’m super excited to read this next installment!
“Part memoir and part visual journey through the streets of modern-day Paris, France, A Paris Year chronicles, day by day, one woman’s French sojourn in the world’s most beautiful city. Beginning on her first day in Paris, Janice MacLeod, the author of the best-selling book, Paris Letters, began a journal recording in illustrations and words, nearly every sight, smell, taste, and thought she experienced in the City of Light. The end result is more than a diary: it’s a detailed and colorful love letter to one of the most romantic and historically rich cities on earth. Combining personal observations and anecdotes with stories and facts about famous figures in Parisian history, this visual tale of discovery, through the eyes of an artist, is sure to delight, inspire, and charm.” (via Goodreads)
A Paris All Your Own: Bestselling Women Writers on the City of Light Many of my favorite female authors write about their connections to Paris and France.
“Brown (The Light of Paris; The Weird Sisters) pulls together a collection of Paris travel stories from 18 renowned best-selling female authors whose books have taken place in the City of Light in this engaging book. While each essay is a glimpse into the authors’ relationship to or experience in Paris and is unique, common themes include: expectations—the ideal of Paris vs. reality; love; breaking up; Parisian women and their penchant for extraordinary scarf wearing; and the ubiquitous dog excrement throughout the city. Brown acknowledges in her introduction the lack of diversity in writers whose books take place in Paris and so this collection reflects mostly heterosexual, white women’s personal experiences, and issues such as race, politics, and religion are not addressed. Numerous books covering life, travel, and experiences in the city exist (Janice MacLeod’s Paris Letters, Vicki Lesage’s Confessions of a Paris Party Girl), and this collection from writers who have written about the city is an enjoyable addition for readers who wish to travel to Paris or who enjoy travel essays. VERDICT An engaging, delightful glimpse into female writers’ experiences in Paris.—Louise Feldmann, Colorado State Univ. Lib., Fort Collins

French Fridays – My Friends, My Love

This French Friday is a review of the French rom-com: My Friends, My Love.

My Friends, My Love Poster

After being fired from his job at a bookstore, Mathias finds an opportunity to move to London to run his own bookstore. The perks? His ex-wife and daughter live in London, as does his best friend Antoine. Hoping to win her back, Mathias relocates, only find his ex-wife leaving for Paris that same day. Now Vincent and his daughter move in Antoine and his son in a modern-day odd couple relationship. Trying to manage the day-to-day rules along with new love interests proves to be challenging for the friends.

Although this story is fairly formulaic, I still found it fun in a way that only a rom-com can be. The plot was overly simplistic and at times unrealistic. The main character’s best defining characteristics is his fear of heights. I actually found Antoine’s character more layered, but neither actor really sold their character. There were a few dull scenes, plus a death that made absolutely no sense whatsoever, in timing or with its addition to the story. The film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name. So maybe the book has an explanation for that scene.

What I really appreciated about the movie was that it centered on the friendship of two single fathers, trying to do the best for their children while still trying to navigate (or completely ignore) their love lives. It was a refreshing take on gender roles. The movie is set in London, in a little district known as “Frog Alley”, being heavily populated by the French. I loved the landscape, the cute little streets and amazing architecture. I think I watched the movie more for the setting than for the story.

Overall, I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars. Its not good, but its not bad either.

Words to remember

Le bonheur est l’art de faire un bouquet avec les fleurs qui sont à notre portée. – Anonymous

Happiness is the art of making a bouquet with the flowers that are within our grasp.

Dinner Chez Moi

I loved Elizabeth Bard’s memoirs, Lunch in Paris and Picnic in Provence, so I was very excited to find out she had a new book being published this year.

Dinner Chez Moi: 50 French Secrets to Joyful Eating and EntertainingI finally managed to get my hands on the book, but it took me ages to get through it. Its a simple enough book, although the premise is a little muddled. Its too simple to be an eating manifesto of the French. Although there are recipes. Bard provides 50 “secrets” of a French kitchen. Each secret is numbered, accompanied by a recipe and some thoughts of how that secret has changed her life.

The illustrations are pretty, but I found the book to be lacking in so many ways. It was just so sparse. Maybe its meant to be a beginner’s guide, like Michael Pollan’s simplied Food Rules? I didn’t really learn anything new from the book, nothing I didn’t know before. I do want to try a couple of the recipes from her book once the weather cools down. The yogurt cake and the madeleine cookie recipe.

In a French Kitchen: Tales and Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in FranceI think the downside for me, was that this book borrowed very heavily from Susan Herrmann Loomis In A French Kitchen. This book provides some wonderful insight, thought and history into a typical French kitchen. Whereas Dinner Chez Moi is an introductory course, In A French Kitchen is the full semester.

Both books provide virtually the same information, one is just much more detailed. Both would make wonderful gifts for your favorite Francophile.

The problem with working in a library

Is that I am constantly reminded of all of the books that I won’t ever get to read. As quickly as I try to read through books now, my to-read list on Goodreads is a bottomless pit. 424 books and counting.

This has been a decent year of reading for me though. 18 books in 5 months. I always start strong in the first couple months of the year, and then by summer I’m struggling to finish a book in two months.

Here are some of the books I read in the recent months:

The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs

 

I just finished this one last week. It was…so-so. I really enjoyed the history of the street. Rue des Martyrs is tucked away by Montmontre. It seems like a quiet and simple little street in such a big and bustling city.

 

The Baker's Secret

This one was one of the better historical fiction novels set in Paris that I’ve read. Set during WWII, it focuses on a small little village in France that is under Nazi occupation. The characters were varied and engrossing. I particularly enjoyed the protagonists’s glum nature, although based on the reviews I’ve read, others didn’t feel the same.

 

The Little French Bistro

The only thing I enjoyed about this book is the setting in Brittany. Its an area in France I know virtually nothing about and it was wonderful to learn about some of the unique traits of that region. That said…the story and characters were forced, trite and unrealistic. There were too many characters of similar natures to keep track of and I felt like the protagonist had a habit of always having the magic touch. I hate that in novels. Its one of my biggest pet peeves.
The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia This is apparently the only book I’ve read in the recent months that isn’t set in France. Its a look at the Nordic region of the world, Scandinavia. Its very glib, sarcastic, and offers a unique look at life underneath the happiest-people-in-the-world banner that these countries often find themselves waving. I’ve concluded that there really is no perfect place in the world. Everywhere has its ups and downs. Its really what we do with those ups and downs that determines our own happiness. I do wish I had a print copy of this book. I listened to the audiobook and there are a lot of things I want to go back and re-read.

Between the Covers or Between Headphones

I’ve been on a whirlwind, reading some really fantastic books lately. Normally I’m fine just updating my Goodreads account and watching the number tick upwards on my read list, but lately I feel like I have more to say. I’ve been in a reading vacuum as of late. As soon as I put one book down, another is immediately in my hands. I freak out when I near the end of an audiobook because I don’t have another lined up and I dread driving my half hour commute to and from work without a book to listen to.

So what have I been reading? These are my favorites as of late:

Audiobook

The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia Michael Booth is a hilarious author, taking a witty and sardonic look at the actual lives of the Nordic culture that is currently sweeping through the US right now. Books and media all hyping Scandinavia as the happiest place on earth are seriously considered and slightly debunked in this book. I’m also learning so much about the culture, the history and the habits of the people in the Nordic countries (Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Finland, etc). Its truly a wonderful book.

 

Physical Book

The Baker's Secret This is another I just finished. Its a look into the lives of one small village in Normandy under Nazi occupation during the end of WWII. Emma, the baker’s apprentice takes on a valuable role in keeping the members of the community float during such a stressful and brutal time in their history. We meet an eclectic cast in the community, from the veterinarian, to the priest to the crooked DeFour and the every so vile Captain Theilheim. I couldn’t put this book down, each chapter just led right into the next in a wonderful tone and pace.

Books in the mail

Thank you to the wonderful publishers that have been sending me books  in the mail. I’ve gotten some wonderful titles that I can’t wait to jump into.

The Little French Bistro: A Novel       Duck Season: Eating, Drinking and Other Misadventures in Gascony, France's Last Best Place       The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well

French Film Friday – Movie Review

What's in a Name? Poster 

Last night I watched this incredibly funny movie, What’s in a Name? The film is actually an adaptation of the play, which was also written by film’s directors, Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de La Patellière.

The premise: Family dinner. When Vincent announces the name of his future son, he starts a chain of reactions and revelations that spark debate, controversy and some pretty incredible truths about how the family really feels about each other.

The film stars Patrick Bruel in the lead role of impish Vincent. Most of the actors are new to me, but I’m really just beginning to delve into the world of contemporary French films.

My husband watched the movie with me and we both agreed that the entire premise of this movie would never really take off in the US, unless it was an under-funded indie film. Even then, I wonder. The entire movie takes place in the living room of Babu (Vincent’s sister). She and her husband are hosting dinner for her brother, his wife and Babu’s childhood best friend Claude. During the course of the dinner, Vincent announces the results of the ultrasound (a boy) and then the selected name for his son. I won’t reveal the name, but it sparks a heated discussion between all of the party members. This revelation leads to some other revelations about each person at the dinner party. Its kind of like that episode of Friends where the entire cast snitches on each other to Monica and Ross’ parents.

Vincent’s seemingly innocent joke about the baby’s name goes too far and soon everyone is digging up the past as they fling insults at each other. The actors themselves are precise and impeccable in their acting and intensity of emotion that they bring to their parts. No one misses a beat.

The New York Times has a wonderful review of the film if you don’t mind a few spoilers about the name reveal.

French Cinema

I think I’ve hit a wall on French memoirs and fiction. I think I’ve pretty much read everything I want to/need to read. Although I am discovering picture books set in Paris with my son (he loves Madeline and Babar right now), I haven’t been indulging in as many French travel books as before. They all seem repetitive and it really seems like Scandinavia is really plugging their culture as the hip new thing everyone should be obsessed with. There are a number of books about hygge and other elements of Danish living that are flooding the  blogs and bookshelves right now.

All this is a long-winded way of saying that I’ve been delving more and more into French movies. Contemporary, fun, and interesting French films. Since there is no Goodreads for movies, I figure this blog is the best way to really document what I’m watching.

I’m not quite sure what is it about French films. Its not even that they are set in France. Its really the stories that they tell. Maybe its the limited budgets, but the stories are so much more streamlined and less hyperbolic than American movies. There is so much less fluff, less nonsense, less arbitrary supporting characters.

I’m playing a bit of catch-up with this post, but hopefully I’ll have a weekly movie review coming up on this site. Well, maybe weekly. Or as often as I watch a French film.

Le Chef Poster

(2012)  A young chef, Jacky, keeps getting fired because he gets creative in the kitchen. An older chef, Alexandre, puts up a battle, knowing that he’ll soon be bumped from his coveted position to make room for another young chef who specializes in molecular gastronomy. In a world of food, friendships and rivalries, Jacky & Alexandre work together to save Alexandre’s job.

 

Haute Cuisine Poster (2012) This is a wonderful biographical movie about chef Danièle Delpeuch and how she was appointed as the private chef for François Mitterrand. She dealt with an enormous amount of sexism in the kitchen, but nevertheless, produced some amazing meals for the president. Its a wonderfully touching and inspiring movie.

All That Glitters Poster

(2010) Lila and Ely are best friends who live just on the outskirts of Paris. They go to the clubs on the weekends and are your typical party-girls with hears of gold.  When Lila begins a relationship with a wealthy Parisian, she and Ely soon begin living a lie about their own financial status, putting a strain on their friendship as well as on their relationships with their families. I really adored this movie. Anyone who is not born into glamour or wealth can appreciate the motivation of these two girls to keep up with high-society.

Blind Date Poster (2015) Fed up with living under her father’s thumb, a young pianist finds an apartment to call her own. On her first night, she runs away thinking its haunted. Further inspection leads her to find out that its actually her neighbor. A shy, reclusive artist who hates sharing the thin walls with anybody.  Things get interesting when she moves in and won’t stand for his demand for absolute quiet. Its a very cute and funny love story. I can picture an early 80s American version with Meg Ryan.

The Intouchables Poster

(2011)  This one is my absolute favorite that I have seen so far. I can safely say I like it better than Amelie (ducks undercover). This is the story of a man who becomes quadriplegic after a paragliding accident and his rough-around-the-edges caretaker. The two form an unlikely friendship. Philippe is a young aristocrat surrounding by pity, Driss is recently released from jail and looking for any way to support his mother and their large family. This movie is actually based on a true story. It really reminded me of Jojo Moyes Me Before You. Its sentimental, but not a tear-jerker. The characters are authentic and relatable without feeling forced. I highly recommend this movie if you ever have the chance.

1/3 Dinner: Orange glaze chicken with pearl cous cous & steamed veggies


The glaze is adapted from an America’s Test Kitchen recipe. The original recipe is for chicken, but it works wonderfully for tofu. 

I cooked the cous cous in chicken broth, but it still tasted super bland until I added the minced parsley. 

All in all, dinner was healthy, bland and quick to make. I feel like the plate is missing something, something of substance. Maybe we needed bread? Or salad?

1/2 Kitchen attempts

I didn’t work today, so now I’m sitting in the messiest little kitchen, waiting for my Oven-Fried Chicken to finish baking in the oven. 

I’ve spent nearly all day in the kitchen today. 

  • Bread – I attempted the Pain Ordinaire recipe from the book The Art of Bread. I’ve followed this recipe 5 times already with no success. I’m wondering if it’s my oven or the recipe that is off. The bread is burnt and under baked no matter what I try. The trouble with bread is that there are too many variables, and I can’t figure out which step is out of alignment. 
  • Scallop potatoes – This recipe is a sped up version from America’s Test Kitchen. I had to use milk & butter in lieu of heavy cream & I cut up too many potatoes. But I think it tastes OK. 
  • Chips – I had leftover potatoes from the scallop potatoes, so I wanted to make chips. They burnt to a crisp in the first 5 minutes. 
  • Oven-Fried Chicken – this recipe is from my old faithful cookbook Better Homes & Garden New Cookbook: Bridal Edition. Its still in the oven, so no comments yet, but I feel fairly confident it’ll turn out decent. I have to make something that didn’t work from this book. Turned out better than I could have imagined! The best thing I’ve made all day!