Secrets of a Charmed Life – Susan Meissner

Secrets of a Charmed Life

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

  • Source: Library – Friend’s of the Library Bookstore
  • Genre: Fiction – Historical, WW2, England,

Growing up in the East End of London during the start of WW2, Emmy Downtree took more responsibilities than a typical 15-year-old. Acting as a mother to her half-sister Julia all the while dreaming of becoming a wedding dress designer. Emmy had just taken on a part-time job at the local wedding dress store when events were speeding up in the war. Children were being evacuated from their homes and being transported to the countryside to live with foster families as the war raged on in London. After receiving a letter from her former employer, Emmy returns to London with Julia in tow. Not knowing that their return would be the day of the infamous blitz. Divided and alone, Emmy must take her own future into her own hands. But who will she be? Emmy Downtree or Isabel Crofton?

* * * * * * * * * * *

I could not put down this book. It was written so beautifully. The rage, resentment and anger Emmy felt towards her mother influenced so many of her decisions. Her love-hate relationship with being Julia’s guardian. Loving and taking her of her much younger sister, all the while wanting to spread her own wings and fly away from the life their mother had provided for them in the East End. During her journey, Emmy learned so much about her own history through accidental meetings and occurrences. The characters felt so real. We never learned in school that children where separated from their families all throughout the war. Children sent to England from other countries, children sent from London the countryside, all hoping to find safer land and shelter from the war above their heads. This is a book about the war, but moreso about one family’s experiences, losses and discoveries as a result of the war.

Advertisements

Into the Water – Paula Hawkins

Into the Water

Into The Water by Paula Hawkins

  • Source: Library – Overdrive Audiobook
  • Genre: Fiction – Mystery, Murders, Rivers

A small English town is rocked when the body of Nel is pulled out of the infamous Drowning Pool. Some say she jumped, some think she was killed due to her on-going investigations into the history of the Drowning Pool and the numerous females lives taken by the water. Long-lost memories resurface for Nel’s sister Jules as she steps in to care for Nel’s teenage daughter. Told through a series of voices, the puzzle behind her death is slowly put together as the reader uncovers the truth.

For one thing, I’m really glad I listened to the audiobook. There are so many different voices and characters to keep track of. Each chapter is a new person. The audiobook, with an ensemble cast, really helped me keep up with the story and the slow reveals as different character reveal different clues. Overall, I thought it was wonderfully creepy and well done. I loved the ensemble cast narrating the story. Although it was slower paced than Girl on the Train, I didn’t find it dull at all. All of the characters were layered, interesting, deceitful. confused, sympathetic, and neurotic. I feel bad for all of the children, all of the miscommunication, misogyny, and willful ignorance in that one small town. So many lost lives over petty grievances and unfaithful spouses.

The Music Shop – Rachel Joyce

The Music ShopThe Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

  • Source: Library – Overdrive Audiobook
  • Genre: Fiction – Music; Love Stories

Rachel Joyce is one of my favorite authors, but this book hit a flat note with me (har har). It started off really well, with a diverse and eccentric community living on Unity Street. Most of the story takes place in The Music Shop on the street, run by Frank. Set during the late 1980’s, Frank only seels vinyl. Not CDs, only vinyl.  His love for music and its stories are contagious and endearing. He has a knack for selecting the right music for each person’s needs. He’s a bit socially awkward, particularly around one Ilse Brauchmann, a woman who visits his shop and who he falls for, despite his efforts to the contrary. One day, Ilsa faints outside his shop. In all of the hoopla of getting her help, she leaves behind her purse at the shop. From that fateful day, Frank and Ilsa form an interesting relationship, hinting at their adoration for each other, without being able to say the words. Frank is unable to handle the feelings of love that bubble up for him. Ilsa is engaged to another man.

The tug of war of “will they or won’t they” is endless in the novel. Frank is just unable to let love into his world, particularly after the death of Peg, his eccentric mother who planted the seed that grew into his love and knowledge of music history. This book is ultimately an ode to music than a romance or love story. Its quirky, its contemporary, despite being set in the 1980s. The characters are diverse and have their own nuances and eccentricities. Despite all of this, somewhere towards the last third of the story, I started losing interest. Maybe I just picked up this book at the wrong time. The narrator didn’t appeal to me all that much either. He was very gruff, the way I would expect Frank to sound like, but I still didn’t feel a big urge to return to the book after a break.

PS. If you like this book, try: High Fidelity

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

The European Reading Challenge

January 1, 2018 to January 31, 2019

This looks like fun! I already read plenty of books set in France and England. Hopefully now I can expand my reading travels to other countries in Europe. Is anyone else doing this challenge?

From the Rose City Reader

OFFICIAL RULES

  • Read all books between January 1, 2018 and January 31, 2019. I like having 13 months so there is extra time to finish after the holidays. However, if you participated in the 2017 European Reading Challenge, you can only count books read in January 2018 for one year — either the end of the 2017 challenge or the start of the 2018 challenge — you don’t get to count one book for both challenges.

THE GIST: The idea is to read books by European authors or books set in European countries (no matter where the author comes from). The books can be anything – novels, short stories, memoirs, travel guides, cookbooks, biography, poetry, or any other genre. You can participate at different levels, but each book must be by a different author and set in a different country – it’s supposed to be a tour. (See note about the UK, below)

THE LIST: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Vatican City.

NOTE: Even after Brexit, the United Kingdom is still one country, in Europe, that includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. So one book from any one of these four counts as your one book for the United Kingdom. I’m not going to be a stickler about it because challenges should be about fun not about rules. However, when it comes to winning the Jet Setter prize, only one book from one of the UK countries will count.

LEVELS OF PARTICIPATION

FIVE STAR (DELUXE ENTOURAGE): Read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries.

FOUR STAR (HONEYMOONER): Read four qualifying books.

THREE STAR (BUSINESS TRAVELER): Read three qualifying books.

TWO STAR (ADVENTURER): Read two qualifying books.

ONE STAR (PENSIONE WEEKENDER): Read just one qualifying book.

Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came in their mailbox during the last week. Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists.

 

img_81361.jpg

I can finally start participating in this meme!

  • Brixton Beach by Roma Tearne came from HarperPress via Meryl Zegarek Public Relations
  • Black Sugar by Miguel Bonnefoy came from Gallic via Meryl Zegarek Public Relations

I also had a couple of audiobooks become available on Overdrive this week. Too bad I can’t double up on audiobooks the way I can with tangible books.

Cover image for George and Lizzie Cover image for Uncommon Type

January 2018 – Reviews

True to my word, I’m going to attempt to update this blog on a regular basis again this year.

I’ll start with a summary of what I read in January.

There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids (from Friluftsliv to Hygge)

There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather by Linda Akeson McGurk

  • Source: Library
  • Genre: Parenting

I adored this look into the Scandinavian style of parenting. It was an encouraging reminder that it is OK to let my kid play outside in non-sunny weather. McGurk was not preachy nor demeaning towards American parenting styles, as most international parenting books tend to be. This was just an account of her life in US, then in Sweden. Each chapter ends with a book recommendation as well as a few ideas or things to keep in mind when letting kids play in inclement weather. I quote from this book a lot at work and to the preschool teachers and parents that I work with.

PS. If you want more titles like this, try: Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life  &   The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World

  1. Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life by Richard Louv
  2. The Hidden Lives of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

 

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian's Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks by Annie Spence

  • Source: Library – Hoopla Digital Audiobook
  • Genre: Books about Books

A book about books by a librarian carefully weeding (getting rid of) books from the bookshelf. Some books I had read and loved, other’s I knew nothing about, other’s I immediately added to my To-Read list. I loved Annie’s take this part of the library-world. I loved her wry humor and all of her stories about conversations with library patrons that I too have had in the course of my career.

P.S. If you want more titles like this, try: The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next, #1)   &   Quiet, Please: Dispatches From A Public Librarian

  1. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
  2. Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian by Scott Douglas

 

What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories

What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food that Tells Their Stories

  • Source: Library – Overdrive Audio
  • Genre: Biography – Food

A culinary historian takes a look at the lives of 6 women through the food they ate, served to others or otherwise made up their lives. It was an interesting book and I learned something about each of the women in the book. Although pretty much all of the women in this book are white, European, with upper or middle class status. I was hoping for more diversity. Eva Peron or Frida Kahlo would have had amazing stories. Shapiro choose 3 women from England, 2 from the US and 1 from Germany. Although the book spans the century from Dorothy Wordsworth to Helen Gurley Brown, I didn’t find anything particular fascinating about this book. Somewhere during the Barbara Pym chapter I started zoning out of the audiobook. When I restarted the chapter after a break, I honestly had no idea which woman she was talking about, all of their food issues began to sound the same. I found the Eleanor Roosevelt chapter the most interesting because of how horribly the food was served at the White House. Shapiro delves in the history and events of the era each women lived in, adding context and perspective to the foods in their lives. I found those portions far more interesting than the actual food or the women themselves discussed in the book.

P.S. If you want more like this, try: The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu

  1.  The Language of Food by Dan Jurafsky

A Study in Charlotte (Charlotte Holmes, #1)

A Study in Charlotte (Charlotte Holmes #1) by Brittany Cavallaro

  • Source: Library (Overdrive Audiobook)
  • Genre: YA – Mystery

The great, great, great descendants of the amazing (and very real) private detective duo of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson find themselves sent to the same New England prep school in their freshman year. Charlotte Holmes and James (Jaime) Watson are linked by a string of murders and attacks on the school as they dig through the clues to solve the mystery.

This book was incredibly fun to listen to. The characters were true to their origins (stoic Holmes and the observant Watson), but also had the hallmark drama and insecurities of being teenagers dealing with identity issues, peer pressure and homework. The narrator did an amazing job and really kept the story going. The plot was well-paced with interesting twists. Much of it was predictable, but it didn’t make it any less entertaining. I could see this turning in an incredibly fun TV series.

P.S. If you want more like this, try: Heist Society (Heist Society, #1)

  1. Heist Society by Ally Carter

Happy 10 Years to Me!

I just realized that I started this book blog 10 years ago! 10. Wow. I even found my inaugural post:

blog post

Oh, I had such lofty goals. 100 books in one year. I think I only accomplished that once in the lifetime of this site. I did get really close in 2008 though. 90 books. Not too shabby.

This blog has been such a wonderful outlet for me to ramble on about the books in my life, joining reading challenges and realizing just how large the reading community really is. It makes my little librarian heart swell with joy.

Its interesting scanning through my old posts, seeing the evolution of my reading tastes from year to year. I definitely am not monogamous with any single genre. I started with the classics, delved into sci-fi and fantasy, discovered teen lit, (Oh Gossip Girl…I still love you and your TV show counterpart). I’m trying to figure out just when exactly this turned into an ALL THINGS FRENCH blog. I think 2011 after I came back from Paris.

I’m not the best at updating this blog, but to have lasted a good, albeit somewhat spotty, 10 years. Maybe its time I give it some love and try to keep up with my updates again.

I discovered a love for audiobooks in 2015 and its been such a game-changer for me. I’m able to keep up with more stories and stay entertained on my commutes around town. I’ve even gotten my 5 year old hooked on audiobooks. We’re listening to the Mouse and the Motorcycle right now. Its such a joy to share the classics of my childhood with him in this way. I’m not sure he could sit still at home with me reading such a lengthy book without pictures. But in the car, he’s totally entranced by the tale.

Well, what is a blog post without lists? Lets see how well I can sum my last 10 years with this blog with some of my favorite discoveries.

Favorite Series: 

Maisie Dobbs (Maisie Dobbs, #1) Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore

*I’m not really a series fan. I get about 3 books in, and then move on.

Countries Most Frequently Read About: 

Paris, England, US

*In that order…

Go to Authors: 

  • Agatha Christie
  • Neil Gaiman
  • Cecila Ahern
  • AJ Jacobs
  • William Alexander

Favorite Fiction Novels: 

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Harold Fry, #1) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell The Namesake The President's Hat

Guilty Pleasure Genres: 

Self-Help books. I probably shouldn’t admit this to the wide world of the Internet, but I love self-help books. I love their optimism, their encouraging voices, their checklists, charts and lists of To-do’s that I never, ever do. There is something special about these helping hands on the bookshelves.

Real Housewives Style Literature. A good guilty pleasure should be something fun, frivolous and just plain extraordinary. I would classify The Last Mrs. Parrish, Gossip Girl, and even The Swans of 5th Avenue in this category. I don’t watch The Real Housewives of any city. But I still appreciate a retreat into the completely ridiculous every now and then.

Social Science. I love studies. I love lives. I love studies about the lives of people. I love social science because I’m constantly trying to figure out how our world works and why people do the things they do. Things that I can relate to, things that I absolutely cannot understand.

Favorite Memoirs:

Paris Was Ours The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove Laughing Without an Accent: Adventures of an Iranian American, at Home and Abroad Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way

*you’d think this would be a lengthier list with all the dozens of Paris travel memoirs that I’ve read. But none really stand out as original or super insightful.

Favorite Nonfiction: 

Thirty Million Words: Building a Child's Brain Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present

How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food

 

 

Books and Wellness

I’ve been reading more and more about wellness. Wellness as in “drink more water, eat whole foods, avoid unprocessed foods and heal your body” type of wellness. I’m a relatively healthy person, so its my priviledge to indulge in books like these. I know others who are on medication for things like Type 1 Diabetes can’t really throw their insulin out the window and replace it with kale.

The Wellness Project: A Hedonist's Guide to Making Healthier Choices

I started a new book last week called The Wellness Project by Phoebe Lapine. Its really not the best book out there on the topic. Its more anecdotal than informational. She chronicles her journey trying one wellness fad after another in the vain of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. Her chapters don’t provide any real substance other than casual reminders that we should all be drinking more water in the day and that what we put in our body can affect how we feel, what we look like.

I think I’m too critical of this book because I’ve read so much on the subject. Lapine’s book is based off her blog which chronicled her year of wellness in more detail. I think if you’re really interested in her journey, visit her blog. For the books about wellness, lifestyle changes and new kitchen skills, try some of these books instead:

Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food

This in another one of those year-long wellness books. Although the difference with Unprocessed, is that author Megan Kimble takes you through the world of how food is processed (good or bad processing, there is a difference). It offers much more in the way of global analysis of how our actions effect the greater world around us through our  grocery shopping and eating habits.

Year of No Sugar

 

Year of No Sugar is another look into the world of wellness, rather accidental wellness. What happens when a family of 4 tries to stay away from sugar for one whole year? Although it received some negative reviews because of the author’s “cheats” with sugar, I found it to be more realistic. Its basically how I would have handled the challenge.

 

Other books worth noting:

In Defense of Food: An Eate... Food Rules: An Eater's ManualIn Defense of Food & Food Rules by Michael Pollan (because he kickstarted this whole genre).

Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum HealthEating on the Wild Side  by Jo Robinson (A great book to take to the grocery store with you. Its like an encyclopedia of which are the best foods for your body).

 

In a French Kitchen: Tales and Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in France In a French Kitchen by Susan Herrmann Loomis  (A good book for the beginner cook who wants to be more natural in the kitchen a la the French way)

French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano (Another book on French eating, which is also in the vain of eat more whole foods, avoid snacks and be more active)

The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner (a look at how the world’s centarians stay healthy and active well past their 100th birthday)

 

 

 

 

A Paris Year by Janice McLeod

A Paris Year: My Day to Day Adventures in the Most Romantic City in the World by Janice McLeod

St. Martin’s Press, 2017

Source: Library Copy

Challenge: Paris in July

A Paris Year: My Day-to-Day Adventures in the Most Romantic City in the World

The style of A Paris Year is very similar to Paris in Love. Its written in snippets, journal entries, photographs and hand-drawn illustrations by McLeod. This is a great coffee table type of book.

In this book, Macleod shares paintings, thoughts, observations and photographs from a journal she kept. There is something for almost everyday of the year. Each entry has the day’s Saint name (because each day in France has its own Saint’s Day). Each page marks one day of the year, from January to December. It’s a quick and colorful read, full of quotes, asides and traveling tricks for tourists who want to feel like locals. If it was larger in size, I’d call it a coffee table book. I’ve scribbled a few of her quotes into my own journal. I’ve also started writing in my journal again, inspiration from McLeod. Granted, my little city is quite boring compared to Paris. There are still plenty of nooks and avenues to explore in our own worlds. MacLeod brings to life the mundane and background of the world we live in. The little aspects of the street we overlook or just don’t see. It helps to put the phone away when going out for a walk.

The Portrait by Antoine Laurain

The Portrait by Antoine Laurain

Gallic Books, 2017

Source:

Challenge: Paris in July

The Portrait

I’ve had this novel to my to-read list for months. I’ve adored the author’s previous books (well, I adored The President’s Hat and The Red Notebook the most). I was excited to get my hands on this little novel. To my happy surprise, it popped up in my mailbox last week just in time for the Paris in July challenge I do each year.

I’m still waffling on how I really feel about this book. Going into it, I didn’t realize that this was Laurain’s debut novel. I think I might have tempered my expectations a little bit. Laurain’s writing style has definitely evolved from this first novel. Overall, I didn’t enjoy this story as much as I did The President’s & The Red Notebook. However, there is a thread of the realistic-supernatural setting that’s marked his works. I think if the main character in The Portrait had been fleshed out a little more, this could have been an amazing book. it felt choppy, like it underwent heavy editing of huge portions of the story.

The Portrait is a story about a man consumed with collecting. Pierre-François Chaumont’s marriage is falling apart as his wife insists on relegating his collections to just one small room in the house. Sneaking out to an auction house during lunch one day, he comes upon an 18th century portrait of a man who looks exactly like him. Although he spent a fortune to acquire the portrait, the true cost of the portrait comes from its life-changing fit into Chaumont’s drab life.