Monthly Archives: August 2011

Half Read Books

Books I picked up and soon regretted.

1. The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate
Source: Publisher

Although the premise of this book was incredibly intriguing (about a young woman dealing with alcoholism in her family in the form of her father and brother), I found the characters to be flat, the plot to be sparse and the narration to be dry. I don’t understand why the author chose to tell stories of the other characters through the daughter’s voice, rather than giving each character his/her own voice and perspective. I read a little more than half of the book before setting it aside and moving on to something else. There was too much background and not enough plot to keep me interested.

2. The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Source: NetGalley

Rules of civility

I actually got into this book when I first started reading it. I read about a good 100+ pages in the first sitting. It’s an e-book, so its downloaded onto the computer. For some reason, I never wanted to pick the book up from where I had left it. Although I am curious to see what happens to the characters, I don’t feel partial towards any of them, and just feel as if they are listless and bored. Not boring, but just bored with their own lives, set in the early 20th Century New York. Towles writes beautifully and this is a good period piece of American history. I just don’t care enough about the characters to want to finish their stories.

French Lessons (Ellen Sussman) – Review

French Lessons by Ellen SussmanFrench Lessons by Ellen Sussman
Age: Adult
Genre: Chick-lit
Format: AudioCD – 6 discs Random House Audio, 2011
Publisher: Ballantine Books, 2011

Three French tutors spend a day with their American students, sight-seeing and rediscovering what it means to be in love.

The story is told through the perspective of the three American students, each in France for their own reasons for their despair and frustration with their lives. Josie is the first narrator. She is in France grieving for the loss of her love, the father of one of French class students in the Bay Area. She spends the day with her tutor, Nico, trying to forget the reasons for her sadness. The second narrator, Riley, is a frustrated housewife living in France with her husband and two children. Feeling friendless and alone, Riley is frustrated with all things French, especially her tutor Francois. The third narrator is Jeremy, the husband of a famous American actress filming a movie in Paris. He develops a crush on his tutor, Chantal, and begins to question his love for his wife.

Within each of the three sexually charged narratives, there are questions of happiness, love, romance, home, infidelity, and feelings of belonging. All of these issues are brought up to light through the sexuality and sexual interactions of the characters. All six characters think about sex, love, sex and more sex. Although the stories were well paced, I found Riley’s character to be the most annoying and obnoxious of the set. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but something about this novel felt off.  At times the dialog felt unrealistic, overly floral and descriptive. Kathe Mazur reads the book  and times the French accent sounded more Middle Eastern then French. I think I would have enjoyed the text format of this book over the audio-cd, but there are a number of holds on both formats my library, and the audio-cd had fewer holds.

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Book 38 of 2011soundbytes picture

Parisians (Graham Robb) – Review

Parisians : an adventure history of ParisParisians by Graham Robb
Age: Adult
Genre: History
Publisher: W.W. Norton, 2010
ISBN 9780393339734
462 pages

This is the Paris you never knew. From the revolution to the present, Graham Robb has distilled a series of astonishing true narratives, all stranger than fiction, of the lives of the great, the near-great, and the forgotten.

I’m not really quite sure where to begin with this book. One, I picked this book almost entirely based on its cover, and the title of course. This is the last book I read for Paris in July, although I only finished it last week. I picked up the book because of the cover, but once I read the first couple of pages, the prologue explaining why and how Robb first ended up in Paris, I was hooked.

Robb is an incredibly gifted author, able to weave truth with fabricated dialogue and imagined scenarios of things that might have been. His work is well researched and many of the people and subjects he covers in this book would not be easily found elsewhere.

The chapters that stuck out particularly to me was the tale of Marie Antoinette, wandering lost through the city with a guard too naive or too scared to inform his queen that she took a wrong turn. There was also the haunting chapter of Hitler’s occupation of France, of his wandering the streets of a city whose map he memorized, and knew inside and out.  Although the chapters can be read on their own, they are placed in chronological covering hundreds of years of Parisian history. This is the type of book that requires either a really carefully concentrated first reading, or continual rereadings. Each chapter is packed with details, description, dates, facts and figures. I made a number of notes of people and places to look into for further research, movies to watch and philosopher and political movements to explore.  Some chapters were hard to keep track of, some were boring and I’ll admit I skimmed the last chapter because I just wanted to finish the book. My head was swimming with Parisian facts that I couldn’t quite visualize because I wasn’t in the city, walking along the canals or looking at the buildings that Haussman constructed.

Graham Robb is somewhat of an expert on France and French history. He has written a number of books or so on the subject: Balzac; Victor Hugo, Rimbaud, Strangers, The Discovery of France. With his wonderful ability of connecting the reader to the character, no matter how minor, I’m sure the rest of his books are just as descriptive, entertaining and unique as Parisians.

 Victor Hugo by Graham Robb Rimbaud by Graham Robb Strangers : homosexual love in the nineteenth... by Graham Robb The discovery of France : a historical geography... by Graham Robb

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Book 37 of 2011

The Lantern (Deborah Lawrenson) – Review

The lantern : a novelThe Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson
Genre: Gothic
Age: Adult
Publisher: Harper Collins 2011
Source: Publisher

Storyline #1: Eve fell madly in love with Dom from the moment they first met in the streets of Paris. Not long after a whirlwind romance, Eve moves to Dom’s hameau (hamlet) in a countryside village in Provance. Constantly haunted by images and thoughts of Dom’s former wife, Rachel, Eve is determined to figure out the mystery of the hamlet, and the mystery of why Dom angrily refuses to discuss his former relationship with Rachel.

Storyline #2: Benedicte grew up in the lush landscape of Provance’s Les Genreviers, and tells her life story. She has a terribly psychotic brother, and a blind sister who went to become one of the world’s most famous perfumers, creating Lavande De Nuit (Lavender of the Night).


Lawrenson is gifted with her ability to create a descriptive atmosphere, enticing nearly all the senses of the reader. I often was lost in her descriptions of the sights and smells that Eve and Benedicte experienced during their time in the little village. Unfortunately, that is where my fondness for this book ends.

The storyline was at times convoluted with chapters abruptly alternating narration with no warning. It was very confusing, wondering who was talking about what, until I started to get more familiar with the characters. There was no change in personality or voice between Benedicte and Eve, so I couldn’t use their narrative voices to decipher the difference. The book is not spooky at all. I found it more irksome in how forced the spooky elements are presented. The characters, except for Dom, are not very interesting. Eve is obsessed with Rachel in the same way the nameless narrator was obsessed with Rebecca in Du Maurier’s masterpiece.

Despite a bumpy start, the book got really interesting about 150 pages into the book and I was able to navigate the chapters with ease, learning more about the characters and making guesses as to how the two seemingly random plots tie into each other. Although I’m not thoroughly impressed by this book, my interest into just what Dom is all about was enough to keep me reading to the end.

Of the two stories, I found Benedicte’s to be much more interesting and I would love to read a book of this genre entirely focused on her story. I think there was so much to her character, life and the people in her life that added a lot to this novel and could be expanded into a full novel of its own right.

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Book 36 of 2011

Ms. Hempel Chronicles (Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum) – Review

Ms. Hempel chroniclesMs. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction/short story collection
Publisher: Mariner Books, 2008
193 Pages
Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction Finalist

Ms. Beatrice Hempel, teacher of seventh grade, is new — new to teaching, new to the school, newly engaged, and newly bereft of her devoted father. Overwhelmed by her newness, she struggles to figure out what is expected of her in life and at work. Is it acceptable to introduce swear words in the English curriculum, enlist students to write their own report cards, or bring up personal experiences while teaching a sex-education class?

Madeleine is sleepingI found this book in the sale section of Powell’s bookstore last week and immediately snatched it from the shelves with eager hands. I read and loved Bynum’s first novel, Madeleine is Sleeping, and hadn’t realized that Bynum had a second book out in stores already. I read it immediately, and was able to finish it in a couple of days.

I could readily identify with the character of Ms. Hempel. We’re the same age, starting anew in traditional educational careers, and still wary of each step we take and each word we utter to minors in our presence. Granted, my biggest fear is not being abducted by a van of crazed clowns.

Bynum has a very unique writing style. Its a mix of snarky, subtle, youthful, naive and insightful. Two chapters into the Ms. Hempel Chronicles and I knew I could not in any way compare it to Madeleine is Sleeping. The story, characters, setting are vastly different. The Ms. Hempel Chronicles is aptly named, as many of the chapters were published as short stories in various literary magazines before being compiled into this book. That makes for choppy transitions between chapters. It feels more like a series of vignettes than a linear account of Ms. Hempel’s time as a teacher. Overall, I think this is a great book for someone in their late 20’s, particularly new teachers of middle schoolers.

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Book 35 of 2011

The Help (Kathryn Stockett) – Review

The helpThe Help by Kathryn Stockett
Age: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Books, 2009
444 Pages

Told through the voices of 22 year old Skeeter,recently returned home from college, and two maids, Aibileen and Minny, author Kathryn Stockett weaves a tale of segregated Jackson Missouri during the 1960s. With a degree and interest in writing, Skeeter picks up a position at a local newspaper writing for Miss Myrna column about house-cleaning and house-keeping for housewives. Feeling restless and bored with her work, Skeeter decides to take on one of the biggest challenges she can find. That of chronicling the tales of the African-American maids that work for the wife housewives in Jackson. Through the riots, protests, police brutality and indirectly effects all of the characters, Stockett weaves a tale of housewives, maids, children and everyday life in the 1960s.

A close family friend lent me this book, and I have seen it constantly checked out at the library as well as discussed heavily on the blog-o-sphere through the past year. Now that the movie was just released, I was able to find time to sit down and read this book.

I love the setting of the book. I just finished catching up with Mad Men on Netflix, and this book is an incredibly read-along with the TV show. It covers the same time-frame and many of the same themes of feminism, racism, and integration of society. I think Skeeter is an incredibly character, although I felt that much of presence petered out at the end of the book. In fact, I think that this book was a lot of talk, with very little action, and most of the climax petered out at the end. I was a little disappointed with the ending, I was hoping for more conflict than Miss Hilly’s petty revenge schemes. However, I do think that the main intent of this book was to induce more talk more than anything else.

Through the three characters, we see three distinct personalities and accounts of many of the same scenes, and the same characters. From the evil that lurks in Miss Hilly, to the generous naïvete of Miss Celia (one of my absolute favorite characters). The 1960s is a decade rich in  social and technological progress, social and political change, as well as a number of civil rights movements that my generations often takes for granted.

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Book 34 of 2011

Southern Belle Challenge – September

Now that I’ve traveled through France in July, I’ll be making my way to the Southern States via a neat new challenge hosted by Curling Up With A Good Book.

We can choose to read books, watch movies, or find a favorite Southern recipe to share.

There has been so many books that take place in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Tennessee,
“The Help”, “The Dry Grass of August, and “Saving Cee-Cee”.


July Reading Recap

July has been an interesting book month for me. Although I tried to focus on books set in Paris or France, I did stray a little bit with other reads inbetween. This month was mostly dedicated to the Paris in July celebration run by Book Bath and Thyme for Tea. I had a lot of fun participating in this event, and I think the French overkill has left me a lot less homesick for my honeymoon moments in Paris from this past May.

Books Read/Reviewed in July

1. 13 Rue Thérèse : a novel by Elena Mauli Shapiro  2. Season to taste : how I lost my sense of smell... by Molly Birnbaum  3. Fire in the blood by Irène Némirovsky
4. Entre nous : a woman  5. Little brother by Cory Doctorow  6. Lunch in Paris : a love story, with recipes by Elizabeth Bard
7. Reading with the stars : why they love libraries by Leonard Kniffel  8. French impressions : the adventures of an American... by John S Littell  9.  No and me by Delphine de Vigan 10. The autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin
  1. 13 Rue Therese: Elena Mauli Shapiro
  2. Season to Taste: Molly Birnbaum
  3. Fire in Blood: Irene Nemirovsky
  4. Entre Nous: Debra Ollivier
  5. Little Brother: Cory Doctorow
  6. Lunch in Paris: Elizabeth Bard
  7. Reading with the Stars: Leonard Kniffel
  8. French Impressions: John Littel
  9. No and Me by Delphine de Vigan
  10. The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: Melanie Benjamin (Read in June)
Pick of the month:
Lunch in Paris : a love story, with recipes