Category Archives: Adult

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.

A Year in the Merde (Stephen Clarke) – Review

A year in the merdeA Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Source: Library copy
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2004
ISBN: 1582345910 / 276 pages

Find this book at your local library 

Paul West is sent to work in France for a one year assignment, helping develop a series of British tea rooms & cafes throughout Paris. Along the way, he encounters more  than he expecting. He finds himself dealing an apathetic group at work, an untrustworthy boss, a sea of flirtatious yet unavailable women, piles of literal and figurative merde in general throughout the city and its residents.

Although fictional, this book could quite possible pass as an actual memoir. Paul is a wonderful narrator, taking us through his frustrations, his accomplishments and failures as he tries to get through a year in Paris. This is also one of the funniest books I’ve read regarding the subject of a foreigner trying to become a local.

I thought all of the characters were well-developed and well-balanced. From the cranky administrative staff, to the negligent severs at cafes, almost everything described in this book matched every memoir I’ve read set in France. As a bachelor, much of the book is focused on Paul’s sexual exploits (of which there are a many). The rest of the book is focused on Paul’s experiences at work dealing with a staff that could care less about the project. 

Although he’s witty, Paul isn’t really a likable character, no one is actually. He’s very self-centered at times and his primary goal seems to be getting laid. His sense of humor, though, is hilarious and his exploits (sexual and the mundane) are equally entertaining as his bumbling nature keeps getting the better of him. Granted, as a fictional account, much of this book did have some exaggerated elements purely for the sake of humor. A lot of the humor and characters reminded me of Peter Mayle’s experiences in A Year in Provance. A Year in the Merde is meant to be a ribald and sarcastic take on French culture (the food, the constant strikes & protests, the relaxed work habits, etc.) and one British man’s continual attempts to get through one year of paid employment.

5 Gifts for your favorite bibliophile (me!)

Some awesomely awesome gifts for your favorite bibliophile. As much as we all love receiving books, these novelties (pun!) are also welcomed.

1. Spineless Classics Book posters (UK) &

2. Poster Text (US)

Pride and Prejudice
3. Literary Clocks (DIY instructions)
Literary Clock

5. Bookmark Pads (Guilty Pleasure/Yes I’m Actually Reading This/You Are Here

Adverbs (Daniel Handler) – Review

AdverbsAdverbs by Daniel Handler
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Harper Perennial, 2006
ISBN: 9780060724429 / 272 pages

Find this book at your local library

This book is nearly impossible to summarize, but I’m going to try:

A bunch of people talk about love and birds, specifically magpies, and act like real selfish idiots trying to figure out what love really is.

Well…its not a perfect summary, but its the best that I can do. I was really disappointed with this collection by Daniel Handler. I love The Series of Unfortunate Events and The Basic Eight, but this book just seemed to lack the je ne se quoi  of the previous works. This is definitely not a cohesive novel. There is no intro, conflict, climax, resolution. Its more like a collection of vignettes with overlapping characters and themes.  Although I never grew attached or liked any of the characters so I didn’t recognize them when they popped up 3 stories down the line.

Quirks:

  • Handler doesn’t actually use many adverbs in the book except for the chapter titles & for one character towards the end.
  • 36 mentions of Magpies + 67 mentions of birds + 13 mentions of misc birds =  136 mentions of aviary creatures in 17 chapters. I should have kept a count of how many times love and the volcano beneath San Francisco were also mentioned because those were the four frequent concepts in all of the stories.

Handler’s writing is somewhat disjointed. It’s very “hip” and somewhat pretentious. I think I actually reacted to this book the same way I reacted to Franny and Zooey (which was not a good reaction). The writing felt smug, it didn’t feel forced, but it didn’t feel natural either. There was just something off about this novel. Its like there was a volcano underneath this novel causing a sense of urgency where there shouldn’t be one.

I did grow to enjoy the book towards the middle. Some of the chapters I really enjoyed were: Immediately, Frigidly, and Naturally. When I finished, I felt unsatisfied. I feel like this book deserves a re-read in the hopes that I may like it more not expecting a typical story progression.

The Reading Promise (Alice Ozma) – Review

The reading promise : my father and the books we sharedThe Reading Promise: My Dad and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma
Age: Adult
Genre: Memoir
Format: Audio-cd
Source: Library
6 discs
Find this book at your local library

What started as a span of 100 consecutive nights of reading soon became a streak that spanned almost 8 years. In this memoir, Alice Ozma recounts her memories of growing up with her father using their reading streak as a backdrop to the stories.

The title of this book is a LIE. A big fat LIE. I picked up this audio book with the impression that the stories would center around the books they read together. Their thoughts on the books, or how the books had an effect on their lives. Instead, all I got were touching, and nostalgic memories of growing up with a single father who tried his best to raise his highly precocious daughter.

As a father-daughter memoir, this book is top-notch. As a memoir about their reading streak…it strayed from its mark. I was hoping for more chapters like Ch.18, which centered around their reading of Dicey’s Song. Most of the stories centered around Alice’s youth. At times the stories felt very self-indulgent (ie the chapter in which she discusses changing her name from Kristen Alice Ozma Brozina to just Alice Ozma. I skipped the track about halfway through…)

Other times, the stories and the moments Alice and her father shared were touching; the day Alice’s mother moved out of the house, the day her sister went abroad to Germany for a year, the day she got a C in English class, her car accident, the last day of their streak. The reading streak did help the pair broach topics and get through life’s scenarios that would have otherwise been awkward for a single father of a teenage girl. The love and commitment the two put into the streak is admirable.

Ozma read the book, and her reading is really what kept me going. I might have put the book aside otherwise. Alice’s voice is youthful, and she and she paces the reading really well. I think her dad taught her well in that respect.

I think the entire concept of their reading streak is fantastic. As a bibliophile & as a children’s librarian. It’s incredibly important for parents to read with and to their children. It fosters a love of literature, creativity, reading comprehension and analytical thought. I would love to start a tradition like this with my kids. Although I never read with my parents, they did always make a point to take me to the library every week to feed my reading addiction, and they encouraged and supported my love of reading in other ways.

The Story of My Life (Helen Keller) – Review

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
Age: 12 & up
Genre: Autobiography
Source: my copy
Publisher: Watermill Classics, 1994 (originally 1902
ISBN: 0893753688 / 152 pages

Find this book at your local library  

Most people have first learned about Helen Keller when their elementary school teacher played The Miracle Worker one day in class. That was when I first learned about Helen Keller. Although, to be honest, I didn’t know much about her other than what was represented in the movie. I knew that although she was both deaf and blind, she learned how to use sign-language to communicate with people in her life.

Reading The Story of My Life was a very inspirational and eye-opening experience for me. Although its only a brief 152 pages, I really took my time with this book, trying to value and understand the struggles she went to educate herself. I was amazed to learn that in the course of her life, Helen Keller taught herself French, German and Latin. She even learned to use her vocal chords to speak and went to college at Radcliffe.

For all of her obstacles, to be so well accomplished is amazing and also shaming, I think, on today’s society. We have so much knowledge within a touch of a button, but who really strives to educate themselves anymore? How many people try to learn something new after the required four years of college. Often, when I would tell people that I get bored because of the free time I have due to working part-time, I hear a resounding chorus of “Find another job!” Granted, I already work 2 part-time jobs, so taking on a third just seems greedy. No one suggests learning just for the sake of learning. I’m bored because my friends all work during my off-days. I’m bored, because there is a missing stimuli in my life and I don’t have anyone with which to enjoy an intelligent conversation on those days.

This year, since coming back from Europe, I’ve really made an honest effort to learn French and I’m actually doing pretty OK (reading & writing at least. My accent en Francaise is just terrible). I can’t begin to tell you how many weird looks I get from all sorts of people when I tell them that I’m learning French for fun. The whole idea of “If it’s not for work, then what’s the point of learning” seems like the wrong motivation for education. If Helen Keller can learn to read and write in three languages, why shouldn’t I be able to accomplish something similar?

The Story of My Life is full of quotes and messages that I want to copy and paste onto every social media format that I’m a part of. They’ve all struck a chord with me, and I hope they would as well with others. One in particular really stayed with me:

I have learned many things I should never have known had I not tried the experiment. One of them is the precious science of patience, which teaches us that we should take our education as we take a walk in the country, leisurely, our minds hospitably open to impressions of every sort. Such knowledge floods the soul unseen with a soundless tidal wave of deepening thought.

This book is a great autobiography for kids doing reports, its great for adults who feel in a funk and need some motivation to accomplish a dream or goal that keeps getting postponed.

Death by Cashmere (Sally Goldenbaum) – Review

Death by cashmere : a seaside knitters mysteryDeath by Cashmere (A Seaside Knitters Mystery) by Sally Goldenbaum
Age: Adult
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Obsidian, 2008
ISBN: 9780451224712
297 pages
Source – Library
Find this book at your local library  

Izzy, a young woman who owns the knitting shop in the New England coastal town of Sea Harbor is shaken by the death of Angie, the young woman renting the upstairs apartment. Izzy and her close friends, the knitting circle, put their heads together to figure out who killed Angie and why.  They get more than they bargained for as the story progresses.

As far cosy/themed mysteries go, this one was pretty decent. I love Goldenbaum’s descriptions of the town, I could almost smell the ocean air. Also, the author’s love for knitting and needles crafts is evident as it was weaved throughout the novel. 

The story itself was interesting. Somewhere in the middle it just stalled,  like when the battery of your car dies and you can’t start the car. Scenes, descriptions and the people felt repetitive and the purple prose was a little on the heavy side. There wasn’t much character development, and most of the characters fell into the typical character stereotypes: The dashing young man; the dashing young man with anger management issues; the feisty older women; the feisty young women; the conservative ball-busting women climbing to the top of the political ladder; and the town cuckoo.

There were plenty of plot twists, and all my predictions of who the murderer was were wrong. All the clues were there in the book to piece it together though. It was a little awkward in how the sleuthing worked in this book. There wasn’t a single designated character who tried to solve the mystery. I think that helped create more of a “who did it” atmosphere, especially towards the end.

This book isn’t as formulaic as the typical cosy mysteries, and I might eventually read the other books in the Seaside Knitters Mysteries. If anything, it did make me wish I had my own weekly knitting group, and all the paragraphs on yarn did finally get me to start knitting again this winter.

Why We Buy (Paco Underhill) – Review

Why we buy : the science of shoppingWhy We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill
Read by Rick Adamson
Age: Adult
Genre: Nonfiction / Consumerism
Format: Audio CD
7 discs, 8 hours & 35 minutes
Random House, 2000

Find this book at your local library

Why We Buy is an in-depth look at consumerism in retail stores in the United States. CEO Paco Underhill takes us through various incidents, and experiences of hundreds of hours of field research in: shopping malls, bookstores, department stores, etc, to answer the simple question of how to make shopping easier for the consumer.

I really felt jipped by this book. Rick Adamson did a wonderful job narrating the book, bringing in a very upbeat and energetic tone of voice. Although it was informative, albeit somewhat outdated, I felt that this book should really have been called “How to Sell.” I didn’t really find out why we buy, just how retailers make it easier for us to buy. In my mind, those are two different concepts.

The book was written in 2000, and it was sort of eerie listening to Underhill prophesize the future of certain industries. He was correct in that self-check machines would soon appear everywhere, but he was wrong about a number of things. Namely how the Internet would play a role in consumerism. I think the entire section on Internet can be skipped. There is a 2008 revised edition of Why We By that focuses on the influence of the Internet, and I think that would be a more appropriate read.

I was also somewhat put-off that the shopper was always a “she” and that “she” would veer towards certain products. Health & fitness, cooking and parenting books are all “female” topics. It felt sexist to me, and that was discouraging as a female listener. I don’t want to be typecast just because I’m female, and its somewhat disturbing that major retailers would view genders in that way.

Perhaps the creepiest element of the book is right in the beginning when Underhill discusses the “trackers” he employees to gauge a shop’s accessibility and levels of accommodation towards its customers. It’s like a stalker 101 guide. The trackers will pick one shopper and follow them around the store, taking careful notes of what they look at, how long they look at an object, if they touch the object, how many times they touch and object, etc.

Despite all the flaws, I still found myself inspecting all the shops I walked into while listening to this book. It does raise awareness that retailers do go out of their way to sell certain goods and that the placement of each and every object in a store is carefully considered. Not much of the information was new or shocking, but I am curious as to what new strategies Underhill has uncovered and written about in the 2008 updated version of Why We Buy.

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November Recap

November has been a busy month for me. Lots of random selections too I might add. 10 books completed in total. I’ve been busy reading a slew of children’s books for my blog @ Librarians Crossing (shameless plug, I know). Sometimes a person just needs a good picture book as a reminder for why reading is fun.

At least this month I am not behind or ahead on my reviews. What I’ve read is basically what you’ve seen, minus 1 title. Go me!

Books read and reviewed

 Adult

The most beautiful woman in town & other stories The kitchen counter cooking school : how a few simple lessons transformed nine culinary novices into fearless home cooks Aftertaste : a novel in five courses

The final solution : a story of detection Nine Stories All you need to be impossibly French : a witty investigation into the lives, lusts, and little secrets of French women

Falling together

  1. The Most Beautiful Woman in Town by Charles Bukowski
  2. Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn
  3. Aftertaste by Meredith Mileti
  4. The Final Solution by Michael Chabon
  5. Nine Stories by JD Salinger
  6. All You Need to be Impossibly French by Helena Frith Powell
  7. Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos

Audio Books

Fragile things : short fictions and wonders

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

Kids

The apothecary

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy 

Finished in November but not reviewed

Why we buy : the science of shopping

Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill

The Most Beautiful Woman in Town (Charles Bukowski) – Review

The most beautiful woman in town & other storiesThe Most Beautiful Woman in Town & other Stories by Charles Bukowski
Age: Adult
Genre: Short Stories, Dirty Realism
Publisher: City Lights, 1967 -1983
ISBN 0872861562
240 pages

Find this book at your local library 

I read Bukowski’s The Post Office three years ago, and I really enjoyed the honest and gritty writing style. 3 years later…and this collection of short stories really didn’t go over well with me. The stories were pretty formulaic: a man drinks, has sex, gambles, drinks some more, is constantly being put down by “the man”, and has more sex.

Some of the stories were gems and had the potential for some depth. Some of his lines were like poetry; the most beautiful woman in town was like “fluid moving fire.”  That was the first story in the collection, and incidentally my favorite one of the bunch.

For the most part, I felt that the shock factor of the stories wore off halfway through, and the rest of the stories just seemed to ramble and become repetitive.      All of these stories were written over a span of time in various newspapers, serials and magazines. You could really tell, because there was no common thread and some of the stories just felt like Bukowski didn’t have any heart in it. Most of the stories are set in Los Angeles, although even those set in other cities followed the same format.  At best this book should be read in small sections over a large span of time, rather than all at once.