Category Archives: Books

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.

Champagne Baby by Laure Dugas

Champagne Baby by Laure Dugas

Publisher: Ballantine Books, 2016

Source: Library Copy

Challenge: Paris in July

Champagne Baby: A Journey in Wine from Paris to New York

This book is half memoir and half beginners guide to wine. I liked both aspects and I think Laure did a great with transitioning from one to another. It’s weird to think that we’re almost the same age and she’s accomplished so much in a short span of time.

She had a whirlwind romance with New York City, although she eventually found her way back home to France. I wish she expanded more on what about the US (or possibly just New York) that she felt drawn to. What were the perks? There were portions that she repeated often, and sometimes it felt like she remembered things too clearly in her favor. Overall, she was very transparent of her filial connections in the wine industry and how that set her started on her career. I appreciated her honesty about how she began her career in the wine trade, and how despite the connection, she still had to put in a lot of time and effort to learn about the intricacies of wine. Although her rant went a little too long, I totally agree with Laure’s sentiments about turkey for Thanksgiving. I load up my Thanksgiving plate with ham. I don’t understand the obsession with turkey, as a centerpiece for a feast or the deli meat version for sandwiches.

Although a reverse from what I normally read (American girl falls head over heels in love with France), it still still an interesting take on what brought a French girl to America and her observations of American life. This isn’t a glamorous memoir; it’s more about wine than about Laure, really. Her easy-going writing style simplified some of the more complex concepts of wine. I especially appreciated her emphasis on not focusing on wine reviews, points or other distractions. Also her emphasis that wine changes from year to year, even from one side of the vineyard to another depending on the terroir (the soil). A lot of our appreciation of wine comes from how it is drunk (with dinner, with friends) not when it stands alone.

Paris in July: ALL THE NEW BOOKS

Maybe on of the best perks of Paris in July (or biggest obstacles?) is that my Goodreads to-read list tends to multiply like rabbits. So many new blogs, so many new-to-me books that get a swift click on my list.

This is my current list of To-Read: France

These are all the new books I’ve added this week since the Paris in July challenge began:

Whispering in French: A Novel The New Paris: The People, Places, and Ideas Fueling a Movement Piglettes

Paris in July Week 1 recap

 

Displaying IMG_5412.JPGI started off the month by baking a a fresh batch of madeleines. The napkin is courtesy of the most adorable little French shop in Capitola in CA if you’re ever in the area. Petite Provence. They host French conversation clubs, and have a beautiful assortment of napkins, tablecloths, bread baskets, dishware, soaps, etc. Everything and and anything you would want. It reminded me of the little shopping booths I would snoop through in Arles.

 

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I even brought my husband into the mix and we enjoyed some wonderful apertifs with Lillet Rouge and making our own Pastis this week.

This week has also graced me with unexpected books set in France to add to my reading list. On Wednesday, I found an unexpected copy of THE PORTRAIT by Antoine Laurain from Meryl Zegarek Public Relations.  (Thank You!!) I came into work on Thursday and found ARCs of Last Christmas in Paris and Whispering in French waiting for me on my desk at the library. #libraryperks

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This month is off to a wonderful start! Not sure where it’ll lead me next.

 

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.