Tag Archives: France

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.

 

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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

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.

EarthCam – Le Tour Eiffel

My Francophila has hit a new low. Behold, the EarthCam – The Eiffel Tower. A 24-hour live stream of the Eiffel Tower in all its shiny glory. Now I can sit at my desk, with a cup of coffee and a madeleine and pretend I am back in Paris.

I need help.

A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosney – Review

A secret keptA Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosney
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Source: Library
Publisher: St. Martin’s, 2009
ISBN: 9780312593315, 303 pages
Find this book at your local library

It all began with Antoine Rey wanting to take his sister on a seaside vacation for her 40th Birthday. Having decided to take her back to their childhood vacation site brings back a swarm of memories both Antoine and Melanie had blocked after their mother’s death in 1974. One of these memories causes Melanie to drive off the road causing a major accident. Following the accident, Melanie and Antoine try to piece together the last few months of their mother’s death. Antoine faces the harsh reality of his divorce and tries to bridge the gap between himself and his family.

Set in both the countryside of France and in Paris, the author’s descriptions of the cities were beautifully depicted. I’m not sure if I’d peg this book as a fiction or a mystery. Although Antoine and his sister try to resolve the mystery of the sudden surge of childhood memories about their mother, I found this book to be more of an interesting family drama, but only in regards to Antoine, his ex-wife Astrid and their children. I found the whole storyline with his mother to be somehow lacking. There was a quote from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca at the start of the novel, which lead me to think this might be gothic mystery of sorts. Well, it wasn’t. Early in the book, chapters were interspersed with love letters, written by Clarisse, Antoine’s mother. By the end of the novel, I still couldn’t figure out the significance of the letters, and I found that they just took away from Antoine’s family drama.

His wife left him for somebody younger, his kids are sullen teenagers who don’t respect him. Watching Antoine piece his life together and finally step away from his past was an interesting and well-developed aspect of the book. de Rosney did a good job of maintaining a running theme of loss of innocence, mysterious & secret deaths,  and dysfunctional families. I liked Antoine as the protagonist. He is flawed, but he overcomes his flaws in a very natural and human way. The big mystery regarding his mother’s death is never fully explained, and I like that too. It’s not neatly wrapped up in a bow, ready to go.

I didn’t find the mystery suspenseful at all, and the big reveal about his mother fell short for me. It didn’t really match all the anticipation built up around it. I still found the book to be both engrossing and a very quick read. The pages just flew by. The characters were all fascinating with layered back-stories that the author just barely hints to.

“There are two things you don’t throw out in France – bread and books”

I came across this timely article by the New York Times regarding bookstores in France and bookstores in the US and England.  Yet another reason why France never ceases to amaze me.

The French, as usual, insist on being different. As independent bookstores crash and burn in the United States and Britain, the book market in France is doing just fine. France boasts 2,500 bookstores, and for every neighborhood bookstore that closes, another seems to open. From 2003 to 2011 book sales in France increased by 6.5 percent.

Full article  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/21/books/french-bookstores-are-still-prospering.html

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

Fire in Blood (Irène Némirovsky) – Review

Fire in the bloodFire in Blood by Irène Némirovsky
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Location: France
Publisher: Random House Audio; Unabridged edition
ISBN: 978-0739357767
3 CDs
Format: Audio Book

Set in the indiscreet countryside of France, Nemirovsky weaves a tale of infidelity and the bonds of family. The story is narrated by Silvio, an elderly uncle watching the events unfold as tragedy and betrayal engulfs his niece Collette and surrounding neighbors.

The story is very subtle, and parts of it reminded me strongly of Anna Karenina and her dissatisfaction with her life. The story is very slowly paced, so I’m lucky I had the audio book to keep my attention. I don’t think I would have been so lucky or attentive with the print. The characters are very nuanced and Nemirovsky has a great eye for detailing the simple things in life.

The short novel is about a number of things; age v. youth, solitude v. society, passion v. complacency. As the narrator, Silvio is old and jaded. He wasted his youth and now tries to live below the radar of society, minding his own business. His family, is not so lucky. Younger and with more to learn, they experience the pain of love and betrayal in front of Silvio’s eyes. This often lead to many introspective thoughts by Silivio. Those internal monologues I enjoyed the most. I didn’t particularly care for any of the characters other than Silvio. I found then somewhat vapid.

This is my first introduction to Nemirovsky, but will not be the last. Her short life ended tragically in a concentration camp during World World II. As a result, her only other novel Suite Francaise was found in two parts and was carefully pieced together and highly edited. I can only image what great works she would have continued to pen had she lived.

Book 26 of 2011

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