Posts Tagged ‘Hemingway’

ordinary light book journal

This February was up and down: weather-wise, work-wise, sleep-wise (the Olympics messed with that last one). But it included some fantastic books. Here’s the latest roundup:

Love and Ruin, Paula McLain
I loved McLain’s novel The Paris Wife, about Hadley and Ernest Hemingway, but frankly wasn’t sure I was up for another novel about the man. But the narrative voice of Martha Gellhorn, a fiery journalist who became his third wife, captivated me. McLain charts their passionate, stormy relationship and Martha’s fierce battle to build her career while living in Ernest’s shadow. Great writing, lots of drama (world and personal) and a searing portrait of complicated love. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 1).

Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill
This short novel garnered a lot of hype a few years ago, and I finally read it for my book club. It’s a string of vignettes and musings by a highly anxious woman in NYC whose marriage hits a rough patch. The viewpoint flips about halfway through from first to third person. I can see why others found this one compelling, but it didn’t work for me.

Ordinary Light, Tracy K. Smith
Smith, the U.S. poet laureate, turns to prose in this memoir, which chronicles her childhood in California and her mother’s powerful influence on her life. It started slowly for me, but I took my time and enjoyed it, especially the later sections. A few beautiful passages (one set in Lamont Library) and a thoughtful exploration of loss, belief and growing into ourselves. I also read Smith’s striking new collection, Wade in the Water (out in April), for review.

I Shall Not Want, Julia Spencer-Fleming
Russ Van Alstyne is grieving a great loss, and Clare Fergusson is balancing ministry and her assignment in the National Guard. They and the Millers Kill PD, including brand-new officer Hadley Knox, are swept up in a case involving undocumented immigrants, drug smuggling and murder. I can’t get enough of this series; this book was possibly the most powerful and honest yet.

Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
This novel opens with teenage arson: a shocking act in most places, but especially in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a meticulously planned, rule-following community. Ng explores the interplay of two contrasting families: the stable, self-assured Richardsons, and newcomer Mia Warren (an itinerant artist) and her daughter Pearl. A page-turner with some compelling characters. I loved Ng’s debut, Everything I Never Told You, and this is a solid second novel.

To Be Where You Are, Jan Karon
I’m a longtime repeat visitor to Mitford, Karon’s fictional North Carolina town. In this latest novel (#14), retired priest Father Tim finds himself with a new job, as his son and daughter-in-law struggle with their own challenges. I always love visiting Mitford; it’s small and homey, but the struggles are very real. Funny, comforting and wise.

One Was a Soldier, Julia Spencer-Fleming
Clare Fergusson is struggling to readjust to civilian life after a year in Iraq. She joins a local veterans’ group, and when one of her compatriots ends up dead, she (of course) dives into the investigation. Meanwhile, the other group members are wrestling their own demons, and it’s a small town, so it’s all connected. Powerful and heartbreaking; the seventh in a fantastic series.

Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory, Deena Kastor (with Michelle Hamilton)
I’m a novice enthusiastic runner; Kastor is a pro and an Olympic medalist. I was fascinated by her memoir of running: her early career, the wisdom she gained from coaches and teammates, and her focus on mental toughness. She’s relentlessly positive but not trite, and I loved following her journey. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 10).

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?


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If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

—Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

I have only spent a little time in Paris: a few days here and there on three separate trips. But like so many visitors to the City of Light, I find it utterly enchanting.

There are hundreds of books set in Paris, and I have read dozens of them, but here are my favorites. (Heavy on the nonfiction this time because there are so many gorgeous Paris memoirs.)


A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
I read Hemingway’s memoir on the Eurostar train to Paris years ago and fell in love with its crisp, lucid descriptions of life (and writing). I have mixed feelings about Hemingway’s fiction, but I savored every page of his account of life in Paris in the 1920s with his first wife, Hadley, and their son. I adore the last line: “But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.”

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, T.E. Carhart
A fascinating story of how the author makes friends with the owner of a Paris piano atelier. Carhart’s descriptions of the arrondissement where the shop is located, and the shop itself, are lovely.

My Life in France, Julia Child
Child’s memoir chronicles her travels around Europe with her husband, Paul, and the launch of her culinary career. Her love for Paris comes through on every page, and the descriptions are truly mouthwatering. (Bon appetit!)

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes, Elizabeth Bard
Just what the subtitle says. Bard (an American) falls in love with a Frenchman and chronicles the highs (delicious meals) and lows (absurd amounts of paperwork) involved in building a French life. Clear-eyed and charming, with delectable recipes. (I also loved Bard’s second book, Picnic in Provence.)

A Homemade Life, Molly Wizenberg
Wizenberg’s first book is about grief, growing up and falling in love, but it is also about Paris, where she has been happiest and also loneliest. Mouthwatering descriptions of food and markets, and some lovely passages about wandering Paris alone (my favorite way to explore a city).

Left Bank Waltz, Elaine Lewis
Lewis is an Australian who founded and ran an Aussie bookshop in Paris for several years, á la Shakespeare and Company. Her memoir is a delightful account of that journey, and a slightly different angle than the usual American-abroad-in-Paris memoirs. It is hard to find in the U.S. (I found it in an Oxfam shop in Oxford, long ago.)

Paris to the Moon, Adam Gopnik
Gopnik writes lyrical, often humorous essays about adapting to life in Paris with a small child. I like Gopnik’s other work (on winter and food, notably), but this is my favorite of his books. (Similar in some ways to Anthony Doerr’s gorgeous Four Seasons in Rome.)

Mastering the Art of French Eating, Ann Mah
I devoured Mah’s memoir about making a home in Paris and exploring the culinary traditions of Paris and the rest of France. She writes eloquently about food and loneliness and evokes the city so well.


The Lollipop Shoes, Joanne Harris
I adore Harris’ rich, evocative novels, especially Chocolat and its sequels. This book (published in the U.S. as The Girl With No Shadow) brings Vianne Rocher and her daughters to Paris, where they try to build a new life but find it difficult for various reasons. A vivid, gritty evocation of life in Montmartre.

Les Misérables, Victor Hugo
I read Hugo’s masterpiece a couple of years ago (I have loved the musical since I was a teenager). Paris itself is a character in the book – teeming with history, fascinating characters and barely suppressed violence. This is not the scrubbed-clean Paris of my favorite chick flicks: it is vital and bloody and wholly alive.

The Paris Wife, Paula McLain
This is Hadley Hemingway’s story: how she fell in love with (and eventually lost) Ernest, and their years in Paris together. Gorgeous and evocative (and, inevitably, deeply sad).

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are your favorite books set in Paris? (I agree with Sabrina Fairchild that “Paris is always a good idea.”)

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the bookstore lenox ma

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, Laura Vanderkam
I reread this one after reading Vanderkam’s three short productivity guides. Vanderkam is practical, insightful and no-nonsense: she believes everyone has time to create a life they love. I’m rethinking my routines and hoping to make some good changes.

Goodnight June, Sarah Jio
June Andersen has built a successful career as a New York banker. But when her great-aunt Ruby dies and leaves June the children’s bookstore she owned in Seattle, June must return home and face her painful past. Sifting through Ruby’s papers, June finds a stack of letters exchanged by Ruby and Margaret Wise Brown – the genesis of Goodnight Moon? A sweet, bookish story with surprising depth. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 27).

May B., Caroline Starr Rose
Thanks to Serenity’s enthusiastic rec, I picked this one up and read it in one sitting. It’s a spare, lovely tale of a pioneer girl hired out to work in western Kansas, then stranded alone when her employers disappear. Written in verse, but reminiscent of my beloved Little House series.

Restoring Grace, Katie Fforde
Grace, a lonely divorcée scrambling to restore her huge, dilapidated house near Bath, meets Ellie, a struggling (pregnant) artist, and the two join forces. Romance, art restoration and tangled family relationships all play a role here. Fforde’s writing is light and fun – just the ticket during a crazy week.

Cress, Marissa Meyer
An action-packed sequel to Cinder and Scarlet. Cinder and her band of fellow outlaws attempt to rescue Cress, a young hacker imprisoned on a Lunar satellite. But the rescue misfires and the group is separated, scrambling to reunite as the planet hurtles toward war. Confusing at times – too many characters and plotlines – but entertaining. Now to wait for Winter, Book 4, which comes out in 2015…

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin
An irascible, widowed bookstore owner adopts a toddler who was left in his store, and gradually opens up to life (and love) again. A charming tribute to book lovers, bookselling and the ways books shape our lives. The characters are great (I especially loved the non-reading cop who becomes a book nut), but I wanted the author to explore them more deeply.

Mrs. Hemingway, Naomi Wood
“Each Mrs. Hemingway thought their love would last forever; each one was wrong.” Naomi Wood deftly portrays each of Ernest Hemingway’s four marriages – each one’s beginning tied up with the previous one’s end. Ernest is a central figure, of course, but this story belongs to the women: Hadley, Pauline, Martha and Mary. Gorgeously written, elegiac, deeply melancholy. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 27).

The Gilly Salt Sisters, Tiffany Baker
In their isolated Cape Cod village, the Gilly women have farmed salt for generations. Sisters Jo and Claire each struggle to come to terms with their family’s destiny, especially after a fire leaves Jo badly scarred and Claire’s marriage later falls apart. I could not put this one down. Haunting and gripping.

The Amazing Adventures of Father Brown, G.K. Chesterton
A friend brought me this pocket-sized collection several years ago and I finally picked it up. Father Brown is quietly clever – a mix of Father Tim Kavanagh and Miss Marple. Gentle, ingenious, entertaining detective stories.

Highland Fling, Katie Fforde
When Jenny Porter gets sent to assess a failing Scottish woolen mill, she never expects to make friends with the locals – or fall in love with the man who could foreclose the whole business. Light, entertaining chick lit. I especially loved Meggie, the outspoken but kind daughter-in-law.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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NYC 112

Perfect Scoundrels, Ally Carter
Kat Bishop and her crew of teenage thieves are back – but this time they’re not stealing art. Kat’s boyfriend, Hale, has inherited his grandmother’s billion-dollar company after her sudden death, and Kat senses something fishy. But Hale is proud to be his grandmother’s heir; how can she tell him the will may be a fake? Carter writes fast-paced, well-plotted, witty stories with great ensemble casts (I love Kat’s crew of thieves and her Uncle Eddie), but somehow the romance felt lacking in this book. Still a fun ride, like all her books.

The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder
I’ve returned to this book every winter since we moved to Boston, and I spent part of the recent blizzard curled up on the couch with it. I love the Ingalls family’s closeness, their singing, their humor and grit and perseverance, and the way they glory in the simple things, even when the winter winds howl outside. And I wanted to slip into the feed store for some pancakes with those Wilder brothers. Vivid and hopeful and altogether wonderful.

Full Dark House, Christopher Fowler
A bomb blows up the office of the London police’s Peculiar Crimes Unit, killing one of the unit’s oldest (and quirkiest) employees, Arthur Bryant. John May, Bryant’s partner, reflects on their decades-long collaboration, which began during the Blitz of World War II. As he remembers their first case, he wonders if there’s a link to the present-day bombing. The first in a series following Bryant and May (an Odd Couple-esque pairing) and their unorthodox crime-solving methods. Fun, but I didn’t love it quite as much as I wanted to.

Garment of Shadows, Laurie R. King
Mary Russell wakes alone in a strange room in Morocco, with no memory of who she is or how she got there. Meanwhile, Sherlock Holmes is trying to find her, while becoming increasingly preoccupied with the region’s volatile politics. A brilliant mix of history, adventure, political intrigue and wonderful supporting characters (including Mahmoud and Ali, whom we have encountered before). Russell’s ingenious mind and quick reflexes are on display, as is King’s fascination with the Arab world. Wonderful.

A Future Arrived, Phillip Rock
I loved this last volume in the saga of the Greville family, which follows the main characters (and their children) through the late 1930s to the beginning of World War II. Martin Rilke introduces his young brother-in-law to the world of journalism; Lady Alexandra’s son becomes a pilot; and everyone wonders how this war will compare to the last one. Well plotted and excellently drawn; lots of familiar faces and I enjoyed watching the new generation come of age.

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
I’ve not read much Hemingway except for A Moveable Feast, which I adore. But I found this tale of Jake Barnes, Lady Brett Ashley and their friends tedious and frustrating. They may have been a “lost generation,” but none of the characters are likeable, and I found the prose style choppy. I did enjoy the descriptions of Pamplona, since I’ve been there, and of bullfighting. On the whole, a dud for me.

This post contains IndieBound affiliate links.

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A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master, Rachel Held Evans
I love Rachel’s blog and enjoyed her first book, Evolving in Monkey Town, so was prepared to like this one. And I did. She digs into conflicting verses and ideas about womanhood in the Bible, from levitical purity laws to the nebulous concepts of “modesty” and “submission,” and the idealized Proverbs 31 woman. Some of her activities felt more like stunts, but this was mostly a thoughtful exploration of what the Bible says (and doesn’t say) about being a woman. I applaud Rachel’s brave stand against those who would silence women, in the church and out of it.

Hemingway’s Girl, Erika Robuck
This novel brilliantly evokes the hardships and beauty of life in Depression-era Key West. Mariella Bennet – fiery, beautiful and stubborn – works odd jobs and occasionally gambles to provide for her mother and sisters after her father’s death. When she is hired as Ernest Hemingway’s maid, she glimpses a new, unsettling world of parties and power, finding herself drawn to the rowdy, larger-than-life writer. Mariella is a wonderful character – her complicated relationship with her mother, and her struggles with desire and love, felt real. I also loved Gavin, the steady, quiet World War I veteran who captures Mariella’s heart.

Still Life, Louise Penny
Jane Neal, artist and retired schoolteacher, is killed by an arrow in the woods near her home in Quebec. It’s hunting season, but it wasn’t an accident. Inspector Armand Gamache comes to Jane’s village of Three Pines to investigate her death. This is a quiet mystery, but I enjoyed watching Gamache untangle the threads, and spending time with the quirky cast of village characters. The slower pace allows for some wonderful insights into human nature. This is the first in a series; I’ll be reading more Gamache stories. (Recommended by Becca and Jessica.)

The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War, Daniel Stashower
We recently saw Spielberg’s brilliant film Lincoln, so I was primed for this exploration of a plan to murder him before he even took office. Allan Pinkerton, founder of the famous detective agency, deployed his agents in Baltimore to thwart the plotters (by any means necessary). He and the other men (bodyguards, advisers, friends) who surrounded Lincoln on his pre-inaugural journey get plenty of play. Colorful characters, simmering political tension and lots of background information on the beginnings of the Civil War. Fascinating. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 29).

Shepherds Abiding, Jan Karon
I love this Mitford Christmas story, with many beloved, familiar characters, and (as always) real insight into Father Tim’s daily life and struggles. I particularly love the way Hope Winchester, owner of Happy Endings bookstore, steps out in faith and embraces a new beginning. Sweet but not precious, this book always makes me cry several times. And this quote from Marcus Aurelius, shared by Father Tim, has been in my head for days: “The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”

Thirst, Mary Oliver
It took me a while to come around to Oliver’s work, but this collection is my favorite yet. A few familiar gems (“Messenger”) and many new favorites (“Walking Home from Oak-Head,” “Praying,” “The Place I Want to Get Back To”). Her poems about faith are particularly fascinating, and her poems about grief are so moving. I’ve been savoring these words before bed, and will carry them in my heart.

The Aviator’s Wife, Melanie Benjamin
Anne Morrow was a shy, bookish ambassador’s daughter, until Charles Lindbergh chose her for his wife and changed her life forever. This novel traces the arc of their marriage, including their son’s kidnapping and death, Charles’ anti-Semitic views in the 1930s and his later work with the military and civilian air industries. Anne was a rich, complicated character: pioneering aviatrix, grieving mother, neglected wife and (finally) brave woman and writer. A gorgeous, heartbreaking story. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 15).

What are you reading lately?

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Because endings, too, can be so good.

1. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both. (Charlotte’s Web)
2. We talked of what was to come. And of the lost art of keeping secrets. (The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets)
3. “‘God’s in His heaven, all’s right with the world,'” whispered Anne softly. (Anne of Green Gables)
4. And now we’ll all go swimming. (No Children, No Pets)
5. Only the margin left to write on now. I love you, I love you, I love you. (I Capture the Castle)
6. “Music I heard with you was more than music, and bread I broke with you was more than bread.” Yes. And always will be. (Two-Part Invention)
7. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy. (A Moveable Feast)
8. “Well, I’m back,” he said. (The Return of the King)
9. She could feel the Big Hill looking down as the Crowd danced at Tib’s wedding in the chocolate-colored house. (Betsy’s Wedding)
10. The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well. (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)

What are your favorite last lines?

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Summer means time to sink into luscious, juicy reads – whether I’m savoring them on my daily commute (because I do still have to work), or on my solo lunchtime picnics in the Public Garden, or sprawled out on the couch at home. I adore summer reading. And I’ve found some gems so far this month, including:

The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie, Wendy McClure
I adored the Little House books as a child – the same yellow-covered Harper Trophy editions that McClure read and reread. And I loved her tale of visiting Laura’s homeplaces, trying to separate the myths, fictions and facts, and searching for a glimpse into the “Laura World” she’s always loved. I learned a lot about the writing of the series, the TV show, Laura’s life (and her daughter Rose’s), and the various Wilder homesites. Fascinating, funny and quite well done.

Joy for Beginners, Erica Bauermeister
I loved Bauermeister’s debut, The School of Essential Ingredients, so was thrilled when Dawn offered to pass on her ARC of this book to me. And it did not disappoint. To celebrate their friend Kate’s triumph over cancer, six women each take on a life challenge – chosen by Kate. (In turn, she has to go whitewater rafting with her daughter, which terrifies her.) Each woman’s story is uniquely absorbing, full of the evocative sensory details (and love of good food) that permeate Bauermeister’s writing. Love, love, love. (Here’s my review from Shelf Awareness for Readers.)

The Paris Wife, Paula McLain
It’s rare that I love a book while knowing it will end sadly – but this one was so beautifully written, so rich with detail, so full of love and loss and longing, I fell head over heels. I knew enough about the facts of Hemingway’s life to know what was coming – but I loved reading the story of his first marriage from Hadley’s perspective. (And, of course, Jazz Age Paris continues to fascinate me. I mean, I read A Moveable Feast on the train to Paris, once upon a time.) Brilliantly written. Highly recommended.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling
Reread in preparation for the eighth movie – and after I finished it, I immediately wanted to go back to Philosopher’s Stone and start the whole series over again. (I may do it yet.) I think this is the best Harry Potter book – the characters, and Ms. Rowling, have grown and matured so much over the length of the series. And while it breaks my heart, it’s action-packed and triumphant and just. so. good.

The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared, Alice Ozma
A quirky, fun, heartfelt account of a single dad, his geeky second daughter, and their nine-year reading streak. I would have liked to hear more about the specific books they read and their impact on Alice (who was, it appears, kind of an obnoxious kid), but it was sweet to witness their bond deepening over the years of “The Streak,” as they called it. Made me even more eager to read to my own children someday, as my parents read to me.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
After rereading Deathly Hallows (see above), I was irresistibly drawn back to the beginning of the series, the sheer joy of discovering the world of wizardry, the first rumblings of the saga that (for me) really splits wide open at the end of Prisoner of Azkaban. As a stand-alone book, this first one isn’t my favorite, but it lays the groundwork for what’s to come – and it’s amazing to read this one knowing the end of the story.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling
A great sequel, and the beginning of Hermione’s willingness to go along with Ron’s and Harry’s harebrained schemes. And, of course, the first real hints of that mysterious connection between Harry and Voldemort – and Harry’s wonderful loyalty to Dumbledore.

The Borrower, Rebecca Makkai
After hearing Makkai read at the Boston Public Library, I bought her debut novel, and read it in less than 24 hours. Compelling, heartwarming, heartbreaking and funny, with a lot of moral ambiguities and many riffs on children’s books (a chapter in the style of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, a Choose Your Own Adventure chapter, etc.), it was great fun to read. I wish the ending had somehow been different – and I wish Lucy, the narrator, had a little more spunk – but overall I loved it. Especially the bookish references sprinkled throughout.

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