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Posts Tagged ‘memoir’

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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.)

Memoir/Nonfiction

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.

Fiction

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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daffodils graceland book mug

My brain has been awfully full this month of non-book things (switching jobs and offices will do that to you). But I’ve still squeezed in a few good books. Here’s what I have been reading:

June, Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
When Cassie Danvers loses her beloved grandmother June, she also inherits June’s crumbling mansion in a small Ohio town. The house has a few secrets it wants to tell – and an unexpected inheritance forces Cassie to ask some potentially explosive questions about her family. This absorbing novel shifts back and forth between 1955 and 2015. Full of rich detail, engaging characters and a twisty, satisfying plot. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 31).

Killer Takeout, Lucy Burdette
Key West is ready to party during its annual Fantasy Fest – a week of increasingly raucous, boozy events. But food critic Hayley Snow (naturally) stumbles across a murder during the festivities. When Hayley’s co-worker Danielle is named the chief suspect, Hayley deploys her amateur sleuthing skills to prove Danielle’s innocence. I like Hayley and her supporting cast, and this was a fun installment in the series. (The author sent me an early copy; it comes out April 5.)

The Secrets of Flight, Maggie Leffler
Elderly widow (and former WWII fly girl) Mary Browning has kept her past hidden for years. But when she meets Elyse, a budding novelist, through her writers’ group, Mary hires the teenager to type her memoir, deciding it’s time to tell some of her stories at last. A captivating story of flight, family, conflicting loyalties and the sometimes painfully high price of following one’s dreams. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 3).

A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness
American witch Diana Bishop has avoided using magic since her parents were murdered, years ago. But while she’s doing research in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, a mysterious (spellbound) manuscript and the appearance of a handsome vampire upend her carefully constructed life. I do not like vampires, but Leigh finally convinced me to pick up this book. Some great characters and an interesting storyline – though I found Diana irritatingly passive. (I loved the Oxford bits, obviously.) I will still probably read the sequel.

Jane of Lantern Hill, L.M. Montgomery
This is the perfect book for early spring: the story of Jane Stuart – practical, capable, kind – discovering that her father is alive and spending a glorious summer with him on Prince Edward Island. I adore Jane and the Island, and I love watching both of them blossom in this book.

In Other Words, Jhumpa Lahiri
I loved Lahiri’s debut short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, and also enjoyed Unaccustomed Earth. So I was curious about this, her memoir of learning to write (and then immersing herself totally in) Italian. Lahiri is an American, the child of Bengali parents, who has struggled to feel at home in a language and culture her whole life. As she studies Italian – even moving to Rome – she experiences a different kind of alienation and also joy. This is a very interior book – I suppose because it documents an interior journey. Odd, often somber, but compelling.

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

What are you reading?

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greenlight bookstore window brooklyn

It is officially spring, but there’s snow in the forecast – so, naturally, I have stocked up on books. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

A Study in Charlotte, Brittany Cavallaro
Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson (descendants of that Holmes and Watson) end up at the same posh Connecticut boarding school. When a student they both despise is murdered, they join forces to clear their names and solve the case. I love a good Sherlock riff (see also: Mary Russell), and this one crackles with great dialogue and entertaining details. Bought at Greenlight on our recent NYC trip.

The Kite Fighters, Linda Sue Park
I enjoyed this gentle tale of two brothers preparing for a kite-fighting competition in 15th-century Korea. For the Reading Together Family Exploration Book Club (which Moira is hosting this month).

What Works: Gender Equality By Design, Iris Bohnet
Bohnet teaches at the Harvard Kennedy School, where I’ve been temping. Her book uses (lots of) research to explore ways to improve equality and neutralize biases through organizational design. The research gets dry at times, but there are some fascinating case studies. (Watch the video for a quick précis.)

Salt to the Sea, Ruta Sepetys
The Wilhelm Gustloff sank in the Baltic Sea on Jan. 30, 1945, killing more than 9,000 soldiers and refugees. Sepetys brings this little-known tragedy to life through four young narrators: Joana, a Lithuanian nurse; Florian, a Prussian artist; Emilia, a pregnant Polish girl; and Alfred, a Nazi soldier. Vividly told and tensely compelling; I read it with my heart in my throat.

Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark, Addie Zierman
Desperate for some warmth and light during a frigid Minnesota winter, Addie loads her two preschoolers into their van and takes off for Florida. Along the way, she explores what it means to reach the end of your easy certainties and light-filled metaphors relating to God. Powerful, honest and beautifully written.

Celia’s House, D.E. Stevenson
This is the story of Dunnian, a family estate in Scotland where the Dunnes have always lived. A sweet, multi-generational family saga (which begins with one Celia Dunne and ends with another). I love Stevenson’s gentle novels.

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

What are you reading?

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jer reading greenlight bookstore brooklyn ny

March has been up and down so far: we’ve had snow flurries, several mild days and lots of events on the calendar. So it also goes with books. (This is the hubs at Greenlight Bookstore on a recent NYC jaunt, about which more soon.)

Here’s my latest book roundup:

That’s Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us, Erin Moore
London-dwelling expat Erin Moore is delighted (and often confused) by the differences between American and British English. Through a handful of vital words and phrases, she explores the history and current state of English on both sides of the Atlantic (and cautions readers to “mind the gap!”). Witty, smart and such fun for Anglophiles.

Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry
I’m not usually drawn to Westerns, but this epic story of a cattle drive from Texas to Montana (led by two Texas Rangers) has been on my list for YEARS. (My dad loves it and the miniseries.) It’s 840 pages long, but I was still heartbroken when it ended. It is simply told but rich, deeply layered, and full of wonderful characters. I particularly adored Deets, Newt, and Augustus McCrae. My mom said it best on Instagram: “So good! Love, loss, friendship, adventure, life, death: everything.”

Design for Dying, Renee Patrick
Lillian Frost came to Hollywood to be in the movies, but settled for a role as a department-store shopgirl. But when her former roommate is murdered, Lillian joins forces with the police – and Edith Head, of all people – to catch the killer. A sparkling, smart, funny (if occasionally too-aware-of-its-own-cleverness) period mystery. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 19).

The Ramblers, Aidan Donnelly Rowley
Rowley’s second novel follows three college friends now in their 30s, trying to make sense of life and love in NYC over one jam-packed Thanksgiving week. A mixed bag: some lovely moments and a lot of (gratuitous, I thought) profanity; some insights that rang true and others that felt hollow. I did love the nods to E.B. White’s Here is New York, which I adore. I met Aidan recently at Lindsey’s house, and enjoyed hearing her talk about the book.

A Finer End, Deborah Crombie
Crombie’s seventh novel featuring Scotland Yard detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James takes them to Glastonbury, where Duncan’s cousin is mixed up in a strange situation involving a long-dead monk, an ancient chant and a group of local eccentrics. I like Duncan and Gemma, and wanted to give this series another shot, but the odd paranormal elements of this plot were not my favorite.

The Doldrums, Nicholas Gannon
Archer B. Helmsley is the grandson of two famed explorers. But since his grandparents disappeared on a voyage, his mother will hardly let him leave the house. So Archer and his two friends, Oliver and Adelaide, hatch a plan to escape to Antarctica. A fun premise with charming illustrations, though the execution fell a little flat.

Falling: A Daughter, a Father, and a Journey Back, Elisha Cooper
Elisha Cooper’s world changed when his young daughter, Zoe, was diagnosed with cancer. This memoir traces their family’s journey through Zoe’s treatment and recovery. But it’s less about hospitals and chemo than it is about living – Cooper wants to teach his daughters to take risks and throw balls and eat gelato, and to pay attention to his own mundane, dazzling life. Wry and honest, with some luminous moments. I received an ARC because I’m going to interview the author for Shelf Awareness (out June 14).

The Perfume Collector, Kathleen Tessaro
My mom lent me this lovely novel about a young Englishwoman who receives an inheritance from a Frenchwoman she’s never met, and travels to Paris to investigate. A dual-time-period narrative (1927 and 1955) with gorgeous details and interesting characters. I saw the main plot twist coming, but was surprised by several others.

Chasing Secrets, Gennifer Choldenko
Lizzie Kennedy loves making house calls with her doctor father – a rarity in San Francisco in 1900. But when rumors of the plague start to swirl, the city’s Chinatown is put under quarantine and Lizzie is cautioned to stay away. Worried for the safety of her family’s Chinese cook, Lizzie breaks all kinds of rules to search for answers. A fun, well-told story of unlikely friendship and a slice of history I didn’t know about before.

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

What are you reading?

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roots and sky book table sunglasses

My reading this month – like my life – has been a little scattered. But I have still found a few really good books. Here’s the latest roundup:

The After-Room, Maile Meloy
Gifted teenagers Janie and Benjamin are trying to live a normal life in 1950s Michigan. But Benjamin is grieving his father’s death, and their friend Jin Lo is somewhere in China trying to avert a nuclear war. This third book in Meloy’s middle-grade trilogy is confusing (so many plotlines!) but full of engaging characters. I liked the first book, The Apothecary, the best.

The Baker’s Daughter, D.E. Stevenson
When artist John Darnay moves to a remote Scottish town, Sue Pringle goes to work as his housekeeper – and falls in love with him. Another lovely, gentle 1930s novel from Stevenson, with entertaining characters. I particularly liked Sue herself and her kind grandfather.

Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, Amy Cuddy
I loved Cuddy’s TED talk on presence and “power poses.” Her book delves into the research behind her theories: she explores the body-mind connection and how we can “nudge” ourselves toward a more authentic, less anxious state of mind in challenging situations. A little long, but there’s some good stuff here.

Winter, Marissa Meyer
This fourth book in Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles finds Cinder (cyborg, mechanic, long-lost princess) and her ragtag crew scrambling to defeat the evil Queen Levana. Some witty lines (especially from Carswell Thorne) and so many battle scenes. Too long and too gory, but I’m glad I finished out the series.

The Murder of Mary Russell, Laurie R. King
I adore King’s series featuring Sherlock Holmes and his irascible, whip-smart, complicated partner Mary Russell. This 14th entry explores the origin story of Mrs. Hudson – a fascinating new angle. Richly layered, witty, gripping and so good. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 5).

Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons, Christie Purifoy
Christie writes a beautiful blog about life at Maplehurst, the old Pennsylvania farmhouse where she lives with her family. Roots and Sky is the story of coming home to Maplehurst, enjoying the seasons there and sometimes struggling with this complicated, beautiful gift. Gorgeously written, wise, luminous and occasionally heartbreaking. This was my Most Anticipated pick for 2016 at Great New Books, and it did not disappoint.

Keep Me Posted, Lisa Beazley
Sisters Cassie and Sid Sunday adore one another, but have grown apart in adulthood. They begin writing snail-mail letters to reconnect, and it works beautifully – until the letters end up on the Internet. Funny, insightful and warmhearted. I particularly loved the deep bond between Sid and Cassie. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 5).

Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold and the Fate of the American Revolution, Nathaniel Philbrick
Today, the name “Benedict Arnold” is synonymous with “traitor,” but it wasn’t always thus. Philbrick delves into the early uncertain years of the American Revolution to trace Arnold’s journey from war hero to turncoat. His portraits of Arnold and George Washington are complex and thoughtful. I got bogged down by the (many) detailed accounts of battles, but once the espionage began, I was riveted. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 10).

Little Beach Street Bakery, Jenny Colgan
After Polly’s business and her relationship both fall apart, she moves to an isolated beach town on a whim. Baking bread is her hobby, but before long it becomes her livelihood – and she finds a new home in Mount Polbearne. Light, sweet chick lit with quirky characters. (I loved Neil the puffin.) Found at the Strand last fall.

The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder
I pick up this old favorite every winter – and though we haven’t had (nearly) as much snow as last year, I still love seeing Laura and Pa and their family weather the long winter on the South Dakota plains.

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

What are you reading?

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all souls college oxford radcliffe square

It’s no secret: Oxford is my very favorite place. In the world.

I fell in love with it more than a decade ago, when I stepped off the bus (after an overnight flight) as a wide-eyed college sophomore, who couldn’t believe her luck at getting to spend an entire semester in an ancient, lovely university town.

The ensuing four months, and the year I later spent there earning my master’s degree, only made me love it more.

all souls towers oxford england

I’ve been back to visit a few times, most recently a year and a half ago, but I’m always itching to go back. Until the next time, though, I always love (re)visiting it on the page. So here are my favorite Oxford books:

Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers is the first Oxford novel I ever read, and still the best. It’s a mystery, a love story, a feminist novel and a brilliantly rendered evocation of Oxford in the 1930s. Many of the streets and buildings have not changed, so the descriptions still feel utterly fresh. So do the insights on work and love, intellectual and emotional freedom, and whether it is possible for women to remain true to themselves and also be married.

Oxford Revisited is a slim, lyrical memoir by novelist and Oxford alumnus Justin Cartwright, whose love for the university matches my own. He writes about his time as an undergraduate and about Oxford itself: its ancient traditions, complicated architecture and captivating beauty. I got to meet him and hear him speak at the Oxford Literary Festival. He was kind and erudite, which made me love the book even more.

These Ruins are Inhabited was a serendipitous find: a memoir mistakenly shelved in the fiction stacks at the Montague Bookmill. Muriel Beadle was an American journalist whose husband was a visiting professor at Oxford in the late 1950s, and she describes their family’s time there with wit and spirit. Keenly observed and so much fun.

Isolarion by James Attlee charts “a different Oxford journey,” as the subtitle says: the relatively new, wildly multicultural East Oxford neighborhood of Cowley. I lived in Cowley during my second stay in Oxford and found it messy, confusing, sometimes frustrating and often delightful. Attlee brings it vividly to life.

radcliffe camera st mary's tower oxford

These are my faves, but I’ve read and loved a handful of other Oxford-centric books. So here are a few honorable mentions:

Fiction

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan is hilarious chick lit with a soul. It’s set largely in Oxford, since the two main characters (Nick and Bex, inspired by Will and Kate) meet there.

Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay is a highly entertaining mystery romp set in 1930s Oxford – essentially Gaudy Night lite. (With plenty of tea and biscuits.)

The Late Scholar takes Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey (of Gaudy Night fame) back to Oxford, to solve another mystery. I usually don’t like fan fiction, but Jill Paton Walsh’s continuation of Sayers’ series is so well done.

rowboats river cherwell oxford

Nonfiction

The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter is a meticulously researched, detailed account of the famous literary group that included (among others) C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. You can hardly walk in Oxford without tripping over a reference to those two, and this is an excellent look at their work and influence.

My History by Antonia Fraser is a coming-of-age story, a Downton Abbey-esque peek into the early 20th century, and a love letter to Oxford, where she grew up.

Surprised by Oxford is Carolyn Weber’s journey of finding faith and love (among other things) in Oxford.

catte street oxford

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

Any favorite books set in Oxford that you’d recommend?

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maisie paris planner red books

Winter is the perfect time to hunker down with lots of books. As the snow swirls outside, here’s what I have been reading:

Journey to Munich, Jacqueline Winspear
After a stint working as a nurse in a remote Spanish village, investigator Maisie Dobbs returns to England. But the Secret Service taps her for a sensitive mission: retrieving an engineer imprisoned by the Nazis. I adore Maisie and her supporting cast, and found the setting (Germany in 1938) fascinating. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 29).

The Shepherd’s Crown, Terry Pratchett
Pratchett’s final novel follows Tiffany Aching as she continues to serve as the witch for her home district, amid multiple challenges. I like Tiffany and her fellow witches, though the plot (and the magic) wandered a bit.

All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation, Rebecca Traister
There are more single women in the U.S. than ever before; they are gaining in power, but they still face numerous challenges. Traister explores the history of single womanhood, how single women have agitated for social change, and how far we still have to go. Keenly observed, well-researched and whip-smart. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 1).

Move Your Blooming Corpse, D.E. Ireland
Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins are off to Ascot – where they find themselves in the thick of another mystery. I liked watching them try to solve multiple murders, though I guessed the killer before they did. Fun, but not as good as its predecessor.

Walk on Earth a Stranger, Rae Carson
Leah “Lee” Westfall has a secret: she can sense the presence of gold. When her parents are murdered, Lee runs away from her greedy uncle, disguising herself as a boy and joining a wagon train headed for California. A sweeping historical YA novel full of vividly drawn characters (with a hint of magical realism). I loved Lee, her best friend Jefferson and many of their compatriots on the trail. This is the first in a trilogy and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, Rachel Held Evans
I’m a longtime reader of Rachel’s blog and I liked her first two books, Faith Unraveled and A Year of Biblical Womanhood. But this book is far and away her best yet. An account of Rachel’s complicated relationship with church, told through the lens of seven sacraments, it is sensitively and beautifully written (though the last sections felt rushed). I found myself nodding my head often, saying, “Me too.”

The Trouble with Destiny, Lauren Morrill
Drum major Liza Sanders knows her band has to win a performing arts competition on their spring break cruise or they’ll get the ax due to budget cuts. But once they board the Destiny, everything goes wrong: power outages, flaring tempers, misunderstandings galore. I found the romantic storyline predictable, but Morrill hits all the right notes of the band nerd experience. Fun.

Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War, various
The Armistice came on Nov. 11, 1918 – but it didn’t end the war for everyone. Nine authors explore the hope and grief of the war and its end through an anthology of short stories. A bit uneven, but a compelling (and heartbreaking) mosaic of the experiences shared by soldiers, nurses and those who loved them. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 1).

Brooklyn, Colm Toibin
This quiet novel follows Eilis Lacey, who emigrates from her small Irish town to Brooklyn in the 1950s. She works in a department store, takes bookkeeping classes and even falls in love. But when she is unexpectedly called home, she must choose between her old and new lives. Lovely and well drawn.

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

What are you reading?

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