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Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

idlewild books nyc interior

It’s been quite a month around here – which has meant, among other things, less reading than usual. But the books are still helping keep me sane, so here’s the latest roundup:

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and Jack Tiffany
I am a longtime, avid Harry Potter fan, and I had mixed feelings about this new story/script, before and after reading it. Fun to spend more time in Rowling’s world, and the characters are (mostly) still beautifully themselves. But it lacked the depth and power of the original seven books. I’m still glad I read it.

Precious and Grace, Alexander McCall Smith
I enjoy McCall Smith’s gentle mystery series about Precious Ramotswe, who runs the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Gaborone, Botswana. I am less fond of her assistant, Grace Makutsi, but the dynamic between the two women is always interesting. This one wasn’t really a mystery, more a gentle reflection on life and forgiveness, but it was charming. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 11).

A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles
Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is placed under house arrest in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel and sets about building a life for himself within the hotel’s walls. A witty, philosophical, engaging story – Rostov is charming and so is his supporting cast. I especially loved the hotel’s chef, Émile, and maitre d’, Andrey. (I also relished Towles’ debut, Rules of Civility.)

To Capture What We Cannot Keep, Beatrice Colin
Widowed and penniless, Caitriona Wallace takes a job as a companion to two young people heading to Paris in 1887. There, all three of them become entangled with Émile Nouguier, an engineer working with Gustave Eiffel to build his tower. Beautiful descriptions, though I found every single character (except Eiffel himself) frustratingly passive. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 29).

The Shattered Tree, Charles Todd
This eighth entry in Todd’s Bess Crawford series finds Bess (battlefield nurse and amateur sleuth) tracking down a mysterious soldier in October 1918. These books are somber but well written, and I like Bess (though she does insist on thinking she’s invincible). A solid historical mystery.

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

What are you reading?

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library book stack tulips

I posted this photo on Instagram recently after all six of my two-week (!) library holds came in at once. (I may have a slight problem.)

Here’s a roundup of some of those books, and others:

Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home, Jessica Fechtor
After having a brain aneurysm at age 28, Fechtor found solace and recovery in the kitchen: eating the meals she loved, cooking them when she was well enough, and later writing about them. A gorgeously written, insightful memoir of how food connects us to ourselves and those we love. I loved it, and now I want to make every recipe. (Bonus: Fechtor used to live in Cambridge, and she evokes Harvard Square perfectly.) I also got to meet Fechtor and hear her read at Brookline Booksmith – a delight. (Recommended by Leigh.)

The Key to Extraordinary, Natalie Lloyd
Emma Pearl Casey comes from a long line of extraordinary women. But as she grieves her mother’s death and watches her Granny Blue struggle to keep the family cafe afloat, she wonders how to fulfill her own destiny. A sweet, whimsical, brave middle-grade novel about family, courage and stepping into your true self. (I also loved Lloyd’s debut, A Snicker of Magic.)

When My Name Was Keoko, Linda Sue Park
This was the April pick for the Reading Together Family Exploration Book Club. Through the eyes of two young narrators (Sun-hee and her brother, Tae-yul), Park vividly describes life in Japanese-occupied Korea during World War II. (The title refers to Koreans being forced to adopt Japanese names.) Fascinating and heartbreaking, and the first book I’ve read about this particular facet of WWII.

The Travelers, Chris Pavone
Will Rhodes is a travel writer for an international magazine – until he gets recruited by a woman who claims she’s CIA. Then Will starts to suspect that nothing in his life is what it seems – including his work and his marriage. Pavone writes such smart thrillers with sharp social commentary. Some great twists in this one, though it also struck me as deeply cynical.

Connect the Stars, Marisa de los Santos & David Teague
Aaron remembers everything he hears and reads, but sometimes spouts facts at the wrong moment. Audrey can always tell when someone is lying, and has decided it’s not worth having friends. But when they end up at the same wilderness camp in West Texas, they both learn a few things about truth and friendship. A beautifully written middle-grade novel with very real characters (though the plot dragged a bit). Reminded me of my time at Camp Blue Haven, a decade ago.

Words Under the Words: Selected Poems, Naomi Shihab Nye
I’d come across Nye’s poems (like “Gate A-4“) occasionally, and wanted to read more. (Plus I always make an effort to read poetry in April.) She writes in lovely, simple language about loss and love and everyday things. Some favorites: “Song,” “Daily,” “What People Do,” “Burning the Old Year.”

The Light of Paris, Eleanor Brown
1999: Madeleine feels trapped in her loveless marriage. 1924: Madeleine’s grandmother, Margie, feels trapped by the rigid mores of her social class. Margie escapes to Paris and gradually comes out of her shell; Madeleine discovers Margie’s story through her journals and letters. A lovely dual-narrative story about learning to shake off other people’s expectations and change the stories we tell ourselves. (I adored Brown’s debut, The Weird Sisters.)

Tuesdays at the Castle, Jessica Day George
Anne mentioned this middle-grade novel on her blog recently. Princess Celie and her siblings live in Castle Glower, which (sort of like Hogwarts) adds new rooms and staircases at whim, usually on Tuesdays. When their parents go missing and are presumed dead, the siblings (and the Castle) must work to prevent their kingdom from being seized. Really fun. First in a series.

Elizabeth and Her German Garden, Elizabeth von Arnim
After loving The Enchanted April, I picked up von Arnim’s autobiographical novel of life at her German country estate, and rhapsodies about its garden. The descriptions of flowers and trees are gorgeous, but von Arnim’s marriage (to “the Man of Wrath”) made me so sad, as Jaclyn noted.

Shadow Spinner, Susan Fletcher
I’m getting a jump on the May pick for the RTFEBC. This is a spin on the tale of Scheherazade, narrated by a crippled servant girl who helps the young queen find new stories to tell the Sultan. Beautifully written, with engaging characters, though I saw some of the twists coming a mile away.

A Bed of Scorpions, Judith Flanders
Book editor Samantha Clair is drawn into another mystery when her old friend’s business partner dies unexpectedly. A witty mystery set in London’s art world. I like Sam and her supporting cast (her mother, neighbor, Scotland Yard detective boyfriend), though the plot got confusing at times.

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

What are you reading?

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notre-dame

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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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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red christmas books

December is a lovely month, but man, it’s full. Here’s what I have been reading in this holiday season:

Moonlight Over Paris, Jennifer Robson
After recovering from a broken engagement and a near-fatal illness, Lady Helena Montagu-Douglas-Parr moves to Paris in 1924 to reinvent herself as an artist. Robson writes enchanting historical fiction. I didn’t love Helena as much as her previous heroines (she’s rather timid), but still enjoyed this story. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 19).

The Admissions, Meg Mitchell Moore
Nora and Gabe Hawthorne have built a seemingly perfect life for themselves and their three daughters. But as their eldest works on her Harvard application, their youngest (age seven) struggles with reading, and both Gabe and Nora face mounting pressures at work, their carefully calibrated existence seems set to unravel. Funny, incisive and so real, written in Moore’s delicious, addictive prose. I devoured this one. (I also loved Moore’s previous two novels, The Arrivals and So Far Away.)

The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World’s Most Creative Places, from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley, Eric Weiner
Why do some places seem to produce dozens of geniuses and brilliant ideas? Eric Weiner travels to seven great cities of ideas – Athens, Edinburgh, Vienna, even Silicon Valley – to explore the concept of genius and the conditions that help nourish it. Fascinating and dryly witty. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 5).

Felicity, Mary Oliver
Oliver turns her attention to romantic love in this new poetry collection – a bit of a departure for her, though the natural world still makes frequent appearances. Slim and luminous.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue, Melanie Benjamin
New York in the 1950s was a glittering whirl of parties, lunches and social maneuvering. At the center of it all were Truman Capote, flamboyant literary darling, and the socialites he called his “swans” – Babe Paley and a handful of other wealthy, gorgeous, married women. Benjamin explores their tangled, intimate relationships, focusing on Truman and Babe’s friendship, and how it all eventually went south. Richly detailed and full of both catty asides and moments of startling vulnerability. I also adored Benjamin’s previous novel, The Aviator’s Wife. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 26).

Shepherds Abiding, Jan Karon
It’s nearly Christmas in Mitford, and Father Tim Kavanagh is hard at work on a special project: restoring a battered Nativity scene as a surprise for his wife, Cynthia. Meanwhile, other Mitford folks are making their own Christmas plans, and the mystery and wonder of the season sneaks in, often in unexpected ways. I love revisiting this story every year.

White Christmas: The Story of an American Song, Jody Rosen
Written by a Russian Jewish immigrant, “White Christmas” has become the quintessential American secular carol. Rosen explores the life, career and musical heritage of Irving Berlin, and the historical and musical context in which the song became such a massive hit. Interesting, though I wanted more about the eponymous film, which I adore. Found at the Dogtown Book Shop in Gloucester, MA.

Winter Solstice, Rosamunde Pilcher
I love this gentle, hopeful story of five people who end up in a small Scottish village at Christmastime, each nursing different griefs and finding unexpected joy during their time together. I reread it every December.

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

What are you reading?

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Paris

notre-dame

Paris. Long walks on grey cobblestones alongside the rushing, undulating waters of the Seine. Bookshops (librairies) full of slim paperbacks with incomprehensible titles in a beautiful language. The tall, proud spires of Notre-Dame, from whose roof you can see the entire city, spread out at your feet.

Paris. Blooming trees in the springtime, golden leaves in the fall. Soft watercolor paintings by Monet and ballerina sculptures by Degas. A train station-turned-museum – the Musée d’Orsay – full of light and open space and beautiful, thought-provoking art. Twenty-three bridges over the Seine, many of them lit softly at night, ghost bridges to another city, another time.

Paris November 07 181

Paris. The setting for some of my favorite books: Les Misérables, A Moveable Feast, A Homemade Life, The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, My Life in France. And many more with Paris in the titles: Lunch in Paris, Paris My Sweet, Paris in Love, The Paris Wife, Paris to the Moon.

Paris. Thin buttery crepes with sugar and lemon juice, wrapped in wax paper and eaten piping hot on the street. Wood-paneled cafes with long mirrors, white tablecloths, small round tables. Gold-rimmed cups of café crème and chocolat chaud, with sugar cubes wrapped separately in crackling paper. A glass of vin chaud at Cafe Panis one sharp spring night, after a long solo browsing session at Shakespeare & Company.

cafe panis paris mulled wine notre dame

Paris. Swing dancing in a stone-vaulted basement at Caveau de la Huchette. Cigarette smoke and elegant buildings. Buttery croissants and thick onion soup. The best falafel in the world on Rue des Rosiers in the Marais. An exotic honey shop on the Rue de Rivoli, filled with glass jars that seemed to capture different flavors of sunshine.

Paris. Endless grey rooftops stretching out across the sky. The wedding-cake confection of Sacre-Coeur, set high on a hill in Montmartre. The siren call of streets and gardens; the mystique of a city I adore but have only begun to discover. And, this week, the site of unimaginable yet all-too-familiar tragedy.

Paris, je t’aime. My heart is with you.

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august books 1

The summer reading continues – with some great books. Here’s what I’ve been reading so far this month:

The Word Exchange, Alena Graedon
In the not-so-distant future, print books are entirely dead, except for a couple of stubborn dictionaries. When Anana Johnson’s lexicographer father goes missing, she’s worried that his disappearance is linked to a “word flu” sweeping the country. Witty, well plotted and slightly terrifying. (Oxford plays a small but vital role, which made me so happy.) Recommended by Kerry and Leigh.

Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food, Megan Kimble
Busy, broke and increasingly concerned about where her food comes from, Kimble spends a year eating as little processed food as possible. This means joining a CSA and baking bread, but it also means interviewing farmers, butchering a sheep, and trying to understand the systems our food goes through – and where they’ve gone wrong. Insightful, eye-opening and not at all preachy. Found at Porter Square Books.

Black Dove, White Raven, Elizabeth Wein
The children of two stuntwoman pilots, Emilia (half Italian) and Teo (half Ethiopian) have grown up together. After Teo’s mother dies in a plane crash, Emilia’s mother takes the children to live in Ethiopia. But as war with Italy looms in 1936, life becomes increasingly complicated for all of them. Narrated by Emilia and Teo, this is a fascinating, heartbreaking look at a war (and a country) I knew almost nothing about.

Die Laughing, Carola Dunn
Daisy Dalrymple finds her dentist murdered in his chair, and helps her policeman husband investigate – finding it tricky to navigate her new middle-class social circle, several of whom are suspects. A decent mystery, but I really liked the portrayal of Daisy adjusting to married life and a new neighborhood.

The Red Notebook, Antoine Laurain
Parisian bookseller Laurent Letellier finds a woman’s handbag on the street – and becomes obsessed with locating the owner. A charming, whimsical, beautifully told story – sweet without being saccharine. I loved it. (I received a free copy of this book from the publicist.)

A Snicker of Magic, Natalie Lloyd
Felicity Pickle is used to moving around a lot. But when her family lands back in Midnight Gulch, her mama’s hometown, Felicity longs to put down roots. With the help of a new friend, some magical ice cream and a little banjo music, everything may turn out right after all. A sweet, whimsical middle-grade debut.

Absolutely Truly, Heather Vogel Frederick
Too-tall Truly Lovejoy is not thrilled when her family moves to tiny Pumpkin Falls, New Hampshire. Even worse: her father hasn’t been the same since he lost an arm in the war. But as Truly helps renovate the family bookshop, she stumbles onto a mystery – which she solves with the help of a few new friends. I love Frederick’s work and adored this charming, moving story. (Bonus: includes a delicious recipe for mini pumpkin whoopie pies.)

Wicked Autumn, G.M. Malliet
Max Tudor, former MI5 agent turned Anglican priest, has settled into his new life in Nether Monkslip. But when the village busybody turns up murdered at the annual Harvest Fayre, Max dusts off his investigative skills (and begins facing his demons). A delightful, slyly witty village mystery – first in a series.

Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, Kate Bolick
A fascinating, often frustrating exploration of single womanhood, via Bolick’s own experience and that of her five “awakeners” – women writers who forged their own unconventional paths. I enjoyed learning about Neith Boyce and Maeve Brennan (both new to me), but was put off by Bolick’s self-sabotage and glaring lack of self-awareness. Still thought-provoking, and a different angle on the cultural conversation about womanhood.

(More about the stack above: I’m dipping back into The Sound of Paper, as I seem to do every summer, and working through Middlemarch for my book club. Though I’m not sure if I’ll be finished by the time we meet!)

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

What are you reading?

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