Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

travels with charley steinbeck

Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour, Morgan Matson
Amy’s dad has died, her brother is in rehab, and her mother has moved to Connecticut, leaving instructions for Amy to follow her in their car. Enter Roger, a long-absent (and now really cute) family friend. Together, he and Amy deviate from the planned route, crisscrossing America while listening to wonderful playlists and gradually opening up to one another. Utterly charming.

Running Like a Girl: Notes on Learning to Run, Alexandra Heminsley
Curvy and nonathletic, Alex Heminsley never fancied herself a runner – but she is one. This candid memoir traces her journey, from her first disastrous run to several marathons. I’m a sporadic runner at best, but this book made me want to lace up my running shoes. Recommended by Kerry.

Baby Proof, Emily Giffin
My friend Rachael handed me this novel during a discussion about the perennial question of whether to have children. The protagonist, Claudia, is child-free and happily married until her husband decides he wants a baby after all. A thought-provoking premise, but I found Claudia selfish and shallow: not because she didn’t want kids, but because everything had to be about her.

Crocodile on the Sandbank, Elizabeth Peters
Amelia Peabody, a wealthy, opinionated Victorian spinster, heads off to explore Egypt by way of Rome. Love, intrigue and nocturnal mummies among the pyramids, all told with Amelia’s biting wit. So much fun. First in a series and highly recommended by Jaclyn.

Looking for the Gulf Motel, Richard Blanco
Blanco writes vivid poetry about love, memory, his Cuban-American family, and belonging. I recognized many images and characters from his memoir (which I confess I liked better than this collection).

The Curse of the Pharaohs, Elizabeth Peters
Amelia Peabody (see above) and her archaeologist husband return to Egypt, working on a dig supposedly plagued by the titular curse. Quirky characters and red herrings abound, but Amelia solves the case. Not as engaging as the first book, but still fun.

The Paris Winter, Imogen Robertson
Maud Heighton, a genteelly poor Englishwoman, struggles to get by while studying art in Paris. When she lands a job as companion to a charming Frenchwoman, Maud believes her troubles are over, but she is drawn into a web of lies, thievery and revenge. A dark, evocative portrait of Belle Époque Paris, with some wonderful characters. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 18).

Travels With Charley in Search of America, John Steinbeck
I broke my book-buying fast because I could not resist the charming, slightly battered copy (above) on the $3 book cart at Raven. I have no regrets. Steinbeck takes a rambling cross-country road trip with Charley (a large French poodle), searching for the language and spirit of America, and narrates it all in wry, witty detail. Wonderful.

And Only to Deceive, Tasha Alexander
After reading The Counterfeit Heiress for review, I picked up the first book in the Lady Emily series. This is clearly a first effort: well written but the mystery’s solution was obvious. I like the characters, though.

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

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The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, a History, Lewis Buzbee
A rambling, charming account of the author’s passion for books, his time working in bookstores, and a brief history of publishing. I dipped in a few pages at a time and really enjoyed it. Found at Book & Bar in Portsmouth.

The House on an Irish Hillside, Felicity Hayes-McCoy
I read about this memoir on Sarah’s blog ages ago. The author describes the western Ireland peninsula of Corca Dhuibhne, near Dingle, and the process of making a second home there with her husband. Filled with bits of history and folklore, with lovely meditations on community and finding one’s place in the world.

A Hundred Summers, Beatriz Williams
As the cream of New York society summers in Seaview, R.I., old secrets bubble under the surface. Lily Dane must confront her feelings for the man who’s now married to her (vicious) best friend – and a massive hurricane will upend more than just buildings. Deliciously scandalous, lushly described. Smart beach reading.

The Secret Life of Violet Grant, Beatriz Williams
When Vivian Schuyler receives a suitcase belonging to an unknown great-aunt (the titular Violet), she starts digging into Violet’s complicated past. Vivian is bright and sparkling but didn’t seem entirely real, and Violet seemed hopelessly naive. Still a compelling (if often uncomfortable) narrative. (I was glad to see Aunt Julie and Lily from A Hundred Summers again.)

Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo
Orphans Alina and Mal grew up together – best friends against the world. But then Alina discovers a power she never knew she had, which will change not only their lives but the future of their country. Fascinating, romantic YA fantasy with a setting based on Imperial Russia.

Siege and Storm, Leigh Bardugo
This sequel to Shadow and Bone finds Alina and Mal on the run, then returning to Ravka (their homeland) to gather an army and fight the Darkling. Meanwhile, Alina grapples with the implications of her power to summon the sun. Deeper, faster-paced and even more exciting than the first book.

International Night: A Father and Daughter Cook Their Way Around the World, Mark Kurlansky and Talia Kurlansky
Kurlansky and his 13-year-old daughter spin the globe and cook a meal from whatever country they land on. Each meal is prefaced by Mark’s thoughts on that country (he’s been to many of them). Delicious-looking, fairly straightforward recipes – lots can be made with/for/by kids. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 19).

The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris, Jenny Colgan
When Anna Trent loses two toes in a freak factory accident, she ends up in Paris apprenticing with a high-end chocolatier. A really lovely story of recovering from trauma, opening up to love, and (of course) falling in love with Paris. (Should be paired with good chocolate.)

Mrs. Pollifax and the Golden Triangle, Dorothy Gilman
Mrs. Pollifax and her new husband head to Thailand on holiday and agree to do a “little job” for the CIA – which, of course, ends up being bigger than they thought. Another fun, fast-paced, twisty adventure.

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

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The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, Mira Jacob
A sweeping family story that bounces from India to Seattle to New Mexico. Beautifully written and quite moving, though I found the main character (Amina) strangely passive. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 1).

The Awakening of Miss Prim, Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera
Prudencia Prim, a librarian (who lives up to both her names), takes a position in a French village. The townspeople’s unconventional views on education and love challenge Miss Prim’s preconceived notions. A lovely fable about being willing to open your mind and heart. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 8).

Emeralds Included, Betsy Woodman
A gently humorous tale of a Scotswoman living in an Indian hill town in the 1960s, with her talking parrot and an eccentric cast of family and friends. Third in the Jana Bibi series; I haven’t read the others, but this one was entertaining. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 8).

A Palm for Mrs. Pollifax, Dorothy Gilman
Mrs. Pollifax, that unlikely but resourceful spy, goes undercover at a Swiss convalescent clinic to search for missing plutonium. Several creepy scenes and assorted quirky characters made this a winning entry in the series.

Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
Lydia Lee, the apple of her parents’ eye, is found drowned in the lake in her small Ohio town. As her parents and siblings grapple with her death, their fragile family life begins to unravel. A haunting, gorgeously written novel about mixed-race families, identity, buried dreams and the things we leave unsaid. (I received an ARC; it comes out June 26.)

Pioneer Girl, Bich Minh Nguyen
Adrift after earning her Ph.D., Lee Lien begins researching a family legend, trying to determine if Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter, Rose, really did visit her grandfather’s Saigon cafe back in 1965. I’m a longtime Little House fan and I wanted to love this book, but I found Lee disappointingly flat and passive, and the story lacked resolution. Elegantly written, but unsatisfying.

Anna and the French Kiss, Stephanie Perkins
Against her will, Anna is packed off to boarding school in Paris – but once she begins to embrace it (hello, it’s Paris!), she makes friends, learns a bit of French and falls in love with a handsome boy. Swoony, witty and so much fun.

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

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A Presumption of Death, Jill Paton Walsh & Dorothy L. Sayers
I’m usually wary of authors adapting another author’s characters – but Jill Paton Walsh superbly continues the story of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. As World War II heats up, Peter goes abroad on a secret mission and Harriet takes the children to the country, where (of course) she has to solve a mystery. Full of familiar village characters (from Busman’s Honeymoon) and two truly wonderful bits of code-breaking.

Hoot, Carl Hiaasen
As the new kid at his Florida middle school, Roy is trying to stay under the radar. But a mysterious barefoot boy and his tough soccer-player sister introduce Roy to a group of tiny burrowing owls – which lead all three kids into a confrontation they hadn’t expected. Funny at times, but definitely aimed at middle-school boys.

What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: And Two Other Short Guides to Achieving More at Work and at Home, Laura Vanderkam
I loved Vanderkam’s 168 Hours and enjoyed these three short, pithy productivity e-guides. Useful tips for making the most of your mornings, weekends and work hours. I’m paying more attention to where my time goes, and am planning to implement some of Vanderkam’s ideas. Smart and practical.

Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris, Ann Mah
When Ann Mah’s diplomat husband was posted to Paris, she began planning all the culinary adventures they’d have together. But when he was called to Iraq for a year – alone – she had to revise her plans. A lovely memoir of creating a home in a new place, with lots of French culinary history, mouthwatering recipes and nods to that other American diplomatic wife, Julia Child.

The Attenbury Emeralds, Jill Paton Walsh
Lord Peter Wimsey recounts his first case – the recovery of a stolen emerald – to his wife Harriet. Then the emerald’s current owner turns up, needing Peter’s help again. The retelling of the first mystery dragged on and on – it only got interesting when the second case started to pick up. Not nearly as good as Walsh’s other two adaptations, but still entertaining once it picked up steam.

Jane of Lantern Hill, L.M. Montgomery
I reach for this book every year when winter digs in its heels and it seems spring will never come. I love watching Jane discover the world of P.E. Island, but even better is watching her blossom into a confident, happy young woman. Charming and fun.

Cinder, Marissa Meyer
Linh Cinder, gifted mechanic, has a secret: she’s part cyborg. When the prince asks her to fix his personal android and her sweet stepsister falls ill, Cinder gets drawn into a web of politics, medical testing and the secrets of her own past. A slow start, but a really fun take on the story of Cinderella. First in a series – I can’t wait to read the sequel! Recommended by Leigh and Jessica.

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

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One of my best friends was about to become a mother, and I wouldn’t be there. Oh, we still had e-mails, phone calls, visits, but I would miss the small events—like visiting her in the hospital or leaving a tray of lasagna in her fridge—the mundane participation that is the true meaning of friendship. She was over there and I was here, and the circles of our daily lives overlapped less and less, until they barely touched at all.

I knew it wasn’t her fault, or mine, just the natural consequence of distance. And yet recently the distance had started to loom unforgiving and unmanageable, shadowing almost all my relationships. I felt it when I saw photos of friends’ new boyfriends-turned-husbands, with my baby nieces who were suddenly young girls weaving me pot holders, with my parents who grew a little grayer every time I visited. The people I loved most in the world were living the most important moments of their lives without me, and I was living mine without them. It took me a while to recognize the emotion, unfamiliar as it was, but when I did, it scratched at me with thorny immediacy: I was homesick.”

—Ann Mah, Mastering the Art of French Eating

mom betsy kitchen

(My mom and my sister, in my parents’ kitchen at Christmastime)

I devoured Mah’s lovely, warm memoir of the year she spent alone in Paris while her husband was on a diplomatic assignment in Iraq. (He was originally posted to Paris, but when he was called away, she had to stay behind.) I savored Mah’s descriptions of Parisian cafés and her accounts of trips to Lyon, Brittany, Provence and other locales, as she researched the origins of such classic French dishes as crêpes, cassoulet and boeuf bourgignon. But this passage about love and homesickness made my breath catch in my chest.

Because I know. I know what it’s like to stand on a city street corner, the wind whipping my hair around my face as my sister tells me over the phone, from two thousand miles away, that she’s pregnant. I know the mingled ache and joy of receiving texted pictures of a friend’s sparkling new engagement ring, and the unmitigated ache of not being able to travel to a family funeral. I understand the annual balancing act of splitting my vacation time between exciting destinations (like our recent trip to San Diego) and booking plane tickets back home, squeezing out a few extra days here and there to play with my nephew and quote old movies with my dad.

All of us who have moved away from the places we grew up, or the places where we have lived and made friends as adults, know this particular kind of homesickness. We wish we could gather all our loved ones in one place, so we could be there for all the important moments instead of seeing them on Facebook, or drop in for dinner instead of making do with phone calls and emails and tweets. We do our best to put down roots where we are, digging deeply into a few new relationships, but we miss the everyday joy of the “mundane participation” Mah mentions. We know we are lucky to have friends in multiple states, sometimes even on several continents. But our heartstrings get sore from the constant tugging in so many directions, and we wish it were simpler, but we know it never will be.

I don’t have any answers, and Mah admits she doesn’t either, other than the tried-and-true remedies of spending time with loved ones when possible, and aiming to be present in the life she had, rather than wallowing in nostalgia. (Though sometimes the wallowing is unavoidable.) But I wanted to share this passage because this is what I love best about reading: the shock of recognition when someone else’s words express an emotion or a thought so perfectly that all you can say is “Me too.”

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vacation reading books

(Pictured above: my vacation reading.)

A Study in Sherlock: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon, ed. Laurie R. King & Leslie S. Klinger
I love Sherlock Holmes; I love Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell novels featuring him; and I love the BBC series Sherlock. So I loved this story collection by various authors, riffing on the character and methods of the great detective. Pure Holmesian enjoyment.

Persuasion, Jane Austen
I read Austen’s last (and quietest) novel some years ago, but had been hankering for a reread. I love Anne Elliot, though I wish she were more assertive (and I want to smack her whiny younger sister), and that letter from Captain Wentworth makes me swoon. Austen’s wit, as always, is biting and astute, and her characters are delightful.

An Old Betrayal, Charles Finch
I love Finch’s Charles Lenox mystery series, and this seventh entry was a treat. Lenox interrupts his Parliament career (again) to investigate a murder, gradually realizing that the Queen of England may be in danger. Some wonderful scenes with historical figures, including Benjamin Disraeli and Queen Victoria herself.

Paris Letters, Janice MacLeod
Frustrated artist leaves the corporate rat race for Paris and falls in love with her (Polish) butcher. To support her new lifestyle, she begins selling “painted letters” – paintings of Paris scenes with accompanying text. The painted letters are lovely, but the memoir fell flat. I’ve read better ones.

Death at La Fenice, Donna Leon
Jessica has raved about this mystery series featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti, and this first book was excellent. When a famous opera conductor is found dead in his dressing room during intermission, Brunetti must solve the case. Evocative descriptions of Venice, and a well-plotted mystery.

A Mad, Wicked Folly, Sharon Biggs Waller
Victoria Darling longs to be taken seriously as an artist. But as a daughter of aristocrats, she’s only expected to marry well. After scandal erupts at her French finishing school, Vicky returns to London and finds herself caught up in the suffragette movement. Witty and fun, with a sweet romance. Hoping for a sequel!

Paris to Die For, Maxine Kenneth
Before Jacqueline Bouvier married Jack Kennedy, she went on a secret mission for the CIA…in Paris! This romp of a spy novel takes Jackie all over the city, often in the company of a handsome Frenchman. Too fun. (Inspired by an actual letter written by Jackie.) Found at Bay Books in San Diego.

Spy in a Little Black Dress, Maxine Kenneth
This sequel to the above takes Jackie to Havana, where she meets Fidel Castro and his band of rebels. Not as good as the first book; a bit too conscious of its own cleverness, but still fun. Perfect vacation reading.

Thrones, Dominations, Dorothy L. Sayers & Jill Paton Walsh
It’s no secret I adore Lord Peter Wimsey and his love, Harriet Vane. Walsh used Sayers’ unfinished notes and chapters to flesh out this novel, and it is well plotted and satisfying. I loved spending time with Harriet and Peter again.

A Fall of Marigolds, Susan Meissner
Two women – a nurse on Ellis Island in 1911 and a survivor of the 9/11 attacks – are connected by a scarf (which features the titular marigolds). Both of them must learn to move on from loss and open themselves to living again. Heartbreaking, sometimes frustrating, ultimately lovely.

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

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Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me: The Pursuit of Happiness, One Celebrity at a Time, Rachel Bertsche
I loved Rachel’s first memoir, MWF Seeking BFF, about her quest to find friends in a new city. This book chronicles her attempts to make over her life á la celebrity role models: Jennifer Aniston’s workouts, Tina Fey’s work ethic, Julia Roberts’ brand of Zen. She also muses on the lure of celebrity culture and shares her struggle to have a baby. Funny, engaging and wise. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 1).

A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True, Brigid Pasulka
Once upon a time (in the 1930s), a young man nicknamed “the Pigeon” fell in love with the beautiful Anielica. But war and hardship delayed their marriage and changed their journey in unexpected ways. Decades later, their granddaughter moves from her small village to Krakow after her mother dies, trying to find her way in life and love. Pasulka interweaves the two narratives masterfully. Moving and beautifully written. Recommended by Jaclyn.

You are Here: From the Compass to GPS, the History and Future of How We Find Ourselves, Hiawatha Bray
After working for millennia to map the world, humankind has solved the problem of location. Our smartphones, GPS devices and other transmitters can track our locations at any time – but at what cost? Bray summarizes the history of location technology and considers the issues surrounding modern tracking devices. Thought-provoking. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 1).

The Sun and Other Stars, Brigid Pasulka
I loved Pasulka’s debut (see above) and loved her second novel even more. Set in a tiny Italian village, it’s a tale of family, love, grief and calcio (soccer). As Etto grieves the deaths of his mother and brother, he befriends a Ukrainian soccer star and his sister, who teach Etto a thing or two about calcio and about living with joy. Sharp, funny and beautiful. (My copy came from the publisher, but I was not compensated for this review.)

When the Cypress Whispers, Yvette Manessis Corporon
Daphne has always loved spending summers on the Greek island of Erikousa with her grandmother. But when she returns as a young widow struggling to raise a child and run a restaurant, she learns a few family secrets and meets an utterly exasperating man. A semi-predictable love story, given depth by the World War II events and enriched by mouthwatering descriptions of Greek food. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 1).

Rooftoppers, Katherine Rundell
As an infant, Sophie was found floating in a cello case after a shipwreck. When the authorities threaten to take her away from Charles, her kind but eccentric guardian, Sophie and Charles flee to Paris in search of Sophie’s mother. Sophie meets a gang of “rooftoppers” – children who live on the roofs of Paris – who aid in her search. Whimsical and charming, though the ending felt abrupt.

The Collector of Dying Breaths, M.J. Rose
In the 16th century, a young Italian man becomes Catherine de Medici’s perfumer and co-conspirator in court intrigues. In the present day, Jac L’Etoile, perfumer and mythologist, is grieving her brother’s death and trying to solve several mysteries. The stories intertwine in surprising ways. Lush descriptions, but a bit creepy. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 8).

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

I participated in Leigh’s February Reading Challenge, trying not to buy books this month. Look for a report on Monday.

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