Sunday, July 31, 2011

Paris to the Past

Published:  2011 by W.W. Norton
Source:  Borrowed from the library

  Either books about Paris and/or France are more prevalent on my radar because I'm contemplating a trip in the spring, or the publishing gods are releasing more books about them.  I'm drawn to travel narratives anyways, but even so I think this is the third or fourth new book about Paris that I've read this year.
  This book details 25 day trips from Paris that take you back into French history -- from The Middle Ages and the era of Louis XIV to the French Revolution and the age of Napoleon.  I admit, I don't have a real affinity for any of these periods and would not necessarily have selected a lot of these sites as a "must-see. Having said that, one of the sites mentioned -- The Place des Vosges in Paris -- was one of my favorite spots when I last visited and I wasn't entirely aware of of its significance.  Another site -- the cathedral at Rouen -- I only know from Monet's paintings (reason itself to visit, in my opinion), but I did not know of its connection to Joan of Arc.  *sigh*  I might need a longer vacation.

  I found the author's tone to be too upscale and a tad snobby for my taste, and the only restaurants/hotels she does mention are certainly not for the budget-minded traveller.  Otherwise, this is a good non-touristy travel guide that is a starting point for anyone planning a Parisian adventure.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Fabulous Small Jews - Stories

Published:  2003 by Houghton Mifflin Company
Source:  Purchased

  After reading a few pages of the first story of this collection, I immediately thought of one of my favorite writers of all time:  Mordecai Richler.  Though writing about different eras for the most part, both he and Joseph Epstein have made older, grumpy Jewish men characters with whom we can all identify.

  Epstein's collection, Fabulous Small Jews, is comprised of eighteen stories that to me all had something to do with loneliness.  The main characters in the stories -- those grumpy old men -- have all led fairly successful and prosperous lives, but in their retirement it appears that they truly begin to understand what has been missing.  Not all of them are likeable, but they are relatable -  even though all of the men are Jewish, religion plays only a small part in any of the stories.

  My favorite story of the collection is "Don Juan Zimmerman", a story about rediscovering love at any age.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Guest Post -- John Milliken Thompson, author of THE RESERVOIR

   John Milliken Thompson's first novel, The Reservoir, is based on actual events in the late 1800s.  Though drawing on court transcripts and newspaper accounts, he still was required to imagine how certain things took place in order to describe them in detail.  Mr. Thompson graciously offers this post describing his process for recreating some of the more violent scenes in the book:

My new novel, The Reservoir, is based on a real court case that occurred in 1885 in Richmond, after the body of a young woman was found floating in the old city reservoir. At the heart of the story is a lover’s triangle between Lillie (the victim), Tommie (her cousin), and Willie (Tommie’s brother). In order to fully imagine what might have happened—and how—I enlisted my wife to help me act out several scenes from the novel. I may’ve gotten the idea from a TV show we used to watch called “Crossing Jordan.” Every episode featured a scene in which the actors mimed a crime scenario they’d put together from the clues; intercut were the gruesome scenes they were imagining.

It’s a great way to test the possibilities, and if you have a good, willing actor like my wife you can get a real physical handle on what works and what doesn’t. For instance, I had a scene in which Tommie rests his chin on Lillie’s head, and he cups her bottom so he’s nearly lifting her. Turns out that even with a short woman this would be nearly impossible, unless the man’s arms were like a great ape’s. I changed it so that his head was resting on her shoulder.

We also acted out some crucial business at the reservoir—how far one would have to reach to pull a person in from the water, how a man might grab a woman from behind to suppress a scream, what it was like to crawl through a broken board fence, and so on.

I remember reading something about Charles Dickens writing at a desk in the living room, with people constantly coming and going. Every so often he would jump up and run to the mirror, make a peculiar face, then dash back to his writing desk; or he would burst into some strange bit of dialogue. I loved picturing Dickens pantomiming his crazy characters, as oblivious of his family and friends as they were of his antics. He was also known as a performer of his own works—reciting from memory and taking on the voices of his many characters.

Borrowing a leaf from Dickens, I often find myself going to the mirror to try out an expression, and then returning to my desk to see if I can capture it in words. I live in a family of actors, so they all get it. For the most part. What I don’t get, though, is how anybody could write regularly in a busy room, shutting off the noise of the outside world while populating your mind with imaginary characters—that seems like a theatrical act in itself. But I guess that’s what real actors do all the time.

  P.S. Don't forget to check out my review and enter for your chance to win a copy of The Reservoir courtesy of the publisher, Other Press.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Reservoir -- Review and Giveaway

The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson
Published:  2011 by Other Press
Source:  Purchased at my local independent bookstore

  Once again I must give credit to the Books on the Nightstand Readers' Retreat (best weekend ever) for bringing a book to my attention that I likely would not have chosen on my own.  

  The Reservoir is a novel based on a true event that happened in Richmond, VA, in the late 1800s (the novel sets the year at 1885).     A young, pregnant woman is found lying dead in the town's reservoir and the investigation immediately begins to, firstly, identify her; and to determine her cause of death.  A "person of interest" is revealed right away -- Tommie Cluverius, who is described as fleeing Richmond to his family's home in rural Virginia almost immediately after the death is discovered.

  Of course it would not be a novel if the story ended there.  Tommie -- a young lawyer on his way up in the world -- is arrested for the murder of Lillie Madison, his cousin and occasional lover; and the novel goes back and forth between the preparation of the trial and the trial itself and the details of Tommie and Lillie's relationship.  Throughout these narratives we meet a host of interesting characters:  Tommie's brother Willie, loyal and willing to do anything to help his brother; the boys' Aunt Jane, Tommie's legal team, and the investigators of the death. 

  What I really enjoyed about this book was that the mystery lingered throughout the entire story.  Just when I decided the outcome, something happened to make me question that and change my mind, only for another twist to get me to return to my original thought.  Most importantly, these twists were not to my mind just devices thrown in to keep the reader interested, rather they were subtly included; and even now after reading the book twice I still cannot be sure I know what truly happened.
  This is an ideal book for both mystery lovers and for those interested in Southern fiction.  Highly recommended.

  Be sure to check the blog tomorrow for a guest post from John Milliken Thompson, The Reservoir's author.

  The publisher of The Reservoir, Other Press, has graciously offered a copy for giveaway to a lucky reader in the US or Canada (sorry, international readers).  Please leave your e-mail address in the comments below and the winner will be selected at random on Sunday, July 24.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Plight of Independent Bookstores

  I buy books everywhere -- in the chains, department stores, online -- but ever since I discovered an independent bookstore in my area a few years ago -- Read Between the Lynes -- I have made a more conscious effort to give them my money, which when it comes to books is not an insignificant amount.  Their prices are more expensive than other retailers (though as a member of their loyalty club one receives a discount) but as I've become a frequent customer I am on a first-name basis with the owner I  feel truly appreciated when I make a purchase (you just don't get that at the Big Stores).

  So it was disheartening to receive a letter in the mail yesterday from the owner of the store describing the difficulties the store is going through and how close they seem to closing their doors.  Along with details of the changes the store will be making  it also includes a request for loyal customers to make a pledge to spend an additional $35 per month at the store over the next 60 days. 
  I want to do this -- I mean, I spend a lot at the store already (my last two visits to the store resulted in purchases of over $50 each), and asking me to spend more on books is a bit of a no-brainer.  But I am only one person, and my extra $35 is not going to mean anything if other loyal customers don't step up and if avid readers in the area do not also patronize the store.  I appreciate that times are tight and saving money is important to all of us, but the personal service provided to customers and the service to the community is something at which indies excel, and I believe that is worth the price.

  Wherever you live -- please support your local independent bookstore.

Friday, July 15, 2011

I'm a guest poster!

  I am very honored to have been asked to contribute to Susan Gregg Gilmore's celebration of book clubs on her blog.  I had the pleasure of meeting Susan at the Books on the Nightstand Readers' Retreat (best weekend ever) and she is a lovely person in addition to a great writer.

  Be sure to check out her books Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen and The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove.  She is doing some great things with book clubs to tie in with the paperback release of Bezellia -- if you have a book group it is a great opportunity.

  Now off to rest my swollen head....

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Most Beautiful Walk in the World

Published:  2011 by Harper Perennial
Source:  Received from the publisher for review

Paris belongs to its piétons – the pedestrians

   Regular readers of this blog, tell me:  is there any doubt as to what I think of this book?

   It's about Paris.  About walking in Paris.  About viewing the history of Paris on these walks through the eyes of some of the writers and other cultural luminaries who made their mark in the city:  Hemingway, Picasso, Sylvia Beach, to name just a few.  It's a book written by a Parisian resident who,  I think because he is not a native of the city,  still has a bit of the tourist in him to be able to express his wide-eyed admiration of the city and all that has happened to it.
  That's not to say that the book is all sunshine and roses about the city -- Baxter describes a few incidents typical of life probably anywhere, but for me, since they take place in PARIS, they seem so much more bearable. 

  Although not really a travel guide, for those interested in visiting Paris for the first or fortieth time is full of information disguised as narratives that would only enhance the experience;   my copy is covered in Post-It flags and highlighted throughout so that WHEN I can plan my next trip I will have new resources available to me.  Even for the armchair traveller, though, this book is simply a wonderful escape into one of the world's great cities.

  Highly recommended. 

  I also recommend another John Baxter memoir set in Paris:  Immoveable Feast:  A Paris Christmas; an account of his attempt to prepare a traditional French Christmas meal for his French in-laws.  A wonderful holiday read.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My Year with Eleanor

Published:  2011 by Ecco
Source:  Received from publisher for review as part of the TLC Book Tour

  Yes, this is another "project" memoir.  After losing her job as an entertainment blogger, Noelle Hancock is unsure of her future; however at her local coffee shop she sees a quote on the wall that inspires her:

"Do one thing every day that scares you."  Eleanor Roosevelt

As she is about to turn 29, Hancock takes it upon herself to follow Mrs. Roosevelt's advice and create a "Year of Fear" before her 30th birthday. 

  Most of the book details the "big" things Hancock did that scared her -- trapeze lessons and skydiving, for example -- but throughout we see her growth as a person as she deals with less glamorous issues like her dependence on sleep medication and the status of her relationship with her boyfriend.  And as it becomes clear to her -- and to me -- that scary things aren't always big things, she also makes important realizations about what it means to conquer a fear-inducing feat:

"If I could take this kind of risk maybe then, if I had a chance to make a difference in someone's life someday, I'd have the courage to do it."

"The scariest thing I'd done in my life so far turned out not to be all that scary - fun even.  It made me wonder what else I was missing out on.  Also, what other things in my life was I unnecessarily wasting time and energy worrying about?"

  At first I thought this book was going to be shallow - I blame my preconceived notions of the writing style and interests of an entertainment blogger.  However I was pleasantly surprised by Ms. Hancock's account of her exploits and by the inspiration she took from Eleanor Roosevelt's life.  Most books I read usually lead me to add one or two more books to my to-read list, and this one is no exception, as I do want to read more about Mrs. Roosevelt myself.  And in addition to the quote that started Hancock on this journey, I have several other quotes (including the two noted above) that I hope to use as motivation myself to attempt at least some of those things that scare me.

Highly recommended.

Be sure to check out the other stops on the blog tour of this book:

Monday, July 11: Book Reviews by Molly
Tuesday, July 12: Bibliosue
Wednesday, July 13: 2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews
Thursday, July 14: Melody & Words
Tuesday, July 19: Scandalous Women
Wednesday, July 20: Unabridged Chick
Monday, July 25: One Book Shy
Tuesday, August 2: “That’s Swell!”
Wednesday, August 3: The Book Chick
Thursday, August 4: Cozy Little House
Wednesday, August 10: Kahakai Kitchen
Thursday, August 11: Stephanie’s Written Word

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Europa Meme

Ok this might be a little repeat of my initial post for the Europa Challenge, but I'm a joiner so I'm also participating in the Europa meme.  The rules:

  • Go to the Europa Editions- From 1 to 100 page,
  • Create a post on your blog with the title "Europa Meme."
  • Copy/Paste the list of books into a new post on your blog.
  • Now:
    • Bold the books you've read (you can link to reviews on your blog if you want),
    • Italicize the ones you own but haven't read,
    • Underline the ones you'd like to buy, and
    • Link to The Europa Meme page!
  Now I am aiming to read all of the titles, but I'll start with the ones already on my radar:
  1. Elena Ferrante, The Days of Abandonment
  2. James Hamilton-Paterson, Cooking with Fernet Branca
  3. Benjamin Tammuz, Minotaur
  4. Wolf Erlbruch, The Big Question
  5. Jean-Claude Izzo, Total Chaos
  6. Massimo Carlotto, The Goodbye Kiss
  7. Patrick Hamilton, Hangover Square
  8. Sélim Nassib, I Loved You for Your Voice
  9. Edna Mazya, Love Burns
  10. Chad Taylor, Departure Lounge
  11. Ioanna Karystiani, The Jasmine Isle
  12. Matthew F. Jones, Boot Tracks
  13. Wolf-Belli, The Butterfly Workshop
  14. Alicia Giménez-Bartlett, Dog Day
  15. Jane Gardam, Old Filth
  16. Carlo Lucarelli , Carte Blanche
  17. Elena Ferrante, Troubling Love
  18. Jean-Claude Izzo, Chourmo
  19. Massimo Carlotto, Death's Dark Abyss
  20. James Hamilton-Paterson, Amazing Disgrace
  21. Stefano Benni, Margherita Dolce Vita
  22. Wolf Erlbruch, The Miracle of the Bears
  23. Alfred Hayes, The Girl on the Via Flaminia
  24. Sélim Nassib, The Palestinian Lover
  25. Christa Wolf, One Day a Year. 1960-2000
  26. Massimo Carlotto, The Fugitive
  27. Gene Kerrigan, The Midnight Choir
  28. Altan, Here Comes Timpa
  29. Carlo Lucarelli, The Damned Season
  30. Peter Kocan, Fresh Fields
  31. Jean-Claude Izzo, Solea
  32. Alicia Giménez-Bartlett, Prime Time Suspect
  33. Altan, Timpa goes to the Sea
  34. Alessandro Piperno, The Worst Intentions
  35. Edwin M. Yoder Jr., Lions at Lamb House.
  36. Jean-Claude Izzo, The Lost Sailors
  37. Jane Gardam, The Queen of the Tambourine
  38. Michele Zackheim, Broken Colors
  39. Steve Erickson, Zeroville
  40. Altan, Fairy Tale Timpa
  41. Carmine Abate, Between Two Seas
  42. Katharina Hacker, The Have-Nots
  43. Elena Ferrante, The Lost Daughter
  44. Gene Kerrigan, Little Criminals
  45. Stefano Benni, Timeskipper
  46. Peter Kocan, The Treatment & The Cure
  47. Carlo Lucarelli, Via delle Oche
  48. Alicia Giménez-Bartlett, Death Rites
  49. Gail Jones, Sorry
  50. Jane Gardam, The People On Privilege Hill
  51. Roma Tearne, Mosquito
  52. Helmut Krausser, Eros
  53. Jean-Claude Izzo, A Sun for the Dying
  54. Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog
  55. Amara Lakhous, Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio
  56. James Hamilton- Paterson, Rancid Pansies
  57. Francisco Coloane, Tierra del Fuego
  58. Amélie Nothomb, Tokyo Fiancée
  59. Joel Stone, The Jerusalem File
  60. Domenico Starnone, First Execution
  61. Shashi Deshpande, The Dark Holds No Terrors
  62. Salwa Al Neimi, The Proof of the Honey
  63. James Hamilton-Paterson, Seven-Tenths: The Sea and its Thresholds
  64. Alberto Angela, A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome
  65. Giancarlo De Cataldo, The Father and the Foreigner
  66. Roma Tearne , Bone China
  67. Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, The Most Beautiful Book in the World. Eight Novellas
  68. Muriel Barbery, Gourmet Rhapsody
  69. Valeria Parrella, For Grace Received
  70. Lia Levi, The Jewish Husband
  71. Boualem Sansal, The German Mujahid
  72. Massimo Carlotto & Marco Videtta, Poisonville
  73. Romano Bilenchi, The Chill
  74. Jane Gardam, The Man in the Wooden Hat
  75. Helmut Dubiel, Deep In the Brain.
  76. Ioanna Karystiani, Swell
  77. Valerio Massimo Manfredi, The Ides of March
  78. Daniele Mastrogiacomo, Days of Fear
  79. Alina Bronsky, Broken Glass Park
  80. Linda Ferri, Cecilia
  81. Caryl Férey, Zulu
  82. Jenn Ashworth, A Kind of Intimacy
  83. Leïla Marouane, The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris
  84. Lorcan Roche, The Companion
  85. Carmine Abate, The Homecoming Party
  86. Laurence Cossé, A Novel Bookstore
  87. Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, The Woman with the Bouquet
  88. Massimo Carlotto, Bandit Love
  89. Fay Weldon, Chalcot Crescent
  90. Rebecca Connell, The Art of Losing
  91. Damon Galgut, In a Strange Room
  92. Amélie Nothomb, Hygiene and the Assassin
  93. Jane Gardam, God on the Rocks
  94. James Scudamore, Heliopolis
  95. Yishai Sarid, Limassol
  96. Milena Agus, From the Land of the Moon
  97. Luis Sepúlveda, The Shadow of What We Were
  98. Anne Wiazemsky, My Berlin Child
  99. Kazimierz Brandys, Rondo
  100. Alina Bronsky, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine
  I also just purchased French Leave by Anna Gavalda, and I have an ARC of An Accident in August by Laurence Cosse; I am excited to read both of these as well.

  How many of these are on your read or to-read lists?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Battle for Spain

Published:  2006 by Penguin Books
Source:  Purchased

  Back in university (many many years ago) I wrote a paper in my 1st year international relations class about the Spanish Civil War.  Since the focus was only on the diplomacy (or lack thereof) surrounding the conflict, though,  I did not do much research outside of that topic, but I retained a curiosity of that war and tried to learn more about it over the years.  Some wonderful novels, Guernica by Dave Boling, and The Return by Victoria Hislop provide emotional images of the war and its effects on the civilian population, but I hadn't read a good non-fiction account of it; so when I was browsing a bookstore in a college town and saw Antony Beevor's book The Battle for Spain I picked it up.  It took me about two years to finally read it (thank you 2011 TBR Pile Challenge) and I still don't know if I understand the Spanish Civil War any better.

  It's not that the book isn't good -- it is thorough, but perhaps too thorough for a "general" reader like me.  Beevor provides a lot of detail about the two sides of the conflict - the Republicans and the Nationalists, and though there is an index of abbreviations at the beginning I still found it difficult to keep track of all of the organizations that fell under the two sides, and in fact to keep track of which side was which (The Republicans were the government of Spain at the time and received support from the Soviet Union and Communist/anti-fascist volunteers from around the world; the Nationalists were led by General Francisco Franco and were supported by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy).  The book also goes into a lot of detail about specific battles and I have to admit that my attention waned during these descriptions.  Beevor is an objective writer, though, and his account of the war is balanced;  he shows the good and bad of both, which I believe exists in any war.

  If and when I read another novel set during the Spanish Civil War, I think I will have this book at my side as a reference for any actual events depicted.  For me, it was not a book that I enjoyed reading as I normally do, but I appreciate its value as a resource for detailed information.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Quarantine by Rahul Mehta

Quarantine:  Stories  by Rahul Mehta
Published:  2011 by Harper Perennial
Source:  Received from publisher for review

  I have to admit that I have not read a lot of short stories and I don't know why.  The logical side of me thinks that having a book of short stories around would be ideal when I want to read but don't have enough time or inclination for something longer.  In addition, the curiosity seeker in me should be more inclined to short stories that allow me smaller glimpses into topics that spark my interest.

  This short story collection by Rahul Mehta, Quarantine, attracted me initially because of the fact the author is Indian-American and I am drawn to literature of the Indian diaspora (have I ever mentioned that I have eclectic tastes?).  This collection was made even more interesting (and curious) to me when I saw that it was about gay Indian-American men and I wanted to look into that life.

  My expectations of the stories were that they would be about families' shame and embarassment with having a homosexual in the family, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that this was not in any of the stories.  My pre-conceived notion of Indian families being rigidly conservative and not willing to accept anything outside of their traditional view of family life was definitely removed.  Though all of the stories have gay men as their main characters, the themes of the stories -- family loyalties, romantic relationships, cultural differences -- are ones that we all can relate to.  My favorite story of the collection is "The Cure", a story about a man who compulsively burns cash; to him, money does not change anything. 

  The stories might not be for everyone, as there are some explicit scenes, but they were for me a fascinating and eye-opening window into this community.  And I hope to find some more story collections to do the same.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

5 Best Books about Patriotism

The 5 Best Books is a meme hosted by Cassandra at Indie Reader Houston

  To coincide with the celebration of Independence Day in the United States on July 4, this week's topic is to list our 5 Best Books about patriotism.
  July 4th is a significant day in my own personal history.  I am a born and bred Canadian girl, but on this day in 1999, I moved to the United States to be with my now-husband (a long story in itself).  I became an American citizen in April, 2008, and while I feel privileged to live here and especially to have the right to vote, I am still a proud Canadian.  So my list reflects my dual citizenship:
  1. Band of Brothers:  E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest by Steven Ambrose.  I did read this after I saw the amazing HBO miniseries, but I loved its story of this group of men from all over the United States coming together for a common goal.
  2. The Greater Journey:  Americans in Paris 1830-1900 by David McCullough.  Yes, this book is primarily set in Paris, but it highlights how that city contributed to the accomplishments of many Americans in a variety of arenas.
  3. How to Be a Canadian (Even if You Already are One) by Will & Ian Ferguson.  We Canadians have a great ability to laugh at ourselves.  Despite the title, the book might only be fully appreciated by those of us already Canadian, but anyone reading it will get a fun look into life in the Great White North (eh?)
  4. The Best Laid Plans and The High Road by Terry Fallis.  Two wonderfully entertaining novels about Canadian politics featuring reluctant MP Angus McClintock.  I am eagerly awaiting (hoping for) a third installment in this series.
  5. Oh Canada!Oh Quebec!:  Requiem for a Divided Country by Mordecai Richler.  In 1995, Canada came dangerously close to losing the province of Quebec.  This book was written in 1992 in the heat of the separation debate and likely helped intensify the situation.

July Reading List

  I'm a little late in posting my to-read list for July.  I took a few days off work to make an extra long holiday weekend and the laziness was just too enjoyable to interrupt; alas, since I must return to the grind on Tuesday I thought I'd bring back some discipline and let you know what's on my reading agenda for July:

  For Reading Groups:
  For Reading Challenges:
  For Review:

  What's on your reading agenda for July?