Now Departing for: Paris

Bonjour!

April in Paris! We’re traveling to the City of Light this month in our Online Reading Challenge, a city of art and beauty (and fantastic croissants!) and a long, complex, fascinating history. Who could resist?

First, a confession: I love Paris. I’ve been three times in the past few years and plan to go again and again for many years. I love the museums and the architecture, the cafe culture (and the food!) and the history. I did not expect to fall so completely head-over-heels in love with this city on my first visit, but I did, almost from the first moment I emerged from the Metro station and glimpsed the top of the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Like any big city, Paris has serious issues to deal with and it is far from perfect, but that doesn’t take away from what’s right and beautiful about it either.

There are oodles of books set in Paris – almost too many. I’ve found that some/too many writers use a Paris backdrop as a shortcut to creating mood and atmosphere – everyone has heard about Paris (usually heavily romanticized) so there’s no need to create a world for their novel. I consider this cheating and rather poor writing and it never feels “true”. Another habit I’ve run across is name dropping, for example “she tied her Hermes scarf around her neck, picked up her Louis Vuitton bag and walked down the Champs Elysees to Laduree’s for a macaroon”.  Um, yeah. All of those are very French, but not very “real” – using name dropping and stereotypes is just lazy writing. On the other hand, there are some incredibly good books set in Paris. Here’s a few to get you started:

The Greater Journey by David McCullough tells the story of American artists, writers and doctors that went to Paris between 1830 and 1900 and how what learned and experienced and then brought back in turn greatly influenced American history. McCullough’s writing is as honey smooth as his voice (he’s narrated several of Ken Burn’s films) and the stories he tells are fascinating.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain is historical fiction about Ernest Hemingway’s first wife Hadley and their life in Paris. This is the time period when Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises and developed friendships with other rising stars such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. But the hard-drinking, fast-living lifestyle of Jazz-age Paris puts a strain on Ernest and Hadley’s marriage and threatens the happiness of their early romance.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. Although this is a lighter, happier story, this book has a lot of depth that is a lot of fun to read. Anna is sent to Paris against her wishes for her final year of high school but it becomes a pivotal year in her life as she learns what she is capable of and gains independence and confidence. Paris is beautifully integrated as backdrop here.

A Family in Paris by Jane Paech. This is the true story of an Australian family that moves to Paris for the husband’s job. Their two girls are enrolled in the local school and Jane works to integrate herself into daily Parisian life. Fascinating insights into the lives and rituals of ordinary Parisians, the French educational system and the reality of Parisian bureaucracy. Lots of photos too.

Sarah’s Key by Titiana Rosnay is a novel that brings to light a rarely told, shameful chapter in Parisian history – the deportation of Jews from Paris during the Nazi occupation in 1942. Heartbreaking and often difficult to read, this story shows the suffering, the impossible decisions that had to be made and the guilt carried by the survivors. Long unacknowledged, there is now a memorial in Paris dedicated to the victims of the deportation.

Paris Letters by Janice Macleod. Another story of someone packing up and moving to Paris and finding her happily-ever-after. It’d be kind of annoying except that Janice worked really hard to make it happen and she’s pretty funny. The book also acts as motivation to work for what you want and to hold onto those dreams. Also, lovely hand drawn illustrations.

If you’d rather watch something this month you have nearly as many choices. Three of my favorites:

Hugo is breathtakingly beautiful and magical. That train wreck really did happen (in 1895) and that clock is based on the iconic clock at the Orsay Museum. The book the movie is based on, The Invention of Hugo Cabret won the 2008 Caldecott Award and is well worth reading too.

Midnight in Paris is Woody Allen’s love letter to Paris. I’m not always a Woody Allen fan but this movie is gorgeous and fun with just the right amount of fantastical. Paris never looked so beautiful.

Amelie. If you have not seen this, drop everything and find a copy immediately. It’s quirky and delightful and sweetly romantic and very funny. Filmed entirely on location in Paris, you see the “real” Paris beyond the tourist sites. Yes, it’s in French and yes you have to read subtitles – grow up! Read a movie! It is so worth it.

There are so many more books and movies about Paris from classics (Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, A Moveable Feast) to mysteries (Cara Black has a series set in Paris) to history (look in the 944 Dewey subject area) to cookbooks (David Lebovitz and Julia Child to name just two) that there is sure to be something that catches your eye. We’ll have displays at all three of our buildings too so stop in and get your ticket (er, book or movie!) to Paris!

Allons-y! (“let’s go!”)

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis alternates between the present day New York City and 1952 via the lives of the women who live at the Barbizon Hotel. In 1952 it was known as the Barbizon Hotel for Women, catering to young, single women who aspired to be secretaries or models. Darby comes from Ohio to enroll in the Katharine Gibbs College, which taught young ladies business skills and etiquette. Very soon, she becomes friends with Esme, a maid, singer and aspiring actress. When Esme encourages Darby to perform with her at a jazz club downtown, Darby’s world view changes radically; she discovers passion – creatively and romantically. These chapters are tinged with nostalgia and a sense of impending tragedy. Davis does a marvelous job of immersing the reader in a very different era, with different assumptions for women – and she does it with a subtle, realistic way.

The chapters set in contemporary New York feature Rose, a journalist for an online magazine, and a current condo dweller at the Barbizon. As her own life falls apart, she becomes fascinated by the earlier inhabitants – some of which still live at the Barbizon (in rent-controlled apartments).  Rose wants to tell the forgotten story of these women, but needs the hook of a fatal accident more than 50 years ago, to get the interest of her editor.  She doesn’t want to exploit Darby, who just wants to be left alone,  but, in the end, that is what she does.

Rose herself undergoes a transformation – from a woman who had a successful career, and a rising politician for a boyfriend to someone who is in the process of losing her job, her home and her father. Ultimately, she comes through it all a wiser and more independent person.

Turncoat by Ryan Sullivan

Turncoat is not your traditional superhero graphic novel. Duke is a superhero assassin. He’s the world’s worst superhero assassin, a fact that is lost on him because on every contract he is sent out on, those superheroes end up dead. He’s never the one that kills them though. His partner ends up doing the killing and Duke gets the credit. (And his partner usually ends up dead as well).

The company that Duke works with keeps pairing him up with weird loser partners and also only gives his contracts to kill D-list superheroes. Who wants to be known as the assassin who killed Bug-Boy or Freedom-Fighter?! Certainly not Duke! He just wants to kill a big name superhero, somebody from the Liberty Brigade. Duke is also battling against his ex-wife, Sharon. This battle isn’t a domestic one; Sharon is also a rival assassin who just happens to be way better at killing than Duke. She keeps stealing his contracts and his money! This bothers Duke. He just can’t win.

When a contract comes through to kill the entire Liberty Brigade, Duke first thinks it’s a mistake, but then realizes that this is the best thing that could have happened to him! He will finally have the opportunity to kill the big heroes, but also to beat his ex-wife at something. Killing the members of the Liberty Brigade will also give him the motivation and the prestige to move on from his ex-wife. Chaos ensues as Duke goes after the Liberty Brigade and realizes that there are other major players behind the scenes pulling the strings. This anti-hero graphic novel was a fantastic palette cleanser from all of the traditional Marvel and DC comic books I had been reading.

Floret Flower’s Cut Flower Garden by Erin Benzakein

Happy first day of Spring! This is, by far, my favorite time of year, when the earth wakes up from it’s winter slumber and all things are new and possible. And best of all, flowers are blooming in the garden again.

There is always a surge of new gardening books published in late winter and early spring – you will find many of them on the new book shelves at the library. Gardening books tend to fall into one of two categories – practical or beautiful. Now, there’s nothing wrong with beautiful – you can find a lot of inspiration and ideas from those gorgeous pictures and who doesn’t like whiling away a winter afternoon dreaming of colorful gardens? And there’s nothing wrong with practical – these are the books that get you through the growing season. (My favorite is Barbara Damrosch’s The Garden Primer) But the fact is, there’s not always a lot of overlap. Happily, this year there’s a gardening book that is both practical and beautiful – Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden by Erin Benzakein.

If you have ever dreamed of being a flower farmer, or if you’re passionate about growing your own flowers (that’s me!), or if you simply want to grow a few flowers for your kitchen table, this book is for you. Over 170 plants are included in this book, all of which are easy to grow, some of which you may not have considered for bouquets (like vines, branches, and grasses). There is well-written practical information for each plants as well as lovely photographs (I love the use of lighting and perspective in these photos). And there are instructions for creating beautiful bouquets, arranged by season so that you can use readily available flowers from your yard or the farmers market. Erin includes “minor” flowers that are easy to grow but that you’re unlikely to find at the florist (something that I’ve been an advocate of for years) such as grape hyacinth and nasturtiums. It doesn’t take a lot of land or expensive tools to add a lot of life and beauty to your corner of the world.

I’ve long been a fan of the floret website and blog – there is an incredible amount of helpful information on the site (and, much like the book, it’s overflowing with gorgeous photography). I also enjoy the behind-the-scenes views of the job of growing flowers for a living – romantic yes but mostly lots of hard work. Much like their book, it’s the perfect combination of beautiful and practical.

OK Spring – bring it! I can’t wait!

 

 

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Looking for a new book in OverDrive, I offhandedly asked another librarian if she had heard of The Queen of the Tearling. She said she had heard of it, that it had won some awards or been on some lists and that it was supposed to be a good read. Taking that as a good enough endorsement for me to read it, I checked it out and started listening to it after work. Holy smokes! I LOVE THIS BOOK! It’s the first book in a series and I honestly can’t wait to read the rest of the books. I am hardly ever motivated enough to finish the next books in a series unless I am blown away by the first. Johansen blew my mind with the first book, so my hopes are up for the next two.

The Queen of the Tearling is a fantasy novel packed full of adventure, journeys, and self-discovery, while also telling the story of a young girl’s coming of age. Kelsea Raleigh Glynn is a young exiled princess, who, on her nineteenth birthday, is summoned back to the castle where she was born to take her rightful place on the throne. Her mother died when she was young, but before she died, she sent baby Kelsea into exile to be raised and hopefully kept out of harm’s way. Every Raleigh Queen is murdered by assassins and therefore her mother wanted to keep her safe. Rumors swirled around the young princess with some thinking her dead while others believed her to be alive and as frivolous and vain as her mother. Mysteries abound and young Kelsea must work tirelessly to secure the trust of her people.

Kelsea looks nothing like her mother and also acts nothing like her. She knows the throne is her rightful place, whether she wants it to be or not. Trained and schooled in exile, Kelsea was only privy to the information her two guardians would give her, leaving her with wide gaps in her knowledge of Tearling history and her own mother’s life. Once Kelsea finds her way to the castle and proves she is the rightful queen, her troubles begin. Her uncle has been acting as regent since her mother’s death. He wants the kingdom for himself, despite the fact that he is rather unpopular amongst both the commoners and the nobility. He has also made a rather complicated alliance with the sorcerous Red Queen in neighboring Mortmesne, something that doesn’t sit well with Kelsea and a wide variety of the Tearling people.

This apocalyptic universe has a lot going on. Kelsea, having grown up in isolation, finds herself smack dab in all the problems. She is identified as the true queen by the fact that she is marked and is wearing the Tearling sapphire around her neck, a necklace that she has been wearing since birth. The longer she wears this jewel, the more she realizes that it is more than just your traditional necklace. It has magical powers and Kelsea isn’t quite sure how it exactly works… In addition to being protected by her sapphire, Kelsea is accompanied by the Queen’s Guard, a group of knights who have sworn an oath to protect the queen. They are a dedicated selection of men who sometimes are the only thing standing between Kelsea and her enemies. This book is a treasure trove of fantasy, dark magic, journeys, adventure, and self-love. Kelsea loves books and learning, a fact that I related to well. This book was incredibly put together and kept my interest the whole time. This heroine is no damsel in distress. Kelsea may need help at times, but she will ask for it and will strive to make herself better. She may be idealistic, but given her age and sheltered life, that is to be expected. I’m hoping that the next books explain the backstory further, but other than that, The Queen of the Tearling  sets up an intriguing world that will hold your interest all the way through.


The Queen of the Tearling is also available in the following formats:


This book is the first in the trilogy. The second book is The Invasion of the Tearling and The Fate of the Tearling. (Stay tuned for reviews of those once I finish them!)

 

Online Reading Challenge – Halfway Home!

Hello Challenge Readers!

How has the month of March been treating you? Have you found a great book or movie set in Japan? For many of us (and this is a massive over-generalization), the Japanese culture can be very foreign in a way that Europe is not. Western European culture permeates our lives here – even if we have no European blood, we easily recognize and mostly understand their literature and customs (this seems especially true of Great Britain whose power and influence at one time stretched across the globe). Japan, on the other hand, was closed to foreigners, with few exceptions, for centuries and sometimes seems to be an enigma even now.

Of course, no matter our differences we are, at heart, much the same – we love our families, we know pain and joy, great tragedy and incredible luck. It’s simply the setting and the way our society teaches us to handle these truths that is different. And isn’t that why we travel and why we read about other lives? To understand our differences and to see our similarities?

I’ve read an incredibly good book for our Japan adventure – The Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton. One day Amaterasu Takahashi opens to the door of her home in the United States to a young man with hideous scars on his face and hands. He claims he is her grandson Hideo Watanabe who she believed had died when the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki in 1945, forty years ago. She is understandably skeptical and wary and also frightened – his appearance reopens a very painful part of Ama’s life, of family secrets, betrayals, regrets and loss, pain that she has shut away and is now forced to confront.

What follows is a look back at Ama’s life, her poor, desperate youth, the daughter she protected fiercely, the husband who brought her a measure of peace. When the Allies drop the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, both Ama’s daughter and grandson were within the bomb blast and though they search for days, weeks, months, Ama and her husband are unable to find anything of their beloved child and grandchild. Eventually they move to the United States and Ama is able to fairly successfully ignore the pain of the past – at least until the man claiming to be Hideo arrives.

Descriptions of the day of the bomb and its horrible aftermath are vivid but not sensationalized. And while the fact of the bomb is a shadow throughout the book, it is not an the focus of the story. It is simply an unchangeable fact, a division between the past and the future. And while this may sound like a grim, depressing novel, it is actually about finding joy and accepting happiness and learning to not just survive, but to live.

I also liked that at the beginning of each chapter a Japanese word would be defined and explained. These words usually described concepts that are uniquely Japanese values and do not translate easily to English or to Western society. Many of these concepts are rooted in the ancient history of Japan and Buddhist philosophy and are a fascinating clue to what makes Japan distinctive. This added a lot of depth and understanding to the actions of the characters. This is one of those books that you keep thinking about long after you finish. Highly recommended.

What about you? What are you reading this month?

 

 

Memory Man by David Baldacci

Memory Man by David Baldacci is the very first Baldacci book that I have ever read. His books have never caught my eye before, ie. the covers just don’t appeal to me, but I decided to give one a try. Looking through OverDrive, I found Memory Man. The premise was intriguing and seemed to be marginally similar to author Robert Galbraith’s Detective Cormoran Strike series.

Memory Man grabbed my attention with this tagline from the publisher: “A man with perfect memory…must solve his own family’s murder”. Interesting premise, right? I thought so. The idea that someone with a perfect memory would have difficulties figuring out who murdered his family had me instantly thinking about how frustrating that must be. I knew I had to read it. (And bonus: It’s the first book in a series!)

Amos Decker is a big man, not just personality wise, but size wise as well. In college, Decker played football. He was so good that he was able to go pro. Decker was the only person from his hometown of Burlington to ever go pro, a fact that everyone in town was proud of and something that Decker cherished. His life was changed because of football though. Decker’s very first pro football game, his very first play on the field, he was the victim of a violent helmet-to-helmet collision that destroyed his chances of ever playing ball again. It also left him with an extremely rare side effect: Decker never forgets anything. His mind seems to record everything.

Flash forward twenty years and Decker’s life is about to change again. Now he’s a police detective married with a young daughter. Returning from work late one night, he discovers the murdered bodies of his wife, daughter, and brother-in-law in his house. Decker is broken, his life is destroyed, and he quickly spirals out of control. He quits the police force, ends up losing his home, and finds himself living on the street. He ends up doing odd jobs as a private investigator, just enough work to provide him with a place to live in a somewhat seedy motel.

Over a year after his family’s murders, a man walks into the police station and confesses to the murders.  At the same time, Burlington is rocked by a catastrophic event that has the ability to cripple the town. Decker’s old partner comes to him seeking his help. He soon finds himself investigating his family’s murders and helping with the other police investigation. In order to get to the truth though, Decker must rely on his perfect memory, something that he has tried to manage and get control of over the years.

I really enjoyed this book. It was fast-paced, dealt with sticky subjects, and had me wondering who the bad guys were the whole time. I sometimes find thriller plots to be convoluted and even predictable, but Memory Man was a blessing. It is a thoroughly engaging, mysterious, suspenseful thriller that had me on edge until the very end.


This book is also available in the following formats:

You by Caroline Kepnes

You by Caroline Kepnes is a tale of unrelenting passion, love, and desire told through the eyes of a smitten young man. Joe Goldberg works in an East Village bookstore. His life is changed (such a cliché, I know, but just wait) the day Guinevere Beck, a young aspiring writer, walks into his bookstore. He instantly wants to be with her. Everything about her appeals to him: the way she walks, the section she visits in the store, the fact that she doesn’t check out ‘normal’ books… She’s super sexy, tough, smarter than any other woman he knows, and is drop-dead gorgeous. He has to have her.

Striking up a conversation with Beck gives Joe just enough information to see that he is perfect for her. She just doesn’t realize it yet. Joe has to find a way to convince her and to, most importantly, learn more about her so he can become her perfect boyfriend. In his quest to learn more, Joe realizes that there is more to Beck than he initially thought, that she isn’t quite as perfect as she seems to be.

Joe is obsessed with Beck and the more he gets to know her, the more he needs to be with her. Beck has her own life separate from Joe. He doesn’t want to push Beck too hard to get her to be in his life as much as he wants her to be. Joe must be clever and soon his cleverness pays off. Each becomes obsessed with the other, a situation that has the possibility to abruptly spiral out of control, to even turn deadly.

You has the haunting, thrilling, psychological messages of a good suspenseful romance. The sociopathic voyeurism and manipulation that runs rampant throughout this book had me honestly feeling a little bit paranoid. Seeing the lengths that Joe went through to learn about Beck and how sneaky Beck was made me question my social media use and whether I’m using it too much. I also questioned whether I was simply connected online too much and whether I needed to start unplugging from the internet more often. The differentiation between what we consider to be our private and our public lives, as well as the ease that those lives can be monitored by outside forces and even hacked, were all things that I thought about as I was reading this book.

This psychological thriller creeped me out. In a good way. I have read many, many thrillers from the victim’s perspective. Said books are always about their quest to find out who is stalking them or hurting them or who is leaving weird things for them. These books may also be from the point of view of family and friends who are looking for the missing person. I had never read a book from the other person’s point of view, from the point of view of the person who is completely and thoroughly obsessed. I loved and was simultaneously repulsed by this book.


This book is also available in the following format(and that’s the one I listened to it in):


The sequel to this book was released in 2016. It’s called Hidden Bodies and it continues into the exploration of Joe’s life. I’m hoping the sequel digs more into Joe’s past and gives us more of an idea of why Joe behaves the way that he does.


 

The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

Two women. One rental house in London. One eccentric landlord.

One Folgate Street in London is an unusual home. It was built by an award winning architect, Edward Monkford. The home has an open floor plan and there are no doors. The staircase is built in to the wall and there is no railing to hold on to. The decor is austere. While the home has clean lines and is in beautiful in its own way, it is not cozy. There are no rugs, pillows or photographs. But it does have state of the art technology. And this house is a rental. In fact, it is affordable. However, in order to rent this house, a person has to fill out a very lengthy application including a personality test. Very few applicants are asked to come in for an interview. And if you do live at One Folgate Street, you have to follow a large list of strict rules.

Emma is the girl before. Recently, there was a break in at her apartment while she was home. Now she does not feel safe and she wants to find a new apartment. Unfortunately, she cannot afford a lot of places that are available and she does not like the places that she can afford. Emma’s realtor shows her One Folgate Street and cautions her about the strict guidelines for living in this home. Emma is determined to make it work. She likes the security system on the home. She feels safe at One Folgate Street.

Jane is the girl that lives at One Folgate Street now. She just lost a baby girl and she is looking for a change. Like Emma, Jane cannot afford a lot of the apartments that are available. Jane finds the house at One Folgate Street calming. Jane is also determined to live there and goes through the long application answering personal questions about herself. After Jane moves in, she finds a sleeping bag in the attic. Who lived in this house before? Why were they sleeping in the attic? Jane starts investigating the previous occupant, Emma. And she finds out that Edward Monkford had a wife and child. They both died. Is there something sinister about her charming landlord?

The Girl Before is a thrilling mystery full of surprises. I could not put it down. Look for this book to be made into a motion picture with Ron Howard directing.

 

 

The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger

Do you like reading screenplays? Poetry? What about novels that aren’t written in the traditional sense? I’ve read many novels-in-verse, but the author has to really bring their A-game if I’m to be impressed with a novel-in-verse. Books written in a different way than I am used to take me a little while to get invested in and as a result, I usually avoid them. My latest listen, however, was not done in a traditional format and I loved it.

The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger was a whim of a book to listen to. I was searching through OverDrive having just finished my previous book. With none of my holds available for check-out, I honestly picked The Divorce Papers because the title sounded interesting, the cover was intriguing, and I knew it would be ripe with family drama. Had I clicked through and read the blurb provided by the publisher, I probably would have skipped reading it. I’m glad I impulse checked this audiobook out.

The Divorce Papers is not told like your traditional novel. Instead it’s told through a series of office memos, news articles, emails, legal papers, and personal correspondence. While you may think that this storytelling style leaves readers with the task of filling in much of the plot, you would be sadly mistaken. Each section is so detailed that while there may be gaps in dates, there are no gaps in plot and detail. You also benefit from a very precise timeline since everything in the book is dated. I greatly enjoyed that.

This book is the story of a messy divorce of two very high-profile members of a close-knit community. Sophie Diehl, a twenty-nine-year-old criminal law associate at a New England law firm has been dragged into doing her very first civil lawsuit. She was asked to do the intake interview for Mia Meiklejohn Durkheim, the daughter of her firm’s most important client. The only reason Sophie was asked to do the intake interview was because the partner who would have handled it was out of town. Having been promised by her boss that she would only have to do the intake interview and nothing more, Sophie went on with her regular criminal law work.

Nothing is ever quite that simple. Mia requests Sophie to be her lawyer, a request that the partners can’t turn down because she is the daughter of such an important client. Mia is a Mayflower descendant whose father runs a company and whose mother was an heiress. She was served with divorce papers at a popular local restaurant by her husband, Dr. Daniel Durkheim, Chief of the Department of Pediatric Oncology. This will be Daniel’s second divorce, Mia’s first, and Sophie’s first one to handle as well. Despite that fact, Mia is insistent that Sophie be the one to handle her divorce. What follows is a tense battle between Mia and Daniel for custody of their 10-year-old daughter Jane, for control of their assets, for alimony/child support, and a myriad of other issues that pop up in a divorce. While Sophie is handling Mia’s divorce, other letters, emails, and office memos show how this divorce is affecting her specifically. Readers get a look into her relationships with her work colleagues, her family, her friends, and her lovers.

To be honest, my mind faded out through some sections when the narrator read the legal papers. If I want to read this book again, I will definitely pick up a physical copy. Because this book deals with a divorce, there are many sections talking about alimony and the division of assets, aka lots of numbers. Luckily each section of legal documents was usually followed by a personal letter or email that broke down the dense talking into something I actually understood. Don’t let the lawyer talk throw you off reading or listening to this book though. The storyline and interpersonal relationships more than make up for the lawyer speak. I greatly enjoyed this book, more than I expected.


This book is also available in the following formats: