cruisingthroughthelouvreAre you someone who enjoys art? Or maybe you are one of those who feels like you don’t know much about art, but would be interested to learn more if your interest was piqued in just the right way. Consider yourself piqued.

I think you may enjoy taking a vicarious walk through one of the world’s most famous museums. Notwithstanding the hour of the day (past museum hours? no problem!) or the number of miles between you right now and the Louvre in Paris, you can do just that by reading the book Cruising Through the Louvre by David Prudhomme.

The book is a vehicle that, while telling a brief but entertaining story about human behavior in relation to art in graphic novel form, highlights just some of the 70,000 works of art in the Louvre. You can even catch your glimpse of them without having to pay admission (library cards are free, after all!) or navigate through any of the 8.8 million annual visitors. Although, if you like people-watching that may be the best part of all. Fortunately, Prudhomme recognizes that and manages to create characters arguably as interesting as the works of art they visit.

Sound like a good deal? Then I implore you to check this book out! When you read it please tell me what you think of the ending. It has a strange twist that I think lends itself to multiple interpretations.

the crimson fieldIn The Crimson Field, viewers are introduced to the daily lives of doctors and nurses in a tented field hospital right on the front lines of France during World War I. Right at the start, you are introduced to three volunteer nurses, Kathleen, Rosalie, and Flora as they make their way to a field hospital on the coast of France close to the front lines of fighting. At this field hospital, they are the very first volunteer nurses; a fact that rankles the established medical team already in place. Kitty, Rosalie, and Flora must find ways to deal with the new world that they have been thrust into where they quickly realize that the training that they have received is nowhere near adequate for the job they must do. With their addition to camp, everyone’s lives start to shift and clashes quickly crop up between the way that things have always been done, the hierarchal structure within the camp, and a new way of thinking. While the girls quickly find out that they are underprepared for this new way of life, they also discover that they, just like the others around them, are able to use this as a new start and to break away from everything that held them back in their hometowns.

PBS and the BBC have found ways to make interesting a subject that would have been dreadful to read about in a history textbook. By illuminating such topics as World War I, the day-to-day life of people in front-line field hospitals, and the tensions between the Allied and the Central Powers, viewers realize just how tumultuous life was during World War I and how people had to be aware of even their smallest actions. This PBS television show has a unique way of pulling people into the lives of the characters while simultaneously making the events that they are going through a wide and layered character unto itself.

nightingaleAfter their mother dies and their father virtually abandons them, Vianne and Isabelle must learn to forge their own way. Vianne marries and starts a family in an idyllic country setting outside of Paris while Isabelle becomes rebellious, expelled from one boarding school after another. When the Germans occupy Paris in 1939, Isabelle is sent to live with her sister but the horrifying experiences of escaping with other refugees opens Isabelle’s eyes to the pain and suffering the war will bring.

The changes brought by the Germans are inexorable – the men are sent away to prison camps, food is rationed, soldiers are billeted in private homes, valuables ruthlessly taken, Jews and other “subversives” are persecuted then transferred to prison camps. Vianne, in the countryside, desperately walks a line between loyalty to her friends and neighbors while remaining unseen by the occupying soldiers. Isabelle joins the French Underground and risks her life again and again in an effort to make a difference. Their stories intertwine as they struggle to survive and protect those they love.

There are a lot – a lot – of books about World War II both fiction and non-fiction. It’s one of the most popular subject areas at the library. And while most of us learned the basic facts about the war from school and history books – dates, countries, famous battles – the stories of what it was like to actually live through the war are slowly disappearing as that generation ages and passes away. The Nightingale may be a dramatic, fictional account of living in war torn France, but the messages it sends are very real – remember for those that no longer can. What they did to survive, to change the course of events, whether big or small, mattered. We should not forget.

french market cookbookCook from the farmer’s market with inspired vegetarian recipes – many of which are gluten-free and dairy-free – with a French twist, all highlighting seasonal produce.

Beloved Chocolate and Zucchini food blogger Clotilde Dusoulier is not a vegetarian. But she has, like many of us, chosen to eat less meat and fish, and is always looking for new ways to cook what looks best at the market. In The French Market Cookbook, she takes us through the seasons in 82 recipes and explores the love story between French cuisine and vegetables. Choosing what’s ripe and in season means Clotilde does not rely heavily on the cheese, cream, and pastas that often overpopulate vegetarian recipes. Instead she lets the bright flavors of the vegetables shine through: carrots are lightly spiced with star anise and vanilla in a soup made with almond milk; tomatoes are jazzed up by mustard in a gorgeous tart; winter squash stars in golden Corsican turnovers; and luscious peaches bake in a cardamom-scented custard. With 75 color photographs of the tempting dishes and the abundant markets of Paris, and with Clotilde’s charming stories of shopping and cooking in France, The French Market Cookbook is a transportive and beautiful cookbook for food lovers everywhere. (description from publisher)

code name verityThe less said about the plot of Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, the better. “Careless talk costs lives,” say our heroines, and in a tightly plotted and breathlessly suspenseful book like this, you won’t doubt it. Verity is a prisoner of the Gestapo in occupied France, writing out her confession. Maddie, a young woman pilot, is a part of that confession. As Verity writes, she confronts and examines her beliefs and her fears.

And that’s about all I can tell you.

I am not (usually) a lover of war stories or YA novels, but this one is just too good to miss. The characters are vivid, the plotting is superb, and the immersion in wartime Europe is complete. I loved reading about women in war – active, brave, brilliant women – instead of men. It’s more than a story of torture and war and espionage: it’s about life-changing friendship, love, incredible bravery, and the difficult choices we face (whether our lives are ordinary or extraordinary). Everything about this book was refreshing, surprising, exhilarating, and beautiful (even when it was terrifying). I wanted to reread it as soon as I turned the last page!

There is something about the season of Autumn that makes me want to climb into a cave and paint pictures, you know? Maybe I’m feeling some ancient human safety feature that is trying to get me settled in a warm place before winter arrives. Or maybe I just think hermits and bats are cool. Most likely it is because I have seen the magical documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams: Humanity’s Lost Masterpiece, a Film by Werner Herzog on the fascinating Chauvet Cave paintings.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams is the perfect mix of history, science and art that leaves the viewer feeling an intense awareness of humanity and our connections through time. The Chauvet Cave paintings were discovered in southern France in 1994 and many are believed to have been created over 30,000 years ago. Due to the conservation problems facing the nearby Lascaux cave paintings, the Chauvet caves have been locked down with authorities only giving very limited access to scientists and art historians. Herzog shot the film with only a 4-person crew who had to use all their equipment while standing single-file on the limited, narrow walkways and with very small allotments of time. Although this prevented any grandiose, unobstructed scenes or any carefully angled close-up shots, the moving shadows and uneven light give the paintings an unnerving movement similar to what we can imagine they would look like when lit by a torch thousands of years ago.

Surprisingly, the ancient paintings are not the only fascinating subjects of Herzog’s documentary. He also features many of the cave scientists and their varied research projects related to Chauvet. For example, by studying the animals portrayed in the cave paintings, a group of scientists now believe that the ancestors to modern lions did not have manes. The scientists themselves range from former circus performers to a perfume designer who actually SNIFFS OUT CAVES! Herzog manages to celebrate the modern technology used in the cave projects without losing the ancient hum surrounding Chauvet.

I highly recommend this film to anyone interested in documentaries about the humanities or those who like films that leave them feeling a little mysterious and a little bit magical afterwards.

Anna is happy in Atlanta where she lives with her mother and little brother – looking forward to her senior year of high school,  hanging out with her best friend and working at the local movie theater with her could-be boyfriend. All that changes when her father decides that she should spend her senior year at a boarding school in Paris and no amount of pleading will change his mind.

Paris, of course, turns out to be not such a bad idea – she soon makes friends, starts exploring the city and works on her dream of becoming a film critic. And she meets Etienne St Clair, he of the beautiful hair and charming personality. But wait – he has a girlfriend and what about her crush back home in Atlanta? Will they just be friends, or something more?

Anna and the French Kiss follows Anna through the year, from her first nervous days to her blossoming confidence and growing circle of friends. At first, it’s a little hard to sympathize with Anna – forced to live in Paris! I should have such problems! But her initial loneliness and homesickness are universal emotions and her courage to overcome them soon have you rooting for her. She’s smart and funny and determined – exactly the kind of person you’d like to have as a friend.

While Anna and the French Kiss is light and funny, it’s also well-written and sharp, with a diverse cast of characters and realistic emotions. The opening chapters, when Anna is still learning about her new city, are actually a good introduction to Paris and Parisian culture; the visit to Pere Lachaise Cemetery is especially funny and educational. It’s the perfect combination – great city, great characters, great fun.


The bestselling author of Sarah’s Key, Tatina de Rosnay, has written another winner.  A Secret Kept literally keeps the reader in suspense, wondering if the secret will ever be totally revealed.

Antoine takes his sister Melanie on a 40th birthday trip to  Noirmoutier Island, a lovely place where they had spent several enjoyable summers as children.   But something about the island also brings back troubling memories for Melanie.  On the return trip home, just as Melanie is about to reveal her fears to Antoine, she loses control of the car.  The book opens with Antoine waiting anxiously in a hospital waiting room, wondering if Melanie will even survive.

Antoine finds himself confronting not only his past, but his present family relationships as well.  Unhappy since his divorce just a year ago, he has difficulty communicating with his children and he has always felt distanced from his father.  He senses the secret revolves around his mother, and he wonders about her sudden death so many years ago.

I really enjoyed this book.  The tension is kept sufficiently tight, and the character development, realistic.  Plus, if you’re a francophile, you’ll appreciate some of the many French references! Incidentally, the author was recently named one of the top ten fiction writers in Europe.

Peter Mayle and his wife buy an old stone house in the Luberon – a relatively remote and mountainous area of southern France.  A Year in Provence is the monthly chronicle of their renovation of the farmhouse. They suffer through the trials of home destruction and construction, all the while baffled by the Provencal dialect.

In the process, they come to know their neighbors (farmers, restaurateurs, craftsmen) and the regional cuisine. Mayle is an enthusiastic consumer of food and drink, and devotes large portions of the book to memorable lunches, restaurants and holidays. The best way to read this book is while eating something decadent – Mayle is not one to worry about calories. He joins wholeheartedly in the local passions for mushrooms, wild game and the powerful, locally-made brandy.

Mayle was one of the first to write this type of foreigner-buying-a-rundown-property-and-discovering-the-simple-things-life memoir. He stands out as well for his humor and sense of the ridiculous, not taking himself or anyone else too seriously.

And so it begins – the time of year when, at every opportunity, we find an excuse to eat something special and delicious, a time also known as “the holidays”. (If you’re really serious about this, you start at Halloween and extend it at least until Super Bowl Sunday, maybe Valentine’s Day!) Food is often a popular theme of many books and movies, from Julie and Julia to Like Water for Chocolate. This week our blogging librarians clue us into some of their favorites. Lexie gets us started with a movie that’s sure to become a classic.

Not only are the holidays a great time for food, they’re also a great time for family togetherness.  In that spirit, I  highly recommend the Disney/Pixar movie Ratatouille.  It tells the story of a rat named Remy who loves food and coming up with new concoctions made from whatever he can find lying around.  When he stumbles into his cooking idol’s restaurant, he strikes up an unusual friendship with the garbage boy, and together the two cook up amazing creations and bring the vitality back to the failing restaurant.

I might be an adult, but Pixar can still do no wrong in my eyes.  You definitely don’t have to be a kid to enjoy this movie.  It’s really an inspirational story about achieving your goals despite your shortcomings and the things that stand in your way.  It’s got comedy, a little romance, and….well, a rat cooking, which sounds gross but is done in such a cute way that I don’t mind.  As long as it’s not happening in any restaurant I eat in, of course.