Saturday, July 30, 2011
In Chicago in 1920, Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness - until she meets Ernest Hemingway and finds herself captivated by his good looks, intensity, and passionate desire to write. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group of expatriates that includes, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
But the hard-drinking and fast-living cafe life does not celebrate traditional notions of family and monogamy. As Hadley struggles with jealousy and self-doubt and Ernest wrestles with his burgeoning writing career, they must confront a deception that could prove the undoing of one of the greatest romances in literary history.
I LOVED THIS BOOK!! It is beyond fantastic!! This is now my favorite read of 2011! I'll admit I was hesitant to read this book because of the wonderful reviews it had received and I worried that I would be disappointed - how wrong was I? This book most definitely lived up to all the praise it has been getting from book bloggers, critics and anyone else who has read it. It is mesmerizing and unforgettable!
McLain has written an unputdownable story about Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley Richardson - dubbed the Paris wife, because of the fact that the couple lived in Paris during the 1920s. We get to read all about the first time they meet to the letters they write one another during their courtship. Richardson is older and a bit reserved, whilst Hemingway is young and carefree. And he is passionate about his writing - it is who he is. Without his work, Hemingway feels rather empty. And it definitely doesn't help that they happen to befriend some of literature's most renowned figures, like Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Mind you, they are also just starting to make names for themselves.
I should note, that though this book is about Hadley ( whom I loved reading about ), I found myself much more interested in Hemingway's character. I loved reading about how his short story collections came about and how hard he worked on The Sun Also Rises (my favorite Hemingway book). And I'll admit that I hated Hadley for a split second when she lost all of Tatie's (they were big on nicknames for one another) work on a train - how could she leave the bag unattended and not think someone might steal the bag (thieves do exist!)? why did she even think to stuff all of his writings in one bag and take it with her to begin with? - I did forgive her, eventually. And there are other times that I'm disappointed with her decisions, but I realize that she was just trying to figure out how to make the best of some truly bad situations (absent husband, infidelity, betrayal).
This is a book that leaves you wanting more - more of McLain's work and most definitely more of Hemingway's. You want to devour his writings and try to make sense of this damaged man who could be so cruel to his loved ones and yet be able to produce such amazing stories. Its hard to remember that though you are reading about real life people, you are in fact reading a fictionalized version of them and their life story. Or at least it was hard for me. Either way you will not be disappointed with this fantastic novel. It is worthwhile read for all fans of literary fiction (and fans of Hemingway).
By the by, this was my final read for the Paris in July Challenge. I was a bit late to the game, but I've definitely enjoyed participating. Thanks to BookBath and Thyme for Tea! Looking forward to next year's Paris in July Challenge!! And now, I'm off to listen to some Tiersen. Adieu!
Friday, July 29, 2011
From back of book:
In Paris for a weekend visit, Elizabeth Bard sat down to lunch with a handsome Frenchman - and never went home again.
Was it love at first sight? Or was it the way her knife slid effortlessly through her pave au poivre, the steak's pink juices puddling into the buttery pepper sauce?
Lunch in Paris is the story of a young woman caught up in two passionate affairs - one with her new beau, Gwendal, the other with French cuisine. Plunging headlong into the most romantic of cities, Bard encounters bustling open-air markets, hipster bistros, and size-two femme fatales. She learns to gut her first fish (with a little help from Jane Austen) and soothe pangs of homesickness (with the rise of a chocolate souffle). The deeper Bard immerses herself in French cuisine, the more Paris itself begins to translate.
An American in Paris falls in love with a Frenchman and soon enough finds herself relocating to the City of Light - how could I not read this book? From the beginning I was caught up in Elizabeth's world of falling in love and moving to Paris, a city that is both foreign and new to her. A city that will cause her to struggle, not only with the language, food and culture, but also her sense of self. Once married to Gwendal, Elizabeth finds herself falling into the role of the so-called traditional, dutiful wife - keeping house, cooking, and taking care of her husband and his family (her new family). Whatever goals she had with regards to her career fall to the wayside and she soon finds herself riddled with insecurities and fears. As her husband, friends and family find success and happiness, Elizabeth's floundering catches their attention and they begin to worry about her. They try talking to her about what it is she wants to be doing with her life, but unable to discuss these issues aloud, Elizabeth retreats into her cooking and role of caretaker. Eventually though she does acknowledge the fact that her life is in a rut, far from where she had planned on being (professionally) and so she sets out to change her life in ways that will not only help to maker her happy, but also fulfilled.
Filled with recipes and good writing, Lunch in Paris is definitely a great memoir to read. It provides a look at Paris through the eyes of a newbie - someone who is slowly discovering the city bit by bit. Someone who makes mistakes when ordering fruit and veg at the market, someone who learns that simple ingredients can make a delicious meal and also that asking for seconds is a definite no-no. We get to read about all the wonderful delights the city has to offer, along with all the negatives that leave one feeling rather deflated and confused. There are descriptions of love, marriage, family, death and depression. And each chapter ends with recipes, which I actually found to be rather nice. After all, who doesn't need a few new recipes to add to their cooking repertoire, right? I suppose in a way, this book definitely leaves you with a lot of food for thought. Ha ha ha! I know, lame joke.
Anyhow, I must admit that when I first picked up the book I thought it was going to be all about the romance of being in love in Paris, but the more I read, the more I realized it was about so much more. Elizabeth Bard has written a delightfully, engaging book that I would recommend to anyone interested in reading memoirs, or books about France and food. This has definitely been the perfect read for the Paris in July Challenge 2011 - it had Paris, love, sadness and food ( all the makings for a very good read ).
Thursday, July 28, 2011
A devotee of Stendhal who has shunned the company of his fellow human beings to live on the outskirts of a tiny village in Savoy is kidnapped and left for dead along a forest road. A middle-aged mother who spends much of her time shuttling her numerous offspring along twisting mountain roads loses control of her car and ends up injured but alive in a gorge. Meanwhile, an elderly man of unbreakable habits is taunted and threatened by two unknown men while on his morning walk along the cliffs of Brittany. Mystery abounds but A Novel Bookstore is no everyday mystery. The victims here are not members of the underworld, toughs or thugs, but mild, meek and apparently ordinary people. In the eyes of their aggressors, they are guilty of only one crime: expressing their tastes in literature.
Indeed, all three victims are members of The Good Novel's secret selection committee. Tucked away in a corner of Paris, The Good Novel bookstore offers its clientele literary masterpieces, both contemporary and classic, selected by a top-secret committee of authors. The store has proven an instant success, but nobody could have imagined that such success would unleash a tide of hatred. Now, there are those who will stop at nothing to destroy The Good Novel. One by one, the pieces of this puzzle fall ominously into place, as it becomes clear to the store's owners, Ivan and Francesca, that their dreams of an ideal place for books may be shattered by envy and violence.
I liked this book. It was a solid read that held my attention throughout, except for the few times that I found myself skimming the pages to skip ahead. I think what I enjoyed most about the book was that it provided me with a list of new books to add to my current TBR list - talk about a never ending list! As far as the story goes, it was pretty interesting. Who wouldn't want to read a book about a bookstore that only sells good novels? Isn't that every bibliophile's dream - to open a bookstore just like that? Of course this leads to two big questions: What makes a novel 'good'? and Who decides which novels are 'good'? Both questions are repeatedly addressed throughout the novel, so we definitely get a feel for what everyone is thinking. In fact, its really interesting to find out which authors make the cut, and even more interesting to find out which ones don't.
As for the store itself, we do eventually learn about how it came to be. We learn about Francesca and Ivan, the owners of The Good Novel (the bookstore in question). And we learn about the secret selection committee that is comprised of eight authors who will be in charge of selecting which novels the bookstore should sell. We read about the immediate success of The Good Novel and how excited everyone seems to be that such a book shop finally exists. Of course, we also find out about all the negative campaigning against the bookstore. There are articles in the paper and comments on the radio that are aimed at ridiculing and harassing the owners of The Good Novel and this concept of a good novel. However, these attacks are tame in comparison to the ones the secret selection committee receives. They are subjected to much worse - from being kidnapped to getting in a car wreck.
Now, I don't want to give away anything else about the book, like, who is narrating the story - which surprisingly once revealed left me feeling rather deflated. And I don't want to give away any information about the unrequited love storyline that leads to the unraveling of a woman; or even the fact that we learn about the history of The Good Novel bookstore at a police precinct. None of these events provided the proper punch that I felt they intended to make. Instead they just left me feeling slightly disappointed.
Overall, I did enjoy this book. The writing was great and the idea for the story was fun. The characters really were characters and I found myself taking a liking to them. As for the story itself, though it was flawed and not as mysterious as I had hoped, it still was a great book to read. Definitely a perfect pick for the Paris in July Challenge!
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Forced by illness to leave behind a successful life as a writer in New York, Flannery O'Connor has returned to her family farm in Milledgeville, Georgia. She desires a quiet, solitary existence, but her mother, Regina, insists that she engage with the life of their small town, and she drags Flannery to the wedding of a family friend.
Cookie Himmel embodies every facet of Southern womanhood that Flannery lacks: she is revered for her beauty and grace; she is at the helm of every ladies' organization in town; and she has returned from her time in Manhattan with a rich fiance, Melvin Whiteson. Melvin has come to Milledgeville to begin a new chapter in his life, but meeting Flannery pushes him further than he ever imagined. She knocks down the suppositions on which his life is built, until the whole house of cards threatens to collapse.
Melvin is not the only person in Milledgeville who feels that life is passing him by. Lona Waters, the dutiful wife of a local policeman, is hired by Cookie to help create a perfect home - a stark contrast to the unhappiness in her own. When Lona is offered an opportunity to remember what it feels like to be truly alive, she seizes it with both hands, regardless of the consequences.
In the aftermath of one tragic afternoon, these ordinary and extraordinary people are forced to take a good, hard look at the choices they have made.
I loved this book! When I first picked it up to read, I wasn't sure what I was in for. Let me just say I was beyond pleasantly surprised. Napolitano has written an excellent book about a small town filled with quirky, but very real characters. Oh, and she's included the author, Flannery O' Connor and her posse of peacocks as one these unforgettable characters. Yes, Napolitano has taken someone real, a famed author in fact, and embedded them into the story so well, that you easily forget how real Flannery was -in spite of the mention of her books and writing and fame. Now I've never read much Flannery, so to me, everything mentioned in the book in relation to her was new to me - which I felt helped me take the story in so easily. Also, I loved the idea that I was reading this fiction book based on an actual person - it just made the whole story feel so real.
Told in a variety of perspectives, each chapter provides a look into the various lives of these residents of Milledgeville, GA. You find yourself connecting with their struggles, sorrows, bouts of insecurity and rare instances of happiness and peace. All they want is confirmation that they are on the right path and that the choices they've made in life have been the right ones. These people want to be happy, which makes it so easy to empathize with them, because at the end of the day, all anyone wants is to be happy in life. As for the town itself, well, its reminiscent of those quaint little towns you see depicted in movies like Steel Magnolias - the kind where everyone knows everyone's business. I love reading about those types of towns - they are just special and rare. And the pace of the story is perfect - its slow and steady at first, then quickly picks up speed as the tension builds and soon enough you are caught up in these lives that are moving on a track that gets completely derailed when tragedy strikes and everything goes wrong. Its captivating how Napolitano handles these tragic events and the new paths she steers our dear friends, Melvin, Cookie, Flannery and Lona toward. Talk about unputdownable reading!
I know I didn't go into detail about the story lines or the characters themselves, but that is because I want you to read this book for yourself. I want you to get lost in this truly wonderful novel that Napolitano has created. It is such a compelling story filled with unhappy marriages, illness, peacocks, unlikely friendships and so much more. In fact, it does make one wonder about their own life and the choices they've made. This is definitely a story that will stay with you long after the last page has been turned. It is a must read for anyone interested in reading a good piece of literature.
Thank you to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for providing me with a copy of the book.
Monday, July 11, 2011
From back of book:
Attempting to rise above the secrets of her past, Bolanle, a university graduate, marries Baba Segi, who promises her everything in exchange for agreeing to become his fourth wife. Thus she enters into a polygamous world filled with expensive clothes, a generous monthly allowance...and three Segi wives who disapprove of the newest, youngest, most educated addition to the family. There's Iya Femi, a fiery vixen with a taste for money; Iya Tope, a shy woman whose kindness is eclipsed by terror; and Iya Segi, the first, most lethal, and merciless of them all.
Bolanle quickly becomes Baba Segi's prized possession...until her very presence unlocks a secret that the other wives have long since guarded, and unleashing it could change life as they know it.
I liked this book. The writing was solid, the characters were engaging and the story itself was interesting to read. However, the secret that gets revealed at the end was rather obvious long before the end, so throughout the book you are left wondering why its taking so long for anyone to figure out this secret. As for all the sex, I suppose I expected it, because we are discussing a polygamist family and sex is definitely a huge part of it - days are divided amongst the wives and they are aware of which wife gets an extra day. Plus, Baba Segi expects his wives to bear his children, so when Bolanle enters the picture and she is unable to become pregnant, that definitely brings up many questions regarding sex and fertility issues. There is also a long established pecking order within the household amongst the wives that Bolanle must adhere to, or else she will be verbally or physically attacked. For example, as the newest wife who has yet to produce any children, Bolanle is not allowed to sit on an armchair in the living room, so when she is given one to sit on next to Baba Segi, the other wives make sure to put an end to that privilege ASAP! They also make sure that their children ignore Bolanle when she enters a room or speaks to them. These women are determined to find a way to have Bolanle thrown out of the house. They use a variety of tactics - lies, voodoo accusations, poison and pure hostility. Bolanle is hurt and confused by these women's behaviours toward her, when all she has done is be nice to them and their children, offer to help around the house, and teach them all to read. Baba Segi appears to ignore all of this drama, as he is only concerned with the fact that Bolanle has yet to become impregnated. Doctors are visited and tests are taken and the result is one that will leave a household forever changed.
Through Shoneyin's rich and engaging writing we are able to learn about all four wives and the ways in which their lives have all led them toward a polygamist family lifestyle. We also learn about Baba Segi and how he has created a career that allows for him to live so comfortably and provide for such a huge household. All of these stories are told in such vivid imagery and distinct voices, that you can't help but become immersed in what you are reading. Yes, I know that guessing the secret early on does take away the element of surprise from the story, but it doesn't really ruin anything else. You are still eager to find out how everything will be resolved and what will happen to Bolanle and the other wives.
Shoneyin has written a very good book that I would glady recommend to anyone to read. Its a book that allows you a peek into a lifestyle and country that you may not be familiar with. And its a book filled with characters that you will not forget. This is a book that will hold your attention and leave you wanting more.
Thank you to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for providing me with a copy of the book.
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
From back of book:
The friendship between the Coleman and Shepherd families is as old and comfortable as the neighboring houses they occupy each summer on Cape Cod. Samuel and Sarah Coleman love those warm months by the water; the evenings spent on their porch, enjoying gin and tonics, good conversation and homemade clam chowder. Here they've watched their sons, Isaac and Asa, grow into fine young men, and watched, too, as Nate Shepherd, aching with grief at the loss of his first wife, finally found love again with the much younger Noelle.
But beyond the surface of these idyllic gatherings, the growing attraction between Noelle and handsome, college-bound Asa threatens to upend everything. In spite of her guilt and misgivings, Noelle is drawn into a reckless secret affair with far-reaching consequences. And over the course of one bittersweet, unforgettable summer, Asa will learn more than he ever expected about love - the joys and heartache it awakens in us, the lengths we'll go to keep it, and the countless ways it can change our lives forever...
When I first saw this book I thought it would be a nice summer read - a light chick lit type of book. And I was right about it being a light read, however it bordered more toward the Christian lit genre than chick lit. I wasn't expecting to read a book peppered with religion throughout, which is pretty much what I got. Now, I'm not one to read Christian lit normally, so I'll admit that my opinion about this book may be skewed - nonetheless, here goes.
This is a book about infidelity and the ways in which it impacts lives. Asa has known Uncle Nate forever and has grown fond of his wife, Noelle (she's fifteen years younger than Nate and is his second wife - Annie, his first wife passed away years ago). Except, this fondness is starting to turn into lust and well, you can imagine where that takes the story. Noelle kisses Asa (she tells him they are just friends) + Asa can't get Noelle out of his head = an affair is born. Hearts are broken and a baby is born. Oh, and there is a death, which I'm sure is supposed to tug at your heart strings, but it just made me roll my eyes. Why did I roll my eyes? Because I knew who was going to die and what would happen afterward - it was so obvious! I hate when you already know what is going to happen before it happens - it makes for a boring read.
I admit it - I didn't really care for the book. The writing was good, but it didn't really hold my attention. I pretty much read the book in one sitting and found that I was happy when it was finally over. I just felt that the story lacked personality and the characters were cliched. In fact the plot was so unoriginal that I felt like I was re-reading a story. The only things I did like were the book cover (I love hydrangeas) and the bits and bobs that mentioned To Kill A Mockingbird and A Separate Peace - that's pretty much it. This is not a book I will remember.
Just wanted to say thanks to Wallace for letting me participate in her first ever Early Readers Group read with this book!
Sunday, July 3, 2011
Years ago, Marina Singh traded the hard decisions and intensity of medical practice for the quieter world of research at a pharmaceutical company, a choice that has haunted her life. Enveloping herself in safety, limiting emotional risk, she shares a quiet intimacy with her widowed older boss, Mr. Fox, and a warm friendship with her colleague Anders Eckman. But Marina's security is shaken when she learns that Anders, sent to the Amazon to check on a field team, is dead - and Mr. Fox wants her to go into the jungle to discover what happened.
Plagued by trepidation, Marina embarks on an odyssey into the unknown, down into the Amazonian delta, deep into the dense, insect-infested jungle, to find answers from the company's research team. Led by the formidable Dr. Annick Swenson, the scientists are looking into the development of a new drug that could have a profound impact on Western society. But the team has been silent for two years, and Dr. Swenson does not like interlopers inserting themselves into her work, as Marina well knows. The eminent and fiercely uncompromising doctor was once her mentor, the woman she admired, emulated, and feared. To fulfill her mission, Marina must confront the ghosts of her past, as well as unfulfilled dreams and expectations - on a journey that will force her to make painful moral choices and take her to the depths of her own heart of darkness.
Finally! I now know what all the fuss is about when it comes to Ann Patchett. She is an excellent writer! Her way with words is amazing - she can weave a story and transport you to a different place with such ease, that you truly feel as if you are trekking through the Amazon jungle. And, she creates characters that leave you gasping in exasperation or cringing in disgust - characters that are real and flawed. In fact, take note of the title, State of Wonder, because that is how you are left feeling when you finish the book. I was left in a state of wonder, for two reasons: I was awed by Patchett's writing (I need to read Bel Canto and Run ASAP!) and confused by the bad ending she wrote for this otherwise terrific book. Weird, eh? To enjoy a book with such a bad ending. Well, I guess I'm weird.
Now, I'm not really going to discuss the book at length, because I do believe you should experience it for yourself and become immersed in this world that is dark, filled with secrets, and teeming with life. All you really need to know is that it is a gripping read about a woman named Marina who has gone to the Amazon jungle in search of information regarding the death of her dear friend and colleague, Anders Eckman. Through this journey Marina is forced to confront her past and present fears that have held her back literally and figuratively. We are able to see the transformation Marina undergoes and find ourselves rooting for her to succeed. Unfortunately, the ending comes along and pretty much mucks everything up. Nothing makes any sense with the characters or story - its as if Patchett grew tired of the story and just wanted it to end. Regardless of the disappointing ending, I was still thinking about Marina and the Amazon jungle for days afterward. And I always think that when a book haunts you for days afterward, its a sign of how good the book was. So, Patchett's was definitely a good book.
I would recommend this one to anyone and everyone interested in a good characer driven story set in the Amazon jungle. You will be amazed with the story and wonder why you've never read any of Patchett's works before now. Or at least, that's how I felt. So, enjoy!! Happy Reading!!
Thank you to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for providing me with a copy of the book.
Friday, July 1, 2011
Paris in July 2011 begins today! Here are the books that I'm considering reading:
And here is the music I'll be humming along to: Yann Tiersen
and my trusty Putumayo cds