Saturday, July 23, 2016

Review: Pancakes in Paris by Craig Carlson

I enjoyed this memoir about an American who decided to start an American diner in Paris. It's well written and entertaining. He explains the process of how he first got the idea and then followed through, as well as the struggles of trying to run a business in Paris. I never knew all the details about their laws, and I found that interesting.

As someone who has been to Paris several times, I can't imagine craving American food while there. I sort of love the idea of a croissant and coffee for breakfast. However, I could imagine wanting to stop by later in the day, because I'm not a big fan of big fancy dinners. In Paris I sort of binge on baguettes and pastries. But maybe I'll visit one of these diners next time I visit Paris.

As someone who has always wanted to move to France, this makes me a bit hesitant of the process. I at least know I don't want to open up my own business.

Anyway, sounds like the author has been quite successful with his business, opening up several locations in the city.

I liked the book, provided an interesting perspective of life in Paris for a business owner.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Review: City of Darkness, City of Light by Marge Piercy

During a recent trip to Paris, I took a French Revolution walking tour. ( - highly recommend them, great way to learn more about the city's history.) Before this tour, my knowledge of the French Revolution was fairly limited. Oh, I knew all about Marie Antoinette and the guillotine and I'd visited the Conciergerie and Versailles on previous visits and learned a bit then. But to me, I had this grand idea that it was simply about the people of France deciding they wanted to rule themselves, and so they got rid of the royalty and lived happily ever after, or something like that. All very noble and patriotic and Les Mis (and yes, I know Les Miserables is not actually about the French Revolution, but rather an event that happened later.) Anyway, during the tour, we learned a bit about Danton and Condorcet and Marat, saw the cafes places where they met and plotted their moves, as well as where Marat died and was put on display in a bathtub. I learned enough to make me want to know much more.

Lucky me, I was recently sent a copy of Marge Piercy's City of Darkness, City of Light. I'd hoped to read it before my trip to France, but I hadn't gotten around to it. I'd been back from Paris for a week, and missing the city, I was reading only books set in Paris. With Bastille Day approaching, this book seemed like the perfect choice.

This book took over my life. I couldn't stand to put it down. I read it in the morning while on the treadmill and at night before I went to sleep, I carried my kindle with me everywhere, fitting in a chapter or two every chance I had. If I wasn't reading this book, I was thinking about it. When I slept, I was dreaming about it. And though I've been trying to ignore the news lately, it's nearly impossible and I kept finding myself comparing and contrasting the current state of politics with what was happening in France after 1789.

This book focuses on several different characters who played important roles in the Revolution. They have different backgrounds, different interests and different reasons for being drawn to the fight. For some it's ideology and for others, survival and practicality. The author does an excellent job of presenting these figures as very real people, people who have friends and family and lovers. Yes, they want to overthrow the monarchy, but they also want to be able to go to a nice home at the end of the day, or meet up with friends for conversation and a few drinks in the evening, and spend some quality time with their loved ones. We see these characters' lives get caught up in the Revolution, affecting their home and work lives, forcing them to make decisions they never thought they'd have to make. They all entered into this with seemingly good intentions, but the Revolution took on a life of its own. Eventually these people who thought they were saving their country find themselves victims of their own creation.

The book is written in such a way that the events are felt at a very personal level. You hurt for these characters as their lives begin to fall apart, heroes become the hunted as political power changes hands and all the things for which they fought and believed ends up being the ruin of many of these people.

What I especially liked about this book was the focus on the women involved in the Revolution. The women, desperate to feed their families, provided much of the initial fuel behind the Revolution. But as the movement gained momentum, as often happens, the men took over and suggested the women stay home and take care of their families. For a while though, they had some power and they created some much needed change - expanding rights for women that they had been previously denied. But revolutions are messy and sacrifices are made, leaving many wondering if their efforts had been in vain.

I liked this book so much. When I finished it though, I felt a bit lost. I'd become so engrossed in it for the past few days and then... over. Done. And my kindle was saying I had a half hour left in the book - but it turned out to just be a list of characters. (Which would be very useful had I realized it was there, probably says so at the beginning, but I wasn't paying attention. Will keep that in mind when I re-read book, which I'm sure I will do eventually.) I'm tempted to seek out other books about these characters, but at the same time, I feel so close to this version of these people, I'm not sure if I'll like reading others authors interpretations of them.

I do feel as if I have a much better understanding of the French Revolution and I have a new respect for the women involved, whose roles are often overlooked in history. Gives me a new perspective on France then and today.

I highly recommend this book to those with an interest in the French Revolution.

I received this book via NetGalley.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Review: The Bookshop on the Corner by Rebecca Raisin

I did not enjoy this book. I didn't like the characters, I didn't like the set up. Everything was much, much too perfect.

Sarah owns a bookshop, and she loves reading romances, but has no real romance life of her own. Then one day, a guy walks in who could be straight out of a romance novel. He's perfect and he's already madly in love with her. He's a writer, but took the assignment just to meet her because he'd glimpsed her at some other event - or something like that. (It's been a while si
nce I read the book - I'm really behind on reviews so details might be fuzzy.)

There was never any conflict. The man had no flaws. He didn't even know her and he was in love with her, ready to re-arrange his life for her.

I like a happily ever after as much as the next person - I love them, I love romance novels. But I need more of a story. These characters were so one-dimensional. They were simply perfect. Oh sure, Sarah, had her doubts about him, but she didn't have any good reason for her doubts, which just seemed silly. At one point the guy even says, this is the part of the romance novel where we're supposed to have conflict or something bizarre like that.

As much as I like the fantasy like happily ever after, I need the character to be a little bit more real.

And yet, having said all that, and not liking this book, I'm still curious about other books by this author. Maybe the problem was that this was a novella, rather than a complete novel?

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Review: The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown

The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown is what I consider to be the book of the summer. The book provides the perfect escape to Paris at the turn of the century, a bit of romance, and even more so a strong story about a woman discovering who she is and what she needs, rather than what everyone expects her to be.

I liked this book a lot. After having spent a week in Paris, upon returning, I binge read books set in Paris. It's my way of extending the trip, if only in my mind.  Was very happy when I got approved for a review copy of this book and started reading it right away. It did a wonderful job of returning me to the city.

Part of what appealed to me about this story was the importance placed on art, creating art and appreciating art. In the beginning of the story, Madeleine is working as a volunteer at an art museum, and she has a conversation with an art teacher who is there with her students. Full disclosure, I'm an art teacher, so this had me hooked right away. This art teacher said all the right things - all the things an art teacher is supposed to say, because it's what we believe, and why we do our jobs. Madeleine loved art when she was younger, but then she got older and set it aside as if it were a childish hobby. The art teacher tries to encourage her to return to painting if that's what she loved doing. This conversation plants a seed in Madeleine's mind.

She isn't happy with her current life. She came from a wealthy, socially influential family, and married into the same. She did it because it was what was expected of her, not what she wanted. She's never paid any attention to what she wanted.

But shortly after talking to the art teacher, and after another argument with her husband, she's on her way to a planned visit with her mother. And she decided that maybe she'll stay a while, no need to rush back home to a husband that doesn't even seem to want her around.

And while she's at her mother's house, she finds a journal belonging to her grandmother. Through this journal, she discovers a side to her grandmother that she never knew existed. Her grandmother had gone away to Paris and fallen in love with an artist.

The story moves back and forth between Madeleine coping with her current situation, as we also follow along with the adventures of her grandmother in Paris. Her grandmother's story inspires her to try to rewrite her own story, to turn it into something she wants instead of doing what everyone else expects her to do.

I loved the Paris scenes, as well as the inspiring story of Madeleine finally discovering her true passion. It's a great book. It's my current recommendation if anyone says, "I don't know what to read right now." And I know I called it the book of the summer, but it's perfectly suitable for fall or winter or whenever. As a school teacher, I become a little fixated on summer. This is not by any means strictly a beach read. It has a strong story, emotionally satisfying. Would gladly recommend this book to any of my friends.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Review: One Evening in Paris by Nicolas Barreau

I read this while I was in Paris. The cover is beautiful. The location in the picture on the cover is one of my favorite spots to take photos in Paris.

I really enjoyed the setting. The author described the city well. The story was focused on the areas where I was spending most of my time. That was purely coincidental, but for me, made the story more enjoyable.

The story was okay, but a bit far fetched. Alain owns a cinema in Paris, and every week he notices a woman attending the show. Finally he works up the nerve to ask her out. They go out have a wonderful evening, then she disappears. Around the same time, he's approached by a movie director and an actress, wanting to use his cinema for filming. The actress had fond memories of the place because she used to visit there when she was younger. The director sounds very much like Woody Allen and made me think of the movie Midnight in Paris.

As the movie is being filmed, Alain is becoming obsessed with finding this woman. I'm not going to give away the story, but I felt like there were way too many coincidences. Also part of me thought Alain came off as a really creepy, kind of stalkerish guy. For me, the logical explanation for the woman disappearing would be that she didn't want to see the guy again. And now that he'd asked her out, she didn't really feel comfortable attending the cinema anymore. If that was her place to escape to each week to watch old movies, he sort of ruined it for her by making it about him being interested in her. Of course, that wasn't the case, and this is supposed to be a love story. My theory was completely wrong, but still.

The very detailed Paris setting made the book worth reading, and if you aren't as cynical as me, the love story might be sort of sweet. It's an enjoyable quick read.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley. 

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Review: The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan

I liked this book a lot. I read it while I was in Paris, so I was visiting the same area described in the book.

This was one of several books I read this summer that are set in Paris and have two timelines. One set in present time and the other involving events of the past. In this book, following an accident at a candy shop, Anna ends up in the hospital, sharing a room with her former French teacher, Claire. To pass the time, the teacher helps Anna with her French. And when Anna is well enough, Claire helps Anna find a job in Paris at a chocolate shop owned by her former sweetheart, Thierry.

While in Paris, as Anna is getting used to her new job and becoming involved in the lives of those around her, we're also learning about Claire's past, when she was teenager in Paris falling in love with the charismatic young chocolate shop owner forty years earlier.

This was the second book I read in a row that involved couples who were separated from each other for forty years. As both Claire and Thierry's health declines, Anna becomes determined to make arrangements for them to see each other again, after all these years. Theirs is a very sweet, but sad love story.

I felt as if the author worked at minimizing the sad parts in comparison to the happy ones. But in doing so, I felt as though I was emotionally robbed. For some people this may seem like a good thing, but I felt like I wasn't allowed to properly grieve.

Really good book though. The Paris descriptions are wonderful, as are the details about all the delicious sounding chocolate being made.

Would recommend this for an enjoyable, sweet love story set in Paris. Will definitely be reading more by this author.