Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik

There is a lot to love about Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik. To begin with, I adore the title. Paris to the Moon evokes something romantic from an old, bygone Paris. I love that the collection of essays are set in Paris. I also love that the essays are thoughtful, witty and, at-times, laugh-out-loud funny. I felt compelled to read many passages to my husband, much to his annoyance. “Yes, I know, he lives in Paris,” he’d say when I prefaced another out-loud reading with a “This writer who lives in Paris…”

I was drawn to this book for two reasons. It’s a collection of essays about living in Paris and I’m fascinated by the nuances of everyday Parisian life. But also because it’s written by a writer who manages to write full-time and support his family from his writing. I’m always interested in reading and learning more about that elusive, modern-day full-time writer.

Adam Gopnik moved to Paris with his wife and young son in the late 1990s. This book of essays is the culmination of his experience living there. He does not sugarcoat living in Paris, but even with the French bureaucracy and dossiers (you’ll have to read the book to understand why dossiers come up quite often), he loves living there with his family and I found it charming that he refers to his newborn daughter as their “French child.” Their son Luke, born in NY, is their “New York child.”

I should also mention that all of these essays were originally published in The New Yorker before they were compiled in this book.

My favorite essay is the one where he describes the fashion shows. I devoured the pages hoping for more essays on fashion, alas it was not to be. Instead I got essays on sports. Which, quite frankly, bored me to tears. What can I say, I like what I like.

When the author wrote about French cuisine, I felt pangs of hunger. I’m not sure if that was the author’s ultimate goal, but I immediately told my husband we’d be having something French for dinner. And I laughed out loud (again) when he compares the children’s figure Barney to President Clinton. The essays were full of unexpected thoughts and surprises about living in Paris.

All in all, this is an excellent book. Should you read it? I would say, read it only if you are truly interested in the nuances of everyday life as an American in Paris.

xoxo, Jane

April, May & June 2020 Wrap-Up Part II

Hello, there. Welcome to the second portion of my quarterly wrap-up. You can read the first part here.

I listened to To Tempt a Sheikh by Olivia Gates. This was my first time reading Olivia Gates and what I liked the best is that the hero (sheikh) wasn’t an archaic caveman. I plan to read/listen to more of her books.

In a previous post, I wrote about Square Haunting by Francesca Wade. The story of the five women covered in this non-fiction book made an impact on me. If you’re searching for a book about women, feminism and London between the two world wars, then this book is for you. I wrote about my thoughts in a previous blog post. Please consider reading it if you are curious about Square Haunting.

Faberge Treasures from the Kremlin is a small museum guide book I bought at my local library sale for $1.00. The Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art in Las Vegas hosted an exhibit titled “Faberge: Treasures from the Kremlin.” The treasures traveled to Las Vegas from the Kremlin and were (mostly) Faberge creations of royal provenance. They were discovered in 1990 during the renovation of a house in Moscow. Though the book features exquisite photography of the jewels and decorative art pieces, what piqued my curiosity is the person who hid them. Did they plan to sell the treasures once the revolution was over? But since freedom never really came, did it dawn on that person that a sale would never be possible? Was the hiding spot forgotten after the jewel-taker’s death? I’ll never know the truth, but I have already concocted a story in my writer’s mind which I will share with you someday soon.

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey is a novella easily read over a weekend. The story takes place during the course of a wedding day and focuses on the bride. Unfortunately the bride is not marrying the man she loves (not a spoiler). I found it poignant and somewhat funny. The insightful dialogue kept me gripped from the first page to the last. Admittedly, the story left me feeling sad.

Waiting by Jane Odiwe is a short story inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion. In a previous blog post I described it like eating chocolate, short and sweet. The story takes place right after the end of Persuasion where we find a nervous Captain Wentworth and Anne awaiting permission for their marriage from Anne’s father.

The other Harlequin book I read was The Billionaire’s Housekeeper Mistress by Emma Darcy. Give me a Harlequin with the word billionaire on the cover and it’s an auto-read.

A Woman of Two Worlds: Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte by Alexandra Deutsch and Betsy Bonaparte by Helen Jean Burn are two well-researched, well-written biographies of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte. Madame Bonaparte of Baltimore was the spouse of Jerome Bonaparte, youngest brother to Napoleon Bonaparte. Unfortunately for the young couple, who were madly in love with each other, Napoleon had their marriage annulled. Jerome, being accustomed to the finer things in life, didn’t want to be cut off by his brother so he caved and married Princess Catherine of Württemberg. Napoleon made Jerome the King of Westphalia. Elizabeth Bonaparte spent the rest of her life seeking recognization and a title for their son, Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte. Fascinating woman, fascinating story, sad ending depending on who you are or whose side you are on.

What’s on your reading list?

xoxo, Jane

Waiting by Jane Odiwe

Waiting by Jane Odiwe is a short story inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion. The story is part of the anthology, Jane Austen Made Me Do It. It imagines the uncertainty Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot endure as they await Sir Walter’s approval for their marriage.

I first bought and read this anthology years ago. I decided to reread the stories since it’s been a while. I started with Waiting because Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel.

Reading this story was like eating a sweet treat, it made me happy. It’s a bite-sized epilogue to Persuasion. It was nice to meet up with my favorite characters again. Bath was its own character and the bustling streets were brought to life for me, more so than in Persuasion.

My favorite part was the “flashback” to their initial meeting and when they fell in love with each other. It was nice to have a snippet from their shared past that wasn’t a part of Persuasion. Also, the story is told from both of their POVs, which is nice because their inner monologues show their worries and their love for each other.

I thought the author stayed true to Jane Austen’s writing style and to the original story itself. There was no deviation and it was a charming read. A perfect little story for an afternoon of light reading.

xoxo, Jane

Square Haunting by Francesca Wade

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Square Haunting: Five Women, Freedom and London Between The Wars tells the story of five important women during a time when they lived on the same street in Bloomsbury, London. They didn’t necessarily know each other, nor did they all live on Mecklenburgh Square during the same time. However, their lives, struggles and the street they lived on bind them together. This is the foundation that Francesca Wade builds on in her debut book about Hilda Doolitle (H.D.), Dorothy L. Sayers, Jane Ellen Harrison, Eileen Power and Virginia Woolf.

It took me almost two months to finish Square Haunting. Partly because it’s dense, academic reading and partly because I wanted to savor it. I loved reading this book and I learned so much, such as that H.D. was an American. How could I have not known that?

Francesca Wade took years to research and write this book. Her scholarly work shows through in the five sections devoted to the lives and scholarly pursuits of each woman.

“I like this London life in early summer – the street sauntering & square haunting.” Virginia Woolf, diary entry April 20, 1925

All five women were born during the Victorian era. An era when women had few options and weren’t allowed to think for themselves. The way the men in their lives treated them left me drained. All five of these ladies had to unlearn the social norms of Victorian society so they could flourish in their professions.

Even within the home, women were deterred from living a life of their choosing. To borrow Virginia Woolf’s famous words, a woman did not have a room of her own. For example, Francesca Wade highlights the difference between the study and the drawing room. A study was for a man. A woman was not allowed in the study, at least not without the man’s permission. The drawing room is a room reserved for the woman, but it is not her private room. Anyone can enter at any time, especially visitors. This resonated deeply with me; long after I finished reading the last page I am still thinking about the difference between these two rooms.

“The drawing room, Harrison wrote, was designated the wife’s territory, yet remained a public space, as ‘the room into which “visitors are shown” – a room in which you can’t possibly settle down to think, because anyone may come in at any moment.’ The husband’s study, by contrast, was ‘a place inviolate, guarded by immemorial taboos’, where the man of the house ‘thinks, and learns, and knows’; there were, Harrison noted, ‘rarely two chairs’ in the room.”

If you know even a little about Virginia Woolf, then you know how her life ends and Square Haunting does not gloss over it. World War II brought a great depression over her spirit. With airplane bombers flying over her house, and the bombings of London and the English countryside, it appeared to Woolf that there was no end in sight. After writing farewell notes for her husband and her sister, she walked into a river and drowned herself. Do you know what I wish? I wish I could invent a Time Machine and travel back in time to tell Woolf to hang on for just a few more years. That Churchill, and the Allies, would bring the war to a victorious end. I wish I could have told Woolf that not only would we win the war, but that future generations would come to admire, study and seek inspiration from the stand that Britain would make against Nazi Germany.

The current global pandemic is probably the worst event my generation has experienced. I must remind myself that for pre-Baby Boomers, life was generally awful: famine, the flu pandemic of 1918, the Great Depression, the two World Wars… I could go on. Yet, these five ladies persevered through hardships and fought to make a living from their desired professions.

The women that dominate the pages of Square Haunting left me feeling inspired to continue working on my book and writing projects.

I’m glad I spent two months with these ladies. I thought about them as I went about my day. I thought about Sayers writing her detective fiction as I plotted my own fiction. I thought about Woolf worrying about the war as I pondered about our own economic and political troubles. And when I finished the book, even though I had tears streaming down my face, I felt a relief wash over me. Relieved that I honored them by reading about their lives and keeping their memories alive, but I also felt sad turning the last page because I was saying goodbye to my five ladies (as I privately began to call them).

Have you read Square Haunting or any of the published works of these five women?

xoxo, Jane

Inside Jobs by Ben H. Winters

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Description:

Inside Jobs by Ben H. Winters

Three offbeat stories of crime and conundrum, set in the present moment, from The New York Times best-selling, Edgar Award-winning author of Underground Airlines and The Last Policeman.

Inside Jobs: Tales from a Time of Quarantine includes:

The Crimson Parrot
It’s not easy masterminding the crime of the century when your whole gang is working from home. A high-stakes tale of larceny, deception, and teleconferencing.

The Cape House
As the world shifts around them, two estranged brothers end up in their childhood home. But it’s the memories they unearth that will change them forever.

Stop Motion
With endless time on her hands, an apartment-bound young woman gets to all the hobbies she’s neglected—martial arts, playing the sax, photography…and solving a murder?

My thoughts

Normally, I’m not drawn to contemporary crime stories, but this collection of short stories is part of May’s free Audible Originals, so I thought I’d give it a listen.

The stories in Inside Jobs are set during the present-day Covid-19 pandemic. The title itself alludes to crime committed by those closest to you. When this nightmare first began, I told myself I would not read fiction about Covid-19. It’s just too soon for me. How could I possibly enjoy it? I mean, I still don’t read fiction about the September 11 terrorist attacks. I doubt I ever will.  But these three stories aren’t about Covid-19. Rather they are three cleverly constructed stories about people stuck at home. The pandemic acts as the reason for everyone being stuck. It worked well and didn’t cause me any stress.

The Crimson Parrot is a comical heist story. Imagine a gang of criminals attempting to commit a crime while stuck at home and via Zoom. There are arguments and misunderstandings. I laughed a lot.

The second story, The Cape House, is sad and intense. Two brothers reunite after the death of their father at their childhood home. Unfortunately one of the brothers is not mentally stable which causes further heartache. It was a depressing, but thought-provoking, story.

Stop Motion is a brilliant tale about a couple towards the end of their relationship. It had me at the edge of my seat because J.J, the ex-girlfriend, thinks she accidentally witnesses a crime. It was a charming story with very likable and relatable characters. The plot borrowed a little from the classic Hitchcock thriller, Rear Window.

What I love

I’m learning that the narrator can make or break an audiobook. Each short story in this collection has its own narrator, all three are fabulous. The voices and accents were spot on. I was never pulled out of the story, rather I was drawn in so much that I forgot about the boiling water on the stovetop.

What I don’t love

I can’t think of anything. I was really happy with this collection of short stories and I’m normally a tough customer.

What are you reading and what’s next on your TBR?

xoxo, Jane

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

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Description:

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

Written by J.K. Rowling. Read by Sally Mortemore, Warwick Davis, Evanna Lynch, Jason Isaacs, Bonnie Wright, Noma Dumezweni and Jude Law.

Performed by talented actors from across the Wizarding World, this is the first ever audiobook edition of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, which was originally written in 2007 by J.K. Rowling and has raised money for her children’s charity Lumos ever since.

As familiar to Hogwarts students as “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty” are to Muggle children, Beedle’s stories are a collection of popular fairy tales written for young witches and wizards. So, if you’re wondering what’s in store in this brand-new audio edition…well, your ears are in for a treat.

Once you’ve checked this fabulous Hogwarts Library book out, you’ll start by hearing the author’s introduction, read by Sally Mortemore (librarian Madam Pince from the Harry Potter films). Then it’s time for the tales to begin….

My thoughts

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a recent convert to audiobooks. I listened to this book because it was a free download. I’m glad I downloaded it because it was wonderful to listen to five magical tales that got my mind off current worries. J.K. Rowling has a brilliant mind, that’s for sure. She not only created an entire set of fairy tales out of thin air, but she wrote this book to benefit the children’s charity she founded, Lumos.

It appears that this book is free for Audible members through January 7, 2021.

What I love

I enjoyed this book very much. It was really wonderful to return to the land of Harry Potter and it reminded me why I should reread the series. This audiobook has it all: sound effects, music, appropriate background clatter and a very animated Jude Law.

Each tale was clever and a few were funny. I met kings, warlocks, witches and entered an enchanted forest.  One story, The Warlock’s Hairy Heart, was particularly good. It tells the story of a young warlock who wants to avoid falling in love and turns to dark magic to make sure it never happens.

I loved listening to Mr. Dumbledore (aka Jude Law) and the other fabulous characters who acted as narrators. Everything was so imaginative and I pictured a young Ron Weasley reading the tales. The book is only 1 hour and 36 minutes long, but I wish it could have kept going.

J.K. Rowling found ways to tie each tale into her Harry Potter novels. I should mention this book was written in 2007. I know, I’m really behind, but as they say: better late than never.

What I don’t love

That it ended.

xoxo, Jane

January, February and March 2020 Wrap-Up Part II

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I hope you and your loved ones are well. I also hope you are keeping very busy with arm-chair traveling to wonderful locations.

I arm-chair traveled to some exotic fictional locations thanks to Harlequin Presents. But I also traveled to Nazi-occupied Paris, viewing historic events through Coco Chanel’s point of view.

I read Sold to the Enemy and The Prince’s Waitress Wife (second link takes you to my review) by Sarah Morgan. Sarah Morgan is such a talented writer. I’ve never read a book by her that didn’t leave me feeling happy.

I very much enjoyed reading The Dress: 100 Iconic Moments In Fashion (link takes you to my review) by Megan Hess. This was a beautifully illustrated book and it’s a nice way to get lost in other worlds.

Continuing my Harlequin Presents adventures, I also read Passion and the Prince by Penny Jordan. Penny Jordan will always have a special place in my heart because the very first romance book I ever read was one of her Mills & Boon books.

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The last book for today’s list is The Queen of Paris: A Novel of Coco Chanel by Pamela Binnings Ewen. Initially I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy reading a book where the antagonist featured as the protagonist, but the author proved me wrong. The story takes you from Coco Chanel’s humble beginnings and leaves you in Paris, with her successful career and beyond. It was insightful, well-written and a little sad. Highly recommended. Link above will take you to my earlier review.

Find Part I here.

Find Part III here.

Be well, friends!

xoxo, Jane

 

January, February and March 2020 Wrap-Up Part I

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Life is hard right now. We are all worried for our elderly loved ones, we can’t leave the house, the news makes us anxious and stressed and I don’t know about you but I cannot find hand sanitizer anywhere!! So let’s focus on something light-hearted, shall we?

What have I been reading for the first quarter of 2020?

I read and enjoyed Rafe by Rebekah Weatherspoon, a romance novel. The love story centers on a busy single mother/doctor and her male nanny. Loved it!

I also read Words of Silk and Prime Time by Sandra Brown because my obsession with old skool Sandra Brown shall never ever end.

Alexandra Feodorovna: A Life From Beginning to End by Hourly Histories is a biography of the last Tsarina of Russia. It’s concise and very short. I didn’t learn anything new, but that’s not what I was looking for. I just felt like reading something royalty-related without the time commitment needed for a larger volume.

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A Scandal in Bohemia is my first Sherlock Holmes story. This is the first story featuring Sherlock Holmes in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which you can read for free at Gutenberg.

I enjoyed reading it and plan to read the rest of the stories in this volume. I was shocked to learn that Sherlock was a cocaine user. Did I understand that correctly? I also love the fictional royals Arthur Conan Doyle invented for the mystery that Sherlock solves in this story. Which leads me to Irene Adler. I’ve always heard about her and how she is the only female who ever bested Sherlock Holmes. It was a pleasure to meet her and she sounds like my kind of woman. I’d love to have a cup of tea with her. All she ever wanted was to live happily ever after with her guy. Yet modern adaptations turn her into a cunning or sly person who is out to get Sherlock. That’s not the case at all.

Edge of Obsession and Edge of Temptation by Megan Crane are my first dystopian romance novel reads. They are a little bit on the darker side, but they have a satisfying happily ever after.

The Navy SEAL Affair by Carol Ericson is a free online read on Harlequin’s website. It’s very short, but the story line is pretty solid.

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To Sin with a Viking by Michelle Willingham is my first time reading a Viking-era romance novel. It is a well-researched and well-written historical romance. I loved, loved, loved it. The link above will take you to my review.

I’m still reading! Stay tuned for Part II and Part III later in March and early April.

Make sure you read lots and lots of fun books and articles to get through these trying times. Be well!

xoxo, Jane

 

The Queen of Paris by Pamela Binnings Ewen

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The Dress: 100 Iconic Moments in Fashion by Megan Hess

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My recent finished read is a fashion illustration book. Megan Hess illustrated (with permission) 100 of the most iconic dresses in fashion history in her book, The Dress. The book is organized in six sections: Designers, Icons, Weddings, Music, Film and Oscars.

It’s more than just a book filled with nice illustrations. Every dress Megan Hess illustrates comes complete with historical tidbits or background about the history of the dress. Page after page, gorgeous dresses jump out at you. It’s truly a delight to pour through this book.

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One of my favorite dresses is this gown worn by Grace Kelly at the Oscars. I admit that I rewatch Grace Kelly movies (especially To Catch a Thief) over and over again simply for Grace Kelly’s sumptuous wardrobe.

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I adore this dress by Carolina Herrera. The floral ballgown was created in 2013 and Actress Lucy Liu wore it to the 2013 Golden Globes.

I also think the most touching part of the book is the author’s dedication: “For Gwyn. All the dresses I’ve drawn, and all the dresses I own, will one day be yours.”

Now on to the criticism. While each dress gets a double page feature (as shown above), I wish there was additional content devoted to each dress. The information was skimpy at best and could have used much more historical detail.

If you like the combination of history, fashion and illustrations, then this book might be for you. Now if only I can figure out how to make the dresses jump out of the book and into my wardrobe…

xoxo, Jane

 

The Prince’s Waitress Wife by Sarah Morgan

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Bedded for the prince’s pleasure

When waitress Holly is thrown into the playboy prince’s arms, he lives up to his wicked reputation by bedding her—then casting her aside!

Expecting the prince’s love-child

Holly is pregnant! Casper is furious; Holly’s just a scheming gold digger, but royal protocol demands he make her his bride!

Wedded by royal command

Innocent Holly has the wedding of her dreams—and Casper knows her first duty as his convenient wife will be on their wedding night….

The Prince’s Waitress Wife by Sarah Morgan is a Harlequin Presents story that puts a new twist on the age-old Cinderella trope. It’s a fast-paced, romantic novel set in a fictional European kingdom.

Holly is at a sports event (rugby) where she works as a waitress in the VIP box. The day before, her fiancé broke up with her and now she is just trying to get through the day without crying. Enter Prince Casper. They meet and feel a connection with each other which leads to an interlude, which leads to a pregnancy, which leads to a marriage. I do love this trope.

What I love

Holly is a very kind heroine. She doesn’t play dating games and is honest and open with everyone she meets. Before her marriage to Casper, she lived in a world where honesty and good behavior is the norm (except for the ex-fiancé who is a major jerk). She feels befuddled by Casper’s cynicism, who believes she got pregnant on purpose. Holly doesn’t understand that in the past women used Casper for his title and wealth. I love that her kindness and open heart eventually break down Casper’s barriers.

I love the witty, sparkling dialogue between Holly and Casper. I truly enjoy reading any novel by Sarah Morgan. I love that love conquers all.

What I don’t love

There were so many misunderstandings between Casper and Holly that a simple heart-to-heart could have cleared up any misconceptions. But I suppose then we wouldn’t have an angsty and emotional love story.

xoxo, Jane

To Sin with a Viking by Michelle Willingham

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Description:

To Sin with a Viking
by Michelle Willingham

Caragh Ó Brannon defended herself bravely when the enemy landed—only, now she finds herself alone with one very angry Viking….

Styr Hardrata sailed to Ireland intending to trade, never expecting to find himself held captive in chains by a beautiful Irish maiden.

The fiercely handsome warrior both terrifies and allures Caragh, but he is forbidden territory. He is the enemy…and he is married. Yet Styr harbors a secret that just might set them both free….

What I love

To Sin with a Viking by Michelle Willingham is a historical romance set in Viking-era Ireland. This book is the first audiobook I’ve ever listened to and I’m so glad I started with this one. To Sin with a Viking is also my first Viking romance novel. I don’t know much about the Viking-era, but this story felt very authentic and I think the author did a lot of research to get the facts right.

The best part of this book was the narrator, Deirdre O’Connell. She has a lyrical voice and was lovely to listen to. She was appropriately animated and energetic when the scenes called for it. She did such a great job portraying the various characters that I felt as if the narrator wanted to be nowhere else in the world except right there in the studio recording this book.

The heroine, Caragh, has to be one of the nicest, kindest, most thoughtful heroines I’ve ever read. Even when she is starving, she gives what little food she has to her younger brother. She also shares food with Styr, even though he is her captive. She is warm and kind without ever being a doormat. And that was nice to read.

The premise of the story is that they are all living through a famine, so Caragh’s brothers leave for a raid which ends up being a mistake, since they interfere with Styr’s group and end up taking him hostage. Caragh has to keep Styr captive while her brothers are out doing the raiding. Caragh is never completely comfortable with any of this, especially the part about keeping Styr captive and keeping him away from his wife, Elena. Elena was taken captive by another group and Styr’s mission is to find her.

The conflict in this story is that Styr and Caragh begin to fall in love. It’s begrudgingly on Styr’s part since he feels duty-bound to stay with Elena, even though it’s clear early on in the story they are not in a happy marriage.

I let myself fall in love with a man I can’t have. – Caragh

What I don’t love

Sometimes the internal monologues were too long. But that’s the only teeny tiny criticism I have because I loved reading (listening) this story. I plan to read (or listen) to the sequel, To Tempt a Viking, which explores Elena’s story.

Are you reading anything right now, Viking or otherwise?

xoxo, Jane