May 2021 Wrap-Up

The Reader by Renoir.

Well, hello there! Thank you for stopping by my blog.

Reading during the beautiful month of May consisted of one book and two short stories.

I read a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald as part of a creative writing course. The story we read is called Three Hours Between Planes. It’s short but very powerful. It’s a story about mistaken identity and about the “one that got away.” I was amazed at how much of a plot there was in just a couple of pages. And I say this as someone who does not enjoy reading F. Scott Fitzgerald. His writings usually leave me feeling depressed. What do you think of his works?

I also listened to a short romantic audiobook (novella-sized), A Vineyard Valentine by Nina Bocci. The setting takes place at a winery over Valentine’s Day. It was a short listen (just under two hours) but it’s a sweet and romantic story. The heroine is the owner of the winery and she meets a patron who happens to be handsome and funny! Sparks fly. Happy Ending ensues.

Last but not least, I also read Salonica: City of Ghosts by Mark Mazower. The book chronicles the history of the city of Thessaloniki in Greece. Salonica went from being a city of Byzantium to an Ottoman stronghold to finally gaining independence by merging with the Kingdom of Greece. It’s not just about the Greeks and the Christian population. It’s also about the Jewish history, the Muslim history, it’s about the story of families and the story of the foreigners who came to Salonica for one reason or another. It’s comprehensive and well-researched. At certain times during my reading the true stories took my breath away. It’s a fascinating account of a fascinating city. If you are interested in Ottoman history, Greek history or the history of city planning, start with this book.

xoxo, Jane

Currently Reading: Salonica City of Ghosts by Mark Mazower

Salonica: City of Ghosts by Mark Mazower is literally the biography of Thessaloniki in modern-day Greece. The story begins in 1430 when Salonica fell to the Ottomans. The book ends in 1950, though I’m only half-way through.

It’s a remarkable story for a remarkable city. Before 1430, Salonica had enjoyed seventeen hundred years of life as a Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine city. But after it fell to the Ottomans, Salonica’s bright light wasn’t extinguished. The city carried on, a multicultural gem in the heart of the Ottoman Empire. Christians, Jews and Muslims lived near each other, though within their designated quarters. Christians and Jews were classified as unequal to Muslims: their court testimonies did not count, paid higher taxes then Muslims and Muslims were not charged with a crime if they murdered a Christian or a Jew. Salonica gained freedom from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, reverting to the Kingdom of Greece. It’s a fascinating account of a fascinating city.

What are you currently reading?

xoxo, Jane

Booked: A Traveler’s Guide to Literary Locations Around the World by Richard Kreitner

Description

A practical, armchair travel guide that explores eighty of the most iconic literary locations from all over the globe that you can actually visit. A must-have for every fan of literature, Booked inspires readers to follow in their favorite characters footsteps by visiting the real-life locations portrayed in beloved novels including the Monroeville, Alabama courthouse in To Kill a Mockingbird, Chatsworth House, the inspiration for Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice, and the Kyoto Bridge from Memoirs of a Geisha. The full-color photographs throughout reveal the settings readers have imagined again and again in their favorite books. 

My Thoughts

If you miss traveling, then I think Booked: A Traveler’s Guide to Literary Locations Around the World by Richard Kreitner might be for you. It takes you to all the real-life locations mentioned in various novels (even Harry Potter earned a spot).

I like that the essays are organized by region (Americas, Europe, Africa, etc.) and that there is plenty of scenic photography to provide visual context to the literature. The section on Pemberley is my favorite part of the book.

As a writer and reader, I appreciate the sentiment in this thoughtful book. If you are in need of some arm-chair traveling, then this book might fill that need. The only downside is that the author primarily focuses on literary novels. I would have also liked to have read about cozy mysteries or romance novel locations. And it was a little disappointing that just one Jane Austen novel location is featured in the book.

Many thanks to The Unapologetic Bookworm for bringing this book to my attention.

xoxo, Jane

Pairing books with tea (Entre Nous: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl)

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Entre Nous by Debra Ollivier is my favorite “French girls” book! I’ve had my weather-beaten copy since 2003 and it’s what inspired my very first solo trip to Paris. Even if you’re tired of these types of books, please believe me this one is a must read.

Debra Ollivier lived in Paris for a decade before returning home to the US. So she feels quite confident writing about that elusive ‘je ne sais quoi’ and how the rest of us can attain it.

The book has chapters on how to look stylish, how to shop like a French woman and how to feel comfortable eating by yourself in a Parisian bistro. How French women style their hair (spoiler alert: they keep it classic and simple and don’t alter their hairstyles as the seasons change, the way we do in the US.) How French women don’t chat up strangers and give away all of their secrets. There are interesting sidebars of observations about French women and society, fun tips and interesting quotes to live by. At times it feels like you are chatting with your closest friend. Which is maybe why the book is titled Entre Nous, French for between us.

So, have I found my je ne sais quoi? Probably not. I’m an eternal klutz and my hair won’t ever behave, no matter how hard I work at keeping it tamed. I can’t seem to master French, no matter how many classes I take and I seem to talk too much and overshare with the lady at the deli counter (all verboten in the world of French women).

But none of this stops me from living my best life, reading good books, attempting to look somewhat chic and returning to Paris as time (and money) permits.  Oh, plus I enjoy eating alone in restaurants. So, perhaps it’s mission accomplished after all?

Forget tea! Honestly, I’d pair a glass of French wine with this book. Voila.

à la prochaine, Jane

Four Books About The Cold War

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I’m intrigued by the Cold War era for so many different reasons. It’s why I set my own fiction during this era (more on that another day).

So, it’s no surprise that I read a lot of non-fiction books about the Cold War. I wanted to share a few of them with you. Let me know what you think or if you’ve read any of these.

Iron Curtain – The Crushing of Eastern Europe by Anne Applebaum

Anne Applebaum is a columnist for The Washington Post. Iron Curtain covers the horrifying period in Eastern Europe between 1944-1956. The dedication in this book gives me the chills: “This book is dedicated to those Eastern Europeans who refused to live within a lie.”

Vaclav Havel

Spymaster: My Thirty-Two Years in Intelligence and Espionage Against the West by Oleg Kalugin

This book is written by former KGB general, Oleg Kalugin, who spent decades spying in America. Eventually he grew disillusioned with the Soviet system and its institutional corruption. He went public about it all in 1990 and now lives in Washington D.C.

Spy Sites of Washington, DC by Robert Wallace and H. Keith Melton

This is a fun read and I highly recommend it. It covers espionage in Washington, D.C. between the years 1790 and 2016. I bought it for the extensive Cold War section. What’s fascinating (and fun) is that the book actually gives you physical addresses of buildings and homes where spy activities took place, including dead drop locations.

A Spy Among Friends: Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre

If you are at all interested in the Cambridge Five, I’d read this book. It’s a comprehensive volume of Kim Philby’s life as a double agent. I am fascinated by Kim Philby. Not because he was such a stellar guy (he wasn’t) but because I can’t understand giving it all up to live behind the Iron Curtain. For those who don’t know about the Cambridge Five, they were a network of privileged young men recruited by the KGB at Cambridge. Philby was one of them. He defected to Moscow in 1963 because he was about to be outed as a mole. He died with full Soviet honors in 1988.

Do you have any favorite non-fiction books about the Cold War?

xoxo, Jane