Thursday, February 27, 2014

Honeymoon in Paris by Jojo Moyes

Honeymoon in Paris: A Novella
by Jojo Moyes
Viking Adult, 2013
101 pages
source: purchased ebook

Description (from amazon):
At the heart of Jojo Moyes' heartbreaking new novel, The Girl You Left Behind, are two haunting love stories—that of Sophie and Édouard Lefèvre in France during the First World War, and, nearly a century later, Liv Halston and her husband David.

Honeymoon in Paris takes place several years before the events to come in The Girl You Left Behind when both couples have just married. Sophie is swept up in the glamour of Belle Époque Paris but discovers that loving a celebrated artist like Édouard Lefèvre brings undreamt of complications. Following in Sophie's footsteps a hundred years later, Liv, after a whirlwind romance, finds her Parisian honeymoon is not quite the romantic getaway she had been hoping for. . . .

This enchanting self-contained story will have you falling in love with both young brides, and with Paris then and now, and it is the perfect appetizer for the The Girl You Left Behind, a spellbinding story of love, devotion, and passion in the hardest of times.

My thoughts:
Honeymoon in Paris, a prequel to The Girl You Left Behind,  is really more an extended short story than novella... and is well worth reading even if you've already read Moyes' popular novel.

For me, reading Honeymoon in Paris was like visiting with old friends and discovering something new about them. I was surprised to learn that neither of the great marriages presented in The Girl You Left Behind had particularly auspicious beginnings. In fact, both honeymoon couples struggled through rocky situations involving differing expectations and miscommunication .

Moyes uses alternating chapters set in 1912 and 2002 to tell their stories and set the stage for what is to come in The Girl You Left Behind. If you haven't read that novel, you'll definitely want to pick it up after finishing Honeymoon in Paris.

Reading this lovely story felt like a mini-vacataion in Paris and is a perfect way to spend an hour or two some Sunday afternoon!

My Rating:

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Tuesday Intro: Middlemarch by George Eliot

Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress. Her hand and wrist were so finely formed that she could wear sleeves not less bare of style than those in which the Blessed Virgin appeared to Italian painters; and her profile as well as her stature and bearing seemed to gain the more dignity from her plain garments, which by the side of provincial fashion gave her the impressiveness of a fine quotation from the Bible,—or from one of our elder poets,—in a paragraph of to-day's newspaper. She was usually spoken of as being remarkably clever, but with the addition that her sister Celia had more common-sense. Nevertheless, Celia wore scarcely more trimmings; and it was only to close observers that her dress differed from her sister's, and had a shade of coquetry in its arrangements; for Miss Brooke's plain dressing was due to mixed conditions, in most of which her sister shared. The pride of being ladies had something to do with it: the Brooke connections, though not exactly aristocratic, were unquestionably "good:" if you inquired backward for a generation or two, you would not find any yard-measuring or parcel-tying forefathers—anything lower than an admiral or a clergyman; and there was even an ancestor discernible as a Puritan gentleman who served under Cromwell, but afterwards conformed, and managed to come out of all political troubles as the proprietor of a respectable family estate. Young women of such birth, living in a quiet country-house, and attending a village church hardly larger than a parlor, naturally regarded frippery as the ambition of a huckster's daughter. Then there was well-bred economy, which in those days made show in dress the first item to be deducted from, when any margin was required for expenses more distinctive of rank. Such reasons would have been enough to account for plain dress, quite apart from religious feeling; but in Miss Brooke's case, religion alone would have determined it; and Celia mildly acquiesced in all her sister's sentiments, only infusing them with that common-sense which is able to accept momentous doctrines without any eccentric agitation. Dorothea knew many passages of Pascal's Pensees and of Jeremy Taylor by heart; and to her the destinies of mankind, seen by the light of Christianity, made the solicitudes of feminine fashion appear an occupation for Bedlam. She could not reconcile the anxieties of a spiritual life involving eternal consequences, with a keen interest in gimp and artificial protrusions of drapery. Her mind was theoretic, and yearned by its nature after some lofty conception of the world which might frankly include the parish of Tipton and her own rule of conduct there; she was enamoured of intensity and greatness, and rash in embracing whatever seemed to her to have those aspects; likely to seek martyrdom, to make retractations, and then to incur martyrdom after all in a quarter where she had not sought it. Certainly such elements in the character of a marriageable girl tended to interfere with her lot, and hinder it from being decided according to custom, by good looks, vanity, and merely canine affection. With all this, she, the elder of the sisters, was not yet twenty, and they had both been educated, since they were about twelve years old and had lost their parents, on plans at once narrow and promiscuous, first in an English family and afterwards in a Swiss family at Lausanne, their bachelor uncle and guardian trying in this way to remedy the disadvantages of their orphaned condition.
by George Eliot

Middlemarch is my latest Classics Club spin book and, as the length of the opening paragraph suggests, quite an undertaking. My paperback edition weighs in at 800 pages, but I've decided to be kind to my eyes and read it on the kindle instead. I'm almost certain no one would decide to read this book based on the opening paragraph alone. To me, the decision to read Middlemarch  seems more like an investment or long-term commitment. If the first couple of chapters are any indication, it will be time well spent.

What do you think of the opening? Have you read Middlemarch? Do you want to?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

TSS: Downton Day

The scene//  8:30 Sunday morning. Sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee, gazing out the window at a bleak, late-winter landscape.

Reading//  I recently finished We Are Water by Wally Lamb (good, not great) and have started Middlemarch by George Eliot, my classics spin book. After two chapters, I've decided to take my time with this one and ignore the April 2 deadline. I think I'll enjoy it more that way.

Yesterday I purchased the novella Honeymoon in Paris by Jojo Moyes for my kindle. It's a prequel to The Girl You Left Behind, which I loved. Since I'm not feeling up to par today, I may just hang out on the couch and read it this afternoon. A one day break from the TBR Dare may be in order...

Listening//  I knew This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett was going to be a tough act to follow, but The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown is certainly up to the task. Who knew a book about rowing could be so exciting? I shouldn't have any problem finishing the last two CDs before my book club meeting on Friday.

Blogging//  Reviews for The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, We Are Water by Wally Lamb, and This is the Story of  Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett are in my draft folder. Let me know if there are any questions or topics you'd like me to address.

Watching//  I'm awaiting tonight's season finale of Downton Abbey  with mixed emotions. I've loved this season and can't wait to see what's in store tonight, but the prospect of waiting until next January for new episodes? Sigh.

Now let's transition to Syracuse basketball (keeping in mind the #FreeMrBates from an earlier season)...

Syracuse's undefeated streak ended at the hands of unranked Boston College on Wednesday, but last night's loss to Duke was heart-breaking. Down by 2 with just seconds to go, the officials made a questionable offensive foul call on a basket that would have tied the game. Coach Boeheim reacted - emotionally - was given 2 technical fouls and then ejected from the game (the first time in his long career). Duke got 4 foul shots plus the ball and won, while twitter exploded with #FreeJimBoeheim. I fully expect to see that on a t-shirt. On to Maryland...

In the kitchen//  Soup... my favorite winter food. Yesterday I posted about finding a deliciously old-fashioned recipe for Butternut Bisque. I've made it three times already.

Anticipating//  Another trip to Florida next month. I'm counting the days!

Wondering//  If spring will ever come. We had a couple of days above freezing this week, but still had to have our roof shoveled.

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Butternut Bisque

Spring begins in 25 days... at least according to the calendar. It's been a long, tough winter for much of the country and, if you're like me, a warm bowl of soup is the ultimate comfort food. This year I've been on a quest to find the perfect butternut squash soup. I've tried it curried and smoked, with added leeks, parsnips, and even sweet potatoes. There wasn't a bad recipe in the bunch, but it finally dawned on me that I was really seeking a more basic, old-fashioned taste... no coconut milk or cilantro, please.

I turned to my older cookbooks and found just what I was looking for in Heart of the Home by Susan Branch. Originally published in 1986, it's been on my shelf for well over twenty years. With Branch's signature style, illustrations, and fonts, I enjoy reading her books as much as cooking from them. If you're not familiar with Branch's work, check out her blog to see what I mean.

This Butternut Bisque uses carrots, onion, celery, and potatoes along with the butternut squash. The recipe does not use cream (who needs the added calories and fat?) and is seasoned with a little curry powder and a pinch of nutmeg and ginger. Simple and delicious!

The recipe was featured on Branch's blog a couple of years ago; the same image appears in the cookbook. I enjoy reading her blog on a regular basis. You might, too.

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman

The Gravity of Birds
by Tracy Guzeman
Simon and Schuster, 2013
398 pages
source: purchased e-book

Summary (from Booklist):
Legendary artist Thomas Bayber calls reliable art historian Dennis Fincher and eccentric art authenticator Stephen Jameson to task them with an errand. Although Bayber stopped painting years ago, and his artwork has been extensively documented, he shows them a never-before-seen central panel in a triptych that depicts himself as a young man posed with two sisters, Alice and Natalie Kessler. What he wants Dennis and Stephen to find are the other two panels of the painting, which he gave to the sisters, who seem to have vanished without a trace in 1972. Their quest starts out inauspiciously, since Dennis refuses to fly, and Stephen doesn’t know how to drive, but before long, the two art aficionados become obsessed with finding the missing sisters and the missing panels even as they reveal their own grievous losses. Their narrative is interspersed with the story of the estranged Kessler sisters and their separate relationships with the brilliant if self-absorbed Bayber.

My thoughts:
I decided to take a chance on this debut author thanks to Darlene's review and a kindle daily deal... and I'm so glad I did!

For a second time this year, art played a key role in my reading. There are plenty of details in this novel about painting technique, the authentication process and insights into the business of art, and I found them fascinating. Birding figures into the plot, too, along with family relationships including, of course, deep dark secrets.

This is an ambitious and intricately plotted first novel.  A slow start was my only compliant, but in the end, my patience was amply rewarded. The Gravity of Birds may very well end up on my list of  2014 favorites.

Favorite Quotes:
"She'd come because this was where her past was happily captive, woven into the woods, sparkling off the surface of the lake. Her younger self still hid in the forest, deciphering the songs of birds, naming the stars in the night sky, half-listening for the reassuring call of her name by her parents, who laughed more and drank more and reminisced on the dock while dangling their pale legs in the cold, dark water. This was where she'd pushed her way through the thin paper skin of adolescence to feel the lovely stirrings of attraction, the polarized tugs of desire and insecurity." 
"You don't see the ugliness because you don't want to. That's the job of an artist: to make people look at things - not just at things, but at people and at places - in a way other than they normally would. To expose what's hidden below the surface." 
"How odd it was, all those years spent feeling old while she'd been young. And now that she couldn't be considered young anymore, not by anyone's standards, she didn't feel old. Instead, she felt like she'd finally caught up with herself and was exactly the age she was supposed to be." 
"But people always do things they hadn't intended to do. You're angry. You allow yourself the luxury of considering a horrible thought. You don't have any intention of acting on it, of course, but you've given it a home in your head. It burrows in, pays attention, waits for an opportunity. And in the moment when something requires a decision, it's right there, seeming just as viable as the saner option, the morally correct response. So you choose. And with one decision, you've become a different person capable of doing something so reprehensible, you convince yourself it's completely justified. Because why else would you be doing it? And if, no, when you start to doubt, you can't see your way back to making it right, so you just keep moving forward, making it wrong over and over again."
My rating:

Highly recommended

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Current Reading: The Boys in the Boat

Monday, October 9, 1933, began as a gray day in Seattle. A gray day in a a gray time. 
Along the waterfront, seaplanes from Gorst Air Transport company rose slowly from the surface of Puget Sound and droned westward, flying low under the cloud cover, beginning their short hops over to the naval shipyard at Bremerton. Ferries crawled away from Colman Dock on water as flat and dull as old pewter. Downtown, the Smith Tower pointed, like an upraised finger, toward somber skies. On streets below the tower, men in fraying suit coats, worn-out shoes, and battered felt fedoras wheeled wooden carts toward the street corners where they would spend the day selling apples and oranges and packages of gum for a few pennies apiece. Around the corner, on the steep incline of Yesler Way, Seattle's old, original Skid Road, more men stood in long lines, heads bent, regarding the wet sidewalks and talking softly among themselves as they waited for the soup kitchens to open. Trucks from the Seattle-Post Intelligencer rattled along cobblestone streets, dropping of bundles of newspapers. Newsboys in woolen caps lugged the bundles to busy intersections, to trolley stops, and to hotel entrances, where they held the papers aloft, hawking them for two cents a copy, shouting out the day's headline: "15,000,000 to Get U.S. Relief."
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
by Daniel James Brown

Descriptive, but not exactly riveting. That was my impression of this opening, but don't be fooled... this book gets interesting very quickly. My book club will meet next week to discuss The Boys in the Boat  and I've got both a print and an audio copy from the library. I'm primarily listening, but enjoy having the book to double check names, look at photographs, and read a few more pages each evening.

What do you think of the opening? Would you keep reading?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Classics Club Spin #5

The results are in! The Classics Club Spin number is 20, which means I'll be reading Middlemarch by George Eliot.

Middlemarch is one of five books added to my original Classics Club list as a personal bonus challenge. All five are "books in progress"... neglected for so long that a fresh start is a necessity. I started reading Middlemarch six or seven years ago with an online reading group and fell behind schedule. My bookmark is somewhere around page 300, but I'll definitely move it back to the beginning. I'm excited, but also a little intimidated. Have you read Middlemarch?

What was number 20 on your list?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

The Girl You Left Behind
by Jojo Moyes
Pamela Dorman Books, 2013
385 pages
source : purchased e-book (I love amazon's kindle daily deals!)

Summary (from goodreads):
In 1916, French artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his wife Sophie to fight at the Front. When her town falls into German hands, his portrait of Sophie stirs the heart of the local Kommandant and causes her to risk everything - her family, reputation and life - in the hope of seeing her true love one last time.

Nearly a century later and Sophie's portrait is given to Liv by her young husband shortly before his sudden death. Its beauty speaks of their short life together, but when the painting's dark and passion-torn history is revealed, Liv discovers that the first spark of love she has felt since she lost him is threatened...

In The Girl You Left Behind two young women, separated by a century, are united in their determination to fight for the thing they love most - whatever the cost.

My thoughts:
I rarely read two books by the same author in such quick succession, but this is my second Jojo Moyes novel in as many months… and I enjoyed it even more than Me Before You.

The Girl You Left Behind  utilizes a device that has become increasingly popular in recent years. It alternates between a story set in the past and one in the present. The German occupation of France during WWI serves as the historical backdrop, a lost love is central to both plot lines, and a painting connects the two.

I am not normally drawn to fiction featuring either art or war, but that didn't seem to matter here because Moyes' storytelling is simply captivating. I was hooked by the first chapter and once I reached the midpoint, I could not put the book down.

Moyes has a new novel coming this summer, but in the meantime I plan to work my way through her backlist.

My rating:

Bottom line:
Very different from and, in my opinion, even better than Me Before You... The Girl You Left Behind is a must read!

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Classics Club Spin: Round 5

The Classics Club Spin has been a huge successes. Previous rounds have dealt me Tess of the d'Urbervilles, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Cheerful Weather for a Wedding. The rules are the same this time, only the dates have been changed.

Here's how it works:
- Go to your blog.
- Pick twenty books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club list.
- Post that list, numbered 1-20, on your blog by next Monday. (2/10)
- Monday morning, we’ll announce a number from 1-20. Go to the list of twenty books you posted, and select the book that corresponds to the number we announce.
- The challenge is to read that book by April 2.

I'm still sticking with a slightly modified version of my original list. Here's what it looks like this time:

Pick Me, Pick Me (books I want to read now)
1. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
2. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
3. Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty
4. Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell
5. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

6. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
7. Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
8. A Lost Lady by Willa Cather
9.  Gigi by Colette
10. A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf

Favorite Authors
11. The Bunner Sisters by Edith Wharton
12. What Maisie Knew by Henry James
13. They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple
14. The Winter of our Discontent by John Steinbeck (reread)
15.  Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck

16.  Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
17.  An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
18. Vilette by Charlotte Bronte
19.  Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
20.  Middlemarch by George Eliot

Here is a link to The Classics Club's announcement post.
Are you participating this time around? Let's Spin!

UPDATE: The results are in... the spin number is 20. Looks like I'll be reading Middlemarch by George Eliot. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Tuesday Intro: This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

Nonfiction, an Introduction
The tricky thing about being a writer, or about being any kind of artist, is that in addition to making art you also have to make a living. My short stories and novels have always filled my life with meaning, but, at least in the first decade of my career, they were no more capable of supporting me than my dog was. But part of what I love about novels and dogs is that they are so beautifully oblivious to economic concerns. We serve them, and in return they thrive. It isn't their responsibility to figure out where the rent is coming from.
This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage
by Ann Patchett

I've read all of Ann Patchetts books, fiction and nonfiction, and have eagerly awaited her new collection of essays. At nearly the half-way mark, I'm enjoying the audio version (read by the author) immensely and would be hard-pressed to choose a favorite. I should really read more essays...

What do you think of the opening? Would you keep reading?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

TSS: Super Bowl Sunday Edition

Good morning, friends. Today is Super Bowl Sunday, but around here the really  big game happened last night: #DUKEvsCUSE. The Syracuse University men's basketball team defeated Duke 91-89 in OT. In addition to improving to 21-0 (their best start in school history), it was the largest on-campus crowd ever, the official birth of a new rivalry, and, quite possibly, one of the best college basketball games ever... what a night!

Sure, we'll watch the Super Bowl, but it can't possibly match the excitement of last night's contest. I like football, but without a real stake in today's game, food and commercials become the main attractions.

January Wrap-Up//  Well, January sure was a long month. It actually seemed more like two separate months to me. We began with a couple of beautiful weeks in Florida and ended with two (can it really be only two?) weeks of bone-chilling cold, battling the lake-effect snow machine here in central New York.

On the plus side, time on the beach plus time holed up indoors allowed for some pretty decent reading. A book a week is generally as good as it gets for me, and I finished five books this month:
  • Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life by Karen Karbo
  • The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes
  • Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann
  • The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman
  • The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (audio)
My favorite is a toss-up between The Girl You Left Behind and The Gravity of Birds - both 4.5 star reads. The audio version of The Signature of All Things also rated 4.5 stars. I hope this streak of choosing great books continues.

And now it's February...

Current Reading//  We Are Water by Wally Lamb, on page 200 (of 561) and fully invested in the story.

Current Listening//  This is The Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett, read by the author is amazing. I'll have a hard time picking a favorite essay from this bunch.

On the horizon//  The Boys in the Boat for my book club meeting at the end of the month, I'm still trying to decide whether to read or listen.

In the kitchen//  Lots of soup! There's nothing better than soup on a bitterly cold day. Butternut Bisque from Susan Branch has become a new favorite. This afternoon I'll whip up some Buffalo Chicken Dip for the Super Bowl party... calories don't count today, right?

Will you be watching the game? What about the conflict with Downton Abbey?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life by Karen Karbo

Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life
by Karen Karbo
skirt!, 2013
240 pages
source: purchased e-book

In a nutshell:
In the spirit of The Gospel According to Coco Chanel and How Georgia Became O'Keeffe,  Julia Child Rules dissects the life of the sunny, unpretentious chef, author, cooking show star, and bon vivant, with an eye towards learning how we, too, can savor life. (from publisher)

My thoughts:
"My theory is that our real attachment to Julia is less about her cooking, or even about what she did for the cause of serious cuisine, and more about our admiration for her immutable aptitude for being herself. Julia’s real genius wasn’t in breaking down the nine million steps in cooking a mind-blowing beef bourguignon, or assembling a thousand-page cookbook, but in having the confidence to stand in front of a camera, week after week, without trying to change one thing about herself." p. 10
I think this statement by Karen Karbo pretty much nails it. Julia Child fans are legion, yet who among us is actually preparing her beef bourguignon on a regular basis? Surely Julia's appeal must transcend both cooking and food.

 In Julia Child Rules, Karen Karbo's exploration of Julia's life and philosophy is formatted to fit ten basic life rules. From Rule 1: Live with Abandon through Rule 10: Every Woman Should Have a Blowtorch, her off-beat approach is both fun and inspiring.

Karbo's own, sometimes humorous, adventures are also included in the narrative. I can't imagine trying to follow in Julia's footsteps while living in an ovenless Paris apartment! Although these sections were entertaining, I was always happy when the focus returned to Julia.

This book was not quite as much to my liking as My Life in France, but it contained new (to me) information, a fresh voice, and I loved the life lessons twist. You certainly don't need to be a foodie to appreciate this one.

My rating:

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.


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