Friday, July 31, 2015

Have A Lovely Weekend and A Paris in July Wrap-Up.

Gustave Caillebotte, Paris Street, Rainy Day, 1877

It's hard to believe that the end of July is here! I had a great time participating in Paris in July over at Thyme for Tea. I also enjoyed reading what everyone has been up to with their posts for Paris in July, and you can see the latest posts for this final week here

Here is a rundown of how Paris in July went for me:

There were literary quotes

A review of Indiana by George Sand,

The painting Place du Caroussel by Camille Pissaro,


Claude Monet's Parc Monceau

Au revoir, Paris in July, but I look forward to participating next year!

Bon week-end à tous!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Secrets by Freya North

Happy Tuesday! I'm joining in on First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where bloggers share a bit about what they're reading or thinking of reading soon.

One of the books that has been gathering dust on my Kindle and looks like a good summer read is Secrets by Freya North (2012). I'm planning to start the novel this week.

The opening:

"There was something about the way the small red hatchback slunk onto the gravel of the drive, coming to a shuddering standstill as if it was giving up, as if it was about to conk out, that reminded Joe of an animal in need of a rest; some poorly kept pack-horse exhausted from an arduous day's work. He watched through the window of his study, on the ground floor, through the tangle of honeysuckle branches which clambered around that side of the house and provided useful camouflage at moments like this. 

Nothing happened for quite some time; whoever was in the car was staying put. Eventually, the car door opened and Joe watched as the woman climbed out. She stared at the house while still clinging to the open door as if it was a shield. She ducked back in and Joe was prepared for her to drive away, for this woman not to be the Tess of the bizarre phone call last night. She looked nothing like the people who had house-sat for him in the past. But she was out of the car again, walking around to the other side of it, opening the door, leaning in, apparently rummaging around."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Paula McLain's much anticipated novel about the adventuress Beryl Markham, Circling the Sun, is worth the wait. I knew a little bit about Beryl Markham's life as an aviatrix, but she was so much more than that. I've read several reviews of this historical novel that give a rundown of Markham's life and accomplishments, but I wanted to point out what made Circling the Sun unputdownable for me:

1. One of the main character's in this novel is Kenya, and McLain does such a wonderful job of portraying the beauty and mystery of Kenya of the 1920s and 1930s. She uses evocative and beautiful language to depict Kenya, and at times, I felt like I was there.

2. I loved reading about how Beryl Markham (1902-1986) had such an independent spirit, even from an early age. As a young girl, she ran wild and was practically raised by her best friend Kujii's tribe. While she had extraordinary life experiences, they didn't prepare Markham for adulthood and how to deal with the British ex-pats who lived in Kenya. Markham refused to adhere to the code that these rather eccentric Brits made for themselves and did things her own way. She paid a heavy price.

3. McLain does an excellent job in portraying the conflict that comes with Markham's association with Karen Blixen (a.k.a. Isak Dinisen) and another adventurer, Denys Finch Hatton. Hatton was already in a relationship with Blixen when he and Markham became lovers. Meanwhile, Markham and Blixen were friends. I loved the subtly of McLain's writing because often what wasn't said was just as important as what was being said.

Beryl Markham was a complex person, and McLain captures this complexity and tells the story from Markham's point of view in an absorbing and riveting way. I highly recommend Circling the Sun.

If you've read Circling the Sun, I'm interested to know what you think.

I was provided a galley of this novel by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Paris in July: Remarks on Recent French Films I've Seen

I've had the chance to see three French films which I thought I would share for Paris in July

Romantics Anonymous (Les émotifs anonymes) (2010) asks the question, how do two people who are painfully shy and suffer from anxiety fall in love? It's not an easy journey to love for Angélique and Jean-Réne. She attends meetings of a twelve step group for the painfully shy, and in moments of doubt, sings a French version of "I Have Confidence" from The Sound of Music. In an attempt to conquer her shyness, Angélique takes a marketing job at a failing chocolate factory, even though her passion is making chocolate. Jean-Réne, the factory owner, is equally shy and trying to overcome his fear of most everything. He's seeing a therapist who urges him to meet a new person. How Angélique and Jean-Réne fall in love and how she saves the chocolate factory from going under make for a funny and touching film that I really enjoyed.

Bright Days Ahead (Les beaux jours) (2013) The wonderful Fanny Ardant plays Caroline, a recently retired dentist who has lost her best friend to cancer. She's feeling depressed, bored and unhappy that her husband and adult children are intent on making plans for her. What they have in mind is for Caroline to babysit the grandchildren. They also want her to take part in activities at a local senior center. Caroline attends a computer class at the senior center where she meets the computer instructor, who is the good looking, charming, and younger Julien (Laurent Lafitte). The sparks fly and soon, Caroline finds her life not so dull after all but a lot more complicated. I loved this film and recommend it.

Little White Lies (Les petits mouchoirs) (2010) This film has echoes of The Big Chill, but I didn't feel it was as good. Little White Lies is about a group of self-absorbed friends who vacation together every year. One of the friends, Ludo, a coke sniffing, hard drinking, ladies' man (played by The Artist's Jean Dujardin) is travelling the streets of Paris on his motor scooter when he's hit by a truck. The friends meet at the hospital where Ludo is fighting for his life, but the group decides Ludo shouldn't stop them from their vacation. They travel to the beach where they stay at the beach house of another friend in the group, restaurateur Max (François Cluzet). Control freak that he is, Max is equally exasperating but also provides some humor in this story. The plot is a bit slow, and at two hours and thirty five minutes in length, I expected more. The cast was excellent, and I felt they did the best they could with what they had to work with, but I can't recommend this film.

I found these films on Amazon Instant Video, and with a Prime membership, Romantics Anonymous and Les Beaux Jours are free to watch.

Have you seen any of these films? What French films have you seen recently?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Happy Tuesday! As I usually do on Tuesdays, I'm participating in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where bloggers share a bit about a book they're reading or thinking of reading soon.

My selection today is not the kind of book I'd normally pick for myself but a book club read--Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty (2014). Initially, I wasn't that thrilled to be reading this book, but once I got started, I found it really interesting. There are several things covered in this book, but what I liked was Doughty's look at the history of the funeral industry and how our society deals with death. 

The opening paragraph:

"A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves. It is the only event in her life more awkward than her first kiss or the loss of her virginity. The hands of time will never move quite so slowly as when you are standing over the dead body of an elderly man with a pink plastic razor in your hand."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

A review is coming soon!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Eleven by Patricia Highsmith

Obsession, murder, strange plot twists, unreliable narrators, deranged people, people who are driven to insanity by circumstances beyond their control--this is what I found in the collection of eleven short stories that make up Patricia Highsmith's Eleven. I've had this book for awhile and recently picked it up on a stormy Sunday afternoon with the intention of reading one story but found that I couldn't stop with just one story . . .

I've read that Highsmith had a love for snails and liked to carry them around in her purse, sometimes taking them out at dinner parties or at restaurants to let them roam around on the table. (Yuck!) There are two stories in Eleven that have to do with snails. My favorite is "The Snail-Watcher." It reminded me of an episode of the "Twilight Zone" and is about a man whose fascination with snails turns to obsession and becomes his downfall. 

Two other favorites have to do with unreliable narrators. "When the Fleet Was in at Mobile" is about a young woman who takes matters into her own hands to escape her abusive husband. In "Love Cries," two elderly women who are supposedly good friends do terrible things to each other's most beloved property. I still find myself thinking about this story and about these two women, mainly because Highsmith leaves out some important details of the plot. For example, are the women living in a hotel or a nursing home?

Delving into the darker side of human nature is what Patricia Highsmith did best. The stories in Eleven left me feeling a bit uneasy, but I loved reading them. If you enjoy these kinds of stories or Patricia Highsmith's writing, then I would recommend Eleven for you.

Eleven is on my list to read for The Classics Club.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sunday Salutations

Hi there! I hope that you've had a good week. It seems like another month continues to fly by . . .

Last week, the x-rays on my foot showed that the bone is 90% healed, so I was able to get rid of the pesky boot. I still have to be careful and take "essential steps" only for the next several weeks, but it feels great to be able to move more.  

On the blog this week . . .

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros featured The Cornish Coast Murder

My Paris in July post featured a review of Indiana by George Sand

A review of My First Time in Hollywood by Cari Beauchamp

The Friday painting had a Paris theme

This week in reading . . . 

I completed two books that couldn't be more different, and I liked them both. 

Books in progress . . .

Looking forward to . . .

This week, I'm hoping to see this delightful looking film with Ian McKellen, Mr. Holmes.

And I'm still enjoying Poldark.

How about you? What are you reading? How is your summer going?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Have A Lovely Weekend.

Camille Pissarro, Place du Carrousel, Paris, 1900
Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Thursday, July 16, 2015

My First Time in Hollywood by Cari Beauchamp

I've finally taken the plunge into NetGalley. One of the first books made available to me was an electronic version of My First Time in Hollywood by Cari Beauchamp (2015). 

The book is a compilation of stories from more than forty actors, directors, writers, and crew about their experiences in early Hollywood, taken from speeches, letters, biographies, and autobiographies. The book covers the period in Hollywood from the 1900s through the late 1920s.

Here is part of Mary Pickford's 1910 account of working with D.W. Griffith: 

"Our film caravan arrived like a band of hardy pioneers in the thinly populated village of Los Angeles with its eucalyptus palms and heady orange blossoms.

Our studio consisted of an acre of ground, fenced in, and a large wooden platform, hung with cotton shades that were pulled on wires overhead. On a windy day, our clothes and curtains on the set would flap loudly in the breeze. Studios were all on open lots--roofless and without walls, which explains the origin of the term 'on the lot.' Dressing rooms being a nonexistent luxury, we donned our costumes every morning at the hotel. Our rehearsal room was improvised from a loft which Mr. Griffith rented in a decrepit old building on Main Street. A kitchen table and three chairs were all there was of furniture. Mr. Griffith occupied one of the chairs, the others being reserved for the elderly members of the cast. The rest of us sat on the floor. Surveying his squatters one day, Mr. Griffith announced he needed a split or half reel.

'Anybody got a story in mind?' he asked."

Mary Pickford, 1916
from Wikimedia Commons

In My First Time in Hollywood, there's a good representation of famous Hollywood folk such as Lionel Barrymore, Myrna Loy (with stories about her early days as a dancer), Mary Astor (whose early days in Hollywood included an affair with John Barrymore), Cecil B. DeMille, Anita Loos, Frances Marion, Hedda Hopper (talking about her acting days), King Vidor and others. 

I also enjoyed various accounts from people who worked on the early films who aren't so well known. Robert Parrish, a child actor in the mid 1920s who went on to become a film editor as an adult, tells a delightful story about his experience of working as a ten year old with Charlie Chaplin in the film City Lights. I also enjoyed Winifrid Kay Thackrey's account of her start as a set decorator and the challenges of discovering what kinds of fabrics and furniture look best in a black and white silent film. There are others whose work in films puts them in the background, but their stories are no less compelling. Another plus of this book is that Beauchamp adds a section at the end of all the accounts to tell what each person went on to do in his or her career and in retirement. 

The only drawback to My First Time in Hollywood is that for the electronic version of the book, the pictures are very small. There are lots of great photos, but I would've liked to have gotten a better look at them.

I recommend this book for people like me who enjoy reading about the history of Hollywood. While not the glamorous place we think of today, early Hollywood was a time of great innovation and a place where women thrived not only as actresses but also as directors and writers. There's so much interesting information that I couldn't stop reading My First Time in Hollywood

Hollywood, 1923
from Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Paris in July: Indiana by George Sand

Indiana by George Sand, originally published in 1832 and now considered a feminist work, is the story of naive Indiana Delamare and her search for love. The novel takes several twists and turns as it deals with themes such as unrequited love, a woman's role in society, and suicide.

Indiana is the much younger wife of the abusive Colonel Delamare. They live at his estate in the French countryside near Brie. With them is Indiana's moody yet protective British cousin, Ralph. Indiana's spirits are low, and living in the house with Colonel Delamare has made Indiana lose the will to live. 

Into this situation steps trouble in the form of the charming and manipulative aristocrat, Raymon de Ramiere. Indiana, not realizing that Ramon isn't an honorable man, falls in love with him. Unbeknownst to Indiana, Raymon has a relationship with Indiana's maid and dear friend, Noun. When Noun becomes pregnant, she kills herself by drowning.

The relationship between Indiana and Raymon has many highs and lows as he attempts to seduce her. With business troubles, Colonel Delamare decides that he, Indiana and Ralph should move to Île Bourbon (now the island of Réunion near Madagascar). With the pain of separation from Raymon, Indiana decides she must see him and undertakes a secretive and dangerous ship voyage to Paris. When she finds Raymon, he's married for money and now lives in her old house. Raymon makes it clear that he wants nothing to do with Indiana. 

Roaming the streets of Paris while the Revolution of 1830 goes on around her, Indiana is friendless, penniless and has lost her identification papers. She becomes ill and delirious to the point of being near death, but Ralph finds her. He brings news that the colonel has died from a fever. Ralph then declares his love for her, and they make their plans for the future. 

What a journey Indiana has to find true love. There is quite a bit of drama along the way and even a bizarre twist at the very end of the story. The novel also shows just how little influence Indiana has over her own fate. Under French law at that time, she was powerless to leave her marriage and was not able to own property. Sand provides entertaining narration and points out those timeless truths about life and about relationships between men and women. 

If you have an interest in feminist literature or romanticism in literature, this would be an excellent novel for you. I read Indiana for the Paris in July Challenge.

Have you read Indiana or any novels by George Sand?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: The Cornish Coast Murder

Happy Tuesday! I'm taking part in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where book bloggers share a bit about a book they're reading or thinking of reading soon.

I've started collecting the mysteries from the British Library Crime Classics series. The first for my collection is The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude, originally published in 1935. I'm planning to read this mystery soon.

The opening paragraph:

"The Reverend Dodd, Vicar of St. Michael's-on-the-Cliff, stood at the window of his comfortable bachelor study looking out into the night. It was raining fitfully, and gusts of wind from off the Atlantic rattled the window-frames and soughed dismally among the sprinkling of gaunt pines which surrounded the Vicarage. It was a threatening night. No moon. But a lowering bank of cloud rested far away on the horizon of the sea, dark against the departing daylight."

From the back cover:

"The Reverend Dodd, vicar of the quiet Cornish village of Boscawen, spends his evenings reading detective stories by the fireside--but heaven forbid that the shadow of any real crime should ever fall across his seaside parish. But the vicar's peace is shattered one stormy night when Julius Tregarthan, a secretive and ill-tempered magistrate, is found at his house in Boscawen with a bullet through his head.

The local police inspector is baffled by the complete absence of clues. Luckily for Inspector Bigswell, the Reverend Dodd is on hand, and ready to put his keen understanding of the criminal mind to the test.

This classic mystery novel of the golden age of British crime fiction is set against the vividly described backdrop of a fishing village on Cornwall's Atlantic coast. It is now republished for the first time since the 1930s with an introduction by the award-winning crime writer Martin Edwards."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Friday, July 10, 2015

Have A Lovely Weekend.

Jean Béraud, Paris, rue du Havre, 1882
Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection 
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Paris in July: Literary Quotes About Paris

Bonjour! I'm participating at Paris in July over at Thyme for Tea. Last year, I had a fun time putting together a post with literary quotes about Paris, so I thought it would be fun to do it again this year. These beautiful stock images are from Pixabay. Allons-y!

"To know Paris is to know a great deal."
Henry Miller (1891-1980)

"A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and the point of life."
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

"London is a riddle. Paris is an explanation."
G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

"When good Americans die they go to Paris."
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

"Respirer Paris, cela conserve l'âme."
("Breathe Paris in, it nourishes the soul.")
Victor Hugo (1802-1885)

Do you have a favorite quote about Paris?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Thoughts on The Moviegoer by Walker Percy (1961)

I finished The Moviegoer by Walker Percy (1961) over the weekend, and the novel's still on my mind. The Moviegoer is the story of the eccentric Binx Bolling (whose real name is Jack). He's 29 and works as a stock broker in New Orleans. Binx is the detached observer of his own life and of those around him. He only feels alive when he goes to a movie, and if he's not spending an evening in a movie theatre, he's perusing the local paper to find the schedule of films and making his plans.

Although he comes from an upper class Southern family, Binx chooses to live in a middle class suburb of New Orleans, known as Gentilly. His interactions with people are guarded, even with his own family. Binx is in the midst of a crisis in his life where he's experiencing dissatisfaction and malaise. He attempts to get out of this crisis through what he calls "the search" and a need to escape from the "everydayness" of life, or as Binx explains it:

"To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair. The movies are onto the search, but they screw it up. The search always ends in despair. They like to show a fellow coming to himself in a strange place--but what does he do? He takes up with the local librarian, sets about proving to the local children what a nice fellow he is, and settling down with a vengeance. In two weeks time, he is so sunk in everydayness that he might as well be dead."

His aristocratic Aunt Emily, who regularly summons Binx to her mansion in the Garden District, feels that he's wasting his life and should be in medical school. But Binx is happy making money, and there's also the allure of his secretary du jour. In Binx's small office where he works with one secretary, the secretaries come and go. Binx has enjoyed romantic entanglements with these women even though he knows that the relationships will end badly. 

The one genuine relationship Binx has is with his beautiful yet suicidal cousin, Kate. Even their time together is fraught with a bit of angst and "everydayness." Binx understands Kate and her many moods because he's seen it all before. While the family frets and calls doctors, it's up to Binx to take care of Kate. Much of the story deals with whether Binx will truly find what he's looking for in "the search," or whether he'll continue his life in the safety of his routines. 

The story occurs during the week leading up to Mardi Gras, sometime after the Korean War. A strength of this novel is how place plays an important role. Percy's descriptions of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are evocative and full of atmosphere. There's a lovely rhythm to Percy's writing that made me enjoy getting lost in the prose. It's easy to see how this novel established Percy as a noted writer of Southern literature.

I would recommend The Moviegoer to readers who enjoy Southern fiction.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Eleven by Patricia Highsmith

Happy Tuesday to you! I'm taking part in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where book bloggers share a bit about a book they are reading or planning to read soon.

Recently, I read Patricia Highsmith's first short story collection, Eleven, published in 1970. The stories appeared in various magazines in 1945 and then throughout the 1960s. 

I'm sharing the first paragraph of a story from Eleven, "When the Fleet was in at Mobile:"

"With the bottle of chloroform in her hand, Geraldine stared at the man asleep on the back porch. She could hear the deep in, short out breaths whistling through the mustache, the way he breathed when he wasn't going to wake up till high noon. He'd been asleep since he came in at dawn, and she'd never known anything to wake him up in mid-morning when he'd been drinking all night, had she? Now was certainly the time."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

A review is coming soon!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Remarks on Recent Reads

Welcome to Remarks on Recent Reads! Here are mini-reviews of four books that I read in June, and I highly recommend each of these books.

Afternoon of a Good Woman by Nina Bawden (1976). I loved Bawden's story of Penelope, a London magistrate, who has made the decision to leave her husband. As she goes through her day, we see Penelope in her public role in court, but as she hears cases, she's also examining her own life and her decisions and whether she can go through with leaving her husband.

The Other Woman's House by Sophie Hannah (2012). Another gripping psychological thriller by Sophie Hannah. When Connie can't sleep, she goes online and looks at 11 Bentley Grove, a Cambridge house for sale featured on a real estate web site. As she examines the photos of each room, she sees a photo of a woman lying face down in blood in the living room. When she tries to show her husband the photo, it's disappeared. This sets in motion events which bring to a close to the honeymoon of detectives Charlotte "Charlie" Zailer and Simon Waterhouse. The plot is complex and had me guessing until the end. This is the sixth book in the series. I can't remember when I've read a thriller that left me with so many questions after the first chapter.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (2013). What's not to like about this story? Harold Fry receives a letter from Queenie Hennessey, an old friend he hasn't heard from in twenty years. She's in a hospice dying from cancer. Feeling ineffectual and wanting to do something, Harold decides to walk from his home in the south of England to where Queenie is in the north of England at Berwick-on-Tweed, and he has an amazing adventure along the way.

Voyage in the Dark by Jean Rhys (first published in 1934). Reading this novella, I felt like I was in the territory of Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser with a vulnerable young woman alone in the big city with no money, only Anna Morgan is not so lucky as Carrie. Anna has moved to England from the West Indies. She works as a showgirl, struggling to make ends meet. For awhile, she has a relationship with a rich man who takes care of her. Voyage in the Dark is notable for its modernist style and for Anna's dreamlike flashbacks about her old life which she misses. She identifies strongly with the culture of the island where she grew up and wishes that she could be black. In reading about the book, the story is autobiographical about Rhys' life when she first came to England. The writing in Voyage in the Dark is stark, and the story is bleak, but I had to keep reading.

Have you read any of these books? If so, what are your thoughts? What are you reading this week?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Sunday Salutations

I hope that you're enjoying the holiday weekend! My July 4th was low key because I'm still having to take it easy with my foot. We had quite a bit of rain yesterday, but it didn't stop the fireworks. 

Looking back at June . . .

These are the books I completed in June. I had a fantastic month in reading, the best in recent memory. While I'd like to attribute this to my discipline and diligence, having to keep the weight off my foot gave me an excellent reason to catch up on reading.  

This past week . . .

I didn't take part in Top Ten Tuesday where readers talked about the the best ten books they've read over this year, but I wanted to share my top five favorites so far this year (in no particular order):

Disclaimer by Renee Knight. A great psychological thriller.

The Wedding Group by Elizabeth Taylor. Elizabeth Taylor is becoming one of my favorites writers. 

Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh. A wonderful satire.

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. Moving and sometimes funny story of two sisters. 

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. I haven't reviewed this book on the blog yet, but I loved it. 

I completed these books this week:

Also, I had an opportunity to watch two films that were both delightful:

How has your week been? What have you been reading?

Friday, July 3, 2015

Have A Lovely Weekend.

Claude Monet, La Corniche near Monaco, 1884
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands