Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Reading Wrap-Up: April 2014

Is it really the end of April already? Where has the month gone? I didn't get quite as much reading done as I'd hoped mostly because I've been trying to get this blog and my travel blog underway. Since reading and traveling for me go hand-in-hand I thought I should really have a blog devoted to each to keep the topics separate for readers who might only be interested in on or the other, but still give me the pleasure of enjoying both!

The two really do overlap each other for me though all the time as most of my travels are inspired by books I have read or the books I read are inspired by my travels. You'll find I tend to pick books set in different countries or with themes (like WWI and II lately) that tie in to a trip. I love how these types of books let me travel and explore these new places without leaving home. I also really enjoy learning about different cultures and historical events tied to the places I'm going to visit. I find I appreciate everything so much more and am a little more observant when I know a little bit about what I'm going to see. I also get a little thrill when I've read a book in a certain location (like Julia Child's "My Life in France" when I was in France) and then every time I see that book I'm instantly taken back to that time and place. And then I just love reliving great memories of the places I've been when I read about one of those cities in a new novel. Especially London and Paris. I just can't get enough of either city.  

At the end of each month I think I'll do a wrap-up post of what I've been reading, progress on my reading challenges, and what I have on the TBR (To Be Read) pile.

So let's see what I have been up to for the month of April shall we?

Books I've Read 
(Click on the title if you'd like to read my review of the book) 

source: Goodreads

Books In Progress
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling
  • The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomans (audiobook but I'm struggling to finish because I don't really care for the narrator)  
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (audiobook for the car...wish I could stay in my car all the time. This is SO good)
  • The New York Times. 36 Hours. 125 Weekends in Europe by Barbara Ireland (LOVE this book!)

Reading Challenge Progress 

  • Somewhere in France: A Novel of the Great War by Jennifer Robson
  • All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  • The Norman Conquest of England by Janice Hamilton
  • Park Lane by Frances Osborne 
  • Mr Darcy's Guide to Courtship: The Secrets of Seduction from Jane Austen's Most Eligible Bachelor by Emily Brand
  • ...something about the Mayan ruins we'll be visiting in June

"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page."
~ Augustine of Hippo

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

{Book Review} Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage

source: Goodreads

Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage

by Elizabeth Gilbert

First Published: 2009

Pages: 7 CD's

ISBN:  978-0670021659

Dates Read: April 14-21, 2014

Reading Challenges this book is part of: 

- 2014 Audiobook Challenge
- 2014 Non-Fiction Challenge

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

At the end of her bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert fell in love with Felipe, a Brazilian-born man of Australian citizenship who'd been living in Indonesia when they met. Resettling in America, the couple swore eternal fidelity to each other, but also swore to never, ever, under any circumstances get legally married. (Both were survivors of previous bad divorces. Enough said.) But providence intervened one day in the form of the United States government, which-after unexpectedly detaining Felipe at an American border crossing-gave the couple a choice: they could either get married, or Felipe would never be allowed to enter the country again. Having been effectively sentenced to wed, Gilbert tackled her fears of marriage by delving into this topic completely, trying with all her might to discover through historical research, interviews, and much personal reflection what this stubbornly enduring old institution actually is. Told with Gilbert's trademark wit, intelligence and compassion, Committed attempts to "turn on all the lights" when it comes to matrimony, frankly examining questions of compatibility, infatuation, fidelity, family tradition, social expectations, divorce risks and humbling responsibilities. Gilbert's memoir is ultimately a clear-eyed celebration of love with all the complexity and consequence that real love, in the real world, actually entails.

Other works by this author:
  • Eat, Pray, Love
  • The Signature of All Things

Further Information:

My thoughts on the book:

Boys it seems like this book just can't catch a break, well at least on the Goodreads website. Review after review talked about how much people disliked the book, but I quite liked it, and MUCH better than 'Eat, Pray, Love' I must say.

I picked it up because it was basically bargain priced at my local Half Price Bookstore and it was an audiobook at that. I've been looking for some audiobooks to pass the time on my commute but have had a terrible time finding ones that I don't mind listening to. This was one I actually enjoyed listening to and couldn't wait to get back in the car at the end of the work day to hear what other tidbits the author would tell me about. On that merit alone the book gets a couple of stars.

The basic premise of the book is all the research Elizabeth Gilbert does about marriage while she is waiting for the Visa that will allow her Brazilian boyfriend to enter the United States so they can get married. Neither want to get married (both having come through bad divorces) but in order for them to live together in the US they'll have to. So while out of the country she starts to research the history and culture of marriage in an effort to pretty much convince herself it'll be OK. Funny thing is while she's convincing herself of marriage she's turned me more against marriage!

One of the things I liked the best about this was that instead of portraying marriage as some fantasy, romantic, end all and be all, she brought it back down to earth for what it is and has been over the centuries. And it hasn't always been about love. Nor is it all about love even today in some cultures. I also liked that she was honest and real about the faults of individuals that make up a couple- her boyfriend's and her own. We all have them. None of us are as wonderful and perfect as most romance novels would have us believe, yet we still find great people to spend our time with that make our lives so much richer and enjoyable than they would have been without them.

All in all this was a very enjoyable read, well listen, and so good that I'll probably listen to it again in fact.

Friday, April 18, 2014

{Book Review} The Art of French Kissing


The Art of French Kissing

by Kristin Harmel

First Published: 2008
Pages: 338

ISBN: 978-0-446-58143-1

Dates Read: April 10-14, 2014

Reading Challenges this book is part of: 
- 2014 Books on France

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

How do you say, 'So many men, so little time,' in French?

Well, Emma Sullivan can always figure that out later. The point is -- she's in Paris! Which would be great, except that she's stuck doing public relations for one of the hottest -- and craziest -- rock stars on the planet. Making things worse is Gabriel Francoeur, the sexy and stubborn reporter who refuses to believe her when she tells him that her client was just playing Go Fish in that hotel room with all those scantily-clad girls....

But Emma will always have Paris. The City of Light, of romance, of high fashion and of unfathomable varieties of cheese. If a girl can't reinvent herself here, there's no hope! It's time to leave the old Emma Sullivan behind and become someone courageous, exciting, successful. The type of girl who, when faced with a reporter who won't stop asking questions, knows just what to do. After all, they don't call it French kissing for nothing!

Other works by this author:
  • The Sweetness of Forgetting
  • Italian for Beginners
  • The Blonde Theory

Further Information:

My thoughts on the book:

This was such a fun book to read. Predictable? Oh for sure. But aren't all "chick lit" books predictable in that "girl gets her heart broken but then meets a guy that is SO much better anyway" kind of way? True to form Emma's fiancé was the one who broke her heart but she will be much better off without him.

After her break-up she takes off to Paris to join a friend to help her manage the public relations of a rock star. We are then treated to an imaginary visit to Paris (which I will happily take any day) as Emma tries to keep up with the antics of the rock star and dating.

While there weren't any profound moments or words of wisdom in this book I'd still recommend it as a great quick read for that long flight or before bed when you just want to relax and enjoy a sweet story.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

{Book Review} Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate)

source: Goodreads

Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate)

by Amy Thomas

First Published: February 1, 2012
Pages: 304

ISBN: 978-1402264115

Dates Read: March 15-April 9, 2014

Reading Challenges this book is part of: 
- 2014 Books on France
- 2014 Foodies Read
- 2014 Non-Fiction

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Part love letter to New York, part love letter to Paris, and total devotion to all things sweet. Paris, My Sweet is a personal and moveable feast that’s a treasure map for anyone who loves fresh cupcakes and fine chocolate, New York and Paris, and life in general. It’s about how the search for happiness can be as fleeting as a sliver of cheesecake and about how the life you’re meant to live doesn’t always taste like the one you envisioned. Organized into a baker’s dozen of delicacies (and the adventures they inspired) that will tempt readers’ appetites, Paris, My Sweet is something to savor.

Other works by this author:
  • The Detective and the Woman
  • The Detective, the Woman, and the Winking Tree

Further Information:

My thoughts on the book:

This was a book that I really wanted to love but at best I can say I only really liked it, and only some of the parts.

I just love all things French, especially Parisian, and really enjoy books that remind me of the times I have spent in Paris by mentioning particular places or streets. This book did all that for me so definitely a plus for the book in this regard.

Each chapter was basically divided into one part being the author's personal story of being an American working in France, trying to learn and fit in with the culture, and searching for a little love along the way. I really liked this half of each chapter, especially since I've always wanted to do as this author has done and spend a year or two in Paris. It gave me a great peek into that world.

The other half of the chapter was descriptions of all the pastries, macarons, cupcakes, and all other manner of French and New York sweets and treats that she discovered in her time abroad. She did a really good job of relating particular deserts or cookies to the things she was going through in her life but, admittedly, I really started just skimming through these bits of the chapters about midway through the book. Not to say they weren't written well but reading about pastries just isn't my cup of tea I guess.

I did find myself highlighting several passages that struck me as I went along, either because I saw myself in them, or I just liked her honesty or positive attitude.

"And if I learned anything in that long, dark winter in Paris it's that sometimes if you change your attitude, life follows your lead" ~pg 184

How true. Sometimes we can all use that reminder if life seems to be kicking us while we're down.

"The curse of being an expat, I realized, is that you belong to two cities and, as a result, neither entirely. I had been asking myself either-or questions, but the answers were not black and white but a million shades of Parisian gray." ~ pg 254

As an expat myself and one that plans to move to a third country in a few years I have definitely thought about this myself. Am I still Canadian? I certainly call myself one but have I lived so long in the United States now that I'm seen as American to some people? I have spent most of my adult life in the US so if I moved back to Canada I would have to learn many "adult" things (e.g. getting a mortgage etc.) all over again and would be almost like a foreigner in that regard. So which place do I really belong? Not that these questions keep me up at night but have certainly gone through my mind a time or two.

So while I can't give glowing reviews to this book, as I did skim through many bits of it, I can say the parts that interested me were enjoyable to read. If you like reading about food and which patisseries have the best sweets or croissants you'd probably enjoy the whole book.