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Review: Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym

 

“Something to love, oh, something to love!” “Some tame gazelle or some gentle dove, Something to love, oh, something to love.”

(Donall Dempsey)

My Interest

Since picking up Pym’s Excellent Women last year, I’ve been on a quest to read all of her books. Her stories are compared to those of Jane Austen. I agree. Comedies of manners are always fun–especially for me since I love social history. The sly, dry, humor. The occasional &ictchy comment. And, oh the delicious shade thrown! The side-eyes! The resting &itch faces! Then too, in one of my [yet-to-be-published) novels I have an Agatha who is a Bishop’s daughter. You read it here first. I created my Agatha about seven years before I read this book!

“…as the wife of an Archdeacon she always had very good clothes which seemed somehow to emphasized the fact her father had been a Bishop….[X] would look odd in a familiar old-fashioned grey costume whose unfashionably narrow shoulders combined with [her] broad hips made her look rather like a lighthouse. Her relation Miss {Y] would wear a fluttering blue or grey dress with a great many scarves and draperies and she would as always carry that mysterious little beaded bag without which she was never seen anywhere. …the most magnificent person there would be Lady Clara…who was to perform the opening ceremony. It was, of course, fitting this should be as she was the daughter of an Earl and the widow of a former M.P., an excellent man in his way, although he had never been known to speak in the House [of Commons] except on one occasion when he had asked if a window might be opened or shut.”

This is a great example of her Pym’s style. I love the way each lady is “given her due” as though she were a balloon being pricked by a pin!

The Story

“Spinster” sister Belinda and Harriet live in a quiet country town. Well-educated, they have reached a “certain age” and they are comfortable in their spinsterhood. Oh, Poor Belinda has her old boyfriend nearby and dotes on him. Sadly, he married someone else. And Harriet dotes on each young curate in the parish in turn. Suddenly, their world, and their peaceful spinster lives, are threatened by visitors.

“Good wine and old books seem to go together.”

My Thoughts

“Nearly twenty-past one!’ said Harriet, as they sat down to their meal. ‘The Archdeacon has delayed everything. I suppose he imagined Emily would be cooking.’ ‘I don’t suppose he thought about it at all, men don’t as a rule,’ said Belinda, ‘they just expect meals to appear on the table and they do.”

Each Pym book that I read ends up being my favorite. I loved this story! The discussions of hand-knitted socks, of darning, of grafting heels! Loved it. The watered-down canned soup that tastes like the “fermented native porridge” according to the Bishop from a thinly disguised Malawi/Zambia/Zimbabwe (then The Federation of Nyasaland, and [Northern and Southern] Rhodesia). I could well imagine to what he was referring. It was called “Chimbuku” and it was a local “beer” that tasted like vomit mixed with dirt. The shade!

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I wish my audiobook had had this cover–it’s so much more in keeping with the book which gave so much thought to esthetics, and higher learning.

My Verdict

4.0

Such a good read that I may have to break with my decision not to re-read books any more and enjoy it all again.

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Women in the Kitchen: Two Books–One Older, One New

My Interest

I’ve long been a cook and  foodie. I’d never attempt to cook my way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking ala Julie and Julia author Julie Powell, but I have successfully made several of it’s recipes, including the famous beef bourguignon, I enjoy reading cookbooks, and used to buy a lot of them,  but now use the internet and the library for most of them. (Why did I quit? Space and I had one recipe I used in each. Sound familiar?) Recently, I’ve noticed a spate of interesting cooking/foodie books and have been in the mood to read them, so this week I “yummed” my way through two nice short ones–one older (old to some, but I was an adult in the late 80 so it doesn’t seem “old” to me, lol) and one new.

51sKy1GC1JL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Women in the Kitchen: Twelve Essential Cookbook Writers Who Defined the Way We Eat, from 1661 to Today by Anne Willan, rightly struck me as foodies’ delight. The history of cookbooks in one slim, fast-reading, collection of essays. I was well-versed already in Alice Waters, Julie Child, Fannie Farmer, and Irma Rombauer. The others were truly a fun education.

The “way-back-when’s” were fine, but most interesting to me were Edna Lewis and Marcella Hazan–neither of whom had come to my attention before. Lewis, the daughter of slaves, is the author of The Taste of Country Cooking–which even inspired Alice Waters. Hazan, in the era of Chef Boyardee spaghetti and pizza kits, brought Italian cooking to the American masses with her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Both–well, ALL, of the ladies were interesting people as well as great cooks. The recipes included range from Brown Sugar Carmel Pie, to Blond Gingerbread, to Ratatouille to Mango Salad With Chile Pepper and beyond. All sound delicious.

My Verdict: 4.0  stars

 

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The late novelist and wonderful home cook, Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen is just as delightful as her novels. It was fun to go back to a time when microwave ovens were not in every home and Starbucks was a Seattle thing only.

“Somehow I have never felt that ‘interesting’ is an encouraging word when applied to food.”

As Colwin tells the story of evolution as a cook, she continues to tell us how she really feels: “For hors d’oeuvres we had something which I believe is called cheese food. It is not so much a food as a product.” Or, another favorite quote of mine on iceberg lettuce: “Most people feel it is an abomination.” Yes! With these quotes to set the stage, you just know the recipes will be good, right? You betcha!

“Chicken salad has a certain glamour to it. Like the little black dress, it is chic and adaptable and can be taken anywhere.” As a life-long chicken salad aficionado, I concur completely. The recipes included for chicken salad alone are fabulous. Throw in the potato salads and…or the beef stew (and I have ONE beef stew recipe–one because no other comes close, but I will be trying this one!).

This book is like cooking with your best foodie-cooking buddy on a good day with the right wine. Thank you to Plucked From the Stacks for reminding me of this book that had been on my TBR too long.

My Verdict 4.0 stars

My review of Laurie Colwin’s novel, Family Happiness.

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Another new foodie book review:

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My review of the new book, In the Kitchen: Essays on Food and Life.

My reviews of a bunch of cooking and foodie books are combined into this post.

Are you a cook, a chef, a foodie–or a combination of the three? Do you like to read cookbooks or foodie books? Leave me a comment or a link to your post.

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Wintering Book # 2: Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May

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This week I’m reviewing two books with the same main title: Wintering. Monday, I reviewed Wintering: A Season With Geese by Stephen Rutt.

My Interest

There is so much interest in this book in our COVID-stymied world that I pulled up the Amazon sample and read it. I thought it was essays–that’s why I bought it. Essays, like short stories, have been “working” for me for a change. That it is more memoir turned out to be just fine.

“Wintering is a season in the cold. It is a fallow period in life when you’re cut off from the world, feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress, or cast into the role of outsider….However it arrives, wintering is usually involuntary, lonely, and deeply painful. Yet it is also inevitable.”

(p. 10, Kindle edition)

The Story

The subtitle–The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, really spoke to me. Rest (sleep) and retreat (stay home) is what I, an introvert, naturally do in difficult times. I’ve never been upset to miss a party or an event with crowds. COVID, were it not for the people dying, would be pretty much perfect life for me.

“Winter is not the death of life cycle, but its crucible.” (p. 14)

Katherine May’s “winter” begins when her hale, hardy, husband is suddenly hospitalized and nearly dies. Now, wait! This isn’t an Oprah book! That’s about as depressing as it gets. Katherine’s struggles are along the same curve as most of ours. She is a mother of a little boy, was a college professor, is a writer, and has a struggle with depression. She begins to identify ways people survive their “winters”–whether physical winters (weather) or sad, lonely, or depressed times (mental). By telling these stories and, in the best womanly fashion relating her own trials and tribulations to those stories–even trying their methods of coping, we get the full picture.

I highlighted so many quotes, made notes, nodded and “yes”-ed and “yep”-ed all through this book. She strayed over into what I call “the precious” only a very few times, and only when discussing her little boy. (His name is “Bert” which in the USA would be a “please kick me sign” of a name, but “Bertie” is a very popular name in the UK–like “Archie” or “Wilf” or “Alfie” all of which dumbfound Americans).

The story that meant the most to me was a woman who suffered so badly from depression and hypermania her life was all but unlivable to her. Wanting to be “fixed” by medication she sought a revamp from her doctor. He told her he could “tweak” meds but it would not “fix” her.

“This isn’t about you getting fixed,” he said. “This is about you living the best life you can within the parameters that you have.”

(p. 182)

This statement profoundly changed her life. She stopped trying to be like others. She discovered by chance that it severe cold offered her the greatest relief. Cold, icy water swims–frigid water swims, to be exact. The kind of swims air force pilots the world over are trained to “survive” are what gave her back her life.

My Thoughts

I absorbed, as much as “read” this book. The stories moved me, educated me, and connected me to the season of winter. One of the beauties of reading seasonally, like eating in season, is that as I write this I am looking out my home office window at my snow-covered front yard. It increases the connection. It also moved me that author Katherine May [things may be labeled differently in the UK–I think in the USA we may not be using this anymore] has a diagnosis of Asperger s Syndrome and lives the life, as much as possible, that works just for her. This is a rare gift. Too many people cannot do this (not only do to financial realities–which impact the author), but through real or imagined pressure to conform to a societal norm that may not even exist.

My Verdict

4.0

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May

 

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Mount TBR Challenge and Personal Reading Goals: January Accomplishments

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Mount TBR is a creation of blogger Bev at My Reader’s Block  Click the link for the full rules. #MountTBR2021

You can read about my reading goals, strategies and ideas for reading this year HERE.

Books Read From MY TBR–Mount TBR Challenge

Chanel’s Rivera by Anne DeCourcy

American Housewife by Hellen Ellis

Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck

Seasonal Books Read

Reading “seasonally” is one of my strategies for this year.

Snow by John Banville (read in December, reviewed in January)

Wintering by Katherine May–review coming later this week.

Wintering: A Season With Geese by Stephen Rutt–review tomorrow.

Read Books Set in My Stage of Life

Reading such books is another of my strategies for choosing books this year.

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My review is here.

Reece Witherspoon’s Book Club choices

I’ve enjoyed several of her choices so I decided to continue trying them in 2021.

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Sorry, Reece! I couldn’t get into your YA pick this month. I’m not reviewing it because this is such a weird time. I don’t want to put anyone else off of it. This was the first of her YA picks that I tried.

Continue Reading Essays and Short Stories

2020 was such a weird year! I read to fantasy-ish (-like?) books that I enjoyed and started devouring short stories and essays–usually not my picks at all.

I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown (Read in December, reviewed in January)

Loud Black Girls by Yomi Adegoke

In the Kitchen: Writing on Home, Cooking, and More

American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis

after the quake: stories by Haruki Murakami

Books read that I already owned

My review is here.

How was your first month of the year’s reading? Did you set any goals, join any challenges, or devise any strategies? Leave me a comment or a link to your post.

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Some links to read with your Saturday tea, coffee, martini, or Dr. Pepper

I don’t usually post on Saturdays or Sundays. The exception usually is 6 Degrees of Separation the first Saturday of the first full week of the month. But it is winter. I’m enjoying many things again–finally. Reading is among them. I am also in a good writing workshop right now with author Louise Miller. I’m cooking lots of new things. So here is a look at the randomness that is satisfying my soul right now.

On Writing

Author Hazel Gaynor, whose newest book, When We Were Young and Brave (aka Bird in the Bamboo Cage, I coincidentally reviewed this week, on Writing Through the Pain. From Writer Unboxed.

Ever wonder what literary agents REALLY think? Here is literary agent Janet Reid on what she HATES from querying writers. It is both useful and funny. Nine Things That Drive me Crazy.

“A German author of more than 70 books and 400 academic articles got so much done because of his pioneering system called Zettelkasten.” From Fast Company.

On Reading

A new year, a new President, new beginnings! Modern Mrs. Darcy’s list of books on new beginnings.

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall has started a Reading Room on Instagram. See her first book picks here.

A Few Books 

From Chaos to Creativity: Building a Productivity System for Artists and Writers by Jessie L. Kwak. I have to use so many things recommended for Adult ADHD to stay on top of my paid job, that this might just help.. I hope to order it on the 15th. I will not be buying the workbook though unless I decide later that I need it.

I have owned this since it came out in 2010–I bought it for my son and he used it some. Coincidentally, after my witting workshop did some exercises to help “unstick” our brains, I found this again while de-cluttering what used to be my (now grown) son’s closet. It is geared to preteens/teens, but anyone can make use of it. Rip the Page: Adventures in Creative Writing. 

How about you? Did you find anything good this week? Post a link to your own post–or just post the great link in a comment.

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Review: American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis

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Helen Ellis came to my attention via her essay on how the husband didn’t want a divorce like his wife thought–he just wanted the dining room table to be clean and clear of clutter. Helen is like David Sedaris, and Bailey White–born to be beloved by NPR listeners. While her book, Southern Lady Code was a collection of humorous essays, American Housewife is a collection of short stories. Like the Haruki Murakami collection, I turned to this earlier this week, American Housewife was available when I ran out of audiobooks. Unlike the Haruki Murakami collection, I’m glad I did. Her writing just plain delights. Add in one story told in epistolary form, a fabulous cover, and you’ve got me completely hooked. Did I mention the author is a pro poker player? Or that her husband vacuums glitter in one story? Now I just have to talk myself off the ledge for liking both Chardonnay and wainscoting….

“I fix myself a hot chocolate because it is a gateway drug to reading.”

My favorite of the stories was Dead Doormen. Not because of the doormen, but because I’d LOVE to see that penthouse apartment! I’d love to go through that library of gardening books the late mother-in-law carefully annotated as she grew her terrace garden over the years. A four-bedroom penthouse in a coop by the park in NYC with a terrace garden, fine artwork, and original furnishings kept in museum quality. What’s not to love?

“Just because it’s gorgeous outside doesn’t mean you have to go outside.”

Hello! Welcome to Book Club is part Mafia, part sorority, part dream vacation. An elderly New York Grand Dame funds it all, and a Talbot’s store manager gives everyone her employee discount, add in a couple of “failure to launch” young people thrown in with the 50-60-somethings who comprise the world’s most privileged book club and you have a book club you won’t forget. The thing about Book Club is, you must pick your Book Club Name. “Mary Beth” is not pleased that “Bethany” encroached on her name, so no more anything like “Mary” or “Beth.” These gals will have you “elbow-deep in the onion dip” and grateful for the cocktails, “please and thank you.”

My Novel Was Brought To You By the Good People at Tampax imagines a world in which writer’s receive corporate sponsorship, but all the compromises that demands. I took it as a rift on the way publishers today seem to demand certain insertions in novels that pay homage to political correctness, or now, woke-ness. Maybe I’m right? It was quite a read, regardless of my guess.

“Fertile as a Duggar”

How to be a Patron of the Arts tells of both how to avoid writing and how to make a life for yourself when you are a stay-at-home, childless wife of a loving husband, while going everywhere with gay male friends. Too much to love here.

The Wainscoting War is the battle of wealthy apartment dwellers with a shared landing. It becomes all-out war both by email and by actions. Unforgettable. And, remember, “the only thing with less character than Chardonnay is wainscoting.”

Pageant Protection is a somewhat troubling, dark-humored account, of “rescuing” and “relocating” child pageant victims. It is stressed that the child supposedly applied for this help, but it depicts child abduction all the same. I get it–child pageants are horrendous. I hope pageant Moms who might stumble upon it get the message–or at least take photos of their daughter(s) sans makeup, flipper, wigs, hairpieces, and all the rest.

“Inspired by Beyonce, I stallion walk to the toaster.”

Among the short stories are little bits of essay or free form verse or jottings–How To Be A Grown Ass Woman lists qualities, actions, etc. I loved it.

Most of all, in all of Helen’s writing, I love that she is happily married to a successful man who seems to adore her in return. The little rituals she talks of–sitting with him as he changes out of his suit, even taking him breakfast in bed, are fun and loving. Who wouldn’t want that life in that apartment with that garden, those books, those friends, and all the rest.

An American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis

My Verdict

4.0

 

You can read more by and about this author here: NPR Book Review of American Housewife by Hellen Ellis.

My Review of Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis

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Review: When We Were Young & Brave aka Bird in the Bamboo Cage: A Novel by Hazel Gaynor

My Interest

 

I loved Last Christmas in Paris, Meet Me in Monaco, and the author’s contribution to the short story collection, Fall of Poppies. I follow Hazel Gaynor on twitter, and I just like her writing. She’s become a must-read author for me! Plus, the story brought to mind a character on one of the few t.v. shows I watch–Call the Midwife. She had been interred by the Japanese as a child during World War II.

The Story

This book was based in part on the true story of Chefoo School’s internment during Word War II.

Unlucky in love, Elspeth Kent leaves her Yorkshire home and becomes a teacher at the Chefoo School in China–a school run by the Inland China Mission (missionaries) for the children of missionaries, diplomats, and businessmen who want to at least be able to see their children over breaks instead of exiling them home to the UK or the US or wherever. Among her duties is leading the Brownie Pack [troop here in the USA and I had to Google to learn what a “sixer” was in UK Brownie lingo]. She has met one girl and her mother on the ship and has promised to look after the girl. When the story opens though, Elspeth has written her resignation letter and plans to return home. Before she can deliver it, War officially starts between the Japanese and the UK and the USA. Soon Japanese soldiers enter the school and inform the staff, students, and servants that they are all enemy prisoners of the Emperor. Life changes fast.

The core group of girls include Nancy (who  has an older brother, Edward at the school), Dorothy nicknamed Sprout has an older sister at school (Connie) and Joan aka Mouse, is the quiet one of the trio. Nancy is Elspeth’s favorite though Sprout comes in for much care as well and Mouse is never just ignored. The other teachers include Minne, a “surplus woman” from the last war’s era, and Charlie, one of the boy’s teachers among a few others. They are the sort of decent, caring, dedicated people parents dream of finding in a boarding school.

Elspeth decides early on that Brownies, and later Girl Guides, will be a big help in morale. She uses the teachings of The Brownie/Girl Guides Handbook much more than the Bible, which strange in a school of the Inland China Mission (whose members included the stalwart Presbyterian parents of Ruth Bell Graham and the great Hudson Taylor for whom Taylor University is named), but she uses it to good effect. She keeps the girls busy and demands only correct behavior to help protect her young charges from possibly cruelty by their guards.

Such a woman as Elpseth would commonly be called “plucky.” In the manner of all the “girl” spies of today’s Word War II resistance novels, she steps up and does what must be done even taking on covert operations for the good of the school’s residents. She is courageous, level-headed and a gal I’d want on my team in any situation. I loved how this  strength was played off her memories of the man she loved. Theirs was a wonderful boy-next-door sort of romance and it made her softer and more feminine–more of her time, though both were weakness she dared not show their captors.

As the war goes on, the little community suffers privations of various sorts. There are heartwarming and heartbreaking events to come. [I don’t do spoilers so I have to be vague]. The girls grow up in all the normal ways, but must do so without a mother to guide them. Elspeth, and later a rather colorful older woman, help them. Eric Liddell, of Chariots of Fire fame, who would not run on the Sabbath–not even at the request of Crown, was a true part of this story.

War’s end finally comes and the Chefoo School staff and students go their separate ways. But who will ever replace the friends with which they survived Japanese internment? [No spoilers}

My Thoughts

I loved this story!

Elspeth’s no-nonsense, stiff upper lip manner was exactly what the girls needed. Even better that she occasionally let her self “love on” the little girls. That was sweet yet believable. Her remembered love for her late fiance was beautiful. I liked each of the girls–they were believable. And I liked Charlie for his steadfastness and courage and normalcy.

I really doubt that the Inland China Mission’s powers that be would EVER have allowed a mere teacher to have a Buddhist holy book! A pastor, perhaps, so that he was knowledgeable. And that a Chinese servant would have gifted it to her? I struggled with this little gift more than with anything else in the story.

I also thought it strange that she was accepted as a teacher yet her faith was very shaky. That would have been a deal breaker today, let alone back then. It is pretty easy to ferret out fakers–I’ve helped do it in too many job interviews with my employer, a Christian university. It all just seemed a bit too modern, a bit of social engineering to make it more palatable to today’s readers. And, had Mouse said that so many people were praying now that God couldn’t have time to answer them all (p. 95) within hearing of a mission school teacher she’d have been corrected in an instant. Doubting and mocking are not hallmarks of a a mission education. I’m assuming Mouse just said it to other girls and so easily got away with it.

Elspeth’s relationships with the servants seemed very modern, too, but I’ve been stuck in a foreign country with no one but my own house servant for company so I know that it does happen. It was interesting that she got so little flack for it.

So fun that the girls’ Guide Patrol was named for Queen Elizabeth’s own–The Kingfisher Patrol. Very patriotic–I loved this little detail.

In spite of my doubts on a few minor things, I know the author did her research. Perhaps I am just wrong. I hope so. I loved the story so much and it will remain with me. I stayed up until 2:30 am on a work night just to finish–I couldn’t bear to put it down. I hope there is a sequel of the years after the War. That would be just as compelling a story.

My Verdict

4.0

And, “Must-Read” status is accorded to Hazel Gaynor

Other books I’ve reviewed by this author

Meet Me in Monaco by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

I read and enjoyed all the stories in Fall of Poppies, but my review of the book as a whole has been lost in a crash of my old blog. I recommend it though if you are fond of World War I love stories. Fall of Poppies.

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Where I Read in 2020

Thank you to blogger, The Book Stop, whose post inspired this one! And also to the original blogger, A Year of Reading the World, who inspired me to  start keeping track of the countries I read several years ago. I am also working my way around the world in books. I’ve tracked my progress for years in a simple composition book. This year I also participated in several reading challenges that pushed me to read books in translation or books set in a certain country. So, my list has grown. Also this year, in January, I completed my Reading Across the U.S.A. journey! I had to research books set in North Dakota, Rhode Island a few other states, but the rest just happened in the course of my reading during the last several years.

The Countries I Visited This Year & The Books That Took Me There

 

2020 books are in purple. Past years are in purple or red. I marked the UK but I no longer track all of the books I read set in the USA or the UK. I forgot to mark Chile and Haiti and maybe another one or two places.

Newly “visited” countries are in bold. I am working on a list by country like several other bloggers keep. It is very helpful to find such blogs when you are trying to travel around the world by book. I am also trying to update the tags in my reviews so you can locate all of them by country. Meanwhile, in the word cloud on the left side, you can click on any of the various names for Reading The Globe or Reading Around the World, etc., to see all the boos that way. Not all that I count are in this blog–I have counted those read at any time in my adult life.

 

  1. Australia
  2. Cuba
  3. Denmark
  4. Dominican Republic
  5. France
  6. Ghana
  7. Germany
  8. Haiti  Everything Inside: Stories by Edwidge Danticat
  9. Hungary
  10. Iceland
  11. Ireland and Northern Ireland***
  12. Japan
  13. Mexico
  14. Pakistan Unmarriageable: A Novel by Soniah Kamal
  15. Spain  This Too Shall Pass by Milena Busquets
  16. Suriname   The Boy Between Worlds: A Biography by Annejet van der Zijl and trans. by Kristen Gehrman
  17. Syria
  18. Zambia

***  I know this is not right! Northern Ireland is part of the UK, but I’m simplifying for this list!

The Others–I’m not linking to all the reviews, but nearly all are reviewed on here. I do not generally review series books.

Where did you visit by book this year? Do you track your reading by state in the USA or by country? Leave me a comment or link to your post!

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Review: Chanel’s Riviera by Anne De Courcy

My Interest

The Chanel Sisters sounded really good. I looked over a few early reviews and saw one that said skip the early chapters. I couldn’t agree more. They checked too many pet peeve boxes–especially contrived/stilted/oh too prescient conversations. Unfortunately, people who do not know a thing about Chanel must be brought into the story. I skipped, but unfortunately, I had already listened to a fictionalized Chanel story, Mademoiselle Chanel by C.W. Gorter. No offense to author Judithe Little, who I’m sure did a great job, but one novel was enough, and Gorter got my attention first. While browsing the libraries available E-audio books, I found Chanel’s Riviera by a favorite author, Anne de Courcy, which had been on my TBR since it was announced. I grabbed it and was so glad I did.

The Story

My interest in Chanel begins and ends with her raffia with the Duke of Westminster and her friendship with Winston Churchill. Of course, I love her scent, Chanel No. 5 and the Nancy Reagan-Chanel suits. An interesting “what if” of history is “what if” Chanel had conceived a child–an heir and had a hurried-up wedding to Bend’Or? A very lovely young man named Hugh would not now be the Duke in a Cousin Matthew-ish story in real life for one thing! What else might have changed? Churchill as godfather? An ex-Duchess of Westminster revising her fashion business? Oh well, that’s the “what ifs.” Today it’s the real story.

The Riviera pre-World War II was a haven for writers and creatives. Chanel lived there in the house given her by the Duke. Another Duke–Windsor, the ex-king who couldn’t get his life quite right (are you listening, Harry?) also stayed there a lot. The story of his near treason and his having to be reminded that, as a Field Marshall, he was disobeying orders to leave France, is better told by another character in this book, Alexandra Curzon Metcalf (aka Baba, married to Fruity, the Duke’s equerry) in her letters which were used in Frances Donaldson’s biography of the Duke. Somerset Maugham and other writers, Jean Cocteau, and “the little people” are also part of the cast of characters of this “Life and Times” sort of biography.

The Riviera was a playground of the rich and the creative. With the rise of the Nazis and later the fall of France it became something of a haven for Jews fleeing the Reich and for refugees from other parts of France. The story of those years is the best part of the book–though I had learned some history from the recent novel, Akin, both from history told within the story and from various rabbit trails it led me down. Chanel herself was, of course, a survivor. Like many another abandoned child, her allegiance was to herself.  Again, not a-typical of abandoned girls, she sadly, always had to have a man at her side–this is what caused much, but not all, of her post-war controversy. The discussion of who was and who was not a collaborator acknowledges that almost anyone working or in business during the occupation could have been rightly branded a collaborator. Chanel’s social status most likely helped her a great deal in this discussion. Certainly, her head was not shaved as it was for other women who slept with Nazis.

My Thoughts

I learned little additional information about Chanel, but enjoyed every moment. De Courcy’s books are so readable, so enjoyable that the backlist is a pleasure to work through.  I had already learned a lot about the hardships under the Nazis and the controversy of Chanel’s German lover, but it was fascinating to read “the big picture” that De Courcy assembled. It is well told and an enjoyable read.

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Chanel’s Riviera: Glamour, Decadence, and Survival in Peace and War 1930–1944 by Anne De Courcy

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Review: Mum & Dad by Joanna Trollope

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My Interest

Who doesn’t love a good old, Joanna Trollope “AGA Saga?”  This one is pretty new (October 2020) involved the sunshine of Spain and wasn’t the drama of my family.

The Story

Gus and Monica fled the UK almost 30 years ago to start a vineyard in sunny Spain. Their three children, Sebastian, Katie, and Jake, all weathered that change differently. Sebastian and Katie, older and in school at the time, were parked in boarding school back in the UK while Jake went along with Mum and Dad to the new life in Spain.

Fast-forward to today. The vineyard regularly wins awards for it’s superb wine. Back in London, Sebastian and his type-A wife, Anna, are at odds and he is feeling like less than a man. There sons listen only to Mummy. Katie and her Nic, a college professor, are doing ok, but the middle of their 3 daughters isn’t. Monica is feeling purposeless. She and Gus have long ago left romance and even friendship behind. She potters in her little vineyard shop and gets in the way of the help. All of this crashes to a halt though when Gus has a stroke.

Each little family unit, Mom & Dad, Katie & Nic, Sebastian & Anna and Jake & Bella, all have struggles–struggles they do not share with the rest of their family. Now that there’s the “What to do about Dad” problem, will they pull together or move further apart?

My Thoughts

It’s hard to criticize a one-woman industry of a writer! One who had a genre coined just for her books. Still, I couldn’t help feeling this one was a little too “going through the motions” or even, dare I suggest? “Phoned in?” Perhaps it is just that publisher’s begrudge anything over 200  for a page count? That’s about 100 pages off her best books–The Rector’s Wife and The Choir. The pressure to produce yet another family story must be horrible. 

The characters never came truly alive. They, too, went through the motions. The kids spoke in a way I don’t even imagine one of the few day boys at Harrow would speak to their parents today. (Ok, her families aren’t THAT posh! They likely attend the State schools recommended in the Tatler or else attend a tony day school with crested blazers.) That was the oddest part though–how kids spoke in general, but especially Sebastian’s sons spoke to their mother. Of course, those parents were terribly, terribly earnest about parenting so who knows? Anyway, that part didn’t ring “real” with me.

I’ll just finish by saying this wasn’t her best, but it might not be the worst, either. It’s perfect for a long flight or for a little escape into a world that is normal, but not yours. There’s no Corona or lock-down or treason in it at least.

My Verdict

3.0 Stars