The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris (Jenny Colgan)

In a word: Darling

img_3358

I read The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris on vacation a few weeks ago, and it was really cute. Jenny Colgan has written a lot of food themed novels, and what’s not to love about that? This one tells the story of Anna Trent, an English girl who worked in a giant chocolate factory. After a bizarre accident, she finds herself in the hospital recovering in the bed next to her kind, but very sick, high school French teacher. The two become close during their lonely days at the hospital, and after Anna’s recovery time is over, Mrs. Shawcourt connects Anna to an old friend of hers: Thierry Girard, a famous chocolatier in Paris.

Anna’s Paris adventure is rocky at first: she struggles with the language, her coworkers don’t like her, her apartment is tiny, her roommate is erratic; but as she gets into her element, she discovers the delights of the city. There are some great characters throughout the novel-Thierry, the passionate, boistrous chocolatier; his uptight, British wife; the quirky, loyal shop assistants; Thierry’s handsome, estranged son; Anna’s flamboyant roommate; and Anna, the self-conscious protagonist, trying to find her way in the world.

This book is a cute novel that will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy inside and also craving fancy chocolate. Definitely a fun summer (or weekend!) read!

Advertisements

Books I Can’t Stop Recommending

Since I’ve started posting more on social media about my reading life, I’ve had a lot of people ask me for book recommendations. Although I have read a lot of books this year, I find myself recommending the same few books over and over, so I thought I would share them with you now.

img_3249-1

Category: Quirky/Unusual/Different from other things you’ve read

  1. Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple

I have written briefly about WYGB before because I reread it in June (for my third or fourth time), but I wanted to give a little more details here.

Semple is a super interesting writer. She wrote for Arrested Development, which is a show well-known for witty one-liners, hilarious banter, and tons of inside jokes. WYGB delivers on all of these accounts.Bernadette herself is a quirky, misunderstood, slightly-crazy mom who goes missing, and her daughter Bee is putting together pieces to find out where she went. The style of this novel is unique: the story is told through a compilation of emails, memos, newspaper clippings, and flyers. I have heard that the style is off-putting to some readers, but I loved it. When I chose this book for my book club in July, the discussion turned into a read-aloud of all of our favorite parts of the book. It was my dream come true.

Memorable quote: “This is why you must love life: one day you’re offering up your social security number to the Russian Mafia; two weeks later you’re using the word calve as a verb.”

2. The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

The ridiculous title was the first thing that appealed to me. I read the author interview at the back and learned that his inspiration for this novel was a conversation with  friend where they started thinking back on all that a person would have seen if he had lived through the past 100 years. The story follows Allan, a man who climbs out of the window in his nursing home on the morning of his 100th birthday and embarks on an accidental adventure. The story switches between his current flight and his past escapades. Jonassan cleverly crafts Allan’s life story to include interactions with most major political figures and world events that show up between 1905-2005, from building the first atom bomb to engaging  in a drinking battle with Harry Truman on the night that Roosevelt was shot. The story is obviously far-fetched, but it is very clever and fun and full of dry wit. The book is translated from Swedish, but I think it keeps its humor really well.

Example quote: “Never try to out-drink a Swede, unless you happen to be a Finn or at least a Russian.” or “Allan thought it sounded unnecessary for the people in the seventeenth century to kill each other. If they had only been a little patient they would all have died in the end anyway.”

Category: Suspense/Thriller

3. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Lindsey had talked about Rebecca for years, and after I read it, I totally understood why. It is an awesome thriller that is gripping to the end, but it doesn’t have the graphic or scary details that often come with the genre. Rebecca tells the story of a young woman who marries a widower and goes back with him to the home he used to share with his late wife, Rebecca. The new wife (you never learn her name, although she is the narrator of the whole novel) tries to adjust to life in Rebecca’s shadow, but the longer she spends in the house, the more she realizes that things are not what they seem. Who exactly was Rebecca, and what happened to her all those years ago?

4. The Chief Inspector Gamache books by Louise Penny (Book one is called Still Life)

I have gushed about Louise Penny before, and I’m sure this won’t be my last time. There is something about this series that I can’t get enough of! Penny has created a wonderful cast of characters who play in each of these murder mysteries. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is thoughtful, kind, perceptive, and wise, and he is very good at his job as head of homicide. His character is what makes the series so wonderful. These books are murder mysteries, but they are so much more about the characters and their lives and about human nature and relationships than they are about graphic details of murders. Some of the books have a little bit of weird mysticism thrown in, and they all have some language (one of two of the characters in particular), but overall they are really great if you enjoy a good mystery!

Category: Funny

5. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (and Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

I love a good celebrity memoir, and this one is my favorite. Mindy is hilarious and down to earth and surprisingly insightful. I remember thinking, “YES! Why does no one else talk about how weird/dumb/ridiculous _______ is?!” In Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me, Mindy discusses the awkwardness of growing up, making friends, chasing dreams, and feeling left out, but she does it all in a way that shows that she doesn’t take herself too seriously. Also, she gives some great behind-the-scenes details from The Office, which is always very fun to read. There is some language and adult content, but this book is way less shocking and gritty than a few other celebrity memoirs I’ve read. I liked this first book better than her second, Why Not Me?, but that one is fun if you want more Mindy. This is my go-to book when someone says they need an easy book to get back into reading. It is a quick, easy, fun read!

Example quote: “All women love Colin Firth: Mr. Darcy, Mark Darcy, George VI—at this point he could play the Craigslist Killer and people would be like, ‘Oh my God, the Craigslist Killer has the most boyish smile!”

Vacation Reading: Yours, Mine, and Ours

We went on an extended-family vacation a few weeks ago, which gave Les and I a rare but wonderful opportunity: reading together!

This meant Leslie reading out loud to me while I drove one of the vans on the way to Missouri. She timed it perfectly so that we read the final paragraphs of These Happy Golden Years as we literally pulled into the parking lot of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Mansfield.

Once we arrived at our final destination (NOT Laura’s house, sadly), we settled in to reading our own books in close proximity and then trading them back and forth as we finished.

Photo Jun 27

 

One of the first nights we were all together we celebrated all of our summer birthdays. Leslie and I were showered with books and book-themed gifts. (Does our family love us, or what?)

birthday books

Finally, it meant Leslie stealing one of the books that I had gotten for my birthday to read on her drive home. Just yesterday she told me that she was just going to ship me another copy from Amazon because she wasn’t going to give my original one back!

I was going to post a a detailed Vacation Reads summary, but Leslie covered almost all of my titles with her June recap! (See aforementioned book swapping.) SO…I’ll keep it simple.

Still Life by Louise Penny

I’ve never claimed to be into murder mysteries, but I’m making a happy exception for this series. These plots are interesting without being icky; much more about human nature and relationships than about the grisly details of a character’s untimely demise. Still Life is book 1 and I’ve heard the series just gets better from here!

The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Plazza

A total change of pace, this novel set in the rapidly changing world of fashion publishing is delightfully larger-than-life. Editor Imogen has paid her dues and risen to the top of her field until she is usurped by her 26-year old former assistant who returns to Glossy magazine with an MBA. Manic catfighting ensues.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

I read this a long time ago and liked it okay, but after years of Leslie’s fangirling I decided to give it another try. She was right! I totally loved the snarky tone and the creative narrative structure.

All Good Things by Sarah Turnbull

I was excited to discover that the author of my all-time favorite memoir, Almost French, had written a follow-up companion. It’s always fun to catch up with beloved characters. But honestly, if I hadn’t already had a connection to the characters, I don’t know if this book would have captured my interest. The tone is much more melancholy (the main theme is Turnbull’s struggle with infertility and her longing for a child), and the pacing is inconsistent. For example, a description of a deep-sea dive might go on for pages, but (SPOILER!) the long-awaited baby turns one just a few pages after his birth. The strongest points of this memoir are Sarah’s struggles and successes as a foreign member of a new culture– this time in Tahiti.

 

But enough about me…what have you been reading on your summer vacation?

June Recap

June was a really fun month of reading for me. I started in a little bit of a slump, but once I got going on a couple of these, I just couldn’t stop reading!

IMG_2855

1. Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

The first of a long series of books following Maisie Dobbs, a detective/private investigator/boss lady in the 1920’s. She is smart and totally lovable. This first book has a lot of flashbacks to set up Maisie’s back-story, but I hear that doesn’t continue much through the rest of the series. I really enjoyed Maisie and can’t wait to continue with the series!

2. Ready Player One by Earnest Cline

Full post here. Surprisingly enjoyable dystopian YA nerd novel. Ready Player One takes place in dystopian future America and follows an eighteen year old boy who is trying to win a video game contest for the hope of a better life.

3. Still Life by Louise Penny

Louise Penny’s first Chief Inspector Gamache novel. I read a different Louise Penny book that comes later in the series before I realized that it was a series, so I finally got around to starting at the beginning. I loved it. The crazy characters, the quaint small town, the quiet confidence of Gamache–I can’t wait for my library to get me book 2!

4. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

True confession: I did not finish this book. I had it on my kindle from the library, and I didn’t know my time would expire so quickly. I really enjoyed the parts that I did read (I highlighted and took screenshots almost every time I read), but I found it hard to pick it up and read for very long. Someday I would like to come back and finish this book, but I probably won’t right now.

5. The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander

Beautiful memoir about Elizabeth Alexander’s husband who passed away suddenly. Alexander is a poet, so her descriptions of her Ficre (her husband) and their life together were really beautiful. Lindsey did a full review of The Light of the World here.

6. Little House on the Prairie, Little Town on the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder

These books are just so classic. I read these three in preparation for our trip to visit Laura and Almanzo’s house in Missouri, and I laughed and cried through them.

img_9807

All the heart eyes for Laurmanzo

7. The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes

SO FUN. This might be one of my favorite books that I’ve read this year. It takes place in the fashion world of New York City and follows a seasoned editor-in-chief of Glossy Magazine through a transition into the new world of social media. I loved all of the name-dropping of famous designers and the commentary on the bads (and goods) of our instagram-obsessed culture. It was fun, thought-provoking, and just overall very entertaining. Definitely a great summer read.

8. Lizzy and Jane by Katherine Reay

I really enjoyed this one! It is the story of two sisters (named for the Bennets) who struggle to connect after years of bitterness following their mother’s death. One is a chef, one is a stay-at-home mom battling cancer, but both have some serious emotional baggage to sort through. Even though that sounds heavy, the book is quite lighthearted and full of quotes and conversation about Jane Austen, other classic literature, and food.

9. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Marie Semple

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is one of my favorite books. I reread it this month for my book club (I got to choose the book, so of course I picked this on), and it was just as good on my fourth read. The story is told through a series of memos, emails, flyers, and newspaper clippings, so it is really quirky. I LOVE it.

The Girl You Left Behind (JoJoMoyes)

In a word: Feel-good

The Girl You Left Behind

If you follow us on Instagram you may remember that I almost didn’t even finish this one. But I am so glad I did!

The first quarter of the book set up the back story in this enjoyable past/present mystery. The story of two sisters holding down the home front in German-occupied France felt SO reminiscent of The Nightingale that I thought it might be better to try it again later. But as I kept reading, I found myself caught up in the other half of the narrative: the modern-day story of sweet and sad Liv, stumbling into a new love four years after the tragic death of her husband.

There’s a lot to like about this book. Moyes is a good storyteller, and her writing is clear and uncomplicated. For bluffer history nerds like myself, the historical setting was interesting. And while I am in the minority, at least according to Goodreads and Amazon reviews, I also enjoyed the modern-day story, which revolves around the mystery of a painting: a portrait by a lesser-known Impressionist, once hung in a French hotel, taken to France after the war, now in the possession of a British architect who bought it on a sidewalk in Spain.

Now, I said that this book will appeal to history bluffs, not serious scholars, and I kind of think the same is true of semi-literary readers as well. The plot and characters would not hold up under intense scrutiny, and I suspect the historical details would not fare much better. So if you have high standards in either of these areas, you may pooh-pooh this selection. But if you’re able to enjoy a story without asking too many questions, this may be right up your alley.

Many of the issues in the story are serious– World War I in the past and a tragic widow in the present, not to mention morally complex themes like wartime infidelity and post-war reparations. Nevertheless, I’m categorizing this as a beach read– somehow it just doesn’t feel that heavy when it’s all said and done, thanks in part to a very satisfying ending. (A bit too neat? Perhaps. But like I said before, don’t ask too many questions.)

Eleanor & Park (Rainbow Rowell)

In [two] word[s]: Totes adorbs

img_9365

When I first started this book, I was not charmed. I found it annoying, overdramatic, and a little abrasive (This is often my first impression of high schoolers, so I should not have been surprised, given the two teenaged narrators.). But I was trapped in a rocking chair with a sleeping baby and nothing to read but my Kindle app, so I kept going… and I fell in love.

This story is just the cutest. The narration flips back and forth between the two main characters, giving us two insights into the events that are unfolding. Both protagonists are misfits in their own way: she’s the new kid, overweight and badly dressed, he’s half-Korean and nerdy. They share a seat on the bus. Although they don’t speak at first, they slowly bond over comic books and mix tapes. As their relationship develops, the sexual tension becomes the school bus in the room every time they’re together.

Somehow this novel manages to be sweet and overblown in all the right ways without being melodramatic or saccharine. Part of it is the matter-of-fact perspective of the characters themselves (there is no narrator to bog the story down with commentary or description). Part of it is the harsh setting: this sweet love story unfolds between characters who deal with abuse, poverty, bullying, and clueless parents.

I devoured this story and reached the ending in less than 24 hours. I hadn’t been watching my progress bar and was totally unprepared for the story to be over. I texted Leslie: “DROP EVERYTHING. BUY THIS BOOK AND READ IT TODAY. TELL ME WHAT DOES THE POSTCARD SAY???”

~~~

from Leslie:

As I’ve stated before, I am very easily persuaded into reading things. I had read a book by Rainbow Rowell before (Fangirl-also a really fun read), so I was eager to try out Eleanor & Park. I completely agree with Lindsey’s assessment-it was a perfect YA book. Completely dramatic, but also adorable. I also read it in about 24 hours and immediately called Lindsey to chat about it.

After the abrupt ending, I did a little searching on Rainbow Rowell’s website, and I thought this quote was a perfect summary of why I loved the way she closed out the story:

I mean, I know it’s not really an ending; there aren’t wedding bells and sunsets. This isn’t the end for these two people. It’s just where we leave them.

But they’re 17 years old.

And I don’t believe that 17-year-olds get happy endings. They get beginnings.

Dear Mr. Knightley (Katherine Reay)

In a word: Cute

Dear Mr. Knightley

You will all be glad to know that this book is not trying to be Emma. It’s about a literature-loving girl who grew up on the streets and in the foster care system, writing letters to an anonymous benefactor who is paying for her to go to graduate school. Samantha quotes literary characters as a defense mechanism, a habit which all of her friends find annoying (As a reader, I felt ambivalent. Who doesn’t love literary quotes? But I also could see the friends’ point.)

I bought this book because the Kindle edition was 1.99, and I needed something light to read on an airplane. This was the way to get maximum enjoyment out of this book. The story is cute, and all the literary references are fun. But I think if you read too carefully or critically, you could get bogged down in the weak points of the narrative.

You’ll have to take the light approach on purpose. Samantha and many other characters bring a lot of baggage to the table, and you might be tempted to think deeply about orphan psychology, child abuse, the United States foster system, and dysfunctional family dynamics. Unfortunately, I don’t really think that the story line or the characters are strong enough to stand up to cross-examination.

Bottom line: if you can resist the temptation to read with your critic’s hat on, you can enjoy this as a light-hearted love story with lots of Jane Austen quotes.