Favorites of the Week

I’m back again with a bunch of totally disconnected bits and pieces that piqued my interest this week. I hope you have as much fun as I did!

Home decor
  • While looking for wire plate stands that hold more than one plate, I discovered this gorgeous plate holder at Bed Bath and Beyond. I don’t need it, but it’s beautiful and someone among my French decor friends must have to have it to complete her look!
Click into photo for source.

Click into photo for source.

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The Saturday Review: Two Portraits of Ernest Hemingway

I’ve been on a Hemingway journey for several years, enjoying The Paris WifeA Moveable Feast, The Sun Also Risesand Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris while armed with my own memories of Paris. Today’s review includes two recent reads about Ernest Hemingway and his world.

At the Hemingways: A Family Portrait

download (1)Originally published in 1962 after the suicide of her famous brother, Marcelline Hemingway Sanford shares stories of growing up with her brother and very family. With their primary residence in Oak Park, Illinois, and their summer home at Walloon Lake, Michigan, I found these local stories interesting just for their history. A newer edition was published in 1998 for the centennial of Hemingway’s birth, and includes correspondence between Ernest and his sister Marcelline. Hemingway’s experiences as a child and young man in Illinois and Michigan, as well as his time in Italy, Paris, and Spain are part of this treasure trove of Hemingway history. Marcelline Hemingway Sanford’s writing is clean and her narratives move along crisply, with wonderful characterization of the family members and friends who influenced Ernest Hemingway. Continue reading

The Sunday Review: A Virtual Week in Provence

If you have been friends with me for any length of time, you already know that I was lucky enough to have a fabulous vacation in France just about a year ago. I traveled in a group of eight friends and family and it was an amazing trip.

The France Frolickers

We started our vacation by flying into Nice in southern France; I wrote about it here on our vacation blog. I feel very sad that life got in the way and I abandoned our online record of the trip. Maybe I have time now to work on that…

Image Credit

Image Credit

Anyway, since I was feeling nostalgic for our trip, I checked one of my favorite “set in Provence” films out of the library — again. A Year in Provence is a British made-for-television adaptation of Peter Mayle’s book of the same name. Both the book and the television series chronicle Peter and his wife’s first year of retirement after buying a beautiful home in southern France. Starring veteran English actors John Thaw and Lindsay Duncan, the episodes are a relatively faithful adaptation of Mayle’s book.

I have probably watched A Year in Provence ten times, but this time, I saw it in a new light. In fact, I posted a photo of my television on Facebook to show the France Frolickers that we had essentially the same photo that was in the the film.

The village of Gordes in the movie

The village of Gordes in the movie



There were comments and scenes about Provençal institutions, such as the filmmaker Marcel Gagnol and the ubiquitous game of boule (here in the United States, we usually call it bocci — an Italian game that is very similar). And then there’s the story of the truffles, a theme which follows the entire year portrayed in the book. Thinking about truffles brought me back to the fabulous meals we shared while in France — day after day of gourmet cuisine that I’ll never forget.


If you are planning a trip to Provence or have already been there, give yourself a treat and watch A Year in Provence. It’s got its faults — not everyone loves Peter Mayle and his bumbling behavior, but there’s a lot to love in this series.

This post includes affiliate links. Please see my advertising disclosure for details.


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The Great Gatsby is almost here!

The Great Gatsby West Egg Mansion

As  a confirmed Gatsby lover, I can hardly wait until the new movie comes out next week. My daughter and I are such fans of The Great Gatsby that I bought her a Department 56 lighted house. “Somehow” I still have that house…

Baz Luhrman’s new movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby probably won’t be perfectly aligned to the book, but I’m pretty sure it will be an amazing take on what is considered to be one of best English language novels of the 20th Century.

I encourage you to read this wonderful post by the Head Butler, which includes an interview that sheds light on Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and their relationships with friends who became characters in Fitzgerald’s stories. Sometimes they weren’t particularly flattering, as we see in The Great Gatsby.

Where will you be on Friday, May 10? I’ll be at Randhurst sitting in a comfy rocking chair enjoying The Great Gatsby!



The Sunday Review: I Want to Dance with the Man Who Danced with the Girl Who Danced with the Prince of Wales

Somehow I just can’t get enough of “the 20th century’s greatest love story,” which is apparently what Madonna called the romance of the man who was on his way to being king and his American girlfriend.

You probably already know the story about how the future king of England fell in love with the already-divorced-American who was still married to her second husband. Despite which film-maker’s version of the story you accept, it’s fact that Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David Windsor became Edward VIII with the death of his father and eleven months later abdicated his throne in order to be able to marry Wallis Simpson. His brother Bertie became George VI and was the father of Britain’s current monarch, Elizabeth II.

I was excited when Netflix finally had Madonna’s film, W/E, available for streaming. I missed it in the theater (perhaps because it was here and gone in a box-office failure flash), but really wanted to see it. Madonna chose to tell Wallis and Edward’s romance as a story-in-a-story with a modern-day heroine providing opportunity for flashbacks to a companion story about the Windsors. It was only somewhat successful, as reviewed here and here, but I loved the costume drama elements and it piqued my appetite for more about Wally and David.

When the Netflix gods found out I was interested in Wallis and David’s story, they started sending me suggested movies as companion pieces to W/E, and from there comes today’s Sunday Review post. I got hooked on watching a seven-part imagination of the lives of Wallis, David, and the people around them. Whoever wrote these scripts wasn’t quite as sure about “the 20th century’s greatest love story.”

As this article from The Guardian states,

If you want a less sugar-coated take on it all, try Edward and Mrs Simpson, the classic Thames TV series from 1978. The seven-parter offers a fascinating look at an extraordinary chapter in British history. Even if we do know how it all ended, it still makes for compelling drama. Love? Barely mentioned. Ambition, duty, jealousy, selfishness? Got them in droves.

Once I started watching the hour-long segments, I couldn’t stop, and they increased my understanding of a situation that I knew only as a person fascinated with human behavior and its historical impact.  Armed with my greater knowledge, I fully intend to watch W/E again,  and last night I watched The King’s Speech (also available on Netflix) again.

In The King’s Speech, we see Colin Firth’s take on Bertie and the struggle to become king (while having a speech impediment) in the wake of his brother’s romantic tidal wave. Firth won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of George VI.

And then there’s Hyde Park on Hudson, the newest entry into the Bertie-on-film category. This film brings George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Hyde Park in New York state, where the two discuss the United States’s possible support of Britain in World War II. (That’s a simplified version of the issue, but you get the point.) The story’s not really about Bertie, but is written cleverly and is reminiscent of Downton Abbey and the social clashes between American and British ways in the early 20th century. Although not well-reviewed, I fully enjoyed it and so did my viewing partners. This photo is the only one I could find that showed the main cast, because the film is a tour-de-force for Bill Murray as Roosevelt, although he was denied an Oscar nomination AGAIN.

If you are intrigued by this story, I encourage you to put these movies in your instant queue and settle down for a historical love fest. And, if you’re desperate for even more, here are IMDb’s lists of portrayals of Edward VIII and George VI in film versions. Ahhhh… Thank goodness I’m retired.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to revel in the charms of Maggie Smith and the rest of the rascals at Downton Abbey. Just in case you were wondering, it wasn’t just in English country homes where dinner jackets were considered to be inappropriate for a formal evening. You’ll find the bit about the wearing of a dinner jacket over tails to be part of the wry humor of Hyde Park on Hudson, too.

P.S. The theme song for Edward and Mrs. Simpson is a popular tune from 1927 and you will not be able to get it out of your head. I’m just warning you.


If you love Liz like I love Liz

I’ll bet you thought we were going to talk about the upcoming Lifetime movie starring Lindsay Lohan as Elizabeth Taylor.


While this movie looks intriguing just for its notoriety, it’s the real Elizabeth that I’m talking about today. Elizabeth II, that is.

A family member who knows I love all things British sent me this montage of Queen Elizabeth. It’s well done, but unfortunately sends home the message that even the richest and most well cared for of us eventually age. At least I’m aging in the quietude of my retirement, not on a world stage. Anyway, enjoy!


The Sunday Review

Cadillac Records  (2008) directed by Darnell Martin, starring Adrian Brody, Jeffrey Wright, and Beyonce Knowles

Where I Got It: Music Man picked it out at the library.

Genre: Musical biopic, DVD

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Amazon gives it four stars and so do I, but if you’re interested in the stories of early recording artists, this is a good movie for you. Cadillac Records tells the story of Chess Records and its importance to the growth of rock and roll. I’ve always wanted to go to the museum, and this movie reminded me to put it on my list. I gave it four stars because there’s some important history either left out or reworked to make the story have more box office appeal. The actors are compelling and it was fun to see Adrian Brody when he wasn’t being The Pianist or Salvador Dali.

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

Where I Got It: Library

Genre: Historical Fiction

My Rating: 4/5 stars

It’s not a perfect story, but it’s not about a perfect person either. Kate Alcott used a real-life survivor of the sinking of the Titanic to create a historical fiction novel about a young dressmaker who hitches her star to famous designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon. While the publication of this novel was clearly timed to coordinate with the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster, it’s still worth a read. I encourage you to read Kate Alcott’s essay on the Amazon site about why she chose this topic.

Love in a Nutshell by Janet Evanovich and Dorien Kelly

Where I Got It: Library

Genre: Romance with a little Mystery thrown in

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Love in a Nutshell wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either. It’s very light reading with a typical innocent romance between a needy female and a strong handsome male. I couldn’t find any other articles about this book online, but as several of the Amazon reviewers say, the book doesn’t have much Janet in it. It feels like she put her famous name on a friend’s story to help it sell. It has a super cute cover, though. 🙂

The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

Where I Got It: Netflix

Genre: Action Adventure, Mystery

My Rating: 5/5 stars

I finished up the Swedish versions of the trilogy via Netflix; I was totally hooked. I loved how Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist just picked up where they left off in the first movie and developed Stieg Larsson’s characters even more. I watched them all the way through in two sittings. Totally recommended!

Cannery Row (1982) starring Nick Nolte and Debra Winger

Where I Got It: Music Man got it from the library

Genre: Fiction/Musical

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Imagine John Steinbeck’s novels (Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday) turned into a stage play filmed as a movie. It’s an interesting construct that in my opinion worked very well. Nolte and Winger are believable as the crusty scientist Doc and the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Suzy, and they are surrounded with a cast of equally strong actors. In researching this movie I found out that Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Pipe Dreams was also based on Cannery Row and I thought I knew everything about RnH. If you decide to check out Cannery Row, just remember that I’m a musical theater nut and that may have colored my rating, but some reviewers called it underrated.

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The Sunday Review

Prospect Park West: A Novel by Amy Sohn

Where I Got It: Library in audiobook

Genre: Realistic Fiction, Contemporary Satire

My Rating: 3/5 Stars

Billed as a satire about Brooklyn’s trendy Park Slope families, Prospect Park West had real promise. There’s plenty of material to skewer, but Amy Sohn didn’t quite deliver on what could have been a really good book. She had all the components, including the oh-so-successful construct of intersecting plotlines, celebrity worship, name-dropping, sexy and sexless characters, and real estate envy, with a little do-gooder food cooperative action thrown in. Listening to it in the car, I was literally turned off by the initial gratuitous sex scene, and almost took it back to the library. Since I didn’t have any other books in the car, I kept listening, and as I came to know the characters, I was intrigued about where Sohn would go with them. Unfortunately, not all of the plotlines were fully realized, and I was left feeling as though there needed to be a sequel, or a television show, which is perhaps Sohn’s intent with this novel.

Oz and James Drink to Britain by Oz Clark and James May

Where I Got It: Library DVD

Genre: BBC television series

My Rating: 4 Stars

I plucked this out of the obscure British television shows bin at the library because I was looking for something that Music Man and I could watch together — he hates pretty much everything I watch on TV. I also hoped that our friend Frazer’s winery would be a part of this series, but apparently their success at the royal wedding came a little late for the television show. I’m going to link up the Amazon description because I couldn’t say it any more clearly.

Wine expert Oz Clarke and travel enthusiast James May combine their passions in this tasty travelogue as they embark on a summer road trip around the UK in a quest to find the drink that defines modern Britain. Starting in a barley field in Yorkshire, the hapless duo meander their way through the country exploring the best and worst of British beers and sampling numerous other drinks of the land, including wine, whisky, gin, vodka, and cider. Their destinations include maltsters, small breweries and distilleries, sparkling wine makers, and hop growers, and along the way Oz and James quibble and tiff with riotous results. Lighthearted and accidentally educational, this is a fun look at the state of drinking in Britain today.

We liked this set of episodes and buzzed through them pretty quickly. As a reformed camper, the best part for me was the slapstick comedy involving the 1970s-era caravan (camping trailer) that brought back memories of flat tires on the sides of deserted roads and impossible turnarounds where my Dad had to back the camper out of some God-forsaken place. 🙂

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara

Where I Got It: Library DVD

Genre: Crime Fiction, Mystery

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Back when everyone was reading these books, I was put off by the violence and balked at reading them. Finally, I started Tattoo and couldn’t put the series down until I finished all three books. Then I took my time watching the movie; I was justifiably worried that the movie could not possibly do the book justice and that it would focus on the violence rather than the heart of this story. I was wrong. In director David Fincher’s hands, Larsson’s core plot comes to life. I’m not going to summarize the story; pretty much everyone has read the books, but I was pleased with the way Fincher focused on the mystery of Harriet Vanger’s disappearance. With the choice of Rooney Mara as Lisbeth, the tortuous and brutal path to her bruised psyche was handled beautifully — with enough nastiness to allow the movie-goer who had not read the book to get it. Daniel Craig as journalist Mikael Blomkvist was solid, as was Stellen Skarsgard as Martin Vanger. The film is appropriately dark as befits a movie that is about the degradation of women. This film is a case where, although the book is better, the editing for the film was successful in maintaining the essence of the story. When I posted on Facebook that I had been watching Tattoo, several friends said that I should also watch the Swedish version, so I watched that one too, via Netflix. I liked the ending much better — no spoilers here — and I thought that Noomi Rapace’s portrayal of Lisbeth showed the dichotomy of her hard/soft character with more depth. Now I can’t wait to watch the other two Swedish versions.

Tangled: voiced by Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, and Donna Murphy

Where I Got It: Library DVD

Genre: Animated Fairy Tale (Disney’s 50th Full-Length Feature Cartoon)

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

There is nothing not-to-like about Tangled. The classic tale of Rapunzel is twisted in a positive manner to create a Disney princess who is feisty, likable, and brave. As adult movie viewers, we love the relationships built into this movie between Rapunzel and Flynn Ryder, the cute thief who rescues Razunzel, and between Flynn and his horse Maximus. The thugs are appropriately bad with a heart of gold — the bar scene is hilarious — and the animation is stunning, although I did get a little tired of the huge Precious Moments eyes on Rapunzel. The characterization of the witch Mother Gothel may be disturbing to children because she certainly does not present an unconditional love for Rapunzel, but as adults, we can appreciate the nuances involved in developing such a complex character in animated format. Tangled is another gem from Disney that is destined to be a classic.

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Worth a reblog… WWSD (What Would Scarlett Do)?

One of my favorite bloggers writes and writes and writes… and it’s all worth reading.

This post just hit the spot when I reread it the other day. Jillian at A Room of One’s Own writes a conversation between Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler in which Scarlett discusses Jillian’s blog. I’ll warn you, though, it’s important to know the story to get all the jokes. Don’t you just love being an allusion monster?

Jillian has also written a similar conversation between Elinor and Marianne Dashwood from Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

If either of these books are on your “save for eternity — don’t you dare put that in the library sale” shelf, you’ll love Jillian’s interpretation.

I’m off to the family reunion; have a wonderful weekend!

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My Week with Julia: Part One

I’ve always had this peculiar behavior; I like to read by theme or by sequence.

Every now and then I read through all my Cat Who books or my Dick Francis novels in chronological order. You’re probably already sick of hearing about my books about France, but too bad. I got a bunch more for my birthday. It’s my blog and I’ll write about France if I want to. 🙂

I watched Julie and Julia again the other day and decided it was time to do another theme party of books and movies.

First I decided to read Julie Powell’s follow-up memoir, Cleaving, to see if she still had the magic. I had heard that it wasn’t as good as Julie and Julia and that Powell had kind of disappeared into the literary wasteland of has-been authors. When I Googled her, the most recent hit is from 2009, and the last time she posted on her blog was in 2010. Ouch!

Julie and Eric on a good day in the kitchen.Image Credit

The complete title of the 2009 book pretty much tells its whole story: Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession. It truly is a story of obsession following the screaming success of Julie’s blog and Julie and Julia — of Julie’s tormented affair with “D”, of Eric’s philandering, and of how Julie found herself in her next new adventure, learning how to butcher meat. Published before the highly successful movie came out, Cleaving is an intimate story (maybe too intimate) of a woman trying to reinvent herself and build a future.

The book gets lots of bad reviews for its very specific telling of the inside picture of butchering and of Julie’s bad girl sex life. After getting over the structure which requires the reader to make pretty tenuous links between the cleaving of a marriage and the cleaving of an animal’s flesh and innards, I came to love Julie’s obsessions.

What we found endearing about Julie Powell in the movie Julie and Julia was that Amy Adams and Nora Ephron made Julie look kinda quirky and cute, but really, who chooses to cook her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year?  I don’t think Julia Child was right when she suspected Powell of trying to get publicity riding on Child’s name; Julie is just that obsessive, and it shows in Cleaving. And most of the time it’s just plain — all right, I’ll go there — verging on craziness.

On the other hand, Powell’s prose is just plain good. I found myself caring about how to create a crown roast and how to use a band saw correctly. If you’re a foodie, she may well hook you in as she did me. There’s a lot of visits to restaurants and food industry insider information and I just ate it up — figuratively, of course.

So do I think you should read Cleaving? Yes, if you are a foodie and loved Julie and Julia. It’s the flip side of a very interesting woman, with a little hot sauce thrown in.

And then there’s the other flip side — Nancy Verde Barr’s memoir entitled Backstage with Julia

This is a really fun book if you care about Julia Child and her impact on the cooking world. Even Barr’s use of her middle name is due to the sagacity of Julia Child; when she found out that Barr’s mother was Italian, she told Barr to use her full name to give her cooking more credence. And that’s just one little story that appears in this loving look back at a phenomenal woman.

Backstage with Julia is a set of fond memories packaged together in a book that cannot help but endear itself to you if you are a foodie. Nancy Barr served as Julia Child’s production assistant and travel companion from 1980 until Child’s death in 2004. When she got the chance to work with Child — already a culinary icon — someone told her to keep a diary. She didn’t, but apparently working with Julia Child has enough emotional impact to sear the memories in one’s brain.

What was fun about this book for me was the parallels to the Julie and Julia movie. Nora Ephron based much of her script for the Julia parts on Child’s memoir (with Alex Prud’homme), My Life in France. Although Backstage with Julia tells of Julia’s success in the United States and her media empire, there are many memories that Barr recounts via Child that are recognizable to the movie fan.

Julia’s love story with Paul Child also plays itself out here. In 1980, when Nancy Barr first began working with Julia Child, Paul Child had already begun to have the small strokes and memory issues that plagued his later years. It didn’t matter to Julia; Paul was an integral part of her success and he went everywhere with her.

The scene in Julie and Julia showing Paul and Julia in the bathtub for their annual Valentine message was real, and in Barr’s retelling of this story, the reader can feel the humor and the love shared.

Both of these books are about dreams — Powell’s with finding herself and Barr’s amazing chance to work with and become a close friend of Julia Child. They are also really interesting to read, if you are the person who will find fun in knowing more about three fascinating women — Powell, Barr, and la divine Child. I thought this quote from Powell’s book really summed up why I wanted to share these two books with you. It’s fun — you get me — and since you keep reading my blog, you must enjoy sharing with me.

You share things with the people who want you to share them. Who get it. Otherwise, where’s the fun?

You’ll have to excuse me now; I need to roast a chicken. Bon appetit!

Want more Jennie and Julia? Check out my previous posts about Julia Child here and here.

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