The Sunday Review: Books for Foodies

18167006I grabbed Delicious!:A Novel from my bookstore soon after its release and was very eager to read the debut novel of one of my favorite food writers. It was good….but. The concept was interesting, with the main character working in food magazine publishing and then losing her job when the magazine closes(sounds eerily like Ruth Reichl, right?). They say an author should write what she knows, and Reichl has created a pastiche of a mystery with bunches of interesting characters and lots of food references. Even with all that going for it, I wasn’t blown away as I have been with Reichl’s memoirs. The writing felt stiff and the story line involving the hidden letters was convoluted, at best. We know that Reichl can spin a great tale, but she may have bitten off more that she can chew with this first novel. If you are a foodie, it’s still worth reading — just not a five out of five.

For more Ruth Reichl at her best in a memoir rather than a novel, you should try Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise. Exactly what the title says it is, Reichl’s stories of being a food critic for The New York Times are charming and funny.

For a little more salt in your foodie memoir, Anthony Bourdain is as flavorful as they get. I’ve read Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, and both are very good. I’ve blogged about Tony B three times over the years, and I’m as much of a fan of his current show on CNN (Parts Unknown) as I was of No Reservations.

I’ve been on a foodie book tear in the last few months — there will be more reviews coming soon!

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The Sunday Review: Two Visions of Anne Boleyn

9780547328188_p0_v1_s260x420On her web site, Susan Bordo says that her goal in writing The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England’s Most Notorious Queen was to delve into the question of why Anne Boleyn and her story continue to fascinate new generations. What was so special about her that Henry VIII risked everything to have her? Continue reading

The Sunday Review: Burnt Mountain by Anne Rivers Siddons

I really wanted to love this book.

Having just come back from my first visit to Atlanta, I was very excited to read Anne Rivers Siddons’s newest novel. I was totally ready to immerse myself into the intriguing characterization and poetic descriptions that inhabit Siddons’s previous novels, which are set in and around Atlanta. 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

 

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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.

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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.

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The Sunday Review: A Mixed Bag of Books

Book reviews — the good, bad, and the ugly. I like to tell people about the books I read, but I really don’t like to give away the story. I don’t read the spoilers that other reviewers post, and I don’t do it on my own reviews. I figure that if someone really wants to know the story before they read the book, they can find it somewhere else.

At the beginning of 2014, I changed around some of my feeds on Goodreads and started posting reviews in my sidebar. I was dedicated and posted reviews right after I finished a book. And then I got lazy again and got WAY behind on my reviews. So now I’m back, trying to get in the groove again. I like the discipline of keeping track of my reading. I’ve also found that when I link them up to Facebook through Goodreads, I get recommendations from other friends about new books. It’s a good thing. 🙂 Continue reading

Mona Lisa Mystery

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What is it about the Mona Lisa that makes her the media sensation she’s been for centuries? R.A. Scotti’s book, titled Vanished Smile: The Mystery of the Mona Lisa, attempts to answer that question.

The book centers on the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911, and Scotti uses her crime-writer skills to build a past, present, and future for perhaps the most famous smile in the world. Pretty much everyone in the art world got involved, including an attempt to pin the theft on Pablo Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire, who were both considered anti-establishment artists and possibly revolutionaries in pre-war Paris.

In our book club, people sometimes bewail the contemporary practice of skipping around from time period to time period and from character to character without a lot of notice. This book, however, is not one of those. Scotti tells the story of the theft and the attempts to recover the painting in a pretty linear fashion, but also includes the history of the painting and its artist, Leonardo da Vinci. It’s a fascinating read by a master storyteller.

Reading this book brought back our visit to The Louvre in 2010. Of course, we had to see the Mona Lisa on our first trip to Paris. We had no idea what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t this. Continue reading

BOOK CLUB PICKS FOR 2014

19 Days of Christmas! The countdown continues as we prepare ourselves for Christmas and a new year of reading with our book club.

Got My Reservations 25 Days of Christmas 2013 Medium ButtonThe first Monday of most months, our book club meets to share a meal and discuss a book that we have read during the month. The first Monday in December is extra special, however, as it is our planning meeting and often, the first Christmas party of the season. For the past few years, we have met at the home of a member who is a wonderful cook, and we all look forward to Mary’s cooking as much as we do making our reading choices for the following year.

The book club began many years ago in our church, and has continued steadily through hundreds of book discussions. We are co-ed, with several married couples in the group, but we also have many people who are single or come without their spouses. We meet in members’ homes, where we share a simple meal our hosts have prepared, followed by book discussion. Everyone chips in $5.00, which usually covers the host’s food costs. We take turns moderating the discussion, and usually choose to moderate the book that we have recommended to the club. There is wine available, but unlike so many jokes about book clubs, our meeting is actually about joining together in community to discuss a book. We have too many people in the club — about 22 people attend each meeting — but we love our group so much we can’t bear to break it up into smaller clubs. And so we continue from year to year, loving books and loving each other. Continue reading

Quoth The Raven Tablescape

For months I’d been planning to do homage to Edgar Allan Poe, the literary master of scary stuff, for my Halloween tablescape. I bought a raven statue as soon as they went on special the first time at Michael’s.  Imagine my surprise when I started seeing black birds on all the table displays at my favorite stores. I was absolutely crushed that I wasn’t original. I got over that when I realized that pretty much everyone in tablescaping land has black birds in their stash, and so with only one day to go, I set up my Quoth the Raven tablescape.

GotMyReservations - Quoth the Raven Intro

Continue reading

The Sunday Review: Palladian Days by Sally Gable

Carl and Sally Gable were looking for a summer home in New Hampshire, but ended up buying a historically-protected villa in a small town outside of Venice — the Villa Cornaro. Built by Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio in 1552, the Villa Cornaro is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. It is owned by Americans who fell in love with Italy, with Palladian architecture and with the Villa Cornaro. Palladian Days: Finding a New Life in a Venetian Country House is based on Sally Gable’s diaries about the process of buying a home in Italy.

Palladian Days: Finding a New Life in a Venetian Country House

I fell in love with the book based on its cover — very Edith Wharton and all that — and found it to be an interesting look into the world of Americans learning to care for an Italian treasure while also learning to live in another culture. Unlike Tim Park’s sardonic view of Italy and Frances Mayes’s romantic love affair with Italy, Sally Gable’s prose is elegant, precise, and matter-of-fact while still offering a passionate vision of the expatriate dream of owning a villa in Italy. It’s just that most of us don’t own and live in an international monument.

As I read this book, I couldn’t help but think money pit, money pit. I’ve renovated a number of homes in my day, and I know that the amount of money the Gables have poured into this property must be astounding. Carl I. Gable is a retired lawyer and businessman, and Sally Gable is a retired church musician, and Mrs. Gable is pretty reticent about talking about money in her stories. Although most of the restoration had already been done by the villa’s former owners, Richard and Julia Rush, I found it unrealistic how she often glossed over what must have been very difficult decisions. The fact that they both sit on some very prestigious boards of directors gives us a glimpse into why they don’t seem to worry very much about what things cost. I don’t know exactly why this bugged me, but it did.

Click into the photo to see the recipe for creamy butternut squash risotto

Click into the photo to see the recipe for creamy butternut squash risotto

Sally Gable also includes recipes and a discussion of risotto that had my tastebuds drooling. I do love a good memoir with talk about food!

Photos of Villa Cornaro, Piombino DeseThis photo of Villa Cornaro is courtesy of TripAdvisor

A visitor to the Villa Cornaro tells Sally that she is lucky that she and her husband share a passion for the same thing — renovating, restoring, and living in an architectural treasure. As she reflects on this comment she says:

How fortuitous, how unlikely, that we both find in our villa, in Venice, in Italy a source of such infinite fascination.

Villa Cornaro has been the cornerstone of it all. Like a great athletic coach, the villa is at once a disciplinarian, a trainer, and a motivator.

You can step into new stages and play new roles, the villa whispers. Find your hidden pools of strength, open yourself to see art with fresh and wider-ranging eyes, examine whole new palettes of color in your everyday life, vault past barriers of language, culture, and habit.

All to better care for me, my villa tells me (247).

Villa Cornaro

Click into the photo for more information about Villa Cornaro.

The Gables open their house to visitors and also host local events in the gardens. If you cannot get to Venice to see Villa Cornaro anytime soon, perhaps you are able to visit a Palladian style architectural treasure in the United States, Drayton Hall near Charleston, South Carolina, that is said to have been based on the Villa Cornaro. Thomas Jefferson admired Andrea Palladio’s work and used another building, Villa La Rotanda, for the design of his home at Monticello.

You can also visit The National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. which tells “the stories of architecture, engineering, and design.”

Got my bags, got my reservations,
Spent each dime I could afford. 
Like a child in wild anticipation, 
I long to hear that, “All aboard!”

Music and lyrics by Bud Green, Les Brown and Ben Homer (1944)

The Sunday Review: Italian Ways by Tim Parks

I’m an Anglophile recently masquerading as a Francophile. I have not been to Italy yet, but books about Italian culture are certainly on my radar, as we are planning a trip to Italy in the spring with travel writer Linda Dini Jenkins. When my husband bought me a book for my birthday by Tim Parks about rail travel in Italy, I was pretty happy.

europe, italy, tuscany, crete senesi, asciano area, nature train, historical diesel locomotive

Although I’ve never been to Italy, I’ve been a Frances Mayes stalker follower for many years. Her blog is a delight and most of my mind-photos of Italy come from her Bramasole books. I’ve previously talked about Frances here and I’ve referred to her many times over my years of blogging. I’ve also had guest bloggers share their wonderful experiences in Italy, including friends Debbie and Kathy. I’ve been putting together trips to Rome for relatives this week and I’ve been drinking a lot of Italian koolaid. I was ready for Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo.

Click into the photo to read another point of view from an expatriate reviewer.

Click into the photo to read another point of view from an expatriate reviewer.

Although Mayes gave us some idea of the Italian sense of time and place,  Tim Parks’s almost sardonic take on Italy and its social structures came as kind of a culture shock to me. I should have know better; many of my blogging friends refer to issues with Italian trains, including Marisol at Traveling Solemates. We have our own issues here in Chicago with trains as well. I don’t know why I was surprised. Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo is exactly what the reviewers say it is — a revealing look at the dynamic between tradition and innovation in modern Italy. Another reviewer describes Italian Ways in this way.

“For every moment that Italy annoys Tim Parks, there are two in which it delights him.”

That’s pretty much the premise of Italian Ways. Parks tells the stories of his train travel in Italy through vignettes of the rail system and of the people he meets along the way — and it’s funny and poignant.

In reading the Christian Science Monitor’s review of this book, I also clicked into their list of top ten travel books to read before you go to Italy. My goodness, I had forgotten about A Room with a View and Daisy Miller. Those are going to definitely be on my reading  list for this year, along with a few more visits with Woody Allen in To Rome With Love.

So — should you read Italian Ways? Yes, but be aware that as Andrew Martin of The Observer says, this is a “warts-and-all” look at Italy’s trains and culture. It’s not a love story to Italy like Frances Mayes has penned in Under the Tuscan Sun and its sequels. As a traveler, I want to know about the warts I might encounter while traveling, so for me, it was a great book! Thanks, Music Man, for an excellent birthday present.

 

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