Posts Tagged ‘France’

Paris – Edward Rutherfurd

Posted in Historical Fiction on July 29th, 2013 by admin – 6 Comments

Competition Picture

Published
27/06/2013

Publisher
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd

Source
Amazon Vine

My Rating
A fantastique five stars!

 

I’ve only visited Paris three times and in very different circumstances – once as a 14 year old on a whistle-stop tour of Europe, then again as a university student when I was more interested in Pere Lachaise, Montparnasse and the Flea Markets and finally as a French teacher accompanying pupils on a trip which included Parc Asterix, Eurodisney and the Bateaux Mouches.  I’d love to go back but, in the meantime, I can satisfy my wanderlust with Edward Rutherfurd’s latest tome.

It’s a bit of a monster at 752 pages but this is the norm for Rutherfurd’s epic sagas of different geographical locations. This story revolves around 4 central families ;  the aristocratic de Cygnes, the bourgeois Blanchards, the working class Gascons and the revolutionary/socialist Le Sourds.  I gather that the author’s usual ‘formula’  is to relate epic stories spanning several centuries in a chronological fashion but Paris represents a break with this tradition as it begins in 1875 tending to stick with the events of  late 19th century to mid 20th century but also returns to other centuries beginning with the 13th when Paris intially became France’s first city.  Even though there is a family tree, I found it useful to compile my own diagram detailing family relationships in order to avoid confusion.

I can’t help admiring the author’s skill in structuring such a complex novel.  It’s as if the characters move around a giant chess board with Rutherfurd as Grandmaster!  Yes, there are major coincidences en route and a lot of suspension of disbelief required in certain sections but it really is a beautiful ode to the wonders of Paris and an excellent way to tread the streets of this beautiful city and trace its eventful history without leaving the comfort of your “fauteuil”!  I know it’s a weighty tome and some have recommended purchasing on Kindle to preserve one’s wrists but, if you can ‘bear’ it,  I think this is a book best read the traditional way where you can flick to and fro, reminding yourself of previous events/centuries and consulting the family tree.

A highly recommended easy, engaging read which has made me fall in love with Paris all over again.

Pere Lachaise cemetery
Including graves of Oscar Wilde, Moliere, LaFontaine, Bernhardt, Jim Morrison and the Communards’ Wall

Constructing La Tour Eiffel

You can find out more about Edward Rutherfurd and his other novels on his website here.

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The Watcher in the Shadows – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Posted in Children's Books, Historical Fiction, Proofs, YA Fiction on May 7th, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

The Watcher in the Shadows

Published
09/05/2013

Publisher
Orion Children’s Books (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )

ISBN
9781444001655

Source
Publisher

My Rating
5 stars

I am a big fan of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s writing, both his adult and children’s novels, since I first read The Shadow of the Wind when it was published in 2004.    Since then I have enjoyed his two other books in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle,  The Angel’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven.  There has been quite a gap between each adult novel being published but Zafon aficianados have been sustained in the interim by his Niebla (Mist) series for Young Adults which were originally written in the 90s but have recently been translated by Lucia Graves who did such a splendid job of translating Zafon’s adult novels.

Like Zafon, I fervently believe that storytelling transcends age and that his YA novels appeal to any reader who  loves magic and mystery so I was delighted to dive into The Watcher in the Shadows, the third of the Niebla series, a cycle of books which can be read as stand-alone novels as their linking theme is mystery and adventure rather than a series of characters.

In The Watcher in the Shadows you can see the first germinating seeds of Zafon’s masterful storytelling skills, that elegant Gothic style steeped in mystery and magic with an aura of malevolence haunting the narrative.  Our setting is Normandy, France in the summer of 1937.  Recently widowed Simone Sauvelle and her young children Irene and Dorian hope to make a fresh start in the small coastal village of Blue Bay where Simone has secured a post as housekeeper to Lazarus Jann, an inventor and toy manufacturer, who resides in a secluded mansion with his invalid wife.  Lazarus is the only person allowed to attend to his wife and they lead a rather unconventional life surrounded by the automatons and other fantastic pieces created by the toymaker.

At first, the omens look favourable for the Sauvelles.   Young teen, Irene, falls in love with a local boy.  Dorian is taken under Lazarus’ wing.  Simone feels settled and happy in her work.  Perhaps it is all a bit too perfect?  Indeed, fortunes change when a dark, malevolent force is unleashed and the reader is led on a breathtaking adventure with plenty of scary moments en route!   Its a fabulous, rollicking tale filled with suspense and mystery – a story which harks back to ripping yarns of years gone by but don’t expect a fairytale ending…  Highly recommended for both young  and old(er) adventurers.

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The Night Rainbow – Claire King

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Proofs on January 30th, 2013 by admin – 6 Comments

The Night Rainbow

Published
14/02/2013

Publisher
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

ISBN
9781408824672

My Rating – 4 stars

Source - Amazon Vine

Claire King’s debut novel is an absolute delight with a narrator who will grab your heartstrings and never let go. Set in Southern France, during a blistering hot summer, this is the story of five year old Pea aka Peony aka Pivoine and her younger sister Margot. Their mother has retreated into herself following a miscarriage and the later death of their Papa. Maman is heavily pregnant again but Pea and Margot are left to their own devices, wandering the countryside where they meet up with Claude, a middle aged man with whom they strike up a friendship. Not everyone approves of their friendship but Maman’s absence, both physical and emotional, means that the girls have to fend for themselves.

Narrated by Pea, this is a beautifully written story with equal amounts of joy and sadness. Pea and Margot’s interactions will make you smile as they strive to make a plan to cheer up Maman but the smiles quickly vanish when their efforts fall flat. Yes, there is sadness here but the overall mood is one of optimism as Pea just bounces back and looks for another remedy for her mother’s despair.

The author has captured Pea’s five year old voice perfectly, that eternal optimism, the desire to live in the moment, the clarity of vision which can see when grown-ups are just overthinking and making things more complicated than what they really are. One could learn a lot from a child like Pea. This is a sparkling, quirky, captivating debut, highly recommended.

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Spirit of Lost Angels – Liza Perrat

Posted in Historical Fiction on September 28th, 2012 by admin – 2 Comments

Spirit of Lost Angels

  • Paperback: 378 pages
  • At the time of writing – only £2.79 on Kindle
  • My Rating – 4 stars
  • Source – the author herself
  • I suppose I could be described as a Francophile, given that I used to teach French to A Level (age 18) and I have a penchant for novels set in France e.g. Joanne Harris, Kate Mosse, Michelle Moran’s Madame Tussaud, Tracy Chevalier’s The Virgin Blue and more recently, Tatiana de Rosnay.  Therefore I was immediately drawn to Spirit of Lost Angels, set in late 18th century Revolutionary France.

    This is a very impressive debut novel with characters which spring to life from the opening pages.  Our narrator is a young peasant girl, Victoire, who experiences at first hand the tumult caused by the rumblings of revolutionary France.  Victoire is a surviver, having to “reinvent” herself on more than one occasion to keep her head above water.  We witness her rural upbringing, not quite the bucolic idyll and then a new life in bustling Paris, in the midst of turbulent social change.

    Real life historical figures such as Thomas Jefferson, Mary Wollstonecraft and Jeanne de Valois feature in this vividly described narrative adding authenticity to this epic tale.  The author wears her research lightly in this extremely readable, emotionally satisfying tale of a feisty young girl surviving the worst of times.  I am pleased to report that this is the first of a series of novels and I am really looking forward to hearing more about Victoire’s descendants.  Highly recommended for all lovers of historical fiction who enjoy a meaty tale!

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    Review – Return to the Olive Farm by Carol Drinkwater

    Posted in Travel Writing on June 13th, 2010 by admin – 2 Comments

    Book details

    Published
    08/07/2010

    Publisher
    Weidenfeld & Nicolson

    ISBN
    9780297856948

    Hardback Edition

    I have a secret to tell…. I have been renting an olive farm in Provence since 2001 when I first read Carol Drinkwater’s memoir The Olive Farm …. well, in my dreams, I have!!  I know that there is a myriad of travel memoirs out there, all wanting to impart their story of how a crumbling old house was restored to grandeur, usually peppered with a few anecdotes about quirky locals – just to add extra ambiance, n’est-ce pas… however, this series is very special to me as the author really is passionate about her environment and on a larger scale “our” environment which is quite frankly under threat.

    “Return to the Olive Farm” opens as Carol returns from a 16 month expedition around the Med in search of the origins of the ancient and mystical Olive tree.  She had written two books about her Olive quest and her travels and it is now a delight to return to Appassionata, the Provencal farm she shares with her husband Michel and to renew acquaintance with Quashia, her gardener, who doesn’t quite see eye to eye with his boss when it comes to farming methods.  I love the passion which Carol obviously has for olive farming  and her lust for life and for discovering the natural world. 

    The main focus this time is on the possibility of having a truly organic olive grove and the many obstacles towards achieving such an admirable objective, given that France doesn’t have a particularly strong record in championing the organic way.  It is definitely so much easier and less heartbreaking to take the mass pesticide/bumper crop route and you find yourself really rooting for Carol to succeed without all the usual chemical parphenalia.  I am in awe of how she keeps on going despite constant setbacks but then that could be the stubborn Irish streak, I guess – speaking as a fellow Irish woman!  There’s also a wonderfully vivid backdrop of supporting characters such as Madame, the fearsome Asbestos inspector, Michael Latz, the first Organic Mayor in France, Marley, Michel’s grandson, not forgetting the honey bees.

    So what else makes this stand out from the rest of the heap?  I think a lot of its attraction for me stems from the honesty of the writing, the attention to detail, the intensity of the writer’s relationship with the land, the willingness to take risks, the constant interest in what other local farmers do, the lack of fear when entering traditionally male-dominated arenas, the ability to deal with recalcitrant, inebriated builders with good humour and grace!!  Above all you feel like you’re observing a very intimate moment in someone else’s life as they fall back in love with a place they’d left behind.

    So, I would advise you, allez vite and get caught up with this series if you haven’t already done so and if you’ve already shared in life at Appassionata, then allez vite aussi, snuggle up and get reacquainted!

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