My Favorite Reads – My Life in France

Alyce from At Home With Books features one of her favorite reads each Thursday and this week my pick is…

My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme.

From the inside cover: In her own words, here is the captivating story of Julia Child’s years in France, where she fell in love with French food and found her “true calling.”

From the moment the ship docked in Le Havre in the fall of 1948 and Julia watched the well-muscled stevedores unloading the cargo to the first perfectly soigné meal that and her husband, Paul, savored in Rouen en route to Paris, where he was to work for the USIS, Julia had an awakening that changed her life. Soon this tall, outspoken gal from Pasadena, California, who didn’t speak a word of French and knew nothing about the country, was steeped in the language, chatting with purveyors in the local markets and enrolled in the Cordon Bleu.

After managing to get her degree despite the machinations of the disagreeable directrice of the school, Julia started teaching cooking classes herself, then teamed up with two fellow gourmettes, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, to help them with a book they were trying to write on French cooking for Americans. Throwing herself heart and soul into making it a unique and thorough teaching book, only to suffer several rounds of painful rejection, is part of the behind-the-scenes drama that Julia reveals with in inimitable gusto and disarming honesty.

Filled with the beautiful black-and-white photographs that Paul loved to take when he was not battling bureaucrats, as well as family snapshots, this memoir is laced with wonderful stories about the French character, particularly in the world of food, and the way of life that Julia embraced so wholeheartedly. Above all, she reveals the kind of spirit and determination, the sheer love of cooking, and the drive to share that with her fellow Americans that made her the extraordinary success she became.

My thoughts: I have always wanted to be able to cook like Julia Child. Her love of food is contagious in this book and the frank almost off-hand way she tells the story is wonderful. It’s as if she’s sitting next to you telling the story. It’s more than just food but the way food becomes such a large and totally encompassing part of her, and her husband’s, life during their years in France and how a woman, who didn’t know how to cook at all, found herself the icon of French cooking.

I have one of her small cookbooks in my kitchen that is ratty, food stained, and dog earned. I reference it often when I’m trying to cook something I bought and realized had no idea what to do with when I got home. It’s called Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom and is by far one of the best cookbooks I ever bought. She has a way of breaking down a recipe so easily and making it sounds as if you can make the most complicated of dishes with ease.

Memoirs are not a genre I frequent but having watched Julia on PBS for years I had to read this book. It’s just as funny as she is on the show and the stories she tells about learning French, learning to cook, and finding her way in a country and culture very foreign to her is unforgettable. Not only a good cook, she’s a great story-teller as well.

This book was finished after Julia died in 2004 by her grandnephew Alex Prud’homme but none of her voice is lost. The photographs are absolutely fabulous as well.

I don’t have copies of The Art of French Cooking but if you were to ask me what two books I covet most in the world, it would be The Art of French Cooking, Volumes 1 and 2. I should admit that I don’t cook a lot of French food and rarely follow a recipe, I mostly look at recipes for ideas, but these are two books I know I would find use for.

My Favorite Reads – Pattern Recognition

Alyce from At Home With Books features one of her favorite reads each Thursday and this week my pick is…

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson.

From the inside cover: We have no future because our present is too volatile. We have only risk management. The spinning of the given moment’s scenarios. Pattern recognition…

Cayce Pollard is a new kind of prophet — a world-renowned “coolhunter” who predicts the hottest trends. While in London to evaluate the redesign of a famous corporate logo, she’s offered a different assignment: find the creator of the obscure, enigmatic video clips being uploaded on the Internet — footage this is generating massive underground buzz worldwide.

Still haunted by the memory of her missing father — a Cold War security guru who disappeared in downtown Manhattan on the morning of September 11, 2001 — Cayce is soon traveling through parallel universes of marketing, globalization, and terror, heading always for the still point where the three converge. From London to Tokya to Moscow, she follows the implications of a secret as disturbing — and compelling — as the 21st Century promises to be…

My thoughts: I’ve read a few Gibson novels and this one is by far my favorite. It’s also set in the present which is a little different since his books are almost always set in the future.

My husband has a soft spot for Gibson and he was the one that brought this book home. At the time, I didn’t have any intention of reading it. I like Gibson but it just didn’t grab me. He kept telling me I’d love it and finally I picked it up one day and didn’t put it down until I finished. I wish I could describe it better, and maybe it’s just that I also have a soft spot for Gibson, but I got pulled into this book and couldn’t put it down. Yes, there’s a lot going on and you’re not quite sure how it all fits together but then suddenly, all the pieces fit and you’re left wondering if any of this will actually happen. In the case of this one which is about marketing and globalization, the answer is probably yes.

If you don’t think a book based on business intelligence can make for an interesting read, well, you’re wrong. It does.

My Favorite Reads – Dusk

Alyce from At Home With Books features one of her favorite reads each Thursday and this week my pick is…

Dusk by Tim Lebbon.

From the back cover: It is the Year of the Black 2208, and magic has been dead for three centuries. Since the Cataclysmic War, which drove away the Mages, civilization has regressed to a more savage time. But magic is about to be reborn…

Kosar the thief senses that Rafe Baburn is no ordinary boy. After witnessing a madman plunder Rafe’s village and murder his parents, Kosar knows the boy needs help. And now, for a reason he cannot fathom, others are seeking the boy’s destruction.

Uncertain where to begin, Kosar turns to A’Meer, and ex-lover and Shantasi warrior whose people, unbeknownst to him, have been chosen to safeguard magic’s return. A’Meer knows instantly that it is Rafe who bears this miracle of magic. Now Kosar and a band of unexpected allies embark on a battle to protect one special boy. For dark forces are closing in — including the Mages, who have been plotting their own triumphant return.

My thoughts: While this book is fantasy, there is a real horror element to it and parts of it are downright disturbing and disgusting. I know that is probably not the best way to go about adding my thoughts to this one but I wanted to address it first and get it out of the way. This is not a book for everyone, even fantasy lovers may have an issue with the amount of blood and gore in this one. If you like fantasy though, this is a great read, just be warned that the horror element is very strong.

Warning over, let’s get on to why I picked it this morning. The world building, which is so important in fantasy, is phenomenal here. Noreela, the world mages and magic have abandoned, is dark and utterly terrifying and you get sucked in and don’t want to leave even when you’re so disturbed by it you almost want to put the book down. I say almost because there were times when reading this book that I started to skim finding it a bit hard to digest but I was so captivated by it that I ended up going back to read those passages. There’s something about Noreela that I couldn’t escape. In this world that magic has abandoned, all of Noreela seemed to be waiting for something to happen to either make the mages return or destroy them all. I wanted every detail.

Kosar isn’t supposed to be a likable character. He’s a thief and a man not overly concerned with anyone but himself, but he’s ripe for a bit of redemption. And, this book, as a lot of fantasy books are, is a quest. So, man needing a place and quest say hello. The magic here is dark, powerful, and addicting but oh so gratifying. There’s no wand waving fun spells here. The magic is meant for destruction and there’s more than enough of in this book.

If you’re looking for some dark fantasy that’s a little different, take a look at Lebbon.

Dusk is followed by the sequel Dawn.

My Favorite Reads – The Time Machine

Alyce from At Home With Books features one of her favorite reads each Thursday and this week my pick is…

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.

From the back cover: When the Time Traveller courageously stepped out of his machine for the first time, he found himself in the year 802,700 — and everything had changed. In another, more utopian age, creatures seemed to dwell together in perfect harmony. The Time Traveller thought he could study these marvelous beings — unearth their secret and then return to his own time — until he discovered that his invention, his only avenue of escape, had been stolen.

My thoughts: I read The Time Machine in 8th or 9th grade and it was my first brush with science fiction. I was fascinated by the idea of time travel and the ability to experience and observe new worlds. Wouldn’t it be amazing to witness firsthand the use of fire and tools by early humans, see dinosaurs roaming vast plains, experience the Ice Age, see humans evolve into what we are today, observe amazing creatures of the sea, see the building of the pyramids, and watch the Great Wall of China emerge stone by stone? Maybe this is why I have developed such a love of historical fiction — it captures a time and place in history and brings it to life.

I’ve read this book several times since my first initial bit of enthusiasm and have liked and enjoyed it each time finding new parts to be excited about. Our version is a bit dog-eared and passages are underlined but it only means that it’s well loved. I also love the cover art work of our little Bantam Classic book. It’s very Salvador Dali-esque. I can’t profess to be a big Dali fan, he creeps me out way too much for me to actually enjoy his work, but I like the starkness of the paining and of course the clock in the background gives it just that little reminder of what you are in for. According to the inside cover, the painting is Gentleman in a Railway Carriage by James Jacques Joseph Tissot.

My Favorite Reads – The Mists of Avalon

Alyce from At Home With Books features one of her favorite reads each Thursday and this week my pick is…

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

From Amazon: Even readers who don’t normally enjoy Arthurian legends will love this version, a retelling from the point of view of the women behind the throne. Morgaine (more commonly known as Morgan Le Fay) and Gwenhwyfar (a Welsh spelling of Guinevere) struggle for power, using Arthur as a way to score points and promote their respective worldviews. The Mists of Avalon’s Camelot politics and intrigue take place at a time when Christianity is taking over the island-nation of Britain; Christianity vs. Faery, and God vs. Goddess are dominant themes.

From Wikipedia, if you want a bit more plot info: Mists of Avalon is a generations-spanning retelling of the Arthurian legend, but bringing it back to its Brythonic roots. Its protagonist is Morgaine, who witnesses the rise of Uther Pendragon to the throne of Camelot. As a child, she is taken to Avalon by High Priestess Viviane, her maternal aunt, to become a priestess of the Mother Goddess and witnesses the rising tension between the old pagan and the new Christian religions. At one point, she is given in a fertility ritual to a young man she will later learn is Arthur, her half-brother. She conceives a child, Gwydion, or “bright one,” later called Mordred, or “evil counsel” in the Saxon tongue.

After Uther dies, his son Arthur claims the throne. Morgaine and Viviane give him the magic sword Excalibur, and with the combined force of Avalon and Camelot, Arthur drives the invasion of the Saxons away. But when his wife Gwenhwyfar fails to produce a child, she is convinced that it is a punishment of God: firstly for the presence of pagan elements, and secondly, for her forbidden love for Arthur’s finest knight Lancelet (Lancelot). She increasingly becomes a religious fanatic, and relationships between Avalon and Camelot (i.e. Morgaine and herself) become hostile.

When the knights of the Round Table of Camelot leave to search for the Holy Grail, a young man seeks to usurp the throne: Mordred, bastard son of Arthur and Morgaine. In a climactic battle, Arthur’s and Mordred’s armies square off, and in the end Avalon and Arthur are magically removed from the circles of the world. It is Morgaine alone who lives to tell the tale of Camelot.

My thoughts: I read this book many years ago but I remember it so vividly. The character of Morgaine is wonderfully strong and fanatical at the same time but still likable. In many of the stories she’s a cruel shrew bent on revenge, in this book she has her moments, but she’s doesn’t go for the deep end. And I love that this Arthurian story is told from the perspective of the women. Women play a major role in Arthurian legend and sometimes are not given proper credit for the strength they bring to the story.

This book is actually a series — Book One: Mistress of Magic, Book Two: The High Queen, Book Three: The King Stag, and Book Four: The Prisoner in the Oak. The version I own contains all four and is a behemoth of a book at 876 pages. I also own a few other Bradley books in the Avalon series but this is by far my favorite.

This book was made into a TNT movie but I read the book before the TV miniseries but did watch it, and if I remember correctly, it didn’t disappoint. Of course, I’m one of those odd people that doesn’t mind movie and TV adaptions even if they are different from the book so don’t count that for much.

This is a fantasy novel, and yes, there are faeries and magic and Merlin and Lancelot but it’s also contains an interesting take on religion and the pull between keeping old customs and beliefs alive while others makes moves to take over the old with the new. It’s Paganism and Christianity and the fight between old worlds and new views. It’s also a violent story at times but I tend to think of that as normal when a story is based in this time period, about 5 A.D., so don’t let that be a turn off.

While I know that fantasy can be an acquired taste, I think this is one book that can make you a fan.

My Favorite Reads – The Hound of the Baskervilles

Alyce from At Home With Books features one of her favorite reads each Thursday and this week my pick is…

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

From the back cover: The Hound of the Baskervilles is one of master mystery writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most accomplished stories. Sherlock Holmes and his companion Dr. Watson confront one of their most difficult cases ever: is there truly a curse on the old Baskerville estate? Is there truly a ghostly beast lurking on the dark, eerie moors? A masterful concoction of plot and mood, this story is guaranteed to give you the shivers.

Since that doesn’t give you much, and in case you want more, this wikipedia page should give you what you need.

My thoughts: I don’t read many mysteries, so I wonder sometimes why I like books and short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes so much. A few years ago, I remember going on a binge and reading pretty much everything I had in the house that the Holmes characters was even vaguely mentioned in. In the last few months, I’ve gone out of my way to read several mysteries hoping to find something I like. I can’t say that I’ve found anything yet but I’m hopeful.

The reason I like this book so much — there’s more than a mystery here. It’s the suspense, the mood, the darkness, the setting on the moors, murder, a ghostly pack of hounds hunting individuals at night, and the possibility of death while investigating. Other mysteries have these things but somehow the parts don’t add up the same. There’s something about the way all the elements come together here that make this a perfect read. Out of all the Sherlock Holmes books on my shelf, this one always sticks out in my mind as a wonderfully chilly read that makes you want to turn on the lights while sleeping.

My Favorite Reads – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Alyce from At Home With Books features one of her favorite reads each Thursday and this week my pick is…

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling.

The inside cover: Harry Potter has never been the star of the Quidditch team, scoring points while riding a broom far above the ground. He knows no spells, has never helped hatch a dragon, and has never worn a cloak of invisibility.

All he knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley — a great big swollen spoiled bully. Harry’s room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn’t had a birthday party in eleven years.

But all of that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to an incredible place that Harry — and anyone who reads about him — will find unforgettable.

For it’s there that he finds not only friends, aerial sports, and magic in everything from classes to meals, but a great destiny that’s been waiting for him…if Harry can only survive the encounter.

My thoughts: Oh, Harry, how I do love your world. I’ve marveled at your wonder, laughed at your funny moments, and felt sad at your misfortune.

Harry, it’s been a while since we started at the beginning and I think the time has come to start again.

By the time I got around to reading the Harry Potter books, the fourth book was about to be released. This was way back when I was working for the publishing industry defending the books against first amendment challenges. One day, while browsing a bookstore for a few books to read on a plane trip, I decided that it was time I read them to see what all the fuss was about. As luck would have it, books one, two, and three were all half off since book four was about to be released. I bought all of them, packed them in my bag, and finished them before I knew what I even read. It was instant love and my affair with the Potter boy began in earnest.

I confessed my love to a friend who told me of her own Harry love affair and outed a third friend of her quiet endearing love as well. We made a pact, and with each successive book, dutifully stood in line for our books at midnight, returning home with our precious cargo to crack the covers and see what mischief and heartache lay ahead. We would re-group a few days later and re-live the whole story.

I’ve re-read every one of the books in the series at least, well, let’s go with several times. The most recent releases have been read more often because of the movies. I thought it would be nice to go back to the beginning and start the journey again. With this post, I’m starting my summer of Harry Potter Re-Read. I know there is a Harry Potter Challenge going on out there but I think it’s coming to an end (I’ve also seen a lot of others re-reading which made me want to get out my books too.) so I’m doing my own thing and relishing the story and wonderful world all over again.