The Hundred-Foot Journey

The Hundred-Foot JourneyThe Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The book started out with so much promise. Lovely writing about India, the sights and sounds, the food, the people, his experiences growing up. I enjoyed the travels, their adventures in London, finally arriving in a small French village, where the van happens to break down, and they decide to settle. Then I watched the movie, which I loved, and came back to finish the book. That’s when things started to diverge. I know that movies change things, and in this case, I think they made a better story out of it. The way the book depicts the conflict between the Haji family and Madame Mallory, her change of heart seemed most improbable. And once Hassan went to Paris, I thought the book just lost its focus. He left behind a lover, his family, and his Indian roots. And what did he gain from it? 3 Michelin stars and then what? The book raises that issue through bringing in a new character – a chef who commits suicide after losing his 3-star rating. Hassan has been reunited with Margaret after 20 years, but it leaves unanswered what he will do next.

This was an audio-book, and I found it difficult to understand all the French. Things were not translated, though I was able to guess at the name of his restaurant. Reading instead of listening I might have gotten more of it, since I can read French, but I don’t understand spoken French. I was also somewhat put off (being a vegetarian) by all the descriptions of hunting and slaughtering of animals for food.

Anyway, other reviewers have mentioned not liking the second half of the book as well as the beginning, so perhaps I shouldn’t blame the movie for that! If you want romance and happy endings, then watch the movie. And, of course, Helen Mirren is wonderful as Madame Mallory.

Book description: Born above his grandfather’s modest restaurant in Mumbai, Hassan Haji first experienced life through intoxicating whiffs of spicy fish curry, trips to the local markets, and gourmet outings with his mother. When tragedy pushes the family out of India, they console themselves by eating their way around the world, eventually settling in Lumiere, a small village in the French Alps. They open an inexpensive Indian cafe opposite an esteemed French restaurant – that of the famous chef Madame Mallory – and infuse the sleepy town with the spices of India, transforming the lives of its eccentric villagers and infuriating their celebrated neighbor. Only after Madame Mallory wages culinary war with the immigrant family does she finally agree to mentor young Hassan, leading him to Paris, the launch of his own restaurant, and a slew of new adventures.

The Nightingale

The NightingaleThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If I were a “romance” reader I would undoubtedly have given this book a higher rating. It is the story of two sisters navigating life during the Nazi occupation of France. Although I wouldn’t call it a romance, it is written like a romance – told in a highly dramatic fashion. The plot is ultimately satisfying. Although the first half of the book was rather slow (I’ve abandoned other books by Hannah for the same reason), I stuck with it and by the second half I was thoroughly invested in the characters and what happened to them. There were some errors with facts (hummingbirds in France?) that left me wondering what historical facts I could trust. But nothing was so jarring that it threw me out of the story. The framework is “true” and is based on real people who risked their lives to save downed pilots and Jewish children. This would make a marvelous movie.

Book description: In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France … but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive. Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can … completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

Wars of the Roses: Stormbird

Stormbird (Wars of the Roses, #1)Stormbird by Conn Iggulden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finished the audiobook of this several weeks ago, but had been finding it difficult to follow, so began reading the book alongside. There is such a density of impressions in the writing that seemed to go right over my head listening to it. This is a book that might even require several readings. I have puzzled over the title, wondering who or what is the “Stormbird” or what does the term signify. I may be wrong, but I have decided that Richard of York, whose personal device was a falcon with outstretched talons, deserves that honor. While this is an ensemble piece involving many “main” characters, Richard is always there in the background, manipulating people and events to his own favor, becoming all but king in the end. Along with the mostly absent Richard of York, we have Derry Brewer (fictional)- the king’s spymaster, Margaret of Anjou and Henry VI, William de la Pole – the Duke of Suffolk, Jack Cade – who instigated a rebellion, and Thomas Woodchurch – a fictional archer who is acquainted with both Derry and Jack, first fighting in France for England and then, after the loss of his land in France, joining Jack Cade’s rebellion. Lots of Errol Flynn daring-do for those who like action and battle scenes. The four stars is mainly for entertainment value. I do get a bit frustrated with historical fiction writers who don’t stick with the historical timeline! At least he admits it in the end notes. My other caveat is that there are gratuitous scenes and characters with no bearing on the overall arc of the story. Still, it’s a jolly good romp and I’m looking forward to the next book.

Book description:
In 1437, the Lancaster king Henry VI ascends the throne of England after years of semi-peaceful regency. Named “The Lamb,” Henry is famed more for his gentle and pious nature than his father’s famous battlefield exploits; already, his dependence on his closest men has stirred whispers of weakness at court. A secret truce negotiated with France to trade British territories for a royal bride—Margaret of Anjou—sparks revolts across English territory. The rival royal line, the House of York, sees the chaos brought on by Henry’s weakness and with it the opportunity to oust an ineffectual king. As storm clouds gather over England, King Henry and his supporters find themselves besieged abroad and at home. Who or what can save the kingdom before it is too late?

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo CabretThe Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A hefty book, but easily read in a few hours at most. Text alternates with exquisitely detailed drawings (which earned this book the 2007 Caldecott Award) to tell the story. This is the kind of book I would have loved as a child (and still do) because it is about a real person and I learned something about the very earliest film making industry. Georges Melies really did end up selling toys at the Montparnasse station in Paris, and he really did donate his automata collection to a museum.

The movie, Hugo, based on this book, used actual film clips of Georges Melies which really brought it alive. It expanded on several of the lesser characters, which I enjoyed, but downplayed Hugo’s thievery. It also glossed over some of the reasons G.M. ended up trying to bury all memory of his film-making days.

For me, the major themes seemed to be about following one’s passion, and when that is not tended people become broken just like the clocks and the automaton that Hugo repairs. It is also about curiosity and having the courage to follow adventure in our lives.

Book Description:
Orphan, clock keeper, and thief, Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric, bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs a toy booth in the station, Hugo’s undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo’s dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery.

The Boleyn King

The Boleyn King (The Boleyn Trilogy, #1)The Boleyn King by Laura Andersen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Setting: England, Hampton Court,
Time: 1553-1554

Main characters: Anne Boleyn, her daughter Elizabeth, her son Henry IX (known as William), Dominic Courtenay (son of a traitor, mother “a Boleyn”, ward of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford), Genevieve Wyatt (known as Minuette)

First paragraph, Chapter One: “I am seventeen today and have decided that, although I shall never be a scholar like Elizabeth, I can at least keep a diary. My history is quickly told – daughter of a French mother and an English gentleman, no siblings, and no parents since I was eight….”

Favorite line: “Whistling softly, William stepped into the privy chamber and surveyed the pieces of what looked to have been a matched set of pottery vases scattered around the fireplace. His mother stopped in midpace, skirts swirling around her, and he said, ‘Whose head shall I have off this time, Mother?’ ”

I enjoyed this alternate view of history. The son of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn is about to come into his majority. England is divided over the succession, with the dispossessed Mary the center of Catholic conspiracies. At the heart of this novel is a document that purports to testify that William was NOT the son of Henry VIII. A woman is murdered and Minuette, Dominic, Elizabeth, and William attempt to solve the mystery, and become swept up in the court intrigue. William is not immune to the temptations of privilege and power. Dominic is determined to prove himself different from his traitorous father. Elizabeth, as the sister of a king, is a political pawn to be given in marriage wherever it will be to the best advantage. And Minuette writes in her diary and agonizes over whether she loves William or Dominic. Without giving any spoilers, let’s just say that there are plenty of loose threads still at the end of the book, to be continued in the next installment, The Boleyn Deceit.

Description: The Boleyn King is the first book in an enthralling trilogy that dares to imagine: What if Anne Boleyn had actually given Henry VIII a son who grew up to be king?

Just seventeen years old, Henry IX, known as William, is a king bound by the restraints of the regency yet anxious to prove himself. With the French threatening battle and the Catholics sowing the seeds of rebellion at home, William trusts only three people: his older sister Elizabeth; his best friend and loyal counselor, Dominic; and Minuette, a young orphan raised as a royal ward by William’s mother, Anne Boleyn. Against a tide of secrets, betrayal, and murder, William finds himself fighting for the very soul of his kingdom. Then, when he and Dominic both fall in love with Minuette, romantic obsession looms over a new generation of Tudors. One among them will pay the price for a king’s desire, as a shocking twist of fate changes England’s fortunes forever.

About the author: Laura Andersen has one husband, four children, and a college degree in English that she puts to non-profitable use by reading everything she can lay her hands on. Books, shoes, and travel are her fiscal downfalls, which she justifies because all three ‘take you places.’ She loves the ocean (but not sand), forests (but not camping), good food (but not cooking), and shopping (there is no downside.) Historical fiction offers her all the pleasure of visiting the past without the inconvenience of no electricity or indoor plumbing. After more than thirty years spent west of the Rocky Mountains, she now lives in Massachusetts with her family.

 

Sarah’s Key

Sarah's KeySarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A lovely book about a woman’s obsession with the Jewish family forced from their home in the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup. And the girl, Sarah, who survived and whose life story became entwined with her husband’s family in Paris. As she puts together the pieces of this shattered woman’s life, her own marriage is falling apart. Family secrets uncovered have the power both to hurt and to heal… This book is also a tribute to the 76,000 Jews deported from France to the death camps. Zakhor, Al Tichkah. Remember. Never forget.

Description:

Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family’s apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France’s past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl’s ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d’Hiv’, to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah’s past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life. Tatiana de Rosnay offers us a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround this painful episode.