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The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears in Paris at the World’s Most Famous Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn. This book has high marks in foodie/cooking circles. It’s a no-nonsense (but sweet and romantic) memoir about Flinn’s journey through Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Arriving in France, having quit her job and apprehensive because not only does she not speak French, but she has very little money, she starts at the famous school’s professional course. Each chapter relates a new (sometimes grueling, sometimes amusing) story about cooking, the people, the teaching chefs, the man in her life, etc. She graduated, learned French, got married and then wrote the book. Each chapter contains a recipe – most of them not the official ones from the school and relates generally to the chapter subjects. Very interesting read. I would never have made it through the first semester at the school because of the intimidation factor (from the teaching chefs)! I have to laugh, though, as all the chefs called her “Meez Fleen,” in their attempt to pronounce her name. If you’re interested in food (you must be or you wouldn’t be reading my blog) this is a must-read.
Just finished reading Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert Massie. If you’re intimidated by very long books, you won’t want to read this, but I’ll tell you, most of it’s a page-turner almost because Massie is such a consummate story-teller. I’d read about Catherine before (1729-1794), but never in this depth and never with such interest – all credit is due to the author. Married at age 14 to a boy Prince (Peter), and a boy with mental illness, Catherine manages to learn Russian, convert to Orthodoxy and embrace her new country. She suffered terribly for years under near tyranny of Peter’s mother, Empress Elizabeth, and was badly mistreated by her man-child husband. She weathered it all by finding a path of least resistance. She was clever for one and she was intellectually brilliant, in an era when women weren’t educated particularly. She taught herself by reading voraciously, including philosophy, was allowed to be tutored, learned other languages, so when she became Queen (once Elizabeth died and her husband also died under some questionable circumstances some months later) she was well suited to the role. She ruled for decades. She was well respected by her people and by other governments, and certainly no one took her for granted. She had numerous affairs, bore many children (the heir was most likely not her husband’s child). I was sad when the book came to an end.
The White Queen (The Cousins’ War) by Philippa Gregory. I like her books, though I couldn’t read them one after another. The Queen in this book is Elizabeth Woodville, a commoner who secretly weds King Edward. She bears many children, and loses some of them as well, to murder. Who in his/her right mind would have wanted to be a King or Queen in that era of Medieval England with so much family in-fighting (this is Tudor era, between the Lancastrians and the Yorks), all scheming and killing to claim the crown. Battle after battle, hostages and murder in the Tower of London. Always needing to marry off your daughters in political alliances rather than for love. Their lives were always in jeopardy. Perhaps most Kings think they’ll be good ones, benevolent, kindly; but power destroys, and Elizabeth enjoys the perks of the office as good as the next. This is the 1st book of a Trilogy about The Cousins’ War.
What a book – Where’d You Go, Bernadette: A Novel by Maria Semple. A friend suggested I read it, but said it’s going to make you laugh. And yes, it did. Bernadette is an eccentric, no question about it. She was an innovative and popular architect, then she up and moved to Seattle with husband and daughter. They bought a very dilapidated building (home) that Bernadette was going to fix up. But she got bogged down. She gets into altercations with her neighbors. She has almost no friends. Remember, I said she’s an eccentric. But she loves her daughter. Then she ups and disappears. Antarctica plays a role here. Oh this book was hilarious. Given the description I’d have never picked it up to read, but am glad I did. It’s on the edge of un-believability if you get my drift.
A page turner . . . by one of my favorite authors, Penny Vincenzi – The Best of Times. The most interesting premise . . . it is about a terrible auto accident on the M4 (outside London – M means motorway in English speak). It involves dozens of people, and begins some weeks before, telling the stories of the individual people, and leading up to why they happened to be on the M4 at that specific time. Then it’s about the aftermath. The hospital, doctors, families and how a few people try to dodge the truth of why they were there or with whom! And how they extricate themselves from the muddle they make. It’s also about how some people meet one another as a result of the accident, with happy results. Meanwhile the police try to figure out what caused it. I could hardly put it down.
IN THE POWDER ROOM: Our guest half-bath has a little tiny table with a pile of books that I change every now and then. They’re books that might pique someone’s interest even if for a very short read. The Art of Travel, a collection of essays about traveling (it’s not a how-to), gathering a variety of stories of some historic authors and where and why they traveled; The Greatest Stories Never Told; and Sara Midda’s South of France; also Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages (just the cutest book – with a miscellany of things – letters, grocery lists, notes, reminders, confessions the author discovered hidden inside the books he purchased for his used bookstore); and The Trouble with Poetry (Billy Collins).