Tag Archives: France

Review: “A Very French Christmas: The Greatest French Holiday Stories of All Time” #FranceBT

8 Aug

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My Review

A Very French Christmas: The Greatest French Holiday Stories of All Time is a joy to hold and page through, as it is beautifully produced–not surprising since it comes from New Vessel Press. This collection of fourteen stories derives primarily from the late nineteenth century, the heyday of Christmas stories, one might say, given the popularity of annual Christmas tales from Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and others. But A Very French Christmas feels very French, and also very fresh, owing to the inclusion of a long story by twentieth-century writer Irène Némirovsky and new stories by contemporary writers Jean-Philippe Blondel and Dominique Fabre, commissioned expressly for this book. Although these stories can be sentimental and heartwarming at times, many of them have a bracing quality, taking an ironic view of holiday celebrations, and exploring the way people’s desires and expectations for the season can be confounded.  This is equally true of the older stories.

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The collection opens with a new story, “The Gift,” by Jean-Philippe Blondel, who is known for his recent, well-received novel, The 6:41 to Paris.  Like that novel, this story presents another unexpected meeting between a man and woman, this time at a Christmas luncheon. Thomas, age 79 and divorced, is inwardly lamenting his feeling of abstraction from his family, gathered for their annual holiday meal at his son’s restaurant. They don’t really know him, he believes, but have erected a new identity for him as “grandpa.” Perhaps he doesn’t truly know them either, fitting each of them into his own pigeonholes.  While he is musing in this rather self-absorbed way, he is brought back to life by spotting a woman he knows seated at another table.

It’s at this moment she turns her head slightly toward me and our eyes meet.

I hear a faint explosion far away. It’s like a summer storm in the middle of winter, or the start of fireworks whose noise is muffled by the distance. I can’t take myself away from her gaze. My memory has turned into a crazy machine, searching all my internal libraries for the relevant novel, and in this heap of cards and photographs that we store inside ourselves, the information that I need is right there. Because I know her.

I’m sure I know her.

His reaction is nearly physical panic–blushing, heart palpitations, that feeling that one might die from the intensity of the moment–the reactions of a much younger man, and he is thrown back in memory to four decades ago when he made her intimate acquaintance. She was a co-worker in his company, but one night she became more than that to him. And here they are meeting again. Was it chance? The answer is surprising in this well-crafted story.

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After this fine start, we move back a century and a half to “St. Anthony and His Pig” (1880) by Paul Arène. But in reality, the story takes us back to the early centuries of the Christian era when St. Anthony lived alone in the Egyptian desert, fighting the battle for sanctity, with his only company being the devils who tormented him and his faithful pig Barrabas. Flaubert had recently written his novel, The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1874), so it was an opportune time for a Christmas story about the great saint’s trials. In Arène’s story, Anthony has just had six months respite from his regular temptations and prickings by a host of insidious devils. It was near Christmas, when who should visit him but a peddler of spits to roast pigs! The sly man suggests to Anthony how succulent Barrabas would be for Christmas dinner. O the torment! The mind’s imaginings are the greatest temptations, as the life of Saint Anthony abundantly proves. It is well worth following Arène’s delectable tale to the end to see what happens.

Portrait_of_Mr_Francois_CoppeeThere are three stories by François Coppée, all of the heartwarming variety and very pleasing. My favorite was “The Lost Child,” which begins with a portrait of its main character, a “millionaire banker” named M. Godefroy:

On that morning, which was the morning before Christmas, two important events happened simultaneously–the sun rose, and so did M. Jean-Baptiste Godefroy.

… And whatever opinion the sun may have about himself, he certainly has not a higher opinion than M. Jean-Baptiste Godefroy has of himself.

As director of a large bank and administrator of assorted companies, he also enjoyed the possession of many honors, including the Légion d’Honneur. This prosperous, important fellow had one son, Raoul, and no wife, because Raoul’s mother had died in childbirth. Each day, M. Godefroy devoted 15 minutes of his precious business day to a visit with his son, who spent the rest of the day with servants. Nevertheless, he loved his son and looked forward to this time with him. On this Christmas Eve morning, the son used his audience with the great man to ask, “will Father Christmas put anything in my shoe tonight?” His father answered, “Yes, if you are a good child.

After his business concluded for the day, he remembered his son’s words, and went to a toy dealer, where he bought a passel of costly presents, including a rocking horse and a box of leaden toy soldiers. But when he arrived home, the house was in an uproar and the boy’s governess was in tears because Raoul had gone missing. The story unfolds from there in a manner worthy of Dickens, and while M. Godefroy is not as miserly as Scrooge, events of this night will effect a Scrooge-like awakening.

Guy_de_Maupassant_fotograferad_av_Félix_Nadar_1888Two stories by the short story master, Guy de Maupassant, are both definitely of the confounding type, describing rather bizarre Christmas happenings. In “Christmas Eve,” a man explains to his friends his horror of Christmas Eve suppers. He recalled a night two years earlier when he went searching on the streets of Paris for a lady companion to share his supper. He preferred women with plenty of curves “a female colossus,” if possible, and he settled on a very curvaceous young woman who caught his eye. (Inevitably, this reminded me of de Maupassant’s famous story “Boule de Suif,” likewise concerning the misfortunes of a young lady of ample figure, and published just two years before this one.) By the end of the evening, the bewildered man would get a great surprise, and his reaction didn’t say much for his character! The other selection by de Maupassant, “A Miracle,” is a Christmas horror story about a strange blizzard and a woman’s possession by an evil spirit.

Anatole_France_young_yearsIn “The Juggler of Notre Dame,” by 1921’s recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Anatole France, an itinerant juggler named Barnabé was blessed with enough talent at his art to earn a shower of coins from the locals wherever he performed, but this was still insufficient to live on, and he often went to sleep hungry.

One night he met a monk on the road and they fell to talking and comparing their respective work. Barnabé was grateful for what he had, and declared, “I am a juggler by trade. It would be the best trade in the world if only one had something to eat every day.” The monk gently but firmly disagreed, warning his new friend to take care, asserting instead that being a monk was the most beautiful thing in the world, “for he celebrates the praises of God, the Virgin, and the saints, and religious life is a perpetual song to the Lord.”

Barnabé was a humble man and quickly confessed his mistake. Furthermore, he said that although he liked being a juggler, he would like nothing better than to the sing the daily office, especially to the Blessed Virgin, to whom he was specially devoted. The monk held the office of Prior at his monastery and he took the former juggler under his wing. In this way, Barnabé became a monk. His only regret was his lack of education and skills such as the other monks had, because he wanted to offer worthy service to the Holy Virgin.

The biography of Anatole France at the end of this collection compares this tale to “The Little Drummer Boy.” It reminded me of “A Simple Heart” in Gustave Flaubert’s Trois Contes. Both Flaubert’s story and this tale portray the emergence of unlikely saints.

The collection ends with a long story by Irène Némirovsky, who died in Auschwitz in 1942 at the age of 39. Her major fiction Suite Française was not published until 2004. “Noël,” the story included here, is written as a screenplay, giving directions for an opening montage of photographs, “the most conventional and unsophisticated images that accompany the idea of the Christmas holidays“–heavy snow, holly and mistletoe, a yule log, bright lights, voices of children, dinner parties. Snatches of song lyrics suggest the atmosphere: “Childhood…Innocence…Dawn of the world…Dawn of love…The most wonderful days...”

Although the older generation of parents is introduced, it soon becomes clear that the story will be about two sisters, Claudine and Marie-Laure, and the men pursuing them, or discarding them, at a Christmas party. A Christmas of love affairs and heartbreak and, as improbable as it might seem in this gathering of bright young things, perhaps real love? The modernity of Némirovsky’s approach sets this story apart from the tales of the previous century.

I have described so many stories, because they were all so fascinating, just as the book’s subtitle promises.  The Christmas themes are treated with a refreshing originality and variety, and I can imagine returning to reread this collection for many Christmases to come.

Stories discussed in this review:

“The Gift” (2017) by Jean-Philippe Blondel.

“St. Anthony and His Pig” (1880) by Paul Arène (trans. by J. M. Lancaster).

“The Lost Child” (1892) by François Coppée (trans. by J. Matthewman).

“Christmas Eve” (1882) by Guy de Maupassant (trans. by Frederick Caesar de Sumichrast).

“A Miracle” (1882) by Guy de Maupassant (translator unknown).

“The Juggler of Notre Dame” (1892) by Anatole France (trans. by Anna C. Brackett).

“Noël” (1932) by Irène Némirovsky (trans. by Sandra Smith, 2017).

******

A Very French Christmas:
The Greatest French Holiday Stories
of All Time

on Tour

August 8-14

***

Very French Christmas Cover

A Very French Christmas:
The Greatest French Holiday Stories
of All Time

(short story collection)

Release date: October 10, 2017
at New Vessel Press

ISBN: 978-1939931504
142 pages

Website
Goodreads

SYNOPSIS

A continuation of the very popular Very Christmas Series from New Vessel Press, this collection brings together the best French Christmas stories of all time in an elegant and vibrant collection featuring classics by Guy de Maupassant and Alphonse Daudet, plus stories by the esteemed twentieth century author Irène Némirovsky and contemporary writers Dominique Fabre and Jean-Philippe Blondel.

With a holiday spirit conveyed through sparkling Paris streets, opulent feasts, wandering orphans, kindly monks, homesick soldiers, oysters, crayfish, ham, bonbons, flickering desire, and more than a little wine, this collection encapsulates the holiday spirit and proves that the French have mastered Christmas. This is Christmas à la française—delicious, intense and unexpected, proving that nobody does Christmas like the French.

THE AUTHORS

Alphonse Daudet, Guy de Maupassant, Anatole France
Irène Némirovsky, Jean-Philippe Blondel, Dominique Fabre,
Paul Arene, Francois Coppee, Antoine Gustave Droz, Anatole La Braz

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Review + Giveaway: “Fa-La-Llama-La” by Stephanie Dagg #FranceBT

5 Dec

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My Review

In a good romantic comedy, the love between the couple often grows almost unawares in the medium of another love: love for a child in need; love for animals; love for a place, such as a small town, a farm, vineyard, or homestead; love for family and the need to recover or restore relationships. Love nurtured for these things tends to overflow, and a couple fortunate enough to share a common purpose begins to see each other in it. If it is a comedy, they laugh over the mishaps, confusions, and very human stumbles along the way.  If it is Christmas, well, all the better.

In Fa-La-Llama-La, many of these charming ingredients come together with much delight!  We meet the aptly named Noelle, who is living with her parents temporarily (she hopes), after the triple whammy of a broken engagement, the loss of her job, and the death of a dearly loved grandmother–seemingly, the recipe for a Christmas spent licking her wounds. Yet, with so much abruptly snatched away from her, it turns out she has a deep reservoir of love left to give. But llamas? Not at all what she’d imagined for her holidays, until her cousin Joe called with the offer of a last minute pet-sitting job in France, specifically at a farm six hours drive south of Paris, in Creuse, a départment in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region. Creuse was known in its rich medieval past as La Marche.

Noelle arrives at her job in a major snowstorm and is pretty shocked to find an empty, unheated house, no electricity, and the erstwhile owners’ twelve llamas out in the thickly snow-covered field.  She manages to camp in the house with her supplies, making sure that the llamas have some food and an open barn to shelter in (if they wish–these are creatures from the Andes mountains). When she finally falls into a shivery sleep, she is confronted by another surprise: the new (rugged, good-looking) owner of the house has arrived unexpectedly to claim his domain. His name is Nick, he’s Australian and a famous novelist, and she wonders what he is doing buying a house in rural France! She has consternation over the lack of electricity and furniture; he has consternation over being swindled during the house transaction by the previous owner (who made off with all the furniture and left the llamas). He is also fuming that both the llamas and their pet-sitter are apparently staying for the duration of the holiday. Their shared frustration slowly turns to amusement and joint problem solving. But before that lovely transformation can happen, they both need coffee and food, and they quite literally trudge to town, but not exactly together.

I’d imagined we have a companionable chat as we walked-cum-waded to the village, I was soon disabused. Nick strode on ahead leaving me to follow in his wake. It made me feel like King Wenceslas’s page, only the king in our case didn’t have the philanthropic intentions of the original. …

I took my mind off my annoyance with Nick and the physical effort of the journey by singing Christmas carols to myself, changing the words of some of them to make them more apt. The chorus of ‘Deck The Halls’ became “Fa-la-llama-la, la-llama-la,” and the first verse of ‘We Three Kings’ became “We three Kings of Les Veragnes are / Taking your furniture off in our car / Leaving you llamas and plenty of dramas / We’ll be spending your cash in a bar.”

When they return, Noelle and Nick have a more pressing crisis than their own comfort. One of the llamas, Gabrielle, is very pregnant and has decided to deliver early. Noelle discovers her lying down in the stable with two little hoofs already emerging! But something seems to be wrong. The rest of the baby is not emerging along with them and the delivery seems to be taking too long, causing Gabrielle more distress. Good thing that Noelle read up on the care and feeding of llamas before she left her home in the UK. Midwifing a llama, however, was going into new uncharted territory. Thankfully, Nick was willing to assist this time, and the result was a spindly llama cria (what llama babies are called), which they named Sir Winter. This whole episode is tense and fascinating and so engenders vicarious llama love–even in someone like me, who has no pets–that I recommend not missing it.

Another challenge for Noelle and Nick arises when they find out that the former owners of the house had promised that one of the llamas, Holly, would appear in the nearby town’s church Christmas pageant. Noelle is determined to make good on this promise and Nick is increasingly determined to stay close to Noelle. But first, which one is Holly? And how does one convince a llama to take a long, nocturnal walk to church? Even if these mysteries can be solved, they know that nothing is really “nearby” in thickly blanketed snow, and this episode has many ankle-twisting turns. Fa-La-Lhama-La really breaks out in the “comedy” part of romantic comedy, when Holly does her star turn in the nativity scene. The fictional audience was laughing, and I heard myself laughing too!

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Lulin (alias Holly) in all her beauty, suitable indeed for Christmas pageant stardom. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Dagg.

Throughout the story, Nick has seemed like the kind who bottles up emotions, but his real reasons for coming to France show otherwise. Apparently, under that rough exterior, there is a lot of love waiting to come out for a family he never knew, for the right woman–even for llamas! This story was hugely enjoyable, perfect for Christmas reading, and a treasure trove of appealing llama lore.

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Photo courtesy of Stephanie Dagg.

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Stephanie Dagg

on Tour

December 5-16

with

fa-la-llama-la

Fa-La-Llama-La

(Christmas romantic comedy)

Release date: October 21, 2016
Self-published

ASIN: B01MF7F813
165 pages

SYNOPSIS

It’s very nearly Christmas and, temporarily jobless and homeless, Noelle is back at home with her parents. However, a phone call from her cousin Joe, who runs a house-and-pet-sitting service, saves her from a festive season of Whist, boredom, and overindulging. So Noelle is off to France to mind a dozen South American mammals. She arrives amidst a blizzard and quickly discovers that something is definitely wrong at the farm. The animals are there all right, but pretty much nothing else – no power, no furniture and, disastrously, no fee. Add to that a short-tempered intruder in the middle of the night, a premature delivery, long-lost relatives and participation in a living crèche, and this is shaping up to be a noel that Noelle will never forget.
Fa-La-Llama-La is a feel-good, festive, and fun romcom with a resourceful heroine, a hero who’s a bit of a handful, and some right woolly charmers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

fa-la-llama-la-stephanie-dagg

Hi, I’m Stephanie Dagg. I’m an English expat living in France, having moved here with my family in 2006 after fourteen years as an expat in Ireland. I now consider myself a European rather than ‘belonging’ to any particular country. The last ten years have been interesting, to put it mildly. Taking on seventy-five acres with three lakes, two hovels and one  cathedral-sized barn, not to mention an ever increasing menagerie, makes for exciting times.

The current array of animals includes alpacas, llamas, huarizos (alpaca-llama crossbreds, unintended in our case and all of them thanks to one very determined alpaca male), sheep, goats, pigs, ducks, geese, chickens and turkeys, not forgetting our pets of dogs, cats, zebra finches, budgies and Chinese quail. Before we came to France we had was a dog and two chickens, so it’s been a steep learning curve. I’m married to Chris and we have three bilingual TCKs (third culture kids) who are resilient and resourceful and generally wonderful. I’m a traditionally-published author of many children’s books, and and am now self-publishing too. I have worked part-time as a freelance editor for many years after starting out as a desk editor for Hodder & Stoughton. The rest of the time I’m running carp fishing lakes with Chris and inevitably cleaning up some or other animal’s poop.

Visit her website. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter

Buy the book: Amazon.com | Amazon.fr | Amazon.co.uk

***

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or on any other book blogs participating in this tour.
Be sure to follow each participant on Twitter/Facebook;
they are listed in the entry form below
.

Enter here

Visit each blogger on the tour:
tweeting about the giveaway everyday
of the Tour will give you 5 extra entries each time!
[just follow the directions on the entry-form]

Global giveaway – international:
1 winner will receive a $10 Amazon gift card

***

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TO READ REVIEWS AND AN EXCERPT

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*Note:*  I received this book free of charge from the author.

Review: “A Perfumer’s Secret” by Adria J. Cimino

16 May

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I thank Adria J. Cimino and Velvet Morning Press for the opportunity to review this new novel by Adria, who is already familiar to readers as the author of Amazon best-seller  Paris, Rue des Martyrs and Close to Destiny.

My Review

A Perfumer’s Secret is richly evocative of a very special art, the art of composing fragrances, practiced well by only a very few, remarkable people. I’ve never read a story so thoroughly drenched in fragrances–one in which olfactory imagery was not merely added to color and deepen the reality of the fictional world but in which particular scents were themselves central to the plot and keys to character. Scents function as the engine of the plot, and characters are so sensitive to smells of all kinds in their environment that they truly earn the perfumers’ nickname for one of their best: a “nose,” un nez.

Being a nose is a gift, a natural endowment as valuable to their craft as winning the lottery would be to a person deep in debt. And that gift in turn puts them in debt to the world, as they seem to be driven from within to create the most meaningful, memorable scents, which others are then privileged to experience. But to most of us, these nuanced scents and their creators remain a mystery.

The book opens with a haunting prologue:

Zoe Flore’s first creation was the scent of tears. A hot, salty fragrance that she concocted the day her mother died. A perfume built on oak moss, a touch of geranium and the real tears that tumbled into the mix. It was her fifteenth birthday, and from that moment on, she wore the scent as a suit of armor.

Zoe Flore, now 30, is one of these gifted people, a “nose,” who could transform her grief into a living epitaph for her mother, whose memory still infused her consciousness and her creative life. As Zoe works on new fragrance ideas for an important contract, it is her mother’s very particular gift for perfume concoction that occupies her dreams:

she dreamed of her mother composing a fragrance, like the conductor of an orchestra. Barbara Rose sat before the rows of vials, each containing a different basic material. With careful, flowing movements, she went through the routine: selecting vials from the perfume organ, sniffing scent dips that she inserted into one tube and waved delicately over another, then noting each element on a piece of parchment paper. Zoe squinted, but she couldn’t read the words Barbara Rose had printed on the paper.

She awoke in sad frustration.  When Zoe thought of her deepest yearnings, it was not, in fact, romantic love she wanted most but “the thrill, the excitement that came with creating an unusual fragrance of unprecedented complexity.”

Unexpectedly, the death of her great aunt Marie-Odile in France broke open the lingering sadness in her life and sent her on a quest to discover her mother’s secrets and her own identity.  For one thing, she never knew that her mother, Barbara Rose Flore, was really Barbara Rose Flore-Fontaine, daughter to one of the great families of French perfume makers in the commune of Grasse. Her mother had fled this family, moved to America, and hidden this connection. Zoe was summoned to the reading of her great-aunt’s will where she would inherit a letter, something of incomparable value to her. The scent of the envelope itself told her its origin: it still carried the elusive, but unmistakable scent of Barbara Rose’s perfume, a fragrance she always wore and which Zoe would never forget. The enclosed letter detailed this perfume’s secret formula.

Such a secret was valuable to a host of people beside Zoe, and it only took a short time before the letter was stolen from Zoe’s belongings. Yet, it was still possible she could reconstruct it from memory with a little trial and error.

She decided to stay in France, despite the deadline pressure from her New York City office; they wanted her to take the first plane home and turn in some sort of perfume proposal right away in hopes of pulling off a miracle and securing the coveted contract. But Zoe knew her best chance of recreating her mother’s perfume was right there in Grasse, near her family’s home. Furthermore, she felt inspired to try creating something entirely new and uniquely her own.  She rented a picturesque cottage called the Rose of May, frequented by visiting perfumers from around the world. This was her first view of it:

Her eyes drank in the hillsides with their emerald-colored foliage and houses like droplets of rose, violet and mustard. She could almost see through this to the vast flower fields whose perfume drifted delicately into town whenever the wind took hold. How many times had her mother looked out a similar window right here in Grasse?

Grasse is situated at the southeast corner of France on the French Riviera.  The painter Fragonard was born here, and Édith Piaf spent her last days here in her villa.  With its warm coastal climate, sheltered from salty sea air, it is the perfect farmland for flowers in the many hundreds of species. The profusion of flowers and other plants fostered in Grasse made it the “perfume capital of the world” by the 18th century, a magnet for those who wish to combine the essences of its unique botanical treasures.

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Photograph of the Fragonard’s Museum building.

This lush scene is outside the Fragonard Musée du Parfum, adjacent to the Fragonard Perfumerie, one of the few perfumeries that gives public tours.  It gives an idea of the beauty of Grasse and why Zoe wanted to stay! The lovely cover of Adria’s book, with its lavender fields stretching toward the horizon, also conjures up the romance of the place, the sheer abundance of it.

Zoe was not working in a vacuum.  The family she suddenly acquired already had a heap of their own issues and complications. Some of them were very unhappy about her arrival on the scene, and others proved to be surprising allies. They were vying for that same perfume contract, and they desperately wanted to learn her mother’s secrets too. One competitor in particular, Philippe Chevrefeuille, was a particular problem for Zoe because he captivated her romantically in a way she thought she was immune to.  Likewise, he was unnerved by her “scent of tears,” and waivered between wanting to market it as his own and wanting simply to drink it in and discover the reasons behind her sadness.

Besides coping with the confusing distraction of Philippe in her life, Zoe had to figure out who took her mother’s formula! Perhaps a greater mystery, what were the circumstances of her creating it in the first place? Why did she leave her family behind so completely when she seemed perfectly suited to the career she was born to?

I won’t hint at the answers to these mysteries, since Adria discloses the truth so deftly as she spins her tale. I will say that I felt I knew Zoe very well as I was reading. I could predict her reactions. Just one example: When she picked up her key for the Rose of May cottage, she declined to have the rental agent show her around. Although the author didn’t say so, I surmised that Zoe didn’t want anyone else’s scents to mingle with her first impressions of the place, the accumulated traces of those perfumers who had lived and worked there. I can only imagine what it must be like to live so deeply immersed in one’s olfactory sense. Or rather, I can imagine it much better now, for having read A Perfumer’s Secret. For me, the title now has a double meaning: the family secret (or secrets) of various characters in this particular story, and the private world of the extraordinary creative people who make original perfumes.

Synopsis

The quest for a stolen perfume formula awakens passion, rivalry and family secrets in the fragrant flower fields of the South of France… 
Perfumer Zoe Flore travels to Grasse, perfume capital of the world, to collect a formula: her inheritance from the family she never knew existed. The scent matches the one worn by her mother, who passed away when Zoe was a teenager. Zoe, competing to create a new fragrance for a prestigious designer, believes this scent could win the contract—and lead her to the reason her mother fled Grasse for New York City.
Before Zoe can discover the truth, the formula is stolen. And she’s not the only one looking for it. So is Loulou, her rebellious teenage cousin; Philippe, her alluring competitor for the fragrance contract; and a third person who never wanted the formula to slip into the public in the first place.
The pursuit transforms into a journey of self-discovery as each struggles to understand the complexities of love, the force of pride, and the meaning of family.
Contemporary/ Literary fiction, Women’s fiction

Pages: 258 print length

Release date: May 16, 2016

Publisher: Velvet Morning Press

Buy the book: Amazon

 

About the Author

7751480Adria J. Cimino is the author of Amazon Best-Selling novel Paris, Rue des Martyrs and Close to Destiny, as well as The Creepshow (release April 2016) and A Perfumer’s Secret (release May 2016).
She also co-founded boutique publishing house Velvet Morning Press. Prior to jumping into the publishing world full time, she spent more than a decade as a journalist at news organizations including The AP and Bloomberg News. Adria is a member of Tall Poppy Writers, which unites bright authors with smart readers. Adria writes about her real-life adventures at AdriaJCimino.com and on Twitter @Adria_in_Paris.

Twitter | Facebook | Website | Blog

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*Note*: I received an advance electronic copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.  I did not receive any other compensation, and the views expressed in my review are my own opinions.

Review and Giveaway: “100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go” by Marcia DeSanctis #FranceBT

27 Oct

100 Places banner100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go by Marcia DeSanctis, Traveler’s Tales. Palo Alto, CA: Solas House, Inc., 2014.

As you might imagine, I have a special place in my heart for lists of 100 anything, but a list of 100 places to visit in France easily floats toward the top of my list of lists. When they are recommended by accomplished travel writer Marcia DeSanctis, I know I will have a list, and a book, bristling with post-it notes and dotted with marginal exclamation points!

This is the guide to read before you pick up that other guidebook–the one with hotels and restaurants in tiny type–and to pack in your suitcase for the pure pleasure of it. Each of its hundred succinct chapters is enhanced with a small emblematic photo or drawing, but the real star is DeSanctis’s text: her warmly personal prose unites a keen knowledge of French lore with a wealth of travel experience and anecdote. She is a confident connoisseur, but never a stuffy one; she readily shares with the reader those occasions when she changed her mind about a sight or revised a preconception.

Her introduction sets the stage with her own history of loving France. It may have been a madeleine for Proust, but for DeSanctis, it was that first bite of croissant–even the American version that came as rolled-up dough in a can–that got her curious about France. Exploration of French books and music finally culminated in her first visit to Paris as a young adult, which sparked a sense of belonging and fit a piece into life’s puzzle for her:

Not just me, but every woman belonged in Paris, and to miss out meant missing out on life itself. France was not just my idea; it was a universal one, a rite of passage, the place we were where we could both escape ourselves and find the power and grace to be ourselves. It was one piffling ocean away, and returning there as soon as possible was the best reason I could think of to squirrel away my paycheck… (p. xvii)

She did save her paycheck, and returned again and again, meeting and marrying her husband, sometimes living there, and sometimes just making another pilgrimage to fulfill a particular longing. As she writes, “In France, we find what we are missing. This book contains 100 of those missing things.” The first 25 places are in Paris, and then she breaks out of the city to explore the rest of France. I will mention a few of the highlights for me, my own brief itinerary through the book.

  • Musée Édith Piaf, Paris (chapter 3). DeSanctis writes movingly of Piaf, the tiny woman with the ringing voice and the rolling rs, “an emblem of French identity and genius.” She highlights my favorite Piaf song, “Non, je ne regrette rien.” Somehow when Piaf sings it, in a key tuned to shake the soul, it affirms a human resilience beyond words, beyond the storms that tossed her.

  • The Perfect Lingerie, Paris (chapter 7). I don’t think I’ve read a review or a blurb of this book that didn’t take note of this memorable chapter! It encourages women to do something special for themselves, to visit Paris and shop–not extravagantly, but caringly–for themselves. This is only one of many chapters that are about a type of experience to be sought, with no particular address but many enticing suggestions of where to find it.
  • Church Music and Concerts, including at Sainte-Chapelle, Paris (chapter 8). Hearing the music of heaven at La Sainte-Chapelle combines experience with location in a perfect marriage. The rainbow-lit environment of the stained glass feeds the eyes as the concerts performed there feed the ears, the mind, and the soul. DeSanctis says it so well: “it is the kind of experience and balance we seek when we travel to Paris, the double sweep of lightness and meaning” (p. 24). I like very much how she broadens this choice to include opportunities to hear sacred music at any of a number of churches and abbeys.

I urge the traveler to experience a celebrated religious monument as more than a museum, and when on the street, to seek out the sounds. … the strains of music can unpack our sorrows or free our joys, cause us to examine the extent of our faith if that’s what surfaces, or just transport us through the force of its simple beauty. (p. 25)

  • My Restaurants, Pâtisseries, and Tea Salons, Paris (chapter 9). One can’t imagine travel in France without food being a five-star highlight, even if it is obtained at an unassuming brasserie on a hidden side street or at a little tucked-away tea shop. DeSanctis savors her food experiences and offers luscious descriptions of them throughout the book. In this wise chapter, she urges the woman traveling to keep a food itinerary, noting down for future reference those planned and unplanned stops for food and drink that yielded memorable tastes, sights, smells, and textures. Her idea of a typical diary entry is delightful: “It was here, on the corner of such-and-such, that I lit upon this perfect spot and ordered a café crème and tartes aux cerises and had one of the purest moments in my life” (p. 27). As for myself, I still recall the lobster poached in cream at Chez Albert, and, yes, I wrote about my ecstasy in a little travel journal, thirty-five years ago.
  • Héloïse and Abélard, Paris (chapter 13). I loved this blunt opening: “Paris is for lovers. It is also for their graves.” DeSanctis highlights the three cemeteries of Paris, and their famous inhabitants, but Héloïse and Abélard, re-interred (on orders from Empress Josephine) at Père Lachaise, are her primary focus of contemplation in this chapter.
  • The Shoah memorials at Paris and Drancy (chapter 17). In this important chapter, DeSanctis describes in detail the Wall of Names and other Shoah memorials in today’s France, which aim to confront the full historical record of the French collaboration during World War II and honor the memories of those who were deported and killed in the Holocaust.
  • Highlights of the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay (chapters 19 and 20). DeSanctis writes wonderfully about artworks that appreciate women as their subject or were actually created by women (such as the painters Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun and Berthe Morisot), and she proposes “12 + 1” highlights of painting, sculpture, and other objets d’art at each of these two legendary palaces of art. Get ready to circle and star these for your next visit, or just look for them online until you can see them in person (the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay have excellent websites to browse).
  • Lake Annecy (chapter 37). DeSanctis titles this chapter “The Turquoise Waters of the Haute-Savoie.” That really says it all. A few years ago, I had the joy of tagging along to a physics conference held at the Priory in Talloires, on the other end of the lake from the city of Annecy. I brought books with me but the impossibly beautiful view was very distracting. The lake was a boaters’ paradise, and every morning hang gliders sailed off the mountain in the background. Here are two of my photos of the place.
  • Vézelay (chapter 73). On that same trip, we rented a car and meandered through Burgundy and Champagne, making a special point to divert our route to Vézelay to see its magnificent basilica atop a hill. When I took the exterior photo, the façade was being cleaned and repaired, hence the scaffolding. Inside, the extraordinary nave with its striped Romanesque arches was flooded with light from the lovely apse, with its fascinating ambulatory chapels honoring Christ, Mary, and various saints.

    As DeSanctis describes so well in her chapter, Vézelay was a focal point in the life of 12th-century Europe. With its reputed relics of Sainte Marie-Madeleine (Magdalen) and its pivotal location, it became a gateway to the west and starting point on one of the four pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Campostela in Galicia. It was also the sight at which Bernard de Clairvaux preached one Easter (1146) to an overflow crowd, spilling out from the church onto the hillside. His words roused many in the assembly, including Louis VII and his queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, to take the cross for the Second Crusade, but this fruitless slaughter left an ambivalent taste on the tongues of historians, faced with evaluating this contradictory saint, the “Mellifluous Doctor” who wrote so eloquently about love of God and man.

Oh, I must stop now and leave readers to discover on their own such wonders as the Bayeux Tapestry (“the greatest storyboard ever made,” she calls it), the beaches of Normandy (to “remember the fallen”), Chamonix (which figures as one setting in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein), or Aix-en-Provence (as seen through the eyes and bons mots of M. F. K. Fisher).   I will simply conclude with DeSanctis’s own statement of one of her chief aims as a traveler, from her chapter on the glorious cathedral of Amiens:

In travel, I like to seek context–fictional, real or otherwise–for my surroundings. I like to find a memory, even someone else’s, to unearth, as a focus that prevents me from being a mere outsider… (p. 375)

She succeeds admirably in this aim, conjuring for the reader a delectable wealth of associations for each landmark, or landmark experience, she describes. DeSanctis presents a way of traveling through her 100 Places in France that is comforting, enlightening, and refreshing, and I recommend most highly making the reading journey alongside her.

***************************************************

Author Marcia DeSanctis

on Tour

October 27-November 5, 2014

with

100 Places cover

100 Places in France
Every Woman Should Go

[travel essays]

Release date: October 21, 2014
at Travelers’ Tales

380 pages

ISBN: 978-1609520823

***

SYNOPSIS

Told in a series of stylish, original essays, 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go is for the serious Francophile, for the woman dreaming of a trip to Paris, and for those who love crisp stories well-told. Like all great travel writing, this volume goes beyond the guidebook and offers insight not only about where to go but why to go there. Combining advice, memoir and meditations on the glories of traveling through France, this book is the must-have in your carry-on when flying to Paris.

Award-winning writer Marcia DeSanctis draws on years of travels and living in France to lead you through vineyards, architectural treasures, fabled gardens and contemplative hikes from Biarritz to Deauville, Antibes to the French Alps. These 100 entries capture art, history, food, fresh air and style and along the way, she tells the stories of fascinating women who changed the country’s destiny. Ride a white horse in the Camargue, find Paris’ hidden museums, try thalassotherapy in St. Malo, and buy raspberries at Nice’s Cour Saleya market. From sexy to literary, spiritual to simply gorgeous, 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go is an indispensable companion for the smart and curious traveler to France. [provided by the author]

***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Photo credit: Ron Haviv

Photo credit: Ron Haviv

Marcia DeSanctis is a former television news producer for Barbara Walters, NBC and CBS News.
She has written essays and articles for numerous publications including Vogue, Marie Claire, Town & Country, O the Oprah Magazine, Departures, and The New York Times Magazine.
Her essays have been widely anthologized and she is the recipient of three Lowell Thomas Awards for excellence in travel journalism, as well as a Solas Award for best travel writing.
She holds a degree from Princeton University in Slavic Languages and Literature and a Masters in Foreign Policy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Visit her website. Follow her on Facebook, and Twitter

Buy the book: Amazon, upcoming on Travelers’ Tales.

***

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*Note*: I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation, and the views expressed in my review are my own opinions.

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