Thursday, February 28, 2013

My Life in France

It is still winter. I know it's February and that February means winter and so I should expect that it would be winter, but man, it is still winter. The thing is, that by now, the last day of February, it feels like we should be almost finished with winter, but I suspect that isn't the case. We had a pretty un-wintry December and January, and the late descent of winter is depressing with its cold and snow. It's the kind of weather that makes me want to hunker down indoors and read and knit and cook hearty meals, but the tricky thing about that (at least where cooking is concerned) is that I have to leave the house for groceries, and this weather makes me not want to go outside. Obviously I have to, but I'm doing it as little as possible, so instead of heading to the grocery store every time I feel like cooking, I've started turning to Julia Child instead. Her memoir My Life in France (written with her nephew Alex Prud'homme) is full of food and warm weather and it is exactly the kind of delicious escapist read I need to get me through the depths of winter.

In a nutshell, My Life in France is the story of the Childs' (Julia and her husband Paul) life abroad. They moved to Paris shortly after the Second World War and Paul worked as a cultural diplomat while Julia cast about for something to do. When she set upon cooking, she signed up for the Cordon Bleu and as dismayed to find she'd been placed in a class for housewives. After some trouble from the woman who ran admissions, she managed to be transferred into the main chef's class and although she didn't find success immediately, she was so determined to learn and so interested in everything that she, of course, was successful in the end. She became friends (as much as you can be, I suppose) with the chef who taught her class, and began working on her own recipes and versions of recipes in the evenings after class. She was, in a word, obsessed, and it was an obsession that drove her for the rest of her life.  

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sleeping Funny

I am not a particularly strategic reader. Okay, that isn't entirely true, but I don't feel strategic when I choose books. I do make an effort (although it's hardly a chore) to read predominantly female authors and also focus on Canadian lit. This doesn't mean I won't read men, or that I don't read international offerings, but there are a lot of books out there and, consciously or not, most readers have a way of narrowing down what makes it into their to-be-read pile. Sometimes genre can be enough, but whatever way you choose your next read, chances are that a strategy is involved. In the last while, part of my strategy has been to read more short story collections. I really like short fiction, so it has been a happy turn of events that CanLit Knit has embraced short stories as well. Most recently we read Miranda Hill's Sleepy Funny, and although it wasn't everyone's favourite so far, it was mine.

The first story is set in a tony neighbourhood in a city I feel I should recognize, but can't quite (it could be Toronto or Vancouver, or a fictional mash up, but I'm not sure it quite matters). The neighbourhood is a cul de sac on which all the families are friends, the women are all successful, and everyone follows a sort of unwritten code. And then a new family moves in. The premise is not unique, but the way the story unfolds is nonetheless satisfying in the way Hill uses and subverts the tropes were accustomed to. The story is told from the perspectives of several of the women who live in the niehgbourhood, offering insight into their lives and children and views of the new neighbour, Michal Revivo-Smitherman, her husband, and their three children. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Speaking from Among the Bones

So, I'm not totally sure what happened to January except that it seems to have blown by and, despite my best intentions every week, I never managed to make it over here. My work schedule has changed a bit, and I was away, and there are lots of reasons that January was a bad blogging month, but that stops now, because it's February and high time I got my act together. January was, I should say, an excellent reading month, and one of the definite high points was Alan Bradley's latest Speaking from Among the Bones. I am generally quite sceptical about series. I don't like getting sucked in and feeling obliged to read each new book as it comes out, especially since I tend to outgrow series and then become increasingly disappointed with each book as I (and likely the author) get tired of the characters and the plots. All of that being said, Flavia de Luce has yet to disappoint, and although we're getting to the point in the series where Bradley must necessarily offer the background of his previous books as little asides, his plots and intrigue remain as fresh and fun as ever.

The novel opens with Flavia and her sister Ophelia in St. Tancred's church, where Feely (as she is affectionately/not-so-affectionately know) is practicing on the organ and Flavia is contemplating the grisly scene of St. John the Baptist's decapitation. Feely is practicing the organ because she has taken over as the parish organist, the previous organist having gone missing about six months previous. It's a week before Easter and, on top of that, mere days before the tomb of St. Tancred is to be opened. Feely, though, is complaining about the sound of some of the pipes, so she and Flavia go into the organ – something Flavia didn't know was possible – to check things out and find a bat inside there with them, which terrifies Feely and sends them both home. I had no idea such a thing was possible and, I have to say, it's little value-added details like the names of the organ pipes that make Bradley such a good read.

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