Review: Paris at the End of the World: How the City of Lights Soared in Its Darkest Hour, 1914-1918 ~ John Baxter

Paris at the end of the worldA preeminent writer on Paris, John Baxter brilliantly brings to life one of the most dramatic and fascinating periods in the city’s history.

From 1914 through 1918 the terrifying sounds of World War I could be heard from inside the French capital. For four years, Paris lived under constant threat of destruction. And yet in its darkest hour, the City of Light blazed more brightly than ever. It’s taxis shuttled troops to the front; its great railway stations received reinforcements from across the world; the grandest museums and cathedrals housed the wounded, and the Eiffel Tower hummed at all hours relaying messages to and from the front.

At night, Parisians lived with urgency and without inhibition. Artists like Pablo Picasso achieved new creative heights. And the war brought a wave of foreigners to the city for the first time, including Ernest Hemingway and Baxter’s own grandfather, Archie, whose diaries he used to reconstruct a soldier’s-eye view of the war years. A revelatory achievement, Paris at the End of the World shows how this extraordinary period was essential in forging the spirit of the city beloved today.

2 Thumbs-UpI was really looking forward to sitting down and reading this book, after all according to the title I would get an insight into what life was like for the French, in particular Parisians during World War One.  What I actually found between the pages was more a memoir written by the Author of his search for his Grandfather who was in Paris during the ‘war to end all wars’.

Questions I wanted to know such as the Parisians reaction to a war raging so close to their city was not covered and, although the journey of discovery the Author writes about was marginally interesting, not enough was in it to stop me asking myself what this had to do with not only Paris, but the way it reacted to the Great War.

This book turned out to be a huge disappointment as I was hoping for more of a social history of Paris, a city I greatly love and another perspective on the attitudes of the people who lived here and in this time.  Each time the reader comes close to Paris it seems as if the Author decides to take the left fork in the road instead of following the path into the city, some readers may not find this irritating but for me it was a major peeve, and was one of the reasons this book only receives a 2 thumbs rating.

If the is book had been listed as a memoir the disappointment I felt in it would not have been so great and, it would probably have received a higher rating; also if this book were re-categorized into the memoir genre, I feel it would reach a wider, more satisfied, reading audience than it possibly does under its current classification.

I would recommend this book to those who enjoy memoirs, but I highly doubt I will read anything else by this Author.


Review: Sweet Holy Motherfucking Everloving Delusional Bastard ~ Jerome Segundo

delusionalAdrift, inexperienced, loveless, and unemployed, recent college grad Jerome Segundo remedies all these deficiencies simultaneously upon landing a job and striking up a romance with a coworker. His consort, slightly older chronologically but infinitely more sophisticated and experienced, exposes him to the delights of cuisine, culture, and sex (occasionally in tandem). Their relationship blossoms and his world opens up—until a sexual assault charge brings it crashing down.

4 Thumbs-UpHowever you may feel about the type of language that the Author chose to use in his title please, whatever else you may think do not think that this is a book written by a person who cannot string a coherent sentence together.  It does, however, leave me in a quandary as how to actually review this novel, as it’s not quite like anything I’ve read before.

To be taken at face value this book would appear to be the ramblings of someone not quite in their right mind, but when the reader begins to look deeper into the text they see it is the memoir of the Author, warts and all.  To be honest trying to review this book is difficult because of the nature of the memoir, and to delve too deeply into the book would ultimately reveal too much of what is in its pages.

This is a memoir that has been penned by a man with a definite gift for writing, and despite it often dark passages there are some truly humourous moments contained within its covers.  There are large amounts of sexual content in this book, and it is very graphic in nature; to be honest though this lends more to the telling of the Authors life than any other vehicle used in the book, and without it the reader would have been possibly left scratching their head in bewilderment.  Is it a book that will offend some, absolutely.  It is also a book that will make the reader realize that gross miscarriages of justice in our ‘perfect’ world can, and do, take place and with long reaching consequences to those who have been subject to its bite.

This is definitely not a light read, but I recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading memoirs of people other than those the media say we should worship.


Review: Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris ~ Ann Mah

Mastering the art

When journalist Ann Mah’s diplomat husband is given a three-year assignment in Paris, Ann is overjoyed. A lifelong foodie and Francophile, she immediately begins plotting gastronomic adventures à deux. Then her husband is called away to Iraq on a year-long post—alone. Suddenly, Ann’s vision of a romantic sojourn in the City of Light is turned upside down.

So, not unlike another diplomatic wife, Julia Child, Ann must find a life for herself in a new city.  Journeying through Paris and the surrounding regions of France, Ann combats her loneliness by seeking out the perfect pain au chocolat and learning the way the andouillette sausage is really made. She explores the history and taste of everything from boeuf Bourguignon to soupe au pistou to the crispest of buckwheat crepes. And somewhere between Paris and the south of France, she uncovers a few of life’s truths.

Like Sarah Turnbull’s Almost French and Julie Powell’s New York Times bestseller Julie and Julia, Mastering the Art of French Eating is interwoven with the lively characters Ann meets and the traditional recipes she samples. Both funny and intelligent, this is a story about love—of food, family, and France.

5 Thumbs-Up

This book was a double delight for me to read, and took me a while to finish.  Not because it was slow-moving or plodding, but because at the end of each chapter there are recipes; recipes I just had to try out, ingredients permitting.

This is a novel, a travel book and a foodies paradise all rolled into the memoirs of the Author, and anyone who delights in reading any of these genres, either as a whole or separately will revel in this book.  The Author describes her love of Paris and how it came about, and the joy she felt at knowing they would actually be able to live there for a predetermined amount of time.  I fully related with her life of having to pack up and move every three years and, her excitement at going to a place that had been on her ‘wish-list’ for such a long time really spoke to me, as I am sure it will to every reader who lives a nomadic work connected lifestyle.

Like the Author, I am a Gallophile and love Paris.  This made it especially easy for me to fall into the book, and experience with her the sights and sounds of the city; remembering that same awkwardness of speaking French to a native.  Some of the areas she travels to outside of the city, I had not visited but through the skilful writing style of the Author I was there with her speeding through the countryside with my large baguette and wine bottle snugly secure in the back seat.  Into her memoir, the Author deftly weaves pertinent histories of the regions we travel with her to, and this just adds more flavour to those wonderful recipes.  This is a book that is both mentally and visually pleasing, not because it is jammed packed with travel and food photographs, but because the Author has described every detail of the year of the title with such depth, humour and courtesy, the reader has a clear image of what is taking place on the pages before them.

The recipes are delicious, and so easy to follow.  However, some of them require ingredients that may be difficult for the reader to come by depending on their location; do not be discouraged by this as there are plenty more that can be made with ingredients on hand and have you longing to travel to their region of origin.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves to travel, eat regional foods or just wants a good read with a little extra included.


Review: Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days ~ Nancy Bevilaqua


When they met, David was a 41-year-old heroin addict, homeless and   dying of AIDS. The author was a 27-year-old, self-absorbed, bar-hopping would-be poet–  and his caseworker. In 1989, in New York City, there was nothing “manageable” about AIDS, and David would have only eight more months to live. Something about him drew her to him until the boundary between “caseworker” and “client” dissolved, and she fell in love with him. Living together in secrecy in his little Lower East Side studio for those final eight months, they hoped for the impossible until it was impossible to hope any more. In the short time they had together–a time that would change them both–they formed a relationship that would, sixteen years later, unexpectedly and with ferocity come back to haunt the author, send her into the full-fledged grief that she had denied herself when David died, and change her life once again.

5 Thumbs-Up

 I have just finished reading this book, and very much enjoyed it.

Ms. Bevilaqua writes about, what can be an emotive subject, with compassion and understanding, and not once did she point the finger of blame as can so often occur in this type of book. She treats David’s story with all the compassion and dignity it deserves

If you have very strong religious views about AIDS maybe this may not be the book for you.