The Little French Bistro

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Since I was a fan of Nina George’s The Little Paris Bookshop, I looked forward to reading her latest, The Little French Bistro. Given the subject matter, I wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy it. Be assured, The Little French Bistro is filled with lush prose, distinctive characters, and is utterly charming. The description of the sights, sounds, and smells and tastes of Brittany will leave you longing to make your own journey.

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Bécherel, City of Books in Brittany, France.

Source: Unattributed via Pinterest.

 

 

 

 

George and Henry Read Here

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Library used by both Washington and Longfellow.

 

George Washington, called the Father of the US, and Henry W. Longfellow, one of the most recognized US 19th century poets, famously resided in a widely recognized Cambridge, Massachusetts House.

The Georgian mansion, built in 1759, and served as headquarters for General George Washington during the Siege of Boston, July 1775 – April 1776. Washington found the views of the Charles River important in devising military strategy against the British.

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1854 image of the home labeled as “Headquarters, Cambridge 1775” in reference to George Washington

During his time there, Washington was visited by John Adams and Abigail Adams, Benedict Arnold, Henry Knox, and Nathanael Greene. In his study, Washington also confronted Dr. Benjamin Church with evidence that he was a spy. It was in this house that Washington received a poem written by Phillis Wheatley, the first published African-American poet.

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Longfellow House Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site                    National Park Service

The house was a wedding present to Longfellow and Fanny Appleton from the bride’s father in 1843. It was the Longfellow family’s home until 1913. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow filled the mansion with objects reflecting his interest in other cultures. European and Asian artwork, furniture, decorative objects and books are found throughout the house.

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Pictured here is the room where the real Dante Club met at Longfellow’s house in the mid-1860s. Longfellow converted one of the windows to a bookcase—he did this in several rooms of the house, in order to house his library of approximately twelve thousand volumes. Credit: Nicholas A. Basbanes

While Longfellow lived in the house, he produced many of his most famous poems including “Paul Revere’s Ride” and “The Village Blacksmith”, as well as longer works such as Evangeline, The Song of Hiawatha, and The Courtship of Miles Standish. In all, while living in this house, Longfellow published eleven poetry collections, two novels, three epic poems, and several plays as well as a translation of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy.

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Longfellow in his study.

Longfellow  often wrote in his first-floor study, formerly Washington’s office, surrounded by portraits of his friends, including charcoal portraits by Eastman Johnson of Charles Sumner, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Cornelius Conway Felton. Longfellow would write either at the center table, at the desk, or in the armchair by the fire. Famous literary figures such as Charles Dickens and Nathaniel Hawthorne were visitors, as were politicians, actors, musicians, and others.

For a time, Longfellow’s home was one of the most photographed and most recognizable homes in the United States.

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Trivia lovers should note that in the early twentieth century, Sears, Roebuck and Company sold scaled-down blueprints of the home so that anyone could build their own version of Longfellow’s home. Several replicas of Longfellow’s home appear throughout the United States. A full-scale replica of the house was built in Great Barrington, Massachusetts at the turn of the 20th century. This building is the only remaining full-scale replica of Longfellow’s original home maintaining all the original historical character.

The Longfellow House Washington Headquarters National Historic Site, 105 Brattle St., Cambridge, is open Wednesday through Sunday from May 25 through November 1, 2016. Free 50-minute ranger-led house tours are every hour on the hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on a first-come, first-served basis (limit of 15 people per tour). The Visitor Center is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The gardens are free and open to the public year-round from dawn to dusk.

 

The Abominable: A Novel by Dan Simmons

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ALA Reading List Award for History, Short List

I admit, when I first read the title, “The Abominable,” it was hard for me not to go to abominables I have known, like the famous “Bumble” from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  (1964 TV Movie)

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Or the Yeti, from Disney’s Monsters, Inc.

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But while these familiar fluffies are cute and cuddly, something far more terrifying is stalking the climbers hoping to be the first to summit Mount Everest. The plot twists and turns, at one time making the reader believe in mythical monsters, at others offering more prosaic explanations for climbing accidents, equipment failures and mysterious deaths.

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The Abominable: A Novel is heavy on alternate history, climbing terminology and 100 words for snow. Well, maybe not 100, but far more than I had encountered before.

From Booklist:

“It’s 1924, and a trio of rogue climbers—mysterious WWI vet Deacon; emotional Frenchman Jean-Claude; and our narrator, brash young American Jacob—are hired to find the corpse of a dignitary lost on Everest… it’s the subsequent complications that make this required reading for anyone inspired or terrified by high-altitude acrobatics: sudden avalanches, hidden crevasses, murderous temperatures, mountainside betrayals, and maybe—just maybe—a pack of bloodthirsty yeti. Though the first 200 pages of climbing background might have readers pining for the big climb, it is nearly always interesting, and, later, Simmons excels at those small but full-throated moments of terror when, for example, a single bent screw might mean death for everyone.”

Good read, but a bit slow at times. The final push to solve a series of mysteries while trying for the summit make it worthwhile.

Three out of four stars.

A book to read when non-fiction books about Everest lack appeal.

Critical Linking: Famous Author Homes and Watering Holes

Washington Irving's Study Image Courtesy of Historic Hudson Valley
Washington Irving’s Study Image Courtesy of Historic Hudson Valley

I try not to soapbox or take other writers to task on my blog because flame wars are rude and counterproductive. However, (cue the ominous music) the HuffPost and the U.S. World News and Report have recently published stories which, IMHO, exhibit a shocking lack of diversity. Since the diversity theme seems to be hot, I was surprised at the oversight and disappointed by the lack of sensitivity exhibited by both publications.

The June 12, 2015 HuffPost Travel feature titled “Literary Landmarks 7 Famous Authors’ Homes You Can Visit” unquestionably lists seven famous authors’ homes. Seven white male authors. I found this particularly annoying since author Marsha Dubrow wrote the story.

The authors Dubrow includes are:

Mark Twain

Walt Whitman

Ernest Hemingway

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Thomas Wolfe

William Faulkner

Eugene O’Neill

It’s always tough to provide a short list meant to represent the greats in any category, but even if the list was meant to be about white men, I would still want to include Washington Irving’s Sunnyside in Tarrytown, NY.

Harriet Beecher Stowe House

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

Unfortunately, there are no women on the HuffPost list, and there is no ethnic diversity. It is quite easy to find house museums of famous women authors. I think the most notable exception to the list is the  Harriet Beecher Stowe Center which includes her Hartford, Connecticut residence. Since the Stowe House is located next door to the Mark Twain house, it would be easy to visit both in the same day.

Twain and Stowe lived in their homes during the same time frame. They specifically built their dream homes in Hartford because it was one of the most affluent cities on the eastern seaboard at the time.

Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House is billed as the “Home of Little Women.”

Image Courtesy of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House

No major architectural changes have been made to the home since the Alcott’s were in residence, and about 80% of the furnishings on display belonged to the family.

Unattributed image of Louisa May Alcott's desk via Pinterest.
Unattributed image of Louisa May Alcott’s desk via Pinterest.

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

Image Courtesy of U.S. Federal Govt. via Wikipedia

Similarly, some ethnic diversity should have been presented in the HuffPost feature. The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site , administered by the National Park Service, is in Anacostia, located in Southeast Washington, D.C. At the site, visitors can tour Cedar Hill, home of the famed abolitionist. Douglass escaped slavery to spend his remaining life using his brilliant words in the fight to secure equality for everyone.

Algonquin Hotel

The “Cafes Your Favorite Authors Loved” by  Ashley Hardaway, published in the August 19, 2014 of U.S. World News and Report isn’t any better. Once again, the story is filled with details regarding white men. I admit that I’m not as familiar with venues in which noteworthy female writers dined, but surely the Algonquin Hotel, with its famous Round Table, merited a mention. Dorothy Parker, critic, poet, short-story writer, and screenwriter, notoriously added the venom to “The Vicious Circle.”

Which famous writers’ homes would you add?

Armchair Traveling

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Like my new Armchair Traveling post and intrigued by my review of Tokyo Kill? Then I’ve got an ARC of Tokyo Kill for you. To win, friend me on Facebook, share the Tokyo Kill post and comment. If I get 100 new friends, I will mail out an ARC copy of Tokyo Kill to a U.S. winner. If I get 500 new followers, I will mail it internationally if the winner lives outside of the U.S.

If you have already friended me, and would like an opportunity to win, just comment and share.

Giveaway ends Friday, June 12, 2015 at 12:00 a.m. EST.

Remember: friend, comment and share.

Armchair Traveling with Barry Lancet in Tokyo Kill

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Barry Lancet has created a fast paced mystery in his second novel, Tokyo Kill. His familiarity with Japanese culture and history allow him to paint a vivid landscape across which he deftly moves his characters in a complex, twisty thriller.

Lancet joins a group of authors who, in my opinion, describe their locations so precisely that they become travelogue-esque. If you have visited Tokyo before, the novel will call the city clearly to mind. If you have not visited Tokyo, Lancet’s portrayal will make you yearn to go.

Tokyo Kills takes the reader on a comprehensive journey through Tokyo, from humble neighborhoods to lavish resorts.

Described as a “youth magnet,” Kōenji is a bedroom community named after old temples located within the Suginami ward. Like popular student habitués around the world, the area is filled with casual dining options, a suburban version of underground culture, and used clothing & music stores.  Kōenji is reported to be the home of the punk rock music in Tokyo, and the pulsing music can still be heard in the clubs.

Restaurants and food stands vie for space among the shops. Traditional selections include yakitori eateries, which grill-to-order over charcoal fires. Originally, yakitori referred only to skewered chicken meat, but now the term has expanded to include such non-poultry delights as pork belly, beef tongue, mushroom and tofu.

Yakitori on grill. Image Courtesy of 竹麦魚 (Searobin)
Yakitori on grill. Image Courtesy of 竹麦魚 (Searobin)

Far more upscale locations are waiting to inspire the armchair traveler. The luxury Hotel Chinzanso featured as a meeting place in Tokyo Kill, is known for its fabulous gardens filled with historic artifacts. The gardens are built in the Kaiyuu style, which usually feature green grasslands, a pond, a Tsukiyama (earth molded to look like a small mountain) and winding rivers.

Image Courtesy of Hotel Chinzanso
Image Courtesy of Hotel Chinzanso

Lancet also includes well known, popular attractions in his novel. A visit to Uenzo Zoo brings the famous pandas and pygmy hippos into the story. The Ueno Zoological Garden is the oldest zoo in Japan, and the flagship of all the zoos in the country. Founded in 1882, it has expanded to encompass over 35 acres which are home to 26,000 animals. In 1972, the first giant pandas arrived from China.

Image Courtesy of Ueno Zoo
Image Courtesy of Ueno Zoo

Even a touristy cruise along the Sumibo River, with their ubiquitous views of the Tokyo Sky Tree, the tallest tower in the world, makes an appearance.

Image of Tokyo Sky Tree Courtesy of Kakidai
Image of Tokyo Sky Tree Courtesy of Kakidai

More world destinations, such as those found in China; Miami, Florida, and the Caribbean make Tokyo Kill an armchair traveler delight.

Hotel Chinzanso http://www.hotel-chinzanso-tokyo.com/

Ueno Zoo   http://www.tokyo-zoo.net/english/ueno/main.html

Tokyo Sky Tree http://www.tokyo-skytree.jp/en/

Giveaway opportunity

Are you intrigued by this review of Tokyo Kill? To win, friend me on Facebook, share this post and comment. If I get 100 new friends, I will mail out an ARC copy of Tokyo Kill to a U.S. winner. If I get 500 new followers, I will mail it internationally if the winner lives outside of the U.S.

If you have already friended me, and would like an opportunity to win, just comment and share.

Giveaway ends Friday, June 12, 2015 at 12:00 a.m. EST.

Remember: friend, comment and share.

Guilty Pleasures Abound in The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay

I love books. I love books about books; bookstores, writers, book collectors…well, you get the idea. As a result, I plunged into “The Secrets of Lost Things” like a child diving into a summer pond; joyfully and without restraint. I reveled in the descriptions of miles of maze-like shelves with dusty, redolent books while sympathizing with the (somewhat obligatory) idiosyncratic cast of characters.

The Strand Bookstore Basement. Image Courtesy of Jim Henderson via Wikipedia.
The Strand Bookstore Basement. Image Courtesy of Jim Henderson via Wikipedia.

While some reviewers found the plot thin, or felt the narratives unresolved, I was willing not only suspend disbelief, but to chuck it out the window and bask in Hay’s homage to obsessive book collecting.

I am not a big fan of coming-of-age novels or first person narratives, but since Hay worked in bookstores and lived in Sydney, AU, the novel worked for me. The novel felt both intimate and expressive.

After traveling from Tasmania to New York with $300, 18 year-old Rosemary Savage finds work and fellowship in the Arcade Bookshop. As described, the mysterious bookstore resembles New York’s Strand, where Hay once worked.

The Strand Bookstore is one of those rapidly vanishing treasure: an independent bookstore. Located at 828 Broadway, in the East Village of Manhattan, The Strand is one of the last remaining member of “Book Row,” a once thriving mecca of 48 bookstores. The store occupies three and a half floors, and, as of December 2011, had 2.5 million books and more than 240 employees. (Wikipedia)

“Strand Bookstore” by Beyond My Ken – Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons

While working in the bookstore, protagonist Savage blithely interacts with her fellow employees, including an embittered albino manager, a good-hearted transsexual cashier, an insufferably aloof nonfiction expert, and an avuncular rare-books curator.

Just as Savage learns about her co-workers, she walks the streets of New York to become familiar with her new home. The description of the Martha Washington Hotel for Women bears no resemblance to the contemporary sleek boutique lodgings located at 29 East 29th Street in NYC.

Image Courtesy of Martha Washington Hotel
Image Courtesy of Martha Washington Hotel

Perhaps the more fanciful description hotel description is, as the Melville quote purports, “not down on any map; true places never are.” If that is the case, I’m sure I would be more comfortable in the actual Martha Washington Hotel.

The reference is apt, since Melville plays an important role in “The Secret of Lost Things.” In addition to a coming-of-age story, Hay weaves a mystery about a missing Melville manuscript, and sends protagonist on the hunt.

With a lost literary masterpiece, book lovers and collectors and a thinly disguised world famous bookstore, “The Secret of Lost Things” clicked all the boxes on my list for a fun novel.

The Strand Books
Martha Washington Hotel

Edited 9/5/2016. Sad to report, the Martha Washington Hotel has changed its name and owners. You can find more information here: http://theredbury.com/newyork/photos-videos/