Monday, December 8, 2014

The Beautiful American by Jeanne Mackin Book Review

The Beautiful American by Jeanne MackinPublished June 3, 2014 by New American Library/PenguinHistorical FictionFormat: paperback; 352 pages
Cover Appeal: A
Also From This Author: The Sweet By and By, The FrenchwomanGoodreads Amazon Website

As recovery from World War II begins, expat American Nora Tours travels from her home in southern France to London in search of her missing daughter. There, she unexpectedly meets up with an old acquaintance, famous model-turned-photographer Lee Miller. Neither has emerged from the war unscathed. Nora is racked with the fear that her efforts to survive under the Vichy regime may have cost her daughter’s life. Lee suffers from what she witnessed as a war correspondent photographing the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps.
Nora and Lee knew each other in the heady days of late 1920’s Paris: when Nora was giddy with love for her childhood sweetheart, Lee became the celebrated mistress of the artist Man Ray, and Lee’s magnetic beauty drew them all into the glamorous lives of famous artists and their wealthy patrons. But Lee fails to realize that her friendship with Nora is even older, that it goes back to their days as children in Poughkeepsie, New York, when a devastating trauma marked Lee forever.
A novel of freedom and frailty, desire and daring, The Beautiful American portrays the extraordinary relationship between two passionate, unconventional women.


I thought that The Beautiful American was a hauntingly beautiful story. I enjoy most books set in France and this book was no exception. The characters were likable yet tragic. Lee tries to hard to keep up her appearances while Nora finds herself searching for her missing daughter. I am not sure why I love pieces that are set at the end of World War 11, however they draw me in.

The book is set at the end of WW11 and the 20's in Paris. I enjoyed how the author switched between the two time periods. The characters all seem to have lives that seem to be carefree yet tragic underneath. Author Mackin does a wonderful job in her setting of France and description of the characters. While Nora is a fictional character, Lee Miller was a model turned journalist in Paris. I found this to be quite interesting and went on to read more about her. I cannot say which I enjoyed more, reading Mackin's The Beautiful American or learning more about model/muse/photographer/journalist Lee Miller.

Mackin has written a breathtakingly novel that vividly captures the lost generation. I found myself not wanting the story to end. If you like historical fiction and books set in France this one is for you.

Praise for The Beautiful American

“Readers will rank [it] right up there with The Paris Wife…. A brilliant, beautifully written literary masterpiece…”–New York Times bestselling author Sandra Dallas
“Will transport you to expat Paris… and from there take you on a journey through the complexities of a friendship…breathes new life into such luminaries as Man Ray, Picasso, and, of course, the titular character, Lee Miller, while at the same time offering up a wonderfully human and sympathetic protagonist in Nora Tours.”–Suzanne Rindell, author of The Other Typist
“Achingly beautiful and utterly mesmerizing… Sure to appeal to fans of Paula McLain’s The Paris Wifeand Erika Robuck’s Call Me Zelda, or indeed to anyone with a taste for impeccably researched and beautifully written historical fiction.”– Jennifer Robson, author of Somewhere in France
“Beautiful…A fascinating account of a little-known woman who was determined to play by her own rules.”–Historical Novel Society


Jeanne Mackin is the author of several historical novels set in France, and has earned awards for her journalism
as well as a creative writing fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society. She lives in upstate New York with her husband, cats and herd of deer, and is still trying to master the French subjunctive.
Visit her website.
Follow Jeanne Mackin on Twitter  | Facebook


Click here to enter a giveaway for Jeanne Mackin’s The Beautiful American. Five copies will be given away to US/Canada residents only.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz Review

I cannot believe that I have had this book for months and am just posting my review now.  The reason why could be because it has been sitting next to my bed instead of in the kitchen.  Actually probably the true reason has been the chaos in my life this year.  If you can believe it we have had another family health crisis.  My husband's mum has been in the hospital for the past three weeks.  Just over a month after we lost Penelope she was diagnosed with a life-threatening condition.  It has been quite hard and there were times we thought we were going to lose her, but thankfully to a lot of prayer, great medical practitioners, modern medicine and her fortitude surgery went well and she left the hospital yesterday.  She has a long road of recovery ahead of her, but she is alive.

Tuesday we found out they were thinking of discharging her, so between a meeting with a client and going to the hospital (1.5 hrs one way) I quickly ran to the grocery store and bought food for Thanksgiving.  Yes, we had dinner at the hospital.

I have not had my usual reading time but My Paris Kitchen has been the perfect bedtime reading.  I have followed David's blog for a while and adore the book.  What makes the book so good is everything.  Having hailed from the U.S. David comprehends the differences that a flour or other ingredient can make between purchasing it in France vs. the U.S.  I have metric measuring spoons I bought in France just to overcome this.

Each of David's recipes comes with a story.  This is what makes the book so fascinating.  While the recipe may not be for you, you learn why it is he came to make it.  I have never met David, but must confess I do keep my eyes open for him as I stroll Marche Richard Lenoir.  And yes, while I have never seen David, I did see and talk to another blogger once at Pierre Herme.  David has a sense of humour.  His stories and entertaining and just sweet.

Author Lebovitz understands that not everyone spent years at Chez Panisse and then gets to live in Paris.  He starts off the book with some great references to ingredients and supplies.  His book is organized into appetizers, first courses, main courses, sides, desserts and the pantry.  The recipes are what I would describe as French home cooking (something President Mitterand) would have approved of if David was in his kitchen.  Who would not be happy to be served chicken with mustard for dinner or chicken lady chicken cooked in a cast-iron skillet or fried ham and cheese sandwich, un croque monsieur for those in the know.  There are some recipes that I do not think of as traditional French, baba ganoush and hummus but this just adds to the book.  You will also find a wonderful recipe for a fresh herb omelet, and crepes.

The book is just lovely.  An added bonus is he will tell you what pan to use.  For recipes made in the cast-iron skillet I consider this non-negotiable.  David, has his state-side readers in mind and has a great page full of resources for herbs and supplies.  I have frequented many of the vendors on my own and can attest to them.

Whether you want to dream of eating French for or strolling through Paris this is a book that any cook or Francophile will enjoy.  It is a cookbook first, but also a story about his life in France and the food he has discovered.

Thank you to Blogging for Books for providing me with a copy.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Dreaming of France

Need I say anything?  How I would love to be sitting in a cafe, less the cigar and beer and maybe with a nice cup of tea.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Ladurée Macaron The Recipes

Without a doubt, I think that Ladurée has the best macarons I have ever had.  I am not saying I am an expert,  but there is no doubt in my mind that I have probably had over 200 macarons in my lifetime. The first time I had a macaron was in Paris bien sur.  Where else would you expect me to have one the first time?  Moscow! Mais non.

This was probably over a decade ago before they became the rage and every imposter was attempting to make them.  There is a big difference between trying and succeeding.

For me it was love at first bite.  I was so delighted by them that when I returned to Paris with my husband I insisted that he have a bite of these delicate little cookies.

Years later I discovered Ladurée.  Once I had enjoyed their macarons, I must confess they became they only macarons I would get.

Lucky me,  I received a copy of the book Macrons.  I must confess the book is gorgeous.  In typical Ladurée style it came in its own lovely pistachio covered box with matching pistachio coloured tissue wrap.  The book itself has metallic pink on the pages.  I adore anything pink.

It was news to me that Ladurée has had over 130 flavours of macarons.  Who knew there were even designer macarons.  I cannot believe that by not visiting Paris this year I missed out on the Rum-Vanilla macaron.  I am not sure who given I was in Paris twice last year I did not sample the chocolate-passion fruit coconut and incredible chocolate coconut macaron.  Life really is not fair.

Included int he box is a lovely poster with all 130 flavours of macarons.  I may just have to frame this.  What makes the book fun is they tell you which flavour of tea to pair your macaron with.  The photographs are just splendid.  Some photos are of the macarons, while others are of the inside of the famous tea house.  Of course should you be bold enough to try, there are the recipes for making the macarons.   Of course my book is in English.  You can get it in English or French.

Should you know anyone who is a fan of macarons this is the book for them.  It is a pretty book with lovely recipes.  I must confess it has me craving macarons.  Do not think me strange I think I happen to have one in my fridge.  For me I loved discovering all the flavours I had no idea existed.  Fortunately for me I have a friend heading to Paris and yes I have put in my order for a box from Ladurée.

This is my contribution to Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth at Beth Fish Reads.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Manoir Val en Sel, Vézelay France

Last week I reviewed De Sanctis's book 100 Places in France every Woman Should Visit.  One of the places she mentioned was Vézelay.  When people talk about visit Vézelay it is for the basilica.  I would like to introduce you to Manoir Val en Sel, the bed and breakfast where I stayed.

Located about 2 km from Vézelay it is in St. Pere sous Vézelay.  One does need to have a car to get here.  I must confess that finding the place was an adventure in itself.  However once I located Val en Sel I knew that I had come to the right place.  The house was absolutely delightful.  I adored the gardens and my room.

Everywhere I turned there were flowers blooming.  I must confess that I do not remember Madam's name, however I do recall her hospitality.  When I arrived there was another couple present.  Madam took me up to my room and then invited me to join them in the salon.

I had some idea of what my room would look like from the website.  I was absolutely enchanted.

I loved everything about the room, maybe except that I had to step into the hallway for the bathroom. That was a small inconvenience and not really that bad considering that I had the bathroom all to my self.  

Imagine my delight, when I looked out the window to be greeted by this view.  Can you imagine the history these garden's must have witnessed.  

I could not wait to go down and explore.  That afternoon I stayed around the house and enjoyed a refreshment before heading out to dinner.  Madame was the perfect hostess, she suggested a selection of restaurants that I may want to visit.  Her recommendation was perfect.  But that is a story for another day.  

This is my contribution to Dreaming of France hosted by Paulita at An Accidental Blog.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Maria DeSanctis on Tour: 100 Places in Frances Every Woman Should Visit

When one visits a foreign place there are always the places that one must see.  Who would go to Paris and not see the Eiffel tower?  It is iconic Paris.  I could not imagine, visiting Paris and not seeing the Eiffel tower.  But one must find places for themselves that they want to visit.  You must discover what you would like to visit.  As someone who has visited Paris and various other areas of France, De Sanctis offers some great ideas for making your visit to France a memorable trip.  Told through a collection of travel essays there is something for everyone.  DeSanctis will have you imagining that you are enjoying a lovely croissant as you read through her travel essays.

Series: 100 Places
Paperback: 420 pages
Publisher: Travelers’ Tales (November 11, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1609520823
ISBN-13: 978-1609520823

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.

What I like about the book is that there are ideas for Paris and other regions of France.  Outside of Paris the French will be the first to tell you that Paris is not France.  The are right, each region of France has something to offer.  Each region is quite unique from the next. France is a diverse country rich in culture, gastronomy, coastline, art, churches, museums and fashion.  For even the well -travelled Francophile there will be one vignette they are not familiar with and develop a yearning to visit and experience.  The first 25 essays focus on Paris; after that DeSanctis takes one on a wonderful trip throughout France.

I do not know when my next trip to France will be but what I do know is that I will be reading this book again and visiting some of the suggestions.  Should you choose to visit the abbey in Vezelay I will be happy to suggest a lovely guesthouse where you should stay.  I must say that I loved comparing her experiences to my visits.
The author may have given me a new goal.  To visit all of the places she has suggested.  DeSanctis' descriptions have you walking the halls of the hospice in Beaune and treating the ill,  or seeing the turquoise blue of Lake Annecy.  
My book is not with my presently as I could not resist lending it my librarian for her upcoming trip.  Every time I want a little bit of France I am going to pull down this book.
If you would like a copy of the book, enter here for a giveaway.  The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

An Invitation to the Garden by Michael Devine Review

There is something very peaceful and relaxing about a garden.  I am fortunate that my kitchen table looks onto my backyard which I love.  I do not have many flowers in my backyard, however it is very green.  Green and peaceful.  It used to be my morning routine to wake up with the kitties, feed them, have a cup of tea and enjoy the backyard.  The sun would come over the fence.  I loved it.  I was always the first one up.

It was our special time.  As many of you know, on Monday we lost darling Penelope.  I was just sitting at the kitchen table when the nightmare began.  Just the three of us.  The house was still asleep.  It has been a difficult, difficult week.  It was only 7 months ago that I lost my mum.  As I write I am sitting in the same spot looking out over the garden.  Our vet has been great.  We have received back her ashes along with her paw prints and a package of seeds.

I am not going to say I am fine or at peace.  It is still too soon and fresh.  I do want to say Thank You to everyone who commented.  I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart.  I do enjoy the solitude and peace of looking out over my garden.  Last night I picked up An Invitation to the Garden.  It is a beautiful book.  Looking out onto gardens is always peaceful.  Michael Devine, the author is a talented man.  He is the type of man I would like to have in my life.   Below is a little about his background.

 Michael Devine has an internationally recognized line of hand-printed fabrics. His textiles and gardens have appeared in numerous print and online magazines, includingHouse Beautiful, Elle Decor, Traditional Home, and the Peak of Chic. He is a weekly columnist for Lonny magazine. A celebrated prolific designer and author, Charlotte Moss most recently wrote the successful Charlotte Moss Decorates and A Visual Life.

 In an Invitation to the Garden he has taken us through the seasons with different table settings and menus.  It is really quite clever.  Clever and lovely.  Once you look at what he has done, it will inspire you to think of your own table and what you could do.  Each season has about 5 different themes.  Spring time would be so lovely with a Lilac Brunch.  You would be enjoying spring sorrel and salmon tart, a green sale , strawberry mille-feuilles , thyme tea and lilac infused water.  For an early fall dinner he would serve you tomato soup, roasted remarry chicken au jus, puree of turnips, carrots and potatoes, pumpkin cake roll and a Cote de Beaune Rouge.    Just devine.

He does not focus on the holidays, except really Christmas.  Having studied at the Sorbonne, the Ecole du Louvre and the Ritz Escoffier, Michael makes annual pilgrimages to Paris.   It shows in his ideas and designs.  
If you like to entertain or just want a pretty table top this is a beautiful book full of inspiring ideas.  The possibilities are really endless.  Whether you use the book for inspiration or just decide to browse through it I am sure you will enjoy it.  I enjoyed the book both for the ideas, photos, recipes and menu suggestions.

I just purchased these bowls from Williams and Sonoma and cannot wait to add them to my fall table.      There maybe an artichoke soup, along with some foie gras, truffle cheese and a baguette and perhaps some osso bucco.  Who know?  It will be fun to plan.

Thank you to Rizzoli Publishing for providing me with a copy.  This is my contribution to Weekend Cooking hosted at Beth Fish Reads.
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