Hello! I apologize for missing our coffee last week as I was busy on crazy deadlines!
Last year I had the delightful and somewhat surprising time in reading the precursor to today’s book of choice, called The Elegance of the Hedgehog! A French novel translated into English. A funny story that will make you laugh and want to reread the pages. The characters will stay with you for quite some time! It is a quick read and truly delightful. I was so happy to find the latest book Gourmet Rhapsody taking one of the characters we already are familiar with and continuing on to laugh at the life’s foibles!
TGIT – Thank goodness its Thursday! I always enjoy sharing coffee with you fine people.
Here is what’s on the reading this this week:
Poison - Kathryn Harrison
“Perhaps Harrison’s most signal achievement in this story of two doomed women is her reflection of their time and place: Spain in the 17thcentury, a sordid and barbarous era. Harrison (Exposure) is totally in command of her tragic narrative, which proceeds with the stately, mesmerizing pace of a pavane, stepping to one side to look behind, to the other to look ahead. Francesca Luarca, a humble silk farmer’s daughter, is arrested for witchery. Her story parallels that of Queen Maria Luisa, the French Bourbon princess married to the impotent king of Spain, whose inability to produce an heir to the throne condemns her to death as surely as imprisonment in the Inquisition’s prisons dooms Francesca. Francesca commits several sins: she begs a priest to teach her to read (a dangerous ambition for a woman); he also introduces her to carnal delights and impregnates her. Francesca is destroyed by passion, the queen-who is also called a witch by the jeering mob-by its complete absence. Hovering over everything is the ominous shadow of the Inquisition, fed by a greedy, corrupt church that plays on fears of devils and witches but forgives “sins” on the payment of hefty fines. Harrison weaves a marvelous tapestry of almost palpable details: people in Madrid wore enormous jeweled spectacles, “an enhancement to dignity rather than eyesight”; “the Spanish nobility’s desire for loftiness was so intense and so literal that aristocratic women balanced on stilts.” This is hardly an historical novel in its accepted sense, however, since Harrison pulls free of exact historical documentation. While richly imagined, the narrative is sometimes overwrought; being confined inside the heads of the poisoned, delirious queen and the peasant woman torn by the Inquisition’s rack is a feverish experience. This claustrophobic darkness, the unremitting misery of the story, may deter some readers. For others, it will be an illuminating portrait of a woman’s lot in an age poisoned by superstition and the church’s tyranny.”
- Publishers Weekly
Until I find you – John Irving
“Actor Jack Burns seeks a sense of identity and father figures while accommodating a host of overbearing and elaborately dysfunctional women in Irving’s latest sprawling novel (after The Fourth Hand). At the novel’s onset (in 1969), four-year-old Jack is dragged by his mother, Alice, a Toronto-based tattoo artist, on a year-long search throughout northern Europe for William Burns, Jack’s runaway father, a church organist and “ink addict.” Back in Toronto, Alice enrolls Jack at the all-girls school St. Hilda’s, where she mistakenly thinks he’ll be “safe among the girls”; he later transfers to Redding, an all-boy’s prep school in Maine. Jack survives a childhood remarkable for its relentless onslaught of sexual molestation at the hands of older girls and women to become a world-famous actor and Academy Award–winning screenwriter. Eventually, he retraces his childhood steps across Europe, in search of the truthabout his father—a quest that also emerges as a journey toward normalcy. Though the incessant, graphic sexual abuse becomes gratuitous, Irving handles the novel’s less seedy elements superbly: the earthy camaraderie of the tattoo parlors, the Hollywood glitz, Jack’s developing emotional authenticity, his discovery of a half-sister and a moving reunion with his father. ”
- Publishers Weekly
Sepulchre – Kate Mosse
“Contrivance, cliché and expository overkill overwhelm bestseller Mosse’s tale concerning a rare tarot deck that helps link the lives of two women living eras apart. In 1891, Parisian teenager Léonie Vernier and her brother visit their young aunt at an estate in southern France. After finding a startling account of her late uncle’s pursuit of the occult, Léoniescours the property for the tarot cards and Visigothtomb he describes, unaware that more tangible peril in the form of a murderous stalker is seeking to destroy her loved ones. Present-day biographer Meredith Martin is in France finishing a book and tracing her ancestry when she sees a reproduction of the same tarot, which bears her likeness. She investigates the connection when she, too, arrives at the estate, now a hotel in which a new battle between good and evil rages. Mosse (Labyrinth) conveys so much unnecessary information through so many static scenes of talk, reading and interior monologue that the book’s momentum stalls for good soon after its striking opening. Mosse’s fans will hope for a return to form next time.”
- Publishers Weekly
A Classical Journey: The Houses of Ken Tate – Ken Tate
“ Award-winning architect Ken Tate is widely recognized for his intuitive approach to traditional architecture. His houses come from a place of soul, as well as a deep understanding of human nature and the history of architecture. In this book, nine dwellings ranging in influence from Norman farmhouses, Spanish estancias, Mediterranean villas, and Federal and Greek Revival houses reveal the breadth of his skilll and imagination. While some of these offer faithful representations of historic styles, others marry elements from several periods to give the impression that they grew and changed over time. By using authentic materials including custom-quarried stone, antique wooden beams, and natural plaster, and employing traditional craftsmanship ranging from mortis-and-tendon carpentry to English milled paneling, tate creates houses that seem to have been lived in and loved for generations. Among the houses featured in this book is a compoubd in Nashville, Tennesse, including a Georgian house with colonial Revival details, a fieldstone barn, and a Federal bedroom wing, which together create an illusion that the house was built over a two-hundred-year period.A creole-style plantation house with a Federal interior in New Orleans explores the range of styles favored in the region from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. In contrast, a Federal style house atop a hill in the Kentucky horse country faithfully expresses the early-nineteenth-century’s fascination with Palladian symmetry and elegance. In a Gulf Coast house, Tate also plays homage to Palladio, marrying the plan of a seventeenth-century villa with the airy style of West Indian plantations.”
Its Thursday and that means coffee with me! Today I am going to share with you a few books that I have on my list of favorites. Under each description you will find a link to buy the book directly from Amazon.
The Inheritance of Loss – Kiran Desai
“This stunning second novel from Desai (Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard) is set in mid-1980s India, on the cusp of the Nepalese movement for an independent state. Jemubhai Popatlal, a retired Cambridge-educated judge, lives in Kalimpong, at the foot of the Himalayas, with his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, and his cook. The makeshift family’s neighbors include a coterie of Anglophiles who might be savvy readers of V.S. Naipaul but who are, perhaps, less aware of how fragile their own social standing is—at least until a surge of unrest disturbs the region. Jemubhai, with his hunting rifles and English biscuits, becomes an obvious target. Besides threatening their very lives, the revolution also stymies the fledgling romance between 16-year-old Sai and her Nepalese tutor, Gyan. The cook’s son, Biju, meanwhile, lives miserably as an illegal alien in New York. All of these characters struggle with their cultural identity and the forces of modernization while trying to maintain their emotional connection to one another. In this alternately comical and contemplative novel, Desai deftly shuttles between first and third worlds, illuminating the pain of exile, the ambiguities of post-colonialism and the blinding desire for a “better life,” when one person’s wealth means another’s poverty.”
The Virgin Blue – Tracy Chevalier
“Chevalier’s clunky first novel, initially published in England in 1997, lacks the graceful literary intimacy of her subsequent runaway hit, Girl with a Pearl Earring. In split-narrative fashion, it follows a transplanted American woman in southwestern France as she connects through dreams with her distant Huguenot ancestors. The primary plot concerns the plight of Ella Turner, an insecure American midwife of French ancestry. Her architect husband, Rick, has been transferred from California to Toulouse, France, with Ella accompanying him. Often left alone, she becomes lonely and isolated, and when she decides it’s time to have a baby, she begins dreaming of medieval scenes involving a blue dress. In alternating sections of the novel, these details are developed in a narrative about a 16th-century French farm girl and midwife, Isabelle du Moulin, and her eventual marriage to overbearing tyrant Etienne Tournier. Isabelle and Etienne belong to a vehemently anti-Catholic Calvinist sect that overthrows the village’s cult of the Virgin, who is also known as La Rousse and depicted in paintings as red-haired and wearing a blue dress. Because of her own red hair and midwifery practice, Isabelle is suspected by her husband of witchcraft and punished accordingly. Ella, with the help of magnetic local librarian Jean-Paul, researches the lives of Isabelle and Etienne, trying to get to the bottom of her strange dreams. Chevalier tries hard to make Ella sympathetic, but her dissatisfaction with Rick is baffling, as is her attraction to the chauvinistic Jean-Paul. Equally difficult to swallow is the heavy-handed plot, which relies on jarring coincidences as it swerves unsteadily from past to present.”
Divisadero – Michael Ondaatje
“Ondaatje’s oddly structured but emotionally riveting fifth novel opens in the Northern California of the 1970s. Anna, who is 16 and whose mother died in childbirth, has formed a serene makeshift family with her same-age adopted sister, Claire, and a taciturn farmhand, Coop, 20. But when the girls’ father, otherwise a ghostly presence, finds Anna having sex with Coop and beats him brutally, Coop leaves the farm, drawing on a cardsharp’s skills to make an itinerant living as a poker player. A chance meeting years later reunites him with Claire. Runaway teen Anna, scarred by her father’s savage reaction, resurfaces as an adult in a rural French village, researching the life of a Gallic author, Jean Segura, who lived and died in the house where she has settled. The novel here bifurcates, veering almost a century into the past to recount Segura’s life before WWI, leaving the stories of Coop, Claire and Anna enigmatically unresolved. The dreamlike Segura novella, juxtaposed with the longer opening section, will challenge readers to uncover subtle but explosive links between past and present. Ondaatje’s first fiction in six years lacks the gut punch of Anil’s Ghost and the harrowing meditation on brutality that marked The English Patient, but delivers his trademark seductive prose, quixotic characters and psychological intricacy.”
“The first African-American artist to attain art superstardom, Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) created a huge oeuvre of drawings and paintings (Julian Schnabel recalls him once accidentally leaving a portfolio of about 2,000 drawings on a subway car) in the space of just eight years. Through his street roots in graffiti, Basquiat helped to establish new possibilities for figurative and expressionistic painting, breaking the white male stranglehold of Conceptual and Minimal art, and foreshadowing, among other tendencies, Germany’s Junge Wildemovement. It was not only Basquiat’s art but also the details of his biography that made his name legendary–his early years as “Samo” (his graffiti artist moniker), his friendships with Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Madonna and his tragically early death from a heroin overdose. This superbly produced retrospective publication assesses Basquiat’s luminous career with commentary by, among others, Glenn O’Brien, and 160 color reproductions of the work.”
I am writing to announce that beginning next week, Thursdays will be “Coffee with Jamie.” After many wonderful and supportive e-mails inquiring about lifestyle trends, we wanted to give our readers more ways to improve their overall life and not just the design of their homes. We have decided on a book club of sorts. I love reading and find that people often want to know what piece of literature I have sitting on my side table. We will explore books ranging from fiction to coffee table books that I have found to be incredibly inspiring and fascinating. We have also teamed up with AMAZON so you can purchase right from our site. We would LOVE to hear more from our readers about what exactly you would like to see or hear about a great book that you have recently completed. We are looking forward to this addition to the blog and hope you are too! Check back on Monday for our regular posts and keep and eye out this Thursday for Coffee with Jamie!