Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Grand Ouest Authors

Steve Mansfield-Devine, a writer living in Normandy, has asked us to invite other authors to his group:

I'm in the process of setting up a writers group called Grand Ouest Authors.

The aim is to provide a network for anglophone authors who live in Normandy, Brittany and the Pays de la Loire. It's aimed at writers with books in print (via publishers or self-published) and those with book projects that they hope to get into print in the near future.

I've blogged about why I'm setting up the group here.

And there's a contact form for people interested here.

There's only a few of us at the moment, so I'm putting the word out as much as I can, as the more writers we can attract, the more mutual support we can provide. So if you did feel moved to blog about it, that would be great!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Websites for book lovers

A few of our favourite book web-sites:

www.bl.uk/treasures/treasuresinfull.html - treasures of the British Library in zoomable detail: the Gutenberg Bible, Magna Carta, the first edition of Hamlet.

gutenberg.net - 20,000 out of copyright books in downloadable plain format text, digitalised by volunteers.

amazon.co.uk - “search inside” - not as pleasurable as browsing in a bookshop of course, but this feature allows you to dip into a book before you buy.

telegraph.co.uk/readings - authors read aloud to you online from their works or try librivox.org for whole texts read by volunteers, a sort of audio gutenberg.

bbc.co.uk/fivelive/entertainment/mayosbookpanel for lengthy samples of presenter Simon Mayo’s books of the month.

Send us your favourite sites or blogs about books, words or languages.

Do you have a book (fiction or non fiction) you would like to review?
Send 200-250 words for publication on the Rendezvous Readers’ Book Blog  marked “book choice”.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Young readers list for British parents in France

Getting the reading habit isn’t just important for children’s academic progress or, far more importantly, one of the most exciting things that will ever happen to them. What you have read is also part of your national-cultural identity and for British kids growing up in France really to feel British, especially if they go back to the UK, they need to have read the same books (yes, OK, and watched the same tv programmes) as their compatriots.

So, here’s a selection of classic and modern literature from the current UK school reading lists - books they should have read; books that are a joy to read.

Primary pupils:

reading age 5-7

The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss;
A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond;
Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Dodd;
We’re going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen;
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Charlotte’s Web by E B White;
The Hundred Mile an Hour Dog by Jeremey Strong;
The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks;
Fungus the Bogeyman by Raymond Briggs;
Mr Majeika by Humphrey Carpenter;
One thousand and One Arabian Nights by Geraldine Mccaughrean;
Ivan the Terrible by Anne Fine

Alice’s adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll;
The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo;
Beowulf by Kevin Crossley-Holland;
Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner;
The firework-makers Daughter by Philip Pullman;
Harriet The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh;
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder;
Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupéry;
Stig of the Dump by Clive King;
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome;
War Boy by Michael Foreman

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens;
Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper;
Conor’s Eco Den by Pippa Goodheart;
The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliffe;
Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz;
Watership Down by Richard Adams;
The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Make time for War and Peace

All serious readers know that one day they should tackle Tolstoy’s War and Peace but many put it off: too long, complicated names, chunks of philosophical digression...

In fact, like Dickens’ novels, the book is just a soap opera, but choosing the right translation can make a big difference to your enjoyment. Although there are already more than a dozen in print, two new versions have been battling it out - with some hostility - in 2007.

Although British translator Andrew Bromfield’s “concise” version (Ecco Press) may sound more tempting, it is the Pevear-Volokhonsky version (published by Knopf) which is causing huge excitement with its bold approach to language. For example, the Russian kapli kapali which has always been translated along the lines of the descriptive “raindrops dripped from the trees” is here rendered as “drops dripped” hence conveying the compactness (yes!) of Tolstoy’s language and that this is a sound heard in the dark. The US-Russian husband and wife team Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky live in Paris and turned another Tolstoy great, Anna Karenina, into a best-seller when their translation was promoted by Oprah Winfrey.

You have time on your hands now you have moved to Normandy, the winter evenings are long - time to give it a go.

New translation by the acclaimed translators Richard Peaver and Larissa Volokhonsky:

'Concise' version with a happy end, translated by Andrew Bromfield (NOT the traditional text):

Pictures: Tolstoy barefoot by Ilya Repin (left) and Napoleon battling the Russians by Vassili Vereshchagin (right).

© Review published in December, 2007, issue of the Rendezvous magazine.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Paris American Bookshop closes

Brentano's, the old shop at 37 Avenue de L'Opéra, whose customers included Mark Twain, Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, was shut after its landlord, the BNP Parisbas bank, won a liquidation order for non-payment of rent. For some time, the store was locally owned, no longer part of the historic New York-based company which is now a brand in the Borders Group. The American bookstore has been a Paris fixture since 1895.

Charles Bremner's story is here

And a list of other English language bookshops in Paris is here

WH Smith in rue de Rivoli is still going.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Talking French: Hadley Pager's handy books

Hadley Pager do a neat series of subject by subject phrase books which are small enough to slip in your pocket and also run the glossaries both English - French and French - English so you could, for example, hand the book backwards and forwards between you and the doctor rather than knowing what to say but not understanding the answer.

The medical phrase book covers everything you could possibly want to say or understand at the doctors, chemist, as a hospital inpatient or at the pharmacy.

Other themes include legal terms, garden and horticultural, renovations etc.

Mail hpinfo@aol.com or write to Hadley Pager Info, PO Box 249, Leatherhead, KT23 3WX for latest publication list and prices.

© published in December 2007 issue of the Rendezvous magazine

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver is a brilliant writer, both gripping and thought-provoking. Nevertheless, I have had this on the shelves for ages because I never seemed to be in the mood to start a very long book set in the Belgian Congo in the fifties.

But with Kingsolver you are hooked from the opening line: We came from Bethlehem, Georgia, bearing Betty Crocker cake mixes into the jungle.

This is the story, told by the wife and four daughters of the appalling, bible-thumping, Baptist Nathan Price, of the family’s Mission to Africa. First, it is the tale of one family’s adventure into “the heart of darkness’, its dysfunction and ultimate destruction. As a family saga alone, the book is utterly satisfying.

But of course, as always with Kingsolver who tackles wide, moral themes through her stories, it is more than that. Set just before and after Patrice Lumumba, first Prime Minister of the newly independent Republic of the Congo, is assassinated, it is also the story of the Congo - whose troubles continue to make the headlines today.

And it is about America, cultural imperialism and, as Kingsolver says in her introduction, exploring the “great shifting terrain between righteousness and what’s right”.

Nathan is, above all, a man of certitude. He is observed by his family and his would-be converts. “Tata Jesus is bangala!” he shouts during his sermons, unwilling to listen to the fact that in Kikongo meaning hangs on intonation: bangala may mean “precious and beloved” but it when spoken in a flat; foreign accent also means the poisonwood tree, a dangerous local plant.

Later, having absorbed the American message that democracy is good, the inhabitants of Kilanga vote, in church, on whether Jesus should be their personal God. Jesus loses.
Kingsolver says she waited thirty years for wisdom and maturity to dare to write this book. It is warm, funny and haunting.

Miranda Ingram
© published in the Rendezvous magazine, December 2008

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A million ways of looking at France

March Choice
A Place in Normandy
by Nicholas Kilmer
House of Peine
House of Daughters
by Sarah-Kate Lynch

The poet Wallace Stevens famously saw “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” Thank goodness he did not attempt a poem about France for there must more than a million ways of looking this country. Two ways are revealed in this pair of books that could not be more different.

A Place in Normandy (published by Henry Holt & Co.) is the story of a house near Pont l'Evêque which has been in the hands of one American family for three generations. Now the author, Nicholas Kilmer, has to decide what to do with it. In one super-charged week he travels from his home in Massachusetts to France to view the house where his mother grew up and decide if he and his wife should take over ownership or put it on the market.

Kilmer is the author of a series of mysteries set in the art world and endeavors to cast this tale as another mystery: will they buy the place or not? What's happened to the old tray in the dining room? And where is the laundry? The only mystery that is not resolved by the end of the book is how Kilmer manages to accomplish so much in such a short period of time. He can get in a trip to the Landing Beaches in the morning, make an enormous lunch for guests, spend time painting, hike the woods and meet with a plumber or two in the afternoon and still get back into the kitchen in time to produce a gourmet dinner. (One other mystery: how did he get the plumber and carpenter there so quickly?)

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Kilmer is the scion of not just one, but two, illustrious American families. One grandfather, F. C. Frieseke, was an Impressionist painter, part of the colony of Americans artists who clustered around Monet in Giverny. He bought the house near Mesnil-sur-Blagny because of the beautiful light “found” in the Pays d'Auge. Kilmer's other grandfather was Joyce Kilmer whom every American schoolchild knows as the author of Trees, a poem that begins, “I think that I shall never see, A poem as lovely as a tree....” The elder Kilmer, like so many poets, it seems, was killed in the trenches of World War I and is buried in an American cemetery in the Marne.

At times, Kilmer overwrites, making the reader long to clear away the excess and get back to the story. Still, A Place in Normandy? How can we resist?

House of Daughters (House of Peine) by Sarah-Kate Lynch is a froth of a book, which is, undoubtedly, to be expected from a novel about a champagne house and the three women who inherit it. You may also find Lynch listed as the author of House of Joy (UK) and House of Daughters (US) - they are one and the same book, just different titles in different countries. Although Peine is the New Zealand title, I'm using it for the nice irony it gives French-speakers. All “three,” however, have been optioned for a movie, as have two earlier books by this New Zealand author. Now, for full disclosure. Lynch's book was given to us by a bookseller friend, and we soon discovered why. In the “acknowledgments” she credits Wine & War: the French, the Nazis and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure, the book I wrote with my husband, as being one of her inspirations.

Throughout the book I ran across scenes I knew very well, having already written nearly identical ones, like how to seal someone into a wine barrel in order to sneak him past German soldiers. Since it's said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I'm not going to give this book a bad review! It's a cute book, a couple of steps removed from “chic lit,” but those two or three steps include fun information about champagne and how it's made, as well as nice descriptions of Champagne, its people and the passion of vignerons. The story centers around three vastly different daughters, how they cope with each other and the death of their unloved father. You get a bit of insight into French inheritance laws, too. It's a light-hearted read with plenty of twists and turns before the happy ending arrives leaving you might thirsty for a glass of champagne.

by Petie Kladstrup

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Overlord by Serge Saint-Michel and Mister Kit

If you have a son who is a reluctant reader (boys can be slow to get the reading habit) give him BD’s (bandes dessinées) - comic strip books which are hugely popular in France. Don’t worry - a friend who is now a publisher in Paris only read comics until well into his teens.

This one, first published for the 50th anniversary of D-Day, is unmissable. You can’t live in Normandy and ignore the Landings and all here should have a passing knowledge of the ensuing battle. Kids love this comic version with lots of guns and explosions. It’s not a bad potted version, either, for adults who could benefit from a quick overview of the Battle of Normandy.

Overlord by Serge Saint-Michel, pictures by Mister Kit, is available in French or English in most WW2 museums in Normandy or order it online from: www.memorial-caen.fr
or from Amazon.fr:
6th June - Overlord
or Amazon.co.uk
6th June 1944: Overload

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Lollipop Shoes Joanne Harris

The Rendezvous Book Choice:

Generally, you either like an author or you don’t. You might prefer certain books to others but a favourite author is a favourite author. Joanne Harris, therefore, is a bit of an anomaly. I loved Chocolat and Five Quarters of the Orange but couldn’t get past the first few pages of Blackberry Wine and gave up Coastliners when I realised I couldn’t care less what happened to any of the characters. Others report a similar ambivalence to Harris’ books.

Her latest book, however, is a triumph. Rattling through some 460 pages, The Lollipop Shoes takes up the story begun in Chocolat and follows Vianne Rocher and daughter Anouk to the streets of Paris’ Montmartre where they open another chocolaterie and the mysterious Zozie breezes into their lives.

Weaving questions about the compromises of motherhood, teenage uncertainties, the nature of identity, learning to be different and the desire to conform into a story which races towards a satisfying conclusion, the Lollipop Shoes shows Harris maturing into a really fine writer.
Particularly poignant is her honest but unlaboured treatment of the relationship between a mother and growing child as well as the frightening glimpse into Anouk’s schooldays - Anouk, of course, has grown up beside Harris’ own daughter, Anouchka.

The story is both firmly rooted in the modern world - teenagers have iPods and digital cameras - but rendered timeless by that same whiff of magic, which is really only feminine intuition, we first saw in Chocolat.

The evocation of a wintry Paris and, of course, the hubble-bubble of the chocolaterie are delightful as are the vignettes of the regular customers.

A thoroughly enjoyable book, The Lollipop Shoes is both comforting and yet you might find it mightily unsettling. How much do we suppress the spirit - both our own and those of our loved ones - in order to cope with life?

Miranda Ingram

Friday, February 20, 2009

Desperate for English language books in France?

Desperate for English language books in France?

Check out bookmooch.com, a free book exchange. You “sell” your own books for points which you then use to “buy” other members’ used books - the only cost involved is postage.

Monday, February 16, 2009

What is it about manga comics?

Mangas are the latest teen craze, the black and white Japanese comic books read from right to left.

“Boys’” Mangas involve lots of duels and fighting while “girls’” mangas centre on love stories.

In both cases their literary value is approximately zero but if you long to see your kids with a book in their hand instead of a gadget, get them some Mangas.

Recently only available in specialist shops, now pick them up in supermarkets.

Picture below shows how mangas are 'read' - top to bottom and right to left.

Published in the Rendezvous Magazine,
©All rights reserved

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Giving Children the Reading Habit

Reading with your child is perhaps the greatest gift you can give them - and yourself: a moment of perfect, sweet intimacy.

Of course at the Spot Bakes a Cake stage, the books themselves can be mildly tedious but thanks, in part, to JK, (Rowling) we are now living in a golden age of children’s literature with a wealth of books that give as much pleasure to parents - and grandparents - as children.

In the quest-good-evil genre, which is of course the story of all literature, we have the Deltora Quest series by Emily Rodda for younger readers (6 yrs and upwards) and Philip Pullman’s utterly wonderful His Dark Materials series - “Harry Potter with brains” - for older readers (from 11yrs to adult).

Great news for addicts of Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series is that book four, Outcast, is out in time for Christmas. If you don’t know this series, which tells the story of Torak and his wolf-companion’s struggle for survival in the ancient world, discover it now - it is sheer delight. ( Reading aloud from 6-7 yrs. and read alone from 8-9yrs.)

Another book out for Christmas is the latest in the boy spy Alex Rider series, Snakehead, by Anthony Horowitz (familiar to adults from his tv Midsommer Murders) - a great series for getting boys reading - read aloud from 6-7 years and read alone from 8-9 yrs.

His Dark Materials series published by Yearling.
Deltora Quest series published by Scholastic Inc
Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series is published by Orion.
Alex Rider series published by Walker Books

Children's reading - published in the Rendezvous magazine, Dec 2007.
© All rights reserved

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

The story of a modest dream. A widow, Florence Green, wants to open a bookshop in the small town of Hardborough, in which she has lived for ten years.

After the death of her husband she simply wants to make a living and be independent. However, the decision to open a bookshop without due attention to Mrs Gamart's aspirations proves to be Florence Green's downfall. The former is a well connected and ruthless woman with plans of her own. However, one senses her objection to the bookshop is less significant than her objection to the unyielding FG.

This brilliant little Booker-shortlisted gem shows the best and worst of parochial life. It illustrates how people can be easily swayed with little consideration as to principles. The humour (unintentionally provided by self-important people) and the tensions found in the politics of this small town dictates the tone of this tale.

FG has some significant allies, but disappointingly the majority go with the influential flow and at the end, with a Hardy-esque touch, her arch-defender unwittingly plays into the hands of her arch-enemy. This vivid chapter in the life of a kindly and courageous woman is, sadly, described with great credibility.

Reviewed by Marie Hayward
Published in the Rendezvous magazine
© All rights reserved

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Winter in Madrid by C J Sansom

The Rendezvous Book Choice:

If you are treating yourself to a great summer read you need a fat book and a page turner. And if - we can always hope - you are reading on the beach and/or under a scorching sun - there is, for me, something extra thrilling about being transported not only into a different era but a different climate.

Winter in Madrid is a superb thriller set at the outbreak of WW2 and the tail end of the Spanish Republican era and Franco’s victory. The story follows three English school friends and their different fates in Spain. Harry is a decent Englishman whose beliefs are shaken by both his Spanish experience and his presence at the humiliation of Dunkirk. Bernie is a committed Communist and International Brigader whose faith in communism is disturbed by Stalin’s pact with Hitler. The shady Sandy, a classic war-time-depression era black-marketeer, is out for himself.

Part love-story, part spy-thriller, the plot is terrific with fabulous twists and turns.
But it is the portrayal of a decimated, divided, authoritarian Spain, always one stop away from joining the war, which is truly masterful.

Sansom’s research is meticulous but never intrudes into the story which is set against the backdrop of real events: Hitler’s overtures to Franco and the British diplomats’ frantic attempts to keep Spain out of the war.

Indeed, Spain’s tenuous neutrality and absence from the war mean that late thirties-early forties Spain is a subject about which many of us know too little.

In the end Sansom admirably resists happy endings and the fate of the protagonists is exactly what they should be which makes this a satisfying read to the very last page.

If you enjoyed Sebastian Faulkes’ Birdsong and Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia you will love this book.

Winter in Madrid: A Novel

by Miranda Ingram
Published in the Rendezvous Magazine, ©All rights reserved

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Lose Weight and Learn French: Bye, Bye, Bidon

Lose weight and learn French with this fun exercise book for real women.

“Bye, Bye Bidon” is written by American Leisa Jean who has been teaching gym classes in Manche for 25 years and illustrated by Wendy Sinclair whose brilliant French life cartoons have been appearing in the Rendezvous.

See more pages and order at www.byebyebidon.com or send a cheque for 25€ to Leisa Jean, La Testuyère 50570 Le Lorey.

Published in the March 2008 issue of the Rendezvous magazine