What I am Reading: A Hero of France

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This is not normally a novel I would pick up, but more on that in a moment. Alan Furst is a well-known espionage writer who writes exceptionally well about World War II and the occupation of France.This novel forces you to consider the occupation and what daily decisions people would have made – joining the Resistance or turning a blind eye.

The reason I read this is because it was the last book my favorite uncle read before he passed away from cancer. He was extremely well-read and traveled, and when I asked him who his favorite author was to read for an escape he mentioned Furst without hesitation.

My uncle had a variety of particular interests – formula one racing, the horsetrack, punk rock, politics, and anything to do with World War one and World War Two history. He had an incredible memory for detail, dates and names, and was the gatekeeper of what my grandfather (his father) experienced in the war during the Battle of Midway and Guadalcanal.Of all of the countries he visited, France was his favorite (with Singapore a close second).

He loved elegant watches, a neat scotch, and to smoke. I could never even began to tell how unique he was, and how much I miss him. One burden you never get over is that you have questions that will never be answered; mysteries never solved.

The only thing I could think to after his passing and the quiet settled was to pick up Furst’s A Hero of France and attempt to see things through my uncle’s eyes. The moment I began reading I understood – Furst’s protagonist Matthieu is so masculine – he is loyal, brave, and full of class. The writing itself was concise, and the plot air-tight. Overwrought sentimentality did not exist.Both the pace and the prose were perfect. His hyper masculinity reminds me of Fleming’s Bond in Casino Royale, yet Matthieu has more honor, and no misogynism.

If you are interested in World War II, and enjoy thrillers, I cannot recommend this enough. My next task is to read Midnight in Europe, my uncle’s favorite Furst novel.

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What I am reading: The Secret Language of Stones

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The Secret Language of Stones, by MJ Rose was surprisingly easy to get into. I found myself drawn to the plot almost instantly, even though the elements of the story itself defied belief. In essence, the story is about a young woman in World War one Paris, who has the ability to commune with the dead while grappling with survivor’s guilt.

What I really enjoyed about the story was how the main character, Opaline, was characterized – we experience World War I in Paris through her eyes, and the author did an excellent job ensuring that it was vivid and authentic.

Another interesting element, in addition to the horrors of war, was the use of Russian exiles as a subplot. I have not read much about the perspective of Russians on the outside looking in as their country collapses, and it was meaningful to consider.

The description and characterization were on point. However, the story did have some flaws in my opinion. I could have used less ghost sex scenes, personally, and I felt the villain of the story was a bit obvious. I also thought the ending really left too many unresolved questions, and felt that was a little frustrating and too convenient.

That said, I really enjoyed reading this book and found it to be a pleasant diversion. I would be open to reading more from MJ Rose.

Great lineWe’re made to love. Even if you think you can stop yourself from feeling, stop yourself from living, your emotions will find a way. They’ll trick you when you least expect it.

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Travel: Montreal

I learned a powerful lesson this summer. Whenever you travel somewhere new, be sure to do a food tour on the first day. This provides you with great ideas for dining out for the remainder of your vacation. This was in perfect keeping with our decision to eat and drink our way through Montreal.

Without a doubt, the best experience we had in Montreal was The Old Montreal Food Tasting and Cultural Walking Tour. The tour consisted of seven stops – with four sit down experiences. We chose both the vegetarian and regular options and were immensely pleased with the results.

First Stop: Brit and Chips

These were the best fish and chips I have had outside of the U.K. The fish was caught fresh that morning and the potatoes were heavenly.

Second Stop: Cantinho de Lisboa

I enjoyed the garbanzo bean salad, and thought the little shop had interesting choices.

Third Stop: Crew Labs Collective & Cafe

This restaurant was located inside the gorgeous and historical First Bank of Canada. There, we had an interpretive BLT on delicious whole grain bread with a fresh, summer tomato. It was so delicious I forgot to take a picture. True story.

Fourth Stop: Cookie Stefanie

When the tour guide mentioned a gluten-free bakery, as I have yet to have any kind of gluten-free dessert I have enjoyed. I was proven wrong with their carrot cake. Even the kid approved.

Fifth Stop: Le Petit Dep

 

This was an adorable high-end convenience store with gourmet chocolates and treats. We ended up returning before we left to go home.

Sixth Stop: Souers Grises

This was an artisanal microbrewery – here we sampled ciders, beer, and cheeses.

Seventh stop: Soupe soup

This was a lunch spot with locally sourced food. The showstopper was their Montreal version of bread pudding with a maple syrup reduction: Pouding Chomeur. My god. Fortunately, we got to take home the recipe.

In addition, we received interesting facts and history about Montreal – their culture, and development.

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What I am Reading: The Woman in Cabin 10

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There is something inherently creepy about cruise ships – you are confined to a small cabin, and you relinquish all control to the people operating the ship – you are simply at their mercy for days on end. This probably explains why I have never taken a cruise, and prefer the freedom of the car, or the shortest flights possible.

You can draw a lot of similarities between The Girl on the Train and The Woman in Cabin 10. Both were summer bestsellers about a murder witnessed by an unreliable narrator. Both protagonists are perceived as weak and/or hysterical. I preferred The Woman in Cabin 10, and I will tell you why.

Ware does an excellent job with the unreliable narrator schtick – she uses Lo’s unreliability in a more satirical fashion. Lo is surrounded by professional men, and one stereotypical power-hungry female. The men in the novel assume she is hysterical, nervous, or depressed when she tries to express what she saw and are quick to write off her concerns for their own agendas. This neatly mirrors the situation that many modern women face – how easy it is to create a second-guessing doubtful atmosphere when a woman is outnumbered, and how easy it is for us to doubt ourselves. On one hand, this novel is a great Agatha Christie-esque thriller, and on the other, it is a discussion about a woman’s lack of agency or ability to be heard.

Overall, the writing is concise, and the mystery truly drew me in. I truly hope this is made into a movie because I think it would translate so well onto the screen.

Did you like The Woman in Cabin 10? Try:

  • The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
  • The Ice Twins, S.K. Tremayne
  • The Good Girl, Kubicka
  • The Silent Wife, A.S.A. Harrison

 

 

 

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What I am Reading: Turn Right at Machu Picchu

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I picked up this book to gear up for the next big dream trip: Machu Picchu. This book is very much in the spirit of A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. You have a rookie hiker who wants to tackle a great feat (the Appalachian Trail) who intersperses his experiences with history.

Here, Mark Adams attempts to follow the trail that Hiram Bingham III (American discoverer of Machu Picchu) originally took with the help of a seasoned guide, John Leivers. Like Bryson, he juxtaposes his experiences with Bingham’s fascinating history and travels. I instantly related to the book when Adam’s guide initially asks him when was the last time he went camping, and the author admits to the readers it had been decades.Adams does an exceptional job describing the sites, and his companions, but I must admit my favorite parts were when he detailed Bingham’s experiences and the significance of his vision/determination.

Towards the end, Adams is quick to point out that the typical 2-3 hour trip to the top forces the traveler to miss a lot of majesty, and that so much has yet to be discovered about this mysterious site.

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What I am Reading: How to Be a Tudor

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I’ve had a bit of a Tudor obsession ever since I started reading Allison Weir’s histories ten years ago and enjoyed historical fiction such as “The Other Boleyn Girl.” Although its easy to get caught up in romanticized notions of the time from film, I always found the more practical aspects of day-to-day life far more compelling.

Thus “How to Be a Tudor: A Dawn to Dusk Guide to Everyday Life” seemed like a good fit for me. Overall, the book was sound and based on the author’s choice to actually test out recipes and clothing from the time by actually living that way. This method really brought out unexpected insights – most notably- how linen truly kept people from having to bathe as much as we do.

At times, however, I did find certain chapters a little more dull, especially the ones concerning clothing. My favorites, without a doubt, were the ones pertaining to food and preparation. It made me wish I could have a meal prepared with authentic ingredients and with the Tudor methodology.

The author also has another book about the Victorian era that may interest you, as well.

Also, The Private Lives of Tudors by Tracy Borman was released in May 2016. She wrote a fun article “The Private Lives of Tudors” on tudortimes.co.uk. Check it out here:

 

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Travel: Iceland

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A few years ago, my favorite travel buddy and I sat in a cafe one night and ripped up twenty pieces of paper. We each wrote the names of ten places we wanted to see before we died, and the plan was that every time we got together we would pick one of the names from a hat. Great idea, huh? Just so you know, the last name we picked out was Machu Picchu. Iceland happened to be one of mine, and when I saw that Wow airlines ran some amazing deals to Europe, I jumped at $189 tickets to Iceland.

Wow Airline

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the best barf bag I have ever seen

This is a no frills Icelandic airline, so if you want to go cheap you have to bring your own food and entertainment. You could easily load up an IPAD and pack your own sandwiches. Food and beverages can be purchased, and they didn’t seem too unreasonable for an airline. The plane itself was immaculate and the staff very friendly. I really suggest looking into it for some good European deals.

Before you board the plane, make sure you stop into a duty free shop to purchase some alcohol. Drinking in Iceland is ridiculously expensive. A long island iced tea at a popular Icelandic bar was the equivalent of$25

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this was a wise $12 investment

Stop 1: The Blue Lagoon

I loved this place, and thought it was worth all of the hype. It has a bar where you can purchase beer and Prosecco while you swim around. There are also two saunas, a cave, and a waterfall. We spent three hours there, and could have easily spent more. They even have complimentary mineral clay for your skin. Everyone told me to not get my hair wet, because the water is hard on your texture, but I couldn’t resist. It is rather close to the airport, so if I was every lucky enough to go back for a layover, I would return immediately.

Stop 2: The Golden Circle Tour

Pingvellir – This was the ancient seat of power for the vikings. You could be banished for twenty years to the wilderness.

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Gulfoss

This was my favorite waterfall. It was really several waterfalls in one.

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Geysir

This is the Icelandic version of Old Faithful – they actually have several geysers on site.

Faxi Waterfall

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Rekyavik

Hotdogs? Everyone swears that these hotdogs are amazing. Seriously, the way they talk it up its like the second coming.

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Lobster Rolls? Everywhere was amazing seafood. I kept searching for an elusive lobster roll food truck only to find it the last night after I was already stufffed. I am still bitter.

Saegriffin – this was the best meal I had. It was incredible. Fresh skewers of fish, and the lobster soup was the most divine, delicate seafood stew I have ever had in my life. It was worth putting up with a wax effigy of the dead owner sitting in the corner.

Eldsmidjan – this is a bit on the outskirts from downtown, but it was the most delicious pizza. They have a quality woodfire pizza oven and the crust is on point. You can get traditional pies – we opted for lamb and feta.

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Skuli Craft Bar

The beer here is not too exorbitant and is mostly craft brews that are delicious.

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Tips to do things cheaply

  1. We bought liquor at the duty free shop in the airport and brought it with us
  2. We brought our own water bottles and refilled – the water is delicious and clean
  3. We made sure our hotel had continental breakfast and packed ziploc bags. we loaded up on sausages and breads for lunch and our treks. We walked to downtown rather than take a cab.
  4. The tours make sure that you stop at every tea shop known to man. That quickly adds up if you don’t bring your own goods.

Observations

  1. The hot dogs were meh.
  2. Skyr is amazing. I wish I could get some in the states. Eat it whenever you can.
  3. Although people by nature weren’t as prone to smile as an American, everyone we spoke to one on one was lovely and welcoming
  4. EVERYONE speaks English. I mean it, everyone.
  5. Lamb is in everything.
  6. The landscape is gorgeous and alien. I would welcome an opportunity to see the other side of the island
  7. Iceland has the most extreme weather I have ever experienced. We went from sunny, to rain, to snow, to sideways sleet, and sun again within 15 minutes.
  8. Black death (the unofficial liquor) tastes pretty awful.

Cool things you can do other than what I mentioned…

A lot of people rent cars/trucks and drive around the country themselves and there is Game of Thrones tour, as well.

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