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Archive for the ‘Nina George’ Category

Nina George, author most recently of The Little French Bistro and before that The Little Paris Bookshop has captured the novel market on Lost Souls. Just like Jean Perdu in The Little Paris Bookshop, Marianne, the sixty year old wife of Lothar, is lost. In a loveless marriage for 41 years, she has suffered, hoping that her suffering is a sign of strength rather than lethargy and resignation.

On a trip to Paris, Marianne gets off her tour bus, wanders until she finds the perfect bridge over the Seine and jumps in…after carefully taking off her shoes, folding her coat and depositing her wedding ring into the shoe. Hoping to drift away and end her suffering, unfortunately she is saved by a nearby vagrant and taken to a local hospital.

Having been diagnosed as being unstable, she sees no alternative but to return to her husband until she realizes, on the spur of the moment, that she can merely walk out of the building. She walks and rides, her destination the port city of Kerdruc in Brittany (I’ll let you read the book to find out why) where, of course, marvelous things happen.

As in The Little Paris Bookstore, The Little French Bistro (apparently called The Little Breton Bistro in the French version–click the link for a little more detailed synopsis), there are many lost souls in Kerdruc and Marianne touches the lives of each of them in ways she could never imagine. In the course of doing so, she discovers herself and realizes/hopes that at 60 years of age, it is not too late to live a full and happy life.

Ms. George has created memorable characters from the boorish Lothar to Simon, Jean-Remy and all the inhabitants of Kerdruc. She weaves some mythology and superstition into her narrative, told in the third person. She balances Marianne’s desire to be independent for the first time in her life against her desire to be loved as she or any woman deserves, also for the first time in her life.

The Little French Bistro has love and loss. It covers many of our basic emotions. It attacks our universal stupidity in matters of the heart. It begs us to reach out.

While Ms. George, at times, can get a little wordy over love and its importance and the consequences of its success or failure, she creates an interesting world that I’ve not read about before. I’ll caution readers here, as I did in my review of The Little Paris Bookshop, that this really isn’t a guy’s book. But, on the other hand, it is a charming book and maybe any male readers brave enough to try it, might learn how to treat the fairer sex.

Ms. George’s books are quite the pair and you can’t go wrong reading them both.

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TheLittleParisBookshopLet me start of by saying The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George is not a guy book. I don’t normally segregate books by the gender of the reader, but in this case it’s the truth.

Jean Perdu (which means ‘lost’ in French) is truly lost. His lover, Manon, left him 21 years ago and he still hasn’t gotten over it. His apartment is devoid of furniture and he has a huge jigsaw puzzle on his floor, which he takes apart on completion and begins anew.

He lives in a small apartment building inhabited by a peculiar group of neighbors. One is a young and acclaimed writer, Max Jordan, who is hiding from his adoring fans, especially those expecting a new book which is not forthcoming. A new arrival is Catherine who has been in a loveless marriage for 20 years and has recently been thrown out by her husband with nothing but the clothes on her back. It is inevitable that Perdu and Catherine, two lost souls, would meet.

Perdu is a book seller (which is what attracted me to the book initially). His shop is a barge docked on the Seine and he considers it a Literary Apothecary. According to him, he can see into people’s souls and know exactly what book to prescribe to mend a broken heart or a broken soul.

For reasons you need to find out for yourself, Perdu impulsively pulls anchor and embarks upon a voyage. Of course you know it’s a voyage of self discovery. At the last minute, Max jumps on board and the two experience this life voyage together. As per the Publishers Weekly review, “Though George’s prose is sometimes a bit overwrought and the “physician, heal thyself” plot device has been done to death, her cast of engaging characters [on the river voyage and in the apartment building] keeps the story moving. Her sumptuous descriptions of both food and literature will leave readers unsure whether to run to the nearest library or the nearest bistro.” I agree, and the recipes she includes at the end of the book are an added bonus.

George’s prose do get a little bogged down, but there are some gems as well. Such as when Perdu is pondering his life,  “Where did the last twenty years go? The south is a vivd blue, Catherine. Your color is missing here. It would make everything shine all the more brightly.” Her discussion of literature is way beyond my comfort zone, both the real and the fictional literature. I much prefer her descriptions of the river towns the duo stop at and the quirky people that inhabit them.

I consider myself somewhat of a romantic but the story was a little over the top for me. Yes, we all have regrets and we’ve all suffered romantic heartbreaks, but to have put ones life on hold for 21 years seems a bit much to me.

The Little Paris Bookshop is an ode to love of the life long kind. I’m sure it exists and I wish I had experienced it as a young man. In some respects I’m jealous of Perdu. But in many others, I’m glad I’m not him. Your opinion?

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I must be going through my quirky character phase. I’m cCrookedHearturrently reading The Little Paris Bookshop and if that doesn’t have quirky characters, I don’t know what book does. Crooked Heart, though, follows a close second. Crooked Heart is Lissa Evans’ first book published in the United States, although she is no stranger to writing, having published three other books for children and adults. It is a book about dysfunctional LittleParisBookshopfamilies, connivers and swindlers coming together and it’s two main characters are endearing.

It is World War II London. Noel is 10 years old when his godmother, Mattie, with whom he lived and who he adored, dies in a snow bank. Having nowhere to go, he ends up living with Mattie’s cousin, the insufferable Geoffrey Overs and his fragile, neat to a fault, wife Margery. As the war closes in, Noel is forced by Geoffrey to evacuate. Ending up in the small town of St. Albans, he along with his classmates, is paraded door to door to find a suitable foster home. However, having big ears and a limp, placing Noel poses a problem…until Vera Sedge sees him and has an idea. A schemer and always short of money, she realizes that she will get compensated for tending to ‘poor Noel’.

Noel had been mostly silent at the Overs’ and continued this with Vee, as well. But, his intelligence and her lack of common sense in her efforts to raise money, force him to start talking. Her need for money and his lack of (some) scruples, lead them to team up and together they form a formidable pair. Add Vee’s illegitimate son Donald, a schemer in his own rite, her mother who doesn’t speak a word and constantly writes letters to England’s leaders stressing her opinion on their ineffective leadership and Hilde, the Austrian girl living in England and working at a munitions factory and always comparing her spare life to the grandeur of her former Austrian home and the quirky characters get quirkier.

Noel is smarter than the average 10 year old, with an ethical code that is unusual. While he doesn’t mind swindling some people, he is outraged when others act similarly. Vee is just a down and out in need of some money to survive. What begins as a financial transaction for Vee, however, turns into true caring and it is this process that makes Crooked Heart so heartwarming.

I don’t know how Evans came up with the idea of the book or how the schemes she describes came to mind, but they are unique. Her descriptions paint images of people, places and situations, including war torn London. While I was reading the first hundred pages sporadically, I whizzed through the last 150 pages because I couldn’t wait to see where Evans took Vee and Noel.

For those readers looking for the unusual, not your run of the mill best seller, you’d be wise to pick up Crooked Heart. It’ll do your heart good.

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