Publié le 5 Avril 2014

Yes, I’m still alive and reading if not kicking. February and March have been busy, work is doing my head in, the 6 Nations nearly broke my heart (and the last game probably didn’t help my blood pressure) and I’m trying to sort out a few existential questions in my life.

But as I said, I’ve been reading. I mentioned previously (here) that I discovered Maeve Binchy at the start of the year. And so, since February I have been going through her books as fast as possible. I don’t think I’ll write reviews of all of them, but I will at least write something about those I really liked.

But first, a few lines to explain why I’m enjoying Binchy’s books so much. First, there is an almost Balzac-like quality to her books in that some characters keep reappearing. It gives the reader the impression of reading about a large family, or a community he is part of. Having lived in Ireland and in Dublin in particular, I do not find that fake as I’ve noticed that Dublin is a sort of big village where everybody may not be related to each other but tries to find some way to relate to the people they meet. The relatively small size of the city also means that it is quite frequent to come across people you know during your day. Joyce showed it, and it hasn’t changed so much in a century.

Then, there is the constant optimism of her writing. Binchy doesn’t describe a fake world where everything is rosy. There are dramas, death, unfairness in her books. But in the end, you know that things that can be fixed will be fixed. Not perfectly but they will improve.

And finally, I enjoy very much her description of communities, of the value of solidarity. The emphasis she puts on it is very Irish I think, but it is nevertheless an important message to pass along: we’re always stronger when we’re part of a group.

So now for a few ‘reviews’ (aka ramblings)

The Copper Beech

The book takes place in the 50s (I think) in rural Ireland. The local school has on its ground a copper beech on which the children carve their initials or a message the day they leave school. The book follows the life of a some of these children, their dreams, their dramas, their successes and their failures.

All ‘classes’ of society are represented, from the poor people from the cottages to the girl from the big house. There is a strong emphasis on the fact that people who believe in themselves can do almost anything, no matter what their background is. As usual, the good people get rewarded and there is a strong emphasis on the importance of living in a community.

At the start I wasn’t enthralled by this book but as I kept reading, I got more and more drawn into it, wanting to know what was going to happen to the characters and how it would all end. It is a happy book and a very optimistic one too.

Scarlet Feather

We’re now moving to a completely different setting. Bye-bye rural Ireland and hello Celtic Tiger Dublin. Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather are starting their catering business. Cathy is married to Neil, a very successful human right lawyer from a rather rich and very snobbish family and Tom is living with his girlfriend who wants to be a model. And in their busy lives arrive the twins, Simon and Maud. They are Neil’s 9-year old cousins, their parents have almost abandoned them, they have no idea how to behave in society and will have a big impact on everybody’s life.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The background story of the setting up of a catering business is fascinating and the other themes (women and their careers, men and their careers, family and work, money and happiness, what makes a family etc…) are all very well handed. And more than anything, it is the book that introduces Maud and Simon. These two characters will appear in other books (Quentin’s, Heart and Soul, Minding Frankie) and they are among my favourite characters. They’re really special but very endearing too. A bit like Quentin’s (that I will review later. Promise), it’s a fascinating book on the power of food too and on how important it is to people’s lives.

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Publié le 27 Février 2014

Voilà un moment que je voulais lire cette BD. Un passage chez Cultura en décembre, et la voilà sur la pile des ‘livres à lire avant d’en racheter d’autres’ au pied du lit.

Histoire

Arthur Vlaminck rejoint l’équipe du ministre des Affaires étrangères Taillard de Vorms pour préparer les ‘langages’, c’est-à-dire les discours du ministre. Nous sommes à un moment très important puisque la France essaye d’empêcher une intervention américaine au Lousdem, pays accusé de détenir des armes de destruction massive.

Critique

Evidemment, tout cela est très transparent. Taillard de Vorms a la silhouette de Villepin, les quelques cases où apparaissent le ‘PR’ montrent un président avec une silhouette rappelant Caius Saugrenus.

Mais ce qui est intéressant c’est l’image donnée du Quai vu de l’intérieur. Un ministre qui a une capacité de travail phénoménale, toujours en mouvement avec une longueur d’avance sur les analystes, une équipe de collaborateurs réduite (une dizaine de personnes, alors qu’ils sont près de 80 auprès du Secrétaire d’Etat américain comme expliqué au début du premier tome) qui travaillent jours et nuits et ne vivent que pour leur travail et le service de l’Etat.

C’est un peu le pendant BD de Borgen. Cela vous réconcilie avec la politique et à une époque où il est bon de casser du fonctionnaire cela montre également la réalité du quotidien de ces quelques hauts-fonctionnaires qui font tourner l’appareil d’Etat.

Verdict

Il faut aimer la politique pour aimer cette BD, mais si c’est le cas, c’est une lecture tout ce qu’il y a de plus recommandée. Evidemment, on sait comment ça se termine et on attend avec impatience le dorénavant célèbre discours à l’ONU.

J’avais eu l’occasion de croiser de Villepin quelques mois après ce discours. Enfin, croiser est un bien grand mot puisqu’il n’avait pas pu rejoindre la salle principale de Matignon où se tenait la réception (c’était pour la journée de l’Europe et Raffarin avait convié des ‘jeunes’) parce que la foule des lycéens et jeunes étudiants l’avaient stoppé dès le premier salon. A cette époque, il était une idole pour la jeunesse anti-guerre, et en lisant cette BD, je me suis souvenue de cette époque, de Jack Straw posant ses lunettes avec une tête qui disait ‘il va falloir que j’improvise sur la première partie de mon discours’, des applaudissements à l’ONU, de l’air heureux de Joschka Fischer, de la fierté que beaucoup d’entre nous avions ressenti à ce moment. Un bon moment de nostalgie teinté de tristesse.

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Rédigé par Faoileàn

Publié le 24 Février 2014

This is one of the books I picked during last December International Fair in Luxembourg. I had never read one of Maeve Binchy’s books (I must have read a short story or two) and it was the perfect occasion to start.

Story

Elizabeth is a 10-year old child in London during the Blitz. The children are going to be evacuated and her mother decides to send her to a long (and almost forgotten) friend of hers in Ireland. Elizabeth will become part of the family she’s sent to and forge a lifelong friendship with one of the daughters, Aisling. The book follows the ups and downs of their friendship for almost 20 years, through love, marriage, separations and motherhood.

Review

20 years in a bit less than 600 pages I quite an achievement. The funny thing is that little non-events get pages and pages of descriptions but the life-changing ones are dealt in broad strokes. I actually really liked this way of writing which meant that you never tired of the story.

In a way, I found the opposition of Ireland and England as a bit cliché, but on the other hand, Binchy knows what she was talking about and some clichés are actually truths. It’s hard not to feel a lot of affection for the two main protagonists as they go through all the small and big trials of their lives. As a woman, the book is also a good reminder of what it was like to be a woman in the 40s to 60s in England (not great) and Ireland (sort of worse but at least there was more warmth to the people).

The ending leaves just what is needed to the imagination and manages to be both dramatic and hopeful.

Verdict

Do not give this book to a young bride or a young bride to be as it contains some particularly depressing parts on marriage and married life.

This remark aside, this is a very good book, quite enjoyable. Probably a woman’s book (because most men wouldn’t be seen dead reading a book about female friendship. Although I wonder how she could have sold so many books if only women were reading them), but absolutely not in a disparaging way. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it without a doubt..

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Publié le 20 Février 2014

Ma première expérience d’un roman de Teulé n’avait pas été très positive. Je n’avais pas aimé son Charly 9. J’avais trouvé le style presque arrogant et désinvolte pour une histoire qui au final n’est tout de même pas particulièrement drôle (je sais pas vous mais la St Barthélémy ça ne m’a jamais fait beaucoup rire). Mais le titre de ce livre a réveillé la fan d’Idées noires qui sommeille en moi et je me suis dit que j’allais redonner une chance à Jean Teulé.

L’histoire

La famille Tuvache tient de père en fils un magasin où l’on trouve tout pour se suicider correctement. Ce sont des amateurs du travail bien fait, les Tuvaches, du genre ‘mort ou remboursé’. Mais voilà, autant leurs aînés semblent bien partis pour reprendre l’affaire familiale, autant le petit dernier…

Critique

Le livre se lit très vite et facilement. Il est drôle, parce que même s’il y est beaucoup question de mort, tout cela est tellement poussé à l’extrême que ça en devient drôle (alors qu’Idées noires par exemple est beaucoup plus sombre). La seule vraie tristesse que l’on ressent, c’est à la fin du livre.

Au final, c’est un livre qui célèbre la vie et le besoin de s’accrocher et d’espérer même quand tout est sombre.

Verdict

Je mettrais ce livre dans la catégorie des romans de gare. Le type de livre que l’on achète en poche pour un voyage de 2 ou 3 heures. Ce n’est pas un reproche, ça se lit bien et on sourit. Mais ce n’est pas un chef d’œuvre non-plus. Très franchement, ne suis pas sûre d’avoir envie de donner une troisième chance à Jean Teulé.

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Publié le 17 Février 2014

I didn’t make a new year resolution of it, but it was in the back of my mind, a bit like losing weight and eating less sweet things *cough* chocolate *cough*, something I knew I had to do but couldn’t commit to because of the sometimes hectic schedule I live by. ‘It’ being of course blogging, and more precisely blogging about books and cultural things. I have been reading and going out a lot lately (well, maybe not a lot, but a reasonable amount of times) but somehow couldn’t find the time to write about it all. So no more excuses, I’m sitting in front of my computer and won’t get up until I’ve written 4 articles. Yes, four!

Let’s get started with the first book I read this year: the Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (apparently published early this year in France as Le chardonneret).

Story

Thirteen-years old Theo is with his mother in an art museum (the MET?) visiting an exhibition on Dutch paintings when a bomb goes off. In the resulting confusion, Theo escapes with a ring given to him by an old man and a painting – The Goldfinch by Fabritius. These two objects will decide his fate for the next 13 years as they bring him in contact with new friends, loyal, dodgy or both at the same time, new worlds and quite a few enemies.

Review

The book has been well received and though it is undeniably a very good book, I cannot honestly say that I loved it. I liked it well enough, but it wasn’t ‘love’.

The book is very well written and there is a real passion about paintings, antique and fine arts. My favourite parts were those relating to this and the description of Hobie’s job.

While I loved reading about life in the Village (and I’m thinking of returning to NYC one of these days), I really did not like the whole Las Vegas episode which sounded too far-fetched (but maybe it is possible, in the USA, to leave two 14/15-years old boys alone drinking beer, vodka, doing drugs and shoplifting without even seeing so much as the shadow of a policeman..).

And that’s my main problem with the books, once Theo leaves New York ,everything starts to become implausible and sometimes boringly so. And quite frankly, the end of the book is right there with a Winter’s Tale and l’Avare in terms of unbelievable ending (but without the dead relative turning up to be actually alive).

Verdict

I would actively recommend it to people meeting a few conditions: 1) an genuine interest in art and Dutch paintings in particular, 2) loads of time on your hands because it has over 700 pages (took me nearly a month to read), 3) a certain skill to suspend disbelief for a while. Otherwise, I think it’s the sort of well-spoken of book that can really disappoint if given to the wrong audience.

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Publié le 19 Janvier 2014

J’ai un petit rituel à Luxembourg. Quand le programme de la saison culturelle sort (genre en avril ou mai), je saute dessus et je prends tous les billets pour les spectacles qui m’intéressent ou pourraient m’intéresser.

Parfois il y en a beaucoup. Parfois il y en a très peu. Cette année, c’était plutôt vaches maigres. Molly Bloom en Novembre (j’ai eu la flemme de faire un article… c’était bien mais j’ai trouvé Molly trop vulgaire avec un accent très poissarde ce qui pour moi ne collait pas avec le personnage d’une fille de militaire élevée à Gibraltar et avec un certain succès en tant que cantatrice. Mais c’est ma vision de Molly en lisant Ulysses et ça doit dépendre de chacun. Bref), un spectacle de danse à la fin du mois et donc Le Prince mardi dernier.

J’avais quelques doutes sur la forme que prendrait le spectacle, mais au final c’était pour moi un grand succès.

Un stage pour princes en devenir

La scène est une salle de formation, tout ce qu’il y a de plus classique (ou presque). Deux formateurs, Karine et Nicolas. 3 stagiaires arrivent. Ils sont là pour apprendre à devenir prince. Pendant 1h30 ils enchaînent les jeux de rôles, ponctués de conseils et leçons de Nicolas. Le public est invité à participer, jouant ce peuple que les apprentis princes doivent apprendre à gouverner.

Un texte intemporel

La mise en scène montre bien l’aspect intemporel du texte de Machiavel. Si les conseils sur la connaissance de la topographie peuvent sembler légèrement inutiles à notre époque où les gouvernants ne sont chefs de guerre qu’en titre, les autres thèmes abordés – la flatterie, le choix des ministres, le rapport au peuple – sont toujours d’actualité.

Verdict

Les jeux de rôles sont parfois un peu forcés, mais les interventions de Machiavel sont toujours très attendues par le public. La mise en scène égratigne aussi un peu Machiavel, son admiration pour Cesare Borgia (dont le portrait est sur l’affiche du spectacle et surveille le public et les acteurs pendant toute la durée de la pièce), sa misogynie et son avarice. Cela évite à la pièce de tomber dans l’admiration totale de Machiavel.

La pièce rend le texte plus accessible, et je pense qu’il serait très intéressant de le faire jouer dans des lycées. Ou a défaut, que les profs d’histoire et de philo devraient y emmener leurs élèves de terminale !

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Publié le 8 Janvier 2014

I mentioned earlier that I had taken an interest in sport autobiographies. I read three over the Christmas holidays: Paddy O’Reilly’s Life in Rugby, Ronan O’Gara’s Unguarded (feels like a long interview, it’s very frank, a bit sad at times, quite sharp, probably like the man himself – sharp that is, not sad) and this one. And it’s this one I’ve decided to write about.

Right, if you don’t know what a sliotar is, you can stop reading now I’m afraid.

So, Seán Óg Ó hAilpín. From my time in Cork, I remember him as being an amazing player, a real star. After reading the book, I started having some doubts as to my memory because in his own words he looks like a very average man who simply trained very hard. Since every other sportsperson who writes about him (well, every other Cork sportsperson) writes about his modesty, I suppose that may explain a lot.

The reason I really wanted to read this book was because his life is a bit extraordinary and I was quite interested in how a Fijian-born Irishman who only came to Cork at the age of 11 became a sport icon, and how he overcame the substantial obstacles in his way.

The problem is that Seán Óg Ó hAilpín is a very modest man, so he tends to gloss over the unpleasant things. He does talk about the racism he encountered, and about his work in anti-racism campaign, but I got the (maybe wrong) feeling that he was maybe minimising things. In his own book, Donal Óg Cusack tells about insults he received which also were aimed at Seán Óg Ó hAilpín but there is no mention of that in this book.

What really stroke me in the book is the amount of criticism his father subjected him to. It is related in a very impassionate way which, for me, makes it even worse.

Another interesting feature was his take on the whole amateur set-up of the GAA. Seán Óg Ó hAilpín is a professional in his mindset, especially regarding training (not that he wants professional status, but he approaches hurling with the dedication of a professional player) and that gives an interesting perspective on the conditions in which the players evolve. It gives the feeling that while the board is happy to enjoy the publicity and the goodwill that come with the success, they’re not really going to invest in the methods that would bring about this success. The policy of changing the manager every two years is baffling to say the least.

It is a book with a very personal feel to it, and the man that emerges from this book is a very likeable, kind and modest character. Which is exactly what everybody (almost) says about him. The passages about the last (latest ?) strike are less sanguine than in Come what may, but as interesting.

If you have any interest in the Rebels, and in the 1999-2012 panel, this is a good book.

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Publié le 6 Janvier 2014

Happy New Year by the way! Hope you had a nice Christmas, loads of gifts and that 2014 will be a good one for you (if it could be slightly less shitty for me and my family, I would greatly appreciate that…).

Anyway, back to blogging business.

As I mentioned previously, there was a bookstand in the International fair last month and I picked a few books there. One of them was this one, A place called here. Last year, a friend gave me ‘The time of my life’ (here) and I really loved it. There’s no way I’m going to read PS: I love you (sounds far too sad and girly), but this one looked like my cup of tea. And so it was.

The story

Sandy Shortt’s speciality is finding missing persons. Truth be told, she does have a problem with missing things. She wants to know where they are. But one day, she’s the one who goes missing. And she finds herself in the place where all the missing things go. Which does answer some of her questions but raises a new one: how can she come back?

What did I think of it?

I really liked it, couldn’t put it down to be honest. Just like ‘The time of my life’, there is a strong dose of magic in the book but somehow it doesn’t seem ‘too much’. I don’t really know how to explain it, but while I don’t believe in a place where all the missing things go, this place sounds credible in the book. It’s very poetic, quite touching.

Of course, there is a love story, but I like the fact that while you’re never in any doubt that everything will end up well, it’s not a typical love story.

And let’s be frank, just like the character from ‘The time of my life’, I can really relate to Sandy Shortt, and her incapacity to really bond with the people around her.

Verdict

Of course, it’s not Nobel-prize worthy but it’s a very pleasant read, chick-lit but not too much, a rather well-balanced book. Recommended (and a nice gift idea by the way).

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Publié le 24 Décembre 2013

The original title of this Mexican book is Como agua para el chocolate. I studied an extract from it for my Spanish A-level and always said I should read it. But saying and doing are different things and I never got round to buy the book. Then, earlier this month I found it in English in a bookstand during the International Fair in Luxembourg. I decided it was a sign, and promptly bought the book.

The story

Tita is the third daughter of Mama Elena. She is in love with Pedro but Mama Elena has decided that her youngest daughter shall never marry and remain with her till her death to take care of her. So she offers Pedro to marry Rosaura, her eldest, instead. Pedro agrees so that he can live close to Tita. For 22 years, Tita and Pedro will live together, circling each other until they can finally live their love story in full.

The recipes

Tita is a great cook, so the book is structured around 12 months and 12 recipes that she prepares. The book belong to the magical realism school (like Cien años de soledad), which I normally don’t like but didn’t mind here as I found it rather poetic. The recipes are strange and produces strange effects on whoever eats them. Through her cooking, Tita expresses her feeling, towards Pedro of course, but also towards her sisters and her mother.

Verdict

I really enjoyed reading this book. It is sometimes nonsensical, often funny and slightly erotic, while managing to be tragic at the same time. It is a rather short book, so it makes for easy reading. I also enjoyed the historical background given to the novel with the Mexican revolution a parallel for Tita’s gradual emancipation from her mother’s tyranny.

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Publié le 19 Décembre 2013

Disclaimer : I’m not a beauty blogger. Make-up for me is a bit like wine. I enjoy it, I can differentiate between low and high quality, but I cannot talk about it in too many details. This is simply not my job.

This said, I’ve fallen, like a few other people, for the Urban Decay Naked palettes. I have the first one, didn’t really like the colours of the second, but really wanted the third because I use a lot of pink in my daily make-up. I managed to get my hands on it in my local Sephora (so much for the Parisian ‘banlieues’ being ghettos and poor areas: I got the last one), and started playing with it as soon as I got home.

Beauty bits I'm loving #5

Outside

It’s a sturdy metallic case, with Naked 3 embossed over it. I prefer the velvet touch of the original Naked, but it’s true that the metallic cases of the 2 and 3 are less likely to get dirty.

Inside

A large mirror (nice), a double-ended brush (very nice) and 12 shades going from light pink to dark violet.

Beauty bits I'm loving #5

I find all the shades very wearable, probably more than those of the Naked 1. I love the original Naked but for me it’s not quite a nude palette because it’s too shimmery, and I don’t think gold or bronze are nude tones (but I love them and have no problem wearing them to work). 6 (from strange to trick) of the 12 shades here completely qualify as nude for fair-skinned ladies, and the other 6 can be used for contrast or to do smoky eyes.

I hardly ever use the last two shades of the original naked because they really are too dark for me (hello dark circles), but this does not seem to be the case here. I can use darkside and I think that blackheart will be perfect to be used as a liner.

The only defect I’ve found is that the shadows seem to be very volatile. I don’t mind it too much as I always use a primer, but I don’t like having powder all over the case. But this is really the only complain I have about this palette.

Price: 45€

I'm not much of a beauty photograph either. There are 12 shades even if only 9 really stand out in the picture. The other 3 are very nudey pink

I'm not much of a beauty photograph either. There are 12 shades even if only 9 really stand out in the picture. The other 3 are very nudey pink

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