Wednesday 31 August 2016

Happy People Read & Drink Coffee

I didn't really know anything about Happy People Read & Drink Coffee when I first saw it- but I really liked the cover. An author with a Clearly French name. Picture of a Parisian femme on the cover. Eiffel Tower on cover. And title about Happy People Reading (YAY) and drinking coffee (YUCK). Soon I was buying a copy. And then I saw a none too flattering short review in the Herald. Should I read it? I figured it would be a good travelling read, nice for sitting on buses and around airports. It's fairly short and the font is pretty big.

It's not really the Paris story I was expecting though. More a Parisian story. Thirty something Diane has been widowed for a year. Her husband Colin and five year old daughter, Clara, are killed off in a car accident on page 2. And Diane really isn't coping. She has been unable to work for the past year, and her literary café, Happy People Read & Drink Coffee is being run by her friend and business partner Felix. Instead Diane remains holed up in her Paris apartment- it's been a year and she hasn't changed the sheets on her bed, hoping instead to retain some scent of her husband. I'm sure they have plenty of aroma, none of it his. 

Today, as every day for the past year, utter silence reigned in our apartment. No music, no laughter, no endless conversations. 

Diane decides rather rashly to go to Ireland for a lengthy stay because it was a dream of her dead husband Colin to travel there. He liked a bit of Guinness it seems. She takes a cottage in a remote Irish village and holes herself up there just as she'd done in Paris. She soon meets and instantly dislikes her taciturn and grumpy neighbour Edward. 

I found it really rather difficult to become absorbed by Diane's story. I had some sympathy for her initially, but her developing relationship with Edward is rather unbelievable. The end is rather preposterous. Look away now if you're bothered by spoilers..... Two grown women fighting over such an unpleasant man. Really?

There are no happy people in Happy People Read and Drink Coffee. Perhaps because none of them are reading or drinking coffee. Well there's a bit of coffee drinking, but much more Guinness and wine is consumed. And way too many cigarettes. There is a dog called Postman Pat. I remain rather mystified at the choice of name for the dog, but he seems to be Postman Pat in the French edition too. I wonder what the average French reader made of that. 

I wanted to like this book I really did. Three of the ten chapters do happen to be set in Paris, but they could have been anywhere really. Although I did thrill at the mention of Rue Vieille-du-Temple, as I walked that particular rue many times in 2014. Happy People Read and Drink Coffee was initially self-published (in French, naturally, as Les Gens Heureux Lisent and Boivent du Café), it is being made into a feature film. I'm more than somewhat annoyed that Allen&Unwin didn't bother to change the American spellings in our Australian edition. 

There is a sequel - Don't Worry, Life is Easy ( La Vie est Facile, ne t'inquiete pas). I'm not sure that I'll seek it out. 

French Bingo 2016

Tuesday 23 August 2016

Ransacking Paris

Naturally the cover and title of Ransacking Paris was enough to make me snatch it off the bookshop shelf as soon as I saw it last year. I just needed to find the time to read it. Happily that time came recently as I prepared to see Patti Miller speak at the Newcastle Writers Festival. I'd started the book at least by the time I got to take my seat in the We Will Always Have Paris session on the Sunday morning.

Ransacking Paris tells the tale of a year Patti spent living and writing in Paris with her husband/partner. It seems to have been a bit of a while ago, some 15 years ago now. Patti had taken a small apartment in Montmartre on Rue des Trois Frères to write a memoir about her friend Dina who died suddenly leaving her young son Theo. Patti Miller was to look after Theo for 7 years and that book was to become Whatever the Gods Do, published in 2003.

Patti grew up in the Central West of NSW a mere 100 km from where I live now. So I was always very interested in her stories of growing up on a farm near Wellington. Thirteen year old Patti began French lessons in high school and it opened up a new world for her, giving her a "small distinction" amongst her eight siblings. Learning French, and learning that a dog is not just a dog but could also be un chien

hinted at the possibility of another kind of world, the faint beginning of awareness that there was a connection between language and perception. Other words for things created the idea that there was another way of seeing, of thinking, of knowing, that things didn't have to be what everyone agreed they were.

Young Patti started to dream of one day going to Paris, even though she didn't know anyone besides her French teacher who had ever been there. 

It must mean something, a dream that can propel you to the other side of the world.
Six memoirists are her companions on her year long sojourn-  Montaigne, de Sévigné, Rousseau, Stendhal, de Beauvoir and Annie Ernaux. I hadn't read any of the authors she featured, well I did read a bit of de Beauvoir back in the day, but much too long ago to remember anything more than I have actually read her. I have no sense of the books I read, or even which titles they might have been. 

Naturally I thrilled inwardly each time Patti went to somewhere I too had been - Musée Carnavalet, Tuileries, Angelinas on the Rue de Rivoli, the Luxembourg Gardens. All famous places, and not an uncommon shared experience. But I was even more excited to learn that Balzac grew up on Rue Vieille du Temple as I stayed just around the corner on my last visit in 2014. And I dined several times in Cafe des Philosophes where Patti "meets" Madame de Sévigné (a writerly device that didn't work for me- Patti told me that she had had mixed reactions to it), and while I didn't enter Les Éditeurs in the Carrefour de l'Odéon, I ate at two other establishments on the same corner, and know exactly where it is. 

I enjoyed reading her experience of the city, learning the language and making friends. Walking, walking, walking everywhere. Going to concerts every Sunday- that's such a great idea- I've been to three concerts in Paris now, all extremely enjoyable experiences. If I ever get to live in Paris for a good while then maybe I'll go to a concert every Sunday too. Patti also joined a choir which is a brilliant thing to do if you can sing. I'm not sure that I'd be there long enough to brave Shakespeare in French as Patti did though! Just the thought! Patti proclaims the experience "more fun than I'd ever had watching Shakespeare."

There are many layers to Ransacking Paris. The bees are much more than a cover motif, Patti Miller considers much in this memoir- philosophy, death, cafes and of course Paris. The narrative  flips seamlessly back and forth over time.

That was in the future, but I like the way stories thread back and forth over time, connecting things that might otherwise have been lost or left flapping in the wind. It makes time past and time present seem to be, not a line, but arcs of a spiral. 
Patti Miller returns to Paris frequently. She runs memoir writing workshops there each year. 
Why couldn't I have been young in Paris and not a middle-aged woman groping for something that was long gone?
I was hoping to have this review ready for Paris in July, but I ran out of July... Thankfully I'll never run out of Paris. 

UQP Book Club Notes
Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog 
French Bingo 2016

Saturday 20 August 2016

CBCA Book of the Year Award Winners 2016

Well, another year has come and gone. Yesterday the winners of the  CBCA Awards were announced in Sydney. 

Book of the Year Older Readers Winner

Cloudwish - Fiona Wood

Fiona Wood's Acceptance Speech

Book of the Year Older Readers Honour Books

A Single Stone - Meg McKinlay
Inbetween Days - Vikki Wakefield

Book of the Year Younger Readers Winner

Soon - Morris Gleitzman

Book of the Year Younger Readers Honour Books

Sister Heart - Sally Morgan (see my review)
Star of Deltora: Shadows of the Master - Emily Rodda

Book of the Year Early Childhood Winner

Mr Huff - Anna Walker

Book of the Year Early Childhood Honour Books

Perfect - Danny Parker, Freya Blackwood (illustrator)
The Cow Tripped Over the Moon - Tony Wilson, Laura Wood (illustrator)

Book of the Year Picture Book Winner

Flight - Armin Greder (illustrator), Nadia Wheatley (text)

Book of the Year Picture Book Honour Books

Perfect - Freya Blackwood (illustrator), Danny Parker (text)
Ride, Ricardo, Ride - Shane Devries (illustrator), Phil Cummings (text)

Eve Pownall Award for Information Books Winner

Lennie the Legend: Solo to Sydney by Pony - Stephanie Owen Reeder

Eve Pownall Award for Information Books Honour Books

Phasmid: Saving the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect - Rohan Cleave, Coral Tulloch (illustrator)
Ancestry: Stories of Multicultural Anzacs - Robyn Siers, Carlie Walker (illustrator)

Crichton Award for New Illustrators Winner

The Underwater Fancy Dress Parade - Allison Colpoys (illustrator), Davina Bell (text)

Disappointingly for me I haven't read any of the winners as yet, and only one of the Honour Books. Ah well, I still have many more excellent books awaiting me. And this year I didn't manage to pick any of the winners by cover alone- although it does look like it was a good year for blue books.

For even more great reads check out the full shortlist and notable books.

Friday 19 August 2016

I Need a Hug

I'm doing a really bad job of trying to read the CBCA nominated titles this year (see the Shortlist here). The winners are announced at midday today! And I haven't even managed to get through the picture books. C'est la vie I suppose.

I Need a Hug is a delightful picture book for the very youngest children, by the ever present Aaron Blabey, letting us know that everyone needs some kindness and affection sometimes. No matter how prickly

Picture Source

or slithery they are.

I Need a Hug was an Early Childhood Notable Book this year. Here is a terrific profile on Aaron Blabey, showing his cute little studio in the Blue Mountains which is full of music and musical inspiration.

Aaron feels lucky to have a job as a writer. "Our job is to make something out of nothing" and that what he does is simply "Me walking around thinking up stuff and then trying not get in the way of it". Rather incredibly his first book, Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley, was written on toilet paper (toilet paper that is now framed and on his wall)!

Thursday 18 August 2016

Top 5 Friday: Parisian Stories

Who doesn't love a Parisian story? I know I do. I found this list after I read A Little in Love (see my review) last year.

Rooftoppers - Katherine Rundell

Isla and the Happily Ever After - Stephanie Perkins

The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Victor Hugo

The Invention of Hugo Cabret - Brian Selznick (see my review)

A Little in Love - Susan Fletcher (see my review)


Rooftoppers is already in my TBR. I should try and read it soon. Naturally I have The Hunchback of Notre Dame in the TBR too. I even took it to Paris one time to try and read there, but I holiday too hard there to get much reading done, and so it still languishes about unread.

Monday 15 August 2016


I can't really remember watching a French TV series before. Movies, yes of course. I've meant to watch a few series, but never got to doing it until recently when I accidentally stumbled across a great series called Paris on SBS when my mother alerted me to a listing in the TV guide that just said Paris. Naturally that was enough for me to set the hard drive recording just to see what it was.

Paris is a new six part series, a French political thriller from the team behind Spiral- writer Virginie Brac and director Gilles Bannier. I heard of crime drama Spiral too late, and haven't been able to find it yet, but now will have to track it down somehow. 

Paris shows gives us a plot of intersecting lives over one day in that most beautiful of cities. 1 City. 1 Day. 12 Destinies. With great range of French characters covering every strata of society- the Prime Minister, a bus driver on the edge, a pregnant maid, a transgender nightclub singer, crooked judges who drink too much. There are  stray guns, union politics and lots of secrets. Naturally within ten minutes there is talk of a strike and a large political controversy.

And there is a lot of Paris scenery, sometimes incorporated into the story. Characters take the Metro, they take the bus. 

They walk down the street. 

Or peer out of taxi windows. 

And is this what happens behind all those grand doors? Liveried guards saluting the Prime Minister each time he walks past?

I stayed near the 7th in 2013
and walked past many such entrances
I was intrigued then, even more so now

Sometimes just Paris for the sake of Paris. Brief glimpses of Paris porn. 

It would be interesting enough set in Sydney or London or any other world city, but it's set in Paris and the six episodes just fly by. It's on SBS On Demand. I've already watched it twice.

Oooh, and Spiral Season 1 is on SBS On Demand! Happy Days. 

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog 

Friday 12 August 2016

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

I'm never usually sure about picture books that are illustrated songs. I wonder what purpose they really serve. But I had no such qualms reading And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda. It's amazing and totally obvious what purpose it serves. I hope it is widely taken up in our schools. 

And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda is an iconic anti-war song written by Eric Bogle in 1971. Eric had arrived in Australia from Scotland aged 25 only two years earlier, and it was in 1971 with the Vietnam War ongoing and very unpopular at home that Eric saw his first Anzac Day march in Canberra. He knew that the time was right for another anti-war song, but he decided to set it in Gallipoli rather than Vietnam. 

"Gallipoli, on the other hand, is deeply imprinted on Australia's national DNA."

A statement that still rings true. Bruce Whatley has done an incredible job with the illustrations. He's used a muted brown and khaki palette throughout most of the book, with small highlights of colour, to represent the murky hell of the Gallipoli peninsula. 

Picture Source

Sadly there isn't an illustrators note included in the book, but Bruce has indicated on his website that this is another book illustrated using acrylic and his (non-dominant) left hand. Bruce Whatley creates such extraordinary images with his left hand, I find it completely astonishing. 

There is an acknowledgement at the front to say that many sources were used as inspiration including photographs from the Australian War Memorial Archives, the Imperial War Museum and newspapers from the time. 

If you can't find a copy of the book, and you should, then the book trailer is almost like reading it. 

There are countless versions of the song, but I think The Pogues is possibly my favourite.

A great video of Bruce Whatley showing kids how to draw (sadly using his right hand). Oh but here he is encouraging us (well kids really I suspect) to use our left hands. He says that "You've got no expectations with your left hand". Well I have no expectations with my right hand actually, I don't expect to be able to draw anything reasonable with it. I wish I could, but I just can't draw. Perhaps I could start drawing with my left hand and use that as an excuse to say why it's so bad... But it's quite fascinating that he would make compositional decisions that he wouldn't normally make when he is working with his left hand, and his work is more emotional. 

Thursday 11 August 2016

Lauren Child's 14 Favourite Children's Books

Lauren Child knows a thing or two about how to write Children's books. She is the megabestselling author of the Charlie and Lola picture books and the Clarice Bean and Ruby Redfort books. So I think she should have some excellent favourite books.

Cockatoos - Quentin Blake

The Shrinking of Treehorn - Florence Parry Heide

Grimble - Clement Freud

Eloise at the Plaza - Kay Thompson 

John Patrick Norman McHennessy: The  Boy Who Was Always Late - John Burningham

Pippi Longstocking - Astrid Lindgren (see my review)

Marshall Armstrong is New To Our School - David Mackintosh (see my review)

Mythological Monsters - Sara Fanelli

Whistle for Willie - Ezra Jack Keats

What Pete Ate: From A-Z - Maira Kalman

The Eighteenth Emergency - Betsy Byars

Emily Brown and the Thing - Cressida Cowell

The Tiger Who Came To Tea - Judith Kerr

Melrose and Croc - Emma Chichester Clark


Such an intriguing list, even if it is from 2014. So many books (and authors) that I've never heard of, let alone never read. Sadly my library only has one of these titles (Melrose and Croc) so it won't be an easy thing to read this list. 

Monday 8 August 2016

Macadam Stories/Asphalte

I'm not sure if two films counts as a Festival, but I was very pleased to at least be able to make it to a midweek session of one of the two films shown recently as part of the Alliance Française French Film Festival 2016 at my local cinema. Subtitled films don't get much of a run in rural Australia, so I do like to make it if I can, especially if they're French films.

I saw Macadam Stories, an intriguing move that I'd not heard a single thing about apart from the local ads. It's hard to describe really. Set in a run down apartment building on the outskirts of Paris, it predominantly features three sets of encounters between paired characters. The American astronaut and an Algerian lady of the poster, an ageing actress fallen on hard times and the teenage boy living next door, and a rather sad, lonely man who tries to woo a night shift nurse at the local hospital. It sounds odd, and it is, but it's done well and is also reasonably funny. 

More impossibly, the blurb suggests that "Director and author Samuel Benchetrit brings much of his autobiographical book Asphalt Chronicles to the screen as Macadam Stories, a series of interconnected vignettes set in a public housing complex on the outskirts of Paris". Sadly Chroniques de l'asphalte does not appear to be available in translation, I can only hope that the success of the film may make it available for us in English one day. 

Somehow the film makers have managed to render beauty out of the bleak and rather grim surroundings. The banlieues of Paris are a long way from the great Haussmanian Boulevards of central Paris. Samuel Benchetrit grew up in these banlieus and he treats the suburbs and their inhabitants well while exposing their sensitive underbelly at the same time. Recommended. 

Australian trailer, with subtitles

Or the French Bande Annonce if you prefer.

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog 

Saturday 6 August 2016

Eiffel Towers

I love the Eiffel Tower. Perhaps it's a cliched image, but for me it's like seeing the Harbour Bridge or the Opera House in Sydney, your heart skips a beat for a minute as you drink in the beauty. I will never tire of seeing her in the flesh. Day or night. I have visited the Eiffel Tower many times and have many, many happy memories there. I have had lunch at Le Jules Verne there three times (but only shown you two- one, two - but here's a hint: the third time was great too), and I have spent all afternoon on the Champs des Mars picnicking and waiting for the Bastille Day fireworks in 2013.

The Eiffel Tower is big business, not just visiting her, but she is used to sell everything in Paris and fills windows absolutely everywhere.

There are Tower books and games. 

Post cards of course.

Paintings and fridge magnets.


Of course a Tower iPhone case would be fab. If only one ever had an iPhone current enough that covers are still sold. 

Naturally you can drink the Eiffel Tower too. 

Or wear her.

Seemingly there is no end to the Tower trinkets and baubles. 

Just when you think you can't possibly do any more, you can eat the Tower. 

Or make dinner with her. 

I'm very pleased to have Le Tour Eiffel fill my 1000th post.

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme
 now hosted by