Quickie book recommendations #1

I’ve been reading a lot lately and here is a short list of books I’d recommend:

  • By the Book (Scarlett Parrish)
    Daniel Cross. That’s all I need to say.
  • Fatal Affair (Marie Force)
    Fantastic romantic suspense, set in Washington, D.C.
  • The Lion of Kent (Aleksandr Voinov & Kate Cotoner)
    Historical m/m, England during the Crusades. A squire and his lord.
  • The Debutante’s Dilemma (Elyse Mady)
    A debutante has to choose between suitors … or does she?

Four fantastic stories, well worth the read. You won’t regret it.

Movie: Copie conforme (Certified Copy)

Copie conforme (Certified Copy) stars French actress Juliette Binoche, perhaps best known in the English world for her role in The English Patient, or the foodie-romance Chocolat, and British operatic baritone William Shimell.

James Miller is an English writer of a new essay entitled ‘Certified Copy’ (Copie Conforme/Copia Conforme), which addresses authenticity and originality vs. the value of copies in art. Elle (Binoche) attends a lecture in Italy by Miller, but the film is immediately ambiguous about the relationship Elle & James have with each other. At first, it seems as if they might be strangers, but as the film progresses, their relationship seems more like a marriage on the rocks, or even perhaps that of a man and his mistress. It is never defined. After posing for a shopkeeper as a couple married 15 years, their relationship becomes unclear. The bickering, the intensity of their arguments; all are essential to keeping the viewer guessing as to their true nature.

The film is an excellent pas de deux; it may not be appreciated by everyone, as it is fairly undramatic until towards the end, and is very much a character-driven piece. Binoche is fantastic as Elle. It’s impossible not to feel for her, and to commiserate with her anger over Miller’s apparent indifference. And William Shimell as James Miller is convincing and subtle. One might never guess that his background is in opera (though his voice is a delight to listen to, whether he is speaking English, French, or a broken Italian.)

The language varies during the film: Elle is a native of France, James is a native of England, and the film is set in Tuscany. He speaks English, mainly, and some French, with a tiny smattering of Italian. She speaks all three languages fluently. Depending on the scene, they switch back and forth. James seems nearly as comfortable in French as in English, though he reverts to English during times of frustration and stress. Elle is comfortable in all languages, though she uses French during conversations with her son and when she is angry or sad.

As the film progresses, so does the relationship between Elle and James. One leaves the theatre wondering: are they married? were they married? The film ends with more questions than answers, but in some ways that is its charm. There are no easy answers, no quick endings with plots tied up in a neat bow. It’ll provoke conversation long after the reel has finished.

The Unabashed Francophile Post, Part 7: Movies set in Paris

Sometimes I get a little homesick for Paris. Strange, considering I’ve only been there once, and that was some time ago. But, every once in a while I need to watch a film (or two) set in Paris to get my fix.

First up, the very excellent Before Sunset. It stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy and is the sequel to Before Sunrise (set in Vienna). I’m not a huge fan of either Hawke or Delpy, but I just can’t get enough of this film. It’s a pas de deux; Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) meet again in Shakespeare & Co., 9 years after they failed to meet up again in Vienna six months after their first meeting. It’s a very quiet film; there’s not much drama, but a lot of talking. It probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I enjoy its intimacy.

Second, La Vie En Rose (La Môme), starring Marion Cotillard as Édith Piaf. The role won Cotillard the Best Actress Oscar, an award incredibly well-deserved. I took everyone I knew to see it in the theatre, merely as an excuse to see it again. Gerard Depardieu also stars, and Jean-Pierre Martins (from the French rock group Silmarils) played Piaf’s lover, the boxer Marcel Cerdan. I’d listened to some of Piaf’s songs before, but this film cemented my admiration and love of chanson. Cotillard lip-syncs, but it would have been difficult for her to match Piaf’s unique voice. Unlike Before Sunset, La Vie En Rose is full of drama; Piaf’s life began in Belleville, and her father was a circus actor, her mother a singer. She traveled with the circus until her father left her with family at a brothel. When she returned to Paris she eked out a living singing in the street, where she was discovered. That part of her life alone would be enough for a film, but there’s more. Always more.

And third, the film Fauteuils d’orchestre (Avenue Montaigne), with Cécile de France, Albert Dupontel, Dani, Sydney Pollack and Valérie Lemercier. Jessica (de France) comes to Paris and finds work in a café across from an arts complex. An art auction, a piano concert and a Feydeau play are occurring on the same evening, and the resulting meetings of all the other characters with the cheerful Jessica are the meat of the film. The interconnectedness is charming; it’s a film that never fails to leave me smiling.

So there you are: three films that help evoke Paris for me. Do you have a place you’re fond of? Or is there a film that evokes a remembrance of a favourite place?

The Unabashed Francophile Post, Part 6: Musée d’Orsay


I went to Paris to go to the Musée d’Orsay. Okay, so I went for a few other things as well (food, coffee, Shakespeare & Co. …), but the Musée d’Orsay was first on my list for museums. Though the Louvre is larger and its collection diverse, the Musée d’Orsay enchanted me.

The museum houses a massive collection of Impressionist era art: Rodin’s ‘Porte de l’Enfer‘ (The Gates of Hell), Manet’s ‘Olympia‘ and ‘Le déjeuner sur l’herbe‘, Degas’s ‘Dans un café‘ (L’absinthe) and ‘Petite danseuse de quatorze ans‘, and more than I could ever truly appreciate in a single visit.

I have an especial fondness for Impressionist art, due to its (general) lack of religiosity and its dramatic use of colour and composition. My favourite art history class at uni was the one that dealt with the Impressionist (and later) period. To see these famous works up close and in person – there are no words for my awe.  Degas’s ‘Dans un café‘ (L’absinthe) had struck me with its use of the diagonal composition in the foreground of the painting, something which immediately attracts the eye.

Seeing Rodin’s ‘Gates of Hell’ up close and personal again was fantastic. I’d originally seen a cast of the Gates at the Rodin sculpture garden at Stanford University in California, and it was a treat to see them again in Paris. The Gates are my favourite of Rodin’s sculptures; all the detail could keep me occupied for hours.

The museum itself is a wonder to see – housed in a former train station, the light and dramatic arches are stunning. I photographed the header at the top of my blog in the museum. From the walkway near the clock, you can see through the center of the clock over Paris, including Montmartre and the Eglise Sacre Coeur on the hill. I would have liked to spend an entire day in d’Orsay, but I only had a few hours. It’ll be first on my list of museums to visit when I next go to Paris.

Book Review: Portrait of Seduction

Portrait of Seduction, by Carrie Lofty. (website, twitter)

How could I resist a book whose blurb starts with “Greta Zwieg forges masterpieces.”? Especially a romance? That’s like not having to choose between strawberries or chocolate and getting strawberries dipped in chocolate! I love art, as you’ll likely know if you’ve read my blog, love romance, and love the intrigue that’s promised with forging masterpieces.

Set in Salzburg in 1805, Greta Zwieg is forging her uncle’s collection of masterpieces to keep them safe from Napoleon’s ravages. Or at least, that was the original plan. Her greedy uncle starts to sell the copies and Greta’s caught between loyalty for her family and her own ethics.

A romance wouldn’t be complete without a hero, and Portrait of Seduction gives us Oliver Doerger, valet to his half-brother Christoph Venner (whom you will have met in Song of Seduction, Carrie Lofty’s excellent earlier novel). Oliver’s keeping his origins secret to spy for his brother, and in the course of his duties, saves Greta from a perilous situation. Both he and Greta are enamoured of each other, but as Greta’s a high-born lady and Oliver’s just a valet, there’s no way to leap those obstacles without immense scandal.

Until Oliver, Greta had hardly noticed any of the servants, and she doesn’t know what to make of her attraction to a valet. Class lines are not so easily crossed, and Oliver has secrets he needs to keep. Napoleon’s approaching army gives the book an urgency to their attraction and it smoldered on the pages as I was reading. Lofty very carefully dances between giving the reader what they want and holding back to build tension. Oliver and Greta kiss, but though they both want more, they’re kept from consummation.

This is one of my favourite books of the year; I might even go back and re-read it in a couple of months, when I fly to New York for RWA’s national conference. (And I see that Carrie Lofty is doing a workshop….I know where I’ll be!)

Find the book at Carina Press or Amazon. It’s worth every penny!

Guest Post: Miranda Baker – A French Kiss

Miranda Baker’s new book is Solo Play, released by Samhain Publishing. If you haven’t picked it up yet, get yourself over to Amazon or Samhain and check it out. It is hot! Here’s the blurb:

When librarian Alisa Mane’s boyfriend accuses her of being frigid, she sets out to prove him wrong the only way she knows how—with research.

A visit to the local sex shop uncovers the sizzling sensuality locked beneath her cool façade, and she eagerly accepts the opportunity to test sex toys for SoloPlay Enterprises. Under the code name “Sologirl”, she begins exploring her body on her own terms. After all, no one was ever rejected by a vibrator.

Mark Winters needs his new DoublePlay line of toys to hit big, and there’s only one tester for the job—Sologirl. She fires his imagination with playfully erotic reviews and never fails to pick a winner. There’s only one problem—Sologirl refuses to test the DoublePlay toys for couples. With his company’s success on the line, he decides to make his offer again, up close and in person.

One look at the icy hot Mark and Alisa realizes he’s her best chance to discover if any man can satisfy her. A red-hot month of experimentation more than answers that question, but now Alisa has another problem—DoublePlay is almost ready for production and her feelings for Mark have nothing to do with business. Is she brave enough to continue playing…with her heart?

I will be forever grateful to the first boy who broke my heart. Oh, he was older, of course, eighteen to my fresh fifteen. He was an artist. He had long hair. He definitely fell into the bad boy category, and it wasn’t me, it was him that was the problem in our relationship. Naturally. That’s what they all say, right? I totally bought it. Sigh.

Actually, in hindsight he was right. It was him because he wanted sex, and this daughter of an obstetrician was a merciless cock tease in high school. I knew exactly how babies were made. I knew the failure rate of condoms and no way, no how, was I going to have sexual intercourse until I’d been on the pill for a month solid. Some girls spent their first hours at college decorating their rooms. Not me! I went to Student Health and got myself a nice prescription. But I digress.

Back to the cock teasing. Sexual frustration led that long-haired boy to try a number of creative things with me, my favorite among them being prolonged make-out sessions with lots of dry humping. Straight-up, no lie, that boy taught me how to make love with my mouth. Eyes open, lips, tongue, hands and body so responsive to every nuance of movement that kissing was like communicating on a higher plane.

I’ve often pondered what makes a good kisser. Attention to detail? An ability to cloak the “let’s get to the good stuff” urge? Is it technique or chemistry? Does unique synergy between two people make the kissing good or is kissing well a learned skill?

I tend to come down on the side of skill but I’m not certain there is a gold standard for kissing. A friend of mine claims to love the smooshy, no-tongue kind of kissers and I don’t understand that at all. Her kind of kisser would bore me. Vive la difference? Perhaps.

I always think about that long-haired boy when I’m writing a first kiss scene in a book. I wonder if he is still an exceptional make-out artist or if nostalgia has clouded my judgment. It doesn’t matter, really. He gave me a Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, a shell-shocked heart and a lifelong love of French kissing. In some tiny teenage corner of my heart, I still want one more lip lock with that boy but it isn’t going to happen. It wasn’t me, it was him, and my characters reap the benefit of the lessons I learned in that bittersweet relationship.

What do you think about kissing? Skill or synergy? Technique or chemistry? C’mon…kiss and tell.

It makes me chuckle to think about all the romantic short stories I wrote in my rather too literary creative writing classes in college. If only one of my professors had steered me toward popular fiction! On the other hand, if I had discovered my calling back then, I wouldn’t have gone to culinary school, I wouldn’t have met my husband, we wouldn’t have had three children and I wouldn’t have turned to erotic romance to get my mojo back during all this hair-raising kid raising.

My website: http://www.mirandabaker.com
Buy Solo Play on Amazon.

Music: PJ Harvey

PJ Harvey

I love PJ Harvey.

The first time I heard one of her songs, it was a cover of ‘Rid of Me’ sung by Juliette Lewis in the film ‘Strange Days’ (1995). Shortly afterwards, a friend of mine sent me a couple of her songs on a mix tape. Her voice, so different from any other female musicians  I’d heard, utterly captivated me. Rough, sometimes shrieky, sometimes warm, sliding over me like a caress, but always compelling.

I have several favourite songs (if I had to choose), and ‘The Dancer’ (from the 1995 release ‘To Bring You My Love’) comes tops. ‘Angelene’ (from ‘Is This Desire?’, 1998) is a close second. Both are quieter ballads that showcase PJ’s dynamic voice.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gktTFsopToo]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2aYzrXUzGws]

I’ve only seen PJ live once, when she opened for U2 in Calgary, around the time her album ‘Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea’ was released. I wished she’d been the headliner, as I could have watched her for hours.

(If you’re a movie fan, especially of Hal Hartley, check her out in the film ‘The Book of Life‘, where she plays Mary Magdalene to Martin Donovan’s Jesus Christ.)

Her latest release is ‘Let England Shake.’ Go, listen!

Link: http://www.pjharvey.net