Bonjour! Let’s Learn French-Visit New Places and Make New Friends by Judy Martialay

I usually don’t review children’s books, so I was a bit surprised when writer, illustrator and educator Judy Martialay sought me out to review her book Bonjour! Let’s Learn French. But being a bit of a Francophile and having a niece and nephew who are currently attending a French immersion school, Martialay’s request piqued my interest so I accepted her offer

Bonjour! Let’s Learn French follows the adventures of world traveler Pete the Pilot. Wherever he travels Pete learns the country’s language, so he can better communicate with a country’s citizens and make new friends. In this book Pete finds himself on a French beach where he meets several children and a certain snail named Louis l’escargot. This story is written in English with several key words within the story translated to French, including words like sand, beach, castle, children, which are in bold type. Though the story is quite short it packs in a lot of basic French translations children can recite as a parent reads to them or the child can read him or herself.

But Bonjour! Let’s Learn French offers a great deal more than a short story with English to French translations. It also offers quite a few activities that also help children learn French words and phrases. They include a skit which parents can play out with their children or can be done as a classroom activity. Another activity asks children to look at various people and objects within the book, their home and neighborhoods and translate them to French.

The musically inclined will enjoy a French song in the book and the artsy set will discover their inner Monet or Renoir have fun making their own impressionistic painting, both activities fully explained in the book.

And for convenience sake, Martialay provides a glossary of French to English translations at the end of the book just in case.

Interspersed throughout! Let’s Learn French are Martialay’s cute illustrations and various photographs of people, places and things one might find during a French holiday, including the buildings, art work, the French flag, cafes, and one of my personal favorites, French cuisine, including French onion soup and various French pastries like croissants.

Bonjour! Let’s Learn is for children ages six through 12. Though I think some older children might consider this book to be a bit babyish if they’ve been studying French since they were very little like my niece and nephew. However, I think it’s an ideal book for children learning French for the first time and it’s a way to bond with their parents, too. And, no parents, you don’t have to be fluent in French.

As for school teachers, I think a lot of them will welcome a book like Bonjour! Let’s Learn French in their classrooms, whether the French language is a part of their curriculum or not. We live in a very global world and a book that not only teaches children a foreign language but also about a foreign culture can only be an asset to their learning.




Retro Review: Every French Man Has One by Olivia de Havilland


“In France it’s assumed that if you’re a woman you are sexy, and you don’t have to put a dress on to prove it, too.”

And it was that sentence from the chapter “The Look I Left Behind” from Olivia de Havilland’s collection of essays Every French Man Has One that utterly enchanted me and reminded me why I’m such a Francophile and a lover of classic Hollywood.

Most of you best remember the iconic Miss de Havilland for her role as Melanie Wilkes in the film classic Gone With the Wind. But she also starred in The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Snake Pit, and one of my favorites, The Heiress, for which she won a very much deserved Oscar for Best Actress.

Miss de Havilland is still with us at 100-years-old and makes her home in Paris, France. So I felt it was only befitting to read her memoir Every French Man Has One (published in 1962), which chronicles her early days in Paris with her French husband Pierre and her children Benjamin and Gisèle.

Like a lot of Americans de Havilland was both charmed and confused by the French culture, language, traffic, food, people and customs. But being a plucky sort, she chose to rise to each befuddling occasion with humor and an open mind.

Throughout Every French Man Has One de Havilland delights the reader with her elegant yet down to earth writing style. Yes, she is a movie star and quite privileged; most of us don’t associate with the high society and famous people, and most of us don’t have maids. But de Havilland’s musings on  tackling new language or learning foreign customs (and often failing at the attempt) is quite amusing and easy to commiserate with. I remember my high school French lessons didn’t quite help when I got to go to Paris many moons ago. Needless to say, I ordered a lot of café au laits during my brief time in the City of Light.

There were other segments of Every French Man Has One that completely enchanted me like how American women and French women approach everything from fashion to cooking to rearing children.

Every French man fully exposes de Havilland’s honest self-awareness without slipping into narcissistic self-absorption that seems to have a grip on today’s celebrities (Lena Dunham, I’m looking in your direction).

Now for those of you who are looking for some sordid Hollywood gossip, well, you won’t find it in Every French Man Has One. de Havilland is a class act and a keeper of secrets, which is quite refreshing as her is her breezy and witty writing style.

Another thing I liked about Every French Man Has One was how each chapter can be read piecemeal; yes this book is a memoir but it is done in an essay style format. And every reader will find a chapter that is a true standout.

Now as for that elusive title, Every French man Has One. Is Olivia de Havilland referring to what your think she is referring to? You’ll just have to read the book to find out…

Book Review: My French Whore by Gene Wilder

mfwBeing a bit saddened over the death of Mr. Wilder, I was quite happy to find his novella My French Whore at a display at my local library. I always knew Wilder was a great actor, but I didn’t know he was also a talented writer.

My French Whore tells the tale of a gentleman named Paul Peachy. It is 1918, Peachy is living in Milwaukee. He works a thankless job as a street car conductor and his marriage is less than pleasant. He tries to get a bit of spark in his life by acting in local theater, but feels his life is nothing and he’s a mere cog in the machine, just taking up space.

To add some spark to his dull life Peachy, in the latter days of World War I, decides to enlist in the military. Peachy is deployed to France. It isn’t long before he and some of his fellow soldiers are captured by the Germans and soon will face execution. However, the every-quick thinking Peachy wiggles out of this deadly predicament using his acting and language skills. Fluent in German (his parents are immigrants from Germany) Peachy assumes the identity of a German spy named Harry Stoller and is immediately welcomed among the German soldiers.

It’s not long, as Stoller, Peachy is welcomed like a long-lost relative amongst his German “comrades.” They share fine meals together and drink the finest of wine. Peachy’s new friends bequeath him a lady of ill repute, a French prostitute named Annie Breton.

But Annie is so much more than the standard trope of “whore with a heart of gold.” Yes, she is a vessel for Peachy’s more lusty desires, but she soon proves to be so much more. She is nurturing, kind and charming. Annie, not beautiful but makes everything from cutting Peachy’s hair to serving him a beautiful meal to the art of l’amour an act of true femininity and sensuality.  And like Peachy, she has a past filled with heartbreak and disappointment, and together they share tales of woe, but find happiness in their fleeting time together. As a whore Annie often wears the war paint identified with her particular profession. But once stripped of the outer trappings of heavy cosmetics, Peachy sees how truly lovely Annie is, both on the outer exterior and what lies in her true heart and soul, which leads to one of the most beautiful passages I have read of a man speaking his true feelings to a woman:

“Well, I don’t know what you think ‘beautiful’ means, I suppose everyone has a different idea. I think it’s something that’s half on the outside and half on the inside. Without all that makeup on your face, I can see the inside a little better….”

As someone who has often felt she needs to apologize for her less than “hot” looks, this simple gathering of words brought tears to my eyes.

Away from the lovely Annie, Peachy frets, wonders how long he can keep up this ruse as Harry Stoller, and soon he finds out and his fate is sealed. But of course, you have to read My French Whore to find out what Peachy’s ultimate fate.

My French Whore is written in plaintive and believable way (and often reads as a diary of sorts). Wilder writing style is rich, yet unpretentious, and his characters ring out true, which probably has a lot to do with him being an actor. He empathizes with his cast of characters, and I greatly appreciated how he made Annie a fully-developed individual. In fact, I’m now aching to read a novella told from Annie’s point of view. Sadly, with Wilder’s demise, this won’t happen. Perhaps, this is why fan fiction was created.

I really enjoyed My French Whore (yes, I can see it being made into a movie), and it was a delight to find out writing was amongst the late Gene Wilder’s immense talents. He will be missed.

Book Review: Copygirl by Anna Mitchael and Michelle Sassa

copygirlI’m not usually the biggest fan standard-issue chick lit featuring hapless, yet hopeful heroines working in “glamour” industries like fashion, PR, show business or advertising usually in New York City. The cover is usually some shade of pink and features one of the holy trinity of chick lit graphics—statement handbag, high-heeled shoe, or fancy cocktail.

Copygirl, authored by Anna Mitchael and Michelle Sassa, features a pink cover the shade of a rather attention grabbing shade of fuchsia. However, there was no handbag, shoe or cocktail to be found on Copygirl’s cover. Furthermore, Copygirl was described as a hybrid of The Devil Wears Prada and Mad Men. I actually liked The Devil Wears Prada, who hasn’t had a nightmare boss? And I just finished binge-watching Mad Men and related only too well to copywriter Peggy Olson, so I decided to give Copygirl a whirl.

Meet Copygirl’s protagonist Kay, after finishing college where she studies advertising, she follows her crush Ben to NYC where they both get jobs one of the city’s hottest agencies with the unfortunate of initials of STD. While in ad school, Kay thought she would write memorable copy like “Think Different” and “Just Do It.” She also thought she’d get romantic with Ben. Sadly, none of those dreams seem to be coming true for our heroine. Instead, Kay is dealing with the STD’s overlords who make Pol Pot look like Mr. Rogers and is writing hapless copy for accounts her much cooler hipster co-workers reject outright. As for Ben? Right now he’s sleeping on Kay’s couch, not her bed.

STD is riddled with egotistical tyrants, high fashion hotties, pretentious creatives and one Diet Coke-obsessed intern with the last name of Bouffa. Bouffa may not have the schooling or experience for this particular internship, but she does have something deemed more important—family connections.

Kay feels completely out of it at STD with her family connections from the Midwest, her wardrobe of sneakers, jeans and hoodies and her low-key, modest and easily intimidated personality. Will she ever measure up and find success? And will she find love with Ben or will she lose him to the office hot girl?

To appease her battered and bruised sense of self Kay makes wax dolls and films them in absurd situations. The main character of Kay’s magnum opus is a doll named Copygirl who warns everybody “Don’t be a copygirl.” Kay shares her videos with her best friend who is currently studying in France. This best friend starts uploading Kay’s videos for the world to see and they become a huge sensation, making Kay feeling both awkward and proud.

Meanwhile, Ben moves out and Kay is convinced he is having a fling with the office hottie. However, Kay finds this hottie is more than a pair of designer boots and a killer wardrobe, and though Bouffa may have family connections, she is also willing to work hard and is pretty nice kid. And then there is suit-wearing guy who might be more than what he seems.

Kay struggles daily with writing appropriate copy for the latest, hippest soda trying to grab the much-wanted Millennial market only to be treated with contempt by her fellow creative co-workers, clueless clients and tyrannical agency heads. Will she find the secret sauce to come up with the right lines that will be iconic as such classic ad copy she dreamed of writing? Or will she be fired with only her wax dolls to keep her company?

Ultimately, I liked Copygirl. It was a fun and breezy read, and I rooted for Kay throughout the book even though at times I wanted to shake her. Spending time in the copywriting trenches I could totally relate to her daily struggles, pretty much dealing with the same obnoxious behavior she dealt with even though I come from Milwaukee. And I also know how creative “me-time” activities Kay indulged in helped alleviate her stress and gain her both kudos and confidence.

But what I really liked about Copygirl was how it didn’t focus so much on romance, but on Kay’s growth in her career and how she forges strong bonds with her female co-workers rather than seeing them as competition both professionally and personally.

In the end Copygirl is a fun read, both fluffy and profound, and I think most working girls will be able to relate to Kay’s plight even if your Devil wears H & M, and your place of work is a mixture of both Mad Men and Mad Women.



Retro Review: Bonjour, Tristesse by Françoise Sagan

51+u6c95UmL._SL500_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Published in 1954, when French author Françoise Sagan was a mere 19-years-old, Bonjour, Tristesse tells the story of Cécile, a well-off teen girl who has been kicked out of university and is now vacationing with her widowed father Raymond along the French Riviera. Joining them for a long summer along the gorgeous blue waters of the Riviera is Elsa, Raymond’s mistress. Cécile doesn’t actively loathe Elsa, but she does find her to be a bit gauche and noisy. But being widowed since Cécile was a little girl, Cécile expects her father wants to have fun and by now, she is used to her father collecting women and then doing away with them once he has grown bored.

Cécile, like a lot of teen girls, is blossoming into womanhood and is trying to figure out who she is. She often comes across as an old soul, and at other times, a petulant child. She hangs out at casinos with her father and his older friends, and has an affair with Cyril, a man in his twenties. But she also pouts and rebels when she is expected to study so she can continue her education.

Cécile expects to have a carefree summer, spending time on the beach, dancing and drinking at nightclubs, spending time with her father and his friends, and yes, learning the ways of horizontal love with Cyril. But then someone joins this scenario, Cécile’s father’s long-time lady friend, Anne.

Anne is everything Elsa is not. She is closer to Raymond’s age and has an impressive career in fashion. She is sophisticated, wise and refined. And soon Raymond turns his affections towards her, and it is not long before he asks Anne to marry him. Cécile is not too happy about this. Though she has long admired Anne for her grace and intelligence, she thinks of Anne as an interloper, not welcomed into the world Cécile and her father have created for the two of them. And when Anne counsels Cécile on how she should behave with her lover, Cyril, and implores that she devotes more time to her studies, Cécile can’t help but get touchy. Who does this vieille dame think she is?

What seems to be an over-riding theme for Cécile during this summer is a sense of loss, everything from the loss of her father to Anne (and his affection) to the loss of her sexual innocence to Cyril. And though Cécile tries to put on a brave face, you sense her vulnerability, her melancholy, hence the title of this book Bonjour, Tristesse-Hello, Sadness, is very approprié.

Cécile learns a great deal at this tender age. She learns that the adult world can be very confusing, but she also learns about herself. She doesn’t know everything, but every day she is learning more.

Bonjour, Tristesse is a slim novel, pretty much novella. It is an exceptionally well-written piece of literature that captures the timeless essence of what it is like to be a teenage girl. Though this book was published long before I was born, and I spent my summers at the mall and the movie theater, I found myself relating to young Cécile thoughts, ideas and opinions. Yes, I was once so very young; I thought I was so sophisticated but non, I was still such an unformed girl.

Sagan writes in a spare, yet detailed style I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved the descriptions of idling along the French Riviera, the stolen moments of love making with Cyril, frustrated moments with the adults that structure one’s life and in the end, Cécile’s quest to find meaning in a confusing world. Bonjour, Tristesse is stand-out in the world of literary debuts.

Brag Book

french_flirt_vintage_pinup_girl_reading_mug-r8cecd8ed389b4a4abc98e2e2c2d25474_x7jgr_8byvr_324I sent author Debra Ollivier a link to my review of her book Entre Nous: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl and she was very touched. I guess she found my review to be tres bien! She also suggested I read her second book What French Women Know: About Love, Sex, and Other Matters of the Heart and Mind. Ooh, la, la! I’m definitely going to read this book once I get the chance.

Book Review: Entre Nous-A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl by Debra Ollivier

Entre Nous_bookWhat is it about French women? They eat rich, calorie-laden food, yet are impossibly thin. They are effortlessly stylish, doing more with one scarf than most women do with an entire outfit. They are sophisticated and intellectual, not crass and fatuous. French women just have that, how does it go? Ah, oui, je ne sais quoi.

Yes, I do know I just described French women using a few clichés (great French word, cliché, non?), but sometimes clichés are clichés because they are true. And being a huge Francophile, I couldn’t help but be drawn to Debra Ollivier’s primer Entre Nous: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl.

Ollivier is an all-American girl married to a French man, and she spent a decade living in France. So needless to say, she got pretty familiar with the French way of life, and how French women can inspire us to make our lives richer and more fulfilling.

Ollivier divides her book into several parts. She describes French women and how they view food, family, fashion, work and the home. French women view food as both sustenance and celebration. You probably won’t find French women freaking out over carbs or living on power bars. They eat food that is seasonable, fresh and probably local. Yes, French women love their cheese, bread and wine, but they eat smaller portions and truly savor what they are eating. Plus, most of them do not snack between meals (wait Doritos and Red Bull aren’t a balanced meal?).

French are practically synonymous with fashion. And French women look totally chic. They often do this with a few quality items rather than a bunch of mediocre pieces bought in haste at a huge sale or a store like Wal-Mart. Their clothing is rarely hyper- trendy, but always flatters their figures and their unique style. French women work with what they got, and don’t try to fit into some narrow mold of what they think they should look like. And yes, French women really know their way around a simple scarf. Fortunately, Ollivier adds some scarf tying tips scarves for our perusal.

In the home, French women surrounds themselves with items that give their lives meaning and have an element of history. It’s not rare that a French girl has trinkets in her home that have been handed down from generation to generation. When it comes to careers, French women work to live, not live to work. In their interpersonal relationships, French women open themselves up slowly. They don’t reveal things to quickly whether it’s to a potential lover or a potential best friend. This is quite a difference from some people who have to reveal their life stories right away or are TMI on Facebook.

Sprinkled throughout Entre Nous are factoids about French women like Edith Piaf, Catherine Deneuve and Coco Chanel. Ollivier enthuses over French movies, both the well-known like Chocolat and Jules et Jim, and small gems like 8 Femmes and Contes Des Quatre Saisons. Ollivier also mentions good books that help you delve into the French experience.

Does Ollivier stereotype? Perhaps. There are French women who do get fat. I can walk around my neighborhood and find plenty of stylish people. And many Americans have adopted eating locally-grown produce and quality food over overly-processed junk food and Burger King. Ollivier has embraced the idea of the French woman, but she doesn’t bash her American sisters. She appreciates America’s friendliness, diversity and openness. And guess what? There are plenty of things about America the French like, and not just Jerry Lewis. For instance, the French have embraced our pop culture, especially our music. And I can’t say I blame them. Have you ever heard French pop music? Total merde.

I guess you could say Entre Nous is a self-help book, but most self-help books just lead to more self-loathing. Entre Nous is about loving experiences, good quality in both food and fashion, and appreciating one’s desires and appetites. It’s a fun and inspiring read that you might refer to again and again. Entre Nous is très bien.