Traveling through Books: Paris

Disclaimer: This is another in an occasional series of posts about being an armchair traveling through the books you read. I have a book blog, too, and this could just as easily be posted there but it’s more about traveling than reading and it fits in better with my series on traveling through the movies.

I’ve been to Paris twice, in 1977 and in 2007. We nearly made it there a few years ago but plans got cancelled. I hope we see the City of Lights again because it’s a marvel to behold. In the meantime, there are always novels that are set in the city and which describe both the famous sights and the little hidden corners that you always hope you will find, too, on your travels. (and sometimes the aspects you hope to avoid!)  Paris has a long history with writers and the arts and was a favourite place for American writers to live and work in between the world wars in the 20th century but the appeal never goes away. There are many, many books set there. Here’s a list of some I’ve read over the past few years that I’ve enjoyed, set in various eras from about the mid 19th century onward.

Paris – Edward Rutherfurd

This is a good foundation book, with the story starting in the mid to late 19th century with some flashbacks to no earlier than  the medieval period, however it may apply to the families in the “present” and leads us through the history of Paris up to well into the 20th century. (Goodreads review here)

Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light – David Downie

Short vignettes of Paris, the people and the life by a travel writer who moved here in the 80s and married a woman who was born in Paris but raised in America. Photos in the book are taken by her.

We’ll Always Have Paris, A Mother/Daughter Memoir – Jennifer Coburn

Four journeys by a mother and her daughter between her daughter’s age of about 9 to 18, two of them in Paris.

The Bones of Paris – Laurie R. King

Paris in the jazz age. Harris Stuyvesant, P. I. He’s looking for a young American woman who’s disappeared but in his quest, he encounters dark and perverted goings on in the clubs and underbelly of the glittering city. Review here.

Murder in the Marais – Cara Black

Number 1 in a series about stylish female private investigator Aimee Leduc. She tries to stick to tech investigations and keeps getting drawn into criminal work. It’s a light, fun series, not too heavy. How can it be when you read scenes like one in this book of her tottering across the rooftops of Paris in heels? Each book centres on a different area of the city.  The plots are kind of predictable but the descriptions of Paris and the neighbourhoods are wonderful. Great for armchair traveling

The Paris Wife – Paula McLean

This is the story of Ernest Hemmingway and his wife, Hadley and it covers not just the time they spent in Paris, which was considerable, but the whole of their relationship, fictionalized, including encounters with other writers of the jazz age including the F. Scott Fitzgeralds. Review here.

The Invisible Bridge – Julie Orringer

Three Jewish brothers from Hungary want to leave and go to university elsewhere. One manages to get to Paris, one eventually to Italy. The story takes place in Paris up to WWII and then shifts to the brothers who have been sent to work for the Nazis in camps. That part is rather dark and upsetting but still good drama. The Parisian part is a good depiction of student life in the city for the late 1930s. Review here.


The Painted Girls – Cathy Marie Buchanan

Two sisters and their life in the Paris Ballet world of the Belle Epoch, late 1800s Paris. It’s a story of survival in hard times and also features Degas who painted pictures of ballerinas. The book is inspired by one of Degas’ models and also incorporates some background gleaned from headlines of the day in the city.

The Woman in the Fifth – Douglas Kennedy

A university professor runs to Paris to escape a scandal and a failed marriage, hoping to settle in and write a novel. He ends up getting entangled in the not-so-pleasant underbelly of the city. He meets a woman at a party and his life takes a turn. It’s hard to say whether it’s a good or bad one. I wasn’t keen on the twist at the end, though I do think some people would like it. A different side of Paris that you would usually read about.

I haven’t read it, but I have it on my “to be read” list:

A Paris Year: My Day-to-Day Adventures in the Most Romantic City in the World – Janice MacLeod

It looks as it would be a very good “travelogue” style memoir of someone that moved to Paris to live for a year.

Now for something completely different

Cheatham's Library, Manchester UK

Cheatham’s Library, Manchester UK

I love to travel. That’s no news, of course, this is a travel blog. My other passion is reading, a lifelong love of words and stories. Books take me to other worlds, other lives, other destinations. I thought it was about time I started a blog focussed on reading and books. If you are interested, it’s called Reader at Large, here.

It’s early days but I hope to fill the screens with reviews, discussions, and other chat about the written word. Drop buy and join me!


Travel Theme: Books

Where’s My Backpack’s travel theme this week is Books. Reading is close to my heart. I’ve been a reader all my life. While I don’t use the library as much as I used to, I’m a fan of them. I have switched over to ebooks mainly since an ereader is much more convenient to carry about in my bag but I still read paper books as well. On our travels, we’ve been to libraries and museums where there are old books. Here are a few:

An illuminated version of Canterbury Tales. John Ryland Library, Manchester


Ledger in the Tower of London Armoury

The Morrin Centre, a Victorian English library in the French city of Quebec

Chetham’s Library, a medieval library at the Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester

Camden Lock bookshop, London

Book review – We’ll Always Have Paris

17586505As you know, I love watching movies filmed in great locations that make me want to visit that spot. I also like reading travel magazines and sometimes travel books, too. I recently finished one  called “We’ll Always Have Paris: A Mother/Daughter Memoir” by Jennifer Coburn. Here’s the premise:

The author of the book lost her father when she was only 19 and since then always assumes she’ll die young as well. There’s no reason to think it, there’s no genetic marker that will doom her. Her father had lung cancer after a lifetime of heavy smoking. Never mind. She’s now married and has a daughter of her own and is afraid she’ll die while her daughter is young, too, and decides to start traveling with her to make memories. She and Katie start with Paris, when Katie is just 8 or 9, just the two of them. Katie is much more pragmatic and easy going than her mother and takes the highs and lows of travel much more in her stride, and over the course of about 10 years and 4 trips  Jennifer learns that she can focus on living instead of being afraid of dying. The book is also as much her remembering her father as it is describing the journeys so there’s a lot of flashbacks.

I think I’d have preferred mostly travelogue because that’s what I love to read, more detail on your experiences, please! It’s probably about 50/50 flashback and current but it gives you the background on why Jennifer is the way she is, too.  They visit Paris, Spain, Italy and then back to Paris for the last journey of the book. There are about 3 years between trips so the little girl is a high school graduate by the end and we see her grow up.

It’s a lovely book about mom-daughter time. I’ve taken a couple of trips with my mother though not as a child. (I should probably post the travelogue of our trip to London sometime!)

I think no matter how old you are, that one on one time experiencing new things is special. It doesn’t have to be an exotic European location, it can just be a long weekend away somewhere closer to home.

Mom and me in London

Travel Theme: Illuminated

Travel theme from Where’s My Backpack this week is Illuminated.

Now I could post photos from some of the many buildings and monuments that  are lit up at night. But everyone else will probably do that. Instead, an alternative, the illuminated manuscript. This is a late 15th century Canterbury Tales which we saw in the John Ryland Library in Manchester, UK. While it isn’t as exquisite as, say, the Book of Kells in Dublin (which I’ve also seen) or other similar illuminated gospels, it is one of the only ones I have seen that I could photograph (no flash, of course!).

Canterbury Tales above a non-illuminated copy, both from the late 15th century

Traveling through books: London and the UK

You’ve probably noted my series of posts about movies shot in locations that are great for armchair traveling. I’ve read a couple of non-fiction travel books lately and it put me in mind of several others I’ve read on the same subject, my favourite city, London and of the UK in general. A couple of them are true “travel” type books, and a couple more are more historical facts but equally interesting and one is fiction that describes the  history of the city through the eyes of several families and their descendants. I like that because it describes how various familiar sites and areas of London developed and changed over the centuries. Makes me want to visit those sites on my next visit!

The city of London has changed and grown considerably around St. Paul's Cathedral, and there's no end in sight.

The city of London has changed and grown considerably around St. Paul’s Cathedral, and there’s no end in sight.

Move Along, Please – Mark Mason

This man has undertaken the journey between Land’s End and John O’Groats, the southern and northernmost points of the main island of the U.K. He’s doing it by local busses, not long distance “coach” and thus meanders along the countryside meeting local people who take the bus for work or shopping or school. By avoiding the main motorways where long distance coaches travel, he’s seen more of the “real” everyday Britian. He’s armed with several books written by people who have done this journey in the past by various means and meets up with others along the way who have local knowledge in various stopping points.

Bizarre London – David Long

This is a book of facts about London, the weird, wonderful and little known facts and events. Read about a cross dressing highwayman, a licensed brothel on Whitehall, read about architectural features that tell stores of the past, odd museums, murders, and all sorts of things.

Tales from the Tower of London – Daniel Diehl

A series of stories about the goings on in the Tower of London over the centuries from it’s establishment by William the Conqueror to the 20th century. Mainly it’s about various people that were incarcerated there and includes historical events such as the Gunpowder Plot and the Peasants’ Revolt. Not bad and if you’re interested in the history of London you will probably find it worth a quick read. Not really in depth but easy to read.

London: The Biography – Peter Ackroyd

It did take me quite awhile to read this book but it’s easy to pick up and put down. Each chapter tells about an aspect of the social history of London and it all comes together over centuries to become the city it is today. Crime, poverty, theatre, economics, architecture, neighbourhoods, strengths and weaknesses. It doesn’t read like a textbook, it’s quite interesting.

London – Edward Rutherfurd

Rutherfurd writes long involved fictional histories of an area or city starting, usually, with very early civilization up to the present day. The story he’s written about London starts just before the Roman invasion and ends after World War II. He introduces a handful of familys and traces the stories through them and their ancestors over the centuries. It’s life from the every day people’s point of view. The stories get briefer in the more recent century and a half, with the updates from the 20th century past WWI being just touched on. The best bits are the early to medieval and Tudor/Stuart eras. There’s a family tree at the start to keep them all straight though you can’t see it very well if using an ereader.

UK: Icons of England – Bill Bryson

Bryson edits a collection of contributions from other people who write about their favourite bits of England. They aren’t exactly icons in the traditional definition of the word but they do give a broad feeling of different aspects, such as weather, various nature, seaside, and a lot of them are recollections from the writer’s past. The book was originally a coffee table type with photographs and was a fund raiser. I read it as an ebook and it was not bad. Not always interesting but everyone’s taste is different. You would probably get more out of it if you’d lived there.

Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is a very good travel writer, lots of dry humour in his observations which has reduced me to weeping giggles often.This was the first of his books I had read and I reread it last year and giggled just as much. He travels around Britain, mainly by public transportation on busses and trains, to towns, villages and cities as well. He’s an American but has lived in the U.K. for quite a number of years. He has the point of view of a non-native and yet is spot on in many of his observations. Thoroughly enjoyable.

These are the books that I’ve read that can give a reader a great look at London and some of the UK. They give more than just dry historical facts or a generic travel guide “things to do and see”, they show you the past and the present in ways you might not think to look for.  Most of them are available as ebooks from your favourite site (Kobo, Kindle etc.) and you library or a second hand bookstore will have many of them as well. Feel free to comment and suggest others I or other readers might enjoy about London and the U.K.

Traveling through books

Brighton Pier, Brighton, UK

Brighton Pier, Brighton, UK

I love to read and I always have. In fact, my whole family were readers. Both parents, my sister and I always had our noses into a book. When I was a teenager, I discovered Harlequin Romances. They were short novels, written to a formula and always had a happy ending. I really liked them because of the storylines but also because they took place in locations all over the world. Even then, I loved to read descriptions of different places and I still do.

Since I am a self-confessed Anglophile, with British and Irish genes, my favourite book locations are anywhere in the U.K. and Ireland, city or village or countryside.  I read books by English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish writers frequently. It’s even better when I’ve actually been to the location and can pictures some of the areas described. It doesn’t really matter, however. It gives me glimpses of a place I might like to visit sometime, just like seeing movies or television shows filmed in a foreign location does. I even like historical novels that give a good sense of place. Edward Rutherfurd’s books detail the history of a city or location through the eyes of a number of families and there are great descriptions. You really gain an appreciation for how a city developed over time and if and when you do get to visit, you can search out various neighbourhoods and buildings for yourself.

Obviously, I’m not going to list all the books I’ve read that I’ve enjoyed for the locations in addition to the story itself. There are far too many! Through books, I’ve enjoyed visiting such far flung countries as Japan, Russia, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand, among others. City “visits” have included Rome, Paris, Moscow, London (of course!), Dublin, New York, Oslo, Cairo and Berlin. I’ve gained a recent interest in some of the crime novelists from Scandinavia in recent years, due to rising popularity after the “Dragon Tattoo” books by Stieg Larsson. In fact, there’s a website devoted to authors from that part of Europe so there will be lots of suggestions and recommendations I will be looking at. Scandinavian Crime Fiction is being added to my Favourites right now! Authors such as Jo Nesbo and Camilla Lackberg give a wonderful feel for the location as well as the story. I’m very impressed by the translation to English too, it seems to really pick up the feel and atmosphere of what the original novel is probably like in its native language.

Another of my favourite authors is Diana Gabaldon. She has written a series of books based on time travel. They’re historic, they’re romantic, they’re really well researched and absolutely amazing. The first in the series is called Outlander and the first few books are based in the Scottish Highlands during the final Jacobite uprising and the years after, the rest are based in North Carolina and the east coast of American in the years leading up to and during the War of Independence. So far! She’s also got another few books that are mysteries with one of the side characters from the main series, the Lord John Grey books.

As for the type of book I like, I can read almost anything if I’m in the mood for it, though favourites include historical fiction, crime novels, general fiction and sometimes a taste of fantasy, autobiography/biography, history (non-fiction),  comedy, romance (but not the “bodice rippers” as a rule), and I do like what might be classed as “women’s” fiction, “chicklit” and the like. I’ve chosen the photo for this post because I’ve recently discovered an author, Peter James, who writes about a detective, Roy Grace, who works and lives in Brighton, England. I’ve been to Brighton for a visit and the first book that I read had some of the action going on inside the Royal Pavillion, which I’ve also visited so could picture clearly. I’ve just picked up a couple more of his books to enjoy.

If you have a book recommendation and if it features great locations, Please do comment!

Travel Magazines


I mentioned National Geographic Traveler the other week and I thought I might talk a bit about some of the travel magazines that I like.

I’ve been buying them and/or subscribing to them for a long time. It was armchair traveling for a long time and I was also drawn to the photography as that has been a lifelong hobby for me. I subscribe to three at the moment and pick up others if they feature something that I think I’d find interesting.

I don’t get any of them in digital format because I don’t have a tablet and they don’t really make them for a PC or laptop yet. I wish they would. Even the ones that are for a Kindle don’t work through the Kindle app on a PC, only on a tablet. I do have an iPod touch but I find that magazines on that are just not suitable. It’s too small a screen. I think the tablet digital versions would be lovely, though and if I ever get one, I will probably switch reading the magazines to that format. Most of the magazines with digital format also offer bonus content for those versions.
Here, then, is a little run down of some of my favourites.
Favourite Travel magazine –

National Geographic Traveler

Excellent photography
Interesting stories from all over the world
Good online blogs and bloggers

Digital format: Has an iPad app
Subscriptions: 8 issues/year, Approx. $20 CAD per year. Occasional special deals for renewals. Currently seems to be $10 US for a subscription to US addresses.

Second favourite :
Conde Naste Traveler

Very good photography
Good stories, can be a bit America-focused during several issues over the year
Top 100/Top X/Reader’s Choice/Gold List type issues a bit redundant
Only one blog, Wendy Perrin but she’s informative.

Digital format: Exclusive content on digital app versions (iPad, Kindle Fire, Samsung Galaxy, Nexus 7, Nook Colour
Subscriptions: Usually has very good deals for US subscriptions. A bit more for Canadian and international but I’ve had some good deals there too.  Slightly more for digital + print. Not sure if the digital is available outside the  U.S.

Not that keen on their current website, it’s a bit in-your-face with the big black headlines but there are subscribe links displayed prominently and it’s easy enough to find your way around.

I sometimes buy the U.K. version as well, depending on content. I can get it at some of the better news stands here.

Travel + Leisure

I pick it up sometimes if there’s something I want to read
Not quite as polished,  the website a bit similar in feel to CNT above.

Subscriptions: Good value for Canada/US subscriptions, $24 US for a 24 month subscription.
Subscription links on website not prominently displayed.
Digital format: Doesn’t look like they have a digital version.


I love the U.K. so this has lots of articles on many aspects and all areas of Britain.
Great photography
Big, glossy magazine
More expensive than the others, is an import.

Subscriptions: 6 issues/year for $29.99.
Digital format: iPad version $20.99 and they have a digital version that will work on a PC, a Mac, and Android tablet as well as the iPad. It’s through a company/viewer called Zinio and going by their sample on their site, it’s a bit fussy, having to zoom in and out to view things at a readable level. The table versions would likely be nice.
I have this on print subscription at the moment, too. Even the ads are good, with lots of website links for things to look up.

Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel

Good for those of us that don’t spend a mint traveling
Lots of online resources
Lots of good, practical information.

Digital format: Multiple digital versions available. Looks like they’re in the middle of a change. I wonder if they’re going all digital or they’re changing their print production or something. Their current version is available online only and is a zoomable one that works on a PC at least.

National Geographic

This is the classic travel magazine.
The photography is world class with lots of exotic locations and long, informative stories. It’s not just about travel, it’s about our world in general. It’s about the environment, nature, travel and great adventures.

Subscriptions: You can get a digital only, print only or a combo for a little more. Digital version is available for Canada as well as the U.S.
Digital format: iPad and Kindle Fire with access to the online archives.
They also produce editions aimed at kids and younger people. Top quality. No wonder they’ve been around over 100 years.

There are others but these are the ones I read either regularly or occasionally.  There are also ones on the news stand that focus on regions such as Italy, or Spain, several for people that like to go on cruises, and theres one on Islands in general. Which ones do you like?

I Heart Her City

New York Public Library

New York Public Library (Photograph by Wally Gobetz, Flickr)

I’ve been browsing a blog on the National Geographic Traveler magazine’s website by Annie Fitzsimmons, the Urban Insider. I thought she might have some interesting articles on New  York, with the view to our visit there in May.  I am really happy I did! This post in particular of all the ones she’s got tagged with New York City has probably added 4 or 5 things to the list of places to see and things to do. She loves her city and after reading that post, I just might as well!

At least one item she listed was already on my Radar, the Frick Collection.

She describes her neighbourhood, Greenwich Village so well that I think a wander around there is definitely called for.

And what about this? The Transit Museum where the store has unique souvenirs except that seems to be an online shop not a real one. Will have to investigate further.

We probably won’t get as far north on Manhattan as The Cloisters but you never know. I have seen the Unicorn tapestries. On my one visit to NYC I was lucky enough to see them at the main Metropolitan Musuem.

I really would like to see the New York Public Library interior and the Rose Reading Room. It looks amazing.

G. wants to go up in the Empire State Building and we decided we are probably going to take a bus tour around the city. Those usually include several routes, a night tour and one to see Brooklyn which is apparently not that interesting though you get to stop and take a photo across at the skyline.  One advantage of these tours is using them as transportation. You can get off at various locations and explore the areas and neighbourhoods.  There are also television/movie locations tours that might be interesting too.

Now that G. has his ticket to Canada, I will sort out the NYC tickets. I’m going to use Aeroplan points for those and I’m still trying to decide on a hotel. So many to choose from! Saving money on the flights will help with the hotel budget.

National Geographic magazine is one of, if not my favourite travel magazine. I get a few but this one has the best photography of all. Some years ago I flew to Toronto for a photography seminar they gave. I must blog about that sometime!

Bookstore Bounty

Bookstore Bounty

Bookstore Bounty

Yesterday, I went to the Chapters bookstore with my mother and my niece. We go every year after Christmas to spend our gift cards. As I mostly read ebooks these days, I headed for my other favourite section. Travel books! I know you can get great travel books and apps and magazines on tablets but there’s just something about browsing through a real travel book with glossy paper and beautiful photos, hands full of postit notes to mark the pages.

As you can see, two of the four purchases involve New York City because, as you know, I’m planning a visit there for early May.

This, then, was my bounty from yesterday’s visit.

A magazine called Discover Britain

Lonely Planet’s Not for Parents: New York City

Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Photography

Eyewitness Top 10 New York City

The “Not for Parents” book is a new brand to me. It’s not a guide book, it’s 95 pages of little bits of trivia about New York, and it includes history, general triva, “Did you know”, and just, loads of different aspects of the city. One double page is all about Grand Central Station. A blurb about the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the three women that instigated the idea of short term revolving exhibits. There’s Empire State Building, baseball, fashion, skyscrapers, Andy Warhol, and it goes on and on in short two page spreads per topic. Wonderful! I anticipate it will contribute a lot of little trivia bits to my upcoming travelogue!

The Travel Photography book lured me because it’s got, in addition to the usual tips about composition and camera gear and software, you also get chapters on shooting iconic views like the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum, how to take pictures of street scenes, museums, performances, wildlife, night life, shopping, festivals, etc. That’s all really useful stuff to me!

I do like the Top 10 books, as well. They’re small, they have lots of maps and good info about what to see and details like opening times and days and locations. They break the city down by sections and popular neighbourhoods in addition to top 10 lists like museums, festivals, churches, places for children, etc.

The magazine? I just love travel magazines and love the ones about Britian, I often get ideas of places I want to go for the next time I’m there and I like to see photos and read information about places I’ve been. This issue has a piece on Bath, one of my favourite cities in England.