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Book recommendations needed: Australian literature

September 17, 2017 38 comments

Hello everyone,

As the title of my post suggests it, I would like to compile a list of 15-20 Australian books to read in the coming eighteen months. I know I can check out Lisa’s blog (ANZ LitLovers) or Sue’s (Whispering Gums) or Kim’s (Reading Matters) but I don’t know how to narrow down all the Australian books I could find there to a 15-20 books list.

So I need help. I’m open to literary fiction and crime fiction but I’m not good with essays and non-fiction in general. I have already read books by Max Barry, Stephen Orr, Julienne Van Loon, S.A. Jones, Madeleine St John and Toni Jordan.

I’ve read The Magic Pudding, which proved to be a complicated read for a foreigner. I tried to read That Dead Man Dance by Kim Scott but I had to abandon it because it was too difficult to read in the original and it’s not available in French. However, Benang: From the Heart and True Country have been translated into French. Is one of those a must read?

I also know that I should read Tim Winton, but which one?

Clearly, I need help!

So please, leave book recommendations in the comments below.

Thanks!

Emma

Literary Escapade : Lisbon, Bookstores and other bookish things

August 16, 2017 23 comments

As promised in my billet Literary Escapade : Lisbon and Pessoa, a little tour of the bookstores and bookish things I saw in Lisbon. I don’t speak Portuguese but I quickly picked up that bookstore is livraria, book is livro and it struck me that the word to say free is livre, the way we say book in French. Yes, books make you free.

There seem to be another connection between Portugal and France when it comes to books. The oldest bookshop in the world is the Livraria Bertrand in Lisbon and Bertrand is a very French name. I wondered how this famous Portuguese literary place could have such a French name. The Livraria Bertrand was founded in 1732, before the great earthquake of 1755. (See Candide by Voltaire) It is not located in the same premises as the ones in 1732 but it’s in the Chiado neighborhood, not very far from the café A Brasileira, where Pessoa liked to go. Pedro Faure started his printing house in 1727, which turned into a bookshop. It became the Livraria Bertrand in 1752 after his daughter married a French gentleman named Bertrand and Faure handed his business to the Bertrand brothers. Voilà, the Livraria Bertrand was born. Of course, I had to visit this marvelous place where a lot of writers used to meet and that has been in the book loving business for almost 300 years. Here’s the side of the store, with the mention of its age and the typical ajulezos.

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The entrance looks like this…

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…and it’s full of dark wood shelves.

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Although I don’t speak Portuguese, I still loved browsing through display tables and see what was pushed towards Portuguese readers. I was delighted to see this edition of the whole collection of Mafalda’s comics for her 50th anniversary.

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Here’s what Livraria Bertrand recommends for the holidays

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or

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Hmm. I’m not sure I want to read Primo Levi when I’m on vacation.

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Seems like the Jane Austen anniversary was celebrated here too. Apparently, they also have these horrible covers where women have no face, only skirts and legs. Where does this strange habit stem from? We have the same ones in France and Anglophone publishers like them too.

Not far from this shop is another literary reference. This shop, Au bonheur des dames must have been a women’s clothes store in the past. Indeed, Au Bonheur des dames is the French title of Ladies’ Paradise.

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Sadly, it is now a Nespresso store and they didn’t put George Clooney’s ads on display, which could have been another version of Ladies’ Paradise… I have seen other bookstores, like this one.

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It looks as old and used as the books it sells. And here’s a former bookstore in Bairro Alto.

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I have seen the sign Pura Poesia on several walls…

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Near Lisbon, in Sintra, there’s a stair named after Lord Byron,

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near the Hotel Lawrence, where he used to stay.

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But the loveliest bookish thing I saw in Lisbon is this book box in the tropical greenhouse Estufa Fria.

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It’s in a little grove in this giant greenhouse

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and you can leave books there for anyone to take. I love these book boxes that bloom in our cities and it was such an improbable place to find one. They remind us that books are meant to be shared.

That’s all folks!

I hope you enjoyed my little bookish tour of Lisbon because I sure had a lot of fun taking all these pictures. (Even if I’ve proven again that photographer is not a career for me)

Literary escapade: Lisbon and Pessoa

August 9, 2017 49 comments

After spending a few days in Lisbon, it’s hard to ignore Pessoa. Lisbon celebrates him everywhere and not just by putting him on T-Shirts for tourists. One of his  favourite cafés, Café Restaurante Martinho da Arcada…

has a plaque on it about Pessoa and the whole restaurant room is decorated with pictures of him.

Another of his favorite cafés, A Brasileira has his statue on their terrasse. You can sit near Pessoa and take a picture.

It reminded me of Oscar Wilde’s statue in Galway.

As a major poet of the 20th century, Pessoa’s body has been transferred to the prestigious Mosteiro dos Jerónimos for the 50th anniversary of his death.

His picture is on the shop window of bookstores

His books are well stocked in bookshops. They even have them in English and in French.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to visit his house, which is now a museum. I would have liked to see his library.

In the Alentejo region, there’s a museum about coffee and Pessoa has his own corner because he embodied the culture of cafés, just like his contemporary generation of writers in Budapest.

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In the end, I like this painting of him by José De Almada Negreiros.

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Now that I’ve seen him everywhere, I suppose I should read him. Yes, I must confess that I haven’t read him…yet. I have The Anarchist Banker on my kindle and I’ll come to it sooner or later. I know I should read The Book of Disquiet but it’s on the Daunting Books List, along with Ulysses, Dom QuixoteMoby Dick, Satantango and others. I’m not sure I’m deep enough to read Pessoa and fully understand The Book of Disquiet. I’m not good with poetry either which doesn’t help but the idea of an anarchist banker intrigues me, though, so I’ll start small with this one.

Have you read anything by him? If yes, what would you recommend? In case, you have reviewed one of his books, please leave a link to your review in the comment section.

PS: Sorry for the poor quality of the photos. I’m afraid that my skills as a photographer have not improved.

 

 

Theatre: The Play That Goes Wrong, an ode to whodunnits and prop masters

July 30, 2017 6 comments

I have been to the theatre Saint Georges in Paris and seen The Play That Goes Wrong by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shield. It has been adapted in French by Gwen Aduh and Miren Pradien under the title Les faux British. It’s a farcical murder mystery play that won the Molière Prize in 2016. It is the most prestigious prize for theatre in France.

The Play That Goes Wrong is a catastrophe comedy. The plot is about the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society (in French, L’association des amis du roman noir anglais) who decides to produce a play based on a classic 1920s whodunnit. It’s the parody of a murder à la Agatha Christie investigated by a Sherlock Holmes wannabee. The setting of the play is funny in itself with all the references to classic murder mystery books. It turns out to be a total disaster because this drama society is completely unable to produce a play. The decors fall down, actors have accidents and must be replaced by other amateurs who don’t know the text. Everything turns into a circus show and we laughed so much our jaws hurt.

The props for the fake play were excellent. We even received flyers advertising it when we entered the theatre. The president of the association came on stage and explained their project and how he was acting as the director. He listed the amateur actors and their real-life professions. All along the show, actors played the roles of amateur actors playing in a whodunnit. Quite a performance.

But beyond the farces à la Mr Bean, I saw this play as a tribute to theatre directors and prop masters. Why? During the play, as the English title suggests it, everything goes wrong because this amateur company is ill-prepared regarding accessories and props. For example, there’s a painting on the mantelpiece of the chimney in the living-room. At the beginning of the play, it’s the portrait of a man. As it keeps falling down, the prop woman replaces it by a painting of a dog. This one remains hung but when someone points at the painting to show a picture of their father, they’re pointing at …a dog! Later, accessories are misplaced or missing. A character needs to fetch a key and there’s no key where he’s supposed to find it.

There are a lot of examples like these. It’s really funny for the spectator but it also shows how much fine-tuning theatre requires to run smoothly. It emphasizes on how much the set, the costumes and the various props participate to the show. Contrary to cinema, there is no doing over the scene if something’s missing. The set must stay in place, be solid enough and yet easy to transfer from one theatre to the other. Things must be at the right place at the right time for actors to use them. For me, this is the serious (and maybe involuntary) message of The Play That Goes Wrong. It helps the spectator to realize how much work is done behind the scene and how much practice it requires. And of course, since the string of catastrophes is masterfully orchestrated, it is a praise for this director and crew.

Has anyone seen it too?

Christiane Taubira & Feminism

July 28, 2017 10 comments

Christiane Taubira is a French politician from the overseas department of French Guiana. She was minister of Justice from 2012 to 2016 and was instrumental in the law authorizing same sex marriage in France. She’s very literate, in love with literature in general and poetry in particular. Toni Morrison is one of her favorite writers because they share the heavy history of slavery and of the oppression of women.

She was invited by the director of the theatre festival in Avignon. He asked her to pick literature excerpts to make a performance during the festival. She accepted and she gave an interview to Télérama at the end of June to talk about the festival, her immense love for literature, her opinion that a politician should always be literate and rely on books to learn new things and keep in touch with the society. She’s a vibrant feminist and I wanted to share her answer to this question about the texts she selected for the show.

Journaliste: Sur quels thèmes portent les textes que vous avez choisis?

Sur les femmes, notamment: leur regard sur la planète, leurs conquêtes, ou les formes de discriminations qu’elles subissent. L’inégalité hommes-femmes est à mes yeux la matrice de toutes les discriminations. Une fois celle-ci éliminée, les autres –fondées sur des préjugés ou des faits culturels– s’écrouleront. Tant que nous n’aurons pas installé psychologiquement et intellectuellement cette nécessaire égalité au sein de nos sociétés, tant que les lois et les faits toléreront le sexisme, nous donnerons prise aux autres inégalités…

My translation:

Journalist: What do the texts you picked talk about?

About women, among other things. About their vision of our planet, their conquests, or the kind of discrimination they suffer from. Inequality between men and women is the mother of all inequalities. Once this one is eradicated, the others– based on prejudice or on cultural facts– will crumble. As long as we have not psychologically and intellectually settled this necessary equality in our societies, as long as laws and facts will tolerate sexism, there will be room for all the other inequalities…

Thought-provoking, isn’t it?

Book Club 2017-2018 : our selection

July 10, 2017 24 comments

We have decided upon our list of 12 books for our next year’s Book Club. Since I’m a little lazy these days, I’ll copy paste the blurbs from Goodreads. *drum roll* Et voilà!

  • August 2017: Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. UK, 1862.

“This Victorian bestseller, along with Braddon’s other famous novel, Aurora Floyd, established her as the main rival of the master of the sensational novel, Wilkie Collins. A protest against the passive, insipid 19th-century heroine, Lady Audley was described by one critic of the time as “high-strung, full of passion, purpose, and movement.” Her crime (the secret of the title) is shown to threaten the apparently respectable middle-class world of Victorian England.”

I’m curious about sensational fiction and I’m glad we have this one on the list.

  • September 2017: Petit Piment by Alain Mabanckou Congo/France, 2015. (English title: Black Moses)

“It’s not easy being Tokumisa Nzambe po Mose yamoyindo abotami namboka ya Bakoko. There’s that long name of his for a start, which means, “Let us thank God, the black Moses is born on the lands of the ancestors.” Most people just call him Moses. Then there’s the orphanage where he lives, run by a malicious political stooge, Dieudonne Ngoulmoumako, and where he’s terrorized by two fellow orphans–the twins Songi-Songi and Tala-Tala.

But after Moses exacts revenge on the twins by lacing their food with hot pepper, the twins take Moses under their wing, escape the orphanage, and move to the bustling port town of Pointe-Noire, where they form a gang that survives on petty theft. What follows is a funny, moving, larger-than-life tale that chronicles Moses’s ultimately tragic journey through the Pointe-Noire underworld and the politically repressive world of Congo-Brazzaville in the 1970s and 80s.

Mabanckou’s vivid portrayal of Moses’s mental collapse echoes the work of Hugo, Dickens, and Brian DePalma’s Scarface, confirming Mabanckou’s status as one of our great storytellers. Black Moses is a vital new extension of his cycle of Pointe-Noire novels that stand out as one of the grandest, funniest, fictional projects of our time.”

I’m happy to read another novel by Mabanckou. I enjoyed Black Bazar a lot, it was such a vivid picture of Paris in popular neighbourhoods and of the African community in France. He’s a virtuoso of the French language, making it sing his own song.

  • October 2017 : Monsieur Proust by Céleste Albaret France, 1973.

Céleste Albaret was Marcel Proust’s housekeeper in his last years, when he retreated from the world to devote himself to In Search of Lost Time. She could imitate his voice to perfection, and Proust himself said to her, “You know everything about me.” Her reminiscences of her employer present an intimate picture of the daily life of a great writer who was also a deeply peculiar man, while Madame Albaret herself proves to be a shrewd and engaging companion. 

I’m curious to read about Proust seen by his own Françoise. I heard from another reader that the whole book has the charm of an outmoded way-of-life. It should be fascinating although I suspect she doesn’t speak about Proust’s less questionble habits but we’ll see.

  • November 2017: Tu, mio  by Erri de Luca Italy, 1998.

“The unnamed narrator of this slim, alluring novel recalls a summer spent at age sixteen on an idyllic Italian island off the coast of Naples in the 1950s, where he spends his days with Nicola, a local fisherman. The narrator falls in love with Caia, who shares with him that she’s Jewish, saved by Italian soldiers from the Nazis, who killed the rest of her Yugoslav family. The boy demands answers about the war from the adults around him, but is rebuffed by everyone but Nicola, who tells him of Italy’s complicity with the Nazis. His passion for Caia and his ardent patriotism lead him to a flamboyant, cataclysmic act of destruction that brings his tale to an end.”

It is always a pleasure to read Erri de Luca. I’ve already written a billet about his Three Horses. There’s something soothing in his prose, something coming from his own calm. I loved the humanity in his words and behind his words.

  • December 2017: They Were Counted by Miklós Bánffy Hungary, 1934. Transylvania Trilogy #1 (French title: Vos jours sont comptés.)

Painting an unrivalled portrait of the vanished world of pre-1914 Hungary, this story is told through the eyes of two young Transylvanian cousins, Count Balint Abády and Count László Gyeroffy. Shooting parties in great country houses, turbulent scenes in parliament, and the luxury of life in Budapest provide the backdrop for this gripping, prescient novel, forming a chilling indictment of upper-class frivolity and political folly, in which good manners cloak indifference and brutality. Abády becomes aware of the plight of a group of Romanian mountain peasants and champions their cause, while Gyeroffy dissipates his resources at the gaming tables, mirroring the decline of the Austro-Hungarian Empire itself.

This is the first volume of the famous Transylvania Trilogy. I expect to be swept away by it and brought back to this fascinating time in recent history.

  • January 2018 : The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, USA, 2009. (French title: Un autre monde)

“In her most accomplished novel, Barbara Kingsolver takes us on an epic journey from the Mexico City of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to the America of Pearl Harbor, FDR, and J. Edgar Hoover. “The Lacuna” is a poignant story of a man pulled between two nations as they invent their modern identities.”

I’ve enjoyed all the Kingsolvers I’ve read, most of them pre-blog. I’m looking forward to discovering this one too. I will also be reading her collection of short stories Homeland  and Other Stories soon.

 

  • February 2018 : Spada by Bogdan Teodorescu, Romania, 2009.

“A Borgen from the Balkans. A criminal is found dead in the streets of Bucarest. When another criminal and a another are murdered with the same weapon and in the same way, it becomes clear that a serial killer is on the loose in Romania’s capital city. The victims are all of the same type, they belong to the Roma community and have a criminal record.” 

I got this Romanian crime fiction novel at Quais du Polar, Lyon’s crime fiction festival. Crime fiction is often a non-touristy way of discovering a country, so I expect to see Romania differently. It’s not available in English.

  • March 2018 : The Grand Babylon Hotel by Arnold Bennett, UK, 1902

The Grand Babylon Hotel is an exclusive London establishment, and American millionaire Theodore Racksole, visiting the hotel with his spirited 23-year-old daughter Nella, decides to buy the place. What he hasn’t counted on is having to deal with a criminal conspiracy whose purposes are not at all clear, and events take an unexpected turn as Theodore and Nella play detective. Replete with evil villains, physical dangers, and secret passages, The Grand Babylon Hotel is a mesmerizing thriller that will be enjoyed by mystery lovers everywhere.

I sounds intriguing, don’t you think?

  • April 2018: Ce qui reste en forêt by Colin Niel. France, 2013. Not available in English.

I’ve already read Les hamacs de carton by Colin Niel and I enjoyed the investigation led by Capitane Anato. This crime fiction series is set in French Guyana, one of the French overseas territories. It is captivating to read about this place, so different from what we call France Métropolitaine, meaning the main part of France, here in Europe.

Niel gives us a good picture of French Guyana and helps us understand how the communities interact with each other. I hope Colin Niel gets translated.

 

  • May 2018: The Easter Parade by Richard Yates. USA, 1976

“In The Easter Parade, first published in 1976, we meet sisters Sarah and Emily Grimes when they are still the children of divorced parents. We observe the sisters over four decades, watching them grow into two very different women. Sarah is stable and stalwart, settling into an unhappy marriage. Emily is precocious and independent, struggling with one unsatisfactory love affair after another. Richard Yates’s classic novel is about how both women struggle to overcome their tarnished family’s past, and how both finally reach for some semblance of renewal.”

I’ve heard so many good things about Yates on other blogs that I’m really happy that we included The Easter Parade in our selection. (PS: I find this cover terrible)

  • June 2018: Petit Pays by Gaël Faye, France, 2016

In 1992, ten-years old Gabriel lived in Burindi with his French father, his Rwandan mother and his little sister Ana. Their house is in the rich neighborhood for expats. Gabriel spends his time with his friends, getting in a lot of trouble. It’s a quiet daily life, a smooth childhood that will be shattered at the same time as this “small African country” suddenly shaken up by history.

This book won the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens, the Goncourt prize given by high-school students. Usually, they make a good choice. We wanted to read more about Africa, this will contribute to it. It’s not available in English yet, but there’s a good chance it gets translated.

  • July 2018: The Dinner by Herman Koch, Netherlands, 2009

“An internationally bestselling phenomenon: the darkly suspenseful, highly controversial tale of two families struggling to make the hardest decision of their lives — all over the course of one meal. 

It’s a summer’s evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse — the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened”

I have heard good things about The Dinner and honestly, the setting is a great idea. According to the blurb and the reviews I’ve read, I think it’d make a great theatre play. We’ll see that next summer.

Well, what do you think about our selection? Have you read any of them? If yes, don’t hesitate to leave a message and a link to your review. As always, anyone can join us for a readalong. Happy reading!

Categories: Book Club Tags: ,

Book Around the Corner: the age of reason

May 5, 2017 42 comments

Seven is the age of Book Around the Corner. Seven is also the age of first grade, the year we learn how to read. I remember being so excited to go to primary school because I was going to learn how to read books by myself. I’ve always loved stories and books.

When I launched my blog seven years ago, it was a promise to myself at the dawn of a new chapter of my life. My kids weren’t toddlers anymore, I had more free time and it was time to set free the part of myself who loved literature and never felt quite complete without books.

I’ve done several Blog Anniversary posts, like here in 2012, 2013 or 2014. Looking back on these seven years, how do I feel about book blogging? It might be disgustingly sweet but I just feel happy about it. I think I created my special little corner on the literary blogosphere. I mix my French background with the English language. I’ve introduced you to several French words that I adopted in my English blogging atmosphere. Seven words for seven years.

1. Billet. I’ve explained in my 2012 post why I use the French billet instead of review. “That said, English-speaking bloggers need a word to name their articles, a special word that isn’t review. French bloggers have a nice one for their posts. They call them billet. (pronounce beeyay) I like this word. A billet doux is a love note you pass to your lover, a billet d’humeur is a column in a newspaper, always an opinion, not a professional review. So, you’ll hear about billets now, no more reviews because sometimes I write love notes about books, sometimes I’m a little provocative and most of all, literature isn’t my profession.”

2. Libraire: A bookworm who works in a bookstore is not a book seller, it’s a libraire. It’s a noble profession and I never found the equivalent in the English language. There’s an implicit curtsey in the word libraire, the one you have in store for people who bow to literature and will recommend books with insight and passion. They work in librairies and here’s a lovely one in Périgueux.

3. Bouquin: A loving way to say book. When I visited the Père Lachaise cemetery, I came across a tombstone for the Bouquin family. How lucky they are to have such a positive surname!

4. Bouquiniste: A libraire who sells used bouquins. Tourists know the bouquinistes on the bank of the Seine river in Paris. There’s one at a corner of Central Park too.

5. Bande-dessinée (BD) It’s a neutral word that covers comic books, graphic novels and all books with images and bubbles. French people are great BD readers and France is the second market for mangas, after Japan.

6. Polar: a generic and affectionate word to call crime fiction books. This is why Lyon’s crime fiction festival is named Quais du Polar. (Quais means banks and it refers to the banks of the two rivers of Lyon, the Rhône and the Saône)

7. OVNI littéraire. It means Literary UFO. We use it when a book doesn’t fit into any category. It’s alien to all genres and since we need boxes at any cost, a literary UFO it becomes.

This leads me to another corner of my literary garden, the odd categories. Regular readers of Book Around the Corner know them. They are: Literary UFO, Beach & Public Transport, Sugar without Cellulite and the latest one Translation Tragedy.

There are also words that are useful to describe books but I think have no English equivalent.

Second degré: when things you read should not be taken at face value but have a subtle upper meaning. They seem plain or stupid but they aren’t because there’s a second meaning.

Rire jaune: The hollow laugh you’ll have when you’d rather go for a nervous laugh than dissolve in tears. Very useful in times of political horror.

Jouissif: The closest word I know for this is exhilarating but jouissif has another undercurrent meaning. Melissa wrote about it here and I love to use it when a book made me smile, gave me energy and makes me want to buy it to all my friends.

But enough of French words and enough about me. I wanted to mention these words because it is my way to bring a bit of France in your literary world. They’re part of my trademark, if I may say so.

Along these seven years, Book Around the Corner has found its readers. I know where the frequent commenters come from but I know nothing about the silent readers. Of course, WordPress has statistics but they say nothing meaningful. I don’t care about the number of hits per country. I care about you, who read my billets on purpose. So, let’s play a game. If you could all leave a simple comment with your first name and your country, I’d be glad to discover where the real readers of my blog come from.

Wherever you are, I’m happy to share my literary journey with you. Thanks again for reading my clumsy prose, for giving me part of your precious free time and for all the wonderful exchanges we’ve had. I have learnt a lot in the book blogging community. I discovered new writers and like-minded people. I learnt to stop hiding my bookworm side and my literary coming out made me realize I had book lovers around me, especially in the office. I also had the great pleasure to meet fellow bloggers in real life and it’s always been a fantastic experience. There’s an immediate connection between members of book lovers’ family. Really, don’t hesitate to contact me if you ever come to Lyon.

This literary adventure started with a Promise at Dawn and I hope that you, me and Book Around the Corner have a long Life Before Us. This life will probably full of lost battles against ever growing TBRs, of laughter, of admiration for writers and full of book-nerdiness.

Cheers,

Emma

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