Are there ANY bad restaurants in France?

 

Why, yes! Well, according to Alexander McCall Smith in his latest Paul Stuart novel, The Second-Worst Restaurant in France. (I still find it hard to suspend disbelief that France could have a terrible restaurant. Hence the appeal of Smith’s great title!)

But this book was delicious enough to make up for the book’s restaurant that’s being run into the ground by a restauranter-hopeful named Claude.

It reminded me of how much I love to read. More than that, though, it also appealed to my former self that used to work in the restaurant biz, and loved shows like Restaurant Impossible and Kitchen Nightmares back when I had access to cable in a non-rural, non-frontier locale. This book is a great literary version of that.

But, more than that, I found that the side character of Chloe (Paul’s mysterious and unconventional cousin) upholds what Alexander McCall Smith does best–using the main character to develop secondary characters that are just as interesting, if not more so, than the main character. And, without giving away too much, I also related to the character of Hugo–a sensitive individual trying to create his own life based on his ideals and passions. During the course of his journey, he’s aided by Paul in fulfilling these dreams. And I can really relate to Hugo at his stage in life, even though he’s a lot younger.

(This review contains spoilers!)

This is where I struggled with the book. I love the works of Alexander McCall Smith that I’ve read but my own life development stage and mindset as I enter middle age sometimes made The Second-Worst Restaurant in France an emotionally fraught read. And, boy, did I have bias in spades that was hard to put aside while I read the book that I won via a Goodreads giveaway hosted by the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf.

But that’s also the great thing about reading. It’s just you and the book and the characters that feel real enough to debate with in the privacy of your own mind and feelings.

As most writers will agree. Especially when you find out that Paul Stuart can’t work in his apartment where, for some reason, his girlfriend has decided to bring her noisy two cats for a staycation at his apartment, even though she has a flat of her own.

Anyone who’s ever had cats would be like “why on earth would she do that?” Naturally, the cats complain a lot to Paul about the situation, but he’s got a book to write, and eventually has to relocate his writing space into another apartment that Chloe offers him use of.

Poor Paul.

But the apartment doesn’t suit him either, as there are a bevy of young people upstairs doing what they do best–making sure everyone knows they are there with lots of loud music. 

And poor Paul ends up in a silly man-predicament with the younger woman, where he swears the interaction they have in the store is “innocent” to his girlfriend Gloria, who witnesses the weird olive-feeding interaction that somehow gets mistaken for a kiss. Let’s hear it, everyone: a big, resounding “Innocent, my a**!” *laugh*

So, poor, poor Paul has to pack up and relocate to the French countryside to finish his book that he doesn’t even want to write, but in between lecturing his experienced, worldly secret agent cousin about how to act and think, and nurturing poor, belittled, sensitive, chef-hopeful Hugo in fulfilling his cooking-promise, he realizes he doesn’t want to write the book he was working on, about the philosophy of food, and he also realizes that nobody will want to read it, either, despite the fact that his influential editor/girlfriend Gloria has pulled strings and gotten a publisher to back it.

So, wonderfully understanding and supportive Gloria arranges a whole other wonderful project for Paul to undertake, all the pieces fall into place, and everything is happily ever after–all thanks to Paul, presumably, not Gloria and Chloe (who comes to the aid of a local mother-to-be in an unconventional and fascinating way)–in the idyllic French countryside villa that I, and a million other hardworking writers who are also working day jobs (like me) and (unlike me) also trying to raise kids and maintain romantic relationships, are probably thinking that poor Paul is anything but poor.

But it’s proof positive that a main character doesn’t have to be likeable in order for you to fully engage with a book. And that’s why I like books so much. So much diversity there that gets left out of movies.

And, despite my mixed critique of Alexander McCall Smith’s book (which, again, I liked so much I read it twice!); yes, I’m a fan! I would definitely read more of the Paul Stuart series, including his first book in the series, and others. It comes down to the writing, which is, as always with Smith, so good!

And the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is fabulous, of course! Visit Alexander McCall Smith and discover his fantastic writing and compelling characters for yourself, here: https://www.alexandermccallsmith.com/.

 

Clowns That Don’t Go Bump in the Night…

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What could be better for my forthcoming birthday (September 20) than a whole book of horror stories featuring clowns?

The fact that my story’s among them!

So, “send in the clowns,” and don’t forget to bring balloons and plenty of gifts! Or, you can make my wish (and those of the other authors) come true, and buy the book, here: Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown.

Still here? Yes, you. You in the corner, clowning around. Well, I can’t get you an invite to clown school on that audition, but if you want more information about the book, check out Editor Dave Higgins’ blog post: https://davidjhiggins.wordpress.com/abstruse-press/fears-of-a-clown/bloodyrednose/.

Still can’t get enough clowns? Do you take your horror with a splash of humour? Well, Dave Higgins has released not one, but two, clown-featured books. Perhaps this one will help rekindle your childhood dream of becoming a clown. (Or not? I’ll have to read it, myself, to find out.) If you read Deadman Humour: Thirteen Fears of a Clown, please no spoilers. That’s worse than a clown without a smile!

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Sadly, I never did run away to join the circus. Which was probably a wise choice, as I imagine it would have been rather difficult to liberate elephants, giraffes, and lions as a twelve-year-old. Nevertheless, I do have a little bit of circus cred by association with my hometown, where I was raised, which was the winter headquarters of the Ringling Circus. (Until they moved to Venice, Florida.) Which, these days, I suspect that the Gulf Coast of Florida is pretty much all one swath of strip malls and gated communities with some six-million-dollar condos thrown into the heart of Floridian downtowns, just to give the residents a chance to kvetch about the slightest noise after 9 p.m. Or support noise meter companies. I forget which.

But don’t worry, even though more and more of Florida’s wetlands, wild areas, and farmlands are being parceled up and sold to developers by local politicians to become an on-every-street-corner Walgreens, or a toxic-turfed six-bedroom McMansion, you can still find sparkling sequins of circus history in Sarasota.

Check out the circus museum that’s part of the Ringling Museum historio-industrial complex: https://www.ringling.org/circus-museum. (Beware the museum’s staff, though; they can be more terrifying than any nightmare we writers can dream up. And enter into the gift shop at your own risk.*)

If you’d like a more genial experience, visit Bob Horne at his restaurant, Bob’s Train. His knowledge of circus from his own experiences, and his vibrant recitation of circus history, will add life to the museum visit. In fact, his own restaurant is filled with photos and memorabilia from the circus, and is the perfect setting to read certain clown anthologies (Can I drop any more hints?).

If you need any more convincing, yes, the restaurant is in an actual Pullman railroad car. Oh, and on the very same track is JoMar. Yes, that JoMar (look it up!). Which Bob Horne is restoring.

Here’s the link to Bob’s Train: https://www.bobstrain.com/location. (But I can’t promise there will be clowns.)

 

*I was born in Bradenton, and grew up in Sarasota. For those not from the area, that pretty much means I have carte blanche to be as snarky as I want to about my hometown(s). And it’s a gold mine for snarky humorists, let me tell ya.