Monday, 30 May 2022

 Book Review: The Red  Notebook by Antoine Laurain (translated by Jane Aitken)

Plot summary

Laure Valadier gets mugged on her way home one night and suffers severe trauma to the head. The next morning, her stolen handbag is found by Laurent Letellier, a bookshop owner. There is nothing inside the bag with which to identify the owner but Laurent makes it his quest to do so because he is intrigued by the contents of the bag, especially by the random thoughts jotted down in a little red notebook.

My thoughts about The Red Notebook

This book is, essentially, a love story for grown ups since the main characters are over forty years old. I generally do not read romance but there is nothing soppy or overly saccharine about this story. Unexpectedly, or perhaps not, it is a book I enjoyed immensely. The characters were people I could identify with, normal people with a few flaws, the kind of people you can be friends with.

The Red Notebook, with its brief but succint forays into small independent bookstores and daily visits to the local cafe`, is quintessentially French and easily transports the reader to daily life in one of Paris's quieter arrondissements. I'd definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a moderately-paced story with pleasant characters and the advantage of going to Paris without actually having to fly there. Amusing, distracting and highly entertaining, this is truly a gem of a little book and is, by far, one of my favourite reads this year. It was highly recommended by Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, who described it as 'Parisian Perfection, on her Instagram page The Duchess of Cornwall's Reading Room. If you're an avid reader I suggest you follow HRH who not only recommends books but invites the authors to talk about their writing experience, often delving into the particular moment when the idea, or the urge, to write the book first came into their mind.

The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain (in a nutshell)

Genre: contemporary romance

First published: 2014

Location of story: Paris, France

Length: 159 pages

My rating: 5

This book reminded me of a lovely five days that  my husband and I spent in Paris several years ago - thirteen, to be exact. It was the end of March and still rather cold. I would love to revisit Paris in late spring when the flowers are blooming in the Tuileries Gardens and all over the City of Light. But until that dream comes true I have to content myself with the beautiful images in Georgianna Lane's book Paris In Bloom. Georgianna's photos are out-of-this-world beautiful and you can take a look at some of the ones she shares on her Instagram page here. It is a pastel-lovers dream-come-true.

You can read more about Paris in these posts from my old blog:

Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Sincerely Loree: La Rocca di Montalcino, Montalcino, IT

We arrived in Montalcino about an hour before sunset, after a day spent visiting Asciano, the Val d'Orcia and Pienza. Montalcino is a hilltop town set within fortified walls and guarded by an imposing castle. We chose to park our car just outside the walls of this impressive fortress known as la Rocca di Montalcino. I'll talk more about the Rocca later but, of you're looking for stunning views, then make sure to visit the fortress and look out over the expanse of the Val d'Orcia and the surrounding countryside. 

From the fortress it is an easy, if steep, downhill walk to the picturesque historic centre where the most famous landmarks of this small town are located.

Montalcino's Landmarks

The Fortress of Montalcino

Sincerely Loree: La Rocca di Montalcino, Montalcino, IT

This mighty fortress with its huge walls and turrets dates back to 1361. It was built at the highest point of the town and remains relatively intact. It is shaped like a pentagon and used to be the seat of the Abbot of the nearby Abbey of Sant'Antonio. Some additions were made to the structure around 1500 by Cosimo de Medici and restoration works were carried out in the 1930s. It has a large internal garden that is open to the public (free of charge).

Palazzo dei Priori

Sincerely Loree: Palazzo dei Priori, Montalcino, IT

Palazzo dei Priori and its clock tower are located in Piazza del Popolo,  the main square of the town. Also in this square is a Gothic loggia with 6 arches and a host of pretty shops and boutiques.

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

Church of Sant'Agostino

This small church was founded by the Augustinians in 1227 and rebuilt in 1380 in the Romanesque style.

Sincerely Loree: Church of Sant'Agostino, Montalcino, IT

Church of La Madonna del Soccorso

Sincerely Loree: Church of La Madonna del Soccorso, Montalcino, IT

The church of La Madonna del Soccorso, which was built across the centuries, is made up of a number of different architectural styles. The bell tower is from 1625 and the facade was completed in the 19th century. The church is situated at the edge of the town and we spent a lovely half hour taking photos of the views (again), the leaves with their pretty autumnal colours and the gorgeous sunset, from a vantage point located in the grounds behind it. I have shared photos of the leaves which so captured by heart in a post I wrote late last year in the run-up to Thanksgiving and which was aptly titled Giving Thanks

The Duomo of San Salvatore

Sincerely Loree: Duomo of San Salvatore, Montalcino, IT

Although this church looks much older, it was built between 1818 and 1832 in a neo-classical style. It replaces a much older church from the 14th century. The current church of San Salvatore was constructed from materials that were taken from a medieval Romanesque church and reused.

Montalcino's Claim To Fame

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

Montalcino is famous for its wine. Perhaps you have already heard of, and tasted, the Brunello di Montalcino. This wine is aged for 5 years, 2 of them in oak barrels. The Rosso di Montalcino is ready after one year of ageing. We are generally not red wine drinkers as we find them a bit too full-bodied for our taste so we did not partake in any of the wine-tasting opportunities that are available at most of the enoteche (wine bars) scattered around the town.

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

What I Loved About Montalcino

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

A brief stroll around town revealed that Montalcino is a pretty place with many of its narrow streets decorated with flags of the different contrade. It has a distinctly medieval feel that is enhanced by the lack of cars in the city centre. Its history dates back to Etruscan and Roman times, which seems to be common with  many other places in Tuscany. The name of the town is derived from 'mons ilcinus' (holm-oak mountain). 

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

Montalcino was independent until the 12th century when it came under the rule of Siena. In the mid-1500s it fell under the jurisdiction of Florence and the ruling Medici family. Those infamous Medicis were associated with many towns and cities in Tuscany and it is not difficult to notice that they were both very powerful and influential. And very rich.

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

But I don't want to feel like a tour guide, rattling off dates, dropping names and trying to make sense of all the architectural styles without really showing you why Montalcino is worth visiting, apart from its churches and history. So, instead of trying, and failing, to find adequate words, because no words can quite do justice to the heart-wrenching beauty that is Tuscany, I will let my photos do the talking.

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

And if I have one enduring memory of Montalcino, it is of the sun setting behind the Tuscan hills, painting the sky in soft pastels, while the air turned slowly colder, the first lights went on in the farmhouses below and smoke curled gently out of a chimney. The silence was only broken by the twittering of birds and by a mother calling her family to supper. It was a simple, mundane moment that is frozen in time and could have easily been forgotten. But it is a moment, together with the feeling of peace that pervaded the air and which cannot be captured in a photo that, somehow, I know I will never forget.

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

More about Tuscany (in case you missed them):


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