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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

In Memory of Susan Vreeland

The world lost Susan Vreeland on August 23. The literary world lost a gem.
I'm repeating an earlier review of Susan's Lisette's List, which has been available for over a year and a half now. If you have not read it, what are you waiting for? It  is a work of historical fiction about art, war, and love  It is a work of historical fiction that I fell in love with and is in itself a work of art.

From the book's blurb:
"In 1937, young Lisette Roux and her husband, André, move from Paris to a village in Provence to care for André’s grandfather Pascal. Lisette regrets having to give up her dream of becoming a gallery apprentice and longs for the comforts and sophistication of Paris. But as she soon discovers, the hilltop town is rich with unexpected pleasures.

Pascal once worked in the nearby ochre mines and later became a pigment salesman and frame maker; while selling his pigments in Paris, he befriended Pissarro and Cézanne, some of whose paintings he received in trade for his frames. Pascal begins to tutor Lisette in both art and life, allowing her to see his small collection of paintings and the Provençal landscape itself in a new light. Inspired by Pascal’s advice to “Do the important things first,” Lisette begins a list of vows to herself (#4. Learn what makes a painting great). When war breaks out, André goes off to the front, but not before hiding Pascal’s paintings to keep them from the Nazis’ reach."
My thoughts:

When visiting art galleries, there has always been one gallery that I could speed through. That gallery would be housing Camille Pissarro, Paul Cezanne, and Marc Chagall. I simply did not understand most of their paintings. While I still do not understand all, Lisette's story helped me see things in the paintings that I had not, seen before. In fact, I became so enthralled when Lisette would learn of the meaning of or the reasons for the paintings, that I would come to the computer and research that painting. Often I would simple have the painting on screen as I was reading about it. Wow! Most books do not do that for me. Two of the eight paintings discussed in the story are not actual, but this in no way detracts from the novel. Additionally, the book is so well researched that Ms. Vreeland uses passages from known writings or discussions by the artists themselves.

The blending of the horrors of WWII in France and the life and times of these artists, and of  the other characters in the book, make an evocative read. Lisette is a Parisian embodying all the glamour and free spirit of that word just before WWII. She is enamored with the art scene in Paris and wants to work in a gallery. She has just received the opportunity she so desires when change occurs.

Suddenly, this young Parisian must move with her husband, Andre, to Provence in the south of France to care for his dying grandfather. Grandfather Pascal introduces Lisette to more art and art history than she could ever have learned in the galleries of Paris. She learns that in his early years Pascal was a color pigment salesman representing his beloved village which mined the materials needed by artists. Through his work he became friends with the artists of the day.

His humble cottage in Roussillon, Provence, France, was sparsely decorated but did feature a wall of paintings given to him by those friends from the art world in Paris. He leaves these to Lisette and her husband Andre. He also leaves them his memories, both written and oral. These works of art and the artists who painted them are lifelines that help Lisette get through life after the war takes Andre's life and Lisette must live along and learn to survive as a provencial woman.Through necessity she becomes a fighter, facing shortages, sufferings, and starvation.

My only small complaint would be that, too many times, we had to read through Lisette's mixing of various items to achieve color pigments that she wanted to duplicate. Since colors and pigmentation were essential to the story, I understand these inclusions. They did not detract from the overall story.

Beautifully written with vivid and colorful descriptions, thoughtful insights, and life in Provence, what more could a reader ask?  I highly recommend  Lisette's List. I think book clubs could have stimulating discussions about the book. This is my first Susan Veerland book. It will not be my last. I received an advance reader's copy of the book from Net Galley.

After publication of the book, Vreeland again toured the lovely French settings of the book, this time with a group of readers and admirers. Regrettable, I was not part of that group, but have enjoyed the photos of the trip shared by Mimi Placencia. Check out her photo below.

The Memory of Camille Di Maio

I read this book several months ago. At that time I wrote a short, noncommittal review, but I did not share it. I really wasn't sure how I felt about the book, but through the months I've been unable to get this book, or more specifically its characters, out of my mind .

From the Blurb: "Julianne Westcott was living the kind of life that other Protestant girls in prewar Liverpool could only dream about: old money, silk ball gowns, and prominent young men lining up to escort her. But when she learns of a blind-and-deaf brother, institutionalized since birth, the illusion of her perfect life and family shatters around her.
While visiting her brother in secret, Julianne meets and befriends Kyle McCarthy, an Irish Catholic groundskeeper studying to become a priest. Caught between her family’s expectations, Kyle’s devotion to the Church, and the intense new feelings that the forbidden courtship has awakened in her, Julianne must make a choice: uphold the life she’s always known or follow the difficult path toward love.
But as war ripples through the world and the Blitz decimates England, a tragic accident forces Julianne to leave everything behind and forge a new life built on lies she’s told to protect the ones she loves. Now, after twenty years of hiding from her past, the truth finds her—will she be brave enough to face it?"

This blurb is one of the few I've read that truly sums up the book. There are several streams woven throughout this book and each one is a facet of what I believe is the overall theme of the book: war changes the lives of all who are alive at the time, not just the military or the politicians involved, but all of us. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The mind forgets, but the heart never does...Before We Were Yours

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate is a beautifully written book about an ugly subject. It is fiction built around factual events and places. It gets in your mind and stays there long after you close the final chapter.

I loved it! So much so that I read it twice in two weeks. It's that good.

The book has many layers and themes, many truths to be uncovered, and many lessons to be learned. All beautifully presented.

From the book's blurb:  Two families, generations apart, are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice in this poignant novel, inspired by a true story, for readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale.

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize that the truth is much darker. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together—in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions—and compels her to take a journey through her family's long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation . . . or redemption."

First, fact from fiction...the characters of the children are fictional, but based upon the recollections of numerous children who lived the fact. They show us the innocence of youth.

The modern day characters are fiction, but the main adult character, Georgia Tann, the baby broker, is real. She shows us the ugliest side of humanity for the novel is based on the notorious real-life scandal of Mrs.Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization who kidnapped poor children and sold them to wealthy families. This was accomplished under the guise of charity and accomplished through the Tennessee Children's Home Society in Memphis.

Our young characters, and later as the elderly adults they become, are well drawn, thoroughly believable, and thoroughly touching. First there's Rill, a river-rat with spunk, a female Huckleberry Finn. There are then her three sisters and a brother. Their stories drive the novel and expose the cruelty of Georgia Tann as well as the acceptance of her 'work' by society.

Then, as adults, we meet Rill and her sisters again. We hear their stories of mid-life, but it is the living of the elderly years of two of them, that touches our hearts, and brings the story full circle. It is through them that we poignantly learn such truths as : "You need not be born into a family to be loved by one," "The music of old age is difficult to hear when it's playing for someone you love," and finally as Hootsie says, "What the mind don't 'member, the heart still know. Love, the strongest thang of all. Stronger than all the rest." 

One beautifully written passage has stayed with me: "Life is not unlike cinema. Each scene has its own music and the music is created for the scene, woven to it in ways we do not understand. No matter how much we may love the melody of a bygone day...we must dance within the music of today."

I found the story engaging, deeply touching, and deeply moving. Some readers will find the story difficult to read at certain points. Still it needs, it deserves, to be read.

I received an ereader preview copy from NetGalley and then won a hardback copy through a Talbots summer reading program. I am thrilled to have that copy to add to my bookcase and to share with my family. The book is available at all major outlets and online.

The history behind the story. Here's a brief except from the New York Times Post of June 17, 2017. Click the link below to read the entire article, complete with photos.

This woman stole children from the poor to give to the rich:

Babies were snatched off the streets by strangers in passing cars. Or taken from day-care centers or church basements where they played. Or stolen from hospitals, right after birth, passed from doctor to nurse to a uniformed “social worker” — before vanishing in an instant.
Some were dropped into dismal orphanages; others were sent to a new family, their identities wiped, no questions asked. Most would never see their birth parents again.
While it sounds like something out of Dickens or the Brothers Grimm, this happened in the United States in the 20th century. Thousands of times.

She was the mastermind behind a black market for white babies.
It was the dark handiwork of the Memphis branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, a supposedly charitable organization, led by a woman named Georgia Tann.

Tann was a pied piper without scruple; she was the mastermind behind a black market for white babies (especially blond, blue-eyed ones) that terrorized poor Southern families for almost three decades. It’s estimated that over 5,000 children were stolen by Tann and the society between 1924 and 1950 and that some 500 died at the society’s hands as a result of poor care, disease and, it is suspected, abuse.
Particularly vulnerable were newborns. In 1945 alone, as many as 50 children perished in a dysentery outbreak. The precise figure, like so many terrible details about the society, is not known.
Tann had various means of procuring babies and children for her wealthy customers. She bribed nurses and doctors in birthing wards, who would then tell new parents that their babies had been stillborn.

It’s estimated that over 5,000 children were stolen by Tann

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Grand Junction, Colorado and The House on Seventh Street

The House on Seventh Street by Karen Vorbeck Williams

I read this book because of the setting...Grand Junction, Colorado, one of my favorite places. I had just returned from a week's stay in a vacation house on the corner of Sixth and Chipeta Streets in Grand Junction,  just one block from Seventh Street, so was interested from that perspective. Also, I was familiar with the lovely Seventh Street homes because thirty years ago I drove past them every day on my way to work. Thus, my interest in this book was born.

From the book's blurb:
"When Winna returns to settle her father’s estate, she knows she’s heading into an emotional maelstrom. Estrangement, nostalgia, old wounds, and a rekindled love pull her in every direction. Then she finds a diamond ring hidden among her childhood marbles – and suddenly nothing in that grand old Edwardian house is what it seems. She would do well to let it all go to the estate sale and move on. As she delves deeper into her family’s past, Winna makes a dangerous discovery: the house on Seventh Street is hiding an 80-year-old secret – and someone is desperate to keep things buried."

The book wasn't earth shattering, attitude changing, or even historically enlightening. It was plain and simple a multigenerational mystery. Our protagonist returns to the house after inheriting it from her father and wondering why her sister was disinherited. The questions multiply: Was Grandfather who she thought he was? Did he kill someone? If not, did someone in her family commit murder? What about Grandmother? Wasn't she always a staid, be careful, follow the rules kind of person? Finally, who is now trying to kill our main character?

Enter the sister, a high school sweetheart, a hunky handyman, and the desert/mountain landscape surrounding Grand Junction. All come together for a lightweight, but enjoyable who done it.

The author, Karen Vorbeck Williams,  lived in Grand Juncton for part of her youth, so the descriptions of the town, the surrounding scenery, and Colorado National Monument ring true.
Available on Amazon.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Is "The Woman on the Orient Express" Agatha Christie?

The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford

The woman is, of course, Agatha Christie in disguise, trying to escape from situations in life that overwhelm her. Two other women are traveling the same train and both have problems of their own.  After the three meet and get to know each other, her disguise is uncovered and the adventure begins.

From the book's blurb: "Agatha isn’t the only passenger on board with secrets. Her cabin mate Katharine Keeling’s first marriage ended in tragedy, propelling her toward a second relationship mired in deceit. Nancy Nelson—newly married but carrying another man’s child—is desperate to conceal the pregnancy and teeters on the brink of utter despair. Each woman hides her past from the others, ferociously guarding her secrets. But as the train bound for the Middle East speeds down the track, the parallel courses of their lives shift to intersect—with lasting repercussions."

This is an interesting book with settings most of us will never visit. Agatha Christy followers will know that Agatha Christie did actually disappear for a time leaving a world of questions and speculations behind her.  Her followers will probably read this novel and come away with mixed feelings. I know I did, but still it was an enjoyable read for a lazy weekend.

The book is available at all major book retailers and online.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Revisiting the ugliness of war and the beauty of hope.

I am repeating my earlier review because 100 years ago today America had been an active participant in WWI for one month. Sometimes we Americans forget that much of the rest of the world had been at war since 1914. In Daffodils Alex Martin vividly, but beautifully, reminds us of that fact.
Daffodils  might seem a bit of an incongruous title for a book about war. It is not, for even in war we must have hope. Daffodils in the fields of England and daffodils in the fields of France raise their sunny faces and offer hope even in the darkest of times. Daffodils by Alex Martin is a book about hope. And love, and sorrow, and despair. And war. But always, hope pushes through just as daffodils will push through the the seemingly frozen earth in Spring.

Katy has a zest for life. A thirst for adventure. When that zest and thirst take her job and her reputation, Jem, who has loved her forever, steps forward and saves at least her reputation. He also gives her a new title, housewife and later mother. Heartache and deep sorrow tear the young couple apart and WWI offers Jem a refuge.

Upon the news of his possible death in the field, Katy, trying to escape a manical Vicar who wants her love, joins the WAAC. Her life no longer belongs to her, but to the military, her country, and the war. It is here that Katy finally finds her strength.

There are many contrasts in this book, none greater that the contrast between the two settings: Wiltshire, England and the battlefields of France. A second major contrast is between the classes that occupy rural England in the years before WWI. There is also a contrast between types of love. These contrasts Katy must learn to discern.

This is an enjoyable historical fiction. An easy and quick read, the book has many descriptive passages. I most enjoyed the play with words that the author uses when she is describing a character's thought processes. The scenic descriptions are more predictable, but enjoyable nonetheless. The author's in-depth research is evident.

There is now a sequel Peace Lily. Yes, I will read that one and any others that follow.

I recommend this book. My copy was a verified purchase through Amazon and Amazon UK.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Something for Everyone: A Gathering of Books

With time getting away from me, I want to take a moment and give you a short review of several of the books I have read lately. Most of them are lovely and worthy of your reading time. All are available in the mass market.

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens

Finished reading this book a couple of days ago based upon recommendations from my daughter-in-law and daughter.  I thoroughly enjoyed it. A really good cold case...did he do it or didn't he. My daughter's recommendation came with a warning that I would probably give up on it because of its gruesomeness. I didn't, and it wasn't that gruesome. A good read for springtime lounging. Very well written. The author can turn a phrase to perfection.

From the book's blurb: "College student Joe Talbert has the modest goal of completing a writing assignment for an English class. His task is to interview a stranger and write a brief biography of the person. With deadlines looming, Joe heads to a nearby nursing home to find a willing subject. There he meets Carl Iverson, and soon nothing in Joe's life is ever the same.

Carl is a dying Vietnam veteran--and a convicted murderer. With only a few months to live, he has been medically paroled to a nursing home after spending thirty years in prison for the crimes of rape and murder."

The Secret Wife by Gill Paul

I love this book, but then I love everything written about the Romanov family. This book is fully researched and when the research has no definitive answers, the author's fertile mind provides possible answers to the ever present Romanov question of who, if anyone, survived. Then of course, there is the ever present connection to today which moves the story along. I and hundreds of other readers, highly recommend this historic love story.

Ineke's Mitten by Charles McNamara

I fell in love with this book because, to my amazement, it was about a young Norwegian man who had to flee his homeland when, early in WWII, the Russian army invaded his homeland and killed his fiancé. When I started the book, I had no idea the protagonist would join a division of the American army which is near and dear to my heart---the 10th Mountain Division, the Alpine troops.
From the book's blurb:  "After Nazis kill his fiancé, a young Norwegian struggles to overcome grief and loneliness, avenging her death by leading the most daring nighttime raid in U.S. Army history on Riva Ridge in Italy.

The majestic mountains of Norway, Vermont, Colorado, and Italy provide the backdrop for this high-stakes saga of a Norwegian racer and an Italian mountain climber, both marooned in America to escape death sentences in their homelands.

When German agents discover them in Vermont, they volunteer for the new Tenth Mountain Division, a specialized American mountain infantry unit training in Colorado. Together they climb at high altitudes, survive blizzards, and become the "Phantoms of the Snow."

Ineke's Mitten is a powerful and captivating story of courage, bravery and tragic loss throughout World War II".

From the horror of war on the streets of his hometown to Colorado, and on to Italy with his skiing, outdoorsmen comrades in arms as they attack Riva Ridge, we come to care about Nels and his broken heart.

The Tumor by John Grisham

John Grisham says THE TUMOR is the most important book he has ever written. It is one of the most frightening I have ever read...and probably one of the most important.
In this short book, he provides readers with a fictional account of how a real, new medical technology could revolutionize the future of medicine by curing with sound.

From the Blurb:
"THE TUMOR follows the present day experience of the fictional patient Paul, an otherwise healthy 35-year-old father who is diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Grisham takes readers through a detailed account of Paul’s treatment and his family’s experience that doesn’t end as we would hope. Grisham then explores an alternate future, where Paul is diagnosed with the same brain tumor at the same age, but in the year 2025, when a treatment called focused ultrasound is able to extend his life expectancy.

Focused ultrasound has the potential to treat not just brain tumors, but many other disorders, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, hypertension, and prostate, breast and pancreatic cancer.

For more information or to order a free hard copy of the book, you can visit The Focused Ultrasound Foundation’s website. Here you will find a video of Grisham on the TEDx stage with the Foundation’s chairman and a Parkinson’s patient who brings the audience to its feet sharing her incredible story of a focused ultrasound “miracle.”

Readers will get a taste of the narrative they expect from Grisham, but this short book will also educate and inspire people to be hopeful about the future of medical innovation. "

I recommend that we all read it and think about our medical future.

It is very short and is now free on Kindle.