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Monday, September 21, 2015

Revisiting, for Leah, author Susan Vreeland's Lisette's List and her visit to Roussillion, the setting for much of that wonderful book.

Susan Vreeland's Lisette's List, has been available for a good while 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.

Vreeland revisited the lovely French settings of the book 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 two of her photos below. But, first, hope you will read my review.

                                                                   Review by JF Smith

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 NetGalley.

The ocher of Roussillon, France was in itself almost a character in the book. Here you can see the glorious color.

Author Susan Vreeland stands on a balcony overlooking a scene in Roussilon. The ocher is just visible above the left hand rooftop.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Bookmuse: Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye by Marius Gabr...

Sharing a post from Bookmuse...Enjoy.
Bookmuse: Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye by Marius Gabr...: Reviewer : Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter, Closure, Complicit & Crimson Shore ( ) What we thought : This w...

Thursday, September 10, 2015

We Never Asked for Wings....

WE NEVER ASKED FOR WINGS , now available in many forms and at many outlets, is receiving some high praise...well deserved praised if you want your novels to be relevant to today's ills. There are so many things to like about it.  At the same time, it is difficult for me to love it unconditionally. There are so many things that didn't quite resonate with me.

It is well written. The imagery is lovely, and the grandfather/grandson passion for each other and for feather wax art very enlightening and well done.

The story, no the stories, making up the plot  are ones we should all care about. That's my first concern with this book. It tries to cover too many current social issues. There's illegal immigration, poverty, disparity in educational settings, children raising children, teenage pregnancy, and the ever present angst of a mother totally out of touch with what to do when her children are finally left in her care. None of these problems received the emphasis that I feel they should. The author was simply trying to cover too much.

Secondly, I really didn't care about the characters. Again, I think the complexity of the plot is the reason for this. The characters and their problems were spread too thinly. There was no in-depth character to study and get to know. I didn't particularly like Letty or Luna, the six year old child. Alex at 15 was the only one I really cared about.

Finally, I felt that the ending was inconclusive, rushed, or just superficial.

The book blurb says, "For fourteen years, Letty Espinosa has worked three jobs around San Francisco to make ends meet while her mother raised her children—Alex, fifteen, and Luna, just six—in their tiny apartment on a forgotten spit of wetlands near the bay. But now Letty’s parents are returning to Mexico, and Letty must step up and become a mother for the first time in her life."

The above description makes Letty sound caring, in touch with her children's needs, and totally unselfish. She was none of these. She had some large problems to solve when her parent's returned to Mexico, and her solutions were often misguided...getting drunk with her young son, using a friend's address to get her son into a better school, teaching her children to perpetuate the lie. When she was able to provide a solution, it seemed to come very easily, provided always by others.

 I think this will be a great book club book for I can see so many varying opinions about every character and every plot twist. I would love to hear some of those discussions.

The author is also the author of  THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS which I enjoyed very much. I don't want to prevent anyone from reading this book, but it simply was not right for me. I received it through Netgalley and I'm glad I read it because I like to read books that are getting great buzz from the public. This time, I just disagreed.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

PUSH NOT THE RIVER by James Conroyd Martin

From the book's blurb: "A panoramic and epic novel in the grand romantic style, PUSH NOT THE RIVER is the rich story of Poland in the late 1700s--a time of heartache and turmoil as the country's once peaceful people are being torn apart by neighboring countries and divided loyalties. It is then, at the young and vulnerable age of seventeen, when Lady Anna Maria Berezowska loses both of her parents and must leave the only home she has ever known.

With Empress Catherine's Russian armies streaming in to take their spoils, Anna is quickly thrust into a world of love and hate, loyalty and deceit, patriotism and treason, life and death."

PUSH NOT THE RIVER has me I like it or don't I? Yes, I do, somewhat. For the first 85% of the book, I liked it. There were moments of disbelief when certain characters managed to get themselves into and out of situations rather easily, but I could live with that for they needed to continue moving forward for the story to progress.

I knew that the book had been compared in a quote from the cover to Gone with the Wind, and Dr. Zhivago, but for most of the book I felt that the comparison had to do with the history and the situations. The book is well researched and I enjoyed the history presented.

Then came the last 15% of the book and I felt as if the author had Gone with the Wind open in front of him and was copying almost word for word the scenes. Or perhaps, he had recently rewatched the movies.

Yes, he made some changes, but the scene where Anna in Push Not The River and Melanie in Gone With The Wind shoots an enemy soldier from the stairway was just very, very similar. Then came the scene in Push Not The River where Anna is escaping the burning Parga in a carriage. She must cross the river trying to ride and then drive her carriage through the crazed throng. She takes the reins and manages to get across the river, looking back constantly, just as the bridge collapses. Much, much too similar to Scarlet's escape from the burning Atlanta.

As for the Dr. Zhivago comparison: how about a sleigh ride through the snow as a means of escaping from the encroaching enemy army and stopping to watch the smoke rise from the area she has just left.

Since authors cannot copyright scenes, the author had every right to use them, but he should have been absolutely sure they were so much more his scenes than Mitchell's or Pasternak's. I'm not saying the book should not  have been modeled after those much beloved classics, but to  have the scenes so amazingly similar is to invite speculation. Then again, perhaps the scenes were just so well-written that they instantly brought to my mind the scenes from the earlier two classics.

Now, I must confess, that when the book ended, I wanted to know what happened to the main characters. Since this is book one in a trilogy, the author very astutely ended this first book at a momentous point. One that was on the verge of resolving several situations. We see Anna reach a safety of sorts, but what about the other characters. Yes, I wanted to know. So, I read the first couple of chapters of book two and had my questions answered.

This was not a bad book, and if the last few scenes had not been so in my mind from other authors' works, I'm sure I would recommend the book without qualms. However, the last few scenes are there and did diminish my pleasure in the book.

Still, I recommend this book to those, like myself, who enjoy European historical fiction. Some historical fiction novels stay with me because of the characters, some because of the history, and some, when I'm lucky, because of a combination of the two. Push Not The River will stay with me because of the history and the geography I discovered. In that respect, this book is well written.

If you are of Polish descent, I think the history portrayed, and I am assuming it is accurate, will make this book and perhaps the next two, a keeper for you. 

In fact Jan Lorys, direct of the Polish Museum of America states, "Martin's novel transports the reader two hundred years into Poland's glorious past, a world of castles and manor houses. One woman's life provides a metaphor for a country which--with the Third of May Constitution--was the first to attempt democratic reform in modern Europe. While the attempt failed, Push Not the River sings of a people's pride and indomitable hope."

I know that the book is available on Amazon and probably at other major outlets. At the moment, it is only .99 on Amazon Kindle.