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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.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Long Reach of Memory: April 2-6, 1917: One Hundred Years Later: .

100 Years ago this month, April 2, 1917 to be exact, U.S. President Thomas Woodrow Wilson went before a joint session of Congress to request a declaration of war against Germany.

Wilson laid out the reasons necessitating such a request.
First, he cited Germany’s violation of its pledge to suspend unrestricted submarine warfare in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean. That pledge by Germany was broken many times over and throughout February and March 1917 German submarines targeted and sunk several American ships resulting in the loss of many American passengers and seamen.

Secondly, he cited Germany’s attempts to entice Mexico into an alliance against the United States. These actions, he stated, brought him to this point and his request that the U.S. declare war and join other nations already fighting Germany.

On April 4, 1917, the U.S. Senate voted in support of the measure to declare war. The House concurred two days later. The official Declaration of War against Germany came April 6, 1917.

President Wilson had long been urged by supporters of the war to enter the war and help our Allies actively. He had, until April 1917, resisted that pressure. Why? The theories abound and perhaps we will never know.
Although he was an educated man, with many life experiences and with political insight by the time he had to finally make a decision for his country, one possibility for the lengthy delay might have been the long reach of  memory.

As a young impressionable boy he had lived through the American Civil War in Augusta, Georgia. He saw enthusiastic young men marching off to war. He watched his community grieve as many returned in pine coffins or maimed for life.

He saw wounded and dead soldiers arrive at his father’s Presbyterian church which had been turned into a hospital for the Confederate wounded and later as a Prisoner of War Camp for Union prisoners of war. He watched daily as his mother struggled to adjust to fears for her community and her Confederate Chaplain husband while living with the shortages brought by war.

When speaking to his nation in 1917 he recalled his youth during the Civil War. To encourage Americans to accept shortages, he spoke of his Mother and the many ways she compensated for the shortages of that earlier war. He vividly remembered the lack of salt and the many times his family ate Cowpea Soup.

The long reach of memory was often with him.
Read about young Tommy, an impressionable youth watching events swirl around him as the Civil War disrupted his daily life. Along the way you will meet his family, and his boyhood friends who astonishingly all grew up to play important parts in our nation's history. You will learn that this young boy, son of a preacher, and his friends formed a club and met in a horse barn under the emblem of the devil pinned on the wall. You will see the many ways the war affected his town and you will see Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee through his eyes.
The book is appropriate for upper middle grades through old age. There are several pages of family photos in the book.  This is a revised version of Tommy: The Civil War Childhood of a President.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The most frightening book I've ever read...John Grisham's THE TUMOR

John Grisham says THE TUMOR is the most important book he has ever written. It is the most frightening book I've ever read because it could be me or you or anyone we love.

From the Blurb:
"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.

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."

This is an important read. It is short, to the point and at the moment it is free on Kindle. Get a copy for yourself.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Sapelo: People and places on a Georgia Sea Island

What a beautiful book. What an informative book. What a beautifully informative book. This book is a perfect read for all who are interested in American coastal areas, Georgia Marshes,  the Sea Islands of Georgia, early Georgia History, oceanography, etc. Well you get the idea, but it is especially a must for those interested in the history and geography of Sapelo Island.

Readers meet interesting islanders with histories that cannot be found elsewhere. They learn of trials and tribulations of the past, present, and the future. They learn of the ecological past, present, and future. They will come away with an unanswerable question, "what will happen to Sapalo and the islanders." One resident comments, "we don't want a sign reading Hog Hammock was here." "We want a sign reading Hog Hammock is here."

From the book's blurb:

"With this book, Buddy Sullivan covers the full range of the island’s history, including Native American inhabitants; Spanish missions; the antebellum plantation of the innovative Thomas Spalding; the African American settlement of the island after the Civil War; Sapelo’s two twentieth-century millionaire owners, Howard E. Coffin and R. J. Reynolds Jr., and the development of the University of Georgia Marine Institute; the state of Georgia acquisition; and the transition of Sapelo’s multiple African American communities into one.
Sapelo Island’s history also offers insights into the unique cultural circumstances of the residents of the community of Hog Hammock. Sullivan provides in-depth examination of the important correlation between Sapelo’s culturally significant Geechee communities and the succession of private and state owners of the island. The book’s thematic approach is one of “people and place”: how prevailing environmental conditions influenced the way white and black owners used the land over generations, from agriculture in the past to island management in the present. Enhanced by a large selection of contemporary color photographs of the island as well as a selection of archival images and maps, Sapelo documents a unique island history."

We like to think that any author, editor knows what he/she is talking about. Buddy Sullivan certainly is an expert on Sapelo. He wasw the manager of the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve from 1993 to 2013 and is a native of McIntosh County in coastal Georgia. He is the author of twenty books about the history of Georgia and coastal Georgia, including the comprehensive Early Days on the Georgia Tidewater and The Darien Journal of John Girardeau Legare, Ricegrower (Georgia). His recent books include Georgia: A State History and “All Under Bank”: Roswell King, Jr. and Plantation Management in Tidewater Georgia. Benjamin Galland, photographer and partner with the h2o Creative Group in Brunswick, is the photographer for Jingle Davis’s Island Time: An Illustrated History of St. Simons Island, Georgia and Island Passages: An Illustrated History of Jekyll Island, Georgia (both Georgia).The photographer is Benjamin Galland, a respected nature photographer.

The book has a page count of 352 pages at 10X 9. There are 117 and 80 black and white photos and 2 maps founds in the book. It is a visual treasure as well as an authoritative text.

I love the Georgia/Carolina sea coast, the marshes and the shore. I know many Georgians who should own this book as individuals. I also think it is a must for colleges, high schools, middle school libraries, for many science classrooms, and for public libraries. I think it is a winner. Thank you Net Galley for allowing me this early look at the book.

Available through the University of GA Press, Amazon, and major book distributors. Publication date March 1, 2017.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Remembering Ann Lowe during African American History Month

    Ann Cole Lowe, 1898-1981
                                                                   America's forgotten fashion designer.

For months I researched a little known African American designer. She designed for many but was known only to that circle. She was, in her own words, a "design snob." But she was, oh, so much more. Here's my story of the research that allowed me into her social circle.

I met her in an airport last fall. I was in the airport, she wasn't. She died decades ago, but as I was 'surfing the net' I came upon two sentences about her. A 'did you know' kind of post. I was blown away, for no, I didn't know and I thought the circumstances were such that I should.

Born in 1898, the great-granddaughter of a slave and a plantation owner, the granddaughter of a slave and a free man of color, she entered the world in a small, rural Alabama town. Through talent, determination, and a desire to reach a goal, she refused to let the circumstances of her birth keep her down. She didn't preach; she didn't march, she didn't give up. She allowed a dream to be born in her heart and in her own personal way, she overcame all obstacles and achieved her dream.

When I began my research, I was writing an historical fiction. Soon it became clear to me that her story, her true, unvarnished story had to be told. It was, at that point told only in bits and pieces and often with the bits inaccurate and  the pieces changing with each retelling. I began my research to clarify things for myself and found myself getting to know a strong woman from a family of strong women. I decided that I could not do her justice in fiction. I could not get in her head and speak in her voice. I wanted her to speak for herself. And so she does.

Here's the blurb from the book cover:
"For any designer, designing the wedding dress to be worn by Jacqueline Bouvier, future First Lady of the United States, for her marriage to John F. Kennedy would be a lifetime achievement. For Ann Lowe, it became a statement. The iconic gown would become the most photographed wedding gown in American history proving that (in Ann’s own words), “a Negro can become a major dress designer.”

Years earlier, as the sun rose on the morning of Ann’s birth, no one in the small town of Clayton, Alabama could have dreamed of the heights she would achieve for she was born a squirming, scrawny, little black girl in the Jim Crow South, but from an early age she recognized her dreams.

Her path would not be easy, and any success she might have was certain to be achieved only with steadfast effort and fortitude on her part. Armed with a great inner strength and natural talent, she rose above all obstacles and forged her own future.

When she designed and produced Jacqueline Bouvier’s wedding dress, very few knew her name. No one but her staff knew of the disaster that preceded the delivery of that now-historic wedding dress to the home of the bride. Even fewer knew that she was the granddaughter of a former slave.
Even today, few know her story."


Ann was descended from a long line of seamstresses and designers. Her great-grandmother was a slave and her great-grandfather the plantation owner. When a baby girl was born of them, that baby girl became a seamstress and, by law, a slave. She was purchased in her teens by a free man of color and from them came the line that today can claim Ann as their own.

She designed for a first Lady of Alabama, for Gasparilla patrons of Tampa,  for an Oscar winner and for the socially elite of America. In the 1960's she appeared on the afternoon talk show, The Mike Douglas Show. Mike asked her what drove her to work so tirelessly. She remarked that she "wanted to prove that a Negro could be a major dress designer." From this statement I found the title for my book, Something to Prove, A Biography of Ann Lowe, America's forgotten designer.

The biography is now complete. Along the way I have learned to marvel at what she overcame, and at the people she met. This woman who under normal circumstance might not be welcomed in their homes, became a darling to the Duponts, Rothschilds, the Rockefellers, Roosevelts, Lodges, Posts, Auchinclosses, the Bouviers,..well you get my drift.

As I researched her life, I found beautiful gowns, and their owners. I have been in touch with some fascinating people. A concert pianist now living in Belgium, an academic in Ohio, a lovely socialite who invited me to her home, the daughter of a novelist whose works became the story for several John Wayne movies, including the unforgettable, Shane, and a lady who has the distinctive sound of my mother-in-law on the phone.

I've tramped through graveyards, seen homes falling down, visited with ladies who still speak of the members of her family with their family nicknames as if they are just around the corner, and driven through beautiful rolling hills only to find an improvised town at the end of the road.

Now, I think, I can write an historical fiction, not with her as the main character, but with her as the inspiration for a historical era, but first I must help her tell her story. Through almost 60 photos and dozens of interviews, I hope I have done that.

I had fun with this research, even when I was pulling my hair out trying to find the beautiful brides, debutantes, and socialites from the 1950's and 60's. That's the beauty of research, you never know where the path will take you or who you will meet along the way. I love it.

Interest? Read more in one of the three additions available at

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

LISETTE'S LIST by Susan Vreeland: My review revisited for Leah. Thanks Net Galley

Susan Vreeland's Lisette's List, has been available for over a year 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.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Velvet Hours by Alyson Richman: Paris at the dawn of WWII

I feel that I had to fight to finally read The Velvet Hours by Alyson Richman. Let me begin by saying that Alyson Richman is one of my favorite authors. I've read four of her books previously with The Lost Wife my favorite book of the last five years. The delay was all my fault.

After I read The Lost Wife I couldn't wait to tell my book club about it. After my review, several requested to borrow it. My neighbor, Dee, was first to request it, so the book went to her. My copy had my many exclamation points and underlined passages smiling up at the lucky reader. It took Dee several weeks to get the book back to me. When she did, it wasn't MY book but a new copy. "Why," I asked concerned for my baby.

"I was reading it while I was cooking, and spilled shrimp juice all over it. Fresh shrimp juice." Now, if you know anything about shrimp juice, you know that it can start smelling after a time. So Dee, being very conscientious, bought me a new copy. Gone were my highlighted areas, exclamation points, and hand written comments. I was devastated. I accepted the new book. Graciously? I still miss No I.

Then, along came The Velvet Hours.  I immediately put my name on the list for checkout at the library. Weeks went by. I couldn't wait, so I ordered a copy. While waiting for delivery, I received a note that I could pick up the book at a branch library. Not wanting to deprived others of the joy of reading the book, I told them to pass it on to the next person on the list.  A few days later my paperback copy arrived. I grabbed my highlighter and sat down to read. The print! My goodness, the print was so small, or else my eyes are failing, that I couldn't read it. I seriously thought of contacting Alyson and asking if the print was 11 pt. or smaller. For me it was unreadable. My husband, tired of hearing about it, ordered me a Kindle copy knowing that I could manipulate the size of the text.

Within the first few pages I wanted to highlight a section but knew I might never find that passage again, so I decided to copy it. Wonder of wonders, I was able to copy and post the desired part to myself on Facebook. I've never done that before, but it is wonderful. Now I have favored passages in a spot I can get to easily.

So, we get to the book. For background, here's the blurb from the book:

"As Paris teeters on the edge of the German occupation, a young French woman closes the door to her late grandmother’s treasure-filled apartment, unsure if she’ll ever return.An elusive courtesan, Marthe de Florian cultivated a life of art and beauty, casting out all recollections of her impoverished childhood in the dark alleys of Montmartre. With Europe on the brink of war, she shares her story with her granddaughter Solange Beaugiron, using her prized possessions to reveal her innermost secrets. Most striking of all are a beautiful string of pearls and a magnificent portrait of Marthe painted by the Italian artist Giovanni Boldini. As Marthe’s tale unfolds, like velvet itself, stitched with its own shadow and light, it helps to guide Solange on her own path.

Inspired by the true account of an abandoned Parisian apartment, Alyson Richman brings to life Solange, the young woman forced to leave her fabled grandmother’s legacy behind to save all that she loved."

How did I like the book? I was slightly, just slightly mind you, disappointed. Don't get me wrong, it is still beautifully written and the characters come to life, but I was not enraptured. I am probably to blame because I have already read two books on this same subject, the recently discovered time-capsule of a courtesan's apartment in Paris.

In Alyson's fictional hand we are given backstory and family history. We come to care about the granddaughter and her past and future. We meet a valuable supportive character, Marthe's maid and caregiver. Even the lover is a sympathetic character as he divides his time between home/wife/son and Marthe. We see how the other half of Paris lives through the story of the fabric of life in Paris for Jewish families during WWII. And we care. About all of them.

Alyson's interest in art of all kinds provides vivid descriptions of the apartment, the granddaughter's apartment, and the Jewish community so different that the courtesan's world. Words and phrases are a treat to read.

Do I recommend the book? Without hesitation, especially if you are just being introduced to the apartment. Read Alyson's book first, then others. Is it her best book? Not in my opinion, but it is still a worthwhile read.

Some of my highlighted quotes from the book:

"I now knew the language of caresses, the music of escalated breath."

"Her pen rolling over the paper as smoothly as skate on ice."

"His voice, almost always clinical now took on a traceable sense of fear in it. I could hear it like an out- of- tune musical note."

"If you only show the top layer of beauty, it becomes flat and two dimensional."

If you do not know Alyson Rickman's books, I highly recommend that you get to know her.

Other books that I have read  by Alyson Richman:
The Lost Wife,
The Garden of Letters
The Rhythm of Memory
The Mask Carver's Son

Don't forget to read The Lost Wife

Sunday, January 15, 2017


When I received this novel from Netgalley for review purposes, I did not know that it was written by the creator of the PBS/Masterpiece series, Victoria. In fact, I did not know there was a PBS series about Queen Victoria planned. Now, I cannot wait until tonight when it premiers in America.

From the books blurb:
"Early one morning, less than a month after her eighteenth birthday, Alexandrina Victoria is roused from bed with the news that her uncle William IV has died and she is now Queen of England. 

The men who run the country have doubts about whether this sheltered young woman, who stands less than five feet tall, can rule the greatest nation in the world. Surely she must rely on her mother and her venal advisor, Sir John Conroy, or her uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, who are all too eager to relieve her of the burdens of power.

The young queen is no puppet, however. She has very definite ideas about the kind of queen she wants to be, and the first thing is to choose her name.
"I do not like the name Alexandrina. From now on I wish to be known only by my second name, Victoria.” 

Everyone keeps saying she is destined to marry her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, but Victoria found him dull and priggish when they met three years ago. She is quite happy being queen with the help of her prime minister, Lord Melbourne, who may be old enough to be her father but is the first person to take her seriously."
Victoria is so well written and engaging that I was unsure of its historical authenticity. That's when I researched the author and learned of her extensive research for the PBS/Masterpiece series. Her work translates beautifully into this novel. 
The characters were so well drawn that there were times I wanted to shake the young queen and times I wanted to shake everyone around her. The dialogue and descriptions were light and easy and moved the story along without effort. 
I was especially curious about her attachment to Lord Melbourne. I knew, of course, that Victoria married Albert, 'the great love of her life,' but Melbourne seemed to forever be in the way of this happening. Perhaps it was all fatherly love and concern and returned the same way to him. Perhaps not, but I was often irritated by both of them and their attachment to each other. But, all was well in the end.
Amanda Foreman sums it up beautifully when she writes, "Victoria is an absolutely captivating novel of youth, love, and the often painful transition from immaturity to adulthood. Daisy Goodwin breathes new life into Victoria's story, and does so with sensitivity, verve, and wit."
Daisy Goodwin, the author, drew from Victoria’s diaries, which she first read as a student at Cambridge University. She has since added extensive research. She is  the author of the bestselling novels The American Heiress and The Fortune Hunter as well as creator and writer of the new PBS/Masterpiece drama Victoria. She effortlessly brings the young queen richly to life in this novel.
The book's publication date is November 22, 2016 from St. Martin's Press. I highly recommend this work.