Monthly Archives: December 2012

Last Book Read in 2012.

Stephen King’s 11/22/63 is the last book that I read in 2012. I will be reviewing it soon.

I am looking forward to 2013, and to the new releases that will be read, and to the books that have been released already, and that I will read. Some will be from my to-read-stack, some will be new purchases, some will be from the library, some will be borrowed. Whatever the case, you can be sure that I will read, read, and read some more.

For my first book of 2013, I think I will begin by reading Victory Garden, by Meredith Allard. It touches on the women’s suffrage movement, which interests me.

I will also be finally finishing The Brontes: Wild Genius on the Moors: The Story of a Literary Family, by Juliet Barker.

I wish you all a Happy New Year! The best to you in 2013. Good reading!

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Book Diva Review: The Luncheon of the Boating Party

luncheonofboatingparty The Luncheon of the Boating Party, by Susan Vreeland…I give it Five Stars!

Vreeland’s exquisite and beautiful prose make this novel of historical fiction one to read. She details the events leading up to the finished painting, how Renoir chose his models, his relationship with each one, how they connected with each other individually within the painting, and how they interacted with Renoir and the other models, externally, separate from the painting. The reader learns that Renoir painted on Sundays, in 1880, after actually having lunch with the models on the terrace of the actual restaurant in the painting, with all the dishes, silverware, glasses, etc., left on the table.

Through the author’s distinct word visualizations I could feel his frustrations, his joy, his anxiety over each minute detail, each brush stroke. We imagine his presence, with his models in front, some more self-absorbed than others, some humble and understanding individuals. Some models don’t show up, and he has to rely on his canvas, during the week, to fill in faces, attire, etc. Renoir met his future wife while painting was in progress. We glimpse bits of life, within the realm of the painting, both figuratively and visually, as Renoir endeavors to paint “la vie moderne”, the modern life.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s painting, The Luncheon of the Boating Party, took months for him to finish. It was at a time when he was struggling to make ends meet, and a time when he was trying to establish himself as part of the Impressionist movement. This painting was (in his mind) the one major work that would establish him in that genre.

If you want an understanding of the time period, the Impressionist movement, life in Paris, and how Renoir managed brush stroke by brush stroke to finish this masterpiece, then this is the novel for you, as much of it is based on historical fact. Vreeland’s prose is fluid, beautiful and is a masterpiece, in itself. Word-paintings and images abound. I could go into detail, make in-depth statements, but that would take the joy out of you reading the novel, so I leave you with the above prose.

I have actually seen the original painting, The Luncheon of the Boating Party, in the Phillips Collection, in Washington, DC. I was mesmerized by it, and it is one of my favorite Auguste Renoir paintings. The Phillips family has had it in their possession since 1923.
© Copyright 2010 – All Rights Reserved – No permission is given or allowed to reuse my photography, book reviews, or writings, in any form/format without my express written consent/permission.

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Book Diva Book Review: Suite Francaise

suite francaise Within the pages of Suite Francaise, Irene Nemirovsky has given us a compelling masterpiece, written with insight into the human condition, social classes, mores, individual values and ethics, that take place during the occupation of France beginning in 1940.

In “Storm in June” we are given characters who flee Paris city life and comforts, for what they believe is the safer countryside. In reality it is a frantic situation, as city refugees try to cope with chaos, and country farmers and peasants try to cope with the frenzy thrust upon them. Included in this chaos are characters whose lives intertwine and connect. We are given the scope of their souls during this time of extreme turmoil. The upper class and the lower class, all come together, within the same situational confines, and we see who is really made of character, strength and stoicism, and who can weather the storm.

From a well-respected upper class family, to an author, to a priest, to an unmarried man whose life revolves around his porcelain collection, to the lower-class and loveable couple, we are given insight into the inner minds and inner core of these individuals. We see the meaning of what is essential and important in life, revealed through these characters, whether it be material things, children, family members, or a simple photograph. Her assessment of humanity and social structure and attitude is nothing short of incredible, amazing, and filled with intensity, clarity and first-hand knowledge.

In “Dolce”, there is a continuation of some of the characters from “Storm in June”, and there are some new characters, set in a farming village in the countryside. This novella is filled with humor and poignancy, as we watch peasants, farmers and Germans inhabit the same village, and how they manage to exist together within the confines of German Officers have been billeted into homes. We see how daily life continues, despite the inconveniences of the occupation. Peasant women seem to like the attention, although they are afraid to show it out of fear for reaction from their peers, a married woman debates within her mind whether the German Officer billetted in her house is a decent individual in his own country. Love beckons and is born, within the village borders.

Each side surviving as best as they can, and even trying to understand each other. Life’s daily drama is enhanced by the intensity, drama and depth of character (or lack of, in some cases) that Nemirovsky has brought to Suite Francaise.

is compared to Proust and Tolstoy, and several other classic authors, but for me, Irene Nemirovsky is beyond compare, with her compelling and intense writing, her descriptions flowing from one word to another, into sentences, creating two extremely realized novellas. She was a master at assessing individuals, and their stature in the scheme of difficult situations. She wrote about the time period, while experiencing the ramifications of those horrid days during the German invasion. That she was able to complete what she did, is an incredible testament to her own strength, and her extraordinary capability, and her need to show what life was like in the face of adversity. She was a witness to the historical events she wrote about.

© Copyright 2012- All Rights Reserved – No permission is given or allowed to reuse my photography, book reviews, writings, or my poetry in any form/format without my expresss written consent/permission.


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Book Diva Review: Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories from the Road

herethereelsewhere I enjoyed reading Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories from the Road, by William Least Heat-Moon.

I found the short writings within the pages to be filled with humor and interesting tidbits of information regarding America, especially the states of Kansas and Missouri. Least Heat=Moon infuses his writings with quips that make the reader grin and even laugh out loud.

His journey through Yoknapatawpha County in Mississippi in order to find William Faulkner was a wonderful story. This particular story was filled with snippets of rural-sounding speech, and an accent unique to the locale. He and his friend, who was traveling with him, more or less had a grand tour. There were moments of comic relief for the author, humor unanticipated, due to a gesture made by the person guiding them.

Another story that I eagerly read concerned Yosemite National Park. There were elements about Yosemite I did not know of (written about in the second paragraph), and I found them to be compelling.

His travels on Long Island had me inhaling and tasting the oysters and little neck clams I grew up eating, and the story held me in nostalgic attentiveness. I was brought up on Long Island, and I recognized so much of what he wrote about, having been from one end to the other, north to south, during my 26 years living there. I thoroughly enjoyed his presentation of that trip.

From Japan to England, across America, and more, Least Heat-Moon’s treks are always written with visually vivid word-paintings. This reader was swept away with some of his delightful prose, and with his ability to use humor to laugh at himself in certain scenarios, such as book hunting in England with his guide, and also his moment when tasting a certain food in the far Scotland Islands. I laughed out loud at some of the quips in that story.

I was also impressed with his and insights, as far as his pondering subjects such as extinction, ancient civilizations and even his thoughts on war, while in Japan, being guided by a Japanese translator.

I found Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories from the Road to be a fascinating read, and an interesting and enjoyable journey taken through reading the short stories within the book. I recommend it.

Thank you to Goodreads and to Little, Brown and Company for the Advanced Proof copy.

December 26, 2012 – 13 Tevet, 5773

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Book Diva Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

snow flower and the secret fan Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a book that is a compelling story, written with historical fact. It is a book of insight, intensity, and one of cultural practices, and what it means to be a woman within societal traditions, influences and demands of the time period.

See has given us much to ponder, within the confines of the two main characters, Lily and Snow Flower. Each has taken out a contract to become “old sames”, partners in every aspect for life…even more intimate than a husband and wife relationship. We see their pains and joys, their lives unfold before our eyes, and we see their relationship grow, year by year, through the women’s secret writing of “nu-shu“, a way of communicating to each other. We see how foot-binding has given them opportunities that those who did not practice it had, and see how their husband’s status is linked to the foot-binding. Foot-binding, although limiting/repressive, is also a way that women were able to gain some power over their husbands and the world around them.

Living in 19th Century China was extremely harsh, and life was difficult on many levels. Husbands ruled over their wives, they could beat and abuse them, without fear of punishment, it was socially acceptable. There was a hiearchy, an order, within each household, that determined the authoritative pecking order. Women who practiced foot-binding were confined in the household, to the “women’s chamber”, where they spent, basically, their entire lives, with other women, each day, performing tasks like sewing their dowry clothes, quilts, linens, etc. They rarely saw sunlight, except through a window.

Lily, the narrator, takes us through the decades of her life, often filled with ignorance, even though she has high social standing in her environment, she is not emotionally intelligent. We see how her views often stick to the traditional mode, rather than the emotional aspect, and in that way she ends up not being the truly loving and empathetic “old same” that Snow Flower was (even though Snow Flower deceived her, on occasion). We see their lives filled with deceit, disloyalty, cruelty, yet, we also see that the Lily has written her story as a form of catharsis and redemption for her errors in understanding the true meaning of love and loyalty, the true meaning of compassion and caring. It is her form of atonement for what she knows she did not do, during the years that passed between her and Snow Flower.

The end brings atonement, redemption and it does bring the two women together, in a way I did not imagine.

It was a heartfelt and dramatic book, one I could not put down until I finished it. The story stayed with me…long after I read the book.

I highly recommend Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See. This was my second reading of it, having read it about six years ago.

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Book Diva Review: The Imperfectionists

the imperfectionists The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman is an interesting study on the varied personalities within the environment of a floundering international newspaper. an English language daily paper.

The novel revolves around the characters, alternating between them, to depict a story of the individuals in a connecting manner. In fact, each story could actually be a novella on its own. For me, the characters were weak, and fledglings, within the structure of the newspaper, biding their time. The employees of the newspaper were not uplifting or inspiring, but rather a set of depressed and somewhat pathetic expatriates living in Rome.

I did not care about their outcome or what happened to them. Even with all the vivid word images and the clever and well-placed prose, there was too much repetition, too much babble within the pages. After a few chapters, The Imperfectionists became a drab story to read, but finish it I did, because I had read so many excellent reviews of it, that I kept expecting the novel to change, to become more illuminating.

For instance, Lloyd, a Paris correspondent is willing to do anything for a story, for a byline, including encapsulating his son within the pages. Another character is Arthur, who is the obituary writer. He sits at his desk, doing little, collecting a salary for naught. On and on it goes.

Their flaws are shown, their tragic moments and their few funny moments are displayed, but not with a strong sense of intensity. The glue for the newspaper is the founder, Cyrus Ott. We get glimpses of him throughout, along with his relationship with Betty Marsh, the co-founding editor. Maybe Rachman traces the decline of the paper, through the diminishing, emotional involvement of its employees.

Speaking of illumination, although The Imperfectionists takes place in Rome, there is not much mention of the city, itself, no descriptive depictions of the surroundings that the newspaper is located in. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting a travelogue, yet it was extremely noticeable that not much is mentioned about Rome. I get it, I do. I realize the story line is about the newspaper and the individuals behind the scenes, but Rachman could have given the reader a bit of radiant information, here or there.

The fact that Rachman chose to connect all the characters within The Imperfectionists by alternating stories, did not work well for me. Most of the characters, in my opinion, had no substance, motivation or depth to them. I think the fact that he chose to alternate their stories had something to do with my impression of them, as individuals, and as a whole within the network and scheme of the newspaper.

I am sure Rachman was trying to portray each person the way he did to coincide with the fact that the newspaper was in a state of deterioration, and those within the network were having trouble maintaining their own lives, never mind motivating themselves to save the paper. Still, there could have been more history, more light within the darkness. The employees were like the members of a dysfunctional family. I am sure that the dynamics and interactions painted by Tom Rachman were intentional, and meant to portray them as such. If that was the case, then he succeeded.

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Book Diva Review: Pictures at an Exhibition

picturesexhibition Pictures at an Exhibition, by Sarah Houghteling is a book written by a new voice, and is Houghteling’s debut novel. The jacket is what caught my attention, as it stated that the book deals with 1930s France, the artistic community, and also deals with art that was looted and stolen during WWII. It sounded like it would be a good read.

I began reading the book, and I found the beginning pages captured my interest. The story line was one of generations of one family, and mainly deals with issues of Max Berenzon and his father. Max, the narrator, is obsessed with art, and has been since he was a child in his father’s art gallery. He has memorized every painting his father owned, the placement in the gallery, and all the details within the painting. He lives and breathes the paintings and their artists. And, through him, the reader is able to visualize the paintings, as Houghteling brings them to life with vivid descriptions.

Max is passionate about the artwork, where his father is passionate about purchasing art and then selling it. Daniel has no interest in retaining it, other than one Edouard Manet painting entitled “Almonds”, which is meaningful to him. Max tries to impress and convince his father to leave him the business, so he can carry on the prestigious family name. His father has other ideas, and hires an assistant named Rose Clement. Rose becomes Max’s second obsession, and he lives his life in pursuit of her. He becomes self-absorbed, and possessed by Rose, and his decisiveness and journey leaves much to be desired. He lacks in maturity, and is childish in his interactions with others, and this reader wonders why he is depicted this way.

Max isn’t able to fully live up to his father’s expectations, or his own expectations of himself, for that matter. The first part of the book takes place between 1939-1940, within a surreal environment of wealth and riches, within the pre-World War II era, when those of wealth never dreamed of what would come. They lived in a world of fantasy, not cognizant of the political developments. They eventually had to scramble in order to try to save their lives, although there isn’t much detail about that development.

Fast forward to post World War II (literally, as the time period between pre-war and post war are swept over without mention), as part one of the novel is a skimpy few pages, part two of the novel encompasses 1939-1940, and the story line begins again in part three, on August 27, 1944. This is where I became disenchanted with Pictures at an Exhibition. The gap in time was an extreme disappointment to me. From that point forward, I felt the book was on a decline, and that the story went downhill, other than the historical factors.

Yes, there was historical interest, as far as the artistic elements are concerned, and, yes, I did enjoy reading those portions of Pictures at an Exhibition. Houghteling did her research on many aspects, and I can’t find fault with that. I did find some intrigue as to how Max tried to find his father’s paintings, and the extremes he went to to do so, but at the same time, the story primarily became flat, listless, and had no life to it.

Rose, Rose, Rose, he breathed her night and day. The paintings were almost second place…not quite, but almost. It was as if the author couldn’t make up her mind as to how to proceed, should it be a novel of intrigue, a romantic novel, a historical novel, or a dramatic novel? I questioned what Houghteling intended, and when I couldn’t come up with the answer, the book became less interesting. It was almost as if the post war portion of the book became abstract, like some of the paintings mentioned in the book.

I feel that Houghteling was strong in her depictions of the artists, their way of doing business, and their artwork. Her historical data was clear and well defined, including accurate statistics. But, I felt there was no definition and depth to Max or Daniel’s character, or Rose’s for that matter, either. Max’s mother lived in a musical world of her own, unaware of anything beyond her music. There was no strong cohesiveness to the story. It could have been a book of suspense and strength, and one that left the reader wanting to turn the pages to find out what would happen next. I didn’t find Pictures at an Exhibition to be that way.

I wanted to like this story, I truly did, or I wouldn’t have purchased the book. I am an avid fan of art, and visit art museums frequently. The paintings and other artwork were clearly defined with strong word-images. Houghteling’s depiction of Max’s is less than effectual in her demonstrations of the actions he takes (or doesn’t take), and his character, in my opinion, is never fully developed. We never see him mature, other than physically. Rose was the stronger of the characters, an independent woman, who knew what she wanted, she was confident and mature. The reader is made aware of that from the beginning, yet I still found something lacking in her depth, something I can’t put a handle on.

What the reader isn’t made aware of is the fact that the jacket description enhances the story line, and makes it appealing to the person who picks up the book to read the inside and back of the jacket. Individuals are still trying to recoup their lost artwork and lost furniture and other items, to this day, art and items that the Nazis stole and hid in caves, warehouses, and other areas. This could have been played up, I feel, in a more effective manner to give more mystery and interest to the book. I realize this is Sarah Houghteling’s debut novel, and realize that not every first novel is a fantastic one. But, for this reader, Pictures at an Exhibition isn’t a story that totally captured my interest. So it goes…

I have donated the book to my local library.

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