Friday, February 27, 2015

Weekend reads and falling behind...

I'm so wildly behind on this blog, it's not even funny (and is starting, honestly, to be a little stressful!).

I've managed to read a few books since the start of the year, but trying to review them feels impossibly hard. Partially I'm not motivated to make the time -- when I have free time, I want to read, or see my wife, or clean our apartment -- and partially I feel sort of mush brained, still, and unable to write a decent review.

Perhaps this weekend...!

My weekend read is Mistress Firebrand by Donna Thorland, which I'll have to sneak in when Little Reader is sleeping (which, these days, is almost never!).

What are you reading this weekend?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Interview with Heather Webb

Earlier this week I reviewed Rodin's Lover by Heather Webb, a fabulous historical novel about the gifted sculptor Camille Claudel. I'm thrilled to share my interview with Ms. Webb about this book.

Heather Webb
Was Rodin’s Lover the original title of your book?

No! Actually it was The Eternal Idol, a piece by Rodin that I thought perfectly summed up Camille and Auguste's relationship together, but it wasn't "marketable" enough so we went with my second choice, sadly. I really preferred the other.

As you were writing Rodin’s Lover, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

A scene popped up which I hadn't plotted originally was the one in which Camille and Rodin go to Le Chat Noir, a famous night club in Montmartre. What a fun scene that was to write! I had a ball researching it as well. In fact, I got lost in the details of the era in Montmartre and had to reign myself in from the rabbit hole of research.

You have a foodie section of your blog, so what food or drink do you associate with Rodin's Lover?

I would have to say absinthe because there's a scene in the book when Camille and her brother Paul drink some. Or possibly a little cherry brandy.

What lead you to Camille Claudel's story?

I fell in love with Camille while in my French film class in college. The film, simply called Camille Claudel, was multiple award-winning in Europe and the U.S. with stars Isabelle Adjani and Gérard Depardieu playing the roles of Camille and Rodin. Their tragic love story gripped me and I swooned at the beauty they created both together and separately. After the film, I became rather obsessed with sculpture in general. Many years later, I had not forgotten Camille, and knew I wanted to delve more into her life. It has been an incredible experience spending time exploring her brilliant mind, and ultimately sharing her story.

What is your favorite of Camille's work?

The Waltz is my favorite because it's sensuous and breathtaking--the lovers look enraptured by their love but also melancholy, forlorn as if they know a secret that torments them that no one else knows.

Read any good books recently?

I'm always reading good books. :) All the Light We Cannot See was excellent! Brilliant! I'm currently reading The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig and House Broken by Sonja Yoerg.

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My thanks to Ms. Webb for her time and her thoughtful answers. To learn more about her and her books, check out her website and connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Rodin’s Lover by Heather Webb

Title: Rodin’s Lover
Author: Heather Webb

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 19th Century / France / Paris / Artists / Love Affair / Mental Illness)
Publisher/Publication Date: Plume (1/27/2015)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: In late 19th century Paris, a young sculptor accepts tutelage with a famous sculptor, and both are inspired by love.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I do, very much -- I believe the image is of Camille (or inspired by her portrait) and it's so striking in person!

I'm reminded of...: Melanie Benjamin, Lynn Cullen, Erika Robuck

First line: Camille dropped to her knees in the mud.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy.

Why did I get this book?: I'm a huge fan of Webb and was so intrigued by the subject of this one.

Review: Webb's second novel focuses on a less well known figure, French Belle Époque sculptor Camille Claudel, and this novel surpasses her first (which was pretty fabulous!).

Camille is a bit of a savant, a self-taught sculptor with immense talent and a matching ego. Driven to pursue her art, she receives tutoring in Paris from one of France's preeminent sculptors, but her family is split in their support of her passion. Camille's father supports her while her mother rages against the unorthodox behavior of her daughter. While her mother tries to arrange a marriage, Camille is instead drawn to her newest tutor, the much lauded Auguste Rodin.

Lest you fear this is just another hist fic focusing on a lady with a famous lover, let me reassure you this is a far more complicated, rich, and eventful story. Camille is a hard heroine to love: prickly, confident to the point of obnoxious, and single-minded. In Webb's  hands, she isn't softened nor does she turn flat the moment she falls into her lover's arms.

In fact, Webb's emotional sensitivity is something I've come to admire in her books as the dramatic events unfold without veering into melodrama.  Webb doesn't shy from the hard, heartbreaking parts of Camille's life (I'm being vague about these parts for those unfamiliar with Camille's story, but there's nothing fluffy here!) and intense moments are touched with humor, bittersweet sadness, or irony, making it impossible for this reader to shake Camille's story.

I sometimes find books about artists tricky; it can be hard to render into compelling narrative endeavors that depend on other senses. But Webb managed to evoke the tactile experience of sculpting as well as describing the various sculptures and pieces of art without sounding like a text book. I "saw" the works even without having to google them (although google I did!). I have to give a particular shout out to Joshua DeLillo, who sketched three of Camille's works for use in this novel. They look like photographs, they're so finely rendered, and were a welcome addition to the story.

This is the second novel I read since having my baby (and the second for 2015), and it was a knockout -- well worth stealing time to read. It's a fabulous read for those who enjoy biographical novels; I'm particularly reminded of Melanie Benjamin, who I also think takes shocking, notorious lives and renders them realistically, tenderly, and with empathy. Enjoy this one with espresso or cocoa over a snowy weekend.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Joy Street by Laura Foley

Title: Joy Street
Author: Laura Foley

Genre: Poetry (Relationships / LGBTQ / Motherhood / Parents / On Writing)
Publisher/Publication Date: Headmistress Press (7/8/2014)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: More than thirty brief, but powerful, poems on love, life, everyday joy and everyday loss.

Do I like the cover?: I'm not sure -- it captures some of the feel of the volume, but just isn't a favorite of mine.

I'm reminded of...: Kathryn Kirkpatrick, Yuko Taniguchi

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy.

Why did I get this book?: I like poetry now and then, and poetry is good for me right now.

Review: This slender collection of poems -- about 33 -- is a deceptively quick read, but Foley's pieces invite rereading and ruminating. In plain, straightforward language, Foley shares the joy of partnership and everyday bliss, the bite of remembered pain, the anxiety of social situations.

I have complicated feelings about poetry: I like the idea of liking poetry, but honestly, sometimes I feel like I'm struggling to "get" a poem. Sometimes, despite loving the sashay of language, I get tired of the tumble of verse. But I enjoy contemporary poets like Foley who remind me that poetry is more than meter and rhyme.

This collection, like the volumes of short stories I've been devouring, was perfect for my life right now, when I don't have lots of free time to read. Instead, I could dip in and pluck out a poem to read, quick, when I had a free moment.

Foley articulated moments both familiar and alien in neat, compact sentences:
I've been pretending I'm my quiet musician son, thinking/deep thoughts, but feeling bored and awkward, a pained smile/cracking my face. (from 'Dinner Party')
My father not humming the/whole of four winters, or to my knowledge, since. (from 'Not Humming')
and her 'Fruedian Quips', which humorously describes the maddening hilarity of conference calls, is familiar to anyone who has sat through one. (I was reminded of this comedy video, which is oh-too-true.)

Other pieces merge the mundane with the more artistic: 'Gelato', a piece in which her partner eats the treat purchased for her, has the cadence and echo of William Carlos Williams' 'This Is Just To Say' while 'Maternal Semiotics' makes lyrical the act of breastfeeding (a piece that particularly resonated with me right now!).

Fans of narrative-style poetry will want to get this one; those who are new to poetry might enjoy this unvarnished and clear collection. Those who like LGBTQ literature will want this one, as Foley writes about her partner, coming out as queer, and facing commentary from those who don't understand her identity.

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I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Joy Street to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 1/23. See my Giveaway Policy for complete rules.

Monday, January 12, 2015

From the Fifteenth District by Mavis Gallant

Title: From the Fifteenth District
Author: Mavis Gallant

Genre: Fiction (Short Stories / Europe / World War II / Italy / France / Marriage / Ex-Pats)
Publisher/Publication Date:
Source: France Book Tours

Rating: Liked a good deal.
Did I finish?: Yes.
One-sentence summary: Nine short stories of individuals outside of their own communities -- due to war, love, work, or health -- who find their identities challenged

Do I like the cover?: I do --I'm a sucker for this kind of styling.

I'm reminded of...: A.S. Byatt, Tessa Hadley, Katherine Mansfield

First line: In the south of France, in the business room of a hotel quite near ot the house where Katherine Mansfield (whom no one in this hotel had ever heard of) was writing "The Daughters of the Late Colonel," Netta Asher's father announced that there would never be a man-made catastrophe in Europe again., from 'The Moslem Wife'

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy.

Why did I get this book?: I'm a big Gallant fan.

Review: This collection is a reissue of Gallant's well received collection of moody, smart, and emotionally restrained short stories. A wonderful introduction for those new to master writer Mavis Gallant, this volume has some of Gallant's best works, including her delicious 'The Moslem Wife', first published in the New Yorker in the '70s. (Michael Ondaatje once said "'The Moslem Wife' has more going on in it than five novels", and it's true!)

Set in Europe ahead of, and after, World War II, her stories focus on ex-pats and the displaced, those who cling to an identity that might not exist anymore, or perhaps never existed at all: an English hotelier in the South of France; an Italian girl in another part of the country, working for an English family at odds in their own English community; a young German POW who returns with an idea of his mother in mind and finds a different woman.

Short stories have been a perfect way for me to get back into reading now that I have a baby and I loved this collection. Gallant has marvelous narrative style: she manages to pack background, judgment, descriptive details, sense of place, and lyrical loveliness into every sentence.
The time was early in the reign of the new Elizabeth, and people were still doing this -- migrating with no other purpose than the hope of a merciful sky., from 'The Remission' (p44)
For a time her letters were like the trail of a child going ever deeper into the woods. He could not decide whether or not to follow; while he was still deciding, and not deciding, the trail stopped and the path became overgrown behind her., from 'Baum, Gabriel, 1935-()' (p82)
While most of the stories touch upon some aspect of World War II, they're not war stories per se, nor do they read like historical fiction. They're lightly literary but very readable, deep without feeling obtuse. Gallant is a writer's writer, too: for those who admire the craft of storytelling, these pieces are delightful to admire and dissect (as I have been doing).

Strongly recommended, especially for fans of A.S. Byatt, Tessa Hadley, and Katherine Mansfield.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

2015 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

This is one of my favorite reading challenges, mostly because hist fic is among my favorite genres, and until 2014, was a challenge I easily beat. (Thus, I suppose, negating the "challenge" part of it, but whatever.)

This year the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge is being hosted at Passages to the Past!

I'm going to commit to Renaissance Reader - 10 books since my goal is to read 25 books this year. Here's hoping I can reach both goals!

Books Read

Heather Webb, Rodin’s Lover

Friday, January 2, 2015

Weekend reads and Moby Dick...

We're about to get on the road for a little weekend getaway, the first since having our Little Reader.

We're heading to New Bedford on the Cape for the 19th annual Moby Dick Marathon, hosted by the New Bedford Whaling Museum. (You might recall that my wife adores Moby Dick; it's our nursery theme and for our babymoon, we went to Arrowhead where Melville wrote the book.)

Needless to say, my wife is over the moon. We're signed up to be back up readers should one of the scheduled readers bail (fingers crossed!) We've got Little Reader covered, too: lots of nautical-themed clothes for the weekend, and two board books inspired by Moby Dick.

My weekend read is essentially Moby Dick although I am bringing Alex Myers' Revolutionary in case!  What are you reading this weekend?

Be sure to check out my top ten reads of 2014 and let me know what yours were!