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review 2017-09-13 13:57
Suite Française by Irène Némirovski
Suite Française - Irène Némirovsky,Sandra Smith

"War … yes, everyone knows what war is like. But occupation is more terrible because people get used to one another. We tell ourselves, 'They’re people just like us after all,' but they’re not at all the same."

 

Irène Némirovski — famed writer, Russian emigre, and woman of Jewish ancestry — in the midst of World War II, and in the hands of the third Reich, began writing a novel. She did not live to see the end of the war or the end of the novel, but what she did write of that novel is what we have here under the title Suite FrançaiseNémirovski's work stands out from World War II stories I have read throughout my life, in particular those popular in America: It is not about America and it is not about the fighting of the war. The focus here is on the French civilians living in the shadow of war, people trying to survive and continue their lives in a world turned upside down.

 

Némirovski planned to write five parts for her novel, but only produced the first two before she was captured. The story starts in (free) Paris as news arrives that the French army is in retreat and the war is coming. We follow a handful of French citizens trying evacuate the city — specifically the wealthy Péricand family, working class Jeanne and Maurice Michaud, their son Jean-Marie, the author Gabriel Corte, and the rich Charles Langelet. 

 

Suite Française contains a very human story about the common choices we rarely hear about in the accounts of war. The characters of this book are neither heroic nor villainous in any grand sense. They make small choices that can have big consequences. they are sometimes brave, sometimes cowardly, sometimes decent, often petty. In many cases there is no easy answer at all. The good guys don't always act good and the bad guys aren't always terrible.

 

In this way, Suite Française feels immediate in a way few war narratives do. The horror of the story is not how alien this world is, but how familiar. Their choices are our choices but heightened. What do you do when you see someone in need? What would you do to others to protect your family? Or just yourself? You wouldn't have to kill someone, just steal gas, or pack your fine linens and drive past a line of people fleeing on foot. And on the other side, acts of kindness like caring for a wounded soldier in your home or helping reconnect children and parents after a bombing. There are many common decisions that suddenly hold the power of life and death in wartime and Némirovski never lets us forget that imperfect humans are the ones having to make these decisions. 

 

When we move into the second part, "Dolce," things get even more confusing. Invasion has given way to occupation and we get a look through the experiences of two households, each forced to house a German officer. "Dolce" takes place mostly in the summer two years after the invasion. Life is not back to normal, but it looks much more like it. Old grievances are renewed, people bicker and gossip, and we are told, despite numerous proclamations of French solidarity, that the townsfolk were reporting their neighbors to the Germans from the very start. "If we'd taken them all seriously, everyone in the region would be in prison," the German officer says.

 

Meanwhile, the officers are gentlemanly, polite, kind even and they live in these homes for months, and politeness in return is compulsory. Over months grudge melts into kindness, respect and even affection (thus the epigraph to this essay). We know what the Nazis (as a whole) stood for, what they perpetrated against Jews and other minorities, but one person can be complicated, a soldier, we are reminded several times, does not set the policies. As an abstraction, years later, Nazi's appear as pure evil, but as individuals, in the houses of the protagonists, the image is less clear. In fact, Germans in this town act much like American soldiers later in the war. They give sweets to the kids, offer to help carry groceries, and pay well at the local shops. In this way, Suite Française reveals our humanity both in the capacity to transcend, and our weakness to, the worst parts of ourselves, and in this book it is hard to even know which parts those are.

 

The tension in "Dolce" seems to pull tighter and tighter until you can't stop reading. The friendship between Lucile and a German officer seems to draw inexorably toward disaster. Némirovski writes at her best at these moments when her characters are torn between what they want and what they know is right and even possible. Quiet, impossible feelings spring up between people despite themselves. It's not a naughty affair, but a tragic affection expressed through a song on the piano, a look at a ring, blanched faces, or a startle when the real world reinserts itself into a quiet moment on the lawn.

 

Suite Française feels defined almost as much by what is included as by what is not. Hitler is not mentioned at all until very near the end. Jews and concentration camps aren't mentioned at all. This feels very strange if you do not read the appendix that is included with Némirovski's diary entries about the book. I have often skipped afterwords and appendices in recent years, but since this novel was so conspicuously unfinished I decided to read them. Now I wonder at what more this book could have become. Némirovski kept the horrors to the margins while she told us when it must have seem that way to citizens. She invites us to feel as conflicted as many may have felt at the time — and from her notes it appears she too was sympathetic to individual soldiers — before dropping hard truths in the next sections. The reality of the Nazi rule would intrude disastrously on our protagonists and they would find themselves colliding in different ways, trying to survive the new, even more insidious threat of occupation. The final two sections of the novel she never even outlined; they would depend on the outcome of the war.

 

Unfortunately, Némirovski, and her story, in Auschwitz on August 17, 1942. What remains is written with a rare heart and clarity, untainted by nostalgia, parades, or narratives of heroes and villains. It's a story of ordinary people living in turbulent, dangerous times, and Suite Française is especially charming, and haunting, for that reason. 

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review 2017-09-12 01:45
The Little Red Wolf by Amelie Flechais
The Little Red Wolf - Amélie Fléchais,Andrea Colvin

Genre:  Drama / Fairy Tale / Retelling / Animals / Horror / France


Year Published: 2017


Year Read:  8/9/2017 

Publisher: Lion Forge

Source: eARC (NetGalley)

 

Red

I would like to thank NetGalley and Lion Forge for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Introduction: 

Now, I have been reading fairy tale retellings for many years and I had read retellings of stories like “Cinderella,” “The Three Little Pigs,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” So, imagine my surprise and delight in seeing this new retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” from NetGalley called “The Little Red Wolf” by Amélie Fléchais and I just had to pick this book up! After I read this book, I have to say that this was one of the most creative and heartbreaking retellings of “Little Red Riding Hood” I had ever read!

What is this story about? 

The story starts off with a family of wolves living in the roots of a tree and the smallest wolf in the family was called Little Red Wolf because he would wear a red cape all the time. One day, Little Red Wolf’s mother wanted him to take a nice plump rabbit to his grandmother, since his grandmother cannot hunt anymore due to her losing her teeth. But just before Little Red Wolf made his journey to his grandmother’s house, his mother warned him about a human hunter and his daughter and that he should stay away from them at all costs. As Little Red Wolf journeyed through the forest, he began to feel hungry and he started eating the rabbit that he was supposed to give to his grandmother piece by piece. When Little Red Wolf ate all of the rabbit, he began to cry since he was supposed to give that rabbit to his grandmother and he had no idea how he will get another rabbit to give to his grandmother. It was then that a little girl came up to Little Red Wolf and said that she could give him a rabbit if he followed her to her home.

Will this girl help Little Red Wolf get another rabbit for his grandmother or does she have some kind of malicious agenda for Little Red Wolf?

Read this book to find out!
 


What I loved about this story: 

Amélie Fléchais’ writing: Wow! Just…wow! I never would have thought that I would ever read a “Little Red Riding Hood” retelling told from the wolf’s perspective (even though I had read a parody book of the “Three Little Pigs” told from the wolf’s perspective called “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs”). Amélie Fléchais has done a fantastic job at retelling the classic “Little Red Riding Hood” story from the wolf’s point of view as the wolf presented here is shown as being more sympathetic than the hunter and the young girl compared to the original story and that is what made this such a unique and creative read for me! I like the fact that the wolf here is presented as a young cub who does not know about the dangers of being around a hunter and is actually innocent of any wrongdoing in this story (well, except for accidentally eating all of the rabbit he was supposed to give to his grandmother). I also loved the mysterious and intense atmosphere that Amélie Fléchais provided in this story as I was sitting on the edge of my seat trying to see if any horrible disaster will befall Little Red Wolf and how he would be able to handle himself (or who would help him out) if he got into such a scary and dangerous situation.

Amélie Fléchais’ artwork: Amélie Fléchais’ artwork is probably the highlight of this book as all the images are drawn in watercolor paintings, which makes the imagery so gorgeous to look at. I also loved the haunting feel that Amélie Fléchais shows in the artwork as the illustrations are mostly in dark colors and it gives the story a mysterious and eerie feel, especially during the scenes where Little Red Wolf gets lost in the forest. But, probably my most favorite image in this book was the image of Little Red Wolf himself as he is drawn in an extremely adorable manner as he has large puppy dog eyes and a small cute nose that really brings out his innocent and adorable nature.

Red

What made me feel uncomfortable about this story: 

For anyone who does not like scary moments in graphic novels or novels in general, there are some intense scenes in this book that might scare younger readers, such as Little Red Wolf getting lost in the forest and the danger of possibly encountering the huntsman and his daughter. 
Also, I felt that the ending was a bit too abrupt and I wished that more was explained about the revelation at the end, rather than just stopping the story as soon as the revelation was being made. All this just made me want to have a sequel to this story so that way, the ending would be made clearer to me than it is now and so that way we can have a more broader expansion on the characters themselves.

Final Thoughts: 

Overall, “The Little Red Wolf” is one retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” that you should definitely check out, especially if you enjoy hearing classic fairy tales being told from a different perspective! I would recommend this book to children ages six and up since the imagery might scare smaller children.

Review is also on: Rabbit Ears Book Blog

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review 2017-08-25 14:26
SHADOW RITUAL by Eric Giometti and Jacques Ravenne
Shadow Ritual - Eric Giacometti,Jacques Ravenne,Anne Trager

Tightly written thriller. Marcas is a Freemason and a cop. He is to help investigate a murder that happened in the French embassy in Rome which has Freemason ties. His partner for the case, Jade, has no use for Masons so he has an uphill battle dealing with her. She comes to rely on him as the case proceeds.

I loved this! I was on the edge of my seat throughout the book. It was a page turner. The characters are good. Marcas and Jade are fun to watch. I liked that Marcas explained different Mason symbols and history as the investigation went on and had influence on the case. As everyone is trying to find the parts needed for the secret, as well as the murder, it turns out not to be what I expected. I cannot wait to read book 2 in the series. I highly recommend this.

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review 2017-08-18 09:44
The Black Death, midwifery and it was hard to be a woman in XIV century France. Highly recommended
Blood Rose Angel (The Bone Angel Series Book 3) - Liza Perrat

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for this opportunity.

This is the third novel I have read in the series The Bone Angel and the fourth novel by Liza Perrat. (You can check my reviews of Spirit of Lost Angel here, Wolfsangel here and The Silent Kookaburra here.) You might have guessed by now that I enjoy her books. Having read The Silent Kookaburra first, for quite a while I thought that was my favourite of the author’s novels (and don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the others) but now, I’m not so sure.

We are in Lucie-sur-Vionne, France, 1348. The whole series is set in the same location and follows the characters of the female line of a family who are linked by their midwifery skills (or wish to care for others) and by the passing of a talisman, the bone angel of the title. All the women of the series feel a strange connection to this angel (whose story/legend we hear, first- hand, in this book) and to each other, although this novel is, so far, the one set further back in the past, and at a very momentous time (like all the others). The Black Death decimated a large part of the world population and this novel offers us the perspective of the people who lived through it and survived to tell the tale.

The story is narrated, mostly in the first person, by midwife Héloïse, whose birth was problematic (her mother, Ava, a midwife herself, died before she was born and her aunt, Isa, extracted her from the womb) and due to the superstitions of the time, she was shunned and taunted as a child (she was not only a bastard, as her father was unknown, but she was also ‘unborn’). She always felt guilty for her mother’s death and resisted becoming a midwife due to that. But, eventually, she heeded her calling, learned from her aunt, and has become loved and appreciated by most people (apart from a few villagers who blame her for unlucky events). Unfortunately, as human nature dictates, when the epidemic reaches the village (at the same time as her husband, a stonemason who had been working in Florence) and people start dying, everybody looks for someone to blame, be it cats, the Jews, the lepers, or… There are a few chapters told from other characters’ point of view, only to complete the picture when Heloise is otherwise engaged (I’m trying not to give any spoilers here).

Héloïse is a strong-willed woman, who struggles between trying to fulfill her vocation (what she sees as her mission no matter how little recompense he gets for it) and being a dutiful wife who puts her husband and family above everything else. She is a compelling character and one that rings true and whose situation is ever relevant, especially to women who always have to try and find a balance between career and family life. She is a worthy heroine, who cares for people, who tries to do the right thing, even if it might cost her, who perseveres and remains faithful to her ideas, who doubts and questions acknowledged ‘truths’, and who is a natural leader. The rest of the characters, both, villagers and nobles, good and nasty, are all well-defined and recognisable, although perhaps the female characters are drawn in more detail than the males (although midwifery and birthing was women’s business at the time, so it is understandable), and I must say I felt like a member of her extended family by the end of the book.

The novel’s plot is fascinating and as good as any historical fiction I have read. History and fiction blend seamlessly to create a story that is gripping, emotionally satisfying, and informative. Even when we might guess some of the twists and turns, they are well-resolved, and the ending is satisfying. (I have read some reviews that mention it is a bit rushed. It is true that it all comes together at a faster pace than the rest of the novel, but my suspicion is that readers didn’t want the story to end. I know that was my case).  The life of the villagers is well observed, as is the relationship between the different classes, the politics of the era, the role of religion, the power held by nobles and the church, the hypocrisy, superstition, and prejudice, and the social mores and roles of the different genders. The descriptions of the houses, clothing, medical and midwifery procedures, and the everyday life are detailed enough to make us feel immersed in the era without slowing down the plot, that is a page turner in its own right. I particularly enjoyed the sense of community (strongly dominated by women) and the optimism that permeates the novel, showing the strength of the human spirit even in the hardest of circumstances. The author includes a glossary at the end that explains the words no longer in use that appear in the novel and also provides background information on the Black Death and the historical figures that grace its pages. Although it is evident that the book involved a great deal of research, this is flawlessly weaved into the story and add to the feeling of authenticity.

This novel, like the rest of the series, can be read as a stand-alone, although I doubt that anybody reading it will not want to read the rest.

Another great novel by Liza Perrat and one of my favourites. I will not forget it in a hurry and I hope to keep reading more novels by the author. I recommend it to readers of historical fiction, especially those interested in the era, the Black Death, and medical techniques of the time, readers of women’s fiction, and anybody looking for great characters and a writer to follow.

 

 

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review 2017-08-16 19:51
I see London I see France Book Review
I See London, I See France - Sarah Mlynowski

Cute and fun. Not my favorite travel book but I enjoyed it. There were certainly parts I disliked, I found the main character a bit obnoxious as well as the best friend and found it out there that these two teens could afford an entire trip like this by themselves. A bit too much casual sex and pot smoking for my liking.

 

But the notion of traveling to Europe made it a great summer read. Not sure what age group I would recommend this too. 

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