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review 2018-09-12 23:21
Superbly written novel based on the tragic true story of young Italian painter Artemesia Gentileschi
Blood Water Paint - Joy McCullough

My newly-formed little book club said they wanted a book possibly with poetry or essays, so this was one of my selections. I knew Joy McCullough’s book came with glowing reviews and it had been on my TBR for a while, but I wasn’t quite prepared for what I was about to read.

‘Blood Water Paint’, based on the true but heartbreaking story of the iconic young Italian painter Artemesia Gentileschi, literally took my breath away. 

 

Reading a novel based in verse (with some portions written in regular prose) with historical facts at its core, was quite new to me, and thank goodness for those mental (natural) breaks that came with the way it’s written, because it was one of the most astounding accounts of rape and incest I have ever read. This may well be based in Rome in 1610 and written in a way that doesn’t reveal certain details of such events as a reader may be used to reading, but I would still put up a big, red flag for a trigger warning. I had to put down the book for a breather about halfway through because of the tragic events unfolding within the pages. It is brutal, heart-breaking, and so emotional.

 

Artemesia was such a talented artist, but she and other women - within the book, we also learn the stories of both Susanna and Judith - basically had no rights or the right to an opinion in those days; women were stoned to death, and other brutal punishments were served at the hands of men who saw women as property. Artemesia’s father sees his own daughter as such, having her do the paintings and call them his own, and turns a blind eye to the events in this own home while he drinks after his wife/her mother dies. It’s hard to read such things, but throughout, Artemesia stays adamant that she will persevere and not let these men steal her ability to show her truth on the canvas. 

 

It’s uncanny that the ‘me too’ movement resonates so strongly when reading a book like this, but four centuries later we shouldn’t be having to make the comparisons, perhaps. I was so moved by this book, and by my own experience, and I hope many young women reach for this book and get a discussion going. I’m looking forward to our book club meeting; this isn’t ‘light poetry fare’ by any means, and this book SHOULD spark a lot of conversation. Artemesia’s life (and many others) shouldn’t be in vain, for these experiences are too common place. 

 

A note on the writing: Joy McCullough, as a debut author, has written a masterpiece. She wrote this as a play and then adapted it to be read as a book in this form. It’s masterful, and so beautiful to read. Since she’s local to Seattle, I’m happy to say she will be at the book club that will be meeting today; I’m glad we connected. I can’t wait for our group discussion. Absolutely superbly written. 

 

**Update: Congratulations go out to Joy for the announcement that Blood Water Paint is on the long list for the 2018 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

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review 2018-09-07 17:00
‘Enchantée’ will sweep you off your feet and take you back to 18th-century Paris; this historical fantasy is rich with magic, romance, and even some actual events
Enchantée - Gita Trelease

*Warning: words en Francais may appear sporadically.

 

This book is…enchanting. I didn’t have it on my radar until quite simply everyone seemed to be asking about this novel about two sisters living in Paris during the French Revolution, one with the gift of magic, and with the desperate need to get themselves out of the dire situation they are in. They are poor, with Camille using her magie to turn pieces of metal they find in the dirt into coins, while Sophie is ailing, weak with a terrible cough. Their brother Alain is a drunkard and cruel, deeply in debt from his gambling, and the sisters just dream of finding a home away from their brother, Sophie perhaps marrying into aristocracy and money, while Camille has dreams of owning a print shop like her deceased father once did.

 

I’m not usually swept up into a book such as this, one that is a spell-binding combination of magic, romance, historical fiction, and fantasy, but although it’s a long book (some parts seemed overly long, and I felt like the whole thing could have been quite a bit shorter), I was entranced by the characters, as well as the setting.

 

Author Gita Trelease has painted a vivid portrait of Paris in the 18th century in ‘Enchantée’, when the contrast between the rich and the poor was stark, and Marie Antoinette was taking court. Readers will be pleased to know that they will served up ‘beacoup de’ servings of what it was like to live as a French aristocrat at that time, as Camille takes on a new persona, as the Baroness de la Fontaine, when she uses her ‘magie glamoire’ to gain entry to Versailles to play and turn cards. While there she rubs elbows with the rich she would otherwise detest, but ends up making friends as she makes enough money to change things for herself and Sophie. She internally struggles with her use of magie and the differences between the rich and the poor at that time, even though she is using it to change her fortune.

 

There’s a ‘rags-to-riches’/Cinderella tale here, a face-off between the handsome suitors (the handsome, devilish rogue, Seguin, and the more reserved but romantic ingenue, Lazare). The book provides a wonderful look at the culture of the time (I absolutely loved all the research obviously done regarding the use of hot-air balloons; that was probably my favorite part), as well as our protagonist wrestling with so many ideals and virtues. This gives a fantastic deeper edge to the book, and gives a real nod to climate preceding the Revolution. The poverty that was experienced by the ‘poor’ thanks to the disparity created by taxes and wheat prices, is fervently clear throughout, and it’s the thing that drives Camille all the way through her saga at Versailles, and pushes her use her magie. But the question is always, is it worth it? And does this make her just like the aristo? I think the answers are a bit murky at the end, despite the ‘happy ending’.

 

I would very much imagine that many of those who have fallen particularly for the setting of belle Paris, have not had the privilege, like myself, of visiting France, and may not even speak much French; the book is addled with short French phrases, for which, Trelease has put a glossary in the back of the book. It may remove a little enjoyment to keep looking things up, if you don’t know the meaning of those words, but my guess is you have rudimentary French knowledge to have interest in the book in the first place. I appreciate the explanation of all the historical facts and figures as they appear in the book, as they are fascinating.

 

The pace of the book picks up rapidly at about half way through the book, which I felt could have been a lot plus rapide; I feel as though a historical fiction/romance is a bit extravagant at close to 500 pages. If you’re looking for a book with lots of action and adventure, this one isn’t it, and thanks to the coy teasing nature of the romantic flirting, even that isn’t super juicy and doesn’t take up a wild amount of those pages. But of the ones that it does, they’re not overdone or too sickly sweet.

 

‘Enchantée’ is a fabulous romantic story set in Revolutionary France and I’d say ‘vas-y’ (that means go for it), if you’re enamored by historical romance at all. This has a sumptuous setting, unique voice, and made a change in all the YA I’d read lately.


By the way, Paris remains one of my most favorite cities today; take a plane and read ‘Enchantée on the way (sorry that you have to wait until February for it, malheureusement)!

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/book/show/36613718-enchant-e
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review 2018-05-10 18:42
Solid new mystery from B.A.Paris with nothing too groundbreaking, BUT resounding sense of sorrow and sadness at ending
Bring Me Back: A Novel - B.A. Paris

I love a good mystery and especially ones that are set in England (where I am from), written by British authors, and somehow they keep making their way to me for review; pretty convenient actually. I say keep them coming honestly. I'm a pretty good litmus test for whether the Brit lingo is going to work well here (plus it always wins bonus points from me).

So Bring Me Back, with its beautiful bright yellow cover, along with some standout pink font, is the the third novel from B.A. Paris, and judging from her past successes, this will catch the eye of many mystery fans for many reasons beyond the cover.
It has a very simple premise really: a couple is away on holiday, skiing in Megeve, France, and then are driving back home through France to England. They make a stop for the toilets (at a rest area) at night, and that’s when Layla goes missing, and Finn goes looking for her, and reports her as missing…she is never seen or heard from again, and in some minds, presumed dead. Finn is cleared as a suspect, but it seems that could be from some of the embellishments he told the French police.
The novel is written from Finn's perspective, at least at the beginning; we are given accounts of Before Layla, and Now/After Layla. He is now, at least in theory, years away from what happened at that rest stop, and is about to marry Layla's sister Ellen, but it seems that he is still obsessed with Layla's disappearance, as well as it being obvious he's not wholly in love with Ellen. Finn isn't the most endearing character, since he is not entirely trustworthy and too neurotic to be that type of protagonist. But as the reader, we realize he doesn’t know the full truth about what happened that night at the rest stop.
Suddenly, these tiny (Matryoska) nesting Russian dolls start appearing in Finn's life, popping up in the strangest of places, at the bar of the local pub, on the wall outside their house; these are a sign of something that Ellen and Layla shared as children, and when Finn starts getting cryptic emails from someone, it's all too much. He has too many theories. Is Layla alive?

After about halfway through the book the tone and pace change, and while I felt a few dragging parts (Finn's neurotic brain!), the mystery unfolds evenly, with a great big thunderbolt at the end. My heart really left this book feeling so very sad, for so many reasons; there was a horrific crime of of the past, a number of mistakes of recent past, and then sad stories of the present. Even if you guess towards the end what is happening, I urge that fully read through to the end because that’s where it all comes together in all its sweet sorrow.
Some of the mystery tropes may be familiar (I can't name for spoilers) but this was an engaging, if heart-wrenching at the end, read.

*Note: I received a wonderful surprise early copy of this from St. Martin’s Press. Thank you! This does not affect my views or opinions.

 

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review 2018-04-29 07:50
Heart-wrenching book about a young Lithuanian girl during WWII; describes a forgotten chapter we should not rush to forget
Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Sepetys

I read this as one of the picks for the Litsy (Team YA) Postal Book Club I am in, and am glad it was chosen, even though I often do not choose historical fiction much these days to read. Especially when I expect it to bring me to tears (or remind me how little I know about how the Soviets and Stalin played their dastardly part in WWII).

Given that this book is several years old now, has won countless awards, and it seems as though everyone else who reads YA has already read it, I barely need to say much about the premise.

Young Lina is deported by the Soviets from Lithuania, along with her brother and mother, but her father gets separated from them to elsewhere in Eastern Europe. The book tells of their long long train ride bringing them to outer Siberia and the horrific trials that her family and other deportees go through. They are emblematic of a past that has been covered up and forgotten among war stories, probably due to so many other horrors (particularly due to Hitler, the Nazis, and the Holocaust).

What Sepetys has written here though, is very relatable account, that I think many younger readers will be drawn to, and have been already; Lina develops a relationship with a teenage boy while deported, has the regular range of emotions you would expect from a teenager, and her love for her family, especially her missing Papa, is fierce.

And while I did not expect the full horrific descriptions I might see in an adult novel on this matter (for example, deaths, burials, etc.), there is enough here to make the reader feel angry, revolted, and incredibly heartbroken at many things that went on.

Since this novel is based on actual people and events (and Sepetys mentions the research and journeys she went on at the end), it is especially thought-provoking and meaningful. There were so very many people affected by the first and second world wars, particularly across Europe, I can hardly imagine how many individual stories like this exist. At least go and read one of them and remember what happened.

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review 2013-11-05 00:00
Lemonade: Inspired by Actual Events
Lemonade: Inspired by Actual Events - Bernard L. Dillard Received a copy of Lemonade By Bernard L. Dillard through the First Reads Giveaway

The author does a great job of utilizing a conversational tone throughout the book. He manages to inform the reader of the various intricacies while living within his troubled childhood environment.

"It takes a village to raise a child." African proverb

The presence of family is a recurring theme throughout the novel. When I say family, I don't mean family as the government census bureau would suggest or that of a white suburban family. In this novel Bernard talked of a family with respect to, how he coined it "mentee's". From neighbourhood elder overseers, to adopted pastors found through travels, and other saints found along the way. In a lot of ways this book unraveled much like the film A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints. You are born into your immediate family, and the majority of the time they want nothing but the best for you, However; their are times when the responsibility is thrust upon you to recognize the positive influences and the way in which they can guide you in achieving your dreams.

The initial narrative seems to come through the eyes of the child at the time the events are unfolding. Their is no implication by me that the style is amateurish I am saying that it sounds as if Bernard at that time is speaking to you. Their are moments of present age Bernard reflecting on the past with insightful commentaries, but for the most part it is spoken from the youngsters narrative. One problem I had was the presence of "thesaurusesque" type of words that kind of stuck out for me while reading. I understand the temptation to use more grandiose type of vocabulary but if the tone is childlike with a playful,hopeful, and approachable type of tone then the presence of bigger words tend to lose their efficiency and purpose. As Bernard got older the presence of this type of vocabulary seemed more fitting and flowed more naturally as his passion for academia and literature evolved to a grand scale.

The book could have been more concise in certain areas. At times I felt the need to skim certain parts because the talking points did not necessitate having a several page spread.

I don't advocate ever, ever, ever physical confrontation let alone when it involves a woman, but if you have ever worked in the "back of the house" at a restaurant it is incredibly stressful. As an owner of a restaurant the whole day is consumed by the operations so when you get home the last thing someone would want is a verbal reprimand once stepping foot through the door. In the same breath Vicky is also doing heavy lifting with the care taking of three young children as well as working. Simply put I wish the parents in this story knew their marriage was not going to work out before it came to blows for the sake of the children as well as the possibility of maintaining an amicable friendship. Their are references in the novel from Dwayne Sr.'s own blood sister Raquel that he was intolerable and mean. From my gatherings he was more of a despondent, emotionally absent father more so than an angry one.More of a back story would have been appreciated for better comprehension of the roots of his anger.

You know that mother Vicky is quite stubborn and unabashedly so, and you understand Dwayne Sr. is an angry individual but you don't really know the underlying reason for why these heads class; star signs can't be the only trigger. I want to know the whole story to make a better judgment of what is truly going on not just what is at plain sight. Through the earlier passages I feel sorry for Dwayne Sr. and I really shouldn't but the constant barrage from Vicky and work stress makes him more of a sympathetic character early in the book. Again no relationship should be harboured with fear but Vicky exhibited no signs of being submissive she was more of the antagonist in these conflicts.

Throughout my childhood I can justifiably say that I grew up without the emotional presence of my father. He was around but it seemed that when not working he spent all of his free time with friends deep into the night. Like Bernard I remember the feeling being in bed that I was the initial line of defense. I had my plan of action if some burglars/bad people broke into the home that was until my father got home and I could finally take a breath,get to bed and come to terms with the fact that my job as mother/brother/pet/baseball card protector was over. What a relief!!! At thirteen my dad left my mom for another woman. It's funny because he left, but he was seeing that same woman while he was still married to my mom so his reason for leaving remains unclear. During my formative years becoming a man without the emotional and physical presence of his dad was tough. While reading about Bernard's issues with his father I really could relate and felt a certain kinship towards him, not just by the apparent reasons but more so in the way he handled situations emotionally with his father.

Some miscellaneous notes I would like to single out. I really appreciated Bernard's outline of the affects related to children growing up in a "fatherless" home. My father grew up when prejudice was an obvious reality rather than the subtle, yet very present reality of today. One of my earliest memories was him hysterically laughing at Martin dealing with Shenenee and how my dad would say "Martinnnn" like how Tisha Campbell would, maybe Bernard could help me with the phonetics. For me The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air remains one of my favorite sitcoms of all time.

I also enjoyed his discussion about the peculiarities of the people that live in New York how they look at tourists, mama Vicky's "vacay" and events found in the daily Brooklyn Olympics.

To answer a question posed by Bernard in the book I was sitting on my exercise ball enjoying a glass of red wine, feeling pretty good for that matter while I was listening to Barack Obama's victory speech. I was amazed at the grip he had at the surrounding audience as well as the grip he had on a Canadian boy from a city outside of Toronto, you could say it was the wine that made me so emotionally entranced but I say it was the need for change and the power of Barack.

Bernard's passage on pages 305 and 306 was the most important for me and would like to thank him for that.

Bernard's presence of mind in that beauty fades but generalized additive models lasts forever is a very short-term approach to living life in the moment and is often undertaken by hopeful dreamers with less than stellar educational credentials. For Bernard I believe he made the correct decision.

Lemonade is truly the ultimate success story, similar to that of a fairy tale in that you don't believe it to be true and you were waiting for him to get the girl at the end. Congratulations Bernard, and thank you for helping me learn how to transform lemons into something that is oh so sweet.
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