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review 2020-01-05 11:14
The Little French Bistro by Nina George
The Little French Bistro - Nina George

Marianne is stuck in a loveless, unhappy marriage.  After forty-one years, she has reached her limit, and one evening in Paris she decides to take action. Following a dramatic moment on the banks of the Seine, Marianne leaves her life behind and sets out for the coast of Brittany, also known as “the end of the world.” Here she meets a cast of colorful and unforgettable locals who surprise her with their warm welcome, and the natural ease they all seem to have, taking pleasure in life’s small moments. And, as the parts of herself she had long forgotten return to her in this new world, Marianne learns it’s never too late to begin the search for what life should have been all along.

Amazon.com

 

 

**NOTE: This novel has also been published under the title The Little Breton Bistro

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: Themes of depression, suicidal thought, abusive relationships

 

Marianne has spent too long in a loveless marriage. At the end of her rope, she takes a walk one night to the banks of the Seine River, where she makes the decision to end her life. Though she goes so far as to throw herself into the river, she is unexpectedly rescued and taken to the hospital to recover from the suicide attempt. Once out of the hospital, she makes the choice to relocate and rebuild her life in a new town, eventually settling on the seaside town of Kerdruc, in the Brittany area of France. 

 

In Kerdruc, Marianne quickly comes to know a new definition of family among the staff of Ar Mor Restaurant, becoming especially close friends with the owner of Ar Mor, Genevieve, as well as Jean-Remy, the head chef nursing a bad case of unrequited love. Jean-Remy's pining away all the time has begun to affect his cooking for the worse. Lucky for him, Marianne's arrival means she can share her tips and tricks (from years of housewifery) for turning around any seemingly ruined meal. Immensely grateful for the help, Genevieve brings Marianne on as Jean-Remy's sous-chef. In return for helping him get his cooking back on track, he offers to help her improve her French. {Marianne, a German military wife who had transferred to France some time ago with her husband's job, had never gotten around to grasping much French, pretty much only learning enough to say "I am German."} Along with the crew at Ar Mor, Marianne also becomes acquainted with the sculptor Pascale and Pascale's longtime friend, the painter Yann.

 

 

"Get down from your cross, we need the timber." 

~ Pascale to Yann one day when he is moaning about his life

(one of my favorite lines in the book!)

 

 

It is in this seaside community that Marianne really works to restructure her life after years of being stifled in a neglectful marriage, largely devoid of affection, with selfish, philandering husband Lothar. Occasionally the reader is given glimpses into Lothar's tightwad ways: always making Marianne get her shoes re-soled rather than ever allowing her new ones; always making her go through the irregular / clearance bins for her clothes; never getting gifts for anniversaries; taking himself on holiday but not her, etc. Marianne even shares details of her hospital stay after the suicide attempt: her skipping out on meeting Lothar at a restaurant that night; him showing up at the hospital rocking a Rolex and yachting clothes, whining about the money he wasted on a meal at that restaurant and a cab to the hospital to come check on her. When she asks for a hug, he quickly denies her. Imagine being in a hospital bed, feeling emotionally eviscerated over so many things, and you can't even get a hug from your LIFE PARTNER, of all people! Gives you an idea of what a softie this guy is. She also hints at examples of emotional abuse throughout the years of marriage that she often forced herself to shrug off... until she just couldn't anymore. So you can understand the need (or at least temptation) to slough it all off and start anew somewhere far away from your usual. 

 

 

Shortly afterward, Lothar's lover Sybille had woken her from the wonderful illusion that a marriage, a house at the end of a turning bay and an indoor fountain were all a woman needed. Lothar had been determined to return to their normal daily routine as soon as possible after his affair with Sybille. "I've told you I'm sorry, What more am I supposed to do?" And with that the matter was closed. After a few years, her pain had subsided. Time had brought solace to Marianne, as had Lothar's secrecy about his other affairs, at least until it became too hard for him to keep lying. He started to leave a trail of clues in the hope that Marianne would make a scene and deliver him, but she had refused to do him that favor. 

 

Quiet Marianne is consumed by fear. She fears death, but also sometimes welcomes it. With the realization that she's maybe moved through a life largely un-lived, she fears that she might not know how to change, or that perhaps the opportunity for change (of any kind) has passed altogether. But with the help of her new friends, she hangs in there... and in time, comes to experience her first crush since meeting her husband. This new love she finds herself dipping her toe in... the two of them are just adorable together and I found myself so excited for her. Yes, technically she is still married to Lothar, and normally I'm not down with adultery --- not in novels, not in real life --- but it's hard to blame Ms. Marianne for craving some heart tingles after going so long trying to make it work in a relationship that very clearly flatlined ages ago. Though I gotta say, a funeral might be an odd way to go for a first date. 

 

I loved your grandfather, and after him, no one else. It is a rare form of happiness when a man makes your life so rich that you need no one else after him.

 

"Was he a magician?"

 

Any man who loves a woman as she deserves to be loved is a magician.

 

Just as Marianne is becoming reacquainted with the stronger, more fiery side of herself, a little something of her recent past makes a reappearance (as often happens in these kind of novels).  The quaint, light-hearted cover art of The Little French Bistro belies the darker themes of this story. In multiple scenes throughout the novel, Marianne continues to toy with the idea of making another suicide attempt. Though she always finds a way to talk herself away from it (or her friends do), Nina George writes a stark truth -- the underlying struggle that can go on in the mind of someone whose exterior seems to be doing well enough. 

 

She suddenly felt an incredible fear of dying prematurely and not having had her fill when her final day came --- her fill of life, up to the top and over the rim. She'd never felt such a lust for life: the pain of having missed out on so much was threatening to blow her heart asunder. Never had the act she had considered committing struck her as more egregious: she had tried to put herself to death long before her time....Yann put his hand on Marianne's back, and her heart was pumping and beating, as if to say: it's far from over. Every second can mark a new beginning. Open your eyes and see: the world is out there and it wants you.

 

The writing here gets a little flowery in parts, but I ended up liking this one more than Little Paris Bookshop and it certainly left me curious to try out George's most recent novel, The Book of Dreams. 

 

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review 2019-12-14 19:43
Armageddon Summer by Jane Yolen & Bruce Coville
Armageddon Summer - Jane Yolen

 

 

The world will end on Thursday, July 27, 2000. At least, that's what Reverend Beelson has told his congregation. Marina's mom believes him. So does Jed's dad. That's why they drag Marina and Jed to join the reverend's flock at a mountain retreat. From the mountaintop they will all watch the Righteous Conflagration that will end this world--and then they will descend and begin the world anew. But this world has only just begun for Jed and Marina, two teenagers with more attitude than faith. Why should the world end now, when they've just fallen in love? Told in alternating chapters from both Jed's and Marina's points of view, this first-ever collaboration between two masters of children's literature is a story about faith and friendship, love and loss . . . and the things that matter most at the End of the World.

Goodreads.com

 

 

 

Reverend Beelson tells his congregation that the world will end on July 27, 2000. He explains that 144 people will be "the chosen", the ones spared to rebuild the world, everyone else will die. Two members of the church --- Marina's mom and Jed's dad --- believe this so strongly that they are happy to relocate their families to the secret mountain retreat Beelson has set up for his followers. The reverend has everyone follow him up to a portion of state park that sits above their city in Massachusetts. They dub the area "Armageddon City". Beelson orders that the all educating will be done through monitored homeschooling and there will be no tolerance of drinking, drugs, caffeine or TV viewing. Not even consumption of chocolate is allowed.

 

Pure coincidence, I'm sure, *smirk*...the end of the world date just happens to be the same day Beelson's two week camping permit expires!

 

With all the violence, epidemics, and natural disasters running through the world, it's easy for the children to calmly follow their parents' lead at first. Marina wants to remain optimistic --- she can see some truth in her mother's beliefs -- but questions begin to flood her mind when she sees that the Beelsonite Believers mountain community actually ends up being a compound surrounded with barbed wire and electrified fencing, flanked by armed guards. Why does a "retreat" need a full patrol armed with automatic rifles?

 

JED >> You wouldn't think having a two-day lead would be that big a deal. But it was enough to give the people in the First Wave --- the Ten Families, they called themselves --- a major case of Attitude. Those of us in the Third Wave did get to look down on the people who came the next day, but by that time the major ego points had already been distributed. Besides, it was hardly worth the bother, since only eight people showed up on Day Four. Those eight meant there were 121 of us in all. I know because the Believers had put up a signboard where they kept track of how many people were on the mountain. I wasn't quite clear, yet, on whether we were worried about actually being able to get the full 144, or nervous about exceeding the limit. I also wondered what it would do to their math if I told them I didn't really believe. Would I only count as a fraction? Or even a minus number?

 

Marina and Jed eventually come together in mutual concern and skepticism over the whole situation, though many of their meet-ups have to be done somewhat in secret, since Marina's mother, Myrna, seems suspicious of any males hanging around her daughter, but especially has a sharp eagle eye on Jed. He gets a severe tongue-lashing one day when the two teens are seen just having a quiet, perfectly civil and platonic conversation!

 

But at the same time, Myrna herself becomes increasingly consumed with trying to catch the eye of the reverend. Over time, Myrna becomes a mother Marina doesn't recognize. When Marina's baby brother, Leo, comes down with a sickness that leaves him with feverish skin and diarrhea, it progresses enough for Beelson to give permission for a doctor "down mountain" to be brought in. Even after the doctor examines Leo and determines the kid has a severe case of dehydration requiring hospitalization, Beelson insists the boy cannot leave, treatment will have to come to him.

 

Jed, who has taken to calling the compound "Wicky Wacky LastChance, headed up by Rev. Beetlebutt", 100% believes his father has gone off the deep end, but agrees to move with him to Armageddon City only to ensure that his father remains safe until sanity is restored within the community. Even other children in the community take to giving silly names to things to show they are not entirely on board with Beelson's beliefs, but being dependents of their parents, they have no choice but to ride this craziness out. Chapters featuring alternating voices show kids describing the emotional shifts & rifts that begin to develop in these individual families as little by little more and more of the congregation begin to doubt the truth of Beelson's prophecy.

 

Yolen teamed up with Bruce Coville back in 1998 to write this piece of apocalyptic fiction. Being this many years out from Y2K, it may be a little quaint reading this type of story now. But time period aside, it still has power in the fact that there are still groups like the Beelsonites out there in the world today. Small though they may be, these groups and this type of mentality are still very much alive in pockets of the world. As violence, depression and a general sense of being lost in this world continue to be on the rise, there are still those Beelson-types out there who will happily swoop in and feed on the fears of the easily impressionable to create communities similar to the one described in this novel. Unsettling as that is, Yolen and Coville graciously incorporate humor here and there to infuse the heavier themes with a little levity now and then. They also do the reader the service of ending on a high note, with the idea that it's never too late to turn things around and rebuild.

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review 2019-12-14 17:25
Snow In Summer by Jane Yolen
Snow in Summer - Jane Yolen

 

With her black hair, red lips, and lily-white skin, Summer is as beautiful as her father's garden. And her life in the mountains of West Virginia seems like a fairy tale; her parents sing and dance with her, Cousin Nancy dotes on her, and she is about to get a new baby brother. But when the baby dies soon after he's born, taking Summer's mama with him, Summer's fairy-tale life turns grim. Things get even worse when her father marries a woman who brings poisons and magical mirrors into Summer's world. Stepmama puts up a pretty face, but Summer suspects she's up to no good - and is afraid she's powerless to stop her.
This Snow White tale filled with magic and intrigue during the early twentieth century in Appalachia will be hard to forget.

Goodreads.com

 

 

In this Appalachian re-imagining of the classic tale of Snow White, Jane Yolen introduces us to young West Virginia native Snow-in-Summer, named for the flowers that grow in front of her house. The story opens with Summer sharing the memory of attending her mother's funeral. Summer's biological mother, Ada-Mae died in childbirth, along with Summer's baby brother.

 

I'd been born on July 1, 1937, ten pounds of squalling baby, with a full head of black hair. It was a hard birth that nearly killed Mama. Though the next baby, being even bigger, actually did.

 

Cousin Nancy, who'd been there to help with my birthing, told me all about it later, after Mama died. "White caul, black hair, and all that blood," she said. I shuddered at the blood part, but Cousin Nancy explained it was good blood, not bad. "Not like later," I said, meaning when Mama died, and Cousin Nancy just nodded because nothing more needed to be added.

 

She put her arm around me, adding, "Poor man was so scared he might lose her. And when he came back inside, called by the midwife, he was so relieved that Mama hadn't died, he let her name you."

 

"Snow in Summer," I said.

 

Then she gave me a hug. "Your daddy laughed and said 'We gonna call her all that?' 'We gonna call her Summer,' your mama said. 'It's warm and pretty, just as warm and pretty as she is."

 

"I am," I said. "Warm."

 

"And pretty," Cousin Nancy said, drawing me closer. "Just like your mama." That made me smile, of course. Everyone needs someone to tell them they look pretty. Especially at nine.

 

 

Summer's father, Lemuel Morton, falls into a deep depression following the death of his wife and son. After four years, he just seems to snap out of it, virtually overnight. Shortly after, he remarries a pretty and mysterious woman no one in town has ever met before, only seeing that Lemuel appears obsessively enamored with her. Sure, people have questions, but at the end of the day most are just glad to see Lemuel's spark back again.

 

Summer does her best to be a good stepdaughter --- even when this new wife insists on calling her Snow rather than Summer, and her father never bothers to correct or object --- but inwardly she begins to have suspicions that there is a great deal of darkness within this woman. She knows a secret about this enchantress who has captured her father's heart, but decides to keep the truth to herself for at least a little while, while she sees what else she can learn. The more time she spends around her new stepmother, the more Summer begins to feel herself becoming enchanted, though initially she confuses it for true happiness.

 

But then there's the shift. Suddenly Summer is only allowed limited visitation with her cousin Nancy -- who also suspects there's something shady about Lemuel's new wife --- until Summer's stepmother forbids them from communicating altogether. Nancy is the widow of Lemuel's favorite cousin, Jack, and has served as a sort of surrogate mother to Summer all these years. She's also secretly been in love with Lemuel this whole time.

(I loved the character of Nancy, btw.)

 

Note: The majority of this novel is told from Summer's perspective, but occasionally there are chapters switched to Nancy's view of events. From time to time, the stepmother is also given a brief platform, trying to sell the "I'm not evil, not wicked" line, but knowing the origin story as we do, readers know to be on their guard with her.

 

Lemuel's own behavior begins to turn odd: he grows his beard out all long and grizzly, stops virtually all forms of personal hygiene (he begins to emit a persistent odor of urine), and more and more frequently goes into nonsensical rambling. Shortly after Summer's 12th birthday, her stepmother's abuse begins to turn physical, breaking the child's spirit to the point of convincing Summer she deserves this treatment. Cousin Nancy teaches Summer some white magic to try to combat the stepmother's dark variety. For added protection, Nancy also gives Summer a small bag containing the preserved caul Summer was born with (there's an Appalachian belief that those born with a caul over the head, or "of the veil", will hold the ability to talk with the dead). While the suggestions help, the white magic still proves too weak to overturn the enchantment consuming Lemuel's soul. Summer's salvation --- and that of her family --- will come with Summer learning to have faith in her own strength and abilities, turning this story into the classic theme of a kind, strong heart prevailing over evil.

 

So how does this retelling stack up to its source material? The likenesses are there, but this is definitely a unique story in its own right. But where are the recognizable markers, you wonder?

 

* Summer is a lover of fairytales and is familiar with the story of Snow White, but doesn't make strong connections between that tale and her life, at least not until she stumbles upon the magic mirror.

* The magic mirror does make a few appearances, though not really one of the key powerful elements of the story.

* The "hunter" character here is actually a country boy who has intentions of committing statutory rape (and maybe also murder) under the guise of "courting" Summer... as a favor to the stepmother.

* Yolen also brings back the 7 Dwarves, sort of --- Summer, while trying to flee "the hunter" guy, meets 6 brothers with dwarfism, German immigrant gem miners, with 1 brother away at college.

* Bonus note: Summer's fictional town of Addison is actually inspired by Webster Springs, WV, the real-life hometown of Yolen's late husband.


Snow in Summer is an extended version of a short story (under the same name) Yolen originally had published in the anthology Black Hearts, Ivory Bones. Much like the original fairytale, this novel starts with establishing what a joyous home life Summer and her parents shared prior to her mother's death. With the appearance of the stepmother, Summer's story illustrates the "necessary evil" of evil itself. Sometimes the presence of evil --- or at least hardship --- is just the thing we need to push us out of a stagnant, complacent state, driving us to rise up to our best selves.

 

Though this novel is published through Penguin's Young Readers Group division, parents may want to do a discretionary read prior to handing off to your children, depending on where your personal family guidelines are set. This retelling hits upon some darker themes: illegal moonshining; serpent-handling forms of religion / speaking in tongues; sexual assault / attempted rape, (at least touches upon or alludes to the subject); water sources laced with strychnine. Yolen works in some ecological discussions as well, in the topics of clear-cutting forests and the practice of strip-mining.

 

There are also spoilers for the novel Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.

 

If you get your hands on a hardcover copy, take a minute to take in the cover art --- there's a lot of cool somewhat hidden details throughout the whole piece!

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review 2019-11-21 17:42
All In by L.K. Simonds
All In - L.K. Simonds

Twenty-nine-year-old novelist and blackjack dealer Cami Taylor seems to have it all—but just underneath her confident exterior and newfound celebrity is a young woman in trouble. Cami’s boyfriend, Joel, wants to get married, buy a house on Long Island, and raise a family—a life that’s a million miles from Cami’s idea of happiness. Her therapist suggests compromise and trust, but Cami would rather bolt like a deer. Breaking things off with Joel, Cami launches herself on a new quest for happiness. But her pursuit of pleasure only takes her further from herself—and toward a harrowing new reality unlike anything she’s faced before.

Goodreads.com

 

 

 

In her debut novel, L.K. Simonds introduces us to main character Cami (Camille) Taylor, who, on the cusp of thirty in the late 90s, has found professional success over the years as a blackjack dealer and published author with one best seller already under her belt. Cami's Long Island boyfriend, Joel, is more than ready to marry her and settle into domestic bliss; his only frustration with her is the emotional wall she tends to have up, blocking them from ever reaching that deepest level of emotional intimacy.

 

Cami's not even sure she wants to go as far as marriage. She's always valued her independence far too much. But she does love Joel, so she makes an attempt to work on her emotional wall by going to therapy. In the beginning, she hopes the gesture will appease him, but it soon becomes clear that her heart isn't in the therapy process at this stage in her life. Joel and Cami come to accept they just want different things in life and the nearly two year union quietly dissolves.

 

While splitting up felt like the right move, it still hurts to lose someone whose presence you've gotten so used to. She tries to dip her toe back into the dating world but the pickins' ain't great out there. Even when she thinks she's scored a maybe, things turn sour one night when he mentions his girlfriend, followed by "You didn't ask." UGH. It'd be super cool if it could just be an understood rule all the way around that if you're already in a relationship YOU DON'T GO FISHING FOR ANOTHER.

 

This little talk does wonders for Cami's already fragile mental state and she gets to reflecting on her former life, working casinos back in New Mexico as Leona Lingo (her birth name). She thought she'd finished with that era of her life, but feeling herself heading towards a dark headspace in NYC, she figures a trip back to her hometown of Phoenix, Arizona might not be such a bad idea. But "going home" just ends up being a safe space to binge on vices. By this point in the story I was reminded a little of that Charlize Theron movie, Young Adult.

 

Note: the mention of casino life does not factor largely into this story except through some of Cami's referenced memories.

 

More of the same isn't going to be enough. I can see that now. When I think about it, I realize it isn't strange at all to need new goals after having reached all the old ones. I should've seen this coming. I'm doing okay, professionally, and now I need to concentrate on feeding my soul. Just as soon as I figure out what exactly my soul needs.

 

Eventually Cami works her way back to NYC, where she has an unexpected introduction to distant relative Kate Davis. After a day spent getting to know each other, Kate invites Cami to a family reunion being held in Texas. This ends up being the start of a legit growing family bond between the ladies that will serve Cami well later in the story when she'll need all the support she can get after receiving some life-altering news.

 

Cami's main motivation for going to new places or meeting new people often seems to fall to "well, it'll be great material for the next novel." Though she's rarely in it to make new friends or grab life by the horns, she still grudgingly puts herself out there time and again. By doing so, life shows her (and through her experiences, the reader) that if one is willing to embrace experiences even halfway openly, the takeaway can be so much more than ever imagined. It's no different when Cami takes on Texas (even if she's inwardly laughing to herself about just how out of her environment she truly is). I did find it a little weird, though, her being flirty with Jake. Yeah, he's a distant cousin... but, still. Should be a pretty standard rule: don't hit on people at a family reunion!

 

Throughout the entire story, it's alluded to that there might be something off with Cami's health, but she drags her feet getting herself checked out. Finally, after a bout of sickness that scares her enough to finally make an appointment... the diagnosis the doctor comes back with... wow, I was not expecting the story to go that direction at all! Virtually nothing hints at it, save for maybe one scene. The reality check leaves atheist Cami pondering on God, life, all the big questions.

 

Cami as a character, well, she can be a tough one to bond with because she often reads emotionally flat. It makes sense, that's part of the character flaw in her that sort of sets her on this whole path. Still, it can make for frustrating reading when she comes off as so emotionless. But I don't think it's a matter of her being devoid of feeling, but more her being afraid to feel. Life experiences, the world at large... it's all left her with a lot of disappointment. You go through enough of that for long enough, you get to where it seems like the easier path to just numb your heart to any more stabs. As far as other characters, it seemed like each one has a quality to them that'll have you saying YES! I know someone exactly like that! So, bravo to Simonds on wonderful attention to character detail!

 

There is an understated lyrical quality to Simond's writing style that I ended up quite liking. It took me a little time to really get into this plot... but I'll admit I wasn't in the best mood the day I decided to start this one. Initially, I wasn't sure I was going to like Cami, but, if I'm being honest, it might've been because I was seeing more of myself in her than I liked LOL, some of the sides of me I'm not so proud of. But like Cami, I'm working on them in my own time and I'll get there, eventually.

 

FTC DISCLAIMER: BookCrash.com & author L.K. Simonds kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.

 
 
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review 2019-11-13 10:16
Bonjour Tristesse (Hello Unhappiness) by Francoise Sagan, translated by Irene Ash
Bonjour Tristesse - Diane Johnson,Irene Ash,Fran├žoise Sagan

The French Riviera: home to the Beautiful People. And none are more beautiful than Cécile, a precocious seventeen-year-old, and her father Raymond, a vivacious libertine. Charming, decadent and irresponsible, the golden-skinned duo are dedicated to a life of free love, fast cars and hedonistic pleasures. But then, one long, hot summer Raymond decides to marry, and Cécile and her lover Cyril feel compelled to take a hand in his amours, with tragic consequences. Bonjour Tristesse scandalized 1950s France with its portrayal of teenager terrible Cécile, a heroine who rejects conventional notions of love, marriage and responsibility to choose her own sexual freedom.

Goodreads.com

 

 

 

 

 

Seventeen year old Cecile, having recently finished boarding school, celebrates by going on a two month long vacation to a Mediterranean villa with her playboy father, Raymond. Also in attendance is Raymond's favorite lady of the month, Elsa. Raymond is 40 years old, has been widowed for fifteen years, but doesn't let that keep his mood down --- he's changing out love interests every six months or so!

 

The trip also proves to be something of a sexual awakening for young Cecile. Six days into this vacation, she spots Cyril for the first time. Cyril is a young, gorgeous Latin man also in the area for vacation. Cecile admits he's not her usual type --- turns out he's a sensible, responsible, law student AND her own age --- but there's something about him that she just cannot resist. 

 

Later on, we see the arrival of Anna, a longtime family friend who has served as a sort of surrogate mother to Cecile over the years. At first Cecile assumes Anna is only there to join in on family time, but gradually realizes Anna may have a romantic eye set on Raymond. Raymond doesn't seem too bothered with having a little female competition over him to liven up the days! Nor does he seem troubled when Cecile points out the complication of having two women interested in you staying in the same house. If anything, Raymond is amused!

 

He laughed softly and rubbed the back of my neck. I turned to look at him. His dark eyes gleamed; funny little wrinkles marked their edges; his mouth was turned up slightly. He looked like a faun. I laughed with him as I always did when he created complications for himself.

 

"My little partner in crime," he said. "What would I do without you?"

 

His voice was so serious yet so tender that I knew he would really have been unhappy without me. Late into the night we talked of love, of its complications. In my father's eyes they were all imaginary. He refused categorically all ideas of fidelity or serious commitments. He explained that they were arbitrary and sterile. From anyone else such views would have shocked me, but I knew that in his case they did not exclude tenderness and devotion ---- feelings which came all the more easily to him since he was determined that they would be transient.

 

 

 

Cecile likely would've rolled with whatever happened in the house, had Anna not overstepped her bounds regarding Cecile's budding romance with Cyril. Once Anna begins to feel she has a pretty solid in (romatically) with Raymond, she jumps right into full-on new stepmom mode, insisting Cecile drop Cyril and focus more on her educational pursuits. Not impressed with Anna trying to lay down the law all of a sudden, Cecile, in grudge mode, decides to get her father's attention back on Elsa. Plots and ploys ensue and before long this love triangle implodes, leaving one major tragedy in the wake. Elsa's not the brightest bulb, as characters go, but it's hard not to feel a little sorry for her when reality of the situation finally dawns on her.

 

All the elements of a drama were to hand: a libertine, a demimondaine, and a strong-minded woman.

 

This was Sagan's debut novel, published in 1954, when Sagan was barely older than her main character, Cecile! (Sagan passed away in 2004, but google her life story, it's a pretty interesting & layered one!). I'd read that at the time of its release this book had France up in arms over the themes of sexual liberation, particularly involving that of a teenage girl. Reading it now, it must have had to do with the time period because I did not find it all that risque. Yes, sex is mentioned, but it's so gently suggested compared to some of the softcore novels that are out there now, I struggle to see how anyone could take offense to the way the topic of sex is handled in this book. What I did notice is the way Sagan puts her best emo foot forward right from the opening paragraph LOL:

 

A strange melancholy pervades me to which I hesitate to give the grave and beautiful name of sorrow.  The idea of sorrow has always appealed to me, but now I am almost ashamed  of its complete egoism. I have known boredom, regret, and occasionally remorse, but never sorrow. Today it envelops me like a silken web, enervating and soft, and sets me apart from everyone else.

 

While the writing style itself might have a little more finesse than what is commonly seen in YA literature today (especially with remembering that Sagan herself was a teenager when she wrote this novel), it appears the popular themes for the genre haven't changed too much over the decades. In Bonjour Tristesse, we see somewhat overbearing Anna always quietly trying to slip into that stepmom disciplinarian role, not approving of Cecile's choice of boyfriend, pushing for the girl to focus on her studies and future career options instead... Cecile feeling annoyed and stifled, ultimately choosing to rebel against authority, to the point of plotting payback, after her opinion of Anna switches from that of friend to "beautiful serpent" ---- all ideas that can be found in contemporary YA novels. Used to finding a bratty someone to loathe in YA novels of today? Cecile gives you that as well --- anytime anyone remotely tries to hold her accountable for her actions, she gets huffy and storms off like a bored, moody cat. 

 

While it is certainly impressive that Sagan could publish a debut novel at such an early age and find such raving success as a writer right out of the gate, I'm not entirely convinced this is deserving of the level of high praise it seems to have garnered over the years. It's an mildly entertaining story, perfect for a easy, breezy summer day, as the writing has that kind of lazy river flow to it... but in it's entirety, it fell a little flat for me. Seemed like Sagan wanted to go a little bit thriller-ish with the plot but there's just not enough tension built up there. Cecile's sexual awakening is hinted at, but again, she and those scenes are all presented in a "can't be bothered" kind of tone, so if our MCs can't care enough about the direction of their lives, why should we?

 

 

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