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review 2018-11-11 22:15
REFLECTING ON THE 1918 ARMISTICE 100 YEARS LATER
The Glorious Dead - Tim Atkinson

Before reading this novel, I had never given a thought as to what went into the establishment of the World War I Allied military cemeteries in Belgium and France in the immediate post-World War I era.

 

"THE GLORIOUS DEAD" is centered around a small group of British (and Empire) soldiers who are tasked from 1918 (several weeks after the Armistice) to 1921 with uncovering bodies of dead comrades in Flanders Fields and helping to set up the first British (and Empire) military cemeteries. The reader is given a real sense of what each character is like, their motivations, feelings, as well as how the civilians in the war-torn areas are struggling to re-establish their lives and livelihoods. There is love, despair, hope, as well as something surprising about one of the main characters that I'll leave to the reader of this review to discover for him/herself.

 

I'm glad I finished reading this novel today on the 100th anniversary of the Armistice. As a grandson of a World War I U.S. Army veteran and mindful of what the World War I generation gave between 1914 and 1918 in terms of toil and sacrifice, I am thankful to Tim Atkinson for having written such a thought-provoking, well-written novel on an aspect of the war that is little recognized or appreciated by most people living today.

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review 2018-05-17 04:21
Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité - LIVING IN REVOLUTIONARY FRANCE
Where the Light Falls: A Novel of the French Revolution - Allison Pataki,Owen Pataki

"WHERE THE LIGHT FALLS: A Novel of the French Revolution" very much lives up to its billing. Upon turning the page, the reader quickly finds him/herself in Paris during the winter of 1792. The deposed King and Queen of France are imprisoned, awaiting trial for treason. The city is in tumult as men with radical ideas and a penchant for dispensing violent, retributive 'justice' have taken control of the national government. Along the streets in a horseborne tumbril are several condemned persons being taken to the Place de la Revolution. Despite the bitter cold, thousands of people eagerly await the spectacle soon to take place before their very eyes. "They sound impatient, shrill with the heady prospect of fresh blood to wet the newly sharpened guillotine blade." The spectacle then takes shape as - one by one - each condemned person is prompted to walk up onto the stage where 'le guillotine' awaits. The condemned person's head is placed within the guillotine's clutches. The audience views the scene with bated breath and fevered anticipation. A blade forming the top part of the guillotine set above the condemned person's head is released and with a swish, swiftly severs the condemned person's head, sending it into a basket set close by. Charles Dickens could have taken some lessons from the 2 writers of this novel, in terms of conveying a real, tangible sense of the early stages of what came to be known as 'The Terror', the darkest period of the French Revolution. 

The novel then goes on to relate the stories of Jean-Luc St. Clair, a lawyer from Marseille who moved with his young family to Paris, where he works in an office handling claims involving deposed nobles; Andre Valiere, a young army officer of the ancien régime who has forsworn his noble heritage to join the Army of the French Republic; and Sophie de Vincennes, a young widow living under the close eye of a vindictive uncle who has powerful connections within the government. Her fate would later become entwined with Andre's. 

The reader is carried from the depths of The Terror to the steady rise of Napoleon Bonaparte, who first made a name for himself as a military commander without equal, leading French armies to resounding victories against the Austrians in Italy and later in Malta and Egypt. All the while, France is in turmoil with the demand for justice breeding more paranoia and instability. "Jean-Luc, Andre, and Sophie find themselves bound together in a world where survival seems increasingly less likely - for themselves..." 

This novel has all the hallmarks of a Class A thriller. It'll leave the reader breathless, a little dizzy, and glad to have read it.

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review 2017-04-09 01:03
The Art of Love - Elizabeth Edmondson

"THE ART OF LOVE" is a novel set in the early 1930s that reads like a mystery set in an enigma. It begins in a part of London known as Bloomsbury, where a young, struggling artist (Polly Smith) is in the process of applying for a passport. A friend of hers (Oliver Fraddon) had invited her to spend the Christmas holiday with his family in their palatial estate in the South of France. But Polly, in order to facilitate the process of getting a passport, has to obtain her birth certificate. This is when she learns that she wasn't the person she had been led to believe she was by her aunt, who had been her guardian from birth.

Polly is in her early 20s, making a living in a gallery through touching up 19th and early 20th century paintings adjudged previously as mediocre or of marginal marketability into salable assets -- and painting book covers freelance for a number of publishing companies. She's also engaged to be married to Roger Harrington, a doctor from an affluent family of doctors, whose snobbishness is enough to make one gag. Polly feels herself lucky to have met him. And as for Roger, one gets the distinct impression that Polly is something he can shape into the perfect doctor's wife once he can wring out of her what he regards as a frivolous pastime - her passion for painting and for art.

Now I can understand if, judging by the novel's title, the reader of this review is inclined to look upon this book as nothing more than a love story with the usual complicating factors to make it worthwhile to read. Well, there's much more to "THE ART OF LOVE" than meets the eye. There are also 3 other interconnected stories in the novel through a number of richly drawn out characters --- such as Cynthia Harkness, a recent divorcee set on marrying her lover, the tycoon and press magnate Sir Edward Malreward who has a dark side known only to a few; her brother Max Lytton, who on the surface appears to be one of the idle rich, but in truth has continued (from WWI) serving the government as an intelligence operative on the sly, keeping tabs on people considered suspect by Whitehall; and the Fraddon family, headed by Lord Fraddon (Oliver's father) who had to leave Britain years earlier under a cloud of scandal.

"THE ART OF LOVE" shapes itself into a potboiler that slowly is brought to a boil on the French Riviera during the Yuletide with an amazing outcome to rival any Agatha Christie novel. Reading this novel was both enthralling and entertaining. It took me to a lot of interesting places and introduced me to some rather colorful characters. I recommend "THE ART OF LOVE" to anyone who loves reading novels spiced with romance, adventure, and intrigue.

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review 2016-11-10 19:03
EVA SLEEPS
Eva Sleeps - Francesca Melandri,Katherine Gregor

"EVA SLEEPS" is both a generational saga largely centered around the lives of a mother (Gerda Huber) and daughter (Eva Huber), as well as a 20th century story about the Tyrol Region of Northern Italy (known by its German speakers as 'Trentino-Südtirol' and officially by Italians as 'Alto Adige'), which is a unique part of the country by virtue of its decidedly Germanic culture, language, and ethos.      I enjoyed very much learning about Alto Adige, which prior to 1919 (when it was incorporated into Italy) had been a part of the defeated Austro-Hungarian Empire.   Indeed, the history of the long, protracted struggle of the people in Alto Adige/Trentino-Südtirol to have their culture respected by Rome and to be accorded special status within Italy itself is cleverly superimposed by the author Francesca Melandri against the lives of the Huber family, beginning with Gerda's father, Hermann, a rather stern, austere character.    It was very fascinating for me to learn all these things.    And besides, as someone who studied German in college, I liked being reacquainted with die deutsche Sprache, too. 

 

"EVA SLEEPS" also takes the reader into the life of Eva Huber, who, as a successful businesswoman in her 30s in the late 1990s embarks on a long train ride from Rome to Reggio Calabria on the tip of the Italian boot to reconnect with a part of her past.    It offers the reader much more than meets the eye. 

 

On the whole, "EVA SLEEPS" was a novel that put me on a journey that both enthralled and fascinated me.   One of the most striking aspects about it was the following reflections that Melandri made that held for me a special resonance:

 

"There is the time that flows around us, toward us, and through us, time that conditions us and shapes us, the memory we cultivate or shake off --- our History.  Then, there is a sequence of places in which we live, between which we travel, where we are physically, places made of roads and buildings but also trees, horizons, temperatures, levels of atmospheric pressure, the major or minor speed with which the water of a river flows, altitude --- our Geography.

 

"These two trajectories, linked partly by fate and partly by free will, meet every instant and in every place at a spot, like in a Cartesian graphic cosmos, and the sequence of these spots forms a line, a curve and sometimes, if we're lucky, even a pattern which, if it's not harmonious, then at least it's one you can make out.

 

"This is the shape of our lives."

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review 2016-07-08 03:56
A NEW LEASE ON LIFE IN FRANCE OF THE 1920s
Moonlight over Paris: A Novel - Jennifer Robson

On the face of it, "MOONLIGHT OVER PARIS" can be seen as a continuation of Jennifer Robson's 2 previous historical novels: (1) 'Somewhere in France: A Novel of the Great War'; and (2) 'After the War is Over'. Yet, it can also be regarded as a stand alone novel for anyone who comes to it without having read the 2 aforesaid novels.

 

Lady Helena Montagu-Douglas-Parr (aka Helena Parr, Helena, or "Ellie" by her closest friends) figures prominently here. In the previous 2 novels, she was largely a peripheral figure, engaged to Edward Neville-Ashford, a young aristocrat and wounded war veteran who loomed large in both of those novels. Edward had broken off their engagement to marry a woman of humbler origins whom he really loved. It was a rupture that carried a certain social fallout for Helena in London, tainting her as if she were a fallen woman. In the beginning of this novel, we find her on the slow road to recovery at her parents' estate from an outbreak of scarlet fever that had nearly killed her. Having been so close to death, she vowed to herself that she would try to make a better life for herself on her own terms. As part of that, she applies for admission to an art academy in Paris, whose classes are slated to start in the autumn of the following year. She is able to go to France, with her parents' permission, where her Aunt Agnes (aka 'Auntie A') - a widow of bohemian sensibilities with a wide social circle - has residences in Paris and Antibes and can provide both a place for Helena to stay and a large measure of familial protection and support.

 

Helena arrives in Paris via the ferry and train in the spring of 1924. It is her first time in Paris in a decade. She is now in a country that is determined to shake off the heavy shadows through which it has been cast since the end of the First World War. Helena proceeds by train to Antibes in the South of France, where she meets with her aunt and goes on to spend a restful and exciting summer on the beaches and along the Mediterranean shore. (Unlike today, the South of France was not a tourist haven in the summer until the mid-1920s. Indeed, hotels there would close as people travelled north in search of cooler places away from the full glare of the sun.) She goes on to have a lot of interesting experiences, rubbing shoulders with some of the people who figured prominently as part of the "Lost Generation" of American expatriates (e.g . Gerald and Sara Murphy, Ernest & Hadley Hemingway, Natalie Barney, Djuna Barnes, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, and F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald) who lived large in Europe. Helena also finds love - when she least expects it - through a chance encounter with an American journalist (Sam Howard) on a road near Antibes, who stops his car one hot, sunny afternoon and offers to fix the chain on her bike, which had become disconnected. But as with most love stories, the course of true love doesn't run smooth for both of them.

 

"MOONLIGHT OVER PARIS" is a terrific novel, not only for any reader eager to enjoy a good book over the summer, but also for those fans of Downton Abbey and compelling love stories seeking escape from the hectic demands of work and everyday life.

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