logo
Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: italy-or-greece
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
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?

 

 

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2019-06-21 21:47
The Crooked Path by Irma Joubert
The Crooked Path - Irma Joubert

Lettie has always felt different from and overshadowed by the women around her– this friend is richer, that friend is more beautiful, those friends are closer. Still, she doesn’t let this hold her back. She works hard to apply her mind, trying to compensate for her perceived lack of beauty with diligent academic work and a successful career as a doctor. She learns to treasure her friendships, but she still wonders if any man will ever return her interest. Marco’s experience in the second world war have robbed him of love and health. When winters in his native Italy prove dangerous to his health even after the war has ended, he moves to South Africa to be with his brother, husband to one of Lettie’s best friends. Marco is Lettie’s first patient, and their relationship grows as she aids him on the road back to restored health. In the company of beloved characters from The Child of the River, Marco and Lettie find a happiness that neither of them thought possible. With that joy comes pain and loss, but Lettie learns that life—while perhaps a crooked path—is always a journey worth taking. 

Amazon.com

 

 

 

As a child, Lettie Louw struggles with the beauty and success of so many women around her, close friends included, leaving her with a distinct feeling of being "less than". With her thick glasses and overweight frame working against her, Lettie can't seem to catch the eye of her secret crush, De Wet Fourier, who also happens to be the older brother of Lettie's good friend Klara. 

 

After having her heart crushed the night Lettie spots De Wet making out with another of Lettie's friends, Annabel, she makes the choice to just take her mind off men altogether. The rest of her high school years, she dedicates herself to her studies. As the years of WW2 approach, Lettie watches her circle of friends go off to jump into wartime experiences while she hangs back to follow in the footsteps of her father and attend medical school. During her time in college, Lettie occassionally tries going on dates, but often re-experiences the sensation of being passed over by guys who see the better opportunity girl down the lane. Once again, she finds comfort in burying herself in studies. 

 

Henceforth, she decided, men would be colleagues, maybe friends. Nothing more. Because men cause pain, intense pain -- especially handsome, friendly men.

 

From there the story breaks away from Lettie's world to introduce the reader to the story of Marco and Rachel. Marco Romanelli is an Italian Catholic who meets Russian Jew Rachel Rozenfeld when her family moves to his town in Italy. Despite their religious differences, Marco wins Rachel's heart only to face possibly being separated and imprisoned with the invasion of the Nazi Party. Marco survives the war years but takes with him a chronic lung condition that will plague him the rest of his life. Struggling to maintain his health in his native Italy, it's decided he would benefit from a move to the drier climate of South Africa, where one of his brothers has already settled into a relationship with one of Lettie's friends. This novel may have a rather circuitous feel to the reader, but consider the main theme of the novel: "Even a crooked path leads somewhere."  Joubert make take the long way 'round at times but I promise, it's all interconnected. 

 

By the time Marco arrives in South Africa, Lettie is a full-fledged doctor fresh out of school. Marco becomes her first official patient.

 

SIDE RANT: Can I have just a minute to say how AGGRAVATING it was how hung up this town was on her "awkward" period? The girl keeps her nose to the grindstone, pushes herself through med school, becomes the town's first female doctor. Once she starts making some money, she wants to treat herself a bit, get herself some nice dresses, get her hair done now and then.... and what happens whenever she goes into the shops? "Hey, remember when you used to be such a weird, ugly fat kid? Lookatcha now! But seriously, you were so awkward back in the day...." ALL THE TIME WITH THIS. I guess maybe this bugged me because I go through something similar whenever I visit my hometown lol... You just want to scream, hey thanks for bringing up one of the most painfully long periods of my life... repeatedly... get over it! People grow up! Okay, anyway.... 

 

A slow but deep bond grows between them. Marco realizes that while he thought he had found love before, there's a distinct difference between first rushed love and an honest soulmate who just truly "gets" you. When you find that person where you never have to explain or make excuses for anything about yourself, that's not something to be taken lightly! Lettie, though she doesn't disagree, takes a little more convincing to push past her concerns of the need of professional distance. But life eventually sorts itself out and we're carried through a number of years until the next big upset of Lettie's life. More tragedy, more heartbreak to navigate, before Lettie's own crooked path eventually leads her back to Marco's hometown in Italy. Though it only starts out as a vacation with friends, this trip will reveal a new life path to her she could've never anticipated. 

 

Following Lettie from girlhood to retirement years, it's  quite the whirlwind of relatable emotions the reader travels through with this one! Not only through Lettie, but also the stories of the other ladies as they grow up together --- Annabel, Klara, Christine --- through all of them combined it's a powerful reading experience, seeing how relationships develop, grow, even change as we age... sometimes forcing us to face the reality that the adult / older version of a friend may not live up to the warmth the memory of their childhood version instilled in us. How far does one take a friendship before one or both parties might have to admit defeat and say the relationship is irreparable? As Lettie comes to find out for herself, from time to time that process could include the lesson that what may feel like a dead-end or some other sort of stagnation in life might actually be just a preparatory pause for the next big thing! 

 

If you read and enjoyed Joubert's previous novel, Child of the River, showcasing the relationship development of Persomi and Boelie, more of their story is offered up (in the background plot) here in The Crooked Path

 

FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

____________

 

MY REVIEWS FOR THE PREVIOUS BOOKS IN THIS SERIES:

 

*Note: Though some of the characters carry over between books, the connections are loose enough that these stories can be read as stand-alones. 

 

THE GIRL FROM THE TRAIN

 

CHILD OF THE RIVER

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2019-05-10 17:12
Midnight at the Tuscany Hotel by James Markert
Midnight at the Tuscany Hotel - James Markert

For years, guests of the Tuscany Hotel could leave their pasts behind and live among fellow artists. Now guests of a different sort fill the rooms, searching for their memories—no matter the cost. Run by renowned sculptor Robert Gandy and his wife and muse, Magdalena, the Tuscany Hotel hosted guests of a certain kind—artists, actors, scientists, and engineers who left their worries behind so that they could create their latest masterpieces. Surrounded by lore, the hotel was rumored to free the mind and inspire artists’ gifts. But tragic circumstances force Robert and his family to move.

After thirteen months at war, Vittorio Gandy is haunted by memories, and his former life is unrecognizable. Once a gifted painter, now he can’t bear the vivid, bleeding colors on a canvas. His young son doesn’t remember him, and his wife, Valerie, is scared of him. But the most disconcerting change is in Vitto’s father, Robert Gandy, who has fallen from being a larger-than-life sculptor to a man whose mind has been taken by Alzheimer’s. 

When Robert steals away in the night, Valerie, Vitto, and his new acquaintance and fellow veteran John go to the only place Robert might remember—the now-abandoned Tuscany Hotel. When they find him there, Robert’s mind is sound and his memories are intact. Before long, word gets out that drinking from the fountain at the hotel can restore the memories of those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. The rooms once again fill up with guests—not artists this time, but people seeking control over their memories and lives. Vitto desperately wants to clear his own mind, but as he learns more about his mother’s life and her tragic death, he begins to wonder whether drinking the water comes at a price. A story of father and son, memories lost and found, artists and their muses, Midnight at the Tuscany Hotel explores the mysteries of the mind, the truth behind lore, and the miracle of inspiration.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

At just twenty four years old, Vittorio Gandy has already established himself as a talented painter, but with the start of World War II he is shipped overseas to fight. While over there, he receives letters from wife Valerie gently explaining that the family fortune has all but dried up and she's had to take up miscellaneous work to make ends meet --- everything from selling war bonds to growing a victory garden and even taking a part time job at a local factory. 

 

Vittorio's father, Robert, grows up an only child and heir to an oil fortune as well as a rock quarry. As a young man, Robert travels to Italy to study and practice his work as a sculptor. It is there he meets the beautiful Magdalena. Immediately smitten, he convinces her to come away with him and start a life together. Magdalena, not only having fallen in love with Robert but also needing to flee an abusive guardian, travels with Robert to California, settling in an area that would soon become the town of Gandy. There Robert uses his fortune to buy the land the town is built on and gets to work building the Tuscany Hotel. The Tuscany will honor his wife's heritage and encourage a modern day Renaissance where artists, writers, actors, and painters can come and feel inspired. 

 

It's years later now when we meet son Vittorio as a young enlisted man. The hotel has long been shuddered up and abandoned and Robert is battling Alzheimer's. Vittorio returns home but keeps the day of his arrival a surprise. Naturally his family is delighted to see him at first, but it's not long before Vitto's PTSD begins to rear its head. Thanks to the horrific images he brought back from war and stored in his mind, he can't bring himself to paint anymore. He's a stranger to his young son and Valerie grows increasingly more uncomfortable in his presence. She begins to pull away as Vitto's behavior becomes more and more combative, the last straw being the night when he becomes confused during a hallucination and nearly strangles her to death. 

 

 

 

Vitto checks himself into an in-patient therapy program for veterans at the hospital, but when Robert goes missing one night after an earthquake, Vitto goes back home to help track him down...though everyone can guess where Robert went. Sure enough, Valerie and Vitto find him at the abandoned Tuscany Hotel. The courtyard fountain is running again, Robert is sculpting like no time has passed at all, and his mind seems to have been restored! 

 

"Time can be a tenuous dancing partner, Mr. Gandy. And memory the devil. Sometimes the wounds we can't see leave the worst scars, unless they're tended to."

 

By the next day, Vitto's discovered that his father has plans to re-open the Tuscany and already has an ad in the newspapers. John, a fellow veteran Vitto met in the therapy program -- cheery, tender-hearted, and perpetually curious -- signs on as the hotel's new chef. Before long, word spreads of the hotel fountain's healing powers against mind crippling conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer's and people come from far and wide desperately hoping to help their loved ones. 

 

New life is breathed back into the property and even Valerie finds herself gravitating back towards her husband rather than away. Even so, Vitto has his hesitations about all these new developments. For one, he's always been plagued by the death of his mother and whether there was any truth to the rumors about it possibly being a suicide. Will all this new attention to the hotel stir up those old stories as well as feelings he may not be ready to face? Then there's the fountain itself. Even though people praise the restorative properties the fountain water seems to have on them, Vitto begins to fear there may be a dark price to pay for the remedy.  He resists drinking the water himself until the day his son asks him to drink, hoping that drinking the water in front of his son will be just the act of trust they need to restore the father-son bond. 

 

Don't drink it, Vitto wanted to say, unsure why. Because every day has its night. Because what goes up must come down. Because memories can cut as much as they cure. And because he'd learned through the war that life too often was fool's gold. Rays of a beautiful sunrise led to rivers of blood. Under lush canopies of evergreen forest, combat stained the silent snow cherry red. Craters and limbs pocked fields and countryside. Last words traveled on breezes choked with smoke and death. 

 

Periodically, there are chapters where we get snippets of the mysterious life story of Magdalena, who has no long term memory of her own but seems to possess the memories of famous artists throughout history, such as da Vinci or Mozart. There's also a few throwbacks to how Valerie and Vitto met as children, growing up together as best friends before eventually becoming romantically involved. 

 

I've read all but two of Markert's books at this point and I'd say this is one of his grittiest to date, in terms of subject matter. Readers are not only presented themes of depression (sometimes to the point of suicidal thought) and PTSD, but also graphic imagery of war, namely in-depth, uncomfortable descriptions of executed Jews. The setting is post-Depression era, like several of Markert's stories, and the writing is lyrical as ever... yet, something didn't fully click with this reader to make it a homerun read. Some passages moved a bit slow, others ran on a little long. While I liked the setting and characters well enough --- I especially loved the conversations between John and Vitto, their banter reminded me a bit of Teddy and Bob from Bob's Burgers --- there were times when my interest waned and the reading began to feel a bit like a chore. The light touch of magical realism Markert tends to weave in his novels was pretty faint here as well, compared to the earlier works. But it's also one of those books where if you push through during the down periods, there is payoff later on. 

 

 

"Your mother.... the horrors she lived through... it wasn't that much different from what you... what your army doctor called battle fatigue? Combat exhaustion? Hell doesn't always require a war, Vittorio."

 

Discussion questions guide available at the back of the book for reading groups interested in making this a possible book club pick.

 

FTC DISCLAIMER: BookLookBloggers and Thomas Nelson Publishers kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2019-02-26 00:15
White as Silence, Red as Song by Alessandro D'Avenia
White as Silence, Red as Song - Alessandro D'Avenia

Sixteen-year-old Leo has a way with words, but he doesn’t know it yet. He spends his time texting, polishing soccer maneuvers, and killing time with Niko and Silvia. Until a new teacher arrives and challenges him to give voice to his dreams. And so Leo is inspired to win over the red-haired beauty Beatrice. She doesn’t know Leo exists, but he’s convinced that his dream will come true. When Leo lands in the hospital and learns that Beatrice has been admitted too, his mission to be there for her will send him on a thrilling but heartbreaking journey. He wants to help her but doesn’t know how—and his dream of love will force him to grow up fast. Having already sold over a million copies, Alessandro D’Avenia’s debut novel is considered Italy’s The Fault in Our Stars. Now available in English for the first time, this rich, funny, and heartwarming coming-of-age tale asks us to explore the meaning—and the cost—of friendship, and shows us what happens when suffering bursts into the world of teenagers and renders the world of adults speechless.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Sixteen year old Leo is mainly focused on soccer, texting, and hanging with friends until the day he meets beautiful redhead Beatrice. Suddenly he needs to know how to get her attention.

 

Hailed as the Italian Fault In Our Stars, this YA novel turned out to be a bit of a dud for me. I didn't see mention of an English translator, so I'm assuming Alessandro D'Avenia did his own English translation? The flow of the text had that jerky, awkward, staccatto note of someone writing in a language that is not their native tongue. Leo's voice (as narrator) veers somewhat into stream of consciousness ramblings. In fact, a lot of this story just went on and on, never really engaging me as the reader.

 

Honestly, I found this book largely unreadable. The English translation was just too much of a chore, it killed the potential greatness of the plot for me. I'll give it an extra point for lovely book design though --- the textured, minimalist artwork was quite nice.

 

FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.

Like Reblog Comment
review 2018-09-30 14:48
Cambridge by Susanna Kaysen
Cambridge - Susanna Kaysen

London, Florence, Athens: Susanna, a precocious young girl growing up in 1950s Cambridge, would rather be home than in any of these places. Uprooted from the streets around Harvard Square, she feels lost and excluded in all the far-flung cities to which her father’s career takes the family. She always comes home with relief—but soon enough wonders if outsiderness may be her permanent condition. Written with a sharp eye for the pretensions—and charms—of the intellectual classes, Cambridge captures the mores of an era now past, the ordinary lives of extraordinary people in a singular part of America, and the ways we can—and cannot—go home.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Kaysen takes the confusing route and writes a novel featuring a protagonist with the author's name, so keep in mind when reading this -- the Susanna of this story is fictional (but kind of not...wow, I'm not helping here, am I? LOL)

 

At the novel's start, 1950s era fictional Susanna is the precocious, book loving daughter of an economics professor and a former professional pianist. The family relocates often, but wherever they set up home base always seems to be a house full of music, learning, and comedic matchmaking attempts among the house staff. Even young Susanna comments that home life is such a warm and fun environment, she dreads time spent having to attend school. Kaysen offers so many heartwarming interactions within this family, the reader almost begins to feel cheated they're not a member themselves!

 

Even though the child version of our protagonist clearly displays a dreamer's soul early on, full of curiosity about the world, part of her also longs for a stable, established place to call home once and for all. This yearning becomes the basis for her attachment to the college town of Cambridge, Massachusetts. But as she moves beyond childhood into adulthood, she comes to find that even such a town as this with, its picturesque exterior, is not guaranteed to have all the answers her soul craves. 

 

There's no clear-cut, linear progression, per say, to this novel's plot, more like  strung-together episodes of the character's remembrances over a lifetime. What this book does really well is illustrate that sense of nostalgia that people tend to develop when they become increasingly distanced from their memories over the years. Hard disappointments, given enough time, tend to morph into these glowing vignettes that have the older you smirking, "Those were the days."

 

There is something in Susanna (the character) that rings very relatable to many: boredom with school, struggles with math, a love of books. Readers even get a bit of a crash course in Ancient Greek history! There's one section I found especially charming, where little Susanna offers her nine year old perspective on things after her first experiences with reading Greek mythology. 

 

Where the story gets a bit bogged down is in the background minutiae ... great at first, but in some portions of the story the richness turns to overindulgence and ultimately "reader bellyache". Examples: Susanna's teen years -- the description of her first period went on for several pages. Then the environmental details. At first, it's lovely. Especially for any readers enamored with all the best of Massachusetts life: walks around Cambridge parks, vacations on Cape Cod, etc. But after so many pages of it with not much else going on, it can border on tedious. Though this could be argued as a case of reader preferences and what you're in the mood for when you dive into this book. 

 

Cambridge is not the easiest book to explain or class, and it might not be for everyone, but I'd argue there is a definite audience for it. There are for sure some great take away lines I was noting, such as a pessimist being "a disappointed optimist" or the Daria-esque "my long, agonizing apprenticeship in failure had begun." LOL  

 

University town setting, bookish references... a bluestocking's dream! The opening sequence alone -- that first whole page of an artistic deconstruction of the novel's first line -- just screams " word nerds unite!"

 

 

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?