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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE SHIVERING GROUND AND OTHER STORIES by Sara Barkat For those who dare get lost in the beauty of the writing and the magic of other worlds #RBRT

Hi all:

Today I bring you something that defies easy definitions. Ah, a word of warning. The book will be published (if there are no delays) on the 1st of December, so it might not be available for immediate download if you read this post on the day of its publication, but you could reserve it and won’t have to wait too long for it.

The Shivering Ground and Other Stories by Sara Barkat

The Shivering Ground and Other Stories by Sara Barkat

The Shivering Ground blends future and past, earth and otherworldliness, in a magnetic collection that shimmers with art, philosophy, dance, film, and music at its heart. 

A haunting medieval song in the mouth of a guard, an 1800s greatcoat on the shoulders of a playwright experiencing a quantum love affair, alien worlds both elsewhere and in the ruined water at our feet: these stories startle us with the richness and emptiness of what we absolutely know and simultaneously cannot pin into place.

 In the tender emotions, hidden ecological or relational choices, and the sheer weight of a compelling voice, readers “hear” each story, endlessly together and apart.

~

“The word ‘original,’ as a compliment, is both overused and quite often misused. But sometimes it’s the only word that will do. Sara Barkat is an original. Her imagination is imperious; she wields words as she pleases, in ways that delight and unsettle. In this, she reminds me of Emily Dickinson. Reading her, I expect you will agree. Don’t miss the opportunity.”

—John Wilson, editor of Books & Culture (1995-2016)

Author Sara Barkat

About the author:

Sara Barkat is an intaglio artist and writer with an educational background in philosophy and psychology, whose work has appeared in Every Day Poems, Tweetspeak Poetry, and Poetic Earth Month—as well as in the book How to Write a Poem: Based on the Billy Collins Poem “Introduction to Poetry.” Sara has served as an editor on a number of titles including the popular The Teacher Diaries: Romeo & Juliet, and is the illustrator of The Yellow Wall-Paper Graphic Novel, an adaptation of the classic story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. 

https://sarabarkat.com/bio

My review:

I write this as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for this opportunity to read and review an early ARC copy of this special collection…

I enjoy short stories, but I rarely read anthologies or collections of them, other than those of authors I already know and whose writing I love. However, although I had never read this author’s work before, there was something compelling and utterly different about this book, and the cover and the title added to the appeal.

Although I’m not sure what I was expecting to read, the stories were surprising and extremely varied. Some seemed to be set in the present (or an alternative version of the present), some in the past (or a possible past), some in a dystopian future, some in parallel universes, and the characters varied from very young children to adults, and from human beings to a variety of “Others”. Some of the stories are very brief, some are long enough to be novellas (or almost), and they are written from all possible points of view: first person, third person (in some cases identified as “they”), and even second person. I usually would try to give an overview of themes and subjects making an appearance in the stories, but that is notably difficult here. The description accompanying the book gives a good indication of what to expect, and if I had to highlight some commonalities between the stories, I would mention, perhaps, the desire and need to connect and communicate with others, in whatever form possible, and to create and express one’s feelings and thoughts, through any medium (music, painting, writing, sewing…),

These short stories are not what many readers have come to expect from the form: a fully developed narrative, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, although usually providing fewer details and not so much character development as we would find in a novel, and often with a surprising twist at the end that can make us reconsider all we have read up to that point. Barkat’s stories are not like that. They rarely have a conventional ending (even when they do, it is open to readers’ interpretations), sometimes there are descriptive passages that we aren’t used to seeing in short narratives, and the plot isn’t always the most important part of the story (if at all). The way the story is told, the style and beauty of the writing, and the impressions and feelings they cause on the reader make them akin to artworks. If reading is always a subjective and personal experience, this is, even more, the case here, and no description can do full justice to this creation.

Despite that, I decided to try to share a few thoughts on each one of the stories, in case it might encourage or help other readers make their own minds up. I’d usually add here that I’ve tried to avoid spoilers, but these are not that kind of stories either.

1. The Door at the End of the Path. A wonderful story full of vivid descriptions of a young girl’s imagination, her internal life, and a reflection of the heavy toll the difficult relationship of the parents can have on their children.

2. Conditions. A glimpse into the relationship between a brother and a sister, where the best intentions can have the worst results, set in a world that is half-dystopia, half an alternative present, with more than a slight touch of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

3. The Eternal In-Between. A dystopia set during a pandemic, with plenty of steampunk-like fancies, and an ode to the power of imagination.

4. The Mannequin. A dystopian world epitomized by the willingness of its subjects to undergo quite an extreme and symbolic procedure to keep the status quo in place.

5. Brianna. A very special retelling of a fairy-tale story that digs dip into the psychological aspects and the effects such events would have over real people, especially if it was a fate repeated generation after generation. One of my favourites.

6. Noticing. A story with a strong ecological theme, a generous dose of fantasy, some beautiful illustrations and eerie pictures, an endorsement of the power of stories, and a strong warning we should heed. Both terrifying and breathtakingly beautiful. Another favourite.

7. Entanglement. A short but compelling story/metaphor of a love affair, and/or the possibility of one.

8. The Day Before Tomorrow. Although set in a very strange and dystopic society, it is a Young Adult story of sorts, and the relationship between the two main characters feels totally natural and everyday, despite the extremely unusual surroundings. Perhaps our stories never change, no matter what might be happening around us. A hopeful story I really enjoyed.

9. It’s Already Too Late. Very brief, very compelling vignette with a very strong ecological message. A call to forget about our excuses and the reasons to carry on doing nothing.

10. The Shivering Ground. A sci-fiction/fantasy/dystopian story that might seem utterly sad and pessimistic, but it is also moving and (I think) hopeful.

11. A Universe Akilter. A wonderful story that kept wrong-footing me, as if the ground the story was set on kept shifting. A Universe Akilter indeed! It starts as the story of the breakup of a romance, seemingly because the man has been caught up cheating, set some time in the past (many of the details and the way the characters behave sound Victorian, but there are small incongruous details that pop up every so often and others that seem to shift), but as the story progresses, it becomes the story of a (possible?) love affair in parallel universes (the universe of our dreams, perhaps), that influences and changes the life of the protagonist, making him discover things about himself and his creativity he would never have considered otherwise. This is the longest story in the book and one that might especially appeal to readers of dual-time or time-travel stories (although it is not that at all).

 

As usual, I recommend those thinking about reading this collection check a sample of it. The stories are quite different from each other, but it should suffice to provide future readers with a good feel for the writing style.

I could not help but share a few paragraphs from the book, although as I have read an ARC copy, there might be some small changes to the final version.

 

All the wreckage, all the ruin, and the ground was brilliant red. Every morning, he would wake to more of the world ending, and the earth laid out a scarlet cloak as though waiting for an emperor to arrive.

 

He wishes, desperately, that he could remember the sound of her voice hen she still knew innocence; that he had thought to fold it in his pocket with the mementos of another life.

 

Perhaps being a mis-turned wheel in a spinning globe is only as it should be after all, when in the spring, the scent of mint and apple blossoms fills the acres behind you.

 

But, surely, I wondered, interpretability only goes so far. To go further would be to strike out onto one’s own adventure, breaking the mass of the art’s finished illusion.

 

I wouldn’t say I “understood” all the stories, or I got the meaning the author intended (if she had a specific design for each one of her stories), but I don’t think that is what this collection is about. Like in an exhibition of artworks, the important thing is what each one of them makes us feel, what thoughts and reflections they set in motion, and how much of an impression they leave on us.

I don’t recommend this book to readers looking for traditionally told short stories, with a clear beginning and end, and a satisfying conclusion. On the other hand, readers seeking something outside the norm and happy to: explore new worlds, try new experiences, ponder about meanings and possibilities, and get lost in the beauty of the writing and the magic of the words, should read this collection. It’s too beautiful to miss.

 Thanks to Rosie and the author for this book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember, if you’ve enjoyed it, to like, share, click and comment. Stay safe, keep smiling, and dare to explore all the wonderful worlds books can take us to. 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog INVISIBLE, AS MUSIC by Caren J. Werlinger. Beautiful writing and compelling characters and setting #LGBTromance

Hi all:

I’m sharing today a review of a book I’ve discovered through Rosie’s Book Review Team. It’s the second novel I read by this author, and I don’t think it will be the last.

Invisible as Music by Caren J. Werlinger
Invisible as Music by Caren J. Werlinger

Invisible, As Music by Caren J. Werlinger

Henrietta Cochran has spent nearly forty years dealing with the effects of the polio she contracted in 1945. Her braces and crutches restrict her, define her, but they also give her independence. Almost. She hates that she has become increasingly reliant on a series of live-in companions to help her. For some reason, the companions never seem to want to stay very long. So Henrietta retreats further and further into her art, where her physical limitations don’t matter.
Into her life sails Meryn Fleming: out, outspoken, and fiercely political. She’s young, enthusiastically diving into her first job as a history professor at the local college. When she falls, almost literally, into Henrietta’s path, she seems like a godsend.
Little does Henrietta know that this young woman is about to upend her carefully structured existence. Ryn challenges everything, barging right through the walls Henrietta has built to keep others at a distance.
To Ryn, Henrietta is an enigma: prickly and easily insulted at the slightest suggestion that she can’t do things for herself; a brilliant artist capable of producing the most beautiful paintings; and sometimes, when Henrietta doesn’t realize she’s letting her guard down, a tender and sensitive woman.
With Meryn’s youthful optimism pitted against Henrietta’s jaded acceptance of the world as it is, life will never be the same for either of them.

https://www.amazon.com/Invisible-as-Music-Caren-Werlinger-ebook/dp/B07ZXJQ4WX/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Invisible-as-Music-Caren-Werlinger-ebook/dp/B07ZXJQ4WX/

https://www.amazon.es/Invisible-as-Music-Caren-Werlinger-ebook/dp/B07ZXJQ4WX/

Author Caren J. Werlinger
Author Caren J. Werlinger

About the author:

Bestselling author Caren Werlinger published her first award-winning novel, Looking Through Windows, in 2008. Since then, she has published fourteen more novels, winning several more awards. Influenced by a diverse array of authors, including Rumer Godden, J.R.R. Tolkein, Ursula LeGuin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Willa Cather and the Brontë sisters, Caren writes literary fiction that features the struggles and joys of characters readers can identify with. Her stories cover a wide range of genres: historical fiction, contemporary drama, and fantasy, including the award-winning Dragonmage Saga, a fantasy trilogy set in ancient Ireland. She has lived in Virginia for nearly thirty years where she practices physical therapy, teaches anatomy and lives with her wife and their canine fur-children.

https://www.amazon.com/Caren-J-Werlinger/e/B002BOI2ZI/

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, check here if you want to get your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for the ARC copy of the book, which I freely chose to review.

This is the second book by this author I read (you can read my review of When the Stars Sang here), and it shares many of the characteristics of the previous one (a great setting, a love story at the centre of the book, a sense of time and place, great characters, both protagonists and secondary, wonderful writing…).

Here we have two characters that seem total opposites at first sight. Meryn, Ryn, a young woman, openly lesbian, newly qualified to teach history, from a large family, gregarious and friendly, dynamic, with strong convictions, and happy to stir things up. Henrietta, on the other hand, contracted polio in the 1940s and has lived with its sequelae ever since, leading a reclusive life, restricted to a small town, with a tiny circle of friends (mostly not deserving of the name), dedicated to her art, and dependant for her everyday life on paid help and living-in companions. Although the book starts in the 1980s, in many ways Henrietta still lives in the fifties. Due to the braces she wears and to her level of disability she has built up a protective shell around herself, and she’s never dared to change anything or explore beyond her self-imposed boundaries.

The story is narrated in the third person, alternating the two main characters’ points of view, and this works very well, as we have the contrast between a total newcomer who finds it difficult to fit into the stuffy and stifling society of the small town and of the Catholic college (where men reign supreme and misbehave without anybody taking them to task) where she works, and an older woman who might not like her lifestyle and those she mixes with if she stops to think about it, but cannot imagine a different life for herself. She fears the pity of others and has never allowed herself to love, after an experience she had as an adolescent prior to her illness. The girl disappeared, and she never heard from her again. That coupled with her conviction that nobody could look at her and feel anything but pity means that she is closed off and does not let anybody in, in case they hurt her.

The author creates two complex characters we get to empathise with and sets them in a recent historical period, but like the best historical fiction, the novel highlights how much some things have changed since, and also how little  other things have truly changed. The gender politics at the college are appalling but not miles away from what still exists today in some places; the prejudice might be less open but is still present (and it takes many forms here: gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, political beliefs…); and as the epilogue reminds us, the parallels with the current political situation (Reagan was in power at the time the story starts and the Democrats lost their campaign, and the book closes after the 2016 election with Trump’s victory) are evident.

Above all that, the novel talks about love: about different kinds of love (religious love, family love, friendship, romantic love…), about acceptance and tolerance of diversity, about letting others in and learning to look with new eyes at ourselves and those around us. Although there are some truly appalling characters, Ryn and Henrietta manage to find a community of friends who make them feel welcome and accept them for who they are. Henrietta’s love for art and painting, and Ryn’s enthusiasm for history and women’s history in particular, their passion and creativity, make them more alike than they realise at first, and although their story is not without complications, and there are sad as well as joyful moments, this is ultimately an inspiring and beautiful read.

This is a novel that explores issues of identity, prejudice, diversity, different definitions of love, and what life (and love) is like for a person with a disability and for those around her. I enjoyed becoming a part of the story and, as was the case with the previous novel by Werlinger, I was sorry to get to the end, and I hope to read more of her stories. Recommended to readers who are looking for LGTB and diverse romances or simply enjoy beautifully written stories that will make them think.

Thanks to the author, to Rosie and her team for their ongoing support, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to spread the word, and to keep smiling!

 

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview STEALING THE SCREAM by Theodore Carter (@theodorecarter2) A fun read, unique, quirky, and full of love for art

Hi all:

Today I bring you the review of a book that I received a while back but had been hiding on my reader. Thankfully I found it because it’s a breath of fresh air and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Stealing the Scream by Theodore Carter
Stealing the Scream by Theodore Carter

Stealing the Scream by Theodore Carter

In 2004, masked thieves stole Edvard Munch’s The Scream from an Oslo museum. Norwegian police recovered the painting two years later but never explained how or where they’d found it. This 70,000-word literary-leaning, humor-laced, crime novel Stealing The Scream tells what may have happened.

Retired CEO-turned-painter Percival Davenport’s criminality starts when, fueled by insecurity, he hires a whiskey-drinking thief to break into museums and hang his paintings. If Percival can pass off his art as museum-quality, he will know he’s attained mastery. The “donations” attract the attention of Leonard, a Smithsonian guard and amateur sleuth.

As Leonard begins collecting the unwanted paintings and searching for the artist, Percival’s studies intensify. He develops an obsession with Edvard Munch’s The Scream and steals it. When Leonard and law enforcement agents come knocking at Percival’s door, his Tell-Tale-Heart-like anxiety causes him to turn his mansion, and the famous painting, into a roiling inferno. This forces the police into creative means of art restoration.

Enlaces:

https://www.amazon.com/Stealing-Scream-Theodore-Carter-ebook/dp/B07XTSPT3P/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stealing-Scream-Theodore-Carter-ebook/dp/B07XTSPT3P/

https://www.amazon.es/Stealing-Scream-Theodore-Carter-ebook/dp/B07XTSPT3P/

Author Theodore Carter
Author and artist Theodore Carter

About the author:

“At times Stealing the Scream is laugh-out-loud funny, but it is always filled with enough mystery to encourage the reader to keep turning the page. This one was a scream to read.” – New York Journal of Books

Theodore Carter is the author of The Life Story of a Chilean Sea Blob and Other Matters of Importance (Queens Ferry Press, 2012), Frida Kahlo Sex Dreams and Other Unnerving Disruptions, and Stealing ‘The Scream’ (Run Amok Books, 2019).

His fiction runs the gamut from humor, to literary fiction, to horror. He’s appeared in several magazines and anthologies including The North American Review, Pank, Necessary Fiction, A capella Zoo, The Potomac Review, and Gargoyle.

His street art projects have garnered attention from several local news outlets including NBC4 Washington, Fox5 DC, and the Washington City Paper.

Carter lives just outside Washington, DC in Takoma Park, MD. More at www.theodorecarter.com

My review:

I thank the publisher for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I had a ball reading this book. This is one of those books that are fun to read (even if you think you know where things are headed, you still want to read all the nitty-gritty details and end up discovering that things can go in unexpected directions), and are also great fun to tell others about. Because the plot of the book is both out-there and plausible at the same time, it’s impossible not to keep thinking about it, pondering over the details, and wondering how far things will go. And my bet is that anybody you tell about this book will also be left wondering and will want to know more.

The book’s description explains the main points of the plot in detail (too much detail for my liking, although luckily for me I didn’t remember the description when I got immersed in the book), so I won’t go over them again. This is a book suffused by art, painting in particular: love of art, the technique of painting, studying art, the obsession for art, collecting art, art museums and how they work, art as a business, but also and more importantly, the way art can communicate and affect people. The author, an artist in his own right, captures and transmits the way some art pieces can have an incredible effect on people, how we can feel moved, stirred, saddened, horrified, or utterly joyous by contemplating some artworks.  The power of some images (or sounds, or movements…) is undeniable and, as the main protagonist of the story learns, does not reside on a perfect technique. Some paintings have a soul that reaches out, touches our hearts and, like here, even screams at us.

The story is narrated in the third person from the four main characters’ points of view. This does not cause confusion as each chapter is told from a single character’s perspective, and it is clearly signposted. Percival, the retired CEO who takes up painting, is the central character, the one whose actions set the story in motion, although he does that at the suggestion of Lucinda, whose role in the story seems to be that of observer/facilitator, but whose motives and actions are, perhaps, the most intriguing of the whole book. She was an actress and seems to have fallen into her role as a mixture of PA, housekeeper, and live-in help of Percival quite by accident. She has lost her self-confidence and is both restless but unable to act, having lost her sense of purpose. Percival is a quirky character, who seems to show traits of Asperger’s (he has difficulty dealing with people other than a few individuals who know him well, is obsessive and once he has focused on something, he finds it difficult to switch off, he is rigid and inflexible in his routines…), and has a peculiar, sometimes child-like, sense of humour. Towards the end of the book his mind goes into freefall, and he reminded me of the Howard Hughes’s character as portrayed in the film The Aviator, but here the focus is on painting and art. Red, the shadiest character, is perhaps the most easily recognisable and familiar of them all, but although not particularly likeable, his resourcefulness and the ease with which he accepts the most bizarre requests make him rise above the typical crooks of novels and films. My favourite character was Leonard, the museum security ward. Although he is not well-educated or sophisticated, he is an observer of people, loves art (for its own sake), and has a curious and clever mind. He is the amateur detective, the only one to make sense of what is going on and who pursues the answers, no matter how difficult it might be.

The author assembles a cast of characters that seem, at first, to be familiar types we’ve all read about or watched on movies, but we might not feel a particular connection to. (As I said, Leonard is perhaps the most “normal” of them all, and, at least for me, the easiest to empathise with). But as we read about them, we discover they all have something in common. They are lonely and disconnected from others. Percival and Lucinda live in the same house (although it is a huge mansion, the author manages to create a sense of claustrophobia and encroachment) but, as Lucinda eventually realises, they live in separate worlds. Red has chosen to live in the edges of society and doesn’t know how to relax or enjoy other people’s company, other than at a very basic/business-like level. And although Leonard has a regular job and some friends, he lives alone in his apartment, has been stuck in his job for years, and has no meaningful relationships to speak off. The “common” experience they go through teaches all of them something, not the same, but important lessons nonetheless.

The language is versatile, adapting well to each different character, with some very funny lines at times (Lucinda keeps collecting Percival’s pearls of wisdom, and some are laugh-out-loud funny), lyrical descriptions of paintings and experiences (some take on an almost hallucinatory quality), and accurate depictions of paranoid and disturbed mental states. The plot involves a variety of locations and settings, and some action scenes, without any real violence (although there is menace and veiled threats), and the narration moves at a good pace, with some reflective and contemplative moments, but never slowing down to a halt.

I also loved the end. As I have mentioned, all the characters learn something new about themselves, and the end of the central story (the robbery of The Scream) will bring a smile to readers’ faces.  I hope somebody decides to make a movie out of it, because it would be a joy.

This is a book a bit difficult to categorise, as it has elements of the mystery novel (perhaps a cozy mystery with a difference), of the alternative historical fiction, even if it is real history (a reimagining of what might have truly happened when The Scream was stolen), of literary fiction, it’s also a study on obsession and art… I’d recommend it to people who love quirky stories with intriguing characters that do not fit into a given genre and are not followers of trends. If you love art, have a sense of humour, and are looking for something fresh and different, you must read this.  I am very intrigued by the author’s biography and his other books, and I’ll be checking out the rest of his work.

Thanks to the author for this fabulous book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

 

 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog Picasso’s Revenge by Ray and Caroline Foulk (@picassonovel). For lovers of Cubism eager to experience the 1920s and 30s Paris art scene.

Hi all:

I bring you another review on behalf of Rosie’s group. This is a labour of love, and I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

Picasso’s Revenge by Ray and Caroline Foulk

Picasso’s Revenge by Ray and Caroline Foulk.

In the early 1920 s, immaculate gentleman, Jacques Doucet descends into the world of anarchist art, the occult and the dark turmoil of his past involving the death of his beloved Madame R. A disastrous journey leads the couturier and patron of the arts to confront the celebrated bohemians of the city, including Max Jacob, André Breton and Picasso. When troubled Doucet acquires the world’s most dangerous painting, it causes him to hack at the root of Picasso s darkest secrets, unveiling modern art’s incredible genesis.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Picassos-Revenge-Ray-Foulk-Caroline/dp/1911487345/

https://www.amazon.com/Picassos-Revenge-Ray-Foulk-Caroline/dp/1911487345/

https://www.amazon.es/Picassos-Revenge-Ray-Foulk-Caroline/dp/1911487345/

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43975881-picasso-s-revenge

Author Ray Foulk

About the author:

Ray Foulk, now based in Oxford, has fostered many passions since his early days as a promoter. After the dizzy heights of the Isle of Wight Festivals and stadium events in London, the Foulk brothers were head-hunted by the Milton Keynes Development Corporation to help plan the leisure content of their new city. Through this Ray brought the inventor/scientist/designer Buckminster Fuller, to the project, embraced his environmentalism, and eventually trained as an architect himself at the University of Cambridge. Combining design, education and promotion he spent much of the nineties and noughties as an environmental campaigner, and led the ambitious in-schools project, Blue Planet Day, rekindling the satisfaction, and more, that the festivals had brought to his youth. Recent years have been dominated by environmental architecture and writing.

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13982553.Ray_Foulk

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

The author describes this book as ‘historical fiction’ and that is correct, but this novel leans more heavily towards the research side of things than towards the fictionalisation, and when we read the author’s explanation and the epilogue, it’s easy to understand why. Ray Foulk’s PhD dissertation focused on an element that appears in the novel (I’m not sure talking about it would be a spoiler, but just in case, I’ll be discreet), and it is evident that he felt the topic was too fascinating to be confined to academia. So much so that he first worked on a movie treatment of the same, and now it has become a novel. Therefore, it is not surprising that the book is packed with factual details, with quotes from historical characters, from novels, art critics, newspapers and magazines. But, although the character at the centre of the book, Jacques Doucet (yes, Picasso is central as well, but not the main character) existed in real life, and most of the information the book shares about him is true, we do not have access to his personal notes and papers (these were destroyed shortly after his death at his request), and therefore we can only speculate as to his thoughts and his reasons behind some of his projects, which seemed extravagant at the time, and would likely raise a few eyebrows even now.

Although I’ve read about the period (particularly in regards to Paris as a cultural centre and a meeting place where artists, writers, patrons of the arts, philosophers, musicians… met and exchanged influences and ideas) and studied a course called ‘The Exotic and the Primitive in American Literature’, and I’m therefore somewhat familiar with some of the concepts and ideas discussed in the book, I didn’t know much about Doucet before reading this novel. He was a famous couturier as a young man, and later became a collector of books and art, moving on from XVIII c. art to the Impressionists and eventually to what became known as Modern Art, becoming a patron of some of the best-known artists of the time. In the novel, we meet him when he is advanced in years and has lost interest in dressmaking  (dressmaking has also lost interest in him), and has become focused on his collecting. The book is narrated in third person omniscient person, interspersed with parts when we hear directly from a variety of characters in the first-person, most of all from Doucet himself. Although the main events in the book follow a chronological order, in his search for the truth (or for understanding, or… well, I’ll leave it to your judgement), Doucet talks to many people, and they sometimes recall events from the past, as does he, so there are moments we keep coming back to, again and again, and see them from different perspectives, and we get to slowly build up a picture of what might have actually happened. But some of the witnesses and the narrations/confessions, are far from straight-forward and reliable, so this is far from a standard mystery, where we follow the clues and get to a clear answer.

This is a book about an obsession, or several, that seem to mirror each other. It is a book about Doucet’s obsession with a painting, Les Mademoiselles d’Avignon, by Picasso, a painting he purchased due to its connection with a lady he knew and was obsessed with as well. The painting, which supposed a break with the previous art movements and gave birth to modern art, was controversial at the time (1906-1907, and was not fully appreciated until much later. Doucet feels that if he can get to understand the painting and why Picasso painted it, it will help him come to terms with what happened to the lady he was infatuated with. I couldn’t help but wonder if such obsession is not mirrored by the author’s obsession with the story and the reasons behind Doucet’s final project, but this is only speculation on my part.

The book is full of wonderful descriptions of art objects, of buildings, locations, and as I mentioned, includes plenty of factual information about events and people of that period, from a variety of sources, all identified at the end of the book by the authors. Each chapter opens with a quote that always bears a relation to the content, even though the connection is not always direct and straight-forward. This is a long book that seems to meander and swirl, slowing down to contemplate a particular moment or artwork and then moving on again; there is plenty of telling (although as I’ve said there are also many detailed descriptions that will delight art lovers and connoisseurs, and will make them feel as if they were there); there are events we go back to again and again, to study them from all possible angles (imitating, in a way, what the cubist art movement tried to do, deconstructing and putting the pieces together to gain a new understanding of what happened and why); there are plenty of secrets and mysteries, but none that fit in the standard mystery genre; and although the main character is complex and engaging at an intellectual level, I am not sure he is easy  to empathise with. Personally, I found him fascinating, and I was intrigued by his struggle for meaning and his moments of insight (sometimes he resists accepting what might be evident to others and is horrified when he realises how others might see him), but I am not sure he’s the kind of hero most readers will appreciate or feel at ease with.

This is a book for art lovers, especially lovers of the Paris art scene of the 1920s and 30s (a fascinating era and the place to be, for sure), who appreciate lengthy descriptions and are not looking for a straight-forward narrative, full of adventures and action, where all becomes clear and all secrets are eventually revealed. This is a novel about enjoying the intellectual journey and the process of research and the beauty is of the findings along the way, and although there is an ending (one that reminded me of Henry James’s The Beast in the Jungle, my favourite story by James), for me, this is by the by.  I recommend readers to keep reading after the ending, because the epilogue and the author’s notes and acknowledgements add plenty of value to the text, explaining the background to the project and providing also a bibliography for those who want to track back the information and keep on researching. The ARC version I had access to (in e-book format) contained a couple of images, but I do wonder if the paperback version will contain more images, or if the final version in e-book will perhaps contain links to the many artworks mentioned, as I think having access to images would enhance greatly the understanding and the enjoyment of the book. (I was familiar with many of the artists and some of their works, but not always with the ones mentioned. Not an easy read, not a book for everybody, but a festival for the senses and the minds of those interested in the topic and not afraid of going on a journey through a man’s obsession with art and love). If you love Picasso, Paris circa 1920s and 1920s, and enjoy rich descriptions and digging beyond the surfaces of human behaviour, you must read this novel.

Oh, and after reading the review, one of the authors sent me a link with some background into the novel and also a link where readers can find some of the artworks that play such an important part in the novel. Here it is:

https://www.picassosrevenge.com/

Thanks to Rosie and the members of her great group, thanks to the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview THE ART LOVER’S GUIDE TO PARIS (CITY GUIDES) by Boukabou Ruby (@penswordbooks) A must-have for lovers of art and Paris.

Hi all:

I bring you a book that I think will be of interest to many (and I thoroughly enjoyed):

The Art Lover's Guide to Paris by Ruby Boukabou
The Art Lover’s Guide to Paris by Ruby Boukabou

The Art Lover’s Guide to Paris (City Guides) by Boukabou Ruby

There’s no doubt that Paris is brimming with some of the world’s best art. But on a trip to the City of Light, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the options, get caught up in the queues and miss the back street gems. Fear not- armed with this companion you’ll easily navigate your way through the rich art history to the vibrant present scene, and have a ball doing so. Along with listings of the unmissable museums and galleries (where you’ll appreciate the ancients through to the contemporaries), the guide includes more off beat places to find public and private art all over town (from design hotels to auction houses, beautiful brasseries to artist studios). You’ll pick up insider tips from local and international professionals and find out where to take a sketch class, see live street art, buy an artwork, attend intriguing art events and meet the artists.

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Art-Lovers-Guide-to-Paris-Paperback/p/16122

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lovers-Guide-Paris-City-Guides/dp/152673365X/

https://www.amazon.com/Lovers-Guide-Paris-City-Guides/dp/152673365X/

https://www.amazon.es/Lovers-Guide-Paris-City-Guides/dp/152673365X/

Author Ruby Boukabou
Author Ruby Boukabou

About Ruby Boukabou

Ruby Boukabou is a reporter specialising in culture and travel. For over a decade Ruby has written cultural stories about Paris for dozens of magazines, papers and sites with clients including the French Travel Board, Qantas in-flight magazine and the ABC. She is co-author of 48 Paris, a National Geographic guide to Paris. www.rubytv.net & www.rubybouabou.com

My review:

I freely chose to review an ARC paperback copy of this book provided by the publishers. This in no way affected its content.

There’s something exciting and reassuring about guide books. Exciting, because we feel submerged in a place we don’t know (or we don’t know well) and we vibrate with the adventures its pages offer us, and that happens even when we’re just checking to get some ideas rather than committing to a visit or a definite plan. And reassuring, because having information about a place that might be unknown (and sometimes pretty different to our everyday experience) and holding onto facts, advice, and suggestions, we feel less alone and more in control.

There are many guidebooks, and as many different approaches and styles as readers and travellers. Some people have their favourites and stick to them (we all know that some guides are parts of series and come with a seal of approval from trusted organisations and/or publishers), others shop and change, and there are people who might have a true collection of guides for locations they love, and are always in the lookout for a new approach, or one that covers in more detail some aspect of a place that they are particularly interested in. If you love travelling and books, for instance, there are literary guides that will offer you information about different authors, where they lived and what they did in a particular place (it would be difficult to visit Dublin and not think of James Joyce and Oscar Wilde, visit Bath and not see in your mind’s eye the characters of Jane Austen’s novels, or walk around Barcelona and not keep coming across places mentioned in The Shadow of the Wind). I love reading and books, so I’ve always paid particular attention when visiting places to information about writers and authors, but I’m also enamoured with art (I am no aficionado, as I don’t know much, but I’m in awe of artists and love to learn about them and their works of art), so I could not resist when I saw this book.

I’ve visited Paris quite a few times (I’m lucky that one of my best friends lives in Paris, and I can visit one of my goddaughters when I go there), and I do love it. The idea of an art lover’s guide to Paris, one of the cities considered the cradle of art, fundamental to many art movements and to the career of so many world famous artists, was just perfect. And the book is a delight.

Considering this is a small-sized book, it is packed with information, and fairly up-to-date. (It does talk about Notre-Dame before the terrible fire, but the rest of the information is timely and there are reminders to check all the information for updates throughout the book). After a foreword by the author and a brief introduction talking about art history, the book (which includes an arrondissements map to allow people to get their bearings as to the location of the places), the book is divided into chapters including: the museums, foundations and institutions (organised by location), the galleries, it has a chapter on photography (including some photography tips), architecture, art in public places, then come two chapters talking about two neighbourhoods of Paris that are more “arty”, Montmartre (this one is divided into several parts and can be followed as a walking guide), and one on Belleville (a delight for those interested in modern art and new, up and coming artists),one on street art (I loved this one), a chapter containing advice on how to attend and art auction, one on arty cafés, restaurants and hotels, a chapter inviting people to explore greater Paris (that I found particularly inspiring, as it includes places easily accessible from Paris, just about an hour’s journey from the centre of Paris), a chapter called “art close and personal” with suggestions on where to go to meet artist and to learn more about art (and even practise your own!), arty day trips (these are longer visits, and include a lengthier segment on Giverny), another chapter offering tips, this one on buying art, by art experts, and an art diary, highlighting the different art fairs and events that art lovers might want to attend. The book also includes an index and a bibliography, although many of the entries contain relevant information and links that can be further explored.

The book is full of wonderful colour photographs, which make it a delight to leaf through, even if you’re not planning a trip straight away, and it contains nuggets of invaluable information about places and people, without becoming overwhelming or excessive. It is light-hearted, conversational in style (you feel as if you were strolling with the author at times), the language used is easy to read (and family-friendly), and it also includes references to other arts (for example, it highlights the real-life settings of movies).

This book will make a great present for anybody thinking about visiting Paris, art lovers in general, and anybody who likes specialised guide-books that remain accessible and user-friendly. Many of the tips and suggestions are useful in any setting and for any journey, and, personally, it will become a trusted companion in my future visits to Paris.

Thanks to the publisher (and Rosie Croft, of course), to the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, keep smiling, and enjoy the art all around us!

Oh, and I must thank Miriam Hurdle for her wonderful review of the audiobook of the first novel I ever published, The Man Who Never Was. You can check it here. And don’t forget to check her books!

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Reviews

#Bookreview #colouringbook UZBEKISTAN. AN EXPERIENCE OF CULTURAL TREASURES TO COLOUR by Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva (@penswordbooks). A beautiful gift

Hi all:

This is an unusual book for me to review, but it is so gorgeous and would make such a perfect gift, I had to share it with you. Of course, in my opinion books are always great gifts, but if you’re looking for a spectacular book that can be enjoyed as an art object, and if you are looking for something different for people who love colouring books, I bring you:

Uzbekistan. An Experience of Cultural Treasures to Colour by Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva
Uzbekistan. An Experience of Cultural Treasures to Colour by Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva

Uzbekistan: An Experience of Cultural Treasures to Colour by Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva.

From the blue and gold splendours of Samarkand to the holy city of Bukhara, the architectural heritage of Uzbekistan is simply extraordinary.

Over the 2,000 year history of the Silk Road, its fertile oases have attracted countless travellers and conquerors who have profoundly made their mark on human history, such as the conqueror Tamerlane or the scientist Ulugh Beg, who discovered the sundial. All have bequeathed an inheritance whose legacy can still be admired today.

By its geographical position, Ancient Uzbekistan was created from a melting pot of different cultures. Iran, the Eastern Steppes, Siberia, India and China have all added their own influences on the local arts. Over the centuries, due in many parts to the Silk Road, these exchanges have continued to grow. Cities such as Samarkand, Bukhara, Tashkent and Khiva became famous in the Middle Ages not only for their cultural wealth, but also for science.

In homage to this rich heritage, this book is a celebration of the arts and pictorial traditions of Uzbekistan. Photographs of architectural works, murals, ceramics, tapestries and ornamented textiles highlight the country’s cultural treasures, accompanied by short texts explaining their historical significance. On the right-hand page, the reader is given the opportunity to color in their own drawings based on the beautiful photographs provided.

https://www.amazon.com/Uzbekistan-Experience-Cultural-Treasures-Colour/dp/1526750198/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Uzbekistan-An-Experience-of-Cultural-Treasures-to-Colour-Hardback/p/15534

About the author:

The author was the daughter of the previous president of Uzbekistan, diplomat, philanthropist, and had been delegate of Uzbekistan to UNESCO for a number of years. She has run charities for children, worked to promote gymnastics in her country and has always promoted her country’s literary, historical, and cultural heritage.

http://www.lolakarimova.com/biography

My review:

Thanks to Rosie and the whole team at Pen & Sword for providing me a hardback copy of this gorgeous book that I freely chose to review.

This is not one of the usual books I review, but over the last few years I’ve become acquainted with adult colouring books through my mother, who loves them, and when I saw this one I realised this was something a bit different from most of the colouring books I’d seen. First, this is a hardback book, and it is not about a subject like flowers, or animals, or even a film. It is a book that promises “an experience of cultural treasures to colour” from Uzbekistan, and it does deliver. The book contains photographs of places, objects, ornaments, textiles… It is divided into distinct sections:

  • Architecture: with photographs of ancient temples, palaces, and modern mosques and other buildings, with brief explanations of the history and the significance of the building, in one page, and in the opposite page, the drawing to colour (in some cases of the reconstruction of the ancient building).
  • (Here I loved the winged horses and the beautiful geometrical ceiling decorations).
  • Ganch carvings. Intricate and beautiful, this section includes several pages of designs for free colouring, without corresponding photographs. In case you are not familiar with ganch carvings (I didn’t know the name but recognised it when I saw pictures), you can find more about it here).
  • Here, there are some deceptively simple and some incredibly detailed (like the one featured in the cover of the book). I’m a big fan of mosaics and loved this section.
  • Glazed bowls. If you love pottery, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one.
  • The textiles section includes some richly coloured woven carpets, amazing dresses (iroki embroidery) and gowns.
  • These are fairly recent and incredibly beautiful as well. Although there are some fairly modern in style, others make one think of the Arabian Nights.

The quality of the print, the paper, the colours, the selection of contents, and the sheer beauty of the book is a joy. It is perhaps such a pretty object that I am not sure that many people will dare to colour it and risk ruining it, but I can see it inspiring many, and also making many people wonder about the country and its history.

If you are looking for an unusual present for somebody who loves colouring book, or simply somebody who might appreciate a beautiful book about the arts, craft, and architecture of Uzbekistan, I’d recommend it.

Ah, and observe that Pen & Sword are offering a great discount on the book at the moment, if you buy it directly from their website (and the price is very reasonable nonetheless).

Thanks to Rosie, to Pen & Sword and the author for this wonderful book, thanks to you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and review, and always, always, keep smiling.

Categories
Miscellaneous

Visiting #Sitges Hotel Estela, an #arthotel

Hi all:

I wanted to give you a break from book reviews (don’t worry, more to come soon) and also share a place I visited last week that I really enjoyed. Those of you who have visited Barcelona might be familiar with Sitges, a town on the coast, around half-an-hour distance from Barcelona. It is a lovely place, with three leisure ports, a beautiful church, some fabulous museums, good shopping, gorgeous beaches, and a well-known film-festival for those who love fantasy, among many other things. A group of writer friends, as a birthday present, had given me an activity box, and after checking what was on offer, I discovered a pretty special hotel in Sitges and decided to visit. The Hotel Estela is described as an art hotel, and the definition is perfect.

St. Bartholomew’s Church, Sitges

The hotel is like an art gallery, and all corners and spaces are enhanced by some work of art, from sculptures to collages, or paintings. There is a sculpture of Sant Jordi (Saint George, also the patron saint of Catalonia, in case you wonder) by Salvador Dalí outside of the hotel, the name of the hotel is also a sculpture by Josep María Subirachs (if you have visited the Sagrada Família, he was the sculptor responsible for the Passion Façade), and works by many others, including Josep Puigmartí’s, the artist in residence, who has lived at the hotel for over twenty years. The car park is also decorated and, if you fancy a really special experience, there are 16 rooms decorated by artists, each one in a different style.

I love this feature designed by Josep Maria Subirachs

The hotel offers you a free tour of the art, that I enjoyed with my mother, who accompanied me on the trip, and we were lucky enough to be able to visit a couple of the artists’ rooms, including the suite of love, decorated by Josep María Subirachs, a true wonder. Ah, and if you go for the tour, they also give you as a present a print signed by Josep Puigmartí. They do sell some of the artwork, including some pretty iconic pieces, by artists featured throughout the hotel and others, like the wonderful sculptures by Lorenzo Quinn (Anthony Quinn’s son), who has strong links to the area.

This is part of the decor in one of the artists rooms

As there were too many images to share here, and for some reason, Microsoft offered to create a video as I uploaded them, I’m sharing the video here and a few of the images. Sorry, they are not great, but you know me and my pictures. I hope they give you a sense of the place. And, if you are thinking of visiting Barcelona and the area around it, and want a pretty special experience, it is well worth a visit. (We also enjoyed the visits to the museums and the town and you will find a few pics of the town itself too).

 

I hope you like it as well.

Thanks for watching, more than reading, today, and I hope you start the week on a high note.

Sorry about the flash, but I loved the sense of humour of this one…
Categories
Reblogs

Under the Sea, a Virtual Art Gallery Showcasing the work of Rob Goldstein

Thanks to Teagan Geneviene for inviting me (and everybody) to an extraodinary virtual exhibition of Rob Goldstein’s art. It’s called Under the Sea and it is fantabulous! Come and visit!

via Under the Sea, a Virtual Art Gallery Showcasing the work of Rob Goldstein

Categories
Book review Book reviews Rosie's Book Review Team Rosie's Book Team Review

#TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT PAINTED BY Kirsten McKenzie (@Kiwimrsmac). Gothic psychological horror, with haunted house and ghosts for art and lovers of antiques. #Bookreview

Hi all:

Today I bring you a novel in one of my favourite genres. Thanks to Rosie Amber for her great review group where I keep discovering great books.

Painted by Kirsten McEnzie
Painted by Kirsten McKenzie

PAINTED: A Horror Novel by Kirsten McKenzie

If art can capture a soul, what happens when one of those souls escapes?

When art appraiser Anita Cassatt is sent to catalogue the extensive collection of reclusive artist Leo Kubin, it isn’t the chilly atmosphere of the secluded house making her shiver, it’s the silent audience of portraits clustered on every wall watching her.

Kubin’s lawyer didn’t share the detailed instructions regarding the handling of the art, and Anita and her team start work in ignorance of the very instructions designed to keep them safe. Safe from the art.

In the dark, a portrait stirs as the subject eases themselves out of the portrait and stretches, free at last from the confines of a canvas which they have no intention of ever returning to. They have a painting to finish and the people in the house will only be in the way…

Buy Painted now and you’ll never look at the art on your walls the same way again.

Perfect for lovers of early Stephen King and Rachel Caine

What readers are saying about PAINTED:

“Refreshing to encounter this subtle, delicate narrative where horror peeps slyly out…”
“Painted is an effective haunted house book, favoring tension and subtlety over outright violence and kills.”
“McKenzie does an incredible job in the characterization of the people in her novel. With each and every one, I came away with the feeling that I knew them–down to even the secrets they kept hidden from each other.”
“This novel literally took my breath away in places.”
“The plot is sensationally addictive and the creepy factor kept me alert page after page.”
“No gore or cheap scares here, this is a subtle and delicate chiller written in the spirit of a Shirley Jackson novel.”

Links:

Amazon.co.ukhttps://www.amazon.co.uk/PAINTED-Horror-Novel-Kirsten-McKenzie-ebook/dp/B072TT8QXJ

Amazon.comhttps://www.amazon.com/PAINTED-Horror-Novel-Kirsten-McKenzie-ebook/dp/B072TT8QXJ

Goodreadshttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35170823-painted

Author Kirsten McKenzie
Author Kirsten McKenzie

About the author:

For many years Kirsten McKenzie worked in her family’s antique store, where she went from being allowed to sell the 50c postcards in the corner of Antique Alley as a child, to selling $5,000 Worcester vases and seventeenth century silverware, providing a unique insight into the world of antiques which touches every aspect of her writing.

Her historical fiction novels ‘Fifteen Postcards’ and its sequel ‘The Last Letter’ have been described as ‘Time Travellers Wife meets Far Pavilions’, and ‘Antiques Roadshow gone viral’.

Her first horror novel, ‘Painted’, was released in June 2017.

She lives in New Zealand with her husband, daughters, and her SPCA rescue cat, and can be found procrastinating on Twitter under the handle @Kiwimrsmac.

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Amber (from Rosie’s Book Review Team, check here if you would like to have your book reviewed) and to the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel, that I freely chose to review.

When I read the description of Painted I knew I had to read it, as it was a horror novel (and despite how much I like the genre, I don’t seem to read many of them), and it had to do with art. When I read that the author had worked in the antiques family business; that sealed the deal for me.  I had not read any work by this author before (and I understand this is the first time she writes horror) but I am pleased to have discovered her.

I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but let’s say we have a dead painter who left very specific instructions in his will as to how to deal with the artwork he left behind. Unfortunately, there had been changes at his lawyer’s and his instructions were ignored. And we all know what happens when we ignore warnings, don’t we?

There are authors who are better at building characters than at creating a plot, and there are also authors who excel at describing places and objects but are not so good at providing psychological insights. McKenzie manages to create a great gothic atmosphere (some reviewers have said that the novel is more gothic than pure horror, but both things do not exclude each other), with a fantastically eerie and creepy house, full of even creepier portraits, and a variety of objects, furniture, and even plants that all combine to create a fabulous setting for the novel. In fact, the house becomes another character, one that hides many secrets, and of course, many ghosts.

But the author also creates fully-fledged characters, with their passions, foibles, secrets (some darker than others), and stories. Even when we do not get to share much time with them, we get flashes of their personality (be it because of their fastidiousness about their personal appearance, or because of the way they hang on to mementos from the past, or the way they present a false and harmless persona to the world when they are anything but). She manages to do this by using a variety of techniques, especially by her particular use of point of view. The story is written in the third person, but it shares the points of views of different characters. There is a certain degree of head-hopping, although I did not find it confusing and it is very smoothly done. We do see things from the perspective of all the characters. We mostly follow Anita, the young woman sent by the auctioneer’s to catalogue the paintings, because she is the first one to arrive and she spends the most time at the house, but we even get an insight into the thoughts of the lawyer’s secretary and of the farmer’s dog. And of course, the baddies (although it is not easy to decide who is good and bad in the story). There are also moments when we are told something that none of the characters could know (a great way of creating suspense and forecasting future events), like references to shadows, sounds nobody has heard yet, and things that happen behind characters’ backs or when they are asleep.

The character easiest to empathise and later sympathise with is Anita. It is clear from the beginning that she is battling with something that happened to her in the past and is bravely trying to get on with her life (despite still experiencing symptoms of PTSD). Her story is terrible in its own right, and it makes her reactions to what happens more justified. Some characters are nasty and difficult to like (like the lawyer), but most of them are given interesting backgrounds and scenes that make them memorable, and some are much more twisted than we realise.

I loved the details of the process of cataloguing the house contents (as I love antiques and TV programmes about antiques. Yes, I could watch The Antiques Roadshow forever and never get bored), the descriptions of the painting process, and the pace of the novel. The atmosphere is created slowly and we follow the characters’ commonsensical approach to the events to begin with and share with them their descent into paranoia and utter horror. The step-by-step reveal, the twists and turns, and the ghosts (it reminded me of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James) are also masterly rendered. And the ending… No, I did not see it coming, and as a fan of unhappy endings in horror books, this manages to satisfy, to surprise and to leave us wondering.

This is psychological horror, with ghosts and haunted house, at its best, and it does not contain gore or extreme violence (there is more menace and imagining than there is anything explicit), so I would recommend it to lovers of the genre, and to those who love atmospheric readings and don’t mind a scare or two. I cannot comment on the author’s previous writing, but she definitely has a talent for this genre, and based on the quality of her writing, I’m sure we’ll hear more from her.

Thanks again to the author and to Rosie for the novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Rosie's Book Review Team Rosie's Book Team Review

#Tuesdaybookblog #Bookreview The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery (Adventures of Zelda Richardson Book 2) by Jennifer S. Alderson (@JSAauthor) A well-paced mystery that takes us back to a fascinating and tragic historical era

Hi all:

I have another review I’ve written on behalf of Rosie’s Book Review Team. I think you’ll love this one!

The Lover's Portrait by Jennifer S. Alderson
The Lover’s Portrait by Jennifer S. Alderson

The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery (Adventures of Zelda Richardson Book 2) by Jennifer S. Alderson

When a homosexual Dutch art dealer hides the stock from his gallery – rather than turn it over to his Nazi blackmailer – he pays with his life, leaving a treasure trove of modern masterpieces buried somewhere in Amsterdam, presumably lost forever. That is, until American art history student Zelda Richardson sticks her nose in.

After studying for a year in the Netherlands, Zelda scores an internship at the prestigious Amsterdam Museum, where she works on an exhibition of paintings and sculptures once stolen by the Nazis, lying unclaimed in Dutch museum depots almost seventy years later. When two women claim the same portrait of a young girl entitled Irises, Zelda is tasked with investigating the painting’s history and soon finds evidence that one of the two women must be lying about her past. Before she can figure out which one it is and why, Zelda learns about the Dutch art dealer’s concealed collection. And that Irises is the key to finding it all.

Her discoveries make her a target of someone willing to steal – and even kill – to find the missing paintings. As the list of suspects grows, Zelda realizes she has to track down the lost collection and unmask a killer if she wants to survive.

** One of The Displaced Nation’s Top 36 Expat Fiction Picks of 2016 **

“Gripping mystery…the suspense is intensely magnetic and the characters equally captivating “ – BookLife Prize for Fiction 2016, No. 14 in Mystery category

“Well worth reading for what the main character discovers—not just about the portrait mentioned in the title, but also the sobering dangers of Amsterdam during World War II.” – IndieReader

“Jennifer S. Alderson delivers a mystery novel not quite like most. It’s not about stolen paintings, but about lives that were stolen… The Lover’s Portrait is a well-written mystery with engaging characters and a lot of heart. The perfect novel for those who love art and mysteries!“ – Reader’s Favorite, 5 star medal

“If you love history, a detailed mystery, and a lovely, yet not run of the mill heroine, then you will love The Lover’s Portrait.” – Author and blogger Vicki Turner Goodwin

“I highly recommend The Lover’s Portrait for artists, art lovers, history buffs, historical novel fans, and anyone else looking for a well-written, enjoyable read.” – Author Pamela Allegretto

This amateur sleuth mystery describes the plight of homosexuals and Jewish artists in Europe during World War II, as well as the complexities inherent to the restitution of artwork stolen by the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s. The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery draws on the author’s experiences gained while studying art history in the Netherlands and working for several Dutch museums.

Related subjects include: women sleuths, historical mysteries, amateur sleuth books, murder mysteries, whodunit mysteries (whodunnit), travel fiction, suspense, art crime, art theft, World War Two, art history.

https://www.amazon.com/Lovers-Portrait-Mystery-Adventures-Richardson-ebook/dp/B01EVVS0RI/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lovers-Portrait-Mystery-Adventures-Richardson-ebook/dp/B01EVVS0RI/

Author Jennifer S. Alderson

About the author:

Jennifer S. Alderson worked as a journalist and website developer in Seattle, Washington before trading her financial security for a backpack. After traveling extensively around Asia and Central America, she moved to Darwin, Australia, before finally settling in the Netherlands. There she earned degrees in art history and museum studies. Home is now Amsterdam, where she lives with her Dutch husband and young son.

Jennifer’s travels and experiences color and inform her internationally-oriented fiction. Her first novel, Down and Out in Kathmandu: adventures in backpacking, is a travel fiction adventure through Nepal and Thailand. The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery, her second book, is a suspenseful ‘whodunit?’ which transports readers to wartime and present day Amsterdam. Both are part of an on-going stand-alone series following the adventures of traveler and culture lover, Zelda Richardson.

Review and discuss her books on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/JenniferSAldersonAuthor), Twitter (@JSAauthor) or Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/JennifeSAlderson).

For more information about the author and her upcoming novels, please visit: http://www.JenniferSAlderson.com

My review:

Thanks to Rosie’s Book Review Team and to the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily chose to review. (If you are a writer and are interested in getting first-class reviews do check here).

I love art but cannot claim to be a connoisseur and I’ve never been to Amsterdam (well, I stopped at the airport to change planes once but that was that) but I can reassure you neither of those things prevented me from enjoying this solid mystery set within the world of big art museums and exhibitions, with a background story that would comfortably fit into the genre of historical fiction.

The story is written in the third person but from several characters’ point of view, although it is easy to follow and there is no head-hopping as each chapter, some longer and some shorter, is told from only one character’s point of view. There are two time frames. Some chapters are set in 1942 and tell the story of an art dealer from Amsterdam who is being blackmailed by one of the Nazi occupiers due to his homosexuality. In 2015, Zelda, the intrepid protagonist, is trying very hard to get into a Master’s Programme that will qualify her to work in museums and agrees to help with some very basic editing tasks for an exhibition of art objects confiscated by the Nazis that has been organised in an attempt at locating the rightful owners of the paintings. Readers get also a good insight into the thoughts and motivations of other characters (the evil nephew of the original Nazi blackmailer, Rita, the owner of one of the portraits in the exhibition, Huub, the curator of the exhibition…), although we mostly follow Zelda and her adventures. Although this is book 2 in the series, I have not read the first one and had no problem getting into the story. Zelda at times reflects upon how she got here and we learn that she moved from working with computers to a stay in Nepal teaching English and finally Amsterdam. In effect, I felt the novel was better at offering factual information about her than developing her character psychologically. I was not sure of her age but at times she seemed very naïve for somebody who has travelled extensively and has held important jobs, not only with the mystery side of things but also with her personal life, but she has the heart in the right place, and I appreciated the lack of romance in the story.

The different points of view and time changes help keep the suspense going, as we have access to more information than Zelda, but this can sometimes make matters more confusing (as we are not privy to everybody’s thoughts and there are a few red herrings thrown in for good measure). The author is also good at keeping us guessing and suspecting all kinds of double-crossings (perhaps I have been reading too many mystery books and thrillers but I didn’t trust anyone and was on the lookout for more twists than there were).

The setting of Amsterdam, both in the present and in the 1940s is very well depicted and, at least for me, the wish to go there increased as I read. I really enjoyed the description of the process of documentation and how to search for the provenance of artworks (the author explains her own background and its relevance to the subject [very] in an endnote that also offers ample bibliography)  that is sufficiently detailed without getting boring, and the background theme of the fate of art and the persecution of Jews, homosexuals and other minorities in occupied Europe is brought to life in the memories described by several of the characters and also the fictionalised entries of the art merchant. It is not difficult to see how a book about the research of actual works of art could be gripping too, and the fictionalisation and the mystery elements make it attractive to even more readers.

This is a gentle mystery, with no excessive or graphic violence, with an amateur sleuth who sometimes is far too daring and impulsive (although otherwise there would not be much of a story), with a great background and sufficient red herrings and clues to keep the suspense going. I suspect most readers will guess some aspects of the solution, but perhaps not the full details, and even if they do, the rest of the elements of the story make the reading worthwhile.

A good and solid book, an interesting intrigue that combines present and past, set in a wonderful Amsterdam and the art world, with likeable and intriguing characters,  but not heavy on the psychological aspects or too demanding.

Thanks so much to Rosie and the wonderful members of her team (don’t miss their reviews), thanks to the author, and thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, CLICK and REVIEW!

 

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