Two Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist
Artist Zoe makes a long overdue visit to her friend Camille in France, and impulsively decides to hike the Camino de Santiago from central France to the Spanish border. Her budget is small and she is hiking because of a recent death in her family. Martin, a British engineer working in France, decides to test his design for a one-wheeled cart by hiking with it from Cluny to Santiago. Better equipped and organized, Martin often stays in inns and enjoys gourmet meals while Zoe’s budget barely covers hostel dormitories. However, the trail keeps bringing the unlikely pair together, especially when they are both dealing with upsetting news from home. The scenery is dramatic, the other hikers a quirky bunch, and the dialogue is witty and funny. I enjoyed this charming romantic comedy inspired by a three-month hike of the Camino in 2011 by Rosie Project author Graeme Simsion and his wife, writer Anne Buist. Film rights have been sold.
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
Tom Hazard only travels through time in his memories, but they are vivid and go back to Elizabethan England. A member of the Albatross Society, Tom ages very, very slowly. As he has to move and reinvent his life every eight years to keep his condition a secret, he isn’t supposed to fall in love. Back in London as a history teacher, Tom has only to look out the window to see places from his own history, where his true love Rose was a fruit seller, and where he played the lute at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. French teacher Camille thinks Tom looks familiar and may tempt him into a relationship, but Hendrich, the head of the society, sends Tom on a quick trip to Australia to recruit surfer Omai, who Tom first met while sailing the Pacific with Captain Cook. Enthralling yet bittersweet, full of history and adventure, a sure bet for readers of historical fiction or time travel. This novel is a February Library Reads pick.
The Corner Shop by Elizabeth Cadell
When Lucille Abbey travels to Hampshire to find out why three of her best employees have left the job of private secretary to Professor Hallam, she finds that the cottage is at the top of a steep hill, lacks basic amenities, and that the professor is quite unreasonable. Lucille can handle the job, the cottage, and the professor, but is soon off to Paris for a “vacation”, running her aunt’s small shop while she’s away. It becomes apparent that Lucille’s aunt is dishonest, and acquaintances from London and Hampshire keep turning up in Paris. A charming, pleasant read, with some mystery and a little romance. This book was published in 1967, and is a bit dated. Why am I reading and reviewing it now? I have enjoyed other books by Elizabeth Cadell in the past, but I’m currently looking to read and review books that were popular 50 years ago, as the Woodridge Public Library is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017. Information on special events can be found on the library’s website. The library owns 15 novels by Elizabeth Cadell, and she’s always a good choice if you’re looking for a light, gentle read.
Happy New Year!
The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman
The island of St. Thomas in the 19th century makes a vivid setting for a biographical novel about Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro and his parents. Rachel roams around the island with Jestine, the daughter of her family’s cook, Adelle, and only reluctantly agrees to marry Isaac Petit, an older Jewish merchant with three children. She loves his children and their own, but does not love Isaac. After Isaac’s death, his nephew Frederic travels from Paris to run the family business. Rachel and Frederic fall scandalously in love. Camille is one of their children, whose fascination with color and island life distract him from his work at the family’s store. Surprisingly, Rachel coldly discourages his artistic talent, although Camille gets the encouragement he needs from Rachel’s friend Jestine. Several of the characters spend time in Paris, also colorfully drawn. A very strong sense of place, lively dialogue, complex characters, and a touch of magical realism make this book an enchanting read.
Lisette’s List by Susan Vreeland
This is another good choice for book discussion groups from Vreeland, author of Luncheon of the Boating Party and Clara and Mr. Tiffany. Set in Provence and Paris from the late 1930s to the late 1940s, Parisian Lisette has a rough transition to life in Provence with her husband Andre and his grandfather Pascal. Andre is a frame maker, and Lisette had hoped to work in an art gallery in Paris. Gradually, Lisette learns to appreciate the village of Roussillon and the beauty of the countryside. Elderly Pascal tells Lisette stories of the paintings he has collected and how he acquired them, and of meeting Camille Pissarro and Paul Cezanne. As a young man, Pascal had mined ochre used for pigments in the paintings. When the war begins, the paintings are hidden. Lisette learns to garden and milk a goat, and meets contemporary painter Marc Chagall. Visit the author’s website for gorgeous photos of Roussillon.
A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith
Cora Blake is working at the cannery in Deer Isle, Maine, when she gets an invitation to travel to France. Cora is a Gold Star Mother, having lost her son Sammy in World War I. A volunteer librarian who is raising her nieces, Cora has never stopped grieving for her son, and looks forward to the trip in 1931, with four other Gold Star Mothers, all from different backgrounds. Cora’s group gathers in New York City, and meets Lily, the nurse assigned to them, and their escort, 2nd Lt. Thomas Hammond. Immediately there’s a problem; Mrs. Selma Russell is African American and not meant to be part of their group. She is sent to a different hotel, and Mrs. Wilhelmina Russell joins the group. Once in France, they tour Paris, where Cora meets wounded journalist Reed, who wants to tell her story. It is a journey of new experiences, shared grief, and unexpected tragedy. Reed’s article also has surprising consequences for Cora. We don’t meet the ladies from any of the other groups on their ship, and at least one storyline is dropped. Cora is excellent company for the reader, but I was hoping for more depth and less drama. I think this book would be a good choice for a book discussion.
I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira
If you enjoy reading about art or Paris, this book may be appealing. To begin with, I found the title a bit misleading. The main characters are Impressionist painters Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas, and I was expecting a grand romance. Degas gives Mary painting advice, and they are friends from time to time, when he isn’t being excessively critical or rude. Occasionally they are more than friends, but mostly not. The author’s focus is on painting, the artists’ community in 19th century Paris, Paris itself, and the illnesses and vision problems of the characters. Berthe Morisot and her brother-in-law Édouard Manet have a shared past, and Mary’s parents and sister Lydia, subject of many of Mary’s paintings, are the other featured characters, especially after they move from Philadelphia to live with Mary in Paris. The summary of the last forty years of Mary Cassatt’s life and work and the lives of her family and colleagues at the end was too compressed, but overall the book really kept my interest.