Friday, March 29, 2013

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Synopsis From Goodreads: A gripping novel set in Belle Époque Paris and inspired by the real-life model for Degas’s Little Dancer Aged Fourteen and a notorious criminal trial of the era.
Paris. 1878. Following their father’s sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction from their lodgings seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where for a scant seventy francs a month, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work—and the love of a dangerous young man—as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.
Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modelling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. Antoinette, meanwhile, descends lower and lower in society, and must make the choice between a life of honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde—that is, unless her love affair derails her completely.
Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural, and societal change, The Painted Girls is a tale of two remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of “civilized society.”

My Review:

This was an interesting story with very well done, fully fleshed out characters , and with what I love about historical fiction, it made me go do research so I had Degas’ Ballerina portraits and the little dancer sculpture on my computer so I could look at them while reading. These characters are all very flawed but really just trying to survive the world the best they know how.

The story of these girls was fascinating and I loved the liberty the author took to combine Emil’s story with Antoinette & Marie’s I think it added such a great layer of depth to the story, where if it hadn’t been there, this book would have had less “meat” to it. There is a third sister in this story but to me she was just a secondary character to Antoinette & Marie, yet even though their mother is a smaller part of the story too I really felt her presence whenever she was in a scene, like when she was visiting Antoinette but really she wasn’t there to see her daughter it was just an excuse for a few extra hours off work. I thought this epitomized who this woman was.

This is also a great look at life especially for the poor in the late 1800’s and how once their father dies they have to find work somewhere, there were much worse “professions” than being a dancer or even a nude model for an artist and we all know what that is. These girls don’t have it easy and go through some pretty tough times and tough men. Also the insight into the paintings of Degas that I think everyone has seen even if they don’t realize who the artist is was fascinating, he seems to be one of the few artists that actually had a modicum of success while he was still alive. I have always found his work fascinating because of its day in a life aspects’ so that made his part in this book extra interesting to me.

I highly recommend this book it is good historical fiction with a little look into the world of Degas, a little mystery and the daily life of the downtrodden of the late 1800’s.

4 stars

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: March Bookclub Pick

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: March Bookclub Pick

Our library bookclub was chosen to receive advance copies of this book from the publisher but we didn’t expect a 500+ page book so that was off-putting right away for some but once I got past the first 100 pages it was a fast read, some didn’t make it that far and gave up, some finished and liked it almost as much as I did and others finished and only found it a 3 or less star read. Our average Star Rating for this book was 3.5 so still pretty good. Our Library bookclub would like to thank the publisher Little Brown for choosing us to receive an advanced copy of this book. The review below is from our Librarian. 

This book started out slow for me the first 100 pages I was confused then all of a sudden I couldn't put this book down and I think it took me as long to read the last 400 pages as it did to read the first 100. There are times this book is confusing and I can see how people would give up on it but I am really glad I had to read this for bookclub so I didn’t give up after my usual 50-100 pages because that is when it gets good!

I really liked Ursula in all her different “lives”. She didn’t always make the wisest decisions but that is the crux of this book it is the different paths your life can take, if you do this then this is how your life will go and if you turn the other way and change that decision then this is what could happen. I also liked the family story we get to know the Todd’s is so many different ways because of the different decisions made by Ursula, and how her decisions affect what happens to others. I also got a kick out of Aunt Izzie she was a fun character.

The storyline’s about England during WWII are amazing you really get a feel of what it was like while the bombs are going off, the dust and dirt and coming around a corner to find a familiar street totally unrecognizable, when she was working as a relief worker helping find and identify the victims were heartbreaking and had such a real feel.  Ursula never really has very good taste in men no matter if it is a husband, lover or passing dalliance, I felt she was actually her happiest when she was living on her own.(Well most of the time, there is the gas incident).

As Ursula goes through life again and again she does have hazy memories more a déjà vu at times, other times just a feeling of dread, and sometime a straight up knowing of what will happen if certain events take place, yes I’m looking at you Bridget please don’t go to the fair! (Or her let’s kill Hitler phase) But she never fully realizes what is happening or why she sees the things she does or feels what she does about certain events. Each of her “lives” is varied some she dies young, some she has a husband and children, some she lives out a longer life and some of her “deaths” will shock you when the repeats start you almost feel like you are the one having déjà vu. I will say though that some of the stories start and it’s almost suspenseful as you wait to see how she dies this time.

I actually liked that the author didn’t fully explain what was happening to Ursula, be it reincarnation, déjà vu, past life or whatever you think it may be. I also am left wondering if her mother Sylvie wasn’t going through a similar “life”.

This book is one that I think will stay with you long after you read it, I am done now but still thinking of Ursula. I would recommend hanging in there if the first 100 pages are getting you down because once you get over that hump then it will really grab you! Kate Atkinson has written a fascinating, unique book that I think is deserving of all the buzz it is getting, just know this is very different than the Jackson Brodie series.

4 stars