Review: A Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

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I absolutely loved this book.

When I was at BEA in the spring, I stood in a very long line (I was number 3 though!) to see Alice Hoffman and to get her new book, The Marriage of Opposites.

First, I must say that Ms. Hoffman is one of my fave authors. I think I’ve read everything she’s written. She is quite gracious in person and was a delight in our albeit very brief meeting (where I tried not to gush). I was later interviewed by Simon and Schuster for something on camera, gushing about how much I love her writing (thankfully I have never found that video clip online, as I’m sure I’d be horrified at my lack of composure and disheveled appearance, being interviewed on the fly during a huge event in NYC).

Anyway – I digress. This story is about the parents of Camille Pissarro, the great French painter. I have to say that I knew absolutely nothing about his background, and while I am sure that he is fascinating in his own right, Hoffman’s story focuses on his mother, Rachel, and her life as she grows up among a community of refugee European Jews, who are living in the Virgin Islands during the early 1800’s. Rachel is married off to an old widower while she is quite young, and she comes to love his children and to respect him. When he dies suddenly, his younger nephew arrives to take over the business. He and Rachel fall deeply in love – even though she is substantially older and their union is forbidden as they are seen as “family”. Out of their relationship comes Camille.

I loved this story — the characters, the setting, the writing. Rachel’s story was fascinating to me and I loved the subplots and “supporting characters” with their stories along the way.

Historical Fiction at its finest!

To get you in the mood, here’s a picture by Pissarro that I got via Google Images:

Jardin Mirbeau aux Damps

Review: REVONTULI by Andrew Eddy

I received a kindle copy of REVONTULI by Andrew Eddy to review from my friends at Booktrope. It was sent to me because I had liked THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS by Chris Bohjalian last year (that was one of my fave books of 2013!).

In REVONTULI, it is WWII and the Germans are occupying the part of Scandinavia known as the Finnmark. The villagers are hardy folks, used to long winters and cold country, and are a blend of Sami and Norwegian culture (just a note- before this book, I had not heard of Sami culture. I looked it up and I have always seen it referred to as “Laplander” though apparently this is a negative term.) The Sami in this book are reindeer herders and semi-nomadic. As war touches the village, teenager Marit is caught between having sympathy for the Bosnian prisoners of war that are being held nearby and her burgeoning friendship with a young German officer, Hans, who boards at her house. The war continues, as does their friendship, and as Hans becomes like a member of Marit’s family, the lines between war and peace blur for her, and the story evolves to a life-changing climax for young Marit.

Throughout the book, the point of view toggles from current day Bavaria and Marit visiting there (she is quite elderly now) and her village growing up when she is seventeen. I really enjoyed this read! WWII is one of my favorite historical genres and this took place in an area that was new to me. Poor Marit was torn between her family’s culture, loyalty to her country, her friends, and her love for Hans. Her actions cause her to have to grow up quickly in a world that is rapidly changing.

Highly recommended to my readers who enjoy this genre! Thank you, friends at Booktrope for my copy! I will look for more forthcoming novels from Mr. Eddy.

Review: The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

While on vacation, I downloaded and read “The Winter Sea” on my Kindle (actually my Kindle recommended the title to me). This was a new author for me and the genre was one I don’t often read – historical romance.

In “The Winter Sea”, author Carrie McClelland is visiting the coast of Scotland to get ideas for a historical novel she is penning. Carrie starts having vivid dreams and strong feelings about the different places she sees and even the people she meets. Carrie’s ancestor lived in this area, though she has little information on her, and Carrie eventually comes to believe that she is channelling the memories of Sophie, her ancestor from the 1700’s. In current day, Carrie feels drawn to the son of the man from she rents a small cottage; and both his sons show romantic interest in her. Sophie’s story and her history become Carrie’s quest, and she learns about Sophie’s life as she tells her story through her novel.

This lengthy (over 500 pages) book was an interesting read, especially as it was really two stories in one, with alternating chapters (Carrie in present day; Sophie in the 1700’s). I did find some of the story rather flat: everyone seemed in love with Carrie and I wasn’t exactly sure why. She was an “okay’ character, but not particularly compelling or extraordinary. In the 1700’s, Sophie had her share of suitors as well, though she professed an undying love for one man. I did find some of the events in the story – particularly those of 1700 – rather unbelievable. And of course, it all tied together neatly. however, if you enjoy historical romances, you would probably enjoy this novel.

I have to say that the most interesting part of this novel to me was the idea of “genetic memory” and memory being handed down. At one point it is said that some believe that people who think they have past lives are actually having genetic memories from their ancestors. An interesting concept!

I thought perhaps this story would be similar to “Outlander” – the Diana Gabaldon series which I adore – however, I consider the Outlander books to be more of a saga (and one in which I have learned a ton about what life was like in the 1700’s in Scotland) while I would categorize this book as a story.

Quick Review: The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark

Having heard about this novel through the blogosphere, I picked it up at the library one day and then it sat on my coffee table. I finally got around to opening it the other day and I was so mesmerized that I couldn’t stop reading. It was one of those moments when your inner voice is saying: “….must….put….book….down” and your body just won’t comply. I read the whole book straight through.

“The Sandalwood Tree” tells two stories a century apart. Evie and Martin, along with their young son, have come to India in 1947 as the British reign is ending. Martin is deeply scarred by his WWII experiences and it has caused a tear in their marriage that Evie fears is irreparable. While staying in their rented house, Evie finds a packet of letters between two British women who lived in India in 1857. The letters tell of their friendship and of their loves. Evie becomes somewhat obsessed with finding out what happened to the women, Felicity and Adela, as she also puts her energies into saving her marriage.

This was a compelling and well-written read with beautiful descriptions of that period in India’s history. As I said before, I couldn’t put it down!

View the somewhat dramatic book trailer from You Tube: