The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan – Book Review

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Published by Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin

The death of Mr. van Goethem creates a crisis for his three daughters. The are not orphaned, they still have their mother, but with her absinthe drinking they basically just have her in name only. Antoinette had hoped to keep her sisters Marie and Charlotte out of work and allow them their childhood, but it is no longer possible, so instead she helps her sisters find positions as petit rats in the ballet of the Paris Opera, where they can earn seventeen francs a week to train. Antoinette was kicked out of the ballet some time before, but manages to find a part in the stage adaptation of Zola’s L’Assommoir. Things seem to be looking up for the van Goethems with everyone working and Marie even modeling for Edgar Degas – she is the inspiration for his statuette Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen – but their luck can’t last. Antoinette’s new beau, Emile Abadie, is driving a wedge between her and Marie, who is certain that he is bad news.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about The Painted Girls is that, while Degas himself is not a particularly major player in the book, all of the characters are based on the real people behind his art work. Marie van Goethem was really the inspiration for Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen and even Emile Abadie was the subject of some of Degas’s art, although to say what might constitute a spoiler. Buchanan’s van Goethem family is so vivid that I assumed she had created them from whole cloth, and I am impressed that her story is built largely on the verifiable facts of the van Goethems’s lives.

If you’re looking for a book to completely immerse you in late-19th century Paris, The Painted Girls is for you. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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The Song Remains the Same by Allison Winn Scotch – Book Review

The Song Remains the Same by Allison Winn Scotch
Published by Putnam Books, an imprint of Penguin

When Nell Slattery wakes up in a hospital in Iowa, she knows nothing. Not how she got there, not who the people are surrounding her, not who she is. It was a flight from New York to San Francisco, and when it crashed she was one of only two survivors, the other being her B-list actor seatmate, Anderson Carroll. Although Anderson remembers horrible detail, Nell’s amnesia does not seem to be going away, not even in regards to her life before the crash. Luckily, Nell has her mother, husband, and sister/business partner around her to help fill her in on who she used to be. Unfortunately, each of these people has his or her own perspective on Nell’s life, what it was and what they wish it had been, and their stories for Nell reflect these wished for realities. Now, all Nell knows is that she knows nothing, and that she cannot fully trust what is told to her. It will be up to her and any outside help she can muster to sort out the life she used to lead, and the one she will lead going forward.

As always, Allison Winn Scotch has created a complex and moving story of identity and choosing what life to live. Nell’s story is affecting, not as much the tragic accident which she can’t remember, but her journey to remembrance, the decisions she must make about where to conform to what she knows of her former life and where to attempt to be a new and improved person. Certainly a story about a tragic accident and amnesia could have easily been trite, in soap opera territory, but Winn Scotch deftly avoids these traps and gives readers a book that is authentic, without resorting to cookie cutter genre conventions.

The Song Remains The Same is a new take on amnesia stories, and one written with the heart that I have come to expect from Allison Winn Scotch. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Author.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Researching and writing a historical novel: bringing all the pieces together – Guest Post by Stephanie Cowell, Author of “Claude and Camille”

Giveaway closed

It begins with an utter fascination for a place, a time, an historical person: something that will not let you go. Claude and Camille began when I visited an art exhibition of the early works of the impressionists. I stood before one of Claude Monet’s paintings of a stormy seacoast and a weary horse making its way down the sand, and said “What sort of intense man painted that?” I was fascinated by the friendship between the young artists, all then unknown, and thought, “Who were the women who were close to them?”  Who loved this sexy, dark-eyed young Monet?

The idea for a novel begins perhaps with a few lines on paper and after a time grows into scenes and sections. Characters and place begin to emerge. And then the writer has the most passionate desire in the world to know every single thing about her historical characters and their times. When I first began to write historical fiction you spent long days in research libraries and haunted used bookshops. Since the internet you can find all sorts of information, or almost any old book, or find access to scholars who can help you.

I ended up buying sixty books on impressionism and Paris and reading and reading and haunting several art museums and walking the streets of Paris that Claude Monet walked and traveling to Giverny. You take all that research and combine imagination with it. The most challenging part for me is plotting the events which lead the characters to the last pages. Eventually you have a full novel and hopefully one good enough that an editor will offer to buy it.

The editor works with your novel, giving suggestions to strengthen it. Often a writer knows so much about her world and characters that she does not realize some of it is still in her head and not on the page. And of course friends have also read it and commented on how it could be strengthened. After that, the copy-editor points out that your heroine’s hair changes color from page 36 to page 94!

But when it is all proofed and printed between the covers with an evocative jacket, the writer hopefully has created a world for readers to enter and live in, a world deep and true and real which may take them on a remarkable journey to places and people all over time.

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