Villa America by Liza Klaussmann

Villa America by Liza KlaussmannVilla America was, perhaps, my most anticipated read of the summer. I loved Liza Klaussmann‘s last novel, Tigers In Red Weather (review), so much. That plus the fact that Villa America recounts the life and times of Sara and Gerald Murphy and their famous friends, including Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Picasso, and I felt certain that this book was going to steal the summer. Continue reading

In Montmartre by Sue Roe

In Montmartre by Sue RoeSometimes I wish I had studied Art History in university. That’s why I picked up In Montmartre by Sue Roe. It looks at the rise of Modernism in early 20th Century Paris by focusing on Picasso and Matisse. And when I say Picasso and Matisse, I mean mostly Picasso, which was a disappointment because I’m more of a Matisse kind of gal. Continue reading

Mademoiselle Chanel by C.W. Gortner

Mademoiselle Chanel by CW GortnerI know that many people will be interested in this novel just because of Chanel’s name, but I think you should be interested in Mademoiselle Chanel for far more reasons than just that. C.W. Gortner has written a fascinating tale of the 20th century by tracing Chanel’s rags to riches story. Continue reading

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

all-the-lightI should have listened. All my blogging friends were raving about Anthony Doerr‘s new novel, All The Light We Cannot See, and I wrote it off. I thought I wasn’t interested. Thank goodness the good people at Simon and Schuster Canada sent me a copy. I couldn’t have been more wrong. All The Light We Cannot See rates up there as one of the best novels I’ve read so far this year. Continue reading

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

Half-Blood-BluesYes, it has taken me a long time to get to Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan. Sometimes too much hype about a book can keep me away. Edugyan emerged out of nowhere in 2011 and became the It girl of Canadian fiction in 2012. There is scarcely a prize for which she wasn’t nominated. This was topped of in 2014 with Canada Reads. Continue reading

Brave Genius by Sean B. Carroll

brave-geniusI’ll admit it, the thing that attracted me to Brave Genius was a combination of the cover and the title. As far as titles go, this is a good one. My impression of the book only got better when I read that it was about Albert Camus and his involvement in the French Resistance during WWII. The book also tells the parallel story of Jacques Monod, a biologist, who like Camus worked in the French Resistance. Both Camus and Monod went on to win the Nobel Prize in their respective fields in the years following the war.

The book is basically broken into two parts: Camus and Monod during the war years and their lives and work after the war. I quite enjoyed the first part. The war in France is something I know shockingly little about and Brave Genius did a commendable job at filling that gap. In addition to relaying the lives of these two geniuses, Carroll provides ample context for their actions by really laying out what was happening throughout France in the greater theater of the war. All of the background material is wonderful, but did give me the impression that I was reading a book specifically about WWII in France.

By the time I reached the second half of the book 250 pages later, I was, quite honestly, exhausted. I dove into the second half but was quickly bogged down by the biological details of Monod’s work. Because of the thoroughness of the first part of the book I feared too much detail would follow and gave up on the book. This is not something I do lightly. I would like to stress that Brave Genius is a brilliantly researched and well written tome. As a reader who merely dabbles in non-fiction, usually of a more narrative variety, I found the book to be just a little too much for me.

Who would like this book? There a several obvious answers to this question: 1/ fans of Camus who want greater insight into his life and the effects of WWII on his writing; 2/ Fans of Monod for the same reasons; 3/ those interested int he intellectual culture of Paris and France during the Resistance and the years following the war. Another area that may be explored in the book is what exactly is it about these two men and their circumstances that propelled them to the heights of winning a Nobel Prize? As I did not finish the book I do not know whether or not this is covered, but is certainly something I would be interested in reading about. And regarding Brave Genius‘s status as a DNF – I may return to it in the future when I have more time to dedicate to it. But with the fall book season, there are just so many  things I want to read right now.

I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Malavita by Tonino Benacquista

malavitaYou may have noticed that I’ve gone a little light with my reading lately. Well, Malavita by Tonino Benacquista fits right into that category. The only thing that might raise it into highbrow status is the fact that it is a translation from French. Malavita is a comedic novel that looks at an ex-Mafia family now living in France under a witness protection program. It would appear that you can take a man out of the Mafia but you can’t take the Mafia out of the man.

One night, under the cover of darkness, Fred Blake aka Giovanni Manzoni and his family move into a house in rural France. This is, hopefully, the last of a series of moves made by the FBI/CIA to keep Blake and his family safe from the long, strong arm of the Mafia. In spite of the Blake family’s efforts at normalization, it seems that where ever they go their ingrained Mafia tendencies get them in trouble. Extortion, manipulation and coercive violence are hard habits to break.  In spite of the small incendiary Blake’s wife sets off at the grocery store, she appears to be the only family member invested in living a normal life.

Malavita presents itself as Mafia-lite.  And before you ask, yes it has been made into a movie, The Family, set to come out September 13, 2013. I’ve looked at the trailer and it appears that the movie will not be as good as the book, but that is usually the case. Starring Robert DeNiro, it reminded me a bit of Analyse This but with a healthy dose of violence when the Mafia comes to France to hunt down Blake.

Malavita falls into many of the stereotypes surrounding the Mafia, but in a good way. We all like to laugh at made men. One scene in which Blake is called on to comment on the movie Goodfellas does nothing to explode readers’ preconceived notions about Mafia life, but it is exactly what readers, as well as Blake’s audience, want to hear. Yes, the gun battles and explosions near the end tend towards the extreme, but I guess that is why it is fiction.

My only complaint about the novel is that there is a rather lengthy digression in the middle of the book. Although it progresses the plot, it is also so long winded and convoluted that I found it tiresome. That part is sure to be left out of the movie.

Who would like this book? Malavita is not going to win any prizes for writing, but it is an enjoyable romp. It is kind of like watching a movie or TV. In spite of the fact that DeNiro is starring in the movie alongside Michelle Pfeiffer and Diana Argon I am not expecting great things at the box office. Instead I would recommend reading the book even if you are not a big reader. It is fun and humorous. I suspect that for those more versed in Mafia lore than I am there are many inside jokes. It might also be good on a trip to the French countryside.