Friday, February 27, 2015

Weekend reads and falling behind...

I'm so wildly behind on this blog, it's not even funny (and is starting, honestly, to be a little stressful!).

I've managed to read a few books since the start of the year, but trying to review them feels impossibly hard. Partially I'm not motivated to make the time -- when I have free time, I want to read, or see my wife, or clean our apartment -- and partially I feel sort of mush brained, still, and unable to write a decent review.

Perhaps this weekend...!

My weekend read is Mistress Firebrand by Donna Thorland, which I'll have to sneak in when Little Reader is sleeping (which, these days, is almost never!).

What are you reading this weekend?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Interview with Heather Webb

Earlier this week I reviewed Rodin's Lover by Heather Webb, a fabulous historical novel about the gifted sculptor Camille Claudel. I'm thrilled to share my interview with Ms. Webb about this book.

Heather Webb
Was Rodin’s Lover the original title of your book?

No! Actually it was The Eternal Idol, a piece by Rodin that I thought perfectly summed up Camille and Auguste's relationship together, but it wasn't "marketable" enough so we went with my second choice, sadly. I really preferred the other.

As you were writing Rodin’s Lover, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

A scene popped up which I hadn't plotted originally was the one in which Camille and Rodin go to Le Chat Noir, a famous night club in Montmartre. What a fun scene that was to write! I had a ball researching it as well. In fact, I got lost in the details of the era in Montmartre and had to reign myself in from the rabbit hole of research.

You have a foodie section of your blog, so what food or drink do you associate with Rodin's Lover?

I would have to say absinthe because there's a scene in the book when Camille and her brother Paul drink some. Or possibly a little cherry brandy.

What lead you to Camille Claudel's story?

I fell in love with Camille while in my French film class in college. The film, simply called Camille Claudel, was multiple award-winning in Europe and the U.S. with stars Isabelle Adjani and Gérard Depardieu playing the roles of Camille and Rodin. Their tragic love story gripped me and I swooned at the beauty they created both together and separately. After the film, I became rather obsessed with sculpture in general. Many years later, I had not forgotten Camille, and knew I wanted to delve more into her life. It has been an incredible experience spending time exploring her brilliant mind, and ultimately sharing her story.

What is your favorite of Camille's work?

The Waltz is my favorite because it's sensuous and breathtaking--the lovers look enraptured by their love but also melancholy, forlorn as if they know a secret that torments them that no one else knows.

Read any good books recently?

I'm always reading good books. :) All the Light We Cannot See was excellent! Brilliant! I'm currently reading The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig and House Broken by Sonja Yoerg.

*** *** ***

My thanks to Ms. Webb for her time and her thoughtful answers. To learn more about her and her books, check out her website and connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Rodin’s Lover by Heather Webb

Title: Rodin’s Lover
Author: Heather Webb

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 19th Century / France / Paris / Artists / Love Affair / Mental Illness)
Publisher/Publication Date: Plume (1/27/2015)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: In late 19th century Paris, a young sculptor accepts tutelage with a famous sculptor, and both are inspired by love.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I do, very much -- I believe the image is of Camille (or inspired by her portrait) and it's so striking in person!

I'm reminded of...: Melanie Benjamin, Lynn Cullen, Erika Robuck

First line: Camille dropped to her knees in the mud.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy.

Why did I get this book?: I'm a huge fan of Webb and was so intrigued by the subject of this one.

Review: Webb's second novel focuses on a less well known figure, French Belle Époque sculptor Camille Claudel, and this novel surpasses her first (which was pretty fabulous!).

Camille is a bit of a savant, a self-taught sculptor with immense talent and a matching ego. Driven to pursue her art, she receives tutoring in Paris from one of France's preeminent sculptors, but her family is split in their support of her passion. Camille's father supports her while her mother rages against the unorthodox behavior of her daughter. While her mother tries to arrange a marriage, Camille is instead drawn to her newest tutor, the much lauded Auguste Rodin.

Lest you fear this is just another hist fic focusing on a lady with a famous lover, let me reassure you this is a far more complicated, rich, and eventful story. Camille is a hard heroine to love: prickly, confident to the point of obnoxious, and single-minded. In Webb's  hands, she isn't softened nor does she turn flat the moment she falls into her lover's arms.

In fact, Webb's emotional sensitivity is something I've come to admire in her books as the dramatic events unfold without veering into melodrama.  Webb doesn't shy from the hard, heartbreaking parts of Camille's life (I'm being vague about these parts for those unfamiliar with Camille's story, but there's nothing fluffy here!) and intense moments are touched with humor, bittersweet sadness, or irony, making it impossible for this reader to shake Camille's story.

I sometimes find books about artists tricky; it can be hard to render into compelling narrative endeavors that depend on other senses. But Webb managed to evoke the tactile experience of sculpting as well as describing the various sculptures and pieces of art without sounding like a text book. I "saw" the works even without having to google them (although google I did!). I have to give a particular shout out to Joshua DeLillo, who sketched three of Camille's works for use in this novel. They look like photographs, they're so finely rendered, and were a welcome addition to the story.

This is the second novel I read since having my baby (and the second for 2015), and it was a knockout -- well worth stealing time to read. It's a fabulous read for those who enjoy biographical novels; I'm particularly reminded of Melanie Benjamin, who I also think takes shocking, notorious lives and renders them realistically, tenderly, and with empathy. Enjoy this one with espresso or cocoa over a snowy weekend.