Friday, September 19, 2014

LISETTE'S LIST by Susan Vreeland Audio Edition

With a list of stage and film appearances already to her credit Kim Bubbs has lent her voice to a number of animated features and video games.  She is a multi faceted actress who brings the characters in this absorbing drama to real life.

Susan Vreeland is, of course, an acclaimed novelist whose works include Clara and Mr. Tiffany and Girl In Hyacinth Blue among others.  Those of us who eagerly awaited Lisette’s List would say it was well worth the wait!

It is 1937 when Lisette Roux and her husband, Andre, leave Paris and all it has to offer for Roussillon,  a small village in Provence.   They have moved to care for Andre’s grandfather, Pascl, and Lisette knows she will miss the gaiety and refinements of Paris.  However, it is not long before she discovers the richness in this hilltop town.

Pascal was once a seller of paints and owns works by Cezanne, Pissaro, Picasso and Chagall.  He takes pride in the small contributions he has made to the creation of these works of art.  Pascall challenges Lisette to “do the important things first.”  So, she begins keeping a list.

When war breaks out Andre joins the army, and before going he hides Pascal’s paintings in order to keep them out of Nazi hands.  Later, when Paris falls and Vichy France is on the rise Lisette begins to look for the paintings.  Her search takes her through the French countryside where she meets Marc and Bella Chagall who are hiding there before escaping to America.  She learns much from them, including some things about herself.

She continues to search for the paintings despite hardship and tragedy tempered at times by kindness and courage.  Lisette continues to grow, to learn and so will we as we listen to Lisette’s List.

- Gail Cooke

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

RENDEZ-VOUS WITH ART by Phillipe de Montebello and Martin Gayford

Surely one of the most rewarding, enriching, delightful books I’ve read in many a moon Rendezv-vous with Art is an art aficionado’s must read and reread.  After all where else may one find Philippe de Montebello (the longest serving director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in its history) and Martin Gayford (an esteemed London art critic) discussing some of the world’s most magnificent art as together they visit museums in six countries?

This book is not a history of art or a work of art criticism but rather in their own words it is an attempt to express “the actual experience of looking at art, what it feels like on a particular occasion...”  And as one reads their personal responses one’s senses are heightened, there is an added awareness of what we might look for in a painting.

Admittedly I was biased beginning with Chapter 1 “An Afternoon In Florence.”  That is my most favorite city and the basilica of Santa Croce is a beloved place for me.  Yet although I have visited several times seeing it through the eyes of the authors I realized all I’d missed.  So, in effect, with this wonderful book one revisits the Prado, the Louvre, the Met, the British Museum and more.  What a journey that is!

In addition to commentary re paintings, frescoes, sculptures and artifacts the authors address several challenges facing museums today.  For instance, if one must wait in a line several blocks long to enter a museum how will that affect our perception of what we see?

The illustrations throughout are, of course, lovely.  My copy of Rendez-vous with Art is now tabbed, underlined and full of crimped page corners as it has so much to offer.  It is a book I’ll return to again and again with great pleasure.  Thank you Messrs de Montebello and Gayford.

- Gail Cooke

Sunday, September 14, 2014


"Little Jack Horner sat in a corner
Eating a pie on the sly,
But his rapid ingestion
Caused indigestion
As well as spots on his tie." - GC

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

THE LONG WAY HOME by Louise Penny

Eagerly awaited and happily received the 10th mystery starring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Quebec Surete is one of novelist Penny’s finest.  She has the unique, compelling ability to not only weave a beautifully constructed mystery but also to layer it with emotional currents and probing insights.  In this way she delivers fully formed characters with whom many can relate and sympathize.

As The Long Way Home opens we find Gamache and his wife, Reine-Marie contentedly settled in the peaceful village of Three Pines.  It is there he takes his ease allowing his wounds to heal, trying to forget the horrors that he experienced and those that still exist in the world.

His quietude is interrupted when a friend, Clara, asks for his help.  Though he wishes to remain undisturbed he cannot refuse her.  She is a successful painter married to a once successful painter, Peter Morrow.  When her career grew while his dwindled jealousy developed and the two decided they needed some time apart.  They agreed to a year long separation in the hopes of recapturing their former loving relationship.  Peter promises to return in exactly one year.  Believing him when the time arrives Clara has purchased steak, wine in order to prepare his homecoming dinner.

     When Peter does not return she worries, concerned that something has happened to him.  The search begins which takes them into the nether regions of Quebec.  Gamache’s aide Jean-Guy Beauvoir and Clara’s friend, Myrna, joins in the quests as with each step they learn moree about why Peter has stayed away and what he might be searching for.

Gamache fans will relish this further development of his character as in searching for Peter he as well as the others discover some things about themselves.  New readers will be intrigued.

- Gail Cooke

Monday, September 8, 2014


"Little Tommy Tucker sang for his supper
Which greatly enlarged his diet,
Food materialized  
When folks realized  
Eating kept Tommy quiet." - GC

Photo: "Little Tommy Tucker sang for his supper
 Which greatly enlarged his diet,
 Food materialized
 When folks realized
 Eating kept Tommy quiet." - GC

Saturday, September 6, 2014

ADULTERY by Paulo Coelho Audio Edition

Gifted audio book narrator/actress Susan Denaker has appeared in a number of plays in the West End of London plus on national tours.  She is also remembered for her appearances in the U.S.   She delivers a memorable reading of Paulo Coelho’s intriguing Adultery, a story in which various themes are explored including marital infidelity, depression, and a smattering of life’s imponderables.

A popular newspaper reporter based in Geneva Linda has all the trappings of a perfect life - marriage to handsome, rich financier, attractive, well-behaved children, and a successful career.  Why one then wonders when she interviews Jacob, an old boyfriend who is now successful in politics, does she conclude the questioning with a sexual encounter?

Whatever the case this is the beginning of an illicit affair which briefly seems to bring Linda out of her emotional doldrums.  At the same time the affair bothers her as she cannot understand what motivated her to do this.  She tries therapy and then a Cuban shaman but finds no help with either.  Linda simply cannot understand why she is so entranced by Jacob.  Eventually his wife comes very close to making their affair public.  What will happen next?

Throughout Coelho’s narrative he explores much - everything from St. Paul to Jekyll and Hyde.  Adultery is an intriguing tale giving us much to ponder.

- Gail Cooke

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Powerful and gripping this story of four remarkable women who filled unconventional roles during the Civil War is unputdownable from start to finish.  Karen Abbott’s research is impeccable, her facts indisputable yet the story reads very much like a novel as it flows so smoothly alternately focusing on each woman.  Most fascinating for this reader were the direct quotations taken from diaries and letters written at that time.  In addition, the narrative is filled with historical figures - Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, Allan Pinkerton and more.  Yet it is the courage and passion of these daring four women that gives the story breath and life.

Belle Boyd was but 17-years-old when she shot a Union soldier in her home.  She was boisterous, hot tempered and an avowed rebel who became a courier and spy for the Confederate army.  She was an inveterate flirt who used her charms to seduce men and gain information.  She later lived through imprisonment while continuing to defy the Union by any means possible.

Rose Greenhow was an attractive widow and Washington D.C. hostess with many influential friends.  She used her position to acquire information about the Union’s military plans and passed it along.  She openly defied and sometimes ridiculed Pinkerton’s operatives who were attempting to catch her, yet she was imprisoned along with her young daughter.  At one time President Jefferson Davis even sent her to Europe to lobby for the South.

This quartet of valiant women came from different backgrounds and regions.  Young Emma Edmondson escaped a Canadian farm and her cruel father who had promised her to an elderly neighbor.  She crossed the border into Michigan where after dressing as a man and taking the name of Frank Thompson she enlisted in the Union Army.  She worked as a nurse and courier, most often at only arm’s length from the unspeakable battlefield horrors.

Elizabeth Van Lew was a wealthy Richmond spinster who supported the Union cause.  She carefully displayed a Confederate flag in the foyer of her spacious home while she was hiding Northern prisoners in a secret room until her free black servants could assist their escape.  She placed one of her servants in the home of Jefferson Davis.  The maid who had an amazing memory would gain Confederate intelligence and pass it back to Elizabeth.  Even though threatened with death Elizabeth continued her efforts on the Union’s behalf.

Each of these women was willing to sacrifice all, even their lives to further the cause in which they believed.  Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is true, beautifully written, and not to be missed.

- Gail Cooke