Friday, January 29, 2021

Book Review and Giveaway: L'Origine by Lilianne Milgrom

Lilianne Milgrom

on Tour January 18-29 with L'Origine  

L’Origine: The Secret Life Of The World’s Most Erotic Masterpiece

(historical fiction) Release date: July 28, 2020 at Little French Girl Press 255 pages

2020 Indie B.R.A.G. Medallion Award

I've always been a fan of novels that dig into the history of artwork, ever since Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland in 2007. I know that the stories behind the artwork are mostly fabricated, but I just love the idea of peeking behind the scenes. 

I had another chance to pull back the curtains of the art world in the novel L'Origine by Lilianne Milgrom. The novel explores the life of the painting L'Origine du Monde by French artist Gustave Courbet. Not familiar with the painting? Neither was I, but don't look it up. Wait until after you've read the book. 

Milgrom is also an artist, and the novel begins as a biography. She travels to Paris and asks permission to paint or "copy" L'Origine du Monde in the Musee d'Orsay. The title L'Origine du Monde means the beginning of the world or the start of the world, and it is known as an early erotic painting of a woman's torso and vagina. I really enjoyed joining Milgrom as she painted in Paris each day, responding to museum goers and their curiosity. 

I didn't realize the book was then switching to fiction as it jumped back to the 1800s and followed the artist Courbet's life. After the painting left Courbet, the reader continues to follow it as it switched hands in back deals, never actually seeing the light of day until the late 1900s. The author did a good job creating these historic scenes and characters as she kept the painting at the center of the world events; through World Wars and fallen governments, the hidden painting continued to exist in secret. This book was a smart read with good continuity and writing that kept me hooked. It definitely made me curious about the painting and I'll make a beeline to see it next time I'm in Paris. 

I received a copy of the title from the publisher for purpose of honest review.  I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.

(Spoiler alert: about the painting) From the pictures I've seen online, I'm not a great fan of the painting. Courbet was a realist painter, but perhaps this painting would have benefitted from a bit of impressionism. The vagina doesn't bother me, it's the rest of the painting. It looks a bit grotesque because of the lack of arms and head. The breasts seem stretched and misshapen because of the twisted torso. In the novel, Milgrom writes that Simone de Beauvoir said the painting depicted women the way men liked them, no head (brain) just breasts and vagina. I can see her point. I'm also puzzled that men looked at this painting erotically. It doesn't seem sexy to me.


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L’Origine‘ traces the extraordinary, clandestine odyssey of an iconic 19th century painting that shook up the author’s world and continues to scandalize all who set eyes upon it. Gustave Courbet’s portrait of a woman’s exposed torso and sex – audaciously entitled ‘L’Origine du monde’ (The Origin of the World) – was so shocking it was kept hidden for a century and a half, surviving revolution, Nazi plunder and the foibles of its eccentric owners. Today it draws millions of visitors to Paris’ Orsay Museum. Lilianne Milgrom brings a fresh, feminine perspective to an iconic work of art created specifically for the male gaze. ‘L’Origine‘ offers readers more than a riveting romp through history–it also reflects society’s complex attitude towards female nudity.
NB: this is a historical novel, no explicit scenes
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L'Origine - Lilianne MilgromLilianne Milgrom Paris-born Lilianne Milgrom is an award-winning international artist, writer on the arts and author. Her art can be found in both private and institutional collections around the world and her articles have been published in Huffington Post, Daily Art Magazine, Ceramics Now and Bonjour Paris. Her 5-star, bestselling novel ‘L’Origine‘ is the result of ten years of research and was accepted into the Historical Novel Society. Lilianne lives in Washington DC with her husband. Follow the author on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram Join her mailing list
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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

She Made Me a Mom

 Twenty-nine years ago today, I didn't know what being a mother was like. 

But one day changed all that, as Earl and I drove an hour in the dark early morning to the hospital, and Grace was born at 12:30 p.m. Our little bundle of joy was a whopping 8 pounds, 8 ounces (maybe I shouldn't have married a giant) and she turned us into parents.

She's a great first child, holding us to our promises, living up to our dreams. It's been a joy to watch her grow up and fly away. 

Even if growing up meant that she needed to step away and have a photoshoot with a wolf, we knew she had a lot of strength and good decision-making skills. 

Raising Grace has been a joy from the moment that we overdressed her in a onesie on that sweltering January day in Florida, to watching her leave us behind in France while she moved to Dublin. 

Happy birthday, my sweet girl. 
I hope 29 is another magical year for you. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Book Review and Giveaway: Loving Modigliani by Linda Lappin

Linda Lappin

on Tour January 7-20 with Loving Modigliani  

Loving Modigliani: The Afterlife Of Jeanne Hébuterne

(literary fiction/historical fiction/fantasy) Release date: December 15, 2020 at Serving House Books 343 pages Goodreads

 Exploring art and novels seems to go together, but this one goes a step further by exploring the afterlife of an artist. Everyone has heard of Modigliani, but how many know about his muse, an artist herself, Jeanne Hébuteme?

This novel explored a subject that I didn't know a lot about. I'd heard of Modigliani and recognized some of his iconic paintings, but I knew nothing about his tragic life or that of his common-law wife Jeanne Hébuteme, who died a few days after Modigliani when she threw herself from a window while nine-months pregnant. I barely these tragic figures in the novel before we were thrust into a bleak afterlife as Jeanne searched to be reunited with Modigliani, only to learn that he wasn't in the grayness of the dead in Paris, a place where the rich continued to look down on the poor, kicking them out of first class on ghost trains, and white men continued in their power, judging the lives of everyone in a ghost trial. I was super depressed thinking this world, not heaven, not hell, might be the fate of those who have died. Luckily, just before I threw the book aside in despair, we moved on to explore how the life and history of both Modigliani and Hébuteme continued, including artist notebooks and a long-missing painting.

I'm always intrigued by missing paintings from World War II, as evidenced by my book The Summer of France. Love a story that supposes what might have happened to the pilfered artwork. 

In the end, this book definitely captured me, creating a world I couldn't have imagined for myself.  

Buy It Here: Amazon


Amedeo Modigliani, embittered and unrecognized genius, dies of meningitis on a cold January day in Montparnasse in 1920. Jeanne Hébuterne, his young wife and muse, follows 48 hours later, falling backwards through a window. Now a ghost, Jeanne drifts about the studio she shared with Modigliani—for she was not only his favorite model, but also an artist whose works were later shut away from public view after her demise. Enraged, she watches as her belongings are removed from the studio and her identity as an artist seemingly effaced for posterity, carried off in a suitcase by her brother. She then sets off to rejoin Modigliani in the underworld. Thus begins Loving Modigliani, retelling the story of Jeanne Hébuterne’s fate as a woman and an artist through three timelines and three precious objects stolen from the studio: a notebook, a bangle, and a self-portrait of Jeanne depicted together with Modi and their daughter. Decades later, a young art history student will discover Jeanne’s diary and rescue her artwork from oblivion, after a search leading from Paris to Nice, Rome, and Venice, where Jeanne’s own quest will find its joyful reward.


Loving Modigliani_Linda LappinLinda Lappin has published four novels: The Etruscan (Wynkin de Worde, 2004); Katherine’s Wish, dealing with the life of Katherine Mansfield (Wordcraft, 2008), shortlisted for Foreward Book of the Year and iPPY gold medal winner in historical fiction; Signatures in Stone: A Bomarzo Mystery, winner of the Daphne DuMaurier Award from RWA for the best mystery novel of 2013; and Loving Modigliani: The Afterlife of Jeanne Hébuterne. She is also the author of The Soul of Place: Ideas and Exercises for Conjuring the Genius Loci, winner in 2015 of the gold medal in creativity in the Nautilus Book Awards. She lives in Rome. Visit the author’s website and her blog. Follow the author on Facebook, and Twitter Join her mailing list
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Monday, January 18, 2021

2020 Was a Year

 I try to do a year in review to remind myself of some of the fabulous things that happened. 

The Eiffel Tower as sunset nears. 

A morning run and reflected lights by the Louvre

This year especially, I know that I was luckier than many because I had an almost normal summer and got to do some traveling, when many people have been locked down since March. But, let's not jump ahead. 

January 2020:

What delightful thing happened in January? 

Grace and Jack got married
We had no idea at the time how lucky we were for their wedding to take place smoothly when so many other weddings were cancelled in 2020. 
Then 2020 got more difficult as I decided to stay in Ohio to teach three classes while Earl returned to France.
He got back just in time to continue work on our new house and to see record floods in Quillan, which luckily didn't affect our house. 

I considered staying in Spencer's bachelor pad since most nights he was at his girlfriend's place, but in the end I went back to the comfort of Deb and Greg's place in Upper Arlington. 

Deb and I enjoyed some Blue Jackets games. 

I got to celebrate Grace's birthday with her at the end of January and flew to Florida right after, just in time for both Grace and Spencer to come down with a bad case of the flu. Afterward, of course, we wondered if it might have been more than flu. 

February 2020:

Always so happy to spend time with Mom and Dad. Yes, Mom makes a delicious big breakfast.

I loved spending a week with Mom and Dad, plus Tupi, who didn't live to the end of 2020. Nothing beats humid runs during February, listening to the sound of the shrieks of giant dinosaur birds, and ending up with a jump in the pool. 

I didn't know at the time, that I wouldn't see Mom and Dad again in 2020. We're all waiting for a Covid vaccine so we can get together again. 
Because I was teaching English to kids in China throughout the month, I knew how bad the Coronavirus had gotten. I wore a mask on my flight back from Florida and felt quite silly doing it. Now, it's so normal.  

For my final week in Ohio, I stayed at Earl's niece's house with her two girls Regan and Caroline. Nearly a year later, my phone is still littered with selfies they took. 

Julie, Regan and I the morning before I left.

The last time my hair was straight!
So happy to see my husband, my friends, and my own home in France. . 

I flew back on February 22, landing in Barcelona on my birthday, February 23rd. Earl and I were apart for about 6 weeks, the longest time we've been separated in our marriage. He met me at the airport with some flowers that he filched from Jules. 
We had a lovely birthday celebration with friends and a local restaurant. 

March 2020:

As I look at pictures from last March, I rejoice to see us sitting outside at Esperaza market and in the square in Quillan as early as February. Fingers crossed that we have a similar early spring this year. 

Perhaps an Irish coffee at an outside bar

Jack and Grace arrived March 13, having taken a 2-week cruise from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to Barcelona. We drove down to pick them up, not realizing that theirs was the last cruise ship allowed to dock in Barcelona. A day later and they would not have arrived. 

We stopped in Perpignan for lunch, and Jack began to be surprised by French food.
Cinnamon in the ketchup. A sausage hamburger that was two sausages.
 Any sandwich on a bun is called a hamburger, example a chicken hamburger. 

We had a "free" weekend wandering around markets and sitting at cafes, and then France went into lockdown the following Tuesday. 

That meant that we were limited to walks together, within 1 km of our home. I just loved having Grace with us, although no honeymoon couple wants to start their marriage in confinement with their in-laws. 

Grace and I walked, finding flowers and blossoming trees as the spring arrived. 

April 2020:

April continued in lockdown, but we committed to getting a kitten, mostly because Grace was so lonely without her own cats who were caught on the other side of the Atlantic. We couldn't get the kitten until April, so the month passed with walks and flowers, and we began to sneak friends into our garden for drinks. We continued to be careful, not inviting friends inside. 

Wisteria bloomed, in spite of the pandemic
May 2020:
We ventured out to retrieve our new kitten the week before lockdown ended. Grace had been in France for two months, staying in our little enclave, but as we drove home from getting Louis, she suddenly saw the mountains. She pointed out the mountains with surprise, and I laughed. We live amongst those mountains so it's hard to see the mountains when you're in the middle of them. 

We called him Louis Catorze, and the most polite way to describe him is that he has character.
He also frequently draws blood so we're hoping he calms down eventually. 

With the confinement drawing to a close, we began to take local trips with friends, exploring Cathare castles that we had never visited. 

With Jim and Theresa at Chateau de Queribus

Grace and I wandered to Carcassonne, about an hour from our home,
and we went up to see the castle, known as La Cité.
The statue of the woman at the front, Lady Carcas, has wonky boobs, not sure why. 

June 2020:
In June, we took a trip, staying within France. For our 30th anniversary, we traveled to Pont du Gard. Grace had been there before but it was a first for Jack who loves Roman history. So it was great for him to experience it. The Romans build the Pont du Gard in the first century to carry water to Nimes.
Earl, Grace, Jack and I in front of the Pont du Gard

We visited Carrières de Lumières in Les Baux de Provence where the artwork is projected on the walls of the former limestone mine and come to life. 

This exhibition was Gaudi and Picasso. But a new exhibition is out now
and I can't wait to go see Cezanne

After a night in Aix with Grace and Jack, we traveled to Nice and enjoyed a few nights to celebrate our anniversary. We had never visited Nice before and were not overwhelmed with the beaches, which are heavy pebbles that filled up our shoes or pierced our feet. We bought beach shoes but the pebbles still sucked us down. Not a top choice if swimming is your goal. 

The panorama is beautiful. I had some great runs, and Earl and I enjoyed drinks and the view. 

July 2020:
Back in Quillan, July is tourist season and also festival season. How lucky were we to sit outdoors with a tableful of friends, not just for Bastille Day but for so many great evenings. 
Outdoor festivals
We danced to bands and felt like it was a normal summer in the south of France. 

Earl got interviewed by a producer from 2020. But they didn't use enough of his interview. 

I had a fall in July that has curtailed my running for months, but I don't need to share that picture. 

August 2020:
At the beginning of August, I took a hiking trip with my friend Claudine. We stayed in France, but just headed farther south toward the Spanish border. 
We climbed past several waterfalls and ended at a pool on top of a mountain. 

We hiked on some of the hottest days of the year and didn't drink enough water, but we came back alive and had a great time. 

The rock formation is called Les Orgues or the organ, for obvious reasons. 

In August also, Grace and Jack left us and headed to Dublin to create their new life with grad school and whatever other doors opened to them. 

September 2020: 
In September, Earl and I dashed up to Paris for a few nights and watched the end of the Tour de France, which was moved from July because of Covid-19. 
The Tour passed very close to our hotel so we simply walked out and watched them zoom by. 

I had hoped to see Paris while tourists from other countries were banned, and I did. We ate at outside cafes; we got off the Metro the one time that it was crowded and we felt it wasn't safe; we browsed at museums and took pictures without other people marring their perfection. 
The Rodin Museum

A train ride home from Paris and we returned to normal life, like fixing up our old house. 
Earl painted the doors and shutters, perhaps Cornwall blue
October 2020:
Then Earl promptly headed out on a hike to Spain along El Camino de Santiago
He definitely chose the paths less taken

As October neared an end and the warm days grew shorter, we planned a girls' trip to Collioure along the coast. 

It's a charming town and sometimes you just crave the Mediterranean. We had lunch outdoors and were surprised at the number of tourists there. 

Then we headed to a more deserted beach and did some bellydancing. 
A new lockdown was announced and we arranged one more meal in a restaurant on the night before the confinement. 
Only six people at a table, so we had to split up. 

Women at one table

Men at the other. 

And that is the last time we ate in a restaurant. 

November 2020:
The lockdown lasted through November. We weren't as careful, inviting friends to join us for drinks or meals. Going on lots of walks in the mountains and wondering what Christmas would be like this year. 
This is just a walk I took one morning from my house.
Around every corner is another beautiful mountain. 
We had a sneak Thanksgiving celebration with American friends, technically still not allowed to gather with friends. 

December 2020:
All of that lockdown let us paint our living room. It used to be an electric blue and now the walls are cream-colored with the staircase wall a gray green. I loved the new look, although it took three coats of the cream for Earl to cover the blue. 
Who knows what may come next. Maybe a new chandelier

Then on December 20th, we flew from Barcelona to Dublin to celebrate Christmas with Grace and Jack. And Tucker flew from Columbus to Dublin to meet us. 
Tucker and Earl in the lights of Dublin
For some reason, Ireland was continuing to let Americans fly into their airport. Tucker had a Covid test before he came and we got very lucky that now of us contracted the virus during our travel. 

Tucker, Grace and Jack at St. Stephen's Green on a sunny day. 
We spent our evenings playing family games and I went out each morning to get coffee at Starbucks, one of the things I miss from home. 
We arrived home safely, in spite of countries closing their borders. 

So we managed to travel to the U.S., France, Spain and Ireland in a year without travel. That's nothing to complain about. 
I've gotten to see two of my three children, even though I haven't seen Spencer or my parents since February. 
I'm hopeful that we'll get the vaccine and my parents will get the vaccine and we'll be able to reunite in the coming months. 
Here's hoping for a 2021 without so much excitement. 

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

A Near-Perfect Morning

 One thing that I have tried to learn from the time of enforced lockdown the past year is to enjoy the moment where I am.

I may not be with my parents or my kids or my friends from home, but I have some marvelous friends here in Quillan and I live in a place that is beautiful.

This morning, when I woke up and went to the bathroom, I realized that we had a rare snow in Quillan. Even though Earl was still asleep, I threw open the shutters so we could see the snow fall and cover the cars, streets and mountains. In spite of the lovely white stuff, the temperature was barely below freezing, -1 in Celcius, 30.2 in Fahrenheit. 

It wasn't long until we were out of bed and having a lovely walk through the snow and up a nearby mountain (with a gentle slope because of my injured knee). 

Snow on the palm trees too. 

Usually when we climb the mountain, there's a beautiful view of the surrounding peaks, but today the sky was gray, blocking the view and promising more snow. 

I made a snow angel.

The snow was good for packing, but Earl knows better than to pelt me with snowballs. I'm sure he wished that our sons were around for a good snowball fight. 

Snowball threats
An arch of snow-covered trees

The snow was more prevalent up the mountain and heavy enough to cover the branches. Only a few walkers and dogs had been up the path before us. 

We came upon our favorite donkey and Earl felt super guilty about not bringing him a carrot as he stood in the falling snow.

He found some dry grass and offered it to the donkey. 

When we returned home, we noticed that the snow was much more melted, but it continued to fall.

I made myself a mocha and a crumpet (Thanks, Derrick for supplying them) with apricot jam for breakfast. Work was looming, but I stayed a minute more at the table enjoying breakfast and time with Earl before I jumped in the shower to start teaching. 

And I'll take a minute to remind myself, no matter what or who I am missing today, this has been a near-perfect morning.

Cockadoodle Doo or Cocorico?

 We stood in the middle of the road, having walked together 13 miles that day and Claudine grasped my forearm. "Mais non! It doesn'...