Saturday, June 17, 2023


A quick read: Sarah Caudwell’s light-hearted mystery novel The Sirens Sang of Murder (published 1989). Improbably, this book is about a group of lawyers and financial advisers, and is chock-a-block full of really uninteresting details about British tax law. The characters are somewhat eccentric, and the plot, though somewhat thin, is not too bad. What kept me reading was some of the funny British eccentric parody. Some examples:

  • “The chagrin of a woman displaced in her lover’s affections is as nothing compared with that of a barrister superseded in the favour of a leading firm of solicitors.” (p. 15)
  • “We were driving through one of those bits of France where the hills have vines growing all over them and the names on the signposts make you feel as if you’re driving through the wine list in a rather high-class restaurant.” (p. 165)
  • “It seems to us that the readers who want fiction to be like life are considerably outnumbered by those who would like life to be like fiction.” (p. 11)
  • “I told her she was talking bilge, because even if she isn’t being followed, it doesn’t mean she’s loopy. People do follow people, so if you think you’re being followed by someone and you’re not, that’s not being loopy, it’s just being wrong—being loopy is if you think you’re being followed by purple elephants, unless you are of course.“ (p. 51)
I have read one other of this series of novels, titled Thus was Adonis Murdered. I may not read more.

Finding more books to read.

My stack of library books ready to check out. This branch library is architecturally beautiful, and serves many purposes besides the traditional library functions. The low bookcases make it very spacious looking.

First Library Book I Read.

"A 'historical novel' is a novel which is set fifty or more years in the past, and one in which the author is writing from research rather than personal experience." -- Historical Novel Society

This excellent and concise definition applies well to each of the historical novels by Susan Vreeland that I have read. Lisette’s List (published 2014) is set in Paris and in a village in Provence beginning as World War II was threatening to begin, in 1937, and continuing until the post-war era. The characters suffer numerous bereavements and deprivations during the war, particularly the loss of many men who have gone to fight. 

Villagers in the novel suffer from the lack of many essentials, such as gasoline for transportation and such as construction materials. There are many descriptions of the food shortages they experience, even though they live in an agricultural village: a French version of the wartime rationing that I wrote about earlier this week. However, the author downplays many of the atrocities of the war: vicious Nazi reprisals happened in other villages, not this one, and serious issues of the occupation, especially of the disloyal collaboration by French citizens, are glossed over in order to create a more romantic story. This soft-pedaling of wartime suffering is a flaw of the book.

For me, reading Lisette’s List evokes many memories, as over the years I have visited Paris and a number of cities and villages in the area where the story takes place. I also love the artists who are at the center of the story: Chagall, Pissarro, CĂ©zanne, and Picasso and works by these painters all are important to the narrator. Lisette actually (fictitiously of course) meets Chagall and his wife as they are fleeing the Nazis; another character, her husband’s elderly grandfather, shares his own memories of the impressionist painters, as well as owning several of their paintings, which play a major role in the novel.

The beauty of France and the losses caused by the war are central to the novel, and to the title character/narrator, Lisette. She is a warm, intelligent and deeply thoughtful human being. Her day-to-day experiences and her deep passions are portrayed in a fascinating way, mingled with larger themes of art and history. Tomorrow I will post some photos illustrating the novel's connection to my memories and experiences in the French countryside.

Note: I found a good review with images of the paintings and places that appear in the novel here: American Girls Art Club.

One of Chagall’s painting that Lisette loves.

More Library Books.

More library books that I intend to read: another historical novel, a Donna Leon mystery, and a history book.

Also, I watched a film.

A great Paris classic: Irma la Douce.

Blog post © 2023 mae sander
Shared with the Sunday Salon at Readerbuzz.


Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

One of the members of our book club was a long-time friend and neighbor of Susan Vreeland, he told us, and he urged us to read her books. He told us about her love of art and her extensive research---he even helped her out at times, apparently. We found his name in the thank-you-list at the back of a couple of her books. He might have been a little in love with her.

I look forward to seeing your photos that connect your memories and travel experiences with the novel.

It's the sudden appearance of intense heat here that is doing it to me, I think. It's too hot to bake, too hot to walk, too hot to write my novel, too hot to even read. Today I might visit a nearby library and see if I can read and write there. Maybe this mood will lift.

Christine said...

Good reviews

eileeninmd said...

Thanks for the great reviews. I am making my way slowly through the series by Donna Leon. I do enjoy the mysteries! Have a great weekend.

Bill said...

Thanks for the reviews, the books sound interesting.

Terrie said...

Weight of Ink sounds really intriguing and is now on my TBR list......I've read several Vreeland books but not this one. I also enjoy books about artists and I think Vreeland does a great job of bringing their stories to life. Have a terrific week!
Terrie at Bookshelf Journeys

Debbie said...

isn't it wonderful to find a good book, it's like going on a great adventure. i enjoyed seeing the inside of your library. i recently joined a book club, got a library card and i am reading "vera wong's unsolicited advice for murderers" and i am really enjoying it!!

Joy said...

I want life to be like fiction!

I'm looking forward to learning more about how you connected with Lisette's List.

Mark Baker said...

Sounds like some good books. Thanks for sharing.

My name is Erika. said...

These look like some great books Mae. I have the Weight of Ink in my audible account and one day I need to listen to it, so let me know if it's any good to read.

Cindy said...

Lovely library! I never think to take pictures while I am in mine. Have a great week!

anno said...

What an interesting trio of books! I kind of secretly adore Sarah Caudwell, but her Hilary Tamar stories are the kind of thing I can only take occasionally, and in small doses. Definitely a one-trick pony, but it's a trick I'm apparently capable of reading over and over again. Thus Was Adonis Murdered was my favorite...

And thanks for your summary of Lisette's List. I've seen Susan Vreeland's books around for years, but this review provides just the nudge I need to give her work a try.

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

Your chosen book sounds a bit stuffy to me, but I enjoyed the review. I should visit my library and see what they have to offer in the way of mystery. My No Name Club is reading a non fiction book about war battles. Not my choice, but it will be my choice some month soon.

Anne@HeadFullofBooks said...

I've loved every single Susan Vreeland novel I've read but I've not even heard of this one. ... Looking it up... Thanks.

thecuecard said...

I like historical novels so will put Vreeland on my TBR. Also The Weight of Ink interests me .... so I will look to hear what you think of it. It's a big one!

reese said...

It's too bad the Sarah Caudwell novels didn't work for you. I love her zany sense of humor and read all four in a burst years ago.

I am SO trying to get better about using the library.

Helen's Book Blog said...

I am not good at getting a bunch of books from the library; I never get to them before having to return them.

Jeanie said...

I loved Lisette's List. I think I passed that one to someone and never got it back and that's fine -- except after reading your review, it makes me want to read it again!

I love Sarah Caudwell. I've read all four of her books -- I'm not aware of any others. And even after all those, I'm still not sure if Hilary is male or female?! If you want the other three, I have them and happy to give them to you forever. Email me if you do -- either next time we meet up or posted (but either will probably be early fall-- I'll be headed north to stay next week.)

Emma at Words And Peace / France Book Tours said...

Congrats on linking the first book and film for Paris in July!

Emma at Words And Peace / France Book Tours said...

Mae, I have shared yur posts on social media. Are you on twitter, facebook, instagram, pinterest?

Emma at Words And Peace / France Book Tours said...

Mae, I shared your posts on social media. let me know your IDs if you are on twitter facebook instagram or pinterest

Marg said...

I have read and loved quite a few of Susan Vreeland's books but I hadn't read this one. You make me want to read it right now! Thanks for posting about it.