Some vague ramblings…

In my last entry, I talked about my growing pop-up collection. This time, I’m reviewing two illustrated novels that are part of my growing illustrated novel collection: The Secrets of Pistoulet: An Enchanted Fable of Food, Magic and Love; and the Legend of Villa della Luna: The Sequel to the Secrets of the Pistoulet (books #65-66 of 2009); both by Jana Kolpen (text and illustrations) and Mary Tiegreen (design).
the books, in their slipcases, with “peekaboo” windows

I discovered the books in Amazon, looking for illustrated novels, and I added them to my BookMooch wishlist until I was eventually able to mooch copies from two different users some several months apart last year. Book 2 arrived first and I shelved it until I got a copy of the first book, and so I wasn’t able to read them right away.

I was actually very excited to read the books because they were so pretty from the outside, with their own cardboard slipcase and a “peekaboo” window that showed a teaser portion of the back cover (see photo above).

actual book covers

But as I turned the pages of the first book (my copy happens to have an inscription made out to a certain Ed, with the scrawling signature of Jana Kolpen underneath), I had a sinking feeling that the book wasn’t what I hoped it would be.

The Secrets of Pistoulet is set in the southwestern French countryside (my second favorite setting, after Venice), in a “very special farm” known as Pistoulet, where all who visit “leave with their hearts and minds transformed.”

The story, done in the style of “Griffin and Sabine,” (it claims on the back portion of the slipcase) revolves around a certain “Mademoiselle J,” a guest who is said to be recovering from heartbreak and experiences Pistoulet’s magical healing powers. Interspersed with the narrative are recipe cards for different potages for a variety of functions, e.g. spirit, strength, heart, passion, etc.) containing real recipes that you can try out for yourself, fold-out letters that come in their envelopes, and even handwritten cards.

In the same manner, The Legend of Villa della Luna picks up where the first book leaves off, but is located in Italy, and is the continuation of Mlle. J’s journey to self discovery.

It was difficult for me to get into the book for two main reasons.

First, while the covers looked good, the inside pages were a hit-and-miss for me. The text (which is in a hard-to-read calligraphic font) gets lost in a page that is cluttered with patterned backgrounds, elaborate borders, photos, and spot illustrations (i don’t really care for her watercolors), and sometimes the pages are downright garish or kitschy.

Book 2 is marginally better-designed than the first, but still not enough to redeem itself, much less the series. Granted, the books were published in 1996, but good design should be timeless.

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And second, I just found the content hokey. I mean, I’m all for magic, food, love, but the books were like a hippie dream and I just couldn’t buy it. Nothing much happens in the story, just a lot of vague rambling thrown in with some new age philosophy. Sigh.

Nevertheless, because they’re still illustrated novels, the books are staying in my collection, and I might try a recipe or two one day, just to see if it really works.

My copies: both hardbound in slipcase, both mooched from the US.

My rating: Book 1 2/5 stars; Book 2 3/5 stars

Another gem from the bargain bin!

Curse of A Winter Moon by Mary Casanova
Book # 14 for 2009

I read this book thinking it would be something to add to my BookMooch inventory, but I ended up liking it and now I don’t want to give it away.

I got it, hardbound, for P20 at Book Sale and from the summary it appeared to be a werewolf book so I decided to read it, and it turned out to be more of a historical novel.

Marius’ brother John Pierre is born on Christmas eve, and the people of Venyre believe he is marked with the curse of the loup garou — the werewolf– ad will one day unleash his evil in the village. With their mother dead and their father busy at his smithy, Marius is appointed as John Pierre’s guardian as the village keeps close watch for sinister changes in John Pierre.

One fateful winter turns their life upside down as the small village grows obsessed in hunting down the enemies of the Church, and Marius must gather all his courage to keep his family safe.

The eerie cover art confused me into thinking it was a paranormal story, but John Pierre doesn’t seem to show signs of lycantrophy; he just happened to be born under unlucky circumstances — superstitious beliefs dictated that a chiId born on Christmas Eve indicates he will grow into a werewolf (go figure). Instead, I found something better: a well-researched historical novel that homes in on an important lesson that the world seems to never learn: tolerance.

The novel is set in 16th century France, where the Protestants, known as the Huguenots, were persecuted, and hundreds of other “enemies of the Church” were executed, most of them accused of being witches, sorcerers or werewolves. The book vividly captures the tensions of this period from the point of view of innocent children caught in the middle and it’s quite poignant — the boys remind me of Crispin and Basilio in Noli Me Tangere, especially as the abusive clergy is one of the book’s themes.

The book’s one downside is that the story is left hanging at the end, and I wish I could read more. I am hoping the author writes a sequel, because there are very few well-written historical books for young readers, and even fewer on 16th century France for the YA genre.

My copy: hardcover with dustjacket, bought from Book Sale MCS

My rating: 4/5 stars

Chasing Cezanne by Peter Mayle

This was the first Peter Mayle book I ever read, and I had no idea that he was a travel writer so I was in a totally different frame of mind when I read it, expecting an art heist thriller. But like all Mayle’s books, Chasing Cezanne is more like a travel book than anything else. It also reads like chick lit, which is kind of weird, because the protagonist is male.
The premise was really good: photographer Andre Kelly is off on a shoot when he sees a Cezanne being removed from the premises of a former client. He photographs this event and is embroiled in a chase for the missing painting.

Except that it’s got to be the most leisurely chase I’ve ever read — Andre and his gang (a fastidious art dealer, plus Andre’s love interest Lucy) stop to eat and sightsee (and sleep together) every chance they get, hehe.

The language is languid and dreamy, the descriptions are beautiful and picturesque. No rip-roaring chases here — the book is more like Under the Tuscan Sun than Da Vinci Code.

Even Cezanne is only incidental, you can substitute some other painter’s name in the title and the story wouldn’t change, that’s how little Cezanne. And there’s very little actual art discussed, other than the process of selling famous paintings and a bit of forgery (haha, Incognito was a great movie for that!). Actually I think even the mystery is only incidental, it was just a reason for Andre to get together with Lucy and romp from New York to Paris and the South of France.

Worth reading for the travelogue and food commentary — this is what Mayle does best, and he delivers commendably, but mystery lovers might feel shortchanged.

My copy: trade paperback upgraded into a hardcover with dust jacket

My rating: 3/5 stars

Photo courtesy of Amazon (