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Check It Out

Courier Article by Kate Linderman
Sunday, April 18, 2010

Artists, muses, more on spring fiction reading list

Books about artists, muses and some of my favorite characters from fiction top my reading list this spring.

"Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet" by Stephanie Cowell is a fictionalized account of the inspirational, tempestuous relationship between Claude Monet and his greatest muse, Camille Doncieaux. Doncieaux, who inspired Monet during his leanest years as a painter, left her prominent family and fiance for a life with Monet, then an unknown painter, married him in 1870 (nearly three years after the birth of their son, Jean-Armande-Claude) and lived a hand-to-mouth existence with the artist before giving birth to another son, Michel, in 1875.

She died in 1879 at age 32 of pelvic cancer. Again, this is a fictionalized account of Monet and Doncieaux's life together, but it gives insight into Monet's most complex and captivating relationship - and one of the greatest inspirations of the most recognized of the French Impressionist painters.

"Sunflowers: A Novel of Vincent van Gogh" by Sheramy Bundrick is a fictionalized account of van Gogh's relationship with the prostitute Rachel, to whom he sent the portion of his severed ear after a legendary confrontation with the painter Paul Gauguin in the French village of Arles in December 1888. Bundrick, an art historian and professor of art history, describes many well-known historical details of van Gogh's life, while imaging the blossoming love affair between Rachel and the painter.

"Alice I Have Been" by Melanie Benjamin takes the reader into the world of Alice Liddell, who was the inspiration, as a child, for Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." If you've ever wondered what happened to Alice (many don't know the character in Carroll's books was based on a real child), in her later life, and what the details of her relationship with Lewis Carroll were (he was known to her and her family as Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), you'll enjoy this book. The story, based in fact, is liberally infused with fictitious detail, but manages to provide interesting answers to the questions it provokes.

"The Heroines" by Eileen Favorite reaches into literature and pulls out some of its greatest heroines - who spend some much-needed downtime from their dramatic lives at an Illinois bed and breakfast run by a single mother and her 13-year-old daughter.

The story, which takes place in 1974, is narrated by Penny Entwhistle, the precocious preteen whose contentious relationship with her mother takes a back seat to her mother's catering to the whims of the likes of Emma Bovary, Scarlett O'Hara, Blanche Dubois and Catherine Hinton.

The arrival of an unknown heroine (from a romance novel) and her tormentor (Penny says, "only a cheap book would have a binding too weak to hold a stereotype like this guy") sparks Penny to get more involved in the drama of one particular story than she should - and helps her to solve her problems with her mother at the same time.

When an eight-year old girl's father goes missing in Los Angeles, she writes to the only person she thinks of who can help her find him - Sherlock Holmes. In "The Baker Street Letters," Michael Robertson brings to life brothers Nigel and Reggie Heath, barristers in London who have leased the 200 block of Baker Street, the fictional location of Sherlock Holmes' rooms.

Without realizing it, the brothers have agreed to answer every letter (as part of the lease agreement) written to Sherlock Holmes. When Nigel goes to LA to assist the girl whose letters have come to Baker Street pleading for Holmes' assistance, the brothers become embroiled in a web of murder and mystery.