Monday, 21 November 2022

Book Talk: Suite Francaise

In today's edition of Book Talk I will be reviewing Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky.

Book Review: Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky, translated by Sandra Smith

From the book blurb:

In June 1940 France fell to the Nazis. The effects of this momentous event on the lives of ordinary Parisians and the inhabitants of a small rural community under occupation are brilliantly explored in Irene Nemirovsky's gripping and heartbreaking novel. Nemirovsky herself was a tragic victim of the Nazi regime but she left behind her this exceptional masterpiece. In Suite Francaise she conjures up a vivid cast of wonderful characters who find themselves thrown together in ways they never expected. Amidst the mess of defeat, and all the hypocrisy and compromise, there is hope. True nobility and love exist, but often in surprising places.

Sincerely Loree: Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

My review

Suite Francaise was meant to consist of five inter-linked vignettes but only the first two, Storm in June and Dolce, were written as a rough draft before author Irene Nemirovsky was deported to Auschwitz in July 1942. She died there just a month later. The manuscript for Suite Francaise was hastily stuffed into a suitcase by the author's daughter Denise who couldn't bear to read it until many years later.

One of the most engaging aspects of this book is that we see World War 2 from the eyes of a contemporary. It took me a while to get into the story and it wasn't one of those fast-paced reads that I felt the need to keep picking up. On the contrary, it is slow and rather sad but it did have occasional moments of gentle humour. Suite Francaise is a very atmospheric book with a marvellous sense of place and wonderfully detailed descriptions. 

Storm In June  is a prime example of stark realism. The reader is immediately immersed in a world of panic and turmoil, A world that has been turned upside down. The characters, who are all trying to leave Paris with their most precious belongings, are flawed but real and we get a whole spectrum of them: the courageous, the cowardly, the rich, the poor, the landowners, the meek, the arrogant, the collaborators, the patriots. Every type of human virtue and vice that a catastrophic event like the war brings out in people is represented in the two short stories making up this novel. It attests to the author's keen observation of human nature that she was able to depict them so truthfully.

Dolce, on the other hand, is an almost dream-like interlude that takes place in an occupied town, far away from the bombs and chaos of Paris. Here, the conquerors and the defeated are forced to live in close proximity, forging fleeting friendships and fragile relationships.  It ends with the departure of the Germans for the Russian front.

Due to its unfinished state the book leaves us wondering what could have happened to the diverse characters we were introduced to. Since we will never know we may have to imagine an ending ourselves - although I felt that, in retrospect, these two fragments mimic the abruptness with which so many lives were cut short by war. So, in a heart-breaking way, I think that this novel is close to perfect just as it is.

Genre: historical fiction (WW2)

First published: 2004

Awards: Magnesia Litera for Translation (Litera za překladovou knihu) (2012), Prix Renaudot (2004), PEN Translation Prize for Sandra Smith (2007), French-American Foundation Translation Prize for Fiction (2006), Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize Nominee (2007)

Location of story: Paris & Boussy, France

Trigger warnings: death, violence

My rating: 4.5

Tuesday, 15 November 2022

A Contemplative November

In this post I will be talking about ways to savour and make the most of November.

Last year at this time I wrote about Giving Thanks. It was a candid, heartfelt post in which I mentioned the people and things I was grateful for. If I had to rewrite it today, it wouldn't change much.  But I would add 'the possibility to celebrate Christmas with family' to the list. After the restrictions of the past two years it feels good to know we can be ourselves again and celebrate with our loved ones. 

Sincerely Loree:  Autumn in Val d'Orcia, Tuscany, Italy

What doesn't feel so good is the constant reminders, starting from September, by influencers, ads,some bloggers and so on, that 'it's never too early to start thinking about Christmas'. This is absolute rubbish and just another marketing ploy to have us running around with a 'To Do' list a mile long before we've barely bid adieu to summer. I refuse to do it and, as much as I love the Christmas season, I don't need to start thinking about it while I'm still wearing shorts and flip flops. Slow and steady will still achieve the desired results and aiming for perfection by starting 3 months early to try and have a head start is just a losing battle.

Candles & Poetry

November is regarded by many as a dreary month. The association it has, especially in southern Europe, with remembering those that have passed, makes it even more so for countless others. When I was younger I was always in a hurry for November to move on and for glitzy December, with its sparkling lights and hints of magic, to take its place. But I am older now and somewhat wiser. Now I believe that November is a gift; an interlude of sorts, a brief respite before the whirlwind that is December takes its place. We can choose to rush through this month or use these few quiet weeks to turn our thoughts inwards and practice mindfulness. It's the perfect time. The weather may be grey outside and cold, wild winds may blow, but what better time to light a candle and read some poetry? It's been so  long since I picked up a poetry book and I long to start reading it again. I find certain poems so perfect for contemplative moments. Do you have any favourite poems or poets? Please share them in the comments. I would love to know. I hear that Mary Oliver is a good place to start. I've just added her collection Dream Work to my 'to be read' (or tbr) list.

Sincerely Loree:  Autumn in Val d'Orcia, Tuscany, Italy

As for candles, I have just added  a Salted Caramel Scented candle from Zara Home to my collection. I love to change candles according to the season. They really enhance the ambiance and the golden glow of candles makes everything look so pretty and cozy. It's a perfect way to end any evening but especially when the daylight fades fast as it does during this time of the year.

Lists & Notebooks

I know we all get caught in the business of the upcoming season and I firmly believe that keeping a notebook close at hand and scribbling down some lists or simply recording some of our thoughts is a sanity-saver. Notebooks are a sore subject in our household. I can rarely resist a pretty one and generally have several on the go. There are always a couple lounging around in my handbags as I can never be sure when my inspiration is fired or I need to jot something down to make sure I don't forget it. Etsy has so many pretty ones but even our local stationeries usually have plenty to choose from.

Sincerely Loree:  Autumn in Val d'Orcia, Tuscany, Italy

Gardening & Flowers

I know I sound like a broken record but I do find gardening immensely therapeutic. Autumn is like a second Spring in the Mediterranean. Our roses are blooming again after the summer drought and yesterday I finally took my camera out of its bag and took some shots. Once January comes around we will cut them back and try to propagate new plants from cuttings. It's not an easy endeavour but the satisfaction of growing a plant from a cutting is hard to describe. If you're not into gardening just spend some time in nature: go for a walk on the beach or in a forest or park. Just take yourself off to a place where you can leave your worries and your phone behind. Somewhere away from crowds and noise and too many things going on at once. Disconnecting from everything for a few minutes each day or a couple of hours whenever you get the time is great for your well-being. We need to remember to take care of ourselves. Many of the chores we feel we have to do can wait until we're able to silence those voices in our head and just breathe in and out slowly and calmly, until a feeling of calmness and peace pervades our whole being. Everything else can wait.

Sincerely Loree:  Autumn in Val d'Orcia, Tuscany, Italy

I hope you enjoyed these few tips on how to make the most of November without feeling the need to be thinking about anything else except the present. Fear of missing out (FOMO) has become an unfortunate part of our existence and I, for one, have been guilty of giving in to the pressure to flit from one thing to the next. But I have learnt that being content in the here and now is the most rewarding way to live.

I wish I could say that these images bursting with the rich colours of autumn were taken in Malta but we don't get anything like that here. Instead I am sharing some photos taken during our trip to Tuscany last year.

Location of images

Val d'Orcia,  Tuscany, Italy

October 2021

Wednesday, 26 October 2022

Book Talk: The Adventures of a Curious Cat

As promised in my last roundup featuring the books I read between March and June 2022 I am going to start reviewing books as soon as I read them. Then, when I do the roundup posts, I will be able to link to the actual review instead of to my Goodreads page which most of you probably can't even view anyway. Some will be short, like today's review, but other's will be a bit longer. It will depend on the book, of course. I hope that  if there are any bookworms reading my blog will enjoy them.

Book Review:  The Adventures of a Curious Cat by Curious Zelda with Matt Taghioff

From the book blurb:

Curious Zelda is social media star, agony aunt, yoga teacher, cat. In The Adventures of a Curious Cat she gives insight into her view of the world and dispenses unparalleled wisdom. Zelda explains, in her unique voice, how to handle humans, how to communicate with furniture, and most importantly how to live a life curiously. It's the ultimate self-help guide for any cat, or indeed, their human.

My review:

This is an amusing book. It made me chuckle in places but didn't have that laugh-out-loud factor that I was expecting nor did I feel the need to keep reaching out for it. It does drag in places and I kept getting distracted. However, it's a pleasant foray into the mind of a cat which, I'm sure, will be appreciated by cat lovers everywhere. 

Curious Zelda has her own Instagram page and you can find her here.

Genre: contemporary fiction

First published: 2019

Awards: n/a

Location of story: Zelda's house

Trigger warnings: n/a

My rating: 3   


Tuesday, 11 October 2022

Endings. And new beginnings

October is always a month of changes. Some years more so than others. Summer has finally bid us farewell and, although the weather is cooler, it is still pleasant enough to be outdoors.

Sincerely Loree: Pink roses

Sincerely Loree: Pink roses

Sincerely Loree: Pink roses

.I am finally doing some gardening again: planting bulbs, removing weeds, trimming anything that looks overgrown and deciding what will stay and what should go. While I was never a gardening enthusiast when I was younger, I now find a lot of joy in the simple tasks of planting seeds and seeing them grow. It would be impossible to keep anything but the hardiest plants alive here were it not for an underground reservoir beneath our yard that captures rainwater during our very short wet season. Today my prayers for rain were answered with a massive downpour and a thunderstorm. Autumn bliss.

Sincerely Loree: Rain

October brought with it another change this year. Our son, the one I used to call the Mischief maker so long ago, started Junior College (that would be senior high school in the US and sixth form in the UK) last week. He is in a very big new school with new teachers and hundreds of new faces. There's so much for him to learn, such a flurry of new activities to get used to, such an important step towards the career of his dreams. I admit to being anxious at the thought of so much newness to get used to - for him and for us. All will be well but my thoughts are in a hundreds different places and  I'm more scatter-brained than usual. This is a new phase in my life too. One during which I have to gently let go and guide from a distance. It will be a learning curve. I hope I do well.

We couldn't say good bye to summer without attending a few events that were on our radar. After a delay of  9 months (because we all came down with Covid last Christmas) the boys (my husband and son) went to the Underground Valletta guided tour. These tours, organized by Heritage Malta, provide visitors with a unique opportunity to access the tunnels running underneath our capital city. The underground tunnels were created during the construction of Valletta. Some acted as drains for water or sewage and others allowed the movement of troops. Centuries later the tunnels would serve as shelters during the second World War.  I was told that the tour ends spectacularly in an underground cistern whose massive size resembles the interior of a cathedral. More information can be found in this articles: The Secrets of Underground Valletta. I opted out of this tour as I was afraid there would be cockroaches (I hate them) in those dark, dank tunnels. However, I was told that there weren't any, so maybe I'll pluck up the courage and go some other time.

Sincerely Loree: Ceiling, National Museum of Archaeology, Valletta

In September we also had the opportunity to visit the small but highly informative Meet The Phoenicians of Malta exhibition at the National Museum of Archaeology. The Phoenicians were ancient traders from Tyre and Sidon (modern day Lebanon) who sailed to various ports in the Mediterranean and beyond. Apart from an innate fascination with the Phoenicians that I've had since childhood, this exhibition was even more interesting for us because the artifacts were excavated inside a tomb which was discovered just a mile away from the town where we live. The bones and other objects are still being analyzed and studied but I was completely bowled over by the enormous stone sarcophagus that was excavated from the site. How was it transported? Was it built in place?  And, because I'm prone to flights of fancy, could these be the bones of my ancestors? So many questions came to my mind as I traced by fingers lightly across the massive stone structure, wondering at the incredible achievements of this ancient race.

Sincerely Loree: Phoenician Sarcophagus, National Museum of Archaeology, Vallet

More than any other season, autumn is all about endings and beginnings. As I say goodbye to lazy Saturday mornings at the beach and empty our beach bags of sand and sundry small pebbles that hide in there all summer, I will welcome our treks to what is left of Malta's decimated countryside, looking forward to visit such sties as the arch at tal-Hamrija and Lippija Tower.

In Nature too the cycle of endings and beginnings continues. The swifts that throughout September filled our skies with their joyous chirping and twittering have moved on. It is strangely silent now. But, last week, at dawn, I heard a robin's call and, later, I saw that the pomegranate fruits are ripe on the trees and bursting their skins. Both are sure signs that autumn is here at last.

Tuesday, 27 September 2022

Books I read in 2022: Part 2

Books I read between April and June 2022

Between April and June I read 11 books. Two were non-fiction and all the rest were fiction. Unlike the first three months of the year the number of books that I rated 4 or more stars was disappointingly low. Only one book out of the eleven I read had a score over 4. Below is the full list of books I read and their respective rating. I have linked each book to Goodreads so that you can have a better idea how other people rated them. However, I've found out that you probably cannot read my personal review unless you are a member of Goodreads. So, what I'm thinking of doing in the future, is sharing the same review here on the blog each time I finish a book. This means I will share a review of all books not just the ones that score 4 stars or more. Let me know whether you think you will enjoy reading them. I promise you that you should be able to read the reviews in about five minutes. Anyway, without any more blubbering on my part, here is the list of books I read last Spring.

  1. Lucrezia Borgia by Maria Bellonci 3⭐
  2. The Almond by Nedjma (translated from Arabic by C. Jane Hunter) 3.6⭐
  3. The Book Of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel 2.8⭐
  4. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes 3.5⭐
  5. Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell 4.4⭐
  6. Honour by Elif Shafak 3.7⭐
  7. The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid 2.6⭐
  8. Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly 3⭐
  9. Watermark by Joseph Brodsky 3⭐
  10. The Silence of The Girls by Pat Barker 3.6⭐
  11. The Women At Hitler's Table by Rosella Postorino (translated from Italian by Leah Janeczko) 3⭐
Two books, Lucrezia Borgia and Watermark, are non-fiction. The first is a biography of one of the most infamous women of the Italian Renaissance. Watermark is a love letter to Venice. Brodsky was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987 and appointed US poet laureate in 1991. Unfortunately, I found his writing style rather difficult but I will probably re-read this book in the future.

Now on to my reviews. Ordinarily, I only write a short review of books I've rated 4 or more stars but, since there was only one this time, I am including another book as an 'honourable mention'.

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell

This book tells the story of Agnes Hathaway, a woman with unusual gifts, who is married to a person who is known throughout the novel as  'the Bard' but whom we all recognize as William Shakespeare. Hamnet is the son they lost to the plague at the young age of eleven. This book enchanted me from the very first page. The writing was beautiful and lyrical and Agnes is a worthy, if unconventional, heroine.
A compelling and whimsical portrayal of a woman who has been consigned to the shadows by history.
Genre: historical fiction

Honourable mention:

Honour by Elif Shafak

This is the story of a young Turkish family that emigrated to London in the 1970s and their struggle to integrate into Western society while trying to keep their traditions alive. But it is also a story about internalised misogyny, about the cultural perception that still exists in some countries that there is a set of weights and measures for men and another one for women. 
A book that will make you question your preconceived notions about other cultures. 
Genre: contemporary fiction

I hope that some of these books have sparked your interest. As I always like to remind you, I am a picky reader and you might enjoy some of the books that I didn't rate so highly much more than I did. I'm one of those illogical people who cares more about the beauty of the writing than about the actual story. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments and I will be happy to answer you. Books are, after all, one of my favourite things to talk about.

Tuesday, 13 September 2022

The End of an Era

I was doing the rounds on Instagram on Tuesday of last week when I came across a  photo of Queen Elizabeth during her first official meeting with Liz Truss, appointing her Britain's new Prime Minister. The photo moved me in a strange. 'The Queen looks so frail', I commented under the photo. I had this foreboding that the queen was fading fast but I brushed it away because it seemed like she always rallied. And yet her passing, just 48 hours later, still came as a surprise. She had been Queen throughout my life and I half expected her to live forever, like an eternal symbol of a different era.

Sincerely Loree: The gates of Buckingham Palace

Unapologetic Royalist

It was my parents, but mostly my dad, who instilled in me a love of all things British from a very young age. As I grew older, I developed an almost fanatical  interest in the current Royal Family and in the kings and queens from whom they are descended. The history of the British monarchy is turbulent, convoluted and utterly fascinating and it's  a subject I love to read about. I truly do believe that, although many more kings than queens have ruled Britain, it is during the long reign of Elizabeth I, Victoria and Elizabeth II that the most tumultuous changes and advances in the society of the time took place. Elizabeth II came to the throne a mere 7 years after the end of WW2. Rationing was still in force and Europe was not yet healed of its scars. In the intervening 70 years so much changed and yet her steadfastness, dignity and commitment to her country and to the Commonwealth were a constant reminder that the she would never break the oath she had taken at her coronation, no matter how difficult things may have been for her personally.

The Queen and I

I was never lucky enough to meet the Queen in person but i did catch a glimpse of her and Prince Philip during a visit they had made to Malta in  1992. However, I never stopped hoping that I would - which is why I would always check whether the Royal Standard was flying whenever visiting one of her official residences. Sadly, although I have visited Buckingham Palace (3 times), Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyrood House, I never saw as much as one of her beloved corgis.

The Royal Standard flies above the Keep of Windsor Castle on our visit in 2014. The Queen was in residence.

Queen Elizabeth II and Malta

It is said that he Queen had an affectionate place in her heart for Malta although, unfortunately, there aren't many people left who still care. The Queen visited Malta 6 times after she was crowned: in 1954 (as part of a grand tour of the Commonwealth), 1967, 1992, 2005, 2007 and 2015 (which was her last overseas trip). But what perhaps is not widely known is that she actually lived here in Malta for several months between 1949 and 1951 as a naval wife when Prince Philip served in the Royal Navy Mediterranean  Fleet. 

The residence of the royal couple while on the island was Villa Guardamangia, an 18-room neoclassical building with a large garden in the town of Pieta`. Princess Elizabeth (as she was then) and Prince Philip were able to live a normal life, far from the constraints and protocol of the court. The villa was privately owned and over the years if fell into a state of neglect. Unfortunately it is now in a dilapidated state but it was acquired by the Maltese government a few years ago and has now been entrusted to Heritage Malta. The plan is to restore it to its former glory and turn it into a museum. The grand opening is expected to take place in 2027.


Elizabeth II was queen of Malta from 1952 until the amendment of the Constitution of Malta on 13 December 1974, which abolished the monarchy and established the Republic of Malta and the office of President of Malta.

I'm adding some links about Malta and the Queen that I thought you'd find interesting:

This video is from the Queen and Prince Philip's visit in 1954. Also present were a very young Prince Charles and Princess Anne. It was during this visit that my dad met the Queen when he was part of the Boy Scout troop present at the inauguration of the Mater Admirabilis Training College for teachers in Tal-Virtu`.

An article in House & Garden about Villa Guardamangia.

The Queen in Malta - in pictures

The End Of An Era

As I write this, the Queen is making her way to Buckingham Palace for the last time. The rain is falling but the crowds are thick on the streets. They do not mind the rain as they stand in silence or clap as the hearse goes by. For this is a historical moment. The end of an era. The passing of a woman who symbolised so much to so many. I do not mean to sound like a sycophant. The Queen was not perfect and I am sure she made mistakes. The media pointed them out often enough. But my feeling is that she always had her fingers on the pulse of her nation. She knew when to be present and when to withdraw. In a world where the only constants are turmoil and change, she has been there, a serene and calming presence for seventy years. Now she is at rest and it is time for the tributes to pour in from all over the world. This is just my own humble one to the woman who was once, for a very few years, my Queen too.

About Loree
I am Lorna, or Loree (as my best friends call me) and I am the author of Sincerely, Loree. You may get to know me better here:
Sincerely, Loree. Theme by STS.