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My Rain Drenched Flower

Nora:  A Love Story of Nora and James Joyce by Nuala O’Connor (Harper Perennial 2021)

Jim Joyce is my love, but he’s also a bother to my heart and a sore conundrum to my mind.  I don’t think the day will come when he’ll grow to be the man he should be.  

October 11, 2021

Dear Mr. Hemingway,

There is something about you writers from the early 20th century that fascinates me. Especially all of your juicy personal lives.  I obviously started this journey with you and your four wives, then quickly became obsessed with F.Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda (click here to see my favorite book about these guys).  Today, I can’t get enough of Irish writer James Joyce and the lovely Nora Barnacle. The love, the lust, the writing, the atmosphere…I need to know it all.  Nora:  A Love Story of Nora and James Joyce by Nuala O’Connor is my latest historical fiction read.  O’Connor’s book opened my eyes to a whole new woman for me to explore.  Let’s take a look.

James Joyce first met his future wife, Nora Barnacle on June 16, 1904, in Dublin.  Their first encounter was definitely memorable and a little on the “risque” side.  I’ll let the first two pages of O’Connor’s book fill you in on all the juicy details.  This date also marks the start of Joyce’s book, Ulysses, for which Barnacle was his muse, and Bloomsday, which is celebrated every year in Ireland to celebrate Joyce’s writing.   Though they were not married until much later in their relationship, they lived like a married couple and had two children together.  

Don’t cry, Nora, when we reunite, I want your eyes to glow.  Take me in your arms, feel tenderness for me, and lead me right.  Look well for me, dear-have your hair clean and free of ashes, it’s not right to look slovenly at twenty-five young years!  Have something warm to eat ready for us, won’t you?  Let me feel happy from the moment I arrive, dearest.  I shall want a good cup of coffee in a nice little cup.  Have a salad for me, but don’t let onions or garlic into the house.  And, Nora, don’t, in your first words to me, mention money or debts, please.  

James Joyce (often referred to as Jim) was a tall order if I do say so myself.  Like so many, he lived for his writing and was determined to make it big, no matter the cost.  Nora was a Saint in my opinion.  She endured moving around Europe with their two kids to accommodate his writing.  She dealt with his constant drinking and financial irresponsibility.  She stayed by his side through all of his eye surgeries and health issues.  She embraced the fame from his writing while managing her growing children. She struggled with her son’s marriage and her daughter’s mental illness. However, even though she and Joyce didn’t always see eye to eye, they had some fiery chemistry that was hard to deny and I believe they truly loved each other. 

Before reading O’Connor’s book, I didn’t know much about James Joyce, let alone Nora Barnacle.  I even visited the James Joyce Centre in Dublin in my 20s and found his writing super boring.  I am quite a bit older now and would be willing to give his work another shot after reading O’Connor’s book.  She really brought to life  Nora and James’ relationship in her story. From Ireland to Trieste, to Zurich, to Paris, I felt like I traveled all over Europe with these two.  I particularly enjoyed bumping into Silvia Beach at her beloved bookstore, Shakespeare and Company in Paris.  Just saying.  O’Connor had me consumed with Nora and Jame’s life, beset with their family unit, and in awe of Nora’s constant strength and perseverance, even during the darkest of times. There is a zero percent chance that James Joyce could have reached literary success without Nora by his side. He was blessed to have her.  

I loved, loved, loved this book to pieces. I literally gave it the biggest hug when I finished it.  My only regret is not reading it sooner.  It is everything and then some and will always have a permanent spot on my bookshelf.   I am now on the hunt to find out more about Nora Barnacle and her darling Jim Joyce.  Wish me luck.  

Your Biggest Fan,

Kelly    

P.S. Did I mention that I ran into your first wife Hadley in this book.  If I am not mistaken, it was at Peggy Guggenheim’s party.  I feel bad saying this, but the talk of your behavior wasn’t all that great that evening.  Nevertheless, it was a brief encounter so no need to dwell on the past.

Click on this fabulous book cover to purchase.

To Be Seen Is To Be Loved

What Kind of Woman cover

What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer (Harper Perennial)

What Kind of Woman cover

October 27, 2020

Dear Mr. Hemingway,

I retired early to bed last night. I am not going to lie, the weight of life and the world around me felt extra heavy for some reason (2020 can do that to you). I not only found solace in my bed with my flannel sheets wrapped around me but in a very special book that will forever be in arm’s reach. Kate Baer’s debut poetry book, What Kind of Woman has a permanent place on my nightstand.  Like so many of you reading this, I too am a wife, mother, sister, friend, daughter, and then some.  It takes a lot not to topple over from the number of hats I wear in a single day.  The joy and responsibility of being a woman are in fact, my true love.   It is also one that keeps me up late into the night with worry, uncertainty, guilt, and wonder.  I found much comfort in Kate Baer’s words. Her poems made me realize that I am not alone with these ginormous feelings.   Her words are the late-night company we all need from time to time.  An absolute gift for the soul.  Enjoy!

I am by no means an avid reader of poetry.  I never know what to read or who to read and quite honestly…most poems intimidate me.  Baer’s book of poems came to me at the most perfect time.  If all goes well, you could say I am wrapping up the first half of my life and the third quarter is about to kick off.  I am blessed to have loving parents, two incredible sisters, a dynamite husband, fabulous friends and three sons who completely rock my world.  I was stunned at how much Baer’s poem’s resonated with me on so many levels.  As a woman, I felt seen.  I felt heard.  I felt understood.  Damn…that felt good.  I can say with confidence that I identified with so much of what she wrote.  Her simple words delivered razor sharp prose that delighted me, haunted me and left me yearning for more.  

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the luscious poems included in this book. 

Twenties 

“Once I kissed a girl in Jerusalem, all legs and cherry lips.  I did not take her number.  I did not know how much I’d long to hold her in my arms again.”

Robyn Hood

“Imagine if we took back our diets, our grand delusions, the time spent thinking about the curve of our form.”

Things No One Says To Me

“You make it look easy

You don’t look like you just had a baby

Motherhood looks good on you”

Deleted Sentences 

“Dear husband. Dear Lover.  Dear lover of my heart.  No, I do not want to attend the barbecue scheduled cruelly over naptime.  I do not want to go to the recital either.  Can you tell your sister that too?  In the morning I saw you dancing with our daughter and for a moment I almost cried.  I hate when people say I almost cried.  Why even mention it at all?”

Childhood

“I do not remember being born

or how I knew my mother’s face.

Only that we woke to the sound 

of pots banging against the stove,

knowing she would be downstairs.”

Things My Girlfriends Teach Me

“Drink more water.  Fold your sweaters. This is the time to buy a hat.  When life throws you a bag of sorrow, hold out your hands.”

Marriage Tales

After arguments they speak only through emails. Dear Wife, I’m sorry I insulted the ravioli and Dear Husband, I’m sorry you did not write down the appointment we spoke of on Tuesday.”

Are you tempted now to read this powerful book of poetry?  I can assure you that this is a book to keep, treasure and revisit always.  There is reflection and discovery in Baer’s words that tugged on my heart strings.  Put your worries aside if you have felt discouraged by poetry in the past.  Baer’s Poetry is undemanding to read.  The accessibility of her words will grace you with a familiarity you so longed for.  Baer’s small but mighty book is one I will be gifting to all the special women in my life.  It is the gift that keeps on giving. 

Until next time my friend!

Your Biggest Fan,

Kelly

P.S.  Kate Baer’s book comes out November 10, 2020

Pre-order this gem below from your local bookseller ASAP.

Click on the book pic below to purchase.

What Kind of Woman Book Cover

Mannequin

The Paris Model book on the beach

The Paris Model by Alexandra Joel (Harper Perennial)

The Paris Model book on the beach

September 20, 2020

Dear Mr. Hemingway,

It always comes back to Paris. I’m not going to lie.  It is truly one of my favorite cities and I often catch myself daydreaming of going back there one day. Cappuccino scented cafes and cobblestone streets were the backdrop for so many stories, so many glorious works of art in the1920s. A time when an artistic vibe pulsed through the veins of all the young dreamers. You and your “Lost Generation” were some of those dreamers during Paris’ sweet time, between the Wars. The Wars of course cast a dark cloud over the City of Lights for many years.  It wasn’t until the late 1940s, when legendary French fashion designer, Christian Dior designed a new line of women clothing that put the dazzle back into post war-stricken Paris. Alexandra Joel takes on this time in history in her debut novel, The Paris Model.  A strong woman discovering her family secrets, passionate affairs and some always needed Parisian flair fill the pages of this historical fiction delight.  Plan on falling in love with this gem.  Let’s take a look.

In 1948, Grace Woods leaves Australia and farm life, hits pause on her loveless marriage and travels to post-war Paris to work as a glamorous mannequin for THE Christian Dior. Her journey to a new country isn’t all work though.  Grace is taking time to re-evaluate her role as a “dutiful” wife, with dutiful roles in the kitchen and her passionless bedroom.   As she enjoys her time modeling the clothes of a fashion guru and discovering that fiery love most definitely exists, she gets herself tangled in her lover’s political  endeavors, while discovering the depth of her family’s secrets.  

What I loved about Joel’s book is that it is based on a true story.   She did a fantastic job depicting a woman “stuck” in her role as a wife and desperately questioning her own hopes and dreams, while taking on the politically charged streets of Paris   Because of this book, I have been feverishly googling the life and times of Christian Dior.  From his abundant use of luscious fabric, to the revival of fashion in the most glamorous city in the world, this French gentleman was anything but ordinary.  I adored all of the modeling and designer clothes in Joel’s novel, but especially loved the family component.  Grace’s self-discovery was a journey that I took pleasure in as a reader.  Layers of love, loss and sacrifice filled the pages of Joel’s book.  I was extremely fulfilled with the ending as so many questions were answered and loose ends tied up.  That always makes me happy.  

I hope you enjoy this exquisite read as much as I did!  

Until next time my friend! 

Your Biggest Fan,

Kelly

P.S.  Catherine, Christian Dior’s sister, worked for the French Resistance during WWII.  She was arrested by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbruck, a concentration camp for women until her liberation in 1945.  In 1947, Dior named his first perfume Miss Dior, in honor of her. 

Click on the book pic to purchase.

Book cover of The Paris Model

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