Black Venus by James MacManus

Publication Date: May 2013

Source: Thank you to Veronica Grossman from Meryl L. Moss Media Relations, Inc.


For readers who have been drawn to The Paris Wife or Woody Allen’s Midnight in ParisBlack Venus captures the artistic scene in the great French city decades earlier, when the likes of Dumas and Balzac argued literature in the cafes of the Left Bank. 

Amongst the bohemians the young Charles Baudelaire stood out—dressed impeccably thanks to an inheritance that was quickly vanishing. Still at work on the poems which he hoped would make his name, he spent his nights enjoying the alcohol, opium, and women who filled the seedy streets of the city.  

One woman would catch his eye—a beautiful Haitian cabaret singer named Jeanne Duval. Their lives would remain forever intertwined thereafter, and their romance would inspire his most infamous poems—leading to the banning of his masterwork Les Fleurs du Mal and a scandalous public trial for obscenity.  

James MacManus’s Black Venus recreates the classic Parisian literary world in vivid detail, complete with not just an affecting portrait of the famous poet but also his often misunderstood, much-maligned muse.

A vivid novel of Charles Baudelaire and his lover Jeanne Duval, the Haitian cabaret singer who inspired his most famous and controversial poems, set in nineteenth-century Paris.

My Thoughts:

I knew little about Charles Baudelaire and Jeanne Duval. It was a pleasure to get to know them in Black Venus. They were a seductive and intriguing couple that needed one another. Sadly they also annihilated one another. Their tempestuous relationship is at the heart of this novel.

Jeanne Duval was essential to Baudelaire’s poetry. Without her there would have been no Les Fleurs du Mal. The literary significance of that work cannot be understated.

About the Author

Baudelaire was charged with obscenity after Les Fleurs was published. Reading about the trial in which he was accused of creating an offense against public morals was compelling.

Certain books inspire me to learn more about the people and the settings contained therein. This was one of those books. I found myself looking up the clothes, the people, and the relationships described in Black Venus because I wanted more. That, to me, is a sign of a great book.

Black Venus is a bewitching and illuminating read that I highly recommend.

Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara (Giveaway)

Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara
Publisher: Viking Adult
Publication Date: August 2012 (Paperback: April 2013)
Categories: Historical Fiction

During the 1930s, an artist and reluctant new wife struggles to reconcile her heart’s ambitions with the promises she has made

Cascade, Massachusetts, 1935. Desdemona Hart Spaulding, a promising young artist, abandoned her dreams of working in New York City to rescue her father. Two months later he is dead and Dez is stuck in a marriage to reliable but child-hungry Asa Spaulding. Dez also stands to lose her father’s legacy, the Cascade Shakespeare Theater, as the Massachusetts Water Authority decides whether to flood Cascade to create a reservoir.

Amid this turmoil arrives Jacob Solomon, a fellow artist for whom Dez feels an immediate and strong attraction. As their relationship reaches a pivotal moment, a man is found dead and the town accuses Jacob, a Jewish outsider. But the tide turns when Dez’s idea for a series of painted postcards is picked up by The American Sunday Standard and she abruptly finds herself back on the path to independence. New York City and a life with Jacob both beckon, but what will she have to give up along the way?

My Thoughts:

This book has a lot going on. There is filial duty, art, marriage, illicit love, bigotry, bankruptcy and the threat of losing a lovely little town due to the thirsty residents of Boston.

Dez puts her artistic career plans on the back-burner to take care of her ailing father. One decision follows another and she finds herself in an unhappy marriage. Asa is solid and he’s a good man. But they want vastly different things. Dez is financially dependent on her husband…and he knows it. (I don’t think I’ve ever read about a more incongruous relationship.)

Her most difficult struggle is that she isn’t able to do what she loves. Dez can’t find a way to be herself. It’s hard to be an individual and an artist in the small town of Cascade. She is expected to have babies, be a good wife, and count her blessings. (This is in 1935, the pressure on women was…well, you know.)

Dez feels an immediate connection with the fellow artist Jacob. Their romance felt a bit forced but it’s understandable why they are attracted to one another and it does add another layer to this tale.

Cascade is about obligations and dreams and one woman’s struggle to balance the two. Even though this story takes place in the 30’s I think it’s message is as timely as ever.

And would you take a look at that cover? Stunning!

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