Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Alchemy of a Blackbird, by Claire McMillan {ends 8/1}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

When they landed in Veracruz, Remedios slipped a bunch of Madame Nouget’s lavender and rosemary out of her pocket and dropped it in the dirt as she stepped off the wharf. The dried leaves mingled with the dust of a new country. She’d picked them in the hills of Marseilles while on a foraging trip, drawn to their scent and what Madame Nouget taught her about their qualities, lavender for healing, rosemary for remembrance. She dried them, tied them with kitchen twine, and brought them with her on the Serpa Pinto to ground the watery days at sea. She hadn’t anticipated that at night, lying in her cot, she’d hold the bundle to her nose to mask the scent of unwashed bodies and people being seasick in buckets. All of them down in the hold while the ill and injured rightly took the staterooms on a luxury ship packed to three times its usual capacity. She offered the herbs back to the earth now to acknowledge a rough crossing and to greet a potential sanctuary. She offered them back with thanks.

This story of surrealist artists doing their artist things around the world was charming—like hanging out casually and appreciating the world as they seemed to be doing.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Alchemy of a Blackbird, by Claire McMillan {ends 8/1}
In this “unforgettable adventure, and one you don’t want to miss” (Patti Callahan Henry,
New York Times bestselling author), painter Remedios Varo and her lover, poet Benjamin Peret escape the Nazis by fleeing Paris and arriving at a safe house for artists on the Rivieria.

Along with Max Ernst, Peggy Guggenheim, and others, the two anxiously wait for exit papers.

As the months pass, Remedios begins to sense that the others don’t see her as a fellow artist; they have cast her in the stifling role of a surrealist ideal: the beautiful innocent. She finds refuge in a mysterious bookshop, where she stumbles into a world of occult learning and intensifies an esoteric practice in the tarot that helps her light the bright fire of her creative genius.

When travel documents come through, Remedios and Benjamin flee to Mexico where she is reunited with friend and fellow painter Leonora Carrington. Together, the women tap into their creativity, stake their independence, and each find their true loves. But it is the tarot that enables them to access the transcendent that lies on the other side of consciousness and to become the truest Surrealists of all.

While the story originally seemed about the friendship between Remedios and Leonora, as it progressed it told more of Remedios’ life and the unique bond that always existed between her and Leonora. The women were part of a unique population and artists in their own right, although they lived often in the shadows of men. The author’s note at the end acknowledges the story as "faction"—while some events and people may have actually been part of Remedios’ life, the book is more told as things that could have been part of her story.

The book inspires curiosity about all of its characters—surreal artists and members of society starting in Paris, and then fleeing the war from 1939 through the next couple decades. They somehow continued trying to maintain their salons and appreciation for each other and their art through unique and trying circumstances they encountered as they traveled.

The formatting of the narration and chapters was especially delightful. A portion of the story would be told, then the description of a tarot card would be provided and linked with a character. Then that character would narrate their portion of the story. Some of the viewpoints of the characters vs. how they seemed to be acting from the overall scene were amusing.

Overall, the story earned 4 out of 5 stars and inspired an urge to explore tarot cards and surreal artists in the early to mid-1900s. This book is recommended for those who enjoy historical fiction and stories based on real characters. 

{click here to purchase on Amazon}

Becki Bayley is a wife and mom who will soon be the shortest person in her family. See how far they’ve all come and check out what else she’s reading on her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Alchemy of a Blackbird!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, August 1st, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be contacted the next day via email and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Alchemy of a Blackbird, by Claire McMillan


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