Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Yellow Envelope: It is more than travel

In the last decade, there is an increasing number of young people that decided to leave their average stable lives and embark on life-changing experience, with one backpack, a camera and eventually a blog to share their discoveries on the road. I am a limited version of this trend myself, using all my free time and freelancing resources for - as for now - short-term travel, that I carefully document on my travel blog.
I am very happy to travel and grateful for the opportunities to see so many remote places and meet incredible people. I will never give up travel, and I hope to have the chance to see all the countries in the world at least once - an obsession of the travel bloggers community I am openly sharing - but the issue is that sometimes, I realize that a sightseeing marathon, although enriching culturally is not enough, as I rarely have the chance to really spend time with the humans and have insights about real life. It is a disadvantage I am aware of but not always sure what to do with it.
Kim Dinan took the challenge of leaving her cubicle life in Portland and together with her husband, Brian, started a challenging travel adventure in countries like Ecuador, Nepal or India. The brilliant part of travel when you expect more than checking your bucket-list - nothing wrong with it, anyway - is that you start a journey which might change your life, your inner life especially, for ever and good. And as usual in the case of changes, you don't know exactly what to expect. It is hard, it is painful, it is risky, because on the road one may loose himself or the other precious half, because this is how life happens. 
But besides the task of facing the unknown, Kim and Brian were lucky enough for being offered by a friend a yellow envelope with money to give to people or causes that might make a difference. The decision is hard, especially when taking into consideration if offering the money is a culturally accepted gesture. The act of giving, the generous opening of the envelope plays an important part of the transformation process Kim and her husband are going through during their journey. Their trip is an experience of knowing each other, looking for their uniqueness and accepting togetherness. 'We'd made so many mistakes and embarassed ourselves, but we'd also stretched our boundaries, individually and together, and learned to trust the world and the people in it, including ourselves and each other'.
It is a very beautiful book, written with heart and with many pages dedicated to introspection and self-search. Not the usual travel stories, but a memoir about finding meaning and trying to make the world a better place, one yellow envelope at a time.
You can read more stories by Kim Dinan on her blog.

Rating: 4 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchane for an honest review

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Book tour: Discover Fairytale by Hope Pennington

I have the honor and pleasure to be again part of another interesting book tour organised by Priya from Writerly Yours. This time, the choice was an interesting YA novel, Fairytale, by Hope Pennington.
When I say 'interesting', I really mean it, because this book succeeds to create a story out of fragments and directions of computer games narratives, while adding a classical fairy tale touch. A young guy not so into school or life - he is not sure what he wants to be in life, but for sure is not so keen to start a life of 'study to work to eat to study to work to eat' - fell into a hole in the back of the garden, being suddenly transposed into a strange world where he is not only a visitor, but he is assigned the role of the 'Chosen One' assigned the mission of saving the world.
There are princes and a princess and sword fights and knights, and extraordinary creatures, but the entire experience is like a growing up trial, during which the young boy is taking up responsibilities and changes dramatically his indifferent perspective on life.
The book is fast-paced, with a lot of action, like in a real-time game, but also moments of reflection. The dialogues are sharp, short but well suited for the teenage literary sensibilities and expectations. Although is using an old fairy tale cliche, the story is written in a creative way, which can attract modern readers, fascinated by computer games. It is a smart way to make the best out of a common literary genre, and Hope Pennington succeeded to achieve a great story.
Fairytale is a recommended lecture for both young readers and educators and has many topics that can be easily used further in the classroom for further discussion, such as loyalty, respecting other cultures or courage.

Rating: 4 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the author in exchange for an honest review

Monday, April 24, 2017

Are you there, Krishna? A short review

Are you there Krishna? is a hilarious account on identity, narrow minded people, sexism and taking life easier without forgetting who you are. At least once in a while, it is also about ghosts, meeting celebrities and one-night stands. 'If you're easily offended, don't read this book', but if you do, you will get some good funny waves out of it, because when everything goes wrong, a smile can wipe everything. Tomorrow you can start anew again.
Behind the laughs and the fun and the ridiculous situations - the account of the trip to Europe makes you laugh loud for minutes - there is a serious layer questioning the ethnic stereotypes, rejecting the stupidity of male-centered world and the assigned gender limitations. But she is coming along with all of them in a way or another, and sometimes also finding a good antidote to all of it, because 'fashion magazines are cheaper and healthier than Xanax'. 
It is a book that make you both laugh and think, maybe change your mind too about the way in which you accepted all those family, and society and gender and class identities that sometimes do not have nothing with you as a free human being. 
If you are looking for some inspirational reading while on the way to work, this is the best recommendation. It can change your mind so much that maybe you will consider leaving your job and, who knows, going out in Europe finding yourself. 

Rating: 3 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

The creative morning pill: The Shape of Ideas

If you are looking for inspiration or taking a break from too much creative thinking on demand, this book is the perfect dow of freedom. A graphic novel about ideas may sound a bit unusual, and this book is, indeed, a bit special, because creativity in general and particularly ideas are hard to represent. For instance, did you ever wonder where the ideas go when they leave us? Or, how do you represent the frames of mind? To be continued...
Grant Snider's snippets of wisdom succeed to offer incredible and unique visual shapes of ideas. After you read it once, you will definitely want to have this book in your library for regular - maybe daily - inspiration. If you are, like me, more into writing and less into visual, exploring a new sources of creativity are always welcomed. 
The texts are sometimes serious, sometimes joyous and playful, but there is always a pleasure to discover page after page new messages and old ideas presented into new shinning, colourful too, clothes. It helps you brainstorm, take a break from routine or just gives you the chance to read and see something really interesting. It sends you good vibes and makes you take everything easier because 'there are things worse than disappointment'.
You can see more of Grant Snider works here.  

Rating: 5 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Novella review: American Demon Hunters. Sacrifice

A broken hearted father that cannot cope with the death of his son steals a Peruvian skull from a relic thief in order to set up a ritual which might bring his Daniel back to life. The ritual takes place during an Amtrak night ride from Chicago to New Orleans, where accidentally there is also a demon hunter and an ex-Army mom, and it unleashes dark creatures thirsty for blood. 
Like in an old Russian movie, most of the action takes place during the train ride, and the action succeeds very fast, and some of the images described can be quite strong for the faints of heart. Imagine a Stephen King story with a touch of spirits invasion, the kind of stories I am reading only once in a while. Even if you don't like such genre, there is a lesson to learn from it mainly that conjuring the dark forces, even for a good cause, it always can have dramatic consequences.
The story is the result of an extraordinary collaboration between 4 authors, part of a series of novellas set in different American cities, each written through different collaborations. 
Although I enjoyed the story and the writing, I've found that very often I would have love more focus on the actions - when it comes to fights, with monsters of all things - the more descriptions the merrier. In one case, I've found a small inconsistency: the character Blake cut his hands deeply to have enough blood to make the required signs for the ritual on the walls, but it doesn't look as he is really affected by the loss of blood. I keep thinking that novella was too limited for this kind of topic and a bigger amount of words would have been much better for the sake of the story telling.
Despite this, the book is enjoyable and has some interesting developments. The kind of book to keep you company on a long train ride, unless you are not too faint of heart.

Rating: 3 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by one of the authors in exchange for an honest review

Friday, April 21, 2017

A classical mystery novel: A Rising Man

In the 1919 Calcutta, Cpt. Sam Wyndham, recently transferred from the Scotland Yard, is dealing with his first case. A local British personality is found dead close to a brothel with a paper with an independence message stuck in his mouth: 'No more warnings. English blood will run in the streets. Quit India!'. 
Tracing the possible perpetrators takes place within less than a week, during which the days might not be filled with too much actions, but with a lot of reflection about colonialism and fine psychological observations. There are also frictions between the different local branches of the law and order system and Sam Wyndham is not your usual cop, all the little unusual and tensed episodes contributing to the appeal of the book.
Some of the characters are created with a deep and sometimes conflictual personality. For instance, Sgt. Bannerjee, the other half of the investigation, has a strong belief in the justice but found himself in a limbo while observing the way in which the Empire is repressing its own people more and more every day. Sam Wyndham is a non-conformist investigator, with a broken heart and the psychological wounds of the Great War where he participated as a combatant are still open. The investigation is just offering him a break from his own life, but he really enjoys fighting for the truth: 'The problem was, once I get a sniff of a case, I find it difficult to keep my nose out of it. And I don't take kindly to threats'. 
The political observations from an India boiling to fight for independence are often inserted into the story, which makes this novel more than a mystery story, but adds a different dimension. Therefore, more than once I felt that I am in fact reading a historical novel, as it outlines a specific episode in the history of the relations between the Empire and its overseas territories. I've found that in the case of some passages, there are too many digressions, but the reading itself is enjoyable and announces a writer with a special personality.  
The criminal is a surprise, but it makes sense in the context of the novel. 
It looks like the author worked hard to reconstruct the ambiance and the local flavors of the 1919 Calcutta, the reader being offered at the beginning of the book also a map to make his or her way through the maze of streets and events mentioned in the story.
For a debut novel, A Rising Man is a good start. As this seems to be only the first book from a series featuring Cpt. Wyndham, we shall wait for the next works by Abir Mukherjee.

Rating: 4 stars

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Interview with K.Heidi Fishman, author of Tutti's Promise

Books are always the best way to share testimonies and keep memories alive. Especially when it comes to a historical time as the Holocaust. Tutti's Promise that I reviewed elsewhere is the latest book I had the opportunity to read about this period of time. The author, K.Heidi Fishman is sharing on my blog her experiences as a writer and the challenges of writing about such a dramatic time. 

How did you decide to write Tutti's story?
When my daughter was in 7th grade my mother went to her school to tell her story. Of course I had heard the story many times myself already, but this time I listened from a different point of view. I listened from the point of view of a child who didn’t grow up knowing the stories. I listened from the point of view of a child who didn’t live in a Jewish community and didn’t know any survivors. I saw how moved my daughter’s classmates were. At that moment I knew the book had to be written, thus preserving her story forever.

What was the most challenging part of writing this book? 
I would say there were two large challenges for me. The first was the research. All the documentation and most of the websites I was searching were in either German and Dutch, plus a few in Czech and Hebrew. Although I grew up hearing my mother and grandparents speaking both German and Dutch, I don’t really know either language very well. I studied Spanish in high school (which didn’t help me at all on this project), and I had taken one year of German in college. So that meant every time I was looking at material in one of those other languages I needed to translate it before I really understood what I was looking at. It made everything take much longer than it would have if I had been fluent in those languages.

The second challenge was in writing from a particular point of view. I first tried to write the book from the point of view of my mother’s doll. However, I soon found that wasn’t going to work as the doll doesn’t appear until well into the story. Then I tried to alternate between three separate points of view – Tutti, her mother, and her father. That became too complicated. Finally I settled on the book as mostly coming from Tutti’s POV with occasional chapters where her father’s POV dominates because he was involved with things that Tutti wasn’t privy to.

How much time did the documentation play in the making of the book?
The whole book took five years from conception to publication. I’m not sure that I can say the documentation took a certain amount of time as I wasn’t organized enough to first research and then write. I was flip-flopping between both tasks the whole time. Some days I would be more inspired to write and on other days I found myself deep in research reading books about WWII or searching for an important detail on-line.

What was the reaction of the people, particularly young children, during the readings? Any noteworthy feedback?
When I completed my first draft I asked several of my daughter’s classmates to read the book. They liked it. The enjoyed the story, but their feedback was basic. They found typos and grammatical errors. They were young and embarrassed to give their classmate’s mother any criticism. Some of my early adult readers were better at helping me hone in the problems with the point of view as well as helping me find areas where I spent too much time on “teaching history” and not enough “story telling.”  I soon found that I didn’t need to teach history (even though that is one intention of the book) because as long as the story was good and true it took care of the teaching for me.

What are your next writing plans?
  • I have two potential projects coming up and I need to decide which is next.

1 – Two historians I met while working on Tutti’s Promise and I are thinking about collaborating on a non-fiction account of the metal Jews at Westerbork. We want to find out more details about how the operation came into existence and how effective it was at both saving Jews and sabotaging the metal that went to the Nazis. The working title is “Scraps of Hope.”

2 – So many people have asked questions about HOW I wrote Tutti’s Promise. They want details about the research — where I found different bits of information and how it all came together. That project will be about the process of writing Tutti’s Promise and how it effected me as a person.

There are less and less Shoah survivors nowadays. What can the written word do in order to keep the memory of the survivors and victims alive for the next generations?
This was my main motivation behind Tutti’s Promise. Like so many others my mother won’t be able to tell her story forever and future generations won’t be able to meet real witnesses to the atrocities of the Holocaust. There are already too many people who don’t understand. Just yesterday President Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, said that Hitler “didn’t even sink to . . . using chemical weapons.” And then when Spicer tried to clarify his statement he implied that the people Hitler gassed weren’t innocent victims. It is just wrong that people, especially people in positions of power, don’t understand or possibly deny the truth of the Holocaust. Books about the people who were actually there is a good way to combat this type of ignorance.

Photo: Personal archive of K.Heidi Fishman

Tutti's Promise is available on Amazon and barnesandnoble.comTo find out more or to sign up for a drawing for a FREE BOOK go to