Sunday, October 15, 2017

Book Review: The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

Although it was a bestseller for more than one year, I was never curious enough to check any review about The Girl on the Train or look for the book immediately the news of the success reached me. Actually, I was so detached from the media mainstream that when I took the book from the shelf of the library, all I knew about it was that it is a bestseller which happens in the case of over 50% of the books I read. This apparent information gap created quite an almost non-existent wall of expectations. I've just started reading the book without any knowledge about what it will happen and how the thriller may further  I may confess that once in a while I am doing it. 
During the couple of hours of reading, I went through the ups and downs of the story, made doubts and expressed concerns without being sure of my feelings and assumptions. Therefore, I enjoyed the full pleasure of the lecture. 
The lecture was pleasant overall, although sometimes it reminded me of some episodes of the Hausfrau, meaning there is a lot of daily nothingness with as much appeal as a very bored housewife. However, there is an insidous part of the story which warns about the everyday evil. How, in fact, a very innocent looking playboy with a penchant for lying can be as dangerous as a first page criminal. And there is Rachel, which is the genius character of this story, the key of solving the murder, although the least trustworthy witness. 'Drunk Rachel' which 'sees no consequences, she is either excessively expansive and optimistic or wrapped up in hate. She has no past, no future. She exists purely in the moment'. 
Although the story in itself is not the most brilliant in the world, Hawkins creates a fine work of writing, seismographically outlining the most common tensions, insecurities and doubts, in a killing cadence of morning/evening, following the dairy entries of the main women characters of the story: Rachel, Megan and Anna.
Overall, it is a book worth reading, if not for the story, for some fragments of good writing. Once I started the reading it was hard to leave it and sometimes it is just enough to want to recommend the book further.

Rating: 3.5 stars  

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Book Review: Nine Women by Frances M. Thompson

My motivation to keep reading in the given order and all the short stories of a volume of short stories is the chance of a journey through different characters and encounters, while discovering a bit about the author' style in each and every one of them. Nine Women by Frances M. Thompson is such an unique adventure.
You can read each and every one of the stories at your own pace, start in your desired order, read it again and again, or just keep the author's choice. Any of those choices are a guarantee of the pleasure of reading. 
The pleasure of reading does not have to do with swimming within your comfort zone. The women and men of those short stories do have doubts, emotional breakdowns or deeply hidden truths, are looking for emotional identity and are fighting hard with confusion and despair. The writing often takes a poetic turn, inviting the reader to float together with the charaters through ambiguity and incertainty. It is where the pleasure of reading can lead you without acknowledging it, but once there, a true reader will confirm that it is the best place to be. The writing of Frances M. Thompson makes you float between worlds in a realm shaped by words. I praised the intellectual adventure and the emotional topsy-turvy. There is so much to guess about ourselves only at the borderline. 

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

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The 12-Step Plan to Take Charge of Your Career

A healthy inspiration for both women looking to open their business or just to upgrade and adjust their career plans, Boss Bitch offers mind opening and straight forward professional advice. When you are embarking on a new career, you need honesty and reliable support.
Of course it is amazing to have your own business and be your own boss, but failures and bankrupcy can be as real as your dream of becoming a billionaire. 'There's no one-size-fits-all-path for your career', says Nicole Lapin and she is perfectly right. Taking the right decision is what you need, based on your skills and professional background, but do it fast because 'as they say, the road of life is paved with flattened squirrels who couldn't make a decision'.
Being a boss (bitch) means more than giving orders and having a top career enjoying the pleasure of an office and many (frightened) employees, it means an attitude and a way of life, while you 'run your life like a business'. 'A boss mentality is all about how you feel and carry yourself', and this idea is one of the best I got in the last months. It means being in charge of yourself in a majestic way, having the right screening capacity to make choices and decide, while eliminating the background noise of  naysayers and unproductive thoughts. 'No, you shouldn't change yourself or your personality drastically for any job (or relationships). But you should accentuate those parts of yourself that align with the company's brand and culture'. 
I am usually a very speed reader, but I wanted to take my time for carefully going through all the advice in the book, as I am right now in a very important career turning point. Put the swearing beside - but it is in fact a good example of being yourself and showing your way without complexes, regardless what people say - you will find a lot of extraordinary advice about tailoring the best outfit for your career and life. It starts with the very beginning of creating the plans and identifying what you are good at, and continues with shaping the right career path of being more than a manager, but a leader with a strong voice at the business table, inspiring other people and writing your own business story. It is more or less a question of defining success and happiness and moving forward accordingly, while staying with the feet deep into the ground.
I will definitely read this book more than once, as it really helps channeling the real you and creating both complex life and career opportunities. It is the kind of useful book that you wish you had in your hands before starting your business.

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

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Welcome to the House of Spies

After the Black Widow, I curiously waited the new adventures of the Israeli spy Gabriel Allon, now chief of the intelligence service. There is something addictive in the way in which Daniel Silva is telling stories about terrible events and complicated geopolitical structures, with the historical, intelligence and political background gently introduced into the narrative. 
House of Spies is following Allon's efforts to annihilate Saladin, his no. 1 enemy, the creator and orchestrator of a 'new generation of suicide warriors'. Based on the main trademark of Saladin: 'He believed that in terror, as in life, timing was everything', he creates an international team which is trying to decipher his traces going from Marseilles until the hidden corners of Morocco. 'His target was a man. A man who had built a network of death that had laid siege to the great cities of the civilized world'. As his main profits for investing in the terror plans are the narcotics, the intelligence agents are going back to the origins of the narcotics trade in Europe. As in all the previous book from the series I've read, it mentions current events and world stage evolutions, which are inserted into the story, such as, for instance, the fears of the cybercaliphate: 'Martyrs-in-waiting would be radicalized in hidden corners of the dark web and then guided toward the masterminds they had never met. Such was the brave new world that the Internet, social media, and encrypted messaging had brought about'. 
Until the very end of the book, there are interesting spectacular turn of events taking place, with unexpected changes and challenges and breathtaking surprises. What I liked less what the insertion of some new age elements, with some jinni hungers praying near a toilet seat in Morocco and some future reading lady in Corsica.
Right now, I set the countdown until the next book by Daniel Silva. Maybe I can fill the waiting time with some of his 17 books I haven't read yet.

Rating: 4.5 stars

A Summer at Rose Island that Changed it All

There is certainly a recipe for developing 'feel good' books: you have a new comer looking to start completely fresh and a mysterious, sometimes grumpy foreigner with a kind of dark history. Until the end of the story, you have a romance going on, frequently finished by a proposal.
What makes the difference though is how do you feel this matrix, the art of creating the story. Darcy arrives at White Cliff Bay after a high record of personal and professional failures, with a fresh new job at the local council and the promise of a new start far away from her overcritical parents. The lonely resident of the historical lighthouse, Riley, put his eyes on her and will become her boyfriend soon. 
What I love about this romance story, which goes on very nicely, is the context created: the fight for preserving the historical lighthouse, whose destruction is imminent for making place for a lavish hotel. Darcy's social involvement for preserving the lighthouse creates an interesting human background story which balances the relationship history.
Overall, it is a pleasant reading, with its English charm and an optimistic vibe, a good reading companion for the summer or the holiday season in general. 

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

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

What I Didn't Like about The Lubetkin Legacy, by Marina Lewycka

After completely disliking The Short History of Tractors - I love good humour, but stereotypical, slightly racist humour is not my cup of tea - and unable to finish other two books by Marina Lewycka, 50 pages into The Lubetkin Legacy I was a little bit thriller and decided to continue.
Mostly based on a compound designed by the architect Berthold Lubetkin which supported affordable housing projects in London, it takes an ironic twist to the bed-tax, which limits the number of rooms assigned to socially assisted families. 
After the death of his mother, Berthold Sidebottom a 50+ unemployed actor, named after the architect with whom she apparently had an affair, is dealing with the perspective of being removed from his flat. In order to save his legacy, he requests a bizarre woman, Inna, met at the hospital, to move with him and impersonate his mother. 
In parallel with his story, told in the first person, there is the story of Violet, the Kenyan-born young lady next door, which is always said at the third person, which is running at the same time. Although their lives cross for short, and always ridiculous amounts of time, there is not too sense of this second story which involve corrupt Kenyan politicians and dishonest London city companies. Each of the stories flow, but their presence in the same book do not make too much sense. 
The social message of the book with discourses about equality and social justice is understandable, but the characters are so ridiculous, greedy and created to prove that, it seems that human nature is not designed to reach this aim. Therefore, you have unidimensional, mostly greedy and superficial, characters, unfinished and soul-less. Actually, there are way too many stereotypes for one single book.
Note to self: the next time be clear about the authors you definitely don't like, which is not a frequent occurence in my case

Rating: 2 stars

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Book Review: Hausfrau, by Jill Alexander Nussbaum

A modern times version of both Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina, Anna is an expat version of an American 'Hausfrau' living in Switzerland, married with a local man working in the banking sector and mother of three. She is filling her uneventful life with sexual adventures with men met on different random occasions. Anna collects lovers, each a 'version of love'.
The action is taking place during three months, from September to November, and the period of time is filled with episodes from the past, fragments from therapy sessions, encounters with new and old friends and meditations on language. The story has an extraordinary construction, made of paragraphs reflecting each other like mirrors, creating a certain density of the story.  
From the very beginning, there is inequal intensity of the different fragments of the story, with reflections and projections being interwoven with intense sexual encounters and wanderings through the night. 
At 38, Anna is searching: for herself, meaning of friendship, understanding home, finding a sense of her memories, her loneliness...Her everyday lies, her treasons, the incapacity to resist the temptation of doing over and over again the same mistake(s) are hunting her day and night, with the strength of a deadly psychosis. The first half of the novel promises a lot, a promise not delivered in the end. I personally got caught and charmed from the beginning - I've read the book in just a couple of hours - but as the story was reaching it end, my disappointment grew. I was not expecting a spectacular end, but even the predictable can be shaped in a proper literary form. Instead, I felt like that the last quarter of the story, despite with some dramatic shifts, was just hurried up to the reader. 
The daily geographical and cultural background of the novel, especially the insights into the Swiss mentality, are authentic, probably based on the author's own experiences as expat in Switzerland.
Although the novel promises a lot but delivers only half, the author has a great writing potential and would be curious to read other works signed by her. 

Rating: 3 stars