Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Book review: The Playground Mafia, by Sarah Tucker

One of the reasons I always wanted - and succeeded - to keep myself away of the parents'/most specifically mothers' gangs in schools is the feeling that some could consider themselves more mothers than the others. I do not see any reasons I should be patronized and involved in activities supporting in fact the lifestyle and 'academic' expectations from one mother or another. Convinced that many of the new rich mothers with high expectations are in fact trying to compensate their relatively limited chances of achievement years ago, I prefer to pay my contributions and have my say only when something outrageous happens. And, due to my busy schedule I did not have an enormous amount of time for networking and fighting for a better curricula or against a certain teacher. Or even more, against other parents.

This is one thing about The Playground Mafia that I liked: the boring reality of the parents' committees. In this case, we have to deal with the British type of parenting and thus, expect a lot of money and expression of the social stratification. And, parents bullying. 

Some of the ambitious mothers with rich husbands of first graders created a kind of cartel controlling the activities and scrutinizing the other parents according to their rules and regulations. As usual, not all of the mafia mothers are happy and even less morally accomplished. A newly divorced mother with her son, Ben, are new in town and trying to cope with them, but the even though at the beginning the integration into the 'mafia' circles looks more smoothly than expected, at the end, she will even enter into a physical conflict with the chief mafiosa and called in court for plummeting her. In between, there are many local drama, hidden love stories, unhappy mariages, shopping and coffees. One of the strongest point of the author is, in my opinion, the art of the detail, the concentration on facts and the description of events in a very realistic way. 

The rhythm is not equal and every 100 pages I had some dead time when I did not care about what is going in into the story. But, if you want to spend your afternoon and, in addition, you have children in school, you can learn a lot about what you should avoid for the time being. It is good writing and you will not regret the choice. 

As for the cover of the book, it is simply funny. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Food and writing consulting with Monica Bhide

Monica Bhide has an amazing story of what does it really mean to be a writer: a lot of work and ambition and the perseverance of never considering that you are too good for not learning something new every day. 

She writes on her blog, is very active on social media, writes and teaches regularly food writing classes. Now, she is decided to make a step further by offering mentoring and one on one consulting services. Anyone with a passion for food writing should try to book at least once a meeting with her in person or virtually. If you are passionate about good books about food, you can participate to her very active and interesting Book Club on Facebook

I am just reading right now her book of interviews, In Conversation with Exceptional Women which I can't wait to feature on this blog soon. 

Book Review: Love at the Speed of E-mail

Did you ever ask what the life of those international people working in the world of humanitarian work looks like? How it is to change planes and homes every couple of weeks and living in unfamiliar environments? There are many who might be jealous for the frequency of travels and the exposure to new people and cultures. At the practical level, it is always at least a small problem of adaptation and search for meaning in a changing world.

One of the most things that I appreciated at Lisa McKay's Love at the Speed of E-mail is the style of writing. Simple, sober yet warm and able to make you understand feelings and dilemmas. Her memoir is a story of her travels from Croatia to Australia, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, but also a search for the sense of home and a family. A life spent on the road could offer a lot of excitement, but also frequent questions about the world you belongs to hence her search for faith and spirituality, the stable values in a changing universe.

Her scientific background - she has an MA in forensic psychology - could explain a writing that it might be distant at the first sight, but succeeds to explain and make the story enjoyable. If one day I would like to write a memoir, I wish I can have her style: simple, direct, honest and without any sentimental embroideries even though it deals with difficult personal choices and life decisions. She writes with the passion of the journalist that found her own literary voice. This book was my first encounter with Lisa's writings but I would be curious to continue writing her next novels and books. 

In this challenging diverse world when she needs to travel all round the year, Lisa finds time to write and through her essays she tries to define her virtual home. It is the sense of sharing her own ideas. This world of words is the home she belongs to, even after she is happily married with Mike that found her on the Internet when he was busy with his own international assignments in New Guinea. They start a month-long exchange of letters that are not only accounts of their different professional encounters but ways to discover each other and share their personal worlds and visions. Maybe what Lisa is writing about is the same old love story that only develops in a different framework. But the ways in which she is doing it gives the measure of her talent and keeps the reader involved.

The cover of the book is of elegant simplicity and suits the book. I can't say I either like it or not but that it is very much in resonance with the book. 

The conclusion: if you are about to go on vacation and you do not know what to include on your reading list, don't forget about Lisa McKay's book. It is always hope for love, even at the speed of e-mail.

Disclaimer: We received a complimentary copy from the author. 


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Is never too late to write your book

It is never late enough to launch your book and continue writing. Very often, we read a lot in the media about successful young writer under 30 or 40 and we start feeling that it is too late for starting a career in writing after these thresholds. In fact, it is another example when we need to take our breath and continue writing, regardless of our age or the pressure of the daily boring yet financially rewarding jobs.
Paul Torday, for instance, published his first book, the famous now Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, when he was around 60. Since then, the book was turned into a movie and he published a new book almost each year. 
I liked Salmon Fishing and appreciated the humour, but loved and felt closer of Bordeaux for the fine observations and the introspective journeys. 
The conclusion of the day: is never too late to become a writer if you have something to share.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Poetry evening, with Mascha Kaléko

I am not a poetry reader and even less one of its lovers, but from time to time - maybe twice the year - I challenge my love for words with a portion of poetry. This time, I choose a small, simple and illustrated collection by Mascha Kaléko. An interesting poet with an interesting life that I would love to read more about it soon. The little booklet with which I spent a couple of mind challenging hours is called Papagei und Mamagei . It is a simple yet funny and well chosen selection of poetic short stories about the world of animals. Some reminded me of some Haiku but also of some Naturalistic short stories. The initial thought was to improve my German, but the language is not as easy and you should know more than the primary sense of the words in order to understand the short poetic compositions. 

Writing good stories

"When does a man write a good story? When he didn't think about writing it at all. It is created in his heart on its own. Suddenly he gets burned, and the burn aches and doesn't let up, he tries to write, and it 'works'...". S.Y. Agnon, Nobel Prize 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A small disadvantage of Kindle

I am one of the strongest supporters of Kindle and I my virtual library is growing more and more each day. For someone that is reading even when walking, the small practical portable bookstore gives me the chance to fill in the best possible way the dead moments. 
While reading today a historical book, I discovered a small disadvantage: many pictures were available only in the print format of the book. Probably, it is not only a commercial explanation of this move. Many Kindle books are available at half the normal price and it is normal to have different advantages than when paying the full price. On the other hand, it is possible as well that some e-pictures cannot be reproduced at the same high fidelity as in the printed formula.
As for me, I will continue to use the Kindle option, with or without clear published pictures.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Not-to-read recommendation: Dad's guide to life for girls

My Kindle has a lot of books: the very good books that I am happy to have it and keen to read it, a lot of books I am interested in because of the subjects approached and many free books on various topics that I have no idea what they are all about. Sometimes, I am surprised to discover good books, covers and new authors whose next or previous books I will buy. From time to time, I also have books that after 10 minutes of reading I can't wait to delete from my Kindle.
Every 3-4 weeks I have the unpleasant opportunity to stumble upon such a book and due to the high volume of daily reading I think it is a fair ratio. Today, while in-between a new writing chore, a good book and a boring rainy hour, I decided that maybe Dad's guide to life for girls will give me some good ideas about children, girls and how to talk with them and what to tell them. 
From the beginning, the cover did not impress me too much - childish and cheap -, but I tried to ignore this fact thinking that you need to invest a lot of money in a good cover and maybe the author preferred to pay the price for producing a good book. I have no idea if the author used the resources for a professional editing of the book, but the result is technically good: quality editing, not grammar mistakes and thus meeting the minimal expectations of a good book. However, a correct sentence it is not enough and the artistic result is rather boring and not-interesting (almost at all).
In my opinion, the book could be limited to some professional advice in the Introduction and it rather suits  an article or some series of articles published in some parenting reviews that no one reads seriously. It consists of a series of advices, on a lecturing tone, from how to deal with your sexual life to how to reach success in college (in this order), and some professional advice about how to not be trapped by the Nigerian scams. Honestly, do not misunderstand me: there are very interesting advices, but the style is...exactly what do you expect from a father lecturing you for hours about why you should not do it. If it matters, I would be very happy with some inspiring stories written in a more relaxed way. The subject is obviously very serious, but it is not a reason to turn it more boring than a complicated chemistry lesson for teenagers in a summer day. 
FYI: the book is not recommended for: gay females, transgenders, orphans or ethnic minorities. 
I am keeping my literary optimism for the quality of the other books on my Kindle shelf.