Thursday, March 31, 2016

Changes. Changes. Changes. For the good

After three intensive months of frequent bookish blogging, it is about time for some more new changes, isn't it? Day after day and week after week I discovered new authors and interesting blogs that inspired and encouraged me to go just another step further. 
This blog was started as a once in a while chronicle of my pashion for books, with irregular updates in the previous years. Then as now, bookish blogging is only a part of my daily blogging and writing activities, which includes mostly travel, politics and history, and parenting and lifestyle too. However, regardless of where I am going and what I am cooking, books are always with me and this will never change. Sharing my thoughts about writers and books come out naturally and I am very happy to have decided to publish regularly reviews on my blog.
Right now, the blog keeps me very busy with a lot of new projects and so many interesting books I can't wait to read and write about. A couple of weeks back I discovered NetGalley.com, an awesome resource for book reviewers, a network through which publishers are promoting new books and practically every domain. Although sometimes it is frustrating to see that some books are only available for specific markets, I take it as it is and try to accept that book industry is a business too. Anyway, with more books than readers, there is always a big amount o books available so I am not deprived of new titles and interesting connections. In the next weeks wait than for a lot of bookish reviews that includes genres as diverse as YA, children books, thriller, detective stories or novels everyone is talking about.
Besides NetGalley, I keep getting very intresting new books from the local libraries. Thus, wait a full review of some interesting Stephen King novels, the latest Isabel Allende, the Hunger Games trilogy or Romain Puertolais and Yasmina Khadra. 
Given my passion for travel, I will keep featuring interesting bookstores and literary events encountered on the road. Also, I want to present as much as possible authors outside out usual writing comfort zone, using also my linguistic knowledge that goes far beyond English. These authors will be features under the series: Reading around the world. If you have some special suggestion about readers to be featured, don't hesitate to contact me. The plan is to feature at least a writer from any country of the world at least once. 
Two other series are running on: Writers Secrets, that made its debut with an interview with Gary F. Jones, featuring writers sharing their writin experience, and Publishers Secrets, with publishers and edition houses explaining their strategies and introducing their star writers. The first interview from the series is up in the air in a couple of hours, so stay tunned!
As you can see, there is a lot to share and write about. This is the plan for the next 3 months and hope to have even more news coming up soon.
If you want to get live updated about what I am reading and my bookish adventures, keep in touch on Twitter, with my fresh new account: @Wildwritinglife
Keep in touh with good writing news soon!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

YA Book Review: Of Pens and Swords, by Rena Rocford

Of Pens and Swords is an YA novel taking place in the last school year and it involves a love triangle, poetry, fencing and a lot of inner fight. The protagonists are 17 yo and probably this is the average target of the book, but I think that reading it  by an apparently well accomplished adult is appealing too and can offer many food for thought.
Cyra is one-handed, big thights girl living with her mother and coping with various financial limitations. But she loves to read - being into a strong emotional relationship with her books - writes beautiful poetry and has good grades and wants to be part of the Fencing Olympic Team. Although she recognizes herself wisely that 'Not everyone can have the same opportunities', she is struggling to accomplish her dream. She also wants a date with the beautiful and talented Rochnan but she will cede this priviledge to the rich ballerina in the making Christine, whom she is tutoring in English. She also accepts to write beautiful love poems for her that will make Rochnan to fell in love with although her pain when she sees how the relationship evolves. The plan works out and Christine and Rochnan are in love, till Christine realizes it is about time for the moment of truth. Rochnan fell in love with the poetry written by Cyra. The moment when she leaves Cyra and Rochnan alone for confessions, on the way to buy icecream, she is hit by a car and dies shortly after. In the end, Cyra will be together with Rochnan and she works hard to make her dream of the Olympics true. 
This end-of-childhood novel is telling various stories of resilience and accepting differences. Is that moment in life when you have all the possibilities open ahead and it is entirely up to you to succeed or fail. That moment can greatly define the rest of your life. And everyone is testing its destiny. Cyra, facing the coaches that recommend her to compete for the team of people with disabilities; Christine, trying to be a successful ballerina accomphishing the dream her mother couldn't because of chosing to have her; Rochnan, finding a solution to balance his family pressure towards becoming a lawyer at Berkeley and his passion for art. 
All the protagonists are well aware of the differences and status inequalities and although their attitudes may look haughty and intolerant, this is part of the process of social adaptation. 
Besides the good writing, I also loved the cover and elegant interior illustrations.   

Rating: 4 stars
Disclaimer: The publisher offered me the book for review via NetGalley.com, but the opinions are, as usual, my own

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Book review: Paper Hearts Some writing advice by Beth Revis

I am reading quite often books about how to write and I am not always impressed about the ideas shared, many of them greatly generic. This book though has some noteworthy assets that kept me interested till the end: it is very honest, not promising you to give you to key to the secret of getting published the minute you finish reading it and also gives practical tips about grammar or various programs to use for advancing the writing. Another important advantage is that it is focused on the YA writing process and thus, gives important hints not only to the writer identified with this genre, but also to the reader and potential reviewer of such literature.  As a particular note, I also liked the writing style of the author which may be a serious incentive to keep reading more books by her in the near future.
Before being a successful author, Beth Revis wrote 10 books - one every year -, none considered good enough to break into the YA market. Then the good contract just happened and it was just the beginning of just another writing success story. She is a NYTimes and IndieBound bestselling author, quit her teaching job and keeps writing. 
After all these years, many will just abandon the writing ambitions and will focus on something else for the rest of their lives. But Beth Revis kept writing and improved both her style as her networking skills. However, although she tried once to fit perfectly into the market, she was not lucky enough and not happy with the results either. And kept writing more. 
Her advices are useful for both perfectly beginners and middle YA writers. Some advices are available regardless the genre, anyway, like in this case:  new writers 'don't know where to start because they worry they'll start the wrong way'. Or another one, that I always follow: go out of your writing room, see the world and go for adventure and only thereafter come back to write. Also useful are the advices about how and why to craft the first and last chapter of the book, with relevant examples by successful YA authors. The charters about chapters and sequences of chapters are very important and a tip to keep in mind among your writing documents for everyone aspiring to sign a great publishing contract one day. 
Only the first volume of series about writing, Paper Hearts is the kind of book to keep in mind as an usual bibliography for the writer in you. And you. And you. 
Rating: 4 stars
Disclaimer: The publisher offered the book for review via NetGalley.com, but the opinions are, as usual, my own

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Writers secrets: Interview with Gary F. Jones

With a background in microbiology, Gary F. Jones is currently a full time author of novels based on his experience, written with a lot of smart humour and inspiration. In couple of answers, he outlines his writing process and talks about his latest book: A Jerk, a Jihad and a Virus to be released at the beginning of May.

Photo courtesy of the author


How did you chose the topics for your books?

Each of my books began as a mental picture of a dramatic scene, a scene that set the plot for the rest of the story. In both cases, current events or new discoveries in biology clicked with memories and started me thinking about the scene.

Doc’s Codicil, my first book, was based loosely on my years in rural veterinary practice and raising our four very active children. The inciting scene came to me when I tried to imagine how I would have explained current political decisions to a four year old. The idea for A Jerk, A Jihad, And A Virus (JJV) was based on recent developments in virology and a rumor I’d heard many years earlier about a sample of a dangerous virus missing from a lab. The sample was found, but the idea of a missing sample stayed with me.

How much has your background influenced the settings of JJV?

The first third of JJV depended entirely on the years I spent as a graduate student in microbiology at the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota. I set the story at the U of MN, St. Paul campus because I was familiar with the buildings, campus, and city. The chapters set in the Middle East and Pakistan required on-line research and discussions with friends and co-workers who had lived in those areas.


How difficult is it for a scientist to write literature, meaning to 'translate' very complicated concepts for the public audience?

It wasn’t difficult once I realized that I had to focus on the information the reader needed to understand the story. I had an advantage in this, as I’d spent almost two decades explaining lab results to our veterinary clients. When I returned to graduate school, I frequently had to summarize a year’s worth of work into a ten minute talk. That was wonderful training in giving an audience what they need to know and no more.

How much does it take to write a book - including documentation and research, editing etc.?

Research for much of what I wrote about was limited because I wrote about what I’d done, places I’d lived in, or topics I’d studied for years. I spent weeks of work on Google, Facebook, reading, and talking to people when writing about places I was unfamiliar with.

I used on-line writing groups and classes at the UW-Madison Continuing Studies' Writing program for guidance. Many chapters of Doc’s Codicil were completely re-written fifteen to twenty five times and 15,000 words were cut from the manuscript before I submitted it to a publisher.

My publisher’s editor worked with me for about five months, requested a rewrite of one third of the book, and the addition of two more chapters. Editing for typos, spelling, and punctuation (copy editing) took a few weeks. Designing the cover with the artist and editor took roughly a month. From the time the manuscript was accepted by the publisher to publication and release for sale was just over one year.

Editing and revisions for A Jerk, A Jihad, And A Virus took about the same amount of time.

What are your next writing plans?

I’m six chapters into a book about a widower in his early 30’s who returns to the small town his grandmother’s family came from. He encounters a population of eccentrics and a family mystery.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Book review: Foxlowe, by Eleanor Wasserberg

Once in a while I am lucky enough to stumble upon excellent books, well written, with a good story and, most importantly, which make you think. By far the best book I've read this year, Foxlowe, the debut roman of Eleanor Wasserberg, is about the tragic ending of a commune community in England. 

Book overview

The life and strict rules of the community are described during the entire book, through testimonies of the members or through the voice of the main narrator, Green - Jess. The children are educated in common, not sent to school or teach to read or write, the food can be scarce sometimes, the kids are punished in order to get the Bad out of them, the contacts with the outside world are very limited and Green/Jess once a Leaver, has great difficulties to adjust to the normal life: she don't know how to use properly the money, how to go back home or to interact with people. The kids grew up in complete ignorance about the outside world and Green/Jess question emphasized the usual situations of children growing up in such environment: 'Is the sky the same there? Of course! It's only the other side of the cloud!'.
Regularly, Solstice ceremonies are organised during which fresh food is prepared and everyone is singing and doing rituals together. During one of them, it is pretended that Kai, a new comer can be cured from his possible lung cancer: 'Foxlowe can heal him. It's the Bad, making him ill. The Solstice will drive it out'. 
Dominated by the psychotic personality of Freya, the commune/ the Family is run as a bloody dictatorship. Entering the commune means being given a new name, and the names of those who are leaving are not said any more. This obsession with Bad and the assumption not only to the supreme knowledge but to the super power over the life of the members brought to death the rebel Blue, who was repeatedly tortured and physically harmed for getting the Bad out of her. Freya will die alone at Foxlowe, left but the co-founder of the commune, Richard and Green/Jess and other members of the family.

Book evaluation

After the first two pages of the book, I was not sure if I want to continue it or keep it for later. Somehow, the good inspiration told me to keep reading it and I haven't leave it till I was finished. The writing is very clear and beautifully polished. The characters are complex, revealed little by little, through dialogues or small stories within the big autonomous story. 
The story is told using various time frames. From the middle of the narrative, the plan moves to the present and it was exactly that moment when I was about to think that till the end the succession of events will follow the smooth chronology past to present. I really loved that moment of change. 
Besides the techniques, it gives a lot of food for thought about the limits of the closed communities, the relationship between society and individual and the family ties.
The conclusion: an excellent read.
The book is available beginning with June 2016.
Rating: 5 Stars
Disclaimer: The publisher granted me the book via NetGalley.com, but the opinions are, as usual, my own

Bookish updates: The week around new books

I had a very busy bookish time lately, with more and more books added to my Kindle for review, plus other library landing items and Open Library books. I am trying to keep up the pace, with one day the week completely dedicated to my writing and reading passions. Here is the latest short selection of books to read this weekend or the next or anytime you want to pick something interesting.
Helen Pollard - The Little French Guesthouse Rating: 5 stars
A delicious chick-lit drama with a happy ending that you want hardly to put down. Emy and Nathan are planning a quiet holiday in France, but everything change for the worse after Nathan is sleeping and running away with the wife of the guesthouse owner, many years his senior. Brokenhearted, Emy decided to stay a bit more to help the abandoned husband, Rupert, to run the inn, and had her moment of self-discovery, entering new sensual stories. Back home to Birmingham, she will reconsider the offer made by Rupert, to relocate to France and work as a freelancer too, and in the end, she will take it and leave behind her old predictable life. Given that a handsome boy is waiting for her there, it is more than a perfect change.
The pace is slow but with good unpredictable events that keep you interested. It seems there will be a continuation of the story so stay tunned  for even more stories.
The book will be released the 28th of April.
Gary F. Jones - A Jerk, a Jihad and a Virus - 4 Stars
Expect a lot of sophisticated medical information, with details about genetical mutations and microbiology, as the author himself is active in this domain. The jerk Ahmed, medical student from Pakistan whose only asset is the political position of his father, steals a dangerous virus and ran out of America aiming to sell it to terrorists. However, his very limited scientific skills put him in a position when everyone disover his imposture and all the diabolic plans fail. The humour is fine, the story has everything you want for a good read. 
The book will be released on May 3.

Katie Cross - Bon bons to Yoga Pants - 3 Stars
Lexie Grant has a cute face but a fat bodie and everyone, including her mother, stalk her to lose weight. The coming wedding of her sister and the perspective of meeting Bradley, whom she 'met' online, plus the determination of a friend of her mother to follow a strict lose-weight program determine her to start the fight with her extra kilos. And after a lot of difficulties and hard work, she will succeed. Besides  the teenage love story developed, the book analyses binge eating and the obsession with food: 'Food carried me through a turbulent childhood with constant, subtle reminders from my mom that I wasn't skinny enough. Food had bonded me to my dad. Food had seen me through his death. Food had been there when it seems no one else had. Food also made me depressed and insecure'. My problem with this book is that it does not offer the right answer to dieting pressures.

Disclaimer: The publishers granted me the books via NetGalley.com, but the opinions are, as usual, my own. 

Book review: This is How you Lose Her, by Junot Diaz

The thought of not being able to read this book haunted me for a long time. As someone interested not only in good literature, but also in issues related to identity and immigration, this absence was not playing in my academic advantage. This situation ended up this week, when I finally went throulgh the book.
Made as a succession of short stories, most of them with the same central character of Yunior, with predominant Latino characters, it tells stories of falling out of love. As I've found out later, Yunior appears in other books by Junot, probably the author's literary alter ego. The language is colloquial authentic, with many Spanish words. The characters, especially the women are bubbling, compared to the placid, drug and drink-addicted men. And when they are substance free, they are just going with the wave, as Yunior, jumping from a woman to another, always too late to say 'I am sorry' or too indifferent to care about the effects of his mistakes. 
The pace of the stories is sensual, slow, as it seems the stories were written under a torrid sun in the heated one-room in-between two girls. The descriptions are sometimes irresistible either for the humour or for the deep human sense revealed: 'We don't look like a couple. When she smiles, niggers ask her for her hand in marriage; when I smile folks check their wallets'.Or this one: 'You were at the age when you could fall in love with a girl over an expression, over a gesture'.
One of my favourite story is 'Invierno'/'Winter', about new immigrants lives and love stories in NYC shortly after landing from the Dominican Republic. Home is that place left temporarily for financial and social reasons, but it remains the place where the heart and the night dreams always return: 'That night I dreamed of home that we'd never left. I woke up, my throat aching, not with fever'. Life in social exile is not easy, although either it comes  to love or food or social life, they try to knit together with other Dominicanos. Practically, they only left home physically, as they keep being part of a different kind of home translated in the NYC dirty small apartments. Their life seems to go rarely out of these slums and low paid jobs and there is a feeling of self-sufficient mediocrity infusing all the stories, not only when it is about failed love stories.
It is that kind of books that I used to read intensively long time ago, but whose hopeless and sadness and violence, althrough well written, does not move me any more.

Rating: 3 Stars

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Books for smart children

I love to read a lot of children books, not only in foreign languages as a way to improve my vocabulary, but because not few of them have interesting parenting advices and ideas. As I have lots of them on my Kindle and did not read or review such genre for a long time, last night I took the brave decision to go through some of the most interesting ones. 
All these books can be read in less than one hour.
Here are my evaluations:

5-star books

Lola the Mermaid and the Splish Splash Olympics is a poetry book about a mermaid who trains for the splish splah olympics. At first, things are not going well, but with perseverance and the big help of her little friends, she succeeds and get the gold. The illustrations are beautiful as it is the message of being resilient and getting used with the failure as a way to succeed and keep improving yourself. It can be read for kids from 5 years old on. 

Hana is a monkey learning to make the difference between good and evil, to become independent and make choices. The illustrations are beautiful and the message of the story too: learn to say 'no' and do not follow wicked peers. At the end of books, there are couple of explanations about Japanese culture and some suggestions of questions for discussing the book. It works for children between 6 and 9 years old.

Plant the seeds of courage in your children from an early age. Let them dream but also help them to find the way to accomplish their dreams. I love the message of this book and the beautiful illustrations too. It suits children in the primary school ready to conquer the world. At the end of the book there is a short discussion about how to avoid let other people put your down and how to discourage negative thinking. 

4-star books

There is such an encouraging message for children faced with the skepticism and 'realism' of adults...'oh...that's no problem that's one I can solve'. 'Because when I imagine...' What else do you need when you just want to live in your dreams? The illustrations are beautiful too although I found the colours a bit too strong. The book is recommended to 5 year old children or less.

Recommended for 7 plus year old, this book features women who dare. Anika received a remote control as birthday present, which can help her to time travel: 'Starting tomorrow press one button each day and you will have the most amazinh week of your life'. And what a week it is: every day she meets a courageous woman that was ahead her time: the equality rights fighter Rosa Parks, Marie Curie, the first US woman to go to medical college Elizabeth Blackwell, Margaret Thatcher, Sally Ride the first US woman in space, the marine biologist Rachel Carson and Oprah Winfrey. It helps girls to understand their unlimited potential and understand that there are no social or political limits for knowledge. Although I enjoyed the writing and the message, I was a bit disappointed about the illustration, as the images are too much the work of the computer programs for my taste.

I loved so much the illustrations of this book, although I found sometimes the text a bit too long. Molly McGent living near Lake Michigan is very unhappy with her parents who keep telling her what to do and especially what not to do. She goes out in her secret monster land - after all, she is half-monster too -  meet some of them but some can be really frightening. The conclusion: 'monsters are cool, but I know I am not ready to be one!'. Time to put on the side her dreams to move out of the home. It is a book for 6 years or more, teaching children about how to learn accepting social constraints and respect their parents. 

Such a funny picture book! Addressing 3 year old and a bit more, it is everything about candies that this smiling dog wants...all the time and everywhere. Easy to read and understand while chewing your candy!

Maggie Mouse cannot sleep even after testing all the classical tricks - sheep counting including. Her mother come to help and check carefully every corner of the room without finding any monster. Green light for sleep then! It is a nice rhymed story that goes well and help children between 3 and 5 to trust and rely on their parents. Was a bit disappointed about the illustrations though, too mechanical for my taste.

3-star books
Easy picture rhymed book, acceptable illustrations and a stubborn dog who is hiding. Can keep some very active boys around for a couple of minutes.
Maybe this is just the October edition and there could be more interesting and appealing characters and stories. The drawings are nice, but the message is sometimes either too creepy or too horror to like it. Or just the text says some nonsense without making it a longer story. Books, including children books, are just a matter of taste after all. 

I really loved the illustrations, and the story makes sense, but somehow, did not impressed me to tears. It may help children to go straight on the path to a better pot training but it can be just one of the many means to do it. Did not expect some sophistication or more simplicity, just felt that there could be much better stories around. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Book review: War Diaries, by Astrid Lindgren

I haven't read diaries in a long while, but I used to love this literary form a lot, because it shows human faces of the person behind the writer and also gives suggestions about the inspiration and various writing influences. I usually stay away of best-sellers, regardless the domain they belong to, but I always was curious to know more about the writer who created awesome characters like Pippi Longstocking so I gave in and got the German version from my local library.
Publised in English as War Diaries - the German version can be translated as 'Humanity lost the Reason' is very appealing and probably one of the reasons why I picked up the book - it is based on the 17 volumes of diaries kept by Lindgren between 1939 and 1945. Besides her personal hand written observations, it has press clippings and photos from the time. Written in her early 30s, before becoming famous for Pippi, the writings can be considered as notebook for recording the daily reality. This is for me the only excuse for the aridity of the writing without any literary appeal for me. 
Journalistic scribblings of facts recorded from the news, short notices about trips and holidays, children celebrations, a short period of depression following a marriage crisis. She is against the war and as a former employee of Sweden special Intelligence Agency in charge with mail censorship she is reproducing from time to time information from the letters she opened, especially regarding the fate of Jews in Europe. Lindgren appears also like someone familiar with the political realities of Europe, going as far as the complicated Balkans and Eastern Europe. But she behave mostly as a journalist, an involved one but still cold and careful to the facts.
Although I did not find too much literary relevance, the book is relevant from the historical and political point of view. The personality of the writer Astrid Lindgren still remains mysterious for me. 
Rating: 3 Stars

Friday, March 4, 2016

Book review: Saturday, by Ian McEwan

This book should be read in one day - which I haven't done. It covers one day in the life of Henry Perowne, a successful neurosurgeon in London, from the moment he watches from the window of his apartment in Fizrovia an airplane falling down till the next day when after so many events, emotional and factual, he returns from the same window and fell asleep. 
The story has several time layers which alternates first slowly and more intensively after the day advances. It is the personal pace interferring with the rhythm of the street and the overwhelming history of now, made by the news. The chaotic succession stole the present. We are either in the past trying to understand through it the present or in the future, when the present is just and interstice for another something we are not very clear what does it mean. 
For Perowne, there are two escapes against the power of absence from the present: either the medical intervention or the love making with his wife - 'Sex is a different medium, reflecting time and sense, a biological hyperspace as remote from conscious existence as dreams, or as water is from air'. On the other end of the story, there is his mother, a victim of Alzheimer, living in a lost world in her own time.
We life intense lives, either when we are just smoothly passing from a minute to the other. Especially in big cities, we are connected to world events and encounters. Personal violence is as unexpected as the world violence. It is a spasmotic world whose sense escapes us very often. Focus on th moment can be a solution, but for many of us, this moment is not ours either. 
As right now I am interested about how to integrate the political and social events into the everyday life I appreciate the art of playing with the two time registers - personal and general. We cannot escape what is going on in the world and the influence of these events on our humble lives. We are driven into it by the TV, political activitists or by a huge mass protest taking place in town during which you cannot move freely.
As usual in McEwan books, words are pedantly feeling the gaps and you live the reality through them. This is how, in fact, I had discovered him many years ago, through the diamond-polished short stories shared in print by a writer-in-the making friend.
This is one of the few books I would probably read again one day or that will hunt me a bit more than usual because it makes you think. It is why we read, isn't it?