Saturday, December 31, 2016

My year in books

Starting unexpectedly shy and without any clear promise, 2016 was one of my best reading years. With 300 books on Goodreads and over 200 reviews on NetGalley.com, a fresh new Twitter account and the discovery of more bookish treasures from Berlin public libraries, I was privileged to read or to be invited to read one of the best titles of the year. 
My modest blog that I started as an incentive to write more and share my passion for books, moved fast forward on the blogging ladder, with a record number of blogs published and interesting topics covered, including guest posts by authors or interviews or covered various literary destinations encountered during my travels. From children books to strategy and branding, there was hardly a topic not properly addressed in 2016.
More interestingly, this year I had the chance to discover wonderful authors and their books, even as ARC or books that were on my reading list for quite a while. With an intensive reading schedule every day, I succeeded to cover a lot of titles and topics of interest that I wanted to learn about or just explore for years. For all the real-life and imaginary encounters, I am more than grateful!
What is to be next? My list of books waiting for reviews is even longer and I expect an even higher frequency of reviews. I will continue to cover interviews with authors and literary destinations, and more quality literary content. Reaching more audiences through higher quality targeted content is an aim for any blogger, and when it comes to bookish blogging, the standards are even higher.
As in the case of many other aspects of my life, I am grateful for all the challenges I went through this year and although I wish for a kinder 2017, I am, as usual, ready to take the best of it and looking forward to share to more and more people my love for good books and literature!
Have a great year everyone and to many many good books ahead!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Unlocking worlds: a reading companion for book lovers

Book lovers are a special breed, that thanks to the expansion of communications networks seem to live nowadays in the best possible worlds. We - I always considered one of them - can connect with each other not only through long and focused views over the metro neighbour's shoulder trying to figure out what book he or she is reading, but also through blogs and social media. Talking about bookish voyeurism, one of my favourite lines in Berlin is the U3 line ending to the Free University headquarters, where in the old-style wagons, more than 90% of people are intensively reading. There, I feel at home.
Unlocking worlds: a reading companion for book lovers is an overview of important books reviewed by the author through 15 thematic chapters, covering from childhood books to Russian and Soviet literary encounters - one of the world's literature I love the most -, university life, American worlds or British literature. The list of topics is not exhaustive and so is the summary of books mentioned, but overall, there are great recommendations, many of them on my reading list or to-read bucket list as well. I really appreciated the short yet comprehensive summary of the books, as well as the personal connection and feelings provoked by the some of the books. After all, reading is not a mechanical act of going through pages or finding topics of conversation, but about 'unlocking worlds', be it discovering historical episodes or revealing human behaviors or feelings. As the author, I've often felt overwhelmed at the end of a book and had to take a break before finding the next book. However, it doesn't take too long until I am back on the couch with my newest bookish addi(c)tion.
Each chapter is starting with a inspiring quote about the world of readers and bookish life, which I also appreciated, as a guidance and confirmation that reading remains an acceptable and highly desirable endeavor, although, recently, a crazy ex found ridiculous my love for books - and I couldn't care less. 
The merit of this book is also that it sets order and creates categories to organize the virtual libraries, focused on specific topics and following the main narrative. It is useful particularly for book reviewers and bloggers, because it set criteria and keeps your ideas better organised and to aim to read even more. Sounds like a good new year's resolution, isn't it?
Strongly recommended to any bookish human around here!

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

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Your Fathers, where are They?...

A cosmonaut, a former congressman, followed by a teacher, policeman, nurse are kidnapped and brought for interrogations in a disaffected military base by a mentally unstable 30 something guy. He also brings here his own mother and a girl that he met on the beach and he believes is the woman of her dreams. 
His questions are simple, about why and where his life is headed to, why some people succeeds and other not, why his Vietnamese friend was killed, why a famous and motivated cosmonaut cannot achieve his dream of walking in space due to budget restrictions. It is chaos in his mind and darkness and sudden outbursts of 'prophetic' light. 
'No one had a plan for anything. I guess that's the crushing thing, the thing that drives us all crazy. We all think there must be someone very smart at the controls, spending the money, making plans for our schools, parks, everything (...) No one has a fucking clue'. This is the post-apocalyptic Cold War America, out of itself, running naked and unable to stop or head somewhere sure. Thomas - the main character - doesn't put everything under question, but need to find a person available to answer his questions. He is not going online to ask Google, but has his plan. Just kidnap for a while some people that might have the answer, keep them hidden - without molesting then, bring together some pieces of the puzzle and move forward with his life, running away. 
Did America fail, do people fail to be human, ending up doing what they were told and not going anywhere? Does Thomas solve the riddle of his life? 
It is an absurd play, with absurd outcome and sickness-pathological curiosity. Thomas is maybe the victim of the overwhelming impact of the everyday politics on the daily lives whose enormous pressure could make the everyday life unbearable. He wants to hold someone accountable for the mess, but it is no Gd either. 
Many of the arguments were not so or not at all appealing to me, hence the three star rating of this book. What I really loved enormously was the art of dialogue, a perfect point-counterpoint way of asking, with fantastic smart twists that keep you interested and your brain awake. An excellent inspiration for writers and a pleasure for the reader!
Rating: 3 stars

Sunday, December 18, 2016

YA books to read: Girl Online

The first from the Girl Online series, this first novel by the Internet celebrity Zoella is a fine, well-written YA novel about coming at terms with friendship and outgrowing relationships. A clumsy British teenager facing often panic attacks after a car accident, Penny is coping with anxiety and the loneliness of growing up. She is sharing some of her stories anonymously on her blog, Girl Online. Her life is about to change after meeting a mysterious charming 18-year old Noah in New York.  
This is just the beginning of more tensions and emotions, after gossip online media brings her under the spotlight, as Noah, in fact seems to be a very promising young musician interesting enough to create media waves on the other side of the pond. 
The story has all the ingredients of a good YA story - there are some psychological pains and there is drama - besides Penny's panic attacks, there is also the story of Noah's being an orphan. There are the everyday challenges of the teenage life and their nowadays realities of the online life - from social media communication via Twitter or blogging to online bullying.  The characters don't need to do dramatic choices and are relatively well recovering even from quite dramatic experiences as for instance, being exposed online. Everything is well tempered and nothing goes too far away out of control which makes the book an easy read yet interesting enough to keep you interested until the end of the story. I must recognize I am not necessarily the target readership of the book - would love to give a try to the rest of the series as well - but I consider myself a reader always young at heart and thus, able to recognize a good book, regardless of the real age limit. 
To conclude, Girl Online is a 'cool' read, easy with some interesting and surprising twitches, the kind of book to read while on a long haul or commuting. It makes you think about friendships and helps you understand the challenges of the young people nowadays and only for that and it's worth to spend an afternoon with. 
Rating: 3-star
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Black Widow, by Daniel Silva - the permanent suspense

I've read all the books from the Gabriel Allon series, not necessarily in the chronological order, but right now, with The Black Widow I am for the first time in sync with the story. In every case, I appreciated the carefully constructed intrigue and suspense and the feeling of being part of a reality movie, that might have resemblance with real cases, but are so well created that you can accept it as a thriller story. Every time, there are some fragments of the daily political reality - Cold War feuds, terrorism in the Middle East, the delicate condition of the State of Israel - featured as the main background of the story.
Out of all Daniel Silva's books, The Black Widow stands up for its elaborated story, connection and deep psychological understanding of the latest evolution on the international stage, mainly the raise of the ISIS, the terrific intelligence mistakes of France faced with the terrorist threat and the lenience of the current US administration regarding the Middle East, particularly Syria and Iraq. The legendary - as a literary character - Israeli spy Gabriel Allon is back from the death - to coordinate a world-wide coalition aimed to prevent another bloody terror attack, using a young Israeli doctor as a mole inside the terror camps of Syria. As in real life, the complex operation to stop the attack didn't succeed - probably there is something coming up for the next novel -, but the agent although captured is saved in the last minute.  
There are more than 500 pages, hard to put down, with observations that you read not as a short lecture, but intelligently inserted into the story. All the details of the story are well documented, from the historical part until the elements of reality, particularly the latest wave of terror in Israel. The writing art turns the entire context into a credible story, full of the passion given by the special operations of the intelligence. It also raise human dilemma and approaches personal feelings, which give depth and authenticity to the characters.  
My conclusion, after two days of intensive reading: probably this is one of the best and complex thriller book I've read - and wanted to read - this year. Recommended to anyone interested in stories from the Middle East, either imagined or real, and in a good entertaining and well written thriller story with a lot of intelligence and suspense.
Rating: 5 star book

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Book review: The Followers by Rebecca Wait

Stephanie, the single mother of the 12-year old Judith is struggling to meet the daily life ends. During her work at a coffee she meets the intellectually charming Nathaniel. After their relationship advances, despite the Judith disapproval, he is luring her and her daughter into the hopes of a better, protected life, into the Ark, a communa-like built community in the moors of England, where Nathaniel is the self-proclaimed prophet. Once entered, the women and their children are not going out, while the men are allowed to work and move freely out of the community. 
Once Stephanie is becoming member of the cult, and becoming a new name - Sarah - Nathaniel is showing his dictatorial, at the limit, psychotic personality, ordering the members - chosen following his personal dialogue with Gd - to obey and renounce their free will. The outer world - the Gehenna - is depicted as a reign of evil and decadence, a frightening world deemed to die. The entire world is built around the Prophet. He 'had created a world ad then he'd destroyed it'. 
The brainwashing process as such, the detailed ideology of the cult or the histories of all the members of the Ark are not particularly detailed, but one can see how it works through every individual, from the children born here that never saw the outside world and will be later scared to death when they see a TV set for the first time to the newest member, Sarah. 
In her passivity and assumed condition of follower of the Prophet - not necessarily as a strong Gd believer - but for the love and comfort offered by the man Nathanel, she is a terrifying example of how and to whom a religious cult can operate. She doesn't protest when her daughter is taken away from her and confined to the education - predominantly religious, based on selections ordered by the Prophet - of the community, and assumes easily her new role as the woman of the Prophet - one of them as she will soon discover but even this reality is not strong enough to wake her up. She doesn't think twice when Nathaniel orders her to cut the throat of Esther, her sexual competitor condemned as sinful because failed to report her husband's intentions of leaving the community. She is both the perfect victim and perpetrator and 'what's taking place is beyond her'. 
I was particularly impressed by the meeting between strength of the writing and the deep psychological analysis that resulted in a book that makes you think and reconsider religious and leader-based group allegiances. The suspense is skillfully created in a way that even one can have a guess that Stephanie/Sarah might have done something terrible, you are not revealed until the final part of the book. An intelligent literary construction that makes the book even more memorable.
Rating: 4 stars