Thursday, June 22, 2017

Book review: The Idiot by Elif Batuman

During her freshman year at Harvard, the American-born Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, is falling in love with an older mathematics student from Hungary, Ivan. Set in 1995, the love story starts via e-mail, a novelty form of communication at the time, but doesn't go beyond the word level, although Selin will decide to spend a couple of weeks in Hungary teaching English in remote villages hoping to be closer to him.
Although not rich in events and actions, this book has a continual flow of observations and intellectual games. This is an example: 'The professor was talking about the differences between creative and academic writing. I kept nodding. I was thinking about the structural equivalences between a tissue box and a book: both consisted of slips of white paper  in a cardboard case; yet and this was ironic - there was very little functional equivalence, especially if the book wasn't yours'. 
Selin, an autobiographical character, lives her life through stories and believes there is a sense in language, but doesn't necessarily find any connection with feelings and encounters. Her virtual relationship with Ivan, although completed through meetings in real time is just a projection as she is unable to connect the words to life and real emotions. The entire book is Selin journey through words trying to start her life. The constant monologue is creating an image of an active interior life, the permanent struggle to make order in the daily chaos through words. It is Selin's search for meaning and her formation time. She might look lost and the dialogues can sound sometimes like absurd and non-sensical, but did you ever hear how does your interior life conversations sound like?
It is an intense intellectual novel, with unexpected references and associations, a delightful walk to discovery of the limits of rationality and words, with many comics and humorous episodes. 
It took me more than usual to read it because it is a different way of story-telling, but the reading adventure is fully worth the intellectual effort. 

Rating: 3.5-4 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review 

Bookish interview: Martin Wheadon, author of Networking Thoughtfully

Networking is almost everything nowadays. We need to know how to do it correctly for work or for a better, inter-connected life. But are we sure we are doing it properly? In the last years, plenty of books were published aimed to help a better and thoughtfully networking. As an intensive social media user, I am always happy to read and introduce to my readers new ideas and books. M. Wheadon is the author of a recent book aimed to offer fast assistance for an efficient networking. He was kind enough to share his impressions as an author with my readers in the following interview:

- What does it mean for you, *networking thoughtfully'?
It means networking with the other person in mind: changing the emphasis from what can I offer you to what is it you want, and then seeing if you can satisfy that need.
- Does networking work for any domain of activity, for instance mathematics or engineering, domains by excellence confined to the silent world of the lab or research?
Networking only works when people want to network. If people genuinely want to find out what others are doing and if you genuinely want to help them, then networking works in any sphere. It concentrates your mind into fully understanding what your product offers, but integral with that must be a desire what the other party needs, so there can be a successful dovetail of information.
With the readers
- What are the risks of a not-networking attitude, both personally and professionally?
To me, I think it just means you don't broaden your horizons as well as you could. By networking, you can understand trend, foresee patterns and get an in depth understanding of the market in which you operate - the swapping of stories. It's not all about selling product, it's about learning your industry and learning about the marketplace in general.
- What is, in your opinion, the percentage played by networking in the success of a business? 
I think we are networking 100% of the time. Whatever we do, whatever we say and how we do it, is in some respect networking.
- What was the biggest challenge for you of writing this book?
Overcoming the fear that nobody would buy it. But, I knew that whilst it is not a huge book, it genuinely contains tips that worked for me and, therefore, I thought it was worthwhile putting it out there in the public domain.
- What are your next writing plans?
None. I wrote the book a little while ago but tragically my wife died of cancer and it was inappropriate to market the book. Since then, I've left the world of banking and don't think I have anything else to offer on that subject. But, as your question has prompted me to think, there may be a book called Pastoral Caring Thoughtfully, building upon my experiences as a minister of religion.

Photo: Archives of the author

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Book review: Prussian Blue, by Philip Kerr

A political thriller with a German background, going back and forth between 1956 and 1939, Prussian Blue is a dense book with interesting dialogues and an overdose of history.
The 12th installment of Bernie Gunther mysteries, a policeman trying to remain honest in the Nazi Germany without being a party member, the books brings into the story various episodes from the contemporary history, shortly before the start if WWII and during the Cold War. As the story advances, there are some similarities in the structure of the narrative which does not limit the development of the events. 
The investigation requested from Gunther into a crime committed in the 1930s against a relatively low level bureaucrat at Berghof, the dictator's headquarters in the South of Germany brough to life the extent of corruption within the party's leadership. Characters from that time are coming back to life under different uniforms in the Stasi-dominated Communist Germany asking Gunther, refugiated after the war at the French Riviera, to poison a British pawn considered disposable. While trying to escape this task, and his Stasi followers, Gunther remembers his assignment in the South of Germany, where he went through the dangerous beehive of the Nazis. Both stories do have an ending hard to predict, but as the detective is getting closer to the truth, the life is becoming more and more dangerous.
I personally was a bit disappointed by the ending, but it could also be that the dialogues and the writing in general are so captivating that you can hardly want the story to end, regardless of the ending. 
A recommended read to anyone interested to read a good thriller with a solid history background and interesting legal twists. 

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

Book review: Girls' Weekend, by Cara Sue Achterberg

Dani, Charlotte and Meg are heading to a well deserved girls' weekend, far away from their family stress and work overload. But after the two days of rest are over, none of them is ready to return to their everyday lives.
Although maybe the ending is predictable, the way in which each of the three women is developing the relationship with her self is interesting and not without surprising discoveries. At the rented house near the beach, in less than one month, the friends are completely reinventing themselves, looking back to their complex past and starting to get over the failures of their professional and personal lives or grief after loss of a child. 
Most importantly, they learn to discover what it really matters in their life, by finding the inner resources for more rewarding personal relationships and more meaning in life. The women characters are complex and interesting case studies, while on the men side, there is a disbalance, as they are portrayed as almost the same, selfish and pretty simplistic in their approaches to married life.
If you are looking for a thoughtful read at the beginning of the summer or during your weekend - with or without your girls - this book is a good choice, that makes you think about and maybe reconsider your couple life. You may also decide to stay longer out of your usual routine, but what is important is to never think you are done with your life and always keep looking for meaning and never accept getting lost in other people's lives.

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

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Bookish Stuttgart

My trip to Stuttgart, at the beginning of this year, was a well-planned and much waited experience, which involved 48 full hours of exploration and the promise of a coming back. Although not on purpose as early, as I got lost trying to find our way to the hotel, it started with a visit at one of the top libraries in Germany, the Municipal Library - Stadtbibliothek - am Mailänder Platz.
The library is part of an area still in development - Europaviertel created around the main central station where main financial institutions are located -, aimed at offering a contemporary architectural alternative to the usual urban structures. If before, the castle was the beating heart of a city, in the modern world, knowledge overpass social status. The facade is made of a concrete cube made of 9x9 panels, which are illuminated from inside during the night. 
The building can be accessed from all the four sides of the building. The visitors can start their journey with a stop at the meditation room. Inspired by the Pantheon, it has in its center a small fountain wrapped in blue lights. 
After this first silent memento, the bookish adventure can begin. From floor 1 to 8, the soundproofed building lavishly displays an intricated maze of books. There is an art and children section, a music library and a big section dedicated to German and world literature. You can either read on one of the couches placed near the stairs or at the big tables indoors. The 79 million Euro investment, the work of Yi Architects, is an aesthetical surprise, rewriting the way in which libraries are created. A visit at the library means more than hurrying up to pick up your books, but can last as a search for new unexpected sources of knowledge in an inspirational environment. From the last floor, a terrace and a bar, one can also have a view over the new and old Stuttgart. 
After I left, my biggest regret was that I not live in this city to have the regular pleasure of searching for books on the shelves of this work of art.
But it seems Stuttgart has a tradition in terms of bookish love, as a couple of hours later I was exploring a 150-year old bookstore, Buchhaus Wittwer. Situated in the busy area of the Schlossplatz, the old times equivalent of the Europaviertel where the modern library is situated. The four-floor building hosts permanent conferences and meetings with the authors and has a significant English-books section. My favorite corners to explore was the one dedicated to thrillers - Krimi, in German - written by local German authors and the cute children section.
If you are a book lover and you visit Stuttgart, you will not be disappointed as this city has a generous offer for the bookish people like you - and me. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Meet the Mumins

Meet the Mumins! They are a family of 3 white-hippos looking alike creatures - Moominpappa, Moominmamma and Moomintroll - , carefree and adventurous, curious and nature lovers. The creatures created by the Swedish-speaking Tove Jonsson and later her brother Lars Jonsson, they are considered a symbol of Finland, with a thematic park dedicated to them in Naantali.
Compared to other graphic novels that I devoured, my first encounter with the Mumins, through the volume 9 of the series published a couple of years ago by Reprodukt edition house in Germany, specialized in this genre of literature, wasn't memorable and not even encouraged me to run to the library for reserving the rest of the collection. Actually, it took me a long time to decide to continue with the stories, but I was strongly driven by the curiosity to explore a famous national literary brand.
Apparently, the style of the stories changed from a story to another, with more topics explored including of political and social nature. For instance, in my book, it was approached the issue of colonialism and democracy. The dialogues are usually simple and every snippet has a lot of action going on. 
As the topics approached are relatively complex, I recommend to read it after 9-10 years old. The Mumins are easy going and can be easily resonate with many one-child families.
Probably, my only problem with them is that they are not necessarily my cup of graphic novels, which means either too sophisticated politically or displaying beautiful illustrations for first time readers.
However, I would definitely would be curious to read more critique about them and interpretation of their inclusion part of the Finnish national literary Pantheon. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Book review: Rich People Problems, by Kevin Kwan

The third and last installment of the Crazy Rich Asian series, Rich People Problems is back with a slightly different novel which maintain the absurd and non-sensical lavish ambiance of the previous books but adds some insightful unexpected details to this hilarious family saga.
Su Yi, the matriarch of the family is on her deathbed and the future inheritance of Tyersall Park is unknown but creates suspense, envy and tensions among the members of the clan, reunited from all over the world. One of them is the grandmother's favorite, Nicholas - Nick - who was considered a disgrace after marrying for love to an educated woman with an 'inferior' pedigree. He arrives just in time for a reconciliation, but his presence only increases the tension and the suspense which will continue until the will will be read after Su Yi's death.
As in the previous books, there are a lot of gossips and envy and many many brand name dropping, psychotic characters paying thousands of dollars for an eye lift for a fish and soap opera intrigues. Forget the children of the Russian mafia featured in glossy magazines with golden toys and limited edition high-fashion designer clothes, Singapore tycoons - naming their children Harvard, Carlton or Scheherazde - can do it much better.
There are also subtle observations about the evolution of wealth and the matrimonial alliances, mostly uttered by the only fully coherent character, Nick. After his favorite noodle bar, Sun Yik, disappeared, he uttered a long lament about the fate of Singapore: 'Everything I love about Singapore is gone. Or it's disappearing fast. Every time I'm back, more and more of my favorite haunts have closed or have been torn down. Restaurants, shops, buildings, cemeteries, nothing is sacred any more. The whole character of the island I knew growing up is almost completely obliterated'.
Another complex and insightful character is Astrig Leong, who after a complicated divorce and the permanent pressure from her family to conform to the model assigned decided to break free and find herself on a small island in the Philippines.
Especially the last 100 pages of the novel are surprising and add elements of spy novels to the many pages dedicated to real estate tycoons and extravagant private jets rides to buy millions worth dresses. Apparently, Su Yi was modestly hiding many secrets, including a love affair, and her extraordinary services during WWII changed completely the fate of Tyersall Park.
Although one may find the topic too soft, the book has a good structure and there are enough characters that can be easily loved. Kevin Kwan is obviously a writer whose talent can go beyond the glossy magazines intrigues and I am curious what will be the next novel after the Crazy Rich Asians saga is over.

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

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The 25th Fall for Commissario Brunetti

As much as I love to read modern crime fiction, with spectacular geopolitical and cyber-terrorist connections, I prefer once in a while the pleasant read of a classical novel, where the fast speed is replaced by a temperate pace, without hold-ups but eventually featuring an intelligent, well-read detective.
The 25th installment of the series dedicated to Commissario Brunetti from Venice, The Waters of Eternal Youth, doesn't take your breath away but invites to a subtle investigation for finding the person responsible for an accident taking place 15 years ago. As in the case of the other stories featuring the famous Italian detective, there are many local intrigues and spicey Venetian gossips and rich-people stories - and their problems, but also interesting reflections on current political and social issues, as the Italian divisive situation or the position regarding immigration and immigrants.
The fall - finding what happened with the granddaughter of a local personality, who after being throw into the waters suffered a severe mental retard - seems to go nowhere after the first half of the book. In fact, it seems that everything is possible to happen in this book except to solve the riddle. Until he is identified, completely by accident, but Venice is a small world and sometimes things just can happen, there is no trace of him into the story, but the elements that make sense of the final answer are carefully created. 
As all the books by Donna Leon I've read, you need to use both logic and creativity to understand the end of the story. It also has many educated references, to Greek tragedies or classical literature.
This book is recommended to anyone interested to spend some intelligent time reading a classical crime fiction novel. In the company of Commissario Brunetti the (literary) life is never uneventful.

Rating: 4 stars

Thursday, May 18, 2017

#IStillRemember: Meet the author Priya Prithviraj

This month, part of my usual book tour stop organised by WriterlyYours I decided to invite Priya, who just published an interesting Young Adult novel I Still Remember, to share her writing process experience.
Priya is writing poems that were published, among others in Eastlit and New Plains Review, but also write about books and recommendations. You can find her here.

You can find her book on AMAZON

The life of the manuscript

Thanks Ilana for offering this space to share my writing process. So, to keep it short and precise, I’m going to talk about just the process up to the manuscript phase leaving out the further editing that the manuscript may undergo prior to publication.

If I could narrow it down to 5 simple steps, those would be:

  1. Plotting - rough plot - ideas
  2. World building - developing the world, characters - research
  3. Outlining - structure and organising
  4. Drafting - draft 1, print, draft 2
  5. Polishing - print, read, polish

I get started with a project when I have a basketful of ideas. As a writer, I’m always looking for ideas and inspiration, and I collect them in my digital diary. Sometimes I get ideas when I’m travelling and I jot them down using the notes app on my phone. There could be visual inspiration too - pictures I click and pictures I find online, are all saved at one place. When I think I have enough ideas to form the story, I try to put them together to form a rough plot.

The Research Stage

Once I have the rough plot, I start with research. Research could involve reading, interviewing, watching movies or documentaries, travelling, and doing things that you want to write about. I even tried my hand at Korean cooking while writing I Still Remember because I wanted to lend some authenticity to the story setting especially since I was writing out of my culture and country.

The next step in my writing process is world building and it involves rewriting the plot in a more elaborate manner in the light of my research. It would magnify the plot and would include developing the places and people in the story. The places could be real or fictional or a mix of both, and once I’ve developed the place, I add the places to the plot. While developing the characters, I try to develop a complete profile or story for each of them and that makes writing about them easier. For example, if I know that a character is an optimist, when I have written a scene where something goes wrong, I can imagine what the character would say and write that down. So I work around the characters and the places a lot to build a world that readers can immerse themselves in.

Once I’m done with world building I start building my story. I develop an outline of the story which would mean putting together the larger plot alongside a timeline and working out a structure for the story. When I have the outline ready, I begin writing my first draft.

Working the drafts

Many a time, getting that first draft written is what takes a lot of time and once you have that done, you feel more confident and organised about the whole writing project. I like to print out my drafts so that I can spend more time with it, reading and making notes on it, even when I’m not at my computer. So after the first round of reading and editing, I would start working on my second draft which is basically fleshed out of the first.

When I have completed the second draft, I would take some time off and then get back to it to follow the same pattern as with the first draft - print, read and polish. When I’m happy with the draft, I may share it with someone or just send it for editing directly.

As you can see, my writing process is not very difficult but it demands patience and perseverance. So, get back to those drafts you abandoned halfway and begin afresh with a writing process that suits you.   

Note: The title and undertitles belong to me

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A new collection of children books from Clavis edition house

I am a big reader of children books, not only because I have a little booknerd in the making, but because many of them are a beautiful combination between words and images, telling even more beautiful stories that always have some grain of wisdom, sometimes bigger than our grown-up, serious people books. Last evening, I got a couple of good books from the Dutch edition house Clavis, the English version, which I am happy to present.

What would you not do for keeping your friend with you? It can be to wake up early in the morning, collect the autumn leaves, paint them green and hide the yellow one in big bags in your cellar. The bunny did everything in the name of his friendship with hedgehog, in order to avoid the moment when he will go for months of hybernation and they will not be able to share their moments together.
But nature may be stronger than a big heart and hedgegog is yawning deeply, trying to understand why this year the autumn is delayed. But good things are happening to good people. Although he will finally go to hybernate as the hare confessed his plan, he will do it using the leaves his friends hid and therefore, every time when bunny will miss him, he can only open the door to see him snorring. 
Beautifully illustrated, this is a beautiful story about friendship and devotion and also creativity beyond (the natural) limits. 

Rating: 5 stars

The potty training comes in different shapes and creative solutions. As someone in the middle of this process - and not always successful - trying to play different role games is helpful. The red potty is used in different ways by the animals, each and every one trying to figure out how to use it. Besides offering an attractive visual alternative to the repeated pledges to the child to use the potty instead of -...well, there are many answers to this - it also diversifies the knowledge about animals and their playful habits.
It is an easy to read, and pleasant to look at book, with - hopefully - some good inspiration for this important life stage of the child's development.

Rating: 5 stars

Tobor is a robot, not to beautiful or 'normal' like the rest of the toys, but friendly and ready to play. If you take him the way he is, he is a good playing comrade and he is always ready to make a pleasant and friendly conversation. 
This book is a good training for pre-school children to learn about difference and being different, accepting the new members of the team and trying to consider everyone's merits. Every child over 4 years can learn something useful from this book.

Rating: 4 stars

The moment of true has come and Nick the Knight should finally face the dragon! Not any dragon, but the undefeated Breakhorn, living up in the mountains. The struggle is real and the disappointment even greater as the dragon seems to refuse to fight with him. Even after Nick got himself a big sword and a powerful armor the dragon still declines his offer. But the power of mind can be stronger than the sword and therefore and upon the final return, they play chess and Nick defeated him not only once, but 3 times!
More than the illustrations, I love the message of this book, about finding the strength to fight with the right weapons and your main strengths.

Rating: 4 stars 

Disclaimer: Book offered by the publishers in exchange for an honest review

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mental Health Awareness Memoir: Hazard, by Margaret Combs

Having a family member dealing with severe or mild mental health issues is always a challenge, particularly for the children. With their yet undevelopped self-esteem, they usually perceive the situation as embarassing or shameful, a serious reasons for disturbing the normality of life and creating skirmishes between the adults members of the family.
In her gripping memoir Hazard. A Sister's Flight from Family and a Broken Boy, Margaret Combs is sharing her own experience of living with a brother with severe autism. As at the time the medical knowledge and social apprehension of such issues were extremely limited, this daily reality is painful. 
The book doesn't focus on any non-fiction aspects of this issue, but is offering instead a dramatic overview of the relationships between the family members, the ways in which the children acknowledge the tensions between the parents and the strong bonds created. 
'My family was in trouble in so many ways. We were in the wrong place and at the wrong time, driving home in an era that could not and would not help us. Nineteen-fifty-seven was far too early for help and understanding. We didn't know how to intervene on my brother's behalf, nor would we until it was too late'.
As a Southern Baptist family, the religious explanations and comfort also comes into question, but it doesn't make the situation more bearable. In the end, only love and maturity, the moment when it is natural to come to terms with life occurences, regardless how painful it is. 'I'm no longer trying to make up for the one thing that puller my family sideways. I have arrived at the place where I see not just one thing - the wordst thing - but the ten thousand things that make up a life'.
The book is very beautifully written and from the bottom of the heart. It gives strength and inspiration to anyone ever coping with an autistic family member or just interested in knowing more about life-challenging experiences.

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Now You Know Canada

Canada celebrates this year the 150th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation, a historical moment to realize that, at least in Europe, our knowledge about this country is relatively limited. We might know about multiculturalism, and the languages spoken there and the geographical locations or some interesting travel attractions, but when it comes to history and personalities and even literary achievements, only Google can help.
This book by Doug Lennox shares a lot of trivia information about various aspects of the Canadian life: from the women in politics and science, to facts about the country's participation into the two World Wars, man-made disasters or 'intrepid explorers'. The information is dense and sometimes, in order to remember it, one needs to have specific interests in a certain domain - like natural disasters, for instance - but if you are a curious person you will find, for sure, a lot of things to bring Canada closer to your world. 
It is a book for serious readers, keen to know more about this country - '150 years of fascinating facts' is not an easy job after all. Recommended to history fans and curious people, also to any traveller who plans to visit Canada because it can help to cover more interesting locations than the usual to-do-lists created for this country. 

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

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

YA book review: Amish Guys Don't Call, by Debby Dodds

This book is an elegant yet fast paced story about understanding different approaches on life, forgiveness and coping to life challenges as a teenager. 
More than dealing with teen insecurities and family disfunctionalities, this novel elegantly deals with opening the eyes, and the heart, to what is different, more than from a perspective of the temptation of the unusual.
Recently moved to a small community after her shoplifting addiction was revealed, raised by a success-driven mother and with an absent father, the nerdish Sam is trying hard to build a new life. For the beginning, everything looks fine, but obstacles are suddenly returning to her life. 
She fells for Zach, a mysterious guy who left his secluded Amish community and is about to believe that he will leave her to return to his family. Madison, the leader of her new clique is ignoring her after she made some hastened remarks about her drugs and drink habits. A fake Facebook page mocking her Amish romance was created to shame her. She fells lonely and her shoplifting habits return.
There is some light out of this mess, and the author solves the tensions in creative and unexpected ways. Sam has a strong consistency as a character, and her curiosity for learning and science is contagious. Zach is also a 'real' presence, with his efforts to understand the modern life while recognizing the values of the community he was born to. The presence of Amish words or expressions is a way to outline his roots and identity.
The narrative outlines beautifully the usual teen struggles nowadays, to be always popular, independent and answer all the world temptations, while maintaining a basic fragility and the permanent need of protection - although not manifested or requested openly. It also teaches some lessons about tolerance and understanding different identities, in this case Amish, by refraining to accuse and belittle or even worse, disregard them as some undeveloped animals in a zoo. 
It is a beautiful YA novel, which can be used as an inspiration also for teachers and educators working with teenagers, particularly in multi-cultural environments.

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

'What Regency Women Did for Us'

At the first read of the title, it looks like a book for popular consumption about brave women, but once you start reading it, it is hard to leave it. Created as a collection of well-documented 12 stories about brilliant women from the Regency period, it brings to life not only unknown facts and portraits of courageous ladies but also might create role models.
My first meeting with Regency novels occured quite recently and I was happy to develop my knowledge about this period of time. Historically, it covers the 9 years between 1811-1820, when the UK was ruled by a Regent, during the illness of George III. The novels of the time are usually considered as models of romance, elegance and etiquette, but there are also stories of struggle for being recognized at least as human beings if not equal partners in marriage, business or education. The attitude towards women remain ambivalent, although there is more opening in terms of social acceptance. For instance, women were allowed to attend various public conferences on sciences, but they were deprived of the right of applying for membership to academic institutions. 
This book by Rachel Knowles brings to life the stories of women mostly forgotten but with a serious academic and feminist legacy. Besides the famous Jane Austen, there are less known personalities with valuable scientific contributions such as the astronomer Caroline Herschel, the 'engineering enthusiast' Sarah Guppy, Jane Marcet, Faraday's teacher or the famous Madame Tussaud. The biographies are written classically, covering the main events of their life, with a short subchapter dedicated to their legacy. Each of the stories can be used for further academic studies or for an inspiring lecture about forgotten successful women. 
It is a pleasant yet inspiring read recommended to anyone looking to learn more about Regency, but also to understand the hard work and struggle of women to be recognized and considered as intelligent, value-driven creatures. 

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

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Book review: The Mothers, by Brit Bennett

I wanted to read this book for a long time, but as a new mother myself, I tried to keep myself mentally safe from any eventual literary journey into motherhood, which I might be not so keen to gulp. Fortunately, my fears were ridiculous as The Mothers is a good story about coming-of-age and the search for meaning.
The story is placed in Oceanside, a black conservative Christian community in California. The charming non-conformist 17 yo Nadia is searching for a meaning behind her mother suicide developing little by little into a better version of her: finished college and glamorous jobs and trips abroad. However, the feeling of emptiness remains and not even her sexual experiences with the son of the local pastor, Luke, a relationship that will continue late in her age, even with the price of betraying her God-fearing friend Aubrey, who married him. 
The 'what ifs' surrounding her mother's mysterious decision to take her life are amplified by Nadia's own decision to make an abortion while into an early pregnancy following her relationship with Luke. Can the past be avoided? Can the present be completely separated from the shadows of things that were not allowed to happen?
Most paragraphs of the book are an opportunity for lyrical introspection, which makes the book more than an average coming-of-age novel. This delicate investigation creates an interesting framework for the novel. 
Interestingly, the interrogations of the 'what ifs' are also part of the male characters, with Luke trying to often figure out what would have been if his mother would not have provide him the money for the abortion - the term used 'unpregnant' is an archaism suggesting a situation that was de-created. Therefore, the points of view on motherhood raised by women is modestly balanced by that of a potential father mourning the unborn child.
I particularly loved how the pieces of the story are sewed together creating an authentic story where you can actually see with literary eyes each of the members of the small Oceanside community. The ending is unexpected and elegant, but I felt that somehow the story could continue for another couple of pages. 
As for the mothers 'maybe mothers were inherently vast and unknowable'.

Rating: 4 stars

Saturday, May 6, 2017

A difficult book: The Secret History of Las Vegas

This book was quite a difficult read, especially because it has many stories intervowen but none of them is cover extensively enough to give substance to the book in its entirety. 
There is a murder plot where detective Salazar wants to discover the mystery behind serial killings. There is also an equally mysterious institute working secretly for the Army developing dangerous medicine which actually provoked some of the killings discovered by Salazar. There are impossible love stories and dark episodes leading to the highest criminal peak of the apartheid regime in South Africa. 
Each and every one of those stories requires a lot of attention and fine elaboration, but in the end it seems that all the good stories are lost and the reader is only left to guess the many 'what ifs'. 
However, the pace creates a certain interest, with a curiosity to turn the page over and over again, until maybe, you find something really happening. Although the writing is overall good, at least when it comes to story telling - especially the stories of torture and corrupted conscience from South Africa - the dialogues need a lot of polishing. I also didn't get the excessive use of the F~ word and other unuseful cursing, without necessarily any reason than to fill some thinking and conversational gaps. 
Despite my big disappointment, I still think this book deserves a read, because of the few good writing pages.

Rating: 3 stars

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Jami Attenberg: All Grown Up

All Grown Up is not your usual romance or chick-lit novel, although it is about a single woman. There is no happy ending, no relationship to fix, no love triangle. No frog prince and no lavish wedding and baby shower(s) - at least not for the main character, Andrea. 
Andrea, who is living in New York City, in Brooklyn, used to live an apartment with a tiny view of the Empire State Building that will soon obstructed by an extended construction. She loved to draw the Empire State Building from different angles, because Andrea used to be an art student once, but she gave up for a corporate boring life.
Sometimes, she is 'tired to fit in where you don't', but she is not strong enough 'to follow her dreams'. Even at her boring work, she is doing her boring everyday job waiting that maybe one day she will make a mistake big enough to be fired. But she is not. She is 40, and single and without any serious long-term life plans. You can live this way well beyond 40, even if you are living in New York City. 
You are introduced to Andrea through various people, so until the end of th story you know almost everything about her, without really understanding her or single out for something. She can be one of the people you meet while commuting in the morning, lost in her thoughts or too hangover to look around to make eye contact. Not because she is trying to plan an escape from her boring life but because she just doesn't need to aim that high. She has opinions about politics, race and women rights, but she is not going beyond uttering an opinion or a thought once in a while. No, she is not like her social activist mother and she is the perfect anti-hero of our times - and chick-lits. 
The tone of the story is sarcastic, the pace is alert and the many fragments of Andrea brought to you through small stories, like the many faces of a huge kaleidoscope. The result is an excellent character construction that makes it more real.
I personally had mixed feelings about the book, because it takes some time to enter the mood and the spirit, but if you take some time to think about everything after finishing the book, the first opinion might change. It is a pleasant, quality and thoughtful lecture that challenges stereotypes, especially literary ones.

Rating: 4 stars

Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review
This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I earn a small commission, if you decide to purchase the book. It doesn't affect the way you shop books, and it's a great way to support WildWritingLife blog.

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
This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I earn a small commission if you decide to purchase the book. It doesn't affect the way you shop books, and it's a great way to support WildWritingLife blog. 

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
This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I earn a small commission if you decide to puchase the book. It doesn't affect the way you shop books, and it's a great way to support WildWritingLife blog.

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
This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I earn a small commission if you decide to purchase the book. It doesn't affect the way you shop books, and it's a great way to support WildWritingLife blog.

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
This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I earn a small commission if you decide to purchase the book. It doesn't affect the way you shop books, and it's a great way to support WildWritingLife blog

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
This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I earn a small commission if you decide to purchase the book. It doesn't affect the way you shop books, and it's a great way to support WildWritingLife blog.

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