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 AMAZONhttp://a.co/h6LTpn8

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
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