Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Book Tour: Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu

I'm guilty as charged: I often didn't pay too much attention to the story of Batman besides his brave heroic adventures. In my comics, the adrenaline driving braveries were enough for my adventurous reading mind, but I never seriously asked myself what happened with Mr. Batman when he was, for instance, just a schoolboy. How everything started?
In a non-comics - besides the cover, there is no illustration in this book - attempt at rewriting the history of Batman as a YA novel, Marie Lu wrote the story of the young hero in the making. Although I've read the book in one long afternoon/late at night sitting, the reading experience as such was nothing compared with my usual Batman experience. The writing is great and the descriptions are well crafted, some of the characters - but unfortunatelly not most of them - like Madeleine are complex and fascinating even in their versatility and human and emotional spontaneity, the story in itself has many suspense episodes, but overall I felt that something was missing. And I am not talking about the dramatic drawings. 
However, I couldn't stop reading and did not have any intention to leave the book unfinished. I've found it great to have a story update in sync with the current high-tech standards which will make the book easily readable for the contemporary YA readers, but unfortunately some of the characters need a serious personality upgrade tooo. Bruce, for instance, the future Batman, is unpredictable in the sense that not all of his actions are necessarily connected with character features or thoughts. The action in itself is largely predictable which may diminish at certain extent the usual excitement associated with such reading stories. Madeleine Wallace is the main focus of the story, and if not her, most of the book would have been pretty banal from many points of view. The romance between her and Bruce is also predictable and not necesarily a great add to the story, as it makes Bruce even more uninteresting, a little toy in the hands of the big destiny awaiting him.
The second of DC Icons book - after Wonder Woman: Warbringer, by Leigh Bardugo - Batman: Nightwalker (ISBN 9780525578567) is a unique reading experience and attempt at telling the story in a completely different was from the classical graphic version. Therefore, a moderate lists of disappointments from people, like me, that grew up with a completely image and history of Batman. 
The idea of creating the story and the writing adventure as such are noteworthy and would be interested to read more DC Icons books and also writings by Marie Lu. For now, is more than enough.

Rating: 3.5 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by Penguin Random House International - @prhinternational - in exchange for an honest review. #sponsored #partner

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Quiet Sadness of American Loneliness: Another Place You've Never Been

Tracy, the main and constant character of the debut novel by Rebecca Kaufman Another Place You've Never Been is actually not sad. She is one of those brave quiet fighter struggling to live without questioning obviously too much about what is life and why some things happen and other not. 
Her father was living far away from her geographically, while his mother was with her, but lost in her psychotic sleep. She had dreams and simple wishes, the longing for a full life, that actually never happened as she wanted. She is a fragile soul but still strong enough to keep living, against any odds of loneliness and abandonment. She has a simple life, mostly a voyeur of other people happiness and family achievements. But she keeps being there. Where else?
I couldn't love Tracy, with her sad little life. She is as real as the lonely countryside she spent all of her life. Where tomorrow is equal with today, and changing yourself might be a fight against the very nature of things. The story is slowly enfolding, with the mysterious Native Americans appearing once in a while for setting up the main directions and the lessons learned. They are like the deep voices of the land, connecting invisible lives looking for direction. One of them will explain to Marty, Tracy's father who is about to die, that death is just 'another place you've never been'. A smooth transition to one of the many life unknown.
Although the story as such is pretty slow and lacking any sentimental dynamism, I couldn't but fell in love with Rebecca Kauffman's writing, so precise and balanced, which reminded me sometimes of the clarity of wording created by Raymond Carver. With her next novel to be released this year, The Gunners, already in my Kindle ready to read, I am happy to explore further this beautiful writer.

Rating: 4 stars

A Poetic Mexican Novel: Umami, by Laia Jufresa

Discovering more authors from countries not frequently on the top media pages for their literary achievements was part of my NYE resolution. Luckily, a book that I wanted to read for a long time, Umami, by the Mexican Laia Jufresa was my first book in what I hope it will be a long row of interesting bookish discoveries in 2018.
In the Melldrop Mews in Mexico City, there are five houses named: Sour, Bitter, Salty, Sweet and Umami. Their residents are telling their stories of loss, personal struggle, abandonment, loneliness and sense of the ending. A poet by formation, Laia Jufresa whose book I've read in the English translation - although my knowledge of the Spanish language would have allow me to grasp a basic understanding of the book too - creates beautiful stories of deep humanity and moving simplicity. 
The dialogues are built through simple words and colourful description, part of a permanent search for bringing sense and order to the world through words. The way we use the words, with or without translation, and their meanings and sentimental value, is part of a larger investigation about human nature and mortality. This reflection by one of the characters, Marina, dealing with eating disorder, is relevant for the many question marks of the book: '(...) English takes the edges off things, makes them feel less serious, a bit like scribbling mustaches on photos. For example, once translated, the names of her favourite group changed from abstract poetry to random nouns: the cranberries, smashing pumpkins, blind melon, red hot chili peppers, fool's garden'.
Umami, which in my edition was also adorned with a simple yet meaningful cover, is one of those books that you want to keep reading and reading again because you simply forgot where is your real world and where the world of the book is. There are no limits and as in every worthwhile exercise of imagination, you are flying away to colourful worlds painted with words.
I would be very curious to keep discovering this author, eventually by reading some of her poetry, eventually in the original language. 

Rating: 4 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Book Review: Into the Water, by Paula Hawkins

After writing The Girl on the Train, the book everyone kept talking over and over again, Paula Hawkins published another suspenseful, but completely different in pace and message book, which has many interesting twists and a strong message about women too. However, from the point of view of the narrative construction and characters, it has a couple of downsides too.
Into the Water has a dramatic opening with a strong evocative and descriptive power. Nel Abbott is the newest tribute that Drowning Pool requested from a small English town. But did the bubbling charming single mother of the rebelious teenage Lena really killed herself? Was it so much under the impression of her latest project documenting the deaths of another women that've found their ending in the same waters? 
For around 100 pages it is difficult to realize what is going on, if there will be any serious police investigation into the case or the rest of the book is in fact only a meditation about water, its symbol in various cultural and religious contexts. My biggest issue - and it seems of other reviewers too - with the book is that there are so many characters, most of them not likeable at all, that are not followed throughout during the story. When they are back into the story, you may need a couple of minutes to remember who's who. Although their role is to create connections and describe interactions, it doesn't always happens and very often the reader is just left confused with a new character that you don't know for sure how to grasp. 
At the micro-human level, Into the Water investigates - without trying to find out why - how our memories are created and altered during various development stages. Even the most painful memories are actually filtered through our self-defence mechanisms and end up often as a soft version of the real events. 
The story development as such has many twists and direction changes, some of them very fine and subtle displaying a special art of the writer which makes me think that I would really love to read more of her books too. 
As we are about to reach the end of the book, the obvious questions about the many women victims that ended up in the water are coming together to another cruel reality that will revealed in fact only in the last pages. Why were all those victims women? Because they were kind of witches, or unstable being looking to cleanse themselves in the water? What brought them to this condition and especially whom? When exactly a woman can consider herself a victim - of the circumstances, bullying, rape by someone she knows oh, so well? 
With Into the Water, Paula Hawkins shows her delicate sense of detail and human observations and promises an even greater next book.

Rating: 3 stars

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Magpie Murders: Reviving the Old Art of British Mystery

Magpie Murders starts as a classical British mystery murder but ends up with a fantastic twist which questions the sources of inspiration of authors of the genre and other issues regarding authenticity. 
My first impression after being past half of the book and offered a break from the story for being introduced to the reality of the murdery writer was a kind of shock. I was feeling like being pulled out from the classical slow pace of the mysteries of the crimes committed in the otherwise quiet Saxby-on-Avon that the detective Atticus P√ľnd was trying to solve decades later in the busy world of the London publishing industry. 
As a reader, I was manipulated by the author, at the mercy of his decisions to give me more details about who commited the crimes in Saxby-on-Avon or solve the set-up suicide of the unpleasant author Alan Conway. In the end, there will be an answer to all questions, with an intense coming-and-going from the reality of the books to the intentions of the writer in creating it. I personally felt fascinated by the bold intention of the writer, a diversion from both the modern crime solvings and the classical mystery patterns. 
I've found the solutions to both crimes satisfactory, but once in a while I was quite distracted by some details filled in which were maybe overcharging the story, such as the writings of Alan Conway's sister about their childhood.
I would love to read more by Anthony Horowitz, for the boldness and intelligence of the writing and the unique approach to writing mysteries although keeping up with the classical formulas.

Rating: 4 stars  

Monday, January 8, 2018

Book Review: Human Acts, by Han Kang

Han Kang was an interesting literary revelation of the last year, and after the Vegetarian, I was more than curious to explore another book of her, Human Acts, dealing with a political topic which is usually close to my everyday interests: the 1980 Gwanki uprising in South Korea. I've vaguely heard about them before, and I did some short online research about the events in order to have a clear background of the situation. 
However, the big merit of the book is to go beyond the context, and to ask capital questions about life, death and at the end of the story, what is humanity. How can and why humans kill each other? What is the attitude towards everyday death, when you have, for instance, to guard dozen of corpses in different stages of disintegration, some of them killed only because they happen to be on the street? How can you comfort a parent that lost his child(ren)? What happened with the souls of all those departed? Do they meet those of their killers too?
There are accounts - most on the second person - shared by different persons - including one dead, monotonous stories that are limited just to describe over and over again details about events and thoughts. The cruelty of some details is painful in its banality. 'Next to each of their heads, a candle wedged into an empty drinks bottle flickers quietly'. 'On one occasion, the bodies of ten people they'd just piled up seemed to be missing the head. At first, I thought they'd been decapitated, then I realized that, in fact, their faces had been covered in white paint, erased. Swiftly shrank back. Necks tipped back, those dazzlingly white faces were angled toward the thicket. Staring out into the empty air, their features perfectly blank'. 
The book is wrapped in the heavy ambiance of the big life and death questions that you usually avoid to ask, but you cannot keep ignoring when such occurences happen. Violent political and social events are inevitably creating such situations and the apparently neutral position of the writer, the intellectual, faced with such episodes seems the best attitude, because it allows to tell the story from all angles. 
Human Acts is a difficult but inevitable testimony of just another episode of harsh times for humanity.

Rating: 4 stars

Friday, January 5, 2018

Bookchoice, the app for your monthly reading

When I had my first smart phone, the first thing I started to download, besides Instagram, were: Kindle and a couple of reading apps. Although to see the writing on the small screen was not the best alternative for my eyes, I kept reading and reading because it was the best entertainment I got during long commuting to work. Since then, I already switched my Kindle for the table and I keep adding more and more interesting apps for me and my bookish baby boy.
A couple of months ago, Bookchoice was advertised as part of a Vodafone Germany special offer and I was curious to find out what it is all about, as it is interesting to discover how many companies, especially in the field of mobile companies are embracing a bookish-oriented perspective.  
During various exchanges of e-mail with the representatives of the team in charge with Bookchoice, I was given details about the specific offer, through which the user is offered every month a number of eight books for a 3.99 EUR. per month. The initial contract is available for one year and it can be renewed afterwards. The books are available in both audio and e-book formats with the app suited for both smartphones and tablets. 
The number of books was based on researches made of the Bookchoice team, and the experience gathered in other countries where the app is still operational. As for now, Bookchoice was previously used in Spanish-speaking lands and will be soon available for the UK public. The team is looking permanently to improve and develop relationships with various edition houses and authors for creating a better selection and representativity of genres, the Bookchoice representative said. 

An Inspiration for Writers in 2018: WriteNOW Cards

Frances M. Thompson, a beautiful writer I've featured on my blog more than once, launched recently an inspiring project aimed at offering to writers support during the ups and downs of the writing process. WriteNOW Cards brings drop or two of inspiration when it seems that the words are simply lost on their way to creating that novel or short story or poem you always wanted to publish.   
The elegant, colourful and full of inspiration business-cards shaped are available in two different packages: full pack of 50 - the Classic Collection - and the 10 Cards - the MINI Classic Collection. Each has written a small encouraging text aimed at creating that positive ambiance any writer needs before starting to create a world out of words. 
I personally made the following exercise. For each day, I set the message of one of the cards as the direction for the day. As a busy blogger and mother and small business owner, I juggle with many hats in less than 8 hours, therefore, although the writer's block usually avoids me, I do have moments when I just need to get the focus back for putting together two sentences - with a noisy baby tantrum background more than once. One of my favorite quote is: 'I respect that there are many stages in my writing journey and I welcome each one'. Or, one more: 'I confront all the obstacles I meet as I write. They do not stop me writing'. Or: 'When I write, I belong'. Actually, it is hardly any of the cards that do not suit a certain state of mind or small or big obstacle encountered in the writing process. 
If you are looking for a boost to your writing, WriteNOW Cards is the right help for every day. You can also follow it on Twitter and Instagram, with additional details about orders and other practical details.

Disclaimer: The cards were sent to me by the Frances M. Thompson for review purposs, but the opinions are, as usual, my own

Thursday, January 4, 2018

A Five Star Book Review: The Leavers, by Lisa Ko

I've lately become very annoyed but books with a good plot and a lot of narrative potential that because approaching a specific feminist and inter-racial topic, ends up in an unpleasant cul de sac where the story is taking over by ideological considerations. My problem is that I really love such topics, but I consider the obvious direction of the narrative as an acceptable flaw in storytelling. It is sad to see that the author doesn't believe in the strength of its own words and prefer to push you think the obvious instead.
The acclaimed novel The Leavers by Lisa Ko is nothing like that. Thank Gd there are still great writers and storytellers on Earth. It follows a narrative line, it has real characters dealing with real choices because humans and not because they have to outline their difference and based on their ethnic status. 
Polly, undocumented Chinese immigrant, the mother of 11-year old Deming Guo, disappears one day and never come back to him from her nail salon work. Adopted by a family of American professors, he is becoming Daniel Wilkinson but the disappearance of his mother and the weight of his lonely life are shaping his life decisions or rather lack thereof. 'He watched other people's reactions before deciding on his own; he could be fun or serious or whatever was most strategic, whoever you wanted him to be'. His post-adoption life was a permanent struggle to comform and be the person other people wanted him to be. 'If only he had the right clothes, knew the right referenecs, he would finally become the person he was meant to be'. His coming to age moment is difficult, leaving the school his adoptive parents expecting him to follow, giving up his role in a band he created with his best friend and wasting money on online gambling. The shadow of his mother and the mystery of her disappearances keep following him and until he'd found out and face her, there is no way to find his inner peace. 
The characters Lisa Ko created are strong, as real as human beings can be, and with a complex personality. Both Deming/Daniel and his mother are different sides of the coin, but strong stones keen to deal with their challenging destiny. The identity challenges Deming/Daniel is facing, including in relation with his 'real' vs. 'adoptive' family are coming up smoothly into the story as natural as such situations can occur when the characters do share such complicated personal histories. 
However, there are two small aspects that are slightly mismatched. First, the fact that those Chinese immigrants live like in a kind of vacuum, with no reference of the painful political past which created real drama in almost every family during the Chinese revolution. There are plenty of mentions about the new China, which cannot be avoided anyway if writing about present time, but the recent past is non-existent. Second, the fact that Deming/Daniel has no single memories and connections from the time he spent with his grandfather back in China for five years, while his mother was working in NYC is greatly unrealistic. Also, I am not sure how easy would have been to come and go in and out of China, for a child whose mother was illegal immigrant in USA and practically a run away from China. But those are probably details relevant for someone with extra political knowledge and interests.  
Those observations put on the side, I fully enjoyed the reading of this book for its human authenticity and beautiful writing. Hopefully, to many more rewarding books in the next 12 months!

Rating: 5 stars

Monday, January 1, 2018

Ghosted, by Rosie Walsh

The first novel I've finished in 2018 is a hard to put down psychological suspense about coping with pain and loss, through the power of love. 
I personally haven't heard about the word 'ghosted' until a couple of weeks ago, and it deals usually with the relatively recent phenomenon - in the age of Internet - when the part of a relationship - usually a short-term - completelly disappears without any 'online' trace. No phone calls, no e-mails answered, no Facebook or WhatsApp replies. He or she just disappears as it never existed. In Ghosted, by Rosie Walsh the apparent disappearance of Eddie, with whom Sarah spent six intense days of friendship and intimacy, it is more than a nonchalant run away from the responsibility of a relationship.
The narrative is made up of small little dots that added together create a dramatic suspense that you expect to end up tragically at least once. Blinded by love and the need to find the truth, Sarah is behaving out of herself, stalking Eddie on social media and watching obsessivelly her phone for any trace of online presence of him. 'The strange thing was, I knew this wasn't me. I knew it wasn't sane behavior, and I knew it was getting worse, not better, but I had neither the will nor the energy to stage an intervion on myself'. Although I personally was a bit disappointed by how this 'online drama' was staged, luckily the story is gathering more and more tension which goes straight to the heart of the main story.
There are many additional characters - including non-human ones - which kept being introduced into the story, but skillfully the author is able to control them and assign them a clear role into the story. The tone is well tempered and the ending is maybe a bit too mild compared to what could have been, but the readers is offered many ideas for a possible main conflict resolution. 
Besides the action and the suspense, though, Ghosted is first and foremost about dealing with pain and loss, after years of family alienation and the difficult peace resolution with a heartbreaking event from the past. A promising writing which makes a difference for offering a gentle approach to so many hard-to-break psychological walls and dilemma. 

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