Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Bloody Secret of the Three Envelopes

A gripping debut thriller written by a professionist in the field of intelligence, Three Envelopes explores the darkest labyrinth of the mind of the psychopat master killer. Agent 10483 was recruited by the Organisation a structure within the Israeli secret services, succeeding to simulate sanity and on the other side, despite the fact that at least one person was aware of his serious mental instability. 
The problem appears when the puppet assumes he is the master and takes his role seriously. A dairy written in the present tense sent to the people responsible for him ten year after his presumed death shade light into some of his operations he was part of, but also warns that he might be ready to kick back again against those with a minimal involvement in his case. In fact, for a long time, Agent 10483 has embarked on an ssassination campaign on its own. The reasons are not security-related, but dictated by his sick mind. 
The novel takes back and forth from the dairy to fragments from the past and episodes taking place in the present, when his deep psychosis and the dangers of him being alive are finally acknowledged. The back-and-forth alternation of time sequences creates an interesting profile of the Agent, with its obsessions and psychosis. Maybe in 'real world' his issues could have been fixed through therapy and psychological support, but his drama is that not all gifts are equal and he was easily took for something that he was not. Intelligence has its own limits and this is clearly one of the lessons learned of this book.
As for the ending...the reader might realise that he or she is also part of a mind game, not sure if clearly understood where everything is leading. 
A very interesting thriller, written in a very alert style, hard to put down and with a haunting charm. 

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

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Jerusalem Ablaze: 13 Short stories with a taste of darkness

A collection of 13 short stories of different lengths, the debut of Orlando Ortega-Medina, Jerusalem Ablaze is an exploration into the darkest labyrinths of the mind and the soul. Introduced as 'stories of love and other obsessions', each story is an emotional roller coaster, which brings you Tokyo's Ginza to the Israel's Masada,  alongside with people on a journey to their inner self and dark sides. 
Although a debut, the book is written in a style mature enough to reveal admirably hidden feelings, secret desires and a cultivated ambiguity of the being. You will encounter people searching for their own self or who already found it and are scared enough to show it to the world. People with strange and maybe too many identities and confused feelings, lonely in their unicity and difference. A big role in the emotional investigation pursued in each of the 13 novels is played by the sharp dialogues which compliment the equally well-crafted descriptions.  
Very often, I felt I am part of an adventure set in the art of the Japanese masters of writings and it is no wonder as the author himself recognize his admiration for the mysterious Mishima Yukio. But the discussion on influenes is not so relevant, as long as the writer's style reveals to be unique despite all the literary references that can be identified in the stories. This is the case of Orlando Ortega-Medina, which promises even greater writing achievements in his next endeavours that I am curious to know and especially read about.

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

Saturday, September 9, 2017

My Thoughts about The Patriots, by Sana Krasikov

It is something about reading this book that didn't expect to happen: to make me feel at home intelectually, after so many years when I avoided to have anything to do with a world that I know so well. Better than any other worlds that I was blessed to know in the last years, because after all, the concepts and stories you grew up with are so much part of yourself, that even invisible crumbs of a Madeleine will bring you with the speed of life back in the past. 
I couldn't read The Patriots by Sana Krasikov as fast as I wanted to. I was so caught up by the dense writing, so powerful that you can even imagine the dialogues in English with a strong Russian accent. Every 30 pages or so I wanted to take a breath and think about stories I've read or or heard as a small child growing up in a communist paradise - not Russia - while eavesdropping the complex political dissident discussions of the adults. Revealing only a quarter of them to anyone outside the four walls would have bring long years of prison to the participants, and I was warned regularly that if I dare to share some of the things I've heard accidentally - including fact that they were listening to forbidden radio stations - the orphanage will be my next home, as my parents will for sure end in prison. Actually, it was more than a case when such episodes actually happened, as the classrooms were often the place where teachers working for the secret - intelligence was something rarely associated with those institutions - services were requested to check the ideological conformity of the families, through repeated interogations of children as young as 6. 
I had my own intellectual time when I was reading about prisons and communist delusions and comrades' betrayal and the state-supported anti-Semitism. In the last years though, I rather wanted the company of a 'chick lit' than to read the drama from the Gulag(s). I deeply disapproved communism, and hated the naive involvement of my own parents and family and their weaknesses and the fact that they gave up fighting accepting instead the daily compromises, even after the 'gods' were longed revealed as naked. Most of the people I know from those times are long gone and gone are my parents and the young people I used to know are out of my current sight. Actually, I gave up for a long time to go in the 'old country' and my contacts with that world are almost inexistent nowadays. 
As a fact, as a child, I've read once some Soviet literature about Americans who joined the Russian Revolution and ended up building socialism as far as Magnitogorsk. The characters in the short stories were happily sharing their achievements in a society where classes and races were not counting, but the full dedication to the ideals of the Party. The main character of The Patriots, Florence Fein, is one of them. She wanted to be part of a great future who was built now and then. She bought a ticket dreaming about a Soviet man she met while working in New York, and ends up being accused of being a spy and condemned to forced labor. Florence is not one of the top communist leadership of the Internationale - she is not even a party member - later kept prisoners in Hotel de Luxe in Moscow. She is just a young lady enamored with the Revolution who will be wiped out by the destructive forces of the history. 
Florence, as many middle level people in those times, will survive, whatever the circumstances. She has the right intuition to do it and to live to tell the story. Her husband, Leon, who can see clearly the failures of the system and it's becoming an ardent Zionist after the visit of Golda Meir to Moscow - proclaimed to his wife a well proved truth: 'Don't fool yourself. Everybody's tied together with the same rope' - will disappear without trace. In a personal way, I wanted to not like Florence, for her narcissism and her failures and her many compromises, but I ended up by admiring her. What should someone want to be a hero, until you are Nadejda Krupskaia? Following my personal and society post-communist interrogations I dare to say that the 'Party' suceeded to achieve a perfect confusion between victimes and perpetrators. Sadly, those who actually orchestrated the system often survived with their position unaltered, some of them even becoming successful characters of the new era. 
The episodes of the story are alternatively placed in various time periods, which creates a welcomed balance of the story. I waited for the 2008 episodes, relating the adventures of Florence's son and grandson into the new Russia, as bringing a certain relaxation into the narrative, after the heavy episodes about interrogations and the darkest time of the communism times.
I am glad someone wrote this book as no one before. With humour - I couldn't stop laughing when Florence was accused of being part of the spy cell 'mish-pok', a mispelling of 'mishpucha', the Yiddish word for family she mentioned in a letter to her brother from Brooklyn - , smartly, without drama and passion, using the historical background to create stories. A very good book which resonates with the life of many simple people who although lost the fight with their beautiful ideals, survived to tell the story.

Rating: 5 stars

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

What's in a Name: Curry, by Naben Ruthnum

I love to read and taste food stories because of the hidden promise of more than a combination of various ingredients. If you know how to read correctly a recipe, you can create incredible stories. Think only about the stories of how different ingredients were introduced into various geographical spaces and the full history of their appropriation by different cultures. 
In his collection of essays about 'Eating, Reading and Race', Naben Ruthnum analysed the case of 'curry' which he proclaims: '(...) isn't real. Its range of differentiations, edible and otherwise, rob it of a stable existence. Curry is a leaf, a process, a certain kind of gravy with uncertain ingredients surrounding a starring meat or vegetable. It's an elevating crust baked around previously bland food stuff, but it's also an Indian fairy tale composed by cooks, Indians, emigres, colonists, eaters, readers and writers'. I personally haven't cooked curry - yet - and I have a very limited taste experience therefore I can hardly go to far when it comes to the eating part of the stories. 
However, I can trace various interpretations and contextualizations acquired through the literary representations. Ruthnum outlines the requested literary conundrum assigned to the novels by and about that part of the world. 'Food and literature are the most definint elements of the Indian diaspora on the small world I've built around myself as a brown adult in the West. Curry's the vehicle I use to look at how we eat, read and think of ourselves as a miniature mass-culture within the greater West. Curry's just as fake and as real as a great novel, as a sense of identity'. 
The book is a collection of essays, with interesting references of authors exploring the limits of food and identity and the pressure to find yourself outside those limitations of the 'India's of the mind'. 'South Asian Writers is an identity, not just a pair of adjectives and a noun, and it's an identity that establishes a tacit promise to an audience that is seeking it, whether the author intended it or not'. 
It is almost impossible to think that this mindset will change any time soon, but the efforts to deconstruct this reality are small breaks into the wall of imposed creativity. Think about how much potential there is when the challenge of offering different streams of identity is really taken, word by word.

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

This is How We Talk. Another Novel about Tel Aviv

Recent books set in Tel Aviv - or Israel - aimed at a foreign audience, do have some common ingredients nowadays: post-Army depressed youngsters, eventually who spent an indefinite sejour in India or, more recently Thailand; Yitzak Rabin; leftist mindset; start-ups; the protests against the prices of housing couple of years back; secular background; the hedonistic night life in Tel Aviv. If there is space left, add a couple of expensive sky scrapers where one single apartment is the price of a lavish mansion in the priciest LA neighbourhood. A couple of observations about the rift between the Jews of Oriental origin and those of European origin. Sometimes, the kibbutz life is also present somehow, but this element is missing from This is How We Talk, the debut novel by Julian Furman. 
It is rightly described as 'a novel of Tel-Aviv' because it has sometimes more to do with the city mood than with its normal people. In the words of Yonatan, the first character introduced in the novel: 'Tel Aviv is a hive of activity, but he senses all the excitement is occuring above his head. Giant cranes swing lazily through the day and night, towers growing, teasing of bountiful heavens just beyond his reach'. 
Relationships do need context, and when the political and social context pervades the everyday life, it is almost impossible to ignore them. Especially when this context is foreign or assumed exotic to the reader, it might be so catching that in fact takes over the literary layer. 
Four young people: Yonatan, Lia, Nadav and Sharon are telling their stories. At the beginning of the story, Yonatan and Lia are together. Nadav and Sharon - Lia's sister - come late and relatively for the blink of the eye into the story. The have struggles, are confused and want to escape themselves, their family secrets and the weight of the country. They succeed on short term - as Nadav and Sharon - but fail on the long term - Yonatan and Lia. The story of Yonatan, which opens the novel, can easily stand alone as a short story and it has speed and a balanced back and forth exchange down the memory lane. For the following stories, the sparkle is fading and I ended up asking myself if there is really any real connection between the characters, besides the fact that they are together under the same book cover. They can be foreigners meeting accidentaly on a hot day at the beach or in a club, and meeting each other again only because it is a small city. 
Each character has the common features of being just your 'average Tel Avivian' next door, take it or not. Each story has a good flow and dynamic. There is a potential both in the story and in the writing. Maybe it is just me, expecting a bit more from 'a novel about Tel Aviv'. 

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

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Book Review: The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love

Following an astrological prediction gave to him at birth, the enamorated Pradyumma Kumar, alias PK, decided to leave behind his life in India and cycle as far as Sweden to meet his beloved Lotta, a hippy girl he shortly met in Delhi. This is just the end of a story, which has also a lot to say about the discriminatory caste-based system in India and PK's first hand encounters as an 'untouchable', the lowest caste according to the Hindu-imposed ideology. 
The stories about his isolation are coming up and again into the story - after a while I felt slightly annoyed by the repetition -, which has also an interesting travel-related dimension, as it features the passage through Afghanistan and Iran, on the way to Europe. It looks like an open world, welcoming hippies from all over the world mesmerized by the lights and miraculous visions of the Far East, a world that in the last 3 decades closed progressively until becoming hermetic to most of the free-minded Europeans. The book succeeds to portray very well the personality of PK, from his hard early university years of sleeping on the stone floors of the train station in Delhi, until his unique encounters with the liked of Indira Gandhi and the cream of the Indian society. Thanks to his artistic talent, he succeeds to undone his socially assigned status, showing to himself and the rest of the Indian society how unjust and ridiculous the religious limitations are. 
There is a little bit of everything in this book: sad stories of a situation that seems so overwhelming that only suicide looks like the only solution out; hope and delivery as he sees how the work of his hands brings him comfort and fame, one drawing at a time; hilarious situations as when he realized, a couple of days already into his biking adventure, that his final destination is Sweden, not Switzerland; resilience and courage to start a new life despite the obvious dramatic cultural, linguistic and personal challenges. 
This book can offer motivation and some travel writing insights and also an interesting historical background. Strongly recommended to anyone longing for far away 'exotic' destinations - warning: things in the mind mirror might be exagerately magnified - or trying to start over a new life in a new country.

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

Monday, August 28, 2017

#Enshrine Blog Tour: Author Kay Bennson sharing her creative process story

Once again, I am honored and pleased to be part of another blog tour organised by Priya from Writerly Yours, featuring the debut novel of author Kay Bennson - Enshrine
Living in Northwestern Connecticut with her husband, Kay is a passionate professional writer and a competitive Irish dancer. Part of the blog tour, Kay kindly accepted to share with my readers the story of her creative process. 

Question to Kay Bennson: 'Where do you get your ideas from?'

People often ask me; "Where do you get your ideas from? I want to write a book, but I don't know where to start." My answer is to look to your dreams. In all the manuscripts I've completed, Enshrine included, it all started with a dream.

I remember that it was July 2014. I know this because when I woke up, I wrote down everything that I could remember on my phone. The dream wasn't gory or violent. but I could not get it out of my head. I was seeing the dream as if I was awake and through my own eyes, but I was in a foreign place. It was a bustling city, but it was ancient and unlike anything I'd ever seen. It was night time and I was terrified.

I was being pursued by soldiers. They were the henchmen of someone I never saw in the dream, but I knew he wanted me back at all costs. He was obsessed and manic and as I cowered out of sight I knew I would die before I let myself be found. I was ready to run when someone jumped out and offered me help. He knew how to get me home, but I had to trust him. We began to weave between buildings and people until we reached the ocean and we ran in. I woke up as we began to claw our way through the water.

When I woke up, I was stunned. Dreams fascinate me because while some people think they are meaningless, I truly believe there is something behind them and it might seem weird, but I'm impressed with what my mind can create. I almost see it as an accomplishment. When I have a nightmare about my old boss...not so much.

So where I'm going here is, while you may scratch you head or ask yourself why you dreamed about something bizarre, write it down. It could be something as simple as "Ex boyfriend is secretly half demon" or "Evil corporation takes over high school". As long as it helps you remember and you can come back to it later if something strikes you. You won't know until you try.

'What is the most challenging part of being a writer?'

Another question that people often ask me is what is the most challenging part of being a writer? There are many things that I could tell you, but I think I'm going to stick with the one that resonates with me the most.

Don't get so lost in pleasing everyone else, that you lose sight of why you wanted to write the story in the first place.

I used to be someone that worried about what other people thought of me. To be honest, I was terrified to have people read my writing because I didn't want them to tell me it was garbage. While I feel that I've gotten past that hurdle, I still find myself worrying about other people when I need to worry about myself. A great example of this is when I found out that my mother's friend wanted to by the book for her daughter and she wanted to know if it was appropriate. Enshrine is absolutely okay for Young Adult Readers, but I had started working on the sequel and was thinking about having two of my characters take their relationship to an intimate level. I was literally in a panic over what to do, to the point that I stopped working on the manuscript.  

I made a realization. A) That I needed a writing time out, and B) that I'm never going to please everyone out there. Some people might not mind the content of my books and others might not approve of what my characters do. Regardless of my readers choices and reactions, I can not control what they feel. Knowing that now is liberating, but man, it was a long time coming!

I know people won't like everything I do, (My own mother disliked how something went down in Enshrine) but at the end of the day, I write to make myself happy as well as others. I have learned that when you are happy with yourself nothing else matters and everything seems to fall into place, so I hope this advice can make you feel the same.

Titles and inter-titles belong to me. Photos from the archive of Kay Bennson