Monday, May 16, 2022

German Book Review: Die sanfte Gleichgültigkeit der Welt by Peter Stamm


My approximate translation of this book by Peter Stamm, a Swiss-based German author I´ve read and reviewed last year, would be: The Gentle Indifference of the World (some may say ´sweet´ but I like ´gentle´ more anyway). As in the case of the previous book, the story is relatively simple, but part of a complex narrative: A man meets in Stockholm a woman with a similar name and looking the same with his ex-girlfriend many years back. This resemblance - a contribution to the Doppelgänger literature, with a contemporary touch - leads to a mixed intertwining between temporal junctions between past and present, fiction and reality. 

Is this possible to repeat your life, or at least an episode of it? 

The storyteller, a man called Christopher/Chris - in love with Magdalena/Lena - is a relatively successful author, or used to be once. Is the story he shares a piece of fiction inspired by his life, or is this a real story? And which story is in fact the real one, the first story of young love, or the latest one, when he meets the younger Doppelgänger ?

From the point of view of the questions asked and the narrative accomplishment(s), this book is much elaborated and therefore more interesting than the last one, about a man who suddenly leaves his family and wanders with no direction around his old residence and beyond. The topic in itself though, has the obsession of a man who cannot accept he was dumped by his girlfriend and compulsively ends up with someone looking alike, just to reiterate the happy moment that once was. 

As right now I am reading a book, in German too, by a German writer, which deals also with the story of a man searching his own meaning, I will avoid to draw necessarily a conclusion. However, I can already see a pattern and I am not very impressed by the relative scarcity of imagination.

Rating: 3 stars

Friday, May 13, 2022

Book Review: The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel


Set in France during the last decade of WWII, The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel is built around an interesting topic: Eva, a young Jewish woman from Paris, moves to Aurignon while trying to escape to Switzerland, after her father was arrested by the French police and sent in a concentration camp. Eva has a special artistic gift that she will put in the service of the Resistance, becoming an important element of a network forging fake documents to children, mostly orphans. With a new non-Jewish identity they are taken over the border and eventually adopted. Eva took upon herself the mission of saving their real names, by using a Fibonacci sequence. 60 years after the end of the war, someone found the book, which was looted by the Nazis, and Eva, despite the old age, she runs to Berlin, at Zentral- und Landesbibliothek to reunite with the book.

The story unfolds following two different timelines, but unfortunatelly the current times one is completely unuseful, with few references only. 

Another aspect that for me looked completely mistaken is Eva´s Jewish identity. It looks so empty and irrelevant that one can hardly can figure her out as Jewish, expect that there is a voice in off which assumes that she should be. Otherwise, there is no significant content to support this, and there are many details of her assumed spiritual/religious biography that simply do not match.

Although the book has some interesting twists, it is mostly predictable and it lacks sometimes that kind of continuous action that keeps the reader engaged and interested. 

Despite those shortcomings, The Book of Lost Names is hard to put down, be it for the topic and as it writes about stories of the French Resistance against Nazis which is still not so well documented and often featured in historical fiction. It appeals both to lovers of contemporary historical fiction as well as to young readers that may be inspired to research more about those terrible times.

Rating: 3 stars

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Random Things Tours: Keep Her Sweet by Helen FitzGerald


The story goes that ´Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way´. But what about psychotic families? Are they all alike still different? If you are curious to find an answer or two, Keep Her Sweet by bestselling author Helen FitzGerald is an excellent source of inspiration. Because, we all know that literary beings can be as real as the human ones.

The web-story is built around a middle-age couple and their daughters, Asha and Camille. The parents seem to enjoy their time together and so are the two girls, except that once they are revealing their true colours they are looking less than just your influencers-in-the making kind of kids. Desinhibited is not the right term to describe them. Maybe dangerously psychotic is better? Hence their casting in a crime novel.

Around them, there is a cast of characters as dysfunctional as they are. Addicted, obsessed in various ways, emotionally unstable. Although such a combination is perfect for a horror story, FitzGerald deal with it in a very dark-comic way. Indeed, there are some emergencies and high risks, but why be dramatic when you can see the hilarious side of it? This is a very smart approach going beyond the clear limits of the genre the book is supposed to belong.

Keep Her Sweet requires a lot of attention from the reader. The situations may escalate and there is a generous cast of characters whose POVs are presented, not necessarily in a given order. One should focus on the action and voices and wait until the end to figure out the final chain of events.

Personally, I loved the ending, but equally the irony and the tragi-comic turn of events. I am still not sure what kind of label suits psychotic families but it´s sure that ´birds of a feather flock together´. 

Rating: 4 stars

Disclaimer: Book offered as part of the blog tour, but the opinions are, as usual, my own

Book Review: Stay With Me by Ayòbámi Adébáyò


Stay With Me, the debut novel by the Nigerian writer Ayòbámi Adébáyò is a journey of womanhood within and beyond the social roles assigned by society, men, other women. But beyond this need of classifying, organising and structuring the literary journey into clear categories and concepts, this book is first and foremost a story. 

Yejide, owner of a hairsalon in Nigeria, is under pressure to reproduce, shortly after her wedding with Akin. Not sure it was necessarily her desire, but for sure, other people´s desire to see her having a bany pushed to go as far as travelling to the Mountain of Jaw Dropping Miracles and breastfeed a goat. The urban legend goes that it may lead to end up breastfeading your own babies. And Yejide ends up believing: that the goat is a baby, that she is pregnant for at least 18 months. 

Then, there is a baby, who dies, and another baby who dies of a genetical disease. And there is a thirds baby that may have the same disease and may die too. This sequence of the story happens in the second part of the book and it´s gently tragic, as sad as such an encounter can be. As emotionally sad as it was hilarious in the beginning. 

Beyond the details and the political, social and religious references, the story thread itself is inviting the reader to navigate alongside the journey. You feel like you really want to stay into the story, even most of the women characters are despicable and bullying and there is nothing to expect from the men. There is a sense of strength of the writing which announces - hopefully - many more unique stories.

Rating: 4 stars


Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Rachel´s Random Resources Tours: The Write Balance by Bonni Goldberg


Most of the books I´ve read and reviewed aimed at offering inspiration and guidance to writers do have some very general common lines of advice. First and foremost, one has to keep writing no matter what, maintain a healthy balance between writing and documentation, being persistent and refusing to give up in fulfilling his or her gift of wordsmithing. Personally, I think that at least most of those advices are right. On the other hand, though, treating writing like any kind of work may be misleading sometimes. Discipline and time management are indeed vital for building a successful writing career, any kind of career in fact, but sometimes there is something else left behind in this list of recommendations.

The Write Balance by Jewish educator, author, speaker and coach Bonni Goldberg adds a very spiritual holistic touch to the general literature about how to write better, faster, insightfully etc. It is aimed at helping and explaining ´How to Embrace Percolation, Revision&Going Public´. Each of these steps are very important and are approached in the book on a very serious and detailed manner.

I´ve found that these three stages are rarely followed in sync in the dedicated literature on this topic, but after seeing those mentioned for the first time, I realized that in fact those stages are very important in shaping the book: first, one needs to consider the process of creation before the first draft takes shape (percolation); second - what the writer shall do after the first draft is ready (revision); third - how to follow the right strategy to share his or her book with the world (going public). Is there anything else that really matters? Don´t think so.

Each of this stages is explained by Bonni Goldberg through various personal examples but in a way that offers a generous space to build the right balance between the body and the mind (including through recommendations of exercises to practice in this direction). Cloud watching when you are out of inspiration or just putting on hold for a day your writing plans belong to those kind of advices one may refuse to consider seriously but in fact are so simple and inspiring. 

Goldberg´s book accompanies the reader and eventually writer-in-the making with a lot of care and dedication. Therefore, The Write Balance can be considered a good companion to first-time writers, but also a source of inspiration for more experienced onces. After all, book after book, one may need to refine his or her skills and writing techniques as well as habits. This book is generous in nourishing creativity, including through specific exercises - including of the yoga type.

The Write Balance is a resource of spiritual strength when writing does not go in the direction one may expect, but also helps to overcome (self-)doubts and writer´s block with the grace of someone who knows that he or she has a mission that will be fulfilled with diligence and distinction no matter how hard it is. You just have to look at the clouds and follow their changing shapes. Similarly, your words can get together in an infinite number of ways to create your books, one after the other.

Rating: 5 stars

Disclaimer: Book offered as part of the book tour, but the opinions are, as usual, my own

German Krimi Review: Die Tote vom Chiemsee by Gretel Mayer


A young woman is found death in a monastery in Chiemsee - Bavaria region. She is the daughter of a glamorous film making family, a beautiful young lady with a promising career in the movies herself, but she chose otherwise. Who and especially, why, would have intended to harm this innocent creature?

Die Tote vom Chiemsee is the debut novel by Gretel Mayer that I selected for my regular German reading exercises. It is set in the 1930s, which adds a certain historical fiction layer, which is dealt with elegantly, but as the action is mostly set in the countryside, outside of the big cities, the perspective is switched and therefore much more focused on the micro- rather than the macro society level. 

Mayer re-creates a very relatable local ambiance, both in terms of historical descriptions as of language and human interactions. 

The story builds up piece by piece, although the ending is not suggested in any moments. Although, it remains a good exercise for the reader´s investigative mind. There are so many proofs that both the detectives and the reader can easily gather but in the end, the final verdict is beyond anyone´s expectations.

Die Tote vom Chiemsee is a good krimi, in the well-pondered career of the German genre, and definitely outstanding for a debut novel. I may have some disappointments regarding the course of action and the overall pace of the story, but this does not affect my general appreciation for the book. It also made me curious to explore this part of Germany, that I have on my bucket list.

Rating: 3 stars

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Random Things Tours: M Is For Mummy by Katy Cox

´Since becoming parents, every thing revolves around the kids - our thoughts, schedules and conversations - so it´s no wonder that the flames of desire have struggled to stay alight´.

Lucy used to have a successful career and a lovely husband-wife relationship. Then, you know how it goes: career was put on hold, days and nights do sync with the needs and requests of the children - one of then, Stan, a very gifted and curious one - love life tendentially nil. 

M is For Mummy by musician by training, mother by habit Katy Cox is a hilarious journey through motherhood. That motherhood that nowadays can be laugh about, although always took seriously. It belongs to the brave literary wave of women writers courageous enough to write about the downsides of being a mother, without dismissing their motherhood. But describing in more precise terms what motherhood means, especially for career women, is a realistic take to life and it only does good to the everyday dynamics. It helps a woman to understand exactly where and what she stands for. And, in full honesty, being a mother is not easy at all.

This literary trend demystifying motherhood - and keep an eye on my coming reviews, of a terrific book about motherhood - is the oint you need on your salty wounds - salty because of the many tears - after leaving behind a slice of your life for a routine that seems will never end - at least, not in the next 18 years, anyway. 

But, you know what, only when you fully acknowledge your situation you can move on. Living in a pinky cloud where changing dirty nappies is upgraded to the supreme joy of life is denial and it hurts. Better try to be like Lucy, unconventional, hilarious and irreverentially thinking about sex. I love her character and I think it relates way more to what means being a modern woman than your Victorian brainless submissive wife.

M iy For Mummy, published today, makes you feel good and entertained while keeping you company in a very relaxed way. After all, there are some baskets full of laundry waiting for you and the kids are about to come hungry from school. But it is a trustful companion that may help you figure out how to accept your condition and try moving on, a smile on your face.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Disclaimer: Book offered as part of the book tour but the opinions are, as usual, my own