Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Random Things Tours: Bright Stars of Black British History by J.T.Williams illustrated by Angela Vives


You know one of the many reasons I feel priviledged living in our current times? Hint: it has to do, obviously, with books! Books about people whose voices were never heard, women, minorities, people who always were part of their larger societies, even contributed to changing them, nevertheless they were never included in the official narratives of their countries. 

History is a difficult material to deal with - says a PhD in history - and it has the potential to both educate and distort. Depends on the aim it is written. Personally, I  believe that history well written and documented can do a tremendous work of representation for people, individuals and groups, underrepresented and/or absent from the official narratives. 

Bright Stars of Black British History by J.T. Williams, beautifully illustrated by Angela Vives is an outstanding example. Aimed at a young audience, it well written and informative enough to catch the attention of a more mature audience. A journey through times, it shows a what extent Black British History is written since centuries, through the contributions of actors, freedom fighters and artists, soldiers and educators. 

It is an important book both for personal use and as reading material in the classroom. It empowers both children and their families with vital information about the past and possible role models. Hopefully, there will be many many such books soon, I cannot wait to review. This is history in the making.

Rating: 5 stars

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

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Random Things Tours: Courting Samira by Amal Awad


A sweet story of searching for pure, ultimate love, Courting Samira features a 27-year old Palestinian based in Sydney caught between her Romantic dreams and the everyday realities of dating while trying to achieve her professional and personal goals. 

Inspired by Regency and love fairy tales, Samira is following the traditional pathway to find love and believes in romance, but she may end up entangled in a web of funny circumstances. Just a bit of more drama, as she was not already having enough of it, As an assistant at Bridal Bazaar magazine and her everyday family experience, she may now a thing or maybe two about it. And now, some dramatic love triangles are about to happen and she should manage them somehow, while trying to get a long awaited and much deserved promotion at work.

Courting Samira has a hilarious take, but also offers a diverse story, featuring a different way of searching for Romantic love. Although I´ve felt sometimes that the story isn´t developed too fast, it is far from boring and has a thoughtful take on relationships, particularly of young successful Muslim women growing up in Western societies. The women characters are adorable, bubbly and with strong personalities and last but not least, an outstanding sense of humour. They are largely relatable and would love to see them featured in a movie inspired by the book. The story flows beautifully and keep the reader smartly entertained.

It is a book that may appeal to readers interested in diverse characters, but can also offer inspiration and role models for young Muslim girls, not very often featured in Romantic books those days. 

Rating: 4 stars

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

Saturday, November 25, 2023

We Need New Stories


We usually reject what we don´t know. Luís de Camões´ Os Lusiadas resumes among others our fear of unknown territories. The sea - which can be also interpreted in a more complex Freudian key - represents the unknown, something that goes beyond our imagination and capacity of grasping worlds and phenomenon who were under our control and knowledge. Time and experience showed us better ways to grasp the sea, but the fear of unknown is an archetypal human feeling.

This fear nowadays is mostly expressed through our reactions - very often negative ones - towards foreigners. Listening to foreign languages and accents, skin colours and habits, food customs and smells coming from non-local apartments are a curse and a blessing at the same time. It depends on us to turn the unknown into palpable and familiar truths. Living in an age of fast communication with access to a significant amount of sources does not guarantee automatically the end of all evils of intolerance. Rather the opposite: it can help people to fuel their fears, while using exclusively sources of information confirming over and over again their fears.

Our Migrant Soul. Meditation on Race and the Meanings and Myths of ´Latino´ by Héctor Tobar approaches the variety of experiences of being - often an undocumented - Latin American immigrant in the US through stories. His own story, his own family story, his relatives stories, his current and former neighbours stories and unknown people stories. 

I can grasp theoretically the identity layers and challenges of being a minority, but through stories I am able to access personal experiences, to figure out the stories and their emotional weight, I can represent in the front of my eyes the people telling or experiencing those events. I can better acknowledge the similarities with other non-White stories - as related in the book about Black Americans - and eventually think about what would follow next, at what extent there will be a similar pattern marking the evolution of a given phenomenon.

Our Migrant Soul, a book I had access to in audiobook format, is an excellent collection of stories that may enrich both the researcher and the curious reader about the generous contribution of immigrants from all layers of life to our experience about identity.

Rating: 5 stars

Rachel´s Random Resources: All in Monte Carlo by Anna Shilling



Inspired by true events, All in Monte Carlo will take you within the closed doors of the rich and beautiful of Monte Carlo. Some new rich love Dubai, but those unable to beat the high hot season would rather love Monaco. After all, it´s easier there to get your fix and the principality is small enough to create a trustful network of gossips and adventures for all to follow, up in the open.

Written by a collective of four women, just like the stories shared in the book, and inspired by truth events in the life of the Monegasque inhabitants, the book cover was created by the famous graphic designer Patrick Knowles who created, among others, the cover for Anthony Horowitz books as well as the calligraphy for the wedding invitation of Prince William and Kate´s. 

A good read if you love some gossipy stories and you find other rich people´s problems amusing, All in Monte Carlo is packed with action, a bit of kitsch and a lot of loud laughs. Unless you are in the skin of the characters yourself - all those cheaters! - you can hardly stop laughing, even what the women of book are planning a chilling revenge. 

The luxury descriptions are accurate and tempting - but warning, there is no Black Friday for the luxury brands ! - which makes it look like a kind of European Crazy Rich Asians - with less rich, but enough crazy. My favorite - obviously - is Abigail, the journalist, especially for her black humour. The way in which she interacts with her corrupt boss and his ´clients´ is the right attitude of a smart girl whose brains are sought after in an ocean of stupidity and fake make-believe.

If you are looking for some good written fun this weekend, All in Monte Carlo is what you need for. I wish myself a continuation of the series and maybe a glamorous movie too. If you plan to visit Monaco and Monte Carlo next summer, maybe it´s also a good idea to know what it expects you there, although for few hours - staying there overnight would be possible only if you get the big pot at the Casino, who knows.

Rating: 4 stars

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

Friday, November 24, 2023

The End is Near


One of my few events for this year Literaturfestival in Berlin was a discussion about Iranian revolution with Gilda Sahebi, Navid Kermani and Amir Gudarzi who introduced his debut novel Das Ende ist Nah - The End is Near, in my translation. A promise, not guaranteed, too. Shortly after I had the chance to read the book, a complex immigrant story in Austria.

Gudarzi studied theatre and dramaturgy in Tehran and was forced to leave the country following the protests of the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran.The character of his novel, A. had a similar experience, and also used to be active in the field of theatre. But now, he defines as an immigrant, humiliated by other fellow immigrants and facing the soulless bureaucracy. 

Interrupted with flashbacks from the past, filled with stories of his parents, his childhood and the friends and girlfriends he left behind, the prose follows like a logic of duality, where the past and the present are survival pills for the everyday survival.

What didn´t worked for me was the relationship with Sarah, an Austrian woman trying to break also with her past, a PhD student, a tormented soul, passionate about Iranian culture, democracy protests and Jewish history. I didn´t like her and such people usually belong to the category of people I avoid to have anything to do in the everyday life, but in the logic of the story, I felt ofen that she was there as a reminder of how things should not happen or just to offer a distraction from the dramatic story of A.´s immigration to Austria. Maybe in theatre such useful characters are welcomed, but in a novel, you can rarely get rid of them fast enough until they are becoming a stereotype. Relationships in general in this novel seem very clumsy and emotionally distant.

Besides those shortcomings that after all may be just a matter of personal taste, Das Ende ist Nah is an excellent debut novel, eyes-opening of the immigrant histories and with a story with its own dynamic. This novel is a proof of the rich literature written in German that once translated, would definitely bring a lot of novelty and new topics into the general topic of immigration and estrangement.

Rating: 4 stars

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Cover Reveal: The Secret Ingredient by Sue Heath


The sour part of taking part to cover reveal events is that I may have to wait a bit more until the book is out on the market to read what I am suggested it happens in the book through the cover. As this is one of the newest type of articles I introduced on my blog in the last two years, it also creates a special expectation about the book and, obviously, increases the amount of TBR for the time being.

The Secret Ingredient by Sue Heath is not expected in the bookstores - virtual and other - before the 15th of February next year. As the cover and the title too suggest, it is built around food and its life challenges - the main character, Kate Shaw, decided to return in the kitchen preparing pancakes and I know from my perfect failures what can happen while preparing a pancake - or two. The recipes she is creating or testing are further building up a sense of community and belonging, which is one of the wonders food can actually do in the everyday life.

The book may be about food and love for it, but I loved how the cover is actually trying to convene a visual message not necessarily bombarding the reader with images of sliced cakes on a plate or pots and pans. It attracts the eye, nevertheless, with the elegance of the lines and colours, especially the red and blue mixture. 

Such an appearance can only make me curious about what to expect next and what characters and actions can be hidden in the pages of a book with such an inspired cover.

Disclaimer: Many thanks to Rachel´s Random Resources for having me at this virtual event.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Rachel´s Random Resources: Pass the Cyanide by Karmen Špiljak


From the literary point of view, this year I´ve significantly expanded my outreach in terms of topics and domains of interest. One of my biggest achievement is trying out a large array of short stories collections, both in terms of geographical coverage and styles. (Hopefully, in the next days and weeks I can finish reading and reviewing some of my latest discoveries). However, nothing prepared me for the explosive dangerous taste in Pass the Cyanide by Slovenian-Belgian author Karmen Špiljak, a collection of mystery short stories with a pinch of cyanide. 

The challenge of the short stories is to be able to create stories with developed characters within a relatively limited amount of time. The 14 stories included in Pass the Cyanide are entertaining, mysterious while adding very interesting elements of folklore and fairy tales. The food - including cyanide-free recipes - is often the element that reflects and announces the mysterious challenges for the characters. Definitely, there is always something ´noir´ about it, in different concentrations. 

As a regular crime reader, I didn´t know exactly what to expect from this culinary noir, but in the end my appetite was only screaming for more. As this is actually Špiljak´s second collection of foodie mysteries, I am left with the chance of another delightful menu, hopefully soon. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

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