Friday, July 19, 2024

Random Things Tours: The Helsinki Affair by Anna Pitoniak

The Helsinki Affair by Anna Pitoniak is rightly receiving positive reviews for more than one reason. It has a young woman spy character - in spy age terms is almost a baby -, it brings together Cold War and its survivors and also has a very realistic, human-centric plot.

Let´s be honest. Most spy novels I´ve read that were set during the Cold War especially, but not only, do feature super heroes and super vilains. There is black and there is white and there is nothing else in between. Both sides are fierce, unbreakable and do have strong motivations - patriotic or financially, especially when they betray.

The characters in the intelligence-political saga of The Helsinki Affair are emotional - GRU agent crying that his warnings were not considered properly by the Americans - do fail often and may read other people wrong. They didn´t want to be there in the first place, as Amanda Cole who would have rather travel the world first. Or her father, who after a terrible failure hunting him until nowadays, accepts a clerk job with no inner desire to prove his super-hero status.

I´ve read previously Our American Friend by Pitoniak and some topics may relate - especially when it comes to the Cold War context. In many respects though I´ve feel like The Helsinki Affair is better structured and has a better representation of the characters - which are many, treacherous, and way too versatile. 

It is a different way to look at and write spy novels, with a more pregnant women characters in the first line - other than enchanteresses or honey traps. Personally, I don´t regret at all the old James Bond spy novels.

Rating: 5 stars

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

Thursday, July 18, 2024

A Scottish Island Summer: Cover Reveal

Summer is finally here, also in my cold part of Europe, and just feel like it´s the right time to travel more and delve more into the vacation mood. Bring all those beautiful summer books and their covers, please! Especially covers!

Hence, this is my greatest pleasure to introduce my reader to a book coming up soon, set in the island of Skye and involving a lot of slow travel. Or bookish travel only, although I would be happy to read the book to get even more inspiration in planning a trip to the Island of Skye one day. 

A Scottish Island Summer is the 12th book by Julie Shackman and it has a cover worth of a fairy tale. Pastel shades, a deep blue surrounding the most part of the space, a mysterious girl looking far into the horizon. A very soothing view, which promises a pleasant yet insightful read.

I haven´t read the book yet, but the presentation I´ve received - thanks again Rachel´s Random Resources for the opportunity of being part of this cover reveal online event - sounds like the kind of read I am tempted to: an ambitious girl travelling to Scottland to write a guide of the Island of Skye, where she is about to discover the real life and individuals that are rarely featured in the glamorous and attractive social media posts. It sounds as attractive as the cover looks like.

Hopefully will be able to introduce the book to my readers soon! But as for now, please excuse me, I need to do some serious travel planning. Books are magic travel companions, you know.

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Random Things Tours: Felix´s Favourite Day by Fiona Lowry illustrated by Johanna Bruyer

I am drearing the sad moment when my son will be old enough to not be interested in books about small people, like him, and their pets. Or their love for pets, like Felix, the child character of Fiona Lowry´s book: Felix´s Favourite Day

Never believe someone who´ll try to convince you that writing books for pre-school children is easy. You need to find the right words for convening a very easy message. At this pre-school age of wonders, children do not need many words, but motivation and beautiful stories. Felix´s Favourite Day is simple as structure, but shares such a throughout positive message that leaves the reader with no doubt about the intention. It´s deal about an everyday encounter, but adds magic and beauty.

The illustrations by Johanna Bruyer, a painting-like images in pastel-vivid colours completes the magic and the match between pictures and words is perfect.

Felix´s Favourite Day is a recommended book for adventurous pre-school children, whose parents aim at bringing light and positivity into their existence. It can be also used in English and bilingual schools and kindergartens and in general as part of any positive-oriented primary education.

Rating: 5 stars

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

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Blog Tour: Our Daily War by Andrey Kurkov

 ´Jokes are probably the cheapest way to maintain optimism´.

I´ve recently read The Diary of an Invasion - in the German translation by Rebecca DeWald, a real-life account of the Russian invasion of Ukraine by Andrey Kurkov only to realize how far away we may be from understanding a war, any kind of war, lately. Of course we decorate our social media profiles with Ukrainian flag, maybe we also wear a pin of two of solidarity, but the real feeling of suddenly being harassed by bombs and switching from peace to war in just a few hours escapes us completely. No one wish to live, die and be born in a war zone, but some may need to survive and one way to do it is through writing and humour. Or both, preferably at the same time.

I was very curious to continue the lecture of the short installments of war stories, although in the war context, it sounds as a kitsch voyeurism. But I believe that it´s important to know, to read, to understand. It´s a terrible reality that we are just getting used with. In the same way we got used with the Balkan wars, or the far away wars. Our lazy minds should be waken up, asked to think and reflect. It´s a small thing but nevertheless intellectually relevant. 

Our Daily War, to be soon published by Orenda Books is a further collection of stanzas, talking about literature, brutal Russian mobilization practices or the population of green parrots suddenly populating the trees near Chernivtsi. With journalistic accuracy and literary talent, it reveals daily realities of the war that may escape our attention, including cultural and mentality shifts - ´The Russian language is losing its position in Ukraine. Frankly, this does not upset me´. 

Kurkov shows how the war is affecting everyday life, from the neighbors in the village to himself. The post-Soviet identity present in the unforgettable Death and the Penguin, the previous novel by Kurkov I´ve read many many years ago, is replaced by a more complex personal intellectual testimony: ´I am an ethnic Russian and my native language is Russian. In all other respects, I am a typical Ukrainian. I do not listen to the opinion of the majority. I value my own opinion. For me, freedom - especially freedom of speech and creativity - is more valuable than money and stability. I rarely find myself in support of an existing government´s policies and I am always ready to criticise them´. 

The daily war - the book - stops around April this year. But as I am writing, the war continue, we don´t know for how long. Probably the post-war books about Ukraine will be even more terrible. But we need more books and testimonies to fill the void of indifference. Those kids that used to go to classrooms improvised in metro stations, operating in two shifts, will write probably a new history of Ukraine. The war will never go away, it stays with those who survived it.

Rating: 5 stars

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

Monday, July 15, 2024

Tehrangeles by Porochista Khakpour

´I like that Milani sounds like Milan´.

If everyone and their Persian cats will tell me I have to read a book because I don´t know what I am missing, I will most probably stubbornly don´t do it and let everyone know. But I made sometimes exceptions for books by authors that I usually follow and on topics I am very much interested in.

Tehrangeles, the book, is a name I stumbled upon every few book recommendations this year and some months before the end of the last year too. Designed to describe an area in Los Angeles inhabited by rich Iranians, the vaste majority emigrating to the US shortly after the Islamic Revolution took over Iran, the book is a delightful tragi-comical satire, populated with priviledged rich influencers reminding of Little Women, but in a 2020 Persian style.

I had access to the book by Porochista Khakpour, an author I very much appreciate and previously featured on my blog, in audiobook format read by the very versatile Mikaela Hoover and the author´s own mother, Manijeh Khakpour. It is the format that I would recommend, as it ads more life and that Persian Paris Hilton kind of vibe that I bet you cannot grasp otherwise. 

Some may compare the book with the glamorous Shahs of Sunset, with a cast of character of a similar background, but after wathing 75% of the series and reading the book I may say that the comparison does not make justice to this very complex book. Social critique and racism markers should not be necessarily boring and serious. Sometimes irony and smart references may turn the critique into more useful and pertinent social tool.

The four little ladies of Milani families may be very diverse in personality, but they are all belonging to Milani, a family of hidden Persian origin, living careelessly in the 2020 America. But their life is fall from being easy. The sucessful influencer Roxanna is changing her birthday inorder to have a zodiac re-assignment, Mina is overachiever and until a certain point a closet Lesbian, Violet wants to shine in her modelling career while fighting severe eating disorders and Haylee is sliding down the conspirationist vortex. Their parents, Ali - or Al, just because it´s sounds more Italian for his over the roof successful pizza business - and Homa, darkly depressed, may be unable to always understand their children, but are ready to please them, even when they are about to be over-exposed to the world as Roxanna particularly insists to launch a family reality show in the vein of The Kardashians. Last but not least, the smart white cat that has a much better influencer potential anyway. 

According to her own words, Khakpour researched the book for over a decade, and this meticulous care for providing both context - Iranian diaspora and weird influencer behavior, not necessarily in this orer - and plot development is obvious in the book. The book is using the influencer pretexte to outline immigrant fluid identities, often a choice following the majority social circumstances, but also makes parallels between different reactions to similar circumstances - the attitude about anti-polio vaccines vs. anti-Covid vaccines. It exposes conspirationist theories and irresponsible behaviors - throwing out of boredom a party in the middle of the pandemic - and foolish expectations to live more only because richer. 

The prose avoids the linear development of an average story with and about influencers to upgrade to a grandiose novel of Iranian-Americans dreaming the dream - there are some very important oniric insertions - in a world itself taken over by unlikely lives better than lives. 

Last but not least, Tehrangeles has a huge movie potential and a stunning cover as well - I had the chance to see the book in the bookstore and it feels as catchy as it looks in the photos.

This book really made my happy, that happiness only a book lover get to know when confronted with books that you intellectually love.

Rating: 5 stars

The Bohemians by Jasmin Darznik

The last week I continued my journey through contemporary history fiction novels. I had Jasmin Darznik´s book on Forugh Farrokhzad - one of my favorite poets - on my TBR for a long time, but my library loan by the same author was long overdue thus it had priority.

The Bohemians is a first person account of the life and loves of Dorothea Lange, a lady photographer whose realistic photographic eye I admire since my short 2 years college of arts I did out of curiosity towards a more systematic take on modern arts many years ago. Set on the relatively less known bohemian background of the San Francisco art scene at the beginning to the middle of the 20th century, 

Lange moved here to set up for a new life, but her moderated optimism was shattered as just upon arrival, all her savings were stolen by an attractive thief. Stubborn and meeting well networked friends who put her in touch with those who mattered for her arts, she made it through, despite abusive relationships and economic crisis. The ambiance of those times - the anti-Asian racism, among others, as well as the cultural bohemians, among which Maynard Dixon, her husband, a painter not too much known outside the USA, worth (re)discovering though - is described in a way allowing the reader to imagine the cultural and economic landscapes, although the insertions about the Spanish flu were too similar to the recent pandemic accounts to not sound at times completely out of context.

The use of the first person account was a blessing and a curse. Blessing because it builds the whole narrative around her and allows to take unique directions - like friendship, instead of a linear biographical life account, but a curse as it limits the view and the diversity of perspectives. I´ve also found the timeline sometimes alluring, as it may be very detailed only to jump over decades, just a chapter later.

Although I´ve found the book interesting and intriguing, but not necessarily my style, I would give it one more chance and promise to review soon her book on Forugh as well. Just need to give it a try only after my library loans pile is getting at least 15-book smaller.

Rating: 3.5 stars


Thursday, July 11, 2024

Random Things Tours: The Little Clothes by Deborah Callaghan

Audrey is on the cusp of 40, single, childless. She is doing her job as a lawyer pretty good, but not good enough to be promoted a partner. She is ´ok´, without actually being ok. She is invisible and feels disposable. 

Until one day, when she decides to change completely her attitude to life. She will take control of her life in the most rebelious possible way. And rebellion usually involves transgression. But as usual, transgressions and rebellion do not come as a distraction: the reasons behind such an attitude may be the outcome of a deeply traumatic event. Just watch Audrey´s life unfolding and you may understand the complex layers of a life that was not meant to be this way.

The Little Clothes, the debut novel by Australian-based author Deborah Callaghan sounds at times provocative and humorous even, but it reflects in a very considerate way what happens after one experienced a deep trauma, and at what extent such an event may distort the rest of one´s life. Audrey, as a character, behaves like someone hunted by an unshared past, and made me think how important is sometimes to avoid judging people. It´s hard not to, but one may never know what a person hides behind an erratic behavior.

This is a very explorative book, that may remain with the reader for a longer time. As the main character herself, you may start  to be aware of things that you need to share with the world, feeling that you are in the wrong place after being in the wrong skin. 

The Little Clothes is a noteworthy debut novel, empathically told, making an important contribution to the fictional bibliography on taking over the past by overcoming trauma. 

Rating: 4 stars

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