Sunday, January 31, 2016

Bookish reviews: The latest books on the list

I kept reading a lot in the last days and weeks, with a good pace towards reaching my Goodreads goal. However, I did read a lot of non-fiction and DIY-kind of books that were useful, and some literature that did not enjoy too much. At a certain point, upon visiting a library nearby and discovering so many books by famous authors I was wondering if I do not waste a lot of precious time and resources reading tons of free to download books on my Kindle by non-brand authors that disappointed me. During the next weeks will prefer than to read books by big literary names with two or three 'free' Kindle books. The next month I will also hope to focus more on writing my book so my time will be very limited.
Till then, here is the latest bookish harvest:

I had two serious reasons to start reading Kathy O'Dowd - a daughter-father writing couple - The Lady Astronomer: I was very impressed by the cover, a very inspired choice compared to many books that I'd read recently and was equally interested by the topic as such. However, couple of pages into the book I realized that I just cannot keep up with the story. Many clumsy sentences, the plot was lost into too many details and almost impossible to follow. In conclusion, I just gave up and browsed my Kindle searching for another book.

I did not read anything from Amelie Nothomb for more than 5 years and enjoyed first and foremost the idea to return to reading in French. Journal d'hirondelle is a cruel account, written as a memoir of someone who lost his heart and decided to become a successful killer. The combination between Dostoievsky and Ryu Murakami did not impressed me so ended up very disappointed about the book, which otherwise is well written.
Once in a while, especially on weekends, I love to read within hours some cozy mystery. Death of a celebrity is the first volume out of three other similar stories built around the character of a once successful writer looking for inspiration and a quiet life as inn keeper in Sandy Creek, Cape Cod. It is the kind of book to read between two rows of knitting, with too many unuseful descriptions and a very slow pace for a mystery. But it is well written with some interesting plot. 

I love international thrillers, but as I have a background in political science and international relations, you cannot sell me everything. This book based on the issues of the Iranian nuclear program, the Blind Scorpion has a good story but the facts of the story are so misleading and very implausible. The background research is well done and the information about nuclear processes and Iran are accurate. My problem was with the plot who does not reflect the reality. For instance, who would offer a job as a top - security clearance included - nuclear scientist with such a big lust for money and a passion for playing in casino? How the same checked and over-checked scientist can accept with a blink of an eye the invitation to go back to Iran apparently for lecturing for good money?And first and foremost, how would he easily left to leave the States when there are already signals that he can be in danger. Not forget how the same scientist starts to explain complicated nuclear processes to a CNN diva he met on the airplane. And so on and so forth. 

For the next week, I have one special bookish surprise so I hope the stars of my reviews will improve! Stay tunned and happy reading...

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Book review: Changing my Wardrobe, by Deb Hanrahan

Long time ago, I took an online class about cyber bullying, many years before the omni-presence of social media. At the moment, I did find the phenomenon very scary and as dangerous as a lethal poison, but following recent stories in the media or personal accounts of friends with children of different ages, it seems that nowadays the extent of the phenomenon is much extended and often takes deadly turns. 
Changing my Wardrobe, by Deb Hanrahan is telling a bullying story, covering the experiences of a group of teens entering the final years of school. The pace is slow, with a certain routine of the characters and almost unpredictable events. The plot in itself is captivating, well writen, keeping the reader till the terrible end of the story. 
Lindsey is getting ready to enter a new school stage and accepts the help of her friend Teeny to change her wardrobe as a start for a new life. Together with Teeny's twin Grouper, they go to school and spend a lot of time involved in various school activities. The group is extended by the tragical figure of Marco, the love at first sight of Lidsey, and excentric Jocelyn, the future match of Grouper. The happy ambiance is disturbed by the bullying Avery and her clique who is just continuing her stalking against the girls that started during primary school. Joined by her boyfriend Cal, the troubled cousin of Marco, she will try everything possible to disturb the life of the girls, either by attacking them verbally or by various actions, such as breaking into Teeny's locker or taking pictures of her half-naked while changing in the dressing room and sending it further to her list of contacts.
The author succeeds to outline very well the psychology of the bully: most often someone abused  her- or himself by the others, including by its own family. Cal is a child abandoned by his disfunctional parents, while Avery is the daugher of a very demading mother who does not miss any chance to humiliate her in the front of the others. The reinsertions of family histories was done very skillfully. 
What is not plausible in this story is how adults are not acknowledging the situation. When the phenomenon is extended over so many years, how it is possible that no adult - parents or teachers - ignore the situation or let it go this way. Another episode that was not easy to deal with was the one when the picture of Teeny was sent without that being considered a very big deal. In some real life situations, teenagers commited suicide for such an accident, so I think the reaction of the girl was very much underrated. The reaction of Teeny's twin, Grouper, after finding out all the details that lead to the temporary arrest of his sister by the police after Avery placed the marijuana brownies in her locker is also very surreal: 'I knew my sister was innocent'. This reaction contradicts his behavior described as of bad temper.
The characters are well defined, teenagers with their insecurities and weaknesses. The reaction of rejection of Jocelyn by Lindsey on the basis of his 'weirdness' although a couple of times she saved her from Avery proves that at this age, everyone can be a bully. Sometimes, the way in which some of the characters are expressing their first love feelings resembles more the experienced adult love than the teenage innocence.
The end, when Cal come back after hiding for a long time after the cookies episode, to seek revenge for being separate for ever from Avery, brough by her mother to a fancy college on the East Coast, tries to kill Teeny but Lindsey interposes and is killed instead, is spectacular. It occurs at a moment of the reading when you do not expect anything out of normal to occur any more.
I haven't tasted too much the last pages, when Lindsey meets on the other side Marco's mother and little sister that died in an accident couple of years ago. It made me think about kitsch movies with angels talking together from puffy clouds. Also, the fast love story between Marco and Teeny did not make too much sense and was not prepared during the plot development.
There were two other things I did not enjoy: the cover of the book - nowadays, with the access to so many online photos, there may be thousands of other good pictures to chose for the book; and the title - that is very low profile for the otherwise interesting writing.
The book is recommended for anyone interested to explore the mentality of bullying and have a sample of the usual problems of high-school children.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Learning to write (and be) in another language

Chosing your writing language, out of many others is a brave but not an easy choice. Succeeding to write and think as a writer considering the deep senses and symbols of the words, describing events and feeling and more importantly, telling stories that move. This interesting interview with the very talented Jhumpa Lahiri made me think a lot about my condition as a writer in another language that the one(s) I grew up with.
I did the language switch she is talking about longl before, after starting the university in French, a language that I used to speak at home but did not love at all at the time. As I had to start learning it forced by my mother, this language was associated for a long time with rules and family obligations, when my knowledge of the language was put at test in the front of various relatives. I always outperformed and my university years were a success, but French continued to be a helmet too foreign to me. 
On the other hand, learning English was never a priority in our home. After all, by the age of 15 I was fluent in at least 3 languages, with a potential to learn fast also Spanish and Italian, thanks to the invaluable resources available at home. As my mother was able to speak fluently and flawlessly in around 10 languages, and was a languages teacher by profession, teaching me English would have been very easy. British English to be more precise, the only variant of English that she considered genuine. However, me, I just wanted to speak a good American English. I also did not wanted to learn from my mother, but decided to start doing it alone, little by little. Because I did not have any goal, learning language took the longest periodl of time in my life. 
But everything changed in the last years, when fate reminded me that I cannot be anything but a writer. Or, better said, that writing makes me happy. But I insisted that this writing is done in English, a neutral language that needed so much polish and practice though. My first paid writing assignments were a nightmare and every 2 articles I was reminded how many mistakes I make. I cried, made another coffee and kept writing. I finished two books and plan to write two more in the next 6 months. I am still doing mistakes once in a while, and I know I have some limits when it comes to expressing profound feelings. But how long was the way I went! Writing in English makes me free and self aware! My biggest achievement so far was to be able to proofread serious manuscripts and academic papers. Me, who only three years ago I was constantly admonished for the basic mistakes I was guilty of, every two sentences.
The writing moment I reached makes me happy, but I acknowledge that I have a lot to do from now on to improve and be a real English writer. As for now, English is my language of choice and freedom. Most likely it will continue to stay so for many next years. 

With love for libraries

From my early teenage years, having a library card was a priority. Either it was about the local school library, sometimes very poor and with very worned out books, or about public libraries, I always tried to save money to get the card and keep a clear schedule of the deadlines avoiding to pay extra fees for the delays. 
At the time when I was entering the university, I used to have more than five cards, among others: to the public library close to my house, the French Institute, the British Coucil, the Goethe Institute and the American Center. There were many others but these were the most resourceful, with permanent bookish attractions. 
Every two weeks, with a big bagpack on my shoulders, I was making the tour of those libraries, for the exchange. Although it was not easy for my fragile constitution to carry the heavy books, I got enriched with a lot of new languages and new authors and, at the end of the day, with new worlds. 
These books helped me to be alive in the darkest moments of my life. After all, I did not have too much time to be depressed. I had books waiting for me to be returned and new ones to be read.
One of the first things I did when moving to Germany, was, of course, to explore the offer in terms of books. First, I was in need of quality German learning resources, but till my German would improve, of English or French books to read. What I discovered overcome my expectations: every borrough in Germany has its own library, which has an impressive collection of recent books in German or English, with many language resources and movies and recent publications. The prices are around 10 Euro, with half price for children. There are very interesting sections for children literature, in English and German.
Besides the rich offer of books, the libraries in Berlin also host special events, such as lectures with authors for both adults and children.This is how I had the opportunity to listen to Jonathan Coe talking about his books a couple of years back. Last but not least, libraries offer the opportunities of networking to book lovers, particularly through participation to book clubs, a very common phenomenon in Berlin.  
If you want to hear the tip number one for a successful relocation, this is my two cent: check how are the local public libraries. From this point of view, Berlin is by far the best of many possible worlds. 

Photos were done at my local public library.

Monday, January 18, 2016

5 Tips to keep writing and reading for new moms

As a new mom, with a very active writing life and a big love for books, the life with the baby especially at the beginning might bring a lot of frustrations, but with a good time management you can succeed it. Here are my five tips for a busy mother:

1. Every day, put aside some little time for yourself. Although working in a big one hour batch can be useful, when not possible, you can do it early in the morning, after the first baby feeding and late in the evening after the kid is sleeping. 

2. Set up plans. At the beginning of the day, write down what you are expected to achieve and go with the plan. For instance, to read 3 pages the day and write 1,000 words

3. Be realistic. Maybe you are used, as me, to read sometimes a big 300-page book the day, but now you just have to realize that it is no more possible. Instead, try to realize that you can read maybe one book the month or every two weeks. 

4. Focus! I discovered that all the electronic devices around me might be very disturbing. Meaning that at the end of the day, when the baby is finally in the bed sleeping, when the house is finally covered in silence, you try to avoid procrastinating on social media. It can bring a lot of relaxation and relief, but it rarely bring too much progress towards advancing your writing or reading progress.Eventually, after you are done you can make a short social media update, but only before you are done with the main priorities.

5. Be kind with yourself! Take your time, the baby is now the most important thing into your life. Use this time for new discoveries and revelations about life. There will always be books waiting for you, but every moment spent with your baby is unique and precious. 

Bookish updates: my updated reading list

I started the year with renewed powers, ready to keep reading as much as possible, as often as possible. With another batch of over 100 books uploaded on my Kindle, ready for a lot of travel and communiting time in the airport, I am ready to seriously cope with my reading challenge of over 200 books. At least. Another bookish new is that I also started to read on Kobo, whose advantages and disadvantages I still have to discover. 
Till today, my reading portfolio includes the following discoveries:

Alice Munro, Too Much Happiness
- It was a collection of short stories bought a couple of years ago but not in the mood to open till the end of last December. There are beautiful human stories, where every word seems to have its welll assigned place. The words are able not only to create beautiful natural descriptions, but also tensions and strong emotions. I especially loved the game of time and its insertion into the story, with gentle mentions and reconstructions of life stories.

Sebastian Fitzek, The Nightwalker - I did not know too much about this German writer and usually I avoid too much popular authors, but I had the chance to read an interview with him and decided to give him a chance. I did read the book in German which is a real challenge because the language is not easy. As in general for me, a thriller book should be at least as good as Carrie by Stephen King, this book overcome my expectations, with very strong images, a lot of suspense and a fine knowledge of sleeping disorders. Everything was so authentic that I decided to avoid reading it too late in the evening. Not sure when I will read a new book by Fitzek, but it is an author that I strongly recommend to anyone in love with horror thriller stories.

Adriana Popescu, Lieblingsmomente - Consistent with my efforts of improving my German - mission impossible, I know, but it is always worth to try - I went back to the chick lit kind of stories. Leyla is a photographer in Stuttgart with a boyfriend and many freelance projects, but after meeting the mysterious and multi-talented Tristan her life changes. He decides to pursue her dream of travelling the world, leaving behind the self-centered boyfriend and mediocre life. The various descriptions of Stuttgart made me interested to see more of the city, but except Layla I did find the other characters in the book less clear and defined. 

Isabelle Lafleche, J'adore Montreal - Belongs to the same easy going category of books. The book is part of a bigger series which includes Paris and New York too, following the adventures of a chic Parisian lawmaker at fancy parties and glamorous encounters. Except the nice descriptions of Montreal, the story did not impressed me too much, anything particular to remember. 
Maia Sepp, Wake - This weekend I finished my first ecological apocalypse kind of story. To be honest, I expected more intriguing stories and special effects. In fact, the cyber security aspect was more appealing and worth my attention. Expect to find here interesting characters such as a stalking refrigerator and a HR Manager with fancy shoes. The writing is good, but defined characters but the story simply did not caught me in too much.

As it seems I am very interested in finding my voice and finally start going towads the - very busy writing plan for the year, Roz Morris Writing Characters who'll Keep Readers Captivated is more than helpful. Organised information, simple ideas and a lot of inspiration.  

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

All those lost books...

I grew up in a 4-room house stuffed with books from floor to ceiling, including in the lobby and kitchen. Old collection books and French literature works from my mother, forbidden books by the communists, stuffed in the back of the book shelves, contemporary collections of literature. Once I started to get my own money - my pocket money as a teenager included -, I started to add more and more books to the home collection. The choices depended on my various literary hobbies I went through during my teenage years: history, anthropology, sociology, literature of Central and Eastern Europe. 
But time changed. I moved away from home and very often when I was coming back I was taking more books to read in my new homes, briging to my mom the ones I already finished. Living in tiny places, I was always in need of more space. Then I started to move and travel all over the world but every time I was coming home, I was taking and bringing more books. My knowledge of languages extended and always liked to bring home more samples of world literature for a later reading. 
Four years ago, I discovered and fell in love with Amazon Kindle, where I added around 700 books and keep adding more. I also have books in .pdf and other formats, stored on the drives of my computers.
A couple of days ago, I was considering to visit the memorial house of Anna Seghers in Berlin.I needed to read something of her and in a flash, I had in the front of my eyes the fulll collection of her works in French from my home. At the time when I was at home, I only read some of the stories, but never an entire volume. As I realized that all these books are lost for ever, almost got lost myself into a sea of sadness. And I started to think about all those lost books that I bought but never read and left them in the old country, in a place that it is no more mine and where the traces of my mother are for ever erased.
In the middle of sadness, there is always a ray of light.My New Year Resolution of book worm is to never leave a book not read. From now on, every book I buy will be read days after the purchase. No time for tears and regrets, time for more organized reading.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

My bookish resolution for 2016

My last year was obviously not the year of this blog, with the minimal amount of posts in its life. It was also a modest year of reading, with slightly 104 books out of a 200-book objective. As for writing, I did not create anything noteworthy, except my regular travel writing.
Now, it is about time for new beginnings, especially new bookish adventures.
For this year, my Goodreads objective is of 250 books, which means that I have to set up a very clear time management. I do not have a specific list of authors I want to read, but I obviously want to discover many new ones, after a year without extraordinary discoveries, hanging up mostly with the the authors I knew already. In line with this new resolution, I finished yesterday reading Alice Munro, Too Much Happiness which I enjoyed a lot and would love to read more about. I also want to keep improving my language skills in Italian, Portuguese and Spanish and thus, will look after more literature in these languages. 
Right now, I have some long awaited writing projects ready in my head and hope to get soon ready  for keeping up with their continuation and achievement. I gathered enough frustrations to avoid telling - lying - to myself over and over again that I am fine and being so lazy does not have to create any problem for my conscience. I will continue with a clear schedule and specific hours dedicated to writing. The advantage of having a little baby is that I can be up early in the morning and this time should be wisely used for writing too.
I have a lot of literary events and book fairs and other special book-related activities coming up in the next weeks and thus, my blog will be fed with more information and interesting content. I have in mind also some special interviews, but this depends of other people's availability. Also more review and writing related content will be shared on the blog, at least twice the week. 
As for now, keep in touch with more bookish news and a happy book nerd to everyone!