Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Yellow Envelope: It is more than travel

In the last decade, there is an increasing number of young people that decided to leave their average stable lives and embark on life-changing experience, with one backpack, a camera and eventually a blog to share their discoveries on the road. I am a limited version of this trend myself, using all my free time and freelancing resources for - as for now - short-term travel, that I carefully document on my travel blog.
I am very happy to travel and grateful for the opportunities to see so many remote places and meet incredible people. I will never give up travel, and I hope to have the chance to see all the countries in the world at least once - an obsession of the travel bloggers community I am openly sharing - but the issue is that sometimes, I realize that a sightseeing marathon, although enriching culturally is not enough, as I rarely have the chance to really spend time with the humans and have insights about real life. It is a disadvantage I am aware of but not always sure what to do with it.
Kim Dinan took the challenge of leaving her cubicle life in Portland and together with her husband, Brian, started a challenging travel adventure in countries like Ecuador, Nepal or India. The brilliant part of travel when you expect more than checking your bucket-list - nothing wrong with it, anyway - is that you start a journey which might change your life, your inner life especially, for ever and good. And as usual in the case of changes, you don't know exactly what to expect. It is hard, it is painful, it is risky, because on the road one may loose himself or the other precious half, because this is how life happens. 
But besides the task of facing the unknown, Kim and Brian were lucky enough for being offered by a friend a yellow envelope with money to give to people or causes that might make a difference. The decision is hard, especially when taking into consideration if offering the money is a culturally accepted gesture. The act of giving, the generous opening of the envelope plays an important part of the transformation process Kim and her husband are going through during their journey. Their trip is an experience of knowing each other, looking for their uniqueness and accepting togetherness. 'We'd made so many mistakes and embarassed ourselves, but we'd also stretched our boundaries, individually and together, and learned to trust the world and the people in it, including ourselves and each other'.
It is a very beautiful book, written with heart and with many pages dedicated to introspection and self-search. Not the usual travel stories, but a memoir about finding meaning and trying to make the world a better place, one yellow envelope at a time.
You can read more stories by Kim Dinan on her blog.

Rating: 4 stars

Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchane for an honest review
This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I earn a small commission if you decide to purchase the book. It doesn't affect the way you shop books, and it's a great way to support WildWritingLife blog. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Book tour: Discover Fairytale by Hope Pennington

I have the honor and pleasure to be again part of another interesting book tour organised by Priya from Writerly Yours. This time, the choice was an interesting YA novel, Fairytale, by Hope Pennington.
When I say 'interesting', I really mean it, because this book succeeds to create a story out of fragments and directions of computer games narratives, while adding a classical fairy tale touch. A young guy not so into school or life - he is not sure what he wants to be in life, but for sure is not so keen to start a life of 'study to work to eat to study to work to eat' - fell into a hole in the back of the garden, being suddenly transposed into a strange world where he is not only a visitor, but he is assigned the role of the 'Chosen One' assigned the mission of saving the world.
There are princes and a princess and sword fights and knights, and extraordinary creatures, but the entire experience is like a growing up trial, during which the young boy is taking up responsibilities and changes dramatically his indifferent perspective on life.
The book is fast-paced, with a lot of action, like in a real-time game, but also moments of reflection. The dialogues are sharp, short but well suited for the teenage literary sensibilities and expectations. Although is using an old fairy tale cliche, the story is written in a creative way, which can attract modern readers, fascinated by computer games. It is a smart way to make the best out of a common literary genre, and Hope Pennington succeeded to achieve a great story.
Fairytale is a recommended lecture for both young readers and educators and has many topics that can be easily used further in the classroom for further discussion, such as loyalty, respecting other cultures or courage.

Rating: 4 stars

Disclaimer: Book offered by the author in exchange for an honest review
This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I earn a small commission if you decide to puchase the book. It doesn't affect the way you shop books, and it's a great way to support WildWritingLife blog.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Are you there, Krishna? A short review

Are you there Krishna? is a hilarious account on identity, narrow minded people, sexism and taking life easier without forgetting who you are. At least once in a while, it is also about ghosts, meeting celebrities and one-night stands. 'If you're easily offended, don't read this book', but if you do, you will get some good funny waves out of it, because when everything goes wrong, a smile can wipe everything. Tomorrow you can start anew again.
Behind the laughs and the fun and the ridiculous situations - the account of the trip to Europe makes you laugh loud for minutes - there is a serious layer questioning the ethnic stereotypes, rejecting the stupidity of male-centered world and the assigned gender limitations. But she is coming along with all of them in a way or another, and sometimes also finding a good antidote to all of it, because 'fashion magazines are cheaper and healthier than Xanax'. 
It is a book that make you both laugh and think, maybe change your mind too about the way in which you accepted all those family, and society and gender and class identities that sometimes do not have nothing with you as a free human being. 
If you are looking for some inspirational reading while on the way to work, this is the best recommendation. It can change your mind so much that maybe you will consider leaving your job and, who knows, going out in Europe finding yourself. 

Rating: 3 stars

Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review
This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I earn a small commission if you decide to purchase the book. It doesn't affect the way you shop books, and it's a great way to support WildWritingLife blog.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The creative morning pill: The Shape of Ideas

If you are looking for inspiration or taking a break from too much creative thinking on demand, this book is the perfect dow of freedom. A graphic novel about ideas may sound a bit unusual, and this book is, indeed, a bit special, because creativity in general and particularly ideas are hard to represent. For instance, did you ever wonder where the ideas go when they leave us? Or, how do you represent the frames of mind? To be continued...
Grant Snider's snippets of wisdom succeed to offer incredible and unique visual shapes of ideas. After you read it once, you will definitely want to have this book in your library for regular - maybe daily - inspiration. If you are, like me, more into writing and less into visual, exploring a new sources of creativity are always welcomed. 
The texts are sometimes serious, sometimes joyous and playful, but there is always a pleasure to discover page after page new messages and old ideas presented into new shinning, colourful too, clothes. It helps you brainstorm, take a break from routine or just gives you the chance to read and see something really interesting. It sends you good vibes and makes you take everything easier because 'there are things worse than disappointment'.
You can see more of Grant Snider works here.  

Rating: 5 stars

Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review
This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I earn a small commission if you decide to purchase the book. It doesn't affect the way you shop books, and it's a great way to support WildWritingLife blog

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Novella review: American Demon Hunters. Sacrifice

A broken hearted father that cannot cope with the death of his son steals a Peruvian skull from a relic thief in order to set up a ritual which might bring his Daniel back to life. The ritual takes place during an Amtrak night ride from Chicago to New Orleans, where accidentally there is also a demon hunter and an ex-Army mom, and it unleashes dark creatures thirsty for blood. 
Like in an old Russian movie, most of the action takes place during the train ride, and the action succeeds very fast, and some of the images described can be quite strong for the faints of heart. Imagine a Stephen King story with a touch of spirits invasion, the kind of stories I am reading only once in a while. Even if you don't like such genre, there is a lesson to learn from it mainly that conjuring the dark forces, even for a good cause, it always can have dramatic consequences.
The story is the result of an extraordinary collaboration between 4 authors, part of a series of novellas set in different American cities, each written through different collaborations. 
Although I enjoyed the story and the writing, I've found that very often I would have love more focus on the actions - when it comes to fights, with monsters of all things - the more descriptions the merrier. In one case, I've found a small inconsistency: the character Blake cut his hands deeply to have enough blood to make the required signs for the ritual on the walls, but it doesn't look as he is really affected by the loss of blood. I keep thinking that novella was too limited for this kind of topic and a bigger amount of words would have been much better for the sake of the story telling.
Despite this, the book is enjoyable and has some interesting developments. The kind of book to keep you company on a long train ride, unless you are not too faint of heart.

Rating: 3 stars

Disclaimer: Book offered by one of the authors in exchange for an honest review
This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I earn a small commission if you decide to purchase the book. It doesn't affect the way you shop books, and it's a great way to support WildWritingLife blog.

Friday, April 21, 2017

A classical mystery novel: A Rising Man

In the 1919 Calcutta, Cpt. Sam Wyndham, recently transferred from the Scotland Yard, is dealing with his first case. A local British personality is found dead close to a brothel with a paper with an independence message stuck in his mouth: 'No more warnings. English blood will run in the streets. Quit India!'. 
Tracing the possible perpetrators takes place within less than a week, during which the days might not be filled with too much actions, but with a lot of reflection about colonialism and fine psychological observations. There are also frictions between the different local branches of the law and order system and Sam Wyndham is not your usual cop, all the little unusual and tensed episodes contributing to the appeal of the book.
Some of the characters are created with a deep and sometimes conflictual personality. For instance, Sgt. Bannerjee, the other half of the investigation, has a strong belief in the justice but found himself in a limbo while observing the way in which the Empire is repressing its own people more and more every day. Sam Wyndham is a non-conformist investigator, with a broken heart and the psychological wounds of the Great War where he participated as a combatant are still open. The investigation is just offering him a break from his own life, but he really enjoys fighting for the truth: 'The problem was, once I get a sniff of a case, I find it difficult to keep my nose out of it. And I don't take kindly to threats'. 
The political observations from an India boiling to fight for independence are often inserted into the story, which makes this novel more than a mystery story, but adds a different dimension. Therefore, more than once I felt that I am in fact reading a historical novel, as it outlines a specific episode in the history of the relations between the Empire and its overseas territories. I've found that in the case of some passages, there are too many digressions, but the reading itself is enjoyable and announces a writer with a special personality.  
The criminal is a surprise, but it makes sense in the context of the novel. 
It looks like the author worked hard to reconstruct the ambiance and the local flavors of the 1919 Calcutta, the reader being offered at the beginning of the book also a map to make his or her way through the maze of streets and events mentioned in the story.
For a debut novel, A Rising Man is a good start. As this seems to be only the first book from a series featuring Cpt. Wyndham, we shall wait for the next works by Abir Mukherjee.

Rating: 4 stars

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Interview with K.Heidi Fishman, author of Tutti's Promise

Books are always the best way to share testimonies and keep memories alive. Especially when it comes to a historical time as the Holocaust. Tutti's Promise that I reviewed elsewhere is the latest book I had the opportunity to read about this period of time. The author, K.Heidi Fishman is sharing on my blog her experiences as a writer and the challenges of writing about such a dramatic time. 

How did you decide to write Tutti's story?
When my daughter was in 7th grade my mother went to her school to tell her story. Of course I had heard the story many times myself already, but this time I listened from a different point of view. I listened from the point of view of a child who didn’t grow up knowing the stories. I listened from the point of view of a child who didn’t live in a Jewish community and didn’t know any survivors. I saw how moved my daughter’s classmates were. At that moment I knew the book had to be written, thus preserving her story forever.

What was the most challenging part of writing this book? 
I would say there were two large challenges for me. The first was the research. All the documentation and most of the websites I was searching were in either German and Dutch, plus a few in Czech and Hebrew. Although I grew up hearing my mother and grandparents speaking both German and Dutch, I don’t really know either language very well. I studied Spanish in high school (which didn’t help me at all on this project), and I had taken one year of German in college. So that meant every time I was looking at material in one of those other languages I needed to translate it before I really understood what I was looking at. It made everything take much longer than it would have if I had been fluent in those languages.

The second challenge was in writing from a particular point of view. I first tried to write the book from the point of view of my mother’s doll. However, I soon found that wasn’t going to work as the doll doesn’t appear until well into the story. Then I tried to alternate between three separate points of view – Tutti, her mother, and her father. That became too complicated. Finally I settled on the book as mostly coming from Tutti’s POV with occasional chapters where her father’s POV dominates because he was involved with things that Tutti wasn’t privy to.

How much time did the documentation play in the making of the book?
The whole book took five years from conception to publication. I’m not sure that I can say the documentation took a certain amount of time as I wasn’t organized enough to first research and then write. I was flip-flopping between both tasks the whole time. Some days I would be more inspired to write and on other days I found myself deep in research reading books about WWII or searching for an important detail on-line.

What was the reaction of the people, particularly young children, during the readings? Any noteworthy feedback?
When I completed my first draft I asked several of my daughter’s classmates to read the book. They liked it. The enjoyed the story, but their feedback was basic. They found typos and grammatical errors. They were young and embarrassed to give their classmate’s mother any criticism. Some of my early adult readers were better at helping me hone in the problems with the point of view as well as helping me find areas where I spent too much time on “teaching history” and not enough “story telling.”  I soon found that I didn’t need to teach history (even though that is one intention of the book) because as long as the story was good and true it took care of the teaching for me.

What are your next writing plans?
  • I have two potential projects coming up and I need to decide which is next.

1 – Two historians I met while working on Tutti’s Promise and I are thinking about collaborating on a non-fiction account of the metal Jews at Westerbork. We want to find out more details about how the operation came into existence and how effective it was at both saving Jews and sabotaging the metal that went to the Nazis. The working title is “Scraps of Hope.”

2 – So many people have asked questions about HOW I wrote Tutti’s Promise. They want details about the research — where I found different bits of information and how it all came together. That project will be about the process of writing Tutti’s Promise and how it effected me as a person.

There are less and less Shoah survivors nowadays. What can the written word do in order to keep the memory of the survivors and victims alive for the next generations?
This was my main motivation behind Tutti’s Promise. Like so many others my mother won’t be able to tell her story forever and future generations won’t be able to meet real witnesses to the atrocities of the Holocaust. There are already too many people who don’t understand. Just yesterday President Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, said that Hitler “didn’t even sink to . . . using chemical weapons.” And then when Spicer tried to clarify his statement he implied that the people Hitler gassed weren’t innocent victims. It is just wrong that people, especially people in positions of power, don’t understand or possibly deny the truth of the Holocaust. Books about the people who were actually there is a good way to combat this type of ignorance.

Photo: Personal archive of K.Heidi Fishman

Tutti's Promise is available on Amazon and barnesandnoble.comTo find out more or to sign up for a drawing for a FREE BOOK go to

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Learning about the Middle East through graphic novels

I am a very curious reader when it comes to the Middle East, thankful that in the last years a lot of writers from the region were translated into English allowing access to a world of meanings that was for a long time hidden to the public. Either it is about richness of food or the meanings of home, there is always something to learn about this part of the world. My latest discoveries are a couple of graphic novels that I am happy to introduce.

The first volume of the graphic novel memoir by the French-Syrian Riad Sattouf covers his experiences as a kid in the time of Muammar Ghadafi in Libya with snaphots of memory from the Syria of Hafez Al-Assad. His father, an academic and a pan-Arabist, decided to teach in Libya instead of UK, because at least there they were spelling his name correctly. This book is a good example of how smartly graphic novels can present complicated political realities in an ironic, relaxed way. The quality graphics matched with vivid dialogues can convene a lot of information about perceptions, interactions and human realities. I am looking forward to the next episodes of the memoir.

Freedom Hospital features in dark and emotional graphics a clandestine hospital created by the main heroine Yasmine in the war-thorn 2012 Syria. The hospital is the paradigm of the diverse and divided Syrian society, where all the participants are sharing their hopes, hates, trying - not always successfully - to cope with the existence of the other. The black-and-white pictures are creating a special dramatic effect, and the actuality of the messages - including references to social media - offer consistence and authenticity to the story. 
With graphic touches reminding of Persepolis, A Game for Swallows tells the story of the Lebanese civil war through the eyes of a child. I particularly loved the way in which the snippets are creating photographic effects, with small details detached from the a big image. The story takes often tragi-comical turns, with stories of people who never come back or children trying to have the best time of their life, despite the bombs falling outside. 

This is all for today, but if you have any recommendations about graphic novels about the Middle East to include on my to-read-list, feel free to send me a message or to comment this post! As usual, I am keen to share more bookish love! 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Pachinko: A Korean family story in Japan

A family story covering over two generations, Pachinko is a detailed and complicated story about Korean experiences in Japan during and after WWII. 
Pachinko is the name of a pinball game, popular in Japan for recreation and gambling. The player can push the ball in different directions, but the final trajectory within the framed box is rather the result of luck. Similarly, the life of this Korean family which settled in Japan escaping hunger and instability is governed by the unknown rules of hazard. Sometimes, there is a plan, including to return one day home, but the gravitational forces of the political and social events succeeding very fast are changing dramatically the destiny of the characters. 
This book that is the result of almost 30 years of polishing and documentation is populated with strong and interesting characters, many of them able to survive only through the resilience of accepting the destiny without being subdued by it. Those who are against their condition - social or inherited - are disappearing. Regardless the situation, education seems to be the winning ticket, particularly when you belong to a discriminated minority.
It took me more than a month to finish it, because although I am a speed reader, I felt the urge to carefully think about some chapters and events, trying to enter the mood of the novel or just to keep an open mind becoming accustomed to the complicated human interactions in Japan. The novelty of this book is also its focus on the Korean identity in Japan and the life hardships of this small community. The book approaches also the struggle of the Koreans born in Japan between their loyalty to a country which is denying their full status of citizens and their doubtful status regarding their belonging to Korea, particularly after the division of the country. There are interesting tensions created between the characters and events aimed to challenge and outline loyalties, and many secrets well kept. An interesting character which reflects the identity story is the US-born Phoebe, whose knowledge about Korea is rather of cultural nature, without being fully bred and assimilated with the Korean culture, but belonging to an open culture where being born part of an ethnic group doesn't create identity obligations and responsibilities. 
Beyond their ethnic and family status, the characters are created free as humans, with their choices, mistakes and resiliences. It also has a particularly thoughtful part about motherhood, its sacrifices and overwhelminess. My favorite character is Sunja, the survivor daughter of a poor family which is leading modestly the chain of events. She is strong and determined yet fragile when she has to face her rebelious first born son. 
The story is minutiously built yet I felt a certain disbalance between the first part and the rest of the novel in terms of the chain of events and new characters entering and exiting the story. 
I recommend this book to anyone interested in multi-generational sagas, stories about identity and Asian history.

Rating: 5 stars

Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review
This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I earn a small commission if you decide to purchase the book. It doesn't affect the way you shop books, and it's a great way to support WildWritingLife blog.

Book recommendation for curious children: Spy on History

Based on a true story, Spy on History invites the reader to discover a secret story taking place during the American Civil War, while keeping them alert for solving a mystery using a special code suggested in the book.
The story was inspired by Mary Browser, an African American working as a maid in the mansion of the Confederate president Jefferson Davis, while spying on behalf of the Union forces. Her main asset was her photographic memory which helped her to record visually top secret documents. The mission assigned to the little spies is to find Mary's secret diary, a valuable resource of her reports. 
The book is provided with an envelope enclosing various tools to be used for finding secret messages, including a replica of the cipher wheel used during the Civil War. 
I initially read the story in e-book format, but nothing compares to the physical experience of the book, as it offers a completely visual experience, not only from the point of view of the illustrations - which are very suggestive - but also for a better guidance in searching the keys for cracking the code. Although our children nowadays are so much attached to their electronic devices, this book can easy catch their attention and offer a welcomed distraction from the daily routine. 
In this way, without noticing or being forced, the children can learn easily about an unique historical moment, which otherwise would have sound completely unattractive if the classical history lessons way would have been followed. 
Both for writers of children books and for educators, this book offers a good example for further inspiration and valuable material to create attractive lessons.

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

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Book review: End of Days, by J.F.Penn

The latest installement from the Arkane series by the very talented J.F.Penn continues the blood boiling adventures in the world of religious symbols and religious extremism. End of Days is another race against the clock to save the world from the real danger of being taken over by religious conspiracies, this time by reviving another millenarist prophecy according to which when the time has come, a serpent will devour the Earth.
Such beliefs are often part of the daily media reports and the resurgence of myths and symbols in the everyday life is not always just a new-age, spiritualist answer to the human needs. Misused, religion turns into a deadly weapon when human lives are nothing in the front of the prophetic urges or obsessions. 
The mission of the secret Arcane Religious Knowledge and Numinous Experience Institute (ARKANE) headquartered secretly in London is to take out from the public circuit symbols that might be the vehicle for religious extremism. Every installment of the series is a new adventure in avoiding to get closer to apocalyptic endings, thanks to the brave Israeli-born agent Morgan. This book - the 9th - can be read without being familiar with the previous ones, and references to previous episodes are smoothly inserted into the story. I also loved the non-lecturing way in which very important cultural and historical information are inserted into the story, which makes the reading even more relevant, as you don't feel you are just a student at a cultural/anthropology class. 
As usual, the pace is getting faster and faster until the end of the story, and the religious histories documented in-depth are wisely used to create an unforgettable page turning story. From Bagdad to Jerusalem, the Appalachian Mountains or Egypt, the reader is becoming part of a dangerous hunt to recover the 7 seals representing serpents to be used at the 'End of Days'. 
The book ends mysteriously, with the decision of agent Morgan to focus more on her personal life, and I am looking forward to see how J.F. Penn decides to continue - or not - the adventurous Arkane stories.
If you want to read more reviews of the Arkane books, you can have a look here.

Rating: 4 stars

Disclaimer: Book offered by the author in exchange for an honest review
This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I earn a small commission if you decide to purchase the book. It doesn't affect the way you shop books, and it's a great way to support WildWritingLife blog

Book review: Siren by Annemarie Neary

Set in the post-conflict Northern Ireland, Siren is a fantastic thriller novel which elegantly plays with the struggle for truth and authenticity in a society not yet at peace with itself. Roisin Burns returns to Ireland to face 'old secrets and cover-ups', aiming at revealing the real face of a politician with more than a dark secret. 
Her mission is not only difficult psychologically, but life threatening too, endind up being caught again in a configuration of facts and events which it seems she never fully escaped. Involved without knowing in a honey trap, she is condemned to a life of compromises, psychological abuse and a future designed to obliterate the past. 
The book can be considered both a psychological and a political thriller, as on one side it deals with the intricacies of guilt, indifference and psychological transformations, in a context of political crime and corruption. It is one of those novels which keeps you mentally alert, although the succession of events is rather smooth. 
The reader expects from a page to another to read and find out more and the back and forth down on the memory lane is a very good way to do it. Every element of the novel seems to be carefully pondered and introduced exactly at the right time. For instance, the full story of Roisin, only suggested in the first quarter of the story, when the reader feels the need to better understand the context and the substance of the story. The ambiance is generally dark and the sentences are short, abrupt, creating the permanent tension mood. Only the background music of David Bowie can help to create a different mood, a hopeful one, longing for impossible countries and far away space journeys.
An excellent thriller debut covering a topic scarcely covered those days but still relevant for the political history of Europe. 

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

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Book review: What to do about the Solomons?

Meet the Solomons, a tragi-comical collection of characters, born in Israel and breed by the free spirit of the kibbutz. They play with chances, fell down, have a joint and got lost in another adventure. 
The pace of the writing is so alert that at the end of the book you feel like you've read more than one book. And, in fact, it is almost true as this saga which starts at the beginning of the state of Israel and continues until the common era of start-ups and hipsters is a story with so many other stories, wisely controlled by the author. 
One of the most admirable part of the book is the art of perfectly describing in just a couple of words extreme situations and mentally mysterious characters. Like this one: 'Asaf Boulboulim is a Zen Buddhist peace activist who grew up religious in Mea Shearim. He is a drop out of Bezalel Academic when he had studied sculpture'. Hard to stop laughing out loud and loud, and he is just one of the many personalities of the book. The human network of the book is dense and populated with unforgettable characters.
There is also something else about this book: it is authentic and although it might feature extreme situations and families, many of them can be meet in real life too, in a kibbutz in the North or on the beaches of Goa or even in some of the hipster places in Tel Aviv or USA. 
'What to do about the Solomons? The Solomons will do for themselves'.
It is a book hard to put down and once it's over, you may still think about the characters. 
An interesting debut novel which promises many more interesting books.

Rating: 4 stars

Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review
This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I earn a small commission if you decide to purchase the book. It doen't affect the way you shop books, and it's a great way to support WildWritingLife blog.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Book review: An Unsafe Haven by Nada Awar Jarrar

After the poetical exploration of home, Nada Awar Jarrar wrote a complex book about displacement, bringing a perspective from the Middle East to the literary representations of the refugee issues. 
How can you continue living a normal life when nothing is certain? What does it matter most: people or places? Is it morally acceptable to put safety first, including before family and leave a place torn by war?
Every character of the book has its own story of displacement, which brings a diversity of angles and views on home and homelessness. Maysoun left the war-torn Iraq bringing her mother with her. Peter moved from America to Lebanon in order to live with Hannah who refused to leave her family in Beirut. Fatima is a Syrian refugee living in a camp nearby. Anas is an artist from Syria whose German wife decided to run to Berlin with her two children while he was out of town, after an explosion took place on the street where they lived. Everyone experienced what does it mean being a stranger, being out of place, although only from a neighbouring country and sharing at least a language and some common traditions. 
Peter's observations are relevant for the discussion, especially in relation with her wife, Hannah, a journalist coping with the weight of writing an objective story about life in Syrian refugee camps: (...) as conflict spreads throughout the region and Lebanon tumbles in the midst of it, he senses resistance in himself to the incertainty of it all, finds it increasingly difficult to separate place from people, to disconnect his love for Hannah from the country to which she belongs'. 'Peter became aware of an invisible connectedness between people and places here, a kind of map of everyday relationships, of being, that was easy to follow once you knew how and made for a sense of rootedness which he had not encountered anywhere else'.
I particularly loved in this book how the reflections about identity and home are intertwined with the events of the story, like every episode of the story brings more meaning to the discussion. 
At the end of the book, a big question remains: What is the element of stability against dramatic changes? Family, homes, countries...they are coming and going. Anas, the artist with a tragical destiny, was trying to catch the moment of inspiration and turn into an aesthetical experience, but this changes too, because the meaning of art differs from a person to another and the work of art itself is just a sequence from a chain. Can we, as humans, cope with the loss of continuity and lack of roots, becoming like the refugees 'shadows (...) colourless and in some ways invisible to everyone else'? We might look for a ground, more than ever, but the world we are living today, in Europe or the Middle East, seems to counter powerfully this gravitational force.

Rating: 4 stars

Friday, April 7, 2017

An adventurous book for middle grade children: Eden's Escape

What happens when the world of the lamp genies meets the 2.0 universe, if the cause and effects are smartly pondered, the result can be a wonderful page turning book. 
Eden's Escape, the second from a series of book about Eden - 'a born genie in a magic lamp' that had 'started granting wishes at the age of 7', the genie who want to live in Earth, is hard to put down not only if you are a 8-12-year old, but for everyone looking to read good adventure stories. From Manhattan to the chic neighborhoods of Paris, accompanied by immortal characters like her guardian Pepper who lived long enough to have met Shakespeare, dealing with a greedy high-tech entrepreneur and making spontaneous friendship with a rebel teenage girl passionate about fashion blogging, Eden has a fool life on Earth, with new challenges and a lot of food for thought. At the end of the book, the young reader will enjoy not only the adrenaline driving story, but will remain with some good lessons about friendship, loyalty and getting to know your own's limits. 
I particularly loved about this book how does it use a classical fairy tale motif: the wish fulfilling lamp from the Oriental stories, in a very modern context without overcharging the story with too much common sense. The Internet, Facebook, smart phones and tablets appear in the story but not intrusively or obsessively. Eden needs the Internet to check about David Brightly and to communicate with Pepper and she knows how to set up a fake profile for not being detected by the filters David was using to track her online, but the e- world has only a small share of the story. Actually, they are better without it as they can freely move and communicate without being caught therefore the phones are kept off for almost the entire duration of the story. Although the old genie recognize the need to catch up with technologies, at least this episode offers smart and successful alternatives to the online dependence. Interestingly, almost all the characters of the book are women, successful, straightforward and many of them immortal too.
I haven't read the first book - but now I really want to as I am almost sure M. Tara Crowl is my newest favorite author - but it is not a problem to understand this very creative story.
A recommended read to anyone looking for a good adventure book and looking to offer their children an entertaining read this summer. 
I am personally looking forward to more books by this author.

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

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Travel writing for children. Interview with Shira Halperin, owner of the FlyingKids edition house

Writing for children is not an easy task, and when it comes to travel, the challenges are even bigger. Inspired by her own family travels, Shira Halperin, the owner of the FlyingKids edition house embarked on an amazing and difficult journey: convincing children that travel is more fun than wasting the time in the front of the computer. Shortly after publishing the latest guide, a very smart guide to Germany, Shira answered a couple of questions about her business and publishing project.

Fresh from the press
- How did the story of your travel books for kids start?

I always loved traveling. I travelled a lot, both for pleasure (vacations) and business. When my kids were born, I didn’t want to stop, but I found out it gets more and more difficult. After a day or two, or sometimes even after a few hours they just wanted to play on their electronic devices. I felt that there is a huge gap between the image I had in my mind about family trips and what happened in the day to day life. Kids get bored really fast, so I used to ask myself, how come my kids are traveling in such beautiful places and they don’t really seem excited about it? So I decided to develop unique content, to make them interested and entertained in the new places. I developed general materials like back seat activities and later I started to collect and create ideas for dealing with kids during long travel to new country or city. I didn't want them to just “play” and get entertained, I wanted them to “play” and have fun while gaining knowledge and information about cultures, places, local people etc. Back then I was working for a big international corporation and I had many friends and colleagues from all over the world. I shared the booklets I created with them and guess what I got tremendous feedback. My colleagues shared my booklets with other parents and they started to contribute with ideas and content. It took  about 7 years, but the result was the birth of the Kids' Travel Guide book series and FlyingKids publishing house. We released our first 11 guides on June 2014. We now have 27 travel guides for books and many more to come!

'(...) when the learning process is fun and challenged, the kids will love to cooperate'

- How can little kids be interested not only in enjoying the travel, but also reading?

Well… when you travel with kids and you want your kids to learn new things and get enriched from the travel and not just staring at the view or get bored, it all becomes a real challenge. Our Kids’ Travel guides are our answer to parents (and kids) that want the get the most out of the family trip and those who believe that travel is a great opportunity for for kids to learn  and fulfil their curiosity. We believe that when the learning process is fun and challenged, the kids will love to cooperate. Learning is fun and this is why in our travel guides you will find funny quizzes, interesting facts, "juicy information," quizzes, special tasks, a kid’s diary and coloring pages. It’s all part of the family experience and our guides become a family book not just for the kids’ but for the whole family. It’s a new way to experience the family travel.

- What is the most challenging part of writing for children?

Writing the travel guides has two main challenges. The first challenge is about writing to kids from all over the world, what’s the common ground to kids from the USA and UK? We always try to find what makes children from all over the world interested. The second challenge is about dealing with sensitive issues. For example, kids’ go to Thailand and meet for the first time Ladyboys. We can’t ignore it. But what’s the best way to explain kids about Ladyboys? What’s the best way to explain kids about Spain traditional bull fights which is part of the Spanish life, but also a very violent act. What’s the best way to explain wars in the history of some the countries? With each book we publish we need to decide what content to put in and what is the best way to explain sensitive subjects to kids age 6 - 12 years old. And I think we are doing a great job doing that. We are especially proud of our latest Kids’ Travel Guide - Germany. Our write, Salome Gonstad done a great job explaining Germany's complicated history to children.

'Fantastic feedback from the kids parents'

- How was the feedback from the little readers so far?

We get fantastic feedback from the kids parents. We learned a lot from parents the write for us. We also got feedback from adults that use it as a fun present to adults that enjoy it! We also got lots of feedback from home-school parents that use our guide as a learning boo without even planning to visit the destination. That was a big surprise to us and it looks like more and more home-school parents use it.
From time to time parents send pictures of their kids with the book – and from the happy kids in the picture we get the impression that kids love our books!

- What is, in your opinion, the role of travel in the intellectual development of children nowadays?

That is a great question! Nowadays, kids are very exposed to the outside world. Learning doesn't only happening while they sit in the classroom. The world is full of information for little people, it’s everywhere. But learning from “screens” is not enough. I believe that traveling is the only way to provide a real experience that help the kids to memorize and internalize new knowledge, new experience and develop curiosity. When I travel with my own kids I know they get enriched with knowledge that no teacher in the class can teach them and if a teacher can, it will be only theoretically and it won’t last. It’s the difference between learning about computer capabilities vs. playing and using computers. It's the difference between learning about the rain vs. getting outside, feel the rain and get wet. Learning about a new place and get experience from traveling to new places is mind opening and one of the most enriching experience we can offer to our kids, in my opinion.

- What will be your next books about? What are your writing plans for the next months?

We always work on 3-4 books at the same time, so at the moment we are in different stage of working. We just launched Kids’ Travel Guide – Germany. In April we will launch the Kids’ Travel Guide – Washington, DC which will be the 6th guide in the USA series. Right after that we will release guides for Japan, China, Tokyo , Barcelona, Beijing and more… There are so many places to visit and write about…

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Book review: A Bit of Difference, by Sefi Atta

I recently came along many interesting Nigerian writers (like Teju Cole, Ben Okri or Helon Habila), and Sefi Atta is my latest discovery. A happy discovery, I might say, as I enjoyed every bit of A Bit of Difference, a book about identity and London, through the eyes of the 39 years old single Deola Bell. 
'She has never had any doubts about her identity, though other people have. She has yet to encounter an adequate description of her status overseas. Resident alien is the closest. She definitely does not see herself as British. Perhaps she is a Nigerian expatriate in London'. The London she was used to as a student in a boarding school is changing, and although she is ambivalent about it, she keeps observing it how neighbourhoods are becoming more diverse and the restaurants from all over the world can be found on one single side of the street. 
Belonging to a middle-class family, with her father the founder of a bank in Nigeria, altghough from a modest background, she is rather relaxed about her professional career. In fact, her job is just a mean to keep herself busy. On a job assignment in Nigeria for the NGO she was working as an accountant, her lonely life is put on trial. 'But you can get together here. We hardly get together over there. I can go for days without seeing anyone in London'. On one hand, there is the safe life in London, on the other hand, there is the knitted community - sometimes suffocating and demanding - from Nigeria. Deola can be happy in both worlds or can rather live happily. She is not a straight forward professional and she doesn't need to be ambitious for earning a living. She travels, has money and a satisfactory present. Except she is without a mate and no family, but it's better this way sometimes. 'She, Deola, has been capricious in her relationships as well as in her career. The moment she is not happy, she leaves. For her, there are worse situations, but none more preventable than being stuck in a job or marriage'. 
After a one night stand with a charming Nigerian she is pregnant by accident and decided to return home. But this is less relevant for the story. The casual tone of the discussions and the very smart and well crafted dialogues create a very familiar and friendly reading ambiance. She is talking about Nigerian life with humour and without pathetically taking sides, a world that Deola herself needs a break to better understand. 'She is never sure what takes precedence in the way Nigerians constantly rank each other according to wealth, education and Westernization, with ambigous results: this one is bush, that one is oyinbo. This one's local, that one is colonized'. 
I particularly loved the way in which it approaches identity, not by putting it into question or depressively questioning its status in a 'foreign' land, but for the detached and reflective appropriation. Sometimes you may feel that the tone is too casual and the discussions are too focused and self-sufficient, but I loved the good vibes - there are also tons of musical references every couple of pages, from hip-hop to jazz. It is a new approach on identity that I would love to read more about and found more often in literary works.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Sunday, April 2, 2017

At the 12th edition of Comic Messe Berlin

As a big lover of both comics and book fairs, I decided to put on hold for a short time my spring wandering and spend some time instead at the 12th edition of the Comics Fair in Berlin, hosted as usual in the events space of the elegant Hotel Ellington, close to the symbolical KaDeWe store in the Western part of the city. 
As the list time I visited, there were a lot of events scheduled for the 6 hours of the fair, such as manga drawing classes, while comics authors were working their next series while waiting to interact with the visitors. Unfortunatelly, compared to previous editions, the number of comics editions represented was relatively low. My aim was to find eventually some new titles from prestigious local and European edition houses, but it looked as it was not my lucky bookish day.
Instead, one floor up the space was crowded with dozens of boxes with old edition of comics reviews, most of them German special collections, but also in French or English, including manga versions for 18+. The prices were more than convenient, and negotiation was possible for a bigger amount of issues.  
This part of the fair, the biggest part of it, was rather addressed to collector and vintage hunters, and as I am not belonging to any of the two categories, I decided to just cut short my visit. In addition to various published books and magazines, posters with favorite characters from series were also available.
The fans of Star Wars or other popular series could found collectible toys for their collections at affordable prices.
Although I personally was dissapointed by the record of the 12. Comic Messe Berlin, as lacking the fresh publishing and bookish dimension I was interested in, I am sure that the many participants who visited, with ages from 1 to 90 found for sure something to satisfy their interests. I am sure I will attend the next year edition, but maybe it is about time to explore other fairs and comics-focused events from other German cities. The next noteworthy reunion of the fans of German comics and not only is schedule between 25 and 28 May in Munich. 

Book Review: The Kindness of Enemies by Leila Aboulela

With a story switched from contemporary rural Scotland to the 19th century Dagestan, Georgia and Russia, The Kindness of Enemies is an account of identity and spiritual transformations. Natasha Wilson, former Hussein, is a single university lecturer living in Scotland, born in Khartoum, Sudan, the daughter of a Russian mother and a Sudanese father. Her interest for the 19th century Chechen Imam Shamil brought her in contact with the family of her student Oz (from Osama) Raj, who owns the sword of the famous fighter. She arrives shortly before Oz is kept in the police custody for terrorist activities. Although he is released without charges, her office is searched, her computer and phone are confiscated and her academic career could be at risk. 
The other story which is told in the pace and tone of the old legends takes the reader from the mountains of Dagestan or Georgia to the splendid ball halls of St. Petersburg. Shamil's son Jamaledin is kidnapped by the Russian troops and turned into a 'civilized' Russian. Princess Anna of Georgia is kidnapped by Shamil troops in order to save a deal to get Jamaledin back. Her experience there will remain a cultural fascination of another world and of raw feelings expressed differently from the usual 'Western' way. Forced to return back to his family, Jamaledin will remain until his early death nostalgic for the glittering of the dancing halls and the culture he left behind, although he remained for his entire life an 'other', with a different 'identity'. 
On the other side of the time and the world, Natasha is faced with her own identity choices, as his father stays dying in Khartoum. In one of their last conversations, he requests her to leave everything behind and move back to Sudan, because she belongs there, ignoring the choices she made, including by changing her family name for the one of her step-father, more Westernized. Under pressure, she starts writing a new academic article. 
At the end of his life the fierce fighter Shamil will decide finally to give up his fight and become an allies of the Russians. His choice is the topic of the posthumous short novel by Lev Tolstoy, Hadji Murad, written in a very pessimistic vein. Contrary to the novel - who is the last spiritual connection between Natasha and her Sudanese father, one of the few memories she wants to bring back from Sudan after his death - Aboulela books is more faithful into human nature. As the famous sword of Shamil - a purchase rather made for decorative reasons than for ideological allegiances - is never returned to their owners, but it is more to life than a sword. As the character Shamil seemed to realized, inner peace and reflection are preferable to a life of permanent struggle. 
Besides the interesting topic of making cultural choices and the controversial history of cultural representations in history - the symbolical meanings assigned change in time - the book opens an interesting discussion about the balance between identity and identities, how we assume them or decide to leave them behind. 
In addition to the rich repertory of ideas offered by the book, I also loved the carefully crafted sentences: short, expressing ideas clearly, avoiding the pathetic verbiage. As a minus, I felt that both from the point of view of the story telling and the events related, the Scotland story is less richly told compared to the Caucasus sequence. Maybe it was a literary choice to do so, but sometimes coming back from the past into the routine of the present story was felt as raw and too abrupt. It was like returning from the shining St. Petersburg to just another boring training day in Dagestan.

Rating: 4 stars

Book review: The Future for Curious People by Gregory Sherl

What about you can see the future of a relationship? Would you accept to continue getting involved in a story without any foreseable prospect? Set in Baltimore, this novel follows the sentimental searches of Everyln Shriner, librarian, and Godfrey Burks, employee at the Department for Unclaimed Goods, for finding 'The Match'. They don't use matchmaker or online dating, but the the ultrasensorial powers of the strange dr. Chin. By using sensoy information and memory, the future can be predicted by using a Google-like time travel computer. One can travel into the future and see the potential of a relationship, but also eventual fate of the first of kin and even children. Warning: 'In the case of true love, there can be system failures'.  
The story is half-humorous, ironic and with characters with OCD-inclinations (Evelyn, for instance, uses the chance of extra searches into the machine for obsessively checking any potential male he had to deal with if he is a match), as the author himself apparently. The travel into the future also brings a bit of science fiction flavor into the story. 
Although there are many scenes that makes you laugh, the basis of the novel is very serious, at least many couples or singles take it (maybe too) seriously: finding your one and only and living together happily ever after. We don't only want the relationship, but the neverlasting romance. And we wish there is a game of sorts that would help to know which one is the best - because who would like to waste time with a no-go relationship when the perfection is just a couple of matches away? But what about life? Would we be happier if we can read beforehand the story of our lives? The temptation is big for everyone, indeed, but I personally will not trade my incertainties and potential of learning for any guarantee of stability, be it sentimental or financial. I rather prefer to work hard the present to built the future, not the other way round.
It is a book to read over the weekend, an easy one with some challenges and interesting ideas - including about identity and its basis, with references to indie bands such as Modest Mouse or Cat Power, and a relatively simple story. It is slowly paced and can challenge your dreams and hopes about 'true' love. Maybe we, as humans, we are meant to fail sometimes and there is nothing wrong with that.

Rating: 3.5 stars