Sunday, March 25, 2018

Back on the Family Memory Lane: Algeria is beautiful like America

'Where you don't know where you're going, take a look at where you come from', goes an Arab saying. Young Olivia is going back in the country of her ancestors, looking to re-create personal histories and memories, mostly left to her through her grand-mother's stories. 
Former 'pied-noir'/'black foot', name given to Jews and Christians who at the beginning of the 20th century 'colonised' Algeria and other North-African countries from France, Olivia's family left the country in the 1960s with a piece of the country in their soul. They left there the best memories and a life lost for ever. Memory is treacherous, adding layers and layers of nostalgia the reality that was maybe completely different. Olivia is inspired by those filtered memories and her journey is both a self-search of her family roots and a travel dairy in a country still wearing the stigma of the bloody civil war in the 1960s.
Telling the story as a graphic novel was a very inspiring way as it offers a proper visual content, but also creates different memoir dynamics, with its own red line of events and encounters, that maybe if told in a classical way would have been less entertaining and interesting. Qualifying this genre as less-literary ignores from non-literary snobbish reasons the rich values that the match between inspiring words and inspiring drawings can bring. 
Algeria is Beautiful Like America is a good example in this respect. Especially when you have to deal with historically delicate topics, graphic novels may bring a pinch of irony into the story, which can deter the otherwise dangerous time bombs of political and ideological discourses. 

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

I See You. Observations from the ICU. A Caregiver's Journey, by Monica Bhide

It happened to me often - the last time just a couple of weeks ago - to be faced with the unexpected turns of fate, when someone close to me just in a matter of minutes is challenged by a terrible, life threatening illness. The sickness and incapacity took control in just a couple of minutes of the mind and body. You don't know what will happen next and if after you say 'good bye' today there will be a tomorrow of you two.  
The newest book by Monica Bhide, a very talented author that I often feature on my blog, is about the very experience of seeing someone dear falling deep into the painful seas of physical uncertainties. I See You. Observations from the ICU. A Caregiver's Journey is not aimed at raising fundamental questions about life and death and the life after, but about the day by day challenge of surviving alongside with someone close going through a very complicated health-related episode. 
While her husband is in coma, she is observing the new environment, with the curiosity of the writer, while trying to get used with the dramatic reality. In such situations, only your curiosity can actually save you from deep sadness and the overwhelming feeling of being just a puppet of destiny. For good and for worse, things can change and you are just a witness of all those chain of events. What you can do, in fact, as a writer and creator of words-made worlds, is to gather those experiences, filter through your personal art and offer inspiration to those suddenly found themselves in a similar situaiton. It is a noble task to offer spiritual help without promising ultimate explanations. It is this sequence of life through the eyes of a caregiver that in fact never considered being a caregiver. Observations from the ICU, a place where you never wanted to find yourself in the first place.    
Life doesn't come with an user guide anyway so we are left with its incertitudes and unexpected shocks and drama. Books like the one authored by Monica Bhide is a practical guidance to go on with that. 

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

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Poetry Hour: Bloom by Beau Taplin

I promised myself to read more poetry this year, and as for now, my reading plans are advancing smoothly, but also want to discover authors from other countries than France, US, UK or Germany. With Bloom, by Beau Taplin I checked instantly two boxes on my agenda. 
A famous Australian author and a literary sensation worldwide that I personally just discovered, he creates poetry stories about life and loss, questioning without requesting an answer or a solution. The words are flowing quietly, like a calm river making its way through a lonely forest.
It is the simplicity of every single gesture that matters and the writer's eye and art to put the words together to re-create a new world. 

Like in this stanza:

The best therapy 

There's no therapy or medicine
like sitting alone in a secluded space
with someone you feel at home and comfortable with
A little music for atmosphere and some quality conversation, and all of your wounds and sorrows heal themselves.

This is another example of writing that I enjoyed reading:

Fools together

I know we needed some time apart
Some time to reevaluate what we were
looking for. And if someday we find
our way back to each other, I know
we'll be better for it
Still, I miss you. And most of the 
time I think it would be better to be 
fools together, than sensible without you.

And there are many more examples that maybe you, my reader, you can discover by yourself reading this book.

Rating: 4 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Cozy Mystery Thriller: Hummus and Homicide, by Tina Kashian

A cozy mystery with a lot of tasty references to the greatly unknown Armenian cuisine, Hummus and Homicide by Tina Kashian keeps you interested despite the slow pace. The story is populated with characters with strong personalities and promises a series which local American countryside flavor and ethnic cuisine mysteries.
When the most antipathic character is found dead in the parking place, you may not feel any regrets and remorse for feeling so, but her death may put under question the future of the Kebab Kitchen, an Armenian restaurant. 'A murder in Ocean Crest is big news', especially when it happens for the first time in at least 40 years. From now on, nothing is as simple as the uneventful life of the Ocean Creast residents. It happens that the death of the freshly sanitary inspector Heather Bank occurs after she ate at the hummus bar from the Kebab Kitchen, being served by Lucy Berberian, the daughter of the Armenian couple running the restaurant, recently back for a sabbatical after years of hard work but no right reward as a patent lawyer. The fact that Heather and Lucy did have old disputes from the school years, and only a couple of days ago their disagreements reignited in a public space, which means everyone around may know about it, places Lucy in the first line of suspects. 
Lucy doesn't give up and without waiting as the good citizen the results of the police investigations, she starts her own research leading to the spectacular discovery of the real murder, who before being delivered to the police, is stopped from comitting a new victim by being hit between his eyes with a jar of tahini. As foodie as that!
Although the pace of the investigation is relatively slow, the details leading to the final revelation are parcimoniously yet spectacularly outlined. There are plenty of characters in the book, enough well defined to be loved or hated by the reader. As for the tasty mouth-watering descriptions, it just makes me run to check the first Armenian restaurant. Anyway, I didn't know that hummus, for instance, is part of this cuisine. 
Overall, a pleasant read for a relaxed weekend. I am personally looking forward to the next installment in the series, as I am already curious about what will happen with some of the characters I've got acquainted with. 

Rating: 4 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A Fantastic Thriller: In the Blood, by Lisa Unger

I've rarely read a thriller which over 300 pages keeps revealing essential details without becoming repetitive, stereotypical and at the end of the story, plain boring. In the Blood, by Lisa Unger is made of small little pieces which will match the great picture only at the very end of the day. 
A girl with a bloody hunted past built a new identity made of lies and half-truth, but in the era of the Internet nothing can be a perfect secret or cover anymore. Exploring various psychological layers and big topics - such as various Jungian approaches to psyche - but also some genetical questioning, In the Blood has a simple story which is simply written, with a special focus on the details hidden by the main characters and the subtle psychological game of manipulations and temptations. As the story unfolds, nothing stays the same, including the gender of some of the characters and although the general pace is slow, you don't feel like anyhting happens, rather the opposite. 
The background discussion of the genetics of crime and psychopatological behavior is very interesting but not necessarily conclusive. Is the tendency towards violent crimes part of our genetical heritage? Can we counter the dark evils, or in fact, although therapy and special psychological measures, things stay in fact the same and we cannot escape the deviant pattern?
Those directions and the intense characters this book is populated with, made it into a very entertaining - the bad bloody kind of entertainment - reading. I am personally very curious to discover more writings by this author, as the ideas explored and the characters will stay with me for a long time.

Rating: 5 stars

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

International Blog Tour: The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk

'Then we just set there, silent and lonely for you together, because hellos are nice and neat and so much easier than goodbyes'.
The debut novel by Ashley Woodfolk, The Beauty that Remains published by Delacorte Press is a poetic story written and told for the teenagers facing nowadays death more openly and frequently that it used to happen not as far as ten years ago. Shared through social media, death, including in its violent form, is more obtrusive and visually common nowadays, but the pain and mystery surrounding death remains. Regardless the age, we still cope with understanding death, and when young people at the beginning of their lives are taken away, often violently, the words are silent. We are trying to replace their absence through memories, Instagram pictures or emotions. And there is also music, as a way in which the protagonists of the stories of love and life after loss in the book are trying to fill up the void of the friends who are no more. More than words that are lying - 'Lying is the new language we speak. It's the only way we can talk at all' - , music is a way to continue telling the story, in the best, strongly emotional way. Each and every particular story shared is full of emotions and impressive in its simplicity, while connecting the dots of the hardships of advancing through adulthood. 
The perspective shared are belonging completely of teenagers as the aimed audience is made of them. Maybe as adults we may find a lot of the stories and the pace unattractive, but once we keep in mind the aimed audience, we will realize that in fact it makes a lot of sense to just put on the side the over-critical perspective given probably also by the life experince and focus on the emotional challenges of the young adults coping with the loss of someone they love, the same age as them, not necessarily family. The feeling of breaking up while challanged by the lack of answers because life is still too young to offer the necessary emotional and intellectual support to create our own support stories. If we keep in mind that reference, we will clearly appreciate the fine and elegant writing of Ashley Woodfolk, which makes the book a great addition to a reading list for teenagers, because it calibrates the voice and the messages to young people looking for way too many answers to painful questions. 
Woodfolk succeeded to be well connected to the realities, without neglecting the quality of the writing and with the promise of creating even more such beautiful books. The Beauty that Remains (ISBN 9780525578284) is that kind of book that will for sure keep your young adult a little bit away from social media or that will at least prompt them to create a meaningul Instagram post. 

Rating: 4 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review #sponsored #prhinternational #ad