Monday, June 25, 2018

Blog Tour: Girlfriend, Interrupted, by Patricia Caliskan

They say love is blind and they may be right. And some loves are bigger than life to not embrace, even though the love hug  includes also two little kids.
Ella, the main character of the book, has her own life and professional dreams and a media star mother and a boyfriend that brought into the relationship two grown up children, one a teenager. But love is strong and Ella will learn her ways as a mother too. 
By using a relatively simple life episode, the book succeeds to create an interesting story which may inspire other couples in similar situations. Besides the 'lecturing' and learning aspects, it is a nice story with a slow pace but with many unexpected changes. My favorite part of the book are the dialogues, bubbling with life and creating humorous and hilarious situations that you can't easily resist without laughing out loud. Ella's mother is by far the champion of open minded and hilarious remarks are fully in the spirit of a liberal woman as she is described.
The book is organised in small chapter a choice which creates a certain dynamic of the story, as a chain of theatre-like moments, therefore keeping the reader focused and curious to catch up with the next moments of the story.
Easy to read and with a story to remember, Girlfriend, Interrupted is a recommended lecture for the long summer days and evenings. 

Rating: 3 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Merman Erotica Doesn't Work for Me

I love and I am curious to read almost everything written in more than one language, except vampire stories. Nor my sense of humour either my life and literary interest. I am a person of simple tastes after all. This was until yesterday, when I added on my 'not/never to read' list a new category: adult books with a merman/mermaid character. Merman erotica, to be more precise. 
At 38, Lucy just broke up with her boyfriend and is about to loose the stipendium for writing her PhD thesis on the poet Sappho. Unsure about her future she accept the offer of her sister to petsit a diabetic dog in her house in Venice, LA while attenting a women therapy circle and trying to figure out her future. Lucy is lost, surrounded by other women even more lost than her and life goes on, with hook-ups on Tinder or other adventures. Until she met the merman, Theo. 'Did it take a mythological deformity to find a gorgeous man who was as needy as I was?'. 
The writing is ok, the topics are relatively common - the millenial searching for herself while working a non-sense PhD. Introducing the mythological hottie may be new and challenge the narrative, but it is not exactly the kind of stories I am interested in. My bad, I know. But my literary logic doesn't accept that although the life of Lucy is often going through deep periods of emptyness and depression - skilfully described - an impossible romance may be the way out. Meanwhile she is neglecting the poor dog who will pass away until the end of the story.
The next time I will read more carefully the plot descriptions of the books I am supposed to read and review. 
PS. Although the temptation was enormous, I decided, for the sake of the review, to read The Pisces until its very end. 

Rating: 2 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Inspiration for Writers: Read. Write. Reflect by Monica Bhide

There is no such thing as enough inspirational books for writers. As writing is a process which involves constant changes and practice, one may need different kind of inspiration corresponding to the current stage of professional development. There are also different aspects covered by writing in general, as nowadays it does not mean exclusively producing literature or non-fiction tomes. It means also writing for a newspaper or for a blog. For me, as long as you keep yourself busy with words on a daily basis, you are a writer. Read.Write.Reflect, the 10th book by the very talented Monica Bhide is another important contribution to the list of references for writers, regardless the domain covered. Monica herself has a complex experience in various fields, from poetry to cookbooks and interviews with other inspiring women like her or works of fiction. The diversity of writing experiences give her authority to share her lessons learned and also inspire people looking for the right sources of inspiration and support. Most ideas were developed through a program - Powered by Hope - initiated through her website.
But what can you find in this book with a beautiful cover created by the artist of images Simi Jois? I personally liked that after each topic approached, you have to answer a question and eventually develop a new theme. It is an instant brain storming which leads to a different level of creativity. Each chapter is concise, mostly created around a personal story or moment of inspiration Monica experienced herself. Such an approach gives authenticity and connects with the readers on a more direct personal level. Last but not least, at the end of each section there is a list of recommended readings or resources - including podcasts - which may diversify the creative shift.
Read.Write.Reflect by Monica Bhide is a work worth the experience of a complex writer that reached a professional level allowing her to share her experiences and inspire other people in search of fulfilling their creativity. Recommended to any writer with a curious mind and keen to improve the quality of his or her work and reach a new creative level.

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

Crazy Rich People Secrets

After reading Crazy Rich Asians and Rich People Problems, I was not sure if I can live without reading the second part of the trilogy, China Rich Girlfriend, but I was sure that sooner or later will give up and spend one day or so in the company of the special characters developed by Kevin Kwan.
From the point of view of the writing style and the literary skills, it was a time well spent. The more or less sympathetic long line of characters from the other books got more colour and even a bit of political background by adding a lot of characters from the New China: politicians with entrepreneur wives, Instagram and blogging stars with multi-billion accounts, shopping addicts closing and emptying the luxury brand and couture shops in Paris. Forget the Russian oligarchs, they are so passé and bourgeois, faced with their Asian tycoons counterparts. 
A good, easy-going and often hilarious read of people with overinflated egos, living a glittering fake reality they created following their trips in the outside world of luxury. From private jets at the size of Air Force Once and a bit more to special assistants for dogs, you have all the symptoms shared among the characters of this book. I bet they are real, at least some of them. 
The author also introduced a couple of dramatic elements which makes the read more interesting and entertaining, especially after being overwhelmend by fashion and interior design detailed descriptions (which are very illustrative, by the way). Also, psychological elements outlining the ways in which a new financial and economic status challenges personality are a good food for thought and add more interesting spices to the reading.
The book has plenty of characters to love and hate and pity - some of them at the same time, and it is far beyond your usual chick-lit read. The outrageous spending habits and hilarious behavior of the new China riches are authentic and make the book an interesting read not only for those intersted in gossips about celebrities and fashion icons and trend setters. It shows a part of China that probably only few people envisioned a couple of decades ago. 
Once I finished the trilogy, I would be very curious to read something completely different by Kevin Kwan as he is such a talented writer that obviously can write about many more topics.

Rating: 3 stars

Monday, June 18, 2018

Journeys into Our Dark Sides: Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

'Had I been born into a different family, I might have grown up to act and feel perfectly normal'. 
Does it actually work like this in real life? Are family circumstances necessarily a strong influence into further personal and psychological developments? Isn't it only an easy way to blame the others for shortcomings that in fact might be avoided?
Eileen, with her ex-cop alcoholic father, is in his early 20s, working an office job in a correctional facility in X-ville. She has an anonymous isolated life, nurtured by fantasies about a guard she is stalking without any success. 'I'd never learned how to relate to people, much less how to speak up to myself', she says in a confession written many years after the events leading to her runaway from home and the beginning of a brand new life. Most of the time, she is invisible, with no chance of becoming a functional human being, with a real life. 
It is not sure that she knows or want a real life either. An experience shoplifter, it is unclear what and why she may fit outside her correctional facility. Most probably she will become an alcoholic like her father or a depressed woman like her mother or both. She dreams meanwhile, unable to push herself to reach a better position socially or emotionally: 'My curiosity for stars is obvious: I wanted something to tell me my future was bright'. 
Her future will change completely in only a matter of days, after the extravagant Rebecca made a spectacular entrance into the grey prison world. Manipulative, she is using the naive Eileen for her own aims and in the end, help her to escape the miserable life.
The mention of episodes from her future life are aimed at offering more information about her new life chances. From the literary point of videw, I've found the technique stereotypical. Most probably childless, Eileen ended up by accepting her feminity and becoming more or less like everyone else.
This slow paced, psychologically introspective novel sounds like an inquiry into the permeable limits between good and evil. Is evil able to nest even in the most innocent soul? Is evil in fact an acceptable part of being a human being and only the fear of repercursions or the luck of not being caught. Those poor beings from the prison for minors were not so lucky, with their crimes an outrage to their pure age.    
The writing may create sometimes a suffocating and incongrous ambiance and the self-centered erratic Eileen doesn't make it into a favorite character. No character in this book is sympathetic, in fact. We may also keep in mind that the action takes place in the 1960s, with all what it means for a certain perception of women and their psychology in particular. Would be very curious to read more from Ottessa Moshfegh, as she is gently touching upon very dramatic topics with the strength of her writing. She has an unique voice I would love to follow in her other books. 

Rating: 4 stars

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

About Mourning: A Separation, by Katie Kitamura

The translator wife of a relatively successful non-fiction author is mourning the sudden death of her husband in Greece. The real story though, told by the wife whose name is never disclosed is of a separation. Her sudden arrival to Greece slowly searching to meet her husband was the result of an ultimatum of her mother-in-law, who sent her there to find her son, apparently on a research trip documeting mourning rituals. The meeting between the two never takes place, as he is murdered. The case will be closed after a year, with the culprit never being found.
Before arriving to Greece, the wife wanted a divorce, as the couple secretly separated for month. Upon arrival from Greece back to London, she is a widow, with a rich inheritance involved in various projects dedicated to her ex-husband. She is mourning. 'Sometimes it is comforting to think that his death was a result of his being in the world, rather than his death having occured entirely at random, as if erasing a presence that had already failred to leave its mark, that had not insisted sufficiently upon his life: that it would be truly be as though he had vanished into thin air'.
The wife's account is sometimes confusing, ambiguous, from the position of someone who assumed a shadow role, without necessarily being asked to. In fact, during the book-long monologue we are shared a limited amount of information about her, her eventual motivations and life. There are some references about her work - French translator - a relatively safe financial status, a 8-year difference between her and her husband. Everything is about her husband, whose infidelities created drama for a young lady during his short stay in Greece too, and might have been the cause of his death, but her absence although she is the one through whose eyes we are told the story, is not playing in the advantage of the story as such. 
Personally, the moment the death of the husband was announced, was like a welcomed stroke, as the letargy was almost complete and was not sure if I really have to keep reading this book. But it did not change the story too much, after all. Still, there is not clear why exactly this marriage of opposites ended - and started at all, why she accepted to just go to follow her husband although she knew well that things were finished anyway between them. Also the sudden long mourning after his death is a bit pathetic and extra-dramatic. She was engaged to a friend of the husband, after all. 
It may be an apology of mediocrity, of low life, of a woman without features. Maybe. But it's a pitty for the writing potential of the author that the characters are so lost in words, words about feelings, about 'what ifs', but completely failing to be real.

Rating: 3 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

On Creativity and Genius

Once in a while I recall a discussion I had with my mother, with was a languages prodigy and a long-time teacher: she insisted there are people that are really gifted for languages, while I assumed that once you have the right mindset for learning it and also the practical need to do it, the change of learning language is equally distributed among humans. Many years after, I insist that all you need in order to learn a language is the will and the need and a lot of exercices practicing it. 
Although it is approaching the issue of creativity as a pattern which has to do with a certain historical and social context of circumstances, Allen Gannett's The Creative Curve is rejecting the genius-driven idea of the intellectual elites and cultural achievements. Mozart worked a lot, Picasso also, Beatles did it too. Their success was a matter of being the right person at the right time. 
The idea and the many premises developped in the book are not new at all. Many decades ago, the Historical French School of Annales sought for thought and ideas patterns which are creating the red thread of disparate historical events. Applied to the explanations from the book, it explains why certain songs, for instance, may look like successful overnight, when in fact it has to do with a certain pattern familiar to the public in a certain historical moment. The historicity of the moment when a certain idea emerges explains why not all new ideas are becoming instant success. It has to bring a new interpretation while maintaining the right balance with the ideas already accepted. The Harry Potter books, for instance, besides being the result of a systematic work and documentation and punctilious development of the literary structure, it also used elements of children books already present. The result and the following success were not a revolution, but a creative interpretation of expectations of the audience. And again, the lot of hard work, instead of a struck of a genial inspiration. 
Although I personally agree with most ideas shared in the book and the examples are well chosen to explain the conclusion, I may still believe that in some cases, such as playing a musical instrument, you may need a pinch of so-called talent, besides thousands of hours of practice and dedication. I personally played piano for almost 10 years, and despite the fact that I reached a certain level of technical achievement, my basic interpretation was as impressive as the wood the piano was made of. My technical accuracy was not accompanied by what you usually need in order to impress your audience: the dedication and the talent that are not for everyone. Maybe I was in the wrong place, and in the wrong time, and obviously was missing any support group and professional support that are so important to live in the highest clouds of creativity - regardless the domain - as much as possible. 
The Creative Curve is a book encouraging dedication and hard work and I am very much inclined to follow its advices.

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

Book Review: The Adulterants, by Joe Dunthorne

Growing up is hard, especially when it happens at the honorable age of 30+. Growing up means not only physically and emotionally, but also from the point of view of meeting certain social and status (old school) requirements.
The characters in The Adulterants by Joe Dunthorne are fine. Some work in tech journalism, or inherited some properties, or are kind of artists and creatives. Mostly over 30, not necessarily decided to have their own families. They are selfish in the mediocre way, not necessarily because they are busy traveling the world or writing books or building up a career. They just don't know for sure what to do with a new life in their own limited life. In the posh expensive London they can hardly afford a centrally-located place to rent and buying a property is almost impossible. They do have jobs but not sure if those jobs will cope with the sudden changes on the market.
The characters in The Adulterants, by Joe Dunthorne are shadows. Moving slowly from a party to another once in a while, filling up their duties and enjoying their kind of life. They are really fine.
And then, the civil disobedience took London by surprise in 2011. Angry people against the establishment, some of them those 'fine' people, put the beautiful city on fire. When you don't have nothing, you have nothing to lose. Another shock of wave for our millennial characters, because absurdly, they are part of a scenario they couldn't care less about only seconds before being themselves involved in some occurrences. Ray, the main character and the narrator of the story, will end up in prison, after being featured on a 'Shop a Looter' billboard, with his image caught on CCTV, while intruding the office of a real estate that failed to helped he and his wife Garthene to find the family house of their dreams. 
Even though I related at a minimal level with the characters, what I really loved about this book is the language. Polished to obsession, elevated and persuasive in its own right. So bad that, as the characters themselves, is so disconnected from the surrouding reality.

Rating: 3 stars 

Friday, June 8, 2018

What is Copywriting?

As a writer or journalist, you may consider copywriting as a not-so-noble profession, when you accept to sell your gifts for producing well-paid but cheap stylish pieces of writing. But copywriting, and advertising in general, may mean much more than producing some advertorial content. A good work of writing has the power of changing the world, either it is read in less than a minute or more than 100-page long. Wherever you are using your skills, you are not wasting them, only using your words for a different aim, and sometimes audience too, and as long as you write well, there is nothing to be ashamed of.
Copywriting Made Simple by Tom Albrighton offers an overview of the challenges and daily briefs a copywriter need to deal with on a daily basis. It is not aimed to someone completely new in the world of writing, but eventually to a professional looking for a career switch. The skills and knowledge in matters related to writing, there is only the need to understand how exactly a copywritter works and what his or her job involves on a daily basis.
Otherwise, if you are already active into this field, the book doesn't help too much. Personally, I would have been interested in even more examples but also how to use your well-honed writing skills to persuade difficult clients unable to understand your work. 
In other words, it is an useful book, but it also has some limitations in terms of the reading audience. Noteworthy is also the list of  bibliographical references at the end of every chapter, and the couple of exercices recommended.
It makes copywriting simple, indeed, but in a professional way.

Rating: 3 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the published in exchange for an honest review 

Monday, June 4, 2018

Peacock Ironies about the Corporate Life

If you are looking for a relaxing read in one of the uneventful summer weekend afternoon, in the German language, Der Pfau by Isabel Bogdan is a right ironic choice. If you look to improve both your vocabulary and the pronunciation, the audio version is recommended. 
A couple of bank employees are booking a team building retreat in Scotland, in a remote location at a small property with more animals than people. Among them, a peacock (der Pfau) which literally is getting crazy and starts attacking the guests. Hence, the need to kill him. But who really killed him? What to do with the remains of the poor crazy bird? How to deal with the secrets that the peacock-events are generating among the members of the team of respectful bankers? Who is really worth sharing the terrible secrets about the peacock (which in fact are just misunderstandings and the result of missing some small parts of the puzzle regarding the everyday activities around the property they are living)?
There are so many ironical situations and some slices of British and Scottish humour that it is worth considering for an insightful lecture. The interactions between characters and the comical course of the events raises so many questions recommending this book for a book club, as it allows to create a long lists of questions about the intentions and reactions of the protagonists.
All being said, I am also proud of me keeping up with my plan set at the beginning of the year, to read more books in other languages than English. 

Rating: 3 stars