Sunday, September 30, 2018

When Everything Fails, Backpack and Book That Ticket!

Tired of your 9 to 5 life? Not sure where your life is about to head? In need of a break from your current relationship? Looking to find your other half? Trying to escape an abusive relationship? Or freshly separated from the man you spent decades with?
For those and many more questions, the answer sounds very simple nowadays: get your passport, book that flight and run! Hopefully you have enough funds into your account or a job which allows you to work remotely. Doesn't matter your age, relationship status and mortgage situation. Take a break from the everyday chores and look for a beautiful island to soak under the sun sipping your coconut from your hammock. It is amazing how many books and memoirs are on the market lately encouraging wanderlust and taking risks far away from home and I (at least partially) support such mindset.
The hour after Lorraine discovered she is betrayed both but her husband and her best friend, she is leaving behind her quiet family life to embark on an adventure on a lifetime. It starts in Thailand and continues with a happily ever after. It doesn't matter that she was '(...) homeless, redundant and my marriage vows are void'. She flipped a new page of her life and I can only support such people, either in real or literary life. What matters is to be happy and purposeful, especially after living a lie for such a long time. 
The author of The Backpacking Housewife, Janice Horton is a traveller and travel writer herself, therefore many of the descriptions of places in the book sound authentic and based on her own inspiration. Targeting mid-aged women, in a difficult personal situation, travel looks like the proper answer to overcoming a complicated time. Especially if you are looking for a purpose and your account is fat enough to help you finally make your dreams come true.

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

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Desperate Search for The One

I am coming from a culture obsessed about matching, finding the right one, the one and only soul mate meant for me in the Heavenly Courts. Wouldn't it be so easy to find a marvelous mathematical - or other - solution which will just get that 'someone made for you, rather than leaving it to chance'?
The One, by John Marrs, was as hard to put down as my first encounter with this author a couple of months ago. Five people are followed through short, suspense-filled episodes, as they are discovering love following being matched via a scientific system Match Your DNA. Among them, the founder of this company, the success driven business woman Ellie. Their adventures finding and conquering the hearts of their matches are as weird as the idea in itself. Some of them are so strange to get match-trapped into getting inseminated with the sperm of a purposelly dead half, only because he was designated as such.
However, who would refuse the call of genetics when such an opportunity is offered? Nowadays, we are more than never potential victims of algorithms, scientific illusions of comfort and system aimed at being our life easier because a certain projection created that possibility. Playing Gd is easier than never but the results may still be the random choice of feelings or chemistry. Which no DNA-related match can't replace. Would it have been a different fate for each of the five matches if not a hack into the system have altered the results? 
There are twists and changes of situations - and sometimes of minds too - on every pages, and Marrs succeeded in The One to build a great story of hope and deceit, with a lot of thriller and mystery outlines and surprising endings. You can't predict where everything is going to lead and this makes this book a perfect match for any lover of good books. 

Rating: 5 stars

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Story of a Convenience Store Woman

In his recent introduction to the Penguin Book of Japanese Short Fiction, Haruki Murakami openly declared his lack of interest in the so-called 'I stories', a very popular section of the contemporary Japanese literature. 
However, for someone who is not living in Japan but interested in the literary phenomenon, among other things, such approaches reveals interesting aspects about the inhabitants of this country, the intellectual reaction to everyday social facts and cultural artifacts. 
The 36-year old Keiko Furukura is happily enjoying her work at a convenience store. First a part-time job she started during her university studies, it turned into a full time professional assignment. She doesn't want more than that and the mechanical behavior learned through her practice in the store are a personal staple nowadays. She has security and comfort and relies on her close family to offer explanations about why she is, after all, still in the same job for over a decade and happy with it. Why, for instance, she is happy being unmarried and without any history of personal intimacy, and not interested in romantic relationships. She always was 'strange', she confessed, and her lack of normality is nowadays mostly reflected through the open disaproval  of her next to kin.
In a subtle way, Sayaka Murata openly put into question the normality in the Japanese society, the ways in which the projections and expectations affects the personal perception on others and self-perception of individuals not necessarily conform to this view. Keiko has a stable job and is successfully conforming to what is expected from her at work, but her personal life is not, therefore  she is considered a falure. 
The social pressure means full conformity, and even she is not doing anything, trying to be as anonymous as possible, the society at large doesn't accept her. There is no place for half-ways. 
Although Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata is slow-paced, told in a very introspective way which is not always equally interesting, the social landscape it is carefully painted has the strength of a stroke. It asks the reader to think and reconsider the previous thoughts about women in Japan, especially single women which do enjoy their mechanical professional life in a convenience store (the author herself is working as one of them).

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

Saturday, September 22, 2018

'Things Are What You Make of Them'

Either you are a creative writer or a creative business owner, inspiration and support are something that you need regularly. You need it because once in a while, more often than you've expected, things are going wrong, or not how you expected them to turn out. 
Personally, I can't have enough of such books, explaining the basic principles of a creative everyday life, over and over again. Sometimes, you need confirmation that the right mindset is on, or just that you have to finally make that change.
Things are What You Make of Them. Life Advice for Creatives, by Adam J. Kurtz is a welcomed addition to my collection of such inspirational books. If you are already a couple of miles away from the start, do not expect too much novelty, but otherwise, there are some daily shoots that you need because life is not looking always as you planned to be.
My favorite part of this book has to do with the way to approach failure. Instead of considering it the end of the journey, the author's (and mine) advice is to take it as a challenge. Take your time, as much as you need, think about everything again, reconsider your options, and be ready to start again (preferably in a different way). Of course there are a lot of desperate moments of agony in between - especially if you have a mortgage to pay and children to feed - which are also real, but the mindset should be this and helps tremendously to reboot and keep working again - to your projects, to a specific job assignment. 
Although old on the market, there are still lots of things to keep in mind and wake your interest, therefore my recommendation for this book, preferably consumed in small installments, because you need to return to your projects to check if you are following the right path.
The graphical presentation of the book is special, but personally was not too much impressed with it. It is different than other books for creatives and sometimes it might just be enough.

Rating: 3 stars

Thursday, September 20, 2018

My Poetry Fix: The Nectar of Pain, by Najwa Zebian

'You see, in love you don't ge what you want
You get what you think you get'.
A poetry obsessive exploration of painful hearthbreak, The Nectar of Pain is a journey through the lows and highs of relationships with no future. Most of us been there at least once and going through the diversity of feelings ignited by such encounters is what a writer can offer as an alternative to being stuck in desperation. 
'Homes stay
But you walked away'
After all, a heartbreak may be just the acknowledging of the fact that nothing stays the same and saying - or being said - 'good bye' is all for the good. It's what saved your self from being completely obligerated, changed, transfigured, desfigurated, destroyed by someone else's intrusion.
Feelings are often projections of our own wishes and expectations, hopes and dreams. Feelings are delicate butterflies and we suffer, but understanding what are we going through and how to use this experience as a way to know ourselves and the human world in general is what poetry can do. There are many poems in this book which simply helps you better see and understand a full range of feelings that heartbreak tends to obliterate. At first, there is only suffering and that feeling that your heart really broke. But hearts are strong muscles though that can overcome bigger life shocks. Hence, the name of the book The Nectar of Pain, as it has to do with that secret pleasant feeling at the end of a heartbreak where you are far beyond the suffering, a new person, ready for more, better, different. 
Besides being a trustworthy companion through hearthbreaks, The Nectar of Pain reveals hidden meanings and different, unique interpretations and a hopeful, yet realistic approach on dramatic life events. Maybe after you go through half of the book you may think it is a bit too much and there are only different variants of the same thing, but you don't have to read this book in one sitting. Take your time, one heartbreak to heal at a time. 

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

Where is Wolfsburg?

Jan loves Lina and for love he relocates from the bubbling Berlin to Wolfsburg. City of wolves, or what? Best known among the locals as 'Volkswagen' City or 'Autostadt', Wolfsburg is less than two hours away from the new capital city, offering a mix of anonymous late 1960s architecture - not good - and a luxurious Autocity area and a very interesting Museum of Science designed by the famous architect Zaha Hadid. 
But the poor Jan, a freelancer artist of words, can hardly survive here, is often depressed during the long time when his girlfriend is at work, at a hospice. This is what the book is all about: coping with deep boredom in Wolfsburg. Meanwhile, Jan is often getting drunk, befriending a fireman, buying himself a car from a guy in love with Nana Mouskouri's music. 
As a resident in Germany for 10 years and counting, I often noticed the supreme disgust of 'city people' when I mention some obscure countryside place when I am spending my weekend. Not impressed or deterred, I keep going on with my Germany off the beaten track agenda and happy with the discoveries. But the feeling that big cities with recognizable names - like Munich, Cologne, Berlin (not too many in fact) - are worth, and the rest - thousand of them - not, is real and Wolfsburg! breath this mindset. 
Which is a pitty because although the book is well written and with nice language turns and plays - which does a lot of good to my German -, the plot doesn't exist, the characters are self-sufficient, that translates as completely not interesting, there are hilarious episodes but the book in its entirety is a book about nothing. The nothing is having a name: Wolfsburg! I bet that there are worse places to live in Germany and anywhere else, but still they can make it into a good story. This one is really missing the story point and I can only be sorry for it because there is not bad literary material.
Although I am not so knowledgeable in matters about contemporary German literature - work in process - I noticed a relative big gap between the entertainment books - well written but lacking completely any story point - and the very high end which features novels that are really impressive both in terms of language, plot construction and trendmill of ideas. Wolfsburg! belongs to the first category and although I am grateful for the language lessons self-taught through reading while commuting, I may rather make an effort and take more time to make more acquaintances among the contemporary elitist literature. Search in process for the best German contemporary novels. 

Rating: 2 stars

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The American Age of Memoir

In opposition with the European literary mindset, in the USA you can write a memoir regardless your age and your professional and personal achievements. As long as you have a story to tell and you enjoy a certain notoriety in your profession, age doesn't matter. On the other side of the pond, you don't have to reach a very ripe age to share your story to the whole world.
Amy Poehler is a comedian, with a long list of roles, a professional partner of Tina Fey. Her Yes Please memoir tells her story as a woman, mother and comedian, through small energetic essays which cover both her personal life - from childhood on - and her encounters as comedian to famous politicians, music stars and actors. With a lot of humour and self-irony she makes you laugh and think and it is already enough for reading this book. 
Truth is that sometimes you may ask why exactly you need to read a specific encounter or not, as I didn't find all - or most of the - adventures necessarily relevant, but being famous sells and I bet there are people in the States who really consider it relevant. For us, Europeans, it may not, as the distribution and the roles are  mostly foreign to us - thanks Gd there is Netflix which bridges the trans-atlantic cultural misunderstanding gap. 
But justice to be done to the book, there are also interesting advices about career and women in show-biz, and some family inspiration. Enough to fill some columns in some women-oriented publication but not realized always why this should be a book, rather than a collection of essays. The writing flows too and if you want to fill your afternoon with some not-challenging, not-so-bad kind of writing, this is a wise way to use your time. 

Rating: 2 1/2 - 3 stars 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Mothers and Daughters of Halsey Street

In the Bed-Stuy Brooklyn's neighborhood, Penélope is haunted by the failures of her own art life and her parents' break up. By nature a rebel without a cause, she rather prefers the accidental relationships to the long-term commitment because afraid of the disappointment of being left behind. An only child, with both her mother and father loving her, she is looking for something that didn't have yet but it's too lost in her failures to look for.
Halsey Street uses the sociological reality and media-hype about gentrification in Brookyln and generational shifts, especially in the predominantly non-white neighborhoods to create a story which moves by its simplicity, natural, non-sentimental way of expressing feelings and the relatively simple plot. The small human stories within the story are circling around the need to belong, either to a group, country, neighbourhood or social category. Such an inclination lives within the deep hidden layers of our self, surviving all our attempts to 'normality'. 
We belong to a family, the racial and ethnic heritage of both our mother and father, that in addition instilled in us their wishes and failed dreams too.
Ralph, Penélope and Mireille are three particular destinies featured in this debut by Naima Coster, that may be some of the many residents of Bed-Stuy, children of children that once went to school hungry. If they were been to school at all. Themselves waiting for their sometimes first generation of American-born children to outperform personally and professionally. Such a pressure may get results but it can also create anything at all. Especially when their parents' dreams are breaking, like in the case of Ralph, whose music store, his greatest life achievement that fed his family for decades, become obsolte faced with the rabid competition of bio/eco stores. 
The estranged relationship between Penélope and her fugitive mother Mireille, that escaped the bubble of the American dream to quietly enjoy the solitude in her native Dominican Republic, is deeply cruel and one of the most dramatic moments of the plot. Very often, it is what happened when unfiltered raw feelings are left free. Often, it is just how life really is. 
The slow-paced stories told by the characters of Halsey Street require the attention of the reader for its genuine human simplicity and drama. Especially if you are interested in racial stories, this novel offers a direct literary approach, without subtelties or convoluted messages, just by using a natural art of storytelling. 
Maybe I stumbled upon this book and appreciated it as I was in the mood for a micro-society focus and in a different set of personal and literary circumstances I would have been hesitant to finish it. However, I am glad I did, as it open up the window to a special writing style and approach.

Rating: 4 stars

Sunday, September 16, 2018

YA Book Review: Words on Bathroom Walls, by Julia Walton

''I really didn't want to be crazy. Nobody wants to be crazy, but now that I know I know what's happening to be, now that I understand what's going on in my head, I don't want to think about what it means to know you're crazy. To know that your family knows you're crazy'. 
Adam was a boy entering his teens years, when after some medical checking was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Although it usually manifests later in life, he was unlucky enough to show signs and an fast progress which require proper medication. He has a supportive mother and step-father on his side, but his friends left him and had to change schools. In his new (Catholic) environment, he is slowly making new friends, while on medication with a new drug, which limits the period when he is hallucinating. But once the drug administration diminishes, he is haunted again and risks to loose his newly acquired friends and girlfriend. 
Written as a diary where he is observing the effects on the drug, to replace the talking therapy during which he refuses to talk, the book is a fine investigation about what does it mean of being haunted by your own mind. 
I personally think it is a very sensitive, yet welcomed discussion. Living with someone with a mental disease is hard and needs time to accept a condition. For children, as pure and innocent as they are, abnormalities and strange behaviors are automatically rejected. Does education and understanding of various sides of the malady change this situation? Hardly, because sharing personal medical details is not always desired by the patient's family and explaining the different nuances of the malady - in Adam's case that compared to the Sandy Hook shooter he is not manifesting an aggressive form - is sometimes too much. 
'Cancer kid has the Make-A-Wish Foundation because Cancer kid will eventually die, and that's sad. Schizophrenia kid will also eventually die, but before he does, he will be overmedicated with a plethora of drugs, he will alienate everyone he's ever really cared about, and he will most likely wind up on the street, living with a cat that will eat him when he dies. That is also sad, but nobody gives him a wish because he isn't actively dying. It is abundantly clear that we only care about such people who are dying tragic, time-sensitive-deaths'.
It is a sad reality that Julia Walton reveals beautifully, through a life story that moves you to tears. The simplicity of the story touches both teens and adults, both with a resonsibility in creating a mindset which rejects an individual, especially a child, with a mental disability.
Did you ever happen to observe how children or teens, but also adults react to someone - sometimes a homeless - person haunted by his own mind? They frequently make fun, laugh loudly, when not provoking themselves the poor being. Such books may help a better understanding of the everyday world of someone dealing with such a burden and at least open the gates of understanding and compassion. It may make things better for everyone.

Rating: 4 stars

Monday, September 3, 2018

Blog Tour: Summer at Hollyhock House, by Cathy Bussey

Life hasn't been too exciting lately for Faith. At 26, she has a boyfriend that bores her to tears and a job which is not too demanding either. She dreams of taking some classes for learning gardening, but there is no time or encouragement on behalf of her life partner. 
After refusing her boyfriend's proposal, she decides to spend some time in the countryside, at her parents', catching up with her girlfriends. But she has a well-kept secret that no one knows and this secret has a name: Rik, which happens to also be around at the same time, after an absence of almost 9 years. 
Slow paced, brought to life by complex characters exchanging elaborate dialogues, Summer at Hollyhock House is a well-written summer or weekend story read, about taking decisions, questioning relationships and falling in love again. Most of the action is going back and forth down on the memory's lane, with Faith recalling the moments that lead to the dramatic break up with Rik and her long heartbreak thereafter.
Although the story follows a frequent scenario - the escape back to the childhood place, after a big disappointment, job vacancy or dramatic, mostly sentimental event taking place in the big city - this story is filled with attractive actions and likeable characters making the story pleasant to the reader. However, it is good writing you are filling with your afternoon at the beach or elsewhere and therefore it is worth reading it. A simple story, with a happy ending and a moderate course of events. No glamour but down-to-earth characters, likeable for their realistic description. After a start which did not promise anything surprising in terms of narrativel, slowly slowly I got into the story and couldn't put it down until it ended. It was mostly due to the writing and the lively dialogue between the characters.
The end is predictable too, but somehow one may need predictable stories which are not too often happening in real non-literary life.

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

Saturday, September 1, 2018

In the Heart of the Cold War: Gleisdreieck Berlin 1981

I wish I have more time to read graphic novels. Especially when it covers a topic I am well familiar with, the graphic illustration is a delight for both the eyes and the curious mind. Besides the classical children graphic novels, I am particularly interested in those with a political layer. As I noticed already in previous reviews, there are an important tool to create meaningful stories and bring near areas located far not only geographically, but from a while mentality standpoint. 
However, a more than basic knowledge about a topic is necessary. Gleisdreieck. Berlin 1981 is about a policeman infiltrated into the anarchists from West Berlin and a terrorist returning to his comrades from Syria. Their ways predictably intertwin. But a lot is requested to know about the topic so dramatically escalated in the last decade of the Cold War: the KGB-East German connection with the anarchists movements (ecologist/against nuclear plants/occupy-type of actions); the generous help from former Nazis hidden in Syria and other Middle Eastern corners to the RAF militants, both as a training basis and a safe haven, as well as for help when counterfeit papers are needed; the lack of neutrality of most of the actors involved in the pro-socialist movements in the capitalist Germany. 
With the dark background of the images - the architectural details deserve a thumb up, for the precision and sense of perspective - and the conflicted stories, the episodes of the novel unfold. Sometimes, you have a long succession of images, with only a couple of words at the end of the page. Enough to get into the ambiance of a place without thinking too much. You are just being drawn into the story and for a graphic novel it is a great achievement.  
An interesting historical episode from the everyday life of the West Berlin citizens in 1981. Some bank robberies, street fights, Molotov cocktails and former RAF comrades. An useful lecture for anyone interested in the visual and literary transpositions of the Cold War.
The novel was initially published in French, by Des ronds dans l'O. A playlist with contemporary 'revolutionary' hits is also provided.

Rating: 4 stars