Friday, May 29, 2020

Nicole Lapin´s Advice for Becoming Super Woman

´It´s your life. Live it how you want. I´m not going to judge you for what that looks like because after all, I´m not the one whjo has to wake up to your life every morning´.
I liked a lot the Nicole Lapin, the Boss Bitch recommending the 12-Step Plan to Take Charge of Your Career. Successful, brave, business-oriented, non-stop working to reach her medium-, short- and long-term goals. However, I love even more the Super Woman Nicole Lapin from her latest book.
Becoming Super Woman starts with a Nicole Lapin coping with a traumatic past and burned out. Superwoman needs to separate the ´super´ from the ´woman´. The new woman is emotional, able to recognize her weaknesses and brave enough to say ´stop´ when too much is too much. Organising her life around five basic categories - Career, Romance, Family&Friends, Physical Health, Emotional Wellness - the Super Woman who is about to become balances her emotions with the intellect, switching in a completely new direction her entire life. 
Introducing the emotional intelligence quotient adds a completely different depth into the everyday life: ´For instance, emotional intelligence gives you the ability to recognize that your emotions are heading downhill before they get out of control, while mental wellness makes it easier to access that awereness and gives you the resources to act on it´. Through journaling, therapy and daily exercise and practice, one can change his or her level of emotional intelligence with positive effects on the entire conundrum of the everyday life - and wellness.
As in her previous books, Nicole Lapin writes in a very structured, organised way, with practical advices and easy steps to follow. Through persistent daily practice, one will learn how to negotiate boundaries, how to balance the work and personal relationships, how to create realistic work schedule, when and for how long to take a break and how to wor efficiently instead of just being ´busy´ all the time.
´Being a Super Woman isnt´t about calling it a victory and hanging up your cape. It´s about living with your battle wounds proudly displayed and feeling strong enough to live a full life, even if that means you risk adding more scars´.
Making mistakes is fine, not being always a winner is always fine. Surviving your own failures and assuming the risk of your life is the best asset you can have. Becoming Super Woman is a matter of greatness and this is what you, and me, and you too, deserves.

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

Monday, May 25, 2020

Romance Book Review: The Little Teashop in Tokyo by Julie Caplin

It feels good sometimes to read other people´s successful romantic stories, even there are just the product of imagination. Added to the everyday romance, they just show the infinite range of possibilities that we can face in our everyday life. I am not very good - at all, actually - at romance but I can refuse myself a late Sunday afternoon in the company of a novel that aims at making the readers ´feel good´ with the promise of delivering a love story, with, obviously a predictable happy ending.
The Little Teashop in Tokyo by Julie Caplin is built as a balanced photographic composition. The main - romantic - characters, Fiona and Gabe are passionate about photography. He, a multi-awarded photographer living in Tokyo with projects all over the world. She, a travel blogger and hobby photographer that just won a 2-week all-expenses paid trip to Japan for taking pictures to be later exhibited in London. The trip included the mentorship of a famous local photographer that happened to be replaced by Gabe. And she already had an adventure with him ten years ago, when she was 18 and he was a photography teacher. She kissed the teacher then, it was consensual but after being caught by a colleague she was bullied and ended up by giving up going at school at all. 
A bit too predictable, they properly feel in love and are about to write their story.
The references to the Japanese cultural context and various concepts, especially those outlining the closeness to nature and the focus on the simplicity and essence of things, built into the most interesting part of the book, which balance the emotional part. The Japanese family that owns the little teashop where the most tensed moments in the book are consumed balances the genuine chaos of the two romantic characters. Similarly, the discussions about photography and the art of taking pictures add interesting depth to the book, but this observation may be my thing as I am personally interested in photography.
Both characters, Gabe and Fiona, are not clearly portrayed and are rather behaving purelly hormonally. In her late 20s, she is reacting emotionally childish around Gabe, in a rather obsessive way, having in mind that kiss but wanting for more, just to get that emotion back. He is better structured, but with a penchant for abusing himself, jumping way too fast from the dependence of a stubborn muse, Yumi, who married and abandoned him but still abadoned him, to Fiona. I´ve found a bit boring that he is obsessively trying to convince everyone that he does not have an intimate relationship with Yumi anymore, and keep repeating that she is abandoned by her rich Japanese husband. One can say a thing in so many ways, no need to be so repetitive.
As for the sudden romance between the two, that he also longed for, is not that such a change can take place so fast in real life, but it´s rather fortuit. They are just falling into each other one second, and the other they already have in mind some possible ways to develop their long distance relationship. 
The dialogues between the characters are interesting except the moments when romance is involved when they are just reacted, which can happen in real life, but I would have prefer a little bit more of context. After all, I am a reader, not a character in the book so need more entincing.
I had completely different expectations from this story and besides the cultural part, and the good literary composition of the story itself, The Little Teashop in Tokyo failed to impress me. 

Rating: 2.5
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Modesty and its Paradoxes

Modest fashion is such a debatable topic to talk about, no matter the religion and the geographical area considered.
Indeed, it is originaly force upon women by men, and its rules are set by men - in their capacity of fathers, husbands and religious leaders - but women themselves may assume a religious choice and direct their fashion options based on their faith requirements. Within the limits set by society and politics - especially in those countries where institutions impose on women their choices - style and spirituality can create specific needs and requests, especialy among the educated, welltravelled middle class women.
Modesty. A Fashion Paradox by Hafsa Lodi considers what does fashion mean for a new generation of Muslim women from all the possible angles and points of view. 
It might be that those women living in the Middle East and able to express themselves through fashion are the luckiest ones. They already made a religious choice, and the hijab was not imposed on themselves as a political tool of pressure. They do not need to risk their freedom for their choice of clothes. They have more than enough financial resources, eventually a family background that confers them a certain status, and they want to spend the money by purchasing goods that do resonate with their religious choices while looking fresh from the Western catwalks. Some do own (online) fashion stores aiming at high-end customers, like one of my favorite outlets featured in the book, Bouguessa. In the end, the end-customers might be not necessarily religious, but having their own style, aimed at revealing less, among others. Everything is a matter of options, as long as women are offered the choices for expressing themselves.
The discussion slightly shifts when it comes to Muslim identity - and observant religious identity in general - in the Western societies as such. Hijab and head covering in general are considered an intrusion which conflicts with the values of open societies and in subsidiary, it might happen to be used as a prozelytism/ideological tool by religious establishment keen to set its borders within the democratic society. 
However, the ambiguity and multiplicity of meanings of modesty does not diminish the demand for modest clothing. Hafsa Lodi is covering not only the Muslim projects in this respect, but relies on similar trends within other communities of faith, including some of my favorite modest Jewish fashion creators, such as Frock NY, RaJu, Mimu Maxi and Batsheva, among others. Those companies count among their faithful customers many Muslim women happy to have found the clothing that suit their style. At the same time, fashion brands - from H&M to Christian Dior - started in the last years to include modest fashion - including hijabs - as part of their collections. 
´Most Muslim modest wear labels based in the West are founded by women who have struggled to find stylish attire that fits with tnheir personal dress codes, and to designing prices for themselves instead, only to realize that there was huge demand from their peers´. Hafsa Lodi adds a lot of examples and features many companies and women entrepreneurs involved in the modest fashion industry based in UAE or Turkey, some of them with a high rate of glamorous success. 
Modesty is a book that helps understanding various trends and fashion choices, including as a way of self-expression. It explains many details and add a lot of depth into concepts that are usually featured in a hurry and which do have a heavy emotional weight. It is a reality that there are women for whom faith is a huge part of their lifestyle, including as a self-assumed choice. Understanding the trends and having an overview over the various options is a step towards a better understanding of the phenomenon, which most probably is here to stay for a very long time. It also helps to understand and respect those options of the women who are expressing themselves differently through clothes and everyday lifestyle.

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

Book Review: Be(com)ing Nigerian: A Guide by Elnathan John

Nigerian-born and looking for the right directions and incentives of reaching your full potential? There is a book waiting for you - Be(com)ing Nigerian, by Berlin-based Elnathan John - whose release coincided with Nigeria´s general elections in 2019. 
Its motto: ´Never, never explain satire´ suits the book perfectly. But you can fully experience the pleasure of a big fat laugh while reading satire. This book is the perfect occasion.
The introduction into the many facets of this identity is perfect: becoming Nigerian involves, among others, learning how to fly private to the glory of God, including as a private jet owning pastor, how to be into business - which ´can mean anything from importing cheap substandard goods from China to having a rich generous lover´, how to be a kidnapper, how to run a Nigerian NGO, how to be a mechanic, how to be a Nigerian writer. For further understanding, keep in mind that though: ´In Nigeria, there is no good or evil. There is only for and against´. 
Elnathan John gathered all necessary knowledge in order to guarantee the success. For instance, about how you have to design your business card: ´Make sure you have at least three phone numbers on the card. This shows you have at least three phones´. With a very serious warning: ´Whoever criticises your three phones, may their own business collapse´.
Further advices applies to other categories with an interest in Nigeria: the foreign journalists covering Nigerian elections and the foreigner in Nigeria. And no, there is no reference to the famous Nigerian scams we all, e-mail provided public persons received at least once a long ago. Those are so passé it seems.
Be(com)ing Nigerian is such a satyrical gem of a book. Hard to put down, hunting you long after the end. Because it may be that you are not Nigerian, but you know a couple of countries that deserve a good satire too. Lucky Nigerians for already having their own!

Rating: 5 stars

Friday, May 22, 2020

Japanese Gothic Book Review: Audition by Ryu Murakami

´The music blasting through the living room only heightened the unreality of the scene. A beagle with two severed limbs lay on the coffee table in a pool of blood between the outstretched legs of a paralysed middle-aged man, while a beautiful young woman in a black sweater, jeans and sneakers moved about serenely in the background´.

I had my first unhappy encounter with Ryu Murakami a long time ago, when trying to read his first book Almost Transparent Blue, in a French translation. After around 20 pages I have up for good and had this writer added on a list of authors that most likely would not be interested to reconnect with. The decision had to do with the subject not with the writing, but it is a pretty serious criteria: while the writing can improve from a book to another, the choice of the subject indicates clearly why I would rather avoid an author.
Many years after, one year spent in Japan and many books about Japan and by Japanese writers, I´ve randomly stumbled upon another Murakami: Audition. This time I made it to the end, as now I do have a bookish blog to share my opinions, but it will take an eternity to return to this author.
Audition was translated into English by Ralph McCarthy, who authored many of this Murakami works. Included in the category of ´Japanese Gothic´, it was turned into a movie in Japan in 1999, and made it into English only around ten years later. Although there are many references of cultural and historical nature that may explain some behaviors and contexts mentioned in the book, for the non-Japanese reader this book is kind of psychologically difficult, almost unbearable. I am not one of those sensitive readers to feel outraged by violence and aggressive explicit scenes, but there are some layers of aggressivity which is too evil to cope with in writing.
Seven years after the death of his wife, Ryoko, the documentary maker Aoyama, 42, is repeatedly encouraged by his teenage son to remarry. His friend and colleague Yoshikawa suggests to organise an audition for a ad, that can be used as an excuse for finding a match. After all, the potential candidates - thousands of them applied - shall offer insights about their professional and personal path, a picture and this shortens the usual time spent on dating. Aoyama accepts the plan, although reluctantly and apparently there is a winner, Yamasaki Asami, 24, an aspiring actress with a blurry past and a heavy traumatic past. Yoshikawa is wary about her but Aoyama is blind, as those seven years when he waited for the right one to come were for nothing. He is becoming so obsessed about her - without revealing though the truth about the audition she was part of - that even after he is being drugged into unconsciousness by her and the awakened alone in a hotel room when they had sex for the first time, he cannot stop thinking about her. ´It was like a narcotic (...) and not just metaphorically. Her voice and smell and touch had provided him with exactly the same sort of things, chemically speaking, that certain drugs provide and the receptors in his brain were clamouring for her´. Aoyama seems like a man empty inside, unable of simple emotions and with a vague notion of himself.
There are a couple of hints blew into the book on several occasions trying to explain the post-WWII Japanese society and the current state-of-affairs of its youth, especially the shift from a status of need - the scarcity of resources after the war - to one of permanent need, as it happens nowadays (´It´s difficult to control the desire to accumulate things´). Within this new configuration, the woman - liberated, free, independent, mostly single - evolves from an angel looking for a new pair of protective wings into a bloody psycho. Yamasaki Asami is an example. On the other hand, the men are mostly passive, stuck into their brains and unable to understand either the nature of the evil or if/where they are wrong. 
The story line is evolving with the same intensity as the tormented young woman. It starts slowly, with some minimal exchanges and events, with some delicate hints about something that it might come at a certain point and it is a terrible outcome - ´He had no way of knowing the unspeakable horrors that awaited him´. 
There are horrors, indeed, that just happen, while Aoyama still stays unbroken and emotionally numb. Which is in itself enough to bear with in any literary worst case scenario.

Rating: 2 stars

Something Wonderful Is About to Happen

It starts with a fig seeds that lands on a big tree in the rainforest. It grows into a tree of its own, part of the eco-system.
Something Wonderful - written by Matt Ritter, illustrated by Nayl Gonzalez - features a tiny sparkle of daily life in the rainforest. Through colourful images and simple words, it makes everything clear, from children to curious adults trying to catch up with some bits of information. However, the book requires attention and observation, when it comes to recognizing all the elements - to read, inhabitants - of the eco-system. 
Although it is a very fast read, Something Wonderful is good enough to make you think and encourages further interest into the topic. The most important, in my opinion, is that it challenges the reader, regardless his or her age, to reckon to the wonderful - yet cruel sometimes - laws of nature. It might be the first step towards rising awareness towards changing the attitude of nature in general, by understanding that every single thing we do in and to our environment matters. And, unfortunatelly, it is not always something wonderful.
The illustrations are catching up, appropriate for both the topic featured and the aimed audience.
This book is a recommended read for nature-related classes but also as individual bedtime and activity stories because no matter the reason, it is never too late or too early to learn about nature, particularly the rainforest eco-system.

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

Thursday, May 21, 2020

PM Press is Looking for Your Crime and Thriller Fiction Novel

Have you finally finished that awesome thriller novel of yours during lockdown and keen to see it published? We have great news for you!

PM Press, a Kindle-First imprint of Holland House Books, was founded in April 2020 by Phaidra Robinson and Mia Skevington, out of their love for true crime and detective fiction. Specialized in crime, thriller and dystopian fiction, this new edition house is looking for fresh new manuscripts for a chance to be published as one of their founding book releases. All crime and thriller fiction styles are welcomed: from whodunit to police procedurals, classic noir, dystopian novels and mind-bending psychological thrillers. High-quality and smart writings are always welcomed!

This is their official Call for Submissions:

If you have a completed novel or novella which you believe may fit, then send us:
1) The first fifty pages of your work.

2) A synopsis of your work (maximum two pages).
3) A covering letter with a brief overview – we do NOT need you to do a brilliant ‘pitch’ or the kind of blurb which would go on the back of the book. The basic story, main character(s) and the general themes is all we need.
These documents should be Word Documents, size 12 in a standard font, with a line spacing of 1.5.

Please email us at and address them to the Editor Phaidra Robinson.

You can find PM Press also on social media:

Good luck, writers!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Book Review: The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

When things in my life are getting too serious, too dramatic, too real and overload and conflicted with emotions and work (which, in my case, should be avoided at any price), the escape of romantic books is my answer to stress. I half cheat, as there is not always a relief from stress but equally a refuge when I am making an effort to understand something about my relationships.
The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren (pen name of a writing duo, Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings) was rather a spontaneous choice, out of a Kindle full of romantic alternatives. Call it the temptation of a colourful cover, which at the first sight may relieve a little bit of stress as well.
The reading went so easy, not high intellectual challenge, the kind of book it is lovely to have with you during long commuting to the other part of the city, but well written enough to do not consider the lecture a complete waste of time.
Ethan and Olive are stucked to spend together a honeymoon of ten days in Maui. Olive´s twin sister just got married with Ethan´s brother but a food poisoning ruined the wedding and as the honeymoon was a free win, why not taking the chance and going on, using the advantage of the same family name. The thing is that it seems that the two of them do not have too much in common and, at the limit, they even hate each other. Will they survive to tell the story?
Until the end of the story, everything changes, due to multiple twists that make an otherwise predictable story enjoyable. I was expecting that happy ending, to be honest, but nothing prepared me for the ways in which it was achieved, thanks to the carefully crafted story. The characters also do have their complexities, dark and shiny sides, most of the interactions being focused on the brothers-sisters dynamics. There are plenty of sensual moments and moderate graphic descriptions of sex.
The communication between Olive and Ethan was my favorite part of the book, as it reminded me how important is not only to talk with your partner, but openly share your concerns and bring clarity into the story, especially in connection with previous relationships and family peer pressure.
Although moderately excited about The Unhoneymooners, I will recommend it as a pleasant weekend and relaxing read in general. There is always something to learn about, especially when it comes to relationships and there are a couple of smart tips to think about in this book.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Book Review: Sword by Bogdan Teodorescu

´(...) close down that radio station immediately´.
This is how sometimes, in some places, things go - bad - with the media: a president requests to the head of the ´Intelligence´ Services to eliminate - technically, in most cases - bothering media reports. A journalist that bothered the current president might be the favorite of the next president. Or, during the same political mandate, one journalist turns into the current president´s darling. Things are relative, eventful and full of ´real´ life, not the boring bureaucracy of the Western world where things are running up and down no matter who won the elections.
Sword by Bogdan Teodorescu recently published into English by Corylus Books translated by Marina Sofia is less about the investigation of finding a mysterious serial killer that is murdering members of the Roma community but about a tragi-comical political bestiary. It looks like the author, himself directly involved into the post-communist political realities in Romania, wanted to write it all, about the corrupt media institutions and their directors hungry to eff some big advertising deals from state institutions in exchange of a truce, about the self-absorbed regional leader bothered by the unplanned skirmished between political parties, about the frictions between different layers of the administrative power and the intelligence secrets. 
Instead of finding the killer and starting a legal investigation, all those institutional branches and individuals are becoming erratic, start either using the situation to gain political advantage or to ignite hate against Roma, a group of people that according to the popular opinion is considered detrimental to the country´s image abroad, as if the fact that their representatives were kept away for decades from education and decent life standards was the result of some aliens´ intervention, not the state authorities.
There are a lot of references that make more sense for someone really familiar with the details of the post-communist Romania - including the cast of politicians and journalists Bogdan Teodorescu was inspired by - but otherwise you can easily enjoy the book even if it is just the third or fourth time you´ve  heard about a country called Romania. 
I´ve welcomed the ending with a gross laugh, like it made so much sense, darlings, because yes, this is how things are down there, what did you expect, to go by the book and really search for the killer?  Bucharest Noir at its best, indeed...

Rating: 3.5 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Political Conspiracies with a Taste of American Elections

Look at least for a second at the American political life right now? Some may call it circus...Do you need any conspiracy theory to explain what is going on - why Americans are morbidly fascinated with conspiracies theories is a topic to study more into detail one day...Is there any explanation or theory strong enough to bring clarity into the chaos?
And first and foremost, do we need novels to reify the confused facts, figures and declarations of the president in office?
After all, Trump supported generously those who assumed that Barack Obama is not born in the USA therefore unfit for being president of the United States. The Kingfischer Secret, published anonymously - on the name of the author is listed as Alex Urban - assumes that in fact, president Trump is the puppet of his ex-wife Ivana - the mother of Ivanka, Eric and Donald Trump jr. - a well-trained KGB-trained spy. 
Born in then Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, Ivana was Documents published in the English-speaking media outline that Trump, through his relationship with Ivana, born in the then Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, was a target for the local intelligence services, that were strictly controlled by the KGB. The fact that she, and her parents were somehow connected to them is a possibility, as recruiting people with a certain level of IQ and exposure to the outside world was national sport for all communist ´intelligence´ services. The fact that Trump has some weakneses that KGB loved to exploit is also well known so if they were really interested in playing with him, there were no difficulties in doing it.
The Kingfischer Secret uses the premise that KGB developed in the 1960s a program, mostly using beautiful, well-trained women originally from Central and Eastern Europe  - including into the secrets of French cuisine and drinking champagne - ´to encourage and create agents of disorder and chaos in America, to use democracy as a weapon against itself´. Anthony Craig an incoherent, self-absorbed businessman, ´struggling to keep his mop of hair in place´, a billionaire automaker with lots of problems, is about to win the US elections. Her ex-wife, Elena, is a successful businesswoman that created her own beauty brand while remaining a trustworthy advisor. An unremarkable journalist from a Canadian tabloid that used to be her ghostwriter takes all the professional and safety risks by advancing her researches about Elena´s life before becoming famous. A decision that will put her into high risk as she is revealing more and more pieces of a high-end international conspiracy leading to Moscow.
Is it really worth reading it? I was curious about the thriller as such, otherwise I was familiar with the non-fiction materials and the answer is ´no´. The journalist lady is completely unprepared for the task, her journalistic investigations are sloppy and unprofessional, she is just gathering material but has no idea about how and where to pitch it, she lacks any professional friends and network. She is under threat, followed during her investigation but left to meet her sources that, especially given the story she is about to cover, are meeting her way too easily. She is harassed, physically aggressed even, her cat is killed, but she is wondering in her self-centered world. Does she not have any journalist friend with contacts into the police to help her? Also, is it not a bit bizarre that all those KGB spies are drinking too much champagne, long before perestroika?
Verdict: there might be a crime, but the tools used to explain it are not at the heights of the expectations. So sorry the journalist´s cat was killed but this is the current state of affairs of political thrillers using Cold War settings? Gone seem to be the days of a non-boring, blood thirsty spy novel with real spies, real secret deals and real presidents.

Rating: 2 stars

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Book Review: Three by Dror Mishani

Dror Mishani is a sensation in Israel among the crime novels lovers, especially for his detective stories starring detective Avraham Avraham. His first standalone novel Three/Shalosh reached an even greater popularity with plans for a TV edition. The psychological thriller was translated in over 10 languages, being awarded the Deutsche Krimipreis - the international category - and was for over 25 weeks on Der Spiegel bestseler list. Given this high wave of popularity in Germany, I decided to read the book in the German translation - published as Drei - of Markus Lemke, a multi-awarded translator of Hebrew and Arabic who translated into German, among others, Leah Aini, Jeshua Sobol, Eshkol Neve and Yoram Kaniuk. The French translation of the title - Un, deux, trois - makes for me more sense from the point of view of the story.
Gil, the evil man character of the book, is a normal lawyer with an active life. He has two daughters, a wife - sometimes introduced as the ex-, sometimes not - a busy portfolio of clients looking for real estate investments in Central and Eastern Europe or for a EU passport in one of those countries, just in case wars are breaking again and they need a safe haven out of the madness. 
On an online site for divorced people, he meets Orna, freshly divorced, single mother of Eran. She is a teacher, busy with fixing her and her son´s life after her husband left for Nepal to settle for a new family. The relationship with Gil, which lasts half a year is non-eventful, easygoing, as it happens when none of the two want a commitment, just sometimes intimacy and someone to talk with and go out with, once in a while. After she spots him in a mall with his wife and daughters, is able to figure out that he might be a fake, but still keeps meeting him. (Curiously, she is does not look too much into his life, eventually but finding someone that knows someone that knows him, which is so easy in Israel; she not even check his online references, and does not seem bothered that he does not have a Facebook profile, a very popular social network in Israel). After all, there is no commitment and no expectations. Until he invites her to join on a trip to Bucharest and he kills her in a hotel room. The verdict: suicide.
After a while, Emilia follows. She is from Latvia, took care of Gil´s father until his last moments and is going through difficult times. She knows him and his family, so no additional lies are possible. He asks her to clean his apartment, where she will discover media snippets about Orna´s death that she is trying to translate from Hebrew, a language she is still trying to learn. She keeps cleaning regularly the apartment, and meanwhile a kind of idyl among them is blooming, but everything is relatively cold on her side.  Until he invites her to a trip abroad, but before that, some events take place and he kills her too, with a similar suicide setting that at least for a while is believed.
The third time is slightly different, because Ella, the woman he is about to kill, has other plans and knows him better than he thinks. She will end up his career of accidental killer. 
Three/Slalosh/Drei by Dror Mishani is part of the new trend of psychological thrillers when the criminal is such a banal one of us. Nothing more nothing less psychotic, trauma-driven or resentful. He is probably a bit bored, but the reasons of his crimes, at least in this book, ar not clear and will not be clearly stated anyway. At a certain point, Gil says something about intimacy as an important element of a relationship between two people, which might mean more than sex. But what exactly is in Gil´s mind, his intentions are out of the reader sight. 
This lack of clarity about the intentions and the psychology of the criminal are a good incentive to keep reading the book. However, there is nothing coming out clear in the end. And the ending itself is a kind of unusual, with a very domestic story that keeps going on, regardless of Gil´s crimes: we are told about two of his crimes, were there more? What was exactly going on in his mind and why? Women hater, family trauma - although his mother is introduced into the story and it does not look as they did have any serious issue....
On the other hand, there are so many small psychological facts that are introduced into the daily routine of the characters which make the reading valuable and adds dimension to the women characters. The men appear rather as additional appearances yet noteworthy from the point of view of influencing the course of action, messy, confused and unclear in their intentions and decisions. 
Despite my slight disappointments, Mishani looks like an interesting author, and I will love to come back to his detective series soon, hopefully in the original language. 

Rating: 3.5 stars

Monday, May 11, 2020

Memories of the Sri Lanka Civil War - Half Gods by Akil Kumarasamy

´Do you know how heavy a leaf is, when it carries the weight of the sun?´
Displacement, alienation, fractured time...Half Gods by Akil Kumarasamy explores through ten short stories the feelings and experiences of families originary from Sri Lanka living in America in the aftermath of the Civil War. 
The characters are recurrent and their destinies are intertwinned, with the stories of the new comers radiating around the old ones. Some are concealing in other people´ stories or finding themselves in stories told slowly, in the humming sound of a prayer. 
The stories are short, descriptive, with a simple structure, that accounts life episodes connecting the past to the present. War trauma meets the desire to overcome the immigrant status and integrate into the new society. There are stories told openly, with full honesty and without any trace of drama. Subtle irony - as a main feature of the destiny itself, especially the immigrant´s destiny- is what adds a layer of detachment to the collection.
My favorite story so far is The Office of Missing Persons as it reveals both the complexity of the post-war Sri Lankan society as well as the ambiguity of life: sometimes a joke, sometimes a drama.
The brevity of the stories can also operate against the story itself. More than once I wanted a continuation of the episode or was just frustrated that my curiosity was aroused and then punished as the ending was abruptly. 
Half Gods is the debut book of Akil Kumarasamy therefore I would love to read the author´s next work, maybe a novel where I would eventually encounter some of the characters and/or at least topics sketched in the short stories. 

Rating: 3.5 stars

Friday, May 8, 2020

No End of Love

No End of Love. From the womb to beyond the grave, for the now and the forever. Sometimes we may simple misuse this word. Love. We attach it too fast to some humans and our wishes or a temporary house of our wishes.
We wander aimless and blind until we know that love. That love that has no end and takes it all. The perfect winner. Winner for life and for death. 
The simplest of all loves. THE Love because once you´ve found it you can hardly name anything else love. What a comical appropriation of a word so easy to utter, so hard to find in real life. Hard to find, because you have to live the love, feel the love and share the love.
Thoughts after reading My Little One, by Germany Zullo, translated by Katie Kitamura, with the simplest yet sophisticated illustrations by the Swiss artist Albertine. 

Rating: 5 stars

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

Book Review: Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

There are a lot of elements that keep a good story together. For me, it has to do with the ways in which each and every separate fragments of the story come together to woven the big story, connecting dots of stories and characters into a big seamless shape. However, there are some novels with very well and neatly shaped fragments of the story that do not match always good together with the rest. Or, the narrative as such is mostly absent because assumed it is predictable from the start.
Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan is one of them. The fictional character, the German-born citizen young Black musician Hieronymus Falk is arrested in a café in Paris, where he run with his other musician friends. He disappears without trave and assumed he was killed by the Nazis. 50 years after, his friends Sid and Chip are attending a festival dedicated to his memory when they got news that their friend might be alive and well, living in Poland.
With episodes alternating back and forth from the past and the present, the book follows the adventures of the musicians, their dreams and failures and frail human relationships. The story is told by Sid, the last person who´ve seen Hiero, that has a terrible secret to hide. A well-burried secret that will be later shared with Hiero upon reuniting, making it one of the most beautiful endings I´ve read in a while. 
´Think about it. A bunch of German and American kids meeting up in Berlin and Paris between the wars to make all this wild joyful music before the Nazis kick it to pieces? And the legend survives when a lone tin box is dug out of a damn wall in a flat once belonged to a Nazi? Man. It that ain´t a ghost story, I never heard one´. 
There are many historical elements the book relies on: the jazz life in Berlin in the 20s-30s, that ended up being labelled as ´degenerate´; the case of the German POC, whose fathers were mostly North-African born soldiers of the French Army that entered the Ruhr Valley during WWI and ended up marrying local German women; the situation of those Afro-Germans during the Holocaust. The full fact checking require a long bibliography for sure, but it is noteworthy that Esi Edugyan introduced this topic into the mainstream literature. 
There are so many interesting episodes of this book: the dialogues are so alive that you can imagine the exchanges of the musicians just in the front of your eyes; the adventurous escape from Germany and their musical adventures in Paris where Louis Armstrong joins; Sid´s life hiding a secret of treason; the journey from Berlin to Poland for meeting Hiero. On the other side, there are also things that I was expected differently: the meeting with Hiero, Hiero´s story in Poland and maybe more development of the ´present´ story. And first and foremost, a differently told story. But the challenge of discovering a new author and a new topic for a historical novel was taken.

Rating: 3 stars

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Central and Eastern Europe, 30 Years after the Wall

In early 1990, Rory Maclean traveled from Berlin to Moscow in a Trabant, documenting the tremendous changes Central and Eastern Europe was going through. 30 years after, he is back for an update, more or less on the footsteps of his first journey (published and multi-awarded as Stalin´s Nose, that I haven´t read it yet, therefore I may miss a couple of references).
There are completely new realities settled since: the oligarchs in Russia, the cyberattacks, the immigration from outside Europe, the old myths and a new golden age of mystifications.
Writing travel stories is mostly a subjective endeavour, like writing in general. Every writer, journalist or blogger and travel enthusiast makes a selection based on his professional, personal and academic background. A historian will be interested in facts from the past reflected into the present, the journalist of the latest events and political skirmishes, the cultural writer about the specific spiritual works encountered around the way. 
In Pravda HaHa the Canadian-British writer Rory Maclean is talking with people, new and old acquaintances, hearing their histories of life in the new realities. Although he may have a plan of people he wants to meet, some of them part of his journey 30 years ago, there is the spontaneous human contact which makes the best of the story. Like, for instance, the Michael Jackson fan Sami, the Nigerian illegal immigrant he will help to get out of the (new) Russia.
One of the many reasons I love to read travelogues is for the huge diversity of characters and stories. If you are reading the good ones, there is rarely a story which may repeat itself. Rory Maclean repertoire of adventures is a high-end human selection. He is going harvesting with an minigarch (not an oligarch) a phallus shaped truffle mushroom (locally named pipiska putina), is playing in a casino in Kaliningrad, is interviewing the then social media star of the Transnistrian diplomacy. Are times changing so fast? Are those tremendous changes a firm ´good bye´ to the past?
Rather the opposite, among the old and the new generation, there are old behaviors reapprehended. A certain wariness of not stepping out lines, an acceptance that the direction of the things is decided elsewhere and there is not other way than to follow. And there are the dreams of impossible greatness shared in common, but with a different content in Russia, Poland or Hungary. What about the German state of Saxony, introduced as a kind of German Texas? Where Rory Maclean is checking his priviledge of enjoying freedom of speech and movement, young or less young people in Central and Eastern Europe want to build more walls because ´xenophobes only stand in their own shoes, of course´. 
But what is Europe nowadays? How do you define it? Is the so-called West safer from illusions? ´Where there is the real end of Europe? I once thought it to be a physical place, perhaps the line of the river Oder or the Urals. I realise now that it is not a freak of geography and far more a question of culture and morality, a matter of principles. It´s the point where antique forms of identity clash with modernity, where tolerance, decency and a certain way of thinking end, where openness meet a wall´. 
In fact, there is a very long discussion with no end in sight. 30 years after the end of the Cold War, there are many things boiling hot in this part of Europe. And as a matter of fact, everywhere. Travel stories are one of the most direct way to connect to those nascent realities.

Rating: 3.5 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Book Review: The Son by Andrej Nikolaidis

I´ve heard more than once that the relationship with your parents influences at a great extent the way you relate to the world and other humans in general. I am not convinced about that in my case, but The Son, by Andrej Nikolaidis - originally published in Montenegrin as Sin, translated by Will Firth, published by Istros Books - spins at a great extent on a disfunctional/missed father-son connection. Nikolaidis is born in Sarajevo, in a Montenegrin-Greek family and is a political advisor, columnist and novelist living in Montenegro.
The book is short, a little bit over 100 pages, and takes place within 24 hours. An unnamed writer with no noticeable work, living in the city of Ulcinj - situated in the Southern part of the city, with a significant Albanian population, according to various tourim-related online sources - is left by his wife. His failed marriage just happened. ´Things never fail because of me, nor do they go off well thanks to me. They always happen with me as a bystander. I just adapt to them´. This is how he imagined his life to be as a child: ´As a child I imagined life as an enormous desert which I had to walk through while trying not to distirb a thing or to leave any trace´. What about his writing career? Why is he doing it after all? There is not answer to that during the aimless wandering journey through life and dreams of this anonymous character which looks so familiar with the soul broken characters of the Central European literature.
A diluted Freudian, he is carrying with him a trauma: ´The trauma I carry with me from my earliest years is my father´. Hence, his radical view on parenthood and family in general: ´As long as they live, parents destroy their children, and their children pay them back for it and don´t relinquish their thirst for vengeance until they´ve sent their parents to the grave. Every family home can turn into a slaughterhouse. A tiny catalyst of just a single word is often all it takes for the history of abuse and hatred hidden under a semblance of harmony and love like in an old-fashioned memento chest, to end in bloodshed´. Fragments of dreams and realities are recomposing in a spinning-way over and over again, with different characters but similar pattern which excludes beauty and kindness and a break from internalizing the projection of trauma. There is no end to the nightmare. The son is obsessed with the father as a source of power and opression and an existential threat as much as the father is obsessed with the son, as his projection of ownership. 
The wandering anonymous writer is misanthropic, cruel, cynical and emotionally unstable in his obsession. It seems his obsession of the father´s obsession is breaking him into the cruel pieces of non-existence. 
I´ve seen previous reviews outlining the influence of Gargoyles by the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard. I´ve only read Old Masters by Bernhard long ago so I cannot delve into this specific reference.
The Son by Andrej Nikolaidis, that won the European Prize for Literature in 2011, is not an easy read as filled with a deep dark mood of Weltschmerz. No cure, not too much courage to end it up, all is left is to fill then the files of the notebook with one single word. 

Rating: 3.5 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review