Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Year of Many Beautiful Books

By far, 2017 was the best year ever of my 7-year old bookish baby blog. With over 250 books I've read and reviewed on and Goodreads, tons of good books obtained via and a lot of individual collaborations with beautiful writers and their books, the last 12 months were an amazing bookish experience. 

My best Books of the Year

My pleasure of reading reached new levels, with new ways of reading and understanding the written word and its challenges. I've started the year with a great lecture, which reminded me of the classical A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles. The reading list continued with better and better books: Do Not Say We Have Nothing, by Madeleine Thien and Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee, beautiful saga of identity, or the inspiring life  journey of Henrietta Lachs. The Patriots, by Sana Krasikov was a book that brought back a lot of personal memories, and the promise that maybe one day I will be able to put on paper that novel I am sometimes dreaming too much about. I enjoyed a lot of thrillers, but as usual, those with a political layer or connections are always my favorites, therefore I loved reading Siren, by Annemarie Neary, dealing with post-conflict stories in Northern Ireland. For the sake of the intense intellectual musings, The Idiot by Elif Batuman was my number one choice. The short stories from Rotten Row by Petina Gappah opened to me the African storytelling worlds. My last - but not least - favorite reads of the year were the captivating page turning YA novel Rosemarked, by Livia Blackburne and the emotional poetry book by my dear Monica Bhide, Telltales, my first review of poetry ever - but hopefully not the last one. Celeste Ng, with her Everything I Never Told You was my revelation too, and can't wait to read her newest book in the next days too. 
In addition to the book reviews, I also often participated to book tours, published interview with writers and guest posts by authors. Because I am also a travel writer, I included in many of my adventures on the road, visits to libraries, some of them being appreciated not only for their bookish richness, but also for their architectural exquisitiveness, like the Stuttgart Public Library

2018 Will Get Even Better

I want to believe that it is up to me to make 2018 even better. Besides, I am now  receiving also books via Edelweiss and, all of them considered top releases for the coming year. For the month of January, I am already having two important book tour scheduled, and at least 20 interesting book reviews ready to be published. I am also decided to offer more space to poetry, but also to revisit and read some classical literature books. 
As a subscriber to the French and German languages editions of NetGalley, expect to have more books written by non-English authors too, read in the original language. I do have my secret plan to get to know as many local authors as possible from non-English speaking countries and I will do my best to advance my knowledge about writers from other worlds too. I would also love to feature more German authors and insights about the local publishing industry. 
I am looking forward to new collaboration, getting to know new authors and their books and who knows, maybe this year I will be able to finally join again the NaNoWriMo writing competition for my first fiction novel. Meanwhile, I do have 4 non-fiction books coming up, after a long writing hiatus of almost 4 years. 
My social media presence, as for now, will be mostly limited to blogging, sharing my posts on Twitter where I also connect to writers, publishing houses and readers and my usual sharing on Google+ groups, and Goodreads. I am not giving any change yet to Instagram or Facebook, as for now I am already struggling hard to improve my audience with two other blogging projects. 
As usual, hard work, consistency and reliability will be my main directions, with a lot of planning and long hours invested in every single blog post. I am looking forward to new bookish adventures!

Until then, a successful, healthy and very bookish 2018, to me and you, my dear readers!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Book Review: Swing Time, by Zadie Smith

My first encounter with Zadie Smith was through White Teeth, many years ago, a book I couldn't resist to not finish in one single night. I was at the time writing my PhD in inter-ethnic relations and identities and everything about the book was inspiring my own musings about identity, besides a great story telling charm of the author herself. Other writings by her were not always equally gifted with the same attractive stories, but there was always something in the writing which made me keep coming back and finishing the book.
In the case of Swing Time, a novel mostly about women identity and race, the writing is prolific, is made up of so many little well said stories, although the big story doesn't always look so good or just the main narrative doesn't matter that much. Which in my case worked against finishing this book for quiet a long time. Sometimes I was feeling that the story is getting lost in the many micro-stories told every couple of pages, and although there are some clear borders and main ideas around which the main narrative is created, the fragmentation still remains predominant. Because you can feel and like the stories, you can keep reading and this is the biggest difference  between a good written book and a clumsy one. When the writing is good, a dedicated reader might just ignore the details of the construction and keep going on because there is always something to keep you focused. 
When you are writing about identity, there is always a risk that the benchmarks and ideas are imposed to the reader, instead of just trusting the power of the words for creating the desired intellectual effects. More than once, unfortunately, I've felt that the author wanted to let you know her intentions assigned to the characters, and this is just annnoying for the inner pace of the story.
Despite some noticeable flows, I actually loved the swings and switches of Swing Time, with more than one idea keeping me a good literary company for the next days. Of course I would keep reading Zadie Smith too, because I just can't give up good writing and authors.

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

An Excellent YA Fantasy: Rosemarked by Livia Blackburne

I've discovered Livia Blackburne a couple of years back, on Twitter, and followed fascinated her blog, A Scientist's take on writing. I've followed her insights about the brain reactions to (good) writing and also had a look at Poison Dance, her novella, which I've found interesting but not perfect enough to make me very 'wow'-ish about it. 
However, Rosemarked, a story following very different character, the healer Zivah and the soldier Dineas, brought together by fate and a strange malady spreading over an empire, is an outstanding literary YA fantasy achievement. Through words and well crafted actions, Blackburne created a fantasy world in itself, with its own borders, legacy and history, where the readers is subconsciously made part of and hard to leave at the end of the story.
'Everyone knows the stages of rose plague. First commes the fever and the delirium. It kills most people up front, though a few manage to stay of execution - their fever ebbs, and they regain their strength, but their rash stays red, which means they can still pass the disease to others. Those are rosemarked, and they're banished from society until the fever reclaims them a few years later'. Zivah is an experienced healer, with a deep knowledge of the natural and animal world and the potions that can be made using this knowledge, that caught the incurable illness, while Dineas is a traumatized soldier. Both of them are together on a spying mission against an oppressive kingdom. One can read the story as a fairy tale packed with actions and noteworthy moments of suspense, but also with at least few human questions: how to treat those different, especially sick ones? how to cope with death and afterlife? what is the responsibility of (mis)using an acquired knowledge under harsh polistical and social conditions? (Zivah's standpoint was: 'I can use my skills only to heal, not to harm (...)')
The writing is flowing and you are instantly wired to the action, especially in the last part of the story. The sentences are build in such a dynamic way, packed with verbs, which creates a good page turning reading pace. And when you are at the end of the book, all you wanna know is what's next. Enough to move even the laziest readers among us. 
Last but not least, the cover is an outstanding choice too, with its elegant full of fantasy design.

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

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

An Interesting Sci-Fi Thriller: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

I don't remember for how long I haven't read a sci-fi novel, but for sure I can count less than 5 in the last ten years or so. But part of my efforts to create a diverse content for my blog and to enlarge my reading universe, I decided that given the literary hype, Dark Matter is a good new beginning in this respect. 
Sci-fi lover or not, for the first 50 pages, you don't have any slight idea what is going on, but you don't get bored because of that. The writing is worth a movie sequel and the dialogues are dynamic and giving the real flesh but without a clear idea of what will happen next. Short sentences, with many verbs create the suspense and the adventure about to begin.
Jason Dessen is the main character and the victim of a strange chain of events that will have him kidnapped, drugged and brought in a derelict old indutrial place to be asked: 'How do you feel about your place in the world'. Once a promising atomic physicist after marrying Daniela, also a promising artist once, he decided to dedicate his time and energy to his family. 'My life isn't worth anything beyond its value to me and to my loved ones'. But is he really happy with this outcome, at least 50% of the time? In fact, Jason, as many of us, regardless how happy we are with our lives, he was 'obsessed with the path not taken'. Through this bizarre experiment, he can face all the possible options, and even a lot more scarrier than that. 
His weird adventures will bring him in very strange places of his subconscious, in a display of quantum physics for literature and generally creative minds, which is well done. If before reading this book you had no idea about this scientific realm, now you will remember it for sure and I think it is a great way to give scientific weight to a sci-fi book. The problem is that the sequence is so often used in the story that is becoming an ad nauseam iteration. Like when Jason is meeting and is threated by his almost hundreds of variants of himself, all of them with the aim of obsessively being near Daniela, who was completely unaware of the quantum conspiracy enfolding. 
The last quarter of the book ends up as a horror thriller, followed by a sci-fi conflict resolution. 
Personally, it took me some time to fully adjust to the sci-fi narrative, but I really enjoyed the way in which complicated physics issues were translated into a literary motif. However, once I grasped the entire story, I ended up disappointment with the end. For a movie, it sounded perfect, but for the pure storytelling expectations, was half a disappointment. 

Rating: 3 stars

A Disappointment: Mock my Words, by Chandra Shekhar

What is the probability that an American university hires for its English literature class a professor that despite an impressive writing style and book writing achievements displays talking skills showing a very limited IQ? Almost close to nil. 
However, Chandra Shekhar built an otherwise well coordinated story around the frail and meek figure of David Tan, a Chinese-born academic with great writing skills, but with a vocabulary that even learning two words the day for his last five years of life in US would have been dramatically improved. His dialogues are so ridiculously limited that you might wonder how he is able to survive on the street completely on his own, but him, teaching in an American university in the English language? This assumption doesn't make any sense. Last but not least, David is talking with his father from China in some English too, with his simple father language skills highly proficient compared to those of his academic son. 
This main flaw is in fact an annoying aspect of a book with well crafted subplots and page-turning everyday stories from the busy Californian corporate life. Laura, David's ambitious wife, looks like a negative character, although a very coherent one, but after all, you might wander why someone so over achieving will end up after all with someone she can hardly talk with in simple yet coherent sentences. The PR challenge she is coping with is also interesting and has so many realistic elements. Her counter-candidate, the gentle Melissa is also business driven, but in a more human way, but maybe her age makes a difference.
Actually, if not the annoying clumsiness of portraying David, I would have greatly enjoy the book, which I finished in just one late afternoon reading. However, most probably would be curious to read other books by Shekhar as his writing promises in a very curious way.

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

Monday, December 25, 2017

Pairing Cocktails with Horror Movies

The end of the year vacations is the perfect time for killing some time while watching movies you didn't have the mood or the time to see during the last 12 months. If you are considering some classical horror movies for some unforgettable scary evenings, you can pair (some of) them with some equally horrendous cocktails. 
Jon and Marc Chaiet made an interesting collection of 55 recipes that are there to scare you and your guests or family members. The combinations are pretty eclectic and for those beginners in the world of cocktails, a long explanatory list of the various alcoholic drinks used is offered at the very beginning of the book.
In most cases, you may need lots of other ingredients, for creating staple drinks matching complicated heavy psychological movies like the Silence of the Lambs, The Twilight Zone or The Exorcist, to mention only few of the movies that I've personally watched, besides many others I don't have the slightest idea what are about. No specific detail is spared in order to create your horror cocktail, such as carving watermellons into skulls, while watching Dead Alive, for instance. Actually, after you arived at the end of the movies' list you can keep preparing some of the cocktails for other movies too, as some of them are too tempting to taste them only during a specific occasion. 
In most cases, the preparation time is within minutes, therefore one can eventually put the movie on pause shortly while preparing fresh new shots. 
My only problem was the visual choice - both for the cover and the interior illustrations. I can understand that a specific reference to the 1980s and 1990s - the period of time of the movies matched - should be done, but I bet there were smater choices than those kitsch ones selected.

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

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Book Review: The Chalk Artist, by Allegra Goodman

Floating between the imaginary worlds of poetry, online addictive games and love, The Chalk Artist is in itself a poem about inaccessible yet perishable worlds. The characters and their stories are part of a big web of individual jumps out of the current reality, in a world created by the mind games.
The lives of the some of the characters do connect at certain extents, in the virtual or real worlds or just melt from one realm into another in a way which might confuse both the reader and the participants to the story themselves. Such a choice make it a high stake for the author, which seems to not always cope fairly with all of the many protagonists of the story. Even in the case of the main characters, I often felt that the action is taking place too fast back and forth, neglecting the curiosity of the reader for more substance to the stories.
For instance, the love story between Nina, the modest literature teacher, daughter of the over-powerful owner of the gaming company Arkadia - a dream factory of the virtual reality - , and Collin, the chalk artist, lacks sometimes in substance, and if not their developing dependence of spending time together, in terms of sharing the same space, not necessarily being actually together, you cannot describe their relationship in too many words. They look often like two people hanging around together, without sharing too much passion or common values. Another disappointment for me were the dialogues, very limited in terms of adding a different layer of understanding to the narratives.
However, when it comes to re-creating worlds of imagination, Allegra Goodman is herself an artist. The small details of the virtual reality spread into a small teen room addicted to games - Aidan - are so clear that one might expect to be just one step behind the border between the two worlds. 
Although the relationships between characters does not always make sense, most of them are assigned strong and clear, often antagonic, personalities. Like Viktor Lazare - '(...) escapism and delusion were not problems but products in Viktor's lexicon. He never doubted his profession, the way some of his colleagues did' - and his shy daughter Nina - 'She hated deception and excesses. She had grown up with games and she craved truth'. 
In this world of deception and confusion, Nina pledges the cause of poetry. It elevates the soul and creates dependence of beauty and human greatness, simplicity and genuine feelings. She is a dreamer, but of a different kind of impossible worlds.

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

Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Night in the Life of Mr. Owliver

Mr. Owliver is the watchman at the Animaltown Art Museum, where famous works by equally famous painters such as Jan van Duck or Vincent van Goat can be admired. Those painters and their works are part of his every night and practically he cannot wait to be left alone with his favorite painted VIPs, Mona Lizard among them. 
When he is coming to work one night, which is happen to be his birthday, Mr. Owliver've found out that all of them disappeared. What happened to them? Will they ever be back? seems that Mr. Owliver will have one masterpiece of a birthday after all...
This loveable book with equally loveable characters is a delight for both the adult and the child. The animal equivalent of some real life painters are just hilarious and so are the representations of their works. That being said, I loved the illustrations very much, as the visual part of a children's book is as important as the text. 
Convincing pre-teens to go to an art museum might be as difficult as painting a masterpiece, but books like this can at least promise to the little stubborn ones that after all it may be some fun hidding behind those paintings though. In a funny non-lecturing way, it can bring children close to art and the art history timeline at the end of the book offers some good guidelines through the various ages and histories. 

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

She Persisted, by Chelsea Clinton

Do you know who Nelly Bly was? Or Hellen Keller? Or Claudette Colvin? Or maybe Virginia Apgar (whose family name is codified as the Apgar scale, an evaluation me, at least, always asked about seconds about the birth of my children)? All of them, and eight more, are featured in this children book by Chelsea Clinton, She Persisted.
Besides being women, those personalities were strong enough to resist any efforts of the society or even their family to step back from their dreams. They persisted and refused to give up their human right to education and personal and professional accomplishment.
Is such an endeavour greatly anachronic and out of context as nowadays women can be actually whatever they want? Every couple of days I'm shared thoughts about how women should still calm down their career dreams and think instead of their mother and wife roles, that it is important to fish for a rich and career driven husband which would guarantee the financial security for the rest of your life - and you can be busy with your hobbies when he is away, or after you cooked his favorited pie. And so on and on an on. We are almost in the 2018 CE. 
Reading such stories to both girls and boys - the age target is 4 to 8 years old - is preparing them to cope with the real life challenges that gender or education background or race (unfortunately, I join other reviewers of the book who noticed that there is no Asian-American woman featured in the book) could bring to your dreams. Although it might be hard, terribly hard, you need to persist. 'So, if anyone ever tells you no, if anyone ever says your voice isn't important or your dreams are too big, remember these women. They persisted and so should you'. 
A very inspirational book that every mother should read it too.
The illustrations are not so impressive, just fine.

Rating: 4 stars 

Friday, December 22, 2017

5-Star Book Review: Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng

Set in the 1970s America, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng is a story of race, intense family relationships and betrayal of dreams, told in a captivating, innovative style. Lydia is the teenage prodigy of a mixed Oriental (the choice for this term was explained by the author herself on a thread on her Goodreads page as in conformity with the terminology used at the time) -American family. She suddenly disappears and found dead after a couple of days. 
Her story is told by different members of the family, and as the investigation advances, the complicated relationships between parents and their 3 children, themselves and their families are writing their own stories, adding tremendous pressure to the main story. James, the successful son of a poor Chinese family is university professor, while his wife, Marilyn, once a promising scientist, had to give up her medical school for dedicating to the family. They both put a tremendous pressure on their children to outperform and be the fulfillment of their failed dreams, in a society which is little by little more open to inter-racial relationships and women in positions of responsibility. However understandable such dreams could be, it is not the right of the parents to write their children story. We shall each and every one of us write our own story, and this is what Marilyn obviously missed when she willingly gave up her professional career. Her encounters with the neighbour next door, the medical doctor single mother of Jack shows her it is possible, in contrast with what her own single mother taught her. The 'sad and empty house' her mother left behind fuelled for a short time Marilyn's desire to never end up like that, but her radical decision of leaving her family for returning to study was short lived. 
On the other side, James knew 'what is was like to never fit in' as he can easily notice the social inadequacies of his children. The deep racial discrimination against people of Asian origin, relatively less represented in literary creations was a stigma he wanted to remove from his children. But in reality, they were still considered strange creatures, inadequate and unfit, despite their good school marks. 
And there is Lydia, epitomizing all the fears, insecurities and failed dreams of her parents. Lydia, who for years was keeping a blank diaries of days after days when nothing happened. Unaware of her advantages but clearly carying the weight of her curse. A confused teen, not yet able to grasp the nuances and details of the adult life. 
Although it starts as one of the many sudden disappearances that made it into the top bestsellers list lately, Everything I Never Told You is an emotional story about longing and race and complicated personal stories. I also found interesting how it involved the reader into the story, as the only one who actually knows what happens with Lydia from the beginning, and is told a couple of pages in a while about what will be the fate of some of the characters. 
Before the end of the fabolous reading year of 2017, I am glad I've discovered another great author. Can't wait to read in the next days Little Fires Everwhere.

Rating: 5 stars

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Dramatic Dark Fantasy: Map of Shadows by J.F.Penn

J.F.Penn, whose writings I often review on my blog because I love her writing, has a special art of creating characters and worlds that do stay for you long after finishing your book. Map of Shadows, newly released, is the first in a new series aimed at exploring the mysterious meanings of maps and borders. 
Sienna Farren - 'aimless and wandering for too long to choose a path forward' - was having just another uneventful day at the Oxford Library where she recently started a new job, when the announcement of the murdering of her grandfather, owner of an old map shop in Bath, will completely change her life. It is just the beginning of series of revelations that will put her in contact with a new world and a new self. The picturesque World Heritage Site of Bath, the place at the heart of Jane Austen life and works, is assigned as an ancient energy center, a door to a strange and troubled world, the Borderlands 'a place where this earth bleeds into another',  
Sienna is smoothly assuming the new role as owner of the shop where unusual things and people are taking place, accepting maybe too easily to embark on a search on the other side of the world for his long lost father and for puting a halt, together with other mapwalkers - a power whose meaning is about to understand and discover only by practice -, to an invasion of evil creatures that threated destroying the world. This is just the beginning of what looks as an interesting new series. 
What I particularly loved about this book, besides very vibrant and highly emotional visual images created through words, was the exploration of the sense and meaning of maps and borders, in a world, as usual, on the move. Skilfully, the current refugee crisis and the destructive war in Syria are also part of this first episode, as an anchor to everyday reality for the contemporary reader. 
Map of Shadows is a page turning and dramatic read, which keeps you alert and promises a lot of interesting evolutions, with the seeds of new development already planted in this first installment.

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

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Book Review: The Awkward Age by Francesca Segal

Starting a new life as a couple with two strange teenagers at home - one for each new member of the family - could be hilarious, demanding, awkward, almost impossible. Julia and James assume they love each other enough to overcome the tremendous challenges. But it seems they underestimated both Gwen and Nathan. Would their relationship prevail against all odds? Does love win, after all? Depends what kind of love you have in mind.
The Awkward Age seems at first a book that never ends and after a while you just feel yourself that it will not because teenage years are like this - for both the teen and its adult entourage. In fact though, things are moving on and on, pushing limits and destroying other people lives, selfishly. Actually, everyone in this story seems a bit too self absorbed and their own world is self-sufficient. If not some references about streets and places in London and UK, you might place the middle class story anywhere on the planet. All the characters, regardless their age, they are living in their own universe where there are no politics, social worries or financial constraints. A bit unrealistic for me, regardless how far on the Heath you are living. 
For a couple of good pages, I remarked that in the story the focus is mostly on the women while the men are somehow in the shadow, although they give the tone of the women' lives. Somehow, this was on purpose, as it shows in fact a certain dynamic, where women may always feel guilty for their choices, especially if they are mothers of daughters, while men are aimed to have a professional career and a freedom of their own that regardless of their status, most women do not have such a priviledge and it seems there is always something they can refuse themselves when it comes to the choice between their personal life and their roles as women.
Despite the slow pace and some 'inside the bubble' inadequacies, The Awkward Age is a book that makes you think over and over again about the hardships of assigned family roles. And teenagers are, anyway, a different kind of beasts. 

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

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Sweet Beachside Sweet Shop Story

Can you see yourself spending years after years in a small beachtown, where everyone knows (almost) everything about the rest of the small world and proudly spreading the news about it? I couldn't and so does the well-natured Marnie Appleton, whose big dream is to see the world. Hopefully, when her job at the family sweet shop will be done. When exactly? Hard to know but she keeps dreaming about those unknown world that her wandering mother told her about when she was not too busy searching for secrets of far away places.
Marnie grew up with her maternal grandparents, that were a substitute for both her unknown father and traveller of a mother. Therefore, when her grandfather, the owner of the popular sweet shop at the beachside died, she abandoned her travel plans and returned to take charge of the business. Not her dreamlife, especially as it meant also to abandon her boyfriend, but the responsibility towards the stable part of her family overpassed her own dreams, wishes and feelings. Marnie is the kind of character you cannot but love her. A good nature, without deep resentments against her mother, wise and romantic by nature. 
But the dice are not rolled in her favor, it seems. Although she unexpectedly won a business prize a woman with a blog desperate to catch attention is planning to destroy her business - and the business of all the sweet shops in the ol' England, for the matter. Plus, her ex-beau Alex is back in town from NYC with his new crush and she just can't avoid him.
Isn't it a bit too much, even for someone like Marnie? Will she manage to save the legacy of his granfather and go ahead with her life? And what about the mysterious Josh who entered the beachside sweet shop when a crisis was unfolding?
The story is well written, and keeps you awake until you're done, because it just make you curious and the characters are so humanly depicted that you end up falling in love with them. I particularly loved the smooth dialogue between the three generations of women - Marnie, her brave grandmother, a dog trainer who is trying to build up a new relationship after the death of her husband, and Marnie's mother - overcoming many painful moments, but bravely looking together to the future.
It is the kind of book you need to fill your long winter days, while dreaming about a beachside shop and maybe some sweets too.

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

Thursday, December 14, 2017

My Reading's Block and How to Fight It

My last ten days were rally hard for my reading life. After quite a successful reading year, with a lot of small but steady achievements for my blog and a serious progress towards achieving my Goodreads goals for 2017, my reading simply slowed down. Terribly down. I had to return a lot of books to my library and I struggle to finish a relatively simple book for a couple of weeks already. 
Although I am reading every day at least 50 pages, my reading is rather hectic, with a very limited focus and without that inner passion for finishing the book and even more, reviewing it. On my other blogs, I keep writing and posting regularly, including posts with a bookish content, but I am definitely lacking the passion and dedication I am used with in the rest of the year. It could be fatigue and just the need to take a step away from books and spend my time instead planning my next business and bloggins steps, preferably with a clear knife sharp mind. It seems that no book is interesting enough for my tired bookish taste buds to get me out of my boring shell. And my list of books is as big as the Towr of Babel, with a lot of ARCs and books for review, plus my own list of titles that I decided to have a look at.
Meanwhile, I finally started the writing for four different projects, that I had in my mind for at least one year but always too busy with my baby boy and other important challenges to gather myself coherently enough to start the documentation. All four of them are non-fiction books and will be ready hopefully in the first half of 2018, allowing me to spent the rest of the year with some fiction projects.
Perhaps definitory for my reading stage is the fact that I do have quite a lot of projects on my desk, but a very limited amount of free time. My baby is growing up and is becoming more and more demanding both in terms of energy and time, therefore when he is finally in the world of dreams, I am so tired that I rather prefer to rest than to keep myself busy with my editorial projects. While during the day, I can hardly breath and properly think. It is obviously a hard stage, of the many and soon there will be other challenges. Therefore, I better improve my time management skills and start getting things done. 
At a great extent, writing about my struggles as a reader and not only about my books and authors that I love - or not - is part of a greater plan I envision for the next 12 months, of creating a more diverse content for WildWritingLife, which will touch upon many other aspects of the writing world and publishing industry as well. 
Maybe it is just about time to call it a day and get ready for an outperforming weekend, trying to get more than 4 books done and their reviews and even more blog posts for the next days.
Happy reading!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Book Review: The Vegetarian, by Han Kang

The Vegetarian by Han Kang is an unforgettable, very emotional and heart-breaking novel about identity, sense of the body and unbearable social pressures. 
Yeong-hye is a 'completely unremarkable' woman, with a husband, a lot of home chores, a freelancing job. In the novel, her voice is hardly heard, if ever, as the story of her dramatic change since her sudden decision of becoming vegetarian is told by her husband, her brother-in-law and her sister. Everything started when based on a terrific dream, she decided to give up meat, in a society where being a vegetarian seems to be an outrageous exception. But it is the only way Yeong-hye is taking back her body and her life. The more she is pressured to give up her choice, including in a violent way by her father, the symbol of how males might request in traditional societies that their desires are heard and followed accordingly, the more she is turning into a kingdom of silence and refuses food. Any kind of food in the end.
The choice of Yeong-hye might look absurde and narrow minded - after all, you can escape social pressures in more subtle, middle-of-the road ways, but it is an ultimate scream of freedom. It is the pure freedom of requesting the right to decide of your rights and wrongs. It makes you think completely differently of your personal and social limits, those accepted because no other apparent options. It is a novel that haunts you long time after you finish it, because it is so accurately describing feelings and personal torments of a woman in a world submitted to the will of men.
My only reason for not giving 5 full stars to this novel is that as someone who went through a - luckily short and pretty manageable - anorexic stage, but with close family members having to cope with it for long years, I am still not completely convinced - or refusing to believe it - that refusing food is more than a hard way to punish yourself. 

Rating: 4 stars

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Telltales - Poems by Monica Bhide

Telltales, the newest book by the very talented Monica Bhide whose writings I am often featuring on my blog opens a door to a different world of emotions, feelings and the hidden senses and promises of spiritual world. 
I am rarely reading poetry and I don't remember to write poetry since some childish failures in my eary teens therefore I am a dried muscle for poems. But Telltales convinced me, after the second reading, that I might consider my bibliography. There is a certain art of words and wordings that Monica Bhide wisely uses it to bring the reader into a different universe, which does have its own challenges and imperfections, but at the end of the complex maze, there is the promise of light and self-reliance. 
The verses reveal things the eyes cannot see, but the soul can feel and nurture. It opens unknown hidden doors in the immediate reality and makes you start a fantastic journey beyond the daily appearances. Love, loss, healing, friendship and faith are wrapped into golden powerful words and eternal stories are rewritten. 
I equally loved the beautiful cover, by the talented creator of visual poems, Simi Jois. 
If you want to offer yourself an hour or more of beautiful reading, you can download your free copy from Monica's (newly redesigned) website

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

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Book Review: Expo 58 by Jonathan Coe

Thomas Foley is the Cold War, UK bureaucrat version of The Man Without Qualities. Minus the usual soul unrest typical for Viennaise characters. Sent to manage the Britannia inn at the EXPO 1958 in Brussels, the first after the end of the WWII, he is faced with a completely new reality and challenges, compared to his usual life back home: with a 9 to 5 job, a wife and a small daughter, an uneventful routine-based existence typical for almost 90% of the world population. 
Expo 58 is something different, and as someone who worked herself to such a grandiose event, and keep a small track of literary representations of international exhibitions, I reckon that this is an interesting source of inspiration, well described in the book. For a limited amount of time, people from all over the world are gathering to work and know each other, more or less intimately. At the end of the show, everyone is back to the home reality, and this is how world goes round.
Against his will and without any warning, Foley is caught into a hilarious net typical for that time of the Cold War. There are two spies looking exactly as spies and talking as someone might expect spies are talking, at least if you had enough James Bond bibliography. But there are also people that might look completely different than their appearance display: like the KGB spy versus the attractive American counterpart. Foley's role, which even working at a public institution in a country involved in the Cold War diplomacy and daily invisible war, he is greatly unaware of the geopolitical challenges, is not even to report - as every space around him seems to be bugged - is of low level, to flirt with a girl. One of those 'patriotic calls' simple citizens, otherwise completely un- and a-historical, might be called to do in special situations, like many of the events branded so during the fierce Cold War years. 
What I've found really entincing intellectually in this book is the subtle second plan game between reality and appearances, text and subtext and context, about how we remember and read facts versus how the naked facts really are. Once you discover this layer of interpretation, the book is getting a completely different perspective and value.
My only annoyance with the book was the obsessive use of 'old man' by more than one character. Regardless the original meaning aimed by the author, if any, it doesn't bring in my opinion anything good or hilarious to the story.

Rating: 4 stars

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Tokyo Kill: A Complex Thriller Set in Japan

Horrendous murders, mysterious histories set many decades ago, cruel fights of the Tokyo underground. Detective Jim Brodie is on a strange mission by his Japanese ex-WWII official in China to identify the authors of strange murders and eventually protect his life. The second in the series - although you can read it without a necessary background of the stories from the first installment - Tokyo Kills delves into the complex layers of Japanese life. 
The issues pertaining to WWII actions of the Japanese Army in the neighbouring Asian states, particularly China, are not an easy topic to deal with both in daily life and literature, equally from the political and diplomatic point of view. Barry Lancet has the detailed necessary knowledge and writing skills to write about it in a very diplomatic yet entincing way, although I was able to feel the choice of a very cold account of events, as told by one of the characters. The sensitive stories were confined to the pure narrative, but there is still the background which completely shocks you, especially if you are not familiar with the context and various historical and documentary accounts.
But history is only the story background, as the book involves much more, and has so many interesting twists that 50 pages before the end of it I was still not aware how it will end. The local knowledge also allows to play skillfully with various Asian underground references, such as the differences in operations between the Chinese triads and the Japanese Yakuza, and their dance for influence. The only thing in the story which I've found hilarious and inadequate was the 'Chinese spy', with whom Brodie has a dialogue which is too stiff and mostly uninspired.
Otherwise, the book is a good recommendation for Asian thriller stories, translated through the European literary sensitivities though.

Rating: 4 stars

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Book Review: The Women in the Castle, by Jessica Shattuck

In a Germany brought to ruins by its abuses and paranoid dreams of grandeur, three women - Marianne, Benita and Anja - and their children are getting together their broken fragments of their lives in a Bavarian castle. Their husbands were part of the von Stauffenberg plot and therefore killed and the good deeds and honour of their husbands is their ticket entry into a world free of Nazis. 
Once the story develops, there are secrets revealed not all of them convenient, in a country where not few of the people are hidding even more terrible stories of abandon of the basic human values and behavior. It is a world of lost souls and orphans, of people that will need decades to realize the historical pain and trauma created during those terrible dictatorship times. To describe those years, Jessica Shattuck found the right pace and wordings, and more than once I've found myself able to imagine that I am in the middle of the devastated Berlin or in the then Bavarian wasteland. The three women in the castle are a match that probably in real life would be hardly working, but the 'resistance' their husbands were in - at least two of them - and the post-war hardship creates different human solidarities. Their children, although experienced at different extent the same reality, are able to build a completely new world, interacting with that of adults, but without affecting them significantly. Children, they do have the rare art of coming along with the most unusual situations and deep loss. 
An interesting direction of the book is how the characters do deal with the current historical events, not necessarily in terms of the deep moral meanings, but for starting anew their life. Marianne, for instance, refuses to give credit to the blind actors of the history, while Benita 'held no reverence for anything old or historic. History was horrible, sloppy tail of grief. It swished destructively behind the present, toppling everyone's own personal understanding of the past'. For Fritz, the former German prisoner, 'shame was the only right way to live'. However, there is the assumption that under the impact of history, the individual might have little choices, therefore the difficulty of assigning guilt. 
I personally found the late post-war years experiences of the characters a bit too simplistic, with most of the characters going to America to start a new life in the country of the liberators. There is a certain unbalance in the narrative, not necessarily entincing, with the moral issues softened for some details about American comfort. I've also found a little temporal glitch, with a contemporary reference to the suits of Angela Merkel in 1991, when she was for sure a less known personality.
The Women in the Castle is a book which raises questions and creates moral dilemma with some realistic insights into the issue of historical guilt and responsibility.

Rating: 3.5 stars


The recent Weinstein scandal is a revelation not only about the sexual harassment regularly practised in the film industry, at Hollywood and abroad, but almost in every creative industry. And beyond. Some might say that bohemians and creative people in general do need muses and inspiration and loose morals in order to create. 
I remember my disgust when as a young reporter I was often invited to late parties in the office, with a lot of booze and people with loose morals for whom it was normal to go to bed before the next press conference early in the morning with whoever was of the opposite sex. The new employees and interns were expected at least to answer the flirts if not to accept sexual favors, not necessarily compulsory for getting a long term contract or a salary raise. I was told that this is part of the hardship of a job where you have to be always alert, on the road and ready to spend hours waiting for a scoop. Longterm relationships were rare, and marriages even seldom. I am sure many of those people were not evil or predators or even sick people, but just individuals self-righteous in their own way, unable to realize that what they were doing was humiliating and wrong and it was the fault of their weakness for not being different
The collection of essays edited by Lori Perkins - available for free download on - reveals personal experience of both and women that at certain moments of their careers or human development faced different degrees of sexual harassment and abuse. The testimonies are liberating but also aimed at giving strenth and support to those not yet able to talk about their trauma. It helps - although at a limited extent - to deal with the everyday weight of the soul drama, but also to realize that sharing is a way to empower others in similar situations, the silent voices of the victims. Such a collection has also the role of educating both potential victims and aggressors, offering examples of how much suffering sexual abuse can bring and how avoid ending up as a victim. Each and every one of us has a voice that we need to use it to fight and counter inequalities, injustice and abuse. And perpetrators, regardless how close to kin they are and what personal trauma they went through either, they need to be revealed. 
A very useful collection to read for everyone interested in understanding the subtle ways of sexual abuse and how important is to reject such public behaviors, regardless of the professional background and social status of the perpetrators. Abuse is just not acceptable. 

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

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Book Review: The Copenhagen Affair by Amulya Mulladi

Relationships aren't healing if you move countries. Instead, you are only faced with a new, often magnified reality, which shows 10 times or more bigger the big hole you are in. 
Sanya and her successful charming and fashionable husband move for one year to Copenhagen hoping that the 'implosion' she suffered recently will go away, while he is busy to supervise the purchase of a local company. The new expat family is received with open hand by the high-end local society, for a very serious reason: there are so many secrets to hide among the people supposedly selling the company that they better behave nicely and even try to flirt or have an affair for the price of it. 
Nouveau riches and old money, desperate dedicated housewives, illicit affairs and a lot of showing off, this is the expat world where the good Sanya is introduced too. But she is also going through a dramatic transformation, with a clear line between the 'old' and 'new' women who is trying to change into.
The writing is very captivating, although the story is not so original and the expat life in happy places around the world, with its illicit and legal aspects was often used as a background in recent books - for instance, The Expats by Chris Pavone. The intricacies of the mental breakdown Sanya went through are very well described and together with the other elements of the story, mid-way between irony and thriller, with unexpected twists and some unanswered questions - what really happened between Sanya and Ravn during her 'kidnapping'? - which make the book a pleasant and hard to put down read.

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

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Writers' Secrets: Interview with Nic Joseph, author of The Last Day of Emily Lindsey

Nic Joseph, foto: personal archive
After reading the page-turning novel The Last Day of Emily Lindsey, I wanted to find out more about the author, Nic Joseph, and her creative habits. In my latest installment of the Writers' Secret series, she is sharing some of her tips and inspiration for creating beautiful books.

How do you find inspiration for your books?
Inspiration for my novels can come at any time! Sometimes, I'll be driving to work and see someone or something that catches my eye; or, I'll read a news report that I can't get out of my head. My inspiration for The Last Day of Emily Lindsey came to me after I'd had a particularly hard day at work. I arrived home, sat down on my couch and didn't move for a while. Granted, I wasn't covered in blood or holding a hunting knife, and I did get up after about five minutes! But that's where the story started. 

What's important for me is that I capture ideas, even if they are not fully formed, so that I can return to them later. I keep a running list of story ideas on my phone so I can come back to them later and figure out which ones I want to pursue.

Do you have books or writers that inspire you?

I am a huge Ken Follett fan and am constantly inspired by his world-building. Two books that have influenced my writing in very different ways include Involuntary Witness by Gianrico Carofiglio and Eddie Krumble is the Clapper by Dito Montiel.

How do you fight writer's block?

I remember reading advice that said if you're not having fun writing something, chances are no one will have fun reading it. I took that to heart. Often, when I'm having writer's block, it's because I'm trying to work through a scene that doesn't really deserve to be there. Maybe I've already put a lot of effort into it and don't want to give up on it (and hence lose the word count!) To break through, I have to force myself to take a step back and be honest about what's wrong with the scene. Once I'm on the right track, it's usually pretty easy to break through writer's block - emphasis on usually!

What is the most difficult part of your of being a writer?

Resisting the urge to daydream about my characters all the time. I find myself plotting while I drive, while I'm in the shower, over dinner and while I lay in bed at night. I have to remind myself to turn it off sometime!

What is your next project?

I am currently working on a novel called The Night in Question. It's an idea that's been brewing for a long time, and I am extremely excited about it. The story centers around two women: an Uber driver who makes a very bad decision in order to help someone she loves; and the detective who is investigating a crime that is linked to that very bad decision.

What do you recommend to a beginner writer?

Find the space to enjoy it. Writing can be stressful for so many reasons - lack of time, writer's block, characters that don't seem to want to do what they're supposed to! But find the parts of writing that make you happy, whether that's daydreaming about plot twists, outlining, drafting the perfect sentence, revising, or all of the above, and give yourself dedicated time to enjoy it. Not only will it make the experience more enjoyable, your writing will be all the better for it. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

A Book about Indian Millennials

I hear or read every single day stories about people who left behind sucessful business careers to pursue for long or medium term their dreams of traveling the world, making jewellery or becoming artists. The three girls characters of The Writers' Retreat are the Indian Millennials following an un-traditional path, lookin first for 'a life of creative enrichment' before fishing a husband and a stable business oriented career. 
Amby, Bobby and Mini are each of them successful in their world, Mini including as a brilliant writer of children stories. But they want more from themselves and writing seems to be their world of choice. Therefore, they register for a 2-week writing retreat in Greece, where they meet each other and become the best friends. Meanwhile, they are finding their own creative path and creative voice. The three girls are not alone in their pursuit, as Amby's former boss, KayKay, a successful handsome Indian actor is also joining the Millenial path, by giving up his filming caree, for living his dream of being trained as a chef, at the famous French school Le Cordon Bleu. There is also some gentle romance taking place too, which leads to a happy ending deem of a Bollywood movie.
The story is slowly paced, but with some nice twists that keep you awake, even the lecture is easy and non-problematic, the kind of book you would love to read while on a Greek beach. It is told alternatively by Amby, with some insertions of the author's voice, which is an interesting idea, but somehow outlines too much the idea of a pre-set, predictable story. 
Overall, it is an enjoyable story, with loveable characters and a bit of both adventure and romance and some Greek islands scent.

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

Friday, November 3, 2017

A Different Kind of Book: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Faced with the choice of deciding between a non-fiction science book and a novel, most probably would rather choose the science because besides exploring imagination I am always keen to discover facts about the immediate reality. One might say that imagination is also part of the reality, but as science plays an important part of my background, I love to have on my reading list a considerable amount of non-fiction books, including about mathematics, physics or medicine.
What matters, after all, is to read a good book, and many forget that the rules of good writing are applying for all genres. Whatever the rules of the narrative, you still have to tell a story, either you are writing about a big unhappy love or an episode from the history of science. This week, I was finally able to read two beautiful science books that I had on my TBR for years: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot and The Emperor of All Maladies, by Siddhartha Mukherjee. 
Both do have in common a serious writing based on years of scientific research and investigation, and both succeded to present very complicated medical-related issues in a very readable fascinated format. Especially when you are approaching such a humanly difficult topic as cancer, but Mukherjee offers emotional human stories wrapped in the wise knowledgeable words of the practising doctor and the scientist.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a complex story about science, race, medical ethics and destiny in 20th century America. An anonymous actor of the world medicine, Henrietta Lacks was given her name to cancerous cells removed without her consent when in her final stage of cancer. Those cells were further used for various medical aims, among others for creating the polio vaccine. Rebecca Skloot investigates stubborny this complicated story, giving voice and face for the first time to Lacks and her family an experience that challenged and changed her too: 'The Lackses challenged everything I thoughts about faith, science, journalism and race'. The story is well structured and told so beautifully that I was hardly able to go to sleep before finishing it. After all, maybe there are hopes that investigative journalism is still alive. And that good books are belonging to any genre.

Rating: 5 stars

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Germany Loves Books

Advertisment in the Freiburg Central Station, summer 2017
I rarely see so much governmental interest to encourage people to read and support the book industry. From translations published the day the original is out on the market, to subsidized prices for books and generous libraries with all the possible books in the worlds, and programs encouraging children to read and love books from as early as 1 year old, German authorities are doing their best for supporting this elite industry.
You might ask, what exactly is the advantage for the society to invest so much in books which are encouraging imagination and the fantasy, features not necessarily well welcomed in a society aimed to create material value? As someone growing up surrounding by books - sometimes I had the feeling that the separation walls between the rooms of the house were made of books instead of concrete - I cannot see my life without books. I am an avid reader and since the blogs are out, I am blogging and sharing my love for stories. I personally find it normal to bring my 2 year old son to the library to find together the books he might find interesting, using his special library card. We even went to some special classes for baby - 1 to 3 year old (more about that in a next post). Therefore, a country where libraries are so rich and even the most remote place has at least one library, it most likely to beconsidered my home. 
For people for whom bookstores are as important as gas stations or supermarkets, there is a website you can use to find the neareast bookstore, an useful recommendation especially if you are away of home and curious to check the local literature available: I am doing it very often during my travels, as I can easily discover local German authors and even special events with writers. This website offers access to over 22,000 bookstores all over Germany, including those selling best sellers and offering specialty books. Just in case you forgot to bring your favorite books for your trip.
Bonus: if you are planning a trip to Condor Airlines, a sticker indicating that you have books in your luggage may substract a number of kilos from your bags from the general counting for your carry ons.
Only in Bookland Germany!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Salman, the Storyteller

Every encounter with the literary world of Salman Rushdie is a storytelling feast. Told in the slow-paced Oriental tone, his stories, often turned into novels are journey into the deep layers of imagination, freely playing with universal symbols and philosophical meanings.
Two Years, Eight Months&Twenty-Eight Nights - mathematically 1001 nights - is an equisite magic adventure into the world of djinnis and their interactions with humans, a panoramic story of human grandeur and decadence. 
I've recently read a novel writing advice according to which it is preferable that you are roughly limiting the number of characters populating your story. Rushdie proves that he is able to have an infinite number of them, and to infuse them with life, will and adventures of their own. The number of stories included into this story is like a mosaique of fractals, a charming chain of stories that are taking the reader in without acknowledging. 
When you are reading some of Salman Rushdie books you are reminded about that high end society of hommes de lettres of the old centuries, when putting words on paper meant more than creating spontaneously stories, but creating meaning and giving a violent, debate-oriented life to the ideas. Although the setting was an Oriental big table where characters are coming and going, the content of the writing reminded me of both Saramago and Russian literature - Bulgakov, among others. 
If at the end of the novel you keep asking yourself: 'What the author meant in fact?' without finding a clear answer is also because we almost forgot how to approach perfect literary worlds. Writers do have extra powers to read the world and re-write the story of reality for us, and Rushdie is one of them. The rest is a hard work of imagination.

Rating: 4 stars
PS: Can't wait to read a review in the next weeks his latest book The Golden House, received from Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Blog Tour: The Last Day of Emily Lindsey by Nic Joseph

With a story built alternatively between 'then' and 'now' and page turning twists of psychological revelations, The Last Day of Emily Lindsey is a unique adventure which keeps you curious until the very last page.
Everything starts when a woman, apparently Emily Lindsey, the author of a popular inquisitive blog is found in her apartment, covered in blood which is not hers with a knife which does not belong to her either. Detective Steven Paul which was going through a rather difficult career moment is assigned to the case. Once the inquiry advances and more and more strange and outerwordly moments occurs, he is about to lose his fragile balance too, as his visions and nightmares he was coping with his entire life are coming back more and more often. 
The second lane of the story - which is relatively slower and more focused on psychological details and descriptions - takes place in a bizarre orphanage where every June 2nd there is a terrible event happens.
At the beginning, it is quite difficult to make the connection between the two stories, but once the end is revealed, all the pieces of the puzzle are nicely put together. It is one of those books whose value is dramatically increased by the final ending, as the art of the writer is to create suspense and keep the reader into a state of permanent inquiry. Ironically, even if you are trying to make suppositions about a possible course of action, you are proven always wrong. 
A book recommended to anyone strong enough to read without pause - because you can hardly go to sleep before you know what really happened to Emily Lindsey - a haunting story which will stay with you longer, much longer

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

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Terrific Psychological Thriller: When You Disappeared, by John Marrs

When Simon, the happy half of a wonderful British family , a man in his early 30s with a promising architect career suddenly disappeared his devoted wife, Catherine, cannot believe that only death set them apart. But the truth is cruel and will stay hidden for the next 25 years. 
Written as an alternating diary of Simon and Catherine, a step-by-step mention of going out of grief, the weight of the past or the family responsibilities, When You Disappeared by John Marrs is a page turned, although predictable at a certain extent. Although some revelations are not surprising - for instance, who killed the younger son, Billy - the psychological weight of the stories is dramatic and displays a great storytelling craftmanship for this genre. 
From a scene installment to the other, the perfectly evil nature of the ambitious architect is revealed, a display of how delusional are the appearances. Simon himself became a serial criminal from a delusion, an apparent affair of his wife with his best friend who had actually a crush on him many years ago. A quarter of century later, he is confessing to the brave Catherine, a fantastic character with strength and an outstanding desire to live her life, whatever the circumstances. The dedicated wife from the first months after the mysterious disappearing - 'The strength and support he'd shown me during the worst thing that could ever happen to a parent, had proved he was a fantastic husband and dad, and I desperately needed to believe that he was alive' - is turned into a hard working bread winner and the strong woman who won against a terrible malady and was powerful enough to start a new life and even face the truth of the lies and crimes of her ex-husband. 
It is a dark novel, going deep into the murkiest corners of the human mind, telling as often as possible in different wordings that the humans can be sometimes slaves of their strong self-destroying criminal emotions, especially if there is a genetical predisposition to it. I am not sure about this, but meeting the literary character of Simon might be just enough for a while. 

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