The picture book (The undertow), by Jo Baker

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I was really excited about this book due to my love for family sagas, but it didn’t turn out as I expected.

The undertow Jo baker

The story follows the family history of the Hastings since the Great War, when Will joins the army and leaves Amelia pregnant and living with her in-laws. They have a correspondence during the war and Will sends postcards of the places where he is stationed, postcards that will be kept in an album for the generations of Hastings to discover.

All the descendents of the generations to come are, somehow, miserable: Amelia will have a hard time raising her child alone, and her son, Will, is going to be a great athlete, but never to the point of winning important competitions due to his poor upbringing. Will’s son (also called Will) is born with a physical disability, which is more shameful taking into account his father’s love for physical activities; the boy is good at studying and will become a professor in Oxford, but he will never get rid of the feeling that he isn’t good enough. And finally my favourite part: set in the present age and about Billie, a young woman who doesn’t know if she should continue pursuing her dream of becoming a painter.

The picture book Jo Baker

My copy of the book

The album appears in the story here and there, but it’s not the guide along the narration. We get to know certain scenes of the life of the Hastings, and I felt like some parts needed further development: in one chapter a scene is described in detail and, in the next, several years have passed and we are talking about different things (or people!), so I would like to have explanations in between in order to truly understand the characters.

In summary, I liked the book – the story of several generations of a British family, their differences and the weight they carry from the past – but I couldn’t help feeling something important was missing.

rakin3The picture book
Jo Baker
450 pages, Portobello Books (British edition)
Read My Own Damn Books: 7th book

Spring 2016 #Readathon: Food!

A quick look at the cake I just baked  :mrgreen:

readathon snacks

It contains orange juice and slices of apple, so that makes it super healthy because I say so.

There are also strawberries and other fruits I have at home, and a lemon pie that is to come tomorrow. Because I don’t want to starve to death, right?

As for the drinks, I have a couple of flavoured coffees (one with plum and cinnamon and the other with pistachio and cinnamon) and also all kind of teas (white, green, black…). I probably won’t be drinking cold drinks apart from water (sodas and beers are not my thing when I’m at home, and I’m not grown-up enough for wine lol).

So, everything seems to be ready, we only have to wait a few more hours…

Spring 2016 #Readathon: Getting ready!

The first readathon of 2016 is here!

I can’t believe it actually hasn’t come yet, because I feel as I’ve been readathoning all week thanks to the facebook group and the twitter chats. People are having fun already!

First of all, let’s see my books:

readathon books

  • Maus, by Art Spiegelman: a graphic novel.
  • We were liars, by E. Lockhart.
  • From A to X, by John Berger: I love epistolary novels.
  • First and last: two short stories by Truman Capote
  • An audiobook I already started: Miss Peregrine’s home for peculiar children, by Ransom Riggs.

Except for the short stories and the audiobook, the rest are books from the list of #readmyowndamnbooks, so I plan to give that challenge a boost.

Besides, the current status of my goodreads challenge is this:

goodreadsIt would be really nice if I can finish a couple of books…

In another vein, this year one of my dreams has come true: I am a cheerleader! I’m super excited; I’ve already been assigned a team (go, Team Emu!) and I’m scheduling my day in order to cheer them (and other friends from other teams), and also spare some time to read and do the mini-challenges. Because you know that I’ll do as many mini-challenges as I can.

Further information about the cake I’m planning to bake and my selection of coffee and tea is to come in another post  😉 See you tomorrow!

Harry Potter and the philosopher’s stone, by J.K. Rowling

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When the first books of Harry Potter became so popular I was a little too old for children’s books and I never came to read them; but afterwards, as an adult, I have always known I had to give them a go. I was sure I would enjoy that magical world, and I’m glad I turned out to be right!

Harry potter and the philosopher's stone

I’m not summarizing the story everybody knows too well, but I wanted to share some of my thoughts on the book. First of all, I would have loved to grow up having a fictional friend like Harry, and now I truly understand all those people who are devoted fans of the books and films. I loved the three main characters, especially Hermione because she is a hoity-toity girl, but she came from a muggle family and I’m sure all she wanted was to prove herself worthy of attending such a school like Hogwarts. Regarding Harry, I had to fight back tears while reading how miserable his life with his aunt and uncle was – I literally wept when I read he wore broken glasses (I don’t know why this particular detail touched me, but touched I was), and also when his uncle left him alone at the train station, clueless about how to find the platform 9 and ¾. Seriously, it was painful to imagine a child so unloved. On the other hand, I had a wonderful time with all the adventures Harry, Hermione and Ron go through in Hogwarts, and with all the magic that filled every page.

I suppose this is the first sketch of what is to come in the next books: a child who will have to live up to the magic world’s expectations in the fight against the evil, the power of true friendship, and the fact that sometimes it’s OK to break the rules in order to save the world. It’s so full of excitement that I’m sure I’ll continue with the series.

I think Harry Potter is a read every one would enjoy, even if you have outgrown the recommended age for these children’s books. It’s never too late to believe in magic 😉

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Harry Potter and the philosopher’s stone
J.K. Rowling
Bloomsbury Publishing, 225 pages

How to survive a sleepless night

Last night I couldn’t sleep, and here we are.

I don’t consider myself a particularly stressed person, but from time to time I find myself concerned about everyday issues (exams, for instance) that prevent me for getting enough sleep. And, according to the last book I have read, I think I must  have the brain of a teenager because I need my 7-8 hours of sleep every night to be a functional person.

I have recently read a couple of articles on what to do when you have trouble sleeping (not about sleeping disorders, which should be treated by a doctor), and I’m not going to talk about sleeping habits, but about how to fight insomnia in situ: the night in question and the day after, having tried all the methods myself over the past weeks 😉

How to survive a sleepless nightSource

The night in question

Let’s start at the beginning: it’s 3 am and you are staring at the ceiling from your bed, thinking about the ton of things you have to do tomorrow.

a) First of all, get out of bed. To me, there’s nothing more counterproductive that trying to sleep when you are awake – I just can’t do it.

b) Make a cup of tile and/or valerian. According to my own experience, this isn’t likely to help until it’s five minutes to get up – that’s the moment when the tile really kicks in, hard. So, why do I still try it? Simply because it gives me hope it will work, if only this time…

c) Then take your cup of hope and do something productive. Keep in mind that the next day you’ll accomplish fewer things than scheduled, so try to get ahead of it tonight. Besides, there is nothing else to do at this hour, and you should know that watching TV or surfing the internet will make you feel guilty in the morning, so get stuff done.

I either study or organize papers. In those sleepless nights is when I realized studying taxes doesn’t always have the effect of a sleeping pill…  This should be a new field of research.

I have never tried to clean, even though I have considered it many times, but I’m confused: I don’t know if cleaning, considered as a soft exercise, might activate your brain even more, making it totally impossible to fall asleep again that night or, on the contrary, it might leave you exhausted and ready for bed. If you have tried it, I’m willing to hear about it.

d) When you begin to feel sleepy, leave whatever you are doing and go to bed. Apparently, we have sleeping circles, and once one of them arrives, the next won’t come until an hour and a half later, so don’t play with fire.

 

The morning after

Today will be all about willpower, believe me.

a) I’m sure you have reset your alarm for a later hour to skip all the healthy morning routines you wanted to do. Getting more sleep, if possible, is a great thing, but I would never-ever skip my breakfast. In fact, I wouldn’t even bother getting up if I’m not going to drink my chocolate milk and eat a toast with butter and jam. Fig jam. Oh God. 😀

b) The last day I suffered from sleep deprivation I did something remarkable I want to share: I woke up and exercised a little bit. I know, I KNOW. Those who do exercise regularly already know that a workout makes the difference between a great morning and a morning in which you just go through, but the effect when you haven’t sleep properly is multiplied by 100. I mean, you won’t do The Workout because this is not the day for that, but I’m talking about no more than 20-30 minutes in order to activate your brain a little. Trust me.

c) Drink as much coffee as you need before 5 pm. We need to get going but we don’t want to be awake when it’s finally time to go to bed.

d) Don’t wear sunglasses. I read this tip in an article talking about how to survive if you partied all night and you have to work the next day, but it applies here too for the same reason: your brain gets activated by the light caught by the eye, so we want all that brightness. It is going to hurt, but it’s necessary.

e) Then, rearrange your tasks in order to do the things that require concentration and/or quietness first. You might feel almost dying, but these first hours of the morning are in fact your best of this particular day, so be ready. If possible, leave errands for later in the day, when you’ll be really tired – you’ll shake off sleepiness by going here and there and it won’t require concentration.

f) When you get home (in my case is for lunch, because in Spain we have lunch very late), don’t nap. I repeat: DON’T NAP. In my own experience, this is the hardest part, but I know I can’t nap for a few minutes – when I haven’t rest well at night it’s impossible for me to wake up from a nap until a couple of hours later and, therefore, that night I’ll go to bed late and the circle of insomnia will continue forever. We don’t want that to happen, so it’s better if you just go for a short walk (remember: without sunglasses!).

g) At around 6 pm you’ll experience a burst of energy. Take advantage of it to do whatever requires your concentration, but keep in mind it won’t last more than 1-2 hours.

h) And finally, go-to-bed. Can there be anything more pleasant? When you began feeling sleepy in the evening, don’t fight it, just embrace your bed early, get advantage of that sleeping circle that just came to you from the heavens, and get the rest you deserve. After all, you survived!

*****

Do you have any survival tips for these occassions? Please, share them!

Your daily brain: 24 hours in the life of your brain, by Garth Sundem

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I received this book from Netgalley for review.

Your daily brain shows us how our brain works and why it does it that way as it makes us go through a typical working day. Because let’s be honest: your brain is in charge.

your daily brain garth sundemThe book addresses the different brain functions stopping by certain hours in the day in which we have different needs, from the first chapter at 6:30 am, “Should you hit the snooze button?”, to the last at 9:00 pm, “Why you should stop reading and go to sleep”, passing by many daily tasks and routines and the way we approach every one of them.

The author talks about memory, multitasking, willpower, positivity, etc. To be honest, I knew a lot about some of these subjects thanks to the previous books I have read on these matters, some by authors mentioned in Your daily brain. Besides, the book talks briefly about every topic (about 5-6 kindle pages per chapter), so you won’t get a profound scientific knowledge by reading it, but the format (many subjects, summarized) is approachable because it is easy to follow, avoiding scientific nomenclature, and keeps your interest.

I went over many things I already knew about, like multitasking (the ability to switch fast between two or more tasks, NOT about doing two things at once), and I also found new information: I liked to learn, for instance, about creativity; the special needs of the teenage brain; the different studies about willpower (I only had read about one of the theories about this skill); or the changes in parent’s brains – they get a different circuit when they hear a baby crying that tells them to worry about the baby’s needs (even if it’s not their baby!), whereas for we, the childless, it goes directly to the “annoying noises” neurons 😛

Altogether, this is an interesting book written for the public with humor, examples on everyday life anybody can identify with, and topics I’m always keen to learn about; after all, we’d love to understand this bossy organ we have in our heads!

Your daily brain
Garth Sundem
Ebook, 194 pages
Collection: Marbles: The brain store
Published by Three Rivers Press
Book on Goodreads

 

#ReadMyOwnDamnBooks – March 2016 Update

Hello fellow readers!

This is the first update I post for this challenge, and I do it now because I have achieved my first mini-goal.

I remind you “my own rules” about the challenge:

  • The goal is to read 20-30 books from the list.
  • I can only buy/request/borrow from the library once I’ve read 5 books from the list. Then I’ll read another 5 and so on.
  • The rule above doesn’t count for book-club books 😛 (you know, because I have to read them for the book club!).
  • I’ll choose the books either by asking my boyfriend to pick a number from 1 to 222 or by using random.org.

Last week I finished my fifth book from the list. Here they are:

read my own damn books march 2016

  1. Misión Olvido, by María Dueñas (in Spanish).
  2. La librería a la vuelta de la esquina (short stories by different authors, also in Spanish).
  3. The picture book, by Jo Baker.
  4. Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline.
  5. Life after life, by Kate Atkinson.

Take into account that the total amount of books I’ve read so far this year is ten books, so the fact that half of them were already on my shelves (the rest were book club picks) is a great accomplishment, believe me.

I also started another one but I couldn’t finished it (boring), so we can say that there are six books crossed out on the list right now. The method I’ve been using to choose the books has been my boyfriend picking up numbers randomly, without looking at the titles on the list. That way the next read is always a surprise for me!

However, I have already broken my own rules! I said I would request one book after finishing groups of five, and I actually requested three last week on a whim! I can’t promise it won’t happen again but, on my behalf, I’ll say I’m currently reading another “own-damn-book”.

I’ll write again an update post when I finish the next five.

Good luck!

The storyteller, by Jodi Picoult

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What a thought-provoking book! It’s about evil, goodness, and the fact that the two of them can converge into the same person.

The storyteller Jodi PicoultSage Singer is a solitary girl who works at night in a bakery, hidden from the world by her own choice because she thinks she is not worthy of love, friendship, or being happy. One day, she makes friends with Josef, a respected old man from the community where she lives and, shockingly, he confesses to her that he was an SS Nazi guard at Auschwitz and asks her to help him die.

Of course, Sage’s first reaction (after denial, that is, because such a confession seemed more likely to be a made up story by an old man) is disgust for all the crimes committed by Josef in the past, but then again, that was long time ago, and the man he is now is completely different: a nice teacher who has been helping others for years. Might the new Josef redeem the old one? Who is to judge?

Intertwined in this story, there is also Minka’s; she is Sage’s grandmother and a Holocaust survivor who has kept the horror she lived to herself, becoming a new person with a new life once she moved to America. But now Sage needs to know, and Minka finally releases her story, in which Josef plays also a part. Therefore, if the reader was feeling pity for a ninety-year-old man who took part in the world’s worst crimes but voluntarily decided to become a new person, now is willing to change her mind after knowing Minka’s story in Auschwitz.

As far as I know, Picoult’s books are always this controversial. The characters play the two points of view of the story, both of them explained in detail for the reader to sympathize and one has to decide for herself, which is not an easy task. And then again, we are not the ones to judge, but we can’t avoid judging either.

So, if you are looking for a book (or an author, for that matter) to challenge your values and morality, this is a great option. Besides, I never get tired of stories set in World War II, and this particular one is well written: raw and bitter when necessary, but well balanced with kindness and humour thanks to secondary characters in both storylines.

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PS: This book was not on my list for the Read my own damn books Challenge, but I have other four books by this author waiting on my shelves😉

The storyteller
Jodi Picoult
Atria Books, 460 pages
Book on Goodreads

My umpteenth problem with English: syllabification

I am aware that this post is not about books, but a few days ago I was so annoyed with this issue that I was about to scream it out loud in the middle of the street, until I remembered that a) I wouldn’t like to live in a psychiatric hospital, and b) I have a blog! I can complain here if I need to, right?
If you are reading this, I hope you don’t mind.

SyllabificationSource

Even though learning a new language is a rewarding activity, sometimes one just reach a point in which she can’t take in any more. I didn’t think I knew it all already, far from it, but I liked to tell myself that what was left were little things I could easily absorb by reading and listening to books and films; a new word here, a new expression there… Until I realized I had an unbeatable enemy: syllabification.

I had never come across syllabification while studying English, but I can’t blame my teachers: first, because they had it hard enough trying to make English sound acceptable in our disabled tongues to even think about introducing us to this whole new nightmare, and second, because they really couldn’t have imagined that someday this would be an issue in our future lives – They were almost right.

I first noticed about syllables while reading books in English. From time to time I would see a word broken in two lines that caught my attention for the simplest reason: I couldn’t figure out why it was broken in that particular way that made no sense to me. Then I would find other words in the same awkward fashion until I finally came up with the only possible conclusion: in English you divide the words into syllables at random.

(They should have called me for assistance when they made the rules for written English, don’t you think?)

I had easily avoided syllables in my writings by writing the last word of a line tinier than the rest if I was writing by hand, or by writing my assignments on the computer – the easiest way. But what do you do when you are writing with a typewriter? (I know: this is not a question you are asked every day). I thought the right answer was to follow the my rule: separate the letters at random! I still can’t understand what went wrong…

I was writing a letter with my new Hermes baby and I wanted to make sure my correspondent wasn’t going to think I am stupid, so I asked my friend Jennine to see if there were any rules for this. She, apart from being an angel, suggested two tips:

1) Clap your hands while you say the word out loud. Great, this was going to be easy, indeed! Let’s try it:

already2) Check the word with a dictionary.

syllables

*epic fail*😥

Alright, this was also my second option and, for the moment, my only way to know the syllables in a word. Jennine says that, eventually, I’ll start to recognize patterns, and I really want to believe her, but this seems like a whole new business to me.

Due to English pronunciation, which is so different from the Spanish rules on the matter, I just can’t figure out what the syllables are in the words. For example, I know that you pronounce “gaged” like a single sound in the word “engaged”, but in Spanish a single syllable is often composed only of a consonant followed by a vowel, so my brain needs to think I can separate “ga–ged”. Another option just seems too wrong!

As I result, I use my typewriters with the computer beside me, dictionary.com open in the screen. It’s funny, I know, but for now is the only way I have not to make mistakes in my writings. I guess that the goal is not to give up!

**********

Do you also find new problems with your second language almost every day, or it’s only me?

PS: for those English native speakers who are studying Spanish, I want to tell you something: you deserve all our verb tenses!

Life after life, by Kate Atkinson

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Life after life Kate Atkinson

Ursula Todd comes in a bar full of German soldiers, kills Hitler, and immediately the others shot her dead. Then she is born but dies at childbirth, so she is born again and makes it until she is a little girl… only to be born again, the same winter day, into the same family, overcoming previous accidents and difficulties that she experienced before.

This could seem a repetitive story, taking into account that Ursula lives many lives, but it’s far from it. In every life the author focuses our attention on a certain aspect of Ursula’s friends and relatives, on how much your life can change in just a second or the chances you have to make a different outcome… But that outcome, is it better or worse? How can we know?

Life after life Kate Atkinson

The synopsis of the book asks What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right? And that’s the question the book brings up – what is right? We all agree that right might be not dying from illnesses, accidents or violence, but once you are a healthy human being who lives in a safe environment, there are a number of things that bring you joy and happiness, and some necessarily imply that you can’t have the others.

Life after life is not only a thought-provoking book, but also a historical fiction story since most of it is set on World War II, during the London Blitz and, thanks to Ursula’s many lives, we get many different points of view of that period.

However, and this is funny, the end is open to interpretation, and I think the book is prone to, at least, one re-read, thanks to the clues that some of the characters leave throughout the story. I spent some time reading other readers’ questions and comments on GoodReads, because it really leaves you in need of answers. It’s a great story.

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Life after life
Kate Atkinson
Black Swan
Paperback, 620 pages
Read my own damn books: 1st

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