Sweetness

I have no books to review, so let me tell you what happened today…

empty-benches

I attend to an activity for adults where, recently, a girl with Down syndrome is attending too. I guess her mother couldn’t schedule another hour for her, because she is very young (about 13 years old) and should be in school. Anyway, she is now in class with us – me and other women above 50 years old – but we hardly see her because the instructors make her do different exercises than what we do, so we only see each other at the beginning and the end of the class.

Thanks to my job, I have been in contact with other boys and girls with Down syndrome and I see everybody talks to them as if they are little kids, but that’s difficult to me because I have what I think is a disability to interact with children: I never know what to say, and I certainly can’t speak with that “voice” people use to talk to them, so I end up speaking in my normal tone and I simply ask questions in order to find something in common.

Anyway, everybody in the class seems to talk to this girl like she is a little kid as well, trying to tease her a little (in the good way), and I just smile to her, say hello and talk very little about what I would say to whoever else. She is not very talkative and, as I told you, we don’t see her very much.

But today, as we were arranging our stuff to go home (she is the fastest of all), she came to where I was and said me goodbye. She said, “Isa, goodbye.” Only to me. She even made my name hers, since people there call me Isabel. This girl made me feel so special and appreciated that lightened my day, and I thought that perhaps you would like to hear this little story.

It’s so simple to touch another heart…

The ballroom, by Anna Hope

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I received this book from Netgalley

the-ballroom-anna-hopeIn 1911, a young woman called Ella is confined in a mental asylum against her will. In her first moments there she tries to escape and catches the attention of John, another inmate who is working in the fields around the institution. But Ella’s attempt to flee doesn’t succeed and soon she finds herself getting used to the routines and the people of the asylum.

Charles, one of the doctors of the institution, is a frustrated musician who, in an attempt to bring his job and his calling together, is studying the effect that music has on the mentally ill people under his care, gathering the women in a music room during some hours of the day, and assembling a dance for the men and the women together every Friday evening in a magnificent ballroom inside the building – the only moment men and women are allowed to interact with each other. Charles’ revolutionary method seems to go very well, supplying the doctor with enough evidence to support that mental illness can be cured – the doctor wants to present his conclusions against the Eugenics movement, whose supporters think of castrating men with these mental conditions as the solution to the spreading of illness and poverty.

high-royds-asylumThe asylum where the book is set really existed.
Source.

As the previous novel of Anna Hope, I was hooked on the atmosphere of the book. Ella’s point of view is of a weak woman, scared of this new place where people are “crazy”, but secretly brave enough to try to find her way out. John’s chapters are more masculine and apathetic; he is always working outside in the fields whereas the women are always doing chores inside the building. But from his first meeting with Ella, the seed of freedom begins to grow, so he tries to bring little treasures from the outside world for Ella, taking risks to write and send her letters, and feeling like his old self again. On the other hand, Charles’ chapters talk about the way other people see the institution and how dangerous was to be considered “different” in that time, taking into account the healing methods in mental asylums.

This is probably the best novel I have read this year; from the story of impossible love between these two characters whose destiny are in others’ hands, to how easily one might confuse madness and sanity and who has the right to decide if you must be freed or locked in; I felt the author has created a wonderful story on the basis of mental health.

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The ballroom
Anna Hope
Published by Random House
320 pages

Memoirs, tales and short stories: mini-reviews from October’16 Readathon

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As I told you, I chose short books for the Readathon, and that was the best idea I ever had: I read five books during the event! And, this is remarkable, all of them were interesting and enjoyable reads. This was a surprise because I just browsed the library and borrowed books based entirely on their number of pages, without any further information about them but the synopsis on the back cover.

I read almost all of them in Spanish, but I have seen they have also been translated into English, so I am free to recommend them here on my blog  :)

Bitter Herbs: The Vivid Memories of a Fugitive Jewish Girl in Nazi Occupied Holland (Marga Minco)

bitter-herbs-marga-mincoThis is a memoir of the author, and I think it is considered a classic in some Northern European countries, like The diary of Anne Frank.

The story starts when the German soldiers enter Marga’s town and, when she asks her father if they are going to deport the Jews, like they were doing in Germany, he says that ‘Something like that could never happen here‘. Her family didn’t want to leave the country and none of them survived except Marga.

It is a terrible story, of course, but the author doesn’t put any sentimentalism on the text; she just gives us her memories as facts for us to cover the passages with the fear and pain Marga must have felt in her youth.

Book on Goodreads.

The blue fox (Sjón)

the-blue-fox-sjonThis is a short tale set in the middle of the Nineteenth Century in Iceland. I thought I was going to read a story of men against nature, but I was very wrong.

The story starts with a priest chasing a fox for its fur but, as they move towards the mountains through the snow, the narration is interrupted to tell us what has happened those days in the village. There has been a death, and thanks to the preparations for her funeral, we are going to know the story of a girl who was “different”.

This is that kind of book you don’t want to talk about so much, for the prospective readers to discover the story by themselves. It is thought-provoking, sad and beautiful.

Book on Goodreads.

I wish someone were waiting for me somewhere (Anna Gavalda)

i-wish-someone-were-waiting-for-me-somewhereThis is a collection of short stories and, even though it is not a genre of my liking, I have to recommend it, because most of the stories are shocking, affecting the reader in one way or another.

What they have in common is the impact of one single event that, in less than a minute, changes everything. Apart from this, there are different genres, characters, situations, etc.

I specially liked three of them: a humorous story about two rich boys who take their father’s car without permission; one about a female veterinarian who has trouble making herself a place in a small village; and one about a salesman whose life has been destroyed by himself alone.

Book on Goodreads.

Getting ready for October’16 #Readathon!

I have been planning this event all week, and I want to share with you part of the fun.

This year I’m not reading as much as I used to mainly because my Law studies prevent me from having free time (to say the least). At the beginning of the week I saw on GoodReads that I am nine books behind my goal, so I began browsing my bookshelves and my local library in search of very short books (no more than 100 pages) in order to cheat try and save the challenge. So that is basically what I plan to do in the Readathon.

Preparations

Well, first things first: the food!

apple-pie

I made an apple pie as my main source of calories for the Readathon lol, and I also went to the cake shop to buy some chocolate muffins (because an apple pie is too much healthy, right? haha).

Don’t worry about my feeding, for I also bought some real food in the supermarket that is going to be cooked tomorrow morning (the Readahon starts at 2 pm here in Spain, so I have plenty of time for housework).

libraryRegarding books, today after work I made the last trip to the library and I got five short books on several genres (memoirs, tales, short-stories, etc.) all by European authors, translated into Spanish. I also bought a book a month ago (The totally geeky guide to The princess bride) with the Readathon in mind.

I’m also listening to an audiobook (Law of success, by Napoleon Hill), and tomorrow I’ll take it with me for my walks and errands.

Goals

books-for-the-readathon

As I told, I have been reading some short books this week so I started being 9 books behind schedule and now I’m 6 behind. And my pile of books has this six books so… I want to read them all and be on track again!

In the past readathons I only read an average of 300 pages because I got stuck on social media and all the wonderful mini-challenges, but one can dream, right? Besides, this time I will be reading primarily in Spanish so I think I’ll go faster.

Anyway, all I want is to have fun.

See you tomorrow on twitter and Instagram!  <3

The lost diaries of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, by Sarah Bates

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I received this book thanks to Virtual Authors Book Tours

the-lost-diaries-of-elizabeth-cady-stanton-sarah-bates

The lost diaries of Elizabeth Cady Stanton is a work of fiction based on the early life of this historical figure, Elizabeth Cady Stanton: her family background, her education, and her willingness of being equal as any men from an early age; all of which is presented in small chapters narrating some events, followed by the possible entry that could have been written in this girl’s diary.

Elizabeth was born in a wealthy family and was exposed to the law, and the inequality of it regarding men and women rights, thanks to her father, the judge Daniel Cady. She liked, from an early age, to take part in the lessons and discussions that her father assembled at home with his students and, being Mr. Cady an abolitionist, she took some of his ideas as her own.

She fought hard to get an education further than what was expected for a girl like her, and she always presented herself like an equal to the men she encountered on parties and other social gatherings, trying to make points in conversations that were not supposed to be suitable for women. This behaviour, perhaps, didn’t make her a good match at the eyes of the prospective husbands of her time, but it certainly gave her the opportunity to choose a husband whose ideals match her own, as finally happened.

I found the book interesting – a great portrait of the time and personal background of this woman, addressing all the important events in her life, such as her academic awards, the death of her older brother, her approach about the abolition of slavery, a setback caused by the influence of the Revival meetings when she was a student, her forbidden love for her brother-in-law, etc. However, I have to say that sometimes the narration appeared as a mere description of events, lacking the emotional display needed in some scenes (to my liking, at least). Besides, the opening of the book introduces Elizabeth in her sixties, about to give a lecture, and then goes back to her childhood until the last chapter, when I had forgotten all about the lecture and the characters involved in the first chapter, which was kind of a shock because I didn’t remember what was happening and why now one of the characters was upset.

But, in summary, I have to say that I really enjoyed knowing about this historical figure. The book fulfills its role as an introduction of the early years of Elizabeth and how she became the strong-minded woman who fought for women rights and the abolitionist movement later in life.

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The lost diaries of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, by Sarah Bates
420 pages
Book on Amazon
Book on Goodreads
Follow the tour

Sarah Bates’ website

Summer thrillers 2016 (#MiniReviews)

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Summer is definitely a time for reading thrillers. I enjoy sitting down in the coolest room at home and turn pages like crazy, oblivious to the heat outside, trying to make the summer pass a little faster too…

Here is a quick summary of what I have read lately on this genre.

I am Pilgrim, by Terry Hayes

i-am-pilgrim-terry-hayesDo you like books on Islamic terrorism? Neither do I, and that’s why you have to read this book! The author turns a subject I actually dislike into a story I was hooked on from beginning to end. That is something, don’t you think?

The book follows the advances of the ultimate terrorist on his master plan to destroy the western culture – a plan which has been carefully designed throughout his entire life and admits no failure – and his nemesis: an American secret agent, the best among the best. The action mixed with the protagonists’ backgrounds makes this book fascinating. I was so tense and edgy while reading it that, in a way, it was a relief when it finished. One never knows if it’s going to end well or not.

5/5 stars

Method 15/33, by Shannon Kirk

method-15-33-shannon-kirkThis is a story of a pregnant teenager that has been kidnapped, but she is an exceptionally gifted child, and her captors are the ones who should be scared, for she plans to make them pay.

This story is pure entertainment and the main character, being so different from a normal sixteen-year-old girl, together with the peculiar personality of one of the agents that are trying to find her, make you have a great time. Nevertheless, I expected a different momentum in the story, and the epilogue was too long for my liking, and that’s the reason it doesn’t have many stars.

3/5 stars

Girl on the train, by Paula Hawkins

girl-on-the-train-paula-hawkinsEverybody knows this one already!

Yes, I was hooked on at the beginning. Yes, I enjoyed it. BUT I read a book at the beginning of the year written by the French Pierre Lemaitre that had the same plot twist and was so superior to Girl on the train in many aspects, that I couldn’t avoid comparison between the two. And Hawkin’s book loses.

I’m sorry, I expected more excitement.

3/5 stars

Buxton Spice, by Oonya Kempadoo (a #diverseathon book)

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When I signed in on Twitter after the exams I saw everybody talking about a discussion generated on BookTube that crystallized in a “diverse-a-thon”, meaning a week for reading “diverse” books and learn intentionally about other cultures, religions, races, sexual orientations, etc., through your reads. I didn’t have to look so far, for I had already a book from the library set in Guyana that fitted perfectly for the purpose of the event.

buxton-spice-oonya-kempadooBuxton Spice is a coming-of-age story narrated by a pre-teen girl in a fictional village of this Caribbean country, surrounded by an atmosphere of political change and ethnical disturbances that makes the discovery of her new sexual nature even more disturbing.

I think that the main goal of the book is to describe how girls’ sexuality is developed within this community, with Lula and her friends as guides. At the beginning of the narration the girls’ approach towards sex is an amusing one; it’s something they witness on a daily basis so, even though they don’t understand it completely, they joke and play games about it. However, Lula’s encounter with one of the village’s boys, make her actually feel it, and that changes her.

The discovery of sexuality is the theme of the book, and I have to say that sometimes it is overwhelmingly so; it’s an environment in which sex is everywhere and young girls want to be part of it too because they are somehow exposed and expected to be so, but they are still so misinformed and naïve, trying to make sense of their new sensations. So if you, as a reader, have any prejudice towards this subject on books, this may not be of your liking.

Anyway, I am glad I have read the book because the author makes you take part in this community, which is so different from what I have experienced; and I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t even know where Guyana was in the map – such is the size of my ignorance, which was sorted out thanks to this story. However, there were aspects of the novel that didn’t like that much. For example, the narration sometimes is focused on describing certain characters and, therefore, lacking action and making the read slow and, when there are actually events happening, you don’t feel them connected. Besides, and that is my own handicap to blame, the language used in the book is that of the dialect or the accent of the people of this country, and I really had trouble in understanding some of the conversations.

Nevertheless, Buxton Spice is an interesting read with a subject not wide spread through literature in a country where most of us haven’t read books set in, and those are points to take into account when looking for diverse reads, aren’t they?

rakin3Did you participate in the diverseathon? Do you have any recommendations?

Buxton Spice
Oonya Kempadoo
Published by Phoenix (UK and Canada)
Paperback, 184 pages

My brilliant friend, by Elena Ferrante

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my-brilliant-friend-elena-ferranteThe so-called Ferrante Fever reached my country some months ago with this book series titled “The Neapolitan novels”, and I decided to read it just because everybody was reading it. However, what I found was not the typical bestseller, meaning a thriller you are hooked on for a couple of days, but a slow story about a complex friendship between two girls, framed in a low-class Italian neighbourhood.

Lila is brilliant; a girl who can achieve whatever she desires to, resourceful, witty and with charisma. On the other hand Lenù, our narrator, is an introvert, hard-working and not so outstanding girl. She is very good at school and she gets to study further courses than the majority of her classmates but, somehow, Lila always seems to go ahead of her in every aspect of their lives, making Lenù fight an internal battle between trying to be better than Lila and the feeling of guilt about her disloyalty to her friend.

The narration is set in the fifties in Naples, in a society in which everything seems to be like in the past. Girls are expected to find a suitable husband, the sooner the better, a task described as the finest art in the book; the richest families will always be superior and respected; the boys will always dominate their female friends and find any excuse to start a fight… But for our young protagonists there is also the hope that you can be something else through education, which is the only thing Lila and Lenù have in common: their willingness to learn and dream higher lives for themselves. However, they both are confined within the borders of this small place they live in, whose rules are hard to break.

My Spanish edition

My Spanish edition

It took me a long time to read the book; as I told you at the beginning, this is not a page-turner, but a slow narration that takes its time but does invite you to keep on reading. I enjoyed the dichotomy Lenù faces regarding this peculiar friendship; she depends on Lila in a way her friend does not, and that makes the relationship unbalanced and, therefore, the story interesting.

The only negative thing I have to point out is the abrupt ending – a chapter is over and the story doesn’t continue, hanging on in the middle of a scene, so to speak, for you to pick up the second volume I guess… Which I will soon do.

Are you also a victim of the #FerranteFever?

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My brilliant friend
Elena Ferrante
Published by Europa Editions
331 pages

The tenderest scenes in “Orphan Train”

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One of the books this year for my book club was Orphan train and, thanks to Allison, who sent me a copy two years ago, I have read the original version.

orphan train christina baker klineThe book was very popular when it was published and I have very little to add to the wonderful reviews I’ve read (here you can read Allison’s), so I have decided to write about the scenes I liked the most in this story and the feelings arisen while reading:

1) The comfort Vivian found in the school she attended to when living with a poor and miserable family in the country. I liked the character of the teacher, a young woman who represents all those teachers in rural areas who knew that the children were expected to little more than learning to read and write, so then they can help in the farms, escaping from the very thing that could made them live a better life: education. Despite the circumstances, they welcomed the children every day with a smile, trying to make the school a place for them to enjoy, a refuge to act as the children they still were.

2) The feeling of finding someone who knows the real “you”; someone with whom you don’t have to pretend. Vivian has lived in different places, with different families, her name changed a couple of times… But after some time she reunites with a boy from her childhood, and the bond they have makes her feel like she has finally found a place to call home. It’s very romantic!

3) These peculiar beliefs we experience regarding objects: we rely on objects that make us feel safe, when in fact we are the ones responsible for our own safety and happiness. In the book, Vivian and Molly, in the past and the present, have amulets they don’t want to get rid of because they think that otherwise they will forget their roots. It’s not possible to forget certain people or memories, but still, we hang on things which represent them.

Orphan train

This is a book written to be loved by the readers – a story based on true but not well known events of the past, and a lovely child as main character to touch our hearts. Highly recommended.

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Orphan train
Cristina Baker Kline
Published by William Morrow Papaerbacks
276 pages

And after the fire, by Lauren Belfer

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I received this book from the publisher for review.

and after the fire lauren belfer

“And after the fire” tells the story of a lost cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach, stolen from a house in Germany after World War II and now in the hands of a young woman, Susanna, who, in order to find if the manuscript has any value, asks music scholar Dan Erhardt for help. Not only does Dan confirm that the manuscript has Bach’s own handwriting on it, which could lead to an astonishing breakthrough, but he also notices the extremely controversial verses accompanying the music – anti-Semitic verses written in German to perform in church services, no less.

Alternating chapters, the story of such manuscript is revealed from the moment Bach’s eldest son gives it to his most talented music student, a Jew young woman called Sara Itzig, in the belief that she will comprehend its value and keep it from anti-Semitic Christian hands, who are gaining power in Prussia in the late eighteenth century. This – the decay of the Jewish prominence in the European elite – is the main topic of this half of the book, in which Sara’s family endure, devoting themselves to music.

And after the fire Lauren Belfer

The historical part of the story, based on real characters of the past, was as interesting as the main plot set in the present, where Susanna and Dan try to discover the whereabouts of a cantata that has been hidden for so many years, and the implications of revealing its existence to the public – music and verses written by the master which claim the convenience of burning the Jews don’t seem very appropriate, right? Besides, these contemporary characters are interesting by themselves; their backgrounds make the reader feel sympathy for them.

There are minor parts of the book I didn’t found that good, like the kind-of love triangle that includes Susanna, Dan and a friend of his, unnecessary in this story, but there is one scene that I particularly disliked and I need to tell you: Susanna and Dan travel to Germany and, at the hotel, people stare at her in disgust because she is a Jew and they end up making a scene there. In 2010! I’m not talking about the fact that they are in a hotel and the other guests might not even be Germans, but I find it utterly implausible the author’s affirmation that Germans nowadays are anti-Semitic and are keen to show this in public, not to mention the fact that I don’t really think people can tell someone is a Jew just by their appearance. That said, I have never been in Germany myself.

So I’ll pretend I haven’t read such a scene because, overall, this was a good book; I enjoyed reading about real musicians of the past, as well as wondering if we’ll ever find out about the mysteries that have been kept secret.

rakin4And after the fire
Lauren Belfer
Published by Harper
464 pages