Dating in the library

Maybe I got overly excited when I chose the title for this post because I am not going to tell you a corny story about how I found Prince Charming among the shelves of the library – not that I don’t think the library is the best place to find your other half – but in truth I’m talking about dating books, which is awesome too!

Yes, I know all of you have seen on Facebook those pictures of bookshops where people can buy wrapped books to surprise themselves, but how many of you have actually seen it in reality? I have! It was this summer, in the library of the coastal village where I spend my holidays (I go so often that I have my own library card).

The librarians arranged a stand in a corner announcing “blind dates with books”, and took their time writing down inviting summaries for each book, not to mention the red hearts and ribbons:

I was delighted at the sight of it, and I carefully read every one of them to pick my perfect date. It was a romance (of course!). The librarian was really surprised someone had decided to try one of those books and when he passed the bar code, which was conveniently glued on the wrapping paper so as not to open it, he saw the title in the computer and said, with a mysterious voice, that it was a beautiful story.

I waited –with great effort – until I arrived home to open it, and… Ta-daah! I was so disappointed I had already read the book. It was “Strange weather in Tokyo“, also edited as “The briefcase“, by Hiromi Kawakami:

Blind dates don’t always turn out as we expect. I guess it was my fault: I was too naïve to think there was a romance novel I hadn’t read already! Anyway, it was so pleasant to spend the afternoon in the library, getting amazed by the wonderful idea the librarians had, reading their cute synopsis and deciding what to bring home with you.

Librarians of the world, please, do this more often!

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The visitors, by Patrick O’Keeffe

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I requested this book a while ago on Netgalley attracted by the promising family secrets that the story seemed to contain between its pages; these novels in which the narration goes back into the past to uncover tragic events that still affect the characters in the present day are the ones I most enjoy, but I guess there is always a exception to the rule, and The visitors is that said exception.

The main character is Jimmy, an Irish young man who now lives in the United States, having left the village where he was born and, not being the type who phones, writes or visits family and friends often enough, is surprised when a man pops in to tell him that one friend from the past wants to see him again. This so-called-friend is the son of Jimmy’s father’s best friend, and a bunch of memories, news from home and calls to his siblings help to unfold the story of the two families from the Irish farms to the modern America.

I could have really enjoyed the story, but I had a hard time getting into it, and I even considered not to finish the book when I was reading the first chapters. Jimmy has been a boring leading character: for the whole story he is basically doing nothing while his siblings and friends suddenly began to open their hearts and reveal family secrets he didn’t know of, which is really surprising taking into account that he is a lonely man who refuses to talk much to his relatives, less to have deep conversations.

Getting into the style, the narration lacks smooth transitions between the present day and Jimmy’s memories of the past, and all the dialogues sounded artificial: there were an excessive repetition of words – Jimmy and a female friend said “my dear” after every one of their sentences – or names – the name of the person they were talking to was also repeated in every sentence – and it made reading the conversations annoying, to say the least.

Regarding the plot, it was quite disappointing as well; basically, in Jimmy’s father’s generation a man and a woman fall in love but they marry other people and keep thinking about each other forever, and in Jimmy’s generation the same happened twice. Full stop. The events that the author includes surrounding these romances don’t really add depth to the story, neither do they change anything in the state of Jimmy’s affairs; they just make the book longer, which it is not considered a positive feature so far…

So, as you should know by now, I can’t recommend it. This was one of those books I force myself into finishing just because I have requested them, and all I wanted was to read it as soon as possible in order to start a more pleasant read.

Firefly Lane, by Kristin Hannah

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I borrowed Firefly Lane from the library of the coastal village where I spend my summer holidays – this has become a kind of tradition: one of the first things I do when I arrive is go to the library and spend an hour or more carefully picking my summer reads, as if I hadn’t already taken over three books from home! The funny thing is that I end up reading the ones from the library instead of my eternal to-be-read pile of books (and I regret nothing).

I hadn’t read any book written by Kristin Hannah before though, of course, I knew the author due to the popularity of The nightingale, and I had seen Firefly Lane a lot last year when it was published in Spanish, but I didn’t remember what it was about, so all of a sudden I was in need for a totally unknown-to-me story and knew this would be perfect. So I came home the first evening with the book, still sand in my hair from the beach, and started reading. An hour later, it was becoming one of the most delightful books read this year.

Firefly Lane is the name of the street where two teenage girls, Tully and Kate, first meet in 1974, when the former moves in with her mother. Tully is pretty, outgoing and independent, and Kate has no friends other than her books but has something that Tully doesn’t: a loving family that is always there for her. The two of them become best friends and the story follows these girls, first doing the same things in school and college, and then taking separated paths when they mature enough to know what their passion is.

As every relationship, Tully and Kate’s has its ups and downs, but they manage to stay together as they go through jobs, disappointments and romances. The author introduces us to the world of television journalism from Tully’s hand, so we witness how satisfying this job is for the woman in some regards – the fame, the money, the thrill of creativity – but not enough to fulfill her because she can’t keep close and stable relationships, let alone think of having her own family. On the contrary, Kate will eventually become a full-time housewife and mother and, you guess it, she is always stressed with her kids’ schedules and can’t stop thinking she hasn’t done anything special with her life. One can’t help but longing for what the other owns, not knowing how tough both their paths are.

I particularly enjoyed how the author makes you fall for Tully, as she is so vital and fascinating one just can’t get enough of her whereabouts, yet you empathize most with Kate because her life and background is as the average person’s, so you share her points of view and stand with her when something goes wrong. But, in the end, the core of the story is their loving friendship and the reader is urged to support the both of them unconditionally.

After finishing the book last Sunday, do you want to know what I did? I spent an entire hour talking to my best friend on the phone. I’m the kind of person who’d never do something like that because I always think the other person must be busy with other things more important than listening to my miseries, but recently I’ve been told that I should take the initiative and take care of my bonds to other people and, to my surprise, it has not been hard at all! This is one of those touching books that opens your heart and makes you tell your loved ones how much you appreciate them.

New Year resolutions vs. Real life

Please, excuse that this post has no relation whatsoever to literature, but I have been reflecting on some issues that recently came up around here and I felt the need to write them down somewhere.

It’s just that, like everyone else, I had goals that I thought would change my life for the better, but it turned out the exact opposite was profoundly benefitial. I’m no longer assuming anything, people!

Let me explain some of my goals, and how they alone decided to take a different path altogether:

Goal 1: Be productive and organized

Yes, I am a big fan of planners and all those Instagram accounts dedicated to bullet journals and such; I enjoy being busy and crossing out tasks I need to complete, and I live accordingly to what has been written down for every day on my planner, but guess what: I got the flu just after Christmas and for eight days I was basically surviving and doing NOTHING. I even spent New Year’s morning in the emergency room at the hospital because I lost conciousness when I was about to have breakfast. What a plan!

My parents took me to their home due to my hypotension and high fever, so I was not left alone at my place, and those first days I found myself feeling guilty of being unproductive! This productivity disease we live in makes you feel this way. Fortunately, I later learned to go with the flow and enjoy my downtime as I was recovering: I would read some of the books from my parents’ library to pass the time while they were out working and, after dinner, the four of us (my sister was also staying there during her Christmas break) would watch a TV series and enjoy some time together.

Do you know when was the last time we were together like this? To be honest, I can’t even remember and, most importantly, I don’t know if and when will happen again. So thank you, Real life, for those unproductive and yet deeply satisfying days with my loved ones; they have been some of the highlights of the last months.

Goal 2: Read more books

I did want to read more books in 2018 than the previous year, of course, because I am a book blogger, right? You can only aspire to be a better blogger and a better reader if you read more than before, more than everybody else… MORE.

Well, today I am pleased to announce that I told my book club coordinator I cannot keep attending our mettings. I quitted the club.

For the last 2 months I have been unable to keep up with the reading pace, which is one book per fortnight (up to 300 pages, no more), so my strategy, in order to secure my spot, consisted on reading less than half of the book, attending the meetings and sit quiet while the rest of the group had a conversation about that book I hadn’t read. There is a long waiting list of people who want to join these book clubs due to the limited spots, so today I finally came to my senses and decided to let this activity go. It was hard because I made good friends there but, anyway, we will remain friends and I feel at ease again knowing I don’t have to read a particular book at a particular pace.

I am not reading that much this year, it seems, and now it is OK.

Goal 3: Spend more time doing what you love

While I really believe one should have her own time to do things you enjoy, I have realized that I have fallen into a spiral of selfishness: what’s important seems to be *my* goals, *my* dreams, *my* hobbies… myself.

Some weeks ago, one of those days I was devoting *my* time to *my* hobbies, I walked into the sitting room and heard my elderly neighbour crying for help through the wall that separates our apartments. The woman had fallen on the floor four hours ago and was unable to sit or get up. Shouting through her door, she gave me her daughter’s phone number (her mind is sharp as hell, thank goodness), so I called her daughter, she came with the keys, and we both got this old lady up. She later told me she thought she was going to spend the entire night on the floor and thanked me for being her “guardian angel”. While writing this, my eyes are getting wet again.

From that day I got two new habits: I call for her through the door when I go out, just to see if everything is fine, and I pay her a proper visit at least once a week. To be honest, sometimes it’s hard to stop thinking I should be doing other things (*my* things), but I feel I’m doing the *right* thing spending some time with her. Besides, she is happy to see me and she tells me she’s grateful for me to visit her, and that makes me feel useful and appreciated. I can’t ask for more.

Goal 4: Declutter your house

Yes, I have also read Marie Kondo’s book and went into a frantic tidying and decluttering marathon. This would fill an entire series of posts, but I’ll summarize the important point.

First of all, I am really glad that I did it; my home now is clean and tidy and there is no one single item that doesn’t have its own place and, more important, purpuse. But the process of decluttering have been emotionally draining and thought-provoking.

From the first days, when facing all the clothes I owned, I felt disgust towards myself. There were clothes I had never worn, with the labels and all! In the following days, I would also take out of closets presents I had never used. People have bought things for me, spending money so hard to earn, and I haven’t even looked at them. I had to face the person I had become: a hoarder and dissatisfied being who always wanted more. I mean, I could have lied to myself and told I’m not that bad, but proof was right in front of me; there is no way to scape your own flaws when they are finally revealed, you just acknowledge them and try to work little by little to build the person you really want to be.

You know, I had always read articles about consumerism and I agreed I had enough with the things I already owned. However, and I don’t really know how to explain this, I had never “felt it in my bones” like these past weeks while going in and out from my apartment to the dumpster, throwing what seemed an infinite number of garbage bags containing my things.

So the goal was to declutter, but the outcome was totally unexpected.

*****

And this is it. Most of my resolutions have followed their own rules, and honestly, it is totally fine with me. I have come to the conclusion that I prefer real life rather than that unrealistic idea of the things you should do, which makes you lose sight of what’s actually relevant.

So tell me, how are your resolutions going? Has someone done major changes like I’ve been forced to do? Maybe I hope so 😉

21 days to happiness, by Ingrid Kelada

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I received this book in exchange for a honest review
thanks to iRead Book Tours.

I would like to start this review by saying that Ingrid Kelada, the author, is a psychologist and happiness expert (how well it sounds, a happiness expert!) and she has gathered all the information available in research studies about what makes people live a happier life, and put it together in simple, fun and approachable chapters to try every “method”, one at a time.

In the last years I have become an avid reader of non-fiction books, especially about learning and productivity, and I have to say that I have read a number of the authors Ingrid mentions in her book and I have come across all the topics discussed at one time or another, but I had never related all these behaviours to happiness itself – perhaps to wellbeing and health, but it had never occurred that this is a way which also leds to happiness, and of course it does!

That being said, I don’t think many of the readers that are usually keen of books about these topics will find something new in 21 days to happiness, but the appeal of this particular book comes from the way the tips are presented: each chapter talks about one topic (body language, time, relationships, optimism, etc.) and offers data and research about how happiness is affected by them, ways one can introduce them in your everyday life, tips to start doing it right now, and a brief comment about how the author actually does it to increase her own happiness. She includes links to Youtuve videos and TED talks about the topic and, at the end of the chapters there are also questionnaires, so you can test yourself about your thoughts on implementing this new behaviour in your life, and see if it works for you. It really makes the read enjoyable and addictive, and actually makes you “do” something to implement what has been discussed.

The thing is I have found that I do most of the things Ingrid recommends every day and, while I understand the value of the other stuff, I still haven’t worked out the way some things could “do good” to me. For instance, I see Ingrid is an outgoing woman who talks about the importance of relationships with others, suggesting one can join clubs or start conversations with people in your neighbourhood – there’s no way I can do such thing without dying from anxiety! She also talks about the joy of cooking a healthy meal, and here is one person that only finds joy in cooking a lot of food, knowing I won’t have to cook again in many days. Maybe I should try other approaches to these contingencies (this is also taught in the book), but I consider myself a happy person anyway!

Well, this is a book you could talk about forever, analyzing yourself and trying out what Ingrid suggests. As I said, I have been practising many of these suggestions throughout the years, and now I’m working on some of the new-to-me tips, like “happy body language” and the chunks of time when working. I’m even in the mood to try again the cooking stuff! So yes, this is a book I would recommend to anyone who wants to improve their approach to the days ahead.

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www.21daystohappiness.com

The child finder, by Rene Denfeld

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I received the book from the publisher.

It is fascinating when an author decides to narrate a story with an uncomfortable central theme, and yet she does it with such a tenderness that goes behind good and evil, so you are no longer a judge of characters, but just an observer; someone who watches and understands. That is what Rene Denfeld made me experience with The enchanted, and now again with The child finder.

This is an unconventional story about a search. Madison, a five-year-old girl, vanished in a snowy forest in Oregon three years ago. Nobody found neither a trail nor a corpse, but it’s obvious that the girl couldn’t have survived in the forest alone for that long so, after a time, hopes drowned – except for her parents, of course, whose latest and more desperate attempt to finally find out what happened to Madison is Naomi, our main character. Naomi is an expert in findind missing children, but has trouble finding what is missing in her own life. Her last search starts but, as it goes, another tale begins: one about a girl who was born in the snow and now lives in the depths of the forest.

Naomi doesn’t search the woods as much as the people who live around because she knows that the key to find Madison is hidden in the memories of someone out there. And with every step she takes among the trees, her own missing pieces began to take shape.

The author narrates the rawest events in such a delicate way that enraptures the reader. There are searchs with a disheartening end and there are others whose happy outcome is shaded by the paralell story between the loss and the finding, but even to the darkest characters does the author offer hope and understanding in her unique tales. Needless to say, I loved the book.

The child finder
Rene Denfeld
274 pages
Published by Harper
Book on GoodReads

 

In the midst of winter, by Isabel Allende

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Isabel Allende is one of the authors whose books have always had a place at my parents’ library, and I actually think they have all of her titles, so this was one of the first authors I read when I began reading adult books, but somehow I stopped reading her for so many years until now, and I have found the experience very pleasant for I have enjoyed her expressions and choices of words in this unique Latin American way, so colourful and fancy, far from our “boring” Spanish words.

I guess English-speaking people reading translations can’t experience this, as well as I read translations from authors from all over the world that seem to have been written by a person born in Madrid, but I wanted to share the experience of reading from authors whose language looks identical to your own, but yet it’s so different that it surprises you in every page.

Now, let’s talk about the book.

We are in Brooklyn in a particularly terrifying snowstorm, when Richard Bowmaster, a university professor in his sixties, has a little accident when his car hits another vehicle driven by Evelyn, a young Guatemalan girl who later seeks Richard for help because not only has she taken the car without her employers’ permission, but there is also a corpse in her car trunk. Richard, in turn, calls her unusual tenant Lucía, a resolute Chilean lady who works with him at the university and decides that Evelyn is in danger of deportation for being undocumented, so the three of them have to get rid of the corpse and protect the girl.

Of course, nothing is what it seems, and in their journey the author tells us their background stories, talking about the recent history of Chile and Guatemala, as well as the cultural gap between Richard and his Brazilian wife, being Evelyn’s the most emotional one. The girl left her country running away from violence to start a journey that for many people ends up in death, prison or as a sexual slave, so you realize how these people risk everything they have towards a very uncertain future.

However, the book is not only a tragic story; the journey that brings together these three strangers is kind of crazy, and the ideas and comments from Lucía makes the story hilarious, so in the end you see it becomes a story of hope, joy and second changes at any age.

It may not be the best book by Isabel Allende, but I found it pleasant, with the right amount of drama and humor, and three characters who makes you want to keep reading.

In the midst of winter
Isabel Allende
Atria Books
Publishing date: 31st of October 2017.

Overwhelmed writer rescue, by Colleen M. Story

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I recieved a copy of this book in exchange for a review
thanks to iRead Book Tours.

I have to confess that, as a reader, I have always wanted to know how writers do their job. I mean, I know that they sit down and write stories, but I have always wondered where the ideas come from before actually writing them down. Do they see a random person in the street that triggers something in their minds that leads them to a plot? Do they just start with nothing in mind to see what comes into the blank page? Do they brainstorm the main scenes of the story on a piece of paper and then follow the script on their computers? Do they really count words every day? Seriously?

Well, I applied for this book because I thought that, throughout the advice on increasing their writing productivity, I would found out the answers about some of the metaphysical doubts I had regarding the craft but, guess what, their secrets remain unknown. I couldn’t put the book down, however.

This book is basically a self-help book where you can learn about finding a way to include writing in your life and make the best of it in terms of productivity and quality. The best part is that you can apply everything you read on it to any activity you fancy doing, either as a hobby or as a potential career and, even though the author always refers to creative activities, you can also use them in your daily life for a number of things. In my case, I have thought about implementing her advice on my studies – this might seem the least creative thing you can come up with, but actually I have developed new habits throughout these last years that includes much more than sitting with a book and highlight it, and this book has given me new ideas to increase my productivity and try new ways of studying my Law textbooks.

The book covers from the basics of time management to the specifics of personality traits that can work in your favor towards writing more and better, without burnouts or feeling you are neglecting other responsibilities. It also addresses mindset issues like self-doubts about your skills, or the work overload that leads to stress and health problems because we need to “work harder”, so we stop taking care of ourselves. One can really relate to many of the subjects the author covers in this book and, as I told you, you can use it for your advantage on a number of projects, not only for writing books.

So I didn’t find the writers’ deepest secrets about their writing, that’s true, but I have enjoyed reading about how to improve my abilities to do more of what I like, finding the right motivation to do so and using resources that I have already developed to improve the results.

Overwhelmed writer rescue
Colleen M. Story
Published by Midchannel Press
304 pages

Book on Amazon.com.
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A fistful of love, by Om Swami

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I received this book in exchange for a review
thanks to Virtual Authors Book Tours.

The reason I requested this book was the description of the author, which was fascinating: a successful man from the western culture who owned a software business and decided to leave this way of living in pursuit of spirituality at the Himalayas. Wow.

In A fistful of love, Om Swami talks about every aspect of our relationships with others and with ourselves, giving the book a structure with short chapters talking about one issue each in which the author explains his point through stories and tales as examples of what he wants the reader to understand, and then discusses the matter and gives advice and ideas to think about.

Well, it sounds really simple, but the fact is that every chapter resonates with oneself in a way or another, pushing you into an analysis of your own behaviors towards other people and also towards yourself, because sometimes it looks like we go through life punishing ourselves instead of making peace with what we are and being open to give and receive love.

As it happens, while I was reading this book I was also listening to an audiobook by Kelly McGonigal titled The science of compassion (GoodReads), and both fitted perfectly, intertwining their messages and taking all the advice and wisdom from Swami into a deeper -and more scientific- level thanks to McGonigal.

In summary, I think that this is a book to help us pause and reset ourselves into a search for compassionate and non-judgmental relationships, enjoying every step of the way instead of looking for salvation in our ultimate destination, whatever it may be. It is one of those books you can pick up and open at a random chapter for a daily dose of knowledge and inspiration. I am glad I have read it.

If you want to have a glimpse of what this book is about, you can read Om Swami’s posts, for they are very similiar to the chapters of the book, at omswami.com

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Blue is the warmest color, by Julie Maroh

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I have been reading some comics this summer and I was very pleased to see this one is also available in English, so I can recommend it here.

This is the coming of age story of Clementine, a teenage girl who feels there is something that’s no quite right with her, despite living an ordinary life as a daughter and good student. But everything falls into place the day she meets Emma, a girl with her hair dyed blue who teaches Clementine what love is about. However, this is not an easy journey for Clementine, for she will have to face the intolerance of her once called friends and family, to the point of losing her former life in the process of understanding herself.

I enjoyed the book’s portrayal of this first love for Clementine, full of ups and downs – the relief of finding someone who can guide you through adulthood, mixed with the rejection of a society that hates everyone who is different. Perhaps the story turns towards too much tragedy to my liking, but overall it’s a great book if you want to read a diverse format -a graphic novel- and a diverse story with a lesbian young girl.

Blue is the warmest color
Julie Maroh
Arsenal Pulp Press
160 pages