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

Wake, by Anna Hope

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This is a beautifully written story set just after World War, I in which the protagonists, three women, endure in a world that has change everyone forever.

Wake by Anna Hope

Ada was once a mother, but her son died in the war and she wakes up everyday just to chase his ghost; she didn’t received that second letter the others seemed to get from the army, and she thinks it means her Michael is still alive. Evelyn lost her boyfriend in the war, and she now works in an office processing the government pensions for the injured, not letting herself get over her loss. Besides, her brother Ed, which whom she was very close in the past, has changed and seems like another man after the war; just the same as Hettie’s brother, who lives in his own mind since he came from France, and now she acts like the head of a broken family, working as a dancing instructor in a famous club in London and giving half of the money she earns to an ungrateful mother.

These are three women very different from each other with only one thing in common: their unhappiness. Britain won the war, yes, but that didn’t prepare them for all the broken families, the amputees begging in the streets or the general sentiment of failure that was the opposite of what a victory was expected to bring them. The three storylines run from the previous days of the Unknown Warrior parade in November 1920 to the event itself; they are not properly intertwined, they just have some characters who appear throughout the story of the three protagonists and let the reader understand the horrors the men now have to live with.

I really enjoyed this book, this unspoken reality of the months after the war, of those women longing for their men to come back, only to find that the closeness they once shared was forever lost in the battlefields.

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Wake, by Anna Hope
305 pages
Published by Random House.

Letters for Scarlet, by Julie C. Gardner

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I received this book from Netgalley for review.

Letters for Scarlet Julie C. GardnerThis story starts with Corie receiving a letter from… herself! As a school assignment, at the age of eighteen, her class had to write a letter to their ten-year-older selves, a letter that hast just arrived only to remind Corie that it has been ten years since the last time she talked to her once best friend, Scarlet. Corie and Scarlet have now different lives, and none of them seem to be really happy: Scarlet with an unwanted child on the way and Corie going through some marriage problems.

We have chapters told through both girls’ points of view, and soon the reader is aware that something happened between the girls that pulled them apart in their last year of high school; it will be revealed eventually, but the main thread here is about trying to resume their friendship or close that door forever.

I enjoyed this book mainly because I could relate to these girls – I also had friendships during my high school years that somehow vanished. Nothing really happened; we just stopped keeping in touch, but it makes you wonder how is it possible that you were almost 24 hours per day together in the past, and now you don’t know anything about their lives. So that’s what made the novel interesting to me: following Corie’s attempt to get closer to Scarlet again, and the latter’s reaction.

I have to say that I found some personality traits of the characters quite boring – Scarlet is scared of commitment in her relationships and Corie is obsessed with having children (it seems like you can’t write women’s fiction if your characters don’t suffer for any of these causes), but nevertheless, I liked the issue of their lost friendship, the secondary characters of the story (specially the mothers of both girls), and the ending, which I think was just perfect, since the reader can’t figure out throughout the narration how things are going to end for the protagonists.

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Letters for Scarlet
Julie C. Gardner
Ebook, 282 pages
Published by Velvet Morning Press

Reviewathon starts today!

Are you ready to catch up with your reviews? Thank goodness Andi knows what we, bloggers, need at any time!

reviewathonShe had the idea of a week dedicated to reviewing (or writing posts in general), and I’m in. I’ve just finished my exams and I was looking forward to giving some love to my blog.

Enjoy the week!

Food: A love story, by Jim Gaffigan

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Food A love story Jim GaffiganI saw this title and thought to myself, ‘oh, I also have a love story with food, so I’m sure this is my book’. Besides, I must confess that, to me, one of the most difficult parts of studying English is the vocabulary around food – I get so overwhelmed with names of fruits, vegetables, spices, etc., that I can’t remember a single word. I don’t even know what they are in Spanish, so you get the idea.

So I started this book with… hunger.

pizza

The first thing I want you to know is that my knowledge regarding food has widened enormously, and I want to share a glimpse of my recently acquired vocabulary:

  • Frappuccino
  • Dunkin’ Donuts

By now you should be bedazzled by my wisdom, but wait, because this doesn’t finish here.

frappuccino

I think Jim Gaffigan wanted to talk about food in North America, and hey, I love to learn about other cultures (as if Hollywood movies and TV series, which is all we watch here, weren’t enough). And I learned, people: this author really knows what he is talking about, because he has eaten it all and loves to explain all the details to whoever is listening.

Among the ton of new information about the North American food culture and traditions, I found remarkable the fact that you have invented a laxative that has to be microwaved before its oral intake! (I’m talking about “Hot Pockets”, of course). It’s amazing, really; here we only have pills for that (so boring).

hot pockets

The book also provides practical advice and recipes: for example, Gaffigan explains how to cook a precooked hot dog in the microwave! I wonder why no one thought of this before.

But the crucial moment of the book came when I realized I’m adopted: I agree with the author in most of the issues discussed – salads are good only when you add things that make it stop being a salad; shellfish are sea bugs and, therefore, they are not supposed to be human food; you can improve everything by adding bacon and/or cheese to the dish; and, most important, I find cooking stressful… I mean, I’m sure I was born in the States! I’m probably a distant cousin of the author; every word of the book was already written in my genes!

Summarizing, this book was the ultimate essay about food.

Talking seriously, it was really funny😀 It’s full of food – I think he talks about every thing that you can eat, even vegetables!!! – and jokes, and I had a great time reading it. I didn’t know the author, who apparently is a popular comedian with his own TV show, so you can discard the book if you have watched him and don’t like his humour, but if you do, just grab the book and become a food expert, like I am now.

tacos (1)

PS: In case you didn’t know, I live in a small Spanish town where there aren’t any Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Taco Bell or Wendy’s. We have only two McDonald’s and one Burger King, and our first KFC opened like 3 months ago and it’s so far in the outskirts of town that I’ve been too lazy to go.

I guess that we can be considered lucky for not being experts in fast food in the place where I live, right?

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!

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

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