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

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…