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

 

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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.
Book on GoodReads.
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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

Heart Mountain, by Gretel Ehrlich

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I received this book thanks to Netgalley.

In the 1940s, during World War II, Japanese-Americans were forced to move to interment camps around the US while their constitutional rights were suspended, by a government that was supposedly fighting against fascism in Asia and Europe.This is a story set in one of those camps, Heart Mountain in Wyoming, and the people who were confined in there, whose inner conflict was caused for the feeling betrayal by their own country, for which they would have fight for if allowed, since most of them were born as US citizens and view themselves as Americans.

On the other hand, there are also characters from the nearby town and farms; men who aren’t allow to join the army for their physical disabilities, women running their farms alone, not knowing if their husbands are still alive, etc., addressing the war from many different points of view.

I was really shocked by the internment camps for the Japanese Americans, which I had never heard or read of, so I began this novel with enthusiasm, expecting to immerse myself in a great piece of historical fiction but, despite how much I wanted to like the book, I couldn’t connect with the characters – there are too many of them, each chapter told from every one’s perspective, and sometimes the plots aren’t relevant to the story. I first thought the author wanted to tell a story about the interactions between the camp people and the locals, but there are many secondary plots about local characters on their own, with things happening out of the blue for no purpose whatsoever. In the end, the only parts I enjoyed were the descriptions of the seasonable work with the cattle in the mountains, riding for days in that beautiful scenery.

So, as you would have guessed, I can’t recommend the book. There are too many characters and I haven’t really connected with their stories, regardless of the appeal the internment camps as a theme represent.

Heart Mountain
Gretel Ehrlich
350 pages
Published by Open Road Media

 

 

Under a Pole Star, by Stef Penney

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I received this book thanks to Netgalley

What do you do when your hometown is beaten by a dreadful heatwave? You read one of Stef Penney’s stories to find yourself transported to the most northern, snowy and chilly places of the earth.

 

Under a Pole Star is a fictional recreation of the first expeditions who went to the North Pole in the late 1800s, journeys that were equally thrilling and dangerous. The main character is Flora Mackie, a motherless girl who, from the age of twelve, is taken by his father to Ellesmere Island on his whaler, spending most of her younger years living with the Eskimos. However, as she grows up into a young woman, his father no longer thinks a ship full of men is suitable for her, so she is left in Britain to get a formal education. But, for Flora, the North is her home and, despite women don’t travel to such places, she sets up an unprecedented expedition, leaded by herself.

I have enjoyed so much reading about these expeditions. First of all, they had to find sponsors to cover all the costs, to whom they would later named newly discovered peaks and lakes after. The men spent the winter in the Eskimos’ villages trading, packing and planning for their trips, which started in springtime and must inevitably include Eskimo hunters with their dog sleds, because the British and American men were unable to provide food or transportation for themselves under such conditions.

And then, from a humanly approach, the explorers were under the pressure of discovering something to bring back home, to have a successful adventure that claimed new land to their countries, to discover new species, new islands, new whatever; and such pressure may lead some of them to embellish their notes up to the point of deceiving the general public in order to get new funds for further journeys. All in an atmosphere of competition among the different expeditions in a land where the best you can do to survive is work together.

I could be talking about the expeditions forever, but coming back to the main storyline, I loved to see a female character leading groups of men into the Arctic. Everyone was really surprised to see a woman there – except for the Eskimos, who knew Flora since she was a child and could speak with her in their own language – so she had to look and act severe to be respected. The story also includes a romance between Flora and Jakob de Beyn, an American geologist who meets in Greenland, and goes back and forth between the two, one in America and the other in Britain. They share a deep fascination for those remote lands and the lack of attachment to the rest of the world, and this understanding leads to a unique love story.

I can’t help but recommend this book that, for me, has everything: historical notes about the golden age of explorers in the Arctic, a woman assuming what at the time was a man’s role, beautiful but indomitable lands, and a delightful romance.

PS: I chose this book because I have already read Penney’s The tenderness of wolves (review), which I also enjoyed.

Under a Pole Star
Stef Penney
Quercus Books
610 pages

Poetry from 1955 to 2008, by John Berger

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As you may suspect, I am not a good reader of poetry. Despite the efforts of our book club’s organizer in getting us poetry books from time to time, I just don’t like it, but this hasn’t made me give up (yet), because I *know* there must be something out there for me. My relationship with poetry is kind of a challenge, and I think perseverance will be the key.

Anyway, some days ago I had the irrepressible need for browsing in the poetry section of the library (this is a reconstruction, as Offred from The handmaid’s tale would say), and I borrowed this book: the complete poetry work of John Berger, an author I knew from an epistolary novel I have read recently (From A to X).

So the experience has been… uneven. But this is due to the different themes presented on the book: rural life, death, war, emigration and, of course, love. Taking into account that my aim in life is to seek romance, I think I might have enjoyed some of the love ones.

Shirt on the chair

My heart born naked
was swaddled in lullabies.
Later alone it wore
poems for clothes.
Like a shirt
I carried on my back
the poetry I had read.

So I lived for half a century
until wordlessly we met.

From my shirt on the back of the chair
I learn tonight
how many years
of learning by heart
I waited for you.

This bilingual edition also contains a CD with the author reading some of his poems, and it has been nice to listen to them since they sound so much better than the “in-my-head-English”, as I call it.

So it has been a good experience after all; poetry requieres extra effort because it’s not easy to fully concentrate in every line, but want to keep trying. One book at a time.

PS: I’m not rating this book because I still don’t know how to rate poetry.

PS2: For those interested in poetry books, I recommend Lianne’s series of post titled “So you want to read poetry”, with recommendations on this genre.

PS3: This book made me add a touch of poetry in my postcards, too 🙂

April 2017 #Readathon: goals and hopes

I’m so excited to start the readathon in a few hours!

As always, I’d love to explain what my plans are for today, since I’ve been gathering books all week at the library, planning the cakes I’ll be baking tomorrow morning, and having fun on twitter this previous week.

First of all, I plan to get back on track on my Goodreads challenge, which at the moment looks like a mess:

I have chosen more books that I could possibly read in 24 hours, but I wanted to have a complete enough list to make sure I have different genres and authors to fulfill any possible mood I’m in during the readathon. All of them are very short, and most of them are in Spanish, so I can read faster; you know how finishing a couple of books within the first hours boosts your energy for the rest of the readathon!

Here is my list:

  • Headhunbers, by Jo Nesbo (which I’m currently reading)
  • Leporella, by Stephan Zweig (Leporella)
  • The old man and the sea, by Ernest Hemingway
  • Bartleby, the scrivener, by Herman Melville
  • The enchanted, by Rene Denfeld
  • The beginner’s goodbye, by Anne Tyler
  • Get well soon, by Marie-Sabine Roger
  • Everything I never told you, by Celeste Ng
  • And other books that are not translated into English by these authors: Alessandro Baricco, Rosa Montero and Ronaldo Wrobel.

I’m also planning on participating in the Instagram challenge, and in all the mini-challenges I can, as well as cheering people on twitter, because that is one of the biggest part of the fun.

Happy readathon!

The handmaid’s tale, by Margaret Atwood

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When I first came across this book, I didn’t bother to read the synopsis, assuming it would be a medieval tale of some sort (the illustration on the cover made me think so, the word “handmaid” helped as well); something I would enjoy, but nothing “special” I should consider reading as soon as possible, until I began to read about the TV series and the actual plot of the book. I found a medieval tale, yes, but not the kind I expected.

Offred (meaning “Of Fred”, the name of the man who owns her) is the narrator of her own tale, a story of a country that turned itself from a so called democracy into a patriarchal dictatorship in which a few privileged people live more or less as the time before, whereas the rest serve them. For the women this means they have to provide healthy children for the regime, but not freely with their husbands, but submitted to their owners and separated from their families. Love is forbidden. Friendship is forbidden. Culture is forbidden for women too. To make things worse, Offred lived in “the time before”, so she had to be reeducated in a special centre to serve to this new society, and she often goes back in time in her narration to talk about the life she had with Luke and their little daughter, her mother, her best friend Moira…

The book addresses the assumption of human adaptability to whatever the circumstances we face. The issue here is that the political environment doesn’t change for the better, for the achieving of more freedom and favorable rights for the people, as we foresee as the path for future generations, but instead it goes for restrictions and terror for the majority of the population. And as the author has said, this idea is not her own, but borrowed from history (nazism, for example). And yet the heroine is not so, in the usual understanding of a character fighting to take her life back, but instead she just goes with the flow, paralyzed by the fear and living the life this new patriarchal elite has decided for her. And that’s what I liked about her because, in my eyes, she is real. I mean, most of us have probably gone to a protest march against any political issue or another, but would you go if you were likely to be imprisoned for life, or even executed? I am sure I wouldn’t, and this fact made me sympathize deeply with Offred.

This is the second book by Margaret Atwood that I read (Cat’s eye was the first), and I have found them very different regarding the plot but with similar characters; both women, both confronting a situation they can’t or don’t know how to face, and both lonely and carrying such sadness over their shoulders.

PS1.: The ending, which will not be discussed here, was absolutely great because it is open to many possibilities.

PS2.: I listened to the audiobook narrated by Claire Danes and she is the protagonist in my mind. I love her, by the way.

The handmaid’s tale
Margaret Atwood
Anchor Books
311 pages