Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

"It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon." This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she fell in love with Red that day in July 1959. The whole family—their two daughters and two sons, their grandchildren, even their faithful old dog—is on the porch, listening contentedly as Abby tells the tale they have heard so many times before. And yet this gathering is different too: Abby and Red are growing older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them, and the fate of the house so lovingly built by Red's father. Brimming with the luminous insight, humor, and compassion that are Anne Tyler's hallmarks, this capacious novel takes us across three generations of the Whitshanks, their shared stories and long-held secrets, all the unguarded and richly lived moments that combine to define who and what they are as a family.
One part of me wants to call the novel lovely, the other-ordinary. A Spool of Blue Tread is a quiet, slow paced family drama. It portrays ordinary life, ordinary people, with their ordinary mishaps, disillusionment and struggles, yet it puts a spell on the reader with its artistic manner of conveying the mundane into the magical. It succeeds in keeping you occupied and forcefully puts you on standby mode to recollect, but mostly makes you smile with understanding and content. 
Anne Tyler brought humanity to the readers in a world where there is not much humanity left. You don't get to meet families like this any more... Unless you are Eastern European like I am... Western Families are different, they lack a certain je ne sais quoi, a certain homely touch, that you can see in Eastern Europe.4FOXGIVEN
Tyler created characters that are insufferable, yet likeable - complex, annoying, selfish, stubborn, yet extremely loveable and accessible. Weird in the best possible way and LOUD! Oh my God - loud in the sense of radiant, vibrant, real... full of life. After saying this, I think you can better understand why I feel eager to call her novel ordinary. It is Extraordinary in its Ordinariness. Simple. Fulfilled. Enough. Humane.

The Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake

Set against the pulsing backdrop of post-war Tokyo, The Translation of Love tells the gripping and heartfelt story of a newly repatriated Japanese-Canadian girl who must help a classmate find her missing sister. A dazzling New Face of Fiction for 2016 that will appeal to readers of All the Light We Cannot See and Anita Shreve.

Thirteen-year-old Aya Shimamura is released from a Canadian internment camp in 1946, still grieving the recent death of her mother, and repatriated to Japan with her embittered father. They arrive in a devastated Tokyo occupied by the Americans under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. Aya's English-language abilities are prized by the principal of her new school, but her status as the "repat girl" makes her a social pariah--until her seatmate, a fierce, willful girl named Fumi Tanaka, decides that Aya might be able to help her find her missing older sister. Beautiful Sumiko has disappeared into the seedy back alleys of the Ginza. Fumi has heard that General MacArthur sometimes assists Japanese citizens in need, and she enlists Aya to compose a letter in English asking him for help.

Corporal Matt Matsumoto is a Japanese-American working for the Occupation forces, and it's his overwhelming job to translate thousands of letters for the General. He is entrusted with the safe delivery of Fumi's letter; but Fumi, desperate for answers, takes matters into her own hands, venturing into the Ginza with Aya in tow.

Told through rich, interlocking storylines, The Translation of Love mines a turbulent period to show how war irrevocably shapes the lives of both the occupied and the occupiers, and how the poignant spark of resilience, friendship and love transcends cultures and borders to stunning effect.
I told you I have discovered historical novels is a genre I have become to truly enjoy, regardless of my prior convictions. And Translation of Love proved my newly addiction to be one that is here to stay and torment my sleep only to bring me satisfaction of reading I never knew before. I kept tossing and turning, torn by the dilemmas of the characters and what is to become of them. Lynne Kutsukake brought rich storytelling, wonderful observations and magnificent character building to the table and garnished it with themes that are here to stay. The range of topics she covered caused my awes of respected and astonishment. She spoke of friendship, love, distrust, even resilience with ease and taste that I have not come across in a couple of years now. I did not expect such depth from a contemporary author.
I was suck into occupied Japan, experienced intimate society lifestyle as one would only if she had live in Japan during the same period. Every single one of her characters lit up from the pages and had his/her own voice heard among the noise of world. At time I believed myself to be dropped by a magical force right in the middle of the story to follow Fumi, Kondo and Aya as if I were there own shadow. I observed their every move almost as if I was a stalker of the worst kind, only to find myself nodding understandingly to their dialogue.5FOXGIVEN
The Translation of Love is evocative, lush and transcendental experience for the lovers of the Joy Luck Club and Memoirs of a Geisha! Without a doubt I give it 5 fox :) Thank you, Netgalley and Random House UK for the chance to experience this novel :)

The Courilof Affair by Irène Némirovsky

In 1903 Léon M - the son of two Russian revolutionaries - is given the responsibility of 'liquidating' Valerian Alexandrovitch Courilof, the notoriously brutal and cold-blooded Russian Minister of Education, by the Revolutionary Committee. The assassination, he is told, must take place in public and be carried out in the most grandiose manner possible in order to strike the imagination of the people.
Posing as his newly appointed personal physician, Léon M takes up residence with Courilof in his summer house in the Iles and awaits instructions. But over the course of his stay he is made privy to the inner world of the man he must kill - his failing health, his troubled domestic situation and, most importantly, the tyrannical grip that the Czar himself holds over all his Ministers, forcing them to obey him or suffer the most deadly punishments.
Set during a period of radical upheaval in European history, The Courliof Affair is an unsparing observation of human motives and the abuses of power, an elegy to a lost world and an unflinchingly topical cautionary tale.
Irène Némirovsky is a Russian Jew, that grew up in Kiev, spent a year in Finland before making her way to France where she build a family and home. She is an author that brings the world into your palms and leaves you wrapped in a blanket of words that need a while to settle down; to sink in and truly make sense. She makes the obvious mysterious and the mysterious mundane... What I mean by that is that she summaries her entire novel in its very first sentence, yet it kept me glued to the pages, leaving me reluctant to put the book down until I have reached the very last page. 
I loved discovering the human behind the terrorist assassin... It was gruesome and left me stupefied, yet I felt so connected with the topic maybe because it is so up-to-date. Sometimes, I find myself trying to justify people's evilness and The Courilof Affair helped me to a great extent. I have always been drawn to literature of such kind... You might call me perverted for it, but criminal minds fascinate me.3FOXGIVEN
Anyway The Courilof Affair is a little book, trying to cover a giant theme and I am not sure whether it did so successfully or not. It is a novel that is both delicate and grim, peppered with descriptions of rain on the streets and the first blossoms of spring - I must be heartless to resist that.BUT in between the drops of simplicity you find philosophical treatise on the hypocrisy , morality and uselessness of terrorism... The Courilof Affair is a pretty sweet cup of tea, but not my most favourite.

The Misunderstanding by Irène Némirovsky

The Misunderstanding is Irène Némirovsky's first novel, written when she was just twenty-one and published in a literary journal two years later. An intense story of self-destructive and blighted love, it is also a tragic satire of French society after the Great War.
Yves Harteloup, scarred by the war, is a disappointed young man, old money fallen on hard times, who returns for the summer to the rich, comfortable Atlantic resort of Hendaye, where he spent blissful childhood holidays. He becomes infatuated with a beautiful, bored young woman, Denise, whose rich husband is often away on business. Intoxicated by summer nights and Yves' intensity, Denise falls passionately in love, before the idyll has to end and Yves must return to his mundane office job.
In the mournful Paris autumn their love flounders on mutual misunderstanding, in the apparently unbridgeable gap between a life of idle wealth and the demands of making a living, between a woman's needs and a man's way of loving. As Denise is driven mad with desire and jealous suspicion, Yves, too sure of her, tortures himself and her with his emotional ambivalence. Taking her sophisticated mother's advice, Denise takes action... which she may regret forever.
With a sharp satirical eye and a characteristic perception for the fault lines in human relationships, Irène Némirovsky's first novel shows sure signs of the brilliant novelist she was to become.
Irène Némirovsky  is a name that has been haunting my book cosmos for many years now. From my high-school years to my university pursuits her name peeked from every corner, always watching, constantly reminding of itself. But since I came in the UK she has plunged  in obscurity, well until one day a week or two ago, when she threw herself at me from a library shelf. Ruthless woman, I'm telling you, almost toppled me over. I picked three of her novels, not even bothering to read the back cover... I ended up, by strange whim of destiny with her first, her last and a sort of middle novel of hers. Weird, right? Then again it gave a good overview of the evolution of her style and themes. So this little fox is content with her choice.
The Misunderstanding is Némirovsky's first novel. She published it when she was only 21. For a début of only 164 pages I found it remarkable well-established and put together. A petite jewel if you want me to be exact. A story of exaggerated love and enthusiasm it is the epitome of young love. A love-Hate relationship with life and the way it intertwines in the world of two lovers who seem very clumsy in coping with themselves.
The novel's main characters left me with a long forgotten taste of mischief and promiscuity. I felt as if I was back in my teens when nothing made sense, every thought gave birth to chaos and every desire seem to though me  from exhilaration to dis pair in the matter of seconds. Némirovsky did a marvellous job in portraying the moodiness of young people in love, who have yet to adult.
The best part is that Némirovsky only alluded to her gift of being able to strip life to its beautiful, simple, essence for the purpose of literature. I don't know if you have read Brooklyn by C. Toibin, but I have no doubt you'll be watching the movie soon. Well, The Misunderstanding is similar to it, it the sense that it reflects its style. It is a perfect miniature of reality, so exemplary that it almost reads as a diary.
The writing is flowing and graceful, with the bitter-sweet taste of clichés that you'd find in young author's works. The style is genuine and pure. Yves and Denise are luminous characters that bring the novel out of sentimental period nostalgia into intelligent drama that promises to make you fall in love again

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All by Jonas Jonasson

A madcap new novel from the one-of-a-kind author of The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden


Hitman Anders is fresh out of prison and trying to keep his head down when he meets a female Protestant vicar (who happens to be an atheist), and a receptionist at a 1-star hotel (who happens to be currently homeless). Together they cook up an idea for a very unusual business that’s going to make them all a fortune – but then all of a sudden, and to everyone’s surprise, Anders finds Jesus . . .

Anders’ sudden interest in religion might be good for his soul but it’s not good for business, and the vicar and the receptionist have to find a new plan, quick.

As wildly funny and unexpected as The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared and The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden, this is a madcap, feel-good adventure about belief, the media – and the fact that it’s never too late to start again.
There is something about Swedish authors that just makes me stick to them like glue. And that's what make writing a review on them so unbelievably hard... My objectivity just blows right out of the window! Puff and there it goes. It is the same with Jonasson: I read his earlier novels in a hurry ( I told myself that this is the right thing to do if you're going to be giving a review about his third novel)  and that was not even very hard to do! His sense of humour and his story telling gift are of top quality I'm telling you. His characters are there to give you a good laugh, and if you enjoy language play and bonkers moral advise this is definitely an absurdity novel for you! It found it the right for me for it gave all I expected with a twist of humour that I really need, lately.
As I was reading Hitman Anders and the Meaning of it All I couldn't but pay attention to all the wonderful details that the author had put it, because they are so important to the nuances he is trying to show. His very gentle implications for this or that made me give out surprised squirrel-like noises in public ( still blushing under the looks of people). The novel is SIMPLE, STRAIGHTFORWARD, OLD-FASHIONED, SLAPSTICK HUMOUR! If I had to compare Jonasson to another author the price would go to a favourite one of my father's and me - Jaroslav Hašek and his The Good Soldier Švejk!!!4FOXGIVEN
With an unexpected ease I give the novel four fox! It surprised me tremendously! THANK YOU, NETGALLEY!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris

The first adult epic fantasy novel from multi-million copy bestselling author of Chocolate, Joanne Harris.
The novel is a brilliant first-person narrative of the rise and fall of the Norse gods - retold from the point of view of the world's ultimate trickster, Loki. It tells the story of Loki's recruitment from the underworld of Chaos, his many exploits on behalf of his one-eyed master, Odin, through to his eventual betrayal of the gods and the fall of Asgard itself. Using her life-long passion for the Norse myths, Joanne Harris has created a vibrant and powerful fantasy novel.
"Loki, that’s me.
Loki, the Light-Bringer, the misunderstood, the elusive, the handsome and modest hero of this particular tissue of lies. Take it with a pinch of salt, but it’s at least as true as the official version, and, dare I say it, more entertaining.
So far, history, such as it is, has cast me in a rather unflattering role.
Now it’s my turn to take the stage."
With his notorious reputation for trickery and deception, and an ability to cause as many problems as he solves, Loki is a Norse god like no other. Demon-born, he is viewed with deepest suspicion by his fellow gods who will never accept him as one of their own and for this he vows to take his revenge.
From his recruitment by Odin from the realm of Chaos, through his years as the go-to man of Asgard, to his fall from grace in the build-up to Ragnarok, this is the unofficial history of the world’s ultimate trickster.
The first novel I ever read by Joanne Harris was Five Quarters of the Orange and from then on it has been a long lasting relationship of love and devotion. Every following book I read made fall deeper and deeper in love with Harris' characters, her writing and most of all her story telling techniques. To that her teenager books Runemarks and Runelight were no exception... But then came The Gospel of Loki - a paradox of child of fiction that I cannot really admit to being in love with.
I love Old Norse Mythology and this retelling of its most popular stories from Loki's point of view promised a lot more than it actually brought to the table. The best way to describe it would be limited. Neither bad, nor good just limited.
What did the most harm was the limitation of the gospel genre itself. Dealing with archetypes is hard enough, but when you have to adapt them and bring some originality to them the task levels to impossibility of the highest rate. Still, Harris, did better than most authors would have.
What The Gospel of Loki gains in authenticity in certainly lacks in creating an actual attachment to both story and characters.
What I mean to say is: once I started reading I couldn't put the book down, but when I had already put it down it took a whole lot of effort to pick it up. It was a never ending struggle of to read , or not to read. I am a multi-reader type of gal. I have no problem reading 10+ books simultaneously and still feel as excited for each and every one of them... Or so I thought until I picked up The Gospel of Loki.
I am not disappointed,nor am I left with any bad feelings for the book, it just missed the bonsai. That's the first time for me with a Harris! I am both ashamed and reluctant to give it three fox, for it just didn't live up to my expectations. If I ever dare to recommend it to anyone, it would be prescribed to a complete and utter Norse Mythology novice.

Portrait of Conspiracy (Da Vinci's Disciples #1) by Donna Russo Morin

One murder ignites the powder-keg that threatens to consume the Medici's Florence. Amidst the chaos, five women and one legendary artist weave together a plot that could bring peace, or get them all killed. Seeking to wrest power from the Medici family in 15th Century Florence, members of the Pazzi family drew their blades in a church and slew Giuliano. But Lorenzo de Medici survives, and seeks revenge on everyone involved, plunging the city into a murderous chaos that takes dozens of lives. Bodies are dragged through the streets, and no one is safe. Five women steal away to a church to ply their craft in secret. Viviana, Fiammetta, Isabetta, Natasia, and Mattea are painters, not allowed to be public with their skill, but freed from the restrictions in their lives by their art. When a sixth member of their group, Lapaccia, goes missing, and is rumored to have stolen a much sought after painting as she vanished, the women must venture out into the dangerous streets to find their friend and see her safe. They will have help from one of the most renowned painters of their era the peaceful and kind Leonardo Da Vinci. It is under his tutelage that they will flourish as artists, and with his access that they will infiltrate some of the highest, most secretive places in Florence, unraveling one conspiracy as they build another in its place. Historical fiction at its finest, Donna Russo Morin begins a series of Da Vinci s disciples with a novel both vibrant and absorbing, perfect for the readers of Sarah Dunant."
Have you seen Mona Lisa Smile with Julia Roberts? That is the first thing that popped into my head while reading the novel. Portrait of Conspiracy is that kind of story, but with so much more to it. It is daring, but real and in a way so close to the heart that it instantly becomes a favourite. Donna Russo Morin has done a marvellous job with this Renaissance historical fiction, giving it the perfect balance between fact and fiction. One more time the legendary Da Vinci is made more approachable and past times have been drawn close to us, so we can endorse their wisdom and learn from their mistakes. There is sensual passion, remorseless violence, everyday struggle, but mostly there is a certain scent of womanhood to it, that drives you craze about its characters. With breathtaking descriptions and tremendous emotion, Donna Russo Morin spreads the glory of Renaissance Florence before the reader with all its  intrigue, ruthlessness and artistic wonder in Portrait of a Conspiracy: Da Vinci's Disciples Book One.
From the unique point of view of a Sisterhood of women artists, this historical look at Florence and Leonardo da Vinci is engaging and quite fulfilling, bringing the past to life in all its horror and beauty. A fantastic read! I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes a film one day. One can only hold her breath until the nest instalments comes out!

Thank you NetGalley for allowing me to read this novel!
I give it 3 foxes because I am not a specialist on historical fiction, per se, but after reading this novel I am really looking for the next in the genre. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

There were numerous reasons and thoughts that went through my head on starting to read this book, but even if my life depended on it I wouldn't be able to remember them. 
If it wasn't for Emma Watson's Book Club and my devotion to HP I would still be ignorant for who Gloria Steinem is and that, my friends, would have been the biggest mistake in my life. I had my reservations for the book as whole, for I was advised that it is a feminist read... and my thoughts on feminism I would rather keep for myself for now. Don't get me wrong, I am a feminist, but most literature marked with this label is doomed to be ridiculed for its lack of scope or posh language. Now, My Life on the Road is a completely different story to tell.
Here is the time to say thank you to my dad for teaching me that curiosity gives birth to brilliance. If it wasn't for you dad I wouldn't have learned some much from life. Anyhow I jumped without a safety net into this ocean of a book. It was the first blind date I have been on and it was a wonderful one - a fulfilling new point of view on life grew boldly out of it.
For the most part I was smitten and slightly jealous of Miss Steinem's life on the road  and all the "worlds on wheels" she encountered and welcomed into her story. The narration was warm and inviting - as if an old friend was telling me stories of their travels. So far it is one of the best memoirs I have read, because it is written from the most amazing point of view you can image. I have this theory of life, you see... for me life is a consequence of clashes between people that cause various outcomes and lead to changes in one's character. My Life on the Road is exactly that. It is "full of great anecdotes, thoughtful ideas on activism and engagement, and quotable bits and pieces". Gloria Steinem describes conversations with taxi drivers, flight attendants, college students at elite colleges and college students at low income state schools,truck drivers, waitresses and many others. There's also a chapter dealing with her time on the road campaigning for different political candidates -- including a great segment of the Clinton/Obama face off.
Steinem flawlessly stitched together stories and dialogue from her memories with a wise, knowing present voice, cluing readers into what she now knows that she did not then. I was specifically drawn to her memory of helping to organize the National Women's Political Caucus in 1971 and serving as a touch point between groups of women of different races, wanting to combine their ideas to create equality.
I definitely recommend this book the all of my friends and family and to all of you who read my blog as well. It is a breath of fresh air filled with positivity and overall optimism.
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Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Penguin Book of Ghosts: Haunted England by Jacqueline Simpson & Jennifer Westwood

I borrowed this one from the local library, because I was up for some lore and to be honest I wanted some thrill in my everyday life. So I said to myself what's better than a book of "real" ghost stories?! In general the Penguin Book of Ghosts is a enjoyable, accessible and carefully researched book on a fascinating subject. It was written by two of the most trusted experts on the subject. Yes, it is somewhat distilled from the much larger, broader tome The Lore of the Land, which should mean it appeals to readers who are interested particularly in ghosts rather than folk tales, legends, oral history and other related items. England is probably the most haunted place in the world, and this book was supposed to be the perfect place to look for information on its less tangible residents. But, alas, my friends. I have say it. I do...

OK, so here it comes...GIRD YOUR LOINS... I'll need a deep breath for this one:


Despite the hype. Uninspiring old fashioned don't bother there are many modern ghost books out there that are better. Not worth having as part of a ghost tales library. I guess I really was expecting more, or I have read quite a lot on the subject already, but I don't think even a novice will be enjoying this one.

Overall, there were some gems in there, but mostly it was just "MEH..."

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Wolf In The Attic by Paul Kearney

The Wolf In The Attic is far more than the description promised. It went far and beyond in exceeding my highest expectations. It is as I said to my boyfriend MAGICAL.
I was privileged to read the advanced proof copy of the novel and I cannot wait for the book to come out so all fantasy fans out there can laugh and  cry with the characters as I have been doing these last couple of days.
I remember reading The Way to Babylon and A Different Kingdom some years ago... If you haven't read them while you are waiting for this jewel to be published. It seem that Kearney has drawn a full circle going back to his roots to write this one. It is devilishly pure, and clean, and mostly stripped of all the heavy, unnecessary and boring stuff we find in fantasy lately. 
The Wolf In The Attic is  indeed a magical journey that lingers in your mouth for a lot longer that you would normally expect from a recently to be published fantasy. I don't fear to admit that more than once I found myself in the exact same statement of excitement I was in 20 years ago reading The Hobbit, The Last Unicorn, The Narnia Chronicles... I experienced the same pure, childlike enjoyment of reading and adventure story. My boyfriend even said that he hasn't seen me in a state like that EVER... which coming from the guy who has held me more than ones when I was crying or mooring a character or who has had to endure the years of midnight cackles from the cupboard is a lot! ( All these are syndromes of an average bookworm, I hope, for otherwise I am simply a woman possessed by madness). 
Thank you Paul Kearney, for bringing me back the joy of reading and for reminding me how this love affair with books began for me. 
Now back to the novel: it tells the story of Anna - a Greek girl who is coping with the harsh life of a refugee in cold and rainy England. Having survived the Greco-Turkish War and the loss of her mother and brother, she has not the slightest idea of what perils destiny has set for her in the upcoming months. She is a strong willed and brave girl, which you instantly fall in love with.
The narration is of first person and takes you on an adventure as seen through the eyes of an eleven-year-old... her voice managed to captivate me -  a grown-up woman (don't make me say the ugly word - ADULT) of 25. She is rich and engaging as a character and you will find yourself, as I did, saying: "You go girl!"
Paul Kearney has done an amazing job building up the world of his novel around Celtic folklore. He managed to patch reality and myth so well that I was left muting "HOW" for hours before I set to writing this review. I am having one of my worst book hangovers after reading it.  
If I have to compare The Wolf In The Attic to a work that managed to engage me the same way, that would probably be the series of M. D. Lachlan(this man is a GOD), although Kearney is far less  grim.
For fear of spoiling it for you, I will  not discuss the plot any more... But by all means, please read the book. It might not be epic and bloody, and there might not be any battles in it, but if you only stop to read between the lines not even 100000000000 readings would be enough for you to read it all.
It is simply OUT OF THIS (GRAY) WORLD!
Thank you!!!!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard

I was doing my regular library hunt as I spotted this curious creature amongst the other books. As it was by a foreign author and had the words "library" and "shadows" in its title, I was instantly intrigued. I am not much of a thriller fan myself, but I have had my share. Without anymore fussing about I opened to the first chapter. I don't know why but I always do that... I was instantly sucked into the world from the opening line:
"Lu­ca Campel­li's wish to die sur­round­ed by his beloved books came true late one night in Oc­to­ber.
Shivers went up and down my spine. I said to myself:"this is is, cricket, another Setterfield-like journey awaits within the pages of this one. You have to kidnap it or it will be the ruin of you". And so I did! I almost forgot to check it out... Almost!!! *devilish smile*
When I got home I checked its raking on Goodreads - 3.39 - Something must be wrong. After reading it I still am convinced that there is something seriously wrong with that ranking. The Library of Shadows is underestimated if you ask me. Not only is it a page turner, but the Lectures concept of "transmitters" and "receivers" left me smitten. 
I admit it is unchallenging for the average reader with its clean and readable style, but it is a joy to read from cover to cover. I would probably label it as the perfect summer thriller read for the beach. It was written mostly for enjoyment rather than for anything else. I am very bold in my statement here, but both heroes and villains were stereotypical and recipe written... all in the very best way, of course! There are no fireworks, no surprising twists to it, but I couldn't peel my eyes off of it! 
After all we need to be more tolerant as it was a debut novel. Mikkel Birkegaard I will be looking forward to your next novel!