Showing posts with label Books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Books. Show all posts

Monday, 17 April 2017

The Breakdown by B A Paris (2017)

If you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?

Cass is having a hard time since the night she saw the car in the woods, on the winding rural road, in the middle of a downpour, with the woman sitting inside - the woman who was killed. She’s been trying to put the crime out of her mind; what could she have done, really? It’s a dangerous road to be on in the middle of a storm. Her husband would be furious if he knew she’d broken her promise not to take that shortcut home. And she probably would only have been hurt herself if she’d stopped.
But since then, she’s been forgetting every little thing: where she left the car, if she took her pills, the alarm code, why she ordered a pram when she doesn’t have a baby.
The only thing she can’t forget is that woman, the woman she might have saved, and the terrible nagging guilt. Or the silent calls she’s receiving, or the feeling that someone’s watching her…

Author: B.A. Paris is from a Franco/Irish background and was born in 1958. She was brought up in England and moved to France when she was 21. She spent some years working as a trader in an international bank before re-training as a teacher and setting up a language school with her husband. They still live in France and have five daughters. Her first novel “Behind Closed Doors” was published in 2016 and became a tremendous bestseller.

My thoughts: After I finished “The Breakdown” I immediately purchased her first novel “Behind Closed Doors” - I had enjoyed reading this psychological thriller so much. I am pleased to say that I have also enjoyed reading “Behind Closed Doors”, which I will review in due course.
I ordered The Breakdown in mid-March in the original English version. As soon as I received it from Payot bookstore in Geneva, I started reading it and I finished all 415 pages that same weekend. This book was a real great surprise: I knew it to be good, but I wasn’t expecting it to be extraordinary, which it certainly turned out to be.
To summarise it, without giving away too much of the plot, it’s the story of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s the story of a split-second decision taken by Cass, the main character, which has such a devastating impact on her life.
It relates the consequences of her decision not to stop to help that motorist she came across in an isolated place in the woods, not far from her cottage, that Friday night at eleven thirty.
Gradually, Cass learns that she knew Jane Walters, the victim who was brutally murdered. Cass had made her acquaintance just a few weeks before and they had begun a good friendship. That shakes Cass. Her previously peaceful and happy life, a life without drama at the side of her loving husband (they have been married for a year) and in the company her childhood friend, Rachel, who is like a sister to her, is turned upside down. Cass starts undergo many things that have suddenly caught up with her and throw her off-balance.
Cass starts to have memory lapses and she feels the threat of dementia hanging over her: ten years before her mother died, she was diagnosed with dementia and Cass fears it is hereditary.
I will stop here and tell you that if you like very well written psychological thrillers and a well developed and consistent story, without descending into clichés and improbable plot twists, you will love this book.

Monday, 3 April 2017

The People of the Abyss by Jack London (1903)

The People of the Abyss is a narrative about life in the East End of London in 1902. Jack London wrote this first-hand account by living in the East End (including the Whitechapel District) for several months, sometimes staying in workhouses or sleeping on the streets. The conditions he experienced and wrote about were the same as those endured by an estimated 500,000 of the contemporary London poor.

Author: Jack London was born on January 12, 1876 in San Francisco. After his birth, his mother turned him over to an ex-slave, who raised him through his infancy. She remained a major maternal figure throughout his life. London was passionate about socialism and workers’ rights.  He wrote several powerful works. He was one of the first writers to earn worldwide celebrity and a large fortune from his writing alone. London died young, at the age of 40.

My thoughts: I came across this masterpiece in 2008 while watching a TV documentary about the Victorian era. I immediately wanted to read London’s non-fiction novel. I nevertheless had to wait over a month, as no bookstore in Geneva had it in stock. I enjoyed reading it and was impressed by London’s courage to disguise himself as a tramp for three months roaming the slums of London. He writes about the economic degradation of the poor and homeless on the streets of London, people who have been exploited by imperialism and capitalism. Jack London felt motivated to write about those men and women in order to give a voice to the ignored masses, because the stories of the rich, powerful and fashionable filled the pages of newspapers and novels. In these pages, we take an in depth look into the lives of those unfortunate families. Let me tell you that I adored this book but that I wouldn’t read it twice. I still have in mind their chaotic and hard lives and I found them particularly brave.
This is a kind of report and, despite the very harsh conditions of the life of its protagonists, there is always a bit of hope and light. This is perhaps why these people are doing their best to have a better life, even if, in the end, only a few of them succeed.

Monday, 13 March 2017

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (2007)

It is July 1962. Edward and Florence, young innocents married that morning, arrive at a hotel on the Dorset coast. At dinner in their rooms they struggle to suppress their private fears of the wedding night to come…

Author: Ian McEwan is an English novelist, born in Aldershot, Hampshire, on 21 June 1948. His father was a working-class Scotsman who had worked his way up through the army to the rank of major. He spent much of his childhood in East Asia, Germany and North Africa, where his father was posted. His family returned to England when he was twelve. He was educated at Woolverstone Hall School, the University of Sussex, receiving his degree in English literature in 1970 and the University of East Anglia, where he undertook a master’s degree in literature. The Times featured him on its list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”, and in 2008, The Daily Telegraph ranked him number 19 in their list of “The 100 most powerful people in British culture”

My thoughts: I read this book at the end of January (it had been on my shelf for a decade). I read it in four days. It’s a small book of 166 pages. The keyword of this novel is nostalgia: it is an irresistible mixture of innocence and sensuality. I loved the effective use of flashbacks throughout the disastrous wedding night to show both of the key characters’ different upbringings. I liked the insightful development of the two characters, which I found touching.

This is the story of an unexpected encounter of two very young people (both 22 years old). Edward Mayhew earned a degree in History and comes from a modest family. Florence Ponting comes from a wealthy family, she’s beautiful, and is the principal player in a string quartet - she intends to pursue her classical music career.
After their splendid wedding in July 1962, they drive to a hotel on the Dorset coast to spend their honeymoon. On their wedding night Florence, although deeply in love with Edward, apprehends having sexual intercourse with him. She needs to overcome some issues to make this marriage work. Walking out on Chesil Beach, Dorset, they are about to find out things concerning each other that the stifling society of 1962 has prevented them from learning before. Now, is their honeymoon night to be a total disaster and ruin their marriage?

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Wuthering Heights by Emily Jane Brontë (1847)

Wuthering Heights is the wild and passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine’s father. After Mr Earnshaw’s death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine’s brother Hindley. Wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, he leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries. The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent, but the accomplished handling of a complex structure, the evocative descriptions of the lonely moorland setting and the poetic grandeur of vision combine to make this unique novel a masterpiece of English literature.

Author: Emily Jane Brontë was born on July 30, 1818 in the village of Thornton. She was the fifth of six children of an Irish priest of the Church of England. She lost her mother as a child. Emily had a strong personality, she was independent and loved solitude and was very attracted to the supernatural. As children, the Brontë sisters had creative games and as they grew up this evolved into a ritual, with each of them taking care of their respective novel every evening. This is how Emily Brontë wrote her first and only novel “Wuthering Heights”, published under the male pseudonym Ellis Bell. She died shortly afterwards of tuberculosis at the age of 30 years.

My thoughts: I read this great novel just before Christmas and I loved it. I came across a brilliant review of it looking at Brian’s “Babbling books” blog and felt intrigued by this classic masterpiece.

From the start, we are immersed in an oppressive atmosphere, whether as a result of the nature of the surroundings or because of the characters and the feelings they exhibit. The novel begins with the narrator, Mr. Lockwood. He visits Heathcliff in his imposing home, Wuthering Heights, in order to rent Thrushcross Grange, of which Heathcliff is the owner. From there, we begin to be introduced to each of the characters. Just like Mr. Lockwood, we are curious to comprehend Heathcliff, his history and that of those around him.
Mrs. Dean, the housekeeper at Thrushcross, tells Mr. Lockwood the history of Heathcliff’s life. Heathcliff was a small boy when he was rescued from famine and poverty by Mr. Earnshaw during a visit to Liverpool. The latter took Heathcliff, aged six, to his home as a “gift” for his two children, Catherine and Hindley. At the beginning Heathcliff was badly accepted by Catherine and Hindley. But little by little, Catherine and the adopted “poor” boy Heathcliff became friends and accomplices. But this was not the case with Hindley, who humiliated Heathcliff. When they grow up, Catherine and Heathcliff fall in love, but, alas, Catherine opted for a marriage of reason, in order to eventually help find a good social status for Heathcliff.  The latter was shattered to overhear unflattering half confidences concerning him that Catherine shared with their maid, Mrs. Dean (aka Nelly). On a whim, he disappeared and upon his return several years later he was rich, resentful and determined to make everyone pay for the hurt he had suffered.
Towards the end of the book, it is Mr. Lockwood who tells us the saga of this family and its descendants. We learn what fate was reserved for Heathcliff, his nephews and his son.

We are caught in a spider’s web, trapped, like these characters. The heaviness of the atmosphere is suffocating. The life of these characters is a combination of circumstances, a vicious circle. Their strings are pulled by a manipulative and abusive man, a man of few feelings, Heathcliff. It is with these simple words that I summarise this masterpiece. It is brilliantly written with elegance and a touch of black British humour. When I think that it was a young writer who wrote it, I am amazed by her ability to describe the human soul so accurately, in all its psychological ambivalence. I have to admit that this is not an easy read.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

The Outsider by Albert Camus (1942)

“When the bell rang again and the door of the box opened, it was the silence of the room that rose towards me, the silence, and this singular sensation that I had when I noticed that the young journalist had averted his eyes. I did not look towards Mary. I did not have the time because the president told me in a bizarre way that I would have my head cut off in a public place in the name of the French people...”

Author: Albert Camus was a French writer and philosopher born on November 7, 1913 in Mondovi in Algeria. The second child of a modest family, he never knew his father, who died during the First World War. His mother, of Spanish origin, was half deaf and almost illiterate. Camus was marked by the disadvantaged environment in which he lived with his mother and brother. He discovered a passion for writing which helped him to fill the emptiness in his life. The Outsider was Albert Camus’s first novel.  Camus enjoyed great success as a writer and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1957. In January 1960, at the age of 46, he was killed in a car accident in the company of his editor friend Michel Gallimard.

My thoughts: Anyone who has read this book will remember the famous opening lines of Camus’s novel. They set the tone for what will follow:

“Aujourd'hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas.”
Strangely this sentence does not sound extraordinary in English
“My mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.”

This is the first book that I read this year, in January. I loved each of its 183 pages. I found it easy to read and very entertaining and I highly recommend it to you. The main character, “l'Etranger”, alias Meursault, is a young man who lives in insensitivity and indifference. He is not very talkative and mixes little with society, so he is “foreign” to the world which surrounds him.

Meursault (the narrator) receives a telegram announcing the death of his mother. He immediately takes two days leave and leaves Algiers in the direction of Marengo (80km away) to attend his mother’s funeral. She lived in one of the old peoples’ homes in that town. Back in Algiers, he meets Marie Cardona, a former work colleague, who will become his mistress. Meursault strikes up a friendship with his next-door neighbour, Raymond. The latter had been in a fight with the brother of his mistress because he suspects her of cheating on him. He therefore asks Meursault to help him to write a letter to avenge himself.

Invited by Raymond to spend a Sunday in his seaside hut, Meursault goes there with Marie. Two Arabs, one of whom is the brother of Raymond’s mistress, are looking for a fight on the beach, but nothing occurs. A little later Meursault sees the Arabs again and he kills one (by accident) with Raymond’s pistol. He is arrested, tried, and condemned to death.

The novel is structured in two parts. The first traces the daily life of Meursault after he learns of the death of his mother until the he commits the murder on the beach. The second part describes his life in prison and the phases of his trial until his death sentence.

In this story we meet funny, strange and endearing characters. Marie Cardona who is the mistress of Meursault. Raymond Sintès who is the best friend of Meursault and also his next door neighbour. The elderly Salamano the second neighbour on Meursault’s landing, who has lived with his dog for eight years. Céleste who is the owner of the restaurant where Meursault eats. Emmanuel who is the colleague with whom Meursault often eats. Perez who is the only man who cried upon the death of Meursault’s mother and who becomes a witness at the trial of the man who had not mourned the death of his own mother. 

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Death at the Priory by James Ruddick (2001)

It took three tortured days in 1876 for Charles Bravo to die. Six doctors, including Queen Victoria’s physician, had attempted to save him from the poison that burned its way through his body. The subsequent police investigation revealed a surprising number of people who harboured a grudge against the young barrister - just six months married - and who had both the means and motive to kill him. The dramatic inquest that followed was covered in sensational detail by the press. Yet, in the end, no-one was ever convicted of Charles Bravo’s murder.
James Ruddick arrived at the scene of the crime over a century later to find the mystery still unexplained. Drawing on new evidence, his brilliant conclusion finally and emphatically solves one of the most famous murders in British criminal history.

Author: James Ruddick is a journalist and television researcher. He is the author of several books including “Lord Lucan: What Really Happened”. “Death at the Priory” was nominated for a Non-Fiction Edgar Award in the US.

My thoughts: I read this non-fiction book in May 2012 and in November 2014 and again last December. I loved this book very much because I have always been attracted to the Victorian era. This is not just a thrilling investigation story, we also learn a great deal about how life was for men and women in Victorian Britain. This is the story of their private lives and the traditions in British society. The book reads like a dramatic love affair intermingled with detective work. I really liked the meticulous research.

It is the true story of Florence Campbell, a wealthy young woman unhappy in love. She was married twice to men who did not suit her. After becoming the young widow of the handsome, alcoholic and much courted Captain Alexander Ricardo, she embarked upon a long love affair with Dr James Gully. Florence met the brilliant and eminent Dr James Gully, 30 years her senior, at Hydro, a high-class sanatorium in Malvern, the Worcestershire spa town on the Welsh borders. She went there for a while - alone - to figure out what to do with her unhappy and abusive marriage to Alexander Ricardo. This “cure” was a typical Victorian compromise to find a solution to marital issues. Her unhappy marriage to Alexandre Ricardo had come to an end and she desperately wanted to file for divorce, an unpopular procedure in Victorian society.

Dr Gully brought her the love, tenderness and support she so badly needed. But their love affair became known and both were rejected by the prudish society of the time. To be accepted again in high society and to regain a social life, she sought a husband and met a young barrister, Charles Bravo, whom she married. Her new husband was a brutal, cold, calculating and opportunistic man. Sadly, the marriage was a very unhappy one right from the start. Six months after their marriage, Charles died in atrocious suffering due to poisoning.

Two senior detectives from Scotland Yard were assigned to investigate Charles Bravo’s homicide. They narrowed their inquiries to a handful of suspects all of whom had the opportunity to administer the poison. There was Charles’s Bravo wife, the beautiful and wealthy Florence. There was the couple’s housekeeper, and Florence’s long-time companion, Mrs Jane Cox, who had faced dismissal at Bravo’s hands. There was also Dr James Gully, Florence’s lover and one of the most prominent physicians of the period. He bore a grudge against Bravo for stealing his mistress. Or perhaps the other servants?
After five weeks of inquiry, the jury announced that there was insufficient evidence to name Bravo’s murderer and all the suspects were duly acquitted.

Thanks to the investigation of the author James Ruddick, one can see more clearly. But do not count on me to give you the outcome, otherwise it will spoil the pleasure of discovering the story...and, believe me, this easily approachable book is well worth reading.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Black Love by Dominique Noguez (1997)

“I had never looked at her eyes so closely before. They were of a dark brown, almost as dark as the pupils. I could not write that I looked into the depth of the eyes, because those eyes had no depth. They were only a black, desperately opaque surface, inhuman eyes, of a bird of prey or a lynx, with the hardness of marble or a meteorite, eyes which looked at me but did not see me, which did not love me, which would never love me, which neither love nor would ever love anybody, eyes from another world.”

Author: Dominique Noguez was born on September 12, 1942 in Bolbec. He is a French writer. He has been awarded several literary prizes: 
1995: Roger Nimier prize for "Les Martagons"
1997: Femina prize for "Amour noir" (the subject book)
2013: Jean-Jacques Rousseau prize for "Une année qui commence bien"

My thoughts: I remember as if it was yesterday how I was absorbed by reading this book. I could not put it down and in the early hours of the morning I had devoured it. It is a story of passion and unrequited love. It traces the tormented life of a man fighting for the woman he loves. He hopes to see his love reciprocated... This story takes place in Biarritz, in the French Basque Country. While writing these lines and flipping through this book again I was smitten by a terrible desire to re-read it. If you enjoy (dramatic) love stories, you will adore this novel.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)

“Thus, neither of us is alive when the reader opens this book. But while the blood still throbs through my writing hand, you are still as much part of blessed matter as I am, and I can still talk to you from here to Alaska. Be true to your Dick. Do not let other fellows touch you. Do not talk to strangers. I hope you will love your baby. I hope it will be a boy. That husband of yours, I hope, will always treat you well, because otherwise my specter shall come at him, like black smoke, like a demented giant, and pull him apart nerve by nerve. And do not pity C. Q. One had to choose between him and H.H., and one wanted H.H. to exist at least a couple of months longer, so as to have him make you live in the minds of later generations. I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita.” Vladimir Nabokov

Author: Vladimir Nabokov was born on April 23, 1899, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Nabokov household was trilingual, and, as a child, Nabokov was already reading novels in French, English and Russian. As a young man, he studied Slavic and Romance languages at Trinity College, Cambridge, taking his honours degree in 1922. Nabokov became a refugee in 1940, when he was forced to leave France for the United States. There he taught at Wellesley, Harvard and Cornell. He also gave up writing in Russian and began composing fiction in English. Vladimir Nabokov died in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1977.

My thoughts: Lolita is synonymous with controversy. Even more than sixty years later, it’s still a standout novel, playfully perverse in form as well as in content: an unmistakable masterpiece. This is the kind of creative work of a great writer that I personally adore. I love Vladimir’s fluid writing and his elegance. Passages from the book remain engraved in my mind. That said, I have friends who didn’t like it at all or who flatly refused to read it…
I thought very carefully before posting this book review for fear of shocking my readers, but then I remembered that one of the things I promise to myself is to only post things I truly love. This is my space, part of my world and all the things I adore… I am very fond of Russian authors although I don’t know many of them. My favorite novels were written by the greatest Russian authors and I am deeply fond of their culture.

Here an extract from the book

 “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo.Lee.Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.” Vladimir Nabokov

Monday, 26 December 2016

Author Margarida Rebelo Pinto

The second author I would like to recommend to you for December is Margarida Rebelo Pinto, little known abroad, but famous in Portugal.

Margarida Rebelo Pinto was born in Lisbon in June 1965. She obtained her Master’s degree in Modern Literature. She started work as a journalist and wrote articles for very celebrated magazines and newspapers, such as Elle, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire and Vogue. Margarida Rebelo Pinto is Portugal’s current best-selling author. She was named one of the 25 most influential women in Portuguese contemporary society. She has a son. She loves tea and long walks.

Margarida, writes about love and women in today’s society. This is the topic of all of her novels. Her books are romantic, sincere, nostalgic, funny and easy to read. Her intuitive analyses of behaviour and relationships between men and women are accusatory.  She excels at writing about generations of Old Portuguese families and reflects on the evolution of Portuguese society: the good and the bad things in it.

Margarida has her detractors, who do not consider her as a “real” writer. But the reading public has had its say... Yes, her books are best sellers in Portugal and are widely sold in Spain, Brazil, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Lithuania. Her novels move people, they bring something into their lives. What determines the value of a writer? In my eyes, her (or his) universe, her own talented written skills and style, her passion to take us on an extraordinary journey... As I said in my “About Me” page, I have no training in this field, but I can’t live without books. They fulfil me and I am willing to read a book as long as the writing is engaging.

The first time I came across one of Margarida’s books was in June 2006 while on vacation in Lisbon. I remember it as if it was yesterday. I was at FNAC and found a book that looked like a diary, so cute... I started reading it and couldn’t put it down. Within minutes I felt my heart beating faster and tears coming to my eyes. The book was “Diário da tua Ausência” (in English Diary of your absence), a beautifully written story about a break-up, the end of a love affair. It drove me into all the feelings you go through when you lose the person you love (sadness, despair, loneliness, anger, resilience and acceptance). I have read it four times since then.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Author Jorge Amado

In  December, I have decided not to write any book reviews, but instead to help you discover and recommend to you two great writers. Here is the first one, Jorge Amado.

Jorge Amado was born on August 12, 1912 in Ilhéus, Bahia, whose society he portrays in acclaimed novels such as Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon. His father was a cocoa planter and his first novel, Cacao, published when he was nineteen, is a plea for social justice for the workers on the cocoa estates south of Bahia. The theme of class struggle continued to dominate his novels in the 1930s and 40s, but with the 50s and Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon (1958), the political emphasis gave way to a lighter, more novelistic approach. It was in this novel, published in the United States when Amado was fifty and enthusiastically received in some fourteen countries, that he first explored the rich literary vein pursued in Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands. Jorge Amado died in 2001.

Jorge Amado has been called “one of the greatest writers...also the most entertaining”. I totally agree with that. In fact, he is one of my preferred writers. I laugh so much when I read his books that people around me think I’m mad. He is the only author I know who has the ability to make the most dramatic and sad situation seem funny, even anecdotal. In his books, he describes a group of characters that are linked in some way to each other. He has great attention to detail for each of the characters, he even gives them nicknames. These multiple characters come to life and create a community or a town. We get carried away by their lives, their world.

Monday, 14 November 2016

China Dolls by Lisa See (2014)

San Francisco, 1938. While war is brewing in Europe, the International Exhibition is about to open its doors. Three young Chinese-American women - Grace, Helen, and Ruby - with different trajectories, meet by chance at the Forbidden City, a chic and exclusive night club. Grace Lee, an American of Chinese origin, left the Midwest to escape an abusive father. Helen Fong wants to escape the shackles of her traditionalist Chinese family. Meanwhile, the sublime Ruby Tom defies the conventions of the time with her provocative attitude and boundless ambition. The three become best friends and together face the unexpected and a reversal of fortune. But the attack on Pearl Harbor soon comes to shake up their lives. Will they find the courage and determination to make their dreams a reality?
Although they have taken a “one for all” vow of eternal loyalty, each harbours secrets that cause a pervasive atmosphere of distrust to simmer just below the surface.

Author: Lisa See is a Chinese American writer. She was born on 18 February 1955 in Paris and lives in Los Angeles, the city where her great-grandfather immigrated when he left his Chinese village early last century to become the godfather of Chinatown in Los Angeles.
It was with the novel “Snow flower and the secret fan” (2005) that she met with real success. She has so far published 10 books. Her latest novel is China Dolls.

My thoughts: I learned about Lisa See recently, thanks to Judy’s “Keep the Wisdom” blog. I liked her review and I was curious to discover this female writer.
I found the book to be a fascinating portrait of life as Chinese-American women in the America of the 1940’s. China Dolls is the story of three Asian girlfriends.
There is Grace, who is graceful, naive and a very good dancer. In order to escape her village and a brutal father, she flees to California. In her struggle to find a job, she crosses the path of Helen, a native of San Francisco and daughter of a wealthy Chinese businessman in Chinatown.
The life of Helen, which was previously filled with boredom and loneliness, changes through her contact with Grace. When auditioning as cabaret dancers in the Forbidden City in Chinatown, they meet Ruby (a Japanese posing as a Chinese). She is carefree and full of cunning. The three become friends and stick together in hard times and in this America filled with prejudice towards Asians.
We discover their parallel stories and thoughts which are narrated by each of them. This is a very original approach to writing and Lisa See is a true discovery for me (thanks, Judy!). I was intrigued and fascinated by this novel. I liked the story of the friendship between these three young women: not always easy, made of multiple noble actions and less noble feelings at times. But they knew how to stick together and believed in the power of friendship. I, myself, cherish long term friendships, not flash in the pan acquaintances.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (1939)

Have you heard of Indian Island?

The island, according to some rumours, was bought by a Hollywood star. Some newspapers had insinuated that the British Admiralty had used it to engage in top secret experiments. There was also talk of a wealthy Yankee...Anyway, when they received an anonymous invitation to a holiday on the island, all ten guests, from the judge through the playboy to the secretary, hastened to attend. But on the island, the mysterious host was absent. On the first night, a record was placed on the gramophone, accusing each of them of a crime. Panic seized the guests…

Author: Agatha Christie was born in Torquay, Devon, South West England on September 15, 1890. She is one of the most famous detective writers of all time and is known as the “Queen of Crime”. She wrote her first novel in 1920. Her most famous characters are Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. In total, she wrote 77 detective novels and a number of plays and short stories.
Agatha Christie grew up surrounded by a succession of strong and independent women from an early age. She was married twice and had a daughter. She died in 1976.

My thoughts: “And Then There Were None” is my favourite of all of the Agatha Christie books I have read. Once again, the Queen of Crime signs a brilliant puzzle that leaves the reader breathless and disoriented until final outcome.
I’ve been a big fan of Agatha Christie since I was a teenager. I read her books one after another. In terms of crime novels, there is no denying that there is Agatha and then there are the others! I love the atmosphere, the captivating plot, the quintessential British touch and the inescapable tea time. I love the overall ambience of those afternoon teas; the warm and comfortable event where guests feel welcomed and inclined to confidences and chatter…

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Blank Gaze by José Luis Peixoto (2000) - (Original title: Nenhum Olhar)

In a rural village of the Alentejo region of Portugal, against a backdrop of severe poverty, the author weaves the stories of a handful of magical characters who are living out their destiny. They are men and women, hardened by hunger and work, love, jealousy and violence: the taciturn shepherd who sees his world fall apart when the devil whispers in his ear that his wife cheats on him; the very old and wise Gabriel, confidant and adviser; the Siamese twins, Elias and Moisés, joined at the tip of their little fingers, whose eternal communion is jeopardised when one of them falls in love, or the devil himself. These characters are universal, as is their hope of overcoming difficulty.
“(...) from the second or third sequence, we are sure that the slope is fatal: we will hit a limit, a wall, a puzzle, the origin of the world and the final disaster (...)”

Author: José Luis Peixoto is a Portuguese author, born in 1974 in Galveias, a small Portuguese village in Alentejo. In 2001, he received the José Saramago Prize for the novel “Blank Gaze” which was included in the Financial Times list of the best books published in England in 2007. Blank Gaze has been published around the world to critical acclaim for its fresh, unique and utterly moving style of storytelling.
José Luis Peixoto teaches languages and contemporary literature and is also a journalist and literary critic. He is the author of seven works of fiction and poetry. His books have been translated into 20 languages.

My thoughts: I bought this book at the 2015 Lisbon Book Fair and only read it or, rather, devoured it, this September. The question I asked myself was “why wait over a year to read it?” Even though when I bought it, I was hooked and eager to discover this witty story?!! In short, returning to this gem, it was a discovery. This great writer has a passion for an atypical poetic style. I am overwhelmed by his talent and I will try to find other works by him because it is quite rare to have a literary crush on new authors. I strongly recommend this book.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Cookbooks - Traditional French Recipes

This month, I have decided to spoil you! After suggesting two extraordinary books, whose subject matter was hard to digest, I wanted to put a little balm in your heart - I mean, your taste buds.

On a September Saturday on my way to my fitness club for a swim, I stopped at a Coop supermarket and became euphoric because there was a stand with books for CHF 8 and CHF 5 - a real bargain.

I bought two. These are traditional French recipes with a few revisited dishes. The images are very attractive and what I like is the explanation of the recipes - easy and concise.  In my opinion, it is difficult to go wrong.

There is an incredible selection of amuse-bouche, starters, main courses and desserts, including jams... Here is my round-up of some of the lovely recipes from these two cook books...

I’ve been lucky enough to dine in many restaurants around here, all beautiful and each with a special charm… But, as much as I love the food, décor and ambiance of these places, my heart will always lie in my kitchen where I feel happy preparing a gorgeous family meal for the ones I love. Nothing gives me more pleasure than hearing them go... Hummmm so delicious... with a smile on their face.

Lots of love!!

P.S.: Tell me what is your favourite French dish?

Monday, 19 September 2016

To Lord Alfred Douglas by Oscar Wilde (1897 - Version 2009)

Only love, whatever its nature, can explain the enormous suffering in the world.
This is the tone of the letter written by Oscar Wilde to his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, from his Reading prison cell, where he was serving a sentence for “gross indecency” with men (he had been convicted of sodomy). A victim of the destructive passion he felt for Douglas, a monster with an angel face whom he affectionately called “Bosie”, Wilde’s life is divided into two phases.  Before, he enjoyed the success and glory of a dandy. After, he endured the decline that culminated in humiliation and disgrace.
Albert Camus refers to this letter as “one of the most beautiful books born of the suffering of a man.”

Author: Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin on 16 October 1854. A paradigm dandy, a spokesman for turn of the century aestheticism and the protagonist of scandals, Wilde enjoyed a huge reputation as a writer in Victorian society.
In 1884 he married Constance Lloyd and during the following years published several works in London. They had two sons.
Wilde became famous at the time, especially as a playwright with plays such as “A Woman of No Importance” and “An Ideal Husband”, to name but two.
In 1895 he moved a libel suit against the 9th Marquess of Queensberry, which resulted, in turn, with Wilde being prosecuted for gross indecency and being sentenced to two years of hard labour. After serving the sentence, Wilde left England for good.
Wilde lived in France and Italy, eventually settling in Paris, where he lived modestly under the name of Sébastien Melmoth until his death on 30 November 1900.

My thoughts: I remember walking around the centre of Porto in the summer of 2009 like it was yesterday. I was taken aback by the window of a bookstore: it was full of copies of “Carta a Bosie” proudly proclaiming itself “book of the month”.
I had to buy one, even if it was not in the original English version. Why? Because I have loved Oscar Wilde since my teens, when I read “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and “The Importance of Being Earnest” and also the biography “L'affaire Oscar Wilde” by Odon Vallet, published in 1995.

This book is poignant; it touches your inner soul. On each page - especially at first - we feel the pain and disgust of Wilde. Towards the end of the book, he seems more serene and calm. Wilde writes letters from his prison cell to his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, known as Bosie, a boy-man, 15 years his junior, with whom he had a lengthy, passionate and tumultuous love affair and who had made Wilde’s life a tragedy.
The vain, selfish, superficial and spoiled character of Lord Alfred Douglas, son of the unpleasant and gross Marquess of Queensberry, makes me think and believe that sometimes there are people born with bad genes and, as they have not known love, they do not know how to receive, give and be grateful for it. Thus, I think the book is the story of two tragedies.
This small volume of 108 pages reads like a personal diary.  In it, we discover Wilde’s and Douglas’s terribly destructive and mutually dependent love affair. Wilde paints a scathing portrait of Douglas: angry, hateful, manipulative, self-centred and irresponsible. Wilde tries to open Douglas's eyes to his mistakes with fatal consequences - it is, indirectly, Douglas who led Wilde to bankruptcy and imprisonment.
The book also focuses on Wilde’s prison conditions: the endless days, the permanent sadness, the loneliness, the pain in the body and, especially, the soul. It also tells of his divorce and the loss of his role as a father to his two beloved children, Cyril and Vyvyan.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho (1998)

Twenty-four-year-old Veronika seems to have everything - youth and beauty, boyfriends and a loving family, a fulfilling job. But something is missing in her life. So, one cold November morning, she takes a handful of sleeping pills expecting never to wake up. But she does - at a mental hospital - where she is told that she has only days to live.
Inspired by events in Coelho’s own life, Veronika Decides to Die questions the meaning of madness and celebrates individuals who do not fit into patterns society considers to be normal.

Author: Paulo Coelho, was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1947. He is one of the best-selling and most influential authors in the world. He writes great books and became known worldwide thanks to “The Alchemist” which was on the New York Times bestseller list for many months. His books have been translated into 80 languages and sold in more than 168 countries. Paulo Coelho has been a member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters since 2002, and, in 2007, he was appointed United Nations Messenger of Peace. He is also the most followed author on social media.
Paulo Coelho lives in Switzerland and my dear friend F. (who follows my blog) met him through his job and has had all of his Paulo Coelho's books signed by the author, with whom he has become acquainted. Some people are really lucky.  Seriously!

My thoughts: I read this book in August in the original version which I bought during the summer holidays at the Lisbon Book Fair... I could not rest until I had read it. Yes, I love Paulo Coelho and recommend that you discover his literary works.
I found this book surprisingly fresh and full of hilarious passages of humour, all the more so as the theme of the book is suicide. This is the story of Veronika, a young Slovenian librarian who rents a room in a convent in front of Ljubljana Square. Tired of her monotonous, empty and meaningless life, one day Veronika decides to commit suicide with sleeping pills, but fails. She wakes up in a mental asylum named Villete, a place from which no one had ever escaped, famous for its abuse and ill-treatment of patients. The institution was full of a mix of genuinely insane patients, sent there by the courts or by other hospitals, people accused of madness and those who feigned insanity.
In this hospital, we find endearing characters: Dr. Igor, who dyes his hair and moustache black and wants to discover a cure for madness that will bring him medical recognition and success. Mari, the mature white haired lawyer, who is part of the “Fraternidade” (Brotherhood). Eduard, a young and handsome schizophrenic who likes to listen to Veronika playing the piano. Zedka, who is Veronika's best friend at the sanatorium....But I'll stop here... suspense... Will she regain her health? Will she live? Will she find the joy of living once out of this place? This is a rather spiritual and wise story.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Darkness Visible - A Memoir of Madness by William Styron (1990)

“We do not believe in Hell, we cannot imagine it, yet it exists, one can suddenly find oneself there, in the depths of depression. This is the lesson of this small, beautiful and terrible book. It is the story of severe depression, with its procession of anxiety, insomnia, “devastating outbursts” and the temptation of suicide. William Styron shows us for the first time what this interior “storm of darkness” really is. It can strike anyone at any time, but perhaps more particularly certain writers or artists. Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Romain Gary, Primo Levi, Van Gogh: the list of these designated prey of this shadow would be long. Hell, therefore, such as that of Dante, a pain with no other way out than self-destruction, an incommunicable state of trance, that others do not suspect, not even psychiatrists. But healing is possible; we can learn new knowledge, with precision and courage. The great novelist William Styron pleads here both for a better understanding of others lost in horror and against the taste for nothingness that hovers over all of us.” Philippe Sollers.

Author: William Styron was born on June 11, 1925 in Newport News, Virginia. He grew up in the southern United States and was steeped in its history.  Styron’s paternal grandparents were slave owners, but his mother, a Yankee from the north, and his father, a progressive, gave him very broad ideas on race relations in the United States. Styron’s childhood was difficult. His father suffered from depression and his mother died from breast cancer when William was 13 years old. William Styron spent time living in Rome and Paris; he was a connoisseur of European literature which influenced his style.
He died on November 2006 at the age of 81. He wrote great books such as The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967) and Sophie's Choice (1979).

My thoughts: I read this book in August 2009 and re-read it recently. It is an easy read and not at all scientific, with little in the way of medical vocabulary, except when William mentions the medicine he took and their effects on his mental and physical health.
In 127 pages, William Styron explains the depression he suffered in 1985, how he plunged into this state, how he was at that time and how he escaped. Personally, I found this to be a very interesting approach and a good way to explain depression in general. William also says that understanding this illness allowed him not to judge those who commit suicide to escape too much suffering due to their state of despair. This was the case for many of his friends, Romain Gary, Jean Seberg to name but a few…The question that William raises is: is life worth living? To my point of view, YES.
The part that interested me most was his description of the symptoms of depression.  He outlines what is going on in the head of a depressive person with this disease. Now I understand better the distress of these people. Fortunately, melancholy (the old name for depression) was recognised as a disease long ago and ever since there have been effective treatments for it.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson (2011)

1933. At the request of President Roosevelt, William E. Dodd agrees to be the new US ambassador in Berlin. Although he is a historian rather than a diplomat, he does have one ace up his sleeve: he is Germanophile. When he arrives in Germany, his wife and children accompany him. His daughter, Martha, 24 years old, quickly succumbs to the charms of Nazism and particularly to those of Rudolf Diels, the chief of the Gestapo. Over the months, W. E. Dodd’s eyes are opened. He attempts to alert the US State Department about the true nature of the Hitler’s regime, in vain. Martha, meanwhile, falls in love with Boris Winogradov, a Russian spy...

Author: Erik Larson was born in Brooklyn on January 3, 1954. He is a journalist and nonfiction author. He is a former staff writer for the Wall Street Journal. He has written for many prestigious publications; the New York Times, Harper's and Time magazine, to name a few. He lives a quiet life in Seattle with his blind-date wife and three daughters. He loves to cook, he likes to play tennis, he drinks too much red wine and he enjoys dry humour. His latest book is “Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania” published in March 2015. 

My thoughts: This is the third book written by Erik Larson that I have read. The other two are “The Devil in the White City” and “Thunderstruck”. When I came across this book I simply skipped it, as I was not in the mood for a WW2 read at that time.
This year, after I published a review of “The Devil in the White City”, one of my readers suggested this frightening and excellent historical novel. I read it during my holidays at the beginning of June and I simply couldn’t put down this thrilling book: I finished it in only a couple of days.
I find Erik Larson books based on historical subjects to be beautifully written and entertaining, even though the subject matter of this one is terrifying. The book is easy to read as well, giving a detailed and clear account of events that do not confuse the reader. I felt empathy for the humble and courageous ambassador, William E. Dodd, who became America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s regime. On the other hand, I really did not like his daughter, Martha. In my view, she is a spoilt, pretentious and manipulative young girl impressed with superficial things. Thankfully, she starts to improve herself as a result of her growing friendship with two great journalists, women of courage and determination.
I strongly recommend this masterpiece to you. It is a vivid portrait of Berlin during the first year of Hitler’s reign. We experience it through the eyes of a father and his daughter.