Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl (♦♦♦)

Belial, Kitten, and Penrose (Pen) Davenport are the three best bookaneers the world has ever known. But with the advent of stricter copyright laws in the last decades of the 19th century, the loophole that has allowed them to steal literary manuscripts for profit, with some impunity, is coming to a close. The bookaneers' way of life is endangered.

Kitten has fallen victim in her search of her own Holy Grail. Only Belial and Davenport have survived, but they are about to have the duel of their lives when they travel to the islands of Samoa in the South Pacific, in search of the last novel, supposedly a masterpiece, penned by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Having read Dante Club when it was first released and being one of my all-time favorite books, when I had the opportunity to request a copy of The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl, I didn't think twice. Pearl has gotten comfortable in the literary thriller genre he writes so well. Unfortunately, Dante Club, his debut novel, set the bar too high even for himself. In Dante Club there is the enduring mystery of who is behind the killings that match exact descriptions of the passages of Dante's Inferno as discussed by a literary club of eminent Bostonians. The plot was as enthralling as it was clever, and Dante Club became a literary sensation. This time around the plot is less ambitious and though the writing is so brilliant that it reads like a genuine 19th century novel, the result is rather labored.

The Last Bookaneer is an old fashion adventure in an exotic locale. That would have been a great start if the story had been about pirates, which it is in a sense (of the literary kind), but I'm afraid I didn't find the bookaneers, or their journey, fascinating enough. I liked Mr. Fergins, the narrator, but though the plot revolves around one bookaneer, others of his kind come and go throughout the novel and none of them is interesting or likeable enough.

Having read a book like Dante Club is enough to give Pearl the benefit of the doubt, but...will lightning strike twice?

DISCLAIMER: I received from the publisher a free Galley of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg (♦♦♦)

A Novel of George Sand 

Aurore Dudevant, neé Dupin (a.k.a. George Sand) was born in July, 1804, to Maurice Dupin, an aristocratic military man, and Sophie, a passionate belle with a checkered past and low social status. Maurice's mother never accepted the union between her son and Sophie, though in later years both women learned to coexist to the point of sharing the same living space.

Aurore grew up under her paternal grandmother's care, until she married Casimir Dudevant, then her best friend, when she was eighteen years old (1822). By 1831 she had been tempted once to have an extramarital affair that never consummated, and had had a one night stand from which her daughter was conceived. By then it was evident she could not tolerate her husband any longer, while he hated her, so Aurore decided to leave him and become an author in Paris, at that point rather out of necessity, to supplement her annual allowance.

Though Aurore inherited her family's fortune, her husband administered the estate because women could not. In 1835, she sought out legal separation from her husband and recovered Nohant, the property she inherited. She was also awarded custody of her two kids: Maurice (eldest) and Solange, five years his junior.

George Sand was lover of poet Alfred de Musset and composer Frédéric Chopin. Among her friends were the likes of painter Delacroix, novelist Honoré de Balzac, musician and composer Franz Liszt, and novelist Gustave Flaubert.

George Sand died in her estate of Nohant in 1876.

The story is told in two parallel accounts: one starting with Aurore's birth to the point when she left her husband in 1831, and the other, which starts in 1831, marked as a relative "present tense" that continues for the ensuing years. While the past may hold a key to understanding Aurore, it is the "relative present" that is interesting enough to keep the reader from giving up on reading The Dream Lover, for Aurore becomes her truer self (not necessarily happier) after she leaves her husband and takes on many lovers. It is during those years that she starts dressing as a man, changes her pen name to George Sand and becomes a celebrated author with a much talked about public persona.

I don't think Elizabeth Berg planned in advance what kind of flow would better suit this novel. From time to time there are brief glimpses of sumptuous prose, but soon after Berg recovers from those poetic spells and resorts to a sentimentality under which her protagonist suffers immensely. The prologue shows beautiful promise, but then Berg opens the novel resorting to language so common that even lovemaking seems trivial. It is a pity that a life so scandalous has been reduced to inconsequential for lack of passion for the subject.

Favorite quotes: (From an uncorrected advance copy)

The light is amber, the air still; the daylilies have folded in on themselves. Soon the hooded blue dusk will fall, followed by the darkness of night and the skywriting of the stars, indecipherable to us mortals, despite our attempts to force narrative upon them.”

“But when I looked up, I was soothed by the beauty around me. In late afternoon, the light turned the lagoon into liquid copper. Every day, I could hear the songs of the gondoliers and the cries of the fishermen and the good-natured arguing by housewives over the price of melons. There were beautiful gowns and exotic masks worn at balls, lavender clouds at sunset. I could take walks in narrow alleys or lie back in a gondola for an evening ride that passed beneath the Bridge of Sighs. From the window behind the desk where I wrote at night, I could see lambent lights reflected in the dark waters, the luminescence seeming to ride the waves; and on foggy nights, veils of mist rose and swirled on journeys of their own.”

DISCLAIMER: I received from the publisher a free Galley of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer (♦♦♦♦)

In 2006, Celia Favréau, neé Harrison, and Henry Pelham had been a couple for a year in the morally complex world of intelligentsia, until four Islamic terrorists hijacked a plane on arrival at Flughafen airport in Vienna, and sent Celia's, Henry's, and other US embassy personnel's lives spinning out of control for the next six years. One hundred and twenty lives were lost in the incident, and it was always suspected that the terrorists had had a mole inside the embassy.

Six years later, Henry is still looking for answers to finally close the investigation. To that end, he interviews former personnel who played key roles during the Flughafen affair, and he ends up in Carmel-by-the-Seathe town where Celia lives with her newfound family.

All the Old Knives has a consistent writing style throughout, very reminiscent of Le Carré’s: the story unfolds in an interview fashion alternating perspectives between Celia and Henry, the past and the present. I’m not an expert on Le Carré, far from it; in fact I have only read Our Kind of Traitor, and I have watched the films The Constant Gardener, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (I’m planning to correct that travesty before the end of the year), but the little I have read or watched on the films that follow his narrations very closely, match the style of All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer. It is certainly a flattering comparison since Le Carré is a master of the espionage genre.

All the Old Knives is a solid four until the end, which I thought was so ingenious that I felt tempted to give an extra half star just for it. When it ended I said, wow. It was that good of an ending. The novel isn’t predictable, though the reader finds out (sort of) who the mole was long before the end, but the interview imparts real-time plot development that complements the story rather well. The knowledge of the mole’s identity doesn’t spoil the unfolding of the story because there are other factors at play, namely a cat-and-mouse game among the people involved.

If you think you have read something like this, think again. You are in for a treat.

DISCLAIMER: I received from the publisher a free Galley of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Rodin’s Lover by Heather Webb (♦♦♦♦½)

She was a fireball and a prodigy. He was a genius. Their art was revolutionary. Sparks flew between and around them...She burnt out much too soon.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, seventeen year-old Camille Claudel dreams of becoming a famous sculptor, but becoming a female artist means pushing the boundaries of convention a little too far.

In Paris Camille will be able to attend art school and possibly have an atelier of her own. Thus, the Claudel family relocates in search of better opportunities for their two most talented offsprings.

Camille soon overshadows her classmates in art school, and her private tutor, a renowned sculptor, sees greatness in her. When he wins a prestigious prize and must leave Paris for Rome, he convinces his friend Auguste Rodin to nurture Camille's talent. But what's with this fiery young beauty who manages to make Rodin feel so uncertain yet capable of tackling anything?!

Rodin's Lover reverberates with intensity. I could picture the unfolding story in my mind as if I were watching a movie.

I have read passages of a book on Mendeleev's quest to organize the chemical elements into a reasonable system. The book is after my own heart, but I have never been able to finish it because I become overwhelmed by emotion to the point that I feel I am on fire, blood pumping in my ears, and bells tolling in my chest. That was the effect Rodin's Lover had on me. I felt uncomfortably aglow, feeling intensely the chemistry between Rodin and Camille--not only the measure of their desire for each other but their intellectual compatibility as well.

Heather Webb has managed quite a feat: to penetrate the mind of a genius, shed light on the chaos that sometimes reigns inside, and expose his creative process. Rodin has come alive in all his glory and complexity: his desires, his dreams, his energy and all-consuming passion...And so has Camille. Webb has zeroed in on how it must have felt as a talented woman to work in a field dominated by men and be overshadowed by them. It is an issue as timely in this day and age as it was at the end of the nineteenth century.

It is said that the line that divides genius and madness is a fine one; Webb has masterfully made it blurry. In Camille there is virtually no difference between a driven individual and an obsessed one.

DISCLAIMER: I received from the publisher a free egalley of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott (♦♦♦♦)

It’s 1939.

Julie Crawford, a recent graduate of Smith College and native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, has arrived at Selznick International Pictures to work as an office assistant. Through a few turns of luck she becomes the personal assistant to Carole Lombard, the bubbly actress rumored to be romantically attached to Clark Gable.

Gable has been contracted to interpret the dashing Rhett Butler in the production of Gone with the Wind. Lombard has been brought along to help him cope with the nightmare that the filming has become.

David O. Selznick has a very clear picture of what he wants to see as the final product. He doesn’t tolerate deviations from his vision or dissension. He will fight Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM and his in-law; he will fire George Cukor (the first director) and bring along Victor Fleming (fresh from filming of The Wizard of Oz); he will hire an army of screenwriters and reject every screenplay if necessary but the result will be nothing short of perfection.

All along, Julie will learn to navigate the treacherous waters of Hollywood and become Carole’s good friend. And she will realize her dreams and become the woman she ever thought of becoming.

A Touch of Stardust is a fascinating and meticulous account of the filming of Gone with the Wind. It is an ode to the movies and the magic of movie making, to the glamour and decadence of an age gone by, to the movie stars who were part of it, and to the making of movie history.

Alcott takes us on a tour backstage to show us the technical aspects of movie making: the writing of a script (and its likely dissection), the building (and burning) of a set, the direction and production stages, and the battle of egos from all the big personalities involved.

Within the pages of A Touch of Stardust real life personalities such as Carole Lombard (actress), David O. Selznick (producer), Vivien Leigh (Scarlett O’Hara), Clark Gable (Rhett Butler), and Frances Marion (screenwriter) come alive. After reading this novel it’ll be hard to think about the whole creative process of movie making the same way again.

DISCLAIMER: I received from the publisher a free egalley of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm (♦♦♦½)

Grace is living in Paris, three years after she conned her secret husband into thinking it was his idea to carry out a heist that she herself conceived, and double crossing her lover-to-be with a painting worth about two million dollars. Both young men ended up in jail for the theft, but now they are out and Grace is increasingly convinced, and logically afraid, that they will exact their revenge on her for her twisty maneuvering.

Unbecoming is a dark psychological suspense (not much of a thriller, really!) and intricate character study of a relationship that started in the early teen years and becomes muddied by lies, pretenses, and betrayal when life doesn't turn out as rosy as they hoped it would.

Moreover, it is a slow burning fire that never quite amounts to fireworks nonetheless it is impossible to put down. The four main characters, three of which are in a love triangle, are utterly unlikable, yet so human that we can't help but keep reading about the train wrecks their lives have become.

I enjoyed Unbecoming for what it was. Scherm was great at depicting Grace’s duplicitous nature, as well as the eroticism inherent in the love triangle. Unbecoming is an intense portrayal of misguided youth, but I prefer more thrilling readings.

DISCLAIMER: I received from the publisher a free eGalley of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

After Acts by Bryan Litfin (♦♦♦♦♦)

Exploring the Lives and Legends of the Apostles

Is there evidence that the four evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John actually penned the gospels under their names? If so, when did they do it and how? How did they and Jesus' apostles die? What happened in the early days of Christianity after the Bible ended? These and many other questions are addressed in After Acts.

Scholarly and didactic, written in a language easy to understand, After Acts is food for thought and a theological page turner. Also, it doesn't shy away from addressing theological controversies and differences in thoughts.

There is no filler content; everything is interesting and relevant (my book is highlighted from beginning to end). There is so much on the topic that I didn't know, that I think I'll have to re-read the book in order to absorb it completely.

Religion is one of my passions, particularly from an intellectual perspective, and in that or any other regard this book doesn't disappoint. If you have ever asked yourself the meaning of Gnostic, the difference between orthodoxy and liberals in the Church, how are we sure that the four evangelists wrote the Gospels, and what became of Christ's apostles after Acts in the Bible, this book is for you. It will challenge your notions but more importantly, it'll give you answers that may or may not be the ones you expect.

The author, a Biblical scholar, draws from various sources like the writings from early Church fathers (from the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD), contemporary accounts and the New Testament apocrypha to arrive to conclusions such as maybe Matthew's gospel wasn't the first to be written but the third, that he may have used a team of more educated scribes to transcribe from Aramaic to Greek, etc.

Strongly recommended!

DISCLAIMER: I received from the publisher a free eGalley of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Complete Poetry by Jorge Luis Borges (part II) (♦♦♦♦♦)

Para las Seis Cuerdas [For the Six Chords (of a guitar)] (1965)

In For the Six Chords, Borges dedicates milongas (rhymed poems that can be accompanied by a guitar) to outlaws who became famous around 1890. In these milongas the themes are the knife fights and death.

Among these my favorite poem is Milonga de Manuel Flores.

Elogio de la Sombra (Praise to the Shadow) (1969)

Borges expresses in the prologue to Praise to the Shadow, “to mirrors, labyrinths and swords that my resigned reader already anticipates, two new themes have been added [to this collection]: growing old and ethics.” He also adds that “in these pages coexist, I believe without discordance, the forms of prose and verse.” Those two quotes describe, without doubt, the content of this collection of poems.

In its prologue, Borges also writes “I longed at some point for the vast respiration of the psalms or of Whitman; with the years I find out, not without melancholy, that I have limited myself to alternate some classic verses: the alexandrine, endecasyllabic, and heptasyllabic.”

Borges starts this collection of poetry with Juan I, 14 (John I,14) (an enumeration of the things that were part of Jesus’ life)—an example of prose and ethics he talked about in the prologue. Heráclito is also an example of prose in verse, and so are Cambridge, The unending gift and Mayo 20, 1928. In A cierta sombra, 1940 (To a certain shadow, 1940), Borges alludes to the threat of war looming over England from Germany and Italy during WWII.

James Joyce, Rubaiyat, Acevedo, and New England, 1967 are examples of rhymed poems in this collection. In New England, 1967 Borges alludes to his nostalgia about being away from Buenos Aires when he writes “Buenos Aires, I’m still walking round your corners without knowing why or when.” In Ricardo Güiraldes and El laberinto (The Labyrinth), also examples of rhymed verses, death is the underlying theme. In Laberinto (Labyrinth) the theme is destiny. In Las Cosas (The Things), one of his most famous poems, Borges talks about how constant the things we surround ourselves of are; in it Borges expresses: “They will last beyond our oblivion; they’ll never know that we are gone.”

There are other poems that are variations of a theme such as Junio, 1968 (June, 1968), El guardián de los libros (The guardian of the books) y Un lector (A reader), in which Borges expresses his love of books; Israel, 1969 and A Israel (To Israel) are songs to the land of Israel, while Israel expresses what it means to be a Jew.

This collection concludes with Elogio de la Sombra (Praise to the Shadow), in which Borges talks about him growing old and the shadows (because he is partially blind) in which he senses a street of his adored Buenos Aires, a friendly face, a woman he loved, books and its stories.

In this collection my favorite poem is Las Cosas (The Things).

El Oro de los Tigres (The Gold of the Tigers) (1972)

In the prologue of The Gold of the Tigers, Borges expresses “[I] opted for accepting […] the miscellaneous themes that were offered to my writing routine. The parable succeeds to confidence, free verse to the sonnet.” He adds that “to a true poet, every moment of life, every act, should be poetic, because it is inherently so…”

As Borges expresses, this collection of poems is varied in themes and mostly written in free verses. The compilation opens with Tamerlán (1336-1405) [Tamerlane (1336-1405)], which describes the Mongol-Turkish warrior of the same name, who proclaimed himself “Sword of Islam”—as many of the subjects Borges writes on, I had to consult Wikipedia. A stanza of Tamerlane (1336-1405) says this:

[…] When I was born, from firmament
a sword with talismanic signs fell;
I am, I shall always be, that sword.
I have defeated the Greek and the Egyptian,
I have devastated the indefatigable
Russian steppes with my rough Tatars…

After Tamerlán (1336-1405) [Tamerlane (1336-1405)], the poem that follows is El pasado (The past), which can be considered a variation of the theme in Tamerlane since in The past, among other things, Borges talks about the swords and warriors that have founded empires. Borges ends the poem expressing:

The illusory yesterday is an enclosure,
of immobile wax figures
or of literary reminiscences
that time shall lose in its mirrors…

As usual, Borges dedicates poems to famous writers, one is titled Al primer poeta de Hungría (To the first poet of Hungary), describing the things he and that poet have in common, and another dedicated to Keats, titled A John Keats (1795-1821) [To John Keats (1795-1821)].

To John Keats (1795-1821) is one of the few rhymed poems in this collection, along with El gaucho, On his blindness, and Lo perdido (The lost thing). In the last two, just as in Susana Bombal, J.M., and El amenazado (The threatened), the theme is love, a topic Borges has avoided until now in his poetry.

In La busca (The search), Borges alludes to his search for his ancestors in the ordinary things; in 1971 he writes about the American astronauts who stepped on the moon. El gaucho tells about the fight for survival of his compatriots. El mar (The Sea) describes the sea, which is witness to combats and the making of myths.

El advenimiento (The advent) is one of the descriptive poems in this compilation; it paints a scene in which a caveman sees for the first time at dawn a stampede of bisons and then paints the images on the cave’s walls. The other descriptive poem is La tentación (The temptation), which tells the story of how Argentinean tyrant Rosas gave the order to kill the general Juan Facundo Quiroga, who never believed there was a man alive who could summon enough courage to kill him—this story was immortalized in the novel Facundo by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, which is on my TBR list. Other two descriptive poems are 1891 and 1929.

As he did in El Otro, El Mismo (The Other, The Same), Borges writes again about England’s Nordic heritage in Hengist quiere hombres (Hengist needs men), and to the Iceland of the Vikings he writes in A Islandia (To Iceland).

This collection concludes with poems inspired on animals, such is the case with A un gato (To a cat), Al coyote (To a coyote), and El Oro de los Tigres (The Gold of the Tigers), which gives title to this compilation.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Tiempo de Canallas (Time for Scoundrels) by Carlos Alberto Montaner (♦♦♦)

El Amor, La Traición y La Muerte en la Guerra Fría (Love, Betrayal and Death in the Cold War)

Surrealist poet Rafael Mallo joins revolutionary movements in his youth and travels to the SSSR in the 1930s to actively participate in the international propaganda machine to recruit intellectuals for the communist cause. He feels ideologically closer to Trotsky than to Stalin, which may eventually endanger his life and that of those he holds dear.

He meets communist heavyweights from Europe and the Americas, but the turning point in his beliefs is the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, for he goes to fight along revolutionaries the world over, and is taken prisoner, freed on the border with France, and taken again by a fascist squadron and sent to Barcelona's Montjuich prison, where he remains, sentenced to death and interrogated daily, for the next seven years. Rafael is freed from prison, or rather escapes, by the intervention of a former lover of his, who proposes him to work together for the newly formed CIA.

Montaner's intention may have been to write a historical-fiction novel, but instead it feels like an anticommunist manifesto. Don't get me wrong, it was very informative and it's interesting to read how Moscow swayed the international public opinion about the apparent bounties of its ideology and political system, and how Americans counteracted--by setting in motion Plan Marshall to reconstruct Western Europe and free it from Moscow's influence, creating the CIA, and their support for the formation of organizations such as NATO and OEA--, but the novel feels more like an exposé than traditional historical-fiction. I think that Montaner has enough intellectual weight to write exposé articles if that's what he was after, without resorting to the novelization of the topic.

One of the problems I encountered while reading Time for Scoundrels, is that at times I didn't know who was a fictional figure and who was real, and to be honest at the end I didn't really cared to find out either way by using Wikipedia. Another thing I didn't like was the kinky sex talk between the protagonists. It was just a little too much. The kinkiness reminded me of Ken Follett's The Key to Rebecca, but Montaner is definitely not Follett.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Complete Poetry by Jorge Luis Borges (part I) (♦♦♦♦♦)

Fervor de Buenos Aires (Fervor of Buenos Aires) (1923)

In Fervor of Buenos Aires, Borges describes his devotion to Buenos Aires through a compendium of poems dedicated to streets, gardens, neighborhoods, a butchery, all seen through light changes on afternoons, nights, and dawns. He also dedicates epitaphs to ancestors, heroes, unknown people, and time gone by.

My favorite poem in this collection was Sepulchral Inscription.

Luna de Enfrente (Moon from the front) (1925)

The city is again the theme in this compilation, but in Moon from the front, Borges pays homage not only to Buenos Aires but other cities he has visited, as in Dakar, Montevideo and Mi vida entera (My Entire Life).

Borges admits in the prologue to this book that “the city from Fervor of Buenos Aires never ceases being intimate, while in [Moon from the front] is ostentatious and public…

At least two poems don’t allude to the city in this compilation: one is Manuscrito hallado en un libro de Joseph Conrad (Manuscript found inside a book by Joseph Conrad), and the other is El general Quiroga va en coche al muere (The general Quiroga travels by coach to death).

My favorite poem in this collection was Versos de Catorce (Verses of Fourteen).

Cuaderno San Martín (Saint Martin Notebook) (1929)

In Saint Martin Notebook Borges writes again odes to Buenos Aires such as Elegía de los portones (Elegy to Gates), Curso de los recuerdos (Course of Memories), Barrio Norte (North Neighborhood), Paseo de Julio (Promenade Julio), and Fundación mítica de Buenos Aires (Mythical Foundation of Buenos Aires), in which Borges expresses: “To me it is a story Buenos Aires started: I judge her as eternal as air and water.”

In this compilation Borges also alludes death, as in La noche que en el Sur lo velaron (The night of his wake in the south), Muertes de Buenos Aires (Deaths of Buenos Aires) and A Francisco López Merino (To Francisco López Merino).

The only poem I liked in this collection was Fundación mítica de Buenos Aires (Mythical Foundation of Buenos Aires).

El Hacedor (The Maker) (1960)

The Maker contains some of Borges’ most famous poems, such as Ajedrez (Chess), Poema de los Dones (Poem of Gifts), El Reloj de Arena (Sand Clock) and La Luna (The Moon). In this collection Borges evokes themes such as destiny, God’s irony, the inevitability of the passing of time, his blindness, and the shapes he senses in the mirror.

The Maker also contains other poems with various topics. Some of my favorite Borges’ poems are included in this collection, such as the ones mentioned above.

El Otro, El Mismo (The Other, The Same) (1964)

This compilation, which spans three decades of writings, is erudite in nature. In it, Borges pays homage to novelists like Cervantes [Un Soldado de Urbina (A Soldier of Urbina)], to the philosopher and baroque writer Baltasar Gracián (in a homonymous poem), and to poets of the caliber of John Milton [Una rosa y Milton (A Rose and Milton)], Homer [El otro (The Other)], Dante, Whitman (Camden, 1892), Emerson, Edgar Allan Poe and Rafael Cansinos-Asséns (in homonymous poems). In addition, Borges pays homage to minor poets who didn’t transcend their times [A un poeta menor de la antología (To a minor poet in an anthology); Un poeta del siglo XIII (A poet from the XIII century); A un poeta menor de 1899 (To a minor poet of 1889)].

Borges also pays homage to heroes [Poema Conjetural (Conjectural Poem); Un soldado de Lee (1862) (A soldier of Lee (1862)], in his family [Junín; Página para recordar al coronel Suárez, vencedor en Junín (Page to remember Colonel Suarez, victorious in Junin)], and of myths such as Ulysses [Odisea, Libro Vigésimo Tercero (Odyssey, Book Twenty third)] and Beowulf [Fragmento (Fragment)], and to the Saxons whose swords founded England [Un sajón (449 A.D.) (A Saxon (449 A.D.)].

Borges writes not only about literary or mythical heroes in The Other, The Same, but also about more ordinary things such as water [Poema del cuarto element (Poem of the fourth element)], the sea, hunger, wine, and a coin. Magic and science converge in El Alquimista (The Alchemist); the memory of God and the absence of oblivion are the themes in Everness and Ewigkeit, the Hispanic heritage of Latin America is the topic in España (Spain), and life’s small miracles is the theme in Otro poema de los dones (Another poem of gifts); to the pleasures of sleep he describes in El sueño (The Dream).

At times Borges resorts to the rhyme so characteristic in his poetry [e.g. Al vino (To wine); Soneto del vino (Sonnet to wine), El hambre (Hunger)], and other times he uses simple verses to tell a story [e.g. Mateo XXV, 30; Hengist Cyning; Alguien (Someone)].

I’ve realized that I prefer Borges’ use of rhyme to the lack of it. Invariably, my favorite poems by Borges have that in common. My two favorite poems in this collection are Poema del cuarto elemento (Poem of the fourth element) and El sueño (The Dream).

Friday, January 2, 2015

My Reading Year 2014 in Retrospect

Clipart courtesy of

2014 was for me a great reading year. Visiting Jessica @ Bookworm Chronicles, which I just discovered and love, I saw a post that made me want to replicate what she did, so I borrowed the format and the questions for this post. You can visit Jessica’s post by clicking the link above. So below is how my 2014 reading year looked like:

Books read: 40           
Fiction: 38                 Non-Fiction: 2                      Re-reads: 2

Genres: (some of these overlap)

Poetry: 2½                 Historical Fiction: 12            Classics: 3

Paranormal Romance: 9                Contemporary Romance: 2

Contemporary Literature: 9            Science-Fiction: 1

Mystery/Suspense: 2                       Young Adult: 1

           Thrillers/Espionage: 4 (3 fiction, 1 non-fiction)

Jessica @ Bookworm Chronicles created these questions which I just borrowed because I found them so fun and revealing. Kudos to Jessica!

  • Best book of the year (I couldn’t possibly pick just one): Best of 2014
  • Most surprising (in a good way!): Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
  • Most recommended to others: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  • Best series you discovered: Sharpe & Donovan series by Carla Neggers, which I read almost entirely (save the first installment) this year
  • Favorite new author: Susanna Kearsley
  • Most hilarious: The Martian by Andy Weir, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  • Most thrilling (unputdownable): The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett
  • Most anticipated: The Heist by Daniel Silva
  • Favorite cover: The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
  • Most memorable characters: Esteban Trueba and Clara del Valle from House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
  • Most beautifully written: The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
  • Had the greatest impact: The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley
  • Can’t believe you waited until 2014 to read: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Monday, December 29, 2014

Happy New Year 2015

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Happy 2015 to casual visitors of my site and those assiduous visitors along the year. Your support has made me appreciate writing for you all the more.

Thanks from the bottom of my heart and please keep on visiting. Hopefully there will be plenty of more things to say in the years to come.

May 2015 be a healthy, joyous, and prosperous year for you all!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Best Books I Read in 2014

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The following is a compilation of the books I read and liked best in 2014.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (♦♦♦♦):  is a splendid example of a gothic novel; the sense of doom, of supernatural forces governing events permeates this timeless classic.

The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. by Sandra Gulland (♦♦♦♦): the title couldn’t have been different; it pays homage not to a life but to the journey of a woman of modest beginnings who became extraordinary during the times and through suffering she endured…Since the book more or less started with a prophecy I was desperate to see it play out, so much so that when the book became serious […] I felt tempted to leave it aside. It was a history lesson let me tell you, and not the pretty kind. It was ugly and messy and plain terrifying.

Hannah’s Dream by Diane Hammond (♦♦♦♦½): is a book about an elephant and its relationship with its zoo keeper, but it’s also a story about love, loyalty, loss, growing old and infirm, being at odds with God and the reconciliation with Him once the main characters recognized their prayers had been answered.

The Misremembered Man by Christina McKenna (♦♦♦♦½): is a poignant story, bittersweet and tragic as only real life can be. You will laugh out loud and most certainly you will cry, but above all, the story and characters will haunt you.

The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro (♦♦♦♦♦): is a rich, intricate tapestry where snippets of the recent past (three years ago), long past (last years of the nineteenth century) and the present intermingle to make a fascinating detective story come to life. The detective story is anything but conventional, because it’s about what “an unassuming painter”--with knowledge, the right skill set, and a unique perspective—sees when all the experts in the field disagree.

The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett (♦♦♦♦): it opens up sort of dream-like: a spy walking through the desert after losing his last camel. With several pounds of baggage on him and hardly any water, he passes out just before he “believes” he has arrived at the oasis he’s been looking for… It’s not exactly starting a novel with a bang, but just before the first chapter is over, said spy is forced to kill a British officer and the chase starts…It is a very entertaining spy thriller with enough historical background to teach a little about WWII along the way.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (♦♦♦♦): is compelling, a tour-de-force writing; it grabs you and doesn't let go until the end. It’s a marvelous rendition of a world in extinction thanks to the ubiquitous nature of the internet… The Imperfectionists takes an unflinching look at relationships, personal and in the workforce. The result is neither optimistic nor pretty but real and raw nonetheless.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (♦♦♦♦½): covers many topics--such as the power of friendship and how people in relationships change for better or worse-- but the love for books and the amazing reach of what science and technology can accomplish… those themes recur and run deep within the fibers of this unique and sparkly story…By the way, the book cover glows in the dark, if that is not cool I don’t know what is!

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley (♦♦♦♦): is historical fiction at its best, drawing from a relatively unknown (at least for me) chapter of Scottish history. Though it’s at its core a love story defying death or time, it’s also a narration about political maneuvering and intrigue.

Rimas (Rhymes) by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (♦♦♦♦♦): encompasses a variety of topics ranging from love in all its manifestations, disillusionment, and religious and spiritual epiphanies…This Kindle collection is marred by misspellings but they don't manage to decrease the impact of Bécquer's amazing work.

La Ciudad de las Bestias (City of the Beasts) by Isabel Allende (♦♦♦♦): is a passionate narrative for young adults, in which reality and fiction, myth and fantasy coexist. The intricate and little known Amazonian jungle and the legendary city of El Dorado are the lush scenarios in which this magnificent and mysterious story unfolds.

Hunting Eichmann: How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down theWorld's Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb (♦♦♦♦): reads like something urgent, a message that can neither be ignored nor forgotten. It reads like a gripping spy novel, and it's unclear to me whether that is a blessing or a curse, because the danger of missing the lesson entirely, however unlikely that may be, could prove costly. Furthermore, Hunting Eichmann is a stirring account of the main players’ paths to that time in history—Eichmann’s, the capture team’s, as well as the witnesses’.

The Heist by Daniel Silva (♦♦♦♦): though convoluted, The Heist is another great entry in the Gabriel Allon saga, a satisfying ride with lots of learning on the side. Silva remarks that stolen art serves as underground currency for all sorts of criminal transactions and that the more famous the art piece, the better the odds are of finding it.

Mariana by Susanna Kearsley (♦♦♦♦): is utterly absorbing: I was a captive by page 20. The plot is atmospheric, otherworldly, with lavish narrative and fascinating characters. I enjoyed both the modern day story as well as the 17th century one, but I liked Mariana’s subplot the best; there was more drama, romance, and more chemistry in Mariana’s life than in Julia’s.

Exiles by Ron Hansen (♦♦♦♦): I have read sad (and inspiring) books in my day, but Exiles by Ron Hansen is in contention to take the cake in both categories. I felt moved by the life of Gerard Manley Hopkins, his convictions, the desertion of friends and family when he abandoned the comfort of his faith for a stranger (and poorly perceived) one, desertion that felt to him like betrayal because in the most important moments of his life the people closest to him weren’t present. That hurts! He remained, as the nuns, an exile until the end.

The Night Is Forever by Heather Graham (♦♦♦♦): I suspected the identity of the killer from early on but there was enough misdirection to confuse me for a while, so no damage done. The plot was intricate and the history involving the Battle of Nashville and other battles from the Civil War on Tennessee soil were fascinating and absorbing. It was a great touch on Graham’s part to include a ghost hero and the history surrounding him. The other two ghosts were interesting as well, though they didn’t have much to contribute to the investigation and I found that so frustrating.

Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King (♦♦♦♦): provides a fascinating portrayal of the times and the professional and personal life of Brunelleschi. The result is a vivid, absorbing tale of intrigue and genius, of turbulent times and the men who shaped them.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (♦♦♦♦♦): Wow! That’s what I said when I finished it. I went through so many emotions while reading this book: I laughed a great deal in the beginning; I cried with the death of Mrs. Dubose and Jem’s reaction to it, I was on the edge-of-my-seat during the trial, and when the book ended I felt a hole in my heart, but also the knowledge of having been through a unique experience.

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (♦♦♦♦½): The story of Dinah reinvented by Diamant is one of great sorrow, laced with amazing interludes of female bonding, devotion and deep love. From The Red Tent emerges the image of loving, strong, resilient women who, in spite of living in a world governed by men, shape their lives and those whom they share them with.

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult (♦♦♦♦): although it has a slow development, I was so invested in the story that I wanted to finish fast to know how it ended, and what an ending it is! It reminded me of at least two well known movies that I’d rather not mention for fear of spoiling it. Suffice it to say that I didn’t see that coming in a million years, a testament of powerful storytelling.

La Casa de los Espíritus (House of Spirits) by Isabel Allende (♦♦♦♦♦): is an enthralling narrative in which oracles and the paranormal coexist with the reality of daily life and the hallucinating political landscape that takes shape between the pages. The story is timeless because it isn't constrained by dates, nor it is constrained to a specific country though no doubt Allende is alluding convulse political changes that Chile underwent in modern times.

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman (♦♦♦♦♦): By reading it I've had time to think what makes a family what it is, and also what defines parenthood: biology or rearing a child with love... Intense and heartbreaking, The Light Between Oceans is a profound reflection on the meaning of motherhood, and the bond between a mother and her child.

Stay With Me by Alison Gaylin (♦♦♦♦): Since it started I knew it was different from its predecessors in the series because it grabbed my attention faster and never let me go. It was easier to read and harder to put down. Also, the suspense was toned down and the thriller factor upped. The plot and subplots were also more realistic and current.

The Martian by Andy Weir (♦♦♦♦½): I was powerless since page 1, because really, who starts a book with such well earned profanity?!...More than a science- fiction book, The Martian is popular science at its very best. It is brilliant yet unpretentious. Who knew someone would have the key to surviving the unimaginable on Mars?

The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley (♦♦♦♦½): It has all the elements that made The Winter Sea a success: parallel stories in time, meaty and believable characters, great chemistry between the protagonists, and paranormal elements. It helped a lot that The Firebird was a continuation of sorts of The Winter Sea, and some of the most likable characters of the latter, reappear in the former to enhance the story and bring it full circle.