Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George (♦♦♦)

Originally published in German, Translation by Simon Pare

Jean Perdu, owner of the renowned Literary Apothecary on the margins of the Seine, sets sail aboard his cargo book barge searching for the remainder of the life the woman he loved twenty one years ago has left behind. Accompanying him is Max Jordan, France's most famous author under 30, who is suffering with writer's block and under his newfound fame. Soon other characters join the pilgrimage along France's waterways.

Paris and books, need I say more? Yes, indeed I do. I thought The Little Paris Bookshop would be reminiscent of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, which I loved; instead, I was somewhat disappointed. The Little Paris Bookshop is an uneven book. I liked the story of Mr. Perdu; how he dealt with his grief, and the trip he embarked on to find himself again. I also liked the language: rich and smooth like velvet, the descriptions of French towns and life in the southern coast, and food recipes.

I didn't like, however, Manon's diary entries or the passages involving her, at least until the very end when her story finally came together. I don't think her character, despite being drawn out of memory, was that well defined. The book would have been better off without those passages, again until the end, because it was then that Manon’s journey and choices finally made sense.

The ending was nice, positive and all wrapped up with a colorful bow, but I liked it very much particularly because it was a good departure from the grief so talked about during the earlier chapters.

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

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The President’s Shadow by Brad Meltzer (♦♦♦♦)

In The Inner Circle, Tot invited fellow archivist Beecher White to join the Culper Ring--a secret group first assembled by George Washington during the Revolutionary War to protect his secrets and win the war--after Beecher stumbled upon a presidential secret. In The Fifth Assassin, the sequel, apparently (I haven’t read it yet) Tot was shot in the head and Beecher assumed his position as the head of what remained of the Culper Ring. In The President’s Shadow, this third installment in the Culper Ring series, Beecher “sneaks” into the White House only to discover they were waiting for him all along.

The First Lady Shona Wallace unburies, while gardening, a severed arm that had been buried in the Rose Garden by a White House intruder. The president’s inner circle suspects it was done with inside help. In its closed fist, the severed arm is holding a penny with an inscription that ties it to Beecher’s personal history, or rather, that of his father’s service in the armed forces. Beecher needs the president to know more about his father and how he died. The president needs to keep the investigation under wraps and off the press. Who better than Beecher and his Culper Ring to investigate?

I think this country is in real trouble if the Secret Service needs help from an archivist to solve a case like this, still I willingly went along for the ride. Count on Brad Meltzer to concoct a story where fact and fiction intertwine seamlessly and U.S. history is just part of the mix with such outlandish result that could very well be real. With small bite chapters and easy to read prose, The President's Shadow will breeze before your eyes.

Secret government agencies, ultra secret government projects in off the grid locations, conspiracy theories...What's not to like?!

Strongly recommend it.

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

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Jazz Palace by Mary Morris (♦♦♦♦)

Tragedy seems to follow Benny Lehrman since he was a young boy. Now at fifteen, he faces tragedy again on Chicago’s wharf as the SS Eastman has sunk before his very eyes taking with it three siblings of the Chimbrova family who is bidding farewell to the boys who were riding the boat. In this way the destinies of Benny and Pearl intersect, though they won’t meet again until several years later with Benny as a freelancing Jazz musician and Pearl as one of the owners of Chimbrova’s saloon, which has been dubbed The Jazz Palace.

The reader goes on a ride, spanning fifteen years, which starts with a public tragedy on Chicago's shore, follows with the apogee of the Jazz movement, and finally the Great Depression and how it impacted the city and its people. The Jazz Palace is an ode to Chicago, to its blue collar heritage, to the glamour and decadence of the Jazz Age and Prohibition era, to the music that defined the early part of the 20th century which had its roots in New Orleans, and the famous and sometimes shady figures that inhabited the city.

Through The Jazz Palace, the reader gets a glimpse of Chicago under the reigns of mafia bosses, the most prominent of who was Al Capone, who resorted to brutal intimidation tactics, intent on controlling the entertainment establishments.

Prepare to be thoroughly entertained.

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

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

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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!