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 Lacetoleather.com

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

Image courtesy of Freepicturesweb.com

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

Clipart courtesy of Lacetoleather.com

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.

The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley (♦♦♦♦½)

Nicola Marter works at an art gallery in London that caters to Russian clients. A woman named Margaret visits the gallery to appraise a wooden bird that has been passed down in her family for three centuries. Margaret says that "The Firebird", as the artwork is known, was given to her ancestor by Empress Catherine the First, of Russia, but without any authentication document there's no way to be sure. When Nicola holds the bird in her hand, she gets a glimpse of the past and knows that the story is true, but how to prove it?

In the company of Rob McMorran, a gifted psychic and former flame, Nicola traces the steps that Anna (Jamieson) Moray, Margaret's ancestor, took from her childhood as a neighbor of Slains castle in Scotland, to her late teens as a member of a prominent family in St. Petersburg, and her occasional acquaintance with the Czarina.

The Firebird chronicles the life of Anna Mary, daughter of Sophia Paterson and John Moray whom we got to know in The Winter Sea. In that novel it was revealed that Sophia gave her daughter away as not to blow her cover as a young widow, and to preserve the lives of her daughter and John from the possible retaliation of Queen Anne's spies due to John's involvement in the insurrection to bring back King James Stewart VIII to power in 1708.

I really liked The Firebird. This is the fourth book by Mrs. Kearsley that I have read after The Winter Sea, The Rose Garden and Mariana. The Winter Sea was my favorite among the three, and now The Firebird has become my second favorite book by Susanna Kearsley, who has also become my second favorite author after Daniel Silva.

The Firebird 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.

The elements of political intrigue and maneuvering present in The Winter Sea reappear in The Firebird as well, for the story starts circa 1715, when the second Jacobite insurrection took place and failed miserably.

As the story moved to St. Petersburg, I was given a glimpse of a court I didn't know anything about; that made me up on my TBR list the book Russka by Edward Rutherfurd, a historical fiction account of Russia's history.

I still have two more books by Susanna Kearsley on my TBR list, but I'm trying to space them out until the new one comes out next year.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Martian by Andy Weir (♦♦♦♦½)

Mark Watney is a botanist, mechanical engineer, and above all else an astronaut, who gets stranded on Mars, given for dead, when the crew of the Ares 3 is forced to evacuate the planet on Day 6 of the mission due to sustained gale force winds during a sand storm. Henceforth, Mark’s survival skills will be tested to the outmost.

I have been through different phases as a reader. In my teenage years I read science- fiction, among other genres. I outgrew my sci-fi years mostly due to lack of enough material to read in that genre, but I've broken the spell with The Martian by Andy Weir, thanks in part to Sarah @ Sarah's Book Shelves, who lured me to it based on her intriguing review. The Martian has been, by the way, named one the best books of 2014... And I bought a Kindle copy for a steal, so I had no excuse.

The Martian is hysterical, and addictive. It's so much nerdy fun that it should be a sin. The humor is reminiscent of Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, or vice-versa, because The Martian was first published in 2011. Both talk about science and technology in an irreverent yet full-of-wonder fashion.

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?

But not everything is funny in the plot development, there is a lot of administrative stuff going on at NASA since they find out Mark Watney is alive. The fight for survival is evocative of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and the more modern Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. The closest movie resemblances are Mission to Mars, Apollo 13, and the more recent Gravity and Europa Report.

The Martian reads like a movie script, and it has all the ingredients to be a great one too: humor, intra-agency politics, intergovernmental negotiations, and good science.

Favorite quotes:

“Once I got home, I sulked for a while. All my brilliant plans foiled by thermodynamics. Damn you, Entropy!” Page 72

“Three sols later, Lewis Valley opened into a wide plain. So, again, I was left without references and relied on Phobos to guide me. There’s probably symbolism there. Phobos is the god of fear, and I’m letting it be my guide. Not a good sign.” Page 98

“It’s a strange feeling. Everywhere I go, I’m the first. Step outside the rover? First guy ever to be there! Climb a hill? First guy to climb that hill! Kick a rock? That rock hadn’t moved in a million years!
I’m the first guy to drive long-distance on Mars. The first guy to spend more than thirty-one sols on Mars. The first guy to grow crops on Mars. First, first, first!” Page 99

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Stay With Me by Alison Gaylin (♦♦♦♦)

Brenna Spector discovers only too late that her teen daughter Maya has been keeping secrets from her. Apparently she has found a community of friends online and has gotten dangerously close to one, making all sorts of personal confessions.

When Maya is humiliated at a sleepover and runs away in tears, her new-found friend is more than ready to rescue her. But who is this woman and what is she hiding? With the clock ticking, Brenna will get to the truth of her daughter’s disappearance, but… will it be too late?

I realized not so long ago, that I’m into three series so far: the Gabriel Allon series by Daniel Silva, the Sharpe & Donovan series by Carla Neggers, and the Brenna Spector series by Alison Gaylin. I also read the first installment in the trilogy of Josephine B. by Sandra Gulland, with the other two installments yet to follow, and I have a few other trilogies I want to get into.

Back to topic, Stay With Me is the third installment in the Brenna Spector series by Alison Gaylin, after And She Was, and Into the Dark. I thought that And She Was was just OK, but Gaylin upped the ante in the books that followed. In my opinion, Stay With Me is the best of the three, but I think the future of the series may be in jeopardy because of what happened in it.

If you have been following the series, well maybe not, but if you have read my reviews on the previous installments you probably know that Brenna’s sister Clea disappeared at the age of seventeen, never to be seen or heard of again. In Into the Dark, Brenna got some answers to her sister’s whereabouts a month after she left home, and she found her sister’s diary in someone else’s possession. In Stay With Me, Brenna gets closure; the past and the present collide in a violent and unexpected way, hence my thought about the future of the series.

Since Stay With Me 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. Suffice is to say that I really liked Stay With Me, but it makes me wonder what may happen next, for as I said, everything that needed happening already did.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett (♦♦♦)

A Novel of Obsession

Peter Byerly lost his wife Amanda to cancer nine months ago. Reeling with grief, he decided to escape North Carolina and move to a cottage in the English countryside with the prospect of restarting his career as an antiquarian bookseller.

On one of his book hunting expeditions, Peter finds a portrait by an unknown Victorian painter with the image of Amanda. Obsessed, Peter starts tracking down the elusive painter, which leads him to a manuscript that might revolutionize the literary world if it is real, for it reveals the true identity of Shakespeare.

Running against the clock, Peter finds himself in the midst of a family feud going back for at least two centuries, and he may very well lose his own life for a killer is intent on keeping a secret from being revealed.

I bought The Bookman’s Tale because it promised a story resembling The Shadow of the Wind and Mr.Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, both of which I loved. While The Shadow of the Wind was about a book within a book and a gothic mystery, Mr. Penumbra’s was a sparkly tale about the search for information in the age of technology. The underlying theme in all three books is the love of books and how important it is to preserve them. While I loved the latter two, I didn’t much care about The Bookman’s Tale; I found it erudite yet dry.

The Bookman’s Tale, written by former antiquarian bookseller Charlie Lovett, conveys its message about how profoundly important and cool would be to settle the controversy surrounding Shakespeare’s identity. There’s love, wealth and loss thereof, and murder to spice up the plot, but somehow I found it so unconvincing…I don’t mean to say that the book didn’t have its good moments; it did. I smiled at times with the sweetness and awkwardness of the love affair between Peter and Amanda, and the mystery was good too, but there were too many characters and the book jumped back and forth in time, different years as well, as the provenance of the manuscript was tracked down.

I love books not only because I’m a reader. I practically grew up in a library, so this kind of books holds a special place in my heart. I was hoping The Bookman’s Tale was going to become a new favorite, instead I was somewhat disappointed.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman (♦♦♦♦♦)

It’s 1926…

Tom and Isabel Sherbourne are a married young couple living on Janus Island, the farthest lighthouse post in the Commonwealth of Australia, surrounded by two oceans. Life on Janus is hard and primal. They only get home leave after three years of service. Isabel has suffered three miscarriages along the years, but a mysterious boat, carrying a dead man and a baby girl, arrives on the shore bringing with it the possibility of realizing their dreams of parenthood.

You have no idea how many books from my TBR list I've started to read then put aside for whatever reason; The Light Between Oceans is no exception, but when I kept reading this time around and it became so hard to put down, that's when I regretted not having read it sooner.

When I read The Red Tent, I had the opportunity of thinking more deeply about something I've thought for several years; I know it might sound pretentious, even grandiose, but when God gave women the power of conception, I believe that was as close as he could get to giving women a taste of his own power as creator of life. I say this because by reading The Light Between Oceans, 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.

There were wow passages, and lots of oh-my-god ones, and other more quiet ones, immediately followed by more omg moments. There were times when I thought my heart would not withstand so much emotion, such as when an angry mob chased Frank to the jetty, and he made the decision to wait at sea until the mob cooled off; foolish yet powerful, for that decision altered the course of the story.

I sobbed on two occasions: when Tom wrote the letter to Isabel, and near the end. Despite the difficult choices involved in the plot, the story developed as it should, it ended sadly, but on a high note.

Favorite quotes:

“Nineteen fourteen was just flags and new-smelling leather on uniforms. It wasn’t until a year later that life started to feel differently—started to feel as if maybe this wasn’t a sideshow after all—when, instead of getting back their precious, strapping husbands and sons, the women began to get telegrams. These bits of paper which could fall from stunned hands and blow about in the knife-sharp wind, which told you that the boy you’d suckled, bathed, scolded and cried over, was—well—wasn’t. Partageuse joined the world late and in painful labor.”  Page 17

“You could kill a bloke with rules, Tom knew that. And yet sometimes they were what stood between man and savagery, between man and monsters. The rules that said you took a prisoner rather than killed a man. The rules that said you let the stretchers cart the enemy off from no-man’s-land as well as your own men. But always, it would come down to the simple question: could de deprive Isabel of this baby? If the child was alone in the world? Could it really be right to drag her away from a woman who adored her, to some lottery of Fate?”  Pages 104-105