Guest post – Dolce Bellezza

Last month I was complaining about the heat. In the humidity of Bangkok, brought on aplenty by the rainy season, life was monotone and stifling. Now, as I’m writing this from an apartment back home in Europe while tree branches are literally knocking on my window and autumn has brought on the cold and rain, it’s difficult to believe that only a few weeks ago I was in such a different world. But such is life, and many times I got what I wanted but not exactly in the way I wanted to.
Now, as I am trying to construct a semblance of a routine, between hospital visits, cooking, reading, and occasional meetings with friends and family, I am reminded that life does go on and so will this blog and it’s time to introduce this month’s guest – Meredith, who blogs about books over at Dolce Bellezza. I have liked her blog for quite some time for many reasons, one being that she reads so many wonderful books I’ve never heard of, and another, equally important (perhaps even more important) is the quality of her posts which often leave me wanting to read more. Thank you, Meredith, for being my guest blogger this month.


1. Who Are You?
Many of you know me as Bellezza, some of you know me as Meredith. When I began blogging about books in 2006, I wanted to be anonymous as I didn’t quite know where this would go. Now, 9 years later, it doesn’t seem to matter so much any more. I send my address to publishers on a regular basis, and I’m sure the postman thinks someone named Bellezza lives in our house.

I live in a suburb of Chicago even though my heart resides in Italy. (The first time I left Italy, when only 8 years old, I cried so deeply I can still remember it acutely. I hold on to a hope that someday I can live there full time.) I have taught elementary school since I graduated from college, a whole career of time, so my job and my parents keep me here. It’s important to me, though, to be with my family and fulfill my professional obligations until I retire in 2018.


2. What is your blog about?
The identifying tag for Dolce Bellezza reads “~for translated and literary fiction”. Perhaps it is because I have such a passion for the world abroad that I love translated fiction the best. My passion grew when I hosted the first Japanese Literature Challenge and became fully aware of famous Japanese authors as Haruki Murakami, Yoko Ogawa and Yukio Mishima. Then, when I read as part of the Shadow Jury for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for the last three years, the world of translated fiction became a broader spectrum. Events like Stu and Richard’s Spanish Literature Month, or Tamara‘s Paris in July are wonderful opportunities to read translated literature. Eagerly I anticipate Caroline and Lizzy’s German Literature Month coming this November. We all enrich one another in this book blogging world.


3. Kindle or paper?
Although I love my Kindle, and Nook(s), and iPad, nothing will replace the scent of a book, the feel of pages turned. They may be cumbersome, they may be heavy, but I will always love a real book best.


4. Favorite quotes:
If I would tell of the book from which I record the most quotes, I would say the Bible. However, lest I turn this into a post on Christianity rather than literature, let me share with you some quotes from a book I enjoyed so much this summer: Where the Bird Sings Best by Alejandro Jodorowsky:

“Wisdom above all, acquires wisdom. Make it great, and it will make you great. It will confer an adornment of grace to your head, a crown of beauty will it yield you.”

“If a wise man is one who knows that he doesn’t know, then at this moment I’m a wise man.”

“If you wish to possess everything, you must not possess something that is nothing. Leave what you have behind.”


5. Best book for a doorstop.
Anything by Nora Roberts.


6. Favorite books.
I had a hard time with this question because I can never narrow down my very favorite books! I guess if I had to answer I would say:

1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt (for the atmosphere)

2. Possession by A. S. Byatt (for the ending)

3. The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood (for the ways each character faced Zenia, a disastrous woman)


7. Best book to take with you on a desert island.
That would have to be the Bible.


8. Three tips for bloggers.

Don’t think about stats.
Write about your passion.
Visit others and comment as often as you can.


9. What are you most passionate about?

my family
the woods
quiet time to reflect
French perfume
beautiful shoes


10. Last book that made you cry.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. I think that it will win the Man Booker this year for the power of emotion it is able to elicit from its readers. The wonderful women with whom I participated on a Shadow Panel formed by Frances were divided on this book. Some felt that technical errors in writing, including its enormous length, keep this from being a contender. But, it is included in the Booker short list, and I eagerly await October 13 when the winner will be announced.

Finally, a few pictures from my study. My husband and I put it together this summer, converting it from my son’s room into a place where I can read and write. I wish you could sit with me in it now, and we could discuss all the wonderful books we know.


library 2 easy chair


Posted in Guests | 11 Comments

Guest post – Lynn

I don’t know where August has gone. It seems as if it almost never was and here we are on the last day of the month, which means it’s time for the guest post. This month’s guest is Lynn, who blogs at Lynnsbooks. She is one of the most prolific bloggers I know and how she manages to read and review so many books in such a short time is a mystery. Many thanks to Lynn for agreeing to answer the questions.

1. Who are you?
Lynn! I have a blog called Lynnsbooks.

2. Why do you blog and what is your blog about?
I started blogging after the electronic book diary I had been keeping was accidentally deleted. Blogging was an easy way for me to write up what I felt about a book and for it to be more permanent for me as a record. At the time, I never expected anybody to read any reviews to be honest. It was purely for personal reasons. My blogging is mainly book related. I review the books I receive or buy. I also take part in various events and challenges throughout the year which are all book related and a good way of keeping focus on the books I like. Occasionally I write about films or travel.

3. Favorite books/authors/genres.
This is too difficult – too many to choose from. I’ll go for something slightly different – Lord of the Rings by Tolkien, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier and Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – these were all teenage novels that I read and loved and had an impact on my reading. Tolkien – for my love of fantasy, Du Maurier for a love of great writing and Mitchell for epicness – let’s not forget the romance with this one (although I’m definitely not a big romance reader).
Three authors – Neil Gaiman, Mark Lawrence and Patrick Rothfuss – basically I love their books and their writing style.
Genre – mainly fantasy, occasionally sci-fi and sometimes horror. Basically, I love a bit of escapism, sometimes I enjoy something a bit different and on the odd occasions I like to be scared and given the goosebumps.

4. Kindle or paper book?
I would normally say paper book for this – because I love the feel of the book and the smell of it, the cover, the pages, just everything. Paper will always be my first love but electronic is more and more becoming my first choice – it’s great for reading epic fantasy because it doesn’t have the same weight; it’s great on your bookshelves; you can take a whole bunch of books on your travels rather than choosing just a few; you buy a book and it’s with you immediately; it’s easy to bookmark things, make comments or look up words. Yeah. I do tend to choose electronic books more often than not these days.

5. Three things you learned from a book.
Obviously reading helps your grammar and vocabulary but for the moment I don’t think I could pinpoint anything in particular for this one.

6. Best book to take with you on a desert island.
That would have to be a collection of stories by one of my favourite authors – that way I can cheat and take more than one!

7. Best book to use as a doorstop.
Well, reading fantasy usually means reading rather huge books. Not sure I’d use the books I love as a doorstop though – I’ll perhaps go instead for War and Peace. I haven’t read it but it does seem to be a huge book.

8. Favorite quotes.
A lot of my quotes come from The Lord of the Rings‘Fool of a Took’, for example. I’ll go for:

‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your front door…’

(Lord of the Rings)

‘There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife’

(The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman)

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’

(Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)

9. Three tips for bloggers.
Enjoy what you do. Don’t overtask yourself. Take the time to chat with other bloggers.

10. Best/worst blogging experience.
The best experience for me with blogging is the overall one of meeting other bloggers and being introduced to new books that I would probably have never picked up. The blogging community is a great place. I feel like I connect with people all the time about the books I enjoy and want to discuss and it’s great having a means to vent all your book discussions with like minded people.

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Mr Mercedes & Finders Keepers – Stephen King

Mr Mercedes Mr Mercedes is a departure from the usual shiver-inducing stories of Stephen King that I am used to. There are no spirits or other supernatural elements. For once, this novel doesn’t feel like a piece of fiction written for the delight of horror fans, although King has written some novels that are not horror. Nevertheless, when I say Stephen King my mind goes straight to Needful Things, Salem’s Lot, Misery and of course The Shining, one of the scariest stories I have read.
In spite of that, Mr Mercedes, King’s first hard-boiled detective novel (the first in a trilogy), still manages to infuse the reader with a sense of uneasiness. It’s a very real uneasiness, because it feels so anchored in reality it’s scary. Perhaps King has decided that some monsters are real. This is the fictional story of one of them.

Bill Hodges is a retired detective who spends his days watching TV and playing with his father’s gun. The idea of suicide is never far from his mind, if only he had the courage. But one day he receives a letter that shakes him from the torpor he had been steadily sinking in. It’s a taunting letter involving an unsolved case. Suddenly Hodges has something to wake up for in the morning.

Brady Hartsfield is an apparently ordinary guy working two jobs which provide him with ample opportunity to study the people living in the neighborhood and their habits. His relationship with his alcoholic mother verges between that of a dutiful son and something else. Something not quite right. But then, there are plenty of things not right with Brady, and King is masterfully showing the readers just how messed up this character is. One of the things I like about King’s villains is how he manages to make them sympathetic to the reader to some degree. It’s a murky zone – I want to hate the guy for what he had done and also what he plans to do, but in a tiny corner of my mind I can’t, not completely. Brady is a meticulous planner – what he has in mind is destruction, and he doesn’t care what happens after. Unfortunately for him, his careful planning backfires a few times. Luckily for him, this also creates problems for his enemies, so all is not lost.

It’s a race against time that plays nearly to the end of the novel, as Hodges tries to avert a disaster that is going to destroy many lives. Two people are helping him, Jerome and Holly, unexpected allies in this battle against evil. Ultimately, this is what this novel is, good versus bad, those who try to destroy lives and the ones who try to save them. It’s a good action packed thriller, and my only complaint is that this is a little too close to real life. People are shooting each other these days, planes crash, bombs go off, and terrorist attacks are not just a thing of imagination. This is real, this is the world we live in. For my part, I’d rather read about a haunted hotel or a loved one come back from the dead. Or even a crazy fan willing to kill for the books they love. Which brings me to the second book in this trilogy:

Finders Keepers Finders Keepers

John Rothstein is living his old age on a farm in New Hampshire, when one night three masked guys break into his house and steal his precious treasure, his notebooks that contain a lot of unpublished material written since he went into seclusion, years ago. Now it’s 1978 and just like Annie Wilkes in the famous novel Misery, Rothstein is about to meet his greatest fan.
This time however, there will be no prisoners, and this time Rothstein’s greatest fan is a guy, Morris Bellamy. Morris has a plan – to steal the writer’s notebooks and perhaps discover another novel about the famous Jimmy Gold, the character who made Rothstein famous. Morris isn’t happy with the way things ended for Jimmy Gold. He is, in fact, quite upset and disappointed, but then maybe the notebooks will reveal what he had been hoping for – a comeback of his favorite character as the former badass that he was.

Things veer off course for Morris, and the carefully constructed ambitious plan falls by the wayside. The irony, Morris thinks as he spends the best years of his life locked up, is that he isn’t even jailed for what he did that night but for something he doesn’t even remember doing.

Years later, when he gets out of prison, all he can think about are those notebooks and how he’s going to read them, unpublished material read by only one pair of eyes: his. But what he doesn’t know is that once again, plans don’t work out the way you want to just because you want them to. And Morris is still the same guy, stopping at nothing to get what he wants, not caring if people might get hurt in the process. Morris Bellamy’s obsession had become his life goal.

Like in Mr Mercedes, there is a part of me that doesn’t like the bad guy but also a part that pities him. I love books totally and completely, I love being lost in a story, and I could see (to some extent) why Morris did the things he did just to hold in his hands the work of a beloved author. I feel that this is the very idea that sits at the foundation of this story. Like in the first book, King doesn’t shy away from unpleasant scenes – if you’re squeamish about graphic scenes you’ll be uncomfortable at some point in reading this book.

There is no strong connection between these two stories – the only thing they have in common is three of the characters who now work together to solve a new case. These characters have an emotional connection but knowing their background is not necessary to enjoy this story. In fact, I’d say that I liked Mr Mercedes more because I felt the suspense King created was dispersed in good doses throughout the story and the finale was worth waiting for. King also left room for more creepiness to come, so it didn’t feel like a finished story. Finders Keepers however, feels complete.
I’m really looking forward to reading the third installment in this trilogy, End of Watch. One of the characters from Mr Mercedes is going to make a comeback and I can’t wait to see how it will all end.

*Read in July-August 2015
*My rating: Mr Mercedes 4/5 stars                                                                                                Finders Keepers 3/5 stars

Posted in The Book on The Nightstand | 6 Comments

How to save a wet book

I had an interesting weekend. We were supposed to go to the beach but due to car problems we had to put that on hold. Saturday evening, when I came home from the city, I saw something that filled me with joy and horror in equal parts. A book, lying just inside the yard, soaking wet because it’s the rainy season and it’s now pouring daily, even twice a day; near the book, scattered white bits of paper – the remains of a torn envelope – with a bookmark and a note from Book Depository.
The book was a gift from my blogger friend Priya, one that I’d won in a giveaway (second book I’ve won this year, that’s something) and one I had been wondering about for days. Well, I wondered no more. I picked up the book which was now so wet I was able to squeeze water out of it, then proceeded to think about how to restore it to a readable shape. This is something I hoped I never had to learn – how to dry a wet book.


About 80% of it was as wet as it could be, while the remaining pages were by some miracle only partially wet. It’s a good thing it’s a thick book, otherwise I may have had to peel it from the tiles. I stood it up in front of a fan, trying to see if I could separate the pages. I was afraid they would be stuck together dry and I would never be able to pull them apart without ripping. Needless to say, I gave up on that pretty soon. After a few hours, when it wasn’t that soggy anymore, I used my hairdryer. The book spent the night in front of the fan.


The next day I checked on it from time to time, rifling through the pages, which to my joy and eternal gratitude did not stick together, then put it on the balcony to get some sun, while keeping an eye on it. I wasn’t going to let a second downpour ruin my efforts and I was able to take it away before the next sudden storm made a mess of it. The book spent a second night in front of the fan.


By now it’s pretty much dry. It’s been raining on and off these days and the humidity is giving me curly hair, not to mention giving the book curly pages. I am relieved and happy that I was able to save the book. I’m going to need to use some glue on the back cover but I’m waiting a couple more days before I do that.

How did the book get to be on the ground instead of in my mailbox? And why was the envelope shredded so thoroughly only a few pieces remained? That mystery was solved upon closer inspection of the book. I found teeth marks, courtesy of my dogs who love chewing on paper. Fortunately the marks are in the upper area of the book and not on the text. I guess they got bored pretty easily once they saw it wasn’t edible. My guess is that the postman stuck the book in the iron-wrought gate, then the storm came and the book fell. My dogs took over from there and disposed of the envelope in a very efficient way.

I am not mad at the dogs but I am mad at the postman. How do you leave a paper package stuck in a gate during the rainy season? Why didn’t you leave me a note in the mailbox so I could go pick up the book at the post office like I’ve done before?
Well, no point in dwelling on the why’s now. I have a new book to read. And this one’s been through a lot, which makes me love it even more.
Many thanks to Priya for her lovely gift. This will be my first Salman Rushdie book and I’m really looking forward to reading it.

Posted in Giveaways | 12 Comments

Guest post – Andrew Blackman

IMG_0271_2 This month’s guest is Andrew Blackman, author and blogger. He has written two novels, On the Holloway Road and A Virtual Love and I’ve read both, the latter being the first book I read in electronic format. He was also the first author who continued to respond to my emails making me believe there isn’t an actual parallel world where writers create unbelievable works of fantasy and we the ordinary mortals are just lucky to read said works. He was also the one who encouraged me to submit my novel for publication, therefore prompting me to finally finish the thing which would have taken a lot longer to complete otherwise. I know writers are very busy people and so I was very happy when he agreed to do this interview.

1. Who are you?

I’m a writer from London. I’ve had a couple of novels published in the UK, as well as hundreds of short stories, essays and articles. I used to live in New York, where I was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, but now I’m travelling long-term around Europe with my wife, and we’re paying for the trip by doing freelance work online as we go. My third novel is in progress.

2. Why do you blog and what is your blog about?

I started the blog back in 2008 because something terrible was happening to me: I was reading lots of great books, and then discovering that after a year or two I had no memory of them whatsoever. I wanted a place to blog about my reading, so that I had a record of what I’d read. Since then it’s expanded a bit — after becoming a published writer I started to write more about writing, and also to do a bit of awkward self-promotion for my latest books — but still it’s writing about books that I enjoy the most. In fact I almost never refresh my memory by reading old posts about old books, but the process of writing the reviews, and of discussing the books with knowledgeable, enthusiastic fellow bloggers, solidifies them in my memory anyway.

3. Favorite books/authors/genres

I can’t give an honest answer to this kind of question. I love Jorge Luis Borges, Milan Kundera and John Banville, but if I name them as my favourite three authors, then what about Joan Didion, or Vasily Grossman, or Kazuo Ishiguro, or R.D. Laing, or George Orwell, or Edward Said, or Jamaica Kincaid, or… It’s just impossible. I’ve never been the sort of reader to fall in love with one writer/book/genre and read in that little corner over and over again—I prefer to read widely, always looking for the next new discovery.

4. Kindle or paper book?

This is something I’ve blogged about a couple of times. The bottom line is that I’ve had a Kindle for a few years now, but still prefer real books. Because I am living an itinerant life, I am almost exclusively buying ebooks at the moment. But when I’m settled in one place, I think I’ll go back to buying almost exclusively print books, only using the Kindle for an occasional 99p punt on an author I’m not sure about.

5. Three things you learned from a book.

When I was about eleven or twelve I read War and Peace, probably my first “adult” book. I discovered how a good writer could create a whole new reality. It took me months to get through the book, and I really felt part of that world, which was so different from my suburban London reality. It made me want to create those worlds myself.

When I was much older I read Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges, and discovered that fiction was a much more malleable thing than I’d realized. Many of Borges’s stories are not stories—they use non-fiction forms, or deliberately misquote from other books. He plays with form and narrative structure, writes mysteries and detective stories as high literature, and has stories with no real plot at all. The book completely redefined for me what short stories could be.

I’ve also learned a lot from non-fiction books about the way life really works. I studied history at Oxford University, but there were massive gaps in what we learned. I had to read Eric Williams’s Capitalism & Slavery to discover how extensively British economic development was financed by the profits from the slave trade, Britain’s Gulag by Caroline Elkins to discover the mass imprisonments, killings and torture administered in the brutal suppression of the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s, and so on. It’s not just Britain, either—all around the world, most of what we now consider to be normal has some pretty ugly origins.

6. Best book to take with you on a desert island.

Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. There’s lots in there about acceptance and serenity, which I imagine would be quite important if you’re stuck on a desert island.

7. Best book to use as a doorstop.

A Game of Thrones. I’m enjoying the TV series, but couldn’t stomach the book. And the good thing is that when one doorstop gets tattered, you can work your way through the rest of the series!

8. Favorite quotes

I love it when a book begins with some beautiful prose that just makes me feel I’m in good hands. These are not necessarily my favourite quotes, but they are some of my favourite opening paragraphs:

Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

(Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking)

I am, therefore I think. That seems inescapable. In this lawless house I spend the nights poring over my memories, fingering them, like an impotent casanova his old love letters, sniffing the dusty scent of violets. Some of these memories are in a language which I do not understand, the ones that could be headed, the beginning of the old life. They tell the story which I intend to copy here, all of it, if not its meaning, the story of the fall and rise of Birchwood, and of the part Sabatier and I played in the last battle.

(John Banville, Birchwood)

Another sheep, mangled and bled out, her innards not yet crusting and the vapours rising from her like a steamed pudding. Crows, their beaks shining, strutting and rasping, and when I waved my stick they flew to the trees and watched, flaring out their wings, singing, if you could call it that. I shoved my boot in Dog’s face to stop him from taking a string of her away with him as a souvenir, and he kept close by my side as I wheeled the carcass out of the field and down into the woolshed.

(Evie Wyld, All the Birds, Singing)

9. Three tips for bloggers.

1. Don’t check your visitor stats. Or if you must do it, only do it once a month at most. Early on, I used to be quite obsessive about my stats, and it was a waste of energy. Now I try to follow a quote from the Tao Te Ching: “Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity.”

2. Remember why you’re doing it. It’s easy for blogging to become a chore or an obligation. If you’re not enjoying it, just ease up on your schedule, or even stop for a while, and only return when you’re feeling enthusiastic about it again.

3. Never write a “Sorry I haven’t posted for so long” post, or an “I’m giving up blogging” post, or an “I’m back again two weeks later” post. Just write when you have something to write, and be silent when you don’t.

10. Best/worst blogging experience.

The best part of blogging for me is not so much a single experience, but the cumulative effect of thousands of little interactions over the years. A comment here, an email there, and gradually I’m getting to know people from all over the world who share nothing in common but a love of reading. It’s a wonderful thing, and although my life circumstances mean that I’m not as active now as I was a few years ago, it’s something I treasure.

The worst blogging experience for me has been when I have a book out and am hoping to get reviews. It takes my relationships with other bloggers to a place I don’t like. I worry that they feel under pressure to read my book and review it. Of course I hope to get good reviews, but when I do, I wonder if they’re genuine or if the bloggers are just being nice because they know me. And if they don’t review it, I assume it’s because they hated it. Basically it’s not a process I enjoy. Being published, yes, but anything to do with publicity, no.

11. You are also a writer. Tell us more about your books.

Holloway Road cover final My first novel, On the Holloway Road, is a story about two young Londoners who are inspired by Jack Kerouac’s famous 1950s novel On the Road and try to create a spontaneous, free existence in the more limited world of contemporary Britain. The book was inspired by my own feeling of alienation and suffocation when I moved back to London after living in the U.S.

A Virtual Love Cover My second novel, A Virtual Love, explores relationships in the age of social media. It’s a love story of sorts, but one based on constructed identities and therefore crucially undermined. Although I love blogging and enjoy other social media to a certain extent, I do feel that we perform and are not our true selves when we construct these online identities, and the novel examines what happens when those dishonest, often idealised identities cross over into “real” life.

12. What is your writing routine like? Do you have one?

I write first thing in the morning, which is odd because I’ve never considered myself to be a “morning person”. I think it’s because to write good fiction, you need to access the subconscious, so it helps to be half-asleep!
I keep a regular writing schedule, every day from Monday to Friday, usually three hours a day, but it depends on what else I have going on. My routine has been disrupted this year by all the travelling, but I still aim to do at least some writing first thing in the morning, even if it’s only an hour or even half an hour. It’s important to keep the rhythm going. When I lose the habit of writing, it’s hard to get it back.

13. Three tips for writers.

1. Have a purpose. George Orwell said that writers’ four main reasons for writing are aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, political purpose, and sheer egoism. Understand your own motives. If you want people to read your stories, you should at least know why you’re writing them.

2. Be humble. Nobody would expect to sit down at the piano and immediately play like Chopin, but because we can all type, we think we can write a great novel with no practice, study or effort. It takes time to be good at anything, and becoming a good writer is a lifelong commitment. Read a lot, write a lot, and stick at it for a long time.

3. Be arrogant. To be a writer, you have to believe that despite all the millions of books out there and the thousands more being published every month, what you have to say is important and the world needs to hear it. In other words, you have to be unbelievably arrogant. So embrace that arrogance: be bold, be ballsy, and say something the world needs to sit up and hear.

14. What are you most passionate about?

Social justice. As a middle-class white British man, I’m aware that I enjoy a lot of unearned privilege. It disturbs me that so many people in my position refuse to acknowledge the fundamentally unfair ways in which we’ve chosen to structure our societies. So many of us live in a bubble, refusing to accept the reality that our comfortable existences are being propped up by the suffering of millions of others who will never get the chances we had, and more importantly refusing to do anything to change things. It reminds me of how Orwell ended his book Homage to Catalonia, giving a beautiful description of a train ride through the bucolic Kent countryside in which everyone was “sleeping the deep, deep sleep of England, from which I sometimes fear that we shall never wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs.”

15. Last book that made you cry.

I’m not sure if it was the last one, but I know that Everything Flows by Vasily Grossman made me cry. He described a village in the Ukraine having all its grain confiscated, and the villagers digging for worms, boiling their cats, making bread from acorns, eating rats, and making noodles out of shoe leather. Reading about people slowly dying made it impossible not to cry, especially because I knew that in some form it was a true story, and also because it was so beautifully written, so that the beauty of the prose clashed horribly with the brutality of the subject matter. Grossman’s Life and Fate also made me cry, and I preferred it overall, if you’re looking for a reading recommendation.

Ask me a question.
What’s your most daring ambition?

Over the years I’ve asked myself the same question. To travel the world while writing, to see and experience and live a freer existence. I guess this sounds familiar since this is the life you are living. But if you ask me to sum this up to one essential thing, that would be to one day see my novel in bookstores around the world.

Posted in Guests | 10 Comments

Stephen King on the beach

Last weekend I took Stephen King to the beach. Now as I’m typing this I realize the title of the post may actually be the name of a drink, one of those sugary cocktails with a tiny umbrella stuck in the orb of a tofu eye (for a touch of horror) or maybe with the promise of a hangover of horror proportions. What do I know, I’ve never had a hangover. But I digress.

Husband and I decided it was time for a nice getaway to the beach and since space is now not a problem – gone were the days when we lugged our backpacks to the bus terminal – he packed Revival (hey, isn’t that another drink-worthy name? or a hangover cure?) by the same author and off we went for a blissful weekend of doing nothing but sit and read with the sound of waves breaking in the distance and the occasional horse carrying mostly children trotting along the shore.
The weather was overcast for most of the time since we are right in the middle of the rainy season but that was not a problem. I actually prefer it to the blinding scorching sunshine present the rest of the year.

beach 1

We found a stone heart on the beach…


…and also a dead jellyfish which we inspected by touching the creature and discovering a tiny starfish right next to it which we promptly released into the sea because it was still alive and moving. My desire to take a picture was overruled by the desire to return the starfish to the sea while still alive.


We sat down on comfortable beach chairs under a big umbrella and proceeded to read. You can see I made some progress but not as much as I’d hoped. Hardboiled crime is not my favorite genre but we do amazing things for the authors we love.



On the road leading to the beach we stopped at this place because how could I not? I named it “the book shack”; it had mostly Dutch books for sale. The Dutch must read a lot. I barely saw any English books at the free book zone at our hotel or the book shack. We passed by it several times without seeing the owner or anybody near it for that matter.

book shack

Book shack 2

I remembered this “mobile restaurant” from previous visits. The somtum, or spicy papaya salad, is deliciously hot and the grilled chicken legs and stick rice a great companion to one of the most famous Thai dishes. I asked the guy’s permission for a photo and he nodded and walked away.


On the same road I saw this sign and resisted the urge to scrawl Narnia under that last destination.


Posted in Travel | 8 Comments

How making notebooks is a lot like writing and how it isn’t

H1 I have done little writing these past few weeks but that’s because I’ve been busy with other creative pursuits. Writing has been replaced by a more tangible occupation, making notebooks. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time – there is a story behind that want but that’s for another day – and finally decided to go for it.

When I started doing this, I was more in love with the idea of having the finished product in my hand than actually  making it. If you look online, there are so many gorgeous handmade notebooks made of paper, leather and fabric, I could spend days just looking at them and asking myself how did they do that?
But when it comes to the actual work, the beginning was not easy. And while I was cutting (not so straight lines) and gluing (with too much glue), and folding the wrong corners and many other clumsy things, it suddenly hit me that making a notebook is a lot like writing a book or a short story, because:

  • No matter how fancy the paper or beautiful the color, or how much you fantasize about it, the thing won’t make itself. You’ll have to go home and do the work.
  • Fancy utensils may seem like the right motivator in the beginning, but this won’t hold for long. My favorite story is the one about Stephen King who, at the height of his career and his addiction, bought a fancy desk but in the end got rid of both the desk and his addiction. Simple things are the best. Paper and pen or a computer, needle and thread, and paper.
  • Work space is important – a place where you can go and be creative and where you can keep all your tools, including the needles and that sharp cutter that nearly sliced off my fingers.
  • You have to make time for it because if you won’t nobody will and sometimes you have to give up other things – like I did (partially) with writing and reading lately, because all I can think about now that I’ve pretty much solved the mystery of making a paper covered notebook is how to decorate a cover by myself. I’m not great at drawing but I do have a few things in mind.
  • Using too much glue is like using a lot of unnecessary words in your story – you may think they would be able to hold the thing together better but in the end it creates a mess you’ll have to throw away and start again.
  • A good cutter is like a great editor – it’s important that both of them are sharp because they can get rid of unnecessary parts.
  • Practice is essential. It’s the only way to get better and there is no alternative. The first couple of notebooks I made were OK but the ones I am making now are definitely an improvement.
  • It’s all a question of taste – different people will like different things and they’ll point out details you never thought about.

And it isn’t because:

  • When making a notebook, knowing what you want from the start is important because there are measurements to make; with writing the most important thing is to start and finish – you can go anywhere and do anything with the part in between.
  • Once the notebook is finished, that’s it. You can do minor changes, like add a pocket at the back, but if you forgot to glue the ribbon bookmark, well, hopefully you won’t forget it next time. With a story, you can edit as much as you like.
  • What has been glued cannot be unglued – unless you’re very quick and the paper cooperates and it’s your lucky day (that’s three big ifs right there), but you can go back and unsay as many things as you like in a story.
  • Making a notebook is a lot faster than finishing a book you are comfortable showing to the world. With a notebook, you already know the mechanics, you just need to decide on the size and color. With a book there’s the first draft, and the second, and the third and so on. It may take weeks, months, even years. A notebook is only a matter of days, and that’s because you have to wait for the glue to dry. And the only thing you have to “agonize” over is the cover paper.

H3 H4




Do you like handmade notebooks?
What makes a great notebook – the pattern, the size, the color, the details (embellished corners, back pocket, bookmark)?
Do you prefer blank paper or lined paper?

Now, almost every trip to the city includes a stop at a stationery store and yesterday after visiting such a place I went to my favorite bookstore which is right next door to it, and bought some of the latest Stephen King novels. I wanted to buy the paperbacks but the writing was so tiny I could not see myself looking at hundreds of pages with that minuscule font so I decided to go for the hardbacks. To my surprise they had a discounted price that I was more than happy to take advantage of. I think I’ll start on Revival soon.


Posted in Handmade | 10 Comments

The Artificial Anatomy of Parks – Kat Gordon

Anatomy of Parks The Artificial Anatomy of Parks is the story of a family secret. Tallulah Park gets a phone call from the hospital. Her father has had a heart attack and is now unconscious. She decides to go and see him.
It is clear early on that Tallulah did not really get along with her father, and so the story begins, alternating between events from Tallulah’s childhood and the present, where she is working as a waitress, living in an old building and trying to avoid her relatives. Her father’s ill health is the reason she decides to once again come back and see her family, even though she’s been away from them for years. Why she’s stayed away for so long is explained in the end as is almost everything else.

This book was a mixed bag for me. I liked the skipping back and forth in time – the narrator, Tallulah, has an engaging voice and the breaks in her story come at the most interesting points, something I found equally intriguing and annoying. It’s like someone is about to tell you a secret but suddenly the phone rings and the moment is lost. There are plenty of moments like that throughout the story which only made me impatient to get to the end. There are family squabbles, a strained relationship between Tallulah’s mother and her father’s sisters, and then there’s Jack, her father’s brother, whose return after a long absence causes turmoil within the family and brings about a tragic incident.

Tallulah seems apathetic for most of the time, and I did not find her a particularly likeable character. After going away to live by herself she seems almost lifeless and I couldn’t help comparing her with her father, a seemingly cold and uninteresting man who seemed to do anything in his power to avoid spending time with his daughter. Later on in the story I felt pity for her, for the tragedies she had to go through, and a tiny bit of admiration for the way she had managed to survive, but overall I wished I liked her more. Uncle Jack was the real mystery of the book, and the part he had to play in Tallulah’s life. It seems that even if he tried to do good, all he was able to do was to bring about more heartache.

From dealing with abuse to anatomical references concerning the workings of the heart (my favorite part), this novel manages to be somehow heart-warming and almost indifferent at the same time, an odd combination which works startlingly well overall.
There is a mystery to be revealed at the end but the part that is finally revealed is easy to see coming because of all the events leading up to it. The other part, the most interesting part concerning a death, is left unanswered and I’m still thinking about it because I felt there was no closure. On one hand I agree that not everything needs to be resolved in a novel but on the other hand I really wish I had the answer to this one. But then, thinking back to the name of the novel, this seems like a fitting way to end the story.

I got this book from the publisher, Legend Press, in exchange for an honest review.

My rating: 3/5 stars
Read in June 2015

Posted in The Book on The Nightstand | 10 Comments

Guest post – Athira

Athira, who blogs over at Reading on a Rainy Day is one of those bloggers I love reading because she always manages to infuse a good dose of personal tidbits into her posts, be it a book review, a travel post, or the recent posts and pictures about her baby’s arrival (due next month, I’m told). That is why I was very excited when she agreed to be my guest for this month’s blogger interview.

C0BFEA90-F3ED-4FAF-9300-208DB32A70AD 1. Who are you?

I am Athira, originally from India and living in Virginia in the United States for about seven years. I work as a software programmer and read/blog/write/knit/watch TV in my free time. I’ve been married to my darling knight in shining armor for more than three years and we have a spoiled pampered Jack Russell/Pit Bull mix who bosses us. Currently, we are waiting to welcome the pitter patter of little feet in July and cannot be more excited about life than we are right now.

2. Why do you blog and what is your blog about?

I did start out blogging because I wanted to be a part of the book blogging world. Thankfully, I blog for entirely different reasons now. I have always wanted to write and blogging to me is a great way to do it. I also love to read, so blogging is a great way to mix those two interests. My blog is primarily about what I read, how those reads affect me, and their reviews. But I have reached a phase where I want to talk about more than books. With a little one waiting around the corner, I can already see how much my blogging interest is going to transform soon.

3. Favorite books/authors/genres

Three favorite books I will happily gift someone:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.
Sure, this book could have been done with a better cover and a lot less hype, but once you read this story of a bunch of little-known cells and the family that didn’t get any compensation, you will be completely amazed by the fact that this science book amazed you.
The Dinner by Herman Koch.
How interesting can a book set through a dinner from the first course through dessert be? “The Dinner” will make you answer “very” to that question.
Blankets by Craig Thompson.
Didn’t think a graphic or illustrated book can move you to tears? Read “Blankets” and you will be surprised at how much it moved you.

Three favorite authors:

José Saramago
Now, I have only read two books by this author. But I always look forward to his stories and his strange writing style.
J. K. Rowling.
I always feel guilty when I say Rowling is a favorite author. But truth is, I love her brand of sarcastic humor and character insight.
Emily St. John Mandel
Mandel sure knows how to tell a story. Even dreary depressing ones without losing you at all.

Three favorite genres:

Literary fiction
Magical fantasy
Epic sagas. Bonus if they are set in Middle-earth.

4. Kindle or paper book?

If I was asked this question even a year ago, I would say paper all the way. Even today, I am a big fan of paper books and will not hesitate to buy a book in paper format but will think twice before snagging an e-book. But, I read e-books faster than I do paper books. Maybe not seeing the size of the book and being able to escape into a book anywhere, even in the presence of company, makes me prefer e-books. Plus, I like being able to go on vacation without dragging with me a case full of books. And bonus, not taking any books to vacation gives me a little more space to buy some during the vacation.

DFBC1498-3735-4556-9FEC-EC7CA6D91B5F 5. Three things you learned from a book.

a. How I want to express my religion is my decision entirely. Just because you choose to wear a burqa doesn’t mean you are oppressed. Just because you walk around with a rosary doesn’t mean you are superstitious. Just because you credit every success to God and every failure to humanity doesn’t mean you are a blind devout. If I cannot respect your approach to belief and religion, then I am being intolerant. (Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah has a teen protagonist who is modern and independent, but when she starts wearing a head scarf, every one begins to wonder if she is being forced or oppressed by her parents. Plus, the school she goes to despises her decision because it makes her different and “violates” their uniform code.)
b. The human spirit is one of the strongest things in this world. You can break a human body as much as you want to but it will still survive and come back stronger than ever. Have faith in yourself even when faced with the worst the world has to offer. (Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand about Louie Zamperini, who survived unimaginable horror during WW2.)
c. How not to write a book and why gleeful torture should be eyed with distaste. (American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis about a psychopath who relishes chopping people. Or did it all happen in his head?)

6. Best book to take with you on a desert island.

This is a tough one. I should realistically take a book that will help me survive on the island. And I’m sure if I knew I was heading to an island, I would pick such a book. But, if I could take one more, I am pretty certain I will take one or all seven of the Harry Potter books with me.

7. Best book to use as a doorstop.

I honestly can’t think of one. To me books are purely decorative (they do dress up my shelves) and functional (they are just for reading and ogling at). I think it a scandal to use a book as a doorstop! Though in all seriousness, I would happily use Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts as a door-stopper. I hated trying to read that book!

8. Favorite quotes.

People keep telling me to do yoga. I tried it once at the place down the street. The only part I liked was the part at the end when the teacher covered you with a blanket and you got to pretend you were dead for ten minutes.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill.

“I love chocolate cake for breakfast,” Peggy stalls, “it sets me up for the day. A little decadence is good for the soul.”

The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag.

And my favorite one of all:

Percy wouldn’t recognize a joke if it danced in front of him wearing Dobby’s tea cozy.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling.

9. Three tips for bloggers.

– Don’t stress yourself out if you cannot stick to a routine. Your blog should be your retreat, not something that comes attached to a calendar and a to-do list.
– Put something of yourself into every post you write, even if it is a review or a meme. People love reading personal stuff. People will keep coming back for it.
– Don’t feel guilty if you have to step away from your blog. Your readership is always going to fluctuate even when you are blogging regularly. You should blog when your fingers are itching to write or type something – the best blog posts are born that way. But if your blogging mojo has gone to the beach, then go with it and enjoy something else. It will come back to you when you are not trying too hard to compel it back.

10. Best/worst blogging experience.

I haven’t had a blogging experience yet (touch wood) that has upset me. But I do want to mention one of my most memorable ones. I had only been blogging for less than a year (so I was still relatively new in bloglandia) when my brother got sick and was in the ICU for almost a month. Until then, I had been blogging every day. When I finally returned to blogging, I posted about what happened and how depressed it made me. When I hit the Publish button, I was expecting some condolences from some bloggers who visited me often. What I didn’t expect was an outpouring of comforting words and sharing of similar experiences, even from bloggers who didn’t often visit my blog. This is what always stumps me. I am not a person who is comfortable with displays of emotion. I struggle to find the right thing to say to someone who is suffering. I also struggle to talk about the things that bother me. And yet, when I saw all those responses to my post that day, I felt immensely grateful for being a part of the book blogging community.

11. You are also a writer. Tell us more about this.

When I was a kid, I used to read a lot of fan-fiction. There was one college story that I loved but the writer didn’t finish it. Feeling unsatisfied by the lack of closure in the story, I set out to write my own version of that story. If I had published that story, it would be obvious plagiarism, but I wasn’t planning to put it out in the public at all. I was just so impressed by the impact of reading a story that made me want to write my own story, even if it was similar to the one I read. Of course, I didn’t finish that story at all, but I believe I still have it somewhere in my computer.
I haven’t written a story since, but there are all these ideas in my head, that I know it is only a matter of time.

12. What is your writing routine like? Do you have one?

Lately, not so much. With preparing for our new arrival (just a couple of weeks now!), routines have taken a back-seat. Right now, I try to write as often as I can for my blog, which has gone down from three posts a week to about two. But now that most of the to-dos before the baby arrives have been taken care of, I am hoping to get back on the writing bandwagon. (Don’t want to find it hard to write even a few words once the baby is here.) But even when I was writing, I didn’t have a routine. I write when the inspiration hits or some topic is bothering me. This happens at work sometimes, and sometimes when I am running an errand. But I still try to pen down something – enough to flesh it out later. Most of these items don’t see the light of day, but I have enjoyed going back and reading some of the articles later. I strongly believe that you leave a piece of yourself in every article you write and I have found it interesting to revisit what I once used to believe in or felt strongly about.

13. Three tips for writers.

– If you are a writer of books or stories, then read. A lot. As a reader of the books you write, there is nothing that turns me off more than your admission that you don’t read books.
– Write like you care. Even if it is a simple blog post. I like to see depth, thoughtfulness, personality, adventure, and some risks in your writing.
– Please run that spell check on everything you publish. And do read what you wrote, a good amount of time AFTER you wrote it. Everything you proofread immediately after writing it will feel perfect – it’s your brain covering up the mistakes. Read it an hour later, and you will be surprised to spot some grammatical errors and wrong choice of words.

IMG_0049 14. What are you most passionate about?

Honestly, my passions keep changing like the seasons. Someday, it’s reading, another day, it’s writing. Yet another day, you might catch me lost in my knitting and not wanting to come out of it. Sometimes, it’s learning a new language. Another time, it’s fighting for a cause I believe in. And yes, there are times when I am not passionate about anything. I love it though – I love that my passions keep cycling between several different interests. I am thankful that each phase lasts a sufficiently long period, so I’m not just abandoning them. For example, every fall-winter, I catch the knitting bug and then I can do nothing else – not much reading or writing. But come the new year, the knitting bags are put aside and the books come out.

15. Last book that made you cry.

This was hard. I guess I don’t read that many books that are advertised as being melancholy or tearjerkers. I have stumbled across an occasional quote or character from a book that made me cry like a baby but once I am done with the book, I don’t always remember that teary aspect of the book. I had to go back all the way to 2013 to find the last book that made me cry like a baby – Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. That was a tearjerker without being manipulative about it – a very hard combination to achieve according to me because I always feel manipulated when I cry after reading or watching something.

Ask me a question.

I have always loved your blog name and thought it to have the right amount of mystery and personality. What is the secret behind your blog name? How did you come up with it?

It was years ago, during a conversation I was having with my husband. I don’t remember exactly who came up with the name or what we were talking about, but when I heard it I knew it was perfect for my blog. And I have to admit it fits – I hate spelling mistakes/typos with a vengeance, although I admit they do sneak up on me undetected from time to time. It’s always easier to spot them in someone else’s work.

Posted in Guests | 13 Comments

Gone Forever: a Get Jack Reacher novel by Scott Blade

Nothing to Lose by Lee Child was one of the first books I reviewed on this blog back in 2011. It was a fun book to read, despite a few issues I had with the main character. Still the idea behind the story, this Wild West cowboy of modern days traveling all over America solving cases appealed to me, and that is why when author Scott Blade emailed me and asked if I would like to read his novel I was curious enough to say yes.

First of all, I must say I was relieved to see the story is about Jack Reacher’s son and not about Reacher himself. That was a bonus point. I’m not sure I would have liked to read about a known character from another author’s point of view.

Get Jack Reacher Cameron Reacher is Jack Reacher’s son. His mother, a small town sheriff, dies when Cameron is eighteen, leaving clear instructions as to what path her son must follow. He, like an obedient son, does as he is told, leaving behind the town he grew up in, on a quest to find his father. Just like his father, he walks and occasionally hitchhikes until he reaches a small town where a man is desperately looking for his missing wife. The only problem is, nobody seems to remember her and someone in the town wants the husband gone or dead. Cameron decides to help and in the process he survives some pretty impressive life threatening situations. One in a jail cell involving a rope was my favorite because I did not see how he could get out of it which obviously he had to otherwise the book would just end with the main character dead. In fact, this is the appeal of this story, the ability to surprise. The writing is straightforward, and at times becomes technical, with a lot of information about guns that I wasn’t particularly interested in but other readers who know a lot more on the subject will probably appreciate. Detail is one thing this book abounds in. At times it felt like Cameron was a little too fixated on things – like how many minutes and even seconds it took him to do certain things, how he could tell the time without looking at a watch, and how he was always keeping his calm and never got beaten up by anybody. Sure, he was a massive guy, with long black hair and hands like a “human gorilla”, something Blade insisted on a little too much (I got the point early on) and everybody was afraid of him except the people who gave him a ride.
Also, I got a chuckle out of seeing that he named one of the characters Ann Gables.

Overall this was a good thriller with plenty of action and an interesting character. The author did a good job of creating a background that was believable, and in this way tying the story back to Jack Reacher. I’m curious to see if Cameron finds his father and what happens when he does. I just hope it won’t take ten novels to find out.
Many thanks to the author who provided me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars
Read in June 2015

Posted in The Book on The Nightstand | 12 Comments