Tuesday, 31 January 2017

January 2017 wrap up

And even this dark, cold, slightly depressing month of January has come to an end.
I have read eight books in January 2017, some great reads, some (one) horrible reads and some so and so ones. Overall a pretty good reading month, especially with the first and last books read.

And here they are:

- Le otto montagne - P. Cognetti
A story about the love for mountains and about friendship. Loved it!
(Random House has acquired the rights so it will hopefully come out soon in English!)
Rating:  9 out of 10

- Bridget Jones's baby - H. Fielding
Awful, I loved BJ diary but I could not force myself to continue reading this one.
Rating:  1 out of 10

- The House on Bellevue Gardens - R. Hore
A pleasant enough story, beautiful London settings, it could have been a lot shorter.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10

- Gilead - M. Robinson
A long letter, beautifully written, simple yet engaging, some passages are a bit tedious.
Rating:  6 out of 10

- You will not have my hate - A. Leiris
The very personal diary of a journalist whose wife is killed by terrorists. A powerful message.
Rating:  6.5 out of 10

- Agatha Raisin. Love, lies and liquor - M.C. Beaton
Agatha can always make me laugh and forget all the worldly worries for a while.
Rating:  7 out of 10

- The year of magical thinking - J. Didion
Another very personal diary of the grief the author has faced and how she dealt with it. Interesting.
Rating:  6 out of 10

- The Swans of Fifth Avenue - M. Benjamin
Glamour, NY City, gossip, a precious friendship ended badly, the fictional story of Truman Capote and Babe Paley. Fascinating.
Rating:  7.5 out of 10

- A Little Life - H. Yanagihara
The story of a man who has gone through hell and back, the story of strong friendship, a book that has profoundly touched me. Beautifully written, the long phrases are fluid and engaging, the punctuation is perfect. One of the best books I have read in ages.
Rating:  10 out 10

Monday, 30 January 2017

Book Review - A little life - H. Yanagihara

"...things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully."

One of the best books I have read in a long time. It made me cry, smile, cry again and again, it has been such an emotional roller coaster. 
It is one of the very few books where, even if the reality described is completely different from my own, I "felt" every emotion the characters were feeling, I was there with them in their NY apartments, I suffered with them, laugh with them. talked and walked and breathed with them. For over 5 days and 700 and something pages I was completely and utterly taken by this extraordinary novel.
A little life starts describing in various voices the life of these four friends, Malcolm, JB, Willem and Jude. The start is quite in low tone, so much so that the first time I opened this book and read the first few pages, I was not convinced at all. Thanks God though I then decided, thanks to a friend reading it too, to start it again and I just loved it. I fell in love with it at about page 70 and it is one of the best books I have read in ages.
Jude is the main character of this novel, Jude and his past from hell, which is slowly revealed to the reader, Jude and his fears, his struggles, his successes, his friends. Then there is Willem, Jude's best friend, roommate, companion, saver, the best friend anybody could wish to have on their side. My favourite character though is Harold, Jude's professor and mentor and fatherly figure, Harold with all his unconditional love and giving.
This is the passage that for me summaries Jude the most:
"He doesn't know this now, but in the years to come he will, again and again, test Harold's claims of devotion, will throw himself against his promises to see how steadfast they are. He won't even be consists that he's doing this. But he will do it anyway, because part of him will never believe Harold and Julia; as much as he wants to, as much as he thinks he does, he won't, and he will always be convinced that they will eventually tire of him, that they will one day regret their involvement with him. And so he will challenge them, because when their relationship inevitably ends, he will be able to look back and know for certain that he caused it, and not only that, but the specific incident that caused it, and he will never have to wonder, or worry, about what he did wrong, or what he could have done better. But that is in the future. For now, his happiness is flawless."

I loved the characters, the dialogues, more than Loved the writing style (oh that divine use of punctuation!), the NY setting, the love, the sadness, the fear, the pain, and most of all the friendship. The friendship in this novel is pure, beautiful, giving without wanting anything back, is just being there for the other, it is friendship at its best. And even with all the pain and suffering that these guys go through, you still envy them a little bit because of this special friendship they have and they manage to maintain for decades/. 

Some said that the second half of this novel is a bit "too much" drama for one book, but to be honest I did not feel like that as I was by then so attached to Jude and Willem and Harold and engrossed by the sublime writing style and in love once again with NY City that I just enjoyed every phrase, every word, every page of the novel till the very end. And then I cried because I had to leave them and i wished I savored the book longer (but I couldn't, I was too curios to read the rest of the plot!).
I am so happy that I read this book and I will think about it for a long time.

“You see, Jude, in life, sometimes nice things happen to good people. You don’t need to worry—they don’t happen as often as they should. But when they do, it’s up to the good people to just say ‘thank you,’ and move on, and maybe consider that the person who’s doing the nice thing gets a bang out of it as well, and really isn’t in the mood to hear all the reasons that the person for whom he’s done the nice thing doesn’t think he deserves it or isn’t worthy of it.” 

Overall rating: 10    Plot: 10    Writing style: 10    Cover:  7

Title:A little life

Author: Hanya Yanagihara
Publisher: Picador
Pages: 736
Publication year: 2015

When four graduates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he'll not only be unable to overcome - but that will define his life forever.
The Author:
The Los Angeles-born writer lives in New York City and works at The New York Times. Her first book is called The people in the trees.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Book Review - The Swans of Fifth Avenue - M. Benjamin

A glamorous, sparkling, yet very sad novel about the swinging world of the rich and famous in New York city in the 50s and 60s. Based on real people, the writer Truman Capote and his friendship with Babe Paley, fashion icon at the time, and the other "high society" ladies in that circle.
Capote is not what I would have expected at all, In this novel he is portrait-ed having different sides, the party-goer bubbling one, the scared and lonely abandoned child, the forever friend and the gossipy, selfish, sneaky traitor. 

"Tell me -What is your greatest fear?
There was a long silence. No sounds but the low hum of the pool filter, the faraway grazing of a lawn mower, and the determined "clip clip" of a gardener on the other side of some tall azalea bushes, trimming away.
"That someone will see," Babe whispered, while at the same time, Truman murmured, "That someone will find me out."
"That no one will love me," Truman added after another moment. While at the same time, Babe admitted, "And that I'll never be loved, truly."

I truly enjoyed this book, it is a bit like reading a gossip magazine about the rich and famous. It is fascinating to read about their lifestyle, so indulgent and frivolous, made of luxurious holidays, big houses, yachtes, shopping, parties, dinners, etc.It is also quite sad, as behind all the glamour, the characters all play a facade role. In particularly, Babe, as the perfect wife, the always impeccable woman that does not let her husband see her without make up nor perfect hair. And while the appearance is always perfect, underneath she is in pieces, not loved enough, not understood enough, with a husband that takes her for granted. She finds her soul mate in Truman, but in the end he will not be able to refrain himself and will ruin the most precious thing that he has in the world for his vanity and inability to keep secrets.

I read it and considered it as fiction, because I knew very little about Truman Capote beforehand and I could not discern what was the "real" story and what instead was invented. But surely this book has awakened my curiosity about Truman and the Swans. I would love to read In cold blood, the book the made Truman really famous in the literature world. I have to admit that I did not like Breakfast at Tiffany's at all.
I would recommend this book if you like New York, the 50s, a bit of glamour and a bit of sadness in your novels. 

Overall rating: 7,5    Plot: 7,5    Writing style: 7,5    Cover:  7

Title:The Swans of Fifth Avenue

Author: Melanie Benjamin
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Pages: 368
Publication year: 2016


Of all the glamorous stars of New York high society, none blazes brighter than Babe Paley. Her flawless face regularly graces the pages of Vogue, and she is celebrated and adored for her ineffable style and exquisite taste, especially among her friends—the alluring socialite Swans Slim Keith, C. Z. Guest, Gloria Guinness, and Pamela Churchill. By all appearances, Babe has it all: money, beauty, glamour, jewels, influential friends, a prestigious husband, and gorgeous homes. But beneath this elegantly composed exterior dwells a passionate woman—a woman desperately longing for true love and connection.
Enter Truman Capote. This diminutive golden-haired genius with a larger-than-life personality explodes onto the scene, setting Babe and her circle of Swans aflutter. Through Babe, Truman gains an unlikely entrĂ©e into the enviable lives of Manhattan’s elite, along with unparalleled access to the scandal and gossip of Babe’s powerful circle. Sure of the loyalty of the man she calls “True Heart,” Babe never imagines the destruction Truman will leave in his wake. But once a storyteller, always a storyteller—even when the stories aren’t his to tell.Truman’s fame is at its peak when such notable celebrities as Frank and Mia Sinatra, Lauren Bacall, and Rose Kennedy converge on his glittering Black and White Ball. But all too soon, he’ll ignite a literary scandal whose repercussions echo through the years

The Author:
Melanie Benjamin is the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling historical novels The Swans of Fifth Avenue, about Truman Capote and his society swans, and The Aviator's Wife, a novel about Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Her previous historical novels include the national bestseller Alice I Have Been, about Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, and The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, the story of 32-inch-tall Lavinia Warren Stratton, a star during the Gilded Age. Her novels have been translated in over fifteen languages, featured in national magazines such as Good HousekeepingPeople, and Entertainment Weekly, and optioned for film. 
Melanie is a native of the Midwest, having grown up in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she pursued her first love, theater. After raising her two sons, Melanie, a life-long reader (including being the proud winner, two years in a row, of her hometown library's summer reading program!), decided to pursue a writing career. After writing her own parenting column for a local magazine, and winning a short story contest, Melanie published two contemporary novels under her real name, Melanie Hauser, before turning to historical fiction. 
Melanie lives in Chicago with her husband, and near her two grown sons. In addition to writing, she puts her theatrical training to good use by being a member of the Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau. When she isn't writing or speaking, she's reading. And always looking for new stories to tell.

Series I love #1! Agatha Raisin - M. C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin is my Linus' blanket. I love her, her brutality and rudeness, she is so funny. Agatha is a 50 something PR guru who decides to early retire from her big London job and move to the idyllic Cotswold. However, she soon gets bored of the uneventful life of the countryside and finds herself involved in investigating crimes. She also falls in love with her neighbor, James Lacey, and  goes through a lot of hassle with him through the books. The first novel of the serie, Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death, remains one of my favourites: Agatha unintentionally finds herself heavily involved in an homicide, first as a suspect, then as unofficial investigator. Agatha is trying to impress her fellow Carsely's inhabitants and to get them to notice her participating in a quiche local contest, but because her culinary skills are not her best talent, she decides to cheat and the all situation just become hilarious. 
From book 15 onward, Agatha sets up her own official detective agency, but she doesn't lose her unorthodox detecting skills. 
Agatha's books make me laugh out loud and every time I am in need of a "light" yet enjoyable read I turn to this despotic and noisey woman, a sort of Miss Marple of our days. 
I have so far read 17 of the 27 books in the series, and my favourites are The Quiche of Death through which I first met Agatha, The Wizard of Evesham and The terrible tourist.  If you want to start reading Agatha's adventures I'd suggest you start from the beginning and follow the books' order as her personal story develops throughout the series. Agatha is a right character and if you like a bit of humor and crime, she is the woman for you! 
For a complete list of the books in the series https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agatha_Raisin

All of Agatha Raisin's books are by M.C. Beaton and published by Constable, an imprint of Little Brown Group

Monday, 23 January 2017

Book Review - You will not have my hate - Antoine Leiris

What a powerful message this little book portraits! 
Paris, France, 2015. Antoine Leiris is at home and his baby asleep in the next room, while his wife attends a concert at the Bataclan Theatre. A happy family, a couple in love, two parents in love with their baby and then it is an instant and bum, it is all gone, Antoine is a widower and the baby orphan of mother. A terrorist attack happens and nothing will ever be the same again.
In the week following the horror, Antoine writes an open letter to his wife's killers, letter which is the core of this short diary he writes to express his grief and his struggles. 

“So no, I will not give you the satisfaction of hating you. You want it, but to respond to hatred with anger would be to give in to the same ignorance that made you what you are.”

It is very difficult to review a book of this kind, because it is not a novel, it is a very personal autobiographic diary, it is a man that writes about himself. It is not fiction, it is a real horror which, unfortunately, could happen or touch closely any of us. And as a journalist, this is the way Antoine Leiris has found to somehow urge the world that hate is not the right answer to terrorism, that hate generates hate. 

"You would like me to be scared, for me to look at my fellow citizens with a suspicious eye, for me to sacrifice my liberty for my security. You have lost."

A very powerful message to terrorism: you will not have my hate, even if you killed my wife and the mother of my son, you do not deserve my hate; violence cannot be fought with hate. Personally, I admire his courage in expressing his emotions in such a public way. I do not think I could have done it. But I am sure that his little boy will appreciate reading this memory once older. 

Overall rating: 6,5    Plot: NA    Writing style: 6,5    Cover:  8

Title: You will not have my hate

Author: Antoine Leiris
Publisher: Penguin Press
Pages: 144
Publication year: 2016