Books We Should Be Talking About · Reviews

“The Illustrated Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis

I am credibly informed that young humans now sometimes suppress an incipient taste for classical music or good literature because it might prevent their Being like Folks; that people who would really wish to be – and are offered the Grace which would enable them to be – honest, chaste, or temperate, refuse it. To accept might make them Different, might offend against the Way of Life, take them out of Togetherness, impair their Integration with the Group. They might (horror of all horrors!) become individuals.


The Illustrated Screwtape Letters: Letters from a Senior to a Junior Devil by C. S. Lewis is one hell of a brilliant, and both extremely clever and humorous, book. I had such a splendid time reading Screwtape’s opinions and theories on human beings and our odd ways.

This book is much more serious than it seems, though. Or maybe seeing it as serious is why we really need it in our lives. We have a lot to learn from this one single senior devil. And the junior one, the one Screwtape is addressing his/its letters to? The fact that he/it is falling in love with our ways, the human ways, says a lot about us.

To be honest, I think this book should be part of a must read before attempting at living list. I believe it to be quite a helpful, and thoughtful, guide. Laughs included.

Here’s to Satire. Cheers!

P.S. This particular edition, illustrated by William Papas, is absolutely stunning.

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Books That Came Out This Month · Reviews

“You Were Here” by Cori McCarthy

“Do you guys know what a Gordian knot is?” Bishop asked. “Some people think that it represents time. A tangle of sorts, but basically, it implies that anything that happened is still happening. That the past is never gone. The future already exists. Spirals upon spirals.” He cleared his throat. “So really, everyone who was ever here is still here. In a sense.”

Grief is such a complicated topic to write about. There are as many ways of grieving as there are people. It’s awfully easy to reduce it to one single shade of grey and hurt whoever we were trying to comfort in the first place. Also, grief can be a lonely path. We make it so. We don’t want anyone else to take the fall with us, for us. Sometimes, though, while we are falling, we open our eyes and realize we were never alone in the first place.

That said, I believe Cory McCarthy did quite a brilliant job with You Were Here.

Even though Jaycee is indeed the main character, this book is definitely not just about her. She was here, yes, but she was not alone.

You Were Here is a novel about a group of young people that are brought together by the pain of losing someone. A brother, a parent, a friend, a lover… and, at the end of the day, themselves. They are all trying to cope with the loss in their own way, some by choosing not to cope at all.

“I guess that makes sense. When I saw my brother die, my whole perspective on things changed. Life has borders all over the place. I like looking for them. Feeling them out. It gets you close to the others side.”

You Were Here tells the beautiful and heart wrenching story of the journey from the fall to the landing on both feet, from the darkness of the closed eyes to the opening and acknowledgment of others.

“It was an unspoken rule, iron law in my family; you never left without saying I love you, because what if you didn’t come back?”

Wonderfully written, visually stunning and with characters so real their pain is palpable, You Were Here is a roller coaster that will make you feel everything. Rage, love, disappointment, devotion, sadness, joy… it’s an emotional marathon that will leave you breathless.

I dare you to run it.

If you enjoyed All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, Paper Towns by John Green and/or I Was Here by Gayle Forman, I most definitely recommend you reading this book. Make some space on your shelf of favourites, You Were Here is out and deserves some.

ARC provided by SOURCEBOOKS Fire via NetGalley.

Reviews

Where’d you go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

‘That’s right,’ she told the girls. ‘You are bored. And I’m going to let you in on a little secret about life. You think it’s boring now? Well, it only gets more boring. The sooner you learn it’s on you to make life interesting, the better off you’ll be.’

Where’d you go, Bernadette? was yet another case of love at first sight.

I am not going to lie. I fell in love with its cover the moment I laid my eyes on it. It’s just absolutely fabulous. It seemed to transpire a lightness that I found rather enchanting. I just couldn’t help but smile. So here we are…

It didn’t really take me long to finish this novel because the writing is fantastic to the point of becoming extremely addictive. You find yourself in the middle of this mystery, all these voices, these events that you must make sense of… And then there’s Bernadette’s voice. She is as fabulous as the cover. I absolutely adored how feisty she was. And the humour! Ah, the wonders of a well-written book…

I had so much fun looking for the woman hiding behind the big sunglasses and headscarves. And it was also an absolute pleasure getting to know her. Quite a brilliant mind, I would say. It must be one of the things she has in common with her creator, the wonderful Maria Semple.

I find it amazing how Semple brings all these quite heavy topics onto the table without falling into a bottomless pit. It seems like Bree’s voice, Bernadette’s daughter, helps keep things afloat. It’s quite fantastic to witness.

My heart started racing, not the bad kind of heart racing, like I’m going to die. But the good kind of heart racing, like, Hello, can I help you with something? If not, please step aside because I’m about to kick the shit out of life.”

I guess what I am trying to say is that you should give this book a go.

Author of the Month · Interviews

Interview: Vanessa Greene

In the spirit of the three novels, soon to be four, published by our Author of the Month, I decided to go through a couple of rituals before sitting down to write the questions for the interview with the kind Vanessa Greene.

I started by brewing some tea, loose leaf. Instead of going for the usual mug, I chose to go with a truly vintage cup given to me by my grandmother (it belonged to my great-great-great-[…]-grandmother). Then I found myself looking at plane tickets to Greece (already bought quite a few to England this year), you know, to get even more in the mood, but alas, my tea leaves advised me not to. It’s my newest hobby, reading tea leaves, and I take Aunty Flo’s interpretation dictionary very seriously (how appropriate is the name though?!). Anyway…

Without further ado, here is the interview with the wonderful Vanessa Greene. Enjoy!


 

INTERVIEW


 

Infusões d’Alma (I): After being a book editor for nearly eight years, what exactly inspired you to write your own?

Vanessa Greene (V): I was ready for a change. I’d read and enjoyed a lot of stories in those years working in publishing, and every manuscript taught me something about storytelling. I’d just turned thirty, and I suppose that was a nudge for me to revisit my childhood dreams and put pen to paper myself. I went out to Argentina, and Buenos Aires proved to be the perfect place to get creative – it’s a place full of writers, where suddenly anything’s possible.

I: What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing your novels?

V: That you only have limited control over what happens in the story. If you spend long enough getting to know the characters, they pretty much do what they please.

I: You tweeted a while back that you were writing your first strand from a male point of view. How was that experience?

V: I loved it. My new novel, The Little Pieces of You and Me, is led by two female characters, but we also get an insight into one a man who becomes very important to one of them. Stepping into his point of view was the only way I could really explore the mysteries of his present and past. It was a good challenge and hopefully I’ve pulled it off!

I: There’s a certain feeling of safety in your first two novels. In the third one though, the walls are literally falling apart. Even though it was difficult to get them back up, in the end they didn’t just settle down inside. Do you feel more daring as a writer now?

V: This is a really interesting question. Yes – with The Beachside Guesthouse I took Iona and the other women into some challenging and quite dark places, and in The Little Pieces of You and Me I do the same. It felt like a natural progression to deal with more complex themes, and thankfully readers have responded positively to the change. I feel both books have been less ‘safe’ for me as a writer, too – I’ve got closer to my own personal experiences – good and bad – and trusted in the process more, really writing from the heart. I cried a lot writing both, which I think is generally a good thing!

However, I think safety is something that will always have a place in my novels. The heroines might end up in unexpected, sometimes unsettling places – but they will always have that feeling of safety and security that true friendship brings.

I want readers to feel that they are in safe hands when they read my books, and to give them an escape from real life, but with characters who are real, and who they can connect with. We all watch the news, and hear things about the world that can be very distressing – we pick up a novel looking for something different.

I hope that my books show that even in an unpredictable world there are still plenty of ways to create a good life – that happiness is often about the small things, cultivating your friendships, being part of a community, finding the right relationships and engaging with creativity.

I: I like how it feels like we are growing with your characters, even if they are not the same. At first we were strangers meeting over a tea set, then we were out exploring tea rooms and attending weddings in France, and in The Beachside Guest House we are old friends coming back together. Where are we headed next?

V: My new novel, The Little Pieces of You and Me, is about a young woman, Isla, whose life changes in the space of a day. She’s always had a list of goals, and presumed she’d achieve them all – but then that certainty is taken away from her in an instant. Her best friend, Sophie, steps in to help her see she’s still the strong, capable woman she always was – and together they work through Isla’s list and find ways to do all the things she’s dreamed of. Along the way, Sophie’s life also changes in ways she could never have expected.

I: Your books are on my best friends shelf. Which ones are on yours?

V: I really like the idea of a best friends’ shelf. I have some beautiful hardback editions of Virago Modern Classics on mine. My first job was at Virago, as an editorial assistant, and I have very happy memories of getting to know the wonderful female authors on that list, like Zora Neale Hurston and Angela Carter.

I: Were you to share a tea set with two of your favourite characters, which ones would you choose?

V: I think I’d choose Iona and Rosa from The Beachside Guesthouse, and Isla and Sophie from my new book. These are the women who have a lot more to say about their future and I’d love to hear about their plans.

I: I know it’s definitely way too early to talk about retiring (I still have a lot of space on my shelves), but would you consider opening a beachside guest house? I would be totally in.

V: I’d love to do this! Right now I’m very settled and happy in north London, where I grew up. But I’m something of a nomad at heart – I’ve lived in various places in Latin America and being part of a different culture, and bringing something to it, is a great buzz – even better in good company. Let’s pencil it in for forty years’ time.

I: Thank you so much. I really can’t wait to read your next book!

V: Thank you for having me 🙂

Author of the Month

Author of the Month: Vanessa Greene

I woke up and made a cup of tea. White and elderflower. It’s an absolute favourite. I bought it at a wonderful tea shop the first time I visited the lively city of Münster. Back upstairs, in my bedroom that my family now calls an office because my desk is almost as long as my bed and almost every surface is covered in books, I sat down and reached for a bag of Haribo’s Smurfs. It seemed fair, you know, to have my favourite candy after a cup of my favourite tea before sitting down to write about some of my favourite books.

If we were to come up with a basic recipe for writing a novel, perhaps its success would rest upon its confection and the source of the ingredients chosen by the writer.

Vanessa Greene has found the recipe. Her bouquet of flavours isn’t translated in gourmet dishes one is afraid to touch (not that there’s anything wrong with those). Instead, it feels as if she has found our mother’s secret ingredient that makes everything taste of home. No matter where you are, where you are going, there’s a certain safety that, instead of keeping you back in comfort, holds your hand while you take your next step.

The ingredients change, though – or perhaps just the seasoning. Each novel feels like a step forward. The horizon widens as you go from The Vintage Teacup Club, her debut novel, through The Seafront Tea Rooms to The Beachside Guest House. It feels as if you are growing with them, even if the characters change. And speaking of them…

Vanessa Greene’s characters leave you half expecting to find their names on your phone’s address book once you reach the last page of the book.

I love how real, how credible, these characters are. Sometimes you can feel when an author is trying to drown you in romance so that you miss a few details here and there, but these voices are so honest, so you and me and everyone else. It’s truly hard to watch them go, to see them fade into black…

Vanessa Greene always takes the reader to such beautiful places. And there’s always as much love, friendship and hope as there is tea. What else could one ask for?

Reading Vanessa Greene is like going on a perfect holiday from where you return revitalized. It’s an escape that will certainly feel too short but utterly fulfilling. And the souvenirs you bring back… they smell of hope, taste of second chances, and last forever.

A cup of hope with friendship on the side, please. The courage you will find in yourself.

Vanessa Greene’s books are best friends. They won’t look down at you from above. Instead, they will look you in the eye, offer you a hand and suggest, “Come take a walk with me.” And said walk becomes one of those that starts early in the morning and ends up involving lunch, ice-cream, tea, dinner, and a dance.

Starting a novel by Vanessa Greene feels like running into an old friend that was away for years and yet seems to never have left. Amongst tears, laughs, cake, tea, heartbreak, passion, secrets, lies, love… it’s a friendship for the ups and downs, for the heavy truths and the white lies.

Giveaways

Giveaway: “The Vintage Teacup Club”, “The Seafront Tea Rooms” and “The Beachside Guest House” by Vanessa Greene

“And I guess there just came a point when I thought – if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

To celebrate our author of the month, and the impending arrival of spring, we are giving away a copy of The Vintage Teacup Club, The Seafront Tea Rooms and The Beachside Guest House*. It’s a Vanessa Greene bundle!

These three novels can be found on our best friends shelf. What can we find on yours? Share the love for your favourites by leaving a comment and take home a copy of this beautiful family of three (soon to be four!).

Our method of selection remains the same. We will be giving each comment a number, writing said number in a tiny piece of paper and then putting them all inside a hat.

Best of luck to you all! May you do something different.

P.S. The winner will be announced on April the 4th.

*1 Please be aware that the books will be in English.

Quotes

Currently Reading Quotes: Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Left Hand of Darkness”

From the introduction…

“Science fiction is not predictive; it is descriptive.
Predictions are uttered by prophets (free of charge), by clairvoyants (who usually charge a fee, and are therefore more honored in their day than prophets), and by futurologists (salaried). Prediction is the business of prophets, clairvoyants, and futurologists. It is not the business of novelists. A novelist’s business is lying.”

“Fiction writers, at least in their braver moments, do desire the truth: to know it, speak it, serve it. But they go about it in a peculiar and devious way, which consists in inventing persons, places, and events which never did and never will exist or occur, and telling about these fictions in detail and at length and with a great deal of emotion, and then when they are done writing down this pack of lies, they say, There! That’s the truth!”

“In fact, while we read a novel, we are insane – bonkers. (…) Sanity returns (in most cases) when the book is closed.”

“Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth.”

“In reading a novel, any novel, we have to know perfectly well that the whole thing is nonsense, and then, while reading, believe every word of it.”

Pulitzer Prize Winners · Reviews

“A Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan

I am at a loss for words. I have been completely reduced to silences. I am absolutely speechless. I am in awe.

This book is extraordinary. You find yourself being led across these intricate stories and from one to the other there are names that start sounding familiar, like memories from an extremely old past, or perhaps even from another distant life. It is absolutely breathtaking the way they come together. It feels like all these different individual puzzles have come across one another and suddenly realised that all this time they have been but pieces to a major artistic composition. It is so emotional. It goes beyond meant to bes… just iss, weres and will bes, all at the same time.

A book wise beyond its years, I would say. Absolutely extraordinary. Incredibly clever. I just… it is brilliant. You become acutely aware of the pauses, the music being much more than a mere soundtrack to existence, but existence in itself.

It has brought tears to my eyes.

Imagine a blank page. Watch it burn till all that remains are ashes that the wind then spreads for miles. That is me and the feelings I currently have for this book. I am everywhere. Past, present, future. Transformation confused for evolution. Words that lose their meanings unless when guarded by quotation marks. Define “reality”. A voice.

A panoply of inspiring everythings that became nothings and back again. Emotions. This book is bound to cause some damage to whoever reads it. The pain a reminder that we are alive and breathing, alive and breathing now, whether that now lives in the past, the present or the future.

Oh, time… Time’s a goon, right?

Poetry · Reviews

“Dream Work” by Mary Oliver

“Everywhere in this world his music
explodes out of itself, as he

could not. And now I understand
something so frightening, and wonderful –

how the mind clings to the road it knows, rushing
through crossroads, sticking

like lint to the familiar.”

It’s impossible not to notice the differences between Dream Work, Why I Wake Early and Felicity. The feeling is not of growth, in-between the lines you won’t find whispers of evolution. No, Mary Oliver is just as immense across her body of work. What seems to change is the way she perceives, the way she deals with, said immensity.

Dream Work is a deep breath that requires you to close your eyes and forget the world for just one second. Dream Work is the moment when you reopen your eyes to face a new world. Dream Work is rebirth.

“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”

There’s an odd sense of time… almost as if we are floating in someone’s conscience, where past, present and future all exist on the very same frame.

We start where the river is born. There isn’t too much water, there isn’t yet the pressure or the urgency of having to find a path. Then we reach midcourse. That’s when the fear of losing one’s identity takes shape in speed and sometimes total chaos translated in tides. The goal is to reach the ocean, to become one with it. But what does it mean? Will one stop being for the ocean to be whole?

This book feels like the acceptance of being part of something bigger and still being.

“For years and years I struggled
just to love my life. And then

the butterfly
rose, weightless, in the wind.
‘Don’t love your life
too much’, it said,

and vanished
into the world.”

A journey of self-discovery, understanding, acceptance, respect and forgiveness.

Currently Reading Quotes

Currently Reading Quotes: Sylvia Plath’s “Ariel”

“The comets
Have such a space to cross,

Such coldness, forgetfulness.”

Sylvia Plath’s The Night Dream.

“Dying
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.”

Sylvia Plath’s Lady Lazarus.

“I am inhabited by a cry.
Nightly it flaps out
Looking, with its hooks, for something to love.

I am terrified by this dark thing
That sleeps in me;
All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity.”

Sylvia Plath’s Elm.