Books About Books · Giveaways · Reviews

Giveaway & Review: “84 Charing Cross Road” by Helene Hanff

“If you happen to pass by 84 Charing Cross Road, kiss it for me! I owe it so much.”

Even though the bookshop itself is long gone, you can rest assured that I will be walking by where it stood next time I am in London. I shall buy a new copy of 84 Charing Cross Road and I shall leave it there for someone to find, a reminder of just how much Helene Hanff, even at a distance, loved the place.

You see, I feel like I too owe it quite a lot. If it weren’t for the bookshop and the wonderful people that kept it going for as long as it did, this book would not be a reality, and that’s not something I can live with. Honestly, I can no longer imagine a world without the existence of this little peculiar and hopeful family.

People brought together by books. Real people brought together by real books. It’s like witnessing firsthand a favorite meet-cute crossing the ever-changing line that both separates and connects fiction and reality. It happened. For me, it was an infusion of hope and wonder, wrapped in a collection of letters that speak of gratitude, that speak of dreams, laughs, and that sheds some tears.

These voices, these people, they become alive in your head from the moment you first meet them, from the moment you first read their words. They are a delightful bunch, let me tell you. Their company is entertaining beyond reason, and you soon find yourself involved as if you were always part of the whole scheme.

“People oughtn’t to breeze into your life and out again in ten seconds, without leaving even a name behind. As Mr. Dickens once pointed out, we’re all on our way to the grave together.”

I have yet to sit down for a couple of lifetimes and consider the concept of coincidence, but the truth is that this book has already played its wonderful magic on me. I have met someone through its pages that would have otherwise probably remained a stranger for eternity. This person from what feels like a world away wrote to me because her edition was lacking a page – we have been talking ever since.

I feel like I somehow owe it to Helene Hanff not to break this little enchanting chain. That is why we are giving away a copy of 84 Charing Cross Road this month.

To participate all you have to do is leave a comment on this post saying, “I will kiss it for you.”

Best of luck to you all, fellow book lovers. May the magical hat be on your side!

P.S. You have until the 20th of July to participate.

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Reviews

“The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Café” by Mary Simses

That’s right, and if you keep looking you’ll keep seeing more and more. That’s what it means to be an observer, Ellen. There’s always more there than you think.”

And when you don’t expect anything from a book…

I am not going to lie. I bought this book because I fell in love with its cover. That, and I seem to have a thing for fictional blueberries (yes, I am not a big fan when it comes to actually eating them). Anyway…

This could be your typical girl goes after some family secret/history, girls falls instantly in love with handsome local guy, girl leaves everything behind to be with guy that has changed her life. Honestly, that’s kind of it… but there’s so much more!

Ellen is fulfilling her grandmother’s dying wish. They were close and so the quite successful NYC attorney leaves her beloved city, and fiancé, with a two day reservation at a INN in Beacon, Maine.

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Everything starts falling apart. Between almost drowning, spending time with her savior and finding herself at a INN that doesn’t seem to correspond to her high standards, Ellen starts to questions her mission… and, after starting to learn a few things about her grandmother’s life, herself.

You’ve read this a thousand times before, you say? Well, you might. There’s something special about this one, though. This is a blueberry croissant in the middle of an ocean of muffins (you will understand if you read it… I hope).

Oh, the wonders of a great sense of humour! It’s insane how natural it all feels. It’s not made of those jokes that you know are meant to be funny, it’s just simply… hilarious. I had such a lovely time! And Ellen’s mother, she’s quite something.

I guess this book reads pretty much like one of those feel good films that leave you with a key to the universe once they are done. Suddenly you feel like you can do anything, specially baking your happiness. And truth is, you really can. Sometimes (well, most of the times, really), you are the only one stopping yourself.

Anyway, it’s time to start considering moving to somewhere in Maine. Sounds like it’s the place to be!

P.S. There’s one thing I truly appreciated about this novel. Ellen’s grandmother has written a letter apologizing to someone she loved and left behind for someone else. I was so glad to read about a female character who left because she wanted to, not because she was told to or prohibited of seeing someone else. She simply fell in love with another person. Naturally. That was quite different and refreshing and not at all dramatic. Just life, really.

P.P.S. I know it’s not easy to get along with Ellen’s personality, but she will have you laughing out loud before you know it.

LGBTQA+ · Reviews

“Unspeakable” by Abbie Rushton

I would say that Unspeakable by Abbie Rushton is first and foremost a novel about the power of belief.

Megan, the main character, doesn’t believe that everything is going to be just fine; she’s not out testing the limits of life’s goodwill for the sake of an adrenalin rush. Instead, Megan believes she did something that makes the word wrong seem like candy, she believes it down to her core and she holds onto it as if it were the only truth she will ever know. The fear obstructs her throat and she’s not able to talk about it, she’s not able to talk, at all. Then she finds love… and her voice. What words will first come out, though? What consequences will they have?

“I try touching her arm, but she flinches like there’s poison dripping from my fingers.”

It was really interesting to navigate Megan’s mind. I believe Abbie Rushton did a wonderful job showing just how self-hatred can affect a self-portrait, how it can change every color, every tone, every stroke, blending the different layers into a dark blur that becomes the face of evil.

“[The moon] sits low, almost stroking the treetops, its shadowy craters clearly visible.”

Also, the twist at the end was something that I was not quite expecting and rather enjoyed. I mean, I was expecting a twist, just not one so… twisty. It made me wonder about the other characters, though, made me wonder how much richer the novel would have been if it had been open to other minds. Not just about the end, actually, but also about the relationship between Megan and Jasmine. It felt a bit… one-sided.

It somehow reminded me of We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Here, though, something seems to be missing. I can’t quite put my finger on it.

All in all, I found it to be an interesting experience filled with moments of beyond charming writing.

“I loved the way her skin folded around her wedding ring, as if it had become a natural part of her body.”

 

Poetry · Pulitzer Prize Winners · Reviews

“American Primitive” by Mary Oliver

I don’t know if you have ever seen it, or at least heard of it, but there’s a rather famous sculpture of a naked woman bleeding light through the cracks on her body. The piece is called Expansion and is from the talented Paige Bradley. As I read American Primitive by Mary Oliver, my brain apparently couldn’t help but connect the two.

“and though the questions
that have assailed us all day
remain – not a single
answer has been found –
walking out now
into the silence and the light
under the trees,
and through the fields,
feels like one.”

Mary Oliver acknowledges the cracks. Instead of seeing them as something that makes us flawed though, she seems to celebrate them for allowing the light to shine through. For her, every moment is a matter of perspective. It all comes down to us, to the way we choose to interpret what our eyes fall upon. She seems to find splendor at every corner.

“But we were fourteen

and no way dust could hide
the expected glamour from us,

or teach us anything.”

We might all be walking around with our eyes open, but Mary Oliver sees. I couldn’t be more grateful for her poetry. It feels as if she is lending us her senses, as if she is tempting us with her senses – go out and see for yourself, it’s beautiful, even when it hurts.

“there is no end,
believe me! to the inventions of summer,
to the happiness your body
is willing to bear.”

One detail that appears to be more evident in American Primitive is Mary Oliver’s gift for creating certain textures with her words that are beyond palpable. It’s quite an experience.

If I were to describe American Primitive in one word, I believe I would go with feathers. They are soft to the touch and yet together they cover wings that lift bodies into the sky.

Reviews

“The Little Pieces of You and Me” by Vanessa Greene

I was going to wait for the paperback to come out in August, yet somehow I ended up running into the first line of the prologue and I knew that I couldn’t possibly walk away before reaching the very last line.

“The day that your life changes for ever, chances are there won’t be a sign announcing it.”

Before I go any further into The Little Pieces of You and Me, let me first tell you that Vanessa Greene’s novels seem to have a rather strange way (is it magic, I wonder) of finding me just when I most need to read them. Ever since The Vintage Teacup Club, it almost feels like we have been walking through life together, side by side. That is why I have a copy of each of the said novels on a shelf that I proudly call best friends’ shelf.

I would say that reading Vanessa Greene’s first novel was the beginning of a wonderful bond. Even though they are not sequels, as you go from one to the other, it feels as if you are truly going through the different stages of a friendship. As steps are taken forward, dark corners are acknowledged, dusted and brought to the table. There is no judgment. Instead, you will find yourself in a safe space where you can speak your mind without either being made fun of or pitied.

That said, The Little Pieces of You and Me deals with one of my biggest fears. We are no longer trying to find the courage to walk away from something we deep down inside know is toxic, as we were in The Beachside Guest House, we are now one step further in. We are dealing with the fear of knowing that we cannot walk away from something; we are trying to find the courage to stay.

I don’t know about you, but I have found myself thinking (who am I kidding, positively overthinking) about what I would do if my body decided to give up on me before my mind did. Mind you, the opposite wouldn’t be a much brighter future, at all, and it’s equally terrifying. I find myself breathing a little easier now that I have read The Little Pieces of You and Me. You see, this is one of the things I love the most about books, you go through someone else’s journey as if it were your own. You get to experience things that you would otherwise possibly go through life without acknowledging. I understand why people say that ignorance is pure bliss, but once you’re out of the box there doesn’t seem to be a way back in so we might as well talk about it.

Vanessa Greene has a gift. She has many others, certainly many that have nothing to do with writing whatsoever, but this gift in particular is of the uttermost importance – she creates safe havens where fears can be openly feared and discussed. She is aware that talking about certain matters is frightening and that sometimes we end up shutting doors to those in need of opening up due to obliviousness. There’s a kindness, a tenderness, in her novels that must not be mistaken for pity. People learn to both speak up and listen. How refreshing is that? It gives me hope. So thank you for that, Vanessa Greene, so so much.

And speaking of hope, that is one word that is key to every single novel penned by this author. No matter what her characters are going through, even when their lows seem to test the laws of nature by eliminating the harsh yet comforting existence of ground and leading to a bottomless pit, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. And we are that light, even if sometimes we have to borrow someone else’s to find our way there, back to ourselves. And that’s another key element to this, and her every, novel. Friendship. Sophie and Isla are in this together, no matter what. It’s truly beautiful to witness. And again, hope.

“Maybe I was a coward. Life can be complicated – but those complications don’t make it any less worth living – in fact, sometimes they’re the very things that make it worth living. Those little pieces are what make you, you, and me, me.”

The Little Pieces of You and Me opens doors. Not just to the outside, through lists of dreams that radiate belief and optimism, but also to the inside. It makes us look closer; it makes us find in those who surround us, including ourselves, all we need to face yet another day. If it’s always going to be easy? Certainly not. But it’s going to be okay.

I read somewhere that most of the times we go out of our way to find something that has been standing right in front of us the whole time. This is not something we should regret, but cherish. Sometimes all we need is a little distance to recognize it for what it is. I would say that The Little Pieces of You and Me is a beautifully written journey into a distance that ends up just where it started: you.

For someone who has found her way back home and has been playing tennis with the idea of uselessness and despair, this book was everything.

There will be tears and laughs. There will be books, tango, chocolate, tea and visits to the hospital, Paris, Amsterdam and Argentina. There will be love. There will be magic. You will have to want to find it, though. After all, this book is the distance.

P.S. I fell in love with Sadie and Berenice. Perhaps we will get a follow-up short story about their pasts? That would be wonderful.

P.P.S. I wouldn’t be surprised if you found yourself finishing this book on a plane. Vanessa Greene’s writing seems to inspire one not only to wonder about certain things, but also to wander.

Reviews

“Music From Standing Waves” by Johanna Craven

Originally reviewed for Whispering Stories.

I would say that Music from Standing Waves by Johanna Craven is, in itself, a musical composition. The notes, the ingredients, they have been disposed upon a previously clear sheet of paper. There’s a particular order to these elements, a rhythm that leads you through the life of Abby, the girl who dreamed of performing her way out – or perhaps her way in.

If you want to truly enjoy this novel, you cannot be afraid of getting lost in it. Better yet, you should be capable of accepting said fear and still taking one gigantic leap of faith. Sometimes that is indeed the only way of finding yourself, of finding Abby.

Music from Standing Waves feels… fleeting; there’s a very particular sense of time that I believe is a testament to Johanna Craven’s talent. You see, this book isn’t simply about Abby, this book is Abby. It’s as if the music that composes this book has been written to the rhythm of Abby’s heartbeat, hence the ups and downs, the sometimes odd changes in pace…

It all makes sense when you see her, and for that you must not judge her. It was not always easy, I must confess, but as you find yourself struggling to understand her, she is also struggling to understand herself and those who surround her.

“Exposed in that my music was a channel for every emotion that coursed through my body. I felt that by listening to me play, someone could see inside me; read my darkest secrets and deepest desires.”

I really enjoyed how Johanna Craven tied up some of the loose ends, particularly the ones related to Abby’s family. Sarah and Nick both made wrong choices, but Johanna Craven didn’t abandon them, she didn’t let them fade-out into the concept of villain. Instead, she reminded us readers, and Abby, that at the end of the day we are all human and we all make bad decisions at times.

“The music rises, takes me with it. Circles, pulls me in.”

The love for music in this book is incredible to the point of being palpable. Even though I have never listened to Matt’s Stratosphere, I don’t think I will ever be able to stop hearing it in my head.

A beautiful coming-of-age journey.

Reviews

“Bridge to Terabithia” de Katherine Paterson

“It’s crazy, isn’t it?” She shook her head. “You have to believe it, but you hate it. I don’t have to believe it, and I think it’s beautiful.” She shook her head again. “It’s crazy.”

Reading The Bridge of Terabithia is like staring at the ocean at its most peaceful. The water crystal clear, the waves – well, they come and go, nothing harsh about the way they caress the shore. The writing, there’s nothing particular about it – then again, there’s everything. It lulls you as you go from line to line.

As the story moves forward, there’s no change in pace. I believe that is why it feels like everything happens so… naturally. I mean, it’s obviously natural, it’s life taking its course, but there’s no attempt at making it… bigger. It is what it is, and it’s heartbreaking and beautiful. So so beautiful.

I cried. Oh yes, I did. I stopped quite a few times, closed the book and took a deep breath. I considered taking an actual break, putting it down for a few hours perhaps, but I felt like I owed it to Leslie and Jess to cross the bridge.

Even now, I have finished The Bridge of Terabithia a few hours ago and the memory of it brings tears to my eyes and a smile to my face, because the ending… oh, it was beyond perfect. So soft, so gentle.

I think what I am trying to say is that everyone should definitely read this book.

I feel like I am catching up because I have missed quite a few treasures by not enjoying reading as a child. The more I read, the more I am aware of every single thing I will most definitely have to leave untouched. I am celebrating the fact that The Bridge of Terabithia is not one of those things, though. I will cherish it for the rest of my life.

Reviews

“Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase” by Louise Walters

Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase was a case of love at first sight. What initially caught my attention was the cover. I know they say never to judge a book by its cover, but this book’s is special. There’s a certain mood to it… a warm melancholy of a last summer afternoon. It calls out to you. I answered. And I am so glad I did.

If I was by then sure this was the beginning of a friendship, when I read the back cover I simply knew it was bound to be a wonderful one. Books. Secondhand books. Letters and postcards found in-between the pages of said books. Inscriptions. Secrets. Lies.

The writing style is quite different from what I am used to. It seems to have come from inside the suitcase that has belonged to so many different souls. It’s rather enchanting and full of a wiseness that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

I knew you were for all time, even as there is no time.

If I had to choose one word to describe this novel I would go with kindness. This story is filled with flawed characters, humanly flawed characters. It doesn’t judge them though, it holds their heads high. It’s truly a beautiful thing to witness.

Reviews

“Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One.

What an epic adventure! I still feel the adrenalin from finishing the game even though I have met the last page quite a few hours ago. Even just thinking about the whole journey! Imagine someone rambling excitedly and at high speed about something that someone is passionate about. That is me at the moment. I have told my mother, my father and I even talked about the book with my sister on the phone. It’s so… exciting. I mean, you know from the start that the narrator is going to win but WOW. It’s truly all about the journey! And the references! Oh, the epic references!

It’s geek heaven, people. Pure geek/nerd/everything heaven. And it’s so much fun! Even though it’s full of information, and very visual, it doesn’t feel heavy at all. I think it’s because, at some point, you became part of it. You are playing the game and nothing else matters or exists. And the at first thought to be loose ends… Very well played, Ernest Cline!

A game within a game (and within a game sometimes!). It’s… epic.

And the ending. I mean, I could spend a whole lifetime talking about this book. I must stop, though.

I just… If only… Sigh.