Reviews

“Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut

“All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist.”

When I grabbed this book in the early hours of the morning I did not mean to actually read it. I had other plans, I had chosen something else. For some reason, though, I decided to take a look at the first sentence (who am I kidding, I always do that when I buy a new book). I guess life really does happen to us while we are busy making others plans, because I only put the book down for a nap. It was the last thing I saw before I fell asleep and the first thing I reached for when I woke up.

What is Slaughterhouse-Five about?

“All this happened, more or less.”

It’s about everything and nothing, at the same time. Kurt Vonnegut wrote it in such a brilliant way. I am still in awe. It’s so much more than what it seems to be at first. I was really not expecting this.

Billy Pilgrim leads us across the four dimensions, across time as it is and as it will forever be. Past, present and future. Always there, always ready, always now, if so you wish it to be.

“I think you guys are going to have to come up with a lot of wonderful new lies, or people just aren’t going to want to go on living.”

We do what we have to do to survive. We convince ourselves of certain truths, we tell ourselves certain stories… and we carry on, or at least we try to.

“That’s one thing Earthlings might learn to do, if they tried hard enough: Ignore the awful times and concentrate on the good ones.”

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LGBTQA+ · Reviews

“Empress of the World” by Sara Ryan

“‘It’s like there are all these people who want to be told what to do, and then there are people who want to tell them what to do…’ I say, and Battle continues, ‘- and then there are people like us. We want to know why they’re telling us to do it!'”

I fell in love with this quote. There is so much truth to it!

I was always a big fan of questioning every single thing, but I do believe this condition has gotten a lot worse ever since I finished writing my thesis on gender. It is such a big mystery though, isn’t it? How the world has come to be what it is. We could say that archeology and history, for example, try to shed some light on this matter, but at the end of the day they are interpretations. Reality is but an illusion. Our senses are lenses, mediators. This reality we acknowledge is based on our language, something that isn’t natural. Words aren’t natural, they don’t have an inner meaning. Interesting, isn’t it? Anyway…

Everything happened rather quickly, didn’t it? I think so, but still, it did have quite a lovely rhythm to it. I also quite enjoyed following the narrator’s voice, Nicola’s, as she went on this self-discovery journey.

An important detail that I quite enjoyed was Nic’s almost constant debate with Katrina about/over labels. Why do we have to be lesbians? Or straight? Or bisexual? Why can’t we just be ourselves? You know, human beings in love with other human beings. I understand that the whole labeling thing might make ‘working the field’ easier, but does it really? Some say that chaos is the opposite of labels, but who defined chaos in the first place? That is the question. We seem to fear chaos but we were the ones to define the concept, both of chaos and fear. Right…

All in all, I quite enjoyed this book.

P.S. Not only is Sara Ryan a good writer, she also has amazing taste in music 😉

P.P.S. I do believe the reason I didn’t mention Sara’s writing above was because it felt so natural… it was truly as if Nicola was talking. I think that is quite an amazing skill to have.

Reviews

“The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger

Time. Precious time. Never enough but always too much. Running out, either too slow or too fast. Of course there is time for a cup of tea. We have five minutes. That is it. That is all. Or is it? What would time be like if it were not like it currently is? How would we measure life if time, as we know it, did not exist?

This book reminded me of another I read a while back. I am pretty sure it was Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. If I am not mistaken, there comes a point in that novel when we are told that the past, the present and the future will always exist, and have always existed. The past will forever remain trapped in its present. It is right there, where it always, and as it always, has been.

If only we could go back and forth, huh?

I can see Henry’s face as the thought crosses my mind. I must have said it out loud for he is now shaking his head as he studies his book, freshly brewed coffee in hand, “be careful what you wish for“.

Both a blessing and a curse, that is Henry’s life. And his story? It is a whole new spectrum of emotions that make our ribcage feel way too small at times. And Clare… she found her other half way before they met. And she believed, she believed till her very last breath.

This book is a roller coaster. This book is life. Feels like being at a Christmas dinner with the whole family after years apart. Laughs, tears, awkward stories, embarrassing silences… This book is everything.

I found myself losing track of time as I read this. Quite ironic, wouldn’t you say? Audrey Niffenegger takes us on this journey that does not apologize for its high ups and low downs. This book is not a paper tissue being given to you so that you can wipe away your tears. Instead, it is a strong hand squeezing yours as you cry your heart out. It is a reminder that you are not alone. You have yourself. And that self, that self you call yours, is made of all the people, all the moments, all the time. And it is breathtaking.

I am truly in awe after this experience. Must get myself a copy in English. I have a feeling it will be interesting to reread.

Reviews · Uncategorized

“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

“Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.”

I had to put The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society down twice: once to have lunch and once to sleep (my eyes were giving up on me, making it all blurry). During my first break, while my mother complained that the food was getting cold, I logged in on Amazon and sent a copy of this book to one of my friends. I was not even 100 pages in and I already felt the need to share it immediately. The same happened while reading Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. I think these two books will get along just fine on the same shelf.

In one word? I would say… delicious. An irresistible dessert, I would call it, an impeccably balanced recipe. Both sour and sweet, saddening and joyful, heartbreaking and uplifting… just in the right amount. What a delight!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society shares its story by allowing the reader to go through the characters’ correspondence. I find letters to be such personal possessions. Not only do they tell a lot about their writers with what’s in them, they also tell a lot with what’s not (specially when you have access to multiple senders and recipients). It’s fantastic to witness the portraits of these characters coming together. One goes from not knowing any of them to feeling like they are family. I think that at some point I was already composing a letter in my head to send them. How wonderful is that?

There’s a little bit of everything. There’s life – and death. It’s real. And alive.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was an absolute joy to read! A wonder.

LGBTQA+ · Reviews

“After Mrs Hamilton” by Clare Ashton

I am honestly at a loss for words. However, there’s so much to say about After Mrs Hamilton… I just don’t know where to start. I am in love with this book. I could honestly start re-reading it right now. Actually, I feel like I must. I was so eager to reach to end, to connect the dots, to understand what was going on… I feel like I might have rushed the reading. I now need to slow down and give Clare Ashton’s words their time because they deserve it.

Speaking of Clare’s words, her writing is exceptionally visual. As I wrote about That Certain Something, it truly feels like you are watching a film. Better yet, it feels like you are living the film. And this one in particular is absolutely stunning. Even though the writing is rather simplistic in terms of flair, I can feel the texture of Fran’s coat under my fingertips, I can smell her perfume, I can taste Clo’s mini treacle toffee puddings with sauce inside… Sigh. Incredible indeed. It’s as if her words made a pact to dress plainly alone and stand glamorously together. It’s… enchanting. For some reason it makes me think of melted chocolate.

You will perhaps not find me quoting from this book, but you will certainly find me talking about these characters. They are so strong in my mind. The portraits Clare Ashton painted of them don’t falter, not even for a moment. They truly exist and are incredibly human. And the way they all come together… Sigh. It’s quite an experience.

I read something interesting about the intricate events that take place in this book. Someone called them unbelievable coincidences. I believe it was meant as negative feedback, but to be honest it sounded to me more like a standing ovation. For isn’t unbelievable coincidence a term we use when something not expected happens and/or surprisingly works out? To be quite honest, I am in awe of how Clare Ashton made it all work out in the end. I think I would have gotten lost writing this novel.

After Mrs Hamilton has everything. There’s mystery, desire, there’s grief, there’s love… and they come together beautifully, leaving an imprint that I believe will last for quite some time.

Giveaways · Indie Voices You Should Look Out For · Interviews

Interview & Giveaway: D.L. Orton

We had the pleasure of interviewing D.L. Orton, the author of the Between Two Evils series, earlier this year. It’s a conversation about books, writing, researching, loving, living… and the doors and windows opened by the world of science fiction.

Without further ado…


INTERVIEW


Infusões d’Alma (I): I read somewhere that the idea for “Crossing in Time” came to you at a wedding. What caused the ‘ripple effect’? What made you choose to explore and write about this idea in particular?

D.L. Orton (DLO): Who hasn’t looked back at a turning point in his or her life and wondered how things might have played out differently?

I met and fell in love with the man I’m married to when we were 28, and one of the first trips we took together was to attend the wedding of his best friend from college. I ended up seated next to my husband’s girlfriend from college (!), and the two of us hit it off right away! She and I were a lot alike, and we started comparing notes on him (to his obvious horror, lol.) By the end of the evening, it was clear that he had matured a bit from the guy she knew (and gave up when they both graduated). Since college, she had been married and divorced, and I think there was a hint of regret in her voice when she said good night to the two of us and left alone.

It was a very poignant moment for all of us: How would our lives have been different if she had held on to him, waiting for him to mature and grow into the man I had fallen in love with? And if I had met him first, perhaps in college, would I have let him go and been the one to leave that wedding alone?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, but the possibilities began to fill my head, and a book was born.

I: When one thinks of Science Fiction the word machine tends to come to mind. “Crossing in Time”, though, seems to lay the roots of the future on humankind, ‘on building and maintaining human relationships’. Is this something you intend to pursue?

DLO: Love is the most powerful force known to mankind: It wrecks kings, breaks down impassible barriers, makes us risk everything for a few stolen moments together. Love is stronger than the instinct to eat, sleep, or survive. It motivates us to kill in cold blood, die to save another, and rail against impossible odds. It brings out the best and the worst in us (and that makes for great stories!)

Having said that, I do think the future of mankind involves machines: intelligent ones that have vast knowledge, compassion, and honor. When we as humans let go of the instinct to fight and kill (and learn to value the unique spark that is intelligent life — biological or otherwise), that will mark the end of our childhood. When we start falling in love with intelligences other than our own, it will be the beginning of something wonderful. The universe is a vast, cold, and empty place. Intelligence — in any form — provides a candle against the darkness.

I: I must confess that my science days are long behind me. However, curiosity happens to be one of my many middle names and one of the many reasons why I loved “Crossing in Time”. How was the research process for writing this book?

DLO: When I first started writing, I used google to search for information: what is the most popular kind of handgun? How long does it take to die from an infection, and what are the symptoms? What happens if you use a negative value for time in a physics equation? How difficult is it to land a single engine plane without an engine (coming in book 2, lol)? What are the biological effects of radiation poisoning?

After a number of those types of searches, I started getting REALLY scary google ads in my browser!  I have since switched over to querying “incognito” (and I would definitely advise aspiring writers to do the same).

One of the most difficult parts of the book was balancing the science with the action-adventure. I work with a very talented editor, and we spent a bit of time trying to find that balance. I love science, and like you, I’m naturally curious about all sorts of stuff: physics, medicine, space exploration, swarming insects, and I could easily spend all day chasing new information on the internet. I did end up taking out a couple of chapters that contained more detailed explanations on how the time machine, time travel, and multiple universes work in the book’s universe (and I tried very hard to stick with the real limitations of physics in our universe!) I’m hoping to add them as “deleted scenes” on my website, and if you’re interested in finding out more, sign up for my mailing list (BetweenTwoEvils.com/website/sign-up/), and I’ll let you know when they’re available.

I: I read about your shower curtain, your ant, and your bowling ball. You write about the existence of different realities. What are your thoughts on the “flexible membrane,” if there is one, between reality and fiction?

DLO: I regularly find myself commenting that reality is stranger than fiction. If you’ve been paying any attention to US politics, you’ll know exactly what I mean: even the writers for “House of Cards” or “Game of Thrones” couldn’t have thought up what’s been going on with Trump!

Part of the reason books are so powerful and can change our world view is because we step into those fictional worlds and become those daring (or frightened or defeated) characters. We feel their losses and celebrate their victories. We long for the touch of a lover or despair when he’s been taken away. Good books allow us to learn and experience things that would be too dangerous, expensive, or impossible in the “real” world.

But let me ask you this: five years from now, when you look back at something that happened today, or you recall a great book that changed the way you see the world, which is more real?

I: Science is usually associated with words such as cold, logic and exact. Back in the day, women and romance in Science Fiction were seen as distractions. “Crossing in Time” not only has a female protagonist but also a love interest with a male protagonist that doesn’t erase her brilliance. How are your readers reacting to this?

DLO: The Kirkus reviewer (who must have been expecting hard sci-fi) summarized my book as “two star-crossed lovers attempt to save the world with sex” and “erotic fiction dressed—barely—as sci-fi” (and that “dressed barely” comment after bad-mouthing the wordplay in the book, lol!)

I can’t deny that reviews like the Kirkus one sting a bit (okay, they sting a lot!) because after spending thousands of hours writing the book, thousands of dollars publishing the book (copyediting, proofreading, cover design, typesetting, etc.), and way too many hours trying to get reviews for the book, it’s tough when someone tosses your work off as sordid junk.

But the good news is, most of my readers like the book, and some love it, and when readers say stuff like “it’s the best sci-fi love story of the year” or call it “clever and absolutely hilarious” make it all worthwhile!

After I received the Kirkus review, the book went on to win a couple of awards, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and made the PW “Great Indie Stars of 2015” list (one of only twelve indie novels selected in 2015!)

In the end, whether or not a reader connects with a book is a very personal (and somewhat unpredictable!) thing. My goal is to get the book into the hands of as many readers as possible and hope that some of them will connect with it (and I live to read those reviews!)

I: When asked about time traveling, you seem to be interested in going back to do your laundry (ah! I would go back to read a few books). What do you think about the possibility of visiting the future? Is that something you would go for?

To be honest, if I did go back in time, laundry would be the last thing on my list (just like it is now!). I’m more interested in finding a volunteer to go back and do the laundry. Any takers? 😉

If forced to choose between the past and the future, I’d go forward. I think it’s easy to be romantic about the past (simpler times, more relaxed, etc.), but it would be tough to live without antibiotics, running water, or the internet (and I’m well-aware that there are people TODAY who don’t have those basic necessities. We should fix that.)

I: I don’t have a favorite genre. Still, lately I don’t find myself reading much Science Fiction. However, writers I’ve come across seem to focus on traveling to different planets/galaxies instead of realities. What made you take that step?

DLO: I grew up reading Asimov, Heinlein, Le Guin, Clarke, and the rest of the sci-fi greats. I loved their world building, and the glimpse they gave me of possible futures, both good and bad. But what I love most are the characters. I can never remember book titles, and a few years down the road I struggle to remember all the plot twists, but the good characters stick with you. They change you, become a part of you. I aspire to that with my writing.

As far as science fiction, I use time travel as a plot device. It allows me to examine the characters at different stages in their lives and twist things up a bit (would you still have fallen in love with your mate if you had met ten years earlier? What about ten years later? How much is love a “timing” thing versus a “meant for each other” sort of thing?)

One of the toughest challenges with marketing the book is that it crosses genres with abandon: sci-fi, action-adventure, romance, literary, mystery, and (yes Kirkus reviewer who hated the book) some explicit sex. Real life is like that: a mingling of different genres, unpredictable but compelling (and great sex is one of the very best pleasures life has to offer.)

Bottom line: I enjoy reading books that don’t stick to some pre-defined formula, so I wrote one that doesn’t.

I: If you could have a famous scientist write herself/himself into your novel, who would you choose?

DLO: Someone who was ahead of his or her time and suffered a bit for following the science: Semmelwise (hand washing), Boltzmann (atoms), or Wegener (continental drift). Illegitimi non carborundum (don’t let the idiots get you down.)

I: This is just the beginning of your Between Two Evils series. Where are we headed next?

DLO: The next book, “Lost Time”, will follow Diego (who you may recall got in the time machine, encountered some sort of targeting problem, and disappeared). I’m hoping to have it out this summer.

Book three will pick up Tego’s story, and by the time we wind our way back to the end of book five, you’ll know who that mysterious man is at the end of “Crossing In Time“.


Lost Time is out NOW. Catch up while waiting for Down Time, the third book of the saga, coming out this winter.


Want to win a copy of the first two books of the Between Two Evils series? Just tell us below whether, if possible, you would prefer to travel to the future, past or perhaps even a different reality. Best of luck! You have until the 26th to participate.

 

Reviews

“Lost Time” by D.L. Orton

Diego was meant to go back in time to try and stop a deadly virus from killing the world’s population. Instead of waking up in the past though, he seems to have made it to the future… and in a parallel universe. Is there still hope for his mission?

I must confess I was slightly worried about starting Lost Time after having finished Crossing in Time over a year ago. All it took was one chapter, though. Honestly, it felt as if I had never stopped reading in the first place. The consistency is beyond extraordinary. Even though we’re traveling across time and space, it feels so congruent that it opens doors to probability. I believe that to be a testament to D.L. Orton’s skill. I am no longer reading from the realm of incredulity, I have comfortably moved to the one of possibility. This change creates a flow between the reader and the text that makes bonding with this story, with these characters, something that happens naturally and that requires no rationalization whatsoever.

I will never grow tired of saying how exceptionally clever this saga is. The original premise has developed into an intricate series of events that seem to flawlessly blend with one another as layers of an immense composition ironically named reality.

Imagine you are given a puzzle with an endless number of pieces. It’s overwhelming at first, you having absolutely no idea of where to start. The Between Two Evils saga is that puzzle, but with a twist. All you have to do is acknowledge the pieces and then watch them come together, becoming a whole − and what a whole it is! I don’t know how D.L. Orton does it, but there are no loose ends. Everything plays a part.

“If you don’t take the time to do it right, how are you going to find the time to do it over?”

Not only is Lost Time intriguing, it manages to be interesting without feeling at all dense. I think the epic references to pop culture, that go from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Harry Potter, and the incredibly written humor are to blame for the delightful dispersion that will keep you floating, even when submerged.

If you liked A Vision of Fire and/or The Martian, I believe you will feel right at home with the Crossing in Time and Lost Time.

Reviews

“The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K. Le Guin

I must start with a confession: this book has always scared me. Having read quite a lot about it, I guess in my head it just started growing out of proportion. Will I be able to grasp it, I couldn’t help but wonder.

The other day though, having just finished a book by Rainbow Rowell, I felt brave. I thought the time had come to see for myself what everyone else kept talking about. It was… not quite what I was expecting, but interesting nonetheless.

I found The Left Hand of Darkness to be quite easy to read. The writing has a rather enchanting rhythm to it and moments of true beauty. You can tell, right from the introduction, that there’s something really special about Ursula K. Le Guin – and it’s pretty visible, if not almost palpable, throughout the text.

About the storyline, I must say that I was expecting something a bit more… groundbreaking. The discussion of gender and androgyny is indeed curious, but it’s far from being the sun around which this novel orbits. It’s certainly a piece of the main puzzle, but I do believe if you go out of our way to find it you will end up missing quite a lot of curious details.

“Yes. There’s really only one question that can be answered, Genry, and we already know the answer… The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainly: not knowing what comes next.”

At the end of the day I would say that The Left Hand of Darkness is a novel about acceptance… and quite a beautiful love story.

Reviews

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

The House at the End of Hope Street is not a place you will consciously walk by. It’s also not a place you will acknowledge with wonder as you walk past. Instead, The House at the End of Hope Street is where you will find yourself when you are one step away from infinite darkness. Once it opens its doors to you, you have ninety-nine days to find your way. You will not have to do it on your own, though. The house and its inhabitants will help you find the strength in yourself.

Speaking of inhabitants, we are not only talking about Peggy, Carmen, Greer and Alba. The walls of The House at the End of Hope Street are covered by portraits of previous guests that now breathe through them, sharing their knowledge – and sometimes bickering with one another. There’s Sylvia Plath, Dorothy Parker, Agatha Christie, Daphne du Maurier, Virginia Woolf… Along with the ghost from the Abbot who first opened the house, they are the ones running the show.

“I thought it was supposed to take care of people, I thought it was supposed to help.”
“It does its best,” Stella says. “But it can’t save everyone. It shows people the way, it gives them a little nudge now and then, but the house can’t do everything. And some people don’t have what it takes to be happy. It’s not an easy thing, you know. It takes great courage and determination, to keep looking for light in all the darkness of life.”

I really enjoyed how Menna van Praag made the magic approachable. Even though the house did help these women, or at least tried, the steps were still the women’s to take. I believe that is why the book seems to exhale hope at every word. Even though there’s no such house in reality, authors do still talk to us through books. So maybe finding our way is not such an impossible mission…

“You’re gorgeous. You glow. You’re lit from within.”
Peggy brushes a wisp of white hair out of her eyes. “Does that illuminate all my wrinkles?”
Harry nods. “So I can see every smile you’ve ever had, I can hear the echoes of every giggle.”

Full of delicious recommendations that will certainly keep me busy for a long time, The House at the End of Hope Street is definitely a must read. There’s mystery, romance, literature, a very particular sense of humour… I believe there’s a little bit of everything for everyone. Oh, and what seems to be the world’s greatest chocolate cake.