Reviews · Uncategorized

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay” by J.K. Rowling

“My philosophy is that worrying means you suffer twice.”

I must confess I was slightly worried about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay. Mind you, my reluctance had nothing to do with its quality, but with its purpose. To be honest, it was the announcement of the four movies to follow that had me raising an eyebrow in suspicion. There’s absolutely no doubt that the Harry Potter universe is pretty much a self-selling treasure, but does that mean one should explore every tiny little corner of it? What about the space for imagination? While in general I think no one will ever be able to answer that question, in particular, concerning this one book, it could be seen as a new spark.

“Newt… I don’t think I am dreaming.”
“What gave it away?”
“I ain’t got the brains to make this up.”

I have yet to watch the movie, but I enjoyed every minute of the screenplay. Newt Scamander has officially become one of my favourite characters of this magical universe. He is so incredibly Hufflepuff – loyal, patient, dedicated. I will never be over the way he interacted with the beasts, more his friends than anything else, and also with Jacob Kowalski, never considering him to be any less for being a Muggle/Non-Maj. His spirit made me think of the word chances, endless ones.

“Whatever it is, one thing’s clear – it must be stopped. It’s terrorizing No-Majs, and when No-Majs are afraid, they attack. This could mean exposure. It could mean war.”

J.K. Rowling was yet again able to create characters that are almost impossible not to bond with, and a villain that is relevant beyond words. Also, I believe the bridge brought up to connect the narratives feels consistent, smooth – was I the only one grinning at the mention of Dumbledore? To be honest, I don’t see how she is going to expand this into four other screenplays, but if anyone can do it, it’s certainly her.

P.S. How magnificent was Queenie Goldstein? She is right up there with Newt Scamander. She doesn’t have magic, she is magic. Bless her!

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Reviews

“Today Will Be Different” by Maria Semple

“Lying in bed this morning, I had set the bar laughably low: look people in the eye, get dressed, smile! It should have been a Sunday drive. Then that prankster Reality appeared in the pickup truck ahead of me and started tossing watermelons out of the back. And it wasn’t even one o’clock!”

Eleanor Flood chose today to change the life she fell into. She was once a distinguished illustrator in New York City, but then marriage and motherhood delivered her a script for a rather particular role and she took it as a whole without questioning. A book deal arose from memories tainted of avoidance. It has been eight years and Eleanor Flood chose today to change the life she fell into, but life was already happening while she was busy making other plans.

“I have an opinion, therefore I am. My stance? I have no opinion, therefore I am superior to you.”

I believe I was about fifty pages in when a friend messaged me to ask how I felt about Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple. I had been publicly counting the days for its release, unrelentingly talking about how I just had to read it as soon as it came out. This friend was present when I found a copy at a bookstore in Covent Garden and then proceeded to hug it. I replied with, “I understand, but I don’t understand”.

Trying to make sense of things, of people, is both a blessing and a curse. We don’t necessary make sense, and people certainly don’t owe me anything, let alone making sense, but one would think that by having access to their unabridged thoughts the pieces would somehow find their way to one another. I would like to think that Eleanor Flood is/was on a self-preservation mode. That was what kept me going, to be honest.

“‘That’s the thing about hard times,’ I said. ‘Generally speaking, one survives.’”

There is absolutely no doubt that Maria Semple is a clever writer, an incredibly skilled and witty author. Today Will Be Different is full of humor, dark humor, non-bullshit humor. It’s a well-written book, craftily divided to keep the reader interested. I wouldn’t call it endearing, I don’t think that was ever one of this book’s goals, but I would certainly call it intriguing. Navigating reality through someone else’s eyes is always interesting, but when that someone seems to be looking at the world from a completely different angle, it’s an experience.

Oh, and there were details that were absolutely extraordinary. The moment Eleanor talks about loss, for example, how it affects the way you see things, taste things, almost as if a new filter is installed and suddenly you acknowledge minutiae that wasn’t there in the first place.

“I knew then: If underneath anger was fear, then underneath fear was love. Everything came down to the terror of losing what you love.”

If I had to describe this book in one quote, that would be it. If these past few centuries have, or should have, taught us anything, is that fear can be used as a weapon, against ourselves, against others, against the world. It’s a two-edged sword, and lately we seem to be focusing mostly on the one edge that has us throwing stones from under our own glass roofs.

Eleanor Flood is who she is, unapologetically so. If she comes up with some questioning ideas, some doubtful reasoning? Sure, but don’t we all? It’s refreshing how she calls herself out on it.

Today Will Be Different might be slightly chaotic, but not without reason. Oh, and so unexpectedly poignant.

Giveaways

Giveaway: “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay” by J.K. Rowling

December is right around the corner, but we couldn’t simply let go of November without acknowledging its particular, and rather enchanting, soul. Is there a better way to celebrate this blending month than by giving away a copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay? Probably, but we are giving this theory a go.

So if you would like to take home a copy of J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay, leave us a comment with a title that you are looking forward to read. You have until the 4th of December to participate.

Best of luck to you all!

P.S. The winner will be announced on the 5th.

Reviews

“The Witch House of Persimmon Point” by Suzanne Palmieri

“This book may not be for you. I wrote this book for me. An exorcism of my own demons. My own experiences placed inside a fictional landscape that is safe. For me. But maybe not so safe for you, my dearests.”

I remember writing that The Witch of Bourbon Street was a hurricane. Well, The Witch House of Persimmon Point comes with a warning from Suzanne Palmieri herself. It’s life.

This book knows its pages owe you nothing, but it still offers you everything. There is a price to pay though. As it opens itself to you, it compels you to do the same. There will be no bonding from a distance, I am afraid, but if you allow yourself to put on the shoes offered to you, you will feel every single word. It’s painful, you will burn, but you will be reborn from the ashes.

“No, I want you to tell me so I can imagine it. It’s realer that way.”

I am not going to say I was not expecting this, because if there is something Suzanne Palmieri has taught me with her books is that anything can, and most definitely will, happen. Still, this was one of the rawest books I have read this year. There is no sugarcoating for the sake of the reader’s heart. This book is what it is, brave beyond words, some might say even beyond reason. That is where its power resides. People tend to think of exposition as vulnerability, weakness. This book revels in it, finds its strength in stripping itself of all the masks and acknowledging its core – I see you.

“Time doesn’t stop for tragedy or elation; it plods onward, always onward, for the living and sometimes even for the dead.”

Suzanne Palmieri’s writing is at its most powerful. It’s almost violent, but not without a purpose and not without its grace – a feather acknowledging its weight, a rose falling in love with its thorns. The honesty of it left me breathless. Oh, and the tenderness, particularly between Anne and William… Sigh. Suzanne Palmieri’s books are living proof that beauty is everywhere, you just need to want to see it, to be ready to face it.

I would say The Witch House of Persimmon Point is a fearless book – it is not without it, but it accepts, inhales, its existence.

“Life is about each other. A sum total of the impact you had on others. A collection of beauty. A retrospective. It is not changed or affected by the circumstances of the end. God, if only we all knew this epic truth. Each day, each breath inside a day, is a new moment to build love.”

There is one particular idea that had me closing the book to wonder. The colors retiring, almost as if slowly draining from the world due to being ignored over the fear that the end will taint everything else. How hopeful is it that it seems to be Maj’s favorite? It made my heart swell.

“So, leave your worries with your shoes and make a run for the ocean.”

The Witch House of Persimmon Point is a roller coaster with a delightful to be continued − I can’t say ending because part of Suzanne Palmieri’s magic is the life she breathes into these people, making them beyond real.

Maj is out there somewhere painting, introducing shades back into a world that now more than ever needs them. Oh, and Byrd… her voice is extraordinary and I can’t imagine her ever not existing. These stories, these disturbed and disturbing women, brought them here. I am grateful for the middle.

Goodreads Choice Award · Reviews

“Just One Day” by Gayle Forman

“What if Shakespeare had it wrong?”

How is one supposed to carry on like nothing has happened when there’s a book out there with that question as a first line? All the awards to you, Gayle Forman.

I am rather speechless, to be honest. What to say? This book hits home in more ways than one. It’s about feeling lost and soon realizing that you are actually starting the process of finding yourself. It’s about accepting that process as a journey to enjoy instead of a destiny to reach. It’s about changing and understanding that you are just learning who you are, accepting who you are, all throughout life. At every break of dawn a new breath, a new negotiation of a self that doesn’t ever stop evolving. And so much more.

“Oh, honey, have you learned nothing from these plays? Ain’t such a line between faking and being.”

Beautifully written. Splendidly well developed and built as one. And Shakespeare! And Amsterdam, Paris, London… And the spirit of travelling… and all the stains that come with it.

I would say Gayle Forman outdid herself. Then again, I think that’s what she does. Always taking a step forward. Never standing still. It has been an absolute pleasure to walk with her.

Thank you, Gayle Forman. Thank you so much. For everything.

Goodreads Choice Award · Reviews

“Holding Up the Universe” by Jennifer Niven

“I know. I get it. It’s easy to give everyone what they want. What’s expected. The problem with doing this is you lose sight of where you truly begin and where the fake you, the one who tries to be everything to everyone, ends.”

Libby Strout and Jack Masselin are two teenagers trying to make sense of the world, trying to recognize themselves for who they are and not for the shadow they cast. While Libby seems not to know how to be anyone but herself, Jack seems to survive on exactly the opposite, on being everyone but himself, at least when in public. A bad decision born from a good intention brings them together and they find themselves in each other.

“My mom used to say sometimes it’s actually about the other person and you just happen to be there. Like sometimes the other person needs to learn a lesson or go through an experience, good or bad, and you’re just an accessory in some way, like a supporting actor in whatever their scene happens to be.”

I would say that Holding Up the Universe is, first and foremost, a novel about navigating and surviving the world of expectations, a novel about growing into our own skin amongst people who keep trying to mold us into being what they think of us, what they want and need us to be. A novel about dreaming, I would call it, about waking up and still wanting to leave the bed. A novel about hope.

I must confess I was rather nervous because of how much All the Bright Places meant to me – oh, hello there expectations. I needed not to worry though. Jennifer Niven delivered yet another beautifully written story that has the reader bonding with the characters over their scars, their fears, their wishes, dreams and desires, over trying to survive in a society that wants to label them and chain them to particular boxes, categories. I love how this connection finds roots in everything but pity.

“It’s been my experience that the people who are most afraid are the ones who hide behind mean and threatening words.”

I think this novel is beyond relevant, but recent events have made it even more so. Fear has had a supporting role since the beginning of times, and all through History, but lately it seems almost as if the script has been revised and fear has been promoted to the main character. Instead of helping the world take a step forward, it seems to have it taking a step back, creating distance, spreading an avoidance policy that has hatred filling the void.

“She believed that situations and people were almost never black-and-white.”

At the end of the day we are all human. Everything is a matter of perspective and we have a say in how we look at things, from where we try to comprehend them, we have a choice. It’s not always easy to open our eyes, to refuse to be led by hurt. We can’t forget though that words have no inherent meaning, we are the ones to give them power. While we have to teach people to think before speaking, we also have to learn how to listen.

“How can something so final happen in an instant? No preparation. No warning. No chance to do all the things you planned to do. No chance to say goodbye.”

I would say that Holding Up the Universe is a novel about love, yes. Not just about finding, recognizing, people who love you, but also about learning to love yourself.

P.S. I didn’t want to address the girl-needs-boy-for-validation narrative that could be seen here, but I think perhaps I should. Libby never said she needed a boy, but she wants love, she wants company and understanding. Who are we to judge her? As long as it makes her happy and doesn’t have her attacking anyone…

Books About Books · Reviews

“Eine Bibliothek der Weltliteratur” by Hermann Hesse

Quite in the same way as I did not expect Kant to be amusing, I certainly did not expect Hermann Hesse to be this… approachable. Yet again I seem to have dived into someone’s body of work without beforehand reading anything about them. I mean, I had heard of Hesse before, of his brilliance, but I had never heard a word about his tone, his writing. Let’s just say I have ordered a copy of Siddhartha and will be searching for some sort of biography soon (any recommendations?). I am sure his fiction will sound different from his essays, but I really enjoyed his voice, or at least the one from the translation that somehow found its way to me.
“I’m always so ashamed when I discover how well-read other people are and how ignorant I am in comparison.”
I thought that the feeling so straightforwardly articulated above by the wonderful Helene Hanff would come as a consequence of going through this collection of considerations, but I am pleased to report that Hesse made me feel completely at home. It read almost like a conversation, really, and quite an enjoyable and enlightening one.
Goodreads Choice Award · Reviews

“The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” by Gabrielle Zevin

“Why is any one book different from any other book? They are different, A.J. decides, because they are. We have to look inside many. We have to believe. We agree to be disappointed sometimes so that we can be exhilarated every now and then.”

Every now and then, more often than not when I am going through one of my sporadic yet maddening not sure what to read, if anything phases, I wonder why I do it, why I read. Well, this is it. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is it.

A.J. Fikry is an Edgar Allan Poe enthusiast, a specialist of sorts, turned bookseller by the heart of Nic, a woman of poetry with a particular, peculiar and yet endearing thing for vampires. Together they open Island Books, the only bookstore in Alice Island. Then life happens, and it could have been the end had life not happened again… and again, following no particular storyline, having no consistent plot. Had it been a novel and not his own life, he would have probably thrown it at a wall. To be fair, he does try, but it doesn’t stick.

Commonly written off as a snob for his specific taste in literature and awkward-mistakenly-taken-for-standoffish behavior, the epic tale of A.J. Fikry’s life is told through a list of short story recommendations… and I’m afraid that is all I’m willing to say, because I don’t want to end up disclosing by mistake one of the many little revelations that make this book the treasure that it is. I would like future readers to face it as a stranger and have the pleasure of watching it grow into something possibly as familiar as an old friend.

“They had only ever discussed books but what, in this life, is more personal than books?”

Gabrielle Zevin’s writing is… charming. It doesn’t stand out, it doesn’t shout look at me, how magnificently tailored I am. Instead, it focus its attention on the characters’ voices, giving them a physicality that is almost, if not truly, palpable. If that’s not a gift, I don’t know what is.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is one of those books that blends with reality in such a way that it makes it almost impossible for the reader not to blend with it. These people become family and you get to know their little quirks and that’s how you feel it, you feel it happening. I found myself putting the book down for five minutes at a time, half expecting, daring, fate to change. It didn’t. Oh, but how I appreciated, loved, every moment spent in the company of this book. Quoting A.J. Fikry himself, “Every word is the right one and exactly where it should be.”

As is by now evident, I loved every single thing about this book, but there’s an idea in particular that has my heart full of wonder – life as a collection of works instead of a novel. I needed this. Not making sense as a whole is perhaps what makes sense. After all, is there such thing as linearity when it comes to life? We are made of moments, are we not?

“In the end, we are collected works.”

To every book lover out there, if you haven’t read this, DO IT. You won’t regret it.