Sunday, September 25, 2016

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The Woman on the Orient Express, Lindsay Jayne Ashford (Review)

The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford

Set in 1928, this novel follows the adventures of the famous Agatha Christie as she tries to escape from herself and the London society. She decides to travel on the Orient Express all the way to Baghdad to get rid of her thoughts about her recent divorce from Archibald Christie. The beginning of the book revolves around her nervous breakdown and the impact it had on the public press given that her disappearance and temporary memory loss after having learned that her husband was cheating on her and wanted a divorce were considered somewhat of an embarrassment.

On the one hand, Agatha needs a break because gossiping was quite common at the time, especially in London’s high society. On the other hand, the author knows that she will have the chance to discover new things that will probably be interesting enough to be included in one of her next novels. While on the train, the mastermind meets two ladies, and both have interesting stories to tell. Nancy Nelson is an unhappily married woman who wants to escape her husband but has little to no prospects in Baghdad. She hardly knows how she will be able to survive in an unknown environment, where there doesn’t seem to be anything expecting her. Katharine Woolley is a unique character that I very much enjoyed, especially as she is strong, willful, and rather masculine, to a certain extent. Katharine shares the same room with Agatha, which is why the two women manage to strike up a friendship. Agatha, traveling by the name of Mary Miller, has no idea that these two ladies have secrets of their own, which she will discover later on.

The book is focused both on the Orient Express journey and the events that occur when the three women eventually reach Baghdad. A good portion of the novel is set in Ur, where various archeological diggings are being performed. People who read Christie’s autobiography might be bothered by certain inadvertencies such as the fact that, in reality, the author doesn’t meet Max Mallowan, her second husband, until much later, when she undertakes her second trip to Mesopotamia.

Personal thoughts

I swear that this book was crafted perfectly. Of course, it all depends on one’s literary taste, but for me, it was just the right choice at the right time, particularly as I am currently traveling through Britain and for the time being, the English accent is the only one I can hear around me. Obviously, I am fascinated by Agatha Christie and have read more than forty pieces of her work, including her 700-something-page autobiography (twice!). I do admit that there are several historical liberties that the author had to take in order to make the book more attractive, but I honestly wasn’t bothered by any. Another reason I warmly recommend the novel is that it manages to be character-driven in spite of the fact that there are actually three characters that all work together in defining and sketching the personal life of Agatha Christie. Besides, I feel obliged to be honest and say that I was overwhelmed by a fuzzy, comfortable feeling while reading The Woman on the Orient Express and after having heard the author’s voice in a BBC interview, it was like the lady herself was speaking to me, at times.

As for the writing style, in all truthfulness, I have nothing bad to say about it. I thought that this novel would be a bit cheesy or too romantic for my taste, but it turned out to be a pleasurable read. It wasn’t overwritten in the least and it seems to me like Lindsay Jayne Ashford invested a lot of time in research.

I have to thank NetGalley and the publisher for offering me an electronic copy of this book to review. It’s one of the best novels I had the chance of reading this year, which only makes me happy.

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Continue reading The Woman on the Orient Express, Lindsay Jayne Ashford (Review)

Friday, September 16, 2016

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Life After Coffee by Virginia Franken

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for giving me the chance of reading an electronic ARC of Life After Coffee!

What's this book about?

Amy O'Hara is a buyer for a company in the coffee industry. Seeing how she is forced to travel all the time, there is no point in her trying to focus on finding a work-life balance. She has none to speak of because she leaves her two children with her husband back at home, in Los Angeles, while she consistently searches for the perfect coffee bean, the one that can save them all from extinction. Just when she is about to make this discovery, she gets sacked. That's when she finds out that her family life isn't all fun and games, and that she will have to make a commitment and spend considerably more time with the kids and with her spouse, at least for the time being. All of the sudden, she finds herself at the mercy of her children, one of whom is a needy toddler and the other is trying to cope with his behavioral issues. Both Billy and Violet have suffered a great deal due to the constant absence of their mother, and that can be seen in the way they interact with the people around them, be they individuals they meet in the street or other kids of their age they come in contact with at kindergarten.

Amy has always been looked down at because of her busy schedule. Now, she discovers that many of the homemakers living in the same neighborhood have been eyeing her husband for a while. But this is not the biggest problem that's on her list because she'll have to deal with a lot more than trying to fend the attacks of other women. Since her husband, Peter, isn't employed, she has a tough time paying the mortgage. What's more, Peter doesn't seem to understand that working on his screenplay can pay the bills. Eventually, Amy touches base with one of her ex-boyfriends to try to get Peter a job. That's when things really start to become complicated...

Personal impressions

I have to say I wasn't particularly impressed with the beginning of the novel. It didn't seem to me like Amy had made the right choices in her life, but who does? Fortunately, I was patient enough to give it another chance, and once Amy started spending more time in LA, I began to appreciate her efforts. Some of the parts in this book were hilarious, mainly because the main character is completely out of touch with what has been happening to her children. The same goes for her husband's plans, of which she had no idea. Once I read about 30% of the novel, I found it very hard to put it down. Luckily, I was traveling to Birmingham, UK, and spent many hours in transit, which fortunately gave me the chance to finish the book. All in all, it was a well-written title that I enjoyed thoroughly. Also, I liked the ending although I don't want to give too much detail about it so that you hopefully get a chance to read Life After Coffee by Virginia Franken, as well.

Is it worth reading?

Without a doubt, Life After Coffee is an enjoyable read particularly for individuals who are trying to cope with managing their busy schedules and the needs of their families.

Check out other reviews about Life After Coffee on Amazon!
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Saturday, September 10, 2016

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100 Of David Bowie's Favorite Books

We lost many fantastic artists this year, and two of the ones that come to mind right off the bat are Prince and David Bowie. Bowie will always be a legendary pop culture icon, whether we're talking about his influence on music, film, or fashion. Recently, many people have started to look into his tastes as they have become aware of the fact that the artist was a voracious reader. It is said that in certain time spans, he used to read a book per day. In spite of what some might think of his literary preferences, the fact of the matter is that Bowie appreciated hard lit, in that he didn't make any sacrifices with regard to how much time it would take him to finish a book. After all, not all modern bookworms are gifted with enough patience to pick up The Iliad by Homer.

Geoffrey Marsh and Victoria Broackes, two curators, put together a list of one hundred books that were close to David Bowie's heart; this compilation was part of an exhibition entitled "David Bowie Is", which took place at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2013. Over time, the selection was featured by well-known online magazines such as mentalfloss or Mashable. We'd like to know how many of the books on the list you've managed to read yourself. Don't hesitate to drop us a note in the comments, and if your time allows you to, be sure to include a memory you have of one of David Bowie's songs. We'll bold the titles that we were able to sink our teeth into, just so you know what we've had the chance of reading on the list.

1. Interviews With Francis Bacon by David Sylvester
2. Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse
3. Room At The Top by John Braine
4. On Having No Head by Douglass Harding
5. Kafka Was The Rage by Anatole Broyard
6. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
7. City Of Night by John Rechy
8. The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
9. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
10. The Iliad by Homer

11. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
12. Tadanori Yokoo by Tadanori Yokoo
13. Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin
14. Inside The Whale And Other Essays by George Orwell
15. Mr. Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood
16. Dictionary Of Subjects And Symbols In Art by James A. Hall
17. David Bomberg by Richard Cork
18. Blast by Wyndham Lewis
19. Passing by Nella Larsen
20. Beyond The Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspective by Arthur C. Danto

21. The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes
22. In Bluebeard’s Castle by George Steiner
23. Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd
24. The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness by R. D. Laing
25. The Stranger by Albert Camus
26. Infants Of The Spring by Wallace Thurman
27. The Quest For Christa T by Christa Wolf
28. The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
29. Nights At The Circus by Angela Carter
30. The Master And Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

31. The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
32. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
33. Herzog by Saul Bellow
34. Puckoon by Spike Milligan
35. Black Boy by Richard Wright
36. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
37. The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea by Yukio Mishima
38. Darkness At Noon by Arthur Koestler
39. The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot
40. McTeague by Frank Norris

41. Money by Martin Amis
42. The Outsider by Colin Wilson
43. Strange People by Frank Edwards
44. English Journey by J.B. Priestley
45. A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
46. The Day Of The Locust by Nathanael West
47. 1984 by George Orwell
48. The Life And Times Of Little Richard by Charles White
49. Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock by Nik Cohn
50. Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll Music by Greil Marcus

51. Beano (comic, ’50s)
52. Raw (comic, ’80s)
53. White Noise by Don DeLillo
54. Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm And Blues And The Southern Dream Of Freedom by Peter Guralnick
55. Silence: Lectures And Writings by John Cage
56. Writers At Work: The Paris Review Interviews edited by Malcolm Cowley
57. The Sound Of The City: The Rise Of Rock And Roll by Charlie Gillett
58. Octobriana And The Russian Underground by Petr Sadecky
59. The Street by Ann Petry
60. Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

61. Last Exit To Brooklyn by Hubert Selby, Jr.
62. A People’s History Of The United States by Howard Zinn
63. The Age Of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby
64. Metropolitan Life by Fran Lebowitz
65. The Coast Of Utopia by Tom Stoppard
66. The Bridge by Hart Crane
67. All The Emperor’s Horses by David Kidd
68. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
69. Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess
70. The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos

71. Tales Of Beatnik Glory by Ed Sanders
72. The Bird Artist by Howard Norman
73. Nowhere To Run: The Story Of Soul Music by Gerri Hirshey
74. Before The Deluge by Otto Friedrich
75. Sexual Personae: Art And Decadence From Nefertiti To Emily Dickinson by Camille Paglia
76. The American Way Of Death by Jessica Mitford
77. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
78. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence
79. Teenage by Jon Savage
80. Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

81. The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard
82. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
83. Viz (comic magazine, early ’80s)
84. Private Eye (satirical magazine, ’60s – ’80s)
85. Selected Poems by Frank O’Hara
86. The Trial Of Henry Kissinger by Christopher Hitchens
87. Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes
88. Les Chants de Maldordor by Comte de Lautréamont
89. On The Road by Jack Kerouac
90. Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder by Lawrence Weschler

91. Zanoni by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
92. Transcendental Magic: Its Doctrine and Ritual by Éliphas Lévi
93. The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
94. The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
95. Inferno by Dante Alighieri
96. A Grave for a Dolphin by Alberto Denti di Pirajno
97. The Insult by Rupert Thomson
98. In Between the Sheets by Ian McEwan
99. A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1890-1924 by Orlando Figes
100. Journey Into the Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginzburg

Image credits: Pixabay
Continue reading 100 Of David Bowie's Favorite Books

Friday, September 2, 2016

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5 Apps for Reading

5 Apps for Reading

Since eBooks, fan-fiction communities, audio books and writing platforms have become a common sight nowadays, there are more ways than ever to publish or read a great story without ever holding a physical copy of it. Here are just a few places you can go to, to enjoy some high-quality storytelling:
Many readers only know Kindle as Amazon’s handheld eBook reading device, but you can also get Kindle for free as an app for Windows, iOS, and Android as well as various other platforms.
While reading books on your PC or Laptop might somewhat defy the purpose of an actual eReader, it is a great alternative for people who don’t want to buy such a device but still need to read certain books, which are only available (or much more affordable) as eBooks. Also, nothing is stopping you from installing it on your mobile device, which turns your smartphone or tablet into an improvised Kindle.

Kobo is an app for nearly every device and operating system, which works much like Amazon’s Kindle app.
The account and software come free, and you can buy your eBooks out of a library of over 5 million titles and sync them easily between all your devices.
They even sell their own eReaders, just in case you prefer that to your phone or tablet.

This one is especially appealing to kids (and their parents). Tales2Go aims to foster children’s vocabulary as well as their interest in reading, by offering a vast library of audio books.
The special thing about it is that you don’t have to buy every single book, but rather gain access to the whole collection for the monthly fee. There is a 30-day free trial available, in case you want to check it out.

If you’re into fan-fiction, you must be familiar with FFN. They are one of the big names in fan-fiction and have been around since the late 90’s.
With more than 2 million users and an enormous database of stories, you are sure to find the coolest expansions for your favorite universe.
There is also a mobile version so you can enjoy your fanfics on the go.

Full disclosure: this one is my own baby, but it fits perfectly into this article. Belletristica (or Belle, as the community calls it) is an online platform for readers and writers alike.
One special thing about Belle, which I personally love, is the gamification aspect. For example: for everything you do (publishing, reading, commenting, or even just chatting) you get small amounts of Fairy Dust, which works exactly like experience points do in roleplay games. Additionally, there are medals, seasonal challenges and many other things to explore. Also, it is entirely free, and it will always stay this way.
It’s fully responsive and designed to feel like an app on mobile devices. Also, an actual Belle-app is planned for early 2017, so you might want to keep an eye on it.
About the Author
Ben Wendtner is an Austrian author and the creator of the online writing platform Belletristica, a place to publish, enjoy and chat about written words of all kinds.

Image credits: Pixabay
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