Affections: A Novel – Rodrigo Hasbún , Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

Exceptional

Affections is an intriguing work of historical fiction based on true events following the once- close Ertl family. Hans, the patriarch, was a Nazi propaganda cinematographer, and the family fled Munich and arrived in La Paz, Bolivia in 1955 to start a new life.

Hans, who was also a mountaineer in Germany, set out on an ill-conceived expedition through the Amazon rainforest to find the lost city of Paititi. This is where the story begins. Two of the daughters, Monika and Heidi accompany him, and learn a lot about their father during this time. What occurs during this trip explains a lot about Han’s motives and personal character.

The story, which expands decades, doesn’t stop there, though. Each chapter is from the perspective of one of the three daughters, with a few other perspectives sprinkled in. Each daughter has her own issues. The eldest, Monika suffered from constant panic attacks as a teenager and later married a man she didn’t love. Her story culminates with her involvement in Che Guevara’s National Liberation Army.

The middle daughter, Heidi, always felt that she lived in Monika’s shadow and doesn’t feel as comfortable in Bolivia. Trixi, the youngest and closest one to their mother, forgoes much of her own happiness, and keeps trying to bring this estranged family together.

Affections is a dark but rich story about personal and family turmoil as each member tries to find their own place in their new world. Author Rodrigo Hasbún keeps the reader in suspense throughout the entire story; personally, I was hooked at every page. In fact, each incident kept lingering in my mind. The cool, detached tone adds to the story, as well as the vivid landscape and complex characters. Even though the book is a slim 145 pages, I didn’t find any element lacking.

This intense novel is a must-read and literary gem.

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Only Human (Act One): The Pooka’s Tales: Speak of the Devil – Leigh Hollan

(Reviewed by Jeyran Main)

Exceptional

Only Human is a fantasy novel written in a magical realism. The story is about an Irish fairy. He has magical abilities and uses it to fool humans. He has a very funny take on everything. The story is about witches, humans, Pookas, and demons, a combination that truly provokes fantasy fans and was enjoyable to read.

The Irish fairy is a Pooka and he is saved by a priest named, Patrick. The priest asks him to tell stories about his past and since the fairy is cursed, he remembers everything. At first, it was hard to get into the world. However, once I settled in, it was a wonderful experience. The book wishes to emphasize on the human weakness, and I believe it was filled with human challenges, which made this read to be special.

The story was written in the first-person narrative and since I read it through hard copy, I also enjoyed the sufficient spacing, formatting and, the style of binding for the book. The pace was steady and the characters were filled with personality.

The one thing that stood out to me was the author’s style of writing. I believe placing everything aside, where a fantasy novel is being told, the reader is mostly imagining its descriptive world and is wondering in this created space. Therefore, emphasis on perfecting this imagination is vital to the success of the story. The author succeeded in creating this world and also brought out an additional take on the story.

What could have improved was character development but I believe, that was due to the fact that the book was a novella.

I recommend this book to fantasy readers and people who enjoy stories being re-told.

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Illegal: a true story of love, revolution and crossing borders – John Dennehy

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

Exceptional

“For the first time in my life I know exactly where I want to be. I have found my home in the shadow of an Andean volcano in Ecuador. I’m about to move in with the woman that I love, and I’m directly involved with a revolution that’s not just changing my adoptive nation but changing me.”

However, this was all to change along with John’s idealist view of national borders.

John Dennehy , an American college student , was disillusioned with his country after the U. S. invaded Iraq. After George W. Bush’s reelection, he felt that he could no longer stay in his country of birth. He chose to move to South America because of the countries’ continual resistance to American capitalism.

He found a job online teaching English in Cuenca, Ecuador. He immediately fell in love with the culture and people. He also fell in love with a particular woman, Lucia, with whom he had a volatile relationship.

John didn’t believe in national borders and refused to apply for a work visa. Instead he chose a travel visa, where he had to leave the country every ninety days in order to return. He also participated in farmers’ and workers’ protests against free trade agreements.

Unfortunately the results of the “revolution” didn’t turn out the way he envisioned. The new leaders continued the  corrupt policies of their predecessors. Also a strong wave of nationalism swept the country. The latter didn’t dissuade him as John was deported, and continued to illegally cross borders, even at the risk of serving jail time. During all of this, he found that his relationship with Lucia was full of lies and deception.

Illegal is a true, personal story of love for a country and love for a woman. We learn how this naïve young man handles his disappointments, unwilling to give up on his dream. This is even to the point of justifying his unscrupulous actions towards others in order to keep this dream alive. John also lets us explore the fascinating culture and changing political climate of Ecuador and Colombia along with him.

The structure of the book and the writing style also keeps us engaged, as we’re not sure what will happen next and how this will all affect John in the end. I appreciate that he doesn’t make excuses for himself, and retells his story in a pragmatic way.

What are John Dennehy’s views on the future of the world, globalism and national borders now? You’ll just have to read this fascinating book for yourself.

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Dennis and Greer: A Love Story – Molly Gould

(Reviewed by Jeyran Main)

Exceptional

Dennis and Greer is a nonfiction love story. It contains a collection of love letters and journals saved between two college students during the Vietnam Era. The story is very heartfelt and beautiful, making it feel like it is a fictional story. The horrors of war and how these two lovers encounter it is truly amazing.

The letters are found fifty years after and what transpires is a strikingly real story, making the reader ponder after it is over. The story is set in the 1960’s and when Greer’s daughter finds these letters, she then enters a world she never knew her mother had gone through.

The other intriguing factor about this book is its character development. Dennis and Greer are not the typical loved-up couple you see in Hollywood. They face trouble and their long-distance relationship does take the toll with time. Dennis is hesitant and less expressive in his feelings where Greer is the opposite. The story feels real because of this and that is what makes this book special.

The literature standard is well written and easy to follow. The pace is steady and the connection between the paragraphs flows well. I believe anyone wishing to read a touching story who also enjoys romance will find this book suitable.

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The Last Girl – Danny Lopez

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

Exceptional

“Now I was a fucked-up has-been unemployed reporter for a small-town paper. All that hard work, the anger, the resolution, the desire, the accomplishments—it had all been for nothing. I was as good as my dying father on that lone stretch of asphalt outside San Antonio, Texas.”

 

So when Dexter Vega is offered ten thousand dollars to find a wealthy businessman’s daughter, Maya, he can’t refuse. After all, he’s running out of money and there aren’t many hard reporting jobs in Sarasota Florida, a popular tourist town for rich people and students on spring break.

When he goes over to his client’s house, he learns that this guy made his money in sex paraphernalia and continues to flaunt it throughout his house. Is Maya really missing or does she just not want to be found?

Dex learns from the University that Maya is on a diving expedition searching for axolotl, an almost extinct type of salamander in the canals of Xochimilco, outside of Mexico City.

Strange things start to occur in Dex’s life. An old flame suddenly reappears, and worse, he finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation. This prompts him to travel to Mexico to find the truth as well as to exonerate himself.

Dexter Vega drinks too much, lives with a cat, is divorced and doesn’t see his young daughter often enough. He also wears his heart on his sleeve. Sound familiar? Maybe so, but The Last Girl offers so much more.

So many times I thought I had the story figured out, but I was so wrong. This page-turner is full of so many twists that I couldn’t put it down. The characters add to the enrichment as do the settings from the wealthy Florida coast to the culturally-rich Mexico.

We also learn how Dex got to be the man he is and can’t help but feel for this somewhat naive romantic who just wants to right the wrongs of society and give a voice to those who cannot do so for themselves.

If you enjoy gritty crime fiction with a little dry humor sprinkled in, you’re sure to love The Last Girl.

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Russia: History of Russia: Kievan Rus to Vladimir Putin, Tsars and Revolutions – All Shaping Russian Culture and Russian History- Ian Maslow

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

I have been requested to review some short non-fiction books, and as promised, I am posting reviews of those that I recommend. History of Russia is such a book.

Russia: History of Russia: Kievan Rus to Vladimir Putin, Tsars and Revolutions – All Shaping Russian Culture and Russian History is presented in such a stimulating manner. It’s rather comprehensive considering it is only 78 pages . This is amazing considering Russia’s turbulent history.

The book covers the early history from 800AD, through Tsardom, Imperial Russia, Russian Revolution and creation of the Soviet Union and its breakup which led to Russia as it is today. It includes The Soviet’s place in WWII and its tremendous sacrifices. Each event and person in power is fairly analyzed.

Most chapters (period of rule) conclude with Common misconceptions, trivia and interesting facts. What I particularly enjoyed were the “if the Choice Were Yours” sections at the end of each chapter. This takes on thought-provoking role playing and how you would have handled a situation.

I recommend this book to all of those interested in Russian history. Even if you’re familiar with the history, you may start seeing some major events and people in a different light.

Most importantly this concise read will enable you to find particular areas of interest in Russian history where you want to dig deeper.

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A Short Border Handbook: A Journey Through the Immigrant’s Labyrinth – Gazmend Kapllani (Author), Anne-Marie Stanton-Ife (Translator)

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

Exceptional

“…I may have arrived without an invitation but I work just like the rest of you do, I pay the same taxes as the rest of you do, and most importantly my boss, or rather, my bosses, need me. Yes, I do realize that you are feeding me, but let me tell you that I more than repay it. Yes, I am dependent on you for my survival, but you depend on me for your wealth. That’s life. Give and take. I have started to build a new life here. I have got used to this city, and who knows, this city might eventually get used to me. So why am I illegal and worse than a stray dog?”

These could be the words of any undocumented worker from any country, but these are the thoughts of Gazmend Kapllani as he realized the his new country wasn’t quite what he thought it would be. However he knew that he didn’t want to go back to Albania. He, along with others, crossed the border into Greece on January 15, 1991. They knew where they escaped from but had no idea where they were going.

Part auto-biography and part fiction based on true conversations and events, A Short Border Handbook is an emotional but also often darkly comical account of what these immigrants experienced after the fall of the Soviet Bloc and what immigrants all over the world continue to endure.

Not only were armed soldiers guarding the borders, but armed bandits were ready to strike when the opportunities arose. Many who survived making it past the border were gathered up eventually and deported. Albanians were among the first to be arrested if a crime was committed.

This character-rich story includes eccentric personalities that enrich the characters, like that of “Sex Boy” who had heard that the West was full of free sex, and a man who claimed and boasted to be George Bush’s nephew. Kapllani also relates to the reader the oppressive life in Albania prior to leaving.

A Short Border Handbook is a timeless must-read  at less than 150 pages. In spite of it being so slim, it still gives readers in-depth insight of the global and human issue of people escaping oppressive regimes to seek a tolerable life for themselves and their families.

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Marx, Freud, Einstein: Heroes of the Mind – Corinne Maier (Author), Anne Simon (Illustrator)

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

“I WANTED TO UNCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE, BUT THE SECRETS OF THE HUMAN SOUL WERE OUTSIDE OF MY REMIT.
As for the secrets of women let’s not even go there!”

Could that be what Albert Einstein would say in regards to his problems with interpersonal relationships if he were alive today?

Could Sigmund Feud have said “Looks like the 21st century still needs me.
DESIRE IS REPRESSED EVERYWHERE.”

Marx, Freud, Einstein: Heroes of the Mind takes on the biographical genre in an original and humorous way. With the use of font changes and comic illustrations, we learn about  the lives of these three nineteenth and twentieth century thinkers. Each is dealt with in a separate section from childhood to death.

An example of incorporating  a part of Karl Marx’s personal life with the establishment of his newspaper is:

“I’M ALL ALONE A few months later, WITH HELENE, there she is, pregnant. THE MAID. BUT WILL WE HAVE ANY READERS?”

It’s not just about their personal lives. Through these written and graphic formats we learn about their actual  theories and the political and sociological culture of the time.

Even with all of the varied typeset , the only problem I had with the book was that I didn’t always know who was speaking.  For instance, was it Einstein or someone who was responding to him?

In any event, Marx, Freud, Einstein: Heroes of the Mind will appeal to those like myself who enjoy an entertaining and novel way of looking at history and philosophy. It will make a great gift for others who enjoy it also.

 

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Life of a Bastard – Damien Black

(Reviewed by Jeyran Main)

Exceptional

Life of a Bastard is a book written about the life of Javier, an orphaned boy, and his will to cope with all the moves and suffering he encounters while being in American foster homes.

The book remains truthful to the encounters of incidents that happen in foster homes and displays a realistic image of outcomes, far from the ones we read and hear in articles about success stories. The author believes that there are too many cases emphasizing  just the success stories out there, shadowing the reality of the high percentage of failures. Most children brought up in foster homes do not end up living successfully or having a better life afterwards.

While staying positive is always a good thing, I believe hiding the ratio of success in such delicate situations, dealing with the lives of innocent children, is unacceptable. The author provides stats and facts to solidify the failing system in hand. Facts like how foster care children have a higher chance of suffering from PTSD was interesting. 60% of sexually abused children were among the sufferers.

I believe the author truly hopes that Javier’s story acts as an inspiration for change. A change that is much needed now, rather than a few years from now. He does make suggestions on how things could be dealt with on a grander scale, however, whether his voice is heard, is another issue altogether.

The book is easy to read and to understand. The content flows naturally with stats and facts solidifying the author’s claim and by honoring his promise to Javier, the book takes on an emotional side which also provokes the reader’s mind into feeling for the situation at hand.

I recommend this book to people who want to make a difference in life.

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Fall – Candice Fox

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

“How to explain it all to him, a normal human man, someone with all his faculties, with a soul. How to explain that at the core of her being Eden killed people the way she breathed, the way she slept, that when she was hungry for blood it was as all-consuming as the need for sleep when exhausted, or the need for water to quench a thirst. Without the monsters that she hunted and caught and vanquished, she would suffocate. She ran on no other fuel. To decide not to kill was to decide to die.”

Detective Eden Archer has always feared that her partner, Frank Bennet, would discover her essence and her past but in some ways he has always known about this depravity on some level. The real problem is that Frank’s girlfriend, Imogen, a police psychologist, also suspects there’s something sinister about Eve; as does Hooky, a seventeen-year old girl who assists the police department in catching cyber-sex criminals. The latter two won’t stop until they find about Eden’s sordid past.

In the meantime crime goes on in Sydney and there’s a serial killer on the loose. She is coined the “Sydney Parks Strangler”; she kills attractive women jogging in the park.  Yes, I said “she” as our detectives figure out early on that the perp is probably a woman.

I have been impatiently waiting for this installment of Australian novelist Candice Fox’s “Archer and Bennett” series, and still I had no idea how breathtaking this would be!

Like the earlier books in the series, Eden and Hades, Fall is not for the faint of heart. It is just as gritty, dark, disturbing…and thrilling. You delve into the lives and psyches of these flawed characters, ones that refuse to be victims.

You can read Fall without reading the earlier novels. Fox slowly reveals the history of these characters throughout the book. You get what you need to know, and if you have read the others ( like I have), you don’t feel that you’re wasting your time. There’s no redundancy here. I bet though, that you will be enticed to read the others.

Fans of gritty character-driven crime novels, with a strong plot will enjoy Fall and the other two in the series. You won’t be able to put itthem down!

Posted in Australia, Crime, Mystery and Thrillers, Dark/Sordid/Bizarre, Our Best | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment