Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category


You Review: The Sun and Other Stars – Brigid Pasulka

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

Reviewed by Saartje Kuijs

As someone who has lived in Italy for a while, any book about the Italian culture immediately appeals to me. I love getting transported back to the heat of the Italian sun in summer, the quick temperament of its inhabitants and even the many bureaucratic problems the media love to talk about. So when I saw The Sun and Other Stars by Brigid Pasulka on the You Review list, I had to read it.

It did not disappoint. The Sun and Other Stars centres around a young man, Etto, who lives in the once famous jet set town of San Benedetto. San Benedetto is inhabited by many colourful, and very Italian, characters, from Etto’s womanizing friend Fede, to his demented grandmother whom he takes to church every Sunday. Life in the town gets shaken up with the arrival of famous football star Yuri Fil and his family. They will play a crucial role in helping Etto to come to terms with the deaths of his twin brother and mother.

The Sun and Other Stars is honest and life-like. It is not about big adventures but strikes much closer to home as it deals with grief, growing up and accepting life the way it is. The characters in the book paint an amazing picture of life in Italy and especially its enthusiastic football culture. It is funny, eccentric and above all, realistic. Sometimes the many Italian words and phrases in between the English ones slow down the flow of the book, but overall The Sun and Other Stars is an interesting read for anyone who is looking for a book that deals with big problems in a surprisingly light-hearted, but definitely genuine, way. If you happen to love Italy, and football as well, then this is a book you certainly shouldn’t miss.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

There is no ebook available of The Sun and Other Stars at the moment, but there is one available of her previous novel: A Long Long Time Ago and Essentially True.

Book Review: Doctor Strange the Oath – Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin

Friday, April 18th, 2014

Reviewed by Michael Minneboo

Once upon a time Doctor Stephen Strange was a brilliant surgeon and an arrogant man-of-the world seduced by material wealth. One fateful day, a tragic car accident deprived him of his surgical skills. After hearing rumours of the mystical Ancient One, Strange went to the East to ask this mystical master to cure his hands. The Ancient One refused and instead offered to teach Strange in mysticism. Stephen Strange became the Ancient One’s student and later the Sorcerer Supreme – earth’s first line of defence against magical menace.

I know, all of the above sounds a bit corny. Frankly, until recently I wouldn’t call myself a Doctor Strange-fan. Since Strange is one of the residents of the Marvel Universe, he frequently guess-starred in comics I read, be it Amazing Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four or Avengers. However, the fair Doctor did make an impression in those stories, and maybe that’s why I picked up a big pile of Doctor Strange-comics when I came across them in a sale at a local comic book store last year. After reading a couple of these comics from the late eighties, early nineties, written by Roy and Dann Thomas, I was hooked on the wonderful mystical world in which Strange operates. I also grew fond of his interesting and weird supporting cast: his apprentice is a green alien bull and his brother a vampire, to name just two oddities that stand out. Also it seems that the mage has become quite a nice guy and seems a total different person from the selfish surgeon he once was.

Currently the good doctor doesn’t have a series of his own, but every once in a while Marvel Comics publishes a limited series, like The Oath: a five-part story that got collected in one volume in 2013. The Oath is written by Brian K. Vaughan, best known for intelligent and entertaining series like Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina and Saga. The artwork is by Marcos Martín, who uses a wonderful personal style that looks a bit retro while still feeling contemporary.

In The Oath, Doctor Strange’s servant Wong is suffering from a brain tumor. Medical science may be unable to treat it, but the master of the mystique knows of an elixir, which is kept in a deadly dimension, that might cure his good friend. After fighting a monstrous entity that guards the elixir and returning home, they soon discover that there is more to this elixir than meets the eye. When a burglar is hired by a big pharmaceutical company to steal it from Strange’s house, the Sorcerer Supreme gets shot during the robbery.

Vaughan treats the reader to an interesting and fast-paced story that has a couple of unexpected twists and turns, and ties Doctor Strange’s past to current affairs. He also manages to put forward an ethical dilemma within the relatively limited confines of the superhero comic book, which makes it even more interesting.

Two things bothered me a little bit, though: knowing Strange from the stories by Roy Thomas, Vaughan’s characterisation of Strange seems a bit off when he lets the doctor curse and swear. I am not against swearing in general and in the past I have heard the mage exclaim stuff like: ‘By the hoary hosts of hoggoth!’. But hearing mundane curse words coming out of the mouth of Stephen Strange seems a bit out of character. Another thing that bothered me is this: in the past there were stories in which Strange’s hands were cured and he could operate again. In The Oath the fact that Stephen’s nerve endings aren’t fixed is an important part of the story. This could be an error in continuity, but since it is not clearly stated when The Oath takes place within Doctor Strange’s history and it therefore could be a tale from the early days before his hands got fixed, I am willing to turn a blind eye.

Since I probably sounded like a total continuity nerd just now, I will stop rambling, and leave you with the recommendation that The Oath is a pretty good start if you want to get to know the wonderfully groovy world of Doctor Strange.

Michael Minneboo is a journalist specialised in comic books and visual culture. Read more of his work on his website, www.michaelminneboo.nl.

Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martín also work together on digital comic The Private Eye.

Image credit:  panel taken from forum.marvelheroes.com.

You Review: The Collected Works of A. J. Fikry – Gabrielle Zevin

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Reviewed by Henk van Doorn

I nearly forget why I read books before I started to read this marvelous book with its compelling story and wonderful people in it.

The Collected Works of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is a gem. I have been reading a lot for work and therefore reading books was not my first choice to spend some free time on. But I was drawn into this extraordinary book about books, a bookshop and love. Love for books, love for life.

It transported me into another world in which I was touched by another set of circumstances, other lives. I think the reason why a lot of people watch sitcoms on TV, listen to music, play a videogame, make facebook one of their favorite retreats, or twitter their fingers to the bone, is to have a break from their own routine, their daily life. To step into the lives of others and feel connected to them. It’s like meeting new friends, share their lives, their loves, and it makes you feel alive. It gives you a new perspective. Forces you to take a step back and realize how important it is to love. To live your own life, to cherish what you have and the people that are important to you.

This book gently shows you again and again that when one door closes, another door will open. No matter what happens or how big the loss is. That if you get set in your ways and the problems seem to stack up, it is easy to get disappointed and negative about things. But good things inevitably do happen. Like things inevitably change. That even when all goes wrong and you are down and out, it is so vitally important to keep an open mind. You might find something new you like and maybe even learn something, or will be reminded of something you nearly forgot. Maybe that life flows on? That there is always hope and a new beginning, no matter how big the loss is, or whatever happened. That life is like a boat or a train on a journey. It will sail or leave the station. On its way to new experiences. New sights. And new people to meet. Better be on it, or you might miss out..

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

This book has two titles:  The Collected Works of A. J. Fikry in the UK and The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry in the US.

Ebooks available for All These Things I’ve Done and Because It Is My Blood.

You Review: I Lived on Butterfly Hill – Marjorie Agosin

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Reviewed by Laura Baaijens

I Lived on Butterfly Hill is nothing short of a cute book. Set in the time of a dictatorship, there are hardships, of course, but the characters are all so likeable and inspiring that it nicely balances out the nerve-wracking situation they are all in. It may be a fictional girl living under a fictional government, but as Marjorie Agosín, the author, grew up during the real Chilean dictatorship, we can assume that she paints quite an accurate picture. At least from a child’s point of view.

We first see Celeste in her hometown, with her family and friends, going to the school she’s always gone too, enjoying all the beautiful parts of the Chilean culture. Yet things begin to change. Strange ships show up, classmates disappear, books are burned and eventually the grown-ups around her can not keep the truth of the situation from her anymore.

Her parents run a free clinic to help the poor and as the dictator does not agree with any sort of charity or free-thinking, they have to go into hiding. Eventually Celeste herself is forced to go live with her aunt in the United States until all is safe again.

How long will she stay there? Will she even be able to go back? And if so what will she find when she gets home? Can she blend in and feel at home in the States until then?

Everything is very uncertain. Not just for the characters in the book, the plot is quite unpredictable for the reader as well. It keeps this YA novel really interesting and will have you read quickly.

The story is accompanied by illustrations by Lee White. They were added after the copies for reviewers were printed.  Judging by the cover, however, they will be amazing and will help lift this story to a whole new level. All in all, I Lived on Butterfly Hill is quite a unique book. It is poetic, a tiny bit spiritual, but most of all a compelling story about a girl growing up and finding her place in the world.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

You Review: The Lie – Hesh Kestin

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Reviewed by Barbara Povel

The Lie is a modern day story set in the Middle East, in Israel and Palestine. We all hear about it in the news, the conflicts, the tragedies, and the crimes against humanity from both sides.

It’s written by Hesh Kestin, an Israeli correspondent who is also a veteran of the Israeli army.  Knowing that in advance, I wondered which path he was going to take in telling his story… and was pleasantly surprised! The main caracter is a female Israeli defence attorney for Palestinians who are accused of terrorist activities. She is known to be against torture as a way of interrogation, but is asked by the government to decide when torture could be used as a legitimate method. When her own son is kidnapped by Hezbollah, one Palestinian man might have the information needed to find him back. He happens to be an old colleague of hers, and a longtime friend of the family; their mothers are very close. Will she stand by her beliefs, or is torture admissible if it could save her son’s life?

The book is a bit like a movie: going from one location to the other and back and I just couldn’t put it away until I knew what had happened. It’s not just a thriller, it’s also a story about people and humanity and the roles women play.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

There is no ebook available (yet) for The Lie, but there is an ebook available of an earlier book by Kestin: The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats.