‘Tis the Season

This year has been… yeah. We have been confused, worried, sad. We have longed for simple things like hugs, hanging out with friends, enjoying a meal or play… But nothing lasts forever. And Christmas always brings a sense of hope, even when there is no actual reason for optimism. Hence, let’s relax a bit with this selection of famous Christmas quotes.

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.

‒ Dr. Seuss

Are you willing to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world ‒ stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death ‒ and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love? Then you can keep Christmas.

‒ Henry Van Dyke

At Christmas play and make good cheer,

For Christmas comes but once a year.

‒ Thomas Tusser

Christmas ‒ that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance ‒ a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved.

‒ Augusta E. Rundel

Christmas… is not an eternal event at all, but a piece of one’s home that one carries in one’s heart.

– Freya Stark

Christmas Eve was a night of song that wrapped itself about you like a shawl. But it warmed more than your body. It warmed your heart… filled it, too, with a melody that would last forever.

‒ Bess Streeter Aldrich

Christmas is a race to see which gives out first – your money or your feet.

Christmas is a time when everybody wants his past forgotten and his present remembered.

What I don’t like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day.

‒ Phyllis Diller

Christmas! The very word brings joy to our hearts. No matter how we may dread the rush, the long Christmas lists for gifts and cards to be bought and given ‒ when Christmas Day comes there is still the same warm feeling we had as children, the same warmth that enfolds our hearts and our homes.

‒ Joan Winmill Brown

Greetings of the Season and Best Wishes for the New Year

Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!

‒  Charles Dickens

He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.

‒ Roy L. Smith

Heap on the wood! ‒ the wind is chill;

But let it whistle as it will,

We’ll keep our Christmas merry still.

‒ Sir Walter Scott

I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.

‒ Charles Dickens

I wish we could put up some of the Christmas spirit in jars and open a jar of it every month.

‒ Harlan Miller

Secret of a Bridge by Dushica Labovich

An inspirational novel about the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.

Antonio, the hero of this allegorical fairy tale, grows up with his father. From an early age, he listens to stories about famous bridges, as well as personal bridges that every man can build. His dream of building his own bridge is so rooted in his blood that, as a young man, he wants to accomplish it.

After leaving his father’s home, he meets a snake on the road, and she teaches him the most precious lesson in life, „Listen to your heart and on your path to fulfilling your dream there will be no obstacles.“
After speaking with the snake, in the port of Palermo, he gets his first job, something he never even thought he would do. A seagull reveals the path to opening his soul to the world, and Antonio has to turn into a gull for a moment to understand bird language. „Only a man who understands the language of nature can understand a man’s soul,“ the gull tells him…

Facebook marketing

Don’t wait to get your book published before thinking about marketing. You should start marketing as soon as you start writing! Today, it is necessary to have a network of followers before the book gets out.

One way of marketing is by using Facebook groups. Join a few and get the hang of them. Introduce yourself with a short post. It would be better to skip the usual: Hi, I am Jane/John from London/Rome. I am a book-lover and aspiring author… Instead, it would be cool to write a catchy introduction. Use your imagination – you are a writer, after all!

Engage. Share something book-related every few days, even every day if you have the time. Like other members’ posts and comment on them. Share book recommendations, give your opinion about posted books. If someone posts something about a book you hate, refrain from saying that it is the worst book on Earth. You don’t want to be known as someone who shames other people’s taste and badmouthing other authors. There are many other ways to engage.

It is better to choose smaller groups with two to five thousand members than the ones with a massive membership since you want people to get to know you. And when the time comes, post how excited you are because your book is coming out next week. Since the members already know, and hopefully like, you, they will be interested in your book.

If the group allows self-promotion, post a link to your book with a very brief review. Most groups allow authors to promote their books one day a week. Some don’t though, and you will have to be resourceful. Say, if a member asks for a recommendation in that genre, you can comment with a link from Amazon or Goodreads, nobody will kick you out of the group for that. However, don’t be aggressive with the promotion. Even if the group allows self-promo, nobody wants to see the same book recommendation every single day.

You can even ask a few of your book-loving friends to join the groups, engage, and occasionally post a recommendation for your book. But they shouldn’t just post and ghost. Facebook really offers many possibilities. You just have to use them wisely.

Here are a few interesting groups. Please, read their rules and guidelines before posting anything.






And I have to recommend Book Fairy because it is a place where we will present an author a day. No spamming, please. Follow us, send us a message, and we will arrange a day for promoting your work on the page. Nobody cares for aggressive self-promotion, so don’t post links with your work, please. We will introduce each author who sends a message, encourage members to ask questions about your work, and engage with you. We can also offer you an interview on the blog and a review. We also work with publishers, who will post their calls for submissions on the page.


Jane Austen’s best-known quotes

Jane Austen, born on December 16th, 1775, mostly wrote about young women from the respectably impoverished middle-class, just like her, who were faced with the dilemma: getting married for money or love? Alas, women had limited choices in the Regency era, and securing a wealthy husband was the most prudent economic decision a woman could make. However, Austen didn’t write only about husband-hunting. Her novels offer an insightful, humorous glimpse into the society of her time, and that is what makes them so valuable.

Austen mostly wrote at Chawton Cottage in Hampshire. She wrote Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion there, and revised Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Northanger Abbey. Jane tried to write every day at an unusually small walnut table, placed close to a window for the light.

She used a ‘writing box’, which was probably a gift from her father. Although she did write on small pieces of paper, most experts think that the reason for that wasn’t to hide them quickly in her writing box if she heard someone approaching the door. Since Jane read her drafts to friends and family, it isn’t likely that she felt the need to hide her manuscripts. After finishing the first draft, she edited it profusely, crossing out sentences and rewriting until she was satisfied. When you feel disheartened while editing your manuscript, just imagine who it was in the pre-computer era and you will instantly feel better.

Like every author, Austen was plagued with doubts, and writing wasn’t always easy for her, “I am not at all in a humor for writing; I must write on until I am.” And, like every author, she couldn’t escape insecurity, “I think I may boast myself to be, with all possible vanity, the most unlearned and uninformed female who ever dared to be an authoress.”

How about paying tribute to Jane Austen today with a few of her famous quotes? Can you remember which quote is from which book?

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”

“There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.”

“The more I know of the world, the more I am convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!”

“Angry people are not always wise.”

“But for my own part, if a book is well written, I always find it too short.”

“Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love.”

“Laugh as much as you choose, but you will not laugh me out of my opinion.”

“I may have lost my heart, but not my self-control.”

“Give a girl an education and introduce her properly into the world, and ten to one but she has the means of settling well, without further expense to anybody.”

“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

“Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”

“My good opinion once lost is lost forever.”

“The distance is nothing when one has a motive.”

“I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman’s inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman’s fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men. ” “Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”

Edna O’Brien on writing

A woman who is a literary titan and a magician with words was born on December 15th, 1930. Edna O’Brien. A woman who writes about female inner worlds and hidden desires. An author who writes about victims so vividly that you feel their pain. But Edna’s victims become victorious in the end, even though her novels don’t have an unconvincing, sappy happy end.

So, Happy Birthday, Mrs. O’Brien. And, please, gift us with another novel soon!

In an interview with Alec Russell, Edna said, “I’m very proud of having stayed the course. And if a young writer came up to me and said give me one piece of advice, I’d say: ʻStay the course’.”

What else does this literary giant have to say about writing?

“I work hard at the words, rewriting, finding the right words, the ones where no other word would suit, only those words. And that makes you a little bit mad.”

“Writing is the product of a deeply disturbed psyche, and by no means therapeutic.”

In an interview with Shusha Guppy, Edna reveals, “But any book that is any good must be, to some extent, autobiographical, because one cannot and should not fabricate emotions; and although style and narrative are crucial, the bulwark, emotion, is what finally matters. With luck, talent, and studiousness, one manages to make a little pearl, or egg, or something. . . But what gives birth to it is what happens inside the soul and the mind, and that has almost always to do with conflict. And loss—an innate sense of tragedy.”

That made her think, “So writing, I think, is an interestingly perverse occupation. It is quite sick in the sense of normal human enjoyment of life, because the writer is always removed, the way an actor never is. An actor is with the audience, a writer is not with his readers, and by the time the work appears, he or she is again incarcerated in the next book‒ or in barrenness. So for both men and women writers, writing is an eminently masochistic exercise ‒ though I wonder what Norman Mailer would say to that!”

In the same interview, she muses about talent and gives more priceless advice in her unique style, “When a writer, or an artist, has the feeling that he can’t do it anymore, he descends into hell. So you must keep in mind that although it may stop, it can come back. When I was a child in Ireland, a spring would suddenly appear and yield forth buckets of beautiful clear water, then just as suddenly it would dry up. The water-diviners would come with their rods and sometimes another spring would be found. One has to be one’s own water-diviner. It is hard, especially as writers are always anxious, always on the run ‒ from the telephone, from people, from responsibilities, from the distractions of this world. The other thing that can destroy talent is too much grief. Yeats said, ‘Too much sorrow can make a stone of the heart’.”

In another interview with Justine Kenin and Courtney Dorning, Edna concludes, “Writing has been my whole life. It has been as essential to me, I think, as breathing. If I couldn’t write I would be ‒ I’m anxious as a writer, and I can’t say that I find it easy, because I rewrite very extensively and worry when I’m writing, which is more or less all the time… Writing is my inner world. It’s my inner chamber.”

With only a few words, she summed up what some creative writing lecturers teach for months. Interestingly, O’Brien didn’t have a literary education, having graduated from the Pharmaceutical College of Dublin. Yet, education doesn’t have anything to do with it. One is either born as a writer or isn’t. And a writer’s talent is worthless without the ability to listen, learn, and rewrite until your head almost explodes.

A beautiful, crazy quilt of humanity – Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow, an aide-memoire of a modern classic

Why write about a book published over forty years ago? Because not enough time has passed to call it a classic on one hand and because there is a danger of the title getting buried in the avalanche of books that are published every week on the other. And we shouldn’t rule out the possibility that, although it seems that everything has already been said a long time ago, a fresh review can offer a new insight since, no matter how much we like to think that everything that stems from our minds is original, all of us are shaped by the times we live in.

So, Ragtime. A music genre which is essentially a mixture of European classical music and African syncopation. The American society that E. L. Doctorow portrays in his same-named novel can be seen as an unusual cocktail made of the European value system and the African ʻuntamed spirit’ at the beginning of the 20th century. An American new money family, a Jewish broken family, and a black incomplete family without the blessing of the law are ʻrags’ that, together, weave the beautiful quilt of society. “Dull gray was for Jews – their favorite color, he said. Red was for the swarthy Italian. Blur for the thrifty German. Black for the African. Green for the Irishman. And yellow for the cat-clean Chinaman, and cat also in his traits of cruel cunning and savage fury when aroused. Add dashes of color for the Finns, Arabs, Greeks, and so on, and you have a crazy quilt, Riis cried, and a crazy quilt of humanity!”

And indeed, the early 1900s were more crazy than beautiful although we always tend to find beauty, honor, and romance in long-gone times. They weren’t crazy only because: “Apparently there were Negroes. There were immigrants.” It is, simultaneously ridiculous, incredible, and daring to say something like that for a country founded by emigrants who brought black slaves with them. But members of the white upper-middle-class at the turn of the century certainly believed in those words. And surely, that’s exactly what the first family thinks. By the way, members of said families do not have names, but roles: Father, Mother, The Little Boy, Tateh, Mameh, The Little Girl… Surprisingly and sadly as history has it, members of the Negro family are the only ones with names since their role in the community is still unclear.

Father of the middle-class family is a self-made man, an epitome of the American dream. He was born into a wealthy family which lost everything because of his father’s unwise investments. But Father managed to gain wealth again by making fireworks and flags since “patriotism was a reliable sentiment in the early 1900s”. In keeping with his position in society, he marries a beauty. She will bear him a healthy male heir.

But Mother doesn’t love Father. Marriage is a job too and she invested cleverly, as much as she had a say in the whole business. Father takes care of her safety and needs; Mother takes care of the house and produces a son. Father would like to make love more often, but Mother brings order even in copulation, which is fitting. Everything is appropriate. During a rare disagreement when Mother disturbed their conventional life with her interest for the Negro family, Father accuses her: “You victimized us all with your foolish female sentimentality. Mother regarded him. She could not remember any time in their long acquaintance when he reproached her. She knew he would apologize; nevertheless, tears filled her eyes and eventually ran down her face. Wisps of her hair had come undone and lay on her neck and over her ears. The father looked at her and she was beautiful in the way she was as a girl. He did not realize the pleasure he felt in making her cry.” At the seaside, since Father took care of the problem, Mother rewards him by allowing him to make love with her more often since he deserves, but she is appalled by the contours of his manhood in his bathing suit in broad daylight.

Father is slowly becoming a victim of the passing time. He resembles a man who made a fortune by investing in computers and regularly advertising his products in the Sunday papers at the end of the 20th century, but twenty years later he doesn’t understand the concept of influencers and marketing on social networks. Are the first decades of every new century equally uncertain because everything we considered certain and safe slowly dies, and scary changes are relentlessly flowing with the new tides?

Mameh and Tateh are prototypes of immigrants: first of all, they lack the prudence of the white American couple. Everything about them is exaggerated ‒ misery, despair, joy, maladjustment, rigidness. Like all immigrants, “They waited for their life to change. They waited for their transformation.” And they will experience changes all right, one way or the other. Mameh will do what almost every mother would do if she believed that was her only choice. Tateh will do what almost every traditional husband would do. Those newcomers are unreliable, they can disappear overnight as if they had never existed, they are the first to accept subversive ideas but even then you can’t expect them to be consistent. They are resourceful and, if they take advantage of random favorable circumstances, they can change their lives, even their identity, and become bearers of social change. Even baseball, an American invention since the Americans rejected any suggestion that it evolved from an English game, isn’t safe before the wave of immigrants. “There was a first baseman named Butch Schmidt, and others with names Cochran, Moran, Hess, Rudolph, which led inevitably to the conclusion that professional baseball was played by immigrants. When play was resumed, he studied each batsman: indeed, they seemed to be clearly from the mills and farms, rude features, jug-eared men, sunburned and ham-handed, cheek bulging with tobacco chew, their intelligence was completely absorbed in the effort of the game.” Immigrants are slowly entering all pores of society, taking over the white Americans rights and privileges acquired through their origins, and will certainly assume even the right to patriotism. They will soon push themselves right into all those parades, public concerts, fish fries, political picnics, social outings, or indoors in meeting halls, vaudeville theaters, operas, balls. They will wear white in the summer and women will carry white parasols. It is terrifying since it seems that there is no way to defend society from the integration of immigrants and, at least from the white American Father’s point of view, it even looks like the whole world will become dependent on those who make their fortunes on illusions – just like Harry Houdini or today’s influencers. Wealth itself becomes an illusion, no matter how real hunger is.

The third family isn’t recognized before the law, which is in line with the belief that Negroes are beings ruled by their instincts. A man and a woman, with names, and symbolic ones too! ‒ Coalhouse Walker Jr. and Sarah ‒ succumbed to passion and got a child out of wedlock. Sarah surrenders to fear and tries to get rid of the baby, then succumbs to depression to finally capitulate to hope, happiness, and love. However, true love isn’t contemplated, and nothing good can come out of thoughtlessness. Animals are thoughtless, people know better than that. But hope can be man’s greatest enemy, and the path of love can simultaneously be the path of death. At least for Negroes. Interestingly, the black baby survives the earth, which almost killed Houdini, the master of escapes. Why is the Earth merciful towards a black baby born out of wedlock? It seems that the black baby boy is a symbol of resurrection. The son resurrects, but the father will have to die. The black father foolishly tried to fight for his dignity. “It seemed to be his fault, somehow, because he was a Negro and it was a problem that would only adhere to a Negro,” the white Father thinks. “He thought, for instance, there was no reason that the Negro could not with proper guidance carry every burden of human achievement. He did not believe in aristocracy, except the individual effort and vision. He felt his father’s loss of fortune had the advantage of saving him from the uncritical adoption of the prejudices of his class.” As a Negro, the father has no right whatsoever, except accepting the most difficult, demeaning labor. “On the tobacco farms, Negroes stripped tobacco leaves thirteen hours a day and earned six cents an hour, a man, a woman or a child. Children suffered no discriminatory treatment. They did not complain as adults tend to do it. Employers liked to think of them as happy elves. If there was a problem about employing children it had to do only with their endurance. They were more agile than adults, but they tended in the latter hours of the day to lose a degree of efficiency. In the canneries and mills, these were the hours they were most likely to lose their fingers or their hands mangled or their legs crushed.” Of course, if talented, a black man could become an entertainer, just like the name of Scott Joplin’s song, just like a circus animal, or a freak. Coalhouse Walker Jr. seized that opportunity and made good of it to its limits, even above the limits. But then, oh such ungratefulness!, he wanted to deny an idle, envious white man the right to make a fool of him. Such a joke ‒ a Negro trying to save his dignity, what does he even know about dignity? And, of course, since justice fails him ‒ all-seeing as a virtue, an abstract idea or a Muse, blind before individual cases, just like in, say, Les Miserables ‒ he does what is expected of a black man. “To get justice, Coalhouse Walker was ready to have it done to him.” Yes, justice is just another illusion. Even Booker T. Washington condemns him instead of understanding his suffering and the most he can offer is: “I will intercede for the sake of mercy that your trial will be swift and your execution painless.” Because at the time, more than fifty years before Elvis Presley’s song In the Ghetto, that was the only option.

And what about the privileged ones that don’t have to think about putting bread on the table, those who have the luxury to venture into unpractical things like contemplating about purpose? J. P. Morgan asks Henry Ford: “Has it occurred to you that your assembly line is not just a stroke of industrial genies but a projection of organic truth? After all, the interchangeability of parts is a rule of nature.” Yet, we seem to think that the feeling of being stuck on a hamster’s wheel or an assembly line is reserved for our stressful, hard-working times when everyone and everything is interchangeable. Or that those rich men with white cats and eye-patches trying to become gods are oh-so.original. Morgan says: “The earliest recorded mention of special people born in each age to alleviate the suffering of humanity with their prima theologia comes to us through the Greek in the translated writings of the Egyptian priest Hermes Trismegistus … Why do you suppose the idea which had currency in every age and civilization of mankind disappears in modern times? Because only in the age of science these men and their wisdom dropped from view … They are with us in every age. They come back, you see? They come back!” Sure, every age needs new gods, new secrets, new truths, and new meanings of life. But does it do you any good if money brings you to the door of certain crypts? Can it make you fathom the truth of who we are and the eternal beneficent force that we incarnate, is there anything greater than this life, any greater journey that awaits us?

That depends on the reader. Maybe everything is an illusion, even life itself. Houdini realized that, Tateh understood that, Mother instinctively felt that. Those who reject that knowledge will never accept the changes that are becoming even faster because time itself is quickening. The cycles are shifting ever more rapidly, so much that the laws of natural selection are susceptible to change. However, the biggest change is related to miracles. They are getting realized and, thus, cease to be miracles. And life without miracles is like a colorless flower without a smell, which is the most terrifying threat.

So, as Scott Joplin said and Doctorow quoted at the beginning of this intricately weaved novel: Do not play this piece fast, it is never right to play Ragtime fast…

Genre: Fiction, Classics

Describe this book with one word: Provocative

The perfect beverage to sip while reading this book: Lemonade

This book’s best musical buddy: The Entertainer ‒ Scott Joplin

Awards: National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction (1975), Nebula Award Nominee for Novel (1976)

How Do You Like Me Now? by Holly Bourne

Every girl should read How Do You Like Me Now? Holly Bourne is brutally honest and doesn’t mince words while talking about all the compromises women in wrong relationships make with themselves. We have all done that at least once: gave head when we weren’t in the mood, pretended not to hear sarcasm, found excuses for our partner’s behavior because he was tired, sleepy, drunk…

But how can we recognize when things like that can be justified because nobody is perfect and all of us tend to lose patience with our loved ones when under pressure since we know that they will forgive us? Or when such behavior is a pattern and our relationship is a chart with almost as many downs as ups? Whatever the reason for that repeating pattern, it can’t be justified. And no matter how afraid of loneliness a girl is, she should never stay in a relationship that is making her unhappy.

Holly’s charming main character, Tori Bailey, will have to find out in which category her boyfriend’s behavior falls. She is a self-help bestseller author who inspires millions of women and lives a perfect life with a perfect boyfriend in a perfect apartment. Tori should be so f*cking happy. (Did I say that Tori loves to use the F-word so much that it became her trademark? My kind of girl since I think that three good curses can sometimes be more helpful than a session with a psychiatrist.) Yet, she is living a lie. Not everything is as it seems on Instagram or Facebook. And many girls would rather be unhappy than admit that they aren’t happy because the truth is hard ‒ and they don’t want others to see through the lies they were carefully weaving.

Tori is also finding it hard to accept that she is thirty. As she puts it, Turning thirty is like playing musical chairs. The music stops, and everyone just marries whoever they happen to be sitting on. And, It’s hard enough, feeling the clock ticking and yet life not obliging to give you the things others have. To feel defunct and left behind and scared as hell about it — and the more nervous you get about it, the more you give off some smell that makes it less likely to happen.

Tori’s journey is captivating, alternating between sorrow and laughter. She is very relatable, and every girl can identify with at least one situation from her seemingly perfect life. I love the way Holly depicted her quest for self-love and self-respect throughout nine months. And I admire the hilarious way she talks about serious things as integrity and mental health. If you have any doubts about your choices or just want to have a good laugh along with some food for thought, How Do You Like Me Now? is the right book for you.

Favorite quotes:

You can build a relationship for so many years. You can grow it and nurture it, give it foundations and walls, and tinker with how you want it decorated. Then in just one moment, you can blow at it gently by telling the truth and the relationship collapses like a teetering house of cards. Years of careful craftsmanship. One conversation to undo it all.

But it takes strength to reject all the things the world tells you to be.

Genre: Contemporary, Fiction, Chick-Lit

Describe this book with one word: Self-love

The perfect beverage to sip while reading this book: Red wine

This book’s best musical buddy: Total Eclipse of the Heart ‒ Bonnie Tyler

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owen

Not everything has to be realistic, something is pure magic. And Crawdads is a magical read, slow like water in marsh canals. Gentle yet powerful, beautifully penned, original, heartwarming, empowering… The story unravels slowly, like Southern old-fashioned courting, jumping from the past to the present.

A little girl is left alone in the marsh without any means of providing for herself. Kya Clark is a free spirit, nature’s child who allows the wind, tides, and animals to teach her the most important life lessons. She knows how to watch, listen, and learn, the basic requirements that often can’t be thought at school. Kya finds a way to secure not only food but other basic necessities as well. Of course, the villagers despise the ʻmarsh girlʼ. Her only friend is Jumpin’, owner of a little store between the village and the marsh where Kya lives, an outcast just like her since he is a black man in the South in the 60s.

Kya’s coming of age story is lyrical and beautiful, although hard and lonely. As a young girl whose only companions are gulls, Kya can manage perfectly on her own. But her body, heart, and soul yearn for a mate. And her beauty will attract a couple of boys from the village. Yet, this isn’t an ordinary story about recognizing which guy is wrong and which is the one. Crawdads has much more depth. The scenes where the main characters get to know each other and fall in love are very tender and make you wish to be a teen again in the old days when feelings developed more gradually than today.

When one of those young men is murdered, Kya becomes the chief suspect. As an outcast, she would be suspicious even if nobody saw her in his company. Biases sometimes incriminate more than real evidence…

Favorite quotes:

His dad had told him many times that the definition of a real man is one who cries without shame, reads poetry with his heart, feels opera in his soul, and does what’s necessary to defend a woman.

It didn’t fit that anyone who liked birds would be mean.

I wasn’t aware that words could hold so much. I didn’t know a sentence could be so full.

Biology sees right and wrong as the same color in a different light.

Life had made her an expert at mashing feelings into a storable size.

If anyone understood loneliness, the moon would.

Nature seemed the only stone that would not slip midstream.

Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction, Romance

Describe this book with one word: Empowering

The perfect beverage to sip while reading this book: Southern Hospitality Float

This book’s best musical buddy: Deep Summer in the Deep South by Rumer

Awards: Edgar Award Nominee for Best First Novel by an American Author (2019), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Historical Fiction (2018)

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

With simple but unusually placed words, Marlon James created a world that is so enchanting that readers can almost feel the scent of African deserts, savannas, a town high among tree crowns or carved into a rock face. The author relied on African folklore, myths, and legends to come up with beings, good and bad, on which some fantasy writers surely envy him. The novel forks into a bunch of substories, one more compelling, violent, lyrical, and fantastic than the other.

A word about the language: It is simple, sometimes too simple, like a child learning to put words together to form sentences. That may be confusing at the beginning, but I quickly got used to it. And it’s bloody brilliant ‒ just like everything else in this book: very bloody, truly brilliant, and just bloody brilliant. You can’t have people in prehistoric communities talk like Oxford professors, nor is it realistic to present them bathed, scented, and trimmed. But beware, James’ seemingly simple sentences sometimes hide something altogether different.

The novel starts with the words, “The child is dead. There is nothing left to know.” Yes, James tells you everything at the very beginning, but you will forget that the child is dead. You will even forget that the child exists! And only a true master can do that.

The story goes like this: A hunter, or rather, mercenary, known only by the name Tracker accepts an assignment to find a little boy who is crucial for the kingdom. Tracker is known for his nose “for finding what would rather stay lost.” Although he always works alone, now he agrees to join forces with a strange group: a leopard-man shape-shifter, a sad half-giant, a witch… However, something about the story of the boy doesn’t sound right, and Tracker will soon find out that he can’t rely on anyone. Or, as he puts it, “Lie was truth and truth was a shifting, slithering thing”.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf is marked by incredible adventures in a magical, brutal, but beautiful world in which the characters can’t trust anyone or anything since even a good-natured tree or indifferent stone can be something else entirely. And the characters are unforgettable: Dirt mermaids, witches and antiwitches, grass trolls, lightning birds, sorcerers, prostitutes, queens, bush fairies, mad monkeys… Danger lurks at every turn, as well as betrayal and great sorrow. The specter of human and half-human sentiments in this book is amazing.

The most striking thing about this book is love where you expected it the least. Love is the reason, the hidden agenda, and the answer to most things in this vivid, violent, crazy world. Whenever I hear someone complaining about the excessive violence in this book, I have to ask: How many people would do what Nyka did for Nsaka Ne Vampi? We gush over examples of sacrifice for love in classics, but almost nobody mentions what Nyka resigned himself to for the love of his woman. Or what Nsaka later endured to save him. And, finally, let’s not forget that the revenging killing spree in the last part of the book is fueled by lost love.

Besides violence, sexuality plays a big part in this book. James isn’t explicit when writing about sex, but there is a lot of lovemaking going on. Tracker is a shoga, homosexual. And shoga men have a woman inside of them “that cannot be cut out”. They are “men with the first desire.” In one telling, Tracker’s uncle explains to him: “You will be one always on the line between the two. You will always walk two roads at the same time. You will always feel the strength of one and the pain of the other.”

Yes, the book is violent – and so is life. James didn’t write anything that didn’t happen at some point in history. And I think that is the reason many people are disturbed by his prose. The story of mingi children made me cry, not because James is overly emotional. On the contrary, he is very matter of fact about those things since it best suits the time frame and collective consciousness of his story. But that approach made me feel the pain more acutely. It brought to mind all the malformed children killed or exposed during history, not so long ago. The story about Sadogo brought to mind the human urge for cruelty and violence. Forget the gladiators, it’s enough to look at box matches or even some reality shows. What about the white scientists? They exist in other forms today. Children raised by the enemies turned to hate and fight their people and families through history… Everything upsetting in this book rings a loud bell. James reminds us that man is the worst beast on this planet. At the same time, James reminds us that man is the kindest, noblest creature driven by love on this planet. “But that is not the story”, as Tracker would say…

Conclusion: If you haven’t read this fantastic book already, do yourself a favor and start reading.

Favorite quotes:

I will admit, at least to my darkest soul, that there was nothing worse to be than in the middle of many souls, even souls that you might know, and still be lonely.

Not everything the eye sees should be spoken by the mouth.

If you lived all your life with monsters, what was monstrous?

Truth is truth and nothing you can do about it even if you hide it, or kill it, or even tell it. It was truth before you open your mouth and say, That there is a true thing.

You ever see a man who doesn’t know he’s unhappy, Leopard? Look for it in the scars on his woman’s face. Or in the excellence of his woodcraft and iron making, or in the masks he makes to wear himself because he forbids the world to see his own face. I am not happy, Leopard. But I am not unhappy that I know.

Sadness is not the absence of happiness, but the opposite of it.

What is evil anyway, a sad soul infected with devils who take his will, or a man thinking that of all his mother’s children he loves himself the best?

Better to be with the ancestors than to live bonded to somebody else, who might be kind, who might be cruel, who might even make you master to many slaves of your own, but was still master over you.

Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Mythology

Describe this book with one word: Magical

The perfect beverage to sip while reading this book: Oshikundu

This book’s best musical buddy: Homeless by Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Awards: Locus Award for Best Horror Novel (2020), Audie Award Nominee for Fantasy (2020), Los Angeles Times Book Prize Nominee for Science Fiction, Fantasy & Speculative Fiction (Ray Bradbury Prize) (2020), Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror (2019),  National Book Award Finalist for Fiction (2019), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fantasy (2019)

Gustave Flaubert on writing

“The one way of tolerating existence is to lose oneself in literature as in a perpetual orgy.”

Gustave Flaubert, born 12.12.1821, was the leading French exponent of literary realism. He started writing at an early age, as an eight-year-old. Young Flaubert won a prize for his essay about mushrooms when he was only fifteen. However, he made a professional writing debut with his novella November in 1842. One of my favorite quotes from November is, “Are the days of winter sunshine just as sad for you, too? When it is misty, in the evenings, and I am out walking by myself, it seems to me that the rain is falling through my heart and causing it to crumble into ruins.”

“There is not a particle of life which does not bear poetry within it”

Flaubert finished the first draft of The Temptation of Saint Anthony seven years later. And then he read it aloud to his friends Louis Bouihetin and Maxime Du Camp. The reading lasted four days! Not only that, Gustave forbade them to interrupt his reading or make a suggestion before he finished. However, when they heard it, their verdict was to burn the manuscript, forget about fantastic topics, and concentrate on daily life instead.

“Do not read as children do to enjoy themselves, or, as the ambitious do to educate themselves. No, read to live.”

The next year, he started writing his most famous novel Madame Bovary and completed it in five years. This quote from Madame Bovary is perfect for book lovers, “What better occupation, really, than to spend the evening at the fireside with a book, with the wind beating on the windows and the lamp burning bright… Haven’t you ever happened to come across in a book some vague notion that you’ve had, some obscure idea that returns from afar and that seems to express completely your most subtle feelings?”

Mister Gustave was a perfectionist and could spend weeks on a single page. He pursued the principle of finding “le mot juste” ‒ the right word.

And here is what he said about writing:

“It is a delicious thing to write, whether well or badly – to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating.”

“I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within.”

“The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.”

“Be steady and well-ordered in your life so that you can be fierce and original in your work.”

“You must write for yourself, above all. That is your only hope of creating something beautiful.”

“Writing is a dog’s life, but the only one worth living.”

“An author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere.”

“Talent is a long patience, and originality an effort of will and intense observation.”

“It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating. Today, for instance, as man and woman, both lover and mistress, I rode in a forest on an autumn afternoon under the yellow leaves, and I was also the horses, the leaves, the wind, the words my people uttered, even the red sun that made them almost close their love-drowned eyes.”

“Sentences must stir in a book like leaves in a forest, each distinct from each despite their resemblance.”

“Better to work for yourself alone. You do as you like and follow your own ideas, you admire yourself and please yourself: isn’t that the main thing? And then the public is so stupid. Besides, who reads? And what do they read? And what do they admire?”

“The writer must wade into life as into the sea, but only up to the navel.”

“Do not imagine you can exorcise what oppresses you in life by giving vent to it in art ”

Priceless advice for new and established writers alike.

And for the end, here is an excerpt from Flaubert’s reply to his mother when she complained that he should get a real job:

Now I come to something that you seem to enjoy reverting to and that I utterly fail to understand. You are never at a loss of things to torment yourself about. What is the sense of this: that I must have a job — “a small job,” you say. First of all, what job? I defy you to find me one, to specify in what field, or what it would be like. Frankly, and without deluding yourself, is there a single one that I am capable of filling? You add: “One that wouldn’t take up much of your time and wouldn’t prevent you from doing other things.” There’s the delusion! That’s what Bouilhet told himself when he took up medicine, what I told myself when I began law, which nearly brought about my death from suppressed rage. When one does something, one must do it wholly and well. Those bastard existences where you sell suet all day and write poetry at night are made for mediocre minds — like those horses equally good for saddle and carriage — the worst kind, that can neither jump a ditch nor pull a plow.

In short, it seems to me that one takes a job for money, for honors, or as an escape from idleness. Now you’ll grant me, darling, (1) that I keep busy enough not to have to go out looking for something to do; and (2) if it’s a question of honors, my vanity is such that I’m incapable of feeling myself honored by anything: a position, however high it might be (and that isn’t the kind you speak of) will never give me the satisfaction that I derive from my self-respect when I have accomplished something well in my own way; and finally, if it’s for money, any jobs or job that I could have would bring in too little to make much difference to my income. Weigh all these considerations: don’t knock your head against a hollow idea. Is there any position in which I’d be closer to you, more yours? And isn’t not to be bored one of the principal goals of life?

Oh, yes, it sounds great, but it doesn’t put bread on the table. So, unfortunately, almost nobody can heed his advice. At least, not before becoming a bestseller author.