Book review: Looking Glass Friends by E L Neve

Looking Glass Friends: A Novel Inspired by Real Love Letters by E.L. Neve is much more than just a novel. It’s a dreamy weave of romance, poetry and philosophy, all at once.

It’s 1997. It is the era of missives, emails and printed books, where mobile phones are still a thing for rich people.

Neil is married to Fay but unhappy with his life choices to the point of considering suicide. Ellie is married to Jake, mother to a five year old and lives the high life.

On a day like any other, Ellie walks into the local bakery to buy cream puffs for her son. On a day like any other, Neil decides that the client on the other side of the counter is worth giving up the secret stash of cream puffs he had set aside for himself. As a way to say thank you, Ellie gifts the kind baker with a copy of her favorite book, “Atlas Shrugged”.

The rest of the review can be found here on OBC.

Book review: The Korean Word For Butterfly by Jamie Zerndt

The Korean Word For Butterfly by Jamie Zerndt is a thoughtful and emotional novel about fabricated opportunities and the desire for redemption, about making choices and dealing with their consequences. It is set in South Korea during the 2002 World Cup and under the shadow of escalating anti-American sentiments cast by the deaths of two Korean girls hit by a U.S. tank, a tragic accident that really happened.

The story unfolds through the alternating perspectives of the three protagonists, as their lives cross and weave together in the aisles of an English school at the gates of Seoul.

First, we meet Billie and her boyfriend Joe as they set foot on Korean soil. They are two high school graduates who filed bogus paperwork (literally) to embark on a year long challenge as teachers in Korea, driven by a need for adventure and by the wish of a life-changing experience. They land, full of dreams and hopes, and with a vision of the country that might or might not be idealized. Upon their arrival, they are welcomed by Moon.

Moon is a former music producer, currently working at the English school, and ex alcoholic who is trying to piece his life back together. His wife Min Jee left him, taking their three-year-old son Hyo from him, after he hurt the child’s arm in a moment of drunken numbness. Shaken by the accident, Moon has since then stopped drinking, while trying to rebuild the relationship with both his son and his wife. He is the one in charge of vetting new teachers for the school and the one to discover that Billie and Joe are frauds.

The rest of the review can be found here on OBC.

Book review: The Alcohol Memoirs by Misty J Moreton

The Alcohol Memoirs: A Fun Place for Drunks, Drug Users, and Voyeurs by Misty J. Moreton is a collection of 165 writings and a bunch of so-called “quickies”, gathered from all over the U.S.A., that gives a funny, erotic, sometimes grotesque picture of all the stupid things that people do while drunk.

The tipsy gestures range, from having wild sex and not remembering anything the morning after, to sniffing panties, to getting lost literally one block away from home, to passing out on sideways, on top of speaker boxes, on trucks, on couches in random apartments. This is just to mention a few.

Every recollection is characterised by a closing witticism from the author, in a sort of advice column style.

Most of the stories are nothing more than shenanigans; some of them innocent, some others gone terribly wrong. For the readers who have gone through this kind of young-and-stupid phase and have their own memories they could share, there is a good chance you might identify with some of the stories told. I personally did, but will plead the fifth if confronted about it.

The rest of the review can be found here on OBC.

Book review: Superhighway by Alex Fayman

What would you do if you could travel through the pathways of the Internet? Collect and manipulate data online and store the information in your brain? Teleport yourself through optic cables to the place you love most just by displaying it on a computer screen? Ah, raise your hand (or share this review, it’s your choice!) if you would electroport yourself with me to Iceland or to the Scandinavian peninsula to admire the midnight sun.

Anyway, the list of options would be endless. You could use your superpowers to help people or to right the wrongs life gave you. You could steal money from every illegitimate organization on the planet and divert it to the poor and needy. You could buy a luxurious home, a shiny sports car and, why not, an entire Caribbean island. Or you could spend a fortune to impress a young woman just to have her killed that same night because you were an idiot and let the bad guys catch you red-handed.

Alex Fine, the eighteen-year-old protagonist of the sci-fi novel Superhighway by Alex Fayman, manages to accomplish all of the above and much more. Raised in an orphanage in the poorest part of Los Angeles, after getting adopted and returned to sender twice, he decides that life as an adopted child is not for him and chooses to remain with Ms. Jenkins, the head administrator of the orphanage who loves him as if he were her own son. Brilliant and extremely talented, he is headed for a bright future despite his background. Except, one night, while trying to reconnect the computer after a blackout, he finds himself centrifuged into the psychedelic superhighway of pathways, cables and digital cabinets called the internet. He quickly realizes that he can travel through the net and reach any place simply by displaying it on the screen.

The rest of the review can be found here on OBC.

Book review: Final Notice by Van Fleisher

“If you knew, for sure, that you were going to die in 10, 20 or 30 days, what would you do?” This is the unsettling question posed by Van Fleisher, author of the political (and mildly sci-fi) thriller Final Notice

Under the lead of Vijay Patel, a brilliant doctor with a passion for technology, the company VitalTech develops a smartwatch that can predict the exact day you are going to die. There is just a tiny glitch: as smart as that watch can be, it cannot predict the possible effects of such a peremptory deadline on the human psyche.

The main story follows the testing stages of the VT2, that’s the name of the avant-garde device, carried out on a sample of a hundred of seniors. The VT2’s technology monitors and analyzes in real time every change in the body of its wearer to such an infinitesimally small point that it can tell how many days they have left to live, issuing a “final notice” that warns them to contact their doctor immediately. Needless to say, not everyone does it. The book shows us some of the final notice recipients as they struggle with the harsh reality that their time on earth is ticking. Some get their affairs in order, some say their goodbyes to the loved ones. Some take the occasion to settle old scores. They premeditate murders, or simply flip, kill people, aware they will never pay for their crime.

The rest of the review can be found here on OBC.

Book review: Strong Heart by Charlie Sheldon

Strong Heart by Charlie Sheldon is definitely one of the most unique novels I’ve happened to read recently.

Set in the suggestive wilderness of the Olympic Peninsula, said to be “a land of magic, history and legend,” it develops in two separate periods of time, offering two entwined stories full of adventure, mystery and intrigue.

Thirteen-year-old problematic Sarah gets dropped on the doorstep of Tom, her grandfather who did not even know she existed, on the eve of an epic hike to visit his own grandfather’s grave. Together with Tom’s Native friend William and his daughter Myra, Sarah is dragged along on a journey that, in spite of herself, will change her life forever.

The rest of the review can be found here on OBC.

Book review: My Trip to Adele by R I Alyaseer and A I Alyaseer

My Trip to Adele is an enjoyable and intriguing novel, written by siblings A.I. and R.I. Alyaseer, that tells about love and life, all of this with the music of Adele in the background.

I was drawn to it by my own love for Adele’s music and by its settings, so different from each other and culminating in the suggestive Arena di Verona in Italy, a real gem of my country.

Throughout the chapters we follow the story of three dissimilar people whose lives have been deeply impacted by Adele’s songs.

The first protagonist we meet is Elias, a Moroccan man living in Rome, Italy. Eight years before, he met a very young Malika on a trip to Marrakesh, whom he left with the promise to meet again one day. The wish to find again his long lost love will lead him back to the suggestive scenarios of Morocco and to the memories of the brief moments they spent together.

The rest of the review can be found here on OBC.

Short story: The fortune-teller

Leave him, he’s not the one.

What upset me more at the time was that he didn’t show any sign of the typical charlatan. No arrogance, no intimidation, no stupid smirks or toothy smiles. Actually, he barely looked at me at all. His voice was disturbingly calm and careless. His gaze was deep into reading the cards in front of him. Absorbed in his job – actually more like a hobby – like his life depended on my future. Or better, on mining my future before it had the chance to become such. And he was doing it for free.

I was eighteen.

I had so many options; drop my not-the-one in the middle of the vacation, wait till our plane landed back home, use the fortune-teller’s own words and tell him straight he wasn’t the one. But with the rebellion of my young age, I stayed. You don’t dictate to a teen girl who she’s supposed to date or not to. Especially to a teen girl who’s on her first vacation with her boyfriend. It’s nothing more than reverse psychology. Every parent knows it. But maybe the fortune-teller didn’t have kids.

So I took his words, packed them on the dusty bottom of some unreachable drawer and buried them under fifteen years of marriage, a son and a slobbery dog.

I have to admit, sometimes I dared peeping. When things were rough, when I was mad, disappointed or frustrated for whatever reason. Just a quick glance back at those words, wondering if “the one” was next to me, if we crossed paths already but I couldn’t recognize him, if I had to meet him yet and all these years had served the purpose of preparing me for something bigger and better.

There had been Emile, my first real crush – a crush returned with the most horrible timing. I still remember making such a fuss with my friends because he was the coolest and cutest guy in town. I also remember the hate on the face of every girl who happened to meet us on our way back home from license school. Now he’s married to my sister’s best friend and has two girls.

There had been Alex. I still don’t know so many years later what the hell I saw in him. He couldn’t possibly be the one. Now he’s married with two girls.

Then Manuel, never much into him, to be honest. Or Raphael, so boring I could never picture a whole day with him, go figure an entire life. Or Daniel, possibly even worse than Raphael.

And then there was Luke. Same firm. Different offices. For a long while we’ve been friends. Flirting friends is maybe a better way to define us. Lunches together, pleasantries, attentions, a sympathy that made people wonder if we were something. Except we weren’t and we’ve never been. It was just that, a sympathy. Guess his fate? Married a couple of years later, now father of two girls. And I start to see a pattern here. It’s like some higher god is looking down and making fun of me for the two daughters I always wanted and never had. Haha, look what you missed with your teen rebellion?

Maybe they all could have been the one. Maybe no one. Maybe the one never existed and never will. Maybe it was simply the fortune-teller’s way to tell me I was destined to something different and the one wasn’t some guy but maybe a mission?

Eventually, Luke fell into the same oblivion of all the other potential “the ones.” He became my boss, we settled easily into our working proximity, getting along quite well. Until one day I found out that back on the old days he used to have a huge crush on me. Hello blindness, my old friend. I took the revelation, stored it still burning in a different drawer so it wouldn’t meet the infamous fortune-teller, moved on again with the wisdom of knowing it didn’t matter anymore. It seemed to be the dancing story of my life. One step forward, two leaps back. Two steps forward, one leap back. Right to the start. Forgotten. Remembered. Restored never to get retrieved again.

***

The cafeteria is particularly noisy today, more than it generally is on Fridays. Cutlery clinking, forks scraping, dishes clattering. The tv is on, playing the highlights of a reality show nobody cares about. Chatter is loud to surmount the tv. Mindy keeps blabbering about something. I’m not listening, lost in my own thoughts. It’s lunch time. Six coworkers taking a break from one chaos just to jump into a different one.

“Have you already moved?” Mindy asks, with a surprise that shakes the bills off my mind. Nothing ever surprises Mindy. But this thing just did.

“Of course, what should I wait for?” It’s Luke who, in-between bites, confirms the move.

Great. Luke and his perfect family apparently moved to a new house. I can already see it. Huge, clean, compulsively tidy because his wife doesn’t need to work all day.

“You sure didn’t waste time!”

Of course they didn’t. Meanwhile, last time I moved, it only took me five months to pack things. They’re still packed two years later.

“Yesterday I did my first grocery all alone. And I had so much fun.”

Something in those words is off. Something that makes me prick up my ears.

“Oh, the first grocery is always fun,” Bob chimes in, “I separated five years ago and still have stock on toilet paper for another five.”

Everyone bursts into laughter. Everyone but me. I’m still trying to process the whole situation. Separated? Is that what he meant with moving? Moving out? Alone?

I’m suddenly beset by an odd feeling. Good or bad, I can’t say. It’s a conflict bound to drive me insane. I want to be sorry, I want to think it’s bad. For him, for his wife, for his girls. But I can’t. The selfish, wicked witch in me is already doing a happy dance in front of a boiling cauldron. I do my best to ignore her, but she chants louder to make sure I hear her. Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble. Shut up!

I don’t ask him anything. Not that day, not the next. Not for a couple of weeks. I hate to intrude, it’s not me. But as the days go by, I can’t help noticing his attitude. There’s no anger, no resentment. It’s like he’s completely at peace with the choice. He’s the usual himself. And truth be told, I don’t know what I was expecting. But I keep being silent, regardless of how selfish and uncaring I may appear. I guess I simply don’t know how to tackle the issue, at work, with discretion.

That night I sit on my couch, watching a movie, enjoying the calm of my son without homework for once. A terribly performed fortune-teller issues his catastrophic verdict, the Hanged Man is rarely a good sign.

The fortune-teller. It’s been a long while since I last thought of his words. Maybe the events of these past weeks are meant to mean something? Of course not, I’d only be fooling myself.

Leave him, he’s not the one.

The words are acrid and come with a strong aftertaste of camphor. When I realize that the old drawer has been opened wide, it’s too late. Its content has sneaked out, almost unnoticed, and has started hissing into my ears. I had forgotten how upsetting those few words could be. What gives a man the right to decide your fate based on a worn piece of cardboard paper? Maybe the Hanged Man is only a joker and all this damn movie is based on some misinterpretation.

Maybe the Hanged Man is really an asshole.

It’s a sunny, but terribly freezing Wednesday, when the coffee machine is not crowded and I finally dare to say something. “I’m sorry if I haven’t asked you anything about… you know what. It’s only that I don’t like to intrude.” I couldn’t be lamer than that, but Luke is polite enough to chuckle and pat me on the shoulder.

“You never intrude.”

That’s actually true. “Good. So now, what?” I attempt, unsure about the answer I’ll get, about the answer I’d want to hear.

“I don’t know. I’m still adjusting.”

How long has it been? Maybe two or three weeks. I’ve seen people still trying to adjust after two or three years. All I can do is nod and stare down at the coffee cooling in my hands.

“You know what’s funny?” He reawakens my interest with an odd question. What’s there so funny in a divorce? “Many years ago, before I got even married, I was on a vacation with her, and a fortune-teller told me, leave her, she’s not the one. Took me quite a few years to believe him.”

Short story: The daycare

Inspiration can strike in any form. This came a couple of nights ago in the form of a nightmare. Hello Freud, knock if you’re lurking around.

***

The elegant building was one of the oldest in town. Dating back to the sixteenth century, it had miraculously survived the bombing that in the early seventies had destroyed nearly completely that neighborhood. It had been offering daycare and babysitting for longer than memory could reach. Years. Decades. Maybe more. It was a manna for working parents. Or for single mothers like me.

I rarely needed anyone to look after my little girl at night, – my social life was nonexistent anyway, – but that day was an exception I couldn’t do without. My firm was hosting an important dinner, I had just gotten a promotion, I couldn’t duck out. Not that night.

“There is that old daycare on Oak Street, I know they keep children to sleep, why don’t you try?” suggested a coworker. And I did.

Sophia was four years old. Generally well behaving, except for those random tantrums so typical of her age, which made it sometimes impossible to reason with her. To be completely honest, her tantrums outnumbered by far the times she behaved. Which made me loathe even more the idea of leaving her for the night. What if she wouldn’t sleep? What if the babysitter couldn’t calm her down? What if she got hurt and the babysitter wouldn’t tell me? You hear so many things nowadays.

But the moment the door opened and an old lady welcomed me, every fear disappeared. Miss Whitley looked like Nanny McPhee with the ways of Mary Poppins. Sweet but resolute, competent without a pinch of self-conceit. I immediately felt in safe hands. And it was better anyway than a teenager whose only experience was attending at their little siblings.

So that night I entrusted Sophia to her care, with a gazillion recommendations and even more guilty kisses. It was just one night after all. Nothing bad could happen once she was asleep.

When I woke up a few hours later, dawn barely turning night into day, she was my first thought. All the worst images came to my mind. Sophia not wanting to sleep. Sophia having a tantrum because she wasn’t allowed chocolate cookies late at night. Maybe the babysitter granted her cookies and it would be even worse because then Sophia would expect the same from me. All I knew was that I had a horrible feeling.

My urging knock was followed by the immediate unlock of the door.

“Miss Moore, good morning, would you like a coffee?” Miss Whitley welcomed me with the same calm smile of the day before.

“Thank you, but no, I only came to pick Sophia. I hope she was good.” Of course she was good.

“Oh, she was, Sophia is a very good girl,” the woman reassured me.

Sophia wasn’t always a good girl. Especially with strangers. “Where is she?”

“Upstairs, still getting ready. She didn’t have breakfast yet, we weren’t expecting you this early.”

I realized, it was barely 7am. On a Saturday. But who could blame a mother for wanting her daughter back? Sophia could still nap later at home. In her own bed. “I should have called maybe.” Of course I should have called. Who on earth shows up at people’s doors at dawn?

“Would you follow me upstairs please?”

As we climbed the wooden stairs, I took in the surroundings. Outside the building was still old, but inside it had definitely been refurnished over the years to suit the needs of a daycare.

Miss Whitley led me into a room, probably the room Sophia had slept in? There was a bed, soft and fluffy, the bed of a princess, I thought. Pink duvet, glowing stars on the ceiling. And dolls. Many dolls. Some looked very old, some were brand new. It gave the idea of a miniaturized wax museum. They were there, a plastic parade staring at me. Almost disturbingly.

Then I noticed the dolls house on the floor. I had one too when I was a kid. Very similar to this one. It resembled in the appearance this same building. Old outside, the stairs in the middle, the bedroom with the princess bed. It gave me the shivers.

I turned the attention back to the dolls. And this time I noticed it. It couldn’t be my imagination. Most of them resembled the witches of the fables. Dressed as Snow White was the Evil Queen. Cinderella clothes were filled by the evil stepmother. Maleficent. The White Witch. This room was scaring me.

“Where’s Sophia?” I muttered, trying not show my upheaval.

“I’m here mommy!” My little girl squealed from the door, startling my already shaken heart.

In the relief of seeing her in one piece, I hugged her so tight that I almost broke her but she didn’t complain. “Are you okay?”

“I had so much fun!”

“That’s great baby!” I felt the need to run away while at the same time not pissing Miss Whitley who was standing right outside with an attentive eye on us. “Shall we go now?”

“Yes mom.”

No complains? No tantrums that she wanted to keep a doll? Though, why would she even want to keep one of those dolls? They looked creepy.

I thanked the old woman, more politely and enthusiastic than I should, and climbed down the big stairs as fast as I could, my back hurting unnaturally in the effort of looking natural. I was expecting the door to lock me in, or something terrible. I didn’t know what. But something didn’t feel right.

Once finally outside, back in the daylight, I took Sophia for breakfast in her favorite cafeteria on the corner of Duke and Dearborn. She loved that place, she loved their croissants. If she had a tantrum about wanting two, like she always did, I was ready to yield and gave her what she wanted, such was the relief of having her back with me.

But she didn’t.

“You alright? Is your little belly full? You don’t want another croissant?”

“No mommy, I’m fine like this. Another croissant will give me a bellyache,” she explained with the funny wisdom of children. But for some reason, I wasn’t finding it funny that morning. Maybe she was only happy that I came back for her and didn’t abandon her like I threatened once? Damn. That time I hadn’t acted smartly. Kids tend to remember everything and always on the wrong moments.

I accepted her explanation and didn’t persist. Every kid has good days and bad days. Just like every adult.

But when bedtime came without a fight, I found myself wondering if maybe she was sitting on a flu.

“Do you want one of your dolls, baby?” I offered her, bracing myself for the hour long ritual of picking each one and changing her mind continuously.

“No mommy. I don’t want them.”

The parade of creepy faces popped before my eyes, food for nightmares. Maybe that’s why Sophia didn’t want hers anymore? But I didn’t feel like persisting so I hugged her, placed a kiss on her forehead and watched as she fell in a peaceful sleep.

The next day was a repeat. And so was the following. And the following again. Sophia was behaving like a perfect little girl. So perfect it started to unsettle me. I couldn’t pinpoint what disturbed me in her behavior, but I knew that it wasn’t her normal behavior.

So one morning I did what every mother would have done. I knocked on the daycare door.

A young woman, probably in her late twenties, opened the door. In the background I could hear the joyous screams of an infant. “May I help you?”

“I… I’m looking for Miss Whitley.”

The woman gave me an astonished look. “Sorry, I think you got the wrong address.”

What? The address was right. I was here only a few days before.

“Miss Whitley. The old babysitter. This is the daycare, right?” I didn’t realize my voice was shaking. I felt my cheeks burning and a knot tying right at my stomach. I took a step back, just to make sure I had knocked on the right door.

“This is the daycare, but there isn’t any Miss Whitley working here.”

My knees failed and I almost fell on the sidewalk.

“Are you okay, Madame?”

Who was that woman? Who was Miss Whitley? And what had she done to my Sophia?

Goodreads giveaway

You have a couple of weeks to enter the giveaway if you want to win a free copy of “The Fire Opal” ebook!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Fire Opal by Sabrina Beretta

The Fire Opal

by Sabrina Beretta

Giveaway ends February 05, 2018.

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