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Haven’t done much blogging or reading but for a good cause. My organization is organizing a big event in Addis and I was there recently for prep work. It was a busy time, but still managed to do some tourist stuff. Will return in a couple of weeks and plan to explore the Ethiopian jazz scene, which I’m told is one of the best in the world.

Have you been? Any recommendations?

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The obligatory coffee ceremony

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Saw many women carrying huge piles of wood down Entoto Mountain and asked to give it a try. Didn’t manage a single step. Actually, it took all my strength to just stand. My respect to these ladies. At least I gave them something to laugh about.

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Ate A LOT of injera bread. This picture was taken at the Lucy restaurant, named after the celebrity Australopithecus in the nearby museum (highly recommended).

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Some shopping may have been done…

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Reading Dorothy Dunnett at the Kaldis Cafe.

Moments from a work-related field visit:

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ALWTASAPWhen this one started making the rounds and seducing everyone it touched, it seemed so much up my alley I was afraid to start if for fear of disappointment.

In the end, although I’m not completely head-over-heals in love, I really liked it, and it leaves me with the warm, fuzzy feelings so many reviewers described. Also: that cover!

In the tradition of Firefly, the story follows a crew of space tunnelers (it’s complicated) that accepts a commission in… a small angry planet far far away. Most of the team is human, but there are others as well, including a sentient AI and a doctor/cook that made me think of Alice’s Hookah-Smoking Caterpillar.

There’s not a lot of action in the book, which is refreshing for a sci-fi set mostly in starships. Its power comes from how Chambers introduces us to these characters and then let’s us watch them interact. When two non-humans interact it especially brings out Chambers’ amazing world-building where no detail is neglected: from biology to politics, from relationships with other species to matting habits, from language to family structures. Everything makes sense and I want to extend a big thank you to the people who backed her Kickstarter project and allowed her to spend 2 years just thinking about these things.

But the best scenes come when humans interact with other species. There’s a lot of sci-fi out there about “what it means to be human”, but right now I can’t think of another one that does it so well and poignantly (edit 30m later: maybe the closest is Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow). It reminded me of the times people praised the sound of Portuguese and I wish I could hear it from the outside. Well, this book made me look at humans from the outside and gave me hope. There’s this one conversation in particular that is genius, where two aliens have a hilarious rant about us.

Another unusual thing about this book is that the human race actually manages to evolve! This happens mostly because we 1) were forced to exodus after destroying Earth’s environment, 2) only to be saved when we ran into another species by chance and 3) later joined the Galactic Commons, where humans are a minor and rather uninfluential species. You see, we evolved by eating a well deserved dose of humility pie!

In general, Chambers’ universe is a good place to be and a welcome antidote to the dystopias and alien invasion stories that dominate sci-fi. This is a less sexist, racist, homophobic, and transphobic universe that actually feels realistic.

The only thing that felt not quite right was the captain’s style of leadership. Doing what he does, under those conditions, I’d expect someone… stronger? He was born in the Exodus Fleet so is a pacifistic that hates guns, but that’s not why I’m questioning his authority. At times he was just too unprepared. It also got me thinking about the advantages and disadvantages of having a boss that’s your buddy, especially in potentially dangerous environments. Would have loved to discuss this in a bookclub!

I’m still amazed that Chambers manages to put so much in just 518 pages, and although I really welcome the sequel already in the making, part of me wishes that she’d made it a stand-alone: contained and strong. But I get it, it’d be a waste of good characters and world.

So, don’t pick up A Long Way if you’re looking for a science-focused space-opera with lots of laser guns and thingy-propellers, but go for it if you’re in the mood for a character-driven novel with lots of food for thought. It’s also the perfect book to recommend to sci-fi virgins or resistants.

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Other thoughts: A Dribble of Ink, The Speculative Scotsman, Eve’s Alexandria, Dear Author, Awesome Audiobooks, Boomerang Books, The Android’s Conundrum, Rambling of an Elfpire, Common Touch of Fantasy, Kalanadi, Kitty G, Books and Pieces, Mercy’s Bookish Musings (yours?)

 

 

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From Venice to Caffa, from Antwerp to the Gold Coast of Africa, merchants anchored their ships and unloaded their cannon and flipped open their ledgers as if in twenty years nothing had changed, and nothing was about to change now.

Last night I finally begun the last book of Dorothy Dunnett’s House of Niccolò series. I’d ended my previous read two days ago and still hadn’t found the right time to pick up Gemini. But last night, at around 9:30PM, when David was finally asleep and the husband was out for a concert, I made myself comfortable with a rare after-dinner Coke, got the two Companions, put the BBC on mute for company, and finally was able to engaged my brain 100% – Dunnett never asks for (or deserves) anything less.

This means I’ll soon end my first-time reading of her historical series. I’ve been postponing this moment since I first begun The Lymond Chronicles (Niccolò‘s sequel in plot but prequel in publication date) back in 2009 and my reading life was changed for ever. From then on, every historical fiction (every fiction really!) will always be compared to these books.

Two chapters in and the Companions had already failed me in translating the Middle Scots opening quote, there was a line to be discussed with other fans in the yahoo group (“He had met other husbands like this. Men who could sail but not navigate.“) and I got the sudden urge to eat oysters. It’s going to be a ride.

I already know that for the rest of my life I’ll always be re-reading Dunnett and will always find something new to awe me, but first-time readings are special. The end of Gemini will be the end of an Era and I’m feeling rather emotional about it.

My almost 3-year-old’s approach to literature is 1) make us read a book until the pages are falling off and we’re eyeball-stabbing sick of it and only then 2) move on.

These are his most recent fads:

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Handa’s Surprise by Eileen Browne

A hit from the start, it’s a story about a girl from somewhere in Africa that decides to surprise a friend in a neighboring village with a basket of 7 fruits. It’s sweet and funny and we love the drawings – so vibrant and full of color (you can almost hear the insects buzzing).

We also have the new in the series – Handa’s Hen – but David hasn’t graced it with the gift of his attention.

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Hora de dormir – À procura do meu pijama by Yoyo Studios

This would translate into Time to sleep – Looking for my pajamas and it’s his current favorite. Not because of the story or the art… he just likes to push and pull the little gimmicky pieces.

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wildWhere the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

A classic and well deserved. I suspect he likes to read it in the days where he’s been wild himself. That first image of Max standing on a pile of books, but look especially familiar. But the thing that really grabs David’s attention, is that Max’s name written on the side of the boat is hidden from view when he returns.

With English books I do automatic translation, but am always uncertain how to translate “Wild Things” – “Bichos Selvagens”? “Coisas Selvagens”? Portuguese-speaking readers: any thoughts?

 

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Un, deux, trois… la grenouille c’est moi ! by  Carlo Alberto Michelini

One, two, three… I’m the frog! This is probably my favorite of the bunch (or the one I don’t almost know by heart?). There’s a certain trippy feel to the book, from the slightly surrealistic poems to the animal’s eyes.

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O Alfabeto dos Bichos by José Jorge Letria

For months we read nothing but The Alphabet of Creatures. Every. Single. Night. One letter at a time, no exception and most definitely no skipping! (I’m honestly a little baffled by the preference -not a bit fan of either the text or the illustrations, but there’s no accounting for taste :P). It caught him at his ABC phase, where it seemed he wasn’t able to say (or sing) anything else except the alphabet. Thanks Tania, for the gift – it’s one of his favorite toys ever!

An honorable mention to Where Is the Green Sheep?, that despite being a favorite is always left behind on our visits to Lisbon…

Any other recommendations? What do your toddles like to read?

Finally got my hands on Lumberjanes because I’m nothing if not a slave to your recommendations.

I get the love: the art is fresh, the girl-power theme is amazing, it’s laugh-out-loud funny at times. It’s all that so it deserved a bit more… depth. It felt really short mostly because its 24 pages are action-oriented and don’t leave much room for character development or exploration of their world.

In stories about a group of people I immediately find a favorite. In Lumberjanes I had some difficulty making that call – there’s just not much that distinguishes them (apart from Ripley being The Crazy One). In the end I went with Jo because she had books and pictures of stars and planets in her bunk:

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To be fair, it’s only the first in the series and there’s a hint of background stories to come, like Molly’s fear of her family being informed about their adventures. But I can’t help but compare it to another very short, very popular, first-in-the-series, action-packed, kick-ass girl gang comic that takes the time to tells us (and make us care) about individual characters: Rat Queens.

The world-building in Lumberjanes also left me a bit confused: Magic? Fairy tales? Greek mythology? All? Two weeks after reading it I’m left with a vague sense of The Goonies meets Chamber of Secrets with a bit of Percy Jackson.

All this to say that I really had fun and will definitely pick up the next one in the series. I just wish it went a bit deeper with the story and its people, even if it’s “just” a first volume.

I’m ready for the rotten tomatoes to fly now… *ducks*

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Book 2 of the Aya series (thoughts on the first one here) about four families in Yopougon, a neighborhood of Abidjan, Ivory’s Coast’s capital. It’s set in the 70s, when the country’s was going through an economic boom and it continues to be refreshing to see a side of modern Africa that’s not filled with war and AIDS. If you know of any other comics like these let me know.

Like Book 1, it’s not an action-packed story. I’m actually approaching it as a really smart and funny twist on a soap-opera: Adjoua’s new life as a young single mother, Bintou’s fashionable new love-interest from Paris (or is he?), the mystery around the girl with the wig, dramatic cliffhanger ending. Book 3 is called “The Secrets Come Out” and like another episode of an addictive soap-opera I’m really really want to know them!

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If I had one less positive point to make is that, although Aya is the name on the cover, she was rather passive, basically just a shoulder for her friends to cry and lean on. She has the potential to be such an interesting character – a steady young women who wants to be a doctor – that I’d like to know her a bit more.

This book also included a “Ivorian Bonus”, including a recipe for Chicken Kedjenou, a guide on how to wrap a baby on your back and a great short “essay” on how a popular Ivorian proverb is put into practice everyday.

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Other thoughts: Page 247, largehearted boy, My Favourite Books (yours?)

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image (2)Read for the A More Diverse Universe Challenge
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October is Sherlockian Month at Book Bloggers International and to celebrate it I listened to Benedict Cumberbatch read Sherlock Holmes: the Rediscovered Railway Mysteries and Other Stories by John Taylor using Canon Doyle’s style.

Come over and join the fun!

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geek_cover_1Happy Ada Lovelace Day everyone! A time to celebrate women in science, technology, engineering and maths.

When editors Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders had the idea for this anthology of essays about women in science, technology and geekdom in general the response was beyond their expectations. They were contacted by women from different fields, social backgrounds, sexual orientation and ethnic background. The strength of “She’s Such a Geek!” lies in this variety and the fact that the challenges and barriers these women had to face were, in the end, very similar.

One common thread was the identity of a girl and woman geek in a male-dominated world. My passion is words and languages and I work in communications, so I can only imagine what it’d be like to love physics instead and at a crucial time in my upbringing have a physics professor openly tell a class that women can never be as good as men. This happened to one of the essayists and also to one of my best friends, who today is a successful marine biologist.

To overcome something like this requires a lot of resilience, self-confidence and supportive family and peers, so it’s no wonder that so many women give up along the way. I was surprised by how many women benefited from taking women studies classes in college, even when their majors were it astronomy or theoretical physics, and not so surprised how having female role-models help them overcome their self-doubt.block1Credits: Hark, a vagrant

Another common topic, also connected to identity, is sexuality. Many of the essays talk about maneuvering the fine line between being attractive and being take seriously, which apparently are inversely proportional:

During my first year of graduate school, three female classmates who frequented the clubs of Boston hit a serious snag in their search for boyfriends. Time after time, guys approached them – only to walk away the minute the women mentioned their occupation. So my friends started lying. They claimed to be flight attendants, yoga instructors, or kindergarten teachers. And the dating pool magically widened.

Some of the essays about mathematics and genetics were a bit over my head, but I still enjoyed them for the writers’ pure passion for their fields – it was fascinating to read about the joy of solving an equation or the eureka moment when maths just clicks. Still, my favorite essays were written by the gamers. They’re also incredibly varied, from the players to the programmers, from the hacker of adult sites to the leader of an all-female war game squad, from tips on how to conquer a virtual empire to the ethics of topless-girl-on-bikes games. So. Much. Fun.

The essays were written by women who mostly grew up in the 60s, 70s and 80s, so I’d be curious to read a similar book written by younger generations. Would the same barriers come up?

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There’s not much I can say about this book that hasn’t been said 1.000 times before, so just some quick thoughts for posterity:

I went into One Hundred Years of Solitude with some fear, because it has happened that my re-reads turn teen favorites into just-oks. This one however, was still as amazing, as captivating and as fierce as I remembered. It’s that type of book that’s experimental and “intellectual” and yet emotionally engaging. Like a Michelin-star meal that really make you feel full.

The plot is simply summed up as the story of a family in a remote village in an unnamed South American country, but then each character is a world in itself, and the language… oh the language!

Márquez’s style is very much in the oral tradition, as if he just captured what he’d heard from someone old, wise and incredibly funny. That’s why the magic realism feels so real, why every relationship and emotion are described with such power and why the way he moves from one character to the other flows so well. The book may have the most depressing title ever and it does deal a lot with loneliness, but in fact it’s a really bright, energetic, colorful story, that feels always in motion. Hard to explain, you have to read it!

One of the biggest complains I’ve read about One Hundred Years is that the characters’ names are all the same (e.g. father José Arcadio Buendía, son Aureliano, grandson José Arcadio) and it confuses everything. Well, that might be true (as of the 4th generation I had to draw a family tree), but for me it’s a demonstration of Márquez sense of humor.

Also, surely Úrsula Buendía should belong to all the lists of “Best heroines of all time”.

I’ve read it in Portuguese but I’m aiming to pick up the original next time. I wonder how it reads in English and can see how part of the language’s richness is lost. I was debating with myself whether the “solitude” in the English title shouldn’t be “loneliness” instead. “Solitude” is almost a voluntary isolation, and the Spanish “soledad” doesn’t read like that.

Have you read this one? Any thoughts?

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Other thoughts: A Striped Armchair, Jules’ Book Review, Confessions of a Bibliophile, Man of La Book, Other Sashas, of blog, Shelf Love, Fifty Book Project, The Labyrinth Library, Avid Readers’ Musings, bookhimdanno, Passion for the Page, My Library in the Making, Rivers I have Known, Old English Rose Reads, The Reading Life (thoughts?)

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image (2)Read for the A More Diverse Universe Challenge

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.Re-Read Challenge.. and the Re-Read Challenge

coroners-lunch1If you’re looking for your next mysteries series, you might want to give this one a trial. It’s more Alexander McCall Smith than Jo Nesbø, but I’m reluctant to call it cozy. Just as the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, it’s main attraction is the different setting, this time Laos at the beginning of the communist rule, in 1976. I knew very little about this time and place and the book got me to cruise Wikipedia, which is a good sign in itself.

The “detective” is a 72 year-old doctor who’s reluctantly nominated as the county’s only coroner. He’s a “communist for convenience” and old enough not to care much about using his biting humor to point out the often comic surrealism of the system. He’s awesome!

The other characters and the plot are also interesting, but it’s definitely the setting that steals the show. Imagine the challenge of crime-solving in a bureaucratic dictatorship with very little resources.

There’s an element of the supernatural that I’m carefully apprehensive about, as I usually like my mysteries very much based on hard-core evidence and logic. I’d be able to accept it better if it didn’t actually contribute to solving the crime. It didn’t disturb me too much, I suspect because I was just focusing on the great setting-relate details, but I wonder what’ll happen in the next books once the novelty wears off.

I’m surprised this was first published in 2004 because it has everything to make it an instant favorite and I hadn’t hear about it until very recently.

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Other thoughts: Boston Bibliophile, Letters from a Hill Farm, Crime Scraps, Books and Quilts, Olduvai Reads, Book Lust, Crime Scraps Review (yours?)

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