My 5 star Review of ‘My Alien Self: My Journey Back to Me’, by Amanda Green

I believe I’ve never read a memoir before in my life. I read biographies when I was young — used to love them back then, but never memoirs.

Nevertheless, the moment I read the description of “My Alien Self, My Journey back to me’, by Amanda Green, I wanted to read it.

The journey described is intense, almost brutal at some points. And yet there’s tenderness in the way Amanda tells it all, no holding back—after all, it’s her life; she’s her own main character.

Reading fiction can be easy, even if the subject is difficult, because you have the comfort of knowing it all came from a creative mind; here, however, it all really happened.

This is a tough story, but it’s also about redemption and recovery. It will make you change your pre-conceptions about mental illness, and will certainly help so many people!

Find out more about Amanda Green in my interview with her:

My 5 star Review of ‘Space Orville’, by Jeff Whelan

My daughter and I have just finished reading ‘Space Orville’, by Jeff Whelan. I never read Science Fiction–I have no means to explain why, I love watching Sci-Fi movies and TV shows, but not reading them…go figures! Anyway, my daughter loves reading Sci-Fi, and won a copy of the book as a very generous gift from Jeff Whelan himself, after I interviewed him on my blog. Since I knew it had to be a great book, with so many wonderful reviews, I decided to read it with her, and what a fantastic decision that was!

This book is amazing. Seriously, it was an unforgettable journey.

The attention to detail is remarkable. Everything and every name in the story seem to be thoroughly thought. You keep reading and being pleasantly surprised by Whelan’s ability to create the most unbelievable and bizarre things and people in a way that you simply have to believe. It all makes sense! Just like to Space Orville, the mysteries of the Universe are presented to us. Flabbergasted at first we start to get immerse into this Universe. Suddenly, you are holding your Kindle as if trying to control a spaceship, grinding your teeth as if watching a movie.

The story has it all; laughter, tenderness, suspense, action, everything!

In the final chapters, we were reading really fast to finish and see how it all would end, curiosity taking hold of us. Then, when we finished, we were both hysterical about the great ending and sad because we wanted more! I miss the story already. Actually, I can imagine weekly episodes, toys, lunch boxes, etc about space Orville.

As one reviewer said, how can this not be a Pixar blockbuster yet? Imagine seeing all these characters in big screen (bigger than my mental screen, that is)?

My 4 star Review of ‘The Fragile Lion’, by Mark Darley

**Reviewed by Renata F. Barcelos for Readers Favorite**

The Fragile Lion is a very different, unique story. It has drama, suspense, mystery and literary elements.

It starts with Justine, an apparently simple schoolteacher in another school day. Soon we realize that this is not an ordinary day; she was not supposed to be working. A tragedy had occurred and she should be home, recovering. Justine, however, has no recollection of what happened and has to rely on what people tell her to unfold her misfortune.

Confused and lonely, she thinks a trip might help. Then she meets an interesting pair: a mother and her child, a girl who simply refuses to eat. Trying to help them, another tragic accident changes their lives forever.

It’s a very different tale. Justine is quite a character; it’s hard to define her in one sentence, since she is not exactly who she seems to be. As her relationship with Sonya, the Sioux child she desperately wants to help, gets stronger, we have the opportunity to learn more about her. Her life has not been easy; she’s almost used to misfortune. As we get to know her past better, it becomes somehow easier to understand her actions.

Her quest to help Sonya is also a quest to help herself. To find purpose to her own life, to find reason to carry on. She thought she had lost everything, but she has a lot to find out; people to reconcile with, guilty to overcome, old debts to pay.

It’s basically a tale of redemption. Justine acts without thinking, without looking back to do what she believes is her obligation, her mission. But meanwhile, she goes learning from point to point.

The dialogue is well written, and a bit enigmatic. The child’s stubbornness is almost annoying and I think I wouldn’t have the patience Justine had. But she’s almost as stubborn as Sonya, which makes them the perfect pair.

I don’t know much about the Sioux Indians, but it seems like Mark Darley did his homework about the Indian culture. The descriptions are very well done, to the point you can easily visualize the scenes.

So much happens in such a short period of time, and still the book flows softly, unrushed.

The ending is very poignant and, even though it lets questions unanswered, it gives the reader reason to hope for a better future.

Overall, a beautiful, touching book that I’d recommend to all drama readers.

My 5 star Review of ‘An Order of Coffee and Tears’, by Brian Spangler

Paperback Edition

Kindle Edition

An order of coffee and tears is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s absolutely glowing in my top ten, and even maybe in my top five. I cried reading the last chapters today on the train, and I can say that not many books made me do that; only three or maybe four so far.

It starts with the covers. Look above; I can’t decide which one is prettier, so I decided to put both.

Brian Spangley brings you a tale so vividly narrated by Gabby, a young waitress, that you feel like watching a beautiful, touching movie inside your head. The story is poignant, but not mushy. It has the exactly right amount of mystery, love, friendship, routine, sadness, redemption and, of course, coffee and tears.

 As each chapter unfolds, we learn more about Gabby and her new family—the other employees and some customers of Angela’s Dinner. It’s an old fashion dinner, where people go not only to eat and drink, but sometimes also to share their problems, to talk, to open their hearts. We have the opportunity to hear many of their stories, through the ears of Gabby. And we can see how she, Ms. Potts, Clark and others (I don’t want to give away too much and spoil your fun, so I won’t name all of them) grow. The whole dinner seems to grow along the story.

The dinner contains a universe so intense, so many lives intersecting inside it, that it’s not difficult to see how Angela’s is a character as important as others.

Many deep and intense themes are presented, in a tender and easy to connect way. You get to know the characters and their secrets, feeling their pain, their fear, their hope. You are, at some level, another customer, sharing your own order of coffee and tears.

 It’s impossible to talk much about the plot without revealing too much and spoiling it, so I’ll refrain from it. But I can tell you this: if you liked Fried Green Tomatoes, the movie, or Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, the novel, by Fannie Flagg, you’ll certainly, utterly love An order of Coffee and Tears. A true masterpiece. Beautifully written, masterfully constructed, amazingly finished.

My 5 star Review of ‘Fallen Men’, by Brian O’Hare

I love reading, and love even more to find a good story and help spreading the word about it. That’s why I review books here, on Amazon and on Goodreads. I’m truly glad that Amazon is [apparently] not going to forbid me of doing that… (read more here)

(*I’ve just joined Readers Favorite’s Review team, so in the future my reviews may also been there too)

I  finished “Fallen Men”, by Brian O’Hare yesterday, and really liked it.

Even though it talks about three Catholic Priests, I don’t believe it can be simply defined as “religious fiction”. It’s way more than that.

It’s more a study of how faith can both save or destroy you. Of how morality and honesty are relative concepts depending on one’s point of view or interests at the moment. It’s also a study of how depression can lead to unthinkable decisions.

Brian O’Hare has talent to describe people and situations without boring the reader. He can also make you enter the characters’ thoughts so you are deeply into the situation with them. And he creates real people, defected, sometimes weak, sometimes strong people. Priests, lay people… they are all real in a way you can relate to them here. And about Father McGennity… Boy, I know a Father really similar to him. Well, the truth is, Fathers are men, and men come in all sizes and kinds; O’Hare presented it greatly in this story.

I thought the way the forbidden relationship was presented was both tender and disturbing, which was perfect  for the story. The gray areas that can surround even a Father’s life were very well described, even with Father Dan, and his black or white view of the world.

As a Catholic myself, I must say that I can relate much more to Father Dan than to Father Ray. What Ray did was inexcusable to me and even though the surroundings (internal and external) might help explain in some level his actions, I still believe his mission as a priest was exactly to avoid temptations at all costs. In my Parish we have amazing examples of Fathers so I may be too biased in my opinion… But I still believe he should have been better. I would prefer at all choices to be publicly accused as Father Dan, of following the Church’s Laws to the end than as Ray.

I may sound too harsh, but the priesthood path is not for the faint of heart. It means an entire life of dedication to others and the Church. The Parish is your family, and God must be in your thoughts at all moments. Sure Priests sin too, but to an extent… Mortal sins in a Father shake the Church’s core. I can understand some falls, but Ray fell too much for me.

You see, O’Hare’s great skills as a writer are still making me think so passionately about Ray’s story… All the moral dilemmas stay with you long after finishing the reading. And that’s what makes me say this book is a must read. It doesn’t matter your religion or even if you believe in anything… Fallen Men is an excellent, well-written story that raises great questions and gives a lot of food for thought.

Find out more about Brian on his blog: http://brianohareprofessor.blogspot.co.uk

 

A NEW [and better] official response from Amazon regarding its Review Policy for Authors!

It seems to be every author’s biggest concern lately that Amazon has been removing reviews according to their new guideline. Said guidelines, according to some emails received and shared by authors, indicate that Amazon considers authors to be direct competitors of other authors, and therefore, not allowed to review their books.

It was really heartbreaking to imagine that my opinion wasn’t wished by the big retailer now that I’m an author. I mean…I’ve been writing reviews on Amazon for a while, and have lots of helpful votes. Does Amazon really wanted me to give up reading since I started writing? It really didn’t seem right…

Well, instead of keep thinking and moaning about it, I decided to ask them directly. I emailed them today, and received a different answer, that I’ll share with you. This answer seems logical and straightforward enough to calm me down. I’ll even post a review on Amazon later today of a book I finished yesterday.

If some of you continue to receive the other formal response (the one that states they are not even going to explain their policies and that you should not go further into the matter or your account will be removed!!), as Robert Chazz Chute [hilariously] wrote on his great blog post, we’ll have to assume that Todd is still on the loose! :D

But seriously, since what I was told today makes sense, I prefer to think that Amazon has rethought and that this is the [New] official response about our right to review other authors! Let’s see…

So, here are the emails:

Me:

—————
11/13/12 09:47:06
Your Name: Renata F . Barcelos
Comments:I’ve been reading authors talking about Amazon new Review Policy, and that some of their reviews are being removed… I don’t want to believe that Amazon would take arbitrary actions like forbidden authors of writing reviews just for being authors themselves.

However, I’m afraid of posting reviews on Amazon now, and unwillingly cross some sort of new line here… So, I want to know for sure if I can review books on Amazon, whatever category they are in or if I should refrain from posting reviews on Amazon altogether and posting just on Goodreads and my blog.
—————

Amazon:

From: Amazon.com Customer Service
Subject: Your Amazon.com Inquiry

Hello Renata,

Thank you for your inquiry regarding what is acceptable for reviews.

We try to encourage our customers to give their honest opinions on our products while staying within our guidelines. As a retailer we are interested in cultivating a diversity of opinion on our products. Part of that is allowing our customers to air their honest thoughts on items they have received. Here’s a link to our guidelines for reference:

http://www.amazon.com/review-guidelines/

I hope this helps. We hope to see you again soon.

Thank you for your inquiry.
Best Regards,

Amazon.com
Your feedback is helping us build Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company.

Since this was such a generic answer, I wasn’t at all satisfied… so I asked again:

—————
Hi,

Thanks for answering so quickly, but I’m afraid my doubt persists…

As an author published through KDP, I’m still not sure if I fit in this part:

“Sentiments by or on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product (including reviews by publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product”

So, just to clarify it completely: even being an author and having books published on Amazon, can I still review other books, no matter in which category they are?

Sincerely,
Renata
—————

Their final [and most important] answer:

Hello Renata,

You can review other books as long as you do not review your own book, or promote your book within your review.

I hope this helps clarify and relieve your doubts. Have a great day.

Thank you for your inquiry.
Best Regards,

Amazon.com
Your feedback is helping us build Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company.

Now I guess I can click the ‘Yes’ answer to their question: ‘Did I solve your problem?’

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My 5 star Review of ‘A Cupboard Full of Coats’, by Yvvette Edwards

After posting my first review today, I had to post here my review of this book. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read, and Yvvette Edwards, the author, is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met.

I really loved this book, and I should have posted my review here and on Goodreads long ago, can’t explain why it took me so long!!

Oh my, what a debut!
This author is someone to follow. What a gift with words; so perfectly constructed characters. The whole atmosphere she creates is so lyrical, so many beautiful sentences, I had to highlight and take notes on my kindle almost in every page.

There are points through the novel where you can actually smell the food she’s describing; listen to Lemon with his thick accent; cry with Jinx.

Abuse and passion crimes, unfortunately, are not new themes to many women; the way they are told here is what makes all the difference.

There’s a beautiful Brazilian song that says, in Portuguese, something like: “Certain songs I listen to/fit so well inside of me/ that I have got to ask/ How I’m not the one who wrote it*”. Well,  this is another book that I’d love to have written. :D However, I don’t think anyone else would have the sensibility and talent to have written this story.

A masterpiece by Yvvette Edwards.

She’s writing a second book now, and I cannot wait to read it!

*Find out more about this song here (Milton Nascimento - Certas Canções)

Follow Yvvette on Twitter: @YvvetteEdwards

My 5 star Review of ‘Cheer: A Novel’, by Leslie A. Gordon

I’ll start to post my reviews of books I read here. I will also post old reviews I’ve written on Amazon before but that may take some time…

Starting with a book I finished yesterday:

This book is amazingly well written, with a great plot, well drawn characters, and gorgeous prose.

Each chapter follows one of the members of the Dahl family, which is still trying to recover from a tragedy that happened two years before. First person POV for the women, third for the man.

Each one of them – Ethan, the father, Jenny, the mother, and Ella, the teenager daughter – is trying desperately to find a way to cope with the grief. Unfortunately, they are all trying it alone, and the family is, like Ethan states in a chapter, looking more like a bunch of roommates than people united by love and blood.

A tragedy like the one they faced is known to destroy families, and the mother is so consumed by grief and guilt she fails miserably to see what’s happening with little Ella. It’s heartbreaking to read about this young girl ordeal, what she finds to be an answer to her problems. The father is both weak and strong. You’ll love and despise them; you’ll cheer by their happiness; you’ll read fast to finish it and then you’ll feel a little orphan, missing them.

Having the twisted mind I have, I have to confess I knew what she was going to do but I don’t think many ‘normal’ people (:)) would guess. It’s a compelling and inspiring story and also a good mystery.

There’s a beautiful Brazilian song that says, in Portuguese, something like: “Certain songs I listen to/fit so well inside of me/ that I have got to ask/ How I’m not the one who wrote it*”. Well,  this is one book that I’d love to have written. :D Excellent job, Leslie A. Gordon!

*Find out more about this song here (Milton Nascimento – Certas Canções)

Find out more about Leslie A. Gordon on her blog: http://leslieagordon.wordpress.com/

The best creative writing course – reading!

Every writer is also a reader. We love books, we need to read to be happy.

I’m one of those compulsive readers that can’t stand not having a book to read at the moment. I’m also a proud kindle owner, and believe ebooks are the most amazing thing ever invented.

Of course when you’re a writer, you read in a different, more critical way. You read to be inspired by other authors, and, sometimes, to find motivation to keep writing. It happened to me more than once; I’m reading just for pleasure (or think I am) and start taking notes as if in a class, because the sentences are so brilliant, the characters so well constructed, the story so beautifully told that I think: “Boy, that’s what I want:  to write something that good!”

Reading is the best creative writing course for me. I’ve learned so much from reading great authors! Sometimes you learn what not to do, but that’s not the point! :)

Of course, since I love dark, twisted and damaged characters, I read books where they live. I try to always write a review, and, if there’s a way, write to the author just to let them now how much I enjoyed their work. I think this is the least I can do to say “thank you” for their time and effort. Everybody should do that.

I had received amazing responses. Authors are kind people who love to hear from readers. Try it!

These are some of the best books I’ve had the pleasure of reading so far. Some are Indies, some are not. I don’t care how a book is published, I just want the story to be great.

In these books, the weather and locations are characters, as important to the plots as the people on the pages.  They describe a tense, dark, almost suffocating world, where the characters are consumed by their ordeals.

Ruth Rendell is a master. Her stand-alones are must-read

This was the first book in this genre that I read, when I was only thirteen – it hooked me for life!

Absolutely amazing. This story has some of the best metaphors I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. The plot is superb too

Certainly one of the best books I’ve ever read. Almost impossible to describe without spoiling your reading.

Oh my, what a debut! This author is someone to follow. What a gift with words; so perfectly constructed characters. Plus, the author is a really nice person.

This is the American edition of Rupture (UK). Great book about bullying.

Simon Lelic has a compelling way of telling stories.

An excellent debut. I’ll be looking forward for the next book from this author

Sorrel Pitts develops a magnificent tense atmosphere to tell this story.

This is a haunting tale that will stay in your mind for days after finishing the story.

This book is very slow-paced, but it’s a great journey

This is a great coming-of-age story. It’s very dark and extremely sad in some points, with poetical touches all over the text.

I deeply care about not-that-enjoyable characters. You know, the problematic ones, those that proclaimed themselves as bad people, like Libby Day does. And she is so twisted, you end up loving her.

After reading this book you are sure going to watch your back more often and be more careful, especially if you’re a woman.

If the only thing you have are other people’s words as your memories, how can you be sure what’s true?

The author has a beautiful style. His prose is natural, with an excellent pace that keeps you wanting to read more and more.