Book review: Venuto al mondo (Twice Born) and Sword and Scimitar

A funny thing happened to me recently. First of all, a friend lent me a book by Margaret Mazzantini which she praised as a beautifully written novel. And then another friend gave me a bag of historical novels to read.

I read the Mazzantini novel first.


I read the original language, so I can’t vouch for the translation, which is called Twice Born, but I presume if it’s good, it should have the same lyrical quality. To be honest, I hated the main character at first, finding her immature and irritating. However, I realised in retrospect that the slow chapters at the start of the book are a vital part, establishing character and motivation for the later action.

A large part of the story is set during the siege of Sarajevo and if I hadn’t been fascinated with the main character by then, I would probably have put the book down. But I was hooked, and laboured through the painful matter-of-fact  descriptions of daily life and degradation in the city. It was this matter-of-fact attitude that hit me in the gut, increasing my shock and outrage. But this book is more than the siege, and the story twists and turns before reaching its end and a satisfying catharsis. This is one of those books where every word matters. Every action, thought and dialogue carries the account towards that final moment for more than one character.

Would I recommend this book? Definitely!

The next book I picked up was Sword & Scimitar by Simon Scarrow.

 Without realising it, I had chosen another siege novel! This one was set in 1565 during the great siege of Malta. At that time, the Ottoman empire besieged Malta in an attempt to wipe out the Christian Order of St. John whose knights used Malta as their base and were constantly hampering and fighting the Ottoman forces. The principal character of this novel is a disgraced knight who has been summoned along with all knights of the Order to protect Malta. The novel was full of graphic descriptions of the fighting, which gave it a sense of reality, and a quick websearch showed that much of the action depicted was recorded in historical annals of the time. It was too much for me, however, and I must confess to skimming large parts towards the end just to find out what happened. 

The writing was good, if not spectacular. I would recommend this book if you really like historical novels, and particularly war novels.

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Free book from Amazon

I love finding free books on Amazon, especially ones that appear to be worthwhile.
A quick glance at the book reveals a number of quirky, innovative prompts that would make great blogposts or just good writing practice fodder.

I like the way this book starts off with simple, easy prompts and moves towards those that are more difficult. Many of these prompts would be suitable for teachers to use for free writing classes.

Some examples:

98. [WC: 100] You cut yourself, but no blood comes out.
15. You are forced to have a roommate. (If you have a roommate, pretend that they have just been introduced to you and are being forced upon you.) Create a list of rules designed to drive them crazy and make them move out. What happens as a result of the list?
82. [WC: 75] The dying words of your character’s father changes his life forever.
61. [Duration: 10 minutes] Your character discovers they are immortal. This happens when they are at the detonation site of an atomic bomb and everything else is laid to waste. Describe before, during and after of the explosion.
147. One more drabble. 100 words precisely: That’s the reason why Uncle Fred is never allowed to babysit again.

And I enjoyed the conversational tone:

Section 5: Writing Prompts #150-200   Yes, normal everyday write as much as you want prompts. The previous stuff was just for building muscles. The following prompts you can write as little or as much as you want. Heck, if you write a full novel out of it you have my blessing to go out there and get that thing published. Just give me thanks in the liner notes. Or don’t, I’m fine with either. You wouldn’t do that to me though, would you?

If you like the sound of these, zip over to Amazon for the book.

1,000 Awesome Writing Prompts[Kindle Edition]Ryan Andrew Kinder (Author)

Amazon is giving away this book for a limited period so check that it’s still free before clicking the buy button

I’m off to peruse for a perfect prompt.
Cheers!

Do you believe the Amazon book reviews?

I was browsing my reader when I came upon the following post: I abandoned a book last night.  It got me thinking. I had to agree with the writer that life is basically too short and too busy to devote precious time to reading books that don’t please us. When I was young and studying the arts, it was a challenge to unravel the intent of the author while being led through hundreds of pages of description or character refinement. But not now. Now I want to get to the point as soon as possible. I don’t want to know about a character’s eating habits or clothes unless they are relevant to the story. But I also hate abandoning a book half way.

And that brings me to a small problem I’m having at the moment. It springs from my character. I’m a spendthrift. I love getting a bargain and I can’t resist when Amazon offers me what appears to be a reasonably good read for nothing. I subscribe to a newsletter with daily bargain books and free reads. Every day the letter arrives in my inbox and I quickly browse through it, clicking on any books that sound interesting. I know it’s a marketing ploy, so I always read the reviews and ratings before deciding whether to get the book. (I have a kindle, so I’m reading Amazon reviews). Over the last year or so, I’ve got a number of highly readable books in this way, many of them non-fiction.

However, I’m finding that the rating system is not always reliable. After reading some reviews, I can’t help thinking, “Are we reading the same book?” People rave over some books and I find them riddled with grammatical mistakes and (I’m thinking of one in particular) characters whose names and behaviour make me think I’m reading a third grade novel – something which was NOT mentioned in the blurb or the reviews. In that particular novel, all the characters had names like Kimmy, Joanie and Andy. Enough already! The sad thing was that the story itself was well thought out with a plot twist at the end that was very satisfying. At least I got to the end of that one!

One of the books I abandoned was THE SIMPLE TRUTH: BP’s Macondo Blowout by J. A. Turley. It was supposed to be a fascinating fictional account of what might have happened to cause the blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. If you’re an engineer – maybe – and you live for a blow-by-blow account of drilling an oil well. Not even the fictional characters could resurrect this book for me!

Do you download free books from Amazon or Barnes and Noble? Do you find them worth reading? What books are you reading at the moment? And what books would you recommend? I’m dying to hear your comments.

ESL resource site share

Flashcard
Flashcard (Photo credit: pirate johnny)

Working on the story for my little girls reminded me how much I rely on the Internet for some of my resources. I use a recognised, graded ESL book whenever possible, but sometimes you need extra resources or, as in the case of the girls, a book is not suitable. So here are some of my favourites for other teachers desperately looking for resources. Today I’ll concentrate on resources for children. We’ll look at adult resources another day.

Sparklebox has got to be one of my all-time favourites. Find it here. It was there that I found the gorgeous flashcards for the caterpillar story. The site is aimed at primary school teachers, but the literacy resources are wonderful for teaching English. And best of all – they are all free! A quick browse of the site reveals new winter resources (words and pictures) and new editable resources ranging from flashcards and activities, bingo boards and labels to display banners and target board posters. I tend to haunt the stories and resources directory, a treasure trove of resources for both popular books and traditional tales. A big thank you to the developers of this site and to the teachers who have contributed their resources.

Did you know that http://www.teachers.cambridgeesol.org has resources for all the Cambridge English Tests? My favourite resource from here is a series of four posters and worksheets: The beach, The classroom, the sports field and the house. The posters have a lot of “strange” things eg. a computer and a snowman on the beach or a bath in the garage. The kids love them! It’s a much more fun way to learn “there is..” and “there are…”. They learn the vocabulary in a fun way as well. This resource is called” YLE school posters and worksheets” if you want to look for it.

Want to encourage your child or students to read? If you are in a place where obtaining good, graded English readers is difficult, why not try the Oxford Owl reading site? This marvellous site has over 250 e-books available which children can read on-line. The directory is arranged according to age, making it easier to choose suitable books for each particular child. The audio facility means that children of non-English speaking parents can hear the correct pronunciation when they read the books at home. What an excellent idea this site is, and I’m sure that many parents will buy some of the other books which are not available as e-books. I told some parents about this site and the children excitedly told me which books they had read last week.

So that’s my three for the week. There are so many more, but I wouldn’t want to overload my reader. Let the others be revealed another day. What sites do other teachers use? Where do you find your resources?

Five is not enough

Notes on Dreaming in Hindi
Notes on Dreaming in Hindi (Photo credit: brewbooks)

 

In the spirit of end-of-the-year listmania, here are my top books for the year. I started with five, but couldn’t stick to that number, hence the title. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.

 

A Watermelon, a Fish and a Bible by Christy Lefteri. I was deeply touched by this debut novel set in Cyprus during the Turkish invasion. Much of it was painful and shocking, but the evolution of the characters drew me in and kept me reading to the last page.

 

Dreaming in Hindi by Katherine Russel Rich. This memoir appealed to the teacher and language learner in me. I was fascinated with the author’s experiences as well as the insight she offers through her discussions with various language and science experts. There were a number of things I could identify with as well. Woven into the language learning experience is also the historical period, as the 9/11 terrorist attacks take place while she is in India, and she recounts her experience of the events as seen from that country.

 

25 Things You Need to Know about the Future by Christopher Barnatt. This book fascinated me and introduced me to technology and science of which I had previously had no knowledge. Have you heard of 3D printing, vertical farming, synthetic biology and quantum computing? If you haven’t, read the book. It’s written in a clear, down-to-earth style that makes you want to read on.

 

The Glassblower’s Daughter by Frances Clarke. Another debut novel that was well worth reading. It deals with a difficult topic in a sensitive way. I would certainly buy her next novel.

 

My final choice has to contain all the South African books I read this year because each one of them opened my eyes to my homeland in a different way:

 

South Africa’s Brave New World: The Beloved Country Since the End of Apartheid by R. W. Johnson.

 

The Bang-Bang Club by Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva.

 

Elections and Erections: A Memoir of Fear and Fun by Pieter-Dirk Uys.

 

The Unexploded Boer by Erich Rautenbach.

 

Touch My Blood by Fred Khumalo.

 

Daily Prompt: Coming to a bookshelf near you

Here is my attempt for the  novel I would like to write

Megan leaves her chaotic life in South Africa to teach English in Italy. However, the chaos seems to follow her as she faces problem students and crazy friends. A chance meeting catapults her into the shadowy world of human traffickers and she is forced to fight to save a friend from a fate worse than death. Will she succeed, or will she disappear too?

Copyright M Brizzolari

Here’s the link for the daily prompt page: http://mk17design.wordpress.com/2012/11/20/daily-prompt-coming-to-a-bookshelf-near-you/