For the last 12 months that I have had a secret wish. It all started when Amazon suggested two books that it deemed would be a good match for my reading tastes. After checking both out, I was very pleasantly surprised that, for once, Amazon seemed to have got it right. I bought the two books.
Upon close inspection, they seemed to be very much my thing, so I sort of by-passed all the other poor books I already had awaiting for their turn to be appreciated, and gingerly added those two to the top of the pile. As if, maybe, none of the others would notice. These two books were Paul Pen’s The Light of the Fireflies, and Laline Paull’s The Bees.
I had never heard of either author, truth be told, but then again I have to confess that until three years ago I had never heard of most of the authors making good literature today, so busy and one-track minded I had been with my professional subject area. It was no problem, though, as it meant I was going into those books very much in the way I love to go into a book: without any of the noise of previous knowledge about it.
It was one of those instances of tossing the electronic coin, and picking one of them to start with. The first book I read was Paull’s The Bees. I read it pretty much in one sitting, which is something that happens only when a book really enthrals me. By morning I was a rather exhausted but very, very happy reader. I couldn’t believe what I had just read. It was amazing. It was magical. It was unbelievable. For one night, I had been Flora717, and lived all those adventures — and misadventures — inside a beehive. It was… a keeper. That kind of book.
The turn then fell on Paul Pen’s book. It is a difficult position to be in, i.e., to be the read following one of those books that turn our reading world upside down. When a book energises us so much as The Bees did, the next read has better be up to scratch, or it risks being judged a tad more sternly, by comparison.
The Light of the Fireflies measures up to any standard, inflated or not by the Amazing Previous Book Euphoria Syndrome. Just like The Bees, I started reading it at night and couldn’t put it down. By morning I was again a very tired little book bee, but an exceedingly happy one — again.
And again, it was magical. I had lived in that basement, witnessed the inner struggles of each character, held that little boy’s dilemmas in my own hands. It was amazing. It was frightening. Oppressive. It had made my heart pound. It had made me chuckle. It had made me feel, every bit of the way. It too made me stop, come the very last page, when suddenly one realises that they’ve read the last word and there’ll be no more after that, no more story, and think back to it all. The plot. The people inhabiting it. The turmoil. The fear, and the love. All the ifs, all the buts, all the maybes. The Light of the Fireflies was the kind of book that, once read, stays with you for a very, very, very long time.
That is, then, the story of how those two books made it into the list of my favourite 2016 reads, and how their authors’ names (and the name of Pen’s translator) got to remain very present with me.
But there’s another, parallel story. Having loved those books as much as I did, Little Me, who has always had, in my father’s words, “dreams far above my purchasing power” (er… ahem! Excuse me, there…!), who had just started setting up her new blog and decided she was going to be reviewing all her reads just because… well, Little Me started thinking things. Imagining things. Dreaming things. Just because.
Ah, how dangerous it is to leave a bookish girl alone with her imagination… Honestly, such experiments should never be attempted. Never. What can come out of it… Well! It’s untold.
Like every other dream, this one came to me really slowly. And small. Sort of how it all starts, in an embryo form: microscopic and undetectable. I really don’t even know if I could even call it a dream. You know, a dream-dream. If you get my meaning. It’s really more of — a wish. You know, the kind of thing you’d ask a shooting star. So — you see.
Meanwhile, my involvement with indie authors had introduced me to an often very nice and handy thing (though sometimes, thankfully not too often, they can easily turn into a living nightmare), called an ARC. I.e., an Advanced Review Copy.
The embryo stirred inside my head. ARCs. I don’t even know how the thought first came about. Like most things, it must have just, erm, materialised. Thoughts are like that. I must have been downloading some ARC. And suddenly there it was, dancing. Dancing wildly, as one does stark naked in the middle of the road at midnight. ARCs. Paul Pen. Laline Paull. ARCs. But this early in the game, I must confess I simply failed to see the trouble brewing. Or I might have stifled it in the — mm, bud.
And then again, maybe not. Maybe I just would not.
And then it happened. It. That overarching moment when significant tendrils suddenly shoot between the various things dancing about. One afternoon I learn that Pen was publishing his second book, Desert Flowers. And another day I learn that Paull too was publishing her second novel, The Ice.
And that, as they say, was very much that. All the little bits were finally together, and the embryo blossomed into one of those things: if only I could get Paul Pen’s and Laline Paull’s ARCs to review on my blog…
I did. I still can’t believe my good luck. To say that I am pleased is a little bit of a gross understatement. Little book imp has been somersaulting all about the place inside my head. Since last month, when I got Laline Paull’s ARC for The Ice (the book was published in the meantime, on the 4th of this month). And with renewed energy since this afternoon, when Simon Bruni, the translator of Pen’s novels, mailed me the link for the ARC for Desert Flowers.
Ladies and Gents, I am a very, very happy reader. And blogger. And, well, reviewer. Because Desert Flowers is the next book I am reading. This weekend. Starting tomorrow evening after the gardener leaves. Or even tomorrow morning — if only it rains.