Monday, 15 July 2019

sells sea shells by Mara Mer


sells sea shells by Mara Mer
Published by Mari Reiza in April 2019.

2019 New Release Challenge read and one of my 2019 COYER Summer Hunt reads

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the author

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


'Ismail is young, strong and handsome. He's also the proud owner of a heart-bursting smile. Yet despite all his enviable attributes, nobody wants him wherever he's passing.' A Moroccan immigrant strikes an unlikely friendship with an Italian client at the beach. When the man asks him to do something for him, he struggles to refuse his money. In any case, someone else carries out the deed before he does. A book about the despair and hope of exile.

Ismail spends his days walking across a stiflingly hot Italian beach wearing a stack of sunhats, carrying a heavy bag of sarongs and a board displaying sunglasses and jewellery - some of which he hopes to sell to holidaymakers. An illegal immigrant from Morocco, this is his second summer working ridiculously long hours for a pittance, despised by the locals, but all in the hope of sending back enough money to keep his mother and sisters and to earn enough to pay for his Italian residency permit. His dream is to become legal so he can get a job as a waiter - working ridiculously long hours for a pittance, but at least he might be out of the sun.

I felt as though Mara Mer completely understood Ismail and the catch-22 predicament in which he finds himself. In many other novels, handsome and hardworking Ismail would be the romantic lead, but because of his status here he is practically invisible until a knockoff pair of sunglasses or a scapegoat is required. Mer beautifully evokes the Italian summer environment and its styles of seaside living. Super-rich holidaymakers laze by infinity pools while grumpy bar staff protect their territory and pour beers. I loved Mer's portrayal of the beginnings of Ismail's relationship with wealthy Matteo. This plotline didn't go anywhere near where I had expected from the synopsis, and it felt nicely realistic throughout. Both men believe the other could be their salvation and I liked that Mer doesn't get bogged down in explaining unnecessary detail. My only negative is that I didn't like the Rosa ending which I didn't think fitted with what had come before. However, overall, I very much enjoyed this slice of life novella which gives readers an insightful glimpse into lives which are all too often ignored.

Etsy Find!
by Christina Christi Jls in
Athens, Greece

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Books by Mara Mer / Contemporary fiction / Books from Basque Country

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Razia by Abda Khan


Razia by Abda Khan
Published in the UK by Unbound on the 11th July 2019.

R for my 2019 Alphabet Soup Challenge, a 2019 New Release Challenge read and one of my 2019 COYER Summer Hunt reads

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Farah is a lawyer living and working in London. She’s just ended a long relationship, and her parents are looking for a husband – whether Farah wants one or not. So far, so normal. But at a work dinner, hosted by a dangerously powerful man, she comes across a young woman called Razia, who Farah soon realises is being kept as a domestic slave.

Farah travels from the law courts of London to the brick kilns of Lahore, and there she begins to uncover the traps that keep generations of people enslaved. Everywhere she turns there is deep-rooted oppression and corruption. She teams up with a human rights lawyer Ali to seek justice for Razia, but they cannot prevent the disaster that unfolds. 

Will Farah discover the explosive secret behind these tragic events?

I listened to the audiobook autobiography of Slave by Mende Nazer several years ago now, but the horror of her existence as a modern-day slave has remained strongly in my memory. In Razia Abda Khan managed to evoke the same emotions from me. This novel is a compelling thriller with a conscience and I was impressed that both aspects of the story complement each other, adding to its strengths overall. I never felt as though I was being lectured about slavery or that the thrilling narrative detracted from the seriousness of its subject. Yet, when I finished reading Razia, I had been educationed and entertained, and inspired to find out more about this issue on the real world. It's a cleverly balanced novel with powerful sense of authenticity.

Razia explores not only the immediate consequences of one young woman's enslavement, but also the social and patriarchal systems which allow the practice to be depressingly common. I liked how Khan contrasts London with Lahore and Islamabad and it was interesting to see how London lawyer Farah found herself so disoriented by the realities of such a different culture. I loved Farah! She always felt genuine as a character and I understood the motivation of even her most impetuous actions. Her back story of the pressures of being thirty and Not Yet Married was a great lighter foil to the main storyline and also provided a good focus onto the differences between Farah and Razia, their expectations and opportunities.

I was suprised by just how much I enjoyed and appreciated this novel and would happily recommend it to a wide readership across fans of literary fiction, Asian fiction and thrillers.

Etsy Find!
by Stow Shirts in
Walthamstow, England

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Books by Abda Khan / Thrillers / Books from England

Saturday, 13 July 2019

The Yankee Comandante by Gani Jakupi


The Yankee Comandante by Gani Jakupi
First published in French as El Comandante Yankee by Dupuis in France in 2019. English language translation by Edward Gauvin published by Europe Comics on the 12th June 2019.

A 2019 New Release Challenge read and one of my 2019 COYER Summer Hunt reads

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This is the true story of William Alexander Morgan, the Yankee Comandante, an idealistic young American who found fame fighting in the Cuban Revolution. The blond American didn’t speak a word of Spanish, but he felt his rightful place was among the guerilleros of the Escambray Mountains, fighting to bring down dictator Fulgencio Batista. Morgan was among Havana’s liberators in 1959, an act that led FBI director Edgar Hoover to strip him of his American citizenship. There was a time when Morgan was international front-page news, on a level with Che Guevara. Yet “el comandante yanqui” has largely disappeared from the history of the Cuban Revolution. Author Gani Jakupi recounts a forgotten tale from one of the greatest military and political events of the 20th century.

The Yankee Comandante is a well-researched story which attempts to present the events of the Cuban revolution from an unusual perspective. I had never heard of William Morgan before and the idea of an American fighting in Fidel Castro's revolutionary army is certainly intriguing, especially considering the future American attitude towards Cuba. In this graphic novel, Jakupi condenses a convoluted historical narrative with many participants so I did find it tricky to keep track of everyone's role within the drama. There isn't much opportunity for the men, other than Che Guevara, to establish themselves as individual personalities. Even William didn't come across to me as real hero material. What I did love in The Yankee Comandante though were the atmospheric illustrations and particularly the use of different colour palettes to establish each environment. There is a great vintage feel to the work which reflects the period in which it is set. I think readers interested in the military and political history would appreciate this graphic novel, however I approached it more from a historical fiction perspective so was a little disappointed.

Etsy Find!
by Tarphat in
London, England

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Books by Gani Jakupi / Graphic novels / Books from Kosovo

Friday, 12 July 2019

My Travels in Ding Yi by Shi Tiesheng


My Travels in Ding Yi by Shi Tiesheng
First published in Chinese by People's Literature Publishing House in China in 2006. English language translation by Alex Woodend published by Alan Charles Asia Publishing on the 1st July 2019.

A 2019 New Release Challenge read and one of my 2019 COYER Summer Hunt reads

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


My Travels in Ding Yi is an epic novel told from the perspective of a spirit who inhabits an array of beings in different places and times. From Adam in the Garden of Eden, to a fish, to the novel’s protagonist, Ding Yi, an average Chinese boy in the second half of the 20th century. It’s in Ding Yi that Shi explores coming of age during the Cultural Revolution, love, lust, mortality and betrayal in language that dips and soars from crude to lyrical, often in a single breath. Unpredictable and engrossing, My Travels in Ding Yi is a contemporary classic of Chinese fiction first published in 2006 and now available to readers of English for the first time.

The flesh is a boundary, you and I are two cages.

Of all the brief lives I’ve inhabited, humans are definitely the most interesting. Poetry and painting, literature and drama, song and dance; there’s nothing they can’t do.

As I fell into this young creature named Ding Yi, a life filled with hardship, love and betrayal unfolded before me.

I’ll try to make this account as entertaining as possible, but please bear with me – it was several lifetimes ago.

I'd love to be able to claim that I completely understood My Travels In Ding Yi, but in reality - or the daylight concept of reality at least (you'll need to read the book to get that!) - I probably nodded sagely at about a quarter of it, generally grasped another quarter, and just went with the beautifully poetic flow of the rest. Shi Tiesheng's philosophical stream-of-consciousness novel runs just over 580 pages in 156 short chapters and is dense with themes and ideas. I did experience a certain euphoric relief at reaching that last chapter, but that's not to say that the novel was an unpleasant read. It definitely isn't! Admittedly it was written from a very male perspective so certain ideas irritated me. A woman who is the unknowing object of unrequited love can in no way be said to be arrogantly ignoring the man!

Shi has a strongly romanticised view of love which is cleverly portrayed by the split-identity of his protagonist. Human male Ding Yi seems only to be aware of women for their physical attributes and seeks sex at pretty much any opportunity. He is also 'inhabited' by an ancient spirit who is/was the soul of Adam and whose sole purpose is to use a succession of human hosts in searching out the soul of Eve so they can be together again forever. For all their deep philosophical discussion - and there is A Lot of this - none of Shi's characters really came to life for me. I enjoyed spending time in their company and unravelling their swirl ideas, but felt each person was more intended to fulfil a literary function than to be representative of a rounded human being.

I admit I did seriously start to lose my understanding when the plot of the film Sex Lies And Videotape was the focus of a chapter. The plotline was recounted in some detail, but as I've never seen the film this whole section made little sense within the novel and repeated later references to it were lost onme. Maybe if you are intrigued enough to read My Travels In Ding Yi, you might want to stream that film first. For the right reader, I think this novel could be a masterpiece. For me, I'm stuck on the fence! There were times when I nearly DNF'd, but then other times when I was entranced by the prose. (All credit to Alex Woodend for the translation which must have been quite the endurance feat.) I loved epic South American stream-of-consciousness novels before, so had quite high hopes for this one, but it didn't really hit the spot for me.


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Books by Shi Tiesheng / Historical fiction / Books from China

Thursday, 11 July 2019

A Sip, A Bite, A Mouthful by Afsaneh Hojabri + #Giveaway


A Sip, A Bite, A Mouthful by Afsaneh Hojabri
Published in Canada by Fleur Publications in August 2012.

One of my 2019 COYER Summer Hunt reads.
I am linking this review up with July 2019 Foodies Read at Based On A True Story

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook via Amazon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A story of growing up in Shiraz of the 1960s told through memories of food and cuisine, A Sip, A Bite, A Mouthful contains an account of Iranian customs, passions and rituals; it depicts a vivid picture of life in pre- and post-revolutionary Iran; and it touches on experiences of Iranian expatriates and the migration of their favourite foods, feasts, tastes and eating habits to the west. 

Engaging, intimate and frequently witty anecdotes are framed within a non-linear story and garnished with recipes for Southern shrimp stew, Northern stuffed fish, Shiraz herbal drinks and a bevy of other delicious foods and drinks.

A Sip, A Bite, A Mouthful strikes a balance between the personal and the general, between the serious and the light, and reaches out to those who are passionate about food and those who are not; people from Iran or who know a fair bit about it and people from elsewhere. It haunts the reader with its heartfelt food memories, and provides an insight into a way of life, a time and place, and the experience of people who have left the place they grew up in.

The first thing I need to say about A Sip, A Bite, A Mouthful is this is a book for which you will need snacks to hand. Lots of snacks! Hojabri's remembrances of the food from her childhood are so delicious and beautifully evoked that I could almost smell the cooking aromas emanating from the page. I was reminded of another foodie memoir I read, The Temporary Bride by Jennifer Klinec, also exploring Iranian cuisine. The dishes and ingredient combinations all sound so good that I must get myself an Iranian recipe book and try to make the dishes myself. In A Sip, A Bite, A Mouthful we do get a few recipes, but mostly Hojabri focuses on recounting memories surrounding particular foods and meals.

I learned a lot about Iranian customs and attitudes towards food which was fascinating because I love discovering other cultures in this way. Hojabri emigrated from Iran in her twenties, and her childhood and teenage years were spent in two very different Irans, firstly the more secular society of the Shah's reign and then the strict Islamic interpretations of post-revolution Imam Khomeini. Adjusting to such a swift and drastic change of social customs must have been very difficult emotionally as well as in practical terms for the whole family. I feel I got a good sense of Hojabri's early life from reading A Sip, A Bite, A Mouthful and am happy to have discovered this great memoir - even though it did make me very hungry!

And now it's time for the Giveaway!

Win a $10 Amazon gift card
(Open internationally until the 25th July 2019) 

Please enter using the Gleam widget below. The winner will be selected at random via Gleam from all valid entries and will be notified by email. If no response is received within 3 days then the winner will forfeit the prize and, yes, I will be checking that the winning task was actually carried out!
This giveaway is not affiliated with either the author or Amazon.

$10 Amazon GC from Literary Flits




Etsy Find!
by Feast By Louisa in
Tennessee, USA

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Books by Afsaneh Hojabri / Biography and memoirs / Books from Iran

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

The Girl Who Wasn't There by Ferdinand von Schirach


The Girl Who Wasn't There by Ferdinand von Schirach
First published in German as Tabu by Piper Verlag GmbH in Germany in September 2013. English language translation by Anthea Bell published by Little, Brown in 2015.

One of my 2019 COYER Summer Hunt reads

How I got this book:
Swapped for at a campsite book exchange

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Sebastian von Eschburg, scion of a wealthy, self-destructive family, survived his disastrous childhood to become a celebrated if controversial artist. He casts a provocative shadow over the Berlin scene; his disturbing photographs and installations show that truth and reality are two distinct things.

When Sebastian is accused of murdering a young woman and the police investigation takes a sinister turn, seasoned lawyer Konrad Biegler agrees to represent him - and hopes to help himself in the process. But Biegler soon learns that nothing about the case, or the suspect, is what it appears. The new thriller from the acclaimed author of The Collini Case, THE GIRL WHO WASN'T THERE is dark, ingenious and irresistibly gripping.

Reading The Girl Who Wasn't There felt like being in the audience for one of David P Abbott's medium unveilings! The novel is written in spare, almost stark, prose and my paperback edition is printed in a larger than normal font with blank pages left between chapters. Together these elements kept me reading at a pretty fast pace so I was aware of hints, clues and moments that just didn't seem quite 'right', but with the skill of a conjuror, von Schirach kept allowing glimpses then diverting my attention away. It's very cleverly done and makes the story both compelling and disconcerting.

This novel explores truth and reality, but shows that the two concepts don't have to be the same to everybody. The narrative is in two halves, each half with its own protagonist whose ideas and experiences seem to oppose each other. Sebastian has synaesthesia so sees the world through an extensive range of colours, many of which aren't visible to other people around him. His wildly successful artistic career has been based on the concept of showing the public alternative views of what they believe to be truth and I would love to see some of the artworks described in the story. I don't know if they actually do exist outside of von Schirach's imagination though!

The Girl Who Wasn't There would benefit, I think, from a different and more enigmatic English title. The original German title translates as 'Taboo' and I'm not sure why it had to be changed. Certainly the Stieg Larssen 'The Girl Who ...' allusion doesn't do this work any favours as its style is far from that kind of thriller. I'd recommend this instead to fans of mid-European fiction and thoughtful crime mysteries. It's an unusual, but a rewarding read.


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Books by Ferdinand von Schirach / Crime fiction / Books from Germany

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Seventeen by Suzanne Lowe


Seventeen by Suzanne Lowe
First published in September 2016. Republished by Silvergum Publishing on the 1st July 2019.


Add Seventeen to your Goodreads

Imagine a world where everything you grew up with is gone. No adults, no internet, no rules.

The world is facing the deadliest virus ever known. 
When the KV17 virus kills everyone above the age of seventeen, life becomes a battle of survival for the children left behind. Seeking to escape the escalating violence in the city, two sisters, Lexi and Hadley flee to the Australian outback. Finding sanctuary in the small town of Jasper’s Bay, they soon realise it is far from safe, as a gang of lawless teenagers terrorise the town. Caught in a bitter feud leading to betrayal, deceit and murder, the girls must quickly uncover who their enemies are, and who they can trust. 

In a world drastically changed from everything they once knew; can the sisters and children of Jasper’s Bay learn to adapt? Can they maintain control of their town, and protect it from those who would destroy it?

Book One in the YA Seventeen Series
Winner of the New Apple YA horror/Sci-Fi award


Meet the author

Suzanne was born in Perth Western Australia and as a young adult grew up in the small country town of Tom Price situated in the outback of Western Australia. Her current home is in Perth with her husband, two daughters and cat Abby. ​

Suzanne has a Bachelor of Science Degree, majoring in Sports Science. Her interests include watching movies, particularly sci- fi, travelling, photography and reading. She also enjoys going to the occasional comic book convention!

Like the young women in her stories, Suzanne has had the opportunity to experience many exciting adventures in her life so far including being part of the Australian Army Reserves, climbing to Mt Everest base camp, descending into one of the pyramids at Giza in Egypt, flying in a hot air balloon over the Valley of the Kings, parachuting from a plane at 12000 feet in York and sitting on the edge of an active volcano on Tanna island in Vanuatu.

Suzanne is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Australian Society of Authors.

Her published works include:

Seventeen, Book One in the Seventeen Series. A YA dystopian adventure story set in Australia. Winner of the New Apple E-book awards in YA horror and Sci-Fi

Rage, Book Two in the Seventeen Series. A YA dystopian adventure story set in Australia. Available August 2019

The Pirate Princess and the Golden Locket, a pirate adventure story for middle grade children

Author links: 
WebsiteFacebook ~ Twitter ~ Instagram




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Books by Suzanne Lowe / Science fiction / Books from Australia