Tuesday, 25 September 2018

A House Divided by Rachel McLean + Excerpt

A House Divided by Rachel McLean
Published by Catawampus Press today, the 25th September 2018.

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository
Wordery (unavailable)
Waterstones (unavailable)
Amazon US / Amazon UK

Add A House Divided to your Goodreads

Jennifer Sinclair is many things: loyal government minister, loving wife and devoted mother.

But when a terror attack threatens her family, her world is turned upside down. When the government she has served targets her Muslim husband and sons, her loyalties are tested. And when her family is about to be torn apart, she must take drastic action to protect them.

A House Divided is a tense and timely thriller about political extremism and divided loyalties, and their impact on one woman.


The story so far:

Jennifer Sinclair is a Labour MP and minister. A co-ordinated bomb attack has hit Waterloo in London and Spaghetti Junction in Jennifer’s Birmingham constituency. Jennifer has gone to Spaghetti Junction with her husband, Yusuf, to see the carnage.

 * * *
The land beneath the raised motorway of Spaghetti Junction was a strange mixture of canal towpaths, junk yards, litter-strewn paths and what were probably the least picturesque canal-side flats in the city.
Jennifer climbed out of her car, taking in the carnage that had destroyed this corner of her constituency.
Five hundred metres from where she stood, a pile of concrete and mangled steel rose up. In the shadow of the silent motorway overhead, mechanical diggers added more rubble to it.
Police cars and fire service vehicles were parked haphazardly on a patch of grass studded with occasional piles of dog mess. Beyond that, a police cordon stirred in the breeze, shuddering each time another crash of collapsing rubble sent reverberations across the site.
Behind her, clear of the motorway’s structure, were two hastily erected Portacabins. People paced in and out of them, voices raised against the sound of machinery.
A uniformed police officer approached her, holding out his hand. Brett Sanders, Assistant Chief Constable. She shook his hand, still looking past him to the motorway beyond. He turned to Yusuf and shook his hand too, placing a familiar hand on his arm. Jennifer knew how much contact Yusuf had with the police from his work at the shelter.
“Thanks for coming,” Brett said.
“No problem,” she replied. “Tell me what’s happening.”
The Chief Constable put his fingers to his lips and blew a loud whistle. She flinched, surprised and impressed in equal measure.
The diggers fell quiet. Workers climbed out of them, scurrying towards the safety of the Portacabins.
Jennifer looked up. Towering above them, beyond the diggers and the rubble, were two cranes. They plucked at the jagged edges of the overpass, picking out loose metal and concrete and lowering it to the ground. After a moment, they stopped too.
The only sounds were the distant hum of traffic and the trill of birdsong. She was familiar with this spot, had often walked along the towpath. The roar of the motorway was a constant fact of life to anyone living near it, but today the silence was deafening.
Born and raised in this part of Birmingham, Jennifer was used to the background notes of the M6 and Aston Expressway as a constant fact of life, as something that rumbled through your bones and became a part of you. Now, it was as if the heart of the city had been ripped out.
The quiet was broken by the thwack of a helicopter overhead. She looked up, shielding her eyes against the low October sun. Police or media, she couldn’t tell.
She took a deep breath and turned to her police escort, which had grown to include the Chief Superintendent for the area and a plain clothes officer. They gestured towards the Portacabins and she followed.
As they picked their way across the grass she spotted movement from the corner of her eye. A small crowd had gathered, whether to ogle the wreckage or to see what she had to offer, she couldn’t tell. She gave a tight wave, knowing better than to smile.
Yusuf was walking beside her. She grabbed his hand and squeezed, but got nothing back. He hated the public eye, something he’d realised when standing for election in an unwinnable seat a year after they’d met.
They were almost at the Portacabins now. They’d had to fight their way through vehicles, squeezing between cars. The bulky Chief Constable sweated in his heavy uniform, grimacing his way through the gaps, muttering under his breath.
Jennifer turned to wait for him just as a man stepped forward from the crowd, dipping under the police cordon. She resisted the urge to shrink back: these were her constituents, after all. But the police were less reticent. Two officers stepped in and each put a hand on his shoulder, guiding him backwards. He glowered at them and spat at the ground.
He raised a finger and pointed at Yusuf.
“Your bloody lot!” he shouted. His voice was high and ragged. “This is your fault! Go home, the lot of you!”
Yusuf’s hand dropped. The police officers dived on the man, pushing him to the ground. Another appeared in front of Jennifer, ushering her into the Portacabin.
“No,” she snapped. “Let me go. I’m not hiding.”
She approached the crowd. Someone was holding a phone up, filming the man. He was being bundled into a car now, his head pushed down as he ducked into the back seat.
She turned to Brett. “Wait,” she said. “Why are you arresting him? He hasn’t hurt anyone.”
“Threatening behaviour, ma’am. We can’t be too careful.”
He was close to her, his arm almost touching hers. She spun round, looking for Yusuf.
“Where’s my husband?” The policeman pointed to where Yusuf was already being ushered into one of the Portacabins.
“Excuse me.” She hurried after him.
A young woman sat at a desk inside, talking into a mobile phone. She glanced up and hurried out, still talking into the phone.
Jennifer’s mind was racing. She had no idea how it felt to be talked to like that.
“I’m sorry, love.“
“It’s not your fault.”
She shrugged, feeling inadequate. “I shouldn’t have made you come.”
He slumped into the chair and rubbed his forehead. “I can handle that. Racist abuse is nothing new.”
She nodded, looking back out of the window. The police car was driving away with the man inside. She needed to get back out there.
Somewhere outside there was a splintering sound, as another building collapsed. Jennifer shot her head up. “Shall we go back out?”
Outside, she could hear voices. Their welcoming party must be wondering what was going on. Not to mention the onlookers with their phones.
He put a hand to his neat beard and looked past her.
“Course. Sorry, love. I shouldn’t have let them bundle me away like that. You didn’t.”
She shrugged and he came over to her. She leaned against him and he ran a hand through her hair.
“You’re tougher than me,” he said.
She snorted. “I pretend to be.”
“No, you don’t.”
“Maybe half the time.”
“Well, it’s pretty convincing.” He kissed her forehead. “Let’s get back out there. Reassure people.”
“Thanks.” She opened the door. The cranes had starting inching into life again and she heard one of the diggers start its engine. This was bigger than her.
“I hate this,” she whispered. “Seeing what they’ve done to our city. That poor woman we had to visit this morning, her daughter dead. And tomorrow I’ve got Bronzefield again, a meeting with the governor.”
He stood behind her, his body warm against hers. “I’m sorry. I know it’s hard.”
She turned and held out her hand. “That woman this morning. Mrs Jacobs. I kept thinking about Waterloo. About the bomb, and how I felt when I couldn’t get hold of you.”
She could feel the rise and fall of his chest behind her, reassuring. She paused, listening to the noises of machinery and distant voices.
“I couldn’t do this without you, you know,” she said.
She felt his body tense. “Me too,” he whispered.
 * * *

Meet the author

I'm Rachel McLean and I write thrillers and speculative fiction.

I'm told that the world wants upbeat, cheerful stories - well, I'm sorry but I can't help. My stories have an uncanny habit of predicting future events (and not the good ones). They're inspired by my work at the Environment Agency and the Labour Party and explore issues like climate change, Islamophobia, the refugee crisis and sexism in high places. All with a focus on how these impact individual people and families.

Author links: 
Book ClubTwitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram

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Books by Rachel McLean / Thrillers / Books from England

Monday, 24 September 2018

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
First published by Riverhead Books in May 2007.

How I got this book:
Gift from my sister

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository
Amazon US / Amazon UK

Mariam is only fifteen when she is sent to Kabul to marry Rasheed. Nearly two decades later, a friendship grows between Mariam and a local teenager, Laila, as strong as the ties between mother and daughter. When the Taliban take over, life becomes a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality and fear. Yet love can move a person to act in unexpected ways, and lead them to overcome the most daunting obstacles with a startling heroism.

I first read A Thousand Splendid Suns just over a decade ago (according to Goodreads). I remember reading it in a Scottish holiday chalet, having borrowed it from their library, and being happy that it is such a fast read because I needed to finish before it was time to leave! I loved the story then, as I did this time around, however I notice that I have matured as a reader over the past ten years because I wasn't as blindly impressed.

Following in the wake of Hosseini's lauded novel The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns focuses on the female experience in Afghanistan. I don't think it has anywhere near the same depth though. The story zips along at a good pace and, don't get me wrong, this is a very readable novel. I easily got caught up in Mariam and Laila's lives, feeling sorrowful or angry on their behalf as they are pulled from pillar to post seemingly without being allowed to make any decisions for themselves. Mariam and Laila suffer greatly through their lives yet always seem to remain dignified and almost noble, and I felt the male characters stayed rather flat. Rasheed in basically brutish and Tariq is nice. Hosseini has obviously written with a Western audience in mind so, disappointingly, I didn't feel I got much detail of Afghan culture other than those aspects depicting female oppression and I wanted more. I would describe A Thousand Splendid Suns as the fast food of Middle Eastern literature. It's great while I was reading, but turned out ultimately to be unsatisfying.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Khaled Hosseini / Contemporary fiction / Books from Afghanistan

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Dead Men Do Come Back by Steven C Levi + Guest Post

Dead Men Do Come Back by Steven C Levi
Published by Crime Wave Press in May 2016.

Literary Flits Spotlight Giveaway Winner

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository
Amazon US / Amazon UK

Add Dead Men Do Come Back to your Goodreads

Why would someone kill a miner, freeze his body solid on a glacier and then drop it alongside the Juneau wharf, the one place where United States Marshal Gordon Whitford would be sure to find it?
Does it have anything to do with the 250 pounds of gold that have just been extracted from the Alaska Gastineau Mine? And how were both the frozen body and the gold able to disappear off a steamship that made no stops between Juneau and Seattle?
Now there is another shipment of 250 pounds of gold bound for Seattle - along with the miner's frozen body that has been recovered - again - floating just south of Juneau.
Will Marshal Whitford be able to solve the murder and the robbery before the next shipment of gold vanishes into thin air?

Meet The Author

Steven C Levi is a freelance historian and commercial writer who lives in Anchorage, Alaska, his home for the past 40 years. He has a BA in European History and MA in American history from the University of California Davis and San Jose State. Steven has published more than 80 books and specializes in history. His books on the Alaska Gold Rush include Boom and Bust in the Alaska Gold Fields; Cowboys of the Sky, the Human Face of the Alaska Gold Rush and a forensic analysis of Alaska's ghost ship, the Clara Nevada, which sank in 1898 and came back up in 1908 - minus 100,000 ounces of gold.

Connect with Steven
Crime Wave Press ~ Amazon ~ Goodreads

Steven C Levi guest post

DEAD MEN DO COME BACK is an unusual book for a number of reasons. In addition to the fact it includes real Alaska Gold Rush personalities, it presents the murder as a means of confusing the reader rather than being for focus of the book. The murder – and subsequent reappearance of the body twice – is simply the cover for two robberies of 250 pounds of gold from a mine in Juneau. Further, so little is known of the Alaska Gold Rush that most Americans think the Klondike Strike in the Yukon Territory of Canada – made famous by Jack London and Robert Service –IS the Alaska Gold Rush. Thus DEAD MEN DO COME BACK is unique as it offers the reader an on-the-ground look at the Alaska Gold Rush in Southeast Alaska where 250 pounds of gold was simply one-week’s shipment from one mine.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Steven C Levi / Historical fiction / Books from America

Saturday, 22 September 2018

The Barefoot Road by Vivienne Vermes

The Barefoot Road by Vivienne Vermes
Published by Matador on the 2nd April 2018.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy via Rachel's Random Resources

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository
Amazon US / Amazon UK

Add The Barefoot Road to your Goodreads

Vivienne Vermes' debut novel is a gripping read which will appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction, thrillers and evocative themes. The book begins with a young woman found, emaciated and unconscious, in the mountains surrounding a village in Transylvania. When it is discovered that she is of an ethnic group which was violently driven out of the regions many years before, old wounds are reopened as the villagers are reminded of their role in the bloodshed.

An uneasy peace is maintained until a young married man falls in love with the girl, and tension begin to rise within the community. The mysterious disappearance of a child causes this tension to mount into hysteria, driving the story to its chilling outcome.

I chose to join this blog tour for Vivienne Vermes' first novel The Barefoot Road because I was intrigued by its Romanian location and I love the naive cover art style. The story is beautifully timeless. It is historical fiction, but could have taken place at pretty much any time in any place and, sadly, is still perfectly relevant to the present day as well. We see an isolated rural community turn from being open and supportive to closed and aggressive when their fears are maliciously manipulated by a power-hungry man.

Vivienne Vermes takes time to fully describe the Transylvanian setting and to realise each of her characters so I could easily understand why each of them made certain choices in the second half of the novel. The pace is cleverly increased throughout so, after a shocking introductory chapter, we are lulled by gentle depictions of friendly village life. I appreciated how this allows readers to 'forget' the initial violence in much the same way as the villagers themselves chose to 'forget' what had been done by the previous generation. There is, however, always a sense of menace and foreboding just off the page which gradually encroaches as innocent (and less-than-innocent) actions are wilfully misunderstood.

The Barefoot Road is a slow-burn novel which relies on the reader's anticipation for much of its tension. I don't think it would appeal to action fans, but I particularly enjoyed the dark atmosphere. The narrative almost feels like a traditional folktale brought vividly to life with evocative descriptions. Perhaps the final hysterical disaster all happened a little bit too fast for my taste - there were lots of overlapping strands to keep track of - but otherwise this is wonderful historical fiction.

Meet the author

Vivienne Vermes is a writer and actress of Irish and Hungarian descent who divides her time between Paris and London. She has published four collections of poetry: Sand Woman, Metamorphoses, Passages and When the World Stops Spinning, and has performed her work in festivals throughout Europe. She is winner of the Piccadilly Poets’ award, the Mail on Sunday’s Best Opening of a Novel competition, as well as Flash 500s prize for short prose and the Paragram national competition for best poem and “petite prose”. She has taught creative writing in universities in Transylvania, and runs a writers’ workshop in Paris.

As an actress, she has played roles in a number of French films, including Les Trois Frères, Le Retour and in Les Profs 2 in which she portrayed Queen Elizabeth II.  Her voice also warns passengers on the Paris metro to “Mind the gap”.

The Barefoot Road is her first novel.

Author links: 

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Vivienne Vermes / Historical fiction / Books from France

Friday, 21 September 2018

The Locked Room by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

The Locked Room by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
First published in Swedish as Det slutna rummet in Sweden in 1972. English language translation by Joan Tate published in the UK by Pantheon in 1973.

My 1970s read for my 2018-19 Decade Challenge

How I got this book:
Bought at a charity book fair

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository
Amazon US / Amazon UK

The eighth classic instalment in this genre-changing series of novels starring Detective Inspector Martin Beck. This new edition has an introduction by Michael Connolly.

In one part of town, a woman robs a bank. In another, a corpse is found shot through the heart in a room locked from within, with no firearm in sight. Although the two incidents appear unrelated, Detective Inspector Martin Beck believes otherwise, and solving the mystery acquires the utmost importance. Haunted by a near-fatal bullet wound and trying to recover from the break-up of his unhappy marriage, Beck throws himself into the case to escape from the prison that his own life has come to resemble.

Written in the 1960s and 1970s, these masterpieces are the work of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo – a husband and wife team from Sweden. The ten novels follow the fortunes of the detective Martin Beck, whose enigmatic, taciturn character has inspired countless other policemen in crime fiction. The novels can be read separately, but do follow a chronological order, so the reader can become familiar with the characters and develop a loyalty to the series. Each book will have a new introduction in order to help bring these books to a new audience.

I've now read nine of the ten Martin Beck police mysteries and have only Cop Killer left unread, although I will happily reread the earlier unreviewed ones again when I get a gap in my hectic reading schedule! I think that The Locked Room is probably my favourite so far and I loved this take on the classic detective setup. Sjowall and Wahloo intertwine two apparently unrelated crimes and their ultimate connection of the dual narratives is simply brilliant!

What sets this series apart for me though is Sjowall and Wahloo's depiction of Swedish society as it was in the 1960s and 1970s. They openly criticise aspects of the Swedish state and the behaviours of their fellow Swedes, but also show the positives of Swedish life at times. Their characters interactions are a masterclass in how to present a large cast within the confines of a novel. In The Locked Room, Martin Beck actually takes a bit of a back seat so we get to spend more time with his colleagues, each of which are fully rounded characters in their own right. Even brief cameo appearances are easily imagined as are the Stockholm locations.

The Martin Beck series to my mind is easily still the best when it comes to police procedural novels and it's fun sometimes to spot Sjowall and Wahloo's influence in many of the works that have been published since. Thoughtful and inventive, these books aren't perhaps ideal for action fans, but I highly recommend them to mystery solvers.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Sjowall and Wahloo / Crime fiction / Books from Sweden

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Gentlemen Of The Road by Michael Chabon

Gentlemen Of The Road by Michael Chabon
First published in America in 2007.

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository
Amazon US / Amazon UK

In the Caucasus Mountains around AD 950, two wandering adventurers and unlikely soul mates live as they please and survive as they can – as blades and thieves for hire and practised bamboozlers. Until, following a bloody coup in the Jewish empire of the Khazars, they get dragooned into the service of a fugitive prince, who burns to reclaim his throne.

Summoning the spirit of The Arabian Nights and The Three Musketeers, this is a novel brimming with action, raucous humour, cliff-hanging suspense, and a cast of colourful characters worthy of Scheherazade's most tantalising tales.

I hadn't read any Michael Chabon novels before and chose this one purely for its historical setting as I hoped it would fit nicely alongside a couple of other recent reads: Ibn Fadlan's travel memoirs of Western Asia in the Viking era and Edouardo Albert's humorous Conrad Monk And The Great Heathen Army adventure tale. Gentlemen Of The Road is closer to Conrad Monk in style, although not as funny, however it does feel based in a solid historical reality and I could appreciate that Chabon had certainly done his research.

The story is a classic adventure tale which gallops across medieval Khazaria at such a pace that I did sometimes find myself left behind. At its heart is a wonderful friendship between two men, apparently as different in physical appearance and temperament as it is possible to be, yet perfectly suited to each other and utterly loyal. They get themselves into ever more dire predicaments, yet somehow always manage to scramble clear of total disaster. Gentlemen Of The Road is a fairly short novel, but a very entertaining one. Perhaps its overall arc is a little too predictable, however the twists and turns are great fun to follow and I enjoyed the inventiveness of the plots. The humour is tempered with a spot of philosophy here and there and it was interesting to learn more about the unique kingdom of Khazaria.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Michael Chabon / Adventure fiction / Books from America

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Sitting At The Kitchen Table With God by Sandi Smith + #Giveaway

Sitting at the Kitchen Table with God by Sandi Smith

Category: Adult Fiction, 192 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction, Christian Fiction
Publisher: Mindstir Media
Release date: May 10, 2017
Tour dates: Sept 3 to 21, 2018
Content Rating: PG-13

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository
Waterstones (unavailable)
Amazon US / Amazon UK

Add Sitting At The Kitchen Table With God to your Goodreads

Book Description:

MARIANNE HAD PLENTY OF TIME ON HER HANDS TO DO NOTHING, so she decided to clean the placemats that she had collected over the past fifty years. Fifty years of a wonderful life together with her husband and best friend, Andrew. Fifty years that should have turned into sixty, but would not even turn into fifty-one.

Her wonderful Andrew was dead. Andrew…her friend and caretaker of her soul and mind and being. Loneliness, darkness, and guilt extended their hungry fingers out for Marianne, desperately trying to pull her even further into their world…a world with no escape. How could she live without her Andrew? She had been so sure that she would be the first one to die in this relationship. But now there was a stronger component to her loneliness and darkness that was starting to make its presence known to Marianne. Anger.

Anger had been a companion of Marianne’s for a very long time, but usually she had the ability to quiet its demand to be set free. This time, though, Marianne was not sure she would be able to control this anger. It was different somehow…stronger. She was afraid and weak. She had lost her faith in God, and she was so angry with Andrew for leaving her behind. Leaving her all alone in this dark, insane world. A world that was in such a hurry to go nowhere. A world that was in such a hurry to destroy everything in its path. Marianne was in its path, but this time she was alone. Sitting at the kitchen table, Marianne closed her eyes, and then she prayed that, today, she would die.

Meet the Author:

Sandi Smith spent her time as a young girl combing the shelves of the public library. She has always enjoyed the magic that books have to offer and was inspired by her high school English teacher, Mr. Coolidge to embrace the arts. The author found her calling as a writer early one morning as her first story came to her in the form of a poem. Since then she has written more than 15 children’s books, with her most popular series about the adventures of an adorable spider in the A.R. Achnid series.

Sandi is happily married to her inspiration and husband of 40 years, John. She continues to write for her two precious grandchildren. When she’s not penning a new story, Sandi and John like to camp, kayak and to enjoy the simple life in their home in Pembroke, NH.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Pinterest

Enter the Giveaway!
Win an ebook copy of Sitting at the Kitchen Table with God (open to USA and Canada - 1 winner)
Ends Sept 29, 2018

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Books by Sandi Smith / Contemporary fiction / Books from America