Friday, 22 March 2019

The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell

The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell
Published in the UK by Vintage yesterday, the 21st March 2019.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

On the banks of the Zambezi River, a few miles from the majestic Victoria Falls, there was once a colonial settlement called The Old Drift. Here begins the epic story of a small African nation, told by a mysterious swarm-like chorus that calls itself man’s greatest nemesis. The tale? A playful panorama of history, fairytale, romance and science fiction. The moral? To err is human.

In 1904, in a smoky room at the hotel across the river, an Old Drifter named Percy M. Clark, foggy with fever, makes a mistake that entangles the fates of an Italian hotelier and an African busboy. This sets off a cycle of unwitting retribution between three Zambian families (black, white, brown) as they collide and converge over the course of the century, into the present and beyond. As the generations pass, their lives – their triumphs, errors, losses and hopes – form a symphony about what it means to be human.

From a woman covered with hair and another plagued with endless tears, to forbidden love affairs and fiery political ones, to homegrown technological marvels like Afronauts, microdrones and viral vaccines – this gripping, unforgettable novel sweeps over the years and the globe, subverting expectations along the way. Exploding with colour and energy, The Old Drift is a testament to our yearning to create and cross borders, and a meditation on the slow, grand passage of time.

The Old Drift is the first Zambian-authored novel I have read and, now enthused by Serpell's inventiveness and vision, I can't wait to discover more! This certainly won't be a novel to appeal to all readers, but if, as I did, you loved One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Where The Bird Sings Best by Alejandro Jodorowsky, you will probably adore The Old Drift. Serpell tells the story of a nation from 1904 until the 2020s through the interweaving lives of numerous people. Her tale begins as historical fiction, slides into magical realism, plays around with notions of ancient Greek choruses, and finishes with a science fiction flourish. And I thought it all melded together brilliantly!

It is sometimes difficult to keep track of the characters' varying connections and relationships, but I didn't feel this was necessarily a problem because I appreciated my 'aha' moments when I would suddenly realise how the current protagonist warranted their focus. Perhaps a sibling, or an aunt, or a lover to someone we met twenty years ago (in the previous chapter!) Characters such as Sibilla, who is swathed in her own hair, or former afronaut Matha, who has cried constantly for decades, are vividly drawn and I am sure will be memorable. Serpell's women lead the way through this story in a very real way. I actually loved reading as much about their occasional menstrual mishaps as about the world-changing events in which they participate. For a literary fiction author to present her women in such an authentic way felt wonderfully liberating and inspiring to me. In fact, had I got the call to a SOTP rally today, I'd have run all the way there!

Serpell's blending of genres felt fresh. I am in awe of her storytelling talent and the clarity she achieves in what is a complicated narrative. I thought the inclusion of the Chorus was an interesting idea. It allows the reader a moment to relax every now and then, but also provides a framework for both the stories and their underlying philosophy. This was especially effective for me because the Chorus' message felt like it resounded so well with my own lifestyle: don't stagnate, but don't rush around either. Take the time to drift!

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Books by Namwali Serpell / Historical fiction / Books from Zambia

Thursday, 21 March 2019

The Pieces of You and Me by Rachel Burton + Excerpt

The Pieces of You and Me by Rachel Burton
Published by HQ Digital on the 21st February 2019.

Add The Pieces of You and Me to your Goodreads

They say time can heal all wounds…

When Jess and Rupert parted ways, it was the end of a great love story that might have been. Now ten years later, the very different paths they have taken in life will bring them back together for a chance meeting.

But with so much left unsaid about the break up neither ever recovered from and with each keeping their own devastating secrets, will they finally be able to make the fractured pieces of their love for one another whole again?


This scene is the morning after Jess’s best friend Gemma’s wedding. Gemma invited Rupert to the wedding – the first time the couple had met properly after bumping into each other in a pub in York a few weeks earlier…

‘He kissed you!’ Gemma asked, eyes wide open, hangover forgotten.
‘Well technically we kissed each other,’ I said. ‘But I think he started it.’
‘I want all the details,’ Gemma said.
‘Gemma, listen,’ I replied. ‘I’m so sorry I didn’t come back to the reception last night. I should have let you know I was going to bed at least.’
‘Oh to hell with that.’ She grinned at me. ‘Just tell me everything that’s going on with you and Tremayne.’
‘Let her have some privacy, Gem,’ Caitlin said kindly.
‘Well are you seeing him again?’ Gemma asked.
‘I don’t know,’ I said quietly. The initial euphoria of the kiss was beginning to wear off and the reality of the situation was starting to hit me. What was happening? Where would it go? Could we really salvage what we used to have, particularly as neither of us had broached the subject of why we split up in the first place? I’d been thinking about “what if?” for years and yet now it was here I had no idea what to do with it.

Meet the author

Rachel Burton is the author of the international ebook bestseller The Many Colours of Us.

Rachel spent most of her life between Cambridge and London but now lives in Yorkshire with her fiance and their three cats. The main loves of her life are The Beatles and very tall romantic heroes.

She is always happy to talk books, writing, music, cats and how the weather in Yorkshire is rubbish. She is mostly dreaming of her next holiday....

Author links: 
BlogInstagram ~ FacebookTwitter ~ Pinterest

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Books by Rachel Burton / Women's Fiction / Books from England

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Camouflage: The Hidden Lives of Autistic Women by Sarah Bargiela and Sophie Standing

Camouflage: The Hidden Lives of Autistic Women by Sarah Bargiela and Sophie Standing
Published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers tomorrow, the 21st March 2019.

C for my 2019 Alphabet Soup Challenge reads and a 2019 New Release Challenge read

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Autism in women and girls is still not widely understood, and is often misrepresented or even overlooked. This graphic novel offers an engaging and accessible insight into the lives and minds of autistic women, using real-life case studies.

The charming illustrations lead readers on a visual journey of how women on the spectrum experience everyday life, from metaphors and masking in social situations, to friendships and relationships and the role of special interests.

Fun, sensitive and informative, this is a fantastic resource for anyone who wishes to understand how gender affects autism, and how to create safer supportive and more accessible environments for women on the spectrum.

I love reading in order to discover more about the world around me and also to discover more about myself. I often find myself questioning how I would react if I were to experience fictional situations in novels or genuine ones in memoirs and biographies. Occasionally, I don't get the chance to ponder though. A book will figuratively smack me between the eyes and I'll just know it's talking about me. The last book to do that was Susan Cain's Quiet. Now Camouflage has had exactly the same effect. This is me!

I chose Camouflage from NetGalley because when I saw it was a graphic novel about autistic women I realised that I couldn't actually think of a single one. I recall several novels with male characters on the autism spectrum, but women? It turns out that, much like heart attacks I think, women generally experience autism in a more low-key way to men and so our symptoms are often misunderstood and misdiagnosed. In this short book women briefly explain how they came to realise that they were autistic, how the condition has been a hindrance or sometimes a benefit, and how they have learned to mask their symptoms especially in social situations. So much of this is very Very familiar!

I would have loved for Camouflage to have been a longer and more in depth book. However that isn't its intended purpose so I will need to look for further reading on the subject. Here, instead, we get a stunningly illustrated introduction to female autism. Sophie Standing's drawings raise the book to the standard of a graphic novel, although it is definitely nonfiction, and I loved her almost vintage style. This is a beautiful little book and one that I am particularly grateful to have encountered.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Sarah Bargiela and Sophie Standing / Graphic Novels / Books from America and England

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

The True Queen by Zen Cho

The True Queen by Zen Cho
Published in the UK by Pan Macmillan on Thursday, the 21st March 2019.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fairyland’s future lies in doubt . . .

The enchanted island of Janda Baik, in the Malay Archipelago, has long been home to witches. And Muna and her sister Sakti wake on its shores under a curse, which has quite stolen away their memories. Their only hope of salvation lies in distant Britain, where the Sorceress Royal runs a controversial academy for female magicians. But the pair travel via the formidable Fairy Queen’s realm, where Sakti simply disappears.

To save her sister, Muna must learn to navigate Regency London’s high society and trick the English into believing she’s a magical prodigy. But when the Sorceress Royal’s friends become accidentally embroiled in a plot – involving the Fairy Queen’s contentious succession – Muna is drawn right in. She must also find Sakti, break their curse and somehow stay out of trouble. But if fairyland’s true queen does finally return, trouble may find her first . . .

The True Queen is Zen Cho's spelling binding second book. It's set in a sparkling version of Regency London, with a fairy tale twist. And although it's set in the same world as her award-winning novel, The Sorcerer to the Crown, this reads as a standalone.

Unsurprisingly for me, I hadn't read Zen Cho's first Sorcerer To The Crown novel before launching in to The True Queen so I am fortunate that this second book doesn't require readers to have any previous knowledge. I understand that the stories take place within the same world and there is some overlap of characters, but I never felt as though I had missed out on anything by picking up The True Queen first. Indeed I am now tempted to treat myself to The Sorcerer To The Crown!

The True Queen takes place as much in magical locations as in Malay or English ones. I appreciated Cho's deft descriptive writing which allowed me to clearly envisage the places in which our characters found themselves, however I never felt any slackening of pace as we looked around. There are enchanted forests, dank caves and the vast Fairy Court Palace as well as the 'real' places: Muna's Janda Baik island home and the bustle of Regency London. I was less convinced by the historical setting than the magical locations, perhaps because I have read quite a lot of Regency stories over the years - Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer for example - and, while I can't put my finger on anything specifically anachronistic, I sometimes felt as though the language and behaviours in The True Queen were more suited to a later period.

That said, I enjoyed spending time with Muna, Sakti and the characters surrounding them. I worked out the solution to their predicament fairly early on, but that didn't detract from the intricacies of their journey. I think fans of Vered Ehsani's Society For Paranormals series would appreciate reading The True Queen (and Zen Cho fans might like to give Ehsani's books a try!)

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Zen Cho / Fantasy fiction / Books from Malaysia

Monday, 18 March 2019

My Sister The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

My Sister The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
First published in Nigeria as Thicker Than Water by Qamina in 2017. Republished as My Sister The Serial Killer by Atlantic Books in November 2018.

How I got this book:
Borrowed from my partner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Korede's dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what's expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This'll be the third boyfriend Ayoola's dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede's long been in love with him, and isn't prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other...

I loved My Sister, The Serial Killer! Braithwaite's sharp, snappy prose creates vivid atmospheric scenes in just a couple of sentences and I could clearly imagine all her characters from obsessively cleaning Korede to perpetually dozing Yinka. For such a dark story - we now have Nigerian Noir to complete with Scandi Noir - My Sister, The Serial Killer is very funny. The combination of Braithwaite's entertaining humour and short chapters meant that this novel zipped past and I was disappointed to realise I had finished it in just a few hours. I could have happily spent longer with Korede and her sister Ayoola.

Blithe serial killer Ayoola is a fascinating invention and I will be very surprised if her story doesn't reappear as a film version within the next few years. Seemingly unaware of the implications of her actions and incapable of taking responsibility, she flits from one man to the next, always relying on her beauty to save the day. And on her sister of course. Korede and Ayoola are strikingly different physically but I felt both were equally as damaged by the domestic abuse they witnessed and experienced in childhood. Ayoola might be the actual murderer, but is Korede any less culpable for continuing to facilitate her sister's actions. Obviously enabling a sibling to repeatedly commit murder is wrong, but where should the line be drawn between protecting one's family from the world and protecting the world from one's family?

I'm delighted to have discovered Oyinkan Braithwaite. I'd recommend My Sister The Serial Killer to a wide readership and look forward to reading more of her storytelling in the future.

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Books by Oyinkan Braithwaite / Crime fiction / Books from Nigeria

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Empires of Dust by Jiang Zilong

Empires of Dust by Jiang Zilong
First published in Chinese as Peasant Empire in China in 2008. English language translation by Christopher Payne and Olivia Milburn published by Sinoist Books on the 11th March 2019.

2019 New Release Challenge read

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When making coffins is the best business in town, what hope is there for tomorrow?

Amidst the maelstrom of Communist China's rocky beginnings, Guojiadian, a tiny hamlet situated on salty ground in the rural northeast where nothing grows, must forge a path through the turbulence - both physical and political - threatening to return the windswept village to the dust from which it emerged.

Amongst the long-suffering village inhabitants lives Guo Cunxian, a man of rare ability trapped in an era of limitations. His quest for a better future for him and his family pits him against the jealousy of his peers, the indifference of his superiors and even the seemingly cursed earth upon which he resides.

In a decades-long journey filled with frustration and false starts, they eventually rise to dizzy heights built upon foundations as stable as the dust beneath their feet and the mud walls which shelter them.

But will their sacrifices along this tortuous path be in vain…?

If I had realised quite how long a book Empires Of Dust was going to be, I probably would not have requested a review copy from NetGalley. Its 1256 pages equals about four of my usual sized reads and makes it the longest book I think I have ever read, beating my previous record, Iran: A Modern History, by a good 200 pages! Being unused to such epically proportioned epics did influence my enjoyment of Empires Of Dust so please bear this is mind as you read my review.

Jiang Zilong follows one man's life from the Great Leap Forward over a period of several decades, using his political, social and economic experiences to illustrate the massive changes that occurred in rural China during the second half of the twentieth century. The novel features a large cast of characters and I occasionally lost track of some of them, but generally Jiang does a good job of differentiating or at least dropping enough clues to aid successful identification. The story is told in two parts, the first of which has Guo Cunxian as our hero and the second of which unravels the darker side of his meteoric rise. Personally I could have done with the first half being significantly condensed as it did often seem to drag on somewhat. I was never tempted to actually stop reading though because I wanted to know how everything would turn out. Empires Of Dust gives fascinating insights into Chinese life during this period. Many issues are addressed, most of them directly related to the horrendous poverty endured by generations of villagers. I would recommend this novel to readers interested in Asian fiction and historical sagas, especially those who aren't intimidated by Big Books!

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Jiang Zilong / Historical fiction / Books from China

Saturday, 16 March 2019

My Name Is Rose by Alexa Kingaard + #Giveaway + Excerpt

My Name Is Rose by Alexa Kingaard
Published by Acorn Publishing on the 22nd February 2019.

Add My Name Is Rose to your Goodreads

Rose is unsettled, curious, and bored. Life in a hippie commune is her parents' dream come true, not hers. She doesn't share their passion for living off the land, nor does she enjoy the isolation that is thrust upon her. When she convinces them to send her to public school in the nearby town, a new world opens up to her. As she pursues her education, Rose chooses a different path, leaving her parents heartbroken at her insistence they are hiding something from her. She's convinced her father isn't the man her mother married. Although she finds love far away from her roots and upbringing, her wounds only deepen as she keeps her family at arm's length. What she loses during those years can only be retrieved with her understanding that "a Rose by any other name is still a Rose."


… I cut short my self-guided tour of college student filled apartment houses by the university and looked for the next entrance onto the freeway. I was a pretty good driver, having mastered a stick shift and parallel parking on the old truck at the commune. Still, I dreaded the drive into the city and the cramped streets, steep inclines, and lousy parking options in Grandmother’s neighborhood.
There was no such thing as a garage in those old Victorian homes and finding a nearby, open space on the street always proved to be a problem. People who grew up there had long gotten used to the inconvenience, but occasional visitors like myself experienced frustration and annoyance. It would be my luck that I would have to heave my belongings two blocks, if I was lucky enough to find a space at all.
As I turned the corner to the now familiar street, perched at the top of a steep decline into the city below, my breath suddenly stilled at the spectacular panoramic view before me. Even though the day had turned dull and the mist hovered over the Golden Gate Bridge, I was surrounded by brilliant architecture in every direction. Dozens of charming Victorian homes, the painted ladies, lined the streets in both directions, punctuated by corner markets and one-of-a-kind specialty shops. It was a testament to the influence on the history of California and the discerning eye of the builders who prompted the city’s growth. No wonder Andrew had chosen this ambition for his life’s work. I caught myself thinking about a wedding, then a sweet little first apartment, then one child, making our cramped quarters impossible for a growing family, then a move to the suburbs, neighborhood barbeques, another child, two cars….my mind raced and the light turned green.
My fantasy warmed me. I could physically feel joy in the pit of my stomach. I asked Destiny once, after we had gotten an almost-new pair of identical boots from the thrift store as a special treat before we started third grade, “Do you feel that, Des?”
“Feel what?” She hadn’t the vaguest idea of what I meant.
“That dancing in your tummy, silly! It’s like your insides are giggling.”
It felt delicious to me and ever since that time, a happy moment or extraordinary event could trigger my sense of well-being. My whole body would tingle with pleasure and delight with that feeling of joy.
I didn’t mind driving around the block four times before I found a place to park. I grabbed one suitcase, my wallet, keys, and bounded up Grandmother’s stairs, only slightly winded from the short sprint. I met her at the door with a huge grin, amused at my own story of happily ever after.
“You look flushed, Rose. Did you run all the way here?”
“I didn’t notice. I do feel a little warm, but I think I’m just excited to have finals over, spend the summer with Glory and River, and take a week off with you to do whatever we want. I’m excited about seeing Destiny, too. It’s been almost a year. I had to miss her wedding, because she planned it right in the middle of winter mid-terms, and her first baby is the end of summer.”
“Well, first things first.”
What did that mean? First things first? I was starting to see how generations change, each subsequent one holding on to the popular expressions that conveyed their thoughts. What was first to Grandmother was most likely not what was first to me, which was kicking off my shoes and checking the refrigerator for a Dr. Pepper.
“Yes, Grandmother, first things first.”
“Take off your coat and hang it on the hall tree. Your room is ready, so you can take your suitcase upstairs. Then, come on down and get yourself a cold drink. I got plenty of Dr. Pepper just for you.”
I smiled. We weren’t that far apart after all.

Meet the Author 

Alexa Kingaard was born in San Diego, CA and has lived most of her life in the area. She currently resides in Carlsbad and is the mother of an adult son and daughter who continue to be her biggest fans and cheerleaders. A realtor for fifteen years, she remains involved with her profession and praises her brokers and clients for giving her the nod to be creative. She gives all the credit for completing her debut novel, KEEP FOREVER, to her inspiration and late ex-husband, Jeff, who battled the residual effects of the Vietnam War for decades after his return. Her second novel, MY NAME IS ROSE, will be released through Acorn Publishing March 15, 2019.

Author links:
WebsiteFacebook ~ Twitter ~ Instagram ~ Goodreads

And now it's time for the Giveaway!

The prize is a $20 Amazon gift card.
Open Internationally until the 21st March.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Alexa Kingaard / Young adult fiction / Books from America