Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Purple, Silver, Olive, Orange by Helen Smith


Purple, Silver, Olive, Orange by Helen Smith
Published by Tyger Books in December 2014.

Where to buy this book:
Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
Buy the ebook from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk

How I got this book:
Took advantage of free Amazon download offer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An entertaining short story set in a futuristic England, Purple, Silver, Olive, Orange is a bite-sized introduction to Helen Smith’s writing.
Sarah wanted a sensitive, poetic, romantic boyfriend who would bring her flowers. Ryan ticks all the boxes. So why isn’t Sarah happy?

The story was first told as a theatrical play and I can see how it would work just as well on stage. Smith doesn't give extensive background to her characters so this snapshot view of Sarah and Ryan allows for imaginative interpretation of their situation. Definitely set in a future society, but not necessarily so far from today, we see the results of genetic matchmaking. If we could really tick a dozen boxes and be allocated your perfect partner, would we actually appreciate the person we got? At just fifty pages Purple, Silver, Olive, Orange is a quick read, but one which I found provoked disproportionate levels of thought about romance, relationships and expectations. It's themes are deceptively deep considering the apparent simplicity and brevity of the tale. Perhaps this would be a good book club suggestion?


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Helen Smith / Science fiction / Books from England

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Question Of Red by Laksmi Pamuntjak


The Question Of Red by Laksmi Pamuntjak
First published as Amba by Gramedia Pustaka Utama in Indonesian in Indonesia in 2013. English language translation by the author published by AmazonCrossing in July 2016.

Where to buy this book:
Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
Buy the ebook from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from Speedyhen
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In this sweeping saga of love, loss, revolution, and the resilience of the human spirit, Amba must find the courage to forge her own path.
Amba was named after a tragic figure in Indonesian mythology, and she spends her lifetime trying to invent a story she can call her own. When she meets two suitors who fit perfectly into her namesake’s myth, Amba cannot help but feel that fate is teasing her. Salwa, respectful to a fault, pledges to honor and protect Amba, no matter what. Bhisma, a sophisticated, European-trained doctor, offers her sensual pleasures and a world of ideas. But military coups and religious disputes make 1960s Indonesia a place of uncertainty, and the chaos strengthens Amba’s pursuit of freedom. The more Amba does to claim her own story, the better she understands her inextricable bonds to history, myth, and love.

Pamuntjak begins her novel with a brief recounting of the Hindu myth of Amba, Salwa and Bhishmo, a love triangle that doesn't end well for anyone. We learn that Indonesian culture believes a child's name will have a strong influence over their life, fate if you will, so Amba's father's decision to give her this name is seen as tempting fate even though he intends that she should rise above her destiny. Amba herself however, apart from one brave stand in her youth, gets very little say in her future and this is what I found most exasperating about the book. She is perpetually defined and defines herself by her relationship to the man in her life at the time, and each of the men fulfilling this role is apparently obliged to fall in love with her solely because of her beauty.

I thought it a shame that the historical aspect of the novel is obscured by so much of this waffle as this era of civil war seemed to me to be far more interesting. I was reminded of George Orwell's Homage To Catalonia by the profusion and confusion of political groups and acronyms. Bhisma's letters, while being a weird literary device, grouped together as they are, provide fascinating insights into the lives of alleged communist political prisoners exiled from Indonesian society and I would have loved to have learned more about this. How did they live and what would it have felt like to be in a family also exiled as a reward to a 'well-behaved' prisoner? I would have preferred The Question Of Red to have been more of a deep historical novel with much less emphasis given to Amba's romantic vacillations and petty jealousies.


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Books by Laksmi Pamuntjak / Historical fiction / Books from Indonesia

Monday, 20 February 2017

Dan's Narrowboat Life by Daniel Mark Brown


Dan's Narrowboat Life by Daniel Mark Brown
Self published in January 2015.

Where to buy this book:
Buy the ebook from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Dan's Narrowboat Life, boat dwelling author, Dan Brown, takes us on a journey down the scenic, rural canals of Shropshire, and through one calendar year of his life afloat.
A quick read, Dan keeps his writing focused on life on his narrowboat Tilly, filling the book with insights as to why a life on the canal has Dan hooked. From calm days spent in the perfect countryside environment, ever changing with his location, to unexpectedly having to walk his boat a few feet down the canal at three in the morning. This book highlights some of Dan's best (...and worst) moments afloat.
Written with the friendly, conversational style that has led over 100,000 people to take a peek into Dan's world online each month. Dan's Narrowboat Life captures the essence of a young man trying to live a simple, active life in the greenery and scenery surrounding his floating home.


This second volume of Dan's narrowboating memoirs again does a good job of portraying just how beautiful and serene the British countryside is around the Llangollen canal along the Welsh borders. I would be interested to know how many people have been influenced to visit the region through reading his books or viewing his YouTube videos! I again was drawn to the solitude and tranquillity of his chosen lifestyle, especially the opportunities for walking and cycling in such a natural environment. I wasn't so gripped this time around as I was when reading The Narrowboat Lad though. I think Dan's Narrowboat Life, framed as it is by a calendar year, misses the strong sense of purpose that was a compelling part of the former book. Dan's anecdotes are entertaining in themselves, but I would have appreciated more narrative in place of so much gentle rambling.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Daniel Mark Brown / Biography and memoir / Books from England

Sunday, 19 February 2017

George's Grand Tour by Caroline Vermalle


George's Grand Tour by Caroline Vermalle
First published as L’avant-dernière chance in French in France in 2009. English language translation by Anna Aitken published by Gallic Books in March 2015.
Winner of the Prix Nouveau Talent in 2009 and Prix Chronos in 2011.
One of my WorldReads from France

Where to buy this book:
Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
Buy the ebook from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository
Buy the paperback from Waterstones

How I got this book:
Received a copy from its publisher via NetGalley.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At the age of 83, retired butcher George Nicoleau is about to set off on the greatest adventure of his life. George and his neighbour Charles have long dreamt of a road trip, driving the 3500 kilometres that make up the stages of the Tour de France. And now that George's over-protective daughter has gone to South America, it's time to seize the moment. But just when he feels free of family ties, George's granddaughter Adèle starts calling him from London, and he finds himself promising to text her as he travels around France, although he doesn't even know how to use a mobile. George is plagued by doubts, health worries and an indifference to modern technology. And yet - might the journey still prove to be everything he had hoped for?

George's Grand Tour caught my eye by its marketing towards fans of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, a book I enjoyed a couple of years ago. The two do share the similarity of elderly men going on seemingly impossible travels, but where Harold walked off unexpectedly, George and his longtime neighbour, Charles, have spent months planning their epic excursion. They are going to follow in the tyre tracks of the 2008 Tour de France cycle race - in a Renault Scenic.

I found this novel to be surprisingly moving, even welling up a couple of times during the latter pages. Vermalle's characters are well-drawn with even peripheral figures such as Charles' wife Therese being thoroughly believable. As Dave and I are on our own French tour at the moment I easily identified with the wanderlust aspect and was able to draw on my own memories of Carnac and the Emerald Coast to add to the evocative written descriptions. What, on the face of it, appears to be a simple story of George and his London-based grand-daughter, Adele, re-establishing their lost friendship, develops into a emotionally layered tale of memories and loss, with a strong message of the importance of seizing every moment before it is too late.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Caroline Vermalle / Humorous fiction / Books from France

Saturday, 18 February 2017

The Case Of The Killer Divorce by Barbara Venkataraman + Giveaway


The Case Of The Killer Divorce by Barbara Venkataraman
Self published in January 2014.

Where to buy this book:
Buy the ebook from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reluctant lawyer, Jamie Quinn, has returned to her family law practice after a hiatus due to the death of her mother. It's business as usual until a bitter divorce case turns into a murder investigation, and Jamie's client becomes the prime suspect. When she can't untangle truth from lies, Jamie enlists the help of Duke Broussard, her favorite private investigator, to try to clear her client's name. And she’s hoping that, in his spare time, he can help her find her long-lost father.

We get to learn more about Jamie in this second Jamie Quinn series cosy mystery and I love that her character is so different from the normal run of amateur sleuth dysfunctionals. Perpetually hungry Jamie is a chatty, kindly soul who comes across as a happy and confident woman despite issues in her personal life that she has to deal with. In this story, the eponymous Killer Divorce affects one of her clients and Jamie roots around to uncover the truth while also juggling a search for her long-lost father and stumbling into a new relationship. I like that she isn't remotely suave or elegant and I think I would get on well with Jamie if she were real! The Case Of The Killer Divorce is a light and enjoyable read which flashed past as Venkataraman keeps up a pretty rapid pace throughout. The multiple story focus points meld well together and the character relationships are sympathetically portrayed.


Would you like to read your own copy of The Case Of The Killer Divorce? Well you're in luck! Barbara Venkataraman has kindly offered an ebook boxset of the first three Jamie Quinn cosy mysteries for one lucky Literary Flits reader! The prize will be gifted by Barbara via Amazon.

I know it's been a little while since I ran a Giveaway. I hope you can all remember what to do!

The Giveaway is open worldwide for one week from today and previous Literary Flits giveaway winners are welcome to enter. Entries must be submitted through the Gleam widget below by midnight (UK time) on the 4th March and I will randomly pick a winner on the 5th. If the winner does not respond to my email within 7 days, they will forfeit the prize and, yes, I will be checking that entrants did complete whatever task they said they did.

If you'd like the chance to win the Jamie Quinn Mystery Box Set, here's the giveaway widget:

Jamie Quinn Mystery Box Set Giveaway

Good luck!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Barbara Venkataraman / Crime fiction / Books from America

Friday, 17 February 2017

Guest Review: The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola


The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola
Published in the UK by Tinder Press on the 14th July 2016. Published in America on the 7th February 2017.

Where to buy this book:
Buy the book from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from Speedyhen
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository
Buy the paperback from Waterstones

Guest review by Vikki Patis
Vikki Patis is a writer and blogger at The Bandwagon, where she reviews books, interviews authors, and gives her opinions on a wide variety of topics, from feminism to fibromyalgia. I first spotted my current FeministFebruary reading challenge mentioned on The Bandwagon and you can discover Vikki's FF book choices here. She is also a published author and I look forward to reviewing her short story collection Weltenschauung for you soon.

Vikki's rating: 5 of 5 stars

Set in London in 1837, Anna Mazzola's THE UNSEEING is the story of Sarah Gale, a seamstress and mother, sentenced to hang for her role in the murder of Hannah Brown on the eve of her wedding. Perfect for any reader of Sarah Waters or Antonia Hodgson.
After Sarah petitions for mercy, Edmund Fleetwood is appointed to investigate and consider whether justice has been done. Idealistic, but struggling with his own demons, Edmund is determined to seek out the truth. Yet Sarah refuses to help him, neither lying nor adding anything to the evidence gathered in court. Edmund knows she's hiding something, but needs to discover just why she's maintaining her silence. For how can it be that someone would willingly go to their own death?


Vikki says: Here I go again, finding fabulous historical fiction set in Victorian England. First it was The Essex Serpent, now it’s The Unseeing. What a year for readers.

Although this is her debut, Mazzola writes with a practiced hand. She knows her way around the Victorian underworld of poverty, desperation, and depravity like a seasoned historian. She brings Sarah Gale, suspected murderess, to life, her words reaching back and breathing into the past. As a reader, you feel connected to Sarah – her suffering at the hands of James Greenacre, and her twisted involvement in the crime of killing Hannah Brown, only serve to draw you in, to get to know Sarah, as Edmund Fleetwood does.

Not all of Mazzola’s characters are inspired by real people. Edmund is fictional, although someone undoubtedly served in his place to investigate Sarah’s role in Hannah Brown’s murder. But all of her characters are real and incredibly well-written.

The Unseeing is a gritty, glorious debut. Victorian London is dragged to life, with no hint of romanticising the era. One part in particular about fallen women reminded me of The Crimson Petal and The White, and I was delighted to learn via Twitter that Mazzola is a huge fan, of both the book and the BBC adaptation.



Thank you Vikki!

Do you have a book review that you would like to share on Literary Flits? Details of how to do so are Here. I look forward to hearing from you!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Anna Mazzola / Historical fiction / Books from England

Thursday, 16 February 2017

The Fashion In Shrouds by Margery Allingham


The Fashion In Shrouds by Margery Allingham
First published in the UK by William Heinemann Ltd in 1938.
This is my 1930s read for the BookCrossing-Goodreads Decade Challenge 2016-17.
I registered my copy of this book on BookCrossing

Where to buy this book:
Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
Buy the ebook from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository
Buy the paperback from Waterstones

How I got this book:
Swapped at South Lytchett Campsite book exchange

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First, there is a skeleton in a dinner jacket. Then a corpse in a golden aeroplane. After another body, private detective Albert Campion nearly makes a fourth... Both the skeleton and the corpse have died with suspicious convenience for Georgia Wells, a monstrous but charming actress with a raffish entourage. Georgia's best friend just happens to be Valentine, a top couturière and Campion's sister. In order to protect Valentine, Campion must unravel a story of blackmail and ruthless murder.

Several hours after completing The Fashion In Shrouds I am still baffled by what I really think of the book. On the one hand it is a perfectly competent murder mystery set in in upper class 1930s London. Amateur sleuth Campion is suitably snobbish, the characters are all either High Society or Commoners and we can easily tell the difference by the cringe-worthy accents of the latter. With his discovery of a suspicious suicide on his mind, Campion undertakes his own investigation into what happened and his winding path to the denouement is nicely done and satisfying. It is interesting that the priority is frequently not actually the unveiling of a murderer, but the prevention of scandal. Under no account must anything be revealed to Journalists!

What I struggled with though is Allingham's ambiguous attitude to her female characters. Four are wonderfully successful in their chosen careers - Georgia, an actress; Val, a couturier; Lady Papendeik, Val's employer; and Amanda, an aircraft engineer. For so many such independent and influential women to appear in a single 1930s novel could have led me to trumpet this as another of my Feminist February book reviews. However the non-stop barrage of viciously misogynistic statements, from male and female characters alike, put paid to that within the first few pages and I kept reading mostly in disbelief. Women are silly and hysterical; Campion repeatedly dismisses Amanda's logical deductions as just female luck in jumping to conclusions and, my own favourite, consoles his sister Val over her stolen boyfriend by saying 'This is damned silly introspective rot. What you need, my girl, is a good cry or a nice rape.' This is a brother talking to his sister! All through this book I couldn't decide whether Allingham actually meant to be derogatory or satirical? The chauvinism is so heavy handed, even by 1930s standards, that it frequently jarred, especially in contrast to the obvious talents and business acumen of the women being undermined.

The icing on the cake though, and I feel it is appropriate to recount so near to Valentine's Day, is this romantic marriage proposal:
Will you marry me and give up to me your independence, the enthusiasm which you give your career, your time and your thought? I realise that I've made a fine old exhibition of myself with Georgia Wells, which has hardly enhanced my immediate value in the market, but I can't honestly say I regret the experience. However that is the offer...In return, mind you (I consider it an obligation), I should assume full responsibility for you. I would pay your bills to any amount which my income might afford. I would make all the decisions which were not directly your province, although on the other hand I would like to feel I might discuss everything with you if I wanted to; but only because I wanted to, mind you; not as your right. And until I died you would be the only woman. You would be my care, my mate as in plumber, my possession if you like. If you wanted your own way in everything you'd have to cheat it out of me...It means the other half of my life to me, but the whole of yours.

The Fashion In Shrouds was written almost eighty years ago and I for one am so very grateful for every minute of feminist advance in those years!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Margery Allingham / Crime fiction / Books from England