Monday, 31 October 2016

Tinder by Sally Gardner


Tinder by Sally Gardner
First published by Orion in the UK in November 2013. Audiobook edition narrated by Robert Madge also published by Orion in November 2013.

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

How I got this book:
Bought the audiobook from Audible

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Otto Hundebiss is tired of war, but when he defies Death he walks a dangerous path. A half beast half man gives him shoes and dice which will lead him deep into a web of dark magic and mystery. He meets the beautiful Safire - pure of heart and spirit, the scheming Mistress Jabber and the terrifying Lady of the Nail. He learns the powers of the tinderbox and the wolves whose master he becomes. But will all the riches in the world bring him the thing he most desires?

I'm not quite sure why, but Tinder didn't enthrall me in the way I hoped it would. I enjoy fairytales by modern authors such as Neil Gaiman but felt this one lacked a truly magical spark. There are a number of unexpected flashbacks which made the story a bit tricky to follow on audio as, if I missed a few seconds, I wasn't always able to pick the story up again easily. Based on The Tinderbox tale by Hans Christian Andersen, Sally Gardner has cleverly worked the trauma of child soldiers and civil war into her story and set it in the period of the 30 Years War about which I know precious little but am now intrigued to research. She tells us a little about her influence and inspiration after the tale which was interesting to hear.

Robert Madge does a good job of the narration and his voice fits how I imagine Otto would sound. The story trips along at a good pace with frequent fantastical imagery, but some descriptions are overly repeated which I found annoying. For example, the 'pointless quill' of a lawyer is a great visual phrase, but I didn't need it hammered home so many times in quick succession. As is typical of fairytales, the characters are not particularly well developed, there are goodies and baddies a plenty and they tend to stick to type. I did like the Lady of the Nail and the hotel keeper is fun.

Reading other reviews, I have discovered that the printed book is illustrated by David Roberts which adds greatly to the atmosphere of the tale. Perhaps for Tinder, this would have been the better edition to experience.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Sally Gardner / Fairytales / Books from England

Sunday, 30 October 2016

anemogram. by Rebecca Gransden


anemogram. by Rebecca Gransden
Published by Cardboard Wall Empire in August 2015.

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

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A young girl emerges out of the woods. David is in the middle of wrestling with an unsatisfactory existence when she enters his life. He decides to look out for the girl, but he soon discovers she may not be all she seems. Together they decide to seek out a place of safety, away from a world that could misunderstand their relationship. As their troubles come to the surface, events take a turn that will have life-changing consequences for the both of them.

I didn't know what to expect from anemogram. other than fellow author Harry Whitewolf spoke highly of Gransden's writing so I hoped I would be in for a treat. I certainly was and a perfectly timed Halloween one at that! anemogram. is set in a bleak post-industrial landscape of wastelands and McDonald's car parks that are so richly described that I could almost reach out and touch the rusting wire fences. I loved one moment where a tree consumes the metal through which it grows. We follow a disconcertingly precocious child who names herself differently for each man she latches on to and who is always hungry. Hungry for food and hungry for stories, some of which we read from 'Tinker' - a genuine presence or an imaginary friend? Gransden creates a palpable sense of unease around Rachel/Sarah so I was always aware that 'something bad' was going to happen, but with no idea what. To be honest, I'm still not sure I know exactly what what was going on - I have a theory! - but anemogram. is utterly compelling reading and I am delighted I got the opportunity to discover it.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Rebecca Gransden / Horror fiction / Books from England

Saturday, 29 October 2016

The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen


The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen
First published in the UK by Constable And Co in 1929.

This is my 1920s read for the 2016-17 Goodreads / BookCrossing Decade Challenge.
I registered my copy of this book on BookCrossing.

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

How I got this book:
Swapped for on Lemonford campsite book exchange

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Irish troubles rage, but up at the 'Big House', tennis parties, dances and flirtations with the English officers continue, undisturbed by the ambushes, arrests and burning country beyond the gates. Faint vibrations of discord reach the young girl Lois, who is straining for her own freedom, and she will witness the troubles surge closer and reach their irrevocable, inevitable climax.

This novel is a wonderfully sharp depiction of privileged Anglo-Irish lives in post-Great War Ireland. I couldn't believe just how vacuous and inane this family was! Their cosseted, closed-off existence, generations of being Lords of the Manor, has left them convinced of their own Irishness and frequently despising of English visitors, yet with practically no real understanding of how they are seen outside their estate walls. It felt like reading satire, but I later learned that Bowen kept ownership of her own Irish seat until the 1950s and experienced a similar upbringing to Lois. I am sure she must have seen its absurdities in order to write The Last September though.

Looking past the whirl of dances and tennis parties, the loneliness of the individual family members struck me. Lois is beyond naive and I found her incredibly irritating, but she does make an excellent counterpoint to the gathering malevolence. Hints of nationalist violence slowly build up the tension and, even though Lord and Lady maintain their casually dismissive attitudes, it becomes increasingly obvious that their time is coming to a close. The question is simply when and how. Reading The Last September was frequently reminiscent of watching BBC period drama or a Merchant Ivory film. Bowen's pace is always gentle and with great use of detail and understanding of her characters. Despite having been written within a decade of the events depicted, there is always a very real sense of lost history and times gone by.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Elizabeth Bowen / Historical fiction / Books from Ireland

Friday, 28 October 2016

The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger


The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea by Sebastian Junger
First published by W W Norton in May 1997. RecordedBooks audio edition narrated by Richard M Davidson. The Andrea Gail was lost on this day 25 years ago, the 28th October 1991.

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

How I got this book:
Downloaded from AudioSYNC during their 2015 season

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Having previously only really been aware of The Perfect Storm from its movie poster, I was expecting to be unimpressed by a gungho men triumphing against the sea adventure. Oops! The Perfect Storm is an incredibly well researched factual work of journalistic style reporting which investigates the massive storm that hit North America in late October 1991. Junger presents not only his best educated-guess of what happened to the ill-fated crew of the American fishing boat, Andrea Gail, which was lost during the storm, but also delves into many related areas to provide an all-round education to his readers. If you memorised enough of this information, The Perfect Storm could be a Mastermind specialist subject!

I was fascinated to learn about the history of Gloucester town (Massachusetts) and her shipping fleet, what actually happens on board a swordfish fishing boat, and how such a life affects the men and women who fish. Junger also discusses meteorology and what must occur to create storms, the extensive training of rescue crews, what physically happens to a person as they drown, and how boats do (or don't) keep themselves afloat. These complementary subjects are interspersed with the story of the Andrea Gail and her sister boats during the storm that claimed her. Junger extensively interviewed crews of the other boats so his imaginings of what happened on board as the storm heightened is based solidly in fact, including many direct quotes. This style of writing worked brilliantly for me allowing me to imagine and understand. Perhaps the narrator, Richard M Davidson, wasn't the best as he did stumble and lose pace occasionally, but that didn't detract from a powerful and interesting book.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Sebastian Junger / Reportage / Books from America

Thursday, 27 October 2016

The Last Pilgrim by Gard Sveen


The Last Pilgrim by Gard Sveen
First published as Den Siste Pilgrimen in Norwegian in Norway by Vigmostad og Bjorke in 2013. English translation by Steven T Murray published by Amazon Crossing in 2016.
Winner of the Riverton Prize in 2013 and both the Glass Key and the Maurits Hansen Award in 2014.

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

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Young, lovely Norwegian Agnes Gerner is waging a dangerous and secret fight. Outwardly, she is a devoted Nazi sympathizer engaged to a prominent businessman. In fact, she is part of an underground resistance doing everything to win the war against the Germans. The only hope she has of being reunited with the man she truly loves—who serves under the code name “Pilgrim”—is if the Nazis are defeated. Of course, there’s no guarantee that she’ll be alive when that happens.
Many years later, three sets of remains are found in a popular Oslo forest - two adults and a child. Despite his boss’s call to not spend extra time on the old case, Detective Tommy Bergmann cannot help but dig deeper, especially as he uncovers connections to a more recent murder. As he unravels the secrets of the past, it becomes clear that everything is permissible in war - and that only those who reject love can come out victorious.

The Last Pilgrim is a dual timeline novel which jumps frequently between 1940s wartime Norway and a 2003 police investigation into bodies believed buried during that war. Initially this made it difficult for me to keep track of who everybody was and I am not sure that the device worked for me in this book. I felt more that the resulting story failed to be either a rich historical novel or atmospheric crime fiction, instead falling somewhere between these two genres. Characters are not particularly fleshed out or detailed although it did make a change that our tortured-soul police detective, Tommy Bergmann, isn't an alcoholic. He's a wifebeater.

Bergmann zips across to Sweden and Germany at the drop of a hat trying to unravel the historic mystery. There's a lot of straw-clutching and giving away of confidential information and I did struggle to follow all the twists and turns as readers are often kept in the dark or only given cryptic comments to work with. The denouement is ultimately satisfying, but I wasn't as impressed with the journey as I thought I would be considering the prizes The Last Pilgrim has won.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Gard Sveen / Crime fiction / Books from Norway

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Crocheted Mandalas by Lynne Rowe + Giveaway


Crocheted Mandalas by Lynne Rowe
Published in the UK by Search Press in September 2016.

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

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'"The book contains 20 beautiful designs for crocheted mandalas, in a range of sizes and colours and using different crochet stitches. There are patterns for a number of small mandalas (6-7 rounds plus an edging), medium mandalas (9-10 rounds plus and edging) and a few larger mandalas (14-15 rounds plus edging).
The mandalas make great little coasters and mats for cups, glasses, vases, and so on and the book features some beautiful close-up photographs of the finished pieces, as well as overhead shots of all the designs. Lynne has used a variety of yarns including Hoooked Zpagetti to make a large mandala rug, the only really large project in the book. Otherwise, they are all very pretty little crochet projects - small, transportable, great for using up scraps of yarn - and they fit in perfectly with the current therapeutic colouring craze!'

Those of you who follow my Stephanie Jane blog will already know how much I love to crochet and I was delighted to be offered a review copy of Crocheted Mandalas, a new title in the Search Press 20 to Make range of craft books. The mandalas are essentially doilies reimagined for the 21st century with bright bold colours and designs - none of granny's lacy sepia here! I particularly liked the Sunflower and the Citrus Mandalas, both of which were relatively simple to make and produced a striking effect. Rowe gives clear instructions in both UK and US crochet terminology and also suggests yarns to use although more experienced crocheters will no doubt substitute whatever they have to hand.

Crocheted Mandalas isn't a book for absolute beginners, but I think it would be perfect for people who have mastered crochet basics and want to progress, or those who have mislaid their crochet mojo and need a burst of technicolor inspiration! I love that the projects suit a mindfulness approach to life and could replace colouring in for some crafters, and that mandalas will use up oddments and recycled yarns thereby being thrifty and environmentally friendly too. So all in all a great little book and my only real complaint is its binding. It doesn't easily lay flat so reading the instructions while attempting to crochet is tricky to say the least and flattening it out damages the spine, loosening the pages. Spiral binding would have been sensible, but in lieu of that I'd suggest a clear zip-lock bag!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Lynne Rowe / Arts and crafts / Books from England


And now for the Giveaway!

This week's Giveaway prize is a brand new copy of Crocheted Mandalas by Lynne Rowe.

If you'd like the chance to win this book, here's the giveaway widget:

Crocheted Mandalas book giveaway

The Giveaway is open worldwide and previous giveaway winners are welcome to enter. Entries must be submitted through the Gleam widget by midnight (UK time) on the 2nd November and I will randomly pick a winner on the 3rd. 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.

Good luck!

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The Brain Within Its Groove by L N Nino


The Brain Within Its Groove by L.N. Nino
Self published in America in February 2014.

One of my Favourite Five Horror Stories for Halloween 2015

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

How I got this book:
Downloaded from Story Cartel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"The Brain, within its Groove, Runs evenly - and true - But let a Splinter swerve (...)" This line by Emily Dickinson gives the title to this horrid tale about madness, lust, and the dangers of exploring our darkest memories. An old, agonizing Psychiatrist learns that his only hope of recovering his sanity lies in a patient from his past who suffered from an unusual kind of amnesia. The sinister remembrances he will uncover from this dark past will send him into a nightmarish downward spiral of insanity and fear.

I nearly didn't return to Story Cartel after a disappointing first experience, but I was glad I gave them a second chance when I discovered The Brain Within Its Groove. This literary novella is titled for an Emily Dickinson poem, a connection that initially passed me by as, then, I'd not read any of her work. (I've since rectified that!) Nino's writing is beautifully elegant and 'old-fashioned', but in a good way, the prose flowing like that of a classic Victorian author. His imagery is vivid with each word appearing to have been considered and deliberated over. I was surprised to read writing of this calibre for free! Whether the psychiatric science is valid or imagined I cannot say, but certainly the mood and atmosphere ring true and I particularly appreciated the restraint of the writing as we grew closer to its horrific conclusion. Scenes are generally far more frightening when the reader's imagination is primed then let loose, and Nino has gauged this perfectly for maximum effect. Perhaps I would have liked characters other than the narrator to have been more fully developed, but I understand that within the short space of a novella this would have upset the pace of the tale.

I will definitely be looking out for more work by L.N. Nino and would recommend this book for fans of subtle creeping horror.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by L N Nino / Horror / Books from America

Monday, 24 October 2016

Courage Has No Color by Tanya Lee Stone


Courage Has No Color, The True Story Of The Triple Nickles: America's First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone

Published in America by Candlewick Press in 2012. Brilliance Audio edition narrated by J D Jackson published in January 2013.

Where to buy this book:
Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
Buy from independent booksellers via Alibris
Buy the audiobook download from Audible via Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository

How I got this book:
Downloaded from AudioSYNC

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

World War II was raging, with thousands of American soldiers fighting overseas against the injustices brought on by Hitler. Back on the home front, the injustice of discrimination against African Americans was playing out as much on Main Street as in the military. Enlisted black men were segregated from white soldiers and regularly relegated to service duties. At Fort Benning, Georgia, First Sergeant Walter Morris's men served as guards at The Parachute School while the white soldiers prepared to be paratroopers. Morris knew that in order for his men to be treated like soldiers, they would have to train and act like them, but would the military elite and politicians recognize the potential of these men, as well as their passion for serving their country?
Tanya Lee Stone examines the role of African Americans in the military through the lens of the untold story of the Triple Nickles as they became America's first black paratroopers and fought a little-known World War II attack on the American West by the Japanese. The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, in the words of Morris, "proved that the color of a man had nothing to do with his ability."

Courage Has No Colour is short for an audiobook at just over three hours so it is a shame that much of this time is filled out by padding. No doubt the Triple Nickles story highlights an important moment in America's military and social history, but I got the impression that Stone struggled to find much in the way of detailed source material about the experiences of the battalion itself. There are interesting snippets such as the Japanese balloon bomb campaign. I had never heard about this WWII strategy before although my immediate response was to think of Roswell, not forest fires! I liked that Stone did include words from a trio of surviving Triple Nickles whom she interviewed and she did also include frequent quotes from a pre-existing autobiography. It's a shame that more direct information wasn't used - or possibly even available - though because, for a book that is supposed to have been about this historically important batallion, Courage Has No Color spends more time talking generally about 1940s America rather than specifically about the Triple Nickles.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Tanya Lee Stone / History / Books from America

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Occupied by Joss Sheldon


Occupied by Joss Sheldon
Self published in 2015. Audiobook edition narrated by Jack Wynters published in 2016.

One of my Top Ten Books of 2016.

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

How I got this book:
Audible audiobook gifted to me by the author

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

'Some people live under occupation.
Some people occupy themselves.
No one is free.

Step into a world which is both magically fictitious and shockingly real. Walk side-by-side with a refugee, native, occupier and economic migrant. And watch on as the world around you transforms from a halcyon past into a dystopian future.
Inspired by the occupations of Palestine, Kurdistan and Tibet, and by the corporate occupation of the west, Occupied is a haunting glance into a society which is a little too familiar for comfort. It truly is a unique piece of literary fiction.

I don't recall being as excited about an indie author book as I am about Occupied since I read Alison Habens' The True Picture two years ago! In my opinion Occupied is that good and I am so grateful to Joss Sheldon for gifting me an audio copy of his book. Describing the swift and total change of a country from peaceful rural idyll to greedy dystopian metropolis within the lifetimes of our four protagonists, Occupied cleverly depicts all aspects of their homes, work and families. I loved the circular storytelling and language which allows readers to observe linked experiences. Other than Tamsin, Ellie, Aaron and Charlie, the characters are caricatures almost in the style of fairytale creations. Family members are named for their relationships to our 'heroes' - Mama Tamsin, Uncle Charlie, etc - and others are named for physical characteristics - the owlish settler, the hump-backed priest - which made it it easy for me as a listener to meet and revisit many people without confusing them.

Occupied illustrates refugee and migrant experiences with shocking clarity, but balances that with thoughtful understanding of many points of view. We also hear from Ellie whose town is overrun with refugees and Aaron who is just as much a refugee, but identifies as a settler and is therefore privileged. The book is ostensibly set in Palestine, but I was also reminded of other recent reads of mine set in apartheid South Africa, British Empire India and segregated Alabama. Sheldon's themes of unjustified blame and enmity based on something as arbitrary as religion or cultural background are a depressingly familiar part of humanity and I liked how he showed that, in the end, everyone was just as screwed, regardless of from where they had started!

Sheldon writes of extreme violence, war and persecution, torture and brutal neglect. Big businesses and cultural leaders are warped and re-presented to show their true colours, but there is wonderfully dry humour scattered across the horror too and glimpses of positive sides to humanity. It's certainly not all doom and gloom. Renamed corporations are fun and spotting nods to other novels is satisfying. Occupied is not a book to be entered lightly, but it is one that is very difficult to put aside once started and I will certainly be offering it as a suggestion to anyone asking for recommendations, probably for months to come. I loved relating the skewed world of the book to our own world and experienced a few uncomfortable moments as I recognised aspects of myself. I think Occupied will turn out to be my book of the month and I wouldn't be surprised if it is my book of the year too.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Joss Sheldon / Contemporary fiction / Books from England

Saturday, 22 October 2016

The Rape Of Nanking by Iris Chang


The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II by Iris Chang
Published in America in 1997. Blackstone audiobook edition narrated by Anna Fields published in 1997.

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

How I got this book:
Bought from Audible

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Although not completely unaware of the Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s, I knew very little of the details or the scale of this war. Therefore, when I saw Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking on Audible, I thought the book would help to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge. It most certainly does.

The Rape of Nanking is not a book to be taken lightly and is eight hours listening to despicably savage and brutal inhumanity on a truly incredible scale. Anna Fields does an excellent job of the narration and Chang's research was obviously lengthy and thorough to have uncovered such a wealth of detail. I'm sure so much exposure to this level of horror would have turned her mind, even without the harassment she apparently suffered after her book was published.

For me, her most frightening findings are that the events at Nanking, while being perhaps on the largest scale the world has ever seen, are by no means an exclusive result of Japanese culture - a frequent argument I've heard about other WW2 Japanese atrocities. Similar crimes are an all too human failing, as is our ability to remain at a distance and watch rather than instinctively leaping in to protect the victims. I was disappointed but unsurprised by the fact of post-war political shenanigans allowing Japan's government to essentially get away with their actions. Such is the power of money and political paranoia.

I did find it a little odd than the few 'unsung heroes' of Nanking presented by Chang were all white Europeans and Americans. Surely some Chinese must have shown similar bravery? Or perhaps such heroes died before their stories were discovered. I understand that Chang wrote for an American audience, but that gives the book an odd Colonial slant that I found hard to reconcile with her earlier points. Also, I thought the repeated attempts to calculate total numbers were unnecessary and removed me as a listener from the immediacy of the rest of the work. My mind was blown by the initial discussions of between quarter and half a million dead in less than two months. Returning to this numbed me rather than increasing my outrage as presumably was the point.

The Rape of Nanking is a tricky book to evaluate as its subject matter is so horrific and emotive. That it is also still controversial is a bizarre twist. I appreciate Chang's efforts to spread knowledge and open discussions about Nanking. In this, she certainly achieved her aims. However, this is not the strongest written history and, at times, her inexperience shows through. I am sure by now, nearly 20 years later, other historians have taken up her challenge and further titles are out there. I'm not sure that I will be able to cope with returning to the horror in the near future though.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Iris Chang / War books / Books from America

Friday, 21 October 2016

The Alkahest by Honore de Balzac


The Alkahest by Honoré de Balzac
First published in France in 1834. English translation by Katharine Prescott Wormeley.

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

How I got this book:
Downloaded from ForgottenBooks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I downloaded Balzac's Comedie Humaine novella, The Alkahest, together in a volume with Seraphita, another his stories. Set in Flemish Belgium, The Alkahest concerns a well-heeled family who are driven to the brink of poverty when the father develops an all-consuming passion for chemistry, specifically alchemy. Perpetually convinced that he is at the threshold of a discovery to bring glory and untold riches to his family, he squanders generations of accumulated wealth and possessions to fund his quest.

Balzac's portrayal of the father, Balthazar, is wonderfully written and convincing throughout. His obsession with science did seem an odd choice to me, but as his behaviour deteriorates, obvious parallels can be seen to drug addictions such as to heroin and I would be interested to know if Balzac had any experience of friends or relatives drawn into addiction because he seems to understand the predicament so well. The actions of Balthazar's wife, Josephine, and eldest daughter, Marguerite, are painful to read but also totally realistic. Initially swept up in his enthusiasm for his project, Josephine schools herself in chemistry in order to understand, but is then repeatedly shattered at being cast aside in favour of the obsession. Marguerite finally gains the strength and financial power to stand between Balthazar and his laboratory, but fails to fully comprehend the insidious hold under which Balthazar exists.

The Alkahest is slow to start and it took me a couple of goes reading the first thirty or so pages before I got into the story proper. Balzac feels he needs to explain the family history and their roots within their community in detail. I got the gist pretty quickly! However, I think it was worth ploughing through all the early description as, once done, the plot continues at at swifter pace and was a good read. Perhaps the repetition of rise and fall of circumstance could have been more tightly edited, but Balzac is not a writer who felt the need to economise on word counts! I was surprised by how relevant The Alkahest is to twenty-first century living and would actually recommend it to a wider readership than Seraphita as it does not mire itself in doctrine and dogma.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Honore De Balzac / Novellas / Books from France

Thursday, 20 October 2016

I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson


I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson
Published in America by Dial Books in September 2014. Brilliance Audio edition narrated by Julia Whelan and Jesse Bernstein published in 2014.
The book received the 2015 Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, Bank Street's Josette Frank Award, and a Stonewall Honor Book Award.

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

How I got this book:
Downloaded as part of the AudioSYNC 2016 season

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'Jude and her brother, Noah, are incredibly close twins. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude surfs and cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and divisive ways...until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as an unpredictable new mentor. The early years are Noah's story to tell. The later years are Jude's. What the twins don't realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they'd have a chance to remake their world.'

I managed to completely miss the hype about I'll Give You The Sun so downloaded the audiobook without any preconceptions other than it was a young adult novel. I don't think this label is well suited to the book though! Other than its main protagonists being in their mid-teens, this is just as much a book for adults as for teenagers. It explores universal concepts of family, loss, love and fate, and I enjoyed pretty much everything about it. In fact the only aspect that spoilt it for me was the narrators. Please publishers, if a book has a major character from another country, make sure you hire narrators than can actually pronounce words in the relevant accent. Whelan's English accent is mostly ok and gets better as we go along, but I don't think Bernstein ever even hit Europe, let alone Britain. It's so distracting and I wondered if Colombian listeners cringed as much every time Guillermo spoke!

Narration aside, Nelson's rich prose is frequently breathtaking and I loved her use of hyperbole and vivid colour to enhance her scenes. All the characters are complex and thoroughly believable so I felt totally immersed in their lives and am actually missing them now I have finished the book. The device of Noah and Jude individually speaking does result in some repetition, but it's not overmuch and the story has a good pace. Emotionally, I'll Give You The Sun hits hard with some intense scenes, but is also humorous and sexy, artistically passionate and great fun to experience. I would happily recommend this book.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Jandy Nelson / Young adult books / Books from America

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Refugee Tales edited by David Herd and Anna Pincus + Giveaway


Refugee Tales edited by David Herd and Anna Pincus
Published in the UK by Comma Press in July 2016.

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

How I got this book:
Gift from a friend

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'Two unaccompanied children travel across the Mediterranean in an overcrowded boat that has been designed to only make it halfway across…
A 63-year-old man is woken one morning by border officers ‘acting on a tip-off’ and, despite having paid taxes for 28 years, is suddenly cast into the detention system with no obvious means of escape…
An orphan whose entire life has been spent in slavery – first on a Ghanaian farm, then as a victim of trafficking – writes to the Home Office for help, only to be rewarded with a jail sentence and indefinite detention…
These are not fictions. Nor are they testimonies from some distant, brutal past, but the frighteningly common experiences of Europe’s new underclass – its refugees. While those with ‘citizenship’ enjoy basic human rights (like the right not to be detained without charge for more than 14 days), people seeking asylum can be suspended for years in Kafka-esque uncertainty. Here, poets and novelists retell the stories of individuals who have direct experience of Britain’s policy of indefinite immigration detention. Presenting their accounts anonymously, as modern day counterparts to the pilgrims’ stories in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, this book offers rare, intimate glimpses into otherwise untold suffering.'


I received a copy of Refugee Tales as a gift from friends, one of whom, Andy, took park in the original Refugee Tales walk - A Walk in Solidarity with Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Detainees. In order to raise awareness of the plight of many people trapped in never-ending detention in Britain, people walked for nine days more-or-less along the old Pilgrim's Way, stopping to rest at night and be told stories. Those stories have now been collected into this book. The Walk was organised by Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group and Kent Refugee Help, two charities to which all the profits from this book will go.

Refugee Tales is a varied mix of short stories and poetry by an impressive roster of novelists, poets and storytellers: Ali Smith, Abdulrazak Gurnah, Chris Cleave, Marina Lewycka, Jade Amoli-Jackson, Patience Agbabi, Inua Ellams, Avaes Mohammad, Hubert Moore, Stephen Collis, Michael Zand, Dragan Todorovic, Carol Watts and David Herd. What all the pieces have in common though is that they are not fictions. Shocking and heart-rending tales of suffering, trafficking, state betrayal and abandonment are difficult enough to read, but knowing that each of these stories is essentially true makes them especially powerful.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Short stories / Political books / Books from England


And now for the giveaway.

This week I am offering my own carefully-read copy of Refugee Tales as the giveaway prize. The book was given to me and it feels right to pass it along in the same spirit, raising awareness of these detainees plight by doing so. My giveaway posts generally have up to four times as many views as standard book reviews so I know I will reach the most people this way.

If you'd like the chance to win this important book, here's the giveaway widget:

Refugee Tales book giveaway

The Giveaway is open worldwide and previous giveaway winners are welcome to enter. Entries must be submitted through the Gleam widget by midnight (UK time) on the 19th October and I will randomly pick a winner on the 20th. 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.

Good luck!

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Live This Book! by Tom Chatfield


Live This Book! by Tom Chatfield
Published in the UK by Penguin Random House in August 2015.

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

Buy my paperback copy on eBay

How I got this book:
Received a copy in a Penguin ThinkSmarter giveaway

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

'Do you want to spend more quality time with the people, ideas and passions that matter most in your life? In an age of weightless, disposable digital products, here's a book to help you live more fully: that invites you to explore your beliefs, ambitions, friendships, memories and flights of imagination. A mixture of inspiration and reflection, it's unlike anything else you've seen before: a beautifully crafted object blending text and design into something for you to make truly your own. Downloading a million digital books won't make you happy - but carrying this one with you might.'

I'm not generally a reader of self help books, but I was surprisingly impressed with Live This Book! It doesn't lecture or offer up solutions, instead its pages are filled with thoughtful questions and ample space to fill in answers. The idea is that by getting to know ourselves better, we can determine exactly what will bring us individual happiness. Chatfield doesn't tell readers what to do in order to be content, he asks what five objects we might put in a time capsule, what sensations we experience while going for a walk, what the last live performance we really enjoyed was. Exercises include Sherlockian (is that a word yet?) Mind Palace imagining, controlled breathing, dinner table conversation starter questions, and asking both friends and acquaintances about ourselves then comparing the answers.

As well being well-considered and insightful, Live This Book! is also a great piece of design and I can imagine it gracing many desks purely as an object to flick through for visual stimulation. I would highly recommend it for anyone wanting to get to know themselves better, but also as a gift suggestion for bloggers and writers as I think it would be a very useful idea generator for when the creative well runs dry!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Tom Chatfield / Self help books / Books from England

Monday, 17 October 2016

Here In Harlem by Walter Dean Myers


Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices by Walter Dean Myers
First published in America by Holiday House in 2004.

Where to buy this book:
Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
Buy from independent booksellers via Alibris
Buy the audiobook from Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository

How I got this book:
Downloaded as part of the AudioSYNC 2015 season

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

'These fifty-four poems, all in different voices but written by one hand, do sing. They make a joyful noise as the author honors the people-the nurses, students, soldiers, and ministers-of his beloved hometown, Harlem. Worship with Deacon Allen, who loves "a shouting church," and study with Lois Smith, who wants "a school named after me." Don't get taken by Sweet Sam DuPree, who "conned a shark right outta his fin." And never turn your back on Delia Pierce, who claims she "ain't the kind to talk behind nobody's back" while doing precisely that-with panache. Inspired by Edgar Lee Masters's classic Spoon River Anthology, Walter Dean Myers celebrates the voices and aspirations of the residents of another American town, one that lies between two rivers on the north side of an island called Manhattan.'

Myers created his collection by remembering the people he used to live alongside when growing up in Harlem and writing around them. Dozens of people each have a short poem or prose piece allowing us insights into their lives, beliefs, passions and friendships. Women, men, girls and boys, of all ages and occupations all line up to speak and, with the audiobook, thirteen different narrators bring their words to life over appropriate music and sound effects. Whoever added the music certainly did an excellent job as this makes the atmosphere real to the listener.

I found the poems themselves a bit hit and miss. Some had strong characters behind the words, but I couldn't always find the person behind others. Perhaps brevity was at fault because most poems only allow the speaker one minute to project themselves. As a whole though, Here In Harlem gives an interesting overview of the district in its jazzy heyday.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Walter Dean Myers / Poetry / Books from America

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Halo Round The Moon by Steve Turnbull


Halo Round The Moon by Steve Turnbull
Published by Tau Press in June 2014.

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

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

'Pneumatic trains, steampunk air-planes, karmic sex and bloody murder in 1908 India.
When the heir to an industrial empire suffers a fatal accident, Maliha Anderson is called in to determine whether darker forces are at work. What she discovers goes deeper than any crime she's ever investigated. She is forced into intimate contact with the suppressed passions of post-Victorian society and goes far beyond the bounds of what's proper and decent, to bring the murderer to justice.'

Halo Round The Moon is third in Turnbull's Maliha Anderson steampunk mystery series. The novels are set in 1900s India and I like how the atmosphere and etiquette of this time is accurately evoked. Alongside the historical aspects, we also have wondrous fantasy steampunk inventions which, to my mind at least, come across as being perfectly possible and certainly fit aesthetically with the period setting.

I wasn't as convinced by the mystery aspect of Halo Round The Moon as I had been with previous books in the series. Sexuality is a strong theme of the story, but it is hidden behind so many layers of Edwardian repression that I often found it difficult to work exactly what characters were talking about and missed how Maliha made several important deductions. The strength of the book though, for me, is Turnbull's steampunk universe and I was as entranced by the train here as I was by the steamship in the first book of the series, Murder Out Of The Blue. I would so love to see these romantic transports in real life!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Steve Turnbull / Steampunk fiction / Books from England

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Squashed Possums by Jonathan Tindale


Squashed Possums: Off the Beaten Track in New Zealand by Jonathan Tindale
Self published in February 2015.

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

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'Ten years after returning from the New Zealand outback, Jon receives a mysterious manuscript in the post. Narrated by Jon's former home, the lone caravan, Squashed Possums reveals what it's like to live in the wild through four seasons, including New Zealand's coldest winter in decades.
Discover how Jon finds himself reversing off the edge of a cliff, meet the Maori chef who survived 9/11, the pioneers who paved the way, and catch sight of the elusive kiwi bird. Encounter hedgehogs that fly, possums that scream, and perhaps most importantly, the lone caravan with a story to tell..'

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Squashed Possums. The quirky angle of Jon Tindale's New Zealand sojourn being primarily narrated by the caravan home in which he stayed worked well for me and I was frequently reminded of my own caravan-dwelling months, due to restart in just a few weeks! I have never pitched up anywhere as remote as Tindale did, but am now inspired to do so and loved the descriptions of wide-open wilderness and solitude. References to a slow speed of life and mindful tranquillity were both familiar and, in their heightened New Zealand intensity, very appealing.

The caravan's chapters are interspersed with diary entries which does result in some repetition, but also enables a wide range of subjects to be naturally covered without Squashed Possums ever feeling like a lecture. I was interested to learn about New Zealand's history and post-Great War changes, and to read descriptions of its unique wildlife, climate and expansive undeveloped landscapes. Discussions of Kiwi and Maori ingenuity and the idea of the solitary life heritage are fascinating.

Squashed Possums is an inspiring read for all wandering travellers, whether they do so in real life or vicariously from armchairs. I am now envious of Tindale's adventure and sorely tempted to book my own ticket to New Zealand. I think I would want to take my own caravan though - the heater works!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Jonathan Tindale / Travel books / Books from England

Friday, 14 October 2016

Bitter Fruit by Achmat Dangor


Bitter Fruit by Achmat Dangor 
First published in South Africa in 2001 by Kwela Books.

One of my WorldReads from South Africa.

I registered my copy of this book at Bookcrossing.com

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

How I got this book:
Bought from a charity shop

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'The last time Silas Ali encountered the Lieutenant, Silas was locked in the back of a police van and the Lieutenant was conducting a vicious assault on Lydia, his wife. When Silas sees him again, by chance, twenty years later, crimes from the past erupt into the present, splintering the Ali's fragile family life.
Bitter Fruit is the story of Silas and Lydia, their parents, friends and colleagues, as their lives take off in unexpected directions and relationships fracture under the weight of history. It is also the story of their son Mickey, a student and sexual adventurer, with an enquiring mind and a strong will. An unforgettably fine novel about a brittle family in a dysfunctional society.'

I am finding Bitter Fruit a difficult book to review mainly, I think, because despite striving to understand the Ali family, their actions were frequently too far removed from my own life experience to be able to empathise. Lydia's rape, while not graphically described, is a dark, brooding presence throughout the novel, one single vicious act which is symbolic of the many similar assaults inflicted during South Africa's apartheid years. The unravelling of its aftermath took a while to pull me in and it wasn't until the second half of Bitter Fruit that I found the book strongly maintained my interest. That said, this is a worthwhile book to read! It is a slow burn of a piece; gently paced prose in sharp contrast to the violence and anger it describes.

Dangor evokes South Africa at perhaps the second of its greatest recent turning points when the Truth and Reconciliation Committee is about to submit its report to the nation and another president will replace Mandela. On the face of it, the country is at peace with itself and set to progress into the future and the same applies to the Ali family who are also, on the face of it, a closely-tied unit. Silas' legal profession will remain in demand as his TRC work is coming to a close and son Mikey is set for college and a career of his own. But it just takes one chance encounter to release deeply-buried memories and the whole house of cards slowly collapses in on itself. The question of Bitter Fruit is whether what is true for one family within South Africa might also become truth for the country herself. Is the legacy of decades of brutal suppression and oppression too much to be overcome?


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Achmat Dangor / Contemporary fiction / Books from South Africa

Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Luminous Life Of Lilly Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin


The Luminous Life Of Lilly Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin
Published in the UK by John Murray in 2008.

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

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

'As the clock chimed the turn of the twentieth century, Lilly Nelly Aphrodite took her first breath. Born to a cabaret dancer and soon orphaned in a scandalous double murder, Lilly finds refuge at a Catholic orphanage, coming under the wing of the, at times, severe Sister August, the first in a string of lost loves.
There she meets Hanne Schmidt, a teen prostitute, and forms a bond that will last them through tumultuous love affairs, disastrous marriages, and destitution during the First World War and the subsequent economic collapse. As the century progresses, Lilly and Hanne move from the tawdry glamour of the tingle-tangle nightclubs to the shadow world of health films before Lilly finds success and stardom in the new medium of motion pictures and ultimately falls in love with a man whose fate could cost her everything she has worked for or help her discover her true self.
Gripping and darkly seductive, The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite showcases all the glitter and splendour of the brief heyday of the Weimar Republic, and the rise of Hollywood to its golden age. As it foreshadows the horrors of the Second World War, the novel asks what price is paid when identity becomes unfixed and the social order is upended.'

Like Midnight's Children, Lilly is born at the beginning of a new era - in her case the beginning of the 20th century. Through her eyes, we see the desperate poverty suffered by many people in Germany in the period from 1900 until the end of the Second World War. Another of my recent reads, Life After Life, touched upon this era and I was interested to learn more about it.

Orphaned very young, Lilly grows up in an orphanage under the care of her beloved Sister August, a Catholic nun. Befriended by an older girl, Hanne, Lilly is encouraged to climb the walls at night, selling roses in seedy bars before she is even ten years old. Hanne is the only other person who does continuously return to Lilly's life, whereas practically everyone else leaves her or she leaves them behind. Despite eventual good fortune, which is revealed through intriguing flash forwards before each chapter, this theme of abandonment and loneliness runs throughout the book and must have been the norm in a time that encompassed not only the two World Wars, but also the Spanish flu epidemic and a civil war, and the complete wiping out of the German currency caused by First World War reparation payments. Although the Nazi Party's actions will always be horrific, novels such as Lilly Aphrodite do allow some understanding of how a people could find themselves choosing such a path.

Beatrice Colin's research, inspired apparently by a great-aunt, was obviously thorough and her efforts pay off. Her prose brings Berlin alive and it is easy to believe in the characters she creates. I love the vivacity of her writing and will certainly be looking out for more based on the strength of Lilly Aphrodite.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Beatrice Colin / Historical fiction / Books from Scotland

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott + Giveaway


Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
First published in America in 1868 by Roberts Brothers.

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

How I got this book:
Bought from a charity shop

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. So begins one of the best-loved children’s classics, Little Women. Coming of age in the North during the Civil War, the March sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy—experience great joy and tragic loss while becoming the true little women of the title. The novel is resonant with themes of friendship, feminism, and building strong character, which are explored through the sisters’ relationships with their family, in particular their beloved Marmee, their friends, and their neighbours.'

It has probably been thirty years since I last read Little Women. I remember it being one of my favourite books as a child, along with the rest of the series, and I know I read them all several times. Returning to the book now I was first reminded of reading Black Beauty again last year because there is so much hectoring and moralising! Strangely I don't think that stood out to me as a child, probably because I was frequently told what to do and how to behave anyway, but as an adult this aspect really stood out. I was surprised by how modern Little Women is, especially in showing strong, self-sufficient women. The fact of Mother, Meg and Jo all having jobs is not seen as unusual and, while Mother obvious expects her daughters to all eventually marry, she does not push this as the sole point of their lives.

I loved the relationships between all the characters, especially the ghastly aunt, and Alcott's understanding of the girls is perfect throughout. Their acts of rebellion, bickering, exuberance and frequent guilt trips are warmly evoked and reading Little Women again did feel like returning to the family. Their incessant striving to be 'good' and games such as Pilgrim's Progress do date the work as I can't imagine teenagers behaving quite like that these days, but I think this novel has well-deserved classic status and I hope it endures for another 150 years and beyond.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Louisa May Alcott / Children's books / Books from America


And now for the Giveaway!

This week's Giveaway prize is two handmade Literary Greetings Cards of the winner's choice from my Etsy Shop.

My charity shop vintage copy of Little Women wasn't in good condition which was partly why I chose to buy it! Having stayed pretty much together for one last read, I am now upcycling its pages to make a range of Literary Greetings Cards embellished with themed motifs I crocheted myself. So far the range comprises cards featuring Little Women, Wuthering Heights and The Yellow Wallpaper all listed for sale in my Etsy Shop at £2.50 each plus shipping (£1.50 per order within UK, £2.25 within Europe, £3 to the Rest of the World). I chose text and embellishments to be appropriate for Halloween or for Christmas and some cards are suitable for any occasion. All are blank inside for your own message and their book's title is noted discreetly on the backs.

If you'd like the chance to win two of these cards, here's the giveaway widget:

2x Literary Greetings Cards giveaway

The Giveaway is open worldwide and previous giveaway winners are welcome to enter. Entries must be submitted through the Gleam widget by midnight (UK time) on the 19th October and I will randomly pick a winner on the 20th. 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.

Good luck!

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson


I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
First published in America by Gold Medal Books in 1954. Blackstone Audio edition narrated by Robertson Dean published in 2007.
One of my Favourite Five Horror Stories for Halloween 2015 and one of my Top Ten Books of 2015

Where to buy this book:
Buy the audio download from Audible via Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from Speedyhen
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository
Buy the paperback from Waterstones

How I got this book:
Bought the audio download from Audible

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

'Robert Neville is the last living man on Earth...but he is not alone. Every other man, woman, and child on Earth has become a vampire, and they are all hungry for Neville's blood. By day, he is the hunter, stalking the sleeping undead through the abandoned ruins of civilization. By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for dawn. How long can one man survive in a world of vampires?'

Horror fiction isn't my usual fare, but when I saw a narration of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend in an Audible 2-for-1-credit promotion I thought I would give it a try. Written in the 1950s, the story is a classic and I assumed that, being of that vintage, it would not be as graphically gory as modern tales. In this I was right. There are flashes of horrific violence, but what made I Am Legend brilliant for me is its creeping dread and its overriding sense of loss.

Our protagonist, Robert Neville, believes himself the last non-vampiric human alive and lives an isolated existence boarded up every night in a home besieged by his hunters. My edition was narrated by Robertson Dean who does a great job. His world-weary tones perfectly suit Neville's predicament so it was easy for me to get past the unreal element and accept the world as Matheson created it. Set in the then future of 1976, the summer is not especially hot - was it in America or just Europe? - but the library contains actual books and I liked how Matheson has Neville take home volumes to study.

Without, hopefully, giving away too much of the plot for anyone like me who hadn't even seen one of the film adaptations, the flashbacks to Neville's previous family life are sad and reminded me at times of the panic and chaos of Jose Saramago's Blindness. The dog is particularly heartrending and I loved the final twist which is so unlike standard narrative fare that I didn't see it coming. Brilliant storytelling and I'm glad I took a chance on it. I think I will learn how to wire up a generator though - just in case!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Richard Matheson / Horror fiction / Books from America

Monday, 10 October 2016

Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel


Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel
First published by Walker Books in 1999.

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

How I got this book:
Shared by my partner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dave and I were both impressed with our first Dava Sobel read, Longitude, and Dave chose Galileo's Daughter for his Kindle on the strength of the former. As it turned out, he disliked Galileo's Daughter so much that he didn't finish it whereas I found the book interesting and enjoyed learning more not only about the life of the great scientist, but also of the (by modern standards) terribly restrictive life forced on to both his daughters.

Suor Maria Celeste, the religious name adopted by Galileo's eldest daughter at the age of thirteen when she and her eleven year old sister were shut away in the San Matteo convent, exchanged letters almost continuously with her father throughout her short life. Her letters have survived and Sobel includes several within her book in order to illustrate points in what is essentially a biography of Galileo. Through her writing and evidence left by Galileo himself in surviving letters to third parties, it appears that Suor Maria Celeste was educated and highly intelligent yet condemned to a poverty-stricken secluded existence while her younger brother was repeatedly given opportunities that he squandered. This double-standard was common practice in Italy at the time, but I couldn't help but wonder at the waste!

Sobel's writing is informative while still being entertaining and she manages to always avoid becoming dry in tone. The minutiae of daily life recounted in Suor Maria Celeste's letters is incredible to read and I was amazed at her frequent need to beg alms from her rich father and patrons in order to stave off near starvation for herself and the sisters in her convent. Also incredible was the paranoia of the Vatican and Popes in Rome regarding their fanatical condemnation of any thinking that did not agree with their narrow interpretation of Scripture. I saw modern reflections of this attitude in Under The Udala Trees. Galileo's Daughter is a thought-provoking book which certainly made me glad to be alive now rather than then, even though that was just four hundred years ago.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Dava Sobel / Biography and memoir / Books from America

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Ghost Money by Andrew Nette


Ghost Money by Andrew Nette
Published by Crime Wave Press in May 2015.

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

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'Cambodia, 1996, the long-running Khmer Rouge insurgency is fragmenting, competing factions of the unstable government scrambling to gain the upper hand. Missing in the chaos is businessmen Charles Avery. Hired to find him is Vietnamese Australian ex-cop Max Quinlan. But Avery has made dangerous enemies and Quinlan is not the only one looking. Teaming up with a Cambodian journalist, Quinlan's search takes him from the freewheeling capital Phnom Penh to the battle scarred western borderlands. As the political temperature soars, he is slowly drawn into a mystery that plunges him into the heart of Cambodia's bloody past.'

Ghost Money is an elegantly plotted noir mystery which I enjoyed reading partly to learn the fate of missing entrepreneur Charles Avery, but mainly because of Nette's descriptions and understanding of Cambodia and its people. I read Theary Seng's memoir, Daughter Of The Killing Fields earlier this year so had some understanding of the complicated political situation in the Khmer Rouge regime's aftermath. This novel reinforced and added to my knowledge, but without my feeling as though I was being taught. Ghost Money is first and foremost a crime novel, but with Cambodian history and customs cleverly entwined around the narrative in a very natural way.

Nette's Cambodia of twenty years ago is far removed from the tourist photos I see online today. His characters are washed-up ex-pats, most with as many psychological problems as the traumatised Cambodians they live among and use. We see seedy bars and brothels, run-down hotels and, in one particularly memorable scene, a flimsy shanty town that is home to many. I liked the breadth of environments we took in and appreciated interesting cameo characters like Bloom, Fenton and Hazard. Quinlan's dual heritage adds great depth to his character and I found him to be much more than the standard crime fiction Private Investigator. Cambodian Sarin is more difficult to get to know, but their partnership has a believable dynamic. Ghost Money is a fascinating portrait of a country on the cusp of change and one, like my recent Sierra Leone and Syria reads, where the population have experienced such extremes of violence that the question of how they will cope with peace cannot easily be answered.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Andrew Nette / Crime fiction / Books from Australia

Saturday, 8 October 2016

An Ishmael Of Syria by Asaad Almohammad


An Ishmael Of Syria by Asaad Almohammad
Self published in the USA in April 2016

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

How I got this book:
Received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

'Adam is a tortured soul. Exiled from his homeland, forced to watch the horrors unfold from afar. His family, still living – or surviving – in war-torn Syria struggle daily to feed, clothe, and educate their children. Adam tries to be a ‘global citizen’ and become a part of his new community in Malaysia, but is constantly faced with intolerance, bigotry, and plain old racism. Opportunities are few and Adam finds himself working long hours for poor pay so that he can help his family. The increasingly distressing news bulletins, along with Adam’s haunting childhood memories, compel him to examine his own beliefs; in God, in humanity, in himself and his integrity as a reluctant bystander in the worst human catastrophe of the twenty-first century.'

I didn't know what to expect from Almohammad's debut novel having chosen it mainly based on the fact of its author being Syrian - another country for my WorldReads collection - and for the striking cover art by Judy Almohammad. I certainly wasn't prepared for its shockingly powerful streams of furious prose which frequently took my breath away. An Ishmael Of Syria is a truly contemporary novel and one whose writing, I think, is almost experimental. The timeline jumps seemingly randomly through Adam's life, unearthed memories from childhood being recounted at the moment of their remembrance, regardless of how that sits with the narrative. I found this difficult to get into initially and it wasn't until over half-way through that I felt comfortable. Comfortable with the writing style at least.

An Ishmael Of Syria must be intended to shock global bystanders out of our blind reverie and to force us to see into the heart of what is left of Syria. Adam's helpless rage, exiled and isolated as he is in Malaysia, is painful to witness. This novel reads as a first-hand account and it felt as if I were hearing this man speaking directly to me. I had no real idea of the complexities of the war or the people involved and this is a point Almohammad repeatedly hammers home. Other nationals see 'Syrians' and jump to preconceived conclusions about their beliefs and goals. Adam sees his own countrymen individually and argues philosophically and culturally with every one. Even the common ground of shared trauma is experienced independently.

As already mentioned, I did struggle with the time leaps and I was also sometimes lost by scholarly flights into long psychological monologues. This contrasted with other sections where conversations suffered from clunky dialogue and overuse of exposition. This is a difficult book to review and rate, hence my middle-ground three stars. Parts are truly inspired and I felt Almohammad's impassioned words emotionally, other parts reminded me that this is an indie author's debut. It feels so harsh and uncaring to criticise though when, although Adam himself may not actually exist, his story most certainly is far too real.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Asaad Almohammad / Contemporary fiction / Books from Syria