Monday, 31 December 2018

Crush by Richard Siken

Crush by Richard Siken
Published in America by Yale University Press in April 2005.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Hands

How I got this book:
Downloaded for free via On The Other Side Of Reality

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Richard Siken's Crush, selected as the 2004 winner of the Yale Younger Poets prize, is a powerful collection of poems driven by obsession and love. Siken writes with ferocity, and his reader hurtles unstoppably with him. His poetry is confessional, gay, savage, and charged with violent eroticism. In the world of American poetry, Siken's voice is striking. In her introduction to the book, competition judge Louise Gluck hails the "cumulative, driving, apocalyptic power, [and] purgatorial recklessness" of Siken's poems. She notes, "Books of this kind dream big. . . . They restore to poetry that sense of crucial moment and crucial utterance which may indeed be the great genius of the form."

Crush was enthusiastically reviewed at On The Other Side Of Reality as 'one of my all-time favorite poetry collections' so I was keen to experience Siken's work for myself. Crush isn't a particularly long book and I comfortably read it in an evening, however I am not sure I successfully understood what I read! Even the poems I revisited are cloudy. I appreciate Siken's use of graphic imagery and the repetitive structure of some of the phrases where their meaning is subtly altered as the poem progresses. Overall though reading Crush felt like eavesdropping on a conversation in a language in which I am only partially fluent. Sometimes I had flashes of clarity and felt I could envisage just what Siken had written about. Most of the time I felt as though the meaning was just out of reach. I got the gist, but completely missed the nuances. A shame

Etsy Find!
by Boutique Poetry in
London, England

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Books by Richard Siken / Poetry / Books from America

Sunday, 30 December 2018

The Waves by Virginia Woolf

The Waves by Virginia Woolf
First published in the UK by Hogarth Press in October 1931. Audiobook narrated by Frances Jeater published by Naxos Audio in December 2004.

How I got this book:
Bought the audiobook via Audible

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Waves traces the lives of six friends from childhood to old age. It was written when Virginia Woolf was at the height of her experimental literary powers, and she allows each character to tell their own story, through powerful, poetic monologues. By listening to these voices struggling to impose order and meaning on their lives we are drawn into a literary journey which stunningly reproduces the complex, confusing and contradictory nature of human experience.

I first started listening to my download of The Waves by Virginia Woolf in April (2015) and, although it is only a fraction over nine hours, it took me two months to get around to finishing. The Waves is a very different book to any I think I have read or heard before. Essentially prose poetry, it is told in the first person in turn by each of six protagonists, three male and three female. All are pretty much the same age and from the same privileged background. They met as children and we follow them through their lives.

I had great difficulty initially getting into the flow of The Waves (Woolf makes many watery puns, so shall I!) and it wasn't until about 1/3 down that I could really concentrate on what was being said. The early chapters, as children, consist of brief overlapping sentences which I found incredibly soporific. I just couldn't stay awake! Once the characters get older and indulge in longer, detailed monologues, this problem faded. Woolf has created strong individuals which are generally easy to identify whether the narrator has introduced them each time or not. I liked learning how they all saw each other as well as how they saw themselves. Plus the observations of time passing in the natural world and of social etiquette and customs are fascinating - Louis trying to hide his Australian-ness in the tea shop being a prime example

Woolf's snobbery is frequently apparent with maids in particular being only dismissively mentioned. I was also irritated by the patronising descriptions of 'little shopkeepers' and how idyllic it must be to only just make ends meet each week. One character, Bernard I think, even declares he would love to give up all his money for such a life. Tellingly, he doesn't!

I did enjoy the sheer joy in language of The Waves. Beautifully poetic writing is wonderful to hear and Julia Franklin is the perfect narrator. For me though, the lack of early accessibility and later overwhelming intensity meant I had to keep putting the book aside and my three star rating reflects this.

Etsy Find!
by Timid Cryptids in
New York, USA

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Books by Virginia Woolf / Audiobooks / Books from England

Saturday, 29 December 2018

The Book Of Fathers by Miklos Vamos

The Book Of Fathers by Miklos Vamos
First published in Hungarian as Apak konyve in Hungary by Ab Ovo in 2000. English language translation by Peter Sherwood published by Abacus in 2006.

How I got this book:
Bought at a charity shop

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In 1705 Kornel Csillag's grandfather happens across a miraculous gold fob-watch gleaming in the mud of an ancient Magyar battlefield, which is to improve dramatically his family's shipwrecked fortunes - for the timepiece bestows an unexpected gift on succeeding generations of male Csillags: the gift of seeing. And each clairvoyant first-born son in turn passes down the Book of Fathers, a battered folio in which the family records its astonishing and revelatory visions and which takes in three hundred years of Csillag history, bearing vivid witness to holocaust and wedding feast alike.

Headlong, exuberant, riotous and packed tight with stories, jokes and tragedy, THE BOOK OF FATHERS is an irresistibly rich Central European feast of a book - parable, folk-tale and epic all rolled into one - that is set to become a European classic.

My partner, Dave, read this book before I did and said it was ok, but he obviously wasn't overwhelmed by the story or the writing so I didn't rush to read it until now - some eighteen or so months after its purchase. At the end of the book, Vamos talks about his inspiration for the novel which is partly based on his own limited knowledge of his family history, embellished with the story of twelve historic Hungarian Everymen, and also with the influence of astrology because each Father in this Book Of Fathers embodies a sign of the zodiac. I wish I had known that prior to reading as I completely failed to pick up on the astrological aspect until it was pointed out to me!

I initially bought The Book Of Fathers because of its Hungarian author (WorldReads!) and with the intention of learning more about the country's beleaguered history prior to our Budapest visit in September 2017. (So I'm very late on that second goal!) Vamos tells the story of Hungary from 1705 to 1999 through the linked stories of twelve men, each the first-born son in the family line, who are almost all gifted with a supernatural gift. Obviously, as a feminist woman, the necessity of this gift being only passed to the first-born son did rankle somewhat. It is only a literary device so surely a first-born daughter or two could have been included? However, that gripe aside, The Book Of Fathers is an interesting and rewarding novel.

Featuring twelve overlapping life stories in the space of fewer than five hundred pages meant that I didn't get to know each man as well as I would have liked, however I did appreciate seeing how family traits repeated across generations and understanding how events which seemed random coincidences to the people involved had actually been foretold or seemed inevitable with the benefit of a reader's oversight. The central family is Jewish so persecution is a saddeningly common repeated theme across the three hundred years this novel encompasses. We see succeeding generations displaced or attempting to brave out bigotry against them. Names are changed as are official records of religious faith. I had an increasing sense of foreboding as the story headed towards the 1930s and, of course, this era turned out to be horrifying.

Women, as I have already mentioned, aren't the prime focus but I was pleased that Vamos doesn't relegate them all to wife/mother/daughter shadows. Instead there are forceful characters and successful businesswomen among their ranks. I didn't feel as though I was given a good sense of how the various towns and villages looked and I would have appreciated more details of the characters physical surroundings. I did like how Vamos portrays people though and could easily understand actions and motives, especially in the often intense situations we encountered.

Overall I did enjoy reading The Book Of Fathers and would happily pick up other Vamos novels when I saw them available. He has an engaging voice and a good way of enabling readers to care about people who come across as real and authentic. They are flawed and not always likeable, but I appreciated the time I spent reading their stories.

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Books by Miklos Vamos / Historical fiction / Books from Hungary

Friday, 28 December 2018

Secrets Of Islay by Robert Kroeger

The Secrets of Islay - Golf, Marathons and Single Malt by Robert Kroeger
Published by Virtual Bookworm in December 2014.

One of my Top Ten Books for IndiePrideDay 2016.

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The story begins with seven people enjoying a single malt tasting in a distillery on Islay, a small Gaelic-speaking community in Scotland's Inner Hebrides. Their challenge is to solve the puzzle, "quid est veritas." One of the group, Caballo Blanco, a re-invented version of the original, has an idea that might unearth answers: to stage a golf tournament and marathon on the island. The golf and marathon are successful but do the seven find the answers?

I was lucky to be informed of a limited time opportunity to download a free copy of Secrets Of Islay by Robert Kroeger through the Goodreads group Read Scotland 2015 Challenge. This book was my fourth towards my goal of eight reads for that year's Challenge.

I didn't realise that Secrets Of Islay was a factual book when I downloaded it. It recounts the efforts of one man to organise two linked sporting events on Islay, a golf tournament and a marathon race, and in the process to discover the truth of life while tasting a lot of drams of good whisky. I know nothing about golf, other than how to snigger at the clothing, and have never been a whisky drinker unless it was in a Whisky Mac (whisky mixed with ginger wine) which I'm sure would horrify the purists. However, at the time of reading, I liked to consider myself a runner so hoped to at least understand the marathon part of the tale.

Kroeger manages to interestingly include a lot of Islay history within his pages and I enjoyed learning about past events that have shaped the island's people. Most of this information is imparted using the device of direct speech with Kroeger apparently reporting extensive monologues word for word. However, all the speakers have exactly the same style of rehearsed 'talk show' speech with no individualism. I did find this disconcerting at first. I appreciated the addition of clear colour photographs throughout the book. I haven't seen that in an ebook before and it is a nice touch.

Secrets Of Islay is quietly inspirational. It doesn't shout like an improvement manual, but has a strong message of getting off thou bum in order to make the most of life. The quotes and poems at the start of each chapter are well chosen, indeed the first, Warning by Jenny Joseph, was a favourite quote of my Mum's. Sadly she didn't live long enough to wear purple. I will almost definitely not take up golf as a result of this book, but Iat the time of reading I was encouraged to make more effort with my running and I would still like to visit beautiful Islay one day, maybe even to cheer on the marathon runners!

Etsy Find!
by Elspeth Ceramics in
Glasgow, Scotland

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Books by Robert Kroeger / Biography and memoir / Books from America

Thursday, 27 December 2018

The Broke Vegan Bible by Lauren McCuen #Veganuary

The Broke Vegan Bible by Lauren McCuen
Self published on the 19th December 2018.

How I got this book:
Downloaded from Amazon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lauren McCuen teaches you the basics of being vegan on a budget. No matter if you're short on cash or just looking to save some cash her tips will help you get more food for less. The book is full of recipe ideas, money saving tips, and creative ways to reign in your spendings. You don't need to clip endless coupons or starve to be a budget. Just follow The Broke Vegan Bible and you'll be on your way!

As you might have seen at the end of My New 2019 Reading Challenges post over on my Stephanie Jane blog, I am going to take part on the global Veganuary Challenge this January. I asked for recommendations for books featuring vegan characters to read during the month, but have also been checking out a selection of vegan cookery books to inspire myself with potential recipe ideas.

I admit that I didn't have hugely high hopes of The Broke Vegan Bible mainly because it is short and it was free at the time I spotted and downloaded it. As it turns out however, this little books contains plenty of good advice regarding frugal shopping habits and potential sources of nutritious vegan food at bargain prices. I know from my increasingly vegetarian diet over the past year that, as vegetarian and vegan diets become more mainstream, there is an ever increasing choice of pre-packaged food options available at a price - often an eye-wateringly high price! Here though Lauren sets out her tried and tested methods to eat a healthy vegan diet and actually save money. I have picked up several good ideas that I am looking forward to putting into practice very soon and will also be trying out some of her suggested recipes too.  Most look simple enough to prepare in our motorhome mini kitchen. I am particularly tempted by the vegan Banana Coconut Ice Cream and the Peanut Butter Cups!

Etsy Find!
by Khumbu Pins in
Coventry, England

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Books by Lauren McCuen / Food and Cookery Books / Books from America

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Headstrong by Patrick Link

Headstrong by Patrick Link
Published by L A Theatreworks in February 2014.

How I got this book:
Downloaded from AudioSYNC

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the wake of increasing concern over brain trauma in professional athletes, Patrick Link has crafted a story about a retired NFL linebacker who must deal with a family tragedy and his own suffering because of the violence of his chosen sport.

Includes a conversation about brain injuries and sports with Dr. Robert Cantu, the Senior Advisor to the NFL Head, Neck, and Spine Committee.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Deidrie Henry, Ernie Hudson, Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine and Scott Wolf. Directed by Bart DeLorenzo.

Headstrong is part of L.A. Theatre Works' Relativity Series featuring science-themed plays. Major funding for the Relativity Series is provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to enhance public understanding of science and technology in the modern world.

Not a book as such, but a full cast recording of a short play which I listened to in 2015, Headstrong by Patrick Link examines the phenomenon of high numbers of brain damage cases among men who play American Football. Its small cast of four characters manage between them to convincingly portray both the compelling arguments for change towards a safer sport, and the counter-arguments that the existing spectacle is more important to the game than the health of its players. I liked the Beowulf analogy, particularly as I am planning to revisit that saga soon, that Beowulf would not have become a popular hero had he not confronted danger, countered with his awareness of said danger being the salient point to argue.

The characters in Headstrong are all excellent and I found it easy to picture each one as they spoke and to understand why they behaved as they did. The sadness at the waste of lives is poignant and, despite knowing pretty much nothing about American Football, I felt angry on behalf of the affected players and their families.

The play is followed by an interview with an 'expert' which is interesting although does seem oddly over-rehearsed. I found it amazing that CTE brain damage was first being discussed thirty years ago, but was hushed up and ignored and it has taken so much negative publicity surrounding the problems of affected players to force the NFL to implement changes. As such Headstrong is an important and accessible play which I hope reaches a wide audience worldwide.

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Books by Patrick Link / Plays / Books from America

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
First published in serialised form in the UK in All The Year Round from 1860-1861.

How I got this book:
Bought at a charity shop

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great Expectations is the thirteenth novel by Charles Dickens and his penultimate completed novel; a bildungsroman which depicts the personal growth and personal development of an orphan nicknamed Pip. It is Dickens's second novel, after David Copperfield, to be fully narrated in the first person. The novel was first published as a serial in Dickens's weekly periodical All the Year Round, from 1 December 1860 to August 1861. In October 1861, Chapman and Hall published the novel in three volumes.

The novel is set in Kent and London in the early to mid-19th century, and contains some of Dickens' most memorable scenes, including the opening, in a graveyard, where the young Pip is accosted by the escaped convict, Abel Magwitch. Great Expectations is full of extreme imagery – poverty; prison ships and chains, and fights to the death – and has a colourful cast of characters who have entered popular culture. These include the eccentric Miss Havisham, the beautiful but cold Estella, and Joe, the unsophisticated and kind blacksmith. Dickens's themes include wealth and poverty, love and rejection, and the eventual triumph of good over evil. Great Expectations is popular both with readers and literary critics, and has been translated into many languages, and adapted numerous times into various media.

Upon its release, the novel received near universal acclaim, although Thomas Carlyle spoke disparagingly of "all that Pip's nonsense". Later, George Bernard Shaw praised the novel, as "All of one piece and consistently truthfull." During the serial publication, Dickens was pleased with public response to Great Expectations and its sales; when the plot first formed in his mind, he called it "a very fine, new and grotesque idea".

I'm enjoying my new tradition of reading a Charles Dickens novel in the runup to Christmas. I've watched several film and TV adaptations of his works over the years, but had been put off attempting the novels themselves by their length and the density if Dickens prose. As it turns out though, his vivid characterisations and melodramatic plots do suit my reading style pretty well. I'm not sure I would want to attempt more than one a year, but at that level of engagement the books are enjoyable and should last me a good decade yet. My choice for this year, Great Expectations, features the unexpected and exciting events of a Christmas Day for young Pip near the beginning of the novel so put me into a seasonal spirit!

I had only a vague recollection of watching a black and white Great Expectations film as a child (probably the 1946 one rerun on Sunday afternoon TV) so remembered images of scary Magwitch on the misty marshes, and bizarre Miss Havisham in her wedding dress. However very little of the actual plotline remained in my mind so the story I thought I would encounter was strikingly different to the one I have just read. This was a little confusing at times, but made for a better reading experience because I really didn't know what would happen next. I was struck by the number of convenient coincidences that drove the narrative, several of which raised my eyebrows, however I cannot fault Dickens' portrayal of memorable characters and distinctive settings.

Pip himself is an irritating little so-and-so, even more so once he begins to realise his Expectations, and Dickens' patronising attitude towards women did grate on me from time to time. Those aspects aside though, I loved Wemmick's Castle and our glimpses of his life there with Aged Parent. Pumblechook is fun too and I felt sorry for both Estella and Miss Havisham. I could picture lots of the London settings as well as the bleak marshes and I frequently chuckled at Dickens' mentions of etiquette and behaviours. He had a great talent for slipping sharply observed detail into scenes. If only he could have held back on his sentimental speechifying! Overall though, Great Expectations is a good coming of age novel that I felt has stood the test of time exceptionally well.

Etsy Find!
by Its Laura Crow in
Macclesfield, England

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Books by Charles Dickens / Contemporary fiction / Books from England

Monday, 24 December 2018

Betwixt by Evie Gaughan + #FreeBook

Betwixt by Evie Gaughan
Published by Little Bird Press in August 2015.

How I got this book:
Downloaded from Amazon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An atmospheric short story by bestselling author, Evie Gaughan.
Catherine returns to Hollowbrook Cottage on a cold November night, looking to escape her present life and lose herself in the past. However, her journey crosses the path of a mysterious stranger who will change her life forever.

This is a great little creepy story for Christmas Eve. It is just thirty-six pages long, but within those pages Gaughan creates a suitably tense atmosphere. There obviously isn't much space for characterisation, but I still felt I had plenty of detail with which to imagine Mrs Donnelly, Catherine, and the mysterious stranger. I loved Gaughan portrayal of the rainswept night through which Catherine drives and the damp little holiday cottage that is her destination. I already had a pretty good idea of the outline of Betwixt so its denouement wasn't a surprise to me, but I was impressed and captivated by how Gaughan took us there.

Etsy Find!
by Easy To Remember Design in
the USA

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Books by Evie Gaughan / Short stories / Books from Ireland

Sunday, 23 December 2018

The Passion According To Carmela by Marcos Aguinis

The Passion According To Carmela by Marcos Aguinis
First published in Spanish as La pasion segun Carmela by Editorial Sudamericana SA in Argentina in 2008. English language translation by Carolina de Robertis published by AmazonCrossing in 2018.

Featured in WorldReads: Argentina

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It is a time for upheaval in Cuba: the time to build a new society. Even from her position of privilege, idealistic divorcée Carmela Vasconcelos sees the waves of uprising and is caught up in the excitement. Persuaded by her brother, Lucas, she flees her wealthy home to join Fidel Castro’s rebels.

In the mountainous jungle of the Sierra Maestra, Carmela meets Ignacio Deheza, a charismatic Argentinian socialist fighting on behalf of the insurrection. On the training fields of a revolution, they bond in the cause—and in a blind passion that stirs their blood and soul.

As Carmela, Ignacio, and Lucas navigate increasingly dangerous political waters, their personal fates become inexorably tied with that of their country. But when the rebellion succumbs to corruption and disillusionment, they’ll find their dedication to the movement tested. For Carmela and Ignacio, they’ll soon discover that it’s their commitment to each other—and the choices they must make to survive—that will be the greatest challenge of all.

Part of the publisher's marketing spiel for The Passion According To Carmela describes this novel as an 'epic love story'. Together with the word 'Passion' in the title, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what Aguinis' writing style would be. Unfortunately I was wrong! Two of the characters do fall in love, but in rather a lukewarm way and, although the actual historic events in 1950s and 1960s were 'epic', I struggled to apply that word to this novel. It's a shame.

The Passion According To Carmela is an interesting recounting of how rebel Cubans gradually turned towards Fidel Castro to save them from the tyranny of Batista, and how those same idealists were subsequently let down by a regime that strayed from its initial promises. As Aguinis described the guerilla battles and privations, I was strongly reminded of George Orwell's Spanish Civil War memoir Homage To Catalonia. Much of the political ideology and lack of basic resources appear identical. However Orwell wrote in quite a dry way which I felt kept the reader at a distance and Aguinis achieves the same result but with too much telling and not enough showing. He jumps from first-person to third-person narration with each chapter which is confusing enough, but his two lead characters - doomed lovers Carmela and Ignacio - don't even have distinct voices so I didn't always know whose perspective I was reading.

I wondered if the problem was perhaps in the translation so if anyone has read the original Spanish La pasion segun Carmela perhaps they could let me know whether they also had a sense of being one step removed from the action. There are strange colloquialisms too. In describing Carmela and Ignacio's initial attraction to each other, Aguinis repeatedly talks of the 'hot glass bridge' of their gaze. The what?!

There are good points to this novel. I do now know more about the Cuban revolution than I did a few days ago and the several chapters held my attention more strongly than others. The essential narrative line is strong, but I felt this story needed much stronger characterisation and better world-building in order to really spark my imagination.

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Books by Marcos Aguinis / Historical fiction / Books from Argentina

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Aya Dane by Mhani Alaoui + Author Interview

Aya Dane by Mhani Alaoui
Published by Interlink on the 30th October 2018.

My Book Of The Month for December 2018

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Aya Dane creates mixed media paintings and writes a diary in her studio above a strange, old Cambridge, Boston, townhouse. There she lives alone, having left her childhood home in Tangiers. Though she has carved a name for herself in the art world, she allows herself just one close relationship, to an intimate companion named David.

One day, Aya receives a letter from a powerful, enigmatic patron, an invitation to submit her ultimate work to his collection. If he deems it worthy, he promises, her art will live on forever. Aya finds herself unable to resist the mysterious invitation, and challenge.

But as she begins to work on the commissioned painting, from her top-floor perch, the streets of Tangiers reappear to her. Their white-and-blue walls, purple bougainvillea, sweetness and sorrow bring back to life people and events she thought she'd left behind. Aya becomes haunted by forgotten scenes, only to discover that she herself is being painted, on a canvas from which it seems impossible to escape.

I adored the previous Mhani Alaoui book I read, Dreams Of Maryam Tair, so was thrilled when her publisher offered me a review copy of Alaoui's new novel, Aya Dane. The two novels are very different in their subject matter, but both share the author's gorgeously rich prose style. I love how Mhani was able to portray the world as Aya sees it, ie through an artist's appreciation of colour and texture, and the scenes where she is working alone in her attic studio are wonderfully vivid. I really felt as though I could witness the creative process happening in front of me and, for a brief moment at least, was able to glimpse behind Aya's protective facade.

Aya Dane is a intensely complex character. I didn't feel that I completely understood her until the end of the novel and even then I had questions about whose version of the truth was the one I should accept. Alaoui shows us Aya through her own eyes and through the eyes of her lover, David. She is undoubtedly a damaged soul. Perhaps this is as a result of her unusual upbringing, or her deliberate self-isolation, or her inability to reconcile the Moroccan and American aspects of her life. Aya identifies with a particular Frida Kahlo painting (showing the artist as two women) and this sense of a split identity threads through the novel.

As we learn more about Aya's Moroccan childhood and the way in which she parts from her family, I felt I had more understanding of how this woman had become so alienated from the world around her. Yet I also loved that, howver convincing her descriptions and story, I was never completely sure whether Aya was telling the truth or her truth, and how much might simply be a feverishly imaginative mind. Aya Dane is a superb novel for readers who appreciate unreliable narrators, immersive storytelling and picturesque poetic prose.

After reading Aya Dane, I was delighted to be given the opportunity to ask Mhani a couple of questions:

How much of challenge was it to translate Aya's visualisation into word form? 
I think I first saw colors then words, if that makes sense. Sometimes words are just color, scents, diffuse feelings and I believe those are what I was chasing behind for Aya.

Do you have a preferred writing space or even a studio like Aya's?
Actually, I do. A small space behind the garage and in front of a compact circular garden in my house. It's my office, though that sounds pretentious. It's full of books, a couch, a wooden table, a computer and various syllabi and notes from The classes I teach. I love this space . It's quiet, brown and green. My kids, unfortunately, love it too!

Thank you Mhani!

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Books by Mhani Alaoui / Contemporary fiction / Books from Morocco

Friday, 21 December 2018

Taxi Tales: The Fragrant Lady by Ergun Gunduz

Taxi Tales: The Fragrant Lady by Ergun Gunduz
Published in Turkish as Taksi Hikayeleri - Mis Kokulu Kadın in Turkey by Marmara Cizgi in March 2018. English language translation by Cem Ulgen published by Europe Comics in November 2018.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Eyes

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"The Fragrant Lady” is a tale that brings to life the recollections of an old gentleman in the back seat of Yalcin’s cab. The man tells of the time he spent with an enviable French woman named Floré during the silver age of Istanbul. His too-good-to-be-true story unravels with rich illustrations by Ergün Gündüz, which are throwbacks to the days of urban glamor in Beyoglu, in stark contrast with the current state of the district.

Taxi Tales appealed to me because I hadn't seen a Turkish graphic novel before and I felt I would like its artwork based on the beautiful front cover design. The rich colours continue throughout the story and I did indeed love Gunduz' illustrations. He includes fascinating small details such as leaves in the wind or a glimpse of a vintage street sign, and can impart emotions to the reader pretty well too. I was a bit confused that Flore, our heroine, seemed to have two or three significantly different faces and I thought more effort could have been put into continuity, however this wasn't a major issue.

What disappointed me about Taxi Tales was its bland chauvinistic storyline. One night an elderly man gets into the taxi-cab and tells his story to the driver, a story of meeting a French artist, Flore, in 1950s Istanbul. Sounds interesting so far, but instead of getting to discover 1950s Istanbul (or even French art) we are simply shown them having great sex then the man spies on Flore having more sex with a woman whose portrait she was painting. Finally Flore covers up her implausibly large breasts and leaves town without so much as a goodbye. And that's it.

I understand that the idea of this series is to tell short stories, such as one might hear during a taxi ride, in a graphic novel format and I suppose that is exactly what we get here. However I couldn't help but feel that all the effort that went into the illustrations was wasted on such a shallow narrative. I wouldn't read any more Taxi Tales on the strength of this one, though I might in future look into a different offering of Gunduz' art.

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Books by Ergun Gunduz / Graphic novels / Books from Turkey

Thursday, 20 December 2018

My Dream Woman by C H Clepitt + #Giveaway

My Dream Woman by C H Clepitt
Self published in July 2018.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Blood

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When your dreams are real there's no-where to escape!

Andi is just holding it together. Working two jobs means she doesn't need to rely on anyone, but doesn't have much of a life. In her dreams, however, she is a hero: battling monsters and saving innocents. When her dream woman turns out to be very real, Andi's life begins to spiral out of control.

Step into an exciting urban fantasy that will have you on the edge of your seat. Think The Book of Abisan, only sexier!

If you are a regular Literary Flits visitor you will know that neither fantasy nor romance are favourite genres of mine so you might be wondering why I chose to read My Dream Woman. Well, it's because this novella is by C H Clepitt who is one of my favourite indie authors! I know I will love her sense of humour and, however outlandish the situations her characters get themselves into, I will be rooting for them to succeed. My Dream Woman follows Andi, a socially-challenged woman with whom I could frequently identify. She fills her days with working at a bicycle shop and in a bar, and her nights are spent dreaming of slaying monsters. Except it soon turns out that those dreams might actually be real.

I loved the crossover of the dreamscape world to the daytime world, especially once Andi really meets the woman of her dreams (and in her dreams), Dionne. Dionne is in a wheelchair which only serves to increase Andi's anxiety at saying the wrong thing. For a demon-slaying ninja, she's often a bag of nerves and this realistic grounding appealed to me. My Dream Woman is the first of the Guild Of Dream Warriors series so there is sometimes a sense of longer story arcs being set in motion, however this novella is also a complete tale in its own right so we Don't have to endure a ghastly Cliff Hanger Ending! Clepitt keeps up a good pace throughout and I liked that the fight sequences are exciting and plausible, but not gratuitous. Andi and Dionne's burgeoning relationship manages to be sweet and sexy and it's the small details which are endearing. When your potential partner begins imagining wheelchair access solutions in their daydreams, you know it's true love!

And now it's time for the Giveaway!

The prize is an ebook edition of My Dream Woman by C H Clepitt, gifted to the winner via Smashwords.
Open internationally until midnight (UK time) on the 3rd January 2019.

Entry is by way of the Gleam widget below. This giveaway is entirely my own and is not affiliated with either the author or Smashwords. I just really want more readers to be aware of this book!
(GDPR: Gleam will ask for your email address so that I am able to contact the winner. I will then need to tell Smashwords that winning email address so they can send out the book.)

My Dream Woman by C H Clepitt ebook giveaway

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by C H Clepitt / Fantasy fiction / Books from England

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Trespass by Rose Tremain

Trespass by Rose Tremain
Published in the UK by Vintage in February 2010.

How I got this book:
Borrowed from a friend

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a silent valley in southern France stands an isolated stone farmhouse, the Mas Lunel. Its owner is Aramon Lunel, an alcoholic haunted by his violent past. His sister, Audrun, alone in her bungalow within sight of the Mas Lunel, dreams of exacting retribution for the unspoken betrayals that have blighted her life.

Into this closed world comes Anthony Verey, a wealthy but disillusioned antiques dealer from London seeking to remake his life in France. From the moment he arrives at the Mas Lunel, a frightening and unstoppable series of consequences is set in motion...

I absolutely loved Rose Tremain's historical fiction novel The Colour when I read it three years ago. She's an author whose I have meant to read more of and finally got around to this week. Trespass, for me, didn't have the immersive power of The Colour, but is still a very well written novel with an intriguing mystery at its heart. It is set in southern France, an area that Tremain knows well, and her expertise comes across in the writing. I loved her evocation of the lonely rural community and the ties of local people to the land they have farmed in the same way for generations. The strained relationship between siblings Audrun and Aramon Lunel - and the dark reason for this - is beautifully portrayed and I think I would have been much happier with Trespass had Tremain focused on this French story. Instead the novel is split between the Lunels and a rich English brother and sister, Veronica and Anthony Verey, one of whom is already living in France and the other who decides to emigrate nearby - possibly to Mas Lunel.

Anthony Verey feels wearyingly sorry for himself for most of the book and not only did I not like his character, I found his perpetual whinging spoilt the rest of this story for me as well. He used to be rich and famous within his nartow Chelsea art clique. Now he isn't but he still has a lot more than most people so my empathy with his 'poor me' routine was pretty much zero throughout - I'd love to be able to just buy a French farmhouse on a whim! Both sisters have to take responsibility for their brothers, practically parenting them much of the time, which was interesting as the males still insisted on seeing themselves as being in charge. Women in Trespass are strong, but are treated as weak for the sake of pride which is something that rang very true from my family.

I'm glad to have read Trespass and currently have two more borrowed Rose Tremain books awaiting me so I look forward to reading them soon. I don't know exactly what to expect as Tremain writes her stories in different settings and eras. Fingers crossed that The Gustav Sonata and Music And Silence will be at least as good as Trespass and hopefully might even equal the heights of The Colour!

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Rose Tremain / Mystery fiction / Books from England

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

A la folie ... pas du tout! by Valerie-Anne Baglietto

A la folie ... pas du tout! by Valerie-Anne Baglietto
First published in English as The Wrong Mr Right by Hodder And Stoughton in May 2002. French language translation by Maud Godoc published by J'ai Lu in 2003.

One of my Books In French

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

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

She wouldn't trade her precocious daughter Emmi for a million pounds, but as a single mum, holding down a job and paying the bills is hard work. If only her glamorous, fun-loving nanny Paloma were better at housework - if only she had a few more hours in the day.

When her boss Dick Anthony - tall, lithe, lean and loaded - starts showing an interest in her, Kate's tempted to reciprocate. But then she meets reckless jack-of-all-trades Tom Llewellyn, who attracts her despite her best intentions. So when Emmi's father Harry Barrett comes back into her life - a changed man - Kate's more than just a little bit confused.

Is love finally in the air, or is she going to make the same mistake again? The one that made her a single mother in the first place . . .

I spotted this book at the Chef Boutonne Little Library and thought its combination of light story and lots of modern dialogue would be helpful for me in improving French. Unfortunately the storyline is far too chicklit for my tastes so I kept putting the book aside because I just couldn't bring myself to care enough about the characters to continue!

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Valerine-Anne Baglietto / Women's fiction / Books from Gibraltar

Monday, 17 December 2018

Derrick by Russell + #Giveaway + Excerpt

Derrick by Russell
Self published in America on the 27th November 2018.

Add Derrick to your Goodreads

In Hyde Park, a movie theater erupts in flames on a bitterly cold November evening.

It seems like a job for the fire department, but under Captain Creighton’s direct orders, Detective Gavin Nolan and his partner, Derrick Williamson, must investigate. Arriving on the chaotic scene, they find multiple fatalities—but one of the victims is most peculiar…

Gavin soon discovers that this fire wasn’t the first of its kind. The arsonist has set ablaze other buildings around Chicago, and more female victims left in the same gruesome state have been discovered.

Gavin and Derrick determine that the arsonist is not an arsonist at all—but a sinister serial killer with an agenda.

Juggling the unexpected events in his personal life, Gavin digs into the locations of the explosions. At the same time, Derrick probes into the victims’ lives, searching for any possible connection.

However, when the next explosion occurs, the killer leaves behind a significant object, and Derrick becomes noticeably reserved. Gavin soon uncovers an enigmatic link, one that points to Derrick’s military past. A time that his partner had wished to forget. Yet, to catch the vicious maniac, Derrick must tell Gavin everything.

In a suspenseful, gripping ride to the end, it is up to Gavin to rescue his partner from the clutches of a killer. But will he make it in time?

WARNING: This book contains graphic scenes, explicit language, and violent sexual situations.


Turning right off Fifty-Seventh and nearing the town center, Gavin could see the flashing lights of a squad car barricading the street. Sluggishly moving forward, he noticed several residents were bundled up and heading out of their doors in the same direction. Plumes of white mist cascaded from their mouths as they walked quickly up the street. Within moments, a young cadet put one of her gloved hands up. Gavin pressed his badge to the window and she nodded and flagged him through. As he gingerly passed, her attention turned to the car behind him. She yelled at the driver to back it up.
About two blocks away, he parked his car in a nearby alley. After tightening the buttons around the collar of his black bridge coat, wrapping the gray plaid scarf around his neck, and slipping his gloves on, he got out of the car and followed the crowd. Their eerie enthusiasm over the explosion seemed too surreal. A frigid knife of wind pierced him quickly, making him squeeze his shoulders tighter and force his hands deeper in his pockets. Approaching the barricade, he flashed his badge again and ambled toward the chaos, snaking his way around the vehicles.
Several ambulances were already on the scene, the paramedics treating some people inside the warm cabs. Nearby, he could see two uniformed officers sitting in the back of one and sucking on oxygen masks. Both of their faces were blackened with residue. About a hundred feet away, one of the ambulances came to life with full sirens and began to move out. Through the window, Gavin caught a glimpse of an older black man on the stretcher as the EMT worked around his body, adding more tubing to his arm. Once it was out of the way, Gavin witnessed the gravity of the explosion.
The Opus Theater was a gouged-out smoldering shell of a building, resembling a nefarious beast defeated at the hands of a mob of local villagers. Its massive first-floor entrance breathed out the last of the smoke, the toothy marquee scarred with black soot. Above, its blackened window-eyes stared down upon the people menacingly. As Gavin ambled closer, avoiding the other officers, a gripping scent of chemicals, fabric, and noxious gas filtered into his nostrils, then wafted away with the wind. Next to the theater, a pair of smaller sibling buildings, a shoe business and a comic magazine shop, were scarred and smoldering as well. Even from here, Gavin could make out the shattered glass sparkling grimly against the siren lights.
As he had seen on the news, the fire trucks clustered near the front of the buildings. The crews were already wrapping up their gear, and one was lowering its long ladder. Firemen dashed from the trucks into the dark façade of the building, being swallowed up by the dying beast. Other men tugged on the thick gray hoses that were haphazardly tossed around on the street. Already, pockets of ice were forming on the standing water and small icicles began to grow from the edges of the building. Gavin carefully stepped over the hoses, which reminded him of ripped-out intestines from the gut of the savage beast, and tried to get out of the firemen’s way.
Hastily, a fireman rushed past him and knocked him slightly. Grunting an apology, the man kept talking into his radio and rounded one of the trucks. The smell of smoke invaded Gavin’s nostrils once again.
From behind him, Derrick shouted, “About time you fucking got here.”

Meet the Author 

Russell has been writing for the majority of his life. Slipping into alternative universes allows him to enjoy the process of creativity from the novel’s conception to its final draft. Currently, he lives in South Texas with his wife, two kids and several cats.

Author links:
InstagramFacebook ~ Twitter 

And now it's time for the Giveaway!

10 winners will each win an ebook copy of Derrick.
Open Internationally until the 6th January.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Russell / Thrillers / Books from America

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Lindisfarne by Terry Tyler

Lindisfarne by Terry Tyler
Self published in September 2017.

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'You're judging this by the standards of the old world. But that's gone. We don't live there any more.'

Six months after the viral outbreak, civilised society in the UK has broken down. Vicky and her group travel to the Northumbrian island of Lindisfarne, where they are welcomed by an existing community. 

New relationships are formed, old ones renewed. The lucky survivors adapt, finding strength they didn't know they possessed, but the honeymoon period does not last long. Some cannot accept that the rules have changed, and, for just a few, the opportunity to seize power is too great to pass up. Egos clash, and the islanders soon discover that there are greater dangers than not having enough to eat.

Meanwhile, in the south, Brian Doyle discovers that rebuilding is taking place in the middle of the devastated countryside. He comes face to face with Alex Verlander from Renova Workforce Liaison, who makes him an offer he can't refuse. But is UK 2.0 a world in which he will want to live?

After being gripped by Tipping Point earlier this year, I have been keen to return to Terry Tyler's dystopian Project Renova series. This second volume, Lindisfarne, is just as scarily plausible as the first and I soon immersed myself back in the story. (I did appreciate the brief Tipping Point recap!) We get to see to what extent Vicky and her daughter Lottie are adapting to their new reality. Lindisfarne focuses on the changing dynamics and relationships within the group as they encounter new people and also rekindle past friendships - and animosities. At one point we have an intricate love hexagon (I think. Geometry isn't my strong point!) which adds great tension to the situation. I loved how Tyler illustrates different approaches towards the leading of this new community of very disparate people. Would a committee or a dictator be the most effective? Which tasks should take priority when there aren't enough people to do everything?

I would have liked more details of the practicality of life as I feel this would have helped me envisage the island day to day. The way British society seems to be imploding right now, it might soon be useful information too! However this is only a minor point. For me what really makes Lindisfarne interesting is its authentic-feeling contrasts. Lottie's youth and inexperience actually allows her to be far more flexible about her lifestyle than Vicky. The well-meaning Marcus envisages a peaceful cooperative commune, but this would always be at risk without the entrenched violence of the biker gang's 'protection'. Plus, as we watch these people, like mice in a lab experiment, struggling to survive, I was always wondering at the back of my mind, how long it could be before the organisation that unleashed the whole mess in the first place returned to enforce their ideas on everyone. Thank goodness I've already purchased the third in this series, UK2, and I won't wait too long to find out!

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Terry Tyler / Science fiction / Books from England