Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Pink Ice Creams by Jo Woolaston + Excerpt

Pink Ice Creams by Jo Woolaston
Self published on the 14th May 2019.

Intent on fixing her broken marriage and the alcohol-fuelled catastrophe that is her life, Kay Harris arrives at her grim and grey holiday let, ready to lay to rest the tragedy that has governed her entire adulthood – the disappearance of her little brother, Adam.

But the road to recovery is pitted with the pot-holes of her own poor choices, and it isn’t long before Kay is forced to accept that maybe she doesn’t deserve the retribution she seeks. Will the intervention of strangers help her find the answers she needs to move on from her past, or will she always be stuck on the hard shoulder with no clear view ahead and a glove box full of empties?

Pink Ice Creams is a tale of loss, self-destruction, and clinging on to the scraps of the long-lost when everyone else has given up hope.


Kay has always blamed herself for her brother leaving the safe confines of her entrusted care. A childish argument, a strop, a bent back finger, and he was gone. But at 12, she was still a child herself, so should the blame be at someone else’s door? Adam wasn’t the only person Kay lost that day, as she also now mourns the loss of the mother who abandoned her at a time when Kay needed her most of all, and, despite everything, still does...

She is somebody without effort. A flash of teeth and a sway of hips, and they flock around her like flies around shit. 

‘All in red, all in red, she took him up to bed, down in the valley where nobody goes.’

She sits at the bar on a high stool, legs crossed, her bare legs a deep bronze from her pink painted toenails to the spilt at the top of her red dress. She sips through a straw, lips pouting, eyes bright and hopeful, furtively watching the people walk in, looking for a potential playmate and weighing up her options. I’m longing to go in and sit with her, laugh with her, mock and make fun with her, imitate her actions, mimic her pose, but I won’t. She’d brain me. 

‘I can’t see, Kay, I can’t see.’

We are balanced on an overflow down-pipe, fingers aching and raw from clinging onto a thin flaking window ledge. The windows are too high up for Adam but on tiptoes I can see through, just. I kick Adam off my leg and he falls on his backside and bursts into tears. He is tired, it is way past his bedtime, he is scared of the dark.

‘Get off me! If Mum sees us she’ll kill me so pack it in!’
‘I can’t see Kay, it isn’t fair.’
‘Here, have this, and keep your whiny gob shut.’

I throw down to him his little wooden gonk and lift myself up again to peer over the ledge. It is pretty inside, dark parquet flooring, rich reds and gold, tall heavy lamp-stands with tasselled shades. The air is thick with fag smoke and the music vibrates the window glass, loose in their old frames. She has company now, a man with a mullet well past its sell-by date, with blond streaks that could almost disguise the copper curls if it weren’t for the well-cultivated ginger moustache that adorns his upper lip. What does she see in him, the red-headed copper-top, Duracell ginger-nut? A hilarious character judging by the way Mum’s head is thrown back and her mouth agape, hacking out reams of unconvincing laughter. Her hand has fallen off her straw and has landed between her thighs.

‘Kay can you see her? What is she doing?’
‘She’s laughing.’

Adam’s face is streaked with dirt and tears and his eyelids sag at half-mast, straining to stay open. He has just wee’d his pants, and a dark patch of wet spreads across his pyjama bottoms as he makes the gonk dance in front of him, the little beads on the end of its string arms bouncing against its body. Tip tap tip tap tip tap. 

‘Come on, let’s get you back in bed.’

I pick Adam up and carry him on my hip across the grass verge onto the gravel road and out towards the vans. People pass us on their way to the bar, some of them with kids, some holding hands, all hopeful, bright-eyed with anticipation for the night ahead. Adam wraps his arms around my neck and rests his head on my shoulder, the gonk tightly clenched in his fist. I will wait up for her to come home.

‘Good morning little chicks. Come on Kay wakey wakey!’
‘Hello my little angel, did you have a good sleep? Come on both of you, up you get. Kay?’
‘Come on sleepy-head, there’s no point spending the holiday in bed.’

She looks sweaty. Her make-up is half way down her cheeks and her red dress is still visible under her dressing gown. I waited, a long time. 

‘What time did you get in?’
‘What is this, twenty questions?’ 
‘That’s one question.’
‘I didn’t want to wake you. Sleeping like a baby you were, both of you.’
‘He is a baby.’
‘Don’t start Kay, it’s a lovely morning so let’s not spoil it. Just play nicely.’

Play nicely and you can stay up late. Be good and we’ll go to the beach. Stay put and I’ll buy you an ice-cream. Double cone? Mint choc chip? Raspberry ripple.

‘All in pink, all in pink, she made his fingers stink. Down in the valley where nobody goes.’

Meet the author

Jo Woolaston lives in Leicestershire, England with her extreme noise-making husband and two lovely sons. She tries to avoid housework and getting a ‘proper job’ by just writing stuff instead - silly verse, screenplays, shopping lists...

This sometimes works in her favour (she did well in her MA in TV Scriptwriting, gaining a Best Student award in Media and Journalism – and has had a few plays produced - that kind of thing) but mostly it just results in chronic insomnia and desperate tears of frustration. Pink Ice Creams is her first novel, she hopes you liked it.

Author links: 
WebsiteFacebook ~ Twitter ~ Goodreads

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Jo Woolaston / Contemporary fiction / Books from England

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Hold My Hand by Michael Barakiva + #Giveaway + Playlist


Hold My Hand by Michael Barakiva
Published in America by Straus and Giroux today, the 21st May 2019.

Add Hold My Hand to your Goodreads

Alek Khederian thinks about his life B.E. and A.E.: Before Ethan and After Ethan. Before Ethan, Alek was just an average Armenian-American kid with a mess of curly dark hair, grades not nearly good enough for his parents, and no idea of who he was or what he wanted. After he got together with Ethan, Alek was a new man. Stylish. Confident. (And even if he wasn't quite marching in LGBTQ parades), Gay and Out and Proud.

With their six-month anniversary coming up, Alek and Ethan want to do something special to celebrate. Like, really special. Like, the most special thing two people in love can do with one another. But Alek's not sure he's ready for that. And then he learns something about Ethan that may not just change their relationship, but end it. Alek can't bear the thought of finding out who he'd be P.E.: Post-Ethan. But he also can't forgive or forget what Ethan did. Luckily, his best friend Becky and madcap Armenian family are there to help him figure out whether it's time to just let Ethan go, or reach out and hold his hand.

Hold My Hand is a funny, smart, relatable take on the joy and challenges of teenage love, the boundaries of forgiveness, and what it really means to be honest.


Seventeen by Troye Sivan
Lovely 2 C U by Goldfrapp
Sour Times by Portishead
Under Pressure by Queen (since The Magicians version from S03E09 isn’t available)
Do I Disappoint You by Rufus Wainwright
Cry When You Get Older by Robyn
I’d Rather Be Blue by Barbara Streisand
Focus by Leo Kalyan 
Supercut by Lorde
Hold My Hand by Brandy Clark
There’s More to Love by The Communards

Meet the Author 

Michael Barakiva, author of One Man Guy, is a theater director and writer of Armenian/Israeli descent who lives in Manhattan with his husband, Rafael. He is a graduate of Vassar College and the Juilliard School, an avid cook and board-game player, and a soccer player with the New York Ramblers.

Author links:

And now it's time for the Giveaway!

The prize is a print copy of Hold My Hand.
Open Internationally until the 30th May.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Michael Barakiva / Young adult fiction / Books from America

Monday, 20 May 2019

What We Do For Love by Anne Pfeffer + #Giveaway + Excerpt

What We Do For Love by Anne Pfeffer
Published by Bold Print Press tomorrow, the 21st May 2019.

Add What We Do For Love to your Goodreads

Thirty-eight year old Nicole Adams has given up on finding love. Instead, the single mother focuses on the things she cherishes most - her sixteen-year old son Justin, her friends, and her art. When she convinces a prominent Los Angeles museum to feature a piece of her work, a large-scale installation, she thinks her life has finally turned a corner.

Then Justin brings a girl, Daniela, home to live with them. Daniela's angry parents have thrown her out of the house, because she's pregnant with Justin's child. Shattered, Nicole takes Daniela in and, in so doing, is drawn into the inner circle of Daniela's family - a frightening world of deceit and violence. Nicole struggles to keep life going as normal. Forced to deal with people she doesn't trust or like, fearful for the future of both her son and the grandchild they're expecting, Nicole wonders if she can do what she tells Justin to do: always have faith in yourself and do the right thing.

What We Do for Love won the Chick Lit category of the 2019 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, and finalist for Best Cover Design/Fiction!


From Chapter Four.  Justin and Daniela have told Nicole that Daniela cannot return to her own home, but Nicole is nonetheless trying to reach Daniela’s parents. 

By nine o’clock, Daniela’s parents still hadn’t called back. 
Justin gave me a pointed look. Told you so. 
Shocked by the apparent indifference of these people, I asked, “How do they know you’re safe? You could be camping under the freeway right now.”
Daniela’s voice quavered. “I’m sure they think I’m fine.” The sadness in her voice tore me up.
“They’ve got to be worried.” The tiny crack in my mind had widened just a bit, and a tremor of … something ran through me… a premonition, maybe? Or maybe just nerves. “Even if you’ve had a disagreement, they still love you. They’re your parents.”
“They’re not worried.” 
I tried to keep my tone brisk and matter-of-fact. “If that’s the case, then of course you must stay tonight!”
 “Thank you,” Daniela whispered. At my request, she dialed her phone again and handed it to me. I left another message.
“Hello, Viviana. This is Nicole again. Since I haven’t been able to reach you, Daniela will stay the night here, in a separate room from my son. I’ll make sure she gets to school on time tomorrow. Please feel free to call me.” I left my phone number again, feeling my temper rise as I thought of what these parents had done tonight. 
“So,” I said, “let’s get ready for bed!” I kept my voice bright and chipper. “Justin, will you move your sheets out onto the sofa? I’ll put some fresh ones on your bed for Daniela.” 
By comparison to Justin’s male friends, whose presence resounded through the house like a herd of elephants, Daniela was almost ghost-like, blending into the background and whispery quiet. And eager to please. 
“Let me put the sheets on,” she said. “You shouldn’t have to do that.”
“All right, thanks.” I found her an unused toothbrush and an old t-shirt of mine to sleep in. “And here’s a clean towel.”
Justin’s small bedroom still had its blue plaid wallpaper. The bedspread had borne pictures of teddy bears until he revolted in his freshman year of high school, requesting a plain blue comforter. Justin’s stuff filled every corner, covered every surface: music posters, two guitars and a drum, his bicycle, a debate trophy, comic books, and books with art or math and logic puzzles. 
 “Thank you again.” Daniela drooped as she sat down on the bed.
“Are you all right, honey?” I sat down next to her. “Do you want to tell me a little more about what’s going on?”       
The two dogs galumphed into the room just as Justin’s tall, lean frame appeared in the doorway, dressed in the sweatpants and t-shirt he wore to bed. Midge and Margo rushed the twin bed, trying to climb aboard, but I pushed them gently down onto the rug. I put my arm around Daniela as she shuddered and the tears started to fall. She gripped her hands together tightly. “I did something… that my parents didn’t like. My dad especially.” 
Justin fastened his gaze on her as she spoke. His bleak eyes reminded me of the time he’d found a dead baby rabbit in the swimming pool. My throat suddenly felt dry, and a chill ran over me despite the balmy evening air. 
“My mom would forgive me, but Dad won’t let me live at home anymore.”
“I’m sure he’ll reconsider. You know, once he cools off.” What could this girl have done? Totalled the family car? Burned down the house? 
Could she be…?
No way… I wouldn’t permit myself to have the thought. She’s only sixteen.
Justin spoke up, his voice harsh in the silence. “We have to tell her, Daniela.”
Up until now I’d thought, or kidded myself, that Justin was only helping a girl with a problem. Now, the fear arose that it might be Justin’s problem, too.
I held my breath.
“Daniela’s pregnant,” Justin said. “And I’m the father.”

Meet the Author 

Hi! I grew up in the desert around Phoenix, Arizona, where I had a bay quarter horse named Dolly. If I wasn't riding, I was holed up somewhere reading Laura Ingalls Wilder or the Oz books or, later on, Jane Eyre and The Grapes of Wrath. Horses eventually faded as an interest, but I ended up with a lifelong love of books and reading.

After college and eight years of living in cold places like Chicago and New York, I escaped back to the land of sunshine. I now live in California, one mile from the Pacific Ocean, with my dachshund Taco. I have worked in banking and as a pro bono attorney, doing adoptions and guardianships for abandoned children.

As a writer, I'd always been interested in children's books, since they had meant so much to me as a kid. I've found I especially like writing books about teens and twenty-somethings, an age where you make so many decisions about who you are and how you want to spend your life. I love hearing from readers, so please write to me any time.

Author links:

And now it's time for the Giveaway!

The prize is a $25 Amazon gift card.
Open Internationally until the 30th May.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Anne Pfeffer / Women's fiction / Books from America

Sunday, 19 May 2019

In Love with the World by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

In Love with the World: What a Buddhist Monk Can Teach You About Living from Nearly Dying by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche with Helen Tworkov
Published by Bluebird on the 16th May 2019.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A rare, intimate account of a world-renowned Buddhist monk’s near-death experience and the life-changing wisdom he gained as a result.

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s experience begins the night he has chosen to embark on a four-year wandering retreat, slipping past the monastery gates. Alone for the first time in his life, he sets out into the unknown. His initial motivation is to step away from his life of privilege and to explore the deepest, most hidden aspects of his being, but what he discovers throughout his retreat – about himself and about the world around us – comes to define his meditation practice and teaching.

Just three weeks into his retreat, Rinpoche becomes deathly ill and his journey begins in earnest through this near-death experience. Moving, beautiful and suffused with local colour, In Love with the World is the story of two different kinds of death: that of the body and that of the ego, and how we can bridge these two experiences to live a better and more fulfilling life. Rinpoche’s skilful and intimate account of his search for the self is a demonstration of how we can transform our dread of dying into joyful living.

There's something very funny about the thought of a venerated Buddhist monk - an abbott nonetheless - escaping  from his monastery in the middle of the night and running away. After months of meticulous planning that's exactly how Rinpoche begins what will become several years of a wandering retreat for him. I felt it was also a great way to begin this memoir. I had been concerned that aspects of the book might be beyond my understanding as I don't have much of an understanding of Buddhism beyond the usual preconceptions (and, as it turns out, misconceptions). However to be greeted with a flawed flight which involves slipping into a muddy puddle immediately made me realise that I could understand Mingyur Rinpoche. He might come from a completely different culture, but too much haste resulting in a muddy puddle accident is an event with which I could easily identify.

In Love With The World is partly a memoir of the first month of Rinpoche's retreat and partly a tome for him to impart relevant Buddhist teachings to his readers. I did feel therefore as though I was starting to learn about the religion from the middle, but I could mostly keep up with the concepts being discussed and understood the points being made. It wasn't until the final chapters and Rinpoche's description of his near-death experience that I lost track of what he was trying to say. I enjoyed the earlier recounting of stories and the information imparted about the places visited. It was also very interesting and helpful to me to read about episodes such as Rinpoche's intense anxiety during his first ever unaccompanied train journey (he's 36 years old). I would have imagined that a Buddhist abbot would be serene under any circumstances, so to learn that he had to employ breathing and relaxation exercises to calm himself was reassuring to me.

I didn't realise that In Love With The World would only cover such a short period of Rinpoche's retreat. I would have preferred to have learned more about the whole period of travel with less religious theory, although I understand that teaching Buddhism is Rinpoche's vocation. My reading here has encouraged me to discover more about Buddhism and its history, and the whole concept of meditation.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche / Biography and memoir / Books from Tibet

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Twelve Unending Summers by Cholet Kelly Josué

Twelve Unending Summers by Cholet Kelly Josué
Published in America by Authority Publishing on the 22nd May 2019.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bahamian. Haitian. American. Where can I fully belong?

At age sixteen, Cholet Josué arrived on the shores of Miami in a wooden boat—and immediately put the past behind him. More than two decades later, the elusive question of identity pursues him, forcing him to confront a difficult truth: the cultures that formed him have each indelibly stamped his soul. Courageously, Cholet dismantles his own story to uncover a way to unashamedly, unabashedly fit in with three different worlds while belonging to none.

Honest and compelling, Twelve Unending Summers is a deeply personal journey that resonates with the universal human need to find a home and embrace the legacy of family heritage.

The message that shines through Josue's memoir is the importance of education for young people and how, in giving this hope for the future, they can establish themselves of a firm grounding wherever they may be. Josue was born a British citizen in the Bahamas, but travelled with his Haitian parents back to Haiti at four years old. Another country, another language. Then at sixteen, and not of his own volition, he endured a rickety boat journey to Florida where, initially as an illegal immigrant, he had to find a way not only to survive but to blossom. Another country, another language. That Josue had the strength of character to persevere against many setbacks is inspiring. His search for his own cultural identity raises interesting questions especially for me having just read Bloom Where You Are Planted (a memoir in which transient expat Lasairiona McMaster assures readers that raising her son in various cultures will enable him to fit in everywhere.) Josue's life experience is of never feeling as though he totally fitted in anywhere.

Josue recounts a few episodes from his childhood in the Bahamas and mostly from Haiti. He also talks extensively about his fight to become a legal American citizen and the struggle to raise the ridiculously high sums needed for his education. Now fully qualified and practicing as a doctor, it is obvious the struggle was worthwhile. I was dismayed at how easily his skill and talent could have been lost though. To deny someone education purely on the grounds of their wealth (or lack of!) strikes me as ludicrous and the situation is just as bad here in the UK.

Josue has a engaging style and I enjoyed reading this memoir, especially where I was able to encounter cultures that are very different to my own. His explanations of the importance of superstition to Haitians were interesting as was learning this island nation's history. I would have actually liked Twelve Unending Summers to have been a longer book. I felt there was a lot more to say on the question of identity for example and some other episodes felt rushed. That said, I am very pleased to have had this opportunity to 'meet' Josue and to read about his life.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Cholet Kelly Josue / Biography and memoir / Books from Haiti

Friday, 17 May 2019

Alone In Berlin by Hans Fallada

Alone In Berlin by Hans Fallada
First published in German as Jeder stirbt für sich allein in West Germany in 1947. English language translation by Michael Hofmann published by Melville House Publishing in 2009.

One of my 2019 Mount TBR Challenge reads and a Classics Club Challenge read.

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Inspired by a true story, Hans Fallada's Alone in Berlin is the gripping tale of an ordinary man's determination to defy the tyranny of Nazi rule.

Berlin, 1940, and the city is filled with fear. At the house on 55 Jablonski Strasse, its various occupants try to live under Nazi rule in their different ways: the bullying Hitler loyalists the Persickes, the retired judge Fromm and the unassuming couple Otto and Anna Quangel. Then the Quangels receive the news that their beloved son has been killed fighting in France. Shocked out of their quiet existence, they begin a silent campaign of defiance, and a deadly game of cat and mouse develops between the Quangels and the ambitious Gestapo inspector Escherich. When petty criminals Kluge and Borkhausen also become involved, deception, betrayal and murder ensue, tightening the noose around the Quangels' necks.

Alone In Berlin appealed to me when I spotted a book exchange copy because of its having been written by a German author almost immediately after the Second World War (in 1946) and its subject being a true story of resistance within Germany to the Nazi regime. I have read a lot of stories about the French Resistance, but German civilian resistance is far less frequently portrayed. As it turned out, I think 'inspired by a true story' would have been a more truthful tagline than 'based on' because Fallada invents a lot around the central narrative idea, bending the truth to achieve a more interesting novel.

What feels absolutely genuine though is his portrayal of wartime Berlin. The stifling atmosphere of suspicion and intolerance leeches through every page. I could envisage every neighbour constantly spying though peepholes, every work colleague on the lookout for a chance to gain favour by denouncing a former friend. The characters in Alone In Berlin do feel absolutely genuine and it is their interactions which kept my attention, and my sympathies, throughout. We meet gamblers and black marketeers, people trying to do their best under the circumstances and people making the most of every opportunity. No one is all good or all bad and I could easily understand their individual motivations.

As with Good People by Nir Baram, partly set in the same wartime Berlin but written decades later, I felt the author encouraging readers to put themselves into the characters shoes. Alone In Berlin asks us to think about the roles we might take in similar circumstances. In the novel, Otto and Anna Quangel had initially voted for Hitler because they felt he and his policies would improve their lives. It is not until a couple of years later that they realise the full truth of what their votes enabled. This is such a relevant novel for 2019, especially with the political similarities many of us are witnessing right now. It is an engrossing historical story with a powerful cautionary message for today.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Hans Fallada / War fiction / Books from Germany

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Bloom Where You Are Planted (Life the Expat way) by Lasairiona E McMaster

Bloom where you are planted (Life the Expat way) by Lasairiona E McMaster
Self published yesterday, the 15th May 2019.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads

Add Bloom Where You Are Planted to your Goodreads

Are you contemplating a move abroad?

Don’t panic!

From culture shock to capable, from language barriers to lifelong friends, and from foreign land to the familiar. Being hurled into life in a strange new place can be daunting and overwhelming, but it can also be exciting and enjoyable.

Rich with tips on how to expat like a boss, Lasairiona McMaster’s “Bloom where you are planted”, takes you on a journey from packing up her life in Northern Ireland to jumping in at the deep-end as an expat in two countries.

An experienced expat from a decade of living abroad, her honest and uncensored tales of what to expect when you’re expatriating, are as funny as they are poignant, and as practical as they are heartfelt. If you’ve lived abroad, or you’re considering the move from local to expat. If you’re looking to rediscover yourself, or simply wondering how on earth to help your children develop into adaptable, resilient, and well-rounded people, this book has something for you.

May seems to be turning into Memoirs Month because my book review today, of Bloom Where You Are Planted is the sixth of at least seven varied memoirs I have read or will be reading. Part memoir and part self-help guide, Bloom Where You Are Planted is targeted towards people who find themselves living a transient lifestyle, frequently relocating because of the demands of their (or their partner's) job requirements. My experience of expats prior to reading this book is of people who have chosen to emigrate to one other country and then they stay put. McMaster has introduced a whole new level of expat-ism by showing us what she learned through creating homes first in Houston, Texas, then in Pune, India, with a brief Northern Irish sojourn in the middle and now a repatriation to Northern Ireland again. It all sounds quite exhausting!

McMaster began her writing as a blogger and this social style shines through in her book. She has a bright, enthusiastic voice and, while I could have done without quite so much swearing in print, I did appreciate her enthusiastic and honest approach - even in the Too Much Information moments! Advice to prospective expats is logically laid out in concise chapters and includes instructions and ideas interspersed with examples from McMaster's own life. This allows readers to learn from her mistakes or to realise that they are not alone in the emotional turmoil of relocating with all that this involves. Bloom Where You Are Planted is a fascinating glimpse into an often overlooked lifestyle. I felt this book provided an timely reminder that economic migrancy isn't all about people of other nationalities coming to Britain, but also that we Brits live and work in countries all around the globe too.

Meet the author

Lasairiona McMaster grew up dreaming of an exciting life abroad, and, after graduating from Queens University, Belfast, that is exactly what she did - with her then-boyfriend, now husband of almost ten years. Having recently repatriated to Northern Ireland after a decade abroad spanned over two countries (seven and a half years in America and eighteen months in India), she now finds herself 'home', with itchy feet and dreams of her next expatriation.

With a penchant for both travelling, and writing, she started a blog during her first relocation to Houston, Texas and, since repatriating to Northern Ireland, has decided to do as everyone has been telling her to do for years, and finally pen a book (or two) and get published while she tries to adjust to the people and place she left ten years ago, where nothing looks the same as it did when she left.

Author links: 
Facebook ~ Twitter ~ Instagram

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Lasairiona E McMaster / Self help books / Books from Northern Ireland

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

A New World – Conviction by M D Neu + #Giveaway + Excerpt

A New World – Conviction by M.D. Neu
Self published on the 11th March 2019.

Add A New World – Conviction to your Goodreads

A little blue world, the third planet from the sun. It's home to 7 billion people with all manner of faiths, beliefs and customs, divided by bigotry and misunderstanding, who will soon be told they are not alone in the universe. Anyone watching from the outside would pass by this fractured and tumultuous world, unless they had no other choice.

Todd Landon is one of these people, living and working in a section of the world called the United States of America. His life is similar to those around him: home, family, work, friends and a husband. After the attack on San Jose, Todd is appointed to Special Envoy for Terran Affairs by the nentraee, a position many world leaders question. Undeterred Todd wants to build bridges between both people. However, this new position brings with it a new set of problems that not only he, but his new allies Mi'ko and Mirtoff must overcome.

Will the humans and nentraee learn to work together despite mistrust and threats of more attacks by a new global terrorist group, or will the terrorists win? Will this bring an end to an already shaky alliance between nentraee and humans?


This is a fun moment where Todd finally meets Faa, Mirtoff’s companion animal. It’s a moment I’ve been wanted to share with people since they first met Faa way back in book one:

“Hello, Todd,” Mi’ko said, speaking English.
“Good afternoon, Mister Vice Speaker. You wanted to see me?” Todd turned to Mirtoff. “Oh, Madam Speaker, hello.” He bowed.
Todd hadn’t spent a lot of time with the speaker general. However, during his interactions with her, she seemed remarkably intelligent and professional. Unlike those times, today, she didn’t have a cup of tuma. As always, her auburn hair was braided up into a bun with a few wisps running along the side of her face. Her brilliant dark brown eyes, which Todd had learned were rare for the Nentraee, always seemed to sparkle, giving her a kind appearance.
“Todd, a pleasure,” Mirtoff said.
Faa trotted over next to her and sat down as she spoke.
“I should go.” Todd adjusted the cuffs of his shirt. “I didn’t mean to interrupt you.”
“No sense, Todd.” Mi’ko waved him over. “We are finishing up, and I requested your presence, so there is nothing for you to interrupt.”
“It is I who should go.” Mirtoff dusted off her pants. “I need to get Faa back for his lunch.”
“A cádo.” Todd knelt to look at Faa. “I didn’t know you had one, Madam Speaker.”
Todd hadn’t seen one this close. From what he understood about them, they were akin to dogs or, maybe, cats. Bigger than Bianca for sure, Faa seemed to be about the size of a cocker spaniel, if not a little bigger.
“Oh, he’s beautiful. I love his eyes,” Todd said. “Hello, little guy.” He stuck his hand out for Faa to sniff. “I’m not gonna hurt you.”
“Provider, this human Todd?” Faa asked, tilting his head toward Mirtoff.
“Jesus H. Christ!” Todd shouted and dropped on his butt.
Both Mi’ko and Mirtoff shared confused expressions as Faa jumped on the chair behind Mirtoff. A small whimper came from his mouth.
“It talks. I didn’t know it could talk. How in the holy hell does it talk?” Todd picked himself up off the floor and knelt. “I’m…I’m sorry. He startled me. I didn’t mean to scare him.” He gestured to Faa. “You never said they talked.”
“You have animals that speak on your planet, don’t you?” Mi’ko questioned.
The cádo shook and his eyes were double their normal size.
“Well…” Todd tried to calm his voice. “Parrots or some other birds, but that—not like that. I thought he would mimic words like them, but he’s smart. He knows what he’s saying, doesn’t he?”
Mirtoff’s hand gently rubbed Faa’s back and his head.
“Human scared Faa.”
The Nentraee words came out slow and deliberate so Todd could understand.
Mirtoff sat. Faa climbed onto her lap and nuzzled her arm.
“It’s all right, little one. He won’t hurt you.”
Todd recognized the words. “I’m sorry.” 
“Faa, this is Todd Landon,” Mirtoff said. “Todd, this is the cádo who selected me, Faa.”
“Hello,” Todd said and waved.
Faa turned to Mirtoff and then to Todd. His muzzle shifted around, and then he finally said, “Todd.” He swished his tail.
“How?” Todd asked.
“They communicate at a lower level than we do, but they have intelligence. However, they are totally dependent on us.”
“But the language? The intelligence?” Todd asked.
Faa murmured as Mirtoff rubbed his head. He had stopped trembling.
“The best comparison is they are similar to small children,” Mi’ko said. “We assumed since humans have animals that talked and are smart it wouldn’t be so shocking. You said yourself you talk to your cat all the time.”
“But Bianca doesn’t talk back.” Todd paused. Well, she did, in a way, and they understood each other, but not like this. “I just…that is an animal trait that we’ll need to let people know.”
Faa sniffed the air and got up. He jumped off Mirtoff and sauntered to Todd. He sniffed the air again. “Todd Landon.” He seemed to struggle to pronounce the words.
“Just let him come to you,” Mirtoff said.
The three watched Faa move closer, each step cautious. Todd remained kneeling on the floor.
“They don’t eat meat, right?” Todd asked.
“Correct.” Mirtoff kept her eyes on Faa.
Faa sniffed and moved closer, his tail swishing. With a nimble movement, he jumped and landed on Todd’s lap. Faa pushed his front paws into Todd’s chest and stared at him. “Todd Landon.”
Todd’s heart skipped a beat as Faa looked him in the eyes.
Faa was gray and had a short muzzle, dwarfed by his large green eyes and his floppy ears.
“Faa.” Mirtoff snapped her fingers and pointed to the floor, addressing Faa in Nentraee words that Todd didn’t recognize.
Faa mentioned Todd’s name twice, along with other words, but Todd couldn’t focus, his heart starting to pound. He wasn’t fearful of animals, but he had never run across an animal that looked him in the eyes as if sizing him up for a meal.
Relax. It’s fine. He’s just like a big dog. He’s not going to hurt you. Look at those big, beautiful eyes. I’m sure he’s more scared of you than you are of him.
Faa continued speaking and used Todd’s name again.
Todd turned to Mirtoff and Mi’ko for some hint of what the creature said. He couldn’t read their expressions.
“He likes you and wants to be friends,” Mi’ko said.
Faa nudged against Todd’s legs and started to murmur happily.
“Okay, by far this is the oddest thing I’ve experienced since I started.” Todd paused and sat so Faa could sit more on his lap instead of knocking him over. “He’s adorable and beautiful. Don’t get me wrong.” His voice cracked as he forced a small chuckle. He wasn’t sure what to do with the cádo resting happily on his lap.
Faa is a heavy little beast.
Mirtoff called to Faa in Nentraee and clicked her fingers.
Faa’s muzzle shifted.
“I’m sorry, Todd,” Mirtoff said. “I didn’t expect him to act that way. He’s normally not that curious. It’s good information so we can address this with our population. I should have had you and Faa meet sooner.”
Faa jumped off and walked to Mirtoff’s side.
Todd’s shoulders and neck relaxed now that Faa was off him.
Faa nudged the back of Mirtoff’s leg and addressed her in Nentraee.
“He hopes to see you again, and he wants to be your friend,” Mirtoff said.
Mirtoff and Faa moved to the door. She knelt next to Faa and whispered in his big floppy ear.
Faa giggled and then padded over to Todd, glancing up with his big doe eyes. “Bye Bye, Todd,” he said in English, then padded back to the door, and Mirtoff and he walked out.
“Bye, Faa.” Todd waved.
Amazing. That was incredible.

Meet the Author 

M.D. Neu is a LGBTQA Fiction Writer with a love for writing and travel. Living in the heart of Silicon Valley (San Jose, California) and growing up around technology, he's always been fascinated with what could be. Specifically drawn to Science Fiction and Paranormal television and novels, M.D. Neu was inspired by the great Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas, Stephen King, Alice Walker, Alfred Hitchcock, Harvey Fierstein, Anne Rice, and Kim Stanley Robinson. An odd combination, but one that has influenced his writing.

Growing up in an accepting family as a gay man he always wondered why there were never stories reflecting who he was. Constantly surrounded by characters that only reflected heterosexual society, M.D. Neu decided he wanted to change that. So, he took to writing, wanting to tell good stories that reflected our diverse world.

When M.D. Neu isn't writing, he works for a non-profit and travels with his biggest supporter and his harshest critic, Eric his husband of eighteen plus years.

Author links:

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Tuesday, 14 May 2019

I Who Have Never Known Men by Jacqueline Harpman

I Who Have Never Known Men by Jacqueline Harpman
First published in French as Moi qui n'ai pas connu les hommes by Editions Stock in 1995. English language translation by Ros Schwartz published by The Harvill Press in 1997 and now republished by Vintage in May 2019.

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘For a very long time, the days went by, each just like the day before, then I began to think, and everything changed’

Deep underground, thirty-nine women live imprisoned in a cage. Watched over by guards, the women have no memory of how they got there, no notion of time, and only vague recollection of their lives before.

As the burn of electric light merges day into night and numberless years pass, a young girl - the fortieth prisoner - sits alone and outcast in the corner. Soon she will show herself to be the key to the others' escape and survival in the strange world that awaits them above ground.

I Who Have Never Known Men is a disturbingly haunting story. A woman recounts her life to us although, from her earliest memories until the time she finds pen, paper and the inclination to write, she has no idea where she is or why she is there. As readers, we have no idea either. We are told of her immediate surroundings - of the cage and the other women locked inside it - in detail. We learn of the deprivations of their daily lives and of the silent guards forever pacing up and down. We know that the women originally lived in a society like ours because they remember it, but where the girl came from, nobody knows. Are they all caged for their own protection or as a punishment? Is there anyone else? Anywhere?

Harpman's writing is perfect for this novel. Her skill in being able to tell an utterly compelling story while leaving out practically all the background information is genius! In the hands of a lesser author I would no doubt be bemoaning gaping plot holes or inconsistent information, but here our narrator's questioning of her circumstances exactly reflected my questioning and drew me towards her rather than pushing me away. At several points I paused to put myself into her position. How would I react?

I Who Have Never Known Men is all about our inner lives as women, how we find a purpose for ourselves and what we can achieve when we need to. I would not have been surprised if this novel had been written immediately post-war. I felt it had that sense about it - of escaping extreme trauma, of realising that survival isn't the end, it isn't enough. The dystopian emptiness of this land is terrifying, especially as the women become fewer in number, and its portrayal is also extremely timely. The current rate of species extinction on Earth means Harpman's imagined desolation might not be so far away after all.

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Books by Jacqueline Harpman / Science fiction / Books from Belgium

Monday, 13 May 2019

Where The Wild Winds Are by Nick Hunt

Where The Wild Winds Are by Nick Hunt
Published in the UK by Nicholas Brealey in 2017.

How I got this book:
Borrowed from a friend

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nick Hunt sets off on an unlikely quest: to follow four of Europe's winds across the continent...

His wind-walks begin on Cross Fell, the highest point of the Pennines, as he chases the roaring Helm - the only named wind in Britain. In southern Europe he follows the Bora - a bitter northerly that blows from Trieste through Slovenia and down the Croatian coast. His hunt for the 'snow-eating' Foehn becomes a meandering journey of exhilaration and despair through the Alpine valleys of Switzerland, and his final walk traces an ancient pilgrims' path in the south of France on the trail of the Mistral - the 'wind of madness' which animated and tormented Vincent Van Gogh.

These are journeys into wild wind, but also into wild landscapes and the people who inhabit them - a cast of meteorologists, storm chasers, mountain men, eccentric wind enthusiasts, sailors and shepherds. Soon Nick finds himself borne along by the very forces he is pursuing, through rain, blizzards, howling gales, and back through time itself. For, where the wild winds are, there are also myths and legends, history and hearsay, science and superstition - and occasionally remote mountain cabins packed with pickles, cured meats and homemade alcohol.

Where the Wild Winds Are is a beautiful, unconventional travelogue that makes the invisible visible.

As a keen walker, I always enjoy a good walking memoir, especially one with an unusual hook, so when I saw a copy of Where The Wild Winds Are on a friend's bookshelf I had it borrowed faster than he could say, 'I haven't actually read that myself yet'! I'm more of a fair weather walker so the idea of deliberately searching out walks to undertake them when strong winds were blowing struck me as odd to say the least. I thought Nick Hunt might be made from the Robert MacFarlane mould, but it turns out he's not quite that extreme.

The first of Nick Hunt's wind walks was across the Pennines in search of The Helm wind. His nods to Simon Armitage's Walking Home memoir of the same area, and to James Turrell's Skyscape sculptures (one of which I experienced in Norfolk) gave his writing a sense of familiarity. I loved that, throughout this book, Hunt not only talks about his immediate experiences and the walks themselves, but also gives readers lots of varied information about the history of the places he visits, art, philosophy and, of course, meteorology. The people he encounters also seem to be genuinely just-met rather than all chosen ahead of time for their 'jolly anecdote' potential! I just wish I could remember half the details of what I read for more than the duration of a chapter. There is so much to learn that I feel I need to make a serious study of Where The Wild Winds Are in order to truly do Hunt's research justice.

This memoir is certainly inspirational for anyone who walks, travels or cloud watches. Each of Hunt's four walks is accompanied by an outline map of his route and I am now tempted to follow in his footsteps along parts of the Slovenia-Croatia walk and along the French one. Contrary to his intent though, I would much rather walk on a non-windy day!

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Books by Nick Hunt / Walking books / Books from England

Sunday, 12 May 2019

The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal

The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal
Published in the UK by Chatto and Windus in 2010.

How I got this book:
Borrowed from a friend

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

264 wood and ivory carvings, none of them bigger than a matchbox: Edmund de Waal was entranced when he first encountered the collection in his great uncle Iggie's Tokyo apartment. When he later inherited the 'netsuke', they unlocked a story far larger and more dramatic than he could ever have imagined.

From a burgeoning empire in Odessa to fin de siecle Paris, from occupied Vienna to Tokyo, Edmund de Waal traces the netsuke's journey through generations of his remarkable family against the backdrop of a tumultuous century.

Spotting Dovegreyreader's review of Milton Place by Elisabeth De Waal last week reminded me that I had a copy of The Hare With Amber Eyes, a family memoir witten by her grandson, Edmund, awaiting reading after I borrowed it from a friend. I remember my partner buying a new edition years ago, probably around the time of the paperback release, but my reading habits were quite different then and The Hare's synopsis didn't appeal so I never read it. Now, some eight years later, I loved being swept up into this beautiful history and I wonder whether I might also have enjoyed it back then or if this is a book which has to find its reader at the right moment in order to be fully appreciated. Certainly I have seen numerous reviews where readers gave up fairly early on, and probably an equal number where readers sere absolutely in raptures. I would describe The Hare With Amber Eyes as a Marmite book (love it or hate it!).

De Waal's idea to trace a century or so of his family's turbulent history through the ownership of a netsuke collection is inspired. I loved learning about the ancestor, Charles, who first bought them in Paris. Quite the artist's patron, Charles' friends included many prominent society figures and artists and I was delighted to rush to our (copy of!) Luncheon Of The Boating Party by Renoir where Charles is the top-hatted man in the background. I only really know Paris from literature but could picture the salons and parties, promenades through the park, and the wonderful life of this affluent family - until anti-Semitism flared in the wake of the Dreyfus affair.

The netsuke then went to Vienna, a city I visited in September 2017. De Waal's evocation of the family's Ringstrasse mansion brough back memories of our visit and we must have been driven past it during our tram tour. Vienna really does spring to life from the pages and I very much appreciated the intensity of De Waal's research. The Austrian branch of the Ephrussi family is as intent on making their permanent home in Austria as the Parisian Ephrussis were in France. Again they move in affluent circles with balls and parties and trips to the opera, until we get to the late 1930s and the Ephrussi is swiftly destroyed in a wave of disgusting nationalism as Hitler's Nazis annexe Austria. This part of the book is emotionally difficult to read and also depressingly relevant to today. The coldly calculated Nazi actions and manipulation of public opinion are chillingly similar to elements of How To Lose A Country by Ece Temelkuran. What I hadn't realised was how post-war Austria washed its hands of any responsibility and how hard Jewish families had to fight to regain even a tiny proportion of their confiscated property.

The Hare With Amber Eyes is a memoir about family, about twentieth century European history, and about art. It is also about concepts of home and exile, how where one grows up can be more influential on our sense of identity than where one's family originated. For the Ephrussis, their sense of their Odessa roots is gone within a generation as they embrace the cultures of France, Austria, Switzerland, England. But there is always a lingering shadow of other people's refusal to see past their own preconceived notions.

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Books by Edmund De Waal / Biography and memoir / Books from England