Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Monkey's Wedding by Rossandra White


Monkey's Wedding by Rossandra White
First published in America by Kindle Press today, the 31st January 2017.

This is my first book for the 2017 Witches And Witchcraft Fantasy Challenge.

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

How I got this book:
Received a copy from the publisher as a reward for my successful KindleScout nomination

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Adolescents Elizabeth and Tururu--she's white, he's black--share an uneasy friendship on a remote sisal plantation in 1953's Zimbabwe. Resentment to white rule erupts throwing them into the crossfire of political change and ancient ritual.
To make matters worse, a clash between Tururu's witchdoctor grandmother and her apprentice unleash ancient fire spirits that will make the British overlords look like saints. Will their friendship survive?
The novel's dual viewpoints afford an intimate glimpse into the two faces of a country at a crucial time in its history.


Having recently read Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys meant I was already familiar with some of the traditional spirits and magical beings that are conjured into being in Monkey's Wedding. White's story includes intense scenes of Shona witchcraft as Tururu's grandmother uses her powers for good and other characters use theirs for harm. Despite a few obvious references such as Hillary and Tensing climbing Everest, it was difficult to pin the story down to the 1950s because the land has a sense of timelessness which I thought White evoked well through her characters and narrative. Small farms and towns are dotted across a huge expanse of veld and must appear laughably temporary to the ngozi and other demons we encounter.

I liked how White portrayed her teenage characters, especially in their interactions with each other. Elizabeth comes to realise that perhaps her privileged life isn't as secure as she had previously believed and her family's black servants aren't stupid or dishonest as her mother claims. I would have liked more depth to Monkey's Wedding because it did feel like it only skimmed the surface of deep social, racial and political issues, but this is a nice story and I think would make a good YA introduction to the themes it raises.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Rossandra White / Historical fiction / Books from South Africa

Monday, 30 January 2017

X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz


X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon
First published by Candlewick Press in America in January 2015. Candlewick on Brilliance Audio edition, narrated by Dion Graham, published in January 2015.
Winner of the 2016 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work for Youth/Teens.

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

How I got this book:
Downloaded from AudioSYNC

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am Malcolm.
I am my father's son.
But to be my father's son means that they will always come for me.
They will always come for me, and I will always succumb.
Malcolm Little's parents have always told him that he can achieve anything, but from what he can tell, that's nothing but a pack of lies - after all, his father's been murdered, his mother's been taken away, and his dreams of becoming a lawyer have gotten him laughed out of school. There's no point in trying, he figures, and lured by the nightlife of Boston and New York, he escapes into a world of fancy suits, jazz, girls, and reefer. But Malcolm's efforts to leave the past behind lead him into increasingly dangerous territory when what starts as some small-time hustling quickly spins out of control. Deep down, he knows that the freedom he's found is only an illusion - and that he can't run forever.
X follows Malcolm from his childhood to his imprisonment for theft at age twenty, when he found the faith that would lead him to forge a new path and command a voice that still resonates today.

Co-written by his daughter, X is a fictionised biography of American Civil Rights activist Malcolm X, however it interested me because the book tells the story of his formative years from school age until his early twenties. I knew nothing about this time for him and little about life for black people in 1940s Boston and Harlem.

X is intended as a YA novel so there is significant repetition of key scenes and phrases, but the writing doesn't shy away from violent realities and copious drug use. I liked how we see the young Malcolm believing himself to always be 'on the up' even as his physical and mental health are really sliding downhill and his character is both believable and compelling. Short factual essays following the novel give further insights into Malcolm's America and how the novel differs in small details from true life. It is frightening that such vicious discrimination was commonplace until so recently and campaigns such as #BlackLivesMatter show such outdated attitudes have still not truly disappeared.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Ilyasah Shabazz / Historical fiction / Books from America

Sunday, 29 January 2017

The Ninth Life by Rose Montague


The Ninth Life by Rose Montague
Self published in America on the 31st October 2015.

I have chosen to reblog this review from Stephanie Jane today to promote Our Books Are Not Free, a Facebook event organised by Rose Montague. This four day event will run from the 11th to the 15th February, but there is already lots happening on the Facebook page so do take a look! Our Books Are Not Free features more than 150 indie authors from all over the world coming together to actually sell their books - rather than giving them away! Click Through Now to discover your next great indie read!

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

How I got this book:
Downloaded during a 2015 Halloween Facebook party, All Hallows Reads

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A cat familiar on her last life searches for that purrfect witch. The only problem is the one she finds doesn't know she's a witch. A cute, witchy short story!

At just twenty pages, The Ninth Life is a nice introduction to Montague's writing style and could also be a novel prequel although I understand that novel does not yet exist - hopefully I will find out if/when it does! We meet a cat who hasn't been born yet and a young woman with unrealised witchy powers, and their meeting up makes for a cute tale. I especially liked reading from the cat's perspective. The Ninth Life's short duration did not allow much space for digression so I appreciated Montague's talent for scene setting and concise description. She has certainly piqued my interest towards reading her full length novels.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Rose Montague / Fantasy fiction / Books from America

Saturday, 28 January 2017

The Other One by Colette


The Other One by Colette
First published in French in France in 1922. English language translation by Elizabeth Tait and Roger Senhouse.

One of my WorldReads from France
I registered my copy of this book at BookCrossing

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Jane is Farou's secretary and mistress, as well as the admirer and constant companion of his wife. Colette exposes the subtle torments of living with infidelity, the capacity for suffering and the ruthlessness of women in love. The novel's emotional intensity makes a poignant twist at the end.

Despite being set several decades and a few thousand miles apart, I saw similarities between Kate Chopin's The Awakening and this read, Colette's The Other One. Colette's heroine, Fanny Farou, is trapped within the same societal structure of well-to-do wives being expected to have no other function than that of an accessory to their husbands. In this novella, Fanny's husband, known solely as Farou, is a playwright whose fashionable fame keeps him away from his family for weeks at a time, periods Fanny bemoans as 'we are so dull without him'.

Most shocking, for me, is Fanny's complete acceptance that Farou will be unfaithful to her while he is away. She reassures herself that her position as favourite is secure and as long as Farou's liaisons remain casual and distant, she can live with them. Conflicting emotions arise however when Fanny realises that Farou is also sleeping with his secretary, Jane, a woman who considers herself Fanny's friend although, interestingly, Fanny does not think of Jane in the same light.

Colette cleverly illustrates the relationship between the two women through brief conversations and observations of their behaviour. Jane, assuaging guilt perhaps, is always busy, running errands for Fanny and Farou and attempting to establish an indispensable position in the household. Fanny on the other hand is lethargic and lazy, reminding me a little of Caroline in Andrea Levy's The Long Song. I was intrigued by her indecision, whether she would choose her husband and her companion and how the drama would unfold. The Other One is a small book, both in actual size and in its mostly domestic setting, but powerful emotions are examined and understood through the triangles that Colette establishes.

Etsy Find!
by Omniscient Narrator in
New York, USA

Click pic to visit Etsy Shop

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Colette / Women's fiction / Books from France

Friday, 27 January 2017

Since The Sirens by E E Isherwood + #FreeBook


Since The Sirens by E E Isherwood
Self published in December 2015.

How I got this book:
Downloaded the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Banished by bad decisions to spend the summer with his great-grandmother, Liam Peters thinks his life is over. After all, Marty Peters is a tough woman to be around. Maybe she wouldn’t be so bad if she'd just take an interest in the modern technology he loves. Sure, she has some insight to her … but the woman is practically “pushing daisies.” Not surprisingly, as tornado sirens announce a city-wide emergency, Liam discovers why that term should be avoided … well … like the plague.
When Grandma Marty tries to send him on his way, refusing to abandon her home, Liam sees his situation in a new light. Something deep inside awakens—and he chafes at the thought of leaving his 104-year-old grandmother to die. Armed with two tiny pistols and an arsenal of knowledge from his overwhelming zombie book collection, Liam realizes he could be the hero and accomplish the impossible: rescue her.
With the interstate gridlocked, opportunist criminals looking to take what they can get, law enforcement desperate to keep the peace, and the military declaring St. Louis a war-zone, Liam and Marty find themselves wrapped up in a world of chaos and panic. But when the zombies begin to overshadow everything else, Liam comes to appreciate why there are no atheists in foxholes.


YA horror fiction isn't a genre I usually choose to read, but Since The Sirens caught my attention with its 104 year old great-grandmother, Marty, as one of the lead characters. Together with her 15 year old great-grandson, Liam, she must try to escape zombie apocalypsed St Louis city. Isherwood does a good job of presenting the realities of such an ordeal and I would have liked more scenes of the reality from Marty's unique point of view as we get at the beginning of the book. Unfortunately she is then mostly relegated to hallucinating about a weirdly-spoken angel while attention focuses on the agonies of indecision and self-doubt experienced by Liam.

Since The Sirens isn't a particularly long book, but is slowly paced without much in the way of variation in speed. I often found myself willing Liam especially to just Get On With It! Isherwood has obviously spent time researching his St Louis settings, but I thought too much of this information was divulged in scenes that should have been snappier to maintain my excitement. Otherwise Since The Sirens has a good story arc and, despite being the first of a series, I was delighted to encounter A Proper Ending! There is plenty of scope for the further novels - five at the time of writing - but, as a reader, I appreciated not being abandoned mid cliffhanger.

Etsy Find!
by Print Crafted in
Barrow, England

Click pic to visit Etsy Shop


Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by E E Isherwood / Horror fiction / Books from America

Thursday, 26 January 2017

The Devil's Brew by Benedict J Jones


The Devil's Brew by Benedict J Jones
Published by Crime Wave Press in 2016.

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

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Take a break, they said. Get out in the fresh air, they said. Get away from it all, they said. They have a lot to answer for. The follow up to Pennies for Charon sees Charlie Bars caught up in dark doings in the bleak Northumbrian countryside; horse mutilation, deadly obsession, dog fighting, a family of maniacs, and a family in danger. The city can be dangerous but the countryside is murder.

Reading The Devil's Brew was a real lesson for me in not judging a book by its cover! The horror-style story I expected from the dark cloaked hare image was certainly not the gripping thriller that I actually encountered although there are some pretty gruesome moments. This is not a book for the squeamish!

The Devil's Brew is the second in the Charlie Bars thriller series. Having not read the first one wasn't in any way a problem as I easily caught up with enough backstory and this novel has a standalone plot. Charlie is an ex-con turned Private Investigator and cuts a thoroughly believable figure. I liked that his language and instincts consistently reflected his persona, especially as most of The Devil's Brew is written in his first person narration. Jones has done a great job with all his characters and settings. Even his female characters are true people with justified roles and strong reasons for their actions, not just murder victims and ornamentation as in many other action thrillers. I got a real sense of small town Northumberland, one of my favourite counties, and loved how its ancient history swirls around the tale.

Action is what drives Charlie and our story so this book rarely takes a second for breath! Jones keeps up an exhilarating pace while always giving enough detail that I knew what was going on, where, why and how. It's a difficult balancing act for an author to achieve. I was so impressed with The Devil's Brew that on the strength of this novel, have now added the first Charlie Bars thriller, Pennies For Charon, to my wishlist!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Benedict J Jones / Thrillers / Books from England

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

A Spool Of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler


A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
First published by Alfred A Knopf in America in 2015.

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

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon...' This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she and Red fell in love that summer's day in 1959. The whole family on the porch, half-listening as their mother tells the same tale they have heard so many times before. From that porch we spool back through the generations, witnessing the events, secrets and unguarded moments that have come to define the family. From Red's father and mother, newly arrived in Baltimore in the 1920s, to Abby and Red's grandchildren carrying the family legacy boisterously into the twenty-first century - four generations of Whitshanks, their lives unfolding in and around the sprawling, lovingly worn Baltimore house that has always been their home.

A Spool Of Blue Thread was much hyped last year as a result of its shortlisting for the Booker prize so I put off reading it in an attempt not to be swayed by the extensive publicity. It is very typical Anne Tyler fare - family centred, in Baltimore, strong on characterisation and buried secrets - but I thought there was little in the way of an overarching narrative to hold it all together. Instead this is a meandering work that wanders off to different people and eras, always returning to the main thread but without any sense of a plan. It's more of a Dinner At The Homesick Restaurant and certainly not a Ladder Of Years.

Perhaps I am being harsh? A Spool Of Blue Thread is still a very good book by general mainstream fiction standards, but I did often find it rather dull and had expected more from Tyler. There are interesting interludes and the discovery of the Linnie Mae and Junior relationship especially is cleverly done. If you enjoy big family sagas where everything gets resolved around the dining table then you might enjoy the book more than I did. I just thought it all felt too formulaic.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Anne Tyler / Women's fiction / Books from America

Monday, 23 January 2017

The Bamboo Stalk by Saud Alsanousi


The Bamboo Stalk by Saud Alsanousi
First published in Arabic by Arab Scientific Publishers Inc in 2012. English translation by Jonathan Wright published by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing in 2015.
Won the International Priza for Arabic Fiction in 2013.

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

How I got this book:
Gift from a friend

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Josephine escapes poverty by coming to Kuwait from the Philippines to work as a maid, where she meets Rashid, an idealistic only son with literary aspirations. Josephine, with all the wide-eyed naivety of youth, believes she has found true love. But when she becomes pregnant, and with the rumble of war growing ever louder, Rashid bows to family and social pressure, and sends her back home with her baby son, José. Brought up struggling with his dual identity, José clings to the hope of returning to his father's country when he is eighteen. He is ill-prepared to plunge headfirst into a world where the fear of tyrants and dictators is nothing compared to the fear of ‘what will people say’. And with a Filipino face, a Kuwaiti passport, an Arab surname and a Christian first name, will his father’s country welcome him? The Bamboo Stalk takes an unflinching look at the lives of foreign workers in Arab countries and confronts the universal problems of identity, race and religion.

I found Jose-Isa an interesting narrator because of his dual existence even though he is not a particularly likeable person. Groomed by his Filipino mother, Josephine, practically since his birth in expectation of his becoming a Kuwaiti like his father, Rashid, Jose feels something of an outsider in the Philippines even though he has grown up there. His physical appearance marks him out as different and he longs to be in Kuwait where he will fit in. However, on eventually arriving in Kuwait, he finds himself subject to much the same sense of not belonging, this time exacerbated by the treatment meted out by his father's family.

Alsanousi does an incredible job of evoking Jose's life in both countries, explaining social etiquette and depicting how the people live. Many Filipinos travel to Gulf countries to undertake menial jobs and this novel illustrates some of the poverty-induced pressures that force them to do so. Kuwait is seen as some kind of paradise, until the workers arrive in any case. I was surprised to find myself being reminded though of the social snobbery of Jane Austen's Persuasion which I recently read. Polite Kuwaiti society here is a similar small circle governed by the same dread of losing face. I couldn't always sympathise with Jose's predicament in Kuwait until he begins to pull himself together and create his own fortune. Much of The Bamboo Stalk revolves around finding where the grass is metaphorically greener, the importance and significance of family ties, and our enduring search for home and identity whether those concepts be people, place, culture or ideology.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Saud Alsanousi / Contemporary fiction / Books from Kuwait

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman


Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
First published in America by Morrow in September 2005. Audiobook narrated by Lenny Henry also published in 2005.

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

How I got this book:
Bought the audiobook from Audible and borrowed the ebook from my OH

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fat Charlie Nancy is not actually fat. He was fat once but he is definitely not fat now. No, right now Fat Charlie Nancy is angry, confused and more than a little scared - right now his life is spinning out of control, and it is all his dad's fault.
If his rotter of an estranged father hadn't dropped dead at a karaoke night, Charlie would still be blissfully unaware that his dad was Anansi the spider god. He would have no idea that he has a brother called Spider, who is also a god. And there would be no chance that said brother would be trying to take over his life, flat and fiancée, or, to make matters worse, be doing a much better job of it than him. Desperate to reclaim his life, Charlie enlists the help of four more-than-slightly eccentric old ladies and their unique brand of voodoo - and between them they unleash a bitter and twisted force to get rid of Spider. But as darkness descends and badness begins is Fat Charlie Nancy going to get his life back in one piece or is he about to enter a whole netherworld of pain?

Anansi Boys was chosen as the second of three group reads for January by the Proud Readers Of Great Stories group on Goodreads to which I belong. I had already loved hearing the audiobook edition, superbly narrated by Lenny Henry, a few years ago so decided to borrow my OH's ebook edition this time around. I couldn't actually remember much of the story at all which I was glad about because I couldn't spoil any surprises for myself!

Gaiman's tale, at heart, is a coming of age story of sibling rivalry where our inept hero must overcome not only his brother's suave sophistication, but also his own crises of confidence. I could empathise with Fat Charlie on so many occasions! However, this being Gaiman, he also encounters no end of fantastical and supernatural beings which are vividly described so I could easily imagine them all. These beings are inspired by ancient folk tales, 'told before people were even sung into existence'. I recognised several as Brer Rabbit tales and others from Caribbean and African literature I have read and thought this gave Gaiman's imagined world extra power. He has obviously thoroughly researched the mythology and I love how ancient stories and beliefs are woven into Fat Charlie's search. I devoured the whole book in only a couple of sittings because I was so keen to remain within its magic and to know what happens next. A fabulous story!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Neil Gaiman / Fantasy fiction / Books from England

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Mark Of The Loon by Molly Greene + Free book


Mark Of The Loon by Molly Greene
Self published in 2012.

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

How I got this book:
Received as a reward for signing up to the Death Lies and Duct Tape newsletter.

Death Lies and Duct Tape is a collaboration between fourteen thriller authors across both sides of the Atlantic and another of the athors involved, Ian Sutherland, told me more about it: "We came together because we are all students of Mark Dawson’s courses on Advertising for Authors. We decided that a collaborating on this box set would allow us to pool our resources and slowly build up to launching the boxset with a loud crescendo in May 2017. At 99c/99p, the box set gives readers a great opportunity to sample our books and hopefully discover at least one (hopefully fourteen!) new authors to follow going forward. We’re all incredibly excited about the project and are loving how each of us brings different skills to the project. It really has been a team effort."

You can find out more about Death Lies and Duct Tape on their website and everyone who signs up for the newsletter will be sent one of the fourteen books, chosen at random, as a thank you.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Madison Boone is keen to buy a fabulous stone cottage in the country, and she nixes her budding relationship with Coleman Welles to do it. But once the renovation begins, the property's long-buried secret threatens to derail everything. Can her friends help solve the mystery?
Mark of the Loon, the first of the Gen Delacourt mystery series, is the skillful combination of history, mystery, and romance in a novel that explores choices, taking risks, dealing with loss, deep, satisfying, unconditional friendships - and introduces Genevieve Delacourt as an impressive amateur sleuth!

Mark Of The Loon is a novel of female friendship and sisterhood and I thoroughly enjoyed joining its four friends, Madison, Genny, Gabi and Anna for a time. Madison buys a new house so there is lots of interior decor chat as well as a very real sense of strong relationships between the friends. Romantic relationships also have a part to play and I liked the depiction of a burgeoning romance between Madison and a college professor she meets, Cole. It's all sweet and chaste which fits with the novel's cosy vibe.

Our mystery revolves around the house itself and Greene sets up the suspense slowly so Mark Of The Loon could initially just be women's fiction, however subtle disturbances and odd occurrences are dripped in to unsettle the reader. The house is a fascinating setting and I wouldn't mind living there myself! I did find the ultimate unveiling to be far-fetched and overly rushed so, to me, it came across as disappointingly silly, but the episode is so brief that, although I suppose it should be the highlight, I found myself thinking of it merely as an aberration before we returned to the 'real' storyline!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Molly Greene / Women's fiction / Books from America

Friday, 20 January 2017

The Terrorists by Sjowall and Wahloo


The Terrorists by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahloo
First published in Swedish as Terroristerna in Sweden by Norstedts Forlag in 1975. English language translation by Joan Tate published in 1975.

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

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An American senator is visiting Stockholm and Martin Beck must lead a team to protect him from an international gang of terrorists. However, in the midst of the fervor created by the diplomatic visit, a young, peace-loving woman is accused of robbing a bank. Beck is determined to prove her innocence, but gets trapped in the maze of police bureaucracy. To complicate matters a millionaire pornographer has been bludgeoned to death in his own bathtub. Filled with the twists and turns and the pulse pounding excitement that are the hallmarks of the Martin Beck novels, The Terrorists is the stunning conclusion to the incredible series that changed crime fiction forever.

The Terrorists is the tenth and final novel in the Martin Beck series and is suitably ambitious in its scope. A global gang of highly trained terrorists are believed poised to strike in Sweden and Beck is charged with heading up the team that must outwit them. Despite being written just over forty years ago, other than the lack of technological advances much of The Terrorists could be a present day thriller. It is interesting to think that as many (or even more) terrorist groups were murderously active throughout the 1960s and 1970s and I think the only major difference is that then they encompassed a wide variety of political stances and ideologies, whereas now popular Western belief singularly demonises hardline Islamic groups.

I found the story slow to start because its disparate narrative lines meandered around each other and I couldn't see which was going to take off. I did like that Gunvald Larsson has a central role again. His abrasive attitude and language makes him a fun character to read. I loved the 'commando section' idea too. Once up to speed, The Terrorists is as exciting and tense as previous books in the series and it is easy to see how together the ten became the template for much of the Scandinavian crime fiction that has followed. Strong believable characters, interesting detail and social commentary, and tightly plotted storylines make for pretty perfect crime fiction and The Terrorists certainly stands the test of time.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Sjowall and Wahloo / Crime fiction / Books from Sweden

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

On The Narrow Road To The Deep North by Lesley Downer


On the Narrow Road to the Deep North by Lesley Downer
First published in the UK by Jonathan Cape in 1989. Republished by Endeavour Press in July 2015.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Stairs

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

How I got this book:
Downloaded when mentioned in an Endeavour Press newsletter.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In 1689 Matsuo Basho, Japan’s greatest poet, set out on his last and longest journey, to the remote northern provinces. His moving account, rich in strange and sometimes comic encounters along the road, is the most famous and much loved work in Japanese literature. Three hundred years later, inspired by Basho’s writing and her passion for Japan, Lesley Downer set off in his footsteps. Walking and hitchhiking towards the Sacred Mountains with their legendary hermit priests, meeting people who had never seen a Westerner and dining on flowers and sautéed grasshoppers, she discovered a world which many Japanese believe vanished centuries ago.

Like Richard Flanagan's similarly titled Burma railroad novel, The Narrow Road To The Deep North, Downer's book owes its naming to Matsuo Basho's ancient travel memoir. The famous Japanese poet inspired her to follow in his footsteps across the rural north of the country and this fascinating book is her record of the journey.

I love the idea of visiting Japan myself, especially the country outside of Tokyo which is completely different to the ultra-modern city. On The Narrow Road To The Deep North reveals some of the mysteries of the culture and also describes important historical events that took place in the places Downer visits. I appreciated the clever intertwining of the three main journeys: that of Downer herself, Basho and his companion Sora some three hundred years previously, and the almost mythical heroes Benkei and Yoshitsune in whose footsteps Basho himself was following. The inclusion of Basho's haiku is an inspired touch. I don't think I had read any of his work before and enjoyed the dual visions of places which often had hardly changed in the intervening centuries. This book is a great history lesson as well as a travel memoir.

A Western woman travelling alone is an incredibly unusual sight in rural Japan so we readers get to see the varying local reactions to their visitor. I was amazed at the poverty of these village communities as I had believed all of Japan to be an affluent nation. The landscapes, once away from the concrete towns, sound incredibly beautiful and I was frequently envious as another footpath sign pointed out into the mountains. Downer's writing really brings her journey to life and her love for Japan shines through. I would highly recommend On The Narrow Road To The Deep North to travellers, walkers, poets and history buffs.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Lesley Downer / Biography and memoir / Books from England

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Crimson Midnight by Amos Cassidy + Free book


Crimson Midnight by Amos Cassidy
Self published in May 2014

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

How I got this book:
I received a copy of Crimson Midnight when it was offered as a promotional giveaway at the All Hallows Reads Facebook party for Halloween.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

They say London is the city that never sleeps. Man, you have no idea…
A new job, a new life and a new home, Rose has left the pain of the past behind. But if she thinks she’s going to have it easy she’s in for a shock. There’s Roman for starters, a complication with a capital C. With the racing pulses and the x-rated thoughts, she can barely keep it together. And then he decides to drop a bombshell. It’s the domino effect alright, because hot on the heels of his revelation come a few unpleasant ones of her own. Rose discovers that there is a darker side to London, an ancient secret, a world that she belongs to and one that could get her killed.
Question is, can she keep it together long enough to kick danger’s arse?

Crimson Midnight is a joint venture between two writers, but I wouldn't have been able to tell if I didn't know as the flow of writing is seamless. I enjoyed the pace of the novel with a good balance being struck between detailed description and action. There are a lot of characters to keep up with, but I liked that time was spent making each one an individual. That effort certainly pays off as the storylines come together, especially for a fantasy novice like me who isn't used to telling her werewolves from her vampires! Our heroine, Rose, is great fun and just the feisty, sassy woman I think I would like to have been at that age. Perhaps Flo's accent does grate from being a little overdone, but the London setting overall is nicely integrated.

So why only three stars? The ending! Regular readers will already know how much I loathe sudden stops in lieu of proper endings so I won't launch into another rant here, but Crimson Midnight has one of the most abrupt and ill-timed that I've yet read. It's a shame because up until that point I was very much enjoying the story and the writing. I am undecided yet whether to risk any more of the Crimson series in case they all end like that. I probably will read other Amos Cassidy books though, if I can find standalones.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Amos Cassidy / Fantasy fiction / Books from England

Monday, 16 January 2017

Death By Didgeridoo by Barbara Venkataraman


Death By Didgeridoo by Barbara Venkataraman
Self published in November 2013.

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

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reluctant lawyer, Jamie Quinn, still reeling from the death of her mother, is pulled into a game of deception, jealousy, and vengeance when her cousin, Adam, is wrongfully accused of murder. It's up to Jamie to find the real murderer before it's too late. It doesn't help that the victim is a former rock star with more enemies than friends, or that Adam confessed to a murder he didn't commit.

Death By Didgeridoo is the first novella in what is currently a series of four. It is narrated in the first person by our Florida divorce-law heroine, Jamie Quinn, who suddenly finds she has to up her game to criminal lawyer to help her Asperger's cousin, Adam, when he becomes the main suspect in a high profile murder case. I liked the character of Jamie. She is forthright, but able to admit her weaknesses, professionally and personally, and we never found her put into unbelievable situations for the sake of the plot. I like her taste in sandwiches too! Other characters aren't so well defined and I would have liked to know more about Aunt Peg and Adam particularly.

As the Jamie Quinn series are cosy mysteries, I knew I would be safe from encountering any gruesome murder details and Venkataraman concentrates her tale primarily on the different investigative steps required in order for Jamie to solve the crime. At just 93 pages that approach makes Death By Didgeridoo a very fast paced read which is exciting, but I would have been happy for it to slow down here and there to allow us to appreciate more detail of the Florida setting. However, the denouement is nicely thought through and ultimately satisfying. I look forward to spending more time with Jamie in the series' second book.


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

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Miami by Joan Didion


Miami by Joan Didion
First published by Simon And Schuster in America in October 1987.

My 1980s read for the 2015-16 Goodreads / Bookcrossing Decade Challenge.

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

How I got this book:
Borrowed from my OH

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a surprising portrait of the pastel city, a masterly study of Cuban immigration and exile, and a sly account of vile moments in the Cold War. Miami may be the sunniest place in America but this is Didion's darkest book, in which she explores American efforts to overthrow the Castro regime, Miami's civic corruption and racist treatment of its large black community.

Having learned a lot about California and its history from my previous Joan Didion book, Where I Was From, I hoped for similar enlightenment by reading Miami. This book looks at twenty years in the Florida city, from the 1960s to the 1980s, but instead of the wide-ranging information imparted about California, Didion seems to concentrate almost entirely on the political in Miami. I do now have a basic grasp of what the Bay Of Pigs was all about and my overall understanding of the Cuban exile population's predicament in Miami has improved a little. However, I struggled to keep up with all the subterfuge and double-speak, and the sheer number revolutionary and counter-revolutionary organisations that Didion namechecks is bewildering. Her writing is insightful throughout, but this definitely isn't the best book for a beginner to Central American politics of the late twentieth century!


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Books by Joan Didion / Reportage / Books from America

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Persuasion by Jane Austen


Persuasion by Jane Austen
First published in England by John Murray in December 1817.

How I got this book:
Downloaded the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:


The Book Depository
Wordery
Waterstones
Amazon US / Amazon UK

Anne Elliot, the heroine Austen called 'almost too good for me, ' has let herself be persuaded not to marry Frederick Wentworth, a fine and attractive man without means. Eight years later, Captain Wentworth returns from the Napoleonic Wars with a triumphant naval career behind him, a substantial fortune to his name, and an eagerness to wed.

Persuasion was chosen as one of three group reads for January by the Proud Readers Of Great Stories group on Goodreads to which I belong. Having never actually read any Jane Austen novels before, I took this as my inspiration to try at least that one, then, when I realised that 2017 is the 200th anniversary year of Austen's death, I decided to challenge myself to read all six of her novels within the year. If you would like to join my Jane Austen Challenge 2017, feel welcome to download the above badge and link up to this post!

I think what surprised me most about Persuasion is the sharpness of Austen's eye and the frequent pretty vicious satire of her pen. I admit, based only on film and TV adaptations of her books, that I was expecting a fluffy Regency romance, but other than the societal expectation that everyone be either married or seeking to become so, the story for me was more satirical humour and a comedy of manners.

Anne Elliot is a heroine with whom I could easily identify and empathise. Concerned with more intellectual pursuits that her peers and frequently overlooked, I was glad at her eventual triumph although for a time I wasn't sure in which of three directions it would be best for her to go. My favourite characters however were both terrible people, but wonderfully portrayed. Anne's younger sister, the fabulously self-centered Mary only ever understands other people as they pertain to her entertainment and her father, Walter, is probably the most vain and shallow male character I have ever read. I enjoyed several giggles at the expense of both!

The aspirational snobbery of most of the characters did get a little wearing for me at times, especially as even those considered 'poor' were still way above the financial situation of most of England's population at the time - and now! I did sometimes struggle to remember all the familial connections too as the various intermarriages and resultant relationships made it difficult to always know who was being gossiped about behind their back. Overall though I am happy to say that I did enjoy my first Jane Austen novel and look forward to more. Perhaps Mansfield Park will be next?


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Jane Austen / Women's fiction / Books from England

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The Book Of Memory by Petina Gappah


The Book Of Memory by Petina Gappah
First published in the UK by Faber And Faber in 2015.

One of my WorldReads from Zimbabwe

How I got this book:
My OH bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:


The Book Depository : from £7.99 (PB)
Wordery : from £6.15 (PB)
Waterstones : from £7.99 (PB)
Amazon : from £1.38 (used PB)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

The story you have asked me to tell begins not with the ignominious ugliness of Lloyd's death but on a long-ago day in April when the sun seared my blistered face and I was nine years old and my father and mother sold me to a strange man. I say my father and my mother, but really it was just my mother.
Memory, the narrator of The Book of Memory, is an albino woman languishing in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe, where she has been convicted of murder. As part of her appeal her lawyer insists that she write down what happened as she remembers it. The death penalty is a mandatory sentence for murder, and Memory is, both literally and metaphorically, writing for her life. As her story unfolds, Memory reveals that she has been tried and convicted for the murder of Lloyd Hendricks, her adopted father. But who was Lloyd Hendricks? Why does Memory feel no remorse for his death? And did everything happen exactly as she remembers?
Moving between the townships of the poor and the suburbs of the rich, and between the past and the present, Memory weaves a compelling tale of love, obsession, the relentlessness of fate and the treachery of memory.


Having seen Amnesty International appeals recently to help albino people at risk of being murdered for their 'magical' body parts, I had it in mind that The Book Of Memory would be a litany of violence and abuse. It isn't. Instead we read an albino woman's own tale of the events in her life that led her to be imprisoned for murder. Memory is both the woman's name and the theme of her story.

I was particularly moved by Memory's melancholy recollections of her early childhood. As an albino she was excluded from street games by her skin's reaction to the sun and also by her peers' reaction to her difference. She knows all the children's songs not because she sang them herself, but because she could hear them sung day after day from her window. Gappah paints a striking picture of isolation. Memory herself is a fascinating woman to spend time with and I liked other characters including Synodia with her fabulous hair! It was interesting that Memory's family are less defined as people - less well remembered - than the vibrant women Memory now sees everyday, and our perception of Lloyd changes as Memory grows up and understands more about him and his hidden difference.

Memory is ostensibly writing her reminiscences to an American journalist, Melinda, who may be able to help her quash her sentence. I didn't like this device and thought that some of the direct comments to Melinda jarred with the otherwise sensitive prose. I did appreciate however the notion that our memories cannot always be trusted. We might see something so apparently clearly that it could not possibly be mistaken, yet still be unaware of the real truth. Gappah presents a number of scenarios in which memories are unreliable both on a personal level for our imprisoned narrator and as part of the national history of Zimbabwe. I loved her descriptions of Zimbabwean life and culture. The deprivation and degradation of the prison contrasts starkly with the richness of the nation outside its walls. For a novel set in prison, The Book Of Memory isn't overwhelmingly depressing so don't let that put you off reading it. Overall I would say it is a measured, thoughtful book that does finish with a note of hope.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Petina Gappah / Contemporary fiction / Books from Zimbabwe

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Eyes Of A Boy, Lips Of A Man by Nii Ayikwei Parkes


Eyes Of A Boy, Lips Of A Man by Nii Ayikwei Parkes
First published in Ghana in 1999.

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

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

eyes of a boy, lips of a man is Nii Ayikwei Parkes' first poetry publication – a chapbook that contains now-renowned poems like Ghana By Air, The Bite and Tin Roof, which was chosen for London's Poems on the Underground in 2007, making him one of the youngest living writers to be featured. Since the release of eyes of a boy, lips of a man in Ghana in 1999, Nii has gone on to be awarded the ACRAG Award for Poetry and Literary Advocacy and his debut novel, Tail of the Blue Bird was shortlisted for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

With twenty poems in this collection I think my only complaint about eyes of a boy, lips of a man is that the book is too short. I was comfortably into the poetry's atmosphere and reached the end far too soon. This was easily remedied though - by reading through again!

I was impressed by Parkes' deceptively simple presentation of rich Ghanaian imagery and I love the sensuality of poems such as The Bite. I will never just casually eat a mango again! Rendezvous With Death I think we can all identify with and Father resonated clearly with my own life experience, albeit for my mother. There are several lines that deserve to be widely quoted, but I will content myself with just one here. My favourite first line of these poems (and perhaps any poem I have yet read) is from Going Going Going.
"The battered lice were being shallow fried
with heat from above
in the remnants of oil in her hair"
What an amazing picture!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Nii Ayikwei Parkes / Poetry / Books from Ghana

Monday, 9 January 2017

Lotusland by David Joiner


Lotusland by David Joiner
Published in Canada by Guernica Editions in March 2015

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

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nathan Monroe is a 28-year-old American living in Saigon who falls in love with a poor but talented Vietnamese painter. When he fails to protect their love from her desperate chase for a better life in America, his safety net appears in the form of Anthony, an old domineering friend in Hanoi who hires Nathan at his real estate firm. Only much later does Nathan discover that Anthony has intended all along for him to take over his job and family so that he, too, can escape and start his life over in America. Lotusland dramatizes the power imbalances between Westerners living abroad and between Westerners and Vietnamese -- in love and friendship, in the consequences of war, and in the pursuit of dreams.

Lotusland was my first NetGalley download and I was delighted to discover a literary novel of travel to exotic climes which perfectly suits my reading bias.

Set in present-day Vietnam, Lotusland tells the story of Nathan, a struggling American ex-pat writer, who has been living in Saigon for several years. He makes ends meet with various writing assignments and English teaching, but appears to have no real focus and is in a rut. By contrast, the Vietnamese woman he meets, Le, has it all worked out. She is an artist working in a gallery and has confidently applied for a visa to emigrate to America. I enjoyed the different views of emigration and immigration which are presented in Lotusland. Nathan tries to discourage Le's application by explaining the poor quality of life she could end up with as a Vietnamese woman in America. His own life in Vietnam is hardly better, yet he does not or cannot see the similarities. Despite his mastery of the language and however long he lives in the country, Nathan will never be Vietnamese as Le would not be American. Joiner adds a third approach by introducing us to Anthony, another American, but one with a Vietnamese wife and children. At first sight, Anthony is more deeply integrated even than Nathan, but his is a lonely exile as he refuses to learn any of the native language thereby keeping himself aloof from his family and with Western business contacts in lieu of real friends. His business struck me as pure Colonial arrogance, attempting to force Western capitalism and wealthy leisure pursuits onto a area of simple rural agriculture to satisfy his own vision of how Vietnam 'should' be.

I was impressed that I became drawn into these three peoples' lives as I did not find any of them particularly likeable, but I still wanted to find out what happens to them. Nathan's could almost be a coming-of-age story. He is initially pretty much a drifter, easily coerced and led. Le is the most pragmatic of the three, finding her true path when her dream fails. I was pleased that the details of traditional lacquer painting were included. The passage slowed the pace of the story, but it was fascinating to read. Likewise, Joiner's descriptions of Saigon and Hanoi, the train journeys and general life in Vietnam are well observed and created strong mental images for me. His intimate knowledge of the country shines through in his writing.

Each chapter begins with the image of a lotus flower which is a nice touch. I am not sure if it is a Kindle-ism though, but the initial capital letter is then on a line of its own with the remainder of its word on the next line. I had no trouble working out the text but the appearance is odd!
I can't say that Lotusland has inspired me to visit Vietnam in the same way as other novels have drawn me to their countries. However, I think I now have greater understanding and appreciation. The aftermath of the Vietnam War and the Agent Orange use are sensitively handled to induce sympathy, not pity, and I am left with an impression of a strong people in a beautiful country. I will certainly be recommending Lotusland to friends who have previously visited as I think they will appreciate the memories called up by this story.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by David Joiner / Contemporary fiction / Books from America

Sunday, 8 January 2017

The Narrowboat Lad by Daniel Mark Brown


The Narrowboat Lad by Daniel Mark Brown
Self published in 2013

One of my Top Ten Books for Indie Pride Day 2016.

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

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Narrowboat Lad tells the true story of author Daniel Mark Brown's first steps into the world of living on a boat. At the age of 25 during the summer of 2012 Dan found his ideal home, the fact that it was nearly 100 miles of canal away from his workplace, friends and family gave him a rough and ready introduction to what it meant to own a boat as his first task was to travel the slow way home... in his home.
Dan recounts the first trip day by day, the highs of being a homeowner where every room has a view that can change daily, the lows of having steam burst from below deck and an overheating engine and everything in between from the perfect natural surrounds to the long hard days of lock working. After the long trip home we are then given a view of his first year onboard as Tilly the narrowboat is transformed into a full time home and the seasons bring their own tint to boat life, particularly a winter that won't soon be forgotten.
Written with honesty and humour Dan gives readers an insight into living on a boat, his own life and personality and why people in his local area instantly know who someone is referring to when they say "The Narrowboat Lad".

Dave and I toyed with the idea of a narrowboat as a permanent home in the past and even got to the online advert browsing stage, but were never quite tempted enough to splash out (pun intended!). Indeed, I haven't even yet stepped onto one. However I followed narrowboating author @sort_of_dan on twitter which alerted me to a limited time sale on his first book, The Narrowboat Lad. That promotion is no longer running, but this memoir is well worth the £1.99 full price!

A chance comment started Brown on his 'alternative lifestyle' and in The Narrowboat Lad he talks about how it all came about, purchasing his boat called Tilly, and his first year on the water. I liked that he includes the downs as well as the ups of river living. The isolation certainly wouldn't be ideal for everyone, but being so free within nature and already just at the start of a good walk really got my attention. Brown gives a fair amount of information about the boat itself and the intricacies of canal sailing which was interesting to learn.

While wearing my book reviewer hat, perhaps the less polished writing style should have only warranted a three star rating. However, what shines through Brown's writing is his enthusiasm and joy and this so appealed to me that I happily read the whole book in practically a single sitting (it is quite short) and immediately started telling Dave all about it - always the sign of a good book!


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

Saturday, 7 January 2017

The Man With The Golden Mind by Tom Vater


The Man With The Golden Mind by Tom Vater
First published by Exhibit A in March 2014. Republished by Crime Wave Press in September 2016.

One of my WorldReads from Germany

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

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Julia Rendel asks Maier to investigate the twenty-five year old murder of her father, an East German cultural attaché who was killed near a fabled CIA airbase in central Laos in 1976. But before the detective can set off, his client is kidnapped right out of his arms. Maier follows Julia’s trail to the Laotian capital Vientiane, where he learns different parties, including his missing client are searching for a legendary CIA file crammed with Cold War secrets. But the real prize is the file’s author, a man codenamed Weltmeister, a former US and Vietnamese spy and assassin no one has seen for a quarter century.

I am again impressed with a Crime Wave Press offering, this one being a Cold War aftermath spy thriller set in a country about which I knew very little: Laos. Tom Vater sets up an intricate and complicated plot which I found it a joy to get lost in and also introduces interesting and believable characters, both male and female. The women in this novel aren't just eye candy! I was a little concerned that I hadn't already read the first in what is becoming the Detective Maier series, but that turned out not to matter at all. This is a self-contained tale, admittedly with nods to its predecessor, but I enjoyed the read without any prior knowledge of our lead character.

Laos provides a fascinating backdrop to the story and I loved seeing glimpses into a completely different culture and way of life. I hadn't realised just how comprehensively the nation was bombed as a result of the Vietnam War, or that its people are still being killed and maimed by that war's bombs and landmines. Vater manages to include such education without losing the pace of his thriller. I did occasionally lose track of peripheral characters as there is quite a large cast to keep track of, but the twists, turns and double-crosses make for compelling reading and I particularly loved Mikhail. What a fabulous creation!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Tom Vater / Thrillers / Books from Germany

Friday, 6 January 2017

The Map Of Love by Ahdaf Soueif


The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif
First published by Bloomsbury in 1999.

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

How I got this book:
Borrowed from a friend

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In 1900 Lady Anna Winterbourne travels to Egypt where she falls in love with Sharif, and Egyptian Nationalist utterly committed to his country's cause. A hundred years later, Isabel Parkman, an American divorcee and a descendant of Anna and Sharif, goes to Egypt, taking with her an old family trunk, inside which are found notebooks and journals which reveal Anna and Sharif's secret.

I thought the cover and title of The Map Of Love did its content a disservice. From the moody image and brief synopsis, I was expecting a giddy, breathless period love story, a light women's fiction romance. Instead, I was treated to a wide-ranging story that takes in both historical (post-Victorian) and modern-day Egypt, the varying political stances and ideologies of her peoples, and the sheer beauty and majesty of the landscape, while still finding time to delicately portray the deep loves felt by two women separated from each other by one hundred years.

At over five hundred pages, The Map Of Love is a novel to take time over. Soueif's obvious passion for her country is contagious and inspiring and I loved her observed details of people, places, customs and emotions. The two central characters of Lady Anna Winterbourne in the early 1900s and her descendant, Amal, in the late 1990s both effectively manage to speak directly to the reader because we discover Anna's story through her journals as Amal reads them. I liked Amal as she is a bit of a worrier and I could easily identify with her immersion in Anna's diaries and journals. I was experiencing the same immersion into The Map Of Love!

Anna is a daring, headstrong woman by the standards of her time. She is determined to live the life she desires after having ceded the time so far to her previous husband. We learn about the culture and society of Egypt through Anna's experience and also through Amal's reactions to Anna. I enjoyed this dual viewpoint and had no trouble with the switching from one to the other. I did come unstuck with the multitude of men's names listed in passages describing the political meetings attended by Sharif Basha. I think several must have been real people and my Who's Who knowledge of 1900s Egypt is non-existent. It would have been interesting to read a nonfiction history of the same period soon after and put the two books together in my mind.

The Map Of Love did have a similar effect on my emotions as another (then) recent read, Inheritance Of Loss. Both are concerned with the aftermath of British rule on their countries and I do feel ashamed of the way British people overran such a vast part of the world and how badly the existing peoples were treated. So much of real value was destroyed in the name of Empire and, basically, simply for money. Another common theme is the potential loneliness of exile and the challenges of living within another culture. Anna is cushioned by love and by wealth in her Egyptian life, but there is still a continuous yearning for at least a small connection to home in her letters. Amal also becomes influenced by this, I think, in her return to her ancestral lands. Having made ourselves currently rootless, albeit in a tiny way by comparison, I have found myself choosing novels that reflect and examine the experience of travelling and being away from home. I would recommend The Map Of Love as both a rich novel of the lure of a different way of life, and of its downsides.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Ahdaf Soueif / Historical fiction / Books from Egypt

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Songs From The Violet Cafe by Fiona Kidman


Songs From The Violet Cafe by Fiona Kidman
First published by Random House New Zealand in 2003. Aardvark Bureau edition published in the UK on the 2nd January 2017 (Paperback edition due on 16th Jan 2017).

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

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

New Zealand, 1943. Violet Trench crosses Lake Rotorua with a small boy, Wing Lee, but rows back alone. Twenty years later, the same body of water is the scene of an event that will have lasting repercussions for Violet and her employees at the cafe she runs now on the lake shore. The lives of these young people will diverge, their paths to independence taking them as far apart as Cambodia and the USA, but Violet’s influence will continue to mark both those who leave and those who stay behind.

I am blogging this particular review today to coincide with my WorldReads from New Zealand post over on my Stephanie Jane blog.

I am delighted to have discovered Fiona Kidman's writing through Songs From The Violet Cafe as I absolutely loved every page of this book. It primarily portrays a community which feels very much of its time (1963) and with a strong sense of New Zealand too. Kidman vividly describes town and rural landscapes around Lake Rotorua as well as having great insight into the characters living there. For such a wide open area, I felt a very real sense of claustrophobia within the town. Characters from distant lands seem able to comfortably settle, but many born there strive to escape, particularly the young women.

This is very much a novel of relationships and how the effects of our interactions with each other ripple out across both time and distance. As well as the 1960s, we see glimpses of Violet and the others twenty years earlier and up to forty years later which I thought added significant depth and poignancy to the central story. Sometimes the era was tricky to establish. Some 1960s attitudes were very much of the 1940s, or earlier, whereas Violet's Cafe seemed almost shockingly modern in contrast. Kidman's measured writing is beautifully elegant and in keeping with Violet's upmarket aspirations which I think she was trying to pass on to her 'girls'. Their lives didn't have to be constrained to home and children and it was fascinating to see, decades later, what became of those who survived and what had made Violet into the woman she was. A truly wonderful novel.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Fiona Kidman / Historical fiction / Books from New Zealand