Saturday, 30 June 2018

The Shape Of The Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

The Shape Of The Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vasquez
First published in Spanish as La forma de las ruinas by Penguin in 2015. English language translation by Anne McLean published in the UK by MacLehose Press on the 3rd May 2018.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Stairs and WorldReads: Columbia

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Shape of the Ruins is Vásquez's most ambitious, challenging and rewarding novel to date. His previous novel, The Sound of Things Falling, won Spain's Alfaguara Prize, Italy's Von Rezzori Prize and the 2014 Dublin IMPAC literary Award.
It takes the form of personal and formal investigations into two political assassinations - the murders of Rafael Uribe Uribe in 1914, the man who inspired García Márquez's General Buendia in One Hundred Years of Solitude, and of the charismatic Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, the man who might have been Colombia's J.F.K., gunned down on the brink of success in the presidential elections of 1948. Separated by more than 30 years, the two murders at first appear unconnected, but as the novel progresses Vásquez reveals how between them they contain the seeds of the violence that has bedevilled Colombia ever since.

I really wasn't sure whether The Shape Of The Ruins was going to be a good book for me and for probably about the first third of it I was more ploughing through than avidly page turning. I freely admit that 1940s Colombia would not be my Mastermind subject and I felt I needed to have had a basic grounding in who was who, at least, in order to not be as overwhelmed as I was initially. Vasquez does explain where he can, but this book starts out quite drily with what I would describe as a very male style of writing. Despite ostensibly being fiction, true life men such as the assassinated Gaitan take centre stage and there are many names appearing one after another after another. I wanted these men to be fully fleshed out so that I could remember them when they reappeared a chapter or two later. Unfortunately this didn't always happen.

There are numerous commonalities with Elza: The Girl (Sergio Rodrigues) in that both books are fictionalised true crime set in Latin American countries; Brazil for Elza, Colombia for The Shape Of The Ruins. Each story explores conspiracy theories surrounding the deaths and, as an old X Files fan, I do like a good shady background! For me, this took off when Vasquez switches his focus from Gaitan's assassination to that of Uribe Uribe in 1915. Suddenly it was as though I was reading a different book! Characters leap of the page and I was totally absorbed in the tale of how a young Bogotan lawyer, Anzola, had attempted to discover and publicise The Truth. Political shenanigans, the workers uniting, unreliable witnesses, police brutality, it's all vividly portrayed and I was easily caught up in the excitement and danger. This engagement continued right to the end of The Shape Of The Ruins so I would advise any other readers struggling early on to stick with it. (Although if you love the first half, you might conversely then lose enthusiasm later on!)

I'm still not sure why Vasquez wrote himself in as the central narrating character, or gave this character his name at any rate. It did make the book feel more like real history than reading a novel, but also meant I was less sure where the lines between the truth, a Truth, and fiction should be drawn. I suspect that was the point!

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Juan Gabriel Vasquez / Historical fiction / Books from Colombia

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

The Occasional Virgin by Hanan Al-Shaykh

The Occasional Virgin by Hanan Al-Shaykh
English language translation by Catherine Cobham published in the UK by Bloomsbury on the 14th June 2018.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Swimming

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository : from £13.88 (HB)
Wordery : from £11.13 (HB)
Waterstones : from £16.99 (HB)
Amazon : from $11.18 / £5.90 (used PB)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

Huda and Yvonne are on holiday in the Italian Riviera, enjoying the sun and the sparkling Mediterranean, reminiscent of their childhoods in Lebanon. Yvonne doesn't know what she's doing wrong, either there or back in London where she runs an ad agency – she seems to spend her time waiting for the right man to come along and not leave again just as quickly. Her friend Huda has no problems in this department, only she isn't really interested in her effect on men – till Hisham comes along. But it isn't love spurring Huda on, it's her desire to teach him a lesson. Because while you can't escape your past, you can perhaps avenge it. 

Frank, funny and fearless, The Occasional Virgin is the colourful, wickedly entertaining story of two unforgettable women and the lengths we'll go to for love.

The Occasional Virgin is an unusual novel that focuses on the, frankly, odd choices made by two outwardly successful women. Both are originally Lebanese, but emigrated in adulthood to Toronto and London respectively. The novel felt as though it naturally fell into three sections of which I loved the first. Muslim Huda and Christian Yvonne are holidaying together in a wonderfully evoked Italian seaside town. We see their reminiscences about their Lebanese childhoods which are dominated by similar repressive outlooks towards women - regardless of their families' differing religions. We also get to join the women simply enjoying the prospect of a holiday romance and eyeing up the local talent. Up until this point, I was happy reading and felt I understood the characters well. I didn't necessarily agree with all their decisions and opinions, but I had settled in for a good read.

When the action switches to London however, I soon felt as though I must have accidentally picked up a different book. There's a convoluted scene set in Speaker's Corner which starts out making some excellent points about tolerance and people's right to make their own lifestyle choices. This leads into a weird triangle with both Huda and Yvonne narrowing their sights towards the same man. Don't be fooled by the synopsis though - this isn't love. One is driven by spite and the other by a blinding desire to get pregnant. I was disappointed that the interesting, rounded characters from Italy were abruptly flung into quite bizarre situations and I struggled to understand their decisions - particularly Huda's - due to a lack of realistic motivation. Would a woman really go through such a lengthy charade?

Possibly if I were Lebanese myself, or at least had a strong understanding of Arabic upbringings for girls, I might have made more sense of what happens. I look forward to reading some #OwnVoices reviews in due course which might help me. In the meantime though, I would highly recommend reading this book as an Italian holiday novella, but maybe then let Huda and Yvonne go on their way without following them!

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Hanan Al-Shaykh / Contemporary fiction / Books from Lebanon

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Manipulated Lives by H A Leuschel

Manipulated Lives by H A Leuschel
Self published in June 2016.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Hands  and included in my Vegan Bookshop

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository : from £7.99 (PB)
Wordery : from £7.98 (PB)
Waterstones : unavailable
Amazon : from $4 / £2.99 (ebook)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

Five compelling true-to-life stories each highlighting a narcissist’s manipulative mind games

Narcissists are everywhere. 
They can be witty, charming and highly charismatic.
Anyone can be their target.

At first their devious, calculating mind games can be hard to spot because they are masters of disguise, but then they revert to their true self of being controlling and angry in private. Their main aim: to dominate and use others to satisfy their needs, with a complete lack of compassion and empathy for their victim. 

All stories highlight to what extent narcissistic abuse can distort lives and threaten our self-worth yet ultimately, also send a positive message that once the narcissist is unmasked, the victims can at last break free.

Author Interview with Helene:

Why did you write Manipulated Lives?
I decided to write the book, after witnessing first-hand the psychological damage that a narcissistic manipulator did to a close relative. Most manipulators are very shrewd, and research shows that it’s all too easy for a person to fall under their subtle control, with many victims not even realizing this. I didn’t want to write a self-help book as such, but short fictional psychological thrillers, that would hopefully not only be compelling to read, but would highlight the tell-tale signs of narcissistic abuse and its consequences via fictional true to life scenarios.

Who would want to read this book?
Manipulated Lives would appeal to people who have experienced narcissistic abuse or know someone who is possibly under the threat of being drawn into a toxic relationship. I’ve also been told by readers that it made them question their own relationships…could they have a partner, family member, friend or work colleague manipulating them? It would also appeal to readers with an interest in psychology and personality disorders in particular, as well as fans of psychological thrillers.

Having previously read Leuschel's stand-alone novella, My Sweet Friend, I was keen to experience more work from this author and delighted to get a copy of Manipulated Lives. The five stories in this collection explore narcissistic personalities from the points of view of these people's victims, the narcissists themselves and, in my favourite story, My Perfect Child, in the words of a mother who blames herself for her son's abusive behaviour. I love Leuschel's ability not only to understand human behaviour and motivation, but also to put this knowledge across to readers without her stories feeling at all like lectures or preaching. It helps that she has a deft hand for characterisation whether that be portraying an elderly, isolated care home resident (in Tess And Tattoos) or a naive teenager's first love (in Runaway Girl). These chilling stories are gripping reading in their own right, and I like that they can also serve almost as a kind of morality tale showing us potentially intimidating behaviours to be on the lookout for in other people and also how we might be subconsciously attracting narcissistic personalities to ourselves.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by H A Leuschel / Short stories / Books from Belgium

Monday, 25 June 2018

The Fear Of Being Eaten by Ronald J Wichers + #Giveaway

The Fear of Being Eaten: A Biography of the Heart by Ronald J. Wichers

Category: Adult Fiction, 264 pages
Genre: Literature & Fiction, Genre Fiction, Biographical
Publisher: Mindstir Media
Release date: April 26, 2017
Tour dates: June 25 to July 20, 2018
Content Rating: PG-13 + M

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository : from £11.68 (PB)
Wordery : from £11.68 (PB)
Waterstones : from £11.68 (PB)
Amazon : from $7.25 / £5.35 (ebook)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

Add The Fear Of Being Eaten to your Goodreads

​Book Description:

What if you married a man who didn’t care about you? What if there was a child in the neighborhood for whom you developed a special fondness but was nine when you were nineteen and twenty when you were thirty with two children and a husband who still didn’t care? And what if you were a boy whose only happy memories were a few soft words uttered now and again by a beautiful neighbor ten years your senior and whose voice and face and figure, back-lighted by the golden light of the setting sun, were all that would sustain you when your life was threatened every minute of every day in the mire of a squalid war nobody wanted?

This is the story of Jacqueline and Tommy, their lives stubbornly paralleling with no convergence in sight until one cold night she sees him starving to death on a crowded street filled with happy tourists.

What would you do if you saw him there almost unrecognizable, just another mass of neglected, invisible wreckage? Turn the pages of The Fear of Being Eaten: A Biography of the Heart and find out what happened to Jacqueline Rhondda and Tommy Middleton.

To follow the tour, please visit Ronald J. Wicher's page on iRead Book Tours.

​Watch the book trailer:​

Meet the Author:

Ronald J. Wichers was born in Lake Ronkonkoma New York in 1947. He attended Catholic School until 1965, studied History and literature at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas until being drafted into the United States Army in 1970. He was assigned to a rifle company in the 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam and, after sustaining severe wounds in a gun battle, including the loss of his left arm, was awarded the Purple Heart Medal, the Army Commendation Medal for Heroism and the Bronze Star Medal. He later studied theology full time at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley California. He has published several short stories about the Vietnam war. The Fear of Being Eaten: A Biography of the Heart is his fifth novel.

Connect with the author:

Enter the Giveaway!
Win an ebook copy of The Fear of Being Eaten (open to USA & Canada - 2 winners)
Ends July 28, 2018

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Ronald J Wichers / Contemporary fiction / Books from America

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Swallowtail by Sheri Meshal

Swallowtail by Sheri Meshal
Self published in America in September 2012.

Literary Flits Spotlight Giveaway Winner

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository : from £9.76 (PB)
Wordery : from £9.58 (PB)
Waterstones : unavailable
Amazon : from $3.06 / £2.18 (ebook)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

Add Swallowtail to your Goodreads

Chicago wife, mother and finance executive Claire Cummings, arrives at work one morning to discover her friend Julia has embezzled millions and vanished. Blindsided and devastated by the betrayal, she’s sent home pending further investigation. Claire’s bizarre death the following day sends everyone reeling, guessing and looking for her in all the wrong places. In no time she's addicted to an enchanting menagerie of tricks and techniques for getting the living's attention, but most people are harder to reach than she'd ever dreamed and even harder to set free. 

She was still a mother, a wife, a daughter and a friend... she'd move heaven and earth to keep it that way.

Sheri Meshal’s Swallowtail is a haunting story about life, love, loss and just how far we’ll go to control it all.

This debut from a thought-provoking new voice in fiction begs the question… what would you do if all the rules changed, and you were suddenly bestowed powers beyond your greatest imagination?

Meet The Author
Swallowtail was inspired by bizarre events which occurred shortly after Sheri Meshal's father passed away in 1998. The two had engaged in countless conversations regarding the possibility of life after death and enjoyed sharing books on the subject years before he was diagnosed with lung cancer. After too many unexplainable events, Sheri realized had she died first, she would've done everything in her power to get her father's attention and show him all the things she could still do.

Sheri Meshal spent most of her childhood on an old farm in Iowa. She inherited her lifelong love of books from her father, who sensed she was a writer long before she did, and changed the course of her life by telling her so. A minimalist, Sheri currently lives in Chicago sans furniture with her dog, Kylee and her roommate and fellow writer, Mack Oliver. When she isn’t writing, she’s hanging out with all of her nieces and nephews every chance she gets.

Visit Sheri's website

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Sheri Meshal / Religion and spirituality / Books from America

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Ibn Fadlan And The Land Of Darkness

Ibn Fadlan And The Land Of Darkness
Written in the 920s. English language translation by Paul Lunde and Caroline Stone published in the UK by Penguin in July 2012.

My third Classics Club Challenge read, I for my 2018 Alphabet Soup Challenge, and featured in WorldReads: Iraq

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository (PB)
Wordery (PB)
Waterstones (PB)
Amazon (ebook)

In 922 AD, an Arab envoy from Baghdad named Ibn Fadlan encountered a party of Viking traders on the upper reaches of the Volga River. In his subsequent report on his mission he gave a meticulous and astonishingly objective description of Viking customs, dress, table manners, religion and sexual practices, as well as the only eyewitness account ever written of a Viking ship cremation.

Between the ninth and fourteenth centuries, Arab travellers such as Ibn Fadlan journeyed widely and frequently into the far north, crossing territories that now include Russia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Their fascinating accounts describe how the numerous tribes and peoples they encountered traded furs, paid tribute and waged wars. This accessible new translation offers an illuminating insight into the world of the Arab geographers, and the medieval lands of the far north.

I feel very privileged to be able to read such ancient texts as Ahmad Ibn Fadlan's travel memoir and the other writings that make up this volume. Even in translation - and I think Lunde and Stone have done a brilliant job here - the Arabic travellers' voices shine through and it is fascinating to think that Ibn Fadlan's account was written eleven centuries ago! I was already aware of Danish Vikings invading and settling in the UK and Ireland, but didn't know they had wrought havoc right on down to what is now Portugal and Spain, or that their Swedish compatriots had journeyed east and south into Jewish and Islamic lands. Known to Arabic writers as the 'Rus', these Vikings (who would become Russians) displayed wonderfully outrageous and uncouth behaviour in the eyes of the pious and fastidious Muslim envoy. I could almost imagine Ibn Fadlan's raised eyebrows, but he strives to still record an unbiased and factual account of these strange northern warriors.

This Penguin edition would probably be best read as a paper book because its maps are only at the beginning - fine to keep a finger in the page of a paperback, but infuriating in an ebook! My geographical knowledge is well-known to be useless so I frequently struggled to remember where all the various kingdoms and empire boundaries were. As well as Ibn Fadlan's account, we also get to read an account written some two centuries later of similar travels by Abu Hamid al-Andalusi. The lands are much the same, but the ruling tribes and their religious beliefs have changed and this continues through the third section of short writings by a number of other travellers. I found the short accounts hard going by the end as there is extensive overlapping of observations and ideas with some writers 'quoting' (or copying!) their forerunners. Fact and folklore often blend too and there are hints of tall stories starting to come in - were the sled dogs really as big as donkeys?

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Ahmad Ibn Fadlan / Travel books / Books from Iraq

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Sour Apple by Jerzy Szyłak and Joanna Karpowicz

Sour Apple by Jerzy Szyłak and Joanna Karpowicz
First published by Timof Comics as Kwaśne jabłko in Polish in Poland in 2017. English language translation by Bartek Biedrzycki and Pawel Timofiejuk published by Europe Comics on the 18th April 2018.

Featured in WorldReads: Poland

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository (unavailable)
Wordery (unavailable)
Europe Comics
Amazon (unavailable)

By all appearances they are a happy couple. Married, religious, hardworking. What happens behind closed doors, however, is a secret, even to those closest to them. “Kwaśne jabłko” (Sour Apple), written by Jerzy Szyłak and illustrated by Joanna Karpowicz, tells a story of domestic abuse, a story of a victim and persecutor. This story of violence spiraling out of control brings no hope, instead playing on emotions and powerful illustrations, painted with acrylic on canvas-textured paper, to create a unique atmosphere of horror. It is violence as seen by a painter.

In truth, no one would like to hear this kind of story, and yet such stories are told, and need to be told. They need to be told because they happen to real people, be they old or young, educated or uneducated, pious or atheist. None of these people wants to take a bite from the sour apple in the basket. However, it happens to some. That is why such stories must be told.

I read Sour Apple several days before putting this review together which is unusual for me because I usually know pretty much what I want to say about a book within a day or so. This one has had me repeatedly changing my thoughts and opinions. Sour Apple is an unflinching story of domestic abuse behind closed doors. We see an unnamed woman change from a happily married bride, grateful to God for her good fortune, to a perpetually fearful and isolated wife who is left only with her God to talk to. Even the prospect of bringing a child into this violent household does not spur her beyond only dreaming of escape. Karpowicz's graphic artwork forces the reader to practically see every punch and bruise, yet without us being allowed to intervene. This makes for a horribly powerful reading experience.

I felt very uncomfortable with Sour Apple's seeming acceptance of the woman's predicament and at times also wondered if I was supposed to be 'enjoying' seeing the damage inflicted upon her. Is the story saying that married women should endure whatever their husbands choose to inflict upon them? The husband repeatedly apologises, but in reality makes no attempt to change his behaviour and the wife appears to shun any attempts at outside assistance. I saw that this abuse would potentially continue unchanged for years which is reflective of many such relationships in real life, but I wanted a positive resolution for this story. Instead I am still unsure as to how I am meant to react to this work.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Jerzy Szylak and Joanna Karpowicz / Graphic novels / Books from Poland

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Dead Is Better by Jo Perry

Dead Is Better by Jo Perry
Published by Fahrenheit Press in 2016.
Get a 20% Off Coupon when you Buy Direct from Fahrenheit Press!

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Dogs

How I got this book:
Received a free ebook via a publisher's promotion

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository : from £6.95 (PB)
Wordery : from £5.63 (PB)
Fahrenheit Press : from $1 / £0.99 (ebook)
Amazon : from $2.70 / £1.99 (ebook)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

Charles Stone has just woken up dead. Well he’s pretty sure he’s dead, what with the bullet holes in his chest and all. He also appears to be totally alone in the after-life except for the ghostly dog who seems to be his new companion. Unable to interact with the world of the living other than watching and listening, he and the dead dog (whom he names Rose) have nothing to do and all the time in the world to do it. 

When Charles and Rose try to unravel the circumstances of Charles's death, they uncover a criminal who is raking in millions of dollars by cruelly exploiting, and sometimes killing, his victims. 

But what difference can a ghost make? 
And what does the damn dog have to do with any of this?

Dead Is Better is an unusual take on the cosy(ish) mystery genre in that its protagonist, the unfortunate Charles, narrates from beyond the grave and because he doesn't initially have any idea what he is meant to do. Stuck in some kind of limbo existence, Charles and his new silent dog friend gently float around Los Angeles following what may or may not be leads (no pun intended). This story was very different to my normal bookish fare and, while I mostly enjoyed the story, there just wasn't really enough for me to get my teeth into. I felt that Charles' detachment from the world at large carried on to me as a reader so I wasn't able to get into the story as much as I would have liked to. Another problem for me is that Dead Is Better has short chapters, each of which begins with a death-related quote from another book or famous person. I initially liked the quotes idea, but soon found that I had to deliberately skip them because they kept dragging me out of the main story. It's difficult to maintain atmosphere when it feels like reading two books simultaneously! As a light mystery tale, Dead Is Better was diverting, but I don't think the premise is strong enough to carry on into a further series.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Jo Perry / Crime fiction / Books from America

Monday, 18 June 2018

The Devil's Elixirs by E T A Hoffmann

The Devil's Elixirs by E T A Hoffmann
First published in German in Germany in 1816. English language translation by Ronald Taylor first published by John Calder in 1963.

My second Classics Club Challenge read and my Book Of The Month for June 2018

How I got this book:
Bought from a charity shop

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository : from £6.49 (PB)
Wordery : from £5.63 (PB)
Waterstones : from £8.99 (HB)
Amazon : from $1.47 / £0.01 (used PB)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

The son of a heinous sinner, Medardus is brought up in a monastery to atone for his father's wicked ways. However, after succumbing to temptation, Medardus himself is lured into a life of sin. A labyrinthine plot sees him embarking on a fantastical journey into the world, meeting his doppelganger, involving himself in a game of double impersonation, and becoming embroiled in murderous intrigues at the Vatican, before the mysterious curse hanging over him and his family is finally explained. First published in 1815, "The Devil's Elixirs" is a macabre masterpiece of German literature, and is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the Romantic movement, or the genres of fantasy and horror which it spawned.

Labyrinthine is certainly the word for the plot of this dark mystery! Its narrative snakes around, sometimes circling, sometimes doubling back on itself, so I was often absolutely bewildered as to whether I was following Medardus or his doppelganger, yet The Devil's Elixirs keeps up an excellent pace throughout so I found it a gripping read. In fact, considering this novel is now over two hundred years old, there is a remarkable lack of superfluous chat and diversions. I guess even Hoffmann had to keep his mind on the journey or he would have lost the thread himself!

Narrated in the first person by Medardus, an ambitious young man who is prone to vanity and pomposity, The Devil's Elixirs could be set in pretty much any time period from the mid-medieval until its actual time of writing. It has a kind of timeless, dark fairytale quality and I was reminded of my teenage Dennis Wheatley-reading phase - I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Wheatley had read Hoffmann. I loved supporting roles such as the irrepressible Italian barber-dwarf Belcampo and the Prince who flits from fad to fad in order to keep himself entertained. The female characters are, perhaps unsurprisingly for a book of this vintage, less convincing and their only being seen though Medardus' eyes renders them too stereotypically for my 21st century tastes - essentially mother figures or temptress virgins. However, if you can get past The Devil's Elixirs reflecting social standards of two centuries ago (and not just towards women) then it is an intriguing and engrossing light-horror mystery.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by E T A Hoffmann / Horror fiction / Books from Germany

Sunday, 17 June 2018

A Taker of Morrows by Stephen Paul Sayers + Giveaway

A Taker of Morrows by Stephen Paul Sayers
Published in America by Hydra Publications on the 31st May 2018.

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository : unavailable
Wordery : unavailable
Waterstones : unavailable
Amazon : from $5.02 / £3.77 (ebook)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

Add A Taker Of Morrows to your Goodreads

RG Granville has his whole life in front of him…but only twenty-four hours to live it.

Beyond life’s boundaries, an enduring battle between good and evil determines the fate of earthly souls. Here, ‘caretakers’ guard and protect against the evil and vengeful ‘jumpers’ who slip back and forth between worlds to prey upon the living.

For one man, news of his impending demise sets off a deadly chain of events fueled by a jumper’s burning vengeance. Now he’s in a race against time to stop an unrelenting evil unleashed upon the earth. And if he’s to protect his family, and the world, he must breach the tenuous boundary between life and death to confront a killer—and a shocking secret from his long-buried past.

Q&A with Stephen Paul Sayers, author of A Taker of Morrows

Q: What’s your new novel, A Taker of Morrows, about?
A: It’s about a man who’s visited by a stranger, who tells him he’s got twenty-four hours to live. You see, deaths are scheduled and schedules must be kept. In his desperate attempt to stay alive, he discovers the world isn’t what he thought it was, that it’s actually a battleground between the forces of good and evil from the afterlife, a place where ‘caretakers’ protect earthly souls and ‘jumpers’ prey on them…and now he’s become the prey. And if he’s to keep himself and his family alive, he must straddle the boundary between worlds and face the secrets of his past.

In a broader sense, it’s really a story about the nature of life and death, and the eternal price paid for what we carry in our souls.

Q: What inspired you to be a writer?
A: I never set out to be a writer, but after a challenge from my daughter, Kaylee, I decided to write her a novel. I figured I’d write something for her, give it to her some holiday or birthday, and it would collect dust on her bookshelf. But when I started writing, a switch turned on inside me, something I’d never felt before, igniting a passion I didn’t know I had. It helped me finally figure out what I wanted to be when I grow up.
But more importantly, it has solidified a real bond between my daughter and me. She’s an amazing writer who has a full length novel under her belt at age seventeen. We now have this shared thing we do together. We talk about story ideas, read each other’s work. She gave me this great idea in A Taker of Morrows that became a key to the series in my opinion. So, she’s my inspiration.

Q: Why do you write in the genre that you do?
A: My brother and I watched horror movies all the time when we were kids. I think the 70s and 80s were a golden age of horror movies – and we got really into it. That’s also when I discovered Stephen King, and I read just about everything he wrote. That was my base, and no matter what different literary roads I may travel, I always veer back into the genre. Even the horror books I read today transport me back to childhood and reignite those feelings again.

Q: What do you enjoy reading and who are your favorite authors?
A: I have so many authors I love reading in so many genres. I grew up on a steady diet of Stephen King and Peter Straub, so I got a good horror base. I’m also a big fan of a new generation of horror writers, Joe Hill, Paul Cornell, J. Lincoln Fenn, and Paul Tremblay, so I definitely get my fill. I also love writers of suspense and thrillers, especially Jo Nesbo, Dennis LeHane and Randy Wayne White. I’ve recently discovered Melissa Lenhardt’s “Jack McBride” mystery series, which sort of borders on chick lit, and yet I really like it. So, bottom line, I read just about anything.

Q: What do you hope your readers will take away from your work?
A: Horror and thriller fiction should be entertaining, number one. I want readers of my work to feel as if the time spent between the pages was a good investment. If they can escape from their world for a few hours, connect to my characters, and feel like they’ve made some friends they’re going to miss when they turn the final page, then I’ve done my job.

Q: On a lighter note, what are the top five things on your bucket list?
A: Hopefully, I’m not in ‘bucket list’ territory yet, but here goes:
1. Cage dive with the Cape Cod great white sharks
2. Stroll across the Abbey Road crosswalk
3. Drive to Graceland in an RV
4. Own a 1967 Mercury Cougar XR7 convertible
5. Gain the advantage over my Gibson SG

Excerpt from A Taker Of Morrows:

“Hello, Robert.” The stranger advanced toward him. “You’re late.”
RG steadied himself against the entryway table as his heart lurched in his chest, the air thickening like a smothering rag over his face. With gradual boldness, he slid his arm against the wall and triggered the light switch. “What the hell—?”
“I feared we’d missed each other,” the man interrupted. “That would have been a shame. You see, we have a problem to discuss.” His face hardened as he stepped forward, shoes clicking on the hardwood floor.
RG’s pulse quickened. “Who are you?”
“I wish I didn’t have to be here, Robert.” The stranger unfolded his hands from behind his back and stepped forward, “but I have a job to do.”
As the man advanced, RG backpedaled, snatching the old-school, wooden baseball bat stashed behind the coat rack. He never imagined grabbing the lumber for anything other than Tuesday night softball, but now found himself flapping it back and forth in a hardwood batter’s box.
The man took another step. “Death has come for you,” he said, shaking his head, “and no Louisville Slugger will stop it.”

Meet the Author

Stephen Paul Sayers grew up on the sands of Cape Cod and spent his first thirty-five years in New England before joining the University of Missouri as a research professor. When he’s not in his laboratory, he spends his time writing and devouring his favorite forms of genre fiction—horror, suspense, and thrillers. His short fiction has appeared in Unfading Daydream. A Taker of Morrows is his debut novel and the first in the planned Caretakers series.

Throughout his journey, he has accumulated five guitars, four herniated discs, three academic degrees, two dogs, and one wife, son, and daughter. He divides his time between Columbia, Missouri and Cape Cod writing and teaching.

Author links:
Website ~ Facebook ~ TwitterGoodreads ~ Amazon

And now for the giveaway!
Open internationally until the 21st June, the prize is a $25 Amazon gift card.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Books by Stephen Paul Sayers / Horror fiction / Books from America

Friday, 15 June 2018

Doom Gloom And The Pursuit Of The Sun by Antoine F Gnintedem + Giveaway

Doom, Gloom, and the Pursuit of the Sun by Antoine F. Gnintedem
Category: Adult Fiction, 208 pages
Genre: Biographical Fiction
Publisher: Createspace
Release date: February 7, 2018
Tour dates: June 11 to 22, 2018
Content Rating: PG (No f-words, some mild profanity, and mild religious expletives such as "damn", "hell" and "Oh God!", some depictions of brief sexual content.)

How I got this book:
Received a review copy via iRead Book Tours

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository : from £14.15 (PB)
Wordery : from £14.89 (PB)
Waterstones : unavailable
Amazon : from $9.95 / £7.22 (ebook)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

Add Doom Gloom And The Pursuit Of The Sun to your Goodreads

Book Description:

The town is famous in the region for its chronic stillness...Consequently, every ambitious person who grows up there eventually leaves in search of better opportunities.

Life in Mbengwi, Cameroon, is not easy for Austin-or for anyone else. While growing up, he bears witness to the worst parts of life and the cruelties of human nature. These things keep his homeland trapped in a cycle of misery and suffering. In a country overrun by poverty, death, unrest, and corruption, he sees no future for himself. The only way to escape the cycle is to flee to a place Austin believes to be free of all these troubles, a place where he hopes his dreams will come true: the United States of America.

However, when Austin arrives in this supposed promised land, he is met with a crushing revelation. He finds America to be rife with all the same problems he thought he'd escaped, merely in different forms. Rather than give in to disappointment, he decides to combat these obstacles with a firm resolve. Before long, though, these obstacles threaten to overwhelm him. This realization prompts Austin to rethink how he sees the world and the challenges it throws at him.

I was interested to read Doom Gloom And The Pursuit Of The Sun because I don't know much about Cameroon and wanted to learn more about the country and its culture. Gnintedem writes in a factual style so for me this book felt more like reading an essay than a novel. This reporting style took a bit of getting used to and I was often surprised by abrupt stops or swerves in the story. He also doesn't go in much for descriptive paragraphs or characterisations so, while Austin's life story zips past at an almost thriller pace which is exciting, I struggled to picture the settings or to fully imagine the people surrounding him.

Austin is a wonderfully precocious child and his persistent determination to gain scholarly success leads him to break new educational ground for his family - the first to attend university - and then to forge a new life alone in America. I enjoyed following the ups and downs of Austin's life. This is often a morality tale as much as it is 'biographical fiction'. Austin's shallow attitude to women and sexual carelessness eventually results in an unsuccessful marriage and his lack of financial responsibility nearly leads him to bankruptcy. These near disasters allow us to briefly glimpse an emotional Austin and I would have liked more of this depth.

To read further reviews, please visit Antoine F. Gnintedem's page on iRead Book Tours.

Meet the Author:

Antoine F. Gnintedem is a renowned educator both in the United States and across the world. As a linguistic consultant, he has worked for the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security. In addition, he has served as an educational assessment expert for leading national and international testing companies. His academic achievements include a PhD in English language and literature and another doctorate in educational leadership.

Connect with the author: Twitter ~ Facebook 

Enter the Giveaway!
Win a copy of Doom, Gloom and the Pursuit of the Sun (print or gifted Kindle - USA only / 1 winner) or a $10 GC (open internationally to wherever Amazon delivers / 1 winner)
Ends June 30, 2018

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Books by Antoine F Gnintedem / Contemporary fiction / Books from Cameroon

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Nowhere To Be Found by Bae Suah

Nowhere To Be Found by Bae Suah
First published in Korean as Cheolsu in South Korea in 1998. English language translation by Sora Kim-Russell published by AmazonCrossing in April 2015.

Featured in WorldReads: South Korea

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository
Amazon US / Amazon UK

A nameless narrator passes through her life, searching for meaning and connection in experiences she barely feels. For her, time and identity blur, and all action is reaction. She can't quite understand what motivates others to take life seriously enough to focus on anything--for her existence is a loosely woven tapestry of fleeting concepts. From losing her virginity to mindless jobs and a splintered, unsupportive family, the lessons learned have less to do with the reality we all share and more to do with the truth of the imagination, which is where the narrator focuses to discover herself.

I particularly liked the day when the woman takes chicken to her soldier boyfriend as this episode summed up a lot of the book for me. She treks many miles unsuitably dressed for the cold, is messed around by officials leading to more hours journeying, her boyfriend completely fails to acknowledge the efforts she has made, and yet her ultimate reaction is incredibly conservative considering the provocation. I found this almost-acceptance of her life very sad to read. The somewhat stark use of language reinforces the whole feel of the book for me - it is what it is.

I think I did miss out on some of the subtleties of Nowhere To Be Found by my not having a great knowledge of Korean culture and daily life. The speeches about anti-weapons demonstrations seemed awkward to me. However, the impersonal message that we cannot escape our predestination is an interesting one to ponder. The woman occasionally catches glimpses of herself passing by in a better life, but believes that reality cannot be hers. Her brother wants to try working in Japan but the travel costs seem insurmountable. Her mother is already resigned.

I enjoyed the opportunity to read this novella, actually reading it twice over two days. I think it could be taken very differently depending on the mood of the reader: a positive outlook seeing it as incentive to strive, a negative outlook seeing more of a reason why not to bother. Perhaps Nowhere To Be Found would make an interesting Book Club choice?

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Bae Suah / Contemporary fiction / Books from South Korea

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Status Anxiety by Alain De Botton

Status Anxiety by Alain De Botton
First published in the UK by Hamish Hamilton in March 2004.

How I got this book:
Borrowed from a friend

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository : from £8.99 (PB)
Wordery : from £8.29 (PB)
Waterstones : from £12.99 (HB)
Amazon : from $2.05 / £0.01 (used PB)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

We all worry about what others think of us. We all long to succeed and fear failure. We all suffer - to a greater or lesser degree, usually privately and with embarrassment - from status anxiety.

For the first time, Alain de Botton gives a name to this universal condition and sets out to investigate both its origins and possible solutions. He looks at history, philosophy, economics, art and politics - and reveals the many ingenious ways that great minds have overcome their worries. The result is a book that is not only entertaining and thought-provoking - but genuinely wise and helpful as well.

As someone who is consciously trying to step away from the West's predominantly consumer-driven lifestyles I am not De Botton's prime audience for this accessible philosophy work, however I still found a lot to interest me. I particularly liked his wide survey of historical attitudes to social status which looked at examples back to ancient Greece and Rome. It turns out that while what we believe will set us ahead of our peers has changed drastically, our need to consider ourselves just ahead of the pack is one of the basic tenets of our social systems. De Botton quotes from many previous philosophers and writers right back to Socrates, but also taking in the ideas of unexpected thinkers such as Jane Austen. This is one of those books that really needs to be studied as well as just read - although it does work well as a straight read-through - however I am now struggling to recall all the names and ideas that whirled through my brain only a couple of days ago! I would recommend Status Anxiety as excellent food for thought to anyone feeling stressed about 'keeping up with the Joneses' or with a nagging sense that the goal they are desperately striving for isn't perhaps working out to be as satisfying as they had hoped.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Alain De Botton / Philosophy books / Books from Switzerland

Monday, 11 June 2018

Poppy by Kat Flannery + Giveaway

Poppy (The Montgomery Sisters, Book 2) by Kat Flannery
Category: Adult Fiction, 170 pages
Genre: Historical western romance
Publisher: Picco Press
Release date: May 18, 2018
Tour dates: May 28 to June 15, 2018
Content Rating: PG

Add Poppy to your Goodreads

Poppy Montgomery has always been good with a gun and could fight her way out of anything. Tough as nails and a sharp shooter, her beauty deceives the outlaws she’s after.

Hot on the trail of the Clemmons gang, a group of outlaws who rob trains and killed an innocent woman and child a few months before, she is determined to make them pay for the sin’s they’ve committed by bringing them to justice.

Pinkerton, Noah Shaw is investigating a ring of stage robberies and knows the Clemmons gang is behind them. Told to track down the infamous redheaded bounty hunter, Noah gets more than he bargained for when he arrests Poppy for assault.

Handcuffed together the pair must work together to stop the robberies, and figure out who is behind them. But what happens when love interferes and thrusts Poppy into discovering emotions she never knew existed? Will she choose the solitude she’s always known or Noah’s sweet embrace?

To follow the tour, please visit Kat Flannery's page on iRead Book Tours.

My Review
Poppy is the second novella in the Montgomery Sisters trilogy and it focuses on the middle sister, Poppy, through the weeks she spends in the company of Noah Shaw, a Pinkerton who rescues her from a sticky situation. I couldn't empathise with Poppy as strongly as I did with Fern (in the first story) because this woman is very different from me. I didn't always understand her motivations although I was impressed at how she managed to continue in very physical escapades despite quite serious injuries. Nothing cramps Poppy's style! The story is a fun adventure which tries to put a modern twist onto the traditional Western gender roles. Noah is a good foil to Poppy and I could see how their romance might blossom despite her reticence on that score. I think I would actually have liked a longer book in order to get to know these characters better, but overall this was a satisfying read.

Meet the Author:

Kat Flannery’s love of history shows in her novels. She is an avid reader of historical, suspense, paranormal, and romance. She has her Certificate in Freelance and Business Writing.

A member of many writing groups, Kat enjoys promoting other authors on her blog. Kat enjoys teaching writing classes and giving back to other aspiring authors. She volunteers her time at the local library facilitating their writing group. She’s been published in numerous periodicals throughout her career

Her debut novel CHASING CLOVERS has been an Amazon Top 100 Paid bestseller. LAKOTA HONOR and BLOOD CURSE (Branded Trilogy) are Kat’s two award-winning novels and HAZARDOUS UNIONS is Kat’s first novella. Kat is currently hard at work on her next series, THE MONTGOMERY SISTERS.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook

Enter the Giveaway!
Win a $50 Amazon gift card (open internationally to wherever Amazon delivers / 1 winner)
Ends June 23, 2018

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Kat Flannery / Westerns / Books from America

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Small Country by Gael Faye

Small Country by Gael Faye
First published in French as Petit Pays in France by Editions Grasset in 2016. English language translation by Sarah Ardizzone published by Hogarth Press on the 7th June 2018.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Swimming

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository : from £10.42 (HB)
Wordery : from £9.91 (HB)
Waterstones : from £12.99 (HB)
Amazon : from $10.67 / £7.99 (ebook)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

Burundi, 1992. For ten-year-old Gabriel, life in his comfortable expat neighbourhood of Bujumbura with his French father, Rwandan mother and little sister, Ana, is something close to paradise. These are happy, carefree days spent with his friends sneaking cigarettes and stealing mangoes, swimming in the river and riding bikes in the streets they have turned into their kingdom. But dark clouds are gathering over this small country, and soon their peaceful idyll will shatter when Burundi and neighbouring Rwanda are brutally hit by war and genocide.

A haunting and luminous novel of extraordinary power, Small Country describes a devastating end of innocence as seen through the eyes of a young child caught in the maelstrom of history. It is a stirring tribute not only to a time of tragedy, but also to the bright days that came before it.

Small Country is a fairly short book, but one with a strong sense of its setting. At times I almost felt as though I was reading an autobiography because even cameo characters are vividly portrayed. Small Country does have elements in common with The Girl Who Smiled Beads (Clementine Wamariya) and The Running Man (Gilbert Tuhabonye) because of their Rwandan and Burundian war narratives, but I found this novel interesting because of its very different points of view towards the wars and resulting genocide.

Gabriel and his family live, essentially, in a white community so although his Maman is a black Rwandan woman, Gabriel's outlook is more guided by his white French Papa. The attitudes displayed by of most of the whites are frankly sickening and I quickly despised Papa for the way he spoke to Maman. This distancing of themselves from the country in which they live and in particular Papa's insistence on his children not learning about what is happening beyond his proscribed limits means Gabriel's childhood is even more of a fragile bubble than for most children I think, and the anticipation of that bubble bursting provides much of the tension within the story.

My only problem with this book, which is the same problem I had with Ponti (Sharlene Teo) is that Gabriel's story wasn't the most interesting one for me. Maman is a far more complex and conflicted character, yet she is often pushed aside by the author as well as by her family! However, overall, I enjoyed reading Small Country and look forward to discovering more of Faye's writing in due course.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Gael Faye / Contemporary fiction / Books from Rwanda