Saturday, 31 October 2020

Ghostileaks: 13 Tales of Terror Leaked from the Other Side! by M J Peter

Ghostileaks: 13 Tales of Terror Leaked from the Other Side! by M J Peter
Self published in August 2014.

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ghosts, demons… the undead... and more await you in GhostiLeaks! Join M.J. Peter on a terrifying supernatural adventure through thirteen chilling tales. An original blend of the author’s chilling real-life experiences and disturbing, vivid short stories - this is a frightening feast for ghost and horror lovers. Inspired by a lifelong quest for paranormal enlightenment, this is the strange and forbidden world… of GhostiLeaks.

I first posted this review on my Stephanie Jane blog in October 2015.

I discovered author M J Peter on Twitter and excitedly took advantage of his offer of a review copy of Ghostileaks as I had already read good comments about the short story collection. There are thirteen - unlucky for some! - tales in Ghostileaks and I liked Peter's sceptical narrator approach as this made each scenario somehow more believable. Although an indie publication, the writing is to a high standard with few typos. Each story is well paced to draw the reader in and the descriptions are wonderful: 'a surging swarm of home-time zombies besieged the pavement' is an example from The Investment which isn't a zombie story, simply describing the evening rush hour. I enjoyed unusual twists and turns that meant the story I expected to unfold was often different to its actual denouement so I was kept guessing. I think my favourites were The Sandman and Pause which is very well plotted. A nice touch throughout are the short notes after each tale describing their inception and inspiration. A couple are even true!

I was pleased that most of the horror in Ghostileaks is of the unsettling dread variety and there isn't any truly stomach-churning gore. Several stories kept me pondering after I had finished them, but fortunately none gave me lasting nightmares. The collection would be a perfect Halloween gift and ideal for reading aloud around a campfire!

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by M J Peter / Horror fiction / Books from England

Friday, 30 October 2020

Dance of Death: A Dr Basil Willing Mystery by Helen McCloy

Dance of Death: A Dr Basil Willing Mystery by Helen McCloy
First published in America by Heinemann in 1938. Republished by Agora Books on the 29th October 2020.

One of my Classics Club Challenge reads

How I got this book:
Received a review copy via NetGalley courtesy of Crime Classics

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Mrs Jocelyn,” said Basil, evenly, “the most disillusioning thing about being a psychiatrist is discovering how many kind relatives wish that other members of their family could be declared insane.”

When a New York socialite is found dead in a snow bank, no one can believe it is debutante Kitty Jocelyn – let alone that she has died of heatstroke.

How has she ended up here, dead, on the morning after her coming-out party? Why is she wearing someone else’s clothes? What was the cause of her fatal overdose? As the questions around Kitty’s death mount, psychologist Dr Basil Willing is brought in to get the the bottom of her death.

With the help of Inspector Foyle, the pair investigate their long list of suspects, motives, and clues to solve this blistering mystery.

Also published as Design for Dying, McCloy’s first novel in her Dr Basil Willing series is part of Agora Books’ Uncrowned Queens of Crime series.

I'd never heard of Helen McCloy prior to receiving my Crime Classics email newsletter this month which surprised me when looking at how many mystery novels she published during the Golden Age of crime fiction. I really enjoyed reading Dance Of Death, the first in McCloy's Dr Basil Willing series. The mystery itself was convoluted enough to keep me happily baffled and I appreciated that many of the fairly large cast of characters - especially the women - actually felt like authentic people rather than flat stereotypes. I could have done without the strange opening pages which gave us not only a list of the characters we would be meeting, together with notes on their foibles, physical appearance and relationships to each other, but also a list of the important clues to look out for and a note that readers would not need to be well versed in chemistry to fully appreciate this story! It all seemed to be giving too much away up front although I did find that there was still plenty left to get my teeth into.

I loved McCloy's lively writing style which still felt fresh over eighty years after the book's first publication. Dance Of Death keeps up a good pace throughout with my attention frequently being diverted in one direction or another. Dr Willing is an engaging lead voice and, being a psychologist rather than a detective, he often has a different take on suspects' behaviours that lends an interesting slant to proceedings. I have discovered several new-to-me classic crime authors over the past year or so as I delve deeper into the genre and Helen McCloy makes an excellent addition to my shortlist of authors to search out. I look forward to unravelling more of Dr Basil Willing's cases soon!

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Helen McCloy / Crime fiction / Books from America

Thursday, 29 October 2020

The Last Wolf and Herman by Laszlo Krasznahorkai

The Last Wolf and Herman by Laszlo Krasznahorkai
The Last Wolf was first published in Hungarian as Az utolso farkas in 2009. English language translation by George Szirtes published in 2009. Herman was first published in Hungarian as Hegyelmi Viszonyok in 1986. English language translation by John Batki in 2016. Collection published together by Tuskar Rock Press in the UK in 2017.

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In The Last Wolf, a philosophy professor is mistakenly hired to write the true tale of the last wolf of Extremadura, a barren stretch of Spain. His miserable experience is narrated in a single, rolling sentence to a patently bored bartender in a dreary Berlin bar. 

In Herman, a master trapper is asked to clear a forest's last 'noxious beasts.' Herman begins with great zeal, although in time he switches sides, deciding to track entirely new game... In Herman II, the same events are related from the perspective of strange visitors to the region, a group of hyper-sexualised aristocrats who interrupt their orgies to pitch in with the manhunt of poor Herman...

These intense, perfect novellas, full of Krasznhorkai's signature sense of foreboding and dark irony, are perfect examples of his craft.

On finishing reading The Last Wolf and Herman, I initially gave the book a four star rating because, while I loved both the novellas - or actually all three because Herman comprises of two novellas each telling the same story, but from wildly different perspectives - it took a while for everything to settle in my mind and, as Virginia Woolf so eloquently put it (in How Should One Read A Book?), for the true shape of the book to emerge. I saw that The Last Wolf and Herman had won the Man Booker International Prize and I had wondered how much that was influenced by the complex nature of Krasznahorkai's prose. The Last Wolf, for example, is a novella in one sentence! Admittedly it is a superlatively long sentence which, for someone like me who also tends to write in overlong sentences, would have been a perfect rebuke to my school English teacher, however it was daunting to begin with. Once I got into the style though I loved The Last Wolf and the single sentence device works wonderfully to illustrate how the babbling Professor is semi-drunkenly recounting his fantastic tale to a bored bartender who cannot escape him. I could clearly picture the Berlin bar and appreciated the extreme contrast between that claustrophobic setting and that of the wide Extremadura landscapes with which I am familiar although, sadly, only since the autopistas arrived.

Herman is an inspired idea for a mirrored tale and I didn't realise, until I came to write my review, just how long ago this story was written. It has a timelessness to it that really works alongside its portrait of a former animal trapper who goes rogue when he has a revelation about the life he has led up to that point and a way in which he can make amends. Krasznahorkai gets deeply into Herman's mental state so, while this is a grim tale due to the cruelties described, I found myself beginning to actually care about Herman - until the viewpoint switches anyway!

The more I think about these stories, the more I realise just how accomplished they are! Well worth a read for fans of quirky, darker fiction and experimental writing.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Laszlo Krasznahorkai / Novellas / Books from Hungary

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Endings by 'Abd Al-Rahman Munif

Endings by 'Abd Al-Rahman Munif
First published in Arabic in 1977. English language translation by Roger Allen published by Quartet Books in 1988. Republished by Interlink in March 2007.

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Drought. Drought again! When drought seasons come, things begin to change. Life and objects change. Humans change too, and no more so than in their moods.

It is not long before the reader of Endings discovers that this drought is not just an occasional condition but an enduring one, faced by a community on the edge of the desert, the village of al-Tiba. The exact location of this village remains undisclosed, thus, al-Tiba becomes a symbol for all villages facing nature unaided by modern technology. We hear of Abu Zaku, the village carpenter, of the Mukhtar, and above all of 'Assaf and his dog, and of the creatures which share the life of the community. But it is the people of al-Tiba as a group, who discuss and argue about their past, present, and future, and the forces of change. Endings is striking not only for its setting and narrative style, but for being a vivid commentary on the emergence of the modern city and its urban middle class.

Endings is certainly one of the stranger novels I have been lucky to encounter through my WorldReads project to read authors from all around the globe. First published in Arabic in the 1970s, it is a sharply observed portrait of an isolated desert village falling into neglect and decline as its younger generations depart in search of more affluent city lifestyles and destruction of the surrounding natural environment leaving the remaining villagers insufficiently capable of surviving a terrible drought. The novel's prose style however is close to that of traditional fairytale with very little in the way of character definition, or even naming of characters for the most part, and people's motivations often being unclear as they leap from one event to another. There is also a lengthy series of essentially unconnected short stories in the middle of the overarching tale that baffled me.

I'm not really sure how I feel about Endings overall! I did enjoy the novel itself, once it got up to speed, and was very appreciative of Munif's diversions to describe the natural world around al-Tiba. I had a strong sense of this village being a last bastion of an swiftly vanishing way of life and, on this score at least, I was strongly reminded of The Beast of Vacares by Jouse d'Arbaud which similarly portrays an almost-lost lifestyle based within a natural environment. Many of Endings scenes do portray hunting and I was interested in the obvious division in tone between descriptions of 'Assaf's lone forays on foot to bring back essential food for the villagers, and those of sporting excursions by cityfolk in their Land Rovers who are simply out to kill as many birds as they can find (animals such as gazelles already having been hunted to extinction).

Unfortunately I did struggle with several aspects of Endings. The lack of distinct characters, pretty much everyone other than 'Assaf, made it difficult for me to connect with the novel on an emotional level and I found it so hard to maintain my concentration through the thirteen short stories that I had lost my sense of Endings' atmosphere by the time the main story returned. I am glad to have had the opportunity to read Endings, but I think I needed more experience with this style of literature in order to fully understand and appreciate it.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Abd Al-Rahman Munif / Contemporary fiction / Books from Saudi Arabia

Sunday, 25 October 2020

The Story Of Prague by Count Francis Lutzow + #FreeBook

The Story Of Prague by Count Francis Lutzow
Published in the UK by J M Dent & Co in 1902.

How I got this book:
Downloaded an ebook copy Free from Project Gutenberg

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Prague at the Earliest Period
From the Reign of Charles IV. to the Executions at Prague in 1621
Prague in Modern Times
Churches and Monasteries
The Bohemian Museum
Walks in Prague
Walks and Excursions near Prague

The Story Of Prague would have been a handy little book to have discovered prior to my citybreak there three years ago. Its first sections do focus almost entirely on the hundreds of years of religious wars between various Christian factions that made Prague seem to be a very violent place from the late 900s up until the early 1700s. Periodic fights for the Bohemian crown added to the chaos and it's amazing that anything of historic Prague survives at all! Lutzow enlivens the dry facts with witty personal commentary so I wasn't as bored as I could have been, but it would have been nice to have learned more about the city than simply a long recounting of all the men who fought each other - just the noble men, obviously!

I was more interested in what Lutzow had to say about Prague as it would have appeared to his idea of the modern traveller - bearing in mind that this book was first published nearly one hundred and twenty years ago. He, of course, has no inkling of either World War although, with the benefit of hindsight, his repeated comments about Germanic desires to overrun the Bohemian people seem strangely prophetic. Lutzow himself seems obsessed with war and religion so even the chapter describing the Bohemian Museum dismisses in a few words all the prehistoric finds displayed there, before exhorting visitors to examine the armoury room in detail! My favourite chapter was that describing three proposed walks around various parts of the city. We did indeed follow part of Lutzow's route to the famed hilltop castle, but it would be fascinating to return to Prague now, antique guidebook in hand, and see how much of Lutzow's city remains intact.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Count Francis Lutzow / History books / Books from the Czech Republic

Saturday, 24 October 2020

Little Brutes by L N Nino

Little Brutes by L N Nino
Self published in 2015.

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This review was first published on my Stephanie Jane blog in 2015.

I received a free personalised copy of Little Brutes, a short story by L N Nino, as a thank you for signing up to his email newsletter. I first discovered his work through reading his novella The Brain Within Its Groove. I was pretty impressed then and so was delighted to be emailed a few days later with this offer. 

Little Brutes is a very short story, but contains a haunting vision of callous lives within its few pages. A mother and her son are left in extreme poverty when her husband is killed. The arrival of a baby tips the mother over the edge with heartrending consequences. I can't say too much here without giving away the tale but I think this is a great, sad story. It both shocked and moved me with its sharp depictions of three desperate people. I would highly recommend anyone who likes dark writing to give Nino a try.

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Books by L N Nino / Short stories / Books from America

Friday, 23 October 2020

This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga

This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga
First published in the USA by Graywolf Press in 2018. Published in the UK by Faber and Faber on the 15th September 2020.

A More Than One challenge read

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Here we meet Tambudzai, living in a run-down youth hostel in downtown Harare and anxious about her prospects after leaving a stagnant job. At every turn in her attempt to make a life for herself, she is faced with a fresh humiliation, until the painful contrast between the future she imagined and her daily reality ultimately drives her to a breaking point.

In this tense and psychologically charged novel, Tsitsi Dangarembga channels the hope and potential of one young girl and a fledgling nation to lead us on a journey to discover where lives go after hope has departed.

This Mournable Body is actually the third in a trilogy of novels, after Nervous Conditions which I read over two years ago and The Book Of Not which I haven't read. Fortunately, while having read the previous two books recently enough to remember them would probably be an advantage in gaining a deeper understanding of Tambudzai's life story and present predicament, I didn't actually ever feel as though I were missing out by not having this information easily accessible.

I would disagree with the synopsis in that Tambudzai is no longer a 'young girl' but very much a woman and a woman whose bitter disappointment at her life and future prospects is so overwhelming as to be damaging her mental health. In her blind determination to achieve a certain level of material success, she is unable to recognise how much more life has to offer even when examples such as her sister's marital happiness or her mother's village leadership are staring her in the face. For Tambudzai, anything that doesn't revolve around an affluent city businesswoman's situation is simply failure. 

For Dangarembga to make me care deeply about the predicament of an essentially selfish and unlikeable character is quite the achievement. I could understand how a combination of wartime psychological trauma and wholeheartedly swallowing the capitalist myths of her education had led Tambudzai to such an impasse that her mind was no longer capable of buoying her up against ghastly reality. This Mournable Body is a sympathetically realistic portrayal of mental collapse which, I thought painted an authentic picture of both the woman at its centre and also of the family she keeps at bay.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Tsitsi Dangarembga / Contemporary fiction / Books from Zimbabwe

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Somebody's Daughter by Anne Goodwin + #FreeBook

Somebody's Daughter by Anne Goodwin
Individual stories previously published between 2005 and 2018. Published together in this collection in January 2020.

How I got this book:
Received a copy from the author as a newsletter signup reward
Free also through StoryOrigin until the 31st January 2022.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What does it mean to have a daughter? How does it feel to be one?

A child carer would do anything to support her fragile mother. A woman resorts to extreme measures to stop her baby’s cries. A man struggles to accept his middle child’s change of direction. Another uses his daughter to entice young women into his car. A woman contemplates her relationship with her father as she watches a stranger withhold his attention from his child.

Mothers of daughters, fathers of daughters, daughters from infancy to middle age. Three award-winning short stories plus a couple more. You’ll never think about daughters the same way again.

From the Polari Prize shortlisted author of Sugar and Snails.

I've previously enjoyed several of Anne Goodwin's short stories and full length novels so was delighted at the opportunity to read a few more in Someone's Daughter, especially as several of this themed collection are prize winning compositions. As it turned out, Tobacco And Testosterone is included in Becoming Someone so I had already read this one but was more than happy to do so again! All the stories are linked by their theme of parents and daughters, and I loved seeing the varied directions in which Anne takes and runs with this idea. The child carer story, Mummy And Me, is heart-breakingly poignant while With A Small Bomb In Her Chest really creeped me out. I wasn't as keen on the five ninety-nine word flash fiction pieces because, understandably with such brevity, I didn't feel they had the compelling atmosphere of the longer works. Someone's Daughter is, however, an excellent introduction to Anne's writing for people who haven't read her books before, and a refreshing filler for those of us who are eagerly awaiting her next publication!

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Anne Goodwin / Short stories / Books from England

Sunday, 18 October 2020

Under Your Skin by Rose McClelland

Under Your Skin by Rose McClelland
Published by darkstroke on the 21st May 2020.

A Found On Twitter Challenge read

How I got this book:
Took advantage of a free Amazon download offer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Where is Hannah?

When Kyle’s wife Hannah goes missing, the whole town is out in force to try to find her. One person knows where she is. One person is keeping a secret.

Detective Inspector Simon Peters and Detective Kerry Lawlor have been brought in to investigate the case, but Hannah has left no traces and Kyle has no clues.

Local Belfast resident Julia Matthews joins the #FindHannah campaign and becomes friendly with Kyle, sympathising with his tragedy. As Julia becomes more involved in the case than she bargained for, she begins to uncover more secrets than the Police ever could.

Julia was only trying to help, but has she become drawn into a web of mystery that she can’t escape? 

Discover a gripping thriller that has you on the edge of your seat!

I follow Rose McClelland on Twitter because I like her style and humour, although I hadn't previously read any of her books. When she tweeted about a limited time freebie on her new thriller, Under Your Skin, I leapt at the chance to download myself a copy. The novel is a fast-paced, exciting read told in turn from the first person point of view of each of the central characters. I did wonder whether having so many narrating voices would make it difficult to tell people apart, but McClelland has given everyone their own distinctive voice so I rarely lost track of whose thoughts I was reading. I enjoyed reading pivotal scenes from alternative perspectives because it was interesting to realise how these characters could interpret events so differently. Perhaps Julia's naivete let the story down because I struggled to believe how she could have usurped Hannah's place so swiftly without misgivings.

McClelland has a good understanding of how abusive relationships can develop so I felt this aspect of the story was authentically and sensitively portrayed. The police procedures didn't always feel as realistic, but Under Your Skin is a psychological thriller rather than a police procedural novel so I wouldn't have appreciated it getting bogged down in that level of detail either! I did love the snippets of Belfast slang which added to the story's geographic grounding.

Under Your Skin was a nicely tense thriller which kept me hooked over the couple of days it took me to read. I liked its female-centred cast and that Hannah was not conveniently written off as a bland, mute victim. McClelland's previous romance author experience could be glimpsed in characters' interactions throughout the story and I liked this unusual angle. I felt Under Your Skin was as much about the people themselves as about the search for Hannah. I did guess the 'where' before it was revealed, but was way off on the 'why' and the 'how'!

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Books by Rose McClelland / Thrillers / Books from Northern Ireland

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Silence of Islands by W.M. Raebeck + #Giveaway


Join us for this tour from October 12 to October 23, 2020!
Book Details:

Book TitleSilence of Islands — Poems by W.M. Raebeck
Category:  Adult Non-Fiction (18 +),  170 pages
PublisherHula Cat Press
Release date:   July 2020
Content Rating:  G. this book of poems is 'grown-up' but nothing violent, explicit, illegal, profane or hardcore.

Book Description:

Poetry for the summer day, poetry for the dark night. Poems that cut a walkable trail through the forest of life. Always with a nudge and a wink, “It’ll be okay.” This collection reflects a lifetime of nature, love, travel, death, joy, art, family, and the eternal questions. A potion of emotion to soothe and move you.

Buy the Book:  ~ Amazon UK ~ B&N ~ BAM

KOBO ~ Book Depository ~ Waterstones
Add to Goodreads

Poetry is such a personal writing medium yet, when done well, it has an uncanny way of channelling universal emotional responses to love or grief or joy and that is exactly how I felt reading so many of W M Raebeck's accomplished poems in her collection, Silence Of Islands. This retrospective of her life's work takes us from a picturesque Greek island to the serene beauty of Hawai'i, from the rush of kindling a new romantic relationship to the grief of parental bereavement. I loved transposing Raebeck's atmospheric portrayals of her Zaxos sojourn over my memories of Lesbos and Paxos, and I was very moved by the way in which I could so completely identify with her grief at losing her father when I remembered my own mother's passing. I wish I had had this book back then. Raebeck's words articulate so beautifully how I was feeling at a time when I didn't have the clarity of thought to express myself adequately. I could have simply pointed to Don't Leave or I Will Not Pretend, for example, and allowed these poems to help others understand me.

Silence Of Islands is a generous collection comprising more than eighty poems and I appreciated how the timespan over which they were written resounds within the work as a whole. The 1970s poet is a very different woman to the 2010s poet, yet I felt I could sense her increasing maturity with her youthful experiences informing her later compositions. A lovely, brave collection that I am grateful to have had this opportunity to experience.

Meet the Author:

W. M. Raebeck's trademarks are humorous candor, spiritual stretching, and frequent exits from the comfort zone. She lives in Hawaii, with regular Mainland visits. Her 5 books to date are true-life accounts, from the misadventures of a sugar-freak hippie chick ('I Did Inhale'), to 20 stories about art, Hollywood, and spirits ('Stars in Our Eyes'), to trekking through the Costa Rican rainforest ('Expedition Costa Rica'), to teaching yoga in Santa Monica ('Some Swamis are Fat'),* and now her poetry collection, 'Silence of Islands.' Before authoring, Raebeck was a film and television actress based in LA, London, and NYC. She went on to freelance journalism, contributing to the then-alternative world of green politics, environmental protection, U.S. involvement in Central American wars, socially conscious investing, and much more. Her articles were always accompanied by her own photography, including numerous cover stories for the LA Weekly and other papers like the East Hampton Star from her former hometown. In Raebeck's personal life, yoga and natural health (sugar notwithstanding) remain institutions. As is maintaining a zero-waste household. Animal rights and environmental activism are lifelong commitments, including all-too-frequent bird rescue. W. M. Raebeck's books are available in print and ebook worldwide, and can be ordered from any book store or library. Audio editions are in the works! For additional info, or to join the email list, visit Her next book, 'Nicaragua Story—Back Roads of the Contra War,' takes a hard look at a people's war, and will be out in 2021. * 'Some Swamis are Fat' is under the pen-name Ava Greene.

connect with the author:    website   ~   facebook pinterest goodreads

Tour Schedule:

Oct 12 – Merlot Et Mots – book review / author interview
Oct 12 - Locks, Hooks and Books – book review / giveaway
Oct 13 – Rockin' Book Reviews – book review / guest post / giveaway
Oct 14 – Splashes of Joy – book review / guest post / author interview / giveaway
Oct 14 - Cover Lover Book Review - book review / giveaway
Oct 15 – Literary Flits – book review / giveaway
Oct 15 - Books and Zebras @jypsylynn – book review
Oct 15 - Pick a good book – book spotlight / giveaway
Oct 16 – 30-something Travel – book review / guest post / giveaway
Oct 16 - Chit Chat with Charity - book review / author interview
Oct 19 – Pen Possessed – book spotlight / giveaway
Oct 19 - Sefina Hawke's Books – book review
Oct 20 – Bound 4 Escape – book review / guest post / giveaway
Oct 20 – Book Corner News and Reviews – book review / giveaway
Oct 21 – Alexis Marie Chute – book review / author interview
Oct 21 - Jazzy Book Reviews – book spotlight / author interview / giveaway
Oct 22 - Lisa's Reading - book spotlight / giveaway
Oct 23 – fundinmental – book spotlight / giveaway
Oct 23 - Books for Books – book review

Enter the Giveaway:

Win 1 of 5 ebooks SILENCE OF ISLANDS or a $25 Amazon Gift Card (6 winners) (open to customers) (ends Oct 30)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by W M Raebeck / Poetry / Books from America

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Celtic Blood by James John Loftus

Celtic Blood by James John Loftus
Self published on the 15th October 2013.

How I got this book:
Took advantage of a free Amazon download promotion

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Set in 13th century Scotland. The son of the murdered Earl of Ross, is a fugitive when his family, rival claimants for Scotland's crown, are declared traitors. Influenced by MacBeth and the writing of Nigel Tranter it is a tale of high drama and suspense.

This review was first published on my Stephanie Jane blog in February 2015. Celtic Blood was my second book for the Read Scotland 2015 challenge

Celtic Blood is billed as a historical novel. It is set vaguely across Scotland and some parts of England although definite identifications of place are rare. The story initially concerns a Scandinavian teenage boy, Seward, who is washed up on Scottish shores following a shipwreck. The focus then shifts to a Scottish boy, Morgund, for whom Seward acts as a kind of Squire.

Primarily a coming of age adventure, the tale revolves around Morgund's attempts to become a true warrior and reclaim his family's noble heritage. There is a lot of posturing about the 'sacred brotherhood' of men who own swords and the need for such soldiers to discover their destinies through fighting each other. The main plotline of the story is entertaining enough though, other than a silly interlude with some Satanic witches. None of the novel's female characters are at all realistic, but the generic 'old crone' at the centre of those scenes is definitely the worst of the lot. 

The overriding problem with Celtic Blood however is that it is a difficult book to read. The language switches from contemporary to Olde Englishe - thank goodness no actual Scots is attempted! - and the random use of commas throughout means that some sentences have no meaning. Odd word orders frequently give the impression of reading the wisdom of Yoda. Loftus' use of sentence fragments could be considered a style decision if they were more consistently and sparingly applied. However, the combined errors of grammar, punctuation and spelling on every single page simply gave me the impression of a first draft that has somehow been published by mistake. The poor writing quality is repeatedly mentioned in other reviews dating back years though so, sadly, it would seem Loftus has not undertaken corrections and is not interested in providing the best experience for his readers. 

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by James John Loftus / Historical fiction / Books from Australia

Monday, 12 October 2020

How Should One Read a Book? by Virginia Woolf and Sheila Heti

How Should One Read a Book? by Virginia Woolf and Sheila Heti
First delivered as a lecture to the girls of Hayes Court Common School in January 1926. Republished by Lawrence King Publishing today, the 12th October 2020.

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Published for the first time as a standalone volume, Virginia Woolf's short, impassioned essay, How Should One Read a Book? celebrates the enduring importance of great literature. In this timeless manifesto on the written word, rediscover the joy of reading and the power of a good book to change the world.

One of the most significant modernist writers of the 20th Century, Virginia Woolf and her visionary essays are as relevant today as they were nearly one hundred years ago.

Features a new introduction and afterword by Sheila Heti.

I've previously read, I think, five of Virginia Woolf's books including Jacob's Room and Mrs Dalloway which I loved, and The Waves in a soporific audio edition that repeatedly sent me to sleep! How Should One Read a Book? is a different prospect in that it is Woolf's 1920s equivalent of a TEDx talk, originally delivered to a girls' school audience. In a sign of the times a-changing, I was frustrated at Woolf's using male pronouns throughout her lecture. As a female author speaking to a female audience, I felt she should at least have identified her theoretical readers as women. Perhaps she could have included more than a token Jane Austen in her named authors too! Other than this, I was interested in her ideas around how we can hone our reading tastes and her concept of 'shadow shapes' which are the lasting impressions we carry away from each book we read. Sheila Heti elaborates further on this in her thoughtful introduction. Actually, I think I preferred Heti's two essays to Woolf's, even though I know they were supposed to support the headline speaker. Woolf's focus on classics that I haven't read and inclusion of (presumably) famous quotes that I didn't recognise left me feeling a little excluded. 

I'll finish up with my favourite quote from the central essay which are also Virginia Woolf's closing words:
“I have sometimes dreamt, at least, that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards -- their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble -- the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when He sees us coming with our books under our arms, "Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.”

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Virginia Woolf and Sheila Heti / Nonfiction books / Books from England and Canada

Sunday, 11 October 2020

The First Woman by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

The First Woman by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
Published in the UK by Oneworld Publications on the 13th August 2020. Published in the USA as A Girl is A Body of Water by Tin House Books on the 1st September 2020.

A More Than One Challenge read

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For one young girl, discovering what it means to become a woman in a family, a community and a country determined to silence her will take all the courage she has.

Growing up in a small Ugandan village, Kirabo is surrounded by powerful women. Her grandmother, her aunts, her friends and cousins are all desperate for her to conform, but Kirabo is inquisitive, headstrong and determined. Up until now, she has been perfectly content with her life at the heart of this prosperous extended family, but as she enters her teenage years, she begins to feel the absence of the mother she has never known. The First Woman follows Kirabo on her journey to becoming a young woman and finding her place in the world, as her country is transformed by the bloody dictatorship of Idi Amin.

Jennifer Makumbi has written a sweeping tale of longing and rebellion, at once epic and deeply personal, steeped in an intoxicating mix of ancient Ugandan folklore and modern feminism, that will linger in the memory long after the final page.

I enjoyed reading Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi's short story collection, Manchester Happened, in May last year so leapt at the chance to read an review this new novel of hers, The First Woman, when it appeared on NetGalley. (In America, the same book has been published as A Girl Is A Body Of Water and I do prefer that more enigmatic title.) Set in Idi Amin's Uganda, The First Woman is a strong coming of age story which explores not only Kirabo's personal experiences as she grows up, but also the effects of Ugandan creation myths and the historic role of women within the culture. My favourite aspects of the story were conversations between young Kirabo and her elderly neighbour, Nsuutu, who teaches Kirabo to see why their traditional way of life came to be. I loved the synchronicity of having recently read similar ideas from a Christian perspective in Susan Scott's In Praise of Lilith. Kirabo has to balance religious and cultural expectations against her own desires. Makumbi's nuanced portrayal of her confusion made it easy for me to empathise, especially as Kirabo observes the most ardent supporters of a repressively patriarchal lifestyle are actually other women - not men.

I am glad to have read The First Woman and there were plenty of philosophical concepts that I spent time mulling over both while reading the book and in the days since I have finished. I did think that the book was rather too long for its story because I sometimes found my concentration wandering. Also I struggled to differentiate between everybody in the large cast of characters, particularly those with similar names. That said though, I loved the historical side. Makumbi's way of depicting the era though the way in which characters dress, or comments they make about food shortages, is very effective. I liked Kirabo. She is someone I was happy to spend time with and the similarities between her life's trajectory and that of her grandmother provided The First Woman with a satisfying narrative structure.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi / Coming of age novels / Books from Uganda

Saturday, 10 October 2020

The American Granddaughter by Inaam Kachachi

The American Granddaughter by Inaam Kachachi
First published in Arabic as Al-Hafida al-Amreekeya in Lebanon by Dar Al-Jadid in 2008. English language translation by Nariman Youssef published by Interlink on the 1st October 2020.

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Winner of France's the Lagardere Prize.
Shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.
Raises important questions about identity, belonging, and patriotism. 

In her award-winning novel, Inaam Kachachi portrays the dual tragedy of her native land: America's failure and the humiliation of Iraq. The American Granddaughter depicts the American occupation of Iraq through the eyes of a young Iraqi-American woman, who returns to her country as an interpreter for the US Army. Through the narrator's conflicting emotions, we see the tragedy of a country which, having battled to emerge from dictatorship, then finds itself under foreign occupation.

At the beginning of America's occupation of Iraq, Zeina returns to her war-torn homeland as an interpreter for the US Army. Her formidable grandmother - the only family member that Zeina believes she has in Iraq - gravely disapproves of her granddaughter's actions. Then Zeina meets Haider and Muhaymin, two "brothers" she knows nothing of, and falls deeply in love with Muhaymin, a militant in the Al Mehdi Army. These experiences force her to question all her values.

I loved this book so much! When Interlink offered me a review copy of The American Granddaughter I did initially have reservations because I have read quite a few novels set within American-occupied Iraq so I was concerned that Inaam Kachachi's story might be too similar to them. How wrong I was! The American Granddaughter does, of course have some overlap in its physical locations such as the formerly beautiful palaces I learned about from The President's Gardens by Muhsin Al-Ramli, but the central focus on Zeina's torn identity makes for a unique and powerful read. Through her eyes I was given an opportunity to see Iraq at that time from both the Iraqi and the American perspective simultaneously. I loved Kachachi's concept of The Writer wanting to steer Zeina's story into a more traditionally Iraqi direction while the realities of her situation perpetually leave her stranded with, metaphorically speaking, one foot each side of the fence.

Zeina's grandmother, left isolated in her home after her extended family have all scattered across the globe, is a poignant character, but never a woman to be pitied. I was moved by her distress on realising that the granddaughter she has longed to see again is now within reach, but that the Iraqi teenager who emigrated cannot easily be found within the American woman who returned. I felt that the grandmother representing historic Iraqi culture before Saddam was an important reminder that imposing one nation's ideals carte blanche onto other nations is never a good idea. 

Inaam Kachachi, for me, is now one of the strongest Iraqi voices and I am grateful to be able to read her work in this accomplished English translation. I particularly appreciated aspects such as the romantic potential between Zeina and Muhaymin being portrayed through an almost chaste Arabic lens. Focusing on meaningful glances and disrupted conversations seemed to intensify their emotion. I would highly recommend The American Granddaughter to readers who enjoyed The Baghdad Clock by Shahad Al Rawi or Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Inaam Kachachi / War fiction / Books from Iraq

Friday, 9 October 2020

The Perilous Life Of Jade Yeo by Zen Cho + #FreeBook + #Excerpt

The Perilous Life Of Jade Yeo by Zen Cho
Self published on the 30th May 2012.

One of my More Than One Challenge reads

How I got this book:

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon UK (free) / (free)

For writer Jade Yeo, the Roaring Twenties are coming in with more of a purr. She's perfectly happy making a living by churning out articles on what the well-dressed woman is wearing. But when she pillories one of London's leading literary luminaries in a scathing review, she may have made the mistake of her career.

Sebastian Hardie is tall, dark and handsome--and more intrigued than annoyed. Jade is irresistibly drawn to the prospect of adventure he offers. But if she succumbs to temptation, she risks losing her hard-won freedom--and her best chance for love.


Hardie looked at me. I thought he was going to say something serious and philosophical about loneliness, but instead he lifted his hand and traced the air just above my cheekbones, almost touching me but not quite.
“It’s a shame I’m no sort of artist,” he said, so low I had to strain to hear him over the noise. “How I should like to paint those lines.”
Now what is one supposed to say to that?
“I’m sure you’d be nice to paint too,” I said, unable to think of anything better.
Hardie laughed.
“Poor Ariel,” he said. “Alone on an incomprehensible island. Has any other mariner heard your whispers, or did they think it just the wind?”
“I’m really more of a Caliban,” I said primly.
Hardie tilted his head.
“Even better,” he said.

I spotted The Perilous Life Of Jade Yeo as a free Amazon ebook download last month and, having previously enjoyed Zen Cho's fantasy novel, The True Queen, I eagerly snapped up this novella too. The two books are very different in subject and genre - Regency witchcraft fantasy to 1920s urban romance - and I just as happily immersed myself in Jade Yeo's perilous life as I had in The True Queen.

Jade has escaped parental pressure to marry back home in Malaya by being terribly daring and travelling to London, alone, to write. The trouble is that her life now consists of even less by way of excitement as she fills her days with cooking, reading or writing. So when Bohemian cad Sebastian Hardie turns out to be more amused than offended by Jade's slating of his new book, she finds herself very tempted to embark on a little dalliance - purely out of curiosity of course!

I loved Jade because we share a similarly dry sense of humour and I appreciated her frequently being underwhelmed by traditionally romantic situations. The novella is written as a series of private diary entries so Jade is hilariously honest about her first kiss and first sexual encounter. The repartee between her and Sebastian is fun as is the verbal sparring between Jade and her overbearing Aunt Iris. I liked spotting nods to various classic novels with Jade's frequent references to the Bronte sisters reminding me that I really must pick up their novels one day! Cho's sharply observed comments about English attitudes to 'the colonies' are still, unfortunately, still valid over a century after the story is set and I was interested in the different ideas around plain speaking and appropriate conversational topics that Jade notes between her Malayan upbringing and her London life.

The Perilous Life Of Jade Yeo is an entertaining novella that was perfect escapism from a grey, rainy day. Cho's brisk prose keeps the story moving along, but with enough geographical and historical detail to create a good atmosphere and depth to the tale. 

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Zen Cho / Historical fiction / Books from Malaysia

Thursday, 8 October 2020

Freedom Lessons by Eileen Harrison Sanchez + #Giveaway

Join us for this tour from Sept 28 to Oct 9, 2020!

Book Details:

Book TitleFreedom Lessons (a novel) by Eileen Harrison Sanchez
CategoryAdult Fiction (18+) ,  245 pages
Genre: American Historical Fiction
Publisher:  She Writes Press
Release date:   November 2019
Content Rating:  PG. This book is a clean read. The use of the words Negro, colored and a one time reference use of nigger, though not politically correct by today's standards, is era specific and not intended in any kind of pejorative sense.

Chosen as a 2020 Pulpwood Queens Book Club pick
2019 Best Book Awards Finalist in Fiction (Multicultural)

“This powerful tale offers a beacon of hope that individuals can inspire change.”
Library Journal

Book Description:

Freedom Lessons begins in Louisiana 1969 as Colleen, a white northern teacher, enters into the unfamiliar culture of a small Southern town and its unwritten rules as the town surrenders to mandated school integration. She meets Frank, a black high school football player, who is protecting his family with a secret. And Evelyn, an experienced teacher and prominent member of the local black community, who must decide whether she’s willing to place trust in her new white colleague. Told alternately by Colleen, Frank, and Evelyn, Freedom Lessons is the story of how the lives of these three purportedly different people intersect in a time when our nation faced, as it does today, a crisis of race, unity, and identity.

School desegregation is something we all learn about in history class; perhaps we even remember the striking image of Ruby Bridges being escorted to and from school by the U.S. Marshals. But for most of us in 2019, that’s near the extent of what we understand about that tumultuous time. Eileen Sanchez, the debut novelist behind Freedom Lessons (She Writes Press, November 12, 2019), draws on her own remarkable experience as a young, white teacher in the Jim Crow South during desegregation, to write her immersive work of fiction inspired by those events. The result is an unusually authentic exploration of a snapshot in history through the eyes of characters that are relatable and unmistakably human—living lives and navigating relationships against the backdrop of extreme societal upheaval. Sanchez has woven a beautiful story not just about desegregation as an abstract concept, but about the people who lived it—and asks us to question our assumptions about that time, and the issues it has left in its 50-year wake. 

Freedom Lessons is a quiet gem of a novel which I am grateful to have had the opportunity to read thanks to this iRead Book Tours blog tour. Narrated in turn by three residents of a small 1960s Louisiana town, Freedom Lessons, by focusing through this small personal lens manages, I think, to authentically portray the intense upheaval across great swathes of America at this time and the antagonisation that has, sadly, continued through the following decades.

I understand that this book was initially envisaged as a memoir and, in its final incarnation, the character of idealistic new teacher Colleen is based on author Eileen's own experiences. Despite the years that have passed, I felt her recounting of events and the people's reactions to them retains a such a freshness that I easily became immersed in this story. Evelyn is a strong character too. Her views of the forced school integration being informed by local history and knowledge allowed me to understand how the way in which the law was (finally) enacted made no sense and was instead yet one more way for white Louisiana to oppress and denigrate the black population. I was horrified (although not surprised) at things like the black kids' football team automatically being considered second-rate to the white team, and that the teams were kept strictly segregated. That this effectively prevented black footballers from representing 'their' school was intentionally cruel.

There are numerous such instances of cruelty and spite throughout Freedom Lessons, however, other than one sensitively handled fire scene, nothing is graphically violent so I feel that the book would still be highly suitable for young adult audiences as well as adults, and I think it would be particularly beneficial for white readers. Following Colleen's journey gave me insights into institutional racism that wouldn't necessarily make headlines, but its daily accumulation was so damaging to young minds, both black and white. 

Meet the Author:

Eileen Harrison Sanchez is now retired after a forty-year career in education. She started as a teacher and ended as a district administrator. She has been writing part time for seven years with a writers group in Summit, NJ. Eileen is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Philadelphia Stories Writers Community, Goodreads American Historical Novels Group, and several online writers’ groups. A reader, a writer, and a perennial—a person with a no-age mindset—she considers family and friends to be the most important parts of her life, followed by traveling and bird watching from her gazebo.

connect with the author: website ~ facebook ~ twitter ~ instagram

Tour Schedule:

Sep 28 – Cover Lover Book Review – book review / giveaway
Sep 28 - Jazzy Book Reviews – book spotlight / author interview / giveaway
Sep 29 – All Booked Up Reviews – book review
Sep 29 - Pen Possessed – book review
Sep 30 – Rockin' Book Reviews – book review / guest post / giveaway
Sep 30 - Rajiv's Reviews – book review
Oct 1 – Locks, Hooks and Books – book review / author interview / giveaway
Oct 2 – eBook addicts – book spotlight / guest post / giveaway
Oct 5 – Book World Reviews – book review  
Oct 5 - Momfluenster - book review / giveaway
Oct 5 - Jackie's Book Reviews - book review
Oct 5 - Hall Ways Blog - book spotlight / author interview / giveaway
Oct 6 – Library of Clean Reads – book review / giveaway
Oct 6 - Books and Zebras – book review
Oct 7 – My Fictional Oasis – book review
Oct 7 - She Just Loves Books – book review / giveaway
Oct 8 – Literary Flits – book review / giveaway
Oct 8 - Divas With A Purpose - book review / author interview
Oct 9 – On My Bookshelf – book review / author interview / giveaway

Enter the Giveaway:
Win an autographed copy of FREEDOM LESSONS or a $15 Amazon Gift Card (2 winners) (USA only) (ends Oct 16)

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Eileen Harrison Sanchez / Historical fiction / Books from America

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Birds Don't Cry by Sandy Day

Birds Don't Cry by Sandy Day
Self published on the 31st August 2020.

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An outsider in her family. Tormented and hindered by secrets. Desperate to find her missing sister-in-law.

She’s in danger of losing herself, while uncovering more than she ever wanted to know. 

Kaffy Sullivan, ornery in her middle-age, expects to inherit Sullivan House, a lovely old inn perched next to a magnificent forest. But if Kaffy hopes to live the rest of her life on the earnings from her grandparents’ legacy, she needs to steer the inn into the twenty-first century, and prevent her siblings from staking their claim. 

A prestigious reviewer from The Lonely Tripper books a reservation—a review that could make or break the inn’s reputation. But on the very same morning, Kaffy’s right-hand woman doesn’t show up for work. Kaffy relies on Sylvia for everything from roast chicken dinners on Saturday nights, to lively conversation with the guests on the porch—a skill that eludes the thorny innkeeper. 

How can Kaffy possibly get Sullivan House ready in time by herself?

Where is Sylvia? 

As time ticks by, Kaffy realizes she’s the only one asking the question. Even Sylvia’s husband, Kaffy’s creepy brother Red, doesn’t seem to care that his wife has disappeared. But he sure seems concerned about the upcoming reading of Gran’s will and the settlement of the estate.

Where is Sylvia? 

Disturbed by Red’s indifference to his wife’s whereabouts, and by his sly retorts about the future of the inn, Kaffy struggles to cope with her odious brother. Pushed on by the impending review, not to mention the reading of the will, Kaffy embarks on an erratic search for Sylvia, while Red’s obstruction becomes worse than ever. 

Kaffy’s never trusted him. Why should she start now?

As she hurtles down a road of dark discoveries, Kaffy tries frantically to get her life under control. 

Where is Sylvia?

Can Kaffy find out before her world flies apart? 

Birds Don’t Cry is a psychological story of rivalry and buried memories among adult siblings. A page turner that drops you directly into one family’s conflict and search for survivors.

Can we ever make amends with our siblings? Are there events we choose not to remember? Or are some memories to awful to contemplate? 

Birds Don't Cry is the fourth of Sandy Day's books that I've read and, for me, she has become an author whose works I will pick up without even necessarily glancing at the synopsis because I know I will greatly appreciate her prose and storytelling. This novel explores the cracked relationships within a dysfunctional family. At the centre is the youngest of three siblings, Kaffy, a prickly introvert with whom I could strongly empathise. It's so unusual to read a novel where an introverted character is truly understood and sympathetically portrayed, but I felt that Day absolutely nails it here. Kaffy's traumatic past has left her scarred and untrusting and she is a difficult to like. I never found myself wondering if she could be someone I might be friends with in the real world (as I often do with fictional people), but I did recognise several of my own traits in her behaviour - a strong distaste for small talk being one example!

I liked how Day wrote the dialogue between everyone. The perpetually awkward atmosphere is informed as much by what doesn't get said as by what does and Kaffy's insecurities really came through in the way she interacted with the people who should have been closest to her. The mystery of Gran's will brings the tension to a head with stilted and deceitful conversations being cleverly used to allow readers to understand hidden motives.

Birds Don't Cry didn't quite hit the notes of my absolute favourite Sandy Day book, The Empty Nest, but it was still a very rewarding read that I enthusiastically recommend to literary fiction and women's fiction fans.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Sandy Day / Women's fiction / Books from Canada