Thursday, 31 December 2020

Reading Challenges 2020 and 2021

2020 was such a challenge in itself that I lost quite a bit of my enthusiasm for undertaking my planned reading challenges too. I did still manage to complete the Decade Challenge by the end of August although I didn't start a new list's worth in September.

I completed my Alphabet Soup Challenge, to read a book beginning with each letter of the alphabet (from 1st Jan to 31st Dec 2020), a month early on the 21st November with X Marks The Pedwalk by Fritz Leiber.

A Long Petal Of The Sea by Isabel Allende
Bloodchild by Octavia Butler
Child Of The Universe by Katleho Mosotho
Dead Ringer by Kat Ross
Educated by Tara Westover
Farewell Mama Odessa by Emil Draitsev
Grace And Serenity by Annalisa Crawford
Head On Backwards, Chest Full Of Sand by Sandy Day
It's Not About the Burqa edited by Mariam Khan
Josephine: Singer Dancer Soldier Spy by Eilidh McGinness
Killing Them With Kindness by Andy Paulcroft
Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud
Monsterland by Michael Okon
Not As Nature Intended by Rich Hardy
Our Lady Of Kibeho by Immaculee Ilibagiza
Perils And Pearls by Hulda Bachman-Neeb
Queen Of Bones by Teresa Dovalpage
Regeneration by Pat Barker
Searching For Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok
The Dressing Up Box by David Constantine
Ultra Squad by Julia DeVillers and Rafael Rosado
Vintage Murder by Ngaio Marsh
Wasteland by Terry Tyler
X Marks The Pedwalk by Fritz Leiber
You Can Smile on Wednesdays by Zdravka Evtimova
Zeru by Phillip Vargas

My Classics Club Challenge is another early finish. 
The challenge, to read 50 classic books in 5 years, runs from June 2018 to 1st June 2023 and I blogged my 50th classic, The Two Hundred Ghost by Henrietta Hamilton, on Christmas Eve 2020.

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

My 2020 More Than One challenge to read a second book by authors I liked ran from the 1st Jan to 31st Dec 2020 and I am delighted to have ended up with 26 authors for this challenge.

1. AE Warren - The Museum Of Second Chances and The Base of Reflections
2. Michael Okon - Monsterland and Monsterland Reanimated
3. Cynthia Hilston - A Laughing Matter Of Pain and Mile Marker 139
4. Teresa Dovalpage - Death Comes In Through The Kitchen and Queen Of Bones
5. Tahar Ben Jelloun - Leaving Tangier and The Punishment
6. Julia DeVillers and Rafael Rosado - Ultra Squad and Ultra Squad: Under The Strangebow
7. Karl Drinkwater - Helene and Lost Solace
8. Bernard Jan - A World Without Color and January River
9. Elizabeth Wein - Code Name Verity and The Enigma Game
10. Joanne Nicholson - Only The Lonely and Maggie McIntyre Is Living The Dream
11. B R Stateham: Dark Retribution: Smitty's Calling Card and Lenny
12. Ovidia Yu: The Paper Bark Tree Mystery and The Mimosa Tree Mystery
13. Tomas Gonzalez: The Storm and Difficult Light
14. S J Pajonas: Mamachari Matchmaker and The Daydreamer Detective
15. Kat Ross: Dead Ringer and Balthazar's Bane
16. Paul Auster: City Of Glass and Ghosts
17. Scholastique Mukasonga: The Barefoot Woman and Igifu
19. Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi: Manchester Happened and The First Woman
20. Tsitsi Dangarembga: Nervous Conditions and This Mournable Body
21. Truman Capote: In Cold Blood and A Christmas Memory
22. Sally Gardner: Tinder and The Snow Song
24. Kathleen Shoop: The River Jewel and Love Under The Stars
25. Alice Griffin: Poems For Animals and The Times We Had
26. Helen McCloy: Dance Of Death and The Man In The Moonlight

My 2020 Found 'Em On Twitter challenge to read books by at least 12 authors I follow on Social Media, but haven't yet read (1st Jan to 31st Dec 2020) was less successful with only 7 books read although I have another 3 downloaded to my tablet.

1. The River Jewel by Kathleen Shoop
2. Helene by Karl Drinkwater
3. It's A Kind Of Magic by Carole Matthews
4. Plumas De Muerte by Phil Motel
5. Watery Ways by Valerie Poore
6. Under Your Skin by Rose McClelland
7. Double Deceit by Julienne Brouwers

My final challenge is an ongoing effort to find books with vegan and vegetarian characters. I've currently got 35 and you can see this list as part of my newly established Vegan Bookshop.

I haven't set myself any reading challenges for 2021 yet. I think I might give the longer timescale ones a rest for the year and maybe undertake a few themed month challenges, if I'm in the mood, instead.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

The Man in the Moonlight: A Dr Basil Willing Mystery by Helen McCloy

The Man in the Moonlight: A Dr Basil Willing Mystery by Helen McCloy
First published in America by Hamilton in 1940. Republished by Agora Books on the 10th December 2020.

One of my More Than One Challenge reads

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

'I take pleasure in informing you that you have been chosen as murderer for Group No 1. Please follow these instructions with as great exactness as possible.'

On his way to visit the dean at Yorkville University, Assistant Chief Inspector Foyle seems to stumble across a murder, or at least the plans for one. Chalking it all up to a gag (because real killers don't use the word 'murder'), Foyle is horrified to learn about the death of Dr Konradi, a scientist at the campus. Though it looks like a suicide, Foyle isn't so sure, and Dr Basil Willing, psychologist and sleuth, is called in to aid the investigation. With motives and murder piling up, the pair must solve the case before more lives are put at risk.

Set in WWII and filled with secrets and espionage, The Man in the Moonlight is part of Agora Books’ Uncrowned Queens of Crime series.

The Man in the Moonlight is the second of Agora's newly republished Dr Basil Willing Mystery novels that I have been given the opportunity to read. I was very impressed with the first in the series, Dance Of Death, so eagerly looked forward to again exercising my sleuthing wits in the company of psychiatrist Basil Willing. Unfortunately I wasn't so enamoured of this sequel and I'm not sure what it was about the novel that failed to grab my attention. Obviously I was prepared for Willing's idiosyncratic detection methods using psychiatry as his main tool so this didn't have the same novelty, however his deductions were as fascinating - and as complex to try and follow!

I did appreciate McCloy's atmospheric portrayal of the University grounds, especially during the night time scenes, and the different faculty staff's home accommodations illustrated their respective importance to the University. It was interesting to see the acceptance of war refugees to America being addressed in this 1940s novel, especially as immigration is again a prominent subject today. There are moments of casual racism and I did sense McCloy falling into stereotypes more when discussing her sole Chinese character than with the Austrian ones. In comparing the two novels, I think a lack of strongly defined characters is what I missed most. I particularly loved that aspect of Dance Of Death. The young Halsey does come into his own as the story progresses, but otherwise potentially the most intriguing person dies at the beginning of the book and those remaining around him felt too closed off and aloof for me to invest in them. That said, I would read more of Helen McCloy's series because I like her prose style and the intricacies of the plot kept me keenly turning the pages. The Man In The Moonlight is, I think, a good classic crime mystery. I'm just a little disappointed that it didn't feel like a great one.

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

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

My Books of the Year 2020

 Here's my favourite books of 2020!

Have you read any of these? If so, what did you think?

Monday, 28 December 2020

Manifesto by Dale Vince

Manifesto: How a maverick entrepreneur took on British energy and won by Dale Vince
Published by Ebury on the 26th November 2020.

A Book with a Vegan and featured on my Vegan Book Blog

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dale Vince never intended to start a business. Driven by a passion for sustainability, he left school aged 15 and became a New Age traveller, living for free in a wind-powered double decker bus. But after building his first wind turbine, he realised that to change the world he needed to be on the grid, not off it. In 1996 he founded green energy company Ecotricity based on principles of social, financial and environmental sustainability, and changed the landscape of UK energy forever. 

Since then, Dale has been appointed a UN ambassador for climate issues, become the owner of the first ever vegan football club, and amassed a fortune of over £120 million built on sustainability. He has also been a vocal supporter of Extinction Rebellion which, like Ecotricity, is based in Stroud. In this book, he shares his single-minded and uniquely purpose-orientated approach to business, with lessons learned from experience that will speak to any fledgling entrepreneur. 

This is the story of a man whose unwavering mission to help save the environment has driven him all the way to the top, and a powerful manifesto for anyone who wants to change the world.

Despite having chosen Ecotricity for our energy supplier in the days when we still lived in a bricks and mortar home, I knew little about Dale Vince, the man who founded the company. Ecotricity's aims and vision so chimes with my own though that, when I saw Vince's Manifesto memoir on NetGalley, I was eager to read his words. In Manifesto, Vince discusses his New Age traveller lifestyle and how the practical skills he learned in those years proved invaluable when he set out to build his first wind turbine, a process which eventually led to Ecotricity. This is a massively inspirational book about the power of self-belief. I can now understand why so many established figures sneered at Vince in the early years. By taking a very different path, he clearly illustrated how closed-minded and outdated the British energy industry truly is, while simultaneously demonstrating that his green approach is both an environmental and an economically successful model.

The final section of Manifesto sets out Vince's vision for Britain's potential future and, as I read, I could feel myself becoming energised and hopeful again for the first time in several years. His ideas for energy creation alongside job creation and resource conservation are completely at odds with the industry's usual profit-at-any-cost way of doing things, but laid out in this book it all seems such an obvious way forward that will benefit everybody, not just an already-wealthy few. I understood that Vince speaks from the heart throughout Manifesto. I appreciated that his style and language reflects his life experience of facing practical challenges and doggedly learning how to overcome them. Such a hands-on approach has been much maligned over recent decades, but the ticking climate emergency clock means we need to make drastic changes now and the resurgence of interest in traditional and alternative technologies might just be the most timely solution. Britain's landscape was already once dotted with windmills and watermills after all. Vince repeatedly states how much influence individual people do have through the purchasing decisions they make - what we buy or, indeed, whether we choose to make, borrow or do without instead. As a result of reading Manifesto, I'm fired up to redouble my own efforts.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Dale Vince / Biography and memoir / Books from England

Sunday, 27 December 2020

Look For Me Under The Rainbow by Bernard Jan

Look For Me Under The Rainbow by Bernard Jan
First published in Croatian as Potraži me ispod duge by Naklada Slon in Croatia in 1993. English language translation by Bernard Jan and Maja Soljan published by Minerva Press in 1998.

Included in my Vegan Bookshop

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes all you need is a big heart and burning desire.

Danny, a curious harp seal pup, has soft white fur and black innocent eyes. Helen is an environmentalist and member of a young activist crew of the Rainbow Warriors. Their mission is to save animals.

As winter turns into spring, a new generation of seal pups comes to life. A few weeks later, the killing begins. Against a spectacular backdrop of ice and snow, Helen prepares to look horrific human cruelty in the face.

I do not doubt I have a big heart and burning desire, but is that enough for a person to become a Rainbow Warrior, or is there something better? Something only some of us manage to turn into what we have long missed—humanity.

In the race against time and clubs, will Helen save Danny before the hunt begins and the ice turns red?

Though written for younger readers, Look for Me Under the Rainbow will appeal to anyone who cherishes our beautiful planet and wishes to protect its treasures.

Buy this book by Bernard Jan, the author of A World Without Color, and experience another emotional journey.

Look For Me Under The Rainbow is a real tearjerker of a novella. Bernard Jan begins his story from the point of view of a curious young seal pup, Danny, learning about life on remote ice floes. The character of Danny is obviously anthromorphised to a certain extent, but I felt this was done sensitively and the effect is absolutely worth the slight suspension of disbelief required of me as a reader. Danny's mother teaches him about the natural predators and dangers he might encounter during his lifetime, but she is still so severely traumatised from a past encounter with humans that, despite his repeated pestering, she cannot even discuss all the possible dangers from this one potential threat. 

The novella is intended for a younger audience so Jan does not go into graphic details of the ghastly seal hunts that inspired him to write this book as a protest against them. Greenpeace action last century brought the cruelty into the global spotlight, but the practice still continues so I feel that Look For Me Under The Rainbow is equally as a relevant a read today as it was on its publication over 25 years ago. Perhaps even more shocking to me though was Danny's encounter with abandoned plastic fishing nets. Reducing oceanic plastic pollution is very much the fashionable campaign of the past few years. Danny's heart-breaking story demonstrates how late we are in realising the reality of our carelessness.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Bernard Jan / Novellas / Books from Croatia

Saturday, 26 December 2020

Eye Of The Beholder by C H Clepitt

Eye Of The Beholder by C H Clepitt
Self published on the 14th June 2020.

How I got this book:
Won a copy in a giveaway

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When pressure from his materialistic children turns Claude into a thief, it is down to his youngest daughter to set things right. Angelique agrees to take her father’s place as prisoner to what she is told is a hideous beast.

Angelique soon discovers that the so called beast is nothing more than Rosalie, a princess cursed to remain trapped in a castle, unless the curse can be broken, something she assures her is impossible.

Angelique does not believe in the impossible, and sets about trying to find a way to save her new friend, who she is rapidly growing to love.

Eye of the Beholder is the first in a series of queer fairy tale retellings in C H Clepitt’s Magic Mirror Collection.

Eye Of The Beholder is a fun fairytale retelling which takes its inspiration from the original 1740s story La belle et la bête (Beauty and the Beast). I loved how Clepitt has kept elements of the earlier French style while also giving her rendition lots of modern energy. Snappy scenes keep up a fast pace and the frequent switching from dream sequences to 'real life' adds to the mystical atmosphere. The fraught bickering between Angelique and her siblings is deftly portrayed and I could certainly empathise with her grasping at the chance to escape that household, even at the cost of a leap into the unknown. That she finds true love as a result of her adventure is only right! Eye Of The Beholder works really well as a queer retelling and, if anything, I felt it made more sense with the female characters Angelique, Rosalie and Cecile driving the narrative. I read the story on Christmas Eve and found it perfect to read in one sitting as a 'me time' escape!

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Books by C H Clepitt / Fairytales / Books from England

Friday, 25 December 2020

The Chimes by Charles Dickens + #FreeBook

The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In by Charles Dickens
Published by Chapman and Hall in 1844.

How I got this book:
Downloaded the ebook free from Project Gutenberg

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"The Chimes" is an 1844 novella by Charles Dickens. It is the second of Dickens' five Christmas Books, the first and best known of which is "A Christmas Carol". The novella is divided into four parts which are called "quarters", in reference to the quarter chimes of a striking clock.

The story of "The Chimes" concerns a working class man, Toby Veck, who comes to believe that he is worthless and worries that working-class people are wicked by nature. On New Year's Eve, some goblins show him visions of what will become of his loved ones if they are allowed to continue believing that they are worthless and wicked. In common with "A Christmas Carol", social commentary forms an important part of the novella and its main character is a man who changes his point of view after a night time encounter with some spirits.

I never knew before that A Christmas Carol was actually the first of five seasonal novellas that Dickens wrote in the 1840s. I only found out this year because I left deciding upon my traditional Christmas Day Dickens until rather too late in December so searched his works by word count and up popped The Chimes, first published in 1844. This novella shares some similarities with A Christmas Carol. Both are strong social commentaries on the times and the vast gulf between rich and poor so, in that respect, The Chimes is a very modern novel too. It was easy to recognise Jacob Rees-Mogg's attitudes to the impoverished working class in the words of Alderman Cute and Filer. The Chimes also employs supernatural intervention as a means to encourage a character to change their whole outlook although, in this story, it is poor messenger runner Toby Veck who finds his beliefs turned upside down. At the beginning of the tale he wonders whether it might be true that, despite working every possible hour of the day and on into the night, he and his daughter are destined to remain poor because they are bad people. Does poverty indicate intrinsic wickedness and weath determine goodness? A lecture from the Alderman and his stingy friends suggests this, but the goblins in the church bells have a different interpretation. Unfortunately Toby will need to die in order to hear them!

I could soon see why The Chimes is a far less well known novella. It has Dickens' usual strong, distinctive characterisations and vivid London setting, but the narrative itself is much weaker and is so wrapped up in long-winded speeches and florid descriptions that I missed a couple of key moments altogether - thank goodness for Wikipedia. I imagine this story would work far better as a spoken word piece or even a full-fledged play, separating the waffle from important elements. I'm still glad to have read the work, but it's not one of Dickens' best.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Charles Dickens / Christmas stories / Books from England

Thursday, 24 December 2020

The Two Hundred Ghost by Henrietta Hamilton

The Two Hundred Ghost by Henrietta Hamilton
First published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1956. Republished by Agora Books on the 26th November 2020.

My 50th Classics Club Challenge read - challenge complete!

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The antiquarian bookshop at 200 Charing Cross Road is rumoured to have a ghost. Despite the scares and supposed sightings, Sally Merton is happy to go about her job as normal. Rather than ghosts, her real concern is the ghoulish Mr Butcher. Rude and rough, Butcher has made more enemies than friends while working at the Heldar family’s shop. But one evening, things become a little too suspicious for Sally’s liking. With no one else in the upstairs rooms, a spectre is spotted — the next morning, Butcher is found dead at his desk.

While Scotland Yard is called in to handle the case, Sally undertakes her own investigation with the help of Johnny Heldar. Can the pair solve the mystery? Or will the supernatural overcome their sleuthing?

I had just started casting around for a Christmas Eve ghost story when I spotted The Two Hundred Ghost by Henrietta Hamilton on NetGalley. A classic crime novel set in a haunted bookshop sounded just the thing! Hamilton herself apparently worked in one of London's antiquarian bookshops for a while and she brings her experience of this environment to her book, creating an authentic location with a variety of interesting characters. This was in the days when an independent bookshop could easily support a dozen fulltime staff each of whom might have had the motive and opportunity to murder the unpopular Mr Butcher so Scotland Yard's Inspector Prescott has his work cut out to determine the culprit. While the murder investigation takes centre stage though, I appreciated Hamilton's scene-setting portrayals of post-war London. Hostilities themselves ceased a decade earlier, but unsafe bomb damaged buildings are still a common sight and no-one bats an eyelid at packer Fred's increased shell-shock agitation, indicating that his predicament was quite normal.

I liked that The Two Hundred Ghost, named for the shop's being located at 200 Charing Cross Road, neatly combines the crime fiction staples of detective fiction and independent sleuths. I got some clues via Inspector Prescott's enquiries and others through Sally's insatiable curiosity. There is a fun hint of competitiveness between the two, especially once Johnny begins to assist Sally. This is the 1950s after all so obviously her discoveries would be taken more seriously if a man were to vocalise them! I didn't realise their chaste friendship was meant to be construed as the beginning of a romance though so this came as more of a surprise than the eventual unveiling of the murderer. I enjoyed reading The Two Hundred Ghost and this opportunity to discover Henrietta Hamilton's writing. It's great that publishers such as Agora are republishing these formerly lost classics for modern readers such as myself.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Henrietta Hamilton / Crime fiction / Books from Scotland

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Blood Sky At Night by Steve Turnbull

Blood Sky At Night by Steve Turnbull
Published by Tao Press 2020 Ltd in May 2014.

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

1908. Ceylon. The British Empire tightens its grip on the world. Attempting to deal with questions of race and identity Maliha Anderson is faced with a murder that brings her face to face with her past. And it's a murder that's interwoven with international politics, that even she may not be able to solve.

The second book in the Maliha Anderson murder mysteries, this story follows directly from Murder out of the Blue.

This review was first blogged on Stephanie Jane in April 2016.
I enjoyed reading the first Maliha Anderson novella, Murder Out Of The Blue, way back in November 2014 so I was pleased at how easy I found it to slip back into Steve Turnbull's invented reality for Blood Sky At Night. Set in Edwardian era Ceylon, Maliha's second mystery is the disappearance of one Mary Carnforth. Mary, like Maliha, is a former Roedean School student, but now her position as teacher to Bali princess Ngurah seems to have led her into trouble.

I liked Turnbull's scene setting and descriptions of the wealth and race contrasts across Ceylonese society. Maliha, being part-Indian and part-Scottish, doesn't quite fit in anywhere which makes her perfect to observe on our behalf. Etiquette and class rules are realistically British Empire, and then we get fantastical steampunk touches in the form of vehicles and airships to remind us that this world isn't quite ours after all.

Blood Sky At Night is short at about a hundred pages and I think this is what lets it down. There isn't enough space to show Ceylon and to tell the mystery story so, to me, the mystery side felt incomplete and disjointed. I am sure Maliha understands why she visits various locations, and why the gangs and villains act as they do. However we readers aren't often let in on her detective reasoning and this made much of the mystery impossible to follow. 

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Steve Turnbull / Steampunk stories / Books from England

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Dominicana by Angie Cruz

Dominicana by Angie Cruz
Published by John Murray on the 5th September 2019.

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fifteen-year-old Ana Canción never dreamed of moving to America, the way the girls she grew up with in the Dominican countryside did. But when Juan Ruiz proposes and promises to take her to New York City, she must say yes. It doesn't matter that he is twice her age, that there is no love between them. Their marriage is an opportunity for her entire close-knit family to eventually immigrate. So on New Year's Day, 1965, Ana leaves behind everything she knows and becomes Ana Ruiz, a wife confined to a cold six-floor walk-up in Washington Heights. Lonely and miserable, Ana hatches a reckless plan to escape. But at the bus terminal, she is stopped by César, Juan's free-spirited younger brother, who convinces her to stay.

As the Dominican Republic slides into political turmoil, Juan returns to protect his family's assets, leaving César to take care of Ana. Suddenly, Ana is free to take English lessons at a local church, lie on the beach at Coney Island, dance with César at the Audubon Ballroom, and imagine the possibility of a different kind of life in America. When Juan returns, Ana must decide once again between her heart and her duty to her family.

In bright, musical prose that reflects the energy of New York City, Dominicana is a vital portrait of the immigrant experience and the timeless coming-of-age story of a young woman finding her voice in the world.

Dominicana is loosely based around Angie Cruz's mother's experience of immigrating to New York in the 1960s. At its heart it is a story of immigrant women and girls from many cultures who are forced, either literally or through a powerful sense of duty, to put the potential improvements to their families' situations ahead of their own personal life wishes. Ana is just fifteen when she is married off to Juan Ruiz. She leaves home alone wearing a completely inappropriate frothy dress with a man who couldn't really care less to a ceremony that doesn't amount to anything resembling a wedding. Ana's realisation that she has been coerced into accepting a forever after that is unlikely to ever be happy is a shocking moment in her story, even more so I thought as it is obvious even her mother has chosen to believe dreams rather than acknowledge the truth of her daughter's New York adventure.

I was initially quite irritated by Ana because she is so incredibly passive. This isn't especially a 'cultural thing' I don't think because Ana's older sister chose an alternative course for herself, but Ana's lack of self-determination is exploited by her family. They see her as their only chance to abandon Dominican Republic poverty for American affluence and the Ruiz brothers' flash behaviour only serves to perpetuate the myth that easy lives are just there for the taking in New York. If the brothers had been honest about their struggles in the city, Ana could have had very different prospects.

Dominicana grew on me as a novel the more I read. I never actively disliked reading it, but did find the first quarter or so less gripping than I expected. Perhaps all the chatter and hype last year had unfairly elevated my expectations. Once Ana begins to believe in herself however, I was gripped and couldn't read fast enough!

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Angie Cruz / Historical fiction / Books from Dominican Republic

Monday, 21 December 2020

Cassie Cancels Christmas by Lily Hayden

Cassie Cancels Christmas by Lily Hayden
Published by Hayden Woods Creative on the 5th December 2020.

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mass Consumerism. Hyped Expectations. Forced Fun. Over-bearing Relatives. Queues. The list is endless.

After a string of Christmas catastrophes, Mrs. Christmas aka her mother-in-law is the final straw, and this year, Cassie is cancelling Christmas much to the horror of her festive-loving family.

The countdown is on for Holly, Joe, and Noel to convince Cassie that Christmas really is the most magical time of the year.

A fun, festive countdown through the most stressful wonderful time of the year

Lily Hayden's light-hearted seasonal novella, Cassie Cancels Christmas, was a timely reminder of all the commercialism and peer pressure that's rampant across the UK at this time of year. I've managed to be overseas for the past seven Christmasses and really don't miss this aspect of the festivities! I could easily empathise with Cassie's rapidly increasing stress levels as she tries to make everything perfect for everyone. Having married a man whose surname is Christmas only adds to the expectations. It is, of course, an impossible task and I was impressed by Hayden's portrayal of Cassie. She manages to bring out the humour of the situation while still keeping Cassie as a plausible and believable woman.

Cassie Cancels Christmas is the first Lily Hayden book I have read so I'm pleased it was such an enjoyable story. It's got interesting characters, an authentic family dynamic and, ultimately, a Christmas message with which I wholeheartedly agree. I suggest ignoring any festive tasks you've not yet done and sitting down to read this novella instead. You might just find your workload need not be so heavy after  all!

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Lily Hayden / Christmas stories / Books from England

Sunday, 20 December 2020

The Visitor: A Post-Apocalyptic Murder Mystery by Terry Tyler

The Visitor: A Post-Apocalyptic Murder Mystery by Terry Tyler
Self published in November 2020.

Included in my Vegan Bookshop

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 2024, a mystery virus ravages the entire world. 'Bat Fever' is highly contagious and one hundred per cent lethal. 

A cottage tucked away in an isolated Norfolk village seems like the ideal place to sit out a catastrophic pandemic, but some residents of Hincham resent the arrival of Jack, Sarah and their friends, while others want to know too much about them.

What the villagers don't know is that beneath Sarah's cottage is a fully-stocked, luxury survival bunker. A post-apocalyptic 'des res'. 

Hincham isolates itself from the rest of the country, but the deaths continue―and not from the virus. There's a killer on the loose, but is it a member of the much-depleted community, or somebody from outside? Paranoia is rife, as friend suspects friend, and everybody suspects the newcomers.

Most terrifying of all is that nobody knows who's next on the list...

The Visitor is Terry Tyler's twenty-second Amazon publication, and is set in the same world as her Project Renova series, while being a completely separate, stand-alone novel. 

I'd enjoyed reading the whole of Terry Tyler's dystopian Project Renova series so, when I heard about this new addition, The Visitor, I was intrigued to find out how the novel would fit within the existing PR world and also how writing during a pandemic might have influenced Tyler's vision. I loved that Tyler chose to make The Visitor primarily a crime fiction story. I felt that this gave it a distinctive atmosphere and identity so, while it shares the essential Project Renova timelines, The Visitor is very much its own self-contained story. I think it would be equally as satisfying a read whether one was already familiar with the earlier series or not.

The isolated Norfolk village, Hincham, makes for a wonderfully claustrophobic and very English setting. Tyler's portrayal of this small inward-looking community really brought the place to life for me. I could completely empathise with these people desperately trying to maintain their former standards and beliefs because to fully acknowledge the collapsing world around them would destroy their sense of self. Poor under-appreciated Verity was my favourite character, although I wouldn't want to have to spend a moment with her in real life, and I recognised Peggy in several women I do actually know!  In this story, The Visitor narrates occasional chapters in a suitably chilling, disembodied voice, while most of the narrative is told from the points of view of Sarah, Jack and their friends, Avalon and Finn. There's a fairly large cast to keep track of, several of whom speak directly to the reader, so I was thankful that each one has a distinctive style. The village's suspicious attitude towards incomers rang very true, reflected as it is across Brexit Britain, and I thought Tyler's nods to the Covid situation were very clever, especially the disastrously over-confident ideas that, having survived one pandemic, these people knew exactly what to do in the event of a completely different disease outbreak.

And regarding The Visitor's true identity - I managed to guess wrongly, correctly and wrongly again during the course of reading as each clue swayed my opinion. I like crime fiction but, fortunately, appreciate being surprised by the final denouement as I rarely unravel the truth before it is revealed to me!

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Terry Tyler / Crime fiction / Books from England

Saturday, 19 December 2020

Dancing in the Mosque by Homeira Qaderi

Dancing in the Mosque: An Afghan Mother’s Letter to her Son by Homeira Qaderi
English translation by Zaman Stanizai published by Fourth Estate on the 1st December 2020.

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An exquisite and inspiring memoir about one mother’s unimaginable choice in the face of oppression and abuse in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

How far would you go to protect yourself? Your dignity? Your family?

In the days before Homeira Qaderi gave birth to her son, Siawash, the road to the hospital in Kabul would often be barricaded because of the frequent suicide explosions. With the city and the military on edge, it was not uncommon for an armed soldier to point his gun at the pregnant woman’s bulging stomach, terrified that she was hiding a bomb. Propelled by the love she held for her soon-to-be-born child, Homeira walked through blood and wreckage to reach the hospital doors. But the joy of her beautiful son’s birth was soon overshadowed by other dangers that would threaten her life.

No ordinary Afghan woman, Homeira refused to cower under the strictures of a misogynistic social order. Defying the law, at the age of thirteen, she risked her freedom to teach children reading and writing and fought for women’s rights in her theocratic and patriarchal society.

Devastating in its power, Dancing in the Mosque is a mother’s searing letter to the son she was forced to leave behind. In telling her story – and that of Afghan women – Homeira challenges us to reconsider the meaning of motherhood, sacrifice, and survival.

Dancing In The Mosque is an incredible memoir of perseverance and emotional strength. Homeira Qaderi has given up absolutely everything, including her own very young son, in order to fight for Afghan women's rights and, through reading this searingly personal memoir, I feel I understand a little of what this woman has been through and what drives her. The book is written as a chronological memoir, with chapters interspersed with Qaderi's intensely poignant letter to her son, Siawash, who remained with her husband in Afghanistan. Afghan law doesn't recognise women's rights to even see their children if the father doesn't wish it and, despite long drawn-out legal proceedings, mother and son have been kept apart for years. Siawash has even been told his mother died.

Qaderi portrays Afghan life over several decades from Russian to Taliban oppression, showing how the Afghan people themselves have been pushed from pillar to post for years without any opportunity to determine their own lives. Swapping one set of men with guns for another set and then another. I cannot imagine the mental strength it would take to set oneself against a regime as Qaderi did. Despite my disagreeing with her grandmother's admonishments to knuckle down and accept patriarchal customs regardless of their unfairness, I could see why the older woman could think this way. She could stomach the repression and was, at least, alive to tell the tale. Qaderi took the opposite approach though, choosing as a teenager to teach literacy to refugee girls in direct defiance to Taliban edicts. She is an inspirational woman whose memoir I highly recommend to women everywhere.  

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Books by Homeira Qaderi / Biography and memoir / Books from Afghanistan

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

The Times We Had by Alice Griffin

The Times We Had by Alice Griffin
Published by Little Loquat Press in 2016.

A More Than One Challenge read and included in my Vegan Bookshop

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook via Etsy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Writing is how I try and make sense of life and I just love the medium of short stories as there is not always time to read (or write!) novels, but I believe short fiction offers the option to still have a character or thought linger throughout the day, transporting us away from the more tedious tasks of life!

In this collection ~ several of which have appeared in magazines, anthologies and won competitions ~ I have focused on the making and reminiscing of memories... some sad, some funny, some thought-provoking. 

♡ I hope you enjoy them ♡ 

Illustrated with B&W line drawings by the Portuguese artist, Joana Soares, this anthology includes nine short and flash fiction stories.

I loved Alice Griffin's poetry collection, Poems For Animals, so was keen to also read these short stories, The Times We Had. The book comprises nine short and flash fiction stories, each beginning with a fun scene-setting illustration by Joana Soares. I was surprised by just how closely I found myself connecting with two tales in particular, Quiet Space and The Walk. The idea of being drawn towards the quiet spaces  little-used paths - alleyways and towpaths for example - really resonated. In my Sussex childhood, such alleys were called twittens and I often took their routes to avoid the High Street noise and chaos. Although I felt like the odd one out back then, it's reassuring to now realise that I wasn't! The Walk has one of my favourite phrases of The Times We Had where Enid is described as 'a well-worn woman in well-worn boots'. I love this image.

The Times We Had was originally published a few years ago, but I think its focus on remembering our lives' small moments really resonates with what 2020 has taught me. Griffin's characters beautifully reminisce over long-ago family holidays, lost friendships and departed relations. Their recollections are sympathetically portrayed and I loved the authenticity of these thoughts and conversations. For me, The Times We Had made for a perfect end-of-year read.

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Books by Alice Griffin / Short stories / Books from England

Monday, 14 December 2020

Wondrous Journeys In Strange Lands by Sonia Nimr

Wondrous Journeys In Strange Lands by Sonia Nimr
First published in Arabic by Tamer Institute in 2013. English language translation by Marcia Lynx Qualey published by Interlink on the 1st September 2020.

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Award-winning historical fantasy and literary folktale.
Winner of the presigious Etisalat award.

In a tent at the foot of a mountain in Palestine, hundreds of years ago, our storyteller and her twin sister are born. Her newlywed parents name her Qamr (Moon) and her sister Shams (Sun). Their small caravan is journeying from the mother's city back to the father's remote ancestral village atop the mountain. This village suffers from isolation and a curse, which her young family tries to undo. But when both her parents' lives are cut short, Qamr and her sister are left orphans. And so, Qamr decides to pursue her mother's and father's dreams of discovering the world--its people and places, ideas and stories. With the red book in hand that brought her parents together, she sets out on a daring journey, on caravans and ships, across empires.

Telling stories to survive, Qamr crosses deserts and seas: to Jerusalem and Gaza; Egypt, Tangier, Andalusia and Genoa; Abyssinia, India, the Maldives and Yemen. Kidnapped by bandits, sold as a slave to the House of a mad King, studying with a polymath, disguising as a man and falling in love for the first time--with a pirate: Qamr searches irrepressibly for life, in endless stories within stories. Like the famous travel narratives of the 14th century Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta, Sonia Nimr's award-winning Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands is a richly imagined feminist fable and a captivating, adventure-filled historical novel.

Wondrous Journeys In Strange Lands is a beautifully envisaged feminist adventure tale set in a fluidly historic era that recounts the amazing life and travels of storyteller, Qamr. We are never told exactly how many hundreds of years ago this story takes place so my imagination rooted it in a kind of Arabian Nights fairytale context which suited the prose style and Qamr's adventures. I loved how Nimr weaves many different tales into the narrative. The literary device of the book I read, Wondrous Journeys In Strange Lands, also being a tangible book within the story is inspired and its frequent fortuitous appearances added a deep sense of magic. Qamr's storytelling talent gets her out of several awkward situations and I often wondered how much of her adventures were 'genuine' and how much she embellished for the sake of a compelling tale!

Qamr herself is a memorable heroine. Brave and quick witted, her travels take her from her isolated, superstitious childhood village across deserts by camel caravans and across oceans in a pirate ship. Qamr is very much a woman in a male-dominated world, but she finds ingenious ways to further her travels. Her character and motivations always felt authentic to me with a convincing depth that I really appreciated. Wondrous Journeys In Strange Lands is the kind of classic adventure tale I couldn't get enough of as a child and I would have adored that this one centres on a woman's expeditions. I still adore that about it now!

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Books by Sonia Nimr / Adventure stories / Books from Palestine

Sunday, 13 December 2020

Chroma by Oscar Wenman-Hyde

Chroma by Oscar Wenman-Hyde

Self published on the 18th September 2020.

How I got this book: Received a review copy via Rachel's Random Resources

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amazon UK /

When Riley watched Chroma, the latest movie by Armani Manora, he had no idea how much his life was about to change. Riley's parents, Jean and Paul, are currently getting divorced, and they have managed to keep the situation hidden from Riley, until now. 

They were unaware of the effects this was having on Riley's emotional and mental well-being, and as tensions rose at school and at home, he was visited by a voice in his bedroom. Before too long, he began a journey that was not only dangerous, but eye opening. 

Chroma explores the rapidly changing family dynamic throughout divorce, and how a child's imagination can take them to unknown places. It is emotional, insightful and a moving story which not only teaches us how to be an adult, but how to be a child.

Chroma is a child's-eye portrayal of the effects of divorce on a precociously imaginative eight-year-old child, Riley. The novel clearly depicts how adults attempting to hide family disruption for the sake of the child can easily backfire. Riley is only too aware that his parents are splitting up but his mother's inability to discuss this with him results in the boy getting misleading information from playground conversations instead and leaping to his own conclusions. His mother, Jean, is struggling to cope herself which, understandably, doesn't help the situation. I admit to being shocked at her encouraging such a young child to regularly view adult horror and thriller films as well as appalled by the poor diet she feeds him. I felt I was supposed to sympathise with Jean's predicament, but found this impossible to do. Wenman-Hyde has created interesting characters in Riley and Jean however and their interactions always did feel authentic. Jean's abrasive relationship with her sister, Sam, adds depth to the scenario. Unfortunately, for me, Chroma fell down on two aspects. Firstly, the writing style is very heavy on telling rather than showing so I often felt pushed back from the action. Atmospheric and tense moments are also frequently diluted by lengthy diversions into unnecessary back stories. Secondly, I was confused by why two American police officers are employed in a town that otherwise is portrayed as British. Their existence clashes with practically every other cultural pointer so initially I wondered if 'Deputy Barrow' and 'the Chief' eating donuts in their squad car were a figment of Riley's imagination. Distractions like this are unfortunate as, at its heart, Chroma has a strong narrative and I did appreciate spotting so many film references scattered throughout the book.

Meet the author   

Oscar Wenman-Hyde is a writer living in Gloucester, UK. Born and raised in the quiet towns of North Devon, Oscar would spend the majority of his time as a child writing and directing short films with his brother and neighbours. From here, Oscar’s passion led him to explore all aspects of his creativity, by graduating with a BA Hons in Songwriting at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute. He now finds joy in all mediums of writing and although he has worked and trained in many areas, he is always inspired by film and remains grounded in storytelling. 

Author links: 

Facebook ~ Instagram @oj_scriptwriters ~ Instagram @oscarwenmanhyde

Search Literary Flits for more:

Books by Oscar Wenman-Hyde / Contemporary fiction / Books from England