Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Fermat's Last Theorem by Simon Singh


Fermat's Last Theorem by Simon Singh
First published by Fourth Estate in 1997. Published in America as Fermat's Enigma.

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

How I got this book:
Bought from The Children's Society charity shop in Garstang

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was lucky to hear Simon Singh at an Eastbourne Sceptics In The Pub meeting where he discussed his then new book about the Mathematical Secrets Of The Simpsons. Fermat's Last Theorem was also name-dropped during the evening and it has taken me this long to get to reading it! I was put off by feeling that I would probably be unable to understand any of the actual maths, however was pleasantly surprised to discover that my comprehension didn't fail me until over half-way through and the underlying story can be appreciated even if the algebra is skipped!

Fermat's Last Theorem tells the story of this most enigmatic equation both through the mathematical history that led to its solution and through small biographies of the men and women who were fascinated by it. I was delighted to see female names, albeit only a few, but I hadn't expected any. Singh has a talent for presenting the human stories behind scientific and, in this case, mathematical achievements and I found myself getting quite caught up in the excitement. For a moment I even wished I had tried harder in maths at school - until the next bout of equations reminded me why I didn't!

I think those who are versed in maths will probably get more from this book overall, but it was an interesting read even without full understanding and I appreciated the historical context of each separate discovery, layering up until Andrew Wiles' showstopping moment and beyond. As when I read Sophie's World, I doubt many of the names will remain in my memory for long, but I very much enjoyed Singh's writing and would turn to his books again to guide me though similar subjects.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Simon Singh / Science and mathematics / Books from England

Monday, 22 August 2016

There Were Many Horses by Luiz Ruffato


There Were Many Horses by Luiz Ruffato
First published in Portuguese in Brazil as Eles Eram Muito Cavalos in 2001. English translation by Anthony Doyle published in 2014 by AmazonCrossing.
Winner of the Brazilian National Library’s Machado de Assis Award and the APCA Award for best novel.

This is my 2000s book for the Goodreads-Bookcrossing Decade Challenge 2016-17.

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

How I got this book:
Purchased the ebook

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

'It’s May 9, 2000, and São Paulo is teeming with life. As Luiz Ruffato describes the scenes around him on this one typical day, he deciphers every minute and second of a metropolis marked by diversity - a mosaic of people from all over Brazil and the world that defines São Paulo’s personality at the start of the twenty-first century. The city is more than just traffic jams, parks, and global financial manoeuvring. It is alive, and every rat and dusty grocery truck informs its distinctive character.'

I hesitate to call There Were Many Horses a novel because this experimental piece of writing doesn't conform to that expected format at all. I think the closest work I have previously read was Joe Fiorito's Rust Is A Form Of Fire although There Were Many Horses spreads its vision across a whole city rather than a single corner, describing Sao Paulo via a multitude of voices. Ruffato writes about a single day by way of sixty-eight vignettes. Some are just a few lines - a horoscope or a weather report. Others, my favourites, extend to several pages of breathless stream-of-consciousness prose which I found an absolute joy to read even though their subject matter is frequently disturbing.

People die violently in Sao Paulo. Poverty, drugs, corruption, prostitution and alcoholism are rife and we learn about their victims at first hand. There Are Many Horses begins with a Cecilia Meireles quote "There were so many horses but no one remembers their names" and those words accurately sum up how I was left at the end of the book. Many of Ruffato's people are actually named, but there are so many struggling to cope with such desperate lives that they blend into a flood of humanity. I remember details now, but couldn't tell you which tale was whose and, as a reader, it doesn't matter. What is wonderfully memorable is the frantic metropolitan atmosphere created and the sense almost of having genuinely visited Sao Paulo. On the strength of There Were Many Horses though, it is not somewhere I really want to go!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Luiz Ruffato / Contemporary fiction / Books from Brazil

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Kings Or Pawns by J J Sherwood + Giveaway


Kings Or Pawns by J J Sherwood
Published by Silver Helm in October 2015.

I am thrilled to be taking part in the Steps Of Power blog tour for Kings Or Pawns! The event is running throughout August and details of all the dozens of blogs taking part are at www.stepsofpower.com - today you can also read about Kings Or Pawns on Flyleaf Chronicles.
Plus there's contests and art reveals to enjoy as well as a great Giveaway which I am proud to be helping host - my second Giveaway this week! (The first one's here) J J Sherwood is giving away signed hardback copies of Kings Or Pawns and other fantasy swag. Scroll down this blog post for the Rafflecopter widget ...

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

How I got this book:
Received an ebook copy from the author in exchange for my honest review

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

'The first book in JJ Sherwood's Steps of Power epic fantasy series. The Kings, Book I: Kings or Pawns is a political intrigue that spirals into an action and adventure series as the final events unfold.
8,994 P.E.—The elven city of Elvorium has become corrupted to the core by politics. With his father dead and The Royal Schism at his back, Prince Hairem becomes the king of the elven world on Sevrigel. Young and daring, Hairem is determined to undo the council’s power, but quickly finds his loyal council members brutally murdered by an assassin loosed within the city. As corruption and death threaten to tear the city apart from within, the warlord Saebellus threatens the city from without, laying siege to Sevrigel’s eastern capital. With the elven world crumbling around him, Hairem finds himself in a dangerous political balance between peace and all out war.'

Kings Or Pawns is epic fantasy so there were lots of unfamiliar names to get my head around, both elves and places. I love Sherwood's descriptions of her sumptuous locations in Elvorium, especially when this contrasts with the icebound northern city of Darival. Starring roles in the predominantly male cast are well characterised with elves like new King Hairem and General Jikun being truly fleshed out creations although subject to a surprising volte-face or two as the story progesses. Only two significant characters are female and one of these is mute - I wondered if this was a comment on traditional roles for women in the fantasy genre!

Our story takes in murderous political shenanigans, huge battles, supernatural abilities and wielding of the dark arts. I almost thought there was to much crammed in for just one book! The fast pace meant my interest never waned even though I would have liked to spend more time in some situations. We occasionally jumped several weeks in time without me realising which got a tad confusing. However, Sherwood has a fabulous imagination and I was thrilled by scenes such as the Thakish hunt which is wonderfully vivid. It's difficult for me to say much more about Kings Or Pawns without giving away any of the plotline and I definitely wouldn't want to do that. Suffice to say that it has a satisfy story arc and yet still manages to leave threads open for its sequel (Heroes Or Thieves - available now!).


So, you've got this far and I guess you're impatient to enter the Giveaway now?
Here it is!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

If you're eager for more J J Sherwood, I can secretly whisper to you that there are three fantastic opportunities to meet up with her in person in the very near future. She is visiting Cincinnati Comic Expo, St Louis Archon and New York Comic Con in September and October so don't miss out. There might still be tickets available!



Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by J J Sherwood / Fantasy / Books from America

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Excellent Daughters by Katherine Zoepf


Excellent Daughters by Katherine Zoepf
Published by Penguin Press in January 2016.

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

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Women in Middle Eastern countries aren't often given much of a voice in the European press and media so, when I saw this book by journalist Katherine Zoepf, I was keen to read it. Zoepf spent over a decade meeting and talking to mostly young women across the Middle East, discussing their lives: education prospects, marriage plans, religion, social interactions, and hopes for their futures. Her writing was first published as articles in the New Yorker which results in some repetition across this relatively short book, although I believe the articles have been re-edited with new material added.

Excellent Daughters is written for a American audience so, understandably, has a strong Western filter. However, I liked that many of the conversations are reported word for word and, while Zoepf makes observations such as Saudi girls appearing younger in their behaviour than their American counterparts, she doesn't give this negative or positive connotations. Zoepf discusses how women are opening Islamic schools for girls, allowing them to read, interpret and argue Koranic laws from a female perspective. Others are taking advantage of new employment opportunities and the resultant financial freedom. Most interesting for me though was her conversations with women who, although they would like to change some aspects of their lives, don't want our Western ideas of commercialisation and individuality over community.

This survey attempts to portray many changes across a half dozen different countries, each of which has its own ideas of proper behaviour for its women. The country differences in themselves are fascinating, showing the popular Western media's idea of 'how Muslim women live' to be a wild misconception. However, I would have preferred a longer, deeper book, or a narrower subject focus because I often felt that Zoepf was just skimming the surface and there is much more to say.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Katherine Zoepf / Reportage / Books from America

Friday, 19 August 2016

Pierced By The Sun by Laura Esquivel


Pierced By The Sun by Laura Esquivel

First published in Spanish as A Lupita le gustaba planchar by Casa Del Libros in Mexico in 2015. English translation by Jordi Castells published by AmazonCrossing in 2016.

This is my first book for the Goodreads-Bookcrossing Decade Challenge 2016-17.

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

How I got this book:
Received a copy from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'Lupita’s hard-knock life has gotten the better of her time and time again. A childhood robbed of innocence set off a chain of events that she still has not managed to control, no matter how hard she tries. Every time she thinks she has a handle on things, unexpected turns make her question everything, including herself.
When Lupita witnesses the murder of a local politician whom she greatly admires, the ghosts of her past resurface as she tries to cope with the present. She quickly falls back into her old self-destructive habits and becomes a target of Mexico’s corrupt political machine. As the powers that be kick into high gear to ensure the truth remains hidden, Lupita finds solace in the purity of indigenous traditions. While she learns how to live simply, like her ancestors, she comes to understand herself and rediscovers light within a dark life. And if there is hope for Lupita’s redemption, perhaps there is hope for Mexico.'

I enjoyed this Mexican take on the dysfunctional detective mystery novel and particularly the way Esquivel slowly reveals the life of our 'heroine', Lupita. A policewoman who witnesses a murder, her alcoholism is described in such knowing detail that I am sure Esquivel must have been close to someone who similarly suffered. At the same time, we explore the economic destruction of Mexico whose only significant industry appears to be drug production to satisfy northern gringo addicts. Against this squalor and despair, hope is ultimately revealed through revisiting the mysticism of ancient Mexico and I appreciated the factual asides briefly explaining aspects of Aztec deities and rituals. The dual storylines make for a surprisingly rich novella.
I liked the structure of beginning chapters with 'Lupita Liked ...' and using these character insights to advance the story. I felt I completely understood her and certainly could empathise with her struggles to heal both herself and her country. As a novella though, Pierced By The Sun does fall somewhat between two stools. I didn't experience the same degree of mysticism as I have in longer Latin American works, and it's not a standard fit for the crime genre either. I wonder if this is the cause of the truly awful reviews I found of the book? I was nearly put off reading it altogether, but am glad I did so because I was impressed by Esquivel's unique voice.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Laura Esquivel / Crime novels / Books from Mexico

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Mandela: An Audio History produced by Joe Richman


Mandela: An Audio History produced by Joe Richman

Published by Highbridge Audio on the 19th February 2014

Where to buy this book:
Buy the audio CD from Abebooks
Buy the audio CD from Alibris
Buy the audiobook download from Audible via Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk
Search for the audio CD on eBay

How I got this book:
Downloaded as part of the AudioSYNC summer programme in 2016

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

'Recognized as one of the most comprehensive oral histories of apartheid ever broadcast (NPR, BBC, CBC, SABC), Mandela: An Audio History tells the story of the struggle against apartheid through rare sound recordings. The series weaves together more than 50 first-person interviews with an unprecedented collection of archival sound: a rare recording of the 1964 trial that resulted in Mandela’s life sentence; a visit between Mandela and his family secretly taped by a prison guard; marching songs of guerilla soldiers; government propaganda films; and pirate radio broadcasts from the African National Congress (ANC). Once thought lost forever, Radio Diaries producer Joe Richman unearthed a treasure trove of these historic recordings in the basement archive of the South African Broadcasting Corporation. Ultimately, over 50 hours of archival recordings and many more hours of contemporary interviews with the living witnesses to South Africa’s turbulent history have gone into the creation of one of the most moving audio documentaries ever produced.'

This Radio Diaries programme provides a concise overview of the apartheid years in South Africa. It lasts one hour fifteen minutes and and includes iconic moments such as an original recording of Mandela's 'Prepared to die' statement at the conclusion of his trial speech. Snippets of African protest songs link other recordings of news broadcasts and interview segments. I found the audiobook interesting to hear and felt that this would have been a suitable introduction to the other South Africa history book I recently read, The Road To Soweto. However I was disappointed that there wasn't more to it. If this really is 'one of the most comprehensive oral histories of apartheid' I am left wondering how many others have been produced.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Joe Richman / History books / Books from America

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

From The Blue by James Cole + Giveaway

Scroll down for the new Giveaway!


From The Blue by James Cole 
Published by Oversteps Books in 2002

Where to buy this book:
Buy the book from Abebooks
Buy the book from Amazon.co.uk
Search for this author on Alibris
Search for this author on eBay

I registered this book at Bookcrossing

How I got this book:
Purchased from OXFAM

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

'James Cole was born in Torquay and has lived in the west country for all his life. He has been writing for some years and is a member of The Company Of Poets, a group of Devon-based writers and has had some of his poems published in their anthologies. He gets much of his inspiration from walking Dartmoor and from the sea and coastline of the south west. He has attended courses run by The Arvon Foundation at Totleigh Barton, north Devon. Other interests include painting. He currently lives in Totnes. This is his first collection of poetry.'

Having now lived in Torquay for a few weeks, I am interested to discover the local arts and culture scene so was very pleased to spot this slim volume of poetry in the OXFAM bookshop. James Cole's inspiration by the seasons and natural landscapes of Devon shines through many of his poems and I can completely understand his love for this area. Poems such as Caliburn and Out To Sea seem to demonstrate a real yearning and I loved the simple yet vivid imagery of Horses and The End Of The Day. Other poems I found a little heavy-handed and I wasn't sure about the order in which they appear. I struggled to maintain a sense of atmosphere as we jumped around in time. From The Blue does have a strong sense of location and I also felt a loneliness to the work. Poems do say 'we' for their narrator, but human influence is absent from the natural spaces leaving me easily imagining the poet in these wild places alone.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by James Cole / Poetry / Books from England


And now for the Giveaway!

I have my paperback copy of From The Blue to giveaway simply for answering the following question on this blog post. How easy is that?!

The Question:
Name another poetry book you have enjoyed?

Comment your answer on this post before midnight (UK time) on the 24th of August to be in with a chance of winning.

This paperback book is my copy so not new, but still in very good condition. The book has been registered on Bookcrossing and you are welcome to add your stage of its journey or ignore the label as you prefer.

The Giveaway is open worldwide. Answers must be commented by midnight (UK time) on the 24th August and I will randomly pick a winner on the 25th. The winner will be notified by replying to their Comment so if you think you might miss this response please also include other contact info such as your blog URL, twitter name or FB page. If the winner does not respond within 7 days, they will forfeit the prize.

Good luck!

This giveaway is listed on:

Beck Valley Books