Sunday, 31 July 2016

The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon


The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Published in 1994. Translated by Lucia Graves.

This book is one of my WorldReads from Spain.

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:
Purchased a second-hand copy from Oxfam

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn't realise The Midnight Palace was a young adult title when I bought it. I loved Shadow of the Wind and was hoping for more of the same strong writing as I had encountered there. Midnight Palace does not have the beautiful poetic prose of Shadow Of The Wind as is far more concentrated on relaying action and suspense than on extended description. However, it does have good atmosphere with a strong sense of place, and is a gripping adventure story.

Set in 1930s Calcutta, the story follows the mysterious and magical adventures of teenager Ben and his friends as they leave the security of St Patrick's Orphanage where they have grown up. Zafon creates fabulous locations, especially the Palace itself which is actually a formerly fine and now disused railway station. I would recommend this to adults as a light fantasy thriller and a good holiday read.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Carlos Ruiz Zafon / Young adult / Books from Spain

Saturday, 30 July 2016

The Children's Home by Charles Lambert


The Children's Home by Charles Lambert
First published by Aardvark Bureau on the 5th January 2016.

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

How I got this book:
Received a copy from its publishers, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Children's Home is set in an unspecified country that is vaguely enough described that it could be almost anywhere. A man in early middle-age, Morgan, lives reclusively behind the high walls of his private estate seen only by a housekeeper, Engel, who arrived mysteriously in the relatively recent past. An earlier accident left Morgan facially disfigured and he copes with his self-imposed isolation by spending hours amongst his grandfather's library of books. He catalogues these books and only occasionally opens one to read it. When a baby is discovered on the kitchen doorstep Morgan allows Engel to care for it and soon other children begin appearing too. All are given a home within the sprawling house.

The Children's Home is another novel which has wonderfully written scenes. Like another recent read, Silk, the prose is beautiful and there are numerous memorable images, although I am hoping that the dark moments towards the end of the tale do fade soon as some were disturbing to read. I have only awarded a three-star rating though because other aspects were irritating or baffling. Lambert has his characters be evasive on frequent occasions. One especially, a precocious boy named David who seems to age rapidly and soons becomes a kind of leader, repeatedly tells us, through Morgan, that we must be patient and the time is not yet right. However, the book isn't very long! Morgan is unbelievably passive and the children are never clearly defined. We don't even learn how many of them there are. The final denouement is graphic and powerful, but I ultimately thought it unsatisfying because I still didn't know what was really going on. The whys and hows aren't explained so it felt like I had read only the middle chapters. A shame because much of the writing itself is very good, but the overall story is so well hidden that, much like Morgan himself, I felt I had completely missed the point.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Charles Lambert / Horror / Books from England

Friday, 29 July 2016

The Knife Of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness


The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Published by Walker Books in May 2008. Bolinda audio edition, narrated by Humphrey Bower, published in February 2011.

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

How I got this book:
Purchased the audiobook

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I downloaded the audio version of The Knife Of Never Letting Go from Audible when it was included in one of their two-for-one sales. Humphrey Bower's narration is perfect for the story and I think I enjoyed it far more as spoken word than I would have done in print. Todd, our young hero, speaks in a way that reflects his almost complete lack of education and continuously reading this would have become irritating, but as audio it worked.

I loved Patrick Ness' creation of New World. I could easily picture and believe in this newly settled planet and its native inhabitants. Noise is an interesting concept too and I liked how this aspect of life was explored. The huge stalking bird is fun and the whole set-up of talking animals is well thought through with their interactions reflecting ordinary human observations of their behaviour. Manchee, Todd's dog, was absolutely the star of the book for me!

Other than our main protagonists, Todd and Viola, who do blossom through the novel, the characters are pretty flat, either Good or Evil, and without any great depth. The unfolding horror of the Prentisstown story is nicely paced, but I did find Todd and Viola's repeated hairs-breadth escapes wearying after a while. Aaron's Terminator-like refusal to die is quite funny, but probably not intentionally so! There is a lot of repetition which gets dull, especially of Todd's woe-is-me litany and asking whether murdering someone is necessary to make a boy a man.

As a basic story, I would only have awarded three stars. There's a good unexpected twist at the end, although this does leave us with a cliffhanger, but the main story arc definitely ends so this isn't as irritating as with other series. However, the lift of the audio narration meant The Knife Of Never Letting Go did hold my interest throughout its twelve hours so I have given a four star rating. I am not sure I will return for the next two instalments though.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Patrick Ness / Fantasy / Books from America

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Riker's Calling by Rico Lamoureux


Riker's Calling by Rico Lamoureux
Published by Dramatic Novellas on 4th August 2016. Available to pre-order now through Amazon at a 25% discount. Price will go back up on the 4th.

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

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'From school bullies to the crime-ridden streets of his hometown of Los Angeles, Jeremy Riker has always felt the need to do something about the injustice surrounding him. Just as he sets out on his journey as an urban warrior, he unknowingly gives rise to an obsessive adversary, who ends up becoming one of the most notorious serial killers the city has ever known. Dubbed by the news media as The Spyderco Killer, the methodical psychopath roots himself deep into Riker's life for the long haul, until his own madness propels everything into an intense climax.'

I was pleasantly surprised by just how good this novella is! Despite its short length, there is gripping tension throughout and good character progression for the main two protagonists. I liked the contrasts between the locales in which scenes take place - the gentle harbour, pristine hospital, seedy city streets - and Lamoureux has paced his story perfectly so there is never a dull moment, but I didn't feel the narrative was overly rushed either. A smattering of typos do detract slightly from the atmosphere and there are several shockingly violent moments - this isn't a book for anyone with a knife phobia! The epilogue takes us into the beginning of a sequel, however Riker's Calling stands as a full story in its own right and has a satisfying conclusion. I very much enjoyed reading this novella.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Rico Lamoureux / Thrillers / Books from America

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

In The Heart Of Cairo by Mahi Wasfy + Giveaway

Scroll down for the new Giveaway!


In The Heart Of Cairo by Mahi Wasfy
Self published via Now Novel on the 29th May 2016.

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

How I got this book:
Downloaded the ebook from Smashwords

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

'When anti-bias educator, Mrs. Magda, becomes the new Theory of Knowledge teacher at the American School in Cairo, she is shocked to discover the ugly truth behind the school’s prestigious reputation. Despite the challenges and hostility she faces, Mrs. Magda is committed to achieving her career goal of transforming the environment at the school and making it truly bicultural. Although the school’s administration hired her to achieve just that, they realize her aspirations might be a bit too ambitious for their liking. Meanwhile Maha, a senior at the school, just wants to have a drama-free and fun senior year – but gets exactly the opposite. She finds herself caught up in a divine storm where everything in her life goes wrong. Shattered dreams, melodramas, fallouts and love triangles are just a few of the issues she has to battle. Maha doesn’t know if she can handle the pressure and risks losing herself in her efforts not to be the class misfit.'

In The Heart Of Cairo provides an interesting look at cultural struggles within present-day Egypt. Wasfy uses the microcosm of an International School to present opposing viewpoints and I was surprised that a people in a country with such an incredible history should suffer from such division of identity. Wasfy herself is obviously very much against the creeping Westernisation and Americanisation of Egypt and uses this novel to put across ideas for true biculturalism. Unfortunately this often takes a soapbox approach with characters frequently launching into deep and meaningful political speeches in what seemed to me to be inappropriate circumstances.

It takes several chapters for the novel to settle into its style and I was disappointed that most characters speak with Wasfy's voice so I never got a strong sense of anyone as a genuine individual. Speech often comes across as unnecessarily formal and unnatural. However I liked reading glimpses into both affluent and poor Egyptian life, especially the way in which people at both extremes of class treat each other with similar mistrust and disdain. Mrs Magda and Maha's storylines combine well and we are treated to a satisfying conclusion to our tale.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Mahi Wasfy / Young adult books / Books from Egypt


And now for the Giveaway!

This week's prize is a free ebook copy of In The Heart Of Cairo by Mahi Wasfy and there are two ways to win! Firstly, if you're reading this post in July, Smashwords has a site-wide promotion, its Summer/Winter sale, and Mahi Wasfy is offering her book for free during this time. Simply enter the code SFREE at checkout to get your copy.

However, if it's already August when you find this post or if you simply like entering competitions (!) then answer The Question below and I will gift an ebook copy of In The Heart Of Cairo, via Smashwords, to one lucky winner.

The Question:
Name a fiction or non-fiction book about Egypt.

Comment your answer on this post before midnight (UK time) on the 3rd of August to be in with a chance of winning.

The Giveaway is open worldwide. Answers must be commented by midnight (UK time) on the 3rd August and I will randomly pick a winner on the 4th. 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:

 

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

The First Wife by Paulina Chiziane


The First Wife: A Tale of Polygamy by Paulina Chiziane
First published in Portuguese in Mozambique by Sao Paolo: Companhia das Letres in 2003 as Niketche: Uma Historia de Poligamia. English translation by David Brookshaw published by Archipelago Books on the 28th July 2016 with the ebook edition available from the 9th August.

One of my Top Ten Books of 2016.

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

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

'In this, a ground-breaking publication in the canon of non-Western women's literary history, Paulina Chiziane - the first woman from Mozambique ever to publish a novel - lifts the lid on her country's values and its hypocracies. After 20 years of marriage, Rami discovers that her husband has been living a double - or rather, a quintuple - life. After Tony is forced to marry the four other women - as well as an additional lover - according to polygamist custom, the rival lovers join together to declare their voices and demand their rights.'

When I realised The First Wife was the first published novel by a Mozambican woman I was eager to read it. The book could be considered to be pretty typical women's fiction fare as it centres on Rami's efforts to keep her straying husband, Tony, by her side. However Chiziane's powerful writing and gorgeous prose lift The First Wife way above its genre and I absolutely loved reading it. The poetical sweeps of language are frequently breathtaking and Brookshaw has done a superb job of their translation. I never once felt distracted by an awkward phrase.

Chiziane shows us Mozambique life and society through the eyes of her narrator, Rami, highlighting the differences between men and women, north and south, tradition and modernity. It's for books like this that I love searching out world literature - my preconceptions about lifestyle and marriage choices have been challenged by views from a totally different culture and yet I could still strongly identify and empathise with Rami and her views on what it means to be a woman. We see, smell and taste love and betrayal, faith and hypocrisy. I would urge everyone who enjoys beautifully constructed sentences to rush out and buy this book as well as literary and women's fiction fans. The First Wife is often a far from a happy tale, but I found it an absolute joy to read.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Paulina Chiziane / Womens fiction / Books from Mozambique

Monday, 25 July 2016

The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing


The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing
Published in 1988

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

I registered this book at Bookcrossing

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The novella is billed as horror but I didn't find it fitted into what I would expect from that genre as, although the eponymous child is described as not human, the book is more an examination of social expectations and how we treat people who are different to ourselves.

Harriet and David meet during an office party in the swinging sixties. Both are considered 'old fashioned' by their friends and family. Neither wants to take advantage of the new freedoms of the era and both were effectively sidelined until they met each other. We see their brief courtship and the purchase of a ridiculously large house after their swift marriage. Harriet is soon pregnant with the first of the large family they both desire and, as the years go by and their brood increases, Harriet and David's house become the place to be. Family and friends descend at Christmas, Easter and the summer holidays filling the house with happiness. Instead of being mocked for being uptight and straight laced, the couple are now envied for their welcome and (assisted) generosity.

All is perfect until Harriet's more than usually difficult fifth pregnancy and the birth of Ben, a strange stocky child who physically develops faster than his age should allow, but mentally seems remote and unable to understand basic social concepts. The catalyst for visitors cutting short their stays or making excuses to be elsewhere, Harriet feels blamed for his existence and Ben's menacing presence upsets the other children. After violent acts, David and his parents arrange for Ben to be sent away, leaving Harriet apparently the only one experiencing guilt at his absence.

Lessing has written a compelling novella which I found difficult to put down. It does seem rather dated now although I can't quite put my finger on why, but asks deep questions about how difficult children are treated. Ben is presented as less (or perhaps more) than human, but does this mean he should be excluded? Does his right to a normal family upbringing override the potential safety of his siblings in the same environment? How much freedom should children be allowed in order for them to be happy? These questions are just as relevant today as in the 1980s when The Fifth Child was written and I don't think the answers are any easier. We know what we think we should do and feel, but if this was your family, what decision would you take?


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Doris Lessing / Horror / Books from England

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Across The Silence by Caroline Gourlay & Sara Philpott


Across The Silence by Caroline Gourlay
Published in the UK in June 2015 by Five Seasons Press

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

How I got this book:
Briefly borrowed from a friend

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I visited friend's house last week and noticed this beautiful book lying on a side table. It is a collection of haiku by Caroline Gourlay which is illustrated with stunning artwork by Sara Philpott. Being the curious reader I am, I started glancing through and was soon swept up in both the poetry and the illustrated plates. I liked that the chosen images complemented the haiku, but without specifically reproducing the poems' imagery so I could get separate impressions from each with a third meaning often being revealed by their combination. Both Gourlay and Philpott are, I believe, based in Wales and the idea of a rural Welsh landscape is strong within the work.

To give you an idea of Gourlay's haiku, this one was my favourite:

return journey
the child's coat still hanging
on the hedge

Examples of Sara Philpott's fabulous illustrations can be seen on her own website, www.saraphilpott.com


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Caroline Gourlay or Sara Philpott / Poetry / Books from England

Saturday, 23 July 2016

The Road To Soweto by Julian Brown


The Road To Soweto: Resistance And The Uprising Of 16 June 1976 by Julian Brown
Published by James Currey in April 2016.

One of my WorldReads from South Africa.

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

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

'This revisionary account of the Soweto Uprising of June 1976 and the decade preceding it transforms our understanding of what led to this crucial flashpoint of South Africa's history. Brown argues that far from there being "quiescence" following the Sharpeville Massacre and the suppression of African opposition movements, during which they went underground, this period was marked by experiments in resistance and attempts to develop new forms of politics that prepared the ground for the Uprising. Students at South Africa's segregated universities began to re-organise themselves as a political force; new ideas about race reinvigorated political thought; debates around confrontation shaped the development of new forms of protest. The protest then began to move off university campuses and on to the streets: through the independent actions of workers in Durban, and attempts by students to link their struggles with a broader agenda. These actions made protest public once again, and helped establish the patterns of popular action and state response that would come to shape the events in Soweto on 16 June 1976.'

Julian Brown is a Lecturer in the Department of Political Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg so was perfectly placed to research this detailed survey of the years between the Sharpeville Massacre and the Soweto Uprising. Other than having seen Cry Freedom and read Biko I didn't know much about this period of South African history and was pleased to learn a lot more whilst reading The Road To Soweto. The book is a particularly scholarly work, so quite dry in tone, and obviously expected its readers to already have a working knowledge of previous publications around the subject so I did find myself making leaps of understanding from time to time. The arguments for the progression of protest are well made though and I could clearly follow the links Brown made between the different organisations and movements. I wouldn't say that The Road To Soweto is a book that I enjoyed reading, but it was certainly rewarding to complete.

I know I have a South African novel about this historical period, Bitter Fruit by Achmat Dangor, waiting on my book shelf. My OH has read it and mentioned that he would have liked more background knowledge first. Hopefully The Road To Soweto will have provided me with that information!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Julian Brown / History books / Books from South Africa

Friday, 22 July 2016

Slave by Mende Nazer


Slave by Mende Nazer
Published in 2004. Audible Studios audiobook narrated by Adjoa Andoh published in 2008.

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

How I got this book:
Purchased from Audible

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

'Mende Nazer tells the story of her kidnap, at age 12, from an idyllic life with her family in a village in Sudan, and being sold into slavery. Trafficked to Europe and the London home of a diplomat, Nazer escaped - only to find she had to fight for asylum.'

What makes Nazer's story particularly shocking for me is its time period. Slave is not a historical work. It recounts slavery happening within my lifetime and, partly, in my country. Having liked to believe that slavery was very much a thing of the past and that humanity has significantly progressed in recent centuries, this book is a real wake-up call from complacency.

Mende Nazer was twelve in 1993 when she was torn from her family in the middle of the night by Arab raiders who kidnapped many children to sell them. She talks movingly of her idyllic childhood, marred by the horror of FGM admittedly, and contrasts her early happiness against the cruelty, psychological abuse and regular beatings she endured over seven years as the property of a wealthy household in Khartoum. Nazer speaks calmly and stoically about her incarceration and abuse and I admire her for publicly telling her story, especially as it led to vindictive repercussions against her remaining family in Sudan and has forced her to remain in exile from them. This book is certainly not an easy listen and the helplessness I felt while listening to Nazer spurred me to find out more about modern day slavery and to begin to protest its practice.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Mende Nazer / Biographies / Books from Sudan

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Outsider In Amsterdam by Janwillem van der Wetering


Outsider In Amsterdam by Janwillem van der Wetering
First published in 1975. Republished by Soho Press Inc, most recently in 2013.

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

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

'On a quiet street in downtown Amsterdam, the founder of a new religious society/commune—a group that calls itself “Hindist” and mixes elements of various “Eastern” traditions—is found hanging from a ceiling beam. Detective-Adjutant Gripstra and Sergeant de Gier of the Amsterdam police are sent to investigate what looks like a simple suicide, but they are immediately suspicious of the circumstances.
This now-classic novel, first published in 1975, introduces Janwillem van de Wetering’s lovable Amsterdam cop duo of portly, worldly-wise Gripstra and handsome, contemplative de Gier. With its unvarnished depiction of the legacy of Dutch colonialism and the darker facets of Amsterdam’s free drug culture, this excellent procedural asks the question of whether a murder may ever be justly committed.'

Outsider In Amsterdam is very much a book of its time reflecting the chauvinistic attitudes of the 1970s to both gender and race. This frequently jarred my concentration on the story and took a conscious effort to overcome. Once I had done so however, the police procedural story was engaging and even elegant in its structure. Our sort-of-heroes, the policemen Grijpstra and de Gier are perfectly real characters with eminently believable flaws and prejudices - these, sadly, can't be as easily dismissed as historic! Van der Wetering worked as a policeman in Amsterdam and his experience shines through the text. I was also reminded of the realism and mundane detail of Sjowall and Wahloo's Martin Beck series. Outsider In Amsterdam was first published just a few years after those books and I wondered if they were an influence.

I enjoyed van der Wetering's portrayal of Amsterdam, its inhabitants and the social problems within the city. Much of the patronising post-colonial attitude was familiar to me from similar British history and Papuan van Meteren's calm dignity provided a powerful contrast to this. The plot line is sufficiently complex to be engrossing and has a satisfying conclusion, albeit perhaps a little overdramatic. I had to remind myself that the now-familiar police procedural novel structure perhaps wasn't so well-used back in the 1970s so occasional cliches would have become so since Outsider In Amsterdam was written. I can see why the book is considered a classic of its genre and would certainly recommend it to crime and mystery novel fans.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Janwillem van der Wetering / Crime fiction / Books from The Netherlands

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Second Chance Grill by Christine Nolfi + Giveaway

Scroll down for the new Giveaway!


Second Chance Grill by Christine Nolfi
First published by CreateSpace on the 24th October 2012.

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

How I got this book:
Downloaded the ebook

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A promotion to get a free copy of Second Chance Grill was advertised by its author, Christine Nolfi, on Goodreads so I took advantage! The novel is set in small town America, the town of Liberty, Ohio, and begins when young doctor Mary Chance moves to town to take over the running of her aunt's restaurant. Mary is grieving the loss of her best friend and hopes that her sabbatical in Liberty will help her to overcome her sorrow in order to resume her medical career. She is meant to be returning to Cincinnati after a year, however she hasn't counted on the charms of the local garage mechanic, Anthony, or the perseverance of his terminally ill daughter, Blossom.

Second Chance Grill was an easy, light read, but with a strong emotional storyline. Several of Nolfi's characters are typical of the people found in small communities the world over so I could understand their relationships and history. The camaraderie shown by everyone when things get tough makes for an uplifting novel and I liked reading about the townsfolk pulling together. I was surprised by some of the medical plot surrounding Blossom's illness, especially the inhumanity of the American healthcare system. I am certainly glad of the NHS! Overall though the storyline went pretty much where I expected it would and the romantic ending is telegraphed from Mary and Anthony's first meeting. I am not sure I would read further books in the series as this type of romance fiction isn't really my bag, but as a change it was a fun book. And I love the colourful image on the cover which encourages me to visit Ohio!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Christine Nolfi / Women's fiction / Books from America


And now for the Giveaway!

This week I am giving away an ebook copy of Second Chance Grill by way of a gift card for its cost from either Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

The Question:
Name an uplifting romance novel that you have enjoyed.

Comment your answer on this post before midnight (UK time) on the 27th of July to be in with a chance of winning.

The Giveaway is open worldwide but please make sure you can use an Amazon gift card! Answers must be commented by midnight (UK time) on the 27th July and I will randomly pick a winner on the 28th. 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. The winner can choose from which Amazon site they would like their gift card - I think I can buy this from any of the international sites as long as I can understand the instructions. If the winner does not respond within 7 days, they will forfeit the prize.

Good luck!

This giveaway is listed on:

 

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

The Other One by Nico Reznick


The Other One by Nico Reznick
Published in March 2016 by B*Star Kitty Press

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

How I got this book:
Purchased the ebook

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"My name is Cordelia... not like that means anything. I’m not the interesting part of this story. No one has any reason to invest in me as a character. I’m ill-defined and incidental. This entire thing: it’s never been about me. It’s always been about her."
Cordelia has a twin sister. That is to say, she used to. Maybe she still does. No one’s too sure exactly where Annabel is now. But at least – alive or dead – she hasn’t been forgotten. Since Annabel’s abduction, aged six, Cordelia has come to learn that there are other ways of vanishing besides simply disappearing. Overlooked by her own traumatised parents, patronised by police investigators and marginalised by teachers and former friends, growing up in the long, dark shadow of her absent sister, Cordelia realises that she has simply become “the other one”.

Regular blog visitors will already know that I am a big fan of Nico Reznick's writing. This is my third five star review for her work with the others being for her poetry collection Gulag 101 and her novel Anhedonia. The Other One is short and sharp and I am finding it difficult to write about without giving away anything important. I definitely appreciated discovering and unravelling its mysteries for myself so don't want to reduce that enjoyment for anyone else! Reznick's narrator, Cordelia, is a great character - bitter in her isolation, but without being overly self-pitying - and, despite her sixteen years, makes acute observations on the world as it appears to her and the factors which influence peoples' relationships with each other. The Other One is a particularly chilling novella and I loved how Reznick slowly ramps up the unease and, although I had by then sort of worked out what had happened, the truth of the ending was an expertly timed shock.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Nico Reznick / Novellas / Books from England

Monday, 18 July 2016

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan


The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
First published in America in April 2006 by Penguin Press. Young adult version published in 2009 and young adult audiobook, narrated by Macleod Andrews, published in 2015.

I am posting this review today to coincide with my SmallSteps - Do I Really Want To Eat That? post over on Stephanie Jane.

Where to buy this book:
Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
Buy the young adult audiobook download from Audible via Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk
Buy the young adult paperback edition from The Book Depository
Buy the adult paperback edition from Waterstones

How I got this book:
Downloaded the Young Adult audiobook version from AudioSYNC.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

'"What's for dinner?" seemed like a simple question - until journalist and supermarket detective Michael Pollan delved behind the scenes. From fast food and big organic to small farms and old-fashioned hunting and gathering, this young readers' adaptation of Pollan's famous food-chain exploration encourages kids to consider the personal and global health implications of their food choices. In a smart, compelling format with updated facts as well as a new afterword, The Omnivore's Dilemma serves up a bold message to the generation that needs it most: It's time to take charge of our national eating habits - and it starts with you.'

AudioSYNC chose the young adult version of The Omnivore's Dilemma as one of their free audiobook download pairings a couple of weeks ago. I understand that the book has the same overall content and message as the original adult book, but has been simplified and given a new preface. Pollan encourages readers to 'vote with their forks' and explores the different way foods are produced in order to enable an informed choice. This is a very America-centred book, but the horrific industrial farming practiced over there is rapidly making its way to Britain so I found it scarily relevant. I don't think British cows are yet raised as callously as so many American ones, but certainly a high proportion of our chickens and pigs suffer as theirs do. And, of course, our post-Brexit Tory government is likely to try and do away with EU legislation surrounding food standards in the name of 'encouraging trade'. I would like to encourage everyone to read or hear The Omnivore's Dilemma and/or Farmageddon before they allow their future health to be compromised and the rules protecting our food to be swept aside.

I didn't agree with everything Pollan maintains, especially his stance on long-term vegetarianism and his assertion that hunting animals with guns 'should' be a rite of passage. He does repeat himself quite a lot too which began to feel like hectoring towards the end. However, issues such as the insane subsidies of corn and its subsequent takeover of fast and processed foods are fascinating. Feeding ruminants, such as cows, corn irrevocably damages their health, so how can corn-fed beef be good for us? Is industrially grown organic food missing the point? Whuy are Scottish shellfish shipped to China for processing, then all the way back to Europe to be sold? Where is my nearest Polyface Farm equivalent?!

I enjoyed listening to The Omnivore's Dilemma. Pollan's personalising of his journey to food awareness makes for an interesting book and he puts his points across well. The difference in available food, especially by way of organic options and farm shops, a decade after its first publication is certainly encouraging and means it is less of a struggle for most of us to find healthy food. Whether we choose to do so though is still a very big question.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Michael Pollan / Food and Diet Books / Books from America

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Songs Of Exile by Banoo Zan


Songs Of Exile by Banoo Zan
Published in Canada in April 2016 by Guernica Editions

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

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

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

'The poems, arranged chronologically, give an impressionistic account of the poet as an immigrant, in quest of her inner voice and her core self, in the new land. They reveal intense isolation, despite engagement with the so-called political, religious, and cultural disparities between the two countries. The poems tell the story of how the speaker comes closer to her roots by leaving her country behind. They reveal her concern about the Middle East; the negative associations with her country, Iran; her preoccupation with the possibility of reconciliation between the three Abrahamic religions; her concerns about her family back home, and her newly found friends and lover. For the persona in these poems, the political is personal.'

I have struggled to read this poetry collection a couple of times now, but unfortunately it is beyond me and I haven't been able to connect with Banoo Zan's words. There are powerful image flashes in a few of the poems and I am sure that if I were more knowledgeable about Persian culture and about ancient Greek mythology I would get a lot more out of the work. Sadly I was mostly just baffled.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Banoo Zan / Poetry / Books from Iran

Saturday, 16 July 2016

A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry


A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry
First published in 2005 by Faber and Faber. Ebook edition published in 2010.

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

How I got this book:
Purchased the ebook

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'One of the most vivid and realised characters of recent fiction, Willie Dunne is the innocent hero of Sebastian Barry's highly acclaimed novel. Leaving Dublin to fight for the Allied cause as a member of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, he finds himself caught between the war playing out on foreign fields and that festering at home, waiting to erupt with the Easter Rising. Profoundly moving, intimate and epic, "A Long Long Way" charts and evokes a terrible coming of age, one too often written out of history.'

It was very interesting to read about the First World War from an Irish perspective although, being English myself, this was another novel which made me groan at the terrible way my country treated not only Ireland and the Irish but many other countries around the world. Thousands of young and not-so-young Irishmen joined the British Army on the promise of Home Rule at the end of The Great War and were actively encouraged to do so with enthusiastic send-offs and a white feather campaign against those who didn't volunteer. A couple of years later these same men, or the ones that survived at least, were being lined up to shoot at their own people and spat on in the streets for being 'English' soldiers.

Barry doesn't hold back in his descriptions of the horrific conditions in the trenches. Our young hero, Willie, is at Ypres and fights the Somme battles, his initial heartbreakingly naive optimism slowly giving way to emotional numbness and debilitating shock. I loved the strong Irish feel throughout this story and the repeated inclusion of the many peoples from all over the world who came to fight. The global aspect is often overlooked in war fiction, but A Long Long Way draws a powerful portrait of a truly World War. Most of all for me, A Long Long Way felt like an honest picture of a man and his family at the time. This isn't a saccharine novel of jolly lads together and faithful sweethearts back home. Reading this book almost exactly a century after one of its most remembered battles was a moving experience and, even though Barry wrote disgusting images that I would much rather not have imagined, I think this is an important story for a wide audience.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Sebastian Barry / War books / Books from Ireland

Friday, 15 July 2016

Imperial Life In The Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran


Imperial Life In The Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Published by Bloomsbury in March 2008.
Green Zone film edition published in March 2010.

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

How I got this book:
Purchased the ebook

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Imperial Life In The Emerald City by is a journalistic recounting of the disastrous American attempts to rebuild Iraq as a mini-America in the aftermath of the second Gulf War. Being British I have read numerous historical accounts of our monumental Empire-building cock-ups, however it would have been nice to believe that such heavy-handed imperialism was a thing of the past. Chandrasekaran's book shows that it certainly isn't and I spent much of the first half in a state of almost continuous disbelief. By the second half, I was becoming quite punch-drunk from the continued revelations.

When Iraq fell to the American army, politicians back in Washington had already determined that they wanted the country to rise up again as a shining beacon of capitalist democracy in the Middle East. They didn't know how to achieve this goal, but set about it by cocooning their staff in Saddam's luxurious palace complex, giving lots of press conferences in English and, most importantly, by only sending people who had been vetted for the 'right' political leanings. Not for ability or experience, just for an unshakeable belief in George W Bush. Extreme paranoia an advantage.

Imperial Life In The Emerald City is basically a guide for how not to occupy a country you have just invaded. Even if that country's people wanted you there initially, they will soon change their minds if treated as irrelevant and, with hindsight, it really is no surprise that organisations such as ISIS grew out of the chaos. I appreciated Chandrasekaran's clear writing style as there are so many different people mentioned that keeping track of who's who is difficult, especially for someone like me who doesn't really follow American politics. The book has extensive detail which makes vividly imagining the Green Zone enclave easy and I now feel as though I have a far greater understanding of what really happened in Iraq and why.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Rajiv Chandrasekaran / Reportage / Books from America

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Yevgeny Onegin by Alexander Pushkin


Yevgeny Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

First published in Russian in 1825-1832 as a serial and with the first complete edition published in 1833. New English translation by Anthony Briggs published by Pushkin Press in February 2016.

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

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bored and aloof, tired of St Petersburg high society, Yevgeny Onegin goes to live on the country estate he has just inherited from his uncle. There he encounters Tatyana, who becomes hopelessly infatuated with him. From this story Pushkin creates his sublime masterpiece of love, death, duelling, rivalry, identity and the search for happiness; the lodestar for all of Russian literature. By turns playful, philosophical, sardonic and mournful, brimming with rich descriptions of Russian life, from drinking and dancing to crisp wintry landscapes, Yevgeny Onegin is a work of thrilling energy.'

I haven't read any other translations of Alexander Pushkin's famous poem Yevgeny Onegin so cannot comment on how Anthony Briggs' work differs, but I was surprised at how readable he has rendered the poem. I admit I had been putting off, expecting something quite impenetrable so was pleased to find myself actually enjoying the story and the humour. I particularly loved the descriptive passages which vividly paint snowy Russian villages, exciting sleigh rides and a wonderful ball. The storyline itself is not complicated and relies heavily on well-rounded and believable characters to carry its more melodramatic moments. I happily despised the initially heartless Yevgeny and sympathised with poor unloved Tatyana. The scholarly technicalities of the poem's structure were mostly lost on me. I understand the theory, but found I preferred to be swept along with the beautiful rhythms of the piece than to frequently pause and analyse why those rhythms and rhymes are so effective.

I think, based on this reading of Yevgeny Onegin, that I would like to tackle more of Pushkin's writing, especially if it has been translated by Anthony Briggs. I liked his style and the interesting essay with which he begins the book that describes the challenges of the translation and the relationships between the languages involved. I didn't realise French was the primary upper class language in Russia in Pushkin's time - much like it was in England in the Middle Ages - but this does explain to me the fluency in French of characters in my other recent Russian read, The Gambler by Dostoyevsky.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Alexander Pushkin / Poetry / Books from Russia

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Mistress Of Rome by Kate Quinn + Giveaway

Scroll down for the new Giveaway!


Mistress Of Rome by Kate Quinn 
Originally published on the 6th April 2010.

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

How I got this book:
Borrowed from a friend

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

'Passion. Treachery. Murder ... A heart-stopping epic about a Jewish slave girl and Rome's greatest gladiator, who become involved in a plot to assassinate an emperor Orphaned by Rome's savage legions, Thea, a slave girl from Judaea, has learned what it takes to survive. She knows only violence until a chance meeting with gladiator Arius offers a shred of tenderness. But their bond is severed when Thea is sold again, condemned to rot in squalor. Years later, a singer known as Athena betrays no hint of her troubled past. Catching the eye of the Emperor himself, she is swept into a world of decadence and depravity. But although Domitian fears betrayal from every side, he is unaware that the greatest threat lies next to him - a slave girl who has come to be called the Mistress of Rome.'

I wasn't sure whether I would like Mistress Of Rome before I started reading it because it isn't really my usual type of novel. However, my OH, whose daughter we borrowed the book from, enjoyed it and recommended it as being a very readable story so I gave it a try. He was right! Mistress Of Rome cracks along at a good pace giving the reader glimpses of many aspects of life in the Roman Empire, especially that of the wealthier classes. Most of the story focuses on the changing relationships and fortunes of a handful of characters as their lives intertwine over a number of years. I don't think anyone was actually a 'nice' person and it was fun to follow the intrigues and back stabbings as they all clamber over each other to get ahead. Historical accuracy is sometimes sacrificed in favour of a more interesting plotline which irritated me, but on the whole Mistress Of Rome is a good escapist novel. I was reminded very much of the HBO television series Rome and think people who enjoyed watching that, as I did, would like this book too.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Kate Quinn / Historical fiction / Books from America


And now for the Giveaway!

I have a pretty handmade flower bracelet to giveaway simply for answering the following question on this blog post. How easy is that?! (More of my bracelets are on sale through my blog shop.)

The Question:
Name a historical fiction novel that you have enjoyed?

Comment your answer on this post before midnight (UK time) on the 20th of July to be in with a chance of winning.

Hand-crocheted from one continuous thread of Portuguese blue cotton, this versatile bracelet would look great with t-shirt and jeans or a simple summer dress. I love this shade of blue which reminds me of huge sunny day skies over the Mediterranean sea! The bracelet has eight joined flower motifs, each of which are about 1 3/8 inches / 3.25 cm across, and the whole flower string is 7 inches / 18 cm long. It closes with a crocheted loop which slips over the first flower so the size can be adjusted by putting the loop further along the flower string if needed.

The Giveaway is open worldwide. Answers must be commented by midnight (UK time) on the 20th July and I will randomly pick a winner on the 21st. 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!

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The True Picture by Alison Habens


The True Picture by Alison Habens
Self published in 2015. One of my Top Ten Books of 2015 and one of my Top Ten Books for IndiePrideDay 2016.

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

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a copy of The True Picture via its author, Alison Habens, who contacted me on Twitter asking if I would be interested in reading her book to review. I wasn't sure at first as the cover art led me to expect a certain style of 'Life of the Saints' Christian novel. My impression could not have been more wrong, however, and I am delighted to have taken a chance on what turned out to be a great historical novel.

I saw my first Stations Of The Cross - a series of images depicting the Christian crucifixion story - in Cullera earlier this year. One showed a woman, Saint Veronica, about whom practically nothing is known historically. Habens has imagined her a life in which a career as a temple-dancer and songstress for Venus is viciously cut short, and a privileged position as saleswoman in the prosperous family business leads to her meeting a charismatic travelling man.

I loved the character of Veronica. She has a certain world-weariness, but is also vivacious, determined and proud of her status as a Roman businesswoman in the city of Tyre. Her shop selling purple-dyed fabric trim to the upper echelons of society has made her rich so we learn about her fashionable clothing and towering hairstyles. Habens vividly describes the sounds, fragrances, brilliant colours and mingling cultures of Roman life in energetic prose. She manages to keep up this energy throughout the novel, making The True Picture a truly exciting read. Her clever melding of italicised latin words with modern-day slang expressions is nicely done to evoke the historical setting and to show her characters as people with whom I could easily identify.

We learn of the arrival of Jesus through Veronica's eyes, learn how she is smitten by him yet is uncertain about throwing over her traditional gods, and how she sets out - alone and in totally inappropriate footwear - to follow him. Her learning to trust again is sensitively handled, as are the changing relationships with her sister and friends. The solidarity engendered by long distance walking rang true with me as did Veronica's thrill at being involved in the start of a something new. I appreciated the almost incidental inclusion of Biblical events and stories. Veronica might be at the back of the crowd or catching up with a gossipy chat, so The True Picture is always her tale, not simply a rehash of gospel stories. We also meet people harmed by their connection with Jesus' life - the woman whose son was murdered by soldiers is a memorable image - which adds a poignant depth to the novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed The True Picture and will no doubt be 'singing its praises' for a long time to come. I would highly recommend it to fans of historical fiction, journey stories and tales of strong sassy heroines.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Alison Habens / Historical fiction / Books from England

Monday, 11 July 2016

Be My Knife by David Grossman


Be My Knife by David Grossman
First published in Hebrew in Israel in 1998 as She-tihyi li ha-sakin. English translation by Vered Almog and Maya Gurantz published in 2001 by Farrar Strauss and Giroux.

I registered a copy of this book at BookCrossing

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

How I got this book:
Swapped for on the book exchange shelves at Beanzz Coffee in Eastbourne

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

'An awkward, neurotic seller of rare books writes a desperate letter to a beautiful stranger whom he sees at a class reunion. This simple, lonely attempt at seduction begins a love affair of words between Yair and Miriam, two married, middle-aged adults, dissatisfied with their lives, yearning for the connection that has always eluded them - and, eventually, reawakened to feelings that they thought had passed them by. Their correspondence unfolds into an exchange of their most naked confessions: of desire, childhood tragedies, joys, and humiliations.'

This book is infuriating! Essentially a one-sided book of letters from a thirty-something man to a woman he spies at a reunion, the concept is unusual. Some of the prose is stunning, really profound streams of consciousness. However, these brief passages are hidden in the depths of so much arrogant, egotistical whining that it became a real slog to finish the book. I've seen effusive five star reviews for Be My Knife so obviously others have got into the writing in a way that I was unable to do. Still, having finally got to the decidedly bizarre ending, I was relieved to stop reading!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by David Grossman / Contemporary fiction / Books from Israel

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Silk by Alessandro Baricco


Silk by Alessandro Baricco
First published in Italian as Seta in 1996. English translation by Ann Goldstein in 2006.

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

How I got this book:
Borrowed from a friend

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I borrowed a paperback copy of Silk by Alessandro Baricco from my friend Marta who absolutely loved this book. Written by an Italian author, the story is set in 1860s France and Japan. A French merchant, Herve Joncour, leaves his small town every year to buy silk worm eggs. He travels for a couple of months to the Middle East and always returns on the same date. However, diseased silk worms threaten bankruptcy for the town's silk mills so Herve is encouraged to travel much further, to isolated Japan, in search of healthy silk worm eggs.

The story in Silk is almost incidental to the book itself. The novella's great strength is its beautifully understated writing style which often feels Japanese. The incredible journey to Japan is described briefly, but this passage is repeated word for word each time Herve undertakes the voyage. The repetition reinforces our understanding of his effort. Once in the island nation, his clandestine purchases lead him to meet a concubine. Although the two never even speak, he becomes obsessed with her, taking his obsession home alongside his silk worm eggs. The scenes are so delicately written that they were unlike pretty much anything else I remember reading. At times I found the prose almost too ethereal and I couldn't completely accept the premise of such deep love based on such fleeting encounters. I would recommend Silk though, purely for the beauty of its prose.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Alessandro Baricco / Historical fiction / Books from Italy

Saturday, 9 July 2016

The Arrival Of Missives by Aliya Whiteley


The Arrival Of Missives by Aliya Whiteley
Published in May 2016 by Unsung Stories

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

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via Contemporary Small Press

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Arrival Of Missives is set in a small village in the years following the First World War. The community is very traditional with the same families having worked the land for generations, and men and women keeping to their strictly defined roles. We meet our narrator, Shirley Fearn, when she is sixteen years old. Singled out as the oldest student in the village school and also by her family's landowning status, precocious Shirley believes she is 'marked out for something else', some higher purpose than the role of wife that she seems to look down on in her own mother. Shirley believes the War's aftermath will allow great social changes for women and she will be in the vanguard. Encouraged by the overwhelming crush she has on her teacher, injured ex-soldier Mr Tiller, she envisions herself also as a teacher working and living by his side to guide future generations of boys.

I particularly liked Shirley's breathless enthusiasm for her plan and its childlike naivete. Of course Mr Tiller will return her love and she will be accepted to college! Against the backdrop of the annual May Day preparations we follow Shirley's attempts to both follow her dreams and to make Mr Tiller notice her. As we only see the world through Shirley's eyes, I found it difficult to really get a feel for the other characters. Her strong personality is so much to the fore that even someone as important to the tale as Mr Tiller seems shadowy and unclear. As an older man and with a teacher's responsibility he is understandably reticent with Shirley which made it difficult for me to buy into his sudden decision to reveal to her the supernatural secret of his war injuries.

Arrival Of Missives is interestingly written throughout and I liked Whiteley's detailed observations of everyday lives at the time. The mixed-age schoolroom has almost completely vanished from Britain now, as has the acceptance that a person would remain in a area because their family had always been there. The repeating motif of a three man jury is a neat plot device to reinforce a message of women's desires being ignored and irrelevant. Shirley' realisations of her real purpose to both Mr Tiller and to her family are important and well-portrayed moments. I was convinced by her emotional growth into a woman as the book progresses. I haven't read any of Whiteley's other writing so don't know if meshing science fiction and historical fiction is a recurring theme of her work, but in this novel I am undecided whether it really works. When I consider the science fiction storyline in isolation I quite like the idea, but reconciling it with the existing narrative required quite a leap of faith.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Aliya Whiteley / Science fiction / Books from England

Friday, 8 July 2016

Anne Of Green Gables by L M Montgomery


Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
First published in 1908 by L C Page. Post Hypnotic Press audiobook edition published in 2014.

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

How I got this book:
Downloaded the audiobook from AudioSYNC

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, siblings in their 50s and 60s, had decided to adopt a boy from the orphanage to help Matthew run their Nova Scotia farm. Through a misunderstanding, the orphanage sends Anne Shirley. Bright and quick, eager to please, talkative, and extremely imaginative,' Anne isn't at all what the Cuthberts had in mind, but her exuberance and joie de vivre bring great changes to their lives.

I know I read Anne of Green Gables as a child, but I can’t remember now how I felt about the book at the time. I am sure I must at least have enjoyed discovering so many long words! Revisiting the tale, I found it a thoroughly enjoyable listen and this audiobook version benefits from the excellent narration skills of Colleen Winton.

Orphan Anne is delightfully infuriating and I also love Rachel Lind whose immense self-belief reminded me of Miss Mapp. We meet many Avonlea characters, all convincingly real people, and the clever portrayal of the changing seasons as Anne grows up makes it easy to picture how life must have been within the community. I do think the story loses some of its spark once Anne reaches Queens. I missed the interplay between her and the Cuthberts and that whole year seemed to go by too fast with hardly any of the detail that makes the earlier chapters so fascinating.

Much like Black Beauty, which I also not so long ago revisited, the writing contains an overwhelming amount of moralising and bold statements about correct behaviour. I suppose, reading some thirty years ago, I would have been so used to being told what to do day to day that this would have seemed normal. However reading as an adult, I was surprised at the sheer volume of rigid demands. I had not remembered Anne Of Green Gables being such a bossy book!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by L M Montgomery / Children's fiction / Books from Canada

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Happy Hour And Other Philadelphia Cruelties by Tony Knighton


Happy Hour And Other Philadelphia Cruelties by Tony Knighton
Published by Crime Wave Press on the 6th June 2015.

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

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'A young grifter steals an overcoat. As he discovers forty-thousand dollars in its inside pocket, the coat’s owners come after him. The action never stops as his pursuers seem to be both ahead and behind him at all times, killing and destroying everything in their wake to catch up with their money and the young thief. Happy Hour is as breathless as writing can be. Knighton’s debut novella is accompanied by a selection of short stories that can run with the best of American Noir literature. It’s cold out there, folks.'

I first discovered Tony Knighton's short stories through receiving one as a Crime Wave Press newsletter sign-up gift. I reviewed As Long As You Can in May and have now had the chance to read and review the whole collection from which it was taken. The book consists of the title novella, Happy Hour, and a further eleven short stories. Happy Hour is excellent. The chase through a snow-covered Philadelphia is vividly described, exciting and atmospheric, and I was never quite sure how the story would turn out. Knighton is good at unexpected conclusions.

Of the short stories, I was pleased to revisit As Long As You Can and also particularly enjoyed the frightening dystopian vision of Sunrise and the satisfying circle of African-set poaching tale, The Scavengers. Hit And Run is short, but surprisingly powerful. Knighton is a thirty-year veteran in the Philadelphia Fire Department and uses his vocational experiences to provide thrilling detail for stories such as Falling and Opportunities. He also enables the city of Philadelphia to almost become a character in its own right in many of the stories. It's dark presence adds a great sense of menace to a cast of already dangerous characters and really brings out the realism in this short story collection. I am not sure I feel encouraged to visit Philadelphia though!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Tony Knighton / Short stories / Books from America

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley + Giveaway

Scroll down for the new Giveaway!


Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley 
Originally published anonymously in 1818. Revised edition published in 1831 and attributed to Mary Shelley.

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

I registered this book at Bookcrossing

How I got this book:
Swapped for at Lemonford campsite book exchange

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read a good biography of Mary Shelley back in April, but had never actually gotten around to reading her famous novel, Frankenstein, until now. I spotted it on a campsite book exchange and thought it really was about time! Frankenstein is such a cultural icon that I assumed I already knew the basic storyline, but it turned out that much of what I thought I knew isn't actually in the novel at all! And much of the novel is far deeper in ideas and tone than many of its recreations would have us believe.

Beginning with letters back home from an arctic explorer, Walton, we learn of his scientific intentions and of his bizarre meeting with a lone man stranded on an ice floe. That lone man is Victor Frankenstein, an obsessive Swiss scientist who had created and animated a monstrous man, but terrified by his creation, had immediately abandoned it. I really didn't like Victor at all. Not only is there his obvious and total lack of responsibility for his own actions and creation, but his incessant 'woe is me' whinging is infuriating. Even as his friends and family start dying off around him, he is still unable to find a backbone!

By contrast, our third narrator, the unnamed monster himself, is surprisingly erudite and eloquent for, essentially, a self-educated vagabond. Of course we only have his own words to support his claim of a kind and gentle disposition prior to the commencement of his murderous spree, but his story of being turned against humanity by people repeatedly recoiling from or even attacking him does ring depressingly true. For a book written practically two hundred years ago, Frankenstein is still remarkably relevant. Denying a person understanding, respect and companionship simply on the basis of their appearance might well result in them becoming an enemy.

Frankenstein, the novel, is written in wonderfully pompous language which dates it but not in a negative way. I don't think I would have been so swept up in the story otherwise. For a violent tale, there is practically nothing graphically described (which I appreciated), but Shelley's build-up of tension and suspense is brilliantly done. She takes her times evoking every scene and landscape so I could always envisage exactly where the characters were. By modern standards, I did think those characters weren't as developed as they could have been. The monster actually comes across as the most human of all and Victor, moving from arrogance to vengeance, simply doesn't learn - I suspect that is the point.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Mary Shelley / Horror fiction / Books from England


And now for the Giveaway!

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

The Question:
Name another monster horror novel?

Comment your answer on this post before midnight (UK time) on the 13th of July to be in with a chance of winning.

This paperback book is my copy so not new, but still in 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 13th July and I will randomly pick a winner on the 14th. 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!