Sunday, 30 April 2017

1984 In The 21st Century edited by Lori Perkins


1984 In The 21st Century edited by Lori Perkins
Published in America by Riverdale Avenue Books on the 25th March 2017.

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

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

1984 is a classic novel whose relevance continues to confront us every day. Some people thought it was a book about the future of the past. The future is now. After the election of Donald Trump and his advisor, Kellyanne Conway’s suggestion we get used to using “alternative facts,” the nearly 70 year-old dystopian novel made the # 1 spot on Amazon’s bestseller list. 1984 in the 21st Century offers readers 25 different opinions and viewpoints on this seminal novel from right to left on the political spectrum, with pieces from teachers to journalists and writers, lawyers and politicians, and union activists. The essays range from academic treatises to personal reminiscences to political rants and screeds, and even fiction and theater.

This fairly balanced collection of essays uses often-bandied 1984 concepts as a starting point for twenty-five Americans to express thoughts on the political situation in their country in 2017. The book is a shameless jump onto the dystopian revival bandwagon, but does include ideas that I thought were worth expanding upon further as well as references to other novels in a similar vein that would make for interesting reading in the current climate. My main disappointments with this anthology are two-fold. The majority of the essays pick up on and explain the same points from 1984 which results in a lot of repetition through the volume. I would also have liked perhaps fewer, but certainly deeper essays. All the offerings are short - some just a page or two - which, after the aforementioned repetition, doesn't give the essayist time to fully explore their theme. In several cases, this left me feeling that I only had a superficial view.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Lori Perkins / Politics / Books from America

Saturday, 29 April 2017

The Collectors by Philip Pullman


The Collectors by Philip Pullman
Audiobook narrated by Bill Nighy published by Audible Studios on the 10th December 2014.

Where to buy this book:
Buy the audio download from Audible via Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

How I got this book:
Downloaded from Audible

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"But the thing is," said Horley, "they didn't know each other at all. Never heard of each other. It wasn't about the makers. Only about the works."
On a dark winter's night in 1970, Horley and Grinstead huddle for warmth in the Senior Common Room of a college in Oxford. Conversation turns to the two impressive works of art that Horley has recently added to his collection. What the two men don't know is that these pieces are connected in mysterious and improbable ways; and they are about to be caught in the cross-fire of a story which has travelled time and worlds.

The Collectors in an audio version read by Bill Nighy was Audible's gift to its members for Christmas 2014 and I enjoyed Nighy's narration of the tale. It is a short story at only just over thirty minutes so there isn't much time for character development, but the language Pullman uses means that we do get amazingly detailed portrayals of people and places. His expert use of few words, perfectly chosen, is practically a masterclass! The suspense builds nicely and I liked the knowing nod to Lyra's alternate universe from the Dark Materials trilogy. The ending is expectedly bizarre for a seasonal horror tale, but I didn't really buy into it, hence the drop in stars. However this book was a fun listen all the same.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Philip Pullman / Horror fiction / Books from England

Friday, 28 April 2017

The Exiles by Iain Crichton Smith


The Exiles by Iain Crichton Smith
First published by Carcanet Press and Raven Arts in England and Ireland respectively in 1984.

I registered my copy of this book at BookCrossing

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

How I got this book:
Swapped for at the Visto Lounge book exchange in Torquay

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Twenty years ago, Iain Crichton Smith said of his work on a BBC programme: 'I have always believed in a poetry which contains fighting tensions and not in a poetry of statement.' This remains the case with his most recent work. The tensions are constant: between English and Gaelic, between mind and body, between his native Lewis and the Highlands where he spent many years, between expectation and reality. He is not a 'nature poet', perhaps - as he himself suggests - 'because I was brought up in close hard contact with it.' The focus is on people, his primary subject.
The Exiles is his first Carcanet collection. The title defines his primary theme, one that obsesses him as it does many others; and though the occasion for many of these poems is exile from a particular place and a particular community, the theme is universal in application and resonance. Here there is imposed and elected exile, with the losses entailed both to the land and to the individual. Another aspect of the theme is 'inner exile', the man who through his vocation or expectations is exiled from his community even as he lives in it.

In a time of great uncertainty and debate about immigration to the UK I am pleased to have found this slim poetry volume examining the emotional issue from the points of view of Scots exiled overseas. Crichton Smith's poems recount and imagine the experiences of elderly men who will never return home, women whose children are far away, and people meeting again after decades apart. The collection depicts sorrow and longing, sometimes almost overwhelmingly so, and I found the tiniest details to be the most poignant. One poem describes a return to a village that has changed almost beyond recognition; in another a man talks of the loneliness of always being the foreigner no matter how long one might have lived in one's adopted home. The forty poems in The Exiles are beautiful and powerful while also being, mostly, easily accessible. Written over thirty years ago, they are a reminder of the timelessness of memories and the universal human experience of longing for home.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Iain Crichton Smith / Poetry / Books from Scotland

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Traveller Inceptio by Rob Shackleford


Traveller Inceptio by Rob Shackleford
Self-published in February 2017.

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

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you were sent 1000 years into the past, would you survive?
Traveller - Inceptio describes how the Transporter is accidentally invented and becomes public knowledge when it sends a subject 1000 years into the past. A Special Forces team of Travellers is then selected and trained with the intent to send them to Saxon England to explore what could be a very dangerous period of history. From the beaches of Australia to the forests of Saxon England, Traveller - Inceptio reveals how Travellers discover they need a lot more than technology to survive the trials of early Eleventh Century life.

I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed Traveller Inceptio throughout the whole book. It clocks in at over 800 pages which is far longer than my usual book choices so I admit that I expected my interest to flag. Instead the combination of superb historical research, an engaging tale and strong characters kept me hooked. The book is a dual-timeline science fiction story in which a time machine is accidentally invented. Its capabilities are limited in that it can only move subjects 1000 years in time, but this results in Shackleford creating a richly detailed portrayal of Saxon Aengland, a time when the Germanic peoples who became the Anglo-Saxon English were struggling for survival against attacks from Danish Vikings. We meet monks and villagers, see authentic daily life in rural communities and in the first tiny towns, and witness how verdant the countryside was before people completely dominated the land. Traveller Inceptio is written with alternate chapters jumping between the historic and present-day storylines, a good device which allows the reader to recognise how different and how similar our cultures are. An Australian author, Shackleford takes the opportunity to leap back in time in Australia as well as England. I loved the vibrancy of Shackleford's writing. History really does come alive in this book!

I wasn't so entranced by the military training storyline although I understand that this aspect is integral to the story. I thought these scenes slowed the overall pace excessively as I wanted to get back to the past! Traveller Inceptio is also let down by hit-and-miss proofreading which is a real shame as errors such as missing words detract from the atmosphere. Overall though, I was able to look past that and to appreciate this novel as wonderfully immersive historical fiction.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Rob Shackleford / Science fiction / Books from Australia

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Engadine Aerie by Bluette Matthey


Engadine Aerie by Bluette Matthey
First published in America by Blue Shutter Publishing today, the 26th April 2017.

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

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In Bluette Matthey’s latest book, Engadine Aerie, protagonist Hardy Durkin heads to St. Moritz and the stunning Engadine Valley in Switzerland’s Alps for the annual Skimarathon. What could possibly go wrong? Lots, if you’re Hardy Durkin. Murder, an illicit arms deal, attempted murder, and running aground of a seasoned professional poisoner.

I was attracted to Engadine Aerie by the positive reviews of earlier books in the series (this is the fifth Hardy Durkin Travel Mystery) which praised Matthey's detailed portrayals of her locations. Engadine is a perhaps lesser known area of Switzerland, certainly somewhere I have not yet visited, so I was interested especially in this aspect of the story. Engadine does sound stunningly beautiful - as long as one can visit away from Skimarathon time when there would be just too many people to see past! Matthey also includes lengthy history digressions I found appealing in their own right, but I could not always understand the necessity of such great detail to our story as these interludes completely arrest the story's pace.

Hardy Durkin, as we are often told, is an amateur at crime detection and resolution yet has a preternatural ability to be just in the right pace at the right time for trouble! I presume his character was more fully established in earlier books as in this one we hit the ground running with limited time to really get to know our protagonists. I won't say too much about the plotlines so you will have the excitement of discovering for yourselves. However Hardy must unravel an obscured web of international terrorism that stretches across many countries.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Bluette Matthey / Thrillers / Books from America

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Hitler Is No Fool by Karl Billinger


Hitler Is No Fool by Karl Billinger
First published in America in 1939. ForgottenBooks publication in the UK in 2015.

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

How I got this book:
Downloaded from ForgottenBooks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Today, after more than six years of feverish activities, Nazi Germany is still a mystery to the man in the streets of America. To him the Third Reich appears as a one-man show. He resents a social order built upon terror and fear and is indignant when he reads about Jewish pogroms, threats of invasion, and conquests of weak countries. But he is at an utter loss to explain the miraculous career of the "Austrian housepainter." He might, perhaps, pity the German people. But the longer he sees them ruled by a "fool" or a "madman," the more will his pity change into contempt, the more will his feeling grow that the Germans, after all, deserve a Government which they apparently are not able or even willing to overthrow.
For this man in the street the present book is written. It wants to acquaint him with the chief exponent of German fascism, with his ideas and plans and, moreover, with the forces he represents. The best way of doing it might still be to go back to the most authoritative source, Hitler's own book. The world would have been spared much guessing about the essence and aims of the National Socialist regime had it taken the trouble to study the Fuehrer's work carefully. History has seldom offered the opportunity of learning from a dictator himself his most guarded designs before he has been able to carry them out. But how are we to know that Hitler who has told so many lies, broken so many promises, and violated so many solemn treaties did not veil and distort the truth in his book?

I was pleasantly surprised by how accessible Hitler Is No Fool is. I have often found vintage books written for 'the man in the street' to be overly dry and scholarly by present-day standards, but this book is certainly an exception to that rule. Billinger takes Hitler's epic two-volume work, Mein Kampf, as his starting point and has essentially read it so that we don't have to! He distills the main ideas into easily comprehensible chapters, also exploring aspects of Hitler's life that are likely to have inspired the policies and explaining in chilling detail how so many thousands of the German people were persuaded to also adopt these ideas.

The similarities between 1930s Germany and the 2010s fascist resurgence have been frequently noted recently, but in reading this book I was shocked at the extent in which history is repeating itself. It's not just a question of substituting the word Muslim for the word Jew although directing public blame and dissatisfaction towards an easily visually identifiable minority group as a distraction tactic is the most obvious example. Having the majority of the country's media controlled by a single tycoon is also a repeat - indispensable for propaganda purposes - as is gaining the support of the big businesses who will benefit from drastically increased profit margins by the stripping back of workers rights and freedoms. Hitler Is No Fool is a scarily familiar portrayal of how simply a nation can be convinced to act totally against their own long-term interests. I would highly recommend it as essential reading, especially in the run-up to June's General Election.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Karl Billinger / Politics / Books from Germany

Monday, 24 April 2017

The Shell House by Linda Newbery


The Shell House by Linda Newbery
First published by David Fickling in July 2002.
I registered my copy of this book on BookCrossing

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

How I got this book:
Swapped for in the book exchange at Serro da Bica campsite, Ourique, Portugal

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Shell House is a beautifully-written and sensitive portrayal of love, sexuality and spirituality over two generations. Greg’s casual interest in the history of a ruined mansion becomes more personal as he slowly discovers the tragic events that overwhelmed its last inhabitants. Set against a background of the modern day and the first World War, Greg’s contemporary beliefs become intertwined with those of Edmund, a foot soldier whose confusion about his sexuality and identity mirrors Greg’s own feelings of insecurity. This is a complex and thought-provoking book, written with elegance and subtlety. It will change the way you think.

I thought that The Shell House had a good premise for a novel and the device of modern teenagers coming of age juxtaposed against their First World War contemporaries worked well. The novel mainly discusses themes of homosexuality and Christianity and, while it is to be applauded for doing so openly and seemingly without judgement, I thought that this was also its weakest point because Newbury does go on, and on, and on. I found the discussions that her protagonists have to be generic with no real sense of genuine teenage speech. Mostly however, I disliked the abrupt ending. While I can understand perhaps why Newbury might have wanted to leave so much up to her readers' imaginations, for me after having read all that philosophising, to be left without a strong sense of a conclusion felt like being cheated!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Linda Newbery / Historical fiction / Books from England

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Othello by William Shakespeare


Othello by William Shakespeare
Believed written and first performed in England in 1604. BBC audiobook of the Northern Broadsides production published in 2010.

Where to buy this book:
Buy the audiobook download of this production from Audible via Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk
Buy a CD audiobook via Abebooks
Buy a CD audiobook from Speedyhen
Buy a CD audiobook from The Book Depository

How I got this book:
Bought from Audible

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This BBC Radio production stars much-loved actor and comedian Lenny Henry, who won the Evening Standard's Best Newcomer Award for his stunning performance as the tortured Moor. First performed at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, it subsequently toured the country before arriving in London's West End where Henry received rave reviews.
Featuring the cast from the acclaimed West End production and with original music from Conrad Nelson, who also plays Iago, this mesmerising radio drama grips the listener from start to tragic finish.
Love, racism, jealousy and desire are at the emotional core of Shakespeare's monumental tragedy, a tender love story shattered by one man's obsessive hatred of another. Othello is noble, brave and victorious. Iago, passed over for a position in the army, fuels his diabolical revenge with hatred and snarling racism. Poignant, intense and heartbreaking, Othello mercilessly explores every inch of the human condition.

Penguin kindly offered me an advance copy of Tracy Chevalier's latest book, New Boy, recently which I am excited to read soon. You will be able to read my review of that in May, but, as New Boy is based on the plot of Othello, I thought I should revisit the original play first. I metaphorically dusted off my Audible download of the excellent Northern Broadsides production that starred Lenny Henry and am I am blogging my review today to celebrate Shakespeare Day!

Having never actually seen, heard or read any other Othellos, I can't compare this audio version to any other production. However I can say that the play is gripping throughout and, other than the very first few lines where the dialogue speed seems inordinately fast, I was easily able to keep up with the action and to differentiate voices so I generally knew who was speaking (except when minor characters suddenly appear!) Lenny Henry is convincing as Othello and my favourite character has to be the villainous Iago. He is utterly self-serving and wonderfully two-faced! I didn't think the other characters had the depth of Iago or Othello, Desdemona seeming particularly flat to me, although I did appreciate Emilia's Elizabethan-style feminist outburst.

The storyline is moral lesson in not believing everything one is told, even if the news source has been reliable in the past - so Othello is relevant for 2017! Shakespeare illustrates the racism of the early 1600s and it is depressing to think that such attitudes still prevail four centuries later. While I could see how Othello was so easily led by Iago, on reflection I did find the ending stretched believability too far for my tastes. Overall I enjoyed the play though and would certainly listen to it again - or even go to see a live performance.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by William Shakespeare / Plays / Books from England

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Salvage The Bones by Jesmyn Ward


Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
First published by Bloomsbury USA in America in September 2011.

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

How I got this book:
Borrowed from my partner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch's father is growing concerned. He's a hard drinker, largely absent, and it isn't often he worries about the family. Esch and her three brothers are stocking up on food, but there isn't much to save. Lately, Esch can't keep down what food she gets; at fifteen, she has just realized that she's pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pit bull's new litter, dying one by one. Meanwhile, brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child's play and short on parenting.
As the twelve days that make up the novel's framework yield to a dramatic conclusion, this unforgettable family - motherless children sacrificing for one another as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce - pulls itself up to face another day.

It's hard to believe, having finished reading this book, that it only spans twelve days. So much of life is packed in that it's an intense read. Ward's writing is poetic and gentle which contrasts powerfully with the harsh lives and violent events she portrays. Her heroine, Esch, is the only daughter of a poverty-stricken family living in the Mississippi bayou. As Katrina is forecasted and even the wildlife departs the area, this family has no choice but to stay and no one to depend upon but themselves and their small community. Gritty, vicious and real, this is not an easy read, but is a rewarding one.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Jesmyn Ward / Contemporary fiction / Books from America

Friday, 21 April 2017

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier


Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
First published in the UK by Victor Gollancz in 1938. Chivers audiobook edition, narrated by Anna Massey, published in 2009.

Where to buy this book:
Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
Buy the audiobook download from Audible via Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from Speedyhen
Buy the audiobook on CD from The Book Depository

How I got this book:
Bought the audiobook from Audible

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A timeless classic that has enthralled generation after generation with its exquisitely crafted prose and its haunting story, Rebecca is a true gothic tale of infatuation and naivety. Daphne du Maurier's young heroine meets the charming Maxim de Winter and despite her youth, they marry and go to Manderley, his home in Cornwall. There, the sinister housekeeper Mrs Danvers and the mystery she keeps alive of his first wife Rebecca - said to have drowned at sea - threatens to overwhelm the marriage.

I am going to make a bold statement for this review and say that I think Rebecca is my favourite book! I rarely revisit books I have read, but have listened to my beloved audio version three times now, the most recent of which being this week so I could join in with its group read for Proud Readers Of Great Stories over on Goodreads. I am sure other audiobook editions of Rebecca are available but I haven't listened to them because, for me, Anna Massey's narration is sublime. She completely understands each character and portrays that repressed Englishness to perfection.

 I love du Maurier's detailed observations of place, especially her use of nature to enhance scenes. The claustrophobia of politely stilted conversations taking place in rooms with dense fog or pelting rain just outside makes for almost unbearably tense atmosphere. Even though I know what will happen next and how the story is going to turn out, I still find myself enthralled. The second Mrs de Winter, and I love that we never know her first name, undertakes a complete coming of age transformation, her shyness and diffidence beautifully contrasted with the power she allows the stronger women who surround her - Mrs van Hopper, Beatrice and, of course, Mrs Danvers. No one in this book is two-dimensional or a caricature and they all suit their place and time.

Rebecca is very much a period piece and I don't think, even as historical fiction, a writer of today could have created it so intricately. Aspects of behaviour that seem appalling by present-day standards fit the novel and the social morals of the time. The emphasis on the timelessness of Manderley routine is particularly poignant given its 1938 publication and the imminence of the Second World War which would irrevocably change much of such privileged lives forever. I love this book in its entirety and look forward to reading or hearing it again in good time. Perhaps I should get around to trying another Daphne du Maurier book too!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Daphne du Maurier / Thrillers / Books from England

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Red tailed Hawk by Nancy Schoellkopf + Giveaway


Red-tailed Hawk by Nancy Schoellkopf
Published by Butterfly Tree Publishing on the 1st February 2017.

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

How I got this book:
Received a review copy via iRead Book Tours
(See the other stops on the tour)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Mariah Easter encounters a large hawk in her urban midtown neighborhood, her father Charlie is concerned. He can see a wild and mystical path opening before his daughter, a path he himself would never be able to resist. The hawk soon reappears: engraved with its twin on a golden thimble that has been an Easter family heirloom for generations. After the thimble is stolen at a funeral reception, Mariah and her mother Samantha set off on a road trip to find it, a journey that will bring healing to the grieving family and change Mariah's life forever. Red-Tailed Hawk is a coming of age story, the tale of a young woman's quest to discover the source of her own longing and to understand the mystical legacy of her family.

Red-tailed Hawk is the second novel in Nancy Schoellkopf's Easter family series and it takes place some two decades after Yellow-billed Magpie which I also reviewed earlier this month. The first book explored Samantha's coming of age and her blossoming relationship with fellow teacher Charlie. Now we get to see how their daughter, Mariah, reacts to an unexpected family bereavement and the strange repeated appearances, both actual and symbolic, of red-tailed hawks in her life.

A frequently revisited theme within this novel is that nothing is truly a coincidence. I liked how Schoellkopf weaves this maxim around her tale and uses the Easter's family's strong beliefs in the mystical world to explain actions and decisions which otherwise could have seemed rashly impetuous! Red-tailed Hawk is slow to get going. A lot of background information is offloaded early on which I found irritating at times because I would have preferred to have been shown our leading characters more clearly. However, once the road trip search for a stolen family heirloom gets underway I became more engrossed in the story and especially liked the cameo portrayals of the cantankerous antique shop owner and waitress Cherry.

Perhaps the individual towns visited en route could have benefited from greater detail in their descriptions because one did seem much like another, despite Mariah and her family travelling hundreds of miles across America between them. Red-tailed Hawk does not have the grounding in place that characterised Yellow-billed Magpie and I felt some kind of anchor of this sort was needed to counterbalance the journey. More time spent exploring the supernatural story elements would also have helped me I think. These scenes seemed overly rushed and I wasn't totally convinced by our story's sudden swerve in that direction. All in all though, Red-tailed Hawk is a nice coming-of-age story with a strong sense of spirituality and of family.


Nancy Schoellkopf is the author of Yellow-billed Magpie, the first in her Easter Family series. Nancy has been telling stories and writing poems for many lifetimes. It goes without saying that she'd need a second income, so this time around she has happily taught amazing children in special education classes in two urban school districts in Sacramento, California. A full time writer now, she enjoys lavishing attention on her cats, her garden, and her intriguing circle of family and friends.

Connect with Nancy via her website, Twitter and Facebook


And now it's giveaway time!
Win one of three signed copies of Red-tailed Hawk, plus one winner will also get a $20 Amazon gift card. There will be 3 winners in total and the giveaway is open until the 6th of May (Sorry, it's USA & Canada entrants only)

Here's the giveaway widget:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!



Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Nancy Schoellkopf / Women's fiction / Books from America

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Piranha To Scurfy by Ruth Rendell


Piranha To Scurfy by Ruth Rendell
First published in the UK by Hutchinson in September 2000.
I registered my copy of this book at BookCrossing.

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

How I got this book:

Swapped for at the book exchange at Serro Da Bica campsite, Ourique, Portugal

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The long title story is about a man whose life, in a sense, is a book. There are shelves in every room, packed with titles which Ambrose Ribbon has checked pedantically for mistakes of grammar and fact. Life for Ribbon, without his mother now, is lonely and obsessive, filled with psychoses and neuroses, with the ever-present possibility of a descent into violent madness. He still keeps his mother's dressing table exactly as she had left it, the wardrobe door always open so that her clothes can be seen inside, and her pink silk nightdress on the bed. There is one book too that he associates particularly with her - volume VIII of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Piranha to Scurfy. It marked a very significant moment in their relationship. In the other stories, Ruth Rendell deals with a variety of themes, some macabre, some vengeful, some mysterious, all precisely observed. The second novella, High Mysterious Union, explores a strange, erotic universe in a dream-like corner of rural England, and illustrates very atmospherically what range Ruth Rendell has as a writer, expanding beyond her famous sphere of crime writing.

At the time of reading this book, maybe three years ago now, I wasn't particularly a short story fan. However I enjoyed this collection and have since come to appreciate the genre much more. The eleven tales range from the mysterious to the macabre and I particularly appreciated the two novellas, Piranha To Scurfy and High Mysterious Union. Rendell is an astute observer of a particular type of middle-class Englishness and these two stories certainly showcase her writing. Piranha To Scurfy reminded me of an Alan Bennett Talking Heads sort of person, albeit even darker! The Beach Butler was my favourite of the short stories.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Ruth Rendell / Short stories / Books from England

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The Gin Thief by S C Barrus


The Gin Thief: Episode 1: Becoming Scarlet by S C Barrus
Published in America by Away And Away Publishing in October 2014.

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 for supporting a Kickstarter campaign

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yevylin is a foreigner attempting to enter an unforgiving city. Quickly she finds herself thrust into a struggle for survival. After killing a man in self defense and hiding from the law, she must earn her way into the ranks of a notorious gang of women known as Scarlets. THE GIN THIEF is a steampunk, gangland serial following Yevylin as she rises up the ranks of the criminal underworld, a world rife with murder, revenge, grave robbers, serial killers, and gin thieves.

I had not tried reading a serialised book as it is published before so part of my reason to invest in the Kickstarter campaign for S C Barrus' then new creation, The Gin Thief series, was my interest to learn whether I would be able to remember all the storylines over an extended period of time. Generally I read intensively with scarcely a pause until my current novel is finished, immersing myself in it completely. Taking a minor set of characters, The Scarlets, from his steampunk novel Discovering Aberration which I previously enjoyed reading, Barrus tells their story and particularly that of their newest recruit, Miss Yevylin Over.

Barrus' writing style is dense with intricate descriptions of place, costume and character. I appreciate that he takes time to set up scenes without simply rushing to the action and, although this does mean his stories advance at a slower pace than those of other modern authors, I think the approach suits the imaginative steampunk genre and it also mirrors that of Victorian authors so adds to the 'genuine' atmosphere. Becoming Scarlet, as the title suggests, recounts how Yevylin meets and tries to join The Scarlets. A plot device of her storytelling for the leader, The Missus, works well in allowin us to get to know her while still keeping up the pace. My only real disappointment was that the series didn't continue.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by S C Barrus / Steampunk / Books from America

Monday, 17 April 2017

The Purple Land by William Henry Hudson


The Purple Land by William Henry Hudson
First published in the UK by Sampson Low in 1885.
I registered my copy of this book at BookCrossing.

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
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository

How I got this book:
Bought a ForgottenBooks edition at a second-hand bookshop in Spain

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Messrs. Sampson Low, in two slim volumes, with the longer and, to most persons, enigmatical title of The Purple Land that England Lost. A purple land may be found in almost any region of the globe, and tis of our gains, not our losses, we keep count. A few notices of the book appeared in the papers, one or two of the more serious literary journals reviewing it (not favourably) under the heading of Travels and Geography ;but the reading public cared not to buy, and it very shortly fell into oblivion. There it might have remained for a further period of nineteen years, or for ever, since the sleep of a book is apt to be of the unawakening kind, had not certain men of letters, who found it on a forgotten heap and liked it in spite of its faults, or because of them, concerned themselves to revive it. We are often told that an author never wholly loses his affection for a first book, and the feeling has been likened (more than once) to that of a parent towards a first-born.

This fictional account of the adventures of one Richard Lamb, fish-out of-water Englishman in 1860s Uruguay was originally published in 1885. I liked its overtly flowery language which immediately transported me back to the era and made Lamb's constant attitude of 'I'm English therefore ...' easier to stomach. The adventures themselves are entertaining and perilous for our hero, and also generally caused by his falling for the most recent woman to cross his path. The descriptions of Uruguay and her political situation at the time were interesting as I had no real knowledge of the country prior to reading this novel. I don't think I would search out any of Hudson's other novels to buy, but would pick them up to read if I spotted one on a book exchange.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by William Henry Hudson / Victorian fiction / Books from Argentina

Sunday, 16 April 2017

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman


The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
First published in the UK by Headline in June 2013.

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

How I got this book:
Borrowed from my partner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond this world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed - within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it. His only defence is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.

Much like Stardust, also by Neil Gaiman, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane is a traditional-style fairytale for adults and I thought it was absolutely wonderful. The story flows perfectly with vivid descriptions and larger than life characters. How does Gaiman manage to maintain such inventiveness while also telling fabulous stories? The characters are perfect for their situations I loved the Hempstocks and could picture Ursula in great detail. I had already read other reviews so knew that this is more a novella than a full-length novel and I think it's just about the right length for the story being told although I would happily have spent much longer within this book. As it is short though, I devoured all this fantastic escapism in a single evening.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Neil Gaiman / Fantasy fiction / Books from England

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Theogony and Works And Days by Hesiod


Theogony and Works And Days by Hesiod
Believed first spoken in Greece in the 8th century BCE. New English language translation by Kimberly Johnson published in America by Northwestern University Press today, the 15th April 2017 (30th April in the UK.

Where to buy this book:
Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
Buy the paperback from Amazon.com / Amazon.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:

Widely considered the first poet in the Western tradition to address the matter of his own experience, Hesiod occupies a seminal position in literary history. His Theogony brings together and formalizes many of the narratives of Greek myth, detailing the genealogy of its gods and their violent struggles for power. The Works and Days seems on its face to be a compendium of advice about managing a farm, but it ranges far beyond this scope to meditate on morality, justice, the virtues of a good life, and the place of humans in the universe. These poems are concerned with orderliness and organization, and they proclaim those ideals from small-scale to vast, from a handful of seeds to the story of the cosmos. Presented here in a bilingual edition, Johnson's translation takes care to preserve the structure of Hesiod's lines and sentences, achieving a sonic and rhythmic balance that enables us to hear his music across the millennia.

I love reading ancient work when I can find a good modern translation - the Epic of Gilgamesh, Beowulf - and Kimberly Johnson's work in translating Hesiod's two great poems here certainly fits the bill for me. It is amazing to think his words were originally spoken getting on for three millennia ago, yet in his ideas about how people should live in order to be in harmony with themselves and nature, Hesiod is surprisingly relevant - if I ignore his blatant misogyny of course!

Not being totally well-versed in Ancient Greek mythology, I did struggle to keep up with exactly who is who in Theogony. This poem namechecks, I think, all the Greek Gods and Goddeses Hesiod knew of, briefly referencing some of their stories, but obviously expecting an audience to already be familiar with every one. As a novice, I am now completely baffled by the pantheon, but enjoyed Hesiod's poetic flow especially in the sections where he effectively just lists name after name after name. I was reminded of Tom Lehrer's Perodic Table song and wondered if these passages were structured as an aide-memoire as well as being fun to recite aloud (yes, I did!).

Works And Days concerns itself more with the practicalities of human life and meanders around a variety of subjects. As poetry, I was less impressed with this second offering, but did appreciate the inclusion of a stream of bizarre maxims and superstitions at the end. It turns out there are propitious days for pretty much everything! I imagine trying to actually live observing all of them would be exasperating.

Where I felt I most benefited from this edition of Theogony and Works And Days was in their introductory essays which are very informative and gave me good pointers on phrases to watch out for, without being dry and overly scholarly. I also liked that both poems are presented bilingually in sections so anyone able to read Greek can easily switch between the two languages. Despite not having this ability, I began to identify certain names as I went through and would certainly have appreciated this approach when I studied Classical Civilisations for GCSE.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Hesiod / Poetry / Books from Greece

Friday, 14 April 2017

The Sense Of An Ending by Julian Barnes


The Sense Of An Ending by Julian Barnes
First published in the UK by Jonathan Cape in August 2011. Won the 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

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

How I got this book:
Borrowed from my partner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they would navigate the girl-less sixth form together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they all swore to stay friends for life. Now Tony is in middle age. He's had a career and a single marriage, a calm divorce. He's certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer's letter is about to prove.
The Sense of an Ending is the story of one man coming to terms with the mutable past. Laced with trademark precision, dexterity and insight, it is the work of one of the world's most distinguished writers.

I have reblogged my A Sense Of An Ending review from Stephanie Jane today to celebrate the release of the film version starring Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling.

I thought that this novel was an interesting addition to the man-looking-back-to-his-youth genre. It examines what we think we know about ourselves and our personal history and, in contrast, how others see us in the context of the same events. I liked the story and the character developments, but unfortunately didn't see Veronica's behaviour as particularly outrageous in the first part of the book so consequently had to 'play catch up' later on in order to understand our protagonist's sense of victimisation. Barnes' does come across as self-consciously trying to be profound when he launches into his periodic philosophising. I didn't think that so much of this added value to the novel though, leading these passages to feel more like excessive padding by the end.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Julian Barnes / Contemporary fiction / Books from England

Thursday, 13 April 2017

The Saloon War At Seven Rivers by Kendall Hanson


The Saloon War at Seven Rivers by Kendall Hanson
Published in America by Dixon-Price Publishing in September 2015.

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

How I got this book:
Received via newsletter promotion

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Caught between a desire to help his boss and a desire to stay alive, Fat Jack Craft must ask for Farr Gunn's help when war breaks out between the two largest saloons in Seven Rivers.

Having enjoyed The Bordello Kid, the first book in Kendall Hanson's Farr And Fat Jack western series, I was happy to download this second book, Saloon War At Seven Rivers, when I saw it advertised in the author's e-mail newsletter. Farr is still working for Fat Jack's mother providing security for her boarding house and Fat Jack performs much the same function in a saloon up the road. French Kate, who had been badly injured in the previous novel, is making a good recovery, but trouble ensues when her former boss tries to 'encourage' her to return to work.

Saloon War concentrates more on the action than it does the characterisations so I didn't feel the same depth to this story as I did its forerunner. I was disappointed by this because it was what I particularly liked about the first book. We learn a little more about Farr's unconventional upbringing, but newly starring characters such as the Olsen family and the gunman Graver never become fully rounded creations. I liked the overall story arc and, again, we have a satisfying ending, but Saloon War felt too short and I think more space could have been given to scene-setting and description. The will-they-won't-they between Farr and Kate is nicely done, but I found it difficult to fully understand the actions of other characters as I didn't know enough about their motivations.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Kendall Hanson / Historical fiction / Books from America

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Assata Shakur by Barbara Casey + Giveaway


Assata Shakur: A 20th Century Escaped Slave by Barbara Casey
Published in America by Strategic Media Books Inc on the 15th February 2017.

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
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository

How I got this book:
Received a review copy via iRead Book Tours
(See the other stops on the tour)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In May 1973, Assata Olugbala Shakur was involved in a shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike in which she was accused of killing New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster and assaulting Trooper James Harper. This resulted in her indictment of first-degree murder of Foerster and seven other felonies related to the shootout. A member of the Black Panther Party, she became a prime target of the Federal Bureau of Investigations Counterintelligence Program. When she joined the Black Liberation Army and went into hiding, between 1973 and 1977, she was placed on the FBI's Most Wanted List for three bank robberies, the kidnapping and murder of two drug dealers, and the attempted murder of two New Jersey police officers.
In March 1977 Assata Shakur was convicted of murdering state trooper Werner Forrester and was imprisoned. Two years later she broke out of the maximum-security wing of Clinton Correctional Facility in New Jersey, pistol in hand, as she and three cohorts sped out of the prison grounds. In 1984 she was granted political asylum in Cuba where she has lived ever since. On May 2, 2013, the FBI added her to the Most Wanted Terrorist List, the first woman to be listed. Assata Shakur: A 20th Century Escaped Slave is the story of Assata Shakur, before she became a fugitive and since.

I hadn't heard of Assata Shakur or the organisation with which she was associated, the Black Liberation Army, in America prior to reading Barbara Casey's book so was very interested to learn more about this period in the country's history. The title, A 20th Century Escaped Slave, is taken from Shakur's own description of herself and concisely sums up widespread Black experience in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as, sadly, continuing into the present day. Casey has obviously spent considerable time researching this biography and utilises a wide range of sources including court reports, excerpts from news sources and quotes from the writings of Shakur herself. The book is written more in a style of journalistic reporting so I did often feel one step removed from our subject. I read a lots of facts and legal arguments about what she did and what happened to her as a result so we get her public persona, but I didn't gain a real sense of Shakur as a woman.

Casey explores Shakur's times and legacy as well as her immediate life. The America in which she lived prior to her Cuban exile was undoubtedly a viciously biased nation and I was shocked at her cruel treatment in prison. Whether terrorist or freedom fighter, murderer or innocent bystander - and Casey never decisively comes down in favour of one side or the other which is unusual for a biographer - months and years of solitary confinement is undoubtedly inhumane and ultimately this systematic authoritarian abuse helped to cement Shakur's position as a folk hero rather than disgracing her as, presumably, was the plan. While our present-day widespread whipped-up hysteria and paranoia concerning terrorism is, I believe, far more extreme than in the recent past when terrorist acts on American (and British) soil were actually far more frequent, Assata Shakur: A 20th Century Escaped Slave is a timely reminder of why and how politically excluded peoples can feel forced to act and react. It is easy to fling accusations and dismiss swathes of humanity as 'terrorists', but such a simplistic approach can only serve to stoke future resentments and create more 'Assata Shakurs'.


Barbara Casey is the author of several award-winning novels for both adults and young adults, as well as book-length works of nonfiction true crime and numerous articles, poems, and short stories. Her previous nonfiction true crime work, Kathryn Kelly: The Moll behind Machine Gun Kelly, has been optioned for a major film and television series. In addition to her own writing, she is an editorial consultant for independent publishers and writers, and president of the Barbara Casey Agency, established in 1995, representing authors throughout the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Japan. Barbara lives on a mountain in Georgia with her husband and three dogs who adopted her: Benton, a hound-mix; Fitz, a miniature dachshund; and Gert, a Jack Russell terrier of sorts.

Connect with Barbara through her website


And now it's giveaway time!
Win a $25 Amazon gift card. There will be 2 winners in total and the giveaway is open internationally until the 6th of May.

Here's the giveaway widget:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!



Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Barbara Casey / Biography and memoir / Books from America

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain


The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain
First published in French in France as La femme au carnet rouge in 2014. English language translation by Jane Aitken and Emily Boyce published by Gallic Books in March 2015.

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 publishers via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookseller Laurent Letellier comes across an abandoned handbag on a Parisian street and feels impelled to return it to its owner. The bag contains no money, phone or contact information. But a small red notebook with handwritten thoughts and jottings reveals a person that Laurent would very much like to meet. Without even a name to go on, and only a few of her possessions to help him, how is he to find one woman in a city of millions?

The Red Notebook is a deceptive novel in that it seems quite light-hearted on the surface, but actually explores some pretty deep philosophical questions. Is it possible to glimpse what might have been? Can we influence coincidence? Where is the line between harmless curiosity and creepy stalking?

Returning home late one night Laure is mugged on her doorstep and her designer handbag stolen. Injured in the attack, she seeks refuge in a neighbouring hotel, but is later rushed to hospital. Next morning, bookseller Laurent finds the bag and, as a good citizen, takes it to the police. However they really aren't interested so Laurent undertakes his own amateur detective mission in order to track down its owner. The Red Notebook of the title is in the handbag and contains Laure's comments and thoughts on her life. There's nothing written there to identify her, but Laurent becomes so fascinated that he begins to cross social boundaries in his determination to find her.

I loved the gentle and very French style of this book which makes it a fascinating romance where, as readers, we never quite know whether Laure and Laurent will ever meet. And if they do, will their realities match up to their imaginations? Laurain has a deft touch and a lovely way of portraying his characters which comes through perfectly, even in translation. I was rooting for Laurent all the way through the book, even when his behaviour did start to get a little creepy. In the hands of a different writer, this could have become a sleazy or even a chilling book, but Laurain cleverly stays just on the happy side of the line. Yes, on reflection some of the coincidences are just too coincidental to be truly believable, but that didn't matter to me as I was so swept up in the romantic potential. I liked that both Laure and Laurent were independent people with pasts, cautious but open to possibilities, and Laurent's daughter is a great creation. I squirmed at the cafe scene! Laurain doesn't rush to his conclusion and often diverts into literary discussion or other asides. These do slow the pace, sometimes adding to its tension, but occasionally seeming like unnecessary padding. However The Red Notebook is still a relatively short book which I easily read in a few hours and I came away from it feeling uplifted and very satisfied with the tale.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Antoine Laurain / Mysteries / Books from France

Monday, 10 April 2017

Yellow-billed Magpie by Nancy Schoellkopf + Giveaway


Yellow-billed Magpie by Nancy Schoellkopf
Published by Butterfly Tree Publishing in September 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 via iRead Book Tours
(See the other stops on the tour)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Unlike their black-billed cousins, yellow-billed magpies are rarely found outside California’s central valley. So when they begin showing up in Samantha O’Malley’s dreams, she wonders: are they calling me home?
Disappointed by failed fertility treatments and the break-up of her marriage, Samantha returns to her home town and slips into old habits, resuming her teaching career, even hooking up with an old lover. But she also renews her friendship with Craig, the school custodian she honors as her spiritual guide. The work they do together with Samantha’s special education students will lead her to discoveries she never thought possible.
Yellow-billed Magpie is a love story, a spiritual journey, a quest to look beyond appearances to the mystical rhythms that guide the human heart.

I am delighted to be taking part in my first iRead Book Tours during April. The Nancy Schoellkopf tour is actually for her second Easter Family novel, Red-tailed Hawk, and you can enter a giveaway for that book below. However, as I hadn't read the first instalment, I was kindly supplied with copies of both!

Yellow-billed Magpie is very different to my usual reading fare in its style so I was interested to discover the world that Schoellkopf creates for her characters. The story has strong spiritual elements and I was particularly taken with the repeated dream sequence motif in which Samantha envisages herself as various animals. Although brief, these scenes are beautifully vivid.

When awake, Samantha's life is dominated by her attempts to understand her place and role in life, and to establish a loving and rewarding romantic relationship. Initially we see her leaving her materialistic marriage and returning to much of her pre-married life by buying a house in her old town and restarting her employment as a special needs teacher. I liked the exploration of questions raised by her decision. Is this a backward step to the ease of familiarity or the completion of a circle to where Samantha can be strong again? We are witnesses to much of Samantha's inner voice and her perpetual questioning does slow the novel's pace which might frustrate some readers, but at the same time this insight gives a deeper, thoughtful layer to the story.

Samantha does have serious self-esteem issues and I was disappointed that she needs so much male validation in order to appreciate her talents. Despite being a teacher herself, she reverts to pupil status when interacting with the significant men in her life. I also felt the men sometimes leant towards being caricatures, illustrative of certain types, rather than being fully-evoked in every sense. Craig in particular irritated me immensely as, despite his apparent spiritual advancement, he is very patronising! Yellow-billed Magpie did appeal to me on a deeper level than I expected from its synopsis and encouraged me to think about which elements of my life are especially important. I am now looking forward to revisiting the Easter Family in its sequel, Red-tailed Hawk.


Nancy Schoellkopf is the author of Yellow-billed Magpie, the first in her Easter Family series. Nancy has been telling stories and writing poems for many lifetimes. It goes without saying that she'd need a second income, so this time around she has happily taught amazing children in special education classes in two urban school districts in Sacramento, California. A full time writer now, she enjoys lavishing attention on her cats, her garden, and her intriguing circle of family and friends.

Connect with Nancy via her website, Twitter and Facebook


And now it's giveaway time!
Win one of three signed copies of Red-tailed Hawk, plus one winner will also get a $20 Amazon gift card. There will be 3 winners in total and the giveaway is open until the 6th of May (Sorry, it's USA & Canada entrants only)

Here's the giveaway widget:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!



Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Nancy Schoellkopf / Women's fiction / Books from America

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Daughter Of The Killing Fields by Theary Seng


Daughter of the Killing Fields: Asrei's Story by Theary C. Seng
Published by Fusion Press in September 2005.

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

How I got this book:
Found on the book exchange shelves at Camping Casteillets

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Theary Seng was a toddler when they killed her father. In prison shortly after, she fell asleep in her mother's arms and woke to find her gone. "Daughter of the Killing Fields" tells how Seng spent her early years being passed from one set of relatives to another, amid a backdrop of soldiers, landmines, inadequate refugee camps and always death. 'Life', she found, 'is just a breath'. Often separated and fearing each other dead for months at a time, she tells the nail-biting story of how she, her aunts and uncles survived. Leaving Cambodia aged six to start a new life in the West, this powerful memoir begins and ends 23 years later as she finds a way to confront the man she holds 'accountable for the death of my parents, for the blood of 1.7 million others'.

Knowing little about the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia other than what I had learned from The Killing Fields film which I watched years ago, I thought it would be interesting to read an account by someone who actually lived through the regime's rule. Dave attempted to read this book before me and gave up fairly early on because he couldn't get on with the writing style and I also found it difficult to identify all the different people about whom Seng writes. There is a family tree diagram and glossary of Cambodian honorifics at the front of the book, but names seem change depending on the speaker which is tricky for my Western mind to grasp.

Seng was only four years old when the Khmer Rouge came to power so this book includes her own memories as well as information gleaned from interviews with surviving family members and other Cambodians. Their stories are horrific especially considering that these events were just forty years ago. I wasn't reading about ancient barbarity, but recent history and this is particularly shocking to consider. Seng writes about how her father was deceived into walking to his death, her time in prison before her mother vanished, and her years of rural peasantry. What shines through her memoir is the ingenuity and strength of these people, their struggle to survive but also their quiet acceptance of the inevitability of death. Perhaps a professional writer might have created a more accessible book overall, however there was a certain raw power in knowing that the person whose words I read had really experienced these incredible years.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Theary Seng / Biography and memoir / Books from Cambodia

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Guest Review: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood


The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
First published in Canada by McClelland And Stewart in 1985.

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

Guest review by Rob Shackleford
Australian author Rob Shackleford is a graduate of Central Queensland University where he studied journalism and ancient history. His interest in history is put to good use is his first novel Traveller-Inceptio, a science fiction work where a crack international team of Special Services soldiers are sent 1000 years into the past, to Medieval Saxon England, at a particularly turbulent period of history. I've got a copy of Traveller-Inceptio to read and will be blogging my review later this month.

Rob's rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She has only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire - neither Offred's nor that of the two men on which her future hangs.
Brilliantly conceived and executed, this powerful evocation of twenty-first century America explores a world in which oppression of women, and repression of the truth, have become justified.

Rob says:  Margaret Atwood is a highly acclaimed author known for her incisive speculative fiction, perhaps the best known of which is ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, published in 1985.

Like all novels, this is based on a premise. There is a dystopian near future where the US Government has been taken over by puritanical, religious fundamentalists, creating a nation called the Republic of Gilead. This is a repressive mix recognised in Orwell’s ‘1984’ and today’s North Korea, where a Christian fundamentalist dictatorship has removed the rights of all but the elite, where women’s rights are non-existent and the breeding of healthy babies is a priority.

This is the diary of Offred, a Handmaid, a new class of women who are essentially reproductive slaves for the ruling elite of men whose women, for reasons not fully explained, are unable to bear children. Offred once was a normal American woman with her own name, a husband, child and a job, but with the disintegration of freedom and society is captured as they attempt to escape to Canada. She becomes a Handmaid, a fertile woman who has broken the strict gender and social laws. Handmaid is an obvious reference to Biblical figures Jacob and Abraham, each of whom took their wife’s handmaid or servant to breed children when their wives could not.

The story is rather slow, though the atmosphere and world created by Atwood is gripping and, in today’s world of Trump’s USA, perhaps poignant in view of the rapid change of power and women’s freedoms. Interestingly, as with many books of a dystopian future by US authors, such as the world described in the Hunger Games, there is no real world outside of the USA.

The Republic of Gilead is heavily structured and ruled by white men who are Commanders of the Faithful. As with any repressive regime there is a secret police, called the Eyes, of which all are terrified, for disobedience to the regime will result in a violent, torturous death or banishment to the Colonies, which is seen as a death penalty.

The rulers are supported by the military known as the Angels, and the Guardians of the Faith.

In Offred’s diary, she describes the women of the time. Attwood created clear class structures, each of which dresses in relevant colours of rank. Offred dresses in Scarlet (the scarlet woman?) while the Wives dress in Blue. They are the elite, though they wear Black if widowed. They are usually sterile.

There are the daughters, children of the ruling class, who dress in White.

Aunts are the cruel and often brutal trainers and monitors of the Handmaids, who are seen as tainted women who have a chance to redeem themselves. Aunts dress in Brown.

Marthas are infertile, older women. This is another Biblical reference to Martha who, in the New Testament, was more concerned with the practicalities of life. They dress in Green.

Econowives are low-ranking common folk who dress in all colours to show they have all of the above responsibilities. Offred is the Commander’s Handmaid and her role is to have babies. In the Ceremony, where his wife is present, the Commander copulates with his Handmaid to produce offspring. If Offred doesn’t fall pregnant, she risks being cast out to the Colonies, for to be barren is the fault of the woman. The Commander soon becomes fond of Offred, which causes friction between the Handmaid and the Wife. He eventually takes Offred to a club or brothel where only the elite men may go. Offred is dressed in clothes and makeup banned in the Republic of Gilead, and is displayed as a possession to impress his colleagues. This is a place where the Commander will have sex with Offred outside of the restrictions of the Ceremony. Offred receives her name as she is a possession ‘of Fred’, suggesting Fred is the name of the Commander.

The Republic of Gilead is not a happy place, with an oppressive atmosphere and primitive technologies reminiscent of the Soviet era. There is an underground rebellion, where secretive rebels attempt to help Offred, as well as wars against other religious groups, such as the war against the Baptists. Other races, such as African Americans, known as the Children of Ham, have been shipped to the Colonies, while Jews and Catholics are tolerated, murdered, or shipped overseas.

To add another layer of interest, the epilogue reveals ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is a ‘Diary of Anne Frank’ style historical document under study by scholars after the fall of the Republic.

The Handmaid’s Tale is described by some as a Feminist work of significance, and ironically is still of relevance over thirty years later.

A movie of The Handmaid’s Tale was released in 1990 that starred little-known Natasha Richardson as Offred, Robert Duval as the Commander and Faye Dunaway as his wife. What is perhaps significant is that a new TV Series of the Handmaid’s Tale is due to be released later in 2017 and stars Elisabeth Moss of ‘Mad Men’ as Offred and Joseph Fiennes as the Commander. The timing of the release is interesting in view of the controversial Presidency of Donald Trump, which some feel espouses policies that have been described as sexist, racist, against freedom of speech and religion, and designed to amplify the power and wealth of the elite. That such a change in US politics and attitudes has taken place so quickly might suggest that Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ can be, like Orwell’s ‘1984’, a warning of where wresting of power from the people can lead to places few want to go.

Though not a cheery, Sunday Afternoon read, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is thought provoking and essential to any interested in a clever, prophetic critique of where society could go if we aren’t careful.



Thank you Rob!

Do you have a book review that you would like to share on Literary Flits? Details of how to do so are Here. I look forward to hearing from you!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Margaret Atwood / Science fiction / Books from Canada