Saturday, 17 March 2018

Full Circle by Regina Timothy

Full Circle by Regina Timothy
Self published in December 2017.

One of my 2018 IndieAthon Reads
One of my 2018 Take Control of Your TBR Pile Challenge reads

Where to buy this book:

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Eight years after the 9/11 attacks, Samia-Al-Sayyid an Iraqi immigrant is living a quiet life in New York City after she fled her home to avoid imminent death.

She works hard for her cold, heartless, high-strung boss, loves her seventeen-year-old-son, and cherishes the close friendship she has formed with her best friend Susan.

Nothing can go wrong, or so she thinks – until the estranged brother she left back in Iraq shows up on her door step. Then she finds herself in a cab, on her way to the hospital to identify her son, a terror suspect who has blown the city, and with it her boss’ husband, and her best friend’s son. With everything lost, she is forced to flee to Iraq where she confronts her past. Will she make peace with her past? Can she get forgiveness for all the damage she has caused?

Full Circle is a contemporary fiction tale of friendship, family, and hope. It explores the devastation of loss, the great capacity to forgive and the lengths our loved ones will go to protect us.

Full Circle is quite an emotional rollercoaster of a novel. It tackles strong themes including sexual assault, racial intolerance, terrorism, the experiences of soldiers returning home, single parenthood, bullying, and the social alienation of teenagers. I did at times wonder whether so much misfortune could believably befall a relatively small cast of characters, although in this story some events have a depressing inevitability as they follow one after another. We can see where the characters are headed and, as readers, are powerless to change their fate.

Samia has turned herself from a powerless child in Iraq to a strong woman in America. She works dead-end jobs to get by, but has provided opportunities for her son who is preparing to start at university. I liked Samia. She doesn't expect great things from life, but works hard and has a serene sense of dignity about her which I admired. I wasn't so convinced by her boss, Melisa, who didn't always come across as a fully rounded character, or by Melisa's PA, Susan, who occasionally behaves as though she is Melisa!

Full Circle has good ideas and I liked the overall narrative. There are issues with pace. Sometimes we jump in time for no apparent reason while other scenes overstay their welcome. Also a lot of the dialogue felt overly formal to me. However, looking past these problems, I think Timothy has interesting things to say through her characters and I predominantly enjoyed reading this book.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Regina Timothy / Contemporary fiction / Books from Kenya

Friday, 16 March 2018

Patient Zero by Terry Tyler

Patient Zero by Terry Tyler
Self published in the UK in November 2017.

One of my 2018 IndieAthon Reads
One of my 2018 Take Control of Your TBR Pile Challenge reads

Where to buy this book:

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The year is 2024.
A mysterious virus rages around the UK.
Within days, 'bat fever' is out of control.
Patient Zero is a collection of nine short stories featuring minor characters from the post apocalyptic Project Renova series. All stories are completely 'stand alone'.

1. Jared: The Spare Vial
Jared has two vaccinations against the deadly virus: one for him, one for a friend...

2. Flora: Princess Snowflake
The girl with the perfect life, who believes in her father, the government, Christian charity and happy endings.

3. Jeff: The Prepper
What does a doomsday 'prepper' do when there is nothing left to prepare for?

4. Karen: Atonement
She ruined her sister's last day on earth, and for this she must do penance.

5. Aaron: #NewWorldProblems
Aaron can't believe his luck; he appears to be immune. But his problems are far from over.

6. Ruby: Money To Burn
Eager to escape from her drug dealer boyfriend's lifestyle, Ruby sets off with a bag filled with cash.

7. Meg: The Prison Guard's Wife
Meg waits for her husband to arrive home from work. And waits...

8. Evie: Patient Zero
Boyfriend Nick neglects her. This Sunday will be the last time she puts up with it. The very last time.

9. Martin: This Life
Life after life has taught the sixty year old journalist to see the bigger picture.

People who only like to read a series in its proper order had better look away now because I started Terry Tyler's Project Renova series with Book Three! Actually I believe Patient Zero is more of a companion volume to the first two books, Tipping Point and Lindisfarne, and can be read independently without ruining the others' story arc. I certainly hope so!

The nine stories in Patient Zero each feature a different character, all of whom are in some way affected by a disease epidemic sweeping across the UK. Despite all the stories being short, I felt I got a good sense of the overall chaos and panic as well as understanding the situations of the people Tyler introduces us to. There's lots of excitement and tense scenes, but alongside strong character portrayals so there is more to these dystopian tales than just action.

On the strengths of Patient Zero I am intrigued to find out more and have already bought myself a copy of Tipping Point. Expect its Literary Flits review soon!

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Terry Tyler / Short stories / Books from England

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Collected Stories by Bruno Schulz

Collected Stories by Bruno Schulz
First published in Polish in Poland in various collections during the 1930s. English language translation by Madeline G Levine published by Northwestern University Press today, the 15th March 2018.

My 1930s read for my 2017-18 Decade Challenge

Where to buy this book:

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Collected Stories is an authoritative new translation of the complete fiction of Bruno Schulz, whose work has influenced writers as various as Salman Rushdie, Cynthia Ozick, Jonathan Safran Foer, Philip Roth, Danilo Kiš, and Roberto Bolaño.

Schulz’s prose is renowned for its originality. Set largely in a fictional counterpart of his hometown of Drohobych, his stories merge the real and the surreal. The most ordinary objects—the wind, an article of clothing, a plate of fish—can suddenly appear unfathomably mysterious and capable of illuminating profound truths. As Father, one of his most intriguing characters, declaims: “Matter has been granted infinite fecundity, an inexhaustible vital force, and at the same time, a seductive power of temptation that entices us to create forms.”

This comprehensive volume brings together all of Schulz's published stories—Cinnamon Shops, his most famous collection (sometimes titled The Street of Crocodiles in English), The Sanatorium under the Hourglass, and an additional four stories that he did not include in either of his collections. Madeline G. Levine’s masterful new translation shows contemporary readers how Schulz, often compared to Proust and Kafka, reveals the workings of memory and consciousness.

It's only half way through March, but I am pretty confident that Collected Stories by Bruno Schulz is going to be my book of the month! I absolutely loved his rich language and gorgeously vivid descriptions, deep prose and frequently bizarre storylines. Originally written in the 1930s these stories have a sense of history about them. I could picture the unnamed town as Schulz's protagonist wends his way through its streets. Kafka is namedropped in the synopsis and I did notice ideas that could have been inspired by him, particularly in certain elements of Father's daily life which sometimes reminded me of The Metamorphosis. I was also reminded of the Daniil Kharms short story collection I read last year in the often absurd turns Schulz's stories take.

Although each story is essentially independent, repeated themes, characters and locations made reading this book feel more to me like reading a novel than a short story collection. Schulz focuses in particular on the changing seasons, his Father character's dementia and the daily routine of maid Adela. He notices the natural world in its urban setting, giving frequent chapters over to detailed descriptions of plant life, especially wild growing weeds. He also uses repetition of particular words and phrases to great effect in linking the stories. Motifs from one tale spring up again and again to reinforce ideas and impressions.

Bruno Schulz uses lots of words, writes beautifully dense prose and, to me at least, is all about atmosphere, description and character. I don't expect this book to appeal to readers who prefer action, tightly-plotted storylines and concise ideas. Instead this collection is more a slow-flowing river. There is a lot happening, but its obscured and you have to sit watching a while before you begin to move with the current. Personally I loved getting swept up and away!

Forgotten by the great day, all the herbs, flowers and weeds multiplied luxuriantly and silently, gladdened by this pause that they could sleep though outside the margin of time, on the borders of the endless day. An immense sunflower, held up on a powerful stem and sick with elephantiasis, awaited in yellow mourning dress the final, sad days of its life, sagging beneath the excess growth of its monstrous corpulence. But the naive surburban bluebells and the modest little muslin flowers stood there helpless in their starched pink and white little shirts, with no understanding of the sunflower's great tragedy. (from Collected Stories by Bruno Schulz)

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Bruno Schulz / Short stories / Books from Poland

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Just Simple Little Cruelties by Osman Welela + Free Book

Just Simple Little Cruelties by Osman Welela
Self published on Smashwords in 2016.

J for my 2018 Alphabet Soup Challenge
One of my 2018 IndieAthon Reads

Where to buy this book:

How I got this book:
Downloaded the ebook from Smashwords

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You'll find in this book a fictional story about one of the most famous classic philosophers in Ethiopian history (Zera Yacob), others that deal with climate change as well as a few lines of poetry. 

I discovered Just Simple Little Cruelties when it was reviewed on Lu's Reviews last month. I liked what Lu thought - and that Welela is an Ethiopian author (WorldReads!) - so snapped myself up a copy.

This is only a short book that consists of five poems interspersed with four short stories. It is however very well written. I particularly liked the short stories which are mostly science fiction except one which felt historical but, on reflection, could be timeless. Of the poetry, Words spoke to me the strongest with its thoughts of how many different places we can travel to simply by reading books! This book is a prime example!

For a quick yet entertaining read, I highly recommend Just Simple Little Cruelties. There is an excerpt from a longer Welela work also included which I didn't read as I don't like to only get a bit of a story and am already happy to read more of Welela's writing.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Osman Welela / Poetry / Books from Ethiopia

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Walk With Me by Debra Schoenberger + Giveaway

Walk With Me by Debra Schoenberger

One of my 2018 IndieAthon Reads
One of my 2018 Take Control of Your TBR Pile Challenge reads

Category: Adult non-fiction / Photography - 104 pages
Genre: Documentary / Street Photography / Travel
Publisher: Blurb
Release date: December 26, 2017
Tour dates: March 5 to 23, 2018
Content Rating: G

Where to buy this book:

Add Walk With Me to your Goodreads

How I got this book:
Received a review copy via iRead Book Tours

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whenever I'm asked "which is the best camera?" I pretty much respond: "the one you have on you." In fact, most of the images in this book were taken with my cell phone simply because I always have it with me.

This is not only a book about street photography but a visual diary, or collection of quirky, unusual and sometimes just plain weird photos I've taken over the course of the last decade.

As a street photographer, I need to be an assiduous walker. My sneakers often take me to little known, hidden corners, seaweed strewn (and sometimes stinky) beaches and really cool back alleys of my rather small island city of Victoria, BC.

I've also included images of curiosities I've seen throughout my travels.
Everyone sees the world differently and this is my collection of the quirkiness that I call life.

Walk With Me was a very different book to my normal reads because, other than a short introduction, it consists entirely of photographs taken by Debra Schoenberger during her travels around the world. These aren't your usual glamorous 'encouraging tourism' images either. Schoenberger manages to spot the unusual in the everyday and has a great eye for colour. I love the page of red shoes photographs and the cat glaring from the blue chair. There are candid photographs of people sleeping and working, my favourite being a particularly striking shot of a man looking directly at us by way of his reflection. Other images allow us to view the selfie generation and even a pigeon apparently peering through a phone camera!

Schoenbergers photographs are selected from probably thousands taken during her travels and I think my only real criticism of Walk With Me is that I wanted to know where each one originated and, often, the stories behind them. Who was that man in the mirror? Where was the train going? As an art collection however, this is a lovely book to have. There is endless detail to return to in the photographs and several have elements to trigger memories of my own travels.

To read further reviews, please visit Debra Schoenberger's page on iRead Book Tours

About the Author / Photographer:

Debra Schoenberger aka #girlwithcamera

"My dad always carried a camera under the seat of his car and was constantly taking pictures. I think that his example, together with pouring over National Geographic magazines as a child fuelled my curiosity for the world around me.

I am a documentary photographer and street photography is my passion. Some of my images have been chosen by National Geographic as editor's favourites and are on display in the National Geographic museum in Washington, DC. I also have an off-kilter sense of humour so I'm always looking for the unusual.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ Pinterest

Other photo books you may want to add to your collection:

Montreal by Debra Schoenberger

To Be A Child by Debra Schoenberger

India by Debra Schoenberger

Enter the Giveaway!
Open Internationally. Ends March 31, 2018.
Win a $15 Amazon gift card. Five other winners will receive an ebook copy of Debra Schoenberger's latest photography book WALK WITH ME.

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Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Debra Schoenberger / Art books / Books from Canada

Monday, 12 March 2018

The Clock Flower by Barbara Casey + Giveaway

The Clock Flower by Barbara Casey (Book 3 of The F.I.G. Mysteries)

One of my 2018 IndieAthon Reads
One of my 2018 Take Control of Your TBR Pile Challenge reads

Category: YA Fiction, 208 pages
Genre: Mystery / Fantasy
Publisher: Gauthier Publications, The Hungry Goat Press Imprint
Release date: February 2018
Tour dates: Feb 26 to March 30, 2017
Content Rating: PG-13 (There is light profanity and some threat of violence.)

Where to buy this book:

Add The Clock Flower to your Goodreads

How I got this book:
Received a review copy via iRead Book Tours

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dara Roux, abandoned when she was seven years old by her mother. Exceptionally gifted in foreign languages. Orphan. Accepted to Yale University.
Mackenzie Yarborough, no record of her parents or where she was born. Exceptionally gifted in math and problem-solving. Orphan. Accepted to MIT.

Jennifer Torres, both parents killed in an automobile accident when she was sixteen. Exceptionally gifted in music and art. Orphan. Accepted to Juilliard.

The three FIGs—Females of Intellectual Genius—as they are called, have graduated from Wood Rose Orphanage and Academy for Young Women after returning from New York City where Dara learned why her mother abandoned her all those years ago, and they are now attending universities where they can further their special talents. This means they will be separated from each other and from Carolina, their much-loved mentor and teacher who is “one of them,” for the first time in their young lives. They vow to try living apart for one semester, in the so-called real world that doesn’t include the orphanage; but if things don’t work out, they will come up with another plan—a plan where they can be together once again.

​Dara is invited through Yale University to take part in an exciting archeological project in China. Jennifer, once again visualizing black and white images and the unusual sounds of another cadence that seem to be connected to Mackenzie, is engrossed in creating her next symphony at Juilliard. Mackenzie, because of her genius at problem-solving, is personally chosen by a US Senator to get involved in a mysterious, secret research project involving immortality that is being conducted in a small village in China—not too far from where Dara is involved with the archeological site. Once there, however, she finds herself facing a terrifying death from the blood-dripping teeth of an ancient evil dragon. Her best friends, the FIGs and Carolina, rely on their own unique genius and special talents to save her as she discovers the truth of her birth parents.

I hadn't read the first two books in the F.I.G. Mysteries series so came to The Clock Flower without knowing anything other than the synopsis information. I was attracted to this book by its striking cover art. Barbara Casey recaps information from the earlier books throughout this one though so I didn't feel lost at any point.

The Clock Flower has a wide scope for what is a fairly short novel so I did feel that the action scenes were rather rushed, especially when Casey carefully lays out so much background information in the early chapters. I liked scenes such as Dara's deft rebuttal of an overkeen fraternity boy when she first arrives at her university. It was good that the three young women have independent talents of their own. This novel is about those exceptional talents blossoming and it is so refreshing to have female characters championed for their intellectual achievements rather than just their potential romantic relationships!

To read further reviews, please visit Barbara Casey's page on iRead Book Tours.

About the Author:

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 nonfiction true crime book, 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 and president of the Barbara Casey Agency. Established in 1995, she represents authors throughout the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Japan. Barbara is also a partner in Strategic Media Books Publishing, an independent publishing house that specializes in cutting-edge adult nonfiction. 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 Russel terrier of sorts.

Connect with the author:  Website

Enter the Giveaway!
Ends April 7, 2018

Win a paperback copy of The Clock Flower + a $10 Amazon GC (open to USA & Can / 1 winner) or win a gifted Kindle copy of The Clock Flower + a $10 Amazon GC (open to USA only / 3 winners)

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Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Barbara Casey / Mystery fiction / Books from America

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Dancing Bears by Witold Szablowski

Dancing Bears by Witold Szablowski
First published in Polish in Poland as Tańczące niedźwiedzie in 2014. English language translation by Antonia Lloyd Jones published in the UK by Text Publishing in February 2018.

One of my 2018 Take Control of Your TBR Pile Challenge reads

Where to buy this book:

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I used to bottle-feed my father’s two bears. When my son was born, they were kept together. There were plenty of times when I got it wrong—the baby drank from the bear’s bottle, and the bear from his. So when they fired me from the collective farm, I knew one thing: if I wanted to go on living, I had to find a bear.

A brilliant, funny and heartbreaking account of people in formerly Communist countries who are nostalgic for how they used to live.

For hundreds of years, Bulgarian Gypsies trained bears to dance, welcoming them into their families and taking them on the road to perform. In the early 2000s, after the fall of Communism, they were forced to release the bears into a wildlife refuge. But, even today, whenever the bears see a human, they still get up on their hind legs to dance.

In the tradition of Ryszard Kapuściński, award-winning Polish journalist Witold Szablowski tells remarkable stories of people throughout Eastern Europe and in Cuba who, like Bulgaria’s dancing bears, are now free but long for when they were not. He describes hitchhiking through Kosovo as it declares independence, arguing with the guides at the Stalin Museum, and sleeping in London’s Victoria Station alongside a homeless Polish woman. Dancing Bears is a fascinating portrait of social and economic upheaval, and a lesson in the challenges of freedom and the seductions of authoritarian rule.

This book is in two halves, the first of which tells of the last few Bulgarian Roma families to own dancing bears. Szablowski spent time talking with these families about how they kept and trained their bears, how they were fed and cared for. He also spoke with the Austrain Four Paws charity which was committed to rescuing the bears and now provides them with a safe home and the illusion of freedom. Having been captives for practically all their lives, none of the bears would survive absolute freedom in the wild. What is particularly saddening though is that some are so institutionalised that even the small semblance of liberty can be too much of cope with. Sometimes it seems as though those bears would rather return to the pain of nose rings and beatings but with the security of the life they knew. Learning how to fend for themselves is just too bewildering.

Szablowski noticed a similar trait in some human groups who had been ruled by communism for decades. He likens their experiences and nostalgia to that of the bears and, in the second half of the book, travels to various Eastern European countries to listen to people reminisce about the good life they no longer have. What was surprising for me was that these aren't people who did particularly well financially under communism, but those who, like the bears, felt a level of security and social responsibility that is now actively discouraged under the greedy capitalist system. Farms which once employed and fed whole communities now might only employ a half dozen men and the food is sold elsewhere for a profit. Towns that once thrived are now all but abandoned because the jobs are all in the cities.

It is fortunate that Szablowski has a good way of imparting humour and a keen eye for the absurd otherwise Dancing Bears could have been a very depressing book. Instead it is a fairly light read, but one with a deeper, thoughtful side. Although the extreme version of communism was not a pleasant system to be ruled by and I certainly don't advocate the return of animal torture for entertainment, is our continuing rush to extreme Western capitalism really the best way for our societies to live either? I could understand the longing of these people for a past that might not have actually existed in quite the way they remember, but that desire for sense of security and belonging is universal and very real. Unfortunately it is also easily played upon by men with 'wacky hairstyles' the world over to lead us into something that won't turn out to be what we thought we would get at all.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Witold Szablowski / Reportage / Books from Poland