02 December 2008

Buy! Buy! Buy!

The 4th issue of the magnificent literary journal,
Wordsetc - one of the finest publications I've read in ages and certainly one of the best to come out of South African publishing - will be out soon...

It's available at Exclusive Books and top selected CNA stores, as well as at many independent bookstores nationwide.

Feel free to contact Flamenco Publishing for more information: Tel: 011 626 2676; Cell: 083 287 1955; Fax: 086 510 5716; Email: Flamencomail@gmail.com


Please look out for new reviews on...

Allan Hall's Monster - the gripping and not-one-bit-believable-but-still-bizarrely-true story of Austria's Josef Fritzl, who kidnapped his own daughter when she was 18, kept her under his home in a secret basement, and had 7 children with her.

Anita Shreve's latest,
Testimony - my first Shreve, unlikely to be my last, is a brilliant account of what happens to a school, a community, and the little people who fill it when a couple of drunken teenagers host an orgy, and its protagonist is only 14.

Available at all good bookstores, courtesy of Penguin Books South Africa


27 October 2008

Fatboy & the Dancing Ladies (Michael Holman)

Available at all good bookstores, courtesy of Penguin Books South Africa

I need to preface this review by admitting that I loved its prequel so much I nearly wallpapered my study with it... At the time, about a year back, I likened Holman's debut novel, Last Orders at Harrods, to Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, with the following:

My adage has always been that if it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it is probably a duck. This time, however, I was wrong. Last Orders at Harrods: An African Tale looks like a book by Alexander McCall Smith, sounds like a book by Alexander McCall Smith and features a township heroine who closely resembles one of Alexander McCall Smith’s – but Last Orders is another species of novel altogether.

Fatboy is less Smith-ish than its predecessor. More chilling. Less cheerful. More messages. Less merriment. In short, it's not be quite as fresh, but it's as delicious. Like Charity Mupanga's dough balls the day after. The only downside? I can't recall if corruption was as clear a theme in Last Orders as it is here but, either way, it disturbs me. Perhaps things have changed in a year?

Here's a more detailed insight, with a little less editorialising from little old me:

Ferdinand Mlambo is in big trouble. Not only has disloyalty to Kuwisha’s corrupt Life President cost him his prestigious job as senior kitchen toto, but he has also been stripped of his name: henceforth he will be known as 'Fatboy'. With the help of Titus, leader of the notorious street-children, the Mboya Boys, and under the watchful eye of the irrepressible Charity Mupanga, her suitor Ed, and a motley crew of other ex-pats, locals and neighbourhood lunatics, Mlambo sets out to recover his name - and his dignity.


One Fifth Avenue (Candace Bushnell)

Available at all good bookstores, courtesy of Penguin Books South Africa

Yes, Candace Bushnell's latest work, One Fifth Avenue, is very Sex And The City. Lots of couture and money and nose-in-the-air New York culture. Lots of very explicit but very interesting sex. And lots of feuds, secrets and foibles, a la Carrie, Miranda, et al.

But, more than that, One Fifth Avenue is what would happen if the SATC girls aged twenty years, developed a bizarre obsession with high-end property (and I mean obsession, not girly awe) and married Ben Elton. Why Ben Elton, you ask, and not a grizzled, grumpy older version of Mr Big? Well, there's some weird murderous stuff in this book; some dark scary overtones that I don't recall feeling in Bushnell's debut novel. And these inject a touch of Elton-esque farcical blackness into an otherwise fluffy (yet tightly penned and colourfully charactered) story.

It's about five women: actress Schiffer, spoiled Lola, classy Annalisa, miserable Mindy and eccentric Enid.

She's a particular delight, the glam old duck and popular gossip columnist who "has lived at One Fifth for decades and sees everything there is to see from her penthouse view". Wanna be her, when I grow up. Picture an amalgamation of Audrey Hepburn and Carol Burnett... with the backbone and brains of Boston Legal's Shirley Schmidt.

In short? One Fifth is nowhere near as iconic as its more fashionable sibling (grand-daughter, maybe?), but certainly worth a week at the beach this December, with the obligatory Cosmo - or perhaps a pink gin?


01 October 2008

The Konkans (Tony D’Souza)

Available at all good bookstores, courtesy of Penguin Books South Africa

My goodness, did I love this book! And I didn’t expect to – which makes it all the better. Weird name. Weird cover. Weird premise. But what a superb story. What delicious writing. What heavenly characters. And the possibility that it is autobiography thinly disguised as fiction? Yum.

This is how the author positions it:

Francisco D'Sai is a firstborn son of a firstborn son — all the way back to the beginning of a long line of proud Konkans. Known as the ‘Jews of India’, the Konkans kneeled before Vasco da Gama's sword and before Saint Francis Xavier's cross, abandoned their Hindu traditions, and became Catholics.

In 1973 Francisco's Konkan father, Lawrence, and American mother, Denise, move to Chicago, where Francisco is born. His father, who does his best to assimilate into American culture, drinks a lot and speaks a little. But his mother, who served in the Peace Corps in India, and his Uncle Sam are passionate raconteurs who do their best to preserve the family's Konkan heritage.

Friends, allies, and eventually lovers, Sam and Denise feed Francisco's imagination with startling visions of India and Konkan history. Filled with romance, comedy, and masterful storytelling, The Konkans leaves us surprised by what secrets history may hold for us if only we wonder enough to look.

And all I can add is this: abandon your preconceptions about what you do and do not like to read. Dismiss your ideas about your favourite genre, or style, or setting. Lose your literary biases. And fall in love with The Konkans; truly one of the best books I’ve read in years.


Under a Blood-Red Sky (Kate Furnivall)

Available at all good bookstores, courtesy of Penguin Books South Africa

Sofia and Anna are imprisoned together in Siberia’s Davinsky Labour Camp in 1933 – and inseparable. When Anna becomes gravely ill, Sofia promises to escape the camp and return with Vasily: the long-lost love of Anna’s life and the chief character in the decades-old, desperately remembered and often retold stories that have, so far, kept the two women alive.

But Sofia’s dangerous quest drives her to a remote village in the Urals, where she discovers an unusual community. Fraught with the ugly betrayals that simmer beneath the dusty streets walked by Stalin-era bolsheviks, mensheviks, kulaks and assorted revolutionaries, it is also a town in which gypsy magic and white arts work hard to keep the good people safe.

Like The Russian Concubine, Kate Furnivall’s last novel of love, loss and liberation in the pre-revolutionary East, Under a Blood-Red Sky is wonderfully drawn portrait of the little people who writhe beneath totalitarian fists. Its love stories also ring beautifully true, based as they are on the part-Russian author’s belief that “…love is also a fundamental reason for survival. Love of someone, of one's family. Or of an ideal. It is like girders round the soul; it gives you strength.”


12 August 2008

The Brutal Art (Jesse Kellerman)

Available at all good bookstores, courtesy of Penguin Books South Africa

The product of best-selling bookstore stalwarts, Faye and Jonathan Kellerman, Jesse Kellerman (or one of his large brood of siblings, in fairness) was bound to be a writer. What's surprising is that he's pretty good.

It's taken two books, in my opinion, to warm him up for this truly superb third novel, The Brutal Art: a richly peopled, thoughtfully plotted, elaborately sketched story that is as free of genre-imposed formulae and inoffensive orthodox Jewish caricature as his parents' popular offerings are famous for.

Oh, Ethan - how we root for you!
New York art gallery owner Ethan Muller uncovers a cache of brilliant but disturbing drawings by a mysterious artist who has since vanished. And before long, old secrets about Ethan's own family begin to hack away at the fictions carefully constructed by those who want the ugly past to remain safely tucked away.

To be frank, The Brutal Art has two features I usually decry: the use of first-person singular ('I') and random flashbacks. But in this manifestation, both are so matter-of-fact, clean, clear and free of not-so-subtle author's guile that they work - all the while leading the reader towards the delicious brown-paper-wrapped gift that is eventual understanding.

Nicely done, Jesse.


Gifted (Nikita Lalwani)

Available at all good bookstores, courtesy of Penguin Books South Africa

I'm a little freaked out by those popular semi-scathing documentaries on the paranormal genius kids who compete in spelling bees - but more so, by the pushy, scary Nazi-parents who always seem to feature so prominently and so loudly.

Nonetheless, I really got into
Gifted, with its troubled, lonely adolescent protagonist, the maths prodigy Rumika, who stresses herself out so much that she becomes addicted to eating cumin seeds. Yes, really. Raw. More than 100 grams a day.

After writing her A-levels at 14, she's accepted at Oxford, and that's when things go horribly wrong. Because teenage angst, nasty-father-induced pain, horny twenty-something hotties and Ivy League pressure just don't gel when you're 14.

So Rumika runs away.

This little book made me deeply grateful that I was classroom clever in my early teens, but nowhere near clever enough to be really different. After all, it's hard enough to be a teenager without having to be different.

Only one problem with Gifted, really: It's so similar in vein (English setting, Indian cultural dislocation, prodigy plot) to others out there that I forgot I'd read it, started it two weeks after finishing it the first time and only realised after half an hour why the storyline seemed like an old friend.


Novel About My Wife (Emily Perkins)

This book disturbed me so profoundly that I had to sit in the sunshine, cuddle my (nice, normal, stable) husband and take a hot shower, just to get through it. Unusually good writing and familiar, flawed, screwy characters notwithstanding, Novel About My Wife is hard to read – and not just because I’m a relative newlywed.

To sum it up, it’s about a charming neurotic, Tom (“skinnyish, fortyish, English”), with a deeply disturbed but beautiful Australian wife, Ann, and how her psychological demons take over their happy hippie lives.

If you like a book to get inside your head and stay there for a while, unbidden, this one’s for you. And yes, I do have one unqualified ‘nice thing’ to say about it: Emily Perkins writes her male protagonist so convincingly and with such absolute authenticity, that I googled her in case she’d used a misleading pseudonym.

But be warned…

If the intermittent flashbacks throw you off as much as they did me, you may have to read this novel twice – something I simply don’t have the heart for.


30 July 2008

The Fairy Bible (Teresa Moorey)

Available at all good bookstores, courtesy of Penguin Books South Africa

I am decidedly not a fairy person. Don’t like elves, pixies, goblins or sprites. Not into rainbows or aromatherapy oils or meditation or pretty butterflies. Except on retro wallpaper. So even I was taken aback when my hands drifted towards a copy of The Fairy Bible by Teresa Moorey. (Perhaps somebody’s elfin little mitts were guiding me?)

It’s a beautifully illustrated, deliciously presented fairy encyclopedia, with all of the facts, info and non-jiggery-pokery background to intrigue even a confirmed skeptic. I even toyed, for a brief moment, with keeping it all to myself…

But why not share this friendly little tome – which introduces the realm of fairies; elaborates on water fairies, air fairies, fire fairies, earth fairies (who knew?), house and hearth fairies, flower fairies, tree fairies, and weather fairies; and ends with a dictionary of which ones come from which countries, philosophies, religions and belief systems?

It’s a cracker of a gift: a lovely pressie for a certain kind of child – or for that divine adult in your life who spends her free time trying out sweat lodges, flipping through tarot cards, checking out her star sign, twiddling the crystal around her neck or simply dreaming.


17 July 2008

Richistan (Robert Frank)

'A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich'

Available at all good bookstores, courtesy of Penguin Books South Africa

I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a book so unexpectedly… Not that I didn’t expect much from it, you understand, but this little volume sat next to my bed every night for a week, causing me – despite being a confirmed narcoleptic – to stay up ‘n read.

Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich introduces us to the inhabitants of Richistan – a fictional breakaway republic peopled entirely by the super-rich.

Not the slightly-rich. Not the moderately rich. The obscenely, hideously, nauseatingly rich, rendered sleepless by troubles like, ‘My yacht doesn’t fit into the marina’, ‘It’s hard to manage 105 staff members’, and ‘How to out-donate the dot.com tycoon next door.’

Please note: this is not a book on how ‘the other half’ lives. It’s a book on the lifestyles of the 0.001% who make up America’s progressive new rich – and how they’re actually getting richer every year. It’s delicious stuff!

Richistan’s author, Robert Frank, is a senior special writer at The Wall Street Journal. In the process of creating his multi-carat republic, Frank inveigled his way into centuries-old charity balls, mammoth private estates, yacht clubs, fancy boardrooms, butler academies and other havens, where he recognised, observed and then elicited the ins and outs from the brave billionaires who’ve been both on top and down ‘n out.

Here’s a taste:

The rich have now created their own economy for their needs, at a time when the average worker's wage rises will merely match inflation and where 36 million people live below the poverty line. In Richistan sums of money are rendered almost meaningless because of their size. It also has other names. There is the 'Platinum Triangle' used to describe the slice of Beverly Hills where many houses go for above $10m. Then there is the Jewel Coast, used to describe the strip of Madison Avenue in Manhattan where boutique jewellery stories have sprung up to cater for the new riches' needs. Or it exists in the MetCircle society, a Manhattan club open only to those whose net worth is at least $100m.

It’s been said that “All good journalism is really travel writing. You prepare for a serious story the way a foreign correspondent would. You buy the maps, you learn the language, you hang out with the locals — not just the taxi drivers! — and then you write.” Gotta agree with that. Robert Frank’s is like the finest travel writing: packed with colourful and interesting stories, peppered with crazy people and rich in insights into an alien locale.


30 June 2008

The Adventures of the Wishing-Chair (Enid Blyton)

Available at all good bookstores, courtesy of Penguin Books South Africa

What is heaven? Heaven is dark chocolate cake and strong coffee. Heaven is ‘under-sleeping’: waking up a delicious 30 minutes before the alarm clock does. Heaven is orange roses. And heaven is re-reading a book you ADORED as a child, 20 years later.

I credit Enid Blyton for giving me my imagination. For creating characters and places and adventures so colourful and so tantalising that I could taste them. Even when the book was closed. And because I am a copywriter who feeds herself and her family with the fruits of her imagination, I think Enid Blyton is deserving of sainthood.

The Adventures of the Wishing-Chair (originally penned in 1937) is the book that started it. Off we went – Mollie, Peter and I – to the Land of Dreams. To Chinky’s home. To the magician’s party. Again and again, over years and years. And all in the magic chair with the cheeky personality and the little red wings.

Egmont has re-published this first enchanting Blyton book, but retained the original artwork. I’m also pleased to see tidbits of charming, anachronistic language like, ‘Horrid thing!’; ‘We’ll go to-morrow’; and ‘Hurrah!’. All I have to do, now that I’ve read this book for perhaps the hundredth time, is find somewhere safe to keep it until I have kids.


Gillian McKeith's Food Bible (Gillian McKeith)

'The Complete A-Z Guide to a Healthy Life'

Available at all good bookstores, courtesy of Penguin Books South Africa and delivered to me by both Penguin and the team at MediaCo UK

The only fair way to begin this review is to say that I’ve been on every diet known to civilised man – and some that even uncivilised man wouldn’t tolerate. From Atkins to Zone; Blood Type to South Beach; grapefruit to veggie soup; and everything in between. Including only eating foods that are purple.

Not too long ago, I picked up a book called You Are What You Eat, by Gillian McKeith – who turned out to be that blonde lady on TV who examines people’s tongues and poo (although not at the same time, thank G-d). I read it, made a long list of foods to seek out, foods to avoid and foods to buy – and never looked at the list again.

It seemed, at the time, that McKeith advised eating a lot of weird healthy stuff I’d never heard of and didn’t know where to find. I even joked that ‘tincture of spider’ and ‘essence of seaweed gathered at midnight’ weren’t my cup of tea, so to speak.

Enter: McKeith’s latest offering, Gillian McKeith’s Food Bible – . This time, it’s a different story. Not because I’m more committed to my health (I ate MacDonalds yesterday). Not because I know where to find healthy stuff (okay, I do, but it’s far). It’s different this time because the book is so flippin’ easy to follow.

It really is a complete A-Z guide, detailing the key health factors, what makes up a healthy diet in general, which foods to eat at which age and stage of life, and then how to use food to prevent or treat a list of staggering conditions – including acne, Alzheimer’s, autism, breast cancer, bronchitis, bruising … I could go on for 200 pages (the book does).

And for each ailment, there are sections entitled ‘Causes may include’; ‘Action plan’; ‘Eat/drink’; ‘Avoid’; Herbs and supplements’; and ‘Extra tips’.

So let’s say I’m experiencing bloating. (Just to be hypothetical, you understand. Not because I have any idea what it’s like to lug a huge swollen stomach around for days on end, like a kangaroo’s pouch.) This book doesn’t, like other diet books, say, ‘Well, bran’s bad for you, because you’re in the O blood group. Stay away from it at all costs, or die.’

It says, drink warm water, chew really well, avoid refined carbs, consider a couple of supplements, combine food carefully, eat when relaxed, close your mouth when you eat, etc., but in a lot more detail – and more importantly, with good reasons that are specific to the condition in question!

The clincher is, it’s not a once-off read-this-book-and-change-your-life situation. It’s a tome-for-the-home. A big, heavy, easy-to-follow guide to feeling better – all the time, most of the time, as needed, or almost never. It is what it promises to be: a bible. And I intend not only to treasure my own copy, but to give one as a gift to everyone who’s important to me.

For more info on Gillian, her philosophies and her following, visit
www.gillianmckeithclinic.com, www.mckeithinteractive.com or www.gillianmckeithclub.com, or take the quiz at http://www.gillianmckeith.info/yourbody/health/questionnaire/index.php.


05 June 2008

This Charming Man (Marian Keyes)

Available at all good bookstores, courtesy of Penguin Books South Africa

In my world, Marian Keyes is queen. She can do no wrong. Fiction. Non-fiction. Heart-breaking. Hilarious. And whatever she attempts turns into a cuppa hot literary tea: delicious, soothing, welcome – but bloody scalding if you sip too fast.

Despite my overwhelming bias, Keyes’ latest offering, This Charming Man, threw me totally. For starters, it has four narrators and four accompanying first-person perspectives. Not my favourite. Second, there are no Walshes in it. Sad, but forgivable.

But, while its usual fist-in-mouth humour still rolls across every page, there is more sinister grimness than I’m used to from this author; more pain, more anguish, more ugliness, more anxiety, more subtlety. And a plotline that is profoundly disturbing.

Nonetheless, I couldn’t put it down.

Paddy de Courcy, Irish politician and JohnJohn Kennedy-esque hunka-runka, is the charming man. And when he announces his engagement to the graceful (yet equine) Alicia, four women take it very badly. In different ways, for different reasons, and with different results. It’s a great story, but the undertone is undeniably hardcore.

My conclusion? Either Marian’s writing has grown up faster than I have and it’s up to me to keep pace – or I’m more of a softie than I thought. Go ahead - see what you think.


26 May 2008

Don't Panic! (Alan Knott-Craig)

Available at all good bookstores, courtesy of Penguin Books South Africa

It was a fresh, new year. The first few days of 2008. Optimism. Promise. Potential. We’d had our well-deserved rests, spend more than we should have and eaten more than we’d thought possible – and the hard work was upon us. But then, the world went dark.

In the midst of the Eskom disaster, climbing interest rates, soaring fuel costs and plummeting property prices, we were all starting to wonder whether the grass wasn’t actually a bit greener in Perth, Toronto, or even sweltering Dallas. We were whining and whinging, albeit by candlelight.

And then, like a friendly virus, Alan Knott-Craig’s reassuring missive began to make its way across the country and soon, across the world. Oh, the power of word of mouth! Don’t panic, it said. See 2008 as a year of opportunity and remember: we’ve had worse, and survived worse, before.

I read it, and felt better. I sent it to everyone I could, and they felt better. Tsotsis started to attack helpless foreigners in the townships and we almost panicked, but didn’t – because we were feeling better. We just did what we could, donated blankets and bought gas.

The end of this long story is that Alan Knott-Craig’s e-mail has spawned a little book of joy, titled Don’t Panic: a book by South Africans, for South Africans.

The result of South Africans wanting to share their positive messages with the rest of the country, it includes thoughtful contributions from John Robbie, Branko Brkic, Noeleen Maholwana-Sangqu, Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, local writers and thinkers, and a whole lot of cheerful kids for whom ‘there’s no place like home…’

It’s upbeat and inspirational. It’s sweet. I liked it. But I am a little disappointed that the original message couldn’t remain just that: a simple piece of writing with a cracker of a message, able to achieve surprise success – without yielding a whole jolly bandwagon.


A$$HOLE (Martin Kihn)

Available at all good bookstores, courtesy of Penguin Books South Africa

Where do you start, when the book is called A$$HOLE and sub-titled, ‘How I got rich and happy by not giving a shit about you’? Well, you kick off with a hefty chunk of tongue in your cheek and you keep an open mind.

Martin Kihn’s A$$HOLE is an eye-opener.

Promising access to a revolutionary programme for assholism, it covers essential body language (‘no smiling, unless others are in pain’), workplace etiquette (‘take credit for everything, except mistakes’) and feelings (‘the one luxury you can’t afford’), while detailing the author’s real-life journey from utter dorkness to total jerkhood.

I loved it – until the end of the second chapter. And then I started to wonder how someone could fill an entire book (granted, a small one, but 244 pages nonetheless) with tips like ‘be a fighter, not a lover’, ‘become the alpha dog’ and ‘put the tame back in team’. It was getting cold, fast. There’s only so much anti-nice I can stomach.

The story behind old Martin’s transformation is interesting, but it’s no page-turner – and the contents are funny, but hardly bursting with brilliant dry wit. My advice? Mid-year stocking filler. Buy a copy of A$$HOLE for the person in your life with the best sense of humour (a man, ideally) or get your own and keep it in the loo. No jokes. It’s great toilet reading.


21 May 2008

Requiem for an Assassin (Barry Eisler)

Available at all good bookstores, courtesy of Penguin Books South Africa

In my crazed mind, Barry Eisler’s sexy assassin, John Rain, is a hybrid of Lee Child’s drifter Jack Reacher, Keith Lindsay’s dark vigilante Dexter, and Chow Yun-Fat. And in the long-awaited sixth Rain novel, Requiem for an Assassin, he’s better than ever.

Newly entangled in a tempestuous romance with Israeli Mossad agent, Delilah, Rain is caught off-guard when friend and fellow hit-man-for-hire, Dox, is kidnapped from his Bali villa by rogue CIA operative Jim Hilger (a familiar Eisler antagonist).

Carry out three hits for me, demands the vengeful Hilger, meet my deadlines and make each look like a natural death, or Dox dies.

And so John Rain enters a web of murder, mayhem and madness that stretches from Bali to Paris, San Francisco to Saigon and New York to Rotterdam, as he tries to work out what Hilger is up to and how to rescue Dox – before the final likely hit: Rain himself.

Requiem is a goodie: tight, taut and tough, with rare insights into the moral dilemmas that must plague any assassin who, deep down, starts to wrestle with his own humanity. But I’m faced with my own dilemma: what happens if…gasp!...this is the last of Rain?


The Making of Mr Hai’s Daughter (Yasmin Hai)

THE MAKING OF MR HAI’S DAUGHTER, a memoir by Yasmin Hai (VIRAGO) IN A NUTSHELL: For Mr Hai, a Pakistani immigrant, becoming English is something to be taught to his wife and children. No Urdu, no long plaits, no salwar kameezes and - although they are Muslim - no religion. BUT IT’S NOT JUST ANOTHER BOOK ABOUT RELIGION; it’s a book about family, and fitting in. THE SADDEST BIT: “…something changed once we dropped Urdu... It just became too frustrating trying to explain complex matters of the head and heart to my mother in English. After dropping Urdu, she became lost to me for years.”


The Perk (Mark Gimenez)

Available at all good bookstores, courtesy of Penguin Books South Africa

Mark Gimenez has been touted as 'the next Grisham' - which excited the hell out of me, as I adore Grisham (when he sticks to his formula, that is, and stays away from unwelcome and unexpected gallops towards painted houses, pizza and bizarrely, bleachers).

But as I devoured Gimenez' third offering, The Perk, I realised that the similarities between the two writers are superficial (backwater settings, rural justice, strange characters, patent racism and unimaginative titles starting with 'The'), while the differences are major.

For one, The Perk contains more genuine heartbreak, more realistic feeling and more children than any of Grisham's legal masterpieces. For another, the former is not as much a courtroom thriller as it is a tale about people that unfolds in and around the legal system.

...as much as there is a legal system in one-goat Fredericksburg. Finally, The Perk has more twists, more turns and - admittedly - more cheap shots, than Grisham is known for.

It's about Beck Hardin - recently bereaved and utterly bereft - who returns to his hometown with his two young kids and finds it completely changed. Pushed into running for district judge, he unleashes a chain of disturbing events (and a pack of rabid white-collar 'old boys').

In sum, The Perk is a well-considered, well-plotted, well-penned novel that I munched in one shot, and it has turned me on to seeking out this author's first two novels. But positioning it as a Grisham-esque opus, in my mind, did it no justice - if you'll pardon the...


08 May 2008

Look out for...

New book reviews coming, including Yasmin Hai's The Making of Mr Hai's Daughter, Gillian McKeith's new Food Bible, Barry Eisler's Requiem for an Assassin, Mark Giminez' The Perk, Anita Shreve's Body Surfing, and others (available from Penguin)!


28 April 2008

The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam (Lauren Liebenberg)

Available at all good bookstores, courtesy of Penguin Books South Africa

Chaos right next door, in Zimbabwe, has been a feature of every South African’s life. Especially now, as electoral confusion meets possible social carnage and the Zim treasury has taken to printing on only one side of the currency, because its value is so laughable.

What better time, then, to read Lauren Liebenberg’s debut The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam?

Peanut Butter has a lot of Spud in it, due largely to its deliciously naïve and heartbreakingly frank little narrator. It also has a fair helping of The Power of One in it, in terms of its backdrop of civil war, pain, inter-racial tension and power struggle.

But perhaps the most appealing thing about this exquisitely written book is that it is a story about sisters; about being young; about mad grandparents and stressed out parents; and about growing up in beautiful, abundant, troubled, damaged Africa.

At the same time, there are two things about this book that profoundly disturb me.

The first is its antagonist, Ronin – the calibre of serpentine evil teenager that makes you want to have your tubes tied immediately and without remorse. The second is that, even though Peanut Butter is fiction, so much of it, especially the unpalatable parts, is true.

Regardless, it’s a must-read.


03 April 2008

Look out for...

New book reviews coming, including a review of Lauren Liebenberg's The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam (published by Virago and available from Penguin)!


15 March 2008

Mary, Mary (Julie Parsons)

MARY, MARY, the debut novel by Julie Parsons, now available in paperback (PAN) TO SUM UP: Margaret Mitchell’s 20-year-old daughter is missing and the police think she’s over-reacting. Until a beaten and broken body turns up in the canal. IT GOES BEYOND: the tired old murder-mystery-meets-psychological thriller hybrid, by wielding unusual emotional impact and introducing a charming Irish cast. THE REALLY SATISFYING ELEMENT IS: that it’s written in two parts: the first, Mary’s kidnap and murder and the second, Margaret’s revenge. If you’re growing tired of the formulaic James Patterson, this intelligent book is for you.

The Chameleon's Shadow (Minette Walters)

THE CHAMELEON’S SHADOW, a novel by Minette Walters (MACMILLAN) TO SUM UP: Lieutenant Charles Acland returns from Iraq, severely disfigured and psychologically changed. When violent murders begin to plague the area, Acland is a prime suspect. WE LOVED IT BECAUSE: Everyone else writes sob stories in which demobbed soldiers from Iraq are so traumatised that they can be forgiven anything – Walters is braver than that. THE REALLY COOL PART IS: that the chief ‘goodie’ in the story is a 135kg lesbian weightlifter, doctor and kindhearted straight-talker called Jackson (with the potential to become a literary cult heroine).

Days of Atonement (Michael Gregorio)

DAYS OF ATONEMENT, a novel by Michael Gregorio (FABER & FABER) TO SUM UP: Prussia has fallen to the French under Napoleon and a local prosecutor must team up with a French criminologist to solve the horrifying murder of three small children. IT’S UNUSUAL BECAUSE: it’s so brilliantly written – painting a realistic picture of a time, a place and a nation lost to history. WHY IT KNOCKED OUR SOCKS OFF: not since Caleb Carr’s The Alienist has an author woven such a fast-paced and exciting criminological tale against a centuries-old backdrop.


Of Merchants and Heroes (Paul Waters)

OF MERCHANTS & HEROES, a novel by Paul Waters (MACMILLAN) TO SUM UP: Amidst love, politics, honour and war, Marcus is a young Roman determined to avenge his father’s murder and to live life by his father’s high ideals, when he is caught up in events that will shake the world. IT REMINDS US OF: the evocative vividness of Robert Harris’ Imperium and Pompeii. YOU’LL LOVE IT IF: you appreciate novels infused with understated grace and the power to make you lose yourself in their stories of history and humanity.


Stolen Time (Sunny Jacobs)

STOLEN TIME, a true story by Sunny Jacobs (DOUBLEDAY) TO SUM UP: A no-holds-barred account of one woman’s condemnation to death, and then 17 years in jail, for a crime she didn’t commit. THE PART THAT MAY BREAK YOUR HEART: Sunny is eventually exonerated and reunited with her two children, but only two years after her partner’s botched execution. WHY IT KNOCKED OUR STRIPEY SOCKS OFF: It’s a rare look into the strength, resilience and even joy to be found in the world’s darkest places on the soul’s darkest days. And it is all true.


The Faces of Angels (Lucretia Grindle)

THE FACES OF ANGELS, a novel by Lucretia Grindle (PAN) TO SUM UP: Newlywed Mary Warren is stalked and brutally attacked as she explores the streets of Italy – and survives only because her young husband gives his life to save her. But is the indigent who was charged with the crime, actually the man who did it? WHY IT’S A PAGE-TURNER: You feel Mary’s fear, her friends’ anxiety and Florence’s terror – and when the twists come, you don’t spot them until the very last minute. YOU’LL LOVE IT IF: you’ve ever been to atmospheric Italy, felt a chill down your spine in a musty alley, or shivered with delight in a scary movie.