01 November 2013

The New Girl (SL Grey)

- Local fiction, supplied by Penguin Books

I seldom slate a book.

(I'd love to do a lot more slating of crappy books but a. I seldom finish them, b. the publishers don't love that sort of thing and c. I feel bitchy when I do...) Having said that, I don't know what to say about SL Grey's The New Girl.

Other than: 'It's pretty f***ing weird.'

The back cover blurb intrigued me:

"Ryan Devlin, a predator with a past, has been forced to take a job as a handyman at an exclusive private school, Crossley College. He's losing his battle to suppress his growing fascination with a new girl, who seems to have a strange effect on the children around her. Tara Marais fills her empty days by volunteering at Crossley's library. Tara is desperate but unable to have a baby of her own, so she makes Reborns - eerily lifelike newborn dolls. She's delighted when she receives a commission from the mysterious 'Vader Batiss', but horrified when she sees the photograph of the baby she's been asked to create. Still, she agrees to Batiss's strange contract, unaware of the consequences if she fails to deliver the doll on time. Both Tara and Ryan are being drawn into a terrifying scheme - one that will have an impact on every pupil at Crossley College..."

That sounds pretty cool, right? It has a freaky deviant, a bored creator of those scary 'human-ish' dolls you see on Pinterest (and she has an evil step-son), and promises of a 'terrifying scheme'. It also has a weird 'new girl'. And it's set at a posh South African private school. Cool!

But things start to go wrong quite early on, and that's when a book that held the initial promise of The Slap meets My Step-Mother's an Alien becomes clunky, confusing and filled with people you can't like. Some because they're child molesters, others because they're soggy spineless blankets and still others because... well... they're not actually human.

There's also not much to justify the why behind "upside citizens living in blissful ignorance of the deeply weird world beneath their feet... in a subterranean pseudo-civilisation".

I finished it, but barely. It's too weird to enjoy. Not weird in a good way. But loads of people are loving it, and many are people whose literary opinions I respect. It's also been described by SFX, the global sci-fi bookclub, as "A surprisingly funny, deeply weird horror novel”. Funny? What? 

Maybe I didn't get it?

Note: 'SL Grey' is an open literary collaboration between two South African writers - Sarah Lotz from Cape Town and Louis Greenberg from Johannesburg. Their two previous books, The Mall and The Ward, are apparently brilliant. And I honestly don't know what to do with that information.


This is Jerm Warfare! (Jeremy Nell)

- A collection of cartoons by Jeremy Nell; supplied by Penguin Books

Visit www.jerm.co.za
I loved this book so much I read it twice. 

And it now lives on my coffee table.

It’s not a coffee table book. Not even close. But I like paging through it. I like watching my toddler engage with it. And I like the kudos it gives me. 

Bottom line? It’s just clever, clever, clever. Jerm, its author, is clever, clever, clever.

Okay, so what’s This is Jerm Warfare?

It’s a collection of (largely political and mostly satirical) cartoons by the award-winning Jerm – described by Rico of Madam & Eve fame as “A refugee from a punk boy band who’s taken up cartooning instead.” (I was surprised to read that because this guy’s so talented it's like he was born to be a cartoonist.)

I even love Jerm’s hand-writing, which is big, loopy weirdly flowery and totally unlike the very uniform block letters that are usually used in cartoon speech bubbles.

He puns. He rhymes. He makes clever connections between topical events and iconic imagery. He includes revealing notes on the history of some of the cartoons. He’s funny – very funny. And he knows his shit politically

He has also created some of the most memorable representations of Mandela, Zuma, Mugabe, Zille, Obama and Malema I have ever seen in print or online.

I’ve followed Jeremy Nell (@mynameisjerm) on Twitter for ages, so I was delighted when this book was launched and proud to be asked to review it. In case you haven’t worked it out from my fulsome praise, I’m a fan. Buy this book for someone smart, and look out for these highlights:

  1. Africa 2.0
  2. Steve Jobs and iQuit
  3. 10 Years of Reflection
  4. Saudi Women
  5. Pre-Tolls; Post-Tolls
  6. Anene Booysen
  7. The State of the Nation
  8. Mandela and the Super-Moon (my favourite; I blogged about it)
  9. Satire for Dummies
  10. Tweet & Re-Tweet (and oldie, but what a goodie!)

29 October 2013

I took a hiatus. Sorry. But I'm back now.

If I had R50 for every blogger who stops writing for months and months and then publishes an exciting 'Hi folks!' post, apologising for the absence of content and promising mended ways, I could hire someone to read to me.

But, surprise, surprise - this is one of those.

Having not posted a review on this blog since April 2013 (tho I have still been reading and posting reviews elsewhere), I'm back. Woohoo. (Hi Mom and Dan.) And I have some interesting books to review. Starting now...

Expect: The New Girl (SL Grey), Jerm Warfare (Jerm), the 2014 Guinness Book of World Records, the latest Karin Slaughter and Lee Child (I forget their names), and Death of the Demon (Anne Holt). Whew.

26 April 2013

Two great new (ish) bios!

1. Why I Left Goldman Sachs – Memoir by Greg Smith

Greg Smith is the author of the financial world’s most well-read breakup letter. You probably read it: the New York Times op-ed that Greg used to resign from Wall Street’s Goldman Sachs, where he claimed the culture was "toxic and destructive". 

(If you didn't, it's called 'Why I Am leaving Goldman Sachs' and you can read it here.)

The book is Why I Left Goldman Sachs, and it’s fascinating. Greg takes us on his personal 12-year journey through the firm, unpacking the sins of the world's most powerful bank (from letting clients place mistaken orders that net GS millions to switching its recommendations about whether to buy or sell options on European banks in the middle of the European debt crisis.) I loved every minute of reading it.

Disclosure: Greg Smith is a distant cousin of mine, by marriage. He's also a seriously good guy. And I really liked his book, which is well-written, interesting and hugely insightful for readers who know the markets well or who can't distinguish between a hedge fund and a hedgehog.

2. Jane Raphaely Unedited – Autobiography by Jane Raphaely

It’s frank. It’s funny. And it’s as much a slice of SA history as anything I’ve read lately. Jane Raphaely Unedited is also a recipe for success, especially if you love your career almost as much as you love your children. 

Chairman of leading media company Associated Magazines and publisher of famous titles O, The Oprah Magazine, Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan, Jane tells the story of her underprivileged early life in Stockport, England, and her arrival in South Africa, where she became a feisty, eloquent thorn in the side of the verkrampte Publications Control Board. 

This book is, as another reviewer has said, “a rollicking adventure”.

Calculated in Death (JD Robb)

Available from all good bookstores and on the Kindle

Hmmm. I’m a long-term fan of JD Robb (even though I hate the writing of her alter ego, Nora Roberts). To prove to you the extent of my fandom, here’s the evidence: I named my cat Dallas, after Lieutenant Eve Dallas, Robbs’ protagonist.

Buuut… Robbs’ writing is starting to annoy me lately, for four reasons:

a)    It’s getting very formulaic.

Something bad and bloody happens, in one of Hot Hubby’s empire of locations. Eve, despite constantly battling her own inner demons, enlists Hot Hubby, her faithful sidekick Peabody, the tea-drinking Dr Mira and the usual assortment of allies. She then allows Hot Hubby to choose her clothes/deck her out for a function she doesn’t want to go to, force her to eat and sleep, have jaw-dropping sex with her on the shower floor/in the pool, and provide genius assistance in catching the bad guy. Whose ass she (literally) hands to him before sending him off-planet for, like, ever.

b)    The sex scenes are dreadful.

“When she rose over him, her skin gleaming in the last red lights of the dying sun, he was beyond speech. Now her fingers linked with his, and she took him in. She bowed back, her body a slim and lovely arch of energy, and it shuddered, shuddered, as his did. Then she shifted her gaze, fixed her eyes on his. And rode.” – Portrait in Death
Seriously? It’s all getting a bit 50 Shades for me. And before you ask, no, I haven’t read it. But I’ve been told that there’s lots of “She shattered into a million pieces.”

c)    Eve Dallas thinks in phrases.

“Six hours before, she'd killed a man, had watched death creep into his eyes. It wasn't the first time she'd exercised maximum force, or dreamed. But it was the child that haunted her. The child she hadn't been in time to save. The child whose screams had echoed in the dreams with her own.” – Naked in Death
I’m getting a bit bored with the way Eve’s inner monologue moves; specifically, the constant and repetitive use of sentence fragments to add drama. She grumps, grumbles, whines, deflects and generally behaves like a massive curmudgeon, only showing a small sense of humour while being ravished by Hot Hubby. Boring.
d)    The futuristic stuff is dwindling.

The early books had great detail about cars that fly and weird GM foods and crazy fashion. The later ones, specifically Calculated in Death, is a bit short on it. Which is a pity. Because if I’m going to read 37 books set in and around the year 2060, you’d better believe I’m going to need some awesome tech stuff to keep me interested.

If you’re going to read this book, despite my indictment, you should know the plot:

A dead woman lies at the bottom of the stairs. Mugged, apparently. But Eve and Peabody find blood inside the apartment building, and evidence of a hit. Problem is, Marta, the vic, isn’t the ‘sort’ to be on a hit list. She’s a boring, well-to-do accountant. Eve enters Roarke’s world of big billionaire business to find the money trail.

I’d love to know what you think -> tiffany@tiffanymarkman.co.za

Guilt (Jonathan Kellerman)

Available from all good bookstores and on the Kindle

Now this is crime fiction! 

Kellerman never misses. Yes, he’s written 28 Alex Delaware novels, but each one is different. And while Alex (and his cohorts, to be fair) has his particular quirks, we see different facets of his character each time.

This, Kellerman’s latest offering, begins with an expectant mom who’s renovating her yard when she finds a blue metal box in the soil. There’s a baby’s skeleton in it.

Alex and his partner, Los Angeles Police Lt. Milo Sturgis, begin to hunt for clues to the infant’s identity, but the bones of another baby emerge in a nearby park. Together with the corpse of a 20-something woman, killed by a gunshot. 

The three must be related, but how and why? The detective and psychologist delve sixty years into the past, to explore a former hospital with a dangerous staff and reputation.

Expect the usual brisk investigation, with the calm, cool and seldom-ruffled Alex bantering with the grouchy, touchy, binge-eating Milo. Expect a series of tense and detailed scenes and evocative dialogue. Expect the entrance of Hollywood and its own dramas. And expect a case so heart-rending that brings even Alex to tears.