30 September 2014

Oscar: An Accident Waiting to Happen (Patricia Taylor & Melinda Ferguson)

So, here it is: the book review I got into trouble for - Oscar: An Accident Waiting to Happen. Tho, admittedly, not half as much trouble as I expected.

Barring being called a 'woman-hater'. (Which is, I think, a weird thing to call a woman. Do you think someone thought 'Tiffany' was a boy's name?)

If you've followed the Oscar Pistorius trial, you should read this book review. Why? Because there are loads of #Oscar books coming our way (actually, there are some dreadful Oscar e-books already out there) and this is not one you should spend your hard-earned money on.

Wait for Behind The Door, by Barry Bateman and Mandy Weiner, who are real writers. Nuff said?


20 September 2014

Get That Feeling (Ian Fuhr)

So, I’m a Sorbet regular. What they call a ‘guest’. Nails and hair. Weekly.

But I wouldn’t have read this book, no matter how much I like the brand, unless I recognised the guy on the cover (I went to school with one of his children).

And I certainly wouldn’t have expected to enjoy the book. After all, how many ‘serial entrepreneurs’ do you know who can tell a good story; pepper it with business tips (and life tips and Aha! moments); give behind-the-scenes insights into a top franchise brand and offer a glimpse of the country’s political history…

…all without penning a self-aggrandizing, back-patting tribute to themselves?

Very few, right? Well, Ian Fuhr can. So, as you may have gathered, his book - Get That Feeling: The Story of a Serial Entrepreneur - was not what I expected.

As a small business owner, it was instructive. As a student of history, it was fascinating. As a Jew living in South Africa, it was heart-warming. As a writer, it was pleasant and easy to consume. And as a Sorbet guest, it was quite delicious.

I don’t want to give away too much, but here’s a summary, a share and a tidbit:

The summary

Ian Fuhr has covered a lot of professional ground since ‘76, from retail, records and race relations to beauty treatments, haircare and Joburg’s popular Lion Park. And along the way, he’s broken new ground, succeeded, failed and succeeded again.

The share

Fuhr is fanatical about service, sharing valuable lessons for entrepreneurs and self-starters, like ‘brand first, profit second’, corporate culture is not always transferable, there is nothing you shouldn’t do to ‘win back’ an unhappy customer, and ‘either live by your stated value system or remove the posters’. Love that last one.

The tidbit

Fuhr is surprisingly upfront for a businessperson writing an autobiography, admitting that, in 1976, ‘I was a white guy in a lower-end retail business [K-Mart] and I realised I needed to understand a lot more about the reality of black people to survive.’

Once, when training an employee, Ralph, to be a K-Mart manager, Fuhr discovered that Ralph was one of the leaders behind a boycott of K-Mart. Ralph’s life was “so bad outside his job” that he said he had to act for change. ‘It was then that I reformed my management strategy and became more political in my thinking,’ says Fuhr, who was one of the first business owners to appoint black directors and shareholders.

Bottom line? If you like local non-fiction, you’re interested in what makes successful businesses (and their people) tick, and you need something good to read, dip into the Sorbet story. It is, as you’d anticipate, fresh, sweet, uncomplicated and guilt-free.

Two little reviews (about women, by women)

What She Saw – Novel by Lucinda Rosenfeld

What a great idea! To write your debut novel with its protagonist looking back on a list of past boyfriends. Each chapter finishes the sentence, What She Saw... in 'The Stink Bomb King of Fifth Grade’, ‘Spitty Clark’, 'The Anarchist Feminist’. And so it goes, as Phoebe Fine struggles to unpack who she is and what she wants. 

The author brilliantly presents Phoebe's hilarious and sometimes frankly dreadful romantic, emotional and sexual encounters. I liked this book so much I read it twice.

The Witness Wore Red (The 19th Wife Who Brought Polygamous Cult Leaders to Justice) – Memoir by Rebecca Musser

I’m fascinated by cults. Always have been. And I’ve read everything ever written about fraudster/child molester Warren Jeffs’
Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. So this inside story, penned by 85-year-old Rulon Jeffs’ 19th wife (a child bride), was a must for me. 

I was fascinated by Rebecca Musser’s decision to bear public witness against the prophet of the FLDS, to protect little girls from being forced to marry. Yes, it’s long, but it’s well-written. And totally believable.


Barracuda (Christos Tsiolkas)

I have always loved books set in Australia. I don’t know why. It’s probably Bryce Courtenay’s doing. And then Paullina Simons’. And now … yup … it’s all down to Christos Tsiolkas, whose fourth novel, The Slap, rocked my cynical literary socks.

With its unapologetic depiction of Australia’s racial, sexual and familial politics, The Slap astonished me. So I grabbed Barracuda, Tsiolkas’ next effort, with no small measure of glee. And it didn’t disappoint.

(In fact, I told my husband that I was taking special pains to read it slowly, so it would take longer to finish. And when it did, I was utterly bereft.)

If you’ve read The Slap – even if you haven’t – you’ll know that it kicks off with its major event: a stranger klapping someone else’s bratty kid at a barbecue.

In contrast, Barracuda makes you wait (almost) until the end before revealing its trump card. A very different experience. A very different cast of characters. A very different ebb and flow. And a very, very different portrayal of conflict.

In The Slap, we’re voyeurs to the ugly conflicts within and between ethnic communities. In Barracuda, we see the ugly conflict within a young man’s own soul.

Daniel Kelly is a working class ‘wog’ who gets into a posh school on a swimming scholarship, where he stands out among schoolmates with ‘the clearest skin he had ever seen and the best cut hair and the whitest and most perfect teeth.’

This experience moulds him into ‘Barracuda’: a violent teen for whom winning is the only way to deal with the teasing of his schoolmates and the sacrifices of his family.

Along the way, we encounter the brutal physicality of competitive sport and the pitiless grip of failure and shame that comes when you‘re no longer a super-jock.

What’s so interesting about the way Tsiolkas writes is that, as another reviewer put it, “[he] is…clear-eyed about the way hatred can hold communities together. He calls racism by its name, but is not ashamed to dig around in the experience of racism and its effects.” And all of this culminates in an ending t both believable and life-affirming.

If you loved Courtenay’s Australian novels of yester-year, Tully by Paullina Simons or Tsiolkas’s The Slap, read Barracuda. It’s utterly brilliant.

The Headmaster’s Wife (Thomas Christopher Greene)

Although Thomas Christopher Greene has written three award-winning novels, he was new to me when I began reading The Headmaster’s Wife. And I’m so thrilled to have found him, in a world where – so far – I’ve chosen only very few authors whose writing to stalk and obsess over.

But – to the novel.

Arthur Winthrop is the headmaster of an elite New England boarding school. He’s found naked in Central Park and gets into loads of trouble, at which point he recounts a bizarre story to the police.

But Arthur’s memories crash into one another, yielding a winding narrative of love, grief, nostalgia, mystery, family and tragedy. And as the reader you begin to wonder:

What’s this story actually about? Is it a tale of marriage, a family, and the terrible things human beings experience? Is Arthur a bad guy or just a sad guy?

The interesting thing for me, having already read it, is that I don’t really know.

It doesn’t really matter.

I don’t want to give too much away because, as another reviewer has put it, “The Headmaster's Wife is a book that should be read blind.”

You can expect lush descriptions of a top private school, its internal workings and its campus culture. You can expect class differences and romantic entanglement. But that’s all you should expect. The writing is so beautiful and the characters so full that the story resolves itself, sort of, and a few weeks later you want to read it again.

Here’s an extract:

…If you learn anything in a marriage it is when to give up. I used to think that all marriages ran the same trajectory. They start with wanting to climb inside the other person and wear her skin as your own. They end with thinking that if the person across from you says another word, you will put a fork in her neck. That sounds darker than I mean it to, for it is a joke. The truth usually lies in between, and the most one can hope for is accommodation, that you learn to move around each other, and that when the shit hits the fan, there is someone to suffer with.

If you like Wally Lamb and Gillian Flynn, you’ll adore Thomas Christopher Greene.

You should also, once you’ve read this novel, watch the author explaining why he wrote it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTC2K1TnfAE&feature=youtu.be.

03 July 2014

One of my greatest fears [#writersbootcampZA 3]

This topic is a toughie for me.

Cancer? Car accidents?

Cancer? Car accidents?


No, car accidents. Shit.

I couldn't decide. Dithered all the way to school in the car. Cancer, car accidents, cancercaraccidents...

And then, something weird happened.

We were crossing from Parktown North into Greenside, paused at a stop street outside a house we pass every day.

A pretty white house. With a little green garden. And a white beaded sheep on the lawn. There's also a Road Safety-branded car parked in the driveway in the mornings. Maybe you've seen it?

Now, my daughter is three. She can't read. But she must have registered something in the graffiti on the car because, out of nowhere, she interrupted my inner cancercaraccidents monologue and said, 'Mom - cars are very, very dangerous.' So, there you have it. Decision made.

My greatest fear? Car accidents.

I've looked cancer in the cold, heartless eye. Close up. My mom's had it. My husband's had it. My aunt currently has it. It's a scary thing. I've also been in and seen and heard of my share of hideous car accidents. They terrify me.

But so far it's Us: 3, Cancer: 0. So I'll just continue to drive in fear. And to live with the worry about all those I love who take lives into their hands every day on the roads.

I f***ing hate car accidents.

01 July 2014

Discombobulated in my pantoffels. [#writersbootcampza 2]

Two of my favourite words of all time. Up there. In the title.

But s'true's Bob, if you could just see me now... you'd laugh.

Or cry.

Um... No... Not what I meant by 'silver slippers'.
I'm wearing fluffy silver pantoffels (noun, Afrik.: slippers). One foot is resting on the bird-printed ottoman in my daughter's room. The other, plus leg, is squashed between me, my laptop and the seat of a raggedy polka-dot armchair. You get the vibe, I hope.

The only light in the room? Yup, the screen. My face - though I can't see it - is ghostly blue. Complemented perfectly by a white dressing gown that makes me feel (and look) like a chubby marshmallow. And my hair is in its post-6pm pineapple.

Thank G-d, in His infinite wisdom, that the hub is out of town.

My little daughter, who has a cold, is snoring gently to herself.

It sounds peaceful. Blissful, even, if you're a parent. And yet - I'm discombobulated (adj., Eng.: befuddled, bewildered, disconcerted). It's been a helluva day. Too many yeses; not enough nos. Too much schlepping; not enough working. Too much toddler-wrangling; not enough painting. Too little food. Too little wine. Too much caffeine. And just enough exercise. At least I got something right.

All of which brings me speedily to Tiffany's Favourite Words Numbers Three, Four and Five:

Perspicacious (adj., Eng.: quick to understand). Which I try very hard to be. And mostly manage.
Rummage (verb, Eng.: to search untidily; to scratch around). I do this in my head a lot.
Bedroggen (adj., Unknown [Ancient Markmanese]: grumpy; otherwise). Yes. I am. You?

Dear Stranger, I'm strange. [#writersbootcampza 1]

White teeth
We don't know each other.

We may have engaged online. Perhaps you liked one of my Facebook updates once. Or favorited a tweet. Maybe we've had no contact whatsoever. But if we ever have occasion to meet in real life, in the human world, there are three things about your appearance that I will notice immediately.

   The whiteness of your teeth
   The flatness of your ears in proximity to your skull (size is not an issue; prominence is)
   And - men only - whether or not you have the beginnings of male pattern baldness

Yup, I'm pretty shallow. However... In my defense... I won't actually judge you on these things. They won't cause me not to like or befriend you. They don't really matter, in any real way.

But I will notice them.

See, I don't care about fatness or fashion or frivolity. I've not even the slightest interest in BMI, designer sneakers or weird-ass hobbies (except if you're a scrapbooker - those people scare me).

The thing is, I spend shitloads whitening my own teeth. So I admire gleaming snow-white ones that glow in the dark. I endured an excruciating operation to flatten my slight bat ears, when I was 25 (20 years too late for it not to be agonising), so I appreciate flat ones. And I dated a hair transplant surgeon for two years, so I'm a lay preacher/fetishist on the topic of androgenetic alopecia.

Look it up. Its a real thing. Swear.

There they are. Three of my foibles.

Another foible is that I like round, even numbers. No odd numbers allowed. When I set the volume on the TV, the temp on the air con or the alarm on my phone, it has to be 18 or 22 or 6:00.

So, to round the aforesaid foibles off to a nice, neat 6, less the above bonus one, here are 3 more.

   I really enjoy gospel music. Which is weird for a Jewish girl. Who thinks Jesus was just a guy.
   When I lived alone, I existed on a diet of small, self-contained, round-ish foods I could eat with one hand. Peas. Popcorn. Chuckles. Cherry tomatoes. My husband says I have culinary autism.
   If the loo roll is put onto a horizontal toilet paper holder with the flap at the back instead of WHERE IT SHOULD BE - at the front - I will not be able to enjoy my ablution until I remedy it.

There you go. I feel closer to you already. Just open your mouth a bit more, so I can see your teeth.

Writers' Bootcamp: And now, for something completely different.

Mayday! Mayday!

Fore-warned is apparently fore-armed. So it's only fair to tell you that, for the next 30 days, this innocent and oft-neglected blog of mine will serve as a posting platform for 30 days of blog posts.

They will be appropriately categorised, so if you're only here for book reviews, that's cool - feel free to skip the non-book posts. If not, please enjoy.


Background: #WritersBootcampZA is a challenge issued by two new mates of mine, Jacques and Clarence, to blog every day for the month of July, for a minimum of 30-60 minutes. The blog posts are then shared on Twitter via the handle @writersbootcmp, for others to comment on if they want to.

The topics are pre-determined and each evening at 6pm SA time, the day's topic goes live on Twitter. The bloggers then have 24 hours to write and share their daily post.

What's the point?

It's really a competition against yourself. To see if you can maintain it for the month and, that way, improve your writing style, speed and commitment. For me, who writes for a living, it'll be the first time I'm using (or even relating to) writing as something FOR ME. Weird, huh? But there you go.

First post coming up shortly.

02 June 2014

2 Lovely New Kiddies' Books

As you may already have gathered, I’ve been thinking a lot about children’s literature lately... 

What’s good, what’s interesting but bad for sensitive kids, what’s local and how it compares with the international stuff… 

And just in time I received two lovely new books:

-       A Scarlet Tail (An Original African Tale) – Susan Long & Claire Norden
-       Pig and Small – Alex Latimer

We’ve read both at bedtime and had requests for repeats, so that’s a good sign. 

You'll find my reviews of these books on the JoziKids blog, www.zaparents.comEnjoy!

Good Books are Out There (And Other Stories) - Part II

In the first part of this two-part series, I looked at common, oft-repeated stories based on scary, freaky and downright depressing rhymes and tales from way back when. 

This follow-up intends to give you some alternatives, both local and international.

To begin with, remember that there are no fixed rules to choosing a good book for your child. 

Any book your child likes could be the right one. (I used to love to ‘yead’ birthday cake cookbooks as a toddler!) 

But books do fall into three basic levels:

1.     those the child can read alone,
2.     those the child can read with an adult, and
3.     those an adult must read to the child. 

Here are some basic things to look for as you help kids to choose ‘good books’:

Infants & Toddlers (birth to 2)

·       Books with big, colourful pictures of familiar day-to-day objects
·       Durable books made of cardboard, plastic or washable cloth
·       Books that appeal to the senses, with fabric, textures or scents
·       Stories told in short, simple sentences with pictures that explain
·       Poems and rhymes that are enjoyable for parents to read aloud

Note: This last one is a biggie for me. That’s why I love Doctor Seuss (the shorter ones, not the 80-page epics). Having said that, even a non-rhyming story can be fun to read, like Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo, Monkey Puzzle or Tyrannosaurus Drip.

Pre-Schoolers (aged 3 to 5)

·       Main characters who are your child’s age or even slightly older
·       Illustrations and photos that are clear, colourful and engaging
·       Simple, fun plots that move quickly so the book can be read in one sitting
·       Lively rhymes and repetition that children can repeat/remember
·       Stories, about everyday life and events, that encourage questions
·       Stories that review basic concepts: letters, numbers, shapes, colours
·       Playful animals, real and imaginary, that hold a child’s attention

Note: Aged 3, my daughter is now returning to favourite books from when she was a ‘baby’, because she’s seeing things in them she never noticed before: details, jokes, aspects of her own life. They also seem to feel to her like old, familiar friends.

Young Readers (aged 6 to 11)

·       Clear text that is easy to read
·       Colourful, attractive illustrations and photos that bring the text to life
·       Pictures that give clues to the meaning of unfamiliar words
·       How-to, craft and recipe books with simple instructions and illustrations
·       Books by authors/illustrators who are already your child’s favourites
·       Books featuring your child's favorite characters – from movies or TV
·       Chapter books that can be read over a few days, not in only one sitting

Note: Yes, you should opt for books that appeal to your child’s interests. But an interesting tip I picked up is to choose books that aren’t obvious choices for your child. My little girl loves ballet, animals and birthday parties, but she likes reading about diggers, cranes and dinosaurs. She also enjoys ‘reading’ non-fiction, like the Guinness Book of World Records. And the Mr Price Home winter catalogue.

And, just in case you’d like specifics, below are some recommended book lists:

Award-winning SA books:

1.     Ashraf of Africa – Ingrid Mennen & Niki Daly / Nicolaas Maritz
2.     Fly, Eagle, Fly! – Christopher Gregorowski / Niki Daly
3.     Fynbos Faeries – Antjie Krog (& Gus Ferguson) / Fiona Moodie
4.     Just Sisi – Wendy Hartmann / Joan Rankin
5.     Makwelane and the Crocodile – Maria Hendriks / Piet Grobler
6.     Nina and Little Duck – Wendy Hartmann / Marjorie van Heerden
7.     Not So Fast, Songololo – Niki Daly
8.     Siyolo’s Jersey – Mari Grobler / Elizabeth Pulles
9.     The Best Meal Ever – Sindiwe Magona / Paddy Bouma
10.  The Day Gogo Went To Vote – Elinor Batezat Sisulu / Sharon Wilson

Proudly local children’s books:

NY Times top sellers, April ‘14:

53 of the great children’s books:

What have I left out? What’s your child’s favourite book? Do you have a book you loved as a child that you’ve read to your child? I’d love to hear from you.

[This article originally appeared on the JoziKids blog, www.zaparents.com.]