Saturday, 29 August 2015

The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth


This novel is told in the voices of three generations of midwives - a woman - Neva, her mother - Grace, and her grandmother- Floss. All three have secrets, and although they are bound by familial love and their calling as midwives, the secrets threaten to tear them apart.

Despite alternating between the three voices, the story flows well, and I enjoyed the accounts of the babies delivered in different places and times. Each birth is a momentous event, and the drama and tension is captured, as is the wonderful role that midwives play.



I found the storyline predictable, and the secrets and outcomes too easy to guess. The protagonists were likeable, and had obstacles to overcome, but I wasn’t exactly rooting for them, or finding their dilemmas anything more than mildly interesting.

The novel was well-paced, and the writing style was engaging. The insight into the role of midwives and the miracle of birth was captivating and tenderly told.

A heartwarming read.

3 out of 5 stars


ISBN: 9781447279877

You may also enjoy Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.

All my reviews and my recommendations 

Ten of the Best #10


1.    Have you seen the September challenge to quit sugar and bread? Are you doing it? It’s not a bad idea. Here’s a great article by Doctor Mark Hyman on “Why sugar is the new fat”. It’s also got some great advice on how to break your addiction, and what to eat instead. Healthy stuff. Click the picture for the link.


  
2.    Rebecca Hodes, an historian at UCT wrote about why Rhodes must fall has wasted some of its impetus. This is thought provoking. Click the pic.


  
3.    To prove that these kinds of things do not only happen in SA…although we kindly provide many more opportunities for this type of heroic behavior than most other countries. Once upon a time there were two Americans on a train to Paris and here’s what happened.




4.    In case you missed it, there was bit of a rumpus at WITS. “Oh, just a normal day then,” I hear you say. Yes, but this was an evening event in the Great Hall. At the Ruth First lecture. Anger and racism. “Oh, just a normal day in SA, then.” You said it. Eusebius MacKaiser was the moderator, so qualified to give an opinion on what happened. The man speaks a great deal of sense.



5.    If you are in Johannesburg on or before the 12th September, get yourself to the Standard Bank Gallery in Simmonds Street to see the Pierneef exhibition. I’m told there is safe parking that you don’t have to book, and all who have gone to see it have raved. I’m going. Click the pic for the details. And while you do, observe that it was quite generous of Standard Bank to use the tree that looks remarkably like the FNB tree in the painting to advertise it all. Or maybe they are being cheeky?



6.    So this tracker was completely calm. While an elephant got very up close and personal. Watch it and ask yourself how you would have behaved.



7.    This parking fine argument could only have happened outside SA. SA cops do not have this sense of humour. They do have a sense of McDonald’s though, or so I’m told.


  
8.    And this one winds the cuteness award for the week. A mommy told her 5 year old he was going to be a big brother. She did it in a really nice way. And of course, she filmed it for us. Poor child. He probably doesn’t know. My kids are very grateful FB wasn’t around when they were small and cute.




9. And after some golds in the swimming, our athletes did us proud too. Here is Wayde Van Niekerk – who wins the Men's 400m Final at the IAAF World Championship in Beijing.

 



10. What would this post be without some bookish reference? Boring, that's what. I love these stories. Here’s how a Columbian garbage collector started a library. Click the pic.

 Have a great weekend everyone.

Last week’s Ten of the Best

Monday, 24 August 2015

The Long Song by Andrea Levy


4 out of 5 stars

The fact that a book is nominated for a Booker prize used to entice me a little. These days, not so much. I read a lot, but am no literary genius. I read to enjoy books. Maybe I am missing something, but when I go through the list of Booker Prize nominees and winners, very few books appeal to me, and of those I have read, only about half have I enjoyed.

This was a recommendation from Book Club, however. So, placing my thumb carefully over the “Shortlisted for a Booker Prize” sticker, I started.

I loved the narration style. Told in the first person, by the slave girl, July, Andrea Levy cleverly draws us in to her story with a foreword by her son, the editor, who paints a picture of his mother driving him mad with the telling of her story, until he persuades her to write it – reluctantly, since she began her life “as a person for whom writing the letters ABC could have seen her put to the lash”.

“But stay, if you wish to hear a tale of my making. As I write I have a cup of sweetened tea resting beside me…; the lamp is glowing sufficient to cast a light upon the paper in front of me, the window is open and a breeze is cooling upon my neck. But wait…for an annoying insect has decided to throw itself repeatedly against my lamp. Shooing will not remove it, for it believes the light is where salvation lies. But its insistent buzzing is distracting me. So I have just squashed it upon an open book. As soon as I have wiped its bloody carcass from the page (for it is in a volume that my son was reading), I will continue my tale.”

This strong voice sings and paints a vivid account of slavery’s last few years on the island of Jamaica, and the consequences of abolition on both the slave-owners and the slaves.

There is a good balance of intimacy and personal detail with the facts of history, although the history telling doesn’t always flow well. The shocking and horrific behaviour is countered with humour and optimism, bravery and stoicism. The characters come alive, and the language used is beautiful.

I felt like I had joined July, next to the light of the lamp, and listened to her gentle sadness – shocked by the brutality, yet uplifted by the humanity of the characters. The author succeeded in making this a very personal account.

Highly recommended.


ISBN: 9780374192174

You may also enjoy my review of Lila by Marilynne Robinson or The Whip by Karen Kardashian.

Here are all my reviews and recommendations.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Ten of the Best #9

Happy weekend to you all. It’s been a long week, but you made it to the weekend.

If you’re new to Ten of the Best, here's what it's all about - the 10 things I enjoyed most on social media this week, thanks to all of your timelines. I started, because I don't always have time during the week to read the articles properly and watch the clips.  I collect them and put them in one place, weekly. The weekend is a great time to catch up. And for some reason, where I live, the speed of internet connection is really best on a Saturday morning. Click on the pictures for the links to the articles or clips, and use your back button on your browser to come back here.

If you’re not new to this, you know what to do – skip past the stuff you’ve seen or doesn’t interest you. Hope you find something you like.

1.    This group got together and wrote and sang a song entitled “Cheap flights”. We’ve all done it – tried to find the cheapest flights, and been caught by hidden terms and conditions that we didn’t know about. Warning – this is quite a long clip (5 or so minutes), but heck it’s that funny (and catchy), it’s worth it. Trust me.




And now for three proudly SA moments...(We need to keep repeating these, we don't have a lot to feel good about in SA these days)

2.    Chad le Clos and Cameron van der Burgh keep getting gold – in Paris.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell

4 out of 5 stars

In the early hours of a summer morning, a young woman steps into the path of an oncoming bus. A tragic accident? Or suicide?

This is a story of a twice divorced man – Adrian Wolfe, who was married to Maya – the young woman killed by the bus – when she died. It is also the story of his two ex-wives, his five children and the relationships between them and Adrian and Maya (told through flashbacks). He meets another woman, who he feels may hold some answers to the questions posed by Maya’s unexpected death.

Having just finished Lisa Jewell’s latest book, The Girls, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I was looking forward to reading this one. I love discovering new authors and then tearing through everything they have ever read.

Looking over her long list of books written, it seems to me that her earlier novels were lighter in tone, and that she now tackles heavier issues. As a result, the stories have more of a mysterious element, which I enjoy thoroughly.

As expected, the lovely ex-wives and beautiful children mask a torrent of emotions lying beneath the surface, and as events unfold, it is clear that no one is coping with anything as well as they may claim to be. The characters are very clearly drawn, with depth and empathy, even Adrian with his flawed belief system that everyone should just love each other and get along, as he moves like a moth between wives, leaving fractured families in his wake.

Observations like "The thing about being the childless third wife. Maya had found, was that you were always asked to take the family photos,” permeate the book. It is a highly enjoyable and engrossing read.
ISBN: 9781476792187

You may also enjoy Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty or The Girls by Lisa Jewell

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

The Facts of Life and Death by Belinda Bauer

4 out of 5 stars 

If you scroll through my blog or my Goodreads news feed, you will notice that July 2015 was a very successful reading month for me. And having spent most of the month ill in bed, I didn’t get out much, which meant that my “to-read” pile, which had previously threatened to kill me if I left it on my bedside table, was looking far more respectable.

When my husband, pitying me for not being able to drive or shop for books, handed me a wrapped book-shaped parcel, I had mixed emotions. I had so much still to read, but oh my word, I love new books. I should have trusted him. It was the Belinda Bauer I was dying to read. This one.

The Facts of Life and Death is Belinda Bauer’s first stand-alone novel (the second one being Rubbernecker, and more recently, The Shut Eye), and like her other novels, it is an intense psychological thriller.

Set in the village of Limeburn in Devon, you feel the danger immediately – from the sea and the weather, which threaten to repossess the village reclaimed once already from the ocean. Ruby Trick is ten years old and she lives here with her mother and father. In an atmosphere already creepy and haunting, we find out there have been a series of murders in which the victims are forced to call home and tell their mothers they are going to die. Ruby is eager to help her Dad and his loser wannabe cowboys help solve the crime.

Bauer is gifted at storytelling, setting crimes in the midst of everyday life, and creating tension between her characters that is tangible. Add to that the skill of getting inside a child’s mind, and reporting on the unfolding of these disturbing events with a sense of naïveté, and you pretty much have this novel summed up.

I loved Ruby, her family and friends and the other characters. I loved the dangerous setting and the dank, gloomy atmosphere. The series of initial crimes however, didn’t seem to fit easily with the rest of the story – they almost felt contrived.

Maybe not as exceptional as Rubbernecker and The Shut Eye, but a gripping read nevertheless. Belinda Bauer has set the bar at an almost unattainable level for the crime/thriller genre.


ISBN: 9780593072783

You may also like  Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter.

Here are all my reviews and recommendations.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Walking Whines

If you’ve been in exile in Siberia with no internet access, and you haven’t read any of my blogs, you won’t know that I spent most of July in bed (mine and a hospital’s) which eventually resulted in abdominal surgery for a pelvic abscess. 

My running spreadsheet is therefore looking pretty bleak. And yes, of course I have a running spreadsheet – why do you even ask? #Doyouevenknowme?

The Circle by Dave Eggers


3.5 out of 5 stars

Mae Holland needs a job to pay back her college debt. Fortunately for her, she knows someone connected – Annie. Annie is one of the senior people in The Circle, a huge technological company that has monopolized world business and controls almost all of the world’s economy.

The Circle started life as a web search engine (like Google) and grew to do anything you could think of from shopping to social media and all things revolutionary. The founder, Ty Gospodinov, is responsible for the operating system which gives users one online identity. His ideals of full transparency and a meritocratic universe, where number of followers, views, queries solved with 100% feedback ratios are all consuming seems destined to triumph.

But that’s not all. If you work for The Circle (the ultimate best company to work for), you enter paradise – beautifully designed office spaces, and every need of the employees catered for, from nightly parties, to activities and clubs, full canteen facilities and medical care, even for your extended family.

So what is the cost to the employees? Well, of course, it is not demanded or required, but grateful employees pay for all of this by working hard, and interacting 24/7 with the operating system. The ultimate goal – to have a camera around your neck and be fully transparent – where all your followers know everything you do, and your opinion on it, and they freely express theirs. The interesting part is how obsessed Mae becomes with the world created within the world, and how she loses connection with her previous life, and everything that isn’t part of The Circle. The aspirations of The Circle for more control and power become more sinister.

Dave Eggers has written a page turner, with a powerful storyline and a fascinating premise.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Ten of the Best #8

Hi everybody. It’s that time of the week where you get your social media fix. And feel connected again to the world as it exists in cyberspace.

There was a lot happening this week, not all amusing, some quite serious, but let’s go.

1. Let’s start with Robin Williams – did you know he died a year ago? And that a lot of his movies were from books. This link tells us which. And its also a reminder of the late great man. Click the picture for the link.



2.    There was a lot of irritation about Women’s Day in SA starting over last weekend. I agreed with most of it. This was the best rant, by Helen Moffett. Also known as the burning cat story.



3.    And then there were those who stupidly tried to capitalize on Women’s Day. (And did you know its actually Women’s Month, sad, but not really true). We already have Valentine's day, Mother's day, we don't need another schlock day for those dealing in sentimentality to make more money off us.

The better advertisers didn't make mistakes, but BIC got it horribly, horribly wrong. Mandy Wiener knows her social media – here’s what she had to say about BIC. Click on the sexist pic for the BIC story.



4.    And while we’re at it – Ellen Degeneres on the BIC “lady pen” is so funny.


5.    So sad to hear that Dawie Roodt and his family were attacked. He tells how they survived and his thoughts on South Africa. Interesting take on this.



Wednesday, 12 August 2015

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

4 out of 5 stars

Petronella Oortman (Nella) arrives in Amsterdam in 1686, to join her new husband - successful businessman Johannes Brandt. He is seldom home, and she is left at the mercy of his sister Marin. Brandt's wedding gift to her is a beautiful dolls house, a miniature of her new home, and she engages a miniaturist to make objects to go in it. Nella's first commission is exquisite. She befriends the maid, Cornelia, who has a habit of listening at keyholes and Otto, who becomes a trusted companion.

Nella’s employment of the mysterious miniaturist takes a sinister turn, when the miniatures turn out to be more than slightly prophetic, and when objects that are not commissioned start being delivered.

This is a brave and bold first novel by Jessie Burton. The writing style is beautiful and suits the engrossing storyline in its rich yet secretive style. The research seems effortlessly woven into the surroundings, setting and habits of the characters.

The miniaturist is not a main element of the story, instead the intrigue that surrounds the relationships that Nella finds herself caught up in are centre-stage.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Wives and daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell


3 out of 5 stars

I had to adjust my expectations when reading this classic. This book was read after a marathon session of catching up on some really good crime/thriller novels, which were fast paced and full of action. Cue a gentle English country village.

So much charm. Wonderfully counterbalanced endearing and annoying characters. The observation of life in the early 1800s was beautifully done. I listened to the Audible version, and I think that was a good idea. It forced me to slow down, and be captivated by the story, which was written as a serial for a magazine in 1864-6. I wonder whether serial writing still exists today?

The subtitle was “An everyday story”, which kind of sums it up. The novel centres around Doctor Gibson, his daughter, Molly, and how they cope with his second wife and stepdaughter, whose values and personalities are quite different to their quiet, respectable ones.

There are many suitors with declarations of love – accepted and rejected by the two young ladies. There are also the dowagers of society and their commentary on all that happens around them and the work of a squire, a doctor, and a writer.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Why women write the best crime thrillers


This post has been a long time coming. Today I had a delayed epiphany. I realised that yesterday was the happy coincidence of Women’s Day (in SA) and World Book Day (everywhere else), I am – a day late, I know – posting this commentary on why women write the best books. Well certainly the kind of books I like to read.

First, let’s just get Women’s Day out of the way. Although I like the event that it commemorates, I hate what it is called. Why should we get a day? What for? And if we get a day, what does that make every “normal” day? It prompts everyone who is not a woman to say “But when is Men’s day?” And then the answer – “Every other day”. Which would be funny, if not so often true.

We live in a men’s world.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

The Joy of Sharing Books


I love reading. I belong to a book club where the other girls love reading too. We have also become good friends over the years. One of the great joys of belonging to a book club is you get to rave about the books you love, and you get to share these reads with good friends. Combine that with a home cooked dinner, a glass of wine and some interesting conversations, and you will understand why I very rarely miss book club night. It is one of my favourite evenings of the month. In fact, last month the girls were astounded when I admitted that, having developed severe abdominal cramps late afternoon, I popped two painkillers, ensured I had a ride, and went to book club as scheduled. My daughter couldn’t believe I was going – it wasn’t only the fulfilling of my passions, but also due to the fact that my husband was feeling poorly, and there was no debate in my mind which evening I would prefer. An evening with my girlfriends was infinitely more desirable than going to bed early with a snuffly snory spouse – sorry dear! The fact that said abdominal cramps turned into a hospital visit, and later an operation is a completely different story.

My reading passion has increased over the years,

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Ten of the best #7

Ten of the best #7

Does it annoy you when the tagline on a lengthy video link tries to make you watch it. Using words like “You’ll be ASTOUNDED when” and “You won’t BELIEVE what happens”? I don’t mind people trying to use their persuasive power to get my time and attention – that’s the point, I suppose. But when the actual video is a complete let-down, and it has taken 5 minutes to buffer, and then it takes another 7 minutes to get to the AMAZING point, which isn’t so amazing, you already knew that, and there is no summary below the video link that warns you what you are going to watch, so you have to go through all that…for nothing. Or very little. Drives me mad. It’s just like false advertising. But there isn’t a law against that, because we click by choice. People on social media and the internet need to be responsible about what they use to entice you into their content.

That’s why this is so great, and so popular (she says, modestly). There are no long video links. I promise. And I try to give you a clear indication of what you are going to see. So if you don’t want to waste your time, you don’t have to, you just scroll down. Got your coffee? Good. I hope there is something for you to enjoy today.

                                                                                          
1.    I was reminded of this as I read a book by Lisa Genova, who quotes Oliver Sacks as her inspiration. He wrote this most beautiful piece earlier this year, when he learned he had terminal cancer. The piece is like his life – inspirational.



2.    In the interests of setting correct expectations as per my opening paragraph, this article needs a disclaimer…

Friday, 7 August 2015

Blacklands by Belinda Bauer

This is Belinda Bauer’s first novel and, according to the author, should be read before Darkside and Finder’s Keepers.

We meet Steven Lamb, who lives in Exmoor, a creepy place. His uncle disappeared on the moors many years before, and Steven thinks that if he can answer some questions about his uncle’s suspected death, it will help his family, especially his grandmother, cope better. So Steven starts his own investigation. He starts writing to a confessed paedophile. Arnold Avery, who is in prison after his conviction.

The writing is very good. The setting of scenes is one of the best parts of the novel. The author is an expert at thinking about what is going to tell the story best, and then putting her characters through their paces to take the reader to places in his or her mind that are scary, dangerous and thought-provoking. She then changes direction and introduces twists and turns with breathtaking speed. The children she writes about are particularly true to life, and I love how the quirks and struggles of each character are revealed with ease as the story unfolds.

A Belinda Bauer novel is exactly my definition of a perfect read. It’s hours spent in another world. That world captivates, entrances and delights me with realities that are not mine. I reluctantly read faster as the pace picks up, because I do not want to leave this world and go back to mine.

I have also read The Shut Eye and Rubbernecker, and I do think that they are better than Blacklands. But since they are all, in my view, such good reads, you should try them all. Start at the beginning with this one.

4 out of 5 stars

Here are all my reviews and recommendations.

ISBN: 9781439149447

Monday, 3 August 2015

Still Alice by Lisa Genova


4 out of 5 stars

"My yesterdays are disappearing, and my tomorrows are uncertain, so what do I live for? I live for each day. I live in the moment. Some tomorrow soon, I'll forget that I stood before you and gave this speech. But just because I'll forget it some tomorrow, doesn't mean that I didn't live every second of it today. I will forget today but that doesn't mean today doesn't matter"
Alice Howland is a professor of psychology at Harvard University who, at the height of her research career, slowly begins exhibiting signs of early-onset Alzheimer’s. This is the story of how she and her family and friends attempt to cope with the diagnosis and the progression of the disease.

Although I try not to read too many reviews before I read a novel, I do look at the average ratings on Goodreads. The fact that this book had an average of over four stars and was made into a movie, were points in its favour.

I couldn't put this book down. The pain and heartache, frustration and anxiety was tangible. Yet, the author managed to tell this story with enough beauty and grace and redemptive qualities, that I didn’t resort to weeping and throwing it down in despair. There was a lot of information about the disease, the treatment and the genetics around different versions of this illness. Lisa Genova is a neuroscientist, and clearly knows her subject. Instead of writing text books, she writes novels, as she believes that they will reach more people, and make the information more accessible. I agree, and applaud her effort.

One of her inspirations is the great Oliver Sacks, who had this to say, which I think is pertinent to Still Alice: "In examining disease, we gain wisdom about anatomy and physiology and biology. In examining the person with disease, we gain wisdom about life."

This book is worth a read. It will tug at your heart, in all the best ways.

ISBN: 9781501107733

You may also like Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey.

Read all my reviews.

Or my recommendations.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Never die alone by Lisa Jackson

Twins disappear just before their 21st birthday. Is someone taking them and murdering them? Who, and why? Someone has been arrested for two of these murders, but suspicion arises about whether he was actually guilty. If not, is the real killer still on the loose? And with him locked up in jail, Zoe and Chloe (almost 21) go missing.

This is a romantic suspense novel. I don’t read much of these, and this is a good example of why not.

The book is #8 in a series. It felt like the detectives (presumably key to the first seven novels) were completely superfluous. The mystery could have been solved without introducing them as characters. There were far too many characters.
The first 70% of the book was very slow. And not being held by the story, I had time to think of all the reasons I didn’t like the book – the names of the many twins were just corny. Not even cute. The writing style was condescending – a number of facts were repeated, as if the author had to make sure we got them. So the experience was in all, quite disappointing.

I think that there are better examples of good writing in this genre. Authors like Andrea Kane and even Tess Gerritsen’s first few books.
This book had a lot of potential, and I suspect others in the series may be better. It wasn’t all bad, but could have been so much better.

2.5 out of 5 stars

ISBN: 9781420136050


Here are all my reviews and recommendations.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Ten of the best #6

Well hello there! It’s Saturday morning, so your wifi signal is looking good – the kids are still asleep, or watching TV, and it’s time to catch up on all the great social media you didn’t have time for during the week.

This week was a little more challenging than usual to find the good stuff. There is lots of content, but some of it is well, just dull. The headlines always pull you in – like “Watch what happens when he approaches what he thinks is a dead whale”, but then it  is seven minutes of a dude swimming around what is clearly a whale (that is not dead, hence the headline), but looks more like a large rock. I never made it to the end of that one. These are all quite short, and I tell you beforehand what is in them, so if it’s not your scene, skip to the next.

There is a lot of good stuff today, so let’s get moving…
  
1.    This article has some great places to eat out in  Johannesburg. From Fordsburg to Melville and Linden, and even Florida North, these places are affordable and great quality eating. Enjoy, or just bookmark for the next time you want to go out. Click the pic and you’ll get the article.




2.    Don’t you love this Zapiro?



3.    When I had young kids, I often felt guilty. And somehow, I never read stuff that revealed that other parents did the same and worse things than me, or that they shared my guilt. Most articles told me how to do it better. Helpful, but not. That’s why this appealed to me. It’s titled : “Permission to get shockingly real about parenting” and it’s real, honest and more helpful, in my view. Click the pic for the link.




4.    This had me in hysterics, just when I read the headline. We are so lucky here in SA. We have great holiday destinations. It kind of sets the bar high – if you are going to travel further and spend more on your holiday, it has to beat Plett, or the Drakensberg. Spare a thought for these poor sods. “Your underwhelming UK holiday photographs”.



5.    Ok, this is a good read. The difference between your opinion and just being wrong. I enjoyed this post. If you have teenagers, it may be worth re-reading.



6.    How do court reporters keep a straight face? This is very funny. Things actually said and entered in the record in court. Only in the US of A.




7.    This one's for animal lovers with a sense of humour. Have you ever wondered what to get the engraver to say on the tag on your furry friend’s collar? Here’s some inspiration. Warning – there is some bad language on the things other people put on their pets’ collars. 





8.    This was flipping awesome. A band I have never heard of – the Foo Fighters (although the song sounds vaguely familiar – and yes, I am so not the coolest parent when it comes to knowing my kids’ music preferences) has never been to Italy. So Italy got 1000 musicians to sing and play one of their songs and recorded it. All to encourage them to come. The song sounds amazing, and I loved watching all the drummers play the same stuff together. If you’ve ever played in a group with more than one drummer, you’ll know that hardly ever happens, even when they’re paying the same song.




9.    This is short, but amazing. I had to watch three times to see what actually happened. It took place in the European ladies 4X400m relay and the finish is amazing. It’s a race, so it is very short.



10.  Now this is the best for last. The Kicks is an 8-piece swing band consisting of a handful of South African musicians. The Kicks approaches everyday pop songs that we hear on the radio with a Jazz/Swing feel. Their arrangements mostly their own. I think I need a night out with the Kicks. Anyone want to join me?   



Have a great weekend everyone.

Last week's Ten of the best