Tuesday 29 September 2015

Book Club Books

I published a page of book recommendations on the 17th June, for everyone who has to buy Book Club books. I can't believe that more than three months has elapsed since then. I think it's time to update those recommendations, don't you? If you don't find anything you like on the list below, read the old one - Bev's Best Books.

We never do this...

This list has something for most types of reader. I recently published a post asking what type of reader you are. Ask your Book Club members next month. It's here, and it also has a list of all that I am planning to read in the next few weeks. But let's not get distracted...stick to what we have read, and is good.

I am listing seven recommendations (so you can fit them in your book bag). The list below has a brief description, and if you click on the link or the picture of the book, you will find my full review.

Let's start with the non- intellectual reader. We will give you a light South African read. I do not have any friends that haven't enjoyed this book. They all loved it. (And so did I.) It's written by Pamela Power. She writes a popular soapie for TV. This girl is FUNNEE. She nails the life I live, and her book resonated with me. It also made me laugh out loud. That's a gift not many people have, except Trevor Noah, and he's gone now.

Sunday 27 September 2015

Confessions of a Bookaholic - what to read next?

What kind of reader are you? 

I scrolled past this post, hardly looking at it, but it caught my imagination, and I realized I have become something of an altruist reader of late. As in, I really want friends to enjoy the books I’ve enjoyed. Not all friends have to enjoy all books, but I do love it when I make a recommendation and the feedback is “I loved it too.”

The trouble is, I think that most of my friends are also altruistic readers. Yes you are, and you know who you are. Stop hiding behind that book you’ve put down to read this. So, to spread the love a little, I thought I’d share all the books you guys have added to my “to read” pile. Thank you so much for sharing. I feel completely overwhelmed. When I finally get through all these “to-reads”, I will be a very old lady. But hopefully we will still be friends. So, in no particular order, here are the books that I will be reading next.

Friday 25 September 2015

Ten of the Best #14

1.    A very funny gaffe. And no, she didn’t actually die laughing (had me there, for a second). I didn't know that The Huffington Post can also make jokes. Seriously. This is adult content, everyone. Click on the picture for the article,

2.    A teacher gives tips to other teachers on how to deal with the One Direction split. This is hilarious, from a blogger named Fran, who is very funny, if you have my sense of humour. If you have the time, read some of her other stuff. This was my favourite though, I loved it. Click the picture.

Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton

Sharon Bolton is an accomplished and highly recommended crime thriller author, well-known for her Lacey Flint series. When I saw that Little Black Lies was a standalone novel, I was very eager to read it. Even more appealing was the setting – the Falkland Islands, so interesting. And the plot - a missing child. Unheard of in such a small place where everybody is connected to everybody else. Is this a terrible tragedy or something more sinister? This book was always going to be good.

The writing was excellent. The characters were strong and multi-dimensional. What drew me in hook, line and sinker though, was the fabulous plot. Mysterious, with enough twists and turns to keep my head reeling, my stomach churning and my heart pounding, this storyline grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go.

The tale is told from the points of view of each of the three protagonists, all very different and almost contradictory. I did not know too much about the book before reading it, and this made it all the more enjoyable. The surprises were astonishing, from chapter one for me, because I avoided the blurbs. It is for that reason that this review is purposefully steering clear of telling you too much about what happens. I hate spoilers.

I had such a strong connection to the protagonists. I loved them all. I loved the atmosphere, the suspense and the fact that though I guessed and guessed, there were a number of things I just never saw coming.

I will certainly be reading more from Sharon Bolton. Highly recommended for lovers of psychological, emotional crime thrillers, more focussed on the human drama than the factual solving of the crime or mystery.

ISBN: 9781250028594

5 out of 5 stars

You may also like Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer or Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

Wednesday 23 September 2015

The (lost) art of making tea – 5 secrets to the perfect brew

"That has got to be the worst cup of tea I have ever tasted. It was like cat pee, laced with dirty dish water. You didn’t warm the cup, and the teabag clearly spent more time trying to take the odour out of your smelly shoes than the 3 seconds it was rushed through the barely lukewarm water. I bet you turned the kettle off before it boiled. Was the milk off?

I smiled to myself. Chances are, he will make the tea tomorrow. And the next day. I’ll do it again on Monday. Mission accomplished. I stand accused, judged and sentenced. I cannot make tea. Too bad, it is the weekend. And everyone knows how I love to get out of bed first to pad downstairs and make the tea for the family. (And heavens alive, our family has severe FOMO when it comes to a tea round. It’s always very expensive.)

But seriously, those of us who love tea know. There is an art to making tea. It’s about the small things. If you get them right, you will make a great cup of tea. If you don’t…well if you’re lucky, someone else will make the tea. If you’re not lucky, then you probably don’t like the tea you make very much. Stop reading and go out and buy yourself a cup of coffee.

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry

4 out of 5 stars

This novel, a debut from the author, is full of eerie atmosphere. Set in 1899 in New York, it features Sylvan the night soiler, Odile Church, from the performing show that gives the novel its name and Alphie, who finds herself unexpectedly in a mental asylum.

Sylvan finds an abandoned baby, and Odile, having lost her mother, is worried about her twin sister, who took off.

How these stories connect the characters is part of the charm of the book. Also magical are the “lesser” characters, who are richly and beautifully drawn. They add depth to the mystery and the storyline, and not one is a waste of time or effort. The setting of scene does mean that the reader is almost literally “in the dark” for quite a long time, but  it is worth persevering.

Parry paints a vivid picture of Victorian New York. You can smell the city, and for the time that you follow these odd souls on their various quests, you are immersed in their tragedy and stuck in their mire.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself in this well-paced, theatrical dance. Shocking at times, and harrowing too, this is not a book that anyone will forget easily.

A spellbinding read.

ISBN: 9781443438124

Sunday 20 September 2015

Broken Promise by Linwood Barclay

4 out of 5 stars

The story, set in Promise Falls, starts as David, recently widowed, has moved back in with his parents. He is struggling to make ends meet and care for his young son. David is a reporter and, with no work, his mother asks him to take a meal to his cousin, Marla. Marla, a young single woman, is also going through a hard time, having lost a baby. David is therefore surprised when there is blood on the door handle, and a baby in her house. He is quickly drawn in to help solve this, and the darker mystery that unfolds.

Things are busy for Detective Barry Duckworth in Promise Falls,There are 23 dead squirrels, discovered by Findlay, a man with a checquered past, who wants to run for the office of mayor, again. And there seems to be a would-be rapist stalking women at Thackeray College. Lots of crimes and characters in this small town.

This was my first Linwood Barclay. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Detailed plotting, lots of interesting people, and a story that kept me reading through the night. It is the first in a series. The twists were interesting, and kept me guessing. I loved the way the book kept racing forward, with the past effortlessly filled by details quickly explained. Since there are two more books in the series, don't expect a full resolution at the end. There were a few too many threads left dangling for me. Will I read the others? Hell yes.

ISBN: 9780451472670

You may also like Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter or The Abduction by Mark Gimenez
All my reviews

Saturday 19 September 2015

Ten of the best #13

New here? Click the pictures to see the article/clip and then use your back button to come right back. Skip what you've seen, or don't think will be interesting. 

1.    This first one is for my dear friends who are “ex-pats”. I love you guys, and miss you. I liked this because it was honest.

2.    You’ve probably all seen this, but it is the World Cup after all. And I say NOTHING about the game last night with that ref of unknown nationality. I must say, I’m glad it is the English team that did this, not our green and gold guys. It is a little wimpy, no?

3.    I don’t usually like covers much. The original has gotten under my skin, and I prefer it. Here’s an exception. It’s The Kicks (Hannah Foster) – All about that Bass cover. It sounds so much sweeter. I really like it. The musicians rock too – at about 3 mins in. Listen and let me know if it’s better than the original…

Wednesday 16 September 2015

5 ways to brighten up your meals

When starting this blog, I debated whether I should write about my food fetishes. Admittedly, food is one of my (many) obsessions. "Do I have anything to contribute?"I wondered. There is a wide variety of information available.When I want to learn to make something, I google it, and find some useful recipes. without fail.

What is not so easy to find, is the tried and tested information – literally tried in someone’s (non-Masterchef) kitchen, and applied. Whilst it may be true that a slice of lemon in hot water is a good for us to start the day, how many of us get that right for periods longer than a week? More importantly, are we able to get our teenagers to adopt these healthy principles, and believe them so that they have a chance at having more healthy lives.

After explaining my food journey here, which basically involved losing a lot of weight, and then cutting down salt (high blood pressure) and then cutting down sugar (cholesterol and just wanting to stay healthy), there is one foodie truth I know to be 100% true. How do I know? This principle works with just about any diet that people adopt. Stop arguing with me, you know I’m right.

Adding vegetables to every meal, every day is never wrong. Just add the “right” vegetables.

True? Of course. Easy? Well, not really. We are just not used to doing this. And it does become quite time consuming. But vegetables are worth the time and effort.

We sat down at the beautiful table – crystal glasses tinkling, and silver cutlery reflecting the candlelight. (Thanks for the romantic gesture on book club night, Eskom.) We ate slowly, savouring every mouthful of food not cooked ourselves, and eaten with civilized conversations about our errant husbands and misbehaving children – with no interruptions, except for sips of wine (which are not interruptions, but welcome additions) wanting to draw out the evening. “My word Alison,” remarked Lisa, “I would eat a lot more vegetables if you came and cooked them for me every night.” They were absolutely deevine. Delicious. 

Monday 14 September 2015

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

4 out of 5 stars

This is a story about a family – the Birds. They live in the Bird House. Time flips between the young Birds growing up, dysfunctionally, but mostly happy, and now – the grown up children trying to make sense of what has become of their broken lives.

There is a familiarity about the characters, and I felt, an eerie resonance with some of the things they do. You recognise your faults, but hope like hell that you have dealt with your stuff in a way that is more helpful than the ways in which they have. Somehow, you are left feeling unsure.

Lisa Jewell is very good at creating worlds of disorder and emotional chaos

Saturday 12 September 2015

Ten of the best #12

1.    Why did this not make the headlines? Ok, I know that the MAJOR news is that Homo Naledi is a new find that fills in gaps in the evolution story, but this – I found this fascinating. Did you know that it was a team of ladies, chosen for their petite frames that had to make their precarious way into the cave that was the home of Homo Naledi for generations. The BBC reported on it. Well done. Click the picture to read all about it.

2.    The Economist weighed in on SA’s shame.

Thursday 10 September 2015

Cut the Crack #3

Since I know at least one person who is doing the 21 day detox in September – no sugar and no bread, and since I encouraged you all to try it here, I thought a useful post, round about now, 10 days in to this challenge would be some ideas for stuff you actually can eat. It’s a pleasure, I know – brilliant idea.

But before we get there – spare a thought. I gave up sugar shortly after giving up salt for good, and trying to cut down on cholesterol too (which meant all those fatty foods I love so much). So I tried to find the non-sugar options which didn’t contradict this, either. That was hard. When giving up salt, my go to’s in the late afternoon were dried fruit (high sugar), a piece of toast with sweet chilli cream cheese (lowest salt content – check it out), but that contradicts the bread rule, and sweet chilli starts with sweet – can’t be low sugar, can it?

Don’t even get me started on the breakfasts. If you can’t have sweetened cereals, fruit juice and muffins, what do you grab on the way to the car?

Well, here are some ideas, split into breakfast, lunch and dinner options. Some of them will take some foresight and planning, but hey, you are probably so focused on food right now, and what you cannot eat, that it won’t be a problem to spend a bit of time on what you can eat, will it?

Breakfast ideas:

1.     Smoothies – with a difference. My children have strawberry, banana and yoghurt smoothies every morning. Depending if your definition of sugar includes fruit, that may or may not be a problem. Still a healthy choice. But why not try a green smoothie?

Saturday 5 September 2015

Ten of the best #11

I was thinking of stopping after Ten of the best #10. You know, it seemed like a "right thing to do". Ten posts of "Ten of the best". But there was such good stuff on my Twitter feed and Facebook page, I was completely spoilt for choice, So here it is - the best of social media last week. Hope you find something to make you think, or make you smile. If you are new to this, you just click on the pictures, and you will go to the links. Use your back button on your browser to come back.

1. I walked into a friend’s house the other day, and on the kitchen counter, suctioned to the granite tops, were these colourful little blobs, sorted by type. They looked like morphed counters from the game “Risk”, but I itched to touch them and move them around and play with them. If you’re a parent of small kids you’re going “Stikeez, silly idiot”, and you would be right. This mom doesn’t like them. At all. And she swears a lot, so this post has a PG warning.

2. Lisa Kudrow got up on stage with Taylor Swift at her concert. Guess what they sang? Yes – SMELLY CAT. If I lost you at Lisa Kudrow, don’t bother. Except that there were loads of clips that fans uploaded, capturing the moment. Unfortunately they were all so shaky and wobbly, it was hard to tell that it was the two of them and even harder to hear above the screaming. I searched far and wide for this quality clip, people. 

3. The great Oliver Sacks died last Sunday.

Wednesday 2 September 2015

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

It is important, when reviewing a book set in a place you adore (Paris), about the things (books) you may trade a dear child for, that your love for these is not mixed up with your appreciation of the book about them. But sometimes it is not so easy to distinguish between the two. Sometimes the writing draws you in so well that your love for the stuff in the book you are reading is shared with the characters in that book. So, you are supposing that this happened for me in this book. Actually not so much. The Paris settings were not as vivid as the parts set on the barge (which is the bookshop, or “Literary Apothecary”) that launched off down the Seine to Provence, stopping at villages along the way. Those were more beautifully drawn, and I was there.

But what about the story?