Monday 30 January 2017

Born A Crime by Trevor Noah

Born A Crime is Trevor Noah's "so-far" story. With a white father and a black mother, and sexual relations between races verboten - there was actually a law against it in South Africa since 1927 - he was literally "born a crime".  Only just, let it be said - Noah was born in 1984 and the law was repealed in 1985. As is usual, the sentiment towards that law had changed a while before, so that by the time the repeal actually happened, it had become an embarrassment, and wouldn't have been enforced.

Trevor Noah knows how to spin a yarn. He became famous in SA as a stand-up comedian, and his great strength was being relatable to most. He achieved this without being overly crass - a bit of bad language, but generally clean stuff. The book takes a look, in stand-up style, at his colourful past.

The tales are well told. His mother is an obvious heroine, and the villains are some relatives, his father and SA apartheid. Trevor can speak an impressive number of languages, which makes the audible version of this book (read by Trevor, so the accents are right) a real treat. Also unexpected was the references to faith and religion - told with a smack of scepticism, but a great deal of respect and love. Another bonus feature was the realisation of how knowing all those languages connected Trevor to so many more people. I found that quite inspirational.

As with all good storytellers, the facts are bent quite a lot to make the story better. Those of us who love and are proud of Trevor's success will relax and enjoy the ride, laugh out loud at the jokes. I did spare a thought for the true believers - this is not completely non-fiction  - and they may be justifiably upset.

ISBN: 9780399588174

Friday 27 January 2017

Ten of the Best #77

Good morning. It's raining in January in our drought-stricken country, Trump was inaugurated, and we have two Australian open finals this weekend that were more likely to take place in the 2000's than in 2017. What a weird and wonderful world we live in.

Which face are you?

If, like me, you didn't have time to keep up with the pace of change and news this week, you've come to the right place. Here's where I give you my ten best picks. And let me tell you, every time I picked up my phone there was yet another rant about DJT. We cannot get enough. If it wasn't the Netherlands using his own words against him, it was the body language translations, or the lip reading of what should have been said over what was. But I'm sure you've watched all those.

This for me was the most shocking. Trump addresses the CIA  after his inauguration. What a dreadful speech (in full (long) here), but click the Zapiro cartoon for why it was so shocking - a summary. I checked, this isn't fake, he really did say those words. Seriously.

Here's a guy who's not going to give Trump a chance. You too? 

Friday Books - Faithful

I'm glad it's Friday - weekend, yay!

On Fridays we link up with other book people and grow our TBR lists.

BookBeginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader, and The Friday 56 - hosted by Freda’s Voice are where you'll find them. Both involve sharing excerpts from a current book - the beginning and - you guessed it - page 56.

My book this week is

Faithful by Alice Hofmann

The opening quote is also a favourite of mine, and I nearly shared that instead. It's Leonard Cohen -

Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in.

I love that striking cover, but the one I read looks like the one below - which is even prettier in real life. Which is your favourite?

This is the story of Shelby, a horrific car accident which affects her forever, and her slow progress back to reality. It's brave, gut-wrenching, but ultimately full of love and hope. And dogs. Of course, dogs.

I loved this book. My review will go up later (read here), but I'm really glad I read this one.

Happy reading everyone.

Thursday 26 January 2017

A Certain Justice by P.D. James

A Certain Justice begins, as the blurb reads, "dramatically enough, with a trial for murder. The distinguished criminal lawyer Venetia Aldridge is defending Garry Ashe on charges of having brutally killed his aunt." Don't read the whole blurb, it will spoil the story.

Venetia is also in the running for a promotion. She is brilliant, but a woman. In addition, there are others after that top job too. That's all you're getting from me.

It is rare for me to give P.D. James less than 4 stars. Her writing is brilliant, the plotting superb, characters so real, you want to slap them, and pacing just right. A bonus feature for this book is that these are issues worth caring about and fighting for. I loved this book, and couldn't wait to get back to it.

An excellent crime novel, full of gems and well written too.

5 stars

ISBN: 9780770429911

You may also enjoy Shroud for a Nightingale by P.D. James or A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George.

Wednesday 25 January 2017

From Whiskey to Water by Sam Cowen

Sam Cowen's part biography chronicles her fight with alcoholism, binge eating and how swimming helped her face her demons and be free.

Sam is relatively famous in SA, having appeared on TV, been part of some radio shows that were acclaimed, and her previous book "Good Enough Mother" was a favourite. She also regularly reviews books, and has admitted to driving around there block in her neighbourhood, while her young children were being taken care of by a baby sitter, pulling over in the car and finishing a book. I love her for that.

This is an honest story. Sam doesn't shy away from admitting the truth about her addictions and brokenness. That is brave. When you are a mini celebrity, it takes a little more courage. She also has a way with words, and her refreshing sense of humour and love for her family shine.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable memoir. It is short and easy to read.

Tuesday 24 January 2017

The Beautiful Dead by Belinda Bauer

The Beautiful Dead is the story of Eve Singer, a TV crime reporter. She must get to the death scene first, uncover all the gruesome details, and even better, capture live interviews and gory footage on camera. Joe, the trusty cameraman is usually by her side to do this. A horrid job, but Eve is successful, which means we can’t like her that much. Even though we’re responsible for wanting the news she faithfully sniffs out from the smelly underbelly of society.

Eve’s father suffers from dementia, and she cares for him. You see, there is a reason we love Eve. There has to be. We can’t love her for the vital role she fulfils in society.

And then the killer on a bit of a spree starts to make contact with Eve, and we quickly realise she is being set up. For him, you see, murder is an art form. And Eve feels the same way. That's the connection.

I have read nearly everything that Belinda Bauer has written. (I’ve only got Finder’s Keepers to go, then even all her older ones are done.) I am therefore used to her wonderful dark sense of humour, her clever prose, quirky yet real characters and deft plotting.

There was something missing from this book, though. And although all of the above boxes were ticked, I think it may have been a little bit of the setting, and the fact that the gasp factor was not as gut wrenching as usual. In past novels, I always felt that there was a great sense of place to create the perfect tension (Exmoor in the Blacklands trilogy, Limeburn in The Facts of Life and Death, the mortuary in Rubbernecker). Here the setting was great, but not an active contributor. And let’s face it, it’s an unusual yet great feature. As I mentioned before, if you’ve read more than one Belinda Bauer, the unusually extraordinary comes to be expected.

So perhaps I should go back and give all of Belinda’s older novels five stars and this one four stars, but I’m going to give this three instead, and tell you that if you haven’t read this fantastic author, you really should. And start with The Beautiful Dead (especially now that I've lowered your expectations); then go back and read all her other work. In a class of her own when it comes to crime writers, you won’t be sorry.

Highly recommended. A thrilling read.

ISBN: 9780593075524

You may also enjoy The Shut Eye, or Rubbernecker, Blacklands or The Facts of Life and Death. Yes, all by Belinda Bauer.

Saturday 21 January 2017

Ten of the Best #76

Good morning, and welcome to the weekend. It’s here when we look back on what was shared during the week, and reflect and read, and watch clips to the end. Because it’s the weekend, you see.

On my side of the world we woke up to a new leader of the largest democracy. Of course, everyone was wondering who would be Trump’s plagiarisiee buddy in his inaugural speech (why is it that I cannot watch anything he says to the end? I get so bored) who woulda thought it would be super villain Bane from Batman? Click the pic comparing the crowds in Washington D.C. 2009 with the crowds in 2017, same time, same place...

Meanwhile, Ellen reflected on moments with Obama.

Friday 20 January 2017

Friday Books - Conclave

After a long break, I'm back, and glad it's Friday - weekend, yay!

On Fridays we get to link up with other book people and share our favourite things.

BookBeginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader, and The Friday 56 - hosted by Freda’s Voice are where you'll find them. Both involve sharing excerpts from a current book - the beginning and - you guessed it - page 56.

My book this week is

Conclave by Robert Harris

I am passionate about that cover, it's so beautiful. And the opening - can you see the elderly Cardinal walking quickly through the Vatican, even if you've never been there? 

Robert Harris writes so well, and you are drawn in from that opening paragraph.

Thursday 19 January 2017

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Lilac Girls is about three women. Caroline Ferriday lives in New York as a volunteer for the French consulate, sending care packages to orphaned children. Kasia Kuzmerick is a teenager in Poland, falling in love, hanging out with her best friend when war breaks out and Herta Oberhauser is an ambitious young doctor in Germany.

Told in alternating third person narrative, the story starts off centred around Caroline (who is the only real historical person), then balances on Kasia for a while, before settling on Herta - who is based on real person Nina Ivanska.

I love historical fiction, and World War II from a women's perspective is a treat, although less rare these days - there are so many other books in the genre. This explores the horrific medical experiments performed on the so-called "rabbits" in Ravensbruck, the only concentration camp set up exclusively for women.

The audible narration was superb, the reader had excellent accents, and I felt drawn in from the very first page. Caroline's story felt a little trivial compared to the other two, although all three were necessary.

It really hung together for me when I read the author's note at the end however, and realised how much Martha Hall Kelly had let history tell a story. I love that, and the tale of how she had uncovered this was almost as good as the book itself.

A heartfelt 4 stars.

ISBN: 9781101883075

You may also enjoy The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah or Two Brothers by Ben Elton.


Wednesday 18 January 2017

Conclave by Robert Harris

I am so far behind on my reviews, you may see a lot of me and my blog, until I have caught up - bear with me.

This book had popped up on so many lists of books that people had rated, I was very excited to see my husband pick it up. I watched him read - not concentrating on my book, and when he couldn't put it down, late at night, and picked it up to read compulsively (it was holiday time), I knew.

I had no idea what it was about. Imagine my astonishment when I realised it started with the death of a pope, and that there were one hundred and eighteen cardinals, gathered together in the Vatican with 72 hours to elect a new one. Interesting, yes. An uputdownable page turner - even for a pastor - hmmm?

It was gripping, intense, subtle and clever. Robert Harris managed to turn this into a page turner of note. The intrigue oozed out of every paragraph. The imagery - the beautiful Sistine chapel where they met to vote every day; the cramped and simple quarters they stayed in; the garbed great men gathered with the heaviest of responsibilities - smiling and listening whiled they schemed and plotted. This was a heck of a book. We see through the eyes of Cardinal Lomeli, the dean of the cardinals who must oversee the process. and the secrets start emerging from the very start. I loved what Blair wrote - "a deeply intriguing political drama with the addictive qualities of a soap". 

The fact that it is set in a time slightly in the future is perfectly done, and the level of research that has gone into this was astounding. 

Lastly, if you are going to read this (and you would not be sorry), don't read any more reviews. Spoilers (even inadvertent ones) have the potential to do great damage to this story.

An unforgettable unputdownable thrilling 5 stars.

ISBN:  9780091959173

You may also enjoy Beneath the Surface by Jo Spain or A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George.

More books - 

Sunday 15 January 2017

The Garden of Grace

As I write it’s raining. Not a massive blasting crackling Joburg storm, but the quiet relentless showering of watery goodness that we need. And I feel, in the cool wetness of the air, clean, new and brave again.

This is the time of the year that we start asking "Why did I say I'd go to gym/give up chocolate/ stop drinking?". 

Those fabulous resolutions. 

I think one of the reasons so many of us take a break at the end of the year is to recover from the effects of all the good intentions. Even if we start well, we quickly fall into bad habits again. And the guilt. That drives us to all sorts of other behaviour, to make us feel better - binge watching TV series, comfort eating, sleeping our lives away to avoid facing our own demons, mocking us as they flaunt our failure, larger than life itself, as we put down the bag of crisps, cringing at the crackle of foil as we reach for the remote to change channels.

So we work harder, and harder, and then some more, so that we feel better and "have it all". Eventually we drive/fly/sail away from all our unfinished masterpieces - monuments to our efforts, their sheer size posing the question - "was it worth the sacrifice?" as we speed away to the sea, the mountains, or the ski slopes to breathe again.

I don't know about you, but I'm getting off that hamster wheel early this year. I'm starting the way I intend to finish - with a rest.

Gerald May, in his book Addiction and Grace, writes

"In the arid lands that were the birthplace of monotheistic religion, the desert was a primary symbol of trial and temptation. And water, especially freshly flowing "living" water, became a permanent image of God's grace. Just as fresh water could transform wastelands into gardens, the living water of God's Spirit could cause love to grow within the most parched and wilful souls... addiction's empty and idolatrous wasteland is transformed by grace into a garden of freedom and love."

So stop, right now. Stop trying so hard, and let it rain. Wait for it. Hear it. Feel it on your tongue. And let it soak your soul. Follow that tiny drop of rain down the hard crust of your failure, through the stony ground of your ambitions and intentions and into your heart. Watch as it feeds the seed of hope, and let it grow, that tiny seed of truth and purpose. 

Then don't forget to come back to this place, often. Not because you've said you would, but because it is here that you let God's grace transform you, change you and let you be all that you are meant to be.

The song may help - it's one of my favourites.

You may also enjoy:

Take time - 

Saturday 14 January 2017

Ten of the Best #75

Welcome to my weekend. Which always starts with a roundup of what happened on our Facebook, Twitter and other social media feeds. You know, all the stuff we didn't read properly during the week, because we were back at work. Working hard, because it’s the new year, and all that. Well, week’s over, you survived a Friday the 13th, which came way too early for us to actually cope, never mind notice, and you can officially put your phone down, your feet up, sip that cappuccino and inhale the scent of lazy Saturdayness. We’ve waited long enough.

Barack said goodbye this week, and all our 2016 fears and tears are feeling all too real. I loved the excerpts, 

"I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change - but in yours.”  

Click the clever cartoon to read the full transcript.

And here’s his great tribute to Michelle. 

Sunday 8 January 2017

2016 did have some pretty good books

Yes, I know we are a whole week into 2017 already. And yes I also know that most of you bloggers published your best books for 2016 in early to mid-December. 

But I have a question for you - how do you do that? Do you just stop reading for the rest of the year? (I couldn't, it's my best reading time). Or do you know before you read the books what you're going to rate them, and that they won't make it into your list? For shame. Or (heaven forbid) do you only read junk after the 15th December? Those romance novels you'll never review?

I cannot. I have a primal need to assess every single book I've read during the year, up to and including the 31st December, in order to compile this list. I would feel that I'd cheated my babies if they didn't each get an equal opportunity to compete for my worthy attention.

I've thought of running my 'Book reading year' from 1st December to 30 November, but then my Goodreads targets wouldn't tie up, and that would make me very frustrated. I hear that sigh of sympathy - save it for the rest of my family, who put up with all the other ways my anality and OCD emerges (no, it's never pretty, I can assure you).

Let's get to the point - my favourite reads of 2016. 

But first, a few statistics from Goodreads... because I like those too.

Friday 6 January 2017

Best of 2016

Good morning. It's 2017, and you're back here. Where we look at the stuff from our social media feeds we had no time to read during the week.

Happy New Year! It's been a while since I've been in the blogosphere. I had an awesome break, and let's hope I can remember how this works - I raid all your time lines for the best shares and collect my favourites here in one place for you to look at when you have time, on a Saturday, not at work, using your own wifi connection. Something like that. Ok, let's do this.

Aren't we all so glad 2016 is over? Despite all the rants and moans and whines about the year that took so many good people and left us so many duds, when we look back, it wasn't all bad. For every Trump there was a Thuli, and for Zuma we had Zapiro.