Wednesday 29 November 2017

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

Don't hate me, but this was (by far) not the best Fredrik Backman book I have read. I've read A man called Ove and The Scandal/Beartown this year.

Britt-Marie is a little quirky old(ish) lady, who, left alone, needs a job. She makes lists, insists on punctuality and actually doing what you say you will (gasp) from the employment agent, and is a paragon of cleanliness - baking soda has so many uses. She gets a job, but it's in the small town of Borg, where everything is closing - last one out turns out the lights. So far, we have a few trademarks already - quirky old character, small dying town, what are we missing? Of course, the sport - here it's football (soccer), about which Borg is mad and highly superstitious, and Britt-Marie is clueless.

If you're after a funny warmhearted off-the-wall story, you'd do well to read Ove. I can't make up my mind if you should read this one first, because you may enjoy it more before Ove - but then you may not like this so never discover the joys of Ove. Oh, whatever - you decide.

I'll not judge Backman's writing by this one. It could be (mis)guidance from his editors that led him down the same familiar and well tested profitable paths to publication. And the writing is still good - short, well-crafted sentences, dialogue that jumps off the page, humour underpinning most situations and poking you in the ribs every so often. It also features wonderful interactions between special characters of different generations and a completely lovable story about loss and connection followed by redemption. 

I was a bit sorry for Britt-Marie though - her story didn't feel hand-crafted for her, it felt like a mass-produced plastic packet of bread, instead of a floury-fresh kneaded sourdough loaf- she deserved more.

3 stars

You may also enjoy Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman or The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce.

Tuesday 28 November 2017

Thérèse Raquin by Emile Zola

What on earth is Thérèse Raquin about? Well it's a tale of adultery and murder, set in a haberdashery shop in the passage du Pont-Neuf in Paris. Sound fascinating? Set in the 1800s, the story of how a woman and her lover conspire to murder her husband, but are haunted forever, followed by the beady eyes of his mother, and the rest of "civil" society, it is riveting.

I've been trying to throw in the odd classic to liven up my reading. This fits that definition perfectly. It is odd, in the quaint way of a haberdashery shop, in a dark and damp underground walkway. I liked it, in the way a cat likes certain people - from a distance, and sometimes showing that affection with a claw or two.

"The arcade of the Pont Neuf is not a place for a stroll. You take it to make a short cut, to gain a few minutes. It is traversed by busy people whose sole aim is to go quick and straight before them… The arcade now assumes the aspect of a regular cut-throat alley. Great shadows stretch along the tiles, damp puffs of air enter from the street. Anyone might take the place for a subterranean gallery indistinctly lit-up by three funeral lamps."

It didn't try and outdo itself in either length or descriptive passages. There were big bold brazen characters, some of whom annoyed me, and few who didn't. The author conveyed the sense of panic and guilt, consuming and eating from the inside in a way that made me want to turn the pages faster. Only I couldn't, because Kate Winslet was narrating for me. Her reading was so beautiful, sometimes I replayed parts - she infused the dark mystery with a sense of sinister suspicion, which I loved.

It was miserable, morbid and like visiting a haunted house. Read it - better still, listen to it - on a rainy afternoon, when you're feeling life isn't great. It'll suit your mood.

ISBN:  9780140449440
4 stars

You may also enjoy The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (similar in tone) or if you're into this type of classic, what about War and Peace by Tolstoy?

Saturday 25 November 2017

Ten of the Best #108

It's finally the weekend, and here we are, doing what we do best. Trawling our timelines for the funny, the amusing, the make you think stuff that we didn't have time to catch in the week. It was a good one - I had so much fun compiling my Ten of the Best.

I liked this article by Marelise van der Merwe. How SAns have chutzpah in truckloads. Pity the famous ones use theirs with gay abandon - but what if some of us others did too? Click the Zapiro.

Two Science truths, apparently. I'm much more inclined to believe one of them than the other...

Guilty dogs - say no more. Don't look either.

 I really enjoy Barbra. So here she is on Ellen.

P!nk and Kelly Clarkson perfromed  Everbody hurts at the American Music Awards - this feels timely, beautiful and right.

Tea ! You know what, you can have coffee, wine, even chocolate, but don't say these things about tea. Check your brands, people.

Some great gadgets that may come our way...

Margaret Atwood has become one of my favourite authors this year. Here's the stuff she says, just like that.

And we're playing out with Jennifer Hudson and Pentatonix performing How great thou art - they nailed this one. Totally.

Have a wonderful, happy thanksgiving weekend.


Friday 24 November 2017

Friday Books - Brave New World

It's Friday, so it's time to hook up with other book admirers and share excerpts from the books around us. We join Book Beginningshosted by Rose City Readerwhere you share the first line, and  a few thoughts about the book.

I'm reading old books, lately, and this one has been on my list since I read 1984 and The Handmaid's Tale earlier this year. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

Here are some covers:

Not the most gripping opening sentence I've ever read, but so far I'm enjoying it.

At Freda's Voice, you'll find the Friday56, where the excerpt comes from page 56 or 56% in your Kindle.

I do love this dialogue between Fanny and Lenina - about why you should have more than one man at a time. In a world with no human pregnancies, and no family relationships, why not, after all?

Enjoy your reading - leave me a comment and I'll visit you soon.

Thursday 23 November 2017

The President's Keepers By Jacques Pauw

Jacques Pauw's controversial book, The President's Keepers has taken SA by storm. Not leastly because free copies of the pdf have become readily available, and the debate rages as to whether the author wanted this - the dissemination of the information being in the public interest, after all - or whether, bearing the tragic state of literary purchases in SA in mind, everyone with a conscience (and a budget) should buy the book, to support local authors and publishers. But that really isn't the point, well not the whole one, anyway.

If you get your hands on a copy of this explosive, revealing, shocking, elaborate account, you should read it post haste. It is one of those books that if you leave too late, you will read it thinking - "But did I know that before the book was published, or has someone who read it told me?" Because the chapters in here will become part of our everyday conversations, the narrative of a country captured by more than a few bad men, and so they ought to.

Jacques Pauw is eminently qualified to write this. He had been a journalist for a very long time, although now retired, and there are parts that leap off the page in their intensity and revelatory sense of conquest. It is long and detailed, and there are parts that were obviously rushed to be completed, and I think that's ok - explanation is often necessary for context, and there was a deadline, but more careful editing and rewriting could have shortened and improved this version.

Also interesting was the clear exposé of so many caught up in evil - from the use of funds from ill-gotten gains like cigarette smuggling, to the abuse of power in the form of awarding of tenders, and the tragic implications of the greed and grasping of those in power. It did seem that the perspective of the author was to judge every person whose name appeared in his records as good or evil, and I was even tempted to keep a list at one stage, because this is a text book of the sordid events that have unfolded since the corruption took root.

And that's the damning, hurtful truth. We all know. It has been there for a long time, and now it's been clearly exposed, sliced open with a surgeon's knife, so that we can all see the cancerous snake eating much more than its share, and taking a country way before its time.

As I write this, the impeachment of Bob Mugabe hasn't started, he's been offered a deal and resigned. There have been calls to do the same with Zuma. The problem is that this malignancy appropriates so many more than just one man, and I'm not sure that we South Africans have the courage or the moral compass to go after the whole thing, considering so many of us are sitting and reading pirated copies of the book.

ISBN: 9780624083030


Tuesday 21 November 2017

My Husband's Wife by Jane Corry

Lily is newly married to Ed. She's a lawyer, and she is determined to make things work. This is tricky, because her latest client is Joe, a convicted murderer, to whom she feels strangely drawn. Carla is nine, lives in the same apartment block as Lily and Ed with her mom, who is often not around, even when she is.

Ed is a struggling artist, but he is struck by Carla's beauty and he sketches her. Small white easy lies early on in all these lives become secrets that take on lives of their own. The story then jumps forward a number of years - Carla is all grown up and Lily and Ed's situation has changed substantially. But the deception and intrigue are not over yet.

This is an interesting story. Mostly about relationships. The fascinating peep we get into all these lives feels unsettling - perhaps because none of these characters is very likeable. And that's not because they're flawed, or struggling, they're just nasty. It feels voyeuristic looking in, in a creepy kind of way. The plot has twists and turns a-plenty, but not being invested in the characters makes me less involved, and therefore distanced.

I've also read Blood Sisters by the same author, and I think that is a better book. I'm not sure about this one. 

2.5 stars

ISBN: 9780735220959


Monday 20 November 2017

Cheap Thrills

It's Monday. This is the post about why we should, you know, bother at all. And if we manage to bother at all, where should we start?

Well, it's Monday - I said that. So we're starting moving. Preferably as fast as you can go. If that's a crawl, then crawl. If you're up for a long walk, then let's do it, baby. If you're running or riding a bike - oh wow - do you know how lucky you are?

The thing I love most about running is that I can do it right wherever I am, in my neighbourhood, on holiday at the beach, in the mountains, in a new favourite city, or - just about anywhere actually. All I need are my trusty shoes. Preferably a buddy too, but hey - I've been known just to take my audiobook and go solo. My workout starts with the cost of getting dressed and opening the front door - it's that simple, easy and inexpensive. For the price of a pair of running shoes, I get hours and hours of pleasure and joy.

Part of this post, if you've been here before, is to use some music to get you going, and this morning, I've picked Sia's Cheap Thrills - in honour of those pink and orange trainers that have taken me so far.

Til I hit the dance floor

Hit the dance floor
I got all I need
No I ain't got cash
I ain't got cash
But I got you baby
Baby I don't need dollar bills to have fun tonight
(I love cheap thrills)
Baby I don't need dollar bills to have fun tonight
(I love cheap thrills)
But I don't need no money
As long as I can feel the beat
I don't need no money
As long as I keep dancing

So what are we waiting for? Let's go. And let's make it awesome. Because that's how we roll.

Happy Monday. Happy week.

Saturday 18 November 2017

Ten of the Best #107

Good morning good people. It's Saturday. Time to face the weekend - and it is going to be a good one. 

Starting with the funny, the interesting, the unusual stuff that appeared on my timeline this week. I'm spoilt for choice.  You guys know me so well - there's some music, lots of books, and some cute and hilarious too.

There's a new Nancy Drew in town. She writes books too. Definitely my kind of heroine.

A bit like Jacques Pauw, maybe. Nah, not really. But here's Richard Poplak's latest take on the President's Keepers. Great writing, as usual.

Ten books that are long and worth your time. Hmmm, only read one, and that one was worth it, but not sure about some of these? What say you, experts?

This is the scariest wifi experiment if, like me, you have a wifi router next to your bed. Oh dear.

I loved this next one - Alma is 12 years old, and a composing prodigy.

The news re Trump this week, c/o Trevor Noah.

Great writing on the dis-ease of being busy.

P!nk did carpool karaoke. It's so funny. One of my all time favourites.

Michael McIntyre on life without kids - I think it's his niche, and we giggled at this clip.

We need one feminist post, don't we? Here's how to deal with sexism in the street.

As per GoodthingsGuy, Stellenbosch Choir was named the best in the world. Here's the clip of the performance. 

Well that's a high note to end on. Have a great weekend everyone. 


Friday 17 November 2017

Friday Books - Heartburn

Hello there.

It's Friday, so it's time to hook up with other book admirers and share excerpts from the books around us. We join Book Beginningshosted by Rose City Reader, where you share the first line, and  a few thoughts about the book.

I'm reading Heartburn by Nora Ephron this week. I picked it up because I saw the Audible version was narrated by Meryl Streep, and was fascinated to listen, but now I'm into a library copy, so don't even know if I'll get to the Audible version.

"Seven months into her pregnancy, Rachel discovers that her husband is in love with another woman. The fact that this woman has a 'neck as long as an arm and a nose as long as a thumb' is no consolation. Food sometimes is, though, since Rachel is a cookery writer, and between trying to win Mark back and wishing him dead, she offers us some of her favourite recipes. HEARTBURN is a roller coaster of love, betrayal, loss and - most satisfyingly - revenge."

That's why she can't date - seven months into her pregnancy - I suppose she could, but would she? Would you?

So far I'm enjoying it. It's light, and easy to read, which makes a change from some of the tomes I've ploughed through recently.

At Freda's Voice, you'll find the Friday56, where the excerpt comes from page 56 or 56% in your Kindle.

"This is Nora Ephron's (screenwriter of WHEN HARRY MET SALLY and SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE) roman a clef: 'I always thought during the pain of the marriage that one day it would make a funny book,' she once said - And it is!"

I'm not quite at p56 - but nearly. Hopefully I finish this weekend...

I've got a busy day ahead - so I'm probably only going to get to your lovely blogs much later. But I'll visit, I promise. Tell me what you're reading, I'd love to know.

Enjoy - and have a fabulous weekend.

Thursday 16 November 2017

What have we done by J.T. Lawrence

What Have We Done is the third in this scintillating series (When Tomorrow Calls), starting with Why You Were Taken and followed by How We Found You. If you want to jump straight in to this one, you can, but I'd read them in order, if I were you.

I'm starting to think that if J.T. Lawrence wrote - oh I don't know - a story about a vampire who falls love with a girl, for instance - I'd read it, love it and not find it clichéd. And I'm jaded, cynical and very well-read 😜. 

Seriously though, the writing talent here is exceptional. Let's start with the plot. Silver and Mally are fifteen now. Kate still lives in a just-future-enough-to-be-interesting Johannesburg, and Silver disappears on the eve of her sixteenth birthday. It's dangerous to be out - there's a suspected AI virulent uprising, but Kate and Keke set off to find her. Meanwhile Agent Zack is in a penal colony, safe and sound, or trapped and about to be terminated - who knows? And he must find Kate. We know these characters from the earlier books, and their forays into a starkly concrete harsh SA, where violence is the order of the day - with unexpected appearances by bots, drones and the like will have you on the edge of your seat. And there you'll stay until the jawbreaking ending, which I loved loved loved. Life and death situations are faced every hour, every minute; decisions to be made in less than a heartbeat - with dire consequences either way - left me gasping.

I'm really not the best person to advertise this kind of book. I'm even insecure writing this review, because I don't know the jargon. If you look at my reading shelves you'll find mostly crime, some history and even a little nonfiction.  But you'll also find everything written by J.T. Lawrence. She's that good. 

"Cyberpunk meets the robopocalypse on the edge of litRPG in this dark dystopian thriller. Jack in and get ready for a headsplosion with this third book in the riveting series When Tomorrow Calls.

Ready? Your next addiction starts now."

So take an adventure into a world you haven't read before. It's a bit like a rollercoaster ride - scary at first, but so much of fun. And when you're done -  exhilarated, smiling, and maybe even slightly exhausted from reading a whole book in one sitting, come back and thank me for making you do it. You will.

5 stars

J.T's other books (that I've read);

The Underachieving Ovary
The Memory of Water
Why You Were Taken
How We Found You

More book recommendations.

Wednesday 15 November 2017

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

I am always interested when an author reads an audiobook him/herself. It feels more personal, and I'm the kind of person who likes the fact that they can inject their own meaning and intentions into their creation.

So when I saw that Hillary Rodham Clinton read What Happened, it was tempting. Yes, all 18 or so hours.

I loved the beginning. Her account of her life, her faith, why she ran for office. It was better than I expected, and very interesting. I also liked how personal the story was, and was fascinated to hear how Hillary interacted with her staff, her team and what a day in the life of a presidential candidate was like.

But niggling me at the back of my mind was this tiny little question - "Yes, but 18 hours. Really? Is it going to take that long to tell this story?"

And it was too long. And on Audible, you can't really skip parts you think are going to be dull. Well you can, but it isn't as easy. And I didn't. And I should have. 

I thought at the beginning of the book - the first few chapters - that she'd processed her disappointment and was able to look back with perspective and clarity, and be honest about what went wrong. By the end, I was less sure. Partly because of how very long we spent on things like the emails, the FBI and the Russians.

But take a read for yourself, it's a fascinating story. Maybe the physical or soft copy of the book, so you can skip ahead at will.


More books.

ISBN: 9781501175565

Tuesday 14 November 2017

Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson

Peter Swanson gave us The Kind Worth Killing last year, which was, in equal parts unputdownable, twisty and turny, and loads of complete surprises. Her Every Fear has a great premise, which promises to deliver  a similar sort of reading experience.

"Following a brutal attack, Kate Priddy makes the uncharacteristically bold decision of moving from London to Boston - in an apartment swap with her cousin, Corbin Dell.

But soon after her arrival Kate makes a shocking discovery: Corbin's next-door neighbour, Audrey Marshall, may have been murdered.

Far from home and emotionally unstable, her imagination playing out her every fear, who can Kate trust?"

I'm generally a very forgiving reader. I'll often miss huge plot holes, suspend my disbelief for the sake of a good story, and miss the major mistakes other more observant readers point out with glee. Let's call me an "experiential reader". If you write so that I enjoy it, I don't actually want to be too critical, because I am filled with admiration that you wrote a book. But here there was something not quite right with the experience. It was a great story, and the pages turned with enviable speed, but somehow I wasn't quite as immersed as I could have been.

A satisfying ending, and loads of suspense was created, but as I said - not a complete reading experience.

3.5 stars.


You may also enjoy Here and Gone by Haylen Beck or Behind her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough.