Wednesday 30 January 2019

The White Room by Craig Higginson

The last review of a 2018 book - and it's (not quite) the end of January yet. Wow, that shows how far behind I am in my reviews, that I can be happy at that fact.

However, since I aim to read about 2 books a week, and write 2-3 reviews, I know I'll catch up. It's just a matter of time.

The White Room starts with Hannah Meade's play's opening night in London. She's nervous, but also excited. The play is about a relationship she had years ago with Pierre, whom she plans to meet tonight too. Is she really all that nervous about the play? Or is it about meeting Pierre, who she has invited but hasn't seen since those days?

The book flips between the play and current events, and the past.  It layers truths with lies, theatre and drama with reality and pain. It's beautifully written - artful and clever, and it doesn't try to be more than it is - a story about a relationship, how that impacts everything, and the memories left behind can hover in the shadows, not intruding, but affecting what we do, what we say and who we are.

If I were an author, the thing that would irritate me the most about Craig Higginson is how effortless he makes it seem. And I'm sure it isn't. Writing is always hard work. It just feels, in this book certainly, that it's such a joy, a delight to find the right words for things, the right way to set up scenes, to work out the plot, that it's hardly hard at all.

I need a re-read. And that's the best kind of book.

5 stars

ISBN: 9781770106123

You may also enjoy Love is Blind by William Boyd.

Tuesday 29 January 2019

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

"Could ten days at a health resort really change you forever? In Liane Moriarty’s latest page-turner, nine perfect strangers are about to find out.."

There's Frances Welty - a romantic novelist (formerly best-selling), who is angry at life (and her publisher), in constant pain and suspicious of most things, including men who stop to help you fix your life problems.

And over there are the remaining part of the Marconi family - hurt, lost and trying so hard to recover.

Dont forget Ben (the one with the car, the Lamborghini) and his wife, Jessica (the one with the body from Dr Plastic Surgeon), who said "I do" but don't know if they still do.

And others, all submitting themselves to the magic and the mystery of Tranquilium House, run by Masha Dmitrichenko and her two trusty sidekicks.

Liane Moriarty has created a perfect storm of the right blend of narcissism, belief in self-improvement and miracle cures, all the trappings of a wealthy and materialistic society and mixed it all up on a retreat - where meditation, deprivation and total relinquishment of control should result in a new you by Friday.

The trouble is, none of those ingredients are very nice on their own, so mixed together with no escape is a bit of a toxic mess. This is a great snapshot of society as it is these days, and the author is a detailed, witty and astute observer. The only trouble is, holding a mirror to our messy lives isn't always sunshine and roses.

I loved the characters, their interactions and the antics and escapades. I didn't enjoy the plot development around the resort and its owner - it was a little over-dramatic and therefore unrealistic, although not beyond the realms of possibility.

Overall, a very enjoyable way to pass the time.

4 stars


You may also enjoy Big Little Lies by the same author, or Truly Madly Guilty?

Saturday 26 January 2019

Ten of the Best #145

How lovely to wake up on a Saturday and see the trend on Twitter is #TrumpCaves? This was my favourite GIF...

And you can click the cartoon for the story.

Now this is the kind of story we need right now. Thank you Seth Myers.

Tuesday 22 January 2019

Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey

Whistle in the Dark starts with a mystery - the disappearance of Lana Maddox. She is in hospital, and mom Jen Maddox is trying - "oh so trying", if you ask teenaged Lana.

The two had been on a creative retreat together, Lana went missing for a few days, and now Jen just wants to know what happened. Only it's not so simple - Lana can't remember. Is she unwilling or unable to say?

It's difficult to tell, even when sister Meg turns up, and tries to help/make this about her instead of about Lana. Lana sinks deeper into depression, and Jen feels more and more helpless. What about Hugh, their father? He helps around the house and buys ice cream. What else can he do?

Emma Healey writes well. Her grasp of the family tensions here and accurate dialogue are astounding. The brilliance is that she takes all the suppressed emotions - the rage, the guilt, the judgment, the selfishness - and compresses them into little moments and conversations that ring sadly true.

Which makes it complicated and difficult to read. It's not pleasant living with depression and mental illness. And when it's truthfully relatable, it's not easy or fun to read about. But that's not the book's fault, I suppose. And if you're likely to be upset by that kind of story, stay away.

3 stars

ISBN: 9780062309747

You may also enjoy Elizabeth is Missing by the same author, or what about Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter? 

Monday 21 January 2019

Stories for 2019

It's that time of year. The third Monday of the new year, and the longest January ever. Which means we're at our least happy part of the Happy New Year. Even Good Housekeeping says so. Sigh.  Natalie made me laugh with her post about it - How was your week? Indeed.

Another friend pointed me a few weeks ago in the direction of Jonathan Jansen's 2013 New Year's post. In case you don't remember it, it was titled My South Africa and he told stories, his stories of returned wallets with not a cent missing, other stories of people in wheelchairs serving the poor, our stories of Mandela out of jail and preaching forgiveness and Tutu saving a necklacing victim. This, he says, is my South Africa. Click the picture to read the famous piece.

It made me think about what kind of world I want to live in. And the stories that may help me define it.

So on this day, the unhappiest Monday of our happy new year, I'm sharing some stories that I love. Stories from South Africa, and from across the pond, that have made me think about life, and how I like it to work. It may not always be like this, but when it is, I can do it.

Here's one about a little boy, his family at Christmas time when he nearly died, and a great outpouring of love and care and support, including this amazing song.

Which reminds me of our local version - little Kiara Mungavin. You can read all about it on her mom Jaci's blog. Here's a post I loved. A Christmas Eve tragedy, a family facing loss and a goodbye to a precious sister and daughter, and then a miraculous and wondrous recovery, a community that won't give up on this little ballerina and her loving faith-filled family. The story continues.

Coming closer to my home now, there's the story of my own sister. Also a story of faith, of a miracle that was years in the making...Lindsay needed a kidney. Both her kidneys have PKD, and a transplant was her only option. We have been amazed at and grateful for so many things...

Starting with God's constant favour, blessing and provision of 9 beautiful kidney donors - all the right blood type and all willing to live with one kidney so Lindsay can live a healthy life. I don't know how or why we were so blessed with these generous humans in our lives, but they give me hope, and inspire me to live better.

Lindsay's daily healing - she has never looked as if she were even sick, trusting her Father minute by minute for good health, and eating well and exercising as much as possible to keep strong. 

A transplant cancelled at the last minute in December 2017 (yes we are grateful now), when we all felt this was the miracle, that felt like a door slamming in our faces, but it taught us so much - to wait, to trust, and that God was present in the waiting.

And finally, radiantly, gloriously, the completion of this part of the story, by going back to the beginning. Sandy was the first person ever to come forward and offer Lindsay a kidney, and in a miraculous turn of events, she came back and offered again. This time, the tests were passed, the kidney was transplanted, both ladies are strong and healthy and there are now many happy memories to be made. Lindsay's story is mostly on Facebook, and you can follow it by clicking the picture of Lindsay and Sandy below.

And even closer - the story of a run, a life saved (my own) and another miraculous recovery. Click the picture.

So these are some stories that have inspired me, and kept me believing I can live in a world where strangers (and loved ones) are kind, lives can change for the better, and God can, and does work miracles. 

There's one more, and then I want to hear some of yours.

It's the story of a tiny teeny black kitten, mewing softly in the green leafy bushes, found while we were on a run...

He was brought home, scared and alone in the world and I was reminded in great detail, not just of all the cat allergies in our family, but HOW VERY ALLERGIC everyone was. That day ended with me coming home, Nyx in one hand (he really was only a handful) and Allergex in the other. It continued with a trip a few weeks later to the sea (7 hour car trip) with Nyx and family - "He's already been abandoned once, we couldn't possibly abandon him again." 

And it continues, with the adoption of Gatsby. These kittens have brought purrs, joy, delight and contentment into our household. They curl up on our chests, in our necks and on our hearts, purring wildly, and we have "lost" many hours playing with them, watching them, telling each other about their antics. Allergies forgotten, cats embraced, we have spent dinner times boring our family, friends and even strangers with the stories of our little kittens. They've been rescued, but so have we.

Now over to you - please tell me a story. 

In the comments on Facebook, or even here on my blog. What's happened to you, that has made you grateful? What story makes you glad to be South African, human, alive?

And as we tell our stories, with gratitude, let's look for those moments in 2019.

Happy New Year.

Saturday 19 January 2019

Ten of the Best #144

Happy  2019 everyone. I've been away, and not doing much social media-ing. The danger of me posting this today is that one of my favourite questions - "If you haven't seen this, where have you been, living under a rock?" could very well be used on me today. Because I have. It was a big rock, next to a sand dune. And it rained a lot, and internet was down, or slow. So I read lots of books. A highly recommended experience. But I risk posting today all the stuff that you're all already bored with. Bear with me, I'm catching up. I am back at the spot with the best weather in the country at this time of year, and the wifi speed is epic. Grab your tea - I'm on my third cup already, and let's do this.

Trevor on the chaos that is our world these days...

The Golden Globes happened, and Fashion Critical weighed in on all the frocks and the suits - click through the photos, and read the description (no, not all the comments, it'll take way too long).

And if you missed the globes, there is only one moment you need to watch - it's the Glen Close speech. Wonderful emotional stuff.

Thursday 17 January 2019

Love is Blind by William Boyd

Brodie Moncur is a young Scottish musician and piano tuner about to embark on the story of his life. His employer wants to send him to Paris, it's the end of the 19th century, and this will give Brodie a chance to escape Edinburgh and his stifling family including his preacher-father to Paris - where it's happening.

Brodie connects with a famous pianist, and Lika Blum, a beautiful Russian soprano.

This story is a gentle whirlwind of passion, music and romanticism, ambition, betrayal and revenge. By that I mean, it's gentle for a whirlwind. In an age where masterpieces were created, and rivals were destroyed, it requires a masterful touch to hold the threads together. In this story  - a simultaneous revelation of the beauty, poetry, symmetry and creativity required for the birth of a musical creation and the evil and corruption for the destruction of a soul who may compete for affections, the limelight, or just threaten one's temporary place in the sun, William Boyd proves he is worthy of the "master" title. 

A wondrous 4 stars.


Tuesday 15 January 2019

2018 Best in Books

Goodreads has this neat little feature. It's called Your Year in Books. Apart from seeing what people like Bill Gates and Sarah Jessica Parker have done in their reading lives, it will show you all the lovely statistics, like this.

And if you've set a reading challenge, you'll be used to seeing these. So satisfying.

All these statistics are a great way to introduce my  favourites from 2018, which I do at about this time of the new year. (see 2017's Best Books here). How it works, is that I summarise why I've chosen each one here, but if you click the cover images, you like through to my reviews, and then can come back here for more. 

2018 was a bumper reading year, so grab your coffee, and get comfortable,

The first one of these (and almost definitely my favourite of all the favourites) happened to be everyone else's favourite on Goodreads too - which is unlike me (to like what everyone else is liking, when everyone else is liking it, that is). But Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson was truly worth all the accolades. I keep returning to parts of it in my memory. Click the picture below to link to my review. And then get yourself a copy. And read.