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Lover of literature and reviewer of books. Happiest where the words are.

17 Jun 2018

Review: The Tattoo Thief by Alison Belsham


DI Francis Sullivan has been assigned his first case. He may be the youngest DI the department has had, but what he lacks in age he makes up for with passion and smarts. A partially flayed body was discovered near a tattoo convention in Brighton, leaving Sullivan and his colleagues without clues or motives. When a second body is discovered with missing flesh, Sullivan considers that the killer is removing tattoos from victims as trophies.

In an attempt to navigate the world of body art, Sullivan calls on the knowledge of tattoo artist Marni Mullins, who found the first body. With her connections and history, she is able to provide the police with valuable insights into the intricacies of ink and skin, and identify the next target.

The Tattoo Thief is a great adventure from the first page. As a tattooed person, I amused to the stereotype of tattooed literary characters being described with disdain – they’re the bad guys or the promiscuous women with dark pasts. Not so now – it is refreshing to have people’s preconceptions exposed so well and proven incorrect. Belsham’s characters literally embody the warning of judging books by their covers.

In addition to a satisfying portrayal of a variety of characters, who feel as real and tangible as any person who could pick up this book, Belsham provides a sense of tension through the possibility of imminent danger, which is as addictive as it is exciting. In this refreshingly unexpected plot, the reader is given a unique take on the motivations behind macabre acts.

I’ve always been a fan of whodunits with twisted horrors, but Alison Belsham has penned an extraordinarily artistic narrative which is rare and tasteful, affording The Tattoo Thief an unmatched brilliance in the genre. There's something to be said for a whodunit with a completely unpredictable ending in a world flooded with mediocre crime novels. The only problem I encountered while reading this was the realisation that I would have to wait for the sequel – but I have no doubt I will relish the delicious anticipation.

The Tattoo Thief by Alison Belsham is published by Trapeze Books, an imprint of Orion Publishing, and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.

13 Jun 2018

Review: The Reckoning by Yrsa Sigurdardottir


A local school in Iceland is due to hold an unveiling ceremony of its ten-year old time capsule project. Yet among the aged notes and predictions of life in the future, one anonymous student included what appears to be a hit list, leading to the police being called in.

Following a demotion and the trailing the shadow of failure, Officer Huldar is assigned to the case. Initially, he would like to dismiss the note as a childish prank and waste of time, but his team is forced to take the note seriously when people start dying. The case thus evolves from possible to prank to planned killing spree, with no indication of who the victims are or how they’re connected. With no more to go on that a series of initials, Huldar must track down the author and restore order.

Huldar’s search reveals a shady past of molestation, murder and the macabre, necessitating the participation of child psychologist Freyja. Together, the pair must uncover the series of events that led to the note, knowing only that it has roots in lost children and unspeakable acts. In order to avoid a repetition of the past, they need to catch a killer with a murky past.

Yrsa Sigurdardottir has a talent for portraying grisly and macabre events with effortless grace, making her stories addictive regardless of the unsettling content. The world she creates is as vivid as it is demented, making it a guilty pleasure to enter into. Sigurdardottir is, without a doubt, a master of duality and the queen of the grey area. Violent and despicable acts are described beautifully, intimately, and without hesitation. At the same time, the notion of justice is teased and investigated – can a cop with his own violent tendencies and a likely drinking problem truly be the best man to enforce the law? The horrors of her tales seem all the more shocking in that they’re set in Iceland, where crime rates are famed for being low. Within this carefully crafted chaos, there is only one unchanging element: Sigurdardottir does not disappoint. I adored this book and its dark contents.

The Reckoning by Yrsa Sigurdardottir is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.

11 Jun 2018

Review: The Favourite Sister by Jessica Knoll


Kelly has just secured a spot on Goal Diggers, the hit reality TV series which already features her sister, Brett. A show which emphasizes and supports young women who have made a success of their lives, yet inevitably heralds the behind-the-scenes drama, games and alliances, being on Goal Diggers is a career-defining move. Already her sister’s business partner, Kelly has a deeper knowledge of Brett’s world than to which any viewer or director can ever lay claim. Kelly is well aware that the show is a carefully scripted charade, and she plans to play the game as well as any of the season regulars.

But Kelly and Brett are not the only ones with reputations and ambitions to protect. The playing field is open to Jen, Lauren and Stephanie, each with their own motives, secrets and masks. In this competitive industry, the only question is what will the ladies not do to reach their goals?

This book should have been called The Suspense is Killing Me, because trust me, you will feel that way throughout. Jessica Knoll has redefined the concept of tension and is it glorious. Reading The Favourite Sister will certainly help you in developing superhuman self-discipline as you constantly fight the urge to rush ahead a few paragraphs or pages to find out what happens. Who needs drugs when you have good writing?

Initially I was somewhat hesitant to read something that would guarantee bitchiness and cat fights (which would be unavoidable when the main characters are competitive women on a reality TV show) but I was so pleasantly surprised by the sheer grace with which Knoll handled the amount of gossip, back-stabbing and ulterior motives. This book has more intrigue, suspense and sheer breath-holding moments than an entire season of your favourite reality TV show – it is perfection in a cute cover. Knoll also triumphs in creating a totally unpredictable plot with as many twists as there are main characters, making it one hell of a fun trip, which you absolutely need to take. Pick up a copy of this and get ready for a brilliant adventure that is both classy and hard-hitting, and very much relatable and relevant.

The Favourite Sister by Jessica Knoll is published by Macmillan, an imprint of Pan Macmillan.

10 Jun 2018

Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Lazlo Strange has always been somewhat of an anomaly. An orphan cared for by monks, as a child, he was always fascinated by stories and magic. As a young man, he was lucky enough to get a job in a library, where his love of stories - and particularly that of a lost, Unseen City - grew and was nourished by the pages around him. Lazlo seemed to live more in his books that in the world occupied by those around him. While he may have been an expert of the Unseen City, he was dubbed a dreamer by his contemporaries, and dismissed as a lover of the trivial. Yet when representatives of The Unseen City arrive in Lazlo's sheltered city ans request help, he cannot deny fate,  and becomes part of the delegation to save Weep, as the Unseen City is called.

While coming to terms with the fact that his obsession was, in fact, grounded on truth and not the fancies of a dreamer, Lazlo begins to experience magic as he never dreamed possible. The delegation has the task of saving Weep from the horrors that made it disappear, made it become forgotten and subject of tales told to youths in faraway lands. It is only through being in a place many assumed did not exist, with countless unknown truths, that Lazlo discovers his own history and purpose - both of which are far beyond anything the dreamer could have imagined.

Strange the Dreamer has an already cemented popularity and following, so it was with some trepidation that I began to read; already late to the party. Despite this, it is easy to see why the world Taylor has created is so popular, and her characters so beloved,. Filled with a bloody history, adversity, love, courage and the very essence of magic,this is an enjoyable story. A new and intriguing world beset with demons, angels and gods is revealed in poetic beauty, seemingly attainable and tangible with Taylor's gorgeous prose. It's a hard book to put down, made all the harder in that it is the start of a series, and the second book isn't out yet.

Strange the Dreamer is an enjoyable book which has a unique and deeply moving love story at its centre. Taylor also beautifully illustrates that sometimes, the power of unknown is enough to conquer disbelief; if we only have the courage to follow our hearts, we may be surprised by the results.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor is published by Hodder & Stoughton (an imprint of Hachette Books) and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers. 

6 Jun 2018

Review: All Rivers Run Free by Natasha Carthew


In a world of unremarkable grey, Ia searches for a rainbow. For 13 years she’s lived in a caravan along the Cornwell coast; an outcast and anomaly among her own people. Throughout this time, her only solace has been the peace afforded her when her husband is away fishing – Ia’s world is two-part; the seen and unseen.

Her seen world comprises hard work, an abusive husband, and a narrow and uninspiring existence that revolves around fish and chores. Yet while he is off fishing, Ia has precious moments to herself. In this fragile private sanctuary, Ia collects an array of objects offered up by the ocean, and recalls her past in painful yet vivid detail. In an attempt to merge her two worlds into a solid whole, Ia seeks something bigger than herself to cherish, adore, and mold into beauty.

Somehow, against the backdrop of a broken country submerged in floodwaters and riddled with gangs, the grey world seems to relent; the ocean brings Ia the most precious gift yet; a splash of colour in the form of a child.

All Rivers Run Free is steeped in the unexpected and is all the more impressive for it. Perhaps the most striking feature of this novel is not the intensely dramatic and beautiful imagery, but the jarring nature of the prose itself. While Ia is a barb in the fabric of society – isolated and rough to the touch – so too is this narrative interrupted by something unfamiliar and distracting, yet undeniably vital.

Carthew has poetry in her, that much is obvious.

As Ia strives to meet her past and dabble in possibility, she must learn her world anew. While undertaking this journey, the reader is not just invited into Ia’s universe, but her heart and soul; her mind. All Rivers Run Free features strikingly chaotic steam-of-consciousness that disjoints a sense of reality and duplicates the protagonist’s fragmented thoughts. Carthew’s style leaves you dumbstruck but yearning; reeling in a comforting strangeness composed of the thoughts of another.

This book is immersion in the deepest, darkest sense. It’s a monumental achievement of providing the unsuspecting reader with an addictive discomfort - a masochism of the mind.

If you read only one book this year, let it be this. All Rivers Run Free is unparalleled – it is gritty, artistic and disturbing in the best sense. This story is equal parts beauty and brutality, and will stay with you long after you think you’re done with it; a pleasant and necessary haunting.

All Rivers Run Free by Natasha Carthew is published by Riverrun books, an imprint of Quercus, and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.