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Tea-drinking introvert found either behind a book or within arm's reach of one. Book reviewer, and book sniffer. You may have seen me on W24, BooksLive, Aerodrome, Bark Magazine, CultNoise Magazine, or Expound Magazine.

28 Oct 2018

Review: The Theory of Flight by Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu

Genie’s beginning was golden. From a golden egg came this daughter of a brilliant aeronautical engineer and revolutionary, and a Dolly Parton-inspired woman full of life and vibrant colour. While the country around her boiled in unease during war and independence, Genie’s childhood was painted with a different shade – with beauty, laughter and adventures with Marcus Masuku. Yet the politics of the land came crashing in, tinting everything in crimson blood. Forced to flee her home, surrounded by death and aware of the absence of her parents, Genie had to start over at the tender age of 10. Yet Marcus’ family took her in, and surrounded by the adoring family, relative domesticity was hers until the age of 18.

At 18, Genie decides to leave the Masukus. Brilliant, defiant and charged by some invisible force, Genie set out to make a change. This is how she manages to create a unique bond with Vida de Villiers, a street dweller with immense artistic talent, and the two decide take on the world together. Yet as with all tales, there must be an ending. After Genie battles illness for several years, she falls into a coma, once again unintentionally reuniting the Masukus, who desperately seek to see her recovered, and to right their wrongs.

The Theory of Flight is an inventive adventure with underlying tragedy and wonder, which lure you in from the first sentence. In a narrative complete with rich culture, history and deep roots, it’s impossible not to appreciate the mammoth task Ndlovu undertook in creating a world so complete and tangible that it is near impossible not to see the various characters as tangible and alive. With such a detailed and interwoven history, the reader is served an intimate look into the lives that crossed Genie’s path, and made her life what it was.

Apart from a very clever representation on the dangers of war, and of the power of charisma, Ndlovu has penned a stunningly poetic homage to the fact that our lives are shaped by more than just the present bubble in which they play out. Histories comprise a shared past, intricately woven from the experiences of many others; each fingerprint that skirts across our paths is unique and vital. Similarly, it takes a community to create a family; to create a story.

Besides the depth of the plot and beauty of the story as it unfolds, delicate yet unavoidable, Ndlovu has highlighted her talent in the fact that these aspects are so skillfully married. It is rare to find a book with a cast so immense, and spreading across so much of the world, but which remains convincing, and feeling of home. Ndlovu’s true talent lies in her ability to create a feeling of wonder, and of comfort, for your heart cannot help but be buoyed by the events in this book, or by the myriad characters whose own varied lives led to the story. The Theory of Flight is a literary feat, and an immensely vital read, lest we not learn from the mistakes of others. I dare you not to fall in love with it.

The Theory of Flight by Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu is published by Penguin Random House South Africa.

24 Oct 2018

Review: An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris

Lizbeth Rose might be young for a gunnie, but she knows her stuff. Yet on a routine trip to Mexico, Lizbeth’s skill does not help her save her crew – when they’re attacked by bandits, Lizbeth is the sole survivor, and her clients are kidnapped. Injured, tired, and alone, she tracks down the party and slays the bandits, thereafter safely escorting her charges across the border, as was agreed upon. Yet on her return, and finding herself now a crew of one, Lizbeth needs to keep her ears open for work. As fate would have it, however, an opportunity finds her. Two Russian wizards enlist her services to track down a missing man who may have the power to save the Tsar’s life.

Despite her dislike for wizarding kind, Lizbeth’s curiosity gets the better of her, and she agrees to help the pair. Soon, she has reason to rethink her decision, as it seems that their every turn brings the trio face to face with assassins, danger and death. However, Lizbeth prides herself on her dedication, and decides to see the adventure through, come what may, even if it means having her secrets uncovered and her own life repeatedly threatened.

Charlaine Harris is a literary diving champion. No slow introductions and messy background hold her back; she commences in the middle of action, setting the tone for the book from the first page. This results in compulsive page turning through an action-packed and highly enjoyable narrative. 

Combined with an imaginative and detailed merging of two separate worlds – gun-slinging Western America and magic-filled Russia, this makes An Easy Death a refreshing and unique story that’s exciting, addictive and thoroughly enjoyable. Harris is clearly a master storyteller with a flair for the tastefully unusual. I eagerly anticipate the next installment of Gunnie Rose’s adventures; bring it on.

An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris is published by Piatkus, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.

17 Oct 2018

Review: A Keeper by Graham Norton

Elizabeth Keane must go back to Ireland. Following the death of her mother, she leaves her New York apartment to pack up the family home in Buncarragh. Though she lacks enthusiasm for the task (given that there’s nothing in Ireland for her but memories), she’s surprised to discover several secrets. After chancing upon a box of letters from the father Elizabeth never met due to his early demise, she glances into her mother’s past, skipping along the surface but intent on uncovering it all. When she is bequeathed a second property, she follows her mother’s decades-old footsteps, and learns that the idyllic childhood she experienced was fraught with shadows and mystery.

There’s the expectation that a celebrity cannot write (I’m looking at you, Dustin Hoffman), yet Graham Norton has put himself in a league of his own. Perhaps (one aspect of) his work as a talk show host, looking into the souls of celebrities and popular culture, has given him a unique and vast insight into what it is that makes us tick. Whatever the reason, Norton has penned a masterpiece of human drama.

Norton beautifully dissects and examines what it means to be family, to love, and to grieve. His characters seem to be average people with humdrum lives, yet are steeped in a rich background that is as pleasingly portrayed as it is satisfying to read. A Keeper provides the reader with servings of intrigue and horror unique to kin – those which are sheltered from the world at large and hidden within bloodlines. In addition, a completely unexpected twist is dazzling and blindsides the reader, making it a delicious entertainment of luxurious quality.

The complexity of the thoughts and history of the story’s characters is astounding – they are testament to the shadows that decisions can cast across time and space; across generations. These aspects, once combined with small-town idle gossip and the unpredictability of the other, result in a truly mesmerizing story that is flawlessly executed. I challenge you not to read A Keeper in a single sitting. The brilliance of Norton’s writing unveils itself beyond black script on white pages; his are ideas of profound colour that linger with you after, that quietly creep up on you in still moments and demand attention and thought; they are insistent and charming.

A Keeper by Graham Norton is published by Hodder and Stoughton, and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.

10 Oct 2018

Review: Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

An unmarried biographer seeks to document the life of a female polar explorer. A housewife wonders if there is more to life than being a mother. A healer is called a witch and blamed for a town’s misfortune. A teenager accidentally creates a new life within her. Despite their differences, these women are connected by the impending regulation on Personhood Amendment, which grants rights to embryos, outlawing abortion and IVF. In addition, adoption is soon to be permitted only to married couples. Through this legislation, the few rights afforded to women with regard to their own bodies are effectively removed, as the unborn child’s rights supersede that of the mother. 

In a world where humanism is removed from biology, pressures surrounding the function of women and their place in society become overwhelming, and many of the main characters slowly buckle under the strain.

It is always with trepidation that I pick up a book which is touted as ‘feminist’. Usually, such works focus on ridiculing and silencing men, rather than giving women a chance to tell a meaningful story. However, Leni Zumas has truly presented an impeccable narrative that empowers women. She gives voice to the women who have been told to quiet their own – the witch, the aging spinster, the pregnant teenager, the housewife. Mainstream female stereotypes are given life, reminding us that behind every label is a person with a vast collection of experiences, emotions and history.

Through the narrative of Red Clocks, Zumas seems to answer the question, “what is a woman?” with another question; “why must there be a single answer?” There is no recipe, cheat or guide than can dictate what it is to be female – from oppression and force to admiration and courage, women encompass it all.

Apart from beautifully crafted prose, there’s something otherworldly about Zumas’ style – her words are addictive, hypnotic and spellbinding, and her message is powerful. Zumas illustrates that there is poetry in despair, and meaning in menace. Through these quietly suffering women, the writer highlights the criticisms faced by many women the world over, and hints to the possibility of things being worse – that destruction can easily be veiled in good intentions.
Sometimes words and praise cannot adequately describe the impact a book can have – I find myself scrambling to find expressions which do justice to Red Clocks. This book is not ‘moving’, it is a movement. Leni Zumas has penned a softly spoken feminist manifesto; a gentle reminder of women whose lives are measured by the sticks of others, but who are nonetheless tied together by the strength of a single quiet ticking – the red clock that controls their bodies, their uteruses, their minds.

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas is published by The Borough Press, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.

6 Oct 2018

Review: Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey

The Maddox family is under strain. Jen worries about her depressive daughter, Lana, and that she and her husband are not getting through to the teenager. In a last-ditch effort to make peace and rebuild their relationship, Jen decides that she and Lana will go on an art vacation. Yet instead of a much-needed respite from their daily stresses, and an equally necessary chance for mum and daughter to bond, Lana goes missing. Four days pass before she is found, and in those fragile hours, Jen can’t help but imagine that Lana has done something permanently destructive.

Lana returns looking worse for wear, and is adamant that she cannot recall what happened. The more Jen tries to push her, the more the young girl retreats into silence and melancholy. Yet the longer that Jen does not have answers, the more obsessed she becomes, until she finally retraces Lana’s steps to piece together the mystery surrounding her daughter’s absence.

Whistle in the Dark is an unnervingly realistic portrayal of a relationship in danger. You can’t help but share Jen’s frustration at an uncommunicative daughter with a flair for sarcasm and insults, but be equally sympathetic to a teen with an obtrusive parent who is both a smothering helicopter mother and totally unaware and ignorant. This dual sympathy is an indication of Healey’s versatility of a writer – both characters are rounded, filled with good and bad.  

Healey’s focus on the inner turmoil of the family, and the various emotional events are actually a foreground for the story of Lana’s absence – it is a clever (albeit somewhat slow) representation of the weight of depression, and the consuming power it has on those affected. As Jen begins to try understand her changed daughter, she begins to question her own choices, bringing her more into herself and further from her daughter – a vicious cycle.

Whistle in the Dark is a read of immense emotional magnitude – not only for its focus on depression and anxiety, but for the manner in which those feelings invade the reader. The story is filled with subtleties that draw you in; making you an active but silent member of the family. It is a clever and unnerving technique which leaves the reader feeling impotent and yet voyeuristic. This may not be a book for someone wanting a quick escape or fleeting entertainment – this is something to be dissected and delicately examined.

Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey is published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House.