Monthly Archives: November 2014

BOOK REVIEW – The Mistress’s Revenge by Tamar Cohen

The Mistress's Revenge

Sally and Clive have been having an affair for 5 years. Unbeknown to their spouses, the seemingly spineless Daniel, and steadfast, reliable Susan, they have been contriving their various liaisons outside the safe haven of the friendship that the couples share.

But suddenly and unexpectedly, Clive is ending their relationship and Sally is devastated! Her world literally implodes and she cannot conceive of a way she is going to continue without their regular assignations. Clive suggests that she seek therapy, which she does. Therapist Helen suggests that Sally records her feelings in a journal, and this is the way in which the book is written – as Sally’s journal of this tumultuous time in her life. Through her writing we understand why she continues  a  stalker-like friendship with Clive’s family, and although she writes about how much she loves and misses Clive, she actually allows us to see him for what he really is: arrogant, controlling and manipulative. He made her feel special and loved throughout their affair, but in actual fact, it seems that for him she is just another in an ongoing succession of extra-marital relationships that he has had purely because he can.

Sally’s friendship with Clive’s wife Susan, his spoilt daughter Emily, and easy-going son Liam seem desperate and somewhat deranged. But for her they are purely ways to hold on to any tenuous connection that she can still have with Clive. From the way she writes her journal, and the peripheral way she mentions her husband Daniel and children Tilly and Jamie, we see how she so mistakenly made Clive the one and only star in her sky.

Through various embarrassing interactions with his family, we follow Sally through her pathetic, desperate attempts to re-gain what she thinks she had with Clive, unaware of how she is threatening the vision of a perfect family life that he’s trying to create. But then he makes a critical error and Sally reaches a turning point. If she can’t have Clive back, she’ll make sure he loses everything he holds dear.

Cleverly written from the perspective of a woman pushed to the brink of her very sanity, this is an insightful read that makes one wonder what we’re all really capable of when driven to our breaking point.

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BOOK REVIEW – Three Sisters by Helen Smith

I received a complimentary copy of this book (on request) in exchange for my honest review.

This is the first in a new series, introducing amateur sleuth Emily Castles. I would describe it as a novella, more than a full length novel, at just 104 pages.

It’s Bonfire Night (or Guy Fawkes, whichever you prefer) and Emily is quite down in the dumps. Her beloved dog has just died and she is feeling rather sorry for herself. She’s received an invitation to a party being held in her street at a house inhabited by a band of circus performers. While most of her neighbours are familiar to her, this group of people who have recently moved in and renovated the space are a bit of a mystery.

Emily decides it will be better to go to the party than to mope on her own at home. She meets a colourful group of people, interspersed with her more familiar neighbours, but throughout the story, she seems uncomfortable and finds it difficult to fit in with this arbitrary group of revellers. Emily discovers that there are certain ‘entertainments’ underway, with people behaving as if in character, and she finds it challenging to know who is and isn’t acting, and if she is meant to participate or not. I felt her discomfort quite vividly.

As Emily attempts to navigate her way through the party we discover that she is a very perceptive person, and while she clearly doesn’t understand many social cues, she is very good at spotting what others might not. However, when she is sure that a murder has been committed right in front of her (and all the other partygoers), she finds it virtually impossible to convince anyone else what’s happened.

I couldn’t read fast enough, waiting to find out what had actually happened, and how Emily was going to prove that a crime had indeed been committed (because I didn’t doubt her for a second!). She’s quirky, determined and quite endearing, a bit like a cross between a young Miss Marple and and an older Nancy Drew! Very enjoyable reading.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Gift – A Christmas Miracle by Joanne Clancy

The Gift

This short, easy to read novella is a predictable, feel-good story for the Christmas season. It took me about 20 minutes to read, mainly because I was rushing to see if there would be a twist at the end or some sort of ‘Aha’ moment, but there isn’t one.

The book tells the story of Julie, dreaming of the idyllic Christmas she is about to share with her husband and extended family, and with the new baby she’s expecting very shortly. But suddenly she is told that due to one of her recent blood tests not being what it should be, she needs to give birth earlier than expected, setting off a chain of events that will leave both she and her entire family shattered and devastated. Will they get the happy Christmas they’ve been anticipating?

It is also the story of Casey, a sad little girl who grows into a troubled young woman. The author doesn’t focus too much on her, even though she is instrumental to the plot. There is only a brief mention of her problematic childhood and the fact that she’s lost a baby. So much more could have been done to flesh out this character and give readers more insight into her behaviour.

There isn’t much else to say about this short story. I did like the format it was written in: broken up into days and times of day, which made it easy to read and easy to ascertain the time frame in which events occur. But other than that, there isn’t much to tell.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman

The Memory Book

What a beautiful, sensitive, heartbreaking book!

Claire is a bright, intelligent writer in her early 40’s. She lives with the love of her life, Greg (who is much younger than her), Esther, their 3-year-old daughter, and 20-year-old Caitlin, Claire’s daughter who is home for the holidays. But wait, why is Ruth, Claire’s mother also here? Why is she trying to take over Claire’s life and control things?

Because Claire has early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), which unfortunately is not responding to treatment, and is rapidly deteriorating. Claire fears she is disappearing altogether, and the worst part is that she knows exactly what’s happening to her. Her counsellor suggests that she writes in a memory book so that her beloved family will always have a part of her to keep, the part that they remember from before this brutal illness came to claim her. The book becomes a place where each member of the family places their treasured memories, and shares the secrets closest to their hearts, secrets that will forever bind them together long after Claire is gone.

Told from the perspectives of Claire, Caitlin, Greg and Ruth, we follow them through the journey that they are all on through Claire’s AD. For it is not only the patient who has to endure their condition, but also every single person close to them, and those they come into contact with. We read about the very real pain and fear that accompanies losing someone who is still right before your eyes, bit by precious bit, and the desperate struggle of trying to hold onto them for just a little bit longer.

This book will make you weep for the pain that they all have to bear; especially for Greg who loves Claire so deeply, but who is the first one she forgets, and for Esther when you wonder what recollection she will have of the mother who will leave her long before she should have to.

It’s an in-depth, realistic exploration of this devastating, crippling condition, but also a perceptive, profound study of how love survives, even if it’s in ways we’d never expect.

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BOOK REVIEW: My Haunted Life by G. Michael Vasey

My Haunted Life

I received a complimentary copy of this book (on request) in exchange for my honest review.

It’s my opinion that the world is divided into those who ‘believe’ and those who don’t. Of course there’s always a grey area of those who aren’t sure, and who believe in some things but not others, but for now, let’s keep things black and white (so to speak). There are those who believe in the paranormal and those who don’t. I’m generally quite a cynical person, but for some reason, I firmly believe that there’s most definitely something other than the grounded, mundane reality that we take for granted. I believe that there are entities and energies that attempt to communicate with those who are open to it.

Vasey is what’s known as a ‘sensitive’: someone who is open to anything and everything from the astral plane that wants to communicate. He has since learned to control this, as he was attracting a lot of negative, dark energies. With maturity and practice, one is able to block out the unwanted attention.

‘My Haunted Life’ is a collection of Vasey’s experiences with the unknown. His accounts are direct, straightforward and not embellished in any way. Some are frightening, others less so, but all are similar in that these entities seek him out, whether in a waking or a sleep state.

As he asks in the book: Do these experiences happen only to those who somehow attract them? I do remember many years ago, reading up on poltergeist research, that negative energies often attach themselves to young people – teenagers and/or children who are in a state of flux in their lives, leaving themselves open to attract negative energy flow. It seems that this may have been the case with some of Vasey’s experiences, where instead of the house itself being haunted, or occupied, it was actually he himself that had been taken over by some sort of spirit.

That he has taken the time to document these incidents is a gift to others who have faced similar encounters. It is an act of bravery and courage to present this work to a world that often prefers to deal in cold hard facts. We seem to welcome the current popularity of zombies and

The book is an easy read, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re not a believer. Don’t read it just in order to scoff and mock. Vesey has presented an honest description of occurrences as he experienced them. I would have liked there to be something linking each chapter, but I realise that one cannot create a connecting factor that simply isn’t there! The explanation of different research at the end was also fascinating.

I must just add that the day after I finished the book, I saw a bright pink car!! (If you’ve read the book, you’ll understand the significance!)

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BOOK REVIEW: FRIENDSHIP by EMILY GOULD

Friendship

How does one explain that they found a book enjoyable and easy to read, while at the same time finding it uncomfortable and difficult to take in, with characters that were realistic and not all that likeable?

That’s the best way I can describe my reaction to this book!

Bev and Amy have been best friends since their first year of college. But now they’re 30 and their lives aren’t exactly what they thought they’d be by this age! They’re living from paycheck to paycheck (and sometimes not even making it that far!). Bev is doing temp work and Amy is plodding along at Yidster, a little known, not often frequented, blog site after a spectacular fall from grace at her previous blog employment some years earlier. There are hints that she gained some minor stardom at this job, and that her decline was very public, and very embarrassing, but this isn’t explored or explained in much detail.

I got the impression that Amy has the upper hand in this friendship, and that although it may seem like an equal partnership, she very much sees herself as quite superior to Bev. I think she feels that she will always be in a better position financially (regardless of her reckless spending and lack of savings), economically, and in both the relationship and employment spheres. It’s true, Amy has a boyfriend, the laid-back (horizontally so) artist Sam, and a permanent job (that she loathes). Bev has neither of these things, and with seemingly very little options on the horizon in all the areas where Amy seems to be thriving, is so down in the dumps she thinks she has hit rock bottom! Until she ‘accidentally’ falls pregnant; then she realises that it is possible to tumble down just a little bit further than she thought!

The two friends decide they need some time out. Amy is unsure that Sam is quite as ready to settle down as she is, and her abhorrent landlord has informed her that he is increasing her rent, yet again, something she knows she cannot afford. So they luckily get the opportunity to house-sit for a weekend. In doing so, they meet the homeowners Sally and Jason and begin a journey where they learn the intricacies of differing relationships and how they can learn from them.

Sally and Jason have been longing for a child, but have so far, after many years of marriage, not been able to conceive. Is it possible that Bev’s unexpected baby could be the answer for all of them? But while they are pursuing this option, they realise that there might be many variations of it. Will the solution be satisfactory to all involved? Is it possible that what Bev perceives as disastrous is actually the thing that will be the making of her, strengthening her and straightening out her life? And where does Amy fit into all of this, or is she just too self-absorbed to feature at all?

They say that no relationship is completely equal, and that there is always one in a partnership who gives more, and one who takes more; one who believes the other needs them more. Who’s who in this friendship, and is the balance about to unexpectedly change?

They say that no relationship is completely equal, and that there is always one in a partnership who gives more, and one who takes more; one who believes the other needs them more. Who’s who in this friendship, and is the balance about to unexpectedly change?

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BOOK REVIEW: Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes

Into the Darkest Corner

Catherine Bailey is living the perfect single life, doing her rounds of the club and party circuit in Lancaster, with good friends in tow. It’s Halloween, 2003 and they find themselves at trendy nightclub ‘The River’ where one of the cute doormen catches Catherine’s eye. She sees him again a couple of weeks later, and then again a week after that, and it seems that gorgeous Lee Brightman is making an effort to seek her out. Slowly, a friendship develops and she and her friends can’t believe her luck at having met such a perfect gentleman. He’s good looking, sexy, charismatic, an all-around great guy.

The friendship inevitably becomes a steady relationship. Catherine is thrilled, and willing to overlook the strange hours and disappearances that seem to accompany his secretive work. But slowly, almost imperceptively, Lee’s increasingly erratic behaviour reveals that he is not all he appeared to be when they first met. He’s moody, he’s controlling, and eventually he’s violent. He’s clever and manipulative and knows exactly how to isolate Catherine until she has no-one but him to depend on. Can she escape?

The story is structured in alternating chapters between 2003-2004 and ‘present day’ 2008-2010 and is a brilliant construction of the repercussions of severe psychological damage on both the victims and their perpetrators. It will have you on the edge of your seat, and you’ll be tempted to check your doors and windows a bit more often than you used to!

One of the central points of the story is OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), and I found that this was dealt with sensitively and thoroughly, with very clear indicators showing how it develops and advances and why.

So, my rating is 4 stars. One of the reasons I didn’t give it 5 is that I would have liked a more in-depth explanation of what exactly Lee’s job was. It’s only touched on quite peripherally, and I wanted to know more of that aspect and how it may have affected Lee’s personality (disorder!) and subsequent behaviour.

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The Life and Death of Senzo Meyiwa – A Social Commentary; A Cautionary Tale

Ever since Senzo Meyiwa’s recent senseless murder I have wanted to write something about my feelings towards the way he has been portrayed as an icon of South African pride. Then yesterday it was reported on the news that at his funeral held over the weekend, he had been described as a “hero who brought dignity to our country”, and I knew that things needed to be put into perspective.

I admit, I don’t follow South African soccer (apologies to my dear friend Stan Matthews!), so I didn’t know much about Senzo, and am not sure if I’m embarrassed or not to admit that I hadn’t even heard of him until his untimely demise (I’d love to know how many white South African females had heard of him!). From what I hear about him though, it has led me to believe the following:

  • he was an outstanding soccer player, goalkeeper and captain of both our national team (Bafana Bafana) and his own local team (Orlando Pirates);
  • in sporting matters he was an excellent strategist;
  • he was a wonderful team player, much loved and lauded by those in the soccer fraternity, in fact he was described (by Irvin Khoza) as “never raising his voice” and “always smiling”.

Well that’s great, isn’t it? All incredible traits which would definitely contribute to his ‘hero’ and role-model status, right? But wait, there’s more:

  • Senzo was a married man. He and his wife, Mandisa Mkhize were estranged – not divorced;
  • he was publicly carrying out a relationship with another woman, flamboyant, attention-seeking performer, Kelly Khumalo;
  • he was the father of Khumalo’s youngest child, a daughter.

So I’m guessing that if one were to chat to his (estranged) wife, she would probably tell quite a different story about the hero who “never raised his voice” and who was “always smiling”.

And here comes my problem: this is not the behaviour of a role-model. This is not the behaviour of someone who I would want my children to look up to and emulate, which thousands of South African youth did, and still do, even more so since his death. But sadly, his ‘idol’ status, also lends credence to the fact that adulterous behaviour is acceptable and even, possibly, in the eyes of our youth, quite the trend to follow if one wants to be admired.

Does this type of behaviour bring ‘dignity to our nation’? No it does not, in fact it does quite the opposite. It portrays our men as unethical, disloyal, faithless, amoral, and quite bluntly, ‘unable to keep it in their pants’. Yes, we all know he was just one man, but we also know that (generally) people just love a good generalisation.

We need to be very careful about who we offer as role-models to our children. We need to be much more vigilant about not doing them the disservice of portraying individuals as role-models when they clearly aren’t. Our children need to be very clear about what behaviour entitles one to the lofty heights of heroism. I’m not naïve enough to believe that there aren’t plenty of drugged out, drunken, over-indulged ex-Mickey Mouse Club teeny-boppers out there who our kids hold in high esteem. I know that there is an abundance of gangsta-rapping, profanity-spewing individuals, with pants hanging down off their backsides, who our offspring believe are the last word in wisdom and depth.

But I also know that if we steer our children in the right direction, and that if we’re lucky enough to cultivate relationships of trust with them, when they reach a certain age they will realise instinctively, who is a role model and who isn’t.

Was Senzo a hero and a role-model? There are many who say he was, but we must restrict his Superman-status to the sports field, which is where he excelled and achieved his worthiest accomplishments. He pursued his career goals (look … a pun!) relentlessly and triumphed at a relatively young age. But who’s to say how anyone will end up? Was he destined for international stardom, or would his complicated personal life prevent him from fulfilling such a dream?

There is absolutely no doubt that his untimely death is a tragedy. But let us bear in mind, it was not just the death of a sporting icon, but also the death of just another ordinary, flawed man.

R.I.P.

R.I.P.

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