Monthly Archives: February 2015

BOOK REVIEW – Cathy’s Clown (The Fairground Romance Series – Book 1) by Pam Howes

 Cathy's Clown

I received a copy of this book through THE Book Club in return for my honest review.

After my recent binge of psychological thrillers, this was a refreshing change. Pam Howes is a master at capturing the atmosphere of the sixties, and her consistent use of music throughout the book is inspired. You can literally follow and track the moods of all the characters through the songs that are described at any given time.

Cathy lives with her mom, her revolting step-dad and their 4 young children. She dreams of a better life for herself. Having left school at the age of 15 and now working on a makeup counter in a department store, she’s forced to hand most of her wages over to help at home, although her step-father usually takes most of it to go boozing. Her best friend Debby makes life more bearable and they share their dreams for their futures, which include finding nice boyfriends. However, Cathy’s dream doesn’t involve settling down and having babies. She’s determined to have a career and is thrilled when she earns a place at nursing school, helped by her lovely Granny Lomax – her late dad’s mum.

When she starts seeing the gorgeous Gianni, it seems that life is just about perfect for Cathy, but as we know, there are always dark clouds lurking on the horizon, and they certainly have their fair share. Gianni has always wondered about his estranged dad, but never wanted to hurt his mum’s feelings by going to look for him, because he knows how hard she’s worked to give him a decent life.

Cathy and Gianni need to learn to navigate the curves, the highs and lows that life throws at them. They’re still young, and they need to reconcile their different ideas in order to find a way towards a future together. Is it possible?

It was wonderful to read about a time that was much simpler and included an element of naiveté that doesn’t seem to exist any more. The camaraderie between Cathy, Gianni and their friends was very evident, and written in an easygoing, believable manner. The only shortcoming I found was that the profanity and explicit sex scenes were misplaced. I’m not a prude (yes, I know people always say that when they really are prudes, but really, I’m not!!), but just found that it detracted from what is, in every other way, a really enjoyable, pleasant read.

I’m quite looking forward to the sequel to this as I’d love to read about the future exploits of Gianni and Cathy.

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BOOK REVIEW – Fragile Lies by Laura Elliot

Fragile Lies

I received a copy of this book from Bookouture in return for my honest review.

I struggled to get into this book, and found that I was reading it in fits and starts. Some parts were quite engaging but on the whole, I didn’t find it as enjoyable as many other books I’ve read recently.

The book opens with what is meant to be a romantic getaway for a couple who seem to be very much in love. But their evening is cut short by the appearance of someone who may recognise them and we quickly realise they are not meant to be there together and that this is an illicit liaison. One thing leads to another, and the evening ends diabolically with a hit and run accident.

Lorraine Cheevers is nursing the devastation that comes with a broken marriage. She is packing up her home and moving, with her tempestuous teenage daughter Emily, to Trabawn, the quiet village where she spent her childhood holidays.

Told through a series of flashbacks, we meet Lorraine’s cousin and then best friend Virginia, her punk rocker boyfriend Razor (later to grow up and become Ralph), and Adrian who Lorraine falls madly in love with and later marries. From the start I found Virginia to be a fickle cow and Adrian to be wholly unlikeable. I still can’t decide about Ralph, but I think he’s probably overall a good guy who quite rightly didn’t take well to being cheated on and treated like a chump.

And then there are the chapters where Killian, victim of the hit-and-run we witnessed in the prologue, is visited by family and friends who continue to talk to him and tell him what’s happening in the life that he is missing. I couldn’t get into these short chapters. I found them choppy, and was often unable to figure out who was talking to Killian at any given time. Mostly though, it’s his father Michael Carmody, who is determined to discover who did this to his only child.

He thinks he’s figured it out, and goes in search of the culprit, only to find that things are most certainly not as they seem, and not as clear as he thought they were. I figured out what had happened at exactly 43% into the book. I took a while to decide whether we’re meant to figure things out at that point or not, but have come to the conclusion that we are supposed to realise earlier, rather than later, what’s going on! This is actually quite a refreshing twist, as usually one needs to read an entire book to get to the crux of the matter. Here you actually need to know by at least half-way through what’s happened, otherwise you won’t figure out what’s going on in the remainder of the story! So, very clever writing there!

I found the ending to be quite rushed in order to get everything neatly wrapped up. Lorraine does come into her own by the end of the story – up until then I didn’t feel that her personality had developed enough. Slowly but surely though, by the end, her strength does shine through and I felt quite pleased for her for overcoming the odds.

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BOOK REVIEW – Silent Scream (a DI Kim Stone novel) by Angela Marsons

I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this book from Bookouture (thank you Kim Nash) in return for my honest review.

Angie proudly displaying her book!

Angie proudly displaying her book!

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The Black Country is an area of the West Midlands in England, north and west of Birmingham. During the Industrial Revolution, it became one of the most industrialised parts of Britain with coal mines, coking, iron foundries and steel mills producing a high level of air pollution. but the first trace of The Black Country as an expression dates from the 1840s and it is believed that it got its name because of black soot from heavy industries that covered the area, although credence has to be given to the theory that the 30ft thick coal seam which was very close to the surface was another possible reason for it being named as such. (With thanks to Wikipedia.)

And this is where this edge-of-your seat thriller is based. I must admit, I had no idea where or what the Black Country is, so I had to Google it! I know that many people believe that the area in which a story is set is of no consequence, but in this case it provides the perfect backdrop.

DI Kim Stone is a flawed female detective with a damaged past, and yet her strength lies in her ability to overcome her history and function in a world with an ugly dark side that continues to prevail. Her easy interaction with her team is one of her strongest characteristics, making her quite likeable despite her tough persona. The steady banter between Stone, Dawson, Stace and Bryant is a very clever, underlying theme in itself throughout the book. As we watch each one develop their own persona, we’re drawn into their individual lives and I can’t wait to see how they grow in future instalments of this series.

The story unfolds around a possible serial killer, and human remains found on the grounds of what once was a children’s home. Stone is unwavering in her mission to get to the bottom of things, and through many twists, turns and dead ends, her determination bears fruit – most unexpectedly! So brilliantly subtle is the ‘reveal’ that I actually stopped reading for a few minutes in order to collect myself, after which I had to re-read a few pages to fully grasp what had happened!

The subject matter is dark (child abuse within the care system), but not described in an overly gruesome manner. Stone’s own past plays a large role in allowing her some added insight into what she’ll need to deal with in order to solve the crime.

This is a 5-star read which ticks all the boxes: well balanced, steadily paced and cleverly constructed. I highly recommend it and can’t wait to read more about DI Kim Stone and her team!

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FILM REVIEW – Still Alice

Still Alice 1

What is it like to lose yourself, piece by piece? What is it like for your loved ones to watch you disappear, knowing that there is virtually nothing they can do to stop the process? Watching the film Still Alice (based on the book by Lisa Genova) gives us some insight into the devastation that Alzheimer’s Disease causes. This shattering condition decimates the lives of both its sufferers (or as Alice describes them “strugglers”), and those who are forced to watch the path of destruction it weaves.

Julianne Moore sensitively portrays the role of Dr Alice Howland, a linguistics professor at Columbia University, described by her husband as ‘the most intelligent woman I ever met’.  John Howland, played by a somewhat hesitant Alec Baldwin, is himself an academic and battles to come to terms with the rapid deterioration in his wife’s condition once she’s diagnosed with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, shortly after her 50th birthday.

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The stellar support cast of Kate Bosworth (Anna), Kristen Stewart (Lydia) and Hunter Parrish (Tom) all lend their individuality in their roles as Alice’s children; each with their own life, and their own decisions to make. They are typical siblings: selfish and bickering one minute, supportive and loving the next.

Directors Richard Glatzer (himself an ALS sufferer) and Wash Westmoreland have chosen not to bring us an over-emotional tearjerker, but rather a penetrating, accurate look at the differing, but highly believable reactions of Alice, her husband and their three grown children. Yes, what’s happening is a tragedy – even more so as the condition is hereditary, but it has to be dealt with and each must do so within their own capacity.

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Moore is most deserving of the acclaim she’s currently receiving and that Academy Award is well within her grasp. She doesn’t just play a part, but takes us into her head, where we feel her sense of fear, confusion and frustration. I literally gasped at her inability to tie her shoelaces! Her desperation to hold onto each part of her being before it’s forever lost is palpable and the visual depiction of her deterioration is superb.

This is a gentle, beautiful interpretation of a distressing and destructive disease. It gives us an introspective look into a soul-destroying condition and one cannot help but wonder what they’d do under similar circumstances.

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FILM REVIEW – Fifty Shades of Grey

50Shades 1

After some requests and under much duress, here is my much anticipated review of THE movie of the year (so far … and it’s only mid-February!):

We’re still in the midst of all the hype, after just one weekend of Fifty Shades – a weekend which smashed every previous box-office record in film history (it’s possible that this might be a slight exaggeration, but still, it was HUGE!), and which also obliterated all previous pre-booking records (again, possibly an exaggeration, but still, it was HUGE!) Suffice to say, millions were made – I’m talking in monetary terms here, but bear in mind that in 9 months’ time, the number of babies born … say around mid-November … is going to kick all previous Novembers in the (proverbial) butt!

You may have seen much written about this film – including articles from psychologists about how it demeans women and promotes abuse, letters from mothers warning their daughters that this is not what real love is all about, and various others who beg the masses not to flock to the cinema to see what is pure heathen awfulness… blah, blah, blah …

Let me make it very clear right now that I certainly DO NOT support ANY form of domestic abuse, be it emotional, verbal or physical– but I don’t think the makers of this film do either. I also believe that all parents are doing their best to bring up their children to recognise what is acceptable and what isn’t in a loving relationship – again, I don’t think the makers of the film intended to suddenly turn all men into sadistic, abusive brutes, and all women into violated, dehumanised objects. I also fully accept that everyone is entitled to their own opinions and beliefs – including the gift of free will – if you want to see the film, go and see it. If you don’t want to, then don’t. What I’m presenting here is simply the muddled ramblings of my own tiny mind.

What everyone seems to have forgotten in their haste to condemn what is intended to be a piece of entertainment, is that this film is based on a book; a book that is FICTION, and which tells a STORY. It’s not a social commentary; it’s just the story of one man and one woman, and how their relationship develops. Whether you consider that relationship to be anywhere within the realms of normality is up to you to decide, as long as you bear in mind that ‘normality’ is quite a subjective, often illusive notion.

And don’t kid yourself folks – this stuff is going on all the time behind those closed doors that we’re not meant to see behind. Let’s call a spade a spade (or whatever instrument of choice you prefer): in our attempts to show off our magnanimity  we so often, blasé-ly declare that “what people do in their own homes is their own business,” don’t we?). I can assure you that Lola Montez (a very tasteful establishment where one can purchase all manner of items intended for adult entertainment – so I’m told), runs a very successful enterprise, and that sales are currently going through the roof (because did I mention, this film is HUGE!).

So, now that the politics is out of the way … onto the actual film.

The first thing you need to know, even If you’re following all the publicity surrounding it, is that there are other people in the film, not just the two main characters! So don’t get a fright when you see other people on that screen! They remain quite peripheral, but they are still there.

Anastasia Steele (Ana – said in a low, breathless voice preferably), a virtuous, naïve student, is played by wide-eyed Dakota Johnson. She remains constantly in awe of everything throughout the film: big buildings, big apartments, big cars, big sky, big … you get the picture!

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Jamie Dornan is Christian Grey and to be honest, I don’t have a lot to say about him. He is not quite right for the … sorry, I have to say it … HUGE part he has been cast in. He’s quite sweet and charming in a cute kind of way, with a funny sort of accent (he’s Irish I hear), but lacks the strength and charisma one is led to expect from his character. But it’s really all irrelevant because Ana is quite taken by him (errrm … excuse the pun!). Oh, he has a LOT of money and a lovely collection of ties.

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If you can manage to get hold of a ticket, and if you go with a (very) open mind, and minimal expectations, the film is quite enjoyable and is surprisingly even quite atmospheric in parts. I’m not going to break it down into the number of intimate scenes and how many minutes they all last. If you’ve read the book you’ll know what to expect. If you haven’t read the book, you’ll know what to expect.

Take it for what it is. It’s not going to win Oscars (well, maybe for props – is there an award for that?), and certainly isn’t going to be positively acclaimed by the critics, but it’s made loads of women everywhere very happy, and apologies to all the naysayers out there, but ‘Happy Wife, Happy Life’!

 50Shades 4

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BOOK REVIEW – Who Are You? by Elizabeth Forbes

Who are you

I received a copy of this book through THE Book Club in return for my honest review.

Wow! This is a dense and intense read that is both gripping and uncomfortable. It investigates the unnerving topics of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and domestic  violence.

Alex and Juliet are living a seemingly idyllic life with their adorable son Ben, in an affluent London community. After many years of being posted away from home as part of an elite regiment of the British Army, including a tour in Afghanistan, Alex has agreed to settle down to suburban life. Juliet is thrilled – no more moving every couple of years, no more instability and finally a home of their own.

But the Alex who has returned to her is not the same as the man who left. He is severely damaged, and is battling the constraints of ‘normal’ life. He’s a dangerous man: physically violent, emotionally manipulative and always one step ahead of whoever he considers to be ‘the enemy’ – unfortunately his biggest perceived threat is Juliet, his wife.

I found Alex as a character is unlikeable. I tried to feel sorry for him, as he seems to be a product of many things over which he has little control, but in the end I just couldn’t like him. We learn that Alex’s PTSD is not purely from his experiences in battle, but goes much further back to what he endured as a child. Juliet too has a bit of a rocky history but has learned how she has worked hard at leaving it behind her to become the adult she is today.

The story construction is brilliant, giving us the perspective from both Alex’s and Juliet’s points of view, yet still leaving us wondering where the truth really lies. It’s a valuable lesson in caution on the use of online chatrooms (where Juliet finds herself spending more and more time as she finds support and advice there,) and how we represent ourselves to others when we have anonymity to protect what we’d prefer others not to know.

Forbes’ highly detailed descriptions of PTSD and its symptoms and reactions are an outstanding testimony to her obviously penetrating research into the topic. What made the book even more compelling for me were her notes at the end, where she talks about her son and how she experiences dealing with him being in the Army, including her pride in him and the work he does.

I highly recommend this book, definitely not as light reading, but as a powerful look into the workings of a disturbed mind (the characters’, NOT the writer’s)and how external influences may impact a person and all who are close to them.

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The Small Fortune of Dorothea Q

Ever since I read Sharon Maas’s ‘Of Marriageable Age’ almost 15 years ago (it’s original release was in 2000!), it has remained one of my favourite books of all time. Periodically I would check on Google and Amazon to see if I’d missed a new book that she’d written, and finally, my long wait has been rewarded, and does not disappoint! Thank you to Bookouture for sending me this ARC.

The Small Fortune of Dorothea Q is lyrical, atmospheric and poetic in its beauty! I stretched out the reading so as not to finish it too quickly, and so that I could drink in and retain all of it. It is a dense and multifaceted story and I felt the need to completely surround myself with it in order to fully appreciate it.

The story unwinds in both Guyana (previously British Guiana) and London, and alternates between three generations of the same family. There’s cranky, stubborn grandmother, Dorothea, her daughter Rika, and her granddaughter Inky.

Rika left Guyana 30 years previously, swearing she would never go back. But the past has a way of coming to find you, no matter how hard you leave it behind. Consequently, Inky has never met any of her mother’s family until Dorothea is deposited with them! It is a surprise for her to learn of family she’s never heard about, and to learn about her family’s history. Most of all about Dorothea’s closely held inheritance – a rare stamp – that she refuses to part with no matter what! Her incredulous question ‘You don’t know what an heirloom is?’ goes a long way to showing the disparity between the generations.

We are led through the lives of rebellious, strong-willed, independent Dorothea, whose own family can’t seem to forgive her for being more of a Quint (that rowdy, tempestuous bunch!), than one of her own; quiet misfit Rika, destined never to find her mother’s favour; and young, free-spirited Inky, struggling to understand the underlying currents flowing between her mother and grandmother. Gradually we come to understand the history that binds these generations together: the long-held disappointments and resentments, the jealousies and misunderstandings, and most of all the love and longing for what they’ve lost, and also for what can be re-built.

This is a powerful tale that reminds us that even though we may leave our birthplace and all that is familiar to us to forge new paths our roots remain as strong as ever, no matter how hard we try to plant new ones in new places. It reminds us that blood really is thicker than water, and that no matter how far we may roam, we always carry home with us in our hearts.

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BOOK REVIEW – A Beautiful Family by Marilyn Cohen De Villiers

A Beautiful Family

Brenda Silverman, renowned socialite, respected member of the Johannesburg Jewish community, and wife to esteemed, philanthropic businessman, Alan Silverman, is found dead in her bed in her luxurious Northern Suburbs home. The close-knit community is shattered by this tragedy; even more so when it emerges that foul play is suspected.

Fledgling journalist Tracy Jacobs, who is awkwardly trying to find her place amongst her more confident colleagues is sent to see if she can discover the story behind the story. After all, she’s one of ‘them’ (Jewish), and even went to school with one of the deceased’s children. Her mother is horrified that she would even begin to try and hint at something being amiss in the perfect Silverman home. It’s just so embarrassing when the book club ladies are whispering about you behind your back!

And so begins a journey to discover what exactly contributed to creating the façade of a ‘Beautiful Family’.

We learn about Alan’s extremely humble beginnings during South Africa’s notorious Apartheid era:  as a member of the only Jewish family in an Afrikaans farming community he’s subjected to bullying of the worst kind, and not only outside of the home. His childhood is challenging but he soon learns the skills he needs to survive. His brother is killed in action while carrying out his compulsory army service, and Alan decides he’s not following the same path leaving the country, to become a ‘conscientious objector’, much to the disgust of his patriotic family.

He moves to a kibbutz in Israel where he meets the impressionable Brenda and decides that this is the girl he’s going to marry. She’s young, shy, impressionable and will be his perfect partner. She is the ideal companion to accompany him on his many unexpected, sometimes exciting, and often downright alarming exploits. She doesn’t challenge him, and seems happy to be the unquestioning wife that the up and coming Silverman requires.

They journey to London, where they stay with Annette Davies – anti-Apartheid activist, and ‘Alan Silverman fan club chairman’, and Alan becomes the golden boy of the anti-Apartheid movement. He forms an association with kindly Ben Shapiro, who launches him into the fast-paced business of property, which he uses as a springboard to launch him to professional heights he always wanted to achieve. For Alan Silverman has spent his life trying to prove himself a success, and creating a persona that others will both respect and fear. For all he has every wanted was to be accepted.

Back in South Africa after the abolishment of Apartheid, the Silvermans settle into a picture-perfect niche. Philanthropic, wealthy, successful, and now religiously observant and respected in the Johannesburg Jewish community, until tragedy strikes!

This is a deep, dark look at the underbelly of what goes on behind the closed doors of a ‘beautiful family’. It’s not based on a particular incident (although the speculation on this is rife!), but on very thorough research into the ugliness of domestic abuse that, despite people believing ‘it doesn’t happen to people like us’, is very much a sick, daily reality for many more than we realise.

It is also an analytical commentary of the workings of a close community – in this case – the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Johannesburg. How far will a group of people go to protect one of their own? How long does it take for people to realise that the hideous truth is right in front of them but that they simply refuse to see it?

Marilyn Cohen De Villiers has masterfully woven an intricate story, incorporating history, dangerous reality and horrifying truth which leaves us asking: How well do we really know those close to us? How far will one person go to protect what he has created – something that might not even exist?

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SHOW REVIEW: Showtime Australia’s ‘Whitney Houston Show – The Greatest Love of All’ starring Belinda Davids

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Showtime Australia’s Johnny Van Grinsven really is a miracle worker! His determination to feature the world’s top talent led him to find the phenomenon that is Belinda Davids, whose hometown is Port Elizabeth, South Africa. And it is in front of a South African audience that Davids is currently expressing her humility and gratitude for the accolades she so rightly deserves.

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Davids commands the stage like a true and tested Diva. Her astonishing vocal range is something to be both admired and envied. This is a genuine gift from the Gods, which she uses to the utmost of its capabilities, transforming herself into the Whitney Houston we all remember from her heyday.

Close your eyes and you’re transported back in time. It’s not difficult to believe that it’s actually Whitney performing on that stage. Every single nuance of her voice is perfectly, effortlessly executed and her costumes, impeccably replicated. The effect is simply sensational!

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No favourites are left out in this repertoire. From disco hits like ‘Queen of the Night’, ‘How Will I Know’ and ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’, to all-time classics like ‘Greatest Love of All’ ‘My Love is Your Love’ and ‘I Will Always Love You’, and the incredible rendition of ‘Glory, Glory Hallelujah’; nothing was excluded. Her mirrored interpretation of ‘I Have Nothing’ together with a back-screen of Whitney’s performance of the track was just breath-taking! An inspired portrayal that had the audience on their feet, applauding and shrieking in a euphoric frenzy!

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The dancers contribute a dynamic energy to a stage already bursting with excitement, and one cannot help but marvel at their acrobatic agility and ability. They inject additional delight into a production that is slick, smart and sophisticated.

The Greatest Love of All is currently on the Mandela Stage at the Joburg Theatre in Braamfontein until 15 February. If you haven’t already, book your tickets now! You certainly won’t regret it.

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(Photo’s compliments of Joburg Theatre)

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