BOOK REVIEW – Tiger in a Cage by Allie Cresswell

tiger-in-a-cageThis is a dense, involved and intricate exploration into the lives of the ‘Combe Close Set’ as seen from the perspective of Molly, who so desperately wants to surround herself with comfortable camaraderie and friendship. Alas, this is difficult to do when you yourself are not a comfortable or socially aware individual.

Molly is, in fact, rather naïve, and as we delve into this deeply descriptive novel, told alternately between past and present, we see that she is often very much on the periphery of this group that she works so hard at forging cohesive bonds with. She’s socially inept and given to misunderstanding most of the undercurrents that occur within their little group. She misses many obvious social cues. She realises too late that a lot of what she classifies as ‘unacceptable’ behaviour is going on right under her nose.

I alternated between feeling quite sorry for the hapless Molly and wanting to shake the stupidity out of her! My pity came from her truly dismal background, which was due to no fault of her own. Escaping at the first opportunity she got, she married the awful Stan and much of the time actually fears him and his unfounded responses to the fairly reasonable behaviour of their neighbours . A stronger woman would most certainly have left him. Once again, she fails to understand the basis of much of his interaction with the people who they live among, and it often falls to them to protect her as best they can from many of his irrational outbursts.

Cresswell  fleshes out her characters so well, although it did take me a while to figure out who was who. I absolutely loved the in-depth descriptions of all the convoluted relationships that unfold. One feels quite voyeuristic reading of all the intricacies and complications that predictably result from living in such close proximity to one another.

With time, it’s inevitable that these connections break down; the bonds loosen and aren’t able to remain as strong as Molly wants them to be, no matter how hard she tries. And when it’s revealed to her that in actual fact maybe her friends aren’t quite who she thought they were in the first place, she’s not sure she wants to maintain the strong ties she’s worked so hard to maintain.

This is a profound and thought-provoking look into the complexities of human relationships; the faults and failings we possess;  what we’re willing to overlook and what we’re willing to accept, whether it’s for the sake of love, to keep the peace, or due to sheer indifference.

Be willing to commit time to this book. It’s engrossing and all-encompassing and well worth the read.

Many thanks to THE Book Club Reviewers Request Group and Allie Cresswell for my copy of this book in return for an honest review.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Damselfly by S.J.I. Holliday

the-damselflyThis is the third of Holliday’s ‘Banktoun’ trilogy, this works well as a standalone too. I’ve only read the first book – Blackwood – and missed the second – Willow Walk.

Katie is a bright teenager who, despite her challenging background, is planning her future in London. Together with her boyfriend Neil, and her teachers she has the support she needs to leave the small town of Banktoun, and her unhappy family life behind her.

But then Katie is discovered dead in her bed and foul play is suspected. Who could have murdered her? It’s up to Detective Davie Gray and his partner Louise Jennings to discover that. Gray is a Banktoun native and knows the lay of the land.

New school counsellor Polly McAllister is realising that although she’s recently returned to Banktoun to make peace with her past demons, new ones seem to be surfacing at a rapid rate! As she tries to handle the fallout of this tragedy that’s occurred on her first day on the job, she’s also trying to deal with the detritus of her own personal life.

As the reader is swept along by all the twists in this well constructed psychological thriller, we also get a shocking look at the mob mentality that’s so easily fuelled by the negative use of social media. Even those who mean well can’t help but be overwhelmed by that crowd influence. In fact, the use of social media and its damning effects are demonstrated throughout the book. Chapters are interspersed with blog posts from The ThreeWiseMonkeys Blog (subtitled ‘Telling it Like it is’), and Facebook posts from a page set up purely to incite – we see the escalating anger as the number of posts increases, and how the voices of reason (very much in the minority) are completely ignored, no matter how hard they attempt to calm the waters.

Susi Holliday has once again created a cast of characters, some of whom are likeable, some not so much. All of them though, are visibly just trying to do their best to make it through each day with the cards they’ve been dealt. Some decisions they make may not be the best ones, and we are clearly shown the consequences of these.  We also get an understanding of the pain that’s so often caused by making snap judgements about people without really knowing them.

This is a fast-paced read … one of those ‘just one more chapter’ books! I highly recommend it.

Thanks so much to Helen Boyce and the TBC Review Group and Susi Holliday for sending me an advance copy of this book in return for an honest review.

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BOOK REVIEW – Things Unseen by Pamela Power

things-unseenEmma and Rick seem like a typical upper middle-class Joburg couple, until the night that they’re attending a social event and Emma tries unsuccessfully to contact her mother. Feeling unsettled, she begs Rick to take her home and discovers that her mom’s been brutally murdered. Sadly, it’s a common event in crime-stricken Johannesburg and police see it as an open and shut case, blaming the immigrant gardener, Surprise (that’s his name). But Emma is adamant that it couldn’t have been him, and so we enter into her world … a world that looked like it was pretty ok on the outside before tragedy struck, but actually wasn’t that great to start with. This was just the trigger she needed to motivate her into action.

Supported by her best friend Gay, who is in fact, not straight (I love Pamela Power’s quirky sense of humour) Emma tries to manoeuvre her way through the minefield that is her current life: the reappearance of her past love, Craig; the volatile behaviour of her arrogant, controlling husband, Rick; the juvenile and irresponsible antics of her brother, Ross who’s returned from Australia, supposedly because of the family situation and the ongoing police investigation.

Power has created an extremely clever and tight storyline that never wavers, keeping you guessing all the time, while you alternate between hastily turning pages, and biting your nails! Adding to the ever-increasing excitement is the fact that chapters are interspersed with flashbacks that tell of past child abuse, but who is the child? It could be any one of our characters, and the suspense builds, keeping you guessing all the way.

Each personality is well rounded, and comprehensively portrayed.  The references to well-known Johannesburg landmarks added to my enjoyment of the book (as this is my hometown). This will undoubtedly strike a nostalgic chord with any ex-pat reader, and the writer’s familiarity with her environment only enhances the depth and atmosphere of her storyline, but this will be appreciated by any reader, regardless of their having no prior knowledge of the area.

And that storyline, while being a tense ‘whodunnit’, manages to deftly deal with numerous uncomfortable social issues that weigh greatly on the shoulders of the South African middle-classes on a daily basis: the ever-lingering shadow of racism , class disparity and gender discrimination, just to name a few! Power seamlessly weaves these all into her narrative while managing to maintain a punchy pace, a feat that not many authors can achieve.

My only complaint? I raced through this so quickly! It’s one of those books that’s easily read in just one or two sittings, and then you’re disappointed it’s over so quickly! It’s an excellent 5-star read!

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BOOK REVIEW – Duplicity by Sibel Hodge

duplicityOh my very goodness!!! I don’t remember the last time I flew through a book like this! This one ticks all the boxes for a psychological thriller that you just can’t put down. Fast-paced, tons of ‘OMG’ moments, and with enough twists and turns to ensure you’ll need a good physiotherapist to see you right when you’re done!

Max and Alissa Burbeck are the perfect couple: wealthy and gorgeous, they’re the newly-weds who have the world at their feet … until one night an intruder murders Max, inexplicably leaving Alissa to escape unscathed. Who would have wanted him dead? And why didn’t they kill her too?

These are questions that are left for DS Warren Carter (although I must say it took a few chapters for his first name to be mentioned and I wasn’t sure if he was male or female!) to find answers to. Carter has his own demons to deal with – he’s still trying to overcome the loss of his wife to cancer roughly a year ago, and he’s bitter about being passed over for promotion due to a previous case where palms were greased, stopping the true criminals from being brought to book.

And along the way he needs to deal with a preening superior, an obsessive ex-boyfriend (not his own, Alissa’s!), a depressed colleague, and a distraught widow and a band of friends determined to protect her. Throw in an ecological cover-up, hidden jealousy and a mysterious childhood of horrific abuse, which could only lead to the victim becoming a sociopath of epic proportions … but who could it be?

Hodge keeps the action going at a cracking pace. You might have to suspend belief a teensy bit, but hey, it’s fiction, so just go with it! She doesn’t leave anything to chance, and ties it all up very neatly with no loose ends at all. Her characters are well-rounded and she cleverly shows you exactly what she wants you to see of each of their personalities – you’ll only catch on to that afterwards though!

If you’re looking for something that you just can’t put down, then this one’s for you! 5 big shiny stars from me!

Many thanks to THE Book Club (reviewers group) and the author for my copy of this book in return for my honest review.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Spy by Paulo Coelho

the-spyI confess to not knowing much about the mysterious ‘Mata Hari’ other than her notorious ‘Dance of the Seven Veils,’ and even then I didn’t have much of a clue what that was! So when I had the chance to read and review Paulo Coelho’s latest book, I jumped at it!

Born Margaretha Zelle, to a middle class Dutch family, all she ever wanted to do was escape her mundane life in Holland. When she’s in high school, she’s raped by the principal and then sent to her uncle to train as a nursery school teacher. Desperate to leave, she sees a newspaper advertisement requesting a wife for a soldier. It’s just what she’s looking for and she meets and marries him, heading off to Indonesia, which sounds quite exotic. However, it doesn’t quite turn out as expected. He’s unpleasant and abusive, and army life is sheer drudgery. When one of her friends, a fellow army wife, commits suicide, she realises that she could quite easily end up doing the same if she continues in this vein. And so she leaves and heads for Paris. It’s a brave move for a young woman on her own, and she has no clue what she’s going to do once she gets there.

Through chance meetings, sly manipulations and downright deceit, Zelle, now known as Mata Hari, works her way into the highest echelons of Paris society, and the beds of the men who control it. All the while she’s so self-absorbed with her own importance, that she has absolutely no clue of the rumblings around her of the impending war. She catches the eye of German intelligence who think she might be useful to them, and they impose upon her to become their spy. Whether she does or doesn’t still remains a mystery to me!

Coelho relies on historical fact to weave a story into fictional letters written by Mata Hari to her daughter, and by her lawyer who was unable to obtain her reprieve. She was found guilty and executed based on extremely flimsy evidence and it would seem that those in power sought to be rid of her not necessarily because of her crimes of espionage, but rather for their own collective crimes of falling for the charms of a beautiful, independent woman. One gets the impression that she was a rather shallow, vacuous individual, concerned only with the accumulation of her own wealth, pretty dresses, expensive jewels and powerful men. Unfortunately  I didn’t get the impression that sufficient depth of character was created to really understand her at all.

This is a short book and a quick read. It does provide minor insight into the background of Mata Hari, but if you’re seeking to gain in-depth understanding of who she was, then I don’t think this is the book to provide it.

Many thanks to THE Book Club on Facebook, and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this in return for an honest review.

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BOOK REVIEW – Grey Magic by JT Lawrence

grey-magicGrey Magic began as a short story that featured in JT Lawrence’s anthology ‘Sticky Fingers’. But, as things generally go with witches, they tend to weave a particular type of spell and before you know it, you’re writing a whole book all about them … just them!

And that’s exactly what happened with Raven Kane, the modern day witch that JT Lawrence’s ‘Grey Magic’ is all about. If you met Raven, you’d think she were just like you and me: same problems and challenges; not enough money, house needs fixing, no decent men to meet … except the one who knocks on your door to arrest you for murder! Ok, so maybe not quite like you and me!

Let’s back up just a little bit here. Yes, Raven Kane is a witch. But you wouldn’t know it to look at her – she doesn’t fly around on a broomstick wearing a pointy black hat. She’s actually worried that she might be losing her touch. She’s a bit worn out, you see, feeling like she might have a bit too much on her plate. Her beloved home is literally falling down around her and she doesn’t have the means to fix it (apparently it’s not the done thing to wave your wand and make it all better). She’s expected to control a group of badly behaved Wayward Witches, who are getting increasingly out of hand by the day (think of a rowdy bunch of #FeesMustFall demonstrators  with magic spells and potions at their disposal). Her neighbour – a priest, of all things! – insists on driving her completely insane. Her sister refuses to speak to her because she’s brought her niece into the so-called freak-circle of magical craziness. And if all this weren’t bad enough, she’s a ‘person of interest’ in a murder case – a crime that she’s well aware she committed, by the way! (No spoilers – she immediately makes it very clear she killed the person in question!)

She sounds completely awful doesn’t she? She’s not. Raven Kane is lovely. She’s quirky, she’s confused, she’s befuddled, she’s tired, she’s trying her best, she’s caring, she’s friendly (to most beings), she’s affectionate, she’s herself, and you’ll instantly feel like she’s the type of person you’d want to become friends with. That’s how I feel. Raven Kane is extremely likeable.

Lawrence has created a character who’s just like you and me: she’s flawed, has to deal with financial struggles, family challenges, relationship issues, and career dilemmas a-plenty! The only difference being that the career’s a little unique: she’s a witch!

I loved the book! The intricacies of how Raven deals with her particular demons, by discovering how her karmic journey has had to play out were fascinating, and left me wondering (once again) about the exploration of past lives and cosmic relationships.

It’s a book for dreamers, and perhaps not for those who are more rooted in practicality – but even then, I would suggest giving this a try. We all need our own sprinkling of magic every now and then.

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BOOK REVIEW – Nina is Not OK by Shappi Khorsandi

nina-is-not-okI know this has been classified as Young Adult reading, but it should also be read by all parents as a cautionary tale! It should also be prescribed reading for all high school learners – perhaps in a slightly watered-down form (teachers tend to get slightly embarassed).
Shappi Khorsandi doesn’t hold back in this bare-all, brutally honest telling of the downward spiral of Nina, a 17-year-old girl on the brink of complete and utter disaster. It’s all here … drink, drugs, sex, friends, back-stabbing friends, self-esteem and lack thereof, parental issues, peer pressure, boyfriends. I see you there, nodding along and thinking “blah, blah, yadda, yadda, heard it all before’ … but you haven’t; not this way.
Khorsandi has made it one hundred percent real, and any parent reading this should quake with fear!
And the scariest thing? Nina isn’t actually a bad girl! Nope, she isn’t. She’s a really sweet, big sister who just can’t cope with the fact that her dad (an alcoholic – it’s hereditary you know) died a few years ago, her mom remarried, she’s not keen on her stuffed shirt of a step-dad or that her mom’s become a different person now that she’s married him, and her one true love is now on the other side of the world – and is now in love with someone else. But she adores her little sister, Katie and will go out of her way to protect her, and the image Katie has of her bit sister.
And doesn’t everyone else drink anyway? How else do you have a good time when you’re 17 and you’re partying your life away? Well yes, go on and justify it all you like (as teens are wont to do), but everyone else isn’t being thrown out of nightclubs for performing lurid sex acts on others, arriving home in a taxi with no clue of how you got there, screwing strangers in the park just so they’ll buy you a drink, and drunk messaging the love of one’s life (yes, the one who now loves someone else) an untold number of times a night (regardless of the fact that he still hasn’t replied after the last untold number of nights that you did this)!
So it would seem that no, Nina is not OK.
Compile a collage of all your teenage angst and embarassments. Now compound that a hundred fold once you’ve added the complication of an alcoholic haze that allows you to misbehave so diabolically, that once your hangover mist lifts, you want to disappear into its loving embrace once again, if only to forget the truly cringe-worthy things you’re reading about yourself, splashed for all the world to see on social media.
This is Nina’s reality, played over and over, again and again. And in a way, is she grateful to social media for answering her questions about what she gets up to when the liquor takes over and all becomes a blur?
This is an extremely powerful commentary on an all too common scourge of society – after all, look around you, alcohol is so very easily and readily available. It’s thought provoking, and will hopefully encourage much-needed dialogue.
Like driving past a bad accident, where you know you shouldn’t look, but you just can’t tear yourself away, this is one of those books that begs attention. As much as you feel like you’re imposing on Nina’s life, you want to keep reading to see how much worse it’s going to get … while at the same time, you’re silently cheering her on to pull herself together and get through this truly horrendous phase of her life.
I loved this book, as much as it horrified and terrified me, it has to be read. So thank you to THE Book Club on Facebook for bringing it to my attention, and to NetGalley and Ebury Press for sending me the ARC in return for my honest review.

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BOOK CONFESSIONS

I was tagged by the wonderful Pamela Power (thanks for the homework Pamela!). You can see her book confessions on her Vlog – Between the Sheets with Pamela, here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkRuUYkhypo#action=share

1. Have you ever damaged a book?

Not that I can recall. I would feel absolutely awful if I did! Books are precious – no really! And in South Africa especially, where literacy is something we take for granted. Even more so if we buy books by international authors – have you seen the exchange rate!!! Those books should be wrapped in bubble wrap, we pay so much for them. They’re worth every cent though.

  1. Have you ever damaged a borrowed book?

No!! We used to have such issues with this at one of the book clubs I used to be a member of. I’m quite horrified at how casual people are with items that don’t belong to them. Other members had absolutely no qualms about returning books with coffee mug stains all over them, and various other stains that I wouldn’t want to get into discussions about!

  1. How long does it take you to read a book?

It all depends. I do have quite a fondness for psychological thrillers and those that are well written can grip you from the first paragraph. Books like that can take just hours to complete! Others can take a day or two. And some can take a bit longer, depending on how much life gets in the way.

  1. Books you haven’t finished?

Too many to mention or name. Life’s too short to waste on books that aren’t the right fit for you. That doesn’t mean they’re not good books, or that they’re badly written; just that they’re not suited to you. Not every reader is a good match to every book, and I’ve learnt that’s okay.

  1. Hyped/Popular books you didn’t like?

The 50 Shades books. I plodded through the first one feeling like I was being forced to read a setwork. I finished it, started the second one, read a couple of chapters and then told myself I didn’t need to do this

  1. Is there a book you wouldn’t tell anyone you were reading?

I can’t actually think of one! And if there was one, I’d still tell people, just to see their reactio

  1. How many books do you own?

A LOT!! And does my Kindle also count?! Oh my goodness – I have a very, very long TBR list!!

my-bookshelf-14-09-16

Shopping for a new bookshelf!

  1. Are you a fast/slow reader?

I’m a fast reader, and I generally hate ‘skimming’ over pages. I like to read every single word!

  1. Do you like to buddy read?

Not really, although I do love discussing books with other people, especially books that we’ve both enjoyed. There’s nothing worse than absolutely loving a book, and discovering that the other person thought it was just ‘meh

  1. Do you read better in your head/out loud?

Definitely in my head! Although when I was much younger, and planning to be a great actress, I did love acting out and performing all the ‘roles’!  *blushes*

  1. If you were only allowed to own one book, what would it be and why?

That’s like asking me which one is my favourite child!!! I think, possibly The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin. It has a little bit of everything in it – empathy, compassion, such incredible humour and depth … and it’s Irish! I love all things Irish.

The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes

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BOOK REVIEW – The Devil’s Work by Mark Edwards

the-devils-workSophie Greenwood has decided that the time is right to return to work after taking time off to be a full-time mom to 4-year old Daisy. She’s found her dream job at Jackdaw Publishing (I even found the name a bit sinister), but on day one, she has an unnerving experience. If she thinks that it’s just an isolated incident, she’s sorely mistaken, and so begins a well-constructed meandering tale in which Sophie (and the reader) is led further and further into a frightening and confusing maze of deceit that trails back further than she could have imagined.

Set in the offices of a publishing company (which in itself will intrigue any avid reader), the insular workplace environment will be familiar to anyone who’s ever worked closely with a team of colleagues. The back-biting, the wrong-footing, the gossiping … it’s all there, magnified to the maximum levels! And when you’re the ‘new girl’ you feel like everyone’s out to get you, except this time, maybe someone really is!

As the book alternates between Sophie’s, increasingly fragmenting current life, and her very obviously complex past, we realise that something is most definitely off-balance in Sophie’s world. How is she going to reconcile with her past so that she has any chance of having any type of future, let alone a happy one?

I’m sure Mark Edwards must have whiplash from the razor-sharp twists and turns he incorporates into every single one of his acclaimed psychological thrillers. This one certainly doesn’t miss the mark. There’s a reason why he has a loyal following, which I’m sure is about to increase in numbers with this new addition.

If you’re a lover of plot-twists a-plenty, surprises galore, and a good game of guessing whodunit then you’ve come to the right place. This book delivers all of these, and then some! I can highly recommend it, but maybe not at night, or when you’re home alone!

Many thanks to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for my advance copy.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso

The Woman Next DoorHortensia James and Marion Agostino are neighbours in the affluent (fictitious) Cape Town suburb of Katterjan Estates. They’re both getting on in years, struggling to deal with their past successful careers that they can no longer use to define who they are, and using the Estate committee meetings as the battleground for their intense dislike for each other.

Both are embittered by the deep disappointments that life has dealt them: marriages that weren’t what they anticipated; for Hortensia, the lack of children, and for Marion, four children and the undeniable realisation that she has failed dismally at motherhood. They are unable to leave past hurts behind them. Marion cannot get over the fact that Hortensia is living in the perfect house that she designed in the heyday of her architectural prowess, while she, Marion is living next-door to her. But what irks her the most is that Hortensia dared to come and live in Marion’s neighbourhood, snubbed her when she first arrived, and still has the nerve to behave as if she’s as good, if not better, than all of those who’ve lived there much longer than she has, when she’s not even white!

In post-Apartheid South Africa, this is really the crux of the feud between these two women. Because Marion is a racist snob, and will go out of her way to point out to anyone who will listen that when the fine balance of things gets tilted, the entire world can spin off its axis. She therefore feels that it’s her civic duty to maintain order in her little empire of Katterjan Estates. If that means waging war with Hortensia then she’s fully prepared to take her on.

However, she doesn’t quite reckon on someone who’s just as bolshie as she is! And both of them also forget that the universe has a funny habit of throwing us curveballs when we least expect them. I couldn’t help wondering what Hortensia and Marion would have been like had they lived in another place and time. What would their relationship have been like? This question continues to intrigues me, and I can’t help imagining them quite differently, almost in an alternate universe!

This is an intricate, profound novel about the complexities of growing old and the desperate need to cling to long-held beliefs and philosophies, even when hit by the rising dread that these might be wrong. It delves into how we’re moulded by family, country and political sublimation, despite our adamant claims that we’re free-thinkers.

Omotoso’s writing is intense, dignified, moving and provocative, as are her characters. She will challenge you to think and to question; to look deep inside yourself and examine your interactions and relationships with those close to you, as well as your reactions to those who are different from you.

In case you hadn’t guessed, I highly recommend this book!

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