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BOOK REVIEW – UNPRESIDENTED by Paige Nick

UnPresidentedHe, he, he … Paige Nick is very, very clever! I would rate this book eleventy one out of ten, if I could!!

Unpresidented is a tongue-in-cheek parody, set in the not too distant future (2020 to be precise) about ex-president Jeremiah unpronounceable-middle-name Muza who finds himself in extremely dire straits. Having been released from prison on medical parole, he’s returned to his homestead only to discover that it’s looking far shabbier than the palatial home he remembered. In fact, it’s in a dismal state of disrepair, with only 2 wives remaining and not much of his former entourage to speak of. But never fear, for Muza is not one to allow reality to interfere with his plans; and he has big, big plans!

Muza doesn’t plan on remaining the ex-president for long … he’s going to become ‘King of the World’ … just you wait and see, and Matthew Stone is going to help him get there. Stone is a journalist … currently in a state of disgrace, who not a single member of the media is willing to touch with a 10-foot-bargepole! So, he and Muza are pretty much in the same boat. He’s been employed to write Muza’s memories … errm, sorry … his memoirs! Trouble is, Muza has a rather tenuous relationship with the truth, and what he wants Stone to write bears very little resemblance to anything that actually occurs in his life, past or current. How on earth is Stone ever going to redeem himself if he can’t even get an honest word out of the man whose memoir he’s meant to be writing?

What ensues is an intricate and convoluted comedy of errors involving Stone, Muza, 2 strong and empowered wives, (both Muza’s), a long-suffering parole officer, a Malawian drug dealer with deep-seated Jewish mom issues, and a sad, skinny dog! And all along, you’ll be wondering … “But what if …?” or “Could it be …?” No! Read the small print on the back cover carefully: “Any similarities to any persons (living or dead) are entirely coincidental. Promise.”

Once you’ve read this book once, you’ll need to go back and read it again. There’s so much ingenious detail and slick innuendo involved that you’ll want to double check that you haven’t missed anything. And the truth is that it’s all so shrewdly put together that in just one reading it’s impossible to have caught it all. So read it again, just to be sure. It’s worth it just to get double the laughs!

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BOOK REVIEW – SPIRE by Fiona Snyckers

SpireImagine being in one of the most remote places on the planet … alone … but inexplicably, not alone, which is somehow worse! That’s what Fiona Snyckers presents us with in SPIRE, set in the South Pole International Research Establishment.

Dr Caroline Burchell has been selected as part of a team to ‘Winter over’ at the base. They’re there for the full season until September, which is when the next planes arrive to relieve them of their duties. She’s brought with her a container of mutated viruses which have been cryogenically frozen. Very soon after her arrival, however, the rest of her team begin to succumb to all manner of illnesses and before too long, Caroline is the only surviving team-member left on the base! How on earth does one survive in such isolated, harsh conditions, especially when you’re suspected of being a mass murderer?

While a devastating Arctic storm pounds at the base, Caroline is determined to survive to prove her innocence, despite the increasingly chilling evidence that someone is trying to thwart her every move. Using every available resource, including an unlikely external ally, and a very unreliable Skype connection, the reader is led breathlessly through this edge-of-your-seat thriller that will keep you guessing, as you cheer for this inventive heroine.

Ice Cube - Neutrino Observatory in the South Pole
Ice Cube – Neutrino Observatory in the South Pole

The topic of the Arctic is intriguing to many; the isolation, the temperatures, the climate, are all things that are possible topics of interest. I have to admit, I’ve never given the subject much thought, but after reading SPIRE, my curiosity was piqued. What fascinated me the most, however, was the exceptional research that the author has done in the creation of this novel. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it because it’s truly remarkable!

5 big glittery stars for SPIRE and an extra one (just because I can!) for the extraordinary amount of research that impressed me so much!!

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DELILAH NOW TRENDING – BOOK REVIEW AND INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR, PAMELA POWER

Delilah Now Trending 2School is a scary place! The hierarchies, the who’s who, the procedures, the uniformity, the enduring methodology of it all! And I’m not sure if it’s worse among the parents, the teachers or the actual children themselves! Single mom Delilah’s about to find out that it can be a very tough place indeed. Her lovely 12-year-old daughter Daisy is about to be named head girl of Hill House prep school, but then … she isn’t.

Delilah is perplexed to say the least. Daisy is popular, bright, and pretty much an all-round achiever academically, culturally and on the sports field – not to mention the fact that she has a wonderful mom who overcame all odds to get to where she is today. Why on earth would they pick Rosie to be head girl when her mom (Buffalo) Beth is a complete nightmare? And then, as if things weren’t awful enough, Rosie meets with a bit of an accident. Who’s responsible and will it be possible for Delilah and Daisy to emerge from the trenches of institutional warfare unscathed?

Delilah Now Trending 3Thankfully they don’t have to battle on alone. They have loyal troops in their corner. There’s Henry, Delilah’s fabulously flamboyant business partner – I dare you to not fall instantly in love with him! Every single one of us deserves a Henry in our lives! Cass is Lilah’s straight-talking, rather scary lawyer. Fantastic if she’s fighting for your team, but beware if you’re anywhere near the opposition … you will not win! There’s also the delightful Portia, who … ummm … well … she doesn’t do much, at least not much of the stuff she’s supposed to do, but she’ll do whatever it takes to make sure that Delilah and Daisy are safe and secure.  The delectable Sam adds some roguish spice into the mix too, ensuring that all is not just gloom and doom for our Lilah.

Power is wickedly witty and there are many (oh, so many!) laugh-out-loud moments in this rather dark, but completely on-point, story about the psyche of mob mentality and how social media feeds it. WhatsApp groups run amok; Instagram feeds increase by the minute and Facebook groups attract all manner of unknown individuals. Who knows who’s out there and who’s going to start the next rumour? Who do you trust when you’re caught in the eye of the storm?

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Pamela in conversation with Amy Heydenrych at Love Books, Melville during the launch of Delilah Now Trending

Delilah Now Trending is fast-paced. Chapters are interspersed with anonymous diary entries, adding to the building intrigue, and you get that tight, knot-in-your-stomach feeling as you start to wonder if Daisy is quite as innocent as you were originally led to believe. I loved it, and it gets 5 fat, glittery stars from me!

Before Pamela’s book launch, I had the chance to sit and chat with her about some of the themes in Delilah Now Trending, and how she felt while writing the book:

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JBB: You mentioned that Delilah Now Trending is about finding your voice. Do you think that schools manage bullying issues adequately today, what with social media being such a major part of this? Were you ever bullied? Do you think all pre-teens should have cell-phones?

PP: It’s the way of the world today. I was extremely bullied as a child, but strangely didn’t even think of that while I was writing the book! I don’t think it’s completely the school’s responsibility to manage the bullying issue. It’s ultimately up to parents to equip their kids with the tools to manage these situations.

JBB: Would you agree that no matter how old we are, no matter how successful in our careers, we never leave the playground? We always have to deal with authority figures who make us feel inferior, whether intentionally or not, in situations of confrontation over our kids, with other parents, and over differing parenting styles and opinions.

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PP: Absolutely! When your kids go to school, so do you! You can’t maintain distance when your kids are going through a hard time and you have to equip your children with life skills from an early age.

JBB: Do people, especially women, ever truly not care what others think of them? Lilah has fingers pointed at her for her drinking, her relationship with her black, gay business partner, the way she allows Portia to behave, the way she treats her ex-husband (despite the atrocious way he’s behaved) … the list seems endless!

PP:  Unfortunately the truth is that a successful woman can never win. That feeling that you don’t care may lessen, but it never goes away. There’s always going to be judgement, and to some degree or other you’re always going to care, depending on who’s doing the judging. Some opinions will matter, while most actually don’t!

JBB: What were the most challenging aspects of writing this book?

PP: It actually flowed easily! I wrote it at the same time as I was writing Things Unseen (Pamela’s previous book. Very brilliant! If you haven’t read it, then you really must!), so this one clicked easily. The topics that required the most research were those about disciplinary hearings and more medical aspects. I had a lot of assistance from ISASA (Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa) and from the ex-head of The Ridge School. I wanted this to have a domestic feel to it so that readers could easily relate to it and my 13-year-old daughter Ruby helped with the beta reading. I did have to give her a rather sanitised version though!

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Pamela with her gorgeous kids: beta-reading daughter Ruby, and son Liam

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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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