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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 – 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 – 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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