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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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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 – 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 – 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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BOOK REVIEW – Garage Band by Adam Rabinowitz

Garage BandAdam Rabinowitz presents us with a raw, gutsy and thoroughly entertaining caper, carried out by the most unlikely protagonist. Lanthus Trilby, our hero, represents Everyman:  every man (and of course, when I say man, I mean woman too) who has ever been put down, belittled, demeaned, ignored and unappreciated.

Over the last 17 years, Trilby has loyally worked for South Africa’s largest insurance company, Eastland. He has given them his all without question, day in, day out, (and some nights too) after which he then returns home to a nagging, dissatisfied wife and 2 cheerless teens who prefer to behave like he doesn’t exist.

But on the day that Lanthus is unceremoniously told that he is about to become superfluous to the company’s needs, something inside him snaps. He is sick and tired of being a nobody, fed up with being ignored, and has had quite enough of being taken for granted. He decides that the time has come to strike back, and he knows exactly how and where to do it!

It is quite fortuitous that while he is down at the local pub drowning his sorrows and pondering his next move he happens to meet Reyno, an explosives expert (we should all have one of these in our lives – I can see you all heading off to the nearest bar to find one!).  Reyno fully understands his new acquaintance’s predicament and willingly assists Lanthus in putting together what could probably be considered a rather unconventional, although highly skilled, team consisting of a hacker, a female cage fighter, and a pair of acrobats pilfered from the popular Madame Zingara travelling circus!

What follows is a riveting, roller-coaster of a romp as our quirky crew endeavour to pursue justice at all costs. Lanthus and the hacker, Jason, are the only members of the group whose characters we learn any background about – purely because they’re the only ones whose backgrounds bear any relevance to the storyline. However, I became so involved with the action and everyone involved that by the end I really wanted to know more about all of them.

The plot is skilful and clever, and most of all, it’s based on a theme that so many of us will easily identify with. Joburg locals will get an added kick from the inclusion of many recognised landmarks, most notably, Sandton City (which you’ll look at with new eyes after reading this; I know I do!).

This book is an extremely exciting entry onto the South African fiction landscape. I know that I always preach the mantra ‘Be Bold’ to all SA authors I interact with, and I’m going to be exceptionally bold here and I’m going to mention two little words …  FILM RIGHTS … (I’ve even put them in bold – see?) I’ll just leave that there, then.

Oh, and also, I do think a sequel would be very brilliant … please!!Adam Rabinowitz

 

Many thanks to the author, Adam Rabinowitz, for sending me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Garage Band is due for publication on 1 April 2016.

Get it. Read it. You’ll enjoy it!

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