Monday, September 22, 2014

Review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

“To love someone is like moving into a house,” Sonja used to say. “At first you fall in love in everything new, you wonder every morning that this is one's own, as if they are afraid that someone will suddenly come tumbling through the door and say that there has been a serious mistake and that it simply was not meant to would live so fine. But as the years go by, the facade worn, the wood cracks here and there, and you start to love this house not so much for all the ways it is perfect in that for all the ways it is not. You become familiar with all its nooks and crannies. How to avoid that the key gets stuck in the lock if it is cold outside? Which floorboards have some give when you step on them, and exactly how to open the doors for them not to creak? That's it, all the little secrets that make it your home.” 

Books have a way of finding you. You might be suffering from insomnia and it’s the first thing you grab to distract you, or a recommendation thrust into your hand with an eager ‘Here, read this’, or that magical moment of finding a book under piles of sale books. 

Books sneak in and steal your heart – just as The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, The Collected Works of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, The World According to Garp by John Irving, and let me not forget the The Ten Things I Learnt about Love by Sarah Butler. All these books truly change the way you love books, making it deeper and more profound.

So let me introduce Ove, a curmudgeon, retired, grumpy, widower, and what his neighbours call: the bitter neighbor from hell. This truly isn’t the best setting for a ‘great fiction novel’. It’s a November morning that changes everything, when a couple and their two daughters move in next door and accidently flatten Ove’s mailbox that unleashes the fictional journey of a lifetime – filled to the brim with comedy, cats, a homeless teen, an estranged friend and the art of reversing. The story is puzzled together with misty recounts of the past of Grumpy-Ole-Ove.

It’s pretty cookie-cutter, one incident sets of a ripple of change in Ove’s life. Oh, don’t roll your eyes at me. I know we have read books like this – there are a few out there. I enjoyed this one, for the ease of Frederick Backman’s writing, for the frustration towards Ove, and the slightly (I refuse to admit it) tear-stained pages of this novel. It truly is a glorious read; I’ll even forgive the melodramatic scenes. 

Read this for its discovery of life (grief, love, family, friendship and heartache all in one) and it’s endearing, infuriating and lovable character named Ove.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman features on this month’s Exclusive Books Recommends for September.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Review: The Puppet Boy of Warsaw by Eva Weaver

I am always worried books from the WW2 period will desensitize us as readers. That out of the blue one book wont punch my gut with grief and horror, leaving me to shrug it off with a ‘I guess it was scary’. 

No! I hope not. Just as Afghan-fiction shakes the very ground I walk on, so should these period piece novels set in one of history’s most horrific human right devaluation. I suppose having a Jewish grandfather, a lineage, and stories, I seem to insist that books such as this one stand out, almost tack themselves visually, emotionally and literary to this very period in time.

The Puppet Boy of Warsaw by Eva Weaver is narrated by Mika, who slowly recounts his childhood during the 1944 Jewish Ghetto is uprising. Mika’s grandfather has a famous coat, sewn by a master tailor, is riddled with hidden pockets, secret fabric coverings to smuggle belongings during Nazi invasions and surprise relocation's. When Mika’s grandfather is killed in the streets, Mika saves the coat and finds a treasure beneath its hidden pockets – puppets. 

This is where the story catches its pace, telling the holocaust from a vastly different view than this novel’s counterparts. As young Mika survives the ghetto, telling stories to the children – that is until Max, a German soldier, takes Mika hostage and forces him to entertain German soldiers with his puppets.

Eva Weaver certainly captures the atmosphere, the horror, and suspense with her eloquent prose and sleight of hand when it comes to her characters. With this said, I didn’t find this to be the best novel I have ever read. 

The dialogue lacked, the writing became vastly emotive and contrite, almost too sweet to taste. It’s a quick read and nothing I regret reading – I just wish it was better. There is no doubt an audience for this novel; it’s edible, but guilty of promising too much. Try this one for the ease of reading, and its individuality.

The Puppet Boy of Warsaw by Eva Weaver features on this month’s Exclusive Books Recommends for August.

Review: The Pearl That Broke its Shell by Nadia Hashimi

In Kabul, 2007, with a drug-addicted father and no brothers, Rahima and her sisters can only sporadically attend school, and can rarely leave the house. Their only hope lies in the ancient custom of bacha posh, which allows young Rahima to dress and be treated as a boy until she is of marriageable age. As a son, she can attend school, go to the market, and chaperone her older sisters. 
But Rahima is not the first in her family to adopt this unusual custom. A century earlier, her great-aunt, Shekiba, left orphaned by an epidemic, saved herself and built a new life the same way.

This is the blurb that engrosses the reader, and me for that fact. I picture Publishers and Reviewers calling this debut novel by Nadia Hashimi: ‘... An evocative tale of smells, sights and sounds’ and ‘when fate intervenes’. It sounds incredibly cynical of me but this is exactly what the book is – a story of two women in extreme circumstances – the blurb even says so. 

Nadia Hashimi, born and bred in New York, whose family left Afghanistan in 1970, I mean her grandmother was a famous Afghan poet – so she certainly has the credentials to pull off a novel as The Pearl That Broke its Shell, and gives it a stark presentation against the many, and I mean many, titles among its genre: Afghan Fiction; with heavy weights of Khaled Housseni and Arundhati Roy.

Books such as this one are incredibly important, they deliver social messages that we westerners don’t fully grasp in terms of the violence and rights presented to women across our borders. While this title can happily sit next to the likes of I Am Malala and The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul, it certainly does fall short with its stilted dialogue, seemingly bad sentence structure and confusing scene changes. I was hesitant with this one, rolling my eyes, I thought ‘Here we go, another copy-cat Afghan tragedy’ and I was proved right.

How I wanted these protagonists to prove me wrong, because their situation is haunting and incredibly harsh, but it fell extremely short. I wanted so to be bowled over by this novel, the setting, and the promise of some amazing women who didn’t get the choice to be who they wanted to be, but rose above it anyway. I suppose that was the message, and it grasped desperately like a drowning victim, except this time there were no Baywatch lifeguards to save it drowning.

The Pearl That Broke its Shell by Nadia Hashimi features on this month’s Exclusive Books Recommends for July.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Review: Mr Mercedes by Stephen King

There is always much excitement when it comes to a new Stephen King; after keeping us in a King-drought for some years after his novel 11.22.63 (you can see my review here); he then hit us hard with the long awaited sequel to The Shining, with Doctor Sleep; and now Mr Mercedes, which side steps King’s usual style of horror/paranormal genre. In Mr Mercedes, King surely shows us that he deserves the title King of Fiction.

Imagine a Mercedes ploughing through a line of job seekers one cold morning. And so begins Mr Mercedes as newly retired, and decorated, Detective Hodges adjusts to his now dull and lack luster life after fighting crime and taking down mafia bosses; the type of life that makes him think shoving a gun in his mouth sounds like a treat, well at least now. As all retired detectives seem to have some unsolved cases, and the Mercedes Killer case bubbles to the surface when Hodges receives a letter from the Mercedes Killer himself – or so he assumes is a ‘he’. 

Brady is living with his semi comatose and alcoholic mother, a disturbing story to say the least. His greatest achievement is driving a stolen Mercedes into a line of unemployed men and women, killing hundreds. It seems he is growing bored, so he decides to rub salt into the wound by taunting Detective Hodges.

Hodges grows hungry and begins to follow the lead, as the case starts to unwind, new clues begins to pop up; especially since the Mercedes killer is getting sloppy. He better work fast because Brady has a plan that will make the Mercedes murder look like child’s play.

It's no secret Stephen King is one of our times greatest novelists; he is no Julian Barnes in terms of style and lyrical prose; what King truly is: is a storyteller - the only author to make clowns feared, and the phrase redrum send shivers down your spine.

The great thing about this cat and mouse thriller novel is that King does it so well. The plot plods, an old woman on a Zimmer frame kind of plod, I felt that it was almost contrite and vastly differing from King’s usual style of writing - was I expecting pacy plot or a paranormal scene with walls coated in blood and animals howling at the moon; Oh, I don't know.Kind did not completely fail his fans with the newest addition to his repertoire. King threads the reader with a double effort of great characterization and you’re bound to be left hungrily gobbling the story up - he dishes up the suspense, if not plot, as if it were soup for the poor and hungry. You'll charge through this novel quickly - it's worth it.

Watch Stephen King talking about his inspiration for Mr Mercedes.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

EB Cafe - An Erudite's Wonderland

What I say is, a town isn't a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it's got a bookstore it knows it's not fooling a soul.” ― Neil Gaiman, American Gods

I can't imagine my life, let alone life itself, without a book or the comfort of out-facing spines peeking out from a shelf. This is the life and soul of what we book lovers are, live for, and what keeps us alive as readers, seekers and thinkers.

Books have always crawled into my life. I can, almost always, pin a book to a place, a time, a heartbreak, or even a person. Books are who we are - who I am. I truly never understood my love and passion for books until I was given an opportunity to shelve, pack and serve books to like minded (sometimes not very like minded) book lovers like myself. I all of a sudden had opinions, thoughts and favourites when it came to books. They made me fiercer, hungrier, and sharper with everything.

I find myself heading straight to a bookstore, any bookstore, if it holds tomes of choice, I head there - my personal compass. Books introduced me to my friends, my job and this blog - the Madonna.

The book trade has seen tough times, digital swooping in as the favourite sibling while Amazon plays bully to pestal mortor stores in the playground leaving no book and publisher without a piece of the pie uneaten. In swoops a fairy godmother and saves us all from our almost permanent woebegone expressions, and suffering in the trade. 

Exclusive Books Rosebank launched to a full house of invite only guests with applause, and a gasp-point-oh-look-at-that expression. A store that spent many months under construction, no air con, no shelves, and no semi-decent books poking out from their shelves - they are repaying this struggle with temultuous rapture. A book lovers ecstacy is this store displaying french atrisan stationery, poofy bean-bags (that aren't just for the kids), wooden ladders, and all wafting with exciting chatter of customers dying to buy something. 

This can usually be seen as an average store opening, but this is where Exclusive Books is showing it's rejunviation in the trade, after being taken over by consortium headed by CEO Benjamin Trisk, former MD of Exclusive Books. This store has shaken off the franchise of Seattle or Vida Cafe, but has now formed it's own coffee shop: EB Cafe, elbowed onto the already elegant Rosebank store. EB Cafe, a new chapter in coupling books and coffee. Offering locally based and roasted Legado Coffee in all ways possible (even variations of Chemex pour overs), a Burundi: Buhorwa, El Salvador: La Divina and an 'exclusive' Signature Blend, and surely when you havent had enough the Cafe also hosts a variety of homemade goodies; my personal favourite: the carrot cake with an amarula icing.

It surely sounds like a dream come true, but this store is something to be proud of, what a bookseller would envy, a bookstore chain to mimic and a lover of books (and coffee) something to enjoy. 

Get down to Exclusive Books Rosebank, grab a coffee, settle in a bean bag, and find the book that will capture you more than the shelves pouring before you.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review: The Three by Sarah Lotz

I am glad I missed the hype on this title. With the likes of The Guardian’s Alison Flood saying

It's reminiscent of Stephen King's Carrie and The Three comes preloaded with praise from the master of horror himself. It deserves it: this high-concept thriller is a blast; you’d be glad to. 

I find myself constantly disappointed with titles that are overly hyped, as if they are the favourite grandchild that never amounts to anything. 

You have never experienced local fiction if you don’t know Sarah Lotz, the bun fight for The Three commenced ringing bells and boxing matches, when home-grown capetonian Sarah Lotz took the big guns and was picked up by huge publisher Hodder & Stoughton. Oh, we beamed with pride – yup, especially us Lotz fans. She’s done the work, and by George this woman is talented.

So now you understand the hoohah this title made, the type that makes you delirious because you want it NOW! I waited patiently to delve deep into this story. And I was certainly paid for my efforts.

The format also proves interesting, set out as a non-fiction book compiled with interviews, emails, dictations, etc, as a journalists expose on Black Thursday, which branded the day of four airplane crashes that left only three survivors, all children. 

It’s creepy, detailed and thrilling. Yes, I am being cliché, but Lotz really knows how to string a reader along with various accounts, voices and methods that left no gap to wonder what was going to happen next. I was happily reading, slowly, instinctively and really enjoying it, until Lotz whipped out the big guns of creeps and took this story to the next level.

It truly is a great read, however, the ending left something to be desired, and perhaps that was intentional. Lotz leads her reader on a journey through a dark forest and then abandons them there as they finish her novel; as if she ended the story too early, that the thrilling 400 plus pages before it were a preface. 

You really do need to read this one...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Confessions of a Book Whore: “Library is a Dirty Word...”

Wife and mother of 3, Melissa Delport is the author of The Legacy Trilogy and the stand-alone self-published e.books Rainfall and The Traveler. Her first novel, The Legacy, self-published in 2013, is the first in The Legacy Trilogy, and is followed by the sequel The Legion. The main-stream publisher, Tracey McDonald Publishers, is re-releasing The Legacy and The Legion  in July 2014. Book 3 of the trilogy, The Legend, is due out in 2015. Melissa has also written an independent novel entitled Rainfall, a psychological romance, and a science-fiction, action-adventure called The Traveler.

Find Melissa on Twitter, Facebook, and blogging up a storm on her website

Being a voracious reader, I simply cannot get enough of books. Literally...cannot-get-enough. You would think then, that a library crammed with books of all sizes, sorts and shapes would fulfil my every fantasy - be the Mecca to my pilgrim - but sadly this is not the case. In fact, just the opposite is true. I avoid going into the library at all costs. Not least because the sheer sensory overload of such an abundance of books might cause me to faint, right there on the old carpet tiles, but mostly because (lowers voice to a whisper) I do not like to share.

Now that it’s out, burning a hole through the book-whore confessional, I feel the need to explain myself. Books are my indulgence, my escape from the world, my home away from home. And I’ve always fancied myself more of a “home-owner” than a “tenant” kind of girl. I am territorial and possessive over my fictional friends and I shudder at the thought that so many others have laid claim to the library’s offerings. Filthy fingers touching the pages, eyes devouring the sanctity of the script...these books have been violated...tainted even. “Communal contamination” I call it. A vulgar prostitution of the things I hold most dear.

I cannot bear it. Instead, my Mecca is the book store. The hushed, hallowed aisles of reverent shelves filled with brand spanking new books that have known no touch before mine. Where the pages emit the spine-tingling creak that can only be heard when a book is opened for the very first time. The heady smell of all that new paper and the whispers of fellow book whores, wandering the aisles in search of their next meaningful relationship.

Of course, this obsession comes with a price. In order to keep up with my bookish whim, a credit card (or two) must be sacrificed. Perhaps my wardrobe is a little barer than most and regular trips to the hairdresser must be forsaken. I’m prepared to go ‘Ombre’ naturally, one week at a time, if it means new books. My children, too, have been caught up in my web of self-gratification. They own more books than they can count, and they cannot even read yet.

And then there are those who want to “borrow” my books (shudders involuntarily). Borrow my books? As in, take them away and put your filthy paws all over them? Erm...I don’t think so. You can borrow my husband instead, or better yet, go to the library – they’re all about sharing over there.


The Legacy is available at most bookshops in South Africa, or you can order it online: – HERE | – HERE | - HERE 

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