Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Death of a Saint by Lily Herne

About the Book

Secrets. Everyone has them. But what if your secret is something so unthinkable that you can't even admit it to yourself? Exiled from the city enclave for crimes against the Resurrectionist State, teen rebels Lele, Ginger, Ash and Saint – aka the Mall Rats – are hiding out in the Deadlands, a once-prosperous area now swarming with the living dead. With the sinister Guardians breathing down their necks, the Mall Rats face a stark choice: return to the enclave and try to evade capture or leave Cape Town in search of other survivors. But what if the rest of South Africa is nothing but a zombie-infested wasteland? Will they be able to survive on the road if all they have is each other, or will their secrets tear them apart? 

After all, only Lele knows the shocking truth as to why the dead leave the Mall Rats unscathed – knowledge that she can't bring herself to share. And she's not the only Mall Rat harbouring a dangerous secret ...


It’s incredibly difficult to ‘diss’ a novel like this one, especially when I know my genre isn’t afay with Young Adult – Yet, I find myself reading more and more of them each month. Lily Herne (aka Sarah and Savannah Lotz) has once again shown us that she (they) is/are here to stay.

I enjoyed Deadlands (Book 1 in the Mall Rats series) but Death of a Saint certainly brings a new sort of game to the park of South African Young Adult Literature. You have your angsty love couple (Ash and Lele), a heartbroken Saint, a quirky slapstick ginger named Ginger and a road trip through zombie-infested South Africa that had me cringing. Now stir that in a pot of a series, add in a fight for survival, a sprinkle of horror movie seasoning and this is what you get. Granted this is all tied together with some great writing South Africa has to offer.

By the middle of the book I found myself searching for other things to keep me busy, it felt like the characters plodded along city to city but don’t let me convince you that this book isn’t worth your time. While the plot dips dismally in the middle Lily Herne keeps her characters fresh and always growing. I criticise the plot because I wanted another Deadlands which, when you look more closely, didn’t deal with the nitty-gritty zombies have to offer.

So let me take a step back and tell you that a second book in a series is always difficult to pull off (Unless you are J.K Rowling), but Herne certainly did it with flair by putting her characters through the ringer. She placed them in a smartie box, shook the living daylights out of them and let them run wild across the page, some tripped and others landed on their feet. It’s a great read, overall. Get it and expand your collection because if we can learn one thing from this duo writing team is that South Africa Young Adult Fiction is something to contend with.

About the Author

Lily Herne is a pseudonym for Sarah Lotz, a South African animation screen-writer with a fondness for the macabre. She has had three novels published by Penguin SA and also forms one half of a partnership who write as S.L. Grey.

Find the Author

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Confessions of a Book Whore: Stealing Books, Without Knowing It...

Remember the scene from Matilda (The Movie, not the book), where four-year-old Matilda walks off to the library (without any supervision) and begins to adopt a world of books that ultimately makes her my favourite book hero of all time.

That was me. My father was given the tumultuous task of taking me out for the day on a Saturday and for a man, who lives in a house filled to the brim with women, needed at least one day without them. I would be shoved into the back of a car, tog bag in tow, and my father ching-chong-cha-ing through the possible activities that would occupy an eight-year-old with fairly less involvement.

As an only child I was easily occupied, even in a smokey pub with men triple my age. Now don’t frown your brow on my folks parenting skills but I wasn’t part of a ‘normal’ family in the first place.  

So after the third Saturday, there was only so much politics and horse racing the eight-year-old me could fake her way through and how convenient that the library was only down the road. Dad shoves R20-00 in my pocket and off I go ...

I can’t tell you how the doors looked or who the librarian was all I can remember were the colours. The colour spines that called me forward, curling their fingers towards me whispering “Pick me”. My eyes wide and fingers itching to touch the taped spines of the books, I picked my first book. Esio Trot by Roald Dahl. The book that turned my eight-year-old life on its head; it wasn’t until I finished the book did I get Esio Trot ... how clever I thought!  

This was so nifty! All these books! Like an open candy store that you don’t need to pay for the sweets. So I packed the book in my rucksack and headed back to the pub. This went on for months and it wasn’t until I was 10 and an English teacher had encouraged us to get a library card (“Because Books expand your minds, children” she said) that my mother grabbed me by the wrist and hauled me into an already familiar world.  

I stood there thinking cheekily, ‘God, I have never needed a card before’. Yes, I was technically stealing books but I didn’t know that? When I held my card for the first time, I can only imagine that is how Harry Potter felt when he held his acceptance letter into Hogwarts, or how Charlie Bucket felt when he found the Golden Ticket in the chocolate bar.

I would have danced (with spirit fingers breathing heavily) and sang – If I had known how (I have two left feet) and guaranteed people would join in. Two years later, the guilt sunk in and I vowed to take care of all my books – hence my obsession. It wasn’t until my dearest friend Steven confessed behind an Exclusive Books counter that he would circle Wally in the Where’s Wally books at the library in thick black Koki that I truly forgave myself, because really he made sure everyone found Wally!!!

I love my library, even though I have absolutely no time to visit it and instead fulfil my book habits online in crammed in my room – it is this reason they are closing like an endangered species. Every time a library closes an angel dies ... Its horrific!

Libraries are like the houses you get lost in, the doors open with magic dust and welcomes you in with a warm smell of cookies and books – I mean what more can I person really need. These colossal homes hold grand stories of love, secrecy and politics ...

Confession: I stole books without knowing it.


Monday, May 21, 2012

My Homebru Haul

A few weeks ago I did a post on all the Exclusive Books Homebru titles ...

Look at the haul I got!

Let's not forget the R150 gift voucher I got with it!

All these books are available from your nearest Exclusive Books

Thanks Rene Brophy for the goodie bag!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Author's Pie: SA Partridge

Welcome to a fabulously delightful edition of author’s pie. 

Photo © Warren Talmarkes
A chance for you to have your cake and eat it too when it comes to local authors: the segment that allows us to showcase fabulous local writers, their books and all things deliciously book.

First up in the oven is Sally Ann Partridge, Editor, Writer, blogger and award-winning author of three novels, The Goblet Club, Fuse and Dark Poppy’s Demise. Her short stories include: Triolet, Mauritius and One am, which appears in the Home Away anthology.

You can find SA Partridge on her BooksLIVE blog or on Twitter.

Now for the delicious crust of the pie ...


1. What is your favourite genre of book to read?
That's an easy one. YA. YA. YA. I have a huge collection of YA at home, and my to- read pile is actually ridiculous. YA is like the kid sister of the other older, more serious genres that dyes its hair a million colours and pierces its bottom lip and sticks diamantes all over it's pink Blackberry. All of my most recent favourite reads has been YA. Bethany Griffin's Masque of the Red Death is a steampunk take on the classic Poe story. It's excellent on so many levels. And everyone should read Jandy Nelson's The Sky is Everywhere which tackles death and grief but is really, really beautiful. It's more of an art piece than a book. I read a lot of South African fiction, and I'm quite proud of my collection, but my true love will always be YA.

2. Tell us what your opinion is on the level of South African YA fiction out on shelves at the moment?
There are so many exciting South African YA books out on the shelves at the moment, and the fact that most were written by women pleases me no end. Mother and daughter writing duo Sarah and Savannah Lotz have taken the market by storm with their Deadlands series. Deadlands is contemporary and cool and awesome; no wonder kids love it. I was also blown over by Cat Hellisen's When the Sea is Rising Red which is a fantasy novel set in the seaside town of Pelimburg. These books are pure escapist fun. Deadlands is about a group of kids living in post zombie apocalypse Cape Town, while When the Sea is Rising Red tackles magic and superstitions. It's so refreshing to read good local YA fiction that isn't as serious as a lot of books out there. I'm also a huge fan of Edyth Bulbring's Melly series. Edyth has a lovely lightness about her writing that is a pleasure to read. I also loved Adeline Radloff's Sidekick, which is the kick ass tale of a local super hero's teenage apprentice. It has a tinge of darkness to it that older readers will really appreciate. I could go on forever. I think young readers are really lucky with the quality of local YA fiction out there.
Photo © Warren Talmarkes

3. What inspires you most in your writing?
I recently wrote a really long blog about what inspired me to become a writer. Long story short - as a kid I always knew I was going to be a writer. I would scribble stories on every surface. I was really struck by the tale of that fateful night in 1816 when Lord Byron challenged his friends to a competition to see who could write the scariest story, and poet P.B Shelley's 20 year old wife Mary won hands down with her story, Frankenstein. I thought to myself, if a young Victorian woman could write one of the world's greatest stories, then what's stopping me? The story really inspired me to finish a book and send it out into the world.

What inspires me as a writer is a different kettle of fish altogether. Inspiration hits me at the oddest times. It could be the sight of the city at twilight when I'm driving over De Waal Drive, a splash of rain on my window when I'm listening to Sibot, Jack White playing on the radio, Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, a vivid dream still lingering in the early morning, a creepy looking house spotted out the corner of my eye. I also keep an inspiration journal of pictures, poems and clippings that I always keep handy when I'm writing.

4. What is the one book that made you think “I want to be a writer?”
This is a really tough one and I'm going to answer it in a really roundabout way. When I was younger and going through a tough time I used to cheer myself up by walking to the library and taking out the maximum amount of books that I was allowed. And every time I did this I used to see what Harry Potters were in and take one out, even if I'd read it a hundred times already. My favorite was The Goblet of Fire, and every time I felt bad I'd turn to the part where Harry's name was called out of the goblet and feel better. I still do this twenty years later, so I can safely say that is the one book that's made the biggest impression on me, and as a writer I can only hope to one day make the same impression on my readers.

Photo © Warren Talmarkes
5. Name one character (in any book you have read) that you would most likely punch in the face? Or hug? Or date?
Punch in the face: Draco Malfoy from J.K Rowling's Harry Potter series
Hug: Four from Veronica Roth's Divergent
Date: Ash Redfern from L.J Smith's Night World series


Sally's Books

The Goblet Club is a Gothic novel in the tradition of the highly successful Harry Potter series, but with distinctly South African features and set in a mysterious boarding school somewhere on the South African platteland. When Mark is sent to St Matthew's College for Boys, it is one more punishment for years of bad behaviour. The school has a reputation for knocking boys like him into shape, run with an iron fist by the sinister headmaster, Mr Crabtree. As soon as he arrives, Mark enters a sinister world of questions: what is Mr Crabtree's secret, and why does he have a miserable sixteen-year-old secretary? Are his new friends who they say are? Mark sets out to find answers, with his friends, Trent, Vlad and Francis. Together, they are the Goblet Club, dedicated to the study of poisons. They begin to use their potions to rid the school of a plague of rats, but as Mark is drawn deeper in, their thoughts turn to murder.

Kendall Mullins hates high school, almost as much as he hates the situation at home, but that all changes when Craig Baumgarten joins his class. Craig makes life at Percy Fitzpatrick High almost bearable, until the bullies set their sights on the new best friends and Craig hatches a plan to fight back with devastating consequences. As Kendall is drawn in deeper he finds himself in a situation he can't escape and its up to his brother Justin to protect him. The Mullins brothers flee the suburbs as they attempt to outrun the law and the wrath of their parents, but on the streets of Cape Town they find that life just got very real.
SA Partridge's explosive novel follows the success of The Goblet Club which won the I am a Writer Competition in 2007, the MER prize for best youth novel in 2008 and South Africa's English nomination for the Ibby Honour Roll.

All Jenna wants is for someone to notice her, but all everybody sees is a gawky teenager with an overactive imagination. But she leads a double life. As Dark Poppy, she can be herself. Her online friends see her for who she truly is: a sensitive, creative young woman with a talent for photography. When she receives a friend request from Robert Rose on Facebook, she doesn't hesitate to start up a friendship.
But then, why shouldn't she? He's the hottest guy she's ever seen; with emerald green eyes that seem to stare right through the computer screen...
Dark Poppy’s Demise has been shortlisted for the MER prize for youth fiction. 

You can find all Sally’s books at your nearest Exclusive Books

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Ultimate Chocolate Brownies

The Story

A very good friend of mine handed me a copy of Saved by Cake by Marian Keyes. Now before I go on, you must know dear reader that Marian Keyes is the woman who single-handedly walked me through many a reading rut and fast became my FAVOURITEST author in the whole world. So you can imagine the squealing, the gratitude tears and the vowing to serve her every whim. AND IT IS SIGNED!

Madame Keyes (the Grande Dame of Chicklit) held my hand through every heartbreak, every change and taught me to laugh about it.  It was until her last book Brightest Star in the Sky did I learn that her biggest demon was throttling her to breaking: Depression. All that time I was shoving cake in my mouth waiting for the next Marian Keyes, she was finding a new way to get to her readers.  A cookbook, with everything you could need want and bake...

So something new for the blog dears.  A recipe.  I decided (One Sunday Morning) to bake Marian Keyes' Ultimate Chocolate Brownies.  Here we go...
(P.S you can find Marian on her Website or on Twitter)

The Recipe

My Batter

These are dark, very gooey, dense, chocolatey and wonderful.
225g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
225g butter
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
200g light brown soft sugar
170g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
100g brazil nuts, chopped quite small

Me Licking The Spoon
  1. Liberally butter a 20cm square tin (loose-bottomed, if possible) and preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/gas 2½.
  2. Gently melt the chocolate and the butter together in a heatproof bowl over a pan of hot water.
  3. Beat the eggs, egg yolks and sugar together until they start to look a bit like caramel.
  4.  Pour in the melted chocolate and butter and mix together, but don’t overbeat because if you do (I did on my first go) it sort of ‘coagulates’. Not good.
  5.  Sieve in the flour, baking powder and salt, and fold through.
  6. Add the chopped brazil nuts and gently mix. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for a mere 20 minutes.
  7. Put the tin on a wire rack to cool for at least 3 hours. If you cut it too soon, the brownie will leak all over the place (I make these mistakes so that you don’t have to). When the time is up, turn out of the tin and cut into nine equal-sized squares.

 These were so easy to make.  I used the wrong chocolate, took them out too early but, eh, they still flew into bellies without being chewed.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen

About the Book

A mesmerizing debut about a young girl whose steadfast belief and imagination bring everything she once held dear into treacherous balance.

In Grace McCleen's harrowing, powerful debut, she introduces an unforgettable heroine in ten-year-old Judith McPherson, a young believer who sees the world with the clear Eyes of Faith. Persecuted at school for her beliefs and struggling with her distant, devout father at home, young Judith finds solace and connection in a model in miniature of the Promised Land that she has constructed in her room from collected discarded scraps - the Land of Decoration. Where others might see rubbish, Judith sees possibility and divinity in even the strangest traces left behind. As ominous forces disrupt the peace in her and Father's modest lives - a strike threatens her father's factory job, and the taunting at school slips into dangerous territory - Judith makes a miracle in the Land of Decoration that solidifies her blossoming convictions.

She is God's chosen instrument. But the heady consequences of her newfound power are difficult to control and may threaten the very foundations of her world. With its intensely taut storytelling and crystalline prose, The Land of Decoration is a gripping, psychologically complex story of good and evil, belonging and isolation, which casts new and startling light on how far we'll go to protect the things we love most.


This debut novel from Grace McCleen is quite a remarkable piece of work. I found it quite easy to read, and finished it fairly quickly. The content, though, is intriguing and this is one of those books that inevitably makes you think deeply and question certain values one takes for granted. All the while, the storyline ensures that you want to know what happens next to our extraordinary ten year old narrator.

Our protagonist is Judith McPherson, a creative young girl whose mother died whilst giving birth to her, and whose father is blindly following a faith which dictates how they should live every moment of their lives. The book opens with Judith explaining in excruciating detail her creation of a “promised land” using pipe cleaners as people, balls of grass as homes, fish from wire, even the sun and moon from tin foil and beads. This “Land of Decoration” exists inside her bedroom and is pivotal to the story.

Judith is being bullied by the insufferable Neil Lewis, who makes every effort to ensure that life at school is totally miserable for many of his peers. When he threatens Judith with drowning her in a toilet, she becomes very frightened and reaches for ten year old logic to save her. She imagines that if it snows on the following day, she won’t have to go to school and face her nemesis. So she uses shaving foam and cotton wool and ‘makes’ snow in her Land of Decoration. And, the next day when she pulls back her curtains, the real world is covered in snow. Judith has performed her first miracle. 

Now begins the real story as Judith comes to terms with her power. She begins talking to God and He appears to be responding to her. No one believes her new found power – not her father or his ‘brothers’ at the church they devoutly attend every Sunday. The tale is tinged with irony in this regard, and also poses us as readers with questions: Is Judith really God’s instrument? What is the reason for Judith’s power? Did she really make it snow? And should she use her power to deal out revenge upon Neil Lewis?
Faith, morality, and responsibility are major themes of McCleen’s debut. She uses these to explore the relationship between Judith and her father. There is something so moving about certain passages which capture the contradictions within our beliefs:
"I looked at Father and knew I couldn’t ask any more. I wandered to the windowsill. ‘Nothing is happening to these mustard seeds,’ I said. ‘Do you think it’s because I don’t believe they will grow?’

‘No, Judith,’ Father said. ‘It’s probably because you don’t know how to grow mustard seeds.’"
McCleen examines what it means to have faith – her poignant passages show how power can cause one to question what is right and wrong; how making decisions have consequences; the ability to accept responsibility for one’s actions; and the difference (or lack thereof) of having faith in oneself and having faith in God.

This is a delightfully simple book filled with complex characters and questions everyone asks about Life sooner or later. The story unfolds at an increasingly fast pace, building up to a truly wondrous dénouement that will have you riveted. 

Review by Bradley Lutz

About the Author

Grace McCleen was born in Wales and grew up in a fundamentalist religion where she did not have much contact with non-believers. Her family moved to Ireland when she was ten, where she was schooled at home. When Grace and her family moved back to Britain she went back to school and her English teacher suggested she apply to Oxford.

She studied English Literature at Oxford University and The University of York before becoming a full-time writer and musician. She lives in London. The Land of Decoration is her first novel.

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