Friday, June 29, 2012

Author's Pie: Cat Hellisen

During the winter months, there is nothing better than a good crispy pie and a good book.  Welcome to another glorious Author's Pie. This week we are baking up a pie that will leave you dooling.  So sit back, and have a slice!

Cat Hellisen is an author of fantasy for adults and young adults. Born in 1977 in Cape Town, South Africa, she has also lived in Johannesburg, Knysna, and Nottingham.
You can find Cat roaming twitter, on goodreads and on her website.


What inspired the theme for When the Sea is Rising Red?

Someone once told me that my stories have recurring ideas of magic as a drug, and boys saving each other with their love. Um. I think she was right, because those do both crop up, although When the Sea is Rising Red is a bit low on the second one, sadly.

I'm fascinated by making the mundane magical and the magical mundane - sand into glass, drugs into magic, unicorns into goats – and with the idea of “found family” being stronger and more important than biological family. So these ideas all fed into the storyline.

What is your favourite thing (be it theme, plot, covers, etc) about Young Adult novels?

I love that coming-of-age feel that typifies YA; that standing on the cusp of childhood looking out over this strange new world of adulthood, and being both desperate to be a part of it, but being terrified at the same time.

Young Adult is a catch-all term really, there's no major defining genre – YA can be paranormal, high fantasy, contemporary, stupid, brilliant, shallow, intense, told in verse, a quick read or a massive tome. YA can tell you the same tired story you've heard a million times, in the same tired language, or it can thrill you, pick apart humanity, and make you see things differently.

So I tend to hate the term Young Adult because I feel it's more a marketing ploy than anything else, and readers unfamiliar with the diversity of work out there may be tempted to make a flash judgement.

It all for me comes back to that liminal state of not-an-adult-not-a-child, but instead some dreamy half-formed thing between. When YA captures that, it rises above and really shows what it's capable of.

Which character would you most like to be best friends? (Either in your novel or from any other novels?).

Patrick Bateman. 

On a more serious level, I never want to be friends with book characters. I like seeing them suffer, and I mean, if you want your friends to suffer for your entertainment then I think maybe you're just possibly not best friend material.

Just possibly.

What is the oddest book on your bookshelf?

Fiction or Non-fiction? The Jewish Study Bible, probably covers both. No seriously, I have no idea how to answer that. I'm stumped. What do you mean by odd? Oddly written? Odd content? I'm panicking over this question now.

 What is your favourite pie?

YAY AN EASY ONE! Steak and Guinness Pie. It used to be steak and kidney, although when I was younger I wouldn't touch it because my dad told me it was snake and pygmy pie and I believed him.

Cat's Book


After seventeen-year-old Felicita’s dearest friend, Ilven, kills herself to escape an arranged marriage, Felicita chooses freedom over privilege. She fakes her own death and leaves her sheltered life as one of Pelimburg’s magical elite behind. Living in the slums, scrubbing dishes for a living, she falls for charismatic Dash while also becoming fascinated with vampire Jannik.

Then something shocking washes up on the beach: Ilven's death has called out of the sea a dangerous, wild magic. Felicita must decide whether her loyalties lie with the family she abandoned... or with those who would twist this dark power to destroy Pelimburg's caste system, and the whole city along with it.

Check out my review

Published by Farrar Strauss, distributed by Pan Macmillan South Africa.  You can buy Cat's Book at your nearest Exclusive Books

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

About the Book

Luminous, haunting, unforgettable, The Age of Miracles is a stunning fiction debut by a superb new writer, a story about coming of age during extraordinary times, about people going on with their lives in an era of profound uncertainty.

On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life—the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.

With spare, graceful prose and the emotional wisdom of a born storyteller, Karen Thompson Walker has created a singular narrator in Julia, a resilient and insightful young girl, and a moving portrait of family life set against the backdrop of an utterly altered world.


“... we all had a little more time to decide what not to do. And who knows how fast a second-guess can travel? Who has ever measured the exact speed of regret?”

I enjoy novels which one might categorise as speculative fiction: The Age of Miracles certainly fits this category – it pushes the boundaries of conventional fiction and challenges the reader to ponder that age old question “what if...?”

The premise of Walker’s debut is based on the intriguing idea that the Earth’s rotation has begun to slow, causing the days to grow by fifty six minutes. Gradually, this increases to the point where days would go by in complete darkness only to be followed by days of bright light. This, of course, affects the environment, gravity, and most importantly, the manner in which people adapt to a new world with new structures and routines. 

In essence, this book is about one family seen through the eyes of the only child, Julia, and how each day becomes a different challenge as life has to go on. Julia is on the verge of adolescence and she is just as worried about approaching the hot boy at school as she is about birds falling from the sky because of ‘the slowing’. Her parents are at a stage in their lives where their marriage is beginning to show cracks, her grandfather is completely paranoid about what he perceives as a government conspiracy, and her best friend is leaving the state because her Mormon family believes ‘the slowing’ signals the end times. Alone and unpopular, Julia has to contend with growing up in a world which is shifting towards a very real but invisible catastrophe. 

Added to this, the governments declare ‘clock time’ – that is to say, regardless of whether it is sunshine or darkness, people must live according to the time on the clock. Some people go along with this; others resist – resulting in increasing persecution and fear. 
“How quaint the old twenty-four-hour clock began to look to us, how impossibly clean-cut... How had we believed, we wondered, in such simplistic things?”

If I had one criticism, it would be the title. The Age of Miracles sounds too much like a self-help book than the wonderfully insightful read it actually is. It is a pity no one could come up with something simpler and catchier – for example The Slowing, as a friend suggested.

Punctuated with philosophy, The Age of Miracles is a sterling novel which one can easily finish in a day (a regular 24 hour one) and it will leave you thinking about it for a long time afterwards. Walker has captured the uncertainty of the human condition in a very unique and yet realistic tale, portraying the reactions and lives of people caught up in a situation that no one fully comprehends. Top marks for a splendid debut.

“But I guess it never is what you worry over that comes to pass in the end. The real catastrophes are always different – unimagined, unprepared for, unknown.”
Review by Bradley Lutz


About Author

KAREN THOMPSON WALKER holds an M.F.A. from Columbia University and is an editor of fiction and non-fiction at Simon & Schuster. The Age of Miracles is her first book.

Find the Author
Goodreads | Website

Buy the book from your nearest Exclusive Books.  Go ahead and Sticker it here

Monday, June 25, 2012

Book Club of Classics I Have Never Read

It is one of those dinners.  You know the type where the wine flows faster than the river Jordan and you have suddenly joined a See-Food (Where you see food and eat it) diet between the first and second course.  You gorge yourself on wine and all things delicious.  One person announces "The Great Gatsby was my favourite book!", random and unexpected!  Other guests just sit stunned.  One person says nonchalantly "I haven't read it" and takes a sip of wine as the other book lovers stare on in unhidden horror. "Wait!" one person starts the question not believing the sudden proclamation, "You have NEVER read The Great Gatsby?".  The table conversation lulls and it's like old friends have suddenly become strangers.

Melissa, a dear friend of mine, and I sat across a table from each other having this exact conversation.  EXCEPT there was more wine, more pizza and our speech slightly more slurred than above.  I took up my glass of wine and said, "Well you have to read it.  I challenge you! I'll read one classic I have never read".  She gave me this look, like a plan was hatching and I could almost hear Brain saying to Pinky "Tonight we take over the WORLD!!!!". 

So that's how this was born.  Every two months we gather huddled in a cosy, quaint coffee shop and devour cake and books.  The First meeting took place in the decadent coffee shop (Pit Stop) at Love Books where we quickly decided to ease (yeah right!) into Jane Austen.  The Second meeting was held at The Contessa's Tea Shop, saw growth from 4 members to the rowdy 9 who scrambled to voice opinions, commented on the cake and cooed at books they loved!  Our new theme Classic Adventure (excluding, fantasy and children's books).

SO ...

I have created a page on the blog dedicated to the The Book Club of Classics I Have Never Read here.  Feel free to join us (fill in the form so we can send details to you.) if you are based in Johannesburg or Pretoria.

So till the next book club, Happy Adverturing!!!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Oh my, Book!

What Jonathan Ball Publishers sent me ...

Friday, June 15, 2012

Author's Pie: Shubnum Khan

Welcome to another crusty pie on It's a Book Thing!

Shubnum Khan, Ladies and Gents, is joining us today.  So pull up a chair and sip on your tea because this recently UJ literary prize shortlistee, author, freelance journalist, cartoonist and media lecturer is sure to have you drooling over more than just her food filled writing!

A big thank you to Shubnum for taking part in today's Author's Pie

1. Onion Tears revolves heavily around family and food, what is your favourite food and why?

I want to say something exotic and Indian like butter chicken with hot roti but I'm a product of a Western system so it's more like chicken burger and chips. Oh yes, and I love boiled monkey nuts. I have a hunch that when I'm pregnant (yes, after I get married, mother) I shall be craving big pots of boiled monkey nuts. (It sounds rude, but that's just because we live in a dirty society).

2. What inspired you to write Onion Tears?

The bigger question is what inspired me to write at all. I think there suddenly comes a point in your life, or perhaps your writing when you realise that you can also try and create some of those fantastic tales you've been reading about. You suddenly have the power to create a whole world in your head with all its own rules and systems. That amazes me all the time. That idea, that kind of freedom, that liberation, is inspiring in itself. The kind of beauty in that shocks me.

3. What is your favourite thing to do when reading/buying books/or writing?

One my absolute favourite things in the world is to have a scrumptious sandwich (or a bowl of boiled nuts!) while lying on a couch and reading a good book. It's up there with long hot showers, late mornings, Teju Cole tweets and Archie comics.

4. Which of your characters would you be best friends with?

You would think it would be the melancholic and beautiful Summaya but I would rather get to know Hoosen better. I love the way little boys are so innocent and surprisingly caring and tender. That point before they understand they have a place in the world and society's perceptions of what that place should be. I think males are truest to themselves when they are boys. Some men retain that and you see it in small fragile moments when they are vulnerable. It is quite beautiful.

5. Tell us about the recent shortlisting of Onion Tears on the UJ Lit prize? Your thoughts?

Well, I'm excited about the shortlisting - although a wise woman (ahem, with the initials KA) once told me that shortlists are not everything and don't always mean anything about one's writings. So while I am am certainly thrilled about the recognition I am also just trying to navigate that strange space between understanding that my writing is for myself and for my readers and not for winning competitions or getting people to like me. It's a funny world this literary world - it is easy to get swept up in wanting to please people and win prizes and I fear the moments when I will disappoint myself by not being true.

Shubnum's Book

Trade Paperback cover
Love, loss and life are the themes that weave through this tale of three generations of Muslim women living in suburban South Africa. Khadeejah Bibi Ballim is a hard-working and stubborn first generation Indian who longs for her beloved homeland and often questions what she is doing on the tip of Africa. At thirty-seven, her daughter Summaya is struggling to reconcile her South African and Indian identities, while Summaya's own daughter, eleven-year old Aneesa, is a girl who has some difficult questions of her own. Is her mother lying to her about her father's death? Why won't she tell her what really happened? Gradually, the past merges with the present as the novel meanders through their lives, uncovering the secrets people keep, the words they swallow and the emotions they elect to mute. For this family, faintly detectable through the sharp spicy aromas that find their way out of Khadeejah's kitchen, the scent of tragedy is always threatening. Eventually it will bring this family together. If not, it will tear them apart.

Shubnum is published by Penguin Books South Africa and Onion Tears is available from your nearest Exclusive Books

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen

About the Book

After seventeen-year-old Felicita’s dearest friend, Ilven, kills herself to escape an arranged marriage, Felicita chooses freedom over privilege. She fakes her own death and leaves her sheltered life as one of Pelimburg’s magical elite behind. Living in the slums, scrubbing dishes for a living, she falls for charismatic Dash while also becoming fascinated with vampire Jannik.

Then something shocking washes up on the beach: Ilven's death has called out of the sea a dangerous, wild magic. Felicita must decide whether her loyalties lie with the family she abandoned... or with those who would twist this dark power to destroy Pelimburg's caste system, and the whole city along with it.


This is the type of book that awakens the myths your grandmother once told you of boggarts, sea witches and silkies. It’s the fine web of reality and tale, that shoved you in the direction to read more and discover new worlds like Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree series or Roald Dahl’s Witches, The BFG and James and the Giant Peach; all great tales that captivate a wide-eyed youth.  

It was stories like this (and The Phantom of the Opera) that my Gran would weave together for us before bedtime and Cat Hellisen has brought it to book form. A story merged with the scriv-addicted High Lammers (the Rich) and the Hobs (the poor), mixed with a touch of fairy tale and an amazing character base.

It’s difficult to find great YA with every aunt and their dog writing vampires and angels. A prince and the pauper tale of a High Lammer (Felicita) who fakes her own death when her friend Ilven commits suicide to avoid an arranged marriage and takes up a fake identity working as a tea girl on Whelk Street. She falls for the dashing Dash (excuse the Pun) and ends up crossing paths with ‘bat’ Jannik (A vampire). It is only when whispers of revolution ripples through the town when dead bodies start popping up on the beach. An omen in this town, one where sea witches rise from the depths and silkies lure men into the open blue.

Cat Hellisen gives her characters realism in fiction. Each have their own dark horrors to battle with, from being a ‘bats’ donor for money to having murdered a parent. She deals with themes of prostitution, hard labour and sordid streets where wheeling and dealing rule the economy. An ripples of Oliver Twist where Dash is The Artful Dodger and Felicita: Oliver.

It has your usual love triangle, your vampire and magic but where we other YA novels cannot match Ms Hellisen (A Captonian) is the intrigue of mystic tales, omens and a re-write of the usual; she is a witch of the written word, she coaxes vampires and Hobs into a pot and stirs them together ...

A great story of one girl figuring out that the future before her isn’t what she wants and she goes off to find a new one and finds out that she is stronger than the name of her house. It’s a great story!


About the Author

Cat Hellisen is an author of fantasy for adults and young adults. Born in 1977 in Cape Town, South Africa, she has also lived in Johannesburg, Knysna, and Nottingham.

Find the Author

Friday, June 1, 2012

Author's Pie: Paige Nick

Welcome to another piping hot edition of author’s pie.  

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 Paige Nick, a copywriter, Sunday Times columnist, blogger and author of two novels, A Million Miles from Normal and This Way Up. You can find Paige on her blog A Million Miles From Normal or on Twitter.

Now for the best part of the pie...

A big thank you to Paige for doing this interview

1. Which of your heroines are you most like; Stella or Rachel?
I’m definitely more like Rachel from A Million Miles from Normal. Stella from This Way Up, has a bit of a stick up her bum. Although I’d much rather have Stella’s job than Rachel’s job.

2. What would your Agony Aunt name be?
I’m tempted to go really naff with something like Aunty Dora, just for a laugh, but then I doubt anyone would actually write in. Maybe Aunty Aggie? It’s ugly, but descriptive.

3. What is the BEST & WORST dating site name you have come across?
There are a lot more worsts than bests unfortunately. For me, the worsts are the ones who don’t try very hard and just use their names, or when they think they’re being clever, like ‘Mr69’, or ‘Mr Right’, when in fact they’re just being douche bags. I also think spelling mistakes in your name are a huge turn off, like ‘You’re Man’. If you can’t even spell your own name right we may be getting off to a bad start. 
The best ones are when they’ve thought about it a little and maybe even personalised it. There’s so much you can say about yourself with a clever name. ‘Mr Darcy’ for example, if you read between the lines, shows that he’s smart and into literature (unless your real name is actually Mr Darcy, then not so much).

4. What is your favourite thing about writing?
I think it’s the escape, being able to disappear into words for hours. Those rare times when the words just fall out of your head effortlessly, there’s no feeling in the world quite like it.

5. If you were in a bookshop during a fire, which 3 books would you risk your life to save?
Can’t we save all of them? No? Dammit! Alright, I suppose I would try to save Long Walk to Freedom, because it’s the kind of book you can read over and over. And anything by my favourite author, Jim Crace, every time someone doesn’t read one of his books, a kitten dies, I’m sure of it.

Paige's Books

Stella du Preez has the perfect life. Well almost. She is married to a great man. She has a great, supportive family. She lives in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Her friends are the best.
But - well, her job isn't great. As the sex column agony aunt, Dr Dee, she has to deal with an almost unending slew of queries about the ickiest of things when all she really wants is to be taken seriously as a journalist.
Then, just when it seems like things can't get worse on the work front, Stella's dream job - of features writer - is given to the all-too-likeable Thandi. Upset and disappointed, Stella calls Max to tell him what has happened, but instead she tells a small untruth - a little white lie - that slowly but surely unravels her whole perfect world.

All Rachel Marcus wants is a cool job, a guy who has all his own teeth and a decent cup of tea. Is that too much to ask? Rachel Marcus has a great life and an amazing job as a top copywriter at an advertising agency in Johannesburg, or rather Rachel Marcus HAD a great life and an amazing job as a top copywriter at an advertising agency in Johannesburg -- right up until she got fired.
Forced to sell everything she owns and leave Joburg in a hurry, Rachel decides to move to New York City, where she plans to make a fabulous life for herself and prove to everyone back home that she's not a complete disaster. Except the only job she can find is at a crap ad agency, with a hippie freak for a boss and an alcoholic drug addict for an art director. The only apartment she can afford is the world's smallest cockroach-infested rat trap. And all the men she meets are stalkers, ex cons and whack jobs. In fact, the only upside to her new life is her new best friend -- her frustratingly petite neighbour, Sue.

Will Rachel Marcus ever get it together or is she destined to spend the rest of her life working on ads for sanitary pads, trawling Internet dating sites and dreaming of that elusive cup of Five Roses? Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure, living in the Big Apple will change Rachel's life forever.

Published by Penguin South Africa and all her books are available from Exclusive Books
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