Friday, March 29, 2013

Two Brothers by Ben Elton

About the Book

Berlin 1920
Two babies are born.
Two brothers. United and indivisible, sharing everything. Twins in all but blood.
As Germany marches into its Nazi Armageddon, the ties of family, friendship and love are tested to the very limits of endurance. And the brothers are faced with an unimaginable choice...
Which one of them will survive?
Ben Elton's most personal novel to date, Two Brothers transports the reader to the time of history's darkest hour.

Let’s kick off Boeke season with a bang.

Having never read Ben Elton, but knowing his reputation, I was incredibly intimidated by Two Brothers; not only because the subject carries more emotional baggage than it does pages, but it seems a trend of Holocaust books are landing fast and furiously among us – are we finally able to admit that wars make monsters of men while still boosting the economy? It’s a tricky subject and for fear of dropping to the floor in an emotional heap, I tend to avoid heavy set, thickly rich, wartime, historical fiction. It’s a tough life kids, but someone has to read them!  

I put my big-girl reading glasses on and set to work, with a setting that history classes filled in for me, Ben Elton adds a dollop of trouble to the mix, by weaving it around two brothers – twins. One freezing night in 1920, Frieda and Wolfgang become parents to a set of twin boys, but when one twin dies, fate intervenes, and an unwanted baby is born, merely rooms away. Frieda raises them as brothers – twins in all but blood. It’s a line that truly does change everything, because Frieda and Wolfgang are Jewish, and the unwanted baby is German. As their world turns from a taboo Germany – poor, illustrious, and magical – to a Hitler-ruled WW2 Germany – violent, separated and racist – the family is forced to admit the truth that divides them.  

A sweeping saga, turbulent in more than 500 pages, the division and violence between Jews and Germans, are not the only hiccup Elton splatters on the page. He weaves the family together with one girl (the daughter of a rich Jewish family); Dagmar, the symbol of infatuation for the two boys (Paulus and Otto), and the maids daughter, Silke. The four grow-up throughout the most turbulent of Germany’s time. This leaves the reader clamouring as all begin to discover which side they truly belong on.

A tricky novel to review, with characters than demand equal time, flaws and retribution on the page; a richly-layered setting that sets more wheels in motion; to the dense emotion in Elton’s personal novel to-date. Hoisting history, character, human-nature, family, devotion and love on his shoulders that left me agreeing whole-heartedly with another reviewer (Zoe Hinis, The Book Armada): 

I would give this to my children one day as part of their reading, to help them understand the nature of the Nazi regime, in all of its howling, murderous insanity.

I hope you pick this up for more than just the history lesson...


(This was Exclusive Books's book of the month for March, follow my tag Boeke 2013 for more updates and reviews)
About the Author


Ben Elton is one of Britain's most provocative and entertaining writers. From celebrity to climate change, from the First World War to the end of the world, his books give his unique perspective on some of the most controversial topics of our time.

He has written twelve major bestsellers, including Stark, Popcorn, Inconceivable (filmed as Maybe Baby, which he also directed), Dead Famous, High Society (WH Smith People's Choice Award 2003) and The First Casualty.

He has also written some of television's most popular and incisive comedy, including The Young Ones, Blackadder and The Man From Auntie. His stage work includes three West End plays and the hit musicals The Beautiful Game and We Will Rock You.

He is married with three children.
Find the Author

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Things I Have Learnt About Life Through Books

When my world comes to an abrupt halt the first I do is reach for a book, be it new or an old favourite. I seek the familiar feel of a creamy-bonded paper and the rise and fall of plot line. I rely on the author to turn my world from sap-like grey to a churning-spotlight of cherry red, I want the characters to envelop me into their flaws and take me away from my own. The old saying of reading is escapism.

I revolt in anger with the French Revolution, I fall in love with an Austen novel, I yearn for more with Victor Hugo, and I roll-about in magical wit with Dahl. I can find a book for every mood, crisis and emotional distress – books heal, well in my books they do.

I pleaded to my tweeps on twitter, what they have learned about life through books:

Tammy February

Lesson: Sometimes fiction, no matter how terrible a character's circumstances are, is still sometimes better than reality.

Cat Hellisen

That magic is real. Even if it's just real in our heads.

Rene Brophy

Don't skip pages, it's all about the journey.

Lood du Plessis

A friend is more likely to betray you than an enemy.

Great answers, aren’t they? So with the heart of books teaching and guiding, I have to confess the full extent of learning from my dealings with books:

The greatest gift my parents gave me was a book, the paper cuts hurt but the world looks better from the edge of a book.

It’s an incredibly personal act, like running or crafting a piece of art, the act of reading becomes so incredibly personal, that you ultimately become your reading habits. It wasn’t until a week ago, an encounter that had me trying to decipher someone, I asked what their favourite book was, and the answer no doubt 'I have a top 50 that always changes' made me grin, because I have been there. It tells me that the person is open minded, and isn’t solidified in one genre.

I know that fantasy readers are usually people with high moral standings, and unending imaginations – these readers are the best to have as friends; 
Non-fiction readers, value knowledge, are out-of-the-box thinkers and usually prefer numbers to words – these readers make great doctors and accountants (don’t forget the self-help junkies who love knowing what makes people tick, and those travel-ites who can journey to the ends of the earth from a book);

Sci-fi readers are an amalgamation of the above two categories, they thrive of the technicalities and the off-road (or earth) adventures.  

Then you get the classic readers, they will always tell you that they were ‘born in the wrong time’ – they were, they are the traditionalists, the art seekers and the language makers. 

Your fiction readers are simply not filled toe to head in fanciful imagination – they are sorted by taste: Crime, Chicklit and Literary. Ranging from those who are curious, thrill-seekers, perhaps wanting that escapism, those are your crime/mystery readers. Chicklit/romance readers love to be pampered; they adore the soft feeling of yearning, the burst of laughter that bubbles up at quirky moments and the harsh realities of life; probably pertaining to their own lives. Literary lovers are the next of kin for your classic readers, they love the lyrical and loose haiku’s that a great author has to give.

It is almost like judging a book by its cover, you know it’s bad but, secretly, we all do it anyway. Reading doesn’t really make you the person you are, it does however condition you into who you want to be, a favourite character, a writing style or even a time period.  
Local fiction writer Steven Boykey Sidley said at the launch of his new novel, Stepping Out, ‘Non-fiction taught me the facts of life, but it was fiction that taught me how to live my life’.
Reading conditions, shines and simplifies – so if I ask you what your favourite book is, know that I am simply figuring out who you are.
So what is your favourite book?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

About the Book
In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnúsdóttir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of two men. 
Agnes is sent to wait out the months leading up to her execution on the farm of district officer Jón Jónsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderess in their midst, the family avoid contact with Agnes. Only Tóti, the young assistant priest appointed her spiritual guardian, will listen to Agnes’s side of the story. As the year progresses and the hardships of rural life force everyone to work side by side, the family’s attitude to Agnes starts to change, until one winter night, she begins her whispered confession to them, and they realize that all is not as they had assumed.
Based on a true story, Burial Rites is an astonishing and moving novel about the truths we claim to know and the ways in which we interpret what we’re told. In beautiful, cut-glass prose, Hannah Kent portrays Iceland’s formidable landscape, in which every day is a battle for survival, and asks, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?  



I’ll admit this only once, but I never really understood the Stieg Larson addiction ... I found the books too weighed down with description and the movies far too violent. I happily handed them over the counter to customers at Exclusive Books (back in the days of my Nightstaff stints) and prayed to the heavens that that copy would be the sale that would give me my Christmas bonus. HA! I was young and wrapped in the throes of being a sci-fi fantasy geek; this was before I delved into John Irving and Marian Keyes, who ultimately made me the biggest fiction fiend known to the world of publishing.

I dipped through this treat that held me ironically by the throat – setting me with unease and nervous gulps. Set in 1829 Iceland, Agnes Magnúsdóttir, a house maid, is sentenced to death for her part in the murder of Natan Ketilsson (stabbing him and then setting his dead body on fire). In the months leading up to Agnes’s execution, she is sent, to the disgust of the owners, to a small isolated farm in the town she grew up in. She is assigned a young assistant priest to ‘salvage’ her soul in the days leading up to her death. It is through the priest, the owners of the farm and Agnes’s stories the truth of Natan’s murder floats to the surface.
While not wildly pacey, Burial Rites is told through an exquisitely evocative voice that is sure to keep you ensconced – surprisingly gripping, is the apt two-word description that I would stamp across this book. There is more to this story than the prose, the knotted plot line and cold blooded murder. The story sets itself up in a way that ultimately you know what is going to happen – there aren’t any fleeting escapades of rescue or loud trumpeting exclamations of a lover’s devotion, nor do the good guys win in this one. A heartbreakingly knowable ending – because you have to expect the outcome when it comes to flawed legal systems and women ruled in a male world. 

A story that weaves itself around your body like wild vines as it gnaws at your skin and holds you hostage pinching your skin with a love story gone wrong, a murder that will give you nightmares and a young woman’s story of the truth, love and murder ...

About the Author
Hannah Kent was born in Adelaide in 1985. She is the co-founder and deputy editor of Australian literary journal Kill Your Darlings, and is completing her PhD at Flinders University. In 2011 she won the inaugural Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award. Burial Rites is her first novel. 
Find the Author


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Franschhoek Literary Festival


I can't help not post about FLF, a festival held in-between the expanse of Cape Town's gorgeous mountains and wine lands; what most would call a perfect combination.  It is 2013 and this year FLF has booksters, like myself, salivating at the idea of dropping everything and attending, it is the Golden Globes for local books and authors (and let's not forget the aray of international authors that visit).

This year is a slam-dunk of a festival, with authors like Alexander McCall Smith, Anthony Horowitz, Kate Mosse, Marguerite Poland, Finuala Dowling, Jo-Anne Richards, Sarah Lotz, Lauren Beukes, and Cat Hellisen.  You can find the entire programme here and tickets here.  Don't forget to take pictures, and feel free to send them to me.
Happy Reading!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

About the Book
They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose
Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life — steady boyfriend, close family — who has never been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex– Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life — big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel — and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Will is acerbic, moody, bossy — but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

A Love Story for this generation, Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common — a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?

Let me put it out there, before I completely convince you that I am not a fraud. As an avid Marian Keyes fan, I have never deviated from her comforting arm of chick-lit; she walked me through many a ‘girlish moment’ and made me laugh when all I wanted to do was cry into a wine bottle. I scoffed at other chick-lit writers, PAH! None shall ever be as good as ole’Marian! NEVER! 

Boy, have I been proven wrong, a pip-slap-don’t-cheek-your-mother-wrong. Me Before You was a book that kept popping up in those bookish Facebook groups that I am apart of; so I HAD to get my hands on a copy (Thanks Jean at Penguin Books SA).

Lou is a 26, and someone who seems rather plain. She has worked at the same place, The Buttered Bun tea shop, for six years and has dated the same man for seven, only ever determined to OUT DO in terms of fashion. She seems comfortable, happy and settled. Until, The Buttered Bun closes and she loses her job, we’ve all hunted for jobs, and after a few failed attempts (and even considering a job offer of being an escort), Lou takes the job of carer to a quadriplegic man, named Will Traynor.

See, this is where I might start to gush, because Moyes hoists her characters on a pedal stool slaps them in paint, leaving you to do with them what you will. Will Traynor is grumpy, sarcastic and unbelievably-unhappy and with a flick of Jojo Moyes’s magic wand she turns his life upside down. When Lou finds out a secret that Will is determined to stick to, she makes it her mission to save Will – or at least show him what it’s really like to live, wheelchair or not.

I fear the group-chatterers did no justice for this book, which sent me into fitful giggles and hysterical cry in a matter of chapters. The characters are flawed, quirky and hold an esteem that Dickens could compare to. 

Moments when I’d disagree with Moyes in her situational creation of plot with an arching eyebrow, and a ‘Really, Jojo?’ (As if we were friends). I would sip my tea, and she’d answer me (as if this were a conversation between author and reader) with a sarcastic remark or lovable moment.

A story about love and learning to take life as it comes.

Grab this book NOW!

Laugh, cry and fall in love, this book will make you believe in books... 

If you haven’t already
About the Author
Jojo Moyes was born in 1969 and grew up in London. After a varied career including stints as a minicab controller, typer of braille statements for blind people for NatWest, and brochure writer for Club 18-30 she did a degree at Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, London University. In 1992 She won a bursary financed by The Independent newspaper to attend the postgraduate newspaper journalism course at City University, and apart from 1994 when she worked in Hong Kong for the Sunday Morning Post, she worked at The Independent for ten years, including stints as Assistant news editor and Arts and Media Correspondent.

She has been a full time novelist since 2002, when her first book, Sheltering Rain was published. She lives on a farm in Essex with her husband, journalist Charles Arthur, and their three children.
Find the Author


Friday, March 15, 2013

Judged by Books

Don’t rush around thinking you’d missed an entire year. Boeke is here to stay, as Exclusive books begins to breathe new life into the promotion that started as a tongue-in-cheek take on the celebrated British Man Booker Prize.

The new process is an exciting one that now allows books throughout the year to stand a chance in this great award in the South African book trade. It now works like this:

At the start of each month, Exclusive Books will put forward a minimum of five titles according to the demand in store, what titles are receiving glowing reviews, and what books are most talked about. One of these titles will be picked out as the Book of the Month.

Where 10 judges (me being one of them) will announce their favourite; a gruelling task no doubt but one I am excited to be a part of. The first book up for the month is Two Brothers by Ben Elton.


Don’t forget to hop over to I Want a Dodo blog for more details and where I’ll be posting my reviews each month.

You can purchase Two Brothers by Ben Elton on

Friday, March 8, 2013

Author's Pie: Fiona Snyckers

It's been a rather quiet kitchen these past few months, as the world of book settles in the shelves and the kitchen ovens fire up.  Welcome back to Author's Pie - I am so excited to introduce a Stalwart of local fiction writing, Fiona Snyckers; Author, Journalist, Mother, and Twitteratti.
So sit back, grab your tea and enjoy...

1) Which of your favourite books do you wish you had written, or wish you'd live up to?
I wish I’d written the ‘Lucia’ series by E.F. Benson and ‘Red Sky at Morning’ by Richard Bradford. The ‘Lucia’ books are my idea of the perfect series, featuring a strong, flawed and hilarious woman protagonist. I have read them over and over again and never get tired of visiting Lucia’s world. For me, ‘Red Sky at Morning’ is the ultimate coming-of-age novel. It is intelligent, sensitive, funny and full of heart. If I could write a book half as good and memorable as that, it would be a wonderful legacy to leave.

2) How did you come up with Trinity Luhabe?
Trinity sprang into my mind fully-formed one day. I was imagining what my life at university would have been like if I’d been a completely different person – someone frivolous, light-hearted and bent on having fun, rather than the more serious academic type that I really was. I have also always been intrigued by what it must be like to be part of the privileged, born-free generation. How would you go through the normal adolescent process of rejecting your legacy before being able to embrace it again?

3) Why don't you like coffee?
It bothers me that I don’t like coffee. I feel as though I’m missing out on one of life’s greatest pleasures. I’ve tried so hard to like it – from a frothy, sweetened caramel macchiato, to a bitter double espresso, and everything in between. But it all still tastes like wet dog to me. Now tea, on the other hand, is a different matter entirely. I can’t live without tea.

4) What is the one quirk you have when writing?
I have to take off my rings and my watch while I’m writing. I can’t bear to write with anything on my hands. I didn’t even realise this was a quirk until I was taking part in the Short Story Day Chain Gang Challenge last year. I was sitting around a table with some other authors. One of my fellow writers watched me carefully removing my watch and rings before I could start typing, and pointed out that this was not entirely normal!

5) In your opinion, what is next for local fiction?
I believe that local fiction is going to go from strength to strength, not only in South Africa, but all over the world. Some of the most major book deals struck in the last year have involved South African authors. The international publishing community is starting to get the message that we’re a hot commodity. A few years ago, the fiction-reading world couldn’t get enough of Irish writers. Now it’s our turn.

Fiona's Books

Trinity Rising

Trinity Luhabe is so OVER the whole Robben Island thing. Sure, her dad was one of the last activists to be imprisoned there, but he’s now a billionaire mining magnate. We all have to move on, right?
And Trinity is moving on with a vengeance. She’s just passed Matric at an exclusive private school, and is all set to take Rhodes University by storm. She’s got the looks. She’s got the brains (sort of). She’s a girl with a plan. Okay, it’s not a plan she’s prepared to share with just anyone – especially not her feminist, do-gooder mother.
Delightfully ditzy, but with an inner core of strength, Trinity parties her way through life. That is, until she discovers that life bites back. And then there’s her arch-enemy – the deliciously wicked Sophie Agincourt, who definitely has something evil up her sleeve.
Will Sandton’s favourite daughter ever find true love, straighten out her priorities, and make it to lectures on time? Or will her career be over before it’s begun?
Find out as you follow her along the path of self-discovery and eBay handbags in the first book of the beguiling "Trinity Luhabe" series.

Trinity on Air

Following the popular success and critical acclaim of her first novel, Fiona Snyckers is back with the second book in the beguiling Trinity Luhabe series. The much-anticipated sequel to Trinity Rising picks up the story four years on, when Trinity is 23 and living in Johannesburg.

Trinity On Air is packed with all the charm and humour readers have come to expect from Fiona Snyckers – with just an added pinch of danger.

With her university days behind her, life couldn’t be better for Trinity Luhabe. She’s got everything a Sandton girl needs:

The Perfect Boyfriend: Ethan brings her (fat-free) breakfast in bed and takes her to craft markets on weekends.

The Perfect Job: Working at Jozi Talks radio is a dream come true for Trinity. She’s still only on the traffic desk, but one day she’ll be reading the news… just as soon as she can convince her boss that “15 Hot Hairstyles For Summer” is a serious news story.

The Neighbour: Ajala is six foot five inches of mysterious Nigerian. Trinity thinks he’s a pussycat. Her best friend Steph thinks he’s a man-eating tiger. Looking into his business dealings could be Trinity’s ticket off the traffic desk and onto hard news.

The Ex: An old flame from university days is back … and hotter than ever. He’s threatening to turn Trinity’s comfortable life upside down.

Join Trinity Luhabe for the ride of her life as all the elements in her perfect world collide.

Fiona is published by Jonathan Ball Publishers

You can find other Author's Pie segments here
Happy Pi-day!
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