Friday, May 31, 2013

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

About the Book

Fifteen years old and blazing with the hope of a better life, Hattie Shepherd fled the horror of the American South on a dawn train bound for Philadelphia.

Hattie’s is a tale of strength, of resilience and heartbreak that spans six decades. Her American dream is shattered time and again: a husband who lies and cheats and nine children raised in a cramped little house that was only ever supposed to be temporary.

She keeps the children alive with sheer will and not an ounce of the affection they crave. She knows they don’t think her a kind woman — but how could they understand that all the love she had was used up in feeding them and clothing them.

How do you prepare your children for a world you know is cruel?

The lives of this unforgettable family form a searing portrait of twentieth century America. From the revivalist tents of Alabama to Vietnam, to the black middle-class enclave in the heart of the city, to a filthy bar in the ghetto, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is an extraordinary, distinctive novel about the guilt, sacrifice, responsibility and heartbreak that are an intrinsic part of ferocious love.


My greatest fear when reading a book is completely missing the point, that over arching thrust of emotion-mixed-with-plot-held-together-with-character-and-dipped-in-language; that moment of pure clarification and understanding for author’s need and voice, that instant connection. Oh, we’ve all had that experience with a book/character.

I started this book with very little attention to devote to it, don’t think for a minute that I didn’t want to read it, oh I wanted to read it, and specifically requested it, but as my schedule filled up and my mind began to float elsewhere I was petrified that this book would be wasted on me. It’s a very forgiving tale that even in my inability to give it the romance it deserved (quiet nights with tea), it solemnly skipped alongside me.

It proudly pushes itself forward into the pack of Toni Morrison’s Precious, sans the depression of Alice Walker's The Colour Purple, a novel which left me bereft with grief that I could barely stand to look at anyone.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is more an exploration of motherhood and womanhood, through the eyes and stories of children; all sewn together with sexuality, music, art, family, a tid-bit of witch-craft, mental instability, life, death, grief and, finally, disappointment. Twelve chapters explore and divulge, a sliver at a time, the pieces of Hattie that she keeps all hidden – all told through the eyes of her children. A strong, independent, black woman struggling to support her family tries to make it work, all the while hoping for something bigger and better for her children.

We never expect a flurry of plot twists, breath-holding, or mysterious conjuring of bodies in books such as this one; it’s merely a spectrum of human nature and the ripple effect thereof. We need more books from talented women like this, who force us to congratulate the suffering and revel in the glory.

This book is gorgeous in telling, heartbreaking in the reality of it all, and subtle in hints.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie was chosen as one of Exclusive Books' Recommended Reads for March.  See my Boeke posts here.

About the Author

Ayana Mathis is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is a recipient of the Michener-Copernicus Fellowship. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is her first novel.

Find the Author

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cover to Cover: a Online Magazine

South African publishing is an exciting place to be at the moment.  The scare of digital has dissipated, leaving publishers and booksellers to innovate.  The rules are beginning to change and processes are redeveloping - publishers are discovering that there are other ways to sell books.
We all know I am an Exclusive Books ambassador in my own right, purely as a bookseller my love of books and career in publishing was harvested and allowed to run amok. 
Last year, Exclusive Books launched a Social Bookselling platform called STICKERS, then they redeveloped their website and now they are back with a splash and giving readers that little bit extra.  Cover to Cover an online magazine that taps a market for fun, lively and relevant book content.

Lood du Plessis, Deputy Loyalty Manager at Exclusive Books, says:
We want to offer more to our members. It is not just about selling books to people. Cover to Cover is our way of adding value to the Fanatics experience. Now you can get your monthly fix of book news right on your tablet or smartphone, available to read at your leisure. And the Magazine isn’t limited to Fanatics members only, it is free for everyone! In the coming months we are going expand the magazine onto the iOS and Blackberry10 platforms, making it even more accessible for everyone.

It's set to be an exciting project, perhaps this is the time for bloggers to splurge upon these pages... *cough* hint *cough*
You can download the eZine:
IOS (Coming Soon)
Blackberry (Coming Soon)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Confessions of a Book Whore: Bad Books Have More to Teach

It was a wine-fuelled lunch that I spent with Lood (Who you’ll remember as the blogger I trusted not to completely destroy my online reputation for one week – you can find those posts here), in fact ‘wine-fuelled’ describes most of our lunches before 12pm – wine, books and food. It’s a devilish combination, but without a doubt some glimmer of inspiration propels from a conversation.

On this particular sunny day, Lood brashly proclaimed “You have more of a duty to review bad books, rather than good books”. I disagreed. I always disagree violently with Lood when he is right. We all know how I feel about reviewing bad books; I never give a bad book an opportunity to make it to review; purely because life is just too short to read bad books. 

I have stuck to my guns for almost two years of reviewing, kept the bad books at the back of my mind (which ones not to recommend), the good books on my bookshelf. Except when Tamarin, from I Want a Dodo, and I were asked to be judges for the Exclusive Books Boeke promotion last year, a promotion that has been going longer than I can remember. Reading books that weren’t ‘my kind of great’, I had to be objective – none of this selfish snobbery of putting the book down if it didn’t grab me; some surprised me, others proved me right.

It’s a tricky game to play, the world needs bad books. Let’s be honest, we aren’t going to love every book we read – some like Tamarin and Tammy give books more leeway than I do to prove them right or wrong...
Tammy: “When I write negative reviews, I try to find a redeeming quality I can mention”

Tamarin: “Yup, sometimes I fear that I might post more bad than good ones. Working on it though”

Teetering on a very thin line of personal tastes and disregarding any worth of the book. Reviewing is almost like a magic 8 ball of fate. There will, undoubtedly, be more bad books to review then there are good ones. Each review defines, refines and demands more of you as the reader, more of the publisher and, lastly, the author to create.

So where does this leave me in my vigilante cape of reviewing ... Do I give you the best of what I love, and leave you to delve helplessly into the world of HORRIFIC BOOKS? I can only promise that my reviews never undermine a moral code – my moral code. Not all the books I get make it to the TBR pile, but there will be a few books (at least once a week) that will cripple me into despair, or have me violently swear at how horrid it is. I can promise to give you the best of my best books – well, except on days I have lunch with Lood.

I leave you with this Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft the quote:
“Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.”

I’d love to hear what kind of reviews work for you?

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

About the Book
A time-travelling serial killer is impossible to trace – until one of his victims survives.

In Depression-era Chicago, Harper Curtis finds a key to a house that opens on to other times. But it comes at a cost. He has to kill the shining girls: bright young women, burning with potential. He stalks them through their lives across different eras, leaving anachronistic clues on their bodies, until, in 1989, one of his victims, Kirby Mazrachi, survives and starts hunting him back.
Throw together a crime-thriller, a time-travelling house and Lauren Beukes’ extreme talent for the macabre...

The Shining Girls had local publishers chomping at the bit for the opportunity to publish Lauren, the hotly contested bid among rabid-publishers ended in a healthy six-figure settlement, making Beukes South Africa’s biggest thing since Deon Meyer. I drooled over the first pages of this local fiction when publishers were given the ‘bidding packs were sent’ – I am still drooling over it. My collector’s edition arrived with much anticipation; I delved into the mind of a very original killer since Stephen King’s The Shining

Beukes serves on the deadliest of platters, a very different killer. Harper Curtis stumbles across a time-travelling house, one that whispers the names of girls who need to be killed; all that have a light that must be put out; girls filled to-brim with potential and light. The Shining Girls is science-fiction swirled with thriller, as Harper finds mementos from murders girls – that he is still-to murder – the house open its doors to different times, almost aiding Harper in his deeds. It isn’t until one victim survives, Kirby Mazrachi in 1989. Kirby is hell-bent on finding the man who savagely tried to kill her, with the help of Dan, a crime-beat journalist turned sport journalist who covered Kirby’s case.

I would usually sit and regale the murders, each of which are violent and gritty, but with time periods varying from the 20s to late 90s demanding to be known with a true sense of setting – one the reader can only sit in awe of Beukes. She has a knack for portraying strong women characters, Kirby, being one, is damaged, and drips in edgy humour and sarcasm.  

The Shining Girls becomes more than just a find-the-killer-thriller, but a cat and mouse hunt that acts in more reverse ways than one. With the thrill factor, ever-changing backdrops, and murders so foul, Beukes takes the reader on a ride from hell, only to be left with an ending as perplexing and incredibly creepy. Saying this, I have to submit that while the build-up, gripping tale of killer and murder, it’s the ending and twist that left me feeling like there was something more, something I’d missed out on – a clever set up, carried with talent and verve, poof, cut free. Needless to say, this is a book that needs to be read, not because she is a local talent, but because it’s a good read.

Get this. Be impressed. Local talent at its best.

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

You can find my Boeke 2013 posts here
About the Author
Lauren Beukes is an award-winning novelist who also writes comics, screenplays, TV shows and occasionally journalism.  Her novel, Zoo City (2010) which the New York Times described as “an energetic phantasmagorical noir” won the Arthur C Clarke Award and the Kitschies Red Tentacle. She is also the author of Moxyland, a dystopian consumertopia thriller and a non-fiction, Maverick: Extraordinary Women From South Africa’s Past. Her new novel, The Shining Girls, about a time-travelling serial killer is due out in Spring 2013.
Find Author

Monday, May 13, 2013

Boeke 2013 May selection

Boeke 2013 manages to add at least a spine-width of height to my To Be Read Pile, and every month we find one gem that sparkles just a little bit brighter.  Last month, I reviewed Maggie O'Farrell's Instructions for a Heatwave which clomped it's way to the number one spot for April.
So I won't bore you with the details, because by now you should know how this works...  Let's delve into May's selection from Exclusive Books Recommends.

The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey-Moore, Accidental Apprentice by Vikus Swarup, Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, and The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes is an outstanding thriller about ‘the girl who wouldn’t die’ and a time-travelling serial killer set in Chicago. Violent drifter Harper Curtis stumbles upon a house in 1931 that hides a secret as shocking as his own twisted nature: it opens into other times. But living in the house comes at a price: Harper must stalk and kill the ‘shining girls’ across decades – and cut the fire out of them.

The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat is Edward Kelsey-Moore’s debut book told with wit, charm and heart and set in small-town 60’s Indiana through to the present day. The novel features the deep friendship of three girls who hang out at a small-town diner and who laugh, cry and grow up together.

The Accidental Apprentice by Vikus Swarup, author of the book that inspired Slumdog Millionaire, is a delightful, fast-paced comedy that shows how life can change in an instant. A colourful portrait of Indian society painted with remarkable lightness and wit.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is about a woman who lives through the most turbulent events of the 20th century, and asks the question: what if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right? Short-listed for The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013.

Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki is an original and quirky story about some of the most brilliant and beguiling questions of our existence. It includes: a lost diary, a Hello Kitty lunchbox, a 104-year-old Buddhist nun, her great-granddaughter Nao, a lonely father, and a catfish that causes an earthquake.
And the winner for May is...
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes


You can find May's selection here (and don't forget to vote for your favourite one)


Friday, May 10, 2013

Author's Pie: Jassy Mackenzie


As winter slowly creeps up on us, moth balls are flung out of jerseys and flasks of warm hot chocolate line our stomachs.  If you're anything like me, then your To Be Read pile takes on a life of it's own and grows forth, so today I bring you some more local Author's Pie, with thriller-writer and femme fatal Jassy Mackenzie, who I remember, broke onto the scene with My Brother's Keeper (while it wasn't her first novel, it was certainly one that thrust her on to bestseller shelves) when I was still working nights at Exclusive Books. So without further adieu, I present Jassy Mackenzie.

1) Growing up, which books shaped your career in both writing and in reading?
Growing up I read enthusiastically and across all genres. Whatever I found in our house, which was full of books – mostly fiction – I would read. From the Modesty Blaise series to the Dark is Rising, and including authors like P.G. Wodehouse, Josephine Tey, Ruth Rendell, C.S. Lewis and many more.
2) As a sibling of five, are any of your characters based on any of your siblings?
I’d never be brave enough to base a character on any of my four sisters – or on any other person I know. Even if I tried to, I doubt that anyone would pick up the resemblance, because characters do take on a life of their own as the story develops and readers can also perceive them differently from how they are written. In Folly, the heroine does share a name with my oldest sister Emma. Emma is my most likeable character so I was delighted that my sister didn’t mind me borrowing her name.
3) You have written erotic fiction and crime, which one did you have the most fun with?
Erotic fiction is more fun to write than crime. When I write a book, I’m thinking about that book all the time, and so what I write flavours my attitude, perceptions and mindset. It’s more enjoyable to walk around in a haze of “just fallen in love” romantic bliss than it is to be puzzling over murder weapons, alibis, fight scenes and other logistics. Having said that, though, it is very satisfying in a completely different way to have the pieces fall into place as I finally manage to dream up a cunning plot twist in one of my thrillers. So, really, I’m very lucky to have the privilege of writing in both worlds.
4) Do you think there is a new trend for local fiction with the introduction of 50 SHADES OF GREY and the erotic fiction phenomena?
I hope that Fifty Shades will spark a new trend for locally written erotic romance – there are already established authors penning it including the three talented Capetonian writers who are using the pseudonym Helen S. Paige, as well as others I’ve heard of who are busy with their stories. There is a big market for it and I think it is a genre that South Africans are open to reading about in a local setting. Romance has always sold well in South Africa and it’s important to remember that erotica is a sub-genre of romance – it’s basically a love story that stays on the inside of the bedroom door when it closes.
5) What are you reading right now, and what do you think so far?
I’m currently re-reading all the Bill Bryson travel and science books I can get my hands on, but I’ve also recently enjoyed Room 207 by the immensely talented Kgebetli Moele, Bared to You by international romance author Sylvia Day, the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, and the young adult books by Lauren Oliver, with my particular favourite being Before I Fall.
Jassy's Books
Emma Caine is pushing forty and life is hitting her hard. Her husband has been brain damaged, she's lost her job, and she might lose her home. Instead of giving up, Emma starts hitting back. Drawing on experiences from a misspent youth, she opens a domination dungeon in an outbuilding in her garden and sets herself up as a dominatrix. Whipping, torturing and abusing the wealthy slaves who soon start lining up for her services is surprisingly easy for Emma, especially since she has no sexual contact with her clients. In fact, she believes them all to be sick perverts. The unthinkable happens when she falls in love with one of them – the disturbingly likeable Simon Nel. Fighting her emotions every step of the way, Emma finds herself drawn into a twisted and potentially doomed relationship that will force her to reconsider everything she thought she knew about love, sexuality and power.

When wealthy Pamela Jordaan hires PI Jade de Jong as a bodyguard after her husband Terence disappears, Jade thinks keeping an eye on this anxious wife will be an easy way to earn some cash. But when a determined shooter nearly kills them both and Jade finds Terence horrifically tortured and barely alive, she realises that she has been drawn into a wicked game.
At the same time, her relationship with police superintendent David Patel is on the rocks, and when David's child is kidnapped and his wife blackmailed, the situation takes a dramatic turn for the worse. More so when it becomes chillingly clear that all these crimes are connected. Jade must act, but her options are impossible. And for her this is much more than just another job.
When base jumper Sonet Meintjies plummets to her death from the top of a Sandton skyscraper, her jumping partner insists that it was no accident. Recovering from the end of her tricky relationship with police superintendent David Patel and trying to deal with the ugliness of her last job, P.I. Jade de Jong is initially reluctant to take on the case. But after initial investigations reveal that the victim worked to help impoverished communities, and that one of these communities has disappeared entirely, their houses razed to the ground, she cannot walk away. Digging deeper for answers, Jade learns of a mystery disease that swept through the entire community, killing everyone except for a mother and her son, whose whereabouts are unknown. When Sonet's journalist sister goes missing, Jade is desperate to find them, especially when her own life is under threat as a result. A deadly harvest has been gathered in, and the only person who knows the truth about it has been forced to become collateral in its trade ...
A dark winter’s evening. A lonely smallholding outside Johannesburg. A brutal shooting. The murder of solitary divorcee Annette Botha appears to be a botched hijacking, just another senseless crime in the surge of violence sweeping South Africa.
With his career at stake, newly promoted police superintendent David Patel is desperate to get results on this case. When his ex-boss’s daughter Jade de Jong arrives back in South Africa after an unexplained absence, she offers to help him with the investigation. Jade soon makes some troubling discoveries. Why did Annette hire a private detective a few days before she died? And why has the detective mysteriously disappeared?
While Jade races to uncover the murderer’s identity and crack open his chilling agenda, she has to keep her own secrets from David. The man who killed her father has just been released from jail. She has returned to South Africa to give him the death sentence he deserves. But Jade’s plans are shattered when one of her trusted contacts betrays her. Worst of all, Annette’s murderer remains one step ahead. He’s planning his final coup, and this time, there are to be no witnesses…
P.I. Jade de Jong's holiday becomes a nightmare when a dive instructor at the scuba resort is found brutally stabbed to death. The only clue is a cryptic postcard in her room. Jade and her estranged lover David Patel put aside their differences and start the hunt, uncovering a massive organised crime operation and a chain of events leading from a horror crash in North Africa to the St Lucia estuary. Jade soon finds herself in a deadly race to prevent an act of environmental sabotage that could destroy this world heritage site. Death is knocking on the door, and love and cunning is all she has left to fight it.

Arriving at a highway accident scene on a stormy night, Jo’burg paramedic Nick Kenyon finds only one victim – a critically injured young woman in the car’s passenger seat. In the ambulance, Nick agrees to take her phone and make an urgent call for her. He doesn’t know that the missing driver is part of a ruthless gang of robbers planning their biggest-ever heist – and Nick’s actions have just made him a target.
As an ex-mercenary with a dubious past, Nick knows how to kill as well as how to save lives. Now he’s going to need both these skills, because his past is back with a vengeance. The gang is led by his brother Paul, who has an old score to settle with him. Nick helped put Paul in prison once before, and Paul has vowed it will never happen again.
As the countdown to the heist shortens, Nick and Paul are pitted against each other once more in a deadly battle where there can be only one survivor…
You can find all of Jassy Mackenzie's novels at
You can find other Author's Pie segments here
Happy Pi-day!
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