Thursday, June 27, 2013

Confessions of a Book Whore: Five Books that Took Me by Surprise


We always talk about books that we love.  Today, I am going to talk about the top five books that took me by surprise...

1) Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
"I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of l974. . . My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver’s license...records my first name simply as Cal."
Tarryn Talbot handed me a beaten up copy of this novel, Read this. It's fantastic. She said.  As I started reading it, I felt that I might be the only person in the world who would say Eugenides was boring as all hell, but something clicked and I was swept up in Calli's story of discovery, sexuality, growing-up, taunted by youth, and family.  This one swept me up and slapped me awake.

2) One Day by David Nicholls
"What are you going to do with your life?" In one way or another it seemed that people had been asking her this forever; teachers, her parents, friends at three in the morning, but the question had never seemed this pressing and still she was no nearer an answer...
Set up by the hype of a bestseller, I was reluctant to pick this one up.  It took a good three to four months for Tammy February to convince me, all her berating and gushing finally paid off.  This was a novel of love, life, and two friends.  Nicholls brought a sense of wit, vulnerability and reality to his characters.  There is no happy-ever-after in life, but he revels in those tiny moments of life.

3) On Writing by Stephen King

This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included, don't understand very much about what they do—not why it works when it's good, not why it doesn't when it's bad. I figured the shorter the book, the less the bullshit.
I have always dreamed of being a writer.  That and a dolphin show artist, but a writer certain out-weighs.  King enlightens us on the craft, hints and tips that no doubt made me look at writers and my own writing in a new way.  This wasn't a how-to write garble, it is the celebration of words and the respect we as readers (and writers) have for them.

4) She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb

'Love is like breathing, you take it in and let it out.'
One of the first books Keryn Colyn would hand me in the bookstore that would change how I read the world, and how I ended up loving books.  I tease Keryn by calling her the Great and Powerful Keryn, my very own Book Guru; but I shouldn't.  It was Keryn's suggestion that led me to this particular tome, one that would be the most challenging novels I have read to date.  Nothing easy and simple with Wally Lamb, but one of the most self-deprecating female characters I have ever come to read.  A great novel about being a woman - and it's written by a man.  *cough*

5) Me before You by Jojo Moyes

 'You only get one life. It's actually your duty to live it as fully as possible.'
A fairly recent novel, compared to the list above.  I wanted a Marian Keyes-esque read when I picked this one up.  I was in for a ride, while incredibly accessible, this novel showed more of heartbreak and love in a matter of chapters.  This one proved that women's fiction is no longer chicklit.

I would love to hear what books took you by surprise, or if there are any on my list that you disagree/agree with.  Go on.  Leave a comment (make my day.)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Confessions of a Book Whore: Fifty Shades of WHAT!?

I know I am re-opening a can of worms when it comes to the erotic fiction genre rampage. I have been dying to write a post on this subject for ages – since that fateful day my mother picked up the novel and gorged herself on lashings of ripe, fervent erotic fiction. Don’t you love my puns? It’s just far too easy. 

The world collapsed into disarray with the novel that sold more copies than Harry Potter; a novel written by a mother herself about a young girl who falls in love with a rich bachelor with a dark secret. I have met many of those bachelor-types, none with as much suave and pizzazz as our dear Christian Grey. So befell the quarry of the erotic fiction, fang-bang, rip-offs, classic-rewrites and many more trilogies. I had happily ignored the trap to fall into the opinion piece of le-erotica books, having blustered my opinion out-loud on more than one occasion.

I read the books. Yes. Fear not, I never got past book one. Fifty Shades of Grey had me rolling me eyes at the level of unimaginative S&M scenes possible – I am sure a flat in Hillbrow could teach E.L James a few tricks.

I needed to read them, for the common place of having an opinion and ultimately seeing if I too would be swayed by leather and whips. I then challenged myself to Bared to You by Sylvia Day, another of my mother’s obsessions. If there is one thing I learned from this experience was that erotica novels are far more fun in audio – hello late night eTV porn music. Again, I found myself rolling my eyes at Eva’s tantrums, one such tantrum had her fleeing from the hotel room post-coitus in a night-robe (barefooted) after finding several vibrators in a cupboard, Gideon (hours of searching) finds her sitting in a coffee shop, and coaxes her back. Sounds like my Friday nights! 

I wanted to stay out of this online bash of erotica, or as Julie Burchill says ‘like putting a crocheted crinoline lady on a lavatory roll’ 

Then I was enlightened by Rebecca Davis’s review of Fifty Shades of Grey had me in stitches:

Unless the naming of Anastasia Steele is a rare note of humorous irony, it is not apt. The woman is a wreck. She’s 21 years old and barely been kissed. She has never been drunk. She is like a time-traveller in her own culture. And yet we are expected to believe that, despite this, she is willing to jump into a sado-masochistic sexual relationship with a mysterious older man. How about some heavy petting in the cinema first?

I find no thrill in these books, fair enough, I’ve only read two. Still. The sex is unbelievably dull, the characterisation one sided, the writing is the equivalent of bashed out essay by a grade 8.

What does this leave us with? These dull story lines and lack lustre sex scenes. Do we simply accept that this is the Austen of the era? Do we stalwarts of word rejoice in the fact that readers that would never take a gander at a tome, are now yearning breathlessly for more – and we hope silently that they’ll find the same thrill in something more meaty? Do we philander in the idea that publishing is now the expression of escapism? Or do we do as we have done up until now, question the feminism, the plot lines, and horrid characters? Can women accept the fact their place is no longer in the kitchen but in the bedroom with a whip in one hand?

It’s a complicated topic with articles aplenty, but head over to Zoe’s blog, The Book Armada, who recounts a rather hilarious and in depth ‘death match’, and other articles to some pretty hilarious recounts. And warm the cockles of your heart (or loins) with the variety of erotica that wallpaper our bookstores.

I am intrigued to know what you think of the ‘erotica phenomenon’. Leave a comment below.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Exclusive Books Winter Sale

It's that time of year again, when temperatures drop and books become the solace of many across the country.  It is also the time of year when Exclusive Books lays out tables of books discounted up to 50%.  That is every book lovers (pick me, pick me) dream.  I was invited to the preview, a first glimpse into the golden eye of treasure.
The Exclusive Books Winter Sale starts on Wednesday the 26th of June 2013 at 07h30, at your nearest Exclusive Books store.
So see the haul I walked away with...
Full haul pile - including a Gruffalo plush toy

Fiction and Non-fiction haul

So what are you still reading this blog post for?  You are bound to find that gem lurking among the hardbacks and stationery...

Find Exclusive Books

Fortunately, the Milk ... by Neil Gaiman and Illustrated by Chris Riddell

About the Book

You know what it’s like when your mum goes away on a business trip and Dad’s in charge. She leaves a really, really long list of what he’s got to do. And the most important thing is DON’T FORGET TO GET THE MILK. Unfortunately, Dad forgets. So the next morning, before breakfast, he has to go to the corner shop, and this is the story of why it takes him a very, very long time to get back.

Featuring: Professor Steg (a time-travelling dinosaur), some green globby things, the Queen of the Pirates, the famed jewel that is the Eye of Splod, some wumpires, and a perfectly normal but very important carton of milk.


I have some pretty ridiculous books, thank you Slush Pile. This one takes the cake. Neil Gaiman, known for his award-winning novels and wild imaginative plots, and he doesn’t disappoint in this children’s book that is seemingly aimed at a younger audience than his other YA novels. Now enter Chris Riddell, author and illustrator of bestseller Muddle Earth – I LOVE CHRIS RIDDELL.

So let’s talk about the plot ...

Fortunately, the Milk ... is a story about a family with a mother is away for conference, leaving Dad in charge. So one morning when the milk runs out and who really does eat cereal with orange juice? So off Dad goes to get milk for the cereal and for tea, but what unleashes on his return is the most ridiculous plot line with aliens, pirates, a time-travelling stegosaurus in a hot-air balloon, vampires, a man-eating mountain-tribe and time-travelling scenes that would an episode of Dr Who jealous, but let’s not forget that fortunately, the milk survives.

With a moral lesson discarded to the side, Riddell and Gaiman produce a ridiculously-funny, fantastical story that will, no doubt have kids belly-laughing their way through.

About the Author
Neil Gaiman, author, scriptwriter and creator of graphic novels, is British and lives in the USA. His diverse catalogue of books includes the novel The Graveyard Book, winner of the Carnegie Medal 2010 and Booktrust Teenage Prize 2009, Stardust (now a major feature film), the bestselling novel for young readers Coraline (now a major 3D-animated film), and the picture book The Wolves in the Walls, which was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal.
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About the Illustrator
Chris Riddell is a much loved illustrator and acclaimed political cartoonist. He has won the Nestlé Gold Award and two Kate Greenaway Medals. He is co-creator of the hugely successful New York Times bestseller the Edge Chronicles.
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Friday, June 7, 2013

Author's Pie: Rahla Xenopoulos

It's a new month, and so arrives a new pie out of the oven.  The wafting, silky smell of baking pastry, dolloped with cream on a stark white plate, drizzled lightly with dark chocolate sauce.  Oh, goodness, now I have myself salavating at the thought.  Welcome to this month's Author's Pie!  Rahla Xenopoulos is a Capetonian writer, mother of triplets, and board member of the Say-Yes charity.

1) In the process of writing your first book A Memoir of Love and Madness, what was the one lesson you took away from it?

I learned that for me, writing is about telling the truth; in my heart, on the page and in the story. You can't bullshit a reader; if you try the book become's superficial. So, writing my memoir wasn't always very comfortable but it was a journey in authenticity.

2) Bubbles is a book that unravels the past, what did you enjoy most about writing it?

I loved exactly that, journeying into the past; the clothes, music and post war Joburg. I loved the eerie feeling that I had a dead person inhabiting my brain, vividly guiding aspects of my story. And, I enjoyed the obsessive research it took to find and tell the truth!

3) What is the one quirk you have when writing?

I usually like to write in my pyjamas with fresh flowers on my desk. But I always light a candle on my desk when I start writing.

4) A mother of triplets, how do you find the time to write? What is your secret?

There's a sign on my door that reads, "Please do not open unless house is on fire or children are in trouble or house is on fire." oddly, that door is always open! It's supposed to be that while the shorts are at school in the morning I write in solitude for three hours. Then shower, go to yoga, come home, return emails & catch another hour or so before they return. In reality, I wake up, reluctantly. Talk on the phone. Wonder about the house in my pyjamas. Fail to answer my emails. Write the possibility of a paragraph. Play with the shorts. At bed time I shower and take off my pyjamas.

5) Are you working on something new?

I'm working on a novel. It's about a gang of best friends. They haven't seen one another since their last big blow out which was at Glastonbury 2002. They've all grown up, built new homes and families around the world when, one of them, Jude survives a terrible suicide attempt and the other's decide that the only way he'll survive is if the gang step in and bring him back to life. So they arrange a reunion on a luxury game farm in Africa. Eleven years have passed, they're different people, but they're depended on their love for one-another to keep Jude alive. The question is, is love enough? 


Rahla's Books

In 1992, Rahla Xenopoulos was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Despite the devastating diagnosis, she sought education on her affliction. Although she found an abundance of literature on various mental illnesses, none of it seemed applicable to her. This situation inspired her to write a book chronicling her ongoing efforts to come to terms with a disease that is, in effect, a life sentence. The book recounts her upbringing in an eccentric, loving Jewish family, her struggle with bulimia, anorexia and self-mutilation, her attempts at suicide, finding true love and, finally, the ‘crazy, utterly unpredictable experience of giving birth to triplets’. This is neither a self-help book nor a med­ical guide. Reading this book will not cure anyone; bipolar disorder is a chronic illness. But it did help Rahla – as it will countless others – ‘to understand the rhythm in the cacophony of this condition’.
On a winter’s morning in 1949, in an empty field north of the city of Johannesburg, the lifeless body of a beautiful young girl was found by a passer by. She was identified as Bubbles Schroeder, 18, and she appeared to have been strangled. This is her story. Born in the poorer part of the small town of Lichtenburg, Bubbles grows up with a bitter mother who takes in laundry to make ends meet and a dull-witted aunt. She has never known her father. Bubbles dreams of a better life for herself and she constructs an alluring fantasy world, a world of furs and jewels and Chanel No 5, where handsome men whirl her around a dance floor and send her roses. At 16 she moves to Vereeniging to work in a coal agency and is befriended by the sophisticated Winifred Walker. Winnie teaches Bubbles some social graces, giving her a veneer of sophistication, and, most importantly, she introduces her to erotic love.
You can find Rahla on her website or stalk her on Facebook

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore

About the Book

Meet Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean in the New York Times best-selling novel . . .

Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat is home away from home for this inseparable Plainview, Indiana, trio. Dubbed “the Supremes” by high school pals in the tumultuous 1960s, they weather life’s storms together for the next four decades. Now, during their most challenging year yet, dutiful, proud, and talented Clarice must struggle to keep up appearances as she deals with her husband’s humiliating infidelities. Beautiful, fragile Barbara Jean is rocked by the tragic reverberations of a youthful love affair. And fearless Odette engages in the most terrifying battle of her life while contending with the idea that she has inherited more than her broad frame from her notorious pot-smoking mother, Dora.

Through marriage, children, happiness, and the blues, these strong, funny women gather each Sunday at the same table at Earl’s diner for delicious food, juicy gossip, occasional tears, and uproarious banter.

With wit and love, style and sublime talent, Edward Kelsey Moore brings together four intertwined love stories, three devoted allies, and two sprightly earthbound spirits in a big-hearted debut novel that embraces the lives of people you will never forget.


It’s a weird feeling finishing a great book; as if the good streak will end abruptly and everything I read will be horrid. I’ve been on such a good innings – so, I do have a suspicion it’ll come to an end.

Set in Plainview, Indiana three women, dubbed The Supremes – Odette, Clarice and Barbra-Jean – meet every Sunday at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat after church. Spanning over decades, this novel talks dark secrets, philandering husbands, regret, friendship, small town happenings, and hints of racism. Odette, born in a sycamore tree, can’t be frightened; Clarice, the first black baby to be born in the University Hospital in Plainview; Barbra-Jean who was born on a couch, and grew-up with a drunk mother. Salacious, right?

There is something to be commended in a debut novel such as this one, inspired from overhearing women gossip as a child Edward Kelsey Moore gives us a story set to match up to Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, except as much as I love The Help, this one packs more of a punch as this writer bravely portrays women as they are and a town packed to the brim with colourful characters, gossip dripping from lips, and subtle hints of what it meant to be black in America in 1950.

From outrageous wedding plans, to a tarot-reading character who gets visions from an ex-lover, to mixed race relationships, murder, and death, this book holds more than just pinnacle characters that dance you through the plot, it’s the thread of tragedy that seems to hold the book together. Tripping over plot laughing, to crying your eyes out, and resisting the urge to yell loudly at coffee shops ‘This book IS. BRILLIANT.’ and then to carry on reading. A burden, but we must bare it.

Winter is approaching, so curl-up with your warmest pair of socks and start reading... and I promise I won’t tell anyone about the chocolate you devoured while reading this book through tears of laughter and sadness.

The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat was chosen as Exclusive Books recommended books for May.  You can follow my posts here.

About the Author

Edward Kelsey Moore lives in Chicago, where he has enjoyed a long career as a cellist. His short fiction has appeared in several literary magazines, including Indiana Review, African American Review, and Inkwell. His short story “Grandma and the Elusive Fifth Crucifix” was selected as an audience favorite on National Public Radio’s Stories on Stage series.

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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Boeke 2013 June Selection

The Exclusive Books Recommends promotion (I call it Boeke), is certainly keeping me on my toes.  As winter approaches and I begin to slowly edge more and more under the covers, I welcome the offer of new books to read.  So far I haven't been too disappointed.  I was challenged with Ben Elton's Two Brothers (March); Impressed with Maggie O'Farrell's Instructions for a Heatwave (April); and thrilled by Lauren Beukes' The Shining Girls (May)... 

The following five books have been hand-picked especially by Exclusive Books as the best reads for the month of June: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker, The Fort of Nine Towers by Qais Akbar Omar, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion as well as And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a powerful new novel—her first in seven years: a story of love and race, centred around a young man and woman from Nigeria who face difficult choices and challenges in the countries they come to call home. Fearless, gripping, spanning three continents and numerous lives, Americanah is a richly told story of love and expectation set in today’s globalised world.

The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker is a magical, unforgettable story about unlikely friends set against the vivid backdrop of New York City’s immigrant neighbourhoods in the late 19th century. The tale of two fabled creatures has the intimate feel of a story handed down from generation to generation. With a delightful blend of the prosaic and the fanciful, The Golem and the Djinni explores what it means to be human as these friends struggle to live and find love while overcoming a powerful adversary who threatens to destroy them.

Fort of Nine Towers is Qais Akbar Omar’s intense coming-of-age memoir in which he recounts hardships and narrow escapes, as well as moments of joy and beauty. It is an account of a young Afghan man’s searing and redemptive story of his family and country that is inflected with folktales and steeped in poetry.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion is a charming, offbeat love story. The protagonists are Don, a genetics professor who just might be somewhere on the autistic spectrum - desperate to get married and armed with a very detailed questionnaire to help him find the perfect woman and Rosie, who isn't looking for love - she's looking for her biological father. Sometimes, though, you don't find love: love finds you.

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini is the book that readers everywhere have been waiting for: the first novel in six years from the no. 1 bestselling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, set in Afghanistan in 1952. Crossing generations and continents, moving from Kabul, to Paris, to San Francisco, to the Greek island of Tinos, Khaled Hosseini writes about the bonds that define us and shape our lives, and how the choices we make resonate through history.
June's Book of the Month is...
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
You can find my Boeke 2013 posts here

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