The opening chapters of this debut novel won Michéle Rowe the 2011 CWA (Crime Writers Association) Debut D...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
The opening chapters of this debut novel won Michéle Rowe the 2011 CWA (Crime Writers Association) Debut Dagger Award and I can see why. This is crime writing just the way I like it – smart, pacy and character-driven.
The cover for What Hidden Lies is very much in line with the current style in crime fiction – moody with large print that catches the eye. The image of a lone figure walking along a beach with dark clouds hovering above has been chosen to suit the story. It could represent either Persy or Marge in their journey to find a killer – both fiercely independent and isolated from those around them. The Penguin (South Africa) design team has done a great job with this cover.
What Hidden Lies is Michéle Rowe's debut novel, but it suffers from very few of the signs of an author trying to find her feet in a new book. Rowe's background is in scriptwriting and I think that this has given her a great advantage when diving into the field of novel writing. Rowe's writing style is assured and she makes great use of the peripheral characters and side-plots to add interest and depth to the central murder investigation. What Hidden Lies is well-paced and – like all good crime fiction – has the reader trying to solve the case right along with the characters. The Cape Town setting – mainly centred around Noordhoek, Fish Hoek and surrounding areas – is brought to life with vivid description and Rowe has populated her story with an eclectic cast of characters who bring energy to the scenes.
All of the characters in What Hidden Lies have interesting backstories that shape their view of the world and their decisions. The fact that this level of character development isn't limited to the central characters is something that I must applaud the author for. It takes a lot of work and it has paid off in making the interactions between the characters more engaging and it allows for Rowe to introduce some great red herrings into the plot to keep the reader engaged. The two central characters – Detective Persy Jones and Marge Labuschagne – act as interesting foils for each other. Both are fiercely independent and determined to be taken seriously in their lives, but both are also incredibly isolated and lonely. I think it's these similarities that cause the initial sparks to fly in their relationship, but they do ultimately find a grudging respect for each other which I will be interested to see develop in further books.
Michéle Rowe has produced a great debut novel with What Hidden Lies and I am looking forward to following her writing career as it develops. Things can only keep getting better and that makes this reader very happy. (less)
Lauren Beukes has long been on my list of local authors to read. But it took reading an interview with her...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
Lauren Beukes has long been on my list of local authors to read. But it took reading an interview with her about her new book, The Shining Girls, to make me realise that I couldn’t wait a moment longer to explore this imaginative writer’s work. I have four words for you that will no doubt spark a similar response: time travelling serial killer.
The cover for The Shining Girls is a collage of photographs that invokes a sense of mystery. The images conjure a feeling of the different time periods visited in the book. For me they also represent how seemingly disjointed moments can come together to form a coherent whole; as Kirby’s investigation into Harper’s crimes does.
Time travel is difficult to write. The different events and locations scattered across various years can get confusing and authors often make mistakes with their continuity. I must tip my hat to Lauren Beukes – she has handled the time travel aspect of her story masterfully. The changes in setting and time flowed as a natural part of the story. Each setting has its own unique feel that allows the reader to instinctively know where in the timeline they find themselves. From the gritty feel of ‘20s and ‘30s Chicago to the more familiar ‘90s – each location springs to vivid life in the pages of The Shining Girls.
Kirby is an interesting heroine. Her world is falling apart around her and she doesn’t know what to do about it. The only anchor she has is her determination to find the man who nearly killed her. I really liked that Kirby isn’t your typical ‘damsel in distress’. Here is a smart girl whose already chaotic life (thanks to her free-spirited and sometimes absent mother) has been torn apart. But she is determined to do something about it. One could argue that Kirby’s obsession with the man who attacked her is at least partly to blame for her situation and I appreciate that Beukes allows the reader to entertain this idea. She has created a complex and driven heroine to drive her story forward and it works. The reader may be wary of Kirby’s motivations, but you want to know where her path will lead.
Harper, the villain of the piece, is a particularly nasty character. Upon discovering the house which allows him to move through time he sets out to find and kill his ‘shining girls’, women who have a particular strength of spirit about them. He never gives a reason for his crimes or tries to explain them away and this, as far as I’m concerned, makes him a truly interesting villain. Harper is just bad. Beukes makes no excuses for it. It makes him unpredictable and adds to the feeling of menace he evokes. I especially liked the detail of Harper leaving items from different times at the scenes of his crimes. It serves as a link between the women across the years.
The Shining Girls is a well written and entertaining thriller with a skilfully handled time travel element adding to the mystery. Recommended reading.
John van de Ruit's Spud books are a publishing phenomenon in South Africa. My theory is that a large part...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
John van de Ruit's Spud books are a publishing phenomenon in South Africa. My theory is that a large part of their appeal is the fact that van de Ruit has managed to make the reader feel that they are part of the story. We've followed John “Spud” Milton through his last three years of boarding school – cheered at his successes, cringed at his family's madcap antics and followed his less-than-simple love life. And now with Spud – Exit, Pursued by a Bear we join Spud for one more year of adventure, discovery and would-be romance.
A book written entirely in diary form runs the risk of losing its sense of narrative, so it's a testament to John van de Ruit's writing skill that Spud – Exit, Pursued by a Bear reads comfortably as a continual story. It's been great to see how Spud's voice has matured through the series and it remains true to character and age. It's this consistency in storytelling and voice that allows the reader to dive straight into the book from page one.
In Spud- Exit, Pursued by a Bear John van de Ruit is back to the form that had me falling in love with Spud and the rest of the Crazy Eight in the first book. There's a great balance of laugh-out-loud humour with the more serious theme of personal identity and the challenges of impending adulthood and independence. And there are some priceless comedic moments which had me laughing out loud and in serious danger of choking on my coffee at one point. But the comedy never feels forced and that is the gift of a writer with real talent for the genre.
Spud – Exit, Pursued by a Bear is the perfect ending to a series that has captured people's hearts and imaginations.
I believe that there is a lot of writing talent in South Africa, so I'm always on the lookout for somethi...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
I believe that there is a lot of writing talent in South Africa, so I'm always on the lookout for something new and interesting to read from local authors. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I first met Carlyle Labuschagne on Twitter and heard about the book she was writing, The Broken Destiny. A sci-fi YA novel written by a local author – I leapt at the chance to get my hands on a copy.
The real treasure in this debut novel is the world that Carlyle has created. She has taken elements of sci-fi, mixed in some fantasy themes and added a sprinkling of mythology to flavour. As a result The Broken Destiny has a rich and textured landscape and history that supports the characters and the plot. I have to take my hat off to Carlyle for this achievement – fantasy and sci-fi books come alive when they have a unique world and setting and she has managed to pull this off with the ease of a seasoned writer.
One aspect of the world that I want to highlight is Carlyle's inclusion of the Zulu people in her story. I loved the nod to African culture and the slightly exotic feel they give to the book for international readers.
The Broken Destiny is a book about change and finding our place in the world. The story follows Ava, one of the third generation Broken living on Poseidon after the destruction of Earth. I have very mixed feelings about Ava, especially as she is the central character in The Broken Destiny. Her fear and confusion as unknown forces start to affect her life are effective tools to draw the reader in and engage them in the story. But I found Ava to be very self-centred which detracted from my enjoyment of the book. In fact, it was often the secondary characters who kept me wanting to read more. There is a shift in Ava's character by the end of the book, but I would have liked to see that shift and the maturity and depth it gives her start happen earlier in the story. The cast of supporting characters that Carlyle has created are great fun to read about. She has made sure to give them their own unique problems, quirks and fears and they help to carry the story.
The Broken Destiny is a promising debut novel from an exciting new voice and I look forward to seeing how Carlyle's confidence and skill continue to grow. (less)
Bubbles is a novel that's difficult to classify. Part murder mystery, part historical and part drama it is...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
Bubbles is a novel that's difficult to classify. Part murder mystery, part historical and part drama it is Rahla Xenopoulos's re-imagining of what Bubbles Schroeder's life and death may have been like. Bubbles is a vibrantly written debut novel that holds the promise of a great career for Xenopoulos.
The cover design for Bubbles is delightful. The platinum blonde glamour girl on the cover looks out at the reader as though she has a delicious secret to share. She immediately puts you in mind of the 40s era in which the book is set and gives you a glimpse at what Bubbles may have been like. My compliments to the team at Penguin (South Africa) for this effective and uncluttered cover design.
I had previously read (and loved) Rahla Xenopoulos’s account of her struggle with bipolar disorder in A Memoir of Love and Madness. So when I was offered the opportunity to review her debut novel I leapt at the chance. The subject of the unsolved murder of Jacoba “Bubbles” Schroeder also intrigued me.
Rahla Xenopoulos’s writing is bold and confident, effortlessly transporting the reader back in time to the South Africa of the 1930s and 1940s. From Lichtenburg, through Vereenigng, and finally to the bright lights of Johannesburg; she brings the locations and people to life, providing a colourful and nuanced background to Bubbles’ story.
Bubbles is the story of Jacoba “Bubbles” Schroeder and how she may have ended up dead at the age of eighteen. Bubbles views the world through rose-tinted glasses, believing that she will be swept off her feet by a rich gentleman one day and that all of her troubles will then vanish. Unfortunately for her, life just doesn’t work that way. Bubbles eventually finds herself in Johannesburg, where she gets taken under the wing of a middle-aged bookie, Barry. So begins her life as a “glamour girl”, with days spent at the beauty parlour and evenings spent in the company of young men. I felt very protective of Bubbles, but I also found myself wanting to grab her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her. She could be so incredibly naïve at times in a lifestyle that punishes that kind of blind faith.
Bubbles is a strong debut from a talented author and I look forward to reading more of her work in the future.
Dark Poppy's Demise is S.A. Partridge's third novel for young adults and firmly cements her place as an author to w...more Review from my blog: The Word Fiend
Dark Poppy's Demise is S.A. Partridge's third novel for young adults and firmly cements her place as an author to watch.
The cover for Dark Poppy's Demise is quite simple, but it's the fear on the model's face that draws the eye and immediately makes you want to know what caused it. It's an invitation to open the book and see for yourself.
This is the first of S.A. Partridge's books that I have read and I was very impressed with her writing. She builds atmosphere and tension especially well and this adds to the drama of the story to produce a thrilling read. I found the premise behind Dark Poppy's Demise especially relevant to today's young adults who conduct a lot of their social lives online via Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. It's the fact that I could easily imagine this situation happening that makes this story especially chilling.
Jenna is a selfish drama queen. There really is no other way to describe her. But it is a testament to the story and the quality of S.A. Partridge's writing that I could easily empathise with her and, despite her irritating tendencies, I came to like her and was rooting for her by the end of the book. Jenna has real flaws and a difficult home life – these made her more real in my eyes and also served to increase the tension because I became invested in her well-being. I must mention Jenna's brother Ian because he was a very vividly drawn character and I liked the interaction between the siblings.
Dark Poppy's Demise is a well written thriller from a talented South African author and is well worth a read. (less)
Lily Herne is the pen name of mother and daughter team Sarah and Savannah Lotz. This is their first book together a...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
Lily Herne is the pen name of mother and daughter team Sarah and Savannah Lotz. This is their first book together and makes for an entertaining debut.
The cover of Deadlands is what first caught my attention with its mysterious hooded figure and fog shrouded landscape. It sets the scene for this apocalyptic zombie story and the feelings of dread and uneasiness it inspires followed me into the book. I was also very excited to see a book of this kind from a South African author.
The year is 2020, ten years after the dead first started walking, and we meet the protagonist, Leletia (Lele to her friends), as she has been relocated from the farmlands (the Agriculturals) to the enclave (all that’s left of Cape Town and its suburbs). The enclave is run by the Resurrectionists, a cult that worships the mysterious Guardians who keep the walking dead under control. Herne has created a world where humans are confined to enclosed areas, the only safe zones where the zombies, called Rotters, are kept out. The press of humanity and the rising power of the Resurrectionists make for an environment where fear and suspicion are rife. It makes an interesting backdrop to Lele’s story and adds an extra dimension to the personal difficulties she encounters.
Deadlands is well-plotted, with an interesting and well-developed backstory. The writing is clean and concise and Herne does an excellent job invoking the mood of the setting. What I really liked was that although the story is filled with drama, it is well interspersed with lighter moments which reflect the character’s personalities and strength. Deadlands is peppered with pop-culture references, and while this may serve to date most books, in this case they are a poignant reminder that in many ways life stopped in 2010 when the zombies first appeared. There have been no new movies or books to influence the characters, so these references add to the story in a very effective way.
The political undertones in Deadlands are well-handled and are a reminder of some of humanity’s darker days. From the oppression of apartheid to the tragedy of the holocaust, elements of these can be identified in this book. It makes for an interesting commentary on human nature and the actions of people in positions of power.
The story is told from Lele’s perspective which allows us to experience the world in a very real way. She is a strong character and well-rounded. In fact there were times when her stubbornness made me want to kick her into action, but this makes her more real. I don’t like reading about characters who are perfect. Lele’s flaws make her more relatable and let me get involved in her story.
Lele’s family is an interesting case. She is not close to her father or stepmother, so at first they come across as uncaring characters. But as the story progresses, Lele discovers more about them and the reasons behind their actions and we learn with her. It was interesting to see this growth. One of the most poignant relationships in the book is the one between Lele and her brother Jobe. He was taken by the Guardians at the beginning of the war and returned ‘broken’. He has never grown and his mind is locked in early development. Yet Jobe is an important character and we learn a lot about Lele by seeing her interactions with him.
The children Lele meets at her new school and the Mall Rats are also nicely developed characters with their own personalities and views. That, in my mind, says a lot about the storytelling ability of an author.
My only real problem with the book is that I would have liked to see some more of the Rotters and the Guardians earlier in the story. Specifically, what makes them so feared? There are a lot of references to past events, but even one scene would have made the danger they posed more real for me.
Deadlands is an apocalyptic story with brains and heart and I would love to see more from this talented author.(less)