Book Review - Cold Earth

by Ann Cleeves (Macmillan) ISBN: 9781447278214

Cold Earth is the seventh in Ann Cleeves’s acclaimed Shetland series, now a major BBC drama. She has published 25 novels and has a large and faithful following. 

On a cold and wet winter’s day, villagers in the north-eastern archipelago of Shetland gather at a graveside to bid farewell to an old friend. The service, however, comes to an abrupt end as the unceasing rains dislodge the mountainside and a river of mud and earth crash through the cemetery and surrounding countryside. The spectators, safely out of the path of the mudslide, watch as a small croft, thought to be unoccupied, is destroyed in the mayhem. But in the small cottage a body of a woman is found and it soon becomes apparent that she was dead before the landslide, strangled in a red dress. 

Jimmy Perez, a local detective, must solve this murder and unearth the identity of the mysterious woman. The most endearing quality of this book is the characters: Perez, his stepdaughter, his colleagues, and his superior from the mainland Willow. 

Cold Earth is a good, solid detective read but unfortunately hardly a thriller. I found the pace pedestrian at best and almost longed for the book to resolve itself. 

Wayne Bouwer


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Book Review - Rushing Waters

by Danielle Steel (Bantam Press) ISBN: 9780593069158

In Danielle Steel’s new release, a hurricane slams into New York and changes the lives of a group of individuals caught up in the chaos and the heartbreak– an interior designer and her mother, an investment banker, a young ER doctor, and two varsity students. 

As NYU students, sensing an adventure, I really enjoyed Peter and Ben’s storyline. The novel deals well with grief and loss, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The characters – as beautiful and successful as they inevitably are in a Danielle Steel novel – grapple with issues of ageing parents, relocation, divorce, and infertility. But the storm – its destructive power and its aftermath – make up the core of the story. 

Steel has written about natural disasters before – the earthquake in Amazing Grace springs to mind – so this isn’t really a ‘fresh take’ for this bestselling author. However, she creates characters and situations we can all relate to as readers. Even with a heavy subject matter, it’s still an easy read. Steel’s latest release should go rushing off the shelves. 

Anthony Ehlers


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Book Review - Work Like Any Other

by Virginia Reeves (Scribner) ISBN: 9781471152221

Work like any other tells the story of Roscoe T. Martin, an electrician by trade, but married to Marie, a farmer's daughter. 

Roscoe is forced to make the most of what he has, and make farming - which he hates - work. He tries, but nothing cooperates, and everything is failing - the farm, his marriage and his life. Set in the 1920s, you can imagine the difficulties. Reverting to what he knows, Roscoe decides to run in an illegal line of electricity to help with the farming. And it works. Until it all goes horribly wrong. 

This debut novel by Virginia Reeves has many things to recommend it, including an interesting cover, an originality that is refreshing, and a length that won't put you off. 

The writing is great - not a word wasted, making it difficult to believe this is her first. The anxiety is tangible, and the characters strong and brave, true to themselves. I loved the pacing - fast enough to keep you interested, but not breathless - to take in the scenery and everything around you. 

I devoured each word on each page, and found myself satisfied, replete. 

Bev Bouwer


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Book Review - Magic: A Novel

by Danielle Steel (Delacorte Press) ISBN: 9780593069110

Magic is a thrilling story of three couples brought together by the magic of an all-white, invitation-only dinner held in the remotest of places in Paris. 

The novel follows the ups and downs of Jean-Philippe and Valerie Dumas’s relationship. It is tested when he moves to China for an impossible to resist career move, leaving Valerie with three small kids. She begins to toy with the strings of an affair with one of her bosses. 

Chantal, a widow with three older kids has finally found love with a much younger man. As she tries to balance her role as a mother and girlfriend, we experience the anxiety as she waits for Javier to leave her for a much younger woman. 

After 20 years of marriage and countless affairs, Benedetta finally divorces Gregorio Mariani after his mistress falls pregnant. She is portrayed as a very strong woman as she picks up the pieces and eventually falls in love with another man. Gregorio on the other hand faces his own tragedies that leave him a broken man caring for a baby on his own. 

The storyline is somewhat predictable, but the ending will leave you questioning how love really works. 

Alicia Sibanda


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Book Review - Riverkeep

by Martin Stewart (Penguin) ISBN: 9780141362038

With his sixteenth birthday fast approaching, the last thing Wulliam wants is to take up his family’s mantle of Riverkeep, burdened with the lonely task of taming an uncontrollable force. Yet his chance at a stable future capsizes when his father is pulled into the depths and possessed by a dark spirit. With the only known cure supposedly hidden in a sea-beast called the mormorach, Wull must embark on a treacherous journey that will require endless patience, courage, and trust in an unlikely group of travelling companions. 

If Stewart’s intention was to copy characters and scenes from The Wizard of Oz and stick them onto a Moby Dick-inspired backdrop, while trying his best to mimic the style of Patrick Ness, it seems he was successful. Unfortunately, the result is about as disastrous as you’d expect. Characters that might have been charming are lost in a sea of meaningless mini-quests and plot twists that left me either disinterested or frustrated, and I couldn’t help but wonder on numerous occasions whether the author was trying to make me fall asleep. 

Perhaps this book’s greatest downfall is that Stewart can’t quite master the lightly entertaining yet powerful writing style his epic adventure tale demands if it’s to keep young adult audiences interested. Overall, this was simply a dull read. 

Amy Bouwer


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Book Review - Lyle The Crocodile

by Dianne Stewart. Illustrated by Joan Rankin (Jacana) ISBN 9781431424139

What’s a crocodile with toothache to do, when he can’t get an appointment with a dentist? 

His friends take him to see Dr Molar, the lion, after hours - but Lyle doesn’t like the look of the equipment, and leaves with only a caution to clean his teeth to avoid decay. His bad breath gets worse and worse, until nature comes to the rescue in the form of Pippa, the Plover. 

Based on the myth that the Nile crocodile and the Egyptian Plover have a close relationship, it’s a tale intended for children, to encourage them to look after their teeth. But I found the illustrations of the dentist and his tools scary rather than amusing, as I think they were intended to be. (Childhood dentist phobia is strong with me!) 

However, award-winning illustrator Joan Rankin’s clever watercolours are quirky and interesting. If you can laugh at Lyle the Crocodile’s silly fears, you’ll enjoy reading this story with young readers. 


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Book Review - Miss You

by Kate Eberlen (Mantle) ISBN: 9781509819942

“Tess and Gus are meant to be. They just haven’t met properly yet. And perhaps they never will…” 

A set-up like that tells you it’s a love story. What you get is actually three love stories, interwoven like a complex braid. There’s Tess, who had to give up her dreams of studying English and History at University in London to take care of her autistic younger sister. This thread is all about how that happened, how life can change forever in one short moment and the battle between conscience and individual will. 

When we first meet her, she’s on holiday with her family in Florence. And so is Gus. He’s reeling from the sudden loss of his brother and battling to meet the new expectations of his devastated parents. Tess and Gus have a beautiful encounter - but it is brief. 

The two return to their individual lives, and most of the novel is divided between them, their new beginnings, new attachments, new sadnesses. Two separate, charming stories. Running between it all, however, is the haunting possibility that they might meet again. Their lives loop around one another and intersect and pass by. I was beginning to think they would miss each other entirely. But that’s the thing about destiny – you never know when to expect it. 

It is escapist stuff – everybody needs a little. 

Judy Ward


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Book Review - First Response

by Stephen Leather (Hodder & Stoughton) ISBN: 9781473604599 
I haven’t read Stephen Leather before, but I expected more from an author labelled “the Sunday Times bestselling author”. 

This so-called thriller got off to a slow start and failed to pick up the pace. At all. It wasn’t helped by the plethora of characters – I lost count after 30 – none of which I got to know intimately or care about, nor the long winded explanations and descriptions of the British police, army and intelligence services (I concede there may have been more services involved, but I got tired trying to remember them all).  The constant jumping between the at least 11 sites involved in the story left me confused and I had to keep paging backwards to remember which characters were at what site and what was happening there. 

The use of ISIS as the terrorist threat in this book and references to the 2005 London bombings failed to lend the plot an air of believability. If anything, it had the opposite effect.  

I read fiction for enjoyment, not as a means of testing my concentration and recall skills. This was a tiresome, heavy read. 

Liesl Williams


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Book Review - Baby Doll

by Hollie Overton (Century) ISBN: 9781780895079

Baby Doll tells the story of Lily, kidnapped at the age of sixteen, who has managed to escape from her captor eight years later. 

The story begins the night of her escape when we are taken on a spiralling journey as she returns home and tries to pick up the pieces of her life. As she rediscovers herself and tries to regain her stolen youth, together with her child, Skye, she comes to terms with the severity of what happened. She realises that as much as she suffered, her disappearance affected a lot of people in ways even she never expected. 

Written from the perspectives of Lily, her twin sister Abby, her mother, Eve as well as her captor, we experience first-hand the fear, determination and betrayal as they try to mend their lives and get past the ordeal. The story comes to life as Lily deals with the aftermath of her abduction, and as the family learns who her captor was. 

As much as her return was a miracle, they all have to come to terms with what happened. 

Alicia Sibanda


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Book Review - Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Kak?

The Zuma Years by Tim Richman (Two Dogs) ISBN: 9781928230335

I keep this book on my coffee side table. Its plethora of thoughts preclude it from a being a start to finish read. But when I feel like a giggle, or a prod at being pensive, or just want to appreciate the peculiarly South African penchant for irreverent rubber meets the road commentary, this is the book I pick up to read. 

To compare it to Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything does neither book justice, because although on the face of it they seem similar, they are, in fact, totally different. It’s not all about Zuma; one can hardly blame him for the disaster that is Vodacom, or the superbugs that defy modern medicine. 

In the final analysis, however awful the rest of the world might think it, not everything is kak when viewed through South Africa’s sun glasses. 

Julie Suddaby

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