Book Review - South

by Frank Owen (Corvus) ISBN: 9781782399612

South is set in America sometime in the future. It's been 30 years since the first wind-borne viruses ended the civil war between North and South, and still the sicknesses come. Every wind from the north brings a new way to die. The few survivors live in constant fear, hiding from the wind and from each other. 

Brothers, Garrett and Dyce Jackson are on the run when they meet Vida, a lone traveller on a quest to save her mother. South has so much potential and it is so disappointing when it doesn’t work. The plotting is erratic and I wasn’t sure if there was one. There also could have been more attention to world building in this dystopian setting. 

Diane Awerbuck and Alex Latimer are the two authors who write as Frank Owen, and I think this is at the heart of my problem with the novel. South struggles against itself, changing in pace and style like a schizophrenic who may or may not be on his meds. There are times when the genre works and moves along briskly and then times when we are stuck in pages and pages of the description of the inside of a house. 

I am not sure if the book needed more editing or if the two should rather write alone. I loved Alex Latimer’s The Space Race and so I tend to think it may be the latter. 

Amanda Patterson 

This is a harsh story told harshly. In a dystopian environment where people distrust each other and life is cheap it is easy to imagine nothing will end well, for anybody. This is Deliverance (James Dickey) meets The Road ( Cormac McCarthy). 

The throw away comments regarding a South African origin and the search for muti will, in all likelihood, be lost on an American readership. The spoken language used by the characters comes straight out a hillbilly sitcom. 

It’s written exceptionally well, though; a Southern Belle’s fine filigree white lace handkerchief, nearly black from over use as a body wipe, crusted with layers of infectious snot, that pulls, tugs, entices me to the next awful page, drawn by a macabre curiosity as to just how bad can this really get. 

It’s always good to stretch oneself into reading something outside ones usual genre, and it’s a brave tale. 

Julie Suddaby 


Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Book Review - The Daily Assortment Of Astonishing Things

And other stories - The Caine Prize for African Writings 2016 (Jacana) ISBN: 9781431424351

This collection of short stories by African writers is a mixed bag. 

Lidudumalingani from South Africa won the 2016 Caine Prize for his story Memories We Lost. I must confess I didn’t agree with the judges’ choice. To me the story was disjointed and lacked a point, but maybe that was the point. It deals with mental illness in a rural village in South Africa. A concept that is both foreign and demonic to the villagers. I found the simplistic use of language distracting. 

At Your Requiem by Bongani Konza, by contrast was a moving, captivating story. Set in the future, it revolves around a mathematical formula that gives predestined people the ability to eat others’ pain. But is it as simple as that? Genesis by Tope Florian was a haunting look at how the damage inflicted in childhood determines your destiny. My heart ached for the narrator. 

The entertaining stories certainly outweighed the stories I didn’t enjoy. And that’s the wonderful thing about a collection of short stories; you only need read the ones that appeal. 

Liesl Williams


Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Book Review - Under Devil's Peak

by Gavin Cooper (Mercury) ISBN: 9781928230366

Born in 1926, Wilfred Edward Cooper came from humble beginnings. After attending Wynberg Boys High School where he excelled in sport and academics, he studied Law at Stellenbosch University. HF Verwoerd and JB Vorster were both studying there at the same time. He developed a style that would earn him the nickname 'Tiger' when he came to the bar to examine witnesses. 

Wilfred always treated people as equals regardless of their stature. In the '60s he was involved in numerous political affairs including defending Demitrio Tsafendas, Verwoerd's assassin. He also defended Marthinus Rossouw in the scandalous murder of Baron van Schauroth. Wilfred defended the SWAKO 6, as well as Steve Biko and other political activists, some of whom died in their cells by hanging. He also defended the scissors murderess Marlene Leihberg. 

Wilfred and Gertrude, his gregarious wife, enjoyed a wonderful social life in their Newlands home. They chose to live under Devil's Peak that was relocated under the Group Areas Act. Wilfred chose to defend the underdog who had very little chance under apartheid rule, often not earning as much as he could have. He wrote books and lectured. He eventually became a highly respected judge after having a distinguished legal career. 

Gavin Cooper, who is Wildred's son, has written a warm, interesting and enlightening account in this biography. It is informative and worthwhile reading. 

Dawn Blankfield


Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Book Review - The Couple Next Door

by Shari Lapena (Bantam Press) ISBN: 9780593077399

How well do you really know the people close to you? 

The couple next door seems riveting. Anne and Marco Conti seem to have it all—a loving relationship, a wonderful home, and their beautiful baby, Cora. Anne suffers from postpartum depression and she has a teenage secret that only her mom knows. She comes from a wealthy family who helps Marco with his business, but there is certainly no love lost between Anne’s stepdad and Marco. 

Their friends, who live next door, invite them to dinner, but they are not allowed to bring the baby as Cynthia can’t stand the baby’s crying. Anne is reluctant to leave the baby on her own but Marco convinces her that the baby will be fine and they will check in on her every hour. At dinner, Anne is uncomfortable and her irritation increases as Cynthia openly flirts with Marco. Things only get worse when it’s Anne’s turn to check on her baby. She is gone. 

What unfolds next is twist after twist and all the secrets are slowly revealed. I felt like I was right there in the midst of all the characters. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. 

Shari Lapena writes beautifully. Absolutely brilliant! 

Tracy-Ann Damons


Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Book Review - The Kept Woman

by Karin Slaughter (HarperCollins) ISBN: 9781780893570

Will entered, in the midst of a bloody, gory murder scene, after a brief moment of concern for Betty, his small dog, who was having her teeth cleaned, because if the vet was to be believed, you needed to take out a mortgage to pay for the bills associated with poor dental hygiene in dogs. 

And there you have a taste of Karin Slaughter. Her books are darkly amusing, clever and gruesome. That's before you've met the characters. 

Special agent Will Trent has a messed up past that will never leave him alone. His feisty partner, Faith is a single mother, determined to be the best agent in the GBI. Amazing Amanda is their bitchy boss, who never fails to fling a sarcastic, poisoned comment that will leave your jaw hanging. They've just been joined by medical examiner Sara Linton, a beautiful doctor. Sara and Will are trying being in love, and the fact that the murder scene has large amounts of blood belonging to Will's wife, Angie (yes, I did say wife!) is not helpful. 

Will thinks he can find Angie, because he knows her. Sara can tell from the scene that her chances of survival are small. 

Karin Slaughter, do you sleep? I can't. A page turner of note, a lot of blood, not for the faint-hearted. The characters are caught up in horrific scenes and the plot moves at a cracking pace - good confronting evil at every turn. 

It's a brilliant read, and ticks all the boxes - psychological crime at its very best. 

Bev Bouwer

Karin Slaughter is the internationally bestselling author of more than a dozen crime thrillers. Following her New York Times stand-alone bestsellers, Cop Town and Pretty Girls, she has penned this eighth instalment in the Will Trent Series. 

The body of a retired cop is found in a partially constructed nightclub in Atlanta. The blood and evidence at the scene indicate that there was another victim. Will Trent’s ex-wife, Angie’s purse and gun are found at the scene. To further complicate things, the night club belongs to Atlanta’s favourite basketball star Marcus Rippy. Will had just concluded a seven-month brutal rape case against Rippy. Wealthy and protected by expensive lawyers, Rippy had gotten away with it. 

Time is running out for Angie based on Medical Examiner, Sara Linton’s, analysis of blood at the scene. Will is obsessed with finding Angie which threatens his year long relationship with Sara. 

Slaughter delves into the physical and mental abuse of women and children in her books and so it is a major theme in this book. I was on the edge of my seat as Will scrambles to solve the case before his world implodes. 

I found this book completely addictive. 

Ewa Fabris


Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Book Review - Selection Day

by Aravind Adinga (Picador) ISBN 9781509806485

Radha Kumar and his younger brother, Manjunath, live with their controlling and cricket-obsessed father in Bombay. They have one goal in their lives: to be selected for the cricket team, which will bring fame and fortune to the family. There are many role players in this endeavour, who each take their share of the fees in order to make the leap from obscurity to 'The next Sachin Tendulkar'. 

The brothers are close in the beginning because there is no competition between them for who will be selected- this is until Manju's talent and skill surpasses his older brother's. Manju also becomes friendly with another rival cricket player, Javed, who is homosexual and wants to quit cricket. 

This leads to a convoluted tale of self-discovery, embarrassment, decisions and acceptance for the family. Selection Day is an interesting look at the darker side of the cut-throat and selfish nature of a lucrative sport in contrast to the Slumdog Millionaire narrative. 

Aravind Adaga is the Man Booker winning author of White Tiger and Last Man in Tower

Amanda Blankfield-Koseff


Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Book Review - The Lemon Tree

by Katherine Graham and Wendy Paterson (Struik Children) ISBN: 9781432306069

This is the first children’s picture book from journalist and fiction writer, Katherine Graham. She was long listed for the Short Story Day Africa competition for her short story, Heaven Scent, in 2013. 

The Lemon Tree was long listed for the Golden Baobab Prize in 2014. She takes her inspiration from the melting pot that is her home country, South Africa. 

The rains have finally come and Gogo wants to make pancakes. She finds she’s run out of the ingredients. She sends her grandchildren, Lungi and Sipho, to pick the golden lemons from the tree in their yard. They take the lemons to various people in the village to trade for flour, milk and eggs. 

This is a story about finding clever solutions in a pinch and about a village collaborating to help each other. Each page is colourfully illustrated by Wendy Paterson, an artist and beloved secondary-school teacher. Her expressive and energetic illustrations made story time an interactive affair as my children loved pointing out all the animals on each page. 

This is a vibrant book for four to eight-year-olds.  

Ewa Fabris
Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Book Review - Pleasure: A Novel

by Nthikeng Mohlele (Picador Africa) ISBN: 9781770104853

Nthikeng Mohlele is a Johannesburg-based critically acclaimed writer. Pleasure is his fourth novel. 

Milton Mohlele is a writer who lives in Cape Town. He wiles away time hammering out a novel about pleasure, set in war-time Germany, on his late father’s typewriter. He is haunted by his father’s literary legacy throughout. Milton has an ex-wife and three lovers, whom he describes in exquisite prose and seductive sentences. But this is not a story about sex, or war, or a womaniser, or a struggling writer. It is profoundly complex. 

When I began reading Pleasure, I thought it was autobiographical; that Milton’s voice was the author’s. The fact that they share a surname further fuelled confusion. Under this misconception, I originally thought the text self-indulgent and pompous. 

Then there is the sudden ‘novel within the novel’ – Milton’s book about Giovanni, an American P.O.W, and Marie, the German who tends to him. Giovanni’s voice is American, but lapses into Milton’s poetic cadence. But as I became immersed in astonishing turns of phrase and recognised the multiple manifestations of the theme, I realised this book is compellingly crafted. Although I can’t describe what it’s ‘about’, it was a pleasure to read. 

Deborah Minors


Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Book Review - The Apartment

by SL Grey (Macmillan) ISBN: 9781447266556

After experiencing an armed robbery in their home, Stephanie and Mark are struggling to come to terms with their trauma. They decide to arrange a house-swap with the Petits from France. 

When they arrive in Paris, they are met with a rude awakening. The apartment is old, dusty and full of mildew. The building appears to be empty. They look around and find only one other occupant, Mirreille who is an artist. They try to contact the Petits, but to no avail. The apartment is oppressive and downright spooky. Mark goes to the bank to activate his credit card, only to discover this should have been done before they left. This seriously limits their finances. 

After sight-seeing in Paris they decide to cook dinner in the apartment. Mirreille invites herself to join them and the night is a disaster. Totally unsettled, they make arrangements to return home earlier. Home does not offer the comfort they need. Mark is seeing visions and becoming increasingly unbalanced. 

Is this real or is his mind playing tricks on him or is it something more terrifying? The story is a page turner and compulsive reading. It is like a nightmare with no end in sight. When the conclusion is finally reached, it is unforeseen. 

If you like a psychological thriller that is macabre, subtle and effective, this is for you. 

Dawn Blankfield


Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Book Review - You Will Know Me

by Megan Abbott (Picador) ISBN: 9781509817276

Devon is a young, aspiring, and extremely talented gymnast. Her path carefully mapped out by her coach and parents: nationals, the elusive status as an ‘elite gymnast’, and then the dream – the Olympics. 

Her family have devoted their lives to the pursuit of this dream. Afternoons easily stretch into evenings in the car or waiting at the gym.  Whole weekends sacrificed at the altar of training or tournaments. Their lives, even careers, always secondary to Devon’s training routine. And the ever mounting debt, as stardom never comes cheap. 

As the path to glory is plotted in whispers, often late at night, nothing can be allowed to distract Devon. Until of course a young man enters their lives. Ruggedly handsome, stripped down to the waist erecting the latest gym equipment, the young girls and their mothers cannot help but hover and clamber for his attention. 

But disaster strikes as a violent hit-and-run occurs on one of those late evenings after training. The entire community is thrown into upheaval, and slowly questions begin to surface: “Do we really know our children – really?” 

You Will Know Me is a disturbing psychological thriller asking questions of all of us. What lengths will we go to for our family? 

Wayne Bouwer


Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.