U is for Undertow

by Sue Grafton (Macmillan) ISBN: 9780230711372

 

Grafton continues her relentless march through the alphabet. 

 

I feel obliged to read these because I grew up reading about Kinsey Millhone and her odd flat, her ancient landlord, and her strange eating habits. 

 

What frustrates me the most is that Kinsey is stuck in time. Grafton refuses to move her into a world with a computer, a social network or a cell phone. 

 

Michael Sutton asks Kinsey to investigate a memory he has of a child being kidnapped when he was a 6-year-old. The story flips between the 1960s and the 1980s. 

 

However, Grafton remains a superb writer and the book is worth reading. 

 

Amanda Patterson

3.5/5

 

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Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang

by Chelsea Handler (Grand Central Publishing) ISBN: 9780446552431

 

I read "Are you there Vodka? It's me, Chelsea" and enjoyed it. However, “Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang” made me cringe. When you resort to stupid situations for laughs you need a new gig.

The first chapter about an 8-year-old Chelsea obsessively masturbating was pathetic. The emails between the writer and her siblings weren't entertaining, just plain boring. Her practical jokes as she grows up wear thin very quickly and I found myself wondering why I was reading this drivel.

 

Then I realised it doesn't matter what I think because her celebrity will guarantee sales of this shoddy little offering. This is just sad.

 

Chelsea Handler is a good writer and a great comedian. She should really focus her talent on something that is worthy of her. Handler needs to find something interesting to write about. How much more can she drag out of her hapless friends and family. It's simply embarrassing. Taking politics apart may be a real option for her witty pen.

 

Amanda Patterson

1/5

 

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A Visit from the Goon Squad

by Jennifer Egan (Corsair) R139, 00 ISBN: 9781780330969  


Sometimes you read a book and you wonder. In a good and a bad way. A Visit from the Goon Squad is like reading a gritty version of the film Love Actually. It is an ensemble piece. Vignettes of lives mostly threaded together by music. 

It takes a while for readers to commit when they aren’t sure whose story it is they are following. Geography, time and viewpoint are jumbled together well enough. However, it is jarring, and I think the book would have been stronger with half the characters and locations used. Egan’s strength lies in conveying her vivid characters’ emotions. You enter the lives of Bennie and Sasha and Kitty and Dolly and Lulu and so many others, and you are captivated by their mundane crises. I loved how real these people and their weaknesses were. Egan slices her way through the book, her wounding words exposing characters, exposing readers, exposing the fragile social structures of both. 

I was uncomfortable with the manipulation of viewpoint. I knew why the author was doing it, and it did work, but sometimes it was too much. When social media and texting and PowerPoint are added in line with time passing, Egan just about manages to hold it all together. I can’t help feeling that a lesser writer would have come out of this book badly. 
Read the book for the dissection of our society. Beautifully written, you will not regret pushing through to the anti-climactic end. 

Amanda Patterson
4/5 (Made up as follows: 3/5 for the general disjointedness and 5/5 for the brilliant writing.) 

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Wolfsbane

by Andrea Cremer (Atom) ISBN 1907410309 



Wolfsbane is the much anticipated second book in the Nightshade series. 

Calla wakes up. She is in the searcher's stronghold, recovering from her ordeal and the wounds sustained at the end of Nightshade. Shay is there too, and he is safe. The sacrifices she has made seem worth it, but are they? Calla has left a life behind, her mother has been murdered and the members of her pack have been tortured. She has betrayed everything she believed in. Including Ren, the Alpha boy she was supposed to marry. 

I found this book too much like an unbelievable action-packed Hollywood film. I missed the attention to character Cremer applied in Nightshade. I think we should have learned more about the searchers. However, she is still a very good writer and worth reading. I hope the next book lives up to the first. Nightshade made me believe that there were some paranormal books worth reading. 

And we have to always be grateful for strong, determined Calla – the definitive anti-Bella. 

Amanda Patterson
3.5/5

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A Year in the Wild

by James Hendry (Macmillan) ISBN: 978-1-77010-130-2 R180, 00 



A Year in the Wild will make you smile, laugh and cry. 

Beautifully written, the story of two brothers, Angus and Hugh MacNaughton, is set to become a South African bestseller. James Hendry has written a Spud for grown-ups. Angus and Hugh loathe each other. Their parents have somehow managed to get them to work together for a year at Sasekile, a private game reserve. 

The eclectic, hilarious and somehow believable cast of characters is revealed through emails the brothers send to their sister, Julia. The two boys become men in the African wilderness. They learn to be responsible and accountable, to stand up for what they believe in, and to compromise when they should. They both find love. And there is a heart-breaking lesson in loss. 

Hendry has penned a truly funny debut novel. It is the perfect gift for your sister, brother, father, mother, aunt, uncle - or any family member you may have. Give it to someone you care about. They will love the book.  Highly recommended. 

Amanda Patterson
4.5/5

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The Language of Flowers

by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (Macmillan) 978-0-230-75258-0

 

I’ve always had a problem with lavender. In fact, I’m allergic to it. I learnt in The Language of Flowers that lavender means mistrust.

 

This book is beautifully written. I have a new understanding of the Victorian language of flowers: ivy for fidelity, marigold for grief, honeysuckle for devotion, sunflowers for false riches, asters for patience, and red roses for love.

 

There are two stories that run in sequential chapters. Victoria Jones’s year spent with the foster mother she comes to love, and Victoria’s life now as an 18-year-old.

 

Abandoned at birth, Victoria’s childhood was spent in the foster care system of California. She arrives at her final foster parent’s home as a hurt, starving nine-year-old.

 

Middle-aged Elizabeth was rejected by her mother for not being a boy, who it was believed had the nose required for winemaking. She proves her mother wrong but never wins her love. Her elder sister inherits the flower farm, she inherits the vineyard.

 

Elizabeth and Victoria weave a relationship through flowers - their meanings, and their seasons. The year of learning to love and trust is forever destroyed by one final desperate act of a 10-year-old girl.

 

Victoria at 18 is released from the state system and sleeps in a public park, cultivating her own garden. Renata, a florist, recognises her talent and gives her a part-time job. Victoria makes magic with floral arrangements and becomes known for her healing bouquets. She meets Grant, a ghost from the past, at the flower market and they begin a relationship. But Victoria cannot accept love, and leaves him just when she should stay.

 

With the help of a baby named Hazel, which means reconciliation, Elizabeth, Grant and Victoria confront their past and start to heal their present.

 

This novel was the subject of a nine-publisher auction. Dubbed the Chocolat of 2011, it will be released in August. Highly recommended.  

 

Amanda Patterson

4.5/5

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The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

by Aimee Bender (Windmill) ISBN: 978-0-099-53827-1 R180, 00

 

Rose Edelstein's life changes when she eats the cake her mother bakes on her 9th birthday. She inexplicably tastes every emotion her mother has. And it's not a good thing. Her beautiful mother tastes empty and small, and full of despair. Food becomes a battleground for the terrified child. She cannot explain what is happening to her.

 

Her brother, Joseph, is her mother's gift, her ‘guide’. But Joseph is a loner, trapped in an interior world, unable to interact with others. Her father is the perfect provider. He leaves for work and returns like clockwork. His only quirk seems to be a morbid fear of hospitals. Her parents are polar opposites.

 

People in the Edelstein house speak but don't communicate. Rose is the first person narrator, a witness to her dysfunctional family's despair.

 

Bender writes beautifully. She does not use quotation marks for dialogue. She does not need to. Her rhythm is so well established. The problem with this book is that there is no plot. I wanted to love this book but I couldn't.

 

The ending is the biggest failure of a 'surprise' I have encountered in a long time. I turned back the pages twice to check that this was what the author intended.

 

Sadly, it was.

 

Amanda Patterson

2/5

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At Last

 by Edward St Aubyn (Picador) ISBN: 9780330435901 R198, 00

 

This is the final instalment in the Melrose family saga.

 

St Aubyn's semi-autobiographical journey began with the trilogy Never MindBad News and Some Hope. The story continued with Mother's Milk and ends At Last.

 

Patrick Melrose watches his mother’s coffin in this caustically funny book. He has just returned from the Priory after his own marriage breaks up. We watch him revisit his rape by his father, his heroin addiction and his eventual disinheritance by his mother.

 

He realises his parents were conspirators in their sick abuse of his childhood self. Will he always choose High Society bitches like his mother? Will he always need narcotics to forget the horrors inflicted on him by his father?

 

Patrick tries to make peace with his past but this is futile.

 

He decides to take responsibility for his future instead. He wants to see his own children. And there is tenderness in his thoughts here.

 

The novel takes place over a few hours including the funeral service of Eleanor Melrose. You do not have to have read the first books to enjoy, or understand, this one.

 

St Aubyn is viciously ironic. His dialogue is textured with feathery barbs and heated disdain. And thankfully, he does not cop out with a happy ending.

 

Amanda Patterson

4/5

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The Moment - Two reviews

by Douglas Kennedy (Hutchinson) R170, 00 ISBN: 9780091795849

 

What an ordinary book written by an extraordinarily average writer. Perhaps that’s why readers like his writing? He makes his story seem better than it really is by using a few props. He gives his character an unusual job, throws in a few foreign phrases, and crafts seemingly ‘clever’ backstories. Until you realise they are all vignettes without substance.

 

Or maybe I’m just a dull reader who doesn’t get it at all. This book was a trial at 488 pages. When you start out with a protagonist who is essentially an emotional coward you have to work hard as a writer to get the reader to like him.

 

Thomas Nesbitt is supremely boring. He is an unsuccessful travel writer with a life of unsuccessful and unfulfilling relationships. We are supposed to be intrigued, to want to find out why he is this way. What was ‘The Moment’ that defined him?

 

Thomas Nesbitt’s father dies. He leaves him $300 000, 00 and he buys his own cottage on the way back from the funeral, ending his marriage. His wife files for divorce, he receives a package from Berlin and the story stutters forward.

 

Try as he might, Kennedy couldn’t get me to buy into poor Thomas and Petra’s love story, set against another prop – The Berlin Wall in The Cold War. I am unimpressed by his throwaway literary lines, and his references to obscure poets and well-regarded writers.

 

Amanda Patterson

1/5

 

Thomas, an American writers, fall desperately in love with Petra when they are in Berlin. So deep is their involvement that the author tells of their affair with graphic descriptions of the need they have for each other.

 

When Petra falls pregnant at the end of their affair, the enemy for whom she works, give her an anaesthetic and remove her baby. Only one thing in Petra's life is greater than her love for Thomas, only one love deeper. For which she pays dearly. 

 

Thomas finds out that she has been spying on him but does not give her the chance to explain that she did it in order to regain her son Johan, who was removed from her when he was small. The discovery of the spying is shocking and the break-up desperately sad for many years of their lives. 

 

Thomas finds himself in a loveless marriage and yet he has a daughter.  This book is beautifully written by a talented author. The end has a twist when Petra writes to ask Thomas to look after her son Johan. Highly recommended

 

Dee Andrew

4/5

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Smokin' Seventeen

by Janet Evanovich (Headline Review) ISBN: 9780755384891 R190, 00 

Life in Trenton continues for Stephanie Plum, the world’s worst bounty hunter. 

The writing is as good as ever. The wonderful characters are back.  But Stephanie’s ‘love’ for two men has been going on for too long. It’s enough. At 30-something and still acting like a spoilt teenager, Stephanie’s act is wearing thin. I wanted to jump into the book and slap her, and offer this advice: Choose Morelli. Ranger doesn’t want you. He doesn’t want anyone. 

Otherwise our favourite cast is back. Rex, the hamster, and Morelli’s dog, Bob, play their parts. 

Lula crams her voluptuous body into miniscule ‘glam’ outfits. Grandma Mazur is still obsessed with viewings at the local funeral home. Mrs Plum irons her way through stressful situations and Mr Plum reads the paper and eats dinner. Mooner’s bus has become the bail bonds office which was burnt down. Bondsman, Cousin Vincent Plum, is as creepy as ever. Grandma Bella curses Stephanie. Again. 

Enter Dave, a high school friend of Stephanie’s. Her mother just wants her married and is willing to overlook some of his alleged shady business dealings. Dave cooks and Stephanie likes food. So Dave gets to hang out in her apartment for a while. 

Add the usual murders, blown up cars, skips, fast food outlets like Tasty Cakes and Cluck-in-a-Bucket, the ‘different’ cockfighting as the crime and you have a recipe for success. By the end of the book, Stephanie has five people who want her dead. Explosive Eighteen is out in November. 

Amanda Patterson
3/5

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