Book Review - Tall Oaks

by Chris Whitaker (Twenty7) ISBN: 978-1-78577-030-2


Tall Oaks is a small American town where three-year-old Harry mysteriously disappears. His mother, Jess, is mad with worry, desperately reaching out to Harry’s absent father for support. 

In Tall Oaks, everyone knows everyone but not everyone’s business is what it seems. Obese, slow photographer, Jerry lives with his controlling mother; teenager Manny is a hilarious wannabe-gangsta with Daddy issues; Jim, the Police Chief has inappropriate fixations; new-in-town Jared is not who he appears to be…The lives of these and other characters entwine and collide spectacularly in the hunt for Harry. 

Tall Oaks is British writer Chris Whitaker’s debut novel. Its appeal lies in the plethora of colourful characters (I particularly loved Manny, poignant, yet comic relief), the racy pacing and the plot. The disappearance of the toddler is almost secondary to the individual stories of the characters themselves and the dynamics of their relationships. There are red herrings a-plenty and gasp-worthy revelations throughout. The conclusion is a real kicker. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book; I read it in one sitting. 

Deborah Minors
www.writerswrite.co.za 
3.5/5 

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

Book Review - ADHD Nation

by Alan Schwarz (Little, Brown) ISBN: 978-1-4087-0657-2 


Diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have exploded in the USA over the past twenty years. However, the research shows that it can’t be that prevalent. 

ADHD Nation interrogates ‘the disorder, the drugs, the inside story’. It examines its history, starring the father of ADHD, Dr Keith Conners. It scrutinises drugs like Ritalin and Concerta that evolved to treat the (very real, the author emphasises) disorder. It investigates the role of a billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry that clearly sells products not healthcare. Within this context, ADHD Nation gives voice to Connors, to doctors, to parents, and mostly to patients who are misdiagnosed, some with devastating consequences. 

Schwarz is a New York Times journalist and this book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. It’s clear why. It is impeccably researched non-fiction that reads like fiction, making it enthralling and accessible. I particularly enjoyed the history of ADHD (originally ‘Minimal Brain Disorder’) and the ironic science of using stimulants to quell hyper-activity. The Big Pharma imperative to sell products (not healthcare) no doubt prevails in South Africa too. 

ADHD is an ‘everyone knows someone’ phenomenon in SA and this book provides informed and objective context. 

Deborah Minors
www.writerswrite.co.za 
3/5 

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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
www.writerswrite.co.za
4/5

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

Book Review - Blue Cow Sky

by Peter Church (Mercury) ISBN 9781928230243 


Leo is a down-on-his-luck, one-hit-wonder writer. He lives in Cape Town wherever he can find digs; usually in relation to his carnal conquest at the time. Leo’s friend, Jerome, is a wanna-be gangster, and Leo’s life is otherwise populated only by the women he sleeps with, and the memory of a girl who broke his heart. At the age of 48, Leo is trying to find both himself and the requisite word-count for a second novel. 

When I first began reading Blue Cow Sky, it seemed I was in for a romp with a chauvinist jock and his indiscriminate sexploitation. Indeed this is “a comic novella of sexual proportions”, but there’s more to it than Leo getting laid. Leo’s true character and what he really yearns for emerge through the narrative of his sexcapades. I began to understand him and his motivation, and realised that Leo is actually far from a womaniser. This is also revealed subtly and poignantly in the book title. 

I enjoyed this little book despite the fact that it initially stoked my feminist ire. It’s funny and familiar because it’s set in Cape Town, and all Leo’s women and his side-kick, Jerome, are fully-rounded characters. 

Deborah Minors
www.writerswrite.co.za
3/5

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

Book Review - The Widow

by Fiona Barton (Bantam Press) ISBN: 9780593076217

 
Fiona Barton is an award-winning former journalist who reported on crime and trials. 

Jean Taylor is The Widow. Before she is widowed her husband, Glen, is accused of crimes of degeneracy and evil. Jean’s comfortable, ordinary existence with her apparent Prince Charming is shattered. The couple are hounded by police and paparazzi and it seems all they have is each other. 

When Glen dies, not yet vindicated, Jean is free to tell her story on her own terms. No longer must she necessarily be stoic, silent, and supportive. Rather, Jean can indulge her own neuroses in her efforts to reconcile conflicting roles of doting wife, grieving widow, and would-be mother. 

This story is dark and disturbing and utterly compelling. Jean is as pitiable and pathetic as she is manipulative and vulnerable. Her character emerges most strongly through her dialogue – with Glen, the police, the victim’s mother, and Jean’s internal dialogue. In fact the first-person perspective of each character in each chapter lends depth and perspective to them all. 

This book is enthralling, not because it’s a ‘whodunit’, but because it is a fascinating revelation of the depths of depravity to which humanity can sink. I highly recommend it. 

Deborah Minors
www.writerswrite.co.za
3.5/5

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

Book Review - Fool Me Once

by Harlan Coben (Arrow) ISBN: 9781780894195


Fool Me Once stars Maya, a former special ops pilot with a secret she’d prefer remained in the war-zone. When the body count in her family begins to rise, she undertakes a mission to unravel the apparent link between the murder of her husband and the death of her sister. 

Maya is a tough, no-nonsense hardened war veteran, but it seems her exposure to war may have tampered her sanity: She witnessed her husband’s murder but then he appears on a nanny-cam – or does he? 

Maya is a soldier, a mother, a wife, a sister. She is resourceful and brave and I admire her chutzpah. Yet she is also vulnerable and very flawed – the extent of which is revealed through subversive secrets that incorporate a seedy strip joint, a posh boys’ school, the exposé of an online conspiracy, and a fateful accident involving boys in a boat. 

Superbly plotted with multiple parallel threads and gasp-worthy twists, this crime thriller demonstrates why Harlan Coben has had eight consecutive #1 New York Times bestsellers. Fool Me Once concludes in ways you’d least expect. I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Deborah Minors
www.writerswrite.co.za
3.5/5

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

Book Review - Goddess Mojo Bootcamp

by Kagiso Msimango (MF Books Joburg) ISBN: 9781920601683


Kagiso Msimango is a life coach and author of the bestseller The Goddess Bootcamp. 

Her latest book is a self-help guide to exuding the requisite ‘mojo’ to meet and keep a man. The book is a ‘how to’ of sorts that requires the single woman to work through exercises and rituals, and ultimately emerge as a goddess irresistible to men. There is sisterly advice, case studies of actual goddesses-in-training from the author’s Facebook group and previous radio show, footnotes referencing evidence of energy and its magnetism, and esoteric recipes and rituals. 

Msimango writes conversationally and informally. The book reads as if you’ve gathered the gals for lunch for a chinwag. Although I didn’t personally complete the ‘boot camp’ (which requires journaling, meditation, immersion in fragrant baths, etc.) some content was amusing and provided food for thought for a divorced (happily single) woman like me. However, I found being constantly addressed as ‘honey cakes’/’gorgeous’/’honey pot’ patronising and irritating. 

If I desperately wanted to meet a man and couldn’t understand why I hadn’t, this book could provide insight and impetus. Otherwise, it’s a quick read with a few interesting ideas. 

Deborah Minors
www.writerswrite.co.za
2.5/5

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

Book Review -Stone Rider

by David Hofmeyr (Penguin Books) ISBN: 9780141354439 


Adam Stone and his brother are orphans trying to survive in Blackwater, a desert town set sometime in future America. Annually residents have a chance to escape the hell-hole and live in the utopian Sky Base – if they compete in and survive the Blackwater Trail. This is a brutal cross-desert motor-bike race demanding extraordinary skill and courage. 

Adam wants out, but he also wants the enigmatic Sadie Blood. Her brother and his gang own the town and they’re Adam’s nemesis. When a maverick stranger, Kane materialises as a wild card in the Blackwater Trail, the stakes are significantly raised. 

Stone Rider is aimed at teenagers, but I was engrossed. I enjoyed the strong, simple writing and realistic dialogue that reveals character. Adam is endearing, lovable, and vulnerable. I rode with him and willed him to succeed. I loved the concept of “bykes” being generational heirlooms, each imbued with the spirit of their former “ryder.” 

Thematically Stone Rider is reminiscent of The Hunger Games trilogy; youngsters in dystopia competing against each other and the odds for a chance of a better life among the elite. This is an imaginative first novel by a South African-born author. I look forward to the sequels. 

Deborah Minors
www.writerswrite.co.za
4/5

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

Book Review - We’ll Always Have Paris

by Emma Beddington (Macmillan) ISBN: 9781447285793 


This is a memoir by lawyer-turned-writer, Emma Beddington. As an adolescent, she decides to Become French and so immerses herself in French culture, relationships and France. She grows up, inevitably life happens, and she begins questioning if the French fantasy matches reality. Ultimately she is seeking “home” and this memoir reveals her life’s purpose. 

Beddingon is deservedly an award-winning writer. She makes exceptional use of the English language; her writing is witty and funny. She provides fascinating insights into English, French and Belgian culture and her observation that she is “less herself” when she speaks a second language was thought-provoking. 

However, I’m ambivalent about this book. A memoir by design must narrate one individual’s story: This memoir reminded me of Eat, Pray, Love – which I abandoned halfway because I found it self-indulgent. I wanted to find out where Beddington ended up, but I often returned to this memoir reluctantly. 

We’ll Always Have Paris felt occasionally like listening to that one friend who dominates the girls’ lunch with tribulations that afflict us all. Beddington’s experiences are not unique, but interesting because they happen “abroad”. The memoir reads like a well-edited personal diary and this is possibly its shortfall – or its appeal. 

Deborah Minors
www.writerswrite.co.za
2/5

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

Book Review - Golden Age

by Jane Smiley (Pan Macmillan) ISBN: 9781447275701 


Golden Age is the final instalment in a trilogy about the Langdon family. It follows Some Luck, set a century ago, and Early Morning. Golden Age traverses 1987-2017. It is both a family drama and a political portrait of a changing America. 

Novels that open with a two-page family tree tend to intimidate me, but I soon abandoned referring to it as the characters emerged. The Langdon cast is vast but after immersing myself in the story (over three weeks), they became familiar and endearing. Richie Langdon, twin of Michael, rises to congress despite himself; Charlie is a late addition and somewhat misplaced; Jesse’s son, Guthrie chooses the army over farming, and his sister, Felicity must defend the land. Omniscient throughout is Andy, the benevolent matriarch. 

I haven’t read the preceding novels, so the first few chapters felt a bit like gate-crashing and eavesdropping at a cocktail party. Much of the American politics was unfamiliar. But Smiley writes scenes that reveal character so richly and beautifully, it’s no wonder she’s a Pulitzer Prize Winner (A Thousand Acres). Golden Age reveals poignant insights about growing old, loss, and continuity. It’s like a literary Dallas or Dynasty, but with farmers. Read it. 

Deborah Minors
www.writerswrite.co.za
4/5 

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