Book Review - Feminist Fight Club

by Jessica Bennett (Penguin) ISBN: 978-0062439789


I love a book written by a journalist. You will always get exactly what you are promised with a healthy dose of real-world. This book is exactly what Bennett means it to be; an office survival manual for a sexist workplace. 

FFC is packed with useful information, helpful and practical socio-politico-eco tips and interesting factoids about world history, which as you’d expect from a book with this proud title, is littered with the blood, bones, sweat and tears of women. I personally veered between being grateful that I have experienced very little of the sexist tactics outlined, and digging for a pen and paper to make notes in an attempt to commit some of Bennett’s ‘fight moves’ to memory for use next time a guy in my office ‘manterrupts’ me. 

This book is everything you need, whether you are a man or a woman. It’s useful, witty, interesting, page-turning and worth every word. One criticism, The Black Sash should be listed among the Rebel Girls: FFCs through history section at the back. 

Justine Cullinan
www.writerswrite.co.za 
5/5

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

Book Review - Jack Simons: Teacher, Scholar, Comrade

by Hugh Macmillan (Jacana) ISBN: 9781431423347


Jacana’s pocket series is truly delightful. These little books have been written to offer a content packed overview of a range of African historical and political topics and are all authored by African thought-leaders. They also fit neatly into a handbag which appeals to the need to adapt traditional paperback reading to modern consumer behaviour and time poverty. 

Jack Simons was one of original “A-Team” of the ANC. He worked alongside struggle stalwarts and during the ANC’s golden era including the likes of Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and Helen Joseph. Simons was born in 1907, before the formation of the Union in 1910, and he died in 1995, one year after South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994.  During that life he was a constant critic of racist thinking, an advocate of feminism and a vital role player in the production of the ANC’s Constitutional Guidelines for a post-apartheid South Africa. 

I enjoyed this insight into the life of a remarkable man with the courage of his convictions. I greatly appreciate the emotive yet candid incorporation of the light and shade of a man’s life that Macmillan has bravely included in the story. Even heroes are human and Macmillan shows that Simons is no different.  

Justine Cullinan
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 - Christmas Under The Stars

by Karen Swan (Pan Macmillan) ISBN: 9781447280163 


Swan is an international best-selling novelist with a penchant for fashion and a reputation as a romantic. This, her eleventh novel, certainly lives up to that image. 

Meg and her best friend Lucy live in a remote part of the Canadian Rockies where skiing and snowboarding in the breath-taking surrounds is what attracts tourists from all over the world to their little corner of heaven. As beautiful as Banff is, it is also treacherous and tragedy strikes setting Meg on a path of discovery involving an astronaut, her estranged sister, a bear attack and a series of realisations that her best friend isn’t the person she believed her to be. 

A real page-turner this novel doesn’t let the reader rest for excitement. Swan’s experienced story-telling fulfils all those good book requirements avid readers expect. There’s plenty of drama but none of it is unrealistic, lots of depth without the length and prose of a saga, and a smattering of factual information that really bring the words to life. A great summer read and a very quick 500 pages. 

Justine Cullinan
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 - Ratner’s Star

by Don Delillo (Picador) ISBN: 9780679722922 


Delillo first released this book in 1976 after undertaking a period of study in mathematics for fun. Anyone who can find mathematics fun is admirable in my view. As an enjoyable read however, this book didn’t add up for me. 

Boy genius Billy is the first person to win a Nobel Prize in Mathematics, his work understood by less than a handful of people worldwide. He is recruited by a strange and at times sinister group of well-funded scientists to decode a message that earth has received from outer space near Ratner’s Star. 

My experience of this novel is lodged somewhere between a Salman Rushdie novel and a George Orwell novel. That is, I could compute more meaning in the book than I could while reading Midnight’s Children, but it didn’t convey metaphorical meaning as effectively as 1984 or Animal Farm. I might simply not be smart enough to grasp the message or the maths. 

Justine Cullinan
www.writerswrite.co.za
1/5

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

Book Review - Double Echo

by Francois Bloemhof (Penguin) ISBN: 9781485903093


Bloemhof is a decorated South African writer and this makes his 24th novel for adults. Double Echo is translated from Afrikaans which attracted me to the book because I often find a fresh use of the English language reveals itself in the translation process. 

Ex-cop Paul Mullan finds himself employed as a chauffeur in the household of wealthy, wheel-chair bound wine farm owner Bernard Russell. Over four days Russell’s daughter makes naïve advances on Paul while his sceptical and protective household staff mistrust him immediately.  All the while Paul fights his feelings for Russell’s much younger, cliché of an ex-waitress girlfriend as well as his cop instinct on a number of mysterious fragments of this household’s past. 

I was not disappointed in the style of the writing and the well-worded descriptions for characters and scenery. The book did however fail to meet acceptable standards of a compelling thriller.  It’s as though Bloemhof pressed fast-forward just when the plot itself got underway and glided over any real depth or relevance to reach an all too convenient and thoroughly unbelievable conclusion. 
 
Justine Cullinan
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 - Orphans Of The Carnival

by Carol Birch (Canongate) ISBN: 9781782116547
 

Carol Birch is a true author. I know this because with this novel she has taken an innocuous collection of facts and created an entire life and a deeply believable story of that life out of them.  The finesse with which she has done this is nothing short of charming. 

Julia Pastrana was born covered in hair with several appearance similarities to the evolutionary father of the human race, that being the ape. The novel follows a possible life that Ms Pastrana might have had, incorporating her performance on the stage, her undignified and endless examinations by scientists and doctors for financial gain by her employers, her marriage to her manager and her death after giving birth to a child who inherited her hirsute condition. 

This novel is bittersweet pathos. At a time where the whole world is embroiled in a raging war on inequality, the story of Julia reminded me of the true nature of humanity, both beautiful and terrible.  

Justine Cullinan
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 - The Place That Didn’t Exist

by Mark Watson (Picador) ISBN: 9781447243359


Mr Watson enjoys acclaim in a variety of literary fields but is best known for his stand-up comedy work. This is evident in his pithy dialogue injected with empathy. 

Advertising agency creative, Tim Callaghan, is thrilled when he wins the pitch on a lucrative TV commercial for an international NGO based in Dubai. Upon arrival Tim’s expectations of the shiny city immediately turn to suspicions culminating in the murder of a crew member on the shoot. As Tim seeks to understand why the death is dismissively dealt with, even the very NGO he believed held so much promise, is called into question. 

This is an engaging and well-paced novel although the sudden change in viewpoint for a single chapter at the end threw me for a bit of a loop. I didn’t quite recover from it. 

Justine Cullinan
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 - Beer Safari

by Lucy Corne (Struik Lifestyle) ISBN: 9781431702893 


Lucy Corne has combined her two greatest loves in this part-travel, part-anthological literary journey around South Africa’s craft breweries. 

Beer Safari is more a travel book about beer than a beer book that travels.  The book brings together the truly rich and fascinating beer brewing culture of South Africa.  In each warmly crafted brewery story, Corne unfurls neat snapshots into the lives of a multitude of South African brewers. 

As a limited drinker of beer, I thoroughly enjoyed this useful and well thought out book. Not only does it serve a cultural and functional purpose, as every good book should, it reminded me of yet something else South Africa has to be proud of. 

Justine Cullinan
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 - The Beautiful Possible

by Amy Gottlieb (Harper Perennial) ISBN: 9780062383365 


This is Gottlieb’s first novel however she is a renowned poet and story-teller. Here she has created a story within a story and developed characters through a rich context. This is a rarity in modern popular fiction. 

The novel offers up the lives of three Jewish characters over seventy years. Walter witnesses the death of his father and fiancé at the hands of Nazi’s during the Second World War. Grief-stricken and lost he boards a ship to Shanghai but follows a man in a brown felt hat into the spice markets of Bombay. Later he follows the same man to New York where he meets Sol Kerem, a dedicated Rabbinical student, and his beautiful and spirited fiancé, Rosalie. 

Throughout the novel Gottlieb seamlessly moves the reader between the viewpoints of Walter, Sol and Rosalie to offer depth to each character with a simultaneous balance of empathy for each. The subtle twist at the end reminded me of the palpability and breadth of each character’s own story. It is brave and beautiful if a little unexciting. 

Justine Cullinan
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 - Shanghai Grand

by Taras Grescoe (Macmillan) ISBN: 9781447253433


We are living in an era of literature where stories are woven from historical facts.  It’s an era I’m thoroughly enjoying and one in which Taras Grescoe has made a confident contribution in this novel. 

Mickey Hahn finds herself in the treaty port of Shanghai in the early thirties before the outbreak of the Second World War.  Here she firmly plants her journalistic foot in the world of European and American Shanghailander society with the likes of Sir Victor Sassoon, and her adventurous and artistic foot in the midst of the Chinese intelligentsia with a man she falls in love with, Zau Sinmay. 

Through an often tangled and sometimes repetitive history lesson, coloured with novel attributes, Grescoe describes and illuminates Shanghai during a period of immense global upheaval. Though richly researched and emotively told, the book hasn’t brought together history and storytelling as well as it might have. 

Justine Cullinan
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.