Monday, December 30, 2013

My best, almost-best and worst of 2013

Favourite books of 2013

All the feels, all the TEABS, all the books I enjoyed reading most this year

Stone against the mirror by Hugh Lewis

I have been telling everyone I know to go read this book. This is a rich and unsentimental account of a group of youngish white kids, trying to do what they could to put a dent in the Apartheid regime. It does not pretend that their contribution, though well meaning and not without success, was particularly significant in the greater scheme of things. Nor does it overblow their place in history or have any delusions about what they achieved. Instead, Lewis takes an earnest and honest look at his actions and those of his friends’. He tells the story of the personal and political betrayal by his closest friend, a man he considered practically a brother. As he charts the events that led to an 8 year imprisonment all those years ago, he is in the present time travelling to London to meet his old friend after not speaking for some 40 year. This is some deep shit. But it’s wonderful. Go read this book.


Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Vortex by Julie Cross
Becoming Chloe by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Way Back Home by Niq Mhlongo
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Sharp Edges by SA Partridge
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Merit awards for 2013

I liked these books very, very much but they weren’t quite my favorites...

The Mall by SL Grey

I did not really expect to be scarred by this. I have not been frightened by a book since Goosebumps in the second grade. But. The Mall is scary in ways that you do not imagine it will scare you. It is a thinking man’s horror because so much of what is scary about it is only frightening when you really, really think it through. It’s clever and wicked and mischievous but it’s pretty difficult to talk about it in any detail without giving away too much. I’d hate to spoil the fun so I’ll say this: if you’re into a book with a bite, push on through a very slow start and prepare to see your local mall (and actually the whole way we live these days) in a whole new, much creepier light.

South Africa’s Suspended Revolution by Adam Habib

South Africa’s Suspended Revolution is an unaffected but serious work that examines the challenges of our times while charting a way forward. Habib explores a range of topics including institutional design and human agency, affirmative action and conservative macroeconomic policies and the balance of power between corporates and unions. The result is a book that goes to the core of our social context, not shying away from controversial ideas, but instead dealing with them evenly and accessibly. In the midst of strike season, Habib’s fresh perspective on the crisis of service delivery and widespread deficiencies in political accountability are particularly timely. As an introduction to contemporary South Africa, South Africa’s Suspended Revolution is a compelling snapshot of our complex socio-political and economic landscape.


Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield by Jeremy Scahill
The Imposter by Damon Galgut
Go Tell the Sun by Wame Molefhe
Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr

It’s not you, it’s me

Try though I did, there were also some books this year that just didn’t quite hit the spot. There’s always some debate about whether reviewers should write negative reviews. I’m of the opinion that reviews should be fair, balanced but honest. If it was bad, I have to say so. What I do not have to do it tear apart a book or it’s author. So, in the spirit of transparency, sorry books: it’s not you, it’s me.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
Passion for Freedom by Mamphela Ramphele
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Less than Zero by Brett Easton Ellis
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
Sweethearts by Sara Zarr
Pretty Bad Things by CJ Skuse
The Smell of Apples by Mark Behr
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Selected YA reviews for 2013

I’ve been pretty lax about blogging over the last few months. In part, because I left my day job at Puku and started a new career. In part, because I have spent a lot more time reviewing books and writing stories than I did even when I was at Puku. In any case, that has not meant that I haven’t been reading. So now, as I recover from the Christmas turkey, let’s talk about some of what I read this year:

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

In a word, it was... Thoughtful

Started this book with high expectations and found that for the first half of the book, I was thoroughly enthralled and could really relate to Hannah’s situation. I think the misogyny and objectification I put up with at 13, at 19, at 21 is very much of the flavor that she’s dealing with. But as the reasons started to get a little darker, I also started to feel some skepticism creeping in. Would these reasons really be enough to kill yourself? Some of these things didn’t even happen to you, Hannah. They happened to other people and, yes, they affected you deeply, but it seems a little self-obsessed to turn someone else’s pain inwards when you don’t even know the person or particularly care about them. We’d all be offing ourselves after the evening news if we did that, wouldn’t we? I appreciated the story, I really liked the main character and it is totally worth reading but the format of Hannah says something on the tapes, Clay responds to what Hannah just said got old and I am still not entirely sure why Hannah killed herself.

The Girl in the Wall by Daphne Benedis-Grab

In a word, it was... Action-packed

When I first read this book, I quickly dismissed it as fun but insubstantial. It’s only now, months later that I realize how much of the story stayed with me and seems to have resonated on some level. It’s a tale of two girls, stuck in a house where the shit has seriously hit the fan. Peeps be dying, peeps be lying and bitches be taking none of that. So yeah, girls rule in this one. There’s intrigue, mystery (though, to be fair, it wasn’t that hard to work out if you really thought about it) and even a little romance. It’s a great weekend/beach read, I really enjoyed it and think it’s an awesome substitute for the Friday night action movie you can’t bring yourself to turn on.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E Smith

In a word, it was... Lite

I’m not gonna be a hater about this book. I enjoyed it, not immensely but certainly enough to keep reading. It was sweet, very cute but a little heavy on the insta-love. If you’re into a good romcom of The Holiday/Love Actually variety, this will do it for you. Bonus: dark, mysterious, broody guy with posh British accent swoon

Antigoddess by Kendare Blake

In a word, it was... Curious

I was looking forward to this one for some time. I mean, add Greek mythology to high school drama and I’m there like the Harry Potter book 8, you know. It was quite slow to start but once it got going, it did take me on a ride and I did find myself rooting for the semi-good gods to beat out the no-good gods in a fight for their immortal lives. That being said, it didn’t blow me away and I probably won’t be reading any more books in this series, Perhaps it was because I had just finished reading the Anna Dressed in Blood books (which I really loved) and the mannerisms and voices of all the characters I’d grown to love in Anna seemed to just be cut and pasted into Antigoddess. This may be ungenerous but honestly, while the plots could not be more different, Blake could have used an editor’s wise hand to remove the tones and echoes of the Anna books in Antigoddess. Still would recommend it if you’re into mythology and YA though.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Forgive me, Matthew Quick

The book: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

And it's about?

Today is Leonard Peacock's birthday. It is also the day he hides a gun in his backpack. Because today is the day he will kill his former best friend, and then himself, with his grandfather's P-38 pistol.

But first he must say good-bye to the four people who matter most to him: his Humphrey Bogart-obsessed next-door neighbour, Walt; his classmate Baback, a violin virtuoso; Lauren, the Christian homeschooler he has a crush on; and Herr Silverman, who teaches the high school's class on the Holocaust. Speaking to each in turn, Leonard slowly reveals his secrets as the hours tick by and the moment of truth approaches.

In this riveting book, acclaimed author Matthew Quick unflinchingly examines the impossible choices that must be made—and the light in us all that never goes out.

In a word, it was... Frustrating

I should have known better. I read Silver Linings Playbook and was deeply underwhelmed: so underwhelmed, in fact, that I could not even bring myself to tweet about it, let along blog about it. But I thought, hey, this new one looks good. People seem to like it. Why not?

Here's why not:

The thing I love about great novels, and indeed great novelists, is that they are fearless. They go to dark places and force us to follow into something unknown and sometimes unknowable. And we go. We could go back but onwards we push because the novel challenges us, forces us to think and allows us to feel. At the end, we are not guaranteed a happy ending or even one that makes sense but, end it must. This book has an ending and I guess it was sort of happy and even sort of made sense but I was left with a feeling that nothing really happened. My reward for attempting to wade through the half-hearted darkness was not worth the effort to read the damn book. Because this book does not have the courage to give us anything but dark-lite: it says 'it's bad but don't worry, you don't have to read about it or its implications in any detail at all. It's as bad as I suggest. I think?'. And that was not good enough for me.

I think Matthew Quick has another hit on his hands. And, lucky for him, it already reads just like a Hollywood screenplay. But I didn't want all of the lights. I just wanted something real and something fearless. This wasn't it. So never, ever again. I will not be fooled again, Jodi Picoult-style, Mathew Quick (please don't get me started on My Sister's Keeper, the blurb made it sound like hard-hitting not emotionally-manipulative). No silver linings here.