Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My best, almost-best and never-that list of 2014

Favourite books of 2014

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

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

I can't even talk about how much I am looking forward to the third installment of this trilogy. When I read Grave Mercy, I wasn't sure how Robs was going to get any better than that and then - ypu know what - she totally flipped the script on this bitch and did exactly that.

It seems that each of this books in the His Fair Assassin series are focused on a different fair assassin. This time, it's Sybella - she's got a whole mess of secrets, a very dark childhood, a bucket load of trust issues and a love that's a little too strong for those mass-killing vibes. And you know what? I loved it. Because she isn't a character who is easy to understand but she is not the person she was before this book and by the end, she is not even the person she was in the start. She is not Katniss, not Tris - because she is not about to kill herself or President Snow at the first sign of mental instability. She's going to revel in her crazy and make it work for her. In a non-homicidal, non-suicidal way which, let's be real, is kind of refreshing in these times of Mockingjay and Allegiance.

Sybella is the best, Beast is the best, love is the best, nun-assassins are the best. So, all in all, BEST.


Lagoon by Nnedi Okarafor
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
A Sinless Season by Damon Galgut
Noughts & Crosses (Noughts & Crosses, #1) by Malorie Blackman (The ending of this book though! OH NO, SHE DIDN'T! Oh yes, she did.)
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Love Tastes Likfe Strawberries by Ros Haden
The Three by Sarah Lotz

Merit awards for 2014

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

Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

The less you know about this book the better so I'm going to be vague AF. It wasn't my fave but it legit deserved all the praise and buzz and, honestly, I liked it very much. It left me with questions months later. The end will haunt me for months still. Plus: loved the writing and the main character and the spin on something that has become so commonplace that it's a bit of a yawn.


Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield by Jeremy Scahill
Dark Whispers by Joanne McGregor (another wow-ser of an ending in this one... "wowser" isn't even a word, is it? It doesn't even really make sense. But, nevermind. It was a great book)

It’s not you, it’s me (no, really)

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 wasn't for me, I've got to do me. 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.

The Good Doctor by Damon Galgut (who is legit my South African author bae so this was just a fluke and I'm sorry and kbye)
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton
Open City by Teju Cole (sorry guy - that weekend in Congo-Brazzaville was every-thing but this was... well, nevermind, I like the other things you write)

Bring on 2015!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Love so actually tastes like strawberries!

Love Tastes Like Strawberries by Rosamund Haden

So what's it about?

Stella stares at the painting on the therapist’s wall. A road winds along a mountainside above an azure sea. The slopes of the mountain are covered in olive trees. Small white boats bob on the shimmering water at the foot of cliffs.

Stella is lost in the painting. She can smell the herbs in the bush, wild thyme and something sweeter. She is running down a steep path to a cove below. On holiday in Greece. Thirteen. Awkward, in between everything ...

Ivor Woodall is dead. And, somehow, it’s all Stella’s fault. Because in Stella’s life the past is still very much alive. Her holiday in Greece. The young art student who charmed his way into her mother’s bed. What she saw that morning on the beach.

It all adds up to Ivor’s death. And Timothy being lost. And Francoise and Luke. Luke being more lost than anyone ...

In a word, it was... Twisty

Love Tastes Like Strawberries is a novel about art, betrayal, addiction, loss, redemption, and – at the centre of it all - love. In fact, much of the book is a meditation on love in its many forms – passionate, complicated, unrequited, enduring, inconvenient and stifling. Several characters’ dreams and lives collide in a weekly life drawing art class in present day Cape Town. But none of them can get away from the nightmares if their pasts – whether they play out during the early days of the Rwandan genocide or on a sensual coming-of-age Greek island holiday. You guys, the cover is so interesting, the book is so great - go read this. Love Tastes Like Strawberries is an unusual treat, a real delight actually, and a great way to lose yourself for an afternoon.

Friday, September 12, 2014

So, I'm on the longlist for the Golden Baobab

I could not be more thrilled about making the longlist for the Golden Baobab Prize for African Children's Literature. It feels like a validation of many years of writing and writing and writing and I'm incredibly grateful to Golden Baobab for recognising me in this way. Also, ALL THE FEELS, ALL THE YAYS.

Golden Baobab has announced the longlist on it's website here

Incidentally, I already feel very much part of the Golden Baobab family as a media fellow (I've heard some jokes about the vote being rigged but I am sure it's a blind judging process and my writing for GB the Organisation had nothing to do with my writing for GB the Prize).

Anyways, here are some of my musings as the 2014 media fellow:

I wish my grandmother had told me stories.

I was often left in the care of my paternal grandmother while both my parents worked full-time jobs. A former domestic worker, she was the kind of granny you see in movies and read about in books, down to her incredible homemade ginger biscuits. As a child, I was obsessed with reading. My parents did not buy me many books but I devoured the fiction section of my primary school library. After I had tired of Babysitters’ Club, Choose Your Own Adventure and Goosebumps, I made my way through Dickens, Austen and other authors who I’m not sure I would have the time or inclination to read now as an adult.

A book was a preferable companion to me than any person or pet but I don’t remember ever reading a South African book outside of school setworks. And even then, our exposure to South African English fiction was limited Maru by Bessie Head who, though born in South Africa, perhaps belongs more fairly to Botswana. My school offered only Afrikaans as an additional language and we read many interesting, complex works in the language. While I enjoyed many of these books immensely, I could not do so without a bit of black middle-class guilt. My father had been among the children who risked their lives in the Soweto Uprising of 1976 protesting against Afrikaans as a language of instruction in their schools and there I was, some 25 years later, happily tucking into Skilpoppe and Vlerkdans. South Africa can be a weird place sometimes.

Read the complete article on BooksLive here

Every few weeks, I meet people who tell me they want to be writers. Quite often they say they want to write for children or have started writing to give their children something more fun to read. They work in the evenings after long days behind desks and putting little ones to bed. They tell me they have been working on it for six months or six years. All of them want to know how to get published. Many of them imagine it will be much more glamorous and profitable than it’s really likely. Quite a few of them have multiple books they have abandoned half or a quarter way because they could not find inspiration or had run out of ideas. I must have met dozens of people with this story in the last five years or so. There must be thousands of these hopeful storytellers across Africa but where do all their stories go?

Read the complete article on ArtMatter here

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

WITS hosts Fine Lines Festival

I was quite bummed that I won't be able to go to Cape Town for the International Assembly of Independent Publishers meeting but it looks like I'll be representing Modjaji Books on a panel at next week's University of the Witwatersrand Fine Lines Festival so yay for small wins!

Fine Lines aims to bring a unique perspective to contemporary literary debates, in particular through facilitating conversations between established and emerging writers. The name of the festival speaks to the cutting-edge, to the tenuous boundaries between people, between the literary and the real, between artists and between mediums, and to aesthetic and artistic beauty. It is all of this to which the festival aims to give space, allowing students and future writers to engage directly with those already in the literary world.

One of the festival’s sessions will be devoted to South African fiction- entitled ‘Many voices in the deep.’ The session aims to explore the linguistic alternatives in the South African publishing landscape that is dominated by English. The discussion aims to answer the following question; how, if ever, will this landscape be changed in order to accommodate alternative voices?

See y'all on East Campus next week.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

A Legend in the making?

About the Book

“World War Three lasted twelve days. Twelve days was all it took for mankind to devastate the planet and almost eradicate the human race. No victor emerged from the ashes and billions lost their lives. We survivors lived through the bleakest of winters. A primal existence became the new order, and the little that remained of our humanity hung in the balance.

Then one man stood up and changed the world. I believed, as did everyone else, that he was the hero of our time, the man who had saved us from our own demise. His name is Eric Dane and he is the President of the New United States of America. He is also my husband, and my greatest enemy.

I grew up oblivious to the truth, until my father found me when I was nineteen years old. He told me about the many horrifying facts that our new leader kept hidden from us. And he told me that beyond the borders the Resistance grew and fought for freedom from the oppression that Eric Dane had imposed on us.

My name is Rebecca Davis. I am twenty-six years old, and in me the Resistance has found the ultimate weapon."

A narrative of good and evil, love and passion, right and wrong – and at the centre of the story a strong woman who is prepared to sacrifice everything for the cause she believes in. The Legacy is an action-packed, adrenalin-inducing thrill ride which will leave you riveted long after you have turned the last page.

That sounds fun right? Fun but maybe like we've read this before? Yes, I was thinking likewise. But then, you know, Melissa, the South African author of YA dystopia Legacy, is so lovely and frank that I actually started to think but wait - maybe this is actually not like something we've read before. Rebecca definitely does not seem like the type to pull a Mockingjay either. So I feel encouraged by this and I am very keen on actually reading this book. So hopefully one day that will happen too,

Until then, here's my interview with Melissa:

The Interview

Every new author has to deal with rejections and setbacks before they get published: what was your journey like?

Much like every other author, I would imagine. An emotional rollercoaster, filled with highs and lows. Rejection letters are an occupational hazard, but you have to shrug them off. The day I received my publishing contract was certainly the highlight of my own journey, but I’m not done yet. I plan to keep writing, keep working, keep promoting. The only thing I have learned for certain is that writing is a marathon, it takes time.

Which author(s) do you most respect or admire?

I admire every single author that completes a novel and fulfils their dream. It is a massive achievement, and an incredible journey, and whether it ends in international success, or just another small tick on an eternal bucket list, I applaud them all.

As a South African author, why did you decide to set The Legacy in America?

Firstly, let me say that I adore South African fiction - it is colourful and steeped in history and familiarity. I broke tradition in setting my book in America for two reasons: Firstly, to make it more believable. The trilogy begins with a speculative nuclear war. I needed a setting that would be in the midst of the chaos and very involved in the decision-making that led to this catastrophe. Logically, America being a super-power was a perfect fit. The other reason that I chose America as my setting was to appeal to an international audience, given that my concept is geared towards fiction readers, and our fiction market is relatively small.

The blurb for The Legacy reads much like another version of Allegiant or the 5th Wave: how does one write dystopian fiction that stands out in a market that's flooded with dystopias right now?

The same way you would write romance, or suspense – both of which are far more flooded than the dystopian genre. Authors will always try to capitalize on the rise in popularity of a specific genre. To stand out you must be original, have a novel concept, and you have to write your heart out. Readers will know all too quickly if you have simply retold and repackaged someone else’s story. In any genre there are good books and there are bad books, but the good will ultimately prevail. I think dystopias are taking a lot of heat because the market exploded fairly quickly, but they deserve their place on the shelves. I read across all genres, but I am a huge fan of dystopian fiction.

There's been a real surge of strong female leads in YA in recent year: what about Rebecca puts her in the league of Tris or Katnis?

I am such a fan of Suzanne Collins and Veronica Roth, and their characters are remarkable. Rebecca is older and more mature, but she is a super-soldier, and unlike Katnis or Tris, she chooses her path - it is not foisted unwillingly upon her. She does not survive against all odds – in fact, just the opposite. She is exceptional – she has been trained and equipped with skills that allow her to not only survive but excel in the dystopian environment she grows up in. That being said, I wouldn’t want her caught in the crosshairs of Katnis’s bow!

If you could re-write Legacy tomorrow, what would you change?

You will always look back and think “If I wrote that book now, I would change this, or do that...” It’s part of growing older. Your own preferences change. That is why you should keep writing – you cannot go back, all you can do is move forward. Fiction has a shelf-life. A book that is popular now will not be in a year or two, so there is no point changing anything once you have reached the publication stage.

Visit Melissa's blog

Friday, June 20, 2014

"A uniquely Lagosian delight"

Lagoon by Nnedi Okarafor

So what's it about?

When a massive object crashes into the ocean off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous and legendary city, three people wandering along Bar Beach (Adaora, the marine biologist- Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa- Agu, the troubled soldier) find themselves running a race against time to save the country they love and the world itself… from itself. Lagoon expertly juggles multiple points of view and crisscrossing narratives with prose that is at once propulsive and poetic, combining everything from superhero comics to Nigerian mythology to tie together a story about a city consuming itself.

At its heart a story about humanity at the crossroads between the past, present, and future, Lagoon touches on political and philosophical issues in the rich tradition of the very best science fiction, and ultimately asks us to consider the things that bind us together – and the things that make us human

In a word, it was... Original*

It is difficult to imagine a different kind of alien invasion story when there are so many that have already been written but Nnedi Okarafor has created just that with Lagoon. Set in the ordinary chaos of Lagos, this sci-fi/magic realism epic tells the story of three extraordinary people and the aliens who descend on the waters of Lagos. Soon, the city is burning as friends turn against each other, monsters like Mami Wata walks among soldiers and street children, and the streets are more alive and dangerous then ever. Lagoon is the most original novel (African or not) that I have read in some time. A uniquely Lagosian delight.

*This review originally appeared on BooksLive here.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Go read The Three right now

The book: The Three by Sarah Lotz

And what's it about?

They're here ... The boy. The boy watch the boy watch the dead people oh Lordy there's so many ... They're coming for me now. We're all going soon. All of us. Pastor Len warn them that the boy he's not to­­--

The last words of Pamela May Donald (1961 - 2012)

Black Thursday. The day that will never be forgotten. The day that four passenger planes crash, at almost exactly the same moment, at four different points around the globe.

There are only four survivors. Three are children, who emerge from the wreckage seemingly unhurt. But they are not unchanged.

And the fourth is Pamela May Donald, who lives just long enough to record a voice message on her phone.

A message that will change the world.

The message is a warning.

In a word, it was... Exquisite

There is little that I want to say about the actual plot of this book because the less you know, the better. I read it in a few hours. I would look down at my hands every few minutes and realise they were damp. I was scared and it was weird. I've seen The Three described by someone else on the interwebs as 'literary horror' and I'm inclined to agree with that label. It's literary in the sense that it's some very crafty storytelling that really tricks you into a false sense of thinking you know what's going down when really, you have no clue what the f is up.

The style of the narrative is also really interesting (sorry, no spoilers) and while I thought I would get quite tired of it, I really didn't and quite enjoyed this unique approach.

Those kids though... Those kids are the horror show at the centre of a mystery, a global tragedy, the ambitions of some crazy evangelists, a few imploding families and some just generally freaky shit. Lotz does a superb job of making them feel authentic and that makes what happens all the worse.

Look, it's not perfect. There were some slow bits in three-quarters in and I was not wholly satiated by the ending. I actually liked the ending but I wanted more, I wanted to understand more, I wanted to really, really, really know how it ends.

All of this considered, I haven't been this excited about a book since I read Tell the Wolves I'm Home and, you guys, that was in December of 2012. I enjoyed this so much, I would actually say it's in my top 10 books that I have read. As in, in my whole life.*

So the bottom line, really, is go pre-order this book now. It comes out in less than a month. This will be a no-regret purchase. For real.

*I actually made a list to confirm this. It's number 7.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Dark, dark, Dark Whispers

The book: Dark Whispers by Joanne Macgregor

And it's about?

When a patient describes an experience of mental torture and sexual mutilation by a gynaecologist at the private hospital where she works, psychologist Megan Wright decides to investigate. Determined to find out the truth and stop the abuse, but bound to silence by the ethics of confidentiality, Megan must enter the dark mind of a dangerously disturbed man.

Between the anaesthesia and the awakening, are the dark whispers.

In a word, it was... Chilling

Dark Whispers is really not the sort of book I ordinarily like to read because I am not much of a fan of crime fiction and/ thrillers but when Joanne mentioned it at book club, my interest was piqued. When the book arrived, I was swamped at work and it eyed my from my bedside table for a few months, I think. When I finally did sit down to start it, I hit it but couldn't quit it.

The premise of Dark Whispers is disturbing enough to keep you away from your PAP smear for a while: a gynaecologist torturing his patients with no ramifications and few women willing (and able) to come forward about the truth. Psychologist Megan Wright, somewhat haphazardly trying to do the right thing and getting dragged down into the dark with all the others. So yeah, that happened. On the whole, the writing is solid, the pacing really clever and there are a few unexpected dark turns that left me chilled. Yaknow, good stuff.

But for me, Dark Whispers stands out in its genre for two reasons:

Reason 1:
Megan is the kind of character who you feel you know. But like, really, really know. Her family and their drama feels authentic and familiar. Her douchey boyfriend makes you want to roll your eyes and tell her 'you're dating this guy? seriously??' Her reactions to the mess she's put herself in are sometimes kind of annoying but not because they are unrealistic. On the contrary, they are annoying because Megan, seriously, have a little self-preservation gurl. There is a crazy gynae that could walk in at any moment and you have no apparent supernatural gifts to fight this guy off so maybe just stay out of it, ok? Granted, I did not like the gay best friend plot device not the sassy secretary but neither were deal breakers. And, more importantly, by the end, I really cared about what happened to Megan. I really felt like I understood her and that's kind of rare in a genre of archetypes and (sorry) cliches.

Reason 2:
The ending was deeply rewarding. Without giving too much away, I found it intellectually challenging because it did not sit easily with Megan or with anyone who would like to think that in a really tough situation, they would ultimately do the right thing. It made me think: what would I do, really? Could I stand up for those women if the cost was my own life? Could I live with the choice not to? These were not superficial moral questions but I feel they actually speak to the heart of the tension between who you are and who you want to be, what happens to you and what you do to yourself.

Anyway, the point is, even though it seems pretty heavy and quite uncomfortable, it is possible to push through that discomfort and find a book that is greatly satisfying at an emotional and intellectual level, starring a strong-ish and authentic female lead dealing with a very twisted, super-creepy situation. Go buy it.

Friday, February 14, 2014

My latest story for FunDza is available in English and Xhosa!

FunDza makes my heart happy! In the Shadow of My Dreams is available now.

Bambatha is desperate for Nomfundo’s help. The crops in his village are dying and he is convinced that only a scientist with her expertise can help him figure out why. What neither of them counts on is how hard some of the villagers will fight to hold on to the ways of their ancestors. The tug of war between progress and traditions could tear Nomfundo and Bambatha apart – forever.

This story is also available in isiXhosa: Kwiimfihlo zamaphupha am