Bookvine

Shoe loving, scuba diving, lip-gloss addicted bibliophile

Mad about the Boy

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy  - Helen Fielding

I have long outgrown chick lit but as I am a closet Bridget fan I could not resist this 3rd instalment.

 

At a good few sections left me quite unexpectedly sad as Bridget reminised about her Mark Darcy, how she became a widow, the hardship of bringing kids up on her own and how much she missed him.  But as all this was done in the typical effervescent and distinct Bridget style I had a smile even during these more poignant bits.

 

I think what makes this series so successful is that all of us can identify with at least one or two scenarios between the pages which enables us to laugh in a certain amount of relief at our own cringe-worthy mishaps. 

 

The obesity clinic and botox episodes are especially noteworthy as they made me literally howl with laughter and I really enjoyed the adorable Mabel which reminded me so much of my friend Tania’s daughter. 

 

If you are a Bridget fan then you HAVE to read this, or if you are looking for an easily digestible yet moving holiday read then this is the book for you.

Bonk

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex - Mary Roach

As this book is about sex and everything it contains (dysfunctions, mysteries, experiments, medieval practices and animal ..uhm… observations) it’s a bit of a challenge to write a PG rated review. In true Mary Roach style the book is full of facts, the stranger the better, and she even participated in some of the experiments to the chagrin of her husband.

If you are a fan of her books then this one should not be missed. If you have never read any of her treasures and is not overly squeamish I would rather recommend starting with Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Now I am off to go find a mirror and a measuring tape ☺

The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow

The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow - Rita Leganski

4 ½ stars

This was such a unique and enchanting story on love, loss and how guilt over past mistakes can choke the life out of the present. The writing has an ethereal quality to it and it’s not a book to be rushed through, but instead to be savoured and enjoyed.

I absolutely loved the setting of New Orleans as well as the references and explanation of the difference between Hoodoo, Voodoo and root work. Something I strongly believe in is that religion and superstition are just sides of the same coin and this book confirmed this belief.

The story is set in the 1950’s where a special little boy is born without making a peep. This continues as he grows up and rather than worrying about his inability to speak his mother and paternal grandmother encourages him to express himself in any other way he can.

All the characters had their own strong voice, and I felt a connection with each of them, even The Wanderer.

The only criticism I can give (if I was forced at gun point) is that some of Bonaventure’s moments of auditory rapture almost took focus away from the actual story.

I highly recommend this.

Breaking Night

Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard - Liz Murray

This book broke my heart!

Not only did it shatter me to read about a 4 year old who sees her parents shooting up drugs in the kitchen on a daily basis, having a mother that would steal her birthday money and squander all the welfare money just to score.

What was even more upsetting is that these seemingly uncaring parents really loved their children. Its clear in all their interactions with their kids but their drug habits and the grip that their addiction had on them were just too much to fight.

What also got to me is the way Liz was convinced that if she was just a better child who complained less that she was hungry, or tired or filthy, that her parents would love her more. As I said, heartbreaking stuff.
Besides the obvious horrendous account of the author’s upbringing I really found the rest of the story around her going back to school highly inspiring.

Liz Murray is a talented writer who has an amazing knack for telling a compelling, inspirational story without once being preachy and it will stay with me for a long time. It made me count my blessings and put life’s little stumbling blocks in perspective. If you enjoyed The Glass Castle, or strong memoirs about beating the odds then you have to read this.

The Gargoyle - exceptional debut novel

The Gargoyle - Andrew Davidson

What an exceptional debut novel. I am so glad I didn’t know about the hype surrounding this novel when I started reading it, as I had absolutely no expectations.

There is a gruesome crash at the beginning of the book, and a realistic medical description of burn treatments that may be too graphic for some readers. Initially I disliked the main character and as the story progressed it showed his transformation beautifully with the help of an eccentric, artist (Marianne Engel) who starts visiting him in hospital. Upon release he moves in with her and her story unfolds. 

Marianne is 700 years old, born in the year 1300 and raised in a convent. She is overjoyed when she meets the scarred narrator, as she believes that he is her long-dead lover returned to her. She then must set about convincing him of her story: of how the two fell in love all those years ago and how they were separated, about her divine mission to set her hearts free by carving huge gargoyles out of stone.

Interspersed through out the two tales of past and present Marianne also tells tales/fables of love and sacrifice. These stories seem completely unrelated but do come together towards the end.

The book shows impressive knowledge of such diverse topics as life-threatening burns, morphine addiction, seventh-century Vikings, and Dante's Inferno and medieval scriptoriums where books were copied laboriously by hand.

It explores the darkness that can devour the human spirit, while guiding you to the light, in very unexpected ways. 

I really hope that this author has more stories screaming at him to be written as much as the Gargoyles were screaming at Marianne to get them out of their stone prisons.

Choke

Choke - Chuck Palahniuk

Be warned, this book is not for everyone.

You will find addiction, depravity, sex acts of all kinds (which I found hilarious to the point of serious worry about myself), death, pain, obsession, profanity and blasphemy and thats just for Chapter 1.

The main protagonist is unlikable, disgusting and an ass but somehow I found myself really enjoying this twisted story which reminded me somewhat of Tom Robbins novels.

The storyline: Our main character has perfected fake choking in fancy restaurants to an art, the money he gets from his swindle act he uses to support his ailing mother.

The storyline is told through flashbacks of his highly unorthodox childhood to present day where he not only struggles with sex addition but has to suffer daily humiliation working at a colonial theme park.

This will most definitely not be my last Chuck Palahniuk book even if for the life of me I cannot pronounce his surname.

The Boy who could see Demons

The Boy Who Could See Demons: A Novel - Carolyn Jess-Cooke

Alex is a precocious 10 year old, mature for his age, likes onions on toast and wearing clothes left by an old man, who was the previous resident in his house. His mother is a serial-suicide basket case and his best friend in the whole world is a 9,000 old demon called Ruen that only he can see.

Anya, the psychiatrist assigned to Alex’s case also has her own monsters to battle as she still struggles to come to terms with her own daughter’s death.

The story is told from both Alex and Anya’s perspective and has such a feeling of sadness about it. The book also addresses the ripple effect of the violent history of Northern Ireland which is portrayed as almost “part of life”.

I never saw the twist at the end coming even though I knew from briefly glancing at other reviews that a twist was on its way. I will actively recommend this book for anyone who enjoyed Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend as even though it is an easy read it carries a big punch.

 

Netgally Copy

My Notorious Life

My Notorious Life - Kate Manning

I have recently discovered a liking for historic novels sent in the same time period as this book, and all of them contained similar elements to this one.

Its based on true events, has strong feisty female characters uncommon for the times and more importantly these stories stayed with me long after I finished reading. Like The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell and Half Broke Horses the main protagonist of this book, Axie, crept into my heart.

All these books have its own tale of female suppression in a misogynistic world but with this one it had an added layer of moral issues as it dealt with abortion and the right for women to decide if they wanted to terminate a pregnancy. I am strongly Pro-Choice in this matter and felt the desperation, hopelessness and need of all these women very strongly even though I never had to make a choice like this myself.

The latter part of the book dealt with the legal persecution of Madam X (Axie) which was not as captivating as the first 2/3 of the book. Efforts like this to emancipate women would take another century to finally culminate into the infamous Roe vs Wade court ruling but at least it finally came.

I highly recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction or who enjoyed the other two books mentioned.

Netgally Copy

50 People Who Stuffed Up South Africa - Alexander Parker

This book had all the elements of an award winning novel.  It made me laugh, cry, gasp in shock, shake my head in disbelief and nod vigorously in agreement.  Unfortunately it’s not a novel but a true account of how much can go wrong in a country brimming with potential.

 

This is a very important book for every single South African and even though I am an eternal optimist when it comes to this country of my heart it would be idiotic and naïve to ignore the dark side of South Africa.

 

And as I firmly believe as knowledge is power, buying this book was a way to understand these atrocities better so I don’t have to keep my mouth shut when “professional” whiners just spew negativity about SA, normally blaming everything that goes wrong in their own lives on the corruption in our current Government or on the disadvantages created by Apartheid. 

 

The book shows that corruption, greed and the horrors that this produce is not restricted to the colour of your skin.  We have suffered through white dominated, corrupt governments before 1994,   comparable to the ANC gravy train in many ways but for the longest time we were just not as privy to this information by way of the media as we are today.  That privilege, NO right, to information may very soon be taken away from us again if the secrecy bill gets passed.

 

Not everyone will agree with the entire selection of villains who made the cut for this book but I can guarantee you that everyone will approve with at least ¾.   The Zapiro cartoons at the start of almost every chapter were also priceless and I have had more than one very interesting conversation with friends about this book already. 

 

I must confess that I only glanced at the sections about Kevin Petersen and Richie Benaud both who are not South African and in my opinion could have been left out but the rest were all infamous and made for riveting reading.  The writing style is equal parts fact, sarcasm and satire and any book that expands the mind while at the same time can spark amazing conversations deserves recommending and that’s why I rounded off my rating to a full 5 stars.

 

Finally I have a request to all the doomsayers and ex-pats out there who surely will want to devour this book immediately.  Stop rubbing your hands together in gleeful shaudenfreude, muttering “I told you so” while polishing your framed emigration papers for a minute and please also read 50 Flippen Brilliant South Africans.

 

I wanted to include some choice quotes but I marked so many passages that the book ended up looking like a Chinese fan when I was done so I will rather include a passage from the author in the introduction which sums up my feelings:

 

“While the various and varied characters featured on these pages may have done their best to stuff up this fine land in which we live in, I must declare their collective failure.  It’s why I choose to live here, I love this place”

 

The Iron Bridge

The Iron Bridge - Anton Piatigorsky

This is a collection of six short stories each focusing on a different 20th-century dictator, offering a brief glimpse of an imagined moment in his childhood or young adulthood, skilfully capturing the unique voice of each protagonist.

 

I have to admit that I had limited knowledge on quite a few of these infamous dictators (Idi Amin, Pol Pot and Rafael Trujilio in particular) so part of my enjoyment was to search for them on Wikipedia before reading their stories.

 

Firstly, this helped me to put things into context, secondly to broaden my (clearly embarrassing) knowledge and lastly understand what was factual and what was embroidered on by the author – this is a work of speculative fiction after all.

 

Overall these stories were dominated by typical teenage angst however the author was able to subtly inject something unique viewpoints and twisted into each telling without outright showing you the pivotal moment when they turned into monsters

Its always difficult to rate short stories so I will let the math decide:

 

1)         Idi Amin - 4 stars

This captured the unique voice of an African boy so expertly I find it hard to believe this is not exactly how things played out

 

2) Pol Pot - 2 stars

A speculative shap shot of the man who came to be the monster that started the Vietnam war which left me underwhelmed. 

 

3) Chairman Mao - 4 stars

Forced into an arranged marriage at 14, never acknowledging its validity later in life (fact) set the stage expertly of what was to come once this madman came into power

 

4) Josef Stalin - 3 stars

This story portrayed the collective angst of overzealous boys in a strict seminary environment, making covert talk of revolution too tempting to ignore.  It suggests that if Josef Stalin didn’t rise to power someone else would have stepped up in his place.

 

5) Rafael Trujilio - 3 stars

Portrayed as a deeply disturbed boy with OCD and overly obsessed about hiding his Latino skin colour. 

 

6) Hitler - 3 stars

I expected a bit more from this one as he is the most infamous monster of them all.  I found more resonance with the movie Max as a portrayal of Hitler’s early life as a struggling (read talentless) artist than this story.

 

The voices of Idi Amin, Chairman Mao and Josef Stalin felt closest to the truth than the others however I suspect that this sentiment is purely personal.

 

Netgally Copy

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel - Neil Gaiman

While Neil Gaiman's storytelling is always very beautifully done, I was a mildly disappointed with Ocean at the End of the Lane. I read in the epilogue that the book was originally poised to be a short story and it actually shows.

 

The story is about a 40-something man returning to his boyhood home in Sussex, England for a funeral.  He cannot remember the last time he returned, but does not seem at all surprised to find himself at a pond at the end of the lane. There he remembers things both fantastic and frightening from the year he turned seven. The pond is on the Hempstock farm, and the Hempstock’s themselves are not what they seem and during that summer the youngest, Lettie, leads him on an adventure that revealed how very fragile the world we perceive actually is.

 

The story touches on a wide variety of things such as a difficult childhood, parental abuse & neglect and ultimately facing one’s demons.

 

After finishing I am still not entirely sure of my feelings on this book.  Some parts seemed as deep as the ocean with other as shallow as a muddy puddle but overall this was an enchanting story, just not my favourite Neil Gaiman.

 

Gone Girl Review

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn

This was a very well written, suspenseful and twisty mystery/thriller. It was cleverly plotted so that each new development had me eager to find out what happens next.

Gone Girl starts with Amy disappearing on her fifth wedding anniversary and is told in two alternating story lines, one by Nick, the husband, and one by Amy, both narratives are about 6 years apart in time and collide close to the end.

There were slight inconsistencies with some of the plot twists (yes I Googled it!) and because of this the novel lost some points but overall this is a highly entertaining piece of escapism.


I will definitely be reading Dark Places and Sharp Objects very soon.

The Bell Jar

The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath

What a sad little book this is. At the end of it, in the kindle version, a short bio of the author appears which shows just exactly how much this novel is autobiographical and why she didn’t want this published in the US at the time (so as not to offend any relatives/friends)

The novel starts out with Ester’s internship at a glossy magazine in New York and follows her downward spiral into full blown depression when she returns home….. eventually leading to her suicide attempt.

Esther’s voice had a very monotone; robotic feel which I am sure was done on purpose to demonstrate the debilitating effects of sinking deeper and deeper into depression.

The writing was not mind-blowing and I think this author’s talents as a poet does not come across very successfully in this novel. BUT there were moments of brilliant writing as demonstrated by my favourite passage:

“From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out.

I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

Teeth

Teeth - Hannah Moskowitz

If you are picking this up expecting a straightforward story you will be left disappointed because it is anything but that.

The story:
Rudy's family moved to the island in a last-ditch attempt to save the life of his younger brother, who developed cystic fibrosis as a toddler. Unable to obtain a lung transplant, the parents heard about this island with magic fish and gave up their normal life to move to this tiny, weird place in the middle of the ocean. Then we meet Teeth….. he is one of a kind, difficult to describe without sounding ridiculous, he hangs on the fringes of the human world with no true place in it.

The plot itself is a mixture of magical realism and contemporary. It explores the darker sides of humanity, and there are quite a few disturbing scenes and classifying it as young adult is a serious stretch.

The only criticism I can think of giving is because the story revolves so much around Rudy and Teeth all the other characters stay at the fringes and do not get fully explored.

This is my first book by this author but will definitely not be my last; the writing is utterly mesmerising, the characters so so complex and the storyline…. Well she clearly has a vivid if slightly twisted imagination. My kinda author.

Phenomenal Woman

Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women - Maya Angelou

I bought this book for one of the most phenomenal women I know and by now she has received it as a birthday gift so I can post my review.

Somehow I stumbled upon a review of this collection on GR and it stuck with me. So much so that I blindly went and bought 2 copies of this book without even cracking open the spine….

It’s a pity there are only 4 poems as I really enjoyed this new experience which is a celebration of women regardless of race, creed, or colour. I am sure this short but powerful collection will speak to me in a new way each time I revisit.

The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow

The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow - Rita Leganski

4 ½ stars

This was such a unique and enchanting story on love, loss and how guilt over past mistakes can choke the life out of the present. The writing has an ethereal quality to it and it’s not a book to be rushed through, but instead to be savoured and enjoyed.

I absolutely loved the setting of New Orleans as well as the references and explanation of the difference between Hoodoo, Voodoo and root work. Something I strongly believe in is that religion and superstition are just sides of the same coin and this book confirmed this belief.

The story is set in the 1950’s where a special little boy is born without making a peep. This continues as he grows up and rather than worrying about his inability to speak his mother and paternal grandmother encourages him to express himself in any other way he can.

All the characters had their own strong voice, and I felt a connection with each of them, even The Wanderer.

The only criticism I can give (if I was forced at gun point) is that some of Bonaventure’s moments of auditory rapture almost took focus away from the actual story.

I highly recommend this.