*(JAP) IT’S OFFICIAL – I’M BATTY!


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*(Just a Paragraph:  when I’m short of time and/or inspiration, I keep my blog ticking over with ‘just a paragraph’: random thoughts, reflections, comments, ideas … little snippets)

 

Recently I filled in one of those Facebook quiz thingys, to find out my animal equivalent . I slogged through the questions and waited with bated breath. Bet I‘m one of the cats, I thought. I fancy being a leopard – or  a Margay ?  Hah! Wrong. Very wrong.  The most unlikely creature: according to their algorithm, I’m a – wait for it – I’m a BAT.  Noooooo. Uh-uh. No way. It’s the polar opposite of my everyday life. I’m the irritating person who rises at 05.00 (nagged  by my cat),  and leaps into action, with a smile on my dial, headed towards the day’s To-Do-List.  Everybody hates me. Must admit, I can see why. In short, I am a morning person, de luxe. As the sun goes down, so do I. A night-time person I am not.  Flitting around at all hours has no appeal whatsoever. Never mind the insect diet and the unsavoury blood-sucking aspect –  yuck.  Either I ticked the wrong box in a short-sighted moment, or else they need to dust off their algorithms. At heart,  I’m  still a leopard!

 

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BOOKISH VOWS, PROMISES & OPTIMISM


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January 1st has no sooner  dawned than hordes of eager, hollow eyed bibliophiles a.k.a. book-nerds or read-a-holics, whatever you want to call us, are blearily tapping out their hopes, and dreams for 2017 onto their blogs. It’s infectious. I, too, am about to unleash my modest  To Do Reading Vow  List into the Blogosphere.

I’m fully aware that not all my followers are book addicts.  We’re a vast, myopic tribe , populating bookstore, Libraries and the dusty corners of the Web while other folk are  busy  working, playing, socialising, exercising (we’ve dimly heard of this strange activity), sleeping , etc, while the Book Tribe has its collective nose buried firmly in a book, or is adding to its TBR list (To be Read). Turns out many dedicated readers are keen list makers. We have to be, you see.  So many books, so little time, groaning shelves of our latest purchases – we need to try to establish some control over our addiction.

I’ve been surfing the many Bookish Blogs to which I subscribe (how do I ever find time to read real live books? It’s tough, but I make the effort) and I’m amazed at the plethora of tasks that readers set themselves . For example, during the coming year they promise to :

  • Read more than 100 books (last year they only managed 70 odd, and are mortified)
  • Enter a minimum of three Reading Challenges by 31 December
  • Join a Ulysses (James Joyce) Reading Group (no thanks: pass on this one)
  • Only read novels written by women
  • Read national literature for 365 days e.g. Australian, South African
  • Read translated novels and nothing else for a year
  • Restrict their reading to Award Winning Novels

And so it goes.  I’m alternately impressed and depressed by the tasks readers set themselves.

My own goals are much more modest.  Hesitantly I publish my own feeble promises:

#1        Read 12 books from my TBR pile by 15 December. It’s only one a month. Easy.

#2        Read 2 books a week. I’m aiming for that Gold Star 100.

#3        Not to buy any new books between now and 31 March. My credit card has smoke coming out of it. This should probably be in #1 slot.

#4        Watch less TV.

And that’s enough to be getting along with. Bye for now – back to my current book.

P.S. Don’t you love my Book Brick?  Painted by Steve, at the Milnerton Library, Cape Town.

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MY SURVIVAL STRATEGY FOR CHRISTMAS 2017


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I can hear my readers screaming: Gag that woman! Christmas 2017? Noooooo – we’ve just staggered away from December 2016. Please!  Enough already!

Keep calm. Don’t panic. Make a nice cuppa tea and when you’re feeling calmer, continue reading. Okay. Everybody  take a slow deep breath and we’ll  analyze what makes (most) Festive Seasons less than ideal.

There’s so much to do isn’t there?  The shopping, the  decorations, the enormous lunch, the gifts, the hordes of relatives; the washing up; the clean-up; the family rows that sometimes last for decades. And, last but not least, Uncle George. Every family has one. I can see you nodding your heads. The awkward relative  your conscience prods you to include. And then you wish you hadn’t.

Where to begin?  Here’s my #1 tip:

  1. Shopping: start now in January at the January Sales. I’m pretty sure every country has them. Big money-saver. Bung your bargains into a plazzie bag, write the names of the recipients on the plastic with Magic Marker, and stow in a dedicated, secret  carton in your garage.
  2. Failing the January Sales, make a big diary note around September to start attending monthly Craft Markets and keep a sharp eye out for Church Bazaars. You will discover unique handmade items, often at very reasonable prices.
  3. Immediately after Christmas scoop up markdowns of  gift wrap, tags and bags . Pop into that box in the Garage. Ka Ching! Saving money!

#2 tip : Decorations.  Buy a Christmas wreath, attach to the front door and when somebody moans about the lack of decorations, tell them firmly that if they want more decorations, then they’d better get cracking and provide some, because this is the year you’re on strike. Trust me, the world will keep on turning without tinsel.

#3 tip:  The Enormous Lunch.  Announce around October that this is the last year you will be hosting The Christmas Lunch, and furthermore, this year,  it will be a Bring & Share Banquet.  Circulate  the menu and insist that the diners commit , in writing, to one major item e.g. the turkey. You will provide the venue, crockery, cutlery, one edible item,  plus  coffee/liqueurs/choccies afterwards.

AND, the cherry on top – once assembled around the festive board, hold a lucky draw , the winner of which will be the host of next year’s Bring & Share Banquet. Propose an enthusiastic toast to the lucky winner.

#4 tip: Buy a dishwasher.  Yes, you do need one. Don’t listen to anybody telling you they use a colossal amount of water, they don’t. Or that they will ruin the family silver : actually, yes, they will, which is why you will use perfectly good stainless steel cutlery. Ditto the same dire effects on the bone china. Take that heirloom 60 piece Royal Albert dinner service to the nearest antique shop and flog it. You have other crockery, for goodness sake.  The proceeds will help pay for the dishwasher.

#5 tip: Secret Santa : Hold a draw around October where your Xmas Lunch  guests will draw the name of one person, for whom they will bring one gift, to the value of …  Fill in the magic number:  not more than X.  End of story. Your garage trove of gift bargains is for your nearest & dearest, or people like your hairdresser. You cannot live without a good hairdresser. So give him/her a prezzie.

#6 tip:  Uncle George/Aunty Maud:  Using part of your loot from flogging the heirloom silver and the  EPNS gravy boat, cunningly book a table for the old fossil for a slap-up Christmas dinner at a local hotel. Naturally you will book taxi transport. You will of course break the good news in the form of a fictitious Raffle prize? Anonymous Benefactor?   This way he/she  can’t possibly totter through your front door on December 25th. Fingers crossed.

#7 tip: Buy a large diary now, yes, on 2 January, and map out your Defense Plan for the next Christmas jollies. Work out your strategy, diarise, execute, and relax. Oh, and a P.S. Don’t think you can get away with running your diary system on your mobile phone. Bad idea. They tend to get lost, stolen, dropped and broken. But your hardcover diary stays safely at home, and the Magic Strategy is preserved.

#8 tip: One last essential pointer. At the next mammoth bottle store sale, stock up on a couple of bottles of your favourite relaxant – sherry? (very seasonal), brandy? (warming and cheering) gin? (good for  cooling G&Ts for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere) . Hide your haul in the Garage Box, and start medicating around 15 November.  You should be in a relaxed frame of mind for the upcoming festivities.

Finally: for mercy’s sake,  do not lose that Diary!

 

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DIGGING FOR DINKIES by A M Smith ©


morrisPeriodically I post my short fiction; here is a Christmas story – not so short, but enjoy!)

I was digging in the garden when my spade struck something metal.

Hello, I thought, what’s this?  I knew the allotments had been checked and cleared by the Bomb Squad years ago, once the War was over. I leant on my spade and looked down. Saw nothing.  But there’d been a definite  clunk, and it was a metallic clunk, not a rocky thunk. I’ve done enough digging  in my 75 years to know the difference.  Okay. I slowly scraped the earth away, gently dug down and after a while, there it was. Whatever it was. Actually, I knew what it was.  I mean a trapdoor is a trapdoor, innit? Even if it is painted dark green with a pattern of … bells – bells?? …round the border and two twisty handles. How come the paint looks fresh? Buried under a good eight inches of muck. Not possible. But there it was.

 

Now what? I looked around. Dusk was falling, the allotments were deserted. I wanted to know what lay under the trapdoor. I grabbed the handles and tugged.  Bet you would’ve done the same. The trapdoor flew open.  Just like that! Amazingly easy.  And would you believe, there was a metal slide, like you get at WaterWorld for the kiddies, but it was wide, not kiddy-sized. So, obviously, I stepped down and whoosh! Away I went. Down, down, down through the darkness, round a bend and thump! I landed on my bottom inside a wide, sandy tunnel.

 

Further down the tunnel  I could see a bright yellow light, and hear the sound of, well, it sounded like a – a – workshop, I suppose, hammering and banging and clanging.  You know, like people working, making stuff. I dusted off my trousers and crept down the tunnel. Luckily the rocky wall bulged out, so I could hide in the tunnel and  peep round the rock to see what was what.

 

It was a workshop all right. Hammering, and sawing, painting and sanding, cutting and grinding, a real proper workshop, but  – and I rubbed my eyes and squinted hard: why were the workers all so short,  and wearing red caps with bells  on? And green jackets with brass buttons, and green and white striped tights, and their shoes! No workboots here – Health & Safety would’ve had a field day: no yellow hard hats, no boots – pointy red soft shoes, ending with curled up toes, and  bells on the curly tips. Bells on your shoes – well, I never!

 

And then I noticed the slanty eyes, and .. omigod … the pointy ears … Mr Spock had nothing on this lot!  I clutched the rocky outcrop, and took a deep breath. Where was I?

 

I inched cautiously round the rock, just a little closer, so I could see what the … the .. umm …  elves, I suppose , were making. Toys, that’s what they were busy with. You name it, they were making ’em. Toy trains, dolls, and doll-houses, rocking horses, teddy bears, and I don’t know what all. Even some of those modern X-box thingies.  And then I spied them: they were making Dinky cars!  I collect Dinkies. I’ve loved them ever since I was a kid. Just love ‘em. But they’re hard to find these days, they went out of production years ago. But not down here, apparently.  I looked around, and worked out that if I sneaked under the workbenches I could get right up close to the dinkies. I was dying to get a good look, and see if they were real Dinkies.  So I did. Holding my breath, quiet as a mouse, a bit of scientific crawling, and  there I was. Crouched under the  workbench opposite the Dinky  makers. Luckily I’m a skinny little man, take after my Dad, who was a Jockey.

 

Anyway, I spied a blue Morris Minor Traveller that I’d been after for years. The car came out in 1953. I think it was the English answer to those huge American station wagons, only being British, ours was more modest  – utilitarian, even.  My Dad had a green one, and I thought it was the smartest car, ever. Nobody else in our street had one. Only us. I’ve always admired the shiny yellow wood trim along the sides. It complimented the classic bull-nose of the front view.  And there it was, a beautiful, shiny new Dinky. Could I? Should I? Oh – what the hell : why not? There’ll never be another chance like this , that’s for sure.

 

I took a deep breath, popped my head and shoulders out from under the workbench, closed my fist over the Dinky, and was preparing to whip back my arm and slither away as fast as I could, when: “What’s this then?” bellowed a deep, bass voice. An angry deep bass voice.

 

I craned my neck and saw a huge pair of black shiny boots next to the bench, and two red-clad legs, big as oak tree trunks, but my view upwards was blocked by a vast red bulge.  A massive hand, decorated with a white fur cuff on a stout red sleeve grabbed my arm, shoulder and then the rest of me. I was hauled out  and held up, eye to eye, facing  very irate bright blue eyes under bushy white eyebrows.  The round red apple cheeks glowed red with rage.  Dimly I notice the silence. The hammering and banging stopped.

 

“Well? “  roared Santa.  “Explain yourself! You miserable little shrimp!”  he shook me hard, but I hung onto my precious new Dinky like grim death. I wasn’t letting  it go, not for anything.

 

Santa’s popping blue eyes narrowed a fraction, “Oh, I see”, he growled. “This is all about that Christmas when you were nine, isn’t it? No presents, no money for the gas meter, no Christmas Dinner. I’m right, aren’t I? Of course I am, I’m always right!” He plonked me back on my feet and glared down at me from his gigantic height.

 

“Errm”, I began, had to clear my throat, my voice wasn’t working.  All that shaking must’ve rattled my voice box loose, I reckon.

 

“Save your breath, you miserable little man.  I’m too busy to worry about you and one little green Dinky. Look at our production line – down to a standstill. Back to work you nosey lot!” he bellowed. An  immediate  salvo of hammering and drilling  broke out. Somewhere in the background I heard what sounded like neighing – what? horses, down here? Surely not? Then it dawned on me: oh, the reindeer, of course. Fleetingly I wondered what they ate, so far underground, but maybe they were taken up-world to graze. My dazed thoughts were jolted rudely when Santa scooped me up in a meaty paw, swung  back his arm and hurled me upwards … into the blackness.

 

When I came to, I was lying flat on my back, next to the  hole I’d dug, and  Debbie’s shrill voice was berating me:

“Grandpa! Just look  at you! Flat out in the muck – in the dark, on your own – bet you’ve been at your dandelion wine again, Granny’s going to give you what for, I can tell you. Good thing she sent me to fetch you home for supper. What’re we going to do with you?  And what’s the big hole about, then? I thought you were planting leeks? Looks like you were digging down to Australia more like it! C’mon, upsadaisy, on your feet. Put your arm around my neck, let’s get you  home. What’s that in your hand? Lemme see – wherever did you find that? It looks brand new – going to add it to your Dinky collection, I expect. Funny place to find a new Dinky, I must say.”

 

 

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A HOT FURRY DECEMBER BLIZZARD


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My dear cat, Chocolat, has welcomed our hot, windy summer by shedding her winter fur coat. So when I tell you that our entire home, bedding, furnishings, the works, is smothered in a fine coating of chocolate coloured fine cat’s fur, you will understand the title of this blog post. It’s a very good thing that I’m not an asthmatic, because if I was, by now I would be the late, great Mrs Smith. Demised, due to giant fur-ball would appear on the death cert.

Luckily the famous Cape Doctor, a.k.a. the South-Easter wind has been hurtling around Cape Town at gale force, which swept some of the fur, and all the carelessly littered  plazzie bags, out to sea. I’m amazed there haven’t been sightings of a giant UO (Unidentified Object) viz a fur covered plastic blob floating out on the Atlantic. You get the picture.

But despite these hazards, spirits are high, along with the summer temperatures, and it remains for me to wish my good friends and faithful readers a merry Festive Season, and a PEACEFUL, happy,  healthy New Year.

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MY 2016 READING YEAR


 I haven’t ticked as many books off my TBR list as I’d hoped, only 9 out of 12. More effort required  in 2017. And my  cataract op slowed me down somewhat, but this said, here are  the highlights  of my 2016 reading year.  Looking forward to your comments.

BEST READ OF THE YEAR

The Tsar of Love and Techno – Anthony Marra 

BEST SOUTH AFRICAN NOVEL

Recipes for Love & Murder – Sally Andrew 

BEST TRAVEL BOOK

Lost on Planet China – J. Maarten Troost 

BEST CLASSIC

Pale Fire – Vladimir Nabokov 

BEST SUSPENSE

The Martian – Andy Weir 

BEST BIOGRAPHY

The Invention of Nature – Andrea Wulf 

 BEST WAR MEMOIR/HISTORY

The Call of the  Litany Bird – Sue Gibbs

(Surviving the Rhodesian Bush War)

 

BEST TRANSLATED NOVEL

From the Mouth of the Whale  – Sjon

BEST SPECULATIVE FICTION

Station Eleven – Emily Mandel 

BEST SHORT STORIES

Brief Encounters with Che Guevarra – Ben Fountain

FUNNIEST NOVEL

A  Match for Dr Koekentapp – Allan Kaye

 

MOST UNUSUAL CRIME NOVEL

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union – Michael Chabon

MOST UNUSUAL MEMOIR

The Undertaker’s Daughter – Kate Mayfield

MOST UNUSUAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY

South of Nirvana – Sue Randall

 

TERRIFIC READS

Between the Woods & the Water – Patrick Leigh Fermor  (beautiful prose)

Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff  (modern life & marriage)

The Penguin Lessons – Tom Michell (fresh & quirky)

Unaccompanied Women – June Juska  (memoir)

The Shaman in Stilettoes – Anna Hunt (memoir)

The Mouseproof Kitchen –  Saira Shah  (contemporary novel)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE EVERYTHING STORE – JEFF BEZOS AND THE AGE OF AMAZON – Brad Stone


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 the pic is titled “Jeff Bezos iconic laugh

 

A fascinating account  of visionary entrepreneur /business tycoon/tyrant Jeff Bezos  and the birth and rapid growth of Amazon over the last 17 years..

JB emerges as the manic visionary who practically invented on-line shopping.  His business mantras (known as Jeffisms by his acolytes) are: Frugality and Customer Satisfaction. Incidentally, he’s clearly  the Boss from Hell, I would hate to work for Amazon. Apparently the company is renowned for burnouts and rapid departures. Hardly surprising, given Amazon’s meteoric growth since 1995. Squads of talented, bright people have worked for JB and contributed to Amazon’s success.

I thought Amazon.com was just a book retailer but they’ve morphed from their original concept literally into an Everything Store : clothing/ tools /jewellery/baby supplies/ DVDs – you name it, riding roughshod over competitors en route.  Because of their mega sized operation they can play the long game, waging a war of attrition with ever decreasing prices until their smaller competitors roll over and die or sell out to the giant. JBs vision led his company into development of the Kindle, space travel , the smartphone, and cloud storage for computer data. It’s worth following the Wikipedia link here to read more detail about amazon.com .  http://Jeff Bezos. http://amazon.com  

Bezos seemingly does not understand the meaning of words like boundaries and limits. Having taken Amazon so far, one wonders what he can possibly dream up next? Is there anything left to visualize?  Personally, I wish he’d turn his laser-gaze on to a cure for the common cold.  He’d certainly make another gazillion dollars if he did.  Apparently JB is not motivated by money or a flashy lifestyle – Brad Stone shows a man who values his family’s privacy and lives a relatively modest life.  Stone’s engrossing  book is  crammed with facts, figures, history, fascinating anecdotes. That’s why I chose the photo above, because apparently Bezos has an iconic laugh.

You don’t have to be an MBA student to read and appreciate the book – I certainly am not, but I  read every page with great interest and enjoyment. Highly recommended.

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A STRANGE BAR OF SOAP


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If you’re wondering about  the picture above , let me explain.  The black rectangle supporting the packaging is the actual bar of soap : lemongrass and charcoal, would you believe? Hence the marbled black  and cream appearance.  I’m nervously wondering if my skin will  be a trendy charcoal grey after I’ve showered? Time will tell. Odd colour aside, the soap does smell nice – with a touch of peppermint alongside the lemongrass.

Somewhat oddly, the  package depicts a nightjar. I know this, because there’s a helpful note around the back of the box which tells me so. The connection between the bird and the soap  isn’t clear to me, but hey! This is a whimsical soap bar. Re-reading the blurb to clarify the nightjar issue, I discover the soap is handmade from sustainable ingredients, in KwaZulu Natal, so I suppose the bird motif is in keeping with the natural origins.

However, the most intriguing thing for me, is the paper on which the soap and box are resting. It was neatly wrapped around the bar of soap, instead of the more usual waxed paper. Being addicted to the printed word, I grabbed it and checked that my first impression was correct. Yes, it was. The wrapping is a page out of a novel titled  The Eagle has Flown .   I’m familiar with the catchphrase The Eagle has Landed,  much beloved of thriller and war story writers. But The Eagle has Flown ?  So I Googled it.

Wikipedia says: “ The Eagle Has Flown is a book by Jack Higgins, ….. It is a quasi-sequel to The Eagle Has Landed . “ Thank you Wiki. What would we do without Google and Wikipedia?

I am baffled as to why the soap maker wraps the finished product in pages torn out of an old novel. Quirky marketing? Paper shortage?  Thrift? Dislike of Jack Higgin’s novels?  Enormous guilty satisfaction in ripping a page out of a book? Who knows? It certainly is wrapping with a difference, and one of my more unusual birthday gifts that’s for sure! Because chocolate is on the verboten list, people tend to trawl craft  markets in search of gifts, so I often receive splendid surprises, and the soap was one of them.

P.S. If you want more info, or even a bar of black soap,  then I suggest you do a Facebook search for Rondawel Soaps.  I discovered their info on the Woza Moya page.

 

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THE CALL OF THE LITANY BIRD – Surviving the Zimbabwe Bush War – Susan Gibbs


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The book is an account of events in the  Nymandhlovu farming district,  southern Matabeleland,  Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) 1977 to 1983/4, written by farmer’s  wife, Susan Gibbs.

Sue Gibbs loved the farm, the bush and Rhodesia – this comes through clearly on every page, but in the end President Robert Mugabe’s  genocidal attacks against the  Nedbele, and their leader Joshua Nkomo,  plus the crimes of dissidents, who stayed in the bush after Independence and were nothing more than bandits,  committing farm murders and ambushes –  made life on the farm too dangerous.  Despite having the Agric Alert radio system, and despite PATU (Police Anti-Terrorism Unit) and the Army being on hand – despite living in wired enclosures, despite carrying sidearms and driving around in bombproof vehicles on account of the landmines:  the slaughter of farmers continued. In the end, these factors drove the Gibbs (and many other farmers) away from their farms, the land and the people they loved. And I need to emphasize that the phrase  people they loved refers not only to their friends and families, but also to long-time  loyal farm workers and servants.

On a very personal note: I lived in Bulawayo  during the 1970s, and worked for a time at the Matabeleland Farmers’ Co-op and came into daily contact with many of the farmers mentioned in her book, including her husband Tim Gibbs.  The sunburnt, hard-working men and women came into the Co-op on their weekly visits to town, to collect machinery spares, veterinary products, building supplies, seed and fertiliser, plus an enormous range of other items necessary to maintain a farm in the Rhodesian bush.

Our family had a close friend who ran a cattle ranch in the Shangani District, so I could relate to Susan Gibb’s  account of farm life in Rhodesia – the lovely gardens, the servants, the animals, the snake stories, the floods of visitors.  Rhodesian farmers were  generous, hospitable  folk, always ready to offer a meal, or a weekend on the farm, out in the bush.

On the one hand the book is a lovely read in the  nostalgic “when-we” category. On the other, an exposure of black atrocities against white farmers, and their black farm workers, in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. There was enormous suffering all round in the farming community.

I hope Susan Gibb’s  book receives wide recognition for an honest account of the attrition.

 

 

 

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3 SHORT BOOK REVIEWS


 DEATH BY CARBS  by Paige Nick
Hilarious who-dunnit by one of South Africa’s best comic writers. Banting guru Dr Tim Noakes *(b.t.w. he’s a real, live resident of Cape Town, even as I type) is murdered by a hitman – chaos ensues when the ambulance conveying the body to the mortuary is hijacked by two incompetent bad guys and thereafter mayhem compounds with every page – jealous co-authors of a banting book; fervent Facebook  banting fans; a back-sliding banting CEO; adultery; bribery; conspiracy – just another normal day in sunny South Africa, but elevated by the fact there’s a laugh on every page. And well done, Paige: I’m dying (not lit! ) to read your next novel.
*P.S. When interviewed by the local press on how it felt to be the body in a murder mystery, Dr Noakes was a good sport, and laughed about his new-found fame as a corpse.”Give that man a Bell’s” – South Africans will understand the joke; but I’m not sure it’s allowed on the banting regime …

http://blogs.litnet.co.za/devries/2015/12/18/death-by-carbs-the-best-who-donut-of-20

 

VIGILANTE – by Shelley Harris

What stuck-in-a-rut wife/mother/McJob worker woman doesn’t fantasize about another version of her life where she’s bold, powerful, adventurous ? Read this unusual novel about a woman who acts out her fantasy as a caped crusader, rescuing teen age girls from a serial rapist. We can do it, ladies! Recommended.

 

THE ALTOGETHER UNEXPECTED DISAPPEARANCE OF ATTICUS CRAFTSMAN  – by Mamen Sánchez

Quirky fun novel, translated from Spanish.  It’s the stereotypically  eccentric, cold British v.s. the loud, passionate Spanish. A big  mystery, a little crime, colourful characters, romance – a quick easy read. I enjoyed the book.

 

 

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