Thursday, November 27, 2014

Guest post: Confessions of a reluctant book lender

In which a lovely friend of mine confesses why she’s not big on lending her books out to other people… because let’s face it, there’s nothing worse than someone who does not return the book that someone lent to them.

Thanks lovely SAHedgehog (not her real name obviously)

This post was also featured on 

I don’t like to lend out my books. I don’t believe that makes me a terrible person but it isn’t something I’m wildly proud of.

When I was 12 I lent a book to my bestie who (when I asked for it back) told me she’d lent it to a friend of hers.

I know it has been almost 2 decades but I still remember the mild flutterings of panic for my Sweet Valley Twins book that was lent out without my permission.

Yes I got it back and the friendship continued smoothly. I’m not THAT awful. But fast forward to adulthood and I’m a very hesitant book lender. 

Years ago a work friend e-mailed me asking to borrow a book and hinted heavily at my prized Marian Keyes collection.

Mustering up every shred of goodwill I lent her a book (by another author) which I found in a bargain box at a book sale.

And even then only because I didn’t like that particular book.

An aunt of mine regularly borrows books and returns them in pristine condition.

I once lent her a book I hadn’t read yet (proof I can be generous) and the book returned looking as if it had never left the book store.

She looks after things – a characteristic I’ve found not everyone possesses.

Last November (against my better judgement) I lent books to a friend’s boyfriend who promised to look after them.

It is now over 9 months and I haven’t heard a hint of getting my books back. My e-mail asking politely to return them has been conveniently ignored as has my Facebook message.

I find it difficult to comprehend the mentality of asking someone to lend you something and then just never bothering to return it.

Do you think after a certain amount of time I’ll forget who I lent it to? Do you assume ignoring my reminders will ensure I’ll just give up? 

Am I supposed to feel embarrassed because I keep asking for something that is rightfully mine?

I have no doubt he has lost the books and ignoring the issue is the way he chooses to deal with it.

The cost to replace this will be around R300 but it isn’t just the monetary value. It is the way some people have no respect for another person’s property.

A bookworm never forgets and this one will certainly never lend this person anything again.

Do you lend your books out? And if so, have you had a similar situation? How did you deal with it?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Mini book review: Glimpse by Kendra Leighton

Welcome to another mini book reviews edition of my blog. For this section of my blog, I usually feature reviews of books that don’t really require them – books bought, books I’ve borrowed from friends and books I’ve taken out at the library.

Because they’re not must-review books, my format of these mini reviews differ in that I don’t work the summary into my review in my own words; instead, I feature the Goodreads summary, followed by a few thoughts on my reading experience.

In today’s mini reviews feature, I share my brief thoughts on Glimpse by Kendra Leighton.

Glimpse summary from Goodreads (published in 2014, by Much-in-Little, an imprint of Constable & Robinson)

Liz just wants to be normal. Her life is anything but.

Seven years ago Liz lost her mother and ten years' worth of memories. When she inherits the infamous Highwayman Inn, she hopes the move will be a fresh start. Then she meets Zachary.

Zachary who haunts her by night and in dreams; who makes her question everything she is and wants to be; who seems scarcely real - yet makes her feel so alive.

Inspired by Alfred Noyes' classic poem 'The Highwayman', Glimpse is a ghost story, a love story, and a story of a girl fighting for her future by confronting her terrible past.

My thoughts:
Ok, so after initially finding this book intriguing, I'm very disappointed to say that everything else that followed ended up being one huge disappointment for me.

The Highway Man is one of my all-time favourite poems - I love the haunting imagery, the prose of the poem and the air of tragedy that embodies it.

So, it stands to reason that while I didn't expect a blow-by-blow adaptation of it, I did hope and expect that the book would at least capture the essence of the poem.

Unfortunately, I think the book really failed at this.

The ghostly aspects didn't haunt, the protagonist was just another overly done character trope and I just didn't connect with her or the events that unfolded in the story.

Oh and the almost love story and how it was resolved in the end? For me (and I'm once again sorry to say this) it felt like an absolute cop-out; one that I just didn't buy, especially given the fact that I already wasn't sold on the idea of Liz and Zachary as a couple in the first place.

I think the main problem with retellings (and this is by no means any author's fault) is that we as the readers, demand so much from it.

We expect either the same versions with better endings, or something better than the original product. And sometimes it's this that results in us failing to separate our visions of what it should be from the picture that is presented to us.

Which is exactly what happened to me with Glimpse.

Over all, I don't think it's a completely horrible read - I just wouldn't go out of my way to purchase a copy of the book; if you're going to read it, get it from the library.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Author guest post: From fanfiction to fiction by Natalia Jaster

Today I’d like to welcome author Natalia Jaster to my blog today.  Natalia, who is the author of the recently released YA novel, Touch (which is a retelling of the Eros myth), is here to talk about how she went from writing fanfiction to writing original fiction.

Now as a self-proclaimed fanfiction junkie, I have to admit that when she first contacted me, the first thing I did was go and search for her on Fanfic (because that’s what we readers do, right? I’m not a stalker Natalia – I promise).

If you, like me, are a Hunger Girls, fan – you should definitely go check out her profile and stories on the site – they’ve been getting some amazing reviews. 

Now you’d think that because one write’s fanfiction, it would be easy to write fiction, right?

Not so, she says. 

Which is why, in today’s guest post, she tells us a little more about her transition and what it was like to take a fanfic story she’d written  and transform it into something that would become Touch, her debut YA novel.

Before I hand over the reins though, here’s some more information about the book.  

About Touch (Summary from Goodreads):

The myth of Eros isn’t the truth. Her story is the truth . . .

Love is an immortal bad girl. With a strike of her arrow and a smirk on her face, she pins human hearts together against their will.

It’s for their own good, of course—silly, clueless creatures that they are.

But Love has never loved. Not until the Fates parcel her off to a small, frostbitten town littered with needy souls.

Not until she crosses paths with Andrew, a crippled boy whose gaze locks onto hers. Yet how can this be? Mortals don't have the power to see deities.

The longer they’re friends, the more Love wishes she could touch Andrew. In gentle ways. In other tempting and reckless ways as well.

It’s impossible. She isn’t a true part of his world. She’s an outsider whose fingers will only ever sweep through him.

A mischievous, invisible goddess who’s destined to be alone. And he’s destined for someone else. By order of the Fates, it’s Love’s duty to betray his trust. To seal his heart while ignoring the gash in her own.

Or she could become human. For there is one very tricky, very dangerous way to do so.

If only Andrew felt the same about her, it might be worth the risk.

*Mature YA. Intended for readers 17 and older*

Add it to your Goodreads TBR pile.

Buy links:
Barnes and Noble

Over to Natalia:

From fanfiction to fiction:

I should start by saying that this is my very first guest post! And so, I figured the best thing to write about was how I got here to begin with.

Over two years ago, I started writing fanfiction. Since then, one of those fanfics has become an original YA mythology romance called Touch.

The transition definitely wasn’t simple, but here’s how it happened.

Immersing myself in fanfiction had completely freed up my writing. There was no pressure to submit to literary agents (something I’d been doing for years), nor any competition amidst thousands of other writers.

I didn’t have to worry about whether my ideas or my prose were unique enough. I wrote fearlessly and without censure, spending time with characters I adored and dropping them into whatever alternative universes I wanted, which split my creative mind wide open.

One of those fanfics never left my head. In terms of plot construction, it was the least complete of my stories. Yet I loved its premise and knew that I’d barely gotten a glimpse of what it could be. The thought of it becoming its own tale was thrilling.

That’s all it took. Or maybe that’s all it ever takes—that spark.

You’d think that turning a fanfic into an original novel would have been easy, right? I mean, thousands of words were already written.

All that needed to be cut were the canon elements: quotes, character quirks and descriptions, symbolism, particular canon settings and conflicts, etc.


Revisiting the fanfic with fresh eyes, months after its posting, changed the way I read it. I had to get to know my characters all over again, as individuals coming from my own inspiration, not from a pre-existing work.

Also, there were tons of things that needed meticulous fixing: logic, pacing, and a more fleshed-out backstory, just to name a few.

Certain features did stay the same, like the setting (a contemporary town in the winter) and the basic, “alternative universe” premise that I’d come up with (a female Eros being forced to pair up the mortal boy she loves with another mortal girl).

And in the end, it was a balance of old and new. Revised scenes and brand new scenes. Tighter, more polished rules of the mythological magic. Intensified relationships, with their own special qualities.

True, the myth of Eros is a classic one, so Touch is a still re-imagining of something that’s already been around.

Many retellings in novels—of fairytales, legends, and the literary classics—are ultimately fanfiction, and it seems that very few tales are wholly original.

Stories will forever react to other stories.

But our imagination has an important part to play. How we react to those other stories, how they inspire and twist our own writing—that’s what makes us unique.

About Natalia:
My kindergarten teacher told my mom than I stared out the window too much, daydreaming instead of paying attention in class.

It’s true.

Eventually I learned to focus more in school (and to love it), but the daydreaming never stopped.

So after earning my master’s in creative writing and spending a bunch of fun years as a magazine editor, I’m now a writer of YA romance.

I’m also a total fool for first-kiss scenes, fanfiction, libraries, and starry nights.

TOUCH is my first book.

Where you can find her online:
Her Tumblr
Her Goodreads profile

Thanks for stopping by Natalia. I can't wait to read Touch!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Book review: Splintered by A.G. Howard

A seductive and imaginative urban gothic fantasy novel that warps the world of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and transforms it into a world that you’ve never known before.

Disclaimer: A shortened version of this review also appears on, a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online books section.

Splintered by A.G. Howard (Published by Amulet, an imprint of Abrams & Chronicle Books)
Alice in Wonderland – a delightful little classic that saw many of us take an imaginary trip into a world filled with all sorts of fantastical nonsense. 

It’s a world in which most of us can easily envision ourselves living in; and one where stumbling upon a tea party is an everyday occurrence.

This, however, is not that book.  

While Splintered certainly pays tribute to Alice in Wonderland, the book takes it one step further. It pays homage to Alice Liddell - the girl who originally inspired Lewis Caroll’s classic.

If I had to think of one way to describe my experience of this book, it would be like I was tripping on acid – in the best way possible.

There’s a languid, hedonistic and lush quality about this book that makes you want to drown in all the sensuous imagery contained within its pages.

You find yourself immersed in the setting. It’s a dark and seductive world filled with creatures, the likes of which you’ve never encountered before (and in some cases, probably wouldn’t want to).

It’s a feast for the senses; a world that you know is dangerous, but one that you can’t help but want to indulge in - over and over again.

And if you thought the topsy-turvy settings for the original novel was delightfully quirky, well, it has nothing on this book.  

Splintered chronicles the story of the feisty, dying-to-be-independent Alyssa Gardner.

With a rather unwelcome ability to communicate with plants and all manner of bugs, the quirky teen can’t help but wonder if she’s following the same path as her mother, and that she too, might end up being institutionalised.

The truth is that Alyssa is neither crazy nor on any hallucinogenic drug.She just happens to be a descendent of Alice Liddell, a relative who may have been responsible for a curse that has been afflicting Alyssa’s family line for decades.

When she learns that there’s more to the fictional story, Alice bravely decides to try and fix the wrongs of the past and soon finds herself in the heart of a Wonderland filled with netherlings and murderous queens.

Once she’s in, she quickly finds out that getting out is nowhere near as simple as she assumed it would be.

With her best friend (who she’s had a crush on for forever) and Morpheus (the moth-winged and magnetically attractive guide who may or may not have his own agenda), Alice soon finds herself engaged in a battle of wits.

I’ve mentioned this at the beginning of my review, but I’ll say it again: what a delightfully dark, wicked and twisted novel.

I’ve read my fair share of retellings and books that are loosely adapted from classics, but in my experience, I’ve never encountered anything quite like Splintered. 

With its beautiful descriptions, juxtaposed with dark undercurrents, I couldn’t help but fall in love.

From the characters and writing, to the world-building and unfolding plot, the beautifully fractured world of Splintered will have you devouring this book in much the same way that a child consumes ice-cream.

Anita has created a wonderful character in Alyssa. She’s a skater-punk chick with colourful hair and sports a fabulously retro, boho and grungy vintage look I’ve always wanted to achieve, but pathetically failed at.

She’s brave, gutsy and an absolute go-getter – so much so, that it does sometimes end up being to her detriment.  With her desperation to save her mother, while at the same time striving to prove her independence, Alyssa is a character that you just can’t help but love.

Her relationship with the two boys in the book is pretty well-drawn and incredibly interesting. Normally, love triangles just piss me off, but Anita manages to portray the developing relationships in such a way that you can’t help but root for both boys.

Each boy has his flaw(s); Jeb has a tendency to curtail Alyssa’s burgeoning independence by being too overprotective, while Morpheus tends to be suspiciously unreliable and sometimes downright untrustworthy at times. 

Still, I reckon at this point in time, Morpheus, with his tattooed eyes, pretty moth-wings, top hats and angsty sultriness is slightly ahead of Jeb. Who knows though, it could change at any point.   

I love the way the events in this book unfold and all the various characters we encounter along the way.  It’s clear that these netherlings are far from cuddly, some of them actually bordering on the grotesque. 

I’ve mentioned the gorgeous writing before, but just to give you a sample of what you can expect, here are two of my favourite passages from the book:
“He's a contradiction: taut magic coiled to strike, gentleness at war with severity, a tongue as sharp as a whip's edge, yet skin so soft he could be swathed in clouds.” 

“Morpheus is not his true name. He is glory and deprecation—sunlight and shadows—the scuttle of a scorpion and the melody of a nightingale. The breath of the sea and the cannonade of a storm.

Can you relay birdsong, or the sound of wind, or the scurry of a creature across the sand? For the proper names of netherlings are made up of the life forces defining them. Can you speak these things with your tongue?”

One thing is certain, Anita Howard knows how to entice and beguile readers, not just with words, but with the sheer decadence of the subversive world that she’s created.

I can’t wait to read the next two books in this trilogy.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Fangirl giveaway winner & other bookish things!

Hi book lovelies

So, a huge, huge thank you for those of you who entered the Fangirl giveaway.  Given all the lovely responses, I would send you each a copy of the book if I could, but alas… that decision doesn’t fall to me.

Without further ado, the winner of the signed copy of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl as well as the Fangirl necklace is:  

Munira Hoosain
, whose response to my question (Which book have you recently been fangirling over) was as follows:
I've been fangirling over Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn Trilogy!

It has mind-blowing magic systems, unforgettable characters and breathtaking fight scenes. The plot twists are unexpected and provide all the feels. The books are 700+ pages long but you don't notice the length until you finish it and give your arms a break.

It's an excellent YA high fantasy read.
Congratulations Munira!

You have 48 hours to send me an e-mail with your details (tammybell78(at)gmail(dot)com, thereafter which another winner will be chosen should you not respond on time.

As mentioned,  I will be doing an International giveaway soon – so if you haven’t won this time around, look out for that.

In the meantime, coming up this week:
  • On the blog tomorrow – a review of Splintered (which I absolutely loved)
  • A book talk post about the kind of readers I’ve encountered &
  • A review of the Iron Witch Trilogy (which I also adored – and if my time allows. *sigh*)

Until next time,
Yours in books always

Monday, October 20, 2014

Book review & giveaway: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Meet and become best friends with the book that was written for every single person who’s ever obsessively geeked out over some form of pop culture.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (Pan Macmillan 2014)
Welcome to the Fandom.

It’s a place where the world you created may not belong to you, but in which you get to change the rules in a way that leaves you with the freedom to be in control.

For most people, the fandom is a treasure palace that encourages the inner geek in everyone to embrace living life vicariously through the eyes and stories of protagonists that are, in many cases more real to us than the people we’re surrounded by on a daily basis.

Being a fangirl/fanboy of anything pop culture related often leaves us feeling as if we have one foot in this expanded fantasy, while the other foot forces us to maintain a sentient presence in our corporeal world.

As someone who considers herself to be the ultimate shipper of note, I think I speak on behalf of everyone when I say that it’s so much better to squee over your favourite non-canon (or canon) pairing from your favourite fiction novel/tv series/etc, than it is to deal with daily life skill tasks that require effort, confidence and willingness to endure whatever life throws your way.

Which is exactly why you’ll find yourself rooting for and absolutely adoring the quirky, clever and socially awkward Cath in Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl.

Do yourself a favour – if you’re as chronically awkward and socially challenged as I am, then please give this book a read.

Not only is Fangirl relatable on so many different levels, but it’s quite possibly the quirkiest and most adorable book I’ve read this year.

The book kicks off when we’re first introduced to Cath. It’s her first day at Uni and Wren, her identical twin, wants no part of the two-peas-in-the-pod closeness that used to define their bond. 

With Wren branching out on her own – partying it up, meeting boys and making new friends, Cath finds trying to adjust to University incredibly hard.

With her penchant for being a fangirl (and fanfiction writer) of a popular book series  -which is totally an ode to Harry Potter - Cath much prefers to  spend all of her time online.

In spite of her intentions to remain friendless (and to hide from the rest of the world and avoid going down for dinners in the main hall), two of the most unexpected people (the kind of people Cath would normally avoid at all costs) dive headlong into her life, upsetting her carefully planned and ordered existence.

What follows is a journey full of bumps, laughs, awkwardness and complete and utter geekdom as we watch how Cath unfurls and transforms from person-allergic-to-anyone-else-except-for-her-sister-and-father, to learning how to embrace and accept the new challenges and experiences that are thrown her way.

This book is just so utterly, utterly delightful.

I’ve come across many a book character where I’ve felt I could relate to aspects of their personality, but if there’s one book that I feel encapsulates the sheer hell of going to University for the first time – and all the timid, frightening and feel-so-small-and-new-I-could-crawl-into-a-hole-and-disappear feelings that go with it – then it’s this one.

Even thinking about it now makes me cringe a little (although I should add that I’m still the awkward penguin today that I was back then).

Rowell just has this way of creating a dialogue that’s filled with such sharp, witty  and hilarious moments that you’ll either spend most of your time squealing with glee, or having the laughter  being surprised out of you.

Her characters are infinitely loveable (despite the fact that you’ll want to shake some sense into them every now and then), the incorporation of fanfiction (or in this case, Fanfixx) is made of awesome and the sister-sister bond between Cath and Wren will fill you with all the fuzzy feels.

Their relationship is one that certainly goes through a tough transition as it’s clear that they’re both dealing with issues and coping in different ways.

With college courses taking their toll and Cath’s unwillingness to immediately step outside of her shell, it’s only a matter of time before things come to a head. And when it does (because life has a way of jack-knifing you in the stomach sometimes), both Cath and Wren need to decide whether their bond is strong enough to pull them back together again.

And this is yet another reason I love this book. Rowell’s depiction of the relationship between the twins is one of the best aspects of the novel. 

Many of us who have siblings will understand what it’s like to fight, rage with said siblings and in the very next heartbeat, love the living daylights out of them. 

Rainbow understands that and she uses it to create a relationship that’s both realistic and full of well-developed depth.  

Some of the most tender moments of the book occur when Wren and Cath are together.

And speaking of Cath, she really doesn’t give herself enough credit for being the amazing girl that she is; she’s funny (without trying to be), snarky and adorably sheepish (when she’s not being awkward). 

It’s only when Reagan (the fabulously aggressive new roommate who takes it upon herself to befriend Cath)  and Levi - the lanky, adorable and utterly crush-worthy boy who keeps invading her space – show up in her life, that Cath finally begins to see that there’s more to life than fanfiction.

And that maybe embracing new things does not mean having to give up her entire identity. And isn’t that something we all can relate to?

Do yourself a favour  and pick this book up. It’s the cutest book you’ll read this year.

Thanks to the lovely, lovely folk from Pan Macmillan South Africa, I’m giving one lucky reader a chance to win a signed copy of Fangirl, as well as a Fangirl necklace. 

All you have to do is leave a comment telling me about the latest book you’ve been fangirling about.

Giveaway will run up until the 31 October and is open to South African residents only
(Sorry lovely internationals, I’ve got another comp planned in the near future, so look out for that).

Monday, October 13, 2014

Mini review: Lock & Key by Sarah Dessen

Welcome to another mini book reviews edition of my blog. For this section of my blog, I usually feature reviews of books that don’t really require them – books bought, books I’ve borrowed from friends and books I’ve taken out at the library.

Because they’re not must-review books, my format of these mini reviews differ in that I don’t work the summary into my review in my own words; instead, I feature the Goodreads summary, followed by a few thoughts on my reading experience.

In today’s mini reviews feature, I share my brief thoughts on Lock & Key by Sarah Dessen.

Lock & Key Summary from Goodreads (Puffin Books)

"Ruby, where is your mother?"

Ruby knows that the game is up. For the past few months, she's been on her own in the yellow house, managing somehow, knowing that her mother will probably never return.

That's how she comes to live with Cora, the sister she hasn't seen in ten years, and Cora's husband Jamie, whose down-to-earth demeanor makes it hard for Ruby to believe he founded the most popular networking Web site around.

A luxurious house, fancy private school, a new wardrobe, the promise of college and a future—it's a dream come true.

So why is Ruby such a reluctant Cinderella, wary and defensive?

And why is Nate, the genial boy next door with some secrets of his own, unable to accept the help that Ruby is just learning to give?

My thoughts:

Oh, what a beautiful, beautiful read.

Sarah Dessen's ability to write stories with so much raw and emotive realism is something to behold and it’s one that only serves to remind me exactly why she's one of my favourite authors.

Funnily enough, my experience with this novel is pretty much a metaphor for this very book.

I initially picked this up a few months back, only to toss it aside after a few pages in because it - believe it or not - bored me.

Fast forward a few months later and I'm at the library, where once again, I waffled over this book.

Should I pick it up or not? Take it or leave it?

At the last moment I decided to eventually take the book out after all, deciding that maybe I was just in a bad mood the last time and that I should give this one a second chance.

And that is how I ended up reading and falling in love with this book second time round.

Lock and Key is essentially a novel about learning to come to terms with change.  Now I know that it sounds rather trite when put in such simple terms, but bear with me while I try to articulate my thoughts.

It’s a book about abandonment and it’s a book about deciding whether or not to adapt and stay or run for the hills.

It’s a novel that’s about taking chances on people when you’ve never had anyone betting on and believing in you and it’s one about accepting that some truths are never what you expect them to be.

Mostly though, Lock and Key is the story of how one girl learns that sometimes everyone - regardless of which side of the track they come from - needs a little help.

Ruby Cooper has every reason to expect the worst.

Her trust does not come easily,  and as a result, she's learnt how to take care of  and rely on herself.

When her mother abandons her, she unexpectedly finds herself being rescued by the sister she hasn't seen for years , as well as moving from the wrong side of town to a place of wealth she’s never known before.

And it’s here within where her journey lies.

I’ve always loved characters that display snarling, wounded-animal-like defensive traits – simply because underneath the vicious exterior, you’ll often find a chest of hidden and untold things - and Ruby is the very embodiment of this.

Being someone that’s had to be more of a maternal figure to her own mother than her mom  has ever been to her,  her attitude takes on a new level of defensiveness when she first moves in with her sister.

Wary of having something good happening to her, and not trusting her new found stability, Ruby is determined to be a transient presence in her new home until she can find an opportune time to escape.

Except that things don’t quite unfold in a way that she predicts, because soon -  and despite her best intentions to avoid it - she manages to make friends.

Not only that but she starts to see that maybe she may just have a shot at salvaging her future.

Of course, things also get complicated when the boy next door takes an interest.

However, just as she settles in, her world is once again turned upside down when she learns a few hard truths about her mother.

With her world crumbling around her, Ruby has to decide whether she should run away or trust people just one more time.

Lock & Key takes an in-depth look into how Ruby develops; from the just-becoming-hopeful moments, to dealing with the uglier issues hiding underneath her devil-may-care fa├žade.  

There are themes of recurring abuse that is dealt with in such an open and honest manner, that you can’t help but feel for all the characters involved (perhaps with the exception of Ruby’s love interest, Nate’s father), regardless of their actions.

Sarah’s writing is sharp, edgy and stripped of all artifice; something which I thought definitely suited the tone of the book and made it so much more powerful for it.

As for the supporting characters, well, I wish I could delve a little deeper and give you some more insight into them, but that would be spoiling the experience you can look forward to when you encounter them for the first time.

What I can say though, is that each of them are beautifully drawn out and written in a manner that speaks of an unflinching amount of raw honesty.

All in all, Lock & Key is a beautiful and haunting read that speaks about the bonds of family and how it shapes and changes you, and it's one that shows that sometimes the best way to help yourself is to learn to accept help, while at the same time also learning to assist others.

Thank God I decided to give this book a second chance, because Lock and Key is one of Sarah Dessen’s finest novels – and officially a new favourite of mine. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Book review: The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Sometimes the answers we’re looking for and that which we hope for lies in the very thing we fear the most.

A shortened version of this review also appears on, a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online books section.

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey (Orbit)
M.R. Carey’s Girl with All the Gifts is one of the most thought-provoking and gut-wrenching dystopian thrillers I’ve read this year so far.

It’s a novel that explores the heart of a rag-tag group of people and their will to survive in a world shot to hell and it’s a book that pushes boundaries in terms of the ethics versus science debate.

It’s literature that is at once filled with beauty, while at the same time highlights the shabby condition of humanity - both physically and emotionally.

Mostly though, it’s a book that at its core is filled with so much heart and is so beautifully written, that you’ll be haunted by its contents for years to come.

The Girl with All the Gifts is the story of Melanie.

Melanie is a precocious little girl.  She’s clever, insatiably curious and is, by all rights, as normal as they come.

Except that she’s not.

You see, when’s she collected from the cell she resides in, she’s strapped in by two men, while the leader, Sergeant Parks, points a gun at a head. She accepts this even if she doesn’t quite understand it.

She even jokes that she won’t bite.

And while there is a revelation that is on the edge of waiting to be revealed, what Melanie doesn’t realise is that she actually can bite, and that given the right circumstances it seems to only be inevitable that she will.

Will she survive the condition that she lives with? Or will she succumb to the relentless hunger and emotionally brainlessness that plague others of her kind?

I first received an early review copy of The Girl with All the Gifts towards the end of last year. 

The tagline on the cover (the final cover doesn’t have this line on the front jacket) read as follows: “Melanie has a gift for us all. But it’s a secret.”

Now with a line like that, it’s hard not to be intrigued. When I read the blurb, I was even more sold on the concept.

With a deliberately vague description in the summary, I pretty much went into this book without really knowing what to expect.

When I closed the last page of the book, I came out feeling haunted by the events, but also strangely sad and uplifted at the same time.

In short, The Girl with All the Gifts is a book that I’m unlikely to forget any time soon.

Beautifully descriptive, while being simultaneously stark and bleak, this book is a zombie novel with so much beauty and heart amidst all the desolation.

Forget all the previous ones you’ve read – this book takes on the ethics of experimenting on live subjects and manages to evoke a sense of kinship with the high functioning non-humans, of which Melanie just so happens to be one.

In this book, the characters we get to know are as follows:

- Melanie: one of the many children being held at a military base – a kind of human battery farm if you will),

- Sergeant Eddie Parks: one of the main leaders in charge of patrolling the base and ensuring that everything runs smoothly), 

- Helen Justineau: the teacher whom Melanie comes to love, and

-Caroline Caldwell:  the ruthless scientist who, while searching for a cure for the zombie plague, doesn’t hesitate to use the highly-functioning “hungries” as experiments  to further her research).

- Kieren Gallagher: right hand to Sergeant Parks 

When a breach of the military control results in complete and utter chaos, this rag-tag team find themselves escaping into the wilderness in search of safety.

Of course, given that they’re in a post-apocalyptic world that’s been overtaken by a zombie plague, the concept of safety is a luxury. 

With very little food, weapons and having to deal with Melanie, whom they don’t trust given her nature, their journey to finding a safe harbour is fraught with tension, inevitable clashes and moments of deep despair.

In spite of this, what follows is an interesting journey, one that will have you cheering wholeheartedly for Melanie, high-fiving the take-no-crap-from-anyone Helen Justineau, reluctantly respecting the eminently practical Sergeant Parks, feeling sympathy for the green-as-grass Gallagher, while outright loathing Dr Caldwell. 

Melanie is a little darling of a girl.

She’s tough, resourceful and falls under the incredibly high-functioning scale of hungries (low scale being the ones who have no capability to feel any human emotion and only respond to scent triggers that alert them to prey).

Melanie is a girl who needs to eat flesh, but doesn’t want to. And it’s this that sets her apart, even though Parks, Gallagher and Caldwell are wary of her.

Her relationship with Helen is an added dynamic that humanises her and results in her being fiercely protective of Justineau in the midst of the worst kind of danger.

It takes a while but she eventually manages to reach an understanding with both Parks and Gallagher.

Caldwell on the other hand, is one of the most infuriating characters in this book. While I found myself with a modicum of understanding for the research work she wanted to do, my feelings were tempered by her selfish, ruthless and calculated coldness.

Her desire to get her hands on Melanie, at times, overrode her desire for everyone’s safety. 

There’s an interesting mythological element that plays a huge part in the conclusion of the book. It’s something that at first seems so insignificant when mentioned, but makes for an interesting twist at the end.

With that said, I really could go on and on about this book, but in the end, this is a book that needs to be experienced, and not read via review osmosis.

Do yourself a favour – pick it up. It might just become your new favourite book. I know it certainly is mine.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Booktalk: 7 Super powers every book lover should have

In which I write a post inspired by a conversation I had with a friend on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on

1. Astral projection

For when we want to leave wherever we are to find some comfort, and peace and quiet to read.

Also, there are some amazing literary places to explore, beautiful libraries from around the world to lose ourselves in and fantastic international book fairs we could go to without having to pay for an expensive flight.

Oh and if that doesn’t work, there’s always a portkey. In fact, I reckon we should have both options, don’t you think?

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2. The ability to mute people on command

Because no book lover enjoys being interrupted.  No really. We absolutely hate it when you do this.

To us, you’re the annoying ad break during prime time television shows.

Nobody likes you and nobody wants you.

Being able to silence you will prevent us from committing homicide, which means everyone involved benefits. You get to keep your life, we get to avoid jail time.

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3. A time-travelling machine activator

So that we can visit places from historical periods that we only get to read about in novels.  Just imagine being able to be transported to ancient Egypt, Greece or Rome? 

Or to the era of the Vikings?  

Of course, these periods weren’t without their epic wars, bloodbaths and bloodshed, but that’s the beauty of having a time-travelling machine – you can go back or forward any time you want to.

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4. Speaking of time, a handy ability to stop time would also be very welcome.

It’s no secret that out almost every book lover fears they’ll never be able to read all the books they’d like to read before they die.

A time-freezing ability would definitely help our cause.  Just as long as it doesn’t automatically age us the moment we un-pause time again.

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5.  The ability to read books in any language

Because let’s face it, there are probably loads of awesome books that haven’t been translated into English yet, and imagine if we can get other people to read books from some of our local Afrikaans authors.

How awesome would that be?

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6.  Being able to fantastical book worlds (and the fictional characters within them) to life
Sure, it may bring with it a bit of chaos and upheaval, but imagine getting to meet your favourite fictional character and along with all manner of mythological creatures. 

I like to think of it as book necromancy (Yay, this means I can bring Snape back to life). 

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7.  While we’re at it, can we add speed reading to the list?

Anyone a fan of Criminal Minds?

If you are, you’ll know that Spencer, the profiling team’s resident genius scrolls through a book at a speed that seems to be way faster than light or sound (while still absorbing the book’s contents).

Imagine how many works of literature we could all get through in one night if we all had this ability?

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That’s just my list. How about you? What super power do you, as an avid bibliophile, wish you could have? I’d love to hear yours.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Guest review: How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

In which my boss and erstwhile boss team up to review the latest book from Caitlin Moran (They’re both huge fans. Ahem, Sam, Lili? While you’re at it, can one of you please return the book so that I can read it?).

Disclaimer: Please note that this review first appeared on 

If you haven’t read Caitlin Moran yet, brace yourself, because it’s time. And if you already love Caitlin Moran, you’ll love How to Build a Girl. 

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran (Ebury)

If you love Caitlin Moran you'll love How to Build a Girl. I do, and I did.

The problem is – as is often the problem with columnists turned novelists – it’s a stretch to call it a novel.

A chubby girl growing up on a British housing estate, in a huge, funny family prone to drink and dependant on social benefits?

A girl who, donning a ridiculous top hat, then breaks into the London music reviewing scene?

The similarities to Moran’s own life are impossible to miss and in some areas it feels as if Caitlin just changed her own name to Johanna.

The novel so closely follows the path of her own life, that you feel the only substantive change she really made was to brush up her family memories with snappier dialogue and perhaps a little extra paternal drinking.

That said, it’s a warm, lovely read. As a chubby, smart, angst-ridden but practical chick myself… there are few things cooler than relating completely to the women in the books I read. Which is why Moran is such a fucking icon.

- Sam Wilson

Like Sam, I adore Moran. She’s smart, she’s cool, she’s wickedly open about taboo topics like female masturbation and promiscuity, and reading her generous, snappy, warm prose is like having a conversation with your best friend.

Her first book, How to be a Woman, was a delight from start to finish. In her semi-biographical (she calls it a work of fiction, but there are extreme similarities to her own life – either way, it’s rollicking) novel she tackles growing up and, oh how I hate this phrase: coming of age.

Reviewer’s have likened it to a female Portnoy’s Complaint (mostly, I think because of all the masturbation) and many are praising her for writing so openly, and so warmly about the specific challenges that girls face when they grow up.

In How to Build a Girl Moran tells the story of Johanna, a fat, funny teenager growing up in Wolverhampton estate housing with her large, rowdy family.

Johanna realises that her life is not up to snuff and decides to build a new persona. Teaching herself to drink, smoke, wear funny clothes, and experiment with sex, Johanna soon finds that maybe building a girl is not that simple.

- Lili Radloff