Monday, September 30, 2013

Making Finn by Susan Newham-Blake #review

Title: Making Finn
Author: Susan Newham-Blake
Publisher: Penguin Books (South Africa), 2013

What becomes abundantly clear after you reach the last page of Making Finn is that GLBTI couples are in the process of rewriting the rules for what we consider as family. Susan always knew she wanted children, but by the time she had committed herself to her life partner, Roxi, she knew the road to parenthood wouldn’t be simple.

Already in her mid-thirties, Susan worried that she might have issues with her fertility, and set on getting pregnant with her own child, they began looking for a suitable sperm donor. Of course it all sounds a lot simpler than in practice. Susan and Roxi were not sold on the local options – they could either have a friend donate his “goods” or use a completely anonymous donor.

But both these methods came with psychological repercussions, as opposed some of the benefits offered by the US-based sperm banks which would allow Susan and Roxi’s children to discover more about who fathered them.

What follows is Susan’s account of the months leading up to the birth of her son, Finn, and all the highs and lows of preparing for parenthood. Susan faces her somewhat daunting task of importing “the goods”, but it’s not only that. How does one pick a father for one’s child based on written reports?
 Susan asks herself many hard questions, yet her honesty is refreshing – she definitely lays her soul bare; her quest is not all plain sailing, but the outcome of Susan and Roxi’s journey most definitely serves as inspiration for other GLBTI couples who’re considering this step in their lives.

Yes, admittedly, there would have been easier ways to conceive a child, but Susan and Roxi explored their motivations for following the route they did. My only gripe was that I felt I’d have liked to hear more about their experiences post-birth, and the events leading up to Roxi eventually having her own son. What I must thank the ladies for is allowing readers to share their unconventional journey.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Black Bull, Ancestors and Me by Nkunzi Zandile Nkabinde #review

Title: Black Bull, Ancestors and Me: My Life as a Lesbian Sangoma
Author: Nkunzi Zandile Nkabinde
Publisher: Fanele, an imprint of Jacana Media, 2008

The first thing that is immediately apparent when reading Black Bull, Ancestors and Me, is Nkunzi’s overwhelming confidence in herself and her place in the world. She is not afraid of breaking with her culture’s established viewpoints and, in all that she does, she seeks to find the middle ground.

This is expressed in her balancing the male and female aspects of her self, as well as drawing from established traditions with a vision of a dynamic future. In many ways Nkunzi was fortunate, because she was raised by a mother who accepted Nkunzi for who she was, and defended her from those who would discriminate.

Though she does not shy away from examining the painful aspects of life, her entire book comes across with a huge amount of positive attitude, which is so refreshing – especially when we consider the constant doom and gloom in the media. Mostly, Nkunzi concerns herself with doing what is right – this might not be the easiest path to follow, but she has clearly spent much time examining herself and others, and isn’t afraid to say what’s on her mind.

Central to Nkunzi’s worldview is her firm belief in the powers of her ancestors, who have guided her on her path as a sangoma. If you, like me, are curious about how important this belief system is to others, Nkunzi offers a fantastic way for readers to experience a bit of a paradigm shift to establish greater understanding. It’s not necessary to believe as she does, but I finished this book with a better idea of why some folks follow this path.

Of particular interest also is Nkunzi’s research, which she relates here as she’s spent much time travelling to interview other same-sex sangomas in South Africa, and has offered a fascinating glimpse into this other world. She speaks plainly and from the heart, toward greater understanding. I do believe her voice should be heard, especially in the light of so many brutal attacks against lesbians in South Africa’s townships.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

False Bay on the Menu

FINALLY, the day arrived that my husband took me down to the local for lunch – about bloody time if you ask me. The venerable Glencairn Hotel has been renamed so many times I can’t really keep track. It’s been The Glen, The Southern Right … And there were times when my mates referred to it as “the Nuisance” (related to the Great Dane Just Nuisance, whose stomping ground this used to be).

Currently, it’s The Glen Lodge, also the site of Bay Café on Glen, which operates out of the hotel. On beautiful days it provides one of the most enjoyable outdoor terraces, and in winter you can huddle indoors by the fires.

Never mind Camps Bay and its botoxed Beautiful People with Big Cars. When the wind isn’t howling, this part of the False Bay coastline is the place to be (and possibly the reason I prefer living in the sticks) and has a wonderful, unpretentious buzz.

The husband and I weren’t the only ones out for Sunday lunch, and we took a chance popping down without making a reservation. This is a popular spot for visitors to pull over for a quick bite before they head on to Simon’s Town, or a scenic drive around Cape Point. (My advice is to book a table.)

The vibe is unfussy and relaxed – possibly too relaxed, as we later found out. The husband usually has his business lunches here, and he waxes lyrical about the burgers, which is what we opted for, but the menu looked promising with the addition of Portuguese-style food to its usual fare of gourmet burgers and a variety of other dishes to satisfy most. Even better (and a big thumbs up from me) is that they stock non-alcoholic beer.

Being health conscious, the husband and I opted to replace our fries with salad, and our burgers arrived looking far more festive than usual. And they were just right – not too dry and very flavourful. The husband had his with the ubiquitous pepper sauce and I went for Camembert and a sweet chilli sauce.

And kudos to the chef for making that salad inspiring. I’ve eaten at far too many places where the idea of salad is limited to a handful of sad lettuce and mealy tomatoes that fail to hide the limp, slimy cucumber.

We knew we shouldn’t opt for dessert, but as the husband says, he always has space in his dessert stomach – but unfortunately this is where the wheels of our dining experience came off. We were able to extricate menus for dessert, but then the staff deserted us. We waited. And waited. I tried the whole “waving not drowning” approach, to no avail.

Whether this was just our bad luck to have chosen a perfect day when the whole world and his wife had decided to lunch there, or just the genuine misfortune of the Bay Café being short-staffed, I don’t know. We decided to bake dessert at home and brew our own coffee.

My verdict: if you’re not in a hurry, and the café isn’t too busy, this is a wonderful spot to kick back and chill. There’s the Stoep & Swing bar next door, and a little down the way you can ogle the motorbike enthusiasts in their leathers as they visit their hangout. With views across the wetlands and the False Bay Coast, all the way to the Hottentot’s Holland mountains, I couldn’t complain too much. Mostly, I enjoyed a bit of sun in my face and relished the fact that I’m a resident of the far south peninsula.

Bay Café on Glen, 12 to 14 Glen Road, Glencairn, Cape Town, is open for lunch and dinner, six days a week. To book, call 021 782 0315.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Runners by Sharon Sant #review

Title: Runners
Author: Sharon Sant
Publisher: Immanion Press, 2013

I'm a bit torn on this book. I really dig the premise and Sharon Sant's done a fantastic job painting an unsettling future that lies quite close to the bone, but I admit I felt a fair amount of disconnect while reading. Part of me *wanted* ... no *needed* the author to go deeper into Elijah's voice.

At most I felt like I was only skimming the surface which at times got a bit frustrating. I wanted to feel more what motivated Elijah and the others.

Pacing wise, things move along fairly slowly and there's a gradual build-up to the climax. I wasn't gripping the edge of my seat or anything but I'd have liked to have garnered more of a sense of urgency.

I want to like Runners a lot. Really. And I love settings redolent with urban decay as this one is. But suspect the fault lies with the reader – I really couldn't relate to the characters. Tessa showed a lot of pluck but we don't really get to see much of her, while Elijah's impulsiveness often has him acting without thinking – and suffering the repercussions. And I find that I didn't really *get* him.

Still, this is an enjoyable read for those who're into their YA lit, and does a good job capturing the frustration of youngsters who're trying to find their place in the world.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Across the Line with Amy Lee Burgess

Some of you will have heard that Amy Lee Burgess and I will be riding again since I've picked up her The Wolf Within series again with book #7, One Step Ahead. But she's recently celebrated the release of book #6, Across the Line, which is hitting the mark with readers all over (well, of course, they could have asked me and I'd have told the exactly how awesome Stanzie is).

I had to have Amy over, of course, since I had a couple of questions I thought I'd throw at her. 

So, Amy , for the sake of readers who've never heard about you and The Wolf Within series, if you have to sum it up to this point, what do you tell them?

Stanzie Newcastle is a wolf shifter who works as an Advisor for one of the most influential men on the Pack’s Great Council, Jason Allerton. She’s bonded to an Irish shifter named Liam Murphy and it is the second bonding for them both. They lost their first bondmates – victims of the conspiracy within the Great Pack. Factions within the Council are debating (sometimes fighting by resorting to murder) whether or not to reveal the Great Pack to the Others – non-shifters.  Along her journey throughout the series, Stanzie’s made friends and enemies on both sides of the conspiracy and she is confused about which side is right. All she knows is that murder is always wrong and so in her capacity as an Advisor, she fights to prevent more deaths and punish those who cross that line.

Also, the series is one long love story – Stanzie’s and Liam’s.

What's your favourite thing about Stanzie now that she's come into her own?

I love her wolf. At the beginning of the series, her wolf was like a child – different than the other shifters’ wolves.  Yet, Stanzie had a connection with her that most shifters don’t with their wolves. Her wolf’s journey has been as dramatic and satisfying as Stanzie’s.

You recently visited a wolf sanctuary with some friends. Was this the first time you met real wolves? What do you love about wolves? And did anything the wolves do surprise you?

I went here...l

I was lucky enough to be able to interact with both wolves and wolf-dogs.  One of things that struck me right away was their wonderful intelligence and curiosity. They are not like dogs at all – even the wolf-dogs.  Yet they are so friendly and trusting. Some of them were shy, but they were one and all curious and watched everything we did intently.  The first thing that happened to me when I walked into Sasha and Pax’s enclosure was that Sasha (a gorgeous wolf-dog, more wolf than dog) immediately singled me out from everyone who walked in and jumped up to put her big front paws on my shoulders and kissed me. I wasn’t expecting that. I thought she’d take time to assess me, but she seemed to know me right away.  Each time I went into her enclosure that weekend, she came right up to me and kissed me.

Isabeau – a gorgeous pure wolf – represented Stanzie’s wolf to me. One of the friends I was with has known Isabeau since she was very young and is a fan of The Wolf Within series.  All the ride to the sanctuary she told me how Isabeau reminded her of Stanzie’s wolf – wild, unfettered and joyful and how when I met her she would race around and half knock me over and be exuberant just as Stanzie’s wolf behaves.  Inwardly I was laughing because at that point this friend had not read the latest book in the series where Stanzie’s wolf undergoes something of a shift and while still joyous and free, she is no longer quite so wild and unfettered.

So before they let Isabeau out to greet us, my two friends and I sat on a bench and braced ourselves for the rush.  The gate opened and…Isabeau strolled out, alert, ears up, tail high and was a perfectly behaved, joyful young wolf. Only after she inspected her surroundings did she turn her attention to us on the bench. Then she came to me, placed her paws on my shoulders and kissed me.  She moved down the bench bestowing kisses and then came back and jumped on my lap. Ever have a big wolf on your lap? Not at all like when my dachshunds do the same thing!  She kissed me and then rubbed her face against mine – wolves do that to scent mark members of their pack.  She moved on and did the same ritual with my two friends.  It was one of the most powerful and profound moments of my life.  We were a pack! And I thought, wow, Isabeau IS Stanzie’s wolf.  She’s grown and changed too!

Another thing that surprised me that shouldn’t have - how deeply wolves care for each other.  Siggy, a stunning wolf-collie mix, had recently lost his packmate and he was bereft without her. Always one of the friendliest, most approachable wolves in at the sanctuary, without his pack mate he was dejected and so sad. He crouched in a corner with his head down and then later, began to howl mournfully.  My heart ached so much for him.

One of my friends sponsors two wolves and one of them had passed away over the winter.  We held a memorial service for him on the grounds and while she was talking about this wolf and sending his spirit to roam, Siggy began to howl and then, one by one, all the other wolves joined in and I stood there crying, tears running down my cheeks. I’m choking up just writing this.

Without giving spoilers, what can readers expect from Across the Line?

An exploration of pack politics and the differences between bigger packs and small ones. The injustices each side suffers.  Star-crossed lovers and how the choices they make or have made affect the rest of their lives. And Stanzie’s caught in the middle of all of it – as usual – trying to balance.

Many of the characters in this story are not what they seem and Stanzie uncovers their secrets and their true natures and many times realizes that someone she dislikes is really someone she could be friends with. Or the reverse.

And I hear you've recently made your next sale, this time with vampires. Can you tell us more about this story?

I’m so excited about my vampires!

The novel centers around Claire, a vampire who has been Turned three years. She possesses psychic talents that the other vampires in her Circle do not. She can read minds – both mortal and immortal and influence people to do things against their will.  Such gifts are not given without a price and hers is that unless she bonds with one of the other vampires in the Circle who can provide her with a psychic buffer and support, she will eventually be driven mad by her own powers.

The catch is that Claire has to love this other vampire and she comes from an abusive past and consequently suffers from low self-esteem and lack of trust.

Her journey with Andre, her trigger, the man she must bond with, is difficult, joyous, terrifying and soul-shaking – not necessarily in that order.

Go check out Amy's blog or follow her on Twitter @amyleeburgess
Find her on Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon, or her series at Lyrical Press

But do go check out Across the Line

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Bitter Blood by Rachel Caine (The Morganville Vampires #13)

Title: Bitter Blood (The Morganville Vampires #13)
Author: Rachel Caine
Publisher: Allison & Busby, 2012

I’m always a little wary of picking up a book so far into a series. From what I gathered once I was done with Bitter Blood was that I’d missed quite a bit of action, since I’d only read up to book number two before this.

To say that author Rachel Caine is prolific would be a wee bit of an understatement, but she handles herself well in this instalment of the saga of the Morganville vampires, giving readers just enough back story to fill in the blanks without going overboard on the exposition.

We once again join our group of friends, who seem to have a habit of making themselves central to all of the small town of Morganville’s troubles. Michael and Eve are married – a big source of contention for the locals, who frown on this union between vampire and human; and Claire and Shane are in a steady relationship. Miranda is the added extra – now a ghost trapped within Glass House’s protection.

One would think that after having faced the terrible conflict in previous instalments of this series, that the vampires and humans would have figured out how to live together. Not so. The vampires are laying down draconian pass-laws that aren’t in the humans’ favour, and the humans are retaliating by taking up arms. The inhabitants of Glass House are, predictably, caught in the crossfire, with Michael and Eve’s unnatural vampire/human marriage drawing unwanted and rather unpleasant attention. Not only that, but a ghost-hunting TV show has come to town, and their meddling at a time like this is exactly what Morganville doesn’t need.

Caine does a good job of keeping all the story arcs chugging along nicely. Old favourites we love to hate – like Oliver – get plenty of opportunities to strut their stuff, counterpointed by delightfully wacky Myrnin. Morganville, as a setting populated by a large, varied cast, has had the opportunities to grow, and it’s easy to see where the attraction lies. Claire might still thoughtlessly plunge into danger, but she’s a lot more capable now than the timid, mousy girl we met in book number 1. If you’re looking for an action-packed vampire-stomping romp, then this one will keep you out of mischief.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The King's Bastard (Book #1 of the Chronicles of King Rolen's Kin)

Title: The King’s Bastard (Book One of the Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin)
Author: Rowena Cory Daniells
Publisher: Solaris, 2010

The King’s Bastard offers a lot of what I adore about epic fantasy: magical creatures, magic wielders and royal intrigue, as well as compelling characters, but it falls somewhat short of my expectations. Or maybe I’ve been spoiled by reading George RR Martin and others in this particular genre.

That being said, I’ll still go ahead and read the rest in this series because one thing Rowena Cory Daniells does is write characters I’ve fallen for … hard, in a gooey fantasy fan kind of way. And the only thing that truly bothers me about the story is the feeling that, at times, the plot offers little twitches and hiccoughs when events happen a little *too* conveniently or people behave in particular ways without giving (what I feel to be) sufficient motivation to warrant their actions.

And what’s not to love about Byren? He’s not only good-looking, but he’s a consummate warrior and hunter, and he truly is well-meaning (though a bit too naïve at times). In that regard he makes me think a little of Ned Stark, and much like the latter, his continuous attempts to do the right thing backfire… horribly.

Problem is Byren’s twin brother and heir to the throne, Lence, is convinced that Byren’s aiming to steal the throne from under his butt – a vicious rumour propagated by the lord Cobalt, their relative.

Then we have younger siblings Piro and Fyn. Both have what’s known as the Affinity – the ability to wield magic. Thing is, in Rolencia, all of those who have Affinity must align themselves with a religious order as all renegade power workers are considered to be evil. This is a problem for Piro, as she’s been hiding her Affinity for years. Not so much for Fyn, who’s got his own set of problems at the abbey, where the fact that he’s of royal blood drops him in the middle of countless intrigue.

Overall, what we have here is the beginnings of a fantasy epic that’s absolutely delicious. If you’re used to GRRM then you’ll see what I mean about this being a lighter version of the same, but with more magic. Though the ending of book one feels a bit rushed, with a small twist that to me felt a little too convenient, I still really, really need to know what happens next and Daniells is definitely an author who’ll be featuring heavily in my Kindle queue from here on in. Because, yes, I’ll be working my way through her titles, thank you very much. Great fantasy storytelling right here.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Carrie Clevenger's Traitors

To some of you, the vampire Xan Marcelles is no stranger. If you're really savvy, you'll remember him from the verrrry early days when his creator, Carrie Clevenger, wrangled him as a blog serial. Then I sank my editorial fangs and claws into her, and we whipped the lad into shape and brought you Crooked Fang.

Somewhere between all that, Carrie and I still collaborated. The first time as a freebie download off Smashwords called Just My Blood Type. But then we figured we had so much fun together, we brought out Blood and Fire, which feature her Xan teamed up with my Ash of Inkarna fame. Fireworks ensued. I wouldn't go so far as to call what happened a bromance, but it was more fun than a barrel full of monkeys on amphetamines.

Well, Carrie's had a whole lot happening in her life but she's got her pack of zombie cheerleaders who were begging for her to bring out more of Xan's story, and she's finally obliged by releasing Traitors which pretty much picks up where Crooked Fang left off.

To give you a brief summary: 
Vampire Xan Marcelles and his band, Crooked Fang, have been sitting idle for almost two months when Xan's given a job offer he can't refuse. Only it is not a music gig -- it's a multiple hit in a Texas town called Bartlett. Given no details except six names and a location, Xan hits the road. He's always worked alone at this sort of job, but now there's no way but to have Nin riding shotgun. Can Xan take out his marks and keep Nin out of trouble or have the years out of circulation blunted his edge?

Okay, so that's it in a nutshell. I managed to duct tape Carrie to her seat today for a brief Q&A... So thank you, Carrie.

How has Xan developed as a character since you started the journey with him in Crooked Fang?

Xan started out as a rather naive creature, with simple needs that were easily being met. Now that his old life as a vampire continues to pick at him, he's finding that this comfort he had is almost an illusion. What would his boss, Charlie, say to him if he should find out that Xan is a vampire?

Xan has grown wiser to the wiles of the women. Sort of. Okay, I hope he does. But women tend to be his weakness.

Xan seems to be cast from the template of the reluctant hero. Why is this, in your mind?

I never expected Xan to take up the mantle of reluctant hero. I just wrote his story and after he goes through the first mystery in Crooked Fang as a response to an old girlfriend's murder, his propensity to protect and assist shined through the smoke and black leather. His words remain fairly much the same. Asshole. Slacker.

The reader can clearly see he's not much of anything he says and seems to not recognize what he really is at times.

Xan doesn't get along with vampires in general. How is it that he and Nin work well together (or not)?

Xan doesn't *trust* vampires in general after his experiences with his kind from before he returned to live in Pale Rider among the humans. With Nin, his unfulfilled need to fit in with someone, anyone, is partially given a small showing. He finds something with her, albeit brief, that he wasn't aware of looking for in the first place.

Xan bitches about being selected by people to help, but he seems to not give much resistance. He finds out in Traitors some of the reasons why.

* * * *

So that's it from the mistress's mouth. Now, go add Traitors on your Goodreads TBR pile, or even better, feed your Kindle. Then make this editor extremely happy by leaving your review once you've had a chance to get better acquainted with Xan.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Richard de Nooy – a stranger arriving in town

In his novel, The Big Stick, which is set in Amsterdam during the early 1980s, Richard de Nooy shares a tale that’s not so much a murder mystery (which it is to a degree) but also a story about perceptions and preconceptions.

We never see the world from the deceased Staal’s eyes, but we get to know him through the eyes of a cast of unreliable narrators.

De Nooy says: “I am deeply intrigued by the fact that people can see the same situation or person from completely different perspectives. Imagine a schoolboy informing his family that he is gay. His brother, his father, his grandmother, his pastor and the prostitute he had sex with will all have a different story to tell about the schoolboy, and they will each take a different view of his homosexuality. In a sense, their response to the lad, and the way they treat him, will have a far greater impact on his life than the fact that he is gay. By incorporating different viewpoints into the book, I offer the reader multiple opportunities to engage with characters and to see the world through their eyes. Hopefully, this also compels readers to consider their own viewpoint on the circumstances. In a sense, I present evidence and allow readers to arrive at their own verdict.

“Much like an actor, I love inhabiting my characters and pretending I know what makes them tick, what drives them, what makes them unique, what they would and wouldn’t do and say. Even the smallest bit-part character has a personality, a soul. If they respond to a question, they do so in their own way, for their own reasons. Ideally, I should be able to take any character in my books and base a novel on them. In fact, Staal also features in my first novel, even though he doesn’t make an appearance. The main character, Rem, is dazed and bleeding after being hit by a tram. His brother finds him outside a gay club and asks: ‘Where did you get the handkerchief?’ To which Rem replies: ‘Homolulu,’ pointing to the club. It’s almost irrelevant in the first book, but Staal is the person who gives Rem the handkerchief. So there’s a whole life at the other end of that incident.”

De Nooy adds that most novelists need one book to flush their youth or past out of their system. He says: “I needed three. When you move from one country to another, as I did from South Africa to Holland, you often wonder what your life might have been like had you stayed. You become acutely aware of your own identity and of the fact that you can, to a certain extent, reinvent yourself in your new homeland, surrounded by strangers. I was also intrigued by the fact that every decision I took, each path I followed, left so many other paths unfollowed, unchosen. This question of ‘what if’ is what ties my first three books together. My first novel, Six Fang Marks & a Tetanus Shot, is driven by the question: what if one of my younger brother’s accidents had gone horribly wrong? How would that have played out? My second, The Big Stick, is driven by the question: what if I had been a gay lad growing up in conservative 1980s South Africa? How would I have handled exile to libertine Amsterdam? The third, The Unsaid, sees the foreign correspondent I once hoped to become in conversation with the psychologist I might have become. Again, the ‘what if’ question plays a vital role.

“The books have allowed me to follow the paths untravelled and to inhabit each of the characters. Fortunately, I have many gay friends who were willing to answer my impertinent questions about their budding sexuality and life experiences. Some of them read an early draft of The Big Stick and added further insight. In short, you need to do your research to achieve that ring of authenticity.

Richard de Nooy stands with his feet planted in Africa and Europe, which gives him a slightly different perspective than Joe Average. “It is said that there are really only two stories: a person goes on a journey, and a stranger comes to town. This is eminently debatable, of course, but I certainly believe that it has helped me a lot as a writer to have been the stranger coming to town. Being the outsider gives you unique insight into the workings of a society and its denizens, just as being an insider gives you a completely different view of its/their anatomy. So in literary terms, I have benefited enormously from being both here and there. In commercial terms, however, things are more complicated, particularly because I write in both English and Dutch. I’m not really part of any literary tradition and I don’t really fit into any literary set, although I do have warm ties with other writers in South Africa and Holland. And so I am the ‘South African’ author in Holland and the ‘Dutch’ author in South Africa. Perhaps I’ll always be the stranger who comes town to town and is inevitably greeted with more suspicion than the local hero setting off on a journey,” he says.

Since its release, The Big Stick has garnered quite a response. De Nooy says the Dutch version of the book was among the 25 nominees for the AKO literature prize in Holland. He adds: “However, the issues addressed in the book are less interesting for a Dutch or European audience, mainly because gay and lesbian people here aren’t faced with the dangers and challenges they face in South Africa and other countries. That is probably why the book has had a greater impact in South Africa.

“I’ve started work on my fourth novel in Dutch and I must admit I’m glad that I can now drop the semi-journalistic format of the three previous books. Don’t get me wrong: I needed to write those books and they turned out exactly as I’d hoped. Together they form a loose trilogy; they can be read separately, but if you read all three in quick succession additional dimensions are revealed. In short, I hope it’s a book people will return to, delving deeper and seeking the new dimensions hidden there.”

De Nooy’s third novel, The Unsaid, is due for release this year, and is narrated by the character JR Deo, who has made a career for himself as a newshound, pursuing tragedy to the darkest corners of the globe. “He has not emerged unscathed from this quest,” says De Nooy. “After a savage attack on fellow journalists, Deo is held at an Institute for Forensic Observation to assess to what extent he is accountable for his actions. He has to complete numerous psychological tests and undergo various sessions with a psychologist and a psychiatrist. He is also constantly observed during his interaction with other inmates. Initially, the calm in his cell is ideal for taking stock of horrors past and present. Deo writes day and night, and even agrees to present his writing to the psychologist, on condition that the psychologist gives him his reports. As the story progresses, sinister figures take control of Deo’s pen and begin dictating their confessions. Meanwhile, Deo’s fellow inmates are becoming increasingly suspicious of his writing. The violent, paranoid men wonder what exactly Deo is reporting, and to whom.

“Once again, the story is told from various perspectives: Deo writes about his experiences in the field and his interaction with the other inmates; there are transcripts of conversations between Deo and the psychologist/psychiatrist; and there is a series of confessions by men who have participated in the atrocities Deo has seen in the field. The confessions can best be described as the story of Little Red Riding Hood as told by the wolf. The reader is presented with a body of evidence and must arrive at their own verdict.”


Title: The Big Stick
Author: Richard de Nooy
Publisher: Jacana Media, 2011

It’s not often that a novel lands on my desk that I feel everyone should make an effort to read, but The Big Stick is definitely one of them. Richard de Nooy draws us into Amsterdam of the early 1980s, before the Aids epidemic cast its pall over the various communities. We meet Alma Nel, who’s travelled all the way from Zeerust in the very Afrikaans and conservative Transvaal, to fetch the body of her deceased son Staal. But while Alma’s in Amsterdam, she also seeks to unravel the events leading up to her gay son’s death and, in a way, gain a better understanding of who her child really was.

There is no doubt in my mind that De Nooy is a master storyteller, and paints out the story from multiple points of view and using different voices. Though we never see with Staal’s eyes, his story is told by a narrator who reminisces about his own perception of events, and interspersed with this are third-person accounts from Alma’s point of view and, threaded throughout this, interview-style first-person accounts from people who were close to Staal during various stages in his life.

Sounds disjointed? Definitely not. Somehow these assorted tellings hang together seamlessly and enrich the reader’s experience. Each narrator holds but a fragment of Staal’s life, coloured by their worldview. These are threaded together as one would create a beaded necklace, a bigger picture emerges.

Staal’s innocence is exquisite, though don’t mistake his naïveté for lack of intelligence. He is a sensitive, giving soul and, through the eyes of others, one begins to realise he might even be too good for this world. One can’t help but be affected by him, so it’s with a sense of wistfulness that I turned the pages knowing as I did right from the start that this wonderful young man had met with a violent end. The Big Stick is also about not taking people at face value, and realising the complexities of the masks that we wear. If we took just that little bit of time to look beneath the surface, we might find ourselves surprised by what we discover.

The Big Stick is more than just a murder mystery, it’s a tale that captures the spirit of place that needs to be remembered, be it casual cruelties or times of boundless possibilities. While we discover who Staal was, we also have the opportunity to examine our own preconceptions and what they say about us as people. Poignant doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

On the Road by Jack Kerouac #review

Title: On the Road
Author: Jack Kerouac
Publisher: Penguin Books, 2012

On the Road is one of those books people either love or hate – I very much fall into the love camp on this one. I can’t think of any better way to get into the Beat Generation writers than starting with this slim volume. Jack Kerouac based the novel on experiences he shared with his friends while they embarked on epic road trips across the US. Though all the characters are fictionalised, it’s easy to make the connections. Dean Moriarty is Neal Cassady, Bull Lee is William Burroughs, and Sal Paradise is Jack Kerouac… and so on.

If anyone has a passing familiarity with the Beat Generation, then the varied cast that crops up in On the Road will be old friends. Only, now the dynamics of their relationships are brought to life in a haze of liquor, wild jazz, marijuana smoke, fast cars and tender affection.

Primary to On the Road is the relationship between Sal and Dean. They exist as polar opposites of each other. Plainly put, Dean is a womanising hedonist, who lives completely in the moment, while Sal hero-worships the man. I gain the impression that this was a situation of mutual fascination – each possessed qualities the other admired. Charismatic Dean is impulsive, while Sal is a sensitive, somewhat retiring sort. The two complement each other as they embark on their brave misadventures together.

I admit I wanted to throttle Dean on more than one occasion. Some story arcs, such as Dean’s atrocious driving and what he did to cars, made me cringe and laugh out loud, yet at the same time I couldn’t quite shake my growing sense of sadness at Dean’s eventual outcome. The way Sal frames him in the narrative, it is clear that his friend is a star that burns quickly and brightly, while his own journey, though no less complicated, will eventually lead him down another path.

Throughout On the Road, I am struck by the sense of the ephemeral, transient nature of life, and how the more we quest after those defined moments of awareness, the more we are aware of the impermanence of experience.

The question is, do we grasp every maximum moment, or do we err on the side of caution and conformity? How do we define ourselves in a world that is hostile to individuality? On the Road offers a glimpse back to an era when the concept of the nonconformist was as yet unexplored and brings to life a sheer, manic exuberance and passion for living and, much like life, there is no tidy ending.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Red House by Sonya Clark

Title: Red House
Author: Sonya Clark
Publisher: Lyrical Press, 2012

This is not a review per se, more like a bit of long-overdue praise for Sonya, who’s one of the authors I worked with when I was still editing for Lyrical Press. So yes, I unashamedly give this book five stars because that’s how much I adore her writing, and I’ll stand by my rating. I give praise where it’s due.

Red House is book two in Sonya’s Mojo Series, which starts with the aptly named Mojo Queen (so if you’re looking to get started, pick up that one first, you won’t regret it).

Once again, in Red House, Sonya blends all the elements I love: Southern Gothic, music, magic and mysteries, all laced with memorable characters (like Daniel, the country music loving vampire ancestor) and fantastic dialogue.

Roxie does root work. This means she does everything from making mojo hands through to house cleansings. But things haven’t gone well for her since she lost her house in the flood, and in way she’s lost her mojo almost literally. And it doesn’t help that the first job she takes on to get her groove back is possibly even more challenging than the one she was faced with in book one.

All actions have consequences, especially the magical ones, and it’s how characters deal with these situations that gives me a quiet thrill. So that’s all I’ll say about the plot, and suggest that if you’re looking for urban fantasy with authentic-feeling characters who face real-life issues along with supernatural ones, then go read this book. If you’re a long-term fan of the Supernatural TV series or Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels, then Sonya Clark’s tales will hit the mark.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Passion Play by Beth Bernobich #review

Title: Passion Play
Author: Beth Bernobich
Publisher: Tor Books, 2010

First off, many thanks to Cat who told me to go read this book. I was not disappointed at all. Passion Play is a glorious, slowly unfolding fantasy epic that drew me into a world so well realised it left me breathless.

Central to the plot is Ilse Zhalina, the daughter of a well-to-do merchant, whose disastrous attempt to run away from an arranged marriage brings her to the doorstep of the pleasure house owned by Raul Kosenmark, and into a world of intrigue.

First off, there were so many things that I loved about this novel. A big one for me was that so many of the characters were clearly non-Caucasian. [Does big happy dance for that—no blue-eyed, blond-haired damsels in sight.] Another big thing for me that made me extremely happy was the fluidity of sexual preference. In fact, traditional gender roles are blurred, as both men and women can take up soldiering as a career (about time too in fantasy). An intriguing element that Beth Bernobich blends in is the world’s cosmology, which hints at some sort of experience of past lives, and how magic, small and large, is an everyday occurrence and a skill that is learned (though wielded with some proficiency by those of obvious talent).

Okay, so the world building really worked for me. Bernobich’s writing is tactile, and I was left with a very definite sense of place. I could taste those pastries and smell the coffee, so to speak.

My only criticism against the novel is the way she compresses time. But this is understandably tricky because the novel covers two years, and of course to go into exhaustive detail that entire time would’ve resulted in a doorstopper that would have dragged. There was one spot where I felt the pacing jerked, but one only. And it honestly didn’t bother me too much because this entire novel is one glorious celebration of fantasy I’ll happily compare favourably to the likes of George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey.

Ilse as a character is resilient. Hats off to Bernobich for not wrapping her characters in cotton wool. Ilse’s choices are not always the wisest, and she gets hurt for her mistakes, and badly at the onset of the story. But she learns, and it is an absolute pleasure watching her come into her own. Raul is more of a cipher. Perhaps his greatest fault is his arrogance, and his propensity for secrets. But when he gives his love, he loves fiercely, and I’m curious to see whether he’ll step out of the shadows in the next novel and take a more active role.

Passion Play moves slowly, but every step of the journey is exquisite, if you’re looking for story that blends myth, magic and intrigue against a greater backdrop that hints at an epic past. And if you feel the same way I did, you’ll rush out and buy book two before you’re even done with book one.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Best Riff Raff award for Wild’s production of Rocky

WHEN I noticed that one of the rather lovely usherettes on our side of the theatre wasn’t really a girl, I knew it was only a matter of time before the Very Grumpy Old Man a few rows down might get a surprise. I wasn’t wrong, and the unintentionally hilarious results of his discovery resulted in the first of many laughs this evening. The Rocky Horror Show at Cape Town’s The Fugard Theatre was off to a fabulous start.

Me and Rocky go back a long way. For some kids of my generation (we’re talking pre-internet era here, folks) it was the Grease or Dirty Dancing soundtrack. For me it was Rocky. On my piano, I tried to play the musical score which, thanks to an older sibling, lurked inside the piano stool. A friend of mine had a cassette tape of the soundtrack, which we listened to until it was stretched to hell and gone – but there was no watching the film, since it was banned. And oh hell no, don’t even consider the stage production, me lovelies. Getting to know Rocky was like not having all the pieces of the puzzle, enigmatic.

I had no idea what the story was about, but my 12-year-old self sang along to Science Fiction/Double Feature with a strange kind of wistfulness. There was something strangely exotic and subversive about this forbidden show that appealed to this sheltered little Afrikaans girl, and I had no idea why I loved it so much. Of course I gobbled it up when the film was finally on telly, but it’s on stage that Rocky comes alive.

I first saw Rocky at the tender age of 13. It was my first year of high school. I did not expect, in the middle of the Cape winter, to see a young man attend theatre in nothing else but gold-sprayed sneakers, spray-on tan and a shiny gold Speedo. Or his friends all dressed in a mish-mash of costumes inspired by the show. Or the level of audience participation. My mom had always told me to sit still and not say a word in the theatre. Evidently she was wrong.

I was ready for the hooliganism the next time I saw the show in the late 1990s. For once we were part of the madness, dressed to the nines in top hats and tails, ghastly face paint and crazy grins. And oh boy did we do the Time Warp. The old fogies must’ve had conniption fits.

Now, in my mid-30s, I’m a veteran of not one but four Rocky stage productions, and each one has brought fresh magic to this musical. I can with great authority offer a standing ovation to director Matthew Wild and his cast and creative team. This iconic show and film has crept into the hearts of so many, and fans will have many expectations, so it’s a tricky thing if you’re going to add a few flourishes to put your personal stamp on a production.

But there is no doubt in my mind that Wild has succeeded. Overall he’s stayed true to the Rocky we know and adore. Everything, from the seamless blend and interchange between the projected animations and the set, to the band’s tight performance and the best choreography I’ve seen for this show, has been a treat.

An imposing Brendan van Rhyn as Frank-N-Furter sports a Grace Jones-style hairdo and totally steals the show. As he should. How he manages in those killer heels I don’t know. And his voice. Just incredible. My award for “Best Riff Raff Ever” goes to Andrew Laubscher. Well done, mate. You were utterly creeptastic and it gave me wicked thrills. Shaun Smit as Rocky was not quite what I expected, since previous incarnations I’ve seen had always been rather big, strapping lads – but hey, it made a change and he was rather adorable. I always have a soft spot for Columbia, and Dominique Maher puts her heart and soul into this energetic character. Little spots of South African accents creeping out here and there made me smile.

A big part of what makes Rocky such a thrill is the level of audience participation. This production isn’t about passively sitting in the seat. It’s about using your audience participation pack (which you can buy upon arrival) and throwing the confetti, brandishing glowsticks, snapping on gloves and tooting on those party blowers. It’s about laughing out loud and singing along to old favourites. Hell, it’s about messing around with Frank-N-Furter’s “anticipa… tion”. Essentially, this is a show about letting your hair down and revelling in the camp, pulpy glory that is The Rocky Horror Show.

As they say, “Don’t dream it, be it.” And that’s probably why I love the show so much, and I hope that if I make it to my seventies, I’ll still be doing the Time Warp and behaving like a hooligan the moment the usherettes start waving their torches before the show starts.

The Rocky Horror is currently running at The Fugard Theatre in Cape Town (Until October 29, 2013). Please note, there’s an age restriction of 16 on this show.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman #review

Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: Headline Review, 2013

As a die-hard Neil Gaiman fan, I’ve often felt that his The Sandman comic book series published by Vertigo was a tough act to follow. I admit that, for me, most of his subsequent works have paled in comparison to that epic.

That hasn’t made me love his writing any less, for Gaiman has a way of approaching storytelling that sets him apart from most. If I’m put on the spot I struggle to say what it is exactly that draws me to Gaiman’s writing except that it resonates deeply with me.

I’m happy to report, however, that The Ocean at the End of the Lane hits the mark for me the same way The Sandman does, and the author has recaptured that mythical essence that had me enthralled the same way the Lord of Dreams had me bewitched.

Whether it was that Gaiman was writing from the heart, or he simply tapped into the right creative current at the right time, it hardly matters. What you’ll hold in your hands is the work of a master craftsman.

The story and the writing seems simple: we follow our narrator along a journey into his childhood. All we are told is that there has been a death in the family, though it’s implied it might have been the father.

Fuelled by nostalgia, the narrator explores past haunts and returns to the Hempstock farm where he recalls incidents that occurred when he was seven. What we are reminded of is the fluidity of memory and how these remembrances evolve depending on our perspective.

Thought the majority of this story is told by a seven-year-old, and could be read by children as well, this is not strictly speaking a children’s story. The Maurice Sendak quote at the start of the book is on the mark: “I remember my own childhood vividly… I knew terrible things. But I knew I mustn’t let adults know I knew. It would scare them.”

The Ocean at the end of the Lane is a tale filled with powerful archetypes, be it images of the Triple Goddess or the eternal ocean that links all things. This is more than just a story about childhood, and coming to terms with
the fact that the world is a dangerous, unpredictable place.

Gaiman tells us that even as grownups we don’t have all the answers, yet we’re poorer for having lost that childlike sense of wonder. This is a story for those who still dare to dream or for those who might have forgotten how.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Discourse in Steel by Paul S Kemp #review

Title: A Discourse in Steel (Egil and Nix #2)
Author: Paul S Kemp
Publisher: Angry Robot, 2013

While this is book number two in what seems like is going to be a series, and it took me a few pages to get the pair of tomb-robbing protagonists straight in my head, it didn’t take me long to become fully invested in Egil and Nix’s doings.

Egil’s a big bloke and a priest of a dead god (complete with an eye tattooed on his shaved head) who’s handy with his hammers; Nix is the nimble, crafty little blighter armed with a falchion and a bag filled with magical “gewgaws” that help when he’s in a tight spot. They’re inseparable and nigh unstoppable, it seems, and always willing to help a damsel in distress.

An initial brush with the sinister Blackalley – which at first seems like some sort of alternative dimension that exists within the darkest part of the city’s slums – turns out to be a dubious blessing later when Egil and Nix find themselves coming up against the somewhat sinister Thieves Guild. And their sojourn through Blackalley does result in some unexpected consequences later on in the story.

A Discourse in Steel is exactly what it says: a straight-up adventure filled with snappy dialogue, a spot of tomb-raiding, breaking and entering, and general asskickery. The magical key that opened any lock once it had a taste of a particular fruit or veggie was just one of the quirky touches strewn throughout the tale.

Paul S Kemp keeps up a relentless pace without flagging, and the characters are certainly kept on their toes throughout. The milieu they inhabit is built on the crumbling remains of an ancient culture, and Kemp deftly paints in snatches of ancient mystery and history in broad strokes that serve to tantalise.

Readers come in at the tail-end of an epic saga, and can only wonder at the cataclysmic events that shaped the Egil and Nix’s world. There are no gallant knights in this novel, the monsters are far more terrible than mere dragons, and the damsels themselves aren’t as helpless as they might appear.

Kemp delivers a solid, satisfying fantasy adventure populated with memorable characters and a setting so real you can smell the stink of the city streets.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Trancehack with Sonya Clark - Cover reveal

Some of you might already know that Sonya Clark, one of the authors with whom I've worked, has a new book releasing in October via Carina Press entitled Trancehack. It's the first book in the Magic Born series, and it's a futuristic paranormal romance witchpunk yarn. Her publisher says, "Forbidden romance and illicit magic in cyberspace are a combustible mix that will shake up, break up, and perhaps ultimately save a dark future world where Magic Born witches have no rights and Normals have been cowed by fear into giving up many of theirs. In the sprawling city of New Corinth, the two sides will come together, crossing boundaries and risking it all for love and their shared future."

Yup, it sounds fabulous, if you ask me, and I can't wait to read it.

So, here's the blurb:
It’s 2065. Those born with magic abilities live in government-run zones, without rights or freedoms. Fear of magic created this segregated world and fear keeps it intact.
A high-profile murder brings Detective Nathan Perez to Magic Born Zone 13. He’s had little experience with the Magic Born and isn’t sure what to expect during his first encounter with a witch, but he never thought he’d be so drawn to her.

Trancehacker Calla Vesper uses magic to break into computers and aid the Magic Born underground. She has no interest in helping a cop, even if he is smoking-hot, but money’s tight and Nate offers a tidy amount for help navigating the Zone. Calla’s determined to keep it all business, but sparks start flying before the investigation even gets started.

When Calla’s trancehacking and Nathan’s investigation uncover a conspiracy, Calla becomes a target. Nate can protect her by keeping her role a secret—but then who will protect Nate?

So of course I had to hunt Sonya down so we could have a little Q&A. Welcome, Sonya! Tell us more about your two lead characters – why do you like them?

Magic Born witch Calla Vesper grew up in the zone, nicknamed Freaktown. The Magic Laws have shaped her existence but she’s worked hard to carve out the best life for herself she could. She’s smart, tough, and she’s a talented jewelry designer, something that allows her to make a bit better living than many other Magic Born. She’s also loyal and generous, spending much of her time and money helping with the underground. I think what I like best about Calla is her fearlessness - she’s not afraid to mouth off to authorities or take serious risks. Her biggest risk is getting involved with a Normal cop.

Detective Nate Perez is a good guy. He’s solid and dependable and believes in doing his job to the best of his abilities. He’s also fascinated by Calla, and by magic itself. He didn’t grow up in a city with a zone so this is new to him and he doesn’t harbor the prejudices many Normals have against the Magic Born. I like the fact that he wanted to get to know Calla for herself, rather than making assumptions based on stereotypes. I also like that when it came down to it, she was more important to him than his job.

Tell us more about the magic in your world.

There are two kinds of magic in this world. One is the more familiar type - glamours, enchantments, charms, things of that sort. Then there’s the secret kind, something that Calla and very few others can do - astral projection as a means of entering computer systems and cyberspace. Let me give you a bit of backstory on the world-building:

The Magic Born were revealed when hacktivists released documents showing that not only did governments know about them, but also used witches as agents in what came to be known as “black magic ops”. Most countries recovered from the shock but some fundamentalist places didn’t fare so well, the US being one of them. Mass killings of witches and people simply accused of witchcraft took place, until finally the government stepped in and offered a solution to stop the death and allay fears: the Magic Laws. Magic Born were sent to live in urban zones - urban because Normals believed magic to be related to nature. This was thought to be something that would weaken the Magic Born. By 2065, roughly fifty years after the Magic Born were revealed, some witches are displaying some decidedly urban-oriented magical abilities.

Why do you think magic wielders are feared? 

The first revelation of the existence of magic in this world wasn’t some kindly woman blending a good luck spell into a cup of tea, it was the existence of secret agents wielding terrifying magic at the behest of governments. Think about the type of rampant paranoia one can easily find by scratching the wrong corner of the internet, or striking up a conversation with the wrong relative. It wasn’t hard to imagine a situation where that got out of control. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who are afraid of things they don’t understand, or things that they misunderstand.

What's stopped the magic wielders from rising against their unjust treatment? 

There’s a bit of backstory mentioned in the book that talks about a period of Magic Born terrorism. The overwhelming response to it is also mentioned. Basically, the Magic Born are greatly outnumbered, and they just want to survive. They’ve been through so much bloodshed already. They have the desire to change things, and certainly some skills to bring to affecting change, but they don’t have basic rights of citizenship like voting and legal emigration. What it would really take to change things is Normals deciding they’ve had enough of turning over their Magic Born children to live in zones.

I hear there are sequels in the works... Can you share more?

There’s a secondary character in Trancehack named Vadim, a witch who runs the notorious zone club called Sinsuality. The second book, which I’m working on now, is his story. He’s a fantastic character to write. His book will involve blackmail, a deeper look at the Magic Born underground, and worsening tensions between those in New Corinth who want to let go of old fears and those who use those fears to hold on to power. Book three will take a look at those “black magic ops” rumors, and also have rolling street battles and a desperate effort to change the course of history.

Make no mistake, though. For all the action and intrigue, forbidden love is at the heart of these stories. The right to be free and equal, the right to love and build a life with the person of your choosing - those ideals have inspired this trilogy from the beginning. And also some really cool ideas about mashing up magic and technology, like combining disco and industrial rock. ☺

TRANCEHACK will be released by Carina Press on October 28 and is now available for pre-order for Kindle and Nook. Find author Sonya Clark at her website, Twitter, and Facebook. Subscribe to her newsletter for updates. 

About the author:  Sonya Clark grew up a military brat and now lives in Tennessee with her husband and daughter. She writes urban fantasy and paranormal romance with a heavy helping of magic and lots of music for inspiration. Learn more at