Book Reviews

Reviews and scores from Amazon and/or the Darling Book Club, voracious readers all. Drop me a line about the good books you have read recently. Feel free to add your own review and please give it a star rating out of 5 with half points also counting. Read Jane’s and Editor’s reviews of selected books >>

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GENRESYNOPSIS
Cookery
Figjam & Foxtrot
by Lynn Bedford Hall

Figjam
A delightful combination of anecdotes and recipes straight from the heart of the fictional Karoo village of Corriebush. Author Lynn Bedford Hall has created a cast of characters and placed them in the kitchens, cafés and stoeps of this charming village, where gossip is as essential an ingredient as a well-chopped onion. Share the stories and recipes of Rosa, the local Italian beauty, homely Betsie, whose baking captivated a Scotsman, and Olympia, the tragic Greek widow who touched Daleen’s heart. Each of the six chapters includes a vignette of one of the women who call Corriebush home, followed by some of their favourite recipes, chosen to represent their diversity while capturing the essence of wholesome country cooking. Lynn’s unique style of writing makes her a perennial favourite and Fig Jam and Foxtrot is sure to appeal to anyone who appreciates a good tale, as well as a good dish.
Amazon - 4
Book Club - 5
Fiction
A man called Ove
by Fredrik Backman

a man called Ove
Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbour from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heart-warming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.
Amazon - 4.5
Book Club - 5
Fiction
Confessions of a Gambler
by Fredrik Backman

gambler
In this timely novel, Abeeda, a South African woman in her late forties, is struggling to hold on to both halves of a double life. To others, she is a pious Muslim mother of four, coping with the death of one of her sons to AIDS. But Abeeda has also developed a gambling addiction, winning and losing huge amounts of money. In a series of flashbacks her life is traced as a woman in her twenties, through a torrid affair with her younger sister's fiance, Imran, and her history of taking wild risks. In all, this is a gripping story of family, addiction, religion, and redemption.
Amazon - 5.0
Book Club - 5
Fiction
Darling I love you
By Daniel Ladinsky & Patrick McDonnell

Darling
About Darling, I Love You

A heartwarming collection of short verse celebrating our beloved pets and the wonder of life

Daniel Ladinsky is the internationally acclaimed poet and translator known for his inspired, contemporary versions of works by Hafiz, Rumi, St. Francis of Assisi, and poet-saints East and West. Patrick McDonnell is the venerated author, artist, and creator of the beloved MUTTS comic strip. In Darling, I Love You! these two artists have collaborated for the first time to create a delightful, universal collection of sweet, welcome-to-the-moment poems about the essential places animals and wonder hold in our lives and in our hearts, accompanied by line drawings of the illustrious MUTTS characters that readers have come to know and love.
Amazon - 4.5
Book Club - 5
Fiction
Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow
by Peter Høeg

miss smilla
The protagonist who tells the story in the first person is Smilla Jaspersen. Her mother was an Eskimo (Greenlandic Inuit) and her father a Danish socialite who made a fortune giving injections. There is something familiar in the story. The kind of unwritten racial tension that exists between the Greenlander and the Danish is not dissimilar to the ‘old days’ in South Africa, the Greenlandics being the underdogs. They differ from the more sophistic Copenhagen Danes in speech, manner and tradition, but a product of both nationalities Smilla accepts both cultures. It is this recognition that brings her close to Isaiah, the six-year-old son of his alcoholic Greenlandic widowed mother... The story begins in Copenhagen...
Jane's Review
Amazon - 4.0
Fiction
Small Great Things
by Jodi Picoult

small great things
When a newborn baby dies after a routine hospital procedure, there is no doubt about who will be held responsible: the nurse who had been banned from looking after him by his father. What the nurse, her lawyer and the father of the child cannot know is how this death will irrevocably change all of their lives, in ways both expected and not. Small Great Things is about prejudice and power; it is about that which divides and unites us. It is about opening your eyes.
Amazon - 4.5 Book club - 4.5
Fiction
Remains of the Day
by Kazuo Ishiguro

Remains of the day
I have always found it difficult to reconcile Kazuo Ishiguro’s very Japanese name with his very English novels. However, while he was born in Japan, he has lived in England since he was five, and is quite clear from his own words that, despite many references to the Japanese influences that critics perceive in his work, he regards himself as a purely English writer.

I have to say that I, myself, perceive no Japanese influences whatsoever and consider “The Remains of the Day”, for example, to be one of the most quintessentially English (as in from England) books I’ve ever read. Or maybe it is that his butler, Stevens, seems to me a most English character.
Jane's Review
Amazon - 4.5
Fiction
The Midnight Watch
by David Dyer

midnight watch
As the Titanic and her passengers sank slowly into the Atlantic Ocean after striking an iceberg late in the evening of April 14, 1912, a nearby ship looked on. Second Officer Herbert Stone, in charge of the midnight watch on the SS Californian sitting idly a few miles north, saw the distress rockets that the Titanic fired. He alerted the captain, Stanley Lord, who was sleeping in the chartroom below, but Lord did not come to the bridge. Eight rockets were fired during the dark hours of the midnight watch, and eight rockets were ignored. The next morning, the Titanic was at the bottom of the sea and more than 1,500 people were dead. When they learned of the extent of the tragedy, Lord and Stone did everything they could to hide their role in the disaster, but pursued by newspapermen, lawyers, and political leaders in America and England, their terrible secret was eventually revealed.
Amazon - 4.5
Fiction
The Behaviour of Moths
by David Dyer

behaviour of moths
The self-consciously quirky title might be off-putting, but by the time you reach the end of this dark, atmospheric novel, one sees how apposite it is. Reclusive spinster Ginny Stone lives alone in her crumbling, furniture-less mansion. When her younger sister comes to stay, her life changes and secrets of the past bubble to the surface.

Ginny and her sister are daughters of a famous lepidopterist, and Ginny has continued the family tradition; thousands of moths are captive in glass cases in the upper rooms of her house. Poppy Adams has done her research and you could learn a lot about moths from this novel. But they are in there for a reason: they exemplify determinism. Moths are mini automata, responding to stimuli, incapable of choice. The implication is, so are we. Prisoners of our pasts, we differ from moths only in the degree of our self-awareness.
Amazon - 4
Book Club - 3
Fiction
The Day of the Jackal
by Frederick Forsyth

Day of the Jackal
Initially entitled The Jackal, it told the story of an unnamed assassin hired to kill President de Gaulle. The novel took Forsyth just 35 days to write. He had no great literary aspirations and certainly no intention of revolutionising an entire genre. Forsyth's heroes were John Buchan and Rider Haggard: he simply wanted to tell a riveting story.

It is no exaggeration to say The Day of the Jackal has influenced a generation of thriller writers, from Jack Higgins to Ken Follett, from Tom Clancy to Andy McNab. Before, thrillers were self-evidently works of the imagination. Forsyth changed all that; never before had a popular novelist created a world that seemed indistinguishable from real life. His debut had a documentary sense of realism that all but convinced the public they were reading a work of non-fiction.
Amazon - 4.5
Moi - 5 (definitely a top 10 Dessert Island Book choice)
Fiction
The Seven Sisters
by Lucinda Riley

the seven sisters
Their future is written in the stars ...Maia D'Apliese and her five sisters gather together at their childhood home, 'Atlantis' - a fabulous, secluded castle situated on the shores of Lake Geneva - having been told that their beloved father, the elusive billionaire they call Pa Salt, has died. Maia and her sisters were all adopted by him as babies and, discovering he has already been buried at sea, each of them is handed a tantalising clue to their true heritage - a clue which takes Maia across the world to a crumbling mansion in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Once there, she begins to put together the pieces of where her story began ...Eighty years earlier, in the Belle Epoque of Rio, 1927, Izabela Bonifacio's father has aspirations for his daughter to marry into aristocracy. Meanwhile, architect Heitor da Silva Costa is working on a statue, to be called Christ the Redeemer, and will soon travel to Paris to find the right sculptor to complete his vision.
Amazon - 4.5
Book Club - 4.5
Mystery
Blood Test
by Jonathan Kellerman

the blood test
By the time Jonathan Kellerman hit the scene, murderers were bad, but pretty much like you and me. They killed for money or for love or for revenge and if they killed more than one person they did so for logical reasons, generally to cover up for their first murder. The manner of murder has been also usually pretty straight forwarded and the authors did not spend much time on the gruesome detail. The detectives were either “proper” detectives in that they were policemen or professional investigators, or they were completely ordinary people who kept on falling into murderous situations. In 1985, with the publication of Kellerman’s first book, this all changed...
Jane's Review
Amazon - 4.5
Non-fiction
A Handful of Hard Men
by Hannes Wessels

handful of hard men
‘A Handful of Hard Men; The SAS and the Battle for Rhodesia.’ During the West’s great transition into the post-Colonial age, the country of Rhodesia refused to succumb quietly, and throughout the 1970s fought back almost alone against Communist-supported elements that it did not believe would deliver proper governance. During this long war, many heroes emerged, but none more skillful and courageous than Captain Darrell Watt of the Rhodesian SAS, who placed himself at the tip of the spear in the deadly battle to resist the forces of Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo...
Dorpskoerant synopsis
Amazon - 4.5
Non-fiction
Blazing Bicycle Saddles
by James Clarke

blazing saddles
This is a true story; a true adventure involving six colleagues – mainly writers and mostly retired – who, on a sudden whim, decide to embark on a 1 000 kilometre cycle ride down the River Danube believing it would be downhill all the way. None had cycled since childhood nor even owned a bike. Their hilarious journey was so enjoyable that it led to a series of annual rides in Europe (which became known as the 'Tour de Force') involving ten countries.
Amazon - 4.0
Non-fiction
Eggs to lay, chickens to hatch
by Chris vn Wyk

eggs to lay
'Following on the success of his marvellous book Shirley, Goodness and Mercy, South African author Chris van Wyk’s Eggs to Lay, Chickens to Hatch is another absolute delight from a storyteller who should be getting far more press than he is!
Based on his experiences growing up in Riverlea, near Johannesburg, Van Wyk speaks to the reader as if they were sitting in the same room and sharing the same slice of bread for lunch.

Another memoir, Eggs to Lay, Chickens to Hatch is a view into his friendship as a boy with Agnes, his family’s Zulu housekeeper, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The title pays homage to Agnes, whose favourite saying when in a hurry was, “I have to rush. I have eggs to lay and chickens to hatch!” Only later does Van Wyk discover that Agnes’s favourite “let me get on with things” saying comes from a jazz piece from Louis Jordan. '
Amazon - 4.5
Book Club - 5
Non-fiction
How Long Will South Africa Survive?: The Looming Crisis
by RW Johnson

how ong will south africa survive
‘The big question about ANC rule’, he writes, ‘is whether African nationalism would be able to cope with the challenges of running a modern industrial economy. Twenty years of ANC rule have shown conclusively that the party is hopelessly ill-equipped for this task. Indeed, everything suggests that South Africa under the ANC is fast slipping backward and that even the survival of South Africa as a unitary state cannot be taken for granted. The fundamental reason why the question of regime change has to be posed is that it is now clear that South Africa can either choose to have an ANC government or it can have a modern industrial economy. It cannot have both.’
Amazon - 4.5
Book Club - 5
Non-fiction
Killing Kebble: an Underworld Exposed
by Mandy Weiner

Killing Kebble
If this were a novel, set in Johannesburg in the same period, I would have chucked it in the bin on the basis that it was just too outlandish and unbelievable. As it is, Killing Kebble: an Underworld Exposed, by Mandy Weiner, is apparently all true. As they say, truth is stranger than fiction.

Mandy Weiner, a young reporter with Eye Witness News, covered the Kebble case and the various cases that sprang from it. She comes across as sincere and I particularly liked her candid assessment of the various outlandish characters that she interviewed along the way. It would seem that she became quite close to some of them, and I rather like this too.
Jane's Review
Amazon - 3.5
Non-fiction
My Family and other Animals
by Gerald Durrell

my family and other nimals
There are some books that I have read many times over the years, and that I enjoy just as much each time. One, which I have just re-read for probably the fifth or sixth time, is Gerald Durrell’s “My Family and other Animals”. I vividly remember reading this for the first time when I was eleven years old. My sister had been very ill and we had been packed off to a relative’s farm for the summer holidays. I was given “Rosy is my relative” (also by Durrell) for Christmas, and then proceeded to read every other one of his books that I could find.
Jane's Review
Amazon - 4.5
Non-fiction
Not in God’s name: Confronting Religious Violence
by Johnathan Sacks

not in God's name
Amazon synopsis - In this powerful and timely book, one of the most admired and authoritative religious leaders of our time tackles the phenomenon of religious extremism and violence committed in the name of God. If religion is perceived as being part of the problem, Rabbi Sacks argues, then it must also form part of the solution. When religion becomes a zero-sum conceit—that is, my religion is the only right path to God, therefore your religion is by definition wrong—and individuals are motivated by what Rabbi Sacks calls “altruistic evil,” violence between peoples of different beliefs appears to be the only natural outcome.

Ian of 'BBB' club writes - "A book that I have recently read and found most interesting and relevant in our present, almost universal climate of hate and intolerance. Maybe if we recognise the manipulative fuelling of these destructive movements, greater harmony could be generated."
Amazon - 4.5
Book Club - 5
Non-fiction
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
by Rebecca Skloot

Henrietta Lacks
When author Rebecca Skloot was sixteen her biology teacher mentioned the name Henrietta Lacks while he was teaching his class about cells. Ms Skloot became intrigued by the person behind the HeLa cells, the most cultured cells in the world, but could find out very little.

When she later became a science journalist, she spent ten years researching Henrietta Lacks and her extraordinary cells, and this book is the result.

Henrietta Lacks was a poor black woman, living in America...
Jane's Review
Amazon - 4.5
Non-fiction
The Portable Cudmudgeon
by Jon Winokur

Portable Curmudgeon
Author Jon Winokur says ”A curmudgeon’s reputation for malevolence is undeserved. They’re neither warped nor evil at heart. They don’t hate mankind, just mankind’s excesses.”

The modern curmudgeon is likely to refer to anyone who hates hypocrisy, cant, sham, dogmatic ideologies, the pretences and evasions of euphemism, and has the nerve to point out unpleasant facts and takes the trouble to impale these sins on the skewer of humour and roast them over the fires of empiric fact, common sense, and native intelligence.
My review - 5
Amazon - 4.5
Non-fiction
The War Magician
by David Fisher

war magician
Jasper Maskelyne was a world famous magician and illusionist in the 1930s. When war broke out, he volunteered his services to the British Army and was sent to Egypt where the desert war had just begun. He used his skills to save the vital port of Alexandria from German bombers and to 'hide' the Suez Canal from them. He invented all sorts of camouflage methods to make trucks look like tanks and vice versa. On Malta he developed 'the world's first portable holes': fake bomb craters used to fool the Germans into thinking they had hit their targets. His war culminated in the brilliant deception plan that won the Battle of El Alamein: the creation of an entire dummy army in the middle of the desert.
Amazon - 4
Book Club - 5
Romance
The Last Concubine
by Lesley Downer

last concubine
I’ve recently read four books which fit into what appears to be a new sub-genre of novel, one which I would call the “eastern whore romance”. All of these books have been published in the last few years and when I was in the bookshop the other day, I noticed that there are many more.

They are all, to some extent, romances. While “The Last Concubine” and the “The Courtesan and the Samurai” are each in their own way perfectly enjoyable, they are quite simple love stories which would, I believe, appeal mainly to a female audience...
Jane's Review
Amazon - 4
Romance
Me before you
by JoJo Moyes

me before you
A Love Story for this generation and perfect for fans of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common—a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, "What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?"
Amazon - 4.5
Book Club - 4.5
Romance
After you
by JoJo Moyes

After you
“We all lose what we love at some point, but in her poignant, funny way, Moyes reminds us that even if it’s not always happy, there is an ever after.” — Miami Herald
Amazon - 4
Book Club - 4
Wellness
Trick or Treatment
by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst

Trick or treatment
Despite the fact that I’ve not had an allopathic medicine since 1985 and remain in rude good health, my brother is deeply embarrassed by my adherence to alternative medicine. So, in an attempt to cure me of my naïveté, he gave me a book entitled “Trick or Treatment” (by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst) for Christmas. Since the title made me pretty sure that the book would conclude that the therapies examined were “tricks”, I put off reading it until last week when I decided I was strong enough to deal with whatever sneers and barbs the book might present.
Jane's Review
Amazon - 4

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Editor

Editor

Ed also makes the coffee...

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