The Book Club Blog

Books for any occasion and other life stuff

A little magical realism never hurt anyone…

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Mermaid Fillet by Mia Alderne

There is no easy way to review this book as it was unlike anything I have ever read before but I’m going to do my best. Straight up, I have to admit I needed to google the meaning of some of the words.

Mermaid Fillet is a brilliant book. It is uniquely Capetonian set mostly in the Northern Suburbs. It is also not an easy read. It is violent. It portrays gangsterism. It shows something so close to home, at times it’s uncomfortable to read. I loved how the characters were depicted. It felt authentic and real even amidst the touches of feminist magical realism. The writing is lyrical, poetic at times, and hits you right in the gut.

I loved that the author used a mix of English, Afrikaans and (-to me-) Cape Flats slang. My google search took me to Durban so I can assume it is more South African Slang and not exclusive to the Cape Flats. The chapters are short, and the story hops between time lines. Instead of confusing the reader, it shows us how everyone is interlinked. The backstories, while hardcore, enlighten us as to the whys.

This is a book that is both interesting, unique, and while it may not be for everyone, it deserves to be read by as many people as possible, and when you do, PLEASE get in touch so we can chat about it! (Exclamation deserved.)

Thank you to NB Publishers for a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

It is available NOW at all good bookstores near you.

You can support both the author and the book on instagram and facebook.

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New Book Alert! {Seriously, if you’re a reader, you don’t want to miss this one}

With thanks to the author for a review copy of this book. It was the perfect antidote to the lockdown blues.

I am always a little nervous when asked to review a book. Not for any other reason than I might not enjoy it. This was definitely not the case with A Healthy Learning Environment by WJ Smit.

This book is one of the best books I have read this year, on par with A Poor Season for Whales by Michiel Heyns which I read during Level 5 Lockdown.

Self published Debut Novel, A Healthy Learning Environment is set in the drought-stricken South Africa of 2016, where an elite Model C school struggles to regain balance after the loss of a great leader.

While battling to come to terms with their grief, teachers and learners alike find themselves finally facing their demons as they wait for rain and salvation.

Reviewing is always such a fine balance of just the right amount of information. This book deserves to be read, not only reviewed, so I hope I can mange to entice you to do so without giving too much away.

A dry, witty voice, the author has a superb way with words that engage the reader from the very first line. The first chapter manages to show the characters to their full potential allowing us a glimpse into their mindsets, and also their world (which if you are South African, your world).  But, not only do we have an engaging cast of characters – portrayed so very well you can’t help but nod along in understanding, there is a diverse range of them too. From the Perfect Principle to the Gay White Couple raising an Adopted Black Daughter.

I really enjoyed how each person battled with their grief, and coming to terms with their loss of their leader. The revelations they have as they traverse this landscape were so heartfelt you could  feel it seeping through the pages. I especially loved how the beginning and the end of the novel are intertwined.

The setting was a great description of an elite Model C school in the 2000’s highlighting how it is a hub of hope for some of the teachers, yet a minefield for some of the learners. Spotlighting mental health, societal norms, and fear while loving your country of origin. While the book is a work of fiction, reference is made to several real events, both national and global, that took place in the year 2016.

This book was such an accurate description of South Africa today that it had me both giggling out loud and tearing up. If you are looking for a {homegrown} diverse book to read, this hits all the right notes. (Saying that, it is such a well written book that anyone not native to our country would automatically get a sense of the contradictions of living here.)

This book is diverse, interesting, homegrown, and extremely enjoyable. I highly recommend it.

Orders can be placed on the authors website, either a physical copy or an E-Book. Uppercase Bookstore in Menlyn are also selling physical copies.

If you’re keen for more information, please click on the following links:

Instagram : https://www.instagram.com/wjsmit.thewriter/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wjsmit.thewriter/

For general enquiries: info@wjsmit.com
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{Homegrown} Sally Partridge

Welcome to our 6th {Homegrown} Author Interview with the ever delightful Sally Partridge. Her name may sound familiar to you because her book Sea Star Summer has been hitting the Bookstagram feeds lately and for good reason. I recently had the good fortune to read said book – with great thanks to NBPublishers and you can read my review here. I enjoyed it so much, I wanted to get a better sense of the person behind the book aka Inside Author Information (forever now known as IAI).

So without any more delay, Thank you Sally for joining the {Homegrown} Q&A.

Sally and Hannibal

 

Do you have a specific routine that you follow when you sit down to write, or are you able to sit and write at any time?

Ideally, I’d like to be “in the mood” to write. I guess you could say that’s when the muse strikes, but in reality, I usually write in snatches of stolen moments and on weekends. A girl has to pay her bills! But I’ve also found – which was the case with my initial idea for Sea Star Summer – that if my heart really isn’t in the story, I’ll do everything but write. (My house is never so clean and shiny.) When I scrapped my original idea (an out-of-towner who falls for a local surfer) the story swept over the pages in waves.

What book/s are you currently reading?

 I just finished My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell, which is a total mindbender. I still don’t know how I feel about that book. Right now, I’m going through a bit of a comic book phase and am digging into my Harley Quinn collection. My next reads are going to be Permanent Record by Mary H.K. Choi and Wilder Girls by Rory Power.

Which SA authors have inspired you in your own writing?

 Mary Watson, who is a living legend in my eyes. Her writing is so lyrical and beautiful. She recently released two YA novels with Bloomsbury – The Wren Hunt and The Wickerlight. Both are excellent. Coconut by Kopano Matlwa will always be my forever favourite. Another local writer whose work is pure perfection is Henrietta Rose-Innes.

Did you always have a passion to write a book or did it / they stealthily creep up on you?

 I have stories swimming around in my head all the time. Generally, when I finish one project I immediately start another.

 Which has been your favourite book to write so far?

 The one I’m writing right now

What were your favourite books as a child?

 The Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, Peter Pan. Also anything by Christopher Pike and R.L Stine.

To date, what is the worst book you have ever read, and why?

 I don’t want to name names, but it was an international historical fiction novel I was asked to review. The book focused on a teenage monarch and I just found it totally inappropriate, especially since it was for an adult audience. (Don’t worry, it’s not Hilary Mantel. She is perfection incarnate.)

Do you think SA women writers and authors are treated differently to their male counterparts in the publishing world?

In my experience, I work with an all-women team at NB Publishers who are lovely. In general, local female authors like Lauren Beukes, Finuala Dowling, Sally Andrew etc are highly acclaimed and respected, so from that point of view, I would say no.

If there was one piece of advice you could give to aspiring SA authors, what would it be?

 Just go for it. There are so many opportunities here to have your book published – The Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature, short story competitions, open submission periods. Persistence helps

BONUS LOCKDOWN (ADVANCED LEVEL 3) QUESTIONS:

 If we weren’t in lockdown and you could have any authors around your table for dinner, who would they be and why?

 Local writer friends Karina Szczurek and Mary Watson, but any local female writer really. There is such a wonderful sense of community among women writers here. It’s a warm, cheering community of like-minded wonderful women who are so supportive and inspiring. The conversation and laughter would come naturally at any dinner table.

 What is one item you have either made/ tried/ learned while being in lockdown, and was it successful?

I unlocked the ability to bake, especially cookies. I have been baking endless cookies.

While the lockdown was fairly sudden, and our ‘new normal’ sprang up quickly, what has been a silver lining to you during this time?

 My father passed away last year, and it was a devastating and traumatic time for me. Life never slowed down till it was forced to because of lockdown, and I was finally able to stop and reflect and to grieve. I’m so grateful for the time to just be still.

 While we have more freedom than in Level 5, we have all had time to realise that we miss certain things or places that may or may not be available to us, what is/are yours?

 Sushi dates. The beach. Road trips.

I am so sorry to hear about your father, Sally but I am glad that the lockdown gave you time to grieve, and to be still.  Thank you so much for sharing with us today, I always find it so interesting how different everyone one is with regards to their writing and inspiration, also your cat is very handsome. PS Thanks for recommending a new to me SA YA author, Mary Watson. *Goes off to google*

If you’re looking to purchase Sea Star Summer you can order from your local bookstore – If you’re in Cape Town I can highly recommend The Book Lounge, or anywhere that sells books. (Did you know Exclusive Books deliver books via Uber Eats, so that is an option too if you really don’t want to waste a minute longer).

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{Homegrown} The SA Author Campaign IV

Raashida Khan is a self published author.
Her books include:
 Mirror Cracked– this won the Minara Aziz Hassim Literary Award two years ago (is also LBQT so its perfect for Pride Month AND breaks down barriers with writing about mental health in the Muslim community),
Happy Birthday, Raashi (a poetry anthology) and her latest
Your Voice, My Strength. None of which I have yet read but after reading the synopsis of Mirror Cracked it is now officially on my TBR list.
Raashida contacted me after having read and enjoyed the {HOMEGROWN} author interview series with the hopes of contributing her own Q & A. As we all know I am a huge fan of promoting and sharing SA writers, I agreed to showcase a new to me author.
Diversity is key in reading, where would be the fun in just reading the same old same old. Climb out of those comfort zones, and try something new, there are also some recommendations in the ‘authors that inspire me’ question. (I also adore the cover of her latest book!}
So without further ado, please enjoy the latest in our {homegrown} SA author Q & A.
– Do you have a specific routine that you follow when you sit down to write, or are you able to sit and write at any time?
 
It depends on what I am writing. If it’s a novel, there is a loose routine, but as long as I set a target for a day, then that helps. If it’s poetry or a blog, there is no real routine as it when i’m moved/inspired enough to write something.
 
– What book/s are you currently reading?
 
‘Made in Chatsworth’ by Kiru Naidoo and ‘Time and Time Again’ by Ben Elton. My reading is a bit slower as it Ramadaan this month, so I have less time.
 
– Which SA authors have inspired you in your own writing?
 
Always a tough one to answer as we have such a wealth of local talent. Rayda Jacobs, Alan Paton, Achmat Dangor, Zakes Mda, Fred Khumalo, and many others. I love SA writers and try and support them where I can.
 
– Did you always have a passion to write a book or did it / they stealthily creep up on you?
 
Yes, I have been saying I would write since I was a child but only started seriously about five years ago.
 
– Which has been your favourite book to write so far?
 
My first novel, ‘Mirror Cracked’. Writing this book made me recognise my passion – I put my heart and soul into it. The book really helped me to identify and engage with themes that are close to my heart. The characters were real to me and I loved them all. It also taught me so much about writing and myself and cemented my love for writing.
 
– What were your favourite books as a child?
 
I enjoyed the mystery books of Enid Blyton and school-based stories.
 
– To date, what is the worst book you have ever read, and why?
 
In all honesty, I’ve not hated any book. Every book has some merit and teaches its readers something. Generally, if a book does not grab me in the first 50-100 pages, I move on. There are too many books to read and too little time to persevere with a book that is not working for me. This is rare though, especially now that I write too. I understand and appreciate what goes into writing a book so don’t give up on them very quickly.
 
If there is any book that disappointed me, it was ‘The Ministry of Happiness’ by Arudhati Roy. She is one of my favourite authors and her first book, ‘The God of Small Things’ was one of the books that made me want to write.  I’ve also enjoyed her socio-political writings and admire her as an activist. Unfortunately, for me, this book was all over the place. There is much to be said about simplicity in writing. I felt this novel was trying to do too much – it had an interesting plot and characters but the social commentary detracted from it rather than enhancing it.
 
– Do you think SA women writers and authors are treated differently to their male counterparts in the publishing world?
 
I’m not sure about that. I would like to think that we are treated equally. If you are referring to traditional publishing, I can’t comment. As a self-published author, I think an author gets as much recognition/airtime as he/she works for. It’s all up to the individual.
 
– If there was one piece of advice you could give to aspiring SA authors, what would it be?
 
If writing is your passion, write in spite of the challenges. Stay positive. Read widely, participate in local author/reading groups (on social media and in person), attend book festivals and support other local authors wherever you can.
 
BONUS QUARANTINE QUESTIONS:
 
– If we weren’t in lockdown and you could have any authors around your table for dinner, who would they be and why?
 
Zukiswa Wanner – she has an amazing energy and is committed to supporting local and African.
Keletso Mopai – she has an incredible way with words. She weaves universal themes into her proudly local stories with artful finesse, yet her writing is so accessible.
Kopano Matlwa – her stories and style of writing are unique yet believable. I’ve seen her at a book festival, where I was stuck by her beauty, grace and humility.
 
I think I could learn much from any of these inspiring authors.
 
– What is one item you have either made/ tried/ learn’t while being in lockdown, and was it successful?
 
I cut my husband’s hair. Twice! Yes, I think it turned out well otherwise I wouldn’t have been allowed near him with a scissors a second time.
 
– While the lockdown was fairly sudden, and our new normal sprang up quickly, what has been a silver lining to you during this time?
 
I try to be grateful and appreciate what I have been given as I know I am blessed. The lockdown really helped me to take nothing for granted and to remember to pay more than lip service to giving thanks. So many others have suffered incredible hardships and have had to make sacrifices in this trying time.
 
We have all had time to realise that we miss certain things or places during this time, what is yours?
I miss my walks in the parks – I love being out in nature, the freedom to just go out when I want and visiting/meeting friends and family, especially. The connections we have with each other still continue digitally, but it’s not the same as being in the same room with someone and hugging him or her.
 
– What is one pet hate in your current situation with who you live with? Be it a partner, child or animal?
 
Honestly, no one. I’m quite lucky, I guess. We are a family of 6 (no pets) and mostly get along. It helps that the house is fairly big and we each have our own space as well as a garden, so it’s easier for us.
 
I love how often Enid Blyton shows up on this Q&A, I think most of us have a soft spot for these children’s books. Thank you so much Raashida for getting in touch, its been great to read your answers, and I look forward to reading your books.
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