Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Book or movie?
"Both," I usually say. "Book first, then movie."

Except with this one, I didn't follow my own advice. I really wanted to see this with my husband before it left the big screen one Sunday afternoon. And I did. And I'm very glad I did.

When we came out of Suffragette last year, he was cringing, and I was trying not to hate him, and all men too much. This was different. Empowering, a movie for dreamers, for those who want to take on the world, full of reality and hardship, but also possibility, enterprise and magic.

So when I picked up the book, it was with no small degree of guilt. "You should have read this first" and "It's going to be so interesting - there is going to be so much more to it than the movie." Followed by "You're going to wish you'd done this the other way around."

Since I'm always so very honest here, let me say that I'm not sure I would have bothered with the movie if I'd done my usual thing. Heck, I'm not even sure I would have finished the book if I hadn't seen the movie first.

I'm firmly of the view that stories are fascinating, especially this one - the one about the mathematicians and engineers and computer programmers behind the men in the space race. They were female. These three were black. They were even called computers. I'm no movie writer/director, but even I can see some wonderful scenes, some clever dialogue. But sadly, of this, the book was completely devoid.

I know some of you have your "I love non-fiction" t-shirts on, and you are peering down at me right now - over the edges of your highly accurate horn-rimmed magnifying specs. But wait - I'm not suggesting that the truth is messed with in any way. I'm pointing out that when you have such great material, to pad it with long descriptions of where people went to school, who their relatives were, the detail of the work done at NACA, then NASA  in a very boring format is such a waste of that material. Tell us about their conversations about finding the "Coloured Toilets", or how they overcame the prejudice that they weren't good enough to put their names on papers they co-authored - what did they do? How did that dinner conversation go? Tell us their story, please.

The movie did that, beautifully. The book, not so much. It was all there, but the wow was drowned out by the many pages of trees killed to put us to sleep before we got there. This was a story that needed to be told, and kudos to the author for doing so, but it could have been done better.

Now aren't you grateful? You can see the movie, guilt free, and never plow through the tome.

It's a pleasure.

2 stars

ISBN: 9780062363602

You may also enjoy Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly or The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.

Some more books - 


Monday, 24 July 2017

Rather be

So where would you rather be today? On a summer island, soaking in the sun, blazing in the bliss of nothing to do? Or maybe you'd rather be in a bustling city, with people everywhere, and shopping to do, the brands and the stores calling you? Or what about a gentle breezy park, stray hair tickling your chin as you watch the children play ball, ride bikes or feed the ducks? I'm craving some mountain air - that crisp clean coolness as you climb higher, and maybe even a dive into an icy river.

Anywhere but here.

Why do we do that? Want to be elsewhere, doing something that we're not, or that we can't. Escape. Do we ever, really?

Well, I'm not in my usual spot today. So that's what I'm missing. My bed, my tea, my ride, my running route. But I'm going to run anyway. Because I have my trusty takkies, and as a good friend of mine reminds me - you can take those anywhere, and most places, you can use them.

Before I go though, here's the music for today. It's Rather Be - Clean Bandit.

These are the words I'll sing to my trusty shoes...

We're a thousand miles from comfort, we have traveled land and sea

But as long as you are with me, there's no place I'd rather be

I would wait forever, exalted in the scene

As long as I am with you, my heart continues to beat

And here's the Pentatonix version.

Enjoy the music, enjoy your exercise, your day, the week.

See here for last week's music - just stop, just run.

And the week before - Come on.

More Monday motivations

Friday, 21 July 2017

Friday Books - The Stars are Fire

Welcome to the weekend. Aren't you glad it's Friday and we can start  it by visiting each other and finding more to read?

BookBeginnings, hosted by Rose City Readerand The Friday 56 - hosted by Freda’s Voice both host sites for Friday link ups, where we discover more books, and make friends

Both involve sharing excerpts from a current book - the beginning and surprise, surprise - page 56.

Let's start with page 56.

I've been loving The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve - it's the story of Grace and her family, who are involved in the 1947 Maine fires. In this excerpt, Grace is worrying about her mother.

Here's the Goodreads blurb.

I thoroughly enjoyed this - the writing, the plot, the context. Don't you love that beginning?

Highly recommended, here's my review.  Which cover do you like? They're so different, don't you think?

What are you reading? I'd love to know.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

The story starts in Minnesota, where Marina Singh and her boss, Mr. Fox hears about the untimely death of her colleague, Anders Eckman from the depths of a remote part of the Amazon jungle. Anders was visiting to check up on the progress of Dr. Annick Swenson, who went to the Brazilian Rio Negro - filled with poisonous plants, dangerous insects, and of course anacondas, to research the possibility of developing a fertility drug. Problem was, that was five years ago. If she returns, with success, the pharmaceutical company that sent her reaps the rewards of their investment. If not, well they look stupid. She doesn't seem to care either way.

I could go on. This was one great adventure, and I'd love to spend the rest of this post telling you about it. I won't. Patchett nails each scene - from the snowy city of Minnesota, to the bustle of waiting in sunny wet Manaus for an appearance by the famed Dr. Swenson, to the terrifying sameness of the vast Amazonian waterways. There are surprises around the u-bend of every meandering stream.

The characters are also memorable - Marina's damaged soul, the ex-pats and their frivolity, and of course the inimitable Dr. Swenson - her aloofness, her fierceness, her intelligence, her courage, her doggedness. 

Suspending your disbelief is a necessity for this creative novel. If you manage to, it will be  the originality of ideas  that will  knock you out. Way out enough to be completely different from everything I've read, yet just possibly within the realms of what could happen. Maybe. 

What a ride!

5 stars


You may also enjoy Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, or what about Rosamund Lupton's The Quality of Silence?

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve

I’ve read a lot by Anita Shreve, mostly from about 20 years ago - when The Pilot’s Wife was popular, and long before I started writing reviews, or really caring that deeply about whether the books I read were any good.Those were the days of light reads, and fewer thoughts about them. Oh  the joys!

I picked up an oldie of hers from a second-hand shop a year ago - Fortune’s Rocks - and I couldn't stop talking about it. Even 17 years after publication, that book and her writing still packed a punch.

The Stars are Fire is her latest, and it tells the story of Grace, married to Gene, and their children - a little girl and a baby boy and a third on the way. The historical context is the the devastating fires in Maine in October 1947 and their impact on this little family and the community. Grace’s best friend and neighbour, Rosie has two little boys, and Grace and Rosie’s relationship is one of complete love and transparency.

The sense of place and the effect of the elements - “Wet”, then ”Dry”, then “Fire” - on the small town environment were so well written, I re-experienced them. Reading this while fires had only just stopped raging in Knysna was a little more harrowing and true to life than absolutely necessary.

Ultimately though, it is Shreve’s dealing with the emotional development of her characters - the women in particular - that had the most impact on me. You’ll start this book and be impressed by the writing, and drawn into the experience. What will keep you reading is the connection you will feel to Grace, and others - they’re real, true, deep and strong. In contrast, the “baddies” are a little light, which is to be expected, I suppose - fleshing out every single character costs many more pages.

This story of pain, of loss, of heartbreak, wrung my heart out. The moving forward to recovery, rebuilding and healing hung it out to dry. I loved it.

4 stars

You may also enjoy Faithful by Alice Hoffman or Blue Shoe by Anne Lamott. Or try Fortune's Rocks, also by Anita Shreve or A Casualty of Grace by Lisa Brown.

More books...

Monday, 17 July 2017

Just stop. Just run

Good morning earlybirds. Looking for a reason to exercise today? 

I don't know about you, but on a Monday I need a bit more encouragement, motivation. To get out of bed and make a difference. To think that it actually matters, and start the week running, walking or doing the gym that makes you fitter, faster, stronger and smarter.

Well apart from that, I love the way that running makes me focus. I cannot tell you how many times I've struggled to collect all my random thoughts, my endless to-do lists that are never complete, and don't ever get shorter, and just keep all that stuff together in one place before my teeny brain explodes with the effort. Sometimes it feels like my head is whirling right off my body, spinning so fast just to keep up. And I'm wondering which plates I'm going to drop, who I will let down, and what I'll forget that is vitally important today.

And then I just stop. And go for a run.

There's something about my feet connecting with the pavement that orders my brain. It calms down. It prioritizes. It grows in confidence, and realizes its limitations. That's when I know: I can do this. 

If I keep going long enough, it gets even better. I realise what needs to be done. Sometimes I even plan it as I go. And if I run with a friend, we are invincible. Not only do we solve all our own issues, sort out family members and work problems, we even take on world peace, fake news and social welfare. There seems no limit to all we can do.

So join me today. Let's make a difference. Change our worlds.

So what are we singing. This was hard today. Nobody writes songs about this stuff, or if they do, they're more than a little weird.

So let's settle for some U2. It's a beautiful day

You're on the road but you've got no destination
You're in the mud, in the maze of her imagination
You love this town even if it doesn't ring true
You've been all over and it's been all over you

It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away
It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away

Touch me, take me to that other place
Teach me, I know I'm not a hopeless case

Have a great day, a great week.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Friday Books - Midwinter

Yes, It's Friday again. So soon. 

BookBeginnings, hosted by Rose City Readerand The Friday 56 - hosted by Freda’s Voice both host sites for Friday link ups, where we discover more books, and make friends

Both involve sharing excerpts from a current book - the beginning and page 56.

Let's start with page 56.

Last week I couldn't decide whether to share Midwinter, or Difficult Women. I went with Difficult Women, but in the meantime I finished Midwinter. (Yes, I'm still reading Difficult Women, it's actually quite fun to read a little every day.)

This was a beautiful read. I was lucky enough to get the hardcover in exchange for a review, so I held that lovely design in my happy little hands, and finished in a few days. The end of the blurb summarises it well: 

"Alive to language and nature, Midwinter is a novel about guilt, blame and lost opportunities. Ultimately it is a story about love and the lengths we will go to find our way home."

Midwinter is the story of Landwyn and Vale, a father and son left by a wife (and mother), who died ten years ago in Zambia. Farmers in Suffolk, they must make it work, preferably fixing the brokenness that their lives have become. This opening chapter brings more disaster for them to absorb. I loved the book, and my review is here, if you're interested.

What are you reading? I'd love to know.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Two Nights by Kathy Reichs

Kathy Reichs, famous for her Temperance Brennan series (“Bones” on TV) has written over 30 books (according to her website).

Having watched (but not yet read) Bones, and thoroughly enjoying Temperance, and seeing this was a standalone, I thought I’d try Two Nights. Thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for my ARC.

Sunnie is a recluse, with a squirrel for a friend. She is contacted to help with a case of a missing girl and must meet with Opaline Drucker, a wealthy socialite who lost a daughter and a grandson in a bombing. The teenaged granddaughter went missing at the time.

Sunnie is my kind of heroine. Gutsy, smart; damaged and scarred, she seems afraid of nothing, and everything. She’s angry and takes on the world, yet resourceful and packs her underwear - and some serious weapons. I loved her strength and the glimpse we had of her soul. Her strong voice rang true, and this was written well - short chapters, lots of dialogue, and many villainous stalkers out to get her before her mission was accomplished.

Ms. Reichs is a forensic anthropologist, and this novel is more action and psychological thriller than forensic, which may disappoint Temperance fans. I had no basis of comparison.

However, I was a little baffled by all the crypticism (yes, that isn't a word, but it should be). There is a reason and a reveal which I won’t spoil, but I wondered whether it was worth all the subterfuge. It may make others less patient with this action-packed engrossing page turner.

3 stars

ISBN: 9780345544070

You may also enjoy Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton  or what about Our Fathers by Karin Brynard?

More Books

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Midwinter by Fiona Melrose

Landwyn and Vale Midwinter - father and son - are farmers in Suffolk. They're struggling. Farming is never easy, it's a bleak winter and the loss of Cecelia, wife and mother, in Zambia ten years earlier haunts both.

The story opens with another disaster, which thrusts them both into more pain and confrontation.

The writing is concise and beautiful :

We just stood there in the wet air looking at each other with all that hurt between us. The whole morning held its breath. 

Told in alternating voices between Landwyn and Vale, full of brooding melancholy, bleak unforgiveness and a sense of hopelessness and despair, this intense little book appealed to me. A strong sense of place prevailed - both in the wintry countryside and in sun-baked Zambia, where they both returned in their minds, to confront those demons too. I did get a little lost towards the end, when the pace slowed to a crawl. The cover is quite beautiful and very fitting.

Perhaps this quote from the blurb summarises it best?

"Alive to language and nature, Midwinter is a novel about guilt, blame and lost opportunities. Ultimately it is a story about love and the lengths we will go to find our way home."

4 stars

ISBN: 9781472151780

You may also enjoy  His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet. Or Marguerite Poland's The Keeper.

More Books.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Come on

It's Monday. You know what I'm going to say now. It's time to get up, get dressed and hit the exercise routine. Come on. You know you can do it. You know you'll feel better if you do. You know you'll regret it if you don't.

Let's do this.

I'm back in my comfort zone, with my usual partner-in-running this week, so I have no excuses.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Ten of the Best #100

Yes, it's time. This will be my last Ten of the Best post. It's now or never, and I can't ever say never. So I'm bowing out, and reclaiming my Friday evenings. We're at 100 - that's quite a milestone.

100 weekly posts. That's just over two years' worth. That's a lot of Friday evenings.

It's been fun. The best part has been your comments, shares and feedback - especially when I'm a little late on a Saturday morning, and some of you start looking for me. 

I'll keep blogging - book reviews have become a regular feature, and when I'm in the mood, I'll do a little writing. Just for fun.

Here's my first ever Ten - look at that! And most of the links still work - just had to update two of them. The scarf one seemed to have gone forever and then 25 google search pages later, voila! I found it. (Now do you understand why this takes so long?)

Let's get to this week's favourites....

Friday Books - Difficult Women

Yay yay it's Friday.

BookBeginnings, hosted by Rose City Readerand The Friday 56 - hosted by Freda’s Voice both host sites for Friday link ups, where we discover more books, and make friends

Both involve sharing excerpts from a current book - the beginning and - you guessed it - page 56.

Let's start with page 56 today.

Difficult Women by Roxanne Gray is "a collection of stories of rare force and beauty, of hardscrabble lives, passionate loves, and quirky and vexed human connection.

The women in these stories live lives of privilege and of poverty, are in marriages both loving and haunted by past crimes or emotional blackmail. ....From a girls’ fight club to a wealthy subdivision in Florida where neighbors conform, compete, and spy on each other, Gay delivers a wry, beautiful, haunting vision of modern America reminiscent of Merritt Tierce, Jamie Quatro, and Miranda July."

I cheated a little - that second sentence is on the first page, but not the very beginning, but I couldn't resist it.

What are you reading? I'd love to know. 

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

A Booker prize finalist in 2016. Adjust your expectations - down, down, 
down. Ok, now you may enjoy this.

Set in 1869, the author has chosen an interesting way to tell a story. It's a collection of papers starting with a written account, by the accused of what happened. This is commissioned by his defending legal representative - Mr Sinclair. Court papers - transcripts of the trial, medical reports, even newspaper cuttings and psychiatric evaluations all feature.

Reading the collection, one is plunged deep into the issues of a struggling family trying to make do. Roddy Macrae is the eldest son of a crofter. His sister, Jetta, is the maternal figure, since his mother died in childbirth, giving him two younger twin brothers. All goes (more) awry when Lachlan Broad becomes the almost-self-appointed "constable" of the village, throwing his weight around and generally exhibiting no small degree of unfairness and prejudice to the Macraes.

An observant reader of this review may notice a similarity in the author's name and that of his protagonist. The story goes that the author stumbled upon this story whilst researching his genealogy. However, this being published as a work of fiction was clever - the mystery around how true this all is helping drive curiosity, and book sales, presumably. Good for him.

Described as a story of a crime rather than a crime novel, this had a strong sense of place - set in Wester Ross. It felt authentic. The uncovering of the detail, constrained by the one by one opening of the reports and documents was cleverly done, maintaining my curiosity throughout.

It's more a whydunnit than a whodunnit and the pleasure is in drawing your own (completely directed by the author) conclusions, which is very entertaining.

A fascinating 4 stars

ISBN: 9781910192146

You may also enjoy Different Class by Joanne Harris or what about Dancing the Death Drill by Fred Khumalo?


Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

The much-anticipated second novel by the author of The Girl on the Train. It must be difficult to write after your first novel was wildly successful, a best seller, and made into a movie. But then again, who wouldn't (even secretly) want that for their first novel? So surely you should anticipate it - even just a little, and have a book up your sleeve that's a bit like the first. This isn't.

Lena is the teenage girl left alone after her mother - Nel's - body is found at the bottom of a river that runs near town. Nel's sister Jules who she doesn't know, must now raise her. 

There are more people - the detectives, and their families; Lena's friends from school and their parents; the teachers and the principal and all the other usual characters you meet in a small town. In the background looms the town's shadowy watery history - the other women who have had their lives end in the depths of gloom and despair. Are the stories of their deaths accurate? Or was there more to it all?

There was a lot of story and character building, which I didn't mind. There were also a number of points of view - also ok. The tension? Mild, but there, and a steady increase through the pages. I did enjoy the sense of place that Paula Hawkins created - the setting - small town, woodland cottage and river scenery was vividly drawn.

It all felt rather contrived by the end. The author needed enough characters to keep us guessing who murdered, and how. In my view, this muddied the waters too much.  The plot, as it unfolded, was satisfying, and I enjoyed the hours I spent reading this book.

3 stars
ISBN: 9780735211209

You may also enjoy Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton or Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin.

More Books

Monday, 3 July 2017


Happy Monday everyone. It's time. To run/walk/hit that treadmill/gym so hard today.

What's your excuse? I'm not in my usual geography today, but that's not going to stop me - I love trying new routes in new places - you would not believe the things I see running before everyone else wakes up. It's definitely the best way to get to know a new place.

""It's too cold? Pfft, there are always hats, gloves and even beanies and buffs. Besides, who needs all that when you get warm.

"I'm too unfit." Funny you should mention that one. Two days ago, I felt as if my heart was beating so fast I was going to burst right out of my chest and finish the route so it could go back to bed. Funny thing - I'm at a lower altitude than usual, so I would expect the opposite. But I just slowed down to a walk and kept at it. After about 2 km I could run again, and yesterday went even better.

So how about it today, friends? You with me?

Where there is desire
There is gonna be a flame
Where there is a flame
Someone's bound to get burned
But just because it burns
Doesn't mean you're gonna die
You've gotta get up and try, and try, and try
Gotta get up and try, and try, and try
You gotta get up and try, and try, and try

Yes, it's P!nk cheering us on today. I've nabbed "But just because it burns Doesn't mean you're gonna die" as my mantra today. But just because I have, doesn't mean you can't.

Have a good one.


Saturday, 1 July 2017

Ten of the Best #99

We're keeping it local this week. I don't know if the rest of the world is on a break or have just broken up with us, but what was mostly on your timelines was from nearby. So to kick off, an introduction to South African terms and customs. Click the pretty map.

To start with the really locally local - Eight best things about Jozi - with some fabulous pictures.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Friday Books - the precious one

I'm so glad Friday is here, after the busy week I've had. And hopefully lots of time to read...

BookBeginnings, hosted by Rose City Readerand The Friday 56 - hosted by Freda’s Voice both host sites for Friday link ups, where we discover more books, and make friends

Both involve sharing excerpts from a current book - the beginning and - you guessed it - page 56.

That has got to be the LONGEST sentence in opening a book. Ever. The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos has a lovely blurb  - 

From the bestselling author of Belong to Me, Love Walked In, and Falling Together comes a captivating novel about friendship, family, second chances, and the redemptive power of love

In all her life, Eustacia “Taisy” Cleary has given her heart to only three men: her first love, Ben Ransom; her twin brother, Marcus; and Wilson Cleary — professor, inventor, philanderer, self-made millionaire, brilliant man, breathtaking jerk: her father.

Seventeen years ago, Wilson ditched his first family for Caroline, a beautiful young sculptor. In all that time, Taisy’s family has seen Wilson, Caroline, and their daughter Willow only once. 

Why then, is Wilson calling Taisy now, inviting her for an extended visit, encouraging her to meet her pretty sister — a teenager who views her with jealousy, mistrust, and grudging admiration? Why, now, does Wilson want Taisy to help him write his memoir?

Look at this cover - completely different to the other. I haven't even started this yet, but I love the look of the writing - so much is said in these excerpts.

What are you reading? I'd love to know.