Review: Good Morning, Midnight – Lily Brooks-Dalton

good morning midnightAugustine, a brilliant, aging astronomer, is consumed by the stars. For years he has lived in remote outposts, studying the sky for evidence of how the universe began. At his latest posting, in a research center in the Arctic, news of a catastrophic event arrives. The scientists are forced to evacuate, but Augustine stubbornly refuses to abandon his work. Shortly after the others have gone, Augustine discovers a mysterious child, Iris, and realizes the airwaves have gone silent. They are alone.

At the same time, Mission Specialist Sullivan is aboard the Aether on its return flight from Jupiter. The astronauts are the first human beings to delve this deep into space, and Sully has made peace with the sacrifices required of her: a daughter left behind, a marriage ended. So far the journey has been a success, but when Mission Control falls inexplicably silent, Sully and her crew mates are forced to wonder if they will ever get home.

As Augustine and Sully each face an uncertain future against forbidding yet beautiful landscapes, their stories gradually intertwine in a profound and unexpected conclusion. In crystalline prose, Good Morning, Midnight poses the most important questions: What endures at the end of the world? How do we make sense of our lives?

Rating: 3.5/5

How gorgeous is that cover? Aching and slow, Good Morning, Midnight  is another one of those quiet end-of-the-world novels, introspective and character driven. Not recommended for those who need their post-apocalyptic sagas action-packed, but still enjoyable for those of us who don’t mind a slower pace. For instance, there are chapters that just consist of our character’s thoughts while they orbit around space or take a lonely stroll around the Arctic, but the author really drives home the sheer isolation of our protagonists – Augustine on the scientific base in the Arctic, and Sully in her spaceship on her way back to Earth.

She floated forward, unburdened, into the certainty that she was following the path she was meant to, that she was supposed to be here, that she was a tiny and intrinsic piece of a universe beyond her comprehension.

We never find out what cataclysmic event has happened to essentially cause radio silence on the planet, but again, in this case it’s not necessary, even as we’re driven mad with curiosity. We’re in the same boat, or spaceship, as it were, as our characters, who have to deal with the fact that there are no signs of life apart from themselves. It’s a horrifying concept, in all its stillness. Just utter nothingness, for miles around.

The mess of survival was so distasteful. He preferred not to think about it. 

I preferred Sully’s chapters, learning about her life and relationships with her fellow crew members. The regimens they have to follow to maintain some semblance of normality, the cracks that appear as they fall into despair, and the little insights into their lives before this mission. And ultimately, the preparations and decisions they have to make for a return to an uncertain future on Earth.

It’s a little depressing, I have to admit, but I think it’s a beautiful story nevertheless, one where our characters are really stripped down to the basic aspects of survival, and have to grapple with the ethical and philosophical dilemmas that accompany it.

Free copy received from Jonathan Ball Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

PS This blog will be going on hiatus for two weeks while I galavant overseas for a two week holiday. Chat to you all when I return!

Review: Sting – Sandra Brown

stingWhen Jordie Bennet and Shaw Kinnard lock eyes across a disreputable backwater bar, something definitely sparks. Shaw gives off a dangerous vibe that makes men wary and inspires women to sit up and take notice. None feel that undercurrent more strongly than savvy businesswoman Jordie, who doesn’t belong in a seedy dive on the banks of a bayou. But here she is . . . and Shaw Kinnard is here to kill her. 

As Shaw and his partner take aim, Jordie is certain her time has come. But Shaw has other plans and abducts Jordie, hoping to get his hands on the $30 million her brother has stolen and, presumably, hidden. However, Shaw is not the only one looking for the fortune. Her brother’s ruthless boss and the FBI are after it as well. Now on the run from the feds and a notorious criminal, Jordie and Shaw must rely on their wits-and each other-to stay alive. 

Miles away from civilization and surrounded by swampland, the two play each other against their common enemies. Jordie’s only chance of survival is to outwit Shaw, but it soon becomes clear to Shaw that Jordie isn’t entirely trustworthy, either. Was she in on her brother’s scam, or is she an innocent pawn in a deadly vendetta? And just how valuable is her life to Shaw, her remorseless and manipulative captor? Burning for answers-and for each other-this unlikely pair ultimately make a desperate move that could be their last.

With nonstop plot twists and the tantalizing sexual tension that has made Sandra Brown one of the world’s best-loved authors, STING will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the final pages.

Rating: 3/5

Romantic suspense appears to be my genre of choice this year! I saw rave reviews of Sting on my Goodreads feed, and decided it looked like something I should try. And while it didn’t blow me away, it was certainly an entertaining rollercoaster, and I’m looking forward to checking out some of the author’s other work.

Of the two ‘twists’ in this novel, I totally called the first one. I had a feeling that things wouldn’t be able to be resolved without something of the kind happening, and I was right. It would have simply been too problematic to stand, especially for this genre. And the second twist, well, while I didn’t foresee it, it did make sense. Ahem. Cryptic much?

I liked the female protagonist, Jordie – she treads a fine line between knowing when to fight and knowing when to toe the line for survival’s sake. She’s loyal, perhaps overly so, to her fugitive brother, and carries a burden of guilt for a childhood accident she caused. Shaw is a fairly typical male love interest – trauma in his past, married to the job, toughened up by life, etc. I was less intrigued by him than I was by her.

I ended up devouring this book in one evening – which is always an endorsement. I think what stood out for me is how well the author combines the different elements of romance, suspense, police procedural and character down-time in a recipe that creates an addictive read.

Free copy received from Jonathan Ball Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Broken Monsters – Lauren Beukes

broken monstersDetective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies, but this one is unique even by Detroit’s standards: half boy, half deer, somehow fused together. As stranger and more disturbing bodies are discovered, how can the city hold on to a reality that is already tearing at its seams? If you’re Detective Versado’s geeky teenage daughter, Layla, you commence a dangerous flirtation with a potential predator online. If you’re desperate freelance journalist Jonno, you do whatever it takes to get the exclusive on a horrific story. If you’re Thomas Keen, known on the street as TK, you’ll do what you can to keep your homeless family safe–and find the monster who is possessed by the dream of violently remaking the world. 

If Lauren Beukes’s internationally bestselling The Shining Girlswas a time-jumping thrill ride through the past, her Broken Monsters is a genre-redefining thriller about broken cities, broken dreams, and broken people trying to put themselves back together again.

Rating: 3/5

This is the first book of the author’s that I’ve read, which is fairly shameful considering she’s a local. But better late than never and all that. And she’s a very talented storyteller, that’s for sure. I enjoy her style, and her incredibly vivid imagination. The creepy elements really come to the fore in this novel, from all angles – child predators and serial killers and bullies and hybrid human-animal corpses. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

But there were two things that lessened my enjoyment of the book. The major one for me was the introduction of the paranormal element near the end of the book. For me, it was a complete let-down and came out of the blue. I felt the narrative stood well enough on its own as a police procedural, with the monsters and mayhem confined to the realities of the perpetrator’s head. The second aspect was the multiple perspectives, which were somewhat confusing and distracting initially.

The book packs a helluva lot of social commentary into its 400 or so pages. We have the evils of social media and the ravenous online media machine, high school sexual assault and bullies, race, poverty and feminism. Not to mention the overarching theme of art and remaking the world as you see fit, which is showcased in some interesting ways. Despite the inclusion of all these different elements, it feels quite organic.

I think the book has great crossover appeal for both YA and adult audiences, and I’m definitely going to be checking out the author’s other work. (I also loved the subtle digs she included in the book that only us South Africans would chuckle at!)

Review: The Hating Game – Sally Thorne

the hating gameDebut author Sally Thorne bursts on the scene with a hilarious and sexy workplace comedy all about that thin, fine line between hate and love.

Nemesis (n.) 1) An opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome.
2) A person’s undoing
3) Joshua Templeman

Lucy Hutton has always been certain that the nice girl can get the corner office. She’s charming and accommodating and prides herself on being loved by everyone at Bexley & Gamin. Everyone except for coldly efficient, impeccably attired, physically intimidating Joshua Templeman. And the feeling is mutual.

Trapped in a shared office together 40 (OK, 50 or 60) hours a week, they’ve become entrenched in an addictive, ridiculous never-ending game of one-upmanship. There’s the Staring Game. The Mirror Game. The HR Game. Lucy can’t let Joshua beat her at anything—especially when a huge new promotion goes up for the taking.

If Lucy wins this game, she’ll be Joshua’s boss. If she loses, she’ll resign. So why is she suddenly having steamy dreams about Joshua, and dressing for work like she’s got a hot date? After a perfectly innocent elevator ride ends with an earth shattering kiss, Lucy starts to wonder whether she’s got Joshua Templeman all wrong.

Maybe Lucy Hutton doesn’t hate Joshua Templeman. And maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game.

Rating: 4.5/5

Readers, I am so so picky when it comes to contemporary romance books. I generally shy away from them, because I tend to find them so unsatisfactory – either so fluffy they lift right off into the atmosphere, or laden with trying-too-hard humour and dramatics. So believe me when I say this is one of my favourite reads of the year – charming, genuinely funny but with a healthy dose of realism. It’s full of heart and it made mine grow three sizes.

“What are you imagining? Your expression is filthy.”

“Strangling you. Bare hands.” I can barely get the words out. 

The book contains some of my favourite tropes – hate turning to grudging friendship to love! Rivalry! Gruff exteriors and hearts of gold!

“Did I say erotic? I meant esoteric. I get those mixed up.”

Our protagonist Lucy is truly a lovely character – what she lacks in height she makes up for in personality. Her mock-serious inner monologues and self-deprecating observations had me chuckling. She’s homesick for her parents and the strawberry farm where she grew up, she’s lonely without her best friend who doesn’t speak to her anymore, and she really can’t afford to lose her job. In her efforts to be nice and likable, her colleagues end up taking advantage of her good nature.

“And I’m so lonely sometimes I could cry. I lost my best friend. I spend all my time with a huge frightening man who wants to kill me, and he’s probably my only friend now, even though he doesn’t want to be. And it breaks my heart.”

The passive aggressive games she plays with Joshua in the office are simultaneously childish but understandable. The banter is glorious, especially in the later stages of the book when they aren’t trying to wound each other.

“Is there any reason we’re not kissing yet?”

“The height difference, mainly.”

I think what I appreciated was that there was actual substance. Of course, there’s a sad backstory and family drama surrounding dear Joshua, but it didn’t descend too far into the depths of cheese. Lucy and Joshua are characters you can emphasise with – their flaws are tolerable.

“Take the hoodie off. Please. I’ll only look with my eyes.”

“Drink your tea, you little pervert.”

All in all, an utter delight. I’m so glad my leap of faith paid off. One of my feel-good faves of the year.

Free copy received from Jonathan Ball Publishers in exchange for an honest review. 



Review: Everyone Brave is Forgiven – Chris Cleave

everyone brave is forgivenFrom the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Little Bee, a spellbinding novel about three unforgettable individuals thrown together by war, love, and their search for belonging in the ever-changing landscape of WWII London.

It’s 1939 and Mary, a young socialite, is determined to shock her blueblood political family by volunteering for the war effort. She is assigned as a teacher to children who were evacuated from London and have been rejected by the countryside because they are infirm, mentally disabled, or—like Mary’s favorite student, Zachary—have colored skin.

Tom, an education administrator, is distraught when his best friend, Alastair, enlists. Alastair, an art restorer, has always seemed far removed from the violent life to which he has now condemned himself. But Tom finds distraction in Mary, first as her employer and then as their relationship quickly develops in the emotionally charged times. When Mary meets Alastair, the three are drawn into a tragic love triangle and—while war escalates and bombs begin falling around them—further into a new world unlike any they’ve ever known.

A sweeping epic with the kind of unforgettable characters, cultural insights, and indelible scenes that made Little Bee so incredible, Chris Cleave’s latest novel explores the disenfranchised, the bereaved, the elite, the embattled. Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is a heartbreakingly beautiful story of love, loss, and incredible courage. 

Rating: 4.5/5

A quiet masterpiece.

The first problem of war was that no one was any good at it yet.

I have to admit, while I’d heard of the author before, I had yet to check out any of his books. And then I saw the blurb for this one, and since I’m a sucker for WW2 stories, I put in a request. And I’m so glad I did.

Her mother set to with the hairbrush again. “But would that be so awful, darling? To be the prettiest thing in Brimscombe-and-Thrupp?”

“I should rather die.”

“You nearly did.”

“Yes, but I tend to blame the Germans.”

The writing is so incredibly sharp and witty – but not inappropriately so. It’s the gallows humour of people trying to make the best of incredibly dark and trying times; the banter between friends and lovers; the typical dry British observations.

“Then I’m tempted to die just to … spite him.”

“That’s the spirit that will win us the war.”

I think what really was driven home for me was the author’s focus on the people back home, and the horrors they faced through the near-constant bombings and the sheer lack of resources. Not to undermine what the soldiers went through, but the carnage experienced by ordinary citizens tends to be forgotten.

She walked up into the corridor. The school was absolutely silent. How violent it was, this peace where children’s voices should be.

There is also a major focus on the racism prevalent in the UK at the time – another element which certainly is glossed over, ignored, or simply not considered in retellings of the events at the time.

“Sorry. But it isn’t for us to change how things are. I’m just an administrator. You’re just a teacher.”

“Oh, I hope I don’t teach. Because look what we did: we saved the zoo animals and the nice children and we damned the afflicted and the blacks. You know what I do every day in that classroom? I do everything in my power to make sure those poor souls won’t learn the obvious lesson.”

“If I were you,” said Tom, “I should stick to reading, writing and arithmetic.”

“But what good is it to teach a child to count, if you don’t show him that he counts for something?”

Such is the skill of the writer that he manages to convey such heartbreaking, heart-stopping events with precisely chosen words that cut you to the bone. No dramatics, just finely crafted simple prose that that conveys more than flowery figures of speech ever could.

There in the sweet sacking smell of the mail bags he understood that he was dying, and it pleased him that he was going in the company of so many soft words home.

And then it carries on to the next scene, because such is the nature of war and conflict, and one has to simply pick themselves up and carry on in autopilot because there is no time for reflection, for grief, for processing.

She knew, now, why her father had not spoken of the last war, nor Alistair of his. It was hardly fair on the living.

And the characters are so well-drawn. Flawed, but you can’t help but empathise with them nevertheless.

A waiter put down four dishes of the day, in such a manner that nearly all the gravy stayed in the plates. “Lamb,” he claimed, and took himself off.

Mary prodded at hers with a fork. “Whatever it may have been, its suffering is over now.”

Mary, for instance, is an interesting one, and we get more insight into her character than her male counterparts, at least in terms of the forces shaping her personality and choices. She’s an upper class young woman with a father in the war office, but with a strong moral and ethical code. While trying to fight racism in her own way, she also has what can be construed as a white saviour complex – but it is swiftly pointed out to her by the people she’s trying to help that her very presence can do them more harm than good. And while she comes from privilege, Mary tries to use it for good, but at the same time falls back on it when she needs to.

“Your face us not entirely dreadful to behold, you know,” said Mary, angling Hilda’s head. “You might almost pull of this look, in conditions of very low light.”

“Sadly your flaws as a friend would be visible in pitch dark.”

“You are indolent and asinine,” said Mary.

“You are obstinate and self-satisfied,” said Hilda.

Friendship also takes centre stage in this novel. From childhood friends to comrades in arms;  from the relationships based on years of companionship to those forged under fire of near-death experiences. How wartime changed friendships, and created a gulf between those who left and those who stayed that was almost impossible to breach.

“Did I mention,” said Alistair, “that our friendship means the world to me?”

Simonson only groaned.

“But it does, you know. I’m mildly glad every time you’re not killed.”

Simonson opened half an eye and leered at him. “At last. Meet me in the showers at midnight, and for god’s sake not a word to Matron.”

All in all, the book  provides an interesting commentary on the nature of war, specifically the unpreparedness of so many young people, and how it truly does change a person. How you don’t come back the same. And how entirely fallible we are as humans – walking, talking sacks of meat.

“I suppose we ought to be getting home, in any case.”

“Oh god, is it wartime already?”

“Look on the bright side: it’ll be dinner when we get back.”

It was one of those books where I felt it was a true privilege to read, and thats the highest praise I can give.

One does not rise above the everyday simply because one ought to. In the end I suppose we lay flowers on a grave because we cannot lay ourselves on it…I was brought up to believe everyone brave is forgiven, but in wartime courage is cheap and clemency out of season.


Free copy received from Jonathan Ball Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Review: 300 Things I Hope – Iain S. Thomas & Carla Kreuser

300 things i hopeFrom the creator of I Wrote This For You, comes a collection of 300 things that the author, Iain S. Thomas, and artist, Carla Kreuser, truly and sincerely hope for you – from hoping that you always have a pen, to hoping that you’re never lonely, and everything in-between. This collection of hope will move you and remind you of what’s important in life as you live it. Or at least, that’s what they hope. 

Rating: 4/5

I was first curious about this book because of its local connection to me – both the author and the illustrator live in Cape Town. Which is very cool, yes? I’ve also come to appreciate comics, illustrated books and the like a lot more these days, with a better eye for art that can really complement the words and bring them to life.

300 Things I Hope is technically a chapbook – simple poetry and prose accompanied by line drawings. It’s also makes for a wonderful gift book, with hopes and wishes ranging from the humorous to the mundane and the profound.


Some favourites include:

  • I hope you are never hated for what you look like, sound like, or where you believe we all come from.
  • I hope you die knowing that there was no end to the road, and that the road was all there ever was, and that all that mattered was how well you walked each individual step of it.

  • I hope you never lose your shoes and if you do, I hope you find better ones and I hope they fit, perfectly.
  • I hope one day you develop a one-person art experience that involves you singing, dancing, writing and painting, all at the same time.
  • I hope you never feel like you’re drifting through time.
  • I hope you discover the freedom that exists beyond despair, when you realise how little everything matters.
  • I hope you learn the difference between giving up and changing direction.
  • I hope you read the books you love reading and that reading never feels like hard work.
  • I hope that if someone stops to help you change a tyre, they’re about as far from a serial killer as you can get.

It’s a book to give you someone you love or care about. It’s a book, quite frankly, that can just as easily be a gift to yourself, a gift of self-care. It’s a gem of 300 important reminders, no matter how silly or serious.

Free copy received from publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Review: The Masked City (The Invisible Library #2) – Genevieve Cogman

the masked cityLibrarian-spy Irene is working undercover in an alternative London when her assistant Kai goes missing. She discovers he’s been kidnapped by the fae faction and the repercussions could be fatal. Not just for Kai, but for whole worlds.

Kai’s dragon heritage means he has powerful allies, but also powerful enemies in the form of the fae. With this act of aggression, the fae are determined to trigger a war between their people – and the forces of order and chaos themselves.

Irene’s mission to save Kai and avert Armageddon will take her to a dark, alternate Venice where it’s always Carnival. Here Irene will be forced to blackmail, fast talk, and fight. Or face death.

Rating: 3/5

“Here’s to being a secret agent of an interdimensional Library!”

Which, I feel, pretty much sums up this book, and the series as a whole, thus far. I think one of the strong points of this book is it’s very in-depth, original and thought-out world building. The author has really spent time figuring out how things work in her imaginary world, and pre-empting many of the questions from her readers. The flip side of this is that sometimes the prose can feel a tad bogged down with detail – there’s some telling, not showing, taking place – but it’s an understandable catch-22.

In this instalment, the ever-unflappable Irene embarks on a rescue mission to an alternate Venice, where her kidnapped assistant, Kai, is being held. She’s pretty much on her own, as this mission technically involves breaking a number of official Library rules. I think the book suffers somewhat from the absence of Kai – the interactions between him and Irene were one of the highlights of the previous book, and without him, we’re subject to a helluva lot more of Irene’s internal thought processes. And while I am appreciative of her cool, calm demeanour – no hysterics or dramatics here – I felt very detached from her character and emotions.

It’s worth noting that the action takes place over two days, if I’m not mistaken – which can make things feel quite drawn out at times. And although this review seems full of criticism, I really am appreciative of the concept and the lack of urban fantasy cliches and tropes. It’s definitely worth checking out, both for the world building and the practical Irene, who adapts to whatever shenanigans are thrown in her way – of which there are many.