Finding “Fire upon the Deep”

This morning, we celebrated our return from flu-land by strolling down to a nearby second hand bookshop – where I found this:

A copy of Vernor Vinge’s amazing “Fire Upon the Deep”.  It’s what I think of as “proper” science fiction, with fascinating ideas as well as an excellent story.  Also, some of the most interesting aliens I’ve ever read about.
Just the right book to read on a sunny Saturday morning :).

You can read a description of the book here.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

This is one of the saddest books I’ve read.  And yet, despite its subject matter, it is very gentle.  Only at the very end did the story flow away and leave me stranded with the pain of the narrator embedded in my own heart.

It is very difficult to write about “Never Let Me Go” without some spoilers.  I’m about to give away a plot point now because unlike many others whose reviews I’ve read, I don’t believe that this point is in fact, the core of the book, or the source of its sting.

But in case you are like me, and thoroughly allergic to any spoilers at all – I will now say goodbye :).  If you dont mind, read the rest of the review…

…good.  You are still around.  🙂 More

Miss Fanshaw – by Sue Scullard

Miss Fanshaw and the Great Dragon Adventure – written and illustrated by Sue Scullard –  is the opposite of a pop-up book – it’s a “pop through” book.

It satisfies on several levels.   An unusual heroine, sumptuously detailed drawings and clever “reveals” created by holes cut in the pages. These holes are part of the plot, as you shall see in the examples below.


Avatar’s End

(many spoilers in this post, if you haven’t seen Avatar yet)

Sometimes  a story just goes wrong.  The author sets it all up just right – and then somehow the whole thing falls apart.  That’s how I feel about James Cameron’s Avatar.  Its a stunning movie.  The richly detailed landscapes and lovely Aliens draw one deeply inside the world of Pandora.  And apart from the glorious visuals, there is a tragic heart to the story that makes you want to watch it to the end, even though you know that it cannot end well.

I’m struggling to articulate why one would feel drawn to tragedy.  Is it simply the affirmation of facing your fear? Maybe that is why I felt so let down by the way that Avatar plays out.  Instead of facing up to the inevitable tragedy of its story line, we get a day dream fairy tale ending.

I felt the same about WALL-E .  That was a truly dark story.  More

The Body (Un)comfortable: Teaching with blogs

Recently Franci Cronje – a colleague of mine –  ran a blog project with her 2nd year students.  Some remarkable blog posts were created.

Teaching with blogs is not as straightforward as it may seem, and Franci shared her experience with me: More

Translation is the art of failure

So – I’m in the habit of reading when I eat.  A book is ideal, but anything will do which is why I was browsing through an advertising insert from Pick & Pay during my lunch break the other day.


There was the usual assortment of pots, pans and brooms – and then I came across this strange device:  a Broodgraan Uitdeler.   I was a little disconcerted but read on.  Maybe everyone else knows what a Broodgraan Uitdeler is.   Then I found this:


I had always thought of it as a “gieter”.  But  that makes perfect sense.  “Watering Can” could, indeed be translated as “Natmaak Blikkie”.  Following the same logic, we have a “Elektriese Grasmaaier”: More

The Hunting of the Last Dragon by Sherryl Jordan

The plot in Short: It’s Britain in the 14th century. The last of the dragons was killed almost a generation ago.  So how could an entire village be burnt to the ground, all its occupants killed in a night?  Young Jude survives, homeless, friendless and terrified.
He meets  tiny, fierce Jing-wei, crippled by her bound feet and trapped in the life of the freak in a travelling show.  Jude is torn by guilt and fear, but Jing-Wei is more than willing to  force him to turn and face his past,  to hunt the last dragon.


(image from tripreportwww2008)

What I thought: This is a wonderful book.  I’m a sucker for dragon books as it is, and this one is lovely.

Its a real story teller’s book.  More

Stargazer (Roepman) by Jan van Tonder

I’m not used to reading a book that is set in my own country.   So reading Stargazer was like listening to the voice of an old friend.

Stargazer is a semi autobiographical novel.  It’s set in the sixties; Verwoerd’s South Africa. It is told through the eyes of Timus, a thirteen years old boy.  He is the youngest of seven children in a poor white family, living in a Railways house on the Bluff in Durban.


Now this is familiar territory.  I grew up in the seventies, well after the assassination of Verwoerd. But South Africa under PW Botha was not that different.  I recognise the smell of those times.   More

Hugo Pepper by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

I’ve been meaning to write about Hugo Pepper for a while.  It fits into the same world as Corby Flood, and if possible, I enjoyed it even more.


In Short: Some years ago in the remote Frozen North, baby Hugo was found in the wreckage of a strange contraption; half sled, half balloon.   Ten years later Hugo Pepper decides to return to the home he never knew – the town of Harbour Heights.   He befriends the inhabitants of Firefly Square who remember his parents with love.  They accept Hugo into their hearts as though he was family.  But all is not well in Harbour Heights.  Hugo’s new friends are at the mercy of an unscrupulous villain.  Hugo hoped to learn more about his parents, but instead he uncovers a tangled web of tragic love, thwarted ambition, blackmail and lost treasure that ties all their stories together.

What I thought: This is a very special little book.  It is a warm, absurd and funny story with just enough sadness to keep you hooked.  It is a story about stories.  The villain of the piece, Elliot de Mille, has taken the once wonderful publication The Firefly Quarterly – that used to be a collection of marvellous and rare folk tales – and turned it into a spiteful tabloid filled with lies and innuendo. More

Talon by Janet Lee Carey

Title: Talon
Author: Janet Lee Carey
Series : no, its a stand alone

In Short: Princess Rosalind is the  heir to Wilde Island. It is 12th century. In nearby England, Empress Maud and King Stephen are fighting the long civil war.  The war that Princess Rosie will end, or so everyone believes.  Six hundred years ago Merlin made prophecy that the twenty first Queen of Wilde Island would “end the war with a wave of her hand.”  But pretty Princess Rosie has a secret.   Under her golden gloves she hides a “beast mark” – a fingers shaped like a lizards talon, tipped with a curving claw.


What I thought: It took me a little while to get get into the rhythm of this book.  I was prejudiced by the cover, for some reason.  Its a very pretty cover, but it made me expect a humourless and overly florid romance.  I was wrong. This is probably one of the most down to earth descriptions of Medieval life I’ve read, even to the fleas in Rosie’s hair.

But the best thing about this book is hinted at by its cover.  More

BBAW – Interview with Sassy Brit from

As part of Book Bloggers Appreciation Week, I’ve been partnered with Sassy Brit of  We drew up a list of questions for one another.  It was fun!  Here is Sassy, answering some of my questions:

The header of your blog says “joining authors and readers together”.  Can you share something about your blog’s purpose?

Well, I like to think that I helping both authors and readers. For authors I offer extra promotion, by publishing their reviews, book excerpts and other writing news, and at the same time I’m giving my readers new ideas for reading material – joining them together, on the blog and in my chat group.

Since I’ve started reviewing books on my blog, I find that it affects my reading.  I catch myself formulating an opinion for my review, where previously I might just have submerged myself in the narrative.  Has reviewing books affected your reading experience?

I can’t read without making notes! Well, I can, but I have to force myself to do it. I don’t think it really spoils the experience, but it does change it, in that I analyse them much more than I did before. I have to say that is part of the fun for me; taking it all in, not just the story, but how it was written, what I feel I liked, disliked and how it affected me emotionally when I read it.

Some people only review books they enjoy.  Others use the opportunity to expose what they dislike.  What motivates you to write reviews? More

Challenging my Assumptions

Well, I had an interesting, if rather surreal experience yesterday.

I was waiting in line at the check out queue at the supermarket.  I noticed a couple of young (student age) black girls, obviously a group of friends, standing in the line next to mine.  One of them was an albino.  I noticed her because she did a big double take at the magazine rack and said “Oh wow, look! Wow!” to her friends. Very excited.

I leant over to look at the magazine she was pointing at.  It was the “You” magazine, and there was a photograph of Caster Semenya on the cover. Caster was looking very different from all the media images we’ve seen of her lately – she was wearing a sexy dress, her hair was teased out in little curls and she was wearing make up. The byline said “Look at Caster Now!” or something similar. I though she looked great.

These girls were super excited. They passed the magazine around, laughing and pointing.  Then the albino girl held the magazine up in front of her face, stared at it hard and said:

“Frrrreak!” very emphatically, and with great disgust.

I was so taken aback. Oh well.

If you are wondering about Caster, here are some posts written about her on Blogher:




Patchwork Cat – Nichola Bayley

First the mouse, and now the cat! Here is a companion piece to my previous post about Markus MouseLiep Lap die Lappies Kat (translates as Patch the Patchwork Cat) is  a similar, sleepy time story, and the illustrations by Nicola Bayley have the same loving attention to small and seemingly insignificant details.  Both books have the same delight in the creature being depicted.  1

Only a cat lover can draw like this:


District 9 (Here Be Spoilers)

Its been a couple of days since I saw District 9, and I’m still figuring out how I feel about it.  Its a rough movie.  Rough in its  presentation- the jerky view point of the hand held cameras, the lack of slickness.  Rough in its structure –  the way it moves without warning from the mock documentary style into more conventional story telling.  Rough in its subject matter – the moral dilemmas, the resonance with our Apartheid past and Xenophobic present.  And rough in its violence.  This is a difficult movie to watch.


I was reminded of Starship Troopers, which also had any number of insectile alien bits spraying around the screen. But unlike Starship Troopers, which had a pretensions to an ironic message, District 9 asks some honest, difficult questions.  More

The Legacy of Gloria Russell by Sheri Gilbert

Title: The Legacy of Gloria Russell
Author: Sheri Gilbert
Series : no, its a stand alone


In Short:
Gloria was Billy James’s best friend.  She was different.  She was stubborn, pushy, and curious, and loved to stir up their small town community.  She even spoke to Satan, the immigrant hermit who lived  in the woods.  In Kelseyville nobody had anything to do with Satan – but Gloria spoke to him.  And then she died.  As Billy James tries to come to terms with Gloria’s death he has to confront fear and prejudice in himself and those around him and learn a lesson that Gloria is still teaching him.


What I thought: Well, of course the first thing that comes to mind is To Kill a Mockingbird.   This little book is heavily influenced by that story, and references it directly at one point.  More

Previous Older Entries Next Newer Entries