Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

There are few authors for whom I unhesitatingly accept a new manuscript , to read in exchange for a review. Why me? I always ask myself. “Are they desperate for reviewers, because no one else likes it? What am I going to say about it if it’s awful?” I have no such fears when it comes to Kate Quinn. I don’t think there’s a book of hers I haven’t loved. (The Alice Network, The Mistress of Rome being two of my favourites, but The Huntress being outstanding – there are not enough words for how much I loved that book).

With this one, I didn’t even read the blurb, I just dived right in. And I have to say, that is usually a good strategy for me – the less I know about the book before reading it, the better. How deliciously refreshing and fabulously entertaining this was.

Set in 1940, in England, we meet dazzling and brilliant Osla who is a whiz at languages – underestimate her at your peril; the rather drab Mab, who has exceptional typing and shorthand skills and thought it “better to live an old maid with a shiny desk and a salary in the bank, proudly achieved through the sweat of her own efforts, than end up disappointed and old before her time thanks to long factory hours and too much childbirth” and Beth, who can solve crossword puzzles in a jiffy. All spinsters, and guess where they land up together? In Buckinghamshire, at Bletchley Park, no other. Don’t they all sound delightful?

For those of you (like me) bingeing on The Crown on Netflix, there’s also a dalliance with Prince Phillip, old Dickie (Mountbatten) and many references to the actual characters featuring in that mysterious court of codebreaking, guard of military secrets and house of spies.

There’s also a royal wedding in 1947 – Prince Philip and Princess Elizabeth. And a race to break some code, and rescue a friend trapped in the Clockwell Sanitorium. All rather exciting stuff for three brainy girls. Who woulda guessed they also had a part to play in the war and its aftermath?

With Kate Quinn, there is always enough mystery, romance, plot, danger and intrigue to keep you glued. Not to mention the intricate and complex relationships between heroines with no end of talent for adventure. Which is as well, because at 656 pages this had me loving every one.

5 scintillating stars from me.

You may also enjoy The Alice Network, or The Mistress of Rome by the same author. Or what about The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah?

Building Capital by Muitheri Wahome

Review: Building Capital – The Development of Asset Management in South Africa by Muitheri Wahome.

When Muitheri told me that she was writing a book, about two years ago, I was excited and intrigued. When she told me that it was about the history of asset management in South Africa, I thought two things – one, there is no better person that I can think of to write this book and two, I cannot wait to read it. I love the work I do – which also happens to be in the asset management industry in South Africa. I also love a good story, especially when it is historical. 
You can imagine my delight when I received an early copy of the book – all of those passions to be unpacked in 250 pages.

I found a free weekend, and tucked in. My copy started with some acknowledgements – in keeping with Muitheri’s generous style of giving space and voice to the characters that leap off the pages. She observes that there is little documented history when it comes to South African Asset Management. That is a great pity, since our country has experienced a wealth of experience, a diversity of views and a plethora of highly skilled players in this space – most of whom are eminently qualified to string a few sentences together.  The author gives time for tellings that are “in their own words”. As I was reading, I wouldn’t have been surprised had some of the doyens walked from the offices and boardrooms into my room – it felt like they were that close.

Muitheri’s style is engaging and inclusive and paints an accurate and vivid picture, and anyone with even a mild interest in the subject will find themselves drawn into this rich and thorough account.  (Who knows, perhaps even my long-suffering husband, who often despairs of my endless “industry chats” when he is at the table?)


Muitheri goes further however. Not only has this book been based on extensive interviews, but she has trawled through many data sources – from surveys to newspapers, financial publications, and even actuarial society journals – there are (a few) members among that profession who will attest to never having read a single one in full. All the research is placed in its proper historical context, and used to enhance the colourful characters. The story flows from the origins of the JSE, through the establishment of an insurance industry, and incorporates all the major thought leaders and developments – often pioneering ideas – that built the asset management industry. 


I’ve now got a beautiful hardcover version that will take pride of place on my shelf. I’m grateful to Muitheri for her labour of passion. This was a story that needed to be told, and Muitheri took the time and invested the energy to do so well. John Morley, the 1st Viscount Morley of Blackburn said “It is not enough to do good; one must do it the right way”. Muitheri has led the way in doing just that, and I share her hope that there will be many more accounts written on this topic, from differing perspectives. 

Too Much and Never Enough by Mary L. Trump

I was fascinated when I saw that Mary L. Trump, Donald Trump’s niece had written a biography of what is possibly the world’s most infamous family in the current context.

I picked it up again this year, and saw that she is writing as a family member and as a PhD in psychology. So we know what the angle will be. Also the sub-title “How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man” indicates no small degree of self awareness.

As the blurb notes, she “shines a bright light on the dark history of their family in order to explain how her uncle became the man who now threatens the world’s health, economic security, and social fabric” As she states “No one knows how Donald came to be who he is better than his own family. Unfortunately, almost all of them remain silent out of loyalty or fear. I’m not hindered by either of those. In addition to the firsthand accounts I can give as my father’s daughter and my uncle’s only niece, I have the perspective of a trained clinical psychologist. Too Much and Never Enough is the story of the most visible and powerful family in the world. And I am the only Trump who is willing to tell it.”

I found this unputdownable. It reads like an episode of one of my favourite soapies, much darker and more unbelievable – as reality often is. The sibling rivalry, fights over money and power, and deceit and distrust was tangible. And so believable, because we’ve watched the effect of this creation play out in what was the world’s greatest democracy but is certainly a monumental stage. Mary’s father died quite young – he was the eldest Trump son, but he had already been stripped of his inheritance – his father having passed him over for Donald.

Mary doesn’t hesitate to draw parallels with what is happening today – and is unashamedly salty with her metaphors – I quote two of many.

“Donald was to my grandfather what the border wall has been for Donald: a vanity project funded at the expense of more worthy pursuits.” and when he won in 2016 – “(it) felt as though 62,979,636 voters had chosen to turn this country into a macro version of my malignantly dysfunctional family.”

But I think what I loved most about this book was that I felt vindicated to the bottom of my soul. When I used to read or listen to (which I had to stop) any of the man’s speeches or press conferences, I would have a visceral reaction. Mostly with a “how can anyone believe this?” face. But if I dared voice my disbelief, there were countless others raised violently in opposition – “don’t believe the mainstream media (MSM)” they’d chant. Or “the evil democrats are far worse”. I didn’t understand how the MSM could change the actual words coming from his mouth or the truly diabolical things he asked us to believe as alternative realities.

After Trump lost the election, rock legend Bruce Springsteen made this eerily accurate prediction. Perhaps he’d read the book. If I’d read it earlier, maybe I’d have seen this coming too. In fact, Mary said – “by the time this book is published, hundreds of thousands of American lives will have been sacrificed on the altar of Donald’s hubris and willful ignorance. If he is afforded a second term, it would be the end of American democracy.” Mary also noted his “never lose” blind spot, of which more should have been made, to prevent what transpired.

I know I’ve quoted a lot (there’s so much more if you read the book), in part because I found reading this book and writing this review had a purging effect. Knowing there isn’t much more of his term left to go, and having witnessed the raid on the Capitol that incited violence and caused death, I’m feeling strangely like the world will be a better place on January 21st. The purging has left me with a glimmer of hope – it was as bad as it seemed, but it’s nearly over.

“Donald’s monstrosity is the manifestation of the very weakness within him that he’s been running from his entire life. For him, there has never been any option but to be positive, to project strength, no matter how illusory, because doing anything else carries a death sentence; my father’s short life is evidence of that. The country is now suffering from the same toxic positivity that my grandfather deployed specifically to drown out his ailing wife, torment his dying son, and damage past healing the psyche of his favorite child, Donald J. Trump.”

Toxic positivity – for sure. From an unloved little boy who lied and cheated and manipulated the truth to get more, which was never enough.

5 stars.

The Value of Everything by Mariana Mazzucato

Not the most appealing-looking of book covers, is it?

And I suppose that it won’t help either if I tell you that I’ve taken about a year to finally finish and review this book.

But you definitely shouldn’t let my poor discipline in reading this put you off starting. Let’s rather back up to the point of my inspiration to read it. Mariana Mazzucato was speaking at a CFA conference in London that I attended in May 2019. Subtitled “Disruption: The New Reality in Investment Management”, Mariana, a passionate Italian-American, now heading the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose and at the University College London argued that economic theory we’ve all learned is problematic. We need an economy that encourages participation from both government and private sector (and rewards each appropriately, in recognition of their contributions), that is sustainable and that has a mission – a big one at that.

My imagination was captured. Just picture what the world would look like if we really could do that, I dreamed. This book is the foundation of those dreams – what really creates value in society, and what just makes (takes) money from ideas that have already been developed? In the preface, she quotes Oscar Wilde as saying that a cynic is one who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing…“economics is known as the cynical science. But it is exactly for this reason that change in our economic system must be underpinned by bringing value back to the centre of our thinking – we need a revived ability to contest the way the word value is used, keeping alive the debate, and not allowing simple stories to affect whose thinks productive and who is unproductive.”

A detailed history of the development of the economic wold follows, with reference to what is built by wealth creators that adds value and how value is extracted by landlords, portfolio managers and the like. But it isn’t that simple. In order for great innovation and growth to happen, we need collaboration, and government – often painted as boring, bureaucratic and unproductive, has an advantage in that it can afford the risk-taking that is so necessary yet unaffordable by the private sector. She uses an example of the development of the smart phone (reliant on the internet and SIRI – developed by DARPA, GPS developed by the US Navy and touchscreen display by the CIA). And there are many others.

So many questions are posed through the book about how we value things, how we should challenge the status quo and the capitalists who charge inappropriately for life-saving medical interventions and our traditional constrained thinking.

Many of the hopeful ideas and collaborations are not thrashed out fully in the book. However, given that Mazzucato advises on policy in this regard (from Mission-Oriented Research & Innovation in the EU to assisting Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with the thinking behind The Green New Deal) she can be forgiven for ending where she did, replacing writing and thinking about this stuff with actually helping people implement these strategies. She’s also part of Cyril Ramaphosa’s Economic Advisory Council, tasked with igniting the South African economy.

Her critics will point to all the ways that this could fail – corrupt government, greedy capitalists, unwillingness to pay social taxes in production. However, when growth is desperately needed, and ideas and innovations to rescue us from lockdowns and economic devastation wreaked, I’d rather have an optimist and dreamer on my team than a cynic.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and will be quoting from it regularly, even if it’s just to my family around the dinner table for now.

ISBN: 9781610396745

Five stars

You may also enjoy Green Giants by E Freya Williams

A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

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There are some authors whose work I will grab/buy and run with/download so fast. I have even been known to sit down in the book store with my already-purchased book, and start imbibing while the rest of my family are still deciding.

Why not?

Why not indeed? I am the child who was given a whole packet of (as yet unpurchased) Marie biscuits to eat through a Pick n Pay shopping experience, so that I didn’t worry my busy mother. I make no excuses. It’s learnt behaviour and I can blame my dear Mom.

Tracy Chevalier (Girl with the Pearl Earring, At the Edge of the Orchard, and New Boy) is one of those authors, and A Single Thread one of those books.

It is 1932 and Violet Speedwell is not living her best life. The Great War has stolen her fiancé and a brother, leaving her to tea and toast with her bitter mother. Violet soldiers on, gathering her pennies so she can escape to Winchester, where there is a cathedral, and more importantly, a group of ‘broderers’ – the women who embroider the prayer cushions, and other paraphernalia that cathedrals require. She discovers her tribe there – including austere Dorothy, lovely Louisa and the ever glorious Gilda. In her happy place, she rediscovers herself and what she wants from her life.

This is a wonderful glimpse into a bygone era with new lenses. It’s a celebration of womanhood, community, presence and purpose. The characters are diverse and real, intense and stoic. The setting is austere and dramatic, the perfect backdrop for their passions.

I loved every minute. Every stitch was a memory, a nostalgic moment, a wiped tear. Just my kind of book. Thank you Ms. Chevalier for writing such masterpieces, not rushing the process and giving your readers (especially me) such joyous experiences.

ISBN: 9780008153823

5 stars

You may also enjoy Love is Blind by William Boyd or The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, or even Transcription by Kate Atkinson.

I owe you One by Sophie Kinsella

40702156 When will my book reviews be confession-free? Especially of the old faithful, really boring “it’s been so long since I last reviewed a book” confession.

Well, here’s a new confession. I’m really struggling to read. Yeah, you read that right, sadly. I truly am. I think it’s the pathological “I-have-to-read-everything-about-COVID-19” part of me. It drives my behaviour, and I find I have very little time for anything else. And I’m exhausted. Go figure.

So, in desperation, when the last 2 for one sale on Audible hit, I chose some titles. My only criteria – the narrator. I listened and listened to all the excerpts. This one’s British – tick. And Sophie Kinsella – should be light and easier to read than the dark COVID stuff plaguing my brain day and night. Right?

Right.

Fixie (that’s her nickname, but when her name is finally revealed, you don’t really need the info) Farr is a fixer-upper. She’s obsessed in that way. She’s also fixated with “family first” and the family business – Farrs – a homeware general store. Since her father’s death, she’s helping Mom with the store, her brother Jake – who is keen on reaching a much posher target audience, and sister Nicole, who thinks yoga makes everything better.

Enter Sebastian, a stranger in a coffee shop who asks Fixie to keep an eye on his laptop while he takes a call.  She does, and so much more. Then enter Ryan, the schoolboy crush who also needs fixing up, and best friend Hannah, a spreadsheet kinda girl who wants a baby, now.

Listening worked, but not only that – this was a great story. I was hooked in the first five minutes, and I just loved the characters, the plot, the everything. This is a fun read/listen, even if Fixie’s fixing is so annoying, so persistent and so self-destructive. I’m working on my patience with humanity, so maybe I had some left over for her in these trying times.

I finished it, I had fun doing so, and hopefully it’s broken my book austerity.

4 stars

You may also enjoy Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, or what about Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty?

 

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Morning all you beautiful people. Here we are on day 2 of lockdown in SA, courtesy of COVID-19, and tell me truthfully, how many of you are just a little stiff thanks to your over-zealous workouts from home yesterday?

When I used to be a blogger, I did a weekly Ten of the Best – my ten favourite clips/articles/pictures from the internet and social media sources from that week. Then I took a break, and also quite a big break from social media, which was restful. Now I’m finding I need all my virtual connections more than ever, and with the virus keeping us confined to our living spaces, the only way we can “get out” is on the WWW, or perhaps in a good book (if you’re not like me and struggling to read, that is).

Enough of the babble, let’s get into the stuff. If you haven’t been here before, what follows is my favourites, you click the video/picture to link to the content and come back for more. Seen it? Skip it. It’s that simple.

I suppose it’s fitting to start with my favourite clip of what this virus is, and why hand washing beats it.

And, the responses, oh the responses – especially the music. Yay for the music.

Here’s the first I saw and loved – A rewrite of Africa by Toto – please stay home South Africa.

Other countries took to their balconies – the Spanish, the Italians and the English. Hilarious.

And then the Berklee students, all locked down, showed us how it’s done.

And our very own Roedean School – Hallelujah. This is beautiful.

Of course, there are those of us (especially in SA) who will miss our takeaways and our Uber Eats. I loved the Nandos ad about this.

And this is how we all feel about that…

But the beautiful Kathleen O’Meara’s poem, ‘And People Stayed Home,’ which was written in 1869 is still so appropriate.

And people stayed home
and read books and listened
and rested and exercised
and made art and played
and learned new ways of being
and stopped
and listened deeper
someone meditated
someone prayed
someone danced
someone met their shadow
and people began to think differently
and people healed
and in the absence of people who lived in ignorant ways,
dangerous, meaningless and heartless,
even the earth began to heal
and when the danger ended
and people found each other
grieved for the dead people
and they made new choices
and dreamed of new visions
and created new ways of life
and healed the earth completely
just as they were healed themselves.

The explanation of the feelings of grief in this HBR article also touched a nerve.

Mar20_23_1022720964-2And then there’s this – Rabbi Manis Friedman’s take on why we should welcome this.

There’s almost too much to choose from. And more everyday, which I shall be sharing in my timelines. But this went up last night – a beautiful rendition of an old hymn.

And yesterday, we were able to meet – not in a coffee shop but via Zoom, and hear a psychologist unpack all the emotions we’re feeling and explain how we need to be gentle with each other. This is a long clip, but if you’re needing an antidote to the news, this is it.

So people – hold each other in your hearts until we can hold each other physically again. Reach out to your friends, and show them love with your words, your voice, your virtual connection with them. And what I’ve learned recently is this – the virtual isn’t as good as the physical, but what is helpful is to go deeper – share more openly, be more vulnerable, love more freely  and expressively and listen to each other’s pain. This is hard, but we can do it together.

Happy lockdown, friends and family. We’ve got this.

The Missing Wife by Sam Carrington

43351584Lou Lou (Louisa) is a new mom to Oliver. She’s sleep-deprived, and not coping at all, so why Tiff – her best friend (really?) – would organize a surprise party by hacking her Facebook account is beyond me. It sounds like my worst nightmare. But that’s just the beginning. Oliver (gorgeous and part of Lou Lou’s chequered past) shows up with his wife. Only she goes missing at the party.

The good is that this is a thrilling page turner. You can’t really stop and think, that would kill the vibe. And I suppose that’s the bad. The ugly is that this is one of those books where everyone is the suspect and then the ending comes completely out of left field. It’s an enjoyable weekend read, if you’re prepared to just go with it, not think too much and suspend your disbelief for an extended period of time. There are also some pacing issues – parts of this speed past, whilst others feel unbearably dragged out.

Not bad, but not wonderful either.

3 stars.

ISBN: 9780008348038

You may also enjoy The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn, or My Husband’s Wife by Jane Corry.

The Afrikaner by Arianna Dagnino

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Zoe du Plessis is The Afrikaner. She’s also a palaeontologist, who has lost her fiancé (and also her work colleague) in a car hijacking in Johannesburg. She wants to complete the work they were busy on in the Kalahari. Her own family history and secrets also emerge and threaten to disrupt her life completely.

When I observed that Adrianna Dagnino had spent only five years in South Africa, and written a novel from the perspective she chose, I approached with caution. Surely there would be some clangers – language perhaps, or interactions between diverse people groups that wouldn’t ring true. South Africa is a rainbow nation of very different people groups, with complex histories and relationships. I am happy to say that this was not the case. Whilst I am still wondering how appropriate it is for  a person who is a different nationality to write from the perspective of “The Afrikaner”, I found the elements of the diversity in the novel beautiful, non-judgemental and complementary, which was uplifting and inspiring. The plot was interesting, the tension nicely built, and the ending satisfying.

A diverting and interesting book.

ISBN: 9781771833578

You may also enjoy Deon Meyer’s Icarus, or what about Love and Wine by Paula Marais? Both about Afrikaners, by South Africans. Or for a book with history in Franschhoek, set in France, what about Kate Mosse’s The Burning Chambers?

The Confession by Jessie Burton

44439342._SY475_Jessie Burton, writer of The Miniaturist, The Muse and most recently The Confession, is one of my favourite authors. Not only because she  spends time on her work – evidenced by the carefully constructed characters, intricate plots, and true-to-life settings created with words,  she is an original and talented craftsman. These are books you can judge by their appealing and finely-drawn covers.

In The Confession, we meet Constance Holden and Elise Morceau as they meet for the first time in 1980 on Hampstead Heath. Elise is young and attractive, the older enchanting Connie a writer about to be launched into the world of filming and screenplays in Los Angeles because of her wildly successful novel, Heartlands.

Skip forward three and a bit decades to 2017 (yes, sad but true), and Rosie is looking for her mother, Elise. Elise disappeared on Rosie and Dad when Rosie was just a baby. The last person to see her alive, says Dad, was Constance Holden, still an author, but now reclusive and somewhat batty. Has Rosie the courage to find and confront Constance, who has become expert at hiding herself away?

These two timelines weave and intersect as we discover what happened to Elise, and the story of the relationship between Connie and Elise takes centre stage. It’s gorgeous. The sense of place and setting (LA in the 1990s) is nicely done, and this makes the book a place you can hide in for a few days, where the words and the worlds wash over you, taking you outside your present reality for just a little bit.

“Like all cities, parts of it they drove past looked abhorrent; there was the layer of smog, the air of enslavement, the endless streams of cars. Healtheeeeeee 4 U! screamed a billboard. The taxi had its radio on. ‘Buy, buy, buy’, it yelled. The advertisement seemed never to stop; the word threatened to overwhelm her.”

I loved the three protagonists, their actress and agent sidekicks, and their complex interactions. This is one of those books you’ll want to rush through, and then slow down, because you don’t want it to end. Not yet.

5 stars

ISBN: 9781509886142

You may also enjoy The Only Story by Julian Barnes, or Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid.