Book Reviews: Lightning And Burning, Or Big Burchell Brides

September 12, 2021

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The Lightning Stones by Jack Dubrul

Burchell’s Travels: The Life, Art And Journeys Of William John Burchell | 1781-1863 by Susan Buchanan

The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse

Dead Of Night by Michael Stanley

The Big Seven: Adventures In Search Of Africa’s Iconic Species by Gerald Hinde & Will Taylor

Winter Brides by Denise Hunter, Deborah Raney and Betsy Amant


Reading The Lightning Stones, took me back to John Wayne’s Wild West movies. Here is a cool guy – outwitting, outshooting, outthinking and outliving every adversary, and fighting the bad and the ugly. Mercer, a geologist, is such a guy, confronted by a merciless crime syndicate. This story takes you worldwide, from America to Afghanistan and the Pacific Ocean, on a treasure hunt that involves a special kind of stone that attracts lightning.  This is a great thriller, put together with much inside information about police work, geological surveys, criminal action and climate change trickery. Recommended. – DB


William John Burchell – English naturalist, explorer, writer, botanist, cartographer, linguist and ethnographer – left his mark on South Africa in the species named after him, the beautiful art he created, the maps he drew and the cultural studies he conducted, a phenomenal legacy for an individual who was largely a self-starter and who only spent part of his time in South and Southern Africa. Burchell’s Travels is a thorough, well-researched biography, but also a fascinating insight into a place and a period often misrepresented in text-books. Perhaps it is the focus on a single personality – and his contained set of perspectives – which makes this look at the South Africa of the early 19th century more interesting than most narratives dealing with similar subject matter. Author Susan Buchanan’s research is meticulous and nuanced, and her knowledge of Burchell’s own painstakingly detailed texts (not least his famous book Travels In The Interior Of Southern Africa) gives her writing authority and authenticity, but she keeps this volume easy to read and well-paced, which is no small achievement for something that is effectively a mixture of the mainstream and academia. A good read, and an excellent historical reference work. – BD


Kate Mosse is a writer of epics (among other formats, including plays) with a love for historical France and a flair for detail that is the result of extensive research. The near-600-page The Burning Chambers is the introduction – Book One – of a new series focusing on the trials and triumphs of the Huguenots displaced by the Wars of Religion and the Edict of Nantes in the 16th and 17th Centuries. There’s a South African link too, with Franschhoek’s role in the destiny of the Huguenots forced to flee France acknowledged in a prologue that hints at events beyond the scope of this book. Moss keeps the tone thrilling and the pacing tight, adding romance and intrigue to a story centred around young bookseller Minou and Huguenot freedom fighter Piet. There are also evil nobles and corrupt churchmen – characters that are, sadly, only too believable when considering their antecedents in the historical record. Importantly, Mosse also, not often, but with great clarity, brings home the brutality and meaninglessness of the conflict in France at the time, reflecting the desire for power and riches that drove those responsible for most of the bloodshed. The Burning Chambers is a stimulating insight into a dark period in European history and a swashbuckling adventure yarn into the bargain. – BD


Being dedicated to the men and women who hunt rhino poachers is a good start to any book. Dead Of Night takes readers to the African bush, a CITES conference, and talking the talk in Geneva and the Vietnam market, covering the entire rhino horn drama. The book makes you realise that a bush war is ongoing. There are gamekeepers, poachers, big money, corrupt police and determined guys on both sides, risking their lives. A reporter from National Geographic collects information for an article on the rhino-horn trade. This proves to be a risky mission, and she finds herself dealing with serious problems and dangerous situations. As long as poverty reigns and the sickening demand for horn powder rules the market, in the long term, I fear the worst.  This book is the closest you will get to this bush war. Read it and make up your own mind. – DB


Embracing the idea that the Big Five – a category initially established in the hunting community – doesn’t necessarily reflect the tastes of African wildlife lovers who prefer cameras to guns, photographer Gerald Hinde and writer Will Taylor have focused on an expanded group of high-profile species for this glossy coffee table book. Adding cheetahs and wild dogs to the usual suspects (elephant, lion, leopard, rhino and buffalo) makes this book more interesting – and probably closer to the average South African’s sightings shortlist when heading to the Kruger National Park. Hinde’s photographs are always good and often spectacular; beautiful portraits of the magnificent creatures under examination, or telling an entire story (a hunt, an escape, an interaction between parent and baby) in a single image. The text is, for a South African readership at least, more generic, dealing with the behaviour, habitats, breeding and diet information and similar of The Big Seven species the book deals with. It’s well-written material from a knowledgeable writer, but readers who’ve spent any significant time in game reserves on holiday or for other purposes will already know many of the facts offered. For newcomers, however, an excellent package. – BD


Between books, movies, gifts and the actual celebrations, weddings, both real and imaginary, are generating substantial income in various quarters. It’s probably safe to assume, however, that Hunter, Raney and Amant wrote Winter Brides from more altruistic standpoints, as writers seldom becoming millionaires. Regardless of their motives, these three novellas are charming and individual, and well-crafted in terms of presenting a clear and complete story despite the condensed format. A December Bride features a young and emotionally bruised decorator, Layla, who teams up with handsome Seth in a sham engagement in order to land a crucial contract. In a case of double misconceptions, Maddy, a successful novelist, and Arthur, a widowed professor, fall in love largely through an exchange of notes, culminating in a January Bride. Finally, the not unfamiliar runaway bride theme is explored in A February Bride, when Allie is placed into close proximity with her ex-fiancée Marcus through another wedding, causing her to face her fears and find a way forward. Despite the titles being an automatic spoiler, and whether or not a real wedding is in your future, Winter Brides is a fun but perceptive collection, and a worthwhile read. – KD

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