Book Reviews: A Sister’s Christmas Secret, Or The Assault On The Blind Side

October 29, 2022

 

By BRUCE DENNILL, LISA WITEPSKI & KATE DENNILL

 

Christmas Treats by Guillaume Marinette

Over The Top And Back by Tom Jones

Blind Side by Wilna Adriaanse

The Woman Of The Stone Sea by Meg Vandermerwe

As Good As Eating Out by Your Family

A Sister’s Secret and A Sister’s Test by Wanda Brunstetter

Invitation and The Assault by Bill Myers, Frank Peretti, Angela Hunt and Alton Gansky

 

On many television cooking shows, even those designed to showcase cake and dessert craftsmanship, judges make the comment, “This is too sweet”. Those judges should not read Christmas Treats. Christmas is already a season in which sweets and sweet foods are more traditionally a part of the menu and the fact that a team of chefs and publishers slaved over this book makes it only fair that you prepare at least a dozen of the recipes and share them with loved ones at holiday get-togethers. A Triple Chocolate Log? Yule not regret that. Melted Snowmen allow a touch of the macabre to temper your sweet tooth. And more established favourites like Speculoos, Gingerbread Men and Shortbread Stars are all there too, should you want to create gift packages for family and friends who’ve long enjoyed such treats. – BD

 

As big and robust as its subject, Tom Jones’ autobiography stands out for the clear-eyed, unpretentious way in which the singer relates his story, throwing in plenty of warmth and humour along the way. He starts the book at a point in his career where he is playing awful rooms in depressing American strip malls, a million miles away from the glamour readers might associate with his reputation, and there is a good deal of that honesty as you read further. Jones takes responsibility for the bad – and the lazy – decisions he made as he came up through the ranks, and the moments he wishes he could’ve gone back to and been truer to his core values. Some of those are surprising, too. One of the enduring images of Jones as a performer is with his hairy chest exposed, a gold medallion gleaming there, as he holds up a pair of panties a female fan has thrown on stage. The suggestion is that he’s a ladies’ man through and through, but that is not what comes through in the narrative here. For readers steeped in the tabloid fodder about the singer, or indeed most of the music magazine coverage of his career, this may feel like an odd public relations exercise; perhaps trying to redeem an aging artist’s status for his equally mature audience? But Jones surprises again, celebrating, late in the book, the fact that he and his wife Linda had been married for nearly six decades at the time of writing, and that she remains his centre and his foundation. There is also, of course, the music – the huge hits and unexpected misses; the graft needed to make it in the first place and to get back to the summit between less successful periods, and performances and collaborations with everyone from Stevie Wonder to Ed Sheeran. Ultimately, this is a portrait of a talented but grounded bloke who had to learn how to be a performer and star as he went along and recognises that he is still doing so even now. Over The Top And Back underlines the effect Jones has had on popular culture while also recognising that success can be defined in a dozen different ways. An excellent read. – BD

 

In Blind Side, Ellie McKenna could probably benefit from a few therapy sessions – especially since she has recently lost her father (a fellow policeman) in what can only be described as dubious circumstances. Instead, she opts to take on a particularly difficult assignment, going undercover as a bodyguard for a dangerous gangster’s girlfriend. Ellie’s new world has an undeniable glamour: it’s a whirl of cocaine and lingerie models and late-night clubbing and expensive whiskey. But at the edge lurk dodgy deals involving rhino horns and abalone shipments – and, always, Ellie must watch her back, for her employers are scrutinising her as closely as she is scrutinising them. Then comes the moment when Ellie lets down her guard – and that, for me, is when the story starts to lose its grip. That’s ironic, because it relies heavily on cliffhanger moments that should build irresistible suspense. Instead, I felt as though I had read the first few chapters of a book, only to find that the final (and most important) pages were missing. I might be right in this regard: the back cover of the book advertises End Game, the sequel to the Blind Side, so perhaps it is not intended as a stand-alone volume. Nonetheless, I felt that the lack of a strong conclusion ultimately worked against the story and the characters. – LW

 

South Africa’s contribution to the magical realism genre is impressive, to say the least: think of Andre Brink’s Devil’s Valley, or Etienne van Heerden’s Ancestral Voices. I always find the sense of place in these stories irresistibly beguiling: whether it’s the quirks of language or the particularities of setting, I always feel as though the land of imagination is somewhere I know well, and may in fact have visited in my travels. The Woman Of The Stone Sea is no different. I can almost picture the whitewashed fishermen’s cottages of the West Coast; the feel of bleached beach sand under my soles, the slap of an icy sea on my shins, and above all, the stillness and silence. It’s in this sea that we first meet Hendrik, a fisherman left broken after his wife’s abrupt disappearance. One day after he tries to drown himself, as he imagines his wife did, he finds a strange being on the beach. He fancies her to be a Xhosa mermaid; a magical organism imbued with special powers. And, indeed, Hendrik’s life does start to change as soon as she enters it – but not always for the better. As the story escalates, it becomes clear that the origin of the mermaid isn’t the only mystery here. The disappearance of Hendrik’s wife begins to take on a sinister cast. For me, Meg Vandermerwe’s novel is a series of questions. There seem to be no lines between reality and fantasy – and while this isn’t a bad thing (quite the contrary; it makes for an intriguing read), I was left with a craving to know more. A great choice for nights when you’re in the mood for true escapism, but don’t feel as though you have to be spoon-fed the story. – LW

 

Your Family deserve kudos for managing to re-inspire weary cooks with each new cookbook offering. As Good As Eating Out is geared towards allowing families to replicate their favourite eat-out meals in the comfort and economy of their own kitchens. If burgers make you tick, there are no less than 10 versions to attempt, as well as fun twists on hot dogs, boerie rolls and pizzas. For more fancy palates, there are curries, Asian offerings and good old meat and potato combos to tackle. The one possible drawback is that the type of food highlighted often presents with an alarming calorie count. However there are a selection of vegetarian and Banting recipes included. Those whose highlight of the meal is dessert have not been forgotten, and it is definitely advisable not to read the final 13 recipes on an empty stomach. – KD

 

Dubbed “Amish County’s Most Beloved Storyteller”, Wanda Brunstetter certainly finds no end of inspiration for new stories highlighting the culture of the Amish folk. They have an ongoing challenge in maintaining the integrity of their way of life against the backdrop of accelerating changes, technologically and otherwise in the outside world. The first two books in the Sisters of Holmes County series, Secret and Test focus on the two elder sisters in the Hostettler family, Grace and Ruth respectively. Grace’s story deals with the concept of re-integration following Rumschpringe, where young adults in Amish culture are given the freedom to live in mainstream society before deciding whether or not to settle back down within their family and church traditions. The ability to survive the tragedy of broken dreams and rise above deep suffering is Ruth’s story, where she wrestles with the “why God” questions that almost no person is immune to at some stage of their lives. Interwoven themes of love, faith and suffering make these narratives universal even while set against the trademark Amish background. The delicious recipes at the end of the books are just the cherry on the top. – KD

 

When four authors with the collective pulling power of a supermassive black hole collaborate to create a supernatural suspense series, the results are certain to be stimulating. Each author represents a character, and the narrative unfolds through each character’s viewpoint in the form of four novellas per book. Myers writes as Brenda, a tattoo artist, Peretti as The Professor, an atheistic ex-priest, Hunt as Andi, the professor’s assistant and Gansky as Tank, a sweet-natured athlete. Collectively the Harbingers series, Invitation is Cycle One and The Assault is Cycle Two. The differing styles of the individual authors does not allow the reader to get too comfortable, but the tale does unfold with admirable continuity and the variety is invigorating rather than rattling. Fast- paced, futuristic and with an unpredictable faith element, any reader that has enjoyed any one of the author team will be sure to swept along by the Harbinger cycles. – KD

 

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