These books have landed on my desk in the past few weeks. The first four are from Exclusive Books’ top 25 reads for July. Some will be reviewed in full later.
Rhino War, by Major General (Ret) Johan Jooste with Tony Park (Pan Macmillan)
What attracted me to this book was the name of the co-author, Tony Park, author of 19 thrillers set in Africa and a former Australian soldier. So I was pretty sure Rhino Wars would read well, and it does.
In 2012 Johan Jooste, a retired SA general, was taken on by SANparks in a bid to change the Kruger Park rangers into a paramilitary force to turn the tide on the tsunami of rhino poaching.
Traditionally rangers kept an eye on the animals, mended fences, got rid of alien plants and manned the park gates. But the scale of poaching at the time meant rangers were spending something like 95% of their time going after poachers. Something radical had to be done if rhinos were to survive as a species.
And so in came Jooste, with a wealth of military and organisatioal experience to turn things around. It wasn’t easy: many were suspicious of his apartheid SA military baggage, he was in his 60s, his rangers were angry at their treatment by SANparks, and the rhinos were still dying.
I’ve not got very far into this book yet, but it has certainly caught my attention.
The Twyford Code, by Janice Hallett (Viper)
In her acknowledgements Janice Hallett says it is entirely due to the fact Enid Blyton fell out of favour as a children’s author that she became a reader. “If no one had sent their Famous Five books to the 3rd Northolt Scout jumble sale in the 1970s, I would never have picked them up and taken them back to a home with no other books in it…”
This is a strange whodunnit – really strange and occasionally ridiculous – which has at its centre a late famous children’s author called Edith Twyford (Enid Blyton/Edith Twyford, geddit?). Years later schoolboy Steven Smith finds a copy of one of her books with its margins full of strange markings and notes. He shows the book to his teacher, Miss Iles, who is convinced that the story is an elaborate code to revealing some of Britain’s wartime secrets.
Miss Iles takes a small group of children, including Steven, on a trip to see Twyford’s home in Dorset, and during the trip she disappears, an event that haunts all the children for years.
Steven falls in with a bad crowd, and eventually serves time for murder. After his release he decides to find out what happened to Miss Iles, and believes his original copy of the book holds the key. But Steven isn’t the only one looking for the book, and the others are really nasty pieces of work.
I kept wanting to put The Twyford Code down, but was intrigued despite myself. I read it to the remarkable twist at the end.
This Rebel Heart, by Katherine Locke (Alfred A Knopf)
This looks like a magnificent novel, set in the Communist Hungary of the 1950s. Csilla lives in Budapest, beside the Duna River. The river helped keep the family safe during the Holocaust, but afterwards, when the Russians came, the Communists seized power and Csilla’s parents were murdered by the secret police. She did not understand then how her father had been behind the destruction of other families.
Now Csilla is planning to leave Hungary, but as she is about to go her parents are exonerated of their crimes. This leads to protests across the city, and even talk of a revolution.
Should she stay and help fight for what she believes in, or go and put her past behind her?
In a review of This Rebel Heart, the author Rosalyn Eves says: “A moving, magical story that asks hard questions: how do we love imperfect people and places? What is the cost of change – and complacency?”
Questions that might well resonate with many South Africans.
Bloomsbury Girls, by Natalie Jenner (Allison & Busby Ltd)
This is not yet another novel about the Bloomsbury Group – it’s about a London bookshop called Bloomsbury Books, and three of the women who work there.
It’s an old shop and has always been run by men, but after the devastation of World War II things have been shaken up a bit.
The cover blurb says: “One bookshop. Fifty-one rules. Three women who break them all.”
As the women do their thing, they interact with literary figures of the day, such as Daphne du Maurier, Samuel Beckett and Peggy Guggenheim.
One shout on the cover promises that fans of 84 Charing Cross Road “will be delighted”. I think it looks great.
Booth, by Karen Joy Fowler (Serpent’s Tail/ Jonathan Ball)
Booth is by the author of the bestseller We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves which was a fascinating and entertaining novel with an extraordinary twist.
Booth is historical fiction, and the Booth of the title is John Wilkes, who famously shot President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s theatre in Washington DC on April 14 1865, days after the end of the American Civil War.
Much earlier in the century Junius Booth, an English Shakespearean actor, brought his flower seller bride to a log cabin on a farm in Maryland, where she spent most of her time either pregnant or breast-feeding, while Junius was on the road or on the stage.
There were 10 children in all, of whom six survived to adulthood, and all had to learn how to emerge from the power of their domineering father. John Wilkes, a Confederate sympathiser who also became an actor, chose his own way and changed the course of American history.
This novel has been described as Karen Joy Fowler’s finest, and one that is a “devastating meditation on how the USA arrived at this troubled point in its present history…”
Elon Musk – Risking it all, by Michael Vlismas (Jonathan Ball Publishers)
It was Buzz Lightyear who said: “To infinity, and beyond,” the line that echoed through author Michael Vlismas’s head during the writing of this book.
In a shout on the cover by celebrated SA journalist Toby Shapshak, he asks: “How did a bullied, introverted Pretoria schoolboy become the world’s richest person and arguably humanity’s greatest change agent? Vlismas’s extensively researched biography does a great job of unwrapping Elon Musk’s remarkable life story.”
With his achievements of PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX and his current fight with Twitter, Musk is hardly ever out of the headlines. While without doubt he’s a brilliantly inventive man, he often seems to be cloth-eared and cheerfully ignorant of others’ sensibilities. Maybe that’s the source of what makes him outstanding, if occasionally something of a buffoon.
Witnessing – From the Rwandan tragedy to healing in South Africa, by Pie-Pacifique Kabalira-Uwase (Kwela)
In December 2006 Pie-Pacifique Kabalira-Uwase was in Cape Town for a Christmas gathering of Mandela-Rhodes scholarship holders to meet Nelson Mandela.
It would be hard to imagine he was the same person as the 14-year-old Kigali schoolboy who watched as a soldier pointed his gun at his mother, preparing to shoot.
In this book he describes his ghastly experiences during the genocide in Rwanda, his preparations to flee to Canada, losing all his money and ending up as a car guard in Durban.
He was determined to get on, though, enrolled at university and won the Mandela-Rhodes Scholarship.
He is now the founder and director of PEM Afurika, a management consulting company that aims to make businesses more human for staff, customers and other stakeholders.
This is his story.