It’s been a great month for books – I’ve been sent more readable books than I know what to do with. The first four are from among Exclusive Books’ list of top reads for September, and the rest look great too. Most of these books haven’t been read by me yet, but I’m looking forward to them. Some will be reviewed in full later. – Vivien Horler
My Land Obsession – a memoir, by Bulelwa Mabasa (Picador Africa)
Bulelwa Mabasa is the head of the Land Reform, Restitution and Tenure practice at Werksmans Attorneys, and she deals with commercial dispute resolution, mining litigation, mining regulation, land reform and administrative and constitutional law.
That’s all a long way away from starting off in a matchbox house in Meadowlands, Soweto.
The family had been uprooted thanks to the Group Areas Act, and Mabasa grew up hearing these stories. The daughter and niece of members of the Soweto String Quartet, she was forced to play the violin. She hated it. Nevertheless she ended up at an upmarket Model C school in Highlands North, an experience she found entirely alienating.
This is the story of how one smart, motivated black girl child became a fighter for land reform in South Africa.
The Eye of the Beholder, by Margie Orford, (Jonathan Ball Publishers)
Maggie Orford is a South African novelist but this thriller begins somewhere in the frozen north, with Cora fleeing for her life. Obviously something terrible has happened. Cora makes it on to an aircraft, believing she has left her past behind.
But now, including Cora, there are three women to deal with the fall-out of the horror: Freya, who is frightened but who can’t understand what her mother has been through, and Angel, who means to ensure her abusers are dead. All are desperate to find the truth.
Damian Barr, Scottish writer and broadcaster, describes this writer’s work: “Orford truly understands the transformative power of violence for those who survive it and those who visit it upon others. It gives her writing visceral power.”
The Halfways, by Nilopar Uddin (HQ, an imprint of HarperCollins)
Immigrants are neither one thing nor another. Even when they are settled and comfortable in a new home, there is always the call of the past pulling them back.
Nasrin and Sabrina are sisters who have made successful lives in the west, one in New York and one in London. But when their father dies they rush to join their mother at the family restaurant in Wales, where they are unhappily reminded of their stifling childhood.
When their father’s will is read, all is changed, and a family rift opens. This story explores family dynamics, and how the discovery of a secret can change everything.
The Rising Tide, by Ann Cleeves (Macmillan)
Holy Island, also known as Lindisfarne, is a tidal island off Britain’s Northumberland. The thing about Lindisfarne is that you shouldn’t be caught on the causeway when the tide is coming in. Apart from being potentially fatal, the costs of rescue are eye-watering.
In this latest DCI Vera Stanhope police thriller, Vera is called in when one of a long-time group of friends is found hanged. As teenagers 50 years ago the group spent a weekend on the island, and still return every five years to celebrate their friendship and mourn the friend who died during the first reunion.
Vera has to find out what the friends are hiding, and whether this latest death could be murder.
I am an unabashed Ann Cleeves fan, whether she’s writing about Vera, Jimmy Perez or her newish series set in north Devon. This is the 10th detective thriller about Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope, and I can’t wait to get into it.
The Hive, by Scarlett Brade (Zaffre)
I think I may be a touch old for this psychological thriller, focusing as it does on the relationship between social media and mental health. And then there is the strength of sisterhood.
Charlotte looks at the camera on an Instagram-Live broadcast and announces she has killed her ex-boyfriend’s new partner. She pans away to the body of a woman bleeding on the floor. And that’s not all. She wants her viewers to vote on whether the boyfriend, Lincoln, should live or die.
The camera then reveals Lincoln, on his knees, head down, hands tied behind his back.
By this time thousands are watching Charlotte’s post. She knows she doesn’t have much time – people must have contacted the police by now.
She decides to take her audience back to the beginning.
Birds of South Africa, by Adam Riley (Jonathan Ball)
If you want to go looking for birds, Cape Town is an excellent destination. South Africa has 18 endemic species, more than any other country in Africa, and 11 of them are in the Cape Floristic Region, the smallest of the world’s floral kingdoms.
This volume is considerably smaller and lighter than the magnificient Veld Birds of Southern Africa that I mentioned last month, and much easier to carry in a rucksack. I like the fact while all the birds are listed in the index by their (newish) official names, the old ones are still mentioned in the bird entry, so that we are reminded that the inelegantly named African Swamphen was once known by the much more attractive title of Purple Gallinule.
I would have liked one of those little maps for each entry indicating where it is found, as sometimes for (very ) amateur birders like me just knowing a bird is not found in the Cape Floral Kingdom can help me distinguish between two different but similar birds. Perhaps there simply wasn’t the space. Riley’s pictures are superb.
Patrice Motsepe – An appetite for disruption, by Janet Smith (Jonathan Ball Publishers)
South African journalist Janet Smith has written this unauthorised biography by going through archives, academic papers and the international media to find out “what lies behind this hugely successful, intensely private man, and what may lie ahead”.
The last phrase seems to be a reference to whether this South African billionaire tycoon (and owner of Mamelodi Sundowns) may have political ambitions because of his close links to the ANC and his brothers-in-law President Cyril Ramaphosa and Jeff Radebe.
Bamboozled – In search of joy in a world gone mad, by Melinda Ferguson (Melinda Ferguson Books)
It always helps to own a publishing company – that way you can be assured of finding a publisher. Along with being a writer and publisher, Ferguson is also known as a petrolhead who regularly reviews cars.
She had a drug problem and wrote a few memoirs about that, including Smacked, Hooked and Crashed. Now clean and in the midst of the pandemic, she is seeking a new life, and buys a dream house in the Matroosberg mountains. But then, just a week before transfer takes place, a woman is murdered two doors away.
What to do?
A great deal of introspection is needed, and this is the narrative of that exercise. And then, says the blurb on the cover, “she rescues a dog who ends up rescuing her”.