2017 : HITS & MISSES

Here it is: my 2017 Hit Parade. I hope you find some inspiration for your future reading.

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands – Natasha Solomons *

The Miracle of Crocodile Flats – Jenny Hobbs *

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara*

Books, Baguettes, & Bedbugs – Jeremy Mercer

The Reader on the 6.27 – Jean Paul Didier Laurent *

Uprooted – Naomi Novik *

The Dark Flood Rises – Margaret Drabble

Beside Myself – Ann Morgan*

Picnic in Provence – Elizabeth Bard *

A Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell

Razor Girl – Carl Hiaasen *

The Raw Shark Texts – Steven Hall

The Book of Joy – His Holiness the Dalai Lama &
Archbishop Desmond Tutu *

Tannie Maria & the Satanic Mechanic –
Sally Andrews*
Call the Midwife – Jennifer Worth *
How it all Began – Penelope Lively *
The Cold Dish – Craig Johnson

Sapiens – Yuval Noah Harari
21 at 21: the Coming of Age of a Nation –
Verwoerd & Ngcowa *
My Life with Bob – Pamela Paul
A Field Guide to Getting Lost – Rebecca Solnit
A Life Full of Holes – Driss Ben Hamed Charhadi

Palm of the Hand Stories – Yasunari Kawabata
Die Laughing – edited Joanne Hichens *
Hunger Eats a Man – Nkosinathi Sithole *

La Belle Sauvage – Phillip Pullman
More Walt Longmire Western crime novels by Craig Johnson

* = available at Milnerton Library


THE DARK FLOOD RISES – Margaret Drabble

I can’t think when last I enjoyed a novel so much. I read it in fairly short doses, savouring the witty, energetic prose and revelling in the cast of interesting and sometimes eccentric characters. The theme of the book is an exploration of elderly people’s inevitable journey towards death and dying. Grim and morbid, you may be thinking, but not so. Not at all. Some of the characters fade away into dementia, some deal bravely and heroically with the impending end, others  stubbornly keep on keeping on.

I loved the central character Fran Stubbs, whizzing about, still employed, restless and always doing, doing. I have to say I could see many aspects of myself and my own life in Fran’s busyness. Except I certainly don’t share Fran’s zeal for determinedly driving up and down the highways of England! Fran lives in London on her own, as does her lazy ex-husband Claude gently passing his declining years in bed, in the utmost comfort and luxury. She nobly takes him home- cooked plated dinners at intervals – silly woman. Like I said: busy, busy.

Fran’s son Christopher is on Lanzarote, following the unexpected death of his partner Sara. Here he meets the affable duo of Sir Bennett and his partner Ivor who are hospitable and entertaining . As I said, the cast of characters is varied and lively . Most of the main characters share tenuous connections or shared histories, and its fascinating to see how networks of friends and acquaintances form and dissolve in elderly people’s lives.

Apart from the six main characters and the unfolding of their lives, Margaret Drabble packs in an astonishing amount of wildly varied information en route, as she tells us about the characters’ life work, or their current hobby horse, or simply their personal history. One comment on the back cover referred to the boom as “wide ranging”. It certainly is. That was part of my enjoyment of the book – the snappy detail about a huge variety of topics. The book offers depth and texture without being tedious in the process.


I didn’t want the book to end, but of course, it did and I closed it reluctantly. What a feast! Heartily recommended.

P.S. I would love to hear younger readers’ opinions of the book. I’ll check on Goodreads. I suspect the book’s primary appeal will be to older readers, but I could well be wrong.



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Pausing at the Pass en route to McGregor
This mammoth book sale, in aid of the McGregor Donkey Sanctuary, takes place annually* in the small town of McGregor, situated in the Robertson wine area. I’ve always wanted to go and this year Nina helped me make my dream come true.
McGregor is a small country town, set on the edge of the Klein Karoo. Its arid, and yet people have made homes and lived here since the mid-1800s. Notice the thatched roofs, the beautiful dry stone walling, and the last pic, a general view, shows the surrounding countryside.

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We located the Town Hall, and as we walked into the grounds, we met people walking out smiling happily, and in one case, a strapping young woman carrying a huge cardboard carton of books on her shoulder! That was a good sign.
This was my modest haul after an hour of delicious browsing.
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The Chinese Horoscope Library – Snake – by Kwok an-Ho. Yes, I’m a snake … so watch out! I enjoy Chinese horoscopes, and find them helpful.
Air – Geoff Ryman . A British writer, who supports a Facebook page for African SF & Fantasy. A good enough recommendation for me.
Skinny Dip – Carl Hiaasen . I love Hiaasen’s Florida themed crime stories – you always get plenty of laughs amongst the gore and bullets.
General Tso’s Chicken and the 7 Deadly Sins – Maurice Kibel . A Collection of Rhyme and Reason. Illustrations by Tony Grogan. I recognised the name, from years back, in our early Bulawayo days – Mr Kibel was my kids’ paediatrician! And here was a book that, “celebrates a lifetime of words, and music and medicine”. Plus Tony Grogan is one of my favourite cartoonists. An irresistible combination.
The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton. An American writer I’ve always meant to read. And the book has a bright sky blue cover, fancy gold lettering, and in mint condition. I think I bought it as much for the cover as I did for the contents!Flying to America – Donald Barthelme. I frequently find mention of Bartheleme in literary blogs as being the man who set the benchmark for American short stories. For example:
“ Donald Barthelme almost single-handedly has revived the genre of the short story and made it a fresh art form… He can, and does, write stories of every kind.”
“Among the leading innovative writers of modern fiction”.
Well: with an intro like the above, clearly I am in for a treat.
As I said in my About page when I opened The Booksmith blog, my reading tastes are eclectic. I think my sale bargains prove this statement to be true!
Thanks to Nina Ganci for the pics. Exception is the bookpile, which I took.
* I’m posting this episode belatedly – we went to McGregor in May 2017.


Don’t ask me what happened to November 2017. Here we are at 1 December and the start of the annual Silly Season. Anyway, for what it’s worth, this is my reading list for the month. All the 3+* were very enjoyable reads, flanked by the serious 5* non-fiction Sapiens and ending off with the 1* Rabbit Season. You can’t win ‘em all. Maybe you’ll find something in my list that tickles your reading fancy?

Ratings: 5* – Outstanding! 4*+ – Good to very good; 3* – average; 2* – run-of-the-mill;1* – dismal; zero * – no comment. DNF – did not finish

*5 Sapiens: A brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harari. Non-fiction. Brilliant. Reviewed on this blog.

*3.75 Death without Company – Craig Johnson – Walt Longmire rides again! Reviewed on this blog
*3.75 All my Puny Sorrows – Miriam Toews . Story of two polar opposite sisters and a life threatening dilemma. Reviewed on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2186068203
*3.50 The Flying Troutmans – Miriam Toews. Another saviour sister story , accompanied by two difficult kids, via a road trip novel . Wonderful read. Reviewed on this blog.
*3.5 Man at the Helm – Nina Stibbe. Funny heartwarming story about three kids trying to rescue their newly divorced mother from their chaotic new life. Reviewed on Goodreads. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2186063882
*3.5 Mr Memory – Marcus Sedgewick. Intriguing tale set in Paris late 1800s. The man with the infallible memory – more of a hindrance than an asset. An intriguing literary mystery.

1* Rabbit Season – Paul Christelis. A weird book. Best avoided. Reviewed on this blog.



Take three heartbroken people : Aunt Hattie – dumped; 15 year old Logan – rejected (as he sees it) combined with teenage angst; 11 year old Thebes – missing her Mum; – load them into the family van and send on a road trip in search of the errant father, Cherkis. Mum, named Min, yet again in a psychiatric ward, psychotic and uncontrollable.


The trio drive from Canada to New Mexico.Dramas abound en route, as one would expect with an angry, angst ridden teenager and a manic wannabe artist. The book is nowhere nearly as grim and depressing as it may sound. Although we are given many flashbacks to Hattie and Min’s childhood and early years, which reveal Min as just plain mad, there were lighter moments along the way. Life is not constant doom and gloom.

And Thebes, who is eccentric, wacky, artistic, dirty, scruffy, art and craft obsessed – well, she’s the star of the whole crazy shebang. Aunt Hattie deserves a medal.
Families! You can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them.

It’s a lively entertaining read, and I recommend it. I’m now definitely a Miriam Toews fan.