BAD MONKEY – Carl Hiaasen


My favourite Crime writer has done it again! A great story, colourful characters, zippy dialogue, an off-beat ex-cop (demoted to local health inspector – oh the pain!) an exotic setting (the Bahamas) and never a dull moment.


There’s fraud on a gigantic scale against Medicare – a scooter scam, to be precise. Then there’s a revolting voodoo hag, who’s a nymphomaniac. There’s an equally revolting monkey, reputed to have starred in a Johnny Depp pirate movie. Plus there’s a witless sex-mad drop out, working on his tell-all celeb dairy, relating his steamy affair with his former schoolteacher. He finds her via Facebook . Said ex-teacher being one of the disgraced detective’s ex-lovers. He’s currently in love with a sexy Cuban pathologist. Complications abound.

Toss in a scheming wife in cahoots with her scary husband – and he’s really scary. The action doesn’t stop. The laughs keep on coming. Hiaasen had me laughing out loud by page 5. He’s the only crime writer I can think of who makes his readers laugh.

But besides all the merry mayhem, Hiaasen continues to beat his eco-warrior drum on the topic of greedy land developers who couldn’t care two hoots about the environment or the rights of local people. The wonderful thing about Hiaasen is that he doesn’t cram his eco- campaigns down your throat, or bash you over the head with his soap box, but the issues are there as a strong undercurrent. He’s a very skilful writer, is Mr H.

He’s also on a mission about ghastly misdemeanours in the kitchens of many seafood eateries in South Florida. Truly toe curling and gut turning! If you’re touring Florida, avoid the seafood! Correction: Probably safer to subsist on crackers and beer until you leave.

He finishes off the convoluted tale in a thoroughly satisfying way. All the baddies and low-lifes get their true desserts, not necessarily by being hauled off by the cops. Sometimes its better to have the baddies eaten by sharks or other useful garbage disposal devices.

Altogether a highly entertaining and enjoyable read. Perfect for holiday downtime. I’m just getting in a little early practice.




Sub-title: In search of the perfect meal.

I read the book on my Kindle – my first full-length Kindle read. I am very appreciative of the large font that I can conjure up. It really does help.
I will forever be an Anthony Bourdain fan. My first encounter with the bad boy chef was via his book Kitchen Confidential which I loved. It was a revelation to me. The no-holds-barred sweaty, hot, truthful expose of what really goes on in a professional kitchen.

When his TV series No Reservations appeared, I was thrilled . Bourdain was very easy on the eye, very entertaining and very adventurous. I always enjoy travel programmes, and travel combined with cookery – well! What a pleasure.
As a travel writer, Bourdain does it for me. You get a vivid description of place, people, food and adventures. In fact, I enjoyed his chapter on Morocco so much, it was almost as good as a plane ticket! He perfectly captures the smells, tastes, sights and sounds of the North African country. It’s a chapter I will be re-reading to cheer myself up, when I’m in need of a mini break.


In Asia he gamely samples such horrendous local delicacies as freshly slaughtered cobra’s heart, mixed with the local wine. Yuck. Need I add, its locally considered to “make you strong, very strong” for which read: a great aphrodisiac. Men!!! But this is just an aside. It should not deter you from reading the book.
I was shocked at the recent news of his suicide, this year. Subsequent tributes from fellow chefs, journos, food critics and friends have shown him to be a great guy. I will miss him.

If you enjoy travel combined with cooking, A Cook’s Tour will not disappoint. He travels to a diverse selection of countries including Scotland, Asia (Cambodia and Vietnam, his favourites) , as well as Morocco and Mexico, among others.
A Recommended read.


ON LEOPARD ROCK – Wilbur Smith

51vbnnYbD-L._AC_US327_QL65_Sub-title is: A Life of Adventures , and this says it all. What a life! You name it, he’s done it – hunted big game, flown aeroplanes, scuba dived, travelled the world, mixed with movie stars, and been enchanted by beautiful women. Smith’s adventure novels mirror his own life. He’s been compared to revered adventure authors like John Buchan, and H. Rider Haggard. Boyhood influences included the Biggles series of books, and also the Just William books. Combined with his boyhood outdoor African life, its not hard to see where his adventure writing’s early influences came from.
His books , and they number over 35 published novels as of 2014, have sold over 130 million copies. So I was keen to read his memoir. Partly because of his success as a novelist, and partly because he was born in Northern Rhodesia whereas I spent much of my childhood in Southern Rhodesia. Both countries now renamed: Zambia and Zimbabwe respectively. Some of the photos of his early childhood could have come straight out of my life – skinny men dressed in khaki, wearing large hats and clutching rifles. Yup : very familiar. Stories of cattle ranches and game roaming freely over the veld – ditto.
There’s no doubt about it: he loves Africa. He has owned houses around the world, but he’s an African through and through.
He preserves a gentlemanly reticence over his four marriages and I must admit I’d have liked to hear more about his personal life. However he did reveal how he met his fourth wife , a Tadjik woman named Mokhiniso Rakhimova, in a WH Smith bookstore in London.
I remember how we waited with bated breath for the next exciting Wilbur Smith novel. We couldn’t read them fast enough! Its been many years since I read one of his novels, but his memoir has reminded me that he wrote some interestingly themed historical novels. I think I’ll see if I can hunt up his novel based on Great Zimbabwe – The Sunbird.
The chapter that I enjoyed the most was in the latter part of the book, titled This Writing Life. As an aspiring writer myself, it’s always instructive to read how highly successful writers shaped their careers, and read their tips.
If you  are tired of American based urban, navel-gazing novels, or British based chick-lit, then head for the Wilbur Smith shelves to enjoy a straightforward rip-roaring adventure story, that will be an absorbing, straight forward good read.




Country Driving : A Chinese Road Trip – Peter Hessler.

The reason I abandoned the book was the repetitive nature of his story. It was published in 2010, but his drive alongside the Great Wall of China took place in the period 2001 to 2009, while he was based in Beijing. Hessler  spoke Mandarin so was able to speak to people he encountered during his travels.


We learn that rural China at that time was uneducated and insular. Many of the folk he met goggled uncomprehendingly at him because he was the first Westerner they’d ever seen. I must confess I learned some startling facts about rural China in the early aughties. For example: Hessler commented on the scarcity of other motor vehicles on the rural roads, but remarked on animal, and in some cases, human-drawn carts.


The roads were beyond dreadful. Born and bred in Africa as I am, this came as no surprise to me, it sounded very familiar. As did his tales of the hair-raising behaviour of first-time, untrained, and probably unlicensed drivers. Again, depressingly familiar.


And so it went on – rural China at its dreary best. Perhaps that’s why I abandoned the book.


Paging through the book I note Part 2 is titled The Village; Part 3 The Factory. Maybe the narrative improved, but I wasn’t in the mood for it




The Road to Oxiana – …. Robert Byron
Another travel book that didn’t float my boat. Byron  was running round Persia (now re-named Iran) and Afghanistan in the early 1930. His interests were in Byzantine art, history and architecture. He took immense interest in the ancient ruined cities and mosques that he managed to reach after arduous travels. Poor /bad / or almost non-existent tracks, unhelpful Persian bureaucrats, rascally locals, fleas, lack of food and accommodation – all the hallmarks of Middle Eastern travels in the early 1930s.

but mine is a Penguin Classics edition that came out in 1992. Penguin employed the renowned traveller, Colin Thubron to write an introduction to their Classics edition. He starts by saying : “ The Road to Oxiana has been called the seminal travel book of the twentieth century. Witty, lyrical, erudite, combative, it still strikes the reader with a vivid contemporary immediacy.” He tells us that well known travel writers as diverse as Bruce Chatwin LINKS and Jonathan Raban have esteemed the book. Later on he says:” Graham Greene found it alternately brilliant, gossipy and ‘dryly instructive’ .” I’m with Graham Greene on this one!


To be fair, the book offered appropriate maps at the beginning of each new journey, which were helpful. Thinking it over, the part of the book I enjoyed most was Colin Thubron’s introduction.



October is the month of the build up to the announcement of the Man Booker Prize and this year I actually managed to read two of the 2018 shortlisted books: Everything Under – Daisy Johnson and The Overstory by Richard Powers. Fabulous novels, both. But alas! Not the winner. An Irish novel Milkman received the award. I don’t like Irish novels, so won’t be reading it.

I enjoy the entire Man Booker Prize process. I wonder if any of you feel the same way? Or do you think that Literary Prizes are elitist? A crafty plot by publishers to sell more books?

I think award schemes certainly give debut authors, and more obscure books/genres an opportunity to introduce themselves to the reading public. On the other hand, perhaps you’re perfectly content to continue with your usual diet of thrillers, airport novels, vampire novels or romances – delete inapplicable. My reading tastes vary from mainstream to the outer edges. I enjoy quirky books and I’m a pushover for a really good story.

Friends have raved to me about Anthony Doerr’s short stories. Now I understand why. His Memory Wall collection of short stories – some not so short, actually – contain more substance and wonderful writing than do many novels. He takes the short story to deeper levels. Highly recommended.


I’ve decided to continue the revamped monthly review format, no star ratings, but divisions into Fiction/Non-Fiction/YA, books listed in my order of enjoyment. The star rating was a continuation of the Goodreads system and like all systems, it had its pros and cons. So often a book hovered between rating categories, or presented other dilemmas, e.g. the writing quality was excellent, but I hated the storyline, etc.


Inspired by a recent post on Booker Talk, My Challenge with Poetry, I resolved to read more poetry. I have at least 30 poetry books languishing on my shelves, acquired over many years but now un-read. The first anthology I hauled out was Poetry Daily Essentials (ed.; )which I bought in America during my 2008 visit. I loved the idea of 152 poems during one year, but it’s a little late for this target, so I’ve been reading one or two poems most days. Thanks for the reminder, Booker Talk.


Everything Under – Daisy Johnson. Undoubtedly one of my Best Reads in 2018. Original, complex, beautifully written. A Must Read. Reviewed on this blog:

Memory Wall – Anthony Doerr. Short stories of complexity, depth and ambitious scope. Brilliant.

Pale Horses – Jassy MacKenzie. Intrepid PI Jade de Jong solves a terrible eco-crime. I am a fan of this South African series. And how refreshing to have an effective female PI!


Coronation – Paul Gallico . A blast from the past. Master storyteller relates the momentous events in Britain on 2 June 1953 . Reviewed on this blog:

Aftermath – Rihidian Brook. Set in post-war 1946 Hamburg. What happens to a British military family during and because of the mop-up exercise. Excellent background material. Reviewed on this blog.:

The Women of the Castle – Jessica Shattuck. An absorbing and insightful read about World War II from the perspective of three German women who struggle to survive and protect their children. Recommended.

Postcard Stories – Jan Carson. A huge disappointment, due to the design. Reviewed on this blog

Poetry Daily Essentials 2007 – edited by Diane Boller & Don Selby . A nourishing change to my reading regime.



Love Loss Life – Monica Nicolson Oosterbroek Hilton-Barber Zwolsman. A dramatic, emotional memoir by one-time South African journalist Monica H-B. Compulsive tell-all story. Proof that life is always stranger than fiction.

THE AFTERMATH – Rihidian Brook

I find it odd that suddenly (or so it appears to me) we are seeing more new novels about WWII, and yet we are 70 years down the track from the end of WWII. On the one hand, a world event of such magnitude will provide infinite material, no doubt. But on the other hand, are we never going to move on? Anyway: returning to the review.


The book was perfectly titled because the novel is set in post-war 1946 Hamburg, Germany. The outstanding feature of the novel for me was not the plot and characters, but the wealth of grimly authentic background material, setting and events.


In the Acknowledgements the writer thanked relatives for providing personal accounts of their war time service in post-war Germany. We learn that the novel is based on fact. It reads: “ … in 1946, my grandfather Walter Brook requisitioned a house in Hamburg for his family and did something unique in allowing the owners to remain in their property, thus leading to a German and British family sharing a house for five years, starting one year after the Second World War. A situation that gave me the inspiration for this novel.”



It was good to have a multi-facetted perspective, from both the British and the German sides. What came across very clearly in the characters’ interactions was the extraordinary emotional repression shown by some of the main British protagonists. I’m not qualified to judge whether the writer fell into an ill-advised national stereotype; and ditto for the passing cast of Americans and Russians. The latter duo playing a minor part in the story.


Did I enjoy the novel? I’m not sure it was a novel to exactly enjoy, parts were bleak and downright horrible.
Did I finish it? Yes, I did.
Do I recommend it? Yes , but if you don’t enjoy war time details, death and destruction, give it a miss.