I’ve read some good novels this month, due to the generosity of friends who loan me books from their shelves. You know who you are.

The latest Robert Galbraith Cormoran Strike novel, #5,  Troubled Blood kept me reading feverishly : whodunnit?  You have to read through  927 pages to find out. Not a book for readers with weak wrists, the darn thing must literally weight a kg. Its already earned the slot in my 2021  Reading Review as Doorstopper of the Year. Many readers complained it was too long. Was it?

Initially I struggled with the cast of thousands,  but once I  grew accustomed to the names, I sailed along. Yes, I could have done with shorter or less backstories but that said, this it is an epic novel with many unsolved crime stories meshing together, hence the backstory detail.  The blurb declared it: … a labyrinthine epic …. I agree.  “Unputdownable” declared the Sunday Times. Yes. Is it a terrific read? Yes.

In my usual Late-to-the-Party reading style, I finally managed to read The Salt Path. It came out in 2018, to high praise, and prizes – deservedly so. It falls into the genre of Nature Writing, melded with Memoir. Raynor Winn and her husband Moth (just diagnosed with an obscure, incurable neuro-illness) are booted off their farm, lose everything: property, home, and money. In their shell-shock homeless state, they take the bizarre decision to walk the coastal route from Wales  down to Land’s End, and up the other side of the peninsula, a trek of 638 miles. It’s a remarkable story of human endurance, the healing power of Nature and steadfast love. The book will definitely feature high on my 2021  Hits & Misses list.


Troubled Blood – Robert Galbraith. #5 Cormoran Strike Series. A 40 year old cold crime case that takes an entire year to unravel to a satisfying conclusion. Recommended.

The Grammarians – Cathleen Schine. The grammarians are Laurel and Daphne Wolfe, identical, inseparable redheaded twins who share an obsession with words. A story about family, sibling love and rivalry, the interplay of language and life. Novel is surprisingly funny, charming and utterly irresistible if you enjoy words, language, and books.

Dear Edward – Ann Napolitano. 11 year old Eddie Adler is the sole survivor of an air crash that kills 191 passengers & crew, en route to Los Angeles. The book  describes how he slowly re-enters his new life, minus his family, and comes to terms with the aftermath. A number of the other passengers’ backstories form part of the story, as do the many letters (hence the title) written to Edward by bereft family members. Utterly engrossing. But  I’m glad I have no plans to  travel by air  in the near future.

The Second Sleep – Robert Harris. A mind-bending story of a future rooted in the past; a post-Apocalyptic, post-scientific, semi-Dark Ages future, ruled by the Church determined to root out dangerous (and now heretical) knowledge of the technological past. A quest to discover the secrets of the Ancients, mired in good old human greed, treachery and lust. Thought provoking! How would we fare if all technology ceased working today? Right now? Ask yourself the question. The answer is not a happy one.

A Theatre for Dreamers – Polly Sampson. The Greek Island of Hydra, an idyllic summer of sun, sea, wine, sex, and 17 year old Erica from London grieving over her mother’s recent death, adrift, growing up and surrounded by a bohemian expat community driven by passion, gossip and artistic dreams. An atmospheric novel, loosely based on a period in the lives of George Johnson and Charmian Clift, both writers; Leonard Cohen also features. An immersive read that made me itch for a ticket to Greece.

Red Joan – Jennie Rooney. Cambridge University in 1937, awash with ideas and idealists – Joan is swept away by exotic, glamorous Sonya and her cousin Leo. Only problem is they’re Russian spies. Young, idealistic  Joan hasn’t a clue and is drawn ever deeper into their web of treachery and deceit. A well-researched, intelligent spy novel. Recommended.

The Midnight Library – Matt Haig. I couldn’t wait to read this one, & it didn’t disappoint. The main premise is: what if you could identify and resolves past regrets and go on to live life fully? The midnight library provides the parallel  universe mechanism to do this and experience many alternate lives until she finally works it all out. An unusual and satisfying read.

The Rules of Seeing – Joe Heap. Blind from birth, Nova  undergoes an operation to restore her sight, and the process of learning to see is challenging. Add a lesbian love story to the mix, plus a dangerous psychotic husband bent on revenge and you have an unusual read.  The novel changes the way you see the world, says the cover.  A good read. Recommended.

Nine Letters – John Webb. A South African novel, published last year, and well received. I finished the book with very mixed feelings. See my stand-alone review: https://wordpress.com/post/thebooksmithblog.wordpress.com/101  on 21 February 2021.


The Salt Path – Raynor Winn. A nixture of memoir and Nature Writing, and wholly engrossing. The wild coastal landscape, the wild turmoil of bad circumstances, the physical challenges, the endurance and spirit of the two walkers. Unforgettable. Not to be missed.




I like to read and if possible, promote local south African novels, so I was looking forward to this  acclaimed 2020 release. In this instance my expectations were skewed by the misleading jacket blurb.

Paige Nick, enthused  on the front  cover:  What a novel! Hilarious and beautifully written, I smiled the whole way through.  Reverting back to her comment when I’d finished the book, I wondered whether we’d been reading the same book. The Blurb is misleading .  Emphasis is on the Nine Letters, when in fact, 65% of the book relates to narrator, lawyer Teddy Dickerson, nephew of the recently deceased Aunt Val( who wrote the Nine Letters  and the progress of a very emotionally fraught contested deceased estate case.  It felt as if two unrelated stories (1) the letters/Aunt Val’s nine correspondents and (2) the Smollen family and their fight over the estate had been stuck together. Not very successfully. Granted, unhappy gay lawyer Teddy is the common factor between the two story threads, but the blurb makes no mention of the legal story. Guided by the blurb I was expecting a fun, light read   but found the book far from a laugh fest.

TD is going through a mid-life crisis, gloomily contemplating a bland and predictable old age. The Smollen mother and daughter have enormous emotional baggage, and are haunted by a dark family history with a tragic secret at its heart.

And what of quirky old Aunt Val and her surprising collection of correspondents? Here the book becomes uncomfortably philosophical. I’m a life-long letter writer, so was looking forward to this part of the story but on the whole I found the letters disappointing.  And overshadowed by the dramatic legal side of the story. Granted the letters did enable unhappy TD soften somewhat and discover that he actually was fond of his difficult Aunt Val – well, sort of.

I did enjoy the Kwa-Zulu Natal setting of the book. A province that I have visited often.

I finished the novel with mixed feelings.  However, other may have  different views. I’d love to hear from them.  


I can’t resist stories about twins, so when I heard about The Grammarians, I knew it was a book I really, really wanted to read. I had to wait for over three months for the books to struggle through the difficulties of overseas orders and Covid problems, plus postal delays, but the book finally staggered in, and now its in my possession. I can’t wait to read it! Twins, words, language …. what’s not to like?

I’ve been dithering around over the Salt Path for at least a year. Despite my efforts to loan the book from the Library (regret not in the Cape Town Library system), or borrow the book from my bookish friends (no, sorry, haven’t got that one) or buy a second-hand copy but again no luck. So in the end, I had to bite the bullet and buy the darn thing. I like the cover. It reminds me of lino print designs, which I always enjoy.

As usual, I’m late to the party. The Salt Path was published in 2018. What a good thing books don’t “go off” like the contents of the grocery cupboards. Although this said, I was hunting through my book cases last week, and found a book dating back to the 1980s, where the pages have turn a deep, dark, toasty brown, and I promise you, the book has never been left lying in the sun. Oh the very idea! oh, the horror!

The Salt Path is part memoir, part Nature writing, and it poses a difficult question: what would you, the reader, do if faced with a massive, life-altering situation like the onset of an incurable disease coupled with homelessness and financial ruin. I certainly wouldn’t chose to walk 638 miles around the British coastline, which was the Winn’s solution. I’d probably hide in the darkest corner of the biggest library, whimpering pitifully, and praying for a heavy book shelf to fall on me and deliver me from my plight.

And my third purchase was another book that I’ve been dithering over for some time. I read a glowing review in one of the many recent Best Books of 2020 articles, so I went mad and bought it. Again, I love the vibrant, fiery cover – I’m a pushover for yellow and orange. Fingers crossed that the contents live up to the cover.

Have you acquired any new books in the last seven weeks ?


On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous –  Ocean Vuong. I finished the book on December 31st, by which time I’d posted my Dec 2020 Reading Round-up, so here it is starting off the January reviews. What a book! The writing is visceral, passionate, at times unbearable. Its not an easy read, and falls into the Unforgettable Reads category. Little Dog writes a long letter to his mother, who cannot read. Its his life story, his experience of growing up a Vietnamese immigrant in America. If you’re an animal lover, you will find parts of the book difficult, if not unbearable. Strong stuff, but what a read!

A 2019 hit memoir, On  Chapel Sands, proved to be an unusual and interesting read because it was the careful excavation and piecing together of Laura Cumming’s mother’s early history: her adoption, kidnap and family background. The final outcome proved, yet again, that truth is always stranger than fiction. But this apart, I enjoyed the social history aspect, the portrait of life in rural England in the late 20s and the 1930s. My heritage is British, and I grew up in a British Colony; I was surprised at the similarities with my own life. A recommended read. 

January is a long and usually bleak month, so a fluffy Rom-Com read was called for. I hit the jackpot with Sophia Money-Coutts Rom-Com, The Wish List. She has written columns for a number of British newspapers and magazines, notably four years at The Tatler, and her background shone through the narrative of her funny and charming rom-com. Life in London, posh blokes, champagne, everybody catching taxis, political  grand events (a Black & White Ball, if you please, at which our heroine appears in eye catching crimson – ooops. Not one of her better moments). The book sparkles with charm, offers some spicy sex, and  best of all: some humour. Altogether a thoroughly enjoyable read.

The Craig Johnston-Walt Longmire series. I’ve tossed in the towel and started reading the series on my Kindle. Craig Johnson is a master storyteller, and seldom disappoints. I’ve read and loved most of the Longmire series, but in this book Walt’s retirement (no, surely not!) or demise (much more likely, he attracts bullets like a magnet) is hinted at. Up until now, he’s been indestructible despite daunting odds, but … I suppose all good things come to an end sometime.


On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous –  Ocean Vuong. The Vietnam War casts a long toxic shadow on Vietnamese immigrants to the USA. Highly acclaimed, adjudged a masterpiece. But not for the faint hearted.

Paris Echo – Sebastian Faulks. Present day plus WWII Paris; Moroccan runaway teen; earnest academic. The characters and plot didn’t engage me, so it was a D N F for me, but Francophiles and history fans will enjoy it.

Deadly Feast – Lucy Burdette. A foodie mystery, set in Key West, Florida. Well written with credible characters and plot. An enjoyable light read.( A Kindle Cozy Mystery).

Key Lime Crime – Lucy Burdette. More of the above, with enough interesting variations to make it an enjoyable read. (e-book).

The Wish List – Sophia Money-Coutts.  British Rom-com; feel good with a happy ending. Some posh men who turn out to be absolute cads and get dumped when the girls involved come to their senses. Oh, and a cat called Marmalade, so what’s not to like? (e-book).

The Birthday Mystery – #1 Jenny Starling Mysteries, – Faith Martin. A classic whodunnit, in the great tradition of Agatha Christie et al.  A cut above the Cozy Mystery genre, well written and plotted. I enjoyed it. (e-book).

Land of Wolves – Craig Johnston. #16  Walt Longmire series. Walt is getting older, severely  battered and bruised, probably suffering from PTSD,  but gamely solves another mystery despite dreadful odds, and a threatening personal computer on his desk. Oh the horror! Wolves in the high country of Wyoming, and the Basque community feature in this book. Recommended. (e-book).

Logging Off  – Nick Spalding. Funny Brit  light read, written & narrated by a man. Andy Bellowes decides to log off completely, and do a cold turkey detox from all things electronic, media, gadgets, the works. The results are hilarious but there’s also a thought provoking warning. Internet addiction exists and it could well be ruining your health and your life. Balance is the key word. (e-book).


The Ultimate Wodehouse Collection – P G Wodehouse. Published by Blackmore Dennett & available on Kindle. I’m currently enjoying the Jeeves & Wooster series. Perfect light, funny reading for difficult times. I can dip in and out and be beguiled for half an hour.


On Chapel Sands – Laura Cumming. ‘This memoir-cum-detective story becomes a remarkable search for truth.’(Sunday Telegraph.)