September Read of the Month  is The House of Rust – Khadija Abdalla Bajaber. The Kenyan writer’s debut novel offers a feast of African storytelling, heavily laced with the Arabian Nights. Kjhadija is a fabulous storyteller, as well as  a fabulist. On the one level it’s a coming of age story about a rebellious girl who passionately wants to follow in her father’s footsteps, go to sea, have adventures and roam free. Conventional marriage, husband and family, a steady life in Mombasa on the Kenyan coast? Pah! Not a chance.

On another level, the books is an adventure into magical realms peopled with talking animals; two crows and Hamza, the scholar’s cat, among others; plus terrifying sea monsters which she has to vanquish in order to save her father. There’s Zubeir the local magician/medicine man and finally the enigmatic Almassi, the dangerous resident of the House of Rust.

The book won the inaugural Graywolf Press African Fiction Prize.  The Prize …. Is awarded for a first novel manuscript by an author primarily residing in Africa. Founded in 2017 to facilitate direct access to publishing in the USA for a new generation of African writers ….

I’m so grateful to the Graywolf Press making this marvelous book available to English speaking readers.

Followed by another African writer’s acclaimed novel – Paradise, by Abdulrazak Gurnah. Again, the setting in East Africa, again Kenya.  It’s the early days of the 20th century, before Africa became Westernised. 12 year old Yusuf is pawned to rich, powerful merchant Uncle Azziz, to pay his father’s debts. Uncle Azzis takes him to his property on the coast, where Yusuf learns how to keep shop, and to trade. It’s a coming of age story, against the  backdrop of African myth, dreams and Koranic tradition; travel adventures, and a doomed love story.

I was born on the edge of East Africa, so the book resonated with me in many ways – the people, the scenery, the social attitudes. And  Gurnah ‘s prose does it justice. I’m still mulling over the final paragraph, on the last page. An open ending, in that another chapter of Yusuf’s life begins – I wonder what happened to him?

If you’re tired of gung-ho safari/male machisomo/adventurers’  version of Africa, this novel provides an insider’s portrait of Africa. Give it a try.

And, P.S.  In case you were unaware, Abdulrazak Gurnah won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2021.


The House of Rust – Khadija Abdalla Bajaber .  Original, magical, labyrinthine, multi-layered as Mombasa itself.  A sparkling mix of Arabian nights storytelling and new African fiction. Rave, Rave.

Paradise – Abdulrazak Gurnah. A rich and layered novel  set in East Africa. Yusuf’s coming of age story, part adventure story, part love story;  always strange and beautiful,  and often violent. The genuine old Africa. I really enjoyed the book. Recommended.

The Milk Tart Murders –  A Tannie Maria Mystery.  Sally Andrew. This is #4 in the series, and I’m a fan. There’s murder /s, there are recipes, Tannie M and Jessie are as intrepid as ever, but more importantly, Tannie M and Henk have a major fallout .The book has more emotional depth and is all the better for it. I particularly enjoyed the background detail about the Little Karoo  flora and fauna. I think I put on 2 kgs just by reading about the luscious  food. Highly recommended, as a feel-good read.

The Magic Toyshop – Angela Carter.  Kudos to Virago Press fore- issuing this 1967 novel in 1987. What a wildly, wickedly exuberant writer she is!  Three orphaned children dumped into the seedy South London home of their awful Uncle.  Its a modern baroque fairy tale, that grows more and more disturbing but ends with a satisfying bang! Plus, a surprising expose of female sexuality.  If you’ve never tried Angela Carter, do so now: she has no equal.

How high we go in the dark – Sequoia Nagamatsu.  See my review 23rd on this blog.   A powerful novel, in the Speculative Fiction/SF genre. It’s a Plague novel (no, not Covid) that explores humanity’s response to a deadly virus. Powerful, bleak, thought provoking to say the least. Not for everyone, but a memorable read. And, I sincerely hope, not prescient!

Afterland – Lauren Beukes. Another Speculative Fiction Plague novel, right after the above Japanese book, but a very different read. South African writer Lauren Beukes produces a fast paced thriller, well written, enormously readable, exciting read. In a future where most of the men are dead, Cole and her twelve year old son Miles are on the run ….  Plenty of action, a real page turner.  I enjoyed the book. Recommended.


HOW HIGH WE GO IN THE DARK [book review]

This Speculative Fiction/SF  novel by Sequoia Nagamatsu makes a powerful impact.

How can it not? It posits a world which has been hit by a Plague, unleashed upon humanity when an ancient corpse, of a 6 year old child, in revealed due to the melting of the permafrost. The unknown virus discovered in her body during scientific examination in a research lab situated in the Arctic, somehow float out into the atmosphere and the damage is done.

The fourteen intricately   interlinked stories explore humanity’s reaction to the catastrophic event.

Two of the early stories were shocking, and haunting.  City of Laughter features a theme park, dedicated to being fun! Fun! Fun!  for terminally ill children , whose final ride on a monster roller-coaster ends in euthanasia during the ride, immediately  followed by cremation. The parents spend one last, precious almost normal day with their child, and then dispatch them to a merciful finale.

And I don’t really want to go into too much detail about the  Chapter titled Elegy Hotel.    Set in a Mortuary Hotel  where bereaved families get to spend a precious final 48 hours with their embalmed loved ones …..  shudder.

Likewise, the squeamish reader would do well to avoid the Chapter titled Songs of Your Decay. However, said chapter also contains a wistful sort-of-might-have-been-almost-love story. The book offers  other love stories and inter-generational-family conflict stories. In short: slices of human life.

I enjoyed reading a novel with so many Japanese characters, written by a Japanese author, who produced a novel that wasn’t swathed in opacity as is so often the case with translated Japanese novels

Later chapters deal with lighter themes: the survival of the human race, and the finale reveals the origin of the virus.

Towards the last third of the book, the genre switched  from Speculative Fiction to  downright SF.  I thought the Spec Fic two thirds worked better than the SF section. Others will no doubt disagree.


The book is not a light read. Bleak and sobering are two words that spring to mind.  Hardly surprising, given the subject matter. But it is a thought provoking read, to put it mildly.

Did I enjoy it? Ummm …. I’m not too sure it is a book to be enjoyed, given the topic. But on the plus side I can recommend it as an unusual read, and definitely a book of its time.

I’d be interested to hear other readers’ views and reviews.


Read of the Month has to be You Let Me In – Camilla Bruce .  The Norwegian writer’s debut novel produced a unique modern take on an old folkloric theme: the world of the Faeries. These are not fairies in the mould of  Cicely Mary Barker’s  illustrations – delicate colours, winsome  rosy cheeks and pretty botanical  backgrounds. Not at all. Here we are in a shadowy, in-between world of feather, twig, bone and utter inhuman  wildness. When the Human World and the Faerie World blend, the results are dark, dark and dark again.  I was spellbound (pun intended) and  read the book in one sitting.  After such a brilliant debut, I’m wondering what  CB will dream up next?  Can’t wait to find out.

After such a glowing report, I have a Public Confession of Defeat. It’s official. I have abandoned The Books of Jacob – Olga Tokarczuk.  I gave it a good try, really I did. But 500+ pages in,  I grew weary of the gloomy, rural, muddy Polish background, the religious wrangling (was Jacob the Messiah or wasn’t he?)  not to mention the teeny tiny print,  particularly in the interminable correspondence between a Catholic priest and a Polish noblewoman.

For some time I  had wanted to sample Olga Tokarczuk’s work, and my generous friend C presented me with the book.  I  was determined to read the 892 page tome, despite the fact that I don’t particularly enjoy historical novels. I wanted to see what  secured the Nobel Prize for literature . I am overcome with admiration that OT  sustained a detailed narrative at such prodigious length, peopled with many credible characters, but: was I enjoying the book? No, I was not. Recalling my vow to abandon books that I’m not enjoying, I mentally apologised to both writer and donor, removed the bookmark, and added the book to the Donation Box.


*You Let Me In – Camilla Bruce. Original, creepy and intriguing. A series of mysterious deaths.  What is real? What is delusion? Are both realms simultaneously true/untrue?  By book finale, I still wasn’t entirely sure.  A horrible childhood, a blazing love affair, an eccentric adult life, a mysterious ending – what a debut. Unputdownable.

*Two Women in Rome – Elizabeth Buchan. Newly married Lottie, now resident in Rome, and working as an archivist, stumbles upon an under-investigated murder that becomes an obsession. Exactly who was the deceased Nina? And why was she murdered? The answers to the mystery lie in Cold War history, Italian politics, and the omnipresent shadowy influence of the Vatican. An enjoyable, nuanced, mystery with a gorgeous Roman setting.  Recommended.

The Theory of Flight – Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu. A contemporary novel, with a touch of magical realism, set in an unnamed African country , but littered with clues that point to my old home town, Bulawayo. The novel deals with uncomfortable topics such the bush war and the aftermath, the Red Berets brigade and genocide, a dictator, HIV and AIDS – fortunately the style is light and deft, making the book readable. Awarded the 2019 Barry Ronge Fiction Prize. If you want to find out what current Zimbabwe is really like, read the novel. Recommended.

*Oscar Wilde and the Ring of Death – Gyles Brandreth. Set in late Victorian London, crammed with famous  historical characters, like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and of course, the inimitable Oscar, plus many others. The dialogue is witty, and highly entertaining, as is the plot. I loved it, and can’t wait to read the remaining books in the series.

The Island of Missing Trees – Elif Shafak. Cyprus in the mid-1970s; bitter conflict between Greek and Turkish communities; death, exile, immigration, heartbreak. The tragic love story of Defne and Kostas; the burden of history and identity.  Shafak is a skilled story teller and I particularly enjoyed  the sections narrated by the fig tree and insight into the fascinating world of the lives of trees.  A good read.


A Cook’s Tour –  in search of the Perfect Meal. – Anthony Bourdain. Although a Re-Read, it comes across just as fresh, tasty and colourful as it did the first time round. Visits to Vietnam, Scotland, Russia and Morocco, to mention but a few.   A marvellous, colourful mix of food and travel writing by that lanky,  unique chef-cum-writer Anthony Bourdain. His untimely death  left a big void in the travel/food genre.

*Indicates a Public Library loan