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SA Partridge

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Book review: Nineveh

Nineveh is a window into the life of pest controller Katya Grubbs, a woman following in the footsteps of her estranged father. But unlike her father, who used rather unscrupulous means of dealing with people’s unwanted problems, Katya chooses the painless approach. Yet despite her attempts to be her own woman, echoes of her father’s methods sometimes creep into her own, such as the unethical practice of “insurance” which entails leaving a pest or two behind in order to ensure repeat business.

The story begins when Katya is offered the opportunity to work at Nineveh, a new housing development stuck in hiatus because of a strange beetle infestation. Katya’s life is also in hiatus, and Nineveh offers a change, the temptation of the life of quiet luxury she yearns for. She can’t resist. But there is a fly in the ointment. The name Grubbs is familiar to the owner, and Katya discovers that her father was initially contracted for the job, and the relationship ended badly.

When she steps through the gates of Nineveh, Katya’s carefully constructed life of independence crumbles to dust, and she finds herself back under the apprenticeship of her father, helping him to hatch a plan to squeeze money out of the owner of the development.

Nineveh is a voyeuristic view into the life of an ordinary woman who could be a sister, an aunt, or a friend. It explores how our relationships with our family affect us, sometimes too deep, and how old wounds can haunt us for the rest of our lives.

The novel is beautifully written and descriptive, with moments that resonate clearly with real life. The scenes of old and modern Cape Town are as vivid as a picture.

The imagery of the Biblical city of Nineveh, an ancient Assyrian city that fell to ruins, is evident throughout the narrative. Katya’s apartment is literally falling to pieces because of the construction of a new housing block across the street, while the housing development she sees as her salvation is doomed as well, and is slowly but surely being reclaimed by nature.

While everything she knows demolishes around her, Katya tries to scramble for a place in the world, like one of the unwanted vermin she’s supposed to relocate. This is both tragic and also frighteningly familiar.

Read the full review at Itch.

Book review: When the Sea is Rising Red

When the sea is rising red
All of Pelim will drop dead

Fellow Capetonian Cat Hellisen’s debut novel When the Sea is Rising Red is a richly woven tale set in the fantastical city of Pelimburg, where the rich stay rich, while the poor blame their misfortunes on ancient superstitions fueled by their spite for the ruling class.

Felicita Pelim was born into the city’s most influential house, but has felt like a caged bird her entire life. When her best friend Ilven throws herself off Pelim’s Leap after being doomed to an arranged marriage, Felicita fakes her own death to escape the same fate. She disguises herself as a Hob (commoner) and falls in with a motley crew led by the charming Dash. She also befriends the vampire Jannik, an alliance that would have been strictly forbidden in her old life.

Felicita believes she has finally found the freedom she has so desperately craved, until her past literally comes back to haunt her. The inhabitants of Old Town believe Ilven’s suicide has unleashed the wrath of the sea witch, whose revenge will come in the form of the Red Death. Felicita is torn between loyalty to her new friends and saving those she left behind.

Oh boy. Where do I start?

Have you ever read a book that swallows you whole and drops you into the depths hook line and sinker?

Hellisen’s Pelimburg is a finely detailed tapestry of old family histories, traditional rivalries, and a coastal city afroth with old wives tales and superstitions. It is a city where magic and mythology are real. Unicorns pull the carriages of the rich, boggerts plague the dreams of the poor, and using the power of a chemical called Scriv, War-Singers like Felicita can bend the air to their will.

Witch-sign, they said. Little eddies, like miniature storms breaking the surface of the ocean. Witch-signs rise up in great numbers, last a few minutes, and then disappear. When the whirlpools are gone, all that’s left is floating petals. Black sea roses. Anomalies.

Pelimburg’s cobbled streets and tea shops are easy to get lost in, but the shadows are reminiscent of the real world. In South Africa the gap between rich and poor is ever widening, and while the inhabitants of Old Town may be accepting of love between girls and boys of the same sex, the reality is often very different. And as hard as getting your heart broken over and over again till the right one comes along is, it’s still better than the thought of arranged marriages which are still a life sentence for many women.

Like Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders, When the Sea is Rising Red draws upon the ocean and it’s mysteries. And like Hobb, Hellisen has masterfully crafted a world where old families vie for position while those at the bottom live and die by the sea.

It’s hard to classify the novel as YA as its very mature in parts. That said, one only has to look at the maturity and levels of violence in books like The Hunger Games and Divergent and it becomes clear that young adult fiction is a very different animal than it used to be. It can also be argued that the gorgeous imagery could be equally enjoyed by an older audience.

I think we can all be proud that Cat Hellisen is one of ours.

Read an excerpt from the novel at

Read the prologue, Maiden, Mother, Crone, here.

When the Sea is Rising Red launches in South Africa this month.

Book review: Signed, Hopelessly in Love

Signed, Hopelessly in Love by Lauri Kubuitsile is a little book that gets around. It was short listed for the Sanlam Youth Prize in 2009 and was recently short listed for the M.E.R Prize for youth fiction.
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Kicking Zombie Butt: A Review of Death of a Saint by Lily Herne

Death of a Saint is the second in the Mall Rats horror series by South African writing phenomenon Lily Herne, which is the pen name for the composite efforts of a local mother-and-daughter writing team, Sarah and Savannah Lotz. It follows chillingly on where Deadlands (published in 2011) left off.

In Deadlands we met Lele de la Fontein, a 17-year-old girl exiled from her home in the Cape Town “enclave”, all that’s left of the city after a zombie apocalypse. She’s taken in by a gang of teenagers known as the Mall Rats, made up of the handsome Ash, the giant British orphan Ginger and the feisty Saint.

The kids survive in the Deadlands, which is the wild, zombie-infested area outside the enclave, and exist by raiding what’s left of Century City mall to sell back to the Resurrectionists, the dead-worshipping society ruled by the mysterious Guardians, and the very people who spat them out in the first place.

As an outsider, Lele not only learns to kick zombie butt, but also discovers that the home she left behind is riddled with corruption, and that the so-called Guardians were responsible for the grisly practice of sacrifice that lurks behind their self-righteous façade. By the end of the novel, Lele had more questions than answers.

Death of a Saint picks up where Deadlands left off. The Mall Rats travel outside of Cape Town to find other survivors, picking up new friends, including the pretty redhead Ember, a cute baby hyena named Bambi, and the mysterious Lucien, who reveals a shocking truth about Ash’s past.

Lele has grown into a self-confident young woman, although her feelings for Ash bring plenty of confusion. We get to know Saint better, too, who is still dealing with the loss of her girlfriend. But young love is the last thing on anyone’s mind when the group falls into a trap that has devastating consequences for one of them.

Herne has masterfully created a fictional war-torn South Africa that is slowly being reclaimed by nature. As the Mall Rats travel the pot-holed roads, discovering what’s left of the country, the novel acts like a tourist guide to a future dystopian South Africa. Knynsa is repopulated with elephants. The Mall Rats visit the burnt-out remains of Port Elizabeth, its coast littered with the walking dead, and a Grahamstown turned ghost town.

The novel’s real story lies in the lives of the teen exiles, told with meticulous detail. It was a joy to be able to get under the characters’ skin. What also sets the series apart is its no-holds-barred treatment of contemporary South Africa, including its melting pot of cultures. From race to religion to sexual orientation and politics, it’s all there. With the exception of a few prognostications and pop cultural references, I would call the novel faultless and leaves you eager for the next instalment. The publisher has anticipated this and included an excerpt from the third book.

The Mall Rats series is a proudly South African youth series that is worthy to be ranked among the likes of Twilight and The Hunger Games.

This review is brought to you by Books LIVE Wire. Books LIVE Wire books sponsored by Exclusive Books.

Dark Poppy’s Demise shortlisted for M.E.R prize

I got a lovely little surprise for World Book Day today. BooksLive announced that my third novel for teens, Dark Poppy’s Demise, has been shortlisted for the M.E.R Prize.
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Putting faces to names 2

Last year I posted a blog featuring some pictures of what the characters from my books look like.
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Indie I go go

So here’s the thing. I really want to attend the Ibby International Congress in London taking place in August. My second novel, Fuse, is the South African nomination for the Honour Roll and I’d love to be able to walk up on that stage to receive the certificate personally. Besides, it would be a dream come true to network with the English literary community.

I’ll be couch surfing all the way (many thanks to overseas friends who have graciously offered their spare bedrooms and couches) but the plane ticket is still hugely expensive.
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Blog visit

On Monday I stopped by fellow South African writer Nerine Dorman’s blog for a litte tete-a-tete.
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Review: Time Twisters – Cape of Slaves

Cape of Slaves is the first in the Time Twisters series by Sam Roth, the pen name of Dorothy Dyer and Ros Haden. It’s an interesting concept – a time travelling dust, created by scientists in the year 2099, finds its way into the present, allowing a group of teenagers to travel back in time through paintings and books.
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Review: Masque of the Red Death

I was given an advanced reading copy of YA author Bethany Griffin’s novel The Masque of the Red Death, based on Edgar Allan Poe’s famous story of the same name. The novel is due for release in May, and I’m confident its going to blow The Hunger Games and Divergent (the current bestsellers) right out of the water.
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