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Judy Croome "Judy Croome | @judy_croome" (South Africa)

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The Seasons of the Soul: The Poetic Guidance and Spiritual Wisdom of Herman Hesse
The Seasons of the Soul: The Poetic Guidance and Spiritual Wisdom of Herman Hesse
Price: £10.44

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Easy & accessible poetry, 15 Oct. 2012
This short book is well structured, with an informative and detailed introduction to each section of poems. Each of these excellent introductions give an intimate sense of Hesse the poet, his passions and his torments.

The poems that follow were, like most poetry volumes, made up of verses that resonated deeply with me, and others that were interesting to read. Each reader would, I'm sure, find their own favourite poem.

Some of the poems were, unexpectedly, less lyrical than I expected from a mystical poet. Perhaps some essence was lost in translation (always a difficult task) or perhaps this is Hesse's Germanic voice - rather sombre and heavier in tone than other mystical poets such as Yeats, Rilke, Kabir or Gibrain.

Overall, this book is very good. The introductory pieces followed by a selection of poems grouped into common themes (Love, Inspiration, Nature, Dialogue with Divine and Seasons of Life) made this easy to read and accessible. The poems in the section on The Seasons of Life and the Passage of Time are particularly moving.

Beauty's Gift
Beauty's Gift
by Sindiwe Magona
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars A Gift to all Women, 8 Oct. 2012
This review is from: Beauty's Gift (Paperback)
As I like to support local (South African)authors, I added it to my basket.

The FFF used to consist of Five Friends: Edith, Cordelia, Amanda, Doris and Beauty. But then Beauty passes away suddenly. Aids has claimed another victim. On her deathbed, she extracts a promise from Amanda. Ukuhle, she begs of Amanda. May you live a long life, and may you become old.

Because Beauty's premature death was as a result of her unfaithful husband, the remaining friends all swear an oath: they won't have unprotected sex - not even with their husbands - and they will find out their own HIV status as well as that of their husbands/partners. This oath has surprising consequences.

Aids and its impact on African life is clearly a dominating theme. But this book offers so much more than that. It challenges oppression that masquerades as tradition and irresponsibility that hides behind love.

While dealing with a predominantly (but not exclusively) African problem, Magona points a delightfully irreverent finger at our prolific and polygamous President. In a gentle but strong - almost motherly - way she gives a masterly indictment of the predisposition of some African males to infidelity, promiscuity and reckless negligence towards the women who love them.

But she is clear-headed enough to also condemn the women who, in this time of Aids, passively accept this state of affairs (excuse the pun) because of `tradition'. Encouragingly, there are also characters - too few of them, the FFF's lament - like Amanda's brother PP, who are the best of what an African man can be. There is also the sympathetic portrayal of Selby, Doris's fiancé, a good man who struggles with the transition from traditional sexual mores to a more modern, and responsible, attitude.

In an easy-to-read style, with touches of humour and deep poignancy, Magona has produced a novel that is about the evolution of the African soul towards a new kind of freedom; one in which both sexes take responsibility for their lives in an effort to curb a new and dangerous enemy: Aids.

As the remaining friends face challenges to their beliefs, and their relationships are tested and sometimes found wanting, a core message shines through: use your freedom responsibly.

`Beauty's Gift' is a gift to all women, for it shows how a women's strength and gentleness can be combined to effect changes in a world that is often violent, and even more often lonely. But the FFF's have each other and, in their unity, lies their salvation.

Finding Soutbek
Finding Soutbek
by Karen Jennings
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sensitive & thought-provoking look at post-apartheid South Africa, 8 Oct. 2012
This review is from: Finding Soutbek (Paperback)
Although unremittingly grim, FINDING SOUTBEK is a delicate and intricate novel that juxtapositions a utopian ideal with the harsh reality of the new South Africa.

A fire strikes a devastating blow and destroys the poorest areas of Soutbek, a small West Coast village, increasing the hardship and suffering of the needy. The aftereffects also unravel the lives of its first "coloured" Mayor, Pieter Fortuin, his wife Anna and his nephew Willem. Contrasting this bleak reality of a dream gone sour is The History of Soutbek, a utopian vision of life in Soutbek, written by Pieter Fortuin and the dubious Dr Pearson, and based on the unreliable diaries of Pieter van Meerman, a "vryburgher" (free man) and seventeenth-century Dutch explorer.

This novel presents problems that are uniquely South African, but the themes running through the pages are universal issues, such as power; the gap between the rich and the poor; and how the past affects both the present and the future, a burden one can never escape.

Willem, on reading his uncle's The History, comes to realise that history is only a record of "humans trying to rule other humans, taking the land and everything else for themselves." Governments might change, new promises made, but ultimately nothing changes for the poor and the oppressed:

"Had there not been enough of this sort of thing in the past? Forced removals; doctored histories? ...they saw that yet again they were to be denied the dignity of achievement."

A self-made man, Fortuin's powerful character dominates the story, even as he tries to dominate the land and the people who look to him for their survival and their future. Through his relationship with his wife Anna, his son David, his nephew Willem, his employees and the people of the town, Fortuin shines with the same hope that fills the pages of The History. His tragedy, and the overarching tragedy of this sad novel, is that the burden of history appears too vast to overcome on either a personal or a collective level. Any attempt Fortuin makes to change the course of history, however determined and well meaning, has devastating consequences.

This narrative heavy text is enriched with subtle ironies (the poorest part of town is called "the upper town," while the rich part is "the lower town," a neat reversal of expectations) and vivid metaphors (the Mayor has part of the beach cordoned off to protect his wife, even as he separates himself from the very part of society into which he was born.) The solemn pace effectively mirrors the unhurried rhythm of life in a small rural town, as well as the slow but inevitable crumbling of the hopes and dreams of the people of Soutbek:

"They felt only a sharp recognition of what it was to have days and months pass without pause, without any pause; recognition of what it was to be led towards hope and then denied."

Jennings' sensitive and thought-provoking writing is exquisitely painful; with quiet authority, she reflects the reality of present day South Africa. As I live in South Africa, her melancholy vision is a truth I can't deny. I do, however, contest the sense of utter hopelessness underpinning FINDING SOUTBEK.

Throughout the story, there is little or no allowance made for the eternal resilience of the human spirit, that indefinable "something" that has seen humankind muddle through its own messes for millennia after millennia:

"Something akin to pride had been returned to them, for they bore now a hope of shelter, and, though the word was not common to them, they felt themselves moving towards civilisation"

Perhaps the burden of the recent past was too heavy for Pieter Fortuin to translate successfully into the ideal Utopia he so bravely tried to create in his The History of Soutbek.

But his failure is not as desolate as it is portrayed.

Despite its record of our failures, history has also proven that hope lingers in the human spirit. That hope holds out the chance, however fragile, that we can forge a new and better world for ourselves. Someday, somehow, out of the detritus of the past and present suffering that surrounds us, that "same spirit of generosity and enthusiasm which united such a diverse array of people in the common goal of a better life" will rise again.

Pieter Fortuin tried and failed to create that better life. Perhaps those who follow him, like Gershwin Geduld, will drown in the swamp of suffering. But some people, like Anna and Sara and William, will endure. From within that very endurance of all the miseries that life holds for them, hope will once more be born. For to be human is to hope. And, with hope, the future can offer another chance that, one day, we will find a Utopia, perhaps even one called Soutbek.


DISCLAIMER: I received a free copy of FINDING SOUTBEK for review from the publisher. However, I only review books on condition that both publisher and author accept that my review is honest, unbiased and based only on the quality of the text as I experience it.


A Matter of Circumstance and Celludrones (Dark Matters Book 1)
A Matter of Circumstance and Celludrones (Dark Matters Book 1)
Price: £0.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Imaginative adventure and complex characters, 27 Sept. 2012
From mechanical puppies to paddling in the aether, from mad scientists to amazing inventions, A MATTER OF CIRCUMSTANCES AND CELLUDRONES is set in a remarkably Victorian England where spunky women are constrained by circumstances and robotic celludrones and the world is changing as fast as the newly invented dirigibles can carry their passengers.

The story zips along at a fast pace, twisting and turning as the lively characters struggle with demons, both internal and external.

Lady Lily d'Bulier and Greyston Adair, both products of a scientific experiment by the rich, brilliant and powerful McAllister clan, are brought together in a fight for survival against the demonic Lady Ostrich. Lily's best friend Evelyn, wildly independent and fiesty with it, joins them on their journey of discovery as an act of outright defiance against her autocratic husband, Devon, Duke of Harchings.

Not only do Lily and Greyston discover dark secrets that threaten their lives and the very world they live in, they also need to discover the hidden aspects of themselves. When her search for a husband turns into a search for demons, prim and proper Lily must learn to overcome her social training and her fears, while the dashing Lord Greyston Adair must learn that loving people doesn't always mean their death and that he's not responsible for every bad thing that happens.

There's sufficient world-building to create a vivid and vibrant setting, and the action is fast and furious, but it's the relationship between the complex characters which drives this well-written story. While Evelyn and Devon's heated romance adds an interesting layer, the mysterious connection between Grey and Lily builds into something more.

In addition to high-quality formatting and presentation, the writing is superb - a well-balanced mix of light-hearted banter, emotional intensity and imaginative adventure. However, I prefer less ambivalence in the romantic intentions of a hero. I also prefer stories that end within one book, as I find it frustrating having to wait to find out what happens next.

Although this novel is a stand-alone story, there's scope for a whole series of exciting adventures to come for Lily and Greyston. Is the Duke of Harchings all that he seems? Just who is Kelan McAllister? How will the war between demons and humans end? And where will Lily and Greyston's relationship go in the future? I, for one, can't wait to find out.

Tragic Ways of Killing a Woman
Tragic Ways of Killing a Woman
by Nicole Loraux
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent scholarly text for library, 9 Sept. 2012
A scholarly work that explores the gender differences underlying the killing of characters in Greek tragedies. Men die in heroic battle, or are murdered. Women, with a few notable exceptions, either commit suicide or are sacrificed for the greater good of family or nation.

In an ancient world where women had little or no control over their destinies, Loraux highlights how Greek tragedy twists the ordinary gender roles and expectations of those times.

In her readings of these classical texts, with their powerful women who change their own fates (especially when depicted by the iconoclastic Euripides!), Loraux brings interesting insights to the Athenian cultural attitudes to methods of dying for women (and men), as well as attitudes towards gender and sexuality.

This is a scholarly text, which requires concentration and some knowledge of the Greek Classical plays to enhance your reading. But it's also an excellent addition to anyone's reference library.

W.B. Yeats Twentieth Century Magus: An In-Depth Study of Yeat's Esoteric Practices and Beliefs, Including Excerpts from His Magical Diaries: Twentieth-century Magus
W.B. Yeats Twentieth Century Magus: An In-Depth Study of Yeat's Esoteric Practices and Beliefs, Including Excerpts from His Magical Diaries: Twentieth-century Magus
Price: £14.24

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating study of Yeats' spiritualism, 8 Sept. 2012
A knowledgeable exploration of an often ignored, but fundamental, part of Irish poet WB Yeats's work: his spiritual beliefs, his participation in occult practices and how these influenced his poetry.

Graf begins by examining Yeats' connection to the Golden Dawn society, then proceeds to how his work has been perceived in literary circles and then seamlessly marries Yeats' poetry to his spiritualism and mystical practices. For a reader with knowledge of the esoteric practices that Yeats took part in, there may appear to be some repetition of the explanations of the traditions and symbols of Yeats' occult society. But, for those readers who have no exposure to these practices, this may help them grasp the complexity of thought and spiritual beliefs that drove Yeats to create the visionary poetry that he did.

Graf's calm acceptance of Yeats' occult beliefs, coupled with an intelligent and well-informed breakdown of how these motivate his poetry, is what makes this text a vital contribution to understanding Yeats as both poet and man.

The detailed exploration of Per Amica Silentia Luna (1916), as well as Yeats other works, makes for an absorbing read. Graf does not gloss over areas of intellectual doubt; rather she challenges them and seeks answers to Yeats' more obscure texts in his spirituality. The result is an inspiring and fascinating look into the soul of a great literary figure and a deeper understanding of his poetry.

Fill-In-The-Blank Plotting: A Guide to Outlining a Novel Using the Hero's Journey and Three-act Structure
Fill-In-The-Blank Plotting: A Guide to Outlining a Novel Using the Hero's Journey and Three-act Structure
by Linda George
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.31

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful breakdown of plotting, 3 Sept. 2012
A useful and practical workbook on how to plot a story by combining two different story structures (The hero's journey and the 3 act play).

Well set out and easy to read, this book makes plotting seem easy. Gives excellent breakdown of classic novels (Gone with the Wind, Treasure Island) so that the plotting method described is clearly demonstrated.

I liked the way the book stayed focused on the task at hand (showing us how to plot.) I find outlining/plotting the worst part of writing, but this book has broken plotting down into clear and manageable steps.

Scientific vegetarianism: Guide to organic ecological nutrition
Scientific vegetarianism: Guide to organic ecological nutrition
by Edmond Bordeaux Székely
Edition: Unknown Binding

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable text, 2 Sept. 2012
Taking into account that this book was written +-40 years ago, it's a remarkable text. Any ground-breaking text, when read decades later, does suffer from appearing dated and less complete than other more modern books on the same subject, but one has to bear in mind that any seminal work will, by its very nature, have less depth than those texts that follow it.

Szekely discusses the personal ethics of vegetarianism; cites centuries of well-known geniuses who were all vegetarians and then proceeds to show why freely choosing vegetarianism as a way of to a healthy life is both scientific and not as hard as one would expect, if one is used to eating flesh.

There are excellent discussions on toxic foods (including flesh), and why each food group is good or bad for the body. The first few "ten commandments" of vegetarianism may be suited to a slower, more restful world than the one we live in today, but the final quote from Henry B Stevens which Szekely uses applies not only to the food we eat but our whole way of life:

"If violence were no longer at the centre of our daily diet and land use, it would soon cease to be the foundation of our public affairs where at present war requires more than half the national budget."

While the statistics of how much of any nation's budget is allocated to war and defence weapons may vary depending on the century and the culture, that sentiment, coupled with Szekely's rational explanation of vegetarianism as a healthy way of life, is enough to turn the most ardent meat-eater into a vegetarian.

The Proposal: Number 1 in series (Survivors' Club)
The Proposal: Number 1 in series (Survivors' Club)
Price: £3.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A soft slow read, 29 Aug. 2012
A gentle, sweet romance with enough chemistry between Hugo & Gwen to keep the tension ticking along. I love complete books that are part of a series - and The Proposal is not only the first in a new series but also the love story of an old friend. We first met Gwen in One Night Of Love and I'm so glad she met Hugo, the gentle giant, whose scowling countenance hides a deep emotional intensity.

As always with Balogh's stories there are gentle philosophical comments on love and life seamlessly woven into her story, adding depth and strength.

Perhaps at times there was some repetition, but that's to be expected when the characters we meet in this book have peopled her stories for so long. The cameo appearance by the delicious Wulfric Bedwyn was great, and as A Summer to Remember ranks in my top 6 Balogh stories I was pleased at Lauren's role in The Proposal.

A slow soft read which exactly suited my reading mood today.

An Introduction to Dream Interpretation
An Introduction to Dream Interpretation
by Manly P. Hall
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A call for moderation & thoughtfulness, 28 Aug. 2012
A pamphlet more than a book, these lecture notes provide an interesting introduction, defining different types of dreams (prophetic, prodomic, archetypal) and, at first, appears to discourage people from trying to interpret dreams. There also appears to be a strong emphasis on the theory that people who dream a lot have unbalanced psyches or some sort of personality deficiency.

However, in the latter part of the book, the emphasis shifts to the reasoning behind this: Hall is concerned that people may try to interpret their own and other's dreams from an ego-state rather than a spiritual or visionary state. He makes a good point with this, and also with his final conclusion that any approach to interpreting dreams whether our own or somebody else's should be undertaken with moderation and thoughtfulness.

In the last few pages there are some interesting examples of dream symbols and of people who, in a dream state, act and behave in a manner completely incongruent with their waking persona.

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