Category: Books

Book review: The President’s Keepers by Jacques Pauw


It’s not often that an author can say the very agency they decry in their book helped rocket it past its initial print run of 20 000 copies. But that’s exactly what South Africa’s State Security Agency did when they served Jacques Pauw and his publishers with a cease and desist notice for sharing “sensitive information” about the state. Pauw’s book, launched at the start of November, was suddenly all anyone could talk about. The print copies quickly sold out at some of South Africa’s biggest booksellers, and the ebook version climbed to number 15 on Amazon’s international charts. A pirated pdf version of the book spread like wildfire across WhatsApp and other social media sites, ensuring that many South Africans previously uninterested in the book read it.

To his credit, Pauw’s book is absolutely worth all the fuss. Pauw is a retired journalist for whom the temptation of a story about the people keeping the hopelessly corrupt South African president Jacob Zuma in power proved too tempting. He chronicles the way Zuma and his henchmen gutted and crippled South African state organs, like the State Security Agency (SSA) and the South African Revenue Service (SARS). The extent of the rot is staggering, and the lengths to which Zuma and his cronies went to keep themselves paid and in power is astounding.

Despite its contents, the book was a pleasure to read. Pauw writes knowledgeably and knows how to keep his reader interested. The sheer amount of information the book conveys would have been off-putting in someone else’s hands, but Pauw handles it well. It’s a page-turner.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: The President’s Keepers
Author: Jacques Pauw
Publisher: Tafelberg (2017).
Rating: 5/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.67/5)
The best feature of the book: It’s a compelling, well-researched read.
The worst feature of the book: Some of Pauw’s “old guard” shines through at times.
Trigger warnings: Nothing that I’m aware of.
You’ll like this if… You like nonfiction or political exposes.


Book review: Questions of Life by Nicky Gumbel


Chances are that if you’re of the Protestant persuasion you’ve come across Alpha. Alpha is a course refined by attorney turned pastor Nicky Gumbel as an introduction to the basics of Christian faith. It’s presented through weekly workshops structured around small groups, Bible study and video lectures.

I’ve never attended Alpha myself so when I got a chance to read Gumbel’s primer on it I thought why not? It’s a dense, inexpensive book, aimed at those already considering or involved in Christianity rather than trying to win over unbelievers. As far as introductions go it does a good job: it covers all the basics, though inevitably some people will take issue with its slightly charismatic slant. Gumbel’s train of thought is easy to follow and he refers back to Scripture often. The book is peppered with his own experiences as he went from atheist to believer, which lends it some credence.

Altogether it’s a solid book. What it lacks in depth it more than compensates for with practicality, and I suspect this has more to do with the book’s target audience than Gumbel’s writing ability or own depth of faith. It’s a great book to be able to give to seeking friends or family members, and one I’m more than a little sad I didn’t have access to myself when I first found Christ. This is not to say that it doesn’t offer something to people who’ve been Christians for a while. Gumbel was the first Christian who convinced me to give “speaking in tongues” a shot, so I really can say that taking a “refresher course” was beneficial for me and my faith.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: Questions of Life
Author: Nicky Gumbel
Publisher: Kingsway Communication Ltd (1993).
Rating: 4/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 3.92/5)
The best feature of the book: It’s down to earth and practical.
The worst feature of the book: It’s a little dense at times.
Trigger warnings: None.
You’ll like this if… If you’re considering going to church, have questions about the Christian faith, if you’re a total newbie to the Christian faith or want to get in touch with your Christian roots.

Book review: Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #5)


Much like Wizard and Glass, Wolves of the Calla feels like the wait at a train station between stops. The story reads like filler for the greater series arc; King pausing to recollect his characters and stop some gaps in a tale than in its writing spanned decades. And by this point you’re entangled enough that you indulge him the sandbox town of Calla Bryn Sturgis and its inhabitants and their secrets, because like Thunderclap darkens the Calla’s horizon, the ending of the series draws near…*

The story follows on the heels of Roland and his ka-tet’s confrontation with the wizard in the previous book. As a gunslinger of old, Roland’s aid is theoretically available to anyone who asks and is deemed worthy of assistance. The Calla, with their children being stolen every two decades or so and their husks sent back, ruined, reluctantly ask him for help, and Roland, Susannah, Eddie, Jake and Oy stay to render assistance in the only way they can: with their guns.

As far as filler goes, it’s not bad. Like I said, at this point you forgive King his dwelling on the town’s inhabitants and their idiosyncrasies. He covers a lot of important ground in a by-the-by sort of way, though, and fans of his will enjoy the return of a character from Salem’s Lot. But if you’re concerned mainly with finishing the series, Wolves of the Calla feels like an unnecessarily long phone call with a slightly delirious uncle: just cut to the chase already!

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: Wolves of the Calla
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner (1991, 2003)
Rating: 3/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.17/5)
The best feature of the book: The Dark Tower series’ plot strings start to pull together more discernibly.
The worst feature of the book: It errs on the self-indulgent.
Trigger warnings: Kids with disabilities. A dash of misogyny. The usual, really.
You’ll like this if… If you’re committed to the series you’ll like it, but if you had to start the series with this book you’d likely never get beyond this book.

*Or so you think. You fool.

Book review: Wizard and Glass by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #4)


I should probably start this review by admitting that after finishing Song of Susannah (The Dark Tower #6) I made the mistake of reading spoilers for The Dark Tower’s ending, and haven’t touched the novels since. I’d heard, years ago, someone describing the series ending as (spoiler alert) “they all go back to the start”. Apparently that’s a very literal summary. Pre-Song of Susannah it didn’t make sense to me, but after finishing the sixth novel in the series it really, really does. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

When I read the series years ago it was Wizard and Glass that proved to be my boredom/offended threshold for King’s The Dark Tower. Roland, not fully committed to his ka-tet the way they are to him, begins Wizard and Glass by telling his friends about the events that led him to seek out The Dark Tower. This involves a lengthy flashback to Roland’s adolescence, his love affair with “girl at the window” Susan Delgado and the things that happened in the small town of Hambry. Roland and his friends had been sent there to keep them safe after Roland’s fateful confrontation with Walter, but Walter and the King he serves have a long reach, and Hambry is not as far removed from danger as Stephen Deschain had hoped.

Wizard and Glass is the emotional gut-punch that, despite your best intentions, finally wins you over to Roland’s side. An ambivalent character for the first three books, erring first on the side of apathy and then becoming more human, Roland’s yarn completes his transformation from “The Gunslinger” to Roland Deschain, son of Stephen, son of Eld. King takes you deep, emotionally, if you can stand the story-world of Hambry and its archaic ways, and the arrogance and youth of adolescent Roland. Unfortunately Susan Delgado, for all King’s attempts to the contrary, stubbornly remains merely “the girl at the window”. It’s a pity because she was an interesting character.

Altogether a decent, if slow, addition to the series. Much of it reads like King was just sitting down and having fun in putting his world and its people together, but he does it well enough that it’s tolerable – at least on the second attempt.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: Wizard and Glass
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scriber (1991, 2003)
Rating: 3/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.24/5)
The best feature of the book: King’s great at telling stories, and this book is the story of Roland.
The worst feature of the book: It’s a dull interlude. The pace slackens, and it isn’t really picked up again until Song of Susannah, two books hence.
Trigger warnings: Misogyny in general, nonconsensual sexual contact, teens having at it.
You’ll like this if… If you’ve come this far you won’t need a reason to keep reading.

Book review: The Waste Lands by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #3)


The third book is probably my favourite so far (I’m on book number six, Song of Susannah, at the time of writing this review), though I have my reservations about it. Having drawn first Roland, then the other major characters for the series, the story is more settled and its eventual destination is less up in the air, subject to King’s (often drug or alcohol induced, let’s be honest) whimsy.

The Waste Lands picks up in the forest just beyond the beach Roland found his two companions, Eddie and Susannah, on, three months after Odetta and Detta’s doorway confrontation. Roland has been training Eddie and Susannah in the way of a gunslinger. But all’s not well with Roland: having stopped Jake’s (first) death in the second novel, his mind is tearing itself apart, one part insisting that Jake is dead, and the other insisting that he’s still alive. As the trio find the Path of the Beam, which will lead them to its centre, the Dark Tower, Roland’s condition deteriorates, as does Jake’s back in New York.

Roland, Eddie and Susannah eventually pull Jake back through to their side. The relief of this scene – for some weird reason you want Jake and Roland reunited, although it’s obvious that Roland can’t really be trusted with the welfare of the individual members of their ka-tet, their group – is undercut by what can only be described as a rape, though King plays it like it’s a victory for Susannah (or the Detta part of her, anyway). It sucks. I’ve always thought of King as more or less benign, but the sexual aspects of his fiction often go to dark places and honestly the novel could’ve done without it, though not the series, as we see later.

With Jake (and a bumbler named Oy) completing their ka-tet, the group set off to find Blaine the Mono – a train that could take them across the wastelands and bring them nearer the tower. But first, they have to get through an otherworldly, gang-infested New York called Lud…

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: The Waste Lands
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scriber (1991, 2003)
Rating: 3/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.24/5)
The best feature of the book: There’s more emotional investment in the characters.
The worst feature of the book: Lud sucks. Blaine sucks.
Trigger warnings: Nonconsensual content of all shades. Evil technology. Hazardous conditions.
You’ll like this if… You, like me, just want to finish the bloody series.