Book review: I see London, I see France

CAUTION: Spoilers ahead!

In 2017 I had the incredible privilege to undertake a great European road trip with my husband and parents. For nearly four weeks, we hopped from country to country, ticking things off our bucket lists at every stop. Mom wanted castles and culture, dad wanted nature and walking, my husband wanted to bump fists with statues of musical greats and visit their homes, my own pleasure is art, literature, fairytales and magic. We all wanted wine, great food and to experience something new together. And we did, everywhere we went.
But while backpacking, or road-tripping, through Europe is the adventure of a lifetime for anyone, what makes it life-altering is not so much about where you go as it is about who you go with. Which brings me to I see London, I see France by Sarah Mlynowski.

The book follows first year college (university) students/best friends Sydney and Leela on their great European adventure.
This is the trip they’ve both been dreaming of ever since they started reading books as teenagers. They have a bucket list of their own to work on, complete with stinky cheese and high tea, but they also have to budget to make it through four and a half weeks of traveling.
Each of them also come to the experience with an extra piece of baggage: Leela is recently broken up with her college boyfriend, with whom she was supposed to go on this epic trip. Sydney leaves behind an agoraphobic mother with her sister who, despite having grown up in the same household, just doesn’t get what it takes to take care of someone who fears leaving the safety of their own environment. The story is told from Sydney’s POV, and everywhere we follow her, so does her guilt over abandoning her fragile mother and teenage sister. But it is only for four and a half weeks, she constantly reminds us, and she said she’d go straight back if either of her selfish family members can’t deal with her absence.
Speaking of selfish, the really selfish person is Sydney’s best friend and travel partner, Leela. Not only does she count on Sydney to do all the planning, but she repeatedly changes her mind about where to go and about who she would or wouldn’t like to share in the experience. That is because, despite the breakup that caused Leela and boyfriend Matt’s plans to fall through, Matt and friend Jackson follow in Sydney and Leela’s wake on a trip of their own. This complicates matters to no end and is also the main plot-twist in the book, because it turns out Jackson is both easy on the eye and an interesting, if not exciting, travel companion, and Matt and Leela have unfinished business. Throw in selfish Leela’s jealousy over Sydney’s new college friend, Kat, and you’ve got yourself a story with plenty of intrigue, twists and turns and a few OMFG moments to boot. But it wasn’t the story so much that had me riveted. Not that it wasn’t riveting, it was. It was just that, truth to be told, once Sydney and Leela started going places, trying new foods and experiencing new countries and cities, I was there again, or for the first time, experiencing Europe as though it was as new to me as to the two characters portrayed in the book. And I thought what a marvelous job Sarah Mlynowski had done with the thing that some would consider secondary to the story; the traveling. At every twist and turn in the book I thought: ‘Poor Sydney! If only she could have done this with her mother like I did,’ or ‘Poor Leela, if only she would see how much work her friend put into trying to make this trip awesome for her,’ and I walked up narrow staircases with them and snapped selfies of great tourist attractions with them and when I put the book down, it was as though I had just returned from Europe again with my family, who had trusted me so completely to plan a trip that on the day we left for Europe, they still had no idea where we were off to. And it was magical and romantic and new and exciting and fun. Lots of fun. Both times.
So if you haven’t done the Great European Adventure yet, choose your travel partner(s) carefully. And read ‘I see London, I see France’. You can call it research. Or you can just experience the great European adventure, which is what this book is. Don’t go to Europe and act like Leela. Be the better friend, the traveler who is open to new experiences, the person who eats the snails even though they look disgusting. And if you ever go see a sex-show in Amsterdam, don’t be the idiot who gets up on stage with the performers. Be the idiot who takes video proof to show that you were there, then deletes it, to show that you care.

My travel companions, waiting for the bus in Florence, Italy.

Happy travels!

A short story about my home town, Rustenburg

When I was a little girl growing up in Rustenburg, I was the only girl living on our street. There were boys aplenty, though, and I soon understood that if I simply watched them play cricket and rugby and cowboys & crooks and cars, I was going to miss out on some of the best years of my childhood. So I was known as a bit of a tomboy. A girl among boys. Playing with their toys. Playing with Hot Wheels cars in the dirt or racing against them on ancient consoles while eating peanut-butter sandwiches. Those are the childhood memories that stick with me most: the way we looked at those cars and imagined the real thing, the speed at which a toy car could be launched into the air on a homemade ramp with a little bit of help from a rubber band, the cities we built with cereal boxes and plastic crates. I grew up loving those cars and what they represent, and at least in that way, my new short story, Hot Wheels, is an homage to my earliest associations with Rustenburg. The N4 highway came much later, and later still the ghosts of memories of those lost too early.

Hot Wheels is centered around a toy Hot Wheels car and the way such a small thing can sometimes touch a life or shape a future. It’s a story of loss, of grief and guilt, but more importantly, it’s a story about motherhood and it is now available on all major digital platforms for free for a limited time. Not too limited though, so share the news. There’ll be plenty of time for your friend, lover, brother, mother, grandmother, colleague and neighbour to download their copy.

Check out the links below to get your copy today, and as always, if you liked what you read, please rate and review at your preferred outlet!

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Amazon (USA):

Amazon (UK)

Scribd

Smashwords

Indigo

Have a great weekend! Drive safely.

My short stories now available on Scribd!

If you’re a reader, which I sincerely hope you are, then you’ll have heard of Scribd by now. If you haven’t, here’s the low-down: Scribd is a subscription service for all things bookish and a lovely way to pay a little for a lot of reading material. Each month, for only $8.99 you get *unlimited access to their large catalogue of books, magazines, audiobooks and documents, which can be accessed from your phone, tablet or computer at your convenience! And now, to make the deal even sweeter, my short stories are available for Scribd subscribers both in Afrikaans and English! The full “Nuwe Stories” short story series (Afrikaans Edition) is available for your reading pleasure. The series consists of three anthologies: Nuwe Stories, Nuwe Stories 2 and Nuwe Stories 3, each comprising a collection of Afrikaans language short stories from millennial writers such as myself. And of course my own short stories are there too. Look out for “Onder die Brug” (Nuwe Stories), “‘n Kis vir Boel” (Nuwe Stories 2) and “Utopia” (Nuwe Stories 3).

Nuwe Stories, ISBN 9780798156448. Now available on Scribd!

Nuwe Stories 2 – ISBN: 9780798164627. Now available on Scribd!

Nuwe Stories 3, ISBN: 9780798167987. Now available on Scribd!

If Afrikaans isn’t really your thing, I have a special treat for readers of the slightly more widely spoken English language. My latest short story, “Hot Wheels“, is now also available on Scribd.

Hot Wheels: A Short Story. ISBN: 9780463642849.
Now available on Scribd!

So get clicking and start reading, and remember, if you liked what you read, review and recommend!

Get your Scribd subscription here. Click on the book names above to read each book on Scribd.

Happy reading!

Three Short Stories about Johannesburg by Elizabeth Pienaar

I have a confession to make. I love short stories. I love reading them, I love writing them and I love recommending the good ones to my fellow readers. A lot of people tell me they don’t like to read short stories, because they “get to spend so little time with the characters”, or “just when they get into it, the story is done”, or even, and this surprises me, “short stories don’t give authors enough scope to exhibit their abilities”. While you are allowed to have that opinion (if you happen to share in it), allow me the chance to change your mind. I know just the short stories that’ll do it.

I’ve mentioned Elizabeth Pienaar here before, because I adore her writing. The previous time I wrote about her, it was about her book “Bobby”, a beautiful tale about a dog’s life, based in truth and told from the dog’s perspective. But today I want to talk about her new series of short stories, collectively named “Breaking Down The House”, in which Elizabeth takes a very candid look at life on the streets of Johannesburg. The first story, Pius, is about the stark reality that faces every South African today; that no place is really safe anymore, that work is scarce and hard to hold onto and that sometimes life takes you on the roads you’d rather not have travelled. This story won the South African PEN Award, which is a much better endorsement than I could ever make. Nevertheless, I’m telling you, read it!

Get “Pius” on Amazon Kindle by clicking the link below.

The second story, “Breaking Down The House”, placed 2nd in the PEN Award. It takes a whole new look at the interplay between rich and poor and how, by helping someone else, you can sometimes also help yourself. It’s smart, intriguing and, even though it’s a short story, the characters are so well developed that you’d struggle not to identify with them. It’s short enough to read while waiting at the doctor’s office and it will keep you hooked until the end (or when your name gets called, whichever happens first).

Get “Breaking Down The House” on Amazon Kindle by clicking the link below.

The third story, “Rejoice”, was the story that really got to me. I’m a sucker for hero types and flawed characters and I’m an even bigger sucker for stories with heart. This one’s got all of that and more. It’s about the relationship between a worker and employer, and the many facets of the human condition, of relationships founded on uncommon ground. This story was so good that I’m biting my tongue not to tell you any of the details, because it’s something you should experience first hand. And it has all the scope of a full length novel without the time-investment of reading a four hundred page book. If you can only afford to get one, this is the story you should get! But really, you should just get all of them.

Get “Rejoice” on Amazon Kindle by clicking the link below.

Now, if after reading these you still don’t like short stories, there’s probably no ointment for that particular condition. If you did, feel free to scroll down for more recommendations!

Find out more about Elizabeth Pienaar by visiting her website at www.elizabethpienaar.com.

As always, be kind and review. Authors don’t only want to know what you thought, they want others to know what you thought and they depend on your reviews, shares and endorsements to get the word out.

Have a great week!

 

“The Deermaster: A Christmas Novella” free ’til Christmas Day!

Christmas has always been my favourite time of year, not only because it brings together family and friends and reminds us to be humble, thankful and charitable, but because Christmas is that time of year when one can really feel the air crackle with magic. The magic, for most of us, lies in the Christmas spirit, the excitement that surrounds preparing to have friends and family over and, most importantly, the reasons why we choose to celebrate: what we believe.
In my new Christmas novella, The Deermaster, Chris Claussen wishes Christmas could be this straightforward, but for the inhabitants of Snow Falls, Christmas holds a different meaning altogether. Only one person can be The Deermaster, but what if he is completely ill-equipped for the job and non-committal to boot?
This Christmas, follow Chris Claussen and Carol Stern into the perilous North Pole, where nothing is what it seems and simple acts of goodwill can be more dangerous than a pack of starving wolves in sub-zero temperatures.
Get your copy free on Kindle from 21 December, 2017 until 25 December, 2017 and be sure to share! To make this Christmas extra special, I’ve designed a gift-certificate that will allow you to gift The Deermaster to friends and family for Christmas. Please remember though, The Deermaster will only be free for downloading until the 25th of December, 2017 at midnight PST or in South Africa until 10:00 on 26 December, 2017.

Click below to preview, “buy” and share The Deermaster. This book is also available in paperback format. Click here to buy it.

Click on the image below to open the gift certificate, which you can then download, email or print for friends and family! Do you live in the UK, Australia, Canada, or somewhere else? Send me an email to christina *(at) christinavandeventer.com and I will happily send you a gift certificate for your respective Amazon Online Market. *Replace with @

Last, but not least, have a wonderful Christmas 2017!

‘The Boy With The Coin: A Short Story’ Free on Amazon Kindle this Star Wars day!

Perhaps it would have been better if the boy had a lightsaber, but he doesn’t. Coins have greater value to fatherless children. Or perhaps it’s simply because lightsabers are probably, kind of, a little too sci-fi for this particular tale. Nevertheless, if you download ‘The Boy With The Coin’ today, or tomorrow, it is a sign that the force is strong within you!

Also, the story is about an old man, a young boy, and, maybe not very surprisingly, a coin! ‘The Boy With The Coin’ is free on Amazon Kindle on 4 and 5 May, 2017. It is always free on Kindle Unlimited.

Book review: Oil and Marble by Stephanie Storey

Last week I read Oil and Marble by Stephanie Storey. The book is a fictional rendition of Florentine life between the years 1501 and 1505, the time during which Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarotti were both in Florence, each working on creating the respective masterpiece that would later immortalize them for future generations.

As backdrop to the tumultuous lives of these two artists, history provides us with some of the most eventful years in Italy’s colorful past: the ascension of Pope Alexander VI, better known as the Borgia Pope, and consequently the ravaging of the Italian city-state system by the Spanish Pope’s son, Cesare Borgia, leading the Papal armies. The interplay between the Medici family, the French invasions of Italy and the near constant conflict between Pisa and Florence also comes into play here, but the much stronger underlying spirit of the book is one of pride, honor and love.
As an Art History student during my undergrad years, I briefly met these artists, learned about the zeitgeist that surrounded their genius and of course, the art itself. But coming to this book more than a decade later, purely with an eye on reading art-historic fiction, I was both surprised and delighted at the depth of perception it brings to the reader and how much of it is based in truth. The book not only lets us in on the machinations of sixteenth century patronage and politics, but also on the perceptions of art, art-making and society during a time when gender and class distinction dictated every aspect of a person’s life and education.
Storey’s Da Vinci is undoubtedly the genius we know him to be, but he is also a man of complex emotions, dreams and of great pride. In Oil and Marble, Da Vinci’s beauty and arrogance hides his own insecurities. He knows his allure, his power over people (by way of reasoning) and over art (by way of science), but he carries within him a kind of darkness that only comes to the fore in his most private moments. In contrast, Michelangelo’s character is portrayed as one of constant and very public turmoil. He lives and dreams at a pace unreachable by philosophers and scientists because he fears, above sickness, or starvation, or even death, that he will be forgotten. He does not, like Da Vinci, know his power, but he nevertheless believes steadfastly that it is within him to reach greatness. If only he would be given a chance, if only he can do so before he dies of hunger.
Both artists believe in possibility. For Michelangelo, the Duccio stone holds uncountable possibilities, despite its many flaws. He is at odds with the stone; if it would just speak to him, would allow him to see what is at its heart, then perhaps he can find what lies within the marble. The greatest possibility Michelangelo sees, however, is not the beauty of the art, or the amount of comfort the payment from its completion will provide him. He sees a future far beyond his own lifetime and he rushes toward it with unerring clarity. In contrast, Da Vinci sees, perhaps, too much possibility. He claims to leave his art unfinished because, by doing so, it will forever contain the possibility of greatness. Da Vinci, too, looks well into the future. Will the humans of the future achieve flight? Will they uncover the secrets he is forced to leave undiscovered because of time? And what about the arrogant young stonecutter? Will he perhaps make something more worthy of Florence than the Master from Vinci?

What struck me as most unusual was how biased my own opinion of these artists had been prior to reading Oil and Marble. Perhaps I had preconceptions because I had studied these artists somewhat at university, or maybe it was in spite of my prior experience of them, but I had always had this idea that Leonardo Da Vinci had come by his education and knowledge because of his privilege. This privilege, I now understand, only existed in name. Leonardo did not have a formal education on account of his being the illegitimate son of the notary Piero from Vinci. Though home-schooled in basic reading, writing and arithmetic, Leonardo couldn’t read or write properly until well into adulthood, when he had chosen to study letters by writing and rewriting words and sentences until he was fluent in their use. Even his signature, not an artist’s rounded lettering, but a child’s scribble, attests to his lack of skill in this regard. Yet, today, he is known equally as a writer, mathematician and scientist as for his art.
There is also another, perhaps much more important aspect to the bias I noticed while reading Oil and Marble, and that is the preconceived one-dimensionality of an artist’s sexual orientation.
It is a well documented fact that Leonardo Da Vinci had many male partners, specifically his long-time student and partner Salai, to whom he left the Mona Lisa upon his death, as well as Francesco Melzi, who shared his final years and inherited all of his notebooks. Based on his personal history it is reasonable to assume that Da Vinci was homo-sexual, and this is also what we are predominantly taught. Because there is sufficient evidence for Da Vinci’s homo-sexuality, it is easy for art historians to underplay and even overlook the sexuality in his works, especially his paintings, or to make sweeping statements about his experiences of and attitude towards sex, sexuality and gender. But in Oil and Marble, Storey achieves an intricate balance between what we know of the man’s sexual exploits and the interpretation of the artist’s very unique ability to imbue sensuality onto his female subjects, specifically Lisa Gherardini (del Giocondo). Storey suggests a side to Da Vinci that most historians wholly ignore: that through his careful study and constant questioning of the human condition, he not only learns to understand the suppressed intelligence inherent in his female sitters, but he comes to love them on a level that surpasses sex or sexuality.
The book culminates in the completion of each of these artists’ most iconic works, but it also leaves us with a new beginning for each of them. For Michelangelo, it is the beginning of a career, the beginning of acceptance by his family and friends, the beginning of a life underpinned by taking responsibility for himself. For Da Vinci, it is the beginning of a more personal journey, one of acceptance, understanding and humility.
In the afterword to Oil and Marble, Stephanie Storey says the book was twenty years in the making. As her first novel it set an impossible standard. Her prose is uncomplicated, well-researched and beautifully written. Her settings are colorful and tactile. Her characters are well-rounded, unique human beings who experience the entire spectrum of emotion while inspiring an equally broad range of emotion from the reader. But beyond her ability to write interesting characters and strong plot, Stephanie Storey understands that for the reader of art-historical fiction, there is the added expectation of well-written art. Art that comes to life on the page. Art that is tangible, vibrant and evocative. Stephanie Storey writes this kind of art.
There is a reason why, while reviewing a book that is essentially about art, I haven’t written a single thing about the art contained within Oil and Marble’s pages. This sacred task I trust to the writer.

‘A Ghost In The Darkness: A Short Story’ free this weekend on Kindle and KindleUnlimited

We’ve all known that kid in school. Every school has one. An angel. A kid who is perfect, loved by the teachers, adored by the students. But if every school has an angel, there is usually a demon hiding in its shadows. At St. Joseph’s Academy for Boys it is no different. And the angel brings out the worst in the demon.
Read my new short story, ‘A Ghost In The Darkness’ to find out what happens. It’s available for free on Kindle today (03/04/2017) and tomorrow (03/05/2017). It’s always free on KindleUnlimited.

‘Out Of This World: A Short Story’ free from Amazon Kindle

Anyone who has ever planned a wedding knows that doing it right is a little bit like becoming a grandmaster in chess: you have to know everything that can possibly occur and be prepared to overcome it. If you’re the bride, chances are that you’ve had your dream wedding mapped out in your mind for the better part of a decade by the time you finally get your big day. Which is why nothing can go wrong. But sometimes all the careful planning in the world can not prevent things from going off kilter. This happens to Jane in my new short story ‘Out Of This World’, which is free from Amazon Kindle for a limited time only. See the link below to get your copy. Your honest feedback, on Amazon, Goodreads or otherwise, would be greatly appreciated!

Travel blog: Jökulsárlón

There are few places in the world quite as magical as Svinafellsjökull, where you can get up close and personal with glacial ice that was formed millions of years ago.

There are few places in the world quite as magical as Svinafellsjökull, where you can get up close and personal with glacial ice that was formed millions of years ago.

Jökulsárlón means ´Glacial-river lagoon´ in Icelandic, but it´s far cooler than the name suggests. Ever seen those National Geographic specials where large pieces of glaciers tumble into the water? What about those shots of seals, sunbathing on the ice? You can view all of that, and more, at Iceland´s Jökusárlón. But sometimes, when you travel, the things that you can´t photograph make for your greatest memories. Find out why by reading my travel blog about my first visit to Iceland, first published by wesaidgotravel.com.