TBR Challenge: Cherry Marbles by Shukie Nkosana

I’m doing Super Wendy’s TBR challenge this year, in part because my own to-be-read pile has engulfed practically an entire room of my house, and I needed some extra encouragement to get started on it.

This month is for category romances/novellas/short stories, so I chose Cherry Marbles, which is two of those things: a category romance and a novella. And I LOVED it.

The book: Cherry Marbles

SAM_2022
Also shown: The Bridesmaid’s Lover.

The synopsis: Langa Buthelezi owns her own events company and lives in a fabulous New York-style flat in Quinn Street, Johannesburg. She is engaged to Richard, a cameraman for the SABC. One Sunday afternoon, on her way home from church, she has an embarrassing encounter with a handsome stranger–to whom she is very rude. During a major event proposal a few days later, Langa comes face to face with the very same handsome stranger–Regile Mabhena, owner of Mabhena Oil Limited, who will decide whether she gets the contract. It’s while organizing the event that Langa finds herself working intimately with Regile, realising at last what true love is…

How this ended up in my TBR pile: Last year I scooped up everything by Sapphire Press that I could get my hands on. They’re a romance imprint of South Africa’s Kwelo Books, and basically they do local (local to SA, I mean, not to me; I’m on the other side of the globe) romance novellas of about 30,000 words. I’d read a couple, liked them, and bought up all the others I could find. The ones I’ve read are making their way through my family, because even the non-romance readers (like my mother) are loving them for their setting. It’s impossible to explain how much these books give you a flavour of South Africa; it’s kind of like what old-school Harlequins tried to do, only instead of “exoticizing” the place these books give you a taste of insider-perspective that is just delicious.

Which makes it sound like this book was appealing mostly for its culture and setting, but that’s not true either: it completely holds its own as a short, hilarious contemporary romance, setting aside.

Opening paragraph: An unexpected case of inflamed vaginal thrush and the Sunday paper brought the two together in a Parktown pharmacy. Langa had burst into the pharmacy, fresh from church, the ailment in question behind the manic and illegal parking of her Volkswagen Beetle on the pavement. She cursed under her breath despite the holy anointing she had just received as she made for what she felt was refuge.

One more quote for the road: “I’ll have you know I’m engaged,” she said as she opened her car, uncertain why she felt she had to justify herself. Then Langa flashed her diamond ring at him before uttering, “I also recently found Jesus!”

Which, let’s be honest, sounds like exactly the sort of painfully awkward thing I’d blurt if I dumped two tubes of yeast infection cream at the feet of a gorgeous stranger. Langa is entirely believable as the successful-at-work but still easily embarrassed heroine. Her doomed engagement is treated sympathetically: neither of these people are a villain, they just don’t love each other enough to be getting married. And exasperating younger sister Nandi, and supportive best friend Naledi, make Langa’s life feel realistic rather than romance-land-y.

This is a book with homework, though, at least if you aren’t from South Africa and want to know who the pop stars, designers, brands, places, and cultural touchstones are. I personally enjoyed that part, and so do my footnote-loving family members (I started jotting my own notes in the book in case my aunts don’t feel like going on Wikipedia while they read), but it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

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