african author, african stories, Book Related Topics, Fantasy, Fiction, literary fiction, race, romance, Uncategorized, Young Adult

Book Review: The Gilded Ones (Deathless #1) by Namina Forna

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“Like all the rest, giving us impossibilities and calling them choices.”

Deka is finally 16 and is ready to go through the blood oath ceremony that she hopes will declare her pure and make her one of the other girls. She has been othered all her life by her dark skin and tight curls but Deka is convinced that the blood oath ceremony will finally prove her worth and fetch her a husband.

What is the blood oath ceremony, you ask? Well, this deeply patriarchal society believes that on a woman’s 16th birthday, in preparation for her life as a man’s faceless and silent companion, she has to be tested for purity right before she is fitted with the mask she must wear for the rest of her life. You step into the temple, the priest cuts you. If your blood runs red, you’re pure. If it runs gold, you’re impure and the consequence is death. If you’re extremely lucky your first death will be your last. But on the day of Deka’s ceremony, her blood runs gold and changes her life forever.

As Deka struggles with her fate, a mysterious woman pops up and offers her a way out – come to the capital, be trained as a warrior and get absolution after her service or submit to her death. Of course, this is no choice at all. The Emperor is building an army filled with people like Deka (Alaka, as they’re called in the book) to fight against the Deathshrieks – monsters that attack the city and whose screams can blow out a human’s ear drums.

“Every girl knows it by heart. We recite it whenever we enter a temple – a constant reminder that women were created to be helpmeets to men, subservient to their desires and commands.”

This book starts with a bang. Forna apparently does not believe in easing her readers into the world and letting them settle. Within the first 10 pages of this book, the blood oath happened and it never let up after that. Hearing about the tenets of the religion practiced in Deka’s world made me think we were being set up for some priest conspiracy but when Deka’s blood actually ran gold I was like oh wow! I didn’t expect that to be literal at all.

The world building in this YA fantasy is very unique. I enjoyed seeing how the various villages and fractions interpreted the religion. Racism and colorism is also rampant in this world. Forna does a great job of establishing a baseline for what this world is supposed to be and its norms and rules.

“Are we girls or are we demons?”

I love a training fantasy book. Any fantasy book where a school or a training facility is involved has my heart. Once Deka gets to the Capital and the training commences, seeing her struggle to discard all that she had heard about women being second class citizens (a concept that was driven primarily by her religion) was interesting. Women aren’t allowed to run or even walk in a hurry, a woman must be demure and quiet at all times. Hearing that every day of her life, accepting that as a truth and then being forced to train as a warrior must have been quite the challenge.

The life ordinary women in Deka’s village were forced to live was simply insane. Every time the author dropped another detail, it made me get so mad at a world that isn’t even real!

“Never forget: the same gift they praise you for now, they will kill you for later.”

I think it’s common knowledge by now that I hate romance in my fantasy. It completely takes me out of the story. The romance in this book was not different. I think it added nothing to the plot and could have been completely left out. Also, this book is very obviously a debut novel. The writing is really great in some areas and extremely clunky in others. It needed to be tightened up a little. I hope this installment does well so she can get a better editor.

All in all, I quite enjoyed this one. If you liked Children of Blood and Bone, you’ll like this one. Even if you didn’t like it but are looking for a good YA fantasy book, this one is so much better and the author has great potential to be even better. I gave this 3 stars on Goodreads and I’m looking forward to the next two books which promises to be even better. I tried really hard not to drop any obvious spoilers about the ending.

Have you read this one? Let me know in the comments!

Leggy

african author, african stories, Book Related Topics, Fiction, literary fiction

Book Review: How Beautiful We Were by Imbolu Mbue

Change of Publication Date: How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue

“We should have known the end was near.”

“How Beautiful We Were” is a story set in a small fictional village in Africa called Kosawa. We get introduced to how rich the people and village are, filled with their traditions, love and history. Then we find out that they are basically under siege and the children of the village are dying because they have been invaded by an American oil company called Pexton.

Their land and water have been poisoned by the numerous pipeline spills and there is no one to hold accountable despite the many complaints as the government is in cahoots with Pexton. Getting nowhere and tired of burying their children, the villagers decide to take matters in their own hands in a plan that goes awry. Little do they know that it was just the beginning of a long fight that spans decades. This book takes us along on this journey through the stories told by the various people involved – the people who were just children when the fight began and our protagonist, Thula and some of her family members.

“Our grandfathers, however, had no interest in losing ownership of their lives—every one of them had turned down Pexton’s offer and returned to the thrill of killing for food as trees were felled all over the valley to make room for the oil field and pipelines and Gardens.”

It’s widely known that it takes a lot for a book to blow me out the water. I have given very few books 5 stars. One of the very few books to get this honor was Imbolo Mbue’s first novel, Behold the Dreamers. I just absolutely loved it. I was excited to get to this one and was #1 on my waiting list for this at my library. When I cracked open the book and saw that it was set in a village, my heart sank. I usually prefer modern settings but I was ready to see how this goes. It took a minute for the book to get going then just when I was about to accept that this was it’s pace, it picked back up but then dropped again and I felt my excitement wane.

All that is to say that the book did not meet my expectations and that made me sad. Overall, this book was superbly written. Mbue painted a vivid picture that made you visualize Kosawa and made you understand their plight. She made you feel the love and community that was shared in the village. You understood who they were at their core. I also think Mbue did a good job of laying the foundation of introducing us to Thula and the events that happened in her family.

I definitely enjoyed the first half of the book to the second half which is when Thula goes to America and returns. The second half never quite found its groove and was uneven. The narration got a bit wonky and there were chapters that felt pointless. So, I guess I am saying that while the writing was beautiful, the plot and pacing suffered. Thula is supposed to come back being this activist and they look to her as a savior but I don’t think that was developed well and it felt disjointed.

I did enjoy the different view points from Thula’s family members – her brother, her uncle, her mother and her grandmother. They came at different points in the book and they were much welcomed when it felt like the book was in a lull. I appreciated the true depiction of the underrepresented in most African countries and the corrupt government and the choices people make just to survive. I think that was well done.

Overall, while I found the writing to be good, I still did find it a bit of chore to read and a bit boring. And while I know this was a disappointment for me, I can see how people could appreciate it so I won’t file it under a “would not recommend”, so if you are looking for a slow paced read, that is what you would get with this.

Taynement

african author, Book Related Topics, Fiction, Historical, literary fiction, Nigerian Author, We Chit Chat

We Chit Chat – Love in Colour: Mythical Tales From Around The World, Retold by Bolu Baboola

Amazon.com: Love in Colour: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold  (Audible Audio Edition): Bolu Babalola, Ajjaz Awad, Nneka Okoye, Bolu  Babalola, Olukemi Babalola, Headline: Audible Audiobooks

Taynement: Wow. It’s been a while since we did a chit chat. Shame on us!

Leggy: It’s just so hard to coordinate reading during a pandemic. I’m glad we’re finally getting to do one and a young Nigerian author at that!

Taynement: Why did we choose this book?

Leggy: We’ve seen it all over bookstagram and twitter, plus the cover is so striking.

Taynement: Yes, a lot of people I know who have read this, liked it a lot.

Leggy: So what were your overall thoughts on the book? Did you like it?

Taynement: Yes, I have to say I did. Or maybe I liked it more than I expected to. Going in, it had two strikes against it in that, it was a romance novel and short stories – two things I don’t care for.

Leggy: I didn’t hate it but I also didn’t like it. It was okay. Nothing stood out for me. To be frank. It was elemental writing. Nothing was compelling about these stories.

Taynement: Agreed, it was regular. I do think it was a good premise.

Leggy: I think it was a good premise too. I went into it without knowing what it was going to be so reading the first story of someone called “Osun” in school, I was like what’s going on here? Then “Sango”, that’s when I immediately got it.

Taynement: I thought it was overwritten in the way of typical African authors. The book just wasn’t allowed to be. I mean…”water was generous but mostly it wanted to be left alone”?

Leggy: There were so many lines like that It just tried too hard to have flowery language.

Taynement: I liked how inclusive the author tried to be. It had characters from various parts of Africa (the author is Nigerian for those who don’t know). There was an attempt with an Asian character that fell flat for me. The story of Zhinu (the pop star) was not one of my favorites. I couldn’t connect.

Leggy: It was my least favorite too. It was pointless to me. It just seemed to not fit.

Leggy: What was your favorite story?

Taynement: Thisbe and Naleli. What were yours?

Leggy: I really enjoyed the Naleli one. Read like a teenage romance movie. The head girl, Keeya said the meanest things to her.

Taynement: It reminded me a lot of the Netflix show – Blood and Water.

Leggy: I can’t imagine always covering up in the hot sun. I also appreciated that she highlighted the vitiligo condition, that was good. I liked the one where the girl was basically Kerry Washington in Scandal (Scheherazade). That was my favorite. Yaa was my second favorite because it was the story with the most modern realistically African plot to me.

Taynement: I really wanted to know how you felt about the book because I was wondering if I’d appreciate it more if I loved romance novels.

Leggy: I don’t think so. I appreciate the romance genre but I don’t consider this to be a good one to recommend. Especially to someone who typically doesn’t do romance books. I wish the stories had more depth and something to connect with. A lot of it seemed so frivolous that it diluted even the great love stories she was retelling.

Taynement: I think the most intriguing thing about this book is the concept. I also recognize that depth in short stories is something that is tough to accomplish.

Leggy: I’m currently reading “The Secret Lives of Church Ladies”, It’s fantastic and a short story collection and it manages to bring depth to every story it tells, no matter how short. Reading it alongside this book made me see how frivolous it was.

Taynement: Did you like the new tales?

Leggy: No, I preferred the retellings and even at that I do not prefer these modern retellings to the old stories. I think the modernity stripped a lot of the stories of its context and depth. In as much as I loved Scheherazade, the original is a fantastic story. I remember the first time I read the Arabian Night classic – a woman telling a king a story every night, trying to keep his attention till morning to stop him from killing her? I found it amazing!

Taynement: I guess we are in agreement that it was an okay book but commendable for a debut?

Leggy: Yes, it definitely read like a first book. I would appreciate a stand-alone novel from this author next, maybe to flesh out more of her romance writing and give the stories a little more depth and context? I don’t think romance has to be “deep”. Everyone knows I’m a connoisseur of romcom movies, but readers have to be able to buy into the romance you’re selling.

Taynement: Yes, it’ll be interesting to see what she does with a stand alone. I agree that romance novels don’t always have to be “deep” but I think that letting the stories breathe would make for a more relaxed romance novel that would be far easier to enjoy.

Leggy: I still can’t pick out any line that stood out to me even with the over the top flowery language. The lines just made me roll my eyes and you know how much I love a good quote.

Taynement: We both do! Well, based on social media, we are in the minority of people. A lot of people have loved it so far.

Leggy: That’s fine. Art is subjective plus this book sure has a very good social media PR. Was it worth the hype for me? Absolutely not. It was an okay book. I wonder if I’d have finished if we didn’t have to do this chitchat but we’ll never know now. Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing what this author does next. I love supporting black authors and she’s Nigerian!

Taynement: Definitely!

Taynement & Leggy

african author, Book Related Topics, Chick-Lit, Fiction, literary fiction, Nigerian Author, race, romance, Uncategorized

Book Review: Ties That Tether by Jane Igharo

Ties that Tether - The Stripe

“How much more of yourself, of your culture will you lose to accommodate him in your life?” 

As you may have heard me say a million times this year, it’s been a struggle reading year and I have been doing all I can just to read anything my attention can focus on. I have no recollection of being on a waitlist for this book but once it popped up as available and I saw a Nigerian author, I decided to go for it. Also, is the cover gorgeous or what?

Azere is a 25 year old Nigerian woman who lives in Canada. Before moving to Canada from Nigeria when she was 12 years old, she makes a promise to her dying father to preserve the culture and marry a Nigerian man. Her mother takes this promise to heart and is always on her case to get married and is always matchmaking and setting Azere up on dates. Azere always obliges her mom and goes on these dates and confines her dating pool to just Nigerian men.

Yet another date goes awry and Azere goes to the bar to decompress, meets Rafael and ends up in a one night stand with him. The relationship goes beyond the one night stand and Azere is torn between pleasing her mom and a chance at happiness.

It didn’t take long for me to realize I’d landed on a romance novel but I decided to stick through it to support a Nigerian author. I liked this book enough. Any Nigerian/immigrant can relate to the story and realize it is not far fetched. This book was very heavy on pop culture references but was a good balance of both Western and Nigerian pop culture. A bit on the nose at times but I think it symbolized Azere’s internal struggle of growing up Nigerian and Canadian and identifying as both.

I liked that the book provided insight into the Nigerian culture. Even as a Nigerian, I learned a bit more as Azere is from Edo state. For example, I didn’t know Ogbono soup was from that region. I liked the Edo names mentioned and their full meaning and Azere explains some traditions and their origin. I picked up some names that I thought were just beautiful. I liked the overall message of choosing your happiness and not being tethered due to unhealthy obligations.

The flip side of the book is that you can tell that it is a debut book. It has a slight amateurish feel to it and suffers from the verboseness most Nigerians have. Azere’s character came off as almost childlike/immature. The way she kept wanting to please her mom and keep a promise to her dying father annoyed me. I almost couldn’t believe she had the one night stand given the strong hold her mom seemed to have on her. To be quite honest, her mom came off as a bully to me.

Some storylines felt disjointed in a bid to create anticipation and further the story. It sometimes read like dress up where the story being told was like a recreation of all the various movie and book plot lines we’ve read so some conversations came off clunky. A big blowout between Rafael and Azere and their reaction to it had me scratching my head.

Overall, flaws withstanding, I think it worked. It goes by quickly and is an easy read. It’s one of those where you have to overlook things and just take it for what it is. I gave this 3stars on Goodreads.

Taynement

african author, Fiction, literary fiction, Nigerian Author, Uncategorized

Book Review : His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie

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“Elikem married me in absentia; he did not come to our wedding.”

Afi is a young seamstress who is offered a life changing opportunity. She is offered the position of the chosen wife of Elikem Ganyo – a man she doesn’t truly know. His family gives her a task – make him fall in love with you and leave his wife (the mysterious Liberian woman) who everyone seems to have terrible things to say about. He doesn’t even show up to their wedding, her only contact with him before the wedding day is a phone call acknowledging her presence in his life. After the wedding, she is whisked to Accra and installed in a luxury apartment, with a driver, a huge allowance and anything she can ever wish for except of course, the actual man she married.

“Please, put love aside and be practical. Love will not put food on the table; it won’t hold you at night.”

If you enjoyed Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo, you’d probably enjoy this book. I’ve heard white book people compare this book to Crazy, Rich Asians and that’s ridiculous, this book is nothing like that. It’s not frivolous or “fun”. This is a quick and easy read but it tackles a lot of familiar African issues.

What I enjoyed about this book is that it shows how the status of an African woman is always defined in relation to the men they are bound to. The women in this book are all different and it shows us the different ways women adapt to the society they find themselves in and the ways they decide to exist in it. Some women end up being the pillars of the patriarchal society that has oppressed them, some women discover that they can rise above it and define their own paths and some decide to just go with the flow and take the little wins wherever they can get them.

I loved the tension between Afi’s family and the Ganyos as Afi became more of herself and built a sense of self. She stopped being the grateful girl who was indebted to the Ganyos and became a woman demanding better for herself. I loved watching the power dynamic play out between this powerful and rich family and the young woman they empowered unknowingly.

“All men are the same, they only know how to love themselves and to sit on women.”

As much I enjoyed watching Afi grow, I still found Afi extremely naive. I’m Nigerian and this story is as old as time and everyone knows what the deal is. First of all, I couldn’t believe Afi believed all the things her in-laws told her about Elikem’s first wife – that she is ugly and rude and everything bad. I couldn’t believe how the entire story played out. I must admit that I was extremely irritated with Afi demanding more from the arrangement. I thought she should have been old enough to accept the perks and ignore the drawbacks. I found it hard to accept that a girl who grew up in Ghana was this naive when she walked into this arrangement knowing fully that there was another woman involved in the mix. So whenever she talked about loving Elikem, I couldn’t stop myself from rolling my eyes. Nothing about Afi’s behaviour rang true or realistic to me.

There were some plot threads that the author started but never took anywhere. In the beginning of the book, Yaya (Elikem’s sister) takes Afi to a party where she meets a young handsome young man. This meeting is told to us in great detail and she runs into the young man some other time but nothing happens. That character just disappears and the author does nothing with him for the rest of the book, so what was the purpose of those scenes? This is her debut book so I’m going to be looking out for what she writes next because I think this book had the potential to be great but just stopped short.

This book is very readable and the imagery the author conjures is so fantastic that you can see the book play out right in front of you. The descriptions of the various uncles and aunties who are there to suck your entire resources were spot on! The Uncle character in this book is so realistic and the descriptions of contemporary Ghanaian life were great. Even though I gave this book 3 stars, I hope you still give it a chance. I recommend it!

Leggy