african author, african stories, Fiction, literary fiction, Nigerian Author, romance, We Chit Chat

We Chit Chat: Honey & Spice by Bolu Babalola

Taynement: Hi, Leggy. It’s been a minute since we did one of these.

Leggy: Yup. I’m excited to discuss this one.

Taynement: We do a lot of chitchats on African authors because we’re excited to support their work but it also makes it more difficult to review. So what were your thoughts on this book?

Leggy: This book was the most exhausting slog of a book I’ve read this year. If we weren’t committed to this blog and to this ChitChat, and I was reading this just for pleasure, I would have DNF-ed it.

Taynement: Oh dear, it was a journey of a read for sure.

Leggy: I was actually quite excited to read this one. When we reviewed her previous book, I said that I was super excited to see what she would do with a long form romance book. So, I was going to pick this one up regardless of the blog.

Taynement: Everyone knows my stance on romance, so I can’t say that I was excited. More like I was preparing myself. You started before me and you told me you didn’t think I would make it.

Leggy: Once I started and it was hard for me, a rom com lover to get through it, I knew it would be even harder for you. First of all, this book read like a Dear White People fan fiction to me.

Taynement: Agreed. So here’s my thing, when I say it was a journey what I mean is the beginning was a struggle and then the book settled and then it became quite corny.

Leggy: The crux of the book is the fake dating trope and it should have started way earlier in the book. It started 35% into the book and I was already bored and restless when we got to the actual romance between them. If the editor had insisted that this book center the actual romance 100%, it would have worked better. Too much was going on in this book for me, story-wise.

Taynement: My problem with this book was the writing style. I say this a lot about African authors but they never let their words breathe. Instead, they wield them like heavy chains. I think Babalola overwrote a lot of the stories/scenes. So, it felt like playing dress up and imagining what people would say while also jam packing it full of clap backs/quips that are supposed to be clever, chockful of current slang but it fell flat. I’ll give an example: “My heart had never been compelled into competitive sports by boys and yet here it was acting like an Olympian, beating like its name was Serena.” Sheesh!

Leggy: Oh God, don’t get me started on how verbose this book is. I see your example and I raise you an even more overwritten passage: “The smile he gave her was mainstream, pop, radio-friendly. The smile he’d given me was the single released after an artist had established themselves, found their voice, could speak directly to their target audience. The smile he’d given me had more R&B to it.”

Taynement: Lord!

Leggy: I think the best lines are those that are profoundly quite and simple. It felt like the author wanted to show us she could write but these over written passages made me roll my eyes so much.

Taynement: Another thing, which I can’t really knock her for, is that she’s clearly proud to be African. So this book was very clearly African – more Nigerian/Yoruba but I couldn’t stop wondering how every black person on campus seemed to be African?

Leggy: Did this book read very American to you despite the number of British slang thrown in there?

Taynement: I was just about to bring that up! I don’t live in the UK but a lot of the language and events seemed…American? For one, not to be stereotypical but there was a lot of coffee drinking when I was expecting tea, lots of “ain’t”, even the Malakai police story read American.

Leggy: The debating All Lives Matter vs. Black Lives Matter storyline seemed very American. Also, wasn’t this literally a storyline on Dear White People?

Taynement: These events didn’t help with the feeling that this book was trying to pack in relevant pop culture tropes to make it current. I spoke with my sister-in-law who lives and went to school in the UK and she said the school experience in the book definitely felt more American, so I was glad I wasn’t being too critical.

Leggy: This book was written for twitter.

Taynement: Yes!!

Leggy: That’s all I kept thinking. This is such a twitter inspired book.

Taynement: That being said, she tied in the honey and spice theme well and I did enjoy when Malakai and Kiki fell in love, I think she allowed the book to breathe then. It felt organic.

Leggy: I wish this book could have been purely about Malakai and Kiki falling in love. Take out the race issues, take out the guy she was sleeping with, have the high school best friend expose her as a “fraud” feminist. Then they break up, get back together and live happily ever after. I think the mistake a lot of authors of rom coms make is trying so hard to make their book deep. Your book is just as worthy as just a love story! Love stories are amazing!

Taynement: I did like the friendship stories. Aminah and Kofi being in love but working for it.

Leggy: Yes! Classic sidekicks which every good rom com needs! This book could have been great. If I was her editor, I would have told her to strip it. Stop over writing. You already have a book deal, we know you can write. Just tell us a good story!

Taynement: I think an observation I’ve made lately is authors seem to be writing for a book to screen adaptation.

Leggy: I thought the same thing about this book. It was really giving American high school movie. Everyone in this book read super young to me even though they were adults in college.

Taynement: I felt like it veered between YA and romance which was a mind trip because I know they’re in college. As a romance reader, was the climax of the book – them professing their love on par with other romance books? Because that felt like a lot! I found it super corny.

Leggy: Yes! It’s always corny but I think what makes it good corny in a well written romance book is that the rest of the book is so good and has made you so invested in the couple that you’re left smiling at the corniness of it all. The one in this book just made me roll my eyes and leap for joy that at last, the trial that was this book was over!

Taynement: Overall, we’d never say not to support a fellow Nigerian but bias aside, this was not a well written book.

Leggy: I would not recommend this book. I did not enjoy it. But if you’re interested, knock yourself out!

Have you read this one? What did you think? Let us know in the comments

Taynement & Leggy

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

Book Review: Dele Weds Destiny by Tomi Obaro

“That Enitan never got a nickname was a slight she was used to. ‘You attract beauty,’ a boy had told her once, but he had meant this quite literally; she attracted beauty only in the sense that she herself was not beautiful but her two best friends were.”

Funmi, Enitan and Zainab are close friends in Nigeria who met in college. Three women with three different personalities. Funmi is outspoken and brash, Enitan is reserved and Zainab is the pretty one who is also reserved. Life and time happens and the three go from inseparable to their separate ways and are about to be reunited after 30 years for Funmi’s daughter, Dele’s wedding.

Their lives are completely different now. Enitan is about to be divorced from the American man she eloped with and she has to deal with her daughter, Remi who blames her for it. Funmi is married to a wealthy man who pays more attention to his phone than Funmi and Zainab is now caretaker to her husband who has had a series of health issues and is relegated to a wheelchair.

“The ways to die were endless. That’s why you had to live, and live ferociously, and often selfishly and exploitatively, but Funmi did not worry herself about these details. Thinking about life’s unfairness was a fool’s errand. It paralyzed you. It was best to count your blessings and keep it moving.”

I enjoyed this book because it tackled things that were relatable – friendships, death, Nigerian culture, the ebbs and flows of life and more. Obaro did a good job of making this debut effort her own and I appreciated it. It didn’t read like she was trying to pander. I enjoyed the storytelling choice of going back in time to explain the origin of their friendship and all they have been through in the past while also giving their points of view in the present tense with Dele’s wedding as the axis. It didn’t get complicated and was very easy to follow.

In going back in time, I truly enjoyed each woman being fully fleshed characters with full stories. We understood how they became who they were, based on their childhoods and upbringing. I also enjoyed how Obaro infused the political climate and protests from that time period because it infused some Nigerian history while not bogging down the story.

What I did not understand was why the title of this book was called “Dele weds Destiny” when majority of the book truly had nothing to do with Dele. As mentioned earlier, it served only as a plot point that brought the women back together. In fact the main conflict Dele felt was never addressed and the minute it was brought to the light, the book ended. That was annoying. The abruptness of the ending just felt rude. I did not see it coming.

There were a number of loose threads all around the book. I don’t think we got a clear picture of how Zainab feels with life as a caregiver now, Dele wasn’t fleshed out and neither was Remi. Granted, you can’t touch on everything and everyone but don’t introduce them if they have nowhere to go. Overall, it was an easy read and a good book on friendships and the ebbs and flows of life.

Taynement

african author, african stories, Book Related Topics, Fiction, Nigerian Author, short story, We Chit Chat

We Chit Chat: Nearly All the Men in Lagos are Mad by Damilare Kuku

Leggy: The title of this book makes me laugh every time I say it. “Nearly all the Men in Lagos are Mad”. It’s such an eye catching title.

Taynement: Ha ha ha, why? Because it’s true? 🙃

Leggy: I mean…This book wasn’t in my library, so I was just going to skip it but you convinced me to get it so we can read it as a part of our Chit Chat series and I must say I don’t regret it.

Taynement: It was on every Nigerian bookstagram and a friend of mine got it for me. I’m glad you didn’t regret it. I enjoyed this book, which is saying a lot given my stance on short stories.

Leggy: I enjoyed it too. I thought it was super entertaining but I also went in with very low expectations. I just thought it was one of those books where everyone jumps on a bandwagon and it wasn’t going to give what it was supposed to give.

Taynement: Besides the compelling stories and compelling writing, what made this book a good read was knowing that all of the stories were realistic.

Leggy: I have a very different opinion.

Taynement: Let’s hear it!

Leggy: I did not find a lot of the stories realistic.

Taynement: ooooh, really?

Leggy: Sometimes I wondered what society she was writing about. Don’t get me wrong, Nigerian men are mad and the encompassing stories are realistic but some of the little details give American society.

Taynement: Oh ok, I see what you mean.

Leggy: Like in “The Anointed Wife”, the mistress gets a book deal and goes on an interview tour. That would NEVER happen in Nigeria. Ever. Especially when the man being accused of adultery is a pastor? She would be branded a harlot through and through. People would talk about it on twitter for a day, nobody will remember the pastor the next day but best believe they’ll always remember the woman to call her – ashawo.

Taynement: I think that’s where you have to suspend all belief to keep the story moving.

Leggy: Yeah, so little details like that made me roll my eyes because it was giving America not Nigeria but overall, I found the main threads of the stories true to form.

Taynement: Did you have any favorite stories?

Leggy: I really enjoyed “Ode-Pus Complex” because I found it realistic. That exact scenario has happened to someone I know.

Taynement: What a clever title. If you’re not Nigerian, “Ode” means fool.

Leggy: Yup. Such a clever title. And honestly, I didn’t hate the mother. She was direct and honest instead of doing that passive aggressive thing Nigerian mothers do.

Taynement: She was just being realistic and quite frankly, saving the girl.

Leggy: And the girl saw it for herself like woman, you can keep your son.

Taynement: One of my favorite stories was “Beard Gang” – the group of women married to closet gay men.

Leggy: I really liked that one too.

Taynement: I also liked “I knew You“, one of the few stories from the male perspective and acknowledging that he ain’t shit.

Leggy: He really wasn’t shit. I’m glad the girl was like – I’m out!

Taynement: I didn’t read reviews for the book but a friend let me know that Nigerians were up in arms about the sex scenes which were graphic. What did you think about it?

Leggy: I don’t remember any of the sex scenes to be honest, so it can’t possibly have been that graphic.

Taynement: Oh wow. Ose bad gyal! 😂😂😂😂 Well, I didn’t think it was inappropriate or too much but I know Nigerians are gonna Nigerian. In fact, I applaud a Nigerian author for not shying away from sex.

Leggy: Also, considering how much Nigerians have sex, it’s intriguing how much they don’t want that fact acknowledged. Which was your least favorite?

Taynement: Cuck up was up there. It was the story that most embodied what I hate about short stories. It felt incomplete and I didn’t get the point.

Leggy: Aww really? I didn’t mind that one. He convinced her to have sex with her rich customer and then started punishing her for it after the fact. Then had the guts to call a family meeting for her, in a house her “prostitution” got them. So she waited for the meeting, told them the full story and then asked him to leave her house for her. I quite enjoyed it.

Taynement: To be honest, I didn’t hate any story. It was a really good collection.

Leggy: I didn’t like Catfish.

Taynement: Ha ha, I didn’t mind it.

Leggy: Also was iffy about The Gigolo from Isale eko.

Taynement: I agree.

Leggy:mAlso, First Times had the cringiest sentences – “Hi, I’m Belinda but Idris calls me baby.” What? I thought the story had potential but she just couldn’t make the plot move forward in a grounded and realistic way.

Taynement: The two stories where the ladies weren’t so smart rank low for me – Sidelined and First Times.

Leggy: You know the one that made me laugh? International Relations. Honestly, this was a really good collection and very easy to read. Did you read her acknowledgment where she thanked Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? She said she went to a reading at 16 and Chimamanda told her to take all the time she needs to write her first book and she hopes she reads this and It makes her proud. That was really sweet.

Taynement: Yes! There was also a shout out to a We Chit Chat alum author – Chiemeka Garricks.

Leggy: I’m glad older and more accomplished Nigerian authors are providing much needed mentorship for the young upcoming ones. Anyway, I definitely recommend this book. It’s very entertaining and it would make for plenty of fun discussions if you read it in a Nigerian book club.

Taynement: A nonjudgmental Nigerian book club.

Leggy: LOL. Apparently.

Taynement: Actually, I think it’ll be fun for any book club. I’d find it interesting explaining things to a non Nigerian. Anyways, what we’re trying to say is – go read the book!

Taynement & Leggy

african author, african stories, Fiction, literary fiction, Nigerian Author, We Chit Chat

We Chit Chat: Wahala by Nikki May

Leggy: The cover of this book is so pretty and eye catching. Do you remember why we decided to read it?

Taynement: I decided to read it because a friend of mine – who is white, mentioned it as a book she wanted to read by a Nigerian author.

Leggy: I think you told me about it and I looked it up. I wasn’t that eager to read it but the title was very Nigerian so I put it on my list. The first time I picked up this book, I read about 4% on my kindle and dropped it because I realised the protagonists were biracial Nigerians.

Taynement: Lol. What do you have against biracial Nigerians?

Leggy: Lmaooo. Nothing oh, but they made a comment about how they were called “mongrels” in Nigeria and I rolled my eyes so hard it almost stayed that way. Talk about revisionist history. Nigeria is a hugely colorist country, so hearing a biracial say that, did not ring true to me at all. Biracials are like gods in that country.

Taynement: Fair enough.

Leggy: But then it checked out to you and you convinced me to finish it. So I picked it up again and read the remaining 96% in one sitting. I think it was quite entertaining.

Taynement: Overall, I think it had a good story. I feel like I know the exact point in the book when you read it in one sitting because I got that feeling too. It got to a point where you knew shit was about to go down with the villain and I just wanted to find out how it unraveled.

Leggy: Yup, it’s hard to put down after a certain point even though the story is entirely predictable. I still was eager to read what I already knew would happen.

Taynement: That being said, this book has so many problematic points!

Leggy: Oh My God! So many! Every good man in this book is white. The Caucasians could do no wrong! They were perfect husbands, perfect fathers, perfect in laws. It was so glaring.

Taynement: OMG! There was a disdain for Africans. At some point, if you remember, I asked you if the writer was biracial. I didn’t want to pass judgement without knowing because as much as they are characters, I think the writer’s voice definitely shone through.

Leggy: Also, Ronke who they considered, the fat one was the only one who dated a Nigerian. At some point, one of the characters blatantly told her to go get herself a white man so that she’d stop dealing with all the crap she was dealing with.

Taynement: And the only Nigerian man in the book was unreliable. I was so uncomfortable with the heavy focus on Ronke’s weight. I completely understand it’s the Nigerian way to be weight obsessed but the way it was written was side eye worthy.

Leggy: Especially since the weight literally didn’t move the plot forward. It added nothing to the book, said nothing about our character. They kept mentioning it even though it added nothing to the character’s actions?

Taynement: At some point someone said to Sofia, the little girl, – “OmG, you pretty little thing, so skinny” – and she’s 5?! All the comparison they made to Isobel’s body like she was prettier because she’s skinny?

Leggy: One thing I’d give the author is – her dialogue is exactly how I expect these characters to sound in real life. There was nothing they said that shocked me as a Nigerian.

Taynement: Except one! Boo who apparently has been hanging with them but doesn’t know what basic Nigerian slang means like asoebi? That was ridiculous. She went as far as saying – now you’re making words up. You guys go to Buka all the time?

Leggy: Boo was my least favorite character and that’s saying a lot when Isobel, the villain, is right there. She was so irritating to listen to. Also, Kayode wasn’t as bad as they painted him and didn’t deserve what happened to him at the end. The author couldn’t even let Ronke have a happy ending and then she ended up with another Nigerian guy with two kids?! Why does the author hate her so much?

Taynement: You know, my biggest problem with this book was everyone was unlikable. Boo was annoying with her dissatisfaction, Simi was elitist, Ronke was a pushover. It was interesting how they turned on each other so quick. Do you think that was realistic or was their friendship just not as strong as indicated?

Leggy: I thought if y’all are such good friends, why would you let a stranger come in and destabilize y’all? They didn’t even bother talking to each other to confirm, they just assumed a whole lot.

But I actually thought it was realistic especially that text Isobel sent to Boo’s husband. She sent it from Ronke’s phone and Boo saw it with her own eyes. It made sense to me that she would believe. I do think there were already cracks in their relationship which made it easier to penetrate.

Taynement: You know it took me till much later in the book to realise that Boo’s husband, Martin, was white.

Leggy: Of course he was white, he was a good man and Nikki May was never going to let him be Nigerian!

Taynement: When Boo got the afro weave, despite having “good hair” and someone in the book said to her – “you look like a black woman” and for the first time in her life she felt black. That knocked my socks off because this meant they didn’t see themselves as black. If the author talked about them never fitting in, okay but they spent all this time talking about Nigerian food and hung out around as a group. Simi grew up in Nigeria, it was such a disconnect to me.

Leggy: I was surprised they ate so much Nigerian food, it didn’t ring true for who they actually were. They even went out of their way to go to the restaurants and introduce their husbands and daughter to the culture but then there was such a disconnect from what they actually identify as.

Taynement: “Why would any sane English woman go for an African bloke?”

Leggy: lmaoooo. I enjoyed those nuggets so much because it rang true that they’d say that, that these characters would think like that.

Taynement: It was hard for me to separate the characters from the author. Overall though, I think the book had a good plot and execution, where it was weak was in character development and having just plain unlikable characters. They made me uncomfortable. Would you recommend it?

Leggy: Yes, I thought it was entertaining. I told someone who asked me my thoughts on twitter, to have low expectations going in and think of it as a reality show and they’d enjoy it. I found it easy to read, I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads.

Have you guys read this one? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!

Taynement & Leggy

african author, african stories, Book Related Topics, Chick-Lit, Fiction, Nigerian Author, romance, Uncategorized

Because it’s valentine’s day!

Since it’s the week of love, we have a 4 in one recommendation for you! What better way to celebrate Valentine as a book lover than to immerse yourself in the romance world of books?

  1. Yinka, Where is your Huzband? by Lizzie Damilola Blackburn
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Yinka is a 30-something, oxford educated, British Nigerian woman whose mother keeps harping on her about getting married. Yinka is still nursing a broken heart from her last relationship which ended abruptly after he moved to New York and broke up with her. When her cousin gets engaged, she is suddenly determined to have a boyfriend by her wedding in 6 months. Yinka signs up on dating apps, meets whichever church men her mum recommends she meets and completely loses herself in the search for a man. Yinka, Where is your Huzband? explores the pressure young women face to get married. This book is funny and fast paced. Even though, Yinka makes a lot of wrong decisions, you really can’t help rooting for her.

2. The Wedding Ringer by Kerry Rea

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Willa Callister used to be a successful blogger with a fantastic fiance and even more fantastic best friend until she walked in on them having sex in the apartment she shared with her fiance, 6 weeks to the wedding. Willa cancels her wedding, stops returning her phone calls and gets fired because she stopped coming into work. She moves in with her sister and her family in the suburbs to nurse her heartbreak. All she wants is to move out of columbus, to a place nobody knows her.

Maisie Mitchell needs a bridesmaid for her wedding and a chance encounter in a coffee shop with Willa, leads her to offer Willa $5000, if she would agree to be her bridesmaid and lie to everyone that they’ve known each other since childhood. Willa needs to money to get the her life back together so she agrees. As she throws herself into Maisie’s world and meets the best man, Liam Rafferty, she is suddenly rethinking her stance on love and friendship. I really enjoyed how this book was as much about friendship as it is about romantic love.

3. The Favor by Suzanne Wright

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Vienna is the longest executive assistant Dane has had, everyone calls her the Dane whisperer. She has never been able to figure out why Dane hired her but she is very grateful for the opportunity. Until Dane asks her to marry him for a year so that he can get his inheritance. His uncle left money for him and his brothers and they only inherit if they get married before 35. Dane is running out of time unless he marries and convinces everyone that the marriage is real. I loveeeee marriage of convenience tropes in romance.

I absolutely loved this book because they really stuck together no matter what. They actually talked to each other every time there was a misunderstanding instead of just turning on each other. The author kept the plot moving forward without resorting to miscommunications that can be resolved if the characters just talked to each other.

4. While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory

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Jasmine Guillory is my go to every time I want to read about black people falling in love and being human. Ben Stephens lands a huge advertisement ad that features movie star Anna Gardiner and finds it really hard to be professional. Anna is not only gorgeous and sexy but also very down to earth and kind. Ben has never been one for serious relationships but Anna has him rethinking his stance. Their light hearted banter and flirtation takes a deeper turn when Anna has a family emergency and Ben drives her hours so she can be with her family but can Ben handle the hollywood spotlight that comes with dating a movie star?

Have a wonderful Valentine’s day everybody! We hope you love and are loved forever!

Leggy

african author, african stories, Book Related Topics, Fiction, LGBT, literary fiction, Nigerian Author

Book Review: Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi

Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi

Life is an ambivalent lover. One moment, you are everything and life wants to consume entirely. The next moment, you are an insignificant speck of nothing. Meaningless.

Kambirinachi is an ogbanje. She is a spirit that keeps getting born as a human, but she never lives long enough and always dies and returns to the spirit world. Then she makes the decision to live and lives in fear of a retaliation from the gods for not returning. She lives a full life and experiences love, loss and gets married. She has twin girls – Taiye and Kehinde. The three of them become estranged when Kehinde suffers a traumatic experience and the three end up in different countries. Kambirinachi remains in Nigeria, Taiye moves to the UK and Kehinde is in Canada.

A long time has passed and the three reunite in Lagos as Taiye has moved back and Kehinde is visiting with her husband. The three have to come together and relearn each other and the book tells us their life stories from each of their perspectives and how each, in their own way, dealt with the fallout from what happened to Kehinde.

I finally gave a book 5 stars y’all.

It’s so hard to believe that this is a debut effort because it was so beautifully written. It had all the elements of things I enjoy in a book – complex/flawed characters, family sagas that span generations and beautiful writing that draws you in. Over the years when the sisters were estranged, Taiye wrote letters to Kehinde that she never sent. Taiye’s ex sends the letters without her knowledge and Kehinde reads them when she is in Lagos. Ekwuyasi’s choice to narrate their stories and go back in time, through these letters was such a fantastic choice. We go through the past and the present so seamlessly.

“Our relationship has always struggled against our twinness.”

The friction between the twins were the focal point but Taiye read like the main character. And boy was she a fully fleshed out character. Queerness is still not embraced in the Nigerian culture and I enjoyed how Ekwusayi didn’t make it an issue or a big deal. It was just Taiye’s sexuality, nothing to make a big deal about. Taiye was hella flawed but I am so glad that it had nothing to do with her being gay. Oh and even as flawed as she was, Taiye was the character that you were rooting for.

Taiye loves food and cooking and wants to be a chef and this was made clear throughout the book. Ekwuyasi gave us recipes for every thing Taiye cooked. When I say we were given recipes, I don’t mean in the typical way of listing ingredients and steps. We were given those but I don’t know the magic Ekwuyasi performed but it was written so beautifully and woven into the story. She made it clear thatcooking was a love language of Taiye’s.

The one gripe I had is there seem to be an influx of Nigerian writers who are writing about ogbanjes. As a Nigerian, I am familiar with it and I know it is part of the culture but it now seems like a lazy trope that is being infused for a western audience that isn’t as familiar with it. I often wondered why the author chose to make Kambiri’s issue her ogbanje-ness vs. what seemed like a mental illness or depression.

I honestly could go on and on forever as I remember various parts of the book. Even though it details the unpacking of a trauma. It still goes through a lovely friendship, a loving marriage, a loving yet toxic relationship. I don’t think it matters what the topic was, the best thing about this book was the writing, you’d be willing to go on the journey. I highly recommend this book, if you couldn’t already tell!

Taynement

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