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

Book Related Topics, Chick-Lit, Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, literary fiction, Mystery, Uncategorized

Book Review: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

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“Healing by way of vengeance … no such thing existed; it never had. Hurting others had only injured me further.”

A female Apothecary, Nella, dispenses poisons in secret, to women who have been wronged by men. She only has two rules – none of her poisons can ever be used to harm a woman and she must record the name of the procurer and the person they intend to kill in her book, for safekeeping and insurance. On a cold February evening, a young 12 year old, Eliza comes to Nella to procure a poison to kill her master courtesy of her beloved mistress. The relationship between Eliza and Nella sets them on a dangerous path. In present day London, Caroline finds a vial near the Thames river as she tries to forget the recent reveal of her husband’s infidelity. This ancient vial leads her down a path of discovery and investigation into the lives of these women that lived 200 years before her.

Sounds like an amazing and intriguing premise for a book right? So why was a book about an apothecary killer so freaking dull?! This book started out with such great promise. I was instantly grabbed by the blurb. This was my Book of the Month pick for March and because of the number of people who picked this particular book there was a delay in delivery as they tried to procure more. I chose this book on the first of March and it only just arrived this week which even made me more excited to crack it open. To say that this story is slow is an understatement. I kept waiting for something to happen but nothing really happens. This book is written in dual timelines. One in the 1700s and the other in present day London. None of these stories intrigued me and frankly, the connection between the women in different timelines was forced at best.

Caroline comes to London to escape, after finding out her husband had an affair. She stumbles across a group of people mud larking and decides to participate. She finds an apothecary bottle inscribed with a picture of a bear and decides to investigate the bottle and I just didn’t understand why she even had the urge to do it. It just seemed so ridiculous. All the ‘conflicts’ in this book were tenuous at best and were always those conflicts arising from misunderstandings and which could have been fixed with a single sentence and I just found that to be lazy writing. I found Caroline’s story entirely pointless and would have preferred if this book focused entirely on Eliza and Nella. Caroline was entirely a caricature of a one dimensional character who put all her dreams on hold in order to get married and cater to a cheating, manipulative husband.

I expected magical realism and a deep look into the lives of women in the 1700s but this book offers nothing of the sort. I also expected mystery and more of a plot and I am so tired of all women’s back stories being about men. The author never even explored the moral ambiguity of making a career out of murdering men just because a man betrayed you in the past. There wasn’t enough character development in this book for me to even justify the lack of a juicy plot by saying it was character driven. The women in this book were all bland and one dimensional. I found it hard to like anyone even when given their back story.

I did not enjoy this book. It was filled with implausible situations, unrealistic emotions and characters that were contrived. The author did a terrible job connecting the present to the past, probably because there was literally nothing connecting the women and her trying to create a connection was unsuccessful. Caroline was boring, one dimensional and frankly, I don’t see how she could have had even a prayer of getting into Cambridge. What kind of history major does not know how to search a library’s historical archives?

Anyways, I gave this 2 stars on Goodreads because I really do think the premise is fantastic. The cover art is gorgeous and it had so much potential. I’m off to apply to Cambridge since everyone can apparently get in!

Leggy

Book Related Topics, Chick-Lit, Fiction, Historical, romance

Book Review: Aunt Ivy’s Cottage by Kristin Harper

Zoey moves back to Dune Island after being laid off from her job and then finding out her ex boyfriend has spent her savings on borderline illegal investments. She goes back to live in her family house with her aunties, Sylvia and Ivy. Aunty Sylvia dies shortly after Zoey arrives on the Island, setting off a fascinating chain of events that uncover family secrets and calls into question the line of inheritance for the Island house.

Zoey’s cousin, Mark is the apparent heir of the house whenever Aunty Ivy dies. He wants to get a headstart and move her to a home for the elderly and hurry up the inheritance. He also wants to lease the house as soon as possible for the summer as the inheritance states that it cannot be sold and must be inherited by someone related to the family by blood. A throwaway comment by an old man at Aunt Sylvia’s funeral calls into question Mark’s paternity and if he is indeed qualified to inherit.

With the cousins clashing over what to do with Aunty Ivy’s cottage and fighting over renovations at the house, Zoey unexpectedly finds an ally in the local carpenter, Nick. Nick left the rat race in New York City to come and start all over again in Dune’s Island after an ugly divorce. When they meet, sparks fly and it makes Zoey wonder if she’ll ever make it off the Island ever.

I enjoyed reading this book. First of all, the cover is gorgeous. It’s a very cozy read and exactly the type of read you need during winter snuggled up in bed under the covers. I enjoyed the descriptions of the small island and the residents in it, the rumors about the older houses and the different real life situations every character in this book had to go through. Aunty Ivy was such a charming character and I just wanted her to be alright and safe. I was pleasantly surprised by this one as I had never heard of the author and she succeeded in creating a charming family. If you’re a fan of Debbie Macomber books, you’d probably enjoy this one.

As much as I enjoyed this story, I found the pacing to be very slow in some parts and rushed in others. There was far too much going on with all the characters (and I mean all of them!). Everyone had a secret or an alcoholic father/stepfather, struggling with a dead spouse, a dead sister, lost jobs, lost homes, lost savings. It all felt a little too much and caused the author not to completely focus on the main storyline.

The resolution of the paternity conflict was so rushed that I wondered if I missed some pages on my kindle. Even the response by Mark at the end felt so in contrast to the character we had seen exhibited throughout the book. It felt so untrue to his character and inauthentic. The romance between Zoey and Nick was almost non existent, I thought the author should have spiced up their relationship a little more. Just when you thought it was about to happen, she’d pull the plug on it and make them have a conflict so I never actually got to see any chemistry between them but suddenly they end up together at the end even though they never actually dated.

Overall, I thought this was a really sweet book with a charming setting especially the parts involving the aunties and their life stories. The ending felt unbelievable and seemed like the author was in a hurry to wrap everything up in a bow and give everybody their own happy ending. I gave this book 3 stars on Goodreads.

Thanks to Netgalley, Bookouture and the publisher for providing a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

You can purchase a copy of Aunt Ivy’s Cottage by Kristin Harper on Amazon .

Leggy

Book Related Topics, Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, literary fiction, romance

Book Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

“The old gods may be great, but they are neither kind nor merciful. They are fickle, unsteady as moonlight on water, or shadows in a storm. If you insist on calling them, take heed: be careful what you ask for, be willing to pay the price. And no matter how desperate or dire, never pray to the gods that answer after dark.”

In a moment of desperation, a woman calls on the gods of the night to help her escape her fate as a woman. She begs for more time to live her life without the pressures of getting married and being forced into an existence she wants no part of. She gives away her soul for time. Addie realises after the fact that nobody remembers her. She is destined to be forgotten by everyone she meets the moment she is out of their sight, that is the price she has to pay. This book sends us on a 300 year journey with the girl no one remembers, through cities and wars and music and languages as she tries to stretch the boundaries of her cage. But one day in a bookstore in New York city, after 300 years of an invisible life, she stumbles across Henry who remembers her name.

“…it is sad, of course, to forget.
But it is a lonely thing, to be forgotten.
To remember when no one else does.”

I enjoyed the first 25% of this book, then it lost me and then it found me again. This book sucks you in immediately. The descriptions and the mere premise of the book makes you pay attention to the story. The language is a little more poetic than I prefer in a fantasy book, but I didn’t hate it. I think it lends itself to the setting the book starts out and lingers in – New York and France.

I was emotionally invested watching her lose her family immediately and having everyone she’s ever loved forget her, the instant she makes her deal. It was heart wrenching seeing her trying to figure out how to survive in a world where out of sight is out of mind. Watching her go through major cities, experience new things for the first time, see the world, meet different men, try to figure out a way to leave her mark anyway was fascinating. This part of the book I enjoyed very much.

“If she must grow roots, she would rather be left to flourish wild instead of pruned, would rather stand alone, allowed to grow beneath the open sky. Better that than firewood, cut down just to burn in someone else’s hearth.”

This book completely lost me in the middle. Once the love interest, Henry, is introduced it becomes utterly boring. Henry is not a compelling character, nothing about him makes you want to stand up and take notice. He’s the stereotypical “nice” guy character who thinks they deserve love just because they’re nice. I did appreciate the discussions on mental health and anxiety but I found this character utterly bland. The more the book went on, the more I found him ridiculous especially when I realized his backstory.

I didn’t find the choices he made to be understandable. I also guessed what his deal was earlier on and was just waiting for it to be confirmed. The story grew repetitive and reading about them falling in love was an absolute drag, after spending the first 100 pages of this book gallivanting around the world with a god that only comes in the dark. Also, after watching Addie try to figure out a way to live a life that matters without being remembered., Henry’s story seemed frivolous compared to Addie’s.

“What is a person, if not the marks they leave behind?”

I quite enjoyed the last 100 pages of this book. I loved how it ended. I know a lot of people would have liked an ending that was more definite but I thought the last chapter was very satisfying. It’s really hard to review this book and not give away spoilers. If you’ve read this one let me know what you think because I wouldn’t mind talking more about this book in depth and with spoilers. I gave this 3 stars on Goodreads.

Leggy

Book Related Topics, Historical, Memoirs, Non-Fiction, Uncategorized

Book Review: Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker

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“We are more than just our genes. We are, in some way, a product of the people who surround us—the people we’re forced to grow up with, and the people we choose to be with later.”

Don and Mimi Galvin were an average middle class family living out what seemed to them at the time, their American dream. After World War II, Don moved his family to Colorado for his work with the Air Force and there, they created their large catholic family. Mimi went on to have 12 children, the oldest born in 1945 and the youngest in 1965.

Mimi tried to create a good domestic life for their children. Encouraging structure, hard work, and an interest in sports. Their family was huge enough to be well known and also well respected in the community but behind close doors was a different story – psychological breakdowns, abuse that went unnoticed by the parents, violence between the boys. By the mid 70’s, 6 of the 10 boys had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and were in and out of hospitals.

“And so I was crushed,” Mimi said. “Because I thought I was such a good mother. I baked a cake and a pie every night. Or at least had Jell-O with whipped cream.”

The Galvins became popular in the debate of nature vs nurture in the psychiatry field concerning schizophrenia. A lot of the theories in those days, laid a lot of blame on the mothers. A lot of psychiatrists, even without a suitable peer reviewed study, were quite convinced that children developed schizophrenia because they had an overbearing mother that they tried so hard to please that they lost touch of reality. This was a very sexist theory and completely discounted the presence of fathers in the house. The theory also prevented a lot of people from going to get help early because a lot of mothers feared they were going to be blamed for their children’s condition.

“They have been warehoused where nobody can really deal with them,” he said. Here was the real reason, he thought, why big pharma could afford to be fickle about finding new drugs for schizophrenia—why decades come and go without anyone even finding new drug targets. These patients, he realized, can’t advocate for themselves.”

What went on inside the Galvin family house led to them being one of the first families to be studied by the National Institute of Mental Health. We see the medical field move and evolve as we follow their family story over the years. As we talk about the past and present protocol for schizophrenia patients from lobotomies to institutionalization and the ebb and flow of shock therapy in mental health.

We also see the harm this sickness brought to even the healthy people in the family and the innocent bystanders too. We follow scientists as they start looking for genetic markers for schizophrenia and find a compromise to the nature/nurture debate.

“For a family, schizophrenia is, primarily, a felt experience, as if the foundation of the family is permanently tilted in the direction of the sick family member. Even if just one child has schizophrenia, everything about the internal logic of that family changes.”

This book contains a lot of abuse, so consider this a trigger warning. There’s a lot of domestic violence, physical abuse, sexual abuse (we also see abuse from a catholic priest) etc. I found this book to be very compelling and very readable. I did this one on audio which is how I do most non fiction books I read. Even though there is a lot of science in this book, I do not think it bogs down this book in anyway. I actually think the science elevates it.

I completely recommend this book and hope we as a community think about the way we treat our mentally ill. This book is also a huge indictment of the pharmacology industry for their non interest in putting money into developing more drugs to help with a wide variety of mental health illnesses because of how difficult the trial process is. I gave this one 4 stars on Goodreads.

 

Leggy

Book Related Topics, Fiction, Historical, literary fiction, race, Uncategorized

Book Review : The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

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“You can escape a town, but you cannot escape blood. Somehow, the Vignes twins believed themselves capable of both.”

The Vignes twin sisters – Stella and Desiree were born in a small town in Louisiana called Mallard filled with very light skinned black people. At age 16, they run away to New Orleans to escape their small town and live bigger lives. After a year in new Orleans, their lives completely diverge. They both go on to live completely different lives – one passing as white, while the other marries the darkest black man she can find. Bennett takes us through the years, weaving together multiple strands and generations of these women, from Louisiana to Boston to California, she tells a remarkable story of trying to survive while black in America.

“There were many ways to be alienated from someone, few to actually belong”

Bennett describes the town of Mallard so well that it is almost a character in this book (I googled “is Mallard a real town?” even though the logical part of my brain knew it wasn’t). This town is a black community with a very unusual beginning:

The idea arrived to Alphonse Decuir in 1848, as he stood in the sugarcane fields he’d inherited from the father who’d once owned him. The father now dead, the now-freed son wished to build something on those acres of land that would last for centuries to come. A town for men like him, who would never be accepted as white but refused to be treated like Negroes. A third place.

So they strived to create a better negro with each generation breeding specifically for white features – skin lighter, hair wavier, eyes colored but this still didn’t inoculate them from the hands of racism. The twins’ father was still dragged out of bed in the middle of the day and lynched while his little girls watched when they were only 7 and it didn’t stop race from shaping everything about their lives for the 40 years the book spans.

10 years after she leaves, Desiree comes back to Mallard while trying to escape an abusive husband with the darkest baby the town had ever seen. Desiree’s daughter, Jude, is the darkest person in a town filled with light skinned black people. The way Mallard treats and talks about dark skinned people is quite riveting to read. The cognitive dissonance is fascinating. They throw out all the dark skinned insults – dark baby, black you’re almost blue, tar baby, if you swim with us i’m sure the water would be filled with crude oil and on and on. They never see the irony in the way they treat Jude and the way white people treat them.

“But the passe blanc were a mystery. You could never meet one who’d passed over undetected, the same way you’d never know someone who successfully faked her own death; the act could only be successful if no one ever discovered it was a ruse.”

Reading about Stella’s passing as white and being immersed in a world that absolutely hated her was fantastic to read. Bennett paints such a vivid picture of fear and hiding in plain sight in a world that wants nothing to do with you and actively participating in that world and in the prejudice that comes with finally being the oppressor. Stella marries a white man and gives birth to a blonde, blue eyed daughter who had no idea that she was anything but white.

The way little micro aggressions are laid out and “good people” are shown to think their prejudices are for everyone’s good and even the feminist movement’s exclusion of black women is explored. At first, you judge Stella for her choices but as you read more about her story you can’t help but ache for her – the loneliness, the lies her entire life is built on, the struggle of not being able to belong to your people and the surety that the people who claim to love you now would absolutely hate you if they knew who you really were.

“She hadn’t realized how long it takes to become somebody else, or how lonely it can be living in a world not meant for you.”

Bennett’s debut novel “The Mothers” was very good but this book is FANTASTIC. I loved every second of this book. This story is so well written, emotional, and is one that stays with you long after you’ve stopped reading. I truly enjoyed every character and setting used by the author. Every single line belonged here. I think everyone should read this one. I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads and I would give it more if I could. This will definitely make my top 5 books of the year. Absolutely recommend. You should read this one and come talk to me on twitter about it.

 

Leggy