Book review – Akwaeke Emezi – “You Made a Fool of Death with your Beauty”

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I’m really glad that I tried this book for myself and wasn’t put off by other reviews I read. With the impression that the opening scene was an offputting mix of sex and death and the central character a transgressive artist who worked in fairly grim media, I picked it up to check for myself before writing a quick note about why I hadn’t read it, and was instead drawn in by the rapid plot development, attractive characters and good writing.

Emezi has published two works of more literary style fiction before this and warns their readers that this is a “romance”; however, it ponders a lot of deep things and although it is at heart a novel about millennials finding their place in the world, it’s thoughtful and considered.

Akwaeke Emezi – “You Made a Fool of Death with your Beauty”

(11 March 2022, NetGalley)

There was a reason she’d fled from the garden that night, and a certainty that going on an early morning hike alone with this man was terrible idea. And, because Feyi was Feyi and she was alive, there was no way she could say no. ‘Four thirty,’ she replied, with a damned smile and a traitorous chill burning through her veins.

We meet Feyi having an anonymous hook-up at a party in New York, and she does at one point think of the car crash that killed her husband five years ago, but it’s not some kind of “Crash” mash-up of sex and death or anything. It is fairly explicit, and you might wonder why I’m OK with that in this book and not the last read; I can only say that the scenes are shorter here and seem to fit better with the urban and grittier vibe of the book (I’m not using “urban” as code for Black here, please note; the book is set partly among young artists and party-goers in New York rather than nice dog ladies in the South of France and the context does make a difference). She soon moves away from the friends-with-benefits gig with this guy and on to another person from his friendship group. Then her life changes when she’s offered an opportunity to exhibit her art in a big show in the Caribbean, goes there with Second Guy, determined to be her friend and not rush her, and meets his dad. Oops.

So yes, Feyi does sort of hop from man to man but she’s given morals and decentness and panic about falling for someone’s dad when she’s already messed around. The book is full of this angst and it is a bit millennial in that respect, but there’s also a lot of aspirational architecture and food, which is completely fair enough; who doesn’t want to read occasionally about high-end interior decor and amazing birds? The landscape is described beautifully and the supporting cast of characters from the art world are nicely and richly done.

The book is also diverse both in terms of the orientations of the characters (the two main characters could be described as bisexual but don’t describe themselves in any particular terms, there are a couple of lesbians and a gallery attendant who happens to be gay with no fuss made about it) and in terms of the different kinds of love portrayed. Although Feyi has had a sexual encounter with best friend Joy at one point, they’re loving friends now, sharing an apartment and all the details of their lives; Joy is a great conscience and counterpoint to Feyi and their video chats are hilarious, but their friendship is highly important. It’s made very, very clear that Feyi doesn’t need a particular man (or by implication woman) in her life; she has, and is, enough:

It didn’t matter how this went – it couldn’t matter how this went. She had a life in New York. She had Joy, and her work, and it had been enough before this, so it would be enough afterward.

Feyi is ambitious about her art, owns it and takes commissions on her own terms and the thing she really sticks up for when things get tough is her art, not her relationship; I loved this about the book. Her art is big and raw and about grief and hurt; it’s installation art rather than paintings and it uses unconventional media. It’s refreshing to have her discuss her art with a female curator and a female collector, both also with diverse Caribbean heritages, as well.

A good read, one step towards the literary from the straight romance genre still but nicely done by the author, and I would certainly read another of their novels, realising they’re quite different to this one. I’ve added my social justice – race tag to this to remind myself it’s an all-Black cast but there are obviously points made about societal racism, not wanting one’s art to go to an old White male collector, etc.

Thank you to Faber and Faber for selecting me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “You Made a Fool of Death with your Beauty” is published on 26 May 2022.

Book review – Sara Novic – “True Biz”

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A really interesting novel from NetGalley here about the D/deaf community in the US – not an area I knew much about, either there or over here (I would LOVE some recommendations on books, fiction or non-fiction, on the D/deaf community in the UK as I’ve had trouble locating anything but expensive academic works but I know they must be out there). I did check with a friend who has experience with the D/deaf community in the UK and confirmed that many of the issues are similar to those in the US, the only difference being that the NHS provides cochlear implants and the relevant training and support, where basic US health insurance gives implants without support, from the book. We’re onto books I’ve finished in May now, although this was an extra one I picked up in March and published in April.

Sara Novic – “True Biz”

(25 March 2022 – NetGalley)

We meet February, the head teacher of a school for the deaf in a relatively run-down American city, the hearing child of deaf parents and bilingual in English and sign language, and Charlie, a teenager who’s transferred to the school after sinking at a mainstream school, de-languaged by the installation of a cochlear implant that’s never worked properly, without the accompanying high-intensity therapy that’s needed to navigate the world with one, while not having been allowed to learn sign language. Now she and her dad are learning ASL at night school community classes run at the school, while her mother still refuses to learn. Charlie and the other teenagers have the usual preoccupations with classes, lessons, friendships and relationships, all mediated through the various bits of tech that a person with a hearing disability need – from video phones to flashing alarm clocks to new apps.

The school is under threat and February’s relationship with her wife Mel deteriorates as she holds this knowledge to herself. Meanwhile, her mother, who is living with them at the start of the book, is becoming more overwhelmed with dementia: will a care home living with an old deaf friend of hers help? I loved that Feb just happens to be gay, just as Charlie’s roommate Kayla just happens to be Black – although their characteristics do throw up plot points through the book. I particularly appreciated learning about Black ASL and its origins and differences from ASL.

This was not the only learning point. The book is full of sign language lessons and exercises from presumably a textbook they are learning from themselves – although at one point, associated with a part of the story where Charlie is engaging in various risky drug and sex behaviours with her anarchopunk sometime high school boyfriend, we get an awful lot of interesting signs for various sexual activities (don’t look at these too closely while being a visual learner, as they will become engrained in your mind forever!). I liked the way Charlie’s experience of spoken and signed language is conveyed to us with dashes where she can’t understand a word, and signed communication is written in italics, spoken in plain type. The history of ASL is covered in boxes (I think this book would work better as a physical book than an e-book, actually, in layout terms) and current issues, like the apparent wish to eradicate D/deafness and its culture by implanting all babies or genetically engineering it out of them, and issues there around class and race, are explored through the characters’ lives and experiences.

I wanted this book to end on a more positive note, and was sure it would when a certain plot point happened. However, all is not light and positivity in the D/deaf community as regards culture and education, so this is more realistic. There were lovely points, for example when Charlie finally gets an interpreter in her implant appointments when she can understand enough ASL, and her dodgy high school boyfriend makes an effort to sign and be lip-read and is careful around consent. The different experiences of different kinds of people are explored with care and understanding. The author’s note thanks the Deaf community, of which she is part, and lists real schools that have already closed.

Thank you to Little, Brown for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “True Biz” was published on 21 April 2022.

Here’s a great review by Grab The Lapels, who has been immersed in ASL and Deaf culture for the past year and gives a view on the book from that valuable perspective.

Book review – Candice Carty-Williams – “People Person”

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I thoroughly enjoyed Candice Carty-Williams’ “Queenie“, which I’ve recommended and loaned to lots of people, and was eagerly awaiting what she produced next. I haven’t read her body-swap YA novel “Empress and Aniya” (yet) but this one popped up on NetGalley, her new novel for adults, and I was thrilled to win it and had even more fun reading it. We’re still reading about a Black woman in South London but this is definitely not just more of the same, but a fresh departure for Carty-Williams.

Candice Carty-Williams – “People Person”

(19 March 2022 – NetGalley)

Marley stared as his grandad, blinking his long lashes at him slowly while taking his face in. He reached his arms out to Cyril, who stepped back.

‘I don’t hug and dem tings dere!’ Cyril laughed nervously. ‘You teaching this boy to be soft, Danny?’

That ht Danny harder than any punch he’d ever felt.

‘Come on, Marley, let’s get you something to eat,’ he whispered to Marley, hugging his son tighter than he ever had.

‘Cyril.’ Tracy shook her head at the father of her son, disappointed. Not that she expected any more from him.

Cyril Pennington thinks of himself as a people person – he’s certainly a ladies’ man and he’s spread five (that he knows) children around a fairly small area of South London. Introducing them to each other when he feels they’re old enough to need warning off accidental incest, he then retreats to being very much the hands-off father, as his various exes are left raising the children.

Fast forward until Dimple, 30, the middle one, unable to control her leaking emotions, trying to be an influencer from her mum’s bedroom and taking all her self-worth from the men and audience she tries to attract, has a crisis on her hands in the form of an accident that’s happened to her boyfriend. She calls her oldest sister, Nikisha, the one who can cope with anything, and who is slightly scary with it, and Nikisha calls in (over-)chilled mixed-heritage Danny, uptight medical student Lizzie (almost Dimple’s exact contemporary and twitchy about that, too) and cheeky Prynce, Nikisha’s younger brother. Together they deal with the situation in their own ways, and the on-going chaos it releases.

I love the way all the characters relate to each other and their mums, staying in character and on-brand but revealing different sides of them as they go. Lizzie just wants to protect her girlfriend from getting sucked into it all (and her career), Danny has a murky past down to pure loyalty, Nikisha is a bit of a mystery still and Prynce looks like he might be going to follow in their father’s footsteps but does look up to Danny. I would have liked a bit more of Danny and Nikisha but that’s a small note, as I so enjoyed following the chaotic events in the novel, brought back together by set pieces at parties and funerals, the set of unlikely siblings with their little similarities having each other’s backs all the way through.

We finish with a satisfying epilogue. Characters have learned, points from current events are woven in and reacted to, but lives are messy and not everything is a learning point. Carty-Williams is a strong and very able writer, and I will read everything she writes, even though this veers on being a thriller / caper at points. An excellent novel and well worth the hype!

Thank you to Orion for selecting me to read this novel in return for an honest review. “People Person” was published on 28 April 2022.

State of the TBR – May 2022

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Oh, the shame of my TBR shelf! For there is … a PILE! How could there be? But there is. It’s down to the amazing haul of books I scored from the Oxfam Bookshop Moseley in the month (see here for details). And I have (at least) managed to get it into the run of books, albeit sideways and in a pile, because I have taken several off the shelves since last month (I’ve realised I’ve included my big stash of Three Investigators novels in the pic – I normally move them aside and they play no part in my stats (OK?!)).

I managed to finish a grand total of TWENTY books in April, which I was really pleased with (helped by being near the end of a couple at the turnover of the month and finishing one of my readalongs with Emma). I managed to finish and review eight out of the nine e-books I intended to read, including the two non-fiction books published in March that I’d not got to that month, and only missing “The Go-Between” (not that one), which was published in January and adding in one more that I’m half-way through “True Biz”. (“The Love Songs of W.E.B. Dubois” is resisting me but I will get to it.). I have two books finished in April whose reviews are written but will be published next week).

I started my new quarter of TBR challenge books and managed to complete five of them, so not brilliant but not hopeless, with 36 left to go.

Shiny New Books

I reviewed “This Woman’s Work: Essays on Music” edited by Sinéad Gleeson and Kim Gordon for Shiny New Books – an excellent and diverse collection of essays on women in music by women, which really had something for everyone.

Incomings

In print books, it looks like I was quite restrained until we remember the nine books from earlier in the month.

The publisher Michael Walmer offered me a choice of backlist books after I reviewed “Letters on Shetland” and I chose “Foula: Island West of the Sun”, a memoir by Sheila Gear about farming on a tiny remote island. Natalie Morris’ “Mixed/Other” was a book that Past Me had pre-ordered in paperback; it’s a book about multiraciality in Britain today. And I popped up to Oxfam Books to pick up two more Virago Travellers for Kaggsy and it’s therefore entirely her fault I spotted Robert MacFarlane’s “Landmarks” in the window (actually, it was Matthew who pointed it out to me …) and had to buy it.

I bought several e-books for Kindle this month:

Because I’d won Christie Barlow‘s newest Love Heart Lane novel from NetGalley, I felt I needed to fill in books 4-6 (“Starcross Manor”, “Primrose Park” and “The Lake House”) so I could get all the back story filled in. Simon at Stuck-in-A-Book heartily recommended E. Nesbit’s “The Red House” and I found a cheap copy, and David Harewood’s memoir “Maybe I Don’t Belong Here” on race and his breakdown, and John Barnes’ “The Uncomfortable Truth About Racism” were both on my wishlist and both in the Kindle sale.

I won a lot of NetGalley books this month again:

Lucy Dickens’ “The Holiday Bookshop” (published in July) sees the heroine running a bookshop in the Maldives, a bit different there, Josie Lloyd’s “Lifesaving for Beginners” (July) is an ensemble piece about female friendship and sea swimming and Camille Baker’s “The Moment we Met” (July) pits a busy Black woman against a dating app. Emily Henry’s “Book Lovers” (May) is an enemies-to-lovers light read set in the world of book editors and agents, “Daisy’s French Farmhouse” by Lorraine Wilson (May) was offered to me by the publisher and has the heroine find a new life in France and Christie Barlow’s “The New Doctor at Peony Practice” (May) is the newest Love Heart Lane novel set in Scotland. In non-fiction, “Birdgirl” by Mya-Rose Craig (June) is the memoir of a young woman committed to birdwatching and environmentalism, “Inside Qatar” by John McManus (Sep) looks at the rise of this tiny, rich and troubled country, and “The Ponies at the Edge of the World” by Catherine Munro (May) continues my interest in Shetland. “Why We Read” edited by Josephine Greywoode interrogates 70 writers on why they read non-fiction.

So that was 20 read and, along with the 9 of the Oxfam haul, 28 coming in in April – oops!

Currently reading

I’m currently reading Katherine MacInnes’ amazing “Snow Widows” about the wives of Scott of the Antarctic et al. and Jude Rogers’ super “The Sound of Being Human” (started in pdf but I wanted to get the book) for Shiny New Books. “Cut from the Same Cloth?” is my current read with Emma (got off to a very theoretical start but looks like a good mix of essays by British women who wear the hijab) and my e-book novel is “True Biz” by Sara Novic, a novel set in a school for deaf people in the US which is fascinating.

Coming up next, my print TBR that I must read …

I want to get my teeth into “Foula” and I need to read those two British Library Women Writers novels, Rose Macaulay’s “Keeping up Appearances” and Maud Cairnes’ “Strange Journey”. It’s Real LIves month in the LibraryThing Virago Readers group so time to tackle this substantial “Virago Book of Women Travellers” and it’s Heaven-Ali’s Daphne du Maurier Week this month and she kindly loaned me “The Scapegoat to read for it … and there’s also of course my Larry McMurtry.

My NetGalley TBR for May is fairly full, and because it includes that Love Heart Lane book, I need to read books 1-6 of that series first (I have the first three as a cheapy omnibus e-book).

So from those incomings above, I have “Why We Read”, “Daisy’s French Farmhouse”, “Book Lovers”, “The Ponies at the End of the World” and “The New Doctor at Peony Practice”, then I have Sara Cox’s novel of community and pottery, “Thrown”, Susanna Abse’s therapists’ tales, “Tell me the Truth About Love”, Akwaeke Emezi’s “You Made a Fool of Death with your Beauty” (I hear this novel opens with a shocking scene so hope I can deal with it!) and Clare Pooley’s new community-based novel, “The People on Platform 5”.

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong which will take a while), that’s 21 books I think I’m going to read this month, and that’s not including getting a few more off the print TBR, too! I do have a weekend away with two longish train journeys coming up this month at least …


How was your April reading? What are you reading this month? Have you read or picked up any of my selection?

Book review – Sairish Hussain – “The Family Tree”

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I had been pretty desperate to pull a real-life, physical book from my TBR, as I have been terribly guilty of only reading physical review or challenge books and NetGalley ebooks recently. And how glad I am that I took this one off, such a good story, if a traumatic read at times, and so absorbing. I apparently bought this on a pre-order in the autumn of 2020 and it turned up slightly unexpectedly in November of that year – I have at least now read all of the four books I acquired then.

Sairish Hussain – “The Family Tree”

(27 November 2020)

Saahil spoke of success as thought it was waiting around for him like a faithful pet dog. It would come rushing to him as soon as he whistled. He’d worked hard enough for it and more importantly, Saahil wanted it badly enough. (p. 85)

This is the second book I’ve read recently (“Yinka, Where is Your Huzband?” being the other) where the author has written in an author’s note that they wanted to write the book they wanted to read, where they saw themselves represented. In Hussain’s case, she’s written a great book about Pakistani Muslims in a Northern British town which has not one arranged marriage plot or row about headscarves or any other stereotypical plot point. What it is is a fresh, approachable, well-researched and at times visceral portrayal of an ordinary family going through events that could happen to anyone.

We open with Amjad caring for his baby daughter, Zahra after his wife’s death in childbirth. He wraps her in his wife’s beautiful pashmina shawl, with its image of a tree with birds fluttering around and in it, and this shawl will see us through the next 500-odd pages. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but we watch Amjad doing his best, helped by his mum and his best friend Harun and Meena, who step in to help and support the little family, completed by Amjad’s son Saahil and Harun and Meena’s son Ehsan, Saahil’s best friend. We watch the kids growing up, close as anything, and then Saahil and Ehsan are finishing university and going for a night out which for the one gobby, handsome boy and the other quieter lad will change their lives forever.

Bringing in themes of addiction, revenge, homelessness and betrayal, we watch events slowly unfold for another decade, but secrets will always come out, people who have gone away can almost never stay away, and various characters will have to decide whether or not to forgive.

The family drama is set against the changing times in the country. Zahra has never really known the UK before 9/11, as she’s eight when the attacks occur, and she becomes an ardent feminist and highly politicised, writing a provocative blog that she knows will be undermining her opportunities to work as an investigative journalist for the BBC – will she get any chances? Her cousins in Birmingham don’t think so, with their middle son offering a vignette of the institutional racism of job applications.

I loved the main and supporting characters, Ammi with her lack of English and range of colourful swearwords, Libby, Zahra’s best friend, and Ken, an older White bloke who comes into their lives and provides an unexpected strength to them (I also liked the White characters being the side-kicks). Having Ken in the mix, as well as Zahra and Saahil’s university friends, allows Hussain to demonstrate learning points and microaggressions without making it laboured or didactic. I liked how one character is shown regaining dignity through his religion, while mosque is a central point for Amjad and different kinds of imam are shown.

I’m glad the current upswell in publishing of works by Global Majority People is continuing and allowing writers like Sairish Hussain to write what they have wanted to read for a long time and give representation to others in their communities. A genuinely suspenseful, heartfelt and moving first novel, this is a good and recommended read.


This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 3 Book 2/41 – 39 to go.

Yet more Another Bookish Beck Book Serendipity : this was the second book in quick succession (the other being “Blessed is the Daughter …“) to mention Crimewatch. I can only think this is an example of Baader-Meinhof Syndrome (you see something once and it’s suddenly everywhere) although I really can’t think of Crimewatch being mentioned anywhere else recently!

Book review – Tété-Michel Kpomassie – “Michel the Giant” (formerly “An African in Greenland”)

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I finished reading this on 1 April, still working my way through that mega-pile of books from NetGalley published in March and, for this one, February (I found out about its existence at the very end of February). I was very excited to be able to read this finally, as I’ve been keeping a look out for it since I found out it existed in … the 1990s, it must have been. Thank you to Penguin for republishing it (with a new Afterword by the author) and for approving me to read it in return for an honest review.

Tété-Michel Kpomassie“Michel the Giant” (formerly “An African in Greenland”)

(27 February 2022)

This new diet caused me considerable alarm. I wondered if I was to be fed on nothing but whale skin during my stay in Greenland. I could still change my mind if I wanted to. The ship, which was to call at two other ports before returning to Denmark, would be staying for several days at Qaqortoq. It crossed my mind to go straight back to Europe, but I hesitated. Could I suddenly give up what had taken me so long to achieve, just because of a bit of raw whale skin?

“Michel the Giant” is what the author was called by the Greenlanders he towered over in his couple of years in the country, but I love the earlier title, explaining exactly what the book is about!

Tété-Michel was born in Togo and it was only by chance he realised such a place as Greenland existed – he used to save up his small amount of working income and pick over the random books a local shop had for sale. One day there was a book featuring the Inuit people of Greenland. One look at the book and he determined he was going to go there (he worked out that he could hunt, they hunted, so he’d be OK) and so he waited till he was grown up enough, ran away from home and worked his way to disembarkation from Denmark EIGHT YEARS later. In that time he lived with various benefactors, including one French man who became his surrogate father, showing a remarkable resilience and ability to work, make friends and learn languages which was to stand him in good stead.

What I was expecting from the book, and found in it, was a lot of really gruesome stuff around the lifestyle of the Greenlanders – hunting, eating all sorts of things one really wouldn’t fancy eating, accidents and incidents, quite a few needing me to cover my Kindle as I hastily flicked the pages. But it’s 1960s Greenland seen through the eyes of a hunter from Africa who wants to live as the Greenlanders do, so I’m not sure it’s something one can complain about as such. I was also expecting him to stand out a bit, and that he did, with people mentioning they’d read about him in the paper and waited a year to meet him, etc. I was expecting some carousing and partying as I’ve read before about the use of alcohol in Greenland (this seemed to surprise Tété-Michel, coming from a culture where alcohol was eked out on ceremonial occasions) than it did me. I was a bit surprised about all the sex that went on, swapping partners and being offered other men’s wives; but then he’s a red-blooded man in his mid-20s and the culture is there, so again not something I can criticise (he does offer a critique, explaining his own jealousy but also how the serious partner-swapping between married couples does cement society and put in safeguards in a place where people die young and accidents are common).

A literate and thoughtful man, Tété-Michel draws many comparisons between Greenland and Togo, for example in the ways that hunters pay tribute to the souls of their prey. Some things like the alcohol differ, but others are very similar.

As he wonders whether to stay or go, an urge to educate his fellow Africans hits him and he determines to travel home and tell them. Arriving unannounced, he finds life at home hot and difficult, and he’s soon off again, producing a newspaper to tell of his travels as a family business then returning to Europe, a restless soul. He also visits Greenland at least three more times, keeping in touch with many of his former hosts – all of this is explained in the afterword, which adds a lot of value.

A book that is both what I expected and more. I’m so glad it’s been reprinted and I’ve finally got to read it! In yet another Bookish Beck Book Serendipity moment, this was the second book in a row I read that contained a glossary, the first being the Warsan Shire poems!

Book reviews – Maya Angelou – “And Still I Rise” and Warsan Shire – “Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in her Head”

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A double review today of two shortish poetry books, both written by Black women about gender and racial oppression, among other things, each including a very famous poem, one published a good 30 years before the other and both saying similar things. The Maya Angelou was part of the box set I’ve been reading along with Ali and Meg, and the Warsan Shire came to me via NetGalley. Even though I’ve got an English degree and should be good at this stuff, I don’t read much poetry and am not the best at writing about it, so forgive these short reviews and go and read the books!

Maya Angelou – “And Still I Rise”

(April 2021)

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I rise. (“Still I Rise”, p. 41)

This book was originally published by Virago in 1986 and collects the two books, “And Still I Rise” (1978) and “Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing?” (1982) which were published in the US. There are themes of womanhood, violence against women, resilience, music and power. “Men” is a heart-wrenching description of how a man can be gentle at first with a young women, moving to violence and pain by degrees; “Phenomenal Woman” celebrates women and reads like a jazz song (and is mentioned in “I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter” in a bookish serendipity moment). “On Aging” is funny but relatable: let her age and let her still be strong, and it was interesting to read “A Caged Bird” and think of the first volume of her autobiography. “Still I Rise” is the famous one here, and stands out, readable and understandable; where the poems became more opaque and metaphorical, I got a little lost, as I tend to do. I’m glad to have read this collection.

I read this book in March. This one rounded up my read of the Virago boxset along with Ali and Meg: I now have a pictorial celebration of Angelou’s life and three volumes of her essays to read. It was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 3 Book 1/41 – 40 to go.

Warsan Shire – “Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in her Head”

(21 December 2021)

No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. You only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well.

[…]

No one puts their children in a boat, unless the water is safer than the land. (“Home”)

Like Angelou so many years before, Shire addresses issues of violence against women and racial violence, although in her case the context is a British one and around immigration. Some of these poems are hard to read (again), some are funny; some interact with Somali culture, some with Islam, some with British popular culture; all are thought-provoking.

Here, “Home” is the famous poem; who hasn’t read that and if not wept, at least had a hard think? Many poems are addressed to “Hooyo”, defined as “Mother” in the glossary, and cover different aspects of a young woman’s and an immigrant’s life, creating her own way through the world in the absence of a tangible mother figure. I did love the glossary, which includes entries for, for example, “Baati: Somali house dress […] Buraaanbur: A traditional poetic form composed by Somali women, accompanied by dance and drumming, performed as a celebration. Crimewatch: British television program that reconstructs major unsolved crimes in the UK”.

Poems talk about Victoria Climbié, the Ivorian child who was murdered in London, and unnamed victims of violence and hatred, but the whole collection rises above tragedy with its power and clear eye. Highly recommended.

Thank you to Random House / Vintage for selecting me to receive this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in her Head” was published on 10 March 2022.

State of the TBR – April 2022

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Looking at my TBR shelf I notice that it’s about as full as it was last month (though with more review books) so at least it hasn’t got any worse, has it …

I read 13 books in in March, which I was pretty disappointed with, although I was having a very busy time at work in the first couple of weeks, and it’s still not too bad (note that there are a few more books in than out last month, however!) I only managed to finish and review seven of the eleven NetGalley ebooks I intended to read, although I have since finished two more (“The Love Songs of W.E.B. Dubois” is STILL proving hard to get into but I will persist). I have two reads from March left to review which is fine as I like to be reviewing in advance in case I don’t have time during the week. One of these was the Maya Angelou poems that finishes my set and I read my Larry McMurtry 2022 book for the month. The Angelou was number 13 out of 53 in the second quarter of my TBR Project, so I have 40 books left to read of that (I’m reading one at the moment) in six months, which makes 6.66 books per month and means I need to get on with that! I read two books for Reading Wales 2022, both by Richard King, “Brittle with Relics” and “The Lark Ascending” and bought another.

Shiny New Books

I reviewed “Brittle With Relics” for Shiny New Books as well as on here (see link above) with a less emotional and more “professional” review.

Incomings

In print books, you would think I have NOT been restrained this month as I was last month. But actually it’s all down to review copies coming in (thank you!), books being pushed on me and Unbound books getting published, oh, and needing to buy the second book in a series when I won the third one on NetGalley. So really, I only slipped up with Ted Edwards’ “Fight the Wild Island: A Solo Walk Across Iceland” which I suddenly found at a good second-hand price (so that hardly counts, either!).

I was kindly sent “Snow Widows” by Katherine MacInnes (the story of the widows of Scott of the Antarctic and his expedition mates and what happened next: how cool is that?), “This Woman’s Work”, edited by Kim Gordon and Sinead Gleeson, about women and music; Rob Cowan’s poetry book, “The Heeding” (OK, the publicist sent this to me in error but I peeked at it and was drawn in, it came in Feb, actually); and Maud Carnes’ “Strange Journey” and Rose Macaulay’s “Keeping up Appearances” which are the two latest in the British Library Women Writers reprints series.

Then “100 Voices” ed Miranda Roszkowski is an Unbound book I subscribed to, showcasing 100 women and their stories of achievement; my friend Meg pressed “Detransition Baby” by Torrey Peters onto me, saying I had to read it; and I had to buy Nicola May’s “Starry Skies in Ferry Lane Market” because I have book 1 already and won book 3 on NetGalley.

I bought two e-books this month: Malala Yousafzai’s “We are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls” and Charlotte William’s “Sugar and Slate”, a memoir of growing up Black and Welsh which was the readalong for Reading Wales this year – I was holding out for a print copy but none was to be found that was affordable and I won’t leave it till next March!

I won a lot of NetGalley books this month (but not toooooo many are published in April, thank goodness):

“Tell Me the Truth About Love” by Susanna Abse (published in May) is tales from a therapist on love and relationships; Sara Cox’s “Thrown” (May) is a novel about community and, yes, pottery; Osman Yousefzada’s “The Go-Between” (Jan) is a coming-of-age story set in 1980s and 1990s Birmingham where the author crosses two worlds and cultures; Nicola May’s “Rainbows End in Ferry Lane Market” (Apr) is third in a series about a small community; Salma El-Wardany’s “These Impossible Things” (Jun) charts the lives of three British Muslim women over the years; Sara Novic’s “True Biz” (May) is set in a school for the D/deaf and examines both the pupils and the head as it struggles for survival; in “You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty” by Akwaeke Emezi (May) a Nigerian woman struggling with grief goes to the Caribbean and finds love and friendship; and Candice Carty-Williams’ “People Person” (Apr) has a woman in South London finding she has five half-siblings …

So that was 13 read and 18 coming in in March – oops!

Currently reading

I’m currently reading Sairish Hussain’s “The Family Tree”, a multigenerational saga set in a Muslim family in the UK, because I had to take something from my standard print TBR. When I took this picture earlier today, I was reading Warsan Shire’s “Bless the Daughter Raised by A Voice in Her Head” but I’ve finished this amazing hook of poetry already, as it was both short and powerful.

Coming up next, my print TBR that I must read …

… includes the review books already mentioned, TWO Larry McMurtry’s (they are short ones) to finish the Duane/Thalia series, and that middle Ferry Market novel. I would ideally like to get something else from the normal print TBR, too.

My NetGalley TBR for April isn’t too bad:

So from those incomings above, I have “The Go Between” by Osman Yousefzada, “People Person” by Candice Carty-Williams and the two Ferry Lane Market books (books 1 and 3). I also have Julie Shackman’s “A Scottish Highland Surprise”, which the publisher kindly offered me via NetGalley, and Bonnie Garmus’ exciting looking “Lessons in Chemistry”. Elizabeth Fair’s “The Native Heath” was sent to me by Dean Street Press ages ago and somehow got overlooked: it fits in with Kaggsy and Simon’s 1954 Challenge so out if comes! I do also have “Shadowlands” and “The Ship Asunder” left over from my March NetGalley TBR, however I notice that all but one of the April ones are novels, which should help me get through them relatively rapidly, I hope …

That’s 15 books to read this month, which I hope I can manage, but hopefully I’ll get a few more off the print TBR, too!


How was your March reading? What are you reading this month? Have you read or picked up any of my selection?

Book review – Lizzie Damilola Blackburn – “Yinka, Where is Your Huzband?”

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The seventh out of eleven books I had to read from NetGalley which are out this month (as of writing and publishing this review, I’m in the middle of two more so haven’t done quite as badly as I feared, although the two remaining ones are substantial works of non-fiction). This is another excellent debut novel; I’ve been so lucky to read a few really good ones recently, thanks to NetGalley.

Lizzie Damilola Blackburn – “Yinka, Where is Your Huzband?”

(18 October 2021)

I’ve never been a loquacious person, but once I start talking it’s hard to stop. It’s as though someone has reached into a bathtub and pulled out the plug, and now all the murky, dirty water is whirling beyond my control.

Yinka is 31 and, at the moment, she has a job in the operations department of an investment bank. She split up with her last boyfriend a good while ago but no one has come along in the meantime. When her cousin announces her engagement and her mum and aunties keep praying – out loud, in public – for her to find a husband (or, even more importantly, a “huzband”, one approved of by said mum and aunties and preferably put forward by one of them), she formulates a plan. Soon she’s busy eschewing chicken shops and pretending she can cook Nigerian food, casually “borrowing” her best friend’s clothes and, in short, pretending to be who she isn’t. When things start to go wrong, she’s still bluffing, this time to her friends as well as her family. What’s left to divert from her usual ways – oh, drinking and messing around on men’s sofas – because Yinka’s a Christian and she doesn’t believe in getting drunk and sex before marriage. Is it time for her friends – with her White workmates and her Black best friend joining up against her – to stage an intervention? Can she pull herself back from the brink?

I’ve seen some Nigerian and Nigerian British bloggers expressing disappointment with this book as showing a stereotyped view of Nigerian British people – especially the older generation, with its leagues of aunties demanding respect. I am of course in no way qualified to discuss this judgement, and it’s obviously a valid one if it’s made from inside the community this book describes. I would say that as a non-Nigerian British reader, I certainly didn’t think any less of the characters or of the Nigerian British community for real having read this book, which I think a load of negative stereotypes would risk doing. The aunties chimed with my reading of books by South Asian writers, also prone to them, and the characters felt really well-differentiated to me, with different motives and outcomes, so not a homogeneous whole, and you could see why they acted as they did. And I loved so much about this book …

I loved that Yinka’s Christianity was shown as a strong point and a good thing, not something to be chipped away at. A good lot of the characters volunteered at an outreach centre for the homeless and, while that was a plot device to have them interact, too, it felt authentic – and men took on caring roles there, too. I loved her friends and her sister, and the way they showed different ways to be and to be successful in career and family terms. I really loved that there was an aromantic character – and that they explained the difference from asexuality and were left space to be their own self. There was LGBTQI representation in the gay workmate and his stable relationship, too, just there, being happy, no trauma and drama. I loved how Yinka’s colleagues modelled how to be friends with her, listening to what she said and buying her gifts that carefully reflected her culture. I loved that it’s more than a rom-com, that her friends and friendships and cousins are more important than any man.

I especially loved that it was set around New Cross, Peckham and other bits of South London I know well (although now, when they’re a bit more fancy – Yinka is not wrong when she’s surprised to find a Costa full of hipsters on Peckham High Street). It also has a lovely description of the therapeutic relationship as Yinka struggles to tell her dark-skinned counsellor about the colourism she’s experienced. Blackburn almost pushes her behaviour too far, as well: we see her silencing a celebration and bemoaning that no one supports her, and she can be very unlikeable, but in my opinion, Blackburn pulls that back from the brink.

Now we’ve got to the nub about running round South London as a young Black woman and exploring therapy – is this another “Queenie”, then? No, it’s not – and is there not room for more than one novel about young Black women running around South London, just as we have lots of books about middle-class, artistic, White families or Irish millennials. Let’s celebrate and make room for more books about more kinds of people. Another excellent debut novel and I can’t wait to see what she writes next.

Thank you to Penguin for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “Yinka, Where is Your Huzband” is published today, 31 March 2022.


Another Bookish Beck Book Serendipity moment: this is the third novel in a row that has portrayed a (very positive) therapeutic relationship. I’m pretty sure not all the novels I read feature someone going to see a therapist or counsellor, but who knows!

Book review – Erika L. Sanchez – “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter”

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The sixth out of eleven books to read from NetGalley this month (and yes, I’m aware it’s the 27th and I’m not going to do it; I am part-way through both “Yinka …” and “An African in Greenland” at the moment so I think I’ve done OK). This is another excellent debut novel; I’ve been so lucky to read a few really good ones recently, thanks to NetGalley.

Erika L. Sanchez – “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter”

(6 Feb 2022)

“I’m from Chicago, I like books, pizza, and David Bowie. My favorite color is red. Your turn.”

“But where are you from from?”

“I’m from Chicago, I just told you.”

“No, what I I mean is … Forget it.” Connor looks embarrassed.

“You mean you want to know my ethnicity. What kind of brown I am.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Connor smiles apologetically.

“I’m Mexican. You could’ve just asked, you know?” I can’t help but smirk. “I prefer it when people are straightforward.”

“Yeah, I see your point. Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s cool. What about you, though?” Where are you from? What are you into?”

“Umm … Evanston, burgers, and drums.”

“But where are you from from?”

Connor laughs. “I’m a typical American mutt – German, Irish, Italian and-“

“Wait, wait” Let me guess. Your great-grandmother was a Cherokee princess.”

“No, I was going to say Spanish.”

“Ah yes, our conquerors. And your favorite color?”

The book opens notably with our heroine, Julia, looking at the body of her sister, Olga, who was the perfect Mexican daughter, killed by a car in their hometown of Chicago, travelling from the community college back home, where she helped their mum cook and clean and also do her cleaning jobs outside the home.

Julia is very different. She’s a writer, and she’s keen to break away and go to a big college in New York or another city. While her best friend Lorena seems happy with her life obsessed with boys and not wanting to move away, Julia wants more, although Lorena’s path is equally validated, reminding me of the three boys in “Good Intentions“. When she realises there might have been something they didn’t know to Olga’s seemingly quiet life, she tries to work out what was going on; her geographical world also starts to shift slightly as she meets her first boyfriend, Connor and starts hanging out in his more middle-class neighbourhood.

When a crisis hits and is sent home to her grandmother in Mexico, she learns more about the mum she clashes with, once a rebellious teenager herself, and her dad’s secret artistic leanings. She also learns more about just how their journey across the border played out. But will that change her need to escape from her family life in Chicago, or will her time out of school affect her college chances?

The book is subtly done; in the mental health outpatients’ unit, Julia learns about different ways to cope and has a role model in the form of her counsellor; while Connor offers to help her hack into Olga’s laptop, she manages it on her own; Julia’s poverty and their inequity is shown nicely when she can’t afford lunch on a trip out while he plans on wasting money on amusing thrift-store purchases; and not all secrets are told, while characters do come to understand one another better.

There’s a list of mental health resources, an interview with the author and readers’ group questions in the back of the book, and America Ferrera is making it into a Netflix series, so plenty of extras; I think it would do well as a book group read and extends beyond the YA audience.

Thank you to Oneworld Publications for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter” was published on 3 March 2022.


A couple of Bookish Beck Book Serendipity moments centred around this novel. In this book and the previous one I read, “Duane’s Depressed” we get details of the therapeutic relationship with a psychotherapist. More surprisingly and notably, this one, “Duane” and my next read, Richard King’s “The Lark Ascending” all have mentions of Thoreau, perhaps more surprising here where he pops up as someone the heroine has read about. Last one, which I might as well include – Richard King talks about both Margaret Atwood and her environmentalism in general and her championing of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and I’ve just read Atwood’s chapter on that very book in her new collection of essays.

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