Book review – Lyn Liao – “Crazy Bao You”


Looking at her bio, Liao seems to normally write and publish thrillers, but this light romance was really well done and interesting for its multicultural background.

Lyn Liao – “Crazy Bao You”

(3 April 2023, NetGalley)

I couldn’t believe I’d just told Matt I was Russian. Bad enough that I thought I was Korean, then Chinese, and then Taiwanese. Now Matt thought I was Russian. My identity crisis was getting worse. I was lying to a man I was starting to care about a lot. And I had no idea how to get myself out of this predicament.

Kimmie Park always thought she was Korean, but when her parents died, she found out she was Chinese and adopted. Since she was 16, she’s been living in the family flat in Oklahoma, having to drive an hour to find decent East Asian groceries, with a bit of a dead-end job with a horrible boss in a home furnishings shop and an Etsy shop on the side where she sells cute bags and purses to a small but appreciative audience.

Then suddenly two things happen: Kimmie takes down her horrible boss by dancing (really?) and shouting the truth at him, it’s filmed and shared and goes viral against her wishes and knowledge, and not wanting this to get associated with her shop, she takes some pictures of her superficially more attractive best friend Alicia with her products, leaving everyone to assume Alicia is her. Including hot trust-fund kid, family-firm-abandoning Matt, who has bought a bag for his grandma (his grandma was an excellent character). If it had been the other way around, would it be catfishing? Because Kimmie and Matt establish a close relationship on the phone and in Instagram DMs but she can’t work out a way to tell him she’s not who he thinks she is. However, he’s somehow worked out from their chats that she might not look like Alicia, so when things are eventually resolved, he doesn’t mind at all (there’s also a very positive meet-the-adoptive-mother story arc with no conflict apart from some initial nervousness).

Will Kimmie pluck up the courage to leave Oklahoma when she gets an amazing business opportunity? Her worries were made real and she’s offered an opportunity to work on her anxiety and grow. I liked the casual multiculturalism of the cast (Alicia has Mexican and Japanese heritage, Matt’s best friend is Black, Kimmie reconnects with the only other Asian American girl at her school) and the descriptions of Kimmie finding she doesn’t stick out so much in New York and can find wonderful food and cultural experiences as soon as she steps out of her door. The plot is a bit far-fetched but is positive and thoughtful, and toxic masculinity is addressed and unpicked to an extent in the scenes in Matt’s fire department workplace.

This would make a fun holiday read and the representation is likely to please GMP readers and those who like to read about different cultures and especially their food.

Thank you to LLB Independent Book Publishers Association for selecting me to read this book via NetGalley. “Crazy Bao You” is published on 06 June 2023.

20 Books of Summer 2023


Every year, Cathy from 746 Books runs a 20 Books of Summer (Winter for the Southern Hemisphere) challenge and every year I participate using books from my physical, print TBR. This year it runs from 1 June until 1 September. You can see the book lists and results from all my previous attempts here.

I usually choose books from the beginning of my TBR, the oldest books on the shelf, but I’ve decided to do something a bit different this year (and I had fun with a teaser picture of the books at an angle, with some excellent suggestions on Facebook on how I’d chosen them).

The pile …

So from the top, the oldest one …

Eniola Aluko – “They Don’t Teach This” – her life in football as a Black woman

Robert Twigger – “Walking the Great North Line” – a journey through Britain

– Matthew bought me these two from The Heath Bookshop in September 2022.

Sally Xerri Brooks – “Four Movements” – short stories

– I actually know Sally but wasn’t able to attend her bookshop event, also in September, so my friend Claire bought me this signed copy.

Jess Phillips – “The Life of an MP” – how it all works, with her customary wit and spark

– Jess did an event at the bookshop in October and I bought her new book and got it signed.

Kit de Waal – “My Name is Leon” – a novel about adoption and trauma

– when I attended Kit’s talk at the bookshop in early October, I bought this one alongside her autobiography, which I have already read, not able to resist it.

Brian Bilston – “Days Like These” – his newest book of poetry (I might read this a month a week over the summer)

– His reading at a local school in November 2022, hosted by The Heath Bookshop, was hilarious and moving and I had a lovely chat with him when I got it signed.

Lenny Henry – “Who Am I, Again?” – the first volume of his autobiography

– the Bookshop had a special event where you chose a book from the table and drew a discount from a pot – I got 10% off, having predicted that, but I didn’t mind!

Yaa Gyasi – “Homegoing” – a powerful novel

James Baldwin – “Go Tell it on the Mountain” – ditto, but a classic, as I’d never read Baldwin

Charles Mongomerie – “Happy City” – urban planning

Helena Lee – “East Side Voices” – stories from British Chinese writers

Kacen Callendar – “Lark & Kasim Start a Revolution” – YA multicultural fun with a heart

Kerri Andrews – “Wanderers” – tales of women walkers and explorers

– I bought all of these in an early January book token and The Heath Bookshop token splurge at the Bookshop.

Imogen Binnie – “Nevada” – trans road trip cult classic

– This was the book group read at the Bookshop earlier in the year, I don’t do book groups but I did want to read the book.

Dean Karnazes – “A Runner’s High” – about running sustainably as you age

– The Heath Bookshop sold Dean’s books with him at the National Running show, which I didn’t attend, but I heard they’d brought some signed copies back for the shop so nipped around to pick one up.

Ian Francis – “This Way to the Revolution” – 1960s Birmingham with images of places I remember from the 80s

– I kept looking at this one on the Big Shelf of Temptation in the bookshop; I thought someone might buy me a copy for my birthday so when they didn’t, I snapped it up!

Ross Barnett – “The Missing Lynx” – introducing predators and mammals in rewilding

– I had a book token that I’d printed out and wouldn’t work in bookshops that I wanted to spend in my January splurge, so I ordered it from The Heath Bookshop’s page on, therefore making sure they got a cut.

Adam Nathanial Furman and Joshua Mardell – “Queer Spaces” – a guide to LGBTQIA spaces around the world

– I was away on holiday when the authors came to the Hare and Hounds to do an event hosted by the Bookshop so I made sure I snapped up a copy before I went away.

Kavita Bhanot – “The Book of Birmingham” – stories about my city by local authors

– Matthew put a couple of remaining pounds on his Christmas book token in the Bookshop towards this

Richard Mabey – “The Unofficial Countryside” – cult classic about liminal spaces

– I asked Claire and Catherine at the Bookshop to order this in for me from Little Toller (publisher and bookshop) who had tweeted their worries about their own bookshop sales, so buying it via our indie bookshop seemed a win-win.

So have you guessed the theme yet? Yes, there’s a lovely orange / green / turquoise / white colourway going on, but also these are all books I have bought from The Heath Bookshop in the just over six months they’ve been open!

Book review – Nova Reid – “The Good Ally”


Although I forgot to note the date in the book, I apparently pre-ordered it to arrive upon publication in September 2021. I did record it in my October 2021 TBR post and I am pleased to note that I have now read and reviewed everything that had come in that September. This was at the beginning of my current TBR but I’m OK with that lag – there was such an outpouring of “Black Lives Matter” reading around 2021 and I’ve purposefully kept books back to keep reading and keep sharing authors’ words on racism and allyship. This one I can remember buying because I was looking for “what I can do next” while a lot of books were setting questions and not giving answers (which is absolutely fine, of course) and also continuing my search for UK-based books on social justice and anti-racism. I’ve read a few books in the meantime (see the categories under the blog heading for more, for example this one) and it sat well with that reading for me personally.

Nova Reid – “The Good Ally: A Guided Anti-Racism Journey from Bystander to Changemaker”

(21 September 2021)

Let’s reframe privilege as advantage. Even though I experience discrimination for being a woman and racism for being Black, in my social location, I can also recognise, as a Black able-bodied woman I still have societal advantage. As a woman and then a Black woman, whilst statistically receiving less pay than white women, nearly 40 per cent less than white men in similar roles, I will statistically receive more than my Black peers who also have a disability. Accepting and acknowledging this does not take away from my own very real and painful experiences of gender discrimination, systemic racism and anti-Blackness as a dark-skinned Black woman. (pp. 21-22)

Reid is a Black British woman who took to work within social justice after setting up a wedding business for Black women and couples to address their under-representation in the wedding industry. She explains how she felt a calling to help people to model anti-racism, and TED talks and training programmes later, she’s written this book to help White people to work towards anti-racism, address our own learned racism and privilege in an institutionally racist society, and model how to be a good ally.

This book covers all the bases – and with a UK slant which is very welcome, too (there are other people doing good work here but a lot of the initial books were from the US: both countries, of course, have racism, but it exhibits in different ways and has different routes and pathways, so this is important).

Reid talks about history and policy, from the slavery era through the post-World War One race riots through government policies and examples of institutional racism. She relates this to why situations are as they are today, and makes it clear how race is a construct. She explains microaggressions and lists ones the reader might have engaged in. Then she goes on to discuss how the reader can be actively anti-racist in their personal life, in raising children, and in work and society. All of this can be found in different places in other books; this one brings it all together beautifully in one place.

There are prompts for journalling and Reid also shares powerful stories of sessions she’s run where participants have not got it, and feedback from her participants who have grown and learned, modelling what and what not to do.

One particularly fine piece of work in the book is Reid’s reframing of privilege as advantage, privilege as a word having a class-based response in the UK that is not helpful (see quote above). There is also some useful information about trauma epigenetics – that trauma is passed down through generations so that when something awful happens now, it can trigger “deep-rooted historical trauma we were not even witness to” (p. 175). I was aware there was some work going on about intergenerational trauma that’s come out in books I’ve seen others read so it was useful to see a summary of the topic presented so clearly and understandably here.

Another very useful aspect of the book is actual ‘worked examples’ of how you can reframe a child’s comment to make sure they understand race and racism in an appropriate way, or how you can push back and speak up in other ways. I appreciate the author doing the work to present this in one place, revisiting her own trauma and struggles, so readers can do the work in absorbing and noting these ways they can be actively supportive and re-route conversations among those close to them.

There is still a lot to be done, of course – a lot of people who will not read this book and actual legislation that needs to be campaigned about for change (e.g. race discrimination cases do not work in the same way as sex discrimination cases, with less time to raise them and unequal treatment if the claim is upheld). As a whole, the chapter on allyship at work is excellent, laying out exactly the process of how to create a safe space for a colleague or employee.

Uncompromising in the writing and uncomfortable to different extents in the reading (I love the opening paragraph in the second-to-last chapter where Reid points out that people who have skipped to this “Action and Advocacy” chapter they need to go back and do the work of reading and taking in the previous 340 pages) this is highly recommended, especially to those employed in organisations or involved in raising children, but to all interested readers.

Listed in the back after the extensive notes are Reid’s own resources: The Good Ally pages and Reid’s own website.

Book review – Caleb Azumah Nelson – “Small Worlds”


When I read Caleb Azumah Nelson’s debut, “Open Water”, a couple of years ago, I found the narrative innovation a bit trying (it was all written in the second person singular) I thought (but didn’t say in my review, it turns out) that I would look out for what this writer did next, as I appreciated his portrayal of Black masculinities and his evocative description of London. This is the book he did next, and it’s more approachable in many ways, having what looks at first like a more conventional narrative style, but still exploring Black masculinities and still presenting an authentic and visceral London. Quite a few people in my book circles have read this recently – see my link to Jacquiwine’s excellent review below.

Caleb Azumah Nelson – “Small Worlds”

(5 April 2023, NetGalley)

It feels like a quiet life, but it’s mine. I’ve tried to build my own small world in the vastness, and it’s helping: I’m feeling more and more like the person I was, or the person I might become.

We’re in that summer where you get your A-level results and life is about to change, meeting Stephen, who is in love with fellow musician Del and working at his Auntie Yaa’s shop in Peckham, drifting a little and worried about what is to come, feeling pressured by his dad, who expects him to go and do a “proper” degree and bring wealth and prosperity to the family.

We explore his parents’ arrival in London from Ghana, his mum’s shock at arriving at a time when people were being blamed for riots and racism was rife, the struggles they had to settle and establish themselves, but we also get immersed in music, and music also informs the narrative: as you read on, you realise that certain images and phrases repeat themselves in slightly different forms again and again as the text moves through a few years of Stephen’s life, the sun reflected on people’s skin, the value of dancing as healing, people’s eyes, the appearance of a character called Marlon who is grieving a lost parent and presents a sort of model of that journey.

Like Harley in “Small Joys“, Stephen struggles at university with its strangers and microaggressions, and withdraws (this does suggest, along with non-fiction that’s around at the moment (like “Taking up Space“) that we really do need to be doing something to invest in Black young people’s experience of higher education), and other serious topics are covered subtly: the difficulty of going back “home” to Ghana when you’re perceived as being very well-off and able to look after people and the exclusionary gentrification of areas like Peckham, the two linked by Auntie Yaa’s outcome and decision as she’s threatened with being forced out of her shop. There’s also the legacy of enslaved peoples, with one female character knowing that her family came to London via Ghana but there had been a round trip via Brazil “by way of force; this history only spoken and, if not spoken, in danger of being lost”.

So lots of points are made subtly, placed in the reader’s mind to be pondered. Stephen grows, his relationship with his brother Raymond, starting a new generation of the family, shifts, and a break with their father starts to heal, turning into a different kind of care and showing yet another way men can relate to one another.

A lovely book, lyrical and almost hypnotic to read, beautifully written and, I think, a step forward for the writer. I can’t wait, again, to see what he does next.

Thank you to Penguin / Viking books for selecting me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “Small Worlds” was published on 11 May 2023.

Jacquiwine’s excellent review which says all I would have wanted to say is here.

Book review – Deesha Philyaw – “The Secret Lives of Church Ladies”


I remember there being a lot of talk about this book when it came out in 2020 – I was interested in it at the time but thought it might be a bit rude (it’s quite rude) and I assumed it would appear for me when the time was right. Earlier this year, my friend Jenny shared some books she was passing along and here this one was, so I said yes please and it reached me in February. Weirdly for me, I’m doing pretty well with February’s incomings, having already read four out of the nine print books that came to me! I promoted this one up the pile when my old friend Melanie said she was reading it with her book group – I ended up a bit late but these two ex-librarians (who used to be Saturday library assistants) happily coped with the racy bits and both enjoyed these short stories – Melanie’s thoughts at the end.

Deesha Philyaw – “The Secret Lives of Church Ladies”

(11 February 2023, from Jenny)

I grew up watching my mother eating the crumbs and leftovers from another woman’s table. I swore I never would. But here I am grubbing, licking the edges. (p. 184)

We’re plunged straight into more than just friends best friends Eula and Caroletta with their assignations that Eula definitely thinks are just a way of passing time until a man comes along. But it’s not all sex scenes: the stories are clever and surprising, pulling out the hypocrisy of pastors who preach to gain new cars and are sleeping with their parishioners and good young ladies who take revenge on the older men who prey on their friends.

Although they are separate stories, two seem linked by a perfect peach cobbler dessert, and we range through gay and straight relationships, “Snowfall” the most affecting, showing two Southern women trying to cope with a snowy winter in a northern state which seems to be freezing their relationship; as well as the sun, they miss the more genteel racism of the South. “Instructions for Married Christian Husbands” is a narrative by a strong, independent woman who only takes so much from her married lovers and has strict rules; it’s a powerful and sharply satirical piece which takes in colourism as well as misogyny and adultery.

The language is rich, direct and powerful, with an informal tone I was familiar with from reading other fiction by Black women centring Black women’s voices. I felt like the narrators were right there, talking to me. An excellent collection and I will certainly look out for more by this author.

Melanie’s thoughts: I read it with my book club! Overall our reviews were positive and we enjoyed the stories. I liked some more than others, definitely the longer ones, which reinforces my feelings in general to short stories – I think I need more to get my teeth into. The rude bits were fine (although I felt a little taken aback jumping straight into “Eula”!), I struggled more with some of the colloquial language which I found jarring at times. My favourites were “Peach Cobbler” (which I read while waiting to donate blood – maybe not the most appropriate reading material!) and “Snowfall”, both of which I found more fully-rounded and quite poignant. I enjoyed the contrast between the lives the women were expected to lead and those they were yearning to lead, and the people they knew themselves to be. I wasn’t sure if the later story referencing peach cobbler (“Instructions for Married Christian Husbands”) was meant to be an older version of the young woman we meet earlier. Interestingly, Melanie’s US copy had this cover, while checking the UK version, it’s a pink cover with a peach in hardback, paperback and kindle versions!

Book review – Mariam Ansar – “Good for Nothing”


I won this book from NetGalley in April but it was published in March, so it joined my May TBR (still with me) and I picked it up to read first this month. A great Young Adult novel that I really enjoyed.

Mariam Ansar – “Good for Nothing”

(28 April 2023, NetGalley)

‘I’m sure he has his own story to tell, PC Phallow,’ Eman’s grandma said in thickly accented English, smiling despite her serious words and the newness of her voice.

PC Phillips’ head whipped around quickly. ‘Phillips.’ Eman’s grandma’s eyes narrowed behind her glasses.

‘Phil-ling …?’




‘-es. Phillipses.’

PC Phillips’ eye began to twitch. ‘Never mind.’ She sighed, missing the exaggerated wink that Eman’s grandma gave to all of us on the sofa.

Good-girl hijabi Eman meets so-called bad boy Amir and determined athlete Kemi when the latter two are inscribing Amir’s dead brother’s name on a bus stop. Pushed together by a misguided police volunteering scheme for the summer, they all learn from each other and forge a strong friendship. Eman has the support of her grandma, seen in the quotation above getting her own back after the police officer has mangled Kemi’s Nigerian surname, and she’s a great force for good in Eman’s life and has clearly supported her mum through leaving her abusive dad; Amir is close to his little sister but not engaged with school life, always worrying about clearing his brother’s name and with a dad who ran off with a White woman and has a new family, and Kemi’s sister has gone to university and come back with a new posh voice while Kemi pushes back against the stepdad who she can’t bear to replace her late father.

Seen as living in the inferior (but also hip and cool) half of a divided town, they push back against poverty, racism and the posh folk of the other half of town in their different ways. Meanwhile, will PC Chris, who has one chapter explaining his background amidst the rotating ones of the three protagonists, learn, too?

A lovely if rather fairy-tale set piece ends this book positively: the three main characters take their own fates in their hands and have all changed by the end, and it is a lovely read.

There’s a glossary at the back, which I don’t always love as I think people should be able to look things up for themselves, however this is aimed at young adults who might not have experienced people from the communities represented here, and it’s a good mix of both the cultures.

Thank you to Penguin for selecting me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “Good For Nothing” was published on 16 March 2023.

Book review – Kit de Waal – “Without Warning and Only Sometimes”


Without Warning and Only Sometimes by Kit de Waal -image of the book

A last read from April and this was part of my effort to read hardbacks I buy new before the paperback comes out (the paperback came out on 13 April, so nearly!). I bought it at an author event at the wonderful The Heath Bookshop, our relatively new local indie bookshop, buying her novel, “My Name is Leon” at the same time and getting both signed. October 2022 was a bit of a record book-acquiring month and I can report that I have read four of the 21 print books that came to me then (still early days, though, right?!)

Kit de Waal – “Without Warning and Only Sometimes”

(13 October 2022, The Heath Bookshop)

I will die. I will die for wanting Christmas, for the slip of red ribbon from a huge box, for dreaming of the presents inside, Fry’s Chocolate Cream, things off the telly, other children’s presents. (p. 1)

The author’s memoir of growing up poor in a house with a suddenly converted Jehovah’s witness mother who works at several jobs at once to keep the household going (cleaner, hospital auxiliary) and a father who insists on buying fancy clothes and shoes for himself and sending money and goods back to the Caribbean (but cooks spectacularly for the kids and doesn’t like his old home when he returns for a visit) and a set of siblings, and notable for being set, like “The Go-Between“, in a house on a road within a couple of miles of where I sit writing this.

As others have said before, it’s both lively and bleak, heart-breaking and heart-warming. We follow Kit and her brothers and sisters through school life, through annual visits from her father’s friends when they get to see a different side of life, through the various strictures of their mother’s religion and her wavering mental health, and through their escapes as they get older. Kit falls in with the ragtag of Moseleyites, alternative livers and people on the edge of society (a feature of the suburb when I hung around there in the 90s; more sad than eccentric now, although sad then, too, and also featuring in Charlie Hill’s books), gets her independence, and finally gets introduced to the world of books, very late, discovering wodges of classics to help her chronic insomnia.

There are terrible moments, like when a hungry Kit’s posh friend Wendy sends her mum away from her (own) bedroom still clutching a tray of sandwiches she’d offered them, knowing Wendy would be kind if she said, but unable to say, but there are moments of support and joy, too, and although her mom* is difficult to be around, it’s a moving tribute to her, too.

I see her. I see her beige woolly hat pulled down low, her dark-brown coat with a high-buttoned neck and her dark-brown lace-ups with the spongy soles, the better for creeping around sleeping women and brand-new babies. I see her square hands, cold and mottled, gripping her sensible bag full of market bargains and bruised fruit, and I see her brokenness and her stories, like they are written on her face, bowing her down, overlooked by her mother, unloved by my father, and the combined five of us not enough to plug the hole those two have made. (pp. 213-214)

Of course I loved the local setting, woven through the book, with them spending time around Sarehole Mill and enjoying watching cars going through the ford and seeing if they get stuck in a flood, something we still like to do here.

An absolutely wonderful book and one that will send me to all her other work, even with its distressing themes, because I know she’ll look after the reader and not include anything gratuitous.

*Midlanders use “mom” where people from other areas of the UK use “mum” and other variants.

Interior of The Heath Bookshop with Catherine and Claire the bookshop owners and Kit de Waal with Catherine O'Flynn
Post author event through the window of The Heath Bookshop with Catherine and Claire the bookshop owners and Kit de Waal with Catherine O’Flynn who interviewed her

Book review – Chelsea Kwakye and Ọrẹ Ogunbiyi – “Taking Up Space”


Having finished my April NetGalley reads, I went back in time to those earlier ones that have lingered for years: I picked off Beth Moran’s novel first but this one was the oldest one on the whole NetGalley TBR! It was worth a read and really interesting to see what the authors were saying pre the big Black Lives Matter resurgence from mid-2020 onwards and publishing frenzy of 2021. This was published by Stormzy’s #MerkyBooks imprint, which is still doing well and publishing excellent titles today.

Chelsea Kwakye and Ọrẹ Ogunbiyi – “Taking up Space: The Black Girl’s Manifesto for Change”

(27 September 2019, NetGalley)

So from the beginning, we always wanted Taking Up Space to offer that sisterhood: brutally honest whilst reassuring, almost like an older sister telling you what fashion trends to avoid because she’s been there and done that. it is now a book laced with personal anecdotes, as well as more general commentary from a wide group of black female and non-binary students on how their identity as black women and students has mediated their experiences of university – with the hope that black girls everywhere will find solace in their stories.

That quotation sums the book up. It takes us through the university experience with the two authors’ personal stories branching out into discussions of research and studies, with others’ experiences woven in. It has a lot about Cambridge, because that’s where they went – but then Oxbridge is a place of known and highlighted racial inequality and struggle that needs talking about in a nuanced way beyond the quick-win media reports. It also looks at the intersection of class and race, as well as the intersection of gender with both.

The work the authors and those they quote have done is impressive – setting up groups, campaigning, effecting change – but there’s an emphasis on self-care and not having to be an activist that is reassuring and supportive. It’s a bit dispiriting that the things the authors and their cohort talk about are still being talked about now, five years after they wrote the book: has anything really changed? Maybe the fact things are still being talked about is good, though: it hasn’t all been pushed back under the carpet.

The book has a book list and resource list at the back; obviously both could be updated now but they’re still valuable and useful.

I would definitely recommend this book to any young Black person I knew who was setting off to university (whatever gender, actually, as attitudes to young men are also covered and it’s useful for everyone to know what’s going on).

Thank you to Merky Books for choosing me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review (and sorry for taking so long: not a comment on the book itself at all). “Taking up Space” was published on 27 June 2019

Book review – Ore Agbaje-Williams – “The Three of Us”


I’m doing so well with my NetGalley books that I’m onto ones published in May already! I’ve now started to pick off some earlier ones that I missed at the time, as I don’t like telling you all about good books that you can’t then get hold of immediately!

Ore Agbaje-Williams – “The Three of Us”

(25 October 2022, NetGalley)

He sees what I see, but from the other side. A woman in between two selves, undecided as to which she can remain loyal. Where I see uncomfortable levels of domesticity and submission, he sees impolite outspokenness and levels of negative emotion rarely observed. What he thinks is a new person emerging in short and sometimes alcohol-fuelled bursts, I know is the occasional reappearance of my misguided friend. We are trying to solve the same problem, but our judgements on the solution differ significantly.

So we have a couple – never named – and the wife’s best friend, Temi. They’ve been friends since a changing room accident – or was it – at school, and the husband is a new introduction. Is Temi a wild and independent woman who wants her friend to get back to the way she was in the brief period between being subservient to her parents and being subservient to her husband, or is she jealous and anxious and trying to force her attention back on her. Is the wife happy to not work and just drift around her (very fancy) house, exercising and … drinking wine with her best friend because that’s the calm existence she and her husband wanted. Is her husband storing up things he knows, thank you very much, about his own wife, to get one up on Temi, or is he weird to be remodelling the whole top floor just because of … that?

Set amongst an upper-middle-class London set of Nigerian heritage and self-made money, everyone’s parents have expectations, of good jobs, of children, and some people are trying to make their consumption less conspicuous while failing miserably. Everyone seems to have working-class White service providers – cleaners and maids – which is a nice twist, and I have to say I like these rich Black folk almost exactly the same amount as I liked the rich White folk in “Pineapple Street”, i.e. not very much. Set over an afternoon as tensions rise and everyone gets sick and tired of each other, for all the Peletons and wall-to-ceiling windows, this is compulsive reading.

It almost felt like it was going to turn into one of those suburban thrillers I keep reading other people’s reviews of; but nothing gory or horrendous happens as we watch a trapped man flailing to get rid of a parasite. Or a woman trying to reclaim her friend’s independence. Or a woman trapped between two people she loves who hate each other. At least these millennials – or at least two of them – have grown up a bit and have a semblance of an adult life, and it’s really well-written and extremely hard to put down.

Thank you to Vintage for making this book available to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “The Three of Us” is published on 11 May 2023.

Book review – Stephen Buoro – “The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa”


This book offers a punch in the guts and is not for the faint-hearted. It’s wonderful and devastating. The ending can be the only ending this book could have, even though you won’t like it. Weaving a critique of colonialism and the kind of mental colonialism that exists when independence claims to have been gained, a small town coming of age story, maths, PanAfrican theories, religion, friendship and love, this is a book I won’t easily forget – and not just for the trauma.

Stephen Buoro – “The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa”

(03 April 2023, NetGalley)

In Eileen’s living room, I watch her pack. I help her load some books into a suitcase, zip it. Outside, illuminated by streetlights, protesters are meandering with torchlights on their heads, placards held high, screaming. We can’t hear them because of the closed windows and the distance. Suddenly, from nowhere, policemen descend on them. they wallop them with clubs, chase them into the darkness. They are especially ferocious because this is where expats live, where Eileen’s people live.

There is so much to unpick in this debut novel and I won’t do it justice, I’m sure. First, that title – the Five Sorrowful Mysteries are to do with the rosary of the Catholic Church and depict Jesus’ suffering at five key stages moving towards his death. Andy Africa is the nickname given to Andrew Aziza by his teacher, Zahrah, so both a home-grown name and what could be a reference to the Western propensity for seeing Africa as a unit, a single country.

Andy lives in Kontagora, Nigeria, with his single mother, unable to ask her who his father is, he’s 15 and he hangs out with his “droogs”, Slim and Morocca, goes to school, has a good friend he can’t appreciate in Fatima, an equally gifted student, and lives for the opportunity to see, see a picture of, fantasise about or even think about a White girl. Then one magically appears! Eileen, the niece of the local missionary/priest, comes to visit and everyone is transfixed.

So far, so YA – but this is embedded in a critique of contemporary Nigeria from someone who has escaped, so among the theorems, Zahrah’s theory of anifuturism (I diligently tried to learn about this and look it up only to find it was invented for this book, a mix of animism and Afro-futurism), Andy’s theory of a great curse over the whole of Africa (so a yin and yang of pan-African theories), critiques of government, descriptions of life in a small town with a Christian minority and a Muslim majority uncontrolled by a corrupt police.

When Eileen is welcomed into the community, a mob bent on revenge approaches, when a wedding tries to happen, the groom is accused of importing Western ideas and fomenting student uprisings. And even though Andy’s life looks like it’s turning round when he meets a long-lost relative who has the trappings of wealth, while the boys receive phone calls from their rather feeble friend who has managed to reach Spain with his uncle and is enjoying pizzas and a job, it soon becomes clear that the boys, plus Morocca’s girlfriend and their young daughter, need to take their chance to escape.

While there are flies and machetes, poverty and gender/religious violence, this by no means lives within the stereotypes we can so often be fed. There are brilliant flashes of humour and live is lived fully; the language fizzes and is full of Nigerian small-town culture laced with the Western culture everyone seems to aspire to (yes, there are look-it-up moments, yes, of course that’s OK). As we follow the Five Sorrowful Mysteries to their conclusion, it is inevitable: Buoro achieves a technically well-done and hugely engaging book that socks it to you in the intellect and the emotions, while leaving us with no conclusion apart from the need to escape at all costs – I can’t decide whether it’s actually bleak or not, as it’s so full and rich as well.

I would like to read thoughts by Nigerian / Nigerian disapora readers about this one.

Thank you to for selecting me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa” was published on 13 April 2023).

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