BOOK REVIEW | Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

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Read: February 2017

UK Release: 2nd March 2017

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Literary fiction

Synopsis: Yejide is hoping for a miracle, for a child. It is all her husband wants, all her mother-in-law wants, and she has tried everything – arduous pilgrimages, medical consultations, dances with prophets, appeals to God. But when her in-laws insist upon a new wife, it is too much for Yejide to bear. It will lead to jealousy, betrayal and despair.

Unravelling against the social and political turbulence of 80s Nigeria, Stay With Me sings with the voices, colours, joys and fears of its surroundings. Ayobami Adebayo weaves a devastating story of the fragility of married love, the undoing of family, the wretchedness of grief, and the all-consuming bonds of motherhood. It is a tale about our desperate attempts to save ourselves and those we love from heartbreak. Goodreads.

I was provided with a copy of this book by Canongate via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 Stay With Me tells the story of Yejide and Akin’s marriage, and its eventual disintegration. The novel is told from both their perspectives, beginning in 2008, at the funeral of Akin’s father, where it is revealed that Yejide and Akin have not seen each other in 14 years. The bulk of the novel, however, takes place in Nigeria in the 1980’s, following Yejide and Akin’s struggles to have a child. This novel is absolutely heartbreaking, and throughout, it feels heavy with grief.

Yejide and Akin are under great pressure to conceive, and much of this burden falls on Yejide herself, as it is perceived to be some kind of ‘failure’ on her part. Yejide longs for motherhood, and it’s gut-wrenching what she goes through in order to become a mother. However, Akin, as a firstborn son, faces a pressure of a different kind. At the start of the novel, Akin’s mother introduces Yejide to the second wife she has arranged for him. Akin’s mother believes that Yejide is unable to have children, and that this is the only solution to their perceived problem. It is clear, in their reflections of the past, that Yejide and Akin loved each other deeply, and these outside influences who claim to ‘help’ their marriage, ultimately poison it.

One of the things I liked the most about this novel was Ayobami Adebayo’s characters. She manages to create realistically flawed, sometimes unlikeable characters, that I nonetheless felt so much sympathy for. Yejide, in particular, I found it impossible not to like. I’d expected to prefer Yejide’s narration over Akin’s, but this was not the case. I really liked the dual perspective, and felt that it really contributed to the narrative as a whole. As you might expect, Yejide and Akin keep plenty of secrets from each other, and many of these are revealed to the reader before the other party ever hears of them, meaning that while their chapters were often discussing the same period of time, you’re always getting new information. I also found that Yejide and Akin’s narrative voices were incredibly distinct; it was always clear whose chapter I was reading. This allowed for an intimate portrayal of both their characters and their relationship, and even when I didn’t agree with their actions, I could always understand why they were making the decisions they did.

Another aspect of the book that I liked was how the political situation in Nigeria was woven through it. It was something that I didn’t know too much about, but this didn’t hinder my reading in any way. I felt that this was as its most effective toward the end of the novel, as the political unrest and the catastrophe that Yejide and Akin’s relationship has become, come to a head at the exact same time.

Given that this book deals with societal expectations surrounding the family, it naturally discusses the impact this has on women. Some points in Yejide’s narration felt claustrophobic due to the intense pressure she was feeling, most particularly when she is forced to accept the presence of Akin’s second wife. As the novel progresses, Yejide’s situation only gets worse, and I found myself marvelling that she was able to get through it. Her grief in this book is almost palpable, and I honestly felt like I spent most of this book on the verge of tears. Akin, by contrast, feels distant, and it isn’t until later in the novel that its revealed how he struggles to cope with the expectations in terms of his masculinity. Akin hides plenty from Yejide, but he also hides things from the reader, and I really liked this. This book took turns I wasn’t expecting, particularly in regard to Akin’s character, and it kept me hooked throughout.

I know it’s only March, but so far this is definitely one of my favourite books of the year. Ayobami Adebayo’s writing is beautiful, I was highlighting so many passages as I was reading. It’s hard to go into this book too much without spoiling it, but I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys intricate, character-focused novels. This is an astonishing debut, and I’m really looking forward to whatever Ayobami Adebayo writes in the future!

RECENT READS | #6-10

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Hello! This is a new feature on my blog where I’ll be briefly talking about the books I’ve read this year. I did quarterly wrap up posts last year, but I decided that I wanted to do these wrap up posts with a little more frequency. Really, I’d just like to get into the habit of saying something about every book that I read, and I don’t always have enough to say about a book to warrant a full length review.

I’ve read 11 books so far this year — if you’re wondering why this post is starting at #6, it’s because I talked about the first four books I read this year in my #DAReadathon Wrap Up post back in January, and I’ve also written a full length review of Heartless by Marissa Meyer. I’ve had a great reading year so far, I honestly don’t know that I’ve ever read over ten books before the end of February before. Plus, I’ve given every book I’ve read a pretty good rating, so let’s get into it!

Covers = Goodreads.

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BOOK REVIEW | Heartless by Marissa Meyer

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Read: January 2017

UK Release: 9th February 2017

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Retelling.

Synopsis: Long before she was the terror of Wonderland, she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love. Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.

Then Cath meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the king and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship. Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans. Goodreads.

I was provided with a copy of this book by Pan Macmillan Children’s Books UK via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

I’d been anticipating the release of this book for quite some time, as I’m already a fan of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles. I really enjoy how she interprets and adapts popular fairy tales in that series, so I was excited to see her take on Carroll’s Wonderland. This, and the fact that I really enjoyed her last foray into a villain backstory—Fairest—meant that I was intrigued to see how she’d go about the villain origin story for the notorious Queen of Hearts. Overall, I did enjoy this book, but I found it lacking on certain points, so I gave it 3 stars. This review is spoiler free, for the most part. Really the only “spoilers” are things you already know are going to happen if you’ve ever seen or read Alice in Wonderland.

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BOOK REVIEW | The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

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Read: October 2016

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Fantasy

Synopsis: Told in Kvothe’s own voice, this is the tale of the magically gifted young man who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen. The intimate narrative of his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, and his life as a fugitive after the murder of a king form a gripping coming-of-age story unrivaled in recent literature. A high-action story written with a poet’s hand, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that will transport readers into the body and mind of a wizard. Goodreads.

It’s always intimidating to read a book that’s so widely well-loved and admired. This is likely why The Name of the Wind sat in my room unread for so many years. I bought it in about 2014 after seeing so many positive reviews. I hadn’t read much—if any—fantasy since marathoning the entire A Song of Ice and Fire series in 2012. Which was probably because I was feeling more than a little burnt out on fantasy novels after completing that particular task. I’d hoped that The Name of the Wind would inspire/motivate me to pick up fantasy books again.

Which it did, if a few years later than I’d originally intended. I loved this book, really all I’m doing here is contributing to its already considerable hype, but still.

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BOOK REVIEW | Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

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Read: October 2016

Publication Date: 5th January 2017 (UK hardcover)

Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction.

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Effia and Esi: two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader’s wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow. Taking us from the Gold Coast of Africa to the cotton-picking plantations of Mississippi; from the missionary schools of Ghana to the dive bars of Harlem, spanning three continents and seven generations, Yaa Gyasi has written a miraculous novel – the intimate, gripping story of a brilliantly vivid cast of characters and through their lives the very story of America itself. Goodreads.

I received a copy of this book from Penguin UK via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ever since first reading about Homegoing in, of all places, a Buzzfeed listicle, I’d been desperate to read it. Homegoing has an incredibly ambitious premise, spanning over 200 years in just 300 pages is no easy task, but Yaa Gyasi accomplishes it brilliantly. This book is astounding from start to finish, not in the least because this is Gyasi’s debut novel.

The novel begins with two sisters, Effia and Esi, who are unknown to one another. They are born to the same mother, but in different villages in Ghana. Effia is sent to be a slave trader’s wife, and Esi is sold into slavery. Each subsequent chapter alternately deals with the descendants of Effia and Esi, with Effia’s descendants mostly residing in Ghana, and Esi’s in the United States. Primarily, this novel is concerned with reverberating effects of slavery and colonialism throughout history.

‘That I should live to her my own daughter speak like this. You want to know what weakness is? Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.’

One of the many things that’s so impressive about this book is how well-developed and rich each and every character is. There are twelve different perspectives in this book, and Gyasi’s ability to make each of them distinct and engaging is nothing short of masterful. More time is spent with Effia and Esi, I think, than their descendants, though this is necessary to lay out the main themes of the novel. Admittedly, I was surprised at how short these chapters were. Each chapter could read as its own separate short story, were it not for the bloodline that links all of them together. Sometimes I felt that they were a little abrupt, and it took me a moment to orientate myself.  I did find that sometimes I wanted more from certain characters, which is not to say that these chapters were lacking in any way, it’s just that I admired the way Gyasi managed to capture some of the time periods she explores.

Because this novel is, essentially, a history, this is why the shorter chapters ended up working so well for me by the end. It should go without saying that this book is not an easy read, and with it being so short, Gyasi brings the history of slavery uncomfortably close. In having these periods of extreme violence so close to the insidious racism of the present day exposes the long legacy of the slave trade. Homegoing does not permit the distance that, for instance, academic study does. It forces a confrontation with parts of history that we’re uncomfortable with—perhaps, more specifically, that we white people are uncomfortable with. While, of course, progress has been made, Homegoing highlights what still needs to be done.

The British were no longer selling slaves to America, but slavery had not ended, and his father did not seem to think that it would end. They would just trade one type of shackles for another, physical ones that wrapped around wrists and ankles for the invisible ones that wrapped around the mind.

In this, Homegoing has the benefit of informing people who were perhaps previously undereducated in the injustices suffered by black people, particularly in the United States. I knew about some of the things Gyasi discusses in the novel, but I was never truly aware of the extent of it. For instance, one of the vignettes deals with forced labour in mines, and while the white men are sent there for crimes as awful as murder, black men are sent there for something as minor as not crossing the street as a white woman passed them. It’s an eye-opening read for many reasons, and Gyasi weaves history into her narrative effortlessly.

Homegoing is a novel that should leave you feeling heartbroken, but I think that, first and foremost, is should be a novel that inspires thought and discussion. Gyasi is giving voice to many suppressed or underdiscussed aspects of history. As Gyasi discusses in the novel itself, history is frequently a story that’s being told, and it’s important to consider who has control of the narrative. Homegoing, then, readdresses history, and discusses it from frequently marginalised perspectives.

We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So, when you study history, you must always ask yourself, whose story am I missing? Whose voice was supressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.

Gyasi is truly an incredible talent, and I really look forward to reading anything she writes in the future.

 

BOOK REVIEW | Holding by Graham Norton

31364727Read: September 2016

Released: October 6th 2016

Genre: Mystery, Crime.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Synopsis: Graham Norton’s masterful debut is an intelligently crafted story of love, secrets and loss.

The remote Irish village of Duneen has known little drama; and yet its inhabitants are troubled. Sergeant PJ Collins hasn’t always been this overweight; mother of­ two Brid Riordan hasn’t always been an alcoholic; and elegant Evelyn Ross hasn’t always felt that her life was a total waste.

So when human remains are discovered on an old farm, suspected to be that of Tommy Burke – a former­ love of both Brid and Evelyn – the village’s dark past begins to unravel. As the frustrated PJ struggles to solve a genuine case for the first time in his life, he unearths a community’s worth of anger and resentments, secrets and regret. Goodreads.

I received this book from Hodder & Stoughton via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When I heard about Graham Norton’s debut novel, I was very intrigued to read it. Not only because Graham Norton is such a popular, well-loved presenter here in the UK, but because I was genuinely interested in the premise. Norton’s novel takes place in the quiet Irish village of Duneen, a village that is shaken by the discovery of human remains on an old farm. The village quickly decides that the remains belong to Tommy Burke, the former love of Brid Riordan and Evelyn Ross, who disappeared years ago after a confrontation between the two women. The novel primarily follows Duneen’s only police officer, Sergeant PJ Collins, as he works to uncover the mystery behind the bones.

Time didn’t pass in Duneen; it seeped away.

The mystery, however, falls secondary to the amazing cast of characters. They’re clearly the focus of the book, and each one of them is incredibly well rendered. The principal focus is on PJ, Brid, and Evelyn, but every character that features in the novel, however minor, feels distinct and believable. Generally speaking, I don’t mind if a character feels “unrealistic”, but I loved that each character in this book felt like someone you could just bump into on the street. Life in a small village is also wonderfully described. Living in a small town myself, I could definitely relate to everyone being involved in everyone else’s business! I loved that everyone in the village was convinced that they had solved the mystery before the police had even arrived, and how bizarrely excited everyone was that a murder had possibly occurred in their village.

As with any crime or mystery novel, it’s easy to succumb to temptation and try to figure out the entire plot before the book guides you there. In this case, however, I let myself be taken along by the mystery, and I’m very glad that I did. While it isn’t difficult to figure out what actually happened as the novel progresses, I was surprised by some of the turns that it took. It would be very easy for a book that is primarily about life in a small village to become very twee, but this book wasn’t afraid to venture into very dark territory.

The people of Duneen felt they had been cheated. The wind had been taken out of their sails, their lives robbed of excitement.

The writing itself is brilliant; Norton’s prose is extremely good. As I’ve already said, the characters are wonderful, but I think my favourite thing about this novel was how well it captures mood. Without spoiling anything, there’s a real excitement in the village when the bones are first discovered, but later on there’s a shift in energy, and the whole book feels different. This, alongside the excellent interactions between the characters were what I liked the most. It was also interesting to see how different characters reacted to or perceived things. For instance, Abigail, Evelyn’s sister, has spent the entire time believing that Evelyn has been better off without Tommy in her life, but it’s clear to the reader, and to PJ, that Evelyn is miserable, and has been for a very long time. Small details like this really helped to bring these characters to life.

Overall, I was incredibly impressed by this book. It’s a very charming, cosy mystery novel, so if you’re looking for an immersive, character-focused read, then this is definitely one for you. It was a genuine pleasure to read, and I really look forward to seeing what Graham Norton writes next!

BOOK REVIEW | Sofia Khan is Not Obliged — Ayisha Malik

25707621Read: June 2016

Genre: Romance, Comedy

Rating: ★★★★☆

Synopsis: Unlucky in love once again after her possible-marriage-partner-to-be proves a little too close to his parents, Sofia Khan is ready to renounce men for good. Or at least she was, until her boss persuades her to write a tell-all expose about the Muslim dating scene.

As her woes become her work, Sofia must lean on the support of her brilliant friends, baffled colleagues and baffling parents as she goes in search of stories for her book. In amongst the marriage-crazy relatives, racist tube passengers and decidedly odd online daters, could there be  a lingering possibility that she might just be falling in love . . . ?

Sofia is thirty years old when she breaks up with her potential husband, Imran, after he asks her to live with his parents and a hole-in-the-wall. Sofia works in publishing, and when she relates this story to her co-workers, her boss becomes very interested in the different aspects of Muslim dating, and proceeds to ask Sofia to write a book about it. What follows is mostly insights into Sofia’s life as she writes the book, though the book itself doesn’t particularly have priority, it is the starting point for a lot of the situations Sofia gets into.

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BOOK REVIEW | A Court of Mist and Fury — Sarah J. Maas

17927395Read: June 2016

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy/New Adult Fantasy, Romance

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Synopsis:

 Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.

After I read A Court of Thorns and Roses last year, I couldn’t wait for this book to come out. At the time, I was really enamoured by Sarah J. Maas’ writing, and was totally blown away by how much it had improved even from Heir of Fire. While I loved ACOTAR to begin with, I began to have some issues with it later on, particularly regarding certain interactions between Feyre and Tamlin, but I was still eagerly anticipating the sequel. After Queen of Shadows, however, I began to get worried. I really didn’t enjoy it, and thought there was a massive dip in both the writing style and the way Maas was handling her plots. I started to worry that perhaps A Court of Mist and Fury wasn’t going to live up to my expectations. Indeed, rather than reassuring me, the inundation of glowing reviews actually made me even more worried, because I’d seen the same thing happen with Queen of Shadows. When people who hated the first book said that they loved this one, it got my hopes up, and I got excited about reading it again.

I’m saying this because I’m really sitting on the fence with this book. There were parts I really liked, and parts I really didn’t. Really, I think it comes down to the fact that I’ve found that there are just things I don’t like about Maas’ writing more generally.  Because of that I know that I run the risk of sounding a little unfair in this review, and honestly, some of the things I didn’t like about this book are probably entirely petty on my part. But an honest review’s an honest review. I can completely see why people love this book, and there were a lot of things that I really liked about it. It’s just that unfortunately, the things I didn’t like distracted me from them. I’m going to start with the negatives, so we can end this review positively. There might be vague spoilers. I’ll try to flag them as necessary, but it’s worth bearing this in mind if you’ve yet to read the book and don’t want to be spoiled.

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BOOK REVIEW | The Girl Who Couldn’t Read — John Harding

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Read: April 2016

Genre: Gothic fiction, literary fiction

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Synopsis:

When a young doctor begins work at an isolated mental asylum, he is expected to fall in with the shocking regime for treating the patients. He is soon intrigued by one patient, a strange amnesiac girl who is fascinated by books but cannot read. He embarks upon a desperate experiment to save her but when his own dark past begins to catch up with him, he realises it is she who is his only hope of escape.

In this chilling literary thriller from a master storyteller, everyone has something to hide and no one is what they seem.

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BOOK REVIEW | The Winner’s Kiss — Marie Rutkoski

28587801Read: May 2016

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Romance

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis:

Following the intrigue and danger of The Winner’s Curse and the revolution and romance of The Winner’s Crime, Kestrel finds herself in the tundra’s mines and Arin has sailed home. The empire seems unstoppable.

Lies will come undone, and Kestrel and Arin will learn just how much their crimes will cost them in this third and final installment in the heart-stopping Winner’s trilogy.

This book was easily one of my most anticipated books of the year. I read The Winner’s Curse and enjoyed it for what it was: a YA fantasy that was fairly heavy on the romance, light on the action. The series completely changed for me with The Winner’s Crime, which kept me up until the small hours with its constant twists. I had no idea where this series was headed, so I was actually incredibly nervous about picking it up.

Really, I was right to be nervous; this book was incredibly tense, and almost relentless in its pace. It wasted no time in preamble, picking up almost exactly where the last book left off.  It was incredibly hard to find a lull in the action during which I could actually out the book down. There are two kinds of tension in the book: that of the war, and that between Kestrel and Arin. For me, the balance between the two was struck almost perfectly. I enjoyed that the book was heavy on strategy, though the action was handled brilliantly too. Fighting wars is a lot more than a bloody skirmish, and I loved seeing these characters planning how they were going to outmaneuver the Valorian army. Nothing and nobody felt safe in this book either; life-threatening situations for these characters actually felt life-threatening. At no point did I feel that I could comfort myself in thinking that someone was going to be okay because they were a main character.

Ultimately, however, I think your enjoyment of the book—and the series more generally—comes down to how much you enjoy Kestrel and Arin’s relationship. Theirs is probably one of the only relationships that I’ve actively cared about in a long time. Usually I don’t really care who ends up with who at the end of the series, but I really, really cared about Kestrel and Arin. Because of that, it should be no surprise that I really enjoyed this aspect of the book. Given everything that’s happened to these two, it was nice to see them finally being honest with each other, and it’s refreshing to see a couple actually go through trials together, and to see their relationship develop and change over the course of the series. Not only are Kestrel and Arin more honest with each other, they’re more honest within themselves too. I liked that their character development came more in the form of making themselves more vulnerable, often I think we see “character development” as someone making themselves “stronger” in an almost entirely physical sense. I liked that this series moves away from that, and shows that there’s a kind of strength in vulnerability, too.

However, there were characters I expected to see more of, such as the Dacran Queen, Prince Verex, and Risha, but I think the book benefitted from the focus on Kestrel and Arin. It’s possible that shifting the focus too much would have killed some of the tension, and weakened the book overall.  I was surprised by how present Roshar was in the book, though  I’m not in the least bit surprised that I loved him, he’s exactly my kind of character. I’m incredibly glad that he featured so heavily, and I loved his friendship with Arin, and his tentative friendship with Kestrel. While Roshar figures as comedic relief at times, he is a very well-written and developed character. Really, most of the secondary characters in this series are pretty well-developed.

Overall, I was very pleased with this ending.  The actual ending itself was very open, which is actually something I prefer. Often I think when an author attempts to perfectly tie up every loose end, or provide a satisfying ending for every character, it can come across as messy, so I liked that this didn’t have a definitive conclusion. If anything, it felt more like a new beginning, as cliché as that sounds. Realistically, dealing with the aftermath of a war is an entirely different story, and would probably need an entire series dedicated to it in and of itself, so I’m glad that this book ended as it did, instead of rushing to a “neat” conclusion.

The rest of this post will contain spoilersSo tread carefully if you’re planning to read this any time soon.

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