Wahala by Nikki May

Book Review | Wahala by Nikki May

Boo, Simi and Ronke are navigating life in their mid-thirties in London. Ronke, a dentist, is hoping that her latest boyfriend, Kayode, will be her Mr. Right. Simi is pursuing a high-flying career in fashion and struggling with the decision about having kids with her husband, Martin. And Boo is growing dissatsified with her domestic life as wife and mother and growing increasingly attracted to her boss.

An old Facebook photo is what pulls the enigmatic and disgustingly wealthy Isobel into their lives. Isobel grew up in Nigeria with Simi, but they had been out of touch for decades. Seeing a photo on Facebook from a mutual friend’s wedding, Isobel reaches out to Simi to reignite their friendship. Something is off about Isobel from the start – she’s profligate with her wealth, driven around by a driver-cum-bodyguard, and lavishly bestows gifts upon the trio. It’s hardly suprising, then, that she turns out to be a sinister character. Upon her arrival, everyone’s life starts to go pear-shaped.

What I liked: Nigerian culture is infused into the story, particularly through the authentic dishes (Ronke’s favourite restaurant in London is like ‘stepping into downtown Lagos’), and other cultural customs like the aso ebi worn for special occasions – where everyone on one side of the family gets their outfits made from the same fabric. There’s also a sharp contrast between the way that Simi and Ronke connect with Nigerian culture, having spent most of their childhood there, and the disconnect that Boo feels, having been raised by her white British mother in England. We also get an insight into the way these characters experience colourism and racism within their everyday lives – like when patients come into Ronke’s dental practice and assume her (Hispanic, male) dental nurse is the dentist, or when Kayode prevents a white guy from assaulting Ronke and the police turn up to arrest him. These details enriched a narrative that otherwise fell rather flat.

The problem lies in the fact that we know everything has to come to a head – Isobel’s arrival portends this – but it takes a really long time to get there. As such, most of the novel is a slow slide into things going wrong and the characters becoming increasingly unlikeable and frustrating. The ‘thriller’ aspect doesn’t rear its head until the last 20% of the book, and it all becomes a bit cartoonish and wrapped up too quickly. It didn’t really work for me, but I’m sure it will have a lot of fans – and I hear it’s being made into a TV series, so I’ll be interested to see how they approach that.

With thanks to Doubleday for the advanced copy. Wahala will be published on January 6th 2022.

Top Ten Tuesday

Top 10 Tuesday | Books with numbers in the title

Welcome back to another Top Ten Tuesday! I love these creative themes and they always get me remembering books I’ve not thought about in forever. This one is pretty self-explanatory, so here we go…

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Since I recently read and adored The Kite Runner, this has just been bumped up my TBR.

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

I so enjoyed this journalistic tour de force, a deep dive into the love and sex lives of three real women. Check out my full review here.

One Day by David Nicholls

One Day by David Nicholls

I know I’ve found a way to fit this into a top ten tuesday more than once, but I can’t help it. It’s so charming and moving and funny.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

Back at the start of the pandemic, I was on a pandemic-book-themed reading sprint, and this was a very good addition to that oeuvre. Full review here.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 – famously the temperature at which books burn (cannot confirm). Not a book that I loved like I’d hoped I would, but a worthwhile read none the less. Full review here.

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult’s books were the background to my mid-teen years, and while she doesn’t always get it right, she doesn’t shy away from heavy topics. And boy does that woman know how to write a page turner.

Slumdog Millionaire by Vikas Swarup

Is this pushing the boundaries of the theme? Quite possibly. But it’s close enough. I don’t remember all that much about this book, which I read over 10 years ago, but I enjoyed the film (if enjoy is the right word).

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

I’ve not read this nor do I really want to watch the TV adaptation, but I know it’s hugely popular and it fits the tag so here we are.

Second Place by Rachel Cusk

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Rachel Cusk, and I think I would enjoy her writing, but I’ve not yet summoned up the strength to give it a go.

Thanks for reading!

Every Vow You Break by Peter Swanson Book Review

Book Review | Every Vow You Break by Peter Swanson

It was time for a gear shift around here, after the emotional upheaval of last week’s reading.

Peter Swanson’s latest addition to the genre starts off the way any good thriller starts off: a hasty marriage to someone you don’t know that well. Abigail is living paycheck-to-paycheck, working in publishing in New York, when handsome, kind, and obscenely wealthy Bruce sweeps her off her feet. Things might be moving a little too fast, but before she knows it she’s said yes to the proposal and is off on her California bachelorette party with her girlfriends.

With one too many drinks in her system, and nagging doubts about the wiseness of her decision, she’s ready prey for a handsome stranger who charms her one evening after her friends have gone to bed. One thing leads to another, and they have a one-night stand. Wracked with guilt, Abigail returns to New York, determined to keep her infidelity a secret from Bruce and reassuring herself it was nothing but a drunk mistake.

‘Deep down, she knew that Bruce was more in love with her than she was with him. But wasn’t that the case with every couple? There was always one person in each relationship who cared a little more than the other. And wasn’t it better to be the person who cared less?’

The one-night stand man, who she calls Scottie (they didn’t reveal their real names to each other), is, as it turns out, quite unhinged. He tracks Abigail down and begs her not to marry Bruce. He’s lurking in the shadows on their wedding day. And then he shows up on the exclusive, remote island off the coast of Maine, where Bruce has taken her for the honeymoon.

This seemingly idyllic island has an oppressive, menacing quality to it. Swanson builds up the suspense and tension in a masterful way, a slowly creeping sense of dread coming over Abigail. At first there’s the fact that there’s no phone reception (sold as an ‘off the grid’ experience), an uncomfortable ratio of staff to actual guests, and almost no women. Then there’s the aforementioned stalker who also appears. And Abigail realises nothing is quite as it seems.

‘That whole day she felt like a chasm had opened up in front of her, a big black hole she was powerless to escape.’

I sometimes find with thrillers that the best bit is just before you know what’s happening. When all the cards are still to play for, when the narrative might go in any number of directions. Swanson does a great job at building up the menace in a propulsive way, and then he doesn’t really know what to do with it once the big reveal has happened. The plot goes a little bit wild and becomes less psychological thriller and veers more into horror territory. It’s cinematic in its unravelling, but not quite believable and not entirely wrapped up in a satisfying way.

Without giving anything away, there’s a clever and compelling commentary on the dangers of toxic masculinity, incel culture and radicalisation – an ever-increasing concern, particularly given tragic events like those in the UK last week. Mix these hateful beliefs with almost unlimited access to money and resources, and you have a very dangerous cocktail indeed.

I enjoyed this one – more so than the previous two, All The Beautiful Lies and Eight Perfect Murders. Nothing has yet measured up to The Kind Worth Killing – but as a page-turning, unpredictable thriller, I’d recommend Every Vow You Break. Even if you now have the Police song stuck in your head on repeat. 🙂

9 Titles That Made Want to Buy the Book

This is another Top Ten Tuesday, but since I am at the mercy of these WordPress layouts I’m resigned to just go with 9. Have you read any of these? What books have you bought on the basis of their title alone?

Books I’ve read with brilliant titles

Someone Who Will Love You In All Your Damaged Glory

The title was 100% the reason why I picked this otherwise slightly obscure short-story collection off the shelf – and boy am I glad I did. Equal parts tragic and funny, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – perhaps the best short story collection I’ve ever read.

Full review here

The Heart’s Invisible Furies

A stunning story that begins in 1940s Ireland and takes us through the decades of the life of Cyril Avery, a young man desperate to discover his identity.

Full review here.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

I could have equally picked Vuong’s poetry collection – Night Sky with Exit Wounds. This is his first novel, suffused with poetic detail, pain, pleasure and heartbreak.

Full review here.

And now on to the ones I’ve not read yet and what the critics have to say about them…

Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist

“A symphony of a novel. Sunil Yapa inhabits the skins of characters vastly different to himself: a riot cop in Seattle, a punk activist, a disillusioned world traveler and a high-level diplomat, among others. Through it all Yapa showcases a raw and rare talent. This is a protest novel which finds, at its core, a deep and abiding regard for the music of what happens. Yapa strives forward with a literary molotov cocktail to light up the dark.” — Colum McCann

An Artist of the Floating World

“In An Artist of the Floating World, Kazuo Ishiguro offers readers of the English language an authentic look at postwar Japan, “a floating world” of changing cultural behaviors, shifting societal patterns and troubling questions.” — Amazon

My Wild and Sleepless Nights

“The best evocation of the all-consuming, self-eroding reality of motherhood, while also being luminous with love.” — Sunday Times

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Okezi

“Ozeki weaves together Nao’s adolescent yearnings with Ruth’s contemplative digressions, adding bits of Zen wisdom, as well as questions about agency, creativity, life, death, and human connections along the way. A Tale for the Time Being is a dreamy, spiritual investigation of how to gracefully meet the waves of time, which, in the end, come for us all.”
—The Daily Beast

Cities I’ve Never Lived In

“Majka brings the reader to startling places. . . . From certain angles, it’s a kind of New England gothic, where the lost children and dead women and doppelgängers serve to add atmosphere and meaning to the narrator’s past peregrinations, her dalliances and uncertainties. It turns out in the end that this is in fact a book about an arty person with a complicated personal life. But it’s a lovely one, written in a moving and uncanny register.”―The New York Times Book Review

The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World

“A story about the dogged survival of hope when all else is lost . . . Messina shows us that even in the face of a terrible tragedy, such as an earthquake or a loss of a child, the small things – a cup of tea, a proffered hand – can offer a way ahead. Its meditative minimalism makes it a striking haiku of the human heart.” ― The Times (London)

P.S. Try Book of the Month for $5!

I’ve recently joined Book of the Month, where you get one new hardback release (of your choice) to your door each month. This was my ‘new job treat’, and a way to read new releases without paying the sticker price or having to wait 6 months to get it from the library! If you’re interested in checking it out, this referral link means that you get your first book for a bargain $5. After that, it’s $14.99 +tax each month and you can skip or cancel whenever.

6 Books I Read In One Sitting

You may notice that this topic looks awfully like yesterday’s Top Ten Tuesday, and you wouldn’t be wrong. I half drafted this weeks ago, and since then work has been very busy (I start my new job on Monday), then Tuesday came and went, so this is where we find ourselves…

The days of curling up with a book and reading non-stop now seem to be few and far between – but over the years I’ve had delightful read-in-one-sitting experiences. These are some of the most memorable.

One Day by David Nicholls

I took this with me on a 2-month trip to India in 2012, and the host family I stayed with definitely thought I was strange for being so absorbed in this book. Tony Parsons on the cover says it’s totally brilliant, and I can’t put it better myself. A contemporary classic (and I love the film, Ann Hathaway’s accent excepting).

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Holidays. The perfect time to indulge in lying-on-the-sofa-reading behaviours for days on end. I read Such A Fun Age during Thanksgiving 2019, and was so engrossed it even distracted me from shopping in the Black Friday sales.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling

This was published on the 21st June 2003 – how is that a whopping 18 years ago? But I remember the day like it was yesterday – chasing the postman in his red Royal Mail van around the village so that I could get my hands on it as soon as humanly possible. I think my first read was over 2 days, and then I promptly started it all over again and finished it in 24 hours.

Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton

Everything I Know About Love accompanied me for a full cosy winter’s day in 2018 where I read it in one sitting, apart from breaks for tea and snacks. It feels like a chat with your best friend and is highly recommended millennial woman reading.

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

One of my favourite books of all time from the greatest Modernist writer VW – I’ve read this in one sitting on multiple occasions. It’s a short one, too – so if you haven’t read it, what are you waiting for?

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This may be cheating a little, as took me about a month to get through the first chapter, but after that I was hooked. I read the rest of the novel almost in one sitting lying on the bottom bunk in a hostel on the Chinese island of Hainan, in summer 2015, and I would not stop talking about it.

Thanks for reading! Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

Book of the Month referral code - $5


Book of the Month for $5!

Book blog - 2021 new releases

4 upcoming releases I’m excited for

It’s a funny old time. Not much is known for certain – I’m finding it hard to think much beyond the next 2 months! But in this great age of uncertainty, I find it comforting to know that there are new book releases on the horizon that I have to look forward to.

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Expected publication: September 2021

The heroes of Cloud Cuckoo Land are trying to figure out the world around them: Anna and Omeir, on opposite sides of the formidable city walls during the 1453 siege of Constantinople; teenage idealist Seymour in an attack on a public library in present day Idaho; and Konstance, on an interstellar ship bound for an exoplanet, decades from now. Like Marie-Laure and Werner in All the Light We Cannot See, Anna, Omeir, Seymour, and Konstance are dreamers and outsiders who find resourcefulness and hope in the midst of peril. Doerr has created a tapestry of times and places that reflects our vast interconnectedness—with other species, with each other, with those who lived before us and those who will be here after we’re gone.

Why I’m excited: I loved All The Light We Cannot See, and while the plot of this one looks quite quirky, I will read anything Anthony Doerr writes. His writing is just phenomenal.

A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins

Expected publication: August 2021

Laura has spent most of her life being judged. She’s seen as hot-tempered, troubled, a loner. Some even call her dangerous.

Miriam knows that just because Laura is witnessed leaving the scene of a horrific murder with blood on her clothes, that doesn’t mean she’s a killer. Bitter experience has taught her how easy it is to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Carla is reeling from the brutal murder of her nephew. She trusts no one: good people are capable of terrible deeds. But how far will she go to find peace?

Why I’m excited: I’m a sucker for a good psychological thriler, and The Girl On The Train was one of the psych thrillers that really kickstarted a wave of new psych thrillers. So you can bet I’ll be reading this one come August.

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

Expected publication: September 2021

Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he’d like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend, Eileen, is getting over a break-up and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood. Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon are still young—but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They have sex, they worry about sex, they worry about their friendships and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?

Why I’m excited: Sally Rooney really has been captapaulted into stratospheric heights, and although Normal People and Conversations with Friends were enjoyable but didn’t knock my socks off, I can’t resist getting on board a hype train once in a while.

Pub date is so far off there’s not even a final cover!

To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara

Expected publication: January 2022

In an alternate version of 1893 America, New York is part of the Free States, where people may live and love whomever they please (or so it seems). The fragile young scion of a distinguished family resists betrothal to a worthy suitor, drawn to a charming music teacher of no means. In a 1993 Manhattan besieged by the AIDS epidemic, a young Hawaiian man lives with his much older, wealthier partner, hiding his troubled childhood and the fate of his father. And in 2093, in a world riven by plagues and governed by totalitarian rule, a powerful scientist’s damaged granddaughter tries to navigate life without him—and solve the mystery of her husband’s disappearances.

Why I’m excited: Oddly, this structure sounds like Anthony Doerr’s – three timelines; long-ago past, near-present, and distant-future. That aside, it’s no secret that A Little Life is one of my favourite books of all time, and yes I have pre-ordered a signed copy even though I’ll have to wait all the way until January 2022!!


What are you looking forward to?

All images and descriptions taken from Goodreads.

The Other Black Girl book review

Happy Publication Day | The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Happy publication day to The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris, a compelling, biting, funny and sharp novel about working in the publishing industry as a Black woman, as well as a broader social commentary on race in contemporary America. I read and reviewed this back in February, and my full review is here. I mention in my review that things go a little bonkers towards the end, but there may have been editorial changes since then – so don’t let that put you off giving it a go.

Here’s the blurb:

Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada in this electric debut about the tension that unfurls when two young Black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of New York City book publishing.

Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust.

Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW.

It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career.

A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary that is perfect for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.’

P.S.

Please buy from a bookshop who pays their taxes! Blackwells have free delivery in the UK and US, and Bookshop means you can shop online from your local bookshops – currently available in the US and UK! Another good place to look in other countries is eBay. (Not to get on a soapbox, but please don’t buy books from Amazon. If you need any convincing, have a read of this).

Book Review - The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan

Book Review | The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan

Frida Liu had a very bad day. But in this dystopian universe, only slightly removed from our own, having a very bad day can be the end of the life you love. She leaves her crying daughter Harriet at home – just briefly, just to get a coffee – and then to run to the office, and then… by the time she returns home, the neighbours have called the police. Before she has time to catch her breath, she’s placed under state surveillance.

Her ex-husband and his new wife (the one he cheated on her with while pregnant and abandoned her for shortly after Harriet was born) assume custody of Harriet while Frida awaits her fate. In addition to the surveillance, she must attend supervised play sessions with Harriet. But it’s no good – she’s determined an unfit mother. The adjudicators who watched the footage felt that her crying, meant to show repentance, seemed to be in self-pity. And so she has the option to go to the school for good mothers, a one-year program in which they will transform her ‘from the inside out.’

‘Frida begins to weep. She needs to tell the judge about the house of her mind in the house of her body. Those houses are cleaner now and less afraid. She would never leave Harriet like that, not again.’

Soon after the mothers arrive at the residential program more like a prison, they are presented with AI dolls, created to resemble their own flesh-and-blood children. These proxy children with ‘the new-car smell, the faint click…, the chips in her eyes,…her fingernails that never grow.’ They will act as spies, ‘collecting data.’

‘They’ll gauge the mothers’ love. The mothers’ heart rates will be monitored to judge anger. Their blinking patterns and expressions will be monitored to detect stress, fear, ingratitude, deception, boredom, ambivalence, and a host of other feelings.’

There’s a growing undercurrent of despair throughout the novel, as the women are systematically stripped of their identities and institutionalised. What can only be described as psychological torture is metered out to these mothers – their one privilege of being allowed a 10-minute phone call on Sundays with their children is retracted for the most minor of infractions. Not all of their group can – or will – survive it.

Frida’s experience as a woman of colour and the daughter of immigrants factors heavily into her feelings of guilt and grief at the suffering her parents are enduring during her sentence. Her ethnicity also factors into the way she is assessed at the home; judged to be too passive, too cold, too detached, reflecting implicit racist stereotypes that work to her disadvantage as she desperately tries to prove herself a fit mother.

This novel takes a little while to get going, but I read the latter half almost in one sitting. It simmers with a quiet rage; a world somewhere between our current one and not so many steps from Margaret Atwood’s Gilead. Particularly with current US events and the Texas legislation to make abortion almost completely illegal, patriarchal claws continue to sink into our lives to deprive us of basic choices. It’s important to keep fighting the good fight – otherwise these fictionalised visions of a dystopian US might become closer to our reality.

The School for Good Mothers will be published in January 2022. Add it to your Goodreads TBR!

The Midnight Library Book Review

Book Review | The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

TW: depression, suicide

Nora Seed is a thirty-something living in Bedford. A few days before she decides to end her life, she walks through the town centre, seeing a ‘conveyer belt of despair’. Feeling that nothing in her life has panned out the way she planned, she reflects that she ‘always had the sense that she came from a long line of regrets and crushed hopes that seemed to echo in every generation.’ There’s nothing, Nora feels, worth living for – her cat has died, she’s lost her job, and is estranged from everyone in her life she loves. In the fog of a deep depression, she takes an overdose.

And she wakes up in the midnight library. The library is the liminal space between life or death, a place where every choice we’ve made in our lives creates another path of possibility in the multiverse, represented as a book on the many shelves. Mrs Elm, Nora’s friendly librarian from school, runs this library, too. She explains to Nora that she can pick from an infinite number of lives she may have lived. She will return to the midnight library if that life isn’t for her, and has the opportunity to pick a different path. She is dropped into the life with no knowledge of how that version of herself lives, and has to improvise – and quickly.

Nora sees the world in which she never left her fiancé, moved to Australia with her best friend, became a glaciologist, an Olympic swimmer, tours the world as a famous musician… and a vast number of other lives that she never quite feels at home in. What was moving was the refrain of her often finding her antidepressants in whatever life she is living – no matter what conventional parameters of success she appears to have reached, the same demons plague her.

‘…And that sadness is intrinsically part of the fabric of happiness. You can’t have one without the other. Of course, they come in different degrees and quantities. But there is no life where you can be in a state of sheer happiness for ever. And imagining there is just breeds more unhappiness in the life you’re in.’

Matt Haig, who has been very open with his own mental health struggles, writes compassionately about depression and hope and survival. Nora is a likeable and compelling heroine that drives a plot that may have floundered under a flatter protagonist. Her degree in Philosophy and the light-touch quantum physics of the library adds more depth and context to the novel.

There are two things that stopped this book from being a 4* read for me. There is some frustration with Nora’s behaviour when she is dropped into lives and makes the same mistakes again and again, even when she becomes adept at trying out different books in the midnight library. And the second is the way that the narrative veers into the trite on occasion; the ‘lessons’ unsubtly smacking the reader in the face.

These are minor points in a piece of contemporary fiction that I know has captured readers’ hearts (a 2020 Goodreads Awards winner) and if this can be a life-affirming book for those who need it, I applaud it wholeheartedly.