Book Review – The Bone Readers by Jacob Ross

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Secrets can be buried, but bones can speak… When Michael (Digger) Digson is recruited into DS Chilman’s new plain clothes squad in the small Caribbean island of Camaho he brings his own mission to discover who amongst a renegade police squad killed his mother in a political demonstration.

Sent to London to train in forensics, Digger becomes enmeshed in Chilman’s obsession with a cold case – the disappearance of a young man whose mother is sure has been murdered. But along with his new skill in forensics, Digger makes rich use of the cultural knowledge he has gained from the Fire Baptist grandmother who brought him up, another kind of reader of bones. And when the enigmatic Miss K. Stanislaus, another of Chilman’s recruits, joins him on the case, Digger finds that his science is more than outmatched by her observational skills. Together, they find themselves dragged into a world of secrets, disappearances and danger that demands every ounce of their brains, persistence and courage to survive.

Jacob Ross brings the best traditions of crime fiction to the Caribbean novel with a fast-moving narrative, richly observed characters, a powerful evocation of place and a denouement that will leave readers breathless. Along the way, The Bone Readers has much to say about power, wilful amnesia and the need for truth. In Digger and Miss Stanislaus, The Bone Readers introduces characters to rival Leonardo Padura’s Cuban detective, Mario Conde, and Timothy Williams’ Anne Marie Laveaud.

Review:

So, this book was announced as the winner of the Jhalak Prize last night and soI knew it was definitely time to read it. It’s a crime fiction novel which is a genre I rarely ever touch as I’m not a huge fan of it, however, this novel is just wonderful and I’m definitely going to pay more attention to crime novels in the future!

As it’s a crime novel, I can’t say too much about the plot because that will spoil all the fun of the secrets and reveals as you read through. The characters are all fantastic and very well fleshed out and I really enjoyed the interactions between them all. The book is set on the fictional island of Camaho in the Caribbean which is based on Grenada, the author’s home. Because of this, it’s showing us a very gritty, realistic view of life on the island and doesn’t hold back from criticising certain traditions. One thing that I absolutely adored about the novel was that the characters spoke in their own language and it’s not adapted to Standard English. Although this may make it harder for some readers to understand (particularly those who do not speak English as a first language), I felt it really helped add to the immersion of the novel and I personally adore it when authors write dialogue the way it would be spoken by the characters.

I found the authors writing absolutely beautiful and I’m very excited to hear that this is the first in a planned quartet as I look forward to reading more about these characters and I really enjoyed the reveals as they worked on their case as I was kept in constant suspense and constantly surprised. This book has definitely both made me want to read more of his work, and made me want to read more crime fiction.

I would highly recommend this novel and I can definitely see why it was chosen as the very first winner of the Jhalak Prize – something which it definitely, definitely deserves. It’s so hard to put down that I read it in just two sittings (and I only stopped the first time because I had to go eat!)

 

Book Review – The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

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Goodreads Synopsis:

“One evening, my father asked me if I would like to become a ghost bride…”

Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy port town of Malacca, ghosts and superstitions abound.

Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family’s only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.

After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim’s handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits and monstrous bureaucracy—including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family—before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.

Review:

So, this is another of the books I read back in January for #DiverseAThon and I adored it. It took me a while to get around to writing my review just because I found it difficult to describe how much I loved this book. This book also works well as the book for Malaysia in my Around the World challenge which is perfect as I enjoyed it so much.

The book is part historical fiction, part fantasy and the combination works really well.

The thing that definitely grabs you is the portrayal of Malaysia at the end of the 19th century. The descriptions of the setting are beautiful and create a stunning image of life at that time, and from what I’ve seen in other reviews it’s also a very accurate portrayal. Not only is the physical world excellently described, but the afterlife is also very detailed and again, from what I’ve read, accurate portrayal. Through reading this book, I feel I’ve learned a lot and definitely now have a desire to visit Malaysia myself because of how lovingly it was portrayed.

Next up is the characters, who again are all fantastic and feel very real. They all have their flaws, for example Li Lan is very sheltered, but this contributes greatly to the story and seeing them grow is really lovely. There is some romance in the story, and even a love triangle which I usually despise but I actually really liked how it was handled in this story which is a testament to how much I enjoyed the writing.

Plot-wise, I don’t want to say too much as there are a lot of mysteries in the book that are revealed as you read and I don’t want to spoil anything. I will say though that I really enjoyed the story and it gripped me so much that I didn’t want to put the book down!

I’d definitely recommend this book because it is just delightful and I was just charmed by everything about it. It also has a stunning cover and the descriptions are just so fantastic – especially as a lot of the more traditional things are explained for those unfamiliar with the culture.

 

 

Book Review -The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

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So this is another book I read for #DiverseAThon – I picked it up from Waterstones as the cover was just enchanting and as a big cat lover, I couldn’t resist a book about a cat.

This novella follows a couple who have moved into a small guesthouse in Tokyo and both work from home. Their neighbours adopt a cat who slowly starts to come visit them. The story follows the visits of the cat as they get more frequent and as the cat gets more bold until they even start feeding the cat and create a little bed for it.

As a fan of cats, I adored the cat, nicknamed Chibi, in this book and the interactions between the couple and the cat was charming. The book was a delight to read and went into such depth and detail that it was wonderful. The translation was very well done as it still felt very Japanese but that didn’t affect the readability of it. The writing is magical and I absolutely adored everything about this novella and really enjoyed the small snippets of the characters lives that we got to see.

I would highly recommend this novella, especially since it’s quite short so doesn’t take long to read and the cover is gorgeous.

Book Review – The Bride Price by Buchi Emecheta

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Goodreads Synopsis:

A Nigerian girl is allowed to finish her education because a diploma will enhance her bride price, but she then rebels against traditional marriage customs.

Review:

So, this is the second of Buchi Emecheta’s books that I’ve now read and this one was also fantastic. It’s set during the 50’s in Nigeria starting in Lagos then moving to Ibuza and looks at the customs surrounding marriage.

The book starts with the death of Aku-nna’s father due to an foot injury he sustained during the war. This means that his family can no longer afford to live in Lagos and so they all return to Ibuza to life with her uncle. Aku-nna and her brother Nna-nndo both continue their education at school as it is believed that the more educated Aku-nna is, the higher a bride price will be paid for her. However, while waiting for her to begin menstruating and thus be old enough for marriage, Aku-nna falls in love and is determined to marry the man she loves despite the opposition from her family.

I really enjoyed this book and watching Aku-nna as she grew and dealt with the issues in her life. It was a very interesting look at the cultural practices and beliefs of the people of Ibuza and the effects that had on the people of the area.

Again, I would definitely recommend this book to learn more about what was life in 50’s Nigeria for young women in Ibuza. Again, it had a very powerful ending and definitely left a strong impact on me.

Book Review – Dancing the Death Drill by Fred Khumalo

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Paris, 1958. An Algerian waiter at the famous restaurant La Tour d’Argent is convicted of the murder of two customers. As he is awaiting trial, his long-time friend Jerry Moloto helps an opportunistic and ambitious journalist build a case to defend him.

Through Jerry’s testimony the reader discovers that the waiter is actually Pitso Motaung, a mixed race South African drafted to fight in the First World War. He is also one of the few remaining survivors of the SS Mendi tragedy, which saw the formidable warship sink off the coast of the Isle of Wight, killing 646 people, including many black South African soldiers. So how did a brave soldier become a criminal and will Pitso’s name be cleared before it is too late?

Commemorating the 100th year anniversary of the sinking of the SS Mendi, Dancing the Death Drill is a timely novel about life and the many challenges it throws our way.

Review:

I received this as an eARC from Jacaranda Books, and was first drawn to it because of the stunning cover. I’d not read any Historical Fiction in a while, and this sounded particularly fascinating as I’d never heard of the SS Mendi before this and I really enjoyed reading Salt to the Sea last year about another navel disaster, that of the Wilhelm Gustloff which I had also not heard about before reading the book.

The novel starts off with Pitso serving customers in a restaurant when suddenly he stabs two of them to death and calmly waits to be arrested. A reporter tracks down a friend of his to learn his life story and from there we go right back to the Boar war, following first the story of his father and mother then Pitso right through from when he was a child until he enlists on the SS Mendi and the events that surrounded the sinking and the aftermath of that.

The book was very well written and it was clear that a lot of research had gone into it, and I was particularly pleased with the end where the author discussed his research and even included a suggested further reading section.

Pitso was an excellent character, I really loved reading about his life and the difficulties he faced due to his background. The rest of the characters were all very well written and I really enjoyed the use of language in the book – both the way it was written, and the inclusion of several languages that the characters spoke (the main two being Sesotho and Zulu). The mix of various South African languages really helped immerse you in the novel and I enjoyed seeing the interaction between the different cultures.

I was a huge fan of this book, and ended up staying up until almost 3am to finish it as I just couldn’t put it down. I would highly recommend it to everybody and it also works really well for a variety of challenges that are running – it works as a “Book about War” for Book Riot’s challenge, it’s a South African book for those doing Read Around the World challenges and could count for several squares on #DiversityBingo

Book Review – The Slave Girl by Buchi Emecheta

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Goodreads Synopsis:

The Slave Girl follows the fortunes of Ogbanje Ojebeta, a Nigerian woman who is sold into slavery in her own land after disease and tragedy leave her orphaned as a child. In her fellow slaves, she finds a surrogate family that clings together under the unbending will of their master. As Ogbanje Ojebeta becomes a woman and discovers her need for home and family, and for freedom and identity, she realizes that she must ultimately choose her own destiny.

Review:

I first heard of Buchi Emecheta when she passed away and resolved to read at least one of her books, if not more, for Black History Month. I ended up with three out from the library and this just happened to be top of the pile when I was looking for my next read.

The story begins with Oganje Ojebeta being born and her father, having previously lost many daughters during childbirth, has gone and got charms to hang around her arms and back in order to protect her. Unfortunately, disease comes to their land and both her parents pass away. Her brother, Okolie, brings her to their rich relative and sells her for the small sum of £8. Ojebeta must now adapt to life as a slave along with a group of other young girls. The book follows Ojebeta as she grows up and then as an adult, how she deals with the death of her master.

This story is set in the early 20th century in Nigeria, not long after the British have taken control. The novel was very immersive with excellent descriptions and interactions between the characters. One thing I really enjoyed was the ending, which I won’t say much about as I don’t wish to spoil it, but it was very powerful and was the perfect way to end the story.

I would definitely recommend this book to those wishing to read more Nigerian literature as it gives you an excellent insight into the culture and about the treatment of women at that time period. It’s quite a quick read and is very much a “just one more chapter” book as you just keep wanting to find out what will happen to Ojebeta and I couldn’t put it down until I finished!

Book Review – Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

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Goodreads Synopsis:

When a massive object crashes into the ocean off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous and legendary city, three people wandering along Bar Beach (Adaora, the marine biologist- Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa- Agu, the troubled soldier) find themselves running a race against time to save the country they love and the world itself… from itself.

Told from multiple points of view and crisscrossing narratives, combining everything from superhero comics to Nigerian mythology to tie together a story about a city consuming itself.

‘There was no time to flee. No time to turn. No time to shriek. And there was no pain. It was like being thrown into the stars.’

Review:

So, this was the first book from my post on SFF by Black Women that I managed to read, and I loved it! As the synopsis says, it focuses on three people who happen to be in the same place at the wrong time and how they cope with the fact that an alien ship has landed just off the coast of Lagos. Each of the three have a mysterious power that will help them in this adventure.

The three characters lives become intertwined as they work to find the missing president and deal with one of the aliens. The story jumps around a lot, between different POVs including even those of sea creatures dealing with the changes the ship has brought to them.

One thing I really loved about this book was the setting. So many books have the first contact as being in the USA or the UK and so it was really refreshing to see it located somewhere else and how it differs. The book itself mentions how if it were the USA, the government would have rushed in and controlled everything while in Nigeria the main characters actually have a chance of getting the alien to meet with the president. The book also includes dialogue in pidgin English which helps with the immersion and there was a useful glossary at the back which helped make sense of a lot of it. Finally, the book also included several LGBT+ characters although they didn’t appear too much in the novel and were mostly just in a few scenes. I would have liked to have seen more of them and found out what happened to them, but the focus was more on the aliens rather than on them.

I would definitely recommend this book – it was really refreshing and an excellent novel dealing with “first contact”. I really enjoyed the writing and would definitely like to read more of Nnedi’s work – especially Binti as I’ve heard so many great things about it.

Book Review – Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀

 

Goodreads Synopsis:

‘There are things even love can’t do… If the burden is too much and stays too long, even love bends, cracks, comes close to breaking and sometimes does break. But even when it’s in a thousand pieces around your feet, that doesn’t mean it’s no longer love…’

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.

Review:

This is another book I received as an eARC as I thought it would an interesting book to read for the final Book Riot Challenge – “Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color.”. I was drawn to it by the cover and because I’ve been reading a lot of Nigerian literature recently and wanted to read some more.

I really enjoyed this book, although it’s going to be hard to write a review without spoilers due to the nature of it as it follows Yejide and her struggles with her husband as they try their best to conceive a child. All the characters are really well written and very realistic in their actions. You both like and dislike characters and they’re all very much painted as neither good nor bad, but simply human. The POV alternates between Yejide and her husband, Akin, and so seeing the story from both sides is particularly interesting. The story also jumps around in the timeline from their current struggles, to their courtship in the past and then to over 10 years after the main events of the book. I really enjoyed the story and loved how it ended – especially as the writing was just so lovely to read.

I would definitely recommend this book to those wishing to diversify their reading more, it’s an excellent story focusing on the everyday lives of an ordinary couple and their struggles.

Book Review – Butterfly Fish by Irenosen Okojie

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I picked this book up from the library both for #DiverseAThon and because it seemed like a perfect choice for task number 2 of the Read Harder Challenge – “Read a debut novel”. I didn’t know much about it before I started, but the cover really appealed to me and the blurb sounded interesting.

The book focuses mainly on two characters. Joy is a young woman in modern day London, coping with the death of her mother and has received a strange inheritance of a brass head and the diary of her grandfather. Adesua is a young woman from a village in the Benin Empire (now Nigeria) and has just been chosen as the latest wife of the King. She is given a gift of a brass head by him and has to deal with the jealousy of the other wives. The book alternates between the two of them, along with a couple of chapters focusing on Queenie, Joy’s mother, and then also starts sharing entries from the diary. The book is a journey, focusing on Joy discovering more about the history of her family and all the characters are linked together by the brass head.

The writing in this book is an absolute delight to read, the descriptions and choice of language is wonderful and made you want to read slowly and savour it. My favourite character was Adesua and I would keep reading to get back to her chapters. I found it quite slow to start as at the beginning, I was not the biggest fan of Joy but I grew to like her more as the book went on and by the end I was hooked. All the characters are really well developed, including all the side characters like the wonderful Mrs Harris, Joy’s neighbour, and the various settings were fantastic. I really enjoyed reading about Benin and plan to read some non-fiction to learn more about the empire.

This is a book I would definitely recommend, particularly to those readers who enjoy magical realism.

Book Review – Augustown by Kei Miller

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I picked this up from the library from their display of quick reads because the cover was just so striking. I’d briefly heard of it before and it was on my Goodreads to-read list and so I figured I would give it a shot, knowing almost nothing about it.

The book is set in the fictional area of Augustown in Kingston, Jamaica, which is based on a real area called August Town. It follows the story of a family and the events that occur after a young boy called Kaia comes home in tears, having had his dreadlocks cut off by his teacher. His great aunt, Ma Taffy, tells him a story of the flying preacherman to calm him down while they wait for his mother to return home. His mother Gina, or Miss G, works for the headmistress of the school and has her own secrets. The story is short, but delightfully written and I really connected with all the characters.

All the characters are very well developed, and even the ones I disliked (such as the teacher) were still well rounded and interesting to read about. The book jumps between the present day and the past with Ma Taffy’s story and is a delight to read. One thing I particularly enjoyed was the use of Jamaican Patois in the novel which really helped to immerse me in the atmosphere and it was very interesting to figure out what the words meant.

I adored this book and found the writing absolutely fantastic so not only do I highly recommend it, I’m also definitely adding the authors other books to my to-read list and I hope they will be just as wonderful.