Review – The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

Review – The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

Summary:

One afternoon on a day like any other in a small town in Nigeria, a mother finds the body of her dead son on her doorstep, stripped of his clothes and wrapped in cloth. So begins the heart-wrenching story of The Death of Vivek Oji. Jumping about between multiple POVs (including Vivek from beyond the grave), the reader accompanies Vivek’s friends and family on their quest to find out what really happened to Vivek on that fateful day. We hear of Vivek’s struggles growing up under a distant father and an overprotective mother who believe that Vivek’s blackouts and dissociation between self and surroundings are some kind of mysterious illness. These moments are contrasted tenderly by scenes of Vivek with the daughters of the Nigerwives (foreign-born women married to Nigerian men) and, most closely, Vivek’s bond with Osita, whose relationship as cousins quickly intensifies as the story unfolds.

My Review:

Whilst the multiple POVs came to be one of the aspects of this novel that I enjoyed the most, I will admit that initially I was overwhelmed by the number of characters and it took me a little while to find my footing with the narrative. Considering this is a relatively short novel at just over 200 pages long, I did find myself wishing for a bit more character development in places and I think this was due to there being maybe one too many perspectives. However, each perspective did add something to the storyline and was especially important to build up details surrounding Vivek’s death.

My favourite moments in the story were when we saw Vivek with Osita and their friends, safe from exterior judgement and the danger that lay in wait on the streets. We as readers are allowed to see Vivek in their truest form in a place where they felt loved and accepted, yet whilst these moments are tender and touching, they are also tinged with remorse at the fact that it will never be safe for Vivek to act this way in public (or indeed, in front of their own family).

Emezi’s prose is rich and heavy in imagery, the kind of writing that makes you stop and pause as you take it all in. I frequently found myself re-reading passages and taking note of quotes that were crafted with utter perfection. Vivek’s chapters in particular which were often only brief at a page or two had a definite literary quality to them and reminded me ever so slightly of the omnipresent voice of Dead Papa Toothwart in Lanny by Max Porter, this kind of voice from beyond that was always around but never tangible. A moving novel about the loyalty of friendship, loss and coming to terms with one’s identity, The Death of Vivek Oji is an extremely important read, especially in terms of understanding how members of the LGBTQIA+ community are not accepted in Nigerian culture. Also, no spoilers, but the ending literally FLOORED me. It’s a big yes from me, and I will certainly be checking out Pet and Freshwater by Emezi next. 

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Review – Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

Review – Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

I’ve fallen a bit behind on reviews recently, partly because I’ve been very busy, but mainly due to the fact that I finished March by reading two incredible books which I just don’t have the words for. Sometimes I’m so moved by a book that I simply can’t articulate the emotions I felt whilst reading it and instead I just have an overwhelming urge to thrust said book into the hands of friends and say “just trust me with this one”. Rarely do books like this come along, but when they do, they must be cherished; Open Water is one of these books.

Summary:

The central plot of Open Water is one which, on the surface, appears to have been done before: two young people, her a dancer and him a photographer, fall in love after a brief period of resisting from being together before finally giving in and succumbing to their feelings. But Azumah Nelson’s expressive style which is both lyrical and rhythmic reimagines this storyline and gives it a completely new life of its’ own. Their relationship is embroiled deeply with themes of race, and Open Water is both a love song to Blackness which celebrates black artistry in all its beauty, culture and history, whilst simultaneously narrating the constant fear, discrimination and injustice that our unnamed male protagonist faces every day on the streets as a Black male.

My Review:

Azumah Nelson takes a somewhat bold approach in choosing to write this slim novel in the second person, and I have to admit that at first, I was reluctant. However, once I let myself be fully submerged into the depths of the prose, I became completely swept up in it. The second person narrative allows for an intimacy scarcely experienced; it is immediate and emotionally intense, with the affect being that the reader can’t help but mirror the emotions of the couple, almost as if they were an invisible third party in the relationship. I had actual butterflies in my stomach whilst reading it, especially in some of the most tender yet simple passages such as when the couple fall asleep on the sofa together watching television. There was something so simple and vulnerable in these moments that they took my breath away.

Whilst the couple share many moments of intense closeness, the cracks in their relationship appear to show when he cannot communicate the extent of the suffering he feels at the hands of injustice in his south-east London neighbourhood. He internalises his emotions and the pressures he feels surrounding Black masculinity to the point that they begin to harm his mental health and his ability to form connections with others. In interweaving these meditations with the romantic arc of the couples’ storyline, the reader is shown a personal story through the political lens of systematic racism.

This short book is soft and often unassuming in many ways, yet the topics it covers and the discussions it will prompt are bold and so very important. Azumah Nelson has firmly cemented his place in my list of authors who are auto-buys; his words are a gift and I am so grateful that he chose to share them with us.

Star Rating: 5/5

March Reads Wrap-Up

March Reads Wrap-Up

Phew! What a month March was! Honestly, these last couple of weeks have flown past in a blur as we hurdle on towards spring. The clocks went back here at the weekend which means the days are drawing out, the weather is getting warmer, and I’m one step closer to being able to read back in my favourite spot: out in the garden with an iced coffee. It’s the little things at the moment, right?

March was also a really great reading month. I don’t measure my reading months in terms of how many books I read, but rather on my enjoyment of the books I’ve read. I’m never going to be one of these people who can manage to read 10+ books a month (and hats off to those of you who are!) so I much more prioritise reading books I know I’m going to love rather than reading just for the sake of it – I suppose you could say I like to go for quality over quantity.

This month, I made my way through five books, all of which were very varied in terms of genre, topics and length. To kickstart the month, I read Unsettled Ground* by Claire Fuller, which coincidentally was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in the week I read it. As the title suggests, this was an eerie and mysterious read which was shrouded in an archaic cloak, reading almost as if it were a classic piece of literature. Whilst Fuller is a hugely talented writer, there were a few elements that didn’t work in this for me, and it was probably my least favourite read of March. It’s absolutely not a bad book, just one that fell a bit flat.

My second read, and the longest of the month by a longshot, was Marian Keyes’ Grown Ups. This is the book which most took me by surprise – I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. I wouldn’t say it’s particularly original, but it just provided some really great escapism. I got completely swept up in all the family drama and have really fallen in love with Keyes’ writing. I’ll definitely be giving her backlist of books a browse.

After reading almost 700 pages of Grown Ups, I decided to go for something a bit shorter: We Are Displaced* by Malala Yousafzai. Part memoir, part communal story-telling, We Are Displaced shares stories from refugee girls around the world who Malala has met on some of her own journeys. A really moving and endearing piece of non-fiction which I would highly recommend.

My penultimate read of the month, was Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson. I’ve not had the chance to review this one yet, but I’m honestly a bit at loss with how my words can ever do it justice. Reading it physically gave me butterflies in my stomach, I was so moved by it. Exquisite.

I finished off the month with The Death of Vivek Oji by Akaweke Emezi, an author who has been on my radar for several months and whose writing blew me away. Again, I’ve not got round to reviewing it yet, but you can expect a rave review. It’s a big yes from me.

So there we have it, my March reading wrap-up, and (fingers crossed), my last lockdown wrap-up! With restrictions easing this month, I’ll be interested to see how my reading habits change as things gradually return to the new normal. How do you think your reading habits will change? What was your favourite book of March? I’d love to hear!

As always, if you’re interested in seeing more details about any of the books I’ve read (including star ratings), all of my full reviews are up for you to take a look at!

Happy reading,

Em x

*{AD – Gifted} A big thank you to Penguin Random House and Orion Books for sending my copies of Unsettled Ground and We Are Displaced.

NB Magazine Blogger’s Book Prize 2021 – Announcement

NB Magazine Blogger’s Book Prize 2021 – Announcement

I’m absolutely over the moon (and still in complete shock) to announce that The Mountains Sing has been crowned the winner of the Blogger’s Book Prize 2021!

Following a judging process that combined a public vote with the views of a panel of book bloggers (and a very nervous wait for the results), The Mountains Sing has been selected as the winning title. I’m absolutely elated for Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, no one deserves this more than her and I feel so honoured to have been the blogger championing this beautiful book.

As part of the prize, I also had the privilege of interviewing Quế Mai (we finally got to meet after being bookstagram friends for weeks!) and I had the most interesting and enlightening conversation with her all about the writing and researching of the book, the people who inspired it, and why it was so important for her to authentically represent Việt Nam’s culture and history. I’ve only been blogging since May last year, so to have the opportunity to interview one of my absolute favourite authors was a real pinch-me moment. NB Magazine (in collaboration with Agile Ideas) are sharing clips from our interview together across social media today, so do check it out if you’re interested in hearing more!

Finally, I want to say a massive thank you to everyone who voted and supported myself and Quế Mai: my friends, family and fellow bookstagrammers and bloggers; as well as all of the wonderful people at NB Magazine/Agile Ideas (especially Martha); and the biggest thank you of all to Quế Mai who is the most lovely and humble author around. I also want to celebrate my fellow shortlisted bloggers who all fiercely championed their chosen books and who wrote the most heartfelt reviews – congratulations to you all!

Now, all that’s left to say is that if you’re yet to read The Mountains Sing, GO AND READ IT. I promise you, you won’t regret it.

Until next time,

Em x

Review – We Are Displaced by Malala Yousafzai

Review – We Are Displaced by Malala Yousafzai

Summary:

Most people know the name Malala; it is that of the young Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate. They also know her story; she is the girl whom, at the age of fifteen, was shot by the Taliban for standing up for the education of girls. Yet, Malala’s story is just one amongst 79.5 million people who are currently displaced. In this book, she shares some of these stories from refugee girls from around the world, shedding light on the immigration crises, war and border conflicts.

My Review:

Part memoir, part communal storytelling, We Are Displaced* opens and closes with Malala. I really enjoyed Malala’s introduction and afterword to the book, it almost felt like a supplement or update from her first book, I Am Malala. I also appreciated how she related the immigration crises to other pressing issues such as the ongoing pandemic and climate change; it really cemented just how interrelated all of these crises are and the urgent need for universal action.

I can genuinely say that I found each and every story moving and inspiring, but I was particularly taken with the stories of Zaynab and Sabreen, two sisters who have been separated for years after Sabreen was denied the same visa as her sister to resettle in the United States. As someone who is very close with my own sister, this story really got to me.

The collection of stories made for a really quick and easy read, despite the heavy topics, and I would recommend it as an accessible introduction to the immigration crises (even for younger teen audiences). My only wish (not a criticism, but more due to the fact that I was enjoying it so much), is that it was longer. I would have liked more depth and background to the different stories, but, nonetheless, each story was eye-opening and empowering.

A beautiful chorus of voices from the girls who have never lost hope and who dream of a better and safer future.

Star Rating: 4/5

*{AD, Big thanks to Orion Books for my #gifted copy of We Are Displaced. Buy your copy here).

Review – Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

Review – Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

I’d never read any Marian Keyes before so I wasn’t sure what to expect from Grown Ups, but as she’s such a beloved writer my expectations going in were high, and I’m pleased to say, they were absolutely met!

Summary:

To the outside world, the Casey family seem completely perfect. We meet brothers, Ed, Johnny and Liam, their wives, Cara, Jessie and Nell, and their many many children. They spend their weekends attending lavish parties and extravagant family gatherings – seemingly a tight family unit – yet as we grow closer to the Casey family, we come to realise that everything is not quite as harmonious as it seems…

My Review:

Grown Ups is the perfect example of a family drama story done really, really well. Although to start with I was overwhelmed by the number of characters (especially in the scene when they’re at a murder mystery party and they only refer to each other as their character names), you quickly come to learn who everyone is and begin to form your opinions on the characters you like and those you dislike. The standout characters for me were the three wives, but I definitely had a soft spot for Nell, Liam’s wife. Notably younger than Cara and Jessie, Nell is admired for her quirky outfits and hairstyles, her creativity, and her strong morals. I suppose you could say that she’s the family member who we get the most objective viewpoint from; as the newest member of the clan, she’s just as overwhelmed by the Casey’s lifestyle as the reader.

Keyes writes with sensitivity and honesty about some pretty serious topics (TW eating disorders), and these are contrasted thoughtfully against the many party scenes with the supposed happy family. I think Keyes’ ability to write about the everyday with such relatable characters is definitely one of the reasons that she’s so successful, and I found myself completely invested in the Casey family.

This book is super long at almost 700 pages, but I never once found it dragging. Despite some heavy topics, it’s an easy read and one which had me gripped right from the opening dinner party scene. You’ll find yourself feeling like an adopted member of the family by the end of it as you cheer on your favourites and screw your face up in disgust at those you can’t stand. I don’t want to give too much away about the plot as I think it’s best to go in blindly and find yourself swept up amongst the drama.

This would make an absolutely brilliant TV series (I’ve already begun casting for it in my mind), and whilst this was my first Marian Keyes, it certainly won’t be my last.

Star Rating: 4/5

Non-Fiction Recommendations and TBR

Non-Fiction Recommendations and TBR


At the beginning of the year, I decided that I wanted to read more non-fiction after a very fiction-heavy 2020 (let’s face it, we were all looking for an escape from reality). ⁣

I think for a long time, I had preconceptions about non-fiction, but I’ve definitely realised in exploring different genres within the broader category that whilst reading non-fiction and fiction are different experiences, both can be enjoyable and valuable in their own ways. With this in mind, I thought I’d round up a list of non-fiction books which have educated, empowered, challenged and moved me alongside some on my to be read pile.



⁣Read:


Know My Name by Chanel Miller⁣ – Chanel Miller, survivor of the Stanford sexual assault case, shook the world when her victim statement was published by Buzzfeed in 2016, and in this memoir, she tells her story. Throughly combing through the exhausting process of reporting rape and reliving trauma through frustratingly slow and dehumanising trials, this is the most empowering and moving book I have ever read. To hear more about it and to see trigger warnings, read my review here.


We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib⁣ – My first non-fiction read of the year and one I would highly recommend! Habib’s short memoir about growing up in a threatened Muslim minority sect whilst coming to terms with her queer sexuality is a bold and brave memoir which gives a voice to the voiceless and encourages self-acceptance in its truest form.


Educated by Tara Westover⁣ – This memoir is a real testament to the power of education. A coming-of-age story, we go on a journey as Tara escapes her childhood growing up in a survivalist Mormon family in rural Idaho to go on and attend some of the best universities in the world and obtain a PhD.


Non-Fiction on my TBR Pile:⁣


Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race
by Reni Eddo-Lodge⁣ – This best-selling book by award-winning journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge removes the topic of race from the hands of White people and plants it firmly in those of the people directly affected by it. Covering issues from eradicated black history to whitewashed feminism, this is absolutely necessary reading.

Becoming by Michelle Obama⁣ – This memoir by the First Lady needs no introduction. I can’t wait to read it.


Chauvo-Feminism* by Sam Mills⁣ (#gifted by Indigo Press)⁣ – This short essay serves to expose the men in society who pose as feminists to better their social standing and career, yet behind closed doors, continue to perpetuate chauvinistic and archaic behaviour towards women. I’m really keen to expand my feminist reading, so I’m looking forward to learning more about this concept.

The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing* by Sonia Faleiro – Written by the award-winning writer of Beautiful Things, this is a masterly inquest into the mysterious deaths of two Indian girls in a village in western Uttar Pradesh, 2014. I’ve not seen much about this book, but it sounds like a fascinating and harrowing read centred around the costs of shame.


Have you read any of these? What’s your go-to non-fiction recommendation? And what have you got on your TBR? Let me know in the comments!

Happy reading,

Em x

*{AD – GIFTED}

Review – Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller

Review – Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller

Unsettled Ground* is the first novel I have read by award-winning author, Claire Fuller, and although not quite my usual type of read, I was really intrigued by the premise.

Summary:

At the age of 51, twins Jeanie and Julius still live with their mother, Dot, in extreme poverty in a small rural cottage. They live a tranquil and simple life, but when Dot suddenly dies, the twins are left in a desperate situation as secrets about their mother begin to unravel. Atmospheric and, as the title suggests, unsettling, Fuller puts her own spin on the thriller genre in this novel of deceit and betrayal.

My Review:

What stood out most when reading this book was the intimate relationship between the twins. Their living situation on the fringes of society immediately isolates them, yet they remain bonded within the walls of the old cottage by their music and love of nature. There are some really beautiful descriptive passages about their garden and the surrounding farmland; Fuller really paints it as a retreat away from the fast-pace of modern life and at times I forgot that I was reading a contemporary novel and not a classic.

Despite their initial closeness, things start to hot up when the cracks in the twins’ relationship start to show. Grief-stricken, both Jeanie and Julius do everything that they can to survive, but as they begin to question why their mother kept them living at home way into their adulthood, they soon realise all of the things that they have been missing out on in life: education and the chance for a family of their own.

Unsettled Ground is described as a thriller/suspense fiction, but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Although Fuller pays a lot of attention to the setting of her novel, I do feel that it got a bit lost between the archaic setting of the farm and the outside world. Even the chapters set in the town away from the farm seemed dated except for the odd reference to modern technology, so I was a bit confused when the book was meant to be set. I also felt let down by the big reveal of the plot; it was very predictable and therefore quite anti-climatic.

That being said, Fuller is clearly an accomplished writer and I’ve seen a lot of rave reviews for her latest novel, so if you’re interested by the premise, it might be better for you to cast your own judgement! Lots to admire, but a few aspects that didn’t quite work for me.

Unsettled Ground is published on the 25th March 2021 by the Fig Tree imprint of Penguin Random House and it’s just been longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction! Thank you so much to PRH for sending me a review copy. You can pre-order your copy here.

Star Rating: 3/5

*{AD – GIFTED}

Blogger’s Book Prize 2021: Powered by NB Magazine

Blogger’s Book Prize 2021: Powered by NB Magazine

Soooooo, I’ve been sitting on some very exciting news for the last couple of weeks… my review of The Mountain’s Sing by the wonderfully talented, Nguyẽ̂n Phan Qué̂ Mai, has been shortlisted for the Blogger’s Book Prize 2021 eek!!!

The Blogger’s Book Prize is powered by literary magazine, NB Magazine, and calls on book bloggers to champion their favourite fiction book of 2020. The prize aims to promote “inclusive books, addictive books, books that prompt discussion and books to be enjoyed, [in the] hope that they will reflect the views of readers, book bloggers, reading groups, book clubs and all those who in the toughest of years, have continuously supported and promoted bookshops and the publishing industry come what may.” From the initial longlist of 36 books, just 6 have been shortlisted!

I entered my review on a complete whim and really did not expect anything to come from it, so I am completely humbled to have been shortlisted by the NB Editorial team. But, more importantly, I am over the moon for Nguyẽ̂n Phan Qué̂ Mai and this beautiful book. I know that Nguyẽ̂n Phan Qué̂ Mai has spoken out about how her novel has been a little lost in the UK book market because of the ongoing pandemic and she is always so genuinely appreciative of any reviews she receives, so I’m so glad to see this special novel get the recognition it deserves. The Mountains Sing is my favourite book I’ve read this year, and it brings me so much happiness to see other people discovering it and subsequently falling in love with it too!

As a shortlisted blogger, my review has been published in NB Magazine’s latest issue and the voting is now open to determine the winner of the Blogger’s Book Prize 2021! You can see the full shortlist here and vote for any of my fellow talented bloggers. Every single review is brilliant, so do make sure you read them all before making your decision – you might find a new favourite book!

When I started this blog back in May 2020 as a lockdown project, I could never have foreseen this happening, and to be shortlisted in itself is a huge deal, but if you would like to support myself and Nguyẽ̂n Phan Qué̂ Mai to see The Mountains Sing crowned as NB’s 2020 Book of the Year, you can now cast your vote here.

Voting closes on the 18th March 2021.

Thank you in advance for all of your support – it means the world!

All my love,

Em x

Review – Bright Burning Things by Lisa Harding

Review – Bright Burning Things by Lisa Harding

Happy publication day to Bright Burning Things* by Lisa Harding! I’ve always been interested in books that centre around motherhood and addiction, and when I saw an article in The Guardian compare Lisa Harding’s novel to one of my all-time favourite books, Shuggie Bain, I was desperate to read it. I’m incredibly grateful to the lovely publicity team at Bloomsbury for giving me the chance to review this novel.

Summary:

Former actress Sonya misses the bright lights of the stage, the glamour and the raucous after-parties. Now a single mother, Sonya finds motherhood too much, in fact, she finds everything too much. Under the watchful eye of her nosy neighbour and her estranged father, Sonya’s alcoholism threatens her with losing her young son, Tommy, and his best friend, Herbie the dog, forever.

My Review:

Whilst Harding’s novel isn’t quite as astute as Shuggie Bain, this is a tender look at addiction and the overbearing nature of a mother’s love. Harding’s writing has many of the qualities that I really love in contemporary novels by Irish writers; written in gorgeous lyrical prose, yet with a gritty and sharp edge to it. Sonya is a complicated character, the kind of character who one minute you’ll feel extreme pity and sympathy for and the next you’ll loathe. She can be cutting and scathing, never afraid to speak her mind, yet she can also be soft and vulnerable. I could never quite work her out, but her unravelling layers of personality were one of the aspects of this novel that made it impossible to put down.

Harding brings Sonya’s relationship with Tommy very much alive, and his perspective on their relationship with all of his anxiousness and innocence was particularly difficult to read. As the reader, I felt torn; Tommy clearly loves his mother in immeasurable quantities, but can love ever be enough when a child’s wellbeing is put at risk?

Although I enjoyed Sonya’s first-person narrative, her frequent blackouts and delusions about reality did mean that I came away from the novel with lots of unanswered questions. I won’t go into too many details as I don’t want to give away spoilers, but there were some moments surrounding Sonya’s past (and specifically, her mother’s death and the absence of Tommy’s father) that I would have liked to know more about. Perhaps Harding purposely left out details to give authenticity to Sonya’s addiction, but as the reader, I did find myself wanting more.

If you’re looking for a raw, heart-rending observation of motherhood and addiction and don’t mind not getting the answers to all of your questions, Bright Burning Things is a gripping and twisted read.

Star Rating: 3.5/5

*{AD – GIFTED}