Saturday, May 24, 2014

"The Embassy of Cambodia" by Zadie Smith

Fatou, an Ivory Coast refugee, is working as a live-in nanny/housekeeper for a wealthy family in London.  Every Monday, she steals a health club guest pass from a drawer at the family’s home to go swimming.  As she walks to the club, she passes by the Embassy of Cambodia, a place a narrator first explains to us as something nobody would have expected there, a place where there never seems to be any signs of life except for the sounds of a badminton shuttlecock from behind the fence.

But the focus of the book is on Fatou.  She reads of a woman who was being held as a domestic slave and wonders if that could be her.  But her weekly swims and Sunday morning church attendance makes her think otherwise, even though the family she works for her has taken her passport.

The Embassy of Cambodia by Zadie Smith is a short story that was originally published in The New Yorker.  At only 69 pages, it packs a punch, examining the issues of class, immigration, domestic slavery, and of course, relationships.  What a true testament to Smith’s writing abilities that such a small novel can be so strong.  

When I first put in a request at the library for this book I thought it was a full-length novel.  Anything I had already read about it made me think that.  So I was surprised to find that it was a novella.  Though it is 69 pages it is actually must shorter as there are 21 chapters so there are lots of page breaks.  I wish Fatou had been given a full-length novel because her story and insights could definitely have filled many more pages.

Domestic slavery is an issue that is able to fly under the radar for many, but can (and does) exist everywhere.  Smith’s writing gives us a character who is strong and proud, who quietly goes about her life despite the hardship that exists in it.

For me, The Embassy of Cambodia is a fascinating and interesting short story that is deserving of many more pages.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"The Orchard of Lost Souls" by Nadifa Mohamed

It is 1988 and Somalia is on the brink of a civil war.  In the city of Hargeisa, the revolution is stirring but the dictatorship is holding on to power at all costs.  Change is coming and the country will fall, as witnessed by three very different women.

Nine-year-old Deqo was born in a refugee camp, left behind by her mother.  Lured to the city by the promise of her first pair of shoes, she decides it is best to leave the camp and fend for herself.  Kawsar has lost both her husband and daughter and is living out her days in her little house with a garden.  But a savage beating at the local police station has now left her confined to her bed.  Filsan is a promising young soldier who has been sent to Hargeisa from Mogadishu to suppress the growing rebellion.  She wants to follow in her father's footsteps but life in the military can be tough for a woman.

As the country plunges into war, the lives of these three women become intertwined and their lives are changed forever.  The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed is a beautiful novel about ordinary people in a volatile time.  Named of one Granta’s “Best of Young British Novelists” in 2013, Mohamed has given us another stunning work, cementing herself as one of Somalia’s bright voices.

I loved Black Mamba Boy, for which Mohamed was long listed for the Orange Prize, so I was thrilled to see another book coming out.  Her writing is incredible and the stories she tells are ones that generally aren’t in our sights but should be.  I love books that have a historical element, that help us to better understand the current plight of people around the world far beyond what the newspaper tell us.  This one does just that.

The book starts with a scene in which all three women are first connected, then branches out to tell the women’s stories individually.  At the end, the women are connected again, unaware of their shared past.  Each woman will tug on your heart, whether you like them or not, and make you understand the beauty and pain that exists in a country at war with itself.   Deqo was the strongest voice to me, the one who truly captured the loss and volatility of the country.  But this isn’t just a book about war, it is about relationships, the same ones being formed and lived out everywhere in the world.  Conflict exists everywhere, and not just between groups or people, but within ourselves and that is all captured in this novel.

This is a tough book to read.  We are privileged to live in a place that is secure and stable.  We all know that isn’t the case for many around the world today.  You can look at the news and photos coming out of places like Syria and feel your heart break for the people who live through it but you can never truly know what it is like.  I’m not saying a book can give you that knowledge, but it can paint a broader picture for you.  It can introduce you to the emotions within.  It can show you the courage, strength, and determination of the people.  This book does that.  It gives emotion to the faces you see on television.  It gives a voice to the many people who live from one day to the next with war all around them.  Women are often the unseen during war but in this book they are front and centre and rightfully so.

Nadifa Mohamed is deserving of the praise she is being given.  For a writer of any age she is gifted and talented and must be read.  I know that Somalia has many more stories to be told and that Mohamed will be the one to bring them to us.  

Friday, May 16, 2014

"Mansfield Lark" by Katie Oliver

Now that bad boy rock star Dominic Heath has been outed as Rupert Locksley, son of an aristocrat and heir to a country estate, his life has changed quite a bit.  And when his mother calls him, pleading with him to help save the family home, he has to return to the life he left long ago and the father who is threatening to disinherit him.

But Dominic’s return is going to be more difficult than he thought.  The house is in desperate need of repairs and he realizes that the only way he’ll be able to save it is to invite a camera crew to follow him around for a new reality show.  And when Dominic’s new status as heir of Mansfield House attracts the attention of socialite Bibi Matchington-Alcester, a woman determined to increase her status at any cost, Dominic may wind up way in over his head, especially if his girlfriend Gemma has anything to say about it.

Mansfield Lark is the third book in Katie Oliver’s Dating Mr. Darcy series.  Once again we get to visit many of the characters we met in the first two books but this time focusing on rock star Dominic and Gemma, the woman who finally managed to tame him.  

As you’ll probably guess from my reviews this past week, I really love this series.  I think it’s very unique in the way that there is a multitude of characters that appear throughout the series but each book focuses on a different few as the main characters.  It was nice in this one to also see a few story lines from the past two books furthered, even when they weren't part of the major plot.

In the first book, Dominic wasn’t really a character I cared much about (bad boy rocker? Maybe that was the point.)  But I loved him in this book, seeing the struggle he had between his old and new life, who others wanted him to be and who he wanted to be.  The introduction of Bibi was great because who doesn’t love a drama queen?  She is definitely the one you will love to hate.

As I’ve also mentioned previously, this is a series but each book stands alone.  I do think that you should start at the beginning however, because there are so many characters and their stories develop throughout all of the books.  You can read just this one as a fun story but it’s much better if you are completely up to date on everyone and how they got to where they are.  

Fun, flirty, modern day Jane Austen, juicy, right amount of romance and drama, good beach read - these are all ways I have described this wonderful series from Katie Oliver.  It has everything you look for from chick lit novels and more.  And thrillingly, this isn’t the end of the series.  I have read online that there are at least two more books to come.  I just hope we don’t have to wait too long for them!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

"Love and Liability" by Katie Oliver

Holly James loves her job at BritTEEN magazine but she would love for her big break to come writing about something a bit more meaningful than hunky pop stars and makeup.  And after her chance to interview the sexy city solicitor Alex Barrington falls to pieces, she needs to find something quick.  When she spots Zoe, a homeless teenager, outside of her office, she knows she has to tell her story.

While the editor of the magazine loves the idea and promises her an opportunity to publish the story, Holly’s boss Sasha is bent on stopping her big break.  She finds herself being sabotaged at work and isn’t sure who she can trust.  Sexy solicitor Alex is chasing her heart but Holly isn’t sure she can trust him either.  And before she knows it, her teen homelessness story has led her into London’s dark underworld.  Is she in over her head or will she be able to save her job and her heart?

Love and Liability, by Katie Oliver, is the second book in the Dating Mr. Darcy series, a fun and flirty series with a modern day Jane Austen feel.  

What I really like about this series of books is that it includes a whole group of characters, some who are featured more in one book than another.  We first met Holly in book one, Prada and Prejudice, though she was a background character there.  Now we get to learn her story.  Holly comes from a well-to-do family but is determined to succeed in London on her own and is pursuing a career as a journalist.  But she never would have thought that working at a magazine for teenage girls would bring so much drama and danger into her life.

Just as with the first book, I really enjoyed this story.  Katie Oliver packs a lot into her books which means the storyline is never dragging.  Sometimes that sacrifices bits of the story (some things could have more detail or not move quite as fast) but this book keeps you hooked from start to finish.  And what I appreciate about this chick lit offering is while it has your compulsory romance and mix-ups, it brings a more serious edge with the issues of homelessness and human trafficking.  Sure, it’s not going to solve the problem, but it’s nice that it shines a light on these issues.

The first book was a five star read for me and this book had all of the same things I loved about the first.  These are books that are fresh and whisk you away for a few hours of fun.  But there is one thing about this book that keeps it from being a five star for me and that is the writing becomes disjointed and rushed at the end.  Most noticeably, there are two scenes which are in direct contrast with each other, as in there were two different endings for these two characters and they were both included in the book.  It made it feel as though the secondary story lines were just being wrapped up quick and not given the full attention they deserved.  But other than that, I can’t complain about this book.

Love and Liability is the second in a series though it definitely stands alone.  But why would you want to read just this one when the whole series is so much fun?

Monday, May 12, 2014

"Prada and Prejudice" by Katie Oliver

As heiress to the renowned London department store Dashwood & Jones, Natalie Dashwood has been in designer clothes since before she can remember.  And as the girlfriend of famous rock star Dominic Heath, Natalie is living the life many socialites aspire to.  But for Natalie, the perfect life isn’t as it seems.

Her boyfriend has just announced his engagement to another woman and she finds herself both humiliated and on her own.  Her spending is absolutely out of control and with the family business in a financial crisis, she’s facing the dreaded b-word - budget.  And the arrival of sexy, high-flying business executive Rhys Gordon at the store doesn’t help matters either.  

Prada and Prejudice, by Katie Oliver, is the first book in the “Dating Mr. Darcy” series, books with a modern day Jane Austen feel.  This chick lit series packs fun, romance, scandal, and intrigue into three great reads.

I won a copy of the third book in the series in a contest and was really excited to get reading.  But knowing that many characters appear in all three books (though each book focuses on a different character), I decided I had to go back and start at the beginning. And I am so glad I did because I have found a new favourite series.

Lately, I have read a couple of different books set in department stores and when these sort of similarities happen I often wonder if I'm not going to be tired of this device but that is not a problem here.  I absolutely loved the setting and the storyline.  I’m a Daily Mail sidebar addict and this book absolutely hits the spot when it comes to a juicy story worthy of the celebrity hotspot.

When you pick up a book and see that it’s about a spoiled heiress, you kind of think you’re not going to like the character, but I absolutely loved Natalie.  I mean, who doesn’t dream about having so much money, an £11,000 chandelier seems like a perfectly natural wedding gift?  The character could have been overboard, she could have been unlikeable, but she isn’t like that all.  Sure there are some things that make her come across as annoying and spoiled, but who wants perfect characters?

And there are certainly a lot of characters.  This book introduces a whole lot of people who feature throughout the entire series.  It is a lot to keep up with but it keeps any one characters storyline from dragging on or running out of things to do with a lot of pages left.  This book definitely has the feel of a soap opera with lots going on, many characters to follow, and the right amount of romance and drama added to the mix.

If you’re looking for a fun, light read, one with twists and turns that will keep you turning the page, then this is a good book for that.  This is what I would classify as a good beach read - there is nothing better than soaking up some sun with a book like this.  Thank goodness there are more books in the series because I definitely didn’t want it to end here.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

"The Lowland" by Jhumpa Lahiri

Subhash and Udayan Mitra are brothers, fifteen months apart in age and inseparable.  But they are also complete opposites.  Growing up in Calcutta in the 1960’s, the charismatic Udayan is drawn into the Naxalite political movement and drawn into a world of terror and secrecy while under the radar Subhash pursues scientific research and leaves for a quiet life in America.

But when Udayan becomes so committed to the movement he risks everything including his life for it, Subhash is drawn back to India, the dutiful son returning to pick up the pieces and heal the family Udayan has left behind.  As decades pass, Subhash’s life is continually touched by the tragedy of Udayan’s life.

The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri, is a sweeping story, spanning decades and continents, politics and society.  This a big novel and a touching story that remains long after you turn the last page.

This is the first book I have picked up by Lahiri and I did so because of all the buzz around it and the award nominations.  At first glance, it probably isn’t one I would pick up on my own but I am certainly glad I did.  The writing is spectacular, it possesses a subtlety that brings forth big moments.  While I preferred Udayan’s story to Subhash, I think that furthers the point of them being complete opposites.

I really enjoyed the politics in the book.  Recently, I have read a few books that take place in India and it’s been very interesting to learn the history of the country through novels.  I found the time period covered in the book to be very interesting, it had me looking online to further discover the politics, and I really enjoyed the way the history unfolded throughout the story.

Before I read the book, I read quite a few comments from readers about how the book drops off at the end.  Because of this, I was continually wondering when that point was going to come for me, but it never did.  I can see how some people may feel that it fizzled out but not once did I feel the urge to put the book down.  The book covers a large span, a lifetime, and the story and pace does change but it is just as meaningful as the rest of the book.

There isn’t much I can add to the conversation that is already going on around this book.  I really enjoyed it, found it difficult to put down, and think it is very deserving of the praise and nominations it has been receiving.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Sunday Headlines - #WeNeedDiverseBooks Edition

Here are a few headlines that caught my eye this week:

For the past few days, the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks has been trending on Twitter.  Thanks to a campaign started by Ellen Oh and many other readers, it is now hitting the headlines where it deserves to be and to stay until we get what we need.  So all of my Sunday headlines this week are about this topic.  And don't forget to visit the WeNeedDiverseBooks website.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Pt. 1

The hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks has been trending for the last few days and has now become a movement that isn’t going to die down any time soon.  And for good reason.  The current literary landscape does not reflect the diversity of the rest of the world.  And it needs to change now.  Here’s my story.

I’m white and I’m middle class.  On paper, I’m the one the publishing industry thinks is the target.  But the world that they think I want to read is not the one I live in.

I’m Canadian, the child of an European immigrant.  Growing up in an upper class neighbourhood, the kids I fit in with were the other children of immigrants, and we all made up a very diverse group.  Fast forward, to the present and I’m married to an immigrant living in one of the most diverse cities in the world.  Myself, my husband, and my children represent 3 continents, 5 countries, and 3 races.  And we live in a neighbourhood where ALL of those are the minority.  This is the real world and this is the world the publishing industry doesn’t represent.  

My kids are three races - Black, White, and Arawak (Native.)  To them, it is normal that their parents do not look alike and that they do not look like either of us (or each other.)  In fact, it wasn’t until my daughter was 6 and one of her Afghani friends asked her why she was brown and I was white, that my daughter actually gave any thought to the whole issue.  She didn’t have an answer and she really didn't care that she didn't have one.  This is the real world.

Having kids has made me realize just how white the publishing industry is, because as we read more and more books we realize that very few of these characters look like my children and even less of the families in books look like our family.  It finally hit me when my mom was reading a book with my daughter, who was then 3, and my daughter pointed at the blonde mother and blonde child and said “that's not a mommy and a daughter, the daughter isn’t brown.”  This is the real world.

I’ve always thought of myself as a diverse reader.  I like my British chick lit, which is predominantly white, and I like my CanLit, which is mostly white, but I also like books that reflect my world.  I like to learn about different cultures and people.  So I looked back at my reading habits since I’ve started using GoodReads and I calculated the percentage of books I read that are diverse (writers or characters of race, religion, or culture that is different than mine).  Here is what I found:

2011 - 38% (33 books)
2012 - 33% (30 books)
2013 - 30% (30 books)
2014 - 34% (15 books, so far)

Of the books I have bought in the past year, 40% of them are diverse reads.

I honestly thought it was more.  But when I think about it, I’m one of those people who go out of my way to look for diverse reads.  And yet, this is what I found.  When I sit down at the beginning of the year and make my list of upcoming releases I want to read, this is what I find.  I’m not saying I’m reading ALL of the diverse books out there, but when it comes to knowing what is out there, I find it difficult.  So coming up next, I will be posting a list of every book that fits into the diverse book category I have reviewed on this blog, as well as a list of diverse kids books I have come across to help make it easier for you and I hope that we will all share, buy, and demand more diverse books.

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Pt. 2 - Book List

As part of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks push, I'm publishing here a list of every book I have reviewed on this blog that is a diverse read.  These are books by diverse authors and or whose characters make up a diverse cast.

Stacy Hawkins Adams - Coming Home
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Americanah
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - The Thing Around Your Neck
Yahaya Baruwa - Struggles of a Dreamer
Ishmael Beah - Radiance of Tomorrow
Naomi Benaron - Running the Rift
Angela Benson - A Million Blessings
David Bezmozgis - The Free World
ReShonda Tate Billingsley - A Family Affair
ReShonda Tate Billingsley - Holy Rollers
ReShonda Tate Billingsley - The Secret She Kept
ReShonda Tate Billingsley & Victoria Christopher Murray - Fortune and Fame
ReShonda Tate Billingsley & Victoria Christopher Murray - Friends and Foe
ReShonda Tate Billingsley & Victoria Christopher Murray - Sinners and Saints
Peggy Blair - The Beggar's Opera
Peggy Blair - The Poisoned Pawn
Rhonda Bowen - Get You Good
Rhonda Bowen - Man Enough For Me
Rhonda Bowen - One Way or Another
Joseph Boyden - The Orenda
Dionne Brand - What We All Long For
Carleen Brice - Children of the Waters
Connie Briscoe - Money Can't Buy Love
Shana J. Burton - Flaws and All
Shana J. Burton - Flaw Less
Austin Clarke - More
Teju Cole - Every Day is for the Thief
Yvette Edwards - A Cupboard Full of Coats
Esi Edugyan - Half-Blood Blues
Carole Enahoro - Doing Dangerously Well
Will Ferguson - 419
Kim Fu - For Today I Am a Boy
Wayne Grady - Emancipation Day
Marilynn Griffith - Rhythms of Grace
Marilynn Griffith - Songs of Deliverance
Ian Hamilton - The Scottish Banker of Surabaya
Michael Helm - Cities of Refuge
Lawrence Hill - The Book of Negroes
Nalo Hopkinson - Chaos
Langston Hughes - Selected Poems
Neta Jackson - Stand by Me
E.N. Joy - Been There Prayed That
Nicole Krauss - Great House
Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer - All The Broken Things
Kevin Kwan - Crazy Rich Asians
Vincent Lam - The Headmaster's Wager
Rabindranath Maharaj - Picture of Nobody
Avner Mandelman - The Debba
Anthony Marra - A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
Hisham Matar - Anatomy of a Disappearance
Ayanna Mathis - The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
Bernice L. McFadden - Gathering of Waters
Bernice L. McFadden - Glorious
Rosalyn McMillan - We Ain't the Brontes
Terry McMillan - Getting to Happy
Dinaw Mengestu - All Our Names
Dinaw Mengestu - How To Read the Air
Nadifa Mohamed - Black Mamba Boy
Toni Morrison - Home
Bharati Mukherjee - Miss New India
Victoria Christopher Murray - Destiny's Divas
Victoria Christopher Murray - Sins of the Mother
Michael Ondaatje - The Cat's Table
Helen Oyeyemi - Boy, Snow, Bird
Ruth Ozeki - A Tale for the Time Being
Linda Sue Park - A Long Walk to Water
Stef Penney - The Invisible Ones
Kate Pullinger - Landing Gear
Nancy Richler - The Imposter Bride
Lucinda Riley - The Midnight Rose
Taiye Selasi - Ghana Must Go
Jacquelin Thomas - Samson
Kim Thuy - Ru
Chika Unigwe - On Black Sisters Street
Padma Viswanathan - The Ever After of Ashwin Rao
Tiffany L. Warren - In the Midst of It All
Tiffany L. Warren - The Bishop's Daughter
Tiffany L. Warren - The Replacement Wife
Rita Williams-Garcia - One Crazy Summer

Carolyn Abraham - The Juggler's Children
Carmen Aguirre - Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter
Ayaan Hirsi Ali - Nomad
Stacey-Ann Chin - The Other Side of Paradise
Olivia Chow - My Journey
Amy Chua - Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
Byran Clay - Redemption
Malaak Compton-Rock - If It Takes A Village Build One
Romeo Dallaire - They Fight Like Soldiers They Die Like Children
Sonali Deraniyagala - Wave
Whoopi Goldberg - Is It Just Me? Or Is It Nuts Out There
Debi Goodwin - Citizens of Nowhere: From Refugee Camp to Canadian Campus
Lawrence Hill - Dear Sir, I Intend to Burn Your Book
Jennifer Hudson - I Got This
Emmanuel Jal - War Child: A Child Soldier's Story
Mindy Kaling - Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me
Dany Laferrière - The World is Moving Around Me
Lopez Lomong - Running for my Life
Michelle McKinney Hammond - Divanomics
Somaly Mam - The Road of Lost Innocence
Carolyn Maul McKinstry - While the World Watched
Wes Moore - The Other Wes Moore
Marina Nemat - After Tehran
Lucille O'Neal - Walk Like You Have Somewhere to Go
Jael Richardson - The Stone Thrower
Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh - Captive in Iran
Sherri Shepherd - Permission Slips
Rebecca Skloot - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Zadie Smith - Changing My Mind
Sudhir Venkatash - Gang Leader for a Day
Mosab Hassan Yussuf - Son of Hamas

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Pt 3 - Kids Books

As I have mentioned, I have two young kids (ages 7 and nearly 5) and my kids are multi-racial.  When it comes to choosing books for them to read, we do look for books that reflect not only them, but the world around them.  And anyone who was tried to do that will know it is very difficult.  So here I want to share the books that we have found and read with our kids as well as spotlight a couple of publishers who I feel do great a job publishing multicultural books.

Henry's Freedom Box - Ellen Levine
Please Baby Please - Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee
Please Puppy Please - Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee
Just the Two of Us - Will Smith
The Snowy Day - Ezra Jack Keats
A Letter to Amy - Ezra Jack Keats (and many other books by Keats)
Happy to be Nappy - bell hooks
Baby Dance - Ann Taylor
One Love - Cedella Marley
Corduroy - Don Freeman
Whose Toes Are Those - Jabari Asim
Jamaica Tag-Along - Juanita Havill
We All Went On Safari - Laurie Krebs
Where Are You Bear: A Canadian Alphabet Adventure - Frieda Wishinsky
Kele's Secret - Tololwa M. Mollel
The Farmyard Jamboree - Margaret Read MacDonald
Peekaboo Morning - Rachel Isadora
The Rainbow Magic series by Daisy Meadows has quite a few diverse characters with their own books.
(All titles are linked to the book's Amazon page)
(I really wish that list was much, much longer)

The publisher that I feel is the best at providing multicultural books is Barefoot Books.  Their collection of books spans the globe, travelling to different countries and telling the tales of different cultures.  No matter what your background, you will find something here that your kids can see themselves in.

As if finding diverse books for kids isn't hard enough, we face the extra challenge of our kids going to school in French and thus trying to find diverse French books.  For this challenge, I have to give a huge shout out to Scholastic Canada.  This is where we get 99% of our French books from and most of their books have a diverse set of characters.

And I can't end a post on multicultural kids books without sharing my favourite book growing up.
No word of a lie, Cleveland The Disco King by Vivian Green was my favourite book growing up (wow, did I just date myself there...)

Friday, May 2, 2014

"Skinny Bitch Gets Hitched" by Kim Barnouin

Clementine Cooper’s No Crap Café is about to score one of the biggest publicity coups ever - a mention in the New York Times Sunday travel section.  All she has to do is make the best vegan lasagna she ever has.  So long as nothing distracts her everything should be okay…

But you know what they say, when it rains it pours.  First, Clementine gets the best surprise ever when her meat-eating millionaire boyfriend Zach proposes.  Of course she says yes, but that’s when everything begins to spin out of control.  Zach’s domineering mother decides that she will be the one to plan the wedding, and comes up with a wedding that goes against everything Clementine would want.  Then she is forced into giving Zach’s stepsister a job in the café’s kitchen, even though she has no cooking skills whatsoever.  On top of this, Clem comes up with a plan to open up a second restaurant at her parent’s farm, while Zach begins to spend more and more time at the office and less time speaking to her.  The only person she can turn to is her best friend and fellow vegan chef Alexander, who happens to be competing against her for the spot in the Times.  Will Clementine be able to get her life in order in time to wow the Times reviewer?  And will she end up walking down the aisle or is the vegan-carnivore marriage doomed?

Skinny Bitch Gets Hitched is the second novel by Kim Barnouin, co-author of the New York Times bestselling line of Skinny Bitch lifestyle and recipe books.  This novel is a sequel to her first novel, Skinny Bitch in Love (see my review here.) 

I really enjoyed the first novel so I was excited to see that Clementine is back.  This book picks up where the last one left off, with Clementine running a successful vegan restaurant and madly in love with Zach, owner of a successful steakhouse.  And I enjoyed this one just as much.  I felt like this time around, the author didn’t need to do as much explaining about the vegan lifestyle and so the story took off right from the start and was a fun ride right throughout.

I like how a lot of the characters from the first book and were back but this time there was the introduction of two new characters in Zach’s mother and stepsister.  It was a fresh addition to the story and kept things from feeling repetitive.  I was worried that the book would end up going over the whole vegan/carnivore relationship thing but it didn’t fall into that trap, those just happen to be characteristics of the characters now.  The only thing I could have done without was the list Clementine received from Zach’s aunt.  It didn’t harm the story but I felt it slowed down just a little bit at those parts and the story would have been fine without it.

There isn’t too much to say about this book other than it is a great, fun read, it’s just as good as the first book, and your mouth will be watering the entire time you read from all of the great food.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley.  The opinions expressed above are my own.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

"Every Day is for the Thief" by Teju Cole

A young Nigerian writer living in New York City returns to Lagos with a unique perspective of the city of his youth.  Here, he is able to see it through the eyes of both a foreigner and a local.  As he reconnects with friends and family, he explores the history and present-day of his country, the beauty and corruption of his city while revealing pieces of himself.

Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole is an incredible story, a beautiful travelogue that straddles the line between fiction and non-fiction.  Accompanied by incredible photos taken by the author himself, this book will transport you to the heart of Nigeria, making you feel like you know the country even if you have never been there before.

This isn’t your typical novel in that there is a lot of plot nor is there much to the character (who in fact remains unnamed throughout the book.)  Rather it is one’s journey that the reader is invited along for.  And because of this, the size of the book, works very well.  This is a novella, and packs a lot into its small size.  The reader will be able to read it cover to cover in one sitting.  

This book was originally published in 2007 in Nigeria and is now being published for a wider audience.  The book focuses heavily on the corruption that exists in Nigerian society, beginning with the corruption at the embassy as the narrator tries to get his passport and then exploring the many different ways corruption exposes itself in the country.  When one thinks of this issue, one thinks of the well-known “419” internet scams and this is given attention.  But beyond this the author laments a country where the competition for prosperity puts everything, including culture and history, out of the way.

This is one of my anticipated reads for 2014 and it did not disappoint me.  Actually, it did disappoint me when I found it was only 127 pages, I definitely would have loved more.  What I love about reading is it allows us to see the world through someone else’s eyes and this book does that perfectly.  Cole doesn’t hold back in presenting a realistic Nigeria, even when it comes across in a negative away.  All throughout the book it is difficult to tell if it is fiction or real, and that is a sign of very good writing.  What I appreciate most about this book is that it is not really about giving a tour of the city, or criticizing the country.  It’s about showing the way one changes, the way one’s viewpoint changes, when they build a life that exists in two very different parts of the world. 

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley.  The opinions expressed above are my own.