About Me

My photo
Tea-drinking introvert found either behind a book or within arm's reach of one. Book reviewer, and book sniffer. You may have seen me on W24, BooksLive, Aerodrome, Bark Magazine, CultNoise Magazine, or Expound Magazine.

27 Sept 2019

Review: Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala

Niru is in his final year of high school, and is bound for Harvard. The star of his school track team, with good grades, friends, and a bright future ahead of him, his ascent to greatness seems mapped out and impossible to ignore. Despite this, Niru is victim to inner turmoil which taints his thoughts and leeches into his outwardly perfect life. In a world of weighty expectations from his family, his church, and his culture, Niru is reluctant to acknowledge that he is homosexual. Despite efforts to the contrary, he can no longer suffer in silence, and when he comes out to his best friend, he feels for the first time the freedom and terror of speaking his mind, and embracing his own views.

Raised by conservative and religious Nigerian parents, Niru’s revelation triggers a brutal fallout that tests his love, faith, and future, and sets into motion a chain of events from where there is no return. Niru’s options seem to dry up as his desperation increases, until he can no longer bear it, and seeks escape.

Speak No Evil is a story so much greater than the sum of its parts. Poetic prose and tormented characters work together to unveil the dark side of expectation, and the heavy cost of deviation. To read this novel is to confront the truly tenebrous aspects of modern society – the assumptions we make based on wealth, race, gender, or religion; the bias towards the Other, and the terrible effects of ignorance and unwillingness. Speak No Evil is a glaring spotlight on the consequences of silence, and the devastating loss of things left unsaid.

Speak No Evil is a journey of the mind and spirit – to follow the narrative, we must be willing to examine our own faults; to poke at the sensitive places we keep hidden from view, and to acknowledge the discomfort which has become mundane and overlooked. Iweala masterfully demonstrates that the power of words, or the greater power of their absence, can unravel a life, a belief, or a society. All that is needed to halt the spread of evil is to spread truth and rebel against lies.

Once I had finished reading this book, I felt a profound loss – not at having left behind an immensely beautiful and poignant story (although that is undeniably true) but for the sudden, undisputed reminder of the countless times that hesitancy and silence have damaged unseen. If good literature is food for thought, this book will leave you full and slightly nauseated at your own gluttony. It is a triumph and an uncomfortable call to action that is both moving and mesmerizing. If you only read one book this year, let it be this. Embrace the heaviness that the book imparts, as it slowly travels from your fingertips to your heart, and be the reason such stories are spread, and that the events which inspire them are halted.  

Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala is published by John Murray, an imprint of Hachette Books, and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.

Review: The Porpoise by Mark Haddon

A heavily pregnant woman goes against the advice of medical professionals and boards a plane. As fate would have it, she should have listened to her doctors – the plane crashes, and she dies. However, the baby survives, to be raised by only her wealthy father and a retinue of staff. Her father’s grief for the loss of his wife is redeemed only by his immense love of the baby Angelica, a love which morphs and evolves into a dangerous obsession, which sees the young girl effectively locked away from society, and kept in a gilded cage.

Angelica’s escape from her father takes place through stories – though she cannot escape her life physically, she journeys through her mind, effectively divorcing her from her surroundings. The stories which keep her occupied resonant with her own life, yet take place in other times and other countries. In her mind, Pericles loses his beloved wife and must somehow navigate the world without her, with the babe Marina in his charge.

The premise of Haddon’s story is excellent – the multi-layered narrative is a clever tool which draws parallels between different times, and different lives, yet the execution is not as flawless as it could be. While both stories are well-written, they seem to lack something intangible, and feel somewhat unfinished. Despite this, the narrative is alluring, and creative; had it been slightly more polished, this book would be phenomenal. Currently, it is a fun adventure just beyond the borders of mind-blowing, but nevertheless an excellent way to spend your time.

The Porpoise features a myriad characters which range from loveable to those you hope will be skilled off in the next few pages, and that speaks to Haddon’s talent for harnessing qualities that he brings to life through his story. Angelica and Pericles are an unlikely duo, yet without each other, each would have a story with less impact. Who knew you could relate the man in an ancient myth to a teenager in modern society? Mark Haddon, of course.

The Porpoise by Mark Haddon is published by Chatto & Windus, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

18 Sept 2019

Review: Field Guide to Mushrooms by Gary B Goldman and Marieka Gryzenhout

Just try to tell me that you won’t feel like you’re in a scene from Little Red Riding Hood while you expertly select and pick mushrooms in a forest, wearing a red, hooded jersey. Apart from allowing me to live out fairy tale fantasy, this book made me feel like a qualified mycologist. Filled to the brim with the strangest, most amazing mushrooms you have ever seen, dancing toe to toe with your garden-variety fungi, this book is the ultimate guide for novice and pro alike. With a quick introduction explaining the basics - from cap shapes, colours and habitats, and classifications – we jump to the main event – 200 species of mushrooms, grouped by shape and thus easy to find.  Each entry has a set of photographs which feel like they’ve come from National Geographic, as well as its distribution, habitat, description (including its smell!), edibility, and any other species which look similar (helpful for those instances when you need to decide whether something is poisonous or not; I’m looking at you, false death cap).

Goldman and Gryzenhout have really changed my attitude about mushrooms with this book. The insightful entries are incredibly informative, and the Field Guide to Mushrooms & Other Fungi of South Africa is an excellent companion for a novice botanist of mycologist, such as myself. Comprehensive, beautiful, and interesting, this book has everything you need to begin a lover affair with fungi.

I am so looking forward to more adventures with this book - it has a million and seven (exactly) helpful photos and is super easy to use - my nieces have even mastered it and identified several 'fairy umbrellas' (read: mushrooms) in the garden. Yes; you read that correctly – this book is even child-friendly, it’s so easy to use. This is a fun guide for your fungi.

Field Guide to Mushrooms & Other Fungi of South Africa by Gary B Goldman and Marieka Gryzenhout is published by Struik Nature, an imprint of Penguin Random House South Africa.

Review: The Darkest Legacy by Alexandra Bracken

One of the trends followed by most YA series is the happy ending – the reward of sacrifices and trials and the goal and aim of protagonists the (literary) world over. However, few writers seem to address the time after the happy ending. Once the boy gets the girl, or the girl saves the world, or the boy overthrows a corrupt government, or the aliens retreat, what happens? Does everything magically go back to ‘normal’? Do the characters ever think fondly back on their hero days as they plod through a humdrum existence of bills, work, and tax? Yes, that sneaky question of ‘what next’ holds less sway than the events that led to it being safe to ask. Until now.

It’s a great risk to extend a series beyond the accepted happy ending. When another narrative is stitched to the end of an existing one, it can either ruin the entire ensemble, or add a much-needed flair and rounding off. Luckily for me, Alexander Bracken’s newest offering in The Darkest Minds series is the latter. The last book in the series (In the After Light) seemed to be the best place to end our relationship with the young men and women that carried us through this post-apocalyptic world of supernatural abilities and corrupt governments. The girl got the boy, the government was reformed, families were reunited, and the kids no longer had to live in fear. I thought this was the end of my time with Bracken’s characters, but I was wrong. The Darkest Legacy, as the name suggests, takes place after we left the kids to their happy ending – several years later, in fact, and it feels like coming home.

In the opening chapters I was hesitant – was Bracken trying to hard to bring back to life a successful franchise through one of the series’ more minor characters? Was she flogging a dead horse? Luckily, and somewhat surprisingly, the answer is a resounding no. Narrated through a fresh perspective, The Darkest Legacy takes us beyond the happy ending into a world in which nothing comes easily, and all freedoms must be earned. When attacks on Psi children and new, restrictive measures to control the newly redeemed supernatural populace are introduced, Zu and her colleagues refuse to allow their hard work to be reduced to a public relations stunt. Reluctant to go back to war, they sadly have no other choice as plots incriminating Zu explode across the media, putting the young woman back on the run, and desperate to clear her name, and finally bring about lasting change.

Bracken has a talent for emotions and the myriad ways they can be displayed. Hers are books that leave you feeling as enraged or butterfly-tummied as the characters; her writing is enticing and immersive, allowing you to become part of the world she has crafted. In addition, to see real, lasting growth in characters we met in their youth is as rewarding as it is addictive. Any questions we may have had are comprehensively answered, through a more mature perspective, which is in itself a pleasing turn of events. Sometimes, experiencing the upended world through the eyes of preteens can be infuriating and shallow – at last, we get to see the experience this upheaval with maturity, through adult eyes.

This book has many appealing features – excellent writing, likeable characters, budding relationships, intrigue, and a dash of wit and violence. Unfortunately, The Darkest Legacy can’t successfully be read as a stand-alone novel, as its roots are too deeply entrenched in the rest of the series, but don’t let that stop you. Read all four; I insist.

The Darkest Legacy y Alexandra Bracken is published by Quercus Books, an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton, and is available in South Africa from Pan Macmillan Publishers.

17 Sept 2019

Review: Washington Black by Esi Eduygan

Wash knows nothing of the world beyond the borders of Faith. A slave on the ironically named plantation in Barbados, his life has been a series of abuses, both experienced and witnessed. Among the dark dirt and tall sugar cane, and under the careful yet heavy hands of Big Kit, Wash manages to survive his first decade on the plantation. Through keeping his head low and his back bent, Wash works his way through a world no bigger than his immediate surroundings. Despite his best efforts and Kit’s protection, Wash is not invisible to the plantation owner, and following a summons to the manor house, his world changes irrevocably.

Christopher ‘Titch’ Wild, brother to the young boy’s slave master, seeks to recruit Wash into his service – not for field work, but in science. Titch seeks to make real his Cloud Cutter, an immense flying machine and gravitational feat, but for that he needs a body small enough to not disrupt the careful balance that could cause the project to fail. For this, he needs Washington Black.

Told from the protagonist’s perspective, there is an enormous evolution both of narrative and of the form in which it is presented. Wash’s fear and sheer wonder are initially hesitantly expressed; an illiterate boy who has spent his life as a slave has no need for eloquent speeches and insights; instead, he relays the world as he sees it; chaotic, disorganized, and limited to his sphere of experience. The delicate and yet powerful growth of this young boy is reflected through his understanding of the world, and thus is narration of it. Edugyan has encompassed an entire life into her narrative, and it is remarkable and beautiful. Through Wash’s eyes, we see the world anew, in all its gore and glory. 

To describe Washington Black as anything less than poetry is to do Eduygan a massive disservice. This book is a carefully arranged and incredibly moving ode to the suffering of others, and the redemptive powers of growth, compassion, and change. The brutality of the character’s lives in a time of immense cruelty is countered and somewhat tamed by an injection of fantasy and wonder that makes Wash’s story not just palatable, but memorable. Through amazing skill and creativity, Esi Edugyan presents the reader with a unique opportunity; to read of horrors beyond imagining as the foundation of something beautiful and truly mesmerizing.

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan is published by Serpent’s Tail, an imprint of Profile Books, and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.