Review: Stay With Me


Yejide and Akin are a married couple living in Nigeria in the 80s. After 4 years of marriage and no baby, Akin’s family become insistent that something is done. That something is a new wife joining the household, and Yejide feels betrayed and desperate.

Told in alternating chapters through the eyes of each party, Stay With Me is colourful, revealing and devestating. Stay with Me follows the relationship between Yejide and Akin through it’s ups and downs over the years, through love, sacrifice and loss.

Oh my goodness, this book! I can’t give too many details of the plot as I don’t want to give away any spoilers. I will say that the story of the beginning of a family and the eventual shattering and disintegration of the household is both compelling and devestating. The dual nature of the narrative lends sympathy to both characters. It is heartbreaking to watch them make poor decisions and the way those decisions impact the other.

 As a non African, I found the cultural differences around marriage and the expectation of children being actually enforced by the wider family both surprising and educational. While this does happen to a very minor degree here with hints being dropped and questions being asked nothing this impactful would be endured.What a lot of stress for a young couple to go through! Polygamy was also an interesting concept to see explored, particularly when it didn’t seem to be wanted by either Yejide or Akin. I can’t imagine trying to maintain a healthy relationship which contains a third person that you don’t want to be there.

I enjoyed seeing the 80s political climate of Nigeria through this lense as well and seeing how the changes affected the people on the ground.

This story will take you on a raw and emotional journey. Make sure you have the tissues on standby.

4 out of 5 interfering in-laws.

Review – Binti: Home


The latest offering in the Binti series from Nnedi Okorafor doesn’t disappoint.

After a year at Oomza University, Binti is ready to return home to visit her family. This comes with its own challenges as Okwu, her Meduse friend, decides to accompany her, becoming the first Meduse to visit Earth in peace after generations of conflict.

Coming back to this world reminded me of how much I love it. I particularly enjoy Okorafor’s wonderful world building and the way she fuses the traditional and the fantastic to make an amazing backdrop to the story.

During the journey home, we learn of the trauma Binti has been suffering after what happened on her voyage to the university. Even just the presence of Okwu can be distressing for her. 

Even once she reaches home, Binti’s journey is difficult for her. She is not the same person as the one who left her close knit family. Not only mustthey get to know the new person she has become, but Binti must also reacclimatise to life in her village and others expectations of her, which are very different to what she has become used to at university.

Binti’s journey not only allows her to remember who she was before she left home, and helps her come to terms with where she she has ended up, but it also takes her on an eye-opening journey into her family’s heritage which she wasn’t anticipating.

I’m very much looking forward to the third Binti instalment due September 2017.

5 out of 5 fabulous family secrets.

Review: Caraval


Scarlett has wanted to take her sister, Tella, to the amazing Caraval performance since they were children. Now her father has arranged her marriage, Scarlett believes this opportunity is behind her. Legend, the mastermind behind Caraval, has other ideas and sends tickets to Scarlett with an invitation. Scarlett is reluctant to go – her wedding is very soon, and it may be her only opportunity to save herself and Tella from their cruel father. With the help of a sailor, Tella gets Scarlett to the performance, only to be kidnapped shortly after arriving. Scarlett must find and save Tella within the 5 days of the performance, but how is she to do that when nothing is what it seems?

I wanted to love this book. I really did. 

But I didn’t. Possibly the comparisons to The Night Circus elevated my expectations way to high.

My main issue with the book was the main character. I found Scarlett just plain annoying. We spend a  lot of time inside her head, and it’s pretty whiny in there. Scarlett wants to look after Tella, but struggles to take any risks at all to do so. She wants to be saved. She wants to be looked after. Scarlett eventually (and very suddenly) finds her ability to kick arse, but this appears to be entirely linked to her intimate encounter with the love interest.Thank goodness he managed to dislodge the stick up her butt while he was down there.

The other big issue for me (which other reviewers have noted) was the lack of laws in the fantasy world. This can be good up to a point,but after that point it’s just plain confusing.

This book did a lot of stuff well. The presentation is absolutely stunning. It would look gorgeous on your shelf. The world building was also fun, grand and sweeping if you can suspend your disbelief to deal with some of the inconsistencies.

I know I’m in the minority with this review, most people seem to love it. If you like gorgeous costumes, rich fantasy worlds and damsels in distress, then this book is for you.

2.5 out of 5 .

Review – Dreadnought by April Daniels


Danny is a girl in a boy’s body, until she ends up at the scene of a vicious superhero fight and, as a result, inherits the power of Dreadnought. Danny’s body changes as well, and finally she is the girl she always knew she was. This, of course, comes with its own set of challenges – an unsupportive mother and downright abusive father, her best friend thinks he should automatically have first dibs on dating her, and she has no real choice but to be out.

On top of that, she has to figure out how to use her powers, the politics of the superhero realm to ponder, a new bunch of people to judge her and a homocidal maniac trying to take over the world.

I am not a superhero fan by any stretch of the imagination, but if more superhero stories were like Dreadnought, I would be. Danny’s voice is both unique and authentic, and her struggles are both recognisable and understandable.

One of Danny’s toughest lessons is to be her own advocate and to learn not to rely on her family for reassurance or support. While most YA contains an element of this (the teen goes off on their own just to discover their moral compass is just where their family put it and they return to the fold wiser and more experienced) Danny, at the tender age of fifteen, has to find within herself the strength and courage to value her identity, her body and her very existence after her family has refused at the most fundamental level to accept her for who she is. This is an important difference. In life and literature, most teens head out into the world to make their own mistakes mostly knowing they will have their parents love and support when they return. Danny, and teens like her, do not. Danny knows her parents’ moral code is flawed, and she isn’t entirely convinced by the superheroes either. Unlike most teens, Danny actually does have to figure things out on her own. 

This is such a wonderful debut. The writing is punchy, the action sequences are great, and I think this book would translate wonderfully to the screen.

Thank you April Daniels for this wonderful book! I can’t wait till the next instalment!

5 out of 5 reasons why I have been ruined for all other superhero narratives. 

Review: Beyond the Orchard


Lucy Briar has returned to Melbourne after five years abroad in England. She has received a mysterious letter from her grandfather which has drawn her back to her home town. It contains a promise from her grandfather that he will be able to ‘explain everything’ and Lucy hopes that finally the nightmares that have haunted her from her childhood will be put to rest. However Lucy receives the news of her grandfathers death shortly after her return. This coincides with her father breaking a hip, so it is up to her to go and sort through the old family home of Bitterwood and all its secrets.

This is an ambitious novel sweeping across the tragic lives of three generations of the Briar family, and to me it felt a little squished inside its mere 460 ish pages. The story is told from multiple third person points of view, and also includes one of Lucy’s father’s fairy tale retellings. The story is well told, the sections referring to the 1920s and 1930s were particularly  atmospheric. 

The narrative tool of the multiple points of view was the sticking point for me. Five narrators were too many for a book of this size, and a couple of them added nothing to the story that wasn’t also dealt with by other methods. 

The ending was also a little too neat for my tastes, especially given the tragedies that had touched each of the three generations of the family. 

If you enjoy some sweeping family drama then this one is for you.

3 out of 5 buried family secrets.

Review: Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms


Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms is a fictional retelling of the Cowra Breakout – on August 5 1944 approximately 1000 Japanese prisoners of war attempted to break out from the No 12 prison camp. This resulted in hundreds of deaths, both from guns of the Australian soldiers and at the hands of the Japanese prisoners themselves as many killed themselves and others to put an end to the ongoing shame of their situation.

In this book Anita Heiss focuses on a fictional situation – Hiroshi escapes from the camp and hides in the local Aboriginal mission of Erambie. He is discovered by Banjo Williams, who talks his extended family into giving Hiroshima refuge and hiding him from the white mission manager and the rest of the mission’s population. Banjo’s 17 year old daughter is entrusted with taking Hiroshi the little food they can spare. 

Hiroshi and Mary share their cultures and eventually their hearts, but their love is not just dangerous, it’s illegal and there is no chance they will have a happy ending.

Heiss doesn’t disappoint with this sad story of life on the mission during the war, and the falling in love of two people from vastly different backgrounds. It is awful to note that the Aboriginal people on the mission were less well treated than the prisoners of war, who were treated according to the Geneva convention. Think about that for a moment. Also consider that this time is still within living memory.

As the two love birds share more information with each other, we are also treated to and accessible discussion of the Aborigines Protection Act, which rules Aboriginal life and treatment at this point in history. I was not aware of this piece of legislation and the conditions that went with it. There is also a discussion of Aboriginal soldiers who participated in the First World War and their  ill treatment which is another sad reflection on the history of this country.

Apart from the central story, there is a wide cast of characters who I really enjoyed getting to know and add wonderful layers to the story.  Marj the gossip was so delightfully obnoxious I couldn’t help but love her.

Mary was also delightful, and while her story was sad, it wasn’t without hope.

Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms is both a lovely and an important read. 

5 out of 5 reasons to #change the date.

Dr Anita Heiss is currently visiting bookshops around the country to talk about this one. If you are in Brisbane, she will be at Avid Reader on Feb 5.

Review: Resistance (Divided Elements Book 1)


Optor is a post apocalyptic city where the people are separated into elemental classes based on their strengths. Anaiya is a fire elemental, meaning that she works as a Peacekeeper. She is good at her job and doesn’t hesitate to take down people not abiding to the Orthodoxy. When a pocket of resistance is believed to be located amongst the Air Elementals, Anaiya is chosen to be reprogrammed to go undercover into the Air sector to find the miscreants. Having her brain reprogrammed brings a lot more with it than she expected. Suddenly she experiences emotions, music makes sense and she starts to find joy in everyday experiences in a way she hadn’t previously. Despite this, Anaiya is determined not to let these new aspects of her personality sabotage her mission. If she fails in her mission, or can’t be converted back to a fire alignment, her life is at stake.

Resistance is a stunning debut. The world building is very unique and goes right down to the language used. The book starts with an execution, so we know what is at stake for Anaiya when we learn that the man whose execution we witnessed was her mentor, and that she was under suspicion of having been influenced by him. 

Anaiya is a great character, ready to take risks and generally kick arse. Moving from the Peacekeepers to the Air Element allows her to get a different view of how other sectors experience the Fire Elementals, and you can feel her beginning to doubt the world view she has held up until this point. Anaiya is not entirely sure what she should do about this or if there is anything she can do.

 There is a romance element, but Anaiya doesn’t completely lose herself to that relationship and still focuses on her mission, although her feelings – something she isn’t used to – do end up clouding her judgement in a realistic way.

Intense, imaginative and gripping, if you like dystopian fiction, you will want to read this book. I’m looking forward to the next in the series.

5 out of 5.