Yinka, Where is Your Huzband?

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Lizzie Damilola Blackburn
Genres: Fiction
Pub. Date: Jan. 2022 (read Mar. 2022 on Audible)

So far 2022 is turning out to be the most off brand reading year for me. I feel like I’m reading a lot of different type books than I normally do and I am loving it! Whatever the opposite of a book slump is, that has been my 2022 so far! 

Yinka, Where is Your Huzband? is maybe a little less off brand than some of my other reads and I was drawn to it because it sounded a lot like Queenie. It’s definitely a different book than Queenie, but like Queenie, it has been compared to Bridget Jones, and also like Queenie, people are pissed about the comparison. Honestly, it seems like everything is compared to Bridget Jones these days, but I disagreed with the haters about Queenie and I disagree with the haters about this one too. In my opinion, Yinka has the most similar voice to Bridget Jones, while solidly still being her own original character. Yinka has the self deprecating humour or Bridget, without being quite as self sabotaging as Queenie.

Yinka, Where is your Huzband? is set in London and features a British-Nigerian family. Yinka grew up in Peckham, is Oxford educated, and has a great job in investment banking. Unfortunately, despite her career success, she’s still seen as the black sheep of her family because she is in her 30’s and still not married. While her sister, cousins, and friends are getting married and having kids, Yinka hits a tough spot at work and struggles to get over her last relationship. For the most part, she is content with who she is, but the repeated pressure and embarrassment from her family to settle down spurs her to make a plan to do whatever it takes to get a date to her cousin’s upcoming wedding.

I read this as an audiobook and it did take me a little while to get into it. Things aren’t too bad for Yinka at the start of the novel, but they slowly start to fall about and the more she tries to fix things, the worse it seems to get. There are a lot of cultural expectations placed on her and it’s sad that while her family is very proud of her achievements, she is still seen as a failure for being unmarried and childless. Her mother’s greatest fear for her is that she will be an old maid who never gets married, as if marriage is the pinnacle of achievement. I thought it was a great look into the Nigerian diaspora in Britain and I both loved and was extremely frustrated by Yinka’s family, especially her cousin. Yinka gets shit on a lot, and while she had some growing to do, I do think her outbursts and anger were entirely justified.

Like I said, this is a more subtle book than Queenie. Whereas Queenie drowned her pain and depression in abusive sexual relationships, Yinka is still looking for her Prince Charming and tries to change her looks and personality to be more attractive to the men in her life. She has a deep rooted insecurity about being dark skinned and equates her self worth and beauty with not having lighter skin. She disappears into trying to be who she thinks other people want her to be, yet I admired that there were still some things she wasn’t willing to compromise on. Faith is a key part of this novel and Yinka isn’t willing to compromise her decision to remain chaste until marriage. Sometimes it felt a bit preachy, but I feel we don’t often see characters like this in mainstream literature, so I liked that it was different. Plus Yinka was never pushy about her faith.

I wish this book wasn’t being marketed as a romance though. I kind of knew going in that it wasn’t a romance and I liked that instead it’s a book about learning to love and take care of yourself. But if you’re going into this looking for romance, you will likely be disappointed. That said, I had whiplash from how many romantic interests are presented throughout the story. I kept trying to guess who Yinka was actually going to end up with, but in the end it didn’t really matter because it’s not really what the book is about. 

As with any kind of book like this, I think some people will struggle with Yinka’s character. I really liked her and found her struggles to be very relatable. I understood the complicated relationships she had with a lot of her friends and family, but loved that she also had some solid relationships in her life too, namely Nana and Auntie Blessing. Her relationship with her cousin (I can’t remember her name now… Oola? Oona?) was really frustrating, but I liked the exploration of how friendships can turn toxic and how family dynamics can create unhealthy and competitive environments with the people we should love. Her cousin is looked down on by her mother for not having an education, while Yinka is looked down on by her mother for not having a husband. It’s hard for anyone to feel good about themselves and it really pitted the two cousins against one another. 

So there was a lot I liked about the book, but there were also some things I didn’t like, the first of which was Yinka’s career trajectory. It was tiring how everyone kept pushing Yinka to switch careers – on the one hand, it’s great to have friends that encourage you to pursue something you’re passionate about, but I didn’t really get the vibe that Yinka was passionate about helping the homeless. It just read more to me that the author thought there is something inherently wrong with being an investment banker and that Yinka should so something more “meaningful” (as is constantly preached to us through characters like Dominic). I don’t like attaching this kind of social or moral value to jobs because most people aren’t privileged enough to have the luxury to choose since, like Yinka, their number one priority is paying the bills. Working for a homeless charity is great if that’s what you really want to do, but it doesn’t necessarily make you make you a better or more virtuous person.

In addition, I feel like Yinka was chastised a little too much for changing and experimenting with herself. Like I get the whole “be true to yourself” thing, but I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally wrong with trying new things. Like, if Yinka wants to try having a weave or learn to make Nigerian food, is that really so bad? She shouldn’t suppress and lie about who she is, but I felt she was unfairly criticized for trying something new. The poor woman just lost her job, let’s cut her a bit of slack.

Likewise I didn’t blame her at all when she freaked out at her cousin and I was a bit annoyed at Nana for her whole “you’re better than this” speech. I think that kind of attitude likely goes back to the whole Christianity aspect, that you should always self-sacrifice and take the high ground, but Yinka’s cousin was a bit of a bitch and honestly I was glad to see Yinka stand up for herself. I just feel like everyone held Yinka to an unreasonably high standard and she was always in the wrong in every interaction.

For example, you’re not a bad person for having a few drinks because you’re sad and then showing up drunk at your sister’s house. If anything I was pissed that her sister was only concerned about Yinka exposing her apologetically drunk self to her newborn baby and then putting her in a cab home. How about instead, she have an honest conversation with Yinka about what’s going on in her life and how she is coping with being jobless and husband-less in such a toxic and challenging family environment. Only one of the two sisters was being a jerk in that interaction and it wasn’t Yinka. So give me a break, Yinka was only in the wrong half the times she was made out to be. So overall, I found it to be a bit too preachy and felt the rest of Yinka’s family could also do with a bit of personal growth.

But it did feel real. The author accurately captures the unfair pressures we put on women and how we de-value each other based on social achievements and milestones. Single women can be just as fulfilled as married women, as can childless women be just as fulfilled as mothers. It was a good exploration of the pressures women face and how sometimes the easiest way to achieve happiness is through self reflection and acceptance. Overall, the novel had some flaws, but I still enjoyed reading it and admired Yinka for her perseverance and personal growth. 3.5 stars.


Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Kirstin Chen
Genres: Fiction
Pub. Date: Jun. 7, 2022 (read Apr. 2022)

Thanks to Harper Collins Canada and Netgalley for gifting me with an e-arc copy of Counterfeit, coming out June 7, 2022.

I heard about this one at HCC Frenzy’s summer book preview event and thought it sounded really fun! It’s about new(ish) mom Ava Wong, who is struggling with her child’s emotional needs and being away from work indefinitely. When she runs into her old college roommate, Winnie Fang, she is surprised that the Stanford drop-out appears to be oozing money with her expensive handbags and accessories. She doesn’t plan to re-kindle the friendship, but when she runs into a tight spot financially, Winnie recruits Ava to her counterfeit handbag scheme and soon Ava is in deeper than she ever wanted.

The most striking thing about this book for me was the storytelling style. The majority of the book is Ava recounting to a detective how she re-connected with Winnie and got caught up in her scheme. The detective doesn’t have any dialogue and is a passive character, but the whole book is narrated to this detective, which makes for an interesting dilemma on what to think of our protagonist. Ava seems innocent enough, but given the context, it’s hard to know how much we can trust her recount of what happened. We know the two women must have eventually been caught, but we’re left to try and guess at how Ava gets involved and how the whole thing ultimately disintegrates.

It’s definitely a promising debut. I liked the writing style and I thought the author had great ideas, creatively she just didn’t take it quite as far as I was hoping. There are a few twists and turns in the storytelling, but overall I was hoping for something more shocking and it didn’t quite deliver. It’s a fun story and scheme, but I found the main themes to be pretty surface level and I wanted more depth all around, from the plot, to the characters, to the overarching ideas. The synopsis talks about “interrogating the myth of the model minority”, which I guess this book does to an extent, but I found the plot to dominate over everything else and while it was a fun story, it didn’t have the depth to make it memorable. But it was a very promising debut and it makes for a very quick read, so I did still enjoy it!

A Hundred Other Girls

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Iman Hariri-Kia
Genres: Fiction
Pub. Date: Jul. 26, 2022 (read Apr. 2022)

Thanks to Harper Collins and Netgalley for gifting me with an early e-copy of this book. I attended HCC Frenzy’s first adult fiction preview on upcoming new releases for summer 2022 and was stoked to receive an arc of A Hundred Other Girls, which was really hyped up.

It’s impossible to talk about A Hundred Other Girls without comparing it to The Devil Wears Prada. Granted, it’s been MANY years since I read The Devil Wears Prada, but the similarities are immediately obvious. A Hundred Other Girls is definitely a much more contemporary version of this classic and I loved that it features a Persian-American protagonist and displays all kinds of minority identities and relationships throughout the story.

Noora is an aspiring writer not long out of college who lives in New York and runs her own moderately successful lifestyle and culture blog. She wants to be a journalist and aspires to one day write meaningful think pieces for magazines, of which Vinyl is at the top of her list. She’s a bit down and out on luck and is currently sleeping on her sister’s couch to help make ends meet when she interviews for an executive assistant position with none other than the Editor-in-Chief of Vinyl, Loretta James.

As you can probably guess from the comparisons to The Devil Wears Prada, Noora lands the job and Loretta turns out to be a certifiable nightmare. Vinyl is currently in the midst of an internal war between the digital and print versions of the magazine and Noora’s job quickly becomes her entire life as she gets constantly dragged by Loretta, motivating her to get naively involved in the underground war taking place at Vinyl.

First off, I should state up front that I didn’t like The Devil Wears Prada, so I’m not sure why I was so motivated to read this one. I think it was mostly because of Noora and I wanted to experience New York through the eyes of a Persian-American protagonist. I wanted to love A Hundred Other Girls, but I have to admit that I didn’t. I feel like the author had all the right elements, but overall I thought the plot was just a bit basic. I wanted this to challenge my thinking and provide new perspectives, but I thought it was a bit oversimplified and not as revolutionary as I’d hoped.

Loretta was really the worst and I felt like the author kept trying to make us somehow empathize with her despite her terrible actions. I don’t care how much Loretta might have championed certain causes or impacted the print industry – she was an asshole and it’s never okay to rationalize treating people like shit. I understood why Noora kept working there (money and exposure), but I lamented for her mental health because being treated this way could not be worth it.

I will say that the author is a pretty good story teller. Despite being frustrated with the content, I did not struggle to read this book and was engaged throughout the entire story. The writing flows well and Noora is still a very relatable character. I just wanted more from it. I didn’t buy that Noora would get such a good reception after writing one think piece (that’s really just not how the world works) and I would have loved to be more engaged in the piece that she wrote.

I picked this book up because I wanted to understand the prejudice and micro-aggressions Noora had been working against her entire life. I would have loved for the writing of her think piece to be more central to the novel. To understand her own lived experiences and get insight into how she interviewed and developed the piece into something so meaningful. As a reader, it was hard for me to be impressed by her work without getting the opportunity to experience it. I understand the point the author was trying to make, but I feel like she only just scratched the surface of the issue and that body hair should have been a lot more central to the story if that’s the first piece that Noora decides to write.

I did like the ending of the book, I felt like it was a bit unconventional, but I was glad to see Noora stand up for herself. Like I said, I think all the elements were there, I just wanted the author to develop stronger themes. It was a compelling story, but I finished the book questioning what my key takeaways are supposed to be. But as always with a book like this, I want to acknowledge that this perspective may mean the world to someone else and that there is always value in telling diverse stories. I didn’t love it, but it’s a fresh take on a modern classic and I still liked it better than The Devil Wears Prada, so don’t be deterred from checking it out!

One Italian Summer

Rating: ⭐⭐.5
Author: Rebecca Serle
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Pub. Date: Mar. 2022 (read Mar. 2022)

This book was a bit of a bummer for me. I’ve seen some really excellent (and some not so excellent) reviews, so I was a bit on the fence, but impulsively decided to give it a go. The book did improve throughout, but I knew almost as soon as I started reading it that I wasn’t going to love it.
One Italian Summer tells the story of 30 year old Katy Silver, who has just lost her mother to cancer and has in turn, lost a piece of herself. Her Mom was her best friend and she doesn’t know how to move on without her. The two women were supposed to take a trip to Positano, Italy together, a place that was special to her mother Carol, but unfortunately she passes away before the trip and Katy decides to go to Italy alone to try and heal her broken heart. However, while in Positano, something magical happens and the 30 year old version of Carol stumbles into Katy’s holiday, bringing truths to light that Katy never realized about her mother.

It’s a book about love and grief, so I was ready for an emotional and moving read, but sadly, the writing style just didn’t work for me. I don’t want to totally slam on the book because I can see how some people might love this, Serle definitely crafts a very vivid portrayal of Italy in her writing, but the style was so straight forward and matter of fact that I was left feeling like I was reading a dull travel diary rather than the emotional, grief-stricken self discovery story that I was hoping for.

To put it simply, the writing is boring. Everything about this was a classic example of telling instead of showing. It’s overwritten and I thought we got so many details that were just unnecessary. If you’re looking for a good detailed itinerary of what to do in Positano, this is great, but I wanted to go on an emotional journey with Katy and that just wasn’t happening. I found it extremely hard to relate with Katy and the whole narrative was a bit insufferable. Everything about Positano is incredibly beautiful, from the scenery, to the sunsets, to the food, to the luxury hotels – so it’s hard to empathize with a bunch of faux-sad white people living a dream holiday. We’re told about Katy’s grief, but we don’t really experience it. 

It also comes down to Katy being a pretty unlikeable character. There’s nothing wrong with a good unlikeable character, but Katy is not intentionally unlikeable. I believe we’re supposed to like and empathize with her, but it’s very hard because she seems totally unaware of her privilege and it’s hard to buy that a 30-year old woman would be this out of touch with reality. One of the key themes is centered around how Katy and Carol are best friends and Katy’s discovery that, surprise, her mother actually had a life before and outside of her. She’s shocked by this 30 year old version of her mother and spends so much time in awe of the ways in which her mother is both the same and different. I’m sorry, but what 30 year old woman is unable to imagine that their mother might have had a vibrant life before them? Plus I thought the whole my-mom-is-my-best-friend thing was a little tired.

A lot of women love their moms and would consider them a best friend. But come on, mother-daughter friendships are still going to be based on a totally different foundation than peer-to-peer friendships and I would it extremely unrelatable that Katy didn’t have ANY friends outside of her Mom and husband. She mentions one girlfriend in passing, but as far as I can tell, she has no other friends, so that’s probably why she’s so shocked to find out that her mother actually had a life before her. So mostly Katy just read as juvenile and bit dense to me.
The one thing I did like about this book though was the exploration of the erasure of women through motherhood. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot as more and more of my girlfriends have children. I’ve been noticing that some of my friends almost seem to disappear into motherhood. They’re still them, but all of their passions and interests have become secondary to that of being a mother. Their children become their number one priority and personality. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a bad thing, I just personally find it very scary because I have a lot of things that I’m passionate about and the idea of losing or having to give up those things in motherhood is one of the primary reasons I delay it. Some people are able to find a good balance between being a mom and being a woman with your own dreams, but it seems it’s easy for who are before being a mother to get lost in the chaos of parenthood.

What Katy is grappling with more than anything is the loss of who she thought she was and the fear of having to suddenly be her own person. Her mom was a comfort to her because then she never had to think too hard and her suddenly realizing that her mother had her own hopes and dreams is scary for her. The realization that our parents can want things for themselves beyond the hopes and dreams they have for us. I don’t fault children for this, but it’s hard to watch a grown woman suddenly figuring this out.

The other issue I had with this book was with the romance. I won’t get into it to avoid spoilers, but I thought it was an interesting choice to give a married woman a love interest. We’re told Katy and her mother are best friends, but we’re not shown it. Likewise, we’re told at the beginning of the novel that things aren’t really working out between Katy and her husband, but we’re not told why and we’re definitely not shown it either. We’re just told that she’s so depressed over the loss of her mother that she has no interest in any of her other relationships, which is really only her marriage because she has no other friends.

Anyways, the only other thing I’ll say is that the book has a bit of a twist, which I thought was well done. I really should have seen it coming, but I didn’t. Unfortunately, none of the positives were really enough to outweigh the negatives and I wouldn’t recommend this book. But if you like it and Rebecca Serle’s writing, then all the more power to you! It did have some very evocative descriptions of Italy, but the writing style along with Katy’s immaturity make it a pass from me.

People We Meet on Vacation

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Emily Henry
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Pub. Date: May 2021 (read Mar. 2022)

So many people told me to read Beach Read, but I just had a feeling this was the one for me. I’m still planning to read Beach Read, but after a slew of enemies to lovers books recently, I really wanted to read one about friends to lovers because I had a sneaking suspicion I would really like it. And I did!

This book is a lot more subtle than some of the other romances I’ve read, but it’s the one that felt the most real to me. Poppy was a more relatable character – as sexy as the enemies to lovers trope was in books like The Love Hypothesis and The Spanish Love Deception (and as compelling as those plots were) – I do really think this is the better book. Every person I’ve ever loved has been my friend first and there’s something so lovely reading about two people that genuinely like each other. 

People We Meet on Vacation is about two friends, Alex and Poppy, and their relationship over the past 12 years. They’ve been friends for a long time and even though they live in different cities, they’ve always taken the time to travel together once a year… until something happens on their most recent trip and they don’t talk for 2 years. Poppy realizes she misses Alex and invites him to take one more trip with her, to which he agrees.

This book is subtle and I liked that about it. It’s not as quick paced as some of the other romance books I’ve read because the present day storyline is constantly interrupted to return to one of their past trips. This slowed the pacing down initially, but as you progress further into the book, you realize this friendship is not quite the relationship you thought it was. There is just as much romance in the development of their friendship, because it never really is just a friendship. Just-friends don’t bring this kind of complicated conflict into your other relationships and you can’t help but root for these two people to be together. 

I say this is a subtle book because it is also very much about loneliness and allowing people the space to say and be who they really are. Poppy and Alex recognize that love isn’t always the most important part in a relationship. Relationships are also about making the space for your partner to communicate their needs and being willing to compromise on your life together. That two individuals still need to take the time to work on their own shit before they can be what the other person needs. I felt like this had a lot more maturity and that they had the kind of solid foundation that a successful relationship would be built on.

I also liked that both characters were well developed and flawed. I really think Alex is one of the strongest love interests. To talk about romance we must acknowledge that they are primarily written by women, for women, and so the men are often a bit more fantasy than most of the men I’ve met in real life. We read romance for the escapism of it – because we are human and we want to read emotional stories about people falling in love. But so many of the men are almost so perfect in their love for the protagonist they become caricatures. Alex felt very real, like someone I could honestly fall in love with myself. He’s quiet and a bit weird. He has anxieties and he’s afraid to put himself out there. He knows what he wants, but isn’t quite sure he deserves it and recognizes the ways in which he’s not willing to compromise. 

Likewise, Poppy is chasing after something she thinks she wants without realizing that it’s really that she’s running away from something instead. We’re sold this ideal and she thinks filling her life with travel and new people will make her happy – that it will compensate for the inadequacies she felt when she was younger. We all like to think our bullies go on to make nothing of themselves, but they are just flawed people too and we are only holding ourselves back by trying to prove ourselves to them later. If you make decisions based on the way you are perceived by someone else, you are still not living for yourself. Was it unrealistic that two friends could be so blind for so long? Maybe, but these two people wanted such drastically different things that I could believe it. 

It’s also a subtly sad book that made me reflect a lot. I really wasn’t sure if we were going to get a happy ending or not. I wish the author had dedicated a bit more time to the ending because she introduced several new themes in the last 50 pages about self care and compromise, that I really would have loved to see explored further. So overall I really liked this book, perhaps even more than The Love Hypothesis. I did rate that one higher because it was so compelling and I couldn’t put it down, but I do think this is the better story. The other books I read were that fun, all-consuming love, this was gentler, but it also felt a lot more real. It’s nice to get swept up in a love story, but it’s also nice to sink into one, and that’s what I feel like I did with this one.