My Sister, the Serial Killer

Rating:
Author: Oyinkan Braithwaite
Genres: Fiction
Pub. date: Nov. 2018 (read Aug. 2019 on Audible)

Woo, this was a fun little novella! It was a mistake to buy this on Audible because I listened to it way too fast! Seriously, I flew through it in like 3 days. Great narrator though!

I’ve seen this book popping up in a few places, but I wasn’t sure if the premise was exactly as the name suggestions… it is. My Sister, the Serial Killer is set in Nigeria and is told from the point of view of Korede, a young nurse whose sister has a suspicious tendency to be forced to kill her boyfriends. Ayoola always has a reason, either he attacked her, or tried to rape her, or he just happened to be poisoned while they were out to dinner together. But she consistently looks to her straight laced sister to help her clean up the mess.

Korede is torn between her obligations and loyalty to her family, and her fear for the men of Lagos. Either way, she decides to keep quiet. But when Ayoola starts getting close with one of the doctor’s at her hospital, she can’t deny she is torn about what to do.

Despite the gruesome nature of the plotline, this was a fun little book. Honestly, I found Korede’s dilemma highly entertaining. The author infuses a lot of humour into the story and the juxtaposition of the humour against the dark storyline really compliment each other wonderfully. This is the kind of extremism that really highlights human nature. On one hand, Ayoola is clearly crazy and should be locked up, but on the other hand, you can’t help admire her guts. Korede totally enables her, but what other choice does she have unless she decides to turn her sister in. After the first time, she’s an accessory in the murders, so to turn on her sister would also be the end of her life too.

it’s a short book, but I liked it that way. It was tightly plotted and you have to admire an author who says what they need to say and then moves on. No superfluous writing in this one!

Born a Crime

Rating:
Author: Trevor Noah
Genres: Memoir, Non Fiction
Pub. date: Nov. 2016 (re-read Jul. 2019 on Audible)

I read Born a Crime several weeks ago as an Audiobook. I first read Born a Crime as an e-book with my Book Club in 2017 and absolutely loved it. But I was feeling like a re-read and decided to go with the audiobook this time since it’s narrator by Trevor Noah. Either way, you definitely can’t go wrong with this book, but I’d say the audiobook definitely has an edge over the e-book.

I wasn’t planning to write a review for this book because I thought I’d already written one, but when I went back and checked my goodreads, I’d only written a little blurb that was never posted to my blog, so I’ve decided to write a proper review since I love this book so much.

I recommend this book to people a lot. They always look at me kind of like “really? Trevor Noah? The comedian?”, but I totally stand by my recommendation because this book has so much going for it! It’s hilarious, interesting, and it damn matters. Sure there’s a lot of comedic memoirs out there, but Trevor Noah’s memoir is all about growing up ‘coloured’ in Apartheid and post-Apartheid South Africa.

South Africa’s have been broken down into factions for many years: white, black, and coloured, which is everyone in between. In Trevor’s case, he was considered coloured because he was mixed race – his mom was a black South African and his dad a white Swiss. Trevor was literally “born a crime” and had the interesting experience in his childhood of never really being allowed to be seen with either of his parents. Whites and blacks weren’t allowed to date or marry, but Trevor’s mom wanted to have a baby anyways and largely kept their relationship a secret.

In post-apartheid South Africa (when Trevor was around 10 I believe), they could finally be seen together, but Trevor struggled for years with his identity. He had a decent relationship with his Dad, but they eventually drifted apart, so everyone else in Trevor’s life was black. He is pushed to identify as coloured and for a while tries to access all the different sides of his identity, but eventually comes to the conclusion that while he looks coloured, he is black.

Trevor crams a lot of hilarious stories into this short memoir and it is definitely one of the few books that had me laughing out loud throughout. Even when he gets serious about South African politics and all the shit his mother went through, he still infuses a lot of humour into the story, which makes it a joy to read. His childhood was fascinating, as were his formative years growing up and trying to make it in Johannesburg. If you’re looking for an account of how he became a successful comedian, you won’t find it in this book, but you will find a lot of anecdotes about South African culture and oppression.

But the real hero of this story is Trevor’s mom. I talked about her briefly in my first review, but she is really what made this book for me. It’s hard to believe a poor, coloured boy who was literally born a crime could become so successful, but after learning about his mom, I know exactly how it happened. She is an independent and headstrong woman who is not afraid to go after what she wants, even when the deck is stacked against her. She acts as a wonderful foil to Trevor’s childhood antics, but you can tell everything she does is grounded in a deep love for her children and a deep love for God.

Say what you want about religion. But I absolutely believe in the God that Trevor’s Mom believe’s in. She is a zealous woman, but her faith is inspiring. The final chapter of this book is pretty much the most insane thing I’ve ever read, but it can’t help but make you believe that Patricia Noah knows something that the rest of us don’t about faith and religion.

Ultimately, this is a series of stories from Trevor’s childhood and young adult life. Every story offers a different insight into South African culture, but they all weave together a story of a remarkable mother and son.

Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Phoebe Robinson
Genres: Humour, Non fiction, Memoir
Pub date: Oct. 2018 (read Nov. 2018 on Audible)

Okay, this book blew me away! I read and enjoyed Phoebe Robinson’s other book, You Can’t Touch My Hair, when it first came out. but this book was a whole level above her last book. I think her writing has gotten better and I had the joy of listening to her narrate this on Audible. Phoebe is most well known for her podcast, 2 Dope Queens, which I must confess I’ve never actually listened to, but it makes sense that she would make a great narrator.

My first thought when I started listening was that Phoebe is really funny. I laughed out loud at several of her stories and really enjoyed her perspectives. But she totally blew me out of the water with her essay on white feminism. I can’t remember the title, but it’s early in the book and if you read the book, you will definitely know which one I’m talking about. Phoebe takes no prisoners in this essay and while parts of it made me feel really bad, she is totally right and I really appreciate her calling it like it is. White women are absolutely one of the groups to blame for Trump being elected and our failure to make feminism intersectional is not okay.

The essay is at times uncomfortable, but accurate. Black women and women of colour are much more oppressed then white women and have been fighting for equality for much longer than white women have. But we’re at a time when feminism has really taken off (third wave?) and white women are dropping the ball on their black sisters. It’s nothing new, we’ve been doing it for centuries. I recently listened to Elaine Weiss’s book, The Woman’s Hour, which is about suffragists and their fight to win the vote. Weiss also draws attention to the fact that while the suffragists did win the right to vote for all women, they were never in support of women of colour and many didn’t believe they should be afforded the right to vote alongside white women. Robinson draws attention to the fact that Women of Colour have been showing up to fight for equality alongside white women for decades, but white women fail to return the favour.

I can see how this essay might alienate some of her readers, but I’m so glad she wrote it. I’m sure some will dismiss her as an angry, black woman, but she should be angry, her feelings are valid, and she should be empowered to write about it. In my opinion this was the strongest essay in the book, but she did write some other great essays on money and social issues.

I was all ready to give this book 5 stars after her essay on feminism, which I thought was a really hard hitting thought piece, but her book took a bit of a different direction after that. She includes several funny stories about what it was like to finally achieve a modicum of success and what it was like meet Oprah and Bono. The essays were funny, which is the primary reason people come to this book, but they just weren’t as inspiring as some of her other essays. Its a minor complaint because not everything is going to have the same emotional gravitas, but after that one really great essay, everything else just felt the tiniest bit disappointing.

Phoebe is a little bit over the top sometimes, as are her jokes, and I didn’t like the addendum in the audiobook, which is basically like this weird couple interview that I thought didn’t add any value. But overall Phoebe delivered on everything I was looking for in this book. She was laugh out loud funny (I would seriously recommend the audiobook over the hard copy), and she made me think.

Side note: Phoebe’s attempt at going on a blind date when she was visiting Vancouver was pretty much the funniest, most accurate thing ever. Her date tried to convince her to go on a morning hike with him and she was like, “Nope, I am not going out in the wilderness with a man I don’t know, that is how women get murdered.” Which is totally accurate (the murder part), but also the best description ever of what dating in Vancouver is like. Everyone’s all about that nature; I don’t even doubt this was a total innocent (and oblivious) move on her blind date’s part. People are just obsessed with the outdoors in Vancouver and don’t understand how someone might not be as into it as the rest of us (I include myself in this us, lol).

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Balli Kaur Jaswal
Genres: Fiction
Pub date: Jun. 2017 (read Oct. 2018 on Audible)

Whoa! This was WAY more intense than I was expecting and had a lot more depth. I’ve been seeing this book going around for a while nice since it was featured by Reese Witherspoon’s book club, and my book club decided to pick it for our October read.

I really didn’t know what the book was about, but based on the title I was expecting a light-hearted story and a few laughs. Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows definitely delivered on the laughs, as well as copious amounts of blushing! I wasn’t actually expecting erotic stories, but I definitely got them.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows is about the Sikh community living in Southall, London. It features 22 year old Nikki, who dropped out of law school, moved out of her parents house, and has been making ends meet by bartending at her local pub. She considers herself a “modern girl”, scoffing at her older sister for seeking an arranged marriage. When she sees a posting for a creative writing teacher at the temple, she applies, seeing it as a great opportunity to make some extra money and to help women. But due to a miscommunication, it turns out to be a basic English literacy class, attended primarily by Punjabi widows.

The widows aren’t enthused about learning to write and roll their eyes at Nikki’s learning exercises. But they are interested in storytelling, and in their loneliness as widows, they have a particular interest in sharing erotic stories.

There was a lot that I liked about this book. First off, the widows are hilarious and I love that Jaswal breathed such life into these (mostly) elderly characters. Society forgets about widows and seniors, especially in Southall where the women are seen as irrelevant without their husbands. There’s a limited amount of literature about elderly people and I loved how the author created these smart and dynamic characters. Sure, they couldn’t read and they were afraid of Nikki’s “modern” ways, but they were also funny, clever, and kind. They were very much mired in tradition, but the sharing of their stories was incredibly empowering for them. Reminding them of their commonalities, and the power of community, of standing up and supporting one another.

I also liked that the book had a lot more depth than I expected. Jaswal explores the challenges of breaking free of traditional, cultural beliefs, but she also explores the merits of those beliefs as well. Nikki’s feminism felt radical to the widows, and their conservatism was frustrating to Nikki, but the more they all got to know each other, they were able to realize they weren’t so different. Nikki discovered there are merits to having strong community values and a support network, and the widows discovered their own brand of feminism.

Believe it or not, this book also has a mystery element to it, as well as a romance. I liked that Jaswal kept adding additional layers to the story. While the story is mostly narrated by Nikki, some parts are narrated by Kulwinder, Nikki’s boss at the temple who recently lost her daughter. It was hard to relate to Kulwinder initially, but I enjoyed learning more of her story and where she was coming from.

While I mostly loved this book, there were a few things I didn’t like about it. I found it dragged a lot in the middle. There were a lot of erotic stories shared by the widows, but after a while I didn’t think it really added that much to the story. It also got really intense, really fast at the end, which I had trouble buying. It was a little too dramatic for this type of story and I didn’t think it fit that well with the tone of the rest of the book. I also would have liked to see a better resolution of Mindy’s attempts at arranged marriage and more growth from the brotherhood. They cast a foreboding shadow over a good part of the book, but ended up seeming not that relevant to the story. I wanted the characters to shake the brotherhood up a little bit more, although that might not have been the most realistic.

But overall I really liked this book. I listened to it as an audiobook and the narrator was fantastic! It provided some fascinating insight into Sikh culture and I really liked the dichotomy between conservative traditionalism and feminist awakening!

The Lightning Thief

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: ⭐
Author: Rick Riordan
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Read: Feb. 2018

I picked up the entire Percy Jackson box set on a whim when I saw it on sale and decided to give it a try. It’s a middle grade book, but like Harry Potter anyone can enjoy it. I loved it!

It definitely had some similarities to Harry Potter, but it’s also totally different. Percy has always gotten in trouble as a kid by events that seem to be completely outside of his control, but just keep happening to him. He’s been diagnosed with ADHD and dislexia and has been expelled from a dozen schools. When he’s in the 6th grade, mythical creatures start showing up everywhere and attacking him and he suddenly finds himself dropped off at Camp Half-Blood, a summer camp for demi-gods.

That’s right, Percy, along with all the other kids at the camp, are half-blood children of the Greek Gods. Around the 6th grade the monsters start becoming aware of their power and attacking the kids, so they are transported to Camp Half-Blood to train to defend themselves against monsters.

Percy doesn’t know who his father is, but it pretty quickly becomes obvious and he is asked to go on a quest to recover Zeus’ master bolt, which has been stolen, and return it to him before the solstice, only 10 days away. Percy accepts the quest and heads off on adventure with his school chums Annabeth and Grover and gets into a whole lot more trouble along the way.

First of all, Rick Riordan’s writing is great! It is hilarious and I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself from the first chapter onwards. Harry Potter has humour in it, but it has a more serious tone, which is what I was expecting from Percy Jackson, but this was definitely the funnier read and had humorous elements throughout the entire story.

That’s not to say it didn’t have action, it definitely had a ton of action. Percy seems to go from one bad situation to the next and you can’t trust anyone he meets. I really liked both Annabeth and Grover. Annabeth is the daughter of Athena and is a bit of a brainiac and Grover is a Satyr who likes to eat tin cans and provides even more comic relief throughout the story (also, his name is Grover, LOL).

Emotionally, I don’t think this had a whole lot of depth, but it’s the first of 5 books, so I’m expecting a lot more character development in subsequent books and a bit of a darker story line, although please stay funny! I probably won’t get to the rest of the books for a while as I have a million other things on my TBR I want to read, but I think these are quick books I’ll pick up whenever I’m in the mood for a laugh! I wish I’d had these when I was a middle schooler!

FUN FUN FUN!