A Week of: Historical Fiction, Happily Ever Afters & A Brand New Favourite

Disclosure: some of the titles within ‘A Week of: Historical Fiction, Happily Ever Afters & a Brand New Favourite’ were previously sent to me for free in exchange for an honest review. I’m an affiliate for Blackwell’s so this post contains affiliate links to their sites. If you buy a book via my links, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you – thank you! 

It’s been an exciting reading week! I tackled one of the biggest books on my TBR, read a delightful collection of romantic short stories, and found my new favourite book of 2021. Let’s jump straight in to what I’ve read this week, and what I’d recommend if you’ve already read and loved it.

The Parisian by Isabella Hammad

My hand in a blue jumper holding a copy of the Parisian next to a blue and white cup of tea surrounded by a pale yellow blanket.
The Parisian by Isabella Hammad

Read from 3rd July – 8th July

Finishing The Parisian definitely feels like a great bookish achievement! I bought it over a year ago but it sat unread because I was too intimidated by its size. But I wanted to pick it up since it’s more crucial than ever to listen to and learn about Palestinian history and stories. While this is a work of historical fiction, I learned a lot about Palestine’s history before and between the first and second world wars, as they struggled for independence first against the Ottoman Empire and then against the British. It’s one of those books which sends you off to do more research, but Hammad really does a brilliant job of balancing history and Midhat’s fictional story.

Probably what I liked most was Hammad’s exploration of otherness through Midhat. In Paris, no matter how close he gets to people and how welcomed he is, Midhat can’t escape white French people thinking of him as ‘other’. But then once he’s back in Palestine, his years and education in France also mark him as an outsider, known half-mockingly as ‘The Parisian’ or ‘Al-Barisi’.

It’s obvious given its size but this book is really vast in scope. When I was finishing up and looking back on the first half, in France, I had the feeling of looking back on a different book entirely. That’s not to say the story felt in any way incoherent!! Just that the author does an excellent job in transporting you to different countries and time periods that you really get lost in them.

I loved Varsha’s @between.bookends review of this last year, and I completely agree with what she said about it feeling like a classic! It can be a little meandering at times, and you do really need to focus on it, but I think it’s worth it.

Buy The Parisian at Blackwell’s

Recommended for fans of (or if you liked this try):

Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford (audiobook narrated by the author)

A phone lying on an open book displaying an audiobook of Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford, next to a green cup of tea all surrounded by a grey blanket
Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford

Read from 2nd July – 8th July

I have apparently been living under a rock (or just don’t listen to many podcasts) as the first time I heard of Ashley C. Ford was when this memoir popped up in my Libro.fm ALCs. But I was immediately hooked by the synopsis. Anything ruminating on parent-child relationships and dynamics is bound to pique my interest. I also don’t think it’s necessary to be interested in a person before reading their memoir! Everyone has such unique stories to tell and I’m always willing to listen.

Ford’s childhood was a difficult one. Her father was incarcerated when she was very young for a terrible crime, something Ford has to grapple with once she discovers what it was later in life. Her father’s absence looms over her family life as she grows up with a single mother who often resorted to violence. Ford unpacks her relationships with her siblings, mother and grandmother with an unflinching honesty. She strikes a fine balance between observing and writing about the relationships seemingly from a distance, looking back in hindsight, while also retaining the warmth and familiarity you’d expect when writing about the complex and messy thing that is family.

Ford actually touched upon something I’ve always wondered about memoirs and essays which dig into extremely personal matters – how your subjects react to being written about. When her mother reads some of her work, she asks her daughter why she never writes about the good times they had. But I really admire Ford’s determination to stick to her honest truth, to write about her experiences in a frank and candid yet sensitive way.

There is a big trigger warning for rape and sexual assault within this memoir, as Ford recounts her own trauma she endured as a young girl and teenager at the hands of a family friend and boyfriend. She writes about the way young girls, especially young Black girls, are considered mature ahead of their time. Ford is constantly criticised for the clothes she wears when she’s still a girl, made to feel like it’s her fault that grown men stare and think her body is theirs to do with what they want. Young girls are constantly made to feel this way and it’s so important that we stand up and push back against it, like Ford did here.

It is very much focused on Ford’s childhood, and while I would have liked to hear more about her college years too, I definitely recommend this memoir regardless!

Buy Somebody’s Daughter at Blackwell’s

Recommended for fans of (or if you liked this try):

Love in Colour by Bolu Babalola

My arm in a cream jumper holding a copy of Love in Colour by Bolu Babalola next to a green flowery cup of tea, surrounded by a grey blanket on a grey floral duvet.
Love in Colour by Bolu Babalola

Read from 3rd July – 10th July

Last week I mentioned restarting my one-short-story-a-day tradition. So you might be wondering how I’ve finished this collection of 13 short stories in just seven days… That’d be because these stories were just so delightful that a few days I couldn’t stop after just one!

I’m not usually one for mythical retellings because often I’m unfamiliar with the source material and I feel like that takes away some of the enjoyment. That doesn’t matter one bit with Babalola’s collection. She has reworked myths and legends from around the world, some in real world settings and some in fantastical ones. She’s inverted violent and misogynistic tropes, transformed them into romantic stories brimming with respect and agency, with the women at the forefront.

While there were a few stories which didn’t leave as much of an impact, every story was enjoyable to read in the moment. This was a brilliant collection to dip in and out of, especially in the morning! They really set my day off to a lovely start, leaving me smiling or giddy for an imaginary couple who got their happy ever after.

It’s no surprise that my favourite of the collection was the one featuring the badass queer vigilante. Nefertiti was a brilliant story that kept me on the edge of my seat. Babalola included as many twists and turns as she could into 20 pages without cheapening the story. It was the same with Scheherazade – that story literally left me with my jaw almost hitting the floor!

Some of my other favourites were Psyche, Neleli and Attem. I really admire the range of styles and settings Babalola exhibited within this collection, from modern-day fashion bloggers to queens leading revolts, but every one of them takes the reins of their own destiny in hand.

I might have liked to see a few more queer stories, but I still highly recommend this collection for a feel-good read filled with strong women!

Buy Love in Colour at Blackwell’s

Recommended for fans of (or if you liked this try):

Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi

A copy of Butter Honey Pig Bread sits next to a plate with a slice of salted caramel chocolate cake and a fork on it and a cup of tea, all surrounded by a pale yellow blanket.
Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi

Read from 8th July – 10th July

This is it. My favourite book of 2021. I can’t see anything replacing this in the top spot over the next since months, it would have to be phenomenal. After finishing this book I just sat for a while holding it, feeling devastated that it was over. It’s only just over 300 pages but it has the richness and complexity of a 600-page novel. Ekwuyasi has created something incredible with this book, no word is wasted and yet it feels indulgent, sumptuous. It’s succinct yet nothing is rushed, feelings and relationships are explored to their fullest extent, making the characters feel vibrant and alive.

It’s one of those books that makes you feel everything right alongside the characters. I’ve always loved books with multiple perspectives and Ekwuyasi explores three unique perspectives in Butter Honey Pig Bread. We have Kambirinachi, the mother of the twins, who believes herself to be an ọgbanje who is constantly living with the consequences of choosing to stay alive. Then we have the twins, Taiye and Kehinde, once inseparable but whose lives are cleaved after a traumatic incident in their childhood. I think maybe I loved Taiye, a queer chef, and her chapters slightly more, but I never felt like I was rushing through the other chapters to get to Taiye. I savoured all three women’s stories.

Butter Honey Pig Bread spans continents as well as perspectives, with our characters living in Nigeria, France, England and Canada. And of course, the star of the novel, the food. Ekwuyasi writes food like no one else I’ve read. My mouth was watering for most of the book, it even inspired me to bake my own salted caramel chocolate cake! Food is a love language for Taiye and it’s immediately obvious that the same is true for the author, the descriptions are just imbued with so much love and care.

Characters are always the most important thing for me in a novel. Every single one of Ekwuyasi’s characters is crafted with care, even the minor ones. Secondary characters like Salomé, Timi, Isabella, Wolfie, Farouq… they all hold their own against the incredibly strong main three women. I’d read novels about all of them if Ekwuyasi was writing them. There’s just so much explored within these pages, from repressed trauma to queerness to finding your people. All written in such a way that you feel it in an ache in your chest long after you set the book down.

Quite often when I love a book, I’ll want to pass it on to friends so they can enjoy it too. Not this one. You can pry this book from my cold dead hands. And a huge thank you to Aisha at @aishathebibliophile for gifting me this one thinking I’d love it. A very accurate prediction!

Buy Butter Honey Pig Bread from Blackwell’s

Recommended for fans of (or if you liked this try):

Currently Reading…

The Ardent Swarm by Yamen Manai, tr. Lara Vergnaud

I’ve only just started this one today and as far as I can tell it’s an allegorical novel concerning democracy and bees! The author is Tunisian but the country in the novel is fictional, I believe. So far I’m actually learning a lot about bees and hives, which I’m not sure is the point of the book but I’m not mad about it. There are also a lot of good observations about how easily democracy can be turned into a farce, with votes bought and cajoled from poor and rural citizens.

Check out The Ardent Swarm at Blackwell’s

The Ungrateful Refugee by Dina Nayeri

I’m about three hours into the audiobook of The Ungrateful Refugee and it’s a thought-provoking read. Nayeri fled Iran aged eight with her mother and brother after her mother’s conversion to Christianity. In this book, she’s weaving together her own story with those of other refugees she’s met in her life. So far I’m liking her story the most, but there’s still plenty more to come. The rhetoric around refugees in the UK is disgusting most of the time, so I wish more people would pick up books like this and think twice before spouting such harmful vitriol.

Check out The Ungrateful Refugee at Blackwell’s

The Book of Tokyo, edited by Michael Emmerich, Jim Hinks & Masashi Matsuie

I’ve been wanting to try one of these Comma Press anthologies for a while so I was happy to see this one at my local library! Admittedly the first two stories were underwhelming, but I always expect that with anthologies. They’re so much more unpredictable than collections written by a single author. But I just read the third story, A House for Two by Mitsuyo Kakuta, and I loved it. A little glimpse at the societal expectations for Japanese women with a woman who pushes back against them.

Check out The Book of Tokyo at Blackwell’s

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