Reading for Pleasure in 2022: April’s books

I read five books this month, all reviewed below; three YA novels, and two fiction books set on cruise ships. These books covered everything from time travel to racism, from patriarchy to murder and all kinds of other wonderful stuff…

This is The Upper World by Femi Fadugba.

The blurb on the back:

After suffering a knock to the head, 15-year-old Esso experiences a chilling vision: that night he will witness the violent deaths of everyone he knows. He writes off the out-of-body experience as a strange dream – until a series of frightening coincidences prove that the vision is just hours away from coming true.

There is only one person who can help him rewrite the future.

The trouble is, she hasn’t been born yet . . .

Penguin says:

The game-changing YA thriller that defies space and time, soon to be a major Netflix movie starring Oscar-nominated Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out, Black Panther)

2020: Close to getting expelled and caught up in a deadly feud, the tensions surrounding Esso seem to be leading to a single moment in a Peckham alleyway that could shatter his future.

2035: Stripped of everything, football prodigy Rhia has just one thing left on her mind – figuring out how to avert a bullet that was fired fifteen years in the past.

This is an astonishing debut YA novel, which incorporates modern-day London with physics, time-travel and gang culture. Each chapter alternates between our hero Esso in 2020, and Rhia in 2035; how do the two characters meet, what is their relationship, and how does time travel work?

A YA novel that will equally appeal to sci-fi fans, this is one of those books that you don’t want to put down. Thrillingly, it’s being made into a Netflix movie, and Penguin will publish the sequel this summer!

Highly recommended.

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé  is so good that I read the whole thing in one weekend.

I don’t usually like thrillers, but this is exceptional. This is a book that I could not put down; the end of each chapter made me immediately want to read the next. I was invested in these characters and cared about what happened to them.

Each chapter alternates between the two main characters’ perspectives, and the whole story takes place in just a couple of weeks.

Book Riot says:

Gossip Girl meets Get Out in this explosive thriller set in an elite private school. Devon and Chiamaka are the only two Black students in the prestigious Niveus Academy. And suddenly, their secrets are being revealed to the entire school by an anonymous texter who calls themself Aces. Will the two of them be able to find Aces and put a stop to them before it’s too late? Ace Of Spades is the kind of novel that will constantly have you on tenterhooks. It’s both a thrill ride, and a powerful examination into institutionalized racism. An absolute must-read.

Ace of Spades is Àbíké-Íyímídé’s debut novel; I can’t wait for her next one.

This is The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna.

Deadline.com describes the story:

The Gilded Ones is an bold and immersive West African-inspired and empowering feminist fantasy story that follows sixteen-year-old Deka living in Otera, a deeply patriarchal ancient kingdom. There, a woman’s worth is tied to her purity, and she must bleed to prove it. But when Deka bleeds gold – the color of impurity, or that of a demon – she faces a consequence worse than death. She is saved by a mysterious woman who tells Deka of her true nature: she is an Alaki, a near-immortal with exceptional gifts. The stranger offers her a choice: fight for the Emperor, with others just like her, or be destroyed.

It’s the first in the Deathless trilogy, and is being made into a film. Forna is a screenwriter as well as an author, so it only seems natural that she would also write the screenplay. In fact, I found the book to be very cinematic; chapters often seem like short movie scenes rather than developed prose, which is fine for a fast paced story, but I wanted more detail.

The characters often seem like brief sketches of people; I really can’t tell you much about the supporting cast, who are all meant to be close friends of the protagonist, Deka, and that is a problem when we are meant to believe that they have formed a deep bond with her.

Similarly, Deka, the main character, simply progresses through a series of events and discoveries. Even though she is the narrator, I feel like we don’t ever really get to know her very well. She tells us how she feels and what she’s thinking, but we are rarely shown her development; she simply tells us.

I appreciate that I am not the targeted audience for this book, and perhaps it will all be more effective on the big screen, but for now, I don’t feel the need to read the sequel, The Merciless Ones, which will be released next month.

The blurb on the back:

England, September 1939. Lily Shepherd boards a cruise liner for a new life in Australia and is plunged into a world of cocktails, jazz and glamorous friends. But as the sun beats down, poisonous secrets begin to surface. Suddenly Lily finds herself trapped with nowhere to go…

Australia, six weeks later. The world is at war, the cruise liner docks, and a beautiful young woman is escorted on to dry land in handcuffs.

What has she done?

Dangerous Crossings by Rachel Rhys is a thrilling read with engaging characters harbouring dark secrets and clashing with each other, as well as a plot full of sexual tension. It all takes place under the shadow of the breakout of World War II and in the claustrophobic confines of a cruise ship, where no-one can truly escape from who they really are.

This is a real page-turner which took me just a few days to finish. It is Agatha Christie-esque, in that our characters are trapped in a single location, albeit one that briefly docks into exotic locations, and we have to wait until the end to solve the mystery. It differs from a traditional murder-mystery, though, in that the actual murder takes place almost at the end of the story.

Thrillers aren’t usually my cup of tea, but this had me hooked with its cast of memorable characters. Highly recommended!

So vivid are the characters and their stories in The Cat’s Table that you’ll think this is Michael Ondaatje’s autobiography.

It is all made up, however.

EXTRAORDINARY! ENTHRALLING! WONDROUS! shout the one-word review quotes on the front cover, and they are all correct; this is indeed a spectacular work of fiction that I implore you to read.

I’d never even picked up a book by Michael Ondaatje before, let alone read one. It is thanks to the cover that I knew he was famous for writing The English Patient (I’ve seen the movie, of course, but never read the book).

The Guardian said:

The Cat’s Table seems at first as if it might be a picaresque novel set in a constricted space, a favourite choice of many writers since Sebastian Brant’s 1494 Ship of Fools. Ondaatje gives us the cat’s table, the opposite of the captain’s table, and the most undesirable dining assignment aboard the cruise ship Oronsay. This allows Ondaatje to lay out an extraordinary assortment of characters like cards on a table, shuffle and redeal them. It gives the passengers a sense of invisibility and the freedom to behave as they wish. As we read into The Cat’s Table the story becomes more complex, more deadly, with an increasing sense of lives twisted awry, of misplaced devotion.

Our narrator is “Mynah” (a nickname for Michael) and he is joined by two other young boys as they travel from Colombo to England on a cruise ship, full of intriguing characters and mischief.

The story jumps back and forth in time, revealing both the past and futures of the characters, which has the effect of intertwining their stories even more and showing the significance of the cruise experience in their lives. In essence, the book is about memory and how some things stay with you forever.

There is an unexpected melancholy; of love lost and grief and missed opportunities.

Highly recommended.

What have you read this month? Share your recommendations in the comments below!

Check out the books I read in January, February and March.

Comments are welcome!

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