BOOK REVIEW | Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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4/5 stars

From the publisher:
Ifemelu–beautiful, self-assured–left Nigeria 15 years ago, and now studies in Princeton as a Graduate Fellow. Obinze–handsome and kind-hearted–was Ifemelu’s teenage love; he’d hoped to join her in America, but post 9/11 America wouldn’t let him in.
Years later, when they reunite in Nigeria, neither is the same person who left home. Obinze is the kind of successful “Big Man” he’d scorned in his youth, and Ifemelu has become an “Americanah”–a different version of her former self, one with a new accent and attitude. As they revisit their shared passion–for their homeland and for each other–they must face the largest challenges of their lives.

My thoughts:
Americanah is an epic love story that tells the tale of Ifemelu, her immigration to the United States from Nigeria, and her eventual emigration back to Nigeria. This is a book about race in America, and Adichie isn’t afraid to tackle difficult topics head on.

When Ifemelu is young, before her immigration to the United States, she falls in love with Obinze. After her departure their relationship fades, and he takes a different path, moving to London where he lives illegally. Though living in different worlds, the two always think of one another, and we spend much of the story wondering if they will become reunited. While in American, Ifemelu dates both a white man and a black American man. Obinze felt like the constant with which these experimental men were measured against – would anyone ever stack up?

Ifemelu is a direct and bold personality, and has no problem with pointing out other people’s faults. I loved her relationship with Curt, the white man; he loved her fully and respected anything she had to say regarding race, loving her natural hair while she was embarrassed by it. Ifemelu, however, always found fault with Curt; she found his racial respect frustrating, as if he could never “get it”. In many ways that is true, as a wealthy white man in American he could never fully understand her experience, but I wanted her to let him in. I found Ifemelu hilarious at times, and incredibly frustrating at others. Maybe that’s because I am the product of an interracial relationship, and I’m in one as well.

The narrative style is unique – we flip between Ifemelu and Obinze, past and present, and my personal favourite: Ifemelus’s blog posts. Ifemelu writes a successful blog about race in America, and choice blog posts are interspersed throughout the book like mini essays. These are essential and poignant, and made much of the book for me. I loved them.

Some of the best moments for me were in the discussion of hair. There is discussion of good hair, nappy hair, conforming through hair, and embracing hair. I’m half black – my mother is Jamaican and my father is Irish/English – and I have curly hair. Not black hair, not wavy hair, but curly. I spent most of my youth hating everything about it, and killing it with flat irons and relaxers (relaxer burn is real!), all the while hoping it wouldn’t rain as to ruin all of my hard work. I eventually decided to stop torturing my hair, grow out the relaxer, and learned to be OK with the stuff that grew out of my head. It was a long journey, but worth it. However, to this day, I feel like my curls don’t look as professional as straight hair does. I long to go swimming without having to consider what frizz reducing and controlling products I’ll have to lug along with me for afterwards. It’s amazing to me how much of a hold hair can have over enjoyment of life, and it was comforting to see this reflected in literature.

It was fascinating to see race through Ifemelu’s eyes – how race only became a prevalent part of her life in America, and when she returned to Nigeria she felt her blackness fade away. I thought about this, and realized that if curly hair were the majority, I likely wouldn’t feel so much frustration towards mine. It’s amazing the impact that culture has on self-worth.

Adichie dives into the election of Obama, which I remember so well. Like the characters in the story, I had similar fears – would someone try to harm him? Could this actually make issues of race worse? It’s fascinating to read this book in the era of Trump, and sad to see that this may have been true. I remember the hope and tears shed when Obama was elected, and appreciate Adichie’s perspective on that moment in history. I’m Canadian, but whatever happens in American always makes its ways over to us in one way or another.

The struggles of immigration are highlighted from two perspectives: Ifemelu’s immigration to America, and Obinze’s illegal immigration to London. They both have struggles and successes, and one particular moment with Infemelu had me in tears. They bother, though in completely different ways, end up returning to Nigeria.

There’s a lot going on with this book, but it was so worth it for me. Adichie is an amazing storyteller, and clearly extremely intelligent. I did take issue with certain sentiments, but will keep the controversy to myself. If you’re interested in the black experience in America, read this book. If you’re not interested in that experience, you must read this book.

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BOOK REVIEW | The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

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4/5 stars

From the publisher:
In a tantalizing set-up reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith’s classic Strangers on a Train… On a night flight from London to Boston, Ted Severson meets the stunning and mysterious Lily Kintner. Sharing one too many martinis, the strangers begin to play a game of truth, revealing very intimate details about themselves. Ted talks about his marriage that’s going stale and his wife Miranda, who he’s sure is cheating on him. Ted and his wife were a mismatch from the start—he the rich businessman, she the artistic free spirit—a contrast that once inflamed their passion, but has now become a cliché.

But their game turns a little darker when Ted jokes that he could kill Miranda for what she’s done. Lily, without missing a beat, says calmly, “I’d like to help.” After all, some people are the kind worth killing, like a lying, stinking, cheating spouse. . . .

Back in Boston, Ted and Lily’s twisted bond grows stronger as they begin to plot Miranda’s demise. But there are a few things about Lily’s past that she hasn’t shared with Ted, namely her experience in the art and craft of murder, a journey that began in her very precocious youth.

Suddenly these co-conspirators are embroiled in a chilling game of cat-and-mouse, one they both cannot survive . . . with a shrewd and very determined detective on their tail.

My thoughts:
Talk about a page-turner! Peter Swanson’s The Kind Worth Killing is action packed with just enough psychological unrest to keep the reader guessing at everyone’s motivations.

Truthfully, I don’t think murder is necessarily as bad as people make it out to be. Everyone dies. What difference does it make if a few bad apples get pushed along a little sooner than God intended? And your wife, for example, seems like the kind worth killing.

There are a few storylines to follow, but everything is centered around Ted and Lilly. Ted and Lily meet at the airport bar and begin to chat. They quickly realize that they are both heading to Boston, but assume they will never see each other again after the flight. Since they are strangers, Ted confides in Lily, sharing that his wife is cheating on him and reveling a dark desire. Lilly is surprisingly receptive to his confessions, and plans are made for another meeting. I really can’t say much more than this, because the plot twists in this book are amazing! I will say that the twists are surprisingly plausible – they make sense in this scenario. Swanson doesn’t throw in twists just for the sake of it, and it all ties together perfectly.

Having read two Swanson books, I can see consistent stylistic choices across both. He loves multiple narrators, and reliving the same scene from each of these points of view. In both, Swanson name drops authors and books and I kind of love it. It’s fun to look up some of the books he mentions, and I imagine that some of these are his personal influences as a writer. He’s definitely a fan of classic mysteries, and I love that he pays homage to the genre through his work.

If you’re a fan of thrillers, this is definitely one to check out. I must say I enjoyed this a bit more than Her Every Fear (which I really liked), and Swanson has become a writer to watch!

BOOK REVIEW | Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson

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4/5 stars

From the publisher:
Growing up, Kate Priddy was always a bit neurotic, experiencing momentary bouts of anxiety that exploded into full blown panic attacks after an ex-boyfriend kidnapped her and nearly ended her life. When Corbin Dell, a distant cousin in Boston, suggests the two temporarily swap apartments, Kate, an art student in London, agrees, hoping that time away in a new place will help her overcome the recent wreckage of her life.

But soon after her arrival at Corbin’s grand apartment on Beacon Hill, Kate makes a shocking discovery: his next-door neighbor, a young woman named Audrey Marshall, has been murdered. When the police question her about Corbin, a shaken Kate has few answers, and many questions of her own—curiosity that intensifies when she meets Alan Cherney, a handsome, quiet tenant who lives across the courtyard, in the apartment facing Audrey’s. Alan saw Corbin surreptitiously come and go from Audrey’s place, yet he’s denied knowing her. Then, Kate runs into a tearful man claiming to be the dead woman’s old boyfriend, who insists Corbin did the deed the night that he left for London.

When she reaches out to her cousin, he proclaims his innocence and calms her nerves . . . until she comes across disturbing objects hidden in the apartment—and accidently learns that Corbin is not where he says he is. Could Corbin be a killer? And what about Alan? Kate finds herself drawn to this appealing man who seems so sincere, yet she isn’t sure. Jetlagged and emotionally unstable, her imagination full of dark images caused by the terror of her past, Kate can barely trust herself . . . So how could she take the chance on a stranger she’s just met?

Yet the danger Kate imagines isn’t nearly as twisted and deadly as what’s about to happen. When her every fear becomes very real.

And much, much closer than she thinks.

My thoughts:
This psychological thriller had my heart racing more than once with its creepy characters and twisted motives. In Her Every Fear tensions run high as we work to piece everything together.

Kate, a British woman reeling from a trauma with her ex boyfriend, takes up the opportunity to switch apartments for six months with her American cousin, Corbin. The two have never met, but the arrangement is made and before long Kate is on a flight to Boston. Kate suffers from anxiety, exasperated by her recent experiences, and wonders if she has made the right choice when she discovers that a young woman has been killed in her Boston apartment building. Shortly after settling in, she meets a neighbor named Alan, and begins to feel more at ease. Meanwhile Corbin, miles away in Kate’s flat, is hearing the news of his neighbour’s death. It’s clear that Corbin was in a relationship with his neighbor, yet he denies knowing her past hallway meetings when questioned by Kate. After Alan makes a startling revelation, Kate begins to suspect everyone and to trust no one.

This is a slow burning mystery, which is just my style. It’s told from multiple perspectives, which allows for a deeper understanding of each person’s motivations and experiences. We know who the killer is fairly early on (or can pretty accurately speculate), so the enjoyment comes in slowly unraveling the story, leaning how each character made their way to this point. The multiple POV narrative works well, but does allow for quite a bit of repetition. The last 100 pages or so read like rapid fire – I couldn’t put it down!

I struggled a little with Kate as someone who suffers from anxiety. For the first few chapters, I was sold – I could feel her sweaty palms and heart beating as if they were my own. As the story picks up, many of her anxious behaviors and thoughts disappear, which I suppose may have been intentional – a sign that Kate is no longer succumbing to her anxiety and entering into a new space psychologically.

I really enjoyed this read and have already picked up The Kind Worth Killing. Swanson has me sold and is writer I will be watching!