Mini Reviews | Houseboy & Tropical Fish

Hey everyone!

In an effort to reduce the growing backlog of book reviews I owe this platform, below are mini reviews of two excellent books I read a couple of years ago.

Houseboy by Ferdinand Oyono

Date Read: September 22nd 2017

Published: 1991

Publisher: Heinemann

Pages: 122

The Blurb

This book is written in the form of a diary kept by Toundi, an innocent Cameroonian houseboy who is fascinated and awed by the white world, the world of his masters.

 

Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

*sigh* Oyono’s Houseboy is such a painful, humorous, tragic tale.


Toundi – the main character (the houseboy), is naïve of the realities of his world in the French colony of Cameroon. While he’s is a good natured boy with a pure heart, the French exploitation of native Cameroonians cause the demise of Toundi (this isn’t a spoiler, trust me!).

This book really highlighted how fearful French colonialists were of native Cameroonians and Black Africans, in general. They were so fearful, insecure, ignorant and mentally fragile that they constantly exerted their supposed superiority over natives with hateful, brutal abuse. Toundi’s innocence gave this novel so much humor. The ways he misunderstood the lifestyle of white people was hilarious and sad at the same time. The ways the natives spoke about the French gave me some good laughs as well.

No, it can’t be true, I told myself, I couldn’t have seen properly. A great chief like the Commandant uncircumcised… I was relieved by this discovery. It killed something inside me… I knew I should never be frightened of this Commandant again. (pg. 28)

This was actually the 1st African novel I’ve ever read (I was initially in love with African-American fiction before I ever started reading books by African writers… well, besides Anansi stories). My Mom encouraged (or forced?) me to read Houseboy back when I was about thirteen years old. Back then, I didn’t enjoy this book at all and found it difficult to understand the myriad of proverbial phrases this story is blessed with. Today, I finally appreciate this novel as a superb, underrated classic within the African Writer’s Series.

★★★★★ (5 stars) – Amazing book, I loved it. Absolutely recommend!

Purchase Houseboy on Amazon

 


Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe by Doreen Baingana

Date Read: September 16th 2016

Published: 2008

Publisher: Cassava Republic Press

Pages: 158

 

The Blurb

In her fiction debut, Doreen Baingana follows a Ugandan girl as she navigates the uncertain terrain of adolescence. Set mostly in pastoral Entebbe with stops in the cities Kampala and Los Angeles, Tropical Fish depicts the reality of life for Christine Mugisha and her family after Idi Amin’s dictatorship.

Three of the eight chapters are told from the point of view of Christine’s two older sisters, Patti, a born-again Christian who finds herself starving at her boarding school, and Rosa, a free spirit who tries to “magically” seduce one of her teachers. But the star of Tropical Fish is Christine, whom we accompany from her first wobbly steps in high heels, to her encounters with the first-world conveniences and alienation of America, to her return home to Uganda.

As the Mugishas cope with Uganda’s collapsing infrastructure, they also contend with the universal themes of family cohesion, sex and relationships, disease, betrayal, and spirituality. Anyone dipping into Baingana’s incandescent, widely acclaimed novel will enjoy their immersion in the world of this talented newcomer.

 

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

After reading Doreen Baingana’s short story entitled ‘Tropical Fish’ in African Love Stories: An Anthology at the beginning of 2016, I knew I had to find her book.

I loved how nuanced this collection of interlocking stories were. Readers get a good feel of life in Entebbe, Uganda during Idi Amin’s ruling. I enjoyed the three sisters: Patti, Rosa and Christine Mugisha. I had wanted more insight into Patti’s life; she had a gentle, holier-than-thou demeanor that I wished was explored more. Rosa’s chapters were quite hilarious and poetic. I admired Baingana’s uncommon perspective on HIV/AIDS and sex through Rosa’s promiscuous lifestyle. Christine’s life (the youngest sister) is more closely followed in this book – from her days as a little girl playing in her parents’ bedroom to when she is twenty-nine years old and a recent ‘returnee’ from the States.

Baingana’s attention to the littlest things/feelings/observations we overlook in our daily lives made me love this collection. The writing was not overly descriptive; the commentary was witty, clever and overall, the exploration of life in Entebbe and the US was just heartfelt. I’m very fond of Baingana’s writing and it’s no wonder she was the winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book in the Africa region and has garnered other literary awards for her writing. I hope she writes a new novel very soon.

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

Purchase Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe on Amazon

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And the 2017 Caine Prize winner is…

YES, it’s that time of year again! In less than two weeks, the 2017 Caine Prize winner will be announced!

For those who are not familiar, the Caine Prize for African Writing, which was first awarded in year 2000 is an award “open to writers from anywhere in Africa for work published in English. Its focus is on the short story, reflecting the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition” (source).

Some notable winners of the Caine Prize include (click on links to my reviews):

  • Leila Aboulela, from Sudan (2000) – author of novels Minaret, The Translator, Lyrics Alley among other works. 
  • Binyavanga Wainaina, from Kenya (2002) – founding editor of Kwani?, author of memoir One Day I Will Write About This Place and the essay How To Write About Africa found in various literary magazines.
  • Yvonne A. Owuor, from Kenya (2003) – author of the novel, Dust.
  • E.C Osondu, from Nigeria (2009) – author of the novel This House is not For Sale and collection Voice of America: stories.
  • NoViolet Bulawayo, from Zimbabwe (2011) – author of the novel, We Need New Names

Previously shortlisted writers include: Mia Couto from Mozambique (2001), Chimamanda Adichie from Nigeria (2002), Laila Lalami from Morocco (2006), Chinelo Okparanta from Nigeria (2013), Pede Hollist from Sierra Leone (2013), Tendai Huchu from Zimbabwe (2014), Elnathan John from Nigeria (2013 & 2015), among others!

The Caine Prize and the shortlisted stories play huge roles in the authors I read from Africa. Many Caine Prize winners and shortlisted writers have found great success and I’ve reviewed a good number of these writers’ works here on African Book Addict!


This year, the Caine Prize shortlist comprises of five talented writers with unique short stories (left to right):(Image via caineprize.com)

Lesley Nneka Arimah (Nigeria) – Read her short story: Who Will Greet You At Home

Chikodili Emelumadu (Nigeria) – Read her short story: Bush Baby

Bushra al-Fadil (Sudan) – Read his short story: The Story of the Girl Whose Birds Flew Away 

Arinze Ifeakandu (Nigeria) – Read his short story: God’s Children Are Little Broken Things

Magogodi oaMphela Makhene (South Africa) – Read her short story: The Virus


The Caine Prize shortlist wouldn’t be a shortlist if a previous shortlistee isn’t back on the list, right? I’m no longer shocked or disappointed when I see previous shortlistees and winners back on the shortlist – the Caine Prize is good for that.

I was happy to see Bushra al-Fadil, a writer of Sudanese heritage on the list! I think the last time a Sudanese writer was on the Caine Prize shortlist was back in year 2000, when Leila Aboulela won the first Caine Prize. But I wasn’t able to finish al-Fadil’s short story- The Story of the Girl Whose Birds Flew Away. Maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t get it. The Virus by Makhene is 26 pages and I haven’t found the time to enjoy it yet. Maybe I’ll listen to the podcast/ audio of the story if I have 1 hour 11 minutes to spare. I found Lesley Nneka Arimah’s story – Who Will Greet You At Home, softly magical. I recently purchased her short story collection – What It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky (which was the title of her last year’s shortlisted story) at it’s full price, so I hope it’s worth it. Hmm, I wonder if Arimah will compete to win next year’s prize as well, even with all the positive buzz around her new book.

Chikodili Emelumadu’s story – Bush Baby, is one hell of a rollercoaster! I was initially hesitant to read the story, as it’s a long read of 17 pages. But once I started reading, I just had to stay on the intense ride and endure every bit of it. I love Emelumadu’s succinct writing style. She manages to accurately capture the tiniest nuances which I found impressive. Bush Baby is a haunting story that follows adult siblings Ihuoma and Okwuchukwu (or Okwy) as they battle being tortured by an evil spirit that is out for Okwy. Ihuoma is back home in Nigeria from studying/living abroad and Okwy has resorted to satisfying the desires of his flesh – drugs, gambling, prostitutes and juju. YES- juju! Without giving too much away, just beware – there is black magic/ juju/ voodoo/ magical realism (however you choose to call ‘evil spirits’) in this story. Emelumadu’s palpable descriptions had be cringing and feeling deep sorrow for Okwy and his demise. I discovered Emelumadu’s blog, Igbophilia late last year and find her commentary/stories hilarious and very entertaining. I’m proud of her for making it on this year’s Caine Prize shortlist.

Arinze Ifeakandu’s story – God’s Children Are Little Broken Things MUST win the 2017 Caine Prize. Arinze is one heck of a writer! God’s Children Are Little Broken Things follows 2 university students, Lotanna and Kamsi. They are both young men and they become lovers. However, their relationship is very complicated. Lotanna is a soccer player and lover boy who is dating Rachael but he’s attracted to Kamsi – a piano player who’s small in stature. I don’t want to give too much away but I urge everyone to read the story – it’s the perfect short story for this month, which is considered LGBTQ Pride Month in the US. The story is deeply compelling and layered with many themes, such as – love, homosexuality, domestic violence, family, grief, illness, masculinity etc.

Reading God’s Children Are Little Broken Things got slightly confusing as it’s a second-person narrative, but I believe Arinze writing in this point of view made the story very personal and hence, powerful. I’m curious to know more about Arinze Ifeakandu and what compelled him to write this important story. I’d love to know how other readers feel about this story and the types of arguments/ conversations it will open up, especially among Africans who believe sexual fluidity and homosexuality are abominations. Arinze Ifeakandu must win this year’s Caine Prize and expand this riveting short story into a book! *fingers crossed.*

Which story is your favorite? Who do you think will win the Caine Prize this year?

The winner will be announced in London at Senate House Library in partnership with SOAS, on the 3rd of July. Good luck to all the shortlisted candidates!

You can also check out past commentary on the Caine Prize below:

2014 | 2015  | 2016

Classics: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe & Matigari by Ngūgī wa Thiong’o

Hey everyone! Below are mini reviews of two classics written by two, brilliant, African literature pioneer writers. I enjoyed these books over the summer 🙂

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall ApartDate re-Read: July 12th 2015 (previously read in 2007)

Published: January 2010 (originally published in 1958)

Publisher: Penguin Books

Pages: 152

 

The Blurb

Things Fall Apart tells two intertwining stories, both centering on Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first, a powerful fable of the immemorial conflict between the individual and society, traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace with the tribal world. The second, as modern as the first is ancient, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo’s world with the arrival of aggressive European missionaries. These perfectly harmonized twin dramas are informed by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul.

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

What more can I say about this book? Everyone and their grandparents have read this classic. Most readers hated Okonkwo – the main character, for valid reasons. Who would have thought this true-blooded chauvinist would ultimately take his own life? Killing yourself is a cowardly, weak move, no? Despite Okonkwo’s brashness and overt disdain for females and all things ‘womanly’, I understood him, so I appreciated him.

It’s hard not to resent the British colonizers for the damage they caused Africa in the past. The British came with full force, masked in Christianity and denied natives of the African continent control over their own land. Change is never easy, but I guess sometimes it’s necessary? Many harmful indigenous practices which were revered prior colonization have been abolished for example – the killing of twins and thankfully, many other practices that were tagged with superstitious beliefs. Things Fall Apart gives readers a lot to think about: gender inequality, superstition, tradition versus modernity, masculinity versus femininity etc. I’m glad I re-read this during the summer. It was refreshing to reconnect with this masterpiece that Achebe wrote back in 1958. Things Fall Apart will always be a solid 4.5 stars for me.

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

Purchase Things Fall Apart from Amazon

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Matigari by Ngūgī wa Thiong’o

MatigariDate Read: August 11th 2015

Published: June 1989 (originally published in 1986)

Publisher: Heinemann (African Writers Series)

Pages: 175

The Blurb

Who is Matigari? Is he young or old; a man or fate; dead or living… or even a resurrection of Jesus Christ? These are the questions asked by the people of this unnamed country, when a man who has survived the war for independence emerges from the mountains and starts making strange claims and demands.

Matigari is in search of his family, to rebuild his home and start a new and peaceful future, but his search becomes a quest for truth and justice as he finds the people still dispossessed and the land he loves ruled by corruption, fear and misery. Rumors spring up that a man with superhuman qualities has risen to renew the freedom struggle. The novel races towards its climax as Matigari realizes that words alone cannot defeat the enemy. He vows to use the force of arms to achieve his true liberation.

Lyrical and hilarious in turn, Matigari is a memorable satire on the betrayal of human ideals and on the bitter experience of post-independence African society.

Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)

Matigari is the ultimate African post-colonial, social justice novel. And of course, Ngūgī wa Thiong’o executes the storyline brilliantly with the strength and courage of character,  Matigari ma Njiruungi – a patriot who goes to great lengths to ensure there is justice for the oppressed in a (fictitious) nation. Matigari ensures there is justice for the oppressed with the help of an orphan and a former prostitute and readers follow this team on their brave, almost rebellious journey to peace and justice. Matigari is a satirical novel. Ngūgī wa Thiong’o uses some elements of magical realism and lots of Christian allegory which are very symbolic in this novel.

But I don’t think this book is for everyone. It can be quite dry and may be too ‘political’ for some readers. Matigari was not a fast/easy read for me: I started reading it in May and finished it in August. But if you appreciate African oral literature and post-colonial literary works – read this! It is indeed powerful.

Favorite quotes:

“The true seeker of truth never loses hope. The true seeker of real justice never tires. A farmer does not stop planting seeds just because of the failure of one crop. Success is born of trying and trying again. Truth must seek justice. Justice must seek the truth. When justice triumphs, truth will reign on earth” pg. 84 [one of Matigari’s many meditations].

“Pregnancies are the result of the evil and wild desires. I shall ask the government to ban dreams and desires of that kind for a period of about two years. Fucking among the poor should be stopped by a presidential decree!” (HILARIOUS!) pg. 120 [said a member of parliament – a typical man in power, guilty of squandering government money].

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

Purchase Matigari from Amazon

 

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

The FishermenDate Read: June 4th 2015

Published: April 2015

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

Pages: 304

The Blurb

In a Nigerian town in the mid-1990’s, four brothers encounter a madman whose mystic prophecy of violence threatens the core of their close-knit family.

Told from the point of view of nine-year-old Benjamin, the youngest of four brothers, The Fishermen is the Cain and Abel-esque story of the unforgettable childhood in 1990s Nigeria, in the small town of Akure. When their strict father has to travel to a distant city for work, the brothers take advantage of his extended absence to skip school and go fishing. At the omnious, forbidden nearby river, they meet a dangerous local madman who persuades the oldest of the boys that he is destined to be killed by one of his siblings.

What happens next is an almost mythic even whose impact – both tragic and redemptive – will transcend the lives and imaginations of the book’s characters and its readers.

Review– ★★★★★ (5 stars)

The Fishermen is a dark, haunting, mythical story about brotherhood, love and madness. Ikenna, Boja, Obembe and Ben are four of six children of the Agwu family in Akure, Nigeria. Ikenna, who is 15 years old is the leader of the pack. Boja is the adventurous 14-year-old, Obembe is the book smart 11-year-old and Ben – who is the innocent narrator of this lyrical tale, is 9 years old. Once their father is assigned to work at a new location of the Central Bank of Nigeria, quite far away from his home, disorder slowly overtakes this family. I believe the absence of the boys’ father is the root of all the evil things that occur in this story. How crazy is it that the prophecy of the neighborhood madman Abulu, who the boys encounter on one of their forbidden fishing adventures to the Omi-Ala river, could be the catalyst for all the twists and turns that the Agwu family endures?

When you think things are getting better and the craziness of this story plateaus, something pops up! I feel like I know/knew Ikenna, Boja, Obembe and Ben – their love and brotherhood are so dear to me, I don’t know why! I felt helpless during many parts of this story. At certain parts I just had to close the book, sit still… and pray. I desperately wanted to help Ikenna. I wanted to whisper into his ear and reassure him that his brothers loved him so much and that nobody was out to kill him. I wanted to goad Boja to have more patience with Ikenna since he (Ikenna) was going through a dark, miserable phase in his life where his faith and confidence were shaken.

Chigozie Obioma wrote about these boys in such a tender way that evoked lots of emotions in me. Obioma actually wrote this novel as a tribute to his own brothers and he discusses this more in interviews with Michigan Quarterly Review and Bookanista. I believe Obioma does a great job at painting the picture of a typical Nigerian household in The Fishermen. He captures classic Nigerian idiosyncrasies through the characters, for example: the way the boys’ mother would shout ‘Chineke!’ (which is an Igbo word that means ‘God!’) whenever she was startled; or how she would vigorously tie her wrapper whenever she was frustrated with the boys; or how their chauvinistic father would shout ‘my friend!’ whenever he was irritated and demanded quick responses from the boys and their mother. If you’ve ever watched a Nollywood film, you would definitely appreciate these entertaining gestures!

The power of Obioma’s lyrical writing style is augmented by his metaphors, which are mostly rooted in animism. This may seem corny, but trust me – it certainly works in making the characters and different incidents in the story feel too real… and every word counts! References to Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart, M.K.O Abiola – a popular Nigerian political figure, alongside other contemporary happenings (during 1997) made this all the more a satisfying and realistic read. I’m super proud of this author and I wish him nothing but more success! This has been the best book I’ve read all summer and maybe even this year.

Side note: After reading this book, I’ve had second thoughts about my desire to give birth to only boys – as if I even have a choice, am I God? haha. But I’ve come to the realization that raising boys (and children in general) is truly a challenge. Parental guidance is needed at all times!

The Fishermen needs more attention in the blogosphere! I’m still trying to digest some stuff from the book and I would love to discuss The Fishermen in detail with anyone who has already read it. I’m waiting for my Mom to finish reading the book so we can discuss the ending which slightly threw me off. I hope bookworms around the world catch on and rave about this book as much as they did Adichie’s Americanah. I expect The Fishermen to win some literary awards soon.

Chigozie Obioma definitely took fiction to another level with this book. Please, please pick this up if you get a chance!

★★★★★ (5 stars) – Amazing book, I loved it. Absolutely recommend!

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Purchase The Fishermen on Amazon

And the 2015 Caine Prize winner is… Namwali Serpell!

A big congratulations to Zambia’s Namwali Serpell for winning the 2015 Caine Prize for African Writing!!

Namwali Serpell is the 16th winner of the Caine Prize, which is recognized as Africa’s leading literary award for short stories. The winner was announced last night at a dinner held at the Weston Library, Oxford, England for all the shortlisted candidates.

Namwali Serpell won the £10,000 prize for her short story, ‘The Sack’. Initially I was miffed at how this year’s shortlist was more or less a dichotomy between South Africa and Nigeria, with one story from Zambia. Even though I was more in love with Elnathan’s story ‘Flying‘, I’m happy Zambia won this for once! I look forward to more of Serpell’s work in the future. Her short story, ‘The Sack’ can also be found in the Africa39 anthology which was published in October of last year (2014). Check out Africa39 to read more new short stories by young African writers, under the age of 39!

Namwali Serpell winner

 Read ‘The Sack’ by Namwali Serpell – here

Challenge Update; Currently Reading

Hello everyone!

As I mentioned before, I’m participating in the Goodreads Reading Challenge for 2015. This year, I plan on reading 15 books (at least). I really admire those who read 40 plus books in a year! Being a dental student, I wonder if I can ever reach such goals…

Anyways, I recently finished reading the great Ngūgī wa Thiong’o ‘s childhood memoir: Dreams In A Time Of War and Amma Darko’s novel, Beyond the Horizon.

NgugiWaThiongo

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t you just love the book cover? Ngūgī wa Thiong’o ‘s book was a very touching memoir – Ngūgī is a man I truly respect. I plan on reading the second volume of his memoirs – In the House of the Interpreter: A Memoir later this year :).

 

 

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Beyond the Horizon by Amma Darko is a compulsory read for an African Studies class I’m currently taking. This book is laden with domestic violence and the main character- Mara, is extremely naive, so it was initially quite a frustrating read. Its a shame that Amma Darko does not get enough shine for her writing. Expect reviews soon!

 

 

Other books I’ve read from January till now:

January 12th 2015: We Should All Be Feminists (eBook) by Chimamanda N. Adichie

January 18th 2015: You Can’t Keep A Good Woman Down by Alice Walker

January 28th 2015: A Deeper Love Inside: The Porsche Santiaga Story by Sister Souljah 

February 1st 2015: Wife Type: Her take on real love and healthy relationships (eBook) by Sheri Gaskins (on Goodreads)*

February 3rd 2015: The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola 

February 16th 2015: Sula by Toni Morrison

February 27th 2015: Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” by Lena Dunham (on Goodreads)*

March 22nd 2015: Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir by Ngūgī wa Thiong’o

March 31st 2015: Beyond the Horizon by Amma Darko

 

I’m currently on my 10th book:  The Trouble with Nigeria which is a very short, almost history-like book by Chinua Achebe. Since Nigeria recently had their elections, which have been peaceful thus far (thank God!), I thought this would be a good read for the times.

 

What are y’all currently reading?

Valentine’s Day Anthology 2015

 

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Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Ankara Press gave us a special treat today, by publishing a Valentine’s Day anthology featuring 7 short stories by some great contemporary African writers. According to Ankara Press, this lovely collection shows that “romance can be empowering, entertaining, and elegantly written, by men as well as women.”

Some of the writers and readers of the stories include: Sarah Ladipo-Manyika, Eghosa Imasuen, Helene Cooper, Chuma Nwokolo and my favorite- Binyavanga Wainaina, amongst others!

The stories are written in English with some translations in Pidgin, Kiswahili, Yoruba, French, Kpelle, Igbo and Hausa languages. There are also audio versions of the stories in this anthology- such an awesome treat!

I’m enjoying all the stories thus far, I hope you all enjoy them too!

Read, listen and download (for free!) Valentine’s Day Anthology 2015HERE

To find out more about Ankara Press – A New Kind Of Romance, click – here or follow them on Twitter @ankarapress.

2014 Recap & My Top 5!

If you’ve been following my book blog for some time, you would know that I participated in the Goodreads 2014 Reading Challenge and I pledged to read 12 books this year. Since I have a strong passion for African literature, as well as African-American and Caribbean literature, I challenged myself to indulge in books of those genres this year. I successfully surpassed my goal and ended up reading 15 books in 2014.

I started this blog because I needed to express my views on the books I read, especially with people around the world who have read some of these books. Over the years I’ve realized that simply discussing the issues of the books I read with friends doesn’t suffice for me, for many reasons. Writing reviews on this blog and expressing my opinions on the books I’ve read has beIMG_8741en fulfilling! It would be nice to actually discuss in detail the things I liked and disliked about the books, but I can’t include spoilers in my reviews – its always so tempting!

Check out all the books I read and reviewed this year in the Book Reviews section of the blog!

(note: I wasn’t able to finish reading Sozaboy: A novel in Rotten English by Ken Saro-Wiwa and The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola. I just wasn’t feeling them at the time… And I think my ‘Currently Reading’ posts were jinxing my reading progress 😦 )

 Top 5 faves of my 2014 Reading Challenge

1. One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir by Binyavanga Wainaina

2. Happiness, Like Water by Chinelo Okparanta

3. The Spider King’s Daughter by Chibundu Onuzo

4. Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou

5. Harmattan Rain by Ayesha Harruna Attah

I plan on participating in the Goodreads 2015 Reading Challenge as well. I’d like to read more Caribbean novels next year, so we’ll see how that goes!

What were your favorite books of 2014?

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Thanks for all the support! See you in 2015 🙂