Ten Things Books Have Made Me Want To Do


You know that saying about readers having many lives through the books they read? I love it, because there are so many things I can’t do, but would love to. Then there are some things books have inspired me to do… or at least to dream about.

I’m linking up with Top Ten Tuesdays to bring you (some of the) things book have made me want to do.

1. Go to Boarding School

A la Malory Towers by Enid Blyton, Spud by John van de Ruit, Looking for Alaska by John Green and even Harry Potter, to name but a few.

5000b1238115345bee19d12384791a68625445af06153537b90254460bebb0df Continue reading

What If Slavery Never Fell: Underground Airlines [Book Review]


I’ve been on a bit of an alternate-history kick recently, which has led me to believe that it is possibly one of the most challenging genres an author might tackle. Call it the Butterfly Effect or Domino Effect or just plain Jenga, but changing a single event in history causes a cascade of changes, and if the author misses even one of those, the book loses its believability.

23208397Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters is an alternate reality in the present day where slavery was never outlawed in the USA, and is still practiced in four major states. It is a horrifying thought and an important topic in light of current race-relations in the USA and much of the world.

World-building is important in alternative-history fiction, but must be subtle. If the world is different to the way we know it, the reader must be able to understand why that is. Winters did this fairly well, in referring to trading sanctions which, for example, result in CDs not yet reaching American markets.

Elaborating on the events in your alternate history is also difficult because the reader does not want to be told so much as shown where history deviated from the plot, but sometimes it is so elaborate that showing is difficult. Winters tends to err on the side of telling in this regard, and it sometimes seems as though our MC is lecturing to someone who does not know the history. To be fair, I have not yet seem an author pull this off in an alternative history.

The purpose of an alternate-reality novel is not just to point out the differences between our situation and the what-ifs, but more jarringly to show the similarities. And that is what I found to be the value (and the horror) of Underground Airlines, because as I read I found myself asking, “But how is this REALLY any different from what black Americans are dealing with in our reality?”

Is Winters suggesting that the prejudice faced by persons of colour today is as bad as though slavery was never abolished? I think that is one of the most important discussion-points stemming from this book. The kind of systemic prejudice facing the free persons of colour in Underground Airlines is not so different from many situations today: you are free, but don’t wear a hoodie or look dangerous. You are free, but don’t carry a weapon if you want to live. You are free, but businesses and places of employment are also free to discriminate. 


In terms of pacing and dialogue, I definitely felt that the novel could have benefited from more editing. It seemed as the majority of the novel was busy “setting up” for the plot, but the plot struggled to gain momentum. It was a whole lot of planning and back-story and double-agenting, and then the twist came before any plotting really occurred.

In terms of character development, I was told that the protagonist felt anxious and desolate, but I was never really offered the opportunity to get in his head; as though he were too far for the reader to fully grasp. This may be tactical on the author’s part, because Viktor is a mystery to everyone, including himself. Is he a good guy doing bad work? He closes himself TO himself in an effort to avoid the terror of his past and his guilt; but even so, I needed to be able to connect with the MC more.

My biggest problem was the “twist”, which suddenly turns Underground Airlines into more sci-fi than alternate contemporaneous. If you read the blurb you knew there was a secret, but tension in this regard never truly mounts – the tension is always about freedom and not about secrets. It is such a wild twist that it is incongruous with the rest of the novel, and it is jarring in a bad way. It almost feels as if it were an afterthought, and afterward little is done with it. It threatens the integrity of the entire novel.

One of my favourite hot-points suggested in Underground Airlines is that of the “couch activist”. Those who are so privileged that they can side-step dealing with the problem. From Father Barton who says, “I have spoken on it and will continue to speak on it, but speaking is all I do,” to people who won’t buy products of slavery but still benefit from the economic successes thereof.

Its issues in spite, this remains a book I would like to see read in schools and universities to open up robust dialogue. Underground Airlines may well be one of the most “woke” books that has been published this year.

Disclaimer: I received a free eARC via NetGalley and Mulholland Books in exchange for an honest review. 

Top Ten Underrated Books


I’m linking up with The Broke and The Bookish to bring you ten of my favourite books with fewer than 2,000 ratings. All of my books on last week’s list, save for one, have fewer than 2,000 ratings on Goodreads, so I haven’t included any of those books on this list (but you should totally check them out, too!)

Note: Book titles are linked to my reviews of them, or in the absence of a review, to their Goodreads listing.

  1. The Girl Without A Sound by Buhle Ngaba

30187012Number of ratings: 4

A South African picture book “born out of defiance and as a response to the fairytales we were told as little girls. Stories about white princesses with blue eyes, flowing locks of hair and an overwhelming awareness of their beauty.” And just like Coconut and Kwezi (see last week’s list), even though I’m not the intended target market, I think it is wonderful, and I intend to purchase it for as many kids as I can.

Also, you can get the digital file for free on their website! Continue reading

Ten More South African Books To Devour


Linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday – a freebie! I thought I had a whole host of lists about South African books, but it turns out I only ever did one. I have a soft spot for supporting local (to me) authors, and I do think we have some awesome authors so I like spreading the word.

A note on the links used in this post: I don’t have an affiliate link program. I include links to purchase the books only because I really want to encourage reading these books, and sometimes South African titles can be hard to source. In the titles, I have linked to my reviews where they are available, otherwise to their Goodreads pages.

1. Kwezi by Loyiso Mkize

30349900A brand new South African superhero comic, starring authentically South African characters. Such an important step in having representative books, but also a really fun comic that I would recommend widely. I intend on buying every issue, and buying some to donate to the children’s wards at my hospital too.

You can read the first issue online here. Continue reading

The Translation of Love [Book Review]


30362775During the American occupation, the citizens of Japan were encouraged to apply directly to General MacArthur – “if you have a problem, write a letter, this is what democracy means” – and so write they did. MacArthur received over 500,000 letters, letters of entreaty, rage, gratitude, complaint, even adoration.

Twelve-year-old Fumi Tanaka has a problem – her beautiful and beloved older sister, Sumiko, has disappeared. Determined to find her, Fumi enlists the help of her new classmate Aya, forcibly repatriated with her father from Canada after the war. Together, they write to MacArthur and deliver their letter into the reluctant hands of Corporal Matt Matsumoto, a Japanese-American GI whose job it is to translate the endless letters.

Before reading The Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake, I had no idea about post-war Japan’s American occupation. I had even traveled to Japan, so I don’t know how I missed the enormity of the changes that occurred in Japan during the period of occupation. Continue reading

Ten Reasons I Love Audiobooks


I’m linking up with The Broke and The Bookish for Top Ten Tuesdays for “Ten Reasons I Love [X]”. Join up, link up, click through and see what everyone else loves, and why!

I only started listening to audiobooks two years ago. I’m pretty easy-going when it comes to books: while print will always be my first love, I’m not the type to scorn ebooks and audiobooks. Reading is reading, and I love it! That said, there are some reasons I have grown fond of audiobooks:


Art by Philip Tseng (click)

1. It’s a bonding experience for my dad and me

Continue reading

Learning Through Fiction: Fiji in “Kalyana” [+Infographic]


learn through fictionLast year I made an infographic for Black Dove, White Raven, and although it hardly interested as many readers as I had hoped, it was something I immensely enjoyed doing. So I am thrilled to share a new infographic, this time about Fiji and the novel I read, Kalyana by Rajni Mala Khelawan.

Spanning the early 1960s to more or less the present day, Kalyana tells the story of a young Indo-Fijian girl – her parents’ only daughter, and just a little spoiled. Continue reading