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#TuesdayBookBlog One Year of Ugly by Caroline Mackenzie (@BoroughPress) (@HarperCollinsUK) A memorable, witty and dark comedy. Highly recommended.

Hi all:

I bring you a book that although it might be an acquired taste, I enjoyed immensely.

One Year of Ugly by Caroline Mackenzie

One Year of Ugly by Caroline Mackenzie

‘Deliciously dark’ EMMA JANE UNSWORTH
‘Funny and important’ LAURA JANE WILLIAMS

It was Aunt Celia who got us into the whole mess. The entire Palacios family thrust smack into the middle of a crime ring.

Meet Yola Palacios.

Having escaped crumbling, socialist Venezuela, Yola and her family are settling into their peaceful new life in Trinidad.

But when her beloved Aunt Celia dies, the family once again find their lives turned upside down. For Celia had been keeping a very big secret – the Palacios are seriously in debt to a local criminal called Ugly, and without the funds to pay him off, they must do his bidding until the debt is cleared. So far, so ugly.

In the midst of the turmoil appears Román – Ugly’s distractingly gorgeous right-hand man. And although she knows it’s foolish, not to mention dangerous, Yola just can’t help but give in to the attraction. Could this wildly inappropriate (and very messy) romance be the perfect antidote?

Told with wry humour and irresistible wit, ONE YEAR OF UGLY is devastatingly funny, blisteringly fresh story of family, first love, and finding home.

https://www.amazon.com/One-Year-Ugly-raucous-debut-ebook/dp/B07W3PXWTS/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/One-Year-Ugly-raucous-debut-ebook/dp/B07W3PXWTS/

https://www.amazon.es/One-Year-Ugly-raucous-debut-ebook/dp/B07W3PXWTS/

About the author:

Hello there and welcome to my author page! This being my first rodeo as a published author, I’m thrilled to even be able to write that sentence. I suppose that’s the most important thing to know about me – I’m a first timer in the daunting world of publishing, and my debut novel ONE YEAR OF UGLY, out May (UK) and July (US) 2020, is the book that made that happen.

What else is there to know about me? I’m a French Creole (née de Verteuil) born and raised in Trinidad. I studied abroad for five years, first in France then in the UK, earning a BA in French and Spanish studies and an MSc in specialised translation. I’m now back living in Trinidad with my family and a veritable menagerie of tropical animals too bizarre to get into here.

As a new(ish) mum, I’m still navigating the demands of motherhood to figure out my new writing routine, but I’ve managed to get back to writing consistently every day, which is nothing short of a triumph. Novel #2 is consequently well underway.

To wrap up with a few fun facts:

  • The illicit stripclub setting in ONE YEAR OF UGLY was inspired by the two + years I spent waitressing/hostessing at a Spearmint Rhino during my undergrad studies in Brighton. You could call me a connoisseur of the stripclub industry.
  • I am a lifelong francophile and fantasise about moving to Martinique one day.
  • Reality TV is my most shameful yet effective means of unwinding. Nothing says ‘switch off your brain and rock back’ like a Bravo or MTV original series.

Follow me here and on Goodreads for updates on ONE YEAR OF UGLY’s upcoming release and to check out what books (and bad TV shows) I’m loving these days.

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8285902.Caroline_Mackenzie

My review:

Thanks to the Borough Press (Harper Collins UK) and NetGalley for providing me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

This is a debut novel, and what a debut! Although I hadn’t heard of the author before, I was thrilled when I realised that we had a few things in common (I’ve also worked as a translator, and we’re both alumnae of Sussex University. Go Sussex!), and I am sure this will not be the last novel I read by Mackenzie.

This novel touches on many things, and although it does it with wit and humour (at times a very sharp and quite dark sense of humour), the themes it delves in are quite serious. Illegal immigrants (in this case, Venezuelans in Trinidad) that try to settle into their new life, but whose already uncertain and danger-ridden existence becomes more complicated when they are blackmailed into doing all kind of other illegal things to settle the debt a member of their family, Aunt Celia, left unpaid upon her sudden death. The Palacios, an extended but close family, with their traditions, their unique personalities, their traditions from home and from their adopted land, their parties and meals together, with their quirks and their not-quite-upstanding members, are suddenly thrown into the hands of the criminal underworld, and their lives become even more dangerous. There is blackmail, housing other illegal immigrants, being tracked and followed, having to work all hours to keep their non-paying guests, being threatened and pushed around, and some of their members are even driven out of their minds by the pressure. To all these events (and more that I’m keeping quiet), we have to add life as usual for this family, and that includes secret love-children, a young girl’s pregnancy, dangerous love affairs, strong women (some with a flair for drama), weak-willed men, heavy drinking, unfaithful husbands, grief and mourning, mental illness, trying to fit into a completely different place and being the object of prejudice and suspicion. The author explains her reasons for choosing to write a comedy in her note at the end, and they make perfect sense to me. First, because, as she says, some people might resist reading another book that deals in some of these very serious topics if they are presented in a straightforward manner, but a comedy might reach those readers, and also because comedy and humour are great weapons to deal with dark situations and to endure and keep hope alive when things are tough. The author does a great job, both in dealing with the illegal immigration angle and also in creating a family that we love (or at times, love to hate).

There are many characters, some pretty major (not all the members of the family have important roles, but we do get to know them fairly well by the end of the novel, although there are plenty of surprises, and I’m not only talking about Aunt Milagros here), and others that only pass-by, like some of the illegal immigrants they are forced to house through the year, and in many cases, they are depicted like a cartoonist would do, exaggerating some traits for comedic purposes, but affectionately. Yola, the main protagonist, who narrates the story in the first-person, is intelligent, witty, hard-working, and although she might not see eye-to-eye with all the members of her family, she loves them fiercely and would do anything for all of them, even for the new arrivals that she’s not so keen on. Aunt Celia, who has died just before the story starts, is also very present in the novel, as she had been writing her biography/memoir, and the manuscript is passed on to Yola, who is also a writer and translator, and whom the majority of the members of the family think of as the most suited to follow in Aunt Celia’s steps (and become the family’s official bitch). Celia’s book is priceless, and we get to hear her voice through Yola’s reading. Then we have Ugly, who although doesn’t turn up often, his few appearances are very memorable. And Román, the romantic hero (yes, I know, the name is self-explanatory), who at first appears more of an antihero, but there is more to him than his gorgeous looks, and, well, let’s say the romance side of the story is bound to satisfy most readers keen on the genre. I liked Yola, and although some of her actions seemed pretty unreasonable and inconsistent, she is fully aware of it. As we’re inside her head, it’s easy to empathise, especially because she’s put in pretty impossible situations at times, and it’s difficult to imagine what else she could do. I also liked most of the members of her family, and yes, Aunt Celia and Aunt Milagros truly shine through. The female characters are more memorable than the males (other than Román and Ugly), but they are also familiar, and it’s likely that most readers would identify people they know who share characteristics with them. As is the case in all families, you might have your favourites, but there’s so much history shared that you feel for them. Yes, I’ll miss the Palacios.

The writing is sharp, witty, and eminently quotable. It flows well and although I know many readers don’t like first-person narratives, I enjoyed this one, and also the fragments from Aunt Celia’s memoirs. There are words and expressions in Spanish (I’m not from Venezuela, but the Spanish terms are well-written, and the research has paid up), but they do not impede the understanding of the text, and rather add to the atmosphere and the realism of the piece. I have highlighted the text extensively, but I’ll try to share a few examples of the writing. As usual, I’d recommend prospective readers to check a sample first, to see if it suits their taste. (Some reviewers did not like the humorous tone when dealing with such serious matters, but I felt that was one of the strong points of the novel).

Her wit was as lethal as a syringe of cyanide.”

Only a real political genius like him, with his communist sympathies despite everything we’d been through in Caracas, would name his kid after Fidel Castro.”

Our immigrant story is as classic and unchanging as any Hans Christian Andersen fairytale —the tale of the illegal refugees who risked it all to live like cockroaches, hiding in the dank cracks of an unknown society where they hope no one will find them, antennae forever twitching, listening for the heavy boot of National Security, only to discover that the strange new place they call home has all the ugliness of the world they left behind, except worse, because here you’re stripped of rights, dignity, personhood.”

’Life is a big piece of sugarcane’. ‘Sugarcane?’ ‘Yes, a maldito sugarcane! You have to bite down hard and suck as much sweetness out of it as you can.’”

The ending is open to interpretation and to what we have learned and think about Yola. I liked it, as I liked the whole book, and whichever choice readers think she goes for, it is certain to be hopeful and positive (although this being Yola, not without a touch of irony and ambivalence). Considering what happens during the book, the ending is perhaps too neat, but this is a comedy so it goes with the territory, and I think most readers will enjoy it.

This is a great debut novel, which deals in serious topics using a comedic register that in my opinion works very well but might not suit everybody. The characters are wonderful, if somewhat cartoonish at times, and the family Palacios is likely to stay with readers for a long time. I recommend this novel to people interest in finding new authors, and who don’t mind the use of dark comedy to discuss important issues. I highly recommend this book and I am looking forward to the next novel by the author.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher and the author for this fabulous novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click (the book is published on the 14th of May 2020, so you might need to wait a couple of days to get it if you read this on the day it goes live), review, and always keep smiling!

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog #Newbook MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER by Oyinkan Braithwaite (@OyinBraithwaite) (@doubledaybooks) Domestic noir, dark humour, and a fantastic new voice

Hi all:

I was intrigued by this book from the moment I saw it…

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

“Feverishly hot”–PAULA HAWKINS

“The wittiest and most fun murder party you’ve ever been invited to.”–MARIE CLAIRE

A short, darkly funny, hand grenade of a novel about a Nigerian woman whose younger sister has a very inconvenient habit of killing her boyfriends

“Femi makes three, you know. Three and they label you a serial killer.”

Korede is bitter. How could she not be? Her sister, Ayoola, is many things: the favorite child, the beautiful one, possibly sociopathic. And now Ayoola’s third boyfriend in a row is dead.

Korede’s practicality is the sisters’ saving grace. She knows the best solutions for cleaning blood, the trunk of her car is big enough for a body, and she keeps Ayoola from posting pictures of her dinner to Instagram when she should be mourning her “missing” boyfriend. Not that she gets any credit.

Korede has long been in love with a kind, handsome doctor at the hospital where she works. She dreams of the day when he will realize that she’s exactly what he needs. But when he asks Korede for Ayoola’s phone number, she must reckon with what her sister has become and how far she’s willing to go to protect her.

Sharp as nails and full of deadpan wit, Oyinkan Braithwaite’s deliciously deadly debut is as fun as it is frightening.

https://www.amazon.com/My-Sister-Serial-Killer-Novel-ebook/dp/B079WNMQ4V/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/My-Sister-Serial-Killer-Feverishly-ebook/dp/B07D7KJV13/

Editorial reviews:

“This riveting, brutally hilarious, ultra-dark novel is an explosive debut by Oyinkan Braithwaite, and heralds an exciting new literary voice… Delicious.”

–Nylon

“You can’t help flying through the pages..”

–Buzzfeed

“Lethally elegant”

–Luke Jennings, author of Killing Eve: Codename Villanelle

“Strange, funny and oddly touching…Pretty much perfect…It wears its weirdness excellently.”

–LitHub

“Who is more dangerous? A femme fatale murderess or the quiet, plain woman who cleans up her messes? I never knew what was going to happen, but found myself pulling for both sisters, as I relished the creepiness and humor of this modern noir.”

–Helen Ellis, New York Times bestselling author of American Housewife

“Disturbing, sly and delicious, Braithwaite’s novel compels us to consider the limits of loyalty and the insidious weight of silence.”

–Ayobami Adebayo, author of Stay With Me

“Braithwaite’s blazing debut is as sharp as a knife…bitingly funny and brilliantly executed, with not a single word out of place.”

–Publishers Weekly, (starred review)

“A gem, in the most accurate sense: small, hard, sharp, and polished to perfection. Every pill-sized chapter is exemplary. Where others waste ink and trees, Braithwaite can conjure fully-detailed settings and characters with a finger snap. Of these, all shine. One dazzles. Tell Shirley Jackson that the Merricat Blackwood of the 21st century lives in Lagos, her name is Ayoola, and she is so obliviously/adorably/hilariously/heartbreakingly wicked, she’ll make you cry tears of all flavors.”

–Edgar Cantero, New York Times bestselling author of Meddling Kids

“Sly, risky, and filled with surprises, Oyinkan Braithwaite holds nothing back in this wry and refreshingly inventive novel about violence, sister rivalries and simply staying alive.”

–Idra Novey, author of Those Who Knew and Ways to Disappear

Author Oyinkan Braithwaite
Author Oyinkan Braithwaite

About the author:

Oyinkan Braithwaite is a graduate of Creative Writing and Law from Kingston University. Following her degree, she worked as an assistant editor at Kachifo and has been freelancing as a writer and editor since. She has had short stories published in anthologies and has also self-published work.

In 2014, she was shortlisted as a top ten spoken word artist in the Eko Poetry Slam.

In 2016, she was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Atlantic Books (Doubleday) for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

The title of this book hooked me. The fact that it was set in Lagos, Nigeria, made it more attractive. I could not resist the cover. And then I started reading and got hit by this first paragraph:

“Ayoola summons me with these words —Korede, I killed him. I had hoped I would never hear those words again.”

Told in the first person by Korede, the book narrates her story and that of her “complex” relationship with her younger sister, Ayoola, beautiful, graceful, a successful designer, beloved of social media, irresistible to men, the favourite of everybody… She’s almost perfect. But, there is a big but, which you will have guessed from the title. She is a serial killer.

This is a short and very funny book, although it requires a certain kind of sense of humour on the part of the reader. You need to be able to appreciate sarcasm and dark humour (very dark) to find it funny, but if you do, this is a fresh voice and a different take on what has become an extremely popular genre recently, domestic noir. I kept thinking about the many novels I had read where I had commented on the setting of the book and how well the author had captured it. There are no lengthy descriptions in this novel, but it manages to capture the beat and the rhythm of Lagos (a place where I’ve never been, I must admit) and makes us appreciate what life must be like for the protagonists. Because, although Ayoola is a murderer, life goes on, and Korede has to keep working as a nurse, she is still in love (or so she thinks) with one of the doctors at the hospital, their mother still suffers from her headaches, Ayoola wants to carry on posting on Snapchat, the patient in coma Korede confides in needs to be looked after, the police need to be seen to be doing something, and there are more men keen on spending time with beautiful Ayoola…

I found Korede understandable, although I doubt that we are meant to empathise with her full-heartedly. At some points, she seems to be a victim, trapped in a situation she has no control over. At others, we realise that we only have her own opinion of her sister’s behaviour, and she has enabled the murderous activities of her sibling, in a strange symbiotic relationship where neither one of them can imagine life without the other. We learn of their traumatic past, and we can’t help but wonder what would we do faced with such a situation? If your sister was a psychopath (not a real psychiatric diagnosis, but I’m sure she’d score quite high in the psychopathy scale if her sister’s description is accurate) who kept getting into trouble, always blaming it on others, would you believe her and support her? Would you help her hide her crimes? Is blood stronger than everything else?

I loved the setting, the wonderful little scenes (like when Tade, the attractive doctor, sings and the whole city stops to listen, or when the police take away Korede’s car to submit it to forensic testing and then make her pay to return it to her, all dirty and in disarray), the voice of the narrator and her approach to things (very matter-of-fact, fully acknowledging her weaknesses, her less-than-endearing personality, sometimes lacking in insight  but also caring and reflective at times), and the ending as well. I also enjoyed the writing style. Short chapters, peppered with Yoruba terms, vivid and engaging, it flows well and it makes it feel even briefer than it is.

If you enjoy books with a strong sense of morality and providing deep lessons, this novel is not for you. Good and bad are not black and white in this novel, and there is an undercurrent of flippancy about the subject that might appeal to fans of Dexter more than to those who love conventional thrillers or mysteries. But if you want to discover a fresh new voice, love black humour, and are looking for an unusual setting, give it a go. I challenge you to check a sample and see… By the way, the date of publication varies according to format and location, so it might not be available yet depending on where you live…

Thanks to NetGalley, Doubleday, and to the author for the opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading , and remember to like, share, comment. click, review and keep smiling! 

 

 

 

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