Read, If You Like: A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe

Full disclosure: I was sent this book by the lovely Nina Douglas, a PR aficionado  I met at YALC a couple of years ago. I used to be a bit uppity about accepting books and things for reviews, but then I decided that a) this blog is a hobby, b) reading is a hobby so, c) LET’S READ EVERYTHING. Also, I’m not exactly the sort of blogger to shy away from blatant honesty just because I got a product for free.

Second full disclosure: I first started reading this book in January. If I had realised that writing a book was going to make it much harder to sit down and read books, I may have started dragonnovel. I suppose I have a reason to hurry up and finish it, ha. Anyway, I really struggled to get into A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars. I could blame the first person narrative, which is not my favourite narrative, or the general writing style which I found hard to follow on occasion, but to be honest I think if I had taken book to a beach holiday and read it in a day, I would have enjoyed it much more. My bad. I need to finish dragonnovel and go on holiday immediately. Right, the review:

A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe (2017)

Read, if you like…

  • Circuses
  • First person narrative
  • Ghosts
  • Ghanaian folklore
  • Beautiful book covers. I mean, look at that embossed gold type. I want to frame it
  • Spain
  • Books that aren’t all about white people doing the same white people things you’ve read about in 80 other books
  • Stories about people trafficking, but not like on the news
  • So, humanised stories about people trafficking. Stories where people have names and ambitions and family members and that sort of thing
  • Magic
  • Really shady adults
  • The sort of family you choose for yourself
  • Birds
  • Precocious teenagers
  • POC and LGBT rep, but not in a way that swallows up the whole book. This is a book with people of colour and LGBT people, in the same way as it’s a book with magic and ghosts and circuses. It’s there, but it isn’t preachy and it isn’t tokenism. WE NEED MORE OF THESE BOOKS PLEASE AUTHORS. AGENTS, PLEASE SIGN MORE AUTHORS WHO ARE WRITING THESE BOOKS. THANKS.

No seriously I wasn’t kidding about the cover. I would usually go for some sort of background for #bookstagram goals but no adornment is necessary:

A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe cover on white background

I saw online that the novel isn’t available on the US, but I’m not sure if that’s still true (or if it ever was true) so if you want to read it, I reckon you should either hit up Google or ask Ms Badoe about stockists on Twitter.

Read, If You Like… Ostrich Boys, by Keith Gray

I could have sworn that I reviewed this way back in the day before I called it Read, If You Like, but I can’t find it so clearly it didn’t get past the idea stage. I’ve had this book lying around for ages, and although it took me a while to get to it, it was one of those that surprised me in the best way. It’s either on the children’s end of YA or on the young adult end of children’s (do we let children read the word ‘tits’? I just saw it when I was flicking through) but I think it’s one of those that, should you be emotionally mature enough for tits, you’ll enjoy it.  Anyway. I meant to blog on Saturday, but I looked up the publication date for Ostrich Boys just now and it was actually published on this exact day nine years ago. So that’s a point for my lack of organisation…

Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray (2008)

Read, if you like…

  • Groups of kids
  • Grieving kids
  • Kids who kidnap
  • Okay, one of the kids is a dead kid. Not in a ghost way, in a ‘present in our thoughts’ way
  • Day trips (as in one trip over multiple days not multiple trips)
  • Ostrich metaphors
  • The hamlet of Ross in Scotland
  • Honestly, the best thing is the kids read it for them

Ostrich Boys Keith Gray

I was going to give this away but now I think about it, I might keep it on and read it again. I think it’s one of those that you can take something from each time you pick it up. Also, it involves teenagers kidnapping an urn of human ash, so it’s worth reading just for the escapism (if you’ve ever actually kidnapped an urn of human ash, hit me up. How’d it go?). I’m rereading The Raven Cycle at the moment but I think I’ll make it on to something new next week. I’m a bit harassed with Village Green until Saturday – I have an internship to attend, hair to dye and several paper bags to stamp before then – so comfort reading is paramount. A stiff drink may be in order on Saturday night. I should probably go and stamp some paper bags. Any ideas for my to-read list?

Review: ‘Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe’, Benjamin Alire Sáenz

This is a spoiler-free review except for the bits you can guess from the title.

Oh look, something else I originally saw on Tumblr, probably courtesy of feistiest. You know how they say you should never judge a book by its cover, but we all do? With this, the cover – by  Chloë Foglia -made me want to get the book. Look at that typography and those colours and those illustrations this is going to be a beautiful novel.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe from Wikipedia.org
I couldn’t find a cover that wasn’t covered in award stickers. This is from Wikipedia. Look at that night sky.

It is a beautiful novel.

Like the best books, the action starts from the very first sentence, so I can’t tell you too much background information without spoiling the story, but the title pretty much implies the premise: a guy called Aristotle meets a guy called Dante and together they discover the secrets of the universe/survive their teenage years. Set in El Paso, Texas, across a couple of years in the 1980s, the novel is a lot like The Perks of Being a Wallflower in that it could have been set last week and will be devoured by teenage readers for decades to come (it was actually published in 2012).

I had never heard of Benjamin Alire Sáenz before I read this – and I am definitely pronouncing his name terribly wrong – but I think he is a writer I would like to read more of, because Aristotle and Dante, and Aristotle and Dante, are wonderfully written. Some topics are quite hard to cover without sounding like a textbook or news story – again, I can’t really tell you what they are without wrecking the plot – but it’s funny, occasionally irreverent and often slightly uncomfortable. The whole book is just like seeing inside someone’s head, which is so hard to achieve as a writer and so satisfying for the reader.

It also won a handful of awards, which is nice because it’s quite rare to find a critically acclaimed novel that’s also fun – I finished it in an evening. If you liked The Perks of Being a Wallflower, if you’re interested in what it was like to live in Texas in the 1980s (I wasn’t but now I am), if you’re interested in Mexican culture, if you like scruffy dogs (it is not a spoiler to tell you there is a scruffy dog), if you like boys with long names and books with pretty covers, go find a copy and curl up for an evening with Ari and Dante and watch them discover the secrets of the universe.

None of them are about the science of life on earth, by the way. I did originally wonder if it was a story about physicists.


My previous reviews are here; you can support my work on Patreon every time I review here.

Review: ‘The Raven Boys’, Maggie Stiefvater

Ye olde disclaimer: this review has no spoilers. Tumblr does though.

To be honest, if I’d come across this novel in the library or a shop, I probably would have ignored it because I judge books by their covers and this one screamed ‘boring YA romance between “quirky” teenage girl and dashing, brooding, teenage male’.

Good thing I found it on Tumblr, then, innit. I was intrigued by edits and posts reblogged by Feistiest, whose account I can’t remember deciding to follow. But I’m glad I did because she’s hilarious and The Raven Boys is absolutely brilliant. I was unsure what to expect just from Tumblr; I assumed it was hella queer and full of socially subversive characters or themes because Tumblr is a good testing ground for whether a novel is full of boring (read: straight, white, brooding) photocopy characters. So when I saw the tagline – ‘if you kiss your true love, he will die’ – I thought ‘Christ, this true love is of course a guy and probably a photocopy of all white straight young adult dude characters’. On the back, I saw that the novel has won a Glamour award for ‘Best Book to Curl Up With’. Had Tumblr been hoodwinked by a toilet paper YA masquerading as a hella queer/socially subversive character-rich YA? Or, holy shit, could the novel be both high  in quality and content and incredibly easy to read?

Yes, yes it could. I don’t read enough YA to know if it’s blowing the doors off the genre (thanks for that, Twilight) but it’s the sort of book I wish I’d known when I was 15 or 16. If I had, I might’ve been a bit more interested in boys and/or world history and/or brilliant storytelling. The plot centres around Blue, a girl whose family is psychic, and a group of guys broadly known as raven boys. They have nothing in common until it turns out that psychics, dead(ish) people, Welsh kings and Blue’s guarantee to kill her true love do in fact have things in common.

TRB

I’m only on the first novel of three at time of writing, and it’s too early to tell if the characters grow or if it gradually increases in queerness. At the moment my money’s on massive character development at the very least, and I hope I’m right… Tumblr edits aren’t always that accurate, you know? Maybe I misread the pretty pictures, and I can’t check until I’ve read the rest of the series. Which, by the time you read this, I may well have done.

Update, at time of publishing: I have finished the series with a fervour normally reserved for MCR. Tumblr was right and I am in love. Please do not look up the book online – there are spoilers everywhere – just reserve it from your library ASAP. Please. Oh and follow Maggie Stiefvater online because she is hilarious and eloquent with that really-good-author style that makes me want to take creative writing classes. She also took the piss out of me so in my head we are friends for life.

Oh, you can support my mission to become a writer of decent YA and various other genres on Patreon here.