Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

What to Expect:

As teenagers in Lagos, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are fleeing the country if they can. The self-assured Ifemelu departs for America. There she suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.
Thirteen years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a blogger. But after so long apart and so many changes, will they find the courage to meet again, face to face?
Fearless, gripping, spanning three continents and numerous lives, ‘Americanah’ is a richly told story of love and expectation set in today’s globalized world.

I’m doing a mini-review for this one as it’s not at all frothy, but it’s a must-read and there’s no way I can do it justice. The title refers to the nickname given to Nigerians who return home from time in America, full of the culture and accent and feeling a little superior to their compatriots. Ifemelu is decidedly different, she made a conscious decision not to adopt an American accent and began a blog in America with an outsider’s social commentary, majoring in Race, with a side degree in Hair.

It’s a big saga, although we meet Ifemelu as she’s deciding to return to Nigeria we have flashbacks to her childhood, her student years, her decision to go to the US, her life and relationships there, and her turning point. We also have her childhood sweetheart Obinze, his time as an illegal in the UK, and his success back home. Finally we find out what happens when they are both back home, struggling to find their place now that they are equipped with new perspectives.

It’s an amazing tale by such a talented writer. The observations by Ifemelu are incredibly astute. Her experiences in the US as a ‘Non American Black’ are wildly different to that of American Blacks, and her blog entries on the subject are fascinating. Ifemelu’s need to return home is the catalyst for the rest of the tale. Give it a shot. I’d never given much thought to most of the topics involved and even I couldn’t put it down- that’s the power of great writing.

Frothy Ranking: 5/5 cocktails.

Can be obtained from:
UK: Amazon for £2.99.

US: Kobobooks for $14.29 and Amazon for $8.99.

The Flavours of Love- Dorothy Koomson

What to Expect:

‘I’m looking for that perfect blend of flavours; the taste that used to be you. If I find it, I know you’ll come back to me.’

It’s been 18 months since my husband was murdered and I’ve decided to finish writing The Flavours of Love, the cookbook he started before he died. Everyone thinks I’m coping so well without him – they have no idea what I’ve been hiding or what I do away from prying eyes. But now that my 14-year-old daughter has confessed something so devastating it could destroy our family all over again, and my husband’s killer has started to write to me claiming to be innocent, I know it’s only a matter of time before the truth about me and what I’ve done is revealed to the world.

My name is Saffron Mackleroy and this is my story.

I decided to turn this into a mini-review as it’s not remotely frothy. I’ve been reading Dorothy’s books for as long as she’s been published; the first few were intelligent, thoughtful, fun and frothy. With The Ice Cream Girls they took a turn for the psychological thriller. These more recent books are still fabulously readable, possibly better; she’s definite found her genre.

Don’t be fooled by the title or talk of the cook book, that’s not really what this is all about. It’s a tense tale of how Saffron has been holding it together since her lovely husband’s murder, keeping her family going, keeping secrets. Her daughter has big news, news that means Saffron cannot go to the police about the letters from her husband’s killer. The secrets are slowly revealed, including horrifying ones from her daughter.

Saffron’s a great heroine who finds the strength to do things her way, risking her own health and safety to protect her family. The tension builds nicely to a very cleverly plotted finale.

I read this while on holiday and every day I couldn’t wait to get back into it every day to find out the whole story.

Frothy Ranking: 4/5 cocktails.

Can be obtained from:

UK: Amazon for £4.12, although recently it was £1.79, so click price for the latest.

US: Kobobooks for $10.19, not on Amazon.

The Castaways – Elin Hilderbrand

What to expect:

They hadn’t known, then, what was coming. They didn’t know about September 11th, they didn’t know about miscarriages and love affairs, they didn’t know about a girl named April Peck. They didn’t know they were going to die. Back then, they had been happy.’ From the outside, the close-knit circle of friends calling themselves ‘the Castaways’ share an idyllic lifestyle on the charming island of Nantucket, blessed with money, children, beauty and love. But when Tess and Greg are killed in a tragic boating accident, orphaning their seven-year-old twins, it sends devastating shockwaves through the rest of the group. As the friends grieve, the truth behind their relationships gradually begins to emerge in a chain of staggering revelations. And for the first time they are forced to ask the hardest of questions. Can you live without the person who made you whole? And how do you mourn for a secret lover and a relationship nobody knew existed? An utterly absorbing novel exploring the tangle of secrets and lies that can lurk beneath even the closest of relationships …

Full disclosure: This is NOT a frothy read- but if you fancy something different, it’s gripping, and it’s a bargain (at current prices anyway). So, on with a mini-review.

The format works well, beginning with the accident, then offering chapters from the perspective of the other 6 castaways, in rotation. In this manner the story is gradually spilled with evenly paced revelations along the way. Events leading up to the accidents intermingle with the aftermath; cause and effect changing all the characters. The leads vary in age through their thirties and forties and greatly differ in personalities too, from the staid police chief to the young, kindly Tess. As we go along secrets are revealed- love triangles, temptation, loss, drug use, mental health, how can they get past all this and still be the group they used to be?

The threads intertwine beautifully and reveal more about the accident and more about who they all really are. It’s not hard to care about the characters, regardless of what they’ve done. It’s so well crafted and readable you’ll devour it in no time- although it’s longer than your average frothy read so something to get your teeth into. Lastly, the book also serves as an ode to Nantucket, which sounds like a lovely picturesque island.

Frothy Ranking: 4/5 cocktails.

Can be obtained from:

UK: Amazon for 99p.

US: Amazon for $6.15, or $7.99 on kobobooks.

Christmas Carol – Michele Gorman

What to expect:
One winter wedding, two happy couples, three ex-boyfriends. And a very uncomfortable weekend.

Carol hates Christmas. Being recently dumped, she’s not crazy about weddings either. So her sister Marley’s nuptials, over the Christmas weekend, are making her positively Scrooge-like. When she arrives for the weekend at the stately home in rural Scotland to find her three ex-boyfriends in attendance, Carol has no choice but to face her ghosts to discover what really happened in those relationships, learning a lot about herself in the process. As the snow falls outside and the fire crackles in the hearth, might one of the wedding guests become the harbinger of Christmases to come?

Just a mini-review for this one, as it’s a small novella. It feels a little early to be featuring christmas books, but this has far more of a wedding theme than Christmas. Written by the talented author of Bella Summer Takes a Chance, it tells the short tale of Carol attending her sister’s big fat Christmassy wedding in a Scottish blizzard, while facing her 3 ghosts of boyfriends past. A surprising amount of backstory and lead character development are squeezed into this brief read, with some interesting smaller characters and a delightful granny. Carol is somewhat scrooge-like in her work obsessiveness and her neglect of her family, but remote Scotland in bad weather has its own way of dealing with Blackberry addiction. It’s a shame the book was so short- it felt like it had the legs to be developed into a full size frothy read. Worth a peek to get you in the mood for a romantic festive season.

UK: Amazon for £1.99.

US: Amazon for $2.99.

Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

This is another must-read book of the summer according to many, and with good reason. It’s not remotely frothy so I’m not giving it the full treatment, just an honourable mention! It’s the intriguing tale of a woman who goes missing on the morning of her fifth anniversary, and her husband who becomes prime suspect. We hear from Nick immediately after the disappearance, and Amy, via her diaries in the years leading up to it. The characters are hugely well defined with masses of background, personality and distinctive voices. One of the things that struck me was that this could be a masterclass in writing from the first person point of view, complete with an unreliable narrator at times- who’s telling the truth?

It’s a tense ride, masterfully plotted with many revelations along the way and if you like your endings neatly tied up with a bow then you may be slightly disappointed- but I thought the ending was perfectly apt.

UK: Amazon for £2.99

US: Amazon for $12.99 or kobobooks for $8.68.

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson

And now for something completely different! I’m giving this a mini-review, for while this book can’t really be described as frothy, it’s light in tone and only cost 20p, so how could I resist. Allan Karlsson decides he’d rather not celebrate his centennial in a nursing home, run by Director Alice, so he makes a (slow) run for it. One thing leads to another, and he’s on the run from the police with a suitcase full of money and various accomplices eventually including an elephant named Sonya. The story is interspersed with tales from his incredible life up to that point, and once you read them you’ll understand why the nursing home is a little tame for Allan. It’s a big book; the author clearly never met a character, however minor, without an imaginative back-story that needed writing, and thankfully all are shared here. There are shades of Forest Gump in the way that Allan naively becomes involved with world leaders at key moments in history, but the gentle, dry, philosophical humour reminded me of Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.

The present day events are mostly set in Sweden, you might recognise some of the place names if you’ve read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but the stories are very different. Allan is a gentle soul with a talent for making explosives, which was the catalyst for his life of travel and adventure, as well as many periods of incarceration. It’s amazing that he remains such a sympathetic and likable character given the chaos he perpetuates. The author has an incredible imagination, making the far-fetched stories seem possible. Worth getting for readers of all ages, it’s a bargain for such a big read (even at the US price) and is hugely entertaining.

Can be obtained from:

UK: Only 20p from Amazon.

US: $8.63 from Amazon.