Book Review: A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Williams

I am still slogging my way through The Queens of Innis Lear.  I’d DNF it but right now it feels like a battle I need to win.  Hoping to get it done this weekend.  So in the meantime, I haven’t been very motivated to read much else.

I did quickly squeeze in A Taste of Honey for a buddy read though.  This was part of Tor.com’s free novella offerings for Pride Month. Did you know they give away a free book every month?  You can visit that page here, and download a copy of The Murders of Molly Southborne by Tade Thompson for free until June 29th.

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

Rating:  ★★★

Blurb (from GoodReads): Aqib bgm Sadiqi, fourth-cousin to the royal family and son of the Master of Beasts, has more mortal and pressing concerns. His heart has been captured for the first time by a handsome Daluçan soldier named Lucrio. In defiance of Saintly Canon, gossiping servants, and the furious disapproval of his father and brother, Aqib finds himself swept up in a whirlwind romance. But neither Aqib nor Lucrio know whether their love can survive all the hardships the world has to throw at them.

This is told in three parts.  Part one I enjoyed a lot.  It’s lets the reader see how Aqib and Lucrio first meet and was a great set up for the romance.  It was pretty hard not to ship these two right from the start.  Part two I struggled with.  It’s told in alternating timelines that jump all over the place.  There’s a reason for it, but it doesn’t make it any easier to digest.  Part three is about the same length as part one and gives us the conclusion.

A lot of the time during part two I was frustrated.  I read a quote from another reviewer once (that I can’t find now, so this quote isn’t exact so I can’t credit correctly) that said something along the lines of: “There are two great sins an author can commit when writing a book: failing to meet expectations, or failing to set them.  Of those two, failing to set them is far worse.”  (Seriously, not exact- Google gives me nothing.)  I had been struggling with this in some stories for years, and never had words for it until I read that.

I feel like A Taste of Honey very much fails to set any expectations for the reader.  Throughout the entirety of part two I was just wondering why I was being told this story. I didn’t feel glued to the page or compelled to keep reading.  I can’t explain why without spoilers- but I will say that the plot of this story is not: Aqib and Lucrio must overcome  the prejudices against gay men in their society and amongst Aqib’s family in order to be together and get a HEA.  Is that a pretty straightforward and rather generic romance plot?  Yeah. It is.  But it comes with the suspense built in.  And readers would have read this story based on that alone, because these characters were fantastic, the world building was unique, and their relationship was beautiful.

Instead we’re given something else entirely that feels more like the saga of a man who’s life has big dramatic events, but in which he has no agency to change things.  Therefore there is no suspense.

The world building is super unique and I loved the parts with the animals.  Although magic isn’t really my thing, there do seem to be some vague rules about the system and that too, felt unique.  If you’re the kind of reader who enjoys piecing together the information about the world for themselves, this may be a great choice for you.

I’m not going to spoil anything, so I’m not going to set any expectations for you either, but if you can slog it through the middle to get to the end it does make up for some of the slow going middle parts.  A few of the other buddies that read this enjoyed it much more than I did so if you like, we can all just blame that other book I’m reading for putting me in a bad mood.

A Taste of Honey can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.

Have you read this book?  What did you think of it?

 

Book Review: Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Rating:  ★★★★

Friday Black is a debut collection of short fiction from Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah.  Some of the stories are what I’d classify as literary fiction, but many of them are also speculative.  His writing is flawless, and the stories pull no punches.  It’s dark, bold, and incredibly relevant.  Adjei-Brenyah’s stories largely explore race and systemic racism, consumerism, and the violence entrenched in our culture.

Having worked a few Black Friday’s myself, when I saw the book I knew I had to read it.  This is satire at its finest, but it’s sad because all of the stories hold so much truth.  This book is quick, and could probably be read in a day, but I found myself putting it down between stories to think on them.

“Emmanuel started learning the basics of his Blackness before he knew how to do long division: smiling when angry, whispering when he wanted to yell.”

“The Finkelstein 5” is the title of the first story.  It’s explosive, and was an excellent opener.  It hooks you in from the start.  The MC, Emmanuel, talks about how one of the first things his father taught him was to dial down his blackness by adjusting his clothes, his mannerisms, his language.  Meanwhile, a white man is on trial for the brutal murder of five black children, and the world waits to see whether he is found guilty or innocent.  What’s so terrifying about this story, is how many times we’ve already seen it in the news.  I won’t spoil it any further, but it’s a story I think everyone should read. 5/5 stars

“Things My Mother Said” is super short but absolutely beautiful.  He manages to get his point across in a page and a half.  Read it, then call your mother and tell her you love her. Another 5 star read.

“Back then, everyone was a liar.”

“The Era” was interesting.  In a dystopian world, people no longer have feelings.  Those with feelings have to take drugs to stop having feelings in order not to “cloud their truth” with emotion.  You can call your teacher a fat slob and he’ll shrug it off.  Telling the truth is highly encouraged.  Overall, I enjoyed it. 4/5 stars

“Lark Steet” was my least favorite story in the book.  It’s about abortion.  I’m not sure what the author was arguing for/against here.  I felt icky after I read it and I had to put the book down for a day or two after that.  2/5 stars

“Nothing is more boring than a happy ending.”

“The Hospital Where” was a good one.  It employed magical realism instead of straight up fantasy.  It was weird and wonderful all at once.  At times it felt like being stuck in a surrealist painting.  I interpreted it as an allegory for the impact of writing and the writing process, but it also felt like a love letter to writing. 4/5 stars

“Zimmer Land” is about a theme park where people can act out their most violent fantasies and pretend they are heroes.  I was reminded a lot of Rebecca Roanhorse’s “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience.”  I thought Adjei-Brenyah’s story started stronger but I think Roanhorse’s finished stronger (to be fair, that would have been a difficult ending to beat).  4/5 stars

I’ve seen somebody step on someone else to get the jeans on a Black Friday…How did you decide to step on a human being to get a pair of jeans?”*

“Friday Black” the story for which the book is named, made me laugh.  Not because it’s funny- really it’s not.  It made me laugh because I find the whole Black Friday business pretty disgusting, and I’d rather laugh than cry.  I’ve been on the front lines of that battle.  At 1:00 AM.  Because some retail genius somewhere thought Christmas shopping at 1:00 AM seemed totally reasonable. 5/5 stars

“The Lion & the Spider” incorporates a tale of Anansi the spider alongside the tale of a boy who’s father has gone missing.  It took me right up until the end to see what either had to do with the other, but I absolutely loved the ending, so I won’t spoil it.  This was one of the more hopeful stories in the book. 5/5 stars

“He brings the comb to his head.  Yes.  Each strand of hair will shine, slick and erect.  The mane of a battle-ready soldier.  Oh, he will look good for the annihilation.”

“Light Spitter” is a story about a school shooting that also employs magical realism.  I’m a little undecided on where I stand with this one.  I was less moved by this story than others, but I enjoyed the themes and metaphors here more than some of the other stories.  3/5 stars

“How to Sell a Jacket as Told by Ice King” is another retail themed story. I believe it is a continuation of Friday Black.  I did enjoy it- but I think it’s more because I liked the Ice King’s character than anything else.  Themes in this story pertain to consumerism, but it fell a little short of the first piece. 4/5 stars

“In retail, if you don’t wanna be a Lucy, you gotta find ways to make the bleak a little better.”

“In Retail” is another retail story, following the same character.  I adored this one too.  It talks about how sometimes, there can be good days in retail.  In retail, most customers won’t appreciate you, but sometimes you get one who is truly grateful.  It was probably the most relatable story of the bunch for me.  It also included a funny tidbit about a Spanish teacher that made me laugh out loud.  4/5 stars

“Through the Flash” returns to the science fiction side of things.  People live the same day over and over again.  They can do different things each day, but no matter what happens, when they wake up, it’s the same day.  I fell in love with Ama’s character, and I thought it was a good way to close out the book. 4/5 stars

Overall, it’s a dark collection that’s been balanced with dark humor.  I very much enjoyed it and I’ll definitely be checking out Adjei-Brenyah’s future work.  I’d love to see what he could do with a full length novel.  Friday Black can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.

*Quote from the author, borrowed from a NY Times article about the book written by Alexandra Alter (link here).  Check it out- it was awesome!

Content warnings:  I’m just going to go with a blanket statement here and say that if you need them, this probably isn’t the book for you.