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Nnedi Okorafor, Mia P. Manansala, Nora Roberts: The Pajiba August 2023 Book Recommendations Superpost!

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Miscellaneous | August 31, 2023 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Miscellaneous | August 31, 2023 |

Nora Roberts Getty Images 2.jpg

Join us for another month of book chat! You know the drill.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

In the far future, following a mysterious nuclear catastrophe that engulfed Africa and possibly the whole world, magic has returned. The Nuru people are obsessed with destroying the Okeke, slaying their villages and using rape as a war crime. Onyesonwu is the child of rape, an Ewu destined to be shunned by all as a cursed figure. But Onyesonwu, which means ‘Who Fears Death?’, has another destiny to fulfil. As her mystical powers grow, she knows that she must confront her biological father, but also save her people from ruin.

To put it bluntly, Who Fears Death is pretty harrowing. Rape, genocide, and female genital mutilation are major parts of the narrative, and Nnedi Okorafor is unflinching without being lurid in her descriptions. In a lesser author’s hands, this book would have been unbearable, but Okorafor is one of the best sci-fi and fantasy writers of the past two decades. A lot of this book is chilling in its realism, more like a contemporary novel than fantasy for much of its length. Her exploration of gender inequality, colourism, and the oft-insidious nature of so-called tradition is interwoven into a story that feels epic without ever abandoning its protagonist’s perspective. Much of it feels like a classic bildungsroman fantasy as Onyesonwu grows into not only her power but her authority, and it’s the latter where Okorafor delves deep into the prickly nature of her heroine acting in ways that are often anything but heroic. The attacks she inflicts on others, often outside of her own control, feel like violations on a level of the enemy she’s trying to snuff out. War makes monsters of us all. It’s an abrasive truth that Okorafor carries through Who Fears Death, although a somewhat anticlimactic ending does take a bit of the sting out of the tail. Still, it’s yet another excellent example of why Okorafor is as celebrated as she is, and of the immense potential of the fantasy genre outside of the confines of European whiteness.

Homicide and Halo-Halo by Mia P. Manansala

Who doesn’t love a cozy crime novel? There’s such joy to be found in stories of keen amateur detectives in adorable small towns populated entirely with unique shops, quirky supporting characters, and horrifically violent mass murders? It’s comfort food! I’m always on the look out for books in this genre, although it’s easy for the quirk to veer into overbearing if done badly. Mia P. Manansala’s series is cozy crime done properly, and with enough of a dark edge to set it apart from a crowded field.

In the first novel in the series, Arsenic and Adobo, Lila Macapagal watched someone die in her family’s restaurant then almost died herself trying to uncover the murderer. That’s left her with some trauma she’s refusing to deal with head-on, and things are only going to get worse. After being asked to judge the Miss Teen Shady Palms Beauty Pageant, which she won many years ago, she finds herself embroiled in a blackmail plot, a small town’s dark past, and, yes, more murder.

What sets Manansala’s work apart from other cozy mysteries, aside from pure food porn and a strong sense of tension, is her willingness to deal with the genuine pain of being surrounded by death. Many cozy detectives seem utterly immune to watching people die in front of them every week. Not Lila, who is, understandably so, extremely messed up as a result of being stuck in the middle of a murder case. That friction carries over into this novel, but it’s not a weighty read. It’s still charming and funny and full of incredible food. The intensity and realism of the novel might put off some who prefer their cozies as fluffy as possible, but this continues to be one of my favourite ongoing crime series, so I have to give it a major shout-out. Bring on books three and four.

Vision in White by Nora Roberts

I’ve been keen to fill in a few notable gaps in my literary knowledge, particularly when it comes to romance. I finally read Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase this year, which is one of the true icons of historical romance (and for good reason, dang it), and now, I’ve ticked off one of the more beloved contemporary titles. Nora Roberts is the queen for a reason.

The first part of the Brides quartet, Vision in White follows four best friends who run a wedding business. Mackensie ‘Mac’ Elliot is the photographer, impeccably skilled at bringing the happy couple’s big day to life through her camera. Her own romantic history is less satisfying, in part thanks to an emotionally abusive mother who constantly entrenches on her life. Carter Maguire, the brother of one of their current clients, is not her type. He’s sweet, geeky, kind of awkward, and had a crush on Mac in high school that’s never gone away. Perhaps he can change her mind and let her get her own happy ending.

Vision in White is pure comfort food, with minimal conflict and lots of focus given to the friendship of the four women who headline the series. Nora Roberts is maybe best known for romantic suspense novels but there’s a reason this book is recommended constantly by contemporary fans. I think a lot of that also has to do with the hero. Carter is just the best. My tolerance for alpha heroes is middling, so I was thrilled to get a beta hero who wears glasses, loves to read, and hasn’t got a drop of ego to his name. I could read romances with heroes like him all day. Nora gets it.