Book Review : White is for Witching

White is for Witching by  Helen Oyeyemi

4 star read

Why I read:  Book Club pick for October.

Book blurb: “In a vast, mysterious house on the cliffs near Dover, the Silver family is reeling from the hole punched into its heart. Lily is gone and her twins, Miranda and Eliot, and her husband, the gentle Luc, mourn her absence with unspoken intensity. All is not well with the house, either, which creaks and grumbles and malignly confuses visitors in its mazy rooms, forcing winter apples in the garden when the branches should be bare. Generations of women inhabit its walls. And Miranda, with her new appetite for chalk and her keen sense for spirits, is more attuned to them than she is to her brother and father. She is leaving them slowly –

Slipping away from them –

And when one dark night she vanishes entirely, the survivors are left to tell her story.

“Miri I conjure you “

This is a spine-tingling tale that has Gothic roots but an utterly modern sensibility. Told by a quartet of crystalline voices, it is electrifying in its expression of myth and memory, loss and magic, fear and love.

 white

 

My review

Oyeyemi’s writing is magical.  She beautifully crafts words together to create a dark gothic atmosphere.  Words weave together,  suggesting things, lyrically grasping at your imagination.  The plot itself is bewildering and confusing. The narrative switches to different peoples viewpoints continuously and sometimes without any headers to indicate who we are now following.  The plot seems to meander along, back and forth through time till you no longer know where you are.  But somehow that works with the strange almost poetry of the words.  Its a book to read and absorb the atmosphere from.

It’s a book about mental health, how reality and illusion blend together when the mind is fragmented.  She captures the fragility of the mind wonderfully.  The main character “Miri” has a form of Pica, an eating disorder, where she consumes chalk.  She is a weird character, and I never felt like I got to know her.  But that fit into the atmosphere of the book as it seemed like Miri did not know herself or what was going on.

I was disappointed that there weren’t any actual witches in the book given the title.   The ending is left open so its not one for people who like all the loose ends tied neatly together in a book.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes:  weird tales, atmospheric books, ghosts,

“I collected pictures and I drew pictures and I looked at the pictures by myself. And because no one else ever saw them, the pictures were perfect and true. They were alive.” 
― Helen OyeyemiWhite is for Witching

****

244 pages
Published June 1st 2009 by Picador USA
ISBN  03304581404
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Book Review : Salt Fish Girl – Magical realism

Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai

Why I read:  Intriguing and futuristic tale with feminist themes, Jan 17 Book club read.

Book blurb: “”Salt Fish Girl” is the mesmerizing tale of an ageless female character who shifts shape and form through time and place. Told in the beguiling voice of a narrator who is fish, snake, girl, and woman – all of whom must struggle against adversity for survival – the novel is set alternately in nineteenth-century China and in a futuristic Pacific Northwest.

At turns whimsical and wry, “Salt Fish Girl” intertwines the story of Nu Wa, the shape-shifter, and that of Miranda, a troubled young girl living in the walled city of Serendipity circa 2044. Miranda is haunted by traces of her mother’s glamourous cabaret career, the strange smell of durian fruit that lingers about her, and odd tokens reminiscient of Nu Wa. Could Miranda be infected by the Dreaming Disease that makes the past leak into the present?

Framed by a playful sense of magical realism, “Salt Fish Girl” reveals a futuristic Pacific Northwest where corporations govern cities, factory workers are cybernetically engineered, middle-class labour is a video game, and those who haven’t sold out to commerce and other ills must fight the evil powers intent on controlling everything. Rich with ancient Chinese mythology and cultural lore, this remarkable novel is about gender, love, honour, intrigue, and fighting against oppression.”

 531944

My review

“How easily we abandon those who have suffered the same persecutions as we have. How quickly we grow impatient with their inability to transcend the conditions of our lives. ” ― Larissa LaiSalt Fish Girl

The story alternates between two settings: 19th century China and a future Pacific Northwest, it spirals around, back and forth between the two tales.   A deity, Nu-Wa creates human beings.   She chooses to become one of them and falls in love with a girl who sells salt fish at the market. Miranda is a young girl living in the 2040s, who has a strange affliction that her skin smells of durian fruit.  The story is a portrayal of both their lives, seeped in fantasy and magic realism.

Packed full of powerful imagery that has you smelling and tasting as well as visualising the world within the pages.    Lai’s writing is beautiful as the words flow from the page.  Weirdly beautiful.  The plot itself was muddled and often lacked logical sense as it jumped around.  Several times I had to re-read sections to connect the dots.  But this fit into the aura of mystery that the book has. It was highly readable and captivated me to the end although loose ends remain.   You are given glimpses of world-building, of a very imaginative future woven in the tale.    The ideas are wonderful and compelling, often surreal but not always making sense or flitting well together.  The creationist theme which ran throughout the novel from the first mythology to the genetic engineering was wonderfully interlaced through the different sections.    Science ethics, disability, corporate power, feminism and many elements of interesting sci-fi are  introduced  however many ideas lacked substance as they are not fully explored.

Overall I’d recommend reading the book for the beautiful writing that engages your senses and emotions and the imagination within.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes: science fiction, fantasy, science ethics, feminism, magic realism,

***

“This story is about stink, after all, a story about rot, about how life grows out of the most fetid-smelling places.” ― Larissa LaiSalt Fish Girl

Paperback: 269 pages

Publisher: Thomas Allen Publishers (30 Aug. 2012)

ISBN-10: 0887623824

Book Review: Scary Mary

Scary Mary

Why I read:  Book club book for November.  Ghosts.

Book blurb: “Mary just wants to be left alone, but the cheerleaders, jocks, guidance counselors, and ghosts won’t stop harassing her. When a new boy starts school, he surprises Mary by befriending her. That’s a rare thing for the school freak, but her unusual abilities put a rift in their budding friendship when Mary has to tell Cy that his home is haunted and not by Casper, the friendly ghost. Mary has to get rid of the ghost, thwart the school bully, do her homework, and not get detention. Mary’s sure she can do all of that except for the last part. 

 

My review

The kindle edition of this book is currently available for free on Amazon (Dec 17).  So if you love young adult stories with ghostly spookiness give this one a go.

I’m not a big reader of young adult novels so I found everything a bit too simplistic, the plot was predictable and was focused more on Mary’s thoughts than much happening.    Although I did enjoy the end sections where things kick of and get more ghostly.

Scary Mary is an independent teenage girl who thinks for herself and looks after herself. She’s a bit different from everyone else in that she can hear ghosts.   I really enjoyed this aspect of the story.  Even when I didn’t agree with or understand her actions or thoughts it was interesting to see how she interacted with other people and the supernatural.

“It was funny how saving a boy from danger didn’t guarantee him liking the girl.  It always worked for the guy in fairy tales.  The damsel always married the hero and they lived happily ever after.  Why weren’t there any stories about the damsel saving the hero?” Scary Mary

I only gave the book 2 stars as it was too simplistic and high school cliche for my tastes. But overall its a very quick fun read with a bit of spookiness thrown in.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes: ghosts,  young-adult, school drama

**

 Kindle Edition, 144 pages

Published August 18th 2010 (first published August 16th 2006)

What Makes you Happy Tag

Today I’m taking part in a book tag! This is the 5 things that make you happy tag. Thanks Helen, from Helen’s Bookshelf  for tagging me in it.

I’ve illustrated this with pictures from my life of all these things so you get an extra peak.   It was hard to just pick 5!

5 Things that Make Me Happy  (excluding reading)

1)  Gaming

I’ve always loved computer games.  Being able to switch off for a while and just game.  Then I got into MMOs and loved the social side of playing with friends.  I usually play  MMOs, role-play, city-builders and adventure games but I dabble with all kinds.

 

2) Individualism – Crafting and art

I have a real passion for arty things that express my individualism.  I do a range of fibre art crafts including knitting, crochet, spinning and weaving.   I love to cook and bake.  I  dabble with drawing, writing and creative colouring.  This also extends onto my own body as I love doing weird colour mixes on my hair and adding more body art/tattoos.

3) My Dog

Cuddles, playtime and adventurous walks.  Plus shes an adorable little terror.

4) Live music gigs

Music is food for the soul.   It clears my head and lifts my spirits. I tend more towards the alternative music scene.  Metal, goth, industrial, punk and rock bands.  I love going to gigs,  having a dance/jump around and enjoying some live music.

5) Geocaching

I tried out geocaching with a friend a few months ago and was immediately hooked.  I love random adventures, challenging myself and exploring new areas and there’s plenty of that when out hunting for treasure.

My instagram features many of my geocaching adventures.  Official website.

Book Review – Lagoon – Nigerian alien tale

Lagoon – Nnedi Okorafor

Why I read:  Book club pick for June

Book Quote “A star falls from the sky.  A woman rises from the sea.  The world will never be the same.”

Book blurb: “When a massive object crashes into the ocean off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous and legendary city, three people wandering along Bar Beach (Adaora, the marine biologist- Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa- Agu, the troubled soldier) find themselves running a race against time to save the country they love and the world itself… from itself.

Told from multiple points of view and crisscrossing narratives, combining everything from superhero comics to Nigerian mythology to tie together a story about a city consuming itself.

‘There was no time to flee. No time to turn. No time to shriek. And there was no pain. It was like being thrown into the stars.’

My review

This was an unusual book which played with the normal first encounter tropes.  Shapeshifting water-loving aliens land in the waters of Lagos. The main alien  is able to switch into varying shapes and gets named Ayodele.   The book is filled with vivid and evocative imagery such as tentacled sea monsters.  ” ..a three-tentacled sea beast leaped over them, spiralling wildly through the air.  It splayed all its think purple fifty-foot tentacles wide for full effect, splashing loudly into the water.

The story is told from a wide range of different viewpoints.  With more of a folk tale/history vibe than that of a story.  Unfortunately all these viewpoints come across as a mishmash of confusing views some of which seem to have no relevance to the plot and there was a lot crammed into the book that did not help the story along.  Some parts were written in dialect and I did not discover the glossary at the end until I reached it (this would have made sections more coherent).  That said I particularly enjoyed the perspectives of the creatures that gave short almost morality tales woven through the book.

I wanted to like this more than I did.  Aliens are coming out of the ocean in contemporary Lagos, feminist women, the blend of folk law, sci-fi, eco-science, and speculative fiction are all right up my street.  But unfortunately the entire story did not gel together for me.  I’d have loved to have more featuring the main alien as she was a fascinating character.

I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys the combination of African fiction and sci-fi.

***

 

 

Book Review – Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge – Magic and Mixology

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Kreuger

Why I read – Book club pick for May.

Book blurb: “A sharp and funny urban fantasy for “new adults” about a secret society of bartenders who fight monsters with alcohol fueled magic.

College grad Bailey Chen has a few demons: no job, no parental support, and a rocky relationship with Zane, the only friend who’s around when she moves back home. But when Zane introduces Bailey to his cadre of monster-fighting bartenders, her demons get a lot more literal. Like, soul-sucking hell-beast literal. Soon, it’s up to Bailey and the ragtag band of magical mixologists to take on whatever—or whoever—is behind the mysterious rash of gruesome deaths in Chicago, and complete the lost recipes of an ancient tome of cocktail lore. “

 

 

My review

Cocktails giving secret powers to kill demons was really fun and I enjoyed this part.   The teen romance was too much for me so I skimmed over a lot of it and I didn’t feel the plot really went anywhere. I loved the diversity of the characters – a good blend of people all with distinct personalities.  However it seemed like the cocktails were the star of the book rather than the characters.   I was left feeling though that the idea of the book was better than the actual book itself so I think I had some disappointment as I was really looking forward to reading it and wanted much more.

The highlight of the book for me was the Devil’s Water Dictionary which had extracts interspersed throughout the book.   This fictional mixologist’s guide to alcohol and magic included recipes, secret histories, and effects of all the various cocktails. These were interesting and engaging with a good dose of humour thrown in. I can’t wait until our next cocktail evening so we can have fun trying the recipes in the book.

I’d recommend it to anyone who wants some lighthearted fun young adult reading with a cocktail twist.

***

Paperback, 288 pages
Published June 7th 2016 by Quirk Books
Book bloggers never stop reading.  I even managed a few chapters of this one whilst having my foot tattooed:

 

Book Review – Borne by Jeff VanderMeer – Weirdly delightful fiction

Borne  by Jeff VanderMeer

Why I read: Weird fiction and I enjoyed  the Southern Reach trilogy by this author.

Select Sentence “.”

Book blurb: “”Am I a person?” Borne asked me.

“Yes, you are a person,” I told him. “But like a person, you can be a weapon, too.”

In Borne, a young woman named Rachel survives as a scavenger in a ruined city half destroyed by drought and conflict. The city is dangerous, littered with discarded experiments from the Company—a biotech firm now derelict—and punished by the unpredictable predations of a giant bear. Rachel ekes out an existence in the shelter of a run-down sanctuary she shares with her partner, Wick, who deals his own homegrown psychoactive biotech.

One day, Rachel finds Borne during a scavenging mission and takes him home. Borne as salvage is little more than a green lump—plant or animal?—but exudes a strange charisma. Borne reminds Rachel of the marine life from the island nation of her birth, now lost to rising seas. There is an attachment she resents: in this world any weakness can kill you. Yet, against her instincts—and definitely against Wick’s wishes—Rachel keeps Borne. She cannot help herself. Borne, learning to speak, learning about the world, is fun to be with, and in a world so broken that innocence is a precious thing. For Borne makes Rachel see beauty in the desolation around her. She begins to feel a protectiveness she can ill afford.

“He was born, but I had borne him.”

But as Borne grows, he begins to threaten the balance of power in the city and to put the security of her sanctuary with Wick at risk. For the Company, it seems, may not be truly dead, and new enemies are creeping in. What Borne will lay bare to Rachel as he changes is how precarious her existence has been, and how dependent on subterfuge and secrets. In the aftermath, nothing may ever be the same. “

My review

Borne is set in a wonderfully weird and creepy dystopian future.   Rachel lives in an abandoned apartment with her lover Wick.  Here she survives in a surreal city filled with strange biotech, alien creatures, giant flying bears and scavengers.  During a scavenging mission Rachel finds Borne,  a strange green lump, and takes him home.  Rachel teaches Borne what she can and this relationship is the heart of the book.   The world building is dark and amazing.  I loved the relationship between Rachel and Borne, the exploration of motherhood and teacher that is described.  Rachel is a well written character, strong, capable and complex.  Borne is totally fascinating, weirdly complex yet still a believable alien.

This book is disorientating, Vandermeer does not explain but rather paints a picture for you to imagine.  And that picture is a vivid complex otherworldness, dark and frightening, filled with destruction but also love.   If you like plots to be all nicely tied up give this one a miss.  But if like me you love to explore strange new worlds, unique concepts and don’t mind being left with some mystery you will find this a satisfying read.

I’d recommend to fans of weird fiction, X-files, strong women and sci-fi.

****

I read an ARC in exchange for an honest review

EDITION Hardcover  325 pages

ISBN 9780008159177

PRICE£12.99 (GBP)