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.”

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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

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Book Review : Watch me – dark stalker thriller

Watch me by Jody Gehrman

Why I read:  Dark psychological thriller which promised lots of twists.

Book blurb: “For fans of dark and twisty psychological thrillers, Watch Me is a riveting novel of suspense about how far obsession can go.

Kate Youngblood is disappearing. Muddling through her late 30s as a creative writing professor at Blackwood college, she’s dangerously close to never being noticed again. The follow-up novel to her successful debut tanked. Her husband left her for a woman ten years younger. She’s always been bright, beautiful, independent and a little wild, but now her glow is starting to vanish. She’s heading into an age where her eyes are less blue, her charm worn out, and soon no one will ever truly look at her, want to know her, again.

Except one.

Sam Grist is Kate’s most promising student. An unflinching writer with razor-sharp clarity who gravitates towards dark themes and twisted plots, his raw talent is something Kate wants to nurture into literary success. But he’s not there solely to be the best writer. He’s been watching her. Wanting her. Working his way to her for years.

As Sam slowly makes his way into Kate’s life, they enter a deadly web of dangerous lies and forbidden desire. But how far will his fixation go? And how far will she allow it?

A gripping novel exploring intense obsession and illicit attraction, Jody Gehrman introduces a world where what you desire most may be the most dangerous thing of all.”

 

My review

A wonderfully creepy psychological thriller.  It delivers plenty of twists to keep you entertained.  The book is told from 2 points of view: from the staked and the stalker.  The main character Kate is a Professor at college.  Recently divorced she is nearing 40 and doubting herself.  Enrolled on her class is Sam, a good looking,  promising writing student.  But underneath his surface there are delusions and an obsession with Kate that began years ago when he read her first book.   Fast paced, its a real page turner.   I read it whilst travelling to Lisbon and it made the journey go quickly.

The dynamics between the two characters is what made this book stand out for me.  The intensity and paranoia, that builds is deliciously creepy to read. I found Kate well written as she makes mistakes, has her own quirks and flaws and so feels very human. Kate is not a passive victim.  She rather enjoys the intense way Sam looks at her.  She battles her own desires between what is the right thing to do and her attraction towards him.   Sam watches and stalks Kate and as they interact more this feeds his infatuation.  His thoughts are often cold and creepy and as his obsession grows the book turns creepier and darker.   Its fascinating to see the world through his eyes and see glimpses of his disturbing past and thought processes.

Overall a brilliantly creepy stalker thriller that’s full of twists and dark obsession.

I’d recommend to fans of: psychological thrillers, books with twists, creepy flawed people, stalkers, obsession and escalation.

****

I received a free copy via Netgallery in return for an honest review.  

Paperback, 320 pages

Published January 23rd 2018 by St. Martin’s Griffin
ISBN  1250144027

Short Story Review: These Deathless Bones

These Deathless Bones  by Cassandra Khaw (short story)

4 star read

Why I read:  Free short horror story

Story blurb: “A horror tale about the Witch Bride, second wife of a King, and the discord between her and her young stepson.” 

 My review

An original short horror story about the Witch Bride.  Beautifully written with hauntingly evocative phrases it reminded me of a dark fairy-tale.   It blends fantasy and reality into a captivating tale.

I loved the main character she was strong and suitably evil for a Witch Bride.  The young stepson is a horrific and chilling child.  Together you wonder which is the most evil.  An intriguing tale I hope the author writes more based on this.

 

Its a great short read for when you need a little dose of horror but only have 10 minutes or so to spare.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes:  dark fairy tales, horror, witches

****

You can read it for free on tor.com :  https://www.tor.com/2017/07/26/these-deathless-bones/

“These Deathless Bones” copyright © 2017 by Cassandra Khaw

Book Review : The Growing Season – thought provoking dystopia

The Growing Season – by Helen Sedgwick

4 star read

Why I read:  Science fiction and dystopia with strong feminist themes

Book blurb: “Now anyone can have a baby. With FullLife’s safe and affordable healthcare plan, why risk a natural birth?

Without the pouch, Eva might not have been born. And yet she has sacrificed her career, and maybe even her relationship, campaigning against FullLife’s biotech baby pouches. Despite her efforts, everyone prefers a world where women are liberated from danger and constraint and all can share the joy of childbearing. Perhaps FullLife has helped transform society for the better? But just as Eva decides to accept this, she discovers that something strange is happening at FullLife.

Piotr hasn’t seen Eva in years. Not since their life together dissolved in tragedy. But Piotr’s a journalist who has also uncovered something sinister about FullLife. What drove him and Eva apart may just bring them back together, as they search for the truth behind FullLife’s closed doors, and face a truth of their own.

A beautiful story about family, loss and what our future might hold, The Growing Season is an original and powerful novel by a rising talent”

 

 

My review

A beautiful, thought provoking book.  Exquisitely layered with hope, sadness, heart-break, love, family, science-fiction and dystopia.  Set in the near future where a  bio-tech baby pouch has been invented and is owned by a private-for profit FullLife Company who have exclusive rights to the pouches. This pouch is marketed to allow anyone to experience pregnancy and as an end to female equality issues.   A journalist discovers that there are problems with some of the babies being born from the pouches which is being covered up by the FullLife Company.   A mix of characters try to figure out what is happening and causing babies to die in the pouches, as there is a lot at stake both financial and society wide.

This book explores many ethical dilemmas around women’s roles, equality,  family, life and death.  This is done in a wonderfully thought out and caring way that forms part of the book and the characters views.    The pros and cons of the science and how this impacts on society are explored which I enjoyed as science ethics really interests me.  Earlier parts of the book run a little slow but the last section makes up for this.  The thriller part of the novel runs slim, a lot of pages are devoted to backstories of the characters and their views, and exploring the ethics around the technology.  To me this added to the book,  giving emotion and making it a really thought-provoking read.  Some themes reminded me of the Handmaiden’s Tale with its look at how conceiving babies is a woman’s role but how the pouch could transform that.  But The Growing Season is a wonderfully original novel that deserves a place amongst the must-reads of dystopian fiction.

Sedgewich writes in a passionate, evocative prose that is very captivating.  The characters are all human, fleshed out with flaws and strengths, errors and achievements that allow you to connect with them.  At times I got a little confused with who’s story I was reading as characters would switch around within chapters so you do need to pay attention.

It is a book I will read again, for the hope contained within the pages for a better future and the beautiful tale of love and heartbreak.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes: Strong female characters, science fiction, dystopia, feminism, science ethics.

****

I received a free advanced reader copy via Netgallery in return for an honest review.

ebook
Expected publication: September 7th 2017 by Vintage Digital
ISBN 1473548756 (ISBN13: 9781473548756)

Book Review: Nights of Blood wine – Exquisite dark vampire shorts

Nights of Blood Wine – Freda Warrington

5 star read

Why I read: Vampires! Vampire tales written by one of my favourite authors. I knew I was in for a treat.

Book blurb: “”Enter the spellbinding worlds of Freda Warrington. Fifteen tales of horror and darkness, taking the reader deeper into the vampiric and the unknown.

Warrington’s vampires haunt the borderlands of excess, and you can find them here in ten stories set in her popular Blood Wine series of novels. Then there are five further tales of fantasy and horror as Warrington takes you further into the worlds of imagination. Step gently, as you may not leave untouched!”?”

Select passage: “They split women in half, good and bad, virgin and whore, submissive and disobedient, Eve and Lilith, Odette and Odile. But we are all one. Lilith’s crime was her refusal to be dominated. She is rage and freedom and sexuality, all the things women are not meant to be, even today because men fear those things so greatly. Yes, she is dark, but darkness is only the essential complement of light. It is mystery, not evil. How people fear mystery!” My Name is Not Juliette, Freda Warrington

 

My review

Reading this book was pure indulgence for me. I loved the Blood Wine series as a teenager and this took me right back there into the addiction. Beautiful yet dark vampires, complex stories filled with emotion and depth, a touch of eroticism, all wrapped up in lavish prose.

Nights of Blood Wine consists of 15 short stories. These are dark tales of vampires, fantasy and horror that weave mythology into a breathtaking new vision. They can be read as stand alone tales so no previous knowledge is needed of her previous works. All my old favourites are back, Karl and Charlotte, the vampire twins Stefan and Niklas and Violette. 5 other tales not inspired by the Blood Wine novels make up the rest of the shorts including an intriguing story featuring Dracula.

Freda Warrington’s vampires are far away from sparkly “Twilight” teen romance vampires. Her “romance” is a sprinkling of adult eroticism, dark and disturbing visions of blood and cravings. Her vampires are complex, multi-layed beings some capable of both pure evil and others spellbinding empathy towards humans. She writes women beautifully, mixing good and bad, strength and vulnerability into complex, realistic and compelling characters. This work has an element of feminism but its there in the background and the richness of all her characters, male and female rather than pushed at you. Each story gives an exquisite glimpse into the characters lives and takes you into a wonderful fantasy world of vampires. I only wish some of the vampire stories were longer as I loved re-visiting that world.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes: Strong female characters, vampires, horror, fantasy, dark tales

*****

Paperback, 228 pages
Published March 31st 2017 by Telos
About the author:   Freda Warrington is an award-winning British author, known for her epic fantasy, vampire and supernatural novels.

 More about Freda Warrington and her other books can be found on her website: http://www.fredawarrington.com/