Book Review – Familiar Things by Hwang Sok-yong

35081031

Goodreads Synopsis:

Seoul. On the outskirts of South Korea’s glittering metropolis is a place few people know about: a vast landfill site called Flower Island. Home to those driven from the city by poverty, is it here that 14-year-old Bugeye and his mother arrive, following his father’s internment in a government ‘re-education camp’.

Living in a shack and supporting himself by weeding recyclables out of the refuse, at first Bugeye’s life on Flower Island is hard. But then one night he notices mysterious lights around the landfill. And when the ancient spirits that still inhabit the island’s landscape reveal themselves to him, Bugeye’s luck begins to change – but can it last?

Vibrant and enchanting, Familiar Things depicts a society on the edge of dizzying economic and social change, and is a haunting reminder to us all to be careful of what we throw away.

Review:

So, I recently got back from a short trip to Seoul and so naturally it was the perfect opportunity to read a book from South Korea for my “Read Around the World” challenge. I picked this book simply because it was also set in Seoul and was short enough I’d be able to read it while on my trip without taking away too much time from exploring.

Although the book is set on a trash island near Seoul, there is very little focus on Seoul itself and indeed could be set almost anywhere. You only know it’s Seoul due to the references to Korean culture which gives the story a certain charm.

The plot of the story is very simple, Bugeye and his mother have moved to Flower Island where she works as a trash picker and the story follows Bugeye as he adapts to his new living situation. However, the simplicity is what makes this story so magical – we’re reading about some people who were down on their luck and how they cope with their new life. There is some magic in the book with spirits that Bugeye meets and this, along with the new friends he meets, helps him grow.

This story was not what I was expecting, but it was delightful all the same. It’s a simple yet charming story that is beautifully written (and beautifully translated) and was an absolute joy to read.

If you’re looking for a short read to diversify your reading then this is definitely a book I’d recommend. If you’re looking for exciting fast-paced novels it’s probably not for you, but I’d suggest giving it a chance anyway, the slow relaxed pace is very enjoyable.

Advertisements

Book Review – Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Certain Dark Things HC Mech.indd

Goodreads Synopsis:

Welcome to Mexico City… An Oasis In A Sea Of Vampires…

Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is busy eking out a living when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life.

Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, must feast on the young to survive and Domingo looks especially tasty. Smart, beautiful, and dangerous, Atl needs to escape to South America, far from the rival narco-vampire clan pursuing her. Domingo is smitten.

Her plan doesn’t include developing any real attachment to Domingo. Hell, the only living creature she loves is her trusty Doberman. Little by little, Atl finds herself warming up to the scrappy young man and his effervescent charm.

And then there’s Ana, a cop who suddenly finds herself following a trail of corpses and winds up smack in the middle of vampire gang rivalries.

Vampires, humans, cops, and gangsters collide in the dark streets of Mexico City. Do Atl and Domingo even stand a chance of making it out alive?

Review:

When I was younger, I went through a Vampire phase and absolutely adored Buffy. I got my hands on any Vampire books I could find (I grew up in a small village before Twilight so there were not many). When Twilight came out, it led to an increase in Vampire novels but most of them all focused heavily on Romance which I’m not really a fan of.

This book though, this book is exactly what I wanted and I adored it. The main plot of the story focuses on Atl who is trying to escape a gang that killed her family and are now after her. It just so happens that Atl and the gang are both Vampires and so as the main focus of the plot is on Atl’s escape, there’s not much time for romance.

The worldbuilding in this book was absolutely fantastic. The vampires in this aren’t all one monolithic creature type, but instead, there are different varieties. Atl is a tlahuihpochtli, which is a Vampire indigenous to Mexico. The other Vampires we see in the novel are the Narcos and a Revenant which are Vampires that have arrived from Europe. I really enjoyed the fact that the author drew on different mythologies and had all these distinct versions of Vampires together in the same novel. The history of the world was also particularly interesting and I would love to read another book set in this world focusing on the discovery of Vampires and watching how the world changed into the world we see in this book.

The characters in this book were all fantastic and I don’t want to speak about them too much as part of the charm was slowly getting to know them more but suffice to say, they’re all very well written and very realistic – they all have their flaws, some more than others, and they all have their own motivations for their actions.

This was a very quick read as I got so engrossed I just didn’t want to put it down and if you’re a fan of Vampires then this book is ideal for you! The fact it’s set in Mexico City was also nice and refreshing (also makes it perfect for my Read Around the World challenge). I would highly recommend this novel and I’m definitely planning on reading more of the authors novels after this!

Book Review – Waiting for the Machines to Fall Asleep ed. by Peter Öberg

25570578

Goodreads Synopsis:

26 short stories from the new wave of Swedish speculative fiction writers.

Forget about cheap furniture, meatballs and crime fiction. Sweden has so much more to offer. Waiting for the Machines to Fall Asleep contains twenty-six stories from the new generation of Swedish writers of science fiction and the fantastic. Stories ranging from space horror and post-apocalyptic nightmares to tender dramas. Stories with steampunk horses, android uprisings and cheeky goblins. Stories that are action-packed, wise, silly, beautiful, surreal and horrifying.

Review:

So, for those that don’t follow me on Twitter, I recently got back from a holiday to Denmark with a short day-trip to Sweden and so naturally it seemed like the perfect time to try and find some Danish and Swedish SFF to read. Thanks to the fantastic SF in Translation website, I was able to find this gem and it was only 99p on Kindle so I just had to get it. Plus it means I can now cross off Sweden on my Read Around the World challenge! Hurrah!

Given that there are 26 stories in this anthology, it’s to be expected that some would be much better than others but I was pleasantly surprised by the consistently strong quality of all the stories. Indeed, although I liked some more than others they were all fantastic. The range of stories included was also fantastic from one focusing on AI (which lends its name to the title of the collection) to another focusing on interpreting wisdom from an ancient music player (Jump to the Left, Jump to the Right). They were all fantastic and as with any collection, it’s hard to talk about them all without writing thousands of words.

If you have an e-reader and like SFF then I strongly recommend this collection. It’s incredibly cheap (I mean seriously you’re paying less than 4p per story) and is definitely worth it.

Book Review – HWJN by Ibraheem Abbas

18309979

Goodreads Synopsis:

HWJN is the #1 selling Arabic book in Saudi, it is a mix between fantasy, SciFi and romance. While most people get excited about legends of spirits and genies (Jinn) and pass it on as they listen to it with awe and horror (after adding their own spices to it); here comes Hawjan. The young Jinni who is in his early nineties to redefine our understanding of the Jinn world that resembles ours in so many ways, still it is a parallel dimension to ours. He shares his tale so that we can live it through a “human” perspective regardless of the differences between our two worlds.
As human populations expand Hawjan found himself surrounded by humans who had built a housing complex in the area surrounding his village forcing him, his mother and grandfather to live in one of these villas that is now haunted by humans. Hawjan’s efforts to avoid interacting with the human family had failed, finding himself madly in love with Sawsan the human, Sawsan was a medical student, gentle and brilliant, barely a quarter of his age. Hawjan was unable to let her know about his feelings until he learned how to communicate with Sawsan through the Ouija board. He found out about her brain cancer that she had hidden from everyone including her family. As Sawsan’s suffering increased and her health deteriorated her father was easy prey for a sorcerer who tricked him into believing that Sawsan’s illness was a result of the devils who had haunted their new home, and so a deadly battle between Hawjan and the devils and sorcerer who had tried extort money from Sawsan’s father. With the help of Eyad (Sawsan’s colleague) who had agreed to Hawjan possessing him so that they would both risk their lives to save Sawsan and her father.

Review:

So, I found out about this book when writing my post about Muslim Sci-Fi to check out and I recently got a comment from the co-author, Yasser Bahjatt, saying he would be honoured to read my reviews of his books and so I just had to get it along with Yaqteenya which I’ll be reading and reviewing soon. I chose to read this one first because I really enjoy stories with Jinn in them and because it’s also a perfect fit for Saudi Arabia for my Read Around the World challenge.

To start off, as this book was originally written in Arabic I am naturally reading a translation. The English translation is very well done and was a pleasure to read. I noticed a lot of reviews on GR in Arabic that complained about the language used however because I am not reading the Arabic version, this was never an issue to me so if those lower reviews put you off, run a few through Google Translate first as the majority of the issues were purely with the language.

I’m a big fan of Jinn in stories and so I was thrilled that this book was written from the perspective of a Jinn named Hawjan. Hawjan’s family home has recently become “haunted” by humans moving in to the area and so although his mother and grandfather move to the roof to escape them, Hawjan lingers in the room that used to be his which now belongs to Sawsan, a young medical student. Hawjan begins to grow close to Sawsan and when one of her friends brings an Ouija Board, he is excited to have the chance to communicate with her. The novel follows the story of their growing friendship and the challenges Hawjan faces in order to protect her from the much more dangerous Jinn.

The worldbuilding in this was excellent. I am unaware how much of it was based on myths and how much was the authors own imagination but the world that was described was brilliant and I loved the differences between the Jinn world and our own. One aspect in particular I liked was the fact that it mentioned that Jinn could be all sorts of different religions. Hawjan himself is a Muslim Jinn and descended from a Jinn that met the Prophet. This plays an important role in the story and it was very interesting to see supernatural characters be represented as also religious in a very natural fashion.

If you are looking to try reading some Fantasy/Sci-Fi in translation then this is an excellent place to start. It’s brilliant for #muslimshelfspace and if you’re looking to expand your horizons and read books from other countries then it’s a great pick. Even then, if you’re simply looking for a nice enjoyable story then I highly recommend this. I could barely put it down and managed to finish it very quickly as I enjoyed it so much.

Book Review – Iraq +100 ed. by Hassan Blasim

32695770

Goodreads Synopsis:

Iraq + 100 poses a question to ten Iraqi writers: what might your country look like in the year 2103 – a century after the disastrous American- and British-led invasion, and 87 years down the line from its current, nightmarish battle for survival? How might the effects of that one intervention reach across a century of repercussions, and shape the lives of ordinary Iraqi citizens, or influence its economy, culture, or politics? Might Iraq have finally escaped the cycle of invasion and violence triggered by 2003 and, if so, what would a new, free Iraq look like? 

Covering a range of approaches – from science fiction, to allegory, to magic realism – these stories use the blank canvas of the future to explore the nation’s hopes and fears in equal measure. Along the way a new aesthetic for the ‘Iraqi fantastical’ begins to emerge: thus we meet time-travelling angels, technophobic dictators, talking statues, macabre museum-worlds, even hovering tiger-droids, and all the time buoyed by a dark, inventive humour that, in itself, offers hope.

Review:

First I’d like to thank Macmillan-Tor for the ARC of this book. It had been on my to-read list for a while as it looked perfect for my Read Around the World challenge and so when I saw it was being re-released I jumped at the chance to get an ARC.

This is a collection of short stories all set 100 years in the future and all written by Iraqi authors and translated by a variety of translators. It’s incredibly fascinating to see all the different ideas they have about what Iraq will be like in the future as they are all so different and varied – and I found it amusing that quite a few all ended up with the same ideas for the US.

Because it’s a collection of short stories, it’s naturally hard to discuss too much without spoiling them but I will say that I really enjoyed all the stories in this collection. Some were definitely stronger than others, but they were all excellent and it was very refreshing to read about Iraq from the perspectives of those who live there themselves rather than from a Western perspective.

This book is a perfect choice for those wanting to read more Muslim authors and I’m very pleased to use it as my pick for Iraq on my Around the World challenge. There is also a fantastic introduction to the collection which discusses the literary scene in Iraq which was very interesting.

Book Review – The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette De Bodard

25934756

Goodreads Synopsis:

Paris in the aftermath of the Great Magicians War. Its streets are lined with haunted ruins, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine runs black, thick with ashes and rubble. Yet life continues among the wreckage. The citizens retain their irrepressible appetite for novelty and distraction, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over France’s once grand capital.
House Silverspires, previously the leader of those power games, now lies in disarray. Its
magic is ailing; its founder, Morningstar, has been missing for decades; and now something
from the shadows stalks its people inside their very own walls.
Within the House, three very different people must come together: a naive but powerful Fallen, an alchemist with a self-destructive addiction, and a resentful young man wielding spells from the Far East. They may be Silverspires‘ salvation; or the architects of its last, irreversible fall . . .

Review:

This is a book I chose to start reading for a very trivial reason but I’m so glad I did because it’s fantastic. Every time I go to a bookshop, I play a game in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section where I see how many shelves I’ve read a book from. Last time I did this, there was only one shelf I didn’t “have” and so naturally I just had to read a book from it (actually I read two, just to be extra certain). This book sounded fascinating and the cover is just beautiful so I just had to read it. Best part is that since it’s urban Fantasy and the author lives in France, I’m counting this as my French entry for my Read Around the World challenge.

The setting for this novel is absolutely fantastic. It’s set in Paris, but not the Paris we all know and love. This Paris is the decaying remains of the once great city with ruins everywhere and the Seine is now a lurking source of danger. In this novel, many of the characters are either humans or Fallen, who are the Fallen Angels from Heaven that have been cast out.

Our main characters are Philippe who is neither mortal nor a Fallen and Isabelle, a newly arrived Fallen and together they are bound by some sort of link. Isabelle is rescued by house Silverspires and the novel focuses on both her and Philippe as they, along with other members of the house, work on trying to figure out what is haunting House Silverspires.

There is quite a bit of diversity in this book which is always great to see in Urban Fantasy. Philippe himself is from Vietnam and quite a few of the major characters are in same-sex relationships.

What originally was chosen as a book just to complete a personal challenge turned out to be a fantastic Urban Fantasy which I absolutely adored and I’m definitely planning on both reading the next in the series and of trying to get the rest of her books as I was a huge fan of both the plot and the writing itself which I found very descriptive.

For those looking to get into Urban Fantasy, this is a book I would highly recommend. It’s a genre that I don’t read much of but from what I’ve read, this is by far one of my favourites.

Book Review – So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ

3852633

Goodreads Synopsis:

It is not only the fact that this is the most deeply felt presentation of the female condition in African fiction that gives distinction to this novel, but also its undoubted literary qualities, which seem to place it among the best novels that have come out of our continent. – West Africa

This novel is a perceptive testimony to the plight of articulate women who live in social milieux dominated by attitudes and values that deny them their proper place. It is a sequence of reminiscences, some wistful, some bitter, recounted by a recently widowed Senegalese school teacher. The letter, addressed to an old friend, is a record of her emotional struggle for survival after her husband’s abrupt decision to take a second wife. Although his action is sanctioned by Islam, it is a calculated betrayal of his wife’s trust and a brutal rejection of their life together.

Review:

So this is another book I picked up for my “Read Around the World” challenge, this time from Senegal! It’s a very short novel and so was a very quick read but it was very powerful and incredibly interesting and I feel I learnt a lot about Senegal through reading it.

The book takes the form of letters, and I really enjoy epistolary novels when they’re written well, which this book certainly is. Ramatoulaye’s husband, Modou, has just died and so she has entered the mourning period and discussing this with her friend in a lot of detail and including information about how she dealt with being a co-wife and being abandoned by her husband for a younger woman.

The characters in this novel are all excellent and very well-written. I really loved Ramatoulaye and found myself hooked to find out more of what was happening in her life. The book mentions several other strong female characters and given the time that this book was written, it’s excellent to see how well they are represented and you can really see how strongly the author feels about the role of women in Senegal.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novella and would definitely recommend it as I feel it’s so short and so fascinating that anybody that wants to broaden their reading should give it a go because it doesn’t take long at all to finish it and it was such a rewarding experience.

Book Review – Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

30037751

Goodreads Synopsis:

In Canada in 1991, ten-year-old Marie and her mother invite a guest into their home: a young woman who has fled China in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protests.

Her name is Ai-Ming. As her relationship with Marie deepens, Ai-Ming tells the story of her family in revolutionary China, from the crowded teahouses in the first days of Chairman Mao’s ascent, to the Shanghai Conservatory in the 1960s and the events leading to the Beijing demonstrations of 1989.

It is a history of revolutionary idealism, music, and silence, in which three musicians, the shy and brilliant composer Sparrow, the violin prodigy Zhuli, and the enigmatic pianist Kai struggle during China’s relentless Cultural Revolution to remain loyal to one another and to the music they have devoted their lives to. Forced to re-imagine their artistic and private selves, their fates reverberate through the years, with deep and lasting consequences for Ai-Ming – and for Marie.

Written with exquisite intimacy, wit and moral complexity, Do Not Say We Have Nothing magnificently brings to life one of the most significant political regimes of the 20th century and its traumatic legacy, which still resonates for a new generation. It is a gripping evocation of the persuasive power of revolution and its effects on personal and national identity, and an unforgettable meditation on China today.

Review:

This is another of the novels shortlisted for the Bailey’s Prize and I was quite intrigued as it is set in China telling the story of several generations covering important events in recent Chinese history such as that of the Cultural Revolution and includes events such as that of Tiananmen Square.

First and foremost, I found the book incredibly educational into a culture and history that I knew little about. By following the experiences of the characters, it helped bring the history alive in a way that non-fiction can’t really do and managed to cover a large and complex period of time in a way that was easy and compelling to read.

I was very interested in all of the characters that we follow throughout the story and was very intrigued to learn the connections between the families of Ai-Ming and Marie. Music also plays a very strong role in the novel, with many of the characters being musicians or composers and it references a lot of musical pieces. I do not know much about classical music, however this novel really made me want to expand my knowledge of it and if music didn’t distract me, I would have played the pieces mentioned while reading.

I definitely recommend this novel and have chosen to use it for China in my “Around the World” reading challenge as I feel it fits perfectly.

Book Review – The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan

28636686

Goodreads Synopsis:

Hellsmouth, a wilful thoroughbred filly, has the legacy of a family riding on her.

The Forges: one of the oldest and proudest families in Kentucky; descended from the first settlers to brave the Wilderness Road; as mythic as the history of the South itself – and now, first-time horse breeders.

Through an act of naked ambition, Henry Forge is attempting to blaze this new path on the family’s crop farm. His daughter, Henrietta, becomes his partner in the endeavour but has desires of her own. When Allmon Shaughnessy, an African American man fresh from prison, comes to work in the stables, the ugliness of the farm’s history rears its head. Together through sheer will, the three stubbornly try to create a new future – one that isn’t determined by Kentucky’s bloody past – while they mould Hellsmouth into a champion.

The Sport of Kings has the force of an epic. A majestic story of speed and hunger, racism and justice, this novel is an astonishment from start to finish.

Review:

So this is the final Bailey’s Prize shortlisted book I had left to review! It was actually the second last one I read but I adored The Power so much that I just had to review it first. Anyway, this was the book that I was least looking forward to reading because I have absolutely no interest in horse riding and it was described as a “Great American Novel” which I’m also not a huge fan of. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised and ended up enjoying the book even though it’s definitely not something I would have chosen to read if not for my goal of reading the entire shortlist.

As the synopsis says, the story follows Henry Forge as he inherits his family farm and turns to horse breeding. We start off with Henry as a child and follow both him and his family through the struggles that face them in their goal of the ultimate racehorse.

This is a very slow book, focusing heavily on the characters themselves and their growth and so it took me a while to get into it due to not being that interested in them. However, once I grew fond of the characters, I found it much harder to put down as I wanted to keep reading and find out how they would manage and how Hellsmouth would do in the races.

It is quite a large novel, however don’t let that put you off as it’s a very rewarding read. I would definitely recommend this novel, as I would with most of the shortlisted books for the Bailey’s Prize. I can see this book winning, although personally it would not be the one I would choose to win. I’ve also chosen to use this for the USA for my Around the World challenge as I feel it’s a very good representation of America.

Book Review – The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan

22399997

Goodreads Synopsis:

Set in a Scottish caravan park during a freak winter – it is snowing in Jerusalem, the Thames is overflowing, and an iceberg separated from the Fjords in Norway is expected to arrive off the coast of Scotland – THE SUNLIGHT PILGRIMS tells the story of a small Scottish community living through what people have begun to think is the end of times. Bodies are found frozen in the street with their eyes open, euthanasia has become an acceptable response to economic collapse, schooling and health care are run primarily on a voluntary basis. But daily life carries on: Dylan, a refugee from panic-stricken London who is grieving for his mother and his grandmother, arrives in the caravan park in the middle of the night – to begin his life anew.

Review:

One of my personal goals this year is to read more Scottish literature and when I saw this book on the list, I fell in love with the cover. It’s so beautiful I want to buy my own copy of it (and it was good enough that I’d happily have a copy to lend to people).

Before her death, Dylan’s mother travelled to a small fictional community in Scotland, called Clachan Fells, and bought a caravan in cash knowing that the family business was deep in debt and this way Dylan would have somewhere to live after his home was repossessed. He moves into the caravan and soon falls for his neighbour Constance. Constance has a young daughter called Stella and the story focuses primarily on the three of them and how they cope with the winter as it gradually gets colder and colder.

The characters are all really interesting and I loved how unashamed Constance was about being polyamorous and how accepting she was of her daughter when she came out as trans. The setting of the slow encroach of winter was fantastic and evocative and although Clachan Fells is a fictional setting, it was really brought to life and felt like a real place somewhere not far from Edinburgh.

Overall, I’m really glad I picked this as my choice for reading more Scottish literature and I really loved this novel. I would definitely recommend it as the writing is beautiful and the setting and story are fascinating and it’s a chilling look at what global warming could potentially cause without ever feeling like it was trying to be preachy.