Book Review – HWJN by Ibraheem Abbas

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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.

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Book Review – Iraq +100 ed. by Hassan Blasim

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Book Review – The Bone People by Keri Hulme

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Goodreads Synopsis:

THE BONE PEOPLE is a love story. It begins when a mute six-year-old, full of blasting hurt and strange charm, wanders off the beach and into a home of a despairing artist. Kerewin has given up everything but drinking, thinking and fishing, but the arrival of the boy Simon and, later on, of his Maori foster-father Joe, drags all three into the gyre of possibilities. Cruel, funny, ardent and beautiful, THE BONE PEOPLE is a powerful and visionary New Zealand fable.

Review:

It’d been a while since I’d read a book for my Around the World challenge and so I decided that I’d pick New Zealand next as I saw mentions of this book online due to the fact that the author is Aro-Ace. She’s also part Maori and both of these aspects of her identity are represented in the novel. The main character, Kerewin, is asexual and part Maori (she may also be Aromantic but I don’t remember if it’s ever explicitly stated) and there are plenty of other Maori characters, who also speak Maori to each other. There’s a small glossary at the back of the book to explain all the terms used, and I felt it really helped with immersion into the novel and the setting.

The synopsis describes this as a love story, but to me it’s more a journey of healing. At the start of the novel all three characters are rather broken. Kerewin spends most of her time drinking, Simon is mute and acts out a lot while Joe beats Simon as he doesn’t know how else to control him. Kerewin and Simon bond and he behaves really well with her as she learns how to communicate with him and recognises that his behaviour is due to frustration at not being understood. The way Simon is written, it’s highly likely he is autistic and I really appreciated the fact that Kerewin just accepts this as how he is and works to ensure they can communicate.

As the novel progresses, they slowly get to know each other and start to heal both mentally and physically due to the influences on each other. This is a very slow book, focusing on the journey made by each of the three characters and on the relationship between the three of them. As this is the central focus of the story, I won’t say too much on the characters or the plot, suffice to say that it was an enchanting journey and I didn’t want to put it down as I kept wanting to find out what happens to them.

The settings described in the novel are fantastic, with evocative imagery and lots of attention given to the biology of the locations allowing you a very clear mental image of what the various settings are like. My favourite setting was that of Kerewin’s tower, partially due to the fact that I always wished I could have a tower when I was younger.

This novel won the Man Booker prize in 1985 and is also an excellent novel focusing on New Zealand which I would highly recommend. It’s ideal if you’re also doing a read around the world challenge, and I also recommend it to those who not only want to see representations of asexual characters but also want to support an author who is asexual and aromantic.

Book Review – The Bone Readers by Jacob Ross

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Secrets can be buried, but bones can speak… When Michael (Digger) Digson is recruited into DS Chilman’s new plain clothes squad in the small Caribbean island of Camaho he brings his own mission to discover who amongst a renegade police squad killed his mother in a political demonstration.

Sent to London to train in forensics, Digger becomes enmeshed in Chilman’s obsession with a cold case – the disappearance of a young man whose mother is sure has been murdered. But along with his new skill in forensics, Digger makes rich use of the cultural knowledge he has gained from the Fire Baptist grandmother who brought him up, another kind of reader of bones. And when the enigmatic Miss K. Stanislaus, another of Chilman’s recruits, joins him on the case, Digger finds that his science is more than outmatched by her observational skills. Together, they find themselves dragged into a world of secrets, disappearances and danger that demands every ounce of their brains, persistence and courage to survive.

Jacob Ross brings the best traditions of crime fiction to the Caribbean novel with a fast-moving narrative, richly observed characters, a powerful evocation of place and a denouement that will leave readers breathless. Along the way, The Bone Readers has much to say about power, wilful amnesia and the need for truth. In Digger and Miss Stanislaus, The Bone Readers introduces characters to rival Leonardo Padura’s Cuban detective, Mario Conde, and Timothy Williams’ Anne Marie Laveaud.

Review:

So, this book was announced as the winner of the Jhalak Prize last night and soI knew it was definitely time to read it. It’s a crime fiction novel which is a genre I rarely ever touch as I’m not a huge fan of it, however, this novel is just wonderful and I’m definitely going to pay more attention to crime novels in the future!

As it’s a crime novel, I can’t say too much about the plot because that will spoil all the fun of the secrets and reveals as you read through. The characters are all fantastic and very well fleshed out and I really enjoyed the interactions between them all. The book is set on the fictional island of Camaho in the Caribbean which is based on Grenada, the author’s home. Because of this, it’s showing us a very gritty, realistic view of life on the island and doesn’t hold back from criticising certain traditions. One thing that I absolutely adored about the novel was that the characters spoke in their own language and it’s not adapted to Standard English. Although this may make it harder for some readers to understand (particularly those who do not speak English as a first language), I felt it really helped add to the immersion of the novel and I personally adore it when authors write dialogue the way it would be spoken by the characters.

I found the authors writing absolutely beautiful and I’m very excited to hear that this is the first in a planned quartet as I look forward to reading more about these characters and I really enjoyed the reveals as they worked on their case as I was kept in constant suspense and constantly surprised. This book has definitely both made me want to read more of his work, and made me want to read more crime fiction.

I would highly recommend this novel and I can definitely see why it was chosen as the very first winner of the Jhalak Prize – something which it definitely, definitely deserves. It’s so hard to put down that I read it in just two sittings (and I only stopped the first time because I had to go eat!)

 

Book Review – The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

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Goodreads Synopsis:

“One evening, my father asked me if I would like to become a ghost bride…”

Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy port town of Malacca, ghosts and superstitions abound.

Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family’s only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.

After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim’s handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits and monstrous bureaucracy—including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family—before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.

Review:

So, this is another of the books I read back in January for #DiverseAThon and I adored it. It took me a while to get around to writing my review just because I found it difficult to describe how much I loved this book. This book also works well as the book for Malaysia in my Around the World challenge which is perfect as I enjoyed it so much.

The book is part historical fiction, part fantasy and the combination works really well.

The thing that definitely grabs you is the portrayal of Malaysia at the end of the 19th century. The descriptions of the setting are beautiful and create a stunning image of life at that time, and from what I’ve seen in other reviews it’s also a very accurate portrayal. Not only is the physical world excellently described, but the afterlife is also very detailed and again, from what I’ve read, accurate portrayal. Through reading this book, I feel I’ve learned a lot and definitely now have a desire to visit Malaysia myself because of how lovingly it was portrayed.

Next up is the characters, who again are all fantastic and feel very real. They all have their flaws, for example Li Lan is very sheltered, but this contributes greatly to the story and seeing them grow is really lovely. There is some romance in the story, and even a love triangle which I usually despise but I actually really liked how it was handled in this story which is a testament to how much I enjoyed the writing.

Plot-wise, I don’t want to say too much as there are a lot of mysteries in the book that are revealed as you read and I don’t want to spoil anything. I will say though that I really enjoyed the story and it gripped me so much that I didn’t want to put the book down!

I’d definitely recommend this book because it is just delightful and I was just charmed by everything about it. It also has a stunning cover and the descriptions are just so fantastic – especially as a lot of the more traditional things are explained for those unfamiliar with the culture.