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  • Must Read: an urban fantasy tale with heart

    {Thanks to NetGalley and Ace Books for the gift of an eARC in exchange for an honest review.} Jess has lived her entire life with her parents in the United States, but after her father becomes ill and loses his job, the only job he can get is in the Malaysia they left decades ago. Jess, a recent Harvard graduate, soon finds herself adrift, separated from her girlfriend, struggling to hide her homosexuality from her parents, and to adjust to their new life, in which she feels no more at home than she did in the United States. Things become more complicated when the ghost of her estranged grandmother, Ah Ma, starts talking to her, then borrowing her body for nighttime walks around the house. Under Ah Ma’s influence, Jess is interacting with ghosts and gods, as well as confronting members of organized crime. I don’t know where to start talking about this book. It’s a fantasy novel - ghosts and gods are very real and influence our world - but it is primarily about family, and about the reverberating trauma of violence against women. It is the relationships between the women, Jess’ grandmother, her paternal aunt, her mother, and the god known as the Black Water Sister that drives the action and eventually brings about the resolution. This elevates it beyond just another urban fantasy tale because it has a beating heart at its centre. The setting is Penang, an island off the coast of mainland Malaysia. It is very well-drawn, showing the mix of ethnicities, languages, religions, as well as the humid heat and the food. I knew next to nothing about any of this going in, to was fascinating to learn about a place in this way. Jess is a good choice of guide because she knows little about the details of life in Penang, or even about her maternal family and their relationship with the gods, so she constantly needs things explained to her, which in turn helps the reader. The dialogues are particularly well written, with the syntax reflecting the speech patterns of the locals, and a spattering of Hokkien and Malay words. The setting is not used for local colour, but is an integral part of the narrative, almost a character in its own right. Jess, as a young woman raised in the United States by immigrant parents never felt that she belonged there, yet she finds that she doesn’t belong in Penang either, so this is a coming of age story as well, about this young woman trying to find her place in the world, somewhere between tradition and modernity. I can’t recommend this book enough. I had very high expectations when I picked it up and it fully lived up to them.

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  • Bewitched

    It is something different from what I usually read. Ghost story are usually told in a different way. I like the style of writing. Had fun imagining the scenes.

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  • Engaging and touching

    A young woman moves to Malaysia with her family and quickly gets herself involved in a huge mess in a riveting tale of family secrets, tragedy, and local gods.

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