Cover Image: Black Water Sister

Black Water Sister

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Member Reviews

What a ride, wow it has a little bit of everything.  Ghosts, gods, family secrets and  mediums are some of them!It was entertaining mostly, it has great characters and I find it unique!

"If you overhear everything I hear, said Jess, "why would you need me to tell you what Kor Kor’s friends were saying about Ng Chee Hin?”

“Sometimes I don’t pay attention lah. You think your life is so interesting meh?”

This was so different from anything I’ve ever read before, I was captivated   from the beginning .Jess was a great and relatable character , I loved her!
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I loved this book! I had no idea what I was to expect for this book, but I read two other books by Zen Cho before diving into this one. Not sure how that affected me but this is my fav Zen Cho book ever.

The story was a fun one. Jess is reluctantly moving from the US back to Malaysia with her parents. She is a recent Harvard graduate and trying to find a decent job. Then she discovered she and her mum's side of the family are mediums. And her grandma (Ah Ma) are hunting her. LOL! A lot was going on in this story and I loved it.

The story is filled with twists and turns I sometimes saw coming but mostly not. Nothing felt wrong or off in this story. I loved how the twists and turns made me more into the story and how I learned about Malaysia at the same time.

Jess was a great character that I could relate to. She was straight out of University and unsure what to do with her life. But she was also strong and courageous and willing to fight for what is right. 

As expected with a seasoned writer, it was really good. I had no issues with the technical side thought the review copy I had wasn't the best-formatted ebook I've ever seen. But that's details.

The action in this is well-written and never-ending. The pacing between the action scenes did not feel too slow but had a nice balance. 

I loved this book and I think Zen Cho is becoming a favourite author of mine.
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Jessamyn is returning to Malaysia. It's 'home'. but she's not been since she was a toddler. The Malaysia she returns to is one of ghosts and of gods. There is a voice in her head and it's someone she knows well. Her grandmother, Ah Ma. Her dead grandmother. And it turns out Ah Ma is mixed up with a deity who has a history she's seeking to avenge. Fighting to retain control of her life in a world that is seeking to shape her life for her. Can Jess survive it and come out stronger than she was before it began? 

I'm disappointed in myself for how long it has taken me to get round to reading this brilliant novel. I knew from the first chapter it was going to be one I wanted to give time and energy to concentrating on and boy did it exceed that expectations. What Zen Cho has created with this novel is a fast-paced and energising story, artfully weaving the traditions that surround religion in Malaysia with the modern world - hipster cafes, mobile phones, business magnates. This sense of two worlds colliding in a way that is cataclysmic really came through strongly. 

I think what I enjoyed most was that none of the characters felt like caricatures or in any way 2-dimensional. They all had hopes and fears, quirks that were frustrating to those around them. Even the 'bad guys' aren't portrayed as soulless beasts. Zen Cho does a brilliant job of making everyone human (or not...) and in that way making the characters relatable. 

A really impressive read that has made me want to read more by Zen Cho! 

Thanks Netgalley and Pan Macmillan for an advance read copy in exchange for an honest review.
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I had no real expectations going into this book, but I certainly didn't expect it to be as dark and as humorous as it was. Jessamyn Teoh may have graduated from Harvard, but that doesn't stop her from being broke, unemployed and unable to come out to her parents, and she certainly wasn't expecting to have to move back to Malaysia for her fathers job. Torn between familial loyalty and the need to be with her girlfriend, Jess spends her first few days constantly on the edge. Something that isn't helped by the fact she can somehow hear her Ah Ma's voice in her head. She quickly realises that her grandmother has possessed her, she has a score to settle, one that she needs Jess' help for. But the more Jess gets dragged into the mythical world of Malaysia, the more her life is put on the line, because it's not just her Grandmother who wants to use her body, an ancient God has her sights set on Jess, and before long she may find herself in a fight for her own body.

Jess was a fantastic POV to read this book from, having grown up in the US she has little insight into the Malaysian culture and mythology, meaning that we as the reader learn all about it through Jess's experiences. She would never class herself as superstitious, assuming things like Gods were the stuff of tales, but when she starts to hear her Ah Ma's voice she realises there may be more truth to the stories than she realises. She's so unbelievably out of her depth in most of the situations which makes for some hilarious scenes, and also some on the darker side. She is witty, strong headed and far more resilient than she realises, but she lacks faith in herself and those around her. 

The relationship between Jess and her Grandmother was hilarious, if not a little haunting in parts. Their interactions were by far my favourite parts of the book, and these scenes also gave us a deep dive into Malaysian culture and history. Her Ah Ma, having previously been a medium, knows a lot more about whats happening to Jess then she initially lets on, using blackmail and her knowledge to ensure Jess follows through with her plans, she may be dead, but she still has a score to settle, one she will use Jess for whether she is willing or not. The whole idea of having someone else take control of your body was a little scary, and I think Cho gives us the right blend of humour and darkness to make sure we understand the true depth of the situation, whilst also giving us a little levity to ensure it doesn't get too dark. 

Cho's descriptions and writing style absolutely transported me to Malaysia. I had read little to nothing about Malaysian culture and beliefs before reading this and I adored getting a deep dive not only into their mythology and culture, but their familial dynamics. We see the struggle of Jess parents, wanting a better life for their daughter but having to return to the place they left after her fathers job fell through, and how they felt they had let her down. 

There are some pretty graphic and violent scenes in this book including one sexual assault towards the end, which I definitely did not expect. The story started out quite light hearted and then took a turn for the darker, and when you realise the true reason for her grandmothers return and the God's interference you understand the need for it. There are a few well placed twists and turns throughout and Cho certainly kept me guessing as to what characters I could trust.

Overall I really enjoyed this book, it had me cackling with laughter as well a cringing away from the pages, but all in all, it was a story about the bonds of family and how, even after death they can stay with us. It was also a story about revenge and how the need for it can eclipse everything else in your life until you become a husk of the person you previously were. This may be my first book by Cho, but it certainly wont be my last.
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Se dice, se comenta, que «Black Water Sister» llegará en algún momento a nuestro idioma de la mano de Planeta, pero aún no hay fechas concretas. Lo que ya os puedo asegurar es que ha sido una de mis lecturas favoritas del año, y es que no dejo de pensar en este libro. 
 
Jess, la protagonista, regresa a Malasia, su país natal, tras más de veinte años viviendo en EE. UU. Allí se encuentra con una serie de costumbres, tradiciones, formas de hablar y de comportarse que no acaba de comprender y que debería conocer, porque, al fin y al cabo, ella es de allí. Lo que sí que entiende es que hace tiempo que dejó de pertenecer por completo un lugar en concreto y que ahora tiene un pie en EE. UU. y otro en Penang. Que, de repente, su abuela se le aparezca como un fantasma, tampoco la ayuda a adaptarse. Porque su abuela es bastante mandona y lo único que quiere es poseer el cuerpo de Jess para hacer algo imprescindible: salvar a su gente. 
 
Pero Jess se resiste, porque hay algo en su abuela que le huele a cuerno quemado. Jess tendrá que lidiar con fantasmas (gruñones), dioses (exigentes), su vida (descontrolada) y sus padres (controladores) antes de poder disfrutar de un poco de paz y tranquilidad. Y, encima, en algún momento tendrá que contar a su familia supertradicional que es lesbiana, sin saber cómo se lo tomarán. 
 
«Black Water Sister» es una aventura moderna llena de acción, humor y desventuras. Si te gusta la autora, te alegrará saber que Duermevela Ediciones planea traer dos obras suyas: la novela corta «La mujer de terracota» y «Sorcerer to the Crown». 
 
Qué encontrarás en «Black Water Sister»: 
-Una novela de fantasía alejada de la mirada tradicional 
-Fantasmas liándola parda 
-Un mensaje anticapitalista 
-Eat the rich en Malasia 
-Representación sáfica
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This novel was fantastic.

Firstly, obsessed with the cover. So colourful. Love it. I'm in.

Secondly, Own Voices read and LGBT+? Excellent, I'm in.

Thirdly (fourthly and fifthly etc.), now we're fully drawn in like...

- fab characters that show great development throughout
- beautiful backdrop of Malaysia, jungle like temples, fancy cafes and all the delicious cuisine to make your eyes and your belly hungry 
- a few supernatural elements with the Gods, very intriguing, dangerous, adventurous
- gangsters- slow down... what??? Where has this come from?
- snarky grandma who's totally rebellious and a diva
- fast pace, keeps you guessing till the end

I went in totally blind tbh and I loved it. Well worth a read if you want a totally unique novel that's super diverse and a lot of fun.

Thanks to NetGalley, Pan Macmillan and Zen Cho for an eARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
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Jess starts hearing voices and quite sensibly thinks she’s going mad which would be understandable given that her father has just recovered from cancer only to be crippled by medical bills after losing his job and is now having to uproot his family back to Malaysia. The pressure is on for Jess to get a decent job to pay back her family and there’s also the small matter of her being very firmly in the closet. So her dead granny talking to her and taking over her body for time to time is the least of her problems. 
There’s a lot going on in this story (perhaps too much) there’s Ah Ma’s quest for revenge against the man who done her wrong, there’s a vengeful god and there’s the myriad problems of life in general. This was good but I felt it got bogged down in the domestic stuff at the expense of the supernatural stuff. There wasn’t that much of Ah Ma and the god just hung about in a menacing way quite a lot. I’m sure however it’s all a metaphor I’m just not getting for Jess’s coming out an whatnot. But I came here for the gods not girlfriend drama. One thing I did like however was how the most of family got in on the show by the end, especially the Christian aunt who sticks to her religious guns despite seeing her niece being possessed by a god/spirit.
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This was my first book by Zen Cho and it will not be my last, a thoroughly enjoyable read that I flew through. Excellent writing and really engaging, can not recommend this enough if you are looking for a fast paced, entertaining story.
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What a fantastic book and one where I was hooked immediately.
It follows the trials and tribulations of Jessamyn, an Ivy League grad who moves with her parents back to their homeland of Penang, Malaysia as their lives are over in the States. She ends up angering relatives, gods and gangsters alike. This results in her becoming a medium for both her dead grandmother and Black Water Sister, a very powerful and exceedingly angry god whilst fighting the local criminal gang which is headed by the most successful and ruthless businessman in the area. 

It’s hard to categorise as it has a bit of everything but would probably straddle the fantasy/LGBTQI+ genres if you’re intent on pigeon-holing what is an all-encompassing enjoyable read. Fab stuff.
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Oh she's so relatable, almost too much so. Really well done low fantasy, wonderful dialogue and prose, it worked for me, can't say mad.
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Jess, who grew up in US, is moving to Malaysia - her family’s home. Then she starts hearing a voice in her head and it turns out it’s her grandmother’s ghost. From there on she gets dragged into a world of gods and ghosts, buried family secrets and grudges, and even local gang scuffles while hiding the relationship with her girlfriend from her overbearing family.

“Black Water Sister” was a fun read. It was quite ploty and intricate at points, with a focus on the mystery and intrigue, at the cost of the character development. We did get to spend time with Jess and her family, but I wish we have explored her family dynamics and inner conflicts more deeply. Sometimes I also lost track of who it was that was attacking her this time and why.. 
On the other hand, I did like the female characters in this novel - they were often strong, determined women who made some questionable choices in order to survive (or to take revenge) and were all in all quite badass. The godly aspect of the plot was also interesting, we got to explore it a bit as we met a couple of different deities, each with a different temper and personality. This closeness of the ghost realm and mediums, as well as the constant threat (verging on the possibility of death many a time) gave this story a darker, more atmospheric quality that I really appreciated. Add in some anxious queer vibes and you’ve got yourself a solid, fantasy read.
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This is the first book that I have read by Zen Cho, and I really really enjoyed it! It was beautifully written and I could really imagine the scenes that she was describing. It has made me really want to visit Malaysia one day!  For me the plot was also quite unique as I have never read anything about based on the idea of spirits, ghosts and gods, and I really enjoyed all the characters and the twists and turns that happened. 

Overall this was a great book and I will definitely be checking out more of the authors work. I have already ordered the physical copy of this book too as it is just stunning and definitely deserves a spot in my growing collection! 

Thanks to Netgalley and Pan Macmillan for this ARC.
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I received a NetGalley eARC in exchange for an honest review and had only ever read Zen Cho’s short fiction/novella writing before this.

This is a different kind of ghost story. It’s almost YA but that little bit older with a recent graduate unable to get a job and struggling, with parents relocating back to where the family came from but not where she grew up. Jess has never seen spirits let alone gods before her dead grandmother starts talking to her and possessing her at random hours of the night. She’s got enough to deal with hiding her secret girlfriend and generally supporting her parents.

It’s not fast paced, I thought it was going to be 3 stars and then everything came together and the resolution was the right one. Forget what you know about ghost stories and superstition - the Monkey King makes an appearance but not really how I’ve ever seen him before and that might clue you in… Zen Cho sets the scene and the atmosphere of living with relatives after not succeeding in America and Jess is very real and makes logical decisions. Something other stories might have struggled to hold firm on but this is precisely the story Zen Cho wanted to tell.
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This was the first book I read by Zen Cho, but I'm pretty sure it won't be my last! Black Water Sister was a blast to read and easily earned its spot as one of my favourite reads in June this year.

Black Water Sister is a perfect blend of original storyline, engaging prose, fascinating lore, and of course "ghosts, gangsters and grandmas" (as the author defined it on Twitter). Now, who can resist a premise like this? Definitely not me... And I'm super glad the book not only met, but really surpassed my expectations.

I loved the characters, especially Ah Ma. This snarky, nagging ghost grandma really stole my heart! I particularly enjoyed Ah Ma's banter with Jess: they're both quick and witty and work so well together, definitely pushing each others' buttons but ultimately pushing one another to be a better version of and true to themselves (you know, as much as ghosts can get better). Jess's multiple struggles, having to deal with a ghost while coping with "normal" young people's struggles such as unemployment, family issues and being closeted in a society that's not really gay-friendly, made her feel incredibly real and were quite touching at times.

The whole cast was really memorable though, and I loved how deliciously complex and morally grey some of them were. From the gangsters to the gods to Jess' family members, each character brought their own unique personality and history to the game, as well as the painful memories and the past that were haunting them. Of course, some characters were haunted more literally than others, but even so...

A special mention goes to the setting. I can't recall having read any other books set in Malaysia (at least, not recently), so I was immediately intrigued by that. And the author does an amazing job of bringing the setting to life. I swear at times I almost felt like I could have been there myself the descriptions were so vivid. I also had a lot of fun googling pictures of places and foods mentioned in the book, which is something I often do to help me feel more involved in the setting - plus I get to learn something new! I really liked being thrown in Malaysian culture with Jess as she returns from the US and trying to pick things up and come to grips with local customs. 

The author published a really interesting blog article [LINK] on the challenges of writing about non-Western culture and explaining why she chose to adopt this approach. I really recommend reading this in general if you have the time. I, a white, European reader, personally found it very helpful to help me reflect on existing disparities in expectations when reading books by non-Western writers / set outside of Western countries, something which I've probably been guilty of in the past and that I'll try to keep in mind in the future as well.

The only, minor issue I had with this book was I personally found the pacing to be slightly off at times, with some sections I flew through being really packed and others feeling like they were very slow and dragging a bit by comparison. This is entirely a personal feeling though and may have had something to do with my own tiredness levels rather than the book!

Black Water Sister was a fantastic read, with charming, unforgettable characters, an engaging plot and a vivid setting like I hadn't seen in a while. Definitely one that will stay with me for a long time. Highly recommended!
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I'm not sure what exactly it was about this novel, but I loved it so so much. I very nearly rounded up to 5 stars. 

Maybe it was the way Cho masterfully evoked Malaysia, from the soup-like heat to the chatty gatherings of aunties to the local deities. Or maybe it was Jess' own character arc, balancing post-university joblessness and an unsurety of where to go next with being a lesbian unsure how to come out to her parents. 

That said, this novel was also very dark in places, there is a fair deal of violence (death, physical abuse, one (?) incident of near sexual abuse), so heads up to anyone wanting to read.
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I really enjoyed reading this and zipped through it. A queer American-Malaysian twenty-something deals with dead grandmas, gangster, gods - and coming out? Perfection.

Cho has such a knack for writing that inbetween feeling you get as a child of immigrants and is so good at dialogue, I'm envious. The plot is brilliant, with organic twists and turns that you don't see coming but feel completely natural when they happen. There are so many nuanced characters here that you can love and feel for and the whole world is immersive and clearly rendered. 

 Such a heartfelt, utterly readable novel.
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I just really enjoyed this it was a damn good book, Zen Cho did a very, very good job! Reads almost like a thriller, but with so much more emotional pay off and relatable lovely characters and immersive culture. But damn I want more Sherng. Full RTC.
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I really enjoyed this book. Writing style was engaging, a little slow at first, but pace picked up later. 
Immersive and entertainting.
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Jess has recently moved back to Malaysia with her parents. She’s dealing with trying to find her purpose - life as a Harvard graduate isn’t going as expected. Her family are living with her aunt and uncle and feeling the pressure of family, expectations, and disappointment of life not going as planned. To top it off she has to hide the fact that she’s gay and has a secret girlfriend she wants to move to Singapore to be with.

With all this going on Jess is hearing a voice that says it is her grandma and is taking her body for walks at night. This leads to an adventure involving ghosts, gods/deities and gangsters. She learns more about her family, culture and life in Malaysia. This book is really interesting as we thrown into the deep end like Jess. The language and dictum of the characters is fascinating. The characters are fleshed out and relatable even as you find them annoying, irritating, or even morally questionable. Ah Ma is not your typical doting grandma and has her devious side. Jess also goes from naive wide eyed girl to driven, somewhat blood thirsty (she’s driven to it) badass, as events unfold. The gods we meet are a little disconcerting if not downright terrifying.

I guess this falls under Urban Fantasy but it feels very real and relatable. In fact the only bit that felt a little far fetched was the bit with the gangsters lol.  I dare anyone to read this and not get swept away in this story. 4.25/5 stars
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If you are tired of the usual urban fantasy tropes and want to imerse yourself in another culture then do read this book.  Set in Penang, Malaysia we follow Jess and her parents return from the USA to warm embrace of family in Penang,.  The description of chinese family life is spot on and spoke to my heritage, I have those uncles and aunties (not necessairly blood related) always willing to gossip and give advice, I understand the familial ties and the reader is deftly brought in to this world.
Jess's mother has always been secretive about her family, so it is with some disbelief and dismay that Jess finds she is haunted by the ghost of her grandmother Ah Ma.  Jess discovers her links to the spirit world and is drawn into contact with the Black Water Sister - a woman who was brutally murdered 100 years ago and whose spirit has evolved into a god. 
The main themes of this story revolve around coming to terms with gender, self-identity, family forgiveness, letting go of anger though it sometimes take a cathartic moment to break ties with the past.
A gem of a story - my thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for access to this ARC..
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