Review: The Half Life of Valery K

Title: The Half Life of Valery K (2022)
Author: Natasha Pulley
Pages: 384


A former nuclear scientist, imprisoned in a Siberian gulag, is transferred to a mysterious city where unknown levels of radiation are currently bombarding the unaware populace. It’s not the most uplifting of scenarios, but Pulley tackles a dour topic with verve and a light touch.

The science-heavy narrative is very accessible and compelling and I was sucked into the “all is not as it seems” story. Valery, our main character, peels back the layers and layers of the mystery surrounding City 40 to reveal the conspiracy at its core. Once that’s done, though, the narrative loses momentum, especially with the frequent flashbacks threaded throughout the book. This, plus a too tidy ending, kept this novel from reaching higher heights, but it was a compelling read nonetheless.

Whether or not this qualifies as speculative fiction is debatable, as it hews closer to historical fiction than anything in the SFF realm, but the lines of genre demarcation are often blurry, and who really cares? This is a solid book and I think SFF fans and non-SFF fans would like it all the same.

★★★½

Review: Siren Queen

Title: Siren Queen (May 10, 2022)
Author: Nghi Vo
Pages: 288


Luli Wei was overlooked by the masses until she made it impossible to look away. After striking a brutal bargain to achieve her dreams, Wei finds her home on the silver screen. What follows is a mesmerizing (and hair-raising) coming of age tale about Luli’s rise into the spotlight.

Nghi Vo’s Old Hollywood is painted with a dreamlike brush. There’s a phantasmagoric haze over every event and every interaction. It’s mesmerizing and disturbing in equal measure. And, as impressed as I was with the tone and prose – I struggled to stay invested in Luli’s story as I found it a bit overstuffed and all over the place. Others will surely love this, but it was not quite my cup of tea when all was said and done.

★★★

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Greenwood

GreenwoodTitle: Greenwood (2020)
Author: Michael Christie
Pages: 528


Stretching from the near future to the distant past…and then back again, Greenwood tells a beautiful multi-generational story of love, loss, and the meaning of family in all shapes and forms. 

Add this title to the growing trend of excellent books about trees that have sprouted up in recent years. Author Michael Christie shines a light on humanity’s relationship with trees through the eyes of each main character. Some fight for the preservation and protection of trees at all costs, some craft beautiful art from their component parts, and some heavily exploit them in the name of capitalism. Ultimately, Greenwood speculates a future “Great Withering” of Earth’s trees as rapid climate changes leave our towering friends vulnerable and dying.
Greenwood Ring Structure
Christie cleverly uses the cross-section of a tree trunk to organize the nested storytelling structure. Each subsequent section feels tangentially related to the section before it, but as the connections between events and characters become more clear, the full picture emerges, especially in the back half of the book, where we revisit each era once again. I slowly worked my way through this novel and found myself fully immersed in each individual character and story. Christie’s prose is beautifully composed and his descriptions of nature are stunning. I’d recommend this to any lover of nature or fan of epic family sagas.

★★★★½ out of 5