Borne

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It’s been far too long since I’ve picked up a sci-fi novel, and it just so happens that an excellent author recently put out a new book! Some of my favourite speculative sci-fi is the Southern Reach Trilogy, the first of which is soon to be made into a film. Jeff VanderMeer’s effective use of creeping horror in his trilogy was unparalleled and I was eager to see what he’d cooked up this time.

Thus, it was with supreme glee that I picked up his newest novel, Borne.

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Right from the beginning I knew that I was going to love this book. Why?

Partially because I so enjoyed Southern Reach, but partially because of this:

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That’s right. It’s an angry bear. Not only that, it’s an angry murder-bear that is quite an important part of this novel. He is atypical of other bears, and I’m not going to ruin things for you by telling you how. But I guarantee you’ll be surprised.

Borne was fantastic. It’s a character-driven science fiction novel that follows Rachel, a young woman living in an unnamed city as a scavenger. One day, Rachel finds Borne while out scavenging and brings him home. She’s unsure of what he is, assuming him to be some type of plant life. As Borne grows and develops, so does his relationship with Rachel.

Rachel is a first-person narrator and she’s certainly a likeable one. Though her thought processes are sometimes a bit erratic, that’s to be expected in a post-apocalyptic society. Her relationships with Wick and Borne are rich and complex things that affect each other despite her best efforts.

Wick is an interesting secondary character who gains immense dimension as the story moves forward. I liked him far more at the end of the book than I did at the beginning, but that’s perspective for you!

Borne himself was extraordinary. Remaining a mystery for the entire novel, he was both extremely likeable and quite terrifying. The more I learned of him, the more questions I had. The immense questionability and tragedy of his existence informed the feel of the entire narrative.

All characters, major and minor, are fascinating in different ways. I wouldn’t say no to a book about any of them, if VanderMeer decided to follow up with one.

The post-apocalyptic landscape is disturbing and believable, bio-modded children and alcohol minnows included. The city is seething with poisonous creations from the Company, the ever-unnamed conglomerate responsible for Mord and everything that came thereafter. As you learn more of Rachel’s past, she slowly learns more of the city and of the Company.

Unlike the Southern Reach Trilogy, Borne is a stand alone novel. Like its predecessors, it’s a novel that makes you think while you’re reading. VanderMeer’s writing is intelligent and easy to digest either in short bursts or all in one massive book binge.

With this masterpiece of creepy and (at-times) uncomfortable speculative sci-fi, Jeff VanderMeer proves himself to be a consistently excellent writer. He’s a sure thing when it comes to a great read, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he has in store for readers next!

Have you picked up a copy of Borne? Have you read the Southern Reach Trilogy? Let me know what you thought in the comments below!

Men Explain Things to Me

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I hope everyone had an excellent and restful weekend! I’ve been busy with work, and with various illnesses along with seasonal allergies. Throughout it all, I’ve attempted to keep up with my goal of reading more than YA. It’s been slow going, not due to lack of interest, but only a simple lack of free time.

When I saw Men Explain Things to Me at work, I knew that I absolutely had to pick up and read a copy. I’ve been hearing about it for ages, but having never picked up a book of essays as leisure reading I was a bit wary.

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I was already familiar with the now rather famous titular essay. It was wry, it was eloquent, and it had me nodding my head in agreement with the all-too-familiar situation. I’ve been patronised for both my age and my gender more times than a reasonable person would expect. It can be infuriating, but the author handled her situation with grace and good humour.

Still, the next essay gets very serious very quickly. A look at violence – specifically violence against women perpetrated by their partners or former partners – it would have been a jarring eye-opener had I not already familiarised myself with those statistics. For people who aren’t familiar with them, this essay is a short and painful one, with subtitles such as ‘who has the right to kill you?’, ‘the party for the protection of the rights of rapists’, and ‘the chasm between our worlds’.

The serious tone persists throughout the rest of the book for the most part, relenting occasionally to reveal Solnit’s excellent tongue-in-cheek brand of humor. You can almost see her smirk and raised eyebrow, and it’s great. The topics of discussion range through feminism, economics, politics, and literature, extrapolating upon the places in which they intersect and inviting further thought on the matter.

Certain themes or points are brought up in more than one essay, but that only serves as a reminder that they were first published separately and not as a collection.

It’s very hard to choose a favourite essay, but I think ‘Woolf’s Darkness’ and ‘Cassandra Among the Creeps’ are tied for me.

‘Woolf’s Darkness’ was an interesting exploration of ‘embracing the inexplicable’, backed up with the writing and thoughts of Virginia Woolf, along with other figures of literature, and of the author herself. It was the topic I was most unfamiliar with going into the book, which is most likely why I found it the most interesting.

‘Cassandra Among the Creeps’ explores the more familiar territory of society’s disinclination to believe women about – well, anything. It begins with the story of the seer Cassandra, who is cursed to see the future but always be met with disbelief. The author explores ‘female hysteria’, and the way that the media, society, and even other women, are led to disbelieve and malign women.

This entire selection of essays is exceptionally well-written, and something I enjoyed engaging with more actively than a fiction pick. Like I did in my school days, while reading I scribbled notes and thoughts to myself. Solnit writes in a way that makes it easy to imagine yourself having a conversation with her.

I’ll definitely be reading more essay collections, and more of Solnit’s work as well. Have you read Men Explain Things to Me? Any of Rebecca Solnit’s other books? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Company Town

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To my regret, it’s been a long while since I last posted. I’ve been very busy, as I now have three jobs so I’m always on the go! (Two bookstores, and a paper store. Living the dream.) Still, things have settled a bit and I’m getting into a routine so I’m back now. I’m hoping to be able to get back to more regular posts once more, so stay tuned.

After being on hold at the library for more than a month, I’ve finally received more of this year’s Canada Reads finalists. It’s with great pleasure that I bring you today’s review.

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Company Town was the Canada Reads candidate I was most eager to read this year. I love sci-fi, and especially more speculative stuff. Throw in the fact that Madeline Ashby is also a ‘strategic foresight consultant’, and I was chomping at the bit to get to this title.

I raced through this novel at lightning speed, reading whenever I could squeeze in the time.

The narrative follows Go Jung-Hwa, a young woman living and working in New Arcadia – an oil rig city off the coast of Newfoundland. As an organic human in a society where most choose to augment themselves with machines and drugs, she is a rarity. She is also ‘stained’ by a birthmark that spans an entire side of her body, due to her rare seizure disorder.

Hwa works as a bodyguard for the United Sex Workers of Canada union members at the opening of the book. That right there made me fall in love with this story.

The legalization of sex work has been a hot button issue in Canada recently, especially in light of the Bedford case (2009-2013). Hwa’s friends, students, and mother are all sex workers. It was amazing to read about sex work in this context, as it was neither vilified nor exalted. The reader does get to see the different attitudes people hold towards the profession, which gives a lot of insight into those characters.

When New Arcadia is bought by the Lynch company, Hwa is thrust into a new corporate position. As she struggles to adjust to her new routine, her friends begin to die gruesomely. With a burning need to bring the killer to justice, Hwa uses all of the resources at her disposal and risks her own safety to see it done.

Reading about such a self-made and competent woman was brilliant. She can take down scary drugged up dudes twice her size, but still isn’t a paragon of perfection. At times she lacks confidence, which is revealed to be a rather serious flaw of hers. Her relationships with others are intricate and genuine. Even shunned by her loved ones, she works her hardest to do what she believes is the right thing. Even pushing others away, she recognizes that she could be pulling them closer. The romance that builds slowly in the novel didn’t feel out of place at all, despite the murder and mayhem sandwiching it.

Though set in the future, Company Town feels like it isn’t that far off from our current state of affairs. Clean energy solutions are still a thing of dreams and prototypes. Women are still treated in ways that should make you weep – illustrated by some disturbing conversations, and more graphic threats of rape, as well as physical violence. Corporations are entities whose machinations affect many lives, often for the worse. These things really helped ground this book for me – it seemed like a plausible situation, even when the technology came into play.

Cue cybernetic enhancement, self-replicating nanobots, artificial intelligence, and crossing timelines.

Boom.

These things were so perfectly entrenched in the world that Ashby created that I totally believed them. Though it got a bit confusing near the end, there was never that moment you sometimes get in sci-fi books when you’ve read some clearly bogus pseudoscience and it catapults you out of the story before you can roll your eyes. I stayed entrenched in the book the whole way through, and after re-reading a specific section things clicked for me and I knew exactly what was going on.

This was my favourite Canada Reads book so far, and I only have two left to go now. I certainly intend to pick up a copy of Company Town, and Madeline Ashby’s other books. And I can always hope that as a Toronto native, she visits my bookstore one day so that I can tell her in person how much I loved this. Hopers gotta hope.

Have you picked up Company Town yet? Did you love it? Hate it? Let me know in the comments below!

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

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As you know if you’ve kept up with my posts for any length of time, I love reading YA. Lately, I’ve been trying to broaden my book horizons so I don’t limit my exposure to different kinds of literature. I’ve been browsing the Toronto Public Library’s Overdrive collection, and I came across this gem of a title.

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As far as memoirs go, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes is certainly one of the most unusual that I’ve read. It details a young woman’s first forays into work at a crematorium and into the North American funeral industry.

Caitlin Doughty speaks in a frank and appealing way about her work and her evolving thoughts about death and the way it’s viewed in our society. The narrative is peppered with incidents that are morbid and hilarious – sometimes both at once. It’s a fascinating look into an industry that keeps civilians at a distance, often to their detriment.

The narrative is linear, and the reader follows Doughty as she goes from a rather naïve death idealist, to a realist seeking to promote a healthier understanding of death and all it entails.

She meets many interesting people, as you would expect from those who deal with the dead on a regular basis. Their insights added a lot to her evolving journey, as did the glimpses of the different ways that people dealt with their dead loved ones.

Peppered throughout the narrative were glimpses of the death rituals of various peoples all over the world, during various time periods. The reader also learns of the origins of the modern rituals we currently practice in North America. It was honestly fascinating, and I’m curious to learn more about many of the things I learned.

I loved this book.

Death is something I’ve thought about in a vague way, but Doughty encourages the reader to really examine it. She encourages you to talk to your friends and family about it, and to make plans for what will happen to your body once you’ve died.

Another great mark for this book is the bibliography in the back that lists all the sources quoted by the author within. There’s also a reading group guide in the back written by the author, along with resources for death and end-of-life choices.

I would absolutely recommend this book to everyone. We’re all going to die. We should all be able to face our own mortality with a sense of calm that few seem able to do. So read this book, think about life and death, and laugh at the ridiculous situations the author has witnessed and found herself in.

Have you read Smoke Gets In Your Eyes? What did you think? Can you recommend any other unusual memoirs? Let me know in the comments below!

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

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Short review today, folks.

A while ago, I mentioned going to a book tasting with my friend J, where we both picked up Giant Days.  I also managed to pick up another book that had been on my TBR list for quite a while. With even more encouragement from J (you should read that, it’s really good) I finally picked up a copy of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

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I’d be surprised if you’re North American and haven’t already heard of this book. I mean, it came out a decade ago. But it has also been at the center of some controversy. It’s been censored – removed from libraries, school reading lists, and rebuked for it’s depiction of violence (read: hardship) and sex (read: masturbation).

Honestly, the protagonist is a 14-year-old boy, and people need to readjust their expectations, in my opinion.

I really enjoyed this book.

All too often in books depicting Native American protagonists, they are othered quite neatly. But Junior’s voice is clear and funny, and everything I would expect to hear from a boy his age. His natural musings and good humour really put his life experiences into perspective.

Struggling with the quality of his education, and the alcoholism and deaths prevalent in his community, Junior leads a life that his friends off the reservation would struggle to understand. Still, this glimpse into his life and community was compelling – his voice was believable and I really enjoyed the little drawings peppered throughout the book.

Junior’s voice while straightforward was also very insightful. There’s a moment two chapters into this book that I knew I would like it.

“Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.”

Truth.

Junior loves his community, but he also feels trapped in it. He decides to attend the all-white school off of the reservation, and with that decision comes a whole lot of difficulties. Still, he handles it with all the aplomb that a 14-year-old could be expected to. He’s a smart and sensitive kid and you root for him the entire book through. You wish for more for him, for his family, and for his community.

The depictions of side characters were excellent in this book. Junior’s family and friends were just as interesting as he was, for all that we didn’t know as much about them. His relationship with Rowdy the whole book through was especially touching and telling.

If you’re looking for a quick read, I would recommend this one. I don’t generally read contemporary literature that isn’t genre fiction, but this one is a gem.

It will give you things to think about – maybe things you hadn’t ever considered.

Have you already read this book? Did you enjoy it? Let me know in the comments below!

Ruin and Rising

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So, I’ve finished reading the Grisha Trilogy.

I’m so sad it’s over.

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If you remember my reviews of the first two books, then you already know that I loved them. This final book didn’t disappoint me in any way.

The first book was a sunny dream of opportunity and happiness compared to this book. It basically tore out my heart and ate it. Terrible things continuously happened with no seeming end in sight.

My heart broke continuously for Ravka, for Alina and Mal, for Nikolai, and even for the Darkling. The beauty of Bardugo’s writing was that she made me care about everyone she introduced me to. I felt for the Stag and the Whip in the previous books, and for the unnamed peasants that are killed to prove a point. It’s a mark of skill that she’s able to make her reader care for even the most reprehensible character: the Darkling.

We learn more of him in this book. It humanizes him to an almost uncomfortable degree. How could a man, even one with such power, come to such an end? Well, you’ll damn well find out.

The reader sees more of Genya, Baghra, and Nikolai, which I was very happy with. Character development was at an all-time high, bringing out new facets of Zoya and Sergei, Tolya and Tamar, and characters we didn’t see much of in the previous books. More is learned of Baghra’s past – and man did I read those parts breathlessly.

The cult of Sankta Alina is rather strongly featured and is interesting – as are Alina’s feelings about it. Ravka is broken, at war with itself while trying to keep outside forces at bay as well. Alina must dig deeper than she thinks herself capable of to try and salvage something of her country and its people.

I found the development of Alina’s character to be very satisfying. In any other character, the self-doubt and constant questioning of motives would be annoying – but here, they simply weren’t. As I mentioned in previous reviews, Alina’s voice seemed so real to me that I couldn’t find her a nuisance, or foolish. In any case, I thought choices were very realistic for someone put in so many impossible situations. Even to the end, she isn’t perfect – never the Sankta that the Apparat wished for. While I always suspected she would come to a tragic end, the way that Bardugo handled it was absolutely flawless.

I find myself at a loss to discuss just why exactly I loved this book so much. I spoke about it to someone when I finished it, and there was a lot of hand flailing and eye-widening to get my point across.

Was the plot well paced? Yes. Was it unpredictable? Yes. Were the characters interesting? Yes. Was the world-building on point? Yes. Was the ending satisfying? Yes.

Plenty of books have those factors and I don’t love them.

Really, it all boils down to this: I felt so much.

I laughed with Alina, and cried with her. I felt her confusion, her conflict, her desire. I felt sympathy for the Darkling and for Baghra, and Mal, and Nikolai. I wished fervently with Baghra (and Alina) that the Darkling could be redeemed. I felt Alina’s stricken pity and understanding as Morozova’s legacy is revealed – and her pain as it was truly understood.

Any books that can make me feel so deeply with and about their characters deserve my love.

Ruin and Rising was, in my opinion, an excellent ending to a fantastic series. While I’m sad to be finished, I’m incredibly pleased that Bardugo has written another series in the same world. Sadly not in Ravka, but you can’t have everything. Even still, her short stories (available on Tor.com) give even more insight into the culture of Ravka for those left wanting more.

I can’t wait to pick up Six of Crows, but I think I should have a cool-down period first.

Have you read the Grisha Trilogy? Did you love it, hate it, or not really care either way? What other books made you feel deeply with and for their characters? Let me know in the comments below!

Giant Days: Volume One

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In rediscovering my love for the library, I’ve been trying to attend library programming that I think I’ll enjoy. To that end, a friend and I headed to a ‘book tasting’ at a local branch to discover new titles we might find intriguing.

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We both picked up the first volume of Giant Days, as it was slim and seemed like a fun choice.

It centers around three young women, Susan, Esther, and Daisy, who have just started at university and become friends in the process.

Daisy was homeschooled, and is quite naïve to the ways of the world. Esther is pale and lovely, and perhaps too interesting for her own good. Susan is the narrator, and in her own words is the common sense silo of the group – though she is perhaps more jaded than she lets on.

I found this to be a fast and enjoyable read. At times laugh-out-loud funny, it is the exact kind of mood lightening story that I needed at the time. This was predominantly a story of friendship. The girls tackle issues that come and go in uni: getting sick, making bets, finding love, avoiding old flames, drugs, and navigating the confusing tangle of academics and feelings.

The reader follows the girls as they learn what it is to live in the wider world. Actions have consequences, and while they’re generally funny in this book, Susan’s choices especially come back to eat at her a little more seriously.

The side characters McGraw, Ed, and Nadia were great as well. Just enough about them was said to make them interesting, and I’m looking forward to seeing them in future volumes.

The art was colorful and perfectly captured vivid facial and body expressions. The panels were laid out in a simple narrative fashion that suited the story.

The antics and depiction of the main characters will keep you entertained throughout this volume, and have you looking forward to the next one.

A solid choice for a fun read.

Have you read Giant Days? What was the last fun read you picked up? Let me know in the comments below!