Mini-Reviews

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It’s been a while, folks! It’s true that things have gotten a bit away from me this year. Still, I have been reading despite being busy with other things, and I’m back to share my thoughts on some titles.

You know when you’re looking forward to reading something and then begin it and realise rather quickly that it isn’t what you thought it would be? Yeah, that was The End We Start From in a nutshell.

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I received an e-arc of this earlier this year and it took me a while to start it. When I finally did, I wasn’t as wowed as I expected to be. The cover is undeniably beautiful but the content wasn’t to my liking. I was expecting a book centered more around a dystopian society or a world-shattering event. The book is narrated by a woman navigating her way through what appears to be society-altering flooding. It’s quite fragmented, taking place over a large period of time. Despite that, I really wouldn’t shelve this as science fiction or dystopian.

The book focuses a lot on the protagonist’s sense of new motherhood. The story meanders and there isn’t really a plot. This wasn’t my favourite read, but if you’re looking for something sparse and contemplative to read during the winter this may be for you.

Next up: Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend.

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That’s right, this is a real book. I was egged into reading this by a co-worker after she told me that Bearllionnaire was a thing. (Review of that to come in the new year, fear not.) Thinking it might be the exact kind of weird and hilarious read I would enjoy, I caved to the peer pressure and went for it.

Sadly, it was not good. Not the kind of not good that you can enjoy and read because it’s still fun, but just the didn’t finish kind. The protagonist was unlikeable, and while that isn’t usually a deal-breaker for me, if I’m 50 pages in and still haven’t had very many scenes with the aforementioned Pterodactlyl Boyfriend, I call foul on the whole thing.

Next, Ask Baba Yaga.

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I’ve been dipping in and out of this gem since I picked it up a few months ago. I read a couple pages before bed every night and I’m super sad for the impending end of the book. Formatted as an advice column, regular mortals seek answers to every day problems from the well-known oracle/witch Baba Yaga. Beautifully formatted with thick, glossy pages and intricate illustrations, I highly recommend this.

While Baba Yaga’s advice is obviously strange, sometimes violent, and often cryptic, it reads well and is always rather solid stuff. Just great on all fronts. If you like weird, you’ll love this.

Another good read was The Witch Boy.

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I read this back in spooky season, on the recommendation of a co-worker (not the same as above). Bless her heart she knows me well, I did indeed love this. The story revolves around a boy born into a magical family where boys become shapeshifters and girls become witches. His entire life however, he’s felt no pull to shapeshift, only a desire to learn the spells taught to his female kin.

This graphic novel was wonderfully illustrated, and the story, while straightforward was really lovely and absolutely something I would recommend, especially to younger readers. I’m sad that this is a standalone and I hope the author revisits this ‘verse in her future work.

That’s all for now. Have you read these titles? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Summer Catch-Up

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After disappearing for a summer far too packed with work, I’ve returned with more reviews! I thought I’d kick things off with some mini reviews of what I’ve been reading in my absence. While being less prolific than usual, my choices have run the gamut from non-fiction to comic books and I’m happy I’ve kept to my goal of stepping outside my YA comfort zone.

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I’ve never been much of a poetry reader, but I greatly enjoyed this collection. While I wouldn’t categorize Kaur’s work as traditional poetry, it resonated deeply with me. I felt a kinship with many of the experiences she alluded to, and I’ll certainly be revisiting it when I’m in a pensive mood or I need a good cry in the bath.

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman

A book with this title was too intriguing to pass up, and it turned out to be a quick and easy read. While enjoyable enough, I found the essays to be a mixed bag. My favourites in the collection were those speaking of Serena Williams, Nicki Minaj, and Hillary Clinton. Still, even in my favourites there was a lot of repetition of ideas and regurgitation of source information. The author spent more time quoting other sources than she did forming her own ideas.

Wonder Woman: Warbringer

Centered around a teenage Diana, this novel was supremely enjoyable. While not a part of any current DC canon it was a great story with lots of fun and feeling! Diana was a greatly sympathetic character, but she was also a very believable teenage girl. The friendship she forges with Alia was really moving – and their distinct personalities and lives complemented each other. The supporting cast of characters was well developed and Bardugo sets an adventurous pace that makes it easy to read through without stopping. I can’t wait to read more of the DC Icons series and of Bardugo’s work as well!

 The First Bad Man

This book was recommended to me by a friend, and it was utterly bizarre. I found all the characters unlikable and strange. Everyone is clearly dealing with their own issues. The protagonist is clearly suffering from a mental illness, and an unusual one at that. It was interesting to see the world from her perspective. I spent a lot of the novel being frustrated with her, and yet I still wanted to know how the story would turn out. Still, it isn’t something I would re-read.

 That’s all for now, but I’ll be posting more regular content from here on out. What have you been reading this summer?

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!

Roar

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Hello folks! I’ve been MIA for a little while, I know. My best friend has given birth to a beautiful baby boy, and I’ve been helping out as an honorary auntie. Luckily, I had some reviews waiting for approaching publication dates, so you’ll still be getting some posts!

Though I’ve been looking to expand my reading horizons, I do still love YA and read it consistently. I had a lot of hope that this early June release would be wonderful, and I was really looking forward to a romp in a cool new fantasy setting.

Cue letdown music.

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Princess Aurora is due to be married to a handsome prince to secure the safety of her kingdom in a land ravaged by sentient storms. When she discovers that she may have other options, she decides to take her fate into her ow hands and runs away with a group of storm hunters.

With these talented individuals by her side, Roar (Aurora’s chosen new persona) is ready to discover all that she has missed during her sheltered life.

Here’s the thing: this concept was so freaking cool.

Sentient storms? City-states? Different forms of magic and magic systems co-existing? Various cults and religious groups?

Sign me the fuck up.

It really pains me to say that I didn’t really enjoy this book.

Despite the cool concepts this book falls flat onto its underdeveloped face.

The meat of the fantasy setting was practically non-existent. What I got instead was an overabundance of storm descriptors and metaphors when speaking of other things, and a very unfortunate case of insta-love. (TWO cases, actually. Yes, really.)

The perspective changes were pretty useless, considering the majority of the plot focused on Roar’s feelings for Locke rather than her future or that of her people. Thus, the small glimpses of Nova’s perspective, and Cassius’ perspective, and the Stormlord’s perspective were strange and out of place little inserts.

This book felt far more like an unsatisfying romance novel than it did fantasy fare. Considering it only gave any truly useful or interesting info in the last forty or so pages, the 300 page length was honestly ridiculous. The romance itself was not fun to read about, as it contained: pining, angst caused by misunderstandings (that would be easily solved through communication), and falling in love with virtual strangers.

This would have been a much stronger story had it been half the length and more focused on the world-building or the plot rather than the romance. If Roar and the crew had learned more about each other, had they learned more of their world, had they been able to actually accomplish anything throughout the length of this novel it would have been a lot more engrossing.

The secondary characters were quirky in appearance and surface personality, and we learn absolutely nothing of substance about them. The politics in the book aren’t well developed enough to be the kind of plot point the author seemed to reach for, and I was just rolling my eyes a lot while reading.

Though I want to learn more of this world and it’s denizens, I can’t bring myself to sit through pointless (and pathetic) romance story lines when I was promised fantasy. I certainly won’t be reading the next book in this series.

Do you intend to pick up a copy of Roar? Do you agree or disagree with my points? Let me know in the comments below!

The Man Who Remembered the Moon

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In my quest to read different things, I happened across this title at work. I don’t remember ever purposefully reading a novella, but I might end up making a habit of it. The cool cover and title drew me in, but I found good substance within.

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The Man Who Remembered the Moon was an interesting little tale.

“Daniel Hale will not be released from a mental institution until he renounces his belief in a celestial body he calls the moon.”

This story was exactly as advertised. One day, Daniel Hale realizes the moon is missing. Unfortunately, he’s the only one who notices. In fact, the rest of the world is completely oblivious to the fact that the moon ever existed. All references to the moon have disappeared along with the celestial body itself.

This novella was really cool. For the majority of the story, it was a rather frightening exploration of what life would be like if everyone was convinced you were crazy. What would life be if you were surrounded by so much doubt that you actively started to doubt your own sanity? The story was fascinating, and I read the whole thing in one go.

Though I admit that I was hoping for a sci-fi solution or ending, the actual conclusion to the story was totally unexpected. After mulling it over, it was pretty brilliant. This is certainly a novella that will make you think, and the main character’s stream of consciousness was very entertaining.

This was a well-written thought experiment that I definitely enjoyed.

I’ll be checking out move of David Hull’s work, and I suggest you do the same!

Do you have any novellas to recommend? Let me know in the comments below!

*(Fanfic Feature Friday will be back next week, never fear.)*

The Vegetarian

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Occasionally, an award-winning novel has so much hype that I feel I absolutely have to read it. That’s even more the case if the general Goodreads population concurs with critics in saying it’s a transcendent work of fiction. I used to feel as if maybe I wasn’t intelligent enough to understand some of these novels, as I didn’t enjoy them at all. Was I missing something? What was the huge draw that made people heap praise upon those pages?

I found a beautiful copy of The Vegetarian at work, and was determined to find out.

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I’ve been hearing about this book for ages. I’ve seen it pop up on my Goodreads updates feed, I’ve seen it critically reviewed and praised, I’ve seen people reading it on the TTC, and it won the Man Booker International Prize last year as well. I’ve had friends and employers recommend it. So it was with equal parts apprehension and excitement that I cracked open the first page of this book.

First, the prose was undeniably beautiful. Simple, but written with turns of phrase that made it a quick and thoughtful feeling read. My praise to both Han Kang and her translator, Deborah Smith.

The narrative being divided into three parts worked well for me. I found the narrators in the first and second parts to be rather reprehensible people. I wondered as I was reading if I was enjoying myself or not. Why was I seeing events transpire from their point of view? Should I even keep reading? It was only when I came to the last part of the story that I understood the author’s decision to divide the narrative in such a way.

While I later learned that the author wrote this as an allegorical tale, I think it works very well at face value. Though I resent the use of rape as a plot device, the story (sans allegory) was a fragile and disturbing tale of falling further into a madness that has never really been apparent until events begin to escalate.

My favourite perspective was In-hye’s. Through her we learn more of Yeong-hye’s childhood, and of her sister’s similarity to her own husband. In-hye’s narrative was one that made me think the most. It was the most human to me, as she was a likeable character who struggled with her choices and responsibilities, and even resented her sister for lifting the shackles of a life that she couldn’t bring herself to abandon. She drew parallels between events and characters that I wouldn’t have otherwise considered.

I loved the last part of the novel. Had the entire thing been from In-hye’s perspective, this would have been a five star review. The touches of bizarre and mystical elements also worked well for me.

As it is, I walked away feeling appeased rather than truly satisfied.

Will you enjoy this book? Hard to say. But it’s under 200 pages, and well-worth checking out for the beautiful writing alone. I’ll certainly be reading more of Han Kang’s work.

Have you read The Vegetarian? Share your thoughts in the comments below!