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!

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!