THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES by Mindy McGinnis

Just finished this little gem of a YA book and had to post. I read a lot of YA… a lot of it. So it’s always nice when a book surprises me. And this book did.

It’s the story about a girl named Alex whose older sister was murdered in a small town. Alex is out for blood, peeps. Alternating between three characters – Jack, the popular boy who takes an interest in our psychotic protagonist – Peekay, the preacher’s daughter who is, honestly, just a nice representation of your basic teenage girl – and Alex, our dark hero. I actually thought the author did a good job of making the teens authentic. Other interesting characters pepper the story, friends, ex boyfriends and girlfriends, teachers, parents, police officers, townie boys. It’s a quick read – gets right to the action – and stays in first person (via three people).

I loved it! I bought it for the library, but I’m keeping this copy… already placed an order for another. It’s not Stephen King or Girl on a Train… it’s more like watching a really fun thriller movie. Bite sized and easy to digest. Highly recommended for a quick, dark read.

RATING: FOUR STARS

Title: The Female of the Species
Author: Mindy McGinnis
Originally published: 2016
Genres: YA, Contemporary Fiction

INTO THE DROWNING DEEP by Mira Grant

It’s creepy and it’s gay. Need I really say more?

I finished another chunk of Into the Drowning Deep and while becoming more terrified of dark places in the water, I also discovered one of the scientists was gay. A few scenes later I learned the newscaster was also gay, as the two women began blushing and being awkward around each other. Not implied gay, mind you. This is not me reading into behavior. The author confirmed. These women are gay and crushing on each other. I nearly died.

Listen up, friends. Finding a book with explicitly gay characters that isn’t a romance novel or specifically about the “gay” experience, is rare. This book isn’t marketed for the gay crowd, either, which is awesome. It’s a horror/thriller novel. And two of the main characters are lesbians and (fingers crossed) gonna share some intimacy before being murdered by sea creatures. They might even live! I mean, barriers are being crossed here! The “kill the gays” trope that so prevalent in media might not be a part of this story…

When I woke up this morning, I was still thinking about how happy I was to have this nerd courtship happening amidst the cruise ship Bloodbath. And that’s when I started thinking about how the culture is changing (in this respect, for the better) – that horror novels have lesbian protagonists now. And not a solitary lesbian, either, but two of them. I mean, one would have been amazing… but two is like winning the lottery. I couldn’t think of a single horror novel with lesbians (other than Sawkill Girls, a YA horror novel that just came out last month).

I did a quick search and got several small press book results. But Orbit is a big publisher. Into the Drowning Deep has almost 10 thousand reviews on Goodreads and a 4.03 star rating. This is a huge win – for myself, for the community, for readers everywhere, and for the author.

*I finished this book shortly after writing the first half of this review – in 2018. For some reason, I never got back around to finishing it or posting.

So here I am… four years later… finally posting this review in 2022.

And I’m happy to report that there are even more gay horror and thriller on the shelves now, with more being published each year. So many more that it seems strange now that I was so shocked by the inclusion in this book only four years ago. Sometimes you just have to get the ball rolling and leave the rest to gravity and demand. I’m also happy to report Into the Drown Deep was badass until the very last page – and remains one of my all time favorite horror novels. The visual imagery from several scenes will haunt my mind forever. We’re talking permanently seared. Like how I can’t see a picture of a lighthouse now without thinking of The Southern Reach Trilogy.

This book deserves a sequel. It doesn’t necessarily need one, but damn would I love to read one. The author, Mira Grant (aka Seanan McGuire), has even said that she has a story in mind but her publisher doesn’t seem too keen to get the book out. I find that outrageous. Why would you not want to bank on a sequel to such a popular book?

Recently the author Brandon Sanderson told the world he had a few books that he’d written that were unpublished and started a Kickstarter campaign to see if his fans would help him get the books out. It became the largest Kickstarter campaign in history, raising over 20 million dollars in three days. All I’m saying is that I would fork out some money to the Kickstarter campaign for more mer-murder books.

Do yourself a favor and read this book. It’s got action, adventure, mystery, thrills, chills, and mysterious terrifying creatures. It’s outstanding, unique, and worth every bit of your time.

RATING: FIVE STARS

Title: Into the Drowning Deep

Author: Mira Grant

Originally published: November, 2017

Genres: Horror fiction, Science fiction, Fantasy Fiction, Nautical, Adventure, Thriller

BORNE by Jeff VanderMeer

Mord vs Borne, concept art by ArtStation

Overdue book review of Borne by Jeff VanderMeer. I have had to sit with my thoughts over this one for a few days to decide whether or not I liked it. I did. But I also… didn’t?

Theo Ellsworth’s woodcut of Mord

Concept-wise, it’s brilliant and strange… a toxic city is ravaged by bio-engineered creatures, including a three-stories-tall flying bear. At the heart of it a couple lives holed up in an abandoned apartment complex… the dude making psychedelic drugs from beetles… the gal out scavenging for edible “products” to keep them alive. Our scavenger then finds Borne, a strange glowing blob which she takes home… and raises, as it morphs through continuous forms and eventually starts talking.

sketch of Borne

Borne is a delightful, fun creature – eager to explore and learn and play word games with his human companion. But Borne is also terrifying and unknown… scarier, in a way, than all the other horrific things you come across in this book.

Unfortunately, the pacing is slow. It’s not as depressing as Margaret Atwood’s maddaddam trilogy – but it has the same structure… in that it’s slow, even for a relatively short book, and you’re interested in the characters but you don’t really like them… so it seems even slower. Eh.

Borne by rhunevild

I hear they’ve optioned it for a film. Which I look forward to. The visuals left a permanent impression in my brain – and I will never be able to shake Mord, the flying bear, his fur matted with blood and biomatter…. or Borne, the grotesque yet fascinating shape-shifting creature that hops around exclaiming things with the delight of a toddler.

Illustration by Keith Negley

If you’ve seen Annihilation, that’s also Jeff’s work. It’s based on a novel from his Southern Reach Trilogy (which is a solid 5/5 for me – every book – loved that series). Disturbing, non-conclusive, and haunting – the film was an excellent adaptation even though it changed quite a bit.

What can I say? Wait for Borne the movie? Read it? Don’t read it?

I don’t know. I do know I have enjoyed looking at the fan art just as much as I reading the book… so… maybe that helps.

See More Amazing Fan Art HERE.

RATING: THREE STARS

Title: Borne
Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Originally published: April 24, 2017
Country: United States
Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy Fiction, Dystopian Fiction

THE SERPENT KING by Jeff Zentner

Spent my Saturday settling into another great book – The Serpent King – about three outsider kids growing up in a small town in Tennessee. Dillard Early, son of a snake handling preacher recently imprisoned, Travis, a huge gentle soul with the heart of Tolkien, and Lydia, a fashion blogger who has always had dreams too big to contain in a small town. Excellent characters, all very strong and distinctive. This was a beautiful story of that transitional time in life where you know you’re going to lose things in the gamble to gain other things.

Let me just say… MY SOUL WAS SHREDDED BY THIS BOOK.

I’ve only cried over a few books in my life. Fault in Our Stars, Bridge to Terabithia, maybe a few others. This book had me sobbing. Gross, snotty, inconsolable sobbing. Anyways, other than being a knife into my heart, it was also incredibly good. It reminded me, in many ways, of Where Things Come Back, one of my all time favorite YA books. Wow. Just… bravo, Jeff Zentner. I look forward to reading whatever you write next.

RATING: FIVE STARS

Title: The Serpent King
Author: Jeff Zentner

Originally published: March 2016

Genre: Fiction

MORE HAPPY THAN NOT by Adam Silvera

More Happy Than Not is the book that tried to kill me.

It was exceptional – incredible! And it just walks you right off the edge and leaves you a devastated puddle at the end. 100% worth it, though.

It’s the story of a young guy growing up in the Bronx, in poverty, all the games he and his friends play, their favorite comic shop, their quest for tail and a free beer and even a flicker of hope in their lives. I don’t even know how to talk about this book… it’s so good! It’s completely unexpected and emotionally gut wrenching and romantic and raw and remarkable for a first novel (well done Adam Silvera). It’s written with the authenticity of someone who grew up the same way… so I can’t help but suspect there are many mirrors of Adam’s own story in the text.

Anyways, nothing you think is going to happens. I think anyone who reads a lot or even watches a lot of television gets used to following certain plotlines – and this book destroyed them all. Repeatedly. Gah. I cried. And then I kind of gaped in horror as the narration drew to a close because… gah. For the brave readers, I highly recommend jumping off this cliff.

RATING: FOUR STARS

Title: More Happy Than Not
Author: Adam Silvera
Originally published: June 2, 2015
Genre: Fiction

OUTLIERS by Malcolm Gladwell

Every once in a while you read a book that not only changes how you view the world – but has the potential to change the world. Outliers is one of those books. It digs into our misconceptions about achievement, talent, economics, culture and luck. This book examines how your generation, your date of birth, your upbringing (and so much more) can significantly affect whether or not you achieve in this world.

Malcolm Gladwell is good at getting conversations started. He runs through a room full of huge subjects, lifting back curtains to give us glimpses into his hypothesis. You can learn a great deal from this book, but most importantly it asks you to do more work on your own. The conversation started here is important – and forces you to reflect upon your own circumstances in relation to where you currently are in the world. You’ll probably want to thank you parents or, if not, maybe change your own parenting. You may have heard of a few of these theories before – but I was honestly surprised by quite a few revelations in this book, leading me to “Ah Ha!” moments of my own while reading.

This book should be required reading… for all humans.

RATING: FIVE STARS

Title: Outliers
Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Originally published: November 18, 2008
Genre: Self-help book

 

UPROOTED by Naomi Novik

Nine hours later… and my reading day is complete! UPROOTED certainly deserves the Nebula Award (that’s for the best sci fi or fantasy novel in America, mind you… high praise and illustrious company indeed). It’s a stand alone novel that feels like a saga cause there is a lot going on in this book! World-building, politics, history, magic, traditions… it all reads as if it’s common knowledge, easy to follow and mentally thick. Your head will simply go with the flow when you’re reading it.

The gist of the story is this. Every ten years, a powerful wizard called The Dragon takes a young girl to live with him, locked away in a magical tower. In ten years time, the girls come out… but they’re always changed. And they never, ever go home again. Enter our plucky and extremely likable main female character, the next girl chosen by the wizard. The wizard really stole the show in this book, as the grumpiest, funniest, snarkiest and most memorable male lead I have read in a while. Well done, Novik! This isn’t a romance novel, though. If you expect that, you will be disappointed…cause it kinda tries but just fails in that respect. I must admit, I was a little disappointed but c’est la vie.

Our antagonist is the WOOD… a mysterious dark forest filled with horrors… that is slowly encroaching on the kingdoms, swallowing villages as it goes. This is some deliciously eerie and scary stuff… people going instantly insane, cows wandering in and coming out all twisted and deformed, people being eaten by trees. Just freakin’ awesome. AWESOME.

On the outside of the wood, we have two kingdoms with a shaky truce. That gets demolished within a few chapters and war breaks out. There are crafty, devious wizards of the court. There are undying queens buried alive. There is a young woman reborn by magic curiously impervious to harm. There is so much going on! And all the while the narrative remains this consistent, evenly paced melody of words that just lulls you along through this crazy world. Like Willy Wonka when they’re on the ferry boat and everyone is freaking out but he’s just kind of maniacally calm.

I loved how magic was explained in this book. I won’t attempt to explain it… just read it. READ IT! It’s a truly beautiful story…

RATING: FIVE STARS

Title: Uprooted
Author: Naomi Novik
Originally published: May 2015
Genres: Fairy tale, Fantasy Fiction, Romantic fantasy
Awards: Nebula Award for Best Novel

I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson

“I’ll Give You The Sun” is a story about fraternal twins, both resoundingly artistic with jealousies and rages that compete with mythological gods. This story is told in alternating voice, between the siblings, and in alternating times… before and after. Before what and after what are the mystery of the novel – and there are several befores and several afters hidden in the pages. In the end, it’s a heartbreakingly beautiful story about family, unconditional love and conditional love, first loves and deep seeded regrets. The plot in itself is outstanding – a very richly layered story with fully realized characters, both young and old. I feel in love with everyone in this story, and saw a little bit of myself reflected in each of them.

But the story is not what makes this book great – it would have been pretty good if anyone wrote this plot, probably – but what makes this book shine is revealed in the cover: huge implications in small words, “I’ll give you the sun” indeed – the title surrounded by a radial explosion of colors. That’s what this book is – words crafted so unusually, so cleverly, so astoundingly that they paint in your head. It’s overwhelming at first, all that language, all those images, but it tames down a bit after a while. Or maybe I just grew accustomed to it after a while, I’m not sure. I’ll have to re-read it for closer inspection. And I’m sure I will re-read it.

Though I loved all the love stories in this book (there is more than one), the one that hit me hardest was Noah’s. Torment, fascination, recognition… and always that burning question “Are they?” I cried on and off repeatedly while reading it – sometimes with joy, too. The only problem I had with the book was the character of Zephyr… and the bag of mixed messages there, but it’s only a side plot so I’ll happily put it aside for now and just bask in the contentment of finishing an excellent book. Anyways, it was a remarkable novel and I highly recommend it.

RATING: FIVE STARS

Title: I’ll Give You The Sun
Author: Jandy Nelson
Originally published: September 16, 2014
Genre: Young adult fiction

THE WINNER’S TRILOGY by Marie Rutkoski

Finished this trilogy last night… some random thoughts:

The Winner’s Curse – Book One: The best of the lot – angsty romance (I love a romance where there are very extreme situations keeping the lovers apart, think “Your dad killed my parents!” or “Our love is forbidden and we could both be killed for it!” In this series, her people have just conquered his, she buys him as a slave, he’s plotting the revolution (ie killing of her people) while they’re slowly falling for each other… that’s some quality angst) – pristine and lush writing – great world building, mystery, and strong unique characters. Overall / a good book. 4/5 stars.

The Winner’s Crime – Book Two: Hm… espionage. Politics. More angsty and less engaging. Introduces new (best) character, Roshar, a mutilated prince – and the emperor, a great baddie. Surprising plot twists. 3/5 stars.

The Winner’s Kiss – Book Three: Should have been combined with book 2, as the majority of this book is flashbacks and long stretches of sorting through feelings. Battle sequences. Plot twists. More of Roshar being Roshar. And happy endings. 2/5 stars.

Final Thoughts. The covers did nothing for this series, in my opinion. Neither the hardbacks nor the paperbacks capture the mood of this story.

TRILOGY RATING: THREE STARS

Title: The Winner’s Curse, The Winner’s Crime, & The Winner’s Kiss
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Originally published: 2014, 2015, 2016
Genre: Fantasy Fiction

WHEN WOMEN WERE BIRDS by Terry Tempest Williams

here on earth: when women were birds

Here on Earth: When Women Were Birds by Beth Conklin

I recently read “When Women Were Birds” and it’s superb. The book starts out with the death of her mother – who bequeaths her collected journals – only the daughter finds the journals are all blank. Every page, shockingly empty. From there she contemplates her mother’s life – her words, spoken and unspoken. It’s not a connected story, but small gathered thoughts and memories and personal reflections on the women in her life – her mother, her grandmother, teachers, women in the church – and also on women in general – the voice of women. It’s very powerful and thought provoking and hauntingly moving… apt for Mother’s Day. It has an intimacy in its honest portrayal of women, their secret lives, their silences, their many voices.  Like a cacophony of birds, it’s unified in that it’s loud and a thousand cries into the sky but not necessarily melodious. Don’t go into this book expecting a unified plotline, it’s more of a unified theme.

Tempest was raised Mormon in Utah – her mother and grandmother both lost to cancer caused by the nuclear testing in the 50’s – something the government didn’t own up to until the 80’s. It’s a unique book in which you can tell the author took pains to express some of the most difficult emotions. I admire anyone willing to dig so deep. 

Anyways, I loved it. But like bird song, I don’t treasure it. It felt universally beautiful but did not connect with me personally. 

When Women Were Birds : NPR

RATING: FOUR STARS

Title: When Women Were Birds
Author: Terry Tempest Williams
Originally published: April 10, 2012
Genres: Biography, Autobiography