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

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

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

THE TESTING by Joelle Charbonneau

“All leaders have to live with disappointment at some point or another. If I have to learn that lesson early, I won’t enjoy it, but I will do my best not to let you down.” 
― Joelle Charbonneau, The Testing

I’m over halfway through The Testing; They have finally gotten to the 4th Test (where they are thrown 700 miles outside of town and asked to find their way back) and suddenly I just couldn’t care less what happens.

I enjoyed the beginning… the farming colony, the family, and the first three tests (sort of SAT tests with violent shenanigans) but now that we are down to the two main characters out in the wild… ugh… they are so boring, I can barely stand it. Cia and Tomas. Gag. They have zero personality… they don’t flirt, they don’t joke, they don’t ponder serious things (or anything) or have mental hysterics about being locked in metal boxes or having their legs nearly blown off at fake-watering holes. And this story apparently goes on through three more books.

The society structure makes no sense – it doesn’t seem evil at all, in fact it seems to be benefiting most people… so the “Let’s gather the smartest kids together and kill off most of them” plotline defies reason. Some books start bad, while others wait to turn on you halfway through… oh well. I glanced over a few reviews to make sure I wasn’t just hitting a slow spot… giggled over this review “If you like constantly being told where you are, who is saying what, and the internal conflict of being in love with a lifeless pillow while trying not to get killed for no apparent reason, than this is the book for you” and thought… yeah… I think I’ve had enough.

Next! (unless one of you has read it and convinces me it gets better, that is… anyone? anyone?)

RATING: DNF

Title: The Testing
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Originally published: June 4, 2013
Genre: Fiction, Dystopian

A LITTLE LIFE by Hanya Yanagihara

Image result for a little life by"

The majority of this review will be in the spoiler section – down below – because I need to talk about this book, ramble and rave and rant.

Without spoilers – let me say this book is excellent. It’s thick, but it manages to flow smoothly from one section to the next.

There is a hook that will dig pretty deep into your subconscious, the mysterious past of one of the main characters, that will gently pull you, then drag you, then rip you out of the water as you struggle to regain your sense of reality. This mystery – and my burning need to KNOW WHAT HAPPENED, even as I knew that it would be awful and make me cry and I might regret finding out – is what truly made this book stand out from the crowd.

Like all the characters in the book, who also don’t know the secret the one guy keeps buried, but also got hints, that dared to imagine yet couldn’t quite ask outright, you are deeply, deeply compelled to reveal this mystery – even as you subconsciously shield yourself from it. There must be some psychology about this reflex – the need to know mixed with the instinct to remain ignorant. The reason we can’t help but look at car crashes, the ways it plays with our minds, the ways tragedy changes our view of things. It’s such a push and pull.

This book is a car crash you can not look away from.

And like a car crash, you will be forced to reflect on your life as you witness the decimation of others. Even though you most likely don’t know them – even though it doesn’t touch you directly – it is a shared fragility, our humanity. And how we think depends on where we are in the equation. Who are you in the scenario – The one driving the crashed car? The one driving by the scene? The one at fault in the accident? The one who walked away? The one would couldn’t? The one brought in to clean up the mess? The one who tries to get everyone around it moving again? The one who will report it? The one to examine the corpses? Inform the families? Cry at the funeral? The one who will remember that once they knew that person and now they are gone and be shaken by it? The one who will turn over to find an empty bed because of it? The one who will defend the guilty party in court? The one who will judge them? The one who will see only a singular mistake that cost so much or the one who will see only a slaughter that deserves retribution? And even as this web of interconnections spreads out and unites us all – it also thins out and we know the scene will be cleared, the departed put to rest, the fates of those affected will be altered but continue on, to new fates. And we will never forget. Or often forget. Or forget immediately. And all of those responses are correct.

This book is not, mind you, about a car crash. I mean it is. But it’s not.

This is a book about people. And how we are nothing to almost everyone, and yet how we are everything to ourselves and the few people whose lives intimately touch ours. It’s about how we get to know people and how we are never known. It’s sad and beautiful, because we are all such complicated messes. Our insecurities are deep and profound and stick with us throughout life, like a deep layer of skin we can never shed. It doesn’t matter how our personal insecurities compare to others – whether they are warranted, earned, deserved, or simply there. They are huge and they dictate our lives and are the shadow our bright suns fall into and escape from each day.

If you haven’t read it – well, you may not want to. Look at the cover. If that cover appeals to you – then you should read it. If you look at that face and think, “My God, what is this the cover image?” then perhaps it’s not. The book cover is perfect – a handsome face contorted in pleasure or in pain? Is that beautiful? Is that ugly? We always smile for pictures – or at least try to look attractively neutral. We are composed and presented – but we really can’t see what others see – what we look like when we’re caught in a moment. We don’t see ourselves when we’re lost in thought or crying or laughing or staring at a computer screen. So many things shape who we are. Our bodies. Our genetics. Our upbringing. Our experiences. We are inside and out, always.

Rating: 5 Stars.

So – let’s just… ditch the metaphors and get right into the mess.

Follow me to spoiler land…

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SKY WITHOUT STARS by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell

Sky Without Stars (System Divine Book 1) – an amazing science fiction reimaging of the famous class struggle epic Les Miserables, cowritten by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell. Who would have thought, eh? But it works.

This is book one in what I hope will be at least a three book series. Humans have populated a new star system with twelve habitable planets. All of the action of book one takes place on Laterre, a rain-soaked planet where the ruling class keeps the vast majority of the people in dire poverty. The three main characters are modeled after Cosette (Aloutte, raised protected in a secret library), Marius (Marcellous, grandson of the highest ranking military officer), and Eponine (Chatine/Theo, a street rat who understands the system better than anyone – and has lost all hope). The planet is on the verge of revolution as the tension between the classes rise. There are secret societies and spies and prisons on the moon. And bringing it all together, outstanding prose… “The rich traded goods and extravagances. While the poor traded dreams and ideas.”

It’s vastly different from the origin story – but the basic plot points are woven in with clever sci fi twists and if you’re a fan of the original story, you’ll find yourself smiling when you run into them, thinking, “Oh, nice touch! Bravo, mademoiselle authors!”

Just… wow. Definitely a solid four star book – though I would recommend maybe waiting until the sequel comes out to read it, cause the end leaves you dangling and tense.

RATING: FOUR STARS

Title: Sky Without Stars (System Divine Book 1)
Authors: Jessica Brody, Joanne Rendell
Originally published: March 26, 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Young adult fiction

SAWKILL GIRLS by Claire Legrand

“Why do the monsters eat girls?” she asked at last.

“Because,” Marion answered, looking beyond Zoey to the sea, “when a predator hunts, it seeks out the vulnerable. The desperate.”

Zoey’s laugh was bitter, “Oh, and we poor delicate girls are vulnerable and desperate, is that what you’re saying?”

“What I’m saying,” Marion said, now looking right at Zoey, her gray eyes bright, “is that girls hunger. And we’re taught, from the moment our brains can take it, that there isn’t enough food for us all.”

I finished Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand yesterday – and it’s a great spooky YA book. A monster lives on a small island populated by the wealthy elite – and it feeds on the innards of teenage girls. There’s a lot going on in this book – but at its heart its about girls and how disposable they are in society. It’s about female anger and how girls fight back.

I loved this book – but I confess I wanted more from it (which I’ll dive into below in the spoilers section). Overall, it was an enjoyable, spooky book and I definitely recommend it to those who seeking a good, bloody story featuring a diverse (in color and sexuality) cast.

I desperately want there to be more books in this series. All my fingers and toes are crossed for further exploration into the pocket dimensions, powers, cults, and monsters lurking in new books. Even if it’s different characters each time, she’s opened a window into a very unique world and I want to go there again and see more.

Rating: 4 Stars.

So… SPOILER DISCUSSION TIME…

 

Continue reading

BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys

“Whether love of friend, love of country, love of God, or even love of enemy—love reveals to us the truly miraculous nature of the human spirit.” 
― Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray

Just finished “Between Shades of Gray” by Ruta Sepetys… it was horrible. And by horrible, I mean it was wonderful. It’s an excellent book about a terrible thing.

Here’s the basic plot: Russian troops round up all the teachers, the artists, the military leaders, the politicians and theologians and stuff them on train cars and ship them off to Siberia to work in the freezing cold and the polar night during WWII. Almost everyone died. On the trains, in the labor camps, in the cold, of starvation, in the snow dropping from starvation, of disease or NKVD cruelty… it’s rough.

There’s one scene where a little girl won’t get on the train and the soldiers shoot her doll in the head… I don’t know why, but I found that small act of cruelty just too much… the little girl then goes slightly mad and talks to the ghost of her doll for the duration of the book.

Anyways, back to the plot: The main character is Lina, an artist, who uses her art to send messages, win favors, record history and escape the world. Her mother and younger brother are also with her – while her father is segregated to another train and never seen again. The struggle for survival is brutal – and the slow progression of days is very well captured in the narrative. The flashbacks interspersed a needed reminder that once these people lived comfortable lives.

This book won tons of awards… I mean, the award list is long and international… and I must say, well deserved. But I’m grateful to be done with this book – as I hate the cold and have no desire to ever venture towards the earth’s poles, be it north or south, and if I never see snow again in my lifetime, I would not miss it. What can I say? As good as it was, I just can’t love it. I’d loved other books about miserable, cold, war experiences (City of Thieves, for example), but this one…

Going to read fantasy next… need to escape!

P.S. The movie is out now – it has been renamed “Ashes in the Snow”… to avoid confusion with 50 Shades of Gray, no doubt

RATING: 3.5 STARS

Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Originally published: March 22, 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction