Tag Archives: dystopian

One for Now, One for Later

And boy, they couldn’t be more different.

One for Now: Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

31451186This one is… it’s more sci-fi than I’m used to, let me start with that.  I’m okay about sci-fi, but I’m picky.  Borne was another book that was getting rave reviews at the NCIBA Spring Workshop and the concept is bizarre enough that I decided to give it a shot.

Basically, dystopian society in which our narrator (woman named Rachel) describes a world that was once ruled by the Company and is now actually ruled by Mord, a gigantic bear and one-time project of the Company.  Yep, you read that right.  Bear.  As in big furry mammal.  Rachel and cave-mate Wick (who are also occasionally lovers) hang out in Balcony Cliffs together until one day, while out scavenging, Rachel finds a little pod thing and names is Borne.  She carries it home, and eventually Borne begins to grow.  Rachel takes on an almost maternal role with Borne, and debates arise as to whether or not Borne is a person, what happens after death, and the usual existential crisis sorts of topics.  There’s also a woman named the Magician who pops up occasionally, and the Mord wannabes who try to kill people.

I’ll give you a moment to unpack what I just wrote.

There you go.

Not being a gung-ho sci-fi gal myself, I found it to be almost a little too far-fetched, largely because of how matter-of-factly people dealt with a gigantic flying bear.

Oh, I didn’t mention Mord flies?  Yeah.  Giant flying bear.

VanderMeer, author of the widely acclaimed Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance), is a great writer.  The construction of the novel, told through a first-person narration with occasional disconnected thoughts or oddly broken sentence, works beautifully.  And the end did surprise me.  Not all of it, but enough that I sat there and actually said, “What?”  So that was a pleasant change.

My issues with the book are strictly personal preference — while I would love to say I enjoyed this wholeheartedly and would read it again, I can’t.  I can say that I’m very curious about VanderMeer’s trilogy and might just give that a shot.  As far as Borne goes, there’s a lot of good here, and if you had any interest in it at all, you should read it.  Even if you don’t love it, I think you can easily find something to appreciate about the work itself.

And on a completely shallow note, the cover of the book (U.S. edition) is really cool.

One for Later: You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie

41q0PArw2hL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_I’m firmly of the opinion that Sherman Alexie is one of the greatest American writers ever.  Like, I’d put him right up beside my boy Fitzgerald.  Easily.  He doesn’t dwell on easy topics or obviously funny things, and he doesn’t make everything out to be pitiable or dark.  Instead, he blends light and dark, tragedy and comedy so beautifully together that everything he does is a work of art.

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is a tough book.  After his mother died at 78, Alexie wrote 78 essays and 78 poems about their relationship, and it’s not an easy one.  But Alexie doesn’t shy away from the difficult, scary, horrible parts of life — abuse of all kinds, broken promises, health issues — but tackles everything with his truth.

And I purposefully say “his truth” because some of my favorite moments in the work come when he remembers something one way and is informed he’s mistaken.  The imperfection of memories, especially about those with whom you share an intimate collection, is faced as the best writer should: head-on and with a sense of humor about the bits that might not be completely accurate according to the rest of the world.

I think I keep emphasizing the humor in this book, but I wonder if humor is the right word.  There are a lot of moments in this where I laugh out loud, and there are a lot of moments where I think I’m a horrible person for laughing.  But that’s what I consider Alexie’s greatest strength to be in all his writing that I’ve had the pleasure to read.  Being a writer who only writes “serious” books or a writer who only writes “funny” books usually doesn’t amount to being much of a writer that I appreciate.  A writer who can make me smile in the midst of something terrible, or who can shock me with a funny story — that’s a writer who has a real gift.

I don’t mean to make this an ode to Sherman Alexie, but he deserves it.  Hell, he deserves a whole book of odes about how great he is.  But here’s what I’ll say about his new book: read it.  If you like him at all, read it.  If you’re interested at all, read it.  If you happen to be walking by a shelf in a library/bookstore/grocery store/Target/friend’s house/place on Earth and you see it sitting there, take it.  And read it.

Although I recommend checking it out/paying for it/asking politely if you may borrow it first, just because it seems most of society finds that more appropriate than just straight up taking a book.  But still.  Take it and read it.

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is out June 13th.

Other notables before I sign off:

  • Rainbow Rowell’s delightful book Carry On comes out in paperback TUESDAY and the cover is gorgeous.  The book is also a complete delight and is probably one of my favorites of all time, so it just gets better and better.
  • I’m working on my first Daphne du Maurier, Frenchman’s Creek, at the suggestion of a friend and I’m loving it.  Swashbuckling and romance and Cornwall.  Can’t get much better.
  • Still staring at Washington: A Life as it takes up space on my to-read pile.  I WILL FINISH THAT BOOK.
  • I just realized that these two books both have a sort of mother-son relationship in them.  Needed a present for Mother’s Day?  You’re welcome.
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The Bone Season

Let’s get the apology out of the way: I’m sorry it’s been exactly one month (okay, give or take) since my last review.  My excuse is that I’ve been working and doing schoolwork and… well, you get the idea.  So unless you want to read my review of Paradise Lost (lots of Hell, lots of sin, lots of Satan screwing over the human race) or A Farewell to Arms (see this clip of Silver Linings Playbook, although I will say it’s obvious Pat has never read any Hemingway if he’s complaining about a depressing ending…), I’d just accept that I’ve been on a long hiatus and am now back with a new read!  And on that note…

So here’s the thing: I don’t know if I like this book or not.  And now you’re probably thinking, “You give us a paragraph long explanation of why you haven’t reviewed something, then you get to the review part, and then you tell us you don’t know what you think of it?  What’s wrong with you, weirdo blog girl?”  To be fair, I’d think that, too, if I were you.  But I’m not, so I don’t.  Instead, I’m trying to wrap my mind around this novel.

The Bone Season is a new(ish) release from debut author Samantha Shannon.  Let me take this opportunity to congratulate her on 13636400publishing and to emphasize that no, I’m no insanely jealous that she’s my age and got a ridiculous book deal and is probably laughing all the way to the bank.  And maybe this is part of my issue with reading this – I want her to succeed.  So much so, I forced myself to keep reading even when I thought it was the weirdest/most incomprehensible book I’ve read in a long time.  And that includes Mrs. Dalloway.

Here’s the basic gist (although I can’t say that I really am going to do it justice): British history changed when Edward VII was declared Jack the Ripper and the aether (????) opened and the Rephaim came through the rift and took over the world…?  And now clairvoyance is a no-no, so people like our narrator (Paige Mahoney) are doing their best to hide their talents.  But then Paige is taken to the lost city of Oxford where the Rephs live/train humans/I really don’t know what they do other than lurk to be part of the Bone Season.

Are you lost yet?  Because this is why it took me about 250 pages to really want to read to the end.  And in a 450 page book, that’s not particularly promising.

I’m not warning you off this completely – I think there’s definitely potential, especially since it’s supposed to be a 7 book series (I have a sneaking suspicion that the books are going to follow interactions with – or even the actual characters of – the Seven Seals) but I can’t get into this world.

Maybe part of this issue is also because I’ve been rereading Harry Potter and I’ve been sucked, once more, into the wonder Rowling created.  Her world, which did not alter our own drastically, was much more relatable than Shannon’s, but that doesn’t mean Shannon’s is inferior.  I respect her creativity very much, but I’m so, so confused.

And here’s the other thing: I’m so over love triangles.  Of all kinds.  I don’t care if it’s because it’s unrequited or because the girl is a total b***h or because they’re angsty teenagers who can’t figure out the difference between love and lust.  I just hate love triangles.  Now, the love triangle in this was not what I expected (the human one plays a minor role), but this time there were pretty much two love triangles.  It’s like my worst nightmare, squared.  The second love triangle is the one that you totally see coming if you have any concept of how novels with romantic elements work: girl meets guy who’s involved with other girl, she hates him at first, but then she comes to love him.  Oh, and he’s loved her pretty much the whole time.  And they’re willing to sacrifice lots for each other after they realize they really do trust each other.

I’m sorry, but it’s just like every other book ever written ever.

Also, if you know Greco-Roman mythology, you should pretty much get the Cupid/Psyche myth allusions off the bat.  The Adonis/Aphrodite stuff later was kind of surprising, but in a world where there are creatures from the aether who may or may not be incarnations of death (???) or maybe spirits trapped in truly toxic relationships… well, anything goes.

Okay, sorry, I got off track.  Other than love triangles, what was it that confused me?  Oh, right.


Let me reiterate: I want Shannon to succeed.  I think this has great potential.  And somehow, I imagine I’ll get suckered into reading the next one because I want to see what happens in the non-human/human love triangle (I know where I’d take it, but I want to see if that’s the way she’s going to take it).  But I still don’t know what happened in the book.

Why are people rebelling?  And what’s the difference in all the factions of weirdos/normals/Reph-I-think-they’re-really-speaking-dementors?  Like, I need a total chart system to get all this straight.  If you think Lord of the Rings is tough to keep track of, holy mackerel.  This one will throw your head into a gold medal dive into the deep end.

There are also elements of historical events, but I don’t get how it affects the aforementioned factions.

And let me repeat: for the first 250 pages, I had no idea what was going on.  At page 409, when the romance that’s been simmering finally boils over, I really wanted to finish.  And as soon as the Warden (the Reph that takes care of Paige) enters the picture, I knew he was… well, let’s just say that if you saw Snape’s storyline coming (and I proudly state that I predicted probably 90% of that by Order of the Phoenix) you know this guy is going to be in the same kind of boat.  So you keep reading to make sure he’s really what you think he is.

Oooh, I just realized that the whole Warden/Paige situation that’s weird and complicated is very similar to the Suze/Jesse storyline of Meg Cabot’s The Mediator series (which I totally recommend).

I’ve seriously lost my place in my thoughts, so I’m just going to wrap this up.  Out of five stars, I’d give The Bone Season a solid 3.  On the high side.  I’m going to read the next one (probably) and after a while (over halfway) I kind of almost cared.  And let me tell you, the romance at page 409 is, like, worth it.  Because nothing really happens, but the tension is ridiculous.  And then you don’t understand anything that’s happening again.

So ultimately, here it is: give Shannon a shot.  She’s a budding writer, she’s going to develop, and there are moments of really great reading.  Just don’t try to analyze/understand too intensely – you’ll only be more confused.

The book’s website and IndieBound are, as always, great sources of information.

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The Testing

The TestingThe condensed review: HOLYMOTHEROFPEARLTHISISJUSTWOW!!!!!!!

With school starting back up, it seems only right to go into the world of The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau, which has become one of my favorite teen books in recent years.  The first thing to know (and for me to acknowledge) is that, yes, it’s very similar to The Hunger Games, but there is so much more to the story than a cheap knockoff that I just can’t praise it enough.

The novel starts out with Malencia (Cia) Vale’s graduation day.  Each year, graduates from the United Commonwealth are chosen to compete in The Testing, which chooses the best to take a place at University, where they will work toward revitalizing the world ravaged by wars and ecological destruction.  Initially, it does not appear that Cia will be chosen (it’s been years since a student from Five Lakes has been) but then she and three fellow graduates are informed that they will be leaving to join other candidates for University.

There is, of course, a love interest from her home colony (Tomas) but, unlike most teen novels, there’s no real love triangle.  Cia is down-to-earth enough to recognize that she is attracted to him, he is attracted to her, and that they can’t really allow their love to go unchecked in The Testing’s environment.  And, even more surprising, they actually work together pretty well, there’s little angst, and I actually really liked him.  This is the kind of character development that gives me hope for young adult literature.  Seriously.

Anyway, Cia’s father tells her to trust no one before she goes off to what she imagines is going to be a great experience.  She doesn’t understand why he’d say that, but of course, Dad knows best.

What’s really fascinating about the set-up of The Testing is that there are four stages to the whole thing.  The first stage is the “paper” test – anyone who remembers (or has tried to forget) standardized testing or AP tests or the SAT/ACT/GRE, you know exactly what’s going on.  This is also one of my favorite parts of the whole book because the instructor/moderator must repeat every instruction just the same so as to keep the test fair for every candidate.  And you can’t help but laugh because you remember sitting there listening to the same things every time, like “if you need to use the bathroom, raise your hand; if you need to get a drink, raise your hand; if you need to go out into the hall and cry your eyes out, raise your hand.”

The second stage is a “practical” test, including tests on machinery and knowledge of deadly plant life.  And this is another reason I love this book – even though The Testing is all about who can move on to University, Cia is knowledgeable about lots of practical things, too.  Her father (and brothers) work on revitalization efforts in Five Lakes, so she understands engines or what plants not to eat – you know, things that might be useful in a life or death situation.

Stage three of The Testing is the dreaded “group” test.  And seriously, group projects happen just like the test happens.  Maybe not the same results, but definitely the overwhelming feelings of “Should I trust this person in my group?” and “If only I could do this all by myself, I’d be just fine.”  This was one of the most intense parts of the book because it’s a lot of internal struggles about trust and honesty.  I mean, brilliantly written.

For the final stage, the parallels to The Hunger Games is pretty obvious: those candidates who have survived to this stage are put into the wilderness and must survive a journey back to civilization.  What’s different about The Testing, though, is that up to 20 candidates who make it to the end can go to University.  There’s no out and out fight to the death because only one can make it, and that makes a big difference.

And that brings me to reason #1,000,002 why I love this book: it’s not all about the horrors of killing.  It’s way more than that.  It’s about having academic smarts and practical skills and somehow managing to balance the two while still maintaining an element of humanity.  It also quietly questions the tests students experience and how the education system works – there’s a revolution that will probably happen, and probably someone’s going to say, “Hey, wait, The Testing isn’t all that great,” but it’s not the only focus of the book.

What I continue to marvel at (and I’m sure this sounds old because I’m probably just repeating myself as I keep saying I LOVE THIS BOOK) is how capably Charbonneau handles delicate subjects surrounding the testing, like the stresses of studying and the need to succeed to help your community.  One of the most haunting scenes in the entire book is when one candidate commits suicide, having crumbled under the pressure of The Testing.  It’s disturbing, that’s for sure, but it’s also painfully realistic.  Academics and the pressure to succeed in school cause all manner of stresses in life (trust me, as a recent college grad, I know), and sometimes it’s too much.  It’s the only situation in the book that makes me wonder if it’s more emotionally difficult than The Hunger Games or not, simply because it’s a much more (in my opinion) realistic.  But ultimately, I walk away enjoying this much more.

Of course, I have to put in the disclaimer that I’m more academically driven in general (come on, I’m writing book reviews for fun/stress relief), so I relate more with The Testing‘s world than that of The Hunger Games.  But, very seriously, I think the terrifying future portrayed in Charbonneau’s novel is frighteningly close to what could happen in the relatively near future.

I’m not even going to go back and re-read this review to make sure it sounds coherent (it doesn’t) or that it’s convincingly positive (it must be – every other sentence is I LOVE THIS BOOK).  Seriously, read it.  You deserve to treat yourself to something incredible.  And I promise you’ll read it voraciously.  And that, my friends, is your SAT word for the week.

For more on The Testing, check out the official website or visit your local independent bookstore for more info.


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