Little List of Reviews #8

Welcome to another little list of reviews! I have a little backlog of reviews that I’ve been wanting to post, mostly for me since these are ones that I bought myself (and one free arc from my old job). They’ve been sitting as empty drafts since like… May, maybe, and it’s time to get those written and move on so I can write about other things!

Little List of Reviews #8Title: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
Series: The Invisible Library #1
Published by Roc
Published: June 14th 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 341
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Collecting books can be a dangerous prospect in this fun, time-traveling, fantasy adventure from a spectacular debut author. One thing any Librarian will tell you: the truth is much stranger than fiction...   Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, a shadowy organization that collects important works of fiction from all of the different realities. Most recently, she and her enigmatic assistant Kai have been sent to an alternative London. Their mission: Retrieve a particularly dangerous book. The problem: By the time they arrive, it's already been stolen.   London's underground factions are prepared to fight to the death to find the tome before Irene and Kai do, a problem compounded by the fact that this world is chaos-infested—the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic to run rampant. To make matters worse, Kai is hiding something—secrets that could be just as volatile as the chaos-filled world itself.   Now Irene is caught in a puzzling web of deadly danger, conflicting clues, and sinister secret societies. And failure is not an option—because it isn’t just Irene’s reputation at stake, it’s the nature of reality itself...

FEATURING BONUS MATERIAL: including an interview with the author, a legend from the Library, and more!

Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library is the first in a series of books that involves libraries, special books, and dragon-shifters. I loved the world-building and desperately wanted to become a Librarian while reading it, and this novel serves its purpose as a set-up for everything else because it was a lot more telling and description than it was character-development and depth. That doesn’t deter me from wanting to continue the rest of the series (and I’ve got most of them, as far as I can recall), so I’m looking forward to seeing where the adventure goes next. I’m a little weird about steampunk as a genre because it can get confusing in its setup, depth, and exploration, but I thought Cogman’s delivery and worldbuilding led to in-book plausibility and created a solid foundation.

Little List of Reviews #8Title: Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
Series: The Crescent Moon Kingdoms #1
Published by DAW
Published: December 31st 2012
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 367
Format: Mass Market
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

From Saladin Ahmed, finalist for the Nebula and Campbell Awards, comes one of the year's most acclaimed debuts: Throne of the Crescent Moon, a fantasy adventure with all the magic of The Arabian Nights

The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, home to djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, are at the boiling point of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince. In the midst of this brewing rebellion a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. But these killings are only the earliest signs of a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn the great city of Dhamsawaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.

Saladin Ahmed’s The Crescent Moon is one of the most engrossing fantasies I’ve read in a long time. The second I picked it up and started reading it, I fell in love with the atmosphere, the language, and the story. It sank deep into my soul, and I’ve not been able to stop thinking about it since I read it. I felt like I was right there in that world, standing just off to the side as everything unfolded. It features a ghul hunter, a magnificent shapeshifter, and a holy warrior dervish, and each of these characters felt so refreshing and real that I forgot sometimes that this was pure fiction and not based off of something that had once happened once upon a time. But perhaps it did… If you’re looking for something incredible and breathtaking, pick this one up. I do hope one day he’ll continue on with the series, but this also functions as a completely perfect standalone.

Little List of Reviews #8Title: Exhalation by Ted Chiang
Published by Alfred A. Knopf
Published: May 7th 2019
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 350
Format: ARC
Source: Work
Goodreads

alternate cover for this ISBN can be found here

The universe began as an enormous breath being held.

From the acclaimed author of Stories of Your Life and Others — the basis for the Academy Award-nominated film Arrival — comes a ground-breaking new collection of short fiction: nine stunningly original, provocative, and poignant stories. These are tales that tackle some of humanity's oldest questions along with new quandaries only Ted Chiang could imagine.

In "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate", a portal through time forces a fabric seller in ancient Baghdad to grapple with past mistakes and second chances. In "Exhalation", an alien scientist makes a shocking discovery with ramifications that are literally universal. In "Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom" the ability to glimpse into alternate universes necessitates a radically new examination of the concepts of choice and free will.

Including stories being published for the first time as well as some of his rare and classic uncollected work, Exhalation is Ted Chiang at his best: profound, sympathetic — revelatory.

Contents:- The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate (2007)- Exhalation (2008)- What's Expected of Us (2005)- The Lifecycle of Software Objects (2010)- Dacey's Patent Automatic Nanny (2011)- The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling (2013)- The Great Silence (2015)- Omphalos (2018)- Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom (2018)

I can’t sing enough praises about Ted Chiang’s writing. He’s one of my all time favorites, and I was so excited to see his newest collection of stories on the arc shelf at my old job. These are mostly reprints, I believe, but each one is fantastic. There are very few writers who can like… make me straight up cry with the magic, scope, and depth of their writing, but this is a collection you’ll not want to miss.

Little List of Reviews #6

It’s been a while since I’ve done a little list of reviews! I tend to do this when I only have a few thoughts about a book, it didn’t excite me much, or a myriad of other reasons. Sometimes I also just like to get reviews done and get them off my to-do list! I also am the sort of person who sometimes prefers the shorter review. Give me thoughts, not the plot! These are all super backlist books for me because I’ve had them on my shelves forever.

Little List of Reviews #6Title: The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry
Published by Penguin Books
Published: January 26th 2010
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 278
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

"This debut novel weaves the kind of mannered fantasy that might result if Wes Anderson were to adapt Kafka." --The New Yorker

Reminiscent of imaginative fiction from Jorge Luis Borges to Jasper Fforde yet dazzlingly original, The Manual of Detection marks the debut of a prodigious young talent. Charles Unwin toils as a clerk at a huge, imperious detective agency located in an unnamed city always slick with rain. When Travis Sivart, the agency's most illustrious detective, is murdered, Unwin is suddenly promoted and must embark on an utterly bizarre quest for the missing investigator that leads him into the darkest corners of his soaking, somnolent city. What ensues is a noir fantasy of exquisite craftsmanship, as taut as it is mind- blowing, that draws readers into a dream world that will change what they think about how they think.

One of my professors used this book in one of her mysteries English courses and since I had already graduated, I really wanted to read it after she spoke about it with me over lunch. However, it sat on my shelves for almost three years until I finally picked it up in one of my “I’m going to choose some books I’ve been meaning to read since forever and actually sit down and read them” phases. (If you’re curious, I picked four and have since read three!) I appreciated this for what it does. I hesitate to call it magical realism because that’s Latin American in its roots, so it’s probably more along the lines of fabulism. The Manual of Detection plays with the mystery genre and all its tropes and twists them up and around. I enjoyed it while I was reading it and I read it in a day, but I ultimately found something weirdly lacking with it.

Little List of Reviews #6Title: The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff
Published: October 27th 2015
Genres: History, Non-Fiction
Pages: 498
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Work
Goodreads

Pulitzer Prize winner Stacy Schiff, author of the #1 bestseller Cleopatra, provides an electrifying, fresh view of the Salem witch trials.

The panic began early in 1692, over an exceptionally raw Massachusetts winter, when a minister's niece began to writhe and roar. It spread quickly, confounding the most educated men and prominent politicians in the colony. Neighbors accused neighbors, husbands accused wives, parents and children one another. It ended less than a year later, but not before nineteen men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death.

Speaking loudly and emphatically, adolescent girls stood at the center of the crisis. Along with suffrage and Prohibition, the Salem witch trials represent one of the few moments when women played the central role in American history. Drawing masterfully on the archives, Stacy Schiff introduces us to the strains on a Puritan adolescent's life and to the authorities whose delicate agendas were at risk. She illuminates the demands of a rigorous faith, the vulnerability of settlements adrift from the mother country, perched--at a politically tumultuous time--on the edge of what a visitor termed a "remote, rocky, barren, bushy, wild-woody wilderness." With devastating clarity, the textures and tension of colonial life emerge; hidden patterns subtly, startlingly detach themselves from the darkness. Schiff brings early American anxieties to the fore to align them brilliantly with our own. In an era of religious provocations, crowdsourcing, and invisible enemies, this enthralling story makes more sense than ever.

The Witches is Schiff's riveting account of a seminal episode, a primal American mystery unveiled--in crackling detail and lyrical prose--by one of our most acclaimed historians.

The Witches is one dense book, in content and in pages. I grabbed this off the ARC shelf at work forever ago because I enjoy reading about the Salem Witch Trials, but as usual life and other books got in the way. Now that I’m seriously weeding my shelves and my ARCs, I told myself I had to read this one now or let it go. I read the first few chapters and got sucked in to the bizarreness of it all, but it’s very dense and difficult to read at times from a technical standpoint because it almost expects you to have a solid knowledge of Puritan American history. I do find the parallels fascinating though because so much of it is still in practice today in regards to the treatment of women.

Little List of Reviews #6Title: The Girl from the Savoy by Hazel Gaynor
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Published: June 7th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 419
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Presenting a dazzling new historical novel … The Girl From The Savoy is as sparkling as champagne and as thrilling as the era itself.

Sometimes life gives you cotton stockings. Sometimes it gives you a Chanel gown …

Dolly Lane is a dreamer; a downtrodden maid who longs to dance on the London stage, but her life has been fractured by the Great War. Memories of the soldier she loved, of secret shame and profound loss, by turns pull her back and spur her on to make a better life.

When she finds employment as a chambermaid at London’s grandest hotel, The Savoy, Dolly takes a step closer to the glittering lives of the Bright Young Things who thrive on champagne, jazz and rebellion. Right now, she must exist on the fringes of power, wealth and glamor—she must remain invisible and unimportant.

But her fortunes take an unexpected turn when she responds to a struggling songwriter’s advertisement for a ‘muse’ and finds herself thrust into London’s exhilarating theatre scene and into the lives of celebrated actress, Loretta May, and her brother, Perry. Loretta and Perry may have the life Dolly aspires to, but they too are searching for something.

Now, at the precipice of the life she has and the one she longs for, the girl from The Savoy must make difficult choices: between two men; between two classes, between everything she knows and everything she dreams of. A brighter future is tantalizingly close—but can a girl like Dolly ever truly leave her past behind?

I love historical fiction, the Jazz Age, and Hazel Gaynor’s writing, but this story took a while to gain momentum and really pique my interest. I mostly read it on my phone in slow times while out of the house, so I took a little while longer to read this than I do other books. The voices were charming, life at the Savoy and in London were richly described, but the ways in which the characters intertwined with each other just seemed a bit too perfect.

BOOK REVIEW: Borne and The Strange Bird, by Jeff VanderMeer

BOOK REVIEW: Borne and The Strange Bird, by Jeff VanderMeerTitle: Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
Published: April 25th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 323
Format: Hardcover
Source: Work
Goodreads

"Am I a person?" Borne asked me.

"Yes, you are a person," I told him. "But like a person, you can be a weapon, too." In Borne, a young woman named Rachel survives as a scavenger in a ruined city half destroyed by drought and conflict. The city is dangerous, littered with discarded experiments from the Company—a biotech firm now derelict—and punished by the unpredictable predations of a giant bear. Rachel ekes out an existence in the shelter of a run-down sanctuary she shares with her partner, Wick, who deals his own homegrown psychoactive biotech.

One day, Rachel finds Borne during a scavenging mission and takes him home. Borne as salvage is little more than a green lump—plant or animal?—but exudes a strange charisma. Borne reminds Rachel of the marine life from the island nation of her birth, now lost to rising seas. There is an attachment she resents: in this world any weakness can kill you. Yet, against her instincts—and definitely against Wick’s wishes—Rachel keeps Borne. She cannot help herself. Borne, learning to speak, learning about the world, is fun to be with, and in a world so broken that innocence is a precious thing. For Borne makes Rachel see beauty in the desolation around her. She begins to feel a protectiveness she can ill afford. 

"He was born, but I had borne him."

But as Borne grows, he begins to threaten the balance of power in the city and to put the security of her sanctuary with Wick at risk. For the Company, it seems, may not be truly dead, and new enemies are creeping in. What Borne will lay bare to Rachel as he changes is how precarious her existence has been, and how dependent on subterfuge and secrets. In the aftermath, nothing may ever be the same.  

“He was born, but I had borne him.”

Jeff VanderMeer’s Borne evokes a sense of the weird and the unsettling in a probable near-future reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam trilogy. In the novel, a young woman named Rachel scavenges and survives in a city ravaged by an unnamed ecological disaster. The city’s grounds are littered with the remnants of the now-defunct Company’s biotech, and the city is not-so-subtly governed by the actions of Mord, a giant flying bear. During one of her scavenging missions, Rachel finds a little lump of something not quite plant and not quite animal named Borne. Borne disrupts Rachel’s life little by little until his very existence threatens to upheave everything in Rachel’s life and in the strange ecosystem of Mord’s territory.

This standalone novel from the author of the Southern Reach trilogy explores how humans abuse science and nature for technological or monetary gain, and Borne shows us the aftermath of that greed. The novel also explores what it means to be a person, what it means to love and then to let go of love, what it means to live and then to die, and what it means when one finds beauty in the midst of so much chaos. VanderMeer manages to pack so much description, emotion, and longing into such a short novel, and it’s a novel that will make you reread passages and sentences again and again because of their beauty and complexity.

BOOK REVIEW: Borne and The Strange Bird, by Jeff VanderMeerTitle: The Strange Bird: A Borne Story by Jeff VanderMeer
Published: August 1st 2017
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 96
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

 The Strange Bird is a companion story to VanderMeer’s Borne, and the novella adds even more depth to the world in which VanderMeer has created in Borne. The Strange Bird is part human, part bird, and she is rejected from the world in which she lives, because she is not wholly human nor wholly animal. The timeline of this novella occurs before, during, and after the events of Borne and offers an outside view of those events. While Borne explored in its complexity what it means to be a personThe Strange Bird explores what it means to be free and know oneself when the world seems to “naturally” conspire against your very existence. It’s a highly recommended follow-up if you’ve read Borne and wanted more.

Little List of Reviews #6: Short Fiction

It’s time for another little list of reviews! This time I’m focusing on some short fiction that I’ve read recently, from a classic, to science fiction, to a modern fairy tale.

Little List of Reviews #6: Short FictionTitle: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Published by Riverhead
Published: March 7th 2017
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 231
Format: Hardcover
Source: Borrowed, Work
Goodreads

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.

Exit West follows these characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.

 Exit West seemed to be all over the place once it was released, and with everyone I knew talking about it and a lot of people at work buying it, I thought I should give it a go because it sounded timely and relevant to today. Mohsin Hamid’s lyrical writing draws you into a world that ultimately you as a reader only catch glimpses of the heartache, the fear, and the love each of the two main characters experience for themselves and with each other. In a style that bends time and space to fit the journey, the two main characters escape what is a war-torn country in the Middle East, and we follow them as they make their way westward. It is all at once a tale that speaks of the plight and routes refugees take from Syria and other nearby places and a tale that speaks to the ultimately human journey to adulthood and discovering oneself. It is a story of discovering what it means to have an identity and of holding onto love when it’s necessary and learning to let go when it’s time to let go, no matter how unprepared you might be for the end.

 

Little List of Reviews #6: Short FictionTitle: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Published by Penguin Modern Classics
Published: October 1st 2009
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 158
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

 We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a Gothic novella about the Blackwood family home and the lengths Merricat, the youngest Blackwood, goes to in order to preserve their way of life. Throughout the book, you get the sort of foreboding feeling that something is not quite right about Merricat’s behavior, especially when cousin Charles comes to visit, and while the story plays into a lot of the Gothic genre’s tropes, it doesn’t fail to thrill. It’s an exacting commentary on the preservation of oneself and one’s family in the midst of change, either in the house or in the world beyond. It asks the question what does identity mean? The meaning of identity is not generally answerable in itself but in the implications and complications that arise in the midst of everything else. Why else would Merricat say she put “death in their food and watch them die?”

 

Little List of Reviews #6: Short FictionTitle: We Who Are About To... by Joanna Russ
Published by Penguin
Published: January 1st 1970
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 128
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

When I saw the covers of the Penguin Worlds science fiction classics collection, I knew I had to get them all. Not only for the covers but for the selections as well. One of my areas of research is science fiction because I feel like it’s an underrepresented genre in the grand scheme of the great literary canon, and Joanna Russ’s We Who Are About To… is a masterful novella about the agency a woman has, doesn’t have, and should have over her own body. Instead of conforming to the little civilization her companions decide to form in the wake of a spaceship crashing on a relatively unknown planet, the narrator decides to learn how to die when all hope is lost. Reading this book today feels very trope-y and cliché at times, but it’s important to put this in the context of the genre today. It plays with those tropes, gives a woman agency over her own life instead of submitting her body to be a vessel for reproduction, and shows us the very humanity in deciding on whether or not to live or die when you know there’s ultimately no hope for rescue or survival anyway.

BOOK REVIEW: Caraval, by Stephanie Garber

BOOK REVIEW: Caraval, by Stephanie GarberTitle: Caraval by Stephanie Garber
Series: Caraval #1
Published by Flatiron Books
Published: January 31st 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 407
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Work
Goodreads

 Hope is a powerful thing. Some say it’s a different breed of magic altogether.

The buzz for Stephanie Garber’s Caraval said it’s perfect for those who like Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and Neil Gaiman in general, but you know, for teen audiences. While it lacks the complexities found in Morgenstern’s and Gaiman’s works, I can see why other people made the connection. It’s magical, and it’s that kind of YA fantasy that’s like candy, all sweet, a little sour, not much by way of depth, so if you’re expecting the kind of depth and complexity that The Night Circus offered, you’ll be disappointed. This is the kind of book I can see myself reading again while at the beach or outside in the summer with a cold drink. I really enjoyed reading this. I struggled for the first fifty or so pages because I think I was expecting a similar kind of world-building that came with The Night Circus or the ominous, lingering darkness found in Gaiman’s works, but once the story really started picking up speed, I couldn’t put this down.

Caraval follows two sisters, Scarlett and Tella, who live with their overbearing, abusive father. They’ve never left their homeland, and Scarlett has especially dreamed of visiting the mythical, traveling Caraval. The invitations are exclusive, but Tella and a mysterious sailor whisk Scarlett away to the oft-dreamed about place. Once there, Scarlett realizes that there is so much more to Caraval that she could imagine and danger is always within reach, that all sorts of risks are involved with games.

The romance and everything seemed to be a whirlwind ride and almost a little too fast-paced, but then I remembered what it was like to have a crush on someone when I was younger, and the rise and fall of that crush seemed to only take a week with a burst of intense emotion between the beginning and the end. In that sense, it almost seems like a warning to the younger crowd – be mindful of your heart, your desires, and your hope, because it might be destructive if you don’t think it through.

I received an advance copy of this book through my work. All opinions are my own.