The Feminist Book Tag

I’ve taken a step back from blogging for the last few weeks while I tried to come to terms with an upheaval in my personal life. A few weeks ago I was laid-off from my job, along with most of my department. The loss of stability, both financially and professionally, has definitely thrown me, particularly because the job loss was sudden and unexpected. I’m going to ease my way back into blogging, but may still be a little scarce as I’m having trouble focusing enough to read fiction lately.

Fortunately, Rachel of pace, amore, libri tagged me for this fun feminist-themed book tag, and what better way to ease back into blogging than with a book tag?!

1- Your favorite female author

112077Even people I’ve only talked to once or twice before could probably tell you the answer to this one. Frequent readers of this blog are probably thinking ‘when will she shut up about this Dorothy Dunnett woman?!’ and the answer is not anytime soon! I’m a devotee of her sixteenth-century set historical epic The Lymond Chronicles, which span a decade in the life of misunderstood Scottish nobleman Francis Crawford of Lymond. To be honest I haven’t read much of her other work (I’m slowly working my way through standalone King Hereafter about the historical Macbeth, and have read the first two House of Niccolo books), and I’m less enthralled by these works so far, but in five-and-a-half years I’ve read The Lymond Chronicles three times and am now embarking on a fourth. That’s certainly enough to make Dorothy Dunnett my favourite female author.

2- Your favorite heroine

cityofbladesMy favourite heroine is actually a bit of a spoiler for The Lymond Chronicles, so I’ll go with another of my favourites, Shara Komayd from City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett. Clever but practical, Shara is a tea-drinking, glasses-wearing, middle-aged, woman of colour spy. I. Love. Her. She’s vivid, incredibly intelligent, and visibly torn between her duties as an operative and her passion for history. The second novel in the series, City of Blades, features an equally unique and fabulous heroine in General Turyin Mulaghesh. Short-tempered, and often swearing, she’s a cynical, older disabled woman of colour and makes for an entirely different protagonist. If you picked up these books without noting the author’s name, you would never ever guess that they were written by a white man.

3- A novel with a feminist message

11925514Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. Focusing on female friendship during WWII, Code Name Verity is divided into two parts. The first half is written from the perspective of Julie, a Scottish spy who is captured and detained as a prisoner of war in German occupied France, while the second part is told from her best friend Maddie’s point-of-view. Both young women are fighting for the Allied forces, and both excel in roles that were traditionally male (as a spy and a pilot, respectively). They’re incredible characters and the relationship at the center of the book isn’t romantic or sexual, but this overpowering platonic love between two women.

4- A novel with a girl on the cover

5- A novel featuring a group of girls

31423183Penance by Kanae Minato features Sae, Maki, Akiko and Yuko, who were tricked into separating from their friend Emily by a mysterious stranger. Hours later, Emily was found murdered. The novel is told from the perspectives of the surviving girls fifteen years after the murder and deals with how they have each been shaped and hindered by what occurred. Each of the characters are clearly differentiated from one another and exhibit believable and unique responses to the trauma they have undergone. Although I found that some of the unrealistic plot twists took me out of the story, I still recommend this quick read for its engaging female characters and exploration of themes of guilt and responsibility.

6- A novel with a LGBTQIAP+ female character

29414576Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee is one of the first novels I’ve found to prominently feature an asexual character. The protagonist of this YA contemporary novel deals with the sudden popularity of “Unhappy Families”, a webseries adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina that she and her best friend Jack have created, while also navigating what it means to be asexual. Asexual representation in fiction is so rare that it was an absolute delight to find Tash’s sexuality handled so well in Tash Hearts Tolstoy. She’s a hardworking, creative protagonist who experiences crushes and romantic feelings for others, just not sexual attraction, and it’s so powerful to see asexuality portrayed with such care.

7- A novel with different feminine POV

19161852The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin. The Fifth Season gives us three very different perspectives; Damaya, a frightened child, Syenite, an ambitious young woman, and Essun, a middle-aged grieving mother. All are women-of-colour surviving in a world in which inhabitants endure occasional “fifth seasons”. These periods of catastrophic climate change mean that people who have the power to control and create earthquakes are feared and used, brainwashed from a young age to obey for their own good. The world-building is exquisite in its complexity, the characters (both major and minor) diverse in race, sexuality, and experiences, and the prose is gorgeous. Even if you don’t read fantasy, you should read this book.

8- A book where a girl saves the world

29749085Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo. My only experience with Wonder Woman going into this book was the recent feminist movie, which I enjoyed but didn’t LOVE. I don’t think I would have given this a second glance were it not for the author. I’m so glad that I picked up Wonder Woman: Warbringer though because Leigh Bardugo created such wonderful female characters, bringing a teenage, unproven Diana Prince to life, alongside original characters like Alia, a shy teenager with a brilliant scientific mind, and her confident, overweight, gay, brown best friend Nim. Their race against both the clock and external forces to save the world maintained my interest throughout and I felt thoroughly empowered by the book.

9- A book where you prefer the female sidekick to the male MC

j6n48zI was one of those kids who loved to read and enjoyed the learning part of school, although not always the teaching methods or the social aspects, so of course I spent the Harry Potter books relating more to studious, passionate Hermione Granger than to Harry Potter himself. I’m also a big fan of Luna Lovegood, who is compassionate and unafraid of marching to the beat of her own drum. Harry’s a likable enough character and he makes a great protagonist for the series, but I’d rather hang out with Hermione and Luna is given the chance!

10- A book written by a male author and featuring a female character

barucormorantAside from Robert Jackson Bennett’s Divine Cities trilogy, the other fantasy book you’d never believe was written by a man is Seth Dickinson’s brilliant and devastating The Traitor Baru Cormorant. Baru is a fascinating protagonist. After the Empire of Masks invades her childhood island home, they rewrite her culture, criminalize her customs, and dispose of one of her fathers. Baru vows to tear down the empire from the inside. Swallowing down her hate, she applies her considerable abilities to rising within the ranks. Ruthless and calculating, Baru is a complicated, fierce, morally ambiguous protagonist set on attaining her goal at all costs.

I won’t tag anyone in particular, but if you feel like doing this tag please pingback so I can read your answers!



Books: A History of Loneliness

22318411A History of Loneliness by John Boyne
Published February 3, 2015
A powerful novel about silence, complicity, and guilt, John Boyne’s A History of Loneliness is a fictionalized, unflinching account of the Irish Catholic Church practice of covering up allegations of abuse among its ranks by transferring abusive priests to another parish, where they were likely to re-offend, instead of reporting them to the gardaí (Irish police). In doing so, the Church opted to place the survival of the institution above the safety of its parishioners.

As he does in both The Absolutist and The Heart’s Invisible Furies, Boyne opts to tell the story from the perspective of a man looking back on his life. Each chapter is set during a different year of Father Odran Yates’ life, but the story unfolds non-chronologically, shifting back and forth through time. A History of Loneliness spans Odran’s early family life and his seminary schooling during the 1960s and 70s through to twenty-first century accusations made against the Catholic Church and Odran’s recognition of the role his silence has played in allowing the abuse to continue.

Odran is a sympathetic character, a man pushed towards the priesthood by his mother but who genuinely believes in his vocation. Like some of Boyne’s other protagonists, Odran has a boyish quality of innocence that isn’t quite extinguished until the novel draws to a close. Although Odran is a good man and has never abused another individual, he is not wholly innocent either. Boyne masterfully depicts the feeling of melancholy and heavy guilt that hang over Odran’s later life as he comes to terms with the consequences of his inaction and willful blindness. I found Odran’s plight incredibly moving and felt for the character, even as a part of me was screaming ‘how could you not do something?!’

“What kind of life was this, I wondered. To what sort of an organization had I dedicated my life? And even as I searched for blame, I knew a darkness was stirring inside me concerning my own complicity, for I had seen things and I had suspected things and I had turned away and done nothing.”

As in The Absolutist, I guessed where the story was going long before the characters themselves did, but Boyne’s guilt-ridden prose and narrative voice are so captivating that it didn’t matter.

As someone who is not Catholic or an Irish citizen, I came to A History of Loneliness as an outsider. I was aware, of course, of the history of abuse and scandal that has plagued the Catholic Church in Ireland, but I had no personal connection to the material. I imagine this haunting novel is infinitely more poignant for those who have a deeper understanding of the Catholic Church and its impact on Ireland, but even without that personal history, A History of Loneliness is a compelling and sympathetic account of a troubled time in Ireland’s history, and its message about being complicit through silence is one that I won’t soon forget.

Get To Know Me Tag

I’m still trying to catch up on reviews from last month and this month, but it means tags have been failing by the wayside, so I’m trying to inject a little more fun stuff into the blog recently to counter the constant reviews. I wasn’t tagged in this one, but Rachel of pace, amore, libri did it recently and it looked like a lot of fun.

Favourite colour and do you have a book in that colour?
Blue and green, and everything in between!

Describe yourself in three book characters.

To be honest I always get stuck on this question! Eliza Mirk from Eliza & Her Monsters – shy, creative, and anxious. Kirsten Raymonde from Station Eleven – a firm believer in the importance of art and that “survival is insufficient”, nostalgic for the world that was. Irene from The Invisible Library series – not nearly as cool as badass as her, but an intelligent librarian whose strength is the written or spoken word.

Hyped books yay or nay? If yay, what was the most hyped book you ever read? If nay, what was the most hyped book you decided not to read?
It really depends on the book. Sometimes there’s a really good reason for the hype and the book is every bit as good as you were lead to believe. I recent read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and thought it 100% lived up to the hype. I’ve also read some hyped books that I really hated, like Pierce Brown’s Red Rising, or decided not to read a hyped series because I don’t think it’s something that would appeal to me personally, like Sarah J. Maas’ books.

Recommend one book per season. Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter.

 1916: A Novel of the Irish Rebellion by Morgan Llewellyn. Although it spans a period from 1912 to 1916, the primary event is the Easter Rebellion of 1916, which makes this an excellent spring choice.

Summer. Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. It’s a little lighter than I usually like my fantasy, but an absolutely delightful historical fantasy populated by charming PoC main characters bucking the system in Regency England.

Fall. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. The Scorpio Races practically demands to be read during the fall. It’s an incredibly atmospheric story, set on a gloomy Irish-inspired rural island during the month of November, and a sense of foreboding hangs over the island. I can’t imagine a more perfect fall read.

Winter. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. This is another book that creates such a vivid atmosphere, in this cause a frigid medieval Russian winter, that it’s difficult to picture reading The Bear and the Nightingale during a heat wave. From the first page its lyrical prose, sensory writing, and richly developed characters captured my attention and made me want to curl up under a blanket with a cup of tea.

Name one book that wrecked you emotionally.
Never have I been more wrecked than I was by Dorothy Dunnett’s Pawn in Frankincense. The Lymond Chronicles offer their share of emotional turmoil for the reader throughout, but it’s the climax and aftermath in this fourth volume of the six-book series that had me sobbing. Afterwards I felt numb, to the point where I felt like I couldn’t clean the house or just carry on. Rarely have I had a book hangover like this one!

Name one book you would recommend with tea and cookies.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
by Susanna Clarke. Combing a dry sense of humour, a great deal of research (it has footnotes!) and a touch of magic, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is a dense but rewarding Regency-set read about the resurgence of English magic during the Napoleonic Wars. Perfect for tea and a biscuit!

What is your guilty pleasure book?

I don’t really have one. In the past I was a little embarrassed about showing my love for the Captive Prince series by C.S. Pacat on goodreads because I had aunts and co-workers on there and it’s a little more risque than my usual reads since I’m not a romance genre person, but it’s a well-written series that I enjoy and squee over and will re-read.

Favourite dessert and a book that reminds you of that.

My favourite dessert is a Canadian concoction known as a nanaimo bar, which consists of a wafer crumb-based bottom layer (sometimes with coconut), with a middle layer of custard flavoured butter icing, topped with a solid chocolate layer. I’ll say Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery because it’s Canadian, sweet, and reminds me of my childhood, just like a nanaimo bar!

Are you a procrastinator? What book have you been procrastinating reading?

I am a big procrastinator. If there is no deadline, I will probably not do the thing. When it comes to books, I have been meaning to read Jane Eyre for quite literally more than a decade. I fully intend to get to it next month though! Hadeer and I are going to tackle it together, which should help our resolve!
Not tagging anyone in particular, but please feel free to do this and pingback to me!

Books: The Girl in the Tower

34050917The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
Published December 5, 2017
Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale cast such an atmospheric and enchanting spell over me last year that it became one of my favourite books of 2017. I hoped to be similarly captivated by its sequel, The Girl in the Tower, when I picked it up last month, but while I enjoyed the continuation of Vasya’s story told through Arden’s skilled prose, I doubt that The Girl in the Tower will be anywhere near my top ten favourite books of 2018.

Forced to choose between marriage and a life in the convent, Vasya instead opts to leave her village and family behind for a life of adventure. Disguising herself as a boy, she sets off into the woods on her horse Solovey to explore the vast world of Medieval Russia. When a chance encounter with a party of bandits earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, Vasya must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces, and to protect her sister Olga and brother Sasha, a monk, who have been sucked into her deception.

The Girl in the Tower is too closely linked to its predecessor to be read as a standalone, but it suffers in comparison to The Bear and the Nightingale. By far the biggest issue I had with the book was how long it took for me to feel invested in the plot and the characters. Vasya spends the first hundred or so pages (mostly) alone and out of her element, so it takes awhile for anything to happen. Once she reaches Moscow and reunites with her family things pick up, but it takes nearly a third of the novel to get to this point. Some of my favourite books are dense, slow-moving narratives, so this isn’t usually a quality that puts me off, but I remember being so instantly hooked by the atmospheric setting and the lyrical prose in The Bear and the Nightingale, that it was a shame to not get that same feeling of enchantment from this volume.

It’s a little disappointing to see the book rely heavily on such a frequently used trope – young woman disguised as a boy – but The Girl in the Tower uses it great effect, commenting on the constraints society placed on women. Playing the role of a young man, Vasya experiences the freedoms and respect afforded the male gender and is intoxicated, finding it difficult to leave behind. As she demonstrates her skill with horses and her assistance in catching the bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside, we’re left to wonder, as in Disney’s Mulan, why Vasya can be so respected for her talents as a man, but is immediately discredited when she is revealed as a woman.

The characters remain a major part of what makes this series so engaging. Although I wasn’t quite so enthralled by Vasya in this book, as her stubborn and even foolhardy choices sometimes put her and those she cares about in danger, she’s still a protagonist I care deeply about. I also love the familial relationships here, with sister Olga and, most of all, with her brother Sasha, who loves Vasya but also longs to protect her. I also found scenes between Vasya and her niece Marya, who shares her gift/curse for communicating with spirits, very touching. In his brief appearances, the winter-kind of folklore, Morozko, continues to delight as well.

Although I didn’t get the same strong sense of atmosphere from The Girl in the Tower as I did in the first volume of the trilogy, Arden’s blend of history and the fantastical continues to be compelling, and I loved the folklore aspects once more. Arden also effectively maintains a sense of tension throughout, particularly when it comes to the precarious nature of Vasya’s position at court.

The Girl in the Tower didn’t capture me from the very first page like its enchanting predecessor, The Bear and the Nightingale, but once I was engaged, I didn’t want it to end. It may suffer a little from second book syndrome, but The Girl in the Tower is still an enjoyable follow-up that left me eagerly awaiting the third book of this planned trilogy.

Books: Penance

31423183Penance by Kanae Minato, translated by Philip Gabriel
Published April 11, 2017
In a rural Japanese town, five elementary school students play in a nearby park, unaware that only a few hours later one of them will be dead. When a strange man asks for help from one of the girls, Sae, Maki, Akiko, and Yuko each compete to be the one chosen, but it’s their newer friend Emily who he leads away. A few hours later Emily is found murdered, and none of the girls can remember what the man looked like. Emily’s mother, Asako, curses the surviving girls and makes them promise that they will either find the man responsible or do penance in some other way.

Shortly before the fifteen-year statute of limitations on murder runs out, each of the girls and Emily’s mother reflect on the events of that fateful day, the aftermath of the murder, and its impact on them.

Penance is a quick-paced, engaging read that you’ll undoubtedly finish in a few hours. Each of the five chapters is set more than a decade after the murder takes place and is told from a different character’s point of view as author Kanae Minato slowly reveals how the events of that day have shaped each girl differently based on their personalities and the role they were asked to play (staying with the body, fetching the police, finding a teacher, or informing Emily’s mother). The characters are clearly differentiated from one another and exhibit believable and unique responses to the trauma they have undergone, but the real draw here is the book’s thorough examination of themes of blame, responsibility, and guilt.

Unfortunately, while I found the characters and their voices completely believable, the unrealistic twists and turns took me out of the story and kept me from being wholeheartedly absorbed in Penance. I don’t always mind when coincidence is used with a heavy hand by an author or when the book requires a certain degree of suspension of disbelief (as evidenced by the fact that The Heart’s Invisible Furies and A Little Life are two of my favourite books of all time), but here it struck me as disingenuous for some reason.

Penance was so squarely a three-and-a-half star book for me that I agonized over whether to round up or down on goodreads. Ultimately I rounded up because, despite its faults, Penance is a gripping, well-paced read that never drags. I don’t think it’s a book that will stay with me, but I certainly enjoyed the journey.

Not Good Enough Tag

I wasn’t officially tagged, but Steph of Lost Purple Quill recently did this tag and where the book blogging squad goes, I follow (also it looked like a lot of fun)!


  1. You write down the names of 30 fictional characters on pieces of paper.
  2. You pick two names at a time and answer each of the 15 questions. For each question one of the two characters will be the one you believe fits best and the other is “not good enough”.


Vasya (The Bear & The Nightingale) VS. Gert Yorkes (Runaways)

Gert! Despite being only fifteen(ish?) she’s super bright and bookish, plus Vasya is from medieval Russia so I think a lot of contemporary English words would completely escape her.


Shara (The Divine Cities) VS. Damen (Captive Prince)

Oh man, I am going down! Damen poses more of a threat in hand-to-hand combat with his skills and size, but I hate the idea of giving Shara, an intelligent spy, more time to plan! I’d try and take out Damen first, but I don’t think I stand a chance here.


Ingray Aughskold (Provenance) VS. Iyone Safin (The Magpie Ballads)

I feel like Ingray would be the safer choice since she’s a little more transparent, but I have a pretty big girl crush on Iyone. She’s manipulative and ambitious, but so damn intelligent, and I’d like to hang out with her friend group (Savonn and Hiraen) and get into trouble with them, plus canonically she does get wooed by her girlfriend with a rose, SO I’m going with Iyone.


Eliza (Eliza and Her Monsters) VS. Sansa Stark (ASoIaF)

This is so cruel, I just want them both to be happy! Eliza’s anxiety would definitely prevent her from volunteering or standing much of a chance though. I think Sansa would step up, and she’s survived this long in Westeros, I’m pretty sure she stands a shot in The Hunger Games!


Savonn Silvertongue (The Magpie Ballads) VS. Laurent (Captive Prince)

Oh My God, they’re so similar though! I feel like I’d probably be the sacrifice since I couldn’t take either one of them (and then they’d probably get together). Savonn is built more in the Lymond mold of self-sacrifice though, so I could see him giving up his life, and Laurent is more likely to find a way off the island.


Lada (And I Darken/Now I Rise) VS. Lila Bard (Shades of Magic)

I’m 100% sure I’m the tag-along sidekick in both scenarios! Neither woman takes instruction well or is likely to play second fiddle to anyone, but they might let me tag along… if I prove to be useful. Lila is slightly less likely to kill me. Slightly. I’d be her sidekick.


Philippa Somerville (Lymond Chronicles) VS. Miles Vorkosigan (The Vorkosigan Saga)

I feel like Miles would just constantly get himself into trouble. I mean, he’d get himself out of it again too, probably by talking, but Philippa would be a more consistent employee, so I’d fire Miles.


Kaz Brekker (Six of Crows) VS. Eowyn (Lord of the Rings)

WELL, obviously it’s not going to be Kaz, so Eowyn it is!!


Inej Ghafa (Six of Crows) VS. Mildmay (Doctrine of Labyrinths)

Neither is really popular kid material, but Mildmay, with his scar, glower, and lack of self-confidence is most likely to be the outsider here. Inej could be a popular kid if she wanted to, maybe if Nina was by her side, but mostly people are probably a little intimidated by her.


Turyin Mulaghesh (Divine Cities) VS. Breq (Imperial Radch)

Breq has probably remembered but she won’t let on or acknowledge my birthday except in some roundabout way that makes it look like she doesn’t actually care, while secretly being a softie. Turyin forgets and swears a lot about it, but she has a damn good excuse for forgetting.


Francis Crawford (Lymond Chronicles) VS. Kell (Shades of Magic)

It’s totally Francis. His obscure references and throwaway quotes in other languages mean that you only ever understand a quarter of what he’s saying, but he’s so handsome and charismatic, and what you do understand of his reviews is so engaging that you’re addicted anyway. Kell’s more of an oddity. I think people would watch him more in hopes that he’d perform a magic trick than for his reviews or thoughts on books.


Alec Campion (Swordspoint) VS. Jonathan Strange (Jonathan Strange & Norrell)

Alec would definitely be more fun, but then again it’s also entirely likely that he starts some kind of a fight and causes mayhem. Strange is far too distracted for a slumber party though. He would spend the entire time somehow engaged in magic and books and not paying any attention at all, so Alec it is! At least Alec’s sharp tongue would amuse.


Ronan Lynch (The Raven Cycle) VS. Luna Lovegood (Harry Potter)

I mean… biologically neither of these scenarios would ever happen. I’d like to co-parent with Luna though. She’d be a little spacey, but kind and creative and I think we’d get on. I’ll leave Ronan to Adam and Opal and his farm.


Cyril Avery (The Heart’s Invisible Furies) VS. Jean Valjean (Les Miserables)

I feel like running away is kind of Cyril’s M.O., so I could definitely see him doing this. If Valjean doesn’t respond it’s more likely to be because he doesn’t know what to say or he’s unfamiliar with texting.


Maia (The Goblin Emperor) VS. Adam Parrish (The Raven Cycle)

Oooh, I think Adam would be a more practical and effective parent but Maia is such a cinnamon roll that he would always have my best intentions at heart. I have to go with Adam though.

This was a tremendously fun tag! I wasn’t tagged by anyone, so I won’t tag anyone in return, but if you feel like doing this, definitely pingback here because I’d love to read your answers!

Books: You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone

30339479You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Published January 2, 2018
I was wrong about You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone. Somewhat. I tried to keep an open mind, but the first fifty pages were distinctly underwhelming. Dual first person POV? Check. Male romantic interests revealed in the first few pages? Check. Tell, don’t show info-dump approach to the characters? Check. I expected to write this off as just another young side of YA, romance-centric novel. Instead I found a darker and more adult story, populated with flawed, realistically teenage characters.

The plot revolves around twins Adina and Tovah Siegel, who have grown apart over the years and have little in common. Viola prodigy Adina longs to pursue music professionally, while studious Tovah is awaiting her acceptance to Johns Hopkins to pursue a career in medicine. One thing could wreck their carefully planned futures: a genetic test for Huntington’s, the disease that is slowly destroying their mother. When the test results come in, one twin tests negative for Huntington’s, but the other tests positive.

I didn’t always like the twin narrators, but I did find them consistently interesting. It was easier for me, a shy, bookish person, to relate to academically-inclined Tovah, but as someone who majored in the humanities during my undergrad, I found Adina’s jealousy and bitterness over society and family valuing her sister’s STEM aspirations over her gift for music very relatable as well. Both sisters are well-developed characters. Adina is confident in her sexuality, but her whole-hearted devotion to music has left her with few friendships. I found her prickly, and often infuriating, yet I continued to root for her. Tovah’s innocence when it comes to boys is endearing, but she’s insecure, jealous, and throws tantrums when life deviates from her carefully thought out plans.

The focus here is on Huntington’s, an incurable genetic disease that slowly kills the brain’s neurons. You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone deals with the disease on two fronts. Ima, Adina and Tovah’s mother, was diagnosed four years earlier and exhibits symptoms including clumsiness, forgetting conversations, and jerky uncontrollable movements. Both teens are still coming to terms with the fact that Huntington’s is fatal and will slowly rob them of the mother they know. For one of the sisters, there is the additional weight of knowing that she will succumb to the same fate one day. The honest and raw exploration of guilt, responsibility, and confronting your own mortality is what makes You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone worth reading.

I also loved the way that the book incorporates religion. The Siegel family at the heart of the book includes practicing Jewish characters, who keep kosher and observe Shabbat. I haven’t read a lot of contemporary novels with practicing Jewish characters, and this representation is important.

The prose isn’t really anything special; It’s clipped, with characters commonly speaking in short, clear sentences. You get the impression that it would be really easy to skim. While I would have preferred a more lyrical approach, Solomon’s writing style is generally fine, if unremarkable. There are some occasional cringe worthy turns of phrase though. Exhibit A:

“I force a smile, turning my lips into a sideways bass clef.” (pg. 106)

I found it difficult to believe that even someone whose whole life is music would think like this. A sideways bass clef, really?!

Additionally, be warned that although the novel is not erotica, it is more graphically sexual than I expected from a YA book, and the novel involves instances of cutting and suicidal thoughts.

You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone is an honest and, at times, dark account of genetic illness and how it shapes a family. It’s not perfect; The prose is clipped and occasionally tries too hard. However, the way the characters wrestle with relationships (platonic, familial, and romantic) is engaging, and the novel is ultimately a bittersweet, yet hopeful story about flawed, interesting characters.

Books: Borne

31451186Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
Published April 25, 2017
Borne shouldn’t work. At all. But not only does it work, it’s one of the most unique books I’ve ever read. Post-apocalyptic stories are nothing new, but Borne makes even zombies look tame by comparison because its main antagonist is a giant, insane, flying grizzly bear! Other threats include his normal-sized, but still terrifying, bear followers (who also happen to be venomous), bio-engineered feral children, and an enigmatic drug dealer known as The Magician. In short, it’s weird, BUT Borne is somehow also intensely believable, offering thoughtful commentary on what it means to be a person, and on how we co-exist in the world with animals/others. Often eloquent and beautiful, Borne is a melancholy, but ultimately hopeful, exploration of humanity, the environment, and non-human intelligence.

It’s probably just as well that I picked Borne up on a whim from the Library because the pitch is just plain weird. I imagine reactions to reading a plot summary of Borne would be a lot like telling someone circa 1995 about SpongeBob SquarePants. Who would have guessed that a happy-go-lucky anthropomorphic sea sponge that lives in a pineapple under the sea and works as a fry cook would become so popular?!

Borne follows Rachel, a scavenger in a post-apocalyptic city, who finds a creature entangled in the fur of a massive (multi-story), malevolent, flying(!) bear that terrorizes the city and brings it home with her. She names the sentient being, who looks like a cross between a sea anemone and a squid, Borne and raises it as a child, much to her roommate and sometimes lover, the drug-dealer Wick’s, displeasure. As Borne continues to grow and learn, questions arise about Borne’s purpose.

I’ve been reading a string of YA books lately, which made VanderMeer’s writing style a welcome change. The prose is by turns lyrical, eerie, and thoughtful as its characters contemplate what it means to be human and the cost of survival. I especially loved the creativity that went into Borne, a non-human character who changes shape, colours, textures, and scents over the course of the novel, and whose language and understanding evolves as he grows. As thrilled as I am that Borne is a novel – I’d hate to be robbed of Jeff VanderMeer’s gorgeous prose – I’m a little surprised that Borne wasn’t selected for a more visual format. The writing is so sensory and the world building so involved that a graphic novel or film seems like a natural fit.

…a hybrid of sea anemone and squid: a sleek vase with rippling colors that strayed from purple toward deep blues and greens. Four vertical ridges slid up the sides of its warm and pulsating skin. The texture was as smooth as waterworn stone, if a bit rubbery. It smelled of beach reeds on lazy summer afternoons and, beneath the sea salt, of passionflowers. Much later, I realized it would have smelled different to someone else, might even have appeared in a different form.

The world building is also superb, both through the few fragmented memories of Rachel’s past before she arrived in the city, and in the descriptions of biotech that populates the collapsing world. Rachel’s relatively carefree childhood, including the island where she attended school, playing in tide pools at recess, and the upscale restaurant where she celebrated a birthday with her parents, are juxtaposed effectively with her survival-based existence now, in a world where resources are scarce.

VanderMeer’s descriptions of biotech are inspired. Clusters of fireflies are the main source of light in Rachel’s home, alcohol minnows can be consumed for a buzz, and diagnostic worms diagnose and assist with illness and injury. Yet there is always an underlying ominous quality to the world, appropriate for a city in decline. These aren’t people trying to fix or restore the city, they are fighting for existence in a dying world.

Then there’s Borne himself. Through the character of Borne, and Rachel’s efforts to raise him, VanderMeer offers a moving exploration into what it means to be human. Initially appearing to be a glorified house plant, Rachel upgrades her initial analysis of Borne from an “it” to a “him” when she realizes Borne creeps around when she’s not watching. After Rachel is viciously attacked, Borne begins to speak to her and Rachel’s love for him becomes filial, even as Wick fears what Borne might actually be. Like an adolescent, Borne’s growth involves experimentation, exploring new environments, and even independence as he moves out of Rachel’s room and into his own apartment.

Although there are only a few major characters, it never hinders the novel. All of the characters are so layered, each with secrets they are keeping and things they are unwilling to admit even to themselves, that it makes their interactions engaging, whether they are positive or fraught.

We all just want to be people, and none of us know what that really means.

I have a few minor gripes that kept me from rounding up to a five on goodreads. I wish more had been done with some of the book’s antagonist characters, and I found the last part of the book less gripping and overly Info Dump-y than I would have liked, but that should in no way prevent you from reading Borne.

There is a realness to this fantastical tale, and the underlying focus on the depletion of our natural resources, and the ethical/moral dilemma of using animals will resonate in our current age. Unique and exquisitely rendered, I highly recommend reading Borne.