Short Fiction Sunday |Clarkesworld #140

As I mentionned in my last post, I have been reading short fiction again which means that I can finally revive my (sort of) weekly segment on short fiction. Short Fiction Sunday is a way for me to share the short works I have been reading recently, it can be a review of a whole issue or just a couple of stories from different venues that I read. Today, this SFS is going to be focused on the May issue of Clarkesworld that I read and quite enjoyed last month. 🙂

 

40108241

Original Fiction

A Vastness by Bo Balder ★★

A Vastness follows a scientist obsessed with a group of alien creatures. It is about searching for the meaning of your life and what you do when you finally realize what it is.

The premise was interesting but I had trouble engaging with the story. I don’t know if it was because of the writing or the characters, but something was off for me. Also I found the ending was a bit anti-climatic.

 

Not Now by Chelsea Muzar ★★★

A pro-robot family living in a city where most people are afraid of them find themself in an accident involving one. Indeed, one day they found their house crushed by a giant mechanical arm. Not Now follows the repercussion of this accident on the family and particularly how their daughter is affected. It is about loss, discrimination and growing up.

I liked the themes but the characters felt a bit too flat. The daughter was only anger and frustation and the parents were the definition of indifference. I understand how an accident could affect them but I don’t understand why they were made to be so one-dimensional.

 

Flying Oslige by Sally Gwylan ★★★★★

Set in alternative world where people are at war with either a) modified humans or b) humanoid aliens, Flying Oslige follows a woman who is just trying to survive the conflict. She is escaping her city with a small group of soldiers and we follow her journey as she tries to reach a safer place. But where can this be when you can trust no one?

This story was terrific, I never wanted it to end and I hope Gwylan is going to expand this universe with a novel, a short story collection or both! I highly recommend this one.

 

Farewell, Doraemon by A Que ★★★★★

Another very good one.

Farewell, Doraemon is about a man returning to his village after quiting his job as an illustrator in Beijing. However, it’s also about his childhood and his love for an anime, Doraemon, that changed his life when he was little. It’s also about friendship, love and the consequences of small actions.

This story is quite melancholic and full of nostalgia but I was completely immersed in it. I found the whole thing fantastic: the characters, the ideas, the pacing, the ending, everything felt right.

I believe I read something else by A Que in a previous issue of Clarkesworld and I remember really liking it as well so I should definitely check out other works by this author!

 

Reprints

 

Cold Comfort by Pat Murphy & Paul Doherty ★★★★

Cold Comfort follows a very pragmatic scientist who is not afraid to commit a bioterrorist attack in order to show the world how dangerous global warming is. I really, really enjoyed two things in this story. First of all, I loved the main character and how sure she was of her action and I also loved how the authors imagined the future and how humanity will adapt. It still managed to feel optimistic (it reminded me a bit of New York 2140!) I won’t say much more but I want to read more stories set in this world!

 

In Panic Town, On The Backward Moon by Michael Flynn ★

This is without a doubt my least favorte story of the issue. It follows a theft/murder investigation on a planet (Mars maybe? I don’t remember well which shows how much I cared!…).

It felt very dated and I just couldn’t connect with anything. It wasn’t the worst story ever but I forgot it immediatly after turning the page and that’s definitely not a good thing. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone.

 

You can read all of those stories for free on the Clarkesworld website here.

 

I know that not a lot of people read short stories but they are amazing! They really are a way to discover new authors and sample their style. The format is also great to tell certain stories that wouldn’t work on a longer format.

Advertisements

May Wrap-Up & June Reading Plans

 

It’s now June and I feel like I say that every month but this year is going fast and I don’t seem to able to read much. 😦 Sometimes I wish I could go back to high schoolwhen I could easily read more than a hundred books a year, but sadly, it seems that I get less and less time to read… College is definitely time-consuming but I also struggle to make time to read when I can!

Anyway, I still managed to read a bit more than two books so it’s not as bad as April!

 

Books Read

  • Disco Sour by Giuseppe Porcaro ★★★

  • The Will to Battle by Ada Palmer ★★★★★
  • Clarkesword issue 140 ed. by Neil Clarke ★★★★
  • Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (yes it’s my second re-read!) ★★★★★

 

As you can see, most of what I read was pretty great so that’s very good! I have been getting back into short fiction after a couple of month of hiatus (I read a few anthologies but zero magazines). I re-started my subscription to Clarkesword and so far I don’t regret it (I read one story of the June issue and it was amazing so you can expect issue 141 to be in my June Wrap-Up!). I think I might start again my Short Fiction Sunday segment where I discuss the short stories I read recently.

I will have a review of The Will to Battle coming up this month and spoiler alert, I freakin’ love that book. This series is getting weirder and more philosophical with each installment but I am definitely here for it!

Also, as you can see, I’ve managed to yet again read  Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee, but, what can I say? I love those books and I will probably continue to regularly re-read them in the future as I find them even better each time!

 

Favorite Books

Well it’s a tie, I cannot choose one. Of course it’s going to be those two:

 

Currently Reading & June Reading Plans

 

I am currently reading several thing at the same time as I usually do. To fully prepare myself for Revenant Gun, I am re-reading Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee (and as for Ninefox Gambit, I love it even more the second time!). I am also reading Spaceman in Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar and, to be honest, so far I don’t like it very much. The main character is a self-centered douche and I really don’t care about the story. I don’t even know if I will be able to finish it which saddens me because, I usually read Clarke shortlisted book in their entirety even when I’m not enjoying them very much. We’ll see if it gets better.

In terms of short fiction reading, I am reading the May issue of Apex and the June issue of Clarkesworld. I have to show you the cover of the Apex’s issue because it is gorgeous! If I were a cover, I would definitely want to be look like this:

 

40126103

The cover art is by Anna Duttman and you can check more of her art on her website here.

I have several ARCs to read in June such as Revenant Gun, Summerland by Hannu Rajaniemi and by The Freeze-Frame Revolution Peter Watts so I will try my best to get to all of them before the end of the month! 🙂

 

Well it appeared that I had a lot of things to write for this update but how was your May? Any good books?

 

Book Review: Borne by Jeff Vandermeer | Clarke Award Shortlist 2018 #1

It’s Clarke Award time! As I did for the last two years, I plan on reading and reviewing all the books shortlisted.

If you have not seen the shortlist already, here it is:

  • Borne by Jeff Vandermeer
  • Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill
  • American War by Omar El Akkad
  • Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar
  • Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed
  • Dreams Before the Start of Time by Anne Charnock

My goal is to read the shortlist before July 18th, the day of the 2018 Award Ceremony.

You can find more thoughts about my reaction to the shortlist here and about my predictions here.

Anyway, enough rambles, here is my review of Borne by Jeff Vandermeer!


 

 31451186

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Fourth Estate

Length: 368 pages

Format: ebook

Rating: 4.5 stars

Publication Date: April 25th 2017

 

 

 

 

Flying bears, sentient plants, modified children with insect eyes and magicians. Nothing grows in the City and what’s alive is only trying to kill you. Welcome to Borne, the last Jeff Vandermeer book.

Set in a world where Earth is completely ravaged by humanity, Borne follows Rachel, a scavenger.  When she is not climbing on a sleeping Mord, a giant flying bear who terrorizes the City, trying to find useful things that she can eat, trade or give to her partner, she spend her time making traps to protect her home. Her days are all the same until she finds a tiny plant living on Mord. Just in case it can be of any use to her partner Wick, a former scientist turned drug dealer when everything fell apart, she decides to take it home. She is oddly drawn to this plant, and against Wick’s will, she decides to keep it and to name it Borne. What she doesn’t know is that, for a plant, Borne is oddly talkative. And that he can also move. And shape-shift. And the worst thing is, that in this world, it’s not actually that crazy.

But what is exactly Borne? Who made him and for what purpose? Is it the mysterious Company, a biotech company which created Mord or does it come from somewhere else? And does it even matter to our protagonists ?

In several aspects, this story is oddly heavily inspired by epic fantasy. Those fantastical elements make interesting contrast with the climate fiction nature of the book.

First of all, a battle between two sides is tearing the city apart and Rachel, Wick and Borne are trying to survive it. This battle is between the Magician, a strange woman surrounded by an army of disfigured mutant children and Mord, a peace of biotech gone rogue. But it is also humanity versus nature and humanity versus the consequences of their mistakes.

However Borne is not a story about heroes making war but about the lives of people who  are living through it. Our protagonists want nothing to do with the Magician, they are just trying to live another day, to scavenge another thing and not to think too hard about the future.

Since the entire story is set in a nameless city, we don’t have any perspective on how the world is outside. Indeed for the characters, this city is their entire world, and, when you a trying to survive, you don’t have time to think about the scope of your immediate problem. We, as readers, have to assume that this situation is representative of the fate of humanity.

Borne has a feeling of nostalgia, of a lost childhood and a lost Earth. Nature is uncomplying and completely rejecting humanity. When they are not scanvenging old cans, the city inhabitants take Wick’s drugs or alcohol capsules. Those drugs can make you relive happy memories and forget about your miserable life. It allows humans a short reprieve from Earth rejection.

Borne is here to confront our protagonists to this world. For him, even if Earth is deadly, it is still beautiful. And that’s the beauty of Borne: where Rachel and Wick only see destroyed things, he sees potential, beauty and life. He completely deconstruct their vision of the world and of themselves.

Through Rachel’s eyes, we see the world as it was before and how it all went downhill. However, Borne’s perspective is way fresh, innocent and child-like. He is an endless source of interrogation because he is not indifferent to the world. His sometimes very naive and simple statements are delightful in contrast of the grim and heavy atmosphere of the city felt by the characters.

Borne is a slow book, the plot takes time to unflod itself and for me this book is much more about the journey and the characters than the story. It is a study of love, motherhood, nature and humanity conflicted relationship with environment.

This book begs to be savored.  In a way I found it quite comparable to The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber as I found overlapping themes and a same sense of atmosphere between the two works. While Borne is a slow book with dark themes, it manages not to be depressing mainly because of how bubbly Borne is. Even when we learn more about his origins and his purpose, I couldn’t help but to really like his characters. His constant reflexions on what is a person and on Earth’s beauty were a real treat.

All in all, I would highly recommend Borne, it is a very odd read but I found it relevant and thought-provocking. I am glad it was shortlisted for the Clarke as it is clever and not that depressing for a post-apocalyptic book (which is a rare thing indeed!).

 

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

 

Book Review: Disco Sour by Giuseppe Porcaro

39726074

 

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Unbound

Length: 149 pages

Format: eARC

Rating: 3 stars

Publication Date: May 24th 2018

 

 

 

 

Goodread’s description

A politician addicted to dating apps embarks on an existential odyssey to save democracy from being swiped away.

In the aftermath of a continental civil-war, nation-states have collapsed, the European Union™ holds on, preventing anarchy.

Bastian Balthazar Bux is a leading member of The Federation®, the European network of civil society and local governments. Bastian has just been unexpectedly dumped through an app, the BreakupShop™ service. Heavy hearted, he just wants to drink, get on with work and forget his romantic woes.

However, he discovers that Nathan Ziggy Zukowsky is planning to sell Plebiscitum®, a dating-style app that is meant to replace elections with a simple swipe, at the same conference he is invited to attend in Chile. Haunted by the ghosts of his recent relationship, he finds himself without his all-important Morph® phone, just a few hours before embarking on his trip to try to save democracy.

 

Book Review

Set in the aftermath of a continental civil war, Disco Sour follows Bastian, a member of the Federation, an European network that holds the world together.

In the opening scene, we learn that Bastian was dumped through the Breakupshop®, an app that sends you a notification when you are dumped while blocking all information about your former partner so that you can’t contact this person anymore.

While being dumped is never nice, being dumped through an app is even worse. Devastated, Bastian drinks a bit more than he should a few nights before the most important event of his carrer. Indeed, he has to present the last important project of the Federation, a project that should change the way young people interact with political parties. However, to do so, Bastian has to fly to Chile. The only problem is that, when he wakes up, he is without his Morph phone and very much late to catch his plane. He can’t contact his colleages and he is stuck on the wrong continent.

Start a journey where Bastian discovers that the loss of his phone probably wasn’t a coincidence. It was meant to stop him from reaching the place of the conference where one of his rivals want to present a new app that will put all of the Federation works to waste…

 

I have mixed feelings about this book. I was very impressed by a couple of things and quite let down by other but let’s start with the positive.

The worldbuilding was fantastic and very detailed which was especially impressive considering how short this book is. We slowly learn about the civil war, how it came to be and how it completely reshaped the world. Through Bastian’s quest to reach the conference in Santiago, he jumps from airport to airport and we are able to see the repercussions of the war in different States. Countries are shattered in economic zones, Paris isn’t part of France anymore, it is now P.A.R.I.S.®, an independent area completely closed off from the rest of the country.

I found those parts of the book fascinating, especially when it focused on the succession of events that led to the start of the conflict. It felt believable and well-researched.

I also liked to see how the economy and the technology evolved. In this vision of the future, everything is trademarket and almost every interaction is made thanks to apps (even breakups!). Even traders use a Tinder-like app to make financial transactions.

So I found the worldbuilding very successful and engaging. However, even if I enjoyed that aspect, I didn’t connected with this book for a couple of reasons: I had issues with the main character, the plot and the overall writing.

First of all, from the start I couldn’t empathize with Bastian. I found him whiny, very naive and quite childlike. I get that being dumped isn’t nice but he spends way more time thinking about his former partners than about the issues at stake. He is also always horny, and, even when he is in the middle of a important speech, he still manages to be active on Tinder… I just couldn’t bring myself to like him, he couldn’t mention something without linking it to one of his ex.

I also couldn’t picture him as the leader of a serious political organization since for me he acted like a teenager. If I were one of his colleages, I would probably despise him. We learn a bit about one of his co-workers, Sandra, and even if she appeared on less than 10% of the book, I found her to be a way more complex character. I would have loved her to be the main character because she does all of the cool stuff in this novel.

However, I could have looked past Bastian if the plot was interesting but sadly, I found the whole story a bit boring and, if I am honest, quite random. I keep on waiting for the moment something would finally happen but apart from the endless struggles at various airports when he is supposed to save democracy, nothing really happens. Because of that, the resolution felt 1) too easy and 2) absurd.

So yeah, I can’t really recommend this book, the worlbuilding was terrific but I found the rest lacking. To be honest, I would have preferred this book to follow the event of the war from different perspectives all around the world. This would have been a fantastic story and if Porcaro is writing that next, I will be reading it!

 

The author send me a copy of this book in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

 

2018 Clarke Award Shortlist Thoughts

I made a post a few days ago about my predictions for the shortlist but it is now out! Here are the six shortlisted books:

  • Borne by Jeff Vandermeer
  • Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill
  • American War by Omar El Akkad
  • Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar
  • Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed
  • Dreams Before the Start of Time by Anne Charnock

I am glad to say I got two books right! I was almost certain that Borne would be on this list after reading it last month and I had a gut feeling that Sea of Rust would also be present after all the buzz around it last year.

I considered American War for my predictions but I thought that it might be considered more a literary fiction more than SF. However after reading the synopsis, it does definitely “sounds” more SF than any other genre. And even if it weren’t the case, it wouldn’t have mattered too much anyway since The Underground Railroad won last year and this work is seen as more of a lit-fic book than SF so… But we could have a nice chatn about what is SF and where does it end. In my opinion, this distinction between genres is blurry, if it even exists at all (the number of books considered mainstream or literary fiction using speculative fiction elements being huge).

Spaceman of Bohemia is also a title that I am not suprised to see on this list, it does sound like an interesting work: it follows a Czech astronaut on a solo mission on Venus. However, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up if it wasn’t for the prize as I have read mixed reviews from fellow bloggers last year. The cover is a stunner though.

As for the two remainings titles, they are complete discoveries, I never heard about them before. I believe Gather the Daughters is a debut set in a dystopian world where women’s  are only there to serve men. It’s giving me The Handmaid’s Tale vibes. As for the last one, Dreams before the End of Time, I only know that it was shortlisted for the BSFA. According to the synopsis, it is a family saga set in a near-future London.

This list is very interesting to me, first of all because a lot of works seem to be “missing” which is an odd feeling. However, because this list is so suprising, it makes it more exciting. I want to see what makes those particular books more unique to the eyes of the judges than the books I thought would be there.

Of course, lists are based on personal choices but also on the ability to find and read a book. For the Clarke, judges are sent more than a hundred books, which means that their possibilities are way different than mine. As readers we are probably more biaised toward certain titles: titles from author we heard about before or that are marketed very well.  For example, I only read one book in the shortlist and it is from a very well know author: Jeff Vandermeer. I heard a lot of good things about it last year from other bloggers, the cover is amazing, it made a lot of “Best of” lists etc… Lots of factors enclined me to pick up this book. It’s not to say that the content isn’t great because it is, this book is fantastic, but still.

So I am very excited about this list, especially about the two works I never heard about before. So much so that I don’t even know where to begin… I already read Borne so my review will be up soon but I don’t know which book I will read next!

 

If you followed this rambly post entirely, you are a darling! It seems to me as an incoherent babble but if you have any things to add, please do in the comments! I would love to hear your thoughts about the books shortlisted. 🙂

 

 

April Wrap-Up & May Reading Plans

2018 has been a crazy year so far so my reading time has really suffered.I don’t know when things will calm down, I hope I will have a bit more time at the end of my mid-terms but we’ll see. Anyway, last month I read two books:

Even if I only managed to read two things, both works were very good. My favorite is Borne by Jeff Vandermeer and my review will be up soon. I’m so glad to see it shortlisted for the Clarke, it deserves its spot!

Book of the month

31451186

May Reading Plans

Since I don’t know how much I will be able to read this month, I won’t make my plans too ambitious. I want to read and review Disco Sour by Giuseppe Porcaro since the author was kind enough to provide me with an ARC. I would also like to start my 2018 Clarke Shortlist Reading Project but I will make another post about it in a few days!

If I have time, I would like to finish Black Wolves by Kate Elliott since I have been reading this book since January… It is good but I don’t have an ebook version and the physical copy I have is massive and not easy to transport… I just have about a hundred pages left so if I don’t forget, I should be able to be done with it soon. I would also love to read again Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee to prepare myself for Revenant Gun, the final book in this fantastic trilogy but I doubt I will have the time. 😦

 

What is your favorite book of April? Do you look forward reading a particular book in May? 😀

2018 Clarke Award Shortlist Predictions

The 2018 Arthur C. Clarke shortlist is going to be announced in two days and, as you may or may not know, I have been following this award for a few years now and it is my personal Oscar. I love to compare the submission list to what end up on the actual shortlist and compare it to what I think was the best science fiction books of the past year. Of course, most of the time I haven’t read half of the titles on the list and the prize is great way to learn about new books.

For the past two years I have been reading and reviewing every book shortlisted and I really love doing that so, hopefully I will have the time to do so this year so brace yourself for a lot of Clarke Award content!

Since I really cannot wait to see the shortlist, I have decided to make predictions and create my own personal shortlist out of the submissions. I am pretty sure this won’t look like the shortlist but it’s fun to do so… The books mentionned below are either books that I read and loved or books that I heard a lot about and that I think might be worthy Clarke contenders!

So here’s my list:

  • The Rift by Nina Allan
  • Clade by James Bradley
  • Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill
  • Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee
  • New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Borne by Jeff Vandermeer

Out of all the books on my list, I only have read the last three, the other ones I have just heard a lot about in podcasts or blog post. I have read and loved other books on the submissions list such as The Stone Sky by Jemisin or Too Like the Lightning by Palmer but I oddly don’t think they are going to be shortlisted. I might be completely wrong but even if I haven’t read all the books on my list, I have a good feelings about those titles. Does it make sense? Probably not but chances my list have nothing in common with the real thing but at least it was fun to make. (I still hope Raven Stratagem makes it, I love this book.)

If you want to make your own predictions list, you can check out the 2018 Submission List and please tell me what you ended up choosing!

The Clarke Award

 

 

Book Review: Dracula: Rise of the Beast edited by David Thomas Moore

35297052

 

Genre: Dark Fantasy, Horror

Publisher: Abaddon

Length: 304 pages

Format: eARC

Rating: 4 stars

Publication Date: March 13th 2018

 

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

Anthology of stories exploring the secret history of the world’s most iconic monster 

That the cruel, ambitious monster of Bram Stoker’s most famous novel was once Vlad III Dracula, Voivode of Wallachia – the Impaler, to his enemies – is known. A warleader in a warlike time: brilliant, charismatic, pious, ferociously devoted to his country. But what came of him? What drove him to become a creature of darkness – an Un-Dead – and what use did he make of this power, through the centuries before his downfall?

Decades after the monster’s death, Jonathan and Mina Harker’s son Quincey pieces together the story: dusty old manuscripts, court reports from the Holy Roman Empire at its height, oral traditions among the Szgany Roma people who once served the monster.


 

Dracula: Rise of the Beast is an anthology of five novellas interconnected by a series email between two protagonists who are studying Dracula. The stories are loosely connected and present the many facets of Vlad Dracula: from the Ottoman Wars to the modern days. As usual with anthologies, a few stories didn’t work for me but for the most part, I found this collection very interesting and quite refreshing. You could ask yourself what’s new about Dracula but I assure you that those stories will change your mind about that!

 

Individual Reviews

The Souls of Those Gone Astrays From the Path by Bogi Tákacs ★★

A Jewish rabbi and his nephew spy on Vlad Dracula in a series of letters. I have to say that this story was the one that impressed me the least and since it’s the first story of the anthology, it didn’t leave me with a great first impression. It took me days to read because I had trouble getting into the story. It is extremely slow-paced and I felt like we didn’t learn a lot about Dracula in this one.

Noblesse Oblige by Adrian Tchaikovsky ★★★ 1/2

I always look forward reading any of Tchaikovsky’s stories, his name was one of the reason I was interested by this particular anthology.

This story follows Erzsebeth Báthory, an Hungarian countess famous for her murders (I had to Google that because while reading I felt like I was missing something and she existed! you can read more about it here). She was rumoured to bathe in the blood of the innocents she murdered in order to remain young, always. Because of that, she gained the surname of Lady Dracula and it is Tchaikovsky’s takes on this urban legend.

This story was quite horrifying as we read diaries entries written by Báthory as she slowly experiment with her victims in order to win her battle against Dracula. Her character is brutal and unforgiving and it was fascinating to see how sure she was of the right of her actions.

A Stake Too Far by Milene Benini ★★★ 1/2

A tragic story of two brothers that can’t live together. What surprized me the most about this story was how much Dracula’s character felt relatable to me. In most stories, he’s the bad guy yet in this one story, he felt almost human. I cannot say he was likeable but as far as a vampire goes, he was quite nice! I wish Vlad and Radu’s history could have been more detailed, the ending felt a bit rushed and  and the story too surface-level for my liking. I wish we had had a bit more knowledge about their relationship and their inner conflict. I still enjoyed this story but I wanted more.

Children of the Night by Emil Minchev ★★★★★

Children of the Night is definitely my favorite story of the anthology. It is one long letter written by Dracula to one of his vampire friends where he counts his love affair with a monster. It was extremely gruesome and horrifying yet strangely fascinating to read about. We learn how his children came to be and how Dracula was seduced by the strange creature. It sure is an odd story but I was hooked from the start!

The Woman by Caren Gussof Sumption ★★★★ 1/2

This novella counts three different stories focused on Romanian women connected through the ages. It is told thanks to a mix of documents such as diaries entries, blog posts and letters and we slowly learn how the women are connected. It was another great story centered around family and Romanian culture. I don’t want to say much more than that because the beauty is discover bit by bit how the storylines intertwine with each other!

 

Overall Thoughts

This anthology was a very interesting take on the Dracula myth. It was fascinating to discover different interpretation of the same character through the eyes of various authors. In my opinion the Dracula of this anthology was way more interesting than Stoker’s Dracula as he felt more alive (odd choice of word to describe a vampire isn’t it?) and complex.

As usual with anthologies, all the stories didn’t all work for me but for the most part, I found them good and they push me to make some research of my own. I’m also happy to have discovered some new-to-me authors since the only author I heard about previously was Adrian Tchaikovsky. I definitely want to read some more stories by Caren Gussof Sumption and Emil Minchev!

Required reading to any Dracula fan and highly recommended to horror and dark fantasy lovers!

★★★★

 

I received a copy of this book through Netgalley. My thanks to Rebellion Publishing, all opinions are my own.

Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

25489134

 

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Del Rey

Length: 323 pages

Format: Ebook

Rating: 4.5 stars

Publication Date: October 3rd 2017

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind–she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed–this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

 

Book Review

The Bear and the Nightingale is a fantasy book following Vasya, the daughter of a powerful family who has special gifts: she can see spirits. Even before her birth, her mother predicted that her daughter would have special links with the nature and indeed, even if she passed away a few moments after giving  birth to her strange child, her predictions were true and her child with the ability to see more than she ought to.

However, a few years after her mother’s passing, Vasya’s dad bring home a new wife from Moscow. What he doesn’t know is that his new wife also has the sight and, unlike Vasya, she doesn’t think having spirits in her house is such a great thing to have. More than that, she thinks that they are the child of the devil and thus, decides to call for a priest from the capital. Konstantin, a very charismatic young priest then joins the household and slowly convince everyone that they should stop giving tribute to the housespirits and stop believing in childish fairytales. However, because of the lack offerings, the spirits slowly start dying even with Vasya’s efforts and they are left without protection against the real monsters roaming the snowy forest that surrounds them.

I fell in love with Arden’s prose in a few pages, the writing is lush and draws a beautiful and terrifying picture of the unforgiving Russian winter. If you want to read this book, prepare yourself for a story full of fairytales and folklore with rich characters that you can’t help but to understand (even when they are being awful!).

This book is everything I wanted Uprooted to be and more. As much as I thought Uprooted was lacking both in term of plot and characters, The Bear and the Nightingale succeeded in pretty much everything. It is a debut but I wouldn’t have noticed if I didn’t know that going in. The story is very slow-paced but at no points I felt like Arden was dragging the story, she just took her time introducing and building her characters to the point where I felt like I knew every single one of them. It never felt tedious or boring, on the contrary, it allowed me to have a connection with them. The same goes for the antagonists, even when they acted horribly toward Vasya, I could always understand where they were coming from and why they acted that way.

Vasya’s character is great, I think she might be one of my favorite protagonist period. Sure she’s quite stubborn but she is very independent and she’s trying her best to protect everyone around her, even people she doesn’t has any warm feelings toward. She’s feisty and mischevious but she has a big heart and she thinks before doing anything stupid. Her relationship with her siblings was wonderful and reading their banter was a great time!

I would absolutely recommend this book, it is the first in a trilogy but the story can perfectly stand on its own. I will definitely pick the sequel up soon because I want more slow burn, atmospheric and eerie books!

 

★★★★ 1/2

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machiado

33375622

Genre: Fantasy, Horror

Publisher: Graywolf Press

Length: 248 pages

Format: Ebook

Rating: 3 stars

Publication Date: October 3rd 2017

 

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store’s prom dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest. And in the bravura novella Especially Heinous, Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naively assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgangers, ghosts, and girls with bells for eyes.

Earthy and otherworldly, antic and sexy, queer and caustic, comic and deadly serious, Her Body and Other Parties swings from horrific violence to the most exquisite sentiment. In their explosive originality, these stories enlarge the possibilities of contemporary fiction.

 

Individual Reviews

The Husband Stitch ★★★★★

This story is the reason I gave this anthology a try. I first read it in The Long List Anthology Volume 1 edited by David Steffen and then again in The New Voices of Fantasy  edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman so it was my third time reading it.

The Husband Stitch is a retelling of the Green Ribbon but more than that, it is a story about a woman and her body and how her life is expected to fulfill not only her husband’s wishes but also her child’s.

It is about consent, love, motherhood and giving everything to the ones you love. The writing is experimental and gorgeous, the style is unique but it worked so well with the story. Being the opening of the anthology , it set expectations very high for the rest. (Which is probably why I was so disappointed with the anthology as a whole, but we’ll get to that in a minute).

You can read this story for free HERE

Inventory ★★

The title is quite self-explanatory, Inventory is an inventory of a woman sex experiences in a future where the world is falling apart. I was a bit disappointed with this story because I feel like the post-apocalyptic context wasn’t explored as much as it could be. But imagining a world only through sex scenes isn’t an easy feat… I could understand why Machiado decided to tell this story by I cannot say it was particularly successful for me. The writing was beautiful but in the end, it left me quite underwhelmed.

Mothers ★★★

Mothers is one the weirdest story of the collection. It starts off with a woman having a child with another woman. However, it’s not clear if the child exists or if he is just a metaphor for the relationship between the two women. The narrator is unreliable so it’s hard to follow what is actually going on. It is a story about motherhood and society’s expectations but I couldn’t connect with it personally because of how confused I was.

Real Women Have Bodies ★★★★

Set in a dystopian future where women are slowly dissolving into the air, this story follow a woman working in a dressshop where the spirit of the ghost women inhabits the clothes. This story is one of of my favorite of the collection, it punched me in the guts repeatedly as we slowly learn more about the cause of those disappearances.

The writing is gorgeous, the pacing is perfect and the themes explored such as the place of women in the society and sexuality were very interesting.

Especially Heinous ★★★★ 1/2

This story is retelling of each episode of the twelve seasons of Law & Order in very short snippets. I know it sounds tedious but I actually ended up really enjoying it (without having ever watched a single episodes of Law & Order in my life). I liked how all the snippets were connected together and how Machiado managed to create such an interesting and coherent picture with elements that seems completely disjointed at first!

Eight Bites ★★★

This story follows a woman who gets a bariatric surgery after being pressured by all the women in her family. If you ever went through an eating disorder, this story will not be easy to read as you experience the physical and emotional struggle the woman goes through. My favorite aspect of this story was the mother-daughter relationship and how it evolved after the surgery.

The Resident ★

This is the story I disliked the most. This story follows an author who joins a residence in the woods with other artists in order to finish her book and how she slowly becomes insane. The story makes less and less sense the more you read and at the end, I was so lost that I couldn’t figure out if all of that was supposed to be a dream or a story where things are supposed to make sense.

The protagonist of this story is extremely hard to sympathize with as she was extremely rude and awkward with everyone around her including her family for no apparent reasons. I don’t remember all the details of the story but I do remember my strong dislike for her.

Difficult at Parties ★★★ 1/2

Following a woman you can’t stop watching porn after suffering a sexual assault, this story was pretty painful to read, especially the moments where the relatives were trying to make her stop. It was a very hard read and, eventhough I am glad I read it, it’s not a story that I would ever reread

 

Overall Review

If I had to describe this collection in one word it would be bleak. Don’t get me wrong, most of the stories were good and had interesting discussions and themes but still, it was exhausting.

Also, I do consider myself a feminist but I don’t think Machiado and I are on the same page. I thought that most of her male protagonists were horrible people and although I met my share of asshats, the majority of the men I know are not devils. I found myself a bit tired with this vision of the world where if you are not a woman, it means that you can’t understand one.

Another issue I had with this collection is the amount of sex scenes that it had, I have nothing against sex in books but Machiado’s vision of sex is uncomfortable for a lack of a better word. I never read sex scenes so tedious and un-erotic before. It felt almost aggravating to the women’s body especially when it was with a dude and yeah, it wasn’t pleasant at all.

However, I have to recognize that Machiado’s writing is absolutely gorgeous and her ideas are fascinating. I absolutely recommend The Husband’s Stitch to everyone because it is still one of the best piece of short fiction I ever read but, would I recommend the collection? Not really, no, just because I can’t even decide myself if I liked it or not.

★★★