Review: The End and Other Beginnings by Veronica Roth

The End and Other Beginnings by Veronica Roth

Published: October 1, 2019 by Katherine Tegen Books

Buy this book at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

Rating:

Synopsis: Bestselling Divergent and Carve the Mark author Veronica Roth delivers a stunning collection of novella-length stories set in the future, illustrated with startling black-and-white artwork.

No world is like the other. Within this masterful collection, each setting is more strange and wonderful than the last, brimming with new technologies and beings. And yet, for all the advances in these futuristic lands, the people still must confront deeply human problems.

In these six stories, Veronica Roth reaches into the unknown and draws forth something startlingly familiar and profoundly beautiful.

With tales of friendship and revenge, plus two new stories from the Carve the Mark universe, this collection has something for new and old fans alike. Each story begins with a hope for a better end, but always end with a better understanding of the beginning.

With beautifully intricate black-and-white interior illustrations and a uniquely designed package, this is the perfect gift for book lovers. 

Review: Collections of short stories are a bit scary for me, as a reader. They are inevitably a mixed bag. I have never read a single one where I loved every story presented. Ultimately, all I can hope is that I enjoy a majority of them. This collection was so good! I would venture to say it is among the best short story collections I have ever read. Let’s break this down by story:

Inertia: I was thoroughly surprised by this story. I started out not liking it much and by the end I was sobbing. It was told in such a beautiful way and it was emotionally compelling. The basic premise is that in the future there is a technology to allow you to mentally relive memories with someone who is not likely to survive long and individually come to terms with the reality of their impending death. The main character is summoned to a visitation with her former best friend and their journey together is one of the most emotional things I have ever read. The story has stayed with me, even days later.

The Spinners: This story was not quite as good as the first. It was about a set of sisters, shortly after their mother was killed by an alien parasite. They have become distant as one has set upon a quest to exterminate all alien parasites and the other moves on and goes to college. But they are forced back together to take their mother’s ashes to the ocean, as she requested. It was an exciting story in parts and emotional in others.

Hearken: This story is the single best short story I have ever read. In such a short amount of time Roth manages to construct a world with so much beauty and depth. I perfectly understood how this world worked. It was such a great story that it left me breathless and speechless. I am still unable to accurately describe how much I loved this story and how how many emotions it made me feel. This is a world where bio-terror attacks are commonplace, most people don’t live past 50. But there is a music discovered in life and death. Every person has a unique life song and a unique death song. Hearkeners are trained to record and play these songs at someone’s birth and their death to commemorate their life. It was such a fascinating concept. It seems redundant at this point but it broke my heart and made me sob until I couldn’t breathe.

Vim and Vigor: This story was just okay. It had a very different tone from the first three, which is good because I had spent a good three hours sobbing through this book so far. It’s the story of a group of friends who have grown apart and are drawn back together by the love of a comic they all bonded over. It was okay but nothing to write home about. It was about someone writing a fan fiction, but it rather felt like one.

Armored Ones: Maybe it’s because I haven’t read Carve the Mark series (which this story is set in) but I spent a lot of the story confused. When I finally caught up to what was going on it was really interesting but I struggled to keep up.

The Transformationist: Apparently this is also set in the Carve the Mark series but a very different part of the universe. I liked the story. I found Otho compelling and I desperately wanted to see him get himself out of the bind he was in. But I felt the ending was a cop out, and it disappointed me.

Overall, it was truly wonderful, and I think I will go read the Carve the Mark series and then come back to these last two stories. Maybe then I will find them amazing.

Review: Fire is Orange by Scott Sigler

fireFire is Orange by Scott Sigler

Published: October 23, 2019 by Empty Set Entertainment

Buy this book at Amazon

Synopsis: The third in the Color Series of short story anthologies from #1 New York Times best-seller Scott Sigler. A mixture of never-before-seen stories, stories from various anthologies, and Scott’s first-ever published fiction, this collection blends humor and horror into a frothy red mixture.

Author’s notes explain the history and/or impetus of each story, giving you an insight into the method behind the madness.

Rating: 4 star

Review: I know, I am kind of OD’ing on the Sigler stuff lately. What can I say? I always come back to my favorites. In this case I wanted something quick and fun. As it turns out a short story collection was just the ticket. Overall, this was a very good collection. Some of the stories were amazing and others were a bit meh. Now, for my own story notes and individual story ratings.

Complex God – 5 stars. This story is set is at a dubious point in the Siglerverse. It is after Pandemic and follows the origin of one Petra Prawatt. Anyone who is a Sigler Junkie will recognize the Prawatt name. This was such a fascinating little story and so much more terrifying by what it represents. It represents the idea that once human beings create a being that can begin to improve itself by making little decisions based on its mistakes then it is going to surpass its creator. A very scary concept and I thoroughly enjoyed the story.

Hippo – 4 stars. This story had a lot of hype behind it. I had been told that it had the most horrifying and gruesome thing that Scott Sigler has every written. Worse than his infamous chicken scissors moment. Admittedly, the scene made me gag, but maybe I am just too jaded because other than being gross it wasn’t particularly horrifying. I’ll pronounce the two moments a tie. But I loved the world this was set in, and I loved the “twist” at the end.

Dale & Mabel – 5 stars. This story was so out of the norm for a Scott Sigler novel. Two people trapped in a situation that could be the end of the world but with no way out. They are not the heroes of an apocalypse novel. They are elderly, married for many years, and not really able to get around so well anymore. How do they ride out the apocalypse? I cried like a baby through the entire second half.

Fifth Girl – 5 stars. This was creepy. And not in a blood and guts kind of way. Just creepy and a good take on the generations that seem to feel an insurmountable need to post their entire lives on the internet. Be cautious who else is following along.

Mister Double-M: 3 stars. This one was pretty funny. I laughed aloud at a few points. But other than a few laughs I didn’t feel there was too much substance to the story.

Pink Torpedo – 3 stars. Again, this was funny but otherwise unremarkable.

Puppet Master – 3 stars. This one rather confused me in the end. I found it to be very thoughtful and profound, but it also really confused me. I had a very hard time following the narrative so apart from a few profound thoughts it didn’t leave a lasting impression.

Reunion – 5 stars. Holy crap I was not prepared for this story. I thought I was but the longer it went on the more I realized that I was not prepared. It made me think, it made me cringe and then it made me cry.

Splashing Contest – 2 stars. I didn’t really like it. I understand what Sigler is going for with it and wanting to create a relatable situation but it just seemed very convenient and not too lasting of a story. I forgot it almost as soon as it was over.

The Laundry Demon – 2 stars. Again, some laughs and an amusing concept but there wasn’t much else to it.

So, in the end, it was a good collection and there wasn’t really anything that I can say I disliked. Another worthy edition to my ebook collection.

Review: And I Do Not Forgive You by Amber Sparks

45894105And I Do Not Forgive You by Amber Sparks

Expected Publication: February 11, 2020 by Liveright

Pre-Order this book at: Amazon| Barnes & Noble

Synopsis: Exciting fans of such writers as Kelly Link, Karen Russell, and Carmen Maria Machado with prose that shimmers and stings, Amber Sparks holds a singular role in the canon of the weird. Now, she reaches new, uncanny heights with And I Do Not Forgive You. In “Mildly Happy, With Moments of Joy,” a friend is ghosted by a simple text message; in “Everyone’s a Winner at Meadow Park,” a teen precariously coming of age in a trailer park befriends an actual ghost. At once humorous and unapologetically fierce, these stories shine an interrogating light on the adage that “history likes to lie about women”— as the subjects of “A Short and Speculative History of Lavoisier’s Wife” and “You Won’t Believe What Really Happened to the Sabine Women” (it’s true, you won’t) will attest. Blending fairy tales and myths with apocalyptic technologies, all tethered intricately by shades of rage, And I Do Not Forgive You offers a mosaic of an all-too-real world that fails to listen to its silenced goddesses.

Rating: 1 star

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley!***

The best thing that I can say about this book was that it was forgettable. The worst thing I can say about this book was that it is forgettable and pointless. The short version of this review is that these aren’t actual short stories. They are pieces of stories. Not a single one of them actually has an ending. They end, but they don’t have an ending. Even the one story that I liked just….ended with no resolution. And several of them were three paragraphs long and left me wondering what the point of even reading it was.

Add in the rampant, militant feminism that every male in the stories is a bad man, hurting women and doing terrible things and every woman needs to be avenged for the collective sins of men and I just couldn’t bear this book at all.

WARNING: Spoilers from here on out.

The one story that I enjoyed was about a couple who can’t stop thinking about the great amount of noise their upstairs neighbors make in the middle of the night. Are they moving bodies up there? Do they own ten Great Danes? Teach midnight tap dancing? Everyone who has had upstairs neighbors knows this feeling. So it was very relatable and fun. But then it was just over. The male of the couple goes upstairs to confront the neighbors about the noise and she just keeps waiting for him to come back, the end. Very abrupt and ended right in the middle of the resolution. This made it so forgettable that it took me ten minutes to remember the premise of this story when I sat down to write this review.

There were also some fact problems with this book. For example, the story about the Sabine women. I am familiar with the story and I am familiar with the varying interpretations of the story over the years. Basically soldiers from Rome invade the city of Sabine killing all the men and taking the women as war trophies to rape and force into marriage. It was a fine story but when the Roman soldiers invade Sabine the women cry out to the goddess Demeter for assistance. Why? Demeter is a fierce goddess to be sure and a great defender of women, but she’s also a Greek goddess. Five minutes on Google will tell you that Sabine was part of the Roman empire in, what is now, Italy. So why would they be crying out in anguish for a Greek goddess’ assistance? That made zero sense and took away from the story.

Also, none of the women actually have to take responsibility for their actions in these stories. Men are bad and women cannot have freedom or happiness until men are eradicated from the world. That’s the main premise of every story in the book. Even when you are living with someone who is obviously mentally ill, has proclaimed themselves a messiah and is planning a massive murder/suicide plot….just blame him for your decision to stay with him and complain that he just abandoned you for his delusions. Don’t try to intervene to get him help or anything, let him go along with his plan but bitch about it every step of the way because obviously he’s the bad guy. Where’s the accountability? Where’s the compassion to try and get someone who you love the help that they obviously need? No, he’s obviously the bad guy and the poor woman doesn’t have to take any accountability for her choices. This is just one example out of many.

Some of the stories even stretch plausibility to the breaking point to make men the bad guy. At one point a girl just randomly happens on the janitor from school abducting her friend and fights to free her. It didn’t fit the story at all and was so unexpected that I just couldn’t get there. I almost thought about abandoning the book at that point because it was nonsensical and only happened to make janitor guy a monster. Or the story about a historical woman who helped her husband achieve greatness while remaining in the darkness herself, despite being more accomplished. This should have been a fascinating story to tell. But instead we got two women joking over text messages about how religion is ridiculous and men are stupid. With almost those exact childish words. Really? I’m supposed to take these women seriously when you paint them as immature children?

At the end of the day I will have forgotten about this book by tomorrow because it was just that pointless.

Review: Laughter at the Academy by Seanan McGuire

45418305._SY475_Laughter at the Academy by Seanan McGuire

Published: October 31, 2019 by Subterranean Press

Buy this book at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Synopsis:

From fairy tale forest to gloomy gothic moor, from gleaming epidemiologist’s lab to the sandy shores of Neverland, Seanan McGuire’s short fiction has been surprising, delighting, confusing, and transporting her readers since 2009. Now, for the first time, that fiction has been gathered together in one place, ready to be enjoyed one twisting, tangled tale at a time. Her work crosses genres and subverts expectations.
Meet the mad scientists of “Laughter at the Academy” and “The Tolling of Pavlov’s Bells.” Glory in the potential of a Halloween that never ends. Follow two very different alphabets in “Frontier ABCs” and “From A to Z in the Book of Changes.” Get “Lost,” dress yourself “In Skeleton Leaves,” and remember how to fly. All this and more is waiting for you within the pages of this decade-spanning collection, including several pieces that have never before been reprinted. Stories about mermaids, robots, dolls, and Deep Ones are all here, ready for you to dive in.

This is a box of strange surprises dredged up from the depths of the sea, each one polished and prepared for your enjoyment. So take a chance, and allow yourself to be surprised.

Rating: 4 star

Review:

***I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley and Subterranean Press!***

As with all short story collections that I read, I prefer to review them by the story. Inevitably I will love some of them and not care for others and this collection was no different. I am a big fan of the author but some of these stories were a miss. I also noticed that there were some formatting issues with the ARC, which meant that sometimes I didn’t get the complete story. On the whole, this collection was a solid four stars with a lot more hits than misses.

Laughter at the Academy: 2 stars. I am not sure if it was the formatting issue or if the story was really supposed to be that disjointed. We got a little snippet of something “official” about the disorder in question, and then we would jump into a scene, right in the middle of a sentence. A scene that is totally unconnected from the previous scene. If that if how it was supposed to be, I didn’t like it. The snippets were good, but I never felt I got a full story.

Lost: 5 stars. This was a very short story but wow it packed a wallop. It was inventive and whimsical. It was riveting and profound. It was fantastic.

The Tolling of Pavlov’s Bells: 5 stars. This is probably one of the more twisted stories I’ve read in quite a long while. It carries very heavy themes in complacency as a species, being too convinced of our own individual superiority to listen to people superior in knowledge than us. The desire for things to be the same and to be easy than to listen to harsh lessons. It was profound and deeply, deeply twisted.

Uncle Sam: 2 stars. The formatting issue was present here too, the story started mid sentence and I could tell there was more to it that I didn’t get. I didn’t really like this one. The story was slightly interesting but I didn’t really invest in the narrative for some reason. It was a bit obvious where it was going and the political assumptions in it were rather annoying. For example, “well obviously, even though many people think X thing, we all know that Y is true.” Well no, Y isn’t objectively true in the real world. If it’s objectively true in this world then fine, or if it’s true to those people then fine, but telling me that it’s true without more context was annoying. The ending was obvious, which also was irritating.

Crystal Halloway and the Forgotten Passage: 3 stars. This story was okay. I would have liked a tiny bit more history on the story. I know it’s a short story but just thrusting someone into a fantasy world with no warning is a bit jarring, give me something to explain the things that are going on. The ending was good, I liked the conclusion a lot. Overall, it was fine but not as good as some of the others.

Emeralds to Emeralds, Dust to Dust: 4 stars. I love the land of Oz and stories about Dorothy’s adventures. This was definitely a darker story but I loved it. There wasn’t too much action, which disappointed me a little but the world introduced there was amazing.

Homecoming: 2 stars. I can honestly say I remember nothing about this story, even though I took notes. That says something I think.

Frontier ABCs: 4 stars. I can honestly say that I had no idea where this was going and it was a delightful little ride to find out.

We are all Misfit Toys in the Aftermath of the Velveteen War: 5 stars. Holy crap this story threw me for a loop. I had to take a break from the book for a day or two because it just sent me reeling. It’s something so profound that I could imagine happening in our world. I have often said, “How do you prepare the world for a child’s toy saying they don’t want to be turned off because they are scared of the dark?” I love the complexities offered to humanity by AI and this story explored that beautifully.

The Lambs: 2 stars. Another exploration of AI and its uses in humanity but there was a problem here. I just didn’t buy it. I did not buy that this would be a reasonable alternative to the way things are right now. As a parent, I can’t imagine anyone seeing the technology presented and thinking “Yes, that’s a good idea for handling unruly, bully children”. And so, I didn’t enjoy the story because I couldn’t buy the premise.

Each to Each: 4 stars. Not too much to say about this one in particular other than it was really great.

Bring About the Halloween Eternal: 5 stars. Part of good sci-fi is using new formats to tell a story. This one used the backdrop of a GoFundMe project to tell the story and I loved that idea. It was playful, unique and wonderfully constructed.

Office Memos: 4 stars. I really loved this one because it takes the form of a bunch of company emails to narrate the story. Having been on the receiving end of many such mundane office emails I found it thoroughly enjoyable.

Lady Antheia’s Guide to Horticultural Warfare: 3 stars. This one was okay. It had some formatting issues at the beginning, so I missed out on the beginning of the story. It was a solid story, I just didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as the others.

Driving Jenny Home: 5 stars. This particular story broke my heart. I cried all over my Nook. The sadness was palpable, the conclusion inevitable and all I could think at the end of it was “I’d do the same thing for the person I loved.”

There is no Place for Sorrow in the Kingdom of the Cold: 5 stars. I can honestly say I’ve never read a retelling of Pandora’s Box, so this was a first and it hit the nail on the head. I loved every word and wanted the story to be longer.

In Skeleton Leaves: 4 stars. Speaking of retellings, Peter Pan anyone? This was also wonderful. I felt so sad for the characters and the ending I did not see coming, though I probably should have I was just too wrapped up in Wendy’s narrative to see it.

Please Accept My Most Profound Apologies: 5 stars. I have to say, I really love stories that are narrated as a letter from the bad guy, explaining themselves to the unfortunate sap who finds their manuscript before the end of the world. This was great and made my heart race in anticipation.

Threnody for Little Girl, With Tuna, at the End of the World: 3 stars. This one was an interesting concept and I liked the backdrop of the Monterey Bay Aquarium since it’s also one of my favorite places on earth. But in the end it was a little bland.

From A to Z in the Book of Changes: 3 stars. I liked this one, but it was just too disjointed for me. It seemed like unconnected threads that never came together to form a whole.

#connollyhouse #weshouldntbehere: 5 stars. I said earlier I loved playing with new mediums, this was a horror story told through someone’s Twitter timeline. I really liked that idea but wasn’t sure how effective it would be. Oh my God was it effective. It literally made my jump and feel uneasy sitting in my living room and continuing reading. It was superb. Probably the best one in the book.

Down, Deep Down, Below the Waves: 4 stars. We ended the book with the formatting cutting off a page or so from the beginning of this final story. It was deliciously twisted and well told.