#18 Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant (2017)

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Thalassophobia: an intense fear of the sea and what lurks beneath.

After her older sister is lost at sea while filming a monster-hunting style show on mermaids, Tory Stewart agrees to ship out with the crew of the Melusine as they travel to the oceans around the Mariana trench. The goal is to dive to the depths of the Challenger Deep to seek out the mermaids that legends say still dwell in the waters. Hopefully they’ll be able to solve the mystery of what happened to the first vessel. Once there, the group of scientists finds out that looking for monsters and finding them are two very different things.

Mira Grant is one of my favorite authors. Her Newsflesh trilogy, about the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse, is utterly brilliant. The Parasitology trilogy, about sentient tapeworms taking control of their human hosts, is equally well written. So when I found out that Grant was releasing a stand-alone novel, I was thrilled. My excitement grew when I found out that the plot was going to be centered around the deep ocean.

Being in the deep sea makes me intensely uncomfortable. This might be due to the fact that I grew up in a landlocked state and never saw the sea until I was seventeen. I’m great on boats, and I’m perfectly happy in shallow water. I’ve even been scuba-diving twice. But the moment that I can no longer see the seabed my heart rate instantly goes through the roof. It’s the same with lakes as well, and it’s a pretty straightforward fear. I don’t know what’s down there. Even worse, I understand enough of marine biology to know what’s down there, and I want no part of it. I went into Mira Grant’s Into The Drowning Deep knowing (and hoping) that it might scare me. Boy was I right.

In the year 2022, humans have polluted the Earth to the point of a mass die-off of both land and marine life. Grant does not try to hide her strong environmental message. Leave the orcas alone, stop dumping things into the oceans and the air. Or don’t be surprised when drought, famine, and fires sweep the planet. The hubris of mankind has brought us low in Grant’s novel, and the main characters are scientists who are just trying to mitigate the damage.

This is a science fiction novel with a strong horror theme. There is one amazing scene where Heather, a young scientist, is taking a personal submersible into the chasm of the Challenger Deep. As the blackness and the pressure mounts, the tension rises to a screaming pitch. It is claustrophobic to the point of being physically uncomfortable. What Heather finds at the bottom of her journey sets in motion the rest of the novel’s action.

The basic plot centers around one simple question. What if the mermaids of our mythology looked, not like this:

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beautiful, nubile, pageant queens of the sea. And more like this:

 

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deep sea nightmare fodder?

Grant’s “mermaids” are carnivorous, intelligent, and, utterly in their element both in and out of the water. The scientists on board the Melusine are so egotistically wrapped up in their new discovery that they never stop to think that the “mermaids” chose to be discovered at the proper moment. Of course, not until it is too late.

One of my favorite things about all of Mira Grant’s books is that she has a very pure idea of science fiction. There is actual science present, but it is accessible to the layman. I always come away from one of her novels feeling as though I’ve learned something; in this case about the Mariana Trench, the Challenger Deep, why the ship is named the Melusine, and more. Her main characters tend to be female, and even better, females in STEM. I love the idea of young women reading this novel and having their imaginations sparked by the pursuit and discovery and danger inherent in the exploration of our world.

I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone who loves suspense, the sea, and the thrill of scientific discovery. I would not, however; recommend it for a trip to the beach. Or on a cruise. Don’t even take it in the bath.

My rating: 4.5/5

You can find Into the Drowning Deep here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

P.S. there is a short prequel novel entitled Rolling in the Deep, which centers around the crew of the first crew. I haven’t been able to find it at my library yet, but if I ever find it I’ll let you know what I think!

 

I Left a Church for Harry Potter

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Disclaimer: For the sake of the sanity of various family members I need to state outright that I did not leave THE church for Harry Potter. As in it did not drive me from Christianity.

Now we can proceed.

While I was brainstorming exactly how this site should run over the course of next year , I decided that I shouldn’t include any re-reads. I have a small collection of well-loved books that I like to think of as “comfort novels”. You know the ones. The old favorites that you’ve read and re-read to the point where you can quote them line for line. The ones that are like curling up with an old friend. My personal collection of comfort novels includes Gone With the Wind, The Clan of the Cave Bear, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Pride and Prejudice. And of course, Harry Potter. Once I realized that I was effectively banning myself from reading Harry Potter for an entire year, I was of course overwhelmed with a burning desire to read Harry Potter. So before the new year rolls around, I’ve decided to take a nice relaxing stroll back into Hogwarts and spend the holiday season unwinding with a series that has had a significant impact on my life and the life of millions of others. So grab a cup of hot chocolate, snuggle down in the warm glow of your tablets, and I’ll spin you the tale of how Harry Potter became a book I would have to fight for.

When I was about eleven years old, my language arts teacher decided to spend the first five minutes of every lesson reading aloud to us from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. My parents, who had recently watched a Fox News broadcast which suggested that Harry Potter was leading schoolchildren to form Satanic cults or something, talked about having me pulled out of class. However, they were already too late. Harry had just unleashed a boa constrictor on his cousin and I was hooked. I threatened to purposely fail my classes if they had me removed. Thankfully, once they saw how much the books meant to me they relented. Perhaps they noticed that I had made my way through three of the novels and had yet to sacrifice the family cat to Mephistopheles. In the summer of 2000 my Dad even ended up driving me to Walmart at midnight so I could buy The Goblet of Fire. This was the first time I went to battle over Harry Potter but it was not to be the last.

The summer after my wonderful teacher introduced me to the world of Hogwarts, I went away for a week to a sleep-away Christian Bible Camp. At the time, joining one of the local churches had seemed like a great way to make new friends, as I was still relatively new to a small town. I’d actually lived there for nearly three years at that point, but it was a small enough town that we were still the “new” family. Anyway, I was really excited to spend a week hiking and swimming with the girls from my youth group.

Turns out, the emphasis at this particular summer institution was on “Bible” far more than it was on “camp”. If memory serves, there was a two hour sermon in the morning, another two hour sermon in the afternoon and a group bible discussion every evening. Now this was your proper Southern Baptist sermon. Lots of singing and dancing and praising of the Lord. It’s actually a pretty rousing good time. But that’s still a lot of church for a twelve-year old.

Towards the end of the week, we had a guest pastor. He arrived with a Powerpoint presentation and proceeded to spend the next two hours detailing all the myriad temptations that would befall us and lead us down the dark road to hell. His list included, but was not limited to:

  • Dungeons and Dragons
  • Madonna
  • Looney Tunes
  • Yoga
  • Video Games
  • The Backstreet Boys

and of course, Harry Potter. Now, I think he had written this sermon back in the 1980’s (none of had ever played D&D and Madonna was something my mom danced to after a few glasses of wine) but he had updated it to include a few of the more modern evils. He latched on to Harry Potter with particular vengeance. It was foul and wicked and tempted children away from God. It taught witchcraft to impressionable youth and as we all know from Exodus we “must not suffer a witch to live”.

As I sat there, becoming more and more confused and angry,  a voice piped up from the congregation, asking the pastor if he had ever actually read any of the Harry Potter novels. He, of course, had not. Another girl chimed in, saying that she had read them and that the books embodied such themes as friendship, heroism, maternal strength, and the power of love to triumph over evil. None of which, in her opinion, pointed one down the road to hellfire. Their voices gave me courage, and I found myself on my feet, agreeing and adding my voice to theirs. Honestly I cannot remember for the life of me what exactly I said to this pastor. I was scared out of my mind. This was probably the first time I had ever actively disagreed with an adult that wasn’t a family member.

Now as some of you may know, it is difficult if not impossible to coherently argue with a self-righteous evangelical. The discussion lasted for only a few minutes before he abruptly switched topics. Perhaps to point out that glitter nail polish was an affront to God. Everyone sat back down and the sermon carried on more or less normally from there. But the damage was done. A thin crack appeared in my worldview that day. I had raised doubt with a member of my church. I had dared to object to his teachings. It made absolutely no sense at all at the time. But in hindsight I have always looked back on this week at bible camp as the first time I began standing up for what I believed in. To question and demand real answers to those questions. All thanks to one fictional boy with a lightning shaped scar.

After I got back home, I stopped going to that particular church. It bothered me in a way that I could not express at the time that none of my friends at camp had stood to support me. Instead, I think they were embarrassed that I hadn’t quietly agreed with the pastor. It also bothered me that the man was so eager to judge that which he knew nothing about. So I quietly began seeking out a more tolerant congregation.

Looking back, I realize this story doesn’t seem particularly exciting. I didn’t shout down the guest pastor and storm out in a fury. I didn’t demand that my parents come and rescue me. All I did was stand with others to show my opposition to his teachings.

But isn’t that one of the most important lessons that a child can learn?

So I’m going to snuggle up in my blanket and continue reading Harry Potter while it snows outside. And I’ll give a silent thank-you to Harry, Ron, Hermione, and J. K. Rowlings for helping me to learn some valuable lessons.

Happy Holidays!

Ashley

 

 

My Ten Favorite Books of 2017

Welcome everyone! I am officially kicking off my oneyearonehundred books project! The actual countdown won’t begin until January 1st, but I wanted to get in some practice before beginning this year long enterprise. What better way to do that than to look all my favorite books that I read this year!

I love end of the year lists! They are such a lovely wrap-up of all the experiences that I’ve had over the course of twelve months. It’s also so much fun to think back to where I was at this time last year compared to where I am now.

Last January, I was living with my in-laws while working on collecting an exhaustive amount of background checks for my Canadian residency application. You guys, they needed a background check from every country I’d ever lived in. And that was just the tip of the paperwork iceberg. The entire process took a really long time and resulted in more than one bout of ugly crying while hiding in the bathroom.

Now I look around at my little apartment and I am so happy with everything that has been accomplished this year. I have explored the city a little more. I got to introduce my parents to Toronto. I went camping and kayaking and tried hard to be more active.

And I read a lot of really good books.

This is not a list of my favorite books that were released this year. Just the books that I happened to read that stuck with me, opened my mind to new ideas, or that I had a lot of fun reading.

Enjoy!

 

 

10. Parasite (Parasitology #1) by Mira Grant (2013)

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Parasite takes place in the near future, where most of mankind has willingly swallowed designer tapeworms that have been genetically engineered to prevent disease and increase lifespan. Sal Mitchell’s life is saved by her tapeworm after a traumatic motor accident. As she struggles to return to normalcy, she notices people exhibiting unusual and violent behavior. The tapeworms are beginning to find out just how much control they have over their hosts.

A few years ago I stumbled across a little trilogy called Newsflesh which I devoured within a week. I fell in love with Mira Grant while reading those three books, and when I found out she had another trilogy called Parasitology I pounced on it like a kitten on a ball of yarn.

Mira Grant’s writing pulls you in from page one. Her characters are well-formed and behave in a believable manner. Parasite is a great example of true science fiction, a well-blended mix of academic science and fiction. I came away from this novel feeling as if I had actually learned something interesting about the field of bio-engineering. And in a more entertaining way than a textbook!

 

9. Fortune’s Pawn (Paradox #1) by Rachel Bach (2013)

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Fortune’s Pawn is adventure/science fiction, set in the distant future where mankind has spread out to live on a multitude of planets. Devi Morris is an ambitious, no-nonsense space mercenary who takes a job as a security officer on board a small trade ship with a reputation for getting into trouble. This is the first installment in Bach’s Paradox trilogy and offers an exciting jumping-off point for the adventures of the crew of the Glorious Fool.

A good friend and fellow book-lover bought me this for Christmas and I read it in less than two days.

The setting is very reminiscent of Firefly, with a ragtag group of space explorers who just want to make an honest living and somehow keep getting sidetracked. As the heroine, Devi is fun and relatable. It was hilarious that her solution to every problem seems to lie either in a whiskey bottle, her fists, or under the sheets. And the descriptions of her suit of armor border on love poetry.

 

8. The Ritual by Adam Nevill (2011)

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A group of friends hiking in wilderness near the Arctic Circle encounter more than they bargained for when they go off trail. Exhausted and out of shape, their supposed shortcut quickly becomes a maddening descent into horror. The moral of this story – when you see a dilapidated cabin in the middle of the woods decorated with animal skulls – KEEP HIKING.

Some readers unwind with murder-mysteries. Others relax by reading travelogues. Other readers prefer the unflatteringly labeled “chick lit”. For this girl, it’s always been horror novels. And this one is a doozy.

The Ritual freaked me out you guys. I love the whole “lost in the woods” vibe. Nevill’s prose creates a creepy feeling of suspense that doesn’t let you go for a second. Also, the characters aren’t completely moronic! They behave in a more or less rational manner. Which is a rarity in the horror genre.

Suspenseful, surprising, and genuinely spooky, The Ritual was a lovely bit of fun. I would not recommend bringing it on a camping trip.

 

7. The Trespasser (Dublin Murder Squad #6) by Tana French (2016)

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The Trespasser follows Detective Antoinette Conway as she investigates the murder of a woman who is found dead in her home. It also deals with the everyday sexism that a woman deals with in a male-dominated field. The general armor of toughness that women in these fields feel the need in order to succeed, and the far-reaching consequences of that armor.

If you haven’t read any of the Dublin Murder Squad series, stop reading this and go find In the Woods. I’ll wait.

I generally can’t stand detective novels. They tend to be perfectly predictable, starring the “chain-smoking male that doesn’t play by the rules”. Tana French breaks all of those stereotypes and dances on their ashes. She never tries to trick the reader. Everything that happens in The Trespasser makes logical sense. She also stays away from the oh-so tedious “invincible villain” plot device. And at the end of the day, it’s just a really well written mystery.

 

6. A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses #2) by Sarah J. Maas (2016)

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The series follows Feyre, a human girl who lives near the physical boundary between the mortal realm and the immortal lands of the Fae. After killing a wolf on one winter day, she is visited by one of the Fae and her life changes forever.

I dove into Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses earlier this year and…meh. Honestly the first installment fell a little flat. As if the author had cherry-picked their favorite aspects of The Hunger Games and squished it together with the melodramatic romance of Twilight. I found it to be wildly okay.

The second novel is great. It’s darker, more mature, and stays away from the ewey-gooey teenage romance feeling of the first novel. The heroine, Feyre, grows from a dependent girl who is desperate to be protected into a capable woman who finds her inner strength. Her feelings and intentions are no longer tied solely to her relationships, and she is made to understand the consequences of her decisions. The descriptions of the Seven Fae Courts are gorgeously written and the overall plot moves forward at an exciting pace. And ultimately it is a YA novel, so reading it felt like an uncomplicated escape after a stressful day.

5. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (2011)

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The novel centers around Patroclus, a young boy in ancient Greece who is sent to live and train with another youth by the name of Achilles. Achilles is a natural warrior, the son of a water goddess who is destined for greatness. What Patroclus lacks in fighting ability he makes up for in honesty and altruism. As Patroclous grows to love Achilles from afar, the events leading up to the Trojan War with have lasting effects on both their lives.

Historical fiction is fun. Greek mythology is fun. Historical fiction based on a few lines of Homer’s Iliad? So much fun.

I had never expected a historical fiction novel set in ancient Greece to deal so sweetly with LGBT characters. Patroclus’ tender love and devotion for his friend is the best part of this book. And the descriptions of early warfare are stunning in their brutality. And I’ve always loved adaptations of Homer that continue to treat the Greek pantheon as living beings who affect the world around them on a whim. And even if you hate Homer or haven’t read The Iliad, The Song of Achilles will make you hungry to learn more.

 

4. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)

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Ifemelu is a young Nigerian woman who moves to the United States to complete her university degree. Obinze is her boyfriend who stays behind. What follows is the story of two people trying to balance their perceptions of themselves and the perceptions of the world around them. My absolute favorite part was Ifemelu’s reaction when she is instructed that she needs to have “white” hair if she ever wants to find a job in America.

This is a fictional novel, but for me it almost reads as a series of essays on race in America. On the interactions between African immigrants and African-Americans. The idea that a person never thought of themselves as “black” until coming to America. On white privilege and class privilege and the privilege of being born in a first-world nation. And on top of everything else, it’s also a love story.

 

3. Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish by John Hargrove (2015)

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The only nonfiction book on my favorites list is here for a reason. I watched the documentary Blackfish when it aired in 2013. When I found out that John Hargrove, a former SeaWorld trainer and one of the primary forces behind Blackfish had written a book, I read it as soon as I could.

This book broke my heart. Hargrove never really apologizes for his years of working as an orca trainer at SeaWorld. Instead, he writes with a fond nostalgia,  and the love he feels for the whales shines out of every sentence. We follow him through the early love and hero-worship of SeaWorld, to his work as an international orca trainer as he comes to realize the harm that the company is doing to the orcas. He earned the love and respect of these magnificent animals and learned that in order to help them, he had to stay away. The descriptions of the pain that the killer whales were enforced to endure were very difficult to read. Especially as you realize that this isn’t ancient history; the whales described by Hargrove are still alive and in pain and performing at SeaWorld.

I would love to see an orca whale. I will never go to SeaWorld. And if you read this book, neither will you.

 

2. Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin (1967)

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Rosemary’s Baby follows a young woman and her husband who buy a highly sought after apartment in New York City. Rosemary becomes pregnant until mysterious circumstances and the novel details her experiences as she comes to realizes that her unborn child may not be the blessing she had anticipated.

How did it take me so long to read this? I borrowed it on a whim from my local library, went home, and did nothing else that day. I ate my dinner one-handed so I could continue reading. I was completely exhausted for work the next morning because I had to stay up until 2:00 am so I could finish this book. That’s how amazing it was.

 

1. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch (2016)

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*drumroll please* My favorite book of the year. Similar to the aforementioned Rosemary’s Baby, this was a book that I devoured in a day. And then I was sad that I had finished it because it meant that I could never enjoy it again for the first time.

Jason Dessen leaves his wife and son at home and goes for a seemingly normal drink at his local pub. On his way home, his life changes in ways he could never have anticipated. That’s all I’m going to give you because to give anything away would be a crime.

This book was so much fun. A thoroughly engaging read with relatable characters and a very poignant romantic element that is a rarity in the science fiction genre. I was turning the pages with shaking hands because I needed to get to the end. Definitely recommend for lovers of science fiction and any reader in general.

 

Well that’s it. My top ten favorite reads of 2017. What did you think? Feel free to post your favorite books of the year in the comment section!

Coming up next, my most disappointing reads of 2017. See you then and happy reading everybody!