The Southern Reach trilogy

My very favorite trilogy is His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. See reviews here: The Golden Compass and here: The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. And when I first read the Southern Reach trilogy, I had found my second favorite. A friend recommended the first book to me, but I was skeptical. I had read so many dystopian novels that finding any that were good and well-written just seemed like an impossible task. But I gave it a go. And I devoured the first book in days. It was terrifying. And it was brilliant. It was just as much science fiction as it was horror, and it was a perfect blend of the two. So, with the new movie coming out, trailer, I decided to give the books a reread. Here’s a link to the review of the first book, Annihilation, that I wrote a few months ago.

After the first reading of the trilogy, the second book, Authority, was my favorite. Book one takes place in Area X and book two takes place in the Southern Reach, which oversees Area X and the expeditions sent there. The third book combines the two areas and books, sort of. This time around, I think the third book is my favorite because so many crazy things happen that you just can’t see coming. There are horrifying events that happen in every book, but there’s scene that stands out in the second one that absolutely made shivers run down my spine, though.

There are many questions presented in the first book that are definitively answered in the second and third, but not everything is tied up for us. And I was okay with that, even after the first reading. After this second time around, I feel like I uncovered even more answers, since I knew where the story was ultimately heading. I know others who read the trilogy that were disappointed, and I get that, but I felt like I got more answers than I was expecting. The author, Jeff VanderMeer has written another, unrelated book Borne that has been also well-reviewed. He’s an author that I can guarantee I will read everything he publishes.



For the 2017 book challenge, I needed a book with an unreliable narrator. This was challenging simply because you don’t know if a character is reliable or not unless you have actually read the book. I didn’t want to wade through dozens of reliable narrators wasting my time, so I turned to Goodreads to help find one. And, of course, I had this book is my back pocket all along!

I read Annihilation when it first came out a couple of years ago. Jeff VanderMeer published the Southern Reach trilogy all within several months, so the wait time in between books wasn’t too terrible. I read the first two (Annihilation and Authority) over the summer and, in the fall, Acceptance. I had pre-ordered it on my Kindle and spent the entire day reading. This is how much I love the series. The Annihilation movie comes out in 2018, so I recommend reading the series before then.

This is a book that is really hard to capture because it’s just so damn weird. And I mean that in the best way possible. Four people are sent into a place called Area X to investigate its mysteries. They are not the first group sent in, either. Our narrator, simply called the biologist, tells the story of what they find while in Area X. To avoid major spoilers, lets just say that your imagination will never predict what exactly they find. Within Area X is a lighthouse, plenty of flora and fauna, some abandoned residences, and a structure that seems to pull the explorers in. And yes, the narrator is completely unreliable, for reasons I won’t name here.

This book threw me completely out of my ability to comprehend just what in the hell was happening. And I loved every minute of it. Never have I gotten so sucked into a series like I did this one. Partly because it’s so crazy, but partly because VanderMeer expertly crafts the mysteries and leads you down a path you don’t expect. His newest book, Borne, my review here, is getting rave reviews, but nothing tops this series for me. It’s creepy and terrifying and mysterious and amazing. The second book in the series is my favorite, actually, and I put this series in my top 10 of all time books.



It’s rare these days that I read a book as soon as it is published. I usually wait awhile, grab it from the library when I can, and go from there. However, when Jeff VanderMeer publishes a book, I will be first in line. And thankfully my library already had it on order and I was first in line to reserve it. I’ve read book the Southern Reach trilogy (fantastic) and the Ambergris trilogy (not so great), so I was curious to see where Borne fell within my judgements of his work, and wouldn’t you know, I’d say it is smack dab in the middle, maybe leaning a little closer to Southern Reach.

Rachel and Wick live in the Balcony Cliffs in a world that is governed by a giant flying bear named Mord. Yep, you read that right. However, when Mord sleeps, Rachel can climb on him and scavenge for things. And one day she found Borne. The size of her fist, appearing to be plantlike or some sort of anemone, she names him Borne because, although she didn’t give birth to him, he was “born” under her watch and care. And of course Borne doesn’t stay small. Rachel soon noticed that he’s growing quickly and never producing any kind of waste. Eventually Borne begins speaking and learning and their relationship is pushed to the limits. Wick doesn’t approve of Borne because he has no idea what Borne truly is (neither do we, but Rachel accepts him) and tensions arise.

There is a side story about the Company which is a, well, company that created Mord and assorted biotech. There is also a woman named the Magician who unofficially rules the lands where Rachel and Wick live. I promise this book is easy to follow; I’m just not good at explaining how crazy the world is.

Overall, I liked the book. It was compelling and you really get sucked into the world, even with its implausible giant bear. There are definitely remnants of Area X in this world, unintentional I’m sure. At one point, Rachel and Wick are traveling a long dark corridor and I kept wondering if some crazy language would be written on it, like in Annihilation. I feel like this world and Area X reside next to each other in alternate realities. I definitely recommend this book, especially because it’s just a stand alone book and well written, but if you really want his best work, go with the Southern Reach trilogy.

Shriek and Finch

The first book in this series, City of Saints and Madmen, I reviewed here. City of Saints and Madmen. Hey look at that! I hope the link works. I’ve never done that before. Instead of writing two reviews over two less than stellar books, I thought I would combine them and maybe try to pull some good out of each.

Let me say that these books are not my thing, but still really well written and overall worth looking in to. City is a story collection, of sorts. Very funny, very creative, but I just couldn’t get into it. The second book, Shriek, isn’t a sequel of the first because, well, how do you have a sequel to a story collection? Shriek tells the story of Duncan Shriek, as told by his sister, Janice. Duncan (I won’t explain how) also helps narrate the story. There were some great parts in this book, but overall, I just wasn’t interested in what happened. I gave this one 2 stars.

Finch was definitely better. And you do need to read Shriek to fully understand Finch. The trilogy isn’t one of chronological succession, but rather spin offs and still conjoined in their madness. And I mean madness in a good way. Let’s start with the Gray Caps. These are mushroom-like people who live in Ambergris. Stories about them are woven through all three books, but they are prominently featured in Finch. About another person, Finch, who is a detective trying to solve a murder, goes through an evolution of mind, body, and soul in the process of solving it. I thought this book was much more gripping. I wanted to know what happened to Finch, who was murdered, and ultimately how everything was wrapped up. 3 stars for this one.

The author, Jeff VanderMeer, is still Aok in my book. I plan to reread the Southern Reach trilogy this year. And I NEVER reread books this quickly, but I really need to dig into them and see what Easter eggs I can found. I definitely see how Ambergris and Area X came from the same mind. I just think Area X is more polished of the two regions. And soon to be a movie starring Natalie Portman. Highly recommend Southern Reach and will review when I revisit them.

City of Saints and Madmen

I really do love Jeff VanderMeer. But let’s cut to the chase. I didn’t care for this book. I can absolutely see how some people love it. But, it just isn’t for me.

I’m not a big fan of short story collections, to begin with. So, even though I really did try to like this one because of the author, I just found it boring. I love the concept of all stories being tied together with a common thread (the fictional city of Ambergris), and some stories were really great, but most were tedious to me. This makes me a bit sad, honestly. Because creating an entire city, history, inhabitants, events, etc is supremely creative. And I recognize that this book really is unique and interesting. But it just wasn’t for me. That said, I will be reading the rest of the books in the series. I believe they are more spin-offs rather than direct sequels, so maybe those will grab me.

City of Saints and Madmen- 2nd story

I really enjoyed the first story (scroll down for review). It left me guessing and I was definitely entertained. This second story wasn’t as good. There are footnotes…. a lot of footnotes. And they are funny, don’t get me wrong. But I found the volume tedious. I kept stopping and starting the story because there were just so many. The story itself was so so. The history of the city just doesn’t intrigue me. Well written and very creative, but just not my thing. The second half got better when we learned about the Silence. And let me tell you, I’m not sure I will eat mushrooms ever again after this book. But I will continue on to the third story, which I have heard is excellent. Here’s hoping so.

About Footnotes

I was never a fan of Choose Your Own Adventure books. They were so tedious. I just wanted to get to the story, no matter what it was. I didn’t really care what happened or how everything turned out. I do appreciate what the books were trying to accomplish, and they certainly were unique, but they just weren’t my thing.

So, when someone told me to read House of Leaves ages ago because the book was creative, unique, horrifying, like nothing she had ever read, I was sold. Sounds great. So, I grab my copy from Half Price Books, settle in, and open the cover. W. T. F. I couldn’t even begin to make sense of the story within the story within the story. I realize this has much more to do with me as a reader, how my brain works, and what my reading desires are. The book was truly like nothing I have ever read. I finished it, but the WTF feeling remained. I had no idea how to explain what the book was even about. However, it’s book I have recommended dozens of times because I knew the reader would love it.

Next, meet Infinite Jest. The book that never ends. I’ve been reading it off and on (mostly off) for 5 years. I recognize that it is a brilliantly written work. David Foster Wallace has no equal. But. This. Book….. I think my tendency to skim will prevent me from ever appreciating a book of this depth. A friend of mine has read it almost 10 times. 10 times!! And it takes him 6 weeks to do it! Maybe one day, when I feel a time crunch, I will try to tackle it again.

So, this leads me back to my current book, City of Saints and Madmen. And alas, to my sadness, footnotes in the second part. So, I’m flipping back and forth, trying to keep up with the story and the footnotes, and my brain just isn’t cooperating. I am a very linear person. But, as I declared yesterday, I love Jeff VanderMeer and will persevere.