Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

I loved this book.
I’ve been hearing tons of hype about Leigh Bardugo lately. The gals at book riot sing her praises on a relatively regular basis and recently my lil’ sis said that Six of Crows was her FAVOURITE BOOK OF ALL TIME. She’s sassy and picky and smarter than me, so I figured I should probably give it a shot.
And what. A. Book.
This book is like if Steven Soderbergh, Scott Lynch, and that dude who makes all those CW superhero shows, not the bad ones (I know they’re all kind of bad, and that it’s all the same guy), but the ones with engaging and charming characters, all had some rooooooooougggghhhh and gritty sex and made a baby out of it. And that baby was actually a book. And that book was actually good.
And I know that sounds like a lot, but…this book is kind of a lot. There’s just so much good stuff to crunch into while reading it. The characters are complex and engaging and endearing and flawed. The way they interact with each other, the chemistry they have together, is endlessly engrossing (and suuuuuper dramatic sometimes. But not syrupy teen drama dramatic, nobody drops to their knees and screams to the skies, they’re just in unusually tense situations). The mysteries in each of their pasts are interesting and smart and revealed at the perfect pace. AND! (if you can’t tell by the exclamation point, this is particularly important to me) the heist plot was actually well thought out and intelligently put together. The smart people in this book, the ones coming up with the plans, actually talk and act like smart people. It’s the fucking best. There was a little “a whoooole bunch of stuff had to go right for this plan to work” going on, but I was so wrapped up in the action and excitement I barely noticed it.

Recommended for people who like twisty plot heavy novels, introspective character novels, fun and action-y novels, gritty novels, fantasy novels!, crime novels etc. etc. etc. you get my point. It’s good. Go read it.


VBR

PS. This is a late ad-in edit, because I always forget to shout out to authors for doing this, but if more diverse representation in your fantasy is something that’s important to you, this book does have that. It’s not loud, and if you don’t keep your peepers peeled you might miss some of it, but it’s there.

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Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

I had a lot of fun with this book, which honestly came as a bit of a surprise. If you’d asked me before I read this whether I would be writing a review on my site for a throwback, dude’s adventure fantasy novel with the catchphrase “the boys are back in town” written across the top, I probably would’ve slapped the coffee out of your dumb mouth.

“I’ve read a thousand dude bro fantasy’s where men leave the home lives that they love in order to reluctantly prove that they’re still the toughest motherfuckers around. Hard pass.” Is what I probably would’ve said, pinky held aloft. And I wouldn’t have been lying. That basic concept is a well-worn one in fantasy novels, one that I grew tired of a long time ago, one that I was never that fond of to begin with. I’ve got almost no time, inside a book or in real life, for the “they don’t make men like they used to!” thing, which is really just a way for men to assuage the wounds that aging has left on their pride.

I think that may have been one of the reasons I picked this up, actually. It’s been such a long time since I’ve read something like this (or that I thought was like this. It turns out I was wrong and this book is its own thing, but we’ll get to that later) that I was a little curious. I wanted to see what the swords and sorcery, action adventure, old school fantasy world had to offer. Turns out, what it has to offer is novels that are aware of the pitfalls and tropes of their predecessors and smartly avoid them. Eames obviously loves the genre (you can’t shake a stick in this book without smacking it into a reference to one of the foundational pillars of fantasy: LOTR, D&D, countless others), but not so blindly that he ignores its flaws. Instead he tips his hat at them as his story barrels past, skipping over the ones he doesn’t just smash through.

As successful as this book was at avoiding most of those things, I do have one slight quibble. It could’ve been better with the representation of women (they’re mostly portrayed as villains or goals), but Eames addressed that himself in a Goodreads thread and said that he would do better next time. From the way that he handled the rest of the pitfalls of bro-ish fantasy novels (homophobia, over-bearing masculinity, emotional flatness), I believe him.

So is this book perfect? No, no book is. But it was smarter than I was expecting, better than I’d hoped, and more fun than I had any right to ask. It’s a damn good read.

Recommended for those who like their fantasies fast, fun, and self-aware (not to mention well-written).

VBR

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Yeeeeeeeeeeeesh, what a book.

I don’t know why it took me this long to get to this. It was the buzz book a few years back, and I’ve been hearing about it periodically ever since (the peeps over at Bookriot are constantly singing it’s praises, even now). There’s even regular copies of it at the used bookstores I go to (Pulp Fiction in Vancouver! Go there!). I think I was just under the (completely and entirely wrong) impression that this was a soppily dramatic YA novel, a la John Green, about a murdered girl and all her angst. This isn’t the first time that that’s happened, I made a snap judgement about a book and was way off base, but I think this may be the most wrong I’ve ever been.

I can’t believe this is Celeste Ng’s debut novel. There are writers out there (lots of them), good, competent writers, who have whole careers where they never produce something this insightful, this subtle, this good. It’s so beautifully written and she manages to fit so much stuff in such a small package. At it’s most basic this is the story about a girl’s death, how and why it happened, and what happens after. But it’s also about love and want and loss. About racism and family and the weight of expectations. And above all that, or maybe beneath it, it’s about miscommunication. How hard and complicated it is to be human, how complex our feelings are, how impossible it can be to convey what we really mean. So often we miss the point of another person’s actions or words or gestures because we’re too busy seeing it through the filter of our own flaws and insecurities. We see jabs aimed at our most vulnerable points because that’s what we’re afraid people we love are going to do, or we end up striking other people in their’s because we’re too busy licking our own wounds to notice the damage we’re doing.

This book may not have been the overly dramatic teen soap that I was expecting it to be, but it was an emotional, difficult read. There’s a lot of ugliness and at times the book can be pretty bleak and heartbreaking, but it’s not all tears and misery. There’s genuine love and affection, hope and good people doing good things, insight into the human condition. Basically gals what I’m saying is hold on to your butts, because it’s a bit of a ride.

Recommended for people who like crying, and being sad, and learning stuff about what it is to be human, even if it isn’t always the easiest stuff to admit to or see.

Buy it, ya chumps!

VBR

Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman

Ugh, you gals, this book broke my heart.

I had a whole stack of books to write about saved up on here. December was a great reading month for me (I treated myself to my very first N.K. Jemisin experience, and it was everything everyone said it would be), and the first two books of the year were nothing to shake a stick at. But as soon as I opened Call Me By Your Name, as soon as I read the first page, I knew that I wasn’t going to write anything else until I’d talked about it.

I haven’t been this moved by a love story since A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, which I read early last year and which remained one of my favourite reads of 2017. Granted, I’m a sucker for a gay love story. I’ve spent so much of my life starved for them that, even if it’s mediocre, I’m still going to devour it (likely over and over again). If it’s bad, I’ll probably still like it. If it’s good, I’ll love it. If it’s as touching and insightful and beautiful as this? Well, I’ll probably cry while finishing it on a train full of strangers and feel like a total weirdo after.

I just…it’s been a long time since I’ve felt so connected to a main character. Elio felt like me (minus the super rich, European genius thing, obviously) as a conflicted gay teenager. There were so many parts that were just so spot on. The way he moved around men that he wanted, the way that he thought about them. The way he lay awake at night seesawing between hoping that they would come to him and praying that they wouldn’t. The way he knew that his parents would accept him no matter what, but that he feared telling them or talking to them about it anyways. He dreaded that moment of hesitation from his father, that slight twitch of the face, even if he knew that what was coming afterwards was love and acceptance. There was a portion of the book where Elio is thinking about Oliver and his broad shoulders and how nice they are, when he starts to wish he had shoulders like that, and it makes him think, Do I desire to touch them, or to have them as my own? Am I admiring them just because they’re admirable, or because I want to nestle inside them, hold them, have them hold me? Is there a difference? I read that and felt like Aciman had cracked open my skull and scooped out a memory from my youth. It was the lie I told myself for years as a teenager in order to avoid confronting my gayness. I don’t want them, I want to be them. That’s the reason I had all those GQ magazines under my bed. That’s the reason my eyes always lingered where they did.

It’s a beautiful love story, but at it’s heart, for me, it’s a story about confronting oneself, of finding oneself within another, and of finding acceptance in that other person. Elio knows what he is, he spends almost none of the book trying to deny it (he’s so immediately smitten with Oliver that there’s little chance of that), but he still wrestles with it. The scene after the first time they make love, where Elio feels shame and self-disgust and doesn’t want to be around Oliver at all, I know that feeling. I remember it. Even when intellectually I’d decided that I was going to act on my feelings, that there was nothing wrong with them, there was still all this pent up, festering homophobia that I’d swallowed from my culture and environment. That was the hardest hurdle to get over, and I’ve never seen that reflected so accurately on the page before. It broke my heart to experience another person going through something like that, but it gave me comfort too. I said this about Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad a few weeks ago and if anything it’s even more true about this: reading this book made me feel less alone about my experience of life. Not to get too cheesy on you, but that’s a rare and precious thing.

So all that is to say, this book gave me feelings. Like, a bunch of them. Probably all of them. I loved it, I still love it, and I’m probably going to reread it in like a month. So…I dunno, get on it!

Recommended for people who aren’t idiots, who have good taste in things, and who don’t want me to judge them for not having read it (because I will, and already am).

VBR

 

Ps. As a side note, this book was such an emotional experience for me that I didn’t really get into any of the technical aspects of it in the review. Suffice it to say, Aciman knows what he’s doing. The book is not only beautiful, but beautifully written.

 

Another Long Absence, And More to Come (Probably)

Heya!

So I started writing this apology for having been absentee for such a long time (again), but as I was tip tapping my way through it I realized a few things:

  1. I’m actually not sorry. I love you gals for reading this, and thank you for the support and the messages and the likes, but also this is just a hobby. It’s a hobby I love, but it it’s also one of many. Sometimes my other hobbies are going to take precedence for a while or I’m going to lose interest in this a little. Or maybe I’ll get wrapped up in something in my social or romantic life and a few weeks will go by where I just don’t feel the urge or desire to post. I know they say that’s a bad thing for creating a following, you’re supposed to be “creating content all the time!” but, I dunno…fuck that. That sounds like it sucks.
  2. This is just the type of creator I am and have always been. I go through short bursts of creativity with long fallow periods in between. It’s always been this way, and when I try and push through it and create anyways, I just end up writing a bunch of lackluster stuff that’s as hard and boring for you to read as it is for me to produce.

Alright! Enough self-centered navel gazing. I’ve read a bunch of really, really good books over the last couple of weeks, so I’m gonna get to writing about them. Speak to ya soon!

VBR

The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy By Douglas Adams

I liked this!

This is gonna be an itty bitty one because I’m not really sure what to say about this other than that. Everybody and their mom looooooves these books. There’s so much universal love and acclaim for them that when I finished this one and just liked it, I felt a little…weird about it. I felt like I’d missed something. Was it because I’ve read all the other books that have been inspired by this, the ones that have turned original thought and humour into tropes? Was it because absurdist, madcap humour and scifi don’t really mix that well with me? Or maybe it’s just one of those things, where something that works for almost everybody in the known universe just didn’t quite hit it for me.
Who knows?

Either way, I did still enjoy myself. There’s humour here, and originality, and fun. I definitely didn’t feel like I’d wasted my time or anything, it’s just not something that’s going to leave a big impression on me or my reading life.

Recommended for those who are looking for something light and easy, something to make them laugh, and anybody that’s in the mood for a spot of fun.

VBR

Manhattan Beach (And Also, Sort of, Mostly, A Visit from the Goon Squad) by Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan can do no wrong for me.

I read A Visit From the Goon Squad when it first came out and absolutely loved it. As well as just being an outstandingly written and engaging book, it struck a really specific chord with me. I was in a weird, complicated place in my life at the time. I had already come out of the closet, but was still wrestling with the idea of being gay, the fact of it. I’d admitted it to myself, I’d let people know about it (I’d sort of gotten to the point where hiding it was not an option anymore), but I was having a hard time acting on it. I didn’t know what to do or how to be and I was still struggling with a little internalized homophobia. I wanted to sleep with men, but I didn’t want to be the type of man that slept with men (which, trust me, I know how fucked up and wrong that is. It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that I had swallowed some of the mild, background homophobia of the environment that I grew up in, and even longer to purge that vile shit from my system).

So anyways, I was in this weird and vulnerable place, thinking that nobody in the world understands me or where I’m coming from, that yeah there are lots of gay people out there, even lots of gay people in conflict with themselves, but I’m some specific and unique type of person that, in the entire history of angsty as fuck semi-adults, has never ever existed before. And then I read this book, and there’s a character in it who’s struggling with himself a lot, uncomfortable and unhappy in his own skin, and it mostly has to do with the fact that he’s gay and not allowing himself to act on it. We weren’t exactly the same (he was some highschool football jock and I was suuuuuper not that), but I saw a lot of myself in that character, in the way he pulled against himself and tore himself up trying to avoid something that he, deep down, didn’t really want to avoid. It was a relatively small portion of the book, but Egan fucking nailed it. It’s such a specific feeling, being pulled, both against and not against your will, towards a version of yourself that you’re afraid of becoming, that you want to become, that you know you can’t avoid. I have such respect for her as a writer, for her insight, because of it. It gets the highest compliment that I can give a novel: I read this book and I felt less alone.

Now! Manhattan Beach didn’t have quite the impact on me that A Visit From the Goon Squad did (it’s hard to imagine how it could), but that has less to do with the writing and more to do with the subject, I think. She still has her sharp insight, her craftsmanship when it comes to specific and engaging characters, who not only seem like real people, but feel like them. And I did dig the setting and the subject a lot, women workers during the second World War, diving, gangsters, merchant seaman, the pressures and consequences of social expectation during that period of time. All those things are super awesome and interesting, and she tells them really well. I may not have connected with the characters in that same way I did in her previous novel, but that’s not really surprising. I’m not a gangster, I’m not a father who abandoned his family, and I’m definitely not a woman pushing against a society that is set up not to trust or respect me. The commonality that I had with these characters was more in a “we’re all human beings” sort of way, rather than anything specific. Still, Egan is a master of her craft and I got wrapped up in these people, absorbed by them. This isn’t a little book, somewhere around 450 pages, but I shot through it in two or three sittings and, even though I really liked the ending, was disappointed when it was done. I liked these people (most of them anyways), liked learning about and being around them. I was sad to see them go.

Anywho, all of this is to say that this wasn’t my favourite of Egan’s books, but I still loved the pants off it, and it was a damned sight better than I’d expect from most other authors.

Recommended for anybody who’s looking for historical fiction rooted deeply in the lives of the people of the period, those who want finely crafted character studies, and anybody with an interest in World War II era underwater welding, but that (like me) doesn’t really want to spend that much time on the war itself.

VBR

Comicbook Corner 3: Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory

Well hellllllllllllloooooo there. How’s November been treating you so far? Getting all those good fall reads in?

Today’s Comicbook Corner is centered around the wild, weird, and completely disgusting, Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory. By now you should know that I have a huge soft spot in my nerdy little heart for comics and novels that realize their mediums are limitless and just run with it. This is that and then some.

It mostly focuses on an FDA agent with the power to get psychic impressions from eating things, and his superiors discovering that he can use that power to solve crimes. At first it seems pretty straight forward, if not super, duper gross (he’s constantly forced to eat the physical remains left at crime scenes, be it spilled blood or a toe or whatever). He eats a gross thing, gets an impression, and tracks down the criminals involved. At first I thought it was going to end up just being a police procedural with this one wacky hook, but it doesn’t take long for the comic to take a sharp left turn from the expected. There’s all sorts of weird food powers and other bananas shit going on, including a lady that can make you taste the food she reviews, a man who can carve anything, ANYTHING, from chocolate, a weird immortal vampire who can absorb other people’s food powers by eating them, a former cock fighting champion chicken that’s turned into a government owned cyborg killing machine, and a weird, maybe alien or intradimensional plant thing that people use as a chicken substitute. It’s so fucked up you gals.

But! Luckily for us, it’s just as fun and entertaining as it is weird and gross. The writer and artist really seem like they’re having a blast making this one, continually outdoing themselves with the wild and zany shit that they come up with, while still making sure that there’s a story at the center of it. In between the eating of dead body parts and robot chicken killing sprees, there’s moments of real emotion and character development.

Recommended for anybody with a strong stomach, a high threshold for suspension of disbelief, and a propensity for fiction in which, almost always, you have absolutely no fucking idea what’s going on, but you’re having fun anyways.

VBR

Thor: Ragnarok

Hidyho there readerinos!

I’m gonna preface this review by saying, right off the bat, I have a huge case of the superhero movie fatigues. I know this is a thing that people have been saying for a while, so it’s not an original or interesting perspective, and it shouldn’t really be relevant when it comes to reviewing an individual piece of art (“judge it on it’s own merits!”), but it’s the truth. I’m tired of them. Tired of watching them, yeah, but also tired of getting excited and then, inevitably, disappointed by them. I made the mistaken claim after watching Spiderman: Homecoming (which was the dopest dope, in case you were wondering) that I was cured of it forever, but honestly? I think that was just a lucky shot.

Take this new Thor movie for example. I had really high hopes for it. It looked wacky and wild and colourful, different in a way that I’m so, so ready for. The posters were weird, hyper-saturated pieces of scifi art, the pre-release positive hype was there, the trailer was incredible. Everything was lined up to get me excited for this movie, to get me off my couch and into a theatre to see it. And then…*shrugs*.

Okay, let’s talk first about all the good bits (and there is a bunch of them!). Everything about Thor’s far off space adventure was amazing. The world was wonderful and odd and specific, the humor was great (this is probably the funniest marvel so far, which I think is helped a little by the Thor mythos. The campyness and spectacle of it really suits comedy a lotttttt better than self-serious drama), the costumes were top notch, the updated and translated Hulk was better and more interesting than he’s ever been. JEFF. MOTHERFUCKING. GOLDBLUM. Ugh, and that score you gals. This might just be the first time that I’ve been aware of a score in a Marvel movie, and it’s definitely the first time I loved one. So much good stuff! (Also, I’m going to insert a shoutout to Korg here, before people get mad at me for not mentioning him. Yes, he was the best. Yes, his weirdness and sense of humour perfectly personified everything that was great and good about this movie. Yes, I too, loved him).

And now the bad bits. Everything to do with Asgard. I felt like this film’s connection to Asgard and the previous Thor movies was a huge, cumbersome chain wrapped around its neck. Whenever I began to forget that this was just another Thor movie with another Big Bad who was trying to do Big Bad Things, we’d flash back to Hela and all the stuff I just could not give a shit about. I mean, you have a serious boring villain problem when even CATE BLANCHETT (who ate scenery for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and did a great job of it) can’t make them interesting. Listen, I get it, part of the theme of the movie was moving away from Asgard and the old Thor films, and in order to do that they had to go back and burn it all down. I just…I dunno. I guess I just didn’t care. I was having a really good time with this movie, and then the last twenty minutes of it turned into big explosions and magic and CGI fights and Karl Urban giving the cheesiest death performance outside of an anime. And because that was the end of the movie, the freshest part of it when I left the theatre, I ended up feeling like I liked this movie a lot less than I think I actually did (if that convoluted sentence made sense to you, you win ten points! And a hug!).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that this movie had a lot of promise and, even though it did deliver in a bunch of ways, I still left feeling kinda meh about it. And that’s so disappointing! If anything I wanted this to be the type of movie that you couldn’t shrug at, so weird and out there that you either loved or hated it. And I saw glimpses of that, yeah, but they were wrapped up in that same old marvel movie safeness, that feeling that I knew what was going to happen, I knew who was going to survive, I knew that Thor and all his friends would be victorious. I know that’s just the price of admission for a movie like this, but I guess it’s one I’m getting tired of paying.

Anywho! You should go out and see this movie. It’s fun, and your dollars will help Taika Waititi gain the power he needs within Marvel to really lean into his weirdness and (hopefully) provide us with a superhero movie that isn’t as anchored down by its own tropes, restrained by the industry’s impulse to meet our expectations, instead of exceeding them.

VBR

 

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