Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Hello my lovelies! It’s been such a long time!

I would apologize for being an absentee book friend for…well, forever, but we both know I don’t actually feel bad about it, and I respect you too darn much to lie to you, ya piles of Goddamn excellent.

However! I have missed y’all, and this, quite a bit, and it does feel good to get back into the saddle. It’s just unfortunate that this had to be the book to get me there.

I hate to rate this book so low, because generally I like Margaret Atwood a lot. She’s a really gifted and beautiful writer. The Blind Assassin was one of the first big literary novels I ever read, part of my transition away from only ever reading Fantasy, with a light smattering of Scifi (which are still, admittedly, my favourite and most frequently visited genres), and I loooooooved it. That, and the general hype around this story, actually had me pretty excited to dig into another hefty, thick Atwood book. I was prepared, I was willing, I was able.
But HOLY MOTHER OF GOD WAS THIS BOOK BORING.
I mean…yeeeeeeesh. Who would’ve thought that a story about a possibly insane “murderess” in pre-american civil war era Canada could be suuuucccchhhh a slog. I’m all about slow burns, in fact I love it when stories take their time, and I’ve happily read books that really didn’t do much other than give a little insight into a particular time or way of life, but there was something about this book I just kept knocking my head against. I actively avoided having reading time in order to not have to pick this up again, that’s how much I didn’t want to read it.
Listen, sentence by sentence this book is as well written as anything she’s ever done, but stitched together…I dunno. There’s a lot of y’all out there who like it, it’s got a great Goodreads score and lots of praise in the reviews section, so maybe it’s just me, but…I dunno. Maybe just this once I think it might actually be you, overly long book full of miserable and unlikeable people, and not me.
Aaaaaanywho, I guess I would recommend this book for people who like plain toast, dull grey skies, and reading the instruction manuals for remote controls cover to cover.


VBR

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The Devil and Sherlock Holmes by David Grann

Hello my dears! How’s this rainy, cold, delightful, hopefully blanket-wrapped afternoon treating you (also, if you’re not wrapped up and/or snuggled with a pet on a day like today…what is your life like and why did you make it that way?).

David Grann just might be my favourite non-fiction author. I loooooved The Lost City of Z and Killers of the Flower Moon sounds amazing (I’m waiting for it to get released in soft cover though, cause I don’t make that Hardcover money). He’s just got such a good ear for a compelling story. I think it has something to do with his obsession with obsessives (which I touched on a little, in my review for Z), his drive to figure out what drives other people to dive into a subject to the point where it consumes them, where it’s detrimental to their health and well-being. There’s just something about how wrapped up people get that I find really fascinating.

I was a little nervous about this one because it’s a different format, a collection of long pieces rather than a full, book-length story, which is a different beast. I was worried some of the stories would seem condensed, that there wouldn’t be enough space to get into the nitty gritty of a good tale of madness and obsession. But it’s where he started out, where he cut his writers teeth (that’s a weird saying, right?) and you can tell. He seems at home with the form, comfortable with it, and all the stories are just the right length for the medium. So comfortable, in fact, that even though I had intended to read this in piecemeal between other novels, as a sort of palette cleanser, I ended up just binging right through it.

Before I wrap this up I will say that normally with a collection of an author’s shorter works, there are a handful that I don’t connect with, and one or two that I skip altogether, but in this collection I read through and really enjoyed them all. The closest I came in this book was probably the story about the dude who’s hunting giant squids. It was still really interesting, but not quite as up my alley as the one about the man who collected Sherlock Holmes murder mysteries right up until the day that he ended up in one himself, or the Aryan Brotherhood’s stranglehold on American prisons, or a post-industrial ghost town in the States that’s mostly run by the mob.

Recommended for lovers of good, well-researched investigative journalism, people who are looking for a quality, diverse book binge, and anybody that digs a good story about people who tumble a little too far down the rabbit hole.

VBR

Frantic Scramble to Catch Up

Hello my lovelies!

It’s been so long! How are all ya’ll doing? Anything new and exciting happening?

Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted anything. I have been reading, just not a ton, and for a little while it was a lot of stuff that I either didn’t like or felt kinda meh about. I didn’t really have anything to say about any of them and I didn’t want to waste your time with a bunch of “this was pretty good I guess! You might have fun reading it maybe”. So instead of writing a bunch of middling posts I just decided to give it a rest for a week or so, and then a week or so become two weeks or so, and then that became a month. And here we are!

So there’s a bunch of stuff that I’ve read over the last week or two that I did actually like, and instead of writing one article for each of them I’m going to give you a quick run down of some of them. There’s one I LOVED, which I’m saving for an article for later (I’ll give you a hint, it’s a Historical Supernatural Mystery/Gay Romance novel and it’s also the best thing), but we’ll get to that when we get to it.

Okay! Here goes!

The Regional Office is Under Attack by Manuel Gonzales

I haven’t read anything this fast and fun and fucked up since The Library at Mount Char.  But whereas the Library starts out weird and then amps up into actual insanity, this one kind of goes the other way around. It starts out at 11, a Torchwood/Buffy the Vampire Slayer hybrid on a bad meth high, with tons of big action and the big bad boss fight over and done with in the first chunk of the book. And then it shifts. The book doesn’t get less weird, there’s still semi-robot ladies/assassins/super-powered young girla/people who get magic powers from maybe a meteor or a radioactive accident, but it does slow down a bit, get a little more human. The end of this book is insightful and touching in a way I wasn’t expecting, and it changed the way I felt about all the bits that came before it. It’s like eating a bunch of rich, delicious chocolate cake, and then finding out that the whole thing was made from vegetables. It doesn’t change how much you enjoyed the cake part, but it does make you look back on it and go “huh”.

As a side note before I hop on to the next thing, this was the book that pulled me out of my slump. If you’re in that spot right now, it might pull you out of yours too.

 

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden

I’d heard a lot about this one before I picked it up. Tons of people were talking about how crazy and all over the place and fun it was, and since that had worked so well for me with the last book (and, if we’re being honest, always works so well for me. The weirder the better!) I thought I’d continue the streak. And they weren’t wrong about the banana-pants part of it. I don’t normally do lots of plot stuff, but let me set this up for you: (*takes deep breath*) This book is about a South African Demi-Goddess who works in a nail salon that decides to go back to her fear and pain eating ways, a girl from a small rural village who’s also a Demi-Goddess, a young gay couple with some father issues who discover they have psychic powers, a pre-transition politician/singer with the power to persuade people (and who’s mother also might be a tree?), and a famous singer who discovers she has a rather strong appetite for pain (but not in the same way as the evil demi-goddess from before. Hers is a good thing, and also it helps her sing?). While I  didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as The Regional Office (and I know, it’s not really fair to compare the two. They’re their own thing. But I read them back to back, so what can you do?) I still really liked it. I had fun with it, I loved the imagination of it, the setting, the world. I just thought it was a little more…haphazard in it’s frenzy. Like maybe it was trying to do one too many things. There were a few weird bits of side character storyline that easily could’ve been cut and wouldn’t have effected the story at all (the part where the politician murders one of their campaign managers and then he just comes back to life and they forget it ever happened. Or when the singer is kidnapped by her crazy father and then escapes with no consequences or impact on the story). Also, everybody who was singing the praises of this book was talking about how much they loved the main villain, Sydney, and I just thought…I dunno, she was okay. Maybe the people talking about how much they loved her raised my expectations to unfair levels, but really I didn’t find anything particularly memorable or fresh about her. She wasn’t a bad villain, I liked her well enough, she’s just not going to stick with me.

 

Head Lopper by Andrew Maclean

Yet another fast and fun fantasy book. This one is a graphic novel send-up (and also a bit of a love letter) to Beowulf, Conan the Barbarian, Dungeons and Dragons, and all the other campy major fantasy epics. This is going to be the shortest of these write-ups, because I don’t have a ton to say about this other than that I really liked it. It’s not deep, or introspective, or surprising. It doesn’t have much to say about the human condition or what it is that separates man from monster. It’s about a dude called the Head Lopper who chops off a bunch of heads. The art is great, the monsters are cool, the writing is fun, and the story goes just about exactly how you’d expect. If that sounds like your thing, you’re gonna have a blast.

 

Anywho, that’s not all the books that I’ve read over the last little while, but that’s a few of them. You’ll get a post with a couple more in a day or two. Hope ya’ll have been well.

VBR

American War by Omar El Akkad

Hello my lovelies!

I’ve been pretty busy over the last little bit, so this is going to be a quick one, but this book was too good for me to not write anything about it.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you know I went through a bit of a thing with literary post-apocalyptic fiction (I’m just going to call post-apocalyptic PA from this point forward, because I think that might actually be the longest genre descriptor of them all) not too long ago. It seemed like something I should like, the world building of PA mixed with the language use and more nuanced, restrained look at humanity that usually comes along with a literary novel (I know, I know, that was really pretentious. I’m King Snoots of Doucheville and I’ll make no apologies for it!). But I had two in a row, Gold Fame Citrus and California, both of them critically acclaimed and well-beloved, that just didn’t do it for me. At the time I thought that maybe it was the literary aspect of it, the toning down of the intensity of some other PA fiction that I’ve read, that might be the problem. I like bonkers fiction, out there and unbelievable stuff set in a world that I myself couldn’t have come up with. Maybe these novels just lost something by trying too hard to remain grounded and realistic.

After reading American War though, I’m pretty sure that’s not the case. It’s incredibly realistic, sometimes unsettingly so, with characters that feel like actual people, put into situations that you could easily see arising out of the current political climate. But here the realism doesn’t blunt the edges of the drama or tension, it enhances it. Because these situations and characters felt so legit (I have no idea what the refugee experience is like, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there are people out in the world right now going through exactly the things that these people go through) I got really invested in them. I didn’t always like them, I rarely ever agreed with them, but I felt like I understood them. I sympathized with their points of view and genuinely cared about whether they lived or died.

Speaking of which! Sort of spoiler alert? I know I just told you that it’s really easy to get invested in these people, but…try your best not to, okay? Because no matter who you get behind in this book, they are probably not going to make it. I mean, the book opens by telling you that most of the population of the country was killed by a bloody war, followed by a terrible plague, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I figured I would warn you anyways. 

This book was soooooo brutal you gals. And super, duper fucking sad. And harsh. And bleak. It takes an honest and realistic view of war and what it costs, and it doesn’t stint on body count or emotional trauma. Everybody pays, again and again and again, often until they have nothing left. As rewarding as this book is, it can also be pretty hard to read at some points.

Hmmm…I feel like the last part of this review is coming across as me trying to convince you not to read this, but that wasn’t my intention. This book is good as hell and (if you’ve got the stomach for it) you should definitely check it out.

Recommended for people who’ve got thick skin when it comes to watching characters you like being tortured, physically and emotionally, pretty much to death, those of you who are into scarily realistic and dark visions of what could happen to the US over the next fifty years or so, and anybody that’s been having trouble with literary PA fiction up until this point and thought that maybe the problem was with them and not the books, but actually it’s not you at all. Because you’re great.

VBR

 

Ps. As a sidenote I know this novel doesn’t reaaaaally fit into PA. It’s sort of halfway in between Dystopian and PA, but I didn’t want to type out “sort of Dystopian, sort of PA literary fiction” that many times, so I didn’t.

 

Borderline by Mishell Baker

And how is everybody doing on this delightfully chilly, wonderfully cloudy, hopefully soon to be rainy day? And yes, yes, I know, ya’ll love it when it’s sunny and warm and sticky and disgusting outside, but I’m a west coaster at heart. I live here because I love the rain, and there has been nooooone of it for months. Let me have these few days before the heat ramps back up and it gets unbearable again.

Wait…are we talking about the weather? Is this where we’re at now? Is the magic gone? How do we get it back?

Talk about books, you say? Don’t mind if I do!

This is a novel that’s completely built on the back of its protagonist. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all here for weird urban fantasy settings and fairies and all that jazz, but I’ve read a lot of that kind of thing. The world building in this one is pretty solid. The rules are well laid out, but not so well laid out that there isn’t some mystery left, the fantastical elements come across as well worn and lived in, and there’s enough difference in the characterization of the fey for them to seem fresh enough (there have been sooooo many books about fairies that it would be next to impossible to come up with a completely and entirely original take. I don’t expect that. I just want you to put enough of a twist on them, on any common fantasy character you write about, so that I can recognize them as your faeries or werewolves or whatever). But the world building alone, with a more vanilla character at its centre, wouldn’t have been enough for it to stand out amongst its contemporaries.

Millie Roper, on the other hand, would draw the eye in any crowd she was in. I don’t know what it is about underdogs that people love so much, that I love so much. Maybe it’s seeing them think their way around problems. If you’re the big guy, the powerhouse, you don’t really have to do that. You just bash your way to the finish line and bobs your uncle. The game’s yours. But putting characters at a disadvantage forces them to be clever (if the writing is good. There’s nothing in this world that bothers me more than a hack writer who puts their character in a problem they can’t solve and then just cheats their way out of it). It turns every encounter they have, every obstacle they run up against, into a puzzle. How do you fight somebody twice your size? Who’s stronger, faster, better trained? How do you beat somebody who can give you a heart attack just by touching you? There’s nothing that we like more than a good puzzle (right? I know I kinda just spoke for everybody, but I can’t be alone on this one) with a clever solution.

Millie is the underdoggiest underdog who ever underdug. She’s got a boat load of mental health issues (borderline personality disorder, mild brain damage, and PTSD, both from her recent failed suicide attempt and the implied sexual assault that played a part in it) and a bunch of physical handicaps to boot. She tried to kill herself a year before the book opens and lost both of her legs in the attempt. She’s got prosthetics, good ones, but it’s still difficult for her to get up stairs or get out of vehicles. Running is generally out of the question. So is standing for too long. Plus she can’t even wear them too soon after getting out of a shower or if her skin gets irritated. The lady’s got about as many hurdles as a person can have. The weird thing was though, despite the fact that the book (and Millie) never forgets about the difficulties that she faces just getting around, I started to. She’s such a tough, smart, capable jackass that, over the course of the book, I forgot to think of her as the underdog. When she came up against challenges that seemed insurmountable, the question changed from “if” she was going to be able to do it, to “how” she was going to get it done.

Recommended for folks that like urban fantasy, darker faerie stories, and protagonists that may be assholes and complete trainwrecks, but are still the smartest person in any room they decide to stand in.

VBR

 

Ps. Just as a side note, I didn’t mention the representational aspect of this novel in the body of my review because it had nothing to do with why I bought it or enjoyed reading it, and it seemed a little…false to bring it up while I was talking about it. I’m here for more representation of all different types of people on the page, and think this book does a good job of getting across some of the daily difficulties (although don’t quote me on that. It felt authentic in the moment, but she could have made all of it up whole cloth and I wouldn’t know the difference) of what it would be like to live with certain physical and mental issues. Baker treats them realistically (sometimes Millie is a straight up jerk), but with compassion. Her story is sad, reaaaally sad, but it’s not a sob story. She’s not made to be pitied. It’s very well done. So if you’re looking for more of that stuff in your books, this is a good place to get it.

 

 

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