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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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.

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

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

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Good day my beautiful peoples!

I’ve been writing a lot over the last little bit, but I feel like I haven’t checked in enough with you lately. How are you? How’s your life? What’s new?

*Insert what’s new and/or what’s happening in your life here*

REALLY?!

(Select appropriate response from the following)

1) How dare they!

2) Go on and get it girl!

3) That’s fucking disgusting

4) Congratulations!

5) I know I’m not your mom or whatever, but I really think you should stop reading this and go see a doctor.

Whew! What a rollercoaster. Now on to the book!

I have some mixed feelings about this one.

First off, the setting and world building really worked for me. I’ve always been a fan of books that are set in really specific and underutilized (at least in the fiction that I’ve been reading) times/places and Shawl really hooked me with this one. It probably didn’t hurt that the history/social studies curriculum at my highschool was fucking gaaaaarrrrrrrbage (we basically did four consecutive years of in depth study about Canada’s contribution to the second world war) so I went into this book pig-ignorant about the Congo and all the terrible things the Belgians did there. I had a very slight idea about the horrors of the rubber industry at this point in history (thanks to David Grann’s amazing The Lost City of Z), but I wasn’t aware that the Congo was a part of that, and I had no idea the depth of the damage done to the region. Learning about the Congo (sort of, I know this isn’t a historically accurate depiction) really fascinated me and it hooked me enough that I’m currently in the market for a nonfiction history of the area (holler at me if you have any recommendations).

Unfortunately, everything else just didn’t really hit it for me. I respect the ambition of the story, it’s sprawling and huge and complicated, but I never felt overly invested in it. Part of that probably has to do with the writing, which I found a little stiff (to be fair there were moments of lyricism and beauty, though few and far between), and obviously the structure didn’t help (the chapters were told in short bursts that hopped perspectives and significant portions of time, never really allowing you to sink into or get familiar with any individual characters POV) but I think most of it had to do with the characters themselves. I never really found one I could invest in, never really connected with or cared about any of the people in this, and because of that I just felt removed and uninvolved in the story in a way that left me feeling pretty unsatisfied with it as a whole.

Listen, the concept of this was great (building a steam-punky utopian society based on moral ideals in the middle of colonial Africa is just…such a good idea. Seriously, Nisi, A++), but I think I just ended up wanting to like this a lot more than I actually liked it. I respected it, but, if I’m being honest, I didn’t really enjoy reading it. SO! If you’re planning on giving this one a go, keep that in mind.

Anywhooooodle, happy reading!

VBR

 

 

 

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

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.

 

Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

I can’t believe it took me this long to find Walter Mosley. As a lover of mystery and detective fiction I’m a little embarrassed about the oversight.

I’d heard the name before, mostly dropped in podcasts or conversations about books in an offhand “I’m not going to recommend anything by Mosley, because obviously everybody who is anybody knows about him and has read everything that he’s written already” sort of a way. And instead of asking about him I would, desperate as always to seem cool and in the know, nod my head and say ” yeah, obviously” and then change the subject as quickly as I could. The first few times I didn’t really think anything of it, there’s authors that people name drop a bunch that I have no time for (reading Charles Dickens makes me want to claw my eyes out and Jane Austen can suck a lemon) but eventually I heard it enough that I started to keep my peepers peeled. And holy shit am I ever glad I did.

This is quite possibly the best first novel in a detective series I’ve ever read. The mystery itself is tight and well-plotted, with a decent twist that I didn’t see coming (although the impact of the reveal has probably changed over the last few decades since the book was released. I was surprised, but by its very nature it doesn’t mean what it used to mean), but it’s the world, and the people in it, that really set this book apart. I don’t know anything about Walter Mosley, where’s he’s lived or what his life has been like, but he has to have pulled some of these people and places from his own experience. The settings are so specific and lived in, the people and their relationships to one another so complex and interesting and real, that they can’t be made up from whole cloth. I won’t believe it.

And all this centers around the main character, Easy Rawlins (which, by the by, what a name), who is the perfect down on his luck detective. He’s a good guy, generally, but he’s not perfect. Yeah, he takes money for things and regrets it, and sometimes he gets involved with women when he knows he shouldn’t, but overall he’s a pretty decent dude. He’s tough as nails and he doesn’t take shit, but he doesn’t hurt people when he doesn’t have to. Easy is a hell of a creation, and a great character to rest a series on.

Recommended for anybody and everybody that likes mysteries, noirish fiction set in the post-war era, and detectives novels with some subtle (and some not so subtle) social commentary mixed in.

VBR

 

 

 

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