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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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

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

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

Comicbook Corner 1: Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

Heya!

So I’m going to give something new a try. I loooove comic books, always have, but for some reason I’ve never really talked about them on here. They take up a pretty sizeable chunk of my reading time, they’re just as interesting to talk about, aaaand…I just don’t, for some reason. So let’s remedy that! Every now and then I’m going to do a Comicbook Corner and give you the run down of one that I’m currently reading or just finished reading or one from the back catalogue that had a big impact on me. They’ll be a little shorter than the usual post. If comics aren’t your thing you can just skip these posts (though I’d encourage you to give them a shot. It’s just reading accompanied by incredible art).

Okay, let’s get to it.

Monstress, Written by Marjorie M. Liu and Art by Sana Takeda

Consistently well-written. Weird, complicated, interesting, and always so, so beautiful to look at. Easily one of my favourite comics coming out right now, and the only one that I collect issue to issue. At first the world was so rich, so dense with history and information and intricate, interconnected relationships that I almost felt like I couldn’t get into it, like I was starting a story partway through. But the visuals were incredible and the writing hooked me in, kept me going, and I’m suuuuper happy I stuck it out. This world has such a complicated and complex history and Liu doesn’t feel obliged to spoon feed any of it to you (other than those fun little tidbits you get at the end of each issue). While at first I felt a little frustrated by it, over time, as I’ve began to understand the world a little better, its become one of the most satisfying reading experiences I’ve had this year. Besides, even though I may not always know what’s going on, I have always one hundred percent believed that these two do, and that they’ll get me there eventually. It’s really, really good.

VBR

 

Ps. I hate to hit the representation drum all the time (I actually don’t), but if that’s something that’s important to you in your art, this book has it in spades. Most of the characters (that aren’t animal people) are POCs and women, and the main character is a POC, a woman, and an amputee (as well as a fucking badass).

 

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.

 

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