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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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

By Gaslight by Steven Price

I bought this book on a bit of a lark. A friend of mine and I were doing our bi-weekly bookstore walk-through and the cover and name caught my eye. I am, and have always been, a sucker for a pulpy, steam-punky (the aesthetic, not all the gross pro-British empire stuff) historical thriller. When I read the back though, it sounded kind of ridiculous. The names alone-an impossible to catch, ghostly thief by the name of Shade, a love-sick dumby named Foole (because he’s a fool for love? Get it? GET IT?), a detective named Pinkerton (my vote would have been for Shurlock Murdersolver, but that’s just me)-seemed cheesy enough to give this one a miss. But I was in the mood for something cheesy and dramatic, so I picked it up anyway.

I did not get the book I was expecting.

This novel was incredible. Introspective, complicated, surprising, and stunningly written (for real though, some of the best writing I’ve come across this year. There was a blurb on the front comparing it to Cormac McCarthy and they weren’t wrong), it wasn’t anywhere near the pulpy crime drama that I was expecting. There was still some of that, some drama, some crime, some pulp, but none of it was cheesy or overblown. It, like the rest of the novel, was measured and perfectly paced, just enough to hook and keep your interest.

Which is a good thing, because this puppy is loooong. At around 750 pages, this book is a brick, and a lot of that is atmospheric description and character study. I loved it, but I can see why some people might have a difficult time with it. So, if you’re looking for something light and easy and quick, be forewarned, this is not the book. But if you’re in the market for a dark, historical fiction about human relationships, revenge, and obsession, you came to the right place.

Dig in, my lovelies.

VBR

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

 

 

 

Sunset and Sawdust by Joe R. Lansdale

Hey there my beautifuls!

The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and because of my crippling laziness and attachment to sweatpants and my couch, I’m going to avoid all those gross outdoor things and write a second review today!

Huzzah!

Now for a severe tonal shift.

Disclosure at the top. This book has a lot of misogyny in it. It opens with an attempted rape, and there’s shitty dudes treating women shittily all throughout. It’s the type of thing that would normally put me off a book but…I dunno. The author treats the misogynists in the book like they deserve to be treated (badly), and the female characters have tons of agency and grit. The people who discount them are quite clearly framed as being, not just villains, but short-sighted, close-minded, and stupid. It didn’t really bother me at all, but I know some people don’t like any of that kind of thing in their stories, and I get it.

I love Joe R. Lansdale. There’s something about his voice and the way he writes dialogue that just gets into my head, under my skin. His books are always fast and fun and filthy (in real life I’ve got the mouth of a Victorian era dock worker, but every now and again he’ll turn a phrase that catches me off guard). They’re also really unpredictable. He has this way of making it seem like everything is unstable- who the main character is, what the plot is actually about, who’s going to make it to the end. And not in a “bait the audience for cheap thrills” way *cough cough* walking dead *cough*, or in a “wait till you see what ridiculous twist I have in store for you, even though it isn’t really properly motivated by the story” (do I have to do another cough thing, or do we all know that I’m talking about M. Night Shyamalan) way. It’s just that these people seem to get themselves into legitimately dangerous, precarious situations, and you feel like if the story called for their deaths, Lansdale wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.

There is a little bit of male-gazey stuff with the protagonist (she’s hot and chesty and e’rybody knows it), but again, it didn’t bother me too much. My engagement with the story and my investment in the characters just carried me right past it.

Anybody who knows me knows I love a good mystery/crime book, and I’m a sucker for anything set in the south, but even if you’re not as into those things as I am, you should give this book a shot. Quick, fun, and well done. More Sunset please!

 

Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones…And Some Other Stuff

So I’m going to start this one with a little blurb about the direction of the blog. Don’t worry, I’m going to get to the book, but I just want to chat at ya’ll a little first.

After the kicking that I gave Wolf Road last week, I…felt a little weird. A little of it is guilt, Beth Lewis took the time and put in the effort to create something, something that had the germ of a really good thing in it, and I love that. She did something that I’ve yet to, and maybe never will, do. And giving her shit for the mistakes that she made has left me feeling a little…guilty? Or maybe guilty is not exactly the right word, there’s some other stuff in there, but it’s certainly part of it. Another part of it, a big one, is that I don’t like being negative about things. It’s too easy, it’s the cheap way to do reviews, and, if I’m being honest, it’s just not that fun. I’m not going to take any of the posts down, they’re still true, still my opinion, and I stand behind them, but I just don’t think it’s the best use of my time (I could be napping or eating pizza or, I dunno, reading books that I enjoy). I read a lot, like a lot a lot, and I only have the time to write reviews for a small percentage of the books that I read, so why waste the time on the stuff I don’t really like? So, from this point forward I’m going to be focusing a lot more on things that I actually liked. There are still going to be criticisms (I pick things apart, even things that I like a lot. It’s just the way my brain works), but from now on most of the books that I cover are going to be ones that, at the end of it, flaws and all, I’d still recommend.

But enough about that. On to the good stuff.

This book was really, really good. I’m not usually a fan of the classic monsters (werewolves, vampires, mummies, zombies, uh…Frankensteins? I liked Frankenstein. Are there a lot of books about Frankensteins?) but I’ve always got time for a book that takes something old and well worn and offers an original angle on it.

And this novel is definitely original. Mongrels is sharper, grimier, and more human than your average monster book (or not monster book). It, like all good fantasy novels, is heavily allegorical, more about the inheritance of poverty and anger and trauma than anything else. And I know that may sound boring to some of you, but it’s really not. There’s plenty of bloody meat on this bone, enough for even the die hard smash ‘em up monster fans to sink their fangs into (was that too many cheap, hack writer-y werewolf puns? It felt like a lot). Besides, that’s what good fantasies do. By using the fantastic, the exciting, and the impossible, they exaggerate and shine a light on real human experiences. I like sword fights as much as the next guy, but you can’t prop a three hundred page novel on action alone. Mongrels used this device to better effect than I’ve seen in a long time, and I left this novel feeling not only like I’d recognized pieces of myself and my experience as an adolescent man (especially one with an absentee father figure and a less than ideal uncle that I worshiped), but some insight into a perspective and way of life that was crazy different from my own.

As a final note, I loved the empathetic, intelligent way Stephen Graham Jones treated these characters. In the hands of a lesser writer they would have ended up as caricatures. Poor, southern, can’t hold down a job, anger issues, uneducated, impulsive. But they’re more than just a collection of those traits. They’re complicated, flawed people using their understanding of the world to do their best within the bounds of their own limitations.

A great fucking read.

With the sincerest of salutations,

❤  VBR

 

*Brief Disclaimer: My dad is actually great, and in no way comparable to the completely absent father figure from the book. He just lived in a different part of the country from me when I was a kid. And my uncle, well…he’s a good person. He’s got his issues, like all of us, but he’s doing his best. It’s not his fault that I worshiped him as a child, that I created an idealized version of him in my head that had noooo chance of surviving my cynical teenage years. Anyways, I’m not sure why I felt motivated to add this in here. Maybe because people are starting to actually read this thing. Scary. ❤

Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman

This book was an absolute and utter delight.

Now I know what you’re thinking, and you’re not wrong. A western, a badass lady seeking revenge, gunslinging goodness. It all sounds a lot like Wake of Vultures (another book that I gave a fairly positive review to a while back), and to some extent the two are very similar. But rest assured dear readers, the two are not identical (if they were I wouldn’t bother to review this one. What would be the point?) and there are two main ways in which I think the novels differ.

The first and least important is the supernatural element. Unlike Wake of Vultures, the only monsters in Vengeance Road are the greedy, shitty characters who steal and murder to get what they want. And while I did think that the book pushed a little too hard on that old western trope of “just plain rotten” as a defining character trait for it’s villains (they were almost comically bad or nonsensically greedy. *Mild Spoiler Warning, I guess, I mean if you’re really concerned about that kind of thing, which, as a side note, you shouldn’t be. If you’re reading an engaging narrative, spoilers shouldn’t have much of an impact. A story that relies on it’s ending to be effective or interesting isn’t much of a story at all. Although, I guess everybody goes to books for different things, and if that thing is wanting to be surprised, who am I to judge?* What was that woman doing hiding in the mountains? Why wasn’t she out living life and spending the cache that she found? If she knew that Kate’s father had the map the whole time, why didn’t she take it with her when she left? Why didn’t she go back after him herself? There were a lot of questions there, but anyways, I digress), for the most part I really liked the straight up western setting and characters.

The second way that this novel differs from the first is in the quality of the writing. It’s not really fair to compare one writer to another, every novel should be judged on its own merits, but I already started this review as a comparison and it would be SO MUCH WORK to go back and think of another idea, so…yeah, here goes. Lila Bowen (Wake of Vultures) has heaps of imagination, her novel is (honestly a little over) stuffed with it, but Erin Bowman is the superior of the two when it comes to the nitty gritty of the writing. Her novel is very well structured, compact and fast-paced without seeming rushed, the romantic tension in it is skillfully woven in and unobtrusive (though you’d have to be a real grade A dumby not to know that the tall, handsome, infuriating cowboy was going to be the love interest from the get go), and her prose, on a sentence by sentence level, can be really beautiful at times, without drawing attention to itself and pulling you out of the story. Now I’m willing to admit that part of my love for this story might come from my fondness for the simple “person needs to head to this place and take revenge” story structure, kick ass lady leads in general, and the western genre in and of itself, but…my name is The Very Biased Reviewer. So, you know, shut up about it.

Anyways! I enjoyed this book a lot. There were some problems with the ending, and the big reveal, which I sort of spoiled, but also didn’t really spoil, before. But they weren’t huge, and they didn’t have an impact on my overall satisfaction with it. Read this book. It was lots of fun.

VBR

 

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