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

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

 

 

 

Comicbook Corner 2: Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe

I once had this comic described to me as “the d&d game you and your friends wish you were playing” and while I wouldn’t go that far (my d&d crew is both great and good), I will say it’s the d&d story I wish I was writing. It’s bawdy, it’s fun, it’s fast-paced. The art is gorgeous and imaginative. The stories are clever subversions of regular fantasy tropes, self-aware tales told by a guy who obviously loves the genre just as much as you do (maybe more), but isn’t blind to its quirks and flaws.

The thing that really puts this comic up there with the greats for me though, is the characters. At first they seem fairly simple, ladies built by layering a modern archetype over a traditional fantasy one: the sensible friend/good cleric, the stoner/goofy rogue, the dependable friend/stalwart fighter, and the bad one/reckless wizard. But as the stories progress and they move through their (increasingly banana-pants) world, these characters open up and expand in really interesting, thoughtful ways. On the surface they may be all brash and ballsy and easy to read, ladies looking for the next drink/fight/fuck, but beneath they’ve got rich interior lives and complicated motivations for their actions. None of them are exactly who you think they are.

If you’re squeamish when it comes to violence and sex and cursing, or you’re in the mood for something dark and serious, this probably isn’t the comic for you. If, on the other hand, you’re down for a fast-paced, filthy, funny, balls-to-the wall comic, with some surprisingly keen insights on human nature and relationships, I think this might just be the one for you.

Enjoy  ❤

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).

 

The Magpie Lord by K.J. Charles

Ear muffs kittens (eye muffs?), this review is gonna be explicit.

So…this book was the fucking best.

Before I get into the review, I’m going to admit something kind of shitty about myself. I’ve always looked down on romance novels. I know, I know, I suck. And the better parts of me have always known how unfair it is. It’s an entire genre (a massive one, with the biggest numbers in all of publishing) and just like any other genre it’s written by a diverse cast of people, with a wide range of ability, producing both good and bad work. Besides that, there’s nothing inherently wrong with just writing fun, sexy stories (and I know that not all of them are fun and fluffy). Fun is great! Sex is the best! Both are really charming, amazing parts of being a human. It’s the last remaining aspect of my shitty, literary snob teenage self that I’ve never really been able to shake. I wouldn’t judge other people for reading it (even at my snootiest I’ve always been a “find your fun where you can” sort of dude), but I always just assumed that it wasn’t for me.

Until this. fucking. book.

Holy shit it was the best. What have I been doing with my time? How can I justify the basically thirty years that I’ve spent not reading stuff like this? Well…maybe I should give myself a pass for the first dozen or so years, because I really don’t think preteens should be chomping down on this particular type of treat. I mean, if it’s your kid, obviously leave it up to your own discretion, but there’s a lot of violence and people telling each other they’re gonna fuck them in this so…take that into consideration.

With that that in mind though, I read A Game of Thrones when I was a wee little baby and I would rate that as wayyyyy more explicit than this. Like, maybe a hundred times more. Because, yes, there’s violence and sex in this. People suffer, people die. But it’s…different here. Kinder, if that makes sense. This book never treats people like they’re insignificant or disposable. And the sex here is all adult, all reciprocal and non-familial, with no sexual violence whatsoever. In fact, this book has a continual and very specific message about consent, one that it reinforces again and again. The characters aren’t perfect, and they (one of them in particular) does make a pretty severe misstep, but I thought it was handled really well. I was even more impressed with the way it was handled within the context of a dominant and submissive style relationship. The dominant one acted, you know, dominant, but backed off immediately whenever he felt like the other person wasn’t enjoying themselves or wasn’t getting what they wanted. Unlike some other really big name books about this style of sexual relationship, this felt like it was written by someone from within this community, somebody that understands that dominant/submissive isn’t synonymous with abuser/abused. I loved it.

Okay, so I’m going to cut it off here. I could spend all afternoon writing about how great it was to finally read a book about two male characters having a romance where neither of them was a weird, overblown stereotype, or about how cool the magic system was, or how well fleshed out the world, but…I dunno, just read it yourself. It’s so good!

For anybody who likes their magic systems gritty and bloody and grounded, their romances vibrant and gay as hell, and who’s not afraid of the genre modifier historical-supernatural-mystery-gay-romance (or maybe gay-romance-supernatural-historical-mystery?).

VBR

Ps. When I wrote this post this morning I had absolutely no idea it was National Coming Out Day in the states. What a coinkydink! Happy Coming Out Day fellow queers! Do something extra-especially gay for me today 🙂

 

 

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

Phantom Pains by Mishell Baker

Hey ya’ll!

So after reading Hunger, a great book that’s also reaaaaally difficult, I felt like I needed something light and fast and fun. I’d eaten my veggies, cleared my whole plate, and it was time for some dessert. I really loved Borderline, the first book in this series (you can check the review out here), and if this one was anything like it I figured it would do the trick.

And it did, sort of. I liked this one, I still enjoyed myself while reading it, but I can’t help but feel like it didn’t really live up to the promise of the first one. At first I couldn’t really figure out why I wasn’t having quite as much fun, it still had all the major key points of the first one (fast-paced action, a sort of mystery, weird faerie shit), but I think I’ve managed to narrow it down to two things.

The first one is Millie. Maybe it’s just me, but she seemed a little different in this book. It could be that the character herself is just growing up and coming into her own a little more, but she seemed a lot less unstable this time, a lot less confrontational (she mostly shuts down when people in the book either critique her or push back against her), and just a little more…bland? Generic? Maybe those aren’t exactly the right words, but it seemed like a lot of her sharp edges, the things that made her so interesting in the last novel, were blunted. I get that it’s important to move a character forward, but if it’s done properly it should be satisfying to watch a character grow and stabilize and come into their own. Here I feel like we missed a step or two and it just doesn’t really sit right.

The second thing is the plot. I have a few minor winges about it (mostly to do with nobody ever believing Millie eeevvvveerrrrrr, even though she’s constantly right all the time. Eventually you’d think that they’d just start taking her at her word, but I guess you have to get your drama and suspense from somewhere), but I’m going to focus mostly on the main problems: how unnecessarily complicated it was, and consequently, how long that made it feel.

As a side note, just to start this off, I just went to my bookshelf to check how many pages longer this one was than the first one, convinced that it was going to clock in at around a hundred pages more, and was surprised to find that they’re basically the same length. If you’d asked me right after I put this one down I probably would’ve bet money on it being atleast fifty pages longer, if not more, that’s how sure I was. That, in and of itself, has got to say something.

I think the major problem lies mostly in how complicated she made the plot. She tried to stuff waaaayyyyyy too much into this one novel and it really changed the dynamic. In the last book it wasn’t exactly a slow reveal, but there was still tons of mystery involved. You felt like she was uncovering information about the fey and the existence of the other world bit by bit, and that no matter what she found out she was still missing most of it. In this one you get exposition dump after exposition dump and by the end of it, I wasn’t sure what else there was to reveal. I left feeling like there wasn’t really anything hooking me into reading the third one. I know that this might just be personal preference, I’m always inclined to a slow reveal leading to a big payoff, rather than just dumps of information along the way, but this website is called verybiasedreviews so…I dunno, what did you expect?

Anyways, don’t write this book or this series off completely. The first one is great, and again, despite it’s problems I still had a pretty good time with this one. I’ve seen worse when it comes to the sophomore slump. I’m definitely going to come back in for one more go, but if the third one is more like this one than the first I might have to leave it after that.

Recommended if you like foul-mouthed, no bullshit lady protagonists, are fond of stories that are even tangentially related to hollywood, or if you like your exposition given in big, straight forward, indigestible chunks.

VBR

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