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

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

Manhattan Beach (And Also, Sort of, Mostly, A Visit from the Goon Squad) by Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan can do no wrong for me.

I read A Visit From the Goon Squad when it first came out and absolutely loved it. As well as just being an outstandingly written and engaging book, it struck a really specific chord with me. I was in a weird, complicated place in my life at the time. I had already come out of the closet, but was still wrestling with the idea of being gay, the fact of it. I’d admitted it to myself, I’d let people know about it (I’d sort of gotten to the point where hiding it was not an option anymore), but I was having a hard time acting on it. I didn’t know what to do or how to be and I was still struggling with a little internalized homophobia. I wanted to sleep with men, but I didn’t want to be the type of man that slept with men (which, trust me, I know how fucked up and wrong that is. It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that I had swallowed some of the mild, background homophobia of the environment that I grew up in, and even longer to purge that vile shit from my system).

So anyways, I was in this weird and vulnerable place, thinking that nobody in the world understands me or where I’m coming from, that yeah there are lots of gay people out there, even lots of gay people in conflict with themselves, but I’m some specific and unique type of person that, in the entire history of angsty as fuck semi-adults, has never ever existed before. And then I read this book, and there’s a character in it who’s struggling with himself a lot, uncomfortable and unhappy in his own skin, and it mostly has to do with the fact that he’s gay and not allowing himself to act on it. We weren’t exactly the same (he was some highschool football jock and I was suuuuuper not that), but I saw a lot of myself in that character, in the way he pulled against himself and tore himself up trying to avoid something that he, deep down, didn’t really want to avoid. It was a relatively small portion of the book, but Egan fucking nailed it. It’s such a specific feeling, being pulled, both against and not against your will, towards a version of yourself that you’re afraid of becoming, that you want to become, that you know you can’t avoid. I have such respect for her as a writer, for her insight, because of it. It gets the highest compliment that I can give a novel: I read this book and I felt less alone.

Now! Manhattan Beach didn’t have quite the impact on me that A Visit From the Goon Squad did (it’s hard to imagine how it could), but that has less to do with the writing and more to do with the subject, I think. She still has her sharp insight, her craftsmanship when it comes to specific and engaging characters, who not only seem like real people, but feel like them. And I did dig the setting and the subject a lot, women workers during the second World War, diving, gangsters, merchant seaman, the pressures and consequences of social expectation during that period of time. All those things are super awesome and interesting, and she tells them really well. I may not have connected with the characters in that same way I did in her previous novel, but that’s not really surprising. I’m not a gangster, I’m not a father who abandoned his family, and I’m definitely not a woman pushing against a society that is set up not to trust or respect me. The commonality that I had with these characters was more in a “we’re all human beings” sort of way, rather than anything specific. Still, Egan is a master of her craft and I got wrapped up in these people, absorbed by them. This isn’t a little book, somewhere around 450 pages, but I shot through it in two or three sittings and, even though I really liked the ending, was disappointed when it was done. I liked these people (most of them anyways), liked learning about and being around them. I was sad to see them go.

Anywho, all of this is to say that this wasn’t my favourite of Egan’s books, but I still loved the pants off it, and it was a damned sight better than I’d expect from most other authors.

Recommended for anybody who’s looking for historical fiction rooted deeply in the lives of the people of the period, those who want finely crafted character studies, and anybody with an interest in World War II era underwater welding, but that (like me) doesn’t really want to spend that much time on the war itself.

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

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

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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