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

Thor: Ragnarok

Hidyho there readerinos!

I’m gonna preface this review by saying, right off the bat, I have a huge case of the superhero movie fatigues. I know this is a thing that people have been saying for a while, so it’s not an original or interesting perspective, and it shouldn’t really be relevant when it comes to reviewing an individual piece of art (“judge it on it’s own merits!”), but it’s the truth. I’m tired of them. Tired of watching them, yeah, but also tired of getting excited and then, inevitably, disappointed by them. I made the mistaken claim after watching Spiderman: Homecoming (which was the dopest dope, in case you were wondering) that I was cured of it forever, but honestly? I think that was just a lucky shot.

Take this new Thor movie for example. I had really high hopes for it. It looked wacky and wild and colourful, different in a way that I’m so, so ready for. The posters were weird, hyper-saturated pieces of scifi art, the pre-release positive hype was there, the trailer was incredible. Everything was lined up to get me excited for this movie, to get me off my couch and into a theatre to see it. And then…*shrugs*.

Okay, let’s talk first about all the good bits (and there is a bunch of them!). Everything about Thor’s far off space adventure was amazing. The world was wonderful and odd and specific, the humor was great (this is probably the funniest marvel so far, which I think is helped a little by the Thor mythos. The campyness and spectacle of it really suits comedy a lotttttt better than self-serious drama), the costumes were top notch, the updated and translated Hulk was better and more interesting than he’s ever been. JEFF. MOTHERFUCKING. GOLDBLUM. Ugh, and that score you gals. This might just be the first time that I’ve been aware of a score in a Marvel movie, and it’s definitely the first time I loved one. So much good stuff! (Also, I’m going to insert a shoutout to Korg here, before people get mad at me for not mentioning him. Yes, he was the best. Yes, his weirdness and sense of humour perfectly personified everything that was great and good about this movie. Yes, I too, loved him).

And now the bad bits. Everything to do with Asgard. I felt like this film’s connection to Asgard and the previous Thor movies was a huge, cumbersome chain wrapped around its neck. Whenever I began to forget that this was just another Thor movie with another Big Bad who was trying to do Big Bad Things, we’d flash back to Hela and all the stuff I just could not give a shit about. I mean, you have a serious boring villain problem when even CATE BLANCHETT (who ate scenery for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and did a great job of it) can’t make them interesting. Listen, I get it, part of the theme of the movie was moving away from Asgard and the old Thor films, and in order to do that they had to go back and burn it all down. I just…I dunno. I guess I just didn’t care. I was having a really good time with this movie, and then the last twenty minutes of it turned into big explosions and magic and CGI fights and Karl Urban giving the cheesiest death performance outside of an anime. And because that was the end of the movie, the freshest part of it when I left the theatre, I ended up feeling like I liked this movie a lot less than I think I actually did (if that convoluted sentence made sense to you, you win ten points! And a hug!).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that this movie had a lot of promise and, even though it did deliver in a bunch of ways, I still left feeling kinda meh about it. And that’s so disappointing! If anything I wanted this to be the type of movie that you couldn’t shrug at, so weird and out there that you either loved or hated it. And I saw glimpses of that, yeah, but they were wrapped up in that same old marvel movie safeness, that feeling that I knew what was going to happen, I knew who was going to survive, I knew that Thor and all his friends would be victorious. I know that’s just the price of admission for a movie like this, but I guess it’s one I’m getting tired of paying.

Anywho! You should go out and see this movie. It’s fun, and your dollars will help Taika Waititi gain the power he needs within Marvel to really lean into his weirdness and (hopefully) provide us with a superhero movie that isn’t as anchored down by its own tropes, restrained by the industry’s impulse to meet our expectations, instead of exceeding them.

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

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

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).

 

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.

 

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Right off the top you gals, this one is a tough read.

Not tough in the sense that it’s a slog or that you have to push your way through. Kind of the opposite, actually. I was propelled through this book, captivated by it, couldn’t put it down. I usually read on the train on my way to work, but this is the first time I can remember that I would read all day before my shift, read while walking to and from transit, and only put it away when my boss started giving me the side eye. It’s not the writing that’s tough, it’s the subject. This book is about hunger, yeah, but it’s also about suffering and humiliation, about craving love and comfort and acceptance, about never finding it, or finding it and not recognizing it, finding it and losing it, finding it and having it not be enough. This book is about a lot of things and none of them are easy.

When Gay was a small child she went through something horrendous, something that changed her and altered the course of her entire life. I’m not going to get into what the event itself actually is (I tried a couple of times and just…read the book. Gay was there, it happened to her, and she’s a better writer than me anyways), but I will warn you that it does have to do with sexual violence and it’s…very difficult to read. Gay’s great talent as a writer is her voice, her ability to make you empathize and relate to her, to connect with and feel like you understand her. In anything else of hers that I’ve read that’s a strength, and it’s a strength here too, it’s just a complicated one. It hurts to watch somebody you’re connecting with suffer so much.

I’ve never read a memoir quite like this one, one so concerned with the body. It makes sense, it’s what this part of her story is all about. The invasion of it, the effort she went through to change it, the consequences of that change. And she has such an interesting view of the body, one so different from my own. For myself, I see my body and me as one. There’s no difference, no space, between the two. But Roxane constantly refers to her body as a structure separate from herself, as a prison, a fortress, a cage, a cave. Always things that you can either hide or be held in. For her, maybe that’s not that far from the truth. She used food to turn her body into a stronghold. Big, imposing, impregnable, but inescapable as well. Sometimes she loves her body and how strong it is, sometimes she hates the limits it puts on her, but she’s always aware of it, in a way I’ve never experienced. Things that most people take for granted are constant sources of stress and anxiety for her: shopping, going for walks with friends, getting on an airplane, going to events (she tells a story about an event that she had to speak at where there was an elevated stage, about three feet off the ground, and no stairs. After visibly struggling in front of the audience to get on to the stage, eventually having to be helped up by some of the other speakers, she sat on the flimsy, thin wooden chair that they’d placed on the stage for her and heard a crack. She was able to use the strength of her legs to take her weight off the chair enough so that it didn’t break, but she was so humiliated by the experience that she threw up in her mouth and had to swallow it), and even what she can and can’t eat in public. She says to a friend that offers her chips at one point that people “that look like me don’t get to eat food like that in public.”

Which brings me to my next point. Can we please, as a society, just stop being shitty to people about their bodies? The constant comments and intrusions that Gay has to face from people all the time, the humiliations, are unacceptable. No person should be subjected to that kind of treatment. And I know, I know, you say that you’re concerned about their health and whatever, but let’s be honest here, you’re really not. You’re trying to make yourself feel good about your own body, your own flaws, by framing somebody else’s as being worse. You’re putting someone else down to make yourself feel good. It’s what children and bullies do, so grow up and cut it the fuck out.

This book is, without a doubt, one of the rawest and most intimate memoirs I’ve ever read. And so universally human too. I felt myself constantly surprised by how relatable I found it. I may not have experienced the trauma that she has, or lived in the body she’s lived in, or done the things she’s done, but I kept seeing myself in her reactions and desires. Her hungers are the ones we all feel, for food yeah, but also for love and affection and respect, safety and security and comfort. For peace. I hope she finds it.

Recommended for those who like intimate, personal accounts of tragedy, those who like intelligent, sharp takes on difficult things we don’t often talk about, and people who don’t mind ugly crying on a bus full of strangers. Really though, read this book.

VBR

 

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