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

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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

Borderline by Mishell Baker

And how is everybody doing on this delightfully chilly, wonderfully cloudy, hopefully soon to be rainy day? And yes, yes, I know, ya’ll love it when it’s sunny and warm and sticky and disgusting outside, but I’m a west coaster at heart. I live here because I love the rain, and there has been nooooone of it for months. Let me have these few days before the heat ramps back up and it gets unbearable again.

Wait…are we talking about the weather? Is this where we’re at now? Is the magic gone? How do we get it back?

Talk about books, you say? Don’t mind if I do!

This is a novel that’s completely built on the back of its protagonist. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all here for weird urban fantasy settings and fairies and all that jazz, but I’ve read a lot of that kind of thing. The world building in this one is pretty solid. The rules are well laid out, but not so well laid out that there isn’t some mystery left, the fantastical elements come across as well worn and lived in, and there’s enough difference in the characterization of the fey for them to seem fresh enough (there have been sooooo many books about fairies that it would be next to impossible to come up with a completely and entirely original take. I don’t expect that. I just want you to put enough of a twist on them, on any common fantasy character you write about, so that I can recognize them as your faeries or werewolves or whatever). But the world building alone, with a more vanilla character at its centre, wouldn’t have been enough for it to stand out amongst its contemporaries.

Millie Roper, on the other hand, would draw the eye in any crowd she was in. I don’t know what it is about underdogs that people love so much, that I love so much. Maybe it’s seeing them think their way around problems. If you’re the big guy, the powerhouse, you don’t really have to do that. You just bash your way to the finish line and bobs your uncle. The game’s yours. But putting characters at a disadvantage forces them to be clever (if the writing is good. There’s nothing in this world that bothers me more than a hack writer who puts their character in a problem they can’t solve and then just cheats their way out of it). It turns every encounter they have, every obstacle they run up against, into a puzzle. How do you fight somebody twice your size? Who’s stronger, faster, better trained? How do you beat somebody who can give you a heart attack just by touching you? There’s nothing that we like more than a good puzzle (right? I know I kinda just spoke for everybody, but I can’t be alone on this one) with a clever solution.

Millie is the underdoggiest underdog who ever underdug. She’s got a boat load of mental health issues (borderline personality disorder, mild brain damage, and PTSD, both from her recent failed suicide attempt and the implied sexual assault that played a part in it) and a bunch of physical handicaps to boot. She tried to kill herself a year before the book opens and lost both of her legs in the attempt. She’s got prosthetics, good ones, but it’s still difficult for her to get up stairs or get out of vehicles. Running is generally out of the question. So is standing for too long. Plus she can’t even wear them too soon after getting out of a shower or if her skin gets irritated. The lady’s got about as many hurdles as a person can have. The weird thing was though, despite the fact that the book (and Millie) never forgets about the difficulties that she faces just getting around, I started to. She’s such a tough, smart, capable jackass that, over the course of the book, I forgot to think of her as the underdog. When she came up against challenges that seemed insurmountable, the question changed from “if” she was going to be able to do it, to “how” she was going to get it done.

Recommended for folks that like urban fantasy, darker faerie stories, and protagonists that may be assholes and complete trainwrecks, but are still the smartest person in any room they decide to stand in.

VBR

 

Ps. Just as a side note, I didn’t mention the representational aspect of this novel in the body of my review because it had nothing to do with why I bought it or enjoyed reading it, and it seemed a little…false to bring it up while I was talking about it. I’m here for more representation of all different types of people on the page, and think this book does a good job of getting across some of the daily difficulties (although don’t quote me on that. It felt authentic in the moment, but she could have made all of it up whole cloth and I wouldn’t know the difference) of what it would be like to live with certain physical and mental issues. Baker treats them realistically (sometimes Millie is a straight up jerk), but with compassion. Her story is sad, reaaaally sad, but it’s not a sob story. She’s not made to be pitied. It’s very well done. So if you’re looking for more of that stuff in your books, this is a good place to get it.

 

 

The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig

This is going to be a short one for a couple of reasons. One is that this was a pretty light read (in a very not bad way), and two is that I don’t really have that much to say about it (also in a good way).

Chuck Wendig is such a dependable writer for fun, grimy, action-packed books. They’re always fast, inventive, well-written and, most importantly, smart. I never have to whistle past plot holes or mistakes, never have to grit my teeth through a scene where a character acts like an idiot in order to push forward the plot. His Miriam Black series is one of my favourite supernatural mysteries out there, with a great hook and an even better ballsy, brash protagonist. This one has a lot more full-on supernatural elements than I was expecting having read the Black books (blue rocks that act like angel dust and open your third eye, goblins, zombies, demons, and gigantic chthonic worm gods, to name a few) but the quality of the writing and enjoyment of the experience were about the same. I left it feeling like I’d got exactly what I went in for.

Hence the short review. I went in looking for a good time, got it, and now I’m moving on to the next one. Hurrah!

For people that love the grimier, filthier urban/noir fantasies, old school gumshoe tales with a bit of a Lovecraftian spin,  and a well-written, ass-kicking good time.

VBR

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