Book Review: A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Williams

I am still slogging my way through The Queens of Innis Lear.  I’d DNF it but right now it feels like a battle I need to win.  Hoping to get it done this weekend.  So in the meantime, I haven’t been very motivated to read much else.

I did quickly squeeze in A Taste of Honey for a buddy read though.  This was part of Tor.com’s free novella offerings for Pride Month. Did you know they give away a free book every month?  You can visit that page here, and download a copy of The Murders of Molly Southborne by Tade Thompson for free until June 29th.

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

Rating:  ★★★

Blurb (from GoodReads): Aqib bgm Sadiqi, fourth-cousin to the royal family and son of the Master of Beasts, has more mortal and pressing concerns. His heart has been captured for the first time by a handsome Daluçan soldier named Lucrio. In defiance of Saintly Canon, gossiping servants, and the furious disapproval of his father and brother, Aqib finds himself swept up in a whirlwind romance. But neither Aqib nor Lucrio know whether their love can survive all the hardships the world has to throw at them.

This is told in three parts.  Part one I enjoyed a lot.  It’s lets the reader see how Aqib and Lucrio first meet and was a great set up for the romance.  It was pretty hard not to ship these two right from the start.  Part two I struggled with.  It’s told in alternating timelines that jump all over the place.  There’s a reason for it, but it doesn’t make it any easier to digest.  Part three is about the same length as part one and gives us the conclusion.

A lot of the time during part two I was frustrated.  I read a quote from another reviewer once (that I can’t find now, so this quote isn’t exact so I can’t credit correctly) that said something along the lines of: “There are two great sins an author can commit when writing a book: failing to meet expectations, or failing to set them.  Of those two, failing to set them is far worse.”  (Seriously, not exact- Google gives me nothing.)  I had been struggling with this in some stories for years, and never had words for it until I read that.

I feel like A Taste of Honey very much fails to set any expectations for the reader.  Throughout the entirety of part two I was just wondering why I was being told this story. I didn’t feel glued to the page or compelled to keep reading.  I can’t explain why without spoilers- but I will say that the plot of this story is not: Aqib and Lucrio must overcome  the prejudices against gay men in their society and amongst Aqib’s family in order to be together and get a HEA.  Is that a pretty straightforward and rather generic romance plot?  Yeah. It is.  But it comes with the suspense built in.  And readers would have read this story based on that alone, because these characters were fantastic, the world building was unique, and their relationship was beautiful.

Instead we’re given something else entirely that feels more like the saga of a man who’s life has big dramatic events, but in which he has no agency to change things.  Therefore there is no suspense.

The world building is super unique and I loved the parts with the animals.  Although magic isn’t really my thing, there do seem to be some vague rules about the system and that too, felt unique.  If you’re the kind of reader who enjoys piecing together the information about the world for themselves, this may be a great choice for you.

I’m not going to spoil anything, so I’m not going to set any expectations for you either, but if you can slog it through the middle to get to the end it does make up for some of the slow going middle parts.  A few of the other buddies that read this enjoyed it much more than I did so if you like, we can all just blame that other book I’m reading for putting me in a bad mood.

A Taste of Honey can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.

Have you read this book?  What did you think of it?

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Childhood Favorites

TTT-NEW

Edit: I’ve just realized I once again jumped ahead a week. Please forgive me! I don’t know where my brain is at.

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This was a hard post for me.  Not really because I didn’t read as a kid (I definitely did) but just remembering what exactly I was reading.  Also- a lot of childhood favorites I’d probably feel different about today.  For example, Charlotte’s Web, or the traumatizing end to Where the Red Fern Grows?  The horrible treatment of children by Roald Dahl… Sigh.  (Why are kids books so darn sad?)  Anyway- I probably missed a lot, but here are ones I remember that I don’t think I’d change my mind about as an adult.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl – I loved everything about this story as a kid and I still love everything about it as an adult.  I love Charlie’s relationship with Grandpa Joe, I love the ending, I love the poetic justice all the other kids receive.  I also love the movie.  The Gene Wilder version (sorry Johnny).

The Black Stallion by Walter Farley

The Black Stallion by Walter Farley – Like most young girls, I was horse obsessed.  I’m pretty sure this book does not have the happiest ending, but I loved everything that came before that.

Berenstain Bears by Stan and Jan Berenstain – Here they are.  The only wholesome books I’ve ever read.  (I kid.)  These were a staple in my house.  My mom used to read them to me and my sister before bed tonight.  I still have these books.  I read them to my daughter so they hold a lot of sentimental value.

The Magic School Bus by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen – Can I count these as my first Science Fantasy books?  I loved Ms. Frizzle.  I loved all the kids and the illustrations, but especially our unfortunate friend Arthur.

Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene – I spent the summers at my aunt’s house in Ohio, and she had like the first 40 books in the Nancy Drew series.  And I’m pretty sure I read most of them, and loved them all.  She’s like Scooby Doo, but you know, human.

Choose Your Own Adventure by Miscellaneous – I’m low key thrilled these are making a sort of comeback (well, I know I’ve seen a few new copies kicking around at B&N anyway).  I LOVED these books as a kid.  I loved you could read through them pretty quickly, I loved making a game of finding the longest story, I loved finding my way to new endings.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman – I love this book so much I actually remember where I was when I bought it.  It was a book wholesaler somewhere in Virginia.  I didn’t include the other two books (The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass) just because I didn’t read them until I was in my 20s.  I knew it was a series but it took Pullman a long time to put out the other books and I never could find them whenever I looked.  This was probably my first foray into Fantasy and started a life-long obsession with Polar Bears.  (It’s also one of those super grim children’s books I referred to earlier, and it would be hard for me to re-read them today.)  Side note- I still own the original copy I purchased way back when.  It’s mostly in tact and sits on my mother’s bookshelf.

Wayside School is Falling Down by Louis Sachar – These books are hysterical and bizarre.  I can’t wait to read them with my daughter when she graduates from picture books.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz – If you were a kid in the 90s you’ve probably read these at least once.  I probably read them way more times than is normal.  The illustrations freak me out and that one story about the hook in the car door still bothers me (and causes me serious paranoia about my back seat in the dark).

Goosebumps by R.L. Stine – Much like Scary Stories, if you were a kid in the 90s, you probably read Goosebumps too.  I gobbled these up faster than Stine could write them (and he wrote them pretty fast).  I especially looked forward to Scholastic book fairs because I knew it usually meant I could get a new Goosebumps.  I totally watched the new movie as an adult and mostly enjoyed it.  Also, here is a really funny post I found reimagining Goosebumps for adults based on their covers.

Ugh- feeling so nostalgic right now.  The 90s were a good time.  What’s on your Childhood Favorites list?

 

I’m Just Not That Into This… More Wildly Unpopular Opinions

A few weeks ago for Top Ten Tuesday, the topic was: Unpopular Bookish Opinions, in which I outed myself as the only human being on the planet who really just doesn’t care about Harry Potter, and has no desire to read it.  Harry Potter isn’t the only thing I find myself on the other side of the fence on.  I’m feeling a little nihilistic today so I figured I’d give round two a go and talk about other things people love (or dislike) that I just sort of don’t (or do).

Before you get out your pitchforks (just kidding, you guys are great!) just know that I don’t fault anyone for loving or hating the things below.  People like what they like and thats what makes the world a beautiful and diverse place.

MARVEL UNIVERSE

With the recent release of Avengers: Endgame (I had to google the name of this movie because that’s how little I actually care) I’ve read a lot of posts/opinions/tweets talking about what fantastic cinematic accomplishments the Marvel movies are.

And listen- maybe that’s true.  But I’ve tried to watch quite a few of these (Thor, X-Men, Guardians of the Galaxy, etc. etc. and on and on) and despite being told I don’t need to watch all 87 movies to understand them, when watching them, I feel like I just don’t get it, like it’s a bunch of strung together inside jokes that I wasn’t privy to.

Deadpool Joke Gif

Thor anything should be a home run for me right?  I love Vikings, I love Norse mythology… Except it turns out when you make Thor an alien from another world who’s interested in saving the Earth for some reason beyond my ken (love? was that why he cares?) my eyes glaze over and I tune out.  I tried to watch it the other day actually.  I think I lasted 30 seconds.  And Thor is played by a Hemsworth for crying out loud:

thor-pictures-17

It shouldn’t have been that difficult to make me pay attention.  It was the same for Guardians of the Galaxy.  I thought to myself, I can do this, I love Chris Pratt!  Then the movie opened with a fight scene I didn’t understand and our intrepid heroes fled the galaxy and camped out somewhere and Pratt was rattling on about his missing father who was also David Hasselhoff, and I just stopped, asked myself WTF is going on here?  And promptly shut it off.  *Shrugs*  Side note: Mr. Pratt- please go back to making dinosaur movies. I enjoyed those a lot more.

Chriss Pratt Jurassic World

That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed a few of them.  Deadpool with Ryan Reynolds was amazing (I don’t think it’s a huge cinematic accomplishment, I don’t feel compelled to re-watch it ever) but it was a lot of fun.  Black Panther was a huge cinematic accomplishment, both for it’s portrayal of women and for having almost an entirely black cast, but something about even that amazing movie left me mildly unsatisfied (probably the ending- I was rooting for Killmonger all the way).

Killmonger Black Panther

ON THE OTHER HAND…

Prepare yourselves for blasphemy: I love Batman.  I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the Batman universe is a lot more recognizable to me than anything that shows up in a Marvel movie.  I’ve seen most of the movies, watched a good portion of the cartoons, and most importantly, played a lot of the video games.  Also, Batman as a superhero feels less… far fetched to me than most other superheroes.  He’s a guy who wants to bring justice to Gotham and his superpower is money.  He wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider, he didn’t suffer accidental gamma ray exposure, he just makes more sense to me.

Batman.jpg

The villains too, often don’t have some otherworldly, freak accident reason for their powers.  Joker goes loony after traumatic events, Two Face loses his shit when some jerk throws acid in his face, the Riddler… well, he’s just obsessed and uber competitive.  My point is, most of the characters in Batman are frighteningly human.  Plus, Batman’s got the Batmobile, which kicks the shit out of Hulk smash and Thor’s hammer and Spiderwebs.  #SorryNotSorry

Batmobile

So while admittedly, many of the movies sort of suck, *side eyes Ben Affleck* a lot of the characters are generally more compelling.  Also, can we talk about how fucking excited I am for a Joaquin Phoenix portrayal of the Joker?  (Prays to the Hollywood gods: please don’t let this suck.)

Joker Gif Joaquin Phoenix

SHOES

Here’s a fun fact you probably didn’t want to know about me: I hate shoes and I think they’re overrated.  If the world would let me, I’d go barefoot everywhere I could.  Since I can’t do that, I’ll settle for the next best thing: flip-flops.  I live in New England and wear them every day it’s not snowing.  It is my dream that one day someone will invent actual carpet-plant so I can get out of bed every morning and feel the grass on my toes.

BILLIE EILISH, LADY GAGA AND THE REST OF THEM

I have nothing against Billie Eilish or Lady Gaga, and I’m not picking on them.  They’re doing their own things, and you have to respect that.  I think they’re extremely talented and have gorgeous voices.  I watch the music video Bad Guy at least once a day because I love how crazy, off-the-wall Billie Eilish is, and I love the song itself.

Duh Billie Eilish

But I tried listening to some of her other music and honestly?  It was putting me to sleep.  She recently did a concert in our area that received a lot of attention, so I was inevitably disappointed when a lot of her music didn’t line up with what I was hoping for.  As for Lady Gaga- it’s really easy for me to randomly start chanting/singing RA RA RA-RA-RA.. but most of her music just doesn’t really speak to me.  I’m not even sure I like Bad Romance, it’s just super catchy.

GAME OF THRONES

Guys.  I’ve tried.  Really.  I binge watched four seasons once in an effort to join the office gossip every Monday.  I read the first book and found it to be a solid four star read.  What’s most infuriating about my inability to appreciate it, is that I don’t even know why I don’t appreciate it.  It has everything I love.  Powerful female characters.  A full cast of morally grey characters.  Smart, scheming, plotting characters.  Direwolves…

Ghost Direwolf Gif

Sometimes I think maybe the scope is too big for my tiny brain.  Sometimes I think Martin, and the show, worked so hard to be unpredictable it became predictable.  Other times I think it’s that I couldn’t find a character that survived all eight seasons that I wanted to root for.  Dany annoyed me and I found the mother of dragons nonsense really bizarre.  Jon Snow was too sickly sweet.  Arya would have been great but I found her storyline (up until the last season where I hear she kicks ass) really boring.  Cersei goes beyond morally grey into just plain evil…  which probably makes her the most interesting of the four, but ugh… I. Give. Up.

Cersei Gif

I think a lot of it comes back to the fact that Game of Thrones is more about political machinations and than it is about action.  Remember that first big battle that was supposed to happen?  Remember how we were following Tyrion throughout?  Then something happens and he gets knocked out and we get a fade to black scene and Tyrion wakes up and it’s all over?  It felt really fucking lazy to me and I was super annoyed with it.  And that’s not the only time the battle scenes fade to black outside of a few one on one fight scenes like The Mountain vs The Viper (which by the way, is one of those super predictable while trying to be unpredictable moments I’m referring to).

The Viper vs The Mountain Game of Thrones

I’m sure History Channel’s Vikings doesn’t have half the budget of Game of Thrones, probably not even a fourth.  But they still manage to pull off awesome battle scenes at least every three episodes.  Sure it’s just people with axes and swords running around in a field, but they’re exciting, well done, and keep me engaged in the show.  Furthermore, since they’re willing to kill off main characters without making a point of it, the show is significantly less predictable.  Further-further-more, the characters themselves are unpredictable.  I mean, we all knew Rollo was not a nice guy, but who really saw his story arc coming?  Not this girl.  I’m still salty about it.

Vikings Battle Gif

AMERICAN CARS

Cars should all look this cool.

1970 Dodge Challenger

Also, cars should only come in one color.  Black.

But seriously- it’s not that I care about “made in America” or GDP growth… (although that’s nice) I just like the style of most American cars better.  Sure they’re less reliable than Toyota and Honda, they’re more expensive to fix, they’re generally gas guzzlers, but damn do I feel cool driving around in my convertible mustang.  Also I love my Jeep.  You can have it when you pry it out of my cold dead fingers.

DISNEY MOVIES

Are usually super dark, depressing, and morbid.  I don’t think they’re the end all be all of kids movies.  I’m confused about the need for another Toy Story.  Frozen was just okay (though the soundtrack was awesome).  Moana is the exception, not the rule.

Beauty and the Beast Meme

I DISLIKE CATS; PUGGLES AND COCKAPOOS ARE MUTTS

Oh gosh I’m going to catch a lot of hate for this one, I can feel it.  First we’ll tackle the cats.  I am not a cat person (if it makes you feel better, you can blame it on my allergies, which certainly have done nothing to endear them to me).  I find them really annoying (stop rubbing on my legs okay? it’s weird), I don’t trust them because even when they like you they bite you, and they all look like they are secretly plotting your death.

The Dark Lord

Okay, The Dark Lord is an extreme example.  But when a cat makes eye contact I usually want to duck and run.  I like watching funny cat videos as much as the next person… but I want the cats to stay in my computer screen.  I do not want them near me.

Puggles, Cockapoos, Labradoodles… these aren’t designer dog “breeds”.  They’re mutts.  Let’s call a spade a spade.  And honestly?  Mutts make the best dogs anyway.  They’re healthier because their inbred genes have had a chance to self-correct, they’re unique, and they can bring you just as much happiness as any other dog.

IMG_0810

Meet Mickey.  He’s a Pugwawa.  Just kidding.  He’s a mutt.  Go ahead, tell me he’s not adorable.

BOSTON RED SOX

I loathe baseball season.  I live in Rhode Island.  For those of you who don’t know, we’re the unfortunate bastard cousin of Massachusetts, and we are also not an island.

What that means is, every baseball season, I have to listen to baseball stats and Red Sox disappointments or Red Sox gloating, and I just don’t care.  I wish they’d stayed cursed.  There, I said it.

ON THE OTHER HAND…

I’m a totally unapologetic Patriots fan, and football season is way too short.  I hope Brady never retires.

Patriots Superbowl Meme

FACEBOOK

Here it is.  The ultimate unpopular opinion.  I hate Facebook.  I have a profile… I don’t use it.  If I’m invited to a party via Facebook, I’ll *probably* get an email notifying me I was invited, to which I will look at the invitation, promptly delete the email, and move on with my life.  I don’t want to go to that party that badly, and if the host/hostess can’t be bothered to send me a text message to invite me, they clearly don’t want me there that badly.

I also don’t want to see all the memes and posts where people bemoan their existence or say things like ‘just put your faith in God’ or whatever other nonsense that pops into their head.  I don’t need a running garbage dump of their inner most thoughts.  They’re not as clever/funny/original/unfortunate as they think they are.  And listen- that’s not personal.  I’m not any of those things either.  That’s why I don’t use it (side note, maybe I just need better friends?). Also… Facebook is spying on you.  Have you seen that movie the Circle?  Just saying.

The Circle Gif

So go ahead, acid rain all over my unpopular opinion parade.  I can take it. But also, tell me some of your unpopular opinions so I can feel not so alone.

Book Review: The Need by Helen Phillips

I didn’t mean to go on hiatus- but I actually haven’t done a whole lot of reading this week, and I sort of feel like a fraud.  I am bummed I missed this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, but I’m looking forward to checking out everyone else’s posts, and will probably do a similar post anyway.

Yesterday I received an ARC of The Need in the mail.  I read it all in two different sittings.  While I don’t know that it really had that ‘can’t put it down’ quality we all love, it was a really quick book with super short chapters that made it easy to keep reading.

The Need by Helen Phillips

Rating:  ★★★1/2

Blurb (from GoodReads): When Molly, home alone with her two young children, hears footsteps in the living room, she tries to convince herself it’s the sleep deprivation. She’s been hearing things these days. Startling at loud noises. Imagining the worst-case scenario. It’s what mothers do, she knows.

But then the footsteps come again, and she catches a glimpse of movement.

Suddenly Molly finds herself face-to-face with an intruder who knows far too much about her and her family. As she attempts to protect those she loves most, Molly must also acknowledge her own frailty. Molly slips down an existential rabbit hole where she must confront the dualities of motherhood: the ecstasy and the dread; the languor and the ferocity; the banality and the transcendence as the book hurtles toward a mind-bending conclusion.

I was intrigued by the genre here, and before reading I couldn’t decide if it would be more horror, more science fiction or thriller.  It’s not quite science-fiction, more speculative, and more thriller than horror.  It reminds me a lot of Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter.

Genre aside- the core of this book is about motherhood, and Phillips nails that part.  In some ways, while reading this, I was relieved to know I wasn’t alone and I wasn’t crazy.  My daughter is six, so a lot of the things Molly is going through I don’t have to cope with as often, but everything she endures is hauntingly, eerily familiar.  I felt like I could have written this book.  Kids will make you crazy, but your love for them will always trump all.

This book starts much stronger than it finishes.  I think, unfortunately the reveal for The Need comes far too early, and the end of the book stretches on a little too long.  I would have liked if there had been more suspense/mystery built into the plot, or if the MC had spent more time investigating what was going on instead of simply accepting what was happening to her.

Phillips does an excellent job of bringing the characters to life on the page.  Especially the kids who come out with some off the wall, nonsensical stuff (like ‘Can I lick your eye?’) that only four year olds can invent.  My one complaint with Molly would be that I really wasn’t sure the decisions she made felt reasonable or logical.  People all react differently to different things, of course, but there were some decisions she made that were mildly rage-inducing and made me want to shout at the page.  It was disappointing considering Phillips gets literally everything else right.

I did enjoy the writing.  The Need is definitely more literary than commercial, and while I wouldn’t describe it as lyrical, Phillips does some things with repetition and structure that feel hard hitting, if that makes any sense.

The ending is ambiguous.  Normally this is something I avoid, I don’t like ambiguous endings ever, but for some reason it works here.  I’m attributing it to the fast build-up of suspense and the slow unraveling of everything else, as well as the allegorical nature of the book.  It’s an ambiguous ending that I somehow understood perfectly, because the allegory makes a lot of sense to me.  

All in all- not a bad little book.  If you’re interested in this because Molly is a paleobotanist I’d skip it, that’s a very small part of the book.  Otherwise it’s a super quick read (258 pages) with fast, punchy chapters, that would make for a great lazy day beach read.

The Need releases in the US on July 9, 2019 from Simon & Schuster.  Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an ARC for review.  It can be found on GoodReads or pre-ordered on Amazon.

UPDATED:  **SPOILERS AHEAD**

This is my most viewed review on my blog, and I think readers are looking for a clarification to the ending.  So here’s my interpretation:

The book is a metaphor for motherhood.  How being a mother can almost split you into two people.  You love your kids.  You’d do anything for them, to help them, give them every opportunity.  Your kids are your life.

And then there are days when you really just think: “What the hell was I thinking becoming a mother?  I could be backpacking in Europe right now!  Drinking margaritas in Mexico!  Getting a full eight hours of sleep… EVERY NIGHT.  Doing pretty much anything aside from constantly cleaning the house, picking up toys, making food and snacks, cleaning up vomit, potty training….”

I am a mother, and I know, those first few years are hard.  So hard, they make you feel like you are losing your mind.  I don’t feel like I will ever get a full eight hours of sleep ever again.

So I took the ending to be the reconciling of those two Mollys, into one Molly.  (The Molly we start with does on occasion say she considered stepping back and letting the other Molly take over, that she was a better mother, etc.)  The time warp closed, the two Mollys became one, she accepted her motherhood-dom… I don’t know.  It doesn’t work if you are looking for a literal answer.

I’m sorry I don’t have a better answer for you.  I am one of the biggest haters of ambiguous endings, and this one is far from satisfactory (like many of you, I think I’d have preferred something less ambiguous).  But for some reason in this single instance, the metaphorical ending worked for me (and it’s probably because, let’s face it, no literal ending could have buttoned up this book nicely).

 

Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy, a Book Review in Three Parts

Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy

Rating:  ★★★

PART I: Initial Feelings

“You can find meanness in the least of creatures, but when God made man the devil was at his elbow.”

Guess who’s feeling extra grouchy after a string of two and three star books and one DNF.

This girl.

I’m going to take it out on this novel because I’m so professional (sarcasm) and my review on this book at this point in time is basically totally meaningless because it’s already an American classic.  I think.

Anyway- I picked this up because it’s one of the more well known westerns out there, and I’d been craving something western since I started playing Red Dead Redemption way back in October 2018.

Dios mio, I could not have picked something farther removed from that. (On the bright side- my spanish hasn’t been this good since 10th grade.)

“Notions of chance and fate are the preoccupation of men engaged in rash undertakings.”

The writing is dazzling, but the style borders on insanity and takes a special kind of focus to decipher.  These sentences run on for DAYS.  The vocabulary is difficult, and when mixed with the vernacular it has a tendency to induce mind numbing levels of frustration.  There are no quotation marks to mark dialogue either, but that proved to be less of an issue as I became accustomed to it.

For all the flowery description and beautiful scenery, I felt like I never had any idea where the characters were.  I guess this is largely because they probably didn’t have any idea where they were, wandering the desert as they did, but it was confusing.  Also, at one point it was snowing and I thought they were in a desert.  Does this happen IRL?  Soon after they were on a mountain, but I swear they started in a desert.

“I know your kind, he said. What’s wrong with you is wrong all the way through you.”

Cormac McCarthy could teach Stephen King a thing or two about violence.  I totally didn’t read the blurb (my own fault), but I thought this was going to be about gangs robbing banks and trains and stuff.  It was about gangs scalping Native Americans, Mexicans, and generally anyone who got in their way. It was pretty awful.  I have no one to blame but myself.  I really need to pay better attention to what I pick up.

Trigger/content warnings: if you have them, please stay very far away from this book. Far, far away.

Side note:  Has anyone read The Road?  I wanted to read that one too, but now I’m thinking maybe not.

“War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way.”

What else?  Hmm… despite all the things that didn’t work there were some *fun* bar fight scenes I enjoyed.  Aside from how they ended a lot of them felt like that fantastic scene where Lenny and Arthur go drinking together and chaos ensues.  They ended much bloodier but when you’ve seen a gang commit what is basically genocide, the bar scenes seemed like small potatoes.

And I think that’s all I have to say that.  I don’t recommend it, and I’m not sure I’ll be revisiting McCarthy’s work in the future.  (I’m reneging on this.  I think I’ll definitely visit his work in the future.  I still wouldn’t recommend it to anyone I didn’t know could handle it.)

Oh yeah- I forgot about the Epilogue.  WTF was that about?  Please blogger friends, dazzle me with your brilliance.  Clearly I was not worthy.

PART II: In Retrospect

“What joins men together is not the sharing of bread but sharing of enemies.”

Here’s the deal.  I wrote this review almost directly after I finished reading it over a week ago.  I initially gave it two stars and was pretty salty about the whole thing.  I’m sorry because I know some of you were looking forward to the review, so please know that was not a proud moment for me.

I don’t regret anything I said above (which is why I’ve left it), but this book has stuck with me. There are many possible interpretations of this novel.  A couple that I looked up: Blood Meridian satirizes the classic American western novel, is a “savage indictment of Manifest Destiny”, is nihilistic, and also “eludes all interpretation”* (all of these were taken directly from the book’s wikipedia page).

I keep turning it over and over again trying to solve the puzzle and looking for answers, and I don’t think that feeling is going to go away any time soon.  So I’m bumping the rating up to three stars with the caveat that it really probably deserves far more than that, but I’d need to re-read it to be sure, and for now I need a break. (My thoughts on this continued in Part III.)

“[He] lurched into the street vowing to shoot the ass off Jesus Christ, the longlegged white son of a bitch.”

In trying to decipher the puzzle that is Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, I stumbled across this article, which talks about McCarthy’s sense of humor.  And you know what?  It’s true.  He really is funny.  Sick.  But funny.  There were plenty of times I wanted to laugh out loud, and then stopped myself because I thought the content of the book was really awful, and even worse it really happened, so laughing out loud would make me a terrible person.  Still, I wanted to laugh.

One last struggle I had with the book and didn’t mention above, is that the book needed better transitional scenes.  I figured out very late in the game that the chapter headings/titles are acting as the transitions.  If you give this a go, read the chapter headings, memorize them.  They help organize the structure and sense of place.

PART III: ENDING SPOILERS DISCUSSION

“All history present in that visage, the child the father of the man.”

I don’t normally include spoilers, but I think it makes an interesting discussion and given that it’s a pretty widely known and read book, I don’t feel terrible about including them.  You have been warned. (This section written was part of my original review, and added on to later.)

I’m insanely annoyed at the ambiguity of what happened to the Kid (and the ambiguity in general).  I’ve read the theories that he was raped.  Honestly- those make no sense to me.  Let’s do the math.  The kid was estimated to be 14 in 1849.  His last known sighting happens in 1878.  Thirty years later.  He would have been about 43.  The Judge on the other hand, given all his traveling (which okay, might have been a lie) and education, I imagined to be 30/40 in 1849.  Thirty years later he’d have been 60 or 70.  Are we really arguing that a 60 or 70 year old man with the health care available in 1878 would have been able to overpower an otherwise healthy 43 year old?  Really?!

I’m more inclined to believe it was consensual due to past abuse we didn’t see when he was a boy/teen (either by the Judge or the Kid’s father).  That being said I imagine the Kid is dead due to what the casual side-character observances say about the jake (which is apparently a word for outhouse, I always thought it was slang for cops, this lead to admittedly hilarious confusion in retrospect). The Kid being dead really pisses me off.  It pissed me off more than Ned Stark pissed me off.  I needed the Judge to get justice.  I needed a shred of hope in this terribly dark and depressing story.

Aside from that- I’m not really sure what it’s even supposed to symbolize.  The Judge is often described as a seven foot tall, completely bald baby (maybe symbolizes America given it’s relative ‘newness’ as a country, or possibly greed and capitalism because of his actions). The Kid could represent progress (he does eventually become ‘the Man’) or reason because despite his violent actions, I got the sense throughout it was only under provocation.  Maybe we’re inferring that greed and capitalism will always trump reason or hinder progress?  I just don’t know.

“All progressions from a higher to a lower order are marked by ruins and mystery and a residue of nameless rage.”

I wrote above about the meaning of this novel and how I’m still trying to piece it together.  I think there is a strong argument there that it’s some great joke McCarthy has played on the literary community, and it really is meaningless… but if I had to pick a meaning, it would be that violence is senseless.

This book bounces from violent annihilation of entire villages, to our protagonists dying of thirst in the desert, and being saved by those same exact people they would have otherwise raped, killed and scalped.  Most of the Glanton gang dies in the end, not much better off than they started, still desert wanderers, despite the massive amounts of gold and weapons they have acquired.  So not only was there little-to-no benefit (they drank most of the gold away, there isn’t much to spend gold on in the desert), but they largely orchestrated their own downfall.  And this interpretation still doesn’t sit right with me.

If you have read the book, I would love to know what you think happened in the end or what you took away from the novel.

“He never sleeps, the judge. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die.”

 

 

 

Pride Month: Books on my TBR!

Last week in celebration of Pride Month I talked about some of my favorite queer characters in fiction.  This week I want to talk about some of the books on my TBR featuring more LGBTQIA+ characters.  I’m going to start with a few that have already been released and I’m hoping to catch up on, but I also have some exciting future releases too.

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (and the rest of The Machineries of Empire series):  I am really scared to start this because I feel really confident that I’m going to love it and it will end up a new favorite read.  I am also scared to start this because I have a tendency to form expectations and then let myself down.  It’s supposed to be super complex and I’m hoping to see some elements that remind me of another favorite series, Terra Ignota.

tld_cs

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling:  My favorite genre mashup of all time is always going to be Science Fiction and Horror, and The Luminous Dead looks like the perfect combo of both.  I think space lends itself so very well to all kinds of horror situations.  Whether you’re just trying to survive the freezing desolate landscape of an undiscovered planet, being chased by alien creatures, or you’re adrift in a derelict space ship with no one to call for help, chances are, things will end badly.  I already have a buddy read planned for this one in September and I can’t wait!

Annex by Rich Larson

Annex (The Violet Wars #1) by Rich Larson:  This is a YA book about an alien invasion that somehow or other, leaves the world without adults.  At first, Violet and her friends think it’s pretty great to have so much freedom… but then the invaders come back.  One of my regular buddy readers enjoyed it and said it has trans rep (and that the character was one of her favorites), so I’m very excited to check it out. (PSA: this is currently $1.99 in the US Kindle Store as of 6/13.)

Love beyond body, space & time anthology

Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time Anthology edited by Hope Nicholson: This is a collection of indigenous short fiction all featuring LGBTQ+ characters.  It’s a pretty quick read (125 pages according to GoodReads) and I picked it up on sale awhile back.  Indigenous authors seem to be severely underrepresented in not only speculative fiction but fiction in general, so that makes this doubly exciting.

The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne

The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne: Meena lives in futuristic Mumbai, but feels she must return to Ethiopia, her birthplace.  She’s not sure what’s waiting for her there, but she decides to cross using a forbidden energy bridge that spans the Arabian Sea.  Mariama, a girl from another time, is fleeing to Ethiopia from across the Saharan Africa in hopes of finding a better life.  It’s described as melding the influences of Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, and Erin Morgenstern, and it’s been on my TBR for way too long.

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch:  This is a Joan of Arc retelling in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic landscape.  Do I really need to say more?

The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht

The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht (releases September 24, 2019): I talked about this one not too long ago, but I love the idea of lovers being villains together.    This is quickly becoming one of my most anticipated fall releases.

Overthrow by Caleb Crain

Overthrow by Caleb Crain (releases August 27, 2019): I stumbled across this on Edelweiss, and everything about the description had me falling in love.  The blurb is too long to summarize here, but buzzwords that caught my attention: telepathy, tarot cards, poets, the 1%, and utopian spirit, all featuring a m/m relationship that will be put to the test in a dystopian world that sounds similar to Orwell’s 1984.  Viking denied me the ARC, but luckily, August isn’t that far away.

Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim

Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim (releases January 7, 2020):  A gender flipped Count of Monte Christo retelling with Ace and Bisexual rep in space.  I have a feeling this will be huge when it finally hits shelves.  Right now, January feels very, very far away.

The Seep by Chana Porter

The Seep by Chana Porter (releases January 21, 2020): The Seep is about an alien invasion that brings new technologies, dismantles hierarchies, destroys capitalism, and introduces utopia.  The story follows a trans woman after her wife, seduced by Seep-tech, leaves her.  I really wish utopian stories had the same popularity as dystopians.  Mostly because I’m curious what others imagine utopia to be and how human society could ever get there.  I’m super excited for this, but have been holding off reading it until closer to release day.

Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton

Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton (releases January 7, 2020):  I am reading The Queens of Innis Lear now, sheerly in preparation for this book, which I added entirely for the title without realizing that Hotspur is a character in Shakespeare’s Henry IV.  Fiery lady knight falls in love with a female military commander known as the Wolf of Aremoria?  I need this in my hands like, yesterday.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (releases September 10, 2019):  From GoodReads: “Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.”  To that I say, sold!  I’m already in love with the personality of Gideon from that one line alone.  Necromancy is usually not my thing, but if a character is well written I’ll read just about anything.  It’s already getting rave reviews and thank goodness I don’t have to wait until 2020 for this one!

That’s it!  I’ve already seen a few Pride Month TBRs floating around in the blogosphere, but please let me know if you have any additional recs- I’d love to hear them!

Book Review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

This is my first experience with Lauren Beukes.  The blurbs on all of her books sound super exciting, but this particular book would not have been my first choice if my library had had some of her other books readily available (Moxyland is the one I really want to read).

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Rating:  ★★★

Blurb (from GoodReads): In Depression-era Chicago, Harper Curtis finds a key to a house that opens on to other times. But it comes at a cost. He has to kill the shining girls: bright young women, burning with potential. Curtis stalks them through their lives across different eras until, in 1989, one of his victims, Kirby Mazrachi, survives and starts hunting him back.

I wanted to read this based on the time period (yes to all things Capone era Chicago) and the idea of Kirby stalking her killer back.  I was hoping for something more like Peppermint:

Jennifer Garner in Peppermint

I wanted a thrilling cat and mouse game.  What I got was:

Ace Ventura Detective Gif

Except Kirby is not really as entertaining as Ace Ventura.  When the blurb says “hunting him back,” what it means is, she ‘digs through cold case police files, interviews victim’s families, and tries to establish a pattern.’  She is not literally hunting him.

The format this book follows reminds me a lot of Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes.  The identity of the killer is known from page one.  The issue is Harper Curtis isn’t really as compelling a villain as Brady Hartsfield.  His chapters weren’t all that exciting.  You already know what his goal is.  He doesn’t do much to surprise you. There’s no mystery to solve.

And without there being a mystery to solve- there’s not much else to sell this story.  The House and the time travel pieces felt gimmicky.  *Possible mild spoiler* The Shining Girls are just normal girls.  They aren’t magic.  They aren’t destined to save the world.  Killing them is not prevent some all important wonderful thing from happening.  Without there being anything significant about them, the House just feels like a gimmick so that Beukes can dazzle us all with the circle she draws in the timeline.

Stephen Colbert Slow Clap Gif

Listen- the timeline thing is nifty.  Really, Beukes did a great job with it.  But when it didn’t serve any greater purpose in the story I was left asking myself what the point of it was.  Nothing about the House is really explained.  There are no rules.  Neither of the two (three?) MCs are particularly compelling.

Almost every other character was far more interesting.  The Shining Girls.  Kirby’s mother Rachel… I sighed with relief every time one of their chapters popped up.  I particularly adored Alice’s story, but they just weren’t enough.

I think I’d have appreciated this more as a science fiction mystery than a science fiction thriller.  I like it when books keep me guessing.  When Kirby starts discovering clues and putting the pieces together, I would have loved to have been kept guessing about these different clues.  How they fit together, what the answer is.  Have the House and the time travel aspect be some crazy weird twist that was revealed closer to the end than in the beginning.

It’s not a bad book by any means.  The writing was great.  And while Harper Curtis is not going to go down as one of my most memorable villains of all time, he’s pretty creepy.  There are a couple chapters that will make you cringe.  Sometimes genre benders work.  They feel fresh and new and exciting.  In this case the book waffled too much.  It wanted to be a thriller, it wanted to be time travel, it wanted to be an amateur detective story with the protagonist solving the clues, and the overall effect fell a little flat for me.

Anyway, I intend to try some of Beukes other work and hope for better results.  I can see that she’s smart, and technically a great writer, I just hope the rest of the blurbs aren’t as misleading as this one was.

The Shining Girls can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Unpopular Bookish Opinions

TTT-NEW

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This week’s topic is unpopular bookish opinions, and while I’m sure my list of these is infinite, most of them apply to individual books and aren’t very generalized.  I’m also scared to write this post and offend my blogging buddies.  (Asking forgiveness and apologizing in advance.)

Historical fiction is a lot like fantasy.  On the surface, they seem like polar opposites, but I feel like historical fiction pre 1700’s has a lot in common with fantasy, and that becomes truer the farther back in time you go.  Sure, they’d be low fantasy and there will never be any outright magic, but how many fantasies are inspired by actual mythology?  Actual history?  I love historical fiction that feels like it could be fantasy and fantasy that feels like it could have happened IRL.

Witches and Wizards don’t interest me.  I realize this is tantamount to blasphemy on a blog dedicated to fantasy, but I’ve never read Harry Potter (I’m sorry okay!) have no idea which house I belong to (I probably can’t even name them all), and really have zero desire to read it beyond an academic interest in seeing what the fuss is about.  I’m not saying they are bad books- I’ve never read them.  I just prefer swords to spells.

On schools in general…. I’m not a fan of this trope either.  Protagonist attends magic/assassin/dragon rider school.  Protagonist screws up a lot and gets picked on by the rich/popular/overachieving kids, throw themselves into practice and studying and totally crush it at the final battle when they become valedictorian (or save the world).  Listen- as much fun as school is, I’d sort of rather just skip to the part where they’ve graduated and use their skills to do awesome stuff.  (Admittedly, I mostly enjoyed The Poppy War, but more so the second half than the first.)

Modern Writers Do It Better.  There I said it.  They just do.  Of course, they couldn’t have done it without all those classic writers that came before, and I’m sure I’d feel differently if I had been born 200 years ago.  Those writers were products of their times and societal context, and I’m in no way turning my nose up at them, but writers today are free to push boundaries as far as they like, and they are better for it.  Aside from that- most classics were penned by white males, and while diversity is still a huge issue in publishing, it’s a lot better than it was even fifty years ago and books will continue to improve because of it.

I don’t mind seeing the movie first.  I’ve never been that person that has to read the book first, and I’ve never really understood why this is a thing.  Whether you read it first or watch it first either way you’re going into something knowing the ending.  On top of that, the books usually are better.  So if you see the movie and like it, just think of all you have to look forward to in the book.  If you see the movie and don’t like it, you might still like the book (assuming you still want to read it).  The thing is- I love seeing a big box office film in the theaters. If I wait until I’ve read the book I might not ever get to see it on the big screen.  If I never see the movie at all I might never read the book.

Kindle

I prefer ebooks over physical copies.  I know books smell great and have fantastic covers and don’t taunt me with a percentage completed on the bottom of the page- but they take up too much space!  I can’t read physical books in the dark, and I can’t carry around 400 of them in my purse.

Ambiguous endings make me insane.  If I wanted to make up my own ending I’d write my own book.  I want to know what the author intended.  I want definitive answers and conclusions.  I don’t want to be left hanging.

Ambiguous scenery is okay.  Which is to say that if an author is waxing poetic about fields of heather and the blueness of the sky I’m probably skimming most of it.  More blasphemy I know.  The thing is- I’ve probably already formed an image in my head of what the setting looks like based on one or two sentences or general tone and vibe, and reading scenery descriptions is wasting my time.  Some authors are super wordsmiths I know, but an author has to be exceptionally talented to make me appreciate words on a page just for the love of words (I’m not that reader- I like stories not words.)

Hyper-competent protagonists don’t bother me… Is it realistic when the protagonist never makes a mistake?  No.  Is it realistic when they singlehandedly knockout 10 other guys twice their height and size and escape unscathed?  No.  Does it make for a fantastic and flawed character?  Probably not.  But as long as I’m having fun I don’t really care.  (Side note- Uhtred is incredibly flawed, just don’t expect him to lose in battle.)

Audiobooks

Audiobooks are just okay.  If I listen to a book instead of eye-reading it, I’m only going to absorb half the story.  Why bother investing the hours in a book I really wanted to read and love if I’m only going to absorb half the story?  I usually save audiobooks for non-fiction and memoirs, where if I only absorb half while I’m doing house chores, I don’t feel that bad about it.  I will say- I think audiobooks are great for short story collections where the narrative thread I have to follow is very short.  I’ve stopped listening to whole novels.  I just can’t do it.

I’m sure this is far from a comprehensive list of my unpopular opinions, but that covers a lot of it.  What unpopular opinions made your list?  Leave me a link below!

 

Book Review: One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence

I did it!  I finally read something else by Mark Lawrence!  Don’t ask why it took so long.  I don’t have a good answer for you.

One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence

Rating:  ★★★1/2

Blurb (from GoodReads): In January 1986, fifteen-year-old boy-genius Nick Hayes discovers he’s dying. And it isn’t even the strangest thing to happen to him that week.

Nick and his Dungeons & Dragons-playing friends are used to living in their imaginations. But when a new girl, Mia, joins the group and reality becomes weirder than the fantasy world they visit in their weekly games, none of them are prepared for what comes next. A strange—yet curiously familiar—man is following Nick, with abilities that just shouldn’t exist. And this man bears a cryptic message: Mia’s in grave danger, though she doesn’t know it yet. She needs Nick’s help—now.

He finds himself in a race against time to unravel an impossible mystery and save the girl. And all that stands in his way is a probably terminal disease, a knife-wielding maniac and the laws of physics.

Challenge accepted.

I don’t know how I feel about this blurb… I picked this up free as part of Kindle’s First Reads program.  The selling point for me was the author.  For some authors, it just doesn’t matter what they write, you’ll read it anyway.  And despite the lack of Lawrence books in my read pile- I admire him as an author and as a person.  He was one of the first authors I followed on both GoodReads and Twitter.  He’s always helping out other self pub’d authors, and just generally seems like a good guy.

Anyway- onto the book.  I’ll start by saying I have no idea how D&D is played.  I (now) know it involves dice and a game master and the occasional prop, but I had a hard time picturing everything else. Is there a game board?  Who writes the snippets everyone reads?  It was kind of neat but I spent a lot of time going: huh? what? why?  I think D&D fans will get a lot more out of this book than I did.

Onto the science- anytime quantum mechanics/physics/mathematics was brought up, I tuned out.  It’s so far beyond anything I’m able to twist my head around, I couldn’t even begin to fathom it.  Much like the D&D stuff, I think people who have some understanding of it, will get more out of this than I did.

One Word Kill is super dark.  Do not mistake the protagonists being teenagers to mean that this is a YA book.  I think it’s anything but, and a lot of the topics here are things I tend to avoid in my reading when the setting is not historical or fantastical (drugs, terminal illness, gangs).  The antagonist is deranged and any time he came up I found myself cringing/shivering/shuddering.

I adored the characters and their relationships with each other.  They feel like real (smart) every day teens, just trying to get through their day without losing their lunch money or embarrassing themselves.  I think I found Simon the most relatable- he’s introverted, smart and straightforward in his dealings, but there was something to love about the whole gang.  They all had their own struggles, and one refreshing thing was that the parents are all pretty supportive of their kids.

The plot is twisting and turning, amping up the crazy with every chapter.  I’m not going to say much about it- because it’s better experienced first hand.  But I will say I did feel like there were some plot holes here and there.  The book is super quick (200 pages) so it’s possible I needed to be reading more between the lines than I was, but I’m not entirely sure that was the case.  I almost wonder if the book could have used a few more pages to make everything really come together and feel complete.

That being said I was totally shattered by the ending, and it’s always good when a book can make me feel something.  I am curious to see what this is all leading toward, so I will definitely be continuing with the series!

One Word Kill can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.

Sunday Short Fiction Review: The Best Science Fiction of the Year Vol. 4 Edited by Neil Clarke

A couple quick reviews for some short fiction I read this week.  All of these were found in the following anthology.

The Best Science Fiction of the Year Volume 4 Edited by Neil Clarke

“When We Were Starless” by Simone Heller: 3.5 stars.  Really unique take on the post apocalyptic landscape. While the setting sounded just how I always picture that kind of setting (crumpled glass, fallen steel, random detritus), descriptions of the non-human characters and tech were frustratingly vague.  I would have loved to have just a little more time to explore.

“Intervention” by Kelly Robson: 3 stars.  Loved Jules’s character- but not much else.  Jules leaves her comfy job on the moon to manage a creche.  We pick up toward the end of her creche career to see what fate has in store for her.  This was okay.  I thought it was a little boring. The prevailing attitude towards children throughout the solar system I found somewhat unbelievable (in that literally every occupied planet finds children deplorable).  It vaguely reminded me of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World in that regard.

“All the Time We’ve Left to Spend” by Alyssa Wong: 5 Star read.  Honestly- I was almost as blown away by this short story as I was by The Lady Astronaut of Mars.  Wong made me care about the character, but also let the mystery unfold naturally which kept me engaged. I found myself wondering what else she has written. Cool world building and cultural elements too.

“Domestic Violence” by Madeline Ashby: 5 Stars.  This is exactly the kind of story I love- cool tech, women who can fend for themselves and others. Not at all what I expected from the title.  I will say I had guessed the ending- but I really didn’t care.  The journey was still a blast.

“Ten Landscapes of Nili Fossae” by Ian McDonald: 3 stars. I apologize, I couldn’t find a link to this story.  This is about the theoretical first painting on Mars.  To be honest I really didn’t get it.  I am someone who is super straight forward and logical and likes reason.  So abstract art and general ambiguity are not really my things.  Therefore this story was also not my thing.  It felt like an homage to art and artists everywhere.  Which is great, they deserve it, it just wasn’t my kind of story.

That’s it for this week!  I will definitely be checking out other work by Alyssa Wong and Madeline Ashby (although I’ve heard lukewarm things about Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach).  I’m slowly working my way through these and plan to have a few to post every week.

Have you read any good short fiction lately?