Thursday
Feb282019

The Family Plot

I used to primarily read horror when I was younger, but moved away from it as I discovered fantasy (mostly through King's Dark Tower series which is more weird epic fantasy than horror). I have continued to read things that fall under "spooky" but are primarily another genre, like dark thrillers and urban fantasy and... whatever Chuck Wendig's books are.

And I used to watch a lot of horror too. But in the recent past, I lost whatever shielding I had against the scares and no longer find it enjoyable. Back in the day, The Grudge creeped me out a bit, but I didn't lose any sleep. And then I recently watched Annihilation and that godsdamn screaming bear kept me awake for a literal week. And I wanted to watch the Haunting of Hill House but couldn't even look at stills from the show without getting creeped out.

And not in the good way. Not in the rollercoaster, this is scary but fun kind of way. I stopped being able to enjoy watching horror. But since reading and watching engage different parts of the brain, I decided to give reading horror another try.

I picked this particular book because I like Cherie Priest, she's got cute and hilarious dogs, and this sounded like everything I love about horror. But holy shit, it's scary! No nightmares, didn't keep me awake, but it got to the point I had to read the second half of the book during daylight hours. But it was SO GOOD.

So this is your basic haunted house story, with creepy as fuck ghosts. But it's about so much more than that. And I liked seeing the family dynamics play out, because I've been part of a family business and hell yes I know what that nonsense is like. The family politics. The bullshit. And I very do love old houses, just like the main character does. I live in a relatively old house, built in '39 with all the charm and surprises of an old house.

And I have been in a very old, moderately haunted house and experienced things I could not explain.

Anyway, this story was fun and spooky and endearing and terrifying. It's so atmospheric. When I think back to the things that actually happen, very few of them seem that scary out of context, particularly before the last third of the book. But the atmosphere? So spooky!

As much as this book freaked me out, I still loved every last bit of it. I read it in three days, which is about my top speed for novels. And it answered my question about whether I can still read horror. Haunted house fiction is about as scary as it gets for me, and I survived! Yay!

Highly recommend if you love ghosts and old houses.

Tuesday
Feb262019

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

This book has been pushed as something to fill the void left by the cancellation of Firefly, and in sense that's correct. It has a quirky, lovable cast living on a rundown junkheap of a ship being held together by duct tape and love. And honestly, I think that's where the comparisons end.

This is a great book, it just didn't fit my initial expectations after all the Star Wars and Firefly hype. Those comparisons fit for the characters but not so much the story itself. This book is a slow burn, which is fine, I just wasn't expecting it. Not a lot happens for like half the book, but the characters themselves interacting. But these characters are phenomenal.

Basically, the occupants of the spaceship Wayfarer are construction workers building wormholes in space. And they're a bunch of pacifists (which removes them by another step from Firefly and SW) from a wide array of species and backgrounds.

There's a lot of wonderful worldbuilding to go along with the wonderful characterization. And through the characters and the slow, meandering pace, there's a lot of exploration of moral causes that really shines a light on some of the goofy things that humans do (and should maybe stop doing).

The climax was a great bit of action that I appreciated.

But there were a lot of points where I felt like the conflict was shied away from. Where things could have been explored more deeply, especially deeper into specific character emotions during some key scenes, that were just left hanging or glossed over. And I was really disappointed that the truth about Rosemary's father didn't really amount to much.

And then there's the thing that Corbin does to Ohan that really pisses me off. The thing itself is horrifying, but the way it's just sort of swept under the rug and shrugged off really upset me. Regardless of how Ohan feels about it (and we never really know because this is another place where conflict and deeper exploration of character emotions is dropped), what Corbin did is 100% inexcusable. Just because we're shown Ohan learning to cope with the fallout doesn't mean Ohan is happy about it.

Anyway, there are more books in this world, but they don't look like they follow this specific cast and I'm really disappointed in that. This book felt like it was just getting started, but the next book is about a pair of side characters. Ditto the third one. This is the second time I've seen this kind of "trilogy" and I don't think I like this new trend.

I do still recommend reading this book. It's rich and wonderful.

Thursday
Feb212019

No Man of Woman Born

As I understand it from what the author, Ana Mardoll, has tweeted about this collection, it was a response to/inspired by Eowyn from LotR and her slaying of the Witch King who no man could kill. This is a collection of short stories full of similar tales with trans and non-binary people as the main characters.

The stories overall are delightful and the characters are often precious cinnamon buns too pure for this world. Some of them fall pretty flat, but some of them are incredible and I love them (so par for the course with most short story collections).

I loved a lot of these stories, some of them original and some of them giving a fun, queer twist to classics like Sleeping Beauty and The Sword in the Stone. It was great to see such a queerly diverse array of characters out living their best lives and saving the day.

I especially liked seeing the gender fluid character and another questioning his gender and where he fits on the binary. The stories gave me a greater understanding of just what gender fluid means. And it was also nice to see someone going through the process of questioning gender, even if he didn't quite get to any decisions (most of us never do anyway).

My only real problem with this collection is the writing itself. There's often too much telling and too much backstory, often delivered in the form of lengthy flashbacks that honestly got distracting and killed the momentum of many of the stories. But they're also really short, so it wasn't that hard to push through and get to the end. And the end of each story was absolutely worth it.

This is a great collection for allies looking for a deeper understanding, people who like fantasy and aren't squicky about queer content, and for anyone trans, non-binary or questioning who are tired of the Bury Your Gays trope and just need to see someone like them be the hero.

Monday
Jan282019

Vultures

It's the final book in the Miriam Black series and it is a fantastic end to this series. Wendig totally nails the landing. If you're already a fan of the series, you won't be disappointed. If you've been waiting for the series to end before you start reading, now is the time and this series is worth it!

You can find my review of the first book, Blackbirds, and the previous one, The Raptor and the Wren. Chuck wraps up all the threads in a satisfying way that's true to the dark grit of this series. I have a 6-book hangover now.

The book is gritty, gory, hard-hitting and snarky. Everything you expect and love about the series.

Miriam doesn't have much time left to stop the Trespasser and save both Gabby and the baby. She meets a delightful ace/aro trans dude named Steve who is an absolute cinnamon bun and totally made the book. He's like that rug in The Big Lebowski. Ties the room together.

Steve and Gabby are Miriam's sidekicks while she tries to save them all, get rid of her powers, and stop a new serial killer.

And that's all I'm going to say spoiler free, because it's hard to talk about a book like this without spoilers. You don't like spoilers, stop reading now.

Anyway, at the end of the last book, Miriam is pregnant and sees that her baby is going to die. This book starts with her waddling miserably through the shitshow nightmare of pregnancy. It is a morbidly un-sentimental take on pregnancy and motherhood and is so much the way I felt through pregnancy that this book could have been written about me.

There are so many things to love in this book, but I love that pregnancy doesn't really slow Miriam down. That motherhood doesn't fundamentally change who she is. That, much like me, she ends up teaching her kid context (don't swear in school) rather than quit swearing. (haha, yes, there's a spoiler, the kid lives)

Wren's 5-second cameo was SO GOOD, though it did leave me a little baffled. I know there's a side novella about her out there somewhere that I'm probably going to need to read to be less baffled about how she ended up where she did and when she did. It felt a touch deus ex machina, but I also don't have all the info.

But anyway, as dark as this series is, the ending is a hopeful one. True to the series, but still full of hope. Get out there and read it!

Tuesday
Jan222019

Voyage of the Dogs

DOGS IN SPACE!!!!! This is a kid's book, but I loved it just as much as my daughter did. It's got the perfect balance of humour and heartbreak as it follows this pack of very good dogs on their adventure through space. It's tense and fast-paced, but full of heart. You'll laugh and cry and laugh until you cry.

There are four dogs, called Barkonauts, aboard the interstellar ship Laika. There's Lopside the wonder mutt, Bug the corgi, Daisy the great Dane puppy, and Champion, their doggy leader and a golden retriever. They are the first explorers to travel to a distant planet called Stepping Stone.

But on the last leg of their journey, the dogs wake up from hibernation to find the ship critically damaged and the human crew missing. They bark Morse code into the transmitter, hoping for guidance from Earth. Since I read this book out loud to my daughter, I also got to bark Morse code.

Each of the dogs has a specialty on the ship, making this a great ensemble story. And all of them pull out a few surprises, most of all Daisy. They're beset by one catastrophe after another as they do their doggone best to fulfil their mission: reach Stepping Stone to establish a base for future travellers.

Sweet, fun and full of adventure, I absolutely 100% recommend this book to anyone who likes dogs, sci-fi and space.

Now for the spoilers, especially if you're like me and critically need to know if the dogs live.

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Good news! None of the dogs are (badly) harmed in the making of this story! The humans do not fair so well, though the dogs end up not totally abandoned. Yay!