Category: Book Review

Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica

A warning before I get going: this book is profound but incredibly brutal.

In a world where all meat (and all animals) have become poisonous to humans thanks to a virus, humans are now bred to be the primary source of meat. “Special meat” if you will.

Marcos, the primary character, has not had the best go of things lately. His child died, his wife left him, and his father is in a care home suffering from dementia.

Then, out of the blue, Marcos is gifted a female “head” of the highest quality. Disenfranchised by what the world has become, and how his life has spiraled, Marcos begins treating this “head” more and more like a person.

I’m not going to lie. While this book is insanely short, it has probably been one of the hardest things I’ve read in years. The accepted brutality is just so nonchalant, and that really makes it a very hard pill to swallow. The writing is just beautiful — especially considering this is a book translated from Spanish — but the subject matter, along with the day-to-day descriptions of humans as livestock really sinks in.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the book. I love the hell out of this, and I think it’s something that everyone should read. If anything, I think it leans towards sympathetic while the society went very brutal.

The ending alone is worth the ride.

Lot Lizards by Ryan Hyatt

One of my favorite creators has a new piece of short fiction in the “comic horror” genre (his words), and it definitely delivers. Lot Lizards starts out with a couple of cops checking out a used car lot where a call has come in from an outside party that some shenanigans have taken place.

Per usual, Mr. Hyatt excels at setting a concise scene without letting it take up valuable real estate for a short work. I’ve found that some authors want to set aside everything to set the stage, but the ones who engage me best, roll that right into the narration like a vignette from Outer Limits.

Lot Lizards delivers and it delivers fast. Things go from a calm oddity to pure mayhem starting on page ten with a very ironic “We are one thirty-eight.” (the pun was definitely not lost on me)

What I love about this kind of fiction — especially the gems that Mr. Hyatt has shared with me over the last couple of years — is that it is exactly the snapshot needed at the time of reading. Sure, Mr. Hyatt plays within the realm of his Terrafide universe, and this story will really pull in more readers curious to know more about the kiaskis that keep getting mentioned.

Regardless, Lot Lizards is a fun story with some serious visceral action. It has the baddies, the big bad, the authorities, and tragic foils, and vigilante heroes all in the span of about fifty-four pages. It was exactly what I needed while scarfing down my sandwich at lunch.

Like I’ve said before, life is too short to not read short fiction. It’s plentiful, and there a lot of really good stuff out there. At the very least, if you didn’t like it, you didn’t waste too much time.

The Atlas Complex (The Atlas #3) by Olivie Blake

I really really don’t know what to think of this one. On one hand, the way this, highly anticipated, series-ender wraps up is annoying as all hell, but on the other hand, it is probably one of the most realistic resolutions to such a fantastic series of untenable situations I have read in a very long time.

Let’s go back to the beginning of the story to summarize how we arrive at The Atlas Complex.

Atlas Blakely is the caretaker of an elite organization known as the Alexandrian Society. Under his care, six of the most talented and hardcore magical academicians in the world are brought in to be considered for initiation. During this time (through The Atlas Six and The Atlas Paradox), alliances are formed, broken, re-formed, and severely tested. Secrets come out related to each of the six (and a few more), and more and more information is discovered about the Alexandrian Society as a whole.

Shit gets really real, and every indicator generally points towards a significant denouement in book three.

Well, here we are at book three and the story starts to twist and turn into something that seems right in alignment with what the reader had been expecting from the previous two books: and then just flat out fizzles.

Like I said at the beginning, this could either be the most intentional setup for reflecting the actual nature of humanity in that nothing really happens given the extreme situations our characters are put in, or it could have just been a happy accident due to a plot that spiraled out of focus.

I have all respect for Ms. Blake’s ability to world-build and weave together multiple story lines, so I really didn’t see myself coming to the end of this series really not giving a damn about what was going to happen to any of characters. And I mean any of them. There are “mysterious” disappearances that seem like convenient rugs to sweep inconsistencies under, and there is a general apathy writ large, that makes me really want to re-evaluate my feelings about the previous two books.

There was a ton of potential energy built up in the first two-thirds of this massive story that I waited to be converted to kinetic, but it just didn’t ever happen. The balloon deflated in a sad “poof” and the reader was left holding a dead piece of limp rubber.

Yes, I definitely needed to read this book to get some closure on some dynamic characters I’ve enjoyed over the past couple of years, but I really really wish they’d been given the opportunity to make a better choice than the seemingly overwhelming “I don’t care.” that trended in the last parts of the book.

Fourth Wing (The Empyrean #1) by Rebecca Yarros

Well, I finally caved in and read the dragon book everyone has been raving about for the past year. I fought picking it up because I find a large portion of what is pitched as “romantasy” just awful to read. This book was so hyped by my reader friends who fawn over Sarah J. Maas’ stuff, so it was definitely near the top of my “just not going to ever get there” list.

Then I started hearing from some other reader friends of mine that it was a book that I would definitely enjoy, and very much of the ilk of some of my other favorite authors. Cue the torment.

Soooo, I broke down and gave it a go.

Let’s be real about Fourth Wing. By and large it has an overarching plot that telescopes itself like crazy from the first few chapters. It hits the standard YA-ish tropes of rivals to lovers and “bad boy with a heart of gold” pretty damn hard, but it’s a really really really fun read. Ms. Yarros really knows how to flesh out very likable, and very hateable characters with ease, and she’s really not afraid of throwing weakness out there and exploiting it.

Violet’s journey at Basgiath War College to become a rider is definitely a rollercoaster with more than a smattering of death and destruction. I started getting some Pierce Brown PTSD because of the ease at which Ms. Yarros kills of characters: some expected, some unexpected.

In addition to the harrowing journey that Violet is taking to become a rider, there is a larger political storm that is brewing in this book. There are subtle hints that facts are being hidden or redacted, and that there is a bigger issue getting ready to rear its head. That’s the depth of writing that keeps me absolutely sucked in.

So yes, I’m now a Fourth Wing fan, and I jumped right in to Iron Flame, so expect my thoughts on that one soon. If anything, I just want to learn why Ms. Yarros loves using “subluxated” so damn much.

We Are the Crisis (Convergence Saga #2) by Cadwell Turnbull

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

I’ve been waiting for this book for a long while. No Gods, No Monsters took up a lot of my headspace, and I really needed Mr. Turnbull to move some of these characters along for the sake of my sanity.

I was not disappointed in the slightest.

The thing about Mr. Turnbull’s writing, especially in this Convergence Saga is that you can’t help but get very very invested while also being completely lost as to where you are, and who you are dealing with.

Continuing on a couple of years after No Gods, No Monsters, We Are the Crisis continues with how the world is reacting to the revelations of the “Boston incident.” Monsters are now known to the general public, but there is a massive political debate over what rights monsters should have (if any), and a human-supremacist group, Black Hand, is committing more and more atrocities against monsters and monster supporters.

On the flip side, there is a pro-monster activist group, New Era, who is working to build a cooperative network between monsters and humans, but there is also an even more esoteric bit of subversion going in within New Era perpetuated by the cosmic elements we were introduced to in No Gods, No Monsters.

All of the tensions from all sides — and there are a lot of sides — seem to be pressing together into a Gordian knot situation that seems both hopeful and hopeless at the same time.

Much like the previous book, We Are the Crisis is one that is going to require re-reading and analysis to fully follow what is going on. While it is very complex, it is amazingly entertaining. I read almost three quarters of it in one sitting: it’s that captivating.

This series is very important in regards to how it approaches civil rights, and the concepts of autonomy and free will. Mr. Turnbull deftly glides between story lines and locations while building up a slow pressure that comes to a head in a way that, while everyone saw coming, nobody expected.

The Midnight Kingdom (The Dark Gods #2) by Tara Sim

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

I wanted to love this book so much. The City of Dusk was an amazing read that really set the scene and executed superbly. The Midnight Kingdom, though, not so much. The world building continued to be amazing, but the readers are really torn in different directions with the spread out story. Just when I would get engaged with one of the arcs, the perspective would change to another character arc, and I’d have to build up the momentum again.

For those who can just sit down and consume a book in a few days, this is probably a good read for you. Honestly, I ended up having to take written notes, and that’s just not very conducive to an enjoyable read.

Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

Bookshops & Bonedust (Legends & Lattes #0) by Travis Baldree

Our favorite mercenary orc is back! In this prequel to Legends & Lattes we find Viv fighting for Rackam’s Ravens and hunting a powerful necromancer. When she is injured, Rackam leaves Viv in Murk to recuperate. Naturally, Viv gets bored, and finds a good diversion in the form of a local bookshop. There we meet the foul-mouthed ratkin owner Fern and her griffin-dog Potroast.

There is some mystery and intrigue, a bit of romance, and a whole lot of reading.

I very much enjoy the way Mr. Baldree worldbuilds. It’s pretty boilerplate high fantasy, but the attention to detail is great, and the reader really gets to know Murk and it’s passel of occupants. There were a couple of twists in this that I did not expect, and the epilogue was pretty much my favorite part of the entire book. I’m sure this will show up on a mess of “must read” lists for 2023/4. I, for one, cannot wait for the next installment. Baldree’s writing is definitely a marvelous palate cleanser for the amount of grimdark I typically read.

The Fragile Threads of Power (Threads of Power #1) by V.E. Schwab

Holy crap, it’s a new book in the A Darker Shade of Magic universe! To say that I had great expectations for this novel is an understatement. There was definitely the expectation that we would encounter Lila, Kell, Rhy, and Alucard; but what new shenanigans would be introduced to keep us captivated by another ADSOM series?

OK, here’s the deal: The Fragile Threads of Power is set seven years after then end of A Conjuring of Light, and a whole lot has happened. Rhy is now King of Red London, but there is a growing movement to depose him in order to help save magic, and a mysterious Antari named Kosika has been found in White London and made Queen there.

On top of that, we are introduced to a young tinkerer named Tes who, seemingly, has the ability to see how magic works in items and people, as well as change or fix that magic: a total game-changer that could affect all worlds.

Revisiting an established universe is always a comfortable thing, but Ms. Schwab does not just sit back and rely on the familiar for The Fragile Threads of Power. This world is in a constant state of evolution, and Ms. Schwab is quite deft at drawing the reader into the scenery with a sense of wonder. It’s been seven years, and these Londons have changed drastically: both physically and politically.

This series is going to be as powerful as the prior one, and, I, for one, cannot wait for the next round of adventures. This is definitely one of my favorites of 2023, and I’m sure it’s going to be put on a lot of year-end lists.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk and Robot #1) by Becky Chambers

It’s very rare that I read a book that I know absolutely nothing about and turns out to be so incredibly life changing. This is one of those books.

I cannot say enough about the worldbuilding that Ms. Chambers spins into this incredibly wholesome tale. Dex is a monk unhappy with their role in the world, so they take on the daunting task of becoming a Tea Monk: a caretaker and counselor, traveling the areas of Panga being a regular fixture in the small communities. Dex has no idea what they are doing, but eventually falls into the regular cadence of excelling at their role. The thing is, Dex isn’t happy with where they fit in the world.

On yet another lark, Dex decides they need to go into the wilds and find a hermitage of the old order to seek fulfillment. Enter Mosscap, the robot.

In the times before, centuries ago, robots gained sentience, and humanity gave them the levity to do what they needed to do. As a result, robots went one way, and humanity the other. Humans gathered at Panga and the surrounding towns, while the robots were, ostensibly, out in the protected wilds: never to be disturbed by humans.

In their quest to find the hermitage, Dex comes across Mosscap who is “checking in” on humanity.

Their journey is one of discovery (a primary theme in this book), and an unlikely duo of soulmates is born.

As is my way, I never want to spoil the experience for future readers. That being said, this book changed me profoundly. Mosscap’s life philosophy is atypical, but absolutely relevant for our own modern life. Mosscap’s interactions with Dex change both of them in incredible ways, and it made this bitter old reader smile a lot. As a constantly spiraling anxiety ball, I was comforted by Mosscap’s approach to the “meaning of life” and how we all fit into the cogs.

I absolutely loved this book, and will read it again and again for validation. I can’t wait to start the second.

Light Bringer (Red Rising Saga #6) by Pierce Brown

Howler #1 (Mr. Brown) is a sadistic psychopath, an emotional puppet master, and a genius storyteller. Once again we have been thrown into the tumultuous world of the Society and, boy oh boy, this is one hell of a ride.

If you haven’t read the previous five books, don’t even think about starting with this one. Go back and suffer like all the rest of us.

Light Bringer brings a slightly different approach to the series. By now, things have gotten beyond serious, and Dark Age left us all in quite an interesting place. Volsung Fá and the Ascomanni are a serious threat along with all of the regular cast of power-thirsty warlords, and a large chunk of the Republic aren’t even sure if their savior, Darrow (and Sevro, by extension), is even alive.

I do have to say that a swath of the first part of Light Bringer was rather slow compared to what we are used to, but quite necessary. This book, more than the others, sets more of the political intrigue and process up as we are rounding the corner to the end of the series. Lysander is back and has machinations on where he fits into the political sphere: especially considering his fiancee, Atalantia au Grimmus, seems to be trying to kill him at every step.

I’m not going to spoil this one, but there is a little bit of something for all the typical Red Rising fans, and a whole lot of material that will be debated until Red God comes out. And, boy howdy, there is a ton of controversy scattered throughout.