Wednesday, 10 August 2022

Book Review: Pounded by Politics Again: Nine More Tales of Civic Butthole Diplomacy by Chuck Tingle

If you haven’t read any Chuck Tingle, I encourage you to do it – not because it’s fine literature (because it’s not) but because it’s just too fun not to. They’re all super quick and easy reads so why not, right?

I won’t lie, Pounded By Politics Again: Nine More Tales of Civic Butthole Diplomacy has some typos. A lot more than you’d want to see in a published piece of fiction. Some are so blatant you have to wonder if anyone actually proofread it at all before sending it to print. If you can get past that, you’re in for a... weird time.

Pounded By Politics Again is as irreverent as any of the books in the Tingleverse. It’s a ridiculously meta parody with a hint of erotica. Ever wonder what it would be like to deep throat a T-Rex or bang a giant, sentient corn on the cob? (Yeah, me neither...) 

Well, wonder no more!

The nine short stories included in Pounded By Politics Again mercilessly poke fun at certain world leaders as they get reamed by their climate change denial and stuffed by their tax returns. I won’t bother reviewing each individually because, honestly, they're all basically the same. 

That being said, “England’s Ass Is Haunted By A Hung Parliament” made me laugh the hardest. (I have that decision paralysis thing going on so it's personal...)

If you’re still not sure if it’s worth spending a few quid on (which I can’t believe because obviously I’ve made such a compelling case!) give Chuck’s podcast, Pounded In The Butt By My OwnPodcast, a try. I recommend either “My Butt Is Comforted By The Realization That I’m Okay And Everything Will Be Alright” or “Pounded In The Butt By My Own Butt” because they’re read by some of my favourite podcasters.

If you’re already a Tingle fan, tell me your favourite story so I can read it. (Because, clearly, I have more time than taste!) 

And, yes, the rumours are true. I have written Tingleverse fanfiction. (No, I am not the elusive author himself.) If you want to read it, may God have mercy on your butthole: Pounded In The Butt By A Six-Foot Painted Jesus Carved Out Of Wood (And His Dad.)

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ (3/5 stars)

Monday, 8 August 2022

Book Review: Prince of Never (Black Blood Fae #1) by Juno Heart

I keep waiting for my “fae phase” to pass but... nope, no sign of that happening. Give me a book about grumpy fae royalty with a pretty cover and I will 100% be there for it. Prince of Never (Black Blood Fae #1) by Juno Heart fulfilled both of those requirements, then kept me enthralled with its magical realism and beautifully crafted language.

Lara is just a mortal woman who waits tables and loves to sing – until she’s tricked into entering a portal to Faery in order to fulfil an ancient prophecy. In Faery, she finds her voice has the power to enchant even the cruellest fae. Which is handy, since he’s the one who pulls Lara from the river she lands in.

Ever’s heart is twisted by the cursed, poisoned blood that runs through his veins. The only reason he wants to find his fated queen is so that he can murder her, hopefully ending the curse that’s plagued his family for 900 years – until he learns that his fated queen is the pesky, infuriating human he found in the woods.

The enemies-to-lovers romance between Lara and Ever is a well-timed slow burn, with just the right amount of tension. It’s so, so sweet when they finally get together and so, so heart-breaking when they’re immediately torn apart. (I don’t care how often the trope is used, I will always fall for it.)

As much as I love the relationship between Lara and her prince, I love the cast of side characters even more, especially the non-human (err... fae) ones. Ever’s hound, Balor, and his horse, Jinn as well as the prince’s brother, Raff's, fox-like companion, Spark, are as interesting as any of the speaking characters. 

Too often, pets are included in stories only to be forgotten when not needed. Prince of Never is never guilty of that. Every pet included in the story has their own personality, interacting with others as the main characters do their own thing.

As an animal lover and mom to several fur babies, I really appreciate those little details.

The only thing that lets Prince of Never down is the ending, which is too rushed. The last few chapters are too quick, too easy. I expected more resistance from the queen and Lara’s little surprise deserved a better reveal to Ever. I like a happily-ever-after as much as the next sap, but the climax here is too good to be wasted on such a sloppy ending.

Aside from an ending that’s, I hate to say, unworthy of the book, Prince of Never is as enchanting as one of Lara’s songs. I found it impossible to put down and I’ll definitely be looking for Raff and Isla’s story.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5 stars)

Tuesday, 19 July 2022

Book Review: Diet Riot: A Fatterpunk Anthology (edited by Nico Bell and Sonora Taylor)

Diet Riot: A Fatterpunk Anthology, edited by Nico Bell and Sonora Taylor, is one of the anthologies I was hoping to submit to but couldn't get around to finishing anything for. Now that I've had a chance to read it, I'm even more gutted that I didn't get the chance to be part of it because this anthology freaking rocks

I love the overall tone of Diet Riot. Although every author has their own voice and vision, with varying styles and abilities, there's an underlying sense of positivity that runs through the anthology. It isn't just about body positivity, which the book achieves by putting fat characters in the protagonist's role (something we just don't get enough of... well, anywhere,) but also inclusivity and feminism - sometimes in subtle, quieter ways, and sometimes in loud, in-your-face ways. 

The stories I liked best were the latter of the two. I loved the attitude and the snark of stories like "Blue Hair" by Marsheila Rockwell (which features a witch who turns her girlfriends into cats,) "Like a Thief in the Night" by Kay Hanifen (in which the old grey man goes to Hell where he belongs,) and "The Floor is Lava" by Nikki R. Leigh (which has freaking alien lava cryptids vs. a roller derby team.) These were my favourite stories, although I enjoyed nearly all of them.

Making fat characters the main focus of the anthology opened the editors up to the expected amount of  abuse online... because the trolls just never stop, do they? I'm grateful to the editors for taking the chance, though, because Diet Riot offers a neglected demographic something to identify with. The anthology gives us witty, strong, likeable, relatable characters who (for a change,) look like us. 

Sure is nice to have a fat character in horror who isn't either the funny sidekick or the creep who dies first.

I got a real kick out of Diet Riot: A Fatterpunk Anthology. It was fun, fast-paced, and entertaining. There were enough lake monsters, evil doctors, ghosts, and demons to please any horror fan - without the hardcore (sometimes unnecessary) gore and hatred of women that sometimes spoils the genre for me. 

Yeah, I know... I'm a horror author. Doesn't mean I have to like the way everyone else does it. I'm more on the horror lite end of the spectrum than the splatterpunk end, which makes Diet Riot a perfect fit for me. 

Diet Riot is everything I could have asked for in a "fatterpunk" (Did I mention how much I love this word?) anthology - except about twelve more stories. I was having so much fun I was sorry to finish the book. Maybe the editors will grace us with a sequel?

Saturday, 9 July 2022

Book Review: The Sylvan and the Sand (The Book of All Things #2) by Sarah M. Cradit

I have reached into the sand, and the sand has offered me strength. I have submerged myself in the salt of the sea, and the salt has offered me courage.

They say you should never trust a book by its cover. That’s advice I’ve never been particularly good at taking – especially when it comes to books with covers by artists like Melissa Stevens and Merilliza Chan. Show me s book with cover art by either of these illustrators and I’m sold before I’ve read a word.

I love the soft, high fantasy look Stevens created for The Sylvan and the Sand (The Book of All Things: Book 2) by Sarah M. Cradit. (The illustrations throughout the books are a nice bonus.) It fits the tone of the story perfectly, romantic and enchanting.

When I started reading The Sylvan and the Sand, I didn’t realize it was part of a series – not that it’s an issue. The book stands alone very well, although the enormous cast of characters does take a little while to get to know. I struggled a little bit at the beginning to remember who was who but, as they were divided up very quickly, it became a lot easier to follow.

So… who’s who?

Yesenia Warwick and Corin Quinlanden are complete opposites from warring families – which doesn’t stop King Khain Rhiagain from arranging a marriage between them. Them… and all the children of the lords who swear fealty to him. As he blindsides the ruling families of his realm by pairing off their heirs, the king creates havoc, personally and politically.

Yesenia and Corin seem to have it easy as the story starts. She’s just her father’s daughter, after all, and Corin is his father’s second son. Neither are of particular importance (from a strategic point of view,) but they still manage to turn the whole plan on its head.

And even incite a revolution.

Which is what makes it fun, of course!

Both Yesenia (‘Sen’) and Corin are strong, driven characters that just get better as they grow into their forced marriage and changing societal roles. Yesenia is an inspiring, tough, experienced character while her counterpart, Corin, is cowed, abused, and inexperienced. She brings him out of himself, and he makes her a more patient, more tolerant person. They’re perfect for each other.

The character development in The Sylvan and the Sand is top-notch, which is more impressive when you consider how many there are to keep track of. All of the important characters have their own identities, personalities, and goals. They’re important to the story, not just background noise. I’m actually looking forward to checking out the other books in the series to see who’s involved in which books. There are definitely people I’m hoping to see again.

Cradit doesn’t just excel at character development; she is a master of imagery. Her descriptions – not just of places, but especially the way she handles action – have a way of putting you right in the moment that allows you to lose yourself in the story. I don’t think I got a single thing finished once I started The Sylvan and the Sand. (And I'm not one bit sorry.)

The Sylvan and the Sand might be set in a fantasy world, but many of the lessons it teaches are universal. Some of the lessons that stand out are love (the fear of both having and losing it,) coping with abusive family members, and the burdens of womanhood. I found myself nodding frequently, silently agreeing with some characters – and silently raging at others.

Even the hateful characters were fully developed, which didn't make them any less hateful.

Sen and Corin’s happily-ever-after is hard-won, which makes it all the better. Another thing that makes The Sylvan and the Sand a satisfying read, though, is that it’s not just about their relationship. Both have their own goals when the book starts out and those goals remain central for much of the story. They just happen to fall in love along the way.

And isn't that always the way?

I absolutely loved The Sylvan and the Sand. It was engaging, well-written, entertaining, and came through with the warm fuzzies at the end. This is one of those books I’m glad I judged by its cover.

Saturday, 11 June 2022

Book Review: Drabbledark: An Anthology of Dark Drabbles edited by Eric S. Fomley

Drabbledark II: An Anthology of Dark Drabbles was recently released from Shacklebound Books, featuring my drabble, “Surprises Suck.” I make it a rule not to review anthologies I’m part of so, instead of reviewing at that one, I thought I’d have a look at the first book in the series, Drabbledark: An Anthology of Dark Drabbles instead.

I love writing microfiction because trying to fit an entire story into exactly one hundred words is a great challenge. (And yeah… a lot of times my verbose ass can’t do it and I end up with a much longer story. That’s okay too.) I love reading microfiction because it gives you a quick glance at someone’s writing style without having to devote too much of your time to something you might end up disliking.

Which, of course, is the problem with any anthology, regardless of the length of the stories it contains. There’s a pretty good chance you’re not going to like every single story inside because you’re not going to like every author’s style. You don’t like every person’s voice that you meet, right? So why would you like every author’s “voice?”

When it comes time to review an anthology, you can’t exactly say, “I didn’t like this book because I didn’t love every story in it.” I mean... you could, but you’d be a massive dick.

(Seriously. Don’t do that shit.)

Did I love every story in Drabbledark? Of course not. I didn’t like the flow of some or the tone of others – but that’s fine. It just means those ones weren't for me. Besides, they’re only a hundred words each. These stories go super quickly and you read a lot more that you like than you don’t.

My top 5 stories from Drabbledark are:

1. “Six More Weeks of Winter,” Tianna Grosch 

It's refreshing to have a Persephone retelling that isn't romantic. 

2. “Poor Nathan,” Patrick Winters

Wow, it's not easy to squeeze a surprise ending into  a drabble, but Winters nails it.

3. “Suicide Hotline,” Elizabeth Dearborn 

Ooh, this one's twisted enough to make Lucifer chuckle...

4. “Next Time Look in the Cabbage Patch,” John H. Dromey

Should be silly, but 100% is a childhood nightmare come to life.

5. “Iron Will,” Jillian Bost 

Yes! Two of my favourite things: a sassy mama bear and the fae.

The stories in Drabbledark cover a range of motifs, from deep sea to deep space – and just about every nasty niche in between. This can be a good thing because it offers a little something for everyone, appealing to a wider range of readers.

As a reader, I prefer an anthology when it’s a little more focused than that. ("Dark" is a very broad category.) The constant jump from one theme to the next is a little jarring for me. It seems unfair to lower a book's rating based on personal preference rather than any faults with the book itself, especially when there isn't really anything to complain about as such, but it does bug me a bit. That being said, this anthology was still enjoyable light reading - so much so that I could have done with Drabbledark being twice as long.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5)

Friday, 10 June 2022

Book Review: If This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich

I don’t know why If This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich came up on my Recommend For You list on Kindle since most of what I’ve read lately has included sexy fae (or shifters or vampires,) but it did and the tagline got my attention: Ruben and Zach are in the world's biggest boy band. They’re also secretly in love.

As a diehard Joshler shipper, there was no way I could scroll past that one!

And you know what? If This Gets Out delivers. It's like picking up a really great piece of fanfiction. (And of course it makes me think of certain bands...)

There’s a lot more going on in If This Gets Out than a couple of pretty boys falling in love. (Though there’s plenty of that.) It takes a hard look at the toxicity of the record industry, exposes narcissistic parents, shares the struggles of drug addiction, and begs superfans to maybe tone it down a bit. 

When you’re dealing with a cast of characters as large as this one, it can be too easy to get voices mixed up or fail to separate them at all. We’ve all read books where the characters all “sound” the same, right? You don’t get that problem with If This Gets Out. Each character has their own unique, consistent identities, as well as their own goals, talents, and struggles. Even very minor characters, such as security guards, are so well developed that you care about what happens to them.

If This Gets Out excels at character development but also the interaction between characters. The reason for that is the novel’s co-authors, who each took charge of one of the main characters. The back and forth between Ruben (Gonzales) and Zach (Dietrich) as the novel progresses gives you a view into two very different worlds: the gay boy who’s tired of being locked in the closet by the band’s label and his best friend who’s just starting to understand his own sexuality.

It’s just the most adorable, heart-warming thing ever.

The novel teases at sexual situations but isn’t too graphic, which makes it appropriate for a wide range of ages. The blossoming relationship between Ruben and Zach is well-paced, with just the right amount of steamy mixed with sweetness. They go through struggles – individually, as a couple and as a band – but you’re with them the whole way. You’re rooting for these kids, hoping they get their happily-ever-after.

Reading If This Gets Out felt like a totally indulgent, guilty pleasure and I loved every minute of it. It had me grinning from the start, blushing a bit, tearing up a little, and beaming at the end. Whether you’re a fan of fanfiction or just of boybands, this one should give you the fix you need.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5/5)

Sunday, 29 May 2022

Movie Review: Morbius (2022)

When it comes to superhero movies, I have just one rule: Never heed the word of the fuckbois, for they are big of mouth and small of… mind.

(Replace the “m” word as you see fit.)

As the release date for Morbius neared, critics came down hard on the film – hardly surprising since their whole job revolves around proving how much better they are than everyone else. (Kind of like Convservative MPs.) Snobbery, blah, blah, blah. Then the movie came out and all anyone could talk about was “I heard it was awful.”

But no one I talked to had even seen it.

They were basing their opinions entirely on the word of fuckbois they’d seen complaining about the movie online.

*sigh*

Tut tut, y’all. When will you learn?

Fuckbois had decided they hated the film before it even finished filming. Why? Because Jared Leto. Apparently some fuckbois never forgave Jared Leto for being the most original version of an abusive lunatic (ie: Joker) and not being Heath Ledger’s drooly-faced, lip-smacking abusive lunatic.

(Personally, I thought Jared Leto's Joker was the best of all – but I also thought his decision to leave was the right one and Harley’s character was much, much better when she was single. I have big opinions.)

Sadly, I never got the chance to watch Morbius in the cinema because, you know, life. Now that I’ve had the chance to rent the digital version a few times, though, I gotta say it’s probably a good thing. I had reactions to this movie that were best had alone in the privacy of one’s own home.

I have a thing for vampires, you know.

For the sake of full disclosure, even though I’m a comic book hoarding geekgirl, I’ve never read the Morbius comic books. Just never got around to it. (Ask me about Howard the Duck sometime…) All I knew going into it was that Morbius was a Spider-man villain, Jared Leto has great eyes, and Venom prepared us for a new, darker MCU that I was 100% ready for.

Sometimes it’s better this way. Since I didn’t know much about the character, I didn’t spend the whole movie being annoying by little things like the fact that he drank blood with his mouth instead of his hands. (Yeah, Google it.) Not that it’s not a fun idea for a fanfic…

So, what is Morbius about? (As always, there will be spoilers.)

Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) meets his best friend and surrogate brother, Milo (Matt Smith,) at a hospital in Greece for children with a rare blood disorder. He vows to find a cure for them and devotes his life to that cause, even earning a Nobel prize along the way, while Milo devotes his life to being a spoiled little rich boy. The “cure” Michael eventually finds is more of a curse – not that it stops Milo from stealing it, then revelling in all the inhuman powers it gives him. To save himself, the woman he loves, and the people of New York, Michael has to face off against the man he always considered a brother.

I love everything about this movie. It ticks every box for me, starting with Jared Leto as a vampire. Yum. Jared Leto in a manbun. Yum. Jared Leto rockin’ some young Gary Oldman as Vlad the Impaler vibes with that little beard…

Mostly Jared Leto, not gonna lie.

(See what I mean about it being a good thing I had to watch it at home?)

But it’s not just a movie with Sexy Vampire Jared Leto. It’s a superhero horror movie with Sexy Vampire Jared Leto. How is that not the best combination? And I don’t mean that it’s a little spooky. Marvel went full horror on this one. The vampire transformations range from quick and subtle to full-blown and terrifying, but they are always shiver-up-your-spine effective. They are bat-like. They are grotesque. They are masterful.  

They’re better than anything I’ve seen in a full-fledged horror movie in a long time.

Like I said, Morbius isn’t just a horror movie. It’s also a superhero movie, which means plenty of action. The movie’s introduction is a perfection example of that. It starts with a sweeping shot of a helicopter landing on the side of a mountain – nothing you wouldn’t see in any action flick – until the explosion of bats.

It’s interesting that, with his rain… cloak? Michael looks more like a villain in his scene than a hero (or anti-hero.)

There’s never really any doubt who the villain of the piece will be, though. It’s sort of like watching an old episode of Columbo. You know who the baddie is, you’re just waiting to see how he gets had. In this case, you know from the way Milo hauls off and whoops the schoolboys outside his hospital that he’s going to be a “wrong ‘un,” you’re just waiting to see how it happens.

Morbius is a superhero action movie full of horror, but it also has plenty of romance. Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona) is a strong Latina woman who takes zero shit from the police and earns my (and Michael’s) undying respect. There’s a sweet playfulness to their relationship that makes you root for them from the first moment they first appear onscreen together.

My only criticism of the film, however, comes from the relationship between Martine and Michael. Number one pet peeve in films? When a woman dies to further the storyline of a male character. When I realized Martine was going to die, the first words out of my mouth were, “Aw, hell no. They did not kill her just to give him a reason to fight. I will turn this shit off right now.”

(And, yes, I can turn on a movie that quickly.)

So, when Martine bites Michael’s lip and I realized she was looking after number one, I literally cheered. That’s what the film industry has been missing.

(As long as they don’t use this as an excuse to turn her character into a villain that Morbius has to kill later, because that shit’s not okay either.)

They left the ending open-ended enough that my sad little fangirl heart can make believe that Michael and Martine are out there living their best vampire lives somewhere…

*sigh*

Story aside, I can’t wrap up this review without talking – okay, gushing – about the imagery in Morbius. It’s just stunning. I love the overall mist against neon look that gives it both a gritty urban and mystical feel at the same time. This is especially effective later in the film when Morbius is “flying” through the city. It’s the perfect representation of Morbius himself: the scientist who used science to turn himself into a mythical beast.

(And it’s great that no one ever shies away from calling him a vampire. It makes for some great vampire puns.)

The neon lights on the rooftops are also a nice touch, especially during the scene I mentioned before with Martine’s “death.” The small, square skylights lit up from beneath in green and red in a grid resembling a Rubik Cube, which you see with Michael throughout the film – and isn’t symbolism fun?

Speaking of symbolism… the way they keep going back to the stopwatch is such a powerful move. Obviously, Michael is obsessed with his own demise because his rare blood condition is a death sentence that he should have already succumbed to. It really speaks to the human fascination with the vampire mythos and the deeper meaning behind that.

We’re all obsessed with immortality, with counting down our days. Morbius subtly resets his stopwatch, counting down the minutes until he turns into the monster he fears, and reminding us of the cost of our obsession with youth.

But back to the imagery… Let’s talk about bats. (Literally any time.) Bats streaming from the cave at the beginning, bats in their “fishbowl” in Michael’s lab, bats in the sewers when they come to his aid, etc. I think my favourite use of the bats is when they lift the weakened Morbius to his feet during the final fight with Milo. There’s just something beautifully poetic about the movement, like a kind of ballet dance.

Morbius is incredible to look at. And Morbius is incredible to look at. (Seriously, my notes read “JACKED,” “FUCKING SCARY AND SEXY,” and “SFX are FUCKING INCREDIBLE!”) From the whisps of darkness when the vampires move to the way the air currents move around Michael and Milo when they fight, Morbius is a visually stunning treat that takes multiple viewings to appreciate.

But it’s not all action, adventure, and exsanguination. (“I looked it up.”) The story deserves a deeper look too. As someone who suffers from chronic illness, I really feel the way Milo casually dismisses his pain as an “11” when asked how it is on a scale of 1-10. Chronic illness plays such an important part to the development of both Milo and Michael’s stories.  

Can we really blame Milo for enjoying the first pain-free days in his life? Wouldn’t you fight anyone who threatened to take that away? (Of course, there’s the social aspect as well… maybe if Milo hadn’t been the entitled, hedonistic, white brat he was as a human, he wouldn’t have become the monster he was as a vampire, but that’s a discussion for another bottle of bourbon…)

And how can we really appreciate Michael’s battle against the bloodlust unless we also understand that not giving into it means giving in to the illness that will kill him? Not just kill him but cripple him in increasing amounts of pain along the way. He’s not just fighting the monster within him; he’s fighting the chronic illness within him – and one of them has to win.

I don’t think there’s any doubt at this point that I enjoyed Morbius. Like I said, I have a thing for vampires. Despite what the critics and the fuckbois say, this is what Jay would call a “top tier” film for me. In fact, Morbius is easily my favourite MCU film. This is the one to beat.

Rating: 🦇🦇🦇🦇🦇🦇🦇🦇🦇🦇