Tatiana's Reviews > Blackbirds

Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
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's review
Apr 17, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: 2012, urban-fantasy
Read from April 17 to 19, 2012

As seen on The Readventurer

2.5 stars

There have been a few conversations on Goodreads lately concerning the dangers of labeling and categorizing books, especially books written by women and especially calling them chick-lit or dystopian romance. Many eloquently and convincingly argued that giving fiction written by women these labels is dangerous and detrimental because it dismisses these books and alienates its potential male readers. On a logical level, I do understand these people's concerns, but personally, I don't feel like women are being underrepresented in publishing. Most of the books I read are written by women, most of my favorite authors are women, so it is hard for me to relate and lament the fact that if some book is called a romance, then we, people who label it so, take away the author's livelihood and stop men from reading it. I suppose, men are generally disinterested in books dedicated to "women's issues," but must it always have something to do with sexism and ten kinds of malice? Where am I going with this? Well, I just want to make a point that some books genuinely do not work for us, because they are written by an author of the opposite sex, no sexism needs to come into play. This is the case with Blackbirds, a book, which, I believe, I would have liked more if it didn't have so much dude in it.

Blackbirds has all the elements of an excellent urban fantasy novel. And it would have been one, if it were written by Stacia Kane, for example. The book's main character, Miriam, has an ability to know how a person will die by having a skin-to-skin contact with him or her (this reminds me of some other books with similar powers, maybe Harper Connelly series by Charlaine Harris?). She uses this ability to take advantage of the dying people, normally by following them close to their death moment and cleaning out their wallets. Miriam seems to be unable to change the course of people's lives and postpone anyone's death, so she carries on knowing everyone's last moments, but not doing anything about it. That is until she meets a long-distance truck driver Louis who is nice to her and who she knows will die in a gruesome way a couple of weeks after meeting Miriam and with Miriam's name on his lips.

The plot unfolds roughly as you would expect any urban fantasy (series) to unfold. There is a romantic entanglement (or two), some drugs, some sex (not sexy), a mystery, and lots and lots of violence and gore. I would have totally been down for this plot, if not for a few things.

Wendig writes from Miriam's POV (3rd person). And I have the same problems with his woman's voice that I have with all the YA novels written by female writers from POV's of young lads who sound like middle-aged women. It's just not believable. Miriam's narrative is peppered with the amount of dick and dick-related tangents and jokes that are characteristic of only male-written books. (Sorry, guys, we are just not that preoccupied with your members.) And, in general, I found Miriam's voice too labored for my taste. Too much strained wit, even in the most inopportune and life-threatening moments, is not something I enjoy.

The other thing that turned me off about this novel is the bare, cinematic quality of it. Sometimes you come across books that just have no "meat." Wendig has the plot down, the dialog is OK, but his characters appear to be operating in a vacuum. There is no sense of place, no atmosphere, little to no emotion, but mostly events and conversations happening one after another.

And the last thing that I never in a million years thought I would complain about. There is way too much gore and nastiness in this book. It is often gratuitous and too gross, which is especially jarring when not balanced with depth and emotion and solid motivations. You have blood galore, cut-off body parts, eye boogers, bodies ground in a garbage disposal. Not to mention the term "blumpy" I learned which I now desire to erase from my mind forever (google it at your own risk). A lot of this was an overkill and not fully justified by the novel's plot.

My advice about Blackbirds? Skip it, unless you are a dude or have a taste for gross, and read Zoo City instead.
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Reading Progress

04/17/2012 page 71
04/19/2012 page 142
54.0% 5 comments
02/13/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-48 of 48) (48 new)

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message 1: by Katie (new)

Katie Is it incredibly gruesome? It sounds cool, but I'm wary of nasty, over the top, organ spillage.

Tatiana It is pretty nasty, and this is coming from a person with a high tolerance for nasty.

message 3: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Nasty by Janet Jackson is now in my head. Awesome. :)

message 4: by karen (new) - added it

karen oooh, i would definitely have been tempted by that cover.... good to know....

message 5: by Tatiana (last edited Apr 20, 2012 10:57AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tatiana So was I. It was a brilliant choice.

Jessie  (Ageless Pages Reviews) Oh, I'm at page 70 and can see the beginnings of some of the things you mentioned - no atmosphere, very gross and gorey, etc. I am enjoying at about a 3.5 level right now but I guess we will see if that continues.

Tatiana It gradually wore down on me. I definitely was enjoying it more in the beginning. My the mid point I just wanted to get done with it.

message 8: by Marie (new) - added it

Marie Well, that's disappointing; it sounded so interesting :( And while I don't mind the gruesome (though I hardly read it) I can't stand gratuitous anything—get on with the story please!

And finally, one of my pet peeves is reading from the perspective of a women as written by a man who does it badly, so thank you for bring that point up.

I'll leave it on my list, because I leave everything on my list, but I'll definitely be keeping this review in mind.

Tatiana Marie wrote: "Well, that's disappointing; it sounded so interesting :( And while I don't mind the gruesome (though I hardly read it) I can't stand gratuitous anything—get on with the story please!

And finally,..."

Sure. It might work for you. You never know.

message 10: by Marie (new) - added it

Marie Well, I add things even though there's a small chance I'll ever get a hold of them, and this is one. However, I do thank you for your recommendation, and if I pick it up in a bookstore and it's compelling enough in the first chapter I may well pick it up. But I prefer not reading things in a vacuum, and your review will give me context. So thanks!

message 11: by Pricky (new)

Pricky Many eloquently and convincingly argued that giving fiction written by women these labels is dangerous and detrimental because it dismisses these books and alienates its potential male readers.
Interesting because I agree with you. The majority of what I read are from female authors; personally, I like having my books labeled. I want to know what I'm getting into.

Literary Ames {Against GR Censorship} "Blumpy" -I googled it.

Great review. I'm glad my request for this one was declined.

Tatiana I warned you:)

message 14: by Dinjolina (new)

Dinjolina I googled it too.
But it was even worse than your wtf, because, by accident I went to a Princeton Blumpy page
Yes. It seems ‘blumpies’ have a whole range of gross.


message 15: by Cécilia (new)

Cécilia L. This makes me think of discussions I've seen lately about the issue of gender differences. How some people think that there shouldn't be gender identity like, when you buy your daughter a doll and your son a car, saying it might lead to sexism. That there should be no toys for boys and girls, but they should be available to both, same thing with clothes etc. So it makes me wonder if there could be a total absence of identity based on gender. Because there are so much things that qualify male and female, some are extremely clichés but others are not so much. Generally, there are things that one gender does and the other does not (like the dick jokes you mention). People say that most of the differences we make are mostly social but aren't there natural differences between men and women (other than anatomy obvisouly, hah)? I'm not sure where I'm going with this, I've just been mulling this over for some time and your review reminded me of it @_@

message 16: by Sophie (new)

Sophie Oh, how off putting. Wendig is a fantastic blogger, though; I love his posts about writing. They seem to come from someone who knows his stuff.

message 17: by Megan (new) - added it

Megan Interesting you wrote "There is no sense of place, no atmosphere, little to no emotion, but mostly events and conversations happening one after another."

That, more than the dick jokes, gratuitous gore, and knowing (and using) the term blumpy :/ makes this a dude book. That's too bad, the premise sounds so interesting and the cover is abosolutely gorgeous.

Tatiana IDK, Megan, some ladies did enjoy this. I have no idea if you would...

message 19: by Megan (last edited Apr 29, 2012 01:52PM) (new) - added it

Megan This stays on the tbr for now, but I am no longer in a rush to read it. Yours isn't the first review to complain that this is a 'guy book' and as much as I hate chick lit, romances & emotional Nicholas Sparks stuff... I'm apparently more of a girl when it comes to literature than I like to admit ;) Regardless reading non-stop action sequences without any introspection or emotion really isn't my cup of tea.

message 20: by Tatiana (last edited Apr 29, 2012 03:12PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tatiana I like a bit from The Book Smugglers' review - "Too.Much.Dick." And indeed it is:)

message 21: by Megan (new) - added it

Megan Sadly that is the case with sooooo much dude literature. And movies. And tv shows And ... lol lol =)

Neliza Drew I must spend too much time with delinquents because I totally got Miriam & thought she was written very believeably.

Jessica Nelson Weird. My thoughts on this book are pretty much completely opposite of yours. I found the raw, grittiness honest and refreshing. I had no trouble relating to Miriam whatsoever, and founds TONS of emotion (and emotional baggage) written in the subtext. It's a shame so many people seem to have been scared off by this review.

Decia My sentiments exactly!

Jessa Russo I feel like you voiced your thoughts perfectly, and they mirror my own. I was so ready to love this book, as I love Wendig, He's gritty and cusses like a sailor and I love that about him. Unfortunately, I could not relate or connect to Miriam at all. This was very disappointing for me.

Jennifer Fiddes I love this book so far. Miriam talks like a woman in her enviroment would talk. I don't expect polite conversation or minced words from a chick living one step up from roadkill.

Will agree it is not a book for girly girls though.

The first long paragraph attached to this review is SO not needed on this book's page. The current controversies surrounding how books are shelved really don't have much to do with your review of this book.

It would not be the same novel if written by any one other than Wendig, and that's a good thing

Penny Huh. This is interesting. I just finished the second book of this series and I like it. That said, I do have a few issues with this author's writing, most of which you included in this review. The thing is when it came to cringe-worthy moments there was only one, otherwise I was fine with the violence--none of it was as graphic as you described. I'm guessing he toned it down a bit in the second book. Now, after reading this review, I'm not super excited to read Blackbirds. It sounds like I won't like it.

Tatiana Oh, you jumped to the second straight?

Well, I am curious what you think if the 1st. For me I think it's simply that I find the author's style extremely off-putting. I tried reading his blog and had a very strong unpleasant reaction to how he expresses himself.

Penny I didn't know Mockingbird was part of a series, but I figured as much when I was about 1/4 of the way through. Fortunately it wasn't difficult to figure out what must've gone on in the first book so I just kept reading. I figured I could just purchase Blackbirds later.

Anyway, while I was reading Mockingbird I kept thinking, this is pretty good, it just needs some fine tuning here and there--a little more editing. Nothing drastic though. Heck, if the author did a last minute clean up before publishing I'd probably rate it up there with Stacia Kane's Downside Ghost series, just a tad more trailer trashy.

I'm thinking, based on your review, the first book is a lot more rough than the second.

Penny Okay, yeah, not even two paragraphs in and I'm already agreeing with you. The narration is too forced. It sounds like the author is trying to hard. Not cool.

Tatiana His style aside, I think his main problem was the shallowness of the narrative, it was too action- and gore-packed, but with very think world-building. Whereas Kane's books are also gross, but they are with richer background.

It's quite possible Wendig filled his world in in the second book.

Penny Ugh. Such an unsexy sex scene. Yikes.

Tatiana Very unsexy and weird. All sex stuff here was messed-up, IMO.

Penny Okay, yeah, this book is more disgusting than Mockingbirds. Way, way more. Also, it's just not as clean, structure wise, though Mockingbirds could use some cleaning up as well. But what really irritated me is the different styles used to tell the storythirds end to like third person, it's just the fact that Wendig was all over the place in this book. And the multiple flashbacks, while informative, it just served to mess up the pacing.

I think I'll stick with this series, at least read the next book to see what happens next and if Wendig's writing continues to improve. I feel he has some promise.

Tatiana Good you read Mockingbirds first then, otherwise he would have turned you off by his first book like he did me. I am not willing to give him any more chances.

Kaylee Hix I'm sorry to say I don't agree with your "problem" with his woman's voice. Miriam is bro- she drinks, she fights, does a whole ton of things labeled "masculine". Her voice reflects that and that is part of what I enjoy about it. That's just my opinion though.

Ashley Austrew I had the complete opposite reaction to this book. I thought Wendig wrote from a female perspective quite convincingly. Miriam was crass, vulgar, and not the image we have in our heads of a female protagonist, but that read to me as how she is supposed to be. I'm just as vulgar as Miriam, even if only In my head because I'm not in appropriate company to say it aloud. I thought the characters were well-developed, and I liked the gore. I felt the story and the nature of the characters called for it. To each his own, I suppose :)

Barbara Deer I agree with this review, very well said.

message 39: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 24, 2013 07:58PM) (new)

"Sorry, guys, we are just not that preoccupied with your members." cue laughs.
Pity about this one. The premise sounds interesting, and the cover is to die for. To the limbo of the "maybe" pile it goes.

message 40: by Abby (new) - rated it 3 stars

Abby Goldsmith I agree that Miriam had too much strained wit. This book read, to me, like a Tarantino film. I'm not a fan. But one of my biggest problems with Miriam is that she didn't try hard enough to save the kid with the balloon! She let him die through her own blind stupidity, then wrote it off as 'fate.' Not a heroic character.

message 41: by Morgan (new) - added it

Morgan Chalfant People, don't be put off by the over-the-top negative views of this novel. I'd trust a master urban fantasy author like Wendig before would condemn a novel because a few people dismissed it. If you like the urban fantasy genre, you will probably like this. Wendig knows what he is doing and I guarantee someone who has tried to write the voice of a female protagonist knows how tough it is, most people do not.

message 42: by Abby (new) - rated it 3 stars

Abby Goldsmith I'm a woman who likes dude books. This was just a bad book.

Carol. What a great review. I'm finding this a tough review to like, partly because a number of friends (guys) love it. I think you capture the issue perfectly in your discussion of female voice.

Jessie Some women are crude and vulgar. Some women love gore. This isn't a "dude book" just because it wasn't to your personal taste.

message 45: by Carol. (last edited Feb 02, 2014 09:14AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Carol. Jessie, you seem to be equating the two concepts. Yes, some women are crude and vulgar. Some love gore. The review discusses female voice and believability. We all have moments of crude and vulgar, but these don't sound like they come from a woman.

But think about Miriam for a minute: how believable is this character, drifting, having non-orgasmic sex, grifting when she can and making pee jokes? (view spoiler)
I didn't believe this book came from a woman writing a woman--I'm not saying a woman can't do that, but Wendig didn't make me believe it.

message 46: by Nancy (new)

Nancy I'd gone through 44 years of my life not knowing what blumpy meant. I would have preferred to go another 44 (of hopefully a long and fulfilling life) without knowing. Thankyou internet. You bastard.

message 47: by Carolyn (new)

Carolyn Thanks for your review Tatiana, this definitely sounds like a book I want to avoid. What the people commenting on your review, who are bemoaning that your review will put other reader "off" this book and/or author fail to realize is: that is the point of reading reviews on GR in the first place! I friend and follow this folks who have similar tastes in reading to mine. Your like or dislike of a book gives me a good indicator of whether I will, too, and, as always, I really appreciate your review.

message 48: by lethe (last edited Sep 07, 2016 07:45AM) (new)

lethe There have been a few conversations on Goodreads lately concerning the dangers of labeling and categorizing books, especially books written by women and especially calling them chick-lit or dystopian romance. Many eloquently and convincingly argued that giving fiction written by women these labels is dangerous and detrimental because it dismisses these books and alienates its potential male readers.

Hi Tatiana, I'm very late to the party, but I think that labelling any old book written by a woman as chick-lit is indeed detrimental. If it's Bridget Jones' Diary or Sophie Kinsella, then by all means call it chick-lit. That is a genre. But I've seen books by, say, Margaret Atwood or Joan Didion labelled as such and that is just plain wrong.

Just as not every male author writes dick-lit, so does not every female author write chick-lit.

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