Looking Ahead

reading-writing-resolving-1Every January I tell myself I’m going to post about my writing goals for the year—and then I don’t. Admittedly, I wondered if anyone would care about what I was up to. Right now, though? This post is for me. My whole blog is pretty much for me. ❤ So here’s a resolution post with an outline for some reading goals, some personal goals and quick ramble about all the books I’d like to write. Continue reading

What I’ve Been Reading

I could have skipped this update and rolled the books into my yearly list of Favourite Things, but there are seven books on this list and they’re all titles I want to talk about and recommend now. I have a hard enough time choosing just a handful at the end of the year as it is. 😉

Dinner at Jack’s31849349 by Rick R. Reed

What I love most about Rick Reed’s books is that they’re love stories. The romance never feels rushed for the sake of getting to the good stuff. More, we get time to get to know the characters—who they are, who they want to be. Who they will be together. Another aspect of Rick’s books I really enjoy is the feeling he is sharing a part of his life with us. Either someone he once knew or someplace he’s been. There’s a sense of reality to most of his stories and, whether my observations are true or not, I feel I get to know the author a little better with each read. Continue reading

What I’ve Been Reading

After a bit of a slump where I tossed a few and flipped through a few more somewhat forgettable books, I’ve recently hit a patch of really good reads. So of course I’m going to share them.

18774964A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

This book. Oh my goodness. What a lovely surprise. Nearly the entire time I was listening to it, I either wished I’d written it or wanted to write my own version. Ove is exactly the sort of character I like. Gruff, rude, apparently selfish and not at all charming. Yeah, I sure know how to pick ‘em. Thing is, when a character like that is the star of a book, you can pretty much read on with two assumptions. One, he’s not as he appears. There will be hidden depths. Two, finding out why he’s like this is going to be your reward. Continue reading

The Secret History of the World

I have a new reading challenge! (Yes, I know I’ve failed spectacularly at every reading challenge I’ve ever tried, but this one is different. You’ll see!)

The fast majority of F. Paul Wilson’s books deal with what he calls ‘The Secret History of the World.’ I first stumbled into this secret history in 1985 when I borrowed The Keep from the library. Subsequently, I did not sleep for two weeks. It was the scariest book I’d ever read and, to this day, I still feel the chill of it. Continue reading

What I’ve Been Reading

27875367Red Envelope by Atom Yang

Holidays are moments in time. Atom Yang has taken these moments and used them to capture the essence of a love story, giving us what matters most: the beginning, the middle and the end. Layered with humour, pathos, culture and philosophy, Red Envelope delivers more than many novels—mostly due to the skillful way Atom voices his characters. They feel like someone you’ve met, someone you know. They’re real people, even those who don’t get a point of view.

I wanted to read more, but found the Happy Ever After immensely satisfying. Not only had I been invited to share the holidays with Clint’s family, but came away feeling replete—just as one should after a dose of good company and cheer.

 

13538873Mr. Penumbra’s 14-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

This is such a fun story. It’s a little Google-centric at times—in a creepy, but interesting, should I be frightened and omg, they actually fund projects like that kinda way. What I really enjoyed, though, was the mystery, which is a meaning of life question. The answer isn’t really a surprise, but that’s not why we read books like this. More, it’s the journey—through literature and philosophy, ideas big and small, and the personal life of Clay Jannon, which is more interesting than it has any right to be.

I listened to this one on audio and though I’m sure I’ve had enjoyed it as much in print, I think this was definitely a case where narrator, Ari Fliakos, added inflection and perspective to the story.

 

11289The Rise of Endymion (Hyperion Cantos, #4) by Dan Simmons

I’ve featured the Hyperion Cantos before and while I’m not in the habit of doubling up, I couldn’t let this edition of What I’ve Been Reading pass without adding this title—mostly because it’s the end of an epic journey with one of the most talented authors I’ve ever read as your guide.

All of the books in the Hyperion Cantos are long, involved, convoluted and startlingly literary. I often felt as if I barely clung to the meaning of a passage, and only then because I’d heard something about something, or had studied the referenced luminary in some way. It’s also space opera in the manner of encouraging the reader to care about a number of characters and societies, even those who shouldn’t have our sympathy. Finally, it’s just a heck of a good story, from beginning to end, one that kept me enthralled for over a hundred hours. I don’t often read series back to back, but this one absolutely required it.

 

7283762Touched by an Alien (Katherine “Kitty” Kat, #1) by Gini Koch

Men in Black with sexy aliens, hot federal agents and a kick-ass heroine who doesn’t suffer from “strong female character” syndrome. Katherine “Kitty” Kat is a hoot. She’s loud, obnoxious, flirtatious, disorganized, a fan of her awesome parents—which is just so damned refreshing—and always ready to rumble, even if the only weapon she has to hand is a pen or a can of hairspray, extra hold.

I loved that all the aliens were good looking and sexy. It could have come across as completely ridiculous and it does, but author Gini Koch has such fun with it that you do too. Also, I’m never going to complain about multiple hot men in one book. I also really loved the way the heroes were portrayed. Alpha when they needed to be, capable and manly. But also insecure when they should be; jealous, petty and sometimes just really, really dumb.

The love story was fun, the sex steamy and the adventure rip roaring. I’ve already read the second book in the series, which was even more fun, and I’ve got the third in the queue.

(Neat fact: Chaos Station was recently featured along with this series in Book Riot’s recent list of 10 EXCELLENT PARANORMAL AND SCIENCE FICTION ROMANCES)

 

29838610Between Sinners and Saints by Marie Sexton

I love stories that challenge faith—it’s one of the aspects of the Hyperion Cantos that worked so well for me. In Between Sinners and Saints, Marie Sexton does it in a careful, insightful and respectful manner.

Levi is the sort of character readers will connect with. Not because he’s a nice guy—he’s not. But he is, deep down, and it’s that kernel of decency that saves him—as the hero of a romance novel and as a human being. He’s not superficial, not a stereotype. He’s deep, and beautifully flawed.

I was so moved by his struggle, and beyond pleased that he found a place of acceptance without rejecting who and what he was, and where he came from. Highly recommended.

 

13633035Mnevermind by Jordan Castillo Price

Another series I read back to back, purchasing each installment as I neared the end of the previous book—which I never do. Like, ever.

I’m fairly new to the JCP fandom, but I can see what makes her an auto-buy author for so many readers. Her stories are Interesting. The romance and feels you want are there, but wrapped in a story that turns the pages more compulsively than the need for the main characters to kiss. Her worlds are also wonderfully detailed—they’re places you feel you could visit, populated with secondary characters that brim with life.

Ultimately, I didn’t feel this story needed to be separated into three separate parts. It could have been condensed into one tight, thrilling novel. But you know what? I’m glad JCP decided to publish Mnevermind the way she did, because while Elijah was entertaining to read and I wouldn’t have missed his point of view for all the world, I can see how it might have interfered with the story as a whole, where giving over one single part to him worked as far as inviting the reader to understand and come to love him, while giving us the information we needed to really enjoy his part in the third installment.

What I’ve Been Reading

25894059Arena by Holly Jennings

I don’t always get lucky with books I choose to review for SFCrowsnest. There are a lot of books that sound really great, but don’t quite live up to their promise. I’m getting better at picking winners, though, and Arena by Holly Jennings is definitely that. It’s a great book, one I’m really glad I’ve read.

You can read my full review here, but in short, my favourite aspect of this story—actually, I really liked two things. One was the character arc of Kali. It took me a long time to warm to her, and the fact I admired her so much at the end of the book was due to her growth—and that she did it all by herself. This young woman literally pulled herself up by the bootstraps and got on with the business of winning. In every respect.

I also really enjoyed Holly Jennings’ take on gaming culture and the way it shaped the story. She didn’t just sprinkle a few references throughout the text and say there, gamer book. The story itself is constructed like a quest chain, with each success promising a greater reward. Very well done.

 

13630171The Skull Throne (Demon Cycle, #4) by Peter V. Brett

Another more than pleasant surprise. After the soap opera/dirge that was Daylight War, I nearly gave up on this series. I love the premise. I adore this world. It’s one of the most fascinating fantasy worlds ever created, with a new magic system, hints of old apocalypse and fully fleshed out characters you really come to know and care about. Peter Brett’s habit of going back to tell the origin story of all of those characters had started to wear on my by the third time ‘round, though.

Daylight War ends with a pretty damn big question—one the cover copy for The Skull Throne doesn’t answer. Also, when you’re nearly 2000 pages into an epic series, it’s hard to let it go. So I moved on to The Skull Throne—and read it in two days. That’s nearly 800 pages in two or three sittings. The pacing was phenomenal with a lot of the plot threads tangling themselves into dreadful knots. The lives and loves aspect is still there, but with more a immediate meaning and an absolute bearing on the plot. Also, there’s very little flashing back to ‘this is how it all began.’ There really isn’t time. This book is a race. It’s frenetic and bloody and a lot of what you might have taken as the status quo up to this point will be challenged and changed.

Unfortunately, we have to wait a year until the fifth and final installment. (◕︵◕)

 

28531239Trailer Trash by Marie Sexton

I’m late to the Marie Sexton fandom, which actually works in my favor. She’s got a huge backlist for me to explore. The book of hers that really won me over was Winter Oranges. Before then, I’d really enjoyed her collaborations with Heidi Cullinan (Family Man and Second Hand) and Promises, book one of her Coda series. I enjoy her characters immensely. They’re normal guys doing normal things. It’s this accessibility and Sexton’s skill in making them feel real that makes her books so compulsively readable.

Trailer Trash has an irresistible premise: two high school seniors from opposite sides of the tracks, who alternately fight and give in to their attraction for one another. What makes this story special, however, is the focus on the emotional aspects of their relationships with their family, friends and each other.

Teenagers feel things very deeply and to them, what they’re feeling is everything. They can’t think beyond right now and find it difficult to imagine they’ll ever feel that way again. I remember being there and so does Sexton. Her boys are so real and their love story is so wonderfully tender. I loved every word of it.

 

20821614You (You, #1) by Caroline Kepnes

The cover copy really undersells this book. Yes, it’s possible to take a lesson about how much we reveal about ourselves on social media from this story, but more I found it to be a tale about secret selves and how some people simply cannot be judged by their ‘covers’.

It took me a little while to grasp the point of view—it’s Joe, our apparent villain, talking to Beck, his victim, as if this were his journal and she the only reader. There aren’t a lot of stories told from the perspective of the villain, so that was my hook. The scariest part, though, wasn’t what Joe did (or the why or the how), it was the fact that I empathized with him—nearly the whole way through. Even when he was doing very, very bad things. I liked Joe. Additionally, the premise of the book would have us believe Beck was the victim, but I’m not convinced she wasn’t the most evil character of all.

A very thought provoking read—and there’s a sequel!

 

18373Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

My daughter read this for school. On the day she started, she described the premise to me in the car. It sounded very familiar, so I asked if she was reading Flowers for Algernon and she replied that she was and further commented on the fact she should have guessed I would know the book because I’ve read everything.

I hadn’t actually read it. I’d seen the movie. I also, inexplicably, had the audio book sitting in my library—untouched. It must have been a daily deal at some point. So I downloaded it and listened.

Flowers for Algernon should be required reading for every human being. The book’s power is in its simplicity, thanks in part to Charlie’s narration. What it says about us as people is both beautiful and sad, and reading it inspired me to become a better person—to be kinder, gentler and more thoughtful; to count my blessings and to remember those who have less. To understand that happiness is completely subjective and that one should never assume their version of it might suit another.

You’d also might think I’d have learned by now that I really shouldn’t listen to books that make my cry while I’m driving. Not sure if I’ll ever remember that one, though.

 

24983889East of West, Vol. 4: Who Wants War? by Jonathan Hickman (Writer), Nick Dragotta (Artist), Frank Martin(Colourist)

I’ve been a fan of this series since the beginning. The apocalyptic landscape grabbed me, the promise of more doom and gloom to come kept me reading. But really, it’s the combination of art and storytelling that makes East of West such a stand out.

So often during a comic/graphic series, the writer or the artist will change issue to issue—either as guests are invited to participate or ‘staff’ are rotated through current offerings. Sometimes it’s exciting to see what a new artist will do and certainly some artists are more adept at telling different kinds of stories. With its large cast of characters, however, the consistency of the art in East of West—which is always phenomenal and perfectly matched to the story—is such an important factor. At a glance I can tell who is who, even without glancing at the text and dialogue. Given that comic books and graphic novels are such a visual medium, this is really helps the reader with the flow of the story. If you’re too busy trying to figure out whose face is squashed across the page, then you’ve fallen out of suspension. That’s not good.

As for the story, it’s fantastically complex and ever deepening. With the exception of Knights of the Old Republic, this may be the series I’ve invested the most time in and I’m not ready to quit yet.