What I’ve Been Reading

This year I stopped rating books on Goodreads for a couple reasons. One, it felt hypocritical, even though, intellectually, I know it’s not. What writer isn’t also a reader? And why shouldn’t I express my opinion of what I’ve read? Even if I haven’t enjoyed a book, I still internalize a lot of elements such as character, plot structure and pace, either as “things not to do” or “things to explore.” Every book is useful in some way.

More, though, I found that reading with a score sheet hanging in the forefront of my mind placed too much pressure on every book to perform. I was more easily disappointed and less often delighted. I was reading too analytically.

The sense of freedom that comes with deciding not to quantify a book, or qualify the experience of reading it lightened my perspective. The other upside, of course, is that if I’m reading a book inside my genre, I no longer have to wrestle with the “should I or shouldn’t I?” question. Finally, without a score, any comments I leave can be left open to interpretation. 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

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.

Continue reading

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.

What I’ve Been Reading

January is always a great month for books. By accident or design, I often read books in January that make my Favourite Things list at the end of the year. This past January has been no exception.

4716894Conspiracies by F. Paul Wilson

Paul Wilson is a writer I truly admire. I read The Keep years and years ago and it frightened the socks off me. Last year, at the insistence of a friend, I picked up the adventures of Repairman Jack, starting with The Early Years, and I cannot say enough good things about the stories, the characters and the talent of Wilson.

I read the last three Repairman Jack books he wrote, then went back and read the first. These books were written thirty years apart—and yet Jack’s voice is the same.

Conspiracies is the third book in the series and it’s a great one. It’s all about conspiracy theories and the nuts who live (and die) by them. I laughed out loud a number of times. The conclusion of the book is important too, in that a door has been opened, one that will transition Jack’s existence from, ah, simple “repairs” into something else entirely. I cannot wait to read on.

 

22701480The Understatement of the Year by Sarina Bowen

I really, really liked this book! If I sound surprised, it’s because this was something I picked up on a whim—on sale—and tucked away for a rainy day. For when I wanted to read something sweet and sexy. Sale books are most often the ones I toss, but not this one.

I really connected with both guys and their separate journeys were equally heartbreaking. Their loneliness was palpable. I also really enjoyed the secondary characters (Bella!) and all the hockey. Apparently I’m a sports romance fan!

One wish: I’d have liked one more scene with the hockey team, or at least with Bella and/or Hartley. Or an epilogue. Something to cement the fact Graham and Rikker were moving forward. A glimpse at what’s next. I’d also love to read the summer vacation. 😀 Either way, I’ll be reading more Sarina Bowen.

 

Layout 1Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold

I adored this book, and the longer I sit on it, the more I love it. I keep remembering snatches of dialogue and particularly provoking scenes. It was quiet and contemplative in parts as Memory, which was, until recently, perhaps my favourite Vorkosigan novel. It was also as rewarding to a longtime fan as Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance. Melancholy and joyous in turns. Meditative. I couldn’t help feeling as I read that if this was it, the end, it’s as good and complete as it could be.

The book also felt like a love letter to Aral Vorkosigan, in a way, and perhaps to every character whoever held a shred of importance in this universe. There were so many passages that simply wrung tears from me because in my head, I was thinking “I know.”

I rarely reread books, but I really want to go back to the beginning of the saga now and read it all again. Bujold has gifted us with a most marvelous universe and I wish I could read about it forever.

 

s-typeopts13Heir of Novron by Michael J. Sullivan

Now that I’ve finished all six books of Riyria Revelations, I’ll take a breath…and yell: this serious is FABULOUS. It’s been a while since I was truly swept away by a fantasy series, or since I actually dedicated myself to reading through a series, beginning to end. I’d estimate half of my To Be Read collection is books and three of something or other.

I circled Theft of Swords, the first book of Riyria Revelations for a while, reading reviews and noting that what people generally liked about the series were things I usually liked. That what people didn’t like weren’t really the things I wouldn’t like. Still, it took an Audible Daily Deal to get me started. The rest is history.

A good portion of my enjoyment of this series was the wonderful performance of Tim Gerard Reynolds. He’s one of my favourite narrators and I have bought audiobooks simply because it’s more enjoyable to listen to him than read the book myself. But without a good story to tell, he’d just be speaking, right? What really makes these books, though, is the friendship between Hadrian and Royce. It’s the bromance of the century, folks. It’s one of the truest expressions of deep and abiding affection between friends I’ve ever read.

Then there are the secondary characters, the world building, the plot—it’s all fantastic.

 

20738173Stranger on the Shore by Josh Lanyon

As I was saying to Jenn the other day, I dole out my Lanyons carefully. Josh Lanyon has an extensive back catalog, but it’s not going to last forever. So I need to take my time in order to make sure there will always be a Lanyon available for when I want that unique blend of mystery, characterisation and sweet romance.

Stranger on the Shore is a very good book. Probably a favourite. I really, really liked it. I enjoyed Griff’s journey of discovery in all things and while there were some conclusions you could draw early on, the why of it all remained a mystery to the end. The romance was surprisingly sweet.

 

27411786Tied to Trouble by Megan Erickson

Megan has a recognisable voice and it really suits the characters she writes. It’s why I read her books. Her characters resonate with me, whether male, female, gay, straight or other. They’re always a little quirky—even when they’d self-identify otherwise—and always have GOOD hearts. I know there’re a lot of folks who like to read about the bad boys and all the, ah, bad things they do, but I like to read about the good guys. The sweet men who feel stuff and acknowledge they feel stuff, even if they’re not ready to actually talk about it for a while.

Tied to Trouble is a fun book. The opening scene is one of my favourites because you just know the owner of those wide blue eyes is going to show up again soon, and that these two guys are going to get off on the wrong foot. But because it’s a sexy book, the chemistry is there right from the start. And you just need them to get together. Somehow, some way.

Also, bow tie sex. It’s a thing!