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.

 

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.

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!

My Favourite Things: 2015

I always wait until the last possible moment to write this post because, in the last two years, I’ve had to update a couple of the entries as I go to one last movie or find the book I couldn’t have made it through my life without reading. This year, the delay again proved worthwhile as I became absorbed in December by some of the best television I have ever seen, and a number of startlingly good books.

As always, highlighted entries point to my reviews and rambles.

Books

2015Books

I read about 270 books this year. That’s twenty less than 2014 and, consequently, I awarded fewer five star ratings. I had 64 to choose from when trying to decide which books to rave about. Narrowing my list of favourites wasn’t as hard as last year, however, as there were some clear standouts.

Science Fiction: Hyperion by Dan Simmons

This book kinda blew me away. Actually, there’s no ‘kinda’ about it. This book hit all my buttons: impending apocalypse (okay, it’s Armageddon, but good enough), deeply drawn characters and a sprawling sense of space—a universe you could live in, would recognise when you returned to it—poetry and a compelling narrative. Six compelling narratives, actually. Told from the consecutive points of view of six of the seven men and women making a pilgrimage as the galaxy prepares for war, this book is a saga in one volume. It’s three love stories and a treatise on military action. It examines humanity, religion, philosophy, art and politics. The story bends time and rules. It’s just nothing short of amazing.

I also enjoyed Kevin Anderson’s return to the Seven Suns universe in the Saga of Shadows, Pierce Brown’s follow up to Red Rising (last year’s top SF pick from me), Golden Son, and everything I read by Peter Clines.

Fantasy: City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

Long. Oh my goodness, so long. Every word is worth it, though. Every. Single. World. This book, these characters, this world! SIGRUD! Also, there’s a sequel coming out next year and I already have the ARC for it. *pause for epic flailing*

What sets this book apart is the world building. It’s truly unique. I have never read about a world like this one, and the world is such an integral part of the story. It’s nearly a character in its own right.

Close runner-up is Theft of Swords (Riyria Revelations #1) by Michael J. Sullivan, a new to me author who is now an auto-buy author. I will read anything this man writes. A part of the charm of this series is the fabulous narration by Tim Gerard Reynolds. If you can afford to do this on audio, go for it.

Horror: The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey

This is a new category. I don’t usually read horror, but The Girl with all the Gifts is one of those stories that caught me by surprise. I can’t reveal much about the plot without giving away the magic, but what made this book work for me was the extraordinary journey of one of the characters. I despised this character at the beginning. I began to understand them halfway through. I was utterly besotted with their arc by the end—and then there’s a scene that just… Yeah, I’m haunted.

Graphic Novel: Commencement (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, #1) by John Jackson Miller

For me, this story combined elements of the original three movies and the world fabulously imagined by BioWare for Star Wars: The Old Republic. Great storytelling, decent art and fifty chapters to keep you invested for a good long time.

Romance: Waiting for the Flood by Alexis J. Hall

My review for Waiting for the Flood was a quote from within the book which, for me, defined the very essence of romance:

“It’s all I’ve ever wanted, really. Someone to make tea for. To know how they like to drink it, and share some pieces of time with them at the end of long days, and short ones, good days and bad, and everything in between.”

Movies

2015Movies

In Theatres: Furious 7

Apart from the fact this movie is a must see for every Furious franchise and Paul Walker fan, it really is the best one yet. The story, the stunts. The cast. The ending is bittersweet, as it had to be. I cried and, for about a month afterward, every time I heard the song See You Again I got all misty eyed.

I also really enjoyed both Southpaw and Creed. Southpaw was a shoe-in for me. Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) and starring Jake Gyllenhaal? I didn’t have to be asked twice. Creed—you’ve seen Rocky (and a handful of the sequels), right? Why not treat yourself to Stallone acting, and doing a damn good job of it.

Yes, I have seen The Force Awakens and yes, it was a great film. I also really enjoyed San Andreas!

On DVD: Lilting, St. Vincent, Begin Again, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

I didn’t watch as many movies on DVD this year. I was too busy streaming season after season of television shows I’ve missed.

TV

2015TV

Broadchurch, Sense8, Grace and Frankie, The Expanse

These shows are about as disparate as you can get. The Expanse is the space opera I’ve been waiting for since BSG drew its last breath. Grace and Frankie explores interpersonal relationships between family, friends and lovers in so many wonderful ways. Sense8 is spectacular—cinematically and for the story. Broadchurch WRECKED me. Not sure when I last sobbed in front of the television in such a distraught manner. Thank goodness no one came to visit me.

Games

2015Games

Favourite Game: The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

Geralt…

Sprawling, endlessly entertaining, well-written, beautiful and…Geralt in all his grey glory.

I also finished Dragon Age: Inquisition which left me wanting and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Music

2015Music

I don’t listen to music when I write and I wrote a LOT this year. I also listened to a lot of audio books, which really cut into my music listening time—particularly when driving. But I still managed to get caught up by a couple of new to me bands and did have a few favourite songs.

Song of the Year: Hold Each Other (ft. Futuristic)

I adore Great Big World. I love apparent simplicity of their lyrics and melodies and the depth I always feel beneath—whether that’s due to the stories I apply to their songs, or the stories they’re telling me. In this song, I really like the three perspectives. And the video is REALLY cute.

Mark Ronson’s Uptown  Funk! ft Bruno Mars was my favourite danceable track this year and every time it plays, I think of a couple of my guys, Alvaro and Daniel, from Wrong Direction, which makes me happy. 🙂

I discovered The Weeknd well after everyone else, and well after FSOG, thank goodness. I heard The Hills as I was driving and nearly crashed trying to enlist Google’s help in identifying it.

I also discovered Twenty One Pilots and am still listening to Stressed Out over and over.

Fooddoughnut

This was the Year of the Doughnut. I discovered a Krispy Kreme about an hour and a half from my house and spent a stupid amount of time visiting other doughnut stores up and down the East Coast.

Activity

Being Offline

As I mentioned earlier, I wrote a lot this year and because of the volume and increasing importance of writing in my life, I’m planning a separate post dedicated just to that! Given I spent so much time at the computer, by year’s end, my favourite activity actually became disengaging from the internet. Escaping to the real world to remember what the sun feels like. Taking day trips to reacquaint myself with my surroundings (and hunt for doughnuts). Hikes. Connecting with friends, face-to-face. Talking about anything other than writing, editing and publishing. Not being thoroughly confused and dismayed by social media.

That’s it, my list of favourite things in 2015. As always, the list is incomplete. I read so much, watched so much, listened to so much—and my tastes are so wide ranging and varied. I get a lot of joy out of mixing it up—leaping from a love story to a mystery, falling into a fantasy world and then jetting out to the stars. It keeps every adventure fresh and new.

Happy New Year and best wishes for your 2016.