Buddy Reading with My Dad

My father recently stayed with me for two months. He’s retired now, so can visit for longer—which considering the time it takes to fly from Australia to the US is a very good thing. One week is a jet-lagged fever dream, two weeks just isn’t long enough, and three weeks allow one for recovery, one for the holiday, and one to get ready to fly again. Four weeks is good. Longer is even better.

One of the pleasures of having my dad visit is that, like me, he loves movies and books. We generally have a movie to watch every night, and will sit side by side with our phones out, checking facts on IMDb. Where else we’ve seen that actor, what other movies the director has made, who wrote the script, and who did the music. Invariably, this exercise adds another movie or ten to the queue. This visit we did a mini Samuel L. Jackson retrospective and sought out any Jackie Chan films we may have missed. We watched the Cornetto Trilogy (Edgar Wright) and were pleasantly surprised by how good John Wick 2 was. Previous visits have included Fast and Furious marathons and all Jason Statham’s films. We’ve spent an entire weekend on the couch watching back to back disaster movies on SyFy.

My dad also likes to read and unfortunately it’s not a hobby he indulges much while at home, even now that he’s retired. He’s got a dozen other hobbies, he’s always helping someone do something else, and he’s renovating a house. While living in it. One of the reasons I like having him here is that he gets a chance to rest. He sleeps in, surfs the internet for pleasure, takes naps, and reads. Naps again. Reads some more. He reads a lot. I save up books for him before each visit so he has a stack to get started with, then—as we do with movies—we tend to get on a theme and will read several books together, or one after the other, and talk about them when we’re done. It’s the best kind of buddy read because he’s RIGHT there. I can walk into the kitchen, see he’s two thirds of the way through a particular book and say, “Who do you think the headless corpse in the woodshed is?”

Or he can say, “You have to read book two because we’ve got to talk about Jack’s brother.”

So what did my dad and I read this visit? Well, I’m so glad you asked. Mostly mystery. It’s his favourite and I’m pretty fond of it. We also tried a couple of new authors, found him a new favourite, and got in a Jack McDevitt science fiction adventure toward the end.

 

The Mountain Between Us, Charles Martin

8477868I had this book on the table waiting for Dad because I knew it would be one he’d enjoy. It’s a story of adventure in the remote wilderness of Utah with a wholly unexpected thread of romance woven through. I didn’t tell my dad about the love story part as I was unsure of his perspective on romance, and because I felt the adventure was enough of a draw. It was for me. I loved this book and wanted him to love it too.

He did. He read it in about a day and a half—only interrupted by me asking where Ben and Alex were. “Have they found the lake yet?” “Did Ben make his big mistake yet?” “Do you think they’ll eat the dog?”

After he finished, we pulled the book apart chapter by chapter and then discussed the film adaptation—which he hadn’t seen—why it wasn’t the same story, and why it really didn’t work for me. I don’t know if Dad will read Charles Martin again. I know I will, but he might require more adventure than some of the other books on Martin’s list seem to promise.

 

Friction, Sandra Brown

25114548I sort second hand book donations for the library and one of the names that pops up over and over again is Sandra Brown. I had an idea she wrote mystery but wasn’t really familiar with her work. I have my small cadre of writers that I turn to when I want a mystery and I’ve stayed fairly loyal to them for a number of years now.

While Dad was visiting, we went to Book Con in NYC. (Of course we did.) One of the panels we attended was called “Novel Suspects” and featured Brad Meltzer, Walter Moseley, Sandra Brown, and David Baldacci. Dad’s a fan of Baldacci’s and I’ve read Meltzer and Moseley, so we went along to hear them talk. It was one of the best panels I’ve ever attended. All four authors were wonderfully entertaining, mixing personal stories in with banter. They seemed to regard one another with great respect and were really fun to listen to. We had a great time. Afterward, my dad asked if I’d ever read Sandra Brown. I hadn’t. The next day, we bought our first Sandra Brown book.

Dad read it first. Devoured it. I think he came up for air once. He might have eaten something. The best part, though, was when he looked up after the first few pages and said something like, “I haven’t read a female author before, or a book with a female main character.”

He wasn’t sure why, except that maybe he’d fallen into the same rut I have with mystery authors and had a handful he liked and rarely moved away from. He said he used to like reading Nancy Drew, but didn’t remember reading a book with important female characters since then—and he really felt as though he’d been missing out. He liked the perspective of a female character. He was enjoying it. He also liked the thread of romantic tension Sandra Brown adds to many of her books.

I read the book next and I really, really enjoyed it. I loved Sandra Brown’s writing. I enjoyed her characters and the mystery kept me guessing. I’m happy to report that Sandra Brown has been added to my mystery author roster. Dad went on to read three more of her books.

 

Zero Day and The Forgotten, David Baldacci

19054808We read one each of his books: me the first in the series, Dad the second. He’d already read the first. We chatted about the books, but mostly we cyberstalked poor Mr. Baldacci. (We’re not coming to visit, don’t worry.) (Not this year, anyway.)

During the “Novel Suspects” panel, David Baldacci had some of the funniest stories to tell, including his “best” one star review and the time his favourite table wasn’t available at the lunch spot he frequents way too often. We used the latter to narrow down his location, along with facts gleaned from several online interviews.

We might have scanned the area with Google Street View looking for his house.

We talked about a road trip and how many restaurants we could visit a day looking for him.

(Dad is safely on a plane back to Australia and I’m way too busy editing my own books to visit random restaurants. This year, anyway.)

The books: what we loved about the series we started was the similarities to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, and the proximity to Maryland, where we used to live. The mysteries were great and the characters just the sort we enjoy. Baldacci has been added to our list!

 

Lee Child

33118488So, we’re both HUGE fans of Lee Child. We love Jack Reacher. Neither of us understands how Tom Cruise got cast in the movies, but we watched them anyway because we love Jack Reacher. We’ve read about a dozen of Lee Child’s books each, and Dad managed to get through five while he was here. I read two. I had one waiting for him and we chose the others based on our mutual interest in stories that include mention of Reacher’s brother, Joe.

The biggest surprise for both of us was how much we enjoyed No Middle Name, which is a collection of short stories ranching from Reacher’s childhood until well into his career as a trouble-seeking former MP.

Again, the one that featured Joe most prominently was our favourite. We’d like to respectfully submit a request for more books about Joe. Joe could easily have a series of his own.

 

Infinity Beach, Jack McDevitt

352778Jack McDevitt is one of the few authors on my preorder list. Not only do I preorder his books, I preorder hardcover editions because I know I’ll want a copy to put in my library afterward. I always enjoy his stories—both the Alex Benedict series and The Academy novels. What I love is his exploration of big ideas, his characters, and his point of view—all of which combine to make Infinity Beach such a great book. Another aspect of McDevitt’s books I like is his preference for female leads.

I generally don’t pay a lot of attention to the gender of an author. They’re mostly a name on book until I get to know them a little bit. I do pick books based on the gender of the lead characters, though, and in the past, when reading science fiction and fantasy, I more often chose books with male leads. The why of it was pretty simple: male leads got to do the fun stuff. They were the warriors, the adventurers, the risk-takers. They were the kings, and the character that got to stand at the edge of the cliff with the fate of the entire world tied up in their balance.

Thankfully, there are now thousands of books where female characters get to do all of this. But I’m fifty years old. I grew up reading about men going on adventures and women supporting them. If a book appeared with a female hero, she was more usually going to wield magic than a sword, or be compromised in some way by her male counterparts. I wanted female assassins, ship captains, and barbarians. Choosing a book with a male lead became a shortcut to getting what I wanted out of a story.

So it’s not hard to figure out why Jack McDevitt has long been on my list. He writes wonderful female leads. They are the adventurers as well as the support structure. They get to make the decisions that change worlds, and they save lives. And they read like real women, too. Not just dudes with boobs. McDevitt’s books also have a wide range of other characters, embracing the diversity that has become so important to me over the past decade.

Did Dad enjoy this one? He did. It took him a while to get into McDevitt’s voice, but he loved the concept of the novel and really enjoyed reading another female lead. By the time he’d reached the halfway point, a virtual “Do Not Disturb” sign had been hung in the sunny corner of the kitchen he’d claimed as his favourite reading spot.

I’m happy to report that Jack McDevitt now has another fan.

What I’ve Been Reading

May 2018 Edition.

I had planned a new blog series for this year to replace my regular reading updates. Every month, I wanted to feature the first sentence or paragraph of a single book, with commentary on how that line or those lines had measured up against the book as a whole. I might still get around to posting a few, but it’s been six months or more since my last reading recap and I’ve read some amazing books that I really want to share with you. So, here’s what I’ve been reading.

 

Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold

I really enjoyed The Curse of Chalion when I read it last year. Loved it, in fact. I’d recently finished all but one of the Vorkosigan novels and had tried the Sharing Knife series (which I also recently finished). The Curse of Chalion had everything I was looking for in a book from Lois McMaster Bujold: rich world-building—with a genuine history that extended back before the beginning of time—a fascinating plot, and characters I wanted to cheer for. I adored Cazaril and though he’s nothing like Miles, the way he was voiced often reminded me of Miles. He was a complicated character and sometimes not particularly likable. But when the fate of others was at stake, he’d always do the right thing because he’s inherently GOOD.

So I was looking forward to Paladin of Souls. It started slow and I had trouble paying attention, but I really liked the choice of Ista as a main character and looked forward to seeing her get over her past. As the story deepened, I got more involved. I started hoping for things. When the story got more complicated, I experienced my usual awe regarding just how talented Bujold really is. By 60% I couldn’t put the book down, by 80% I had set aside a morning on the couch just so I could finish, and by the time I was done, I thought this could possibly be the best book she’s ever written. Then I saw that nearly every judge of literary awards agreed with me.

There is so much I could say about the plot, but this is one of those books you really need to discover for yourself, because the plot complicates so much as it unfolds, revealing new secrets and twistier twists. The characters become more engaging and real, with the secondaries being just as important as the primaries—which is one of the aspects of Bujold’s writing I love so much. What pleased my romantic little heart the most, though, was that final scene between Ista and [spoiler, ha!] and knowing that both of them had won the love and the partner they deserved.

 

Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins

Is it too early to have read my favourite book of the year? I loved Now That You Mention It from the first chapter, the first page, the first paragraph—the first line! It’s actually a book I’d liked to have featured in my First Line series. Here’s why:

The first thought I had after I died was: How will my dog cope with this?
The second thought: I hope we can still go with an open casket.
Third thought: I have nothing to wear to my funeral.
Fourth: I’ll never meet Daniel Radcliffe now.
Fifth: Did Bobby just break up with me?

Everything you need to know about this book is right there, in black and white. Nora is obviously at a turning point in her life, and she has questions. What follows was a funny, deeply thoughtful, honest, romantic and just a damn fine story about a woman finally coming to terms with herself. As always, the secondary characters were wonderful, populating the small island off the coast of Maine with authenticity and charm. I particularly loved Nora’s mother and niece. The dialogue was amazing—effortlessly flowing through every subject—and the romance was sweet without overwhelming the true message of the book.

I loved every minute spent within the covers of Now That You Mention It and can’t wait for my next Kristan Higgins. She’s fast becoming one of my favourite authors.

 

Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Fools and Mortals has been on my wish list for a while and now that I’ve finally read it, I almost wish I hadn’t so that I could read it all over again—for the first time. Briefly, it’s the story of the first production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as related by one of William Shakespeare’s younger brothers.

The history of the play itself would have made a fascinating story—and Cornwell’s attention to detail stood out here with facts so expertly interwoven with fiction as to give the book that peculiar weight of good historical fiction. I came away feeling as if I’d learned something, and with a desire to read more about the subject.

What made this book so special, though, was Richard. He’s a compelling character in his own right with a very Dickensian life story. I loved his point of view and enjoyed his unique insights into the character of his older brother William. I actually became so engrossed in the lives of the players in Shakespeare’s company that I could have kept reading forever.

 

Touch by Claire North

I invented chores to keep listening to Touch. I baked muffins. They were horrible because I left them in the oven too long because I was listening to this. But I did get all the bathrooms cleaned and even vacuumed my stairs. I hate vacuuming stairs.

What drew me to Touch was the premise: Kepler is a being that can pass from host to host through touch. There’s also a mystery. Kepler is trying to solve the murder of his most recent host, a woman killed while Kepler was “in residence.” Toss a mystery plot into a novel with speculative elements and I can’t help myself.

Touch was exciting, compelling, different, but not weird. There was a logic to it all and it was kind of beautiful. I don’t think it made quite the comment on gender that some reviewers seemed to think it did, though. I thought was actually more about self and love.

As an aside, Touch reminded me of another of my favourite books, Purpose by Andrew Q. Gordon. If the premise of Touch appeals, I’d suggest you add Andrew’s book to your wish list as well.

 

Squared Away by Annabeth Albert

Every book in the Out of Uniform series by Annabeth Albert is better than the last, which is quite an accomplishment, because as I’m reading every book, I think it’s my new favourite.

Squared Away is special, though. It’s about a guy who isn’t an innately sexual being, but who craves the same connection most of us do. Mark wants to love someone, to share his life with someone. His… not indifference, but lack of ease with sex, is holding him back, though. For the most part, he’s stopped dating.

But Mark has never forgotten Isaiah. When tragedy brings these two into close quarters, Mark begins the process of figuring himself out. It’s scary, because he’s always perceived Isaiah as someone inherently sexual. But Isaiah proves he has the maturity to keep their relationship at any pace required.

What I really adored about this book was the almost gentle way Annabeth addressed asexuality. Not tentative, but respectfully and genuinely. Mark came across as a real person who wasn’t simply waiting for the right person to have sex with, but the person who was willing to not simply accommodate him, but connect with him. All in all it was a beautiful love story with a lot of deep feels that had me crying while driving—which is not advised, but I do a lot of my listening at the wheel—crying over the dishes—justified—and crying into my pillow.

I am even more eager for the next book and will be devastated when this series finally comes to a close.

 

The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin

While discussing the premise of this book with my husband, we both agreed we’d last maybe three days. The day of the crash, the day after, when we were both unconscious from the pain of our injuries, and the day after that when we argued about what to do next, each tried to do our own thing, fell off the mountain, and died.

It’d have been a very short book. Thankfully, Martin wrote much more sensible and likable characters, providing the reader with hours of adventure, suspense, entertainment and a love story like no other. The Mountain Between Us will probably end up being one of my top recommendations for the year.

After enjoying the book so much, I rented the movie and was horribly disappointed. I could sort of understand why they changed things around, from beginning to end, but in the process the writers destroyed nearly everything I loved about the book, including the unique characters of Ben and Alex, and the motivation behind everything they did. So skip it. Or, if you have seen it, do yourself a favour and read the book. 😉

 

That’s it for now. What have you been reading?