What I’ve Been Reading

The shiny New Year has been sullied by grimy piles of snow and hair-clogged filters as the heating in my home struggles to keep up with the cold. I’m tired of being tired and I miss the sun. The real sun—not that cheating bastard that tricks me into going out for a walk on really cold days. I’d make plans to move to Arizona, but they have snow too. Why, oh why, is winter a thing?

Thankfully, I’ve had some really good books to read.

 

33759717Adrift (Staying Afloat #1) by Isabelle Adler

I don’t read a lot of queer science fiction romance. That might strike you as odd, seeing as I write it. I love writing it. That’s probably what makes me an indecently harsh judge when it comes to reading the contributions of others. Science fiction is my first love and that part of the story has to be done right. I’m very discouraged when it isn’t. I have been heard to rant,  “But the setting has to be integral, otherwise they might as well be in Kansas.” Or something like that.

I also require a satisfying love story. Not at all hard to please, am I?

Isabelle Adler’s Adrift has been tucked away on my Kindle for quite a while now. I loved the cover and the premise, but… would it measure up? Well, it’s on my list of favourites, so, yes. Yes, it did. Adrift really is a neat little science fiction adventure with lots of potential for more in the same setting. Basically, it has everything I look for in a novel of this type: a small, close-knit crew, a mystery wrapped in an adventure (or vice-versa), and lots of romantic tension.

I liked all the characters (especially Val) and look forward to traveling with them on further adventures.

 

29467232The Blood Mirror (Lightbringer #4) by Brent Weeks

My review on Goodreads for this one:

That last line…

The agony of waiting until September…

*dies*

This series really took me by surprise. I loved the first book, but didn’t immediately jump on the second because so many books, so little time. I always have other reading obligations. Also, I tend to skip around a bit, from genre to genre, often not returning to the next book in a series for several months. I think it was over a year before I got back to this one and it was a bit too long because I really only remembered pivotal events from the first book. I was quickly swept back into the story, though, and moved on to book three almost immediately. Then book four, even though I knew it was going to be nine months before I could read book five.

Forget twists and turns—the Lightbringer series is constantly doubling back on itself. Whatever you think you know, you don’t. Weeks has been teasing a cataclysmic shift for a while now and I’m expecting the final book in this series to challenge not only the established cast and storyline, but the very nature of fantasy fiction as he turns this world upside down in order to remake it.

I kept reading for Gavin & Dazen and the revelations to that particular storyline in this volume are stunning. But Kip is a hero I can get behind and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for him—even if I’m not quite sure the author can be trusted to, um, well, be nice. Either way, I’m expecting a wrenching yet satisfying conclusion in September. Yes, those two directions can go together. In this series especially.

 

28763240At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson

Is there a category like magical realism that uses science fiction instead? Either way, one of the aspects of At the Edge of the Universe that I really enjoy is the way Hutchinson uses the idea of the universe shrinking as a metaphor for depression. But when I’m reading, the science fiction elements feel real, as if the aliens are up there with a big button that can destroy the world (We Are the Ants) or as if the universe is actually shrinking and only Ozzie is aware of it.

I also really like that despite the dark themes, these books have a hopeful feel. The endings are totally worth the journey.

Final bonus: interesting and diverse characters!

Hutchinson just released a new novel called The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried which feels exactly like the book I’d want to read next. A slightly different direction and apparently not as dark—but still weird. Look for it in my next post.

 

1850579610% Happier: by Dan Harris

Yes, this is a self-help book and I can honestly say I never thought I’d read a self-help book, but can I make a confession? This isn’t the first. It is the first to make it onto one of my recommend to everyone lists, though.

10% Happier is one of the most entertaining audiobooks I’ve ever listened to. I can’t quite remember why I added it to my TBR list, but I imagine it had to do with my ongoing interest in meditation and striving for happiness. I guess I figured adding ten percent seemed like a pretty simple prospect.

10% Happier is part memoir, part self-help guide, and I found the reflections on Dan Harris’ career just as interesting as his exploration of spirituality, meditation, and enlightenment. This book is extremely funny in sections and rivetingly real in others. It’s also helpful in that Harris has distilled the ideology of a lot of well-known ‘self-help’ gurus – drawing his own conclusions, yes, but in a way that felt clear and relatable.

I’m more interested in meditating than I was before I picked up this book, and even intrigued by the idea of a retreat. Even if I never get to either, though, the story of Harris’ journey was completely worthwhile.

 

24819813Star Wars: Darth Vader, Vol. 1: Vader by Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larroca

This one is going to be short and sweet: Triple Zero is my new favourite character in the Star Wars universe. A protocol droid equipped with a torture package? I loved the absurdity of it and laughed every time Triple Zero expressed delight in its work.

I’m a terrible, terrible person. But, hey, I didn’t write it.

Outside of murderous protocol droids, I’m enjoying this series. Darth Vader is a character with tons of unexploited story potential.

 

37570595Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

I don’t know how this book ended up in my queue, but I’m really glad it did. This is an amazing collection of short stories, each ringing with voice, conviction, and a call to sit up and take notice. My favourites were the titular “Friday Black” and “In Retail” which left me with a tear in my eye. I also loved the last story, which needs to be expanded into something longer. Like, yesterday.

I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more from Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah.

 

40378934The Accidentals by Sarina Bowen

Sarina Bowen is one of my auto-buy authors. I feel I can always rely on her books to deliver two things: a touching romance that combines happy and sweet with just enough angst to make her characters memorable and relatable, and a story. There’s always a good story and that’s what I look for first and foremost when I’m choosing something to read.

The Accidentals isn’t like Bowen’s other books—even though it is? The author’s voice shines true here, with echoes of her beloved Ivy Years series, but the story is structured differently. This novel is more a journey of discovery and about the ever-evolving relationship between a young woman and the father she never really knew. It’s about loss and discovering gold, and about growing up—even when you’re already considered an adult.

It’s one of those books you’ll think about after you’ve finished and give a satisfied nod to when you pass it on the bookshelf.

 

25499718Children of Time (Children of Time #1) by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Absolutely stunning. One of the best books I’ve ever read. So good, I want to go back to the beginning and start all over again. The concepts! The science! And yet, the essence of the story is as old as time.

I’ll be ordering a paper copy of this for the keeper shelf and I’ve already preordered the sequel, Children of Ruin, which I believe is scheduled to release in May.

Update: Keeper copy delivered and wow, this is a really thick book. I really didn’t notice the length when I was listening to it, which is one of the best parts of listening on audio. I have a feeling I’d have been just as engrossed had I had to read this one to myself, though.

 

36630924Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen

When you read the synopsis for a book, you generally get an idea of where a story is going to go. Same with the first chapter. Well written copy and a good hook pull you in fast, and the reason you keep reading is that you’re eager to get to the other side – to the conclusion you’re already anticipating. It’s for this reason that I’m not particularly put off by spoilers. (This review contains none. Not for this book.) Yeah, okay, I might have preferred to know that Glenn doesn’t die in The Walking Dead (sorry, not sorry, you didn’t already know?) but the anticipation of that moment definitely formed a part of my watching experience, and in some respects, enhanced it. But that’s another story. What I’m really trying to say is that any good book is a journey and like all good journeys, you have a hope for the end but don’t mind a few surprises along the way.

What I loved about Here and Now and Then, first and foremost, were the surprises along the way. I had a good idea of where this story was going and I had hopes for the ending, but getting there was some of the most enjoyable reading I’ve undertaken this year. There are no great twists and turns; it’s the way author Mike Chen handled difficult situations that sets this book apart from every other story about a parent who will do anything for their child. It’s Kin, himself, who is wonderfully fallible and also complex. But simple, too, in that his motives are easy to understand and identify with. He’s extremely likable. The secondary characters were full of surprises too. I particularly loved the arc of Penny. Nope, not going to tell you who she is. All I will say is that she’s a phenomenal character and if I had any complaints about this book, it would have been that I’d have liked her point of view on a few things.

(Read my full review at Goodreads)

 

35611965The Bad Behavior series by L.A. Witt and Cari Z.

I spent altogether too much time trying to figure out who wrote who in this series, but that didn’t distract one whit (see what I did there) from my enjoyment of the story.

What I loved:

That the series ended, and on a high note. There was enough dark and brooding angst in the backstory and front story to add chew. I was glad to walk away at the end (after the final novella, Romantic Behavior) feeling good about the characters and their future. No question.

A story arc that worked across three books. Well planned.

The romance—I loved these guys together. I believed in them together. At no point did the romance feel convenient to the plot or vice versa. And I really liked that although the attraction was definitely physical, we didn’t go there a lot. People were being kidnapped and killed and the focus always remained on bringing the bad guys to justice and the good guys home.

What I didn’t like:

Um, nothing? That’s why I’m recommending this entire series. A great story and fun to read.

 

Quick Bites:

I read The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin again and enjoyed it even more third time around. It’s a freaking timeless book and one everyone should read. So get on that.

Jenn Burke’s new paranormal series starts off with a hilarious kick in Not Dead Yet. I’m so looking forward to book two.

Rough Terrain was the perfect end to a perfect series from Annabeth Albert. But, wait, there’s more. The Frozen Hearts series is coming up fast!

Phew, this has been a long one. I really should post more often! What have you been reading?

 

Review: Serenity: Leaves on the Wind #2 by Zach Whedon and Georges Jeanty

It took me so long to get to the first issue of ‘Serenity: Leaves On The Wind’ that the second issue showed up in my inbox only a week later. Procrastination rewarded!

There were no preview pages for this comic on the Dark Horse website before publication and when the first issue came out, reviewers were asked to keep a lid on spoilers. Given the anticipation regarding this series, it’s understandable. So my review isn’t going to contain a lot of plot details.

I’ll start with a recap of the first issue. For those that missed it: get busy. This is the series fans have been waiting for. ‘Leaves On The Wind’ finally collects the threads of story left dangling by the short TV series and single movie and weaves them into a new adventure. Mal Reynolds is a wanted man. Despite the number of interested parties looking for him and the crew of the Serenity, however, he cannot stay in hiding forever.

On to issue number two. Here’s the official blurb:

‘Forced out of hiding, Serenity’s crew gets separated, and it becomes clear that everyone looking for the outlaws is on the verge of finding them. River offers to uncover the secrets that are hidden within her in the hope that the crew might have something to bargain with.’

Basically, the net illustrated in the first issue tightens, bringing Mal and crew into contact with some old friends, the term ‘friend’ being extremely relative.

Seeing as I can’t talk about the plot, I’ll talk about the art and the writing. The cover art is gorgeous, even if the cuffs on Zoe’s wrists are a bit disconcerting. Inside, there are a lot of panels that require more than a glance, the first glimpse of the Paquin mining platform being one of them. It’s hard to capture the exact likenesses in this format, but throughout the comic, the lines are consistent and now that I’m more used to these versions of the crew, I’m less confused.

I enjoyed the dialogue and interplay between the characters in this issue as well. The ending is super spooky…and I have to wait a whole month until issue # 3. Here’s where I note the cover art pictured above is by Dan Dos Santos and his cover for the next issue is only going to make the wait that much harder. Covers for the first four issues, including the Georges Jeanty variants, are available to view on the Dark Horse website.

Review: Mass Effect: Foundation (#5)

20466 Mass Effect: Foundation (#5) by Mac Walters.

Miranda recruits Jacob to Cerberus by offering him a mission he can’t refuse: collecting Shepard’s body from the edge of the galaxy. They travel to the Terminus system to deal with Batarians. We all should know right there things are going to go awry.

This is an interesting installment in the series because it deals with the backstory of more than one character. We have Jacob’s induction into Cerberus, his and Miranda’s interest in finding Shepard, Kai Leng being all jealous at the beginning (he didn’t get the coveted mission) and TIM being his usual, charming, complicated self. There is also a good slice of action and a hint of plot that will take us beyond a single issue of the comic.

I didn’t get to know Jacob any better. He’s as uninteresting here as he is in the game. I know, poor Jacob. But not every character can be compelling. We need some to just sit back and reflect the glory of others. Miranda’s interest in Shepard is…interesting. I assume it’s a scientific thing, but for players who romanced her, more could be read between the lines. Perhaps.

Agent Rasa’s involvement serves as another introduction, but this time the entire comic seems to take place in the past, rather offer a glimpse of it. I assume this is because Rasa is a Cerberus agent, and so in place for this foundation story.

I did enjoy the story in this comic. I also liked the way many of the panels highlighted expression and directed the action. The story and art flowed really seamlessly from place to place. But Miranda didn’t look quite like Miranda and there were some instances where I thought Jacob had been swapped out for Mr. T., but with more hair.

The cliffhanger ending means I will be looking into the next issue, but I do wonder if my attachment to all things Mass Effect plays a greater part in me continuing to read this series. Probably, but I imagine the comics were created to take advantage of just that. It’s not that the stories aren’t interesting. They are. I think where the series feels off to me is Agent Rasa. I get that she’s a unifying element, but I’m not convinced she’s necessary. As a fan, I’d be just as happy to sit down and read through an ordered series of prequels.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

Review: Last Man Standing: Killbook of a Bounty Hunter

Last Man Standing: Killbook of a Bounty Hunter by Dan Luvisi.

I have been excited about this book since I first stumbled across a stunning digital painting featuring a bloodied, bullet-ridden soldier. I immediately researched the artist and discovered Dan Luvisi, who is not only extraordinarily talented, but also a really nice guy, in my opinion. His website will prove the first, his Facebook page the second. He is responsive to his fans, continually excited about his work and supportive of other artists. When invited to review a digital copy of Last Man Standing: Killbook Of A Bounty Hunter, I immediately said yes. I had pre-ordered my own copy months ago and, more recently, got my hands on one at the Dark Horse display at the New York Comic Convention. It’s as gorgeous as I imagined it might be.

Last Man Standing: Killbook Of A Bounty Hunter is difficult to define. It’s an art book; weighty and blessed with a cover that begs to be opened. It’s large enough to require its own space on the coffee table, or stick out from a bookcase, enticing those who thought to wander past. It’s also a story aimed at an adult audience who appreciate pictures with their words. It’s not a graphic novel, though. It’s…a killbook. What is that, exactly? Well, to understand that, you need to know a little about the man it belongs to.

Gabriel is the last of the Paladins, a genetically engineered super-soldier. After winning the ‘Nomen War’ and being awarded the title ‘Protector of Amerika’, he is framed by the terrorist organisation Pandemonium for the murder of his special forces team, Pantheon. The company that created him, Armatech, locks their ‘errant’ Paladin away in the Level-9 facility. There, Gabriel endures (survives?) nine years of torture before his escape is engineered by a former agent of Armatech.

Upon his release, Gabriel discovers Armatech has filled the void left by their Paladin Soldier by over enthusiastically cleaning up the world. Hint: they leave it shiny, but only because the undesirables have been put somewhere else. Out of sight, out of mind, eh? Armed with files, the killbook, on the men and women responsible for corrupting ‘Amerika’, Gabriel embarks on a quest to restore order.

The first two pages of the killbook throw the reader right into the story. There’s a letter from Gabriel that hints at the fact he’s not the most mentally balanced individual after nine years of torture. That is followed by a letter from Agent O, the man who assisted Gabriel’s escape from the Level-9 facility. With the facts from those two brief missives, you’re ready to go and to quote Gabriel, ‘…it’s going to be one hell of a ride.’

This book has everything. Maps, the re-imagined map of New Earth has Mexico labelled ‘El Badlands’. That’s what I’m going to call it from now on (sorry, Mexico). Timelines and snippets of history that tell the story of the ‘Nomen War’ and the events leading up to it.

Then there are the files, which include portraits of each target, dossier-style documentation, detailed illustrated weaponry and known associates. Collected with the files are cards that quickly summarise the facts and…advertising, which gives the killbook the homey feel of a scrapbook. A gruesome scrapbook.

Gabriel, The Last Paladin and ‘Protector of Amerika’

It’s obviously a labour of love, which fits so well with Gabriel’s enthusiasm for it. Throughout, there are notes from the Paladin, comments and observations. His tone is both endearing and disturbing. He sounds idealistic at times, but must be anything but. As I flipped through, I looked forward to these notes. I gained the sense the handsome Gabriel stood at my shoulder, pointing at this page and that in a way that made sure I understood his part in the story.

The file I most wanted to see was on page 192: Gabriel’s file. It’s in the killbook to remind him of who he is and to encourage him to keep perspective. The letter inside has a more sober tone, but his enthusiasm is still obvious.

The last quarter of the book is presented as a package from Little Oak Elementary School. The students are apparently fans of Gabriel and have sent him some of their collectibles. In addition, they have included art of their favourite paladin. This art is actually done by fans of Dan Luvisi and his project and all of it is gorgeous. The fact it is included in the book is stunning and a perfect representation of Dan, himself. How often do you find an artist who pays tribute to his fans in print. IN PRINT! That’s who this guy is. Finally, there is a long dedication and it’s just as awesome as the rest of the book.

Last Man Standing: Killbook Of A Bounty Hunter is well over two hundred some pages of Dan Luvisi’s art, but it’s not just a series of glossy prints with a small paragraph of description; it’s a world created solely by the artist and populated by his imagination, enthusiasm and dedication. It’s all his. Every page is art and it’s all held together by story. It’s a wonderful concept and an awesome book.

Written for and originally posted at SFCrowsnest.