Reporting from Mount TBR (May Edition)

My plan to read less in 2021 is coming along nicely. Normally, by the end of May, I’d have put down a hundred or so books. Last time I “noticed” the number of books I’ve read this year, it was 50-something. This noticing was incidental, by the way. A part of my desire to reduce the number of books I read was my desire not to keep track of the numbers, but I still occasionally play with the data in Notion, sorting by author and subject, and the number of titles pops up at the bottom of the chart. I look. It’s hard not to look. I really do love data.

My plan to climb Mount TBR is also coming along nicely. I read three titles from my teetering backlog—although two of them were audiobooks, so there was no teetering involved. Still, it was nice to sort two digital files from Not Started to Finished.

Continue reading “Reporting from Mount TBR (May Edition)”

Reporting from Mount TBR

Another year, another reading challenge! This year, I’ve decided once again to tackle my massive backlog of To Be Read titles. The two bookshelves housing my TBR pile have begun sneaking books onto the floor, and the piles from the floor have migrated to my dresser, nightstand, and desk. The approximate number of unread books in the house is close to 400—which is only about half the number of unread titles lurking in my digital libraries.

My plan is simple. Every month, I will sort the books in my digital libraries to the earliest date and send one to my e-reader. Then read it. Or make an attempt to. If I like it, I’ll mention it here, on my blog. If I don’t like it, I’ll delete it. Same goes for the physical books. I’ll pick one from the shelf and read it. If I like it, I’ll blog about it. If I don’t like it, I’ll tuck it into the library donation box.

Continue reading “Reporting from Mount TBR”

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: Malice (The Faithful and the Fallen, #1)

JohnGwynne-Malice Malice by John Gwynne.

I’m a sucker for the chosen one/coming of age type story, particularly in a fantasy setting. I’ve read two dozen or more, probably many more, but am always on the lookout for a new hero to faithfully follow. Malice, by John Gwynne, introduces several possibilities.

The obvious candidate is the young boy, Corban. The son of a blacksmith, he is untried and untrained. He thinks he lacks courage, but after he enters the Rowan Field to train with the kingdom’s best warriors, he soon learns that being a man is less about courage and more about conviction.

Across the Banished Lands, Nathair, son of the High King, embodies all the traits of a good and true man. He is a talented warrior and an inspired leader. He is courageous and innovative. He is beloved by the men of his warband and his faithful first sword, Veradis.

Veradis is another candidate. Another good man, perhaps the most talented fighter of them all. He is desperate to please his father, and to prove himself. His devotion to Nathair and his cause all but blinds him.

And we have Kastell. An orphan raised by his uncle and tormented by his cousin. He has anger management issues, but the presence of his faithful shieldman helps balance the scales.

Corban’s sister has a part to play, but she couldn’t possibly be the chosen one, despite her courage and aptitude with throwing knives. She’s a girl. We also follow the adventures of one of the woodsmen, a bandit who doesn’t seem all bad. He can’t be the chosen one, either. He’s killed too many innocents. Cywen and Camlin, the girl and the bandit, are important enough to snag a point of view each, however, and will certainly have roles to play as the larger plot unfolds. There are also a number of other secondary characters who thicken the tapestry of this novel.

The story of our four principles unfolds slowly. There is a prophecy and the stirrings of war. The giants are raiding and the oath stones are bleeding. The High King seeks to unite all the kingdoms under his banner to prepare for the champions of the prophecy, the Bright Star and the Black Sun, and the war to end all wars.

Though fate pulls the strings of the four young men, they have their own battles to fight, and through these, two will emerge as chosen, one the opposite side of the other, leaving the other two destined to support the side they choose.

Despite the lure of a familiar and epic story, I found Malice a bit difficult to read. Gwynne loves commas more than I do and sometimes his sentences are difficult to make sense of. Once I got a rhythm going, I was able to interpret his meaning more clearly. Or just assume I did. The pacing of the novel also confounded me for a while. Time passed at vastly different speeds during each separate narrative, which made it difficult for me to connect events and make predictions. The writing and characterisation felt immature and often times it seemed as if Gwynne had a checklist of encounters his heroes must endure in order to qualify for the quintessential fantasy experience. Evnis, our principle villain, didn’t feel truly evil, either. His actions were more directed by disappointment than truly villainous intent. Or so it seemed to me.

I did enjoy the book, quibbles aside. I persisted through nearly seven hundred pages and actually looked up the release date of the next installment. From this, I can only draw that conclusion that not every book needs to be perfect in order to win over its readers, which, as a reviewer, is something I know well. I’ve read some dreadful books, and loved them. I’ve endured barely legible prose in order to stick with one essential character. Malice isn’t dreadful, nor is it unreadable. Not even close. More, it’s just not polished. Not really tight. Still, it’s compelling enough to hold a jaded old reader like me for a week, first page to the last.

This is John Gwynne’s first novel and I think he’ll learn as he goes. His enthusiasm is clear. He’s got a huge story tucked away in his head and it’s taking him some time to sort it and tell it. He’ll learn where to nip and tuck. Expected publication of Valor (The Faithful and the Fallen, #2) is July 22, 2014.

Written for and originally posted at SFCrowsnest.