What I’ve Been Reading

The #WritersRead prompt for September was: a book I wished I’d read in school. I’ve written before about books I’d like to see on high school reading lists. It’s a subject I’m passionate about, so I was determined to read something I really, really wished had been recommended back when I was in school.

When I researched current high school reading recommendations, I was pleasantly surprised to find a more diverse list than what I’d expected. Although there were titles I’d replace (ugh, Nathaniel Hawthorne, I both love and hate you), there were several exciting choices. I’d just about settled on The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela when a title farther down caught my eye—A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute.

I was born in Australia but attended high school in the United States. My knowledge of Australian history and culture, therefore, has gaps. I grabbed a copy of Alice from the Free Library of Philadelphia and started to read. Half an hour later, the app I use to read library books posted an alert: The Bridge by Bill Konigsberg was ready for me to borrow.

Continue reading “What I’ve Been Reading”

What I’ve Been Reading

The #WritersRead theme for July was a masterwork or comp title. I have been struggling with comp titles for Sundays with Oliver, so picking a book to read for this month was hard. I polled friends and book club buddies and everyone who’d beta read for me. We all had long lists for one half of the story, but kept coming up blank for the other half. For Oliver’s half.

Eventually, I gathered a few author names and started searching library databases with keywords like midlife crisis, unemployed, middle age, and empty nest. One of the returned results was Distant Shores by Kristin Hannah.

The premise wasn’t an exact match, but sort of close, so I grabbed a copy of the book and started reading.

Continue reading “What I’ve Been Reading”

What I’ve Been Reading

The #WritersRead theme for March was children’s and middle-grade novels. I chose to read one of my daughter’s most beloved books, Holes by Louis Sachar.

I have around 3000 books sorted onto shelves around my home. The books I’ve read are housed in a room we call the library (read: The Library Project). Upstairs, my daughter has two crammed bookshelves, my husband has one, I have another in the bedroom I call my TBR shelf (over 300 titles and counting) and our guest bedroom hosts two bookshelves, one full of books from my childhood and one called the denial shelf. The books on the denial shelf don’t actually exist.

What may surprise you, however, is how few books there are on the children’s bookshelf Before the age of twelve, I didn’t really like to read. What happened when I was twelve? Our family took a vacation to Lake Michigan and over the bed, in the room I shared with my sister, was a shelf of well-read paperbacks. Bored to distraction by the rain that prevented us from swimming, I picked one at random (probably the skinniest) and read it. The book? Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. And so began my love affair with science fiction, dystopias, and by extension, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction. Forty years later, I’m still going. Continue reading “What I’ve Been Reading”

What I’ve Been Reading

The theme for this summary of superb reads is definitely sustainability. I’ve returned to some favourite authors, hoping for something good, and got it. I tried a few new authors only to end up adding several new books to my mountainous TBR.  

 

41-y28l0FWL._SY346_The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin 

Reread. I actually had little to no memory of the story, which is a bit disturbing. The same thing happened with The Fountains of Paradise (Clarke), which I vaguely remembered the beginning of, but not much else. Anyway, this time I listened to the audio, and as always, I got a lot more out of the book.  

The Lathe of Heaven is pretty much what I’ve come to expect from Le Guin. It’s thoughtful and easy to follow with a protagonist who at first feels as if he’s plot flotsam, but who proves worthy by the end. I enjoyed the character growth and the overall comment on society. 

The end in this instance wasn’t quite what I expected, which might be why I didn’t rate the book higher back in ‘o8. Or it could be that sometimes I have a hard time reading concept books myself and do better with the audio version. 

51y-cj9gfmL._SY346_The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North 

My Goodreads review for this one reads: Wonderful. 

Thanks, past me.  

To elaborate, this is my new favourite Claire North. I’d read Touch previously and adored the difference of it. Harry August is similar in that it’s very different and very worthwhile.  

Basically, the story covers the first fifteen lives of the apparently immortal being, Harry August. As you’d expect, much of the book is about the how and why of Harry’s perennial existence, and the effect it has on him, others like him, and the world in general. The mechanics of Harry’s continual rebirth, and how those like him communicate across the ages, are fascinating to read. But what makes this book stand out, aside from Harry’s voice, and Harry, himself, is the other layer. The friendship that ties the book together from beginning to end. Strip away all the “other” and this is the story of what friendship can mean, especially to those who have lifetimes in which to develop it.  

41x2OHpDTFLFoundryside (Founders #1) by Robert Jackson Bennett 

Simply put, Foundryside is a fantastic book. Super easy to read and engaging from the very first page. It was funnier than I thought it would be, often in a sly sort of way. More gruesome in parts, too. And sweet. And super thoughtful. Very clever. So, basically, fantastic.  

I often find it difficult to connect with female characters but had no such issues here. I also liked the slight twist on usual tropes and the inclusion of queer characters. Science fiction and fantasy are becoming a lot more representative of the world we live in, regardless of whether the book is set here or not. To me, that’s important.  

I previously enjoyed the Divine Cities and I’m really looking forward to the rest of this series. 

51RmQtqarcLThe Music of What Happens by Bill Konigsberg 

I would happily shelve this next to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe That could be the sum total of my review if you’ve read Aristotle and Dante. And it’s very high praise.

For the uninitiated, The Music of What Happens has the same blend of painful youth, life lessons, and friendship. The book speaks to all youth, and the struggle with identity, whether sexual, racial or just being a human being. 

I loved the food truck adventures and was hungry pretty much the whole time I listened (this was another audiobook read). I laughed and I cried (thankfully I was alone on the creek trail at this point). All the stars from me. 

If you’re not reading Bill Konigsberg yet, start with my favourite, Openly Straight, and work your way here!

41H4AwUU-GLThe Huntress by Kate Quinn 

Amazing. One of the most engrossing and fascinating books I’ve ever read. I was glued to the page and fully invested.  

I really didn’t know much about the book going in, except that at some point, I’d added it to my library hold list. When it turned up, I sort of shrugged and dove in, hoping for the best… and became instantly enthralled.  

I loved the adventure, the humour, and the love stories, but mostly, I enjoyed reading about Nina’s journey west, from The Old Man to Boston. She’s an absolutely brilliant character! I’m definitely inspired to look for more from Kate Quinn. 

51BnjDRpZGL._SY346_Fool’s Errand (Tawny Man #1) by Robin Hobb 

Another one-word Goodreads review: Wonderful. 

Honestly, sometimes you don’t need more, particularly with an author as prolific as Robin Hobb… and when you’re talking about the first book in the third trilogy of a series that began the year before you graduated high school. (In other words, a long, long time.) 

Because it had been a while since I set foot in this universe, it did take me a little while to catch up, which is why I appreciated the slower beginning to this book. The first part is quiet and might not sweep a new reader in quite as quickly as Assassin’s Apprentice. It had the feel of the author also returning to this world and remembering with the reader why it’s so beloved.  

What I really appreciated was the slow and gentle rebuilding of the friendship between Fitz and the Fool. I also just loved the story, Fitz’s development and our introduction to new, obviously important characters.  

51mLOnwH+DLThe Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne 

I had to wait for a day (to finish crying) before I wrote this review and during that time, I kept thinking back over certain passages and tearing up. I couldn’t settle into another book.  

While reading The Heart’s Invisible Furies (which is pretty much the best title ever), I often thought the more tragic and coincidental aspects of the story might be a little too tragic and coincidental. But by the time I had reached the latter parts of the book, and then the end, I couldn’t imagine Cyril’s story being told any other way.

The events of his life snip corners away from Cyril’s character in an irretrievable way. He’s such a sad figure by the end. They also unflinchingly expose the awfully fallible society within which he was raised. Anything gentler wouldn’t have worked as well, nor allowed the high points and humour to have shined quite as brightly as they did.

This book is funny. Surprisingly so. Horribly so. I laughed despite myself more than once. It’s also very, very sad, and I cried a lot. Unabashedly at times. I also wept after I had finished, while thinking back, and while describing some of the moments to others. 

A wonderful story, magnificently told. I’d ordered a paper copy for the keeper shelf within minutes of finishing and bookmarked several of John Boyne’s other books. Now to find the time to read them! 

51upSSshYeL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_A Chip and a Chair (Seven of Spades #5) by Cordelia Kingsbridge 

As with the rest of the series, A Chip and a Chair is superbly written. The relationship between Dom and Levi survives the watertight test (just) and just as importantly, both characters come to terms with themselves. This is something that’s missing from a lot of romance novels (in all subgenres). I’m all for happy ever afters, but to me, the relationship of a character to themselves is always just as important.  

So, without spoilers, my guess for who the killer might be was spot on—but I did wonder from time to time (book to book) if I might be wrong. The author throws in a few expert twists and really had me believing a certain other character might be the Seven of Spades. It worked, and had the added bonus of being a very uncomfortable realization.  

Las Vegas is a city I’m extremely familiar with due to almost yearly visits with family over the past two decades and it was kind of shocking to bear witness to events in the final book.  

I waited for the last book to be published before reading the final three in one marathon session, which is unusual for me. I can usually spread a series out over a year or more. But the suspense is high and the need to stop the killer as well as see Dom and Levi set straight is pretty compulsive.  

Can’t wait to see where Cordelia Kingsbridge takes us next. 

51OfLvwqLkL._SY346_Swing by Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess 

I picked this one up because of the cover. It’s so energetic and matches the rhythm of the book perfectly. Swing is one of the titles offered by the free summer reading program Sync, audiobooks for teens. The program runs for fourteen weeks with two new offerings every week. Click through for more information. 

Swing is the story of Noah, who has a lot of feelings and isn’t sure what to do with them, and the advice given to him by his best friend Walt, who takes on the name Swing to better further his own ambitions. The book is a combination of lyrics, poetry, and story. 

The highlight of Swing is the narration of author Kwame Alexander. There are many moments where the story takes on a performance note, and the words become poetry.  

That ending, though… 

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?