Reporting from Mount TBR (July Edition)

I eliminated only two titles from my TBR list over the past two months—a poor effort considering how much I read. The library is to blame. Nearly every book I put on hold over the past six months arrived on my Kindle all at once, and I had to read like the wind to keep up.

I read a lot of great stuff, though. July has probably been my most fun reading month yet.

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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.

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The Men We Love

You’d be forgiven for thinking this post might be about our husbands, our brothers, or our sons, but my fellow Lady Writers and I want to share a little something about the other men in our lives: the characters we write. Each of us picked a favorite, and it was no easy task. We’ve all written multiple novels and have been a part of many characters’ lives. But there are always standouts, those characters you come to love above all others. Here are ours.

SaharThe Two Men in My Make-Believe Life
Sahar Abdulaziz

I’ve written quite a few male characters to date. Some have been devious, sneaky… sociopathic… evil, and, well, frankly, off-the-wall-nuts. On the other hand, I have also written brave, loving, considerate, loyal, charming male characters that can make one’s heart throb and soul ache. However, if I’m being totally honest, my most favorite male characters of all time have got to be Melvin Vine, from my book, The Gatekeeper’s Notebook [2019 release] and Irwin Abernathy from my novel, Unlikely Friends, [Feb/2019 release]. In-love doesn’t nearly come close to describing how I feel about these two.

Melvin is a man on the spectrum whose artistic talent is beyond genius. He is awe-inspiring, kind, a steadfast and loyal friend with a heart that knows no evil. Despite the curveball’s life has thrown him and the cruel people he’s had to endure, he’s never stopped being the compassionate and insightful man more people need to become.

And then there’s Irwin Abernathy, my grouchy, cranky librarian who would rather be knee-deep in a good book than surrounded by people… any people. No peopling. Irwin is what I would describe as a social introvert. A curmudgeon. He finds humans an unnecessary distraction. However, here’s the thing about Irwin than I find so appealing. He’s authentic. A man of his word. What you see is what you get. He doesn’t superimpose judgment, but when faced with hardship, he stands true and loyal, refusing to back down. He’s the guy who will move mountains to do the right thing [albeit grumbling under his breath the entire time].

Despite Irwin’s grumpy demeanor, and Melvin’s over-trusting persona, they are the kind of friends that everyone needs, but not many deserve.

About Sahar

Author of The Broken Half, As One Door Closes, Secrets That Find Us, But You LOOK Just Fine, Tight Rope, Expendable, as well as the upcoming novel, Unlikely Friends, Abdulaziz again demonstrates that those who have suffered abuse are not victims, but survivors.

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BelindaThe Leading Man in The King’s Jewel Series
Belinda M Gordon

The King’s Jewel Series is full of interesting male characters, both human and fae. But to select one to tell his story makes for an obvious choice. Of course, I’m talking about the saga’s leading man, Alexander Mannus.

Alexander (Xander) has been through a lot in his life.

His mother disappeared when he was 7 years old leaving him and his brokenhearted father with nothing but unanswered questions. In her absence, Alexander obsessed over the unusual gemstone she had left behind. Studying geology became his passion.

Alexander became an officer in the US Marines, respected by his men for his fierce might-for-right attitude and his odd sixth sense. An IED abruptly put an end to his military career and left his right arm and hand nearly useless.

While recuperating at Walter Reed Medical Center, Alexander married. A year later his young wife died in a car accident, leaving him to raise his infant daughter, Sophia, alone. He became slow to trust and protective of his loved ones—ever fearful of losing them.

He spent years wandering the globe with his daughter and his best friend mining gemstones, yet he never found any that matched his mother’s. Until one day he received a letter from an elderly woman in the Pocono Mountains….

And here Tressa’s Treasures begins.

About Belinda

Belinda M Gordon was born and raised in Pennsylvania and currently lives in the Pocono Mountains wonderfully supportive husband and a crazy dog named Max. She is of Irish heritage, which is how she became interested in Celtic Mythology. She used the Celtic Mythology, specifically of Ireland, as the starting point of her Romance/Fantasy series, The King’s Jewel.

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KellyBecoming
Kelly Jensen

Most of my leads are male, so choosing just one to highlight has been a challenge. I’ve enjoyed writing all of my guys, from creating their backstory to watching them grow on the page. Learning from them as they face challenges, crying as their hearts break, sighing with deep contentment as they find a happy ever after—with a partner, but also with themselves.

In the end, I decided to write about Max from Block and Strike. Max is one of my youngest leads at only twenty-two, but his growth on the page far outstrips anyone else I’ve written. I think I fell in love with Max when, during a critical scene in the book, he didn’t react the way I’d expected him to. Instead of running from a certain conflict (as outlined), he turned around and stood his ground.

As a writer, this was a pretty pivotal moment. I hadn’t had a character do this before. Max’s love interest, Jake, had proved a little ornery, but was mostly following my outline (except for nixing my entire first chapter and telling me where I should start the book). But Max had been following the program, and it was about then that it clicked for me that I was writing something more than a simple romance—I was writing the story of Max’s becoming. Over the course of the novel, he would grow and change into the man he wanted to be and it was kind of beautiful. So I let him stand his ground in that scene. I watched with pride as he conquered the rest of the story, not only allowing himself to trust and fall in love, but to become strong and self-reliant.

From Max I learned that all of my characters have lives of their own and that if I listen to them, they’ll tell me their stories. All I have to do is write them. Since then, I’ve fallen in love with every character I write, because I always remember how Max taught me to craft a better novel.

About Kelly

Kelly is the author of eleven novels–including the Chaos Station series, co-written with Jenn Burke–and several novellas and short stories. Some of what she writes is speculative in nature, but mostly it’s just about a guy losing his socks and/or burning dinner. Because life isn’t all conquering aliens and mountain peaks. Sometimes finding a happy ever after is all the adventure we need.

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SusanMy Favorite Male Characters
Susan Moore Jordan

This was really a no-brainer: my favorite male characters are Andrew and Jacob Cameron, brothers I followed through two books, Memories of Jake and Man with No Yesterdays. The books cover a period of many years, from 1954 to 1992. From a traumatic childhood experience to high school and college, and then into the Vietnam War and its aftermath. One or both of them experienced every phase of the Vietnam War, from the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution to the fall of Saigon. And beyond the war, Andrew visited the Wall. Jake spent time with Vietnam vets who couldn’t get their minds back into being home.

Yet throughout all this, they strove to find a way to lead happy and productive lives. The love between them was stronger than time and space, and until they were together, the walls between them obliterated, that happiness couldn’t be complete. Andrew and Jake took me on a difficult, sometimes painful, often uplifting journey. The art and music in their lives became a lifeline for each of them in different ways. Jake, the adventurer, followed a path that became a physical odyssey as well as an emotional one, and his new-found love of music eventually brought him happiness. Andrew, the homebody, used his talent as a gifted painter to conquer the trauma of his war experience and to connect more completely with the people he loved most.

Andrew and Jake Cameron. Each of them walked through fire and emerged renewed.

About Susan

Jordan attended the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati and moved to the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania in 1971 with her late husband and three young children, where she established a private voice studio and directed local community and high school musical theater productions. Since 2013 she has been writing novels combing her experiences of tragedy to triumph and her love of music, including “companion” novels, Memories of Jake and Man with No Yesterdays, released in March and November of 2017.

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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?

Review: Shaman

Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson

Shaman is the story of Loon, a young man who comes of age thirty-two thousand years ago, in the paleolithic era. At the beginning of the book, he is stripped naked, pushed out into the rain and told not to come back for two weeks. He is on his shaman wander. Staying alive is his most immediate goal. Returning in style seems equally important. After several mishaps, Loon manages both feats—thankfully, as it would be a rather short book if he died in the first chapter.

Loon is not entirely sure he wants to be a shaman, and throughout the handful of years that follow, he strives for adulthood with a quiet force that while presented as uncertainty is actually borne of a relentless conviction that he will be who he wants to be, regardless of what others require of him.

Of course, he grows up to be exactly who he is supposed to be. (You’ll need to read the book to figure that one out.)

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