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

I gave up participating in reading challenges a few years ago when I figured out that I really only ever got around to reading one or two of the mountain of books assigned. I’m a mood reader, meaning I’m not really sure what I’m going to read next. It might be one of the books staked in the ‘maybe I’ll read this next pile’ (or, let’s face it, one of the several ‘maybe I’ll read this next piles’ dotted around my house), or it might be the book I found at the library last week. The book that showed up on my ereader from a library hold or preorder. Or one of the nearly 400 books on the ‘to be read’ bookcase in the bedroom. The collection I lean toward and away from while doing yoga, thinking to myself, I really should get around to that one. Or that one. Or that one.

Obviously, I don’t need to challenge myself to read. And yet here I am, participating in #WritersRead. Continue reading “What I’ve Been Reading”

The Secret History of the World

I have a new reading challenge! (Yes, I know I’ve failed spectacularly at every reading challenge I’ve ever tried, but this one is different. You’ll see!)

The fast majority of F. Paul Wilson’s books deal with what he calls ‘The Secret History of the World.’ I first stumbled into this secret history in 1985 when I borrowed The Keep from the library. Subsequently, I did not sleep for two weeks. It was the scariest book I’d ever read and, to this day, I still feel the chill of it. Continue reading “The Secret History of the World”

My Favourite Things: 2015

I always wait until the last possible moment to write this post because, in the last two years, I’ve had to update a couple of the entries as I go to one last movie or find the book I couldn’t have made it through my life without reading. This year, the delay again proved worthwhile as I became absorbed in December by some of the best television I have ever seen, and a number of startlingly good books.

As always, highlighted entries point to my reviews and rambles.

Books

2015Books

I read about 270 books this year. That’s twenty less than 2014 and, consequently, I awarded fewer five star ratings. I had 64 to choose from when trying to decide which books to rave about. Narrowing my list of favourites wasn’t as hard as last year, however, as there were some clear standouts.

Science Fiction: Hyperion by Dan Simmons

This book kinda blew me away. Actually, there’s no ‘kinda’ about it. This book hit all my buttons: impending apocalypse (okay, it’s Armageddon, but good enough), deeply drawn characters and a sprawling sense of space—a universe you could live in, would recognise when you returned to it—poetry and a compelling narrative. Six compelling narratives, actually. Told from the consecutive points of view of six of the seven men and women making a pilgrimage as the galaxy prepares for war, this book is a saga in one volume. It’s three love stories and a treatise on military action. It examines humanity, religion, philosophy, art and politics. The story bends time and rules. It’s just nothing short of amazing.

I also enjoyed Kevin Anderson’s return to the Seven Suns universe in the Saga of Shadows, Pierce Brown’s follow up to Red Rising (last year’s top SF pick from me), Golden Son, and everything I read by Peter Clines.

Fantasy: City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

Long. Oh my goodness, so long. Every word is worth it, though. Every. Single. World. This book, these characters, this world! SIGRUD! Also, there’s a sequel coming out next year and I already have the ARC for it. *pause for epic flailing*

What sets this book apart is the world building. It’s truly unique. I have never read about a world like this one, and the world is such an integral part of the story. It’s nearly a character in its own right.

Close runner-up is Theft of Swords (Riyria Revelations #1) by Michael J. Sullivan, a new to me author who is now an auto-buy author. I will read anything this man writes. A part of the charm of this series is the fabulous narration by Tim Gerard Reynolds. If you can afford to do this on audio, go for it.

Horror: The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey

This is a new category. I don’t usually read horror, but The Girl with all the Gifts is one of those stories that caught me by surprise. I can’t reveal much about the plot without giving away the magic, but what made this book work for me was the extraordinary journey of one of the characters. I despised this character at the beginning. I began to understand them halfway through. I was utterly besotted with their arc by the end—and then there’s a scene that just… Yeah, I’m haunted.

Graphic Novel: Commencement (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, #1) by John Jackson Miller

For me, this story combined elements of the original three movies and the world fabulously imagined by BioWare for Star Wars: The Old Republic. Great storytelling, decent art and fifty chapters to keep you invested for a good long time.

Romance: Waiting for the Flood by Alexis J. Hall

My review for Waiting for the Flood was a quote from within the book which, for me, defined the very essence of romance:

“It’s all I’ve ever wanted, really. Someone to make tea for. To know how they like to drink it, and share some pieces of time with them at the end of long days, and short ones, good days and bad, and everything in between.”

Movies

2015Movies

In Theatres: Furious 7

Apart from the fact this movie is a must see for every Furious franchise and Paul Walker fan, it really is the best one yet. The story, the stunts. The cast. The ending is bittersweet, as it had to be. I cried and, for about a month afterward, every time I heard the song See You Again I got all misty eyed.

I also really enjoyed both Southpaw and Creed. Southpaw was a shoe-in for me. Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) and starring Jake Gyllenhaal? I didn’t have to be asked twice. Creed—you’ve seen Rocky (and a handful of the sequels), right? Why not treat yourself to Stallone acting, and doing a damn good job of it.

Yes, I have seen The Force Awakens and yes, it was a great film. I also really enjoyed San Andreas!

On DVD: Lilting, St. Vincent, Begin Again, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

I didn’t watch as many movies on DVD this year. I was too busy streaming season after season of television shows I’ve missed.

TV

2015TV

Broadchurch, Sense8, Grace and Frankie, The Expanse

These shows are about as disparate as you can get. The Expanse is the space opera I’ve been waiting for since BSG drew its last breath. Grace and Frankie explores interpersonal relationships between family, friends and lovers in so many wonderful ways. Sense8 is spectacular—cinematically and for the story. Broadchurch WRECKED me. Not sure when I last sobbed in front of the television in such a distraught manner. Thank goodness no one came to visit me.

Games

2015Games

Favourite Game: The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

Geralt…

Sprawling, endlessly entertaining, well-written, beautiful and…Geralt in all his grey glory.

I also finished Dragon Age: Inquisition which left me wanting and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Music

2015Music

I don’t listen to music when I write and I wrote a LOT this year. I also listened to a lot of audio books, which really cut into my music listening time—particularly when driving. But I still managed to get caught up by a couple of new to me bands and did have a few favourite songs.

Song of the Year: Hold Each Other (ft. Futuristic)

I adore Great Big World. I love apparent simplicity of their lyrics and melodies and the depth I always feel beneath—whether that’s due to the stories I apply to their songs, or the stories they’re telling me. In this song, I really like the three perspectives. And the video is REALLY cute.

Mark Ronson’s Uptown  Funk! ft Bruno Mars was my favourite danceable track this year and every time it plays, I think of a couple of my guys, Alvaro and Daniel, from Wrong Direction, which makes me happy. 🙂

I discovered The Weeknd well after everyone else, and well after FSOG, thank goodness. I heard The Hills as I was driving and nearly crashed trying to enlist Google’s help in identifying it.

I also discovered Twenty One Pilots and am still listening to Stressed Out over and over.

Fooddoughnut

This was the Year of the Doughnut. I discovered a Krispy Kreme about an hour and a half from my house and spent a stupid amount of time visiting other doughnut stores up and down the East Coast.

Activity

Being Offline

As I mentioned earlier, I wrote a lot this year and because of the volume and increasing importance of writing in my life, I’m planning a separate post dedicated just to that! Given I spent so much time at the computer, by year’s end, my favourite activity actually became disengaging from the internet. Escaping to the real world to remember what the sun feels like. Taking day trips to reacquaint myself with my surroundings (and hunt for doughnuts). Hikes. Connecting with friends, face-to-face. Talking about anything other than writing, editing and publishing. Not being thoroughly confused and dismayed by social media.

That’s it, my list of favourite things in 2015. As always, the list is incomplete. I read so much, watched so much, listened to so much—and my tastes are so wide ranging and varied. I get a lot of joy out of mixing it up—leaping from a love story to a mystery, falling into a fantasy world and then jetting out to the stars. It keeps every adventure fresh and new.

Happy New Year and best wishes for your 2016.

 

Review: 14 by Peter Clines

14Mysteries of the ages! Apocalypses! Steampunk doomsday devices! Tentacles!

14 is definitely my favourite of Peter Clines’s books—and I almost didn’t read it. I found a copy at the library sale a couple of years ago, shortly after I read The Junkie Quatrain. I’d liked Clines’ take on zombies and had enjoyed his characters. They fairly leapt off the page and though the stories were short, there was an incredible depth to them, as if I was reading about people I knew, or had known.

Earlier this year I was offered a copy of The Fold to read for review. Snapped it up, read it, loved it, reviewed it. 14 continued to languish on my TBR bookcase, largely ignored. Although the cover had first caught my attention, it also sort of put me off. It looked like a horror novel and I don’t really read horror.

Ex-Heroes was an Audible Daily Deal. I bought it, listened to it and quite liked it. Not as much as Clines’ other stuff, but it had all the good parts—relatable characters and deep story lines. But…zombies. I dunno. Clines’ zombies are cool. They’re different. And I really liked the hero aspect, but at the time of reading, I didn’t love the book. Might have been zombie overload.

Looking back after having read 14, I like it better. Why? Because I more clearly see what it is about Clines’ work that pulls me in so quickly and keeps me reading long after my bedtime. It’s that sense of otherness. The lost and hidden worlds. Not a new concept, and in the afterword for 14, Clines talks about how this book in particular has been knocking around in his head since he saw The Lost World at age eight. His discomfort in how and why these other dimensions and lost places manage to stay hidden. And his thoughts on just who does the hiding.

Now, I don’t follow every prophesy of apocalyptic doom, but hidden dimensions? Oh, they’re there and I’ve believed in them since I was eight years old and digging in my neighbour’s back yard for fossils after seeing Journey to the Center of the Earth. I don’t believe in ghosts or magic and I’m not even sure ESP is a thing, but I can comfortably fit the X-Men into my world view and I spent a lot of time opening the doors of perception in my twenties. 😉

Anyway, I’m reviewing a book, one I almost didn’t read. So, 14 was gathering dust on the shelf when Audible offered it up as a daily deal. Or on sale. Something. As I often do with books I want to read, but haven’t quite found the wherewithal or energy to crack the spine, I bought it and added it to my queue. I started listening a couple of days ago and quickly fell into the pattern that grabs me when listening to an exceptionally entertaining audio book. I stop engaging with real life. I walk around, finding things to keep my hands busy while my ears are plugged with story. People talk to me and I nod and smile and keep moving. I can’t sit and listen, you see. I must remain mobile or partly engaged, or my mind will wander. Whatever.

Soon I ran out of things to do and occasionally I am called upon to be a parent. So I unplugged, performed a few requisite chores and picked up the book from the shelf. I then lost the rest of the day to the couch.

It’s difficult to talk about the actual plot of 14 without giving away the magic, so I’ll be circumspect. Nathan Tucker hears about a building with unusually low rent and makes an appointment to check out an apartment. The apartment is small, but the view is amazing. The rent is ludicrous. As in, super cheap. He takes the apartment and moves in.

The building is old and quirky and small mysteries pop out at him on the very first day. A tenant moving out at the same time—of another apartment—and complains that he’d never quite felt right in the building. Thinking back, that reminds me of the time 14 sat on my bookshelf. I wanted to read it, but kept hesitating for some reason. Another mystery is the black light in Nate’s kitchen. Whatever bulb he puts in there, he gets only black light. Then there is the missing handle on the door of apartment 23 and all the padlocks fastened across the door of apartment 14. The overly large machine room on the roof for the elevator that hasn’t worked in at least 20 years. The brass plaques in the mail closet. The chained and padlocked doors near the laundry room. The green cockroaches with extra legs.

As Nate meets his neighbours, the mysteries of the building deepen. Turns out most of his neighbours aren’t oblivious to the weirdness, either. Some have cultivated a careful ignorance. Others chalk it up to the building’s age. But as they start comparing notes, the weirdness multiplies.

Then they start investigating.

This phase of the book would be my favourite. The neighbours all have distinct personalities and Clines uses them to build each character from the floor upward so that they’re living, breathing people. We don’t need to know their backstory because we know them. I don’t know how he does this, but it’s a hallmark of his work. Every book, his characters grab me this way. Maybe it’s the way they interact with one another and the consistency throughout those interactions. But you know how when you pick at a corner of loose paint and a whole piece loosens and you become obsessed with pulling it back in one big sheet? You fail, but are compelled to try again, and before you know it, you’ve stripped the wall? That’s this book. Those are these characters and their need to find out about the building they live in.

It’s utterly addictive and the answers, when they arrive are just…creepy and cool. Think H.P. Lovecraft—who gets several nods here—and Nikola Tesla (ala The Prestige, which also gets a nod). Mysteries of the ages! Apocalypses! Steampunk doomsday devices! Tentacles! (Okay, copying that line to paste at the top of this review.)

Finally, I really liked the idea we’ve visited places like these with Clines before. Or, given the publishing order of his books, that he’s revisited these places (and ideas) again, in other novels. It’s as if he’s circling something. Waiting for the story of that hidden dimension. The story that will need to be written from the inside out.