My Favourite Things: 2020

For the past few years, I have begun my annual favourite things post by talking about what a hard year it has been and how glad I am it’s over. You would not be wrong in expecting me to start this year’s post the same way. After all, it is 2020. But although it’s been a difficult year (perhaps the most difficult), I have found much for which I am grateful.

My small family has always been close. We’re separated from our relatives by continents and oceans, and so used to celebrating holidays alone. To being three of us against the world. We didn’t, therefore, find isolation all too hard. We had moments of friction, as all families do, but I’ve never been more grateful for my husband and daughter. We held each other up this year. We forgave more easily, learned to communicate more clearly, and have almost mastered the art of letting each other exist in their own space for a while. (Or I have. Sometimes.)

I’ve also been amazed and delighted by the joy others have found over the past year. The news has often been universally bad, and yet someone, somewhere, has always had something to share. The wonder of small things has never been more true. 

The other aspect of being home all year has been more time to devote to my hobbies. And what I read and watched and listened to is a reflection of that. 

As always, we’ll start with what I read.

Continue reading “My Favourite Things: 2020”

What I’ve Been Reading

September 2018 Edition.

With a long summer of revisions and edits behind me, I’m looking forward to reading something other than my own work! I did manage to read a few good books over the past few months, though. Here are the best of them:

 

13486172The Dark Defiles (A Land Fit for Heroes, #3), by Richard K. Morgan

I tried to read The Steel Remains, the first book in this series, several years ago and put it aside after only two or three chapters. I can’t remember why, but the usual reason for putting something aside is simply a lack of connection. It’s frustrating when it’s a book I really want to read, so I’ll often return later, or try it on audio. That’s what I did here and I immediately became invested in the first book, then the second, and finally the third. As soon as I finished, I ordered books two and three to go with the first on my keeper shelf. This is a series I want to revisit and remember.

It’s not always a pleasant read. The violence is brutal and the themes quite dark. But Morgan has a way of drawing you into a story almost unaware, and making you care about characters who aren’t even particularly “nice.” He did it with Takeshi Kovacs and again here with Ringil. If I had a favourite character at the beginning of the series, it would have been Egar, but only because he’s typical. He’s a man meant for more. Arceth’s story is fascinating and she grew on me as the series progressed.

But Ringil. He was hard to love, but once there, impossible to shake off. I adored his caustic wit and unrepentant homosexuality. If ever a character was who he was, it would be Ringil. Society reviles him, his family despairs for him, and yet… and yet. Without giving away too much, Ringil doesn’t bloody care, except for when he does.

I loved the ending, and what I presumed to be Ringil’s fate. Even more, the coda afterward that hinted at Arceth’s epilogue (and maybe the fulfillment of a certain prophecy), and the circumstances surrounding the birth of a certain baby. I shed a few tears throughout. I laughed, too. I stood silent sentry at every funeral. But that last chapter of the coda. I pretty much lost it there, as Morgan tied up every loose end and brought us back to the beginning.

 

31933085Less, by Sean Andrew Greer

I loved this book for a lot of reasons, the first simply being the experience of reading it. I liked how it was written, and the shape of the story. Facing his fiftieth birthday, and an invitation to a wedding he’d rather not attend, Arthur Less books an around the world trip. As he journeys, the story of his life unfolds, and it’s in turns mundane and interesting and funny.

Arthur’s anxiety regarding his career as a writer really spoke to me. He’s not particularly famous and has only ever been nominated for obscure awards he’s never heard of. His feelings regarding these things felt so true. There’s this entire cosmos of being a writer, with bright stars and black holes and all the objects in between that tend to drift according to the rules of universal attraction. It’s… weird, and I felt Greer captured that headspace really well in Arthur.

To me, the story was also about approaching the milestone that is fifty and all the anxiety wrapped up with that. Have I done anything meaningful yet? And, most importantly, am I old now? There was a lot of wonderful discussion about youth and age and the lens we have on others’ lives.

Then there was the love story. It’s pretty obvious from the start that Arthur doesn’t realize, or isn’t willing to accept his heart has been broken. Watching him come to terms with that and accept it was another of those “true” moments in the book for me, because I’ve lived through journeys like this where the breakup wasn’t particularly sensational and it makes no sense that you continue to sink lower and lower until you understand you really did love the person you left, or let go, and then have to grapple with the question of, is it too late?

We get the idea that Less doesn’t think much of himself–and never really has. The surprise, though, is that he doesn’t really seem to know himself that well, which is why the format of this book really worked for me. The story is told through the eyes of someone who knows Arthur extremely well, and loves every part of him, and I took the message of this to be: love every part of yourself, even the awkward and not so nice stuff, because its’ what makes you you.

 

30226770The Lawrence Browne Affair(The Turner Series, #2), by Cat Sebastian

I quite enjoyed the first book in this series, but I loved this one. Georgie was everything I hoped he’d be and Lawrence was endearing. I especially liked that Lawrence was an atypical hero with issues that aren’t often dealt with in romantic fiction. I thought Sebastian handled his “differences” with just the right touch—a correctness of historical attitudes, but also with sensitivity. Allowances might have been made, but this is romance.

My heart hurt for the situation with Lawrence’s “son” and I really loved being able to follow up on that relationship in the next book in the series, The Ruin of a Rake, which I also enjoyed very much.

Georgie wins the day, though. I liked him in The Soldier’s Scoundrel, but loved him in this. It’s rare, I find, to read a sequel where a character you’ve met briefly truly fulfills their potential. Georgie is shameless, and yet he isn’t… giving him a wonderfully complex personality that really shines here. I adored his development and in particular the way he simply seemed to know how to care for Lawrence. Also, this book is funny. I got such a laugh out of the state of Lawrence’s library, and the mushrooms on the Seneca. 🙂

 

1487811Hit Man (Keller, #1), by Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block is rapidly becoming one of my favourite authors. His books are easy to read and always entertaining. What I really adore, though, are his fluffy bad guys. Assassins, hit men, and burglars, all with hearts of gold. And snappy one-liners.

In Hit Man, Keller sets out to retire. He’s done with being an assassin. So he takes up stamp collecting. STAMP COLLECTING. You couldn’t make this up. But stamp collecting turns out to be a more expensive hobby than he had anticipated, so he ends up taking a job or two to help pay for it. Then there’s the fact that someone seems to know who he is and what he’s doing…

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and look forward to continuing with this and Block’s many other series.


34504732God Country
, by Donny Cates

How do you even describe a comic book like this? The shelving label on the back reads “Epic Texan Battle Fantasy” and there is a quote inside the front cover from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West. God Country lives up to both. It is a western. But it’s also a fantasy that borrows from Norse mythology. And it’s the story of a family devastated by Alzheimer’s.

I most often buy comic books for their art and it’s gorgeous here, with the style definitely working in support of the story. I think what made this comic one I was happy to shelve in my library, though, with a reverent stroke of the cover as I slipped it into place, were the spontaneous tears that caught me about five pages from the end. I’m a self-admitted sap. I’ve cried in more Star Trek episodes than anyone else on this planet. But I’ve only teared up over one comic book before, the poignant Roughneck by Jeff Lemire.

I might have to start a new Goodreads shelf.

 

30777300Bitter Legacy by Dal Maclean

Extremely compelling. I had a really hard time putting this one aside to deal with real life.

I really enjoyed the mystery aspect of this novel—more than I thought I would, actually. I liked the slow collection of clues and the “procedural” feel of having them snapped together, one by one, but not always in the right order. I’d love to read more mystery written by Dal Maclean. I think she demonstrates great talent.

The romance aspect of the book was a little more difficult to… like. This isn’t a happy, fluffy contemporary. But it totally worked for the characters. Jamie is so new and so inexperienced when it comes to relationships that it was easy to imagine him making the excuses that he did. His hesitancy and heartbreak were also really well written. I felt them both quite deeply.

I did have a hard time accepting the reconciliation at the end, but justified it in much the same way Jamie did: love can overlook a lot of faults, especially when we think we’re getting what want/need. Also, if Ben isn’t to be a bitter, twisted, and lonely old man, someone has to take a chance on him.

I’m really looking forward to reading Maclean’s follow up novel, Object of Desire.

What I’ve Been Reading

After a bit of a slump where I tossed a few and flipped through a few more somewhat forgettable books, I’ve recently hit a patch of really good reads. So of course I’m going to share them.

18774964A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

This book. Oh my goodness. What a lovely surprise. Nearly the entire time I was listening to it, I either wished I’d written it or wanted to write my own version. Ove is exactly the sort of character I like. Gruff, rude, apparently selfish and not at all charming. Yeah, I sure know how to pick ‘em. Thing is, when a character like that is the star of a book, you can pretty much read on with two assumptions. One, he’s not as he appears. There will be hidden depths. Two, finding out why he’s like this is going to be your reward. 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”

Review: Zero World by Jason M. Hough

Zero World

I didn’t actually read the synopsis of Zero World when I requested a copy for review. I had enjoyed Jason M. Hough’s Dire Earth series so much, I figured I’d like anything he wrote. I also hoped this would continue that story. I was wrong on one account and right on the other. Zero World introduces a new story and universe, but it’s just as compelling as Hough’s previous novels.

Peter Caswell is an assassin. He has a switch in his head, that when flipped, allows him to act almost without conscience, knowing that when he completes his assignment, he will be reset, forgetting any atrocities he may have committed. He begins each job as a rookie – remembering only his training and whatever skills he acquires in between.

His latest assignment will be the most interesting one he will ever forget. A lost spaceship has been found. He is sent to investigate and discovers it is full of bodies. But one crew member is missing, as is a landing pod. Caswell’s switch is flipped and he’s sent after her. In a second lander, he follows a preprogrammed course through a wormhole. On the other side he discovers a planet that looks just like Earth – except for the huge scar of craters across the middle. This duplicate planet only looks like Earth, however. Their culture is heavily influenced by this cratered scar which divides the continents into North and South. They speak English, but with market differences. They dress differently, and he cannot stomach any of their food.

Tracking his quarry in this alien landscape is already a test of Caswell’s skill and adaptability. He also has a time limit. He will reset in just fourteen days, six of which will be required for the journey back through the wormhole. If he forgets why he’s there, he may never get home.

This book is divided into four parts. I devoured the first part. Futuristic assassins equipped with techy gadgets set upon intergalactic mysteries? Sign me up. The second part was a little tougher to read. Hough introduces his second principle lead, another spy named Melni Tavan. I liked Melni and through her, formed an appreciation for the thought the author had put into creating the duplicate earth. Everything was just off. A different culture, a different social norm. For instance, women are dominant and men usually wear their hair long. It was like reading a book with 3D glasses. The focus was a little weird.

Eventually, Melni and Caswell run into one another, complicating their respective missions. Then, in the third part, THINGS HAPPEN. The truth of it all is revealed and it’s pretty cool. In the fourth part, Caswell reverts, forgetting everything, and he has to rely on Melni to complete his mission. What he doesn’t realise is that his mission parameters have changed.

Overall, I enjoyed Zero World. It was new and different. Caswell and Melni were extremely likeable characters. I did wonder when Melni was going to properly react to all the killing, but I did enjoy her propensity toward planning. A woman after my own heart. Caswell’s situation came with a lot of build in sympathy, and when he discovered the truth, I was fully invested in how he’d overcome the lie of his existence.

My one issue with Zero World would be with the overwhelming number of action scenes. The book is exciting in that Caswell and Melni are constantly running for their lives. But not a lot of plot elements hinge on these sequences. I got a little bored reading fight scene after fight scene, particularly as the plot is actually fairly simple. The magic lies in the big reveal, which could have come a little sooner, I think.

Still, it’s an entertaining read that introduces a diverse new universe, and while Zero World does work as a standalone novel, there is a lot of story left to tell.

Written for SFCrowsnest.