What I’ve Been Reading

The #WritersRead prompt for February was a book set in the future. I chose to read Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks.

I approached the book with a lot of misconceptions. I had expected it to be a long and difficult read, full of stuff I just didn’t get. But while the world Iain M. Banks has created (The Culture) is thoughtful and Consider Phlebas contains many literary themes, it is, at its core, an entertaining novel of high stakes adventure.

I have long wanted to read the Culture novels by Iain M. Banks but kept putting them off for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I started with the wrong book. I tried to read The Algebraist (not part of the Culture series) and had a very difficult time. I didn’t finish the book. Being so long ago, I barely remember anything but being mystified and bored (most likely due to being mystified). But there was something about the book that made me keep trying until I eventually put it aside, figuring I’d try again on audio sometime. 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… 

Buddy Reading with My Dad

My father recently stayed with me for two months. He’s retired now, so can visit for longer—which considering the time it takes to fly from Australia to the US is a very good thing. One week is a jet-lagged fever dream, two weeks just isn’t long enough, and three weeks allow one for recovery, one for the holiday, and one to get ready to fly again. Four weeks is good. Longer is even better.

One of the pleasures of having my dad visit is that, like me, he loves movies and books. We generally have a movie to watch every night, and will sit side by side with our phones out, checking facts on IMDb. Where else we’ve seen that actor, what other movies the director has made, who wrote the script, and who did the music. Invariably, this exercise adds another movie or ten to the queue. This visit we did a mini Samuel L. Jackson retrospective and sought out any Jackie Chan films we may have missed. We watched the Cornetto Trilogy (Edgar Wright) and were pleasantly surprised by how good John Wick 2 was. Previous visits have included Fast and Furious marathons and all Jason Statham’s films. We’ve spent an entire weekend on the couch watching back to back disaster movies on SyFy.

My dad also likes to read and unfortunately it’s not a hobby he indulges much while at home, even now that he’s retired. He’s got a dozen other hobbies, he’s always helping someone do something else, and he’s renovating a house. While living in it. One of the reasons I like having him here is that he gets a chance to rest. He sleeps in, surfs the internet for pleasure, takes naps, and reads. Naps again. Reads some more. He reads a lot. I save up books for him before each visit so he has a stack to get started with, then—as we do with movies—we tend to get on a theme and will read several books together, or one after the other, and talk about them when we’re done. It’s the best kind of buddy read because he’s RIGHT there. I can walk into the kitchen, see he’s two thirds of the way through a particular book and say, “Who do you think the headless corpse in the woodshed is?”

Or he can say, “You have to read book two because we’ve got to talk about Jack’s brother.”

So what did my dad and I read this visit? Well, I’m so glad you asked. Mostly mystery. It’s his favourite and I’m pretty fond of it. We also tried a couple of new authors, found him a new favourite, and got in a Jack McDevitt science fiction adventure toward the end.

 

The Mountain Between Us, Charles Martin

8477868I had this book on the table waiting for Dad because I knew it would be one he’d enjoy. It’s a story of adventure in the remote wilderness of Utah with a wholly unexpected thread of romance woven through. I didn’t tell my dad about the love story part as I was unsure of his perspective on romance, and because I felt the adventure was enough of a draw. It was for me. I loved this book and wanted him to love it too.

He did. He read it in about a day and a half—only interrupted by me asking where Ben and Alex were. “Have they found the lake yet?” “Did Ben make his big mistake yet?” “Do you think they’ll eat the dog?”

After he finished, we pulled the book apart chapter by chapter and then discussed the film adaptation—which he hadn’t seen—why it wasn’t the same story, and why it really didn’t work for me. I don’t know if Dad will read Charles Martin again. I know I will, but he might require more adventure than some of the other books on Martin’s list seem to promise.

 

Friction, Sandra Brown

25114548I sort second hand book donations for the library and one of the names that pops up over and over again is Sandra Brown. I had an idea she wrote mystery but wasn’t really familiar with her work. I have my small cadre of writers that I turn to when I want a mystery and I’ve stayed fairly loyal to them for a number of years now.

While Dad was visiting, we went to Book Con in NYC. (Of course we did.) One of the panels we attended was called “Novel Suspects” and featured Brad Meltzer, Walter Moseley, Sandra Brown, and David Baldacci. Dad’s a fan of Baldacci’s and I’ve read Meltzer and Moseley, so we went along to hear them talk. It was one of the best panels I’ve ever attended. All four authors were wonderfully entertaining, mixing personal stories in with banter. They seemed to regard one another with great respect and were really fun to listen to. We had a great time. Afterward, my dad asked if I’d ever read Sandra Brown. I hadn’t. The next day, we bought our first Sandra Brown book.

Dad read it first. Devoured it. I think he came up for air once. He might have eaten something. The best part, though, was when he looked up after the first few pages and said something like, “I haven’t read a female author before, or a book with a female main character.”

He wasn’t sure why, except that maybe he’d fallen into the same rut I have with mystery authors and had a handful he liked and rarely moved away from. He said he used to like reading Nancy Drew, but didn’t remember reading a book with important female characters since then—and he really felt as though he’d been missing out. He liked the perspective of a female character. He was enjoying it. He also liked the thread of romantic tension Sandra Brown adds to many of her books.

I read the book next and I really, really enjoyed it. I loved Sandra Brown’s writing. I enjoyed her characters and the mystery kept me guessing. I’m happy to report that Sandra Brown has been added to my mystery author roster. Dad went on to read three more of her books.

 

Zero Day and The Forgotten, David Baldacci

19054808We read one each of his books: me the first in the series, Dad the second. He’d already read the first. We chatted about the books, but mostly we cyberstalked poor Mr. Baldacci. (We’re not coming to visit, don’t worry.) (Not this year, anyway.)

During the “Novel Suspects” panel, David Baldacci had some of the funniest stories to tell, including his “best” one star review and the time his favourite table wasn’t available at the lunch spot he frequents way too often. We used the latter to narrow down his location, along with facts gleaned from several online interviews.

We might have scanned the area with Google Street View looking for his house.

We talked about a road trip and how many restaurants we could visit a day looking for him.

(Dad is safely on a plane back to Australia and I’m way too busy editing my own books to visit random restaurants. This year, anyway.)

The books: what we loved about the series we started was the similarities to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, and the proximity to Maryland, where we used to live. The mysteries were great and the characters just the sort we enjoy. Baldacci has been added to our list!

 

Lee Child

33118488So, we’re both HUGE fans of Lee Child. We love Jack Reacher. Neither of us understands how Tom Cruise got cast in the movies, but we watched them anyway because we love Jack Reacher. We’ve read about a dozen of Lee Child’s books each, and Dad managed to get through five while he was here. I read two. I had one waiting for him and we chose the others based on our mutual interest in stories that include mention of Reacher’s brother, Joe.

The biggest surprise for both of us was how much we enjoyed No Middle Name, which is a collection of short stories ranching from Reacher’s childhood until well into his career as a trouble-seeking former MP.

Again, the one that featured Joe most prominently was our favourite. We’d like to respectfully submit a request for more books about Joe. Joe could easily have a series of his own.

 

Infinity Beach, Jack McDevitt

352778Jack McDevitt is one of the few authors on my preorder list. Not only do I preorder his books, I preorder hardcover editions because I know I’ll want a copy to put in my library afterward. I always enjoy his stories—both the Alex Benedict series and The Academy novels. What I love is his exploration of big ideas, his characters, and his point of view—all of which combine to make Infinity Beach such a great book. Another aspect of McDevitt’s books I like is his preference for female leads.

I generally don’t pay a lot of attention to the gender of an author. They’re mostly a name on book until I get to know them a little bit. I do pick books based on the gender of the lead characters, though, and in the past, when reading science fiction and fantasy, I more often chose books with male leads. The why of it was pretty simple: male leads got to do the fun stuff. They were the warriors, the adventurers, the risk-takers. They were the kings, and the character that got to stand at the edge of the cliff with the fate of the entire world tied up in their balance.

Thankfully, there are now thousands of books where female characters get to do all of this. But I’m fifty years old. I grew up reading about men going on adventures and women supporting them. If a book appeared with a female hero, she was more usually going to wield magic than a sword, or be compromised in some way by her male counterparts. I wanted female assassins, ship captains, and barbarians. Choosing a book with a male lead became a shortcut to getting what I wanted out of a story.

So it’s not hard to figure out why Jack McDevitt has long been on my list. He writes wonderful female leads. They are the adventurers as well as the support structure. They get to make the decisions that change worlds, and they save lives. And they read like real women, too. Not just dudes with boobs. McDevitt’s books also have a wide range of other characters, embracing the diversity that has become so important to me over the past decade.

Did Dad enjoy this one? He did. It took him a while to get into McDevitt’s voice, but he loved the concept of the novel and really enjoyed reading another female lead. By the time he’d reached the halfway point, a virtual “Do Not Disturb” sign had been hung in the sunny corner of the kitchen he’d claimed as his favourite reading spot.

I’m happy to report that Jack McDevitt now has another fan.

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?