What I’ve Been Reading

Non-Fiction Edition!

I’ve never been an avid non-fiction reader. I’ve wanted to read more history and science, but my mind tends to wander in the middle of a sentence as my thoughts fly toward fictional ends. The discovery of non-fiction on audio has made a huge difference for me, however, as well as choosing the right titles. I need to be sufficiently interested, and I need to take it one chapter at a time. Using both of these approaches, I’ve managed to read more non-fiction over the past couple of years than I have in the previous forty-nine put together. Sadly, that probably also includes all the books I was supposed to read for school. Better late than never, eh? Or, is it that you’re never too old to learn something new?

Following is a sampling of the great non-fiction titles I’ve consumed this year.

37569338How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery

I’ve always wanted to read more biography and memoir and How to Be a Good Creature is a great place to start because it combines really interesting facts about animals with chapters of Sy Montgomery’s life and career.

Having read a few more memoir type books since this one, I’ve been able to narrow down just what it is I like about the genre so much: the sense of possibility. Montgomery has done amazing things, but for the most part, she’s living a fairly ordinary life – even if surrounded by some of nature’s most compelling creatures. But reading about the choices she made to get where she is today gave me a sense of hope that life doesn’t have to follow a predestined path. That you can grow up to be anything you want, really. There are lucky breaks and lightning strikes, but for most of us, it’s having a dream and going after it. Putting in the work and loving it. Because it’s your dream. It’s what you want to do.

How to Be a Good Creature conveys this sense in a wonderful way, along with real-life lessons taught to the author by all of the creatures she came into contact with.

Naturally, the chapter about the octopuses was my favourite. ❤

41016100._SX318_The Coming Storm by Michael Lewis

Fascinating and terrifying.

I have an Audible subscription and one of the recent benefits I’ve come to love is the choice of two titles (usually from their Audible Originals selection) offered for free every month. Invariably, I’ll choose one of the non-fiction downloads, because they sound so damn interesting. I mentally tagged The Coming Storm “post-apocalyptic” research when I acquired it, based on a quick glance at the synopsis. When I finally loaded it up to listen, I thought it was going to be all about weather disasters.

It is and it isn’t. More, it’s a history of weather science and how tracking the weather and interpreting historical data has helped programmers develop sophisticated statistical algorithms – thus enabling more accurate weather prediction, among other things – but how our weather is changing. And how, in some instances, corporate America is monetizing this data and these changes. Information and misinformation are both worth the same, apparently.

The most entertaining chapter by far was about Kathy Sullivan, one of the first women in space. The rest of the book is pretty scary. Oh, and the Accuweather app is so gone from my phone.

40672036._SY475_Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport

Earlier this year, author Roni Loren blogged about her 30-day social media break and credited Cal Newport’s books, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World and Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World for the greater part of her amazing productivity during that time. I found her experiment truly inspiring, particularly as for the earlier part of this year, I was feeling overwhelmed by the demands on my time, and exhausted by the effort of maintaining a social media presence.

I’d had four titles release in quick succession (one a month) in the latter half of 2018, and was working my way toward the release of Purple Haze. Generally, I enjoy interacting with friends and readers on Facebook, in the few groups I’m active in and on my personal timeline. I try hard not to spam any of these places with news of my upcoming releases and have always tried to maintain a consistent activity level so that when I do talk about my books, the post isn’t a serious departure from “what Kelly posts about.” Writing is an integral part of my life, therefore it’s a part of my timeline.

I’ve always had a difficult relationship with social media, though. I often have to make myself go online and do the thing. I assumed it was because I was old and more extroverted than introverted. I like spending time with people. I also prefer to converse face-to-face, where I can read facial cues and body language. I’m often confused by the tone (or lack thereof) of text messages. Like most older people I know, I use a lot of emojis when texting, because they help intonate. That’s me grimacing and smiling and winking. Even while texting, I’m still trying to tell you with my face how I feel about this.

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World explained a lot of my difficulties with texting and my ambivalence toward the true value of social media.

(Continue reading this review on Goodreads)

42361141._SX318_Rivals! Frenemies Who Changed the World by Scott McCormick

Another Audible Original production! Seriously, if you’re an Audible subscriber, check out the monthly free offerings. There are some true gems!

This was super entertaining! I really enjoyed The Bone Wars and the rivalry between Adidas and Puma. These two stories really do illustrate the subtitle for this volume, about how these rivalries changed the world. The war between the two paleontologists Cope and Marsh often read like (sounded) like a pissing contest between preschoolers, but their rivalry led significant discoveries and a complete retooling of the way dinosaur bones were classified.

The rivalry between Puma and Addidas spawned the ENTIRE INDUSTRY OF SPORT SPONSORSHIP. Arguably, it would probably have happened anyway, but the intense competition between these two brothers stripped decades off the natural coming pairing of sports equipment manufacturers sponsoring talented athletes.

I found the other two stories (Hamilton/Burr and Elizabeth/Mary) historically interesting but not as fascinating.

13589153How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed by Ray Kurzweil

If you’ve read The Singularity is Near, How to Create a Mind is a good follow-up. Renowned futurist, Ray Kurzweil, refers to his previous title reasonably often and thematically, they’re similar. Kurzweil is always looking forward.

In this book, he chronicles much of the work he and others have done in exploring and understanding not only how the human brain works, but how the mind functions – as a part of the brain and as a totally separate entity. He asks the question “what is a mind” and goes on to answer it in several interesting ways.

Kurzweil’s research led him to the development of text to speech programs such as Dragon Naturally Speaking and Siri, and it’s interesting to learn how those got started and what’s actually behind the voice. He also talks a lot about Watson, the AI that won at Jeopardy.

It’s all fascinating stuff. I took lots of notes for use in an upcoming project.

27161156Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

Another memoir and not something I thought I’d ever read, let alone enjoy. J.D. Vance isn’t fabulously wealthy. He hasn’t won a Nobel Prize. He’s not on TV or in the movies. He isn’t in the Guinness Book of World Records or You-Tube famous. He’s… just a guy. He’s… lived a life. It’s an interesting life, but not particularly compelling.

It’s where he came from and where he ended up that power this book, and the honest conviction of the narrative. The lucky breaks and the hard-won victories. The idea that anyone can make a go of it in this life and that circumstances don’t necessarily have to hold you back – except when they do.

Vance challenges a lot of assumptions about poor and working-class whites and the idea of upward mobility. His passion for the subject is obvious through all the research presented, but also in his tone and how, as a person, he has both changed, but not.

18154._SY475_The Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage by Clifford Stoll

Fantastic! This memoir/real-life story reads like fiction and Cliff Stoll’s voice is an essential part of the narrative.

Basically, it’s the story of how Stoll tracked a hacker through various networks, collecting the evidence that led to the hacker’s identity and capture. The book was about so much more than tracing a single hacker, though. What I found to be the most troubling aspect – aside from the fact this hacker was free to roam through military networks, gaining access to sensitive data through gaping holes in the security of over thirty poorly administrated systems – was the fact no one, not the FBI, CIA, NSA, or military intelligence, really knew what to do about it. Even more troubling, few of these organizations even seemed to care. What Stoll’s story revealed was the need for an entity focused specifically on these sorts of crimes where jurisdiction and simple dollar value weren’t points of contention. Where the breach of trust or the ethical question of: do you belong here? were the only criteria required to pursue a case. And, of course, the need to properly educate system administrators on how to secure their systems. How to classify sensitive data.

The book also chronicles Stoll’s evolution from someone who was fairly apolitical into someone who gave a shit. I really enjoyed reading his thoughts and feelings about the rights and wrongs of what this hacker was doing from his own, very personal perspective.

Also, the footnote with the cookie recipe? I giggled for ten minutes afterward. And the book just wouldn’t have been the same without these frequent glimpses into Stoll’s life with his girlfriend, Martha, and roommates.

Really, a fantastic read and highly recommended to anyone with an interest in computer security, the ethics of hacking, the evolution of cybercrime, or the history of computing around Berkely, California in the eighties. The writing never gets too technical (in my opinion) and the story holds wide appeal.

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?

 

My Favourite Things 2017

Here it is, my favourite blog post of the year, the one where I share all the things I fell in love with over the past twelve months.

For many of us, escapism became all the more important in 2017 as we searched for ways to deal with disappointment, disillusionment, and sometimes the sheer terror of what each day might bring. For me, the year started slowly with a lot of books, movies, and TV shows not living up to their potential. So I stepped outside of my comfort zone. Read things I might not have a year before. Took recommendations I wasn’t sure of. Watched movies that should have been terrible and weren’t.

I found a lot to like and actually picked up a new favourite author. I’m going to start this year’s list right there. As always, links refer back to reviews and posts on this blog.

Books

Mystery/Thriller: The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow

This book consumed me for the nearly two weeks it took me to read it. It’s long and involved and completely absorbing. Briefly, The Power of the Dog covers nearly thirty years of America’s “War on Drugs” from the late seventies up to the new millennium. The most astonishing aspect is the fact that it’s all facts—and that author Don Winslow found a way to add a story in there with characters you come to care deeply about. This book wrecked me in so many ways. Even without knowing the consequences were real, they felt true.

I never would have picked this book up on my own. As it was, I borrowed it from the library without even reading the back cover because the waiting list for The Force was months long and I wanted to read Don Winslow now. Best incidental recommendation, ever.

Currently, I’m buddy reading the sequel, The Cartel. It’s almost as good. The research is just as thorough and the presentation of facts just as absorbing. I’ve also started Winslow’s Neal Carey detective series and really enjoyed the first book!

Fantasy: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

I’ve always meant to read more N.K. Jemisin and so when The Fifth Season showed up as either an Audible Daily Deal or in one of their sales, I picked it up and gave it a listen. And was immediately drawn into a richly detailed world that felt real, even though completely unfamiliar. I seriously envy Jemisin’s world building. It’s seamless and effortless. If ever you have to ask why, it’s usually along with the inhabitants of her world, and the question is one that will be answered by the story at the proper time.

I also really enjoy her characters. There is an even-handed quality to them. She doesn’t write “strong female characters” and “emotionally mature men,” she writes real people who transcend gender and archetype.

Then there’s the story. It’s epic but relatable. I realized going in that The Fifth Season was the set up for a much larger story, but it’s by no means incomplete. The second and third books in the series rely more heavily on the fact you’ve already traveled the roads of book one, but still manage to include complete story arcs. The final book is truly amazing. Better than I imagined it could be and with a resolution I did not quite expect. The whole series is brilliant and I’m really looking forward to more news about the planned television series.

Science Fiction: How Great Science Fiction Works by Gary K Wolfe

Technically, this isn’t a book. It’s a series of lectures from The Great Courses. I’m a huge fan of these series, particularly the audio versions, because I find it difficult to concentrate on non-fiction in print. Listening, I can do, however, and because I’m not tempted to skim, I absorb a lot more information.

And information there is in this course. These twenty-four lectures cover the genre pretty thoroughly from origin to present day to what the future might bring. Each subject was fascinating and I found the Wolfe’s opinions and commentary extremely balanced. He had his favourites (which more often than not aligned with mine), but also talked about books that are simply important to the history of science fiction.

My reading list grew as did my re-read list (which is something I might actually get to now that so many titles are available on audio). What I most enjoyed about this series, though, was Wolfe’s obvious and genuine love and enthusiasm for the genre and the people who have strived to excel within it.

Other notable science fiction reads this year included the Frontlines series by Marko Kloos and, as always, the continuing saga of Miles Vorkosigan.

Romance: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

More than a love story, Aristotle and Dante is an homage to the very real pain of youthful discovery. Of all the YA love stories I’ve read with LGBT characters, this is the one I’d most like to see made into a movie.

Fiction: Kith and Kin by Kris Ripper

I adored this book and never wanted it to end. Ripper introduces the reader to a family that is quirky, enmeshed in drama, a little bit broken, and most importantly, there for each other when it matters—even if they don’t really want to be. Essentially, it’s a book about just that, about what it means to be family, whether by blood or by choice. It’s about being an adult and how freaking hard that is. It’s also about growing up and taking responsibility, and about accepting who you are and being okay with that. It’s a wonderful, wonderful book, and I hope we get to visit with the Thurman family again sometime.

Manga: My Brother’s Husband by Gengoroh Tagame

This gentle manga is the antidote to 2017. I can’t remember who recommended it to me, but am forever grateful. It’s about a Japanese man, Yaichi, his daughter Kana, and their house guest, who just happens to be his brother’s husband. Sadly, the brother passed away, and his husband, the delightfully robust Canadian, Mike Flanagan, is visiting Japan to connect with family.

While the series is light and a lot of fun to read, it also deals with homophobia and cultural differences by answering questions anyone might have had in a straight forward and unabashed manner. For me, though, the growing friendship between Yaichi, Kana and Mike as they become a true family is the real delight.

Movies

In Theatres: Logan and Wonder Woman

I saw a lot of really, really good movies in theatres this year. Usually, it’s easier to choose just one for the top spot, but not between these two.

Logan is the movie I most looked forward to in 2017, even though I knew it was going to break my heart—and it did. But so beautifully, which might sound anachronistic when you consider the rating of this film. Honestly, though, this story couldn’t have been told any other way. It’s a fitting tribute to a favourite among the X-Men and one of the finest performances I’ve seen from Hugh Jackman and Sir Patrick Stewart.

Wonder Woman has changed the way I will watch superhero movies forever. I didn’t know how much I needed this film until I watched it. I think the moment that sums up my feelings best is when Diana Prince climbs out of the bunker when no one else will. Yes, she’s basically bullet-proof, but the message of that action goes much deeper. A woman gets things done. A woman’s bravery is unquestionable. I cried as she walked into the dark and I cried again when she leaped to the top of the church. And inside my heart, a loud voice was singing, this what a woman can do.

Because this was such a great year for movies, I have a bunch of “Honorable Mentions.”

War for the Planet of the Apes – Another highly anticipated movie for me as I have thoroughly enjoyed this series reboot and the greater story arc of these three films in particular. This was the most powerful, by far, and for longtime fans, the movie that ties it all together.

Dunkirk – Story aside, this is the most carefully and brilliantly crafted movie I’ve seen in a long, long while.

Blade Runner 2049 – Exceeded all expectations and they were pretty high.

I also enjoyed The LEGO Batman Movie, The Fate of the Furious, and The Foreigner.

On DVD: Hidden Figures and Get Out

I didn’t get to as many movies on DVD as I usually do this year, but these two were well worth the time.

TV

Black Sails

This series is EVERYTHING. If I were to compile a master list of Favourite Things at the end of the decade (ooh, another list!) Black Sails would probably be at or near the top.

For all my thoughts on this phenomenal series, read the post, “Welcome to the Dark Side.” (Spoilers are kept to a minimum, but as this is a four season show, I can’t guarantee I didn’t slip up somewhere.)

This year I also enjoyed Broadchurch, The Killing, season two of The Expanse, and Dear White People.

Games

Favourite Game: The Last of Us

Oh, this game. So, so good. Dark and gritty and completely unexpected. I loved the story, the characters, the setting, the mood and the gameplay. The attention to detail, from the scarcity of resources to the little Easter Eggs dotted throughout the map. This is a game designed to involve and destroy you, and it does so very, very well. The voice acting is superb and I was surprised to learn Troy Baker (Joel) also voiced Mitchell in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. He has an incredible range.

Then we have the soundtrack. One of the best, ever.

For all my thoughts on The Last of Us, read the post, “Parenting in the Time of Zombies.” (Though I don’t directly give anything away, my defense of Joel could be considered spoiler-y.)

I played a lot of games this year, which is probably why I didn’t get to as many DVDs. I also enjoyed The Nathan Drake Collection (Uncharted 1-3), Horizon: Zero Dawn, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Dishonored 2, Assassin’s Creed: Rogue and am currently playing Assassin’s Creed: Unity, which I am enjoying very, very much.

Music

Song of the Year: “Something Just Like This” — The Chainsmokers & Coldplay

This song will probably appear on the playlist of every book I’ve written this year—and for a very good reason: these are the guys I love to write. The heroes who aren’t super. The ordinary men (and women) who go the extra mile simply because they’re in love, or it’s the right thing to do, or because that’s who they are.

Other music that resonated strongly with me this year was the main theme (and soundtrack) for The Last of Us, Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt” (for the movie Logan) and “High” by Sir Sly.

Food

Is this the first time you’ve read my list? Yes, I also do food and 2017 was the year of the Instant Pot. I joined the cult of the latest culinary obsession, and if you give me just five minutes, I’ll convince you to join too! Take a look at some of my favourite recipes:

Pulled Pork (pictured)

Indian Butter Chicken

Chana Saag – Instant Pot {Chickpeas and Spinach Curry}

Activity

I’ve always got a game going, but in 2017 I got back into gaming in a big way—partly because having a PlayStation helped me separate gaming from working (normally I’d play at the PC sitting under my writing desk). Being able to switch off after a long day and head downstairs to play encouraged me to play more often. As did the ability to lie back in the recliner with a beer bottle wedged into the seat cushion next to me.

 

Also, I took a break from epic length strategy RPGs to enjoy a series of short and sweet shooters and action adventure games. Additionally, we met more frequently with our board game buddies and spent many days happily hunched over a wide variety of adventures from card collecting co-ops (The Grizzled) to all out competitive warfare (Adrenaline)—and everything in between.

And that’s another year sorted. It’s been long and interesting and sometimes more difficult than I imagined. There were a lot of low points and I’ve had to draw on reserves I didn’t know I had. But we made it to the end and I can only hope that the template for dealing with sh*t I’ve put in place will serve me well in the years to come. On that note, I wish you all happiness and health and all the best for a bright and prosperous 2018.

 

What I’ve Been Reading

How is it October already? Just last week (in August), I was thinking to myself: “You need to do another reading post.” I made a note in my planner and… turned the page. As always, I’ve been reading lots of awesome books, though. And, as always, I want to share the most awesome ones with you.

Descender, Vol. 1: Tin Stars by Jeff Lemire

The art caught my eye on this one. It’s an interesting style—less “comic” and more “fine art,” with swift lines and watercolour shades. It reminded me of another of my favourite comics, East of West, and it’s just as good. The story starts simply: ten years ago, giant harvester robots swept through the galaxy leaving destroyed cities, dead bodies, and terror in their wake. Since then, even the simplest robots have become enemy number one and hunting them down has given rise to an entire guild of scrappers who hunt rogue bots with the enthusiasm of bounty collectors. Continue reading “What I’ve Been Reading”