What I’ve Been Reading

25894059Arena by Holly Jennings

I don’t always get lucky with books I choose to review for SFCrowsnest. There are a lot of books that sound really great, but don’t quite live up to their promise. I’m getting better at picking winners, though, and Arena by Holly Jennings is definitely that. It’s a great book, one I’m really glad I’ve read.

You can read my full review here, but in short, my favourite aspect of this story—actually, I really liked two things. One was the character arc of Kali. It took me a long time to warm to her, and the fact I admired her so much at the end of the book was due to her growth—and that she did it all by herself. This young woman literally pulled herself up by the bootstraps and got on with the business of winning. In every respect.

I also really enjoyed Holly Jennings’ take on gaming culture and the way it shaped the story. She didn’t just sprinkle a few references throughout the text and say there, gamer book. The story itself is constructed like a quest chain, with each success promising a greater reward. Very well done.

 

13630171The Skull Throne (Demon Cycle, #4) by Peter V. Brett

Another more than pleasant surprise. After the soap opera/dirge that was Daylight War, I nearly gave up on this series. I love the premise. I adore this world. It’s one of the most fascinating fantasy worlds ever created, with a new magic system, hints of old apocalypse and fully fleshed out characters you really come to know and care about. Peter Brett’s habit of going back to tell the origin story of all of those characters had started to wear on my by the third time ‘round, though.

Daylight War ends with a pretty damn big question—one the cover copy for The Skull Throne doesn’t answer. Also, when you’re nearly 2000 pages into an epic series, it’s hard to let it go. So I moved on to The Skull Throne—and read it in two days. That’s nearly 800 pages in two or three sittings. The pacing was phenomenal with a lot of the plot threads tangling themselves into dreadful knots. The lives and loves aspect is still there, but with more a immediate meaning and an absolute bearing on the plot. Also, there’s very little flashing back to ‘this is how it all began.’ There really isn’t time. This book is a race. It’s frenetic and bloody and a lot of what you might have taken as the status quo up to this point will be challenged and changed.

Unfortunately, we have to wait a year until the fifth and final installment. (◕︵◕)

 

28531239Trailer Trash by Marie Sexton

I’m late to the Marie Sexton fandom, which actually works in my favor. She’s got a huge backlist for me to explore. The book of hers that really won me over was Winter Oranges. Before then, I’d really enjoyed her collaborations with Heidi Cullinan (Family Man and Second Hand) and Promises, book one of her Coda series. I enjoy her characters immensely. They’re normal guys doing normal things. It’s this accessibility and Sexton’s skill in making them feel real that makes her books so compulsively readable.

Trailer Trash has an irresistible premise: two high school seniors from opposite sides of the tracks, who alternately fight and give in to their attraction for one another. What makes this story special, however, is the focus on the emotional aspects of their relationships with their family, friends and each other.

Teenagers feel things very deeply and to them, what they’re feeling is everything. They can’t think beyond right now and find it difficult to imagine they’ll ever feel that way again. I remember being there and so does Sexton. Her boys are so real and their love story is so wonderfully tender. I loved every word of it.

 

20821614You (You, #1) by Caroline Kepnes

The cover copy really undersells this book. Yes, it’s possible to take a lesson about how much we reveal about ourselves on social media from this story, but more I found it to be a tale about secret selves and how some people simply cannot be judged by their ‘covers’.

It took me a little while to grasp the point of view—it’s Joe, our apparent villain, talking to Beck, his victim, as if this were his journal and she the only reader. There aren’t a lot of stories told from the perspective of the villain, so that was my hook. The scariest part, though, wasn’t what Joe did (or the why or the how), it was the fact that I empathized with him—nearly the whole way through. Even when he was doing very, very bad things. I liked Joe. Additionally, the premise of the book would have us believe Beck was the victim, but I’m not convinced she wasn’t the most evil character of all.

A very thought provoking read—and there’s a sequel!

 

18373Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

My daughter read this for school. On the day she started, she described the premise to me in the car. It sounded very familiar, so I asked if she was reading Flowers for Algernon and she replied that she was and further commented on the fact she should have guessed I would know the book because I’ve read everything.

I hadn’t actually read it. I’d seen the movie. I also, inexplicably, had the audio book sitting in my library—untouched. It must have been a daily deal at some point. So I downloaded it and listened.

Flowers for Algernon should be required reading for every human being. The book’s power is in its simplicity, thanks in part to Charlie’s narration. What it says about us as people is both beautiful and sad, and reading it inspired me to become a better person—to be kinder, gentler and more thoughtful; to count my blessings and to remember those who have less. To understand that happiness is completely subjective and that one should never assume their version of it might suit another.

You’d also might think I’d have learned by now that I really shouldn’t listen to books that make my cry while I’m driving. Not sure if I’ll ever remember that one, though.

 

24983889East of West, Vol. 4: Who Wants War? by Jonathan Hickman (Writer), Nick Dragotta (Artist), Frank Martin(Colourist)

I’ve been a fan of this series since the beginning. The apocalyptic landscape grabbed me, the promise of more doom and gloom to come kept me reading. But really, it’s the combination of art and storytelling that makes East of West such a stand out.

So often during a comic/graphic series, the writer or the artist will change issue to issue—either as guests are invited to participate or ‘staff’ are rotated through current offerings. Sometimes it’s exciting to see what a new artist will do and certainly some artists are more adept at telling different kinds of stories. With its large cast of characters, however, the consistency of the art in East of West—which is always phenomenal and perfectly matched to the story—is such an important factor. At a glance I can tell who is who, even without glancing at the text and dialogue. Given that comic books and graphic novels are such a visual medium, this is really helps the reader with the flow of the story. If you’re too busy trying to figure out whose face is squashed across the page, then you’ve fallen out of suspension. That’s not good.

As for the story, it’s fantastically complex and ever deepening. With the exception of Knights of the Old Republic, this may be the series I’ve invested the most time in and I’m not ready to quit yet.

What I’ve Been Reading

I’m at 196/200 on my Goodreads challenge this year. Here are the highlights of the last month or two:

FredThe Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant by Drew Hayes

Fred is disappointed by his un-death. Vampires are supposed to be gloriously uninhibited, glamorously dark and gruesomely adept at, well, just about everything. He fails at the most basic level: feeding himself. But Fred is an awesome accountant and that is what keeps him going when his heart stops beating.

I loved Hayes approach to the paranormal. Through Fred, he dispels many myths about the supposed monsters in our midst with a tone of self-depreciation. Magic still plays by the rules and there are scary Others, but there is also Albert, who is the sweetest Zombie you are ever likely to meet. Seriously, he’s adorable. I wanted to adopt him by the end of the book. Fred is obviously taken by him also, as by the end of his numerous adventures, he acquires a posse of supernatural friends, each more freakish than the last.

The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tale of Fred was an Audible Daily Deal. Hayes gives Fred such a fantastic voice, I’d have enjoyed reading this as much as I did listening. Highly recommended for fans of paranormal with a hefty slice of humour.

LexiNo One Lives Twice (Lexi Carmichael Mystery, #1) by Julie Moffett

I loved almost everything about this book: the characters, the plot and, most importantly, Lexi. Her voice drew me right in. She’s quirky, but not too quirky; geeky, but not so out there regular folks can’t connect. She’s just the right combination of kick-ass and naiveté, with both extremes extended to a believable degree.

The plot is intriguing, and though the mystery aspect is revealed methodically along the way, the action keeps the pace flowing, right up until the last page.

Then there are the three main men: Slash, Finn and Elvis. The flirtation between all these characters was just enough to add spice, to make you wonder who might be Lexi’s match. I look forward to seeing her figure that out—or not—as the series continues.

GlitterlandGlitterland (Glitterland #1) by Alexis Hall

My Goodreads review: A tad wordy, but I laughed and I sniffled. Wonderful characterisation. (What? I’m never wordy. Why would you say that…)

This book deserves many more words (that’s not a joke), but when I wrote the review, I was probably in the middle of revisions or edits and just about out of words. So here are some more thoughts:

I love the way Alexis Hall writes. His characters are engaging and absorbing. Before you know it, you’re drawn into their story and their world, even if you don’t have a lot in common with either. This happened with Prosperity, which was like nothing else I’d ever read (this is a good thing), and it happened again with Glitterland.

Books with severely depressed heroes aren’t something to take lightly, but I’m a firm believer of everyone deserving a story, and everyone deserving a happy ever after (if you didn’t know I was a romantic by now, you’ve been reading someone else’s blog). What makes this book work are three things: Sensitivity, humour and hope. Though Ash goes to some dark places, there is always the hope he’ll come out the other side.

Then we have Darian, who is utterly and disarmingly wonderful.

DarkThe Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson

‘The Saga of the Seven Suns’ is the very definition of space opera, so I’m thrilled Kevin J. Anderson has returned to this universe. My enjoyment of this first book in the new trilogy is due in no small part to the narration of Mark Boyett. He does an amazing job of rendering tone and emotion.

It’s been a few years since I read the last book of the previous saga, yet when I dove into this book, the complete story came rushing back to me—and not just because Anderson does a fantastic job of layering in previous events. His universe is complex and coherent. It’s easy to dwell in and a delight to return to. As a writer, I’m jealous of it. It’s so complete!

Anyway, The Dark Between the Stars picks up twenty years after the end of the elemental war. There is a new threat on the horizon which may require all of the galaxy’s inhabitants to work together. Not enough time has passed for the elemental races to be at peace, however. Many of the wounds are still fresh.

As always, there are a number of personal stories threaded through galactic events, weaving a rich tapestry of plot and emotion. As a reader, I care about these people! Anderson also delivers some shocking blows this time ‘round.

I just finished the second book in the trilogy, Blood of the Cosmos, and need the next book ASAP!

WardedManThe Warded Man (Demon Cycle, #1) by Peter V. Brett

At first, I wasn’t sure I’d like this. The story starts out with a young protagonist, Arlen at age ten. The idea of reading his life didn’t excite me. I was looking for a ‘grown up’ novel. Then I got caught up by the soap opera of village life and met the other two main characters, Leesha and Rojer. By then, Arlen’s future was in peril and I had to read on.

Despite the quick progression of years, the characters are ‘grown up’ at very young ages. Their days are hard and their nights are cruel. The demons stalking the land every night have just as devastating an effect during the day, imprisoning the populace with fear.

Engrossing, emotionally absorbing and, at times, more exciting than is healthy. 🙂 And there’s an impossible love affair. Oh, and a hint this world didn’t always exist in such a primitive state.

I’ve already read the next two books in this series—The Great Bazaar and Brayan’s Gold and The Desert Spear—and am booking time to continue on to The Daylight War. The Desert Spear was a slower read as it covers much of the same ground as the end of The Warded Man, but it is a good and necessary retelling!)

KeepsPlaying for Keeps (Glasgow Lads, #1) by Avery Cockburn

This one is the surprise entry! I picked Playing for Keeps up last week after seeing a tweet about it being free (for a limited time). To be honest, I’m usually a little leery of self-published books, but I really liked the cover and having just finished reading Kate McMurray’s Rainbow League books (which are very entertaining), I found myself still in the mood to read about sweaty, sexy, sporty men.

First things first, this book is well written and well edited (in my humble opinion). Had I paid the $2.99 cover price, I’d not have been disappointed. Secondly, it’s a damned good story! The series is based around a Scottish LGBT football club, the Warriors. Fergus is the new captain—a position he inherited when his ex-boyfriend dumped him and the team to run off to Belgium. John approaches the Warriors regarding a charity football match to raise awareness for New Hope, a charity funding refugees from places where their preferences come with a death sentence. Add in the fact Fergus is Catholic (and half Irish) and John is Protestant (and the son of a proud Orangeman) and you have lots of delicious conflict.

I loved several aspects of this story. Fergus and John were wonderful characters—both flawed, both very human. I also liked the way Avery Cockburn dealt with the Scotts dialect. Very readable, with interpretation made very clear by context. I learned a lot about modern Scotland reading the book, which is a plus for me. Finally, the ending is very satisfying in that both characters have to put aside prejudice and preconception to make their relationship work.

I’m looking forward to reading the next book, Playing to Win. Also, I am possessed by the maddening desire to yell “Yaldy!” every time I’m excited.