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?

 

This is the Future, Baby (“What Happened in Vegas…” Blog Hop)

Vegas-Hop-Graphic

To celebrate marriage equality, twelve authors have written twelve short stories answering the question “What Happened in Vegas…” In my story, “This is the Future, Baby“, I explore what happened to Vegas.

This is the Future, Baby

by Kelly Jensen

The holo outside of Destination Weddings darkened and the projection stuttered as the program restarted, a bud of light growing in the center of the virtual marquee. The light expanded and diverged like an old fashioned firework. Each streamer arced out from the display. Kale ducked as a point of light sailed past his ear. He could have sworn he felt a flash of heat. Turning, he checked to make sure Toby hadn’t been in the path of any errant streamers. His lover stood well clear by chance alone. Head tilted back, lips parted, he was watching the lights dance over and around him with the wonder of a small child.

“Look, Kale! It’s a map!” Toby spun around, arms flying out from his sides, mouth open in a wide grin.

Around him, shimmered a map of the world connected by a ghostly network of lines. Instead of a mall on the 56th level of the dirt scraper, Minneapolis Deep, Kale stood somewhere in the middle of Europe, the bright light of Paris blinking just to his left. Toby was lost somewhere in the south west, the lights of scattered cities glittering around him. He reached out to tap the closest point and the holo projection flickered.

“You have selected Las Vegas, Nevada. For more information on this exciting destination, please step inside the store.”

Kale frowned. “This map is seriously out of date. Vegas is nothing a strip of broken hotels in a desert valley.” And had been since the great drought of 2020. Kale tapped the point next to him. “What about Paris?” Europe still had surface water, and most of their cities towered above the ground instead of below.

Thanks to Charley Descoteaux for hosting my story. You can read the rest of my story here. 🙂 Or download a copy for yourself!

Review: Lockstep

lockstep (1)The lockstep is the weirdest concept I have ever come across. By hibernating, the population of a far flung colony can exist on almost nothing but the power required for the deep sleep modules. While they slumber, bots tend the day to day activities, harvesting and harbouring resources to sustain the colony when it wakes, and to fuel a journey across the stars to another colony for the purpose of trade. If they sleep on the ship, they can awaken at that other colony, having travelled multiple light-years ‘overnight’. If that other colony hibernated at the same time they did, then they, too, would have years of harvested materials to trade and the resources for their own journey elsewhere. Sleeping planets in a wide network become linked by a schedule of hibernation that allows trade and faster travel. But what happens to all the years falling away in between?

That was the question that poked me throughout Lockstep. Karl Schroeder expends quite a bit of effort toward explaining the theory and the math and I sort of got it. I understood the concept enough to take it as given, so I could get on with reading the story. But a sense of urgency gripped me as years floated away between periods of hibernation. On many of the planets, folks ‘wintered-over’ or hibernated for thirty years at a stretch. They’d wake for a month, burn through their gathered resources and then go to sleep again. Even though I understood it, it felt like just another night to them, I could not get over the wasted time, the years that went by unchecked. I missed them on their behalf.

When years hit the ratio of fourteen thousand real-time to forty actually lived, I had to cast myself adrift from the loss. It was too impossible to contemplate.

‘But what is the book about?’ I hear you ask. Well, it’s about a boy who is lost to time. Toby McGonigal set out to claim a moon. Once he put a metaphorical stamp on the rock, his family of intra-galactic homesteaders would have successfully mapped the portion of space surrounding the planet Sedna and could rightfully call it all theirs. An accident tosses him off course and out of time. He wakes over a dark planet, figures out he is lost and decides to hibernate again, for the last time. He is surprised to wake up again and even more surprised to find that fourteen thousand years have passed. Then he learns about the lockstep and the lockstep worlds. Hint: Toby grasped the concept more easily than I did. I think he felt the passage of years as keenly, however.

Toby is not simply a boy out of time, however. He soon discovers he has a legacy, one that has had thousands of years to germinate. He is a legend awakened, the emperor of time. Who seeded the myths? His grieving family. Their search for him and the wait for his return, started the trend of hibernation, creating the lockstep. Toby is the heir to that and all it entails. But not all of his family are happy to see him. In fact, they seem bent on his destruction. Why? Answering that question would be giving up the plot of the book.

Lockstep is pretty unique, as far as far future Science Fiction goes. The concept is really out there. The world-building matches the insane passage of time, though. Periods of enforced hibernation mean people can live in really bizarre circumstances on worlds perhaps only Karl Schroeder can dream about. I enjoyed learning about these different worlds, from concept to creation, and how different life could be in space. The genetic advancements were fascinating. The denners, cat-like creatures that served as an alternate hibernation system, were really cute. I want one. Of course, if I woke up tomorrow to find thirty years had passed, I might want my money back.

As expected, the inhabitants of these worlds have some strange ideas. Here’s where having a boy out of time as the narrator really works. The reader experiences these differences with Toby, which allows the author to insert small chunks of exposition that might otherwise feel heavy. Schroeder doesn’t dump all over the page, though. The explanations are in small, digestible portions that integrate seamlessly with the story.

Toby is an interesting mix of boy and man. He’s believably smart and reasonably sympathetic. At seventeen, his thoughts often felt immature. His lapses in judgment are easily forgiven; he’s lost a near unfathomable amount of time and forty years with his family. The universe is full of strangers living strange lives. Of his new friends, I think I liked Shylif the most. His story really bridged the gap between ‘fast worlds’ and the ‘lockstep’ worlds, fast worlds being those that exist fully in real time without hibernating.

I’ve read Karl Schroeder before, and have admired his imagination before. I love that for every twenty authors out there writing the regular space opera, which I need regular doses of, there is another guy dreaming up the impossible. If he writes another time-bending novel, I’ll check my anxiety at the front cover and leap right in.

Reviewed for SFCrowsnest.

Review: Flight of the Silvers

Six ordinary people survive the end of the world. They are visited by three ethereal beings and given a silver bracelet. Moments before the sky collapses on them, they are surrounded by protective bubbles and have to watch everything and everyone they care about disappear. When the dust settles, they find themselves on an alternate Earth, one where the discovery of a new elements has changed the way people live. Time and space can be manipulated. Cars fly and food can be freshened by a household appliance. There are machines that can reverse near fatal wounds and suits that allow the wearer to travel at twenty times the normal speed.

I could list the wonders of this new world for a while, but I’d rather let you discover them for yourself when you read the book. You should read this book!

Each traveller is collected and brought to a facility where they will spend time adjusting to the facts. This is when we get to know our cast of characters. We have David, the young and frighteningly intelligent Australian. Mia, barely more than a girl, who seems rather meek, but extremely compassionate. Zach, the artist. He’s smart, too. They all are. He’s also very observant. Theo is a bit of a mystery at first. He’s quite a bit more to the group than the token Asian. Then we have the sisters Given, Hannah and Amanda. Hannah is busty and gutsy. She quickly befriends each member of the group – the male members of the group. Her sister is more intense. Amanda is all about control. She takes Mia under her wing.

Nine silver bracelets were issued to the group, which will be referred to throughout the novel as the Silvers. Two of the other travellers suffer accidents of transport and circumstance and one slips away to mess with his fellows. He’s a serial nutcase. (Bit of an inside joke there. Read the book and you’ll get it.)

While at the facility, our ordinary travellers begin to develop extraordinary abilities. They’re easily explained. The alternate Earth has been manipulating time and matter for close to a century but machines are required. People can’t run twenty times as fast or punch through walls, reverse an overripe banana to an edible state, see ghosts, send notes through portals or predict the future. Not outside of urban myth, anyway. Even on this alternate Earth, not all is as it seems.

There is little rest for the weary as the Silvers are forced to take flight. They have questions, big and small. Where did their abilities come from and why do they have them? What happened to their world? Why were they chosen? Who were the three eerily beautiful strangers? What happened to those they left behind? Who is trying to kill them? Who is helping them? What awaits them in Brooklyn, New York?

Some of these questions are answered during their cross country run, but more are raised. The Silvers struggle to come to terms with their extraordinary abilities and with each other. They squabble like siblings and the two sisters almost seem to revel in their rivalry. Loyalties clash and divide and blood is spilled. There are moments when no one knows who to trust, amongst themselves or even themselves. Leaps of courage and faith are required, which bring out the humanity in these extraordinary characters.

If you couldn’t tell already, I loved ‘The Flight of the Silvers’. I found it very difficult to put it aside to deal with my own life and by the time I got to the four-hundredth page, I simply gave up trying. I informed the family that I would return about then and cuddled up on the couch with the final third of the book.

The best thing about the novel, what keeps the pages turning, is that the reader has as little idea what is going on as the characters do. The only way to solve the mystery is to keep reading. Thankfully, that is easy to do. The story is really different and imaginative. The characters are distinct. They develop over the course of events, as they adapt to their abilities and circumstances.

The writing is great. There is some interesting word use, otherwise the narrative is so fluent that it supports the story invisibly. I love it when that happens. The omniscient pov takes a while to get used to. It works for the book, though. If we got any deeper into any individual heads than passing thoughts, it would become too much that character’s story. A final note on the writing: I admired the way the author managed to portray villainous characters without resorting to crude language. Instead, Daniel Price exposes their evil intent through carefully chosen dialogue and nefarious deeds.

The speculative elements are seamlessly integrated. The setting is Science Fiction/alternate reality, but it doesn’t read that way. The world they end up in operates very differently, but there are enough familiar elements that you don’t feel as if you’re trying to learn a new culture. Alternate America is more interesting than distracting. Also, the story is a mystery, a really deep and twisty one. I honestly had no idea what was going to happen. Half-way in, I had enough information to make a few predictions, but I wasn’t confident in any of them. For all I knew, everyone was going to die…and the amazing and scary part was that that would have been an acceptable ending. It would have worked.

It really is an amazing book. I’m thrilled to be able to write such a positive review so early in the year. Perhaps it’s a harbinger of good things to come. Meanwhile, I’ll be looking forward to the next instalment, even if it is another six hundred pages that entices me to abandon my family all over again.

Written for SFCrowsnest.