Reporting from Mount TBR (May Edition)

My plan to read less in 2021 is coming along nicely. Normally, by the end of May, I’d have put down a hundred or so books. Last time I “noticed” the number of books I’ve read this year, it was 50-something. This noticing was incidental, by the way. A part of my desire to reduce the number of books I read was my desire not to keep track of the numbers, but I still occasionally play with the data in Notion, sorting by author and subject, and the number of titles pops up at the bottom of the chart. I look. It’s hard not to look. I really do love data.

My plan to climb Mount TBR is also coming along nicely. I read three titles from my teetering backlog—although two of them were audiobooks, so there was no teetering involved. Still, it was nice to sort two digital files from Not Started to Finished.

Continue reading “Reporting from Mount TBR (May Edition)”

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”

What I’ve Been Reading

I have participated in the Goodreads reading challenge for six years now. It’s the only challenge I’ve ever actually completed – probably because it’s based on the number of books rather than specific titles. This year I lowered my goal from 200 to 100, thinking I wouldn’t have as much time to read. I’m at 97 books right now and June has only just begun, so I think I’ll be adjusting the total back to 200.

Apparently I found time to read. I also found some great books!

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, #1) by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

I hardly need to recommend this book. It has won all the awards, and has over 400 five star reviews on Amazon. I’m going to recommend it anyway, because it’s just that good, and because of the sweet nature of the romance, it will appeal to a wide audience.

I love coming of age stories and I adore the trope “friends to lovers.” Both are handled beautifully in this slow burn love story about two boys whose friendship is all about discovering the secrets of the universe – and themselves. Ari’s struggle to accept himself will break your heart. The way he cares for and protects Dante will put it back together again. The final chapter is just beautiful. Continue reading “What I’ve Been Reading”

Review: Undertow by Michael Buckley

Undertow (Undertow #1)

Undertow by Michael Buckley tells an ugly story. Three years ago, the Alpha arrived on the beach of Coney Island, New York. They’re made up of mixed races of sea dwelling creatures – many of whom appear to be plucked for our very own myths and legends. Calling themselves the Sons and Daughters of Sirena, Triton, Nix, and so on, the Alpha set up camp on the beach and begin to intermingle with humanity. The results are as predictable as they are disheartening. Humanity rejects the castaways – forcing them to remain on the beach where a tent city soon overtakes the coastline. It is another slum on the edge of a city already rife with racial tension.

Three years on, a program is devised to integrate the Alpha children into local schools. It is hoped this will foster a relationship between the younger generation that will filter back through both sides of the not so cold war. This is where Lyric Walker comes in. From the beginning, we know she is different. She professes to be a wild thing, but the arrival of the Alpha has tamed her teenaged rebellion. Still she is far from a model student, and holds the respect of the kids she used to run with. For this reason, she is chosen to partner one of the Alpha kids. She and Fathom – the prince of the Alpha – are supposed to meet for an hour each day and get to know one another. The notion to show one of the cool kids taking the first steps toward equanimity is hopelessly naïve – so much so, even Lyric thinks it’s a bad idea. But the arbiter of this farce is a government agent, and he knows all the Walker family secrets.

For weeks, Lyric and her friends brave the picket line to attend school. Violence erupts almost daily – human against Alpha and human against anyone who might show the slightest sympathy for the people from the sea. The Alpha, with their rigidly stratified society and warped ideas of honour, are just as antagonistic. The violence escalates toward outright horror. Students are bullied for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Any willing contact with the Alpha is an unforgiveable sin. A new gang gives rise to an abusive order until school is finally closed due to a gunman gaining access and running rampant through the halls.

In the midst of this ugly representation of our society, attraction blooms between Lyric and Fathom – which is the hinge upon which the rest of the book balances for the space of a couple of chapters. Then the door slams shut – in the wrong direction. What was ugly becomes foul.

I found the last third of Undertow increasingly difficult to read. Not because it isn’t well written – it is. Michael Buckley’s prose draws you quickly into the story and carries you effortlessly forward. From the beginning, the pacing matches the rhythm of our teenaged protagonist, Lyric Walker, as she flips from obsessing about her wardrobe to worrying concepts larger than herself – her family and their fate, her neighbourhood and the unclear picture she has of a future that includes both humanity and the Alpha. But when I wanted more outrage on her behalf regarding the way her friends and counterparts treat the Alpha, what I got instead was factual reportage of the horror unfolding before her young eyes. Some scenes are very visceral, but without Lyric’s emotional subtext, they didn’t carry quite the punch they might have. There is one incident in particular that shows a severe lack of compassion on her part – the thought is there, but not enough time is given for those seeds to take root.

The other fault of the last third manifests at around the same time as the pacing suddenly switches into overdrive with hours and days passing in a matter of sentences – if they’re referenced at all. It’s clear the book is racing toward a climax, and it is exciting. Unfortunately, I still needed time to recover from the event that is clearly the beginning of the end. I understand that war doesn’t allow that time, and this is – if nothing else – a novel of war. But this turning point is vastly important, and it ends up feeling almost meaningless.

Along with the jerky pace and lack of emotional depth, the last third of the book delivers a number of plot conveniences, many of which could have been powerful tools in the reader’s kit if delivered sooner. Had we known the reason the Alpha arrived, we might have had more sympathy for them. Maybe. With the super late delivery of the big outstanding “why”, however, I couldn’t help wondering if the author only figured out a compelling enough reason at the same time he delivered it.

Ultimately, I did not dislike the book. In fact, I enjoyed the first three quarters, despite the uncomfortable itch in my head, the one that refused to believe humanity could be so petty and cruel, and that we’re raising our children to be intolerant. That we can be as thoughtless as a herd of pack animals goaded onto action single, outraged voice. Regardless of my horror, I gave Mr. Buckley his due for having the wherewithal to cast us in such an ugly light. But when I looked for the flipside – the brightness I believe is within all of us – I found it tarnished and dull. I wanted the relationship between Lyric and Fathom, that hinge, to open the door again. To allow the light in. But the lack of emotional punch meant I didn’t truly believe in the relationship. To reuse my odd metaphor, the hinge wasn’t strong enough.

Despite this, I would recommend Undertow to readers of Young Adult fiction. It might not end up necessary conversation starter about bullying and intolerance, but it does deliver a unique story, lots of action, and a young heroine who has some admirable qualities. Lyric is unflinchingly loyal to her family and friends, and has a true moral compass. It will be interesting to see what direction this takes her in in the follow up novel, Raging Sea, due out February 2016.

Reviewed for SFCrowsnest.

Review: The Summer I Became a Nerd

The Summer I Became a Nerd by Leah Rae Miller

This book was adorable. Or should I say adorkable? Maddie is a closet nerd. She loves comic books with a passion I normally reserve for brand new science fiction hardcovers. She likes the smell, the feel of the paper, the colour of the ink and, of course, the stories. She’s a junkie. Since being all but booed off the stage after dressing as her favourite comic book character in grade school, however, she’s hidden this part of herself from her friends. She’s become a cheerleader and landed herself a quarterback boyfriend.

During an epic comic book crisis, she meets Logan. She knows him, but didn’t know he worked at The Phoenix, the local comic store. She remembers Logan from school—because she’s been stalking him, kinda, secretly, ever since he was nearly expelled for wearing pornography (a t-shirt wearing a Power Girl). I imagined this drawn in frank Frazetta’s style, by the way. All skin and curves.

Logan knows her, too, much to her surprise (he’s had eyes for her since the t-shirt affair as well).He’s a nice guy, though, so he doesn’t threaten to expose her secret. Instead, he invites her into his world of LARP gaming and comic book conventions. Maddie is easily seduced, but she is reluctant to let go of the persona that made her popular, she’s worked too hard. And so begins the web of lies that like all such, eventually collapses under its own weight.

This is not a new story, but in the hands of Leah Rae Miller, it’s delightfully told. Maddie’s voice is sweet and fresh. She really is a nice girl, she’s simply afraid to express herself. Be herself. Which, if we all think back, is high school all over, right? After several missteps, she sorts herself out and everyone lives happily ever after. I hope.

Note: The Summer I Became a Nerd is appropriate for young teens as well as young adults. The romance is very sweet (and never sweaty).