Front Page, Musings

What I’ve Been Reading of Late

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Hard to believe it is April and a quarter of the year is finished. Flowers and trees are budding and blooming. People with allergies are sneezing and wheezing. Vampires like me squint and spit at the sun while sun lovers dance happily outside. Yes, the world is waking up from winter.

I did a fair bit of reading in the first three months. A lot of it was research for my WIP so I was learning about orchids and 19th century garden design. Big, heavy books filled with beautiful color pictures of places from all over the world that I am using to figure out how to create a fictional garden or two. Even with telling myself to only focus on only what is specifically relevant to the story, I still went overboard on the research.

When I wasn’t researching, I read for fun. My for fun reading consisted of a mixture of sci-fi/fantasy, historical fiction, and random genres.

My sci-fi/fantasy reads consisted of books from my book club. My favorite was The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. I won’t go into too much detail as I’m saving my full thoughts for the end of the year when it’ll appear on my favorite reads list. I just wanted to quickly say that I loved this book because the main character, Maia, is easy to root for. I also read for the first time Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and felt it was a book I might have enjoyed had I read it as a child. Reading as an adult I found it lacking a lot of what I look for in a book.

My historical fiction reading was light these first three months, although I am currently reading a charming early medieval times murder mystery. I did read Deanna Raybourn’s latest Veronica Speedwell book, A Treacherous Curse, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Definitely looking forward to Raybourn continuing the series since I love her style and her witty and smart main characters.

For the other bits of random reading, I turned to a list of books I wanted to read this year. I managed to check three of them off the list. The first was a re-read of 1984 by George Orwell. The first time I read it was back in high school and I understand it a lot better reading it as an adult. I also read Artemis by Andy Weir and enjoyed his sarcastic main character and reading about a set of colonies on the moon. My favorite out of the three was Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Not to be confused with the 1933 sci-fi movie called The Invisible Man nor the H.G. Wells novel of the same name. Ellison’s Invisible Man came out in 1952 and tells the story of the struggle of a nameless main character, a black man from the South who finds himself exiled to Harlem, as he tries to figure out his place in America. In reading a book that came out over sixty years ago, one sees how times have changed, but, unfortunately, how so many of the themes and expectations explored in the book are still the relevant today.

What have you read so far this year? What are you looking forward to reading? For me, I look forward to crossing more books off my ambitious to read list as well as the surprises awaiting me in book club.

 

 

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Musings

Weekly Musing: What Would You Bring?

If I ever had the misfortune to be stranded on a deserted island or find myself in some kind of isolation, whether by choice or forced, what books would I take with me and why? Assuming I’m allowed to bring reading material with me. I better be or bad things would happen quite quickly.

There is no way I could narrow this list down into just a handful of books. Hopefully I’m allowed to bring some boxes and get help with said boxes since I prefer paper books. Part of it would also to serve as shade if the place I was marooned on was too sunny or bright. Maybe even serve as kindling although to burn a book really has never been acceptable to me. But in desperate times who knows what one might do. If not, then the island or wherever, better have at least one electrical outlet to recharge my Kindle.

Since I’d have a lot of time on my hands, I’d pick a lot of series and sweeping epics since several hundred pages of worlds and characters would hopefully keep me distracted. Probably a good idea to bring a complete dictionary, too, since there are sure to be words I wouldn’t know and because, hey, it’s the dictionary and kinda big.

Let’s divide up my choices into the following categories.

Book I’ve Read:

Any book listed as one of my favorites on this site would clearly be on there. I’d also throw on there some of my most recent favorites like The Sleeping Dictionary, The Martian, A Confederacy of Dunces, American Gods, and Frankenstein.

Book Series:

Great thing about a lot of books published in the last couple of decades is a lot of them come in sets. Perfect for complete isolation.

A Song of Ice & Fire – If I were ever in this situation I would hope it would be after the series is completed.

Harry Potter

Outlander – I’ve only read the first book but with 8 books and counting there is plenty of new-to-me material to read and enjoy.

Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey series

Ngaio Marsh’s Det. Alleyn series

The Complete Sherlock Holmes

Authors I’ve Read Most, But Not All, Of Their Books:

I’m cheating just slightly on some of these because there is some crossover with other categories.

Ken Follett

Neil Gaiman

Isabell Allende

Kurt Vonnegut

George R. R. Martin

The Classics I Own But Haven’t Read:

Don Quixote

Gone With the Wind

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

Mark Twain

The Count of Monte Cristo

Overall I would want to bring with me a variety. A mixture of what I’m already familiar with and clearly enjoy as well as new stuff. Genres and writing styles would keep my mind engaged and save me from boredom. It’d also suit my somewhat fickle and indecisive nature. With no one else to have for company, these books with their hundreds of characters would become my friends to me. Their worlds would be a needed relief from the reality that would be my new norm.

Musings

Weekly Musing: The Joy of Reading a Good Book

Last week I wrote about some of the books I read this past year that didn’t quite float my boat. This week I want to quickly comment on some of the books I enjoyed this year. The books listed below cover the gamut from fantasy to historical fiction to works by the ‘masters’ of the field. There were more I could have added to this but in no particular order, here are just a few of the books I loved reading this year.

Dreamsongs Vol. 1 by George R.R. Martin: This is a collection of published short stories from early in Martin’s career and is also part autobiography. Before each section, Martin gives the reader a glimpse into his childhood influences as well as a history lesson in the development of the science fiction/fantasy genre. I enjoyed virtually every story in the volume, even his work published when he was a teenager and young man. I was blown away and jealous of his prose even at those early stages. It’s fascinating reading each story chronologically because you can see Martin’s growth as a writer and as a person. If you’ve only read Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (as I had), then picking up this volume of his earlier works is a must. His prose is lyrical and poetic and somehow he manages to convey absolute realism even in the fantasy worlds he’s created. I have Dreamsongs Vol. 2 and hope to read it in 2014.

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck: This year I wanted to start reading some of the classics, the giants of the literary world. Previously the only Steinbeck work I had read was The Grapes of Wrath, which was assigned reading in my English class senior year of high school. I enjoyed that book immensely because it was such an honest, simple look at the Depression. In addition to Cannery Row, I also read Steinbeck’s Winter of Our Discontent but I enjoyed this one more. Cannery Row has an interesting assortment of characters living during the Depression in Monterey, California who want to throw a thank you party for Doc, a marine biologist, who has been nice to the people that make up Cannery Row.

The book is a character piece not only of the people but the area itself. Steinbeck’s prose is simple yet poetic. Again, what intrigued me the most was the realism of the people in the book. Nothing is glamorous about any of them. It’s just a community of hard working people, even the bums work hard, coming together to put on a celebration desperately needed by all of them. It’s a simple, beautiful story.

Far in the Wilds by Deanna Raybourn: This novella, a prequel to A Spear of Summer Grass, is set in 1910s Kenya. I gobbled it up in a few hours and loved the world it is set in. A departure for Raybourn, she has as her protagonist a male, Ryder White, a rough and tumble guide in the wilds of Kenya. He is an immigrant from Canada and prefers to be alone with his troubles. His two best friends are Tusker and Jude, two rough and tumble women.

Raybourn’s descriptions of Kenya are vivid and I immediately felt I was there in the heat and sparse landscape of Kenya. I wish Ryder had been the protagonist in the follow up book instead of Delilah Drummond because I think his side of the story would have been more interesting.

19 Dragons by S.M. Reine: Another short but excellent book is 19 Dragons by S.M. Reine. These are not your typical dragons as the spirits of all but 1 inhabit non-dragon bodies. Set in a world above Earth, each dragon represents a province. The Device, a powerful object, has been stolen and the dragons have become mortal. Each one tries to figure out who took it and one by one; they either are killed by other dragons or die by their own hand. The Device is important to the salvation of humans in this world. The interactions amongst the dragons are interesting and each dragon’s story is told in 19 chapters.

It is short but Reine paints a vivid world and clearly gives distinctive voices to each dragon that represents a variety of people including a kind old man, a little girl, and an even android whose parts keep malfunctioning.

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion: I saw the movie version of this earlier this year and loved the spin on the zombie genre so I decided to the read the book. The book is different from the movie, aren’t they always, and tells the story of R, a zombie who can’t remember what his human name was. It’s a take on the story of Romeo and Juliet and adds a nice spin on the zombie genre. R lives in an abandoned airport and spends his days trying to find food. While hunting one day, he runs into a group of zombie killers headed by Julie, the daughter of the President. He eats her boyfriend’s brain but somehow absorbs his memories of the relationship with Julie. Julie is captured by R and taken back to the jumbo jet he calls home which is filled with records and other knick knacks he finds. R has still retained his humanity and even has a ‘wife’ and ‘children’ but that relationship quickly sours as his ‘wife’ and ‘children’ exhibit the more advance behavior of zombies we’ve all come to know and love (or loathe). R begins to fall for Julie and she slowly realizes not all zombies are bad and that with compassion and love, they begin to regain some of their human form.

I loved how the story was told in first person from R’s POV and while his brain seems a trifle too intellectual given his current state, it was a great twist on the Romeo and Juliet story it is inspired by and much more interesting than Romeo and Juliet in my opinion.

Fragile Things and American Gods by Neil Gaiman: I’m combining these two because it is so hard to describe adequately what the stories are about. Fragile Things is a short story and poetry collection which reveals the quirky mind of Gaiman. The world Gaiman writes about is full of bizarre and sometimes grotesque people acting out bizarre situations.

American Gods was inspired by a cross country trip the author took of America and many of the characters and places in it are taken from real people he encountered. It centers around Shadow, an ex-con recently released from jail. He loses his wife in a tragic automobile accident shortly before he is released. A man named Mr. Wednesday employs him as a bodyguard and together, they travel the country encountering a variety of people who are the earthly forms of gods and goddesses from various ancient and modern mythologies. It’s a difficult book to wrap one’s head around and made even more difficult by the main character being the strong, silent type. Haunted by the ghost of his wife who acts as a bit of a guide, the reader gets the sense that if Shadow completes his work, he will be able to overcome the grief of her loss.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: Another classic that I never read before. I enjoyed this one because of the themes of loneliness and isolation and think Shelley does a great job conveying those. The story is not what various movies make it out to be as the title does not refer to the monster but the man who creates him as part of an obsessive experiment to see if he can create life. He does with terrible consequences but his monster is not really a monster. He’s just a very lonely and sad creature trying to find his place in the world and connect with others but because of his huge size and disfigurement, is shunned by society. This causes him to act out the only way he knows how by erupting into uncontrolled, fear-based violence. Frankenstein himself experiences isolation and loneliness during the time it took him to create his monster as well as when he runs away from the monster who hunts him down after the refusal to create a mate. It’s not terrifying in the traditional sense and if you can get past the not-so-believable eloquence of the monster, it is well worth the read.

The Sleeping Dictionary by Sujata Massey: This book is beautiful. Following the story of an Indian woman from childhood to adulthood, it is set in India during the 1910s all the way up to India’s independence in 1947. The main character’s journey to true independence from a variety of oppressors, Indian, Anglo-Indian, and English alike is mirrored by India’s own struggle to shake the yoke of the English. After the death of her family from a cyclone hits their coastal village, her life turns tragic yet along the way she manages to obtain an informal education as she is a servant at an all-girls school catering to the offspring of the English. Despite this she is ignorant of the world. She retreats in English literature obtained by a favorite teacher and develops a close friendship with a daughter of a family whose caste is much higher than hers. Tragedy happens, though, which forces her to go on the run. That’s when her life becomes harsher. She is tricked into prostitution at the age of 15, a rape by a corrupt English police chief that results in pregnancy, the giving up of her child to a couple she trusts, until finally she achieves happiness. Her life is full of lies and she undergoes so many name changes and identities that I struggle to remember what her birth name was.

Massey’s style is enchanting and she fully uses all five senses to immerse the reader in this world. The political struggle of India to shake off England’s yoke mirror the protagonists only struggle to shake off the past she is running from. The main character is strong, stubborn, naïve, smart, and resilient and I was happy when she finally got beginnings of a happy ending she deserved.

There you have it. The books I couldn’t help but enjoy and love this year. What all of these books have in common were the ability to completely transport me. The characters grabbed me, the settings took me away, and the prose was strong. These authors all inspire me to create worlds and characters readers can identify with and to take them on a journey. If I could get to even a fraction of these authors talent, I would be thrilled.