Category Archives: What I’m Reading

The incredible cover art to Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie.

2014: Year in Review

Is it me or years getting shorter and shorter? It doesn’t seem that long since I was last trying to remember what I’d read and which I should write about. For newcomers to the blog, I always jump on the “year in review” bandwagon, but I review my year. Everyone else is listing the best books released in 2014, I’m listing the most impressive books I read in 2014, regardless of when they were published.

The way I figure it, “the cutting edge” sounds painful and something to avoid; I prefer the comfortable middle.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

So good it garnered a review of its own, this was one of the few instances when a book lived up to its hype. The main character used to be a spaceship and the society she comes from has no concept of gender. Original, imaginative and engaging, I’ve not read a space opera like this for a long while and I can’t wait to read more.

Unbroken Ties by M. Latimer-Ridley

The sequel to Legend Unleashed, which I reviewed a couple of years ago. There’s a world, under the one we know, of magic and wizards and werewolves. The war between the latter deepens in this installment and it also explores the ramifications of what happened to wizard Alastair Byron and werewolf Halvard Wolfram in the last book. Although it felt a little rushed at times, it was great to see that the Byron/Wolfram arc wasn’t tied up in a neat little bow; things get complicated for a while, which is how I like my fiction.

Min by Lola Rayne

A raunchy contemporary romance, I should state that I am totally not the target demographic for this novel. I would never usually pick up a book like this, but Rayne has an excellent style that’s filthy and funny and makes me smile; she could probably write a treatise on farming tools of the 1300s and it’d still be an enjoyable read. So although this type of book isn’t my cup of tea, I still enjoyed it immensely, and you should definitely give it a try.

You by Austin Grossman

You was a strange reading experience. The tale of a successful guy who quits his job to work at a video game developer set up by his schoolmates, I don’t think it works well as a novel; elements of the story disappear unresolved, some events have no reason for being other than the writer wanted to write about them, and frankly it’s all a little contrived. But I enjoyed it nonetheless, largely because it was the first time I’d read a novel that dealt with video games as if they mattered. So if you’re a video game geek, you’ll probably enjoy it, but otherwise you should probably read something else.

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

If, like me, you thought The Da Vinci Code was a decent if over-hyped summer blockbuster book, do yourself a favour: don’t read The Lost Symbol. It appears to be a mere clone of its older brother. Langdon on the run from the authorities. A strange, unstoppable figure enmeshed in his faith, hunting Langdon. Even the same historical figures and books are recycled at times, and you can see the “twists” coming from the first page. I really wanted to like The Lost Symbol but I hear Inferno is a better read?

What books did you read this year? Leave a comment and tell me all about them; I’m always looking for more to read!

Successful Projects

Today I’m going to write about my dad because he’s published a book. I’m not here to sell it to you, but I wanted to talk about it because he’s my dad and because the irony of him publishing a book before me needed addressing!

I’m very lucky to have my dad. He’s unfailingly supportive. He’s got a wife and four kids and he never seems to run out of energy in supporting all of us in whatever we want to do. Not because he feels he has to, but because he genuinely wants us to succeed. He will go above and beyond to help us reach our goals and I try to return the favour, though I doubt I could ever match his efforts.

He’s also quite inspiring. He used to work work for a submarine communications company until that industry decided to have its own recession ten years before everyone else. But the dust hadn’t even decided to rise, let alone settle, before he’d formed his own company, 3rd Sector Skills and set out on his own. Now he provides management, consultancy and training to voluntary organisations and charities (known as the third sector). He does what he’s good at and what he loves and he made it happen for himself. I’m insanely jealous of that.

And now he’s written a book. Running Successful Projects is a project management book, so I thought I’d spend most of the time confused. But Dad’s got a keep-it-simple-stupid attitude and he’s applied it to the book: plain English, a minimum of jargon and metaphors to help the digestion of big ideas. I understood the whole book, and I was very proud of him at that moment.

This post is unashamedly a promotion of my dad, because I think he’s great and he does good work. So if I think you should find him on Twitter or say hello on Facebook. Tell him I sent you. You could even buy the book if you like (it’s on Amazon as well)!

Thanks, Dad. But I’ll still make you pay for beating me to publication!

The Most Important Books of the Year

It has begun: No More Books 2012. I can’t buy any books until 1st January 2013. So I’ve had the past two weeks to buy all the books I’ll buy this year. How did I do?

Pretty well, actually. I felt stocking up would undermine the result I’m hoping to achieve (to wit, reading the backlog of books I’ve built up). So I’ve only bought three books in that time. Three books in two weeks: it’s a personal best!

They were:

In Her Name: Empire by Michael R. Hicks. This looks like a good SF romp with lots of action. I picked it up because it was free, to be honest, but I’m looking forward to reading it.

Don’t Fear The Reaper by Michelle Muto. This was recommended to me by Airicka Phoenix on Twitter. A great title, a great cover and a great premise, Don’t Fear The Reaper is a dark paranormal young adult book that I can’t wait to read.

Last but not least is Charlotte Bronte’s World of Death by Robert Keefe. This is a book I found towards the end of my dissertation but didn’t have time to read. I’ve wanted it for ages and the thought of not being able to buy it for ten months was just not acceptable.

So that’s what I bought with my last two weeks of book-buying freedom. I’m sure it says something about me. I’m just not sure what.

Why I Shall Stop Buying Books

We book lovers are a funny lot. Most people buy a book because they want to read it. They might even take it home and read it that evening. But book lovers, or a lot of them, don’t do that. We’re collectors. We take it home and put it on the shelf. We’ll read it later.

There’s something satisfying about buying a book. Browsing the shelves (real and virtual), looking at the covers, reading the blurbs and the first few pages. Picking the books you’ll take home is almost like picking a new pet.

But this has led to a large number of books on the shelves that have never been read. Dozens. Dozens of dozens. That’s just too many. Time for action!

I hereby instigate No More Books 2012! From March 1st until December 31st I solemnly swear not to buy a single book. For that time I shall read only the books I’ve bought but never read.

There are a few rules, of course, namely:

• gifts are okay; it would just be rude to refuse a gift;
• no rereading books I’ve read before;
• when a book purchase is vital to research for a novel and cannot be delayed, an exemption may be granted by the NMB2012 committee (namely my patient girlfriend);
• borrowing books is cheating; the purpose is to read the backlog of books I already own.

Update

Want to know how I got on? Check out the updates below:

The Most Important Books of the Year

No More Books 2012 Update

Lessons From No More Books 2012

Review of the Books of No More Books 2012

Am I a genius or a madman? Or simply misguided? Am I setting myself up for a spot on the evening news as “Man has breakdown in Waterstones”?

Eyes As Clean As Jesus

Even the most Luddite of readers will have heard whisperings of the self-publishing revolution made possible by the advent of the ebook. Armed with a shiny new ereader I’m jumping head first into that revolution to see if it’s worth all this fuss.

First up was Cornerstone by Misty Provencher. Misty has quite the story behind her first novel. She found an agent to represent her not once but twice before deciding to go it alone (you can learn more at her website. But what about the novel itself?

Well, it’s a young adult novel following the ostracised Nalena Maxwell. Her father is absent and her mother spends all her time scribbling notes over mountains of paper. Nalena spends her time trying to fly under the radar until Garret Reese, hot young stud, starts talking to her. Nalena soon learns that she is part of a special community and, not only that, but she is special herself: a Cusp, an unexpected divergence who could herald great or terrible things. Oh, and her father has shown up.

Cornerstone is a nice little gem, the story unchallenging but with some wonderful ideas and imagery that prevent it from being a popcorn read. Nalena is a great protagonist, instantly endearing and easy to empathise with. We have all, to varying degrees, experienced the social exile she has to live in, and Misty’s prose is heartbreaking in its reality. Nalena is also easy to respect because she isn’t desperate to be accepted by anybody and everybody, just the people that matter. Misty has a talent for dialogue, too; it was delightfully frustrating to watch her characters fail to say what was on their minds just like real people do.

My only real gripe with the novel was a scene in which Nalena gets a spirit guide. Perhaps I was looking forward to the climax too much, but I found myself impatient whilst reading and it seemed that the guide didn’t have much of a role to play. But this is the first part of a series and I imagine the guide concept will play a greater role in later installments. So, really, I shouldn’t be complaining at all until I’ve read the sequels.

Which I will be reading. And if a book passes the sequel test, what better recommendation can you give it?

Cornerstone is available for the Kindle in the UK and the US and, if you’re in America, in paperback too.

2011 Roundup

Ah, who doesn’t love end of year retrospectives? They’re a little nostalgic, often wear rose-tinted glasses and sum up a whole twelve months in fifty words or less.

This post won’t be like that. I’m not hip, you see. I’m not down with this new-fangled stuff you kids are listening to. While the world is raving about Bruno Mars, I’m discovering Bruce Springsteen. So my top five books of 2011 weren’t published in 2011; that’s just when I read them. So, in no particular order:

Skulduggery Pleasant
Derek Landy (2007)

A story about a magical skeleton detective, Landy’s book has heart and humour and fun. In short, it’s bloody brilliant.

Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Anne Brontë (1848)

A powerful tale of a woman who finds herself trapped in a marriage with a reprobate husband who is leading their young son astray. Her choice between duty and self-preservation is moving and admirable.

The Brontës
Juliet Barker (1994)

The definitive biography of a family that produced four creative geniuses. Barker manages to provide a wealth of information within a compelling narrative. Its size is formidable and intimidating, but worth it.

Encyclopaedia of Fairies
Katharine Briggs (1978)

Briggs is the definitive authority on fairies and the folklore and beliefs surrounding them. This book is full of fascinating tales and names and folkloric beliefs. It will quickly dispell any notions that fairies were just little people with wings; they play an integral role in the construction of our modern world.

What Alice Forgot
Liane Moriarty (2009)

The surprise hit of 2011 (for me). Alice takes a knock to the head and forgets the last ten years of her life. Instead of being in a fresh new relationship, she’s got three kids and a messy divorce. It sucked me in from the word go and I ached and laughed in all the right places. In fact, it may be my book of the year.

So, okay, so this isn’t much of a 2011 roundup. But they’re all great books, and, if you read them, 2012 will be a good year for books. For you, anyway.

5 Books a Writer Must Read

There’s plenty of books about writing out there, but it’s hard to tell which ones are any good. But trust me. If you’re a writer, you’re going to want to read these.

On Writing (Stephen King)

You don’t have to be a fan of King’s novels to enjoy this book. Part autobiography, part writing manual, this combines the art of the craft with the elements that went into forging that particular author. Parts of this book are still with me today; I can’t look at an adverb without wanting to reach for a red pen. Really.

The Creative Writing Coursebook (edited by Julia Bell and Paul Magrs)

The University of East Anglia’s creative writing course is incredibly competitive. For mere mortals, or perhaps those who just don’t want to wear a beret, this is the next best thing. Full of articles written by alumni, there’s a treasure trove of advice here. If you don’t like one article, you’ll probably like the next. Some of them are on the big things like editing. Some of them are on the little things like pockets.

Adventures in the Dream Trade (Neil Gaiman, edited by Tony Lewis and Priscilla Olson)

This one is a little hard to get hold of but is worth it for the reproduction of Gaiman’s blog, written as American Gods went from manuscript to shelf. It’s a fascinating insight into a world of proofs, meetings, proofs, editorial processes, proofs and cover designs. If you can’t find the book, you can read the archived blog on Gaiman’s website.

Elements of Style (William Strunk Jr., E. B. White)

Short and to the point, this book will clarify common grammatical and stylistic mistakes in writing. Is it James’ or James’s? Is there a comma after two in a list of one, two or three items? Very much a reference guide, but worth reading cover to cover at least once.

Characters and Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing) (Orson Scott Card)

Reading this book will encourage you to create your characters in much greater detail and depth. It will also help you properly identify the benefits and disadvantages in the different viewpoints of your characters and help you decide which ones to use and when. Card writes in an easy style with lots of practical examples, making a potentially thick and intimidating book simple to read. Applying the lessons, though, will take practice.

Every one of these books were instrumental in writing The Fey Man which, by the way, you can download for free today!

Listen, bud, he’s got radioactive blood too!

For anyone unaware of how comics work, here’s a quick rundown: the main characters die, people get sad, then the main characters come back to life. Sometimes other people dress up as the hero for a time, but we all know the real hero is never truly dead. Superman, Batman, Thor, we all know they’ll come back one day.

Recently, Brian Michael Bendis killed Spider-man. Peter Parker got shot with a gun and died. The next month the title was relaunched with a new character, Miles Morales. Same old same old.

But this new Spider-man has a brand new cast of characters. The old ones are nowhere to be seen. And, more surprising than anything else, we’re two issues in and Miles Morales still hasn’t put a costume on. That means two months have gone by without a spandexed punch-up!

Coupled with Bendis’ usual excellent dialogue and careful plotting, I’m starting to wonder if this new Spider-man could be here to stay. My spider sense is tingling. But in a good way.

Bare Bones Reading

My ebook experiment has stalled somewhat. This hasn’t surprised some of my friends and family, who pointed out that reading a book on an iPhone was like trying to watch a film on your watch. But, in actual fact, the book I’ve picked works very well on the phone. Yes, the small, back-lit screen is far from perfect. But, because it is always with me and the book is written in very short, digestible chapters, the two marry well. I can pull out the book whenever I have a minute to spare and read a whole chapter. That’s quite a nice feeling.

But it’s not suitable for extended reading periods, and so I’ve picked up the next book on my list. It’s one I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time. It’s called Skulduggery Pleasant and it’s by Derek Landy. It’s a kid’s book, but it came highly recommended and, to be honest, I was sold by the description alone. It’s about a magical skeleton detective. Let me reiterate:

A magical skeleton detective.

How cool is that?!?!

James’ First Ebook

I am not dissimilar to many other book lovers in my methods for embracing ebooks. Which is to say I have treated them with distrust, bad-mouthed them behind their backs and possibly even stolen their post (although that can never be proven). However I have known from day one that this is a somewhat churlish attitude to take. After all, I jumped on the music download bandwagon (no pun intended) without qualms. Why not the same with ebooks?

So it was with some trepidation that I bought my first ebook yesterday. The trepidation was not due to the book itself. Having read a sample I was confident that it would continue to be darkly humorous, entertaining and depressingly informative in equal measures (it’s Frank Chalk’s It’s Your Time You’re Wasting if you’re interested; I was). The trepidation is more from the prospect of reading, for the first time, an entire book without holding a book in my hands. I’m also aware that this experiment isn’t perfect as I will be reading it on an iPhone since I don’t own an ereader.

Wish me luck!