1st Quarter Reads


“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” ― Stephen King

I love to read, I don’t like to write reviews. As a writer, I know how important good reviews are, and how poor reviews can hurt – not just an author’s pride,  but their chances to succeed as well.  Imagine if you had to go to a job interview wearing a sandwich board with a starred rating and testimonials from people what you’d done wrong, even if only minorly, on the projects you worked on at your last place of employment. That’d be terrible, right? I think so at least. I’m not saying book reviews aren’t necessary – I’m just illustrating why I feel a certain amount of pressure and guilt writing them if they’re not glowing.

And maybe I’m the weirdo here, but I don’t like to read too many book reviews either. (gasp…shh) When I’m deciding on a book to read I will read what the story is about  and then I flip to a few random pages and see if I can get a sense for writing style, techniques, and the author’s ability.  If I can get pulled in by those few pages then I’ll give the book a try. Mostly though, I stay away from reviews because they’re people’s opinion – and I don’t know what level of skill the reviewer has or what in their background would qualify them to analyze a book sufficiently enough to sway me. And there are often spoilers – I hate spoilers. So reviews – I’m not a fan.

But, as life usually goes, my hang ups are not those of others so we must all deal and learn to get comfy with all situations.  As a sort of compromise, I’ve decided to talk more about what I like as a reader. Maybe somewhere in this process I’ll figure out how to get comfortable with reviews.

Anyway, enough about me. Here’s what I read in the last few months.

Novels:

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones – I picked up this book after watching (multiple times) the movie it inspired.  The book is always better than the movie, but this being said in the context that the movie was created by Hayao Miyazaki really speaks volumes to just how well written the book was.  In the 6 hours it took me to sit down and read this from cover to cover I was whisked away to a realm where magic is really possible and people there in are just as real and complex as those in our world. Jones’s writing is flawless, as is her world building and character portrayal. This book is well worth a read – and there is so much to discover that the movie couldn’t touch on.  I’ll be reading more of her work here soon. Go, do yourself a favor, and buy Howl’s Moving Castle by Diane Wynne Jones.

Started, but not finished:
  • The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • Under the Dome by Stephen King

F&SF Magazine January/February 2014

The New Cambrian by Andy Stewart – a science fiction novelette about failed love on Europa in 2022. I don’t usually like space odysseys because aside from a few key scene descriptions they always read like they could be anywhere – they’re so focused on the adventures and the risks of space travel that they fail to discuss some of the most important parts of the human experience. However, this short story explored both the scenery as though it had been its own character, and it explored the human condition as a focus point rather than a secondary scene requirement. This story deals with love, loss, levels of grief, denial, selfishness, and loneliness. I was pleasantly surprised when I got to the end of the story and felt emotionally full and drained at the same time. This is a great story and I’ll be looking for more from Andy Stewart.

Visit Stewart’s website

The Man Who Hanged Three Times by C. C. Finlay is a wonderfully written novellette set in post-gold rush era California. Finlay’s mastery of era appropriate dialogue not only set the stage but allowed me to completely immerse in the tale. I won’t tell you what this story is about specifically because…spoilers, but I will say that this is an essential, must read story for novice writers.

Visit Finlay’s website

In Her Eyes by Seth Chambers – Wow, well here’s a perfect example of a story that holds no punches. In this 50 some-odd page scifi novella Chambers explores shape shifting in every gruesome detail – not gory, just intimately. From the basic human need for intimacy and companionship, to exploitation, the physiology of how shifting happens, and what would happen if the change affected brain chemistry. It’s complex, very complex and compelling all of the way through to the end. I was really touched by the characters he created – they were flawed and imperfect, they made shitty decisions, and were hard to handle, and most importantly, they felt real. Not the real that happens with romances, but the real that would happen if it were happening in real life. There was a bit at the end that I found a fascinating subconscious revelation in dealing with gender issues. I perhaps read into it further than what the author intended but that’s okay, I still found it enjoyable.

I couldn’t put it down…well, I could have – he broke it into nice neat little chapters, I just didn’t want to put it down. It was well worth the read.

Find more Chambers on Facebook

Short stories worth a mention:

The Story-Teller by Bruce Jay Friedman: I found this interesting as the ending reveals what hell would be like for writers (*shivers*).

The Lion Wedding by Moira Crone: This short has a great pace that feels close to running with the lack of overall details. That’s not to say the details were lacking, because they weren’t and what was there was beautifully written. It felt intentional, missing but not missed. Make sense? Anyway, great short about loving a beast (not beastiality) and what could come of really understanding your mate. Loved it!


Manga:

Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) by Hajime Isayama – The Japanese title translates literally to Advancing Giants, which makes more sense than the English title, but maybe it was for the sake of avoiding giving too much away that the title change was made ??? Regardless, here’s a story set in an alternate past/future universe where as a solution to the evils of humanity (in which endless wars are fought for property and ideology) a new species of being was created to unite humanity by attacking it. Low and behold, it wasn’t a solution and turns out that even as humanity is facing extinction, our genus is still a bunch of arrogant boneheads (to put it lightly). I’ve watched the anime which takes us through to about chapter 30 in the manga and read chapters 1-53 (+) and have to say this is probably one of the most unique story lines I’ve read. If you’ve only watched the anime you haven’t even begun to understand the level of weird this story goes. I highly recommend this manga. I don’t know where this is going, but wow, what a fun ride.

Learn more about Isayama on wikipedia

Mushishi by Yuki Urushibara – I found this after watching the anime by the same name. Most Animes are based off of some really cool manga, so if you like an anime and want more from the story, try finding the manga – you’ll likely be happy to find that the story is much more extensive in print. That’s why I looked for this story – I watched this anime, all 26 episodes in both subtitled and dubbed versions so many times that I probably have event the japanese script memorized. This is one of those exemplary stories that proves that a tale doesn’t have to be high action to be deeply interesting. Mushishi is about a wandering  medicine man (for lack of a better analogy) who solves peoples ailments by identifying the mysterious forces behind them. Each episode (and vignette in the manga) is complex, the solutions are mostly not ideal though there is always a resolution that makes the situation at least a little better. The characters are compelling and their histories feel real enough to become invested as a reader. Pick this one up if you can.

Find out more here, because I’m really not doing this series justice.


 Research, etc… (non-fiction)

Outlining your Novel by K.M. Weiland – This has some good information about the why’s and how to outline as well as some good personal statements from successful authors about how and why they outline.  This is worth picking up, but it shouldn’t be your only resource on outlining. I read through this book then went online and looked up outlining for the specific program I use to write (Scrivner) and found some good video tutorials and resources specific to what I’m looking to do. This is a good resource none the less and worth picking up.

Building Platform: What Most Authors are Getting Wrong  – a blog post by Anne R. Allen – Great information here – you should give it a read if you’re interested using your time more efficiently as a writer. (click the title to go there)

2 Must-Dos to Make Your Book Marketing Infinitely Easier – a blog post by Kimberly Grabas – another great resource to review.

(I actually read many blog posts on marketing and writing techniques but it only just occured to me to count them in this project so more will be listed in the next quarter)


I’ve started a couple anthologies as well, but I’ll talk about those stories in my next reading post. Until next time, happy reading!

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5 thoughts on “1st Quarter Reads

  1. I don’t enjoy writing reviews because I mostly write them for my fellow indie writers. In the desire to help them out, I find myself under pressure to offer rather undeserved praise at times. I’ve since decided to only post reviews when I truly love the work. Other than that, I’ll be sending notes privately.

    • You know, Bard, I feel exactly the same way and came to the same conclusion. I’m only writing about the stories or resources which I find enjoyable and useful. Not only does it allow me from having to be negative – or express thoughts that might not hold out should my skill level change, but it frees me to put that good energy out there. I won’t say something glowing if I don’t mean it, but if I mean it then it’s sincere and people should know when something is that good. Focus on the positives and let the negatives fade away.

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