Okay, so I know that summer is already almost half over. (What? I know, right?) But there are still six more weeks for summer reading--you've got plenty of time!
I was going to post about only one or two of my recent reads and then realized that I've read quite a few books in the last few months--okay, year--that I haven't peeped about, so here's my take on a few of my recent reads. (Six of the seven are indie authors or were published by small presses, and several are by Canadian authors. Can you guess which ones?)
Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti
Taya soars over Ondinium on metal wings. She is an icarus — a courier privileged to travel freely across the city’s sectors and mingle indiscriminately among its castes. But even she can’t outfly the web of terrorism, loyalty, murder, and intrigue that snares her after a daring mid-air rescue. Taya finds herself entangled with the Forlore brothers, scions of an upperclass family: handsome, brilliant Alister, who sits on the governing council and writes programs for the Great Engine; and awkward, sharp-tongued Cristof, who has exiled himself from his caste and repairs clocks in Ondinium’s lowest sector. Both hide dangerous secrets, in this city that beats to the ticking of a clockwork heart…
I bought this book at last year's When Words Collide conference in Calgary. I was intrigued by the cover. This book hit on two of my favourite things--fantasy and steampunk.
Despite that, I was a little nervous that the whole "fantasy steampunk" thing would come off as kitschy and unoriginal. Was I ever wrong! Ms. Pagliassotti's world is utterly creative, and just keeps getting more interesting the further into the book you read. Once I got started, I literally could not put this book down. Thank goodness that it wasn't longer or my family may have started complaining. However, I'm looking forward to reading more books in the series. Which I shall ration myself on in order to prevent calls from Child and Family Services. :-)
Seeing the Light by E.C. Bell
Marie Jenner has never had much luck. Her job sucks. Her apartment — the one with the unbreakable lease — has a ghost. And worst of all, her mother won’t let up about her joining the “family business.” Since that business is moving the spirits of the dead on to the next plane of existence and doesn’t pay at all, Marie’s not interested. She wants a normal job — a normal life. That’s not too much to ask, is it?
Apparently, it is. Even when she applies for the job of her dreams, Marie doesn’t get what she wants. Well, not entirely. She does get the job — but she also gets another ghost. Farley Hewitt, the newly dead caretaker of the building, wants her to prove his death is not an accident, and she’s pretty sure he’s going to haunt her until she does.
All she wants is normal. She isn’t going to get it.
Another treasure from last year's WWC (my copy is even personalized by the author!), this was a fun, light read that I absorbed on a winter Saturday. Set in Edmonton, Alberta (yay!), this first installment in Ms. Bell's Marie Jenner Mystery series was a lot of fun. I don't normally go in for ghosts, but this "ghost story" is more along the lines of the classic Patrick Swayze movie (without the romance--there is a romantic element, but it's not with a ghost, thank goodness!) than a classic horror.
This was a read-it-in-one-day book for me. Literally. Like I pulled it off my shelf in the morning and didn't drag my butt to bed until nearly 2 a.m. the next day.
... Which is a small taste of the voice that Ms. Bell created for her very likeable main character, Marie Jenner. Marie also felt very real, as did the (foul-mouthed!) ghost who becomes her first project--whether she wants it or not. But Farley's case is different--the metaphysical universe has applied strange rules to his afterlife, and Marie can either help him or be driven insane by him.
I loved the pacing and the setting in a familiar Canadian city. I often thought it would make a great movie.
I didn't knock off a star, but pretty much my only gripe with the book is that there were far more copy-editing mistakes throughout than I normally can endure, including several chapters where one minor character's name is mixed up. Hopefully they fix this in future file edits.
All in all, I felt like it was good use of my very limited reading time.
Wedding Bands by Ev Bishop
Ditched by her high school sweetheart, Callum Archer, on the night they’re supposed to elope, Jo Kendall casts out on her own, brokenhearted.
Over the years, Jo reels in a life she loves, centered on the outdoors, fishing (favoring a lucky wedding band lure), and her fine dining restaurant—a life that crashes away when her husband and business partner cheats her, leaving her bankrupt and alone.
Then her uncle dies, bequeathing Jo and her sister, Samantha, his rural property. Jo returns to Greenridge, determined to build a new business and permanent home—without the help of a man. Unfortunately Samantha wants her inheritance in cold, hard cash and hires a lawyer to get it for her, a lawyer who turns out to be none other than Jo’s long-lost love, Callum.
Jo’s fledgling plans—and her heart—are at risk once more.
If Jo can fight her insecurities, she might end up with a wedding band that doesn’t come with a sharp hook. But should she risk everything she’s worked for, yet again? Before she can decide, she needs to know: can a lost love truly be reclaimed?
I won this as a door prize at--guess where--last year's WWC. (I'm cruising through the stack because this year's WWC is right around the corner and I want to buy more books!) I met Ev, and she is one of the nicest people ever. So, when I finally got to start reading fiction again this week, this was the book I started with.
I don't read a ton of straight romance, because they are usually more about lust than love. However, this was a book about exactly the kind of sweet romance I love to see--not a flash-in-the-pan, love-at-first-sight kind of thing, and not all doe-eyed and rose-tinted, but rather something that stands the test of time and is based on more than just hormones.
This was a quick, easy read. I loved that it was set in BC (though was disappointed that it used American spelling because of the Canadian setting), and it was fun to hear some regional colloquialisms from my neighbouring province which I never knew existed.
My only real complaint, and the reason for a four- instead of a five-star rating, is the exceptional number of grammatical and punctuation errors. Someone in the editing process seemed to have a particular dislike for hyphens, which is unfortunate, because hyphenating the many whimsical and oh-so-lovable compound adjectives in this book would have made it infinitely more readable. However, if that's my biggest beef (and as a writer, I'm probably more sensitive to editing issues than the average bear), that's not bad.
In general, I recommend this book. I'm intrigued by the teaser for the next one, as I am already invested in the characters--I'll just have to decide if I'm willing to endure the grammar and punctuation issues to find out what happens to them.
House of Thistles by Lanette Kauten
All Allie wants is to forget her past and raise her teenage daughter, but when her sister offers a room to a childhood abuser, guilt and memories flood her mind. When her daughter gets hurt, and Allie has an afternoon tryst with her daughter's psychologist, she realizes her tightly controlled world is unraveling. The only way for her to go forward is to unlock the memories of what happened to her on the day her parents died.
I recently met Lanette online after she guest-posted on Kristen Lamb's blog about writing gritty literary fiction. Since that is exactly the kind of book I am about to release, and I was experiencing some major self-doubt about the content at the time, I befriended her on Facebook and she very generously shared some encouragement and advice with me.
Seeing as she also writes pretty gritty stuff, I thought I'd acquaint myself with her work and read House of Thistles on my recent holiday.
The book was, indeed, gritty, and the story was intriguing enough to keep pulling me along with it. The main character, Allie, is someone whom I wasn't sure I liked much at first but who had enough admirable qualities that I was still rooting for her. The more you find out about her past and see how she is dealing with it in the present, how she keeps trying, the more you want her to succeed.
I've done research on how trauma affects memory for my current book and thought that Ms. Kauten did an excellent job of incorporating memory blockage into her plot in a very believable way. Not to mention how each member of the family dealt with trauma. I felt like I got a peek into someone's life completely unlike my own, and I was grateful for it.
As per usual when a book contains a distracting number of grammatical and spelling errors, I knocked off a star. There were weird uses of punctuation in here, too. I also thought that some of the scenes were a little jilted and the characters behaved in slightly odd ways for what was happening at the time (not "odd-but-justified-by-what-they'd-been-through" but "odd-because-no-one-does-that-in-that-situation" or "odd-because-we-missed-some-steps-to-get-there".) However, it's not enough to put me off of her other books. I look forward to getting to know both Ms. Kauten and her work better.
Tales from the Longview series by Holly Listle, Episodes 1 & 2
Episode 1: Born from Fire; Episode 2: The Selling of Suzee Delight
When love is crime, who will save the guilty?
After falling in love and fathering a child, a young criminal refuses to voluntarily throw himself into a lake of fire to gain his community's forgiveness. So he's sentenced to death and sold to the owner of a spaceship that buys criminals like him. But the ship and its crew are not quite what they appear to be.
MEET THE LONGVIEW - An Ancient Spaceship Resurrected To Transport Conspiracy
Inhabited by a crew of misfits fleeing nightmare pasts, with a cargo of Condemned slated to die at the hands of the highest bidders, and with a passenger roster made up exclusively of people NOT who they claim to be, The Longview serves the hidden agenda of an eccentric recluse bent on playing puppetmaster to all of Settled Space.
When slavery is virtue, who will fight for vice?
When Suzee Delight, famous Cheegoth courtesan, murders the five most powerful Pact Worlds' Administrators during a private summit, the owner of The Longview Death Circus struggles against conspiracy to win the bidding for her execution. Meanwhile, Suzee’s powerless supporters race to save her, while the leaders of worlds pull strings to guarantee her death.
Ms. Lisle has a well-developed world called Settled Space which she created for her Cadence Drake series. I've never read that series, but when she recently notified her fans that the first novella of this off-shoot series was available for free (which, at the time of this writing, it still is), I decided that it was about time I got a sci-fi fix and downloaded it. Then read it in an afternoon. And, not nearly satisfied, I read the second book the next day.
The world is completely horrifying--partly because it feels a little too real. The people in power are corrupt. Corporations run amok with little-to-no government intervention in their inhumane practices on their franchised worlds. And for those at the mercy of this culture's backward morals, it makes perfect sense that a death ship--chartered to execute those condemned to die--becomes a safe haven for the lost.
Or does it? The mysterious owner of the ship is far from altruistic, and I can't help wondering what his angle is. However, for those he uses as pawns, their lives are generally left better than when he found them, so I can't wait to see what else the Longview series has in store.
Of particular note was how Ms. Lisle used Suzee Delight's commercialized slavery as a soapbox to both her world and her readers to encourage them to do what they love, be unique and use their voice to change the world for the better--the exact message she wraps into every lesson of her non-fiction writing classes and teachings.
Once Beyond a Time by Ann Tatlock
A troubled family, whose pastor father resigned in disgrace from a church in suburban Philadelphia, moves to an old house in Black Mountain, North Carolina. They soon discover that their new home, nearly hidden from view on the side of a mountain, is no ordinary place. The family can see and speak with people who appear and disappear seemingly at will. Some of the visitors seem to have lived there in the past. More mysteriously, some will live there in the future.
Then, soon after their move into the old house, their eight-year-old son vanishes without a trace! Has he been kidnapped, or has he wandered off into the dark forest? Will the “house beyond time” provide the answers? Or does something more disturbing await this troubled family?
I don't remember exactly how I found this book--probably doing "down-the-rabbit-hole" research on Amazon. This was one of my favourite reads of the last year, and one I will always remember. (I'm kinda surprised I haven't mentioned it before, actually.)
The story is about about a family trying to mend itself in a house outside of time.Despite the trigger (for me) of child loss, this book held me because of the distinctive voices (the story is told from the voices of each member of the family), the way this difficult situation brought them together and helped them heal, and the unique blending of the supernatural and natural worlds.
The awards Ms. Tatlock won for this book are well-merited. An emphatic
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K. Rowling
When Magizoologist Newt Scamander arrives in New York, he intends his stay to be just a brief stopover. However, when his magical case is misplaced and some of Newt's fantastic beasts escape, it spells trouble for everyone...
Inspired by the original Hogwarts textbook by Newt Scamander, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay marks the screenwriting debut of J.K. Rowling, author of the beloved and internationally bestselling Harry Potter books. A feat of imagination and showcasing a cast of remarkable characters and magical creatures, this is epic adventure-packed storytelling at its very best. Whether an existing fan or new to the wizarding world, this is a perfect addition to any film lover or reader’s bookshelf.
Okay, I know that most of you don't need any introduction to this world. Last November, this was the movie of choice for Jude and Jabin's combined birthday parties. I walked away from the theatre agog at the eye candy and wanting to watch it again to catch all the nuances I missed. So I bought the book, read it, and last weekend we re-watched the movie. Afterward, Jude admitted that he actually prefers Fantastic Beasts to the Harry Potter stories--which is saying a lot, considering he's read the series twice.
Seeing the Harry Potter world from an adult's perspective was thrilling, but as per usual, Ms. Rowling incorporates children (and the horrors they are often subject to) into the story in the most heart-wrenching way. My favourite scene was watching Queenie--an endearing 1920s coquette who can read minds--assemble and bake an apple strudel in the air between the counter and the table. I want that superpower. (But my waistline is probably glad I don't have it.)
Newt and Tina, the two main protagonists, are both awkward and charming with a certain inner determination that ensures they butt heads, but the romantic undertones are appropriately subtle. The sets, matte paintings, and CGI are awe-inspiring, and the story is a delightful blend of humour, suspense, and drama. I don't know if I agree with Jude's analysis--Harry will always hold a special place in my heart--but I thoroughly enjoyed both the movie and the screenplay, which has enough detail to read like a novel.