March Reading and Writing Updates

Wow! Somehow it got to be March already! And of course I’m behind schedule from where I wanted to be on my reading, but I’m not surprised, given that I set a bit of an unrealistic goal.

Looking back at February, here is how it went: I managed to finish Magical Midlife Madness by K. F. Breene (review here) and All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai (review here). I just finished Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert this past weekend (technically in March) and I have a review coming up on that book later this week. With some work-related projects and other obligations, I got bogged down and didn’t get through all the other books I wanted to.

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The other books I’m currently reading are The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan and Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. With a long drive this weekend, I’m making solid progress on Harrow the Ninth because I’m listening to that as an audiobook. I also pulled out The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett (my physical non-e-book read) after I finished Magical Midlife Madness, but then decided I needed to catch up on The Dragon Reborn before starting it.

I haven’t given any writing updates recently. I hardly made any progress in February, but I’m expecting that to improve in March. Current projects include the first draft of a hard sci-fi stand alone novel with a working title of East of the Sun, continued work on a stand along sword and sorcery novel called Daughter of the Sun, and a rewrite of a short story involving dream magic. I don’t know why both novel projects involve the sun, but I think East of the Sun will get renamed at some point.

Also, if you haven’t seen it already, Brandon Sanderson sort of shamed all writers out there in regards to productivity last week. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out his video here. So clearly I need to up my writing game.

Are you reading as much as you had hoped this year? Are you a writer? Tell me about your projects in the comments above.

Book Review – All Our Wrong Todays

I’m not sure how I heard about this book, but I ended up reading it for a book club, or rather, I listened to the audiobook version. All Our Wrong Todays is written and narrated by Elan Mastai.

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Here is the blurb:

You know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we’d have? Well, it happened. In Tom Barren’s 2016, humanity thrives in a techno-utopian paradise of flying cars, moving sidewalks, and moon bases, where avocados never go bad and punk rock never existed . . . because it wasn’t necessary.

Except Tom just can’t seem to find his place in this dazzling, idealistic world, and that’s before his life gets turned upside down. Utterly blindsided by an accident of fate, Tom makes a rash decision that drastically changes not only his own life but the very fabric of the universe itself. In a time-travel mishap, Tom finds himself stranded in our 2016, what we think of as the real world. For Tom, our normal reality seems like a dystopian wasteland.

But when he discovers wonderfully unexpected versions of his family, his career, and—maybe, just maybe—his soul mate, Tom has a decision to make. Does he fix the flow of history, bringing his utopian universe back into existence, or does he try to forge a new life in our messy, unpredictable reality? Tom’s search for the answer takes him across countries, continents, and timelines in a quest to figure out, finally, who he really is and what his future—our future—is supposed to be.

This is a book about time travel and what can happen when you try to change the past. Tom Barren starts out as an unlikeable character in a utopian society where you can infer that no one is truly happy. When he ends up in an alternate time line, he must decide if it’s right or wrong to try to put things back the way they were. And what if he continues to make the world worse?

The opening of this book was a big turn off for me because of the way in which it is written (all exposition, with Tom essentially writing about what had happened), but also because I didn’t like Tom. Once he used the time machine, the story was easier to read. I did find some of the concepts interesting. Some examples include the author’s take on what happens to your consciousness when you time travel and have changed your own past, and also the horrifying experience of the traveler in one form of time travel in this story.

Elan Mastai is also a producer and writer on the television series This Is Us. Have you watched that show (I have not)? Does it share any themes with this book? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Gideon the Ninth

I had heard a lot of buzz about this book and finally had a chance to grab the audio edition. Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir is the first book in The Locked Tomb series, and the audiobook is narrated by Moira Quirk.

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Here is the blurb:

The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.

Given that description, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book. And even as I delved into it, I wasn’t on familiar ground in this story. Gideon and Harrowhark start from a place of long-standing enmity but are forced to work together to solve the mysterious challenge set before them by the Emperor amid strange necromancy, a crumbling tower of secret puzzles, and a competing cast of necromancers and cavaliers from the other houses.

As some of their number die mysteriously, suspicion between the houses increases and no one can be trusted. Does an ancient necromantic monstrosity stalk the halls of Canaan House? Are the necromancers and cavaliers stalking each other? Or is there something even darker going on?

The narrator in this audiobook is British and the accent adds an archaic flair to what is supposedly a science fiction story (given that each house occupies a different planet).

I really enjoyed this book and I’m planning to read the second one (Harrow the Ninth) soon.

Have you read Gideon the Ninth? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – The Republic of Thieves

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch is book #3 in the Gentleman Bastard series. I reviewed the earlier books, The Lies of Locke Lamora (#1 – review here), and Red Seas Under Red Skies (#2 – review here). I also listened to this as an audiobook, narrated by Michael Page.

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Here is the blurb:

With what should have been the greatest heist of their career gone spectacularly sour, Locke and his trusted partner, Jean, have barely escaped with their lives. Or at least Jean has. But Locke is slowly succumbing to a deadly poison that no alchemist or physiker can cure. Yet just as the end is near, a mysterious Bondsmage offers Locke an opportunity that will either save him or finish him off once and for all.

Magi political elections are imminent, and the factions are in need of a pawn. If Locke agrees to play the role, sorcery will be used to purge the venom from his body – though the process will be so excruciating he may well wish for death. Locke is opposed, but two factors cause his will to crumble: Jean’s imploring – and the Bondsmage’s mention of a woman from Locke’s past: Sabetha. She is the love of his life, his equal in skill and wit, and now, his greatest rival.

Locke was smitten with Sabetha from his first glimpse of her as a young fellow orphan and thief-in-training. But after a tumultuous courtship, Sabetha broke away. Now they will reunite in yet another clash of wills. For faced with his one and only match in both love and trickery, Locke must choose whether to fight Sabetha – or to woo her. It is a decision on which both their lives may depend.

These books are a lot of fun but also take some dark turns. This one in particular will open up wounds from reading the first in the series (The Lies of Locke Lamora) because much of the book follows Locke’s backstory in happier days before all the tragic stuff happened in the first book.

However, we do finally meet Sabetha who is alluded to in the earlier books, but has never made an appearance. She is a worthy rival/love interest for Locke, and their banter keeps this book going through a less deadly plot than the earlier installments. The poison lurking in Locke’s system also provides a countdown type of urgency to the story.

I really enjoyed this book and am eagerly awaiting the next one in the series. There is no release date yet for The Thorn of Emberlain (#4).

Have you read any of The Gentleman Bastards series? Let me know what you thought in the comments above.

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Catch and Kill

When Harvey Weinstein was outed as a sexual predator amid the #MeToo movement, I had followed the news, of course, but I didn’t know the whole story. I don’t remember how I came across this book, but I am intrigued by stories of investigative journalism. Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow tells how the author went from working on a routine assignment to uncovering the stories of women who had been frightened into silence by an organized system of intimidation by those in power.

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Here is the blurb:

In 2017, a routine network television investigation led Ronan Farrow to a story only whispered about: one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers was a predator, protected by fear, wealth, and a conspiracy of silence. As Farrow drew closer to the truth, shadowy operatives, from high-priced lawyers to elite war-hardened spies, mounted a secret campaign of intimidation, threatening his career, following his every move and weaponizing an account of abuse in his own family.

All the while, Farrow and his producer faced a degree of resistance that could not be explained – until now. And a trail of clues revealed corruption and cover-ups from Hollywood, to Washington, and beyond.

This is the untold story of the exotic tactics of surveillance and intimidation deployed by wealthy and connected men to threaten journalists, evade accountability and silence victims of abuse – and it’s the story of the women who risked everything to expose the truth and spark a global movement.

Both a spy thriller and a meticulous work of investigative journalism, Catch and Kill breaks devastating new stories about the rampant abuse of power – and sheds far-reaching light on investigations that shook the culture.

In a dramatic account of violence and espionage, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Ronan Farrow exposes serial abusers and a cabal of powerful interests hell-bent on covering up the truth, at any cost.

I listened to this book in audio format, read by the author. He gives a thorough account of his journey to discover and document the widespread sexual harassment amid the movie and television industry, but that’s only part of the story. I was only halfway through the book when I thought that he had gathered plenty of information. What else could the book be about?

The second part tells about how his work was suppressed and how major networks shied away from running the story. After everything he went through, I’m actually surprised that he wasn’t scared off the story in the same manner that those in power suppressed the voices of any women who dared make accusations against them.

In the end, The New Yorker published the story and won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for Farrow’s reporting (shared with The New York Times).

Have you read much non-fiction or stories of investigative journalism? Let me know in the comments.

Read more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

I don’t remember where I heard about this book, but I picked this up as part of my attempt to read non-fiction from time to time. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein is a fascinating look at how people learn and apply skills in fields stretching from chess to music to science. I listened to this as an audiobook, which seems to be my preference for non-fiction in particular.

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Here is the blurb:

What’s the most effective path to success in any domain? It’s not what you think.
Plenty of experts argue that anyone who wants to develop a skill, play an instrument, or lead their field should start early, focus intensely, and rack up as many hours of deliberate practice as possible. If you dabble or delay, you’ll never catch up to the people who got a head start. But a closer look at research on the world’s top performers, from professional athletes to Nobel laureates, shows that early specialization is the exception, not the rule.

David Epstein examined the world’s most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters and scientists. He discovered that in most fields–especially those that are complex and unpredictable–generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel. Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. They’re also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can’t see.

Provocative, rigorous, and engrossing, Range makes a compelling case for actively cultivating inefficiency. Failing a test is the best way to learn. Frequent quitters end up with the most fulfilling careers. The most impactful inventors cross domains rather than deepening their knowledge in a single area. As experts silo themselves further while computers master more of the skills once reserved for highly focused humans, people who think broadly and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives will increasingly thrive.

I enjoyed this book for both the concepts and the stories. The author has clearly done his research and I learned some fascinating history in this book, particularly in the section on music.

The variety of fields that the author explores is another reason why I enjoyed reading this book. He brings in examples from sports, music, chess, science, art, writing, medicine, and engineering, showing how people with a wider range of experiences can sometimes make the discoveries that a more narrowly-focused expert cannot see.

The audiobook was easy to listen to and nothing in this book is too dense for the audio format. This was an easy non-fiction book to follow and one of my favorite books so far this year.

Have you read anything by David Epstein? Please let me know in the comments.

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – The Wind Through the Keyhole

The Wind Through the Keyhole is a story set in Stephen King’s Dark Tower world. Chronologically, it is book #4.5, set between Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla. However, the bulk of this story is not Roland’s, but rather his narration of another tale.

I listened to this as an audiobook, narrated by the author himself. Actually, The Dark Tower series were some of the first audiobooks I ever listened to.

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Here is the blurb:

Roland Deschain and his ka-tetJake, Susannah, Eddie, and Oy, the billy-bumbler—encounter a ferocious storm just after crossing the River Whye on their way to the Outer Baronies. As they shelter from the howling gale, Roland tells his friends not just one strange story but two . . . and in so doing, casts new light on his own troubled past.

In his early days as a gunslinger, in the guilt-ridden year following his mother’s death, Roland is sent by his father to investigate evidence of a murderous shape-shifter, a “skin-man” preying upon the population around Debaria. Roland takes charge of Bill Streeter, the brave but terrified boy who is the sole surviving witness to the beast’s most recent slaughter. Only a teenager himself, Roland calms the boy and prepares him for the following day’s trials by reciting a story from the Magic Tales of the Eld that his mother often read to him at bedtime. “A person’s never too old for stories,” Roland says to Bill. “Man and boy, girl and woman, never too old. We live for them.” And indeed, the tale that Roland unfolds, the legend of Tim Stoutheart, is a timeless treasure for all ages, a story that lives for us.

I’m sure it’s been at least ten years since I read the original series. It was nice to revisit Roland and his ka-tet, even if the story doesn’t dwell so much on them, but more on Roland’s past and a second story within that story. I think that placing this book after Wizard and Glass makes sense since that entire book relates Roland’s backstory as well. I’d have to re-read the series to see if it truly works there, as anything that follows the phenomenal Wizard and Glass has a lot to live up to.

The story of Tim Stoutheart was more involved, with greater room for character growth and a more intricate plot than Roland’s investigations into the skin-man. In many ways, it felt like an older fairy tale. I think that was partly because it filled that role for Roland in the way that it had been read to him by his mother, but also because it was set in a vague past and pitted the hero (Tim) against two different types of evil. However, the book doesn’t completely neglect Roland, showing some of how he deals with the loss of his mother. So in that respect, Tim’s own quest to save his mother is echoed by the recent loss of Roland’s, at his own hand.

Have you read The Dark Tower series? What did you think? Would you read it again with this book slotted into it’s place? Let me know in the comments.

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – All Clear

I just finished listening to the audiobook version of All Clear by Connie Willis, narrated by Katherine Kellgren. This book is the second part of one long story that started in Blackout, which I reviewed here, and is part of the author’s larger Oxford Time Travel book series. This duology won the Hugo, Locus, and Nebula awards.

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Here is the blurb:

In Blackout, award-winning author Connie Willis returned to the time-traveling future of 2060—the setting for several of her most celebrated works—and sent three Oxford historians to World War II England: Michael Davies, intent on observing heroism during the Miracle of Dunkirk; Merope Ward, studying children evacuated from London; and Polly Churchill, posing as a shopgirl in the middle of the Blitz. But when the three become unexpectedly trapped in 1940, they struggle not only to find their way home but to survive as Hitler’s bombers attempt to pummel London into submission.

Now the situation has grown even more dire. Small discrepancies in the historical record seem to indicate that one or all of them have somehow affected the past, changing the outcome of the war. The belief that the past can be observed but never altered has always been a core belief of time-travel theory—but suddenly it seems that the theory is horribly, tragically wrong.

Meanwhile, in 2060 Oxford, the historians’ supervisor, Mr. Dunworthy, and seventeen-year-old Colin Templer, who nurses a powerful crush on Polly, are engaged in a frantic and seemingly impossible struggle of their own—to find three missing needles in the haystack of history.

Told with compassion, humor, and an artistry both uplifting and devastating, All Clear is more than just the triumphant culmination of the adventure that began with Blackout. It’s Connie Willis’s most humane, heartfelt novel yet—a clear-eyed celebration of faith, love, and the quiet, ordinary acts of heroism and sacrifice too often overlooked by history.

I enjoyed this book more than the first half of the story in Blackout, probably because I was more invested in the characters by this point, and we see the characters figure out the mystery behind their problems with time travel. I think that the story worked better having the three main characters in contact with each other as well, rather than constantly missing each other as they did in Blackout.

The audio production of both these books was nicely done also. While this is quite a long story, my attention didn’t wander often while listening, which is more likely for me with an audiobook than a physical book.

The ending of the book brings everything to a satisfying close. I anticipated some of the outcomes but the author still threw in some facets that I hadn’t thought about. This is the kind of book that may be worth rereading once you know how it ends since there are many small pieces to the story that I likely missed on the first pass.

Have you read any of Connie Willis’s time travel books? Let me know in the comments.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – Black Leopard, Red Wolf

I listened to Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James as an audiobook (narrated by Dion Graham), and while this book is technically listed as book 1 in a series, it can be read as a single contained story.

Here is the blurb:

Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter: “He has a nose,” people say. Engaged to track down a mysterious boy who disappeared three years earlier, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group that comes together to search for the boy. The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard.

As Tracker follows the boy’s scent–from one ancient city to another; into dense forests and across deep rivers–he and the band are set upon by creatures intent on destroying them. As he struggles to survive, Tracker starts to wonder: Who, really, is this boy? Why has he been missing for so long? Why do so many people want to keep Tracker from finding him? And perhaps the most important questions of all: Who is telling the truth, and who is lying?

I’m torn with my reaction to this book. It was certainly a unique read, but it is very much not going to be for everyone. From the beginning, this book depicts specific violence, including torture, rape, dismemberment of children, slavery, and cannibalism. The themes in this story are dark, and the author doesn’t shy away from any of it.

That being said, the fight scenes are very well-written and I could follow every bit of the brutal action. The fights are also pretty realistic in that they end quickly, the wounds are gory, and the narrator in this audiobook edition is brilliant in terms of his inflection and pacing (actually for more than just the fights).

The story is also full of sexual innuendo and acts, and it covers a full range of sexual preferences. This aspect felt a little unnecessary in a few places, but for the most part fit in with the overall tone of the story.

The timeline in this book is convoluted and Tracker’s story is told as he relates it to an interrogator after all the events. Within this story, parts are told out of order, and I felt like this device wasn’t necessary. It made a complicated plot with an extensive cast harder to follow than it needed to be.

Otherwise, I did actually like this book. Once I had the characters straight in my head I had to read on to discover what was truly going on. Tracker is not privy to the truth behind his search and has to decide who to trust and why everyone wants to find a mysterious boy. There is no clear good and evil here and everyone is acting for their own personal reasons.

This book is noted to be book 1 in The Dark Star Trilogy, but this volume wraps up the main events by the end without any cliffhangers. I can see the potential for a greater story. Given the complicated nature of this book, I’d probably have to reread it before continuing with the series in the future.

Have you read Black Leopard, Red Wolf? Let me know what you thought in the comments. Please follow the links to help support this blog.

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

I read this book last year and it was one of my favorites for 2019. If you’re looking for something to read that discusses a medical subject that is not related to pandemics at all, then this might be a good one to pick up right now. You can help support this blog by clicking on my Amazon affiliate links.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is a journalistic investigation into the origin of the HeLa cell line used in a wide range of medical and biological research.

This book relates the authors search for the origin of the cells and the person behind it. While attempts had previously been made, Skloot was able to finally reach an understanding with the remaining family members to discover the story behind the cells.

Henrietta Lacks was a young African-American women who worked as a tobacco farmer and sought help at Johns Hopkins when she developed cervical cancer. During the course of her treatment, a doctor took a sample of her cells and then proceeded to use them in ongoing research without her informed consent. Mrs. Lacks’ cells were the first that were able to be sustained and grown repeatedly and finally allowed cell culture technology to flourish, leading to numerous discoveries and therapies, even today.

This books delves into the ethics of medical research and informed consent and looks at how our current system for this research has developed. At the time when Henrietta’s cells were collected, these ethical concerns had never been considered. Part this story also concerns racism and how society took advantage of African Americans through medical research.

Henrietta’s remaining family finally learned that her cells had been propagated and sold by biological supply companies, earning a vast amount of profit for everyone except her family. This resentment made it difficult for the author to communicate with them, but she worked to overcome their fears and much of the book is about her relationship with them.

I listened to the audiobook version of this and it was a great book to read and one of my favorites from 2019.

Read more of my reviews here.

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