Looking Back at January 2014

The first month of the year has been a decent success for me as far as blogging and reading are concerned. I needed to get eight books read to be on pace for the year and while I didn’t get a full eight finished, I did get seven, so I’m only one behind. I think that’s something I can easily focus on getting caught up on in February.

The blogging is going well too, yesterday made me a perfect 31 for 31 in January. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was tough on a couple of days though. I still haven’t managed to get ahead of schedule with the blog posts I’ve written, which means I’m still writing a lot of posts late in the evening to make sure I get them in before midnight each day. That isn’t a model I can sustain for too long though, so I’m going to need to find a way to get ahead soon or I’ll be in trouble with the “blogging every day” goal.

Here are the books I read in January 2014:

The first four books on the list are the entire Uglies series, which I thought was a very solid series on the whole. I’m surprised I hadn’t read them before this month, but I’m glad that I finally have. It’s a YA series that a lot of people should read if they want to see how that sort of fiction should be written more often.

Dark Triumph as the second book in a trilogy and I loved it just as much as I did the first book, Grave Mercy. The final piece of that trilogy arrives sometime later this year and I’m very excited to see how the story concludes.

Warbreaker was a re-read because I like to do that sort of thing from time to time, especially with Brandon Sanderson books. Promise of Blood was a book I’ve had on my Kindle for almost a year and because the second book, The Crimson Campaign, is being released in a few months I wanted to finally get it read so I wouldn’t be behind. It’s the first of a series that I think will be fascinating, but it’s going to take a little more for me to be entirely invested. The magic systems in Promise of Blood are complex and it takes a little bit of effort to really comprehend everything going on with them. I’m hoping that the second book will clear things up a little bit.

For February, I’m hoping to make some more progress on catching up with unfinished series, doing a review for one of the first advance copies I’ve ever been given, and re-read the first book of a series that has a second book coming out in March. I’ll try to get all of that done and sneak in one extra book to make up for January, but we’ll see how it goes in the end. I’ll see you at the end of the month with another update!

Book Review: “11/22/63” by Stephen King

Jake Epping is a thirty-five-year-old high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching adults in the GED program. He receives an essay from one of the students—a gruesome, harrowing first person story about the night 50 years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a hammer. Harry escaped with a smashed leg, as evidenced by his crooked walk.

Not much later, Jake’s friend Al, who runs the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to 1958. He enlists Jake on an insane—and insanely possible—mission to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination. So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson and his new world of Elvis and JFK, of big American cars and sock hops, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life – a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.

11-22-63This book is long. Really, really long. But, it’s also pretty decent in the end. My first experience with Stephen King was his novel Insomnia which was an incredibly slow burn for the first 600 pages until the action started. With 11/22/63 the action started much more quickly and really got me hooked, but then things slowed way back down for the middle 500 pages. I’ll admit, that made me a bit sad, but the reward was a pretty decent ending with a few unexpected twists and turns.

Time travel is the big idea in 11/22/63, specifically time travel that sends a person back to the exact same place at the exact same time every time they go. If you travel back in time, then return, then travel back again everything you did the first time will have been wiped clean and everything starts over. It’s an interesting twist to the more common time travel conventions and I thought it added a little more weight to what Jake Epping was doing when he traveled back to 1958. As long as he didn’t make a mistake everything was fine, but if he did slip up, or things didn’t go as planned he had to start all over. That’s fine if you’ve only been in the past for a few weeks, but if you’ve been there for five years that’s a lot of time you’ve lost.

You see, the person doing the time traveling continues to age, they don’t get a reset like the rest of the timeline does. Consequences upon consequences as Jake Epping certainly discovers on his own.

Having the ability to travel back in time to change things for the better is a fairly noble cause on the surface, but of course, changing something in the past changes the future. It’s all very complicated if you ask me, but the basics are fairly understandable. The bigger the change you make to past events, the bigger the change you will see in the present day when you return from your journey. So, given that, what do you think is going to happen when Jake Epping travels to 1958 lives life until 1963 and then attempts to prevent John F. Kennedy from being assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald.

BOOM! Consequence nightmare if you ask me.

For a large portion of the book, Jake Epping (also known as George Amberson in the past) manages to keep his impact on the past fairly minimal. He sticks to himself for the most part, keeps his friendships on the up and up, and works hard to make choices that don’t change the choices others will make. In what seems like a smart move on his part he observes Lee Harvey Oswald from the shadows and he stays away from Dallas until the last possible time to keep his waves to a minimum.

As a result he meets Sadie Dunhill who seems to be the perfect fit for him. Personally, I found the entire stretch of the novel where Jake is in his relationship with Sadie before he finally gets to the action of heading to Dallas to be a grind. I liked the characters and I certainly liked the things King did with them as a couple, but a lot of the time it felt like I was slogging through a novel-length stretch of filler material.

Those stretches of “filler” type stuff in the two King novels I’ve read are probably what’s stopping me from finding his writing to be as spectacular as everyone else seems to think it is. I find his writing to be superb in quality, but his storytelling to be not much better than most of the other mainstream authors I read. I truly thought when I finally started reading King I was going to fall in line with everyone else and think his work was a step or two above everything else, but I simply havent. Perhaps I will someday, but not quite yet.

The next Stephen King book I read is almost certainly going to be the first book in The Dark Tower series, The Gunslinger. It’s much shorter and fits in with my genre tastes much more closely. Perhaps that will be the key to unlocking Stephen King for me.

Length: 884 pages

Amazon   |   Barnes & Noble   |   Goodreads   |   Audible

Up Next: “11/22/63” by Stephen King

11-22-63I guess it’s about time I tried another Stephen King novel after having just a back and forth experience with the first one I read at the end of last year. This book, 11/22/63, is the choice by my office book club for March. Normally it would have been the first book I read in the month but I was caught up with some real life things and then by reading a bunch of new installments to the Wool series instead. Fast forward and now I have just one week to get 11/22/63 finished before the month is over.

This is a big one, over 800 pages in length and my Paperwhite is telling me it will take approximately 18 hours and 50 minutes to complete at my usual reading pace. That is an awful long time in the scheme of things considering how busy I find myself these days. I’ll have to make a special effort to read instead of do other things if I’m going to have a shot at finishing it on time. Of course, if I don’t get it finished, that’s alright as well. The office book club isn’t too horribly strict about it since we mostly just discuss the books in passing as we are walking too and from lunch most of the time.

I’m also not sure if reading such a big book is going to be helpful towards my goal of 104 towards the year. If I get it finished before the end of the month I’ll be sitting at 24 total in 2013 at this point. That’s one behind where I wanted to be after the first quarter of the year. I think I’ll need to make up some ground and then get a little ahead in April and May to stay on target because I know I’ll get a little fatigued by the end of the year around the holiday season.

Prisoner of Dieppe by Hugh Brewster

(Cover picture courtesy of Scholastic Canada.)

A young soldier’s gritty account of “the bloodiest nine hours in Canadian military history” — the tragic Dieppe raid of WWII.

Alistair “Allie” Morrison lets his friend Mackie talk him into enlisting for WWII, even though he’s only 18. After months of endless training Allie’s eager for battle. But his first action is not just any battle… it’s the disastrous raid on the German-held port of Dieppe.

He and his unit are under orders to take one of the main beaches, but they disembark from their landing craft onto a killing ground. As Allie gets his bearings and makes sense of the horror on every side, he witnesses friends advance into a massacre.

All told, almost a thousand Canadian soldiers died that day. In the resulting chaotic evacuation, Allie and Mackie are captured as POWs and sent to Stalag VIIIB in Germany. Still shell-shocked from their fighting, the soldiers struggle to maintain their courage. Others, like Mackie, are determined to plot an escape and outwit their captors, at any cost.

Historian Jack Granatstein vetted Prisoner of Dieppe to ensure historical accuracy.

[Summary courtesy of Amazon.]

In most pieces of historical fiction, I can comment on the accuracy of the novel.  This is mostly because I read historical fiction in places I know about, like ancient Egypt or Rome.  I am not, nor have ever been, an expert on WWII history.  My father is the family expert on all things 20th century.  That’s why I can’t and won’t comment on historical accuracy, but judging by the fact that Hugh Brewster actually had an historian look over it for accuracy, I can say it’s probably pretty accurate.  The ‘I Am Canada’ diary series is also pretty reputable in terms of historical accuracy, so one can safely assume it’s accurate.

The best part of Prisoner of Dieppe is that Hugh Brewster uses the character of Alistair to explain the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times.  You really feel like you’re there during the war and you can understand why so many young men signed up, even going so far as to lie about their ages to do so.  The agony of war is also portrayed very well; you truly feel like you’re there on the beach with Alistair.  True, this is targeted at younger teens, but there are times when I found myself quite teary, something highly unusual for me.  The horrors of the German POW camp are terrible, but nothing very surprising for me as I’ve read a lot about the Bataan Death March and the subsequent treatment of the prisoners.  However, if your teen is sensitive, this is not the book for them!

Prisoner of Dieppe is one of those few ‘diary’ novels that was written for male readers, which is also a bonus.  Yes, men do keep diaries (most call them ‘journals’) and I think boys will be glad to have a male perspective delivered from a male writer.  It also has a fast-paced plot for historical fiction, so this is a great book to give your teen if they aren’t a big reader.  Believe me, they will love Prisoner of Dieppe.

I give this book 4.5/5 stars.

Amazon*   Barnes and Noble*

*Unfortunately, despite only being published in 2010, Prisoner of Dieppe seems to be out of print.

Top 10 Tuesday: Books on My Fall TBR List

I’ve just recently reached my goal of reading 50 books for the year, so for the next couple of months I’m going to be reading a lot of stuff that will help me decide what to read next. That means I intend to read the first book, maybe the first two books if I’m feeling excitable, in a whole bunch of different series’ that I have been putting off for a long time. I figure if I can get one book under my belt with them then I’ll know for sure if I really want to read all the rest of them or not and can go from there moving forward.

So, here are the books I’m going to tackle this Fall:

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Barsoom series is made up of a bunch of books that really aren’t all that long, but after watching the John Carter movie not that long ago I became enamored with the story of a man traveling to Mars and becoming a sort of hero to the people there. Even better is that all of these books are free, so I can save a little money while reading some good books. I’ve heard that A Princess of Mars is a little bit different from the movie but that the main plot points remain pretty stable between the two.

Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card
My brother-in-law recommended the Alvin Maker books to me a long time ago, at least a few years back and I’ve never had the chance to start them. Orson Scott Card is a good author and there are several books that follow this one. I’ve read up a little on the concept behind the stories and I think they’ll be pretty cool.

Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson
The Malazan Book of the Fallen series is one I really, really need to read. As a fan of epic fantasy it’s probably one of the biggest holes in my reading experience. I have a feeling I’m going to devour this book when I get to it and I hope I can get through some other material before I pick up the second one. My biggest worry is that I’ll like Gardens of the Moon so much I won’t be able to read anything else until I finish the series up to where it stands now.

Dune by Frank Herbert
Dune is another one of the classics in science fiction that I just haven’t read yet. I need to read it to fill that gap in my reading experience but also so I can decide if I want to pick up the rest of the books that follow as well.

Our Sacred Honor by Ron Carter
I read this book years ago and liked it quite a bit. The trouble is I can’t remember anything about it other than I liked it and historical fiction is a genre I don’t have a lot of experience with. I figure a re-read is in order to see if I want to finish the series because at the time of my first reading I remember thinking I wanted to read the others but then got caught up in other things.

The Dark Tower: Gunslinger by Stephen King
King is an author I’ve never read and people tell me that The Dark Tower is an excellent series. A co-worker recently lent me a copy of the first couple books so I figure now is as good a time as any to give it a try to see if I like it.

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
I’ve found a bit of a secret love for hard science fiction lately and Red Mars is the first in a fairly well acclaimed trilogy in that genre.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
I told myself I would read a biography at least once before the year was done and I think this is the one I want to tackle. I’m a fan of Apple products and always thought Steve Jobs was a pretty interesting/intense individual.

The Stormlight Archive: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
Finishing this book for the second time is integral to keeping my BRICK series running smoothly so it’s on the list so I make sure I don’t get behind on it. Of course, it’s a great book, so I don’t mind needing to finish it again in a timely manner.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare
I’ve read the first four books, and this one just recently became available. I would like to keep up with the series so I might as well get this one knocked out before the end of the year as well.