Lately I’ve been pondering the fact that I’ve gotten a lot more reading done since I started publishing. You’d think it would be the opposite – the busier I am with my own writing, the less time I have for pleasure reading. While that’s true to an extent, I’m a firm believer that there are only two ways you can get better at writing: actually writing (no way!) and…reading.
I’ve always enjoyed reading, but it has also always been kinda low on the totem pole of all my other hobbies. If I had free time, it usually ended up being spent on something else (art, gaming, you name it). But throughout this whole writing process, my love for reading has been rekindled. I’ve been reading books I probably would have never read, and probably would have never even heard of. I doubt I could have told you what an indie author was before I became one myself (okay, that might be a little bit of an exaggeration). I’ve discovered a lot of really talented authors and a lot of really great stories and I’ve made some awesome friends.
I want to start making a point of posting book reviews here on this blog from now on – positive ones, at least. It will not only help keep this poor deprived site fresh, but I hope it will also give some great books a little bit of extra exposure. Word of mouth is SO incredibly important for an indie author. I could probably write entire blog post about that alone, but it would likely involve a lot of repetition and ranting 😉
In no particular order, here are some of the most interesting things I’ve read over the past year and a half.
by G.S. Jennsen
Okay, I guess there IS sort of an order. We’re starting from the beginning here. I first picked up Starshine, Aurora
Rising Rhapsody Book 1, back when I was starting to prep Dakiti for release. It was basically a matter of “Hey, that person I’ve followed because of all her Mass Effect stuff just published a sci fi book! I should check that out.” The book was great, but at the time I was more concerned about getting in touch with someone with experience using CreateSpace to print paperbacks because I was incredibly nervous about publishing and had absolutely no clue what I was doing. So I went out on a limb one day and emailed G.S. to see how she’d liked the service (and had a massive fangirl moment when she emailed back 😉 ). We’ve kept in touch ever since, and I’ve had the opportunity to beta read Vertigo, Transcendence, and her upcoming release Sidespace. She was kind enough to beta read Nexus and Ronan as well. Her series is great; the characters are great, the concepts are great, the plot is great. You can currently get the omnibus edition of the trilogy on Amazon – it also includes a couple of short stories that take place before and after the main events of the series.
by Tammy Salyer
Another awesome series by an awesome lady! As I mentioned in my review of Book 1, Contract of Defiance, I can’t remember exactly how I stumbled across this series, but I thought, “If the story is even half as good as the cover art, I’m in.” I enjoy military sci fi, but it’s just so much more fun when the characters are ex-military. The female lead is badass and well-written, just the way I like them. The rest of the characters took a while to grow on me, possibly because they were written in such a way that readers were supposed to feel that way. There wasn’t quite as much continuity in this series as there is in Aurora Rising – certain details carry over from book to book, but each installment consists of a fairly standalone story. Those standalone stories and background info finally come together to tie into the overarching plot, and I loved the way that worked out. The structure reminded me a lot of Firefly, and of course it’s always fun to find things that remind you of Firefly.
ZERO ECHO SHADOW PRIME
by Peter Samet
This book was a bit of a deviation from my typical space opera tendencies. It leans a little bit toward cyberpunk but it’s not as dark – that kinda lawless, dystopian element isn’t really there. I was really intrigued by the premise though. A girl dying of cancer is told she can be saved with help from a cutting-edge technology company. And they do save her…by splitting her into four distinct entities: a robot, a holographic personal assistant, a mutated character living in a virtual world, and her original dying form. Each version of her sort of has its own story throughout the book, but certain events end up forcing their paths to cross. Not gonna lie – it was one of the trippiest books I’ve ever read. But the way the story is split up into those four parts and then woven back together was really well done. It deals with the whole what-is-it-that-makes-us-human debate, which is something I’ve found really fascinating lately.
THE HUGH HOWEY SECTION
I’d heard of Hugh Howey, and I think I’d heard of Wool, but I can’t remember whether either of those were before or after I arrived on the publishing scene. The first Howey piece I actually read was his short story Glitch, and even after such limited exposure, I could tell the guy had talent. I picked up Sand next and found the plot and setting to be really unique. This was once again a deviation from space opera; I’ve never been a huge fan of post-apocalyptic setups, but this one captured my interest. It was especially fun because I kept having to read in fairly loud environments so I downloaded an ambient noise app and listened to wind sounds through headphones while reading about characters walking across the desert. Talk about sensory immersion!
Then I jumped on the bandwagon and picked up Wool (and the rest of the Silo trilogy, actually). What a unique story. I loved the structure of this trilogy – Wool introduced the setting, Shift went back and explained how that setting came to be, and then Dust picked up where the two of them left off and tied them together. I loved the characters and could never decide whose POV I most enjoyed reading from. Jules was a great main character though, and I always love to find strong female characters written by male authors. I made my mom read this series after I’d finished it. The exchange went something like this.
Her: “I need a new book to read.”
Me: “Read Wool.”
Her: “Yeah but I want something with mystery.”
Me: “Read Wool.”
Her: “But…but…something suspenseful!”
Me: “Read Wool.”
She took it all reluctantly and then ended up reading the entire trilogy in like a week. I also blame Hugh and this series for the fact that I’ve become obsessed with the Fallout games and have started spending too much money on Coke in glass bottles and am saving all the bottle caps.
His Beacon 23 series has also been entertaining. It was great to have something quick to read over the summer when I was so busy working on Ronan all the time. I found the setup to be really interesting and loved the way the beacon concept was interwoven with historical and present-day lighthouses. I love sci fi that makes you say “Hey, if we ever get to this point, that would probably actually be a thing.” Now that all the individual parts have been published, you can get the whole story in one package.
by Andy Weir
I jumped on the bandwagon with this book and wanted to see what all the hype was about. My first thought was, “How could you possibly get an entire story out of a guy stuck on Mars?” Well, more than I expected. I mean, it’s still not like we’re dealing with a super intricate plot, but there’s a lot more to it than I thought. I’ve never been a huge fan of journal-style books but I thought that method worked really well for this book, and it opened the door for a lot of the humor and snark that made the book so enjoyable for me. I remember reading it in the library between classes at school last year and snorting out loud on several different occasions.
I went to see the movie last week and absolutely loved it. I thought it did a really good job of staying true to the book, with the exception of things that were obviously left out due to time constraints. There was only one major deviation, with “major” being a fairly relative term. Both the book and the movie were really enjoyable.
THE CLASSICS SECTION
I’ll confess now that I’ve been kinda slow on the uptake when it comes to reading classic sci fi. I’ve purchased several things like Dune, Foundation, and Hyperion, but haven’t gotten around to reading them yet. I did, however, take a class last winter titled “Science Fiction Lit and Film” (trust me, when I saw that listed among the course offerings, I about had a stroke). It ended up not being as fun as I thought it would be – the focus was more on cyberpunk and I think most of the students in there were hoping for more space opera material. One of the (very few) other girls in the class had actually read part of Dakiti and she was like “Why don’t we just read your books?” Meanwhile I was banging my head on my desk and hoping nobody else had heard her.
Throughout the course of the class, we read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Neuromancer, and Snow Crash. They were all books I might have never picked up if I hadn’t had to read them for class, so even though none of them were 5 stars in my opinion, it was still cool to read them. Androids might have been my favorite of the three, just from an ease-of-reading standpoint. We went on to watch Blade Runner afterwards and I can say with confidence that I liked the book better (no, I’d honestly never seen Blade Runner before that and I really didn’t like it *dodges flying tomatoes*). I struggled with Neuromancer; the concept was interesting enough, but for some reason the writing style made it really hard for me to keep track of what was going on. In that sense, I’m glad we read it in class so I could listen to the discussions and get a little better understanding of it.
Snow Crash was enjoyable but it also had some kinda wacky elements I didn’t care for. The mythological stuff reminded me far too much of the First Civilization characters in Assassin’s Creed and I’ve always thought they were incredibly confusing and boring. Still, the story had an almost satirical dry humor to it and I really liked that. There are times when the wording or structure of sentences just makes things extra funny and I felt like Neal Stephenson did a good job with that. I recently got my hands on a copy of Seveneves and am looking forward to reading more from him.
THE GAMING CORNER
Speaking of Assassin’s Creed, the novelizations of AC3 (“Forsaken”) and Black Flag caught my eye. Forsaken was especially interesting because the entire book was written from Haytham’s perspective, starting when he was a little boy. I loved getting to learn about how a character with an Assassin father wound up fighting for the Templars, plus I’ve just always loved Haytham in general 😉 Some of the background details from the games were really expounded upon (for example, going to see plays at the theater, which we of course catch a glimpse of in that scene after Black Flag’s end credits). The book also helped make up (a little) for Ubisoft’s rather disappointing Connor/Haytham father/son oversight in the game; I’d expected sort of a reverse “I-am-your-father” revelation and the book at least attempted to come up with an explanation for why that didn’t happen.
The Black Flag novel was just as enjoyable for the same reasons. It started out several years before the events of the game so we got a better look at Edward’s struggles before he left England to become a privateer. And even though the majority of the novel covers things the player sees within the game (which wasn’t exactly the case with Haytham being as he’s only the player character for a short time at the beginning), it was still interesting to see an author’s interpretation of what’s going on inside that character’s head, rather than what’s going on in your own head as you’re playing the game. The story also covered some of what happened after Edward returned to England with Jenny and there ended up being a fairly seamless transition into the events of what would become AC3/Forsaken.
Wow, that probably sounds incredibly complicated to someone unfamiliar with the series.
THE WILL ROBIE SERIES
by David Baldacci
I stumbled across these books in the midst of prepping Dakiti for publishing. I found The Hit (which turned out to be book 2) at our book trader and was immediately hooked by the blurb: badass government assassin is tasked with hunting down rogue badass lady assassin who has killed members of their agency…but there’s more going on than meets the eye. I went ahead and bought the book but then went home and ordered the first one, The Innocent, without hardly even looking at the description. The third book was released just as I finished the second one so I picked it up without hesitation. Now there’s a fourth one coming out this fall and I’m really excited.
These are pretty much your run-of-the-mill Jason-Bourne-esque spy thrillers. There’s a mystery to be solved in each one, and quite a bit of continuity throughout the series. Baldacci had a fairly simple writing style, but the stories don’t suffer for it. Like any spy thrillers, there are certain elements that seem a little far-fetched, but they’re pretty easy to look past. I really enjoyed the characters, and I was particularly pleased with how Baldacci writes female characters. There are several supporting female characters I really like, but Jessica Reel – the lady assassin introduced in book 2 – is one of the strongest female characters I’ve ever come across. She’s skilled and ruthless, but there’s still a measure of humanity to her that makes her seem very realistic. She splits “screen time” about 50/50 with Will Robie throughout the remainder of the series, and I really appreciated that.
I’ve never cared for reading non-fiction of any kind – what can I say, I like stories! – but lately I’ve found it interesting to read things (not necessarily even writing guides) that will help me with the content of my writing. For example, since the majority of my characters are agents of some sort, reading a book that deals with behavioral analysis might help me incorporate a little bit of real-life science into my characters’ procedures when they’re interrogating a prisoner (or even being interrogated).
I found a book called Throwing Lead: A Writer’s Guide to Firearms (and the People Who Use Them) way back before I even bought my Kindle, so I didn’t get around to reading it until just last year. The authors seemed to be knowledgeable; they had real-world experience handling a variety of firearms and had also done extensive research for their own novels, trying to figure out what type of gun would be most appropriate for a certain character and whatnot. The book was written in a manner that was very easy to understand – it was almost like the authors were carrying on a conversation with you instead of just spelling out the facts. I honestly learned a lot, not just from a writing perspective but from an everyday-life perspective, and I take things into consideration in my writing now that I didn’t before. There’s even a short section on sci fi/laser weapons that I found useful. More authors – especially authors who write about characters who regularly handle weapons – need to read books like this, because if I read one more book where the author’s veteran FBI agent character says “clip” instead of “magazine,” I’m gonna pop a serious cap.
The other interesting one I found is called Spy the Lie. I stumbled across it randomly in an adorable little bookstore in Baker City, OR during the state basketball tournament. It’s written by several different former CIA interrogators who provide real-world examples of deceptive behavior and, as you might guess from the title, how to tell when someone is lying. I found it to be an interesting read, although half the “liars” they described were doing things I’d probably do just because I’m an introverted nervous wreck. Still, I picked up some interesting tips. I had jury duty last summer and we convicted a guy with two counts of first-degree sex abuse and sent him to prison for 12+ years. That trial was such a mess; the defendant’s daughter was a witness for the prosecution, and the victim’s mom (the defendant’s wife) was a witness for the defense. It was really sad. Anyway, no matter how confident I’d been during deliberation, there were times during the following days where I wondered if we’d done the right thing, because the case was like 4 years old and there wasn’t a shred of physical evidence. We were forced to just listen to the witnesses and decide who to believe. Then I went and read this book, and I became convinced we had indeed done the right thing. That guy was a scumbag who was lying through his teeth, and it felt pretty good to be confident about that.
I hope everyone will go out and check out some of these great books. You can view my ratings and reviews for them – as well as many others – over on my Goodreads page.