Monday, August 29, 2016

Book Review: The FIreman

Joe Hill's latest novel, The Fireman (2016) focuses on a pandemic of spontaneous combustion.

Just take a moment and think about how awful that would be; people, seemingly at random, simply erupting into flame and burning to death. Then imagine it on a global level.

Having been a long-time fan of dystopian future and post-apocalyptic fiction, I think I can honestly say this is one of the most terrifying concepts I've come across in horror fiction. The Superflu, vampire plagues, and nuclear or zombie strikes are all excellent ways to force regular characters into extraordinary circumstances, but the world Joe Hill has stuck his character Harper Willowes into may be one of the worst I've seen.

What surprised me so much about the book was how much hope and love was able to be exist in this terrible circumstance; as Harper travels through this new terrible world, everything has not simply gone bad, in fact, somethings may even be a little better.

The novel was compulsively readable, and as with his previous fiction had me hooked early. A great read, and definitely stick around through the credits and acknowledgements at the end, as the novel still has one more treat in store for the devoted reader.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

On Turning Forty

Tomorrow I leave my thirties behind, and hit my fortieth birthday; which, as is often said, is surely better than the alternative.

As a long time reader, I thought it might be fun to see what I was reading back in 2006 as I was leaving my twenties behind, so her goes, from my "Books Read" list from August of 2006, the last five books I read in my twenties:

The Door Into Summer, by Robert A. Heinlein
A 1957 Science Fiction novel by Heinlein that to be honeset I don't entirely remember - I'll lay odds it has something to do with a man abused by his fiance, who gets revenge using time travel and eventually marries her spunky and much younger sister. (SPOILER - after looking at a synopsis on wikipedia I'm pretty much 100$ correct).

The Notebook, by Nicholas Sparks
A romance novel I'm pretty certain I read for one of my bookclubs; I actually have a pretty good recollection of the story and honestly it would be a pretty great entry into romance fiction for anyone.

The Godwulf Manuscript, by Robert B. Parker
This was the first of Robert B. Parker's Spencer novels, a series that would become my personal favourite in detective fiction and an author who's books I devoured, at the rate of one a month for years.

Never Cry Wolf, by Farley Mowat
A re-read for me at the time, but as one can never read too much Farley, Never Cry Wolf may be one of my favourite Canadian books period.  It follows the author through his government sponsored study to prove that wolves were a menace to be destroyed and his findings that pretty much the opposite was entire true.

Ring Around the Sun, by Clifford D. Simack
A recommendation from Stephen King, suggested as his introduction to alternate dimensions that would one day lead to certain story concepts in his Dark Tower series, It doesn't quite stand up for me as well as his 1963 novel Way Station, but is a fine example of great classic Science Fiction.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Book Review: The Onion Girl

When reading any series, in any genre, you eventually come across a book that works to put everything you've read together, showing you a perspective on the world you haven't seen before, sometimes this happens quite early (like Stephen King's The Drawing of the Three - book two of his Dark Tower series, or Louis L'Amour's The Sackett Brand - book five of his series focusing on the Sackett family).

For me, Charles de Lint does this in his tenth book focusing on his fiction city of Newford The Onion Girl, which focuses finally and specifically on artist/waitress/fierce woman Jilly Coppercorn, and finally grants her the wish she's had in all of his books, to see the world of magic; of course, seeing the larger world has it's own costs as well...

The book begins with Jilly awakening after a hit-and-run car accident, stuck in a hospital bed and in significant pain, and as she is now the person who needs support, all of her friends (and many of the leads from previous de Lint novels and short stories), rally around her in her time of need. But the accident, which seems to have put a complete stop to her life in Newford, seems to have awoken something else in her, as she now begins to travel in the realm of the spirits while sleeping, letting her see true magic, but also potentially stopping her from focusing on her life in Newford.

As a parallel story, the book introduces Raylene Carter, a woman with a history similar to Jilly's and who took a decidedly different path. Raylene is fun, brash, and more than a little dangerous, and her story was a really nice counterpoint to Jilly's.

The novel does include a previously released short story "In the House of my enemy" (1993), which fits nicely in the narrative and gives necessary backstory to readers new to de Lint's work.

A great book

Friday, August 19, 2016

Book Review: Fellside

M.R. Carey's 2016 follow up to The Girl With all the Gifts is a ghost story set in a maximum security women's prison called Fellside, and although it doesn't feel even a little bit like the previous novel, it really worked for me in telling a sprawling story that kept me invested the whole way through.

The novel follow Jess Moulson, a heroin addict who begins the novel in a hospital after having survived an apartment fire, and brings the reader along on her discovery of just how awful the fire actually was. Without going into specifics, Jess is convicted to Fellside and the majority of the novel focuses on how she deals with the consequences of her actions.

The novel does include some elements of both fantasy and mystery, and works quite well at developing a large cast of characters (compared to the less than ten focus characters in The Girl With All The Gifts). Although I didn't enjoy it in the same way as the previous novel, it was definitely well worth the read.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

My Top Study Suggestion for my Daughters

Next month my youngest daughter heads into her second year of University and my oldest into her first year of Graduate Studies, and although I've told both of them my various tips and tricks for studying, a good friend reminded me today I've never written them down, so here goes:

Introductory Time Management (a.k.a. Use a Calendar)
Remember how Junior High (middle school) and High School orientation days always included getting a student calendar/day planner? If you were like me, you'd kind of flip through the book, remove any fast food coupons, then toss it to the bottom of you bag or the back of your locker until it was time to clear everything out at the end of the year.

Here's the funny thing, if you actually use that calendar, it can make your life a whole lot simpler.

Personally, I create my own calendar, which is filled out as soon as I get my various course outlines, so that I can step back and look at all of my upcoming assignments, tests, presentations, etc. and decide where is the best way for me to spend my time for today.

Looking at my sample calendar for the month of October, I can see a couple tight spots, specifically at the beginning of the month where two mid-terms and an assignment fall; this let's me know that I should really make sure the assignment is through the rough stages before the tests, only leaving me with revisions after I write a mid-term on the 3rd.

Another great use of this method, is it let's you know at a glance, where the tightest spots are, so that you can go to your teacher way ahead of time and ask if you can hand in/present your work early. For obvious reasons this doesn't work with tests, but a little wiggle room for one paper can give you that much more time to work on your group presentation over the weekend.

Now there are many different ways of getting this type of work done (I've recently been looking at bullet journals as a possible alternative), but for me, the process of creating a term(or semester)-long calendar gives you a great visualization as to exactly where to do your school work most effectively.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Book Review: End of Watch

Following up his books Mr. Mercedes (2014) and Finders Keepers (2015), Stephen King's End of Watch is his third to feature retired detective (William) Bill Hodges and although the first two in the series skewed towards Mystery and Thriller rather than Supernatural Horror, the latest book could easily been seen as a gateway novel for his new mystery fans to see some of the dark fantasy elements that can be found through a large part of his fiction overall.

As with Cell (2006), End of Watch does touch on fears of new technology and specifically the ubiquitous nature of a type of technology in our modern world, but the book focuses quite nicely on character and a mystery for the main plot, both of which work quite well, and build to an exciting game of cat and mouse between Bill and the books antagonist.

A lot of fun as well as a good gateway read for mystery and thriller fans.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Book Review: Riddley Walker

Russell Hoban’s 1980 dystopian future novel Riddley Walker begins as follows:

On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see non agen.

The book, narrated by a young man called Riddley Walker, takes place some two thousand years after the end of our civilization in Inland (England), and is narrated by Riddley in a style that often requires passages to be read out loud if you'd like to make sense of them.

Although it felt a little gimmicky at first (I found Trainspotting, by Irvine Welsh, to be a similar reading experience initially), the writing style actually forces the reader to slow down and try to make sense of Riddley's world, which in many ways is exactly what he is trying to do throughout the story. In that way, the style definitely works, throwing the experience off kilter like Christopher Nolan's Memento (2000), which also uses format to put the viewer in the same place as the protagonist.

In some ways the novel reminded me of John Crowley's Engine Summer, as it also takes place well in a future where we are long gone and not particularly thought of at all, but for me Riddley works a little better with the language issue - I had plenty of "A HA!" moments while reading and deciphering his story, and the book would definitely hold up well upon rereads.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Book Review: The Praise Singer

Continuing my journey through Ancient Greece in Historical Fiction, I've just finished Mary Renault's 1978 novel The Praise Singer, focusing on the lyric poet Simonides of Keos (556 BCE- 469 BCE).

The novel follows the narrator through his boyhood and into his fame from his point of view as an older man, and for me, this lens was a big part of what I really loved about the book. Early on, Simonides runs away from home to attempt to become apprenticed to a visiting poet, only to find out that his own father would have been happy to apprentice him to any poet, if only Simonides had ever let his passion for poetry be known. As a parent myself, this glimpse of missed opportunity felt especially heartbreaking.

Unlike her previous two books I've read on this list The King Must Die (1958) and The Bull From the Sea (1962), which followed the mythological figure Theseus, there isn't a lot action in this book, which focuses more on the power of words and poetry, as well as the movement from oral to written tradition. The reliability of the characters however, made for a pretty enthralling read, and considering I had never heard of Simonides of Keos before, definitely had me interested in learning more.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Book Review: Forests of the Heart

Finally moving out of the '90s and into the 2000s, Charles de Lint's Forests of the Heart is a pretty fantastic way to start the new decade.

The novel, set in his fictional Canadian city of Newford, does feature a few of his fan favourite characters, but in this novel they are secondary to a new group, one including artists, musicians, a witch, and some very kind people who get in way over their heads.

As with most of his fiction set in Newford, de Lint focuses on how regular folk interact with the mythic, being creatures or events from beyond our world (but often also from just around the corner), but as with his best work, this focuses largely on his human characters and their all-too-human issues.

Two of the main characters, a used-record store owner named Hunter Cole, and an artist/social worker named Ellie Jones, actually begin with very little in terms of fantasy elements in their lives, neither are the latest in a family lineages of healers (another character in the novel) or have a family history involved with a group of creatures simply called "The Gentry" (that falls to two other characters).  A Big part of what I love about this novel is how well de Lint manages a large cast of characters, deftly switching back and forth between them, without ever losing the inertia of the story.

Forests of the Heart is a well crafted fantasy novel, something I might suggest to bring fans of Urban Fantasy into some of the amazing things the genre of Fantasy can bring to a story.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Book Review: The Dreaming Dragons

Damien Broderick's The Dreaming Dragons begins with a simple premise; Alf Dean Djanyagirnji, an Australian anthropologist and his nephew are exploring caves in an attempt to find ancient representations of the Rainbow Serpent, a creator god in traditional Australian Aboriginal mythology. What they find instead leads to a secret military base, alien technology and the history of humanity itself.

Having read a lot of Science Fiction over the years, I have to say I haven't read a lot from Australia - Max Barry's Jennifer Government (an excellent book!) and a few fantasy novels by Sarah Douglass are the only ones that come to mind, so I was quite intrigued when I realized how focused this book was going to be on the region.

Although the book has a few flaws; not really any female characters of note, and extensive dream sequences (that do move the plot forward, but were often a little confusing to read), it's portrayal of the treatment of Aboriginal peoples in Australia's history is both harrowing and factual.

In the end, I found the book to be an interesting read, and like all good science fiction, a read that left me thinking a lot about who we are, and where we come from.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Movie Review: Suicide Squad

So I just got back from an advanced screening of the new film Suicide Squad, and I've got to say it was a pretty fun movie.  For those of you who haven't been affected by the massive ad campaign for the film, the movie is set in the same world as Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, but instead of focusing on the heroes, focuses on a group of villains being blackmailed into doing some good.

Although the squad itself has six members, the standouts for me were the leads, Will Smith and Margot Robbie (as Deadshot and Harley Quinn, respectively), who brought a lot more heart and fun to this movie than I was expecting.  The previous films in the new DC cinematic world have been filled with darkness and earnestness, but not a lot of humour or pizazz and director David Ayer has created a film that has to stand up to a lot of pressure; with questions like "Would this type of movie even work" and how will it stand up compared to Marvel?  Also, what could possibly be scarier than this band of villains.

The answer is a surprisingly intense performance by Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, the mastermind who puts the team together and has to both seem reasonable and terrifying (often at the same time), as well as a pretty fun appearance by The Mindy Project's Ike Barinholtz as a particularly nasty guard charged with keeping the Squad in lockdown.

Although I'm sure there were all sorts of easter eggs for bigger DC comic fans than me, (and a couple obligatory cameos of future Justice League characters), I found the movie stands well on its own, and definitely has me hoping for a sequel.

...and I didn't even get to say how much fun I had with Jared Leto's take on the Joker! 

...oh year, I guess I just did.