Bromances, Chick Lit, and Other Escapes of the Mind

imagesYears ago, when life got pretty intense for Chris, he discovered a Second Life. Literally, Second Life. That particular virtual world was on the rise at the time, and he would escape for hours and hours designing, teraforming, building, flying, and losing himself within an avatar of his own creation. I actually created my own avatar and opened a virtual art gallery in the game, just so I could spend time with him.

images (1)Now, finding myself faced with a few intense scenarios of my own over the past months, I find that my version of virtual escape is “chain-reading.” Nose down in the pages and my mind on the run. And the more intense the real world scenario, the more fantastical the genre I choose. And if its a series? Even better. Won’t stop till its complete.

So, if you’re wondering where I’ve been since my last blog entry? Living in someone else’s world rather than my own… And here’s a list of those worlds:

The Super Natural, Fallen Angels, Shape Shifting, Zombie-Infested, Vampiric, Animalistic,  Just Beyond Our Reality World:

  • Deeply Odd by Dean Koontz (still one of my all time favorite characters)
  • The Demon Trilogy (soon to be a series of five) by Peter V. Brett — The Warded Man, Desert Spear and The Daylight War
  • The Wolf Lake Series by Jennifer Kohout — Legend (Book 1) and Untamed (Book 2)
  • Voice of the Blood, Jemiah Jefferson
  • The Mercy Thompson Series by Patricia Briggs — Books 1 – 6, Moon Called, Blood Bound, Iron Kissed, Bone Crossed, Frost Burned, and Silver Borne
  • The Soulkeeper Series by G.P. Ching — Books 1 – 3, The Soulkeepers, Weaving Destiny, and Return to Eden
  • Dark Moon by Rebecca York
  • Z2134 by Sean Platt and David W. Wright
  • Divine Misdemeanors and Swallowing Darkness, two more from the Meredith Gentry Series by Laurell K. Hamilton
  • Extinction Point, Paul Antony Jones

The Rock ’em, Sock ’em Find ’em, and Solve ’em World:

  • The Forgotten, David Baldacci
  • The Devil Colony, James Rollins
  • The Black Box, Michael Connelly
  • Six Years and Stay Close by Harlan Coben
  • More of the Jack Reacher Series by Lee Child — Worth Dying For, The Enemy,  and Second Son
  • Shall We Tell The President?, Jeffrey Archer
  • Inferno, Dan Brown

The “Am I Ready for Real Literature Again” World:

  • Tell the Wolves I’m Home, Carol Rifka Brunt
  • The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey
  • Wilderness, Lance Weller
  • Snow Fall, a short story/documdrama by John Brand
  • The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein

So now, back to my own life. And very much looking forward to it!

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Online Library Hours: 24/7

I’m going to pretend I’ve been blogging all along… consistent, riveting entries weekly… you do the same. Please. Thank you. However, while I may not have been blogging, I HAVE been reading. So here’s the latest and greatest Newbold library of reads and don’t reads:

MUST READ:

  • Gone — Cathi Hanauer (Interesting premise, quick read, easily relatable to all of us in our mid-life relationships and marriages)
  • Odd Interludes 1, 2 & 3 — Dean Koontz (Loved this “installment” approach; Odd is still my FAVORITE Dean Koontz character of all time; multi-dimensional, full of humor, and so loveable; how he mixes that into the horror/sci fi, well, that’s why he’s Dean Koontz)
  • Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter — Seth Grahame-Smith (If you’re looking for a mix of Lincoln history with a wonderfully strange twist, this is your book)
  • The Kitchen House — Kathleen Grissom (Fictional, but based in history; slave/owner story lines interwoven with indentured servitude; well-developed characters)
  • A Discovery of Witches — Deborah Harkness (A new twist on the supernatural for me; this is the first in a new series, and I’m already looking forward to the next book)
  • The Lifeboat — Charlotte Rogan (Love any shipwreck/ship accident survival theme — and you all know why — but this takes place at the turn of the last century and deals solely in feminine power and survival among men; very interesting read)

READ IF YOU ARE BORED or ON A PLANE:

  • The Vampire King — Heather Killough-Walden (She’s good, but the story line is predictable)
  • The Phantom King — Heather Killough-Walden (She’s good,  but the story line is predictable)
  • The Killing Floor — Lee Child (fairly hard core on the gruesome side, even for Lee Child)
  • The Innocent — David Baldacci (just right, but just not enough to warrant a “must read”)
  • Cry Wolf — Patricia Briggs (If you need a quick shape-shifting fix, this may be it)
  • Fair Game — Patricia Briggs (If you need a quick shape-shifting fix, this may be it)
  • Hunting Ground — Patricia Briggs (If yo uneed a quick shape-shifting fix, this may be it)

DON’T READ:

  • Micro — Michael Crighton/Richard Preston (A post-humous dis-service; leave this one on the shelf; ludicrous)
  • Kiss The Dead — Laurell K. Hamilton (Boring, formulaic, nothing new, sleeper, why bother)
  • Deadlocked — Charlaine Harris (Boring, formulaic, nothing new, sleeper, why bother)

 

A Mix of the Old and New

Reading for me is a mixed pleasure. And I mean that in a good way. Discovering new authors brings me pleasure, but discovering new works by authors I’ve come to know and appreciate brings me equal pleasure. This post is about both.

Tana French — You remember my raves about “The Likeness” and “In the Woods,” right? Well, “Faithful Place” delivers just as the others did. Her character development and her ability to bring a location, environment and culture to life are simply wonderful. I also love the fact that she takes a supporting character from one novel, and catapults that individual to hero or heroine of another novel. I always feel like I already know someone in the story, am already connected, and immediately give over to where she wants to take me because I usually already care about them. Her latest, “Broken Harbor,” is next on my list.

Robert Crais — I jumped right from “Taken” into “The Two Minute Rule” — both of similar genres (crime solving with a federal/local investigative twist, legal or not), but, unlike Tana French, no characters crossed over into the new novel. But the characters he developed in “The Two Minute Rule” were beautifully, if not tragically, written. I’m looking forward to discovering more from him.

 

 

Anne Rice — I know, I know. Really? But, yes! Really! Years ago, her Vampire Lestat series were mesmerizing. I mean, come on, she brought the genre to the mainstream years ago. Tom Cruise wanted the lead role in her movie, for gods’ sake. And that was BEFORE he want insane on Oprah… But, I digress. Her latest, “The Wolf Gift,” (yes, you guessed it, a werewolf tale) takes her back to her super natural roots and away from the Christian fare she was delivering for the last decade or so. While this novel was a bit tedious, self-righteous, and tethered to a moral discussion on evolution, free agency, and good versus evil, the actual werewolf bits reminded me that she still has it. This book clearly set her up for additional story lines, so I’ll be curious to see how quickly she delivers. Not sure I’ll be so quick to make the purchase…

Jodi Picoult — Now this is an author who is so mainstream that I have avoided her. (And yes, I see the irony in that statement, given my other choices… shut up.) Blame it on Oprah. I saw a segment on Oprah where she had this group of people around a table with glasses of wine and candles and they were discussing one of her book recommendations, and it was all so pretentious and nauseating that I swore off ANY book Oprah recommended for literally 7 years. Now that she’s off the air? I’m free to read authors she liked. Thus, Jodi Picoult. I chose the book because of my love of wolves, but the irony here is that “Lone Wolf” tells the story of a family torn apart by an unyielding father so rigid in his devotion to studying and living with wolves that his ability to communicate at a base level with his family was obstructed. Enough said. I loved the book.

Heather Killough-Walden — I admit it. The fact that her book only cost me $2.99 on NOOK was the reason I chose her. But I wasn’t disappointed. I was looking for an author who could deliver another sci-fi/fantasy series that would deliver the escape and quick read I was looking for, and this woman may be it. The fact that her entire “Big Bad Wolf” werewolf series was available for $3.99 cinched it.  I downloaded it immediately. Books 1 – 4 at that price? Come on. Wouldn’t you?

 

Stef Penney — His novel, “The Invisible Ones,” was challenging but rewarding. Based on Gypsy lore and history, it’s  a crime mystery told through the eyes of 4 – 6 different characters. Tracking through each of the characters was a bit tough, but the story-telling was beautiful. It’s a book that you need to be able to spend solid chunks of time with to absorb and appreciate. Given I was reading it on my iPhone during my 15 minute commute to work and back, I probably didn’t give it its due. But I still recommend it, and the author. I’m waiting for his previous novel, “The Tenderness of Wolves,” a murder mystery set in the late 1800’s in the Northern Territory, to become available for download. Yeah, I’m stubborn, but I refuse to go buy the paperback or hard cover of a novel published in 2008 when his 2012 novel is already available online. See what I’ve become?

The Digital Bookshelf

Chris can attest to the fact that I. Love. Bookshelves. They are beautiful. And even if their purpose is less about library and more about a presence in our home, I still love them. Maple, cherry, walnut… deep or narrow… free floating or lining a wall… It doesn’t matter. They just make me happy. It’s probably just a throw back to the Saturday morning job chart that my mom used to fill out for us. “Straightening the bookcase” in the family room was a Saturday job I dreaded — not because I hated the task, but because I knew I’d get sucked into reading all of the books, and my entire morning would be lost before I knew it! Not much has changed for me… Even with iBook, Nook or any other eReader, I get sucked in and just keep reading. Here are a few of my latest finds that have kept me busy at “straightening the bookshelf…”

Alice Hoffman: The Dovekeepers

I wasn’t quite sure I was going to enjoy this book, given my unfamiliarity with Jewish history and the Roman Empire. But I needn’t have worried. The characters came to life via four story lines that even told separately, came together beautifully. I found myself driving through pages when it began to plod from a descriptive perspective, but more because I wanted to move more quickly, rather than out of boredom or frustration. I recommend it.

Susan Wilson: One Good Dog

Definitely light reading, but for anyone with a connection to their own pet — specifically a dog? It’s a must — even if the story is a bit predictable and a bit saccharin. Sometimes that’s EXACTLY what is needed. The story is told from two perspectives: human and dog, depending upon the chapter. The characters are real and interesting enough, and the author gives human voice to the dog during his chapters. If you can forgive that projection of human thought onto an animal, then I recommend this book. And if you love your dog and SWEAR you can communicate with it? Then it’s a no brainer. Read this book.

Robert Crais: Taken

This was my first foray into the world of Robert Crais — and I’ve already started reading another of his books. This particular book dealt with a mystery around illegal human trafficking, and I was immediately hooked from the first couple of pages. This book’s protagonists were a private detective and his associate. In reviewing a list of other titles by Mr. Crais, it appears I’ll have a few “straighten the bookcase days” ahead of me, as there appear to be two series that delve into the world of both of these characters separately. Always good to open a book with characters you already know and see what they’re up to!

Laurel K. Hamilton: The Meredith Gentry Series (volumes 1 – 7)

You remember I loved the Anita Blake series… well, this series also stays with the fantasy element, but focuses more on the world of faerie as it co-exists with our reality here in the US. The protagonist is another strong female character, and it took me a while to separate myself from the Anita Blake character, simply because of the nuances between the two. In the end? It’s good stuff and a great escape. I still favor Anita Blake’s world over Meredith Gentry’s world, but hey — both are a great place to visit after a long day in this world. And yes, there are seven titles. And yes, I read them all in a very short period of time. Thank you, Donna Douglas and Dale and Barb Newbold for those Barnes and Noble gift cards.

My Book Crusade

Raymond Khoury

While you may think that Dan Brown has the corner on the religious adventure genre (and yes, I may have just made up that genre), Raymond Khoury actually cranks it up a notch with his take on the Crusades. He blends drama, mystery, early Christianity and the Knights Templar,  and modern agnosticism into the perfect read. And the way he weaves historical data into a story to challenge whatever your personal belief system might be with a whole lot of “what ifs” kept me coming back for more. I downloaded all four of his novels and just kept reading one after another. I guess I found my religion? Check them out at your leisure. Definitely worth it.

On My Nightstand…

In between my fits of shape-shifting, vamping, otherworldly adventures, I do try to stay abreast of what’s hot in the bookstores — and begrudgingly with Oprah. Here’s a quick headline on my latest reads, though being my latest read doesn’t necessarily mean newest to print. And if you have a Nook, I’m happy to lend one to you!

  • The Help (Kathryn Stockett): I know, I know… Where have I been? But better late than never. It was a read that offered a nice, slow build through the eyes of each of its characters. And the build was worth it. The author weaved a nice mix of cultural and racial education that drew me in, embarrassed me, shamed me, engaged me, and brought me joy. It’s a definite must-read.
  • Hostage Zero (John Gilstrap): Shoot ’em up, knock ’em down, kill a few, all in the name of building a better life for orphans of criminals. It’s black ops for the bleeding heart. That would be me. It’s plane fodder, and beats the hell out of a lame copy of US Weekly or People.
  • Out Stealing Horses (Per Petterson): Now I know why book reviewers call a story haunting. Because it stays with you. Makes you wonder about the life of an individual who only exists on paper. That’s a beautiful thing. It’s a generational story that will ring true to any son who understands the influence his father had on him, but never understood the man, and then watches that influence wash over those in the following generation. I highly recommend it.
  • Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen): Again, I’m late to the game, but so glad I finally got to it. Another story wonderfully told through past and present glimpses of a 93-year old man. Confined to a wheelchair in an assisted living home, his mind roams through his unbelievable life on the road with the circus during the depression. Such a great portal. I loved being there with him and fell in love with his character. The author’s notes confirmed that the roots of the story are based in historical fact, which always thrills me. Fictitiouis characters bring real adventures to life are a favorite of mine, as is now this book.

Oh, and yes, volumes 9 – 13 of Anita Blake, Vampire Slayer were stellar. I won’t deny it.

Where Is Heaven?

No, this post is not a throw back to my 1984 touring days with the LDS musical “It’s A Miracle.” It’s about a book I recently read that triggered some religious philosophizing on my part: “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven.” Having been raised very religiously, it is not a big surprise that a book about a child who has died, experiences time with God and/or Jesus, angels, returns to life and receives continued visitations should peak my curiosity. It’s an interesting read, and I recommend it, strictly from the perspective that it is always good to remember that no single individual or religion has the corner on truth. Truth takes all forms. Religion takes all forms. God takes all forms. And most of how that comes to life is as individual as the belief itself.

I’m reminded of my time as a missionary in Japan, when myself and my “companion” (yep, white shirts, ties and a bicycle) visited Meiji-Mura, a westernized colonial town reconstruction near Nagoya, Japan. Within its confines were several Christian churches that had been rebuilt and moved to this location as part of the museum. One of the churches was incredibly simple in its construct — nothing special architecturally. It had housed a Christian minister and his Japanese congregation in its prime. But what interested me more was the overpowering feeling — the spirit — in that building. I let it wash over me, confused and curious that another religious edifice could move the same spiritual roots in me that some of my own religious upbringing had the power to do. However, I always assumed that my religion was the only one that could do that. Apparently, not so.

Leaving the building, I was a little uncomfortable, thinking that something in my world was now broken. Then my “companion,” who toured the building at the same time as me, stopped and said: “Did you feel that?” And I knew exactly what he meant. And we shared a brief glance that spoke volumes. We didn’t have the corner on the market. We had something special, something wonderful, but that didn’t mean that the rest of the world didn’t have their own something special and wonderful, either. It was a good lesson for a 20 year-old to learn.

So, back to “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven”… Truth? Fiction? Does it matter? Maybe so, but maybe not. Maybe all that matters is that it represents a higher power — whether that power comes from within, without, or “above.” Recognition of that power works for some. And I say, more power to them.