California and the Unread Shelf


I bought this book on a whim five years ago. If I am being honest with myself, I buy most books on a whim which is why I own more books than I will probably be able to read before I die. During the last year, I engaged in an unread shelf project which challenges readers to stop buying books and just read what they already own. I am sure there are many varieties to this challenge, like not permitting oneself to buy a new book until five owned and unread books have been read, but I have not constrained myself in such a way. I am feeling this one out. I have not purchased a book for myself in months — at all this year? — and I feel pretty good about that. The act of purchasing a book always comes with a sense of joy until I return home and remember that I have nowhere to put a new book. Remorse ensues and book is piled on the floor. This cycle repeated dozens, maybe hundreds, of times until I decided it was time to stop. I reviewed my bookcases, boxed up books I had already read but had a weird sensation of wanting to keep as well as books I decided I probably was never going to read and donated them to one of those free library kiosks one finds scattered about. The one I discovered is behind a little beer brewery which seems fitting since I am usually inebriated when I buy books which is probably why I buy so many on the aforementioned whim. We seem to be uncovering the root of the matter, do we not?

When I started writing this book-centric blog however many years ago it was, I had grand plans. Stars in my eyes and whatnot. I was going to write an article about every book I read and before long, I would have a vast repository of book reviews, babblings, and relatable stories that people would discover and enjoy reading. For many reasons, things have not panned out quite like that. I am constantly reminded how difficult writing is. Sometimes, I sit down and the words just flow, but it seems most times I slog uphill in the rain under heavy machine gun fire. I doff my cap to those book bloggers who are able to put in the time and effort required to maintain a successful blog and I am doubly impressed by those who are able to make a career of it. That is the dream, is it not? Well done, you.

Now, to the book at hand: California by Edan Lepucki. I bought this at my local Barnes & Noble some months after its 2014 release. It was on the Discover Great New Writers shelf which was a frequent stop any time I entered the store. The book jacket said something about a young couple escaping the crumbling city of Los Angeles and heading for the hills to survive the collapse of the nation. With Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and John Hillcoat’s excellent film adaptation still pinging around in my head, my interest was piqued. I enjoy the apocalypse genre of literature and film and was intrigued by the fact that in this story, the apocalypse is not nuclear or extraterrestrial, but climatic and economic. The survivors are not wandering a desolate wasteland plagued by two-headed beasts and irradiated water. Frida and Cal escape to a forest, commandeer an abandoned shack, and manage to survive as well as they can. They are visited by a wandering trader who stops by regularly with supplies on offer. They encounter a nearby family who share survival tips and help the young couple along. Things seem to be going as well as they can, but Frida and Cal are frequently warned not to stray too far from their plot of land. Bandits may be lurking in the woods and a mysterious settlement surrounded by a fortification of ominous Spikes lies not too far away. When Frida and Cal ask questions about this settlement, the responses they receive are cagey and foreboding. When a series of events threatens their tenuous sense of security, Frida and Cal venture toward the settlement for help. Are the inhabitants hostile or are the Spikes merely protecting a friendly but frightened group of people?

My familiarity with the genre fed my expectations and I was pleased that the story defied those expectations. Frida and Cal are both presented as POV characters in alternating chapters so readers become acquainted with each of them and see the other through their partner’s eyes. This is a slow but steady character study exploring just how rapidly people can grow complacent, how much of themselves they are willing to sacrifice when presented with the smallest comfort after enduring tremendous hardship. How would I respond in such a situation? After reading the novel, I am still pondering the answer. That is what I love about the post-apocalypse genre. It is a fantasy of being able to start over without the worries of the modern world. It is a return to basic needs and wilderness survival. In this genre, mankind tends to squad up with like-minded individuals collaborating in a tribal environment. No gods or kings, only Man. Of course, that is a short-lived dream and someone always asserts authority and claims control of the people. What is most interesting about this feature of the genre is who rises to the top and how everyone else reacts to it. I enjoyed this storyline in California. The who was unexpected, as was the how. The conclusion surprised me with its truth. It is probably how things would go if this were to actually happen and that, not the book’s conclusion itself, is disappointing. I find myself believing we would do better, but I know I am just fooling myself. We are where we are because of what we are and no world shattering event will change that.

This novel is much more The Road, much less Mad Max. Both have their place and I just happened to be in a The Road kind of mood. If you are too, I think you will enjoy a steady journey through California.

Elantris and the Tsundoku Condition


I first heard Brandon Sanderson’s name when he was hired to complete Robert Jordan’s mammoth The Wheel of Time fantasy series after Mr. Jordan passed away in 2007 — gee, has it been 11 years already? The Wheel of Time was a favorite series of a few friends of mine, but I never tackled it and so I missed my first potential exposure to Sanderson’s talent. I then started seeing Sanderson’s name mentioned in discussion forums like Shelfari and Goodreads and hearing about him on bookcentric podcasts like Sword & Laser. Then some commentators I trust began shouting his name from the mountaintops after Sanderson’s The Way of Kings was released. I started doing something weird. I bought The Way of Kings, the first book of a series called The Stormlight Archive, but I was not able to read it yet. Then book two of The Stormlight Archive, Words of Radiance — what a beautiful title — was released and I bought that, still having not read The Way of Kings. Then the third title, Oathbreaker, hit store shelves and I exchanged my paycheck for it. Here is the truly bizarre aspect of this entire situation: I still have not read any of them. Is it not madness to buy the second and third volumes of a series when one has not yet read the first? There is a Japanese term for this practice of continuing to buy books but not reading them: 積ん読 or tsundoku. Here is an applicable quote attributed to American author Alfred Edward Newton:

Even when reading is impossible, the presence of books acquired produces such an ecstasy that the buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching towards infinity … we cherish books even if unread, their mere presence exudes comfort, their ready access reassurance.

Right? If you are reading this, you are probably an avid reader like me and nodded in agreement while reading that quote. Welcome, brethren. So here I was with this condition I now know is called tsundoku and a heap of unread Brandon Sanderson novels. Three beautiful hardcover volumes comprised of three thousand three hundred forty two pages. It is intimidating. Then a colleague gave me a copy of Elantris, Brandon Sanderson’s debut novel. Unlike much of Sanderson’s later work, Elantris is a single story encased in a single volume. Being the man’s debut novel, I decided this was the best place to begin exploring his work and so on a warm, midsummer night, I entered the gates of Elantris. Holy cow, smoke, and Toledo, y’all. I enjoyed this story so much!

When the beloved Prince Raoden of Arelon wakes up one morning to discover he has been afflicted with a magical disease, his father the king secretly exiles him to the nearby walled city of Elantris. Once a majestic and beautiful city inhabited by people with godlike powers, Elantris is now a festering prison populated by the rotting unfortunates slung low by the disease known as the Shaod. Raoden must now fight the debilitating effects of his disease as he attempts to investigate the cause of the fall of Elantris with the hope of restoring the city to its former glory and healing himself and the hundreds of others with his condition. The Shaod brings madness quickly though so Raoden has little time before he is lost forever. Outside the walls, Teoish princess Sarene arrives in the kingdom to discover the man she was to marry has mysteriously died. She suspects foul play and conspiracy and begins an investigation to discover what really happened to her betrothed. As she works, he allies herself with a group of nobles with designs to overthrow the corrupt king of Arelon and becomes embroiled in a dangerous political coup just as the external forces of neighboring Fjordell threaten to assault Arelon. High Priest Hrathen of Fjordell has seen what war does to a kingdom his nation means to subjugate and so has just ninety days to peacefully convert the people of Arelon to his nation’s religion before the powerful armies of Fjordell arrive to bring destruction and death to the unfaithful.

All three primary characters are so enjoyable that I found myself conflicted when a chapter switched perspective from one character to another. I wanted to remain with each of them and continue exploring their story and their world, but I was also excited to learn more about the other two characters. This inspired me to read deeply and quickly as I thirsted for more information about each character. Even Hrathen, who is supposed to be villain, is so deserving of empathy that I found myself struggling to hate him as he executed his plans to bring about the conquest of the kingdom of Arelon. Prince Raoden is exactly the kind of leader I wish to be: decisive, intelligent, earnest, clever, empathetic. I loved his chapters and rooted so strongly for him. Sarene is a wonderful character, a strong female protagonist in a patriarchal society, fighting for truth and for civil rights in a kingdom foreign to her.

If you enjoy fantasy novels that are not just all about sword fights, stories that include intrigue and clever magic systems, read Elantris. If you have not read a Brandon Sanderson novel yet, this one will make you a fan and is an excellent example of his talent as a storyteller. I have a lot of Sanderson still on my shelf and the tsundoku still rages, but reading Elantris is a positive first step toward controlling it. One page at a time.

My Italian Bulldozer


Alexander McCall Smith is the prolific writer of novels, children’s books, and academic texts probably best known for his bestselling mystery series The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. He has a vast audience of international readers who buy millions of copies of his books. He has built a thirty-plus year career writing at a rapid pace and publishing a book or more each year, at least for the last two decades. When My Italian Bulldozer was published in 2016, it was one of just five books bearing his name that were published that year. After reading My Italian Bulldozer, I wonder if he maybe ought to slow down a bit.

The journey is rough from the beginning. The clunky opening chapter features three chronological jumps backward to recount different parts of the same conversation between author Paul and his editor Gloria about the dissolution of Paul’s four-year romantic relationship with Becky who has run off with her personal trainer. The time jumps were unnecessary and confusing, and the narrative structure of the chapter would have been stronger without the pointless chronological trickery. This conversation could have been a great opportunity to establish the two characters involved, but instead I spent half of my time wondering why the chapter was being presented in such an odd manner. When a reader begins a book, they want to trust the author but after this first chapter, my trust of McCall Smith was already tenuous.

After the first chapter, Paul crosses the threshold into the main adventure of the book. This part of the story begins well enough as Paul, the author of a popular series of food culture books, is on his way to Italy to spend three weeks in the Tuscan countryside putting the final touches on his most recent book, Paul Stuart’s Tuscan Table. This premise tugs at the reader’s adventurous and romantic strings, hinting at that travel fantasy so many of us share, that desire for true freedom. I took a hesitant, hopeful step toward trusting the author. It was all downhill from there.

A series of completely ridiculous scenarios reveal an unlikable main character with terrible decision-making skills. It is as though McCall Smith has a collection of flashcards of writing prompts and drew from the deck at random to construct the story. Once Paul arrives at his destination, the hilltop Tuscan town of Montalcino, he experiences a series of romantic entanglements that reveal Paul to be one of the most fickle characters I have ever seen. Add to this some awful dialogue featuring sentence structures no real speaking human uses, an American character who uses British speech patterns and lingo, and season with a dollop of borderline misogyny. I present to you a real line of dialogue from Alexander McCall Smith’s My Italian Bulldozer:

“She must have been imagining things. Women can be funny about bulldozers.”

What the hecking flip? Let me climb out onto a limb and claim that the vast majority of people, regardless of gender, do not think about bulldozers enough to form any kind of opinion about them. And there is certainly no foundation to support such a generalization about women. By this point in the book, my trust in the author had flatlined but this made me want to throw the book across the room. The dialogue might have been acceptable had the author been constructing a character who expresses a low opinion of women or an archaic view of gender roles, but this is the only such statement or action by that character nor does any other character respond to it in any way. Not to agree with it, not to challenge it. Instead, it is just a stupid line of dialogue that says nothing about anybody except the author.

I generally do not notice an author’s style unless it is exceptionally clever or exceptionally bad. The latter applies here. Granted, this is the first and likely only Alexander McCall Smith book I have or will ever read, but after reading My Italian Bulldozer, I have decided his grade school teachers never uttered the phrase “show, don’t tell”. And what is this thing he does where he states what a character is thinking and then immediately has the character say what they were thinking? It is as though his editor told him the book was too short –my paperback copy is still only 232 pages with half-page character headers—and instructed him to write more. To make matters worse, on some occasions, the thought-then-spoken dialogue is followed by further thought of the character explaining the purpose of their dialogue. To whom is this explanation directed? Does the author not trust his readers to figure out his clever prose or is he just padding his word count? I do not know which offense is worse.

The titular bulldozer is a largely pointless gimmick but does pay off at the end in a completely unsatisfying way. There are so many missed opportunities in this story. The winemaker, whose life we are told is drastically changed by the bulldozer, should have had a much bigger role in the story. He could have been the perfect mentor character, helping Paul navigate the romantic subplots using winemaking and cooking as metaphors for the various stages of love and loss. It was an opportunity for a strong friendship that would have made the this final bulldozer scene a triumphant one for the winemaker and for Paul, but because every character in this novel is as structurally sound as wet toilet paper, this climactic moment and all moments leading up to it mean nothing.

By the book’s flaccid conclusion, I was left with my head in my hands. I rarely feel the urge to abandon a book I am not enjoying, wanting to give the author the every possible chance to turn things around, but this is a book I would have dumped had I not been reading it for a book club. An inconsistent protagonist, weak supporting characters, bad dialogue, and an unsatisfying story make My Italian Bulldozer a disappointing novel I would like to forget but will probably remember for a long time so I can tell all of my friends and family to skip it.

The Travelers

I consider myself an equal opportunity reader but on occasion, I come across a book belonging to a genre I have barely, if ever, touched. I was recently in my local Barnes & Noble Booksellers store, an unnecessary but still tasty cafe mocha in my hand, ambling along the aisles of discounted hardcover novels at the front of the store. There were the usual suspects filling the overstock shelves. James Patterson always has several titles in this section because the man writes a book a month it seems. One or two of Nora Roberts's recent releases beckoned passersby with their colorful covers. A stack of Stephen King waited to creep the heck out of someone. This time, however, my eye was drawn to a new cover I had never seen before, a pale blue background picturing the undersides of passenger airliners in a pattern that made it look like desktop wallpaper. In bold red, an author's name with which I was unfamiliar, and the book title which partially covered the face of a man in a suit standing in a pose that suggested he was on his way somewhere but something to his left had startled him. Next to the man and facing away from him and me, a woman in a coat with upturned collar looking like she is probably up to something. I cannot explain what about this image intrigued me, but I shifted my cafe mocha to my other hand, picked up the book and read the front cover flap. A spy thriller. I pursed my lips in contemplation. I enjoy spy films--the Mission: Impossible series, the underappreciated Brad Pitt/Robert Redford film Spy Game, and the film that made Brangelina a thing, Mr. and Mrs. Smith--but I could not recall ever reading a spy novel. I have seen several James Bond films, but I have never read any of Ian Fleming's work. Did I read Patriot Games in high school? I do not recall finishing it, probably because school work got in the way as it got in the way of everything. No, I could not think of a single spy novel I had ever read or even really wanted to read yet I held in my hands a hardcover copy of Chris Pavone's The Travelers and I was inexplicably drawn to it. And it was heavily discounted. And I had a coupon that specifically stated it could be applied to my entire purchase including already discounted items. I had consumed half of my cafe mocha and it was fueling a blood sugar spike that made me feel reckless and adventurous. Into the shopping basket the book went.


I started reading The Travelers within a few weeks of bringing it home, which is rare. Usually when I buy a book, I bring it home and it lives in a stack of unread books for a ridiculous period of time. For some reason, I wanted to read this one as soon as possible. If you intend to read The Travelers, dedicate time to it. I started the book in April and finished July 3 and during that time, I read three other books and listened to four audiobooks. Audiobooks are my drive time entertainment (Safety first, kids! Don't read and drive!) and the three physical books were for a book club so those were priority. It is not as though The Travelers did not hold my interest. I just made the mistake of reading it just I began participating in the book club so my leisure reading time was practically nonexistent. So learn from my mistake and mainline The Travelers. There are enough moving parts here that the story deserves your full attention. I enjoyed the story, but because I read it in fits and starts, sometimes with several days or even weeks between reading sessions. I would find myself lost and trying to recall who certain important supporting characters were. Once I focused my attention on the book though, I was so entertained by it that I read the final sixty percent of it in less than a week.

Will Rhodes is a travel writer working for the New York-based print magazine TRAVELERS. During an assignment in St Emilion, France, Will meets an attractive young Australian journalist named Elle Hardwick. The attraction is mutual and intense, but Will is a married man. Still, Elle's allure is powerful and he has a difficult time maintaining his composure and his fidelity. Unfortunately for Will, he meets Elle again on assignment in Argentina where Will's life is fundamentally changed and he embarks on a dangerous and deadly globetrotting adventure. This is one of those "trust nobody" situations and Will learns his lessons the hard way.

The Travelers progresses at a rapid pace with many scenes lasting just a page or two before the reader is whisked away to a new location or a new character perspective, each of which endeavor to tangle the web and confound the reader. Some scenes were so brief and so vague that when they were over, I was left with a "wait, what?" sensation. While that might discourage some readers, it invigorated me. I just knew that unnamed character who just waltzed into the story and said something cryptic was going to pop up again later and I wanted to know more so I kept reading, often well past my bedtime. The conclusion of the story is exciting and satisfying and I was sorry when it was over. The book is a fun ride and I am happy that I finally found a healthy chunk of time to devote to it. Chris Pavone is definitely on my watch list now and I want to check out his debut novel, The Expats. 

Blue Mars


It took me two decades, but I finally did it. I read the final volume of Kim Stanley Robinson's landmark Mars trilogy. I had read the first two volumes, Red Mars and Green Mars, in college but then life got in the way and I never managed to start the third book. I do not often make New Year's resolutions but this year, I resolved to finish the trilogy. After so many years, I was concerned that I would not remember any of the characters or events of the first two hefty stories and the third volume would be nebulous and inaccessible. Kim Stanley Robinson adeptly reintroduces his loyal readers to the key members of the First Hundred, the original colonists of Mars, and of the pivotal moments of the previous two volumes, weaving in references to the discoveries, the betrayals, the revolution. Before too long, I was deep into book three, living on Mars with Sax and Ann and Michel and Maya, worrying with them about the future of their new home planet and the society they created.

The longevity treatments have successfully extended the lifespans of the First Hundred and those who followed them, with many of the original colonists living more than two centuries. Back on Earth, overpopulation and a great flood send hoards of immigrants fleeing to the new Mars with its forests, oceans, and clean air. So what happens when population booms and the elderly are living long lives in defiance of nature and not passing on like they are supposed to? Now you have a crisis of culture and ideology as well as population. Blue Mars explores these themes along with the environmental question of whether it is right to propagate to new planets in the name of human survival. As with the previous novels in the trilogy, chapters are presented from the perspective of alternating characters, giving readers an equal exposure to the variety of scientific ideas and socio-political philosophies that haunt the people driving the future of the planet. In addition to members of the First Hundred, readers also hear from their children, themselves now advanced in age thanks to the longevity treatments. They are Martians with full lifetimes lived as the first humans native to a planet that is not Earth and they have very different goals from their parents, conflicting ideologies for their planet.

During this time, we also learn that mankind has now successfully established colonies on other planets as well as Mars and that there are outposts in the asteroid belt. The scope of the story grows beyond just the conflict between Mars and Mother Earth as now multiple planets, each with their nationalistic pride and needs, compete for resources in a solar system that, due to improved interplanetary travel technology, is rapidly shrinking in size. It is analogous to the consequence of commercial air travel on Earth in the mid-20th century. When it takes less than a day to travel to the other side of the world when it used to take months, the world shrinks dramatically and cultures homogenize.

Kim Stanley Robinson is one of my favorite authors as I have stated in my articles on Shaman and Aurora. He explains enough of the science--or invents it--that the story sounds plausible and he then surrounds that science with developed characters with whom I find myself relating in so many ways. His science fiction stories are not just a speculation of wild possibilities. They are human stories at their core. The best stories are and Robinson's stories number among the best I have ever enjoyed.

The Bookshop on the Corner


I was looking forward to reading the hopeful story of a young woman who loses her job, takes a risk, and finds her way against all odds. Instead, this is a story of young woman who clears every hurdle with apparent ease because she is cute. This novel is the literary version of a Hallmark Channel movie. Some folks love Hallmark Channel movies and that is perfectly fine. I am not one of those folks and so I found this book frustrating which is also fine. Author Jenny Colgan has built a bestselling career out of writing novels of this style and cheers to her for that. There is an audience for this style of book, but I am not a part of it.

Nina Redmond is a young librarian who is kicked to the curb when her library branch in Birmingham, England is shuttered in favor of a new media center. Now jobless, she has to decide what to do. Nina is a book hoarder with stacks of books choking the pathways of her home and in this trait, I identified with Nina. However, her roommate has had it up to here with the clutter and demands Nina sort it out. Being an avid reader who loves the challenge of suggesting the perfect book for her library guests, Nina decides she will continue to pursue a book-related career and convert her collection of books into a bookshop. She buys a van (I am thinking this van is what we in America might call a box truck), converts the inside into a mobile bookshop , and moves to the Scottish Highlands to cater to the village folk who have not had access to a bookshop or library in many years. While I admired Nina's gumption, this is where the novel falls apart for me.

The entire venture is just too easy for Nina. She never seems to struggle. She says she is struggling, but we never see it. Her bank account is never in the red even after buying a van and moving to a new country. She finds her new residence without having to search or worry about being homeless and it isn't a drafty one room apartment above the pub. No, her new home is a barn that has just been converted into the perfect single lady's home with brand new appliances and 5-star-hotel-quality furnishings. And of course the owner is leasing it for well under market value. And of course the owner is a single, hunky Scottish farmer who harbors an attraction to Nina. I understand this is a fantasy novel, but for the love of books, let me see the hero on the brink of complete failure for a while before she triumphs. Make Nina have to take that cold and noisy room above the pub for a while and be hungry sometimes. Make Nina have to sleep in the truck a few nights and cry herself to sleep, frightened and alone, as she wonders if she has made an awful mistake. Let me see her go several days without a customer because she chose to settle in a small village with a limited customer population instead of what seems like every person in the village clawing at her truck for new books every day because they apparently have unlimited disposable income. Let me see her go from destitute to success through hard work and difficult trials. Instead she arrives in the storybook village, finds her awesome home, and is an instant success the moment she opens the bookshop to the public. The conflicts Nina does experience, some of which are subplots that are discarded without ceremony when the author or protagonist grows bored of them, are superficial compared to the conflicts she should have experienced to make this a journey a fulfilling adventure. 

I purchased this novel because I had just finished reading the challenging The Handmaid's Tale and needed a palette cleanser. While this was an easy read, it was not a satisfying one. I am glad that I expanded my horizons a bit with a genre I do not often touch, but as with each time I read one of these, I am reminded why I do not often read them.

Browse: The World in Bookshops


It is appropriate that I first saw a copy of Browse: The World in Bookshops in a brick-and-mortar bookshop as opposed to a retail dot com like Amazon. I have always loved bookshops. When I was old enough to leave the house on my own and possessed the means to locomote, I would pedal my bicycle to my local Bookstar and sit in the science fiction section, my saucer-wide eyes gazing up at names I would soon grow to love and respect: Bradbury, Gibson, Heinlein, Robinson. I was not yet old enough to have a job and thus did not have spending money so I just looked at these books and strategized which one I would buy first. I do not recall which one I had decided would be my first purchase and I doubt the one I had decided I wanted first ended up being the first book I bought with my own money. Those memories are inconsequential. The important memories are the ones of the bookshop itself. I ended up working at that bookshop during my university years and never tired of seeing kids walk into the shop, sit on the floor in the science fiction section for an hour, and then leave without buying anything. Those kids were me less than a decade earlier and I suspect a couple of those kids, or kids like them, replaced me when I stopped working at the bookshop.

Browse: The World in Bookshops is a collection of essays by sixteen different writers from around the world. I enjoyed all of the essays selected by editor Henry Hitchings with the exception of one piece that read like the script for a commercial. Some of the memories shared by the writers are happy, others are melancholy, and one is shocking and offensive (can you imagine the proprietor of a bookshop treating someone that way?), but all provide a wonderful view of the effect various international bookshops had on the writers who visited them. I am grateful to these writers for transporting me to their home bookshops of Egypt, Nairobi, and Colombia.

Each individual essay is short enough to be read in a single sitting if that is how you prefer to consume such content. As I have stated several times before, I am a slow reader but even I was able to complete this book in four sittings over the course of five days. I mention this only for those of you who, like me, are short on time and long on TBR.


To this day, when I visit a new city, I try to find a local bookshop. I am not always successful as the convenience of online shopping has had the same terrible effect on small bookshops all over the world, but my experiences in places like The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles, California or Shakespeare and Company in Paris, France (pictured left) are treasured memories. Visiting physical bookshops is important, I think. Libraries, too, though I must shamefully admit that I have paid little attention to my city's library branch. These places are not just about stacks of bound paper with words printed on them. I feel pretentious saying bookshops and libraries conjure fantasies of scholarly discussions, heated but respectful exchanges of conflicting ideas--such events do not seem to happen in bookshops today like they used to, or at least like the books I read claim used to happen--but that is how I feel when I enter a bookshop. Hallowed halls and whatnot. As convenient as online shopping is, I will always prefer spending a couple of hours browsing in person, papercuts and all.

Different Seasons


Stephen King again? I do seem to feature him a disproportionate amount, but this time with good reason. My friend and now colleague Jeff Garvin and I have launched a podcast, the first episode of which is now available on iTunes, Stitcher, or directly on our website. This is the special project I teased in my July article about The Writer's Journey and I am relieved that it is no longer a secret. As hosts of The Hero's Journey Podcast, Jeff and I will examine classic and contemporary literature and cinema through the lens of Joseph Campbell's The Hero's Journey and using Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey as the modern guide. It has been a challenging and exciting and, as we raced toward release day, terrifying project. The podcast is all about the common elements of the path the hero takes in almost every story. Episode 0 introduces the concept of the project using examples from Star Wars and Harry Potter, but our first official episode focuses on the Stephen King novella "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" which was published in 1982 in the collection Different Seasons. We also cite Frank Darabont's wonderful film adaptation The Shawshank Redemption.

For the project, we tasked ourselves only with reading the first story, but I enjoyed it so much that I just kept going and in short order, reached the last page of the entire book. I had not intended to write a blog entry about just the one story, but since I ended up reading all four of them, I figure I might as well exercise the writing muscles once again. So here are my brief thoughts on the lovely Different Seasons.

Hope Springs Eternal

"Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" is just the first of four novellas in the Different Seasons collection. It is worth noting that none of the stories in this early Stephen King work are horror stories, proving once again that the man is not just a horror writer. After reading this novella, I was surprised at how lukewarm I felt about it. This is one of those rare instances where the film is better than the source material. King's story is good, but the Frank Darabont film elevates the story and the characters to a much higher level. I have seen the film a dozen times or more and rank it among one of the best films ever made so I am sure I am being unfair to the novella. It is difficult to be objective in this situation. Much of the film's script is a verbatim transcription of the novella so much of that wonderful dialogue is credited to Mr. King, but Darabont's script includes significant changes that tighten things up. Byron Hadley, the cruel captain of the guards, plays a much smaller role in the novella, but the film turns him into a major adversary to great effect. Similarly, the warden Norton is just one of four wardens who run the prison throughout the novella, but the film conflates those into one superb villain played by Bob Gunton in the film. Because the novella has so many wardens, their impact feels minimal and maybe that was intentional on King's part. The prison staff comes and goes, but the inmates remain for the long haul. The film needed a Darth Vader so creating one single warden who antagonizes the inmates from the beginning was an excellent choice. If we are going to side with convicts, we have to hate the man who rules them. For the most part though, if you've seen the film, the novella will not present any surprises. It is still well worth reading.

Summer of Corruption

Following "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" is "Apt Pupil". Usual Suspects director Bryan Singer followed up his stellar debut feature film with an adaptation of this novella. It was not received nearly as well as his crime drama and I am sorry to say I have little memory of the film Apt Pupil. This novella, on the other hand, is outstanding and would be my favorite of the collection were it not for the story that follows it. A chilling examination of sociopathy, "Apt Pupil" tells the story of Todd Bowden, a bright, All-American thirteen year old boy who has discovered that a former Nazi officer is living in his neighborhood. Todd is fascinated by the atrocities committed by the Nazis on the Jewish people during World War II and wants to hear the stories directly from someone who personally committed those atrocities. This is not just youthful curiosity, however. Todd derives a sick pleasure from these stories and soon embarks on a path of atrocities all his own. The story is frightening in its plausibility. Todd and Herr Dussander are loathsome characters and I found myself reading voraciously, hoping they would both suffer justice. A brilliant story and one of the best of the collection.

Fall from Innocence

The third story in the collection is "The Body", the inspiration for the 1986 Rob Reiner film Stand By Me, which had a profound effect on me in my formative years. The film is good, but the novella is stellar. Like the previous story, the film version is nearly identical to its source material, but in this case, the source material is the better experience. "The Body" is the story of four young friends who set out to find the body of a boy who had recently gone missing. If you have seen the film, you know that the story is not about the dead boy. The journey is greater than the destination here and the boys' experiences during their search and how those experiences impact the boys' friendship are the true subject of the story. I saw the film at a young age, roughly the same age of the boys in the film, and now I read the novella with a sense of nostalgia and longing, just as it is written by adult Gordie. This is my favorite of the four novellas in the collection.

A Winter's Tale

In the final novella, "The Breathing Method", a is invited by a partner at his firm to join an exclusive club. The club's headquarters has a large, stone hearth with a roaring fire, an extensive library with mysterious books of which he has never heard, a butler who speaks little but always has a glass of scotch ready when you need it, secret rooms with tiny doors. Each Christmas, one member of the club tells a story by the fire. This year, a retired doctor tells a tale of his younger years when his medical practice was new. An unmarried woman seeks prenatal care, socially frowned upon at that period of time, but the doctor agrees to treat her. What begins as a mundane story about the relationship between a young doctor and his patient during her pregnancy ends with a supernatural twist. This is definitely the strangest and most disjointed of the four novellas. So much time is spent on the man joining the club and his odd experiences within that I thought this was his tale, but all of that just serves as a conduit to transport us to the point where he hears the aging doctor tell his story. The real story is about and by the doctor so I wonder why King did not just start the story with him rather than insert him into this other strange tale that does not actually go anywhere. As good as "The Breathing Method" is, it is my least favorite, a statement that meant to elevate the other three stories rather than demean this one.

What struck me with this collection is how each novella featured literature and storytelling as a part of its narrative. In "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption", the story is a journal written by Red and Andy spends considerable effort to expand the prison library. In "Apt Pupil", Todd tells his parents he is reading classic literature to the sweet old man down the road. "The Body" is a story written by an adult Gordie who has matured to become a published author and within the novella are shorter stories written by a younger Gordie. In "The Breathing Method", the club members tell stories to each other when they are not reading from the club's extensive library. Books and writing are often a feature of Stephen King's novels. Misery is about a famous author held captive by his "number one fan". The Dark Half is about an author who disposes of his literary pseudonym in a mock burial only to have the alter ego manifest itself as a physical being and terrorize the author and his family. This was a cheeky meta novel written after King was exposed as the true talent behind the pseudonym Richard Bachman. The Shining and Bag of Bones also feature authors as the central character. King's love of reading and writing is all too apparent throughout his body of work and it is difficult to resist being infected by it. Why would I want to resist anyway? This is one infection I will happily host and spread.



When I was approximately twelve years old, I experienced my introduction to Stephen King when I read the unabridged edition of The Stand. My parents raised me to be a reader so I had read hundreds of books but they had all been age-appropriate: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Bridge to Terabithia, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Old Yeller, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and any number of Newbery Award winners my mom would bring home to feed my brain. Stephen King's The Stand was my first adult novel. Being the age I was, it felt dangerous and exciting to be reading that book. Even as I and the books I had been reading grew from elementary school to junior high school, nothing had yet reached the level of scale and depth I would experience with The Stand. It took me an entire summer to read it, but I adored every page and became a Stephen King fan for life.

Fast forward a couple-few decades and King is writing books faster than I can read them. Every time I feel like I have made some good headway into his body of work, I glance at an updated bibliography and am stunned by what I see. A year ago, my friend Jeff began pestering me to read 11/22/63. I owned a copy, a gift from a friend if I recall correctly, but I kept postponing it. This is a big book and I had allowed the volume of the novel to intimidate me. I am not twelve anymore and I had convinced myself that I did not have the free time to devote to such a large novel. Why not, though? I read the equally robust Under the Dome a few years ago and adored it. I had devoted time to books one and two of Patrick Rothfuss's beefy Kingkiller Chronicle. I was making excuses, weak ones at that, so I finally dove in.

Stephen King is known for his horror novels, but he has not limited himself to the genre. He branches out more often than most people realize and when he does, I find the result just as satisfying. 11/22/63 is just one of King's several non-horror novels and it is superb. A modern moral question with which we are often presented is whether we would travel back in time to kill an infant Adolf Hitler if we had the opportunity. King explores a similar argument in 11/22/63, but instead of asking whether it is OK to murder a baby if you know it grows up to be a monster, he suggests a more heroic path and asks what would happen if someone had the chance to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. This is a brilliant novel, masterfully constructed, and so much fun.

When English literature teacher Jake Epping is shown a portal to the past tucked away in the storage room of his neighborhood diner, he is not sure he believes his eyes. The diner owner, Al, says the portal always exits the same date and time in 1958 and he has been using it to try to stop the Kennedy assassination. Now, Al has taken ill, is unable to continue, and needs Jake to take his place. He warns Jake, though, that the past does not want to be changed and it will try to stop him every step of the way. With the portal dumping him into 1958, he will have to wait five years before he can attempt to stop the 1963 Kennedy assassination. That is a long time for the past to fight back. Jake agrees to take on the challenge and what follows is a wonderful story of perseverance and consequence.

I worried that the five-year gap Jake has to fill before he can attempt to save Kennedy was going to be a long-winded slog, but I should have trusted Stephen King. I was absolutely fascinated by Jake's activities during that period. As time marches toward the inevitable, Jake takes the opportunity to practice changing the past to varying degrees of success, all of which threaten his ultimate goal. Stephen King has always excelled at character. Whether his novels focus on a small number of characters or feature a huge cast, his characters are complex, interesting, and devastatingly human. They represent the best and worst of humanity and with a few exceptions, all are plausible. King introduces Jake to some great characters and even manages to humanize Lee Harvey Oswald. I am not saying the guy was a lovable chap I would invite over to watch Game of Thrones, but I found myself recognizing Oswald as something more than a simple villain and that is a testament to Stephen King's otherworldly ability to write characters who inspire one to read well past one's bedtime, even on a school night.

For longtime King fans, this story fits nicely into his established literary universe and there are references to previous works that I suspect will delight you. If this is your first Stephen King novel, there is no reason whatsoever for you to not enjoy this amazing story fully even without the knowledge of King's previous work and settings. Time travel is a difficult subject to write convincingly because there are so many questions, so many logical arguments. King's solution to this conundrum—I do not read a lot of time travel stories myself so it may not be entirely original—erases the need for these arguments and allows the reader the glorious freedom to just enjoy the story as it is presented and if one allows oneself that beautiful experience, the reward is so well worth it. This story is thrilling, intense, and full of moments that will make you forget to breathe, and if you are the type of person who enjoys a bit of romance in your novels, this story will kick you in the teeth. Is this book sitting on your TBR pile? Put it on the top. Right now. I will allow you to finish your current read, but 11/22/63 needs to be next on your list. I am not even kidding.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck


As humans, we spend a lot of time and energy on things that deserve neither. Just the other day, while driving home from a particularly difficult day at work, I was in my car waiting for a red light to turn green. As the light turned green, the car behind the car to my left blared its horn as though the driver next to me had been asleep at the wheel. I spent the next ten minutes being livid at the arrogance and impatience of the jackass who honked their horn. And why? I felt a profound sense of injustice. I was angry that the person who honked their horn was being an asshole and was going get away with it with no repercussions. I had allowed myself to be negatively affected by someone else's inconsiderate behavior and this is exactly the type of thing Mark Manson warns readers against in his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*uck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life.

For readers sensitive to or just do not care for profanity, steer far clear of this book. If the title alone is not a clue, profanity infects the entirety of this book. I am not sure why. Does Manson just speak like this or is this a gimmick used to set the book apart from the thousands of other "how to be a better person" books available in bookstores? We all swear from time to time and a well-placed f-bomb is effective and can even be humorous, but the liberal use of profanity causes this book to lose credibility. I found it juvenile and unnecessary.

I disagreed with many of the major points presented in this book. Early on, Manson states that what most people consider life problems are really just side effects of not having anything more important to worry about. If I can call back to my personal experience from the top of this article, there are several possible reasons for such a reaction. In my own case, I can point to three: 1) I had a rough day at work and was already on edge, 2) injustice always upsets me, and 3) I struggle to properly channel my anger. This third reason is the most important and the most embarrassing and painful for me to admit. I dealt with anger management problems well into my twenties and only recently have I learned to deal with the unreasonable anger I often feel. Most of the time, I do well, but when I am in a tender state such as after a bad day at work, my fuse is short, my trigger sensitive, and it does not take much to set me off. I suspect this is true for many people. Spend any period of time reading the comments section of YouTube, Facebook, or any other major news, social, or entertainment site and you will find a cesspool unbridled vitriol, hatred, and ignorance. Or how many times have you been at Starbucks and listened to a customer scream at the barista because they accidentally put whipped cream on the mocha when the customer clearly stated they did not want those empty calories on their 290-calorie dessert coffee beverage? These are not people without any other problems who choose to berate baristas. These are people with unsorted priorities or a temporary mental disorder brought about by an overabundance of other problems they are struggling to deal with such as an unpleasant job, loss of job, dissolution of marriage, drowning in debt, death of a loved one, or any combination of these. Perhaps they have a permanent, untreated mental disorder, but that is the subject of a different book.

A bit later, Manson claims "Much as the pain of touching a hot stove teaches you not to touch it again, the sadness of being alone teaches you not to the do the things that made you feel so alone again". This is a ludicrous statement. I know a large group of people who are doing everything right when it comes to dating and just cannot find the right person. To boil their struggle and frustrations to down to such a simplistic root cause and to suggest they just haven't learned not to touch the hot stove is asinine. 

At one point, Manson suggests whittling your life down to the point where you have fewer choices about anything because the more choices you have, the less satisfied you are with the choices you make because you will wonder what would have been had you made a different choice. Manson then suggests that the more experiences someone has, the less satisfied they are with those experiences and thus they should have fewer experiences. He claims to have visited an astounding 55 different countries and that the first five were great experiences, but each subsequent country and culture grew less impressive. How awful for him! And for him to suggest that people should limit their world to a single geographical area so they can stop being disappointed by visiting new countries is itself a disappointing statement and I think speaks volumes of Manson's character. Not many people have the opportunity to travel to a single foreign country let alone 55. I am fortunate to have visited 9 foreign countries so far and each experience has been a gift of broader world view, cultural education, and human understanding. I say that if you have the means to travel, travel as often and as far as you can. Eat the local food, walk the streets, make an effort to learn the language. I suspect you will return home a better and more educated person.

The news is not all bad though. Manson does offer some gems of wisdom. They are good reminders to those of us who have lost our way and one of these hit pretty close to home. As a young man, Manson dreamed of being a rock star. He fantasized about it for years but nothing ever came of it because one day, he came to a disappointing conclusion: he did not want it enough. He was not willing to suffer the struggles and failures all musicians experience on their road to success. Manson's point is "what pain do you want to sustain?" Do you want something bad enough that you are willing to suffer to attain it? If not, then you are wasting your time and should find something else to do. This slapped me right across the face and the truth was painful. Since I was a little kid, I have enjoyed writing. I wrote a decent murder mystery when I was in elementary school and my teacher encouraged me to continue writing. I fantasized about being an author and every time I read a great book, I dreamed about how fulfilling the author's life must have been and fantasized about how my life would be when I was a successful author. Decades later, I have written exactly one unpublished novel, I am not an author and the reason for this, I realized as I read about Manson's rock star dream, was that I had not spent the time struggling through the hours of bad writing to get to the good stuff. I had not experienced the disappointment and frustration of receiving countless rejection letters from publications and publishing houses. I battled the blank page and I let it beat me. I did not want it enough. That admission is a dagger through the heart.

What does all of this have to do with a subtle art of not giving a f*ck? Throughout the book, Manson encourages the reader to decide what you want to spend your limited resources caring about during your life. He goes off on several tangents, he makes some silly statements, but dig through the muck and you may find that the primary message is a good one. Stop wasting your energy on stupid things. There was a wildly popular book twenty years ago called Don't Sweat the Small Stuff. I am going to suggest The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck is the modern version of Richard Carlson's blockbuster, but I do not see Subtle Art having the same legs. The presentation and profanity are going to turn a lot of readers away. I have already heard firsthand accounts from people who ditched the book halfway through. Those readers who stick with the book through the end might find some nuggets of truth waiting for them. That said, I find it difficult to recommend this book to friends and family. As Manson says, we have a limited number of f*cks to give during our short lives and even though this book is short, the people I know personally probably want to spend their f*cks on other things.

Trigger Warning

Two articles ago, I stated that I have started reading short stories between full-length books. Now I have made a liar of myself because I just read the entirety of Neil Gaiman's short story collection Trigger Warning all at once. The fact that this book was loaned to me may have inspired the straight-on-til-morning approach. Too often will someone lend a book to me that I do not read immediately and it ends up sitting on the floor where I stack books I do not own until I grow tired of vacuuming around it at which point I move it to a shelf or table until I grow tired of dusting around it at which point I either read it in a huff or just return the poor thing to its owner, unread. I am trying to change that behavior and so started Trigger Warning straight away.

I had never read Neil Gaiman before, which sounds sacrilegious for a person who claims to be an avid reader, but seeing as how there are thousands of authors and millions of books, I grant myself a pass. One simply cannot read all the things, but Gaiman seems so beloved by so many that I felt I was missing out. This feeling has grown especially strong in recent months as the television series American Gods, based on Gaiman's novel of the same name, became appointment television and water cooler material for so many of my friends and colleagues. I have now read Gaiman and I am pleased to be able to say that, but after finishing Trigger Warning, I do not feel as though I understand the depth of the man's talent everyone else seems to recognize.

While some short story collections are a series of tales written in an author's established style and voice, other collections can serve as a sampler platter, allowing the author to experiment with styles and subjects. Trigger Warning is certainly the latter and Gaiman earns points for that. He peppers poetry throughout the book and presents original stories featuring other authors' characters such as Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who. I particularly enjoyed the Doctor Who story "Nothing O'Clock" though I have no frame of reference because I have never seen a single episode of the television series, a fact my friends who number among the show's fans will not let me forget. Some of Gaiman's other stories are creepy ("Click-Clack the Rattlebag" made my hair stand on end), some fantastic ("The Thing About Cassandra" is one of those stories that makes you say whaaaaaat), some melancholy. "The Sleeper and the Spindle" is an excellent re-imagining of the two classic fairy tales "Sleeping Beauty" and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". Gaiman also revisits his American Gods protagonist Baldur "Shadow" Moon in a new, original story--and one of my favorites of the entire collection--"Black Dog" as an English countryside thunderstorm forces Shadow to take shelter in an English pub nestled in a picturesque town with a spooky secret.

The best story of the collection has to be the award-winning "The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains...", a revenge story of high caliber. The story is so good that Gaiman took it on tour. Beginning at the Opera House in the stunning Sydney, Australia--which is well worth the trip if you have ever had the urge to visit--and eventually traveling to the United States, England, and Scotland, Gaiman performed his story before sold-out concert halls backed by the Fourplay string quartet with original artwork by Eddie Williams projected on a screen above the stage. It sounds like it would have been a wonderful experience so I have been searching the Internet for a recording. All I have found is the audio version which lacks Williams's artwork, but I may spring for it if I cannot find a video recording.

These gems aside, I found many of the stories forgettable and it is disappointing that I have to say that. After I finished the last story, I flipped to the table of contents to review the story titles and discovered I had little to no memory of many of them and it took a skim to jog my memory. They can't all be winners, but I find myself wondering if this collection is a good representation of Neil Gaiman. I am going to have to find another volume of his works and give him a second try. I hear Good Omens is great, and American Gods. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to read this book. My favorable memory of the good stories far outweigh the unmemorable pieces so my overall experience was positive. That is the great trait of short story collections though, isn't it? If you do not care for the piece you are reading, there is another a few short pages away that you might enjoy.

Have you read Neil Gaiman? Do you have any recommendations for which of his works I should try next?

Blades of Winter

During the Spring of 2016, I read a back issue of Analog (November 2014). The Further Reading section of the magazine suggested several novels including G. T. Almasi's debut Blades of Winter. Analog's description of the book interested me enough that my brain filed the title and tucked it into the fleshy folds of my brain. Nearly a year later, I was browsing the fiction section of my bookstore when I saw the title again, emblazoned across the image of a redheaded young woman, stylish and sexy in her black leather outfit, perched on a rooftop in Paris with her assault rifle. I felt that brief electric surge of recognition and knocked the book into my shopping basket.

Blades of Winter is the first installment of the Shadowstorm series. Through some awkward blocks of exposition, readers are informed that this is an alternate history. Hitler's Germany was one of four victors of World War II along with China, Russia, and the United States of America. The victors carved up the world, creating large swaths of territory operating as vassal states of these major powers. Do you recall the real nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia after World War II? In Blades of Winter, the new world powers engaged in an arms race like no other, involving human cybernetic modification. This is the adventurous aspect of the novel that most interested me. As the story opens, we are introduced to protagonist Alix Nico, a nineteen-year-old Level 4 Interceptor as she gets herself into some bad trouble in New York City. This opening scene is --if I may be blunt-- badass and a wonderful introduction to the setting and our hero. The author does a great job of dangling carrots, enticing the reader to charge forward so they can learn the truth about whatever Alix just did and how she possibly could have accomplished such an impossible feat. It reminded me of the first time I watched Neo dodge bullets in The Matrix.

Alix is a member of ExOps, an American shadow organization populated by skilled military operatives who have undergone invasive surgeries to enhance themselves with advanced cybernetics to increase their field effectiveness. The other major powers have their own organizations though, so Alix and her colleagues enjoy no significant advantage on the field of battle. ExOps agents are sent into the field in small strike teams. Team members are awarded levels commensurate with their experience and operational success and earn cool titles like Infiltrator, Vindicator, and Liberator that describes their battlefield role. How would you like to have Vindicator on your business card? Alix is young and brash, constantly pushing the limits of her ability, often endangering herself and her team much to the chagrin of her superior officers. Her behavior is understandable though, as her father was the most talented ExOps figure in history until he disappeared. Alix has big shoes to fill and a legacy to live up to.

For the vast majority of the novel, I enjoyed the experience but in the early chapters, I found myself criticizing the author's writing in isolated pockets. At one point, Alix is under enemy gunfire and has taken cover behind a "crate of stuff". Stuff? I was irritated that Almasi cheated me out of a better picture of the situation by plopping a nondescript "crate of stuff" in the scene. Similar descriptions are used elsewhere, but I finally understood what was happening. It was not Almasi being lazy, it was narrator Alix being a teenage superspy concerned more about being shot than reading the shipping label on the crate of stuff to find out whether she was hiding behind a box of teddy bears or replica 15th century Ming Dynasty vases. Alix cares about survival, earning more powerful and cooler cybernetics, and taking out the bad guys. She does not care a lick about what is inside the crate of stuff behind which she is hiding. Once that realization clicked, I instantly forgave Almasi for what I had decided was bad writing and gave him credit for character development.

Throughout Blades of Winter, readers are treated to a globetrotting adventure as Alix and her team are deployed to exotic locations in an attempt to unravel a conspiracy that may reveal the true fate of Alix's father. The info-dumpy alternate world history blobs aside, Almasi does a good job of setting the tone and style of his novel through the use of chapter interstitials such as of newspaper articles, data files, and operation reports. These brief excerpts provide useful information and are a welcome break in the fast and frantic pace of the story.

I do not often read action novels like this, but I found myself enjoying Blades of Winter and plan to seek out the second volume of the series, Hammer of Angels. It is popcorn cinema in print form and just as I leave a fun action film feeling entertained, so did I feel as I read the last page of Blades of Winter.

The Companions


Twice in my life, I have had the honor of performing the role of Dungeon Master for my circle of gaming friends and both times I have used the Forgotten Realms campaign setting designed by Ed Greenwood. It is a rich, fully realized world that allows me to concentrate on the collaborative interactive story my friends and I are creating and not worry so much about building the world itself. I have infinite respect for those who can create their own world, e.g. Matthew Mercer of the Geek & Sundry show Critical Role, but it is not for me. To help me fill my knowledge of the world I am using for my games, I read a lot of novels set in the Forgotten Realms and there are a ton of titles from which to choose. All of the books bearing the Forgotten Realms name are canon and while many fans read them for the pure joy of it, I also read them as source material.

One of the most voluminous series available --we are talking 30+ titles as of this writing-- is R.A. Salvatore's epic saga of the drow with a heart, Drizzt Do'Urden. It is a series I never picked up because by the time I discovered Salvatore, the mountain of titles available in the series was so intimidating that I had no chance of succeeding a Will saving throw. In 2013, Wizards of the Coast, the parent company of the Dungeons & Dragons product line, released the first book of a new series that would set up the next evolution of their Forgotten Realms setting, a world-shattering event called The Sundering. To explain this event, six authors were commissioned to write six novels, each one telling the story of one of the six stanzas of The Prophecy. Salvatore lead off with The Companions and I was concerned because I had not read any of his previous novels and I knew that the titular companions were those of Salvatore's Drizzt. I worried that the history of the characters across the dozens of preceding books would make The Companions difficult to follow or relate to.

I am pleased to say my concerns were alleviated. While there are several references to the events of other novels in the Drizzt series, Salvatore does a fine job of providing enough context that I, as a new reader of his work, did not feel lost. I would even go so far as to say the references piqued my interest enough to want to seek out those older stories. As the novel opens, the companions are dead and in the Forgotten Realms's version of Purgatory. They have the opportunity to choose to pass through to the Paradise of their chosen deity or return to the mortal world in infant bodies. Those who chose to inhabit mortal bodies again make a pact to meet at a location called Kelvin's Cairn on the night of spring equinox of their twenty-first year. They each experience rebirth, becoming infants born to unfamiliar parents, but with all of the knowledge and experience and memories from their previous lives. How many of us have wished we could live life again knowing what we know now? If only.

Each of the titular Companions relives life, battling through childhood and adolescence again, but with adult sensibilities and experience, en route to their preordained meeting. They inhabit the weak and ineffective bodies of children, not the strong adult bodies to which they are accustomed. They may have been granted a second chance, but they are still mortal. How many of them will survive their first twenty-one years again with the forces of evil still to content with? I thoroughly enjoyed finding out. The story is exciting, the characters are interesting, and I had a great time following them on their respective journeys, fantasizing about how I might handle the opportunity to relive life with my current mind and memory fully intact. Throughout the novel, I found myself caring deeply for each of the characters, cheering for them to succeed and fearing their failure.

Fans of Salvatore's series will not be disappointed in The Companions unless they only like Drizzt (he makes a cameo appearance but is absent for most of the story) and for readers new to his work, this is a great place to start. I may jump back to the inaugural Drizzt novel and experience the entire saga from the beginning. It will be a steep mountain to climb, but having experienced The Companions, at least I can be quite certain I will enjoy the hike. But first, there are five more novels in The Sundering series, each of which sits on the bookshelf above my writing desk, daring me to take the next step.



I do not often read short stories. There is no good reason for this other than I find myself picking up a full-length novel most of the time when I am in the mood for fiction. On rare occasion though, I find myself with a short story collection in my hands. I discovered Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse edited by John Joseph Adams sitting on the New Science Fiction Releases shelf at my local bookstore… X number of years ago. Holy smokes, I just opened the book to the publisher page to check the book’s publication date and found the retail receipt, yellowing and so faded that the print is barely legible. February 23, 2008.  Okay, so I have owned this book for nearly ten years. Like I said, I do not often read short stories.

A couple of years ago, however, I decided to read a short story between each book or two. This would allow me to continue reading something while putting my thoughts together for my blog entry about the previous long-form work. The practice has worked rather well and I have read some excellent short stories recently, be they in short story collections like Wastelands or in literature magazines like Tin House or Analog.

Wastelands is an impressive anthology of post-apocalypse stories written by some literary stars like Stephen King, George R.R. Martin, and Octavia Butler. It also introduced me to several writers who may be known to more prolific readers than I but who are new to me. Discovering a new writer is such a treat and that is the greatest benefit of anthologies such as these. All of the stories in Wastelands are good and some are downright great. I read the book over the course of a few years and do not recall every story, but a few notables stand out in my memory. “Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels” by George R.R. Martin was the first story in the collection that elicited a palpable emotional reaction. Cory Doctorow’s “When SysAdmins Ruled the Earth” is funny, not in a comedic way but rather in its truth and plausibility. I suppose that makes it frightening as well, but all of the stories in Wastelands are frightening in one way or another. “The Last of the O-Forms” by James Van Pelt and “Ginny Sweethips’ Flying Circus” by Neal Barrett Jr. follow resourceful wasteland entrepreneurs traveling from town to town with their carriages of curiosities, trading pleasure and fascination for another gallon of rare gas or a hot meal. I found myself amused that, when civilization falls and society reverts to tribalism, there may still be traveling showmen doing what they know how to do to, hoping the people they meet want what they have to offer enough to pay for it. “Killers” by Carol Emshwiller tells the story of a young woman struggling to survive in a remote town years after a domestic war has plunged her nation into a pre-industrial period. Maybe the war still wages. They do not know because the men who went off to fight it more than a decade ago have not returned and the modern society and infrastructure has collapsed so there is no news, no radio. Then a mysterious man appears at her window one night, filthy and starving. Who is he? Dale Bailey’s “The End of the World As We Know It” was a different kind of apocalypse story. It was deeply personal and the second story in the collection to cause some feels. I loved Bailey’s writing style and would like to read more from him. There are many more stories in this anthology, all of them well worth reading.

The most terrifying aspect of apocalypse fiction is that so many of the situations presented in the stories can actually happen. Perhaps these tales can serve to as a warning and help us prepare. Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse is a great anthology, the first compiled by editor John Joseph Adams. He has opened my eyes to the true value of story anthologies and you can bet I will more willing to grab one off the shelf if I see his name on it. I highly recommend it for fans of the apocalypse subgenre, but I think any science fiction fan would enjoy it. Even readers of more mainstream novels like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road will find a lot to like in this collection even if they claim to not enjoy genre fiction.

The Writer's Journey

In previous articles, I have stated that I had wanted to be a fire truck and an astronaut when I was a child. As I grew older, I discovered literature and creative writing and decided I would be a writer instead. Throughout junior high (middle school to some of you), high school, and college, I took a series of writing classes in which I was assigned a wide variety of projects from short stories to poetry to journalism. While attending college, I took a job at a local bookstore so I could surround myself with the words of others. I attended seminars and readings hosted by published authors. As I listened to them share their stories, rapt, I knew I would be one of them one day. The thing about being a writer --and every writer will tell you this-- is that you must write constantly. It has to be in your blood. If a writer is not writing, they are thinking about writing. And as time marched on, I realized that was not me. I enjoy writing as a hobby, but I knew I was not going to be the one to write the next great novel. I found myself lacking not just the discipline, but also the creative spark. My brain was not constantly burning with ideas like so many authors claim. It was a disappointing realization. It always hurts when a dream dies and I experienced a period of mourning.

I still have people in my life who encourage me to continue writing, to increase the volume, to elevate my craft. One of my greatest champions has been my longtime friend Jeff Garvin, who knows how difficult the journey is having become a published author with 2016's Symptoms of Being Human. In March 2011, we agreed to hold a personal NaNoWriMo (the official event is held each November), challenging each other to write a fifty-thousand word novel by the end of the month. We both achieved the goal and our respective first novels will probably never see the light of day, but Jeff continued on the fiction track and I turned my attention toward commentary, launching this website.

The main purpose of bookthump was to serve as a central repository for my experiences --nonsense or otherwise-- with the books I read. Too often have I been asked by a fellow reader for my opinion about a book we discovered we have both read and equally often I have had to admit I have little to no memory of the content. I think of this site as a book journal. It is not the fulfillment of that wide-eyed student's dream of being the next great novelist, but it does satisfy the needs of the adult I have become.

Years ago --I believe we were still in college-- Jeff gave me a copy of Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. At the time, I was secretly wrestling with the death of the dream, so it was both a heartwarming and heartbreaking gift. I gave it a prominent but permanent place on my bookshelf for years, knowing I might never read it for fear of tearing open ragged wounds. Then, in late March of 2017, Jeff approached me with an idea for a project. Hollering at each other over the cacophony of a local brewery's tasting room, we discussed this project that would require us to read Vogler's The Writer's Journey and mythologist Joseph Campbell's famous The Hero with a Thousand Faces. "Read Vogler by the end of April," he said, "Campbell in May". I threw back the last drops of the session IPA I was drinking and confidently agreed that I could meet those deadlines. Turns out I did not meet those deadlines because reasons, but I did finish The Writer's Journey on the last day of May.

Vogler's book is, as the author himself states in the preface, an "accessible, down-to-earth" modern version of Campbell's famous work. A student of Joseph Campbell, Vogler admits Campbell may be overwrought for current audiences because he cites so much ancient mythology and psychoanalysis that are no longer part of contemporary popular culture. I have recently started reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces and have found that the references Campbell makes are either entirely foreign to me or are completely different from what I recall. I used to love reading mythology when I was in elementary school, but the versions of the stories I read had been edited for young audiences. I feel like I need to camp out in the Mythology section of my local bookstore and absorb the adult versions of these stories.

In The Writer's Journey, Christopher Vogler takes the common story elements recognized by Joseph Campbell and analyzes several modern works such as The Wizard of Oz (1939), Pulp Fiction (1994), and the 1998 recipient of the Academy Award for Best Picture, Titanic. I found his analyses fascinating. That these starkly different stories share similar story elements was illuminating. I began thinking about my own works of fiction and was stunned to realize I had constructed my narratives in similar ways without even realizing it. Recalling some of my favorite stories, their frameworks share many of the elements Campbell and Vogler identify. This is not because authors steal from their predecessors. It is because good storytellers recognize the elements and structure that make a story connect with audiences. Readers enjoy novels about normal people who face extraordinary circumstances, perform heroic feats, and have spectacular adventures. Such stories allow us to escape our ordinary lives and let us fantasize about being someone greater than we are. This book opened my eyes to something that had always been there, lurking in my subconscious. No "Eureka!" moments, but there certainly was a considerable amount of chin-scratching.

Days after having finished The Writer's Journey and having started Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces, I feel a charged sensation, that fidgety buzzing one feels when their mind has been introduced to an exciting new concept. I am interested to see how this new perspective affects my future experiences with books and films. My journey continues...

Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel


I so very much enjoyed the 2016 film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. After watching it and 2015's Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, I feel like the Star Wars cinematic universe is back on track. Star Wars has meant so much to me for as far back as I can remember. One of my earliest Christmas memories was toddling down the hallway the morning of December 25 in my footie pajamas, clutching my blue teddy bear (oh so cleverly named Blue Bear), and seeing the entire Star Wars action figure line standing on the coffee table in front of the Christmas Tree. Yes, my parents removed the figures from their original packaging. Nobody knew any better back then. In 1997, I was a university junior and I remember wearing my beloved Boba Fett shirt, standing in lines for hours with my friends outside the Cinedome in Orange, California to see the Special Edition releases, trembling with the same anticipation I imagine must have filled the movie-goers in 1977, 1980, and 1983 when the original trilogy of films were released in theaters. Such a fan was I that I immediately forgave the less popular updates to the films. So thrilled was I to be watching a Star Wars film IN THE THEATER, that I took no offense at the addition of Jabba the Hutt in Mos Eisley spaceport's docking bay 94 --that most wretched hive of scum and villainy. I think I actually enjoyed that scene because Boba Fett was in it.

Like many of us fans of the original trilogy, the prequels were a source of massive joy upon announcement, followed by crushing disappointment upon viewing. So we will not discuss that period of time further.

The Force Awakens and more so, in my opinion anyway, Rogue One brought the franchise back to the light in the most forceful of ways. To quench my thirst for more Star Wars, I read many of the expanded universe novels during my college and early adult years. Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogy and Michael Stackpole's Rogue Squadron series had kept me from spiraling into a pit of despair after --well, we said we would not discuss it. So after I saw and loved Rogue One and learned there was a novel that served as a prequel to it, I asked Santa Claus for a copy and she delivered! I read the book in eleven days, which is fast for a subvocalizer like me.

I had hoped the novel would be a Jyn Erso origin story --cuz I kinda fell in love with Felicity Jones during the film-- describing how she went from hiding in a cave as a small child at the beginning of Rogue One to ending up on the prison planet Wobani as a fully grown and defiant young woman. I wanted that gap filled. To my brief disappointment, I discovered that Catalyst is the story of the friendship and falling out of Galen Erso and Orson Krennic. Author James Luceno writes the story so well though that my disappointment was fleeting. Before too long, I found myself happy that I was learning about the relationship of these men in their younger years. At the beginning of Rogue One, they clearly have a history but their relationship is strained, contentious. What caused that tension? Catalyst answers that question. I know those characters so much better after reading this book. I even find Krennic a bit more sympathetic, blinded by ambition, but seeming to believe he is working toward the greater good, confident in his principles.

The story is heavy on talk, light on action. In that way, it is not very Star Wars-y, but this novel shows us that not all Star Wars stories require lightsaber battles and starfighter combat to be interesting. If you enjoyed Rogue One, if you enjoy Star Wars at all, then I highly recommend Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel. If you enjoyed the film, read this book and then watch the film again to give the opening scene additional heft.

Star Wars is back and I feel like that little kid in footie pajamas again.

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife

I am my parents' only child so I had plenty of opportunities to develop an overactive imagination during my youth and overact it did. As a kid, I was afraid to swim in the deep end of the pool because I was certain that dark shadow hovering under the diving board was a shark lying in wait. If I had to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, I would sprint down the hall and fling myself from my bedroom's doorway through the air and into bed so the fanged beast underneath would not be able to snatch me. When the wind shook the tree outside my bedroom window causing the moonlight cast upon the wall to shift and shudder, I saw from beneath the blanket pulled to just under my eyes a spirit from beyond waiting in the corner for me to fall asleep so it could haunt my dreams. As I grew into adulthood, my imagination was tempered by logic and reason. The pool shadow was just the absence of light and the fiercest beast beneath my bed was a dust bunny. But I was not so sure about that moonlight spirit and even as an adult, I have had unexplained experiences that keep me on the fence regarding the existence of ghosts. 

In her 2005 book Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, author Mary Roach takes a trip through bizarre historical and contemporary experimentation in search of an answer to the question of where we go when we die. Raised in a household of faith, Roach was exposed early to the concepts of an omnipotent higher power and a spiritual afterlife, but she was an inquisitive child and had questions. Science seemed to have more answers than faith did so she turned to the source that satisfied her curiosity more often than not. What she discovered during the writing of this book may have just led to more questions and in some cases, utterly failed to provide a satisfactory answer. Undeterred, Roach approaches each case with the same wit and humor we discovered in her previous book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. I often barked a hearty guffaw at Roach's observations. She employs the same sarcasm I myself express but in an eloquent manner.

Mary Roach is not just a humor writer. She, with her Bachelor of Science in Psychology, does her homework as evidenced by the plethora of footnotes throughout the book and the twelve-page bibliography. As a scientist, she possesses a healthy desire to know the unknown. In addition to studying the experiments of long dead scientists, Roach takes a direct approach by participating in experiments herself. This willingness to get her hands dirty grants her more credibility than if she were just armchair quarterbacking the experiments of others. Plus, she seems to have had fun doing it which is exhibited in the tone of her writing. Her literary voice has helped her become one of my favorite science writers and I look forward to reading more of her work in the future. If you possess a healthy sense of humor and a curiosity about our world, you will find a friend in Mary Roach.

After reading Spook, the questions remain for author and reader alike, but I sure enjoyed the journey.  I continue to ask myself "what if" and on occasion, late at night when I am exhausted, I see that spirit from beyond hovering in the corner, waiting for me to fall asleep.

Carrion Comfort

It takes effort to read a Dan Simmons novel. I do not mean to say they are especially difficult or that they are dull or bloated. Quite the opposite, actually. I find his novels wonderfully creative and entertaining. By effort, I mean I must be prepared to commit time to a Dan Simmons novel. In general, his novels are long and thus time consuming, but I also want to be sure I am ready to immerse myself fully in the story because his novels deserve that kind of participation. His novels are involved, meaty affairs that can consume a reader if a reader allows it to happen. Carrion Comfort is no different. The 20th Anniversary edition from Thomas Dunne Books clocks in at 767 pages of some of the greatest storytelling I have ever experienced.

The anniversary edition I read includes a new thirty-page introduction in which Dan Simmons recounts this novel’s arduous road to publication. Knowing that story makes me appreciate this novel –and the author himself—even more. Finally published in 1989 after years of editorial nightmare, Carrion Comfort went on to win the Locus Award, the Bram Stoker Award, and the British Fantasy Award. Not bad for a novel Simmons was once told by the second of three editors to scrap and start over from scratch.

Carrion Comfort is the epic story of a group of individuals with the Ability, a mutation that grants them the power to telepathically control other people. As one would expect, this power corrupts absolutely and these people use the Ability for evil, forcing their innocent victims to do awful things. These vile people form a cabal and rise to positions of power, influence, and affluence. They use their ability for the benefit of nobody but themselves. They play games with each other, using innocent citizens as puppets in violent games with deadly outcomes. It is frightening to consider what these people could do in the real world. Then again, maybe they already exist. Consider some of the most awful figures in historical and contemporary time and ponder how they achieved their elevated status while continuing to be disgusting individuals. What sane person would allow such a beast to rise to such a level? Carrion Comfort suggests these monsters may have stolen their success through the forced and violent mental influence of others. A frightening thought.

Dan Simmons has crafted a fantastic story and populated it with rich characters deserving of your empathy, encouragement, and ire. The villains of the story are so despicable that I rooted for their comeuppance with a visceral fury. The heroes, innocent people who begin as victims, find strength in each other and band together to battle the menace in a class good versus evil struggle. I yearned so ardently for their victory, crying out for retribution or at least revenge. The novel’s structure drove me forward into late nights. With so many characters in play, Simmons presents a scene from one character’s perspective and often, a supporting character winds up in a perilous situation. Considering how that supporting character was sitting down to a leisurely breakfast the last time I saw them, I was compelled to immediately read the following chapter which jumps back briefly in time to tell the story of how that supporting character, now the primary perspective character for the chapter, wound up in the predicament described in the previous chapter. It is an effective structure that helped me tear through this large novel in record time.  One thing I must add is that Carrion Comfort contains the most exciting chess game I have ever read. That’s right. A chess game. Narrated move for move. And I was on the edge of my seat, squirming with anticipation the entire time.

This is a novel about how those with power use it to commit violence upon the powerless. The violence is diverse and not always physical. Mental and emotional violence are real things and this is a known fact to anyone who has ever fallen victim to a bully. Some of this violence should come with a trigger warning. There are a couple of rape scenes in this book so readers who are sensitive to such things may want to steer clear, but for everyone else, Carrion Comfort is a tremendous story. Stephen King called it one of the three best horror novels of the twentieth century. Who am I to argue with the master himself?

Caliban's War

Caliban’s War, the second of the planned six-volume The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey, is fast-paced, high-caliber science fiction. With higher stakes, political intrigue spanning the Solar System, exciting ship-to-ship space battles, and a powerful monster of unknown origin, Caliban’s War is a sequel worthy of its outstanding predecessor, Leviathan Wakes.

The two-man writing team who make up the literary persona of James S. A. Corey maintained the successful narrative structure they established in book one with brief chapters of approximately ten pages each presented from the perspective of a series of alternating characters. The brevity of the chapters and the rotating perspectives give the novel a sensation of rapid and perpetual forward motion. It is a somewhat long novel at just five pages shy of six hundred, but I read it in two weeks, which is rather quick for a reader like me who tends to plod through books. This is one was hard to put down and succeeded in transporting me into its world so successfully that a couple of times a voice or a ringing phone would shake me from my reverie and leave me feeling disoriented for a few moments. That is the very definition of engrossing.

The cast list has increased since the first novel. Leviathan Wakes was centered on two main characters, Captain Holden and Detective Miller, with each chapter alternating between them, making the story a bit of a tennis match. Caliban’s War doubles the quantity of point-of-view characters which causes the alternating chapters to feel more like an impressive juggling act. I have read several books recently that use this narrative structure and I find it keeps the story moving. So many of the books I have read in the past have been told from a single character’s perspective so the recent string of multi-perspective stories I have experienced feels like the new hotness, though I know the method is as old as storytelling itself.

The Han Solo-esque Captain Holden returns to command the Rocinante and her crew. New to the series is Gunnery Sergeant Bobbie Draper, a Martian marine who exemplifies honor and courage, even as she wages an internal war with herself about where her loyalties should lie as a steady stream of new information pulls her in multiple directions. I loved this new character and the way Corey handled her.  It would have been so easy to make the badass marine the stereotypical masculine woman, but Corey ditches that nonsense and grants her moments of strength and vulnerability. She is reminiscent of Demi Moore in G.I. Jane, only bigger and tougher. Praxidike Meng is an agricultural scientist searching for his daughter amid the chaos of a sudden shooting war that destroys his peaceful life. He is the everyman of the story, reacting with fear, confusion, impulse, and instinct. Chrisjen Avasarala is a high-powered politician who can move entire fleets with one call. As the situation seems to spiral out of control for Holden, Bobbie, and Prax, it is Avasarala’s job, from her opulent office on Earth, to right the ship, correct the course, and hopefully save millions of lives in the process. On the downward side of middle age, she is feisty, foul-mouthed, abrasive, and reminded me so much of a person with whom I used to work that I found myself laughing in recognition of her character. The disclaimer at the front of the novel, as in every novel, says similarities to real people are coincidental but boy-howdy, Corey grabbed this woman from my real life and stuffed her into their book. All of these people, including the supporting characters, are so well-written that I probably could have figured out who was speaking even without dialogue attribution.

Science fiction authors handle space travel in a variety of ways. You have the lightspeed/warpdrive travel of pulp science fiction where passengers are free to wander about the ship normally due to gravity-controlled environments. There are the hard SF novels that go into exhaustive depth on the science of what actual interplanetary –or farther—space travel would do to a human being’s physical and mental acuity. James S. A. Corey seems to take a slightly ‘middle of the road veering slightly more toward pulp because it is more fun’ approach. Space travel is hard on the body with the G-forces of exceptionally fast travel causing limbs to occasionally pop out of joint, blackouts and nausea. Crew and passengers must be strapped into crash couches to prevent them from violently bouncing around the interior of the ship and they certainly cannot pop down to the restaurant deck to have Whoopi Goldberg mix them up a cocktail. I enjoy Corey’s take on it. There is enough science in there to make it plausible, but they still allow themselves to tell a fun story.

Speaking of story, this one is pure fun. There are so many rugs pulled out from under so many feet, conflicts upon conflicts, it constantly feels like everything is falling apart. Watching these characters navigate the challenges into which Corey plunges them made me feel as I felt when I was a wide-eyed young boy watching Star Wars, holding my breath, gripping the edge of my chair, and uttering lightsaber hums.

If you are a fan of action-oriented science fiction, this series is for you. If you have not read the first book in the series, Leviathan Wakes, definitely start there. And get comfortable because hours may pass without you realizing it.

Sleeping Giants

I heard about Sleeping Giants on Instagram. I discovered an entire community of fellow bibliophiles there two months ago and I found myself drawn to the platform much more than I ever had been before. Some of these people are talented and creative photographers. Even my best photos pale in comparison to what some of these folks post, but their photos inspire me to try new things. Participating in the #bookstagram community has been a wonderful experience, broadening my awareness of the literature around me and challenging me to find new and interesting ways to take photographs of books. That last bit is not something I ever thought I would say, let alone take part in. Taking pictures of books as a hobby? What? I have met several great people and we all share a love of books and reading and they have introduced me to several new authors and titles. I am grateful to them for that.

Instagram user @sumaiyya.books hosted a July read-along of Sylvain Neuvel’s debut novel Sleeping Giants. I was unfamiliar with the author and the book, but I wanted to dig deeper into this new community I had discovered so I purchased the book and started reading. The novel begins with a standard narrative style and follows a young girl riding her bicycle. She falls through a hole in the ground and finds herself in a perfectly square hole. When her rescuers arrive, they look down and see the young girl sitting in the palm of a giant metal hand. From there, the rest of the novel is told through interview transcripts, audio logs, and news articles as a small and secret team of scientists and soldiers studies this mysterious hand of unknown origin.

In the beginning, I was disappointed by the structure of the novel. I worried that by experiencing the story through interview transcripts, I would miss out on what I hoped would be the kind of meaty passages that give science fiction its wonderful flavors and setting. However, the author found ways to provide those moments through his characters’ voices as they recount their experiences in their own words. After a few short chapters, I found I had been transported into the book’s world and I forgot I was reading interview transcripts. Neuvel does a great job of establishing clear voices for the handful of primary characters at the center of his tale, especially the Interviewer, a faceless entity who seems to be everywhere at once. It would have been so easy for the Interviewer to be flat and uninteresting, but I found myself more interested in him –I think it is a he— and his origin than any of the other characters, not that the others weren’t interesting as well. Perhaps I was simply drawn to the mystery. We always want what we cannot have.

I would like to specifically point out that this is the fifth book I have read in a row that includes a strong female character. I am of a generation who feels women are equal to men, I was raised by a strong woman, and I am married to a strong woman, so it is gratifying to see female characters who are not merely window dressing and damsels in distress. It may just be luck of the draw, but I would prefer to believe strong female characters are becoming the norm rather than the exception. This is a year where America might elect its first female President. Perhaps the celestial bodies are aligning. Perhaps it is kismet.

Sleeping Giants is great fun, a perfect summer science fiction book that found me just when I needed it. I am happy I decided to jump on board the Instagram read-along. I did not know prior to purchasing the book that it is book one of a series. I do not know how long Neuvel plans to continue the series (he says at least three books, but maybe more), but if book two is as fun as Sleeping Giants, I am in for the long haul.