otherland on audio and other things

one of my favourite book series is otherland by tad williams. i’ve read it more than half a dozen times; it’s one of my go-to reads when i just can’t cope with life. at the end of october i was thrilled to see that the first two books, city of golden shadow and river of blue fire, were available as audio books. i finished city of golden shadow this morning.

there’s something about reading your favourite books over and over again. you almost always find something new in them, something small that you missed the other times (at least that’s what happens for me). but you still end up skimming parts. maybe the phone rings and you look to see who it is. maybe you hear a song on the radio or anderson cooper comes on tv. but an audio book requires your full attention and suddenly there’s all this nuance that you didn’t hear in your head when you were reading it. suddenly the story is so much bigger, so much more intense, so much more. williams’ otherland series is the perfect example of this. the characters are still the ones i pictured every time i read the books but now they’re in colour, not just in black and white. now, i’m finding myself holding my breath during certain scenes, awaiting the outcome, even though intellectually i know what’s going to happen.

whether you’ve read the otherland series or not, i can’t recommend the audio books enough. they really bring the story to life in a way i wasn’t expecting but was, in all honesty, hoping would be the case. the first two are on audible and i’m hoping the third and fourth will be available soon.

keeping with the reading is fun theme, i read a book riot opinion post today about abandoning books. unless they violate my personal rule about reading i really try not to abandon books, especially books i’m supposed to review. this has led to me having some exceptionally long read times on some books because i just didn’t like them. i’m not talking about books that violated my boundaries, as i said i have rules about reading books and if a book violates one of those rules i’m done with it and don’t review it. after all, it’s not the author’s fault that i either didn’t research the books topic enough or that the objectionable material wasn’t delineated in descriptions or press material.

but what to do about those books we just don’t like? those books that drag on and make us hate looking at our kindle (or nook, or whatever)? those books that make us turn on a simpsons marathon or open 20 tabs of buzzfeed articles? articles like finish that book! don’t help us feel any better about ourselves. you STOPPED reading a book? you’re killing literature. you’re ruining civilization! thanks, atlantic monthly, that makes me feel so much better.

peter damien‘s opinion piece reading is not a chore: on quitting books brings common sense and sanity back into the discussion. it’s not about saving the state of literature, writes damien, but about acknowledging that maybe you and the book just aren’t clicking right now. realizing that it’s not that the book is bad but that you and the book aren’t compatible right now sounds like a very freeing idea. although, come on, sometimes a book is just a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad book (i’m looking at you moby dick)!

i like the idea of giving myself permission to set a book aside just because it’s not happening for me. i like the idea of not forcing myself to turn something i love doing into something that fills me with dread and makes me feel guilty every time i look at my kindle (or nook). most of all, i like damien’s advice:

when you love something, don’t do variations on that thing which will make you hate it.

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a turtle’s eye view – the end of summer by j. tonzelli

disclaimer – i received a copy of this book via the goodreads first reads program in exchange for an honest review.

i’m a big fan of scary. books, movies, short stories, tv shows, i enjoy them all because i know they could never happen. let’s face it, the chances of me encountering a ghost are slim at best. and i’m (almost) positive that there will never be a zombie apocalypse. that’s not to say that i enjoy what seems to pass for horror these days – blood-fests, torture-porn, violence-gasms, those aren’t scary and they don’t count as horror. they’re just an excuse, in whatever form they take, to shock and disgust. real horror is visceral without being trashy or flashy. real horror is felt in the slight quickening of the pulse, the faint shiver on the back of the neck, the slowly increasing sense of unease.

all of that is just my way of telling you why i enjoyed the end of summer: thirteen tales of halloween as much as i did. you can tell from reading the prologue that j. tonzelli not only loves halloween, he gets it and he gets the point of telling a scary story. this book is, at its core, a love letter to halloween and it works. it’s got funny halloween, sad halloween, pensive halloween, redeeming halloween, and terrifying halloween, and tonzelli didn’t spill a single unnecessary drop of blood at any point.

four out of five stars

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a turtle’s eye view – one of us by tawni o’dell

disclaimer – i received an e-galley of this novel from gallery books in exchange for an honest review.

sheridan doyle is a famous forensic psychologist and lawyer who is called on whenever the philadelphia d.a. needs a particularly vile criminal’s mind unlocked. underneath the polished sophistication, however, he’s still just danny doyle who grew up in bitter poverty in a dying town with a drunk father and mentally ill mother. when he goes home to visit his ailing grandfather, doyle finds a dead body and the discovery brings up questions about the town’s history, doyle’s family, and himself.

i started reading one of us twice before finally finishing it this time. i just didn’t care what was happening with any of the characters. everyone felt like a parody of the person they were striving to be and i couldn’t develop empathy for any of them. i never got comfortable with the juxtaposition of the different narrators and didn’t trust their reliability. tawni o’dell wrote beautifully descriptive passages but spent so much time on irrelevant details that i had to consciously tell myself to read each word. why do we need detailed descriptions of what each character is wearing? we get it, he’s prosperous because he left the town and they’re not because they didn’t; it’s not necessary to beat us over the head with it.

i wanted to like one of us but the growing sense of ennui present as i slogged through every chapter made reading it more a chore than a pleasure.

two out of five stars

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a turtle’s eye view – we are all completely fine by daryl gregory

disclaimer – i received an e-galley of this novel from tachyon publications in exchange for an honest review.

five strangers are drawn together by a psychologist who believes their stories of brushes with evil. not the evil that people are capable of committing against other people, but the evil that lurks just outside of our perception. the evil that is dubbed the paranormal or the supernatural or just the unknown.

martin never takes off his sunglasses, which is not only annoying but disconcerting. barbara is motherly and friendly and tormented by the messages that were carved onto her bones. stan is acerbic and both loves and loathes the fame he acquired after being rescued from the cannibals who were eating him piece by piece. harrison is a storybook hero; a children’s book series about a cop who hunts monsters is loosely based on his actions when he was a teenager. greta is a cypher. is she the haunted arsonist who is guilty of mass murder or is she, in fact, a piece of the evil by which the others are all tormented? these five make up dr. jan sayer’s therapy group. a place of safety for them to talk about what happened to them, to see that they aren’t alone in their strangeness, to come to terms with who they are and maybe have a chance to become someone different.

we are all completely fine is so much more than a supernatural thriller. instead of being monster driven, it’s driven by the five participants in the therapy group. their characters, who they are, who they were, who they might become, they drive the story at a breakneck pace. their fear seeps through every line but their strength does, too.

daryl gregory has written a great tale full of supernatural wonders and scary monsters but he’s also given us a story full of questions. how can we deal with the sometimes world shaking events that happen to us? are we better off shoving our pasts into a tiny little room and bolting the door closed or sorting through the events and trying to put them into some sort of order? is it better that we remain alone or would we be stronger if we allowed someone to help us with the sorting? gregory leaves the questions for us to answer, he does give us a hand with the monsters, though.

four out of five stars

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a turtle’s eye view – yesterday’s kin by nancy kress

disclaimer – i received an e-galley of this novel from tachyon publications in exchange for an honest review.

aliens have landed with the news that a deadly cloud of spores is on its way and will kill all the people on the planet. they know this because it has already killed all the people on two of their own planets. now they want to work with earth to help ensure the survival of both races, but can either side be trusted?

when i started yesterday’s kin i felt very lost, as if i had walked into a play after the intermission and was trying to catch up. once i got past that first chapter, though, the story snapped into place and moved very quickly. the science was very accessible without being condescending and following the personal relationships was very easy. also, i felt a great deal of empathy for noah, the main character’s son.

in all, nancy kress has written a very readable science fiction story that is well crafted and enjoyable.

three out of five stars

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a turtle’s eye view – the word exchange by alena graedon

disclaimer – i received an e-galley of this novel from doubleday in exchange for an honest review.

indecipherable: adjective. not able to be read or understood

i love the idea of language itself collapsing or being fraught with danger (see, for example, the flame alphabet). i love discussions about whether going to an electronic medium for stories (short or long) cheapens the value of words or damages a story’s ability to endure. that said, the word exchange was unnecessarily convoluted, unwieldy, and ultimately unable to sustain its own weight. i was left feeling like i was reading alena graedon‘s dissertation on the evils of technology rather than a compelling novel about the printed word and our interaction with it.

one out of five stars

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a turtle’s eye view – henry’s re-entry by welcome cole

disclaimer – i received an e-galley of this novel from caelstone press in exchange for an honest review.

i wanted to love henry’s re-entry. it sounded like an interesting story, the protagonist waking up in a strange place and then embarking on a voyage both metaphorical and real. along the way he’s learning about who he is versus who he thinks he is, reconciling how he’s lived his life with why he’s lived it that way, and trying to forgive himself. there’s snark, i love snark. there’s cynicism, i love cynicism. there’s the hero’s journey to redemption. but. oh. my. god. by about a third of the way through the book i wanted it to be over, i just wanted to take henry by the shoulders and shake him until his head rattled. don’t get me wrong, welcome cole is a great writer. he uses language beautifully and constructs paragraphs that are works of art. i’m definitely adding him to my “authors to watch” list. maybe it actually wasn’t the book as much as it was henry i didn’t like, and it’s hard to feel something for a story when you truly dislike the main character.

two out of five stars

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