Tag Archives: Dean Koontz

2014 Q3 Reading Report

My 3rd Quarter in reading was excellent. So far, the Re-Reading Project has really added so much to my annual reading. Even the books I’m reading for the first time have an extra edge now because I think about them in terms of whether I’d ever re-read them. Or, am I so invested in reading them that I’m willing not to read or re-read something else? It’s been kind of a game-changer. So much so that I’m considering continuing it into 2015. Not monthly the way I did in 2014, but sporadically. We’ll see… In the meantime, here’s my 2014 3rd Quarter Reading Report.

July

The Secrets of a Scoundrel, Gaelen Foley – Since I’ve outed myself as an occasional reader of romance novels in May’s Re-Reading posts, I might as well confess that I bought Foley’s newest the week it came out and spent an evening with the last book in her Inferno Club series. I’ve read a lot of romance authors in my time, but Foley is the only one I consistently buy new, as soon as they come out and read right away. I always consider it a mini-vacation, some entertaining reading that is for no other purpose but to enjoy. She’s writing great middle readers books with her husband under E.G. Foley and I’ve been having a lot of fun sharing these with the son of a friend. She’s a terrific writer, whatever name she publishes under and whatever genre she’s working within.

Dorothy Must Die, Danielle Paige – Another confession: I’m a sucker for a good book cover. This one is terrific and really illustrates the “hook” of this book: Dorothy has returned to Oz, gone mad with power and must be brought down. So, basically, I had to read it because I was curious about where this story would go. And it’s a really weird one that never went quite where I was expecting. I was a tad bored at times, but mostly I ripped through the pages. It got really good right before the end and then (damn) I realized it’s the first book in a series. Why do I keep doing this to myself? There’s a prequel available digitally, called No Place Like Oz.

Strangers, Dean Koontz – Read the Re-Reading post here.

The Queen of the Tearling, Erika Johansen – Something big was going on in my personal life and I needed a really good, absorbing story to distract me. I was trying to track down a copy of A Game of Thrones from the library (I need to get my own copies), but they were all checked out. Most of my books are in storage, so I turned to a pile of ARCs towering alongside my one remaining bookshelf and picked up a book I’d almost given to a friend to read, but had decided to keep. The next 24 hours and the rest of the world disappeared as I got sucked into The Queen of the Tearling. It’s simply one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time. It’s 400+ pages and I stayed in on a Friday night to read it, then I was actually disappointed there wasn’t more to read Saturday night. I didn’t want to leave this world. I’ve had the ARC for months, but it just came out, so after I read the last page, I took to Twitter and saw that a lot of people were feeling the same way I was at that moment: rabid for the next book in the series (groan). There’s also some backlash – mostly people seem to object to the marketing campaign around the book, which compares it to GoT and Hunger Games. The ARC informs me the movie rights have already been sold and Emma Watson will star. The nerd in me is breathless in anticipation.

Orange is the New Black, Piper Kerman – I’ve seen a few episodes of the t.v. show and liked it, but mostly I wondered how a memoir about being in prison would be handled. It was a compelling read, mostly because Kerman doesn’t pity herself or expect her reader to. She mostly focuses on the women she was incarcerated with, the community that helped her survive her time in prison. The tone is calm and rational, at times light-hearted, but it still made me enraged by the current prison system: the inherent racism and discrimination (Kerman admits she most likely received better treatment in prison and a lighter sentence because she’s white), the waste of financial resources, as well as the waste of human resources. As I read and finished the book, I couldn’t stop talking about the book and Kerman’s points about the prison system and I ended up having some really fascinating conversations.

Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh – My new book group selected this book. I fought against it, partly because I’d read it earlier this year and partly because I’d found the “white sections” (focusing on Brosh’s depression, etc.) pretty rough reading. But, I was outnumbered and it was our first book club selection. So, I re-read the book and the “white sections” were even tougher to handle the second time around, but this time, I got to talk about them with a great group of women who felt the same sense of connection with Brosh’s work. My connection with it is often unsettled and uncomfortable, but the other women in the group seemed to mostly take the stance, “Thank God someone is saying this out loud, on paper, for real.” We laughed a lot and it was a wonderful night.

Black and White, Dani Shapiro – My writing style isn’t a thing like Dani Shapiro’s, but as I was reading, I so wished I could write like her. I admire her writing immensely. It’s quiet and stripped down, yet fierce and vibrant. This story, about a famous photographer mother and the daughter she photographed nude throughout her childhood, was so painful and beautiful. It was utterly necessary.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson – Jenny Lawson is basically Allie Brosh meets Toni McGee Causey, hysterical and hyperbolic. Sometimes, I’d get a bit impatient with the storytelling (because it goes around in circles and on and on forever), but mostly I was laugh-snorting out loud and too damn entertained to mind that she wrote a book as if you were having one long, booze-infused conversation with her. With photographic evidence. Like with most comedy, there’s some real pathos buried underneath the humor and I admired The Blogess all the more for letting us see it.

August

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin – Once more, in the midst of a bunch of nonfiction reading, I was longing for a distracting novel and I turned to my pile of ARCs. This one was published in April, but though I picked it up “late,” I found that, as usual, I picked it up at just the right time. It’s a relatively slim book, but covers about 15+ years of a man’s life as he moves from isolated grief to become a central figure in a family and a community. I was continually surprised by how much story was packed into the book, yet it still felt light and easy, even when it was dealing with almost unbearably sad subjects. Writing a story that reads this effortlessly is hard work, I’m lucky enough to have learned, so the easier I skipped through the book, the more impressed I was with Zevin’s storytelling abilities. I could easily see this becoming a movie, something like Big Fish meets Amelie meets Chocolat.

The Young World, Chris Weitz – I’ve stumbled upon some very good dystopian Y/A and fantasy lately, each very good but each the first book in a series. So annoying cause I get hooked on the first book and then I have to have patience till another (and another…) come out. Anyway, this is another of those titles, written by the director of About a Boy, among other movies. The story is so easy to imagine as a movie and since Weitz is a film director, I was curious about why he decided to write it as a novel. I feel like the book answered my question. As the characters are searching for something vital in a library, they have a conversation about the value of books over electronic information/cloud storage. The characters in books have a longer life span than most people who live in our world and pretty much everyone in The Young World. It was the kind of perfect fictional moment that made me want to hug Weitz by hugging his book. So yeah, now I’m impatient for more books set in this world.

Lord of the Flies, William Golding – Read the Re-Reading post here.

The Kiss of Deception, Mary E. Pearson – I was talking books in a Facebook thread and mentioned how much I liked The Queen of the Tearling. A friend of my friend’s commented that she liked this book better. I looked it up out of curiosity and then immediately requested it from the library. I’d read 50+ pages just a couple of hours after I picked up from the library and finished it over what was a pretty active weekend. It has a lot in common with The Queen of the Tearling, but is also very different. Both feature royal girls fighting/embracing their destinies in a fantasy world that may actually be our own world hundreds of years in the future (I got that vibe from Kiss and TQotT drops some serious hints in that direction). Anyway, The Kiss of Deception is very compelling and also the first of a series (alas, more patience on my part).

The Ecstasy of Surrender, Judith Orloff, M.D. – This book applied to pretty much every aspect of my life the last few months. It took me a few weeks to read because I was trying to absorb as much of it as possible (and I was late returning it to the library because I had to finish it before I left for my trip). If you want to know more,  watch the TED Talk that was the origin of the book, though it’s just a taste of what the book entails.

Animal Farm, George Orwell – Read the Re-Reading post here.

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury – Read the Re-Reading post here.

An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir – I snagged this ARC before leaving on my Residency Road Trip. Something about it called out to me and I felt like I’d need an engaging novel at some point on this trip. Because it’s 400+ pages, I thought it’d be my fiction counterpoint to all the nonfiction I’ll be reading during September. But, I picked it up after I finished my August Re-Reading and I quickly got caught up in it. I read the first 100 pages relatively slowly (in about a day) and then quickly read 300 more pages in a few hours, unable to sleep because I was so engrossed in the characters and the world. On one hand, I’ve never read anything like this and on the other, it reminds me of A Song of Ice and Fire, The Queen of the Tearling and The Kiss of Deception, all “dystopian” fantasy stories set in some ambiguous alternate or future world that also feel like ancient myths and legends. The characters are constantly faced with impossible emotional and moral decisions and I care enormously about all of them. The one trouble with reading a book so quickly is when you never want to leave the story and you’re booted out by the last page. Since this book is coming out next April, it looks like I’ll have to wait a long while for the next book in the story (for surely there will be one since two of the major characters are setting out on an epic journey at the end). I’ll definitely be on the lookout for an ARC of the next book so I can pick back up with these characters as soon as possible.

September

The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith – I listened to the audio book of this one on the way from ATL to Soaring Gardens and it was the perfect companion for such a long trip, at least for me. As I learned years ago when I spent three weeks driving twelve hours each day, the best audio books for drives are those that are so interesting they keep you awake, but easy to follow while paying attention to, you know, the road. I was *almost* done when Anne and I arrived at the house, so after we made dinner and unpacked, I sat in the library and finished listening to it. I have to say, I was a bit disappointed with the wrap-up of the mystery at the end of the book, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters and story for days after I finished. I’m hoping to listen to the next Cormoran Strike book, The Silkworm, on my way back home. [Since Robert Galbraith is a pen name for Joanne Rowling, a.k.a. J.K. Rowling, I’d held off reading these books for a while. I was scared I wouldn’t like her non-HP books. But, no more fears here. She’s just flat-out a great writer, whatever she writes, under whichever name. And I think it’s brilliant that she wrote them under a male pseudonym.]

Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton – Read the Re-Reading post here.

Blind Faith, C.J. Lyons – I read Lyons’ Broken last quarter and really enjoyed it, so I bought copies of the three Caitlyn Tierney books as my pleasure reading during the residency. Blind Faith is a solid thriller and like with Broken, the writing is great, so I’m carried along with the momentum of the story, racing to figure out what’s going to happen next. Perfect to balance out the other reading I’m doing here at the residency.

Twelve Minutes of Love, Kapka Kassabova – A mutual friend recommended I read this tango memoir after I told him I had started dancing and writing about what I was learning from tango about my relationships. I ordered it forever ago, but wasn’t quite ready to read any tango books. When it was time to pack for the residency, I knew I should bring some of the tango memoirs and academic texts I’ve been collecting. Then, a tango friend started quoting sections of the book once I got to Soaring Gardens and it zoomed to the top of my to-read list. I was reading both with a professional mind (to situate my own writing on the spectrum of already existing work) and also personally. I enjoyed the book quite a lot and also appreciated it, how hard the gossipy, accessible tone must’ve been to achieve and sustain through the work. It was a quick read and teaches you about tango as you read, so the casual, curious reader can enjoy it as well. However, it was all the richer for me as a tango dancer, finding similar moments and realizations within the experiences of a dancer with a very different background than me. There’s a great book trailer you should definitely check out.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot – I’d meant to read this book when it was first published, but it’s taken me four years to do it. Just goes to show that there’s a time for every book in each person’s life. It coincided brilliantly with two other books I was reading at the same time: Jurassic Park (above) and The World Without Us. Though Henrietta Lacks covers a lot of complicated scientific information, it’s immensely readable, very accessible. Beneath all the science, it’s a human story. I was intrigued in particular by the way that Skloot included herself in the story (she developed relationships with Lacks family members over many years) without ever overshadowing their story and that of Henrietta Lacks. The beating heart of the book was always the story of the woman behind the infamous cell line, and her family. If anyone one is interested in what’s been happening since the book was published, as I was, there’s a wealth of information on Skloot’s website.

Black Sheep, C.J. Lyons – The first book featuring FBI agent Caitlyn Tierney began from the P.O.V. of another female character, who shared the narrative. This book also features a case with another female character central to it, but as Tierney is the returning character and it deals with tragic events from her childhood, she carries the book a bit more solidly. I like this structure, and as both of the cases so far have been unofficial, it places Tierney squarely within the “rogue agent” subgenre of thrillers and mysteries. Rogue agents are generally male, so it’s refreshing to see her operate as both a woman in a male-dominated field (which also includes the criminals) and as a smart investigator. This book also flips the usual script by making Tierney wary of commitment, trying to break it to her boyfriend and mother that she’s married to her job. While it pretty typical (and realistic) that a female agent would have to defend this choice repeatedly, it’s not typical at all to see one portrayed as being ambivalent about marriage and family. Only problem with this book is that it was a tad too short. I’m glad I have the next one to dive into immediately.

The World Without Us, Alan Weisman – This was one of the the books in the library at Soaring Gardens. I picked it up idly, but was immediately intrigued and engrossed by the premise: what will the world look like if the entire human race suddenly disappeared? How will nature react to our absence? You might assume this would be a depressing book, and it is in some ways, but not the ways you’d expect, probably. The most repeatedly depressing aspect of the book is the realization that we’re the bad guys, that we speed up survival of the fittest and evolution with technology, create poisons and products that don’t biodegrade and we don’t know how to dispose of safely. While we should make more strident efforts to “save the planet,” it’s not really for the planet’s sake, but for the own. The planet’s schedule is a bit different than ours and it has a lot more time to sort survive than we do. Beyond that depressing aspect of the book, it was absolutely fascinating and unexpectedly jovial (in a dark humor sort of way). This is the kind of book that takes a lifetime to research and write. Or several, as Weisman introduces us to an intriguing cast of characters, many of whom have jobs and passions you’ve probably never considered.

Hollow Bones, C.J. Lyons – This last book in the Caitlyn Tierney series shares the same format, splitting the story between Caitlyn and another woman at the center of Caitlyn’s investigation. I like that all of the “victims” that Caitlyn is helping are strong women in their own rights who are also trying to investigate and survive their situations. A character from the second book recurs here in very satisfying ways. The setting is really interesting, the crime really upsetting (organ harvesting) and the whole story moves at a quick pace. While I’d read more books about Caitlyn’s investigations, I’m also pleased with where she’s ended up in this book.

So that’s the 3rd Quarter. My 4th Quarter is already shaping up to be very strong. For instance, randomly, all three of the books I’ve read so far in Q4 were written by women whose first names start with the letter J. That wasn’t planned, by the way. 🙂

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The Re-Reading Project: Strangers

November 7-December 2 1. Laguna Beach, California Dominick Corvaisis went to sleep under a light wool blanket and a crisp white sheet, sprawled alone in his bed, but he woke elsewhere–in the darkness at the back of the large foyer closet, behind concealing coats and jackets. He was curled in the fetal position. His hands were squeezed into tight fists. The muscles in his neck and arms ached from the tension of a bad though unremembered dream. He could not recall leaving the comfort of his mattress during the night, but he was not surprised to find that he had traveled in the dark hours. It had happened on two other occasions, and recently.

Dean Koontz is, hands down, one of the most influential writers on me as a person and a writer. Which was kind of an awkward thing to take into graduate school, my devoted passion for genre books and authors, particular an author who some have disparagingly referred to as a knock-off Stephen King. He seems most often compared to Stephen King because they’re both prolific authors, writing popular horror around the same time, often mining the same themes and tropes (in fact, Strangers and The Stand have always seemed to deal with many of the same elements and themes). This long-running comparison between them, at least by the fans of each writer, may be the reason that I never finished a Stephen King book till I read Carrie for a college course in 2001 (I read On Writing the next year and they remain the only books of his I’ve read). Anyway, Stephen King has the better track record when it comes to films and t.v. versions of his work and I think that actually has a lot to do with how they’re both perceived in the public consciousness.

I last read Strangers around 1997-1998, so I’ll say I was 16. While it was the last time I read it, I must’ve read it at least once before that and I’ve always remembered it as my favorite of Koontz’, after Lightning. Since I’d re-read Lightning more recently (2009), I decided to re-read Strangers for this project. Also, Strangers helped me identify a theme of Koontz’ that I started to see in most of his books: the coming together of strangers to form a family unit. While it is most obvious in this book, you can find variations of it in pretty much all of his work.

His first hardback bestseller, Strangers was published in 1986. It features 12 primary characters (according to Wikipedia, I’d say at least 4 of them are secondary characters), most of whom have 3rd person chapters from their perspective. The first half of the book focuses on these characters as their lives are falling apart because of a variety of disorders and maladies they can’t explain. It’s not till the second half of the book that almost all of the characters come together and start to figure out the puzzle of what happened to them collectively.

The book was a bit dated when I was reading it in 1997-1998, but nothing like it is now. Similar to what I discovered when I re-read Lightning in 2009, I found that Strangers reads like a period story now, very much a product of its time. The story would be very different if it was set now, but I enjoyed that aspect of the story. It was a bit of a time capsule, a reminder of the way things used to be, and how drastically technology has changed the way we connect to other people since the 80s.

IMG_2908 I re-read my original paperback edition, putting some serious creases in the spine on this go-round because it took me about two weeks to read it. Yes, I have to confess, I was disappointed to find upon re-reading that I was bored for most of the first half of the book. I didn’t particularly care about the two main characters among the twelve (Dom and Ginger), who just seemed too good and uncomplicated, despite their troubles. Koontz takes about 300 pages to ratchet up the tension and I think probably 150 or 200 would’ve been more than fine, even with as many characters as he had. But once the characters started coming together, I reinvested in the story. My memories of what happened were sometimes very distinct and clear and others times very imprecise. But I remembered very early the gist of “what happened” to the characters and it was satisfying to see that I remembered correctly. However, after the long build-up about what had happened to these characters, the resolution was way too quick, almost an afterthought.

I read and collected copies of all of Koontz’ books, up till about 1997 and Sole Survivor and then I didn’t read another Koontz book through most of college, according to my reading records. I re-read Oddkins in 2004 and then read The Taking the same year, and was blown away. I started listening to the Odd Thomas series on long road trips and really enjoyed Innocence last year. I think he was a prolific, but inconsistent, writer when I was a kid and first fell for his books. But now that I’m adult and comparing the early books I loved with his more recent titles, I think it’s safe to say that he’s become a better writer over the years. His characters can still tend to be a bit too black and white, “good” or “bad,” but he will always know how to tell an interesting story, build lots of tension and entertain the reader.

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The Re-Reading Project: Lion’s Bride

December 3, 1188 Gates of Constantinople

“I have it!”

Thea whirled to see Selene running through the city gates toward her. The child’s red hair had come loose from her braid and was flowing wildly down her back, and her narrow chest was lifting and falling as she tried to catch her breath. She must have run all the way from the House of Nicholas.

Selene thrust a large straw basket at Thea. “I told you they wouldn’t see me do it.” She glanced at the long line of camels and wagons that had already begun moving down the road. “I couldn’t get away earlier. I think Maya was watching me.”

“You shouldn’t have taken the risk.” Thea set the basket on the ground and knelt to hug Selene. “I would have found a way to do without it.”

“But it will be easier now.” Selene’s thin arms tightened around Thea’s neck. “You’re taking so many risks. I had to do something.”

My last re-reading experience was a romance novel, The Princess, and in my post, I said of author Iris Johansen, “I thought her early thrillers and romance novels were wonderful, but that annoying Eve Duncan character just kept popping up and suddenly all of Johansen’s books seemed like 300-page cookie cutters with the names replaced. I’m afraid to re-read her romance novels, honestly, though I’ve considered trying in light of this project.” Pretty much the second I finished my post, I knew that I had just challenged myself to re-read one of Johansen’s romance novels. And very quickly, I knew I had to re-read the first of her romances I read. I had to go dig it out of storage, but I accepted my challenge and started reading.

I hadn’t re-read Lion’Lion's Brides Bride since 2005 and that was the last one of her romance novels that I read (except for The Treasure in 2011, for the first time). As I admitted in my last post (quoted above), I was afraid to re-read any of the romances, since I’d been increasingly disappointed with Iris Johansen’s thrillers in the past decade and especially in light of the way The Princess felt to me re-reading it now.

But I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable and easy it was to read Lion’s Bride after all this time. Yes, at times is was unrealistic and a tiny bit cheesy, and I could see the blueprint of later protagonists in the main character, Thea. So many times, Johansen uses stubbornness as a shortcut for strength in her female characters, male characters, too. There are very distinctive character types in the Johansen arsenal, whether she’s writing thriller or romance, and I feel like most of them exist here. But, in Lion’s Bride, it was easy to remember that these characters once blew my socks off, because before I read versions of them in dozens of later Johansen books, they felt unique and groundbreaking.

The setting, the Middle East during the Crusades with the Knights Templar and the Crusaders as more villains than heroes, was also incredibly unique. I don’t know that I’ve ever read a romance novel set during this time period. Johansen’s protagonist is a Greek woman who was raised as a slave in a silk house in Constantinople and Johansen used a period and culture where women were very restricted and showed how a woman would attempt to make a life for herself and her sister within it. I found that pretty interesting. Also, Thea embroiders a banner in the book that helps to put her in both a powerful and dangerous position and I liked that Thea used “women’s work” in order to protect and provide for herself.

Lion’s Bride came a pivotal juncture for Johansen, after decades of writing romances and right before she made the leap to thrillers. She might’ve already been paving the way for her transition with Thea and this story.

The first book I ever read of Johansen’s was The Ugly Duckling, her first stand alone thriller. I found it at a garage sale and read it in probably one sitting. This was most likely sometime in 1997, when I was fifteen years old. I’d been reading Dean Koontz books for years, had started reading Harlequins and “real” romance novels the year before and around this same time, I would become obsessed with the mystery/thrillers of Jonathan Kellerman. My mom started reading them too and we would swap them back and forth.

The Ugly Duckling was like nothing else I’d ever read and as soon as I finished, I made my mom take me to the bookstore to see if this Iris Johansen lady had any more books. I found her second thriller, Long After Midnight, and — what a coincidence — a romance novel called Lion’s Bride. I tried to act all nonchalant as I used my allowance to buy them both, but I think this was the first hardcore romance novel I bought new at a bookstore, instead of at a secondhand store or taken stealthily off my mom’s shelves as I did with The Princess. I read both of these two books and then when I went to do some research, I discovered that Johansen had started out writing Harlequins in the 80s. Her third thriller And Then You Die… wasn’t out yet, but she’d already published eight historical standalone romance novels and a trilogy which started out as historical and ended as contemporary. So, while I was waiting for that third thriller, I read lots and lots of romance novels by Iris Johansen.

I loved them, pure and simple. I think these were the books that kept me reading romance for a long time and while I’ve dabbled in other authors over the years, Johansen was the pinnacle of romance for me. Until I read Gaelen Foley’s books. She remains the only romance author who I still read each time a new book comes out.

Johansen’s fourth thriller was Face of Deception, her first featuring Eve Duncan and this was the beginning of my disappointment. I didn’t like Eve Duncan and to date, she’s written 18 novels featuring her. There were long stretches were there weren’t any new books that didn’t feature her. And what had felt unique and interesting in her novels before (both thrillers and romance) was starting to feel repetitive by 1999 when The Killing Game, the second Eve Duncan book came out.

Re-reading Lion’s Bride reminded me why my more recent disappointment with Johansen’s books has been so sharp – because I really, really loved her books when I was very young. I already knew I wanted to be a writer and she lived very close to my hometown. In fact, while doing research for this post, I saw something about her house being for sale and there are all these incredible photos of the mansion. It’s an incredible house, but the only room that makes me envious is the library/office space.

In addition to writing the 18 Eve Duncan books, Johansen writes books about other characters with her son Roy, none of which I’ve read yet. I recently made an attempt to catch up with all of Johansen’s recent books, including the Eve Duncan trilogy Eve, Quinn and Bonnie, where Bonnie’s disappearance/death is finally solved. I thought these were the last Eve Duncan books, but since my attempt to catch up a few years ago, Johansen has published another trilogy of Eve Duncan books and her website says that the character will return in 2015. There may be no finale for Eve Duncan, and as annoying as I find the character, as disappointed as I’ve been by the recent books, I’m probably going to read this new trilogy too, because I just have to know what happens. And I’m actually pretty excited to read the new standalone novel coming out in September.

So, even after all of these years, just when I think I’m done with Iris Johansen, she pulls me right back in.

 

 

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The Re-Reading Project Guest Post: Watchers

On his thirty-sixth birthday, May 18, Travis Cornell rose at five o’clock in the morning. He dressed in sturdy hiking boots, jeans, and a long-sleeved, blue-plaid cotton shirt. He drove his pickup south from his home in Santa Barbara all the way to rural Santiago Canyon on the eastern edge of Orange County, south of Los Angeles. He took only a package of Oreo cookies, a large canteen full of orange-flavored Kool-Aid, and a fully loaded Smith & Wesson .38 Chief’s Special.

I used to sit in front of my mom’s bookcase, inspecting the books she collected. When my mom gave me permission to read an adult book, I was ready. Watchers was the book I chose.

The 1987 hardback edition.  The cover design was distinctly different from most of the books I’d been allowed to read up to that point—black background, bold letters, and that red footprint.

Watchers

The description on the back cover enticed: “From a top secret government laboratory come two genetically altered life forms. One is a magnificent dog of astonishing intelligence. The other, a hybrid monster of a brutally violent nature. And both are on the loose…

To a 9-year-old girl who wished for Dr. Doolittle-like powers, a highly intelligent dog as a main character was an irresistible draw. And the golden retriever charmed me all those years ago. My favorite authors up to that point included Jim Kjelgaard, Albert Payson Terhune, and Walter Farley. If the book featured an animal, it was probably on my to-read list. I loved Watchers and continued to praise it long after I’d forgotten exactly what made me love it so much. In fact, it remained one of my favorite Dean Koontz novels for many years (my favorite being Oddkins).

I was intrigued with revisiting this book—my doorway out of the children’s section. But the experience of reading Watchers was quite different after more than 20 years. It was difficult for me to care about or even be interested in any of the characters other than Einstein (the dog) and the Outsider (the monster). It was particularly unmoving. Reading a horrific scene in the book, I thought I should be much more repulsed and saddened about what happened. A lack of depth kept me from connecting to the story or the characters and I just couldn’t bring myself to invest them. I neither liked nor hated Travis, Nora (the humans of the story), or any of the other major players. Through their ordeals, I could only wonder how many more pages I had to get through before the end.  Eh, okay, was about the only emotion the book elicited from me.

Amazing what years can do to change your opinion of something. At first, I felt somewhat like I’d been disappointed by a childhood hero. But then I came to appreciate what rereading Watchers showed me—how far I’ve come as a reader and as a person. After reading Watchers as a little girl, I quickly moved on to more Dean Koontz books, as well as all the other offerings on my mom’s bookcase—Erle Stanley Gardner, Tony Hillerman, Rex Stout, Tom Clancy, Chaucer, Robert Louis Stevenson—experiencing all kinds of books. I read almost every genre and enjoyed something from each. Eventually I developed a fondness for classic literature and fantasy novels.

So while Watchers did not stand the test of time for me, I cannot dislike the book. It holds its special place for me, encouraging me into a bigger world of reading. Still, don’t expect to see this title on a recommended reading list from me anytime soon.

***

Aimee Lewis is an editor, working mostly with nonfiction. Her most recent accomplishment was beating her son at a game of Candyland. Finally.

Credit: Jerri Hammonds

Photo Credit: Jerri Hammonds

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2013 Q4 Reading Report

My last quarterly reading report of 2013! I read so many great books this year and I’m in the middle of several more amazing books, so I know the first quarter of next year will be strong. Plus, I have plans for an awesome reading project, which I think you’ll all like.

October

Son of a Gun, Justin St. Germain – This book, about St. Germain’s emotional investigation into his mother’s life and death, as well as gun violence and machismo, was absolutely haunting. St. Germain takes an intensely personal story and turns it into a revelation about human heart. But the most impactful part is his willingness to say, “After all of these questions, I don’t really have answers.”

Poison Princess, Kresley Cole – I was completely surprised by this first book in a new series for teens. It spends such a long time as a relatively “normal” tale of teen life and then becomes a stunning post-apocalyptic tale.

Men We Reaped, Jesmyn Ward – This book is another example of how to transform personal stories and history into a universal revelation, putting personal faces to the argument that systematic poverty and criminalization haunts young black men, their families and communities. Ward’s writing is evocative, emotional and convincing. Everyone should read this book.

Too Good to Be True, Benjamin Anastas – I was blown away by Anastas’s ability (and willingness) to depict his rock-bottom experiences so bravely, with humor and openness. For a student of the memoir genre, which is what I’ve been this year, I couldn’t have asked for a better example of turning a small, humble recovery into brilliant revelation.

I Can’t Complain, Elinor Lipman – After some pretty dark reading this month, Lipman’s funny and short essays were the perfect remedy.

November

The Family Fang, Kevin Wilson – There are a few people who, when they recommend that I read something, I immediately put it on the top of my list. Okay, there’s 3 people. One of them, Maurice, recommended that I read this ridiculous, hysterical, searing book about an odd family of performance artists. I didn’t read much fiction this year, but I’m glad I made room for this book.

Endless Knight, Kresley Cole – I’m always impressed by authors who can take what seems to be a relatively limited premise and create a series of twists and redirects that feel both surprising and inevitable.

I Wear the Black Hat, Chuck Klosterman – Funny, dark, twisted and thought-provoking, these essays take a very open, blunt look at the nature of evil, the faces of it and our perceptions of it. I was continually impressed by the mental gymnastics Klosterman leads his reader through.

Mud Show, Edwin Martin & Don E. Wilmeth – During NaNoWriMo, I found this book an invaluable resource to help jump-start me back into the world of my novel. The book includes an essay and a collection of photos from several tent circuses during the 80s.

Carry On, Warrior, Glennon Doyle Melton – If there’s a theme to the nonfiction books I’ve read this quarter (and maybe all year), it’s “when things aren’t all right, here’s how I figured out how to be all right.” That’s pretty much this book. Doyle Melton does what the other authors on this list have done, bares her personal shames and mistakes and shows how she turned them around for herself. Despite some dark subject matter, the tone is light and humorous.

Coming Clean, Kimberly Rae Miller – I was absolutely blown away by Miller’s honesty, her ability to discuss being raised by hoarders, her ability to write about her parents and the way they lived with compassion and love, for them and for herself.

Innocence, Dean Koontz – I got my hands on an ARC of Koontz’s newest and dug straight in. I’ve been a Koontz fan since I was 10 years old – I credit him and his books with being my first teacher/lessons in writing. This novel reminded me so much of the early Koontz books that I loved as a kid, but conscious that the world has been influenced by Law & Order and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

December

“The Princess and the Queen, or the Blacks and the Greens,” George R.R. Martin, in Dangerous Women –  I’m desperate for the next book in the Song of Ice & Fire series, so I ripped right into this novella at the end of Dangerous Women, edited by Martin. The rest of the stories in the collection look very good, but I had to make this one my priority for the moment. The story is a prequel to the events in the Song of Ice & Fire series, written like a history text, and absolutely consuming.

Survival Lessons, Alice Hoffman – I’ve been a fan of Alice Hoffman most of my formative years, so I was intrigued to read this short text on grief and recovery. All of the “advice” is coming straight from a writer, so creativity in the wake of devastation is the real point, in my opinion.

I Am An Emotional Creature, Eve Ensler – These monologues are directed toward young women/girls, using their own voices. Sometimes I found them blatantly melodramatic, but I reminded myself that I’m not the ideal audience for these. My 12-14 self is, though, and I found much of this book spoke to her directly.

To be continued in the new year…

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Reading in Q2 – April

Last month, I started a new tradition here on my blog. Quarterly reporting of my reading. I enjoyed doing the post so much AND I “read” so many audio books in April that I decided to go ahead and report on April’s reading.

The interesting thing about this month’s reading and the very reason I was able to “read” so many audio books was I took a job as a film courier. If you follow my Tweets, you might’ve noticed me referring to the “Great Louisiana Tour,” and this job is what I was talking about. What it boiled down to is that I was driving between New Orleans and Shreveport and back every weekday, about 11-12 hours of driving. So I could listen to one or sometimes two audio books each day/trip.

This month’s edition of the reading quarterly report will essentially be a review of audio books. I only actually read two physical books this month, in fact, and all the rest were audio books I listened to while on this epic journey. Epic is the right word because I drove just over 11,000 miles in just over three weeks.

With no further ado, the reviews…

Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz and read by John Bedford Lloyd – I’ve been reading Dean Koontz since I was 10, though I’ve missed out on some of his newer books. Since I’m so familiar with his writing voice, but hadn’t read this book, it seemed like the perfect audio book to start with. And it was. It was really charming, sometimes hokey, and thoroughly listenable.

Dear John by Nicholas Sparks and read by Holter Graham – I’ve never read any Nicholas Sparks before, but this book was recommended to me and I was so desperate for entertainment during my drives that it seemed like a good way to get introduced. I was intrigued that the book is told more from the male character’s perspective since the movie is mainly from the female character’s perspective. However, I really hated the character of Savannah and I don’t think it helped that Holter Graham made her sound like Peggy Hill.

How to Be Popular by Meg Cabot and read by Kate Reinders –  This was a cute young adult book and it was perfectly read. I feel like this was one of the best examples of the right reader really bringing a character and a story alive in this format. The premise was ridiculous, of course, but it was hard not to invest anyway.

50 Harbor Street by Debbie Macomber and read by Sandra Burr – I used to read Debbie Macomber books years ago, but haven’t for a long time. I picked this one up at random and quickly realized it’s in the middle of a series. There were so many characters, so I have to give the reader props for bringing them all to life, but it was hard to really care about what was going on. By the time I plugged into a story line (one among many) that interested me, the book was over. None of the rest of the series was available on audio at my library, so I moved on.

My Latest Grievance by Elinor Lipman and read by Mia Barron – This one is a great example of the perfect reader bringing a great book so completely to life. I was only sorry I couldn’t get more Elinor Lipman books on audio through my library because I would’ve listened to all of her books after finishing this one. I loved the story and characters so much I didn’t want to leave the world of the story.

Which Brings Me to You by Steve Almond and Juliana Baggott read by Kirby Heyborne and Renee Raudman – This is a “novel in confessions,” going back and forth between a male and a female character. I think the audio would have been done a great disservice if it hadn’t been read by both a man and a woman. And they were both good, as were the separate writing styles of Almond and Baggott. I was so entertained and moved by the “confessions,” yet was dying to know what would happen. While I’m not sure the end is quite as strong as I would’ve liked, this is an audio I’m glad I listened to and would read the old-fashioned way: myself and a book.

Big Boned by Meg Cabot and read by Justine Eyre – Pretty quickly, I realized I wasn’t listening to a standalone or the first book in a series. It’s actually the third in a series. But I decided to listen anyway because I was enjoying it so much and if the others were available on audio, I decided I’d listen to them backwards. This one was just great fun. Silly sometimes, but in the best possible way. Heather Wells as portrayed by Justine Eyre was good company on my drive.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick and read by Jeff Woodman – This was one of my favorite audio book experiences during the whole road trip/audio book experiment. It was like an old-fashioned radio play with French flare mixed with the feel of classic fairy tales. There were sound effects and the reader was amazing. Plus, the story was brilliant. This one, too, is a story I want to read for myself – partly because I suspect there were illustrations I was missing out on. I almost cried at the end and immediately started making a list of the kids I know who are getting this audio for Christmas.

Julie + Julia  written and read by Julie Powell – This was a book I was curious about, especially after seeing the movie, but wasn’t sure I wanted to invest my time reading. So, the audio seemed perfect because I was desperate for entertainment. But the audio ended up being perfect because Julie Powell does an amazing job narrating her experience. It was so vivid! I went through everything with her. There was even a little interview segment at the end, which I enjoyed.

True Grit by Charles Portis – This was one of the two books I read this month the old-fashioned way. It’s a slim, fast read but I took my time with it since I didn’t have a ton of time to read and I was already inundated with story. The character of Mattie Ross is so compelling. Annoying and amusing, charming and heartbreaking. I loved her. I wanted to be her. I never wanted to be her, ever. I quoted her and talked about her. And this was a revelation after growing up with the John Wayne movie version and liking the more recent one when I saw it with my parents. But the book… oh, the book… In the midst of my phenomenal audio story experience, I’m glad this was the one I held in my hands and curled up around.

Eat, Pray, Love written and read by Elizabeth Gilbert – I could almost duplicate my review of Julie + Julia here, except I was really just as reluctant to read this one as I was intrigued. It seemed so shallow and self-absorbed from the hooplah around it and yes, from the movie, which I liked alright. But nothing can compare to Elizabeth Gilbert reading her own story, consciously investigating selfishness and self. I think I might’ve misunderstood her or disliked her if I’d read the book myself. But it was impossible for me not to identify with her when she was telling me her own story in her own voice. The depths and the heights. The colors and the foods. This book was much more of a spiritual study than I’d expected, or maybe that’s what I took from it. I think about it all the time since I’ve finished listening to the story.

Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer by John Grisham and read by Richard Thomas – I loved Encyclopedia Brown and suspected this would be in the same vein. It was, a little bit. It was charming in it’s complete old-fashioned and unrealistic quality, but it was also a bit hopeless. I found a disturbing casual sexism – the family eats out a lot because the mother (who is also a lawyer, like the father) can’t be bothered to cook – and racial stereotypes. I think the cover look far darker and more exciting than the book was, especially read by wholesome John-Boy Walton. This is Perry Mason for the Hannah Montana set and could be far more interesting.

Coraline written and read by Neil Gaiman – I liked this audio better than the movie, which was good. But far and away the best thing was listening to Neil Gaiman read his own work. He sounded a bit like David Bowie as Jareth in Labyrinth. A little. I think he’s the only fiction writer in my experiment who reads his own work.

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo and read by Cherry Jones – It is an ok story. I think the best thing about it is the voice of the character, India Opal and Cherry Jones really brought her to life. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn Cherry Jones reads Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Size Fourteen is Not Fat Either by Meg Cabot and read by Kristen Kairos – It was weird to read this after having read the third. I knew what would happen in the next book, yet I was still surprised by a thing or two. Only, I didn’t like Kristen Kairos’s version of Heather Wells as much as the woman who reads her for Big Boned.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames written and read by David Sedaris – I’ve read a lot of David Sedaris. Some parts of this were boring, some parts I’d heard before. And as always, there was a gorgeous nugget I hadn’t ever heard or read. But there were some parts scattered throughout, especially the audio from live performances, complete with audience reactions, that are just brilliant.

Odd Hours by Dean Koontz and read by David Aaron Baker – I didn’t consciously start or end the experiment with Dean Koontz, but he somehow bookended my experience. He was my favorite writer for a long time, but I got woefully behind on his books. I’ve listened to all the Odd Thomas books on audio and I think they’re all read by David Aaron Baker, so it’s nice to have a consistent voice for the character. It was reassuring, in a way, to come back around to the voices I know so well.

Besides the people I saw everyday, what I miss most now that I’ve switched to a new gig is the opportunity to listen to so many fabulous books. My numbers are probably going to be a lot lower this month! I hope you enjoy reading these mini reviews of the audio books that made my epic journey survivable.

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Some updates

The Book: One reader has gotten back to me – finishing the book in a day and a half! Which is good news itself. She had some really good feedback and I did break down after 9 days and begin a bit (very little) work on the book. The things that need to be fixed are relatively minor and just a matter of layering in a bit more, fleshing some things out. Which is what I was hoping for. Now, it’s been two and a half weeks and except for that bit of work, I’ve been focusing on other things. But the cool thing is that my brain is still processing the book, coming up with the things that I need right before I lay down to sleep or in my sleep, etc.

The Next Major Project: I already have what I believe will be my next book in mind. It will be drastically different from TCB/TWC, very genre. Me said that it sounded like the kind of thing I used to write when I was younger, before grad school, more like the books we read growing up (Dean Koontz). I won’t divulge here, but it will have a kick-ass female protagonist who will literally kick ass. For now, I may do some plotting and research occasionally, but probably won’t get to working on this in a major way till NaNoWriMo in November.

SYTYCD: Very upset that Paris and Tony got booted last week. I really liked them both and enjoyed their hop-hop. Honestly, I think Tony experienced some reverse-favoritism because of his looks, his lack of experience and his height. I suspect Paris got sent home primarily because none of the other boys in danger were tall enough to partner her. She clearly danced better than the other two girls in the “dance for your life” aspect. I really hope Asuka leaves soon cause she annoys me and she seems really one-dimensional as a dancer. Of course I’m watching tonight.

[6.18.09: I claimed that no one was tall enough to partner Paris and watching last night, I realized that Ade probably is (of the guys in the bottom three last week). But I tend to forget about him. He’s a great dancer when he’s right in front of my face, but I never remember him. After watching last night, I’m agreeing more and more with this post by Lyndsey Parker where she discussed the potential for the judges to be giving opposite feedback. Something is off with the judges this season – they claim to be wowed by routines that leave me cold and needlessly pick on routines that I love. For instance: they loved Asuka and Vitolio’s waltz (Mary cried, which I don’t buy) and I was so bored and disinterested. I can’t connect to either of those performers and luckily, it seems like people (other than the judges) agree with me. Whereas I love Randi and Evan, adored their performance last night and the judges seemed to be looking for negatives to pick at. I tend to agree with this break down of the couples and last nights’ performances. We’ll see how it goes tonight. What I really love is that Mamma Mia! and I text each other throughout the show.]

Last night: I experienced a phenomenal show last night, The Devil Makes Three at Hi-Ho Lounge. I hesitate to say much about it here, for the moment, because I’m hoping to review the concert. We’ll see. However, it was perhaps the best live show I’ve seen in a good long while. I’ve already listened to the new c.d., Do Wrong Right, twice since I bought it at 1:30 this morning. The show was opened by a (local? it’s hard to tell, I can’t find them online) band called Death By Arrow that was pretty interesting, especially once they hit the mid-point of their set.

Some quick links:

An SLS teacher of mine, Tom Swick is in the latest issue of Oxford American.

I’m writing about the latest One Book One Community read, Poor Man’s Provence, for 225.

Dave Eggers writes non-fiction about Katrina.

AP Style gets with it re: Twitter.

Toad and Frog, some of my favorite characters, have new adventures.

This piece about race in a community magazine has a bit of a Rorschach test in its title.

Christian group wants to burn Francesca Lia Block books as part of an effort toward “Safe Libraries” and I’m thinking they’ve never read Fahrenheit 451. Which would make sense. This makes me very angry and there’s a lot more flip and funny and mean things I could say, but I won’t. Read the piece, read all the press and I’m sure those flip, funny and mean things will come to you naturally.

Ending on a good note, Flashlight Worthy Books is on Twitter. And everywhere else, too. 🙂

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A yummy all-media post

Going back to one of my favorite things to blog about – media. Yum.

Let’s start with movies. In a distant time and place (okay, say for a while before spring 2007 and in Baton Rouge), I used to have a Sunday-movie tradition that got disrupted by graduation, my European tour and moving to New Orleans. I re-established it with Confessions of a Shopaholic. I haven’t read the books, but I did enjoy the movie. I remember reading somewhere (EW?) a review that questioned whether big-spending would go over well with a recessed audience. But I think some of the messages of the film – don’t count just on material possessions, credit cards and debt collectors are the devil – is all the more poignant because of this recession. Isla Fisher is amazing and I always love Hugh Dancy (oh yes, I do), so even though I felt like the romantic elements were a little rushed, I still believed them cause the actors are awesome at what they do. I love that Isla Fisher is such a physical comedienne, which is reminiscent of the best of Debra Messing (I’ve been a fan since 1998’s 13 episodes of Prey, which was NOT comedy) and, even better, Lucille Ball (who I’ve been compared to in my dizzier, hopefully more brilliant moments).

Now let’s talk t.v. I think I’ve come out as an American Idol fan before and if I haven’t, I suppose this is my big confession. I started watching a few seasons ago and probably got hooked cause it was fun to watch with my neighbors and friends. Now I’m just hooked. The good, the bad, the ugly, I’m there. Sad to say. I am more reluctant and less enthusiastic about the early train-wreck auditions, if that does make you feel any better. Enough defense. 🙂 So far, though this season is definitely weird, I’m entirely satisfied with the first six going through. I looooove Alexis Grace and Allison Iraheta really blew me away (she wasn’t really on my radar before her performance). However, if anybody is reading this, I do hope this is heard – Megan Corkrey and Stevie Wright MUST, must, do you hear me, be wild card picks for the top 12. I’ll tell you now, I don’t care what happens to Megan Corkrey on this show – I will buy any c.d. she puts out. I love her voice. It’s probably too early to say the word “favorite,” since I haven’t even seen 12 people perform and I do love some others, but… Predictions for the three picked from this last set of 12 (really, AI, confusing) are: Scott MacIntyre, Lil Rounds and let’s say…Alex Wagner, but I remember liking Kendall Beard, too. Let’s see what happens tonight.

[3.6: I must’ve had a premonition that they’d pick four contestants, rather than just three. And I was right about two of the last set of three before the wild cards. That was a pretty easy call, though.]

More t.v. Can I just say that, after catching up with all three episodes of Dollhouse so far, I am a BIG fan. No, I won’t be staying in on Fridays to watch it, but YES, I will watch it. Hear that, Fox peoples? Let’s have a deal here and now, between you and me. I will watch it, do not cancel it. But then, I knew I would love it, since I do love my Joss Whedon (insert collective sigh for Firefly here). Big fan of Eliza Dushku, too (in part thanks to Joe, love you dear). This show is smart, funny, addictive. And it’s slick and pretty. Has all the best elements of classic Whedon, also reminds me of Alias a bit (which is great as J.J. Abrams is another big love of mine). I think, honestly, it would’ve been paired better with Fringe than The Sarah Conor Chronicles (Fringe has a strong, kick-ass woman lead, too and my mamma mia! and I text throughout the episodes), but maybe the Fox folks felt that was too much science and technology and weird conspiracy for one night. I will bow to their greater knowledge of these things – provided they don’t cancel either Dollhouse or Fringe. Have I revealed yet just how big of a dork I am?

Now, books. Reading this cool French girl-adventurer book called The Princetta (and the Captain, apparently). It’s massive and translated and really, really good. Just finished a fun (if a bit weird with the Brit-infected “New Yorker” main character) book called Me and Mr Darcy. Not as good as Austenland, a bit too reminiscent of Bridget Jones, but fun nonetheless. Also, while I’m always a big fan of Sarah Dessen, I was blown away by Lock and Key. Even wrote the author a very personal fan letter.

And something I’ve been wanting to blog about for a few weeks. Let’s see if you can follow this. In a distant time and place (okay, circa 1996 as far as my documents certify and in Georgia), I started reading an author named L.J. Smith. I became a BIG fan, getting involved in a massive fansite online (remember in my first blog when I talked about first engaging in an online life?) called The Night World, which was devoted to all of her books. She wrote several trilogies and a quartet of books (after two linked stand-alones) before beginning a longer series called The Night World, which was supposed to be 10 books long, the last of which, Strange Fate, would be released right before the new millinnieum (which featured in the series). However, due to mysterious illnesses and etc., the book’s never been released. Now it’s 9+ years later and, to my knowledge, the book’s still not out. She’s reappeared, writing under the name Ljane Smith and according to her website, she’s still writing Strange Fate. And coolest of all, as I discovered while at my not-so-local bookstore (I was in Baton Rouge), her series’ are being re-released, omnibus style!! There’s lots of L.J. (as I’ll always know her, short for Lisa Jane) news lately, actually. The CW is apparently creating a t.v. show from The Vampire Diaries. It has a lot to do with the success of the Twilight books and movie, almost certaintly, but these books pre-date all that and rock in their own right. As I said in my comment responding to this piece on Pretty Scary. However you get into L.J. Smith, get into her. I love these books. They predate when I was educated about writing (and judgmental) and just enjoyed books for all their cheesy potential (see: Dean Koontz). And you know what? I was a kid when I read L.J. Smith and Dean Koontz. And all these years later, I still get crazy excited about them, still enjoy their books. So that must say something… Can you tell me what? 🙂

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