2014 Reading Challenge: One Month Down

Time flies when you're reading good books! January, and the first month of the 2014 annual reading challenge at Goodreads, has gone by very swiftly. I read six books this month, for a total of 2,530 pages. In my opinion, the challenge is off to a good start! For comparison's sake, in January 2013, I read five books and 2,039 pages. (Note: page number information comes from the details page of individual books on the Goodreads site. I have noticed some discrepancies in my history as a Goodreads user, but for the purposes of these stats it's sufficient enough, even if it may not be 100 percent exact.)

My books so far have been:

TheCormorant-700pxwide1. The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig. I've become an unabashed fan of Wendig's over the last few years, and his Miriam Black series is one my favorites. It's a terrific bit of urban fantasy that revolves around Black's psychic ability to witness how people die. She's a foul-mouthed loner, sharp, quick-witted, and scrappy. She also has a tendency to get caught up in some serious trouble, usually of the serial killer variety. Wendig has some strong story-telling chops and good knack for dialogue, often crafting some truly laugh-out-loud funny (and funny-disgusting) stuff. I'll leave the review of these books up to others who can really wax poetic on it, but this series is a ridiculously compelling read, and reminds me a bit of Dean Koontz in his younger years.

night film2. Night Film by Marisha Pessl. I just don't even know where to begin with this one. It's a divisive novel, and I'm not quite sure where I want to stand on it. Maybe the fact that it's gotten me so tripped up and has stuck with me for so long after having finished it is a positive sign. But I also have problems with it, most of which can be squared away by other issues within the narrative, and...it's puzzling. The plot revolves around an investigative journalist and his two allies to solve the mystery of a woman's suicide. The woman is the daughter of a famous horror film director, who is notoriously reclusive and possibly a practitioner of the occult. The book ducks and weaves its way through the horror and mystery genres but never comfortably settles on either. The reader gets enough information to piece together an answer on the mystery of the suicide, but there's also enough reason to disbelieve such answers and the compulsion to dismiss them as too pat-and-dry, particularly in light of the history and character building around Cordova, a figure so prominent in the novel but also so illusive that he never even actually appears in the novel. Or does he!? Pessl's work garnered a lot of comparisons to Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, largely due to the incorporation of photographs, transcribed interviews, and news clippings, to convey information and help bolster the moody atmosphere of the story, as well as the incorporation of online elements for mobile device apps. I think the comparison between these two author's works is somewhat unfair given the disparities between their plots and resolutions. If I had to pick between the two, I would go with House of Leaves for the win. However, I can't not recommend Night Film, as it does have plenty going for it, but I found it to be, in turns, both infuriating and enjoyable. The horror elements were well-crafted, and the book provides plenty of psychological mindfucks. I gave it three stars because, ultimately, I ended up feeling very middle-of-the-road with this, unable to flat-out dislike it and unwilling to rave about it. Your mileage may vary, of course.

dawkins3. The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins. One of my reading resolutions for 2014 is to explore more non-fiction. I have plenty of titles to choose from on my Kindle and found myself to be in a particular mood for some science literature. As such, Dawkins seemed a natural go-to. He has a very elegant and natural way of explaining evolution, and it makes, mostly, for easy reading. Although some of it is a bit dry and slow-paced, the effort is, of course, more than worth it. Dawkins has fun ribbing creationists a bit (and rightly so!), explaining frequently why they are wrong and providing plenty of illustrative evidence and explanation of scientific methodology. Make no mistake - there is only one theory for how humans developed and populated the earth, and it is evolution. This book tells you the whys and wherefores in glorious detail, and anybody who wishes to learn more about the subject owes themselves the time to devote to reading this work. The Greatest Show on Earth is supremely edifying, and should be a must-read for those endeavoring to learn more about the development of life. Perhaps it should even be made mandatory in American classroom across the nation, given the debates between evolution and creationism, and the troubling statistics surrounding US reality-deniers.. Really, there shouldn't even be a debate, as there is only one plausible, scientific theory for how we all got here, and you likely won't learn about it in a church.

poe4. Poe by Brett Battles and Robert Gregory Browne. The first book in the Alexandra Poe series sees this bounty-hunter being contracted by a private security firm to infiltrate a women's prison and extract a Middle Eastern weapons dealer. It's a good hook, and Poe is given a reasonable emotional connection to the plot, which sees her taking on the job in an effort to locate her missing father. Following the death of her mother, her father disappeared and is now considered a traitor to the US. Surveillance efforts link papa Poe with El-Hashim, the arms dealer, and Alex is determined to find out what their connection is. To complicate matters, an assassin hired by the shadowy group El-Hashim works for has been dispatched to kill the terrorist. The book has a solid premise, and I gave it three-stars per the Goodreads ratings metric. I might have nudged it up to a 3 1/2 on my own personal rubric, as it was a decent page-turner. Poe is not a bad intro for a new series, and I'm curious enough about the character and this novel's dangling plot threads to check out the follow-up, Takedown.

digital5. Let's Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should by David Gaughran. After tinkering with my own novel, CONVERGENCE, for the better part of two years now (you can read a bit more about this and my terrific experience with the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 here), and seriously contemplating the path towards self-publishing, I've been trying to pay attention to the publishing world and keep abreast of current information. I rely pretty heavily on J.A. Konrath's blog, Barry Eisler, who walked away from a half-million dollar publishing contract in order to self-publish and retain control of his work and sales, as well as hybrid-author Chuck Wendig. I've found these sources, as well as several others, to be hosts of valuable information and a terrific resource to writers new and old (and have taken the liberty of linking to their sites at the right). Along the way, I became introduced to David Gaughran's blog and twitter feed, and picked up this book during either a promo sale or a giveaway. At the time of this writing, it is on sale for $2.99, but even at a higher price it provides enough worthy content and is a cheap resource for those thinking of publishing their own stories electronically. Gaughran provides a nice, brief history lesson on traditional publishing, and explores the differences between publishing electronically and traditionally, including authorial control and the necessity for good cover design, editing, and marketing. Some stuff is obvious - even if a lot of self-published authors, for whatever reason, don't do this - like hiring an editor (tip: if you believe you do not need an editor, you are dead wrong!) and having a good cover to make your book attractive to potential reader's eyes. Obvious, sure, but their importance cannot be understated and should always be emphasized. There is a reason these two subjects come up time and time again on these sorts of blogs, and the advice should only be ignored at your own peril. Gaughran's writing is smooth, the pace is brisk, and it made for a quick, easy read. Also included are accounts from 33 self-published authors, who share their stories on breaking into the business. It's loaded with information and indie writers (or author-publisher, or artisinal publishing, or whatever your preferred label) would behoove themselves to check it out as Step 1 in their road to publication. On a side-note, I also aim to check out Wendig's series of books on writing, as well as Guy Kawasaki's APE.

The-Waking-Dark6. The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman. This horror novel is billed as young adult (with the emphasis here leaning decidedly toward the adult), but provides enough dark atmosphere to keep older audiences glued to the page, and is quite violent and foreboding. Wasserman takes a serious tone and channels a bit of Stephen King's penchant for detailing everyday, small-town life. Instead of Derry, Maine, or Castle Rock, we're taken to Oleander, Kansas, which is rocked by a series of murder-suicides in the book's opening chapter. A year later, a powerful tornado decimates the city and Oleander is placed under quarantine, its communications cut off from the rest of the world by the United States government. What follows is a string of violence, as the townspeople slowly begin to turn against one another, gripped by a Salem-like religious hysteria and compelled by a voice - but is it the voice of God, the devil, or something else? Wasserman crafts a strong, resonant work of horror, slowly ratcheting up the action and suspense as Oleander is thrown into a paranoid fit that recalls not only King's Needful Things, but a bit of Under the Dome, as well. She packs in a lot of characterization and gives each of her cast members their due, along with some shocks and surprises to rattle the readers.

So, what about you fellow readers? Are you taking part in the Goodreads 2014 Reading Challenge? What have you read so far?

Michael Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.


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