Update! Where to find new stuff.

For new reviews, head to my Goodreads.

 

For art, head to http://www.craighoughton.com or my Instagram for the recent stuff.

Rating: The Summer Tree

The Summer Tree (The Fionavar Tapestry #1)The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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Rating: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Rating: Bloody Jack

Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ship’s Boy by L.A. Meyer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Rating: War and Peace

War and PeaceWar and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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“Pure and complete sorrow is as impossible as pure and complete joy.”
― Leo TolstoyWar and Peace

Quote

Review: Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah

Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah
Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah by Richard Francis Burton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton’s 19th travelogue is simply fascinating. In disguise and (I’m assuming he’s accurate in this) at great risk to himself, Burton made a pilgrimage to Medina and Mecca. His intimate observations of customs, daily life, and travel in a foreign land are the sort that one sees best through the fresh eyes of an outsider, but normally an outsider would be denied that vantage. Burton pulled it off, and he did a damned good job of putting it all on paper.

I don’t care much for Burton himself, but neither did Victorian society. If we met in person I’d probably consider him as genuinely dangerous as he is morally offensive, but none of that prevents me from appreciating his peculiar sort of genius. If you have them, I recommend overlooking any reservations you may have about the man. The Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah is too rich a treasure to ignore.

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Review: The World’s Shortest Stories of Love and Death

The World's Shortest Stories of Love and Death
The World’s Shortest Stories of Love and Death by Steve Hall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ll keep this under 55 words. Some stories improve when you pare them down until they fit on a Post-It Note. The World’s Shortest Stories of Love and Death contains some of those, and they are worth the time you spend sifting through the other contorted exercises in economy and novelty. There, I did it.

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My year in books, 2013

I’m happy to say that I managed to meet my Goodreads challenge goal of 100 books in 2013. To further myself as a writer and a reader, I did my best to move across genres and decades (although I still have yet to pick up a proper mystery). I read novels, epic poetry, collections of short stories, and even a few non-fiction titles. Formats varied too; the list includes ebook, audiobook, and print editions.

Favorite book of 2013: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Best indie book of 2013: Dragon Killer by Rob May
Most tears shed in 2013: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Crappiest book of 2013: The Patchwork Girl of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Most personally disappointing of 2013: Everyman by Philip Roth
Newly favorited authors in 2013: Ursula K. Le Guin, Jack London, and Charles Dickens
Achievements unlocked: Ulysses, The Divine Comedy, and some of the Russians.
Books read: 107
Reviews written: 58

Here’s a fancier way to search through the list: My Year in Books 2013

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
A Rhapsody of Dreams by Tami Egonu
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
ApartFrom by Constance A. Dunn
Armageddon in Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut
Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Behind Blue Eyes by D.M. Wolfenden
Big Sur by Jack Kerouac
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
Catwings Box Set by Ursula K. Le Guin
City of Illusions by Ursula K. Le Guin
Cornerstone: Raising Rook by K.A. Krisko
Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley
Dance Of The Goblins by Jaq D. Hawkins
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Delta of Venus by Anaïs Nin
Doctor Who: Catastrophea by Terrance Dicks
Dragon Killer by Rob May
Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey
Everyman by Philip Roth
Faust: First Part by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne
Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin
Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway
Grendel by John Gardner
How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark
How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead by Ariel Gore
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
In the Ravine and Other Short Stories by Anton Chekhov
Into Forever by Thomas Purser
Joy of Gardening by Dick Raymond
Julia Wiles and the Amulet of Dreams by L.C. Alex
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
Kim by Rudyard Kipling
Kingdom of Fear by Hunter S. Thompson
Lady Susan by Jane Austen
L’Assommoir by Émile Zola
Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin
Men Without Women by Ernest Hemingway
Mephisto in Onyx by Harlan Ellison
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel García Márquez
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
Planet of Exile by Ursula K. Le Guin
Pontoon by Garrison Keillor
Poor Folk by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Powers by Ursula K. Le Guin
Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger
Ringworld by Larry Niven
Rocannon’s World by Ursula K. Le Guin
Sing Down the Moon by Scott O’Dell
South Sea Tales by Jack London
Summer Crossing by Truman Capote
The Amateur Emigrant by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
The Black Pearl by Scott O’Dell
The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
The Discomfort Zone by Jonathan Franzen
The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
The Dying Animal by Philip Roth
The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
The Last Colony by John Scalzi
The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
The Patchwork Girl of Oz by L. Frank Baum
The Poison Belt by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
The Sea Wolf by Jack London
The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe
The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The Story Template by Amy Deardon
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Trial by Franz Kafka
The Trouble With Rane by Robert Beacham
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith
The Waves by Virginia Woolf
The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King
To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip José Farmer
Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
Ulysses by James Joyce
Voices by Ursula K. Le Guin
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
Watership Down by Richard Adams
What Every Body is Saying by Joe Navarro
White Fang by Jack London
Wild Nights! by Joyce Carol Oates
Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi

Review: A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve seen so many film versions of A Christmas Carol that I can’t help but feel like I just read Charles Dickens’s book adaptation of his own story. He did a half-decent job too. I like what he did with the visions of Jacob Marley in the hearth tiles — I don’t remember seeing that before. You know, I’ll even concede that his take on the classic tale may have been the best. It felt a little rushed and less subtle than I had expected, but the writing was rich with detail, the mechanics of Scrooge’s story were all in place, and Tiny Tim was ready with his catchphrase. What more could I have asked?

Don’t hesitate to spend some time with the original. It’s an excellent and quick read that may even stand out stronger in your mind than the countless knock-offs you’ve endured. Merry Christmas (a little belated).

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Review: The Prince

The Prince
The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m not sure what this says about me, but I found a lot of useful advice in The Prince. And, while I go out of my way to avoid ruling over other humans, we’re all still subject to the governance of various princes. For that reason alone, this candid Renaissance self-help guide has value.

It’s more fun to read than you may expect. Machiavelli brings up all sorts of states and rulers I’ve never heard of, but he usually adds in a few choice words of background to make each example accessible. In some other cases, Wikipedia exists and any tangents pursued should only add to the experience.

As with any older work in another language, translations vary greatly. You might want to try a few.

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Review: ApartFrom

ApartFrom
ApartFrom by Constance A. Dunn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Much of the language in ApartFrom is fresh and evocative. I found myself immediately drawn in by Dunn’s skilful use of less than obvious sensory details. The story opens in a Bulgarian apartment, and no location could have seemed more exotic or authentic. I felt something similar for the gaudy Spanish tourist town of the second part and for Toronto in the final third. It’s clear that the author has a gift for place and atmosphere.

But ultimately, ApartFrom pulled me in and let me go. I wasn’t a fan of the way her narrative is broken into little slices of time. There were just too many breaks, with scenes often stopping just as they were about to deliver. The choppy technique works so well in movies, but in this book it felt overused, with breaks often pushing the reader only minutes into the future where standard narrative tools could have served just as effectively.

The novel is broken into three parts. That division could have worked, but the structural similarities between the three became tedious, and I never felt that they were really meant to be tied together. Rather, they were set out in parallel, with each so much alike that just one could have sufficed. The repetition didn’t reveal more to me. Instead, I felt as if I were walking back over the same emotional and symbolic ground.

While I would have personally liked to see stronger supporting characters, more interplay between the stories, and less obfuscation in general, fans of dreamy literary fiction would likely do well to get lost in ApartFrom.

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