Tuesday, January 10, 2017

This One Goes to 11: Favorite Books Read in 2016

As a follow-up to my Books Read, 2016 list, here's a list of my favorite 11 books in two categories read last year, in no particular order. 


  • Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes (An excellent weird horror tale that has some similarities to the first season of True Detective, though the novel was written before the TV show aired.)
  • Chalice by Robin McKinley (A dreamy fantasy story of beekeeping, love,  and fire worship.)
  • Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier (The start of Marillier's Blackthorn and Grim series. At times dark, it is ultimately an inspiring story about the main characters' struggle to overcome their tragic pasts.)
  • The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen (One of the earliest weird horror stories, and one that writers such as H.P Lovecraft acknowledged as an influence.)
  • Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins by Emma Donoghue (Classic fairy tales beautifully retold, often with a feminist twist or two.)
  • Pax by Sara Pennypacker (A heart-wrenching book about a boy forced to abandon his pet fox. Also very powerful in its anti-war sentiment.)
  • The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (Another book by Beukes. Brilliantly combines the serial killer and time travel genres. Kudos to Lauren Beukes for not romanticizing the killer and for humanizing his victims.)
  • Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (This also has a True Detective, season one vibe, but with some Wes Anderson overtones as well. Really.)
  • A Wild Swan and Other Tales by Michael Cunningham (And another book featuring witty, well-written takes on classic fairy tales and supernatural stories. His version of "The Monkey's Paw" is especially good.)
  • Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier (And yet another retelling of a fairy tale. This one is a novel based on the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses.)
  • The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits: Stories by Emma Donoghue (More Donoghue brilliance. All of the stories in this volume are inspired by obscure historical events. It's one of the most mind-blowing story collections I've ever read.)

Monday, January 9, 2017

Five Ways to Improve Hand Speed

Many years ago, I was at a bar and witnessed an interesting altercation. A very large, tall man was harassing a much smaller man, saying the standard “Hey, whatchoo looking’ at?” dialogue. The big guy was about a foot taller and was least 100 pounds heavier than his would-be victim. The small guy kept his hands up in a placating but slyly defensive position while trying to extricate himself from the situation. The big guy seemed to be backing down, but suddenly pulled back his right arm as if to throw a haymaker. The small guy responded with an incredibly fast jab-cross-hook combination that knocked the big guy out cold. He then promptly left the premises.

A key lesson from this little story is the importance of hand speed. It’s a lesson I’ve seen time and time again in sparring. I have encountered quite a few strong, muscular guys with really slow hands. It’s actually rather amusing when they spar with seemingly out-of-shape partners who happen to have really good hand speed. Guess who tends to get more strikes in?

In a self-defense situation, hand speed could mean the difference between life or death, especially if a weapon is involved. Fortunately, there are ways to improve hand speed. These five have worked for me…

Friday, January 6, 2017

Books Read, 2016

A couple of years ago I decided to log every book I read and then compile a master list at the end of the year. Below is my Master Reading List for 2016, in alphabetical order by title. I'll try to post a list of my favorite books read last year soon.

  • The Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia McKillip
  • Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
  • The Caller by Juliet Marillier
  • Chalice by Robin McKinley
  • Cybele's Secret by Juliet Marillier
  • The Dancers of Arun by Elizabeth A. Lynn
  • Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier
  • The Final Solution by Michael Chabon
  • The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen
  • Greyfax Grimwald by Niel Hancock
  • Harpist  in  the Wind by Patricia A. McKillip
  • Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier
  • Heir of Sea and Fire by Patricia A. McKillip
  • Indigo by Louise Cooper
  • Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins by Emma Donoghue