Open Wounds

Book Reviews

Winger, Pizza, Jobs, and Helsreach Ants

As a writer I love to read and I read a little of everything with a lot of YA, some non-fiction (biographies too), and a graphic novel when I can find one that hits the sweet spot.

I’ve never done a top ten list before on books but there’s always a first. Here are my favorite books that I read this year (some are from prior to 2012 and some will come out in 2013) in no particular order except for the first one – which is hands-down my favorite and I even read it twice, once in 2011 and once two months ago.

  1. Winger, by Andrew Smith is the first and easily worth two readings. It hasn’t been published yet but is coming out in 2013. If you’re not already an Andrew Smith fan this book will make you look up all the rest of his work and start reading them one after the other. The main reason I loved this book was the voice of the narrator. He is 14 and Andrew really captured the voice of this boy perfectly. It is incredibly funny and sad for different reasons at different times. Did I mention the protagonist plays rugby? And that it is illustrated perfectly (the narrator draws so “his” drawings are included throughout). This is storytelling at its finest.
  2. The Maze Runner (trilogy and prequel – 4 books total), by James Dashner is rough reading. This is really four books but it all starts with The Maze Runner. My son read it first (might not have been such a good idea as he’s 10 but…) and when I finally got to the first book I had to read through them all. Do I have gripes about the storytelling? Yes. Was it one of the most compelling reads of the year? Yes. Is it good sci-fi? Yes again. Thought provoking? Brutal? Depressing and terrifying (especially the prequel)? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.
  3. Helsreach, by Aaron Dembski-Bowden is a Warhammer 40,000 novel about space marines called the black Templars. I know, I know. Space marines? Warhammer 40,000? Hey, the man can write and as far as these novels go this is a keeper. Hordes of orks (don’t ask) in a Waagh (don’t ask again) swoop down onto a planet that is protected by the black Templars and they fight the battle literally to the last marine. Absolutely fascinating novel of warfare in the 41st century with some interesting work on the writer’s part in bringing out multiple viewpoints. This book was just plain muscular fun.
  4. The Wind Through The Keyhole, by Stephen King is wonderful, vintage King. The Gunslinger series is my favorite of his works and this adds another notch to the belt of the tale. This is a haunting tale of Roland as a boy out on his first mission. I don’t read King too often any more but this one just sang.
  5. The Drowned Cities, by Paolo Bacigalupi is a challenging read. I bought it for my son because we both read his other great book Shipbreaker and this continued the tale of the bioengineered war beast Tool. How could you turn that down? Then I read it quickly to screen it before I allowed my son to read it and I’m glad I did. Wow. The violence depicted is absolutely brutal. Children doing horrendous violence to children during a time of total war. This is a great book, wonderfully written, visceral to the point of making me put the book down and cringe at least three times. It is also a book of great, harsh, truth. The scope of the story is small and the pace is quick. It is an exercise in focus. This guy is good.
  6. Everybody Sees the Ants, by A.S.King is simply wonderful. It’s the first book I read by A.S. King and I immediately picked up Please Ignore Vera Dietz as soon as I was finished. Ms. King is another writer (like Andrew Smith) who nails the teenage voice (in her case both male and female in different books). Writing well, with a ring of authenticity from a young person’s perspective is a huge challenge and this story of a boy who has been bullied and his family just broke my heart. What I especially like are the realistic adult characters and how they give such great texture to Lucky’s story.
  7. Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A.S. King is the second King book I read and it was also a powerful tale of loss and coming of age. She’s got a new one out in hard cover called Ask The Passengers that is going on my to-read list for 2013…
  8. Passenger, by Andrew Smith is a follow-up to The Marbury Lens and is a hallucinogenic thrill ride that is deeply frightening and moving. This is a painful book to read, brutal, gory, with imagery that made me squirm. If you read Marbury then you owe it to yourself to read this as it makes the wonderful worlds created in Marbury expand into even larger more epic (does that even have meaning?) proportions. This book and Smith’s Winger are on two ends of the spectrum in style and content yet they both move from that same incredible strength of voice in their main characters. This book has already won a bunch of awards and I won’t be surprised if it wins more in 2013.
  9. Playing for Pizza, by John Grisham. Okay, okay. John Grisham? I’ve never read a book by him (nothing against him and I’ve seen his movies just never had the urge to read him) but my father-in-law recommended this book and it was a lot of fun so for its uniqueness it makes the list. This is a book about a football player from the NFL who ends up playing for beer and pizza in Italy. If you enjoy football stories (I do) and Italian food (I do) then you will enjoy this quick and smile inducing read. Something tells me this will be made into a movie…
  10. Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson is an exhausting read but well worth the trouble. Steve Jobs was not a nice guy and it’s hard reading about your hero and seeing all his warts but if you can get past that it is really a fascinating story of Apple, the computer industry, and Steve Jobs all wrapped up in one. You will never look at Apple the same again (and you will probably still buy ’em or change to them if you have never tried Apple products before).

There you have it. The literary might of the year from my perspective (as limited as it is).


Chop, Chop, Burn…

I’ve been reading a lot.

I read a lot normally but I especially enjoy reading when my day job gets me down. Grant writing, something I have to do to keep my day job, does indeed, gets me down. But it pays the bills so I do it. It’s a particularly stressful and challenging writing exercise that is usually done in some kind of collaborative trance amidst the silent screams of those engaged to tango.

I do not enjoy them, Sam I am, I do not like green grants and ham.

So to keep my sanity I read and write. Because I work so much during these time periods, the writing gets sidelined much of the time but… nobody takes away my subway reading time – that’s gold. Here’s what I’ve read in the last couple of months.

The Drowned Cities

The Drowned Cities, by Paolo Bacigalupi – This is a novel not to be taken lightly. There are severed fingers, death and destruction on a cosmic scale and the re-emergence of a favorite character from Bacigalupi’s award winner Ship Breaker, a dog-face named Tool. This book is an incredibly brutal war story where children are the warriors and children are trained and taught to kill children. It is palpably haunting and way too disturbing for my son to read. Sorry, Max. This one you have to wait on. It’s a book that provides me with reason to screen some of my sons book selections – even though the selections are stellar. For anyone else with a strong stomach, this is a beautifully written winner that you will not easily forget.

Furnace (Lockdown book I, Solitary book II, and Death Sentence book III) by Alexander Gordon Smith – There are five books in the series and seriously, how could you not pick this series up? I found it while I was in the Andrew Smith section. I just happened to see books by an Alexander Smith about a prison named furnace that seemed incredibly hellish and was filled with boys and – it looked terrific. What I will say about this series – which I have stopped reading in the middle of book III – is that it is compelling and fascinating and bloody, and brutal. What I will also say is that I didn’t care so much about the main character and that made it hard to read on. By the middle of book III I just didn’t like him any more. And so Furnace has gone the way of The Game of Thrones, put down because I didn’t want to read about the main character(s) anymore. I think I’m more likely to come back to Furnace though, because I see where Smith is going, I just don’t want to go there right now. I’ll leave this one up to you. If you’ve read the books, let me know what you thought.

I just finished Steve Jobs. I’ve talked about Jobs before, though, and that’s probably enough for the time being. Firm thumbs up on the biography.

The Ranger's Apprentice Collection (3 Books)

My son bought me the first book in The Rangers Apprentice Series by John Flanagan and I have to say it’s shaping up to be a fine fantasy read. Only a few chapters in and I’m totally engaged with the two main characters. I’m a sucker for swords and bows, long knives and shields – though not particularly in that order. More to come when I’m finished.

More book talk later in the week. There’s another one my son swears by and I always read what he thinks is good just as he does with me. I’ve got him reading The Bartimaeus Series by Jonathan Stroud. One of my personal favorites. He’s ripping though the second book as I write this and the moon rises over Jackson Heights.


Mine Arse On a Band Box

King's Captain: An Alan Lewrie Naval Adventure

I always look for new books to read. I’m a fan of historical fiction and am on the constant lookout for the next stand alone or series that I can sink my teeth into. My favorite series over the last fifteen years has been by a little known author named Dewey Lambdin. The series is about a man named Alan Lewrie who starts out in the first book as a seventeen year old midshipman and moves (so far) through fifteen plus years of his life to a position of post-captain of a frigate in the English navy during the years of the American Revolution and through the Napoleonic Wars.

The larger story of this man’s life is epic. Each individual book is unique yet adds depth of character to Alan mine-arse-on-a-band-box Lewrie. And Lewrie is an imperfect soul with a temper for violence and lack of skill in decision-making when it comes to women and relationships. He makes mistakes and pays for them. He’s a rake. He does good sometimes selfishly, sometimes for profit, and sometimes without knowing it. And sometimes he is very, very bad. But he is always like-able – especially because of these character flaws. I have followed him over 18 books, one more or less a year per year, every year of both mine and his life. It is like reading one long novel about one human being whose life is painted large on canvas. It helps if you like nautical, bawdy (there is sex and violence a-plenty), funny, adventure stories.

I found the series browsing through the new mass market paperbacks in a Barnes & Noble, looking for something good to read. The first book, The King’s Coat grabbed me from the opening scene when Alan’s father catches him in bed with his step sister, steals his inheritance and railroads him into the navy. I’ve loved every minute of each book ever since.

Two novels especially stand out (some in the series are better than others but all add in some grand way to the larger story line). One, Havoc’s Sword spends the first third of the book detailing a duel with pistols in which Lewrie is one of the duelists seconds. It is a wonderful piece of writing and takes place all on dry land. Another is a The King’s Captain in which the last half of the book takes place at anchor during the mutinies at Spithead and Nore – something I knew nothing about and found absolutely fascinating.

And here’s the coolest part. We had the same agent once a long time ago for a short period of time (about two years). I’ve corresponded with him ever since and last year he wrote a blurb for my novel. He writes all correspondence on a typewriter and has replied to every letter I’ve sent. My dad reads his books too. Every February (when the next book generally comes out) we race to see who will find it on the shelves of a bookstore first. This is as it should be.

My son is already asking when he gets to start reading them. He’s going to have to wait.

 


Ship Breaker and Bacigalupi

Ship Breaker (Paperback)
Ship Breaker (Paperback)
Ship Breaker (ebook)
Ship Breaker (Ship Breaker, #1)
Ship Breaker (MP3 CD)I just finished a great book by author Paolo Bacigalupi called Ship Breaker. My son (9) read it first (and that’s only because he stole it from me when I wasn’t looking – seriously he did – and then told his mother that I said it was all right to read it. For the record I told him it was all right to read the first chapter because he had no other book to read at that time and he had fifteen minutes to kill and who am I to stop a boy from reading? Seriously. I’d already read the first 8 pages and he doesn’t read that fast and I figured how bad could it be…)

So my son read it first. He loved it. He’s getting into sci-fi and this was a deep sci-fi experience in world building. I finally got my hands on it and finished it yesterday. If you haven’t read it yet, got out and get it. It’s for the 13 and up crowd for the violence and deeper themes of loyalty, family, and what it means to maintain your humanity in a world that has gone over to the dark side with global warming. This is the best kind of science fiction – thought provoking with an eye for the larger epic picture yet solidly focused on character – on the lives of only a few characters, one main and several minor. My only complaint is that, like many good books, it ended too soon and I was left with the wonderful question of what happens next?

The follow-up to Ship Breaker is coming out in the spring called Drowned Cities following the tale of the half-man, Tool, one of my favorite secondary characters from Ship Breaker and whose fate is not known… I can’t wait. Neither can my son.

Here’s the link for the book: Ship Breaker


Four Letter Words and Vicodin Cocktails

I just finished my first book of 2012. Last Words by George Carlin is in the can.

It was an incredible sortabiography (his own word), telling his memoir through the story of his creative life as a comic. The second half of the book is a tough read. Carlin had a bad cocaine, alcohol, vicodin habit and only really got sober the last five or so years of his life. What especially fascinates me is his writing about his creative process. He wrote things down to capture them and hone them over and over again until they were perfect. He lived most of his life on the road performing and working, writing and capturing, honing and perfecting.

And he came up with some good shit. He was also highly political but only evolved into that over time. And he was one angry, angry man. His rage fueled many of his pieces and large parts of his performances. It provided focus for his fascinations. It provided incredible articulation. I think he had tremendous insight into the human condition and into how storytellers in particular, manipulate their audiences to follow them down into other realities.

Carlin also specialized in the use and etiology of curses. I learned about curses from Carlin. I knew about them before but he demystified them for me. He introduced them to me as full-bodied words and made me laugh at the ridiculous censorship we place on them. He increased my vocabulary ten-fold even if it was mostly in my mind.

I use the word fuck in my book, Open Wounds. I haven’t counted how many times.

When people ask me if the book is okay for their teen I always tell them it’s a 13 and up read or a 15 and up read because of the language and the violence. Most people don’t mind but some do. I think the word fuck is used sparingly in my book, not because I thought it would get me in trouble if I used it too much, but because it was only needed when it was needed by the characters who used it. I remember watching the movie Platoon the second time – with my grandfather – and squirming in my seat at the number of times the word fuck or some derivation of it (fucker, fucked-up, fucking, motherfucker, fuck-wad, etc…) was used. Almost every other word that came out of every character’s mouth included some version of fuck. The first time I saw the film I didn’t notice the language at all. The second time, with my grandfather beside me, I couldn’t hear anything but it.

I also remember reading a book last year by Cynthia Kadohata called Cracker: The Best Dog in Vietnam that, although I enjoyed, found it strange to read a whole novel about soldiers in Vietnam and not read one curse. I wonder if she consciously chose not to use the word fuck. I remember asking myself how not one soldier in her reality could get through a conversation without saying fuck at least once. It felt like a spice was missing from the narrative – some dark mole sauce.

I had one person, a friend, tell me his daughter, who was a teen, put my book down because she found the word fuck in it. Another, an adult, told me she finished it but was really shocked that the book contained such language.

What would George Carlin say to all this? Well, his now famous list of the seven words you can’t say on television no longer has any relevance. Because any and all of them can be and have been said on cable and HBO for over a decade. He stopped doing the bit after his own first HBO special.

One in which he used material that he had captured on paper, honed through practice and rewriting over and over again, and finally… perfected.