Review: Death Masks

So here’s the thing about Jim Butcher. He’s not a great writer. Jim uses phrases and vocabulary choices out of workshops for how not to imitate pulp writers. He’s straight-up B to B+ on a good day. Uses adverbs when simple description would be better. Chooses overly dramatic words like “gaze” and “horrific.” Tags his dialog with Tom Swifties, even when he’s not making a joke.

But.

His pacing keeps me reading, piling on the tension and the fun. His characters are deep and interesting, even though sometimes archetypical. He uses legend — ancient and urban — in a way that adds texture and meaning to his books. I like Harry Dresden. A lot.

In this particular episode, he’s up against the Forces of Evil in the form of fallen angels. Fights along side some bad-ass knights and ends up shutting down O’Hare Airport for a few hours. A romp through mythology and mayhem you just don’t see so much anymore. Jim’s having fun. I’m having fun. So what it it isn’t Shakespeare?

Death Masks ranks between Bite Me and Ned the Seal  on this year’s fiction reading list, coming it at #4 for the year. It’s likely I’ll binge read the next few Harrys, so in fairness I’ll probably treat the series as one entry going forward.

If you’re new to Harry Dresden, start with Fool Moon. The basic premise is as follows. Imagine the world posited in Harry Potter, with all its magic and supernatural skulduggery. Imagine an adult wizard living in that world. Imagine he’s a pulp noir P.I. in Chicago.

That’s all you need to know.

Friday Fun: David Quammen

I want to be David Quammen when I grow up. He’s a professional writer who spent most of his life getting paid by magazines like National Geographic and Outside to go on adventures and write about them. He’s written about crows in Seattle, corpse fruit in the Pacific and hiking through the Congolese jungle.

More recently, he finished a fun and compelling biography of Charles Darwin.

Here we have him addressing Case Western University as part of the Darwin Year lecture series. It’s longer, but worth it. The man is as engaging a speaker as he is a writer.

Fiction Reviews

Schlock Mercenary author Howard Tayler posts short reviews of the movies he watches, in the context of a totally subjective “Top Ten Movies I’ve Watched This Year” list. He updates it in real time, so you can see the changes as movies break current records, or slide off the bottom of the list.

I’ve mentioned in earlier posts how writers must read incessantly. If you don’t read, you won’t see what others are doing. You won’t stay current. You won’t succeed — and you won’t deserve to. So, for no reason other than I think it will be fun, I’ll be taking a page from Mr. Tayler and do a Top Ten Fiction Novels I’ve Read This Year list. I read about one a month, along with my podcasts, nonfiction, blogs, reports and ebooks.

For now, I’ll post the books I’ve read so far, in subjective order based on how much I enjoyed them. If I enjoyed books equally, I’ll fall back on craftsmanship as a tie breaker. Going forward, I’ll be doing reviews — and will soon post detailed reviews of the ones that have already made the list. As of today, I’ve read 9 fiction books since the new year.

#1: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I touched on this earlier. Best fantasy I’ve read in a decade, and I re-read Lord of the Rings in 2002.

#2: The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. Young adult fiction. A hilarious romp through an apocalyptic earth during the weeks between two alien invasions. Twisted humor, and an interesting weave between narrative prose and graphic novel. Had me laughing out loud.

#3: Bite Me. Christopher Moore’s newest in his San Francisco Vampire series. Competent, funny and sometimes poignant. It would have ranked higher if Wind and Smekday weren’t so damn good — and if Moore hadn’t written this book twice before.

#4: The Adventures of Ned the Seal, an early effort of Joe R. Lansdale, is a weird masterpiece of steampunk alternative history starring Sitting Bull, Annie Oakley, Dr. Moreau, Frankenstein, Mark Twain, Jules Verne and martians.

#5: Sixkill. The late Robert B. Parker can be fairly accused of phoning in some of the later titles from his acclaimed Spenser series…but this isn’t one of them. It’s good for all the same reasons as the best Spenser, and puts Our Favorite Guy in a mentorship role again — one of the places I like him most. A fine finish to Parker’s career — though I would have liked to have seen Hawk and Paul one last time.

#6: Bad Blood, by John Sandford. I like Virgil Flowers, the protagonist in this book and several others in Sandford’s newest series. Good, tangled mystery with stellar dialog and plenty of violence. Like Bite Me, it would have scored higher if Sandford hadn’t written this story so many times.

#7: Devil Red. Ye mead-swilling gods, but I love me a Hap and Leonard novel. This is a recent addition to the Joe R. Lansdale series, complete with humor, introspection and copious kicking of ass. A weaker effort than Mucho Mojo, but still readable start to finish.

#8: Dexter Series, by Jeff Lindsay. I spent most of March working on home projects listening to the first four as audiobooks. I like the protagonist, and loved the series. Quirky and creepy, but weak on tension for a thriller…and I’ve kind of been over the serial killer thing since Thomas Harris ruined it for me with Hannibal.

#9: Rebel Island by Rick Riordan. I read this adult detective novel because of how much I loved Riordan’s Olympians series, and was disappointed. It’s on the top ten only because I haven’t read 11 novels yet this year.

Friday Fun: Beat the Reaper

Published in 2009, Josh Bazell’s first novel is some of the most fun I’ve had with fiction this decade. It’s popcorn fiction — nothing deep or philosophically challenging, just a good adventure yarn.

It has a few things to teach budding writers. The structure builds and maintains suspense. The prose is engaging and distinctive. Better still from a professional standpoint, the website for the book is very, very clever.

Click here for the website, and click “Excerpt” for print and audio samples from the book.  Be sure to check out the games and video trailer. These are great ideas for promoting our own work in a memorable way.

Warning. Beat the Reaper is not for children, not work safe and not for the easily offended. By the end of the excerpt, you will have been exposed to grossly vulgar language, casual sex, explicit violence, drug use and “fact” about the medical profession that will make you cringe every time you see a hospital for the rest of your life.

Not for the faint of heart, but wow is it fun.

Thanks for listening

Book Release Announcement

Hi all,

Your patience has been rewarded. My new book, Astoria: A Guide to Oregon’s Gate to the Sea is now available at Amazon and Powell’s. After a couple months of publishing delays, it’s good to see it out there.

It’s a travel guide for Astoria and the surrounding area, including a bit of the history and culture that makes the area interesting enough for me to visit in the first place. If you’re planning a trip out this way, or you just want to support your 43rd favorite writer, order copies for yourself and everybody you know.

Thanks for listening.

Review: “The Name of the Wind”

A couple of weeks ago, two people whose opinions I trust recommended Patrick Rothfus’ The Name of the Wind to me, independently of each other in separate conversations.

I don’t love fantasy, especially 800-page fantasy tomes that would make Larry McMurty weep. But I tried it….and it’s the best fantasy novel I’ve read in the last ten years. I could go on about details of character, voice, style, tone, the world, the magic system, but for today I want to focus on his action.

When we think of action in a work of fiction, we think of violence: epic battles, wrestling on rooftops, chase scenes. The Name of the Wind has all of these, but Rothfus brings the tension and conflict of a good battle to surprising venues.

  • He makes a musical performance a nail-biting chapter by giving it important stakes.
  • He captures the narrow margin of living above your means, turning a simple shopping trips into perilous excursions.
  • He adds time pressure to journeys so as to make each step feel like winning a fight against time.
I’m not a very successful fiction writer, but for aspiring writers of fiction — myself included — this book is one to learn from. He manages to pace a 750+ page book so tightly that I would have read it in one sitting, were I still capable of staying awake for 48 straight hours.
Actually, I probably would have done it anyway if it weren’t for my meddling kids. Seriously, borrow this book and read it. If you love it, buy a copy to support Rothfus’ efforts. He’s a genuine talent, and we should encourage him.
Thanks for listening.

Friday Fun: Fukuda Keiko Sensei

  • Fukuda Sensei is 98 years old, and teaches Judo three times a week at a San Francisco dojo she’s run for more than half a century.
  • Fukuda Sensei is the highest-ranked female Judoka in the world.
  • Fukuda Sensei is the last living student of Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo.
  • Fukuda Sensei traveled daily through Tokyo during the WWII fire bombings. To teach lessons.
  • They told Fukuda Sensei women couldn’t promote above 5th degree black belt. She made them change their minds. They tried again when she wanted 9th degree, with similar futility.
  • Fukuda Sensei refused an arranged marriage because her future husband wanted her to quit Judo. She did this in Japan. During the 1930s.
  • If Chuck Norris gets squirrelly, Fukuda Sensei tells him to cut a switch off the backyard tree. And Chuck Norris says “yes, ma’am.”
Last year, filming commenced on a documentary of her life story.
 

If you’re as inspired as I am by this project, I challenge you to donate a little to the cause of getting the film through post-production and out into the world. Find out how at www.flyingcarp.net.

So does this man

Even if you can’t contribute directly, keep an eye out for this film once it hits the world. Fukuda Sensei’s story is touching and inspiring. I can’t wait to see it told.

Thanks for listening