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.

More Accountability

Hi all,

After a week of research and reporting — and looking at my position in relationship to my goals, I’ve decided to go with a pyramid structure for my writing. I’m organizing it weekly to give myself maximum flexibility. It’s summer, and my wife is a public school teacher. We tend to get out a lot with them all out of school, so a daily routine won’t work. My overall plan for this summer includes the following broad-stroke goals:

  • I need to meet quotas on my bread-and-butter web content assignments. It’s my main source of income, and will fund the wild excesses I plan to spoil my family with.
  • I want to grow this blog, and plan to launch a total of three more by summer’s end, and to begin transitioning myself out of primarily doing content work and into long-form articles and books.
  • I must continue to market my work, and network with colleagues, editors and industry insiders.
  • I need to keep myself sharp by continuing to educate myself and remain informed about what’s going on in the industry and the world.
The trouble with these is that they’re all ongoing projects. None have an end in sight that lends itself to simple timeline. That’s why I’m adopting a pyramid approach to accountability — they’re ideal for assigning yourself sufficient progress on continuing work.  So, in front of y’all I do solemnly swear to do my damnedest to meet the following goals every week. Some weeks I’ll fail. Other’s I’ll exceed them. So long as I stay near those benchmarks, I should do all right. Every week, I will complete:
  1. Education Module — a unit of reading or other research that keeps me up. I might read a magazine or magazine, listen to a relevant podcast or complete some kind of training program.
  2. Admin Sessions — including keeping up with email, tweaking blogs, sending invoices, writing letters and strategic planning.
  3. Blog “Packages” — “package” is loosely defined. For this blog, it’s a week’s worth of posts. The new ones I’ve divided into chunks of similar startup work.
  4. Proposals — of magazine articles, other long-form articles, or significant work on book proposals.
  5. Acts of Marketing — a phrase I learned from Tom Callos. This can be anything I do that builds my readership and brand. This includes applying for new assignments.
  6. Units of Paid Content Writing — I’ve defined a “unit” as a specific amount of money earned. This will be enough to make my nut.
I want to thank you all in advance for being out there and keeping me on track. It’s surprising how much the possibility of public humiliation can motivate.
And, as always, 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.

Young Adult Fiction

I’ve been a fan of children’s literature for most of my life – though, truth be told, more as an adult. As a kid, I spend my kid-lit years on a mission to read as many “grownup” titles as possible. During my years teaching at martial arts studios, I figured reading some middle-grade and young adult titles would help me build rapport with my students.

Good young adult and middle grade fiction manages to speak at that maturity level without speaking down. The characters and plots aren’t as complex as those in adult titles, but they are fully realized and free of holes. Young adult books don’t pull punches in terms of language, sexual situations or “hot” topics like drugs and alcohol.

The Newberry Medal recognizes the “best” young peoples’ book of the year, and their choices are often excellent. However, I haven’t read one yet that dealt with the raw-nerved, pants-wetting social terror of being a teenager. Don’t get me wrong: I love me a Newberry book, but most of them read like something your English teacher wants you to read.

The best titles read like something your English teacher would be uncomfortable letting you read without first checking with your parents. Some examples I’ve read recently, in no particular order.

One Good Punch (Richard Wallace) A successful student and track star with scholarship prospects gets a wrench thrown into his future when a random sweep finds his friend’s drugs in his locker. He has to choose between sending his friend to jail or being expelled.

Fat Kid Rules the World (KL Goings) Local rock legend, drug addict and dropout stops the narrator from committing suicide because he’s fat and unpopular. The two start on a path of saving one another in a narrative that doesn’t blink about drug use, self image and family dynamics. As a bonus, the relationship between our narrator and his father is complex, angsty and loving. Just like the real thing for many teens.

Twisted (Laurie Halse Anderson) What happens when the kid who everybody used to pick on spends the summer working landscaping and comes back muscular, tanned and confident? His world-upside-down trip through social pressures, bullying, drinking, violence and sex turns what some teens fantasize about into its own set of problems.

The True Meaning of Smekday (Adam Rex) A lighthearted romp through two alien apocalypses, Smekday follows a teenage girl and alien companion on a roadtrip through occupied America. It’s mostly funny, but often extremely violent – and sometimes both.

Burn (Suzanne Phillips) Probably the most depressing book I liked – and I made it all the way through HMS Ulysses. A special needs student’s reaction to systematic bullying pushes him nearer and nearer to violence. The end is surprising, timely and….just right.

Feel free to comment and bring more gems to my attention, or to tell me if you think I’m full it.

Thanks for listening.