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

Friday Fun: Folsom’s 93

Alert readers might recognize April Moore’s name from the comments on this very blog. She’s another writer — and illustrator — and occasionally stops in to drop her two cents into our wishing well.

April has finished a novel, and you can find her short fiction and art here and there. One of her darker — and more fascinating — projects is her blog. Folsom’s 93 is an episodic history of the men executed at Folsom prison. Some of the stories are gratifying accounts of society doing what it must to punish unthinkable crimes. Others are sadder, tales of undereducated men caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. All of them are interesting, and told with a professional’s turn of phrase. Moore takes time along the way to tell us about other facets of life in Folsom, ranging from details of daily prison life to a discussion of a newly introduced parole system.

This is a well-done blog on a fascinating topic, and deserves a look. Find the front page here, then browse around. You’ll be glad you did.

Thanks for listening.

More Podcasts

Between the popularity of my last podcast post among readers, and the popularity of podcasts among…well…me, I’ve decided to list a few of my other favorite pieces of ear candy. The folks behind these ‘casts shouldn’t take it personally that you didn’t make the “varsity squad.” I left a few off simply because of space considerations, and two of them are new since that original post.

Freakonomics Radio is the work of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, who wrote a book by the same name. The theme of this ‘cast is applying an economist’s analysis of data to interesting and/or important social goings-on. What I like most about these guys is that they appear to be interested mostly in the numbers themselves, which means they paint a picture as free from bias as any I see these days.

Police on the Scene – officer J.D. Dhein spends a few minutes each ‘cast discussing actionable, often counterintuitive, aspects of crime prevention and personal safety. His scripts aren’t the most refined, but the information matches what I’ve learned over the years enough that I trust what he says when he goes beyond my personal knowledge.  The intro/outro music is also fun.

Quick and Dirty Tips isn’t just one podcast, but an allied group of podcasters on subjects from grammar to nutrition to personal effectiveness. Their gimmick is that each ‘cast lasts only three to five minutes, with simple and actionable advice on a narrow focus. Great for running errands in the car, where your agenda might interrupt the flow of a longer program.

Escape Pod and Pseudopod are the premier fiction podcasts online today. Escape Pod focuses on science fiction, while Pseudopod is a horror fiction cast. Different authors, including many industry greats, contribute some of the best genre stories out there today. Now, if only I could find a crime fiction cast. Maybe I’ll have to build one.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for listening.

 

Writing Professionally: Podcasts Addendum

As it turns out, I was only partially right when I posted that writing about podcasts helps to increase traffic. Last week, I saw another massive spike in response to my review of the “Veggies Go Crunch!” blog.

I guess this means that reviews in general will generate traffic. Put another way, we can apply a basic rule of marketing to success with a blog:

If you want results, don’t talk about yourself. Talk about other people.

In marketing, this usually gets expressed by emphasizing how a product will affect a customer, rather than the features of the product on their own. In a blog, this means literally talking about other people. This helps generate traffic in several ways.

  • People with internet alert trackers will become aware that you mentioned them, then come read out of curiosity.
  • Those interested in the subject covered by what you’re reviewing may find your blog while searching for the primary subject.
  • Folks you review may point out your review to friends, or mention it on their own blogs.
  • Reviewees and their fans may place a link to your blog from their own web pages.  This not only creates a direct route for their readers, but also elevates your page in most search engines.
  • People you review are more likely to comment on your post than many other folks. These comments can generate discussion and attention, leading to still more visits.

As I’ve said before, I’m still learning about this blog thing – but math can be a good teacher. The highest scoring days so far appear to be my podcast review post and the day “Veggies'” author found out I was talking about her.  And both of those posts continue to be the most viewed overall.

So that’s what I learned today. Thanks for listening.