CATEGORIES

Review of “A Roman Peace in Briton: Blood on the Stone” by Dana Burgess

When I finished my first novel, “A Roman Peace in Briton: Blood on the Stone”, I must admit that I was quite pleased with myself. Little did I know that writing the novel was the easy part.  I quickly learned that marketing and selling the novel is where an author makes their hay, so to speak.  A huge part of marketing in today’s publishing world, is convincing the more credible book reviewers to take a gander at one’s work.  As one published author recently shared with me, “A book review is worth a thousand ads.”

To that end, about a month ago I sent out a stack of my books to willing reviewers. Of course, I didn’t expect immediate results as I know how busy reviewers can be, many juggling careers, writing their own novels, and writing reviews.  Yours truly has his own stack of books that I intend on whittling down and churning out reviews on.  Be that as it may, here is one of the first reviews to emerge of “A Roman Peace in Briton: Blood on the Stone”, by Dana Burgess of Let’s Book it.

Book Trailer

Check out the trailer for my debut novel!

“The Devil Colony” book review

Written by New York Times best selling author, James Rollins, The Devil Colony continues the legacy of Painter Crowe and his crack team of military veterans, patriotic scientists and intellectuals, all of which comprise The Sigma Force: a secretive, black-op organization who match brains and brawn with the enemies of freedom.   Admittedly, I was a tad skeptical when publicist and media guy, Mike Farley, queried whether I was interested in reviewing the novel.   Why was that?  Because in my estimation, it’s generally difficult for an author to maintain quality momentum when writing a series, particularly a series that stretches beyond three or four books, regardless of how invested a reader becomes in the characters in the initial installment.  You know of what I speak. Just ask fans of Anne Rice.

What started with a tantalizingly fresh rendition of vampire lore in Interview with a Vampire eventually morphed into tedious swathes of forced prose and stale, stretched literary concepts by the time her fifth installment in the Vampire Chronicles came to press.  Reading Rice’s fifth installment, Memnoch the Devil, was much like watching Michael Jordan play basketball.  I’m talking about the Michael Jordan who played for the Washington Wizards, not the legendary hall of famer who led the Bulls to multiple NBA rings.  Jordan had lost a step or two by the time he laced up his sneakers for the Wizards in 2001 and as much as the NBA and its fans adored him, it became tiresome to watch him clang jumpers, complain to the refs and blame the slick floors for his lack of lift-off when taking it to the hole in the fourth quarter. (Sounds eerily reminiscent of Lebron James post-Cleveland departure to the Heat, doesn’t it?)

But as for my initial reticence regarding James Rollins’ newest installment in the Sigma Force series, I humbly stand corrected.  The Devil Colony is a soaring, from the foul line slam dunk.  Chock full of action and sweeping across continents and history, Rollins guides the reader back to America’s infancy and into the present, cleverly splicing legend, fact and myth into a breathtaking conspiratorial tale of what might have happened and what could be.

Beginning with the book inside jacket teaser, “Could the founding of the United States be based on a fundamental lie”, Rollins’ sixth installment in the series explodes from the pages with intrigue: strange artifacts, gold plates inscribed with semi-Semitic script and hundreds of prehistoric mummified bodies of Caucasian origin are discovered out west in a secluded mountain cave system sparking controversy as the U.S. government and the Native American Heritage Commission race to lay claim to the remains and more importantly, the artifacts.   However, the U.S. government and the Native Americans are not the only ones vying for the strange artifacts.   A secret society known as the Guild, with its enormous wealth, resources and protective cloak of anonymity, has also entered the fray, its objective to steal the strange artifacts and harness the artifacts’ power and mystique for their own purposes, and the Guild is not easily subdued.   Manipulating America’s course since the time of the thirteen colonies, the Guild’s shadowy influence permeates every U.S. institution, showing itself to be more than a match for Painter Crowe’s vaunted Sigma Force.

That’s all the detail you readers will pull out of this reviewer. If you want more, you’ll have to read it for yourself.  If you like your novels served action heavy, with a dash of true science and spiced with archaeology and history with a garnish of plausible fiction, then by all means read The Devil Colony.

Outlaw

Determined to turn over a new leaf, I sprang out of bed this morning at 5 a.m., brewed a fresh pot of coffee and powered up my laptop.  I will be the first to admit that sometimes my mind wanders.  It’s not an unusual affliction.  Many of you readers out there in Internet-land probably suffer from the same malady.  As a matter of fact, I think the internet may be contributing to the condition.  I mean, come on, the world at present is like one giant train wreck, with news of calamity, war, uprisings, natural disasters and failing world economies springing forth from one headline after another.  It’s the virtual equivalent of rubber necking.  You know what I speak of.  How easy is it to surf from site to site until something snares your eye and manages to keep your attention for a minute or two, before clicking off and onto another site?  It’s the same way with the television.

Kicked back in the lazy boy, bowl of popcorn on the lap and a stack of books piled on the end table, I sometimes find myself flipping through the 400 plus channels made available by my cable carrier.  Personally, I really don’t think I need four hundred plus channels.  I could probably survive with one or two of the cable news networks, National Geographic, the History Channel and Espn.  But neither the internet or the television is truly indicative of my attention disorder.  It still comes down to the books.

I literally have seven new (to me) books I picked up and received from various sources residing on my workstation table as of this past Monday.  I finished the first of them by noon on Tuesday with the intention of immediately scurrying off to my laptop to churn out a review for JoeUnleashed.  Alas, the best of intentions fall prey to the promising allure of another good read.  So as of last night, I realized that I was reading three different books at once and still had not penned the review of the “Outlaw”, the book I started Monday evening and finished at lunch on Tuesday.  It is now Saturday morning and I’m three-quarters of the way through the other three novels and still the review of “Outlaw” remains untouched.  Ugh.

So, with new leaf freshly turned and the smell of strong coffee wafting in the air, I present Angus Donald’s “Outlaw”, a novel of Robin Hood.  I will not waste time or print rehashing the saga and tale of Robin Hood.  It’s one of the world’s best-known stories or mythologies and there are plenty of books and movies depicting the character.  However, none of the previous renditions have presented the noble villain in quite the same light as  Donald has in “Outlaw”.

All the stock characters remain; Robin of Sherwood, Little John, Will Scarlet, the Sheriff of Nottingham, and Friar Tuck and the fair maiden, Marie-Anne, Countess of Locksley.  But as mentioned previously, this is not your parents’ Robin Hood, nor that of Kevin Costner or Russell Crowe.  This is Robin Hood as seen through the eyes of fugitive peasant youngster, Alan Dale.  Desperate, destitute and larcenous-minded, Alan runs afoul of the Sheriff of Nottingham when caught thieving a meat pie to feed he and his mother (his father had been dragged out in the middle of the night by the Sheriff and unceremoniously hung from an oak as a warning to others who may challenge the primacy of the local lord).

Faced with losing his hand for the thievery, Alan seeks the intervention and protection of none other than the Lord of Sherwood, Robin Hood.  Hence begins an apprenticeship at the knee of Robin and an immersion into a world of violence, treachery, romance, drunken debauchery and religiosity, both Christian and pagan.

Fast-paced and descriptively presented, “Outlaw” had a familiar feel to it, but with a jolting liveliness that infused a new flavor into one of history’s most favored villains.  In sum, Donald’s rousing yarn is well worth the time.

THE TWELFTH IMAM

Read some newspapers, national periodicals, or internet news sites trumpeted by “trusted” media outlets and the casual reader could very well come away with the notion that America is being overwhelmed by religious extremists of the Christian variety.  Witness judges who tack copies of the Ten Commandments on their courtroom walls, or pastors and priests with the temerity to speak of the Constitution’s guarantee of an individual’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and the right to life movement in the same breath, and then sit back and wait for the hoots of derision to explode from the pens of editorialists and the mouths of talking heads.  Or witness how a public school down south would dare to conduct a graduation ceremony with a cross lurking auspiciously somewhere in the background. Gasp! Shriek! (Hold on a moment while I wail and tear out my hair at the unimaginable apostasy and affront to secular humanism).  And forget about trying to teach creationism alongside the current scientific dogma of evolution.  If it were attempted I’m sure some offended citizen would speed dial the ACLU hotline and an advocate would be filing an injunction faster than you could say Genesis.

Now, I’m sure some of you are sitting there scratching your heads with eyes wide and rolling in disbelief and mumbling to yourself that you thought this site was about books. Well, it is about books and literature. I’m just pointing out that in my opinion, more than a few intellectuals, academics and a goodly number of journalists seem to savage prominent displays of Judeo-Christian faith while giving an entirely different brand of religiosity a pass, if you will. Call it a casualty of our PC (politically correct) culture.

And what is this brand of religiosity to which I refer?  Is it science as humanity’s newest god and its narrow-minded exclusiveness of its practitioners who espouse science and the attainment of knowledge above all else?  Is it secular humanism and its quest for moral fulfillment through reasoning, ethics and justice absent God or religion?  Yes, and no, but neither is actually the topic of today’s blog post.  What I’m referring to is the brand of Islam currently being exported by Iran.

Before I go any further, I would like to fill in a little background as to what prompted this blog post and consequently, the reading and review of Joel Rosenberg’s The Twelfth Imam.  There’s a growing sense in cultures around the world that the apocalypse is right around the corner. Secular humanists are not immune to the alarmism with shouts of man’s imminent demise through global warming and global cooling, streaking meteors, massive earthquakes and tsunamis.  Merely pick a natural disaster and apply.  We Christians have our books of the Bible that speak of the end times, most specifically, the Book of Revelations, though I refute this May 21, 6:00 pm fad making its rounds as unscriptural and unsupported by the Bible (No one knows the day or hour: Matthew 24:36) . Islam is no different.  They have their apocalyptic messiah as well.

If you have been paying any attention the past thirty years to world events, and specifically, the Middle East (aside from the first and second wars in Iraq), you may have noticed that the fundamentalist regime of Iran is not friendly to western culture in the least. As a matter of fact, the official line is one of direct hostility exemplified by boisterous proclamations of its desire to annihilate Israel, and of course, America. And for good measure throw in the regime’s dedication to the financing, arming and training of terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas and the resident despot of Syria, Bashir Assad.

The current figurehead for anti-western sentiment is embodied in Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  A fiery orator with populist leanings, Ahmadinejad makes no bones about his desire to hasten the return of Shiite Islam’s messiah, the Mahdi, also known as the 12th Imam.  In fact, in Ahmadinejad’s first speech to the United Nations, he took to the global stage in New York City and prayed out loud for the hasty return of the hidden imam. The underpinnings of this messianic yearning for the Mahdi is that he is expected to return before the Day of Judgment to lead the righteous against the forces of evil. Now whom does Ahmadinejad consider the forces of evil to be?

To answer this I suggest letting Joel Rosenberg entertain you with his latest splendidly researched and thought-provoking thriller, The Twelfth Imam.  Rosenberg, a New York Times best-selling author, takes the reader inside the messianic Mahdi movement of Shiite dominated Iran.  The main character of the novel, David Shirazi, is an Iranian-American of Shiite extraction that is initially recruited by the CIA to infiltrate al-Qaeda cells in Europe and Pakistan.  Rumblings from within Iran of a mysterious religious cleric claiming to be the messiah, coupled with the regime’s relentless and secretive pursuit of nuclear power prompt Shirazi’s reassignment:  Infiltrate Iran and gather information on Iran’s nuclear facilities and disrupt its nuclear weapons program before it’s too late.

There was a lot to like about this book.  It was entertaining, relevant to current events and did a fabulous job of simplifying the complex and mystical aspects of Shiite end-times theology.  Rosenberg also demonstrated a deft touch in extrapolating on the geo-political import of Shiite eschatology, an area this blogger and reviewer was woefully deficient.  In sum, this novel was one of the best fiction/suspense political thrillers I’ve had the joy to read this year.  Pick up a copy and enjoy.

Ten Books Every Soldier Should Take on Deployment

Terror mastermind and mass murderer Osama bin Laden may be dead and his body sunk and polluting the depths of the ocean, but the duties incumbent upon America’s armed forces have not waned and likely will not for the foreseeable future.  What that means is a continued strain on our armed forces and the dutiful sacrifice that comes with it.  Witness my neighbor, Anthony Fought, a sandy haired, unassuming thirty-year old, representative of America’s current citizen-warrior class.  Initially serving with the 107th Cavalry and currently a member of the Ohio National Guard’s 148th Infantry Battalion, Anthony has been deployed overseas twice during his tenure as citizen-soldier since enlisting in 1999.  The first overseas activation saw Anthony and his battalion deployed to the Balkans of eastern Europe in 2004; Kosovo to be exact, a city that is home to a majority population of Muslim Albanians, while just so happening to be the ancient home and center of religious devotion to a minority bloc of ethnic Orthodox Christian Serbs.  In short, Kosovo was the typical tinder box of religious and ethnic strife where American citizen-soldiers like Anthony and the 148th find themselves stuck between implacable enemies bent on cleansing the other from their midst and whom were less than friendly with the American soldiers tasked with keeping them from the others throats.

The second time Uncle Sam called up his unit was in 2008. Recently married and the new owner of a well-kept home, Anthony stoically accepted the news of the call-up and made preparations to leave his new bride and home.   He and the other soldiers of the 148th answered the call to arms only to find themselves sweating under the weight of 70 pounds of armor in the 110 degree desert heat of Kuwait and Iraq.  Each mobilization and ensuing deployment took these neighbors, friends, co-workers, husbands, sons and brothers away from their loved ones for at least a period of 13 months.  More months are added to the tally when the pre-deployment training is worked into the equation.

So what’s a soldier to do with his downtime when deployed overseas and surrounded by a hostile, suspicious populace?  It’s not as if every day and minute is filled with missions and it’s not as if the soldiers can stroll off base to shop for souvenirs at the local bazaar. That’s a sure way to find oneself on the wrong end of a jihadist youtube video, a plight no one really wants to contemplate. In between missions pulling security for supply convoys trekking the dangerous roads of Iraq and Kuwait, boredom inevitably sets in and boredom is the timeless enemy of every soldier, just as much as any AK-47 toting, IED-placing terrorist is. The days, weeks and months must be filled and the ways in which that time is filled is key to maintaining morale.

The military does its collective best to thwart this enemy with disciplined physical training, mission briefings and access to the PX (Post Exchange to those readers unfamiliar with military nomenclature). But there are other amenities made available to the soldiers and many engage in epic bouts of xbox, darts and pool, while others stalk the phone banks and computer terminals so as to keep abreast of current events and make much needed contact with loved ones back in the States.

But what about the books?  Is it all guns, tanks, xbox and weight lifting and e-mails home?  Of course not. And that’s why I picked Anthony’s brain for “Ten Books Every Soldier Should Take on Deployment”.  Soldiers are just like you and me and what is especially poignant about the list is the revelation that our soldiers and their corresponding likes and dislikes are a direct reflection of our culture.  Even 5000 miles away from home and with the prospect of a shortened lifespan lurking in the back of their minds, America’s citizen-soldiers seek the solace of a good read, relevant to their current situation.  And so, without any further ado, I present the list of books Sgt. Anthony Fought was so kind to compile for this blog post:

#1 Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose:  Personally, I loved the HBO series based on the novel and if the series is any reflection of the quality of the book itself, it’s pretty much a no-brainer as to why Anthony placed this one atop his list (though I would have placed the Bible at number 1 if it were my list, considering where the deployment is at, the dangers involved and what’s at stake.  But this is Anthony’s list and he and the other soldiers are the ones carrying America’s load in present times.)

#2 D Day: June 6, 1944: the Climactic Battle of World War II by Stephen Ambrose:  America’s foremost military historian is at it again.

#3 The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann:  From across the fence separating our backyards, Anthony gushed about this book.  Someone please remind me to ask him to borrow it. It sounds fascinating.

#4 Inferno by Dante Aligheri: I can’t and won’t disagree with Anthony on this one.  It made my own list of Ten Books Every Guy Should Read.

#5 Forrest Gump by Winston Groom: America loved the movie so why not the book?

#6 The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown: I’ve read it myself and watched the movie.

#7 Angels and Demons by Dan Brown: Did not read this one, but I’m hoping that Anthony still has it on his bookshelf.

#8 Pete Rose: My Prison Without Bars (with Rich Hill): Come on, it’s Pete Rose.  Odds are it’s a good read.  I would wager as much. Any takers?

#9 Lord of the Flies by William Golding: A classic read sporting the timeless theme of good vs evil, chaos vs order, peace vs violence, this blogger was pleased to discover its inclusion on the list.

#10 Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield:  This one, among other titles penned by Pressfield, already resides on my bookshelf.  Historical fiction at its finest, Gates of Fire chronicles the Battle of Thermopylae and the Spartans heroic stand against Xerxes and his invading horde in an authentic and riveting read sure to thrill even the most tepid of historical fiction fans.  A fitting finale to a well-promulgated list. Take a bow, Staff Sgt.  Anthony Fought. Job well done.

 

Book Review of “The Road to Rome”

A much wiser man than myself once said, “Be patient. All good things come to those who wait.” For once, this aphorism rang true. After two weeks of fruitless trips to the mailbox, Ben Kane’s highly anticipated third novel in the Forgotten Legion Chronicles arrived at my doorstep. Like a petulant child presented with a birthday gift I tore open the packaging, removed The Road to Rome from its bubble-wrapped confines and immediately became enmeshed in the continuing saga of the twins, Fabiola and Romulus, and Tarquinius, the Etruscan soothsayer.  Six hours and half a gallon of coffee later, I laid the book down, sad that it ended and hungry for more.

The Road to Rome begins right where The Silver Eagle left off:   In Alexandria, Egypt where Romulus and Tarquinius have finally arrived following years abroad after serving in Crassus’ disastrous campaign to tame the Parthian Empire.  Press-ganged into Caesar’s legions, Romulus and Tarquinius find themselves embroiled in the Roman Civil War.  Forced to fight for their lives against overwhelming Egyptian forces, only the military genius of Caesar and the fighting spirit of his legions ward off annihilation.  While Romulus fights for his life with the rest of Caesar’s small expeditionary force, his twin, Fabiola, sets sale from Alexandria and returns home with her lover, Marcus Decimus Brutus.  Heartened by what she thought to be a fleeting glimpse of her brother, whom she believed dead along with the rest of Crassus’ ill-fated expedition, once back in Rome Fabiola continues with her obsessive quest to murder Caesar.

What makes The Road to Rome different from other historical novels involving Julius Caesar’s demise is the prism through which the drama unfolds. Convinced that Caesar is their father (the twins’ mother was raped by a Roman nobleman) and therefore responsible for her former life as a slave and prostitute, Fabiola becomes the catalyst for the plot to murder Caesar on the Ides of March.  Using the wiles gleaned from a life of being forced to have sex with men against her will, Fabiola enlists the help of disaffected nobles such as Marcus Brutus and Cassius Longinus, even while she conducts an affair with Caesar’s most trusted lieutenant, Marcus Antonius, the deadly enemy of her lover.  Finally, after years of separation and not truly knowing whether the other twin was alive or dead, the siblings are reunited after Romulus earns his freedom and fortune from none other than Julius Caesar himself.   Fabiola wastes no time in recruiting Romulus into the conspiracy to murder Caesar, revealing to Romulus that Caesar was the noble who raped their mother.  Faced with the complex emotions and moral conflict of having experienced slavery, life and death in the gladiator pits, the camaraderie of the legions and ultimately freedom and redemption, Romulus finds his relationship with his twin sister under the strain of this turmoil:  Romulus loves and respects Caesar, but had previously sworn to kill the man responsible for the rape of their mother and their subsequent enslavement.

In sum, Ben Kane brilliantly weaves historical nuggets into a taut, riveting historical thriller sure to please those who like their history served with a side of fiction.  And in case you are wondering whether you will had to have read the prequels to The Road to Rome, put your mind at ease.  This book can stand alone without resort to the previous two novels in the The Forgotten Legion Chronicles, a quality this reviewer considers a must when assessing a series book.

Review of The King of Plagues

I really had no clue as to what to expect from The King of Plagues, the third novel in Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series. I have never read the prequels to Maberry’s newest release so when I responded to an email query and agreed to review the book my private concern was that I not be bored. And freedom from boredom is a guarantee no author, agent or publicist will ever issue regardless of the quality of the book at hand. It’s too subjectively vague a standard, intuited to the preferences and tastes of the individual. Thankfully, boredom was not an issue with this read.

The King of Plagues is a fast moving, action-packed read that provides enough back-story and hindsight in its narrative so that the reader quickly becomes invested without the necessity of having to have read the first two books in the series. Well done, Mr. Maberry. Crafting a third novel in a series that can stand on its own merits without a reader having knowledge of its predecessors is no small feat and one that Maberry made look easy. It also helps to have a suspenseful, conspiracy driven plot and conflicted characters.

I immediately took a liking to the book’s main character, Joe Ledger. Maybe it’s his name. Or maybe it’s because Ledger is a witty and rugged Department of Military Sciences operative who is willing to do what is necessary to get the bad guys. Grief stricken and recovering from a recent loss, Ledger is recalled to active duty when the historic Royal London Hospital is rocked by explosions and thousands die in the building’s fiery collapse.  Swept up in vortex of dicey missions, clues, and dead bodies, Ledger dogs the trail and pursues those responsible through a series of blood-chilling scenes sure to raise the reader’s pulse. To his horror, Ledger discovers that a shadowy global criminal conspiracy, the Seven Kings, is poised to release a weaponized version of the Ten Plagues of Egypt. Ledger and his team survive assassination attempts, the Ebola virus, red herrings and misdirections as their investigation peels back layers of deception designed to conceal an ugly truth:  terror, war, famine, and disease and fear fuel market meltdowns, stock crashes and beget nations on the verge of chaos, which proves to be profitable for those kindly situated.

In sum, if you’re in the fiction market for a bit of adventurism blended artfully with a dose of suspenseful thriller, then The King of Plagues should find its way to your bookshelf or downloaded onto your e-reader. Enjoy. I did.

Fear and Loathing in Self-Publishing

Where I’m from it’s impolite to speak of those that have passed, but I’d like to apologize to Hunter Thompson for the title of today’s post.  And in other news…I’m cured!  The madness that has remorselessly held me in its grip the past month or so has suddenly subsided, and for once I’m focused on something that isn’t orange and bouncy. It’s a miracle!  No. It’s the fact that the Wildcats lost to UCONN in this past weekend’s Final Four. Oh well. There’s always next year. And besides, I feel more like my old self again and it’s back to the books and literature for this blogger. And if all goes well then more historical fiction and more writing about historical fiction to boot.

I had planned on posting a review of Ben Kane’s newest book, The Road to Rome, but fate or the postal service is to blame for best laid plans going awry. Either way, the book has not yet made it to my doorstep. Until The Road to Rome does arrive, how about taking a peek at an excerpt from a historical novel I recently finished (writing):

“Over two thousand years ago, in a vanished world in which gallant death and honor still holds sway, Gaius Julius Caesar is crushing Briton’s fierce, blue-painted warlords and exacting a heavy price in exchange for peace. News from Rome and word of rebellion in war-ravaged Gaul cut short Caesar’s invasion of Briton, leaving him little choice but to return to Gaul. Leaving for Gaul, Caesar entrusts a depleted legion to Cussius Caesar, and senior centurion, Marcus Rulus. With orders to further explore Briton and return to Gaul with the tribute, Marcus and Cussius find themselves in a remarkable quest to carve a future out of the land.  A Roman Peace in Briton: Blood on the Stone follows the lives of those left behind whose fates become bound to the people of the fabled, fog-bound lands of ancient Briton. Filled with dramatic scenes and abounding in fictional and historical personalities, this first novel in a planned trilogy hooks with passionate storytelling and engulfs the reader in events of historical legend.”

And there it is. The proposed contents for the inside of my novel’s book jacket laid bare for all the world to see. Trust me on this. Condensing a 112,000 word novel into a catchy squib and synopsis is not as easy as it would seem. As a matter of fact, its nigh impossible. Perhaps if I were pursuing the traditional route of publishing, an in-house editor at xyz literary agency would come up with something catchier and squibbier than what my efforts have yielded to date. (xyz agency would likely tell me that “squibbier” is not a word and justly so) Or maybe not. That’s part and parcel of the beauty of self-publishing.

There are risks involved, even for something as seemingly minor as coming up with the jacket squib. On the plus side of the ledger, the writer maintains control of his or her work. On the negative side of the ledger, the writer maintains control of his or her work. Confusing? Not really.  Unless you’re Stephen King  and don’t give two twits about punctuation and sentence structure, most times it just makes sense to have other folks eyeballing your work.  Experienced readers, and proof readers and copy editors will notice things the writer’s mind skips over, or is just too stubborn to notice without the proper prompting.  No matter which route is taken there remains one unavoidable fact: a lot of hard work goes into producing a quality product.

Though I intend on self-publishing (insert horrified gasps here) I have been fortunate in that my manuscript’s odyssey started way back when I stumbled across a local book club whose members just so happened to have an appetite for historical fiction. Though I’m not a member of their book club they were  kind enough to read the manuscript in its infancy.  Suffice to say their reviews and feedback proved invaluable to the evolution of the novel. The novel continued to form as it made its rounds amongst interested family and valued friends. More feedback resulted and revisions quickly followed. Finally, a veteran copy-editor with an eye for details and historical context undertook the project after a chance encounter at a second-hand store.  Another round of rewrites ensued.  During this three year period the manuscript had also been accepted for review by a couple of literary agents who ultimately declined representation.  Boo hoo. How will I ever recover from the stigma of rejection?

By doing it myself that’s how. Gasp. Sniff. The horror of it all. Yes. All of that. I’m sure some of you must think this blogger to be quite mad and still mired in the last ebbing throes of Final Four fever. I assure you that’s not the case. I’m content and at peace with self-publishing.  Don’t get my meaning crossed. It’s not that self-publishing is any easier than having an agent and publishing house.  It’s not. It’s actually harder. Looming great is the proverbial mountain that must be scaled.  But it’s not as if I’m the first writer to go it alone. He of the wanton punctuation, Stephen King, and others like Virginia Woolf, Thomas Paine, John Grisham, Mark Twain, Hemingway, T.S. Elliot and Beatrix Potter are a mere handful of the literary giants who at one time or another took a rejected manuscript and published it themselves.  Self-publishing stories invariably make for good story telling as well.  It’s hard not to admire the pluck shown by John Grisham who wouldn’t give up and sold copies of his first novel from the trunk of his car.  Or how about the most recent self-publishing hero Amanda Hocking who endured rejection after rejection from agents and publishing houses, but still managed to sell hundreds of thousands of copies of her self-published novels.

My hat is off to all of them and from their examples I will take inspiration and be ever mindful to hone and polish my work before releasing the same for public consumption.  That day is not too far off.

Ten Books Every Guy Should Read

A friend of mine emailed me the other day, musing as to whether there were ten books every guy should read. Sure, I typed back.  At the speed of G3 technology he called my bluff, informing yours truly that he looked forward to reading about it on the next blog. No sweat. Challenge accepted.  This can’t be too difficult. End of the week at the latest, I lied to myself. 

The enormity of the task sinking in, I leaned back in the chair and sighed, helpless to resist the creeping doubts and nag of second-guessing.  Should a mere mortal dare to undertake such a Herculean task?  Is it even possible to fish ten books from the tempestuous sea of worthy literature?  What are the parameters? I soothed my misgivings with the knowledge that no two literati would produce identical lists if faced with similar burdens. Questions persisted.

Should the list be exclusively for guys, or should it be all inclusive, targeting everyone’s tastes?  My friend’s email specified books for ”guys”. Everyone’s tastes in books and literature will have to be the subject of another post, though I suspect the two lists will have a significant overlap.  And should the list consider tastes, subjective as they are, or concentrate on what books guys “should” read, so as to leave the reader with a base of knowledge that begats further research and application?  Should the search be confined by genre, period in which it was written, its century of publication? The boxes are countless. Can you dig the conundrum? Again, just ten books? It’s the equivalent of the ancient Gordian Knot, except that I dare not emulate Alexander and take a sword to it. 

Thinning the herd is harder than it looks and shunning one title for another became a guilt-ridden ritual.  Many books that enjoyed top billing upon bestseller lists didn’t make the cut. I’m sure that somewhere, peering over thin, wire-rimmed glasses, a cadre of literary afficianados will be crinkling their noses and sniffing indignantly at what did sneak in.  Believe me. I know. The entire process had an aura of sacrilege to it, as well as a touch of hubris.   

In an attempt to further refine the list’s focus, potential works were evaluated by my own established criterion, in no particular order; notoriety (how well known is the work), societal impact (did paradigms tremble upon its release?) longevity, relevance, literary excellence, educational import (did I learn anything), and entertainment value.  Some books weighed more heavily on one factor than another, but in the balance, a guy that takes the time to read the following list of books should be well prepared to deal with any criticisms stemming from their selection. Enjoy.  

#1 I struggled with placing the Bible on the list. Leaving it off the list completely would be disingenuous based on the above listed factors. Including it, particularly in the top slot, risks the very real complaint that it does not qualify based on its religiosity. (It’s a catch-22, subject of number 9 on the list)  Believe it, or not, revere or reject, there’s no denying the books of the Bible have shaped the world in ways no other collection of written works has to date.  Enough said.

#2 No other writer has been more influential in shaping American literature than, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Though Emerson did not present his works as books, rather he published a widely scattered collection of essays, his place on the list is worthy of inclusion because of his work’s impact on generations of writers and thinkers. Emerson’s “Nature“, “Self-Reliance”, and “Friendship” are perfect demonstrations of thought itself. A guy learns that the conscious and subconscious act of thinking comprises a large majority of our lives.  So what are you waiting for? Get on with it.

#3 Penned over 700 years ago, Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy” is one of the world’s great works of literature. In this allegorical poem, Dante explores the afterlife and the soul’s final accounting, sharing his visions of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven, and finding a glimpse of God in the process. May everyone be so fortunate. Read it or risk the scorn of your peers.

#4 Born Samuel Clemens, but better known as Mark Twain, this American humorist authored the masterpiece, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” among other, equally notorious examples of literary excellence. Read his works, gentlemen. His status as literary icon is well-deserved.

#5 There is a reason “The Grapes of Wrath“ remains comfortably perched atop the reading list of most high school and college literature classes: It’s good stuff. John Steinback’s epic tale of the Joads and their adversity filled journey in pursuit of the elusive American dream is as poignant today as it was 72 years ago.

#6 Every guy should read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby“, another early 20th century classic whose timeless theme finds relevance in every guy’s life. 

#7 “The Prince” by Niccolo Machiavelli is a cynically pragmatic approach to statemanship, power, and the trappings inherent in both.  It’s that kind of book for guys that like to be in the mix and play for keeps.  For all those guys who don’t play like that, get a copy anyway.  At least then you’ll be able to make sense of things when the guy you thought was your buddy stepped all over you on the way to getting the promotion you both desperately wanted.

#8  Most guys I know would take a dog over a cat, hands down. I don’t know what it is about our furry, four-legged canine friends, but an undeniable bond exists. Maybe that’s why I’m so fond of “The Call of the Wild.”  Or maybe it has nothing to do with the fact that the main character in Jack London’s masterpiece is a dog named Buck, and has everything to with the scraps, setbacks and triumphs of life’s journey. Suck it up and toughen up. Work harder. Don’t ever give up and the scales of justice will balance out.

#9  How many of you guys have heard someone say, “Now,that’s a catch-22.”? Now, how many of you know where the term “catch-22″ originates? Joseph Heller’s novel is more than a metaphorical tale of danged if you do, and danged if you don’t.  It’s theme touches on the devaluation of the individual in the face of pressing bureacratic priorities while revealing the madness war invokes in the combatants. At least that’s what I came away with. Anyhow, check this one out. At least next time you throw out the term, you’ll have an inkling as to its genesis and some understanding of its context.

#10 War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.  Sounds oxymoronic, doesn’t it?  But every guy should know his place in the social construct and to that end, I present “1984“.  Reading Orwell’s masterpiece, even the most loyal of party men should end up heeding the corrosive effects of thoughtless group think and sloganism. As a cautionary tale of what happens when individuals cede or have control of their lives wrested from them by a paternalistic, totalitarian regime, “1984″,  is a book every guy should read.

There you have it, guys. Read away, but with this last bit of irony. Only a few of the titles I have included in the list are actually titles of what I would consider to be personal favorites. My top ten books of all time will have to wait. Until that time, get started. The above list should keep you busy til then.

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