Category: Books (Page 2 of 3)

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.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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