Monday, November 24, 2014

ON WRITING

ON WRITING
A Memoir on the Craft



This book was not scary.
For all the hype about this best selling 'king' of horror...On Writing did not do much to incite any feelings of fear in me. By the time I was done this book I was feeling unscared (if that is even a word?). On the contrary, I was feeling motivated to take on the immense challenge of writing a novel!
King was very, 'ra ra you can do it', telling the readers that there is nothing to fear in the world of writing - it is in fact boundaryless, ruleless, and sets your mind free. That doesn't sound scary at all. Especially if you follow the writing tips he lays out - write for yourself, get a good editor, and practice practice practice. The only thing missing from the chapter on his personal writing process was a rainbow and a unicorn.
Really, the only part of the book that was the least bit scary was the ending when King gets hit by a van. But, it was not like the van was possessed by the devil, it was driven by some hillbilly guy with a bad driving record. I assumed by the novel's title that King would be eaten by a book he was writing, or it would take over his mind and make him kill the neighbours. But, none of that happened. Instead King wrote about typing away on a card table in the laundry room and being addicted to crack cocaine. Imagine that!
If you are looking for a decent book about writing for a living this would be up your alley. If you are looking for a book about a best selling author going insane, or a possessed book coming alive and driving vans over writers taking walks at dusk along the highway - not in the cards.

Rating: READ

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

THE LONELY END OF THE RINK

THE LONELY END OF THE RINK





- Grant Lawrence -

Grant has another book - Adventures in Solitude - which I really enjoyed reading, so when I heard he had this new 'hockey' book I instantly ran out...you thought I might say, ran out and bought the book. No, sorry, I'm kind of cheap. Instead I put the book in the upper half of my mental list of books to read at some point in life. Only a month or so later something clicked in me and I went to the library and found the book. Strangely enough it was in. I thought it would be on backorder, reserved by two dozen people, ETA of approx three years...guess I overestimated Grant's popularity. At least in my mind he is that high in demand. Why? Because, he is an awesome writer. An awesome Canadian writer!

What could be more Canadian than hockey? Boreal Forests you say? Maybe. Arctic stuff. Sure. But, let's stick with hockey shall we? Me, being a good ol' Canadian male, love to watch me a good hockey game - and even read me a good hockey book. However, this was not always the case. That is why this book resonated with me.

Grant's relationship with hockey is similar to so many non-athletic boys who grew up in the great white north. It's a Love/Hate/Love again kind of relationship. Like Grant, I was one of those kids who was more interested in looking at bugs or reading a good Tin Tin book then freezing my baguettes off playing hockey on a bumpy frozen pond. I was never involved in organized hockey, heck, I didn't even know what hockey was until I was five or six - shameful Canadian, I know.

Then, just like Grant, the time came when I discovered ball hockey. It is an almost universal school age rite of passage for little boys - becoming addicted to road hockey and playing every chance you get (mostly recess time at school). This one track thinking rules your pretween life and often leads you deeper into the world of hockey. You start paying attention to the NHL, and eventually you pick a team to support wholeheartedly. Vancouver was Grant's team, Toronto was mine.

Then you hit high school and things change. Just like in Grant's book, it seems the bullies are always those hockey jocks, wearing their hockey jackets with a number stitched into the shoulder. This tarnishes the image of hockey, or at least grassroots hockey. You still loyally support your NHL team, but, at the same time you despise the local AAA team. It is quite a juxtaposition.
Eventually, when you get to that comfortable adult stage, the idea of hockey changes again. Maybe you have a kid who wants to play, or you have new friends (not bullies) who play in 'beer leagues'...and now you secretly wish you had taken up hockey in your youth. Or, that you could even just have that same kind of fun like when you played road hockey with your school chums on the playground. Well, Grant did this. He found there are many, many, like minded people out there. The art and band geeks are forming hockey leagues where the focus is not on winning or losing, but, just having fun...and maybe winning a trophy. It sounds utopian, especially to a bookworm like me.

Along with this psychiatrist inducing rehash of memories, Grant also gives us a great history of his team - the Vancouver Canucks. Everything from their fashionable flying V jerseys to their game seven Stanley Cup Final losses (yes, plural. They have lost the game seven final twice...ouch). Even though I was not a big Vancouver fan in the 90's, I do remember some of the more memorable moments...like Pavel Bure's game seven double overtime breakaway goal against Calgary. I was babysitting some neighborhood kids and their Mother must have been out partying hard b/c that double overtime game went into the wee hours of the morning, 2 or 3 am my time...and I remember watching it and cheering (I was a big Pavel Bure fan - I had so many of his hockey cards).

What I really love about Grant's writing is all of the pop culture references, and I really love how most of them are Canadian. Where else can you find a reference to Mr. Dress Up? Or a wish to hear some Raffi. Or, stories based on the life lessons learned from Coaches Corner? It's Canadiana at it's best.
Great book Grant. I really hope you put out more...I'll be sure to buy, er, I mean borrow them from the library. Sorry, like I said, I'm cheap.

RATING: READ

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

HOMBRE

HOMBRE



A stagecoach trip gone sour.
Why? Bandits hold it up.
Why? There is a bag of money, hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Why? That is the part of the mystery.
The mystery and suspense were the best part of this book. This seemingly random bunch of people, on a stagecoach ride to nowhere town in the middle of the desert, all have hidden secrets or strange connections to one another. The more I read the more I found out. I started to wish I could speed read and just get to the end already! There were lots of surprises that popped up and I really had no idea what was going to happen next. Very well written in that way.
The first person narrative, from a somewhat naive sounding clerk, helped with the suspense - he didn't have the life experience or the brains to really have any solid predictions, which made everything a surprise.
Also, the way this clerk built up other characters was great. He stereotyped everyone; the Doctor (who could do no wrong), the cute girl (who could do no wrong), the ruffian (who could do wrong), but, best of all the 'Hombre'. He build up this man to be a bigger than life superhero and made it seem like everyone was in good hands...but, were they?
All of the characters were different and showed their true colours as the story progressed. It was very entertaining to see them all 'break down' at some point. Another part of the book that was very well written.
I've heard Elmore Leonard mentioned over and over again in the Western circles, but, I've never gotten around to reading anything by him. Now that I know how great he writes I will be sure to look into more of his books.

RATING : READ

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

RIFLE RIVER - BUCKSKIN #1

RIFLE RIVER
Buckskin #1







Well this book was a surprise...in a couple of different ways. I picked this up at the library on a whim. I was rushing through on my lunch and wanted a quick, small, western. Saw a series called Buckskin, randomly picked one, glanced at the cover and saw a tough looking cowboy (not sure how I missed the half naked lady!?) and was on my way. Later, when I actually took another look at the cover it reminded me of a James Bond book - with the guy and the seductive lookin' lady. I started reading it.
It started off as a typical macho type western, where the protagonist is described as this larger than life gunslinger who is always good with the ladies and has a bit of an edge or a criminal history to him. Then, as with most good westerns, there is a scene or two that shows just how tough this guy really is. Usually it is a saloon fight or some fast gun draw...well in Buckskin's case it was to do with two saloon gals! There were some pretty rough words used, words that you do not see very much in life, or at least I don't. It was a bit of a shock. What was I reading!?
I finally noticed the small print on the front cover - his guns were hot, but his woman were hotter!
Turns out this Buckskin series is some sort of 'erotic western'! Luckily, forgive the pun, those scenes were quick (and badly written to boot) and I could get back to the story about ranching and cowpokin'. Luckily, the rest of the book was pretty good. A standard western about this Buckskin guy trying to start a new life and leave the fighting in the past. However, he is just too good hearted and ends up being drawn into a fight when some lumberjack is beating up a saloon girl. This leads to all sorts of trouble in the town and they eventually find out about his past. There are gun fights, fist fights, horse chases, and near death experiences. All the action one could want...plus more, if you are interested. It ends on a high note too, a cliffhanger kind of thing, that makes you want to rush out and get that next book.
I was surprised this 'pulp' would be so entertaining and that I plan on getting the next book out of the library asap. I just hope the librarians do not look at the cover while I'm checking it out. They might get the wrong impression of me!

RATING: READ

After doing a bit of research, I found out the author is really Mitchell Smith (Roy LeBeau being his pen name). Pen names are always strange to me.

Friday, September 5, 2014

COLD ANTLER FARM

COLD ANTLER FARM
&
ONE WOMAN FARM

 


Both of these Jenna Woginrich books are so well written they are hard to accurately describe. The writing and choice of words are a mixed bag. At points they are poetic and overly romanticize farm life, yet, at the same time hint at the drudgery and hardships that come along with this homesteading lifestyle. The bright side constantly prevails, which makes these books seem uplifting and inspiring. This is a woman living her dream life - of course she is going to make it sound like candy and roses. I like that. I like that you can almost feel the passion she has for her farm, her animals, her new lifestyle, no matter what obstacles get in the way.
She sounds happy, which is nice to read.
She sounds proud, which is nice to read.
She wants everyone to feel the same way she does - which is really nice to read.
Now, I'm not a big animal lover, but, Jenna is. She raves about her livestock, tells stories about their behaviours and how they have changed her life...something I am typically not that interested in. Yet, the way she writes about the animals is exactly how I write about my children. They are brag tales. They are short snippets of how life has changed when you add another being to your life, a being that is solely dependant on you. She talks over and over about how she puts her livestock above her, which is exactly how I feel about my children. What an epiphany for me. I'm still not interested in owning a goat, or a sheep, or even a chicken, but, I think my mind is a bit more open to those that do.
To sum these books up; uplifting, positive, relateable, readable, interesting...great!

RATING : READ

Jenna blogs at http://coldantlerfarm.blogspot.ca/

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

BAD UNICORN

BAD UNICORN


- Platte Clarke -

It was the cover that drew my attention - a pretty looking unicorn with a scowl on its face crushing bones in its mouth with a squirrel skewered to its horn. So, yes, I judged a book by its cover...and glad I did in this case.
As the title suggests, there is a unicorn that is 'bad'. Princess is her name and destruction is her game. She is very magical and uses that magic for her own evil purposes, which mostly involve eating lesser beings. She has an insatiable appetite for flesh, and is also bent on world domination (what a combo eh?). She is also rude.

Come on, who wouldn't want to read a story like that?

I did find Bad Unicorn in the young adult section of the library, which was actually a good thing for me. I kind of felt like reading a YA book at the time. The thing I like about YA books, especially the fantasy type like this, is the stories tend to be more straightforward. 'Adult' fantasy seem to be over reaching stories about the political situations in made up worlds. Which can make for a richer read, but, at a cost...hundreds of pages, and the need to concentrate. YA fantasy on the other hand usually stick to the one plot. Therefore, hundreds of pages less and not as much concentration (and note taking) required - Bad Unicorn took this approach. Platte did a great job of sticking to the story and not letting his world building get the better of the book. He did create a strange and exciting fantasy world full of magic and dimension, but, gave just enough description for the reader to feel they had a good idea what things looked like (not what neighbour was at war with what neighbour five hundred years ago).
The main story was the classic nerdy kid who inherits a magic thing (in this case a book) and finds himself thrown into a wild adventure well outside his comfort zone. His destiny is to use this book to save the world...will he? I'll let you read the end to find out. And of course, remember that the journey is half the fun, especially when there are quirky characters and a killer unicorn.

RATING : READ

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

TRUE GRIT

TRUE GRIT



This book has been touted as a classic, legendary, must read tale of the wild west. Testimonies claim readers make a point of taking this book out and reading at least once a year. Additional claims are that more than one first timers finish the book and instantly start back at page 1 to go through it a second time. Well, these claims seem a bit exaggerated to me. The book was good, I'd put it down on a list to read at some point in life, but, to go through it multiple times seems a bit much to me - It was good, but, it wasn't that good.
The story was a simple uncomplicated affair, Maddie Rose's father is murdered and she is hunting down the killer. What makes this book, apparently a 'rereader', is the two main characters: Maddie Ross and Rooster Cogburn.
Maddie is a teenage girl out to avenge her father's death. Although a teen, she has the attitude and sharp wit of a cynical retiree who's had a long hard life. She is as tough as old boot leather and will not take no for an answer. She holds her own through the long, tough, journey they take in order to catch her father's killer. At points she is inspiring, at points she is infuriating (especially when she constantly brings up the great lawyer she has), but, at no point do you feel pity for her. She is one strong character you are cheering for the entire time.
The other character, Rooster Cogburn, is a questionable Marshall who Maddie hires to track down the murdering Chancey. She hires him b/c he has a reputation at getting the job done, no matter what it takes - even if it means shooting someone. He is another tough as nails old soul, who has one eye, a peg leg, and a heart condition. Alright, not that bad, but, he does sound like someone you would not want to meet in a dark alley, someone you definitely want on your side in a fight. He is also sharp and witty, and tells it like it is. The conversations between him and Maddie are by far the most entertaining parts of the book.
Make time to fit this book into your reading schedule, and if you are a western lover like me it is a must. To have any credibility in a genre you need to read a few well known classics, and in the western genre this is one of them.

RATING: READ

Bookclub idea: This is one of those books you could tie in with the movie. Read the book, watch the movie, compare and contrast.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

GOLDFINGER

GOLDFINGER
Bond #7


- Ian Fleming -

Now this is classic Bond material.
The story starts with the overconfident, macho, superior attitude of Bond bragging about his latest covert mission where he succeeded in killing some evil doer, against all the odds. Then, on the journey home he runs into Mr. Dupont (a character from the first book, Casino Royale). This leads to a card game where the classic bond villian is introduced - Goldfinger. The little guy with an oversided football shaped head who is obsessed with gold.
They end up meeting again in England and one thing leads to another and they duel, a head to head showdown...on the golf course! Twenty or so pages of intense action all based around drivers and putters and how to hit a ball out of the sand bunker. Very undercover agent! Of course, it just shows that Bond can do anything.
After this gentlemanly combat, we meet Goldfinger's body guard. A half mute Korean man who has hands and feet of steel. He can bash through two by fours and elegant stair bannisters with the flick of his wrist. A very deadly guy. How could Bond ever defeat this guy in a hand to hand battle to the death? You know it's coming at some point.
From there the backstory fleshes out and it turns out Goldfinger has ties to SMERSH, that evil communist organization that is bent on taking over the free world. The adventure Bond goes on to capture this guy takes him across the world. I won't give away the ending, I will only say it ends in the typical Bond fashion. Him, a lady, and a bottle of champagne.

I have to say, after reading a couple of Bond books now I'm still baffled at how often he is captured by the enemy. Instead of the world's greatest secret agent, Bond should be labelled the world's best escape artist. By the end of this book Bond has been captured by the evil villain twice and managed to escape in a couple of dramatic and epic ways. Similar in scale to the world domination plans of the villain. As in, unbelievable and ridiculous. Let's just summarize some of the evil plots and escapes. We have a plan to kill tens of thousands of people and break into Fort Knox to steal thousands of tons of gold. On the other hand, an escape from a plane at thirty thousand feet by smashing a window out (thereby sucking bad guys out into space) and crash landing in the ocean and living to tell about it with only a few bruises.
In other words - awesome!

Rating : READ

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

FLATLAND

FLATLAND



I first heard about this book from Sheldon, as in Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory. He mentions it in the episode where Raj wants to hit the town, but, only Sheldon is available. Sheldon does not want to go out and instead suggests that for a change of scene Raj use his imagination and travel to Flatland. He should pretend he is a circle, 'all the gals are hot for circles', and look for an attractive line segment. Now, doesn't that sound like a funny world?
Have you ever pondered what it would be like to live in a 2 dimensional world?
Come on, I'm sure you have.
No?
Well, here is your chance. Abbott invents a world of 2D, inhabited by a variety of shapes from circles to irregular triangles. You are given a glimpse into the thinking and behaviors that could come from living life on only one plane. The differences from our 3D world are brought to life by problems I would have never thought about, such as accidental piercing by sharp angled triangles and trying to see without depth and height to help. The world Abbott comes up with is a rigid, class based society where many angled shapes (Circles being the pinnacle of perfection) are the upper class, whilst triangles make up the lowest class (irregular triangles are the lowest of the low). The only exception is women. They are in fact no shape at all. They are merely line segments (lower than even irregular triangles).
It is a fascinating world to begin with, but, the addition of the satirical math humour makes it infinitely more entertaining than similar 'world building' stories. Who would have though a book revolving around Math could be both funny and easy to read? Especially considering it was written in the 1880s!
Not only is it humourous, but, also very educational. As the story progresses the main character, a respectable square, dreams of Lineland (a 1 dimensional land made of only one line of points). Then his world is invaded by a 3D shape (a well meaning Sphere). These contrasting worlds give the reader a unique view of dimensions, how they are mathematically calculated and how they would look (to our 3D eyes). The idea of 4D, 5D, and so on are hinted at as well. For the novice mathematician and all non-math types, this is a great first step into the world of dimensions.

RATING : READ

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

MOLVANIA

MOLVANIA
A Land Untouched By Modern Dentistry



What a great guide to this relatively unknown, rundown, and backward country. For the traveller who actually considers going to Molvania, this book is a must to keep in the backpack. There is a bit of everything ranging from the history of this cement loving country to tips on how to interact with locals.
I personally love how the book starts. Paraphrasing here - Robust culture, magnificent panoramic views, unique flavourful foods, welcoming hosts, are all sadly, absent from Molvania. But, if you look hard enough the most adventurous traveller can have a one of kind travel experience.
This tone resonates throughout the book. That of a harsh, but, realistic look at this country, yet, upbeat at the same time. The few, and far between, bright (or at least not pitch black) spots of Molvania are really brought to the forefront with this type of writing. It makes one almost want to plan a visit. 
The format of this book makes it really easy to either skim through and find specific information such as hotel recommendations in the East Mountains, or just read straight through and pick up a good base knowledge of the entire country and its people. 
I personally enjoyed the highlighting of specific words dotted throughout the pages. It gave me direction and was an easy way to emphasize some of the more important facts or themes the authors were trying to get across. For eg, I have pulled a few pages from The People and The Arts sections of the book and listed the highlighted words below :


  • blowing your nose
  • barren plains
  • chainsaws
  • head butting
  • public hanging
  • cheap euro porn
  • noticeable stutter
  • Beta Video


See how just highlighting a few words can give the reader a much better understanding of the topic at hand. Don't you feel that much more enlighten on The People and The Arts of Molvania by just reading that list? I know I did while reading through this guide.

I will also applaud the hotel and restaurant recommendation section of the guide. The writers sure did their homework on this front and not only gave reviews of the somewhat Western friendly establishments, but, also the 'budget' places for those on a budget or for those looking for a more authentic experience. Personally, I'm happier knowing what restaurants serve horse meat. At least I know which ones to avoid right?

Scattered throughout the guide are tips, which I thought were not only useful, but gave even more insight into the strange and abnormal workings of the Molvanian mind. The tips ranged from common saying and greetings that one would need to know (in order to avoid physical assaults for eg), to what drinks to avoid if travelling the barren plains of the East (turns out many alcoholic drinks contain such things as gasoline and antifreeze).

After reading this guide I was struck with two thoughts. First, how awful a trip to Molvania sounded, what with the lack a hygiene, the constant threat of assault, and the smell. Then it struck me, this book could change all of that. Maybe, just maybe, a book like this will inspire some poor soul to take up the challenge and travel to Molvania. If they survive, there experience will no doubt cause more people (or at least the previous traveller's lawyers) to pay a visit to Molvania. And, maybe if enough people do this, the culture and laws of this country will change and allow it to become more tourist friendly. Then even a novice traveller like myself may consider spending a weekend in Lutenblaag. We can only hope.

RATING : READ