Tag Archives: reviews by me

Great New Book: Nightshifted by Cassie Alexander

A friend of mine, Cassie Alexander, has a great new book out. If you are into Urban Fantasy, you have to check it out — “Nightshifted”.

Here’s the cover copy:

Nursing school prepared Edie Spence for a lot of things. Burn victims? No problem. Severed limbs? Piece of cake. Vampires? No way in hell. But as the newest nurse on Y4, the secret ward hidden in the bowels of County Hospital, Edie has her hands full with every paranormal patient you can imagine—from vamps and were-things to zombies and beyond…

NIGHTSHIFTED

Edie’s just trying to learn the ropes so she can get through her latest shift unscathed.  But when a vampire servant turns to dust under her watch, all hell breaks loose. Now she’s haunted by the man’s dying words—Save Anna—and before she knows it, she’s on a mission to rescue some poor girl from the undead. Which involves crashing a vampire den, falling for a zombie, and fighting for her soul.

Grey’s Anatomy was never like this…

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Nightshifted is the story of Edie Spence, a nurse who works on a ward for supernatural creatures. The author, Cassie Alexander is also a nurse in real life.

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Check her website out on: www.cassiealexander.com

Or buy it on Amazon here.

Review: The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one starts out slow, but picks up tremendously around page 80, again at page 200, and is addictive and impossible to put down by page 300.

I’m not sure what makes this novel so strong — the writing is strong, the story (as the back cover says) is one you’ve read before, but I think it’s really the character of Kvothe that does it. In real life, you might hate this guy out of pure jealousy — he’s incredibly talented, gets a lot of lucky breaks, and gets by often on charm and chutzpah alone. But he suffers too, and oh how he suffers so nobly.

A very impressive book, but sometimes I feel that Kvothe is simply TOO perfect. Things always, eventually, turn out his way. There’s nothing wrong with this, it just makes this fantasy book a little more escapist than many — and, really, since we’re a lot of us reading for escape, this book is just giving us what we want. 🙂

View all my reviews

Book Review: “Timothy Leary: A Biography” by Robert Greenfield

Ever start reading a book and you think, “This sounds cliched and slow, maybe I should move on?” DON’T STOP READING. This book is cliched and slow at the beginning, yes, and the early pyschological observations seem overly simplistic, yes — but, still, don’t stop reading.

By the time Timothy Leary goes to West Point — the future psychedelic drug guru of the entire western world in the most conservative and rigid part of US society — the book becomes riveting. And after that, it never stops.

Timothy Leary was a consummate showman above all else — to him, life was all about fame and performance, and he even manages to be interesting and compelling until the day he dies.

And the research — the sheer detail and amount of reading Mr. Greenfield must have done is staggering. I couldn’t write a book like this with a staff of 20. Just about all of Leary’s personal correspondence is referenced, all of his books as well, all of the books of his peers, all of his scientific studies, all the articles WRITTEN ABOUT him at contemporary parts of the book, interviews with critical figures — it’s all there. Staggering in volume.

And, until this book, I thought I knew who Timothy Leary was, what he stood for, and how he fit into our culture. I didn’t know anything.

If only Mr. Greenfield would write biographies on EVERYONE I’m interested in reading about. Highly recommended.

Available on Amazon here.

Monty Python is the Meaning of Life

Well, I’ve done it. To improve the silly, Monty Python-esque, surrealism-inspired book I am currently writing (in truth, I’m currently writing two books simultaneously, and only one of them is silly) — I’ve determined that I need to come to a greater understanding of stand-up, skit, and other forms of comedy. Essentially, I need to rapidly, efficiently develop a high level of expertise in something I’ve never done. Yay! MORE impossible goals!

So, how do you graduate from being just a snarky writer and entertaining guy/gal in a crowd to a full humorist? No idea! But here’s my current strategy:

1) Read books by and on Monty Python:
– The Complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus: All the Words (Vol 1 and Vol 2) (reading one episode a night and acting out key scenes to practice movement, elocution, and emotion)
– Michael Palin’s Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years (the full 700 page book, not the abridged audio (which is also good) for an inside perspective of Python in it’s heyday and the personalities involved)
Monty Python Speaks (for the opinions of the other members)
– Graham Chapman’s A Liar’s Autobiography (I only have the abridged audio read by Chapman, I’d love a hard copy so I can get past the abridgements but they are rare and expensive! I re-listen to this regularly to try and get that madness back in my words)

The goal of this research is to be able to build a sort of mental armature or model of each member of Monty Python as they were back in the old days, to try and estimate how each of the six members might think. Not sure if this will prove to be of any value, but I’m hoping it will give an extra perspective and polish to my work. As a note, I am finding Terry Gilliam to be a particularly fascinating individual, and John Cleese is a strange type of hyper-analytic genius.

Note: I would really like to read The Pythons: Autobiography, the classic Monty Python’s Big Red Book (which is blue, of course), and Brand New Monty Python Bok, but I haven’t been able to find them for a reasonable price — and I’ve spent so much money already, it’s really hard for me to justify it.

2) Read books on Comedy:
The Comedy Bible by Judy Carter (very interesting insights to modern joke and sitcom structure)
The Comic Toolbox by John Vorhaus (Vorhaus wrote “Married With Children”, but I can forgive him, there are some great brainstorming techniques in here, but his plot advice is pretty rudimentary)
Step by Step to Stand Up Comedy by Greg Dean (not very far into this one, but it gives you a lot of information about the classic punchline that is missing from the Comedy Bible, as CB focuses on “Act-Outs” and performance.)
– Signed up for Dean Lewis’s Comedy Workshop, where I will have a last performance at the Dallas Improv. (I sat in on one of his Level 2 classes, and everyone was HILARIOUS; if there is any hope for me to really learn this, this may be it)

The goal of this is to learn performance and modern joke structure, to give me more insights into the old Monty Python mindset. This is far outside my normal limns and safety zones, a dramatic shift for myself personally, and the stage work especially is a stretch for me — and fills me with a terror of a uniquely gut-clawing and nauseous breed. A bit like gas, really. Or a chestburster.

3) Listen to Watch Comedy
– Eddie Izzard’s Dressed to Kill (he is the heir apparent to Python’s style, and it’s amazing how effortlessly it all comes together; especially trying to work out when and how he does his faces and changes in intonation)
– Steve Martin’s Wild and Crazy Guy (some obvious influence on Izzard, love his body mechanics)
– Steven Wright I Have a Pony (great surrealism, but I crack up when I try to be that stonefaced)
– Comedy Central Presents and Comedy Central Death Ray, whatever other stand up I can get used/cheap
– I’d say Flying Circus and all the movies (Holy Grail, Life of Brian, Meaning of Life), but I’ve seen them so much they’re almost memorized.
Beyond the Fringe (A strong influence on Monty Python, where Dudley Moore got his start; really kicked off the wave of satire that Python later rode)
Do Not Adjust Your Set (Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle) and At Last the 1948 Show (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle) (both series are Monty Python pre-cursors)
I’m Sorry I’ll Read that Again (John Cleese and Graham Chapman radio show, another precursor)
– The Compleat History of Britain (Palin and Jones) (another precursor that I’ve only found on youtube)
The Goon Show — Spike Miligan, Harry Seacombe, and Peter Sellers (a strong influence on the 5 British Monty Python members when they were kids)
Fawlty Towers

The goal of this is to identify what I like best and to analyze it, to see what is being done. For instance, how to Martin and Izzard fill time when they’ve forgotten what’s next? What do you do if a joke fails? How do you make the audience accept surreality in their humor? And HOW IN GOD’S NAME does Martin walk around on his toes with his knees bent without falling down?

4) Constant Practice
– Carry notebook to jot down ideas constantly
– Carry Digital Voice Recorder to record act-outs and ideas and test runs of jokes and anything that gets a snicker during the day
– Do brain storming exercises every day (this also helps with serious writing)
– Somehow learn to have no shame on stage, practice Act-Outs as part of every day stuff, but only if appropriate
– KEEP WRITING BOTH OF MY NOVELS (this has been difficult and slow since I broke my thumb (hey, did I mention that my right hand is in a cast? typing now requires gymnastic effort), but it is critical; this is all about making me a better writer.)

This is the part where the rubber meets the road, practice, reciting jokes aloud, opening up myself and uncoiling the stresses that keep me mousy and quiet during the crushing banality of ordinary life. I don’t LIKE being quiet and mousy, and I’m NOT, not with my friends or on my own time. While I obviously find this freeing — downright revolution-inspiring — there’s one part I don’t like a about it: Comedy is built on negativity in an almost universal manner. Comedians talk about what scares them, annoys them, upsets them, weirds them out — jokes about things they like usually flop for the same reason long periods of happiness with no conflict flop in fiction… Conflict is central.

In fact, what I’m finding out is that the elements of comedy — even stand-up jokes — have a lot in common with fiction writing. Minimalist verbiage, good hooks in the setup, universal themes, punchy pacing, the importance of being unexpected. My hope is that my expertise in one area will transfer easily to the other.

Special thanks to my writing friends (Jonathan Wood (author of No Hero), Michelle Muenzler, William Ledbetter) and to my wife for supporting me on this crazy project. Especially to my wife; she has to put up with most of it.

What I’m reading

I’m one of those wierdos that likes to read a lot of books at once. I like it when a whole bunch of different images collide in my head, and I think that’s part of the way I create new ideas.

So, for the current reading list: Other than my own novel which I’m reading to edit, I am also digging in deep to the trenches of World War 1 with “All Quiet on the Western Front”. This book is awesome — starts out a little weak, but about 80 pages in and BOOM, it becomes astounding.

Also in the in-progress pile are:

– Jaye Wells’ “Green Eyed Demon”, her third foray into Sabina Kane land — action packed and emotionally charged as usual, this time taking over New Orleans.

– Katy Stauber’s “Revolution World” — a novel of bio-punk engineering, video games, and revolution set in the near-term-post-apocalyptic future. Another fun one.

– The New Yorker’s short story collection “20 under 40” — so far I’ve liked 3 out of the 4 stories I’ve read, and I’ve LOVED one of them (“An Honest Exit”, which I mentioned yesterday). Strong writing in all the stories, sure, but there’s a formula to them in a way:

Some kind of emotional conflict/trauma/journey is center stage, brought up to the point of resolution, but instead of resolution there is just a kind of afterward — a lens of sorts, sometimes one paragraph, sometimes three, that tries to bring some kind of transcendence to the piece despite the lack of resolution. Additionally, emotion is usually held at a distance as if with tongs, much like a dead butterfly being examined under a magnifying glass. I mean, it’s pretty (usually), but it’s predictable in a way. Just as hog-tied — if not more — as a sestina or the simplest plot.

This formula only applies to the 4/20 I have read. I’ll see if the same formula holds true for all 20.

Review: “Gil’s All Fright Diner” by A. Lee Martinez

Before I review, a little bit of honesty: I’ve met Mr. Martinez, and I think he’s a great guy — hilarious, a great game player, and great to talk to. This may color my impression of the book, but I doubt it.

This is simply a damn good book. Interesting characters, a fun story. Lots of hilarious passages. A one-eyed squid monster that’s trying to destroy the world. I mean, what else could you want? There’s a reason this novel did so well: it’s a blast to read, and a fast read too.

I haven’t read any of Martinez’s other works yet, but I’ll definitely be giving them a shot.

My only complaint is that I’m not sure why he hasn’t done a sequel to Gil’s. With the world he created, there are ample opportunities for other stories.

6 out of 7 monocular septapus arms.

You can buy it on Amazon here.