“White Horse” Progress Report 1

I am currently putting Wyrd on hold for a little bit, while I do some more research for it.  Expect to get back to it in less than a month.  But I began work today — once more — on my novella White Horse, which is one part of a four-part book called The Four Horsemen, all involving post-apocalyptic novella-length stories that may or may not have something tying them all together.   I haven’t decided yet, and won’t really know until all four novellas are complete.

When I originally started this work last summer, I got about twenty pages down and then stalled.  Now I’m starting a rewrite with a first person perspective, which has totally changed the dynamic of the story and I’m immediately having a lot more fun with it and the world.  Suffice to say it involves a post-apocalyptic setting on the island of Gibraltar.  Make of that what you will.

And now for some work in progress:

I sat back, getting comfortable, pulling my coat around me on this brisk spring day.  I looked up at the landmark that was a recognized simple for many and was now a bastion of hope and security.  The rock of Gibraltar, a former British colony that’d been attached to the Spanish mainland, now an island, was one of the last places where there were survivors.

word count

The End of the Onslaught

The onslaught of book reviews is now over.  All my reviews published to date are now on the BookBanter blog as part of the BookBanter site upgrade which I plan to have up and running by April 2nd.  From now on the only book review posts appearing will be for new book reviews and when I finally get round to drudging out the old print book reviews.  But that’s about it for now.  No more 15-20 book review post days.

Thank you for your patience.

“The Vikings: A History” by Robert Ferguson (Viking, 2009)

The Vikingsstarstarstarstar

There have been many books written on the Vikings, and everyone has their own stereotypical – and in most cases, inaccurate – idea of who the Vikings were and what they were like; media has done much to reaffirm these clichés.  Thankfully, there is The Vikings: A History by a “leading authority in the field of Scandinavian studies,” Robert Ferguson.  Ferguson puts all the misconceived and incorrect notions of Vikings to rest, launching into a comprehensive history of these northern peoples and what affect they had on Europe from the eighth centuries on through the first millennium.  Ferguson pulls from many sources, and presents not just the viewpoint of the Vikings and their achievements, but also short histories on the northern British Isles, Charlemagne, and the various kingdoms of the European continent, showing how greatly affected they were by the Viking attacks and takeovers.  The Vikings: A History will clear away the image of a horn-helmeted brute and replace it with a developed, complex culture that was intelligent and creative, and had reasons for the attacks against the various peoples of Europe.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on January 15th 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Sacramento Book Review.

“The Customer is Not Always Right: Hilarious and Horrific Tales of Customers Gone Wrong” by A. J. Adams (Andrews MacMeel Publishing, 2009)

Customer is Not Always Rightstarstarstarstar

Anyone who has a worked a shift in any form of retail has stories to tell of those customers; A. J. Adams has experienced this personally after working in various forms of retail.  In 2007 he decided that retail employees needed a voice and created Notalwaysright.com.  Since then many turn to this therapeutic website for catharsis, therapy, or just a good laugh; while others use it as their forum to voice their anger, shock, and dumbfoundedness at some of the people that exist in this world.  The Customer is Not Always Right collects one hundred of the most popular submitted stories, as well as some that were never published on the site.  One of my favorites is this ditty from a flight attendant:

Flight attendant: “What can I help you with?”

Passenger #1: “The plane seems to be shaking a lot, and I almost spilled my bottle of water.”

Passenger #2: “Yeah, and it’s also really noisy.  We can barely hear each other talk.”

Flight attendant: “Well, the shaking is the turbulence that the plane is flying through, and the noise is coming from the engines.”

Passenger #2: “Can’t you turn the engines off?”

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on December 21st 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer” by Jeff VanderMeer (Tachyon, 2009)


Jeff VanderMeer is a writer who’s done a little bit of everything, whether it’s publishing compelling fiction, editing his own anthologies (as well as co-editing with his wife, Anne), going on book tours for author appearances, or presenting writer workshops around the country.  He’s the sort of guy who has a lot of say about writing and publishing and advice he can offer just about any level of writer.  Fortunately, he’s done just that in his new book, Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer.

Booklife is a book for any kind of writer whether he’s someone who’s never published anything and is looking to make it in the business, or whether she has a few books under her belt and is looking to make it really big.  Booklife has a little something for every type of writer.  The book is divided into two parts: Public Booklife, which covers how to present both yourself and your work as a writer, how best to organize and carry out successful signings and book tours, and – most importantly – creating and managing your goals so you can really make it as a writer.  The second part, Private Booklife, covers some of the mechanics of writing, how important feedback is – and not just from friends and family, and using some of the lessons from the first part of the book in different and constructive ways to make your writing the best it can be.

And it doesn’t all end when you reach the last page of Booklife, there is the booklifenow.com website, filled with helpful articles, tips and strategies, updated three times a week, and affiliated with Publisher’s Weekly Booklife portal.  Booklife is not just a book, but a whole package experience that gives you ideas and suggestions to help you achieve your goals; it’s not necessary to do every thing this book tells you; it’s up to get what you want out of it, which depends on how much work you put into it.  But Booklife will certainly help you along the way to becoming that bestselling writer you’ve always dreamed of.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally written on December 11th 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

“The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature” by Daniel J. Levitin (Dutton, 2008)

The World in Six Songsstarstarstar

Bestselling author of This is Your Brain on Music (which continues to be popular) returns with The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature, in which he posits that one of the first abilities that ancient human beings developed was music through sound and singing and the feeling this created within us, leading to developments in language and community and the forming of our ancient civilizations.

Through music and its growing complexity, humanity’s thought process was able to develop and progress.  Levitin breaks down music to its basic song elements, theorizing that there are six types of songs that are instrumental in our development, whether millennia ago, or for each of us alive right now.  These songs, each with their own chapter, are songs of friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion, and love.  Levitin goes into depth with each song, providing clear examples in recent history, as well as many of his own case studies and examples from his life.

What makes The World in Six Songs not just a book of Levitin teaching and telling like a textbook, is that he includes himself in every chapter, revealing his own experiences and actions throughout his life and how music and these six specific songs have played a role from his childhood to the writing of this book.  In this way the reader sees and feels the humanity of it, and is able to empathize and understand all the better for it.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on November 12th 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

“The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages, 400-1000” by Chris Wickham (Viking, 2009)

Inheritance of Romestarstarstarstar

Many people refer to the period of 400-1000 as the “dark ages.”  After the fall of Rome, when society in Western Europe shut down, people went back to simple, primitive ways – terms like savages and barbarians are often used – as they squabbled and fought against each other, killing mercilessly for a bit of land; the only beacon of hope, the growing light of Christianity.  I’ve never been a fan of the term “dark ages,” or all the connotations, thoughts, and ideas that people – historians and laymen alike – infer from it.  Thankfully there is Chris Wickham: a Chichele Professor of Medieval History at the University of Oxford and author of Framing the Middle Ages.  Wickham has worked hard to educate those who are unsure or simply don’t that the period from 400-1000 was one of the most important growth period of ideas, invention, and thought in the history of Western Europe.  The Inheritance of Rome does a fantastic job of explaining this in comprehensive detail with viewpoints from all of Western Europe, including the Near East with the Byzantine Empire.  I won’t lie to you; this isn’t an easy summer read; it’s a heavy book in every sense of the word, but if you’re looking to educate yourself on what exactly was going on between the fifth and eleventh centuries in Europe, after reading The Inheritance of Rome, you will have amassed an impressive amount of knowledge and be able to defend yourself and the period against anyone who attempts to call it the “dark ages.”

Wickham begins with a concise wrap up of the waning centuries of the Roman Empire, setting the stage for the focus of the book, which is divided into four parts: “Part I – The Roman Empire and its Break-up, 400-550”; “Part II: The Post-Roman West, 550-750”; “Part III: The Empires of the East, 550-1000”; and “Part IV: The Carolingian and Post-Carolingian West, 750-1000.”  While the time periods of each part do overlap, this doesn’t prove to be a problem as Wickham is analyzing different areas, but also does a great job of linking what’s happening in a particular location with what was going on in another location in the previous chapter.  The author uses maps, illustrations, diagrams, and photographs to illustrate points about the constant trade, migration and commingling of societies, cultures, and kingdoms that continued to thrive during this period and were instrumental in setting a foundation for the eventual High Middles Ages and beginning of the renaissance.  Wickham does have a theme and clear point to make, which is in the title: most of Western Europe had at one time been either a part of or bordered with the most dominating and impressive empire the world has ever seen, so it makes perfect sense that most of these different cultures would try to maintain and emulate the ways of Rome, which helped spark a genesis for new forms of writing, new ways of trade and negotiation, new forms of farming, a new judicial system of laws, and forced societies that had been sheltered, supported and lapped from the bosom of Rome for so long, to gain their independence and establish themselves as individuals, with unique technology, development, and cultural ways; helping give rise to the likes of the Merovingians and Clovis, the Carolingians and Charlemagne, Alfred the Great, William the Conqueror, and many others.

The Early Middle Ages has always been my most favorite period of history and I’ve never been able to explain succinctly why.  It has something to do with the fall of Rome and leaving this vast world of different peoples and cultures to live on their own and develop their individuality whilst maintaining contact and trade with each other.  It’s about the countries of Western Europe beginning, with the birth of many of the renowned cities we know today.  The Inheritance of Rome helps fuel my interest and love for this period.  And as more knowledge, evidence, and archaeology about the period is discovered, the more we learn that the “dark ages” is a great misnomer that should be stripped from this important period of discovery and development.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on September 30th 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

“The End of Empire: Attila the Hun and the Fall of Rome” by Christopher Kelly (Norton, 2009)

The End of Empirestarstarstarstar

When people hear the name Attila the Hun, thoughts and ideas immediately come to mind, both pro and con.  Some think of him as a ruthless barbarian who slaughtered without thought or mercy.  Others think of him as an impressive leader who was able bring an end to the greatest empire the world has ever known.  Christopher Kelly, a professor of ancient history at Cambridge University and author of a couple of books on the Roman Empire, presents a complete biography in The End of Empire of Attila the Hun, while also educating readers on the downfall of Rome.  After finishing it, readers will then be able to make their own assessment of the kind of man Attila truly was.

Kelly begins a little before the arrival of Attila, setting the stage with a weakening Rome and what’s going on with its infrastructure.  There are the barbarian tribes on the very border of the empire, shunned and mistreated by the Romans, causing attacks and uprisings.  Amidst these barbarian groups come the Huns from the distant steppes, perhaps seeking a more hospitable land.  Kelly is quick to point out what is known and what is speculation.  He lays out Attila’s history from birth, his rise to power and issues with his brother.  Eventually he becomes ruler of the Huns, launching attacks at Rome.  But Attila is a brilliant leader and strategist, forming alliances and negotiating deals and treaties where necessary to initially protect his people, but ultimately to gain the upper hand.  One gets the sense that perhaps Attila was doing this not only just for the Huns, but the other barbarian groups who have been so shunned and mistreated by Rome.  Kelly takes the reader through years at a time, advancing Attila’s age, and supplying important information and events, eventually leading to the great ruler’s death and the legacy he earned from his people.

The End of Empire is a fascinating history book, providing an in-depth look at the causes and events with the fall of Rome and the incredible story of the man known as Attila.  His writing style is clear and easy to understand, keeping the reader interested, balanced with lots of photos and illustrations, and the short chapters keep the reader focused until the end.  The End of Empire is a great biographical piece for readers looking not to get lost in the long, drawn-out debates of an old professor, but to read an incredible story about a renowned and often misunderstood person that will keep them hooked until the very end.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on September 10th 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human” by Richard Wrangham (Basic Books, 2009)

Catching Firestarstarstar

From the professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard University, as well as the co-author of Demonic Males and co-editor of Primate Societies, comes Catching Fire, a thoroughly researched book on the importance of the discovery of fire and how it changed Homo sapiens sapiens forever.

While initially thinking Catching Fire would be an in-depth foray into our ancestral humanity, looking at different hominids and what it was that led to the discovery of fire and going on from there, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a book more in the style of Michael Pollan’s Omnivores Dilemma.  The origin of fire and cooking are certainly discussed in this book, but the true story here is how humanity has benefited from cooking, and how it has aided us on the evolutionary path to making us the dominant species on the planet.  Wrangham boils (pun intended!) it down  to energy and how when foods (especially meats) are cooked, more energy is generated from consuming them.  The author scientifically breaks this down by analyzing the energy gained from raw meats as opposed to cooked, as well as vegetables, revealing the problems that some vegetarians and vegans can have in needing to make sure they get enough energy from the foods they consume.

Reading Catching Fire will educate you in a number of ways: you will learn the importance of our ancestors learning to cook foods and further our evolutionary development, but you will also learn why it is we cook foods – on a biological level – and how it can change how we grow and develop, both physically and intellectually.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on August 13th 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

“What’s Next: Dispatches on the Future of Science” Edited by Max Brockman (Vintage, 2009)

What's Nextstarstarstar

For anyone who wonders what the near future holds and what exactly are all those scientists doing with the grants and tax dollar funding they receive, What’s Next? is a book with some answers. Featuring eighteen original essays that have never been published from some of today’s best scientists, What’s Next? will insight a curiosity in the reader on advances and research that are being made in the many fields of science.

While a little patience and perhaps some scientific background is recommended, as these scientists are not authors of multiple books and tend to get very detailed and complex in their essays, readers will find news and answers in the fields of neurological research, behavior, how humans think, the nature of time, and where our idea of morality possibly arises from.  Global warming is addressed in a most interesting essay that analyzes a warming world where the Northern Rim becomes further habitable, but leaves readers with the question of how many people will want to move into the undeveloped heartland of Russia?

What’s Next? is a collection of some very interesting and insightful essays that give readers news and information on some areas of research and science that may not be readily available to them through magazines or newspapers, or perhaps are only available through expensive science journals.  Perhaps a book to truly show “your tax dollars at work.”

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on July 18th 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.