BookBanter Column: The Art of the Book Review Part II – Fiction vs. Nonfiction on Forces of Geek

There are many different types of books that have been published; all shapes and sizes, lengths – some short, some very short; some long, and some behemoths! Accordingly, there are many different types of reviews to go with these books. Sometimes there is a correlation: a short review for a short book, a long review for a long book (I tend to do the latter, especially if it’s a long book that I enjoyed, such as Under the Dome and The Way of Kings). But when it comes down to the type of book, different thoughts and processes need to be employed, especially in the case of the fiction book versus the nonfiction book.

The Fiction Review
When it comes to writing a book review on fiction, the two parameters to keep in mind are the story and the characters.  (There’s a minor third, writing, that I will get to later.) I’m a story kind of guy, so if it’s a good story, I’m hooked right away, and that tends to be what I look for in a book I’m interested in reading.  I certainly get picky with books that take a while to get going, especially if the world isn’t interesting enough to get me engaged or at least keep me interested. The second parameter is character, which can pretty much always save a book, even if the story isn’t doing it. Now, I’m not saying that a terrible story can be miraculously saved by a strong character or two, but a story that doesn’t really seem to be going anywhere, or is dragging along, trying to pick up steam, can be kept alive with its characters. Some people read books solely for characters, and decide to read certain books on this premise.  Characters can be interesting, or complex, or have some unusual tic that the reader may identify with or just keeps them interested; or it can be all these things.

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“Tuck” by Stephen R. Lawhead (Thomas Nelson, 2009)

Tuck
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In Stephen R. Lawhead’s conclusion to the King Raven trilogy, readers get to enjoy it from the viewpoint of the jolly and redoubtable Friar Tuck, who has been around since the first book, Hood, and on through the second, Scarlet.  But little has been seen in the abilities of this clergyman, until now, who is bravest and shines brightest at his most important moment.

It seems the Normans simply won’t give up, and King Raven, also known as Rhi Bran Hood to the people of Wales, must muster not only his skilled foresters, but incite an entire revolt from his people, based mainly in his kingdom of Elfael.  With the treacherous Abbot Hugo and the evil and bloodthirsty Sheriff de Glanville, it will take everyone working together to bring these Normans to their knees once and for all and send the firm message to King William the Red that King Raven and his Welshmen will not be crushed.

Lawhead rounds out the trilogy in a great way, bringing it all to a satisfying close, but still with plenty of action and subplots and complex goings on.  Again blending the history with the Welsh mythology, it is a very enjoyable read seen through the eyes of a new character.  If Hood was the tasty appetizer, and Scarlet the delicacy of a main course, then Tuck makes for a delicious and perfect dessert.

Originally written on March 12, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Tuck from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Scarlet” by Stephen R. Lawhead (Thomas Nelson, 2007)

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Stephen R. Lawhead returns with the second of the King Raven trilogy, after Hood, doing an excellent job of making it feel fresh and new: this tale is told from the viewpoint of someone completely new, Scarlet, who knows little of this “King Raven” character or what he can do to aid him.

The book opens with the framing tale of Scarlet, who is in prison and sentenced to be hanged.  In the brief time before his execution, Scarlet tells his story of losing everything and becoming a forester where he meets this King Raven.  At first challenged to an archery contest, he reveals his extreme skill, rivaling that of King Raven, better known as Bran, and soon becomes a valuable member of his “merry men.”  But Bran needs a skilled warrior like Scarlet to fight back against these Normans steadily taking control of Wales, as William the Red doles out more land to his cutthroat barons.  The book comes to its climax as Scarlet must choose whether to be executed, or to give up the secret location of King Raven and his men.

Lawhead continues to spin a great legendary yarn, blending the world of possible historical fiction with Celtic mythology, all with a fresh eye through a new character.  He also does a great job of playing on the many fabled stories and clichés everyone knows about Robin Hood, though tweaking them a little to make them all the more entertaining.  If you enjoyed Hood like a delicious starter or appetizer, then Scarlet is a tasty main course!

Originally written on March 12, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Scarlet from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Hood” by Stephen R. Lawhead (Thomas Nelson, 2006)

Hood
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There are a couple of “legends” in British history that many people worldwide know about: one of them is King Arthur and the other is Robin Hood.  Arthur has an entire bookshelf of history and fiction written about him, and many of those fiction books profess to be as accurate as the possible truth, even though it is still not fully known if there ever was such a living person.  As for Robin Hood, much of the same story and lore shrouds this figure, and yet the amount written about him is small in comparison.  There are many seminal works that are considered part of the “King Arthur Cannon,” such as Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, Chretien de Troyes romances, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon, Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles, and Jack Whyte’s Camulod Chronicles, to name a few.  In fact the author, Stephen R. Lawhead, has even written a series about Merlin and Arthur, known as his Pendragon Cycle.  There have been mediocre to poor TV shows about he who robs from the rich to feed the poor, but there has never really been an equivalent book series or trilogy about Robin Hood of a high caliber; until now.

Bran ap Brychan doesn’t really know if he ever wants to be king, but his father is a poor monarch who doesn’t treat his subjects of Elfael as well as he should perhaps, but then Bran doesn’t really know what he wants to be.  Then all that changes when a group of Normans invade the Welsh kingdom and his father is killed, making Bran the automatic heir.  Except the Normans seize the kingdom, awarding it to a bishop and care little for Bran and his supposed claim to this throne.  And so begins Bran’s adventure, as he brings together a band of merry men to go see King William and wrest back his kingdom.  Thwarted in London, he is told he can have his kingdom back for a ridiculously high amount of money.  So Bran sets about getting the money the only way he knows how: from those cursed Normans who stole his land, as well as making sure his people are treated right and well.

Stephen Lawhead presents the first of his impressive trilogy on Robin Hood in Hood, explaining his detailed research in the afterword, and pointing out the unlikelihood of this character living in the thirteenth century in Sherwood Forest and going against King John.  Lawhead posits Robin Hood living in the late eleventh century in the time of William the Conqueror and his overtaking of Britain with his Normans.  Bran is a Welshman, and the Normans cared little for this distant part of Britain, except when they wanted to make it their own.  It makes perfect sense that a man out of legend would rise up to help the people against those dastardly Normans.  Lawhead also pulls from Celtic mythology to seamlessly blend with the story.  Hood is a great and riveting work of historical fiction that will have any fan of the genre hooked and wanting to read more in the trilogy.

Originally written on March 12, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Hood from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

BOOK REPORT: Book News for the Week of April 22nd on Forces of Geek

It’s been twenty-two years, but if you ask most people, they are familiar with the title Friday Night Lights, whether referring to the bestselling book by Buzz Bissinger or the popular TV show and movie of the same name.  Bissinger has now published an official sequel, titled After Friday Night Lights, in ebook format only.

It’s now official there is no Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this year, as while the fiction jurors selected three titles, the 18-member board could not unanimously decide on a winner.  There has naturally been quite a bit of backlash over this from a number of sources.

Amazon Has Bond
In another new surprise from the shopping giant, Amazon.com, they have acquired a ten-year publishing rights contract for all the Ian Fleming James Bond novels, both digital and print.

Who Buys the Most E-Readers 
In a fascinating and surprising article from the Atlantic, it is revealed which cities buy the most e-readers in the country, with Lexington, Kentucky shockingly coming out on top.

“1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus” by Charles C. Mann (Knopf, 2005)

1491
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If I were to ask you what you know on the subject of the people that lived in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus and how they got there, you’d likely tell me they came over from Asia during the last ice age and proceeded to populate North, Central and South America in their small numbers and lived a nominal existence, traveling in tribes, forming their small civilizations, such as the Incas, Aztecs and Mayans, which eventually disappeared and then their lives were changed for the better when Columbus arrived in 1492, and brought the western world of civilization to the Americas.  Charles C. Mann noted essentially this when he read his son’s history books and saw that the supposed accurate history hadn’t changed since he’d been in high school, which didn’t seem right.  And so began years of research and learning that has gone on to change the way the western world sees the history of the Americas pre-Columbus.  While the book was revolutionary when it was released, went on to win awards and make a lot of “best of” lists, there is still a lot of educating of the world to be done with this true history; hopefully this book will help that cause.

In 1491 Mann seeks to reveal the last thirty years of archaeological and anthropological research and discoveries with the hope that it will change and alter all the commonly held assumptions mentioned above.  He does this in a well thought out way, revealing all the evidence and theory on particular subjects, like the whole population of people in the Americas, as well as the sizes and extents of the various empires that formed, and then proving what is the correct one and why, such as the astonishing fact that in 1491 there were likely more people living in the Americas than in Europe!  He goes into detail on the Aztec and Mayan civilizations, revealing their true extensiveness and reach and the affect they had on the people, their development and knowledge, and simple things, like why they had invented the wheel but didn’t use it as a means of transportation, because the rocky or jungle terrain made traveling by wheel wouldn’t be inefficient.  As to the supposed fact that the peopling of the Americas took place around twelve or thirteen thousand years ago with the Bering Strait land bridge, the evidence says otherwise, with some pointing to the mere existence of the peoples in the Americas before this period, as well as the crucial cutoff date with the end of the ice age not correctly coinciding with the people reaching South America according to the timeline; basically the evidence simply proves otherwise.

By the end of the book, the reader has come to the incredible realization that most of what they learned in school about the Americas is completely wrong, and that this supposedly undiscovered continent went on to do amazing things for the rest of the world, such as providing it with three-fifths of the world’s grown goods, including corn (or maize), peppers, potatoes, tomatoes and squash.  In fact the term “new world” may have been somewhat of a misnomer, as it seems possible the settling of the Americas may have happened before western civilization.

Much as Guns, Germs and Steel was revolutionary in changing our outlook on the way the world is, 1491 has the same affect on how the world views the Americas, what its true history was, the immense effect it had on the world after Columbus, and how the idea that these people were simple and primitive is just ridiculous.  The book is by no means an easy read, but once the reader makes it through, the fulfillment is well worthwhile and enlightening to say the least.

Originally written on March 17, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of 1491 from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“In That Quiet Earth” by Alex C. Telander

Much like his first collection, , Alex C. Telander’s new short story collection, “In That Quiet Earth,” runs the gamut of genres, showing his extensive breadth and range as writer. Readers will not be disappointed and will find a number compelling storylines and complex characters to become engaged in reading about.

The collection kicks off with a short piece exploring a man who is changing in a way he doesn’t want to. “The Lonesome Road” is one of the first stories Telander wrote, and goes into depth about the security we feel in everyday life, and what happens when that is suddenly taken away. Some other interesting stories include “Outside the Chamber,” exploring the role of Nazis charged with gassing victims, to a classic fantasy tale in “The Adventure of Lem, Odo and Tom,” and ending with “Motion in Motion,” a unique stream of consciousness story unlike any other. The collection also features two sneak peeks at two of Telander’s future novels.

The collection is a broad and fascinating one, providing something for everyone, leaving readers at the end wanting more and waiting for Alex C. Telander’s next work.

To download the ebook in any format, click HERE or the cover above.

Coming April 22: “In That Quiet Earth”

In That Quiet Earth

I’m going to be totally honest with you.  I got my dates mixed up and thought April 22nd was a Tuesday, which was when I was planning to release my next book, and it’s actually this coming Sunday.  But that’s okay, I’ve got the manuscript all ready, and as promised, the book, In That Quiet Earth, featuring ten short stories by yours truly, will be up and available in ebook to download for free come Sunday morning.

04/19 On the Bookshelf: “Princess of Mars,” “Kill Decision,” “After the Fall, Before the Fall” & “The Weird”

I know it’s been a while since I did an “on the bookshelf,” but that’s mainly because I haven’t been getting much in of late, but I figured it was time to mention some of the recent titles that have arrived and that I’m really excited about.

Princess of Mars  Kill Decision  After the Fall, Before the FallThe Weird

So we start off with a beautiful new hardcover edition of Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, from the Library of America.  Having never read it, and after loving the movie, I’m looking forward to this one.  Also have a new one from Daniel Suarez, author of the awesome and bestselling Daemon and Freedom.  Kill Decision comes out July 19th.  And then a new scifi book from Nancy Kress, After the Fall, Before the Fall, which is a combination eco-thriller and time-traveling book; what’s not to like?  And finally we have The Weird, an amazing, massive anthology from the greats, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, collecting a ton of stories that are simply just weird, from the beginning of the 1900s on up to the present.

BOOKBANTER COLUMN: The Art of the Book Review Part I – How I Write a Book Review

I’ve been writing book reviews now for over ten years; 2014 will actually be my fifteenth year of writing reviews. I started in college, working for the student-run newspaper, and while my life has changed in many ways since 1999, and I’ve moved to a number of different places, two things have remained constant: I am continuously reading one or more books at a time, and when I’m done reading a book I will usually review it, no matter when it was released.

My website, BookBanter, now has over 600 book reviews, and as of April 13th, I posed my 650th review. I have had a number of my reviews quoted in books, and one even quoted on the cover – Amber Benson’s Cat’s Claw. So I like to think I know a thing or two about writing book reviews.

I’m sure if you scour the internet you’ll find a number of sites and documents and perhaps even treatises proclaiming how to write the ideal or perfect book review, and how there is a set form and format to it that cannot be diverged from, if one is seeking to create said “perfect book review.”

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