Category Archives: Recommended Reading

Books that are great for writiers


After much delay (2 1/2 decades), I’ve finally picked up Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight.  It was quite interesting comparing it to how books are written today.  Since this is the first book by her that I’ve read, I can’t compare it to her later writing.  At times the story glosses over some events that I think would be fleshed out if written today when compared to the Wheel of Time and the Game of Thrones.  It would certainly have given the world a fuller picture.  Some years back, I picked up the Atlas of Pern, by Karen Wynn Fonstad.  I’ve got several, if not all, of her atlases for various fantasy worlds and series, I highly recommend them, they add a nice visual maps and diagrams to the stories.

But back to Dragonflight.  I merely mention the difference between the writing as an observation, not a criticism.  I enjoyed reading the story and will pick up the next one.  I think it’s a testament to a book’s appeal and value when, after 45 years, it can still be found in the library.  Not because she is a Grand Master, the opposite in fact.

The complexity of the story isn’t deep, but interesting.  I think in a few instances with the time travel, she gets the concept slightly backwards; a minor issue.

Having read fantasy books since high school, it’s been interesting to see the changes in how stories are written.  It is almost as if the level of depth in characters has increased (much the same as way in TV shows).  I suspect because up to the 80’s, it was more pulp in a way.  I read Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Hickman and Weis and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It certainly has some depth, but is quite different to what is written today.  More story-based than character-based.  I also suspect that publishers were keeping authors to around 300 pages to keep costs down and believed that getting much larger than that would lose reader interest or deter them.  There is much to the story and characters that is left out, or only hinted at/mentioned once.

I haven’t read many of the Dragonlance novels (I’ve played the D&D models, so have a good working knowledge of the world not covered in the novels), but I do have to wonder … if the heroes have gathered after 5 years of questing, why was Kitara the only one to ever discover the Dark Queen’s army on a continent that was mostly ravaged by war?


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How Not to Write

How Not to Write by William Safire is a great little book on, as it says, the essential misrules of grammar.  It goes over some 50 grammar rules, why we have them, and why break them.  One such example is adverbs always follow the verb.  For example:

I talked to him regularly.     or     I regularly talked to him.

Either way works.  But the follow has different nuances:

I talked to him severely.     or     I severely talked to him.

Or take the classic by old Blue Eyes:  I only have eyes for you.  To be grammatically correct, it should be: I have eyes only for you.  It just doesn’t have the same rhythm.

Other topics tackled are

  • Never begin a sentence with a conjunction.
  • Linking verbs at the end of a sentence
  • Misplaced modifiers

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Well, I finished Usurper (Kindle) a lot sooner than I wanted.  It was definitely a page turner.  I hadn’t intended on consuming the book so quickly.

It is a great follow up to the first book.  The book was very well written, with a bit more action than the previous one.  It continues where Powerborn left off, dealing with the civil war in Illymar.  While things could be avoided, politics gets in the way (art imitates life).  While wrapping it up, it also launches into the next series of problems, with allusions to the coming of the harbinger, a good and a bad thing.  One thing seems certain, if you think there are safe characters, I have a feeling that there aren’t.

The artwork is fantastic, as can be expected from Nene, and is placed at the beginning of the book, while being interspersed throughout the Kindle version.

The only problem I have is waiting for book 3.

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Ain’t nothin’ queer as folk

…as my in-laws say.  They have a lot of great little sayings over here in England.  But in 16 years, I’ve only heard person say, ‘Cheerio.’

What makes folk, or people, queer is their beliefs, thoughts and ideas.  I managed to pick up a copy of A Dictionary of Superstitions.  Although the version I have is the 1993 edition.

People’s beliefs, sometimes odd, help give character to thier culture.  If you want to give character to a people as a whole, superstitions can add a lot.  The book is laid out alphabetically by item, place, or event (whether it be marriage or measuring a baby).  For each one, it contains the year(s) source, and referrence for that entry.

Just a few examples:

  • NUTMEG in pocket: marriage prospects 1738, Swift Polite Conversation I 97. Have a care; for if you carry a Nutmeg in your pocket, you’ll certainly be marry’d to an old man.

So if you have a gold-digger looking for some easy cash, have her carry around a nutmeg (not ground one would assume) in her pocket.

  • THREE: ‘third time lucky’ 1380 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (ed. Tolkien & Gordon, 1967, ll. 1679-80) FOr I haf fraysted be twys, and faythful I fynde be. Now ‘brid tyme browe best.’

And it goes on with other entries in 1574, 1599, 1601, 1721

  • HEART stuck with pins: lover’s spell 1861 C. C. Robinson Dialect of Leeds 302. [to dream about future husband]  Kill a pigeon, take out its heart, and stick that full of pins, and put it under the pillow, going backwards-way to bed.

Hhhmmm…. I don’t know too many men who would want to marry a woman that sleeps with pin-riddle pigeon hearts under the pillow.

Death, love, luck and the lack thereof, figure prominently in superstitions.  And any mundane event, such as knitting in a theater, can have catastrophic consequences or change your fortune for the better.  Just a word of warning, don’t knit in a theater.

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A Memory of Light

If you haven’t read the Wheel of Time series, I highly recommend it.  Brandon Sanderson does a fantastic job with the last three books.  Taking over another’s work is not easy… and then to do the story justice is masterful.

The whole of A Memory of Light is like one grand finale and did a fantastic job of keeping me on the edge of my seat all the way through.  He ties up all the loose threads.  Toward the end of the series, I was missing the appearance of Min, who was almost perpetually with Rand, well, she has a more significant role in this book.  They way the story is woven gives you hope, rips it out from under you, and torments you with acts of desperation.  Just the way a story should.  It was exhausting and I just couldn’t read it fast enough.

Brandon is a fantastic writer.  I eagerly await Stormlight 2, and will be looking forward to reading the Mistborn books as well.

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The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce

The Devil’s Dictionary, originally named The Cyinic’s Word Book, is a collection of definitions for common words as defined by Ambrose Bierce.  Ambrose had a column in the newspaper which he wrote a word and defined it, cynically of course.  While some of the definitions are classic, some are definitely dated, particularly concerning women, and other areas I imagine, but it’s been a while since I’ve read it, so this will be a journey of rediscovery.

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Finished Reading Powerborn

Finally finished Powerborn (kindle).  A fantastic book, I highly recommend it if you like intrigue and fantasy.  It doesn’t have a lot of fighting, but it does have some.  Steven does an excellent job of portraying the characters, setting the stage and building the story.  Fantasy -wise it’s more high fantasy than barbarian style.   The world is well built, based on a European-style world influenced by magic.  The story has a subpolt that hints of bigger things to come than the characters realize.  What to me was an obvious solution to diplomatic problems is twisted by pride and is partially achieved through accident.  I forgot one tidbit of information, so I was caught by surprise when it was re-introduced.

I’m looking forward to reading the second book, Usurper (kindle).

The first edition of both books come with 20 color prints by artist Nene Thomas, signed and numbers (1000).  The 1st edition of book 1 appears to be sold out, but there are still copies of book 2 available.

The books themselves are actually pretty durable, taking a bit of minor battering without denting or scratching.

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Origin Review

I friend of mine, JT Brannan, recently had his second book published, Origin (UK).  My tastes lie toward fantasy and science fiction, so Origin is not something I would actively pursue.  I couldn’t put it down.

It’s a good blend between ancient mythology, conspiracy theory, and action.  The action is fast paced with little lag in the story.  Looking at other reviews, I’ve read the complaint that there is little character development.  Really???  The characters are full-grown adults and not likely to experience life-altering epiphanies.  It’s an action, suspense thriller in the vein of James Bond.  How come no one ever says, “Hey, there was no character development in the latest James Bond movie!”?  There are developments in the main characters’ lives, I’m not going to give that away.

One thing I’ve developed over the years is a tightly control, but not pedantic, intolerance to plot holes.  For example, in the Bible it does not mention three wise men, only three gifts, yet there are three references in our culture to the three wise men; I’m not pedantic enough to care, hate, or avoid things that have three wise men.  The movie Cliffhanger lost me at the death scene at the very beginning of the movie, but Ace Ventura spoofed it fantastically.

It’s a good read, and you should be able to finish it in a couple of days, depending on your pace and the number of interruptions.

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On Writing – By Stephen King

I’m currently reading this book and it has a lot of great advice.  The first part is a bit of Stephen King’s history.  Very interesting.

The next part is about the tools of writing.  He uses an analogy of a tool box and taking the entire thing with you just in case you need it.  I’m slowly working my way through my book and killing off unnecessary adverbs.  He makes a great point about their usage when describing speech.  The words should generally be enough, but I wouldn’t say it’s a hard fast rule.  Some times the context of the spoken word should be enough.  To maintain brevity it may be necessary to reword the sentence.  If not then I would say include the word to indicate greater action than reflected in the wording.

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