Books about war, writing and rapture — reviewed

What, you think writers are just writing all the time? No, we read, too! And, you know … have a life outside of books … but that’s not the point I was getting at.

If you like my novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall, you’ll really dig my first two selections — The Leftovers and Homage to Catalonia. The latter is actually a journalistic account by the great George Orwell about his true experiences during the Spanish Civil War. My third pick, City of Thieves, is another war story — this one about the siege of Leningrad during World War II — but what makes it clever is that it’s also a coming of age story. Finally, for the writers out there, I’ve reviewed Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, a huge influence and inspiration for me.

And now, without further adieu….

Adam’s Book Reviews

The LeftoversThe Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love stories that start with a fantastical or sci-fi premise and then take a realistic look at what would happen in the real world. That’s exactly what happens in The Leftovers. There is a rapture, but a seemingly random one with nothing to do with religion, and we see what the people in a suburban community do next.

If you’re expecting a grand sci-fi plot with an explanation for what happened, this book’s not for you. It’s more about the people and how they deal with losing people they loved. While that might sound sad, there’s actually a lot of humor that comes from the absurdity of the situation and the way people have responded.

Perrotta’s clear, humorous writing style adds to the fun. It’s effortless to read and hard to put down.

 

Homage to CataloniaHomage to Catalonia by George Orwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Did you know George Orwell fought in the Spanish Civil War? Like a lot of people, I only really knew Orwell for 1984 and Animal Farm. Reading this account of the author’s experience fighting Franco and fascism offers great context for other works while also illuminating all the confusion and propaganda from this 20th Century war. Orwell writes in an accessible way, effectively conveying his own outrage at the events of the war but also his fondness for the Spaniards. Worth a read for all Orwell fans and war history buffs.

 

City of ThievesCity of Thieves by David Benioff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A coming of age set during the siege of Leningrad, City of Thieves deftly mixes humor, teen angst and the horrors of World War II. The prose moves along briskly, making for a quick read that never drags. It’s also a true story, making the tale all the more poignant.

I also really liked the characters and felt emotionally involved with their highs and lows. The descriptions of the dead and the desperate are tragic, and the brutal actions of the Nazis are truly horrifying.

Looking forward to reading more by this exciting new author.

 

Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on CreativityZen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This excellent collection of essays about writing by the great Ray Bradbury should be essential reading for any writer. This book is not about grammar or stylistic techniques. It is about finding focus and setting the right conditions to allow the writer inside to come out and show what he or she is made of!

The final essay, for which the book is named, is worth the price of admission alone. Bradbury makes the case for writers to stop thinking about commercial or critical success. Instead, he argues that writers should relax and write honestly.

There are also a few essays that give insights to Bradbury’s most famous novels, including Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles. These I had read before, as they were included as forewords in those novels. Even so, it’s nice to have them in a single collection.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I should get back to my writing!

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Suicide comedy, zombie Jughead & epic gamers: What I’m reading

Authors are always reading. I mean… when they’re not writing, of course. Authors gotta write.

Personally, I like to write short book reviews on Goodreads (follow me!). Here’s a selection of some of my favorite recent books.

A Long Way DownA Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nick Hornby writes like people talk and his books are about ordinary people trying to live ordinary lives. A Long Way Down presents one his most dramatic premises — four people intending to commit suicide run into each other on the top of the same building.

Hornby takes a unique approach of alternating perspectives every chapter. The effect is not unlike a documentary, in which interviews with several people are woven together to create a single forward narrative.

Because of the three act structure, large amounts of dialogue and relatively static set pieces, I could really imagine this acted out on the stage. In that way, it felt a little less “novel-y” than other novels, but if that kind of thing doesn’t bug you, then full speed ahead.

I should add that this is a funny book. Yeah, okay, it’s about suicide. But it’s great fun watching the characters’ personalities clash. In many ways they don’t like each other, but at the same time they realize they need each others’ help to keep going.

I really got to liking each of the characters, too, even though they’d done things (and continue to do things) that are not completely likable. And really, it’s a testament to Hornby’s talent that he can pull off a comedy about wanting to kill yourself so effortlessly.

 

Afterlife with Archie Book 1: Escape from RiverdaleAfterlife with Archie Book 1: Escape from Riverdale by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! Who knew adding zombies to Archie would make it so good?!

I never really got into Archie Comics, but this fresh spin goes all in on the horror while preserving the characters everyone knows (yes, Archie is still waffling between Betty and Veronica).

I can’t say enough about the artwork by Francesco Francavilla — who is known for his horror stuff and not your typical Archie artist — so I won’t try.

So yeah, Afterlife with Archie is a total blast. Read it now!

 

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ready Player One is the geekiest book I have ever read. That’s a compliment. Gamers, sci-fi and fantasy lovers — this is your book.

Even if you don’t understand all the references, you’ll understand some of them and get a big grin on your face. Meanwhile, the fun narrative — mixing action, comedy and romance — will keep you reading every day until Game Over.

If I have to nitpick, I’d say there’s sometimes a bit too much explanation about how the world functions, both in the virtual OASIS and the dystopian near-future real world. The hero Parzival often pauses to explain the rules when probably the reader could figure these things out along the way.

In the end though, I think your enjoyment of this book ultimately comes down to whether you like fun. Do you like fun? Yes? Well, then…

Ready Player One!

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Noir, cowboys and asteroids: What I’m reading

Not sure if you knew this, but I regularly review books on Goodreads. I have an author profile there as well, so please follow! Anyway, thought I’d share a few of my latest reviews.

Countdown City by Ben H. Winters

I love the premise of this series. An asteroid is about to crash into Earth, destroying everyone… but Detective Henry Palace wants to keep on solving ordinary murders and missing person cases.

In the end, you get a compelling mystery that would work as a novel in its own right, surrounded by an equally gripping per-apocalyptic atmosphere, all injected with a healthy dose of conspiracy theory!

Countdown City reminded me what I loved about The Last Policeman (the first entry in the series), and I think Winters’ writing is even stronger in this second book. Looking forward to the next one!

Valdez is Coming by Elmore Leonard

I loved how compact and straightforward this Western was. It’s got everything you want for the genre–a character seeking justice, a power-mad cowboy, gunfights and chases through the desert.

My only complaint is that the love story is a bit thin and not so compelling.

Overall, this is a blast and a good choice if you’re just getting into the genre.

Scene of the Crime by Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark and Sean Phillips

A gritty crime/noir from one of the best crime writers in comics. Ed Brubaker writes an interesting mystery and the memorable characters here really bring it to life. The people in this story feel human thanks to their flaws, baggage and, yes, senses of humor.

Also loved the art by Michael Lark — that guy knows how to draw a vintage car, man.

The deluxe hardback is a real treat. The printing really makes the artwork pop and I appreciated the behind-the-scenes look on how this story came together.

Greenwald takes NSA to task in surveillance book

No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald

It’s easy to feel a bit of information overload when you first learn about an information leak revealing that the NSA has spied on regular American citizens and that major Internet companies like Microsoft and Facebook have helped them do it.

Glenn Greenwald is the reporter who read through countless documents provided by the whistleblower Edward Snowden and wrote the first news articles bringing that information to the public’s attention.

Now, with his excellent book No Place to Hide, Greenwald offers an insightful and comprehensive discussion of the controversial documents. Greenwald clearly lays out the most significant revelations and why they matter to everyday people.

The first part reads like a spy novel, grabbing the reader from the first page with an exciting account of how Snowden first contacted Greenwald, their secret meeting in Hong Kong, and the ensuing behind-the-scenes drama to get the information into the newspapers. While some have criticized the Snowden leak as threatening national security, the book highlights the care and scrutiny with which Greenwald and his collaborator Laura Poitras handled the classified documents, seeking to shine light without putting anyone’s lives in danger.

The next two sections contain less narrative, spending more time explaining the most significant revelations and why surveillance is harmful to society. While they don’t read quite as fast as the thrilling opening, these parts are great for anyone who had trouble keeping up with the Snowden leaks and what they meant.

Greenwald closes with a critical and thought-provoking discussion of the American media and what he perceives as journalists’ growing sympathy to the government. In Greenwald’s view, journalism has lost its investigative edge, giving too much power to the government to decide what information is published — and perhaps more critically — what information is not.

As a journalist, I found this section fascinating. While it paints a dismal picture of corporate media, the book’s existence provides optimism for the rise of independent journalists to maintain the mantle of the Fourth Estate.

Adam Bender is a tech journalist and the author of two dystopian novels about government surveillance. You can find his books WE, THE WATCHED and DIVIDED WE FALL at most major online bookstores.

Change Comes to Gotham City

Batman and Robin Vol. 1: Batman Reborn Batman and Robin Vol. 1: Batman Reborn by Grant Morrison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been pretty resistant to the Grant Morrison Batman books because of all the radical changes: Bruce Wayne is dead, he has a son named Damian, Damian is now Robin, Dick Grayson (the original Robin) is Batman, Bruce Wayne is actually not dead but lost in time… It’s all a bit much.

Still, this first collection of the Batman & Robin books featuring Dick and Damian is a pretty good read. These are some of the most fun and yet dark/bloody Batman stories I’ve read in some time. And it’s nice to see a focus on two Batman heroes, rather than the veritable Batman family featured in the books preceding the Grant Morrison run. Unlike the dynamic duo of yore, Batman and Robin don’t always get along, but in the end they always come together to stop the bad guys. Morrison also invents a gaggle of psychotic new villains who fit into Gotham perfectly. And the artwork by Frank Quitely and Philip Tan is always colorful and expressive.

I’m probably still going to avoid the Bruce-as-caveman comics, but happy to see there still is good writing in Batman.

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