Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Rest is Even Better Than the First

Another in my long running series on first lines (see here).

This one, the most recent, compliments of Lee Child and his thirteenth Reacher novel, is pretty gripping as far as first lines are concerned.

Suicide bombers are easy to spot. They give out all kinds of telltale signs. Mostly because they’re nervous. By definition they’re all first-timers.

Child, Lee - Gone Tomorrow

Who wouldn't want to know why Reacher is thinking about suicide bombers? Who wouldn't want to know what the signs are that lead him to spot one. Plus it has that bit of cryptic, dry humor that immediately puts the reader into the mind of the main character.

Gripping? Sure. Apropos description if you ask me. Best part about this first line? It presages a novel that is just as gripping and hosts just as much dry, crypticism and compelling interesting twists and turns.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Another Morning, this Time from Felix

I just finished Crossfire by Felix Francis and it wasn't too bad. Not as good as Dick Francis, but a solid try. 

All that being said, Felix is a typical writer in that he too falls for descriptions of the morning. Anyone who reads this blog should know by now that finding morning descriptions are a particular fondness of mine (see here). Felix provides his own offering below.

The sky was lightening in the east with a lovely display of blues, purples and reds. In spite of being completely at home in the dark, I had always loved the coming of the dawn, the start of a new day. 

The arrival of the sun, bringing light and warmth and driving away the cold and darkness of the night, was like a piece of daily magic, revered and worshipped by man and beast alike. How does it happen? And why? Let us just be thankful that it did. If the sun went out, we would all be in the poop, and no mistake. 

The rim of the fiery ball popped up over the horizon and flooded the hillside with an orange glow, banishing the gloom from beneath the bushes.

Francis, Dick; Francis, Felix - Crossfire

A little more than is common from what I find in other works, still just as prototypical. I'll probably keep reading Felix's stuff, even though I think "fiery ball" is a tad trite.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

On the TBR List

Yep, I'm adding The Centurions by Jean Larteguty to my To Be Read list (see here).

For just a moment I thought I was going to read about Devil's Guard (no, not The Devil's Brigade, but the book about the SS officers who run off to join the French Foreign Legion) when I began reading this WSJ article by James D. Hornfischer.

The anguish of the U.S. experience in Vietnam reverberates in some of our best fiction, from Philip Caputo’s “Indian Country” (1987) and Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” (1990) to Karl Marlantes’s “Matterhorn” (2009). But in literature, as in the war itself, the French got there first.

Now, I'd rather not get into my disdain for The Things They Carried, which I belive too many people like for the wrong reasons, but anyone who has read the out of print Devil's Guard can clearly see why I would have thought that's where the article was going. But No! Now I have a new book to read.

Devil's Guard was Holy Writ in our Ranger Platoon. We bought a copy for three hundred dollars back in 1996 and carried it around in a plastic bag from deployment to deployment and forced the new privates to read it and quote from it. Still, The Centurions sounds like a good companion as well, although it sounds like reading it might be a hard slog.

Though it has been heralded as the first novel to feature a “ticking time bomb” storyline, “The Centurions” was not built to satisfy readers looking for crisp plotting, suspense and action. With its extended speechifying, incomplete character arcs, female love interests cut from wet cardboard, and company of minor characters who march to little effect, Lart√©guy’s work is more symposium than thriller. When the Frenchmen aren’t holding forth on the sweep of history and the hinge of fate, they are writing long diary entries summing up many things that the reader already knows. Some of the monologues run for pages at a time. But the depth of the principals and the author’s sure sense of their complex torment bring the soldiers’ world vibrantly to life.

I don't know, after reading about "wet cardboard" love interests and "writing long diary entries" perhaps I'd be better off just reading my copy of Devil's Guard again.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Who Hasn't Started a Book with "Medic! Medic!"

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I love writing about and logging my first lines and paragraphs from books that I read. My most recent one is this one:

Medic! Medic!” 

I could see that my platoon sergeant was shouting, but strangely, the sound of his voice seemed muffled, as if I was in a neighboring room rather than out here in the open. 

I was lying on the dusty ground with my back up against a low bank so that I was actually half sitting. Sergeant O’Leary was kneeling beside me on my left.

Francis, Dick; Francis, Felix - Crossfire

It's not a bad start. And of course as anyone can guess the main character is the one who is severely hurt.

I've never read a Felix Francis book. I love his pop Dick, but Felix is new to me. So far, a few pages in, I'm quite happy with it. I'm looking forward to more. I'm seeing the difference. Dick Francis has a bit more sophistication to his writing, whereas Felix sounds like he's just trying to get the story out. But, it's not a bad book thus far.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

AVOID this Book at all Costs

Don't you hate when you're favorite authors fail to live up to expectations. Some do it over and over. They have a best seller out of the gate, then each book after is just mediocre. They never live up to that first. Others, have a slew of good to great then BOOM! you read one and it's rubbish.

The second one happened to me a few months back when I tried to read the new Vernor Vinge novel, The Children of the Sky (see here). I even gave him the benefit of the doubt and went a few chapters further than I would have. No dice. Horrid. Gave up. (Might try again though).

Just happened again with Lawrence Sanders.

I love Lawrence Sanders work, if you want the proof, just note the number of times he mentioned in this blog (see here). I love his works. Love em. Lately I've loved his 1970's stuff. Caper (see here) . . . left me wishing I'd never heard of him.


It started well, and for the first half it was a typical Lawrence Sanders. Great descriptions of the city, terrific analogies, sparkling writing. But then it turned jejune. It started to read more like a biography rather than novel, and worse it was a boring biography about a road trip. I wanted to give up on it but hung in there. Next time I will got with my initial reaction.

May not have ruined me for Sanders' novels, may not have even ruined me for his early work . . . but it sure ruined my week.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Cathartic Rationale

A couple of readers wrote to inquire about just what was the reason for the need for cathartic writing. Usually I'm in a pretty good place. Work . . . busy . . . check. Family . . . happy . . . check. Parents . . . alive . . . check. Check check check across the board . . . except for work. (well . . . there's one aspect of my life that isn't check . . . but we're discussing work today)

Basically there has been a significant churn at work. I am now a department of one. I understand the need for cost cutting, but laying off one, Kerry, a month or so ago was bad enough. He was a country song. Got married six months ago, kidney transplant so he needed the medical benefits. Hard worker and great to be around. The kicker was that he just bought a boat. So naturally it was time to let him go.

Follow that up with two or three more and it takes a toll on one's psyche. It made me think of that movie with George Clooney, Up in the Air (here). The main character flies around just letting people go. But unlike Clooney I am not so good looking that women flock to me, nor will I come close to passing my ten million mile mark for my frequest flier miles as he did in the film.

One good thing about laying off so many folks, it makes me think about my own vulnerability. For a while there I thought they were just waiting for me to complete my lay offs then they would come around and lay me off. Made me realize that I should keep in the writing habit if only cause there could come a time very soon when that might become a full time occupation. Which I would love.

Nevertheless, it helps to deal with the sudden loss of my department to write about it a bit.