Monday, December 24, 2007

Just Found This Series!

There must be something about brothers that really interest readers and television fans. Supernatural is big on television, and Rob Thurman’s new series about Caliban and Niko are becoming big hits in the paperback arena. The first two books, Nightlife and Moonshine are out now, and Madhouse is coming out in February of 2008.

On the surface, the series looks like one of the many entries into the urban fantasy arena, but the books come with a twist. Caliban, or Cal, as he prefers to be called, is half-Dark Elf (Auphe) and has some kind of dark destiny that the brothers are only now starting to get a handle on. Cal’s mother had an affair – for money – with his Auphe father and he was born, a hybrid unlike anything that had ever been birthed before. Suffice to say that Cal wasn’t born into a nurturing home.

However, what Cal did have was his older brother, Niko, who is a self-styled samurai warrior and Renaissance man. Since Day One, Niko has been Cal’s protector and mentor, a super-parent that has more or less given up his life in order to make sure Cal grew up. Cal feels tremendous amounts of guilt over this, but there’s nothing he can do about it. His life has been entirely too strange – and that’s before you take into account the two years the Grendels (Dark Elves) kidnapped him to their world and did unspeakable things to him that he still can’t remember.

The relationship between the brothers is the foundation that makes everything else work. I could constantly see them around each other and in each other’s lives. Even those times when Niko wasn’t on stage with Cal, I was constantly aware of him.

The first-person narrative Cal treats us to is often sarcastic, but also touching. He is mocking and self-deprecating, but at the same time accessibly human and easy to feel sympathy for. He’s a loner, and he’s so much an outcast that he’s dragged his brother off into the same kind of horrible existence.

The plot of the first novel is loose. All Cal and Niko are trying to do is survive one more day. We get to see them doing that, and the peek into their lives and their world is a lot of fun. Author Rob Thurman has a lot to work with, given the creations she’s thrown at her readers so far. There’s a lot of backstory that hasn’t yet been explored.

Nightlife is a whirlwind adventure that doesn’t focus on the fate of the world, just the fates of the two main characters, which should be enough for any novel, though too many authors these days forget that. I also liked the addition of Robin Goodfellow, and I hope he hangs around as a series regular.

This book is pure pulp of the best kind. It offers no apologies or excuses for what it is. I enjoyed it from the first page to the last, and had very few places where I could rest comfortably. The story and the questions it launched kept pulling me back in time and again. That’s what the best ones do. Now I’m going to read Moonshine and anxiously await Madhouse.

If you haven’t discovered this series yet, you should. There’s no overarching romance story that keeps hitting you between the eyes. This is adventure on the purest level, and adrenaline will keep you turning the pages.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Wanna Get Lucky?

I write reviews for The last few days one of the reviewers has written to the main board because he felt he might be treading on thin ice ethically. He's received free tickets to a show he's going to review. Now the people want to throw in a free, fancy dinner before the show as well.

He's worried about being compromised, and about the expectations of the people providing everything.

I was quiet for a few days. I thought it would all work itself out. But he's been getting all kinds of advice from different people.

Myself, I prefer simple, easy-to-understand advice.

When I couldn't sit back quietly anymore, this is what I sent to him:

Okay, I've sat back and kept my mouth shut. Can't resist adding my two cents.

Think of the comped meal as a date. They're asking you out on a date. I've asked women out on dates, and had women ask me out on dates. My wife and I both have hectic schedules, so we still set up dates. It's the only way we can do a lot of things together.

But I digress.

Here's the bottom line: Just because you agree to go out on a "date" with someone, they should know better than to expect to get "lucky." Man, if taking someone out to eat was all it took to get "lucky," I'd have been handing out McDonalds gift cards to women who caught my eye a long time ago.

I apologize if I offended anyone, but this just seemed too humorous to pass up.

Don't stress. Go. Enjoy. The last thing they want is a bunch of empty seats at the dinner tables.


Friday, December 21, 2007

One of My Favorite Series Coming To DVD!

Since we're on the subject of spieces, I just found out THE EQUALIZER, starring Edward Woodward, is coming to DVD in February. I loved this show, but I was working nights when it was on and didn't get to watch all the episodes. In fact, I missed most of them. Didn't have a VCR at the time either.

It ran for four series and was some of the best entertainment on television at the time. Loved the music. Loved the acting. And I loved Mickey, who was every gun nut's favorite gun nut. Mickey never used a .22 when a bazooka would do the job even bigger.

If you haven't seen this show before, this would be a perfect time. If you love BURN NOTICE, you'll like THE EQUALIZER.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Looking for Reviewers!

A new spy series from Gold Eagle launches in January '08. I've offered to help promote the launch, and as a result I have several copies to give away.

We're needing people who review regularly on Amazon or on their own personal websites to read the books, then write up and post a review regarding the novel. Send me your name and address and I'll happily send one your way.

Here's the info about the book: As revealed at San Diego's Comic-Con, ROOM 59 is Gold Eagle's brand-new thriller/adventure series launching in January 2008.

The Players: ROOM 59 is a multinational policing agency sanctioned to terminate global threats that governments can’t touch. Its high-level operatives are seasoned in the dangerous game of espionage and counterterrorism. A Room 59 mission puts everything on the line; emotions run high, and so does the body count.

Written by Cliff Ryder, each ROOM 59 novel is a stand-alone story featuring intricate plots, thrilling action, nail-biting suspense and the timeless battle of good and evil.

The first book of the series is The Powers That Be: When a double agent in Cuba suddenly disappears, there’s concern that he might have gone rogue, working against ROOM 59 and the world at large. But one of the agency’s top spymasters has a blood tie to the operative in question, which leaves him with an agonizing choice: allow the mission to be scrubbed, and leave thousands to die in the resulting bloodbath—or risk everything he knows, including his career, to keep his secret deeply buried.

ROOM 59: The Powers That Be will be in stores January 2008.

And you can go here for a preview:

Monday, December 17, 2007

Mel of Yesteryear

I turned 50 Sunday. It was tough. I'd been dreading it for months, and with other things that were out of control in my life, I really struggled through it. Today, it's not so bad. I know I won't have to do that again!

When I was at my mom's on Thanksgiving, I raided her photo stash. There weren't as many as I remembered. I've got four brothers and they beat me to a lot of stuff. But I made copies and I'm taking the originals back to Mom on Christmas.

But going through these pictures made me realize how far I've come. What you're looking at here is an eight-year-old boy who spent his summers on a horse, crawdad fishing, chasing snakes, and investigating every interesting hole that was open in the five acres of oil company land next to where Daddy had his service station in Oklahoma City.

The service station was a Fina unit on NE 23rd and Bartell Road. We lived there from 1965 to 1969, and moved to Seminole right before the lunar landing. Things have changed over there as well.

Daddy had been gone from the family for a few months and we hadn't gotten to see him. When we arrived, he had a trailer house out in back of the station for us to live in, and a couple of Shetland ponies that weren't quite broke. I ended up breaking them. I broke horses from the age of seven till I was a freshman in college. (Now I worry when my kids play organized sports! I didn't think anything about getting hurt when I was that age, and I guess most adults didn't either. Also, the horse in this picture is a Shetland, not one of the full-sized horses -- paints, appaloosas, and quarterhorse mix -- that we broke for other people.)

People talk about guys being cowboys these days because they like to ride horses, be around livestock, and drive old pickup trucks. I wasn't. Daddy had horses because he wanted them, and we rode them for something to do -- he often made us quit riding them long before we'd had enough, but we found out you could ride a horse into the ground. We ate the livestock. And all there was to drive was old pickup trucks.

I never saw myself as a cowboy. I was just a kid who liked to ride horses and was willing to crawl up on anything anybody could put a bridle on. I've got the injuries to prove it, though we didn't discover most of them till I was older. I got thrown off, bit, stomped, kicked, and generally abused by everything I managed to throw a leg over. I thought it was great fun. Then again, I didn't get killed so that was a plus. Growing up like that probably made me the adrenaline junkie I am now.

I look back on those days and can't believe that was me. But it was. I've got the memories to prove it. The horse's name was Cocoa and the birddog's name was Noble. He was the first birddog I'd ever seen at that time, and he was a constant companion for me all over that eighty acres.

That saddle I'm sitting on was mostly new and cost a whopping $50, which Daddy had to pay out. For a year I rode horses without one. You don't break horses with saddles on them because you don't want the saddles torn up. Riders, Daddy always thought, were expendable. I figured I was always smart enough and skilled enough to stay on top of a horse that was trying to throw me off, knock me off under a tree limb, or shed me through strands of barbed wire. Mostly I was right -- eventually. I never found an unbroken horse I could sit the first time, and some times not even the first day. It took a lot of bruises to break a horse with spirit.

Of course, back then we didn't have video games and our only action figures were stick people with capes. Horses didn't stand a chance against a bored kid in need of an action fix. Horses got tired. Back then, I was ready to go all day.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Spinning Fire!

Every year I teach college, I end up learning as much as the students, it seems. I didn't even know anyone did this.

My student in these pictures showed me these and you could see the pride in her eyes and hear it in her voice. I love being around someone who loves what they're doing.

She's part of a group of street performers. I can't imagine setting yourself on fire every night. Or at least coming close to doing that. But she obviously loves it. I hope to catch the next show they do.

These images were taken by a photography student friend who was experimenting with the light exposures. They look totally cool!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

My Pick For Best Kids' Chapter Book of 2007
(but adults are encouraged to read it too!)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid just made my list of Top 10 Books of 2007. After listening to my fourth grader rave about the book, which he found on the internet of all places because it’s been published there, I ordered a hardcover edition of the book. I know that kids who find a book they love will read it over and over again, and the choice as a parent is whether to buy it in hardcover or buy it in paperback over and over. Since paperbacks don’t always stay in print and hardcovers sometimes appreciate dramatically in price, I opted for the hardcover copy.

It came in today. My son sat down with it immediately. Even though he’d read the whole book on the internet, he loved the idea of being able to hold it in his hands. He flipped through the pages and made certain all his favorite jokes were still in place, which was amusing to watch because I’ve done the same thing.

One of the amazing things I’ve learned since is that the whole book is available on the internet. You can find it at Feel free to preview the whole book if you like, the author has generously placed it there, but it’s gone on to be a #1 seller in hardcover and paperback all the same. Free on the internet is one thing, but books and portability are best.

Since most of the television shows my wife and I watch on Friday nights were suspended or repeats and I needed a mental vacation after the stress of pounding the keyboard all day, I picked up Diary of a Wimpy Kid and started turning pages. I didn’t stop till I’d devoured the last page.

The book is a flat-out laugh riot from page one to page 217. With pencil drawings that look like they were made by an early elementary school student, it was also an incredibly fast read.

The story is about Greg Heffley, which is kind of like Jeff Kinney if you look at it right. Greg’s in sixth grade and isn’t exactly a social butterfly or even much accepted by the other kids. In fact, he’s lucky if they notice he’s alive.

Greg’s got a regular mom and dad, but Jeff Kinney paints them so vividly with just little details that you can’t help feeling you know these people. His dad has a violent streak when it comes to punishing Greg on the spot. Greg even points out when there are good times to screw up and bad times to screw up. Hint: a good time is when his dad is reading the paper; a bad time is when his dad is building a brick wall. Line drawings accompany this. Greg’s also got an older and younger brother that helps drive him crazy at home. The younger brother, Manny, doesn’t really speak, but he’s into everything.

Greg’s older brother, Rodrick, has his own band and generally stays out of Greg’s life. However, the relationship between the two comes to the forefront every now and again. Rodrick doesn’t mind putting something over on Greg or making him look bad.

The things that make this book work the most, and kept me turning pages, are Greg’s insights on life. He’s not a good kid. He’s not a bad kid either. He’s just a kid. One part scared, one part “that’s not fair”, and one part selfish. It’s the selfish part of Greg that brings about observations about popularity, such as his acknowledgement that he’s number fifty-something popular among the boys, but he’s due to move up a spot because one of the other boys is about to get braces.

His efforts to get out of trouble without having to actually take responsibility for his actions are amazingly dead-on for the age group Kinney is writing about. The fact that Greg’s unwilling to give up trick or treating is good. The touchstones of elementary school life, like the Cheese that’s haunted the outdoor basketball court for a year and gave birth to the Cheese Touch myth that actually ended up making one kid movie way, are here as well.

There are literally hundreds of reasons to buy this book. Number one is that it is the perfect gift for kids who are reluctant readers. Christmas is upon us. Kids are going to be thrown in cars for trips to see relatives, and this book will guarantee some quiet time – except for snickers and outright belly laughs.

I had an absolute blast with it. Before I knew it, I was committing the unpardonable sin of reading sections aloud to my wife while she was watching television. Normally I enforce that one to keep my own television watching manageable. However, I was soon that guy. The book is just too good not to share, so here I am sharing it with you.

Do your kid a favor and go buy the book. But make time to read it yourself. This is one that I think a lot of people will read and tell friends about. Then mark February 2008 down as the release month of the second book, Diary of A Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules. I’ve already got mine on order.