YOU AND I may not be looking for the same things in a story. In other words, the books I like, you may hate. So, let me run it down for you before I attempt to get you all excited about Jack Whyte.
I like three-dimensional characters. I can't drum up much interest in a story if I'm not interested in the characters. My wife and I walked out on Fatal Attraction
, a hugely popular movie, because we didn't like the Michael Douglas character and pretty much figured that he deserved whatever happened to him.
I like well-narrated exposition. I want the author's words to transport me to that time and place in which the story is set, much like Michener did in his early works. Hawaii
and The Source
were great examples.
Basic mistakes jar us back to reality and the spell
is broken by bad spelling. I'm not too concerned with the literary quality of a book, but basic rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation should be observed. People who really enjoy books, like me, drift with the story, identifying with the characters and imagining themselves in its milieu. Simple mistakes are speed bumps that simply destroy the mood.
Finally, I find it easier to become engrossed in a story when it is believable. Yes, I can accept elves and ogres, especially when they are crafted by a genius such as Tolkien. Unfortunately, few writers are able to engage in believable flights of fantasy and should stick with the real world – the one they live within.
That being said, Jack Whyte took a fantasy, the legend of King Arthur, and wove it into the fabric of real history, the fall of the Roman Empire, and created a series of stories that I can recommend enthusiastically and without reservation. He populated them with magnificent heroes, and crafted a sense of time and place that is unparalleled in the genre of historical fiction. As an author working in the same genre, he inspires me.
The Camulod Chronicles – yes, Camulod is an actual place, the site of a Roman fort that the author chose as the historical precedent for Camelot – is a series of seven books that must be read in their correct order to fully appreciate the flow of history from the contraction of the Roman Empire to the rise of a society built on the foundations the legionnaires left behind.
Jack Whyte breathes life into mythical characters as only a creative genius can. Merlin's spells are simply explained as scientifically sound applications of physics and chemistry that would have seemed magical to primitive peoples. Arthur is a boy raised with the discipline of a legionnaire and a love of the native Britains he is taught to serve as their lord.
The author also reveals the myth of Excalibur as a leap in the technology of the weapons of war. He even creates a believable etymology for its name. Indeed, his treatment of Arthur's famous sword is just one example of the details that he infused into his novels to explain the legend without destroying the wonder of it.
If you have gotten this far in my tirade, you must now click this link
and begin acquiring and reading these books.
Oh and when you're done, read his trilogy about the Knights Templar.
NO VEHICLE CAN be animated by the human psyche more vividly than one that swims upon the seas. Aircraft and land vehicles of all types pale in comparison. It may be that just as we gestate swimming in a sea of amniotic fluid, a seagoing vessel touches our souls because it delivers us safely from an unnatural environment; one to which we are destined to emerge but which will remain alien forever after. Thus, the Cuban revolutionaries cling to the Granma, the vessel that delivered the Fidelistas safely from Mexico to Cuba where they mounted a successful insurgency to depose the hated dictator, Fulgencio Batista.
I suppose, too, that the Granma reminds them of the loss of so many of their compañeros. Men who share danger, such as the harrowing sea voyage in a derelict yacht, are forever bound by the experience. Thus, the Granma is a revered memorial to those who died within the first days after they landed.
This bond between men and boat is likewise memorialized in the name of a Province cut from the Oriente of Cuba where they launched their revolution. It is also memorialized in the name of their official party organ. Although the Spanish equivalent of Granma, abuela, could have been substituted, we are left to wonder if these men, born and bred on an island nation, clung to the ancient mariner's superstition that it was bad luck to rename a boat subsequent to its christening.
Now, here again, in the 50th anniversary of the Cuban victory at the Bay of Pigs, the Granma joins the celebration as its replica churns through a sea of jubilant children. Looking at the still photo you can almost here the chant. ¡Viva Granma! ¡Viva la revolución!
Unfortunately, the Cubans must reignite their revolution. The man who gave birth to it, also killed it. They seem to fail to realize that a bureaucracy now rules in Havana and it perpetuates the human rights violations that Fidel and his Communist compañeros began.
I HAVE LONG been a fan of stories of action and adventure on the high seas, especially stories about iron men and wooden ships of the Napoleonic Wars. The Hornblower saga by C. S. Forester and the Jack Aubrey saga by Patrick O'Brian are classics of the genre.
Interestingly, both series are based on the real life adventures of Thomas, Lord Cochrane, whose life is found in a free book on Amazon Kindle, The Life of Thomas, Lord Cochrane
Lord Cochrane's exploits first inspired another British sea captain, Frederick Marryat, who served under Cochrane as a midshipman. Marryat rose to command his own frigate and engaged in more than fifty sea battles during his career. Thus, he knows better than any other author of fiction, the terror and exhilaration of standing on an open deck amid a hail of canon and small arms fire.
Marryat focuses on character, much like his contemporary, Charles Dickens. The plots are often fanciful, however, the authenticity of his narrative is unsurpassed. Reading a book by Marryat is like sitting by the fire, surrounded by children, listening to the exploits of an aging great grandfather or uncle.
For me, the most pleasurable part of reading a work by Marryat are those times when he lapses into personal recollections in the middle of a story. For example, in one book, the fictional captain performs a wedding at sea, and Marryat wanders off into a tale wherein he performed such a ceremony during one of his commands.
I am certain that a critic would be happy to tear apart a work by Marryat, and they are welcome to it. However, I will still read, and sometimes reread, my favorite Marryat books.
by Paul Anthony The author almost lost me in the first chapter with an errant cultural reference- he confused the Menorah with the Ner Tamid and sustituted "kill" for "murder" in the Commandment. (Yes, I'm that picky.) But, I pressed on and he didn't make any such error thereafter. Boy, am I glad that I did.
I began reading The Legacy of the Ninth thinking that it was a story of the Roman Empire, but was not disappointed when it morphed into present day England where an artifact carried there from the Middle East by the Ninth Legion is uncovered. Its discovery becomes the catalyst for a new battle in the continuing conflict between Arabs and Jews.
Paul Anthony populated this story with a host of three-dimensional characters engaged in the conflict from different venues, England, Istanbul, Lebanon, and Israel. One in particular, a British policeman reassigned from undercover work in London to leading Bobbies in Cumbria, faces the daunting task of reigniting pride in a group that has been allowed to languish in mediocrity. This challenge alone would be sufficient foundation for a good story. In The Legacy of the Ninth, it is but one facet of a complex tale with plots within plots.
Lastly, I was pleased with the author's style. Thank God, I read it on Kindle and had a copy of the Oxford Dictionary built in to help be with the language (I am American and don't speakEnglish). That aside, Paul Anthony varies his pace, lingering on details to establish the milieu, and racing ahead with action to make it exciting.
Yes, I can recommend this one without reservation.
by Philip Catshill This book could become a classic of its genre. I don't say that lightly. I am extremely critical of storytelling, especially in the realm of "whodunnits." All too often they are poorly crafted. My most frequent complaints are conflict arising from stupidity; surprise endings without any logical justification; and, illogical behavior. "Who Else Is There" avoids all of these pitfalls. Indeed, it weaves an intricate labyrinth of plot twists and turns that conclude in a neatly wrapped package of resolution that leaves you to wonder how you missed all the clues that the author scattered along the way, and why you didn't deduct it yourself.
Beyond that, it introduces us to a host of three-dimensional characters living in a well constructed world. The principal protagonist, Mike Newman, was terrifyingly real for me. He suffers from debilities that I narrowly avoided when I had a massive stroke a few years ago. Unfortunately for Mike (and the author as well, I suspect), they were not as lucky as I. The descriptions of Mike's physical limitations and aphasia left me emotionally spent as I realized that I had dodged those bullets only because my stroke occurred within minutes of a well-staffed hospital where my clot was cleared within less than an hour and I recovered fully.
The bottom line is that I have already purchased the next installment in the Mike Newman series, "Suffer Little Children" and bumped it to next in my queue of books to be read.
by Stephen WoodfinI didn't think that I was going to be able to read Sickle's Compass past the first chapter. It left me too emotionally drained. But I persisted and was rewarded with a satisfying though sad tale that made me feel good about humanity and gave me hope that the human spirit to rise to any challenge.
Woody, a World War II veteran and victim of Alzheimer's Disease, is kidnapped by a shadowy character from his past. No one, not his wife, his children, nor the police understand the true nature of Woody's predicament, and they pursue him, his family to rescue him and the police to indict him for crimes they believe he has committed.
This is a poignant tale crafted by an author who all too well understands the nature of Alzheimer's and our nation's ignorance of its nature and impact.
I WAS REPEATEDLY stunned during the eight years that I skippered a Sea Scout Ship for youth at risk – children incarcerated for crimes – to learn that most lived within a mile or two of the Pacific Ocean and never even seen it. Then again, I wonder how much of the Chesapeake Bay I might not have seen but for Sea Scouting, even though I lived within a few miles of its shores.
Before I continue my story of Sea Scouting, I must pause to introduce you to the Chesapeake Bay inasmuch as it was the venue of the stories that I will share. It is the largest estuary – a body of water fed by rivers and opening to the sea – in the Continental United States. It was formed over many millennia as rivers draining from the Piedmont Plateau deposited silt to form the Eastern Shore which encompasses parts of Maryland and Virginia and almost the entire state of Delaware.
The Chesapeake is undoubtedly the most frightening body of water that I ever sailed. I didn't understand this at first. I grew up there as a sailor and was accustomed to it. However, the bluewater sailors who I met during those years were universally cowed by it. I failed to understand their fear until I too sailed the blue waters of open oceans.
Still waters are of little concern to anyone, regardless of where they occur. As hard as it may be for a landlubber to imagine, I have encountered them everywhere, even on the broad oceans of the Atlantic and the Pacific, and the Chesapeake Bay as well. The difference between these oceans and the Bay lies in the aspect of their waves.
I have experienced ocean waves that were many times larger than those on the Chesapeake, but none as steep as those on that Bay. Ocean waves grow in interval as they grow in size. That is, the space between them becomes longer and the slope up one side and down the other remains generally uniform. However, waves in the Chesapeake tend to maintain the same interval regardless of their height. Thus, they become steeper as they grow in size.
Riding on steeper waves is not only uncomfortable, it is more dangerous. Vessels pitch – tipping fore and aft – and yaw – rolling side to side – more violently on steeper waves. Local boat builders on the Chesapeake compensate by building boats of a uniform length – about 32 to 37 feet. Such a vessel generally sits comfortably on at least two waves under most conditions, thus reducing the violence of the pitching. They build hard chined boats – boats with flat bottoms – to reduce the yaw. Most blue water sailors visit the bay in longer, round bottomed vessels that do not fare as well in the local conditions. These are better suited to the open waters of an ocean.
Flat bottomed boats with center boards - projections from the bottom of the boat to prevent leeway or side slipping - are better adapted to shallow waters than the vessels that bluewater sailors rode. Thus, they feared navigating shallow waters of the Chesapeake where depths rarely exceeding a few fathoms. Indeed, there are many places on the Bay that can be negotiated only at high tide. Running aground is rarely a concern in the open ocean unless you approach too close to the shore. Sailing from any point on the West Coast of the United States, you have a thousand feet of water under your keel after progressing little more than a mile from harbor. You may well bump into the shore line in many places on Catalina Island without ever running aground! There is no Continental Shelf off the West Coast as there is on the East Coast.
“Baltimore lay very near the great protein factory of the Chesapeake Bay, and out of the Bay it ate divinely.” – H. L. Mencken
Although pollution has greatly diminished its production of seafood in recent years, it was still teeming with life when I sailed there as a Sea Scout. We could stop almost anywhere in the Bay, tie one end of our lines to the gunwale of the boat and toss the other ends over the side with crude weights and scrap meat, and soon harvest a bushel of hard shelled crabs. Wading in the shallows with nothing but a rake, we could harvest a bushel of soft shelled crabs in minutes.
The most exciting fishing I ever experienced was in taking stripped bass – we knew them as “Rock” – from the Bay. Good eats, too! Most fished with stout rods and strong lines. I preferred ultralight spinning tackle and 6 pound test line. We trolled for Rock. The faster the boat pulled your lure through the water, the larger the fish you caught. Rock struck the lure like a marlin and “ran” with it like a demon. A three pounder on my rig sometimes required ten or fifteen minutes to “boat.” I never hooked one over seven pounds, but saw many larger ones, up to twenty-five pounds.
A local brewery released tagged Rock every year, and cash prizes were given to anyone who caught them. A ten thousand dollar prize in those days was a fortune and thousands would be fishing nearby the day that the tagged fish were released.
Although just a little more than two hundred miles in length and averaging just a few miles in width, the Bay has more than three thousand miles of shoreline when the beaches of its tributaries are measured. Thus, a sailor can spend the better part of a lifetime exploring them all. I believe that I sailed on every major river that fed the Bay. James and Elizabeth were named to honor monarchs of the colonial age. Middle and Back bespoke of location. Choptank, Rappahonock, Susquehanna, Patauxent, and Potomac harkened back to the native tribes that once populated the region. Sailing on the Bay was like leafing through the pages of a living book of history.
There you have it. My Bay. I left it at age twenty-three and still pine for it these forty-six years later.
I share Mark Twain's aversion to all things royal. In a collection of his letters and essays he wrote upon completing The Prince And The Pauper
, that it was finished and that he could not have indicted the royal family any better than if he had A Pen Warmed-Up In Hell
As the father of four children, I have read many nursery tales in my time, and have always resented that so many extolled the virtues of kings and queens, princes and princesses. Well, there was one exception - Pickle Chiffon Pie
- but, that was another story. What follows is my feeble attempt to pillory families royal...
ONCE UPON A TIME there was a place with no name. It was populated by people with names made up of grunts, whistles, and snorts. It was a really long time ago.
One man – let's call him Cedric, his actual name can't be written using ABCs – Cedric was full of ideas, but no one paid attention. They were too busy competing for the place's limited supply of food and water. Cedric was a small man with a very large head, easily brushed aside.
So, Cedric went to the biggest, dumbest man in that place – let's call him Bruno, same reason – and began taking food and water to gain Bruno's favor.
Bruno protected Cedric from the other people, and Cedric made Bruno a hat. It wasn't any ordinary hat. Of course, no one else wore a hat in that time and place. They might drape a leaf or an animal skin over their head, but few did as it made them look silly and others laughed at them. Cedric decorated Bruno's hat with fancy baubles, mostly colorful rocks and leaves that he had gathered. No one laughed at Bruno.
People pointed at the hat and asked, “What that?” and Cedric named it, “Crown.”
“What 'crown' for?” they asked.
“Bruno king,” Cedric replied importantly.
“What king?” they asked.
Cedric leaned close to Bruno and whispered. The large man lumbered to his nearest neighbor and beat him to a pulp. No one dared intervene.
“King nasty,” the assembled crowd observed.
With various whistles, snorts, and grunts as well as ample gestures, Cedric explained that the man had been beaten because he didn't pay his taxes.
“What 'taxes',” they asked.
Again, Cedric used their crude language to explain that everything in that place now belonged to King Bruno and that anyone who didn't share whatever they killed or gathered with the King would receive the same treatment. Everyone hurried to their hovels and returned with a share of what they had killed and gathered to pay their taxes, and life was again peaceful in that place. Bruno grew in strength and girth, and was never bothered again with having to kill or gather food. Neither was Cedric.
Cedric amended the tax laws several times in the following days to include fuel for the King's fire and a much improved hovel, bigger and better than anyone else's. Of course, it included a comfortable den for Cedric.
It came to pass that one of the people's daughters matured into a comely wench whom Cedric coveted, and he used the King's power to make her a part of their household. Unfortunately, Bruno was also attracted to the girl and took her as his mate, making Cedric extremely unhappy.
Cedric went to the people and tried to stir them into rebellion, but they had long ago figured out that he was the actual source of the new arrangement that they really didn't like, and they refused to help him. Bruno caught wind of Cedric's plot and beat him to a pulp.
Cedric became an outcast, living of the edge of the primitive society where he kept his ideas to himself.
Bruno's mate bore him many boys who became large and stupid princes. Since only one could inherit Bruno's crown, the others traveled to other nearby villages and propagated Cedric's system and insured that all had a fair share of village idiots. Thus, Bruno and his progeny lived happily ever after.
SEA SCOUTING in the 1950s was hard work. Seriously, hard work. I didn't get to “ride” on a boat until I had invested at least three months scraping, sanding, caulking, and painting the hulls of four boats – a combined one hundred and twenty-eight feet of hulls from keel to gunwales (where the deck meets the side). Then we had to clean and paint the cabins, and sand and varnish the brightwork (handrails and other natural wood trim). There were brass to polish and engines to service, sails to sew and bilges to clean. As I said, seriously hard work.
Crashboat being launched
There were fewer and ten of us who met regularly each Saturday to work on the boats. I suppose it was my willingness to show up and put in the effort that quickly won me a place in their ranks. For my part, I was thrilled to find people, the skipper and the senior boys, who had the patience to teach me the skills that I needed and frequently complimented my work. That was a unique experience for me.
The Skipper inspected our work product, but the older boys taught me the skills and corrected my mistakes. Thus, I learned to “pass it on” was a key element of Sea Scouting. Almost every skill I learned, I learned from my peers. In turn, I taught those who followed me as I gained experience. It was a lesson that has served me well all my life. How much better would the world be if everyone shared that philosophy.
Few of today's Sea Scouts have wooden boats. Most are plastic and they have been deprived of that experience. Indeed, as an adult Sea Scout – I skippered ships for my children and their friends as well as youth-at-risk (gang kids serving time in juvenile detention facilities) I have often wondered how many would hang around if they had to work like we did back then. Unfortunately, they are growing up in a world of entitlements and guarantees. What will happen when society can no longer afford them?
Do I sound old and crotchety? Speak up! I can't hear you...
THE COLLABORATING AUTHORS of The Writers Collection sat around their virtual conference table. Some were sipping coffee or tea. A couple had snacks handy and at least one was pouring liberal doses of something suspiciously hard over ice cubes he had extracted from an insulated bucket that he kept off screen. He reached forward towards the screen with a grease pencil in hand and did something the others couldn't see. Most had never seen a grease pencil before. All wondered what he was doing with it.
At least two were scowling at Tony's portion of the mosaic that presented all the writers within individual tiles. He was the one who had provided this week's topic.
“Brotherswater!” Jack exclaimed. “What the hell is that?”
“Google it,” Tony replied patiently.
“I did,” Jack replied.
“We all did,” Nancy chimed in.
“So, then you know its a small lake in Cumbria,” Tony said.
Phillip Catshill nodded in agreement. He too was a Brit.
“Yeah, yeah,” Jack interrupted, “and two brothers drowned there.”
“So, what's your problem?” Tony asked and sighed his exasperation.
“Okay,” Jack challenged, “you write about one and Phillip'll write about the other. What's everybody else going to write about?”
Jack reached for the screen again with his grease pencil and everyone else continued to wonder what he was doing. What they couldn't see was that he had covered his monitor with a sheet of plastic salvaged from the Winky-Dink and You Kit that he saved from his childhood. Winky-Dink and You aired during the 50s and featured pauses in the action during which viewers were instructed add simple lines to complete the scenes on their TV screens. For example, the kids drew a bridge across a chasm so that Winky-Dink could cross safely to the other side. Jack was using it to draw funny faces over Tony's tile in the array of writers.
Dennis spoke up as leader of the group, asserting his authority as only a veteran Marine can. “Okay, everyone, let's keep it to the point. We all agreed to write on random subjects that each of you contributed.”
“What's that?” Dennis asked.
“Well then,” Dennis concluded, “see you all same time, same place, next week.”
The tiles went dark in quick succession on Jack's computer monitor as each writer disconnected. Only his overlays from Tony's tile remained, and Jack smiled as he filled them in with warts and unflattering hairs growing from his ears and nose.
He launched Open Office, opened a new text document, typed “Brotherswater” at the top of the page, and sat mutely for several minutes.
“What the hell,” he commented to no one and left the room.
Going to the kitchen he placed a cup of water in the microwave and started it on high for four minutes. He turned to his coffee grinder freshly filled with beans. His order had just arrived yesterday from the Koa Plantation on the big island in Hawaii and he smiled as he studied them. They looked like shiny black, legless beetles in the jar atop the grinder but fell in a coarse stream into his french press. He closed his eyes as he breathed deeply from the aroma. He had high hopes for the commercial success of his first novel, recently published, Rebels on the Mountain, and had treated himself to the coffee, ordering for the first time after suffering with mediocre coffee over the past two years while he was writing it.
Jack returned to his computer with the freshly brewed cup of coffee in hand and sipped slowly after sitting down. He knew that the bliss would pass when the coffee was finished and he had to tackle the challenge of writing something about “Brotherswater.”
“Damn,” he thought to himself.
Slowly, a smile broke out across his face. He leaned forward and cracked his knuckles before placing his fingers on the keyboard.
“I hid a dead rat in the toe of my brother Tony's boot when he was eight years old, and he didn't find it until he tried to put it on,” he typed. “It was the first time that I made my brotherwater trickle down his leg...”