Friday, July 27, 2007

The Religion by Tm Willocks

I started on this about 2 days ago and am utterly enchanted. It is so well written by someone who clearly loves what he is doing. His research shows in suble ways and I have yet to find an information dump so blatant and boring it wants to make you pluck out his hair.
The main character, Mattias, reminds me strongly of the character created by Louis L'Amour in The Walking Drum. In fact, if there was to be a follow up novel for the Walking Drum, I would suggest Tim Willocks should apply. He writes with an easy and engaging grace. His characters are palpable and real and funny and genuinely surprising.
I really look forward to reading the rest of the book and will report back!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Wanna be a writer?

I have got a large bookshelf stocked with writing reference books, from Stephen King to Terry Brooks to various Writers Digest books, Orson Scott Card and Lisa Tuttle. On various subjects - middles, ends, characters, dialogue, structure - and so on.

But none of them are as funny and rib-crackingly hilarious as Wanna be a writer by Jane Wenham Jones. I picked this up a few weeks ago and am planning to buy it for all and sundry - even those friends of mine who do not write.

If you've ever wondered, as a non-writer / non-potential writer, what it takes to sit down behind a laptop or desktop computer, or if there are pitfalls to being a writer (such as writers butt), or why some potential or existing writers tend to be able to sit for ages, staring off into the distance with a vapid expressions, then this is the book to solve all those mysteries and then some.

Packed from cover to cover with clever advice, intelligent and pertinent comments for modern writers, this is a true treasure of a book. It inspired me to pack myself off to my local Waterstones' cafe to sit and write, which I did. Several short stories were born in due course.
Ms. Wenham Jones uses her skill as talented writer and humourist to bring reality to the profession sometimes seen as monotonous and dreary. It lifts the lid on our insecurities, our paranoia and what we would do to get our books published. But it is done with such style and good humour I am sure it would find a cross-over market for those who like reading books, i.e. everyone then!
I have several writerly friends who will be getting a copy for this as "random present" very shortly.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

City of Bones, Cassandra Clare

If you are a fan of Holly Black, Lilith Saintcrow, Jim Butcher and other urban / modern fantasy writers, this will be right up your street. The book is a YA novel and circles around a young girl, Clarissa Fray, who sees things that really should not be there. A teenager gets killed infront of her, in a nightclub and disappears/evaporates...and it isn't long before she disappears down the rabbit hole herself. Her mother disappears, she discovers some nasty things about her family and that there is a an age old war being fought between forces of light and dark, which humans are unaware of.
The novel started off, a bit self-consciously, with Clary struggling to find her voice - does that make sense? - but once the author manages to get a hold of the protagonist, it is a roller-coaster ride of rollicking goodness. Complete over the top dialogue, if you liked Buffy or Angel, you would love the one-liners in this, set pieces that sizzle and make you gasp in sheer delight. I think, it would film fantastically well. I can imagine Guilermo del Toro directing it though, as he did an excellent job with Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth. The supporting cast to Clary's adventure is a mixed bunch - the beautiful and deadly Isabella, her brother Alec who is the one to watch for spectacular revelations and then there is Jace who is partly modelled on every bad boy you can dream of. Beautiful, deadly and oh so very funny and complete aware of how over the top and seemingly self-centered he is.
I really am looking forward to the second novel, due out next year only. Tsk. But I can wait.

The Thirteenth Apostle, MIchel Benoit

I recently bought a copy of this book, purely on the name and the cover. I skimmed the back and definitely didn't read the author's bio at the back of the page. I am a sucker for books like this and am a huge Umberto Eco fan, so when I saw it was recommended as being in the similar vein as The Name of the Rose, I was sold.

I only today started reading it. I have great hopes for it. You can tell, from the word "go" that it is on a vastly different level than Dan Brown's work, Sam Bourne or Mr. Sussman's. This is written by a scholar, for people who enjoy reading, words, thought and mystery.

This from the publisher's website, an interview with Mr. Benoit:

Michel Benoît on The Thirteenth Apostle

In 1975, having returned safe and sound from Rome, where I had spent four and a half years in a pontifical university close to the Vatican, I began to study the sources of Christianity, only to uncover a scoop: Jesus was a Jew! I had never heard this before.

If Jesus was a Jew, he lived, behaved, taught, breathed like a Jew. If Jesus was a Jew, his teachings are those of a Jew, and not of a “Christian”.

He was transformed into a God shortly after his death: where? when? how? by whom? and above all, for what reasons?

That is when I discovered the origins of a 2,000-year-old deception, the creation of an immense edifice of power (the Church) in the name of a man who had become God despite himself.
And I discovered that I was not the only one: for fifty years scholar upon scholar – Jewish, Protestant, Catholic – had been working towards the same goal – the rediscovery of the historical Jesus. They were highlevel academics, operating in complex disciplines: history, exegesis, archeology, linguistics, epigraphy…

Along the way I discovered in relation to Jesus a thirteenth apostle, who appears sporadically in religious texts. This man really existed, he presents himself in the Gospel according to St John as a close friend of Jesus.

He plays a crucial role in the final weeks of the life of the man from Galilea. However his existence and even his name have been erased from all the texts and from western memory.
Why? Did he know something that must be hidden at all costs? Was he that dangerous?

I have been on his trail, as a scholar interested in historical truth. He seems to have been linked to the Essenians, and his legacy has begotten a movement which has persisted throughout the centuries up to our times: gnosticism.

This had all the elements of a thriller. As opposed to Dan Brown, mine is solidly based on historical research. I have drawn on this material to imagine what would have gone happened if this man had left behind an epistle in which he revealed the truth about Jesus.

This letter does not exist, but could have existed. Fiction completes history, as long as it respects probability: sè non è vero, è ben trovato – if it is not true, it is well imagined.

The only thing that was left to do was to let the bombshell detonate. It places the Vatican in a perilous position, as its power derives from the foundation myths of Christianity. It is also worrying for the established Jewish and Muslim faiths, for whom Jesus is a troublesome figure. As for my description of the behaviour inside the Vatican (plots, lies, manipulations, sex and money), it is actually an understatement of the reality that I have encountered.

For Roman Catholics, this book is dangerous because it tells what must be silenced. For Muslims it is unacceptable because it describes (briefly) the true birth of the Koran.

For those who are seeking clarity after centuries of lies, it is enlightening. For those who enjoy juicy stories, it is refreshing.The author does not yet wear a bulletproof vest, but he is seriously considering renting one.

I have come to notice a new refrain in books like this now - gone is the whole Jesus was married to Magdalene and they had a child and it that is what the grail is all about. The more - how can I put this? - levelheaded thinking is: Jesus was just a man. A talented man, like many other miracle workers of his day. He had a following, he had disciples, but so did Simon the Magus. One of two things happened: someone decided to give the Jewish people their Messiah. They turned this man Jesus into their saviour, they bound people together in faith, so that they could be controlled. Which, if you think about it, is the way religion has always acted - as a control to its subjects - don't read that, it is evil, don't think that, it is blasphemy. It is what countless wars have been fought over. It is alarming to think about. A new line of thought - that he was just a man who had gained enough popularity among the already troublesome populace that someone like the Roman emperor / one of the "messiah's" followers thought that this was a good way to bind people together - give them their martyr, give them a miracle so astounding, that they would follow and fall into line.

So. As a hobbyist theologian and a studier of all things interesting and mindblowing, I am really looking forward to see how the book develops. It sounds amazing and I will probably sit up all night reading it. Because I am a nerd and I like a mystery.

I am happy to give this eight out ten stars so far. It opens as scenic as you could wish a luscious epic could.