The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason

This book was described to me as the “smart person’s version of The Da Vinci Code.”  Since I’ve only read The Rule of Four, I can’t compare the two books for you and let you know if the description is true or not.  What I can tell you is that this book kept my attention almost nonstop.

This is the first book co-written by long-time friends Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason.  It’s been sitting on my TBR pile for many years.  The main character, Tom Sullivan, grew up in Columbus, Ohio.  I tried to research how the Columbus connection came into the book but could not link Caldwell or Thomason to Columbus at all.  However it happened I have to give them credit for getting the details right.  In one instance, they describe an Edward Hopper painting included in a Columbus Museum of Art calendar.  There is no possibility it could be mistaken for any painting other than Morning Sun

Tom Sullivan is a senior at Princeton University living on campus with his three roommates.  They are Paul Harris, Charlie Freeman and Gil Rankin.  Tom’s father devoted his life to trying to decipher the secret behind the book Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.  Paul has made the book the topic of his senior thesis.  Tom assists Paul but keeps backing away from the commitment; he’s seen firsthand what the obsession did to his father and what the senior thesis is now doing to Paul.  Tom doesn’t want it ruining his life too.  Charlie is a premed major and the moral compass of the roommates.  Gil is the roommate with all the “right” connections who wants to do his own thing but places a high value on his friendships.  The title of the book refers to the four roommates and a system of measurement.

Some people will find the book dreary and others will find it exciting.  Looking at the Amazon reviews people either love this book or hate it.  The story begins on Easter weekend.  In the first ten chapters only one or two hours of the weekend have passed but the roommates have all been introduced, been chased through some underground tunnels, and lost their pursuers in the Nude Olympics crowd.  Murder, academic intrigues, cracked codes and more follow in the remaining chapters.  There was one bit in the timeline about three-fourths of the way in the book where I got lost and that is when my attention wavered a bit.  However, soon things got back on track.  The ending wasn’t a surprise but it was satisfying.

Somewhere on the internet I read Caldwell and Thomason were working on a second novel together.  It hasn’t been released so it can be assumed it wasn’t finished or wasn’t picked up by a publisher.  It’s too bad; after finally reading their debut novel I was looking forward to their sophomore effort.

Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin

Steve Martin is known in the publishing world for his fiction books so this was a little bit of a departure.  In Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life he chronicles his stand-up career beginning with how he got his start in show business and ending with his decision to pack it all away.  Literally. 

Steve Martin is a private person and the book offers up information on why he tries to keep his personal life separate from his public persona.  The tone is honest, nostalgic, and somewhat detached.  It’s obvious he’s moved on to other things in his life so it would be foolhardy to believe he’d do “one last tour” like so many bands that broke up decades ago.  The book answers questions that I wouldn’t have come up with on my own.  I was too young to watch Saturday Night Live or The Tonight Show when he had his stand-up career so my first exposure to him was through his movies.  One of those questions includes, “Why the white suit?” 

It was difficult to put down; I read it in one weekend.  It is my wish that one day he’ll tackle the subject of his varied writing career with the same regard he’s given his stand-up career.

Heat By Bill Buford

Two weekends ago I finally finished Heat and I’m going to stick with my initial assessment of it.  Anyone interested in behind the scenes information about restaurant kitchens should find this book to their liking.  It gives great insight into family meals and the hierarchies used to make a kitchen run well.  This is written for a reader and not someone who spends most of their day in a restaurant.

Buford shows his ability to laugh at himself when he writes about his adventures.  Some of the situations are humorous because he’s out of his comfort zone or can’t understand why his mentors behave in a specific way.

While in Italy he learns how to make pasta and be a butcher.  Buford comes across as an advocate for the slow food movement based on these experiences.  On the surface this appears to be a contradiction to the fast pace of his work in Batali’s retaurant kitchen.  Think about it though… a fine dining establishment is going to use the freshest ingredients possible.  Even better from a business point of view, the restaurant will have to pay less if the ingredients are local.  The restaurant is going to use as much of the ingredients as possible leaving little waste.  It’s often more cost effective to make pasta from scratch instead of using dry pasta. 

By the end, one wonders if Buford has figured out he’s an advocate for the slow food movement.

How Many Books Can You Read?

How often do you finish reading a book?  Some people are naturally fast readers, some never seem to find the time and others just fall asleep as soon as the pages fall open.  Everyone seems to have a different rate depending on the hours that can be spent reading (jobs and kids seem to be common obstacles).

On one of my internet groups about writing/publishing/marketing some of us reviewers were sharing stories on how we began writing reviews.  And of course we compared other information like what types of things we’ll review and how many books we can read in a month. 

I was astounded someone could find the time to read six.  When I’m reading at a fast pace, I can read a book during a weekend.  Otherwise one book usually takes a week or two.  Until July I never really kept count so I’m interested in what the rest of the year will tell me.  (I have no head for numbers or statistics but I like looking at them!)  The reviews almost always take longer to write than it did to read the book.

What about you?  What kind of reader are you?

Bring On The Heat!

What a shame my culinary curiosity was almost non-existent in my youth.  The last few years I’ve been more interested in food and how to prepare it.  I’m really more of a baker than a cook because I really prefer to mix everything together, stick it in the oven, do something else for how ever many minutes, take it out to cool and find my work is almost done.  With the new house I’ve been more interested in cooking than baking.  I bought new pots and pans and have certainly had my trials cooking with gas instead of electric.

I began watching Top Chef  when season 1 was nearly finished and thus began my love affair with food reality television.  Before long followed The Next Food Network Star season 3 (honestly, I wanted Amy Finley to win before I even knew she had a corgi), Kitchen Nightmares (though I really don’t want to know what’s in those refrigerators) and Hell’s Kitchen (mostly seen in reruns).  Admittedly, I can only learn so much about cooking and flavors from these shows.  They’ve given me a new appreciation for what happens after I order food in a restaurant.

Since my earlier tally I’ve been reading like a fiend.  One of the books I’m presently reading is Heat by Bill Buford.  He goes to extremes to learn how to really cook.  Buford works for free in a New York three-star restaurant, eventually learns Italian and travels to Italy.  I’m about half way through the book.  His misadventures are relayed with humor.  If you’re a foodie this book may not be enjoyable since it’s focused more on working in a restaurant than about the food.  It’s answered my question though of how all those reality tv contests can work without timers.

May 2008

No depression allowed for how May turned out! I completed my writing challenge (which I’ll write more about tomorrow) and my latest book review for Niteblade hit the internet late last night.

These statistics are all for short stories or poems. Book reviews are not included.

  1. Sales in May: 0
  2. Rejections in May: 1 and 1 assumed
  3. Submissions sent out in May: 1
  4. Total stories/poems pending responses: 4

Pending responses include two poems to one market, a drabble under consideration at one market, and a short story under consideration at another market.  The assumed rejection is for a short story I sent out last October.  The response time given by the editor was six months but it came and went with no response to the submission or my query so I’ve assumed rejection and withdrawn it from the market. 

The important thing to remember is to keep writing and if I want my work published to keep submitting it.

Published Book Review and Updates

The March 2008 issue of Niteblade came out yesterday with my book review of T.C. McMullen’s novel, The Unseen, which is the first book of her Manipulated Evil Series.  Rhonda Parrish put together another great issue.

In other news… Today the ten finalists for the Amazon Break Through Novel Award were announced.  In order to vote you must provide feedback on the selections.  The excerpts for this round are longer so if you gave feedback the first time around you are allowed to provide feedback for this round also.  I know for the semi-finalist round I was overwhelmed by all of the choices to read.  I read several with the intent of letting them brew for a few days before providing feedback and the next thing I knew… it was March.

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

About three years ago I met Elmore Hammes at a local NaNoWriMo kickoff party.  He’s impressed me with the number of novels he can churn out each year and with the quality of his writing.  Elmore’s been published in The First Line and submitted one of his novels for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.  I received an email from Elmore today to find out that from 5,000 entries, Elmore is a one of the 800 semi-finalists.  An excerpt of Elmore’s novel can be found on Amazon here.

Amazon customers can read excerpts of the semi-finalists and provide customer reviews until March 2nd.  Finalists will be announced on March 3rd.  If you review the excerpts you’re in the running for a prize package of goodies.  It looks like the catch is that you have to provide at least 25 reviews.  Think of it this way… if you do one review a day you’ll be in the running for the prize package before you know it!

Reviews Done and Preditors and Editors Poll

This week I’ve managed to finish two book reviews and send them off to the editors.  I have one more book review assigned to me to finish.  Once it’s complete, all my assigned book reviews will be off my plate so I can work on some new fiction.

The Preditors and Editors polls for 2007 close tomorrow.  The site serves as a resource for writers.  While looking through the nominees I found many familiar names.  I recognized them from editors/writers I work with and as presenters from the 2007 Muse Writing Conference.  It’s good to work with such highly regarded people!