Friday, May 02, 2008

Good Recent Reads

Despite my last post about learning from bad books, I’ve been reading good books lately. I just finished two worth mentioning. The first is Texas Wind by James Reasoner. This book was originally published by Manor Books in 1980 but that tiny publisher faded rapidly into obscurity. It was reissued in 2004 by PointBlank, an imprint of Wildside. I picked this up because I know the author personally, but when I started it I could hardly put it down. It’s short, 142 pages, and a wonderful read with a very modern series of twists and turns. It’s definitely from the hard-boiled genre, but the hero detective, Cody, is no stereotype. He doesn’t booze it up and he collects books and western art of the likes of Frederic Remington. He’s a bit softer edged than the average hard-boiled detective but he’s one tough fellow and I’d love to see him in more adventures. Only the fact that it was published by such a small press originally must have kept this from becoming a series.

A while back I read Dust Devils, also by James Reasoner. It’s a similar noir thriller with even more twists that was written in 2007 and also published by PointBlank. It’s also very good and I highly recommend it, but I think I liked Texas Wind a bit better. And in an odd bit of synchronicity, Travis Erwin posted about the real Texas “wind” on the same day as I finished the book.

The second good book I read recently, finishing it on Wednesday, was The Last Guardian by David Gemmell. This is fourth in a series called “The Stones of Power,” and so you might want to start with the first one, which is called Ghost King. This is actually a pretty far ranging series, though, so you could easily start with book 3, Wolf in Shadow, which is the first to feature the character of Jon Shannow, a kind of futuristic gunfighter who reminds me a fair amount of Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane. Shannow is a tormented character, a man of God and of violence who fights to rid evil from the land after the “Fall,” an event that destroyed Earth’s current civilization. I like the Shannow character quite a bit and am currently reading the fifth book in the series, Bloodstone, which also features Shannow.

One point of interest, in these books the “Stones of Power” are stones called Sipstrassi and they are in some ways similar to the Milkstones from my Taleran series. They are also capable of opening gates between worlds, for example, and of working magic. They are generally much more powerful than my milkstones, however. Although the Taleran series was published in book form well after the first “Stones of Power” book came out, Swords of Talera was written quite a bit earlier and the milkstones are a completely independent construction, not related at all to or influenced by the Sipstrassi stones. I didn’t discover or read the first “Stones of Power” book until the late 1990s while “Swords” was written in 1986. It’s weird, though, that two independent constructions could show such interesting similarities.

In wild, student-request news, I received an email from a student who missed the first week and a half of class, then missed two of three in-class chances to get extra credit, and missed close to half the total classes in a course where class participation is counted, telling me how surprised she was that she got a “B” when she was expecting an “A.” Since she blew off the first week and a half she missed a test and I had to literally force her to write me an explanation as to why she missed before I’d give her a make-up. She finally admitted in writing that she had no reason. She just hadn’t come. But she’s surprised she didn’t get an “A.” Sadly enough, I’m not surprised by her surprise.


Randy Johnson said...

I have to agree that Texas Wind and Dust Devils are two fine novels well worth a look by anyone who hasn't read them. It's been many years since I read anything by Gemmel.

Erik Donald France said...

Good reviews, and about those "surprised" students,
crazy, eh?

Heff said...

I'm not much into books, but after eating beans I once released an audio tape entitled "Alabama Wind".

Michelle's Spell said...

I'm so glad the semester is coming to an end. I love my darlings, but am feeling very burned out. Surprised indeed! I'm surprised when they don't realize that the grades I give them are usually extremely inflated. And that I could give a rat's ass about grades. All that matters for my students is that if they're writing or not.

Lisa said...

I continue to be surprised lately at the expectations of under achievers. Why do people who do half-assed work expect to be rewarded?

Mary Witzl said...

Yep -- I had students like that too. I used to wonder what it would take to get my point across; clear, carefully enunciated instructions backed up by numerous written messages were not enough. One girl could not for the life of her see why she shouldn't go up to the next level. Yes, she'd missed over half of the classes. Yes, her completed assignments were pitiful and usually turned in late. But hey, her parents had paid her tuition fees!

Charles Gramlich said...

Randy, well that's too long. Where Gemmell is concerned that is. If you haven't read "The Sword of Night and Day," I recommend it heartily.

Erik, crazy for sure. Insane even.

Heff, were you a session player for Spinal Tap when they did the "Break like the Wind" album?

Michelle, I gave my class a short lecture on why grades are not important this year. You should have seen the eye rolling.

Lisa, you and me both.

Mary Witzl, they really do seem to be consumer driven. If they pay fees the grades should come as a result of the payment, not in response to performance.

Travis Cody said...

With student attitudes like that, some will soon be wondering why the degrees aren't simply mailed to them along with the acceptance letter to the university!

I have a couple of books by Gemmell, but it's been so long since I read them.

Donnetta said...

Good reviews, Charles. And that student! I think I shared with you before the hubby ran into this phenomena when he was teaching at the university. Give me, give me attitude.

the walking man said...

The blizzard called geepeeayA. How come none seem interested in it at the start of class but it is sooo important at the end. ha ha ha! Slay on wind walker!

I know what you mean about the finding similarities in work produced in different places and times, Charles. While not a similar fantasy write as your milkstones and Sipstrassi. Had a very similar thing happen when I wrote the first of two that totaled 160k.

Well after it was done I read of two serial killers who had done very much the same as mine did. Sadly theirs was reality, but I had no knowledge of them or their misdeeds until well after the books were shelved.

I guess it is just being plugged into the universal consciousness.

*Shrugging* Peace


Sam said...

Those look like good books.
I think I learn more from watching bad movies than reading bad books. Only because the bad books get chucked into the trash before I finish them, thus no lessons learned; whereas movies I usually stay until the end, and it's easier to see where the mistakes were made. (plotting, pacing, ending, characterization, etc.)

laughingwolf said...

have not heard of reasoner, but will look for his books

gemmell rings a bell, though

as for 'stones', some folk got em! :O lol

missing all those classes, and more... she still got a 'b'? THAT surprises me... she'd have flunked out, here, esp after the confession!

Lana Gramlich said...

Ironically, "Point Blank" was the name of our literary magazine in Jr. High (which I had at least one poem & some art it.)
Students are stupid. That's why both words start the same way. *huggles*

laughingwolf said...

good'un, thx lana :) lol

Charles Gramlich said...

Travis, some faculty members joke that they should be given a college diploma when they're born. Just get it out of the way and then see if they do anything.

Donnetta Lee, I'm giving another test today so more is coming for me.

Mark, yeah, what the Germans call Zeitgeist. It happens in science too.

Sam, good point. I watch a fair number of bad movies myself. I have the SciFi channel after all.

Laughingwolf, our students are pretty sophisticated in some ways. They have "assigned" attendees, students who come to class and take notes and then copy them for everyone else in the group. That means they can often do pretty well on tests. But they miscalculated about the classroom participation in this class. It's happened several times before.

Lana, yes, quite a good one. You are sweet.

writtenwyrdd said...

That student is probably more typical than not, and that's a shame. She's lucky she got a B if she missed around a quarter of the classes and a test!

Cha Cha said...


If you were my English professor, I'd be set.

I'm never late.

I haven't missed a class.

My assignments are always on-time.

I actually TAKE notes, unlike everyone else in the class.

I'm prepared, have my books with me, and do the readings.

And YOU offer chanceS for extra credit!

Very cool.

Unfortunately, I have the English professor that I have.

And I must sit here and pray that my research paper has pleased her in some way.

Last semester, though, my prof was a dream.

And I learned quite a bit.

Outside of school, however, I LIVE by the wondrous wisdom served up by Spinal Tap. Because, CERTAINLY, in the topsy-turvy world of heavy rock, having a good solid piece of wood in your hand is often useful.

laughingwolf said...

thx for that update, bro :)

Chris Eldin said...

I'm definitely going to look for Texas Wind. The MC sounds interesting and well-developed.
Thanks for the reviews!

Chris Eldin said...

I just read your last paragraph.

Between your stories and Ellos stories, I'm thinking the upcoming generation is a lazy-ass group of people.
Reminds me of going to a local sandwich shop last summer. Four teenagers working the counter, just hanging out and talking and nobody tending to the customers.

I'd have been much harder with the grade.

Charles Gramlich said...

Writtenwyrd, this particular class is a Capstone class, which consists of discussion of a lot of material the students should already know the basics of. That and that fact that they have designated note takers helped her considerably.

Strumpet, I'm always very clear to students about what they need to do. Most of them appreciate it but some try to take advantage. The extra credit in this case was offered partly because they did so horribly on average on the first test. Thanks for dropping by. I'll just say, "metal rules."

Laughingwolf, no prob.

Chris Eldin, they are the "entitled" generation, entitled to anything they want with the least amount of effort.

Shauna Roberts said...

Your students sound like my husband's. One student who complained about his grade last quarter hadn't attended a single class (he had signed up for the class even though he knew he wouldn't be able to go because it was during his work hours).

Charles Gramlich said...

Shauna, in what possible world could "anyone" see that as a reasonable approach to taking a class? We must be living in an movie or something. Such things can't be real.

Shauna Roberts said...

The saddest part is, so many students make up stories about why they missed the exam or didn't turn in their assignment on time that the students who really were sick or whose father really did have quadruple bypass surgery (reasons my husband heard last week from some of those who missed the midterm) get treated like the people with fake excuses. I suspect many professors would cut some slack for people with emergencies if they could tell which ones they were.

Rachel V. Olivier said...

A "B" is still a respectable grade and she should be happy with that considering all the time she missed.