Top Ten Essential Reads

one flew over the cuckoo's nest

#1 – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

Growing up, my siblings and I had recorded this movie off of television and would watch it three or four times a year. I always considered it one of the best movies ever made, but then someone told me that the book was so much better. I didn’t give it much thought because the book is always better, but eventually I found a used copy and bought it for a dollar. After reading the book, I could never sit down and watch the movie again. Ken Kesey’s words made me laugh and I saw the importance of civil disobedience. The book became an anthem for me, and I later found out it was the bible for the counter-culture movement. It was the perfect book for what was going on in the nation at that time, and I see its relevance again. It will just take a McMurphy to stir up trouble and motivate us to fight against the Combine that is holding us back. I never get tired of this story, and will laugh as hard the next time I pick it up to read as I did the first time I read it. Purely amazing.

the invisible man

#2 – Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

You cannot help but to be moved when you read this book. Its profound message slams you in the face and lingers there for the rest of your life. Following the narrator as he tries to find himself in a world of prejudice people makes you wonder if you are him and he is you. It doesn’t matter that the narrator is an African-American living in the 1930s because the way Ralph Ellison portrays his story, you can empathize with his every move as he navigates his young life. I have not met one person who has read this book that has not been moved by its story, and sadly enough not enough people know of its existence. This is the great American novel that everybody talks about, and everybody needs to read it.

the lord of the rings

#3 – The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Some of you are probably going to argue that this is a trilogy and not just one book, but I am going to argue back that J.R.R. Tolkien never intended this to be three books. It was written as one book and the publisher broke it up into three novels. In fact Tolkien hated the name of the last book, The Return of the King, because it gave away the ending to the story. I would even go as far as to argue that The Hobbit and The Silmarillion should also be included under this title because Tolkien was not just writing a story but instead a history of Middle Earth and the linguistics that could be found among its inhabitants. It is just one story. But if I was forced to just look at one novel to represent the whole history, it would have to be this one. When I married, my wife showed me her wonderful hardback copy much like the one in the picture. I have often opened it up at random spots and just enjoyed the story from where I found myself. It is a lot like a bible to me, and there are many lessons to be learned from its pages such as the evil of addiction to power, how important hope is to us, and why death is something that we must all accept in our lifetimes. Many people will say that they would love to read this trilogy at least one in their lifetime, but I am here to say that once in your lifetime is not enough for this epic. It will always be one of my all-time favorites.

life of pi

#4 – Life of Pi by Yann Martel

At the time I picked up this book to read, I had been reading a lot of stories centered around religion and mythology and I wanted to find something a little lighter. I was not prepared for what I found. I had no idea that a story about an Indian boy surviving out on sea for over two hundred days on a life raft with a three-hundred and fifty pound Bengal tiger would be one of the deepest stories I had ever read. It is the better story and explains religion more thoroughly than any of the previous books I have read on the subject. If more people would pick up this book and understand the meaning behind it, we might not have as much fighting going on in the world. I loved this book so much that it has been the only story I have finished and then immediately sat down to read it again. It has that much power behind it.

the trial

#5 – The Trial by Franz Kafka

Do you ever believe that you are living in a bizarre Kafkaesque landscape in which some omnipotent power is guiding you through the surreal existence that you live in? Has logic been thrown out the window only to be scraped off the ground and presented back to you in a way that only makes sense to the holder of the logic? Do you wonder where this feeling originated? Then you need to read The Trial by Franz Kafka, and still the answers will never be presented to you. In this story that helped coin the term named after the author, Josef K. wakes up on his thirtieth birthday to be arrested for a crime which he is not aware of ever committing. Things get even worse for our protagonist because nobody will ever enlighten him to what his crime actually was, but he must stand trial for it anyway. It is a profound metaphor for modern life and its eerie parallel to everyone’s lives make it a must read. Just beware, it will leave you with more questions than it answers.

Slaughterhouse Five

#6 – Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

I have taught this novel five or six times in my tenure as an English teacher, and it has always been my favorite book to teach, especially when the students hit that moment when they realize what the book is actually about. There has never been another book like it, and if anybody attempts to write something as profound, it will be nothing more than an imitation. This book will make you laugh and make you think at the same time. People might disagree with me, but this is the most accurate portrayal of war ever written, and Kurt Vonnegut was able to bring to light the problem of PTSD long before they ever coined the term PTSD. If you have not read this book yet, read it, have somebody explain it to you, and then read it again because every time you pick this novel up you will see something new.

 

crime and punishment

#7 – Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

A very profound look at the power of guilt. Dostoyevsky asks the question whether any outside force can ever punish us the way we can punish ourselves for the crimes that we have committed. The pains that we inflict upon others can never be justified in our minds, and the only way we can overcome our pasts is to face the wrongdoings we have inflicted upon others. Never has a story about an axe-murderer had so much power as has this classic by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

pillars of the earth

#8 – Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

When I picked up this book I didn’t have any expectations. I just knew that it was long and I needed something to entertain me while I was on a fifty day backpacking trip through Europe. I didn’t even know what it was about. The book was an orphan (a book left behind at the airport I worked at) and I thought why not give it a try. On the plane ride to London, I quickly learned the treasure that fell into my lap. There was no better book I could have picked as I toured the landscape of Europe, and visited its many sites and cathedrals. It explained all of the wonderful things I was seeing and brought them to life. The story allowed me to appreciate architecture and the lifestyles of those who lived during Medieval Times. It also showed me the way that politics took place during this time of the world. I have read a lot of historical fiction since then and none of them have ever reached the heights that The Pillars of the Earth have.

1984

#9 – 1984 by George Orwell

If you have read A Brave New World, you need to read 1984 as well. It will make you wonder which world it is we are actually living in. The strange thing is that both of these books are so relevant that their positions may flip at any time on this list. Unfortunately, I believe that we are living in an Orwellian society at this time. We are under constant watch by the state. Texting is dumbing down the English language. 24-hour media changes the dialogue in obvious hypocritical ways in order to fit their current agenda. We are distracted by issues that really have no relevance in order to keep the same people in power, and we must be in constant war in order to keep us in a state of fear and compliance. It is a bleak world, but similar to the one we live in. Others might disagree with the assessment, but in order to participate in this modern debate, you must read both books.

Brave New World

#10 – A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

I had a hard time deciding which book was more important in this day and age, A Brave New World, or 1984. It is obvious that we are living in a dystopian society, but the question is which one. That is why this is a very important read to add insight into the world that we inhabit. We are products of our class and unable to achieve anything greater. We have also been conditioned to believe that the class we have been born into is the only one we will feel comfortable in. If we ever feel that something is wrong, we can always run for the comfort of sex, or soma. Our media is also about quick blurbs that are easily remembered and devoid of any meaning, but always promoting the importance of consumption. It is a Brave New World we live in and the most dangerous thing that could bring down this dystopian world is if we learn how to feel and think for ourselves.

 

Hell, and God, and Nuns with Rulers

Hell and God and Nuns with Rulers full cover 2

TOP INDIE BOOK of 2015 – Britbear Books

5 Stars – In Tristan, Collings has created a character with which many teens will identify (indeed, most adults as well). Regardless of the religion in question, most of us struggle for a balance between the pious and the secular, and the ability to live our lives whilst pleasing both our parents and ourselves. And while many of us don’t grapple with the same potentially life-altering, game-changing issues as Tristan, we grapple with the issues nevertheless. That Tristan holds on and refuses to give up who he is to the pressure of others makes him not only memorable, but inspirational. – Britbear Books

5 Stars –  I was immediately blown away by the intelligent, almost satirical nature of Collings’ writing, which was straight-forward and authentic to the age and acrimony of a teenage boy. Tristan has a distinct tone—a real voice—and it is instantly potent. – Please Pass the Book

A witty suburban coming-of-age storyRedNoise

(Throughout the course of the novel, the main character, Tristan Adamson, has to write a series of essays for his Literature and Composition class. They don’t always go as well as he hopes. This particular essay he wrote gives the story its title.)

Hell, and God, and Nuns with Rulers

Some people would say that Jewish parents have cornered the market on guilt. This noble race knows better than any other type of parent how to make their children feel uncomfortable at any given moment. They can use the fires of Hell and the pains of their past to make their children feel bad when they complain about the scratchy pants they received for Hanukkah. Even though they might have pretty effective skills when dishing out guilt, the Catholics have made strong inroads with this ability. In fact, the parents of Catholic children have made so much progress in this area of expertise that they now hold the title for the best guilt trippers on the planet.

Just like the Jewish people, the Catholic parents have the fear of Hell on their side and they know how to use it. They instill it in their children at a very early age. From the moment their child can enjoy stories, these parents pull out their big old picture book of Bible stories. These books tell wonderful stories about animals going into an ark two by two, or how three wise men showed up at the birth of some random kid to give him gifts of precious metals and smelly stuff. But other stories involve what a young person’s life will be like if they are condemned to Hell. Red painted men with horns and long tails walk around with pitchforks forcing people to take leaps into big old pits of fire. Parents force their children to look at pictures of the anguished faces of people burning for all eternity while Lucifer dances behind with glee. Catholic parents will point at these pictures and tell their children, “Look what happens if you don’t brush your teeth at night.” On a side note, Catholics generally have very happy dentists.

If Catholic parents can’t scare their kids by using the devil, they can always use God. We should all fear God; at least this is what they tell children at a very early age. God will not be undone by a mere human. If He thinks someone is showing Him up in any manner, He will use His might and power to smite that person. Many Bible stories confirm this. Children’s Bibles even furnish pictures to better illustrate these messages. God threw Adam and Eve out of Eden. After Noah got on the ark, God flooded the earth. The picture in the Bible depicted men drowning as Noah sails by with a smile on his face and a cute cat in the crook of his arm. Imagine being five years old and seeing a picture of a man wearing a toga and yielding a sharp knife to stab his son, or the picture of the Hell on Earth that God created while he destroyed Sodom. These frightening pictures, combined with terrifying stories, can even help Catholic parents guilt their children into being potty-trained.

Finally, Catholic parents having something that would make the Holocaust look tame. They have nuns with rulers. There is nothing scarier on this God-given Earth than a nun with a ruler. Just one of these formidable beasts will stare down an army of highly trained super ninjas. With one crack of that ruler, it will cause those ninjas to wet their pants (they don’t have many Catholics in Japan) and run away like Shaggy and Scooby Doo being chased by some imaginary ghost. The only problem with being a Catholic child is that when faced with this dilemma, they can neither pee their pants (see earlier argument) nor run away. They must face the nun and whatever terror she may inflict upon the knuckles of said victim. Many Catholic boys and girls wake up with their knuckles aching, and they don’t even know why.

So it is obvious that even though all parents know how to use guilt trips to their advantage, no parent knows how to use them better than Catholic parents. They have many more tools at their disposal, such as: Hell, and God, and nuns with rulers. Just feel lucky you don’t have Catholics for parents.

# # #

This time Mrs. Baker went backward down the list as she talked to each student about their essays. I followed Stephen Bluestein. She started off by pointing out her pride at the fact that I could use a semicolon correctly. I guess this would mean a lot to me if I knew what a semicolon was. She then went on to explain her dissatisfaction with the fact that I couldn’t stick to the prompt. My voice and subject matter interested her but she couldn’t understand how it had anything to do with the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. She would even accept my consistently writing the five-paragraph essay if only I could stay on topic. Maybe I could stay on topic if I actually sat down and read Macbeth, but I just can’t get into Shakespeare.

She handed back my paper with a big red letter F on it. She went on to explain that she might’ve found it in her heart to give me a D if I hadn’t dismissed the Holocaust as being less terrifying than a nun with a ruler. Apparently, they never taught a theology class at the public high school she attended. She is definitely not making any brownie points. I can’t move her to the list of teachers that I like. But considering the fact that only my first grade teacher, Mrs. Flarrety, has made the list, I doubt Mrs. Baker would really care.

Alora by Megan Linski

Alora

On a scale of 1 to 10, I would give Alora a solid 9, if you are the intended audience for this book. If you are not the intended audience for this book – in other words a middle-aged man like me – then this is not the book for you, but I would still give it a 9. Why? Well, if you think about it, there is always that niece you have a difficult time buying gifts for when Christmas or her birthday comes around. With this book, you now have the perfect gift because she would be the intended audience. In which case, you would give this book a 9 too because of all the joy you brought to the loved one you gave it to.

Alora is the story of a teenage romance between August, a boy struggling to come to terms with his parents recent divorce, and Alora, an Anmortal. Anmortals have lived in this world for many years, isolated from human contact and never growing older than the age of sixteen. They live in harmony with nature, and only have contact with others when they have found their Anmortal soul mate. Alora has not found hers, but she still lives contently in the forests of Michigan. During the summer months she appears as a sixteen year old girl, but as soon as the first snow falls, she transforms into a white wolf with majestic wings that allows her to soar through the air. During one of the summers, she meets August while he is visiting his father and romance blossoms as they get to know each other better. Everything is starting to look great, but there is a danger that lurks in the Anmortals’ world, the Windcomer. The Windcomer is a mechanical beast whose whole purpose in life is to hunt all the Anmortals to extinction. Can love grow when this danger is just around the corner?

Even though the heart of this story is a love story, it is not sentimental or sappy. Young women will love the honesty that Megan Linski portrays in this relationship and will be able to relate to the many twists and turns that it takes. Linski also introduces a wonderful theme of mankind’s influence on nature, and how it affects all living creatures. It gives depth to this story, and provides some literary merit. She also gives the story enough action to make it exciting that even young men might find some enjoyment within the pages.

The real strength of Megan Linski’s writing is her prose. Her words create a dreamlike atmosphere that make you feel as if you are walking through a surreal landscape. When you finish the last words of the book, you feel as if you have just woken up from the most wonderful respite that you wish to return to as soon as possible. The only real problem I had was early on when she spent a lot of time describing the looks of the characters and the clothes they were wearing. It felt a little unnatural and maybe if she had sprinkled these descriptions throughout the course of the book, it wouldn’t have been so jarring to the reader. But once again, this complaint is coming from a middle-aged man who doesn’t care much for fashion. This complaint will probably not come from the intended audience due to the fact that this might be something that they care about more. After I got into the story, this small distraction didn’t bother me anymore, and I lost myself in the adventure that Megan Linski had created.

For the most part, if you are woman, no matter your age, you will love the story that Megan Linski has created. Even if you are not a woman, there is still a lot that you can get out of this story. I was surprised at myself at how much I enjoyed it. It has the potential to become a modern day young adult classic, one that many people will talk about for years to come.

Scepter by Scott L. Collins

Sceptor

I have always enjoyed a good fantasy series, but have found only one series that can come close to comparing itself to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and that is George R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice. Apparently, you need to abbreviate your middle name and make sure that it begins with an “R” if you want to belong to this elite group of writers. Scott L. Collins hoped to make it to this group with the addition of his Scepter novel. He even abbreviated his middle name in order to invoke the spirit of Tolkien and Martin, but he made the mistake of using the letter “L” instead of “R”. Still I would give the first installment of this series three and a half stars out of five.

Let me start by making one thing clear; writing a fantasy series is always a hard thing to do, and the first installment of one always seems to drag a little bit. The author has to spend those pages creating the exposition for the story, and there is a lot of it to create in order to have an engaging fantasy story. The writer has to create the world so the reader can see it. He has to establish the rules of this world, and explain its history up to the point where the hero is introduced to the story. If he does not do this then the story falls flat with two-dimensional characters that nobody will care about. Because of this, the first installment of any fantasy series tends to drag a little bit. If you don’t believe me, go read The Fellowship of the Ring again and notice that it takes Tolkien a good 150 pages before the story even gets started. Even after that moment, the story falls into ruts where nothing seems to happen except for Tolkien describing the world around you so you can understand its landscape and its history. Even though it is slow to read, it is also the thing that makes the story so engaging because the reader feels a part of Middle Earth.

With all of this in mind, Scott L. Collins does take the time to create the history of his world. A scepter was gifted to a kingdom by the fairies to insure peace and tranquility among its people. At the head of the scepter there were four jewels that represented the four corners of the kingdom, but King Argyle removed the four stones from the artifact and threw the scepter into the river never to be seen again. War soon started and King Argyle collected people to work as slaves in his mines. Existence was terrible and even a terrible disease took over the land. If infected with it, a person could die, but if they survived they were gifted with powers. Most of these powers were pretty useless like being able to see really far away or super sensitive hearing, but every once in awhile, the person gained super powers. This happened to two brothers whose parents were taken away to work in the mines. Daniel was given the power of super speed, and Aidan received the ability to influence animals and even turn into ones that he shared water with. On Daniel’s fourteenth birthday, Argyle’s men showed up at Daniel and Aidan’s home to take away the older brother to work in the mines. This is when the real story starts as the brothers decide to fight back.

The story in itself is inventive, and I really enjoyed the rules that Scott L. Collins created with his world. The action scenes were also really fun, even though the bad guys that the group fought were two-dimensional. It brought up images of the old G.I.Joe show where the faceless army of Cobra shot aimlessly at the heroes while G.I.Joe could take out these identical drones with ease. A great enemy that the reader can connect with is a plus with any adventure series, and I don’t feel the enemy here. They turn out to be faceless robots that I have no passion for and seem to be placed in the story to give the heroes something to fight. Argyle might turn into that villain eventually, but once again I was reading the exposition of the story and was never really given the opportunity to meet him.

I also was never able to see the world that the heroes were traveling in. I think the world is just as important for any fantasy series. It has to become a character in of itself, and I could never see the landscape and how the world played out in a strategic fashion. I would have liked to have visualized this a little more.

A lot of time was also spent with the characters doing nothing but nursing injuries. I can see the importance of doing this in real life, but I never found this to be very engaging unless the injury that they are nursing is something huge and moves the story forward. There are many moments in this story that seemed to be placed there for filler and didn’t seem to have much to do with the overall story. I could be wrong about that though because it is a bigger story and these small details that I think are unimportant now could come back later to be something bigger.

For the most part, the story was entertaining and the history that Scott L. Collins has created makes me want to continue on with the series. The problems I had with the story were minor compared to the overall enjoyment of the story and I can see the story getting more exciting as it progresses. Now that I have made it through the exposition and the story can start to be told, I will continue to follow the adventures of Daniel and Aidan to see where they will eventually take me.

The Riddle of Prague by Laura DeBruce

Riddle-of-Prague-Cover-698x1024Being a world traveler, I was instantly drawn to this book. Not only did the title include one of my favorite cities in the world, but it also promised a mystery with international intrigue. Opening the pages of the book, did not leave me disappointed either. Overall I would give the story four and half stars out of five.

The story follows a young lady, Hana Silna, as she travels by herself to Prague to claim a home she has just recently discovered was in her family before the Communists took over. The government of the Czech Republic has been trying to return these house back to their rightful owners, but it takes time due to the fact that many of the records are either lost or very old. Hana would love to come back and claim this family landmark with her mother, but due to a rare disease that has hospitalized her mom, Hana is forced to do this on her own, or so she thinks. The heroine soon finds herself in the middle of an international mystery that involves Americans, Russians, ancient royalty, and gypsies as tries to find Edward Kelley’s buried flask. This is no ordinary flask, but contains a powerful potion that gives certain imbibers of its precious liquid eternal life. Some people want to use the flask for good, whereas others want to use it for their own selfish gain. The problem is Hana can’t figure out which one is which as she looks for help in unraveling the Riddle of Prague.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. From the flight over to Prague to the very end, Laura DeBruce left the reader guessing as to what exactly was going on and who Hana could trust in her endeavors. My favorite part was she set in one of the most amazing cities this world has to offer. The location become a character in itself as you are transported to some of the more iconic locations that Prague has to offer. The history it delves into focuses on the Bohemian nationals and their interaction with the gypsy culture. There are a lot of characters to follow and sometimes I got confused as to who was who, but this also added to the mystery because it left you wondering who was the good guy and who was the bad guy. The slight elements of fantasy that Laura DeBruce intertwined with her story were subtle which added to the charm of the ancient city rather than try to include this element to make the story fit around it. A love triangle also was not overdone so as to turn off male readers, but felt natural in its design. Overall, the biggest problem with the novel was the use of the Czech. Not many people know this seldom used language, and Laura DeBruce could have given the reader more insight earlier on as to what the character were saying, but that is such a minor problem in an otherwise fantastic story. The mention of another of my favorite cities of the world, Dubrovnik, made me excited for a sequel to this book even though it looks like she might be holding off the use of this place until the finale. I still look forward to the second book, and highly recommend that you get started on this series while Laura DeBruce works on its next installment.

Welcome

I guess you are here because you have discovered one of my books and enjoyed it enough to find out more about the author, me. Either that or you’re a potential employer who is investigating me to see if I would be a good fit for your organization. In which case, surprise, I write books as well as teach. Some might look at that as a bad thing, and if so, please explain to me how.

For whoever finds my site, I want to welcome you, and also allow you the opportunity to follow me on a regular basis. Anybody is welcome as long as you keep your posts appropriate, and respect the other followers to this site. As long as everybody follows those two simple rules, I won’t have to kick anybody off. Let the friendly banter begin.

I am hoping to create an interactive site that everybody can enjoy. Of course, I will keep you up to date on the latest writings coming out of my head, and I will also let you know when and where I will be in the world, so someday you might be able to meet me in person. Most people regret that decision, but who knows, maybe you’ll be in the minority.

I will also tell you about my world-wide travels as this is something I do on a regular basis. I’ll show you pictures from places I have been (this one is from Dubrovnik, better known to fans of The Song of Ice and Fire as King’s Landing), and tell you the exciting stories that happen to me along the way. You are also welcome to ask me any questions you may have about the place I have been, and I will try to answer them in a timely manner.

I know it all sounds amazing, and I can see you wondering why you haven’t been a part of this fantastic experience so far, but let me tell you about the most exciting part of following this site – the interactive part.  You were probably wondering when I would get to that part I had promised you earlier. Well, I plan to create a list every month, and I want you to participate in its formation. I do love countdowns, but I am always disappointed in them. So I have decided to take matters into my own hands. You will be able to post your top ten of each monthly list and at the end of each month, I will comprise the total list to give you the countdown for that subject. Look for each new subject on the first day of each month, and the final list of the previous month by the fifteenth.

Otherwise, it is very nice to have you a part of this experience, and I look forward to all of our future posts together.