Fobbit: War and Press Releases

FobbitI am writing today during a somewhat strange hail storm. It is raining ping pong balls outside! But enough about weather — let’s talk about war. WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?

Well, sometimes, good reading. I was really excited when I picked up Fobbit by David Abrams. A satire based on the Iraq War sounds pretty interesting right? Well, I didn’t love Fobbit. It made me chuckle at times but it wasn’t nearly as funny or dark as I wanted it to be. What’s meant to be mean and funny, seems to only come off as mean. All the characters suck. I can barely remember their names. There, I can be mean and not funny too.

Fobbit is based on Abram’s personal experience as a public affairs officers in the US Army during the Iraq War. Fobbit is a derogatory term for the paper pushing soldiers stationed in war zones but never see battle. They are safe in their Fobbit holes while braver soldiers get blown up. Members of the Public Affairs live it up in their air conditioned quarters, drafting press release after press release about dead soldiers.

But most of the story isn’t even about the horrors of writing wartime fluff. I would have enjoyed that more. In fact, I was hoping for something like Thank You For Smoking meets Apocalypse Now but that sounds difficult to pull off now that I say it out loud.

fobbit_palace3

No, most of the book is about the crazy antics of Fobbits who are bored out of their minds waiting to return to the US. There are moments of action but I found Fobbit unsatisfying as both war fiction and satire. With a war that seems to make little sense, I was hoping Fobbit would exploit that meaninglessness just a little more.

I’d like to use this as an excuse to show you more awesome photographs taken by Richard Mosse of Saddam Hussein’s abandoned palaces — which is where the Fobbits in this story were stationed.

fobbit_palace2 fobbit_saddampalace

Interview with Robin Spano, author of Clare Vengel novels

Vengel_Dead_Politician_SocietyA while back, I discovered Robin Spano through Wattpad. She writes the Clare Vengel mysteries which are all based in Toronto. They’re great — and you can read the first book, The Dead Politician Society, for free.
What’s more, Robin was nice enough to agree to an interview with me! Unfortunately, I was a jerk and forgot to publish this until now. Sorry Robin! Luckily for you, the entire novel is now out on Wattpad so you won’t have to wait for each chapter to be revealed like I did (the suspense nearly killed me).
Describe The Dead Politician Society in 140 characters. A lighthearted mystery about politicians who are murdered and the people who might want them dead.
Why did you pick Toronto for the setting of this novel? The city and its people seem to play a big part in the story — could this have happened in any other city?
I grew up in Toronto, so it’s the city I know most intimately. It’s also where I lived when I was furious at the local political climate, so opening a novel with a dead mayor of Toronto felt poetically awesome.
ROBIN_toronto
I personally love Clare because she’s so imperfect and insecure. As a young professional, I get that. What separates Clare Vengel from other fictional cops and detectives?
I think you nailed it. She’s different because she’s still learning the ropes of being an undercover cop. In the instruction books for how-to-write-a-mystery-novel, one of the cardinal rules is that the detective is supposed to be excellent at his or her job. I broke that rule.
While I think Clare has it in her to one day be a great cop, I’m more intrigued to watch her struggle toward excellence than I am to start her off as a hotshot right out of the gate. Readers can watch Clare learn and grow in each novel, and the arc of the series is a bit like a coming-of-age story.
ROBIN_cops
Did your personal politics find its way into your novel? Be truthful now, is there a municipal politician you’ve wished to off?
Yes! And he knows it. David Miller was mayor of Toronto when I wrote this book. While I loved his attitude toward arts and the environment, I felt like his government was screwing over Toronto businesses. (My husband owned a bar, so I felt this quite acutely.) Before he left office, I had the opportunity to meet Miller and explain why he had to go. He’s a mystery reader, so he was curious to read the book that he inspired. Now we’re quite friendly. (From a distance — on Twitter.)
You’re releasing Dead Politician Society for free one chapter at a time on Wattpad. In the words of Utopia Girl: “What’s in it for me, what’s in it for you?”
Dead Politician Society was published in 2010, and now there are two more books in the Clare Vengel series. (Death Plays Poker and Death’s Last Run.) As promotion for the series, my publisher, ECW Press, asked if I’d release the first one free and engage with readers in the process.

So what’s in it for you? A free read. What’s in it for me? I’m hoping to lure readers into the series with this free sample, make them want to follow Clare on her next adventures.

You can keep rereading Life After Life and never know it

life_after_lifeThat’s exactly what I wanted to do when I finished Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. I wanted to flip back to the front cover and start all over again. And I could have because that’s what her main character Ursula does for most of her life. Lives.

Remember Choose Your Own Adventure novels? If you chose the wrong adventure, you’d wind up dead but then you’d just flip back to the previous section and choose again. That’s what Ursula Todd does in Life After Life. She winds up dead a lot but then the story starts all over again and she has the chance to choose differently (although, she’s not always sure why).

When Ursula gets to start again, you (as the reader) get to choose how to react. Sometimes, it’s a PHEW because Ursula’s life has become a train wreck. Other times, you can’t help but laugh out loud (always in public). I also loved the rich descriptions of places and times — from the British countryside to wartime London. It’s the kind of descriptors that keep you wanting more.

Judging from this novel alone, I can only conclude that Atkinson is incredibly clever. More clever than Churchill, Hitler and all the Todds combined.

One review suggested that she is perhaps, too clever. I couldn’t tell if they were sarcastic or just plain ignorant. Let’s blame sexism. I loved this one so much I could read it a thousand times again and again and again.

brit_house1 chickens garden

Photo credits: flickr.com, flickr.com, telegraph.co.uk

 

Matilda meets Walking Dead

girl_with_all_the_giftsRemember Roald Dahl’s Matilda? A sweet little girl with a heart of gold who teaches us all the wonderful lessons of life? In M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts, Melanie is a lot like Matilda. She’s brilliantly smart, super sweet and practically worships her teacher Ms. Justineau.

But Melanie is a zombie.

Well, she’s half zombie… actually she’s full blooded zombie but also pseudo zombie. Her zombie senses don’t come to light unless she smells human flesh. So the remaining humans keep her in a prison-like lab for research with Ms. Justineau teaching them. That is, until a series of events that lead the pack into the zombie infested neighbourhoods of England.

I couldn’t put this one down. It was heartwarming, smart and horrifying in all the right places. The ending will haunt you and the characters (even the hardened prison guard Sargeant) will worm their way into your heart like a virus determined to turn you into the undead.

Uncommon to action-packed stories of the zombie genre, there is a lesson to be learned here. Highly recommended if you love scary reads or zombie lit — and even if you normally don’t, this one is worth the time.

zombiechildren