Just read Hemingway Man, a novel by Jim Maher on Smashwords. It’s the story of a 10th grader whose father has just passed away. A friend of the father tells him “you have to be the man of the family now”, and his own best friend tells him about Hemingway’s definition of what it takes to be a man: plant a tree, write a book, fight a bull and have a son. The kid, being part vulnerable and part idiot, takes this advice literally as a how-to guide, and sets about trying to do those exact things. The novel is very funny and written in an easy, engaging first-person vernacular that is almost always believable (though there are some “social observation” passages, such as a screed about modern impatience, that didn’t ring quite true to me – my instinct would be to remove those sections, and less would be more).

Highlights include an hysterical episode with a squirrel, a street fight with a gang of whores and an electrifying scene with a bull. All in all a terrific story about what manhood means to a boy on the verge of becoming one.

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It took us quite a while – two months of nightly bedtime reading – but last night my son and I finally finished Seamus and Tessa: The World is Just the Beginning, and we were both left wishing for more. One of my constant refrains on the subject of fiction – of fantasy and science fiction in particular – is the lack of innovation in nearly all of it. You’re making stuff up, so make stuff up! Don’t just give me leprechauns again, even if this time they have machine guns (looking at you, Artemis Fowl). Let’s see you really use your imagination.

In Seamus and Tessa, Jim Maher veers towards imagination overload. He invents, he innovates, he makes stuff up with a vengeance and with only a couple of exceptions (there are pirates), everything in this amazing fantasy novel is fresh and original. Kids don’t just eat ice cream, they prefer the Peaches and Gravy flavor. There are snow farmers who work with special seeds that glow and only grow in the snow and have to be moved every twenty minutes or so. There are bald patches that are critically important, and life or death haircuts, and fire wolves and a variety of “scrubbas” and scientists who live in their labs in the bellies of undersea beasts. It’s not only a work of maximum creativity, but it’s also funny and fun and wild and outrageous.

I can only imagine that living with this book in his head must have been even more exhilarating and joyous than just being someone else reading it. It’s the kind of book that makes you want to be a writer and for that reason it’s exactly the kind of book you want your kid to read.

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Another fun book from Jim Maher, author of Hemingway Man, is Connor Stuart and the Sky Knights. This short story is an out-and-out romp through impossible things. I especially love the “unwritten rules” about harming animals, even enormous deadly ones – a wonderful touch that made my day.

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