Monday, January 16, 2017

What's Up With Kids These Days With The Murder And Whathaveyou?!

Hickory Dickory Dock (Hercule Poirot, #30)Hickory Dickory Dock by Agatha Christie
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A bunch of boarders, mostly students and young folk, get into a bit of mischief which turns out to be more than just a bit of mischief.

Hickory Dickory Dock was published in the latter half of Agatha Christie's career. It's also one of the later Poirot books. As such, it does feel a bit more mature in the characterization and such. But what the hell do I know? I'm no Christie scholar. I've only read a few of her many books. This is yet another one that has me wanting to read more of her work.

In this tale of love, death and well, I'll just say "more," our usual hero Poirot, that diminutive man from Belgium, plays but a small role. That was a disappointment, a disappointment made up for with a slightly more interesting police detective and a variant cast of crazy landlords, rather one-dimensional students and a couple multilayered individuals that had me bouncing back and forth between who I thought had "dunnit".

Maybe this isn't Christie's most memorable work, but it would be a credit to any mystery writer's oeuvre.

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Sunday, January 15, 2017

On Writing

On Writing: A Memoir of the CraftOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stephen King shares some stories of his past and some writing tips.

This was either my fourth or fifth time reading this. I got it for Christmas around the turn of the century and I've buzz-sawed through it a few times before. The first time, I was just cutting my writing teeth. Now, with seven or eight first drafts of novels writing around, I came to the book with a completely different perspective.

Most books about writing, as I've said before, are by people I've never heard of, and are akin to a psychic handing out lottery numbers. If he or she can predict that, why aren't they using the lottery numbers for themselves? Since Stephen King is the big kahuna, I figure he could teach me a few things.

The biography chapters were my favorite the first time around and were still the most fun to read. I had vague recollections of these chapters, such as little Stevie needing fluid drained from his ears, and King's substance abuse. As a man who's skated close to the substance abuse abyss a couple times over the years, his cautionary tale seemed very familiar.

The writing advice was helpful but this was in no way my favorite book on writing. It seems Old Stevie makes a lot more up on the fly than I'm comfortable doing. Still, his advice on omitting needless words and the second draft being the first draft less 10% seemed helpful. Sticking with your first word choice also seems like sound advice.

I'd forgotten there was a section of 1408 included, in first and second draft forms. It was an interesting look behind the curtain and made a lot of sense.

Anyway, if you're looking for writing advice, you could do a lot worse than sitting at the feet of the King for a few hours and absorbing what he has to say. I'll try to apply his lessons the next time I write something. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, January 13, 2017


Kate Aaron
Croft House
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Whatever happened to Brian Scagill?

A year after his dramatic exit from England’s Grand Slam tournament, Brian has all but disappeared from the world of professional tennis, and doesn’t intend to return. He’s made a life for himself with fellow athlete Lexi Horvat, far removed from the dual pressures of fame and family.

A surprise wildcard might be his last chance to play on an international stage, and Brian’s life is thrown into tumult once again. This time, however, he’s not alone. Lexi has secured himself a place in the tournament, as has Jared, a young player the two men have been coaching. With his loved ones accompanying him, Brian agrees to play. Lexi promises they’ll take on the tournament together, as a team, but Brian knows better than anyone that on the grass, it’s every man for himself.

My Review

This lovely sequel to Ace was just as romantic and satisfying. As in the first book, tennis features very prominently. I appreciated the attention and thought that went into the sport details which never felt excessive and which helped make the story come alive for me.

Despite earlier events that conspired to keep the two men apart, Brian’s and Lexi’s love is solid. They are now living in Tampa, Florida, where Lexi is coaching Jared, a promising 15-year-old player, and Brian is taking time off from professional tennis to focus on his relationship.

Thanks to Lexi’s gentle encouragement, Brian agrees to compete professionally again after a year’s hiatus.

Breathtaking athleticism, fierce competition, hot sexy times, and familial love abound.

After Brian’s parents finalize their divorce, much work is needed to mend the relationship with his meddling mom.

While tennis is the major focus here, this is a story that explores love in its many forms, family ties, competition, dedication, self-discipline, finding one’s purpose in life, and leaving a legacy.

Jared has a bright future ahead of him.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Invincible Iron Man, Vol. 2: The War Machines

Invincible Iron Man, Vol. 2: The War MachinesInvincible Iron Man, Vol. 2: The War Machines by Brian Michael Bendis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tony Stark sends his friend James Rhodes to investigate the tech ninjas that accosted him while he chased Madame Masque.
Things turn out to be more dangerous than Tony expected and he's forced to get help for Rhodey.
He also went along to help.

War Machines was a significant let down after the stellar first volume of Brian Michael Bendis's Invincible Iron Man run. Hunting down tech ninjas and the people running them seems like such a pointless story. I know I wasn't interested in learning more about them. I wanted more suit and tie Victor von Doom, but there was little of him. The artwork wasn't to my taste at all after the sharp artwork from the first volume. The whole thing just wasn't what I was hoping for.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017


The Vampire TapestryThe Vampire Tapestry by Suzy McKee Charnas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“The corporeal vampire, if he existed, would be by definition the greatest of all predators, living as he would off the top of the food chain.”

Dr. Edward Weyland, professor of Anthropology, is conducting a sleep study as part of his teaching program. It is very popular with the students, especially those who need the extra cash. They even start wearing t-shirts…Sleep with Weyland. He’s a dream.

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Charnas’s creature Dr. Edward Weyland.

He is irresistible.

”Just look at him, so haggard and preoccupied, so lean and lonely-looking. The man deserved a prize for his solitary-bachelor-hopelessly-hooked-on-the-pursuit-of-knowledge act.”

I love that look. I’ve cultivated it myself a few times. Women love it, and men always feel a sprig of jealousy bloom. They know a well designed script when they see it. Weyland is a bit of a connoisseur. He has plenty of students signing up for his program, but there are certain people whom he wants in his program. A Mrs. de Groot, a widow of a professor, is working as many hours as she can to save up enough money to go back to South Africa. She is one of those people who has proved elusive to his charms.

Mrs. de Groot is a woman who was raised in the wilds of Africa. She understands animals and their urges, and something about Weyland raises the hackles on the back of her neck.

Of course, Weyland isn’t interested in a sleep study. It is a cover for his pursuit for blood. Humans are just cattle, annoying livestock who chatter too much and are so demanding of him for attention and affirmation. The women want to sleep with him more than they want to sleep for him, and he has no desire to mate with his livestock.

Gross, right?

But in some cases, he does. If one proves to be an especially tasty treat, he can perform the deed to keep her sweet blood near and dear.

It has been too easy for him, and he has lost a bit of his edge. His instincts should have told him that de Groot is more trouble than she is worth.

We next see Weyland seeking psychological help from a brilliant psychotherapist named Floria Landauer. He is trying to convince her that everything is fine with him so he can go back to work at the university after...the...erhhh...mishap.

Something about her makes him honest with her. More importantly, she believes him. They explore the concept of his vampirism in a way that he has never considered before. It is a dangerous game she is playing, and she knows she has had a deeper impact on him than even Weyland is willing to admit. ”But think of me sometimes, Weyland, thinking of you.”

It proves way too hot on the East Coast, so Weyland heads West and lands in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with another University gig. He has the role mastered, and he has to admit he loves the lifestyle that comes with it, not to mention the plethora of young people with such tasty unpolluted blood.

Things go sideways again, as they tend to do. Humans are so unpredictable and so caught up in themselves that they have no consideration for how their actions will effect a vampire just trying to take a sip or two of the gallons and gallons of red corpuscles that are such an abundant natural resource.

Through all of this, he has to keep a wary eye over his back shoulder for a cult that is intent on making a religion out of him.

I couldn’t help but like Edward Weyland. He is ruthless, but calculating. He enjoys the finer things in life, which is also why he likes a high profile professor’s gig to something actually safer, like a fry cook or a ticket salesman at a drive-in movie theater. Through his eyes, we also get to look at ourselves and see how ludicrous we must seem to alien creatures. We have been at the top of the food chain for a long time, and certainly most of us have lost our edge, our instincts, even in some cases the ability to listen to our own natural protection grid of senses that are hardwired into us to keep us safe. For most of us, danger is an abstract thought. How different would our lives be if there were a creature who could leapfrog us in the food chain and push us down to number two?

Life would taste different.
Priorities would shift.
Those things taken for granted would become precious once again.

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This is not your ordinary, bared teeth, blood splattering, sexy vampire book. There is a good reason why Centipede Press has recently decided to print a beautiful, limited, signed edition of this 1980 classic of the genre. Weyland will weigh on your mind long after you’ve turned the final page.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Normal By: Warren Ellis

NormalNormal by Warren Ellis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Warren Ellis is a man of great ideas, I have followed his exploits and writing for a LONG DAMN TIME, and to this day, this man is on the bleeding edge of many topics. That being said, do I like this story? yes, tight and controlled works for his writing. However, if you have followed the man's work he isn't doing anything you haven't seen before. THAT is where the problem lies, if your subject matter is the future, show it to us, give us the reason that propels these characters.

If you are new to Mr. Ellis, check it out, you will enjoy this fast read, if you are a fan, you will love it.

If, like me, you dig deeper, its a mixed bag.

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Monday, January 9, 2017

Very Little Appreciation From This Reviewer

Wine Appreciation Freeway GuideWine Appreciation Freeway Guide by Robin Stark
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I don't know if all Free Guides are as bad as this, but I'm not planning on finding out, not if I can help it.

Wine Appreciation Freeway Guide is an audiobook meant to wile away the rage-inducing commute by imparting tidbits of wine info. Instead it incites revolt, as in, I am revolted by their hokey attempts at humor and the looow production values.

It's only about an hour long and yet a quarter of it is taken up by the intro and unnecessary explanations. A variety of voice "talent" is used to "liven things up" (are you catching my sarcasm, 'cause I'm laying it on pretty thick), but the actors have naturally annoying voice tics and/or they ham things up too much with the broadest of broad comedy. The wine expert Robin Stark speaks with a sharp, grating tone and plays along with the shenanigans, when she probably should've put her foot down and said, "No, this is shit and you all know it's shit, so cut it out."

What's even more embarrassing for this supposedly professional production is their LIBERAL use of the free sound clips and songs that come with Apple computers. I've used these jingles and sound effects for my home videos when editing with iMovies on my laptop, so I'm quite familiar with them, but for christsake, I'd never slap a price tag on them and try to foist them upon the public!

Okay, so I've beaten the Wine Appreciation Freeway Guide pretty brutally so far. Now let me cut it some slack by saying that it's not all bad. Most of this tells you what many intro-to-wine-for-noobs guides are saying these days: the taste of wine is subjective, so drink what you like.
However, I actually did learn a little bit about wine, more specifically corks, "corked wine" and what it all means: Bacteria grows on the cork and screws the flavor, so they store the bottles on their sides and thus the alcohol stays in contact with the cork and prevents bacteria! Once wine purists/traditionalists get over themselves and give up the cork, my cork knowledge will become obsolete. Until then, bring on the pub quiz!

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Something to Chew On

Food: A Love StoryFood: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If aliens studied Earth, they would come to the conclusion that the United States is somehow consuming food on behalf of other countries.

And so begins Comedian Jim Gaiffigan's Food: A Love Story. Actually, that's not how it begins. I just thought the quote sounded almost philosophical, plus I wanted to use the grandiose "And so begins...." I could have just as well started with...

I’m convinced that anyone who doesn’t like Mexican food is a psychopath.

...because that, my friend, is fact!

Gaffigan loves food. If you've ever watched one of his comedy specials this will soon become apparent. Food usually makes its way into his routine sooner or later, and his skewering of Hot Pockets has become legendary. No doubt the big success of his previous book pushed him into doing a second book, and so why not do one solely about food?

Gaffigan's a casual eater, not a connoisseur. He's not even obese, he's merely overweight. So why should we care what he has to say about food? Because he's funny, that's why. Disagree with me? Then you can just get out! Go on, this review ain't big enough for the two of us!

Food: A Love Story is not knock-you-over-the-head funny from start to finish. It's got a conversational tone, especially if you listen to the audiobook, which I always suggest when reading a comedian's book. Yeah, you may know their voice, but inflection is of paramount importance and you're not as clever in that regard as you think you are. But anyway, my point was, if you came purely for the punchlines you will be disappointed. The book isn't joke after joke, it's more like this:

It would be embarrassing trying to explain what an appetizer is to someone from a starving country. “Yeah, the appetizer—that’s the food we eat before we have our food. No, no, you’re thinking of dessert—that’s food we have after we have our food. We eat tons of food. Sometimes there’s so much we just stick it in a bag and bring it home. Then we throw it out the next day. Maybe give it to the dog."

Of course this book isn't as funny as his stand-up. Comedians work really hard to come up with an hour's worth of material, which they tour with for often a year. Here we have six hours of material written for this book. I doubt he wrote it with the idea that he'd do a six year tour with it.

Gaffigan isn't a particularly healthy eater. Junk food fills these pages like it fills our guts and the deepest, darkest places of our empty souls...

You ever talk to an old person? I mean a really, really old person. They always have this exhausted look on their face that says, I can’t believe I’m still here! I would’ve eaten so much more ice cream. Why did I ever consume kale?

His road-touring life has forced him given him the golden opportunity to pretend he has no choice but to eat poorly, thus bringing him into close and constant contact with what passes for restaurant food here in America. Fast food joints come in for a good, solid de-pantsing as he does a virtual tour around the States listing his "favorite" chains, and then breaking it down to the regional chains like WaffleHouse and Whataburger. Regional foods (I almost said cuisine, ha!) are reminisced, such as Chicago's deep-dish pizza, Seattle's coffee, NY bagels and the South's maternal love for bbq.

After reading this, I had to clear my head of Gaffigan's intentional food nonsense by reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. You're just not going to find deep, scientific insight in Food. This is for the laughs. Although, there are some borderline poignant passages:

Nobody believes in racial profiling until they get a red-haired sushi chef with a southern accent.

I think everyone is aware how disgusting snails are, and that’s why they are served in a bowl of wine and butter and called “escargots,” which is a French word loosely translated as “denial.”

Often on the menu, oysters will be listed as “oysters on the half shell.” As opposed to what? “In a Kleenex?” Even the way you are supposed to eat an oyster indicates something counterintuitive. “Squeeze some lemon on it, a dab of hot sauce, throw the oyster down the back of your throat, take a shot of vodka, and try to forget you just ate snot from a rock.” That is not how you eat something. That is how you overdose on sleeping pills.

Okay, so those weren't poignant at all, but they did give me a chuckle and that's all I truly expected from this book.

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Sunday, January 8, 2017


MiseryMisery by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To celebrate completing a novel, writer Paul Sheldon goes on a champagne-fueled drive in the Rocky mountains. He winds up in a near fatal car crash, but never fear. He's rescued by Annie Wilkes, his #1 fan...

I watched the film version of Misery in those antediluvian days before Goodreads, hell, before the Internet, and decided to finally read the novel when it showed up on my BookGorilla email one day. It was $2.99 very well spent.

Misery is a tale of obsession, addiction, and obsession. I wrote "obsession" twice but it's a such a big theme I thought it was justified. Annie Wilkes is obsessed with her favorite series of books starring Misery Chastain, written by that dirty birdie Paul Sheldon. Paul is obsessed with finishing the book Annie has demanded of him and probably addicted to writing. Also to codeine.

I've said it before but I'll say it again. If Stephen King wasn't addicted to scaring the bodily fluids out of people, he'd be a literary writer of some renown. The guy can flat out write. Just because he cranks out a best seller more often than most of us go to the dentist doesn't mean he's the real deal.

The scariest horror stories are the ones that could actually happen and Misery is one of those. Who among us hasn't had visions of being held captive when driving through a remote locale? Annie is so much more than the scene-chewing maniac she could have been. She has dimension and believes she's in the right, which is the mark of a great villain. Her background is very fleshed out and my heart sank as I learned her past along with Paul. How the hell was he going to escape that monster?

Paul's journey is painful, both to him and to the reader, thanks to King's skill. I had to make sure my foot was still attached a couple times. Annie puts him through hell and he finally gives her a taste of her own medicine but the ending is far from happily ever after.

As is usually the case, the book was a notch better than the movie. I've been easy with the 5's this year but I'll give this one a cockadoodie 5 out of 5 stars just the same.

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Saturday, January 7, 2017


Kate Aaron
Croft House
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


At twenty-two years old, World No.6 and England's No.1, Brian Scagill has the tennis world at his feet. Last year's semifinalist, this year Brian enters England's biggest tournament determined to win. A Grand Slam on home turf is calling to him and he's not going to let anything stand in the way of victory - certainly not a cute Croatian who doesn't even play in the same league.

Fooling around with Lexi might be an easy distraction but the last thing Brian needs right now is to be distracted, and there's more than this tournament at stake.

My Review

I like tennis. It’s a graceful, elegant and stylish sport that requires technical, mental and physical skills and an amazing amount of stamina. While I enjoy watching it on TV now and then, it’s also the kind of sport that I can easily switch off and return to at any time without feeling that I’ve missed anything. I’m old enough to remember the meltdowns of Andre Agassi, John McEnroe, and Jimmy Connors and more recently, Serena Williams and David Nalbandian. While their antics were sometimes amusing, they would be far more acceptable in high-action, contact sports like football or soccer, but have no place in a “gentleman’s sport.”

After reading this story, I no longer believe that tennis is a “gentleman’s sport.” 22-year-old Brian Scagill is sixth-seeded in the world and best of the UK. Though he is fiercely competitive and very focused on winning, lower-ranked Croatian player, Lexi Horvat, captures his interest. As they both have busy lives and do a lot of traveling, Brian and Lexi’s relationship has a richness and passion to it that comes from living in the moment without expectations.

Their sex is sweet, tender, and very erotic, involving fruits and whipped cream, rivaling the dripping peach scene in AndrĂ© Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name.

There is a vivid cast of secondary characters, including a supportive coach, a prickly manager, a loving father, and a domineering mother who ultimately wants what she thinks is best for Brian, but ends up wrecking his life.

If tennis is not your thing, the sport details may be a bit excessive. I found them interesting, realistic, and sufficient enough to convey the intensity of competition pressures, the physical challenges, and the conflict between fulfilling media and professional obligations while trying to have a personal life.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story and look forward to the sequel.