Monday, September 26, 2016

Religion and Art: World Builders

Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our WorldHeretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World by Thomas Cahill
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thomas Cahill's Heretics and Heroes is a great look at the interwoven connection between the Reformation and the Renaissance, taking in a large swath of the primary leaders in religion, politics and the artists during that time period.

To be honest, history buffs won't find much new here as Cahill runs over the basics on the various kings, queens, popes, bishops, painters and sculptors of the 14th through 17th centuries. Take this as a good intro to that period, covering what any history course or book would touch upon.

However, beyond that, it delves deeper into the specifics of religion's grip upon Europe at the time, never wholly with or against the grand edicts of the day. Balance and clear thought are struck through out.

A few relatively minor personages come in for a sort of Wikipedia treatment and add nuance to the history. These were some of my favorite passages in the book, perhaps because they were the least known stories to me. The world is a strange...mainly because of the nonsense us kookie humans have gotten up to.

This is my second Thomas Cahill and I enjoyed it a good deal more than the first, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter. It made me feel more confident about this writer, enough that perhaps now I'll overcome move my fear of overhype and move on to his most popular book, How the Irish Saved Civilization.

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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Ballad of Black Tom

The Ballad of Black TomThe Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tommy Tester is a hustler, doing what he has to to make ends meet and support his ailing father. When he meets Robert Suydam, things will never be the same...

I've always been a bigger fan of things inspired by H.P. Lovecraft than the man's actual work. It's certainly been a good few months for H.P. Lovecraft-inspired fiction for me. First, there was Carter & Lovecraft, then Lovecraft Country, and now this novella, the Ballad of Black Tom.

Victor LaValle has taken The Horror at Red Hook, called Lovecraft's most racist book by some, and turned it inside out.

Tommy Tester delivers a magical tome to an old woman, runs afoul of two detectives, and meets up with an old man bent on waking The Sleeping King from his dead and dreaming slumber. Needless to say, a lot happens in this slim book.

There was a viewpoint shift about halfway through. While I didn't think Malone was as interesting as Black Tom, the story couldn't have been told without him. LaValle does a fantastic job of capturing the Lovecraftian flavor of The Horror at Red Hook and makes it his own. I loved the ending of this book. Hell, I devoured the whole thing in one sitting.

4.5 out of 5 stars. I'll be watching Victor LaValle with great interest.

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Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Joy of Hate

Greg Gutfeld
Crown Publishing
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


From the irreverent star of Fox News’s Red Eye and The Five, hilarious observations on the manufactured outrage of an oversensitive, wussified culture.

Greg Gutfeld hates artificial tolerance. At the root of every single major political conflict is the annoying coddling Americans must endure of these harebrained liberal hypocrisies. In fact, most of the time liberals uses the mantle of tolerance as a guise for their pathetic intolerance. And what we really need is smart intolerance, or as Gutfeld reminds us, what we used to call common sense.

The Joy of Hate tackles this conundrum head on--replacing the idiocy of open-mindness with a shrewd judgmentalism that rejects stupid ideas, notions, and people. With countless examples grabbed from the headlines, Gutfeld provides readers with the enormous tally of what pisses us all off. For example:
- The double standard: You can make fun of Christians, but God forbid Muslims. It's okay to call a woman any name imaginable, as long as she's a Republican. And no problem if you're a bigot, as long as you're politically correct about it.
- The demonizing of the Tea Party and romanticizing of the Occupy Wall Streeters.
- The media who are always offended (see MSNBC lineup)
- How critics of Obamacare or illegal immigration are somehow immediately labeled racists.
- The endless debate over the Ground Zero Mosque (which Gutfeld planned to open a Muslim gay bar next to).
- As well as pretentious music criticism, slow-moving ceiling fans, and snotty restaurant hostesses.

Funny and sarcastic to the point of being mean (but in a nice way), The Joy of Hate points out the true jerks in this society and tells them all off.

My Review

I don’t watch much TV, unless it’s a series that I can get hooked on or a movie. I generally stay away from talk shows, reality shows, comedies, and news/opinion shows. So I’ve never heard of Greg Gutfeld.

I’m so glad I came across Mike's review and gave him a chance.

His essays are proof positive that the left does not have a monopoly on intelligence, humor, or sarcasm.

Just last week, I was going to pull into a parking spot at Market Basket when this woman comes flying out from in between cars and beats me to the spot while fixing me with a nasty glare. Her shabby car was festooned with bumper stickers. After her appalling behavior, this was the one that stood out the most:

If she were truly tolerant, she would have let the old woman with the bad foot (and better car) take the spot closer to the entrance.

I’m sure Greg Gutfeld would have a good laugh over that one. I know I did. This is the kind of artificial tolerance that he talks about.

Though I tend to think these essays would be more appealing to those who lean to the right on the political spectrum, independent thinkers who don’t blindly accept one worldview and those who tolerate others with different views may get something out of it too.

I laughed even while he was dissing one of my favorite bands:

“The idea of tolerance – a seemingly innocuous concept – has now become something else entirely: a way to bludgeon people into shutting up, piping down, and apologizing, when the attacked are often the ones who hold the key to common sense. They speak an unspeakable truth, and they get clobbered by the Truncheon of Tolerance. Tolerance has turned normal people into sheep/parrot hybrids, followers in word and deed – bloating and squawking at everyone in a psychological torment not experienced since Dave Matthews picked up a guitar.”

He covers immigration, climate change, birth control, religion, feminism, media bias, Occupy Wall Street, celebrities, second-hand smoke, parades, etc.

Some of my favorites were:

- My Big Fat Gay Muslim Bar
- A Really Bad Day at the Office
- To Obama, Borders Was Nothing But a Bookstore
- A Pack of Lies
- Stalin Grads

While I don’t agree with everything he says, reading these essays was fun, refreshing, thought-provoking, and a perfect way to spend time on the beach.

One of these days I’ll check out his show.

Friday, September 23, 2016


The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My LifeThe Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life by John le Carré
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”These are true stories told from memory--to which you are entitled to ask, what is truth, and what is memory to a creative writer in what we may delicately call the evening of his life? To the lawyer, truth is facets unadorned. Whether such facts are ever findable is another matter. To the creative writer, fact is raw material, not his taskmaster but his instrument, and his job is to make it sing. Real truth lies, if anywhere, not in facts, but in nuance.”

 photo John20le20Carre_zps4hjkv0an.jpg

I’ve had many discussions over the years about the blurred, wiggly lines that separate truth from fiction. People who only read nonfiction and look down their noses at novels because “they are made up” don’t seem to grasp just how perilous it is to call anything nonfiction. Memory is threaded with lies. The victors write the histories, and without the other perspective, the truth is like dough. It can be molded, flattened, and turned into any shape the writer wishes it to be. Even with many perspectives, the truth morphs and changes as each tells the other what they saw. We can make people remember things differently. I, for one, do not trust any of my memories completely. I know how good I am at selling myself the best version or even a much worse version of any event.

Sometimes it is imperative to forget details, to blur what happened into more palatable memories.

Fiction is as true as fact. The uncertainty of memory plagues every writer trying to assemble the “facts” of his life.

In the case of John le Carre, that might be even more so. As we read these vignettes, he introduces us to some of the real people he has met who have inspired the characters in his books. His father looms large across the pages of his books, but like le Carre did in this memoir, I’m going to boot Ronnie to the end of this review. It is almost impossible for a writer not to write himself into books. We see versions of David Cornwell (John le Carre’s real name) in his fiction, sometimes striding boldly and sometimes much more subtly contained to the shadows. Each version must be, for him, like looking in a warped mirror made of words.

I didn’t expect le Carre ever to write an autobiography. He is 84 years old, so if he had always expected to write one, he certainly kicked that can down the road a long ways. He has continued to be remarkably productive in his twilight years. When I read his later works, I still marvel at his command of his characters and his fascination and interest in telling stories. He has not lost the ability to hold me enthralled.

It would be impossible for John le Carre to write a memoir without addressing his relationship with Graham Greene. The Tailor of Panama is an ode to Greene’s Our Man in Havana. Greene’s books were a springboard for le Carre’s creativity. In this book, he tells a story about Greene during the war wanting to use the code word for EUNUCH in a dispatch back to headquarters. He was invited to attend a conference, and he wrote back: ”Like the eunuch I can’t come.” That is vintage Greene. David Cornwell is probably a bit too straight laced to have done something like that, but for Greene it was just the thing to keep that smirky grin on his face.

I found the introduction so inspiring. As a guy who dabbles with writing, I thought he made several intuitive statements about writing. They are all still tumbling around in my head. ”I love writing on the hoof, in notebooks on walks, in trains and cafes, then scurrying home to pick over my booty. When I am in Hampstead there is a bench I favour on the Heath, tucked under a spreading tree and set apart from its companions, and that’s where I like to scribble. I have only ever written by hand. Arrogantly perhaps. I prefer to remain with the centuries-old tradition of unmechanized writing. The lapsed graphic artist in me actually enjoys drawing the words.”

Drawing the words... like sketching blueprints for a building or bridge or putting flesh on the bones of characters. It feels so hands on, like a mechanic up to his elbows in an engine with grease wedged under his fingernails. When a writer can bring words closer to himself, he can command them and build kingdoms that stretch the imagination to new boundaries. What can be discovered in the hallways of an inspired mind with just a #2 pencil and a pad of paper?

Richard Thomas Archibald (Ronnie) Cornwell was the father of the author. He was a conman. He knew the famous Kray Twins and was always chasing after the big score. He spent more than one jolt in jail, each time, of course, because of a misunderstanding. Women loved him, and men adored him. He was a charmer, a dreamer, a Lothario, and probably one of the strangest most enigmatic fathers a boy could have.

It was not unusual for David Cornwell to be pulled aside as he travelled from country to country promoting his books or researching the next one and be asked if he happened to know the whereabouts of his father. He would get calls asking for bail money from such far flung places a Zurich or Singapore. He had to be constantly pulled between loathing and loving his father with a healthy dose of embarrassment wrapped around both emotions. When The Spy Who Came in From the Cold hit big, Ronnie referred to the book as OUR BOOK and even ordered up a couple of hundred copies to sign and hand out as business cards. He, of course, charged the books to his son’s account.

At 84, Cornwell is still trying to come to terms with his father. He would love to know more about Ronnie and the sometimes diabolical schemes he tried to create out of air, much like a novelist realizing the twist he needs for his plot, but the truth, as David stated himself, lies in the nuances. If his father had been someone else, I have a sneaking suspicion we might never have had John le Carre.

I’ve read many of John le Carre’s books and will eventually read all of his books. Like a squirrel, I tuck his books like walnuts and save them for when I desperately need to be fed a perfect thriller. I wish him many more years of health and, along with that, the ability to keep putting pencil to paper. Interesting enough, I’ve noticed that some reviewers read this book and loved it without ever reading a John le Carre novel. Baffling, but at the same time, what a tribute to the writing. Highly recommended for John le Carre Fans or anyone.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Avengers: Standoff

Avengers: StandoffAvengers: Standoff by Nick Spencer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What is the biggest problem facing law enforcement in the Marvel Universe?
It's certainly not capturing villains because that seems to happen every issue. It's not having a place to put them, because Marvel has all kinds of prisons with cool names like The Raft. The biggest problem is keeping villains in prison. Marvel's jails are pretty much a turnstile as offending villains are back on the streets in an instant. My solution would be super hero prison guards or even anti-hero prison guards. Knowing The Punisher is sitting at a crazy vantage point with a sniper rifle and a missile launcher might dissuade people from escaping. Maria Hill had another thought altogether.

SHIELD Director Hill's plan was to use a cosmic cube to change unwanted circumstances. These plans were leaked to the public
and the Kobik project was shut down...It was supposed to be at least. Bucky Barnes the current man on the wall,
a role inherited from Nick Fury Sr., is shocked to learn there's a cosmic threat to Earth on Earth. He investigates and learns SHIELD has a sentient cosmic cube.
He alerts Commander Steve Rogers while The Whisperer is alerting current Captain America Sam Wilson. Let's say all is not as was expected as Maria Hill used Kobik to transform supervillains into ordinary people and housed them in a SHIELD operated town called Pleasant Hill. Of course nothing could ever go wrong with that plan...

Avengers Standoff is a strange mixture for a volume. The premise makes sense as supervillains always break out of jail so transforming them into non violent members of a small town makes a lot of sense...assuming they won't execute anyone. The oddest part to me was the weak attempt at humor. The author pushed hard for some laughs, but it fell short. Another strange part is that the sentient cosmic cube assumed the form of a four year old girl which should of been an immediate flag. I have a daughter who is past the age of four and relying on her to handle all the battle guys would be a mistake. Four can be an emotionally volatile least for my daughter. Anyway things have to go wrong which they spectacularly do.

On a positive I did eventually enjoy seeing all the Avengers teams cooperating. I was surprised seeing that Iron Man remained basically silent throughout since he's become a major figure head largely due to his prominence in the MCU.

Avengers Standoff was solid, but far from being overly memorable. I'm glad I read, but I'm sure I won't read it again.

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Guardians of the Galaxy: New Order, Vol. 1: Emperor Quill

Guardians of the Galaxy: New Order, Vol. 1: Emperor QuillGuardians of the Galaxy: New Order, Vol. 1: Emperor Quill by Brian Michael Bendis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Guardians of the Galaxy head to Spartax to see their old friend and new Emperor of Spartax Peter Quill. Trouble has come for them though
in the form of a Kree Accuser who blames the Guardians for the destruction of Hala.
If that wasn't bad enough, the Guardians made a new enemy in Peter's absence that's coming to fight them on Spartax.

First off I have to say it's absurd that Peter Quill allowed himself to be made the Emperor of Spartax. He clearly doesn't want the job, but he accepted it out of some strange sense of obligation.

New Order Vol. 1 Emperor Quill shows the Guardians at their best, scrapping there way through fights they had no reason to be in. The Kree Accuser calling herself Hala was just out for blood period and she's massively powerful. Gamora's cosmic strength falls short. I've read a few of the Guardians solo comics and they all fall a bit short because they are best together. Even new comer Ben Grimm aka The Thing fits in with his rocky exterior and single catch phrase.

I'm excited to see what the Guardians do next because they are one memorable bunch.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016


The Automatic DetectiveThe Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”Self-preservation was a basic directive, but there wasn’t a robot functioning that prioritized it at the top of the list. Like biologicals all robots were seeking a purpose. Autos and drones were lucky enough to have that built into them. A bot had to find his own way and I’d figured out that functioning for function’s sake was pointless. The real question was finding a directive worth getting scrapped for.”

Mack Megaton was at the bottom of the sludge heap of Empire City, a city where weird science and toxic chemicals were turning biologicals into all kinds of interesting mutants. His best friend is a talking, book reading addicted Gorilla. The guy that keeps him out of trouble is a rodent biological by the name of Detective Sanchez. Mack is driving a cab and damn lucky to have that job instead of being in pieces at the spare part boneyard.

You see, he tried to take over the world.

It wasn’t his fault; he was programmed for world domination. He was supposed to bring biologicals to their knees.

His creator was obviously brilliant, but something went wrong.

”That defective electronic brain of yours is too prone to sentimentality, concerned with certain illogical motivations. They assumed you were the next step in their evolution, yet they can’t reconcile the apparently randomization of your behavior.”

He is still a cold calculating machine, but he is developing really bad habits that are traits only biologicals have. ”Of course they’d known I was lying. That was okay. It was one of the marks of sentience, the ability to distinguish reality from fantasy and still indulge in fantasy. In other words: I lied, therefore I thought.”

When in Rome, right? He is on his way to full citizenship if he can just stay out of trouble.

He can’t do it.

Mack decides to try and find a missing family of biologicals and soon finds himself up to his neck screws in trouble. Sam Spade with a spade for a face. Even before he pulls on the pin stripe suit of a private detective, he has Dame with a capital D problems, a four armed mutant trying to ”Burn him a new exhaust port,” and a telekinesic arsehole putting a virus into his software. He ”had him by the directives.”

As if it isn’t hard enough just being a bot.

I absolutely blew through this book. I was looking for something breezy with a zing, and this fit the bill perfectly. The action is non stop. The robot hardboiled dialogue was fresh and at times had me laughing out loud. I was hoping that A. Lee Martinez had written a follow up book, but as far as I can tell, this is it folks. Irresistible, great fun!

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Jerusalem by Alan Moore

JerusalemJerusalem by Alan Moore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I might have finally hit something thats over my head. I picked this up with a long background in reading comics, and KNEW what I was getting into, and got into it anyway.

There is beauty in this story, there are mad flashes of pure brilliant story telling and maybe modern life and the world has gotten to me, but there is a overwhelming sense in my case of "GET TO THE FUCKING POINT"

In all of the dirt, grime and love, Mr. Moore has for his tale, there is a hell of a load of circular writing, whether intentional or not, I don't presume to know. It detracts from enjoyment of the story to me, if you want to dig and work for your nuggets of awesome, go for it. Be prepared for a lot of what the fucking and beating your head against a wall.

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Monday, September 19, 2016

A Steady Decline

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and NightfallNocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wow! That first short story was fantastic! Too bad the rest of this story-cycle collection of five didn't maintain that same high standard in my first foray in reading Kazuo Ishiguro's work.

In case you're interested, here is Wikipedia's synopsis of each story:

"Crooner" - Set in Venice, a fading American singer co-opts a Polish cafe musician into accompanying him while he serenades his wife (whose relationship is disintegrating) from a gondola.

"Come Rain or Come Shine" - In London, an expatriate EFL teacher is invited to the home of a couple whom he knew whilst at university. However the couple's tensions affect the visitor, leading to a rather awkward situation.

"Malvern Hills" - A young guitarist flees London and lack of success in the rock world to the Malvern countryside cafe owned by his sister and brother-in-law. Whilst there he encounters Swiss tourists whose behavior causes him to reflect on his own situation.

"Nocturne" - A saxophonist recuperating after plastic surgery at a Beverly Hills hotel becomes involved with a wealthy American woman (the now ex-wife of the crooner in the first story) and ends up in a rather bizarre confrontation on stage of the hotel (involving an award statuette and a cooked turkey).

"Cellists" - A Hungarian cellist falls under the spell of a fellow cellist, an apparently virtuosic American older woman, who tutors him. He later realizes that she cannot play the cello as she was so convinced of her own musical genius, no teacher ever seemed equal to it, and so rather than tarnish her gift with imperfection, she chose never to realize it at all.

I LOVED "Crooner"! It was clear from the start that Ishiguro excels at setting a scene and quickly building fairly full-formed characters, at least as full as is needed for a short. He handles mood like it's putty in the hands of an accomplished sculptor.

Some reviewer for a UK paper, I think it was The Guardian or something, said "Nocturne" was the funniest story. What the heck was this person thinking? "Nocturne" had a brief moment of humor, but it was otherwise long and lame. "Come Rain or Come Shine" was the one I found funniest. Its main character is like someone Ricky Gervias would've created and is almost as put-upon as Bertie Wooster. In fact, this particular story is very Wodehousian and quintessentially British in its dry humor.

"Malvern Hills" and "Cellists" are pretty enough in their imagery and sadness, but they don't quite come up to the mark of "Crooner".

All in all, this wasn't the best introduction to a new writer for this particular reader, but its quantity of quality was enough for me to seek out another book by Kazuo Ishiguro for a second chance.

Starting out as great as it did, after the story story I was ready to give Nocturnes 5 stars. Reading a couple more, I felt like this was a solid 4 stars. Struggling through the forth story dropped the overall score down to 3. Finishing off the book with a story that struggled to keep my attention didn't improve my opinion enough to raise it up to 4, so I'll call it 3.5 stars.

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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Entry Island

Entry IslandEntry Island by Peter May
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Detective Sime Mackenzie finds himself on a murder case on Entry Island, a tiny isle in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The suspect, a newly-widowed woman named Kirsty, seems oddly familiar to Sime. What is their connection? And can Sime survive in the same unit as his ex-wife long enough to find out?

I got this from Netgalley.

Entry Island was my first Peter May book and won't be the last. The book started a little slow for me at first but several things gripped me. I really liked Sime as a lead character. An insomniac cop whose life is falling apart? Sign me up! I also really liked the Entry Island setting. The thing that really grabbed me, however, was the book's structure. I loved the way things in Sime's ancestor's journal paralleled events in the main story.

The mystery wasn't all that mysterious but it wasn't the main focus anyway. Entry Island is very much a character driven book rather than a straight up mystery. The setting does a lot to set the tone, as does Sime's slowly disintegrating mental state.

It was nearly orgasmic when the connections starting coming together at the end. The last 30% was very hard to put down. Peter May has some serious writing chops. Even though I need another series to follow like I need a hole in my head, I'd read more stories about Sime Mackenzie.

So which Peter May book should I try next? Four out of five stars.

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