Sunday, July 23, 2017

Blister

BlisterBlister by Jeff Strand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After an unfortunate incident, cartoonist Jason Tray goes to his agent's cabin to hide out for a while. In the company of some drunken locals, he spies on local legend Blister, a woman with a disfigured, burn-scarred face. The next morning, he returns to her father's house to apologize and they become friends, which a lot of people are strangely against...

Jeff Strand earned his spot on my 'read everything by' list with such gems as Wolf Hunt and Kumquat. This one has been on my radar for a long time.

Based on the setup, I thought this one would be a lot like Kumquat. While there are some similarities, they're different kinds of books. While this one is also an unlikely love story, it's also about secrets in small towns and what people will do to keep them hidden.

Jason and Rachel, aka Blister, share a lot of witty banter and I thought their relationship developed pretty realistically. Blister's backstory was pretty twisted, as were a lot of the things that followed.
Strand could have phoned in the supporting cast as a bunch of small town rubes but I thought their motivations made a lot of sense in the context of things.

Jeff Strand's writing reminds me of a more serious Christopher Moore, hilarious when it needs to be and pretty horrific when the situation warrants. I was scared for Jason when the shit finally went down. Also, I felt like a rube a couple times since there were a few twists I should have seen coming. I kept looking at how much of the book I had left, wondering how there was so much book left to read. And then Strand would kick me in the gonads.

Blister was everything I hoped it would be and more. It's criminal that Jeff Strand isn't selling crazy numbers of books. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, July 21, 2017

See Right Through


Sara Winters
Self-Published
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars



Summary



Devin Salvo has always remained three steps ahead: in chess, on the pitch, and in his love life. His every desire is within arm's reach, except the one person Devin has always wished would be his in the end. All it takes is one conversation to open his eyes to a new possibility, one moment to change what Devin believes about friendship and love and one person to change the rules of the game.

Sam Marshall has been fighting his feelings for his friend and roommate for two years. When an opportunity presents itself, he makes his move, only to be faced with the very real fear that what he sees in Devin, the potential waiting to be realized, may be more than their friendship can handle.


My Review


Michael, Sam and Devin are roommates and best friends. Dev wants Michael, but Michael is straight. Michael feels strongly that Dev and Sam would be good together, but Dev vehemently disagrees. Sam quietly likes Devin even though Dev treats him like shit. Dev doesn’t care for their attractive neighbor and rugby teammate, Lee, because even though he doesn’t want Sam and can’t have Michael, he doesn’t want Lee to either.

Oh, the drama!

I knew that Sam would get his man in the end, and it was fun spending time with the guys while they’re playing rugby or chess, and during their long, soul-searching discussions while still managing to evade their feelings for each other.

As much as I enjoyed this story, I’m still not convinced Sam and Dev belong together and I don’t really have a desire to spend more time with these characters, except maybe Lee.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Age of Swords

Age of Swords (The Legends of the First Empire, #2)Age of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After the destruction of Dahl Rhen by the Fhrey, Persephone sets out to call a council of all Rhune Chieftains in order to appoint a keenig to lead them in the inevitable war with the Fhrey. When the council attempts to make Raithe the keenig he refuses. He believes the fight is unwinnable because of the Rhunes pitiful weapons. Persephone makes a pact with three Dwarves that's she's met to help them rid their home of a giant in exchange for Dherg swords and shields. Persephone and her party of women don't know the danger they've volunteered to defeat until they have no choice but to fight.

Age of Swords is the second book in The Legends of the First Empire series. If any fans of Riyria were worried they wouldn't like it, I'd have to say there is no reason for concern. Michael J. Sullivan tells a fresh tale about the heroes of that age while having many subtle tie-ins to the original series. The strength of storytelling along with the excellent characters make this story quite strong. Age of Swords is also much more of an ensemble cast lead by Persephone and Raithe while the original series revolved around Royce, Hadrian, and Arista. The book also utilizes a number of point of views characters.

The story is massive with multiple storylines going on with an overarching goal of trying to defeat the Fhrey in war. The task seems immense, but Persephone would die before she gives up. Persephone really takes charge and felt like the central character in Age of Swords. Her determination is truly remarkable.

There is so much I'd like to say about Age of Swords, but unfortunately there isn't much I can reveal with spoiling the story for others. Suffice to say Age of Swords is a strong sequel to Age of Myth.

4 out of 5 stars

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

BURR BY GORE VIDAL

BurrBurr by Gore Vidal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”In the half-light of the cemetery, Burr did resemble the devil--assuming that the devil is no more than five foot six (an inch shorter than I), slender, with tiny feet (hooves?), high forehead (in the fading light I imagine vestigial horns), bald in front with hair piled high on his head, powdered absently in the old style, and held in place with a shell comb. Behind him is a monument to the man he murdered.”

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Aaron Burr

Aaron Burr is, without a doubt, one of the most fascinating figures in American history. He cuts his own swath, leaving a wake behind him that rocks the tender foundations of this newly minted country. He is honorable and dishonorable in equal measure. He is a highly skilled lawyer (he will need those skills to defend himself) and an accomplished politician. Today, he is not as well known as Benedict Arnold, but in a series of events that are more lurid than the plot of a dime novel, he nearly supersedes Arnold as the most loathed man in America.

It is hard to believe that this controversial figure was nearly the third President of the United States. In 1800, one of those pivotal years in politics, Burr makes a deal with Thomas Jefferson to allow him to be president if he insures that Burr will be made vice president. Burr can bring the key New York votes to Jefferson. Interestingly enough, in the first ballot, they tie 73-73. With the way we venerate Jefferson (with a few reservations about his association with Sally Hemings), it is interesting to think about how close he comes to NOT being the third President of the United States. Really only because Burr upheld his promise, one of those times when Burr was maybe too honorable, did Jefferson achieve his ambition (though he insists in true Cincinnatus style that he never desired the Presidency).

The Aaron Burr of this story is really a surrogate for the wicked wit of Gore Vidal. I’d like to think that Burr was exactly how Vidal portrayed, the enigma of charm and enticing, irreverent behavior. His observations on the founding fathers is frankly hilarious. He describes George Washington’s ”womanly hips” and other aspects of his character that are even less flattering. What did he think of Jefferson? ”Meanwhile, I presided over the Senate. I also dined quite frequently with the President who continued to delight and fascinate me with his conversation, not to mention his wonderful malice which was positively Shakespearean in its variety.”

Or how about a description of an older Jefferson after two terms in the presidency.

”The smile was a swift baring of yellow teeth; the lips were gray tending to blue where most men are pink or red. I suppose it was the winter season that made him look like the last ashes of a once-fierce fire---soft, fine, white, no trace remaining of the foxy, red-haired man he had been save for the tarnished bronze of freckles.”

Ahh, yes, Mr. Vidal, you can most definitely write.

This story is told through the eyes of Charles Schuyler (not of the prominent New York Dutch family, unfortunately), a young writer who has been granted access to Burr because Burr has taken a shine to him. We learn in the later chapters exactly why Burr was so forthcoming with the young lad. Charles is there to listen to the Burr stories, write them down, and organize them into some semblance of a biography. Burr cautions the reader, or is that Vidal? ”My side of the story is not, necessarily, the accurate one. But you flatter me. And I like that!” Burr is in his 70s and has weathered more than his share of scandals. He is more interested in not being forgotten than he is in being venerated. Bad press will work as well or better than good press. Even on the social front, he is rather debonair about potential impropriety. ”Whenever a woman does me the honour of saying that I am father to her child, I gracefully acknowledge the compliment and disguise any suspicion that I might have to the contrary.”

A true gentleman, and yet; somehow still a cad!!!

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I love this badass statue of Aaron Burr at the Museum of American Finance.

Vidal explores his growing conflict with Alexander Hamilton, which escalates under the spidery web of insinuations that Jefferson glibly whispers in the ears of those around him. Burr is defined by this brief moment in time, involving two pistol shots, leaving one mortally wounded and immortalized and the other disreputed and, in many measures, driven to more desperate acts when he finds himself on the run out West. Those actions lead to the term “treason” being associated with him, but really it is more about making him pay for the death of Hamilton.

Vidal also explores the spurious comments that were made about President Martin Van Buren’s parentage. Politics have certainly reached a new low with our most recent election, but have no delusions; there was mud slinging, eye gouging, malicious slander, ankle biting, and generally unseemly behavior from the very beginning of our country.

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Gore Vidal looking very dapper in 1972.

Vidal takes us behind the scenes and shows us a more tarnished view of the Founding Fathers. At times this book is irreverent, but under the guise of Burr’s memories, one does wonder if this isn’t closer to the truth than the idealized version of history we are spoon fed with the American flag draped over our shoulders and the Statue of Liberty sitting rather provocatively in our laps.

I chuckled. I giggled. I gasped. The book is serious though. I don’t want to leave people with the impression that it is farcical or a spoof. Vidal does his research. He considered adding the long list of sources that he read and consulted to write this book for he wanted to stay out of the range of the rabid politicos who would not necessarily appreciate his interpretations of history. He elected to let them say what they will in true Aaron Burr fashion. Highly Recommended to those that want to experience an alternative view of our venerated Founders.

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Monday, July 17, 2017

George Martin Side Dish

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms (The Tales of Dunk and Egg, #1-3)A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is just what I was looking for! Old timey, good-doer knights and squires doin' good in an old timey setting!

I had picked up a fantasy book a few weeks ago that I hoped would satiate my current reading desires, but alas no. So I turned to George R.R. Martin. He's always a good bet. I like his writing style and I'm familiar with the world he's built. Sure, there's such a small amount of fantasy in his work that, aside from mention of dragons in this particular book, it could almost be called historical fiction for its similarity to the York and Tudor War of the Roses back in the 15th century.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is a collection of three lengthy short stories that follow the adventures of a hedge knight and his squire. Any fan of the Song of Fire & Ice series will recognize many of the names dropped herein even though these stories are set about a hundred years prior.

So what you get are some fun action/adventure tales with a helping of Seven Kingdoms history. It's a well-balanced combination. Seldom was I inundated with one or bored with the other.

The stakes are high enough to make you care surprisingly deeply about the two main characters by the end of the book. There's good, solid tension through out. And yet, the stakes aren't "Save the World or Bust!!!" high, which is a nice departure from the epic fantasy of the day.

In summary, this is a very enjoyable distraction that will entertain the dickens out of Martin's fans!

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Man Lies Dreaming

A Man Lies DreamingA Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the Auschwitz concentration camp, a former pulp writer named Shomer imagines a world where the Nazis never came to power and a certain dictator is a down and out private investigator named Wolf. Wolf is hired to find a woman named Judith Rubinstein, who may have been smuggled out of communist Germany. Can Wolf find Judith and figure out who is pulling the strings of his former allies?

I stumbled upon this book during my brief alternate history binge during what 2.0 called my Summer of Love. Since I dug The Bookman and HebrewPunk, I gave it a shot.

Grown from the same literary roots as The Man in the High Castle, A Man Lies Dreaming is a tale of what might have been, if the communists had risen to power in Germany in the 1930s instead of the Nazis.

Using Shomer as a framing device, Lavie Tidhar shows who Hitler might have become without power, a fearful, hateful, pathetic man with little direction. Parts of the tale are darkly funny, which makes sense since Shomer is dreaming the tale to forget about the horrors of Auschwitz.

I'm not sure why Wolf being a loser private detective in London works so well but it does. Wolf takes a more blows to the head than Lew Archer as he tries to track down Judith Rubinstein, making a lot of enemies in the process. Wolf is a slightly sympathetic lead until you remember how things went in real life. It's pretty satisfying to read the ass-kickings he takes and to see his impotent rage. Not to mention the kinky sex...

The books ends a little differently than I thought it would but it was still satisfying. Tidhar's copius research is apparent in the afterword, which I normally don't read. Thankfully, he doesn't suffer from the "work all research into the book" syndrome a lot of authors suffer from.

Lavie Tidhar has come a long way in the short time I've been aware of his work. A Man Lies Dreaming is both a great alternate history detective tale and a commentary on racism and the way we treat immigrants, something that sadly never goes out of style. Four out of five stars.





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Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Salt of Your Tears


M. Caspian
Self-Published
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars



Summary



Three works of m/m erotica from M. Caspian

In His Skin: Harrison offers Dylan the world. All he asks in return is Dylan follow a few simple rules.

Asking For It: Cole was looking for one night of casual sex. Garrett's going to give Cole everything he thought he couldn't have.

A Song in the Blood: Corran MacKenzie signed up to fight a war that wasn't his. In the desert he found Sephtis. And his fate.


My Review



Spare, yet richly evocative.

Dangerous, yet beautifully erotic, seductive and mesmerizing.

These stories may certainly push your limits, but there’s no denying the strength of these characters as they seek fulfillment of their emotional needs and desires.

In His Skin

Dylan is a man of no words. However, his suffering, his devotion and his longing are palpable. I loved this story.

Asking For It

On the outside, Cole is a buttoned-up middle-class kid who aspires to a career in finance. On the inside, he needs what the corporate world can’t provide. Garrett the bartender will take good care of Cole. This kinky and sweet story made my toes curl.

A Song in the Blood

Gorgeous, chilling and intense. Since he was a little boy, Corran has needed it to hurt.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Introducing Boston P.I., Spenser

"The office of the university president looked like the front parlor of a successful Victorian whorehouse."

Thus opens the novel that introduced Robert B. Parker's most famous creation, Boston P.I., Spenser. Spenser was a former cop who'd been fired for insubordination, and he was also a veteran of the Korean War. When The Godwulf Manuscript was published in 1973, he was apparently somewhere in his middle forties, which means that when Parker wrote his last contribution to the series in 2011, Spenser would have been in his early eighties. With the publication this year of the latest book in the series, written by Ace Atkins, Spenser would be pushing ninety.

For a guy that old, he still does amazingly well. More important, for a series this long--now forty-five books--the character and the concept have held up very well. Truth to tell, the series had begun to falter a bit toward the end of Parker's life, but Atkins has put it back on track and restored it to its former glory.

From the beginning, as suggested by the opening sentence above, Spenser was a world-class smart ass. He was also a very tough guy, wise to the ways of the world, and, naturally, hugely attractive to the ladies. He worked by his own rules, and for Spenser, the ends almost always justified the means. He was a very worthy successor to the generation of tough-guy P.I.s who had come before him.

In this case, a very valuable manuscript has been stolen from a Boston University. The manuscriptnappers are asking $100,000 for its safe return, but this is not one of the more stellar universities for which Boston is known. They don't have a hundred grand, and so the university president hires Spenser to get the manuscript back.

Spenser's main lead is to a group of campus radicals. Almost immediately, someone is murdered and the stakes are raised significantly. The murder and the theft are obviously related, and Spenser soon finds himself caught between the university officials, the cops, some local mobsters, a lot of uncooperative students and a particularly nasty faculty wife. Naturally, none of these will pose any significant problem for Spenser, but things will get very dicey along the way.

Rereading the book after a very long time was a lot of fun, and it's held up very well, especially for a book that's now forty-three years old. Mainly that's because the character of Spenser seems somehow almost timeless and the story moves along so well that you don't even stop to think about all the modern technology that Spenser doesn't have at his beck and call.

The character is obviously not fully formed yet. A couple of characters are introduced who will accompany Spenser through the entire run of the series, but Parker is still feeling his way along here, and it was interesting to go back and see the character again as he initially appeared.

This is the book in which Spenser meets Brenda Loring, who will be his first significant love interest. I liked Brenda a lot, and like many another fan of this series, I rue the day when she disappeared from the series only to have Spenser wind up with the insufferable Susan Silverman. Happily, that doesn't happen for a while, which is one of the reasons why so many of the early books in this series are among the best of the lot. All in all, this was a great trip back down Memory Lane.

Sins of Empire

Sins of Empire (Gods of Blood and Powder, #1)Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fatrasta is a nation at conflict with itself. It subjugates a people group and their desire for equality. The Lady Chancellor uses not only her secret police the Blackhats, but also employs the Riflejack Mercenary Company led by Lady Vlora Flint. Fatrasta has also buried it's heroes who helped win them freedom, most notably Ben Styke. Styke has spent 10 years rotting in a Fatrastan labor camp. Fatrasta's problems may be worse than they initially feared, as a long silent threat appears to have returned along with an object best left buried.

I have to say before I even begin that I was worried I wouldn't like Sins of Empire or the new series. My reason being is that Field Marshal Tamas was far and away my favorite character in the Powder Mage trilogy. I wasn't sure if I'd enjoy the storytelling with him gone, especially as my other favorites Bo and Ka-poel were no where to be seen. Even worse the only character mentioned returning from the original trilogy was Vlora who I didn't care for.

As Sins of Empire began my worries seemed more reasonable as the story largely resembled Promise of Blood. The story has a mysterious man causing trouble in Gregious Tampo. Tampo seemed largely similar to Vetas from the intital trilogy. It also has a spy investigating in blackhat Michel Bravis who was similar to Inspector Adamat. Around the halfway point in the novel, I have to admit I had no idea what I was in for. Brian McClellan borrowed some familiar elements, but they didnt lead to the same results at all.

Sins of Empire is a massive story with many moving parts and various characters. In many ways it's a mystery as multiple investigations are going on that play massive parts in the story being told. I didn't particularly love any one character, but the book played out as a true ensemble cast.

Any reader who came to enjoy Brian McClellan's Powder Mage trilogy owes it to themselves to read Sins of Empire. It was a strong start to a new trilogy.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

THE KINGDOM OF ICE BY HAMPTON SIDES

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS JeannetteIn the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”About the same time the sun vanished, the ice began to move again. The noise was terrible---first the sounds of the ice warring with itself, then the more dreadful sounds of the ice warring with the ship. The turbulence started early on a cold November morning. De Long was awakened by a ‘grinding and crushing---I know of no sound on shore that can be compared to it,’ he said. ‘A rumble, a shriek, a groan, and a crash of a falling house all combined might convey an idea.’”

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USS Jeannette

Little was known about the Arctic in 1879, but there were a lot of theories regarding the best way to reach the Arctic and also regarding what the explorers would find once they reached their goal. Though the science of these theories may have been suspect, the enthusiasm that these theorists possessed was infectious and represented the desire that most explorers, amateur and professional, had for discovering the secrets of the Arctic. One such theory, that there was a warm polar sea on the other side of the ice barrier, was used in a story by Edgar Allan Poe called The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.

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George Washington De Long

George Washington De Long had long been bitten by the pagophilic bug. When the chance came for him to command a vessel to explore a route through the Arctic, he gleefully volunteered. With the financial assistance of the very rich owner of the New York Herald, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., they found a ship, refitted it for Arctic travel, and christened it the USS Jeannette, named after Bennett’s sister.

De Long and Bennett were an odd pairing, a matching of the self made and the silver spooned. De Long was very serious, but also determined. He was not afraid to ask for what he needed or go after what he wanted. Bennett was born rich and was quite capable of acting like a self-obsessed ass. ”Bennett had a habit of strolling into one of the finest establishments in Paris or New York and snatching the table linens as he proceeded down the aisle, smashing plates and glassware on the floor, to the horror of the dining patrons, until he reached his reserved table in the back. (He never failed to write a check for the damages.)” I couldn't imagine myself sitting there and allowing a man to walk by and yank my meal out from under my nose without taking exception. (Duel level exception.) He also lost an engagement by arriving at his fiancee’s house roaring drunk and pissed in the fireplace. I’m sure he had some good qualities, but on the most basic human level, he was lacking manners and completely undisciplined.

Bennett was the man who sent Henry Morton Stanley after David Livingstone. He sold piles of newspapers by, in a sense, creating news. As it turned out, Livingstone wasn’t in need of finding, so this idea to explore the Arctic felt like a similar story opportunity to Bennett.

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James Gordon Bennett, Jr.

The subtitle of the book is ”The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette.” The grand part was the excitement and anticipation of preparing for the trip with the hope of returning as conquering heroes of the frozen North. The whole rest of the trip was the terrible part, tragic really. They become trapped in the ice and spent two years drifting with an ice pack until the day the ice shifted and crushed the Lady Jeannette into pieces.

Then began a desperate bid for survival that took them across the ice with the help of their dogs and three small boats. They fought hunger and frostbite…”...when he pulled off his boots, Leach saw that his toes were turning blue-black, the skin and nails curling backwards, like feathers singed by a flame.” Needless to say, the conditions were abominable with howling winds, storms, and cold temperatures that plunged well below anything most of us will ever experience.

I was enthralled. I could not put this book down. Once the tale sunk it’s icy needles into my bloodstream, I was freezing off important body parts right along with the men of the Jeannette. Hampton Sides benefited from the fact that numerous members of the crew made detailed journal entries. They were well aware that what they were attempting was historic. One of the poignant aspects of the book was the letters that Emma and George De Long wrote to each other while apart. Here is one of my favorites from Emma:

”All this will be forgotten when we meet again; it will seem only as a bad dream---a fearful nightmare that has been successfully passed through. However dangerous your surroundings are at present I can still trust God and hope a little longer. I often dream of you and you seem all right, only sad and not as strong as you used to be. Oh darling! I cannot show you my love, my sympathy, my sorrow for your great sufferings. I pray to God constantly. My own darling husband, struggle, fight, live, come back to me!”

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Emma De Long

The bravery and resourcefulness that was exhibited by nearly every crew member spoke to the wonderful job that De Long did in finding the right men for this arduous and dangerous trip. A few suffered from melancholy as the months passed, but most of the crew was intent on carrying their own weight and contributing to the well-being of the entire group. George Melville, a distant relative of Herman Melville, was the Macgyver of the group. He could take any pile of junk and turn it into some amazingly useful piece of machinery. He went on to have a long, successful career in the Navy. ”Melville presided over an expansive redesign of the fleet, largely completing its conversion from wood to metal, and from wind to steam power. When he retired, in 1903, the U.S. Navy boasted one of the most powerful modernized fleets in the world.”

Pull on your boots and your thickest parka, and experience the grand and the terrible. You will find, like me, that you will become fond of these men and maybe even more fond of their dogs.

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