Friday, July 1, 2016

A Katla Killfile: Locked Room



Martyn V. Halm
Self-Published
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars




Summary




Assassin Katla reinvents a forensic landmark while creating a Locked Room mystery...


The Locked Room KillFile (7,800 words) follows freelance assassin Katla Sieltjes executing a contract on a physician responsible for the death of her client’s wife. Using an updated version of a lethal puzzle that astounded forensic scientists at the end of the twentieth century, Katla recreates a diabolical killing method that became a landmark in the forensic sciences. Thwarting forensic scientists is not her only hurdle in fulfilling her contract, as her target has to be killed in his home, an opulent penthouse in a fortress-like apartment building…

The Katla KillFile short stories chronologically precede the novels in the Amsterdam Assassin Series.

Each KillFile features Katla Sieltjes, expert in disguising homicide, executing one of her contracts. While not mandatory reading, each KillFile provides insight both in Katla’s work methods and skill, and additional background information in her character and personal history. The KillFiles can be read out of order, as the contracts are random samples from her past.



My Review




The Katla KillFiles are brief stories that take place before the events in the Amsterdam Assassin series. If you like badass assassins, perfect crimes, and European settings, this is a perfect introduction.

In this assignment, Katla Sieltjes is a freelance contract killer hired to discreetly kill a physician for medical negligence involving her client’s wife.

This story hooked me right from the beginning. I loved Katla’s methodical planning, familiarity with technology, and her agility. Now I know what a karambit knife is. She’s very clever, cold and calculating and I sure don’t ever want to be on her bad side.

While I loved the character development, I also loved the tension and details in this story that lend authenticity.

I'm very curious about Katla's life, how she got to where she is, and how she keeps her personal life separate from work.

This is a lot of fun and free right now on Amazon.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Age of Myth

Age of Myth (The Legends of the First Empire #1)Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From a human perspective the Fhrey are gods. They appear to be immortal, they are unbeatable in battle, and they utilize magic no human can hope to match. All these notions are shattered like glass when a rock flies through it in the form of a human blade that kills a Fhrey. That blade was wielded by a young human man named Raithe. Raithe is now known as something else, the God Killer. The Fhrey not appreciating one of their own being killed by a filthy stinking rhune, retaliate by destroying two human villages and everyone in them. The Fhrey while never seeming so vulnerable, have never been so dangerous. What will happen to mankind when the Fhrey come to exterminate them?

Age of Myth was a really enjoyable book, but it was a slow start for me. Likely because I never read any of Michael J. Sullivan's Riyria stories other than a short story. Age of Myth and it's sequels are supposed to prequels of the Riyria series, but I can attest that no prior knowledge is necessary to enjoy this. The story started out slowly as one unfortunate event led to another, but it came together as the story continued. I saw more than a few familiar elements of other stories I enjoy in Age of Myth, but overall it was done in a way that was definitely enjoyable.

The rulers of the world in Age of Myth are the Fhrey. A Fhrey is blessed naturally with long life, so long in fact they appear to never age to humans. A normal Fhrey has proven to be far beyond a man's ability to fight, but there are even stronger Fhrey known as the Miralyith that use a magic called the Art to wield the forces of nature. Many of the Miralyith actually believe they are gods because of the seemingly unstoppable power they wield. The Fhrey seemed quite similar to Tolkien's elves from The Lord of the Rings. The Miralyith reminded me of mix the privileged from the Powder Mage series and elves. Utilizing the elements from the with their hands along with incredible arrogance are the two main qualities Privileged and Miralyith shared.

The story boasted some strong characters such as Raithe, Malcolm, Persephone, and Suri. They each played pivotal roles in the tale as it went on, but I'd like to focus on Suri. Suri was raised by a mystic that lived near the dahl, the ancient Tura. Because of this Suri doesn't understand much of the people of the dahl's ways. She thinks they are crazy to live in homes made of dead wood rather than in the forest with living trees that make great neighbors. She also believes when people say obvious things that they are playing a silly game. She immediately responds by saying something obvious as well. I'm not doing it justice, but it's clear that the clever young Suri thinks everyone from the dahl is a little bit off.

Age of Myth was a pleasant surprise. I will absolutely be looking forward to the next book in the series and I will have to find some time to read the Riyria series to better appreciate what's going on.

4 out of 5 stars

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

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Extraordinary X-Men Vol. 1: X-Haven

Extraordinary X-Men Vol. 1: X-HavenExtraordinary X-Men Vol. 1: X-Haven by Jeff Lemire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fate of mutantkind is once again in peril. The release of the terrigen cloud when Attilan fell has had unexpected consequences on mutants. The terrigen makes mutants sick with a disease called M-Pox. Storm has relocated the Jean Grey in order to protect as many mutants as possible from the cloud and the disease.
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As always the X-Men can't simply hide themselves when something sinister is afoot.

I have to say my immediate thought when I heard the storyline for X-Haven was Marvel Studios was flexing their muscles with the Inhumans while casually threatening Fox that they can exterminate all the mutants from the comics. I can't say that there weren't moments that confirmed that thought, but I have to admit they did a good job with the story. An interesting group of X-Men were chosen with Storm as their leader and things get wilder as the story progresses.
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While the disease and mutant extinction storylines are far from unique the world has changed due to Inhuman interference. They are mentioned everywhere and even when rampaging characters display crazy powers the question is now Inhuman or mutant. Thanks to the M-Pox mutants still are the more hated group though. Which seems unbelievable since the Inhumans were the cause of the terrigen cloud.

X-Haven was a good story and I look forward to where the Extraordinary X-Men head next.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

THE FREE STATE OF JONES BY VICTORIA E. BYNUM

The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil WarThe Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War by Victoria E. Bynum


”It was easy to see why the legend had endured. Its characters were larger than life: men bound to one another by kinship, economic status, and membership in a paramilitary band armed against the Confederacy; women equally bound by kinship and unfettered by the chains of ladylike behavior; and even some slaves, although Piney Woods, Mississippi was not a major slaveholding region. Towering above all other characters in popular memory were ‘Captain’ Newt Knight, the grandson of a slaveholder, and Rachel Knight, the slave of Newt’s grandfather. Their relationship added the specter of interracial intimacy to the story.”

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Newton Knight

There is a misconception regarding the County of Jones in Mississippi. Some think this county seceded from the Confederacy, but the real truth is they never left the Union. They remained loyal to their federal government, and some men even left to join the Union army, but a group of men, some deserters from the Confederate Army and some slaves, banded together to form a resistance to what they considered to be an invading force.

Rachel was a slave, a pretty woman with light skin. Her descendents tried to convince people that she was of Spanish heritage as a way to excuse her dark eyes, dark hair, and tinted complexion. It is all rubbish, of course, just people putting their racism on display when what they should be is feeling proud that, despite her circumstances, she became a woman to be reckoned with. Ethel Knight wrote a damning biography of Newt but maybe unintentionally revealed the more interesting part of the story. ”Ethel not only restored Rachel’s historical role, but she also unveiled a powerful, larger-than-life woman who had endured slavery, sexual exploitation, the Civil War Reconstruction, and Mississippi’s mounting campaign for white supremacy and racial segregation. Most strikingly, Rachel seemed to have had as much impact on the world around her as it had on her.”

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Rachel Knight

Rachel had three children before the Civil War; all the children were obviously from white fathers. As a slave, she didn’t have much choice who bent her over a table and flung her skirt up. The raping of female slaves was an epidemic in the South. ”Between 1890-1920 white Southern literature---especially newspapers---commonly portrayed interracial sexual relations as the product of sex-crazed black ‘fiends’ ravishing innocent, virginal blondes, rather than as the product of white men raping black women or of blacks and whites participating in consensual sexual relations.”

The interesting thing is, when these wealthy planters impregnated their slaves, they were condemning their own offspring to slavery. In their minds, they were helping to create more workers for their plantations. There is a disconnect in this reasoning that has me thinking that sex with their slaves, basically having a harem at their disposal, was more important to them than any thoughts of their own blood being condemned to a life in chains.

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I’m sure Hollywood, in the new movie starring Matthew Mcconaughey, will make it a love story between Newt and Rachel. The author Victoria E. Bynum doesn’t necessary disabuse that notion, but I couldn’t help thinking, was this love or was Rachel just being practical? White men found her attractive. Maybe she was with the alpha dog to keep from having to fend off the attentions of the other men. She had children with Newt, but what makes me feel a bit unsettled about buying the love story is that he also rumored to have had children with her daughter. What the heck was going on out there in the deep Mississippi woods? To further complicate the picture, he remained married to his wife Serena for the rest of his life.

Men joined Newt out of fear for their lives. They didn’t want to die on a battlefield, fighting Yankees for rich planters. It wasn’t exactly safe being with Newt’s band; many were caught and hung or shot. They were also suffering economic hardship from being away from their homes to go to war. When the Confederacy passed the Twenty Negro Law which allowed any Southerner with twenty or more slaves to leave the war to go home to help with harvest, it became clear to many men that the Confederate Government was only worried about the very richest of the rich. Does the man with twenty slaves really need to go home? It seems to me that this small demographic had plenty of help to bring in the harvest. It was the man with no slaves, with a wife and a passel load of children, who needed to go home to help.

Of course, the bulk of the soldiers were poor men with either a small acreage or were sharecroppers without land. If you let those guys go home, there would be no army. I know many thought they were going to war to defend their “raights,” but in reality they were fighting to defend a system in which they had no skin in the game.

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12.2% of the population of Jones County were slaves. This was the lowest percentage of any county in Mississippi. These were not men who aspired to be slave owners. Bynum traces back the history of these men as their ancestors came from Georgia and South Carolina to Mississippi to live simple lives and avoid the corruption of ”over civilisation.”

There was always something a little different about Jones County.

Victoria E. Bynum is descended from one of the men who joined Newt Knight in his armed resistance to the Confederacy. I’ve done some research on my own family, and one of the things that happens is that as you collect the data and begin to put together a picture of who your ancestors are, you start to change how you think about yourself. Discovering your roots is important, but there is always the risk that you will discover that you are descended from scalawags or unscrupulous men or a murderer. To me that just adds spice to the stew that is a family tree. Bynum confessed that, once she finished this book, she was going to miss living every day with these people who were so unique, so brave, and who resisted when many more should have.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Sudden Appearance of Hope By: Claire North

The Sudden Appearance of HopeThe Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am not sure what I expected reading this. A friend gave it to me and I, being the book hoarder I am..took it. I know a guy in the town I live in, due to reasons I don't fully know, can't remember anyone literally moments after he meets them, he writes you down in a notepad he keeps in his pocket, his condition absolutely horrifies and amazes me, I couldn't imagine it.

Hope, the character in this book, has sort of the reverse issue, after a short while, people forget her. I am not breaking my rule about spoilers..Hope takes her condition somewhat by the horns and the life she leads and the things that occur to her are heartbreaking and thought provoking and one of the more interesting tales I have picked up recently.

Check this out, and cheers to my friend who thought I would like it, I did.



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Monday, June 27, 2016

Dench Tells More

And FurthermoreAnd Furthermore by Judi Dench
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dramatic actors...they're so goddamn dramatic!

This auto/biography (told by her to a biographer, who patched it all together) mostly discusses Judi Dench's time in the theater, so there's plenty of scenes relayed about actors behaving badly. Not only actors, but directors as well...and it seemed to me, mostly men. I don't think Dench intended to bag on theater dudes. It just happens that, for some reason, the male of the species often acts atrociously towards their fellows. I think the embarrassingly obvious, child-like lies are the worst. But I digress. And Furthermore is so much more than all that pettiness.

This is at least Dench's second autobiography. I haven't read the first, but I'm led to believe it is more fleshed out, more of a standard biography. This book fills in some of the blanks missed in the first, apparently. However, it can be read as a standalone and still be enjoyable. I know my three star rating might seem low to some, but I did enjoy this. Contrary to my opening, I do like hearing the behind the scenes stories of what happens backstage or when the cameras aren't rolling, and Dench gives you countless such anecdotes, mostly on the kind, glowing, positive side.

The book reads generally in a linear timeline, starting with a few brief childhood recollections, slipping straight into the beginnings of her stage career - a long, varied and rewarding career - before diving into her movie work. Although she claims not to be adept at penning biographies, her joy and pleasure in acting is readily apparent in her words. If you've admired her work or even if you just have an interest in British theater over the past half century, you could do worse than flipping through these pages - pages and pages of which mention icon stage performances including countless Brit actors name-dropped like hot potatoes!

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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Honky Tonk Samurai

Honky Tonk SamuraiHonky Tonk Samurai by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When an old lady shoots some video of Leonard kicking the shit out of a dog abuser, she tasks Hap & Leonard with finding her missing grand daughter in exchange for not informing the authorities. Hap & Leonard are soon up to their eyebrows in a stew of blackmail, prostitutes, and a testicle taking killer called The Canceler...

The dynamic duo really stepped in a steaming pile in this one. Brett, Hap's girlfriend, bought Marvin Hanson's detective agency and the boys are now legit private eyes. Their first licensed case might be their last. Honky Tonk Samurai brings a few of the Hap & Leonard supporting cast members together like the A-Team. Jim Bob Luke, Cason, and Vanilla Ride all have pretty big roles as Hap and Leonard try to unravel the case. Booger, the newbie, was much more interesting than I originally thought. Complicating matters are a young woman who may be connected to Hap, bikers, the Dixie Mafia, the Barbecue King, and The Canceler.

This story is vintage Lansdale. The jokes are hilarious, the writing is crisp, and the violence is gore-soaked. Since it's Hap and Leonard we're talking about, I knew asses would be kicked and shots would be fired but the climax was even more than I expected.

Honky Tonk Samurai is much beefier than the previous two H&L outings but Lansdale's latest tale is balls to the wall for much of its 350 pages. I lost track of all the quotable lines I meant to remember in the mad rush to the end.

While the climax was great, one of the twists nearly had me shitting myself. One of my few complaints with the series is that all the wisecracking makes you forget lives are at stake. No more! The book left so many unanswered questions that I hope the next Hap & Leonard book is already at the press.

Four out of five stars. If you can handle 350 pages of pure Mojo, get it now!

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Miracleman, Book Three: Olympus

Miracleman, Book Three: OlympusMiracleman, Book Three: Olympus by Alan Moore
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Aliens come looking for Miracleman. Winter, Miracleman's daughter, begins speaking before she's a month old. Miraclewoman makes her presence known. Kid Miracleman returns. A utopia is created.

The third Miracleman volume is kind of a disappointment. Firstly, it's a wordy son of a bitch, huge blocks of purple prose on every page. Secondly, apart from Kid Miracleman returning, it's pretty damn boring. Utopia is just as uninteresting as it sounds. Not only that, Miracleman went from being a revisionist Captain Marvel character that was bursting with potential to looking more like his ancestor, Superman.

All that being said, it's still an interesting piece of comic book history and asks the same question as the Squadron Supreme miniseries that came out shortly after this. What would happen if the superheroes took over the world? Too bad what Miracleman, Miraclewoman, and the Warpsmiths cook up is on the bland side. Two out of five stars.

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Scared Stiff



Sara Latta
Zest Books
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars



Summary



Everyone knows what it is to be afraid. But phobias take the normal (and even helpful!) human emotion of fear to a much more visceral, even primal, place. For some people, it’s a spider that does it. For others it’s a clown, or a trans-Atlantic flight, or even just a puddle of water. It’s the thing that stops us in our tracks, sets our hearts racing, and stands our hairs on end. Scared Stiff takes readers on a journey through these experiences—using biology, psychology, and history (not to mention pop culture) to explain where our phobias came from, how they affect us, and how we might eventually overcome them.

Inside You’ll Also Find:

✳ An explanation of the history behind each of these fifty phobias, and a discussion of notable people who have suffered from the fear
✳ Sidebars that highlight famous phobic moments from history and pop culture
✳ Updates on how successful the various phobia treatments have been

Phobias are no laughing matter, but sometimes the first step to overcoming our anxiety is understanding that sometimes we’re afraid of some really weird things. So whether you’re looking for perspective, information, or just want to know what keeps Madonna and David Beckham up at night, this is the book for you. (Bibliophobes, however, should probably keep their distance!)


My Review



This is a fun and easy-to-read guide on 50 different types of phobias.


The phobias are listed in alphabetical order and include the Greek and Latin terms from which they originate. There are interesting little tidbits of information along with quotes and a mention of phobic celebrities.


Author Libba Bray is afraid of dolls (pediophobia). Stephen King says, “Dolls with no little girls around to mind them are sort of creepy under any conditions.” I’m a little disappointed that Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter’s pediophobia was not mentioned, nor the fact that he gave it to his character, Tig.







I was familiar with many of the phobias, because I have mild versions of two of them and know people (or read about people) with some of the others.


My discomfort with large, crowded spaces (agoraphobia) can probably be attributed to a trip with my dad to the Bronx Zoo when I was 8 years old. He held my hand most of the time, but let me go while he was taking pictures. A large group of kids crowded in front of the elephants my dad was photographing and we ended up getting separated. I panicked when I couldn’t see him, so I tried to get around the kids. A man walking ahead was wearing a black and gray tweed winter coat and a black fur hat with earflaps, just like my dad, so I ran up to him and grabbed his hand. When he looked at me, I realized he wasn’t my dad. Just before my heart dropped out of my chest, my dad grabbed my hand and scolded me for wandering off.


A more recent experience is mentioned here.


I can’t say I’ve had any negative experiences with spiders (arachnophobia), but I’ve had a love-hate relationship with them for a long time. I’m fascinated with them when I look at pictures or see them in enclosed displays. When they are jumping, creeping around, or emerging from hidden places, I totally freak out. When I moved out of my last apartment, the easiest way to move boxes of books I had in the basement was up a short flight of stairs and out through the bulkhead door. Knowing there were lots of long-legged spiders and their hideous webs there, I lugged the heavy boxes up the steep basement stairs, through the kitchen and out the door. I’m still not sure why I loathe spiders, but don’t suffer a fear of snakes (ophidiophobia).


Some of these phobias are quite common:


- Social phobia – 7 to 13 percent of Americans

- Trypanophobia (fear of needles) – 10 percent of Americans

- Aviophobia (fear of flying) – 6.5 percent of Americans


Others are rather unusual:


- Urophobia (fear of urination) – This fear occurs more frequently in men than in women.

- Coprophobia (fear of defecation) – While I’m not a major sufferer, I feel uncomfortable doing my business in crowded restrooms and try to avoid it when possible.

- Taphophobia (fear of being buried alive) – Before stethoscopes were invented, this fear was very legitimate! Shortly before his death in 1875, Hans Christian Anderson asked a friend to make sure his arteries were severed before he was buried.


In the back of the book, the author includes tips on overcoming your fears, including seeking professional help, and a list of resources.


Recommended.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

All-New, All-Different Avengers, Vol. 1: The Magnificent Seven

All-New, All-Different Avengers, Vol. 1: The Magnificent SevenAll-New, All-Different Avengers, Vol. 1: The Magnificent Seven by Mark Waid
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a new threat appears on the Earth, a new team of Avengers is formed to face it.
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This volume is an origin story of the All-New All-Different Avengers along with some minor fights.
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I really thought I would like this Avengers lineup. As soon as I saw the lineup I thought, I like Miles Morales, Iron Man, and Ms. Marvel so this should be awesome. I have to say I was disappointed. I found out I didn't like Ms. Marvel as much as I thought I did. Who would have thought that I wouldn't relate that much with a teenage Muslim girl from Jersey City?
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I still like Iron Man and Miles Morales the new Spider-Man, but that's just two characters on a larger team. I'm largely indifferent about Falcon as Captain America, Lady Thor, Vision, Nova, and Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel. It's hard for everyone to get enough page time with such a large lineup and being apathetic about the majority of the team led to me not being that excited about this volume.

My other complaint is the Avengers are only viable when facing incredibly difficult odds. Anything else should be overkill, but for some reason this particularly capable group of crime fighters aren't nearly as competent as a group. Each of these characters headlines their own comic, they should easily be able to throwdown against any normal villain.

Despite the incredible film success for the Avengers, I have rarely found Avenger comics that hold my attention and unfortunately the All-New All-Different Avengers are no exception.

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