Monday, September 25, 2017

Golly Good Stuff!

Money for NothingMoney for Nothing by P.G. Wodehouse
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What ho?! A smashing early Wodehouse? Topping!

I thought I'd sworn off early Wodehouse works. The one's I've read so far have been blah. Just drippy romances with the lightest of comedy touches. Nothing worth wasting time on.

However, I grabbed this one on audiobook because I saw that it was narrated by Jonathan Cecil, who does a corking good job with the English toff voice. As far as voicing the upperclass English twit, Cecil's top of his class!

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Money for Nothing follows a common Wodehouse template of love combined with caper. Hijinks always ensue!

Perhaps another reason I enjoyed this one so much was that it reminds me so very much of a typical Jeeves & Wooster book. The characters and setting have an old shoe familiarity. In fact some of these characters are recurring:

The action is mostly set at Rudge Hall, home to miser Lester Carmody, and at Healthward Ho, a health farm run by "Chimp" Twist, along with his cohorts "Soapy" and "Dolly" Molloy, who all previously appeared in Sam the Sudden (1925), and returned in Money in the Bank (1946). Hugo Carmody, Lester's nephew, and his friend Ronnie Fish also appear at Blandings Castle, home of Ronnie's uncle Lord Emsworth, in Summer Lightning (1929) and Heavy Weather (1933). - Wikipedia

The main point is, I knew just who was who, even though they were all technically new to me. When you're looking for a reliable laugh, the same old same old isn't always a bad thing. And this book ain't a bad thing!




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The 1565 Siege of Malta

The Great Siege: Malta 1565The Great Siege: Malta 1565 by Ernle Dusgate Selby Bradford
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Now that was a hell of a siege!

I picked up The Great Siege: Malta 1565 by Ernle Bradford without knowing much about Malta and nothing about the siege of 1565. The book isn't too long and I figured it would be a nice diversion. It proved to be WAY more than that!

The Ottoman Empire tried to invade the island of Malta, then held by the Knights Hospitaller, as a means to set up a base for their fleet in order to make further attacks upon western Europe. The Knights and their stalwart allies the native Maltese were outnumbered three to one (more by some estimates) by a seemingly invincible Turkish force.

The blood, guts and gore, not to mention the utter desperation of it all, is captured so very well by Bradford. This is a legitimate nail-biter! Bradford teases out the tension without dragging out the action, and what action! His descriptions of the battles are excellent. His character sketches put you in the shoes of those making the fateful decisions and those carrying out the orders of an epic battle fought in a past distant and hazy enough to make accurate portrayals quite difficult.

If I recommended this any more I'm afraid I'd pull a muscle!

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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Cyclops Road

Cyclops RoadCyclops Road by Jeff Strand
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With a recently deceased wife and no job, Evan's life was going nowhere until a mysterious young woman named Harriet saves him from muggers. She's lived a monastic existence, training her whole life to combat a Cyclops that lives in Arizona. Like any sensible man, Evan decides to drive her there...

I'll read pretty much anything Jeff Strand writes at this point. A road trip that may or may not have a Cyclops at the end of it? Why the hell not?

Cyclops Road is one of Jeff Strand's quirkier books, like Kumquat. Evan's at rock bottom when Harriet falls into his life. Who wouldn't want to go on a crazy hero's journey type of quest given those circumstances.

Like most of Jeff Strand's works, Cyclops Road is pretty damn hilarious. Harriet guides Evan, the unbeliever, to three other companions the prophecy dictates they find, sending them zigzagging across the country. When they finally find the Cyclops, the wheels come off the ice cream truck in dramatic fashion.

While I liked Cyclops Road, I didn't love it. It was funny but the only characters I cared about were Evan and Harriet. After such hilarious tales as Kumquat and Blister, it was probably a case of me setting the bar a little too high. Jeff Strand's still high on my list of favorite authors, though.

To sum things up, Cyclops Road is a hilarious tale of faith, destiny, renewal, and monster slaying. Three out of five stars.

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Friday, September 22, 2017

The Strength of a Man

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



Summary



Kurt Dennings learned one life lesson the hard way: love, even between a parent and child, is not always unconditional. After coming out and experiencing a painful rejection from his parents and friends, Kurt feels as if he's lost everything that mattered.

James Theard comes into Kurt's life when he needs someone the most. A friend first and boyfriend second, James becomes his shoulder to lean on, a voice of reason and helps Kurt learn he is stronger and more capable than he imagined.



My Review



Kurt Dennings is a college freshman and a good swimmer with a lot of potential. James Theard is the swim team captain who volunteers to help Kurt refine his technique and get him in shape for the team’s first match. What holds Kurt back is a lack of confidence in his abilities, and the feeling that Coach Davis’ decision to take him on the team was influenced by his friendship with Kurt’s father. As if that’s not enough, Kurt recently came out to his parents and close friends and is hurting deeply from their bitter rejection.

James is very attentive and really wants Kurt to succeed. He is also very perceptive and knows that something more is going on that is keeping Kurt from staying focused. There is an attraction that James struggles to keep under wraps until he is more certain about Kurt’s feelings. I love the gentle flirtation, blushes, and the instructive touching to show Kurt just which muscles he needs to use more effectively.

As the two young men get to know each other, Kurt reveals the anguish caused by his family’s rejection and Kurt offers support and friendship. I liked the slow progression of their relationship and James’ desire to be a friend first. When Kurt’s mother finally starts to come around, their interaction is heartbreaking. His mom was very well developed and showed a wide range of reactions from shock, denial, anger, hurt, rejection, and gradual acceptance.

James is a really good guy and doesn’t take advantage of Kurt’s youth and inexperience. At times, he felt a little too perfect, but Kurt has had such a bad time between his family’s rejection and the problems in his past that keep James and Kurt from achieving total sexual intimacy that I was glad for his supreme patience and understanding. Still, I would have liked to feel more of James’ frustration.

I loved the swimming details and would have liked to see more focus on Kurt’s progress. Kurt’s other problem, while handled very sensitively, was a little much for a story of this short length and made me feel overwhelmed.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

THE REDEEMER BY JO NESBO

The Redeemer (Harry Hole, #6)The Redeemer by Jo Nesbø
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”And for one vulnerable moment Harry felt nothing but sympathy. Not the sympathy he could feel for the victim or for the next of kin, but for the person who for one heartrending moment sees his own pathetic humanity.”

Harry Hole has looked in the mirror many times and seen the stark pitiful vision of his own existence. His own human frailty too real to bear, but there is always a new case to keep him from drowning in despair.

Something smells fishy in the ranks of the Salvation Army in Oslo, Norway, and it isn’t just the odor coming from the investigating officer’s tennis shoes.

”’You should get yourself a couple of new insoles for the sneakers you’ve got in there,’ she said, pointing.

He eyed her in astonishment.

‘You don’t have to be Jean-Baptiste Grenouille to recognize the smell,’ she added.

‘Patrick Suskind,’ he said. ‘Perfume.’

‘A policeman who reads,’ she said.

‘A Salvation Army soldier who reads about murder,’ he said. ‘Which leads us back to the reason for my being here, I’m afraid.’”


An attractive woman in a snappy, Salvation Army uniform who references the main character of the cult classic Perfume would turn the head of any man of discerning taste, but for a lonely man like Harry Hole, it is like seeing an unexpected blue haze of water in the middle of the Sahara desert. He is intrigued, maybe even a bit besotted. I’d chastise Harry because he is in love with another woman and barely hanging onto a few months of sobriety, but I was right there with him, wanting to keep this woman talking to see what other interesting literary allusions might fall from her pretty lips.

Martine.

And so young.

Harry has a new boss who keeps a cast on his desk of the pinky finger of a fanatical, Japanese officer from WW2 who cut off his finger when his superior did not allow him to counterattack.

The pinky says it all.

This is going to be a difficult working relationship.

Harry has a lack of social survivability skills. He says what he means without a filter. He pushes things to the breaking point when he should let it go. He likes being alone, or so he says, but really he is just still searching for the person who will complete him. The person who will make him want to stay sober. He sees things and makes connections that others do not make. He is the best detective in the department, and if he weren’t, he’d have already been bounced out of the department, and we would be reading about Harry the Truck Driver or Harry the Bouncer.

He has caught an interesting case involving the very public, very professional shooting of a mid-level officer in the Salvation Army. Who would want to kill someone in God’s army?

Harry soon finds himself in a desperate chase that has him running through the streets of Oslo, trying to catch up with the killer who is called The Little Redeemer. The case has him meeting with the mother of a Serbian, resistance fighter to trade a life for a life. He finds himself searching through empty, shipping containers on the docks and is nearly eaten by a rare, but vicious Metzner guard dog. There are junkies who know seemingly insignificant pieces of the plot. The twists and turns of the changing truth would leave most investigators’ minds corkscrewed into a babbling mess of incoherent suppositions. Harry’s mind just continues to refine what he knows, sets aside what is confusing, until finally the facts become incontestable.

And the new partner assigned to Harry learns very quickly to just let him work and not to try to keep up with the jumps in logic. Sometimes, Harry leaps Grand Canyons. Who wants to flail and fall through the long darkness to only find Harry’s painful grin waiting for you at the bottom so he can elucidate for you who and why? Drive him where he wants driven. Do what he asks and enjoy the front row view of not only the reveal of the killer, but also of the mastermind behind it all.

Oh, and Tom Waaler, from The Devil’s Star, the series entry before this one, is a phantom continuing to lurk on the edges of every Harry inspired success. Some things are just never put to bed.

As always Jo Nesbo delivers an exciting thriller that scratches that Nordic Noir itch I get at least once a month. Next for me is Snowman to be properly prepared to watch Michael Fassbender metamorphose into Harry Hole in the movie release on October 20th, 2017.

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The Witch of the Sands

The Witch of the Sands (The Hounds of the North, #1)The Witch of the Sands by Peter Fugazzotto
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shield Scyldmund and his men The Hounds for two decades were the warlock and witch hunters for the Dhurman Empire, but now they've been reduced to bounty hunters. The Hounds yearn to return North while Shield continues to honor his vow to rid the world of dark magic users. Shield gets his chance as once more the empire calls on The Hounds to hunt a witch.

The Witch of the Sands was a surprisingly solid short story. The description seemed solid and I'm glad I gave it a chance. There is nothing particularly special about the story yet it had its own personal touches. For instance warlocks and witches in this world use words of power to conjure their magic. These words can be taken and from time to time The Hounds have been asked to assist the empire in acquiring the words of power.

The characters didn't get enough page time to establish themselves. The story is told from Shield's point of view and he's the standard aging war leader, full of regrets while making hard decisions. The author did throw some interesting visuals such as Hawk who fights with a giant sword, Patch who lost an eye, and Night who blends into the shadows thanks to a warlock's cloak.

The Witch of the Sands was a strong start to The Hounds of the North series.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Siege Line (Reawakening Trilogy #3) By: Myke Cole

Siege Line (Reawakening Trilogy #3)Siege Line by Myke Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Myke Cole keeps knocking it out of the park, Siege Line is damn near perfect military fantasy with a ton of heart to go with the blistering action. The Shadow Ops universe is a scifi/fantasy nerd's perfect storm. It hits all my loves, great world, amazing action, strong dialogue and terrific characters.

Go search out Mr. Cole's books, give him a try, then thank me later when you are out of money and waiting on his new book.

8991 stars out of 5.

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The Ruin of Angels By: Max Gladstone

The Ruin of Angels (Craft Sequence, #6)The Ruin of Angels by Max Gladstone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are few things in the world of science fiction and fantasy that make me happier than a new Craft Sequence novel, Mr. Gladstone is on a short list of authors that I drop whatever I am reading to read their new work.

If you haven't read the Craft Sequence books, DO. The Ruin of Angels is a beautiful thing, Mr. Gladstone shoves the square peg of a wonderfully deep and rich fantasy world into the smooth circle of reality and it works. There are weird and wonderful things happening everywhere, world full of gods and it's all everyday occurance. Truly a great thing...awesome story, cool characters and great, amazing world.

GIVE MAX GLADSTONE YOUR MONEY!!!! 48959 out of 5 stars.

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Old Grump Treks Across the UK

The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in BritainThe Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain by Bill Bryson
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For all its stogy, stoicism and unspoken rules of social etiquette, England is a peculiar place full of strange people doing odd things. Many and more are found here in The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain.

American-born writer Bill Bryson has been living in England so long he's written a sort of 20th anniversary sequel to his popular Notes from a Small Island. While The Road to Little Dribbling may sound like more of the same, Bryson made sure to steer clear of the sights he visited the first time around.

Following very loosely what he has dubbed the Bryson Line...

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...the longest straight line through Great Britain that doesn't cross the sea, Bryson samples a bit of the countryside and a little of the city life in the heart of England and Scotland. It's often a delightful and upbeat view of the land and its people. History buffs and jolly old England enthusiasts will find a lot to love here.

On the other hand, this is not a book for the young. Middle-aged, part-time curmudgeons will find a kindred spirit in Bryson, who gets grumpy over the littlest of nuisances:

"Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a little oik of a kid about 13 years old in a Chelsea shirt at a bus stop eating a bag of crisps. When I came back a few minutes later the boy was gone and the crisp packet was on the ground. There was a bin three feet away. It occurred to me, not for the first time, that if Britain is ever to sort itself out it is going to require a lot of euthanasia."

He's that old greybeard in the group that's always asking "but why?" (much like a 5 year old actually) and who will argue a pointless point to everyone's annoyance and just won't let it go.

But for the most part, Bryson likes England and in this book he mostly likes what he sees, so the reader is treated to a lovely tour of a quaint country with a fairly congenial tour guide in The Road to Little Dribbling. Recommended!



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Steinbeck's Russian Journal

A Russian JournalA Russian Journal by John Steinbeck
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Right after WWII people in America were curious about the Soviet Union in a big way. It coincided with a time when author John Steinbeck and world-renowned photographer Robert Capa were at a loss for what to do next. A scheme was hatched up to do a bit of light investigative journalism and see what was up with post-war Russia.

This wasn't political, so much as a social call. Steinbeck and Capa really just wanted to see what was going on in the lives and minds of the people.

They went to Moscow...

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And they visited farmers in the provinces...

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One thing you'll notice from the above photos (besides the ubiquitous recurrence of Stalin) is the general lack of men. A generation of males had been lost to war and the remaining women were left to carry on.

Impressions:

The people of Moscow came off as cold and officious. Everything needed to be categorized and catalogued. Steinbeck describes one meal in which hours elapsed before food hit the table, not because the cooks were slow. Rather, the paperwork that needed to be filled out and distributed to the proper authorities delayed the kitchen from even beginning.

The country farmers, though less educated, seemed freer and happier, even if they were worked ragged due to a lack of mechanization that had been available to them pre-war. However, they were welcoming and generous.

As it turns out, right after WWII, just about all people in Russia were curious about Americans in a big way and they had many questions for Steinbeck and Capa, so many that at times it seemed the journalists were becoming the story. Those interested in either gentlemen will enjoy some of the slight insights given herein. I've noted in his other autobiographical work that Steinbeck comes off as an impish trickster at times...though his friends might just flat out call him evil. Nonetheless, his sense of fun brings a welcome lightness to the text.

This is not to say the text is particularly heavy. In fact, this is quite a light read. Steinbeck seems to strike a good balance of post-war doom and gloom with hope and promise for a brighter future while relating it all in the easy-going manner of a master storyteller. This may be outdated and not give you an idea of what Russia's like today, but it's a nice sample of a recent historical time and place. Highly recommended!


A Capa and Steinbeck selfie...
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(I apologize if not all photos are from this book, as websites like Pinterest have begun to make online photo attribution rather difficult.)

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