Monday, May 30, 2016

Cornwell Keep Plugging Away With Death

Death of Kings (The Saxon Stories, #6)Death of Kings by Bernard Cornwell
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These books make me wanna go !!!

In an England ravaged by Danes, as marvelously and meticulously laid out by Bernard Cornwell in his The Last Kingdom series, an English lord with Danish roots finds himself often at odds with which side to side with.

Here in book six Death of Kings, the English king who's ruled since the beginning of the series finally kicks the bucket and now the new kid gets to sit in the big boy chair...and the new kid is shitting his britches. Lord Uhtred to the rescue!

Lots of little armies move about a well-described Medieval English countryside, angling for position and on the verge of attack during a trying time for the country. This is the Danes' big chance to win it all for themselves and our anti-hero Uhtred is tasked with discovering their plans. In true Cornwell style, his main character has as many enemies and ill-wishers in his own camp as he has actual enemies, so it's a struggle at every turn.

I gave it four stars, yet Death of Kings wasn't necessarily better than others in the series. I just liked it better than most, I think, because it's one of the more balanced of Cornwell's books. The typical character problems and actual historical stuff blend well together here. Nice pacing on the action, too. This is a solid bridge to the next book...CHARGE!!!

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Tastier Than Spam-a-lot

The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble KnightsThe Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One doesn't associate John Steinbeck with fantasy literature and yet here it is, The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck. Go figure!

It's all* here, the rags-to-riches story of how Arthur ascended to the throne, the many deeds of his knights, the magic of Merlin and Morgan Le Fay.


His translation of Thomas Malory's version of the Arthurian legend is almost strangely faithful, seldom veering from that 15th century work in order to modernize the language enough for today's reader. And it is immensely readable! I breezed through from start to finish. Certainly not every story is a winner. Movies, tv series and books often skip a good number of the stories and stick with the most well-known. This gives you the lesser known stuff in full color and it is often beautiful.

However, this faithful translation dismayed and disappointed the publisher, who expected a Steinbeckized version of the Arthurian tales, something more like a Grapes of Wrath-gritty tale of down-and-out knights. Don't you too make that mistake when reading this! Steinbeck was a childhood fan of these stories and with childlike devotion, he captures their essence with a picture-perfect imitation intending to flatter via flattery's sincerest form. Well done and highly worth a read!

* Well, I say "all" but the book is not actually complete. Steinbeck put many years of hard work into this and yet inexplicably didn't finish it.

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Sunday, May 29, 2016


Floodgate: A NovelFloodgate: A Novel by Johnny Shaw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Down and out ex-cop Andy Destra uncovers a decades old conspiracy that will shake Auction City to its core. Who really runs the city and how does it connect to how Andy was booted off the force?

I got this from Netgalley.

New Johnny Shaw books don't fall out of the sky every day and I jumped at this one the instant Shelby tipped me to it being on Netgalley and dropped what I was doing to read it.

However, things were off to a rocky start. I was discouraged for the first 10%. The plot moved slowly and gone was the trademark Johnny Shaw wit. My motivation flagged. My lady friend urged me to continue despite my misgivings, noting that I'm a crabby bastard when I don't get my reading time. As in most things, she was right. I stuck with it and things really took off.

Floodgate is the story of the people behind the curtain, the people that keep Auction City's various factions from killing one another and destroying the city. In a way, Auction City reminds me of a modern version of Deadwood and the people called Floodgate are Al Swearengen.

Andy Destra isn't too far from the usual Johnny Shaw leading man, a guy that many would consider a loser. However, he stands up for what he believes in despite being in way over his head. While I was bored by the book initially, Johnny Shaw really did a hefty amount of world building, with Rocco, The Flood, Kate, and the rest.

One of my favorite lines was "The last time he masturbated, he fantasized about a previous time he masturbated." Pure Shaw.

Anyway, the book was a slower build than Shaw's other work but had a bigger payoff in the form of the orgy of violence that was the last 30% of the book. While I wouldn't recommend this be anyone's first Johnny Shaw, it's a very solid book. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, May 27, 2016

Saying Uncle

Greg F. Gifune
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Andy DeMarco and his little sister Angela worshiped their Uncle Paulie. To them, he was a god, an enigmatic savior, the man who took the place of their absent father, who protected them and their mother, and who taught them about the true nature of life and family.

But one horrible summer day something unspeakable happened to little Angela, and everyone’s world changed forever.

Now, twenty years later, in the middle of a snowstorm, Andy has returned home to bury his uncle, a man with a shady past that ended with a caper gone wrong and a bullet in the back of his head. Only now can Andy begin to understand who his uncle truly was, and in doing so, finally begin to also understand who he is, and who he may still one day become.

Author Greg F. Gifune has crafted a journey of one man’s voyage into the darkness of the past with the pace of a thriller but the poetic and thoughtful writing he has become known and praised for by critics and readers alike. A lyrical, complex and mysteriously enchanting novel that delves deeply into the dark side of family, friendship, love, grief, loyalty, revenge, and ultimately, redemption.

Saying Uncle is a lean but thought-provoking novel about crimes of the past and the scars they leave behind. A study of violence and spirituality, of a family torn apart by a senseless act of brutality and the equally brutal aftermath that haunts them still, Saying Uncle is at once elegant, horrific, emotionally shattering, and sadly beautiful.

My Review

At less than 200 pages, Saying Uncle is a short story and a fast, gripping read. Andy DeMarco is a young man who returns home after many years to bury the uncle who was like a father to him. Uncle Paulie tried to do well by his family, but he was a man with dark secrets.

This is an intense and powerful coming-of-age story that explores family relationships, friendship, grief, loss, and the scars left by a brutal crime that happened in the past. It was dark, violent, heart wrenching and beautiful. It got me angry, moved me to tears, and made me feel like a helpless child all over again. It made me think about the father I hadn't spoken to in over 20 years, the two best friends I lost touch with, and the things I wish I had done and said and didn't. Amazing story! Very deep, emotional, and engaging.

I hate having to return this book to the library. It is one to savor and treasure.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Inhumans: Attilan Rising

Inhumans: Attilan RisingInhumans: Attilan Rising by Charles Soule
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dissension to the point of rebellion is brewing in the Battleworld governed by New Attilan. Doom commands Medusa, Queen of New Attilan, to annihilate the rebellion quickly.

Attilan Rising was an interesting Secret Wars miniseries. It reinvisions many of the Inhumans personalities most notably Black Bolt, who has never gone through terrigenesis instead of being exposed to the terrigen mist in the womb.
Instead of the Inhumans being a fledgling group, they are the power and hands of Doom in that Battleworld.

One oddity in the story is that it's never clearly stated why anyone would want to rebel against Doom. The reasons listed were mild at best. Anyone who read Secret Wars or other Battleworld miniseries would undoubtedly understand why people would rebel against Doom, but little reason is provided in the series.

I enjoyed Attilan Rising overall, but I was disappointed about some of the characters excluded. It features most of the Inhuman Royal Family and most of the NuHumans, but some notable characters are left out such as Maximus and Crystal. Crystal often is excluded so that isn't surprising, but it's rare for Maximus not to make an appearance. It would have been interesting seeing him in a total different way and perhaps working with Black Bolt. I also was disappointed that Inferno, Reader, and Iso weren't featured. Most notably Inferno because he is my favorite NuHuman.

Attilan Rising was a good miniseries that allowed the author to freely mess with establish pieces of the Inhumans story.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Beaten, Seared, and Sauced: On Becoming a Chef at the Culinary Institute of AmericaBeaten, Seared, and Sauced: On Becoming a Chef at the Culinary Institute of America by Jonathan Dixon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”I took another bite, then sawed at the duck, and started getting pissed off.

‘Whoever did this,’ I said, ‘is a jackass.’

‘Yeah,’ Adam said. ‘This is pretty shameful. I can’t eat this.’ He pushed it away.

‘I agree,’ Lombardi said. ‘What would happen if you took it back to the kitchen and told them it sucked? Would they give you another entree or something? Isn’t that actually the responsible thing to do in this case? Shouldn’t they know how bad it is?’


‘And---damn---this duck once walked around. It was happy. It enjoyed itself. And look at it now. This creature truly died in vain. A pointless, useless death.’”

 photo Jonathan Dixon_zpsysxutzjj.jpg
Jonathan Dixon, chef or superspy or both?

I’ve read a decent amount of spy novels in my reading lifetime, so every time the author Jonathan Dixon uses the acronym CIA, my mind instantly translates that as the Central Intelligence Agency. With the recent activity of the Bush Administration, the title Beaten, Seared and Sauced might also have been applied as a normal function of the CIA. Now that I’ve finished this book, and I think of the CIA as the Culinary Institute of America, the next American spy novel I read could be a bit tricky.

There are a couple of points in time, typically, when a young man or woman might feel the need to start applying themselves in a more productive direction. It could be when they are knocking on the door of thirty, or if they are particularly stubborn, it might take until they are approaching forty. Usually, these realizations come when they finally give up the last vestiges of their childhood and find that scraping by, while trying to figure out what they are supposed to do with the rest of their lives, is starting to be embarrassing rather than charming.

Jonathan Dixon is 38 years old when he makes the decision to attend the CIA. He wasn’t confused about the acronym. He really did want to learn to cook, not learn how to infiltrate terrorist organizations in the Middle East. When you are his age and doing an apprenticeship at a restaurant that normally is filled by twenty somethings…,”It’s more physically difficult to stand in one place, immobile, than to keep moving. My back bitched at me, and the bones of my feet murmured obscenities. But the orders started coming steadily at 8:00, first in small bursts announced by the ticket printer in staccato coughs, then in a quick steady stream.”

No rest for the wickedly OLD.

I would think that the first qualification for a student at CIA would be that they love food, but Dixon runs into students who don’t seem to like food at all. One eighteen year old guy will only eat hamburgers for every meal.

”’Do you want to try some of this?’ I pushed a plate at him that had foie gras mousse piped into profiteroles. It had been up for grabs on the buffet table when you walked in the cafeteria door. I was ecstatic when I figured out what it was….

‘No, man. That’s cool. I won’t like it.’

‘Really? How often are you gonna get this? Try it.’ I suddenly felt like my mother.

‘No. I just want the burger. I can’t wait until they teach us to cook these things.’”

Raising my kids, who are certainly not food explorers, and having to deal with their friends having even more reduced palates than my own kids, I’ve reached a point in my life where I refuse to dine with people under 30 unless they can answer a few questions first.

Will you eat…
Brussel sprouts ( Okay, I only use that one if they have already annoyed me.) If they haven’t annoyed me, I’ll ask if they eat green vegetables.

Life is too short to dine with people who truly are incapable of enjoying food.

So if the only food you personally desire is a hamburger, why would you want to be a chef? Simply baffling!

Jonathan Dixon frequently consults his Zuni Cafe Cookbook, which brings back some fond memories for me. When I lived in San Francisco and worked for Green Apple Books, my boss had a standing reservation at the Zuni Cafe. I was fortunate to be invited to dine there several times. This was the only time in my life where I’ve walked by this long line of people outside a restaurant waiting to eat and been whisked immediately to our table with vodka martinis miraculously appearing simultaneously with our arrival.

I like the fact that the teachers at the CIA are so intent on nothing being wasted. This is to help future employers of these students, because waste is lost revenue. Also, this philosophy reflects a respect for nature, whether it is an animal or a plant that gives up its life to become food. The teachers are not created equal, of course, and each one has his own style which is a reflection of his personality. One teacher in particular achieves that allusive combination of being tough and, yet, inspirational.

”’I’ve gotta say, that he is one of the best educators I’ve ever encountered. Hands down. It isn’t that you’re going to remember every single thing he said or be an expert at cutting up fish after seven days. But come on, didn’t you find yourself studying really hard?’

‘Shit, yeah.’

‘Okay, that’s the mark---that guy made you and me want to be like him. Not be him, but be like him---know as much you can, to be really good. We wanted to measure up. That’s being a really good teacher.’”

The best way to learn anything is through repetition, but given the scope of what needs to be covered in the short amount of time with each course, repetition is impossible. For instance, deboning a roast...Dixon butchers his poor roast in the one time he is allowed to try. It is not pretty.

On to the next thing.

An instructor shows him how to perfectly cube his potatoes, which is harder than it sounds. It involves standing at the right angle and holding your knife at the right angle. Dixon can’t go out and buy a bunch of roasts to practice deboning, but he can buy a 50 pound bag of potatoes and practice his cubing...outside of class.

I do have to applaud Jonathan for making the decision to go back to school and start a new career at 38. It is not easy. Money is a looming concern that adds stress to an already stressful school schedule. He makes some extra money freelance writing. At one point he takes a semester off from school to accept a writing project that will keep him afloat for a while longer. He does what he needs to do to keep his dream of graduating alive. I picked up this book remembering fondly reading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, and nobody tells cooking stories like Bourdain, but the truthfulness and the accessibility of Dixon’s strife and ultimate triumph are...inspirational.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Ninefox Gambit By: Yoon Ha Lee

Ninefox Gambit (The Machineries of Empire, #1)Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You ever wonder what would happen if Hannu Rajaniemi wrote a warhammer novel? (me either) BUT!!! it would probably be kind of similar to Ninefox Gambit. Brutal, dense, weird, just seriously intense military scifi opera.

I loved it, hit all my buttons and then beat them over and over and over and OOOOOOOOVERRRR.

buy this book when it comes out, then harass the author to write more.

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Digging up Mother (A Love Story) By: Doug Stanhope

Digging Up Mother: A Love StoryDigging Up Mother: A Love Story by Doug Stanhope
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a heart wrenching love story, A fractured, twisted genius of a man and his mother, who is just as messed up as he is.

If you aren't a fan of Stanhope, you are missing something...this won't make you like him, he's hard to deal with. But that's part of it, his ability to tell a story and his honesty sets him apart from the crowd, and honestly...aren't you tired of the crowd?

This is filthy, depraved, disturbing and all around jacked up, and it's one of the most human things I have read this year.

Give Stanhope your money, he needs cigarettes.

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Carlin In His Own Words

Last WordsLast Words by George Carlin
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Last apt title for an autobiography penned at the time of the author's death.

I wasn't sure I wanted to read a retrospective of a dead comedian's life. I've done it before and it can be depressing. Plus, I love George Carlin in a way. I mean, I was a fan back in the 80s/early 90s, but I haven't followed his career since. What interest would I have in the life of a man I hardly know? I thought about it, realized I was talking about one of the great comedians of our time, spanning generations, and decided I really ought to know more about the man. Who better to hear about him, but from himself?

As always when reading books by comedians, I suggest going with audiobooks, especially when they're read by the author/comedian themselves. Books by Tina Fey, David Sedaris, and Amy Poehler are all recent reads of mine that attest to the value of that wisdom. There's nothing like hear the intonation, the inflection, the rhythm of the words as they were intended. In the case of Last Words that was going to be a problem, as Carlin died before he finished it. Luckily George has a brother, Patrick, who narrated this book with his magically "Carlin" voice so very similar to George's that after a couple hours of listening I forgot it wasn't George speaking.


Ghost-written with friend Tony Hendra, who said in an included interview with Carlin's daughter that the experience was more like writing with a ghost, Last Words lays out Carlin's entire life in a very satisfying, linear timeline, touching on all the important personal events, as well as the history moments, that molded him.

His Irish-Catholic upbringing, childhood joys, and growing up with an alcoholic, abusive and estranged father kick it all off at the perfect pace and just the right amount of "sharing"...after all, don't we read these books with some amount of snoopy curiosity? Of course we do.

Carlin was never what you'd call "straight laced", but he did spend time in the military and started out with somewhat of a right-wing, conservative mind. He takes us through the relationships and times that changed this young, self-admittedly ignorant person into the radical comic of the '70s.

As the times changed, so too did the thinking of what already would've been considered a very successful comedian. He could've rested on his laurels, but he pushed on, reinventing himself, while somehow doing that most uncommon of things, becoming more true to himself and his ideals. It's an incredible transformation and one quite worth reading about.

All of Last Words is quite worth reading. I highly recommend you let Patrick take you through the raucous life of his beloved brother George.

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Silver Surfer, Vol. 2: Worlds Apart

Silver Surfer, Vol. 2: Worlds ApartSilver Surfer, Vol. 2: Worlds Apart by Dan Slott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Silver Surfer and Earth girl Dawn Greenwood soar the spaceways, encountering Planet Prime, space hillbillies, and the graveyard of worlds. What will the Surfer do when Dawn finds out about his past with Galactus, with a hungry Galactus on the prowl?

The Doctor Who-flavored adventures of The Silver Surfer and Dawn Greenwood continue. The Surfer takes Dawn out for the greatest ice cream in the universe, reminisces about instances when he had to save Dawn from peril, and accidentally leads Galactus to a planet full of the survivors of worlds he lead the planet devourer to during his centuries of servitude.

It's not as dire as it sounds, though. It's actually pretty funny at times and has some charming moments. Allred and Slott did a good job conveying the emotion when Dawn found out about the Surfer's past and his role in Galactus consuming trillions of innocent lives. The ending was pretty great and left me chomping at the bit for the next volume. I'm eager to see where Slott and Allred take the Surfer and Dawn from here.

Any gripes? Not a damn one unless a craving for more Silver Surfer the way Galactus craves planets is a gripe. Dan Slott and Michael Allred continue to make the Silver Surfer a character I'm dying to read more about. Four out of five stars.

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