Monday, February 8, 2016

Case Closed. No More Parker Pyne For Me, Thanks!

Parker Pyne InvestigatesParker Pyne Investigates by Agatha Christie
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Fantasy Island for the mystery set!

This isn't Agatha Christie's typical who-dunnit mystery. Half the people that come to "investigator" Parker Pyne for help are just bored. Makes sense since that's who he advertises for, those who are unhappy and don't know what to do about it. So, his clients are often people with money who want someone else to make life interesting again for them...

That is difficult for me to swallow. I come from a background where money had to be hard-earned, penny by penny. As I've aged I've also learned the value of time. I tend to loath people who say, "I'm bored" and I feel "killing time" deserves capital punishment. It is murder after all. So, I found the very premise of Parker Pyne Investigates repugnant.

Much of this book is wish fulfillment. A client meets with Pyne, unburdens his woes, and then Pyne sets up an improbably scenario in order to spice up that person's life. In these short stories, Pyne sets up thrilling adventures and minor mysteries to put a little pep in his client's lives. More than once the issue is little more than a husband or wife who's bored with the other. So Pyne creates jealousy and soon they both realize how foolish they've been, how much they still love one another, and they live happily ever after. I honestly could've slept my way through this book.

There are a few actual crimes solved herein and occasionally Pyne flashes Sherlockian genius. Pyne is no Poirot, other than his girth, but occasionally Christie can't help but mix in some of that crafty Belgium's cleverness. However, there's not enough character in this character. Again, his girth aside, Pyne is flat. The most interesting things about him are his intuition into human nature and his unintentionally absurd notion that lying to your significant other is the key to a solid relationship. Yes, I understand "white lies" are what is meant or at least what it could be explained away as, but it honestly sounded like ridiculous, archaic advice column mumbo jumbo. Hell, this whole book is mumbo jumbo!!!

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Friday, February 5, 2016


Isobelle Carmody
Tor Books
4 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Nancy


For Elspeth Gordie freedom is-like so much else after the Great White-a memory.

It was a time known as the Age of Chaos. In a final explosive flash everything was destroyed. The few who survived banded together and formed a Council for protection. But people like Elspeth-mysteriously born with powerful mental abilities-are feared by the Council and hunted down like be destroyed.

Her only hope for survival to is keep her power hidden. But is secrecy enough against the terrible power of the Council?

My Review

Despite its flaws, I really enjoyed Obernewtyn. Most of the characters were interesting enough; but not all were developed that well. The main character, Elspeth Gordie, seemed realistic enough; an emotionally distant child suffering the pain of losing her parents, spending her childhood in a variety of orphanages and possessing powers she has to keep secret. I also enjoyed her misfit friends, Matthew and Dameon, the enigmatic Rushton, and the mind-speaking animals. I wish some of the characters would have been developed more, like the doomed Cameo and the other girl, Selmar. The villains, Madame Vega, Alexi and Ariel were too one-dimensional to be interesting. Ariel was even funny at times, though I'm certain Carmody didn't mean for his character to be humorous.

I love post-apocalyptic fiction, and Carmody did a great job creating a society controlled by a fearful religious faction. I grew to care about the characters and the fate of the Misfits, but would have liked more background information on the world outside Obernewtyn. The magical abilities of the orphans were convincing and explained in great detail. At times, however, I felt the author overused Elspeth's magical abilities to conveniently get her out of jams and found it a little contrived at times.

While the story didn't seem overly original to me, the totalitarian society controlled by a religious faction fearful of the Misfits' mental abilities was interesting, as well as the variety of things one can do with her mind.

Obernewtyn was short, easy, and fun to read. It invaded my nightly dreams and allowed me to have fun fantasizing about what life might be like possessing such mind powers. Had this book been written when I was a child, I know it would have been very enjoyable.

The cover artwork by Donato is stunning, too.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

X-23: Innocence Lost

X-23: Innocence LostX-23: Innocence Lost by Craig Kyle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Weapon X, a lot of time and money was put into him. He was an incredible weapon even after he escaped. Scientists in labs tried to turn test subjects into their next weapon, but they couldn't find anyone who could survive the adamantium bonding process. Eventually the man running the scientists decided to truly recreate Weapon X, but due to unforeseen circumstances they had to settle with something a bit different.

Innocence Lost is X-23's origin story. It took 23 attempts to recreate Logan and even then compromises had to be made. To some extent having a girl as a weapon is more dangerous, primarily because it's more unexpected. The comic book world like it's real world counterpart is a sexist place. No one fears a little girl until her claws pop out or she pulls a gun.
In the same extent I have to say I felt worse for her than I would have if she was a boy. It makes no sense, but that thought kept popping into my mind.

Reading Innocence Lost left me silently chuckling to myself. The reason is because no one has learned that a weapon that can walk, talk, and choose who it's going to kill is a bad idea. I mean haven't they seen any of the Terminator movies? Even their own history was bad, since Wolverine killed a good amount of the scientists and guards after he had adamantium bonded to his skeleton.

Innocence Lost is kind of a heart wrencher, which also means it's a really good comic.

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The Ghost Brigades

The Ghost Brigades (Old Man's War, #2)The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Colonial Defense Force is desperate. They've learned that three species are gearing up to fight a war against The Colonial Union. This isn't the most surprising or frightening part. The worst part is there is one human involved, Charles Boutin. Boutin is a genius CDF military scientist who knows all their secrets and who should be dead. The CDF is willing to do whatever it takes to learn why Boutin turned even going to the point of making a clone using something Boutin should've never left behind.

What can I say about The Ghost Brigades? First and foremost to me the overall story is incredibly generic. Now to be fair my father loves science fiction and I watched tons of those shows with him growing up. I watched all of Star Trek The Next Generation, most of Star Trek Deep Space Nine, a ton of Stargate SG-1, some of Stargate Atlantis, and who knows how many other short lived sci-fi series. The point in saying that is that I've seen basically all the space travel sci-fi storylines that exist today and that makes The Ghost Brigades particularly average for me.

The Ghost Brigades brings us back to the Old Man's War universe in the heads of multiple point of view characters of the Special Forces rather than returning to the mind of John Perry. The result is the reader sees and learns all there is to be known about The Ghost Brigade. Unfortunately the human factor and the humor that John Perry brought to Old Man's War is as absent as Perry is in this story. My favorite part of the series so far was Perry as an old man and immediately after he got a new body. Perhaps it's best to admit the space colonization and fighting doesn't really work for me.

The Ghost Brigades is a fitting sequel to the second half of Old Man's War. So if John Perry's time as a CDF soldier was an incredibly fun and exciting read for you then you'll undoubtedly enjoy The Ghost Brigades.

2.5 stars out of 5

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016


The Woman in WhiteThe Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“This is the story of what a Woman's patience can endure, and what a Man's resolution can achieve.”

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Walter Hartright, his name is a tip off regarding his character, is walking down the street, his mind absorbed with his own problems, when suddenly:

”In one moment, every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop by the touch of a hand laid lightly and suddenly on my shoulder from behind me. I turned on the instant, with my fingers tightening round the handle of my stick. There, in the middle of the broad, bright high-road – there, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth or dropped from the heaven – stood the figure of a solitary woman, dressed from head to foot in white garments, her face bent in grave inquiry on mine, her hand pointing to the dark cloud over London, as I faced her. I was far too seriously startled by the suddenness with which this extraordinary apparition stood before me, in the dead of night and in that lonely place, to ask what she wanted. The strange woman spoke first.

‘Is that the road to London?’”

A damsel in distress is irresistible to most men, but impossible to ignore for men of good character. Hartright is still reeling from her ghostly appearance out of the gloom and dark of night, made more dramatic by her pale apparel. Before he can assemble his thoughts, she is in a carriage being spirited away. Men appear quickly behind her, whom he soon learns are chasing her. Hartright makes every effort to catch up with her to offer her further assistance, but does not find her.

”She has escaped from my asylum.”

Hartright is left with a mystery, but will soon discover that this mystery will become an obsession as the woman in white proves inexplicably to be tied to the woman he will fall in love with. He takes a job as a drawing master, instructing two half sisters as different as night and day. One is fair, and one is dark. One is pretty, and one is...well...unattractive. The word ugly is actually used, but once I learn of Marian Halcombe’s character, it is impossible to associate such a hideous word to such a lovely person.

Marian is brave, brilliant, and resourceful. In my opinion, one of the most interesting and fascinating women to appear in a Victorian novel. She becomes the pillar of strength for her sister, as well as for Hartright, as they are inescapably bound together against the machinations of men intent upon their destruction. Marian, we soon learn, can hold her own. “Any woman who is sure of her own wits, is a match, at any time, for a man who is not sure of his own temper.”

Hartright, of course, falls in love with Laura Fairlie, the fair and beautiful one, an heiress, an orphan, a woman in need of protecting. Unfortunately, fate has conspired against them. She is promised to another one, the odious Sir Percival Glyde. Glyde is in serious financial trouble and needs her fortune to keep his creditors from dismantling his estate brick by brick. His closest friend is an Italian named Count Fosco, who conspires with him in a most insidious plot to take everything from Laura including, quite possibly, her own life.

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Count “Never Missed a Meal” Fosco

I am a bit disappointed in Hartright. Laura is certainly in need of a white knight, but Marian would have been a woman to build a life with. He does love and respect Marian, but never sees her as a potential mate, even after he discovers that Laura will soon be unattainable. It is only a small disappointment. We all see ourselves from a very young age married to someone beautiful or handsome. Hartright, whose heart is always in the right place, is attracted to Laura’s beauty, but also to her vulnerability. Marian is neither pretty nor is she helpless.

The twist and turns to the plot are wonderfully revealed. This is considered one of the first detective novels as Hartright does apply investigative methods to his research while attempting to thwart the plans of Glyde and Fosco. Wilkie Collins’s background in studying the law also becomes readily apparent at different stages of the novel. The writing style is true Victorian style. I must caution you: if you are not a fan of Charles Dickens or Anthony Trollope, you might find this novel difficult.

I read the book mostly late at night with the fireplace crackling and popping next to me. The wind has been blowing steadily the last few days, and as it moved along the gutters and through the bushes outside my window, it created sounds that made me snuggle deeper into my reading chair and feel as much as possible as if I were in England in the 1850s.

Collins does explore the idea of women’s rights. The law does not protect their rights in near the same fashion that it protects a man’s rights. A woman truly had to live by her wits to keep from being marginalized by the complete and nearly unassailable power of her husband or her father. Marian was a match for any man, but she needed much more than her intelligence to outflank the injustice and the discrimination under which she was forced to live.

Collins was a bohemian who did not believe in marriage. He had no qualms about living with more than one lover at once. I’m sure Dickens marvelled at his ability to pull of this feat in such a conservative time period. They were good friends, Dickens and Collins, but there was a break in their friendship towards the end of Dickens’ life when he was working on the novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood, ”his last and unfinished novel, with its running and hostile allusion to Collins’ The Moonstone.” I can’t think that Dickens was jealous. He was the champion among writers at the time. Collins fell out of favor over time while Dickens’ books soared. Only recently has Collins started to be regarded as one of the important Victorian writers.

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The Dickens Family (and friends) in 1864 - (l-r)Charles Dickens, Jr., Kate Dickens, Charles Dickens, Miss Hogarth, Mary Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Georgina Hogarth

The Woman in White, as promised, does return to the plot, but you’ll have to read the book to discover exactly who she is, why she dresses in white, and what she has to do with the goings on at Limmeridge House? It is a chilling tale that must have elicited more than one gasp from the lips of Victorian women, young and old, as they discovered the truth behind the lies.

I must go now: “My hour for tea is half-past five, and my buttered toast waits for nobody.”

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Written in Fire (Brilliance Saga, #3)Written in Fire by Marcus Sakey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Have you ever wondered as a comic book fan what it would be like if X men comics were really done right? Well you should check out the Brilliance Saga. I read the first book early last year and kind of tag teamed the last two back to back. It is some truly inspired stuff, Mr. Sakey can write up a storm.

Does it have problems? a few..things get a bit cliche here and there, some of the exposition in the books gets a bit cartoonish but given the subject matter its understandable. The action however, rocks and the characters are excellent regardless of some of the dialogue, and considering the author, I don't know if I can excuse that or not.

However, the series as a whole is terrific, give it a read, just start at the beginning or you will be lost like a goose in high grass.

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The Bottoms by Joe R. Lansdale

The BottomsThe Bottoms by Joe R. Lansdale

The Bottoms by Joe Lansdale is a rousing atmospheric murder mystery with an abundance and it has to said, more than its fair share of tension and thought provoking issue. The Bottoms won the Edgar award in 2000 and is definitely a book that will stay resolutely in your thoughts long after you've finished.

The story is an unforgiving coming of age tale for eleven year old Harry Crane set in the 1930's who along with his younger sister discover the tortured body of a dead woman in the Bottoms of small East Texas town, Marvel Creek.

'In that moment, something else changed for me. I realized that a person could truly die. Daddy and Mama could die. I could die. We would all someday die. Something went hollow inside me, shifted, found a place to lie down and be still, if not entirely in comfort.'

Harry's father is the town constable and he begins an investigation that delves deeply into the racial divide prevalent in the era, nearly breaking him in the process. Caught smack bang in the middle are the two children who insert themselves into the forefront of proceedings as the murders increase and the town seek justice.

The characters virtually leap from the page and sit snugly on your shoulder whispering their intent, leaving an impression of the story permanently etched in your mind. Eliciting disbelief at attitudes, questioning morality and leaving you firmly rooting for a family that face exorbitant trials and tribulations.

There's even some of the Lansdale humour littered sparingly within, some anxious store-bought teeth.

'Once in a while be wore store-bought teeth, but they clicked and clacked and slid around when he talked, as if they might have some place to go and were anxious to get there.'

The Bottoms is a delightful story that brings back fond memories of classic stories such as To Kill a Mocking and McCammons Boy's Life while still remaining unique and quite gripping in its own way. The characterization and the feelings inspired by this story are simply breathtaking at times, perfectly highlighting how times have changed. I did guess the killer’s identity from the various suspects tossed into the mix but it didn't detract from a wonderful story that deserves to be appreciated by all.

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Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

Wake of Vultures (The Shadow, #1)Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't really like the "young adult" genre and I have a bad thing about westerns, soooo Kevin you ask, "why the hell did you read this?" That is a dang good question, let's see if I can answer.

My dad and both granddads love westerns, and as a huge fantasy/scifi/comic geek, It never did anything for me, however the older I got and the resurgence of the "weird" western, I saw the reason and the appeal of the genre. Young adult bugs me to no end, not saying there aren't great well written novels in this genre,(this being one of them.) The concept as a whole bothers me, I started reading at a very young age, and I didn't read on my level basically ever. I will catch flak for this but essentially dumbing down your writing and being more of a formula cookie cutter story makes my brain hurt. (dont hate me!)

Wow, two paragraphs and have yet to discuss the book. I really liked this book, I do NOT spoil books so if you want spoilers dig into another review. The story was very well written and I have few issues with it, and honestly the only reason I docked it one star, my issues are solely my issues. Fully fleshed out characters, great dialogue, a well realized world and it meets one of my most basic reading qualifications, when a author has a new book, especially one that could be the beginning of a new potential series, the main thing he or she must do is make the reader want more.

I want more. What's that? My issues you ask? drug it out of me, The main character's sexuality, although it was well done and essential to the story, came across in my opinion a bit forced, but thats just my view. The ending..I HATE $#*$*#$*#@!! CLIFFHANGERS!! (thats all)

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The Traveling Vampire Show

The Traveling Vampire ShowThe Traveling Vampire Show by Richard Laymon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Teenagers Dwight, Rusty, and Slim are an inseparable trio. When they see that the Traveling Vampire Show is coming to town, seeing the only vampire in captivity becomes the most important thing in the world.

The Traveling Vampire Show is a coming of age tale akin to Stephen King's The Boy or Robert McCammon's A Boy's Life, taking place in a single day in 1963. As the title indicates, the story revolves around the three teenagers' quest to attend the Traveling Vampire Show. Straight-laced Dwight, tomboy Slim, and asshole Rusty all seemed a lot like people I knew at 16.

Much like A Boy's Life, there's a lot of meandering. A lot of the book is the trio running from threats, real or imagined, and Dwight trying not to get hard around Slim or his sister in law. The addition of Bitsy, Rusty's sister, to the group showed the ugliness lurking beneath the surface of a couple characters.

I didn't mind that the Traveling Vampire Show doesn't make an appearance until the end. I did think it was unrealistic that they actually went given all that transpired early in the day. I also had some difficulty buying the others being friends with Rusty given what a selfish asshole he was.

The ending was actually pretty bad ass. I knew someone had to die before the story was over and there was death aplenty. I also liked that there were a lot of unanswered questions. Do any of the characters make appearances in subsequent Laymon books?

The Travelling Vampire Show is an entertaining coming of age tale but I wouldn't put it on the same tier as The Body or A Boy's Life. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Monday, February 1, 2016

A Collection of Kids' Books

Richard Scarry's Best Word Book EverRichard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever by Richard Scarry
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

* * * The following three books were read and reviewed by me & my niece Emma * * *

Emma has real doubts about that title. I fought for Richard Scarry, but I'm afraid the 5 year old girl might be right.

Scarry's cartoony fantasy land populated with eyelid-less, anthropomorphic animals was absolutely beloved by yours truly when I was but a wee lad. However, this incarnation has none of the sense of fun found in the Scarry books I read as a boy. Nothing, I mean nothing out of the ordinary happens in Best.... In the Scarry books of my youth, the characters got into all kinds of zany japery. I recall one high-larious episode in which an ape went for a joy ride that turned the town upside down!

(In retrospect, I think the ape was a watch thief.)

This...thing is nothing more than animal people doing nothing untoward, just normal day-to-day activities: waking up in the morning, playing on the playground, building things, farming, going shopping, etc. There are pages of airplanes, cars, zoo animals, firefighters, things you'd find at the beach, and facial expressions. Each page is filled with these items. Each item has its word beside it. Each page has one short, explanatory paragraph with such "riveting" prose as:

School is fun. There are so many things we learn to do. Kathy Bear is learning how to find a lost mitten.

OH MY GOODNESS! Call out the National Guard! Someone get the Bureau of Lost Mittens on the line!

Holy hell, talk about boring.

Not only is this book fun-free, I couldn't even find my favorite character Lowly, an earthworm in a dashing little hat.
Aside from a logo on the cover, Lowly doesn't seem to appear in the book at all. Each page is so very busy that perhaps I missed him, but I looked and looked for such a long while that Emma went off to entertain herself elsewhere and came back some time later asking, "Did you find him?!" Yes, that exclamation point is necessary. Emma possesses an "indoor voice," but likes to know she's being heard.

Okay, so clearly Best... is meant to be a book for learning purposes, but did it have to be so purposefully dull? One reason my be that this was one of the author's very early books. I'm no Richard Scarry scholar, but it would seem he started off staid and later amped up the good times.

Whether you were born in the '60s or the '00s, kids like fun, and so for this one the Emma-o-meter registered utter disinterest.

Five Little Pumpkins (Harper Growing Tree)Five Little Pumpkins by Dan Yaccarino
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

* * *Read and Reviewed by Me & My Niece Emma * * *

Horrendous. I understand and accept the dumbing down of this sing-along standard (back in my day it was always 10 of this or that, but the rhyme was also much more repetitive than today's version), but this isn't good in any way, shape or form. The rhyme just sucks and the ending is lame.

I only picked this up for Emma, because last school year I recalled helping her memorize just such a "5 Little..." (I think it was ducks) which she had to recite to her class, so I figured she could read this one to me. We got it home and it was such a hot day yesterday that we sped through her library books in order to go swimming, and I accidentally read this to her without thinking. So we didn't even get any reading practice out of it. I don't blame the book for wait, I do, because if the book hadn't sucked so much we might've slowed down to savor it more and had the wherewithal to recall what we'd gotten it out for in the first place!

The Emma-o-meter for Five Little Pumpkins at first registered the excitement of recollection soon followed by a grave disappointment.

Peck, Peck, PeckPeck, Peck, Peck by Lucy Cousins
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

* * *Read and Reviewed by Me & My Niece Emma* * *

A daddy red-headed woodpecker sends his son into the world to peck holes in things and boy howdy, that little bird is one hell of a pecker!

The moment I saw this sitting on the library shelf, I knew we'd be reading it. You see, Emma is a first class sucker for any book with holes in it.

Peck, Peck, Peck just might be the book that busts that proclivity. It was nothing but page after page of a woodpecker pecking holes in various objects. At the high point, he gets into somebody's home and pokes freaking holes in everything, even their jellybeans!

But that's it. That's all that happens. No one chases off the bird. There's no lesson to be learned aside from that woodpeckers like to peck holes, and the why of that phenomenon isn't even explained. Also, the artwork is meh subpar.

I think this would be more suitable for the 3-4 age range. Maybe I should've pointed that out while we were at the library.

The Emma-o-meter registered only a couple giggles.

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