Friday, July 20, 2018

Murder, Romance, and Two Shootings


Todd Allen Smith
NineStar Press
2 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Nancy



Summary



The scent of his own blood shakes away the disbelief of the gunman entering the city council room. Todd remembers that smell and can’t deny that he is once more the target of a gunman’s bullet.

Healing from his physical wounds is the easy part, grounded in gratitude for his very survival. Rebuilding his life will be the hard part. But he is reminded he is luckier than others whenever he thinks of his friend Rick who was murdered.

After the first time he was shot, Todd had to learn to walk again, but now he faces the bigger challenge of learning how to love.


My Review



I expected a dark, edgy thriller with a smattering of romance. What I got was something entirely different.

Author Todd Smith had the misfortune of being shot not once, but twice. The first time was during a robbery attempt after moving to a new city. The second occurred on his job reporting on the Kirkwood City Council meeting after he returned to his home state of Missouri. An enraged citizen, complaining of how the city was screwing him over and hurting his business, was responsible for multiple fatalities, include that of the mayor. Todd was lucky to escape with his life, though he suffered a serious gunshot wound to the hand.

This is not a thriller, or romance, or crime novel. It is a fictional account based on the true story of Todd Smith’s life. While names, characters, places and businesses may have been the products of the author’s imagination, it was clear that Todd Smith, the main character, was the author. While the reader learns of the grim circumstances surrounding Todd’s two shootings and the brutal murder of a close friend, we get to watch him grow as a character and get a glimpse of his friendships, his co-workers, his family and his relationships.

The story was fraught with minor errors that I hope were caught in the final version, shallow characterization, and stilted dialogue. I knew that Todd felt pain when he was shot. I knew he grieved over his friend Rick’s brutal slaying. And I knew that he was in love with David. I just couldn’t feel any of it.

Blatant authorial intrusion early in the narrative was disconcerting and confusing. Was I reading a memoir or a novel? The journalistic reportage and dual presence of author and character kept me distant from people, places, and events. I wanted Todd the character and not Todd the author.

Perhaps this would have worked better as a memoir. Though the story was compelling and held my interest throughout, the style left me cold.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Tome of the Undergates

Tome of the Undergates (Aeons' Gate, #1)Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A revered priest hired a band of adventurers to be his escort. The band consists of Lenk a man with a sword and a voice in his head, Denaos a career criminal, Kataria a pointy eared savage, Gariath a monster known as a dragonman, Dreadaelon a young wizard, and Asper a cursed priestess. This unlikely group takes on a high priced job to retrieve an especially dangerous book, the Tome of the Undergates, when it is stolen by a demon.

Tome of the Undergates simply fails to hold my attention. It has interesting enough writing, a diverse group of characters, and some mystery but I simply don't want to know any more about any of them. The book is too long for me to be so disinterested in what's happening.

One of my biggest problems with the book is that the characters are largely stereotypes who don't seem to have any overly intriguing characteristics. I should deeply care why Lenk has a voice in his head that speaks to him and what Miron isn't telling everyone, but it's largely a yawn for me. The only moment that stirred anything for me was when Denaos was called in to torture someone for information. Unfortunately that feeling was fleeting.

Tome of the Undergates simply wasn't a book for me.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

NJAL'S SAGA

Njal's SagaNjal's Saga by Anonymous
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”Gunnar got ready to ride to the Thing, and before he left he spoke to Hallgerd: ‘Behave yourself while I’m away and don’t show your bad temper where my friends are concerned.’

‘The trolls take your friend,’ she said.

Gunnar rode to the Thing and saw that it was no good talking to her.”


 photo Njals20Parchment202_zps1sxuabiu.jpg

The events of Njal’s Saga took place between 960 and 1020 in Icelandic society and were written about in the thirteenth century. What was so unexpected for me was to discover, in such an ancient culture, the power that women had in, what I assumed was, a patriarchal society. Before I started reading Icelandic sagas, I had the image in my mind of the stereotypical, he-man, Viking Icelander, who ruled his home with an iron fist. That was not the case at all.

Hallgerd was famous to scholars of the sagas because she was such a diabolical character. She took any slight against her honor very seriously, meddled in others affairs without fear of impunity, manipulated, connived, and ultimately cost seven men their lives in a feud with Bergthora, the wife of Gunnar’s friend Njal. There was an inordinate amount of goading by women of their husbands in the sagas to push men into conflicts to defend family honor. The women, for the most part, did not really come off that well. They were depicted as shallow, petty, and quite willing to start an all out blood war over some perceived insult, even if the slight was unintended.

If a man did raise his hand to his wife, he risked having her burly male relatives appearing on his threshold to give him an attitude adjustment.

Most disagreements between men, some of them caused by women, were settled at a gathering called Althing. Men would get together and discuss who did what to whom and how much compensation was expected to be paid to make up for the loss of a life or of property. Again, surprisingly more civilized than anything I would have expected. Because of the alliances between people, either through blood or marriage or friendship, blood feuds were taken seriously. If things were not settled amicably between families, all of Iceland could find themselves in a civil war.

In these sagas, there were several moments when things became very precarious. As Hallgerd and Bergthora sparred with one another and convinced either their relatives or men who worked for their husbands to kill someone from the other family, the possibility of a savage blood feud erupting became precariously plausible. If not for the peaceable nature of their husbands, even more lives would have been lost as these women conducted their own bloody chess match where the pawns were men’s lives. Njal and Gunnar kept passing the same bag of silver back and forth as compensation for the deaths of their kinsmen to keep the peace.

Njal was considered one of the wisest men in Iceland, but though many came to him for consul, including Gunnar, his own sons frequently avoided asking him for advice, which eventually led to disaster. ”’I’m not in their planning’ said Njal, ‘but I am seldom left out when their plans are good.’”

Gunnar was level headed and anticipated problems before they actually materialized, but found himself often unable to stop the consequences. He was so mild mannered, but once his ire was raised he could become a fierce and formidable warrior. I really grew to appreciate his character as his story was told.

Throughout the sagas were foreshadowings or prophecies of what the future would hold. When Thorvald, son of Osvif, decided to marry Hallgerd, yes that Hallgerd, the future wife of Gunnar, his father couldn’t help but feel the match would be a costly one for his son. ”’Her laughter doesn’t seem as good to me as it does to you,’ said Osvif, ‘and the proof of this will come later.’”

Indeed, it did.

Hallgerd had a couple of marriages before Gunnar and was known for being difficult to get along with, but she was beautiful, and men continued to be dazzled by her appearance and thought they could handle her conniving and manipulations.

Despite the very civilized manner with which compensation was handled in this society, there were still plenty of points in the saga where bloody conflict broke out, and there was much lopping of hands, arms, legs, and heads off. Skulls were split. Torsos were skewered. Scars were made. One of my favorites was when:

”’This is the first time I have laughed since you killed Thrain.’

Skarphedin said, ‘Then here’s something to remember him by.’ (Terminatoresque)

He took from his purse one of the molars he had hacked out of Thrain and threw it at Gunnar’s eye [different Gunnar from the main character] and knocked it out onto his cheek. Gunnar then fell off the roof.”


Or how about this encounter with THE Gunnar.

”Gunnar saw a red tunic at the window and he made a thrust with his halberd and hit Thorgrim in the waist. The Norwegian lost his grip on his shield, his feet slipped and he fell off the roof and then walked to where Gizur and the others were sitting on the ground.

Gizur looked at him and spoke: ‘Well is Gunnar at home?’

Thorgrim answered, ‘Find that out for yourselves, but I’ve found out one thing--that his halberd’s at home.’

Then he fell down dead.”


I’ve heard that some people find these sagas tough to read. Within a few pages, I found a rhythm with the way the stories were told and within a few chapters I was caught up in the lives of Gunnar and Njal. The introduction was a great prep for reading the sagas and provided me with insights that helped me enjoy my reading even more. There were many creatively described, bloodthirsty moments as well as some detailed legal proceedings that confirmed for me the importance of laws to balance the scales between the strongest and the weakest. This Icelandic culture around 1000 AD was a society trying to evolve away from their bloody, barbaric past and move toward a civilisation where every life was precious, and the arts could be appreciated as much as the glitter of a sharp sword blade.

Also see my review of The Saga of the Volsungs

and my review of King Harald's Saga

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
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Monday, July 16, 2018

An Epic of Epic Proportions!

The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1)The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Now that's an epic!

It's been a long time since I've read such a large book by an author I've never read before. There's uncertainty in doing that. You don't know if the author is someone who will pay-off such an investment of time. However, I've read enough reviews by you swell people here on the Interbone to feel confident that Brandon Sanderson can and will deliver the goods.

And he does with The Final Empire, the first book in his Mistborn series. I'm not a huge fan of epic fantasy, sure I love GoT and such, but I don't delve much deeper into it than the basic popular stuff that everyone loves. Having said that, I love Sanderson's world-building, characters, and the magic system he has created here. I don't know if "inventive" is the right word, but I was intrigued by it all.

Certainly there are some slow moments in this chunky tome. Sanderson explains things quite thoroughly at times and that makes those times drag. But during those times, I had to remind myself it was all for the greater good. Stick with it and you shall be rewarded!

Highly recommended!...but you probably knew that already. I've been pretty dang slow in getting to this one.

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Bubba and the Cosmic Blood Suckers

Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-SuckersBubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the early 1070's, Elvis and his team of monster hunters go up against bloodsuckers from another dimension.

While Hap and Leonard are the Joe Lansdale creations I enjoy the most, the really weird stuff like Zeppelins West are what brought me to the dance. When this came up on Netgalley, I couldn't resist.

Ever wonder what landed Elvis in that nursing home in Bubba Ho-Tep? This goes a long way in explaining things. I remember at least one other Lansdale story featuring Elvis from one of his short story collections. Anyway, Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers is one of Lansdale's stranger tales.

When Elvis wasn't performing in Vegas, he was fighting monsters and spending a lot of time in an isolation tank, drugged out and searching for some cosmic truth. The Colonel held Elvis' mother's soul captive, which explains why Elvis hooked up with the son of a bitch in the first place.

When strange things show up on an unfinished film of Elvis', the crew springs into action to fight some parasites from another dimension. It's way funnier than it sounds.

The trademark Lansdale wit is in full effect. My wife was clearly wondering what I was laughing at but learned long ago that it was better not to ask. The story was short and satisfying, like a hand job in a porno theater. Landale does a great job juggling humor and violence and Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers is no exception.

To say more would be to risk spoilage. If you're a fan of Bubba Hotep or any of Joe Lansdale's crazier tales, this one is not to be missed. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Whiskey and Wry



Rhys Ford
Dreamspinner Press
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars



Summary


He was dead. And it was murder most foul. If erasing a man’s existence could even be called murder.

When Damien Mitchell wakes, he finds himself without a life or a name. The Montana asylum’s doctors tell him he’s delusional and his memories are all lies: he’s really Stephen Thompson, and he’d gone over the edge, obsessing about a rock star who died in a fiery crash. His chance to escape back to his own life comes when his prison burns, but a gunman is waiting for him, determined that neither Stephen Thompson nor Damien Mitchell will escape.

With the assassin on his tail, Damien flees to the City by the Bay, but keeping a low profile is the only way he’ll survive as he searches San Francisco for his best friend, Miki St. John. Falling back on what kept him fed before he made it big, Damien sings for his supper outside Finnegan’s, an Irish pub on the pier, and he soon falls in with the owner, Sionn Murphy. Damien doesn’t need a complication like Sionn, and to make matters worse, the gunman—who doesn’t mind going through Sionn or anyone else if that’s what it takes kill Damien—shows up to finish what he started.


My Review


Even though I didn’t totally love Sinner's Gin, the ending was such a surprise that I was on pins and needles awaiting the next story.

Damien Mitchell, guitarist, and one of three band members who died in a car crash, is actually alive and well. Well, not totally well. He’s shut up in a mental institution, pumped up full of drugs, and with no memory of that strange couple that calls themselves his parents. His memories are just starting to return, and now he’s on the run because someone is trying to kill him.

Like Miki St. John in the previous story, Damien is a very damaged character who is wary and distrustful of others. He grew up with a very abusive father and a neglectful, alcoholic mother. The only person in the world he can trust is Miki, and now that Damien knows he’s alive, he is determined to find him. Only Miki will be able to fill in the blanks of his life.

While searching for Miki, Damien holes up in a dumpy attic apartment while busking at Finnegan’s Pub. The owner, Sionn Murphy, takes an instant liking to him. The attraction is mutual, but I appreciated that their relationship moved along at a slow pace, allowing me to feel the intensity of their growing love for each other.

Their sex scenes were hot, but one of the hottest scenes in this story for me was the kiss they exchanged while drinking coffee and eating glazed donuts.


“The small piece of paper Sionn used mopped up a bit of crème, and Damien leaned in, angling his chin up. He kept his eyes down, trying not to overtly inhale the woodsy green cologne Sionn wore or stare at the faint stubble scruffing the man’s strong chin. He already knew Sionn’s eyes were flecked by pale sky-blue specks around his pupil with a black ring running around his irises, but Damie didn’t stare into them, not when the man’s breath whispered over his jaw and fingers scraped crème from Damie’s cheek. There must have been a dollop of crème left somewhere, or maybe Sionn had more than a bit of it when he’d bitten into the donut, because when his lips met Damien’s, their kiss tasted of milky sugar and hot cinnamon.”

Sigh….

As much as I love Sionn Murphy, I didn’t find him to be as fully fleshed out as Kane was in the first story. Other than owning a pub, he doesn’t seem to have much of a life at all other than to be the perfect boyfriend for Damien. There were only glimpses of difficulties in his past, with details that were fascinating enough, but lacking. I wanted to know a lot more! Even his physical description was vague and I found myself glancing at the cover to help me picture what he looked like. Damien is on the left in full color and sexy scruffiness, while Sionn’s ghostly pallor blends in too well with the background. Just like the cover, Sionn was a little too much in the background for my liking.

The things that annoyed me in Sinner's Gin were much less prevalent in this story, for which I’m grateful. The Morgan/Finnegan clan was genuinely loving and supportive without feeling annoyingly smothering and intrusive. I also liked the larger focus on Donal, the patriarch of the clan. He’s full of compassion and wisdom and the kind of person one would be proud to call dad.

The villains were downright evil to the point they were caricatures. They would have been a lot more believable with the nuances and shades of gray that exist in humanity. Their crimes were over the top and I rolled my eyes a few times, but at the same time I found myself holding my breath and unable to stop reading until the very end.

Overall, this is a worthy addition to the Sinners series. I am definitely looking forward to the next two stories and hope that Miki and Damien will soon be getting a band together and making music again.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The City Stained Red

The City Stained Red (Bring Down Heaven, #1)The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Lenk and his crew were hired to fight for a priest named Miron Evenhands. When the time comes for them to collect their pay, Miron vanishes. In their attempt to find the priest and get their money, Lenk and his crew encounter more than they bargained for.

The City Stained Red literally revolves around Lenk's crew not getting paid. While not getting paid for your work would be devastating for a normal person it seems far too dull a reason for the characters to wade into conflict. When the fighting begins and the dying follows it seems like the right time for the crew to cut their losses, but they simply double down.

In the books defense I didn't know that the Aeons' Gate trilogy revolved around Lenk and his crew. If I knew that I would have never attempted to read The City Stained Red first. There is so much backstory and world building that the reader should already know. The characters clearly have history with one another and picking up from this book is an inadequate way to get to know them.

The City Stained Red really couldn't keep my attention, but perhaps I'll try it again after reading the Aeons' Gate trilogy.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

BEARSKIN BY JAMES A. MCLAUGHLIN

BearskinBearskin by James A. McLaughlin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”The giant trees were like dormant gods, vibrating with something he couldn’t name, not quite sentience, each one different from the others, each telling its own centuries-long story. On the forest floor, chestnut logs dead since the blight had rotted into chest-high berms soft with thick mosses, whispering quietly. Something called out and he turned to face a looming tulip tree, gnarled and bent like an old man, hollowed out by rot, lightning, ancient fires.

His skin tingled.”


 photo Tulip20Tree202_zpspz9btku8.jpg

Rice Moore felt the pain of parting from a dear friend when he left the desert around Tucson. He could see those thousands of saguaro cactuses in his rearview mirror and wondered when he would be able to see them again. Circumstances were against him ever see that gorgeous desert again because he had gotten himself on the wrong side of a Mexican drug cartel.

”While Apryl crouched beside him with her .22 in her hand, cursing, Rice experienced a sensation of detachment, thinking here he was in his first firefight, and that instead of a scientist he’d become some kind of ridiculous desert outlaw--a dilettante Clyde to Apryl’s only slightly more credible Bonnie, and that the bullets going by sounded sibilant, like insects.”

Any romanticism he might have felt about locking horns with the cartels was quickly dispelled when he found himself in a Mexican jail, and Apryl...well, there are things worse than a Mexican jail.

He took a job in Virginia as a caretaker of a nature preserve. He used the name Rick Morton, which slid around on his skin like an ill fitting suit. The previous caretaker had been viciously attacked, so the theory in hiring Rice was that any gringo who could stay alive in a Mexican jail might be able to handle himself with bear poachers and biker gangs.

Rice started spending so much time in the woods, laying in wait for poachers, that he had trouble returning to the meager civilization of his cabin. He began having hallucinations and hearing forest voices talking to him. He was certainly a man who threw himself into his work. He became part of the woods he was protecting. He even went beyond that. ”He tried to fit the cow pelvis over his head to wear it like a ceremonial Pleistocene headdress, but several fused vertebrae at the sacrum got in the way. He laid it on the ground and broke off part of the sacrum with a a rock, and this time it fit, resting on his crown, and he could see through the holes.”

Rice’s father gave him some great advice that could almost be my creed.

”When you slack off, what you’re really doing is choosing to fail because you didn’t try hard enough. It was a rational choice, his father had said, for people who would rather fail on purpose than risk finding out they’re not good enough, but if you made that choice you should at least be honest with yourself about what you are doing.”

When people write me and ask me how I’ve done so well on GR, they always seem disappointed when I say hard, consistent work. They were hoping I had a trick of some kind that would help them be successful without having to do the heavy lifting.

Read. Write. Repeat.

This is a slow burn of a novel with mystery elements, but really James A. McLaughlin wrote a book that ventures more into the realm of a literary novel. The lyrical prose, of which I’ve shared some in this review, are to be savored like biting off hunks of wild honeycomb. Your tongue will tingle with the resonance of the words. There is plenty of action, but it is low key, more personal, and more like real life than the explosive action flicks that fill movie theaters. Between pissed off local bikers, aggressive bear poachers, a DEA agent with an unnatural interest in Rice, and a Cartel assassin, people are having to wait in line for a chance to try and take him down. One thing I can assure them all about is that Rice ain’t going anywhere...bring it on.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Trail of Lightning By: Rebecca Roanhorse

Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World, #1)Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had heard ALLLLLLLLLLLLL KINDDDDDDDDDDDDDDSSSSSSSS of things about this book, and being a fan of the genre and book fiend all around, why not?

Read it, devoured it...now...bit torn. I said, I am not going to review this, but then I realized what it was.

This is a minor diversion so bear with me, I am a huge fan of the show M*A*S*H and while it has nothing much to do with the book..what happened did. My parents got a new TV, a BIG beautiful Hi Def monster of a set, you can count hairs on heads with this thing, and thumbing through stuff I came upon the first episode of MASH. In crystal clarity, I had forgotten how well the first episode sets up what you are going to see, who the players are and what they mean to each other.

Then.......boom it hit me. Although Trail of Lightning is a terrific urban fantasy, what bugged me is that it hit all the "points" most urban fantasies do..if you read the genre regularly, chances are better than not you will see the beats coming. That being said, the pace, and the new world and the mythology that the author brings to the table, makes the read so damn fun, that YOU DON'T CARE.
Ms. Roanhorse has a great voice, and I will almost bet that by the time she finishes this series (and I will read them) any quibbles I have I probably won't have anymore.

check this out, quick ton of fun read for what's left of your vacation.

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Monday, July 9, 2018

Wicked Good Starter to Wicca

The Beginner's Guide to Wicca: How to Practice Earth-Centered SpiritualityThe Beginner's Guide to Wicca: How to Practice Earth-Centered Spirituality by Starhawk
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not looking to convert. Although being called a warlock does sound cool! I've been reading a lot of stuff like this for research. Boning up on religions lately and this is yet another.

The Beginner's Guide to Wicca is a very basic intro to wicca. That's not a knock on it. After all, that's what it sets out to be. Just keep that in mind. You're not getting deep insights here, just the basics. I'm only just starting my research into wicca, so this one made sense to me at the time.

Another bonus was that I found it at the library on audiobook, so I was able to listen to the whole short thing while I did the dishes and cleaned the house. The narrator might have been the author herself, I'm not sure. Regardless, whoever read it had a nice casual-yet-knowledgeable approach. This was a good, bit-sized intro that spoon fed me the basics. Just what the shaman ordered!

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