Monday, March 19, 2018

A Gripping Tale of Escape

Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the WestEscape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The story of a man escaping a prison camp would pique my interest at any time, but add the detail that it's a North Korean camp and I'm definitely interested. After all, North Korea's been in the news lately. Perhaps you've noticed.

Shin Dong-hyuk was born into a prison labor camp. It's totalitarian rules and draconian punishment was life to him. He barely knew his father and viewed his mother as competition for food. He was raised to snitch out his fellow prisoners to the guards. This included family. Spying and reporting on others was the only way to receive kind treatment at the prison. Working hard and never screwing up merely kept one from being beaten.

Thousands have fled the destitute country, but few have escaped from one of these prisons and successfully navigated their way into China and then South Korea, an especially difficult undertaking for a young man who knew next to nothing about the world beyond his prison walls. This is what made me hesitant to read Blaine Harden's Escape from Camp 14. How could this seemingly impossible tale be true? Then I heard that Shin had lied about certain details regarding his story and I thought, oh boy, here we go...

However, Harden did a good job in allaying my fears. It turns out Shin's lies did not change the details of his escape or the horror stories of his confinement. No, his lies were for self-preservation. He lied out of shame for the deaths he had caused as a boy who knew nothing of compassion.

This is a truly remarkable story and a nicely constructed book. It is compact and sticks mostly to the prison camp aspect of the situation in North Korea. Some pertinent recent history and political information is relayed in order to frame Shin's story, but this is not the book you are looking for if you seek out a well-rounded and deeply detailed account the hell North Korea got so fucked up. I did come away with a better understanding, however, and it made me want to find out more.

One last thing before I finish up. This is a tough read. It's brutal. "Heart-wrenching" ain't the half of it. To put it into perspective, these camps are akin to the Nazi concentration camps and the Soviet gulags, and they have been in operation since the 1950s. The prisoners within them are now mostly the children and grandchildren of those who fought for the South during the Korean War, because political prisoners of this nature are doomed to this life for three generations before the family is deemed to have paid the price of their transgressions. Only humans could create such a Hell.

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Friday, March 16, 2018

Zombie Boyz

T.J. Klune et al.
Wilde City Press
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


Board up the windows, push an old dresser against the door and load your shotgun. A zombie apocalypse is about to hit Wilde City, and if you want the best survival tips, six of Wilde City’s boys are here to help.

You’ll never want to exercise again as Eric Arvin and TJ Klune turn a gym full of hunks into a smorgasbord of terror in GHOUL’S GYM.

Gather your friends and fight for the man you love, as Ethan Stone and Daniel A Kaine turn Vegas into a zombie nightmare in SURVIVING SIN CITY.

And bring a date to dinner to celebrate Grumpy Grampy’s 90th birthday and introduce your family to your new zombie boyfriend in Geoffrey Knight and Ethan Day’s GUESS WHO’S COMING AT DINNER.

You’ll scream with terror and howl with laughter as Wilde City’s boys bring you our first undead anthology ZOMBIE BOYZ.

My Review

I was a huge fan of The Walking Dead. I’m not sure what happened in the last few seasons. While I am happy that Rick’s gang is no longer a passive victim of Negan’s menacing Saviors, I’ve become unhappy with the show’s direction. The episodes feel long and drawn out, with no surprises or forward momentum. There are far too many secondary characters that I’ve lost track of them, plot threads left dangling, and weak dialogues. Yet, I will continue to watch until the end. Despite their predictability, I enjoy zombie stories for their exploration of human behavior when society falls apart, the challenges of survival when vital supplies diminish and zombies multiply, and the violence and mindless action that allows one to escape from the world’s problems for a little while.

Zombie Boyz is a collection of three very different zombie tales:

Who’s Coming at Dinner ★★★★

Told from the perspective of geeky teenager, Chandler Cox, we get to meet his hunky jock boyfriend, Zane Addison, celebrate his grandma’s 90th birthday, and learn why eating hamburgers is bad for you. I love how this starts with a birthday party and ends with a birthday party. This is a lighthearted and very humorous zombie romance that focuses less on gore and more on family relationships, falling in love, coming out, and...coming. Chandler’s family was priceless.

Surviving Sin City ★★★

Though this was more of a classic zombie tale, strong characterization and blistering action scenes made it shine. Told in alternating perspectives by Kaleb and Cooper, we get to see how both their worlds gradually fall apart. They were so peevish and Cooper so fiercely independent that it took some time for them to grow on me. There was hot sex too. Fear not, dear readers, no zombies were involved.

Ghoul’s Gym ★★★★★

Uly and Jake are going through a little rough patch. Despite that, there is no question that after a year they are still deeply in love and have an agreement not to go to bed angry. While this is by far the most romantic story in this collection, there is plenty of gore, erotica and despair to go around. After meeting the Alphabet Twinks, you will never look at zombies the same way again. This exquisitely written story was a balm for my horror-loving and romantic soul and definitely a unique take on zombies!

Thursday, March 15, 2018


NighthawkNighthawk by David F. Walker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A serial killer is targeting Chicago's worst and most racist high profile citizens. Nighthawk contemplates if he should intervene.
Meanwhile Nighthawk protects Chicago from itself and those who intend to arm the people to murder one another.

First I want to say I'm absolutely amazed Marvel comics published this volume of Nighthawk at all and I'm not surprised it only lasted 6 issues. David F. Walker pulled no punches and stepped deeply into the problems facing Chicago. He covers police brutality,
illegal weapons,
gun violence,
gangs, and the possibility that perhaps it's simply best to let Chicago burn.
The undertaking of discussing these massive issues in a comic book is immense yet all sides are shown. The issue shows good and bad people in all walks of life along with those with questionable actions like Nighthawk himself.

This version of Nighthawk as always reminds me of a deadly version of Batman. In this comic I felt as though he was clearly a mixture of Batman and the Punisher. Nighthawk like Batman has a command center, someone to assist him from afar, and a slew of expensive high tech gadgets. He's like Punisher in that when he has the opportunity to end a problem he ends it instantly rather than providing it an opportunity to strike again.

It was interesting to see Nighthawk deliberate over how to handle the serial killer taking out Chicago's worst. Nighthawk seemed a wee bit hypocritical in that he went after the serial killer even though he himself killed similar people for similar reasons. I guess the difference is that Nighthawk never went out of his way to kill someone, he only killed those trying to kill him first.

Nighthawk is not for the faint of heart, but it's a good volume for those who enjoy real life political problems in a comic book world.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Gunpowder MoonGunpowder Moon by David Pedreira
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”Life is so tenuous on Luna’s desiccated expanse that staying alive is an endeavor practiced with almost religious fervor. No one ever deserts another man on the Moon. Race, creed, religion, flag---none of that crap matters. Dechert would risk his life for any Chinese digger in distress, as long as they were within range. And he knew they would do the same for him.

At least until what happened to Cole.”

 photo earth-moon-system_zpswvfmtzi5.jpg
The Moon---”Earth’s naked shadow.”

When survival is paramount, we are drawn together in the interest of mutual survival. We forget all the things that divide us. It is only when we have the luxury of existing at a certain level of comfort that we start to figure out ways to separate ourselves. There are plenty of natural resources for everyone on the moon. There are several countries participating in mining the moon, but the two elephants are the Chinese and the Americans; all the nations of the world have a stake in extracting enough Helium-3 to keep the lights on back on Earth.

And the Earth is still in recovery from an apocalyptic event.

”Asteroid collisions you can prepare for, carbon emissions you can legislate against, but who expected a subsea methane eruption would plunge us back into the Dark Ages for more than a decade?”

As if I don’t have enough things to worry about, now I have to add methane eruption to the list?

Caden Dechert is the chief of the U.S. mining operation on the edge of the Sea of Serenity. He is a veteran of wars in the Middle East and is reminded of his tour of duty with every breath he takes. ”The gunpowder smell of moondust filled his nostrils.”

Dechert has a good relationship with his counterpart over on the Chinese side of the moon. They have similar military backgrounds and both have no illusions about the simmering politics on Earth that could spill out into the universe, even to the moon. They have enough to worry about keeping some catastrophic event from wiping out their stations, such as solar flares or something as seemingly mundane as moondust crippling their power supply.

They don’t have time for murder.

But murder is what they got.

When that hatch explodes and kills the first surfer dude on the moon, the ramifications go well beyond just the extinguishing of a life. Dechert has dealt with death his entire adult life, but never has he had a death mean so much. ”The dead settle in our mind like cooling embers. After a time they diminish, snuffed out by the immediate, and then a puff of memory rekindles them and for a moment they are hot and near once again.”

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A boot print is one of the few clues.

That explosion that blew that hatch on the moon is the equivalent of the bullet that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914. The tinder is so dry that it only takes a spark to light a conflagration that could burn up not only all the progress Earth has made recovering from the methane eruption, but could level us back to the Stone Age.

Dechert has experienced being in the middle of a war, but he has never been at the flashpoint of the beginning of a war.

Was it the Chinese?

Doesn’t make sense.

Then who was it?

Before everyone dies on the moon, maybe we should take a moment to look at the sky.”How to explain the Moon’s thunderous star field to the uninitiated? It would be like describing the yellows and reds of Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Crows to a blind man.” Maybe we all need to look at the sky more often and clear our minds of the deluge of testosterone driven patriotism. Dechert’s loyalties, never in question before, are wavering as he tries to sift through the evidence and find a solution before there is no turning back.

The American marines arrive. The Chinese equivalent of super troopers arrive. Weapons that have never been allowed on the moon are now bristling on every person’s body. Who killed Cold Benson is becoming irrelevant to everyone, except Dechert. How many times does a war start and, within a short amount of time, everyone forgets how it ever started? Why are we fighting? Ask the Hatfields and the McCoys why they hate each other. It is like we are all just waiting for a reason to give in to our most primordial instincts.

The smell of fear on the moon is mingling with the acrid stench of gunpowder, like lovers reunited over the expanse of history.

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The Sea of Serenity is not so serene after murder comes to visit.

What I really enjoy about this book is how real it feels. This isn’t some science-fiction universe that exists in some future that is beyond our own scope. This future is tomorrow or next year or certainly within our life spans. President John F. Kennedy asked us to go to the moon; now all someone has to do is ask us to go to the moon and stay. I was very aware of the constant danger of eminent death. One mistake and not only will you kill yourself, but you might kill your whole team. It is a fragile and invigorating way to live. Where David Pedreira really shines is in his descriptions of pulse pounding, moon blasting action. I was so involved in what was happening that I needed my own space suit to monitor my vitals. ”Mayday, mayday, mayday”was a metronome that blasted through the comms in my dreams for several nights after finishing this book.

Buckle up, squeeze your cheeks together, pour a pitcher of Tang, and put your cell phone on silent. You won’t have time for Earthly concerns once you land on the moon.

I want to thank Harper Voyager for sending me a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Magos By: Dan Abnett

The MagosThe Magos by Dan Abnett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Last Warhammer for a bit, I (kinda) promise.

Eisenhorn is a bad man, an inquistor (for those not familiar with the universe) basically a cop. This is a collection of short stories and a new one that shows the world that most of Warhammer books don't cover, the dirty underside of an already dirty world, (yup..that bad)

This is great stuff, if you are a scifi fan and crime noir type fan..this is a good read for you and it is spring need something to read.

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Fulgrim By: Graham McNeill

FulgrimFulgrim by Graham McNeill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

yes, I am still in my Warhammer deep dive, and WOW. I got into the Emperor's Children legion mostly due to the Fabius Bile book I read, I found him very interesting. At first glance, you can totally see why the legion falls into the clutches of chaos. They for the most part, are TOTALLY the over achievers, pretty boys that succeed in everything they touch. You kind of want them to fall, but then when it happens............boy does it happen.

I give Graham McNeill credit for making me cringe at the change of the Emperor's Children, while not overly graphic, the end game of this book make me very uncomfortable. Still a very good read and hopefully I will surface from this deep dive soon

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Travel to Boston's Sleazy Side with Lehane

The DropThe Drop by Dennis Lehane
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I just love this guy! Dennis Lehane writes the stuff I want to read. He could write my obituary and I'd be like, "Man, that was great!"

Even when his material isn't top shelf, his prose and characterization still knocks it over the green monstah....Uh-oh, I've started to slip back into my roots. Hell, it can't be helped. Lehane's Boston-based books mesh sublimely with my Masshole upbringing. I love his settings because they remind me of home.

With The Drop we enter a typical Boston dive bar and hang out with typical Southies. Like pretty much everybody else in the fuckin' place, the bartender is a hopeless nobody. But hey, this is a frickin' fairytale, so the guy finds a little ray of sunshine in the form of an emaciated dog. Yeah, that's blue collar Boston for ya, a fucking half-dead dog is enough to add some hope in this schmuck's life.

But this is a Lehane book. It ain't gonna be as simple as all that. Mobsters, petty pricks, and psychopaths gotta wave their dicks around and people are gonna die for it. Let's hope it's the douchebags, but who knows. You never know with this fucking guy. And that's why I love him!

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The Gifts of O. Henry

The Gift of the Magi and Other Short StoriesThe Gift of the Magi and Other Short Stories by O. Henry
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I spent a month in Austin in 2016. It was good. Thanks for asking. While there my wife and I visited the William Sidney Porter House museum in the downtown area just one block south of the super busy party-central 6th St.

(Kind of odd to come across this little, old house in the middle of bustling downtown Austin)

William Sidney Porter is the real name of O. Henry, who lived only briefly in Austin before moving on to Houston. Nonetheless, it was cool to go into the house and see the old place, as well as his special writing nook.

Porter was a clever guy. His short stories often end with a surprising little twist, a little more subtle than your typical M. Night Shammalammadingdong movie. This collection is...well, it's not the actual collection I read, but it's close enough. There are tons of O. Henry collections listed on GR and I can't find the one I read. But the length is about the same and I believe the stories mostly match up.

Once upon a time when I was a young man, I read "The Gift of the Magi" and really enjoyed it. I promised myself I'd read more of his stuff. Then I let about three decades slip by until deciding I'd let the notion marinate long enough. I'm glad I finally got around to reading more. Although, I was a little confused at the start.

The first story was "The Voice of the City" and I was not prepared for it. His style, language, and pure-and-simple smarts had me befuddled and jogging to catch up. However, after that it was smooth sailing. I believe "The Gift..." was up next, and it was nice to revisit that one. Then the book slides into delight tales like "The Ransom of Red Chief", "The Romance of a Busy Broker", "The Green Door", "The Hiding of Black Bill", and "The Cop and the Anthem".

Not every story is a winner. Sometimes I got a bit bored. But overall this is a good collection and a nice primer for a prolific short story writer.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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Friday, March 9, 2018

If It Flies

Aleksandr Voinov and L.A. Witt
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


If it flies, drives, or fornicates, it’s cheaper to rent it.

Spencer is in a rut. Long hours at the law firm are sucking the life out of him, and he doesn’t have time or energy for a relationship. He’s lonely, horny, and itching for something new, so he tries the Market Garden, an exclusive—and expensive—brothel. Spencer isn’t in the door five minutes before a cocky rentboy makes his move.

Nick isn’t just any rentboy, though. He’s a Dom, he’s a sadist, and he’s everything Spencer didn’t know he was missing. One night turns into more, and before long, Spencer is one of Nick’s regular clients.

Both men think they’re just scratching each other’s backs: Spencer’s exploring a submissive, masochistic side he never knew he had, and Nick is getting off and getting paid. But as time goes on, it’s clear their strictly professional arrangement . . . isn’t, and if Nick has one hard limit, it’s that he doesn’t get romantically entangled with his johns. The problem is, while Nick doesn't want to be owned, Spencer’s no longer content with just renting.

My Review

“If the two of them could get through a scene like this without that word being spoken again, then maybe…maybe this ran deeper than sex and cash, deep enough to go all the way.”

As much as I love Tristan and Jared and wanted their story to continue, it was very easy for me to set them aside once I met and fell in love with Nick and Spencer.

Spencer is a busy, tired and stressed-out lawyer with no time for relationships. His co-worker, Percy, with a failed marriage behind him and confident in his belief that it’s always cheaper to rent than buy, introduces him to the Market Garden, where he meets Nick.

Nick’s cockiness, his leather pants, and his sexy strut are a complete turn-on to Spencer, even if their negotiation ends up being funny and a little awkward. Nick is an experienced Dom, which Spencer discovers early on is exactly what he needs.

Spencer is not sexually inexperienced, but what he explores with Nick is new for him. I loved the easy connection between client and prostitute after their initial awkwardness. Always the professional, Nick has a businesslike demeanor and the self-control that prevents him from ever getting involved with his clients. When Spencer becomes Nick’s regular client, their lovemaking takes on a new intensity as Spencer begins to accept his submissive/masochistic tendencies and his trust in Nick deepens. The BDSM scenes were riveting and passionate and took my breath away. It is quite obvious that deeper feelings are now involved, but Nick loses his fragile self-control and crosses a line, causing problems in their relationship. I loved how Nick and Spencer solved their difficulties and found Nick’s exploration of his own feelings and heart’s desire as intense and emotionally charged as their sex scenes.

I loved both characters and can’t wait to read their next story.

Thursday, March 8, 2018


King Harald's SagaKing Harald's Saga by Snorri Sturluson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”The year 1066 was a convulsive and fateful year for the destiny of England and western Europe. It was the year that brought together in violent and mortal conflict the three greatest military leaders in Europe of their day---Harald of Norway, Harold of England, and William of Normandy; three powerful and ambitious men who had fought their way to authority in their respective countries and who now, in three weeks of terrible bloodshed in the autumn of 1066, were to fight to the death for the greatest prize of all: the throne of England.”

 photo Harold20II_zpsmipo4uup.jpg
Harold II, a detail from the Bayeux Tapestry.

As fascinating as those men of destiny are, the Icelandic writer of this tale, Snorri Sturluson, proves almost as fascinating.

”He was a man of astonishing contradictions: a man who fought and schemed all his life to become the most powerful chieftain in Iceland, yet who still found time to write some of the greatest masterpieces in Icelandic literature; a greedy, covetous man who was nonetheless capable of great generosity; a patriot so fascinated by the royal court of Norway that he could harbour secret thoughts of treason; a farmer who wanted to be an aristocrat, a prose-writer who wanted to be a poet, a scholar who cared more about owning property; a worldly, cultivated man who loved all the good things of life---wealth, women, wine, good company---yet who died a squalid, tragic death in the cellar of his own home.”

Those he had opposed send men with swords to his house, and five of them trap him in his cellar and run him through and through again. A loss to literature for sure, but in some ways a fitting end for a man who wrote about so many other great men of Norwegian history meeting a similar end at the point of sword or by the swoop of a battle axe. Snorri might have become so ensnared in his stories that he fell right in the middle of them.

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Snorri Sturluson

This saga is of Harald Sigurdsson and his quest for power. He fights the Danes on numerous occasions. He thinks he has as much right to the Danish throne as he does to the one in Norway.

"Svein and Harald battled
The two great war-leaders,
Shieldless, shunning armour,
Called for thrust and parry;
Armies were locked in battle,
Stones and arrows were flying,
Sword-blades were dyed crimson;
All around, doomed warriors
Fell before the onslaught.”

He fights his own people.

”Einer of the flailing sword
Will drive me from this country
Unless I first persuade him
To kiss my thin-lipped axe.”

He battles omens and creatures insidious.

”The ogress flaunts her crimson
Shield as battle approaches;
The troll-woman sees clearly
The doom awaiting Harald.
With greedy mouth she rends
The flesh of fallen warriors;
WIth frenzied hand she stains
The wolf’s jaws crimson---
Wolf’s jaws red with blood.”

I’m a modern man, and I’ve got to say reading about this hideous creature raises the hair on the back of my neck and sends shivers down my spine, enough to curl my toes.

 photo aec689ae-ac48-4748-91d2-37bf1d58d05a_zpsv2ddgwem.png
The Battle of Stamford Bridge

This of course all leads up to the famous battle at Stamford Bridge in England. Sensing an opportunity to take the throne of England, Harald of Norway decides to invade in that year of English invasions, 1066. Harald Godwinsson, or Harold II if you are English, has barely warmed the seat of his newly acquired throne when he has to lead an army into battle against those burly, bloodthirsty Northmen.”The closer the army came, the greater it grew, and their glittering weapons sparkled like a field of broken ice.”

The interesting thing about all of this is that most of us don’t know who Harald Sigurdsson is, but one could speculate if he had decided to delay his invasion by a few weeks, we may have known him as Harold the Conqueror, King of England. As it is, Harold II dispatches Harald and his army in a bloody battle that weakens the forces of Harold II. The English army then has to turn around in 19 days and fight William of Normandy at the Battle of Hastings.

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William of Normandy raising his helmet to show his troops he is still alive. Bayeux Tapestry.

What are the chances that King Harald of Norway and William of Normandy would decide to invade England in the same month?

I can remember, when I was about 12 years old, riding in the pickup with my Grandpa Harold Ives and mentioning to him that he was named after an English King. He looked at me like I had rocks rattling around in my head instead of little gray cells. Even if I couldn’t convince him, I knew it was true.

Needless to say, I will be reading and reviewing more Icelandic sagas in the very near future. In a time when few were educated, the Icelandic people considered knowledge essential to life. If they had not believed so, many of these sagas would have never made the transition from oral history to written history. ”The Icelanders...take great pleasure in learning and recording the history of all peoples, and they consider it just as meritorious to describe the exploits of others as to perform them themselves.”

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