Friday, December 14, 2018


Alexandra Kolossa
Taschen Books
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


By the time of his death from AIDS at the age of 31, Keith Haring (1958-1990) was already a wildly successful and popular artist. Haring's original and instantly recognizable style, full of thick black lines, bold colors, and graffiti-inspired cartoon-like figures, won him the appreciation of both the art world and the general public; his work appeared simultaneously on T-shirts, gallery walls, and public murals. In 1986, Haring founded Pop Shop, a boutique in New York's SoHo selling Haring-designed memorabilia, to benefit charities and help bring his work closer to the public and especially street kids, with whom he never lost contact.

My Review

“I live every day as if it were the last. I love life.”― Keith Haring, 1987

This is a lovely book and a wonderful introduction to the work of Keith Haring. If you read John Gruen’s biography of the artist and found it lacking in artistic analysis, this book is the perfect companion. Reading both books will provide a full picture of the artist and the man.

I would like to time travel to 1982 to see the Keith Haring exhibition at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York, which was given a two-page spread on pages 25 and 26. At that time, I was not yet familiar with the artist’s work. It wasn’t until the late 80’s when I got to know his powerful AIDS-themed works.

I love Haring’s versatility. Starting out with chalk drawings in subway he moved on to a wide variety of surfaces, creating complex designs that were bold, colorful and energetic.

Keith Haring was an artist for the people. Though public recognition was important to him, acceptance by museums was a lot slower in coming. It wasn’t until after his death that his work was shown in major exhibitions.

“Everything happens for a reason. And I’m sure everything always happens at the right time and in the right place.”
― Keith Haring, 1987

The illustrations are well organized and the text is easy on the eyes. This is a worthy addition to any art library.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Servant of the Crown

Servant of the Crown (Heir to the Crown #1)Servant of the Crown by Paul J. Bennett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Gerald is an old soldier who finds himself banished from the army, scapegoated, and nearly executed if not for the influence of his lifelong friend the Baron of Bodden. Instead he's sent away to work at a royal estate that rarely sees visitors. Gerald meets a young girl with an enormous secret and treats her largely like a daughter. This relationship changes life for him forever.

Servant of the Crown is a touching story about friendship, loyalty, and politics. I kind of wish I knew that before I picked it up because I was expecting a story about warfare. This isn't the kind of book I would have chosen to read if I knew what to expect. The story is light on battles, but has a lot of heart.

Gerald and Anna's relationship is a happy tear inducing drama. They're both alone. Each is without a family and they become that for one another. Gerald gets to help raise Anna like the daughter that he lost and Anna gets a father figure with the utmost integrity. I felt bad for Gerald overall, but it seems Anna got a better deal having Royal power along with Gerald as her father figure.

Servant of the Crown is a nice story.

2.5 out of 5 stars

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2018


Will Work for DrugsWill Work for Drugs by Lydia Lunch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”But I’m too far gone now, too fucked up, too ill spent to really carry through. Shot to shit and forced to struggle against it. Broken down, battered. Used too much up. Nothing left inside my angel’s saving graces, that busted little cherub with dirty feet and greasy wings whose tender ruby-rich kisses have resuscitated so many burning embers and dying remains that I have become a mortician’s reanimator, stuck forever in a purgatory that so many dying men have come to rub their poison against.

Even my breath has become toxic. An aerosol taint of glue, sugar water, paint fumes, dead roses, and runoff. But young boys don’t know that yet. Don’t see it, can’t smell my true essence over the sweat of their own passion. Over the smell of their own vinegar, saltwater taffy, dirty towels, steam heat. They wouldn’t recognize it even if they did.”

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I knew vaguely of her existence, but I never really saw her until she showed up to have lunch with Anthony Bourdain on what would turn out to be the last episode of Parts Unknown. We see people all the time. We may even read their books or watch their TV shows or catch them in a movie, but we don’t always SEE them. So when I say I “saw her,” I mean that I finally created space in my brain for her. She is part of the Jeffrey D. Keeten universe now. If Lydia Lunch were to read this, she would probably kick me in the nuts, tell me to Fuck off, and be mildly offended that in 2018 I’m finally acknowledging her existence. Violence, profanity, and a marshmallow center are all part of the essence of Lydia Lunch.

She was born Lydia Anne Koch, but that name really doesn’t mean anything. The name Lydia Lunch means something because she earned it. She got the name because she stole food to feed her friends. People would see Lydia coming and know that lunch was coming with her.

I will contest her statement in the opening quote that she is “shot to shit.” I don’t believe it for one second. She might be tired, but after watching numerous clips of her talking about numerous subjects, she is far from worn out. Her soul has been on the verge of drowning, but her indomitable spirit, I’m convinced, will always breaks the surface of the water. Even shipwrecked deep at sea, somehow she will wash up on shore.

When she was twelve, she was living with her pathetic dad, who liked to have his buddies over for poker night. ”By 9:15 they were all shit-faced. Drunk as fuck and squealing like the insufferable sex pigs that they were. I was forced to play waitress, barkeep, and Barbie doll. Keep their busted cups full of rotgut, the pickled pigs feet coming, the corn dogs warm, and smile like I meant it. Yeah, right...Give me something to smile about, assholes.”

The scene only deteriorated from there, after her father ran out of money, but even amongst the barbarity of this situation, she related the impending nightmare with threads of humor that made me feel uncomfortable. Hmmm, Lydia Lunch making people feel uncomfortable. That would be her stock in trade.

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I had to look through a lot of pictures to find one of Lydia really smiling or is this the fake smile? The wattage is dazzling.

In the back of the book, she conducted some interviews with several writers, but the two I really enjoyed were her discussions with her friends Hubert Selby Jr. and Nick Tosches. Selby discussed why it took so long, ten years, for him to write his book The Willow Tree. Some writers reading this might really identify. ”I’d write for a few weeks, then one day I’d get up to go inside and write and I’d get close to the door, but something would just pick me up and throw me out of the room.” The writing spirits had deemed him unworthy or at least in the wrong frame of mind. As if to say, come back when you are really serious, Selby! Don’t waste our time!

Writers take note of the following exchange:

Lydia Lunch: “What is a year overdue?”

Nick Tosches: “Garbage, complete, wretched, DRECK. I have to do two magazine stories, and then a book, and it’s all wretched dreck and I just need to work my way out to freedom. If I had the money I would just give everybody their money back and not do any of it. It’s too much.”

There was so much to unpack in this brief exchange. First of all, there was no way Tosches would be comfortable enough to be this honest with a normal reviewer but, given that he knew Lydia, she would truly understand that what he was talking about liberated him to just lay all his fears and anxiety right out on the cigarette scarred and wine stained table. Writers get asked to do projects they don’t want to do, as do most people in all professions. Writers are sometimes so desperate for money or validation that even a small roll of dough dangling before them will be too much of a temptation to resist. Nick freely admitted he was not the right writer for these projects, and then he was drowning in his own feelings of inadequacy.

The additional problem was that, with these projects hanging over his head, it was impossible for him to do the writing he wanted to do as well. The use of the word freedom resonated with me. He gave up his freedom, maybe too cheaply, and is now steeped in regret. So the moral of the story for writers is be careful about accepting money for projects for which they are ill suited. You know your capabilities better than the people offering the money, so don’t trap yourself in a project you are going to hate. On the other hand, if you are starving, take the fucking money.

This is a slender volume, and yet I could go on and on about about so many more things I found fascinating to think about. Keying on Elton John’s suggestion to get rid of all religions to have a chance at world peace, she took that thought a step further and suggested we should get rid of God. In typical Lydia fashion, cut the head off, not the tail. She made a very compelling argument. There are purple prose that feel over the top, but yet coming from her, they are merely part of her persona, and it would be unnatural for her thoughts to come at us any other way than as red hot, shotgun pellets that burrow and burn their way to the bone. ”An abstract portrait rendered in spunk.”

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This book will be too much for most of you. You’ll have all kinds of reasons not to like it. The book is uncomfortable, exaggerated, self-indulgent, criminal, and oh my goodness, a woman being very unlady like.

”We, especially as women, need to insist upon our Pleasure.

Demand our Pleasure.”

You may not understand her, but don’t try to marginalize her. You’ll get BURNED! Writer, photographer, actress, food provider, and musician who is still trying to make sense of a fucked up world.

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Monday, December 10, 2018

The rhythm of crime writing

Mortal Stakes (Spenser, #3)Mortal Stakes by Robert B. Parker
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Parker was really starting to get into a rhythm with these Spenser stories. You can see the character coming to life. Everything feels more natural and at ease.

The triangle of deceit he created in Mortal Stakes is not diabolically ingenious, but it suits. Spenser is shown sorting out the clues he gathers and going through a methodical process to get to the bottom of it all. I thought perhaps Parker took a shortcut to the main baddies rather too quickly. It was almost like Spenser was drawn to them for no apparent reason other than getting the show on the road.

Extra points for this one due to the inclusion of the Boston Red Sox, my favorite team. Hell, the major reason I started reading these was because they take place in my home city (well, I lived 45 minutes outside of it, but it's still "my city" in a way.) Anytime a writer wants to use Fenway Pahk as a setting is wicked pissah with me!

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Spenser Goes to Europe!

The Judas Goat (Spenser, #5)The Judas Goat by Robert B. Parker
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spenser goes on a working holiday to Europe and the Olympics. Hawk joins him. And then there's some canoodling with Susan.

This fifth episode in Parker's famous Spenser detective series keeps the ball rolling, but rolls it in a different direction. If I were to guess, I'd say Parker probably had taken a vacation to Europe and wanted to incorporate it into his books somehow. He managed and the result is fun.

I'm surprised to hear myself say that about The Judas Goat, because the topic/Spenser's target is a group of militant racists and the less of those in my life the better. I generally don't even want to read about them. But I suppose reading about Spenser kicking their butts is fun!

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Friday, December 7, 2018

Still Life

Jaime Samms
Dreamspinner Press
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


When Allan Song’s ex, Mac, shows up to model for the life drawing class Allan teaches, he turns everything upside-down. Mac is still as infuriatingly attractive as when Allan first met him—and still trying to figure out where he fits on the gender spectrum. He’s more than a little out of control, and he’s taken some stupid risks that have come back to haunt him. If they’re going to get back together, Allan wants a real relationship—but for that, he and Mac will need to look below the surface.

My Review

I thought this was going to be a light, sweet Christmas romance. I’m really glad it wasn’t, as I’ve overdosed on holiday sweetness and am now craving conflict, intense emotions, and deep feelings. Jaime Samms delivered and after reading just one story, I now count myself among her fans. I also liked that the blurb for the story was kind of vague; still intriguing, but not enough to reveal too much information about the characters or spoil the plot.

Allen has known his roommate, Mac, for two years. Allen has always liked men, but Mac is straight, well at least until he starts flirting playfully with Allen while he’s working on his term papers and distracts him even further by coming out of his room in a dress. Jump ahead a couple of years to Allen’s classroom, where he is teaching art and Mac is the life drawing class’s model. By this time, the men are living separate lives, even though it is obvious they haven’t moved on.

It was just a small incident that caused Al and Mac to break up during a family visit at Christmas, but alcohol, flirting, insecurity, and stubbornness have blown the incident out of proportion and created a huge rift not only in Al’s and Mac’s relationship, but in Al’s relationship with his family.

The men are in for difficult times as they try to reconcile their differences and move forward. They are stubborn, hurtful and unwilling to bend. Despite all that, they are deeply in love with each other. A pregnancy, a death and the possibility of a major life-changing event conspire to bring the men back together. As they begin to admit their wrongdoings and deal with the consequences of their actions, they will become stronger individually and as a couple.

This story is far from a typical romance. Relationships, family life and friendships are explored realistically and a wide spectrum of emotions portrayed. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and loved both Mac and Al. I hope they have the strength to face the challenges ahead of them.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Thor: God of Thunder, Volume 2: Godbomb

Thor: God of Thunder, Volume 2: GodbombThor: God of Thunder, Volume 2: Godbomb by Jason Aaron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The origin of Gorr the God Butcher is revealed. description
His family died trusting in gods that couldn't be bothered to help. So Gorr has devised his own plan with the help of time travel. He created a godbomb to annihilate every god who ever has and ever will live across all time in an instant.
The only thing left standing in his way are three Thors from different time periods.

Godbomb was a good conclusion to the tale of Gorr the God Butcher. It's easy to see why Gorr turned out to be the way he was and how he grew to despise all the gods. He's truly sympathetic because all he sought was help and what he got in return was seeing his entire family including his children die in front of him.

The three Thors were interesting.
I really wanted to see more of the All-Father Thor because he's the character who has been seen the least among the three.

Godbomb had some solid writing and I definitely enjoyed it.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2018


The End of the End of the Earth: EssaysThe End of the End of the Earth: Essays by Jonathan Franzen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”If you stand in a forest in Southeast Asia, you may hear and then begin to feel, in your chest, a deep rhythmic whooshing. It sounds meteorological, but it’s the wingbeats of Great Hornbills flying in to land in a fruiting tree. They have massive yellow bills and hefty white thighs; they look like a cross between a toucan and a giant panda. As they clamber around in the tree, placidly eating fruit, you may find yourself crying out with the rarest of all emotions: pure joy. It has nothing to do with what you want or what you possess. It’s the sheer gorgeous fact of the Great Hornbill, which couldn’t care less about you.”

I always love those moments when something reminds me of how insubstantial I am, compared to the forces of nature. The ultimate feeling of insignificance for me was to see, in a flash of lightning, a tornado, in all its beautiful glory, just off the road from where I was riding in a car. The sight of this destructive power of swirling winds inspired instant terror and awe, and as the lightning faded, the terror for me increased exponentially with the descending of complete and utter darkness. I was so unnerved I buckled my seatbelt (this was the 1980s) as if that act would shield me from the onslaught of such a power entity.

I’ve been remiss about reading Jonathan Franzen novels. I’ve liked what I have read. He has a self-deprecating style that allows me to see the human in the writer, even as he dazzles me with insightful prose. He questions his own beliefs and is a master at disputing both sides of an argument within himself. This could lead to indecision, but that doesn’t seem to be an insurmountable hazard for him. He still continues to move forward, even as he keeps a tongue pressed into his cheek to remind himself that he could be completely wrong in his assessment.

Franzen is a Bird Lister, and winged beasts figure prominently into these sixteen essays. As a gently mad book collector, I am always excited to find someone whom I can perceive to be more insane than myself. These bird listers go to great, sometimes dangerous, lengths to check a bird off their list. Franzen’s excitement at seeing a Jamaican Blackbird, or an Opal-rumped Tanager, or a Saint Lucia Black Finch are equal to my own excitement at finding a rare Graham Greene, or a bright copy of a Virginia Woolf vastly underpriced, or say an interesting appearing book by an author I’ve never heard of before. Of course, I slide my new acquisition onto my bookshelf, while he hopefully retains at least a mental image of the bird he has spotted. He might be slightly more mad than I.

Franzen’s girlfriend offers to go with him anywhere in the world. He suggests the idea of going to Antarctica, which he regrets almost immediately. He is unsure why, out of all the destinations in the world, he chose to torture her with the idea of attempting to vanquish the frozen, southern extremes of the planet. ”By this point, I, too, had a developed a vague aversion to the trip, an inability to recall why I’d proposed Antarctica in the first place. The idea of ‘seeing it before it melts’ was dismal and self-canceling: why not just wait for it to melt and cross itself off the list of travel destinations?”

I like the practicality of waiting for Antarctica to melt and crossing it off the bucket list. I’ve become more annoyed with the whole concept of a bucket list in recent years. This list has become a grand piano, suspended over my head, ready to fall on me the moment I show any weakness or hesitation in accepting an opportunity to cross something off the list. The list is not stagnant, either. As I cross things off, more things are added. It is a list that can not be conquered; by design, I am destined to fail.

The book is not all about birds, who are harbingers of the end of the end of the earth, as his title suggests, or about climate change. He also talks about his relationship with William Vollmann and his reverence for one of my favorite writers, Edith Wharton. He drops in a few mentions of writers like Rachel Cusk, whom I have not read, and Karl Ove Knausgaard, whom I have not read enough of. If I read a grouping of essays and don’t come away with an expanded book reading list (which is in some ways worse than a bucket list), I am disappointed.

Moreover, Franzen delves into the research of Sherry Turkle, who explores the impact that technology is having on who we are. ”Our rapturous submission to digital technology has led to an atrophying of human capacities like empathy and self-reflection, and the time has come to reassert ourselves, behave like adults, and put technology in its place.”

I have recently started feeling better about our future relationship with technology. I’ve heard more and more dissatisfaction coming from people twenty plus years younger than myself, so it isn’t just nervous old fuddy duddies, like me, who are starting to understand the diminishing returns of more advanced technology. It is the same theory as being rich. Once you reach a certain level of comfort, your happiness meter starts to plummet with the more money you acquire. What most people find is that you are happier when you are comfortable financially, which could be equated to reaching that level where technology is helping to improve your life. The trouble begins when money starts to rule your every thought or when technology begins to take over your life.

The big questions that Jonathan Franzen seems to be seeking answers to in writing these essays are, can we adapt our thinking enough to save the birds, save the planet, and in the process liberate ourselves from our own destruction? The environment should not be a political issue. Scientists are in agreement about the starkness of the facts. We should not be putting ourselves in a position where nature can bring her absolute worst against us. The tornados, the wildfires, the hurricanes, the torrential rains, the droughts are all punishments, increasing in frequency and velocity, as we continue to abuse this lovely, lovely blue planet. We, whether we want to accept the task or not, are the elected stewards, and we must make better, tougher, more responsible decisions going forward.

I want to thank Farrar, Straus, Giroux for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Monday, December 3, 2018

A Brownstein Memoir

Hunger Makes Me a Modern GirlHunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Way more serious and far less funny than I expected. Also, very little about Portlandia. One sentence to be precise.

But that's okay! Having loved Sleater-Kinney and collected 7"s from that band and her prior, Excuse 17, back in the 90s, I probably would've read this book anyway. I'm always ready to hear more stories about riot grrrl and Olympia!

Back then her S-K bandmate Corin Tucker was the one I gave a shit about. I'd fallen in love with Tucker's voice from her previous band, Heavens To Betsy. The tremulous tone yet strident thrust of her borderline manic singing filled each song with a dangerous urgency. You felt like at any moment, this was a person who might come spectacularly unhinged and, emotionally or physically, you could be caught in the crossfire.

There is plenty about Tucker in Carrie Brownstein's Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, but that's the thing, this is Brownstein's book. It's about her journey, and wow, it turned out to be a hell of a ride! Without giving away too much, she endured a youth that could easily have turned her into a societal nightmare, another soul damaged by upbringing that might have continued the cycle and spread the negative over others. Instead, she found a niche and fought for it. She became a success in one chosen field (music), then another (acting), and now she's succeeded as an author, too. That's determination!

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Friday, November 30, 2018


Jordan Castillo Price
JCP Books
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Victor Bayne’s job as a PsyCop involves tracking down dead people and getting them to spill their guts about their final moments. It's never been fun, per se. But it's not usually this annoying.

Vic has just moved in with his boyfriend Jacob, he can’t figure out where anything’s packed, and his co-worker is pressuring him to have a housewarming party. Can’t a guy catch a break?

On a more sinister note, Vic discovers there’s absolutely no trace of him online. No trace of anyone else who trained at "Camp Hell," either. Everyone Vic knows has signed a mysterious set of papers to ensure his “privacy.” The contracts are so confidential that even Vic has never heard of them. But Jacob might have.

What other secrets has Jacob been keeping?

My Review

I really enjoyed the fourth story in the Psy Cop series. When Vic browses the internet, he realizes his name, the name of the psych training institute where he was institutionalized (Camp Heliotrope), and the names of others he knew there cannot be found. Jacob is asked to help solve an unusual sexual assault case. Vic is starting to learn more about his abilities. And everyone has secrets… even Jacob.

Secrets is another fun story that introduces new characters and revisits old ones. Lisa Gutierrez, Vic’s second partner, is back and coming to terms with her psychic abilities. Crash, Jacob’s ex, knows about Jacob’s case and Vic reveals his jealous side. As always, Jacob can’t get enough of Vic.