Monday, May 22, 2017

Deja Vu All Over Again

The Age of InnocenceThe Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yeah, you could call this The Age of Innocence. On the other hand, a more suitable title might be Anna Karenina Revisited. Here are a few similarities off the top of my head:

- It's a novel based on societal etiquette.

- A lovely woman is plagued with an unloving husband and somewhat ostracized from said society due to divorce.

- A young man rushes to marry his fiancé before troubling thoughts of cheating overtake him.

- The fiancé is a virtuous, virginal airhead.

- And finally, the adulterous woman comes equipped with a very Anna Karenina-esque European flair. Their sensibilities are remarkably similar.

Did Edith Wharton steal everything but the title? I don't know, but if you told me she read and admired Tolstoy's book, I wouldn't be surprised. However, let's set the accusations aside.

This is a damn fine novel. It's poignant. It's well-plotted. It's funny. The characters pop to life. New York society of the 1870s is set as well as any Broadway stage.

Deficiencies? Perhaps there's a little too much telling over showing, but I'm not complaining.

Indeed it's difficult to fault Wharton on any point. This is a solid novel.

Beyond the novel, it's difficult to fault Wharton even if she did pilfer the plot. Yes, she came from a very wealthy family and much of her time was spent penning novels from the comfort of her luxuriant bed, dropping completed pages upon the floor to be collected and collated by a servant. But looking deeper you discover all the good she did during the Great War. And when you learn how she put herself in danger by reporting from the front, well, you can't help but admire the woman. She's got true grit, even if it is gilded grit.

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Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Girls

The GirlsThe Girls by Emma Cline
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Evie Boyd's parents get divorced, she falls in with a bad group of girls, all following a would-be musician named Russel. Evie finds herself drawn to their lifestyle of living free and doing drugs, and particularly finds herself drawn to Suzanne. Will Evie come to her senses before she goes down a road she can never come back from?

The Girls is a story inspired by the infamous murder of Sharon Tate by followers of Charles Manson. Instead of a gore-strewn crime book, it's more about one girl's fall from grace after falling in with a cult. Evie Boyd is only fourteen when she meets The Girls and winds up living at the ranch. Her fascination with Suzanne leads her down a grim path, a path with murder at its end.

Anyone with a passing familiarity with Charles Manson knows where the book is heading from the start and Evie, in the framing thread, hints at it pretty heavily. Knowing there's going to be a horrible crash doesn't make it any easier to turn away from an impending car crash.

Emma Cline writes with literary flourish, painting an interesting picture of a girl who wants to belong and wants to be loved. Watching her get ensnared in the spider's web was a little painful at times. In the end, she has the right choice chosen for her but never seems to get her life back on track after that.

I'm not really sure how to rate this book. While it's generally well written, it feels over-written at times for what it is. (view spoiler)

Overall, The Girls is a good read but I don't think it's going to set the world on fire. It's a solid three out of five stars. Of the 1,244 books put out this year with the world "Girl" in the title, it's definitely in the top 50.

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Canes and Scales

S.A. Garcia
Dreamspinner Press
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Serpent Prince Linden of Ardaul is determined to drag his barbaric, power-hungry country into the modern age by encouraging learning, advances in the sciences, and tolerance. His insane brother Edward, the King, delights in making him pay for his efforts.

Long years of watching his back, fighting wars, and solving conflicts started by his cruel brother have taken a toll on Linden’s body and mind, and he needs a respite. When Linden meets an alluring young bed slave named Alasdaire, his weary heart responds. Alasdaire is an exotic mix of southern royal Totandian elf and human, and, although he’s also suffered hardship most of his life, his loving personality captivates the Prince.

Despite their differences, Alasdaire—canes, and Linden—scales, unite in body and soul, but their romance is nearly shattered by betrayal. When Linden becomes King, magical assassins, treachery, and threats plague them. They narrowly escape death more than once. The lovers must discover who wants them dead and more importantly, where they can turn for aid. Neither enemies nor allies are what they seem. Only time will tell who means to harm Linden and Alasdaire—the elves, the imprisoned Edward, or something even deadlier—and time is one thing they don’t have.

My Review


Canes and Scales was the perfect story for me to read while on my way to New Jersey for a friend’s wedding. This is a quietly absorbing, gentle, and magical tale of two very different men, their devoted love, and the hardships they endure – prejudice, betrayal, and treachery. It was extremely easy for me to get lost in this story in spite of traffic jams and bumpy roads.

(If you want to know why it was essential for me to get lost in a story while driving to New Jersey, then read my review of The Pines).

Told from alternating viewpoints, we first meet Linden, the battle-weary Serpent Prince of Ardaul, who is on his way to his cousin Keith’s country home for a much-needed vacation from wars and his crazy, power-hungry brother, King Edward, who despises the Prince’s progressive politics. Keith has provided his cousin respite from his duties in the form of Alasdaire, a 20-year-old half-elven pleasure slave.

Life is difficult for Alasdaire, who is lonely since his mother’s death and unwelcome in either the human or elven communities. Despite his noble status, he has been banished from his family home after committing a vengeful act against his father and is sold to Lord Keith. To ensure Alasdaire serves his sentence, he is forced to wear a Torvine Catch around his neck which will release poison needles if Alasdaire ventures outside the estate’s boundaries.

We learn more about Alasdaire’s and Linden’s past, and watch their relationship develop from one based on sex to something much deeper. There are formal dinners, noble visits and other activities to keep the men busy. Linden also keeps abreast of news in the city and palace affairs, and answers communications when necessary. There are 20 years between the men and I appreciated that their age difference is quite evident throughout the story.

There is treachery, separation, violence, healing Elven magic and Serpent power. While the sex scenes are delicate and understated, I found Alasdaire’s reading of erotic poetry while he is being pleasured by Linden extremely sexy. There are flowery declarations of love and minimal conflicts, but there is enough mystery, magic and deception to keep this reader flipping pages.

If you crave intense drama, relationship conflicts, and graphic sex, this is not the story for you. This is a beautifully written, highly descriptive fantasy story with steampunk elements that would be suitable for those readers who like a lot of sweetness amidst all the hardships and treachery the characters face.

I was thoroughly enchanted by Alasdaire and Linden and hope their story isn’t over.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Captain Marvel, Vol. 1: Rise of Alpha Flight

Captain Marvel, Vol. 1: Rise of Alpha FlightCaptain Marvel, Vol. 1: Rise of Alpha Flight by Tara Butters
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Captain Marvel has accepted the command of the Alpha Flight Space Station. The station is tasked Earth's intergalactic defenses.

Rise of Alpha Flight feels like Star Trek Deep Space Nine with super heroes. Which would be fine except I grew up with my father watching every single Star Trek and I can't take the space tropes anymore. This might be good for someone else but I was burned out on space Sci-Fi by the age of 15 or so.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017


Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson MurdersHelter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


 photo Charlie20Manson_zpsntlxkxxl.jpg
Hello Charlie! You crazy F (expletive has been deleted because for some crazy reason I’ve got a bunch of kids following my reviews) R!!!

”’How are you going to get the establishment? You can’t sing to them. I tried that. I tried to save them, but they wouldn’t listen. Now we got to destroy them.”’
---Charlie Manson to a friend in the summer of 1969

The number of people killed by the Manson family in the 1960s and 1970s could be as many as 35. There are still bodies missing and murders that fit the profile of The Family that were never proven for lack of evidence. For the prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, the goal was to get Charlie Manson, along with his most fervent followers, out of circulation for a long, long time. From moment one he felt the strain of making a misstep that would give the judge or jury reasonable doubt. The most famous of these murders were the five people killed in, what is referred to as, The Tate Murders. The murder case was named for the wife of famed director Roman Polanski. Sharon Tate was not only brutally murdered, but was also eight months pregnant.

It changes the score, right? When you ruthlessly kill a pregnant woman, it isn’t just murder any more; it is a heinous crime against humanity.

Bugliosi, who wrote this book, does a wonderful job laying out the evidence and also explaining our legal system pitfalls. The crimes themselves, though interesting in a ghoulish, shiver inducing way, are in a sense immaterial when compared to the feral genius of Charlie Manson.

He wasn’t book smart, but he had his own brilliant way of discovering the weaknesses of most people he met and turning them into brainwashed zombie followers. He was a career inmate. He purposely committed crimes with the highest federal punishment (for instance like stealing the US Mail which has mandatory sentencing much higher than say stealing cars) to make sure he stayed in jail longer. When he was released from the prison for the last time, he begged the warden to let him stay. He understood prison, but he couldn’t understand the real world.

It only makes sense that he would create his own reality.

”I may have implied on several occasions to several different people that I may have been Jesus Christ, but I haven’t decided yet what I am or who I am.”

Most of the people he brought into The Family were between the ages of 17 to 27, with a heavy emphasis on 17. He had a man by the name of Paul Watkins, who was a good looking lad, who would hang around areas where high school girls would be and recruit them into The Family. There was no end of young women from middle class families who had runaway from their families or wanted to. Manson offered them a haven in the desert.

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Paul Watkins, the pretty boy girl recruiter. Charlie would say, “Paul I’m horny. Go get me a new girl,” and Paul would go get one.

He would interview them, discovering that generally they had Daddy issues, and exploit their resentments against their parents. All he was offering was freedom and free love and plenty of drugs, but in reality he was breaking them down so that they would do what he wanted without question. He would first have sex with them. Then, have them have sex with a woman. (Don’t be uptight, girl. It is all part of being free.) Then, they would over time have sex with all the men in the group. He would organize orgies in which they had to participate or face excommunication from the group. By this time, he had shattered the pillar of their moral compass and now had fresh clay to build them back up into who he needed them to be. The transformation from who they were to who he made them was truly disheartening and frightening to witness.

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The Manson girls look just like the girls we all went to highschool with. So the question is, how did he turn them into killers?

These girls came from very sheltered existences. They were angry at their parents for a whole host of reasons, but probably the unifying theme was that they didn’t want to be told what to do. Manson offered a delusional freedom that wasn’t free at all, but actually shackled them to him and his demented visions of chaos. One of the girls said, “I’ve finally reached the point where I can kill my parents.”

Manson became completely enamored with The White Album by The Beatles. He thought The Beatles were giving him specific instructions of what had to go down. Helter Skelter, which is the name of one of the songs on the album, became the defining words of the new world he hoped to create.

When he sent his minions out to kill the people at the Tate residency, he was hoping to start a war. He wanted to leave evidence that black people were killing white people, and then they would kill each other. The Black connections they were hoping to make were pathetically attempted, and at no time did the police think the Black Panthers or some other armed black resistance were behind the murders. The only whites who were going to survive this racial war were those living in the desert with Charlie Manson.

How do you get people to believe this stuff?

”Charlie was always preaching love. Charlie had no idea what love was. Charlie was so far from love it wasn’t even funny. Death is Charlie’s trip. It really is.”

He had his own agenda to get even with everyone. He wanted to instill fear. He wanted to destroy the world. He wanted people to pay for the shambles of his own life.

People have made comparisons between the mesmerizing abilities of Adolf Hitler and Charlie Manson. They were both small men with large ideas about who they should be. They could both convince people to do things that any rational person should reject. Neither one of them respected life. I usually don’t like comparisons to Hitler because he is often evoked in modern politics erroneously, but there are certainly some aspects about their characters and their power over people that makes the comparisons, unfortunately, very valid. At times Manson had hundreds of followers, a small army of potential assassins. All he had to do was say the word. They all wanted to make Charlie happy, and underlying all the love they felt for him was a real fear of the consequences of disappointing him.

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It is scary to think about how easily Manson gained control of these young people. I’m sure there were people who spent five minutes in his presence who started looking for the nearest exit, but his ability to convince people of his own importance and power is fortunately a very unusual trait among madmen. Could another Manson come along? Absolutely! Will they find followers? Absolutely! This book was thoughtful and well researched and certainly proved to be a page turner for me, sometimes deep into the heart of darkness.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Soccermatics: Mathematical Adventures in the Beautiful Game By: David Sumpter

Soccermatics: Mathematical Adventures in the Beautiful GameSoccermatics: Mathematical Adventures in the Beautiful Game by David Sumpter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once again I dive into one of my current obsessions, soccer. But this time I temper it with something I dislike a great deal, math. Math and I have had a long history of never understanding each other and constantly looking for ways to avoid figuring out our differences. But in pursuit of my new love, I decided to team up with my nemesis to win over the heart and mind of the beautiful game.

(That sounded better in my head) Mr. Sumpter does a terrific job of showing how mathematics applies to the world around us, and by using his love of soccer, he shows the in's and out's of statistics and numbers in the game. He also explains the geometry of formations and how as the game changed, the way it was played changed.

All in all, it deepened my current obsession and is quite the enjoyable read if you are a fan of either subject.

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Killing Gravity By : Corey J White

Killing GravityKilling Gravity by Corey J. White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

FUN?!?! yes...very fun. However, while this is a rocking space opera that honestly wouldn't be out of place on a network somewhere, I kinda give it a 3.5586 stars.

Really cool characters, cool story, tons of action, but the whole thing feels like its missing something. It seems like this was a bigger story and the author cut big chunks out sort of at random. I understand the novella form and although I am still not a huge fan of reading them (mainly due to my reading speed) I totally get it.

I did have a lot of fun reading this, BUT next time I really wish there was a bit more meat on the bone so to speak.

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Good Ol' Tried And True Rumpole!

The Trials of RumpoleThe Trials of Rumpole by John Mortimer
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There's an old shoe familiarity to these Rumpole books that suits me just fine.

Rumpole, a barrister in London's Old Bailey, is a lovable curmudgeon. Yet John Mortimer has also portrayed his main character as a sort of knight in shining armor. He gets to the truth and prevails, even if it means finding a known criminal innocent of the crime he's been charged with. Sometimes the truth results in an outcome that isn't what Rumpole himself would desire, but that's life, and life is drawn up rather realistically in this otherwise often humorous series.

With Rumpole books you get crime, court room drama, cheeky humor, quick yet insightful character studies and a nice slice of life from the various strata of London society. Often Rumpole is defending "the lower orders", the criminal class as it were. That's his forte. He doesn't mind if a little blood is involved in his cases, in fact he kind of prefers it that way. Another lovable trait for the reader to latch on to.

In The Trials of Rumpole, the second book in the series, Horace Rumpole relays a few of his memorable cases in short story form. Mortimer does a smart job of tying them together enough to make them feel linear, as if you're reading a single, homogeneous novel.

Another clever move on Mortimer's part was to make each of these books (at least the half dozen or so I've read) all self-contained. So, if you've never read a Rumpole book, you can go ahead and start with whichever one you find first. Sure, Rumpole will reference some past trial and it might make you feel like you're missing out on backstory. Don't worry about it, the old curmudgeon always does that. Like the typical elderly gentleman on the brink of retirement, he likes to reminisce about his past triumphs. Sit back, slip on that old shoe and enjoy the tale.

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt BoeThe Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a student from the Ulthar Women's College goes missing with her dreaming lover, Vellitt Boe journeys across the dreamlands to find a way to the waking world to bring her back. With a cat in tow, will Vellitt be able to find Clarie Jurat?

Ghouls, ghasts, and gugs, oh my! The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe is a new spin on HP Lovecraft's The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, with less racism and more women! It was already on my wish-list when it popped up on Netgalley.

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe is Vellitt Boe's quest across the dreamlands to bring home Clarie Jurat, a student at her college. Clarie fell in love with a man from the waking world and Vellitt must bring her back before things go pear-shaped. Her odyssey takes her from one end of the dreamlands to the other and eventually, to the waking world.

I have to say I like what Kij Johnson had done with HP Lovecraft's Dreamlands. While the setting is still what Lovecraft created, complete with Randolph Carter and assorted horrid creatures, she puts her own stamp on the tale by having a middle-aged woman take center stage.

The writing is way more accessible than HP Lovecraft's and reads more like Neil Gaiman's Stardust. She treats the mythos with respect while expanding upon it and telling her own story.

The only thing I can really complain about is that it wasn't longer and Kij wasn't able to work all of the Dreamlands staples into it. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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