Monday, September 18, 2017

Siege Line (Reawakening Trilogy #3) By: Myke Cole

Siege Line (Reawakening Trilogy #3)Siege Line by Myke Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Myke Cole keeps knocking it out of the park, Siege Line is damn near perfect military fantasy with a ton of heart to go with the blistering action. The Shadow Ops universe is a scifi/fantasy nerd's perfect storm. It hits all my loves, great world, amazing action, strong dialogue and terrific characters.

Go search out Mr. Cole's books, give him a try, then thank me later when you are out of money and waiting on his new book.

8991 stars out of 5.

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The Ruin of Angels By: Max Gladstone

The Ruin of Angels (Craft Sequence, #6)The Ruin of Angels by Max Gladstone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are few things in the world of science fiction and fantasy that make me happier than a new Craft Sequence novel, Mr. Gladstone is on a short list of authors that I drop whatever I am reading to read their new work.

If you haven't read the Craft Sequence books, DO. The Ruin of Angels is a beautiful thing, Mr. Gladstone shoves the square peg of a wonderfully deep and rich fantasy world into the smooth circle of reality and it works. There are weird and wonderful things happening everywhere, world full of gods and it's all everyday occurance. Truly a great thing...awesome story, cool characters and great, amazing world.

GIVE MAX GLADSTONE YOUR MONEY!!!! 48959 out of 5 stars.

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Old Grump Treks Across the UK

The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in BritainThe Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain by Bill Bryson
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For all its stogy, stoicism and unspoken rules of social etiquette, England is a peculiar place full of strange people doing odd things. Many and more are found here in The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain.

American-born writer Bill Bryson has been living in England so long he's written a sort of 20th anniversary sequel to his popular Notes from a Small Island. While The Road to Little Dribbling may sound like more of the same, Bryson made sure to steer clear of the sights he visited the first time around.

Following very loosely what he has dubbed the Bryson Line...


...the longest straight line through Great Britain that doesn't cross the sea, Bryson samples a bit of the countryside and a little of the city life in the heart of England and Scotland. It's often a delightful and upbeat view of the land and its people. History buffs and jolly old England enthusiasts will find a lot to love here.

On the other hand, this is not a book for the young. Middle-aged, part-time curmudgeons will find a kindred spirit in Bryson, who gets grumpy over the littlest of nuisances:

"Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a little oik of a kid about 13 years old in a Chelsea shirt at a bus stop eating a bag of crisps. When I came back a few minutes later the boy was gone and the crisp packet was on the ground. There was a bin three feet away. It occurred to me, not for the first time, that if Britain is ever to sort itself out it is going to require a lot of euthanasia."

He's that old greybeard in the group that's always asking "but why?" (much like a 5 year old actually) and who will argue a pointless point to everyone's annoyance and just won't let it go.

But for the most part, Bryson likes England and in this book he mostly likes what he sees, so the reader is treated to a lovely tour of a quaint country with a fairly congenial tour guide in The Road to Little Dribbling. Recommended!

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Steinbeck's Russian Journal

A Russian JournalA Russian Journal by John Steinbeck
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Right after WWII people in America were curious about the Soviet Union in a big way. It coincided with a time when author John Steinbeck and world-renowned photographer Robert Capa were at a loss for what to do next. A scheme was hatched up to do a bit of light investigative journalism and see what was up with post-war Russia.

This wasn't political, so much as a social call. Steinbeck and Capa really just wanted to see what was going on in the lives and minds of the people.

They went to Moscow...


And they visited farmers in the provinces...


One thing you'll notice from the above photos (besides the ubiquitous recurrence of Stalin) is the general lack of men. A generation of males had been lost to war and the remaining women were left to carry on.


The people of Moscow came off as cold and officious. Everything needed to be categorized and catalogued. Steinbeck describes one meal in which hours elapsed before food hit the table, not because the cooks were slow. Rather, the paperwork that needed to be filled out and distributed to the proper authorities delayed the kitchen from even beginning.

The country farmers, though less educated, seemed freer and happier, even if they were worked ragged due to a lack of mechanization that had been available to them pre-war. However, they were welcoming and generous.

As it turns out, right after WWII, just about all people in Russia were curious about Americans in a big way and they had many questions for Steinbeck and Capa, so many that at times it seemed the journalists were becoming the story. Those interested in either gentlemen will enjoy some of the slight insights given herein. I've noted in his other autobiographical work that Steinbeck comes off as an impish trickster at times...though his friends might just flat out call him evil. Nonetheless, his sense of fun brings a welcome lightness to the text.

This is not to say the text is particularly heavy. In fact, this is quite a light read. Steinbeck seems to strike a good balance of post-war doom and gloom with hope and promise for a brighter future while relating it all in the easy-going manner of a master storyteller. This may be outdated and not give you an idea of what Russia's like today, but it's a nice sample of a recent historical time and place. Highly recommended!

A Capa and Steinbeck selfie...

(I apologize if not all photos are from this book, as websites like Pinterest have begun to make online photo attribution rather difficult.)

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Loch Ness Revenge

Loch Ness RevengeLoch Ness Revenge by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When she was a child, Natalie McQueen watched the Loch Ness monster kill and eat her parents. Now, she's back at the Loch to get some payback!

As I've mentioned in other reviews, I spent a lot of my pre-teen years reading about cryptozoology, although I didn't know the term for it at the time. I spent countless afternoons reading about weird monsters, usually in books written by Daniel Cohen. Hunter Shea must have read some of the same books.

Loch Ness Revenge is just what the title says it is, a bloody tale of monster-hunting and carnage. It's also a hell of a lot of fun.

Natalie, plagued by night terrors, has been wanting to get revenge on the Loch Ness Monster for most of her life. Now, with her twin brother Austin and his monster hunter friend Henrik, she gets her chance.

This book was a hell of a lot of fun. Natalie and her friends have no idea how ill-equipped they are or even the number of monsters they face. Hunter references a lot of Loch Ness lore and theories, like the debunked surgeon's photo and the ideas that Nessie is some kind of plesiosaur or new form of seal.

While there's a lot of bloodshed, there's also a good amount of humor, although never when it would detract from the horror. Shea's writing has quite a punch to it and the story never feels like it's overstaying its welcome. While it's not a long book, it was the perfect length for what it was.

This was my first Hunter Shea book and now I'll probably be reading the rest of his cryptozoological horrors. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

The Last Place You Look

Kristen Lepionka
Minotaur Books
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Sarah Cook, a beautiful blonde teenager disappeared fifteen years ago, the same night her parents were brutally murdered in their suburban Ohio home. Her boyfriend Brad Stockton - black and from the wrong side of the tracks - was convicted of the murders and sits on death row, though he always maintained his innocence. With his execution only weeks away, his devoted sister, insisting she has spotted Sarah at a local gas station, hires PI Roxane Weary to look again at the case.

Reeling from the recent death of her cop father, Roxane finds herself drawn to the story of Sarah's vanishing act, especially when she thinks she's linked Sarah's disappearance to one of her father's unsolved murder cases involving another teen girl. Despite her self-destructive tendencies, Roxane starts to hope that maybe she can save Brad's life and her own.

With echoes of Sue Grafton, Dennis Lehane and the hit podcast Serial, The Last Place You Look is the gripping debut of both a bold new voice and character.

My Review

Thanks to karen for bringing this to my attention and making it possible for me to get a copy from NetGalley. Because I forgot my password and took too long to get a new one, I decided to grab it from the library instead. Amazingly, I was the first to get my hands on a brand-new copy. Curses to Trump and others who want to defund our public libraries!

Despite the high ratings for this story, I expected a conventional crime novel with a badass PI who could do no wrong. Roxane Weary is nowhere near that perfect. Though she’s smart and competent at her job, she drinks way too much and has difficulty with relationships. She’s also grieving the death of her cop father, a man Roxane had a stormy relationship with despite their likeness in character.

Roxane takes on a difficult case involving a missing teenager and her black boyfriend, Brad Stockton, whose time on death row is fast running out. What seems like a cut and dried case turns out to be far more complex and connected to an earlier case her father was involved in.

This story explores racism, small-town secrecy, and family relationships that are not so harmonious. It was easy to pick up and difficult to put down. I was ready to be disappointed at figuring out the villain so soon and instead encountered more twists and surprises. The tension and excitement became so overwhelming at times that I forgot to breathe!

I liked that Roxane was in a relationship with Tom, her deceased father’s former partner, and Catherine, a woman who drifts in and out of her life. Her bisexuality was very positively and realistically portrayed. It was organic, treated as one of many aspects of her life and not just added in for titillation. Roxane is not promiscuous, indecisive, or just going through a phase. Kudos to Kristen Lepionka for helping to dispel ugly myths about bisexuality and creating such a fascinating character.

Can’t wait to see where Roxane’s life will take her next.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

JLA: Earth 2

JLA: Earth 2JLA: Earth 2 by Grant Morrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A mirror world exists, it's antimatter to Earth's matter, evil prevails over good, and life isn't fun for anyone. Welcome to Earth 2.

I've near been a dedicated comic reader so until recently I knew next to nothing about Earth 2. Season 2 of the Flash revolves around breaches to Earth 2 being open so I decided to read about Earth 2. It's basically what I expected, but things are a bit more convoluted. Evil wins over good on this antimatter Earth and people's hearts are on the other side of their bodies. The characters aren't simply the opposite of one another for the exception of Lex Luthor and Superman/Ultraman. Even then Ultraman's origin differs significantly from Superman's.

Earth 2 is a cool concept, but the storytelling was just OK.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Cadillac JackCadillac Jack by Larry McMurtry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”I make my share of mistakes, but one I never make is to underestimate the power of things. People imbued from childhood with the myth of the primacy of feeling seldom like to admit they really want things as much as they might want love, but my career has convinced me that plenty of them do. And some want things a lot worse than they want love.”

 photo larry-mcmurtry1_zpsegag5xh2.jpg
Larry McMurtry or Cadillac Jack

Cadillac Jack derives his name from the transportation he preferred to use for travelling all around the countryside, a ”pearl-colored Cadillac with peach velour interior.” He is a retired rodeo cowboy who has found his true calling in life, chasing down antiques along with a series of women in every port of call. Love and lust are indistinguishable, whether he is talking about a gold leafed, quadripartite, Russian icon or a long legged, curvy, antique store owner. He does sometimes play up his ancestry from Texas, especially when he is seducing women in, say, the Washington D. C. area.

”What I supposed, when I finally set off for Georgetown, was that even a lady who owned three trendy stores might derive a faint buzz from the combination of doeskin jacket, yellow boots, albino-diamondback hatband, and Valentino hubcaps, not to mention six feet five of me.

In the event, Cindy hardly gave the combination a glance.

‘It was a little over-studied,’ she said later, with characteristic candor.”

Over-studied or not, Cindy, though engaged to be married, does the be bop bang with Cadillac Jack.

He has an ex-wife, Coffee, who calls him nearly every day. He is never far from a woman he knows he can spend some time with, whether he is in Spokane, Washington, or Hope, Arkansas, or Montpelier, Vermont. If he thinks he will lack for company, he can always talk some woman into going on the road with him in search of the next great find.

Needless to say, Cadillac Jack has impulse control. If it sounds good, he doesn’t hesitate. If he could just find one new object or meet a new interesting woman every day, how could he ever die?

”One of my firmest principles is that those who sell should not keep. The minute a scout starts keeping his best finds he becomes a collector. All scouts have love affairs with objects, but true scouts have brief intense passions, not marriages. I didn’t want to own something I loved so much I wouldn’t sell it.”

You might have to get Jack good and drunk before he would ever admit it, but he feels the same way about women. He is romantic, but to keep the blush alive, he has to drift in and out of their lives and keep searching for that next woman with object issues of her own. The women who are in the trade, whether they are sellers or buyers, are most likely to understand him, however briefly, anyway.

Jack also makes a lot of lifelong friends along the way. One of them I felt an instant affinity for, as well. ”On nights when he wasn’t too drunk to hold a book, he read himself to sleep with Thucydides, Livy, Suetonius, Gibbon, and Napier. Every ugly suit he owned had a raggedy Penguin paperback in the inside pocket, always history.”

When Jack finds out that the Smithsonian is selling off warehouses full of objects, so much blood goes to his groin so quickly that he nearly passes out. He spends a good part of the book trying to get a line on a score to beat all scores, but at the same time, if he swings a deal like this, will he ever be satisfied with a pair of boots once owned by Billy the Kid or with a set of Rudolph Valentino hubcaps? Climbing the mountain to the top just might ruin his life.

 photo Larry-McMurtry_zpspofecqwb.jpg
Larry McMurtry

It has been a long time since I’ve read a Larry McMurtry book. He came into my mind the other day because I was thinking about one of the times I met him. He was doing a signing in Tucson. I brought up a first edition of All My Friends are Going to Be Strangers. He was tickled to see a copy. He offered to buy it from me. I said I might be more interested in selling it to you after you sign it (author signed it would at least double in value), which made him laugh. As I was reading this book, I couldn’t really separate the man that I had met on a few occasions with the man in the pearl-colored Cadillac.

McMurtry was known through the book industry as a wheeler and a dealer for books, as well as anything unusual or rare or beautiful. He was more a collector than a seller, but I’ve known of at least once when he sold off part of his book collection. Unique objects are wonderful to own, but sometimes they get used up, and one must depart on an odyssey for something new, something special.

I just briefly glanced through some of the reviews regarding this book before I started reading it. Like with most of his books, the reviews always seem to say something along the lines of, I’m not a prude, but the sex just got to be too much. I think anytime anyone starts a sentence with I’m not a prude followed by... but... they are defining themselves as a prude. Nothing wrong with that, but it is interesting that they don’t just say the amount of sex in the story made them uncomfortable. They are uncomfortable with their uncomfortableness.

I will close with a few lines that I really liked from the book that couldn’t be worked into the review. ”But a lot of hard-drinking, fast-fucking grandmothers had lost their hero.” Quite the visual McMurtry has placed in your mind, but how about this one? ”The juice of many men would stain her lips for a time, before she reduced them to mulberry-colored pulp.” Stain just really makes that line shudder worthy, or how about the bored, Rubenesque youngsters he meets in a hot tub whorehouse? ”That why we work at the Double Bubble. I’d rather suck off Congressmen than sit around the house.”

Consider yourself duly warned. If you are looking for a book that shows off his literary capabilities, grab a copy of his Pulitzer Prize winning novel Lonesome Dove. For me, I’m going to be thinking about Cadillac Jack for a long time. He might just pull up someday in my driveway with a book so perfect that it cleans out my bank account.

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Monday, September 11, 2017


A Brief History of TimeA Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Isn't it amazing that a person can read a book like A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking and come away feeling both smarter and dumber than before he started? What a universe we live in!

It's quite short and generally a quick read. Not every page is filled with mind-numbing theories and brain-busting equations. Some of it is just history, say on Newton and such. However, there were a few pages worth of passages where my wee brain felt like it was getting sucked into a black hole...mainly during the black hole segment.

I've forgotten so much since I left school, and since school was such a long time ago, some of what was taught back then is now outdated, so it was nice to read this refresher/cleanser.

I came away with a better understanding of the Big Bang theory and why it's plausible. I'm trying to sort out the time/space quantifiability thing. That's going to require a reread...and probably further study elsewhere.

Surprisingly, I also came away with the idea that God and science can coexist. I didn't expect that. I figured someone like Hawking would be like, "God? Pssh, whatever." But that's not his take at all, or at least that not the impression this book left me with.

A Brief History of Time was written with accessibility in mind, knowing full well idiots like me wouldn't buy it, read it or recommend it if it were impossibly dense. Hawking's sense of humor even comes through on occasion, which is always appreciated in these sciencey texty thingies. So, I'll probably move on to his Briefer History... next and I'd be quite willing to read others as well!

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Marple on a Mystery Train

4:50 from Paddington (Miss Marple, #8)4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An enjoyable quickie. Fittingly, it's the sort of mystery quick-fix you could finish on a train, say London to York...or better yet, London to Paris!

In 4.50 from Paddington an old lady witnesses what she believes is a murder on another train traveling alongside hers. The police have nothing to go on besides her story and they're disinclined to believe her. In steps Miss Marple, that aged busybody. With the help of a young acquaintance, Marple strings together the evidence from the sidelines.

In fact, Marple appears in this book very little. Scenes play out, red herrings are dropped about the reader commingled with the real story, and Marple stitches them together or assists with helpful advice from afar before arriving on the scene to deliver the decisive blow in the end.

I believe this is only my second Miss Marple and as I said, it was quite enjoyable. Sure, it's a tad quaint in a "Murder She Wrote" way, but it's a nice change from the bloody-minded crime novels. I'd give it perhaps 4 stars if it had a touch more depth and ingenuity. But the premise is good and on the whole it's a perfect diversion for a short journey.

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