Friday, October 9, 2015


Paul G. Bens, Jr.
Lethe Press
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


When the Truth Is All That Matters.

The truth begins with a family evacuated from Saigon during the final days of the Viet Nam War. Or perhaps it begins later, with a devoutly Catholic child with the voice of an angel who is troubled by visions both sacred and profane. Or perhaps later still, with a couple drifting apart following a tragedy. Kelland appears to them all in the guise of a small boy, a lover, a priest...Kelland is an enigma, a puzzle, and an almost imperceptible presence. Kelland is violence, sorrow, and joy. Kelland is the common thread tying five disparate strangers together against the danger that awaits them.

My Review

Kelland definitely has the makings of a good horror story, but there is so much more that prevents it from being lumped solidly into one genre. There are elements of magical realism, family drama, suspense, and mystery. The story also explores religious faith, breaches of trust, and forgiveness.

Kelland is the mystery that binds the lives of five very different individuals. There is Minh and Toan, two brothers who left Vietnam to start a new life. There is 9-year-old George, with a strong religious faith and the awareness that he’s different from other boys. And there is Gareth and Melanie, whose marriage is deteriorating after they suffer a tragic loss.

The story bounces back and forth between the lives of each character and different stages in their lives. It was a little disconcerting at first, but the characters are so vividly described and each section builds on their story, so there is never any confusion.

Kelland is the force that helps each of these characters confront the evil that directly and indirectly affects their lives.

This story shook me to the core and left me breathless. It was dark and painful at times, but ultimately hopeful.

Just read it.

Thursday, October 8, 2015


UnStrung (Unwind, #1.5)UnStrung by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After leaving CyFi and before heading to the graveyard, Lev stayed at a wealthy Native American reservation. Native American reservations don't participate in unwinding and they sometimes shelter AWOL kids. While there, Lev meets a young man Chowilawu, Wil for short, who has an incredible talent with a guitar.

UnStrung is an interesting tale that I must admit didn't sound too intriguing. I thought I knew enough about why Lev became a clapper and wasn't all that interested in reading the novella. Fortunately for me Unstrung was available at my library as a digital download so despite my mild interest I checked it out anyway. I'm thankful I didn't skip it because this really is a strong and emotional novella.

The story started out slowly and doesn't seem at first to fit into Unwind outside of Lev being involved. Some unfortunate circumstances change that quickly and bring the heartbreaking reality of the Unwind world into the novella. I think I have to leave some time between reading the different books in this series because I can barely handle the hell these children live in.

Lev and Wil's time together was a bright spot in the story. Despite the brevity of their relationship Lev and Wil seemed to bond and understand one another quite well. I also appreciated seeing a whole people group stand against the atrocity of unwinding.

UnStrung is a quick strong novella that's worth reading for any fans of the Unwind series.

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The Legendary Warrior

The Legendary Warrior (Sage Saga, #5)The Legendary Warrior by Julius St. Clair
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Everyone is fighting to sway Bastion to their side.

Meanwhile Catherine seeks to find out if the threat from the Yama is real or not.

Bastion is at odds with his feelings and actions. He hopes to just be a normal teenager, but that seems to be impossible.

The Legendary Warrior was an adequate addition to the Sage Saga. The Sage Saga is losing steam for me and I felt like I forced my way through this book.

The characters have mainly stopped behaving like themselves by this edition. Catherine has turned into a character where the ends justify the means. James has taken a dark path in order to save Allay and hates himself for it. Bastion seems like a robot learning to be a real boy. The others really don't feel all that important.

A lot of questions that have gone unanswered since the first trilogy are answered in The Legendary Warrior. That was probably the best part of the book for me. There were also a few new plot twists that have peaked my interest. The characters have lust their luster, but I still intend on finishing the trilogy.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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Wednesday, October 7, 2015


The Dark HalfThe Dark Half by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“But writers INVITE ghosts, maybe; along with actors and artists, they are the only totally accepted mediums of our society. They make worlds that never were, populate them with people who never existed, and then invite us to join them in their fantasies. And we do it, don't we? Yes. We PAY to do it.”

Thad Beaumont wanted to write from the time he discovered that a person could make a living as a writer. He pounded away at the typewriter so much that his parents were beginning to fear that something was wrong with him.

They were right...

something is wrong with Thad, but to fully understand what is wrong will take decades to figure out.

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Birds, thousands of them, chittering and flapping their wings, a cacophony of noise. Sparrows in particular. The sounds of them are a precursor to setting off a lightning storm in Thad’s head that leaves him flopping on the ground like a fish trying to find its way back to water. His parents take him to a doctor, and scans show that something is in his head.

The surgeon takes that something out of Thad’s head. It is something so unusual that he decides not to tell Thad or his parents. He has saved Thad’s life, and for now that is enough.

Thad goes on to write a couple of critically acclaimed books which unfortunately do not do well financially. He teaches to make ends meet, but there is something nagging at him like he has left some unfinished business. He decides to create a pseudonym that will allow him to get these increasingly dark thoughts out of his head and put them on paper.

He becomes George Stark, or George Stark becomes him. The separation between them creates no daylight.

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While writing as George Stark, he transforms into someone else, someone meaner, someone who likes seeing blood. ”Cut him. Cut him while I stand here and watch. I want to see the blood flow. Don't make me tell you twice.” Thad Beaumont writes with a typewriter, but George Stark don’t write with no faggoty typewriter; oh no, it is Black Beauty pencils or nothing. The words are etched into the paper like words carved over the doors of the ”stone hotels” in which Stark has spent so much time incarcerated.

The sparrows are back. The sparrows are flying.

Stephen King shares some interesting thoughts about sparrows. Sparrows are so common here in Kansas that they have about the same significance as a blade of grass or a tree leaf. ”Gatherings of sparrows are rather more ominous…. Sparrows are said to be outriders of the deceased. Which means their job is to guide lost souls back into the land of the living. They are, in other words, the harbingers of the living dead.”

Living dead? Like zombies you might ask?

Well, not exactly.

When Thad decides to retire George Stark and go back to writing as Thad Beaumont, things start to get weird and not in a wow isn’t that kind of weird way, but more in a OMG someone is killing everyone Thad knows kind of way.

And Thad is the number one suspect.

It doesn’t take long for Thad to realize that he is involved, that he is the source of the problem.

”I am the knower. I am the owner. I am the bringer.”

George Stark doesn't like being dead. He wants just what everybody else wants. He wants to live. ”When you fuck with him you are fucking with the best.” As things become clear, crazy clear, Thad realizes that he can’t share these revelations with his wife Liz.

” I’m not going to tell Liz this time, he thought. Be damned if I will. And not just because I’m scared, either...although I am. It’s perfectly simple--not all secrets are bad secrets., Some are good secrets. Some are necessary secrets, and this one is both of those.”

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George Stark drives a 1966 Black Oldsmobile Toronado. In college I drove a 1969 White Oldsmobile Toronado. There are differences between the years, but let's just say I understand the power that Stark felt when he was driving that Black Beauty down the road. My father has a 1966 Black Toronado he is having restored. I hope he doesn’t turn into George Stark!!!

When Stephen King writes about writers, it is simply irresistible. I don’t know if there is another writer on the planet who understands all the nuances of being a writer, a famous writer, better than King. He conjures things out of his mind that scare the hell out of millions of people every time he releases a new book. His nightmares have nightmares. As King taps into the dark side of himself to find those horrors, I think he has met his George Stark. This evil doppelganger feeds him with the images that become words that become horrors made out of the worst of human impulses. I guess the question he has to ask himself is will these feathered soul catchers come for him someday.

The day after I finished reading this book I opened the garage to take out a bag of trash before heading to work, and hundreds of birds exploded over my head flying just a few feet over the top of my house. They were sparrows, providing me with one last bone deep chill that brushed skeletal fingers down my spine.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Venus Complex by Barbie Wilde

The Venus ComplexThe Venus Complex by Barbie Wilde
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Venus Complex is a provocative journey into a psychopathic consciousness that is one of the most gripping and disturbing mind trips I've read. Told in a journal entry style first person narration, the first time we meet Michael Friday is the recounting of his wife's death in a car accident. His wife was cheating on him, his accusation and her reaction bring about a clean definitive snap of his mind, from normal to implacable killer and here lies the beginning of a jaunt that nibbles the edges of sanity until there's only one possible outcome.

During his recovery, he experiences a kind of rage that transpires normal cohesive thought, rage at anything and everything, coupled with dreams of a sexual nature that interlace intense pleasure with violence. Then he starts to get bored, starts to look at serial killers and twelve months after the death of his wife, she takes her revenge in a disturbing dream that sees her bite his 'you know what' off. That's it he's flipped, he needs sex desperately and it’s off to find a prostitute, one that for a few extra dollars, agrees to be tied up, big mistake. His first, no, second kill but this is the one that intimately describes his thoughts and actions as he steals the woman's last breath.

That's it, job done, he's going to create a serial killer, all for the woman he's been stalking, Elene, his obsession, the psychologist who teaches at his school and also helps the police with profiling. Michael is an Art History Professor and his research now, serial killers, biographies, avoiding capture.

This is consensual sex ending in orgasm, autoerotic asphyxiation taken to a lethal end, exquisitely described, I would say beautifully described but at the end of the day, it's murder and sounds slightly wrong. Michael is clever, there's defined process all the way through his indulgence, making sure the victim receives the ultimate pleasure as she takes her last breath, right up to the point of a massive clean-up operation and his victim, left artistically posed. His Venus Complex, profession inspiring his new and exciting hobby, and Venus is of course the goddess of love.

'Never did she look lovelier than in death, because what is life but an eager rushing towards the terrible inevitability of oblivion? Death is the great peace and we shall all embrace it with eager joy.'

A dark, erotically laced glimpse, no, glare into a killers mind, a mind you simply don't want to leave and you can't help liking the guy, you don't want him to get caught, you might even want him to continue his game, OK I'll admit I did but only because he's such a disturbingly audacious character and the writing is absolutely sublime. The explicit murder recitals are completely riveting, delicate and passionate, erotic and unsettling, the Professor's dreams and nightmares are as enthralling as his rants, obsessive behaviour and descent into the chasm of Paraphilia and lust murder. Finally the ending, unexpected, titillating, fulfilling, for our protagonist anyway and bloody perfect, find out for yourself.

Highly recommended.

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Gator Bait by Adam Howe

Gator BaitGator Bait by Adam Howe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'A fly buzzed around his open, largely toothless mouth; drool dangled from his bottom lip like a limp lasso.'

A typical customer at The Grinnin’ Gator.

Gator Bait is a novella by Adam Howe set in the Louisiana swamp and The Grinnin’ Gator, a saw dust on the floor type bar with dirty booze, strippers and dodgy music. A place where you watch your step unless you want to end up as both lunch and desert for the big mouthed occupant of the water that this friendly bar sits over.

John Smith or Mr Hammond in a previous life is a top quality piano player, or he was right up until a jealous husband chopped off two of his fingers with a cigar cutter. Now he's on the run because said husband is dead and unfortunately he ends up at The Grinnin’ Gator, where there's a one legged owner called Horace Croker. One leg because George the gator took it for a snack and he's now the avenue for any trouble via a push from the patio or worst case, the hidden trapdoor.

So we have Johnny Smith now playing piano minus two fingers, Croker the boss, his beautiful wife Grace, who's a dreadful tease it has to said and big old George, always hungry, big teeth.

'She started backing from the room— but as she pulled the door closed she shot me another glance that shivered down my spine like footsteps on the grave.'

A wicked tale of dirty swamp noir, degenerate skank infested, sweat ridden, mosquito riddled dump of amoral intemperance. Where everyone's got an angle to play and the twists don't always go the way you expect. The only question? Who's gonna get fucked.

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Skullcrack City

Skullcrack CitySkullcrack City by Jeremy Robert Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Corporate slave S.P. Doyle, whose best friends are his pet turtle and his Hex addiction, sees conspiracies everywhere linking his bank to some unspeakable evil. When he's framed for murder, his conspiracies don't seem so far fetched anymore...

First off, I really hate elevator pitches but this is Office Space meets Breaking Bad meets Cthulhu.

I've lost some of my bizarro sensitivity over the years but this one was pretty strange. Doyle takes the mind-warping drug Hex and soon finds himself involved with a sinster corporation and the extra-dimensional evil it's linked to. Jeremy Robert Johnson takes some urban fantasy tropes and burns them into a fine ash before snorting them.

The writing is several notches above most bizarro fare and it has a lot of momentum once it's revealed Doyle is actually on to something and not just a burned out addict. Doyle reads like a drug-addled version of Arthur Dent, kind of a clueless guy in way over his head. There was some insta-love I didn't care for but the supporting cast was interesting when they weren't dying in horrible ways.

Aside from the previously-mentioned insta-love, the only part I didn't really care for was the end. All things considered, Skullcrack City was a cracking good read. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, October 5, 2015

A Stop-gap Fantasy

A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, #4)A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I know "winter is coming," but this book honestly felt more like a Spring clean.

A story of such lengths as the epic A Song of Ice and Fire has to have down time and much of A Feast for Crows is down time. George R.R. Martin ties up loose ends, sets up new story lines and essentially does administrative style organization in an attempt to keep his mammoth machine rolling. He does it admirably, and yet it can't help but lack the pep, surprise and all around thrill of his previous three books.

In his defense, this book is only half a book. The one after it should have been its second half. The first half of books usually include a lot of house keeping. This definitely feels like a first half. It's a little dull.*

HOWEVER, if you're already a Game of Thrones fan, I don't see how you could not enjoy this book. It's got most of your favorite characters. Cersei is still the same old lovable bat-crazy bitch. Arya and Brienne have never wandered more aimlessly. Jaime is still phantom masturbating. Granted, Jon Snow has little to do or say (then again, it's best to keep your mouth shut when you know nothing) and Daenerys seems to have sprouted dragon wings and flown off. Even so, new characters are introduced who should add a whole other layer of intrigue to the festivities.

The aforementioned house keeping does drag on in the form of long council meetings and generally boring exposition. There are a lot of scenes written just to keep the story moving forward. The action and excitement come in short spurts, and the one big reveal had unfortunately already been revealed to me. Even so, I marched through this book with a will, happily following along even through the slow parts.

As regards my rating, those 3 stars are a very strong three stars. For my overall enjoyment level, it should be four. However, I gave the previous three books in the series four stars each and since I didn't like this one quite as much as them, I had to show it somehow. And yet, I did enjoy this more than many other three star books I've read.

* In an aside that I found humorous, at the end of A Feast for Crows Martin explains how this was meant to be the first half of a much larger book, but that the book became soooo unwieldy it had to be broken up into two books. And now here's the part I found funny...Martin said he hoped for the next book after this one to be published in about a year. Hahahahah! It turned out to be more like six years before A Dance with Dragons would appear. A year indeed. I guffaw in your general direction, sir!

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Friday, October 2, 2015

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere

ZZ Packer
Riverhead Books
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


Already an award-winning writer, ZZ Packer now shares with us her debut, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere. Her impressive range and talent are abundantly evident: Packer dazzles with her command of language, surprising and delighting us with unexpected turns and indelible images, as she takes us into the lives of characters on the periphery, unsure of where they belong. We meet a Brownie troop of black girls who are confronted with a troop of white girls; a young man who goes with his father to the Million Man March and must decides where his allegiance lies; an international group of drifters in Japan, who are starving, unable to find work; a girl in a Baltimore ghetto who has dreams of the larger world she has seen only on the screens in the television store nearby, where the Lithuanian shopkeeper holds out hope for attaining his own American Dream.

With penetrating insight that belies her youth—she was only nineteen years old when Seventeen magazine printed her first published story—ZZ Packer helps us see the world with a clearer vision. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere is a striking performance—fresh, versatile, and captivating. It introduces us to an arresting and unforgettable new voice.

My Review

“We had all been taught that adulthood was full of sorrow and pain, taxes and bills, dreaded work and dealings with whites, sickness and death.”

This collection of stories is brimming with energy, hardship, sadness, humor, and compassion. The characters’ voices and life experiences are so authentic that I was able to forget about my own life and problems for a few days. I loved how these stories explored race and class in a provocative way and through an African-American lens. Z.Z. Packer captures that feeling of being an outsider so perfectly, that I couldn’t help thinking about my friend, Karen.

Karen moved from Alabama to Boston in the 80’s. Tired of the increase in crime and rising rents, she and her family eventually settled in a small New Hampshire town. As much as she loved the clean air and open spaces, and despite the kindness of friends and neighbors, being one of a few African-American families in town always made them feel like outsiders.

Karen and I worked at the same company and knew each other for four years. We used to have lunch together and go out for drinks after work. She wanted to attend the company Christmas party, but did not want to bring her husband, who succumbed to alcoholism after a long period of unemployment. So I offered to go with her. In my experience, company parties are stiff and boring, but it ended up being an OK time even though I would have much rather been at a dance club. After a couple of drinks, I noticed Karen seemed withdrawn. When I asked her what was wrong, she just shrugged her shoulders. A few more questions later, I learned she felt uncomfortable at the party and wanted to leave. Learning the reason for her discomfort took a lot more effort and left us both feeling frustrated. Karen admitted she was uncomfortable being the only black person at the party. People were warm and sociable and I didn’t feel she was being mistreated at all, so I couldn’t understand why she felt the way she did. Rather than explain it further, Karen asked me to attend the Black Social, a company-sponsored event for black professionals, with her the following evening. Just like the Christmas party, people were friendly, shook hands, asked about my job, and made me feel welcome. There was no reason for me to be uncomfortable, and I wasn’t. I just had this little nagging sensation of not belonging, of being different, of standing out in a crowd. Being in Karen’s shoes for one night taught me a valuable lesson.

Karen died of liver cancer in 1992, but I always think of her when I’m the only white person having breakfast at Subway.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


UnWholly (Unwind, #2)UnWholly by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Unwinding is a big business. The setbacks of the destruction of the Happy Jack Harvest Camp, the clapper who wouldn't clap, and subsequent law changes have led to a new ad campaign in favor of unwinding and encouraging adults to sell their bodies to unwinding to care for their families. It also led to something more unique and unusual than anyone would fathom a rewound teenager. Camus Camprix or Cam for short was created using all the best parts of unwound teens for unknown reasons by the corporate entities that hold sway over the Juvenile Authority.

I wasn't sure quite what to expect with UnWholly since in many ways Unwind felt complete as they clearly expressed their message in a hard to ignore story. UnWholly expands the world and story in ways I hadn't truly considered. Part Pirates now stalk AWOL Unwinds and every day people for the black market. The law stopping unwinding at 17 has only fueled the need for parts and the black market doesn't care where they came from. Connor and Risa are constantly worried about the Juvenile Authority since they are fully aware of The Graveyard. Camus Comprix is equally disturbing because it's hard to understand why he was made in the first place other than him being a walking advertisement for what unwinding can do for a person.

I think the most frightening aspect to me is that the Parts Pirates and Black Market aren't as scary as the Juvenile Authority as a whole. Terrible random illegal things happen in our world, but the idea that the government itself endorses surgically dismembering teens is still far more frightening because these teens don't know who they can trust or if they can trust anyone.

The overall storyline is still one that grips my heart hard because it's unfortunately a bit too realistic. It's sad to see that those in authority don't realize they've created the teenage threat they're dealing with. If the only choice is to steal or be dismembered most would steal. If the choice is to kill or be dismembered many would kill. Unwinding is all well or good until someone's loved one is the one being unwound or a person themselves is facing it. I'm sure few of the teens thought much about unwinding until the juvey-cops knocked on the door asking for them by name.

UnWholly is an emotional tale I can't quite capture with words, but I'll end this with a quote from the book:

"We are not just AWOLs! We are not just parts! We are whole human beings — and history will look back on these times in shame!"

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