Sunday, April 23, 2017


In “The Prisoner”, his eleventh John Wells novel, Alex Berenson continues his intelligent espionage/ thrillers that probe the possible threat of Islamic terrorists obtaining weapons of mass destruction while showing how human intelligence gathering can thwart these threats. Berenson continues to exhibit a keen eye for threats that are possibly in the reach of terrorists. Here it is an agent that has been used by terrorists in Japan and Syria against its own citizens. The threat is real. At the same time, Berenson’s main characters remain real, their abilities, in line with real people and not overdone.

At the center of why Berenson remains a must read in this category is the great is John Wells, a character who embodies the best characteristics of intelligence agents.<br /><br />John Wells is humanized by a home life. His ex girlfriend Anne has had a baby girl and Wells is learning to be a father. So there is for the first time a little balance to his life. But these are not books where we are going to probe the dichotomy of his life as a father and a killer. The home life is a sidelight. These are intelligence / espionage / thrillers. And despite his home life, Wells still has the itch to return to the spy business.

While at the same time that we witness an American mission in the contested Mideast go sideways, Wells learns of a possible mole in the CIA, who is feeding intelligence to Islamic terrorists, who are using it thwart American missions in the Middle East. The source of the intelligence is a Bulgarian spy, who runs a prison holding terrorists overseas for the United States. Wells and Shafer team up again. Wells wants to assume a Islamic terrorist persona and infiltrate the prison, while Shafer will run a probe against 4 top level CIA executives to see if he can figure out who is the mole.

The novel unwinds a little slowly, Wells, a man in top shape, must lean himself out so he has the look of an itinerant terrorist, who has been on the run in the Middle East. His program to get in shape could be captured in a few short paragraphs, and Shafer’s investigation seems in some respects to be a non-starter as “Wayne” the mole is firmly entrenched in his plotting. Berenson drops clues early on revealing some facts about the mole that the reader can use to figure out his identity.

But Berenson takes the opportunity to escalate the novel, by setting up a terrorist plot to use nerve gas against Americans. And the mole is deeply involved in the plan. Berenson does show how hard it would be for a Non State actor to produce a nerve gas, but that it can be accomplished. It’s an eye opening discussion.

Once Wells gets himself into shape, the plan is for him to be captured by US agents in the Middle East, but of course, nothing goes according to plan. The Mole makes moves against Wells and Wells also has to take steps to protect himself from kidnappers, who obviously were unprepared for Wells training and fighting prowess.

Once Wells finally makes it to the prison in Bulgaria, the action really starts to heat up. There are murderous Bulgarian gangs to thwart while at the same time gaining the trust of the Arab prisoners. Intelligence is learned, and Wells takes his knowledge of an unknown plot to France, where while nursing wounds from the prison, he must find a well concealed terrorist, who with the Mole is planning a vigorous attack on the West.

The last half of “The Prisoner” showcases John Wells unique trademark skills, the ability to blend into the Arab world, gain intelligence, pick up just a few words, a sneaker brand even, and put the pieces together to ferret out the terrorist plot. I motored through this part of this novel. And again, Berenson’s story is not about drone warfare or teams of super soldiers fighting the terrorists. Maybe that is because John Wells is a lone wolf agent, but I find it more realistic.<

It’s a good read, slowly building to a tight confrontation with lives on the line, exhibiting all the trademarks of the Berenson John Wells novels.

You Will Know Me

You Will Know MeYou Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Katie and Eric Knox will do anything for their gymnast prodigy Devon. When the boyfriend of one of her gymnastic instructors die, will Katie be able to keep their idyllic life from disintegrating around them?

Here we are, another Megan Abbott book and another series of cold knives in my heart. At first glance, I thought this might be similar to Dare Me, Megan's book about cheerleaders. You Will Know Me is about the parents of star gymnasts and the crazy shit they do for their kids.

From the first page, I knew I'd wolf this down like it was a brisket sandwich. All the dark hints of the coming train wreck were like a fishhook through my eyelids. I was powerless to look away as the lives of the Knox family and the rest of the gymnastic families were torn asunder.

The Knox family were as realistic a depiction of the alien world of elite gymnasts that I can fathom. Eric was the charming dad, Katie the doting mother, and Drew the little brother that wound up getting pushed into the background a lot of the time. Devon was the star, the thoroughbred the Knox family and most of the families at the gym pinned their hopes on. I hated that damn Gwen Weaver!

You Will Know me raises a lot of questions about families. How well can you really know someone, even if you've been with them for the better part of a decade? How far would you go for your kids?

Ryan's death scrapes open a lot of wounds and unearths a lot of dark secrets. I gasped aloud like a 1950s housewife when one of the twists was revealed but, even then, the Megster had a couple more twists to throw at me. Once again, she was the matador and I was the bull.

The writing was fantastic. It's been fascinating to watch Megan develop as a writer as I've devoured her books over the last few years. I lost track of lines I wanted to read out loud, bent on finishing it before bedtime.

I will share this gem:
the things you want, you never get them. And if you do, they're not what you thought they'd be. But you'd still do anything to keep them. Because you'd wanted them for so long.

There are other suspense writers that get more press but Megan Abbott's girl-noir tales are the best things going today. Five out of five stars.


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Friday, April 21, 2017

Garden of Fiends: Tales of Addiction Horror


Mark Matthews et al.
Wicked Run Press
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars



Summary



The intoxication from a pint of vodka, the electric buzz from snorting cocaine, the warm embrace from shooting heroin--drinking and drugging provide the height of human experience. It's the promise of heaven on earth, but the hell that follows is a constant hunger, a cold emptiness. The craving to get high is an intense yearning not unlike that of any other blood-thirsty monster.

The best way to tell the truths of addiction is through a story, and dark truths such as these need a piece of horror to do them justice.

The stories inside feature the insidious nature of addiction told with compassion yet searing honesty. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental deaths, and some of the most incredible names in horror fiction have tackled this modern day epidemic.



My Review



As a person who has dabbled in illicit drugs and gone through periods of excessive alcohol use, I feel fortunate not to have succumbed to addiction like some of my friends and family members have. Even though I now drink little and haven’t touched drugs in years, I understand the allure of drugs and alcohol and how difficult it can be for the addict to stop using. While the decision to use drugs is mostly voluntary, for many people it takes a lot more than willpower to stop. That is why effective education about the dangers of drugs, prevention measures, and treatment for addicts and their family members is crucial. I feel for those who are coping with an addicted friend or family member. I’ve been there. It can wear you out emotionally and physically. A little empathy, however, goes a long way.

Thanks to Mark Matthews for providing me with this compelling, moving, and devastating collection of stories that compassionately portrays the effects of addiction on users and those who love them. It deeply unsettled me, invaded my dreams, and brought back some painful memories. Addiction is indeed a human tragedy. I agree with Mark when he says in the introduction, “The best way to tell the truths of addiction is through a story, and dark truths such as these need a piece of horror to do them justice.”


The stories:

★★★★★ A Wicked Thirst by Kealan Patrick Burke. I have a number of KPB’s books on my Kindle, but haven’t read them yet. There is no better time than now! Told from the alcoholic’s perspective, this reader felt his keen thirst and slow destruction. This story was so deeply affecting and powerful that I set aside my half-finished glass of wine.

★★★★★ The One in the Middle by Jessica McHugh. After finishing this amazing story, I learned it is an excerpt from The Green Kangaroos, which I promptly purchased and eagerly look forward to. In a near-future world, where Atlys is a popular street drug most effective when injected into the testicles and the rich have developed a taste for unusual dishes, we learn about Perry Samson and journey on his path toward ruination. This story left me feeling sad and horrified, yet needing to know the characters more and spending time in their world. Is it wrong for me to want to hug Perry? One of my favorite stories in this collection.

★★★ Everywhere You’ve Bled and Everywhere You Will by Max Booth III – Jeremy is a recovering heroin addict, but the people in his life and a series of bizarre events lead him to relapse. Blood I can handle, but spiders? Eek! I liked the energetic pace of this story and the dash of humor. Towards the end, it got a little too weird for me and failed to make a real impact.

★★★★ First, Just Bite a Finger by Johann Thorsson – When we think of addiction, we mostly think of drugs and alcohol. In this potent little flash fiction, we get to see how difficult it is to quit.

★★★★ Last Call by John F.D. Taff – Though Ted attends meetings, he is having a hard time staying sober. His well-meaning sponsor provides him with a quick cure. Ted learns the hard way that there are no shortcuts to sobriety. This story packed a punch and brought a tear to my eye.

★★★ Torment of the Fallen by Glen Krisch – Only Maggie’s online acquaintances on the paranormal boards know she can see demons. When a homeless man posts on a forum she visits regularly, Maggie travels hundreds of miles to see the father who abandoned her and help take away his demons. But demons always lie and never welsh on their deals.

★★★★★ Garden of Fiends by Mark Matthews – This story is told in alternating perspectives, by Tara Snyder, a heroin addict and Gregory Snyder, the father who tries desperately to protect her. There is an interesting cast of characters that help add depth to the story and magnify difficulties faced by the characters. There is Tara’s addict boyfriend, Brett, Gregory’s wife, Heather, who lovingly tends the urban garden that feeds her soul and all the neighbors, and the homeless man, Lorenzo. Gregory’s good intentions go awry. Addiction affects everyone who cares about the addict. A heartbreaking story and one of my favorites in this collection.

★★★★ Returns by Jack Ketchum – I love ghost stories and this one is so poignant and humane, not at all the gorefest I would expect from Jack Ketchum. Jill’s alcoholism starts gradually and worsens when her husband of six years dies after getting hit by a cab. Dying is far less painful than the ghostly visit to his wife and seven-year-old cat.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Doctor Strange: Season One

Doctor Strange: Season OneDoctor Strange: Season One by Greg Pak
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Doctor Stephen Strange seeks out the Ancient One for the magic to heal his hands.
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After speaking to the Ancient One and an encounter with Baron Mordo, Stephen decides to stay and train. After learning of magical rings Stephen and Wong head out to secure them with the help of a young woman.

Dr. Strange Season One seems like a different Dr. Strange story. Clearly the story is being reinvisioned, but I'm not familiar enough with his original story to know how much is different or the same. The biggest surprise for me is that Wong is not only a student of the ancient one, but that he's so antagonistic towards Stephen.
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This story read like an extra magic version of the Lord of the Rings, enough that the author jokingly calls their female companion their hobbit on multiple occasions.

Dr. Strange Season One is an OK story, but I'm not sure it provides the most accurate portrayal of Dr. Strange and Wong.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Phantom Pains (The Arcadia Project 2) By: Mishell Baker

Phantom Pains (The Arcadia Project, #2)Phantom Pains by Mishell Baker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed the first book of this series and honestly, this one is stronger, BUT I gave it slightly lower rating...why you ask? (no, you didn't ask..but I'm writing this )

I'll tell you later, The Arcadia Project is a fresh, inventive and deeply human. As a person who has suffered from depression (no spoilers) I really identify with the premise and throughly enjoy that the characters are flawed and not perfect.

That being said, I think the main character and the illness she deals with and it an important part of her being, in this book...it got to me. It hit a bit close to home, so I dock it a star for making me think about the past, STILL..a great read go get book one and this and get with it

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Aesop's Fables

Aesop's FablesAesop's Fables by Aesop
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These moral lessons were my bible.

...when I wasn't made to learn my bible as a kid.

The other day I realized I didn't know all of Aesop's Fables. Certainly I've read a few and heard many more, but I'd never sat down and read the whole thing. So I rectified that.

Now I can see why some of the lesser known fables are lesser known. Not every one of these often-anthropomorphic tales of animals wise and woeful is a winner. None are terrible, but every once in a while one of them doesn't quite resinate.

A Cock is walking around the farm and sees a pearl. He excitedly picks it up. The other cocks laugh. "You may have a treasure," one says, "but I'd rather have corn any day."

Moral: The ignorant despise what is precious only because they cannot understand it.


However, most of them knock the moral lesson right out of the park and make for a solid basis of wisdom with which to live a decent life by.

The Tortoise and the Hare - Slow and steady wins the race.
The Crow and the Pitcher - Use your wits.
Belling the Cat - Saying you'll do something is one thing, doing it is quite another.
The Ants and the Grasshopper - Work before play.
The Young Crab and His Mother - Lead by example.

There's others about humility and being a good person to your fellow man, but I'm not awake right now and can't seem to find them online. Trust me, they're there.


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Raven Stratagem (The Machineries of Empire 2) By: Yoon Ha Lee

Raven Stratagem (The Machineries of Empire #2)Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you have not read Ninefox Gambit, DO IT. This is how hard scifi should be done, wild ideas, vivid worldscapes and the limits of science and space and physics stretched out to the max.

Raven Stratagem continues that trend, A world that reminds me of the brutality of warhammer and the strangeness of the Iain Banks Culture series. Jedeo, one of the leads, I totally love. He is a total weapon, smarter than everyone (in this world that says something) and 41433984 steps beyond everyone else, and APE CRAP crazy, made my day.

IF you are a scifi person, give Mr Lee your money and read this series, it will make your week.

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Lion's Pride: The Turbulent History of New Japan Pro Wrestling

Lion's Pride: The Turbulent History of New Japan Pro WrestlingLion's Pride: The Turbulent History of New Japan Pro Wrestling by Chris Charlton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lion's Pride is the story of New Japan Pro Wrestling.

As with a lot of guys my age who were wrestling fans during the 1980s and 1990s, Japanese wrestling always held some mystique. I didn't see a single Japanese wrestling match until the dawn of the internet made it much easier to get tapes and such. Lion's Pride lifts the veil and reveals the inner workings of one of Japan's biggest wrestling organizations.

As with all talk of Japanese wrestling, the book starts with Rikidozan and the Japanese Wrestling Association. From there, it follows the career of Antonio Inoki and his formation of New Japan. The many exoduses of talent are covered and New Japans ups and downs are many. Antonio Inoki, like many owner-wrestlers, booked himself over the rest of the talent time and time again. It's a wonder New Japan survived long enough for him to retire.

The book talked a lot of the creation of stars like Tatsumi Fujinami and Riki Choshu in the 1980s, Keiji Muto, Masa Chono, and Shinya Hashimoto in the 1990s, and Tanahashi and others for the new millennium. The book concludes in 2015, with the rise of Bullet Club and the launch of New Japan's streaming service.

Lion's Pride was really informative, highlighting some backstage stuff I wasn't privy to and expanding on a lot of things I'd only read about on Wikipedia. The writing was pretty good for a book of this type. I did think the organization was a little weird, deviating from the main narrative to talk about completely unrelated things. For the most part, however, the book did what it set out to do. Three out of five stars.



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Friday, April 14, 2017

Sticks & Stones


Madeleine Urban & Abigail Roux
Dreamspinner Press
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars



Summary



Six months after nearly losing their lives to a serial killer in New York City, FBI Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are suffering through something almost as frightening: the monotony of desk duty. When they're ordered to take a vacation for the good of everyone's sanity, Ty bites the bullet and takes Zane home with him to West Virginia, hoping the peace and quiet of the mountains will give them the chance to explore the explosive attraction they've so far been unable to reconcile with their professional partnership. Ty and Zane, along with Ty's father and brother, head up into the Appalachian mountains for a nice, relaxing hike deep into the woods... where no one will hear them scream. They find themselves facing danger from all directions: unpredictable weather, the unrelenting mountains, wild animals, fellow hikers with nothing to lose, and the most terrifying challenge of all. Each other.


My Review



It’s just as well FBI agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are required to take a mandatory vacation after failing their psychological evaluations. Six months later, they are still haunted by the Tri-State murders. A relaxing hike, a chance for the guys to explore their simmering attraction, and spending time with Ty’s family is just what they need.


“If Zane could survive a trip to West Virginia to meet the Gradys, he could live through anything. Like a cockroach.”


It’s not that easy, though, as both guys are great at keeping a lid on their emotions. On top of that, they are each dealing with issues from their pasts. Zane is hurting from the death of his wife and recovering from an addiction to drugs and alcohol. Ty is a former Marine who is suffering from PTSD, troubled by nightmares and flashbacks.

While this story is not as action-packed as the first, there are very gripping moments that had this reader flipping pages well into the evening. It began with the mysterious ATV tracks and ended with Ty’s sorry encounter with a cougar. Though they have to deal with bad guys on the trail, the focus of this story was on Ty’s and Zane’s deepening relationship and the interaction with Ty’s family.

I especially liked Ty’s brother, Deacon, who is a psychiatrist and more aware of how Ty and Zane feel about each other than they are themselves. His mother, Mara, is warm, loving, protective, and bakes amazing pies. Ty’s father, Earl, has a gruff, military bearing. The complicated relationship he has with his sons made it difficult for me to warm up to him, but there was no question his love was strong, especially when Ty’s life was in danger.

Just like in the first book, there were unbelievable scenes and stupid mistakes made. The writing style seems a bit more controlled, or maybe I’m just getting used to it. I love the slow-burning romance, the humorous banter, and the tension in Ty’s and Zane’s relationship.


“What he was afraid of, he’d come to realize, was not dark spaces or falling from great heights or being buried alive. His greatest fears, in the end, were letting down those he loved and saying the words “I love you” without any hope of hearing them in return.”


I’m enjoying this series so far and look forward to more danger and thrills, as well as seeing Ty and Zane overcoming their fears and insecurities.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Darth Maul - Son of Dathomir

Darth Maul - Son of DathomirDarth Maul - Son of Dathomir by Jeremy Barlow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Darth Maul and his Shadow Collective are in disarray from Darth Sidious's actions.
description
Maul's Mandalorians have a plan to save him.
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Maul's mother intends to help him eradicate Darth Sidious.
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Son of Danthomir wasn't as good as the previous comics because it got prequel gunk all over it. It has the disappointing General Grevious (who never received a decent introduction to the film series), Count Dooku, and the Droid armies. It just is less fun thinking about what Maul might have been when I have to see all that garbage. I now realize this comics and it's predecessor directly tie into the Clone Wars TV show. I imagine the creators didn't want the two series storylines to go to waste so it was utilized in comic form.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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