Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Man From Primrose Lane

The Man from Primrose LaneThe Man from Primrose Lane by James Renner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Widowed writer David Neff is at rock bottom when his agent drops the tale of The Man From Primrose Lane into his lap. Will a new book to work on bring him out of the funk he's been in since his wife's death or will his obsession kill him?

Before I get down to business, let's all be honest with one another. Most of the books we read are of average or less quality and are just an entertaining way to pass the time. This book is not one of those. This one grabs you by the genitals and infects your thoughts while you aren't reading it.

The Man From Primrose Lane is one hell of a crazy read. The titular character is a local eccentric who was known as The Man with a Thousand Mittens to the cop who found his corpse, complete with fingers in a blender. In life, he was always seen wearing mittens and had a closet full of them when he died? Interested yet? What if I told you the MFPL had a painting of David's dead wife in his basement? Or that he has a notebook about another woman's daily habits that just happens to resemble David's wife?

This is one of those books that I cannot divulge the plot of without ruining it. Suffice to say, it is a cleverly written mind bender. Part detective story, part bat shit crazy. Your brain might fold in on itself like a black hole before it's finished.

What the hell else can I say without spoiling things? I like how Renner uses David going through the withdrawals for his depression meds as a good way to reveal his back story using flashbacks. I had a feeling who The Man From Primrose Lane was about 30% into the story but I had no idea how complex things really were.

That's about all I'm prepared to reveal at this time. If you like genre-bending, thought provoking reads, you could do a lot worse than this. This is in the top two or three books I've read so far in 2016. Perfect score.

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Drax The World's Greatest Detective

Drax Vol. 1: Galaxys Best DetectiveDrax Vol. 1: Galaxys Best Detective by CM Punk
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After a successful mission with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Drax heads off to kill Thanos.
He crash lands while searching for Thanos and tries to help find missing people and stolen goods in order to get his ship repaired.

The first issue of Drax started off really solid so I got excited and bought all the following issues. That was a mistake. Drax isn't bad, but it's not great either. The volume centers around Drax which seemed like a good thing, but it ended up being like someone playing a piano by only pressing one key.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016


Gai-Jin (Asian Saga, #6)Gai-Jin by James Clavell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

”So easy to be swallowed up, by the weather and gardens, kind skies and tender rain, best music, poetry, exotic foods, abundant silks and clothes makers, exquisite carp and singing birds, the alabaster-skinned beauties of the court, and of Kyoto’s Floating World,...without a care in the world except to seek the next pleasure.”

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After conquering China, the traders of Europe are now focused on opening up trade relations with Japan. They are perched precariously on the edge of the Islands in a small town where ongoing negotiations with the Japanese are taking place. The traders have a loose alliance between themselves but also continue to jockey for the best opportunities. There is gold. There is coal. Fortunes could be made.

The Struans are in Japan, represented by the heir apparent Malcolm. He is the descendent of the great Dirk Struan, who built a shipping empire out of nothing but his own grit, ambition, and strong will. Dirk, though long dead, is a constant presence in the lives of the family. Every decision they try to make is weighed and measured against the interpretative wisdom of the ghost of Dirk Struan. Malcolm’s father, Culum, son of Dirk, dies young from the stress and strain of being Tai-pan and from abusing himself with alcohol. Malcolm is not yet 21, the age set by Dirk that a man must reach to become Tai-pan. His mother, Tess (Brock) Struan, is the defacto Tai-pan until Malcolm can be formally sworn in.

While on an outing with friends, Malcolm is attacked by ronin shishi Samurais and seriously wounded. This unleashes a storm of incriminations back and forth between the British representatives and the Japanese. The British navy are actually in port protecting the business interests of the traders. They are on the verge of a war with the Japanese, but cooler heads realize that they only have to wait for the Japanese to start fighting each other.

There are two storylines: one follows the Gai-jin (foreign) community, and the other follows the political battle that is taking place among the Japanese. These stories become entwined as the Japanese are forced to do business with the Gai-jins because they need their cannon, rifles, and ammunition as they prepare for the internal struggle for power that is about to begin.

Lord Toranaga Yoshi, Guardian of the Heir, is trying to be the king maker. The Shogun is a young boy, and the Emperor is a distant figure. The government is weak, and there are too many powerful, ambitious samurai who are ready to fill the power vacuum. Yoshi survives several assassination attempts just as he orders assassinations against his rivals. He makes alliances that he knows are a slender reed blowing in the wind. He needs Gai-jin weapons, and he needs them before his enemies can obtain them for themselves.

Malcolm has become infatuated with the beautiful Angelique Richaud. He is recovering from his wounds and frustrated that he cannot be the man he once was. ”Now, watching her dancing, center of a universal admiration, and lust, breasts in large part fashionably revealed, slender ankles enticing eyes to seek further under the billowing hoops of apricot silk, he felt himself hardening. Thank God for that, he thought, much of his rage evaporating.” Every man who spends a moment in her presence is in lust with her. The men, among themselves, refer to her as “Holy Titties.” She has a secret that could spoil her plans to marry Malcolm, and this brings her under the control of ”Me, André Édouard Poncin, servant of France, spymaster, killer, expert on the vileness of human nature, me the great cynic, in an instant I had fallen in love. Madness! But true.”

From all descriptions Angelique is beautiful, but it reminds me of the line from the movie Whiskey Tango Foxtrot when it is explained to the Tina Fey character that in New York she might be a 6, but in Afghanistan she is a 10. So the question remains, is Angelique a 10 in Paris or is she a 10 just on the shores of Japan?

The Gai-jin’s, coming from much more oppressive countries in Europe, are enamored with the freedom with which the Japanese conduct themselves sexually. ”There’s no such thing as sin in Japan, original sin, any kind of sin.” The men visit the brothels regularly, and much of the business conducted in this book between the Japanese and the Gai-jin are transacted in the whorehouses. Many of the men have permanent concubines, as well. Their lust is a source of exploitation for the Japanese.

The Japanese prostitutes, who work in places with such enticing names as The Floating World, are disappointed with sex with the Gai-jin men. The men are only interested in first position, commonly referred to as missionary style. These women, well versed in every conceivable variation of sex, never get a chance to show the skills they have been taught or to have the opportunity to introduce the men to Baiting the Hen, Cherry Blossom Time, Near and Far, Over the Dragon, Springtime Planting, or Stealing the Honey. Unfortunately, James Clavell does not offer definitions or explanations for what each of these intriguingly named acts would entail.

I appreciated the excitement that was created in the community when one of the men obtained something more precious than gold. ”I’ve an advance copy of the last chapter of Great Expectations.” While recovering from his wounds, Malcolm is reading The Murders at the Rue Morgue. Clavell always expresses the importance of books in people’s lives. I long for the days when books ruled supreme before the internet, video games, TV, and movies became the preferred forms of entertainment for most people.

This is a beast of a book, with 1000+ pages and with what feels like a hundred characters. In this edition, James Clavell provides a character list in the back of the book with a short description for each person. Because I read this over a longer than normal period of time, it was nice to be able to easily refresh my memory by taking a peek at the list. Clavell has never managed to create characters as compelling as Dirk Struan and May-May in the novel Tai-pan. Tess Struan, the mother of Malcolm, comes the closest, but she is in Hong Kong for the entire period covered by this book. She is the daughter of Dirk’s arch rival, Tyler Brock. She is a tough, determined, compelling woman, often referred to as The Hag, who is completely allied with Struan despite her blood relation to the Brocks. She is quite capable, with just a hiss of displeasure, of making a man’s “balls jump.” So even though she is not in Japan, her influence crosses the waves and continues to make men nervous who are making decisions she may question.

I never did warm to Culum or Malcolm; both are pale comparisons to Dirk. Both felt the pressure of trying to live up to their illustrious ancestor. I have high hopes that Ian Dunross, the Tai-pan of Struans in the book Noble House, will finally provide me with the strong willed, smart, cunning character I so adored in Dirk Struan. I did break one of my unwritten rules by watching the miniseries based on Noble House before reading the book. If Pierce Brosnan’s portrayal is any indication, I do believe I will find Dirk finally alive and well in Ian Dunross.

Despite my issues with the characters and the length of the book, I still enjoyed the journey. The intrigue developing between the Japanese and the constant friction between two diametrically opposed cultures kept the pages turning. As Angelique wraps Malcolm around her little finger, we can see a showdown coming between the beauty and the hag. I wouldn’t recommend this book for anybody except the most die hard Clavell fans. As I mentioned before, I highly recommend Tai-pan and then Noble House before attempting to read Gai-jin.

This book is subtitled the Epic of the Birth of Modern Japan, and that it is, by God.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Twilight of the Dragons By: Andy Remic

Twilight of the Dragons (The Blood Dragon Empire, #2)Twilight of the Dragons by Andy Remic
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First, I will admit to being a huge Andy Remic fanboy, so take that however your happy self wants too. If you like your fantasy kick arse, epic, dark and just all around awesome, jump into book two of The Blood Dragon Empire.

True villains, great heroes, tons of fighting, action and GREAT STUFF. Wonderfully fun fantasy for GROWN FOLK...yes, that's you.

Give Andy Remic your money, seriously..go buy the whole series, then find his other books, buy them too. Thank you to the wonderful overlords at Angry Robot for the ARC and for feeding the beast that is my appetite for books.

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Monday, August 22, 2016

A Bit of Levity

The Man with Two Left Feet and Other Stories (Jeeves 0.5)The Man with Two Left Feet and Other Stories by P.G. Wodehouse
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm on jury duty. A particularly nasty case. I needed something light, humorous and non-taxing to take my mind off of it this weekend. Enter P.G. Wodehouse!

Wodehouse is my old fallback when I need a pick-me-up. His comical characters, daffy slapstick and witty turns of phrase threaten to induce knee slaps and a general feeling of being tickled in the best possible way.

The Man With Two Left Feet and Other Stories is a very precise title. There's the titular (tee-hee..."tit") short story, which wraps up this collection, along with quite a few other shorts. Perhaps my favorite, and definitely the most inventive stories herein, are the ones from the point of view of a dog. Those were not only humorous, but well-crafted as well.

Other stories revolve around relationship misunderstandings (a Wodehouse template), the inability to dance and forlorn love. I was surprised and a bit let down by the number of non-humorous, purely dramatic (often melodramatic) pieces here. I know that sort of will-(s)he-won't-(s)he love story was en vogue around the time this was published, but I didn't realize until this book that Wodehouse wrote such straightforward romances. They weren't bad, but meh and unexpected. But hey, at least there weren't any golf stories in this collection. I'm not a big fan of Wodehouse's foray on to the links in prose form.

My favorite of his books are the ones that include the Wooster and Jeeves characters, which appear in here once. The Man With Two Left Feet and Other Stories as a whole is an early work and the Wooster/Jeeves story happens to be the very first appearance of that dynamic duo. They and some of the other characters in the story, who also appear in later Wooster/Jeeves stories, are not quite fully incubated yet. I don't entirely recognize them. I actually found that interesting, to see where and who these beloved characters had once been.

Though it was not the best Wodehouse I've ever read, and I doubt I'll ever reread this, I'm not disappointed overall. It was good enough to clear the docket and get my trial temporarily dismissed.

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Briar Patch Boogie

Briar Patch Boogie: A Hap and Leonard NoveletteBriar Patch Boogie: A Hap and Leonard Novelette by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hap and Leonard go fishing and encounter a dying woman with an arrow sticking out of her side.

Briar Patch Boogie is a short Hap and Leonard story featuring some crazies who hunt people for sport. It takes place after Honky Tonk Samurai. In fact, it answers some questions left after that book and may be considered somewhat spoilerish.

Anyway, our boys crack wise and try to do the right thing while not becoming human pincushions. Like I said, it's a short tale and I've pretty much said all I can. It's a quick and enjoyable read. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Heavenly Table

The Heavenly TableThe Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When their father dies, the Jewett brothers are left without guidance until they decide to emulate their hero, a dime-novel hero called Bloody Bill Bucket. Their bloody trail crosses the paths of a farmer named Ellsworth Fiddler and a hobo named Sugar. Will the brothers make it to Canada alive to live out their days in peace?

I got this from Netgalley.

The Heavenly Table is the tale of the three Jewett brothers and the people they encounter after striking out on their own after their father Pearl dies. Dirt poor and ignorant of the ways of the world, Cane, Cob, and Chimney take up robbing banks in the manner of their dime-novel hero, Bloody Bill Bucket.

The tale Donald Ray Pollock crafts here is full of violence and dark humor. There's drinking, killing, whoring, and even a trained chimpanzee. The five plot threads repeatedly intersect until almost everyone is dead. Pollard the bartender, Sugar the bum, Jasper the sanitation inspector, Ellsworth Fiddler, the farmer with terrible luck, and Bovard, the secretly gay army officer, all flitter around the edges of the Jewetts' tale, periodically intersecting with them. Jasper, the outhouse inspector with a wang like the size of a baguette, was my favorite of the supporting players.

The Jewett brothers were an interesting mix. Cane, the oldest and smartest, was the leader. Cob, the simpleton, stayed with the others out of loyalty, and Chimney, the hothead, was lucky he survived childhood. Much like Knockemstiff, the setting was a vivid part of the story. The town of Meade felt so real I could almost smell it at times.

When things finally came together at the end, it was one bloody encounter after the next. I was glad the people who lived through it lived through it. The dark humor was unquestionably my favorite part of the story. I repeatedly interrupted my lady friend's Harry Potter reading with talk of going to the Whore Barn and other questionable things.

With the Heavenly Table, Donald Ray Pollock serves up another heaping helping of country noir. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

New Avengers: AIM Everything is New

New Avengers: A.I.M. Vol. 1: Everything is NewNew Avengers: A.I.M. Vol. 1: Everything is New by Al Ewing
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Roberto da Costa aka Sunspot bought A.I.M. altering their moniker to Avengers Idea Mechanics. From Avengers Island the new A.I.M. sends out the New Avengers to help defend the world.

Everything is New was an OK introductory story. I missed Sunspot buying A.I.M. and that transition so perhaps I'll have to swing back around to read that, but otherwise it's an introduction to the New Avengers. New Avengers is a fitting name because they compiled quite the new team with a single experienced Avenger in Hawkeye. I've heard of all the members of the team except for Songbird. These are C level at best heroes who I imagine a casual reader doesn't know exist.

The storyline was pretty straightforward except for one surprise, a certain character who appeared to die during Secret Wars is still alive. I won't spoil it, but it's quite the surprise which I envision will lead to some pleasant story complications in the future.

Everything is New was just fine, but now I wonder if it can be more than that. Time will tell.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016


This Census-TakerThis Census-Taker by China Miéville
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”I knew that, by whatever means he’d killed it, it was not to eat. I wanted to cry; I stood still.

He had it by the neck. Its brown body was bigger than a baby’s. Its shovel head lolled and its nasty hook beak twitched open and closed to snap faintly with each of my father’s steps. The bird’s broad feet dangled on the ground and bounced on stones as if it were trying to claw itself incompetently to a stop.”

There have been wars. Civilization has fallen backwards and stalled in place. People are getting by, but others have lost everything and are on the verge of losing what little life they have remaining. ”A haggard man used one of the huts as a home. He lay on a sagging mattress, his head on his pack, surrounded by rubbish--paper, porcelain shards, food remains, and unidentifiable debris. His hand was over his eyes. He looked like a failed soldier. Dirt seemed so worked into him that the lines of his face were like writing.” There are also orphaned kids living together in town who band together for mutual survival.

The boy’s father is a key maker. He makes keys to fit old machines. He makes keys to change the weather. He makes keys that turn the locks on hearts. There is a mysticism about what he does. Superstition has become almost a religion, but like Voodoo, it only works if you believe.

The boy lives on the hill. He is an uphiller. He has seen things. He knows things about his father that others need proof to believe.

There is the hole in the cave, a deep hole. A hole that might go to the center of the earth. When his mother disappears, the boy has nightmares. ”I thought of my mother’s hands hauling her up. Of her climbing all grave-mottled and with her face scabbed with old blood, her arms and legs moving like sticks or the legs of insects, or as stiff as toys, as if maybe when you die and come back you forget what your body is.”

But his father insists his mother is still alive.

When the man who counts people arrives, he might be the only chance the boy has to find out the real truth about his father.

This is a very strange novella, with many of the Kafkaesque aspects of being trapped into circumstances that seem inescapable. I was frequently confused for the first third of the book, but after reading numerous China Mieville novels, I knew I just needed to hang in there, and eventually this world he was creating would become more substantial, and the clouds would part enough for me to see the ground. By the end of the book, I wanted more. I wanted to fold the book out like an accordion and find the rest of the story. I wanted the lost notebook with the feverous scribbles of the where, what, and when. I can see it in my mind’s eye, written in faded red and blue ink whose words map out the future.

There are Gothic elements to the book, the shapes in the shadows, the menacing unknowable, which also helps ratchet up the ever heightening sense of terror. I felt my own tension increase as I, too, tried to find a way that the boy could escape a fate too unmentionable to put into words. This is not the place to start when reading Mieville, but it is a fascinating new wrinkle in an already outstandingly creative career. This book shows Mieville’s ability to stretch his already prodigious talents into worlds beyond where he has already been before.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Last Days of New Paris By: China Mieville

The Last Days of New ParisThe Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am a huge fan of Mieville, the man writes some of the most insane and beautiful things on paper. Although I am still warming up to the shorter story, China weaves a mad, tripped out tale of an alternate history WWII and Paris. Honestly, that is the most normal part of the whole book.

To me, his work is taken as a whole, everything is part of everything else if that makes sense. Beautiful swirls of chaos and surreal imagery, read this under the influence of something. (I didn't say that outloud)

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