Monday, June 26, 2017

Money For (Doing) Nothing

Frozen AssetsFrozen Assets by P.G. Wodehouse
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Classic Wodehouse. Classic comedy.

Here's the basics. Biff stands to gain an large inheritance if he can only keep himself from getting pinched by the local constabulary. Problem is, Biff likes to drink and when he drinks he gets up to shenanigans, inevitably getting himself pinched. That's where his buddy Jerry, the long-suffering editor of a gossip rag, comes in. He's tasked with keeping Biff's nose clean. Why? Because Jerry wants to marry Biff's sister and she really wants Biff to inherit that money. See what I mean? Classic Wodehouse.

While not hilarious all the way through, Wodehouse spreads a bucketful of laughs liberally throughout Frozen Assets. The opening scene is a prime example of the author's trying-the-main-character's-patience gags. Wodehouse can even squeeze the last ounce of humor out of such an insignificant character as the bad guy's solicitor.

The unintentionally funny thing about this one is that it was written in the 1960s and a contemporary detail or two is dropped, such as Khrushchev's name being spoken in vain, and yet the setting and characters' affectations are clearly late Victorian England. Mannerisms are dated. Butlers and chauffeurs abound. That's not to say these things couldn't have existed in Khrushchev's time, but the times had changed by the 1950s-60s, Wodehouse had not. And that's just as well. He had more Jeeves & Wooster to write before he died and that odd couple needed to remain staunchly of their time.

Good book. Not great. I prefer the J&W, Blandings Castle, or even Ukridge stuff over these stand-alone novels.

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Hello? Hello?...Oh, It's Cthulhu

The Call of CthulhuThe Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What better time to read The Call of Cthulhu than on Halloween?! Probably should've read this one by now, but I've been holding off for a while, waiting for that special occasion.

I do that with some books, usually classics. There's a Steinbeck or two I'm keeping in my proverbial back pocket for when I'm in the right mood or need to get out of a reading funk.

The Call of Cthulhu is pure horror. It's terrifying. If I'd been wearing boots, I'd be quaking in them. Reading this reminded me of reading Poe as a kid. The chills they were palpable. Lovecraft's elevated language is akin to Faulkner. Perhaps this is best described as Poe-stylings layered over Absalom Absalom. The darkness, the despair reaches out of the primeval swamp and sucks you in.

Unlike some classic horror, you actually get physical manifestations of the terror lurking in the shadows. This is no mere ghost story. This is a fucking monster. Yes, it's veiled, it's mysterious, but it's coming for you and it will have you.



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Sunday, June 25, 2017

L.A. Confidential

L.A. Confidential (L.A. Quartet, #3)L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the aftermath of the Bloody Christmas, the lives of three cops are forever entwined; Ed Exley, the by the book cop who is forever in his father's shadow, glory hound Jack Vincennes, and Bud White, the man forever avenging his dead mother. After six people are killed in the Nite Owl Massacre, can the three men co-exist working the same case or will they all go down in flames?

L.A. Confidential is an epic crime tale spanning nearly a decade, a tale of corruption, greed, drugs, pornography, and murder upon murder upon murder. In many ways, it's The Big Nowhere 2.0. Ellroy once again uses the hell's trinity of three cops with varying degrees of dirtiness to explore Hollywood's filthy and infected underbelly.

The story started simply enough. A bunch of cops got tanked at a Christmas party and beat the shit out of some prisoners. Ed Exley snitched, setting the tone for most of the rest of his role in the book, that of an overgrown kiss ass hall monitor. Well, that's unfair, I guess. He's a pretty good detective for a daddy's boy rat. As with previous Ellroy affairs, two of the cops are pretty dirty. Jack Vincennes sells dirt to tabloids and Bud White's a heavy handed guy with a never ending beef with wifebeaters.

Once the Nite Owl Massacre hits and the smut magazines rear their creepy masked heads, Ellroy shows just how dirty cops can be, with lots of withholding evidence and backstabbing. The three leads prove themselves to be multi-faceted characters, all three with likeable and deplorable traits. Structurally, it's very similar to The Big Nowhere, only richer, more nuanced, and grimier. James Ellroy's Los Angeles is a cesspool with a thousand decaying corpses bobbing just beneath the surface.

I had a feeling who the mastermind was but was in the dark about a lot of the rest of the dirty deed doers until the trinity finally got on the same page just before the pages were torn out for good. For most of the book, I was happy to be on Ellroy's sightseeing tour of Hollywood hell. His punchy use of language was something to behold, a machine gun of poetic yet brutal short sentences.

The ending was pretty hard. I knew the ending would be rough, considering the previous two books in the LA Quartet, but this one was a bloody train wreck. There were some great character moments in the final pages and it's left me ravenous for White Jazz.

I guess I can finally join the nearly 20 year old party and see the movie now. Five out of five stars.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Divide & Conquer


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



Summary



Baltimore, Maryland, is a city in alarming distress. Rising violence is fanning the flames of public outrage, and all law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, are catching blame. Thus the FBI’s latest ideas to improve public relations: a municipal softball league and workshops for community leaders. But the new commitments just mean more time Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett have to spend apart when they’re happily exploring how to be more than by-the-book partners.

Then the latest spate of crime explodes in their faces—literally—throwing the city, the Bureau, and Ty and Zane’s volatile partnership both in and out of the office into chaos. They’re hip-deep in trouble, trying to track down bombers and bank robbers in the dark with very few clues, and the only way to reach the light at the end of the tunnel together requires Ty and Zane to close their eyes and trust each other to the fiery end.


My Review



I’m addicted to this series and officially a fan of Ty and Zane, even if they both need to get slapped upside the head.

The city of Baltimore is out of control. Riots, robberies and explosions are occurring with increasing regularity. Law enforcement is doing the best it can, but their credibility has taken a hit. It’s up to FBI agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett to help gain the public’s trust again.

With their increasing workload, it’s hard for them to find quality time together. Though their sex is electrifying and their intimate moments tender, their communication skills leave a lot to be desired.


“You’re not dessert, Zane. You’re the main course, Ty informed him in a husky drawl. And you have about five seconds to take your pick of flat surface before I do it for you.”


Though Ty has verbally expressed his love, Zane has difficulty saying those three little words.


“Suddenly there were all sorts of words crowding on Zane's tongue, and he couldn't get a single one out, much less three that would prove he knew the best thing to happen to him in his entire life lay right there in his arms.”


I’m glad that more of the focus of this story is on Ty’s and Zane’s relationship, as the bad guys and their motivations didn’t ring true for me. Still, I’m craving a good mystery where the police are not portrayed as incompetent buffoons. Perhaps I should not expect that from this series.

There were lots of entertaining moments with their co-workers, including the funny and punny text messages. There were also tense, gripping moments as a serious injury renders Zane helpless and dependent on Ty.

I loved getting to know Ty’s Marine friends and hope they make another appearance.

The ending slayed me.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Tyrant's Throne

Tyrant's Throne (Greatcoats, #4)Tyrant's Throne by Sebastien de Castell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just as Falcio val Mond is about to fulfill his dead King's dream of crowning his daughter Aline, trouble rears its head again. The monstrous Trin has reportedly reappeared in the neighboring country of Avares with a horde of their warriors at her back. Falcio, Kest, and Brasti head North only to find even more trouble than they anticipated. Falcio finds himself torn between upholding the law and following the King's dream.

Tyrant's Throne is the worthy conclusion to the Greatcoats series. There is sorrow, humor, desperation, and slivers of hope scattered throughout the pages. My heart was absolutely breaking at certain points, but the camaraderie between Falcio, Kest, and Brasti helped carry the story through the low moments.

In many ways the Tyrant's Throne is a mystery. The synopsis doesn't give much away so I won't either, but Trin is only part of the iceberg of problems facing the Greatcoats. I can say that nearly every longstanding question that arose in the series is answered in this novel.

As always the greatest strength of the series was the characters and their relationships. The flawed hero Falcio, the incredibly loyal Kest, and the lovable jokester Brasti. While they've all grown and changed in the series their relationship has remained the same. The supporting characters have also helped make the Tyrant's Throne and the series a beautiful tapestry of characterization.

In the end the Tyrant's Throne was not what I expected yet it was an incredibly fitting ending to the tale of Falcio val Mond and his faithful friends Kest and Brasti.

3.5 out of 5 stars

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Rise and fall of D.O.D.O. By: Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was very cool, Stephenson in my opinion is an acquired taste, either he floats your literary boat, or he sinks you like an 8 ball in the corner pocket. But, with the help of his partner in this book, Nicole Galland, this was easily the most fun I have had with one of his works, in well....forever.

It has the trademarks of a Stephenson book, tons of cool ideas, massive intakes of information, but there is a fun and playfulness and dare I say, craziness that makes The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. a blast,

go read it.

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Soleri By: Michael Johnston

SoleriSoleri by Michael Johnston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Terrific fantasy that for ONCE is not a typical fantasy setting, many elements of Egyptian and Roman society bring a freshness to this tale that I greatly admire. Interesting world building and characters, it was like a story you had heard before, but every so often things changed and you were like "huh?"

That's a good thing..trust me. Things in the story do go the predictable route once or twice, but the freshness of the setting and the energy in Mr. Johnston's telling makes up for it.

Definite worth your time, check it out.

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Monday, June 19, 2017

A Hardy Beat Down

Tess of the D'UrbervillesTess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Damn it, Tess! Stand up for yourself! Ugh.... Is there anything more infuriating than seeing dudes get away with being two-faced assholes towards women and the women accepting it as a matter of course?

Certainly Thomas Hardy was writing of a time and place that not only condoned the privilege of condescending white male superiority, it perpetuated it by both sexes accepting it as the standard of the day. More like double standard of the day. What's good for the gander is NOT okay for the goose to even consider! Thank god, or whoever, I wasn't born a woman. I'd have been burned at the stake, stoned to death, etc., because there's no way I would've been able to silently bear the hypocrisy.

But hey, aside from that kerfuffle, Tess of the D'Urbervilles is a damn fine novel! What prose! Has inner turmoil ever been so well described? Definitely not so detailed. Hardy has a hundred and one different ways to tell you about a character's personal conflict, and so he does. Yes, that can be wearying. It can also be quite satisfying. Just sit back and let the words wash over you. It's all quite impressive.

After a few hundred pages, however, a tiny bit of tedium might set in. Enough description is enough! I tried to put myself in the character's place and I've read up enough on Victorian values to understand the constraints, but still...I don't know what it is...maybe it felt like too much handwringing.

This deserves the five-star-because-it's-a-classic treatment, but I dropped it to four mainly for a lack of enjoyment on my part from start to finish. The book devolves into a literary scat film. I mean, has anyone been dumped on more than Tess? It got tiring after awhile. I get it, she's put-upon. The martyrdom dragged on and on, so that with a hundred or so pages to go I was already finished with this.

Still and all, it's a damn fine book! I'll be going back to Hardy again in the future. Probably the distant future though.


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Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Big Nowhere

The Big NowhereThe Big Nowhere by James Ellroy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the midst of the Red Scare, a violated corpse with its eyes gouged out is found and young deputy detective Danny Upshaw catches the case. Meanwhile, Mal Considine is put in charge of rooting out communists in the UAES. Attached to his team are Dudley Smith, a veteran cop with a mean streak a mile wide, and Buzz Meeks, the dirtiest cop in town and the man whom his first wife had an affair with while he was fighting Germans in WWII...

Here we are, the second book in James Ellroy's multi-volume tale of wholesome family togetherness, the LA Quartet. Sarcasm aside, this was one brutal book.

It's hard to sum up a book with this kind of scope. In some ways, this book is the rise and fall of Danny Upshaw, the rise and fall of Mal Considine, and the redemption of Buzz Meeks, three very driven men. Upshaw will do anything to forget about his dark secret, burning the candle at both ends on two cases. Mal Considine needs a big win on the communist front to get custody of his son from his soon-to-be-ex-wife. Buzz Meeks tries to do the right thing despite a lifetime of doing the wrong ones.

In some ways, this book reads like The Black Dahlia 2.0. Ellroy has a few more balls in the air and more damaged men to put through the meat grinder. I knew the communist plot would dovetail with the death of Marty Goines and the others but I had no idea how.

As with the previous book, the characters make this a powerful read. Upshaw, Considine, and Meeks were all realistic and believable characters, much more nuanced than most crime fiction leads. Watching them go to their fates was like watching a car flying through a red light at an intersection, holding your breath and hoping nothing catastrophic happens. Meeks, who I dismissed as a disposable dirtbag at the beginning of the tale, wound up being my favorite character.

The communist plot didn't do a whole lot for me but the serial killer thread was balls to the wall. As the mystery rocketed toward the finish line, things got pretty tense and I thought about hiding out somewhere to finish it unbeknownst to my coworkers.

Ellroy's writing, the bleak offspring of Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson, makes 1950s Hollywood seem like a shit-smeared labyrinth built on lies and the bodies of the dead. Despair falls like rain and the case played demolition derby with the lives of everyone involved. By the end of the book, I felt like I spent a few days chained to a radiator and beaten with a pipe wrench.

While I feel spent after reading it, The Big Nowhere is one hell of great read, both as a thriller and as a work of literature. Five out of five stars.

After thought: In a parallel universe, I'm sure this is marketed as the inspiration behind season two of True Detective.

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Friday, June 16, 2017

Every Breath You Take


Robert Winter
Dreamspinner Press
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars



Summary



When Zachary Hall leaves Utah for a job in Washington, it’s finally his chance to live as a gay man and maybe find someone special. In a bar he meets Thomas Scarborough, a man who seems perfect in and out of the bedroom. But Thomas never dates. He never even sleeps with the same man twice. Despite their instant connection, he can offer Zachary only his friendship, and Zachary is looking for more.

Thomas is tempted to break his own rules, but years before, he became the victim of a stalker who nearly destroyed his life. Even though his stalker died, Thomas obsessively keeps others at a distance. Despite his fascination with Zachary, he is unable to lower his barriers. Frustrated, Zachary accepts he will never have what he wants with Thomas and soon finds it with another man.

But young gay men in Washington, DC are being murdered, and the victims all have a connection to Thomas. Once again someone is watching Thomas’s every move. Can it be a coincidence? When the depraved killer turns his attention toward Zachary, Thomas must face the demons of his past—or lose his chance to open his heart to Zachary forever.



My Review



Well written, and a whole lot of fun!

Zachary Hall left his oppressive home in Utah and took a job in Washington, DC, where he can thrive in his career and live life on his own terms. The only thing that’s missing in his life is that special someone.

At the Mata Hari, his first gay bar, he meets Thomas Scarborough, a gorgeous, self-confident man who appeals to Zachary. Despite their mutual attraction and connection, Thomas is very skittish about commitment, but wants to remain friends, while Zachary is looking for more than just great sex.

While Thomas’ feelings toward Zachary are strong, he is not forthcoming about the stress and trauma in his past caused by a very persistent stalker who is now dead. Frustrated, Zachary finds comfort in a new relationship with Sam Ryder, a man he meets on a business trip to New Orleans. Zachary and Sam have a lot in common, and while Zachary finds him attractive and appreciates that he wants to take things slowly, there is no real spark like there is with Thomas.

Meanwhile, gay men are getting brutally murdered in DC and someone has his eyes set on Thomas – and on Zachary.

The mystery is predictable. I knew who the villain was as soon as he was introduced. What I enjoyed most about this story is the blazing attraction between Thomas and Zachary, their sexual exploration and experimentation, the suspense and tension, and the insight into a very sick mind.

There is a wonderful cast of secondary characters. I especially loved Randy the bartender, a very close friend of Thomas, and Joe Mulholland, a former monk and teacher who wants to make the world a better place.

I could have used a little more bonding time between Zachary and Thomas to help convince me their love was real, but they had their hands full with working together, trying not to be the next victims of a vicious stalker. That’s probably more than enough to forge a bond.