Monday, January 22, 2018

A Surprising Letdown

The Girl with the Lower Back TattooThe Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I expected laughs coming out of my butt and instead I got a relative dud. I did not see that coming!

I am a fan of Amy Schumer, yes warts and all*, and so I expected to love this book. Her show is hilarious, her stand-up is good stuff, and I really enjoyed her movie Trainwreck...or A Girl Without Complexes as it is known in Russia. This book, however, does not meet expectations.

The subject matter is hit and miss. I really enjoyed when she got on the topic of her show or movie. There was some snort-laugh-worthy material in her dating stories. I wasn't so interested in her stuffed animals, though, and didn't feel like they needed a full chapter of their own. There is a lot of time spent on her mom and dad, who are honestly more interesting people than Amy comes off as in this book.

She's just not a truly wild and crazy gal. While it didn't make for an exciting read, it was interesting to find out that she's actually an introvert of sorts who forces herself to perform. She'd be more at home spending most nights, well, at home. She's a movie-on-the-couch-in-PJs-with-a-bowl-of-brownie-mix kind of date night girl. And I don't hate on that! Hell, that sounds like heaven to me. Problem is, when you're writing an autobiography and that's the kind of a material you're working with, the book ain't gonna thrill ya.

Amy is also not a terribly dynamic reader. There isn't a lot of life in her reading voice. I chose to listen to this in audiobook format, because I feel like you should always read a comedian's book that way. They're writing about themselves, they're natural performers, this is right up their alley! Well, looks like I have to amend my "always" when it comes to comedians' audiobook narration. Schumer sounded like she was on valium a third of the time, bored to death during another third, and on top of things and engaged for the third third.

Now, I've bagged on this book for most of this review, but in fairness, it's not horrible. Yes, it did take more than a month to get through seven cds, which is an astronomical amount of time for such a short book. However, I have read worse and this doesn't come close. As a Schumer fan, let's just say I was let down. I expected a laugh-riot and was surprised when I didn't get it. That doesn't mean there isn't merit herein. It just means I set the bar too high.


* Mostly I'm talking about the few a-holes that have dug up her past and tried to throw it in her face. Others claim she's stealing jokes. I've looked into it, and to me this just sounds like jealousy and sour grapes. The rumors and accusations I've seen have all been from dudes and the ax they're grinding stinks of fear, as if they're afraid vaginas have invaded and will one day rule the world if dudes don't whip out their penises and beat them back!

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Not As Strange As I Thought It Would Be

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeThe Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When you already know the big reveal, that Jekyll and Hyde are one and the same, it kind of takes a bit of the edge off the story.

OH SHIT! Sorry about that! I hate spoilers and being the one to give away the endings of books. My bad. I hope that doesn't ruin your Monday morning water cooler talk at the office.

Actually, regardless of growing up inundated with this story and its surprise ending via infinitely countless renditions and even more infinitely countless allusions to it on tv, in other movies, or from Uncle Ernie at family holidays, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeM still held a bit of a punch.

That's probably because Robert Louis Stevenson writes this adventure-suspense stuff so darn well. The author's seemingly effortless ability makes it an actual pleasure to read a story you've been bludgeoned with almost since birth. That's no Little Feat!

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Sunday, January 21, 2018

Champion of the World

Champion of the WorldChampion of the World by Chad Dundas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disgraced former lightweight champion Pepper Van Dean has just parted ways with the carnival in a violent fashion when he's approached by Fritz Mundt, another former wrestler. Mundt's offer, training Garfield Taft for a shot at the world champion, Strangler Lesko, is too hard to pass up. Can Pepper claw his way back to the big time as Garfield Taft's trainer?

As I've said in other reviews, I've been a fan of pro wrestling off and on for most of my life. When a coworker recommended this, I eventually threw it on the pile. Hell, there aren't many novels about pro wrestling that I can think of other than Hoodtown.

Champion of the World takes place in the roarin' 20s, the golden age of pro wrestling. Frank Gotch has just retired and wrestling is on the down swing. Garfield Taft is fresh out of jail and has a big chance to win the title from Strangler Lesko. Pepper, his wife in tow, heads to Montana to train Taft. Things eventually go off the rails...

When the story starts, Pepper is working at a carnival for twenty five bucks a week, wrestling audience members and doing the hangman's drop, being hung by his neck ever night, saved only by his neck and back muscles. Crazy shit and that's just the beginning.

I'm not into historical novels or sports novels but I enjoyed Champion of the World quite a bit. While real wrestlers like Frank Gotch, Farmer Burns, the Zbyszkos, and others were mentioned, the characters are fictitious. Although I suspect Strangler Lesko was based on Strangler Lewis. And Fritz Mundt owes something to Toots Mondt. I could go on and on. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I love the way Dundas wove wrestling history into the tale.

Pepper's last shot at glory kept me interested in the book during the slow parts. As the truth behind Pepper's past, as well as Taft's, was revealed, the book became harder and harder to put down. The eventual respect between the grapplers was one of my favorite parts of the book.

The last 25% was pretty shocking. There was a swerve and things got a little crazy. I was a little disappointed by the ending but it was pretty much the only way it could go down.

For wrestling fans, particularly those of the golden age of wrestling, this one is not to be missed. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, January 19, 2018

Second Chances


T.A. Webb
Dreamspinner Press
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars



Summary



Mark Jennings is at a crossroads. His finance job in the Atlanta nonprofit scene stresses him out, his mother is dying, and his relationship with Brian Jacobs has crashed and burned. He needs a distraction, some way to relax, and a massage seems like just the thing. He never expected his massage therapist, Antonio Roberto, to become his best friend.

Despite their differences—Antonio is a divorced single father—the two men forge a firm friendship that weathers Mark’s reconciliation with Brian and Antonio’s questionable taste in women. Over the years, Antonio remains constant in his support, though others in Mark’s life come and go through a revolving door.

When a young boy runs away from the group home where he works, Mark finds another door opening. Through it all he holds on to the things his loved ones taught him—about family, about friends and lovers, about life and death. Most importantly, he realizes that sometimes the greatest gift of all is a second chance.



My Review




Even though many of my friends heaped enthusiastic reviews on this story, and I’ve read and enjoyed T.A. Webb’s reviews and know he’s a thoughtful guy who writes from the heart, I still put off reading this.

My mom died recently, so I wasn’t sure my somewhat fragile emotions would handle reading about a man who is losing his mother to liver disease and at the same time trying to get over the pain of betrayal by his cheating ex.

I’m so glad I put my misgivings aside and snagged a copy.

Told from the perspective of Mark Jennings, we are privy to his thoughts, feelings, memories, and reactions to the people and situations in his life. I really liked being in his head. Even though many of Mark’s thoughts and casual conversations were peppered with f-bombs and delivered with a subtle sense of humor, his life and his pain were very real and his character felt like a composite of people I’ve known. This made him so easy to relate to, and his experiences that much more heartbreaking and believable.

“You listen close, ‘cause I ain’t saying this but once. That boy is my family now. He’s got a home, he’s got people that love him. And don’t think we don’t know how to fuckin’ hide a body when we need to.”

Now who wouldn’t want a guy like Mark in their family?

This is a story of love, forgiveness, loss, and hope. It is a story of friendship and families, made and born. It is about imperfect people who made mistakes. It is told over a period of 11 years, so nothing ever felt rushed.

I loved the exploration of youth homelessness and foster care in the US.

A couple of gripes:

- Certain events were given only minor coverage when I would have preferred to witness them.
- Some events felt a little too easy, too contrived, and didn’t jive with the rest of the story.

I’m glad I finally read this story. Along with the many tears I shed were plenty of smiles. I’m very much looking forward to a sequel.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Palace Job

The Palace Job (Rogues of the Republic #1)The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While trapped behind enemy lines, Loch's inheritance was stolen from her. Loch plans to steal the most valuable part of the inheritance back, a priceless elven manuscript. In order to do that Loch along with her trusted friend Kail assemble a colorful team to get the job done.

The Palace Job was quite different than I anticipated. The description makes the book sound like it's funny, but I doubt I laughed at anything that happened or was said. I did smile a few times such as when Kail described what he did to people's mothers.

Much of The Palace Job was just ok. I wasn't particularly interested in the formation of the team for the job or the early going. It all felt too familiar. It was very much like a fantasy Ocean's 11 with Loch and Kail as versions of George Clooney and Brad Pitt's characters. Loch was the typical brilliant mastermind with countless contingencies to ensure success.

As the book progressed the tale took on very different tropes. Rather than a simple heist story, prophetic and save the city tropes emerged. The shift was a welcome one as I don't particular care for heist tales.

Revealing characters motivations sooner is one small change that would have vastly improved my reading experience. Revealing two characters motivations in particular would have significantly altered and improved the story. Those characters are Loch and Archvoyant Silestin. When Loch is putting together a team to complete the heist it seems as though her only motivation is to improve her financial circumstances. As the tale moves forward Loch has much more poignant and heartfelt motivations for her actions. Archvoyant Silestin seemed like the normal pompous politician. Not someone particularly worthy of being robbed. As the tale continues it's revealed that Silestin is much different than he's displayed in the early going.

The Palace Job is a heroic tale masquerading as a common heist story. Unfortunately it waited until almost the end to reveal it's true nature.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

THOMAS CROMWELL: SERVANT TO HENRY VIII BY DAVID LOADES

Thomas Cromwell: Servant to Henry VIIIThomas Cromwell: Servant to Henry VIII by David Loades
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”Master Cromwell...you are now entered into the service of a most noble, wise and liberal prince… you shall in your counsel given unto his grace ever tell him what he ought to do, but never what he is able to do...for if a lion knew his strength, hard were it for any man to rule him.”
---Sir Thomas More


 photo Thomas20Cromwell20Holbein_zps4ermi4nx.jpg
Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein

Thomas Cromwell has been dead for 478 years, yet his name still evokes a smidgen of fear in my belly. He became so powerful at one point that people discussed very quietly the two-headed beast (Henry VIII and Cromwell) running England. Right up until the point that Cromwell is hauled away to the Tower, he was the most influential advisor to the king.

Cromwell’s problem was he got mixed up in the business of the wives of the king, and when he was able to do exactly what Henry wanted, which was usually to clear the way for the next one, he was fine, but once he showed some resistance to one wife being booted for another, then he was subjecting himself to the wrath of one of the most petulant, self-indulgent kings to ever wear an English crown.

And believe me that is saying something.

The fascination that people have with Henry VIII and his wives never seems to wane. I’ve never been a fan of the Tudors. I feel my lip curl up in a grimace, or maybe the beginnings of a snarl, every time I run across some reference to the bloated pisspot.

I can only say that because Cromwell is dead. His large ears are long stilled.

Is that a pounding I hear at yonder door?
Just the wind.


I do though have a fascination with the enigmatic, hyper intelligent, ruthless Thomas Cromwell. He rose as high as a self-made man of low birth can rise. His first boss, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, valued his counsel and his adaptability to situations. Wolsey fell out of favor with Henry VIII when he failed to achieve the annulment of the king’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Anne Boleyn, that mischievous, ambitious, cock-tease, convinced Henry that Wolsey was dragging his feet in the process. She was not a patient woman, but then maybe she was starting to run out of excuses to keep Henry from plucking her rose before she had a crown nestled down on her auburn tresses.

 photo Anne_boleyn_zpsazojjmk6.jpg
Anne Boleyn

I’m sure Cromwell took note of the downfall of Wolsey, so it is interesting that he too became a victim of kingly, pettish, spousal dissatisfaction.

Is that the sound of mail-clad fingers tapping at my window?
For the love of all that is holy, it is but an errant branch from a maple tree.


With the major religious schism that Henry caused, along with his dissolution of the monasteries and nunneries, he made many enemies domestically and abroad. As he lopped off the heads of wives, it also became more difficult to find an alliance with a foreign power. Kings were known for using their daughters unmercifully as political pawns, but even the most hard hearted father would have a difficult time subjected his daughter to that ulcerated, fickle headed, imbecile in England.

My Scottish Terrier has just raced to the drawbridge. I can only hope she can hold them off long enough for me to finish and post this review. There will be some bloody ankles, I’ll wager, before they can reach my chamber door.

Cromwell survived the beheading of Anne Boleyn, despite the fact that she was instrumental in his rise to high office. David Loades said it was her head or his, but I think it was more a matter of both their heads rolling together, so it was only practical to save the one that could be saved, his own. A wagon tethered can be quickly untethered, as Cromwell later learned with his own “supporters” when his time came. Next was Jane Seymour, whom Henry married one day after Anne’s head rolled across the stone pavers of the Tower. Seymour gave Henry a son.

Hallelujah! God be praised. Peace can now reign upon the land.
Not quite.


Seymour died in childbirth and became the only one of his wives to receive a queen’s funeral. As much as I hate to attribute any human qualities to Henry, I do believe he truly mourned the death of Jane. She never had a chance to displease him, and she did give him that much cherished son, sickly and fragile though he be, who would hopefully secure the throne of England in Tudor hands. After all, there were still plenty of Plantagenets lurking about. Usurpers, who Henry’s father was, as he took the throne by conquest from the last Plantagenet king, Richard III, never rested easy in their hold on power.

Usurpers are like everyone else beset by insecurities; most of us would fit that description, who believe that any minute some toothless crone from the back of a ruly crowd is going to yell the words…FRAUD.

 photo Anne20of20Cleves_zpsllumntvo.jpg
Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein. She may not have the face that launched a thousand ships, but still, come on Henry, she’s not mugly!

So Cromwell was not resting easily with the future of the kingdom residing on the slender, shaking shoulders of Henry’s son, Edward, and pressed Henry to remarry. The Duke of Cleves was in dispute with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, with whom Henry was having issues, but then who didn’t he have issues with? So the Duke’s daughter, Anne, was a good strategic match on paper. Henry did dispatch the court painter, Hans Holbein, to get real likenesses of all the potential queens of England. Either Holbein was too flattering in his portrayal of Anne or Henry was just not mentally in the mood for the match from the beginning. You have all heard of love at first sight. Well, Henry experienced loathing at first sight. Months later, he swore the marriage was never consummated due to the inability of Henry to mask his repugnance long enough to get the English flag to rise.

He might have tried extinguishing the candles, lying back, and thinking of England.

Meanwhile, Henry became enamored with the 17 year old Catherine Howard, who seemed to have put the lead back in the royal poxy pencil.

Here we go again.

I cannot deny the battering at my door. I must hurry!

So…”Cromwell was quite prepared to act ruthlessly, even when political and religious issues were not involved, but he was always concerned to use the due process of the law.” David Loades talked about what is known of the statesman and how little is known of the man himself. Hilary Mantel explored the man more than the statesman in her excellent duo of books Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies. We saw the charitable man (he fed 200 men and women every day at his house, an early soup kitchen) and the man interested in intellectual pursuits. I couldn’t help but like, nay love, the man whom Mantel shared with us. Can a man be so ruthless in his politics and so kind in his private life?

I’d like to think so.

Loades did an excellent job of separating the myth from what can be proven and painted a portrait of a man who was the consummate loyal official. Cromwell, in the course of the dissolution, made sure that Henry retained enough lands to make him rich enough to not have to go begging for money from the royal families and made sure that those same families were rewarded with enough land that they would have to support the crown in the future. He made Henry the first English king to be Royal Supreme.

 photo Thomas20Cromwell20Cartoon_zpskhibyeq4.jpg
Thomas Cromwell, a man of no illusions.

Cromwell’s head was rather sloppily parted from his body. The executioner must have been an incompetent fool, or maybe Cromwell whispered in his ear that he would be coming for him from the afterlife and that made his hands slippery with sweat, but either way it was a botched job. Henry was soon remorseful at his impetuous, foolish decision to execute Cromwell. ”It was not long before Henry was regretting his precipitate action in getting rid of him. Policy continued to be in the king’s hands, but government would never be the same.”

Unhand me, you loutish brutes! A pox on all your whoreson houses! Could someone please send books to The Tower?!?!

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Monday, January 15, 2018

The Witty Silliness Continues

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (Hitchhiker's Guide, #2)The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Had I read this? I couldn't recall. I knew I'd seen the old tv version, but I wasn't sure I'd actually read the book, so I read it. And why not? It's a hell of a good book, and I'd do it again!

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is kind of the continuing adventures of Arthur Dent. Honestly, while he's a focal point of book one, he doesn't factor into the sequel as much. This is more about Zaphod Beeblebrox and Ford Perfect, as well as the kitchen sink's worth of whatever zany ideas Douglas Adams wanted to throw into the works.

I say "zany ideas" as if they are a haphazard, careless collection of ramblings, but Adams does actually stay on topic for much of the time. That topic is humanity's futility. We're a go-nowhere race going nowhere fast. Adams basically says we've been given two million years worth of time to do something with ourselves before it's all over, and frankly we will fuck it up. Oh well!

While not as sharp as the first book, this is a worthy successor and I plan to continue reading the remaining books in the series, which I'm pretty sure I haven't read yet.

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John le Carre's Perfection!

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, SpyTinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I didn't understand half of what I just read, and yet I loved it all the same!

In John le Carré's (real name David Cornwell) Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, a British intelligence service known as the Circus has been compromised by a mole, a supposed Soviet double agent. Former agent George Smiley is called back from retirement to ferret him out.

This is more of a psychological suspense novel than an action-filled James Bond spy thriller. Smiley is getting up there in years and though he's conversant with a handgun, he's not about to go galavanting about blasting up the countryside. The whole novel is much more sedate than you might expect when you think of "spy thriller". And yet in ways, this book is undeniably thrilling!

Here, I think this passage from Wikipedia explains it better:

Most of Cornwell's novels are spy stories set during the Cold War (1945–91) and feature Circus agents as unheroic political functionaries aware of the moral ambiguity of their work and engaged in psychological more than physical drama.[21] Cornwell's books emphasise the fallibility of Western democracy and of the secret services protecting it, often implying the possibility of East-West moral equivalence.[21] Moreover, they experience little of the violence typically encountered in action thrillers and have very little recourse to gadgets. Much of the conflict is internal, rather than external and visible.

When you read a book like this, you get the distinct impression that the author has lived this life. Frankly, it was quite clear to me that John le Carré worked in the secret service. You can't whip out that kind of jargon and insight with only a casual acquaintance with the topic. I've read a few spy novels before and this makes them look childish in comparison.

The writing itself is topnotch. The character crafting, the stage setting, and the nuance of plot all come off so seamlessly. If there was a little more action, it wouldn't go amiss, but lack of action aside, Le Carré pens books that are an absolute pleasure to read.

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Friday, January 12, 2018

Bound for Trouble


EM Lynley
Dreamspinner Press
Reviewed by Nancy
2 out of 5 stars



Summary



Daniel "Deke" Kane is a broken man, facing the end of his career in the FBI. He's on desk duty after a botched drug raid left the suspects and two children dead. He's got one chance to prove himself, or the only thing he'll be investigating is the Help Wanted ads.

Ryan Griffiths has been on the run for ten years. Forced onto the streets when his father kicked him out, Ryan earns his living in other men's beds. Finding his john dead in a hotel room drives him under the radar until a favorite client gives him a chance at a safe, clean life. But Ryan's relatively stable new world shatters when Deke Kane catches up with him.

When Deke's tasked to take down a drug dealer with terrorist ties and a taste for the dark side of BDSM, his only chance to get close is the suspect's interest in Ryan, and he convinces Ryan to become a confidential informant. In return, Deke offers Ryan immunity from his past. As Ryan falls under the drug lord's domination, Deke finds himself falling for Ryan.

Now Deke has to choose between Ryan's safety and his own future.


My Review



FBI agent Deke Kane was nearly up for a promotion, but screwed up disastrously during a drug raid, causing the deaths of two children. Now he’s desk bound, once again having to prove his worth to his bitchy and flirtatious supervisor, Serah, and to himself.

He gets a second chance on a high-profile case involving Maksim Petrov, a Russian arms dealer with terrorist ties. Though the higher-ups are hoping Deke makes another mistake so they can justify firing him, Serah micromanages every aspect of his investigation in order to keep her record clean.

Deke knows that Petrov frequents the Club Kiwi, a male strip club. His best option is to send in a confidential informant, Ryan Griffiths, a former stripper now gainfully employed in retail and trying to forget his old life.

The attraction between Deke and Ryan is instant, but Ryan is distrustful of the FBI. He also wants justice for his friend’s killer. While Ryan works undercover at a BDSM club as a server and paid submissive, and Deke joins the club to conduct his investigation, their chemistry sizzles.

This is not a simple cop/rent-boy love story. Deke is focused on the investigation while exploring his kinks and watching Ryan fall under Petrov’s spell. As Deke’s feelings for Ryan grow, he becomes more and more concerned about the role Ryan is playing, his desire for pain, and the dangers they face.

Since Ryan and Deke have not spent a lot of time really getting to know each other, it was hard for me to believe their love was real. The investigation details were riveting, but the plot was over-the-top and not very believable. There is a smidgen of graphic violence and lots of kinky sex.

As much as I enjoy hot sex scenes, I need to be emotionally invested in the characters. I wasn’t.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Jersey Devil

The Jersey DevilThe Jersey Devil by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Jersey Devil sightings spike, Sam Willet and his family head to the New Jersey Pine Barrens for a reckoning sixty years in the making. With a cryptozoologist and a van full of firepower, will they be able to bring down the devil and live to tell the tale?

My young eyes first encountered the legend of the Jersey Devil in Monsters You Never Heard of sometime before the age of ten. I thought it was kind of lame and forgot about it until it was featured in an early X-Files episode. Anyway, since Hunter Shea is the bee's knees, I figured I'd give this one a shot when I saw the price dropped to ninety-nine cents. I'm cheap, what can I say.

The Jersey Devil is the story of Sam Willet and his family's axe to grind with the Jersey Devil, who terrorized Grandma Willet six decades earlier. Aided and abetted by a noted cryptozoologist, they walk into the Pine Barrens. Some of them even manage to hobble out.

This book is about as gentle as a trip to a slaughterhouse. Character after character are introduced, only to be fed through the Jersey meatgrinder once you feel something toward them. The body count is off the chart. The Devil's origins are explored and its mythology is expanded upon. And its many children go on a feeding frenzy...

I'd say this is the goriest Hunter Shea novel I've read yet and the threat of the Jersey Devil was probably the worst. After a while, I was just hoping one or more members of the Willet clan would survive.

The Jersey Devil is a gory good time, highly entertaining but definitely not for the squeamish. Four out of five stars.

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