Friday, October 20, 2017

City Knight




T.A. Webb
Self-Published
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars




My Review


If I decide to embark on a series, I like to test the waters by reading the first book. If that book ends in a massive cliffhanger, it makes me grumpy. I don’t mind gentle hooks to encourage a reader to buy the next book, but I hate being manipulated into it because the first book is not complete.

So I’m really glad I read this compilation of five stories (which really should have been written as one story) rather than subjected myself to the torture of cliffhangers and unresolved loose ends.

City Knight: Working It

I have a weakness for rent boys and cops. I also love May-December romances. I’m so happy this story has all three! Ben Danvers is hustling his way through college while Marcus Prater is a retired cop still patrolling the streets of Atlanta because of a promise he made. Though both men are broken and haunted by events from their past, they form a solid connection that moves from humorous banter, steamy sex, and tender feelings to something much deeper. This gripping little story packed a whole lot of powerful emotions, but the cliffhanger was just cruel.

Knightmare

This story starts where the first left off, with my heart in my mouth. While Marcus is embarking on his search, so desperate to impart the bad news he received and protect his new lover, we meet his friends, Wick, Chance, Archer and Zachary, and get a taste of the grief that still haunts him. Marcus is not the only one feeling pain, though. Because of three little words uttered by Marcus, Ben flees into the night, feeling he is unworthy and damaged even though he wants to be loved so badly. When Ben’s past comes crashing in, Marcus shows how growly, possessive and fiercely protective he is. Their last love scene was so charged, so passionate. I love these guys together and want all the best for them, but their hardships are not yet through with them.

Starry Night

After the difficulties faced by Marcus and Ben in the previous two stories, I was relieved that this story tied up some loose ends and showed some growth in Ben’s and Marcus’ relationship. At times, though, it felt cluttered with too many visits from Marcus’ friends while he was recovering from his wound. A little more background on his friends may have helped me to enjoy this one more. I found myself skimming to get back to Ben and Marcus.

Knights Out

Just when I thought this series was starting to lose steam, new plots and characters are introduced. Ben and Marcus are happy together, but they have not forgotten about the young men selling their bodies who need their help. There is more tension, tears and heartbreak as they search for a missing rent boy. I enjoyed learning more about Marcus’ background and the touching reunion with his brother. No cliffhanger, just a sad ending and a gentle hook leading to a mystery that needs to be solved.

Darkest Knight

Marcus and Ben are a couple I won’t forget anytime soon. Though Ben is still dealing with anxiety from his assault, he and Marcus are as solid as granite. They continue to learn about each other, disclose painful memories and work together to find a killer with Ben as bait. This story concluded with a few loose ends, so I’m hoping there will be new installments.

Each of these riveting and suspenseful short stories explores sorrow, love, friendship, human degradation, and the good we are all capable of. I’m a little unhappy that this collection is loosely connected with another set of stories by different authors. I probably won’t seek them out, but I’ll happily read anything T.A. Webb writes.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Mage Hunter: Blooded Snow

Mage Hunter: Blooded Snow (The Ursian Chronicles)Mage Hunter: Blooded Snow by Ty Johnston
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sergeant Guthrie Hackett is mere days from being released from the army. Unfortunately the plans of a new life are shattered along with the lives of his squad as they are massacred in an ambush led by a witch. Hackett is allowed to live to tell the story of what happened. Before Hackett can return an Ice Witch forces a power upon him in order to ensure her survival.

Mage Hunter: Blooded Snow is an average story that is overly short. It feels like the first few chapters of a larger book. Looking at the sequels the author appears to have written them in an issue type of format. Based on that not much happened in the story, but a lot of foundational storylines are being laid.

Unfortunately nothing was particularly unique or interesting in Mage Hunter: Blooded Snow. Enemies raiding borders, ambushes, magic, and witches are all common in fantasy stories. The power bestowed on Sergeant Hackett could potentially be interesting because I don't imagine the tiny amount of information the story shared about his power is all he can do.

Mage Hunter: Blooded Snow is a common fantasy tale that mildly kept my interest.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye (Millennium, #5)The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“First you find out the truth. then you take revenge.”

There are just times when the laws of the land get things wrong. Our uber hip, ominously dangerous heroine, Miss Lisbeth Salander, is in Flodberga prison for two months because, in the course of saving an autistic child from his abuser, she got…too aggressive.

She did. I was there. I saw it with my reader’s eye. She beat the shit out of that low life, steaming pile of excrement.

Knowing LIsbeth as I do, this is my fifth book experience with her, I know she sat in that courtroom in brooding silence and offered no defense. Her code is that she shouldn’t have to defend herself in the face of such hypocrisy. She barely recognizes the court’s right to incarcerate her, but she did just order a bunch of books, a bit of light reading, on Quantum Field Theory, and maybe a few months in a quiet cell will allow her to finally work out the final wiggles in her quantum mechanical calculations.

I knew a writer, Pico Iyer, who would routinely check himself into the monastery at Big Sur to finish books. It would be similar to being in a prison, but the enclosed atmosphere always restarted his creative juices. If I were incarcerated, for say redistributing wealth, I would insist (plea) on being sent to the prison with the best library system. I would ask for solitary confinement, take my meals in my cell, and expect new books to be distributed to me every few days. If need be, I’d open a vein and sketch out my book reviews in blood with a rat’s tooth on toilet paper and have them snuck out of the prison, hopefully by the man who delivers my books because I’ve threatened to eviscerate him in every story I write for the rest of my life if he doesn’t help me.

I would get a lot of reading done.

Not that I’ve given this any thought.

Of course, the problem is Salander is not given the peace and quiet she craves. The beautiful, petite Faria Kazi, incarcerated for killing her brother after he killed her boyfriend in an Islamic fueled blood feud, is the favorite target of a woman who calls herself Benito. ”She was originally called Beatrice, and later took the name of a certain Italian fascist. These days she had a swastika tattooed on her throat, a crew cut and an unhealthy, pallid complexion.”

Obviously, her parents did not pay enough attention to her as a child.

Salander has zero tolerance for abuse. She sustained enough of it while she was growing up. She has made herself into a deadly weapon, and as tough as Benito is, I’m putting my money on Lisbeth every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Now what is interesting, in the fight scene it shows the difference between the two authors. Stieg Larsson would have given us detailed descriptions of the fight scene, where with David Lagercrantz, the fight begins and then a shutter comes down on the action and then shutter lifts to show someone on the ground gasping for breath. Maybe Lisbeth just moves too fast for Lagercrantz. Not a big complaint, but just a noticeable difference in styles of writing.

Mikael Blomkivst, Mr. Expose from the magazine Millenneum, who has helped Salander as best he can since the beginning of this series, is back once again. He goes to see Salander once a week, which is rarely satisfying because Lisbeth isn’t much for chit chat. She does give him a lead that she wants him to follow up on regarding the Registry, which has been an organization she has been trying to bring down ever since she found out her and her twin sister were forced into that program. This organization like to study identical twins growing up in vastly different environments.

They were demented people on an insidious mission, hidden beneath the guise of scientific research.

Lisbeth does remember one person specifically attached to the program.

”’There was a woman who used to stop by to see you, wasn’t there? It’s coming back to me now. She had some kind of birthmark.’

‘It looked like a burn on her throat.’

‘As if a dragon had breathed fire on her.’”


Lagercrantz also reveals more about the origin of Lisbeth Salander’s sexy dragon tattoo. There is some great backstory on our post-truth society and using ”lies as weapons,” as well. I’ve been increasingly concerned about the lack of interest in truth if it doesn’t jive with people’s own beliefs, so those passages resonate with me. Furthermore, Blomkvist is investigating the effects of a recent hacking of the stock market that caused panic.

”’Doubt on a small scale is what makes the stock market possible,’ Mannheimer replied. ‘Every day, millions of people out there doubt and hope and analyze. That’s what sets share prices. What I’m talking about is deep, existential doubt---lack of faith in growth and future returns. Nothing is more dangerous for a highly valued market. That level of fear can cause a crash and plunge the world into a depression. We could even start to question the whole idea, the imaginary construct. This will sound like a provocation to some of you, and I apologize for that. But the financial market is not something that exists like you or I, Karin, or this bottle of water on the table. The moment we stop believing in it, it ceases to exist.’”

I love it when a writer expresses something I believe... in such a simple well defined way. I do, I confess, have some of my portfolio in the stock market, but it is a relatively small amount of my retirement. I’ve plunged most of my money into things more tangible like real estate. I can see it. I don’t have to imagine it. I feel the stock market is all just a rigged game for rich people to become richer, while the middle class dreamers who invest in the market thinking they will be rich, often see their life savings evaporate into thin air, like it never existed.

Blomkvist and Salander join forces once again to try and bring down the forces of the Registry. Sometimes it feels like one step forward and two steps back, but they continue to circle closer to the black heart that guides the rest. David Lagercrantz is not Stieg Larsson. (I’m so glad he isn’t trying to wear a dead man's clothes.) Some may miss Larsson’s unique writing style. Lagercrantz may be different, but he is keeping Larsson’s characters alive and writing thrilling stories that I continue to enjoy.

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Monday, October 16, 2017

A Slightly Less Psychotic Parker

The Man With The Getaway Face (Parker, #2)The Man With The Getaway Face by Richard Stark
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Parker is a bad man. So, shouldn't I feel bad for rooting for him?.....NAH!

Cold-blooded crook in the first degree, Parker has just undergone a necessary face change when he is drawn into a heist for the quick cash prospect. Of course, once he gets the real details of the job he discovers his take won't be a fraction of what he thought it was. And that's not even the bad part about it! But hell, he goes along with it anyway, and I'm glad he did. Otherwise it wouldn't have been much of a book...

In this, the second book in the series, our "hero" doesn't come off as quite so psychotic. It's a little easier to pull for a guy who isn't torturing women. He's far from lovable, but at least he isn't almost completely repellent like I felt he was in book one.

There's a side story to The Man With The Getaway Face that drags a little bit. Mainly it's slow because the side character is slow, as in stupid. One too many knocks to the head have left him dimwitted. That's fine, but having to follow a character who doesn't understand what's going on means as a reader you are forced to endure repetition or long, drawn out passages in which you know exactly what's going on and where it's going. This gets boring real quick.

All in all though, this was a solid read at just the right length for this kind of mean-spirited stuff. I wouldn't want to spend a lot of time with these dickholes and twatwads, so I'm glad author Richard Stark kept it short.

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Introducing Hercule Poirot

The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Hercule Poirot, #1)The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thus begins the sleuthing adventures of that diminutive Belgian private detective Hercule Poirot!

The setting is an English country manor house during World War I. The lady of the house has a will, potentially multiple wills, and just about everybody at the house has some reason for wishing her dead, or at least suspecting the others with vehement certitude. Nearly everyone's got a motive and red herrings are flying about the place like, well, like flying fish!

I loved the WWI details and such how Poirot and some fellow Belgian refugees are guest to the English and soldiers are convalescing at houses such as this. Interesting slice of wartime life.

I've read a few of Agatha Christie's Poirot books before and grown fond of the recurring characters, so it was nice to finally see where it all began. While not her best work, I believe The Mysterious Affair at Styles is Christie's very first work, and with that in mind, this ain't half bad!

I don't know if it deserves four stars, because I'm a fan and was happy to get some insights into the main characters that would carry this series into the dozens. This book lays the blueprint for many (most?) of her others, which would be written with varying degrees of skill, some better and some worse than this one. So I don't mind giving it the rating I did.

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Friday, October 13, 2017

Until We Meet Once More


Josh Lanyon
Just Joshin'
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars



Summary



Nothing cracks Army Ranger "Stone Man" Vic Black's granite front. A mission to retrieve an injured Navy SEAL from the treacherous mountains of Afghanistan is all in a day's work -- until he learns the missing SEAL is his former lover. This time it's personal.




My Review



Short, but intense.

I liked the tension that develops once Vic Black learns that the injured Navy SEAL he is about to rescue is his former lover, Sean Kennedy.

The story jumps back and forth between the mountains of Afghanistan and the year Vic and Sean were together while they were Midshipmen at the US Naval Academy.

Though I enjoyed the grueling search and rescue operation more than the sexual discovery, it was interesting to see how suppressed feelings, lack of communication, family expectations and career choices can easily end a relationship.

I’m glad Vic and Sean are getting a second chance.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Vagrant

The Vagrant (The Vagrant, #1)The Vagrant by Peter Newman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A silent warrior sets out on a dangerous path to reach the Shining City. All he carries with him is a baby, a powerful sword, and whatever meager supplies he has accumulated. Many tainted beings are searching to destroy the sword and only the man, The Vagrant, is able to protect and wield the divine weapon.

The Vagrant is a hard story to get into. First of all the title character doesn't speak. On top of that there is no internal dialogue that helps guide the story. Information is gathered from other characters along with flashbacks, but that's largely drips of information into a lake of a story.

The adversary in The Vagrant is rather vague. A breach has opened up in the world and the Seraph Knights along with one of the seven, Gamma, face off against the gaseous enemy that emerges from it. They are obliterated, but Gamma manages to wound the strongest of the enemy who becomes known as the Usurper. Before the sword can be destroyed a Seraph Knight flees with it.

The best way I can describe this gaseous enemy is that it's similar to the demons from the Supernatural TV series. Particularly early on before everyone and their mother had a demon killing blade. These gaseous enemies can possess living and dead people like the Supernatural demons. Doing so provides the possessed with a new personality and greater strength. They can also mildly alter others in a way known as the taint. The infected people can range from having full control of themselves to mindless pawns of the enemy. Many are physically altered as well.

Honestly I'm not sure I understand much else about what was happening in the story. The Vagrant seeks to reach the Shining City with the baby and travels from place to place doing good along the way even at the cost of ease and comfort to himself.

In the end The Vagrant is a story that took big risks with its storytelling and for me it didn't truly come together.

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Monday, October 9, 2017

The Poetic Philosophy of Thornton Wilder

The Bridge of San Luis ReyThe Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is not mere writing. This is poetic philosophy.

I'd heard it was good, but I didn't know what to expect from Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey. For all I knew, it took place somewhere along the Californian coast along with all the other Sans and Santas. After all, there is the San Luis Rey Mission in San Diego. But no, this is set in Peru. Even better! I love when a story transports me some place I've never been before.

The concept in a nutshell as explained on Wikipedia:

It tells the story of several interrelated people who die in the collapse of an Inca rope bridge in Peru, and the events that lead up to their being on the bridge. A friar who has witnessed the accident then goes about inquiring into the lives of the victims, seeking some sort of cosmic answer to the question of why each had to die. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1928.

And well deserved! This is not a family saga of epic proportions. It's short. It's compact. It takes a slice or two of life and examines it. It does this three times for five people. The numbers are only slightly off and the stories don't all focus on one incident, but this is still quite reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa'sRashomon, itself based on two short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa.

The people and their problems are varied and interesting. Their choices and why they chose them are made even more so by Wilder. Maybe this isn't 5 star perfection, but it is damn good.


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O Pioneers!

O Pioneers!O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beginning with simplicity, innocence and hope, Willa Cather runs her pioneers through the ring of fire that is the hallmark of the pioneer's life and only some of them survive.

Perhaps I've made that sound more exciting than O Pioneers! actually is. There are far too many dull scenes in this book for me to call it a perfect classic, but it is a solid addition to American western frontier literature.

Writing from her experiences, Cather populated her novel with Scandinavian immigrants, gave them backbones and leathery hides, and set them upon the fields of Nebraska. Their characters bloomed into an organic array of flowers, weeds, fruit, and prickly briars. What she sacrifices in the way of drama and action, she more than compensates in personality and the study of human behavior.

The central figure is a strong-willed and whip-smart young woman, who grows into a successful lady of the land. Our heroine is also good-natured, well-loved and kindly even to killers. If it weren't for the slightest of faults, her named could be Mary Jane. However, she is too real to be thought of as some caricature of saintliness.

Cather's My Antonia outshines this novel in its stark-yet-evocative descriptions of immigrant life on the prairie, but this is a damn fine book and worthy of the accolades it has received.

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Friday, October 6, 2017

The Slave Catcher


Lilia Ford
Self-Published
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars



Summary



Star City, best known for its brothels and casinos, is one of the few planets in the quadrant that outlaws slavery—for everyone, that is, except the galaxy bullies, the Borathians. Telepaths and recent conquerors of a backwards planet named Earth, the Borathians are simply too powerful to refuse. A special treaty allows them to bring their pleasure slaves or “bonds” onto the planet, and if one escapes, they have five days to recover him.

Sam Beron, private locator, may have been born on a Maradi space cruiser, but Star City is his home now and he’d say he despises slavery as much as any native. Unfortunately, a run of bad luck at the casino tables leaves him flat broke and scavenging expired military rations out of a neighboring dumpster. Next thing he knows, the Borathians are offering him a fortune to track down one of their escaped bonds, a beautiful Earth boy named Liam. What's a hungry locator to do?



My Review



Through the eyes of Sam Beron, private locator, the reader gets a glimpse of life on the hedonistic planet, Star City. The story started off a little sluggishly, but I grew to love Sam’s musings on life, pleasure, family, sex, Earthish culture, and those intrusive Borathians who won’t stay out of his mind.

“The moment he looked at me, I couldn’t look away. I could feel his telepathic powers flooding my brain, like there wasn’t a single part of my thoughts he couldn’t see as easily as I could see his clothing. If you’d been there, you’d recognize that it wouldn’t have taken more than a thought for him to destroy my mind – or control me until I had no more independent will than a cleaning droid.”

Because Sam chose to live planetside, he was cast out from his family, a race that leads a nomadic existence cruising around the galaxy. While there are no prohibitions on worldly pleasures, slavery is outlawed for all but the telepathic Borathians, who are allowed to bring their human “bonds.” Because Sam is bad at gambling, he is forced to accept a job recovering a Borathian’s escaped bond even though he finds the idea of slavery abhorrent.

I liked this story a lot. It was wry and sexy, packing an emotional wallop as Sam reveals the soft center under his crispy exterior.

I nearly cried.

I expected a romance and got so much more.