Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Sixteenth Annual Collection

Ellen Datlow (Editor), Terri Windling (Editor)
Authors (Various)

Four Stars


The critically acclaimed and award-winning tradition continues with another stunning collection, including stories by Kelly Link, Kim Newman, Corey Marks, Eric Schaller, M. Shayne Bell, Helga M. Novak, Terry Dowling, Michael Libling, Zoran Zivkovic, Bentley Little, Carlton Mellick III, Brian Hodge, Conrad Williams, Tom Disch, Melissa Hardy, Joel Lane, Nicholas Royle, Tracina Jackson-Adams, Karen Joy Fowler, Jackie Bartley, Peter Dickerman, Ramsey Campbell, Adam Roberts, Robert Phillips, Jay Russell, Luis Alberto Urrea, Margaret Lloyd, Stephen Gallagher, Robin McKinley, Haruki Murakami, Theodora Goss, Kathy Koja, Lucy Taylor, Elizabeth Hand, Kevin Brickmeier, Sharon McCartney, Susan Power, Don Tumasonis, Nan Fry.

Rounding out the volume are the editors' invaluable overviews of the year in fantasy and horror, Year's Best sections on comics, by Charles Vess, and on anime and manga, by Joan D. Vinge, and a long list of Honorable Mentions, making this an indispensable reference as well as the best reading available in fantasy and horror.

My Review
I've always liked short stories. They are a great way to fit in a good read when reading time is limited or you just want a tasty morsel you can finish quickly. The whole problem with them is balance. Considering I grabbed this by mistake, thinking it was a fantasy, sci fi mix and not horror, it turned out a lot better and more balanced than a lot of anthologies I have read.

That might have to do with the editors. Datlow and Whitling have done not only a fine job of selecting the authors but also which of their stories were included in this volume. While not all were my cup of tea I can say that the majority of the writers managed to convey the mood they wanted in a short amount of time.

A couple of my favourites were represented, such as Gaiman and Murikami, but I've also discovered a few new authors that I've had on to read lists but now will now get bumped up the list a lot faster. China Mieville, Jeffrey Ford and Brian Hodge come to mind.

It's odd because I've already forgotten the misses in this book and can only remember the hits. Maybe that says something about the calibre of writing. A must read on Halloween night!

Snake Charmer

Two Serpents Rise
by Max Gladstone
Published by Tor

4 Out of 5 Stars
Reviewed by Amanda

**This review is of an Advance Uncorrected Proof provided by Tor in exchange for an honest and fair review**

A burgeoning desert city, Dresediel Lex depends upon Craft and the power of fallen gods to quench its ever growing thirst. When demons are planted in the city's water supply, Red King Consolidated, the utility that provides water to the city, suspects religious fanatics eager for the return of the gods or good old-fashioned corporate competition. Caleb Altemoc, a risk manager for the omnipresent Red King Consolidated and son of Temoc, a wanted religious terrorist, is sent to investigate. He soon finds himself falling for a potentially dangerous woman, questioning his loyalties to his employer and to his father, and learning that the deified twin serpents of Dresediel Lex survived the God Wars and slumber as they await an eclipse that will awaken a hunger that can only be sated with blood sacrifice.

Two Serpents Rise returns us to the world--if not the characters and city of Alt Coulumb--presented in Three Parts Dead, and this is a brilliant move on the part of author Max Gladstone. Neatly side-stepping the tendency of many authors to get locked into one character and a formulaic plot structure for a never-ending series, Gladstone continues to create this unnamed world of magic and technology that is at once primitive and futuristic, where humans and gods coexist. This world provides Gladstone with a broad canvas for his impressive, imaginative world-building, and he is at his best when writing of the terrible majesty of the gods, as fantastically varied as the cultures that spawn them. However, these gods, brought into existence by man's faith, have been destroyed or harnessed after the God Wars, when mankind realized they could kill what they had created or restructure the power of the gods to serve the needs of modern man.

The mythologies created by Gladstone capture the primal need for the divine and the rational, "civilized" mind's rejection of religious fanaticism--a dichotomy represented in the character of Caleb. The son of a once powerful Eagle Knight priest desperate to cling to the old ways of blood sacrifice, Caleb rejects the brutal and barbaric religion of his father, but is uncomfortable with the manner in which defeated gods have been utilized by concerns like Red King Consolidated to meet the needs of the people. As Caleb seeks the source of the water contamination, he must come to moral terms with Dresediel Lex's problematic history and the cultural divide created in the wake of the God Wars. Caleb's contentious relationship with his father provides the novel with more depth than one might expect of a standard fantasy novel, and I found myself wishing that Gladstone had jettisoned Caleb's strained, awkward, and perplexing romantic relationship with Mal in favor of more interaction between father and son.

The mystery at the core of Two Serpents Rise, when stripped of its magical accouterments, is fairly standard, but serviceable to moving the plot forward. There are few surprises and maybe a few too many red herrings and segues into nonessential plot elements, but these quibbles are fairly minor when stacked against the entertainment to be found in exploring Gladstone's complex, layered world.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Last Good Lady Lover

Butch Fatale, Dyke Dick-Double D Double Cross
Christa Faust
reviewed by Anthony Vacca
3 out of 5 stars

A labor of lust from everyone’s favorite hot mama of a pulp-noirist, Christa Faust’s Butch Fatale, Dyke Dick - Double D Double Cross is a breezy romp of an e-book starring the titular tough-talking, hard-hitting, sex-driven private detective as she finds herself knee-deep in a tricky case involving a missing call girl, some Armenian gangsters, a gorgeous mercenary, a corrupt rich person, and lots and lots of sex. To say that this book is an, um, eye-opening experience about the anatomical dynamics of girl-on-girl action is an understatement. If anything, the real star of the show is Faust’s energetic, unadorned zest for writing raunchy lesbian sex. If you don’t like reading about energetic, zesty, raunchy lesbian sex, then this is a book you might have to take a pass on, you philistine. Recommended for fans of PI novels looking for something fresh, and for all horny teenagers with a computer and a gift card for Amazon.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Insight Into Autism

The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida,
Introduction by David Mitchell
2013 (English translation)
Reviewed by Diane K. M.
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is the most illuminating insight into the mind of an autistic child that I've seen. Naoki Higashida was born in 1992 and was diagnosed with autism when he was 5. One of his teachers designed an alphabet grid to help Naoki communicate his thoughts, which were then printed into a book in Japan in 2007.

The writer David Mitchell, who has an autistic son, found it and pushed to get an English translation published. In the introduction, Mitchell wrote that the book was "a revelatory godsend. Reading it felt as if, for the first time, our own son was talking to us about what was happening inside his head, through Naoki's words."

The book is structured in short sections, with Naoki responding to questions about common behaviors of autistic people. When asked why he repeats what others are saying, Naoki explains how difficult it is for an autistic person to communicate:

"It's quite a complicated process. First, I scan my memory to find an experience closest to what's happening now. When I've found a good close match, my next step is to try to recall what I said at that time. If I'm lucky, I hit upon a usable experience and all is well. If I'm not lucky, I get clobbered by the same sinking feeling I had originally, and I'm unable to answer the question being asked. No matter how hard I try to stop it, that weird voice slips out, making me more flustered and discouraged, and so it gets harder and harder to say anything ... I swear conversation is such hard work! To make myself understood, it's like I have to speak in an unknown foreign language, every minute of every day."

Naoki justifies why autistic people often avoid looking people in the eye when they're talking. "To me, making eye contact with someone I'm talking to feels a bit creepy, so I tend to avoid it ... You might well suppose that we're just looking down, or at the general background. But you'd be wrong. What we're actually looking at is the other person's voice. Voices may not be visible things, but we're trying to listen to the other person with all of our sense organs. When we're fully focused on working out what the heck it is you're saying, our sense of sight sort of zones out ... What's bothered me for a long time is this idea people have that so long as we're keeping eye contact while they're talking to us, that alone means we're taking in every word. Ha! If only that was all it took, my disability would have been cured a long, long time ago."

He also explains why it is that autistic people often find themselves alone, and then everyone assumes that they'd prefer being alone and don't like being around people. Naoki says that isn't true, but being isolated is often a consequence of autism. "I can't believe that anyone born as a human being really wants to be left all on their own, not really. No, for people with autism, what we're anxious about is that we're causing trouble for the rest of you, or even getting on your nerves. This is why it's hard for us to stay around other people. This is why we often end up being left on our own."

There are a lot more questions and answers with Naoki, and he also shares a few short stories he wrote. My biggest takeaways from this book are that autistic people are much more empathetic than the literature shows, and how hard they are working to try and control their bodies and their thoughts. "You can't always tell just by looking at people with autism, but we never really feel that our bodies are our own. They're always acting up and going outside our control. Stuck inside them, we're struggling so hard to make them do what we tell them."

It is telling that as soon as David Mitchell started doing publicity for this book (I saw him interviewed on "The Daily Show" and Jon Stewart raved about Naoki's insights) that "The Reason I Jumped" became an instant bestseller. Autism has affected so many families around the world, and many people are trying to understand it better. I think this book will help light the way.

I would highly recommend it to anyone who works with autistic people or who has a loved one who is on the spectrum.

A Man of His Time

 Hitch 22 by Christopher Hitchens
Reviewed by Diane K. M.
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Now this is a memoir worth reading! We are in the Age of Memoir, but so few deserve the time. Christopher Hitchens lived enough for 10 lives — he was a revolutionary, journalist, provocateur, vagabond, contrarian, essayist, raconteur, socialist, intellectual, atheist and he loved a good Scotch.

Hitch, as his friends called him, started writing his autobiography when he turned 60. The story goes that in 2009 he was surprised to see the phrase "the late Christopher Hitchens" beneath a photo of himself at an art exhibition, and he knew that the description would eventually become true. Best not to wait too long to write my memoirs, he thought. It was fortunate that he wrote quickly because about a year later, he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and he died in December 2011.

Hitch was born in England but had traveled all over the world by the time he was 30. He came of age in the 1960s — the perfect time to be a socialist and a revolutionary. The book has great stories of Hitch's visits to Cuba, Argentina, Iraq, Greece, Africa, Asia, and also America. Hitch emigrated to the United States in the 1980s, and I enjoyed hearing his outsider's perspective on American culture.

One story that I liked happened while Hitch was visiting Cuba in 1968. He questioned whether writers and artists were being censored because they couldn't openly criticize Castro. "I made the mere observation that if the most salient figure in the state and society was immune from critical comment, then all the rest was detail." Later, he was told that his comments had been "counter-revolutionary," and Hitch was thrilled to be so labeled.

Hitch had a good description of his chats with American taxi drivers in the late 1960s. Back then, many cabs were driven by African-American veterans who had been to England during World War II. The cabbies would comment on how nice the English were. "For many of these brave gentlemen, segregated in their U.S. Army units, England was the first picture they ever saw of how a non-segregated society might look."

Hitch also has snort-out-loud tales of his friendships with Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie and James Fenton. My favorites were when Martin took Hitch to a whorehouse as "research" for a book, and Salman's gift at word games, which were frequently played when the men got together. "I boldly assert that a lot of friendships and connections absolutely depend upon a sort of shared language, or slang. Not necessarily designed to exclude others, these can establish a certain comity and, even after a long absence, re-establish it in a second."

In another chapter, Hitch downplayed stories of his excessive drinking and shared his rules for imbibing: "Don't drink on an empty stomach. Don't drink if you have the blues. Drink when you are in a good mood. It's not true that you should drink alone: these can be the happiest glasses you ever drain. Avoid all narcotics: these make you more boring rather than less. Be careful about upgrading to single malt Scotch: when you are voyaging in rough countries it won't be easily available."

A particularly moving section was Hitch's postscript to his chapter on Iraq. He talked about Mark Daily, an American soldier who was killed by an IED. Daily had been inspired by Hitch's earlier writings about Iraq and decided to serve. When Hitch learned of Daily's death, he reached out to the man's parents, and even went with them to scatter Mark's ashes. It was a tender antidote to the stories of Hitch's contrariness.

I listened to this on audiobook and would highly recommend it to anyone who likes politics, social commentary or a lively conversationalist. Hitch has a lot of opinions, not all of which I agree with, but I loved listening to his stories. Cheers to a life well-lived.

Two Very Different Books from Day Keene

Home Is the Sailor (Hard Case Crime #7)Home Is the Sailor by Day Keene
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After a career at sea, Swede Nelson comes ashore with the thought of buying a farm in Minnesota and finding a nice girl to marry. It's a shame he runs into the widow Corliss Mason, the owner of the Purple Parrot, and her web of sex, lies, and murder...

Home is the Sailor, much like fellow Hard Case entry The Vengeful Virgin, is straight out of the James M. Cain playbook. You know the plot: a guy falls for a hot young woman and commits murder for her, then starts cracking under the pressure once he realizes she's bad news.

When Corliss comes to Swede the night before their wedding saying she's been raped, who wouldn't do what Swede did? Swede's drunken binges are believable, all things considered. The big reveal near the end was a little obvious but getting there was still one hell of a ride. When the cops start nosing around and Swede begins figuring out what Corliss is really up to, tension mounts and the story kicks into high gear.

So why didn't I give it a five? I found it a little unbelievable that Swede fell so hard for Corliss so fast. As I said before, the big reveal is telegraphed slightly.

If you're a Hard Case fan, this is one of the must-haves.

L.A. 46L.A. 46 by Day Keene
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

L.A. 46 is the story of the tenants of Casa del Sol, a LA apartment complex. That's pretty much it as far as summaries go.

Everyone's heard the old adage "You can't judge a book by its cover." You shouldn't but you also should give what's on the cover some consideration. My first exposure to Day Keene was Home is the Sailor, a bleak noir tale straight from the James M. Cain school. When I saw L.A. 46 on the vintage pile at my favorite used bookstore, I snapped it up, the blurb on the cover comparing the novel to Peyton Place barely registering.

L.A. 46 reminds me of the night time soap operas that were so popular in the 80's. All the stock characters are here: The psychiatrist in love with one of his patients, the two models who may or may not be lesbians, the reporter everyone hates, the pregnant woman harboring a dark secret, and many others.

It took me a little while before I realized no hot young vixen was going to get some schmuck to off her husband for her but by then, Keene had me hooked anyway. The bastard. It must have been the prostitute, the stripper, and the woman pregnant with her long-lost brother's child that did it for me. Keene managed to hold my attention, that's for sure.

The most memorable part of the book was the ending, however. I think all the violence Keene had been suppressing exploded from his typewriter at that point. Did Dallas or Dynasty ever have a bloody hostage situation?
While it wasn't what I expected, L.A. 46 was an engaging read. Just don't expect noir goodness like Home is the Sailor.

Still on Goodreads

Monday, October 28, 2013

Joe Gunther Hunts the Elusive Tag Man

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Three out of five stars

It's always fun to return to Vermont for a visit with Joe Gunther, the head of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation, and the rest of the cast that populates this long-running series. With the twenty-fourth volume in the series just appearing, this remains one of the best regional mystery series going.

As this book opens, Gunther is on personal leave, checking in occasionally with the rest of his team while he struggles to recover from a significant emotional blow that he suffered at the end of the preceding book. Joe is not a young man any more and through the years he's had more than his share of heartache. This latest tragedy has hit him particularly hard.

While he recovers, the city of Brattleboro is intrigued by the antics of a cat burglar who becomes known as the Tag Man. Adept at breaking and entering and at defeating the most sophisticated security systems, the Tag Man enters the homes of wealthy people and skillfully picks through their possessions, in the process deconstructing their lives for his own amusement. He apparently never takes anything of value, although at each stop he eats something out of the refrigerator. His calling card is a simple post-it note with the word "TAG" which he leaves at each scene.

To the press and to many other observers, it seems like simple fun and games. But it's not so funny to the people whose privacy is violated or to the authorities who are attempting without much success to put an end to that Tag Man's escapades. But then the Tag Man breaks into the home of a guy who rubs him the wrong way, and in this case he does walk away with something of great value to a very nasty man. Then, on his next outing, the Tag Man discovers something even more alarming, and suddenly his seemingly harmless hobby is no longer fun and games.

The Tag Man now has some very dangerous people after him, including the agents of the VBI. As the case heats up, Joe Gunther gradually emerges from his shell and ultimately takes the lead in the investigation. What follows is a dangerous game of cat and mouse that puts any number of people at risk, and as always, Archer Mayor spins a very engrossing tale. Readers who have not yet discovered this series would be well-advised to start with the earlier books, but old fans of the series will welcome this addition.

Two Dudes Having A Gay Old Time!

A Journey to the Western Islands of  Scotland and The Journal of a Tour to the HebridesA Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides by Samuel Johnson
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Two buds go for a romp in the Highlands of Scotland.

In A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland... we get a glimpse of the bromance between dictionary man Samuel Johnson and lawyer James Boswell as they hike through the hills and lochs down to the isles along the west coast. Boswell, a Scot, plays host to Johnson, showing him the sights, which are nicely described, as well as introducing him to some of the more colorful characters of the area.

This is fairly light reading with a touch of airy philosophizing now and then. Johnson's sometimes jovial, sometimes truculent nature comes in for some good-natured ribbing. He was a larger-than-life character with some strong opinions. It's great to get this candid look at the man, someone who I've been intrigued with since I saw him played by Robbie Coltrane in the Brit comedy Black Adder. Whenever he's portrayed, it's as a blustery big man with even bigger, louder ideas. He's a liver of life, and since so much of his life was spent working with words, a bookworm like myself can't help but love him.

View all my reviews

Howards….What Was That?

Howards EndHowards End by E.M. Forster
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've read three of Forster's most well known novels, and yet, I don't feel I know them at all. Even this one, as I read it, was fading from memory. I don't mean to say that his work is forgettable, but with every Forster book I've read - amazing human portraits and elegant, occasionally profound turns of phrase - somehow they all flitter on out of my head. It's as if they were witty clouds: intelligent and incorporeal. Heck, I've even seen movie versions for a couple of them and I still don't recall what the stories are about.

Why is that? If I could pinpoint it, well, then I wouldn't have started this review with that first paragraph. Perhaps it is because of Forster's penchant for pleasant diversions. He expounds upon ideas as the action unfolds, and that's wonderful! He gives the reader some very nice theories on human behavior to ponder upon. My problem is that I ponder too frickin' much! A writer like Forster is a danger to me. My imagination likes to fly and it's not very well tethered, so when I read books like Howards End with lines like "And of all means to regeneration remorse is surely the most wasteful. It cuts away healthy tissues with the poisoned. It is a knife that probes far deeper than the evil."...oh boy, off goes my mind in another direction and the next thing I know I've spent 20 minutes on a single page. Ah, but they are wondrous pages to linger upon. Perhaps it is worth the time.

View all my reviews

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Lucid Dreaming

Lisa Morton
Bad Moon Books
Reviewed by: Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


Ashley, a twenty-something California girl, is a post-punk who would rather be called Spike and who worries about money, her family, and freeway traffic. She’s also a violent paranoid schizophrenic living in a state facility west of Los Angeles, her disorder kept under control by confinement and the drug Prolixin.

One day Spike is shocked to find her cell door open and so she ventures out, only to find the walls smeared with blood and the staff missing or dead. She escapes and ventures into a world that’s been driven mad by waking nightmares, where she’s now the sanest person alive. Searching for answers, Spike embarks on a road trip that will lead her from Beverly Hills to a nightmarish Texas compound to the highest office in the land...

My Review

Ashley, who prefers to be called Spike, is doing time in Oxnard, an overcrowded, state-funded mental health facility about an hour from her home in Los Angeles. Her crime was stabbing a homeless man who was rummaging through the trash at her apartment complex while she was off her meds.

While Spike is serving her sentence, bizarre events begin to take place at the institution, and suddenly it seems as if she is the only one who is sane. Spike is a paranoid schizophrenic who doesn’t act according to the voices in her head. Instead, she has vivid pictures in her mind that direct her actions, and most of them are rather dark and violent. The Prolixin she is required to take prevents those vivid dreams from occurring and enables her to lead a relatively normal life.

While Spike is doped up on Prolixin, those who are entrusted to care for their mentally ill charges have not shown up
to provide food or dispense medication. Screaming, blood, incoherent mumbling, waking dreams and odd behavior finally drive Spike from the institution. On the way out, she grabs drugs, money, clothing, a gun, and an SUV and heads out in search of her best friend, Tommy.

Tommy is of no help. On her own, Spike encounters others suffering from the waking dream “epidemic” occurring all over the world. With her SUV and a companion with a gentle soul and passive nature who
has happy dreams, Spike journeys across the US and finds that there are others who have learned of a way to control the epidemic.

The paperback edition has 92 pages and was a fast-paced and fun read. The story was told from Spike’s own perspective. She was foul-mouthed, funny, resourceful, and had a cynical outlook on life that made her a vastly appealing young character.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story and plan to look for more by this very talented author.
Also posted at Goodreads.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Been There, Done That Dude Lit

The Inquisitor
by Mark Allen Smith
Published by Henry Holt and Co.

3 Out of 5 Stars
Reviewed by Amanda 

In The Inquisitor, our protagonist wakes up in New York City with no knowledge of who he is or where he's been, but possesses a keen survival instinct. Managing to get work on construction sites for cash, he eventually gives himself the moniker of Geiger and earns the trust of the local mob. His friends in dark places provide him with the economic means to utilize his true talents and start up his own company in "information retrieval." An unconventional business model, sure, but a man with amnesia has got to make a living.

For the past 15 years, Geiger has become extremely skilled in his chosen profession and knows the best ways to push people to their limits through psychological rather than physical torture. Whether working for the government or for criminal enterprises, Geiger has only one drive: to get to the truth (there's some pretty broad symbolism in his name; like a Geiger counter detects radiation, our Geiger can detect the truth amid his victim's desperate lies). When a child is brought to him under questionable circumstances, Geiger finds a conscience and helps the boy, Ezra, escape. In doing so, the walls his mind put up to keep out the demons of his past begin to crumble, threatening not just his safety, but that of those he's vowed to protect.

I thought I would be getting a fresh take on the thriller and, while this is a serviceable entry into the genre, it tells a safe, by the numbers tale. Like most of its ilk, it's completely implausible, but it is better written than most, falling somewhere between David Morrell and Robert Ludlum. Still, it has a highly-polished movie script feel to it. (In my mind, I was already playing casting director, and that's not a particularly good sign as it usually means I'd rather be seeing the movie version--by the way, I've settled on either Jeremy Renner or Daniel Craig to play Geiger; have their people call my people and let's make this thing happen, baby). The big reveal in the end is a letdown and doesn't really seem like the type of thing that would kick up all of the fuss in the novel.

The biggest problem for me was the character of Geiger himself. Seemingly emotionless not just in the interrogation room, but in life as well, Geiger isn't the type of character one can connect or empathize with. He approaches his torture with a cold, clinical precision, but I suppose we're supposed to see the moral core hidden deep, deep down in his psyche because he tries to actively avoid physical harm. His lack of relationships and his refusal to engage with the world outside the limited one he's built for himself make him seem inhuman. There's some definite overtones of Terminator 2: Judgment Day here. Like the Arnold Schwarzenegger character, Geiger is a badass mofo who protects the young Ezra and in a hesitating, halting manner, begins to express human-like emotions. It's dude-lit in which men get to envision themselves as steely-eyed, square-jawed, testosterone-fueled protectors willing to sacrifice themselves so that others may live. Like I said, we've been here before.

The one thing that should make Geiger intriguing, his repressed past with a father whose motivations are unclear, is never as fully explored as I hoped (is he trying to protect his son from a known danger, or is he just a sadistic survivalist intent on making his boy as tough as possible?). While we do begin to get a clearer picture of what the young Geiger endured, Smith isn't putting all of his cards on the table yet as this is clearly intended to be an enduring series.

The Inquisitor is what it is and, for what it is, it's fairly well done. However, the stock characters and lack of psychological depth means I probably won't be coming back for seconds.

An Artist in the Floating World

An Artist of the Floating World

Kazuo Ishiguro

Four Stars


In An Artist of the Floating World, Kazuo Ishiguro offers readers of the English language an authentic look at postwar Japan, "a floating world" of changing cultural behaviors, shifting societal patterns and troubling questions. Ishiguro, who was born in Nagasaki in 1954 but moved to England in 1960, writes the story of Masuji Ono, a bohemian artist and purveyor of the night life who became a propagandist for Japanese imperialism during the war. But the war is over. Japan lost, Ono's wife and son have been killed, and many young people blame the imperialists for leading the country to disaster. What's left for Ono?

My Review
I've finally added Kazuo Ishiguro as a favourite author. I feel I should have when I read Never Let Me Go but I have yet to finish the book review for that one. So why am I writing this one first? I think it's because the other effected in a way I couldn't quite describe but this book feels more comfortable. The more I read of Ishiguro, the more I fall in love with his form of the written word.

I'm really not so sure this book is about post war Japan as it is about frailty and the weakness of pride. Told in a conversational way with occasional flashbacks to earlier times and conversations Masuji Ono sometimes let slip the pride he felt in being a propaganda artist. It's not until he is rebuffed by a former student and reminded of his duties to assure his daughter a good marriage match that it begins to dawn on him that his memories may be faulty. He soon realizes he may also have been wrong.

This is written so subtly that you, along with Masuji Ono, arrive at this at about the same time. You are allowed to make mistakes and learn from them if you confront them. This book has lessons but none of them are taught with force. I think I like learning that way.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Mark Haddon

Four Stars


Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the colour yellow.

My Review

What starts as a minor mystery ends up becoming a long and eye opening journey for 15 year old autistic, Christopher. While his autism isn't the main theme of the book it does play into how he interacts with the world around him. Reading this book really helped me understand the mindset of Asperger's Syndrome a lot more.

The story is told from Christopher's perspective which includes his likes and dislikes, dogs, math, prime numbers, Sherlock Holmes, and how he basically copes with his phobias. Some of the saddest and funniest parts of the story are caused by him being too literal minded. Most of which help to identify with and like Christopher that much more.

If you're looking for a mystery you might well look to a different book but if you want an interestingly written story of an odd coming of age then I highly recommend this one.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Tis the Season

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary

M. R. James


Reviewed by: Terry 

4 out of 5 stars


This volume contains eight tasty little nuggets of supernatural horror that I found very satisfying. In each of them the story is told second or even third hand by a genial narrator whose acquaintances, who are themselves of a decidedly scholarly bent, have been the victims of supernatural intrusion into our world. Often the stories revolve around an ancient artifact able to invoke the otherworldly that is discovered by these particularly luckless individuals (though they often feel themselves lucky indeed when they first make their discoveries). The tales are all good, but my favourites were “Canon Alberic's Scrap-book”, “Lost Hearts”, “”The Mezzotint”, and “Count Magnus”. I found myself thinking of both Lovecraft (in James’ use of made-up manuscripts and a reliance on protagonists of a learned bent whose curiosity proves to be their bane) and Clark Ashton-Smith (though with prose that was a little less flowery) though I think James is a much better stylist than the former and a little less given to the more extreme flights of fancy of the latter.

“Canon Alberic's Scrap-book” – An antiquary discovers a scrap-book of ancient manuscripts compiled by the titular Canon Alberic in the 17th century that is in the keeping of the sacristan of a church in France that he is studying. One picture, “The dispute of Solomon with a demon of the night”, proves to be particularly compelling…and why is the sacristan so eager to get rid of a book so obviously of great value? Great evocation of mood and the way in which the supernatural creature manifests itself was suitably creepy.

"Lost Hearts" – A rather moving tale of revenge from beyond the grave and the perils of devoting oneself to the arcane teachings of the ancients in the hopes of gaining eternal life. I knew where this one was going pretty much after the first paragraph, but I heartily enjoyed the ride.

"The Mezzotint" – I really liked the interesting way in which the artifact in question here, the mezzotint of the title, manifested the supernatural and the foreboding sense of a quiet yet unstoppable horror that was the result.

"The Ash-tree" – A nobleman and his descendants find that being the star witness in a witch trial probably isn’t a good idea. Good creepy/gross factor with the creatures invoked for vengeance.

"Number 13" – What happens when you book a room in an inn that used to belong to a man accused of having been an alchemist and magician several generations ago? Nothing good, especially if you rent the room right next to the one in which he mysteriously died. Space and time have a funny way of bending and twisting when the undead get involved.

"Count Magnus" – The titular Count reminded me a bit of Vigo the Carpathian from Ghost Busters 2: he was a mean-spirited son of a bitch who liked to torture people in his spare time and go on fun little trips with names like “the Black Pilgrimage”.  Perhaps it’s wisest if you’re a travel writer getting good copy from his native village to leave the crypt where he’s entombed alone. Just sayin’.

"'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad'" – Ah skeptics…they always learn their lesson in the end, don’t they? Well, they do in these kind of stories anyway. If you’re kind of a priggish and pedantic professor going on a holiday to sharpen up your golf game (golf is a re-occurring motif in these stories and I don’t think James was a fan) don’t promise to do some investigating of the local Templar preceptory for a colleague, and if you do for God’s sake don’t muck around with anything you find there. If you’re lucky you’ll run into an old military type who doesn’t trust papists.

"The Treasure of Abbot Thomas" – When the Abbot of a 16th century monastery basically dares you, though the enciphered clues he left behind in some striking stained glass windows, to uncover his hidden treasure don’t do it. Trust me on this.

I like the way in which James gives us enough of a glimpse at the ghosts and undead horrors he unleashes in his stories to avoid Lovecraft’s almost laughable (to me at least) approach of “oh, it was so horrible I can’t even begin to describe it, just trust me it was really, really, really, mind-crushingly horrible!” and yet was sufficiently vague to leave enough of the horror to the imagination of the reader. The charming, almost homely, voice of the narrator was also a nice contrast to the ultimate invocation of otherworldly menace in the tales. All in all a really solid collection of old-school ghost stories that may not leave you cringing in terror, but you may end up looking over your shoulder from time to time. And you’ll definitely take greater care the next time that weird old manuscript seems to fortuitously land in your lap.

Also posted at Goodreads

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Bennet Home Comes Alive

Longbourn by Jo Baker

Reviewed by Diane K. M.
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

It's become a cliche to love Jane Austen's books. Her oeuvre is so popular that it has inspired a vast amount of fan fiction, much of it crap. I've been a Janeite for about 15 years and have read all of Miss Austen's works (excepting her Juvenilia, which I'm saving for a rainy day). I've also picked up dozens of the fan novels in an effort to extend the stay in her world. I say "picked up" rather than read, because a great deal of the fanfic is insufferable and must be tossed after the first chapter.**

"Longbourn" is one of the exceptions. The simple description is that it is a retelling of "Pride and Prejudice" from the servants' point of view. But it goes deeper than just a retelling -- Longbourn made the Bennet home come alive. For the first time in all of my readings of P&P, I felt as if I lived in the same house as Miss Elizabeth, Jane, Kitty, Lydia, Mary and Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. I know what time the housemaids got up to light the fires and draw the water. I know when the cook began preparing the dinner. I know how the linens got washed, and how muddy it was to walk to Meryton to get supplies. I even know a few secrets about the housekeeper that would have surprised Miss Austen.

And this is where the two novels diverge -- Jo Baker has created full characters out of the servants, who are almost invisible in P&P. The story is mostly told by Sarah, a housemaid who has been working at Longbourn since she was orphaned at age 6. The cook, Mrs. Hill, thinks of Sarah as family, and is worried what will happen to the staff if the estate is entailed away to Mr. Collins. I liked having the servant's perspective on this well-known plot line -- it was a good reminder of how many people were actually affected by Mr. Bennet's lack of a male heir.

The story picks up quickly when a new footman named James Smith is hired. Sarah thinks James has a secret and is determined to find out about his past. Meanwhile, her head is turned by a handsome servant who works for Mr. Bingley. Sarah, who reminded me a bit of the headstrong Jane Eyre, thinks that life should be something more than just emptying chamber pots every day and always washing other people's linens. If only someone would take notice of Sarah...

I should warn diehard P&P fans that if you're hoping to spend more time swooning over Mr. Darcy, you will be disappointed. Aside from Mr. Wickham, who likes to lurk around the servants and tries to seduce a young maid, the men from P&P are only on the periphery of this story. You'll see more of the Bennets as the servants interact with them, but the "downstairs" plot takes its own path.

Baker's prose is lovely, and I was enchanted with almost all of the book. My one criticism was that too much time was spent on James' back story, and I was anxious to return to Longbourn. But that is a mere quibble in an otherwise wonderful novel. Three cheers for Jo Baker for bringing the Bennet home to life!

**In addition to "Longbourn," my recommendations for the best Jane Austen fanfic are Pamela Aidan's "An Assembly Such as This" (part I of a trilogy), "Jane Fairfax" by Joan Aiken, and Amanda Grange's series of gentlemen's diaries, such as "Mr. Darcy's Diary," "Mr. Knightley's Diary," "Colonel Brandon's Diary," etc. I declare them charming and delightful reads.

Have Fun Storming the Memoir!

Still Foolin' Em by Billy Crystal
Reviewed by Diane K. M.
My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Your reaction to this memoir will depend on how much you like Billy Crystal's comedy style. I'm meh about him, so I'm meh about this book. Other reviewers who adore him liked this book a lot more than I did.

Billy is now 65, which he will tell you over and over again, and several chapters are devoted to his shtick about getting old. There's nothing new here, except discovering that Billy has become a cranky old man, cursing about social media and teenagers and politics. Speaking of cursing, it was a bit shocking to hear Billy drop so many F-bombs. For decades now Billy has nurtured the persona of the sweet, goofy, schmaltzy, aw-shucks guy, and I was surprised to hear him swear so much.

Despite the F-bombs, Billy's comedy style remains firmly stuck in the 80s and 90s. Some of his jokes have punchlines that date back to then, and I rolled my eyes at the preciousness of it. He also relies heavily on Jewish humor — numerous tired quips are about how much Jews love food, and he ends several chapters with an exaggerated Oy! — plus there's a lot of baseball jokes. (Billy is a Yankees fan, which he will never let you forget.)

But I'm focusing too much on the negative. The parts I liked were the stories of how he got started in comedy and the behind-the-scenes anecdotes of his movies and TV shows. He talks about making "When Harry Met Sally," "City Slickers," "The Princess Bride," about hosting the Oscars and about visiting Russia for the comedy special "Midnight Train to Moscow." He also had good stories of his famous friends, such as Mickey Mantle, Sammy Davis Jr. and Muhammad Ali. One of Billy's early famous bits was his impression of Ali, and the two men became close, with Ali calling Billy "Little Brother" whenever they'd meet.

Billy also shared some nice family moments, such as the day his first daughter got married, and how much he likes being a grandfather. There were some emotional chapters, like when his dad died when Billy was 15, and how he later wrote those childhood memories into the Broadway show "700 Sundays."

I listened to this book on audio CD, and parts of it were performed in front of a live studio audience. Again, your reaction to this will depend on how much you like listening to Billy. He reprises all of his famous impressions, including Ali, Mantle, Sammy, Howard Cosell, "You look MAH-velous!" and the voice of Miracle Max. While I enjoyed most of the performance, at times I found it tedious and wished he would wrap it up already. Oy.

Robot for a Day! - Guest Post by the Bibliophibian

A while ago, Angry Robot held a Robot for a Day contest.  I didn't win but, luckily, I knew who did and she was kind enough to write up the experience.  Without further adieu, here is the Bibliophibian!

Once upon a time, or back in July anyway, Angry Robot posted a competition they were holding, in celebration of the company’s fourth birthday. Entering was simple: come up with three words to describe the company, and email them in. The prize was amazing (or I’m easily pleased): twelve books, either dead tree or on a Nook, and for the UK winner, a day at the Angry Robot office, learning about everything they do and getting some input into an acquisitions meeting, etc — all expenses paid. I sent in my three words (daring / quality / addictive) and forgot about it, expecting nothing.

You have probably already guessed that the UK winner was me, although I seem to have been the last to know. I actually found out from Dan of Shelf Inflicted, who sent me a GR message after seeing the post announcing the winners. I won’t give you a play by play of all the emails exchanged to get me there, but on 15th October, I made my way to Nottingham to meet the Angry Robot crew (guided by Lee Harris’ excellent directions, without which I would probably have taken one look at Nottingham and turned tail to run away).

If you don’t know much about the company, suffice it to say that they’re a mostly UK-based company who have a reputation for publishing different, daring, interesting stories in SF/F. They’ve also expanded with the Strange Chemistry (YA) and Exhibit A (crime) imprints. They put out an amazing number of books, and give the impression of being willing to take chances, even on debut authors. I am always willing to pick up something Angry Robot have put out: it may not be my cup of tea, in the end, but nonetheless they’re usually good stories, professionally edited, and an important factor for me, available DRM-free as ebooks.

Having found the place, I was introduced to everyone who was there — Marc Gascoigne, founder of Angry Robot; Lee Harris, senior editor; Amanda Rutter, editor of the Strange Chemistry books; and Leah Woods, intern. I proceeded to make an excellent impression by announcing, when asked if the office was as I expected, that it was quite like the pest control office I worked in once, only there were fewer pests and more books.

But really, it’s an ordinary office, except that it’s piled high with books, and decorated by print-outs of the cover art of upcoming books. Naturally, I felt right at home. They’d even set up an email account for me for the day, which I used to exchange mostly silly emails with various other members of the company (hi Emlyn! I had no trouble rebooting them all in the end…). And my partner, just so that I got the opportunity to email from a “work” address for once…

Anyway, I did actually do work, I promise. It isn’t all fun, games, and weird gifs of giraffes (thanks Leah).


The morning mostly consisted of me updating the website with quotes from reviews, while everyone else did what I presume was work. I did also get to play around with writing a blurb for Adam Christopher’s new book, Hang Wire. After that was the promised pub lunch, where I once more distinguished myself by ordering nachos and ending up with sour cream, salsa and guacamole all over my face. Everyone else was much more refined, though Amanda did nearly dip her sausage butty into her gin and tonic…

The most exciting part was, of course, still to come: the acquisitions meeting, attended by most of the Angry Robot staff (some in the room with us, some on the phone). There were three books under discussion, about which I can’t really say too much: what I found most interesting was seeing the pros and cons for each book being weighed up. I think a lot of people have ideas about how this process goes — a bunch of white males around a table deciding people’s future based on what will “sell”. Well, of course there was discussion of that, and whether it fit with the company’s existing books, but it really honestly did focus on the merits of the book in question. Stop being so cynical, everyone!

The lovely thing was when the book I most favoured was agreed upon by most of us and the decision to acquire it made. I don’t know if everyone else at the table (metaphorically) had this in mind as strongly as I did, but I couldn’t help but think of how the author would feel when their agent let them know. And I can’t wait to see their book come out. I think I can at least say that it looks to be very fun, with strong female characters. I will definitely talk more about it here when I can.

After that, Lee had to go and Leah started loading me up with books. I’d been pondering for days what twelve I’d pick, given the choice. Well, here’s some idea…
I ended up with a round fifty, plus an audiobook (Chris F. Holm’s The Wrong Goodbye, as I am an enormous fan — the copies you see in the image above are my dead tree copies, but I already had ebook copies!) and a bookmark, along with several Angry Robot carrier bags in which to carry them. With those and my backpack, I made it back to the station and travelled on home, where my dad met me on the platform with a long-suffering look…

My family, by the way, are now convinced that Angry Robot books should both employ and publish me. On learning that I don’t currently have any decent manuscript, my grandmother informed me I should just write one then.

Workin’ on it, Grandma. Working on it.

Ack-Ack Macaque

Ack-Ack MacaqueAck-Ack Macaque by Gareth L. Powell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the year 2058, the most popular video game is Ack-Ack Macaque, a World War II simulation starring a macaque fighter pilot. When some young revolutionaries discover the artificial intelligence powering the game is self-aware, they attempt to rescue it, only to find out that it's powered by an elevated monkey. Meanwhile, someone is killing people from the Celeste labs that created Ack-Ack and Victoria Valois, herself rebuilt by Celeste, aims to find out why. But what does this have to do with an attempt on the King's life that has made him a vegetable?

Yeah, this book was really hard to write a teaser for. There's a ton of stuff going on in Ack-Ack Macaque. It's not nearly as frivolous as the title might make it seam. It's part cyberpunk thriller, part WWII pulp action, part alternate history. I mention alternate history since in this version of things, France and Norway joined the UK in the 1950's. Buddy Holly still died in a plane crash, though. And there are nuclear powered airships.

The book has multiple plot threads that eventually converge, that of Victoria and her dead husband trying to solve a mystery, and Prince Merovich and Julie trying to liberate the AI that turns out not to be so artificial after all.

Make no mistake, this is a pretty serious book even though Ack-Ack is hilarious. What's not to love about a cigar-chomping, one-eyed monkey that curses a lot? Nothing, that's what! Anyway, Victoria kicks a serious amount of ass without seeming overly powerful and I found the relationship between Merovich and Julie believable enough. I loved how Victoria rose up and took center stage. The villains' plot was a little out there but it's cyberpunk so that's bound to happen to some degree.

Once the conspiracy is brought to light, everything kicks into high gear. While the heroes took a beating, I wasn't fearing for any of their lives. That being said, it was still an entertaining read with a lot of great concepts and a cigar-chomping monkey. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

View all my reviews

Monday, October 21, 2013

Marty Slack Must Take a Very Long Walk

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

Marty Slack is a failed writer-turned television executive. His job description is a bit elusive, but seems mainly to involve convincing other people that he's somehow essential to the process. He drives the requisite Mercedes; he lives in a gated community with an attractive wife who's a former actress, and he scores good tables at all the important restaurants. He's very solicitous of those people who can advance his career, not so much so of those who can't.

Despite his apparent success, Marty is nagged by self-doubt; his marriage is in trouble, and then one morning his problems really begin in earnest. He's just leaving the dilapidated warehouse in a run-down section of L.A. where his network is filming the pilot of a new show, "Go to Heller," when the BIG ONE hits southern California.

Following the quake, Marty comes to lying under the wreckage of his Mercedes and all around him the city lies in ruins. Buildings have toppled; freeways have buckled; fires are raging out of control, and the bodies are scattered everywhere. Like many L.A. residents, Marty has prepared for this day and he has stowed some water and other basic survival gear in his trunk. Otherwise, he's up that well-known tributary absent a paddle.

Overwhelmed with thoughts of his wife, Beth, Marty knows that his only choice is to begin the long and very dangerous walk from the shattered downtown to his home. As is inevitable in a book like this, his walk will be a journey of self-discovery and will allow Marty ample opportunity to examine his life, the choices he has made, and perhaps to become a better person in the end.

Walking along with him is enormously entertaining. Goldberg, who, in addition to writing novels, has himself had a long and very successful career in television, has created in Marty a complex character who turns out to be a very appealing companion for a journey of this magnitude. The other characters are also very well drawn and their collective story provides moments of great terror, humor and grace under fire. All in all, this is a book that should appeal to large numbers of readers.

A New Review From Me To You!

Green Eggs and HamGreen Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An epic poem for the ages! Until recently only heard orally as passed down from the mouths of ancient sages (my mom and dad), I just picked up this tome and realized the eggs and the ham were green. SICK! No wonder the poor target of Sam-I-Am's incessant torment didn't want to eat the horrible looking stuff!

I admire an author who can seamlessly incorporate their opinion. However, I must say that is the one failure of Green Eggs and Ham. The negativity is driven home time and again until the reader cries out, "OKAY, I GET IT! YOU DON'T LIKE GREEN EGGS AND HAM!". Ah, but then comes the twist! The torture victim submits, tries the colorful culinary conglomeration and finds that he actually DOES like it, and thus is freed from torment! I tell you, Green Eggs and Ham rivals "the greatest story ever told".

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No One Told Me It Was Bear Season!

Winnie-the-PoohWinnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Reviewed by Jason Koivu

Pooh gets shot for godsake! I don't remember that in the version that was read to me as a child! What I recall were the sweet, pastoral tales of human-like animals living semi-silly existences in their quaint village-esque neighborhood in the woods. I liked Pooh, his muddled world view and convoluted logic, and Piglet's utter meekness had its charm, however Tigger was mah boy! He was my favorite character in the book and coincidentally my favorite ornament on my family's christmas tree. Reading Winnie-the-Pooh again as a grown-up I've even developed an appreciation for Owl and Kanga (I will never like Eeyore and anyone that does needs to get those issues cleared, stop typing a reply comment to this, just go right now to a specialist and we'll talk again in a few months). I also appreciated the subtle, adult humor that went right over my head as a youth. However, as much as I may have missed as a kid just from mere misunderstanding, I would not have missed the important message of friendship and kindness...and I definitely would not have missed or misunderstood Pooh getting shot! What the frick?!

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Blind Assassin

The Blind Assassin

Margaret Atwood

4 Stars


More than fifty years on, Iris Chase is remembering Laura's mysterious death. And so begins an extraordinary and compelling story of two sisters and their secrets. Set against a panoramic backdrop of twentieth-century history, The Blind Assassin is an epic tale of memory, intrigue and betrayal...

My Review

I think I'm becoming addicted to tale within tale style stories, especially if they are done well. Did Atwood nail it? Yes she most certainly did. I was as anxious to find out what happens with the Blind Assassin as I was with the Chase sisters.

The book started off slow but that's okay as I have patience if it leads somewhere. Weaving together two stories and one of them in two time periods can take a bit but the wait is worth it. Seeing Canada prior to WWII was an education for me and helped me understand both Laura and Iris a lot more. Two very strong but different women. Iris in her eighties has reminded me of what we are all in store for if we don't pull a “James Dean”.

I really don't know if the ending was meant to be a reveal but I know that I had suspected it for quite awhile. I have the feeling it was more like an already known confession and the circumstances that led up to it along the way.