Friday, May 29, 2015

Mnevermind 1: The Persistence of Memory

Jordan Castillo Price
JCP Books
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


Every day, Daniel Schroeder breaks his father’s heart.

While forgetting your problems won’t solve them, it does seem like it would make life a heck of a lot easier. Daniel thought so once. Now he knows better. He and Big Dan have always been close, which makes it all the more difficult to break the daily news: the last five years were nothing like his father remembers.

They’re both professionals in the memory field—they even run their own memory palace. So shouldn’t they be able to figure out a way to overwrite the persistent false memory that’s wreaking havoc on both of their lives? Daniel thought he was holding it together, but the situation seems to be sliding out of control. Now even his own equipment has turned against him, reminding him he hasn’t had a date in ages by taunting him with flashes of an elusive man in black that only he can see.

Is it some quirk of the circuitry, or is Daniel headed down the same path to fantasy-land as his old man?

My Review

45-year-old Daniel Schroeder and his father, Big Dan, own Adventuretech, a business that specializes in implanting fabricated memories based on a client’s needs. While the memories are temporary, the feelings of confidence, happiness, or inner peace that result are lasting.

Daniel developed Life is Awesome, a mnem intended to make his business rich. Instead, the mnem has altered his father’s past, seemingly permanently. And just who is that hot guy in black who keeps popping up in Daniel’s own mnems?

I liked Daniel a lot and appreciated his struggles as he works a part-time job to help keep his business afloat and maintains a close relationship with his family, particularly his father, who believes that he and Daniel’s mom are still together.

I also loved the way memories and actual experiences flowed and overlapped to a point where it was often difficult to tell which was which.

Some mysteries are solved, but there are lots of loose ends and the conclusion is a bit too untidy for my liking.

This is written by Jordan Castillo Price, so I expect fantastic writing, impeccable editing, mesmerizing plots, imaginative ideas, fully realized worlds, and believable, engaging characters.

I’m happy to say the story met all my expectations, and I very much look forward to the next installment!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


The Wright BrothersThe Wright Brothers by David McCullough
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 photo First20Flight_zps91jaommt.jpgThe first photo of flight snapped by a man who was taking his first picture ever. The Wright brothers were very careful to document each stage of their development not only with photography, but also with journals.

”The best dividends on the labor invested have invariably come from seeking more knowledge rather than more power.” Wilbur and Orville Wright

They were brothers.

As close as two peas in a pod and you could make it three with Katharine, the little sister who also at times provided the role of mother and first wife to flight. (neither brother ever married) There were two older Wright children, both boys who lead fairly normal decent lives. They grew up in a more traditional home with the mother and the father, but by the time the three younger children came along their mother was not alive to raise them, and their parson father was travelling extensively trying to build up followings in churches all across the nation.

Orville dropped out of high school to start his own newspaper. Wilbur soon joined him. It became the first of many alliances between the brothers, though claiming not to be very good at business, their resume shows something quite different. Despite how close they were their devotion to one another was not always based on harmony.

”Wilbur...believed in ‘a good scrap’. It brought out ‘new ways of looking at things,’ helped ‘round off the corners.’ It was characteristic of all his family, Wilbur said, to be able to see the weak points of anything. This was not always a ‘desirable quality.’ he added, ‘as it makes us too conservative for successful business men, and limits our friendships to a limited circle.’”

If you have strong family ties your need for an extended circle of friends certainly diminishes. Sometimes family does not provide friendship and many of us have to find that solace elsewhere. As I always told my kids it is better to have one really good friend than an extended circle of “friends”. Those “friends” may believe that they are your friends, but I’ve found when the chips are down those “friends” suddenly become “acquaintances” and sometimes very distantly so.

The Wright Brothers may have fought vigorously with each other, but each was a sounding board for the other to clarify their thinking. A good battle would often have them getting together the next morning with each brother switching to the other’s opinion creating yet another skirmish as they tried to prove the other right.

When the bicycle craze began, the brothers were on the leading edge by opening the first shop in Dayton to repair those bicycles. It wasn’t long before they decided they could make a better bike and in the basement of their shop they started making bikes to order. They named them Van Cleve (launched 1896), after an illustrious ancestor of theirs who helped settle Ohio. They were successful business men yet again.

Wilbur first turned his thoughts to flight. He may have followed Orville’s lead into the printing business, but this time Orville was following after Wilbur. It was a true partnership and like the Paul McCartney and John Lennon alliance they took equal credit for all that they created.

First in flight was plural. They flew!

 photo Wright20Brothers_zps0ygnfdib.jpg
Orville on the left was always a bit more dapper than Wilbur on the right. Here they are on the Wright Flyer 1 in 1910.

I’m not going to go into the trials and tribulations that lead to the first powered, controlled flight of an airplane on December 17th, 1903. You’ll have to read the book to find out those details. I will say I was surprised at the length of the process. I thought that after 1903 they were lauded and celebrated, but it actually took much longer than that for the world to take notice of exactly what they accomplished. The French showed much more interest than the American government which was a source of disappointing to the Wright Brothers. I do wonder if H. G. Wells, with his creatively conceived books of the future, was already contributing to the French fascination with flight.

In a reversal of roles from what I expected the Americans were sceptical while the French felt that anything was possible.

It was interesting to me that the venerated Samuel P. Langley of the Smithsonian was competing with the Wright Brothers. He had raised over $70,000 in funds to build his airplane. The Wright Brothers in comparison spent $1,000 building their airplane using only funds raised from profits from their bicycle shop. We do not celebrate Langley as the first to fly so you might be able to ascertain that his expensive prototype did not fly. As the Wright’s heard about the progress of their competitors it never bothered them. They had a vision of where they had to get to and never wavered from their intended course or worried about whether someone else would fly first.

”It wasn’t luck that made them fly; it was hard work and common sense; they put their whole heart and soul and all their energy into an idea and they had faith.”

They built a concept out of a garage before America even had garages. If Steve Jobs were alive today and had read this book he would certainly have identified with the ability of the Wright Brothers to take an idea and refuse to let it go. One thing we know is that all over World there are people tinkering in their basements, garages, and on their living room floors. They are taking wisps of ideas and turning them into reality. As they drive to work, as they sit at a desk at work, as they turn a bolt on an assembly line, they are dreaming about contributing something new to humanity.

 photo Wright20Brothers202_zpsuajce3jg.jpg
Walking in tandem.

The Wright Brothers did become wealthy, but certainly not as wealthy as they could have if they had been showmen or if money had really been the be all and end all of learning how a man can fly. They were focused on the HOW, fame and fortune would take care of itself. I couldn’t help but admire them and be inspired by their bred in the bone entrepreneurship that took them from a printing press to a bicycle shop to conquering the sky.

”On July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong, another American born and raised in southwestern Ohio, stepped onto the moon, he carried with him, in tribute to the Wright brothers, a small swatch of the muslin from a wing of their 1903 flyer.”

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015


CryptonomiconCryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

2015 reread: In World War II, Bobby Shaftoe is a Marine, and Lawrence Waterhouse is a cryptographer. In the present, Randy Waterhouse is part of a tech start-up in the Phillipines. How are the two threads linked, other than by the mysterious Enoch Root?

Okay, so this kitten squisher is a lot more complicated that but after 1200+ reviews, it's hard to come up with teasers some days.

As noted above, this was not my first time reading Cryptonomicon. I first read it when it was published, way back in the bygone days before the world moved on. When it popped up for $1.99 on one of my cheap-o emails, I snapped it up.

This mammoth tome is classified as science fiction but could easily be looked at as historical fiction since the sf element is minuscule. Neal Stephenson weaves together multiple plot threads, three during World War II and one in the present day, and produces a fine tapestry of a novel.

On one hand, you have Randy Waterhouse, part of the Epiphyte corporation, a start-up dedicated to creating a data haven in the Phillipines. On the other, you have the converging tales of a Marine named Bobby Shaftoe, a cryptographer named Lawrence Waterhouse, and Goto Dengo, a Japanese engineer. As diverse as the elements are, Stephen manages to bring everything together. Eventually.

I was an apple-cheeked young lad when I first read this, back when the internet was still new to most of us. Now, as a curmudgeon 15 years older, I still enjoyed reading it quite a bit. Despite my usual intolerance for digressions, and this book has many, I found it hard to put down for long. The bits of history, cryptography, and the proper way to eat Captain Crunch all held my attention.

In the years between my first read and this one, I'd forgotten how hilarious this book can be at times. Lawrence Waterhouse is a bit like Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory, only less likely to have the shit kicked out of him on a regular basis if he were a real person.

Funny how some things never change, though. My gripes the first time through were my gripes this time. While I enjoyed the journey, the writing could have been tightened up a bit. I felt like Stephenson was driving around looking for a free parking space when there was already one pretty close to the door. Also, a part near the ending, which I will not spoil here, came out of left field and felt tacked on, unnecessary, and kind of stupid. Also, I maintain that Stephenson hasn't written a great ending since Zodiac. Other than that, I thought the book was pretty great. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Kent Starling Gets a Last Dance in Phoenix

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

In 2013, Kurt Reichenbaugh gave us Sirens, a hugely entertaining mash-up of several genres set on the Florida Gulf Coast in the late 1970s. He now returns with Last Dance in Phoenix, a taut, gritty novel in the hard-boiled tradition set in the present day.

At the center of the book is an accountant, Kent Starling, who labors day by day in his cubicle, moving numbers around from one column to another in a constant effort to arrange them in ways that will please his bosses, whom Starling believes are all basically clueless idiots. His fellow employees don’t rank much higher in his estimation and so, perhaps needless to say, the job is something less than challenging or inspiring.

Things aren’t all that much better on the home front. Kent’s marriage to his wife, Denise, lost its spark some time ago and has settled into the proverbial rut; he can barely even remember the last time they had either sex or a meaningful conversation. Thus disappointed with virtually every aspect of his life, Starling makes the classic noir mistake and gets involved with The Wrong Woman, and from that point on his life begins to spiral steadily downward into a gigantic disastrous mess.

Shortly after beginning this affair, Starling receives a social media friend request from Roy Biddles, who was perhaps his closest childhood friend back when Kent was growing up in Florida. Roy was something of a loser and never much of a real friend and so when Kent joined the Air Force and left Florida, he lost track of Roy. Suddenly, though, Roy is back, demanding to be a part of Kent’s life again. He seems to somehow know a great deal about Kent’s life in Phoenix, including the fact that he’s having an affair, and he’s making only thinly veiled sinister threats about what might happen should Kent choose to ignore him.

Obviously, this cannot end well. Before long, someone will be dead and Kent Starling will have made enough stupid mistakes to be the prime suspect. Things will continue to go from bad to worse and before long, it’s apparent that not only is Starling’s freedom on the line but perhaps his life as well.

Starling confesses at one point that he doesn’t read crime fiction and that he doesn’t watch cop shows on television. Had he done so, he might have known enough not to keep making one stupid blunder after another, thus getting himself deeper and deeper into trouble.

Fortunately for the reader, though, Kurt Reichenbauch obviously has read a lot of crime fiction and knows this genre very well. The result is a fast-paced and gripping tale that will engage and entertain even those readers who are well-versed in the field—a very good read.

As Fun As A Stranger's Family Photo Album

The NamesakeThe Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I thought of a better title! An Indian Family Moves To America And Proceeds To Live. One of these days a publishing house is going to snatch me up and make me Head of Titlings!

The Namesake is an expertly crafted, boring slideshow. It reads as if you were listening to someone do a documentary-style narration over stills...


A young Indian couple came from Calcutta to America.


They started a family in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Et cetera


Things happen and more things happen, and some of it's interesting, but none of it's captivating. The story lacks purpose, drive and offers up the tiniest morsel of tension. Certainly life-changing moments occur for the Ganguli family, but the reader is never given that certain something needed to give an honest shit.

I really thought I was going to love this. It's got the epic immigrant story, I like learning about other cultures, much of it is set in Boston and it name-drops some of my favorite locales (hello Brattle Theater!), but it's about as interesting as flipping through a stranger's photo album.

I'm sure some asshole will come along and tell me I'm a provincial-minded lout who doesn't understand some archaic Bengali literary tradition from which The Namesake has been stylized, but I don't care. This kind of book doesn't move me. Me, that's the operative word there.

For all that, I still enjoyed reading this. I mean literally, I enjoyed how Lahiri put one word after another. They were nicely arranged! She's clearly a talented writer. Her scenes and characters are so well-crafted they feel reach-out-and-touch-them real! In many instances through out the book I became entranced by the imagery, lost in the luxuriously decorated background, but then I'd notice the principle players at center stage speaking their lines so eloquently, yet without purpose. I felt like I was watching people walk through life and that annoyed me. When I read a book, watch a play or a movie I expect to see something more than everyday life. I can get plenty of that at home!

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Naked in the Rain

Eowyn Wood
Crooked Hills Publishing
5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Nancy



They seem like opposites: River's a troubled teen who loves to fight; Brian is a piano prodigy who attempted suicide. But together they forge a bond beyond anything they imagined.

River and Brian run away with dreams of escaping their abusive homes and exploring the world. But reality hits as they wander the streets of Los Angeles: no money, no food, nowhere to go. Until they meet a stranger who will change their lives forever . . . .

Lured into a world of drugs, sex and power; a world of seductive beauty and terrible secrets. Can they escape? Do they want to?

My Review

I loved this story, even though my mind was in a whirlpool, my heart broken, and my stomach all in knots. Child prostitution is a very heavy subject to explore in fiction. No child should endure what Brian and River have gone through. The two boys meet in a mental institution, forge a bond, and rather than return home to severely dysfunctional families, they take to the streets and make their way to L.A. where a wealthy older man, Grant Nesbit, picks them up, feeds, clothes and shelters them while he gradually introduces them to the world of prostitution.

This book was disturbing, sensual, seductive and brutal, and I had a difficult time putting it down. Brian and River have gone through experiences no child should go through, yet I can't totally hate Grant Nesbit. I believe Grant cares for the boys in his own way and the boys care for him. His relationship with Brian is fatherly in some ways, possessive and controlling in others.

Yet there is lots of beauty as well. The love River and Brian share, the relationship between Brian and his sister, the friendships Brian develops outside the House, and the fact that Brian and River still retain some of the innocence of children despite their exposure to adult sexual situations. They love music, care for animals, and enjoy childish pastimes.

I liked how the story jumps from the perspectives of different characters. While Brian and River make their world seem seductive, sensual and pleasurable, outside observers such as Brian's music teacher and new friends he's made on the outside notice his unusual behavior and inability to fit in with others.

This is normally not the kind of subject I care to explore in fiction, but I found myself so attached to the characters that I'm looking forward to the sequel which starts the next stage of their lives.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Wolf Hunt 2

Wolf Hunt 2Wolf Hunt 2 by Jeff Strand
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When someone finds the rock George and Lou have been hiding under since the original Wolf Hunt, they're back in action under extreme duress. Their target: another werewolf, this one a teenage girl.

Once again, Jeff Strand sends his lovable thugs George and Lou through the meat grinder of werewolf capture. As with the last adventure, it's a hilarious gorefest from start to finish.

George and Lou are the same guys we all know and love from the first adventure. Plenty of new characters are thrown into the mix in the form of a gang of three werewolves and the werewolf girl George and Lou are tasked with kidnapping, Ally.

It may be that my expectation were too high but I just didn't enjoy this one as much as the first Wolf Hunt. Maybe it was my general aversion to sequels, maybe Jeff Strand just sets the bar too high for himself. He is pretty spectacular, after all.

I'll read more Jeff Strand but I may be skipping the inevitable Wolf Hunt 3. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Jack Reacher Gets Personal

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

One day in Paris someone takes a shot at the President of France from three-quarters of a mile away and damn near hits him, but a sheet of bullet-proof glass in front of the podium deflects the shot. Only a handful of people in the world could have made that shot, and probably only one American--a sniper named John Kott who was released from prison a year earlier after doing a fifteen-year stretch.

The evidence suggests that this may have only been a practice round. The leaders of the G8 nations are about to hold a summit in London where they will all be exposed to a sniper who could hit from that range and so, needless to say, the international intelligence people are having apoplexy trying to identify and track down the sniper before he can take dead aim at one or more targets at the summit meeting.

It's not clear that the sniper actually is John Kott; intelligence officials in a few other countries have identified potential suspects, but the bullet fired in Paris was American made, and, one by one, the international suspects tend to fall by the wayside, leaving Kott as the most likely suspect.

So what in the hell do you do in a case like this if you're in the CIA or the State Department or whatever and you need to find and deter Kott ASAP? Well, naturally, you put a personal ad in the Army Times asking Jack Reacher to get in touch. Then you hope that Reacher will find a copy of the paper lying around on whatever damned bus he's riding at the moment.

Happily, Reacher sees the ad and reports for duty. He was the guy who arrested Kott sixteen years early and the Powers That Be are hoping that Reacher can find him again. Naturally, if you are the PTB, you don't want Reacher wandering too far off the leash, though, and so they assign a young female analyst named Casey Nice to tag along and report on Reacher's activities.

The hunt covers a lot of ground in the U.S., in France, and in Britain and, as always, it's great fun watching Reacher confound not only the bad guys but his handlers as well. It's a gripping tale, somewhat reminiscent of the excellent The Day of the Jackal, and it moves along at a very fast pace. All in all, it's an excellent choice for a summer read, or any other season for that matter.

My New Favorite Writer!

Live by Night (Coughlin, #2)Live by Night by Dennis Lehane
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"This writer's got this"...It's nice as a reader when you realize that and can sit back and enjoy the story. Dennis Lehane is a writer who will put you in that easychair.

Live by Night was my first Lehane and midway through the first chapter I knew I was in safe hands. His writing flows, it touches on all the plot's necessary points and no more. Scenes breathe, characters grow, and the story seldom slows down.

This may not be a 5-star book for everyone. I'm giving it an extra bump up for the content. Part of it's about Boston gangsters during the 1920s prohibition days. Right up my alley! I was born and raised right outside of Boston and I'm a big fan of gangster lore. Live by Night marries two of my favorite things!

The story follows small-time criminal Joe Coughlin from a speakeasy heist to his career as a regional mob boss. It takes us from Boston down to Tampa, Florida and ropes in Cuba to boot. That last part really reminded me of The Godfather. I'm not saying Lehane copies Coppola. Mobsters from the Northeast U.S. historically migrated to Cuba. It was a natural progression. Lehane does a fantastic job with the period details, tastefully inserting real figures-of-the-day like Lucky Luciano and creating a marvelous historical fiction.

It's been a long time since I've been able to say this, but I'm really excited to read more from this author!

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Plague of Memory

S.L. Viehl
Roc Books
3 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Nancy


Dr. Cherijo Torin is not herself. With no memory of her past-or even of the man she loved-she sees herself as a different person and has no desire to remember who she once was. But Cherijo must remember if she's to develop a cure for the Hsktskt plague before their race becomes extinct.

My Review

After the disappointing Rebel Ice, I was hesitant to continue with the Stardoc series. In Rebel Ice, Dr. Cherijo Torin crash landed on the icy planet of Akkabarr, where she lost her memories but retained her medical skills. When her husband finds her, she is now Jarn, with a completely different personality and no recognition of her husband and daughter.

In Plague of Memory, the medical expertise of Dr. Cherijo Torin is needed to stop a plague that is causing large numbers of the Hsktskt (a brutal race of reptilian slavers) population to suffer mental delusions resulting in violence to self and others.

With the help of her husband, Duncan Reever, who is able to communicate and share memories with her telepathically, and her surrogate mother, Maggie, who imprints Cherijo’s memories in Jarn’s mind, Cherijo has now become an integrated Cherijo/Jarn which is a vast improvement over Jarn in the previous book.

All in all, Plague of Memory was a fast-paced, entertaining story. I enjoyed revisiting some old favorites, particularly Squilyp, the Senior Healer and his mate, Garphawayn, who was more developed in this installment. I also enjoyed the developing friendship between Cherijo/Jarn’s daughter, Marel, and the son of Tss-Var, the new Hsktskt leader. I was sad that the story’s minor gay characters, Qonja and Hawk, were “repudiated” from the Jorenian clan because of its strict pro-natalist policies. I hope they fare better in the next book.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Grave Error (John Marshall Tanner, #1)Grave Error by Stephen Greenleaf
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”I just wanted to get away from it, the curse that Oxtail had cast upon everyone who lived there. That was where the guilt lay, with the town, with the collective consciousness that twisted and bent and spoiled and soured the people who had grown up with it, breathing its vapors. But they don’t put towns in jail. They probably should, but they don’t.”

John Marshall Tanner has been asked to investigate the celebrity reporter Roland Nelson by his rather attractive wife. Private eyes love it when good looking women come into their office needing the kind of help only they can provide. Marsh is no exception, except he has been around the block long enough to know better than to have his head turned by a few curves and a pair of nicely turned calves.

It doesn’t take more than a couple of days to figure out that what the wife suspects is not the problem. There is certainly deception, but the strings fanning out from that determination are twisted and knotted. The story is larger, more convoluted, but Marsh is about to put the case behind him because finding out the whole truth isn’t always what his clients want. When his best friend Harry Spring is found lying dead in a ditch with a double tap to the back of his head in the town of Oxtail...well Marsh is back in the middle of all of it.

When he discovers that Spring was working for Clair Nelson, the daughter of Roland Nelson, he starts to realize that the case he is about to wrap up is far from over and some of those strings leading to the truth have been cut or should I say bludgeoned, shot, stabbed.

Oxtail is a farming community outside of San Francisco. A town full of unfriendly, inbred, distrustful, defeated people. I had flashes of Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) from the movie Chinatown running in those orange groves trying to escape the range of shotguns being triggered by rednecks. Between the oppressive heat and the cloying smell of rotting produce, Marsh is wrapped up in a blanket of smothering despondency.

”There was nothing pretty about the Oxtail link in the chain of commerce. Foods that would look delicate and tasty in a fine restaurant were ugly and misshapen and seemed vaguely carnivorous while lying in giant storage bins or open truck trailers. The streets were littered with rotting vegetables fallen from careening trucks and the air was sharp with the smell of overripe fruit, the smell of things well past their prime. Things like me.”

Unsolved deaths from the past are encroaching on the present, creating more confusion and more speculation about exactly what got Harry Spring killed. The wild card whom Marsh most wants to put a finger on is Al Rodman, the boyfriend of Claire Nelson, a known thug with a local syndicate in San Francisco. Rodman’s involvement with the Nelson’s and his connections to Oxtail make him a prime candidate for murder, but as bodies keep piling up, it becomes more and more apparent that this case is not one case, but a series of unresolved events each swathed in layers of duplicity.

And of course there is a woman, not just any woman, but a woman that makes a man think about settling down with babies and a white picket fence. He might even get a real job.

”The woman was introduced as Sara Brooke, Roland Nelson’s chief assistant. Many beautiful women don’t wear too well up close. The features that knock you out from across the room often become incongruous on close inspection: the hair is too stiff, the lips too thin, the nostrils too flared or too crimped. Sara Brooke had just the opposite effect. You probably wouldn’t pick her out of the crowd at a cocktail party, but if you found yourself sitting next to her on a bar stool you wouldn’t leave until she did.”

As the case unspools and Marsh doggedly chases down each fragment of truth adding new pieces to the puzzle in his head, he starts to realize that truth is truly stranger than fiction.

”I told it. The words poured out like salt and I listened to them with the detachment of a critic. They were rational words, academic and sterile, as if murder and blackmail and two decades of rage were as traditional as nursery rhymes.”

You would think when I lived in San Francisco I would have read a few Stephen Greenleaf novels,, but it took reading The Mexican Tree Duck by James Crumley to finally convince me that I have been missing out by not adding Greenleaf to my hardboiled reading resume. Crumley extolled the virtues of having a Greenleaf novel on a stakeout or anytime the doldrums needed to be chased away by a dose of Raymond Chandler through the pen of a disciple. There is no shortage of clipped hardnosed prose. "The guy looked like a hood, anyhow. Drove a big black Chrysler, had a kind of flat face, like his old lady had been frightened by a frying pan when he was in the womb.”

The plot is an intricate, tangled mess that does straighten out as Marsh starts to make sense of the nonsensical. I even found myself exclaiming “No Way” after one such revelation. I must confess I do talk to my books from time to time. :-) This book is a classic example of a 1970s ode to Chandler.

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I bought this book from Canford Book Corral located in Freeville, New York.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nine year old Oskar Schell finds a key among his dead father's things and embarks on a quest to find the lock it fits. Will Oskar Schell's quest give him the answers he's looking for?

Quite some time ago, I watched a fragment of the movie based on this book on a rainy day before deciding I wanted to read the book. Now that I've read it, I'm not sure it was the right choice.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the story of Oskar Schell, a nine year old possible genius with issues whose father died in the World Trade Center collapse. After discovering a mysterious key, he wanders New York's five boroughs, meeting people and drawing closer to the end of his quest.

I loved the Oskar Schell character, a smart boy who has trouble fitting in, and I loved the idea of a boy on quest. Oskar's relationship with his deceased father was very well done, as was his anger with his mother. However, I found the book to be on the gimmicky side with all the photographs and typographical razzmatazz. Also, I found the elder Thomas Schell to be an unsympathetic character. He ran out on his family. Why is Foer so bent on making us feel sorry for him?

As much as I loved the idea of a nine year old attempting to solve the mysteries behind his father's death, I found the execution far=fetched, but not as far-fetched as the ending. The ending denied the book an entire star for me.

Even so, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was not without its charm. It was an engaging read and had some poignant moments. Three out of five stars.

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Monday, May 11, 2015

P.I. Jack Flippo Is Up to His Neck in Trouble

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

When Dallas P.I. Jack Flippo snips the pony tail off the head of his ex-wife's dopy new boyfriend, he earns himself a trip to jail. Once released on bail, he's hired to do a death investigation for an insurance company. Only a few months earlier the company had written a partner's insurance policy for the owners of a somewhat less-than-high class watering hole called the Melon Patch. Now one of the owners has drowned in an alleged boating accident and the survivor, a country singer wannabe named Rex Echols, has his hand out looking for the $500,000 death benefit from the policy.

The death occurred in the tiny town of Baggett where the sheriff, who's a pal of Rex Echols, is enamored of a waitress/stripper with the improbable name of April Showers who works at the Melon Patch. Jack arrives in town to discover that the coroner only took one photo of the body as it lay face down on the dock after being recovered. The sheriff has signed off on a declaration of accidental death, and the body has been cremated, courtesy of the surviving partner, who claims it was the least he could do for the victim and his grieving family.

Jack would like to talk to the victim's family, but Echols claims that they live somewhere way off in Arkansas and that they're too impoverished to have come to the memorial service in Texas. And, sadly, Echols seems to have lost the phone number of the poor boy's mamma.

The insurance company is ready to write the whole thing off and pay the claim because to them, the $500,000 is small potatoes. (You'd never hear Mr. Keyes saying that in Double Indemnity!!!) But Jack won't let go of the case, and the deeper he probes, the more trouble he's in.

This is another very entertaining entry in this relatively short series. It's a lot of fun hanging out with Jack Flippo, and Swanson creates a great cast of auxiliary characters. Most readers probably won't want to put Baggett, Texas on their list of prime vacation destinations, but they'll be happy enough to visit there in the company of this smart-ass and engaging P.I.

Upbeat Put Downs!

Creative Cursing: A Mix 'n' Match Profanity GeneratorCreative Cursing: A Mix 'n' Match Profanity Generator by Sarah Royal
Reviewed by Jason Koivu

WARNING!!!: Naughty Sinner Fudge Words in BIG type follow below...

This is impossible for me to rate. On the one hand, I'm not sure this is a necessary book. On the other hand, it's clearly awesome.

Creative Cursing opens up calendar-style. Inside are two sets of pages. On the set of pages to the left are a bunch of nouns, one per page. On the right side we have either a verb, occupation or again the occasional noun.

The nouns on the left are decidedly of the "four letter" variety. Most could stand on their own as quality curse words.

The words on the right side, however, could be taken quite innocently...except for that one "fucker."

When you pair the two words together you get glorious crudeness!


Some of my personal favorites were...

Ass Bandit
Scrotum Sniffer
'Gina Pooper

I did NOT like the following...

Clown...and anything that went with it.

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Kids Getting There Kicks

The Chocolate War (Chocolate War, #1)The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I grew up in the next town over from where Robert Cormier lived. They were nothing towns. We went to the same college. It was a nothing college. But here was this writer with a famous book from my neighborhood! Sooner or later I had to read this.

The Chocolate War is about boys at an all-boys Catholic prep school forming cliques and getting their kicks by kicking the shit out of their fellow students mentally and physically. This could've been an English novel.

Cormier does an excellent job at capturing the hell and ridiculousness that is high school: the plot revolves around selling chocolates and yet, there will be blood. Honestly, Cormier did too good a job capturing the least favorite part of my life. Don't get me wrong, while I came in for my fair share of abuse in high school, I wasn't overtly targeted. And still, I loathed those days. The petty fights over the stupidest shit, the condescension of the overlords teachers, threats from all sides, being treated like a child because my fellow students were acting like children...shudder. I couldn't wait to leave. I'd be lying if I said my hatred of high school didn't taint my enjoyment of this book. I don't want to relive those memories!

The Chocolate War is not a bad book. My three-star rating might've been a four. It was see-sawing between the two. But I went with three, because the writing is mostly solid and great in spots. The plot is okay, but it lacks the grab-ya quality needed to sustain the tension and tease out the suspense through out. Teen angst only holds my interest for so long. When I sat back after finishing, I saw I'd read a competent book that had moved me a little, but one that I would soon move on from.

I can't see this being added to anyone's all-time favorites list, so why is it so popular? Well, this is one of those lucky books that was originally written for adults, but got picked up by a lot of kids, so it was moved from the regular fiction section to the young adults section....and then the "authorities" were alerted to the fact that naughty things happen in the book and so they banned it, thus ensuring its everlasting fame and that more kids would read it than probably would've otherwise. Good work, dumbass authority!

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Friday, May 8, 2015

Richard Estes' Realism

Patterson Sims, Jessica May, Helen Ferrulli
Portland Museum of Art
5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Nancy


Richard Estes (b. 1932) is one of the most celebrated adopters of Photorealism; his paintings are characterized by painstaking detail that mimics the clarity and accuracy of photographs. Estes’ most famous canvases from the 1970s depict New York’s urban landscape, and his manner of painting reflections in a multitude of metal and glass surfaces displays astounding technical skill. In his subsequent career, Estes has continued to demonstrate his superlative ability to show complex plays of light and shadow in Maine seascapes, views of Venetian lagoons, and nighttime street scenes.

Accompanying Estes’ first solo exhibition of paintings in the United States in over two decades, Richard Estes’ Realism surveys fifty years of his work and places him within the historical narrative of realist painting. The authors explore the ongoing modernist dialogue between camera and canvas, and discuss the situation of Estes’ work at the crossroads of painting and photography. Fifty full-page plates showcase the amazing precision of Estes’ paintings, and a thorough chronology and bibliography provide an enlightening account of his life. This handsome book offers a lavish presentation of Estes’ spellbinding body of work that attests to his enduring artistic impact.

My Review

It was a rainy Saturday and a perfect time to go to my local art museum and discover the work of photorealists Richard Estes, Robert Bechtle, Ralph Goings, Audrey Flack, and others.

The exhibit was small, but very well displayed and comprehensive. I enjoyed having a latte in the café and buying a pair of colorful socks made in Vermont from the museum store.

I loved Robert Bechtle’s subdued suburban scenes and classic cars.

Audrey Flack’s bright and colorful still lifes are shiny and eye catching.

I especially loved Richard Estes’ realistic paintings of New York with their depth, history, and abundance of reflective surfaces.

After seeing the exhibit, I went immediately in search of books about Richard Estes and came across this gorgeous, well-organized book that presents a thorough and absorbing account of the artist’s life, his work, and his influences. 50 pages are devoted to full-color plates of his paintings from New York and other places he’s traveled to.

The book ends with a chronology of the artist’s life and career beginning in 1932 with his birth and ending in 2013 with marriage to his longtime partner, Chris Jones.

Mr. Estes at his home in Northeast Harbor, Maine. RALPH GARDNER/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

This book is a treasure, and I’m thrilled that my library had a copy.

Thursday, May 7, 2015


IceIce by Anna Kavan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“As her fate, she accepted the world of ice, shining, shimmering, dead; she resigned herself to the triumph of glaciers and the death of the world.”

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Her hair was a blizzard, a shimmering cascade of pale luminous moonlight. She was fragile as if made of glass and crystal, built like a waif with pallid skin and bruised eyes. She is an ice sculpture carved out of a glacier that is shattered and reassembled time and time again. He needs her, desires her, craves her. He wants to clench the slender bones of her wrist and grip the gaunt thrust of her hip.

He finds her as the world is ending.

She belongs to another, but then he realizes that she is discontented. ”While she was happy I had dissociated myself, been outside the situation. Now I felt implicated, involved with her again.”


The unreliable narrator of this tale is suffering from daytime apparitions and nighttime terrors. The lurid concoctions of his agitated mind bleed certainty into the fantastical fooling, not only himself, but also this reader. He has seized his own deceptions and sees them for what they are, but understanding and containing them are two very different things. ”The hallucination of one moment did not fit the reality of the next.”

Ice is advancing across the Earth. He has the means to save her or at least put off the inevitable.

He is chasing a wraith. He loses her and finds her again only to have her turn to smoke in his hands. He knows she is real though everything must be questioned. She hates him. She misses him. She expects him to save her as she bashes him with her animosity. When he dreams of her, she is dead.

”I felt I had been defrauded: I was the only person entitled to inflict wounds. I leaned forward and touched her cold skin.”

He has a rival.

A doppleganger.

The split half of himself who is assertive, brutal, and obsessively possessive, The Narrator refers to him as The Warden, but it is unclear exactly who he is. I have lingering doubts about The Warden’s identity. Is he separate from The Narrator or is he merely just another personality that he jumps to when he needs to be someone else? Someone who can control the girl. The one who can remind her of who she is.

”Systematic bullying when she was most vulnerable had distorted the structure of her personality, made a victim of her, to be destroyed, either by things or by human beings, people or fjords and forests; it made no difference, in any case she could not escape. The irreparable damage inflicted had long ago rendered her fate inevitable.”

She is a victim, but he is starting to understand that he is a victim too. In her presence, sometimes he becomes someone unacceptable. Her very delicacy, her fracturability makes him want to hurt her, makes him need to hurt her.

Kindness is something he learns too late.

The world is so disturbing because he knows it comes from within his own mind.

Bruce Sterling termed the phrase slipstream to describe this type of writing long after this novel was published. He wrote: "...this is a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility." I knew after reading only a few pages that I was going to have to read this novel quickly, feverishly, if I had any chance of staying in the boat as I swirled without paddles through the mind of Anna Kavan. I put Franz Kafka in the boat with me, but he too is a fragile soul, and became sea sick with the changing directions of this twisted plot. There are Kafka moments, especially when The Narrator is dealing with a government bureaucracy that is becoming more and more detached as the world becomes smaller.

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Anna Kavan was also a painter. This is her self-portrait.

Anna Kavan, AKA Helen Emily Woods, AKA Helen Ferguson, suffered from depression and heroin addiction. She was in and out of treatment centers her whole life. She attempted suicide, but survived each attempt. Many people believed that she passed away from an overdose in 1968, but she actually died from a heart attack. She burned all of her correspondence and her diaries before she died. This is truly unfortunate because I have a feeling that to most of us her diaries would be like trying to read Cumbric, but to a select few it would be like finding an extension of their own brain.

 photo Anna20Kavan_zpsu17ih4hm.jpg

I can’t help thinking The Girl in this story is Anna Kavan. A fragile woman herself whom both men and women found to be attractive. Ultimately, The Girl in the story accepts her fate, and I tend to think that Kavan reached the same conclusions with her own life. She lived in seclusion. Though venerated by many writers, most of her work was published after her death. She was a lost girl who became a lost woman, incapable of escaping the ebb and flow of a mind that obviously saw the world differently. Like The Narrator, the barrier that most of us have between real life and fanciful thoughts must have been breached for her. Everything was real, and everything was imaginary. The disparity between one or the other is a hair's difference.

This novel is bleak and beautiful. Anna is so crafty and so lost; yet, so desperate to be found. I can already tell that I will never completely shake this novel off. I will remember the starkness of the trees, the desperate searching, the walls of ice, the escaping to be repossessed, and the nameless characters who together might form one being.

I purchased a first American hardcover edition of this book from Between the Covers Rare Books in New Jersey.

You can find more of my writing on my blog at .

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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Last Word

The Last Word (The Spellmans, #6)The Last Word by Lisa Lutz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When the parental unit goes on strike, Izzy finds that she's bitten off more than she can chew running Spellman Investigations but that is far from her only problem. Her friend and former client, Edward Slayter, has Alzheimers. Henry Stone wants to talk to her. Her brother keeps tricking her into spending time with her niece. And exactly what is a Conflict Resolution Specialist. Oh, and there's a little matter of embezzlement...

The Last Word is the sixth Spellman book published and the last to date. As the series goes on, I feel like a parrot and not the dead one from the infamous Monty Python sketch. How many different ways can I declare my love for this series?

As per usual, the cases are secondary and the mysteries surrounding the various members of the Spellman family and their associates take center stage. What's with the parents? What's with Rae? What's with Demetrius? Who slipped Slayter the mickey? So many questions.

One thing I love about the Spellman Files that I've likely mentioned before is that Lisa Lutz manages to craft a mystery with a lot of laughs without making it descend into ridiculousness. While there is hilarity, it's of the realistic sort and not cutesy unbelievable crap.

I also like that the characters aren't static. They change with every book. I like where The Last Word left the Spellman clan but I'll be ready when the next book comes.

Still no detective babies. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, May 4, 2015

Dismas Hardy Lures Abe Glitsky Out of Retirement and into Trouble

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

I've long been a fan of John Lescroart's series featuring San Francisco lawyer Dismas Hardy and Homicide Inspector Abe Glitsky, and so it's always a treat to open a new book in the series. Glitsky has recently been forced to resign from his position as head of the Homicide department and is at loose ends. Feeling like he's too young to be retired, he's spending his days reading, watching television, and generally being bored as hell.

On the night before Thanksgiving, Hal Chase, who is a guard at the jail run by the county sheriff, goes out to the airport to pick up his brother who's flying in for the holiday. When the two men return to the Chase house, they find Hal's two young children in bed asleep. Hal's wife, Katie, is nowhere to be found and a few drops of blood on the floor suggest that she has been the victim of foul play.

Although this begins as a missing persons case, it quickly becomes a homicide investigation, even though as yet, Katie's body has not been found. The most logical suspect in such cases is always the surviving spouse and the detectives are strongly suspicious of Hal Chase from the beginning. There were serious problems in the marriage and while Hal has something of an alibi, it's not air tight.

As a sheriff's deputy, Chase is no dummy when it comes to this sort of thing and he quickly realizes that he needs a very good lawyer. His wife had been in therapy with Dismas Hardy's wife, Frannie, and so Chase asks Hardy to represent him. Shortly thereafter, Katie Chase's body is discovered in a wooded area near their home and Hal finds himself in jail, indicted by a grand jury for the murder.

Wyatt Hunt, the P.I. that Hardy usually relies on, is out of town for a while and so Hardy appeals to Abe Glitsky to investigate the case for him. Glitsky agrees, and what initially appeared to have been a relatively simple case soon turns into something much more complex and seriously dangerous for a lot of the parties involved, Glitsky included.

While Glitsky has played a prominent role in all of the books in this series, Harding has always been the principal character, usually defending someone that Glitsky's homicide department has charge with a killing . There's usually a lot of great courtroom dramatics, and these are the things I like best about the series. In this book, though, Glitsky is really on center stage and there are no court room scenes.

It's a fun read; it's well-plotted and there's a lot of great banter among the characters, which is another attractive hallmark of the series. I enjoyed the book very much, and it should appeal to large numbers of crime fiction fans, whether they are familiar with the series or not. But as far as favorites go, this is one that will fall into the middle ranks of the books in this series for me, simply because I favor the books in which I can watch Hardy at work in the court room.

I Smell A Rat...and It Stinks

The Stainless Steel Rat Returns (Stainless Steel Rat, #11)The Stainless Steel Rat Returns by Harry Harrison
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Ever pick up a book you're in the middle of and start reading it just to finish the fucker? That's where I was at with this. It's a cold, hateful place...

The Stain Steel Rat, this sort of zany James Bond in outer space action/comedy series spanned about 50 years. There were decade-long gaps between books. Writers' styles can change over time. I get that and I'm willing to except change. Maybe a character unintentionally evolves. That's fine. I'll roll with it. But when the book series is meant to be a comedy and it is not funny, I will not roll with that.

James "Slippery Jim" diGriz started out in book one as a sarcastic bastard. He was a loose canon, fun, kind of like a nasty Han Solo at the beginning of Stars Wars. By the end of the series (this book is the last one, btw), Jim is now morally upright and utterly boring, like Solo in Return of the Jedi. Returns came out 12 years after the prior book and a whopping 50 years after the first. Was Harry Harrison rusty? Did he forget how to write diGriz? Or did he want to turn his anti-hero into a good guy and leave us with a warm fuzzy for the fella? Whatever the case, he didn't come with a good game plan for this changed character.

In general, Harrison's writing has eroded. There's lot of mundane dialogue. It's not funny or even necessary. The sentences themselves just feel mechanical. Things happen, it looks like it might be rough going, but time and time again the hero fixes it and we're off on our merry way. No tension. No excitement. No reason to care.

Maybe this deserves a half star more than I gave it, but I'm not in a generous mood. Harrison fucked me on this one and he's getting nothing more from me. Nothing! I'm not even shelving this under my "humor" or "comedy" categories. There's no reason to.

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Friday, May 1, 2015

A Place Beyond: Finding Home in Arctic Alaska

Nick Jans
Alaska Northwest Books
3 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Nancy


Nick Jans leads us into his “found” home --- the Eskimo village of Ambler, Alaska, and the vast wilderness around it. In his powerful essays, the rhythms of daily arctic life blend with high adventure --- camping among the wolves, traveling with Inupiat hunters, witnessing the Kobuk River at spring breakup.

The poignancy of a village funeral comes to life, hordes of mosquitoes whine against a tent, a grizzly stands etched against the snow --- just a sampling of the images and events rendered in Jan’s transparent, visual prose. Moments of humor are offset by haunting insights, and by thoughtful reflections on contemporary Inupiaq culture, making A Place Beyond a book to read and enjoy.

My Review

Nick Jans, teacher and writer, looking to flee “a future that looked all too certain”, drove five-thousand miles to Alaska.

In these simply written, brief, and pleasurable essays, Jans vividly describes the mundane aspects of his life in Arctic Alaska, as well as the wild and unpredictable. He writes of repairing a snowmobile, camping among wolves, his students’ love for basketball, the treacherous mosquito season, the breaking up of the Kobuk River, and hunting with the Inupiat Eskimos. He writes movingly of a friend’s death and burial, and a Christmas Eve celebration.

I have some fascination with Alaska and was thrilled to win this through the “First Reads” program on Goodreads.

If you are at all interested in Alaska, Inupiat life and culture, wilderness, and changing seasons, then I recommend this thoughtful and introspective collection of essays.