Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the SeaThe Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After eighty-five fishless days, Santiago hooks more than he bargained for. Can he battle everything the sea throws at him to land his prize?

In the interest of reading a wider variety of things, I snapped this up like an eighteen-foot marlin bites a baited hook. It was definitely worth a read.

The Old Man and the Sea is the tale of an Old Man. And a Sea. It's man vs. nature at its finest. Hemingway's language is spare but very powerful. I felt every wound and heartbreak along with Santiago and was nearly as worn out as the old fisherman by the end of the tale.

If you haven't already had the ending spoiled for you, do yourself a favor and steer clear of introductions, reviews, and Wikipedia summaries. I knew the ending before I got there due to reading an excerpt in middle school and the experience would have been much better going in cold.

What else is there to say? It didn't win a Nobel Prize for Literature for nothing! For years, the only Hemingway I'd read was The Sun Also Rises and I wasn't overly fond of it. However, The Old Man and the Sea has made me a believer. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Hoke Moseley Has a Mid--Life Crisis

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

This is the third book in Charles Willeford's excellent series featuring Miami homicide detective Hoke Moseley. As the book opens, Hoke, although still only in his forties, wakes up to a full-blown mid-life crisis. He's completely unable to function irrespective of his responsibilities to his two teenage daughters who live with him, to his department, and to his partner, Ellita Sanchez, who is eight months pregnant (not by Hoke) and who also lives in Hoke's home.

Unable to cope, Hoke takes a leave of absence from his job and retreats to Singer Island, where his wealthy father lives. He takes a job running a small apartment building for his father and vows that he will never leave the island again.

In the meantime, Stanley Sinkiewicz, an elderly retiree who has moved to Florida from Detroit has a brush with the law and, although he is completely innocent, he is briefly forced to share a jail cell with a man claiming to be Robert Smith.

"Smith" is really a psychopathic career criminal named Troy Louden. He has a gift for reading people and immediately pegs Stanley for the sad, lonely man he is at heart. Louden befriends Stanley, schooling him in the way to best deal with the authorities, and before long, Stanley is convinced that Troy is his new best friend.

Louden is desperately hoping to have the charges against him dropped before a fingerprint check is returned and the police discover his real identity. To this end, he asks Stanley to do him a "small favor" once he is released, and, totally won over by his new buddy, the old man agrees. The ploy works and Louden, now free, enlists Stanley to help him pull off a big job he is planning.

Meanwhile, Hoke Mosley is discovering that it's a lot harder to simplify his life than he had hoped. His father is determined to help him get a new job with the local police force, although Hoke has absolutely no interest in the job. His younger daughter joins him on the island further complicating matters, and the tenants in the apartment house generally prove to be a major pain in the butt.

The Mosley story and the Stanley/Louden story proceed along parallel tracks and for a while the reader is left to wonder how Willeford is ever going to link them up. But it really doesn't matter because both stories are very entertaining.

Willeford has populated this book with a number of unique and very interesting characters and between the lines, he has a great deal to say about the nature of family and about the workings of the capitalist system in the United States. All in all, it's a very entertaining book that should appeal to large numbers of readers.

Morrison Waxing Faulkner-esque

A MercyA Mercy by Toni Morrison
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Toni, Toni, Toni...it feels good to know you again.

A Mercy is a gorgeous narrative of a dark time that flitters from person to person: child, slave, sympathetic Dutch businessman, mother. Betrayal is ever present, even seemingly from mother to child.

The setting and subject is slavery in 17th century America, specifically Catholic Maryland. These are early days in the New World. Superstition was rife. Black magic and the devil were palpably real.

With a bevy of glimpses Morrison displays most of the facets of slavery in this period, in this place. She does not forget that it was black Africans who kidnapped and sold black Africans to white Europeans, who sold them into slavery. She did not forget that white slavery existed in this time. She wrote about a people's strife without bended knee and bleeding heart, and yet your heart will bleed.

Admittedly, I was turned off within the first few pages, because of the gypsy narration. I like permanence in my storytelling voice and this was very reminiscent of William Faulkner's The Sound and The Fury with its variant and confusing p.o.v.s and its scene setting via murky imagery. But I stuck with it, soon was enjoying A Mercy and in the end, came to love it.

The writing is so strong, emotive and filled with vivid imagery. It is the kind of writing that inspires writers in their craft.

This was a revisit to an old acquaintance for me. Not since college have I read a Toni Morrison novel. I loved it then, so why the delay? Why do we do that? When you only have one life - a single existence which could be snuffed out in an instance - why neglect the good things in life? Cherish what you have. It may be taken from you. Though we can only hope fate will be merciful.

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Man Vs Women

LoveLove by Toni Morrison
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Women clawing at and after the same man is a horrific thing to see, but hella fun to read!

Maybe "fun" isn't the perfect word to describe Toni Morrison's Love.* This is Faulknerian, not only in its language and flow, but its molasses-thick-and-dark emotional resonance. Love is like seeing a feminine take on Absalom! Absalom!: a beautifully shadowy Southern power; a corrupting energy that devours good souls.

An aloof man of substantial means in a Floridian coastal town of decades past is the sun around which competing planets revolve. These planets are women of various backgrounds all with some claim upon the man's radiant energy. Their world turns toxic as the reader witnesses the evils of too much radiation. These off-tilt and colliding friends are ripped apart, scorched whenever they come in contact with their beloved sun.

Morrison is a master at her craft, an absolute pleasure to read for those who can stomach a non-linear storytelling style. She will come at her topic at multiple angles. You must put the pieces together. Never fear, by the end this amoebic puzzle will come together in a portrait that is gorgeous, enlightening and heartbreaking. Love is life confirming, even if life can feel like one long, extended death.

* Perhaps it's not a good way to describe ANY of her books! I could be wrong, I haven't read them all, but jeez louise the woman writes some deep, depressing stuff!

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Songs of Innocence

Richard Aleas
Hard Case Crime
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Little Girl ... Found. — Three years ago, detective John Blake solved a mystery that changed his life forever -- and left a woman he loved dead. Now Blake is back, to investigate the apparent suicide of Dorothy Louise Burke, a beautiful college student with a double life. The secrets Blake uncovers could blow the lid off New York City’s sex trade ... if they don’t kill him first.

Richard Aleas' first novel, Little Girl Lost, was among the most celebrated crime novels of the year, receiving nominations for both the Edgar Allan Poe Award and the Shamus Award. But nothing in John Blake’s first case could prepare you for the shocking conclusion of his second ...

My Review

I loved getting to know detective John Blake in Little Girl Lost. In crime-ridden New York with lots of people leading double lives, John maintains his innocence and is deeply affected by what he uncovers in his quest for justice.

Three years later, John’ s life is changed. He has abandoned private investigative work and decides to complete his education, so he accepts a job as an administrative assistant for the university’s writing program.

Once again, John becomes involved with a troubled and hurt young woman and once again he sets out to determine the cause of her death, this time an apparent suicide. John, however, believes foul play was involved and once he digs deeper, he learns of Dorrie’s job as a sex worker and uncovers some hard and ugly truths, about others and himself.

This is a mind-blowing and powerful novel with strong, well-developed characters. It gripped me right from the start, and left me breathless until its grim and devastating conclusion.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Full Dark, No Stars

Full Dark, No StarsFull Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

1922: A man coerces his son into helping him murder his wife. Can they keep their sanity in the aftermath?

1922 is a latter day retelling of A Telltale Heart, only with rats and a Bonnie and Clyde side-story. It's also damn good and a prime example of what Stephen King can do when he has a limited number of pages to work with instead of the entire paper output of a redwood forest.

Big Driver: After taking a shortcut down an unfamiliar road, a writer is raped and left in a culvert to die but her attacker made a mistake. He let her live...

Wow, this was a powerful, dark, unsettling tale of rape and revenge. Did I mention it was uncomfortable? A woman getting raped is much more horrifying than a nightmare clown lurking in the sewers. I kept having revenge fantasies of my own on behalf of the women in my life while reading this.

Fair Extension: When a mysterious stranger offers Harry Streeter 15-20 more years of life, he jumps at the chance. But with deals of this kind, there's always a catch...

This one kind of reminds me of The Monkey's Paw. For all the good luck the Streeter family has, shit rains down upon the man Streeter hates the most.

A Good Marriage: Darcy Anderson thought she had a good marriage until she found something her husband hid in their garage...

The point this story drives home is how little anyone really knows anyone else. Chilling and very effective.

Full Dark, No Stars isn't my favorite King book but it's chock full of Kingliness and is an excellent example of what sai King can do when he isn't allowed to write phonebook sized tomes. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, June 22, 2015

A Great Debut Novel from Christine Carbo

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

The Wild Inside is an excellent debut novel with a unique and very sympathetic protagonist.

As a fourteen-year-old boy in the Fall of 1987, Ted Systead went camping with his father in Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana. While the two of them slept that night, a large grizzly bear attacked their tent, dragged Systead’s father away and mauled him to death. Fortunately, the bear did not return to attack Ted, but the boy, though physically safe, was very badly traumatized by the episode.

Twenty years later, Ted Systead is still haunted by the events of that night. He now lives in Denver and works as a Special Agent for the Department of the Interior, investigating crimes that occur in the national park system. But when he’s assigned to lead a death investigation in Glacier National Park, he’s forced to confront not only a complex criminal case, but the personal demons he still harbors inside as well.

The victim of the crime is a low-life meth addict named Victor Lance. Lance was found duct-taped to a tree in the park and shot. While he was still alive and unable to defend himself, a grizzly bear found him and finished off the job that the killer had left undone.

The fact that the death was so horrific, that it occurred in Glacier, and that a grizzly was involved, all hit a bit too close to home for Systead, and at times seem to compromise his ability to function effectively. He’s also hampered by a lack of evidence, by uncooperative witnesses, and by a park supervisor who’s more concerned about avoiding bad publicity than he is in assisting the investigation. But Systead forges ahead, determined to see justice done, no matter the personal and other obstacles that confront him.

Carbo, who lives in Whitefish, Montana, obviously knows the park, the surrounding area and the people of the region very well. She’s at her best in describing the great scenic beauty of the park as well as the small and sometimes not-so-scenic communities that surround it. Many of the people of the area are loners, suspicious of outsiders, and are especially wary of federal authorities. Sad to say, there is an ongoing problem with meth and other drugs in northwestern Montana, and Carbo doesn’t shy away from showing us the toll that drug abuse is taking on these people and their communities. The end result is a gripping story that explores both the wilderness of the natural world and that of the human psyche. Readers will finish the book looking forward eagerly to Carbo’s next effort.

Not A Manly Lion

A Lion Among Men (The Wicked Years, #3)A Lion Among Men by Gregory Maguire
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Yes, A Lion Among Men has them all!

This is the Cowardly Lion's story in a nutshell...and a few other nuts are de-shelled as well. Watching cowards in action is hard to stomach. We forever wish them to be brave, to show some sign of courage. But that is not the Lion's way. Following him on his cowardly journey through life is taxing.

On the other hand, if you're a superfan of Oz - the sort who's at least read the Baum originals if not all of the myriad fanfic out there - Maguire's re-imaginings of the Land of Oz can be enthralling. He gives one-dimensional characters two and even three dimensions. He turns the map of Oz into a living geography. It's interesting to see what he's done with the place!

If you're not hep to Maguire's take on Oz, here's a word of warning: He has a somewhat comic approach and his material is occasionally blue. It's not all potty talk, but expect a fuck or shit now and then, along with the occasional mention of sex in it's many forms. His infusion of reality into a fantasy world matures the source material. Sometimes it works, sometimes it misses the mark. It's not always easy to go from serious to ridiculous and back again.

If A Lion Among Men is said to miss its mark - as many critics complain - it's due to a lack of a truly engaging story. Again, I point to the coward issue. Sure, one can sympathize with the Lion and his unfortunate courage-sapping beginnings, but sympathy runs out eventually upon seeing someone constantly fleeing and abandoning obligations and friends.

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Friday, June 19, 2015

For the May Queen

Kate Evans
Coyote Creek Press
5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Nancy


It’s 1981 and 17-year-old Norma Rogers’ parents drop her off at the college dorms. Soon, Norma finds herself drunk and nearly naked with three strangers. The strip poker event is the first of many experiences that prompt Norma to question who she is and who she wants to be. Norma’s relationships with an array of characters induce her to grapple with society’s messages about women, sex, and freedom. Many tumultuous events take Norma through an array of troubles, pleasures, and thrills: from drug use and ominous encounters with strangers, to rowdy parties and road trips, to queer coming-out surprises. In the midst of these incidents, Norma reflects on her desire for freedom, (sexual and otherwise). Ultimately Norma comes to see that there are many ways to live and love.

My Review

It is 1981. Norma Rogers is 18 years old, a college student, and on her own for the first time in her life. As someone who was only a year older than Norma in 1981, I can relate to having too much freedom, too many choices, and not enough guidance. “If it feels good, do it” was definitely the motto of life in the 80’s. Or at least it was for many young people at that time.

Right from the beginning, I was drawn into Norma’s life – the parties, the friendships, the joy, the struggles, and the sadness. Kate Evans has created a cast of unique and vividly portrayed characters that are so easy to connect with emotionally. Each character, from her distant boyfriend, Jack, to her dorm neighbors Goat, Liz, Benny and Chuck, her roommate, Stacy, and her parents and sister, had a significant impact on her life while she was in college and in the years after.

I loved every moment with Norma, her friends and her family. They allowed me to relive the pain and pleasure of my own youth, difficulty with parents, old friendships, ex-lovers, the hangovers, the highs, wanting to fit in, needing to be loved. I enjoyed the 80’s cultural references, the snappy dialog, the twists and the surprises.

A wonderful story!

Thursday, June 18, 2015


Reagan: The LifeReagan: The Life by H.W. Brands
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”Reagan was called ‘the great communicator’ with reason, He was the most persuasive political speaker since Roosevelt, combining conviction, focus, and humor in the manner none of his contemporaries could approach. Reagan’s critics often dismissed the role of conviction in his persuasiveness; they attributed his speaking skill to his training as an actor. But this was exactly wrong. Reagan wasn’t acting when he spoke; his rhetorical power rested on his wholehearted belief in all the wonderful things he said about the United States and the American people, about their brave past and their brilliant future. He believed what Americans have always wanted to believe about their country, and he made them believe it too.”

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How can you not like Ronald Reagan? People disagree with him. People hate his politics. People (me) even believe he broke the law, but at the end of the day he really believed in America, and he revived some faith in the office of President...well…for a while. The Republican party has been searching for the next Reagan ever since he left office in 1988.

They have not succeeded.

”Pessimism pervades the thinking of conservatives, who tend to believe the world is going to hell in a handbasket. They might be right, but they aren’t fun to be around. Barry Goldwater appealed to people’s heads, but he left their hearts cold. Reagan was as conservative philosophically as Goldwater, but his sunny mien made Americans feel good about themselves and their country and made him irresistible at the polls.”

Unfortunately, in recent presidential elections the race has become a popularity contest. When the press is asking potential voters which candidate they would rather have a beer with, I can’t help but think that the press is actually encouraging people to assess candidates by the most shallow considerations. I had someone who worked for me who said he voted for George W. Bush because “he was a dummy like me.” Another person said that she was not going to vote for John Kerry because “his face is TOO long.” Candidates with extensive voting records, like Kerry, are finding it hard to win the presidency due to (obviously having too long a face) their voting records deconstructed by their adversaries who can always find pork in any bill and make a case for irresponsibility. Candidates with shorter times in office, and thus fewer opportunities to go on the record, fare better, like Barack Obama.

So if the trend is for less qualified candidates who have a nice smile or who have a special talent for composing quips or are a great speaker or just look damn good on camera, then the candidates most qualified generally don’t have much of a chance. If we accept that this is the future of the presidency, then we need to make damn sure that those candidates surround themselves with the very best counselors/advisors available. Second term presidents suffer more for many reasons, but one reason is the very best of the staff that they had for their first term generally move on because of burnout and/or a need to go back to the private sector to restart their careers.

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Reagan had a good working relationship with all the world leaders. As you can see they formed their own superteam. Pope John Paul, Mikhail Gorbachev, Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan.

Jack Matlock was appalled at how little Reagan knew about the Soviet Union despite the fact that he railed against “the evil empire” every chance he got. ”Dealing as he did with Reagan every day, he was struck by the president’s spotty command of historical facts. Reagan had had very few contacts with Soviet officials and still tended to base many of his judgments more on generalities, even slogans, than on a nuanced understanding of Soviet reality.”

Reagan, fortunately, proved a quick study and was truly interested in the information, not enough to have ever picked up a book, but with these professionals tutoring him he was able to learn his lines.

His summit meetings with Mikhail Gorbachev regarding the reduction of the nuclear arsenals of both countries was frustrating to read. Gorbachev might be the most progressive leader ever seen to rise to power in Russia or the Soviet Union. He was convinced that changes needed to happen, and his first order of business was to end the cold war before it broke his country. His predecessors Chemenko, Andropov, and Brezhnev, who all died shortly after getting into office, would have never considered making the broad stroke changes that Gorbachev was proposing.

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Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev

Gorbachev wanted Reagan to keep his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), so famously called Star Wars, in the lab for ten years, but Reagan refused, even though the experts felt they were longer than ten years away from trying to deploy any part of it in space anyway. The two leaders walked away without a deal. It was a real missed opportunity.

Gorbachev ended the Cold War, not Ronald Reagan.

Reagan’s famous speech about tearing down the wall in Berlin actually created a problem for Gorbachev who had already planned to bring the wall down, but that speech made it seem as if he was tearing the wall down because the United States demanded it. Reagan’s timing may not have been good for Gorbachev, but it was an excellent opportunity to add to the myth of Ronald Reagan.

Reading this book brought me a much better understanding of Nancy Reagan, maybe even giving me a slightly more positive view of her. Every day of her life was devoted to her husband. She would do anything to make sure he was successful. This at times made her very vindictive. It also spun her in occult directions, like consulting an astrologer about Reagan’s travel schedule. She didn’t run Reagan, but she ran everything in his life that he didn’t care about. She had a very good reason, as it turns out, to be paranoid about his safety even before John Hinkley Jr. tried to assassinate her husband.

”Nancy knew of the fatal pattern that had long afflicted presidents elected in years divisible by twenty. Since 1840 every chief executive so elected had died in office: William Henry Harrison, Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, Kennedy.”

Anybody else getting goose pimples.

I was hoping when I decided to read this book that H. W. Brands would be discussing the Iran-Contra Affair in detail. Maybe he didn’t go as deep into details as I was hoping for, but he did provide me with confirmation that Reagan did know. I can remember watching Colonel Oliver North in front of congress. I even rooted for him, admiring this one man who had been selected as the fall guy, standing up to the significant power of congress. He wasn’t the master mind. He was a soldier following orders. Reagan wrote in his diary:

”On one of the arms shipments the Iranians paid Israel a higher purchase price than we were getting. The Israelis put the difference in a secret bank account. Then our Col. North gave the money to the Contras.”

I do not recall

became the constant refrain to any of the questions asked of those in the administration called to testify. Even Reagan was deposed after he left office, and it is painful to watch. He is addled and fumbling for words, really a shell of the man who was once “the great communicator.” The Iran-Contra affair plunged his poll numbers to an all time low for him. His number never really recovered until many years later when people remembered how good he made them feel about being Americans more than they remembered the times he had stumbled.

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The Villain Who Deceived or Hero Who Obeyed?

I loved the way H. W. Brands talked about the fickleness of politics. The points in an administration when one thing going right or one thing going wrong can make a huge difference. Jimmy Carter was a perfect example of a president who couldn’t catch a break. ”Paul Volcker was Jimmy Carter’s gift to Reagan; it was Volcker who squeezed the inflationary expectations out of the economy and put it on the path to solid growth. And he did so at just the right time for Reagan. If Volcker had taken charge of the fed two years earlier, the economy might have improved sufficiently that Carter and not Reagan would have been elected in 1980. If Volcker had arrived two years later, the recession that routed the Republicans in the 1982 elections could have swept Reagan from office in 1984.”

Reagan gave people a cozy, dependable feel. He was the model for the perfect grandfather that everyone knows they can go to for comfort and encouragement. He had a wonderful sense of humor and was a master at putting everyone at ease. No one who worked with him wanted to disappoint him. Though our oldest president in age, he brought an energy and a sense of infinite possibility to every speech he gave. Thinking of the speech he gave after the Challenger incident reminds me that he was also capable of expressing tenderness in a way that made all of us feel he was grieving with us. The fact that he was an actor did not contribute to his success as president as much as I believe the time he spent as a sports radio announcer. He had to think on his feet and developed a real sense of how best to keep people entertained while sitting behind that microphone.

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Reagan behind the microphone

If he is the model for future presidents, then the role of president will have to change. In some ways maybe it already has. Reagan was not cerebral, but he had the same ability as his hero Franklin Roosevelt to communicate through more than just words, through inflections and pauses to convey a sense of well being in the face of calamity. Going forward I can see the people that a president surrounds himself will be ever more important. Scary to think of all those non-elected officials determining the course of our lives, but if we aren’t going to elect the most qualified to the highest office, then we will have to hope that the best and the brightest will continue to volunteer for public service.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other StoriesA Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Good Man is Hard to Find: A family strikes out on a road trip to Florida, knowing that an escaped convict is on the loose...

What a kick ass tale to open the collection. Flannery O'Connor had to be an influence of sorts on Jim Thompson, as this reads a lot like a condensed version of one of his stories. "She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."

The River: An odd little boy is taken to a river to be Baptised by a fire and brimstone preacher. Bleakness ensues.

"He could hear broken piece of the sun knocking on the water."

The Life You Save May Be Your Own: A one armed drifter takes up with an old woman and her deaf maiden daughter. Flannery O'Connor sure writes some grim tales.

A Stroke of Good Fortune: Ruby has some difficulty climbing the stairs to the apartment she shares with her husband, Bill Hill, and her brother Rufus, all the while thinking about what the fortune teller said.

"Bill Hill takes care of that!"

A Temple of the Holy Ghost: A child's annoying second cousins come from the convent to attend the fair.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure I missed the point of this one. It was a little different from the previous ones since no one died.

The Artificial Nigger: Mr. Heard takes his grandson Nelson to the big city and they encounter African Americans.

I glossed over a lot of this. It's a tale of some country folk coming to the big city and it nicely illustrates why we rural Americans get a bad name. It also uses the N-word more times per page than anything I've read before, a product of the time.

A Circle in the Fire: Three troublesome boys show up at an old woman's farm. What will happen when they refuse to leave?

This one had some religious overtones and was fairly creepy.

A Late Encounter with the Enemy : Will Sally Poker's 104 year old grandfather, General Sash, die before her graduation?

I loved this one.

Good Country People: A young man shows up at Mrs. Hopewell's house selling bibles and takes a shine to her daughter, Joy.

This was another great story that reminded me of a Jim Thompson, Savage Night.

The Displaced Person: A priest hires a displaced person to work on Mrs. McIntyre's farm. How will her existing hands take it when he's more capable than them?

The ending of this one really drives home my point that it's very likely that Jim Thompson was a Flannery O'Connor fan.

A Good Man is Hard to Find is a powerful collection of tales by an overlooked mistress of the form. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, June 15, 2015

Another Very Engaging Tale from Jack Lynch

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

Somehow I managed to miss Jack Lunch's series of crime novels featuring San Francisco P.I. Peter Bragg when they were first published some thirty years ago, and so I'm especially grateful to the folks at Brash Books for discovering and re-releasing these titles.

Pieces of Death is the third book in the series, following The Dead Never Forget and The Missing and The Dead. In this case, a friend that Bragg knows from a local newspaper asks him to serve as a bodyguard for a guy named Buddy Polaski, who's flying into San Francisco International Airport from New York that afternoon. The friend is a little vague as to why Polaski might need someone to protect him and so Bragg takes his .45 along just in case.

A lot of good that does him. He meets Polaski; they have a quick drink and then go to the baggage carousel to pick up Polaski's luggage. As Polaski grabs his suitcase, two guys race up and pump him full of lead. There's not much that Bragg can do; understandably, pandemonium ensues in the baggage claim area and Bragg doesn't dare return fire for fear of hitting an innocent bystander. He chases after the hit men, but they jump into a waiting car and make their escape.

Why would the men have targeted Polaski and what would they have wanted? There's nothing in his luggage that would suggest a reason for his murder. With his dying breath, the man leaves Bragg with a cryptic message but he expires before Bragg can figure out what in the hell the guy was trying to say.

Bragg's client, Harry Shank, is equally cryptic. He and the departed Mr. Polaski were working some sort of a deal and Harry won't trust Bragg with the details. But Polaski was supposed to be bringing something very important for the consummation of their deal and it wasn't in his luggage. Harry wants Bragg to stay on the job, decipher the message that Polaski was trying to give him, and recover the missing items.

Bragg agrees and sets off on an investigation that very vaguely suggests overtones of The Maltese Falcon. It turns out that there are a lot of other players in this drama, including someone's very sexy wife who has designs on Bragg, and a younger, more innocent, woman who has something of the same idea. Naturally, Bragg can't trust any of these people and the story takes any number of unexpected twists and turns.

The result is another very enjoyable tale from an author who has since died but who nonetheless deserves a wider audience. Peter Bragg is a great protagonist: tough, smart and witty, and this is a book that will appeal to large numbers of crime fiction fans.

Hellishly Good

Paradise LostParadise Lost by John Milton
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Who but a blind man could so vividly write of the darkness of Hell?

Paradise Lost is fire and passion. It is the pinnacle and the bottomless pit. It is the struggle for all that is good. It is the struggle within the evil of all evils.

In the mid-1600s John Milton, aging and gone blind, dictated his most famous work, Paradise Lost, an epic poem that harkens back to Homer and Virgil. It not only tells the so very well-known story of Adam and Eve, it also describes the downfall of Satan in dramatic fashion. The empathy shown for this most famous of fallen angels is, for me, one of the most outstanding sections of this early work of English literature.

Epic is a laughably overused word these days. However, the depiction of Mammon and Beelzebub marshaling their demonic minions for the coming war is the stuff of ancient epics.


Tolkien and Lewis most definitely borrowed heavily from these passages of Milton's when penning their own epics.

The language has aged. Some of this is archaic and occasionally difficult to understand. But stick with it and you shall be rewarded.

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666 Silliness

The Satanic BibleThe Satanic Bible by Anton Szandor LaVey
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Why did I buy The Satanic Bible way back when I was a teenager? Well, it's like this...

Rock music has always been seen by some as a source of evil and there's a history of musicians who supposedly sold their souls to the devil.


There were rock & roll "gods" like my hero Jimmy Page, who it is rumored followed occultist Aleister Crowley. As a guitar playing teen I idolized them and wanted to be them to the point of buying a book like this. I wondered, was there magic within? Would the devil make me a rock god, too? Or just getting me laid would be cool...

I expected sex, blood, magic, horror, demons, and more sex and way more magic.


Then I read it and what I got was more like...

(Just to the left of the clock I believe is George Bush #2 and that's pretty satanic in and of itself.)

Honestly, this book is just not as exciting as I'd hoped. I'm sure it would scandalize a churchy type, but it didn't do much for me.

It didn't start well. Right up front you learn that Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan, was a carny. A carny who gets his panties in a bunch because he sees men being pious hypocrites, so he shaves himself bald and starts a cult, no sir, that is not a good start to a new religion.

There's a foreword by a journalist, who describes meeting and getting to know LaVey. I thought this was a nice touch. It showed a more human side to the story. I'm one of those people that believe journalists should be unbiased, people who you can rely on to give you the facts, just the facts. But then you learn this particular journalist became a high priest in the Church of Satan, and well, that kind of crushed his unbiased credibility.

Moving on to LaVey's theories and ideas, we see some ridiculousness and some common sense. On the one hand, I very much doubt LaVey would want to live in the world of chaos that his vision would create. "Do whatever you want" sounds fun, and certainly some people do need to lighten up, but when you live in a world of chaos (I spent sometime living in a house run by anarchist punks, so I got a taste of what that'd be like) you learn the value of a few basic societal rules. LaVey's militant eye-for-an-eye-and-then-some (Meaning he believes you strike down those who offend you with even greater force) outlook coupled with a world of chaos would've put LaVey himself in harm's way very quickly.

The first half of the book expounds upon his theories. This section is much more relaxed than I expected. He speaks off the cuff, using slang and humor. It's an interesting approach to the writing of a religious text. Definitely a relief from the stuffy Holy Bible. By the way, any Satanists reading this can relax. Yes, I'm bagging on your boy a bit here, but I also think Christians are ridiculous, too. I'm one of those people who has faith in themselves, that they will do the right thing. So far I'm doing all right. Haven't murdered any one yet!

Later The Satanic Bible gets into the whole "spell casting" thing, the reason I bought the damned book in the first place. Much is made of sex, blood essence, speaking accursed names aloud and none of it was as cool as I'd hoped. I did like that LaVey calls out the people who sacrifice animals as cowards for not having the balls to draw their own blood for these rituals.

The last half of the book is a very short, quick read. There's barely more than a dozen lines on some of the last hundred or so pages. Sometimes it's just a title page or one simple sentence and blank space on the back side. This was done for aesthetics and it's a big waste of paper. The book would be a lot smaller otherwise.

All in all, I think Christians get their panties in a bunch over nothing much here. And as LaVey says, they need Satan. It's the Yin and Yang. God, Jesus and the other goodie goodies have to have a counter point. The good guys need the bad guys.

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Friday, June 12, 2015


Alex Sanchez
Simon & Schuster Books
5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Nancy


After Diego lands himself on probation for fighting, he doesn't trust his probation officer, Mr. Vidas. But as he begins to open up, Diego realizes that he needs Mr. Vidas's help to get his anger under control. To do that, Diego will need to face the nightmares from his past head-on and confront the memories he's been avoiding. Will anyone even believe him if he tells the truth about his stepfather? Award-winning author Alex Sanchez writes about a teen's very real struggle to overcome his anger and take control of his life.

My Review

Diego is a good kid. He studies hard, he takes care of his little brother, Eddie, and most of the time he minds his mom. Diego gets in trouble when he punches a gay classmate after he looks at him funny and winds up on probation.

Distrustful of his probation officer at first, Diego eventually opens up and reveals painful details about his past. Vidas is patient and understanding, and after a few sessions, he learns that there are very serious issues hiding under Diego’s angry exterior. Vidas functions more as a therapist, helping Diego learn to manage his anger, accept himself, and learn to trust others.

This was a fast-paced and easy read, but the story dealt with a lot of serious subjects which were handled very sensitively. I liked Diego a lot and wanted him to stay out of trouble. The secondary characters were believable and well developed – Kenny, his best friend, Ariel, a girl in school he had a crush on, his mom, and his stepfather.

A powerful, compelling, and emotionally evocative story with a very hopeful ending.

Highly recommended!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


SerenaSerena by Ron Rash
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“A kind of annihilation, was what Serena called their coupling, and though Pemberton would never have thought to describe it that way, he knew her words had named the thing exactly.”

 photo Serena_zps13ip4d23.jpg
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence play the power couple in the 2015 movie.

George Pemberton brought back a wife from Boston. More than a wife, more of a force of nature as dangerous as a witch and as pretty as an angel. He feels stronger with her by his side, and though never a man lacking in confidence, that self-assurance is further emboldened by the Machiavellian counsel of his new wife. Before going to Boston to marry Serena, Pemberton fathered a child on a young girl named Rachel, a worker in the timber camp. When he returns after basking in the glow of his new wife, he can’t understand why he ever found Rachel attractive. In a place where women age quickly, her youth was her banner of attraction, but now he has Serena.

Rachel had a boy, the spitting image of Pemberton.

Rachel pays the price of her dalliances with Pemberton, not just with having an illegitimate child which seems potentially punishment enough, but by the condescending judgment of the other “Christian” women in the camp. What was she to do, tell him no? The women refuse to speak with her or even sit with her at lunch as if the taint of her sin could pass to them.
”She realized that being starved for words was the same as being starved for food, because both left a hollow place inside you, a place you needed filled to make it through another day.”

It is really hard to like people sometimes.

On the other hand, it is very easy to like Rachel. If one zig or zag of life had went a different direction, most of those women spurning her could have found themselves in a similar circumstances or worse. Compassion is something we all need from time to time, and though some of our bad fortune may be left at our own doorstep, rarely is anything all our fault. Sometimes fate just shakes out a pair of snake eyes.

There is this moment where Rachel is out in the middle of nowhere, slightly astray, but temporarily free from the burden of anxiety. ”She looked at the stars and they brightened and dimmed in accord with her breathing, as if one hard puff might blow the whole lot of them out like candles.” So much of our life is spent just stumbling forward barely noticing what is in front of us, but because she stopped, even ever so briefly, and looked at the stars, Rachel brought the universe to the cusp of her lips. Maybe some of that was in the attraction Pemberton once felt for her.

 photo serena eagle_zpsdntxvjji.jpeg
The right pet for the lady that wants to be taken seriously.

Serena is almost mythological among the men of the timber camp. She rides around with an eagle perched on her arm. She sends the bird out to kill rattlesnakes to reduce the number of bitten workers. The men admire her, lust after her, and fear her. “He (George) suspected the workers thought of Serena as beyond gender, the same as they might some phenomenon of nature such as rain or lightning.” Men who cross Pemberton or even men who get in his way start having mishaps. The Pembertons become richer and more powerful. In the backwoods of North Carolina, they can get away with...well...anything.

One good man isn’t enough to stand up to them. It takes a community, but this is 1929 and everyone is more afraid of losing their job than they are at stopping wickedness especially when the devil and his handmaiden have the keys to the gold.

Pemberton has a loose moral code. Well it’s not really much of a code per say as a philosophy of life. It is more of a what’s best for Pemberton code, and any soft edges he might have once possessed have been turned jagged with the steady influence of Serena. From the beginning, she seduces him with her sexual assurance and her focused intelligence. He has never met anyone like her, and fortunately for most of humanity, there are few like Serena.

As they get away with the worst of crimes, it only encourages them to do more. Every villain or villainess needs a henchman. When Galloway loses a hand, he expects to be sent down the road to a life of poverty and despair until Serena offers to keep him on the payroll as long as he is willing to do whatever she needs done.

He is understandably grateful, but there is only so much a man should sell of his soul to keep his place on this earth, and certainly Galloway decides to sell more than what any man should.

Pemberton is kept more and more in the dark as Serena clears a path for him. The swath she clears is not unlike the surface of the North Carolina hills after they are done harvesting trees. ”The valley and the ridges resembled the skinned hide of some large animal.”

When Serena loses a child and learns she can’t have more, she is upset for now there is someone who has given Pemberton what she can’t. She turns her thoughts to the child and the mother. Rachel has to run with the specter of the one armed man haunting her at every turn. ”Briars grabbed her legs and each time there was an instant she thought Galloway had her.”

Will Pemberton finally do something? Or is even this beyond his control? Is he willing to sacrifice his only offspring on the altar of Serena? Is this one time when God deigns to throw a glance at the workings of man or in this case... one woman?

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George, there are things you can live with and there are even things that YOU can’t live with.

Uriah Heep is always the first villain of fiction that comes to my mind when I think of a character that gave me the most chills, but Ron Rash’s creation, Serena Pemberton, certainly goes on the list. We are all born with a natural need for self-preservation. We have varying degrees of things we are willing to do to save ourselves. This can even be applied to less immediately dire concerns, like bettering our position in a financial or social way. There is something feral about people like Serena who perceive all threats or nuisances as equally threatening, whether it be a true rival or just a person who has become less useful. We’ve come to accept ruthlessness in a certain kind of man, but we still find it jarring when a woman is the one capable of being so merciless.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Rashomon: And Other Stories

Rashomon: And Other Stories Rashomon: And Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a Grove: A man is found stabbed to death in a grove. Some people of interest and the key players give their accounts.

Yeah, I'm a fan of this. Lots of narrators with varying degrees of reliability. If the other stories are this good, this collection is going to be stellar.

Rashomon: A samurai's servant sits under the Rashomon during a rain storm, pondering whether he should become a thief or starve to death.

I didn't like this story as much as the first but it was still interesting. I never thought of making wigs in that way.

Yam Gruel: Goi, a samurai who is the butt of everyone's jokes, has a life-long craving for Yam Gruel. But what will he do when he's offered all he can ever eat?

This was an odd one, more like a fable than the previous two. I felt bad for Goi and really hoped he'd go on a killing spree but, alas, it was not to be.

The Martyr: When the umbrella maker's daughter becomes pregnant, everyone suspects, Lorenzo, the orphan raised by Jesuits.

Huh. This was an odd one about protecting the people you love at all costs.

Kesa and Morito: The tale of a love triangle from two of its participants. This was another story with unreliable narrators. It was well written and fairly twisted.

The Dragon: An old man tells the story of a big nosed priest named Hanazo and the prank he played on a village that backfired.

All in all, this was an enjoyable collection. By far, my favorite tales were In a Grove and Kesa and Morito, the two unreliable narrator tales. The others were good to mediocre. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Monday, June 8, 2015

The Detectives of the 87th Precinct Tackle Two Unnerving Cases

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Three out of five stars

In this installment of the 87th Precinct series, the precinct's male detectives spend their days and nights hunting someone who is killing young women and then hanging their bodies from lampposts around the city. They are assisted in their investigation by Fat Ollie Weeks of the 83rd Precinct and, as always, this is something of a mixed blessing.

Meanwhile, Eileen Burke of the Rape Squad is undercover, attempting to catch a particularly sadistic rapist who continues to attack the same few women over and over again. Burke is acting as a stand-in for one of the victims, hoping that she will be able to decoy the rapist into attacking her and that this will give her the opportunity to arrest him.

As always, the story is well-written; the police procedures are interesting and the by-play among the detectives is entertaining. But there's a certain creepiness factor involved with both storylines that kept me from enjoying the book as much as I otherwise would have. I'm not normally overly sensitive to this sort of thing, but in this case McBain is so good at creating truly repulsive situations that I found myself wanting to cover my eyes at some points. Thus three stars for me rather than four.

Honestly, It Didn't End All That Well

All's Well That Ends WellAll's Well That Ends Well by William Shakespeare
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

All's well that ends well...sure, but does it really end well? Really?

A simple maid with the one remedy for what ails the king, cures him and receives as her reward the hand in marriage of a high-born courtier. The groom-to-be won't submit to wed such a lowly personage, nay! His refusal is seen as base and tarnishes his reputation, so he flees to the wars, for it is through deeds of bravery that he will redeem himself. Slight of hand and high japery set the scene for misunderstandings and tricky ruse de guerre in the realm of romance. Will they or won't they?!

A very fairytale story, that! Shakespeare tries to transform it into something a more realistic, but in the process creates a strange brew of the two.

What never rises above the land of make believe, imo, is that the simple maid ever finds attractive and purposefully pursues the asshole groom-to-be. This portion of All's Well That Ends Well parallels the Lizzy and Darcy struggle from Pride and Prejudice, except that it never quite makes enough to sense to satisfy this reader. Shakespeare fails to bring the couple together in a realistic way. In the end it's a flippant one-liner that switches hate to love. Is this a cop out? A comedy shortcut? Or just poor writing?

Maybe it doesn't really matter, because quite clearly this framework is meant to be a vehicle for the "comedy" strewn about the middle of the play. I used quotations around comedy, because I'm sarcastic like that. While cowardice can be comical, I don't find kidnapping, hostage threats of torture and death, and weaselly traitorous admissions to be hilarious good fun...well, for a little while, maybe. The scene with Parolles drags on and on, and we get it right off the bat, the guy's a coward. Yes, this scene is important for the big reveal at the end, but man does it go on too long.

It's failures like the above that kept me from loving this play like I have others. It's not bad, just not brilliant.

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Friday, June 5, 2015

Only the Lonely

Gary Zebrun
Alyson Books
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars


Asim, gay and 19, is ready to bust out of his rundown steel town, Lackawanna, N.Y., for the University of Michigan. Even the cherished family business — a movie house called The Bethlehem — and its nightly dose of celluloid dreams no longer captivate him. But the bright future he envisions is turned upside down when his father dies and leaves him with the keys to the theater and the job of caring for the old man’s Russian lover. As if he needs another problem, he discovers that his brother Tarik is headed off to some kind of training camp in the Afghanistan desert, and when he returns, he ensnarls Asim and others in a dangerous fanaticism that peaks on September 11, 2001.

My Review

I found this book by accident at the library. Its title and the blurb on the back that mentions three people bound together by their love for movies caught my eye.

There is Asim, a 19-year-old gay man, who wants to leave Lackawanna, NY to attend college. His father, Badru’s, death and final wishes prevent him from doing so. There is Sonia, Badru’s longtime mistress, now sick with Parkinson’s disease and a failing memory. There is Asim’s brother, Tarik, who is a Muslim extremist and alienated from his family’s “heathen” ways. And then there is Billy, who drinks at the pub across the street from the theater and falls for Asim.

The story is told in flashbacks and jumps back and forth between characters. Sonia and Asim are especially well-drawn, both of them lonely and seeking escape in movies. This grim family situation is set against the backdrop of a bleak industrial town with its decaying movie theater, dingy pubs, neglected buildings, and old memories.

I knew this was going to be a sad story. I just didn’t know it was going to be so unremittingly depressing.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


The Kind Worth KillingThe Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”Truthfully, I don’t think murder is necessarily as bad as people make it out to be. Everyone dies. What difference does it make if a few bad apples get pushed along a little sooner than God intended? And your wife, for example, seems like the kind worth killing.”

We are brought up to believe that murdering someone is the worst thing we could ever do, but is it? If a person is leaving a wide wake of broken hearts and battered spirits and in some cases much, much worse, is it really the worst thing we can do for all of humanity to give that person a nudge towards the afterlife? Of course the question remains, are any of us capable by ourselves of being the defense, the jury, the prosecution, and ultimately the judge?

When Ted Severson sees Brad Daggett, a man he has been paying an abundant amount of money to build his dream house, bend his wife, Miranda, over a table and have consensual sex with her, it sets off a string of events that...leads...to...murder.

At the very least Brad should have offered Ted a discount.

Okay, so the guy is banging your wife. She signed a prenup. That silly bitch isn’t getting one more thin dime out of you. You just need to go get drunk, maybe call up an old flame and have some unsatisfactory revenge sex, and call your lawyer in the morning.

Not Ted. He can drink like a fish, martinis in fact, line them up from here---------------to here, but mostly he just simmers on what he saw. He even tries to convince himself that what he saw wasn’t exactly what he saw. Brad was just trying to...nope... not even after six martinis can he convince himself that Brad was doing anything, but SHAGGING his wife.

Ted wasn’t sure what he was going to do until on a plane flight home he met The Lily Kintner. Maybe it is because she is beautiful and receptive to him, or maybe it is just because he has to tell someone and usually a stranger is much easier to spill your guts to than a friend. She doesn’t react the way he expects. In fact, she tells him that his wife sounds like the kind worth killing.

You’d never know to look at her, but Lily is an unusual young woman. She is a woman who doesn’t believe in letting people get away with things like infidelity or lying. She doesn’t believe in turning the other cheek or forgiveness. She realizes there is something missing in her, something different.

Her father is a reasonably famous author, and her mother an academic. Their household was a free-for-all of revolving parties with artists, writers, friends, and lovers of both her parents coming and going throughout her whole childhood. She was mostly left to her own devices, and when one young man took an interest in the thirteen year old with the flaming red hair and the long thin legs,...well...he annoyed her.

”I’d been waiting for two things since killing Chet. Waiting to get caught and waiting to feel bad. Neither had happened yet, and I knew that neither would.”

Now, it may seem like she is just a random stranger with a morbid sense of morality, but as the plot thickens we discover why Lily has taken an interest in Ted’s shattered marriage.

The chapters alternate between characters. We are allowed to see things from their perspectives and what is missing in one chapter can be revealed in the next. It all begins to really heat up when police officer Henry Kimball can’t let go of a hunch and begins to follow Lily. He adores her father’s writing, and after interviewing her a couple of times he is half in love with her, but dribs and drabs of loose ends from their conversations continue to nag at his consciousness. 2+2=3.75

There is a funny scene that I have to share that made me laugh because it reminded me of myself. Lily’s father has very distinct views of the ocean. ”He said it was like looking at death…. I love the beach, everything except the fucking sand, the fucking sun, and the fucking water.” Okay, it made me chuckle again writing it because it is so sacrosanct for anyone to ever say anything remotely negative about the ocean because everyone is so IN LOVE with water. I enjoy looking at the water. I can understand the attraction, but for me it is something to look at briefly and then move on to something more interesting. I have never really trusted large bodies of water. I wouldn’t say I’m suffering from Thalassophobia, but certainly I don’t feel the need to join the masses in venerating the ocean. I prefer solid terra firma under my feet... all the time... besides the water is such a slurry sludge pit of god knows what.

Killers become victims...victims become killers. Yet again Peter Swanson has delivered a neo-noir thriller that reminds me of some of the best of James Cain. There are twists and turns enough to leave your legs corkscrewed together by the time you reach the final page.

I also enjoyed his first book. The Girl with a Clock for a Heart Review

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Tuesday, June 2, 2015


VermilionVermilion by Molly Tanzer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When boys from Chinatown vanish mysteriously, psychopomp Lou Merriweather gets drawn into the mystery, leading her into the Colorado mountains, to the sanatorium of the mysterious Doctor Panacea. What is Doctor Panacea's connection to the missing Chinese men and what is his true goal?

I've made no secret to the fact that I have a weakness for fiction from the strange wavelengths of the spectrum. When I caught wind of a weird western mystery featuring a half-Chinese psychopomp passing as a man, I was medically unable to pass it up.

Lou Merriweather is a psychopomp, a person who helps reluctant undead on their way to the afterlife by giving them a metaphysical kick in the ass. Lou hooked me right away with her attitude. She's got much more in common with the wisecracking PI of noir books than she does most supernatural characters. Her conflict with her mother, feelings for her friend Bo Wong, and grief for her deceased psychopomp father make her a very well rounded character.

I don't want to give away too much about the plot. I will say that I loved that Lou met people of all stripes on her journey, including talking bears, a lesbian, a hermaphrodite, and various other interesting beings, supernatural or otherwise.

The first thirty percent of the book was dynamite. I thought the middle bogged down a bit but things picked up near the end. I wasn't completely happy with the end but I'm glad the opening for future Lou Merriweather books was left open. The writing was even better than I expected. I enjoyed the modern dialogue and the story, while dark at times, was peppered with humor.

While it wasn't as pants-shittingly awesome as I was hoping, it was still a fun read and I'll be thrilled to revisit Lou Merriweather in another book. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Monday, June 1, 2015

Harry Hole Struggles agains Two very Clever Killers


Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

This is another excellent, complex thriller from Jo Nesbo, featuring his tormented protagonist, Oslo homicide detective Harry Hole. This story continues a number of developments that were set into motion in the last Hole novel, Nemesis, when someone close to Harry was murdered. Harry knows who the killer is but cannot produce the evidence to make the case and it appears that the killer is going to go unpunished.

The effect on Harry is brutal. As the book opens, he has descended into an alcoholic haze and has alienated virtually everyone around him, including his lover and his most ardent defender on the police force. He is constantly drunk, barely able to function and only days away from losing his job.

Harry hits rock bottom in the middle of a sweltering summer in Oslo, when many of the other detectives are on holiday attempting to escape the heat. Then a woman if found ritually murdered in her apartment and, short-handed, Harry's boss has no choice other than to assign Harry to the case, even though Harry is clearly impaired. To make matters worse, Harry is assigned to work the case in tandem with another detective whom he hates.

Harry assumes that this is the last case he will ever work and so pulls himself together, at least enough to make an effort. Five days after the initial murder, a second woman goes missing and seems clearly to be the victim of the same killer. What follows is an intellectual duel between Harry and a very clever adversary. Clearly there is a method to the killer's madness; the only question is whether Harry can figure it out in time to save other potential victims.

This is a very tense and gripping story. The case itself is fascinating, and even more interesting is the psychological drama that plays out as Harry battles to control his own demons and to set right injustices that have occurred outside the boundaries of the case he is investigating at the moment. In Harry Hole, Jo Nesbo has created one of the most intriguing characters to come along in crime fiction in quite some time, and it's a pleasure to watch both Nesbo and Harry work their magic.

An Amazing Little Man

Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End SlaveryAmazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amazing Grace is a biography written with WAAAY more cheek than I expected!

The slight and frail English gentleman William Wilberforce...


...was the heroic and eloquent man at the head of the push to abolish the slave trade.

Wilberforce is a name not well known in America as perhaps it may be in England. Right or wrong, we Americans think "Lincoln" when we think of the end of slavery. Of course, slavery continues to this day. Eric Metaxas' Amazing Grace does an admirable job in reminding us who deserves the credit in passing the laws that put an end to the legalized trade in human lives.

It is a noble subject, but Metaxas actually uses sarcasm and like humor nearly through out and, while funny at times, it's off-putting in a biography. Perhaps he felt the subject matter needed levity. Perhaps he looked to capture Wilberforce's own gay sense of humor. Whatever the reason, it didn't always set well with this reader.

From the title it should be readily apparent that religion (in this case Methodism) will be given a feature role. While not a puritanical prude from start to finish, Wilberforce was heavily influenced by his faith and let it guide him in many of his life's choices. From the book's tone, I would guess Metaxas is, if not Methodist, at least a like-minded Christian. He writes with an obvious bias. It's almost completely transparent at times with very little reading between the lines necessary. That swamps integrity in my book. However, when it comes to non-fiction, for some reason biographers are often allowed a long leash when it comes to balanced, fair and honest journalism.

At heart, I would call the above faults, but I managed to overlook them and if you too can stomach an agenda not your own, then Amazing Grace will ring in your heart the chimes of glorious freedom! Or at least it will be a worthy read on a worthy man. Either way, it's worth your while.


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