Friday, July 31, 2015

Richard Estes

John Wilmerding
Rizzoli Publications
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Richard Estes (b.1932) is one of America's leading photorealist painters. This new large-format book will cover fifty-five years of Estes's work, from 1950 to 2005, and will include paintings, watercolors, and preparatory sketches. Estes is regarded as one of the most important painters of the New York urban landscape. The crisp clarity of Estes's paintings is reminiscent of photography, yet upon closer inspection his work reveals elements and perspectives that do not exist in reality and have more to do with minimalism and realism than with traditional landscape painting. The book will also include his work of the last ten years, much of which will be published here for the first time. A detailed chronology and list of exhibitions and public collections are included.

My Review

After enjoying a magnificent photorealism exhibit at my local art museum and reading Richard Estes’ Realism, I just can't get enough of the artist, so I dragged this big book home from the library.

It was published in 2006 and covers fifty-five years Estes’ work through 2005.

John Wilmerding does a nice job discussing Estes’ life, his career, his artistic influences, and the detailed processes of creating his art.

“Estes will take hundreds of photos, often returning to reshoot a site of special appeal. He will print up dozens of contact sheets, from which to select and then assemble the parts of a tentative composition.”

By using a combination of photographs, the artist can then create an original piece that is so meticulously detailed, the delicate brushstrokes practically invisible, that it looks as precise as a photograph. Yet, if you look at the work closely, there is a sense of unreality about it that makes it unique.

Among my favorite paintings are Estes’ richly detailed NYC street scenes that are so effective at evoking particular moments in the city’s history. I’m really glad this book devotes a large section to these works.

The book has a few flaws, however. I wish the paintings had been better organized. I found myself flipping through the book numerous times to see what painting the text is referring to. There was also a lot of white space that could have fit larger versions of certain paintings. It’s a minor complaint, though. If you are interested in photorealism and the work of Richard Estes, this book is a perfect choice.

Check this out! My local museum recently acquired Baby Doll Lounge for its permanent collection.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


The Man in the High CastleThe Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“They want to be the agents, not the victims, of history. They identify with God's power and believe they are godlike. That is their basic madness. They are overcome by some archtype; their egos have expanded psychotically so that they cannot tell where they begin and the godhead leaves off. It is not hubris, not pride; it is inflation of the ego to its ultimate — confusion between him who worships and that which is worshiped. Man has not eaten God; God has eaten man.”

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If Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been assassinated in 1934 instead of dying of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1945, what would the world look like? Do our lives, our futures, hang on the shoulders of one man? The New Deal that gave Roosevelt so much power, so much influence with the American public, would not have been possible if presented by a different man, a less sure man, a man more willing to make deals to pass the legislation even if it guts the intent of the program. The American people have probably never trusted a politician as much as they trusted FDR. So if we remove him from history during those critical years in the 1940s when the world went mad, what would happen?

Philip K. Dick is going to tell you.

We lose.

The Pacific States form a new country called The Pacific States of America and are controlled by Imperial Japan. A Rocky Mountain States is formed as a buffer between The Reich Controlled East Coast of America and the PSA. Europe is under the management of the Reich. The Soviets were completely destroyed by the Reich, and most were exterminated. A cold war has sprung up between the two remaining superpowers: the Japanese and the Reich. Adolf Hitler has descended into madness…batshit crazy madness... not the garden variety I want to rule the world madness.

”Old Adolf, supposed to be in a sanitarium somewhere, living out his life of senile paresis. Syphilis of the brain, dating back to his poor days as a bum in Vienna...long black coat, dirty underwear, flophouses.”

There is this interesting film called Max starring John Cusack from 2002 that was directed by Menno Meyjes. It discusses the possibility of what would have happened if Hitler had been accepted as an artist. Would he have channeled his anger into something more edifying than world destruction? I know that others, besides myself, must have watched that film, but they seem to be few and far between.

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Noah Taylor plays the young, frustrated Hitler.

Martin Bormann has been in charge of the Reich, but with his death a power struggle has broken out between Joseph Goebbels, Reinhard Heydrich, and Hermann Göring for the ultimate leadership. The thought of those men surviving the war gives me a chill. Hitler may have brought the vision, but these were the men who implemented it.

Robert Childan owns an Americana antique business on Montgomery Street in San Francisco. The Japanese are avid collectors of old American gadgets, comic books, and toys. He used to run a bookstore, but found that dealing in Americana was much more profitable. He isn’t an expert, which as the story unfolds, creates some issues for him. People don’t mind paying exorbitant prices as long as what they buy is legitimate. He meets a young progressive Japanese couple who want to discuss a future based on the book by Hawthorne Abendsen called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy which presents an alternative reality where the Axis lost and the Allies won. It is still different from our present day, but certainly more recognizable than the dystopia of The Man in the High Castle.

Philip K. Dick is having a bit of fun writing an alternative reality which includes a novel about alternative reality.

The young couple are very disappointed to learn that Childan has not read the book. They assumed that any “American” would want to read this book. They were also disappointed that Childan, when pressed for his own philosophical take on this life, mouths the platitudes of the controlling governments because he thinks that is what his potential clients want to hear. I expected more from one of my own kind, a retired bookseller, but in his defense he doesn’t want unwarranted attention. He doesn’t want change as much as he wants to be safe. “What they do not comprehend is man’s helplessness. I am weak, small, of no consequence to the universe. It does not notice me; I live on unseen. But why is that bad? Isn’t it better that way? Whom the gods notice they destroy. Be small . . . and you will escape the jealousy of the great.”

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Mokkei Tiger from the 13th Century

Childan does get a glimmer of a lost past that might be reclaimed by the future when he holds the Frank Frink jewelry collection in his hands. Frink has recently left his work of employment, where he made replica guns from America’s past (for those Japanese collectors), to start his own business designing and creating original jewelry. To Childan the jewelry is much more than just pretty bobbles to adorn women’s throats, fingers, and wrists. It represents the American ingenuity that used to determine the fashions, trends, and innovations that led the world.

Meanwhile, Frink’s ex-wife, who lives in the RMS, has taken up with a truck driver who is not who he says he is. He has an agenda involving The Man in the High Castle. The man, Abendsen, who has taken the world by storm with his book depicting a different outcome from the war.

The I Ching plays a pivotal role as characters use I Ching to make decisions. Dick also used the I Ching to determine the twists of the plot as he was writing it.

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Having difficulty making decisions? Do you find that most of the time you make poor decisions? Turn your life over to the I Ching. Your future will no longer be your fault.

This book convinced me of the viability of this alternative reality. I certainly would have read more about this world that Dick created. The ending is open because Dick had always planned to write a sequel, but he couldn’t progress on the second book because he couldn’t stand the thought of going back and reading about Nazis. I’m in the same boat recently with all the history channels that I normally watch suddenly becoming obsessed with everything Third Reich. This is disturbing to me because programming is based off viewership, and obviously they have determined that people are tuning in to watch Nazi documentaries more than other much more fascinating time periods of world history. *Sigh* I don’t know what that means!

Amazon has recently filmed the pilot episode of a new series based on The Man in the High Castle. The episode is available on streaming. I read this book another lifetime ago, but wanted to refresh my memory before watching the pilot episode. I’m glad I did as much of my memories of the book had eroded into snippets of disjointed pieces. There is much more in the book than what I’ve discussed, but I hope what I have decided to highlight will encourage more people to read this novel of science fiction that also can rest comfortably on the same shelf as literature.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath: A Graphic Novel

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath: A Graphic NovelThe Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath: A Graphic Novel by I.N.J. Culbard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Randolph Carter wanders the dreamlands in search of Kadath, home of the gods, in order to find a path to the sunset city of his dreams.

First off, I'm going to say something that may get me eaten alive by a swarm of zoogs but I've never held the writing of H.P. Lovecraft in high regard despite loving a lot of his concepts. Untold aeons ago, I read the prose version of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. When I saw the graphic novel version, I decided it was time to revisit it.

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath works fairly well as a graphic novel. The adaptation has a somewhat disjointed feel, which I think fits the tale since it is a dream, after all. Unlike a lot of Lovecraft tales, it's a quest story rather than a race toward insanity. Randolph Carter encounters all manner of Lovecraftian beasties on his journey and I.N.J. Culbard depicts them rather well. Much like the pacing, the art contributes to the dreamlike feel of the story.

Even though I only have vague recollections of reading the prose version of this story, I felt like something was missing at times. The transitions from scene to scene were a little rough in places. Overall, though, I felt this was a worthwhile adaptation. Three out of five stars.

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Truly Terrible Jokes

Funny Jokes (FREE Joke Book Download Included!): 125+ Hilarious Jokes (Funny and Hilarious Joke Book for Children)Funny Jokes (FREE Joke Book Download Included!): 125+ Hilarious Jokes by Johnny B. Laughing
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The other day the family went out for dinner together and my niece decided to entertain us with jokes, which I thought would be AWESOME!

Unfortunately, her jokes suck.

She's five, she just started school and she needs help, as I am of the opinion that all right-thinking kindergarteners should know at least a few ham-fisted knock-knock jokes. So, I commenced a dinnertime lesson in hilarity....only to discover I actually didn't know any jokes. I tried the old "Orange you glad I didn't say banana?" classic and f-ed it up. I needed help.

This led me to Johnny B. Laughing's Funny Jokes: 125+ Hilarious Jokes. You know you're in good hands with an author with a surname like that! Dude must've been born funny! At least you'd think so, but this book is filled with some real duds...

Q: Which astronaut wears the biggest helmet?
A: The one with the biggest head!

Q: What kind of doctor does a duck visit?
A: A ducktor.

Q: What do you get if you cross a skunk and a wasp?
A: Something that stinks and stings!

In fairness, there are a few good 'uns...

Q: What happened when the owl lost his voice?
A: He didn't give a hoot!

Q: What did the worm say to the other when he was late home?
A: Where in the earth have you been?

Q: Did you hear the joke about the skunk?
A: Never mind, it stinks.

By the time I finished I was inspired to pen one of my own off the top of my head...

Q: What's a monkey's favorite letter?
A: Eeee-Eeee!


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A Gaiman Book That Doesn't Feel Very Gaimany

InterWorld (Interworld, #1)InterWorld by Neil Gaiman
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I didn't know what to expect. Once I knew, I expected more. I got less.

Interworld is the coming-of-age story of a boy finding himself, quite literally. Joey Harker is your typical kid, whose main concern is a certain girl and popularity at school. He comes off fairly average, but the way he's written, you're never sure if he's smart or stupid. Whatever the case, he sure did know a lot of pop culture references through out the ages, regardless of his own age and point of reference, so I would have to guess that he spends all of his time gathering useless knowledge that a kid his age normally wouldn't know. That isn't really touched on in the book.

Everything seems normal, until SUDDENLY occasionally bad writing with adverbs and such force the plot and Joey into a world where science (or pseudo-science) and magic are thrust together, supposedly in many forms, through out a multi-dimensional universe. Countless possibilities exist on an infinite number of planes...yet the survival of everyone and everything falls into the hands of one boy and his misfit band of buddies. Of course it does. What is everyone else doing? Why don't they lend a hand? I mean, there is quite a lot at stake here, their own existence for one. Meh, let's sweep that under the rug. Ain't nobody got time for that!

So, Joey and his pals fight the baddies with special powers and it's all supposed to be very exciting, but it's not. I've read worse, but seldom do I care less and just want to get through with a book.

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Friday, July 24, 2015

King Perry

Edmond Manning
Dreamspinner Press
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


In a trendy San Francisco art gallery, out-of-towner Vin Vanbly witnesses an act of compassion that compels him to make investment banker Perry Mangin a mysterious offer: in exchange for a weekend of complete submission, Vin will restore Perry's "kingship" and transform him into the man he was always meant to be. Despite intense reservations, Perry agrees, setting in motion a chain of events that will test the limits of his body, seduce his senses, and fray his every nerve, (perhaps occasionally breaking the law) while Vin guides him toward his destiny as "the one true king." Even as Perry rediscovers old grief and new joys within himself, Vin and his shadowy motivations remain enigmas: who is this offbeat stranger guiding them from danger to hilarity to danger? To emerge triumphant, Perry must overcome the greatest challenge alone: embracing his devastating past. But can he succeed by Sunday's sunrise deadline? How can he possibly evolve from an ordinary man into King Perry?

My Review

This story frustrated me initially, as I had no idea where it was going and I expect a certain kind of predictability in romance stories. I was afraid it was going to be a feel-good story, the kind that is anathema to my cynical heart. Though I was tempted to set it aside a few times, my curiosity got the better of me and I pressed on. Grudgingly, I opened my mind and my heart and embarked on an unforgettable journey that begins in a San Francisco art gallery.

Perry Mangin is an investment banker who lives relatively well in one of the most expensive cities on earth. Vin Vanbly, an auto mechanic from Minnesota, knows quite a bit about art and takes an interest in Perry. Though Perry seems not to want for anything, he has issues that prevent him from getting close to others.

This is not your average boy-meets-boy story, and Vin is not your average car mechanic. His job is to “King” Perry, get him to open up his heart, explore long-buried grief, shed tears, learn forgiveness, and ultimately find love.

I was on vacation in Montreal while reading this story and was only able to get through bits and pieces at a time. Though I wanted to devour it in one sitting, this way allowed me to integrate Perry’s experiences with my own, observing people more closely, finding common connections, and feeling a part of the fabric of the city rather than a mere explorer. Well, except for the cute duck and the wild sex, of course.

Vin’s mysterious nature, while bothersome at first, grew on me, as I realized that every single action he took, no matter how bizarre, was for Perry’s own good. His sexy charm, his humor, his way with words, and the way he seemingly knew more about Perry than Perry knew of himself endeared me to him.

King Perry is definitely not a romance in the traditional sense, but it is a story about love of the deepest kind. It made me laugh and made me cry, sometimes at the same time. It warmed my heart, dredged up some father issues and brought buried feelings to the surface. I was happy for Perry, but sad for Vin, who could not forgive.

Maybe one of these days I will forgive my own father, maybe not.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


PraguePrague by Arthur Phillips
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"What does it mean to fret about your fledgling career when the man across the table was tortured by two different regimes? How does your short, uneventful life compare to the lives of those who actually resisted, fought, and died? What does your angst mean in a city still pocked with bullet holes from war and crushed rebellion?"

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Budapest: City of Grit

John Price left California for Budapest in search of adventure, but also to reconnect to his older brother Scott. When he was younger, Scott was a fat, unathletic, unhappy kid, but since leaving for Europe, he has sculpted his body and mind into someone very different from whom he used to be. By being around John again all the insecurities of his past come back to nag at the veneer of his new identity.

When I graduated from high school, I moved to Phoenix to go to college. I can still remember waking up that first morning in Arizona and thinking to myself I don’t know a single soul in this city. I was elated. I could finally be me. Growing up, especially in a small farming community, everyone knows everything about you. They have these disjointed ideas of who you are that have been formed from the shedded skins of your younger self. You have no control over what they decide to remember (or exaggerate) about you, and to ever escape those older versions of yourself is impossible. I wish I’d been able to flee to a vibrant European city like Budapest but I had to settle for Phoenix.

Scott does introduce John to his group of ex-pat, pseudo-intellectual friends. In the midst of them is a corn fed, patriotic to the bone woman from Nebraska named Emily. There is also Charles, an investment banker, who in the course of the novel puts together a deal to bring the historic Horvath press back to life. ”There was something incorrect about this boy. His smile and word of thanks were wrong. He was made of dirty mirrors.” There is Mark, a Canadian, in love with architecture and the past. ”Can you imagine standing right here and being in love and seeing the world how it looked before movies existed, before movies made you see everything a certain way?”

As John settles into the city and starts to make a name for himself as a journalist working for BudapesToday, he begins to put together a life of his own. He finds an apartment, absurdly cheap. ”The balcony’s floor was cracked in a map of meandering rivers, demarcating flakes, and slabs of concrete loose enough to lift. It seemed evident that eventually the balcony would collapse under its own, or someone else’s weight. The building’s exterior walls bore decades-old scars and bullet holes.” The original owner leaves a picture of his wife and asked that John not take it down. This picture becomes a talisman of the apartment to the point that she almost seems like a part of John’s own past.

He meets a colorful Hungarian woman named Nadja at a bar who tells him stories of her past. She has been forced to leave Budapest too many times but always comes back when sanity has returned. John takes Emily to see Nadja in the hopes of impressing her, but Emily can not believe that someone has had that many experiences. To John those stories are wonderful pieces of culture history. To Emily they are just lies.

As I skimmed some other reviews of this book, it was interesting to see the reactions to these twenty something characters who are all very intelligent, who have just read enough, seen enough, to formulate what they feel are informed opinions, but of course they are just on the beginning edges of actually knowing what they are talking about. The people who gave this book one star because they loathed the characters I believe missed some of the point of the book because Arthur Phillips is very hard on these people. He exposes them. He certainly does not romanticize them. I identified with many aspects of these characters. The flaws they display are certainly ones that I could attribute to my past self as I grappled with knowledge, trying to evolve beyond just being smart into someone with actual intelligence.

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I must warn you about travelling to Budapest. I did have to dance for my supper.

The one star reviews seemed intent on punishing a writer for creating characters they’ve met versions of in real life and didn’t like. Many of them admitted, begrudgingly, that the lyrical writing is at times awe inspiring. Phillips also displays a depth of understanding of the human condition that had me rereading and thinking about passages such as this:

”John understood that some things mattered and some things did not and that the happy people in this world were those who could easily and rapidly distinguish between the two. The term unhappiness referred to the feeling of taking the wrong things seriously.”

I must admit though I really didn’t like Emily. She is so square, so judgmental, and certainly someone who would give this book a one star rating. She certainly wouldn’t like the direction her character takes, a direction she would have thought was impossible.

Luckily, John meets the plucky, bald headed, artist Nicky who makes him really see things, and forces him to expand his thinking about what he really wants out of life. She has her thorns certainly and is always looking to fortify the voracious hunger of the creative monster. ”John, not knowing the topic under discussion, knew she was collecting garbage to feed her ravenous, drooling Muse, and loved her for her open use of people, even himself.”

Phillips also weaves in the history of the Horvath Press and the heritage of the current owner, Imre. The Press survived war, poor ownership, and anticipated the changing tastes of the Hungarian population. The books he published saved the cultural history not only of his city, but also of his country. ”This was Hungary, and Imre was its memory. For some, the book acted almost as an opiate: The pleasure of leisurely or impatiently traveling from page to page and seeing lovely Budapest unbombed, undamaged, in black and white, was almost pornographic in its unattainable, voluptuous gorgeousness. Lipotavaros, the Elizabeth Bridge, the Corso, the Castel, the Nyugati Station in the day of its inauguration--the day it was the largest, cleanest train station in the world….”

Towards the end of the book the First Gulf War breaks out. Mark becomes absolutely addicted to CNN, which was the station that first gave us the twenty-four hour news cycle. I was working at Bookman’s Used Books in Tucson at the time. We brought a TV up to the front of the store so that we could get updates as the war unfolded. The war was over so quickly that it almost felt like a movie with too abrupt an ending. Like most of America, for quite a while, I continued to be addicted to news. My obsession with play-by-play news cooled a long time ago as I discovered that news is too influenced by half lies, hidden truths, and political agendas.

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Maybe there is some fascinating reason why Phillips decided to call this book Prague, but I actually find it annoying. Almost all the book is set in Budapest, so logically the book should bear the name of that city not the sister city on the Danube who has always been considered more elegant, more interesting. It has been a long time since I’ve been to Vienna, Budapest, and Prague, but I remember mimosas for breakfast in Vienna, a wonderful vibe in Budapest, and the breathtaking beauty of Prague. Each city was easily explored on foot and provided new wonders around nearly every corner. I can’t recommend that tour enough.

You may not like the characters, but I will say that no one remains twenty forever, and most pseudo intellectuals eventually discover how much more there is to know than what they can ever know. They grow up, and most become more humble. They take hard knocks just like the rest of us do and soon realize the universe doesn’t play favorites. With time, they become less self-absorbed and start to realize the benefits of using their intellect to help people instead of using it to offer a pithy evaluation of others' shortcomings. You might like these people better in their forties, but until then don’t bother to hate them. The wax of their character is still being poured into the mold.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Mother Tongue

The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That WayThe Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Mother Tongue is the story of the evolution of the English language, from its humble beginnings as a Germanic tongue to what it has evolved into over the centuries.

So, Bill Bryson + cheap equals insta-buy for me, apparently. Too bad even Bill Bryson couldn't make this terribly entertaining.

I have a long history as "the obscure facts guy" at social gatherings, at least, I did when people still invited me to such things. However, even I had trouble sticking with this one at times.

Old Bill is in fine form, cracking wise and still being informative at every opportunity. He didn't get much in the way of interesting material to work with in this case.

The book was not without its moments, however. I did enjoy the chapter on swearing, as well as numerous tidbits, or titbits, as they were called in a less prudish era, that peppered the other chapters. Too bad the gems were scarce and some of the reading resembled the back-breaking labor involved in mining.

While I found the book informative and mildly amusing, at the end of the day, it's still a book about the history of words. Even one of the funnier travel writers alive can't make chicken salad from chicken feathers in this case. 2.5 out of 5.

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Monday, July 20, 2015

A Fun Old-School Dungeon Crawl

The Citadel Of Chaos (Fighting Fantasy, #2)The Citadel Of Chaos by Steve Jackson
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Assassination, sorcerer style, is the name of the game in The Citadel of Chaos!

Steve Jackson has been pumping out these gamebooks for decades. I believe there's something like 60 of them. In them you play an adventurer on a quest that involves a dungeon crawl, a term gamers use to describe an adventure in which your character is going room-to-room through some kind of controlled area, like a dungeon, crypt, catacombs, caves, etc. For the purpose of books like this, which are very much modeled upon the Choose Your Own Adventure style of reading, it's necessary to keep "on track," if you will. More on this will be explained below.

But now for some book-representative illustrations!


Not all fantasy art is created equal, but Russ Nicholson's got the goods!

With the advent of ebook readers, you can now read/play these without having to keep track of ability scores, health level or inventory. You don't even have to make a map of your progress. That's a good thing, because I just don't have the time or desire to do all that. I just want a bit of fun and, after purchasing it for my kindle, that's what a book like this provides.

In The Citadel of Chaos you play a wizard and the coolest part about that of course is that you get to cast spells. That was an exciting first for me! The spell choices are limited and the ones on offer (Strength, Stamina, ESP, Levitation, Fire, and a few others) are designed to be useful at some point in the dungeon. Some more so than others, and if you take a certain path through the dungeon you may not find a use for some of these spells at all.

These books aren't "open world," meaning you can't investigate the whole place, at least not in a single adventure. You see, the story is linear and although this is a game you can manipulate, it too is fairly linear. Per each adventure, you pick a path. Usually you're given a couple choices. But you must keep moving forward, no backtracking. It's a drawback and failing of these kinds of books.

Occasionally the writer is able to include choices that allow readers to experience variant parts of the adventure that would normally only be found by following a different path than the one you're on. That's difficult and if not handled correctly could lead to an infinite loop, which would be embarrassing for the publisher. I think I've only come across one of those, so the editors/testers have done their due diligence.

Anyhow, the linear nature of these books is honestly a minor quibble and just one of the rules of the game you must abide by. No big whoop.

A fun aspect to these particular books is the creatures you meet. Sure, you encounter your standard goblins, leprechauns and witches as well as the slightly more rare golems and lizardmen, which are still fairly well known in the fantasy world, but you also get some often delightfully original - or at least oddball - creatures and characters. For instance, that Whirlwind was a breath of fresh air! *rimshot*

Overall, this was fun. I've enjoyed the two of these books by Jackson that I've read so far and I will no doubt read more.

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Friday, July 17, 2015

Don't Let Me Go

J.H. Trumble
Kensington Publishing
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Some people spend their whole lives looking for the right partner. Nate Schaper found his in high school. In the eight months since their cautious flirting became a real, honest, tell-the-parents relationship, Nate and Adam have been inseparable. Even when local kids take their homophobia to brutal levels, Nate is undaunted. He and Adam are rock solid. Two parts of a whole. Yin and yang.

But when Adam graduates and takes an Off-Broadway job in New York—at Nate’s insistence—that certainty begins to flicker. Nate starts a blog to vent his frustrations and becomes the center of a school controversy, drawing ire and support in equal amounts. But it is the attention of a new boy who is looking for more than guidance that forces him to confront who and what he really wants.

J.H. Trumble’s debut, DON’T LET ME GO, is a witty, beautifully written novel that is both a sweet story of love and long-distance relationships, and a timely discourse about bullying, bigotry, and hate in high schools.

My Review

If you decide to read this book, there are two things you need to overlook.

- The frequent time jumps throughout the story can be disorienting. Considering that very bad things happen to the main characters, I appreciate the author’s use of this technique that in some ways helps to lessen the intensity of the events and in other ways makes them even more horrifying. Just pay attention and you will find the story flows nicely and comes together in the end.

- The end! The craptacular ending that takes place 10 years after the story’s events. Though it was nice to see most of the story’s main conflicts resolved, I wanted more evidence of the characters’ work to get to that point. I also felt that certain significant issues were not addressed, which left me feeling vaguely unsatisfied.

Nate and Adam meet in high school and are joined at the hip. Their love is true, but Adam heads off to New York to take an acting job after graduation, putting great strain on their relationship. Nate and Adam’s relationship has all the passion and intensity of young people in love and was portrayed so effectively and authentically, that I found myself remembering my own difficult teenage years. It was easy to empathize with Nate and Adam, even if they lacked communication skills that would have prevented many of their problems. This is not just a love story, though. There is pain, heartbreak, and betrayal in spades. And there is the brutal sexual assault that left Nate emotionally wounded long after his injuries healed. Sensitive readers need not worry. Trumble skillfully interweaves details of the attack and its aftermath delicately through flashbacks.

I loved this book and gobbled it up in two days, discreetly swiping my tears while I was riding the bus to work. Nate and Adam were so real that I wanted to reach through the pages and hug them. Though Nate’s neediness and insecurity irritated me at times, I had to keep reminding myself that he is a teenager who suffered a traumatic experience. I’m glad Nate and Adam had the support of their friends – Danial, a straight ally of Pakistani descent; Juliet, Adam’s best friend who has a crush on Nate; and Luke, a sensitive, closeted boy who is drawn to Nate and is equally as needy. While I liked the supporting cast, I couldn’t help being slightly annoyed by Juliet. One of these days I would like to read about a strong female character who can have a close gay male friend while still having a fulfilling life of her own. I realize this is a book for young adults, but I was slightly bothered that the sexual intimacy between Nate and Adam was perfunctorily handled and lacking in sensuality. It would have been nice to have a tender love scene contrast with all the homophobia and brutality.

Minor complaints aside, this was an amazing book. Very highly recommended!

I can’t wait to read Luke’s story.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


The Golden NotebookThe Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


“I was filled with such a dangerous delicious intoxication that I could have walked straight off the steps into the air, climbing on the strength of my own drunkenness into the stars. And the intoxication, as I knew even then, was the recklessness of infinite possibility.”

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I would say that Miss Lessing was very fetching when she was younger, but I don’t want to be accused of objectifying her. :-)

Anna keeps four notebooks, each representing different versions of herself, all with the intent of discovering the truth about herself. The red, the yellow, the black, and the blue covers, if all goes well, will merge into one golden notebook. An evolution of understanding that will set her free.

Free of what you might ask?

If she can ever discover her true self, she can escape the traitorous self she has always been. It is proving nearly impossible. ”I read this over today, for the first time since I wrote it. It’s full of nostalgia, every word loaded with it, although at the time I wrote it I thought I was being ‘objective.’ Nostalgia for what? I don’t know. Because I’d rather die than have to live through any of that again. And the ‘Anna’ of that time is like an enemy, or like an old friend one has known too well and doesn’t want to see.”

The only way to escape our past is to understand it. We must be at peace with it, but the past seeps into the present and the future, despite our best efforts to control it. ”At that time in my life, for reasons I didn’t understand until later, I didn’t let myself be chosen by men who really wanted me.” She isn’t that person now, not that it has made her any happier. By believing this, it says a lot about how she felt about herself. Any man who found her attractive or interesting became less desirable to her. Now she does let men choose her, and that has led to a series of temporary, unfulfilling relationships with married men. Did she learn from her past or is this just another form of avoiding commitment?

Their marriages are of no interest to her nor is she interested in the prospect of a marriage for herself. How can she discover who she is if she has to live in the shadow of a man as Mrs. _______? Marriage allows him to define her, and that elusive free self she is looking for will be forever buried under the avalanche of lost time given to achieving his desires, satisfying his whims, and helping him be successful. ”I am always amazed, in myself and in other women, at the strength of our need to bolster men up. This is ironical, living as we do in a time of men’s criticising us for being ‘castrating’…. for the truth is, women have this deep instinctive need to build a man up as a man…. I suppose this is because real men become fewer and fewer, and we are frightened, trying to create men.”

As women are trying to find themselves, define themselves, men are losing themselves. Men used to have clearly delineated roles... hunt, kill, protect... that evolved into... sports/academics, careers, providing. They were the head of household, but now that is less likely as women are becoming more successful in the work force. Men are being diminished as the balance of power in a household has shifted to something more equal. This is not a bad thing, but it is creating necessary adjustments for men who used to have a simple defined goal as to how they would be considered successful. This role is evolving into a blending of responsibilities where much of what they do is not weighed and measured.

Of course, it feels like a step back as men are not needed to be men in the same way they were sixty years ago or a thousand and sixty years ago. Giving up this power has been a long time coming, but women who are dismissive of men who still hold on too tightly to old traditional roles must understand that it is scary to think of who we are without them.

”You’re such a perfectionist. You’re an absolutist. You measure everything against some kind of ideal that exists in your head, and if it doesn’t come up to your beautiful notions then you condemn it out of hand. Or you pretend to yourself that it’s beautiful even when it isn’t.”

I’ve always believe in the old adage that has been attributed to Albert Einstein. “Men marry women with the hope they will never change. Women marry men with the hope they will change. Invariably they are both disappointed.” I don’t know which is more unrealistic.

I was flipping around the channels one day and landed on Oprah, not sure why because I never watch daytime talk shows, but there was a crowd of mostly women complaining about men. As I was listening to them speak, I realized that these women didn’t want more sympathy or more consideration from men, but actually wanted men to be more like them. They wanted men to have similar emotional responses to circumstances as women do. Narcissistic to say the least. Why would anyone want to hold up a mirror to their spouse and see themselves? I think it is important that we react somewhat differently to situations. My son leaving for college was very emotional for my wife who thought she was losing something. For me, his leaving was a matter of pride because I could see him as a man instead of a boy.

So when women talk about changing a man, are they truly talking about changing him into being more like themselves? Are they molding him to fulfill their vision of a progressive, successful future? If this is the case, I would say that the shifting power is having a detrimental effect and could be contributing to an increasing divorce rate. Couples, in my opinion, should be working towards common goals, but also in some cases towards separate goals as well. As women free themselves, they need to make sure they aren’t incarcerating their spouses (unless that turns him on) in the process.

”His green eyes were fixed, not seeing his mouth, like a spoon or a spade or a machine-gun, shot out, spewed out, hot aggressive language, words like bullets. ‘I’m not going to be destroyed by you. By anyone. I’m not going to be shut up, caged, tamed, told be quiet keep your place do as you’re told I’m not...I’m saying what I think, I don’t buy your world.’

It disappoints Anna that when she falls in love with the American, who has been kicked out of the communist party for being anti-Stalinist too soon (It never pays to be right first.), that she falls into a traditional role of wanting exclusivity and finding herself consumed by jealousy. Her whole life’s work has come undone. The golden notebook proves more elusive than the golden snitch.

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This book has carried a heavy load as one of the major pieces of feminist literature. Doris Lessing in 1962 was exploring concepts of what women should be striving for just as a growing number of women were starting to reject the idea that they had to fulfill the male version of what it means to be female. (They may have lost their way in the 1980s with the big shoulder pads. I was so glad when women quit dressing like offensive linemen. The last thing women should do is try to be more like men.) Though there were aspects that I disagreed with in this book, I thought overall it was fairly balanced. Lessing also points out some fallacies in thinking by women even as she celebrates Anna’s attempt to achieve true freedom. Although freedom can sometimes be a very lonely existence.

Understanding yourself so that you can express your true needs is important. Don’t expect others to intuitively know what you want. A revolution without a platform leads to blaming others instead of asking for change. People can make you unhappy or happy for a short time, but ultimately we all have to find ways to make ourselves happy. We have to understand and accept that we will never truly completely know ourselves. Don’t become so wrapped up in a personal philosophy that you forget to live.

Equality doesn’t scare me as long as women are raised up instead of men being brought down.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Vagrant

The VagrantThe Vagrant by Peter Newman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A sword-wielding mute, a baby, and a goat cross a post-apocalyptic landscape, heading for the Shining City. But will they reach their destination before the demonic horde on their trail overtakes them?

After reading about this book on Chuck Wendig's blog, I couldn't wait to dig in. However, at the time, Harper Voyager wanted $20 for the e-book. Since everyone knows that's horseshit, I held off until I found a new hardcover and I'm quite pleased with my treeware purchase.

The story of the last of the Seraph Knights is quite good, though on the surface doesn't look all that original. At first glance, it reminded me of Jay Posey's Three and Peter Brett's The Warded Man, with heavy doses of The Gunslinger. However, The Vagrant kicked my ass.

The way the story unfolds is masterful. You don't notice how much of the text in a lot of novels is dialogue until you come across a book where the three lead characters don't speak. As a result, it seemed like I wasn't making any progress in the book a lot of the time. The reading experience was a rewarding one, though.

Peter Newman's writing was superb and having to infer the Vagrant's nature and motives from his actions elevated the reading experience quite a bit. I never thought I'd get this attached to a nameless baby and a goat. The worldbuilding was interesting, mostly through the dialogue of the characters around the Vagrant and his gang. There were some infodumps in the form of flashbacks but they were easily digestible.

I don't really have anything bad to say about this book. It's a more difficult read than most fantasy books out there but it's also more rewarding. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, July 13, 2015

Philip Marlowe Finds Himself in Another Very Tangled Mess

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

The High Window is another excellent novel featuring Raymond Chandler's hard-boiled L.A. detective, Philip Marlowe, although to my mind it's not quite on a par with Chandler's masterpieces, The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye.

The case opens when a wealthy, twice-widowed Pasadena woman named Elizabeth Bright Murdock hires Marlowe to discreetly recover a valuable coin that has been stolen from her first's husband's collection. The client insists that her daughter-in-law, whom she hates, has taken the coin although she has no proof. The daughter-in-law has either left or been driven from the home. Mrs. Murdock wants Marlowe to quietly find the woman and get the coin back. The police are most certainly not to be involved.

All in all, this is a pretty strange household that also includes Mrs. Murdock's wimpy son and a severely repressed young secretary whom the widow treats like a doormat. Marlowe takes the case, although he pretty much knows from the git-go that everyone is lying to him, including his client.

Well of course they are, and before long poor Marlowe is up to his neck in a case that involves gambling, infidelity, blackmail and a small handful of murders. As is the case with any Raymond Chandler plot, it's all pretty confusing, although in the end, this one gets sorted out better than most.

As always, it's great fun to follow Marlowe through these tangled webs and, as always, the book is beautifully written in a style that has often been imitated but never matched. Raymond Chandler and his tattered detective were each one of a kind. 

Glory in Gaming Throughout the Ages!

Designers & Dragons: The '70s (Designers & Dragons, #1)Designers & Dragons: The '70s by Shannon Appelcline
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beware thou weary reader, for herein lies waaay the fuck more than you ever need to know about the beginnings of fantasy role playing games.

But wait up! Before you even get started on rpgs, Designers & Dragons goes even farther back. RPGs began with wargaming, which actually originated around the '50s. Well, if you want to be technical, you could say it started before that. Napoleon used huge maps and figurines representing army and navy units. Such miniature warfare was played in the Middle Ages as well. But gaming as we know it started with those WWII and Vietnam vets who liked to play out war strategies.


The emergence of fantasy literature, such as Lord of the Rings, in the late '60s meant it wasn't long before someone married the two ideas. After all, once a fan was done reading the book, s/he often wanted to continue on with the adventure, to inhabit the fantasy world just a little longer.

Thus was born Dungeons & Dragons. Appelcline's book is heavy on D&D, and rightly so as it dominated the RPG landscape. It was the game all the kids were playing. Other game-makers acknowledged this by attempting to license side products for the D&D system in the early days.

When I was a kid, it seemed like D&D came about around 1979-80. But that was only when the game "went viral". It had already long since enveloped the gaming underground. The original set was put out in 1974 and its true creation really started years before that in the late '60s.

Original D&D

My main interest in reading this was to get a better understanding of the game I knew and loved as a boy. My version looked more like this...

(I go into more detail on it here, if you're interested:

However, I prefer to get to know my history from the human perspective. In this instance, I wanted to know who created what or how so-and-so had to sleep in their van while they attempted to get their start-up off the ground. It was a brave new world and these fellows were courageous pioneers. I wanted to hear about them. Appelcline gives you plenty of that good stuff. Unfortunately, the book also gets bogged down in litigation and who licensed what to whom. For instance, owner of D&D, TSR Inc was a big ol' suer-rat. If it moved and there was money to be had, TSR sued it. So, D&D's history is embroiled in lawsuit after lawsuit, and Appelcline goes to great length in explaining it all. Frankly, I tired of it very quickly.

This is supposed to be about gaming in the 1970s, but it goes WAY beyond that. It would feel weird, incomplete in almost every case, to shut the door on a company's history at midnight on 12/31/1979 regardless of the story. So you get the whole story, from start to finish, even if that finish takes us right up to today. It was more than I expected and it gave me the opportunity to get to know all those game-makers I was in the dark about until reading this, like...

Chaosium and their main game Call of Cthulhu, a mindbendingly good time, so I'm told.


There was also Middle Earth-esque Tunnels & Trolls as created by Ken St. Andre, who got in on the ground floor with his simplified version of D&D. T&T never gained the same mass-popularity, but it survives to this day.


And then there was "satellite" creators, like Lou Zocchi, the man behind those enigmatic, odd-shaped dice role playing games are so well-known for.


That was good and all, but it took me a damn long time to finish this one, because it is very put-down-able. By which I mean, many of the company's stories are similar enough that reading the whole thing at once would be overkill. Plus, the book is logically broken into company-by-company sections, so once I was done, say, reading about Flying Buffalo, I'd put the book down before moving on to Games Workshop. Days upon days might pass before I was ready to read more.

One of my main gripes is that the writing is a bit amateurish at points. I guess I've grown used to today's writer's of history (Winchester, McCullough, Philbrick) with their smooth style. It really took me out of the story when I'd hit one of the many lines like "More on that later" or "Well return to that soon." It would be a minor point not worth mentioning but that there were so damn many instances of it. And another thing, if you say that a product was recalled due to its artwork and thus has become a hard-to-find collector's item, you really should explain what it was about the artwork that was so scandalous, because I have a very vivid imagination!

Complaints, yes, I had a few, but all in all this was good, good fun!

As a boy, D&D popped into my world almost as if by magic, so I was thrilled to finally get the chance to really learn about the world of gaming and discover the behind-the-scenes, origin stories that once mystified me. For that, I am grateful this book was created, and created with such obvious love for the subject matter. Appelcline once worked for Chaosium, so clearly this book and everything it stands for is important to him. It shows. Well done!

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Friday, July 10, 2015

Like They Always Been Free

Georgina Li
Queer Young Cowboys
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Men play guitar at bonfire parties and find comfort in parking lots. Soldiers find sex and love amidst a devastated America. A shape-shifting surfer hunts a man he can’t stop thinking about. A magician follows the secret messages beneath the graffiti and signs of an urban landscape. A young woman traces the story of her grandfathers: scientists and lovers who established a new colony on a distant moon.

Georgina Li writes with humane poetry, capturing both the profane staccato of soldiers and the blown-grass whispers of country boys. In these eight short stories, Li explores the literal and metaphorical wars of men: on the battlefield, in poverty, and of the heart. Her men are complex, covered in grit but filled with love.

Li’s work slides comfortably from genre to genre, proving that good storytelling is good storytelling regardless of literary conventions.

My Review

I love short story collections, but I am always a little hesitant about trying a collection from a writer I know nothing about. Getting the opportunity to read it for free and knowing it was a finalist for this year’s Lambda Literary Award for Gay Romance gave me that extra push I needed.

Though these eight stories explore the vagaries of love and lust, classifying this collection as m/m romance is reductive. These gorgeous, sensual, and unforgettable stories easily transcend into the literary realm. They are loosely constructed, each one unique, and the characters wonderfully real and very much alive. Their love is a tangible thing, powerful, emotive, and natural. There were times I hated leaving the characters behind, but had no trouble getting immersed in the next story.

Georgina Li’s writing style is fluid and never gets bogged down in extraneous details or too many adjectives.

My favorites are Closer to the Sky; Spill Your Troubles On Me, Love; Shark Bait; and Notes of the Founders.

If you are tired of the usual m/m romances, give this one a try. This rich and diverse collection surprised me in only the very best ways.

Thursday, July 9, 2015


The Postman Always Rings TwiceThe Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”Stealing a man’s wife, that’s nothing, but stealing his car, that’s larceny.”

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John Garfield and Lana Turner in the 1946 movie.

Frank Chambers is a drifter, a man who, when life gets too heavy, catches the next boxcar out of town or puts his thumb out on the nearest highway. Being comfortable or achieving normalcy comes with too much responsibility. He’d rather bum it than have anyone relying on him.

It all begins with a sandwich in a California diner on a road in the middle of nearly nowhere. Nick “The Greek” Papadakis owns the diner and is in need of some help. The Greek offers Frank a job which even though he is broke still sounds

Until he meets Cora.

”Then I saw her. She had been out back, in the kitchen, but she came in to gather up my dishes. Except for the shape, she really wasn’t a raving beauty, but she had a sulky look to her, and her lips stuck out in a way that made me want to mash them in for her.”

He takes the job.

Something sparks between them, something desperate, something twisted, something so bad it is good. The first time The Greek leaves them alone, Frank is all over her:

”I took her in my arms and mashed my mouth up against hers….'Bite me! Bite me!'
I bit her. I sunk my teeth into her lips so deep I could feel the blood spurt into my mouth. It was running down her neck when I carried her upstairs.”

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The steamy kitchen scene from the 1981 movie starring Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson

The pain they inflict on each other in that encounter is only the beginning of this passionate, sadomasochistic relationship with unexpected moments of what could be termed romance. ”Tomorrow night, if I come back, there’ll be kisses. Lovely ones, Frank. Not drunken kisses. Kisses with dreams in them. Kisses that come from life, not death.”

Which would all seem very sweet except for the fact that they are planning to kill The Greek. Frank would have never had the ambition for such a deed on his own. His idea is that they just take off, become gypsies, live off the land, but Cora wants to be free, and she also wants the diner.

She is a femme fatale.

“I ripped all her clothes off. She twisted and turned, slow, so they would slip out from under her. Then she closed her eyes and lay back on the pillow. Her hair was falling over her shoulders in snaky curls. Her eye was all black, and her breasts weren’t drawn up and pointing up at me, but soft, and spread out in two big pink splotches. She looked like the great grandmother of every whore in the world. The devil got his money’s worth that night.”
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1946 poster for the movie

Frank is caught up in this woman who is game for anything. She lets him do things to her that would have most any other woman screaming for help. It is hard to determine if Cora actually had any feelings for Frank or for The Greek. Certainly, The Greek and Frank liked each other more than Cora liked either of them. Was she playing the game she had to play to get the accomplice she needed? Was the perversion of their relationship something she needed as well? The Greek was too old for her, but Frank as it turns out was not who she needed either.

The trial sequence is convoluted, crafty, and artful as their attorney builds this elaborate defense designed to defeat his frenemy, the prosecutor. He doesn’t care if they are guilty. He only cares about winning. Frank turns on Cora; Cora turns on Frank (another form of foreplay?) which is all part of the defense attorney's plan to set them free. The ending of the novel certainly seems a commentary by James M. Cain that people do not escape their guilts nor their destinies.

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One of the more suggestive movie posters from 1981.

There has been much puzzlement over the title because there is no postman involved in the story or anything that would readily suggest a reason for the title. I’ve been doing some research, and it seems that the most logical explanation that people have come up with is that in this time period when the postman delivered the mail, he would ring the bell on the house once, but if he had a telegram, he would ring twice. Telegrams were expensive, and to receive one generally meant that something bad has happened. The title probably made more sense to people in 1934 than it does to us today. If we accept this explanation, then Cain is warning his audience that nothing good is coming.

This is a terrific noir novel, a prime example of the genre. This book and this writer have certainly had an enduring impact on not only the hard boiled mystery novel, but also on literature and Hollywood. The book has been filmed seven times with most people agreeing that the 1946 version with John Garfield and Lana Turner was the best. The book was banned in Boston for being too sexually violent. There were several scenes that even by contemporary standards had me squirming due to the graphic nature, but I was also reading with a certain amount of awe at the audacity of an author trying to depict the very real, dark aspects of a deranged, desperate relationship. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce, #1)The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When young Flavia de Luce, aspiring chemist, finds a body in the cucumber patch outside her father's house, she finds herself caught up in a web of deceit and murder...

I'm not really sure how my love of detective fiction led me to this tale of an eleven year old girl in 1950s England solving a mystery involving stamps but I'm glad it did.

Flavia de Luce is a precocious English girl with a passion for chemistry in general and poisons in particular. She lives in an English country house with her father and two sisters, Ophelia and Daphne. The mystery component of the book is secondary to the delightful antics of Flavia. She's funny as hell and wise beyond her years.

Bradley's writing takes what probably would have been a two star mystery and kicks things up several notches. The writing style reminds me of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers with a pinch of P.G. Wodehouse and was a delight to read.

The mystery itself isn't that great, although Bradley red herring-ed my ass about a fourth of the way through. Parts of it reminded me of Nancy Drew and others reminded me of the cozy mysteries of yore. I was less than 100 pages in when I resolved to read the entire series.

Four out of five stars. I'm looking forward to reading more adventures of Flavia de Luce.

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Monday, July 6, 2015

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

Nick White is having a pretty crappy couple of months. He's lost his job; his efforts to make money as a card player are not going well, and his wife has recently kicked him out. So one can readily understand why the poor guy might be sitting in a bar on a rainy night, sucking down Scotch.

It appears that Nick's luck might finally be changing for the better, though, when an attractive blonde walks into the bar, steps over to Nick and asks, "Are you him?"

Nick decides that he has nothing to lose by playing along and responds by saying, "That depends. Are you her?"

This leads to some witty repartee, but it quickly becomes apparent that the two are talking past each other and that Nick has totally misjudged the situation. If he didn't realize it initially, he gets the picture pretty quickly when the blonde walks back out the door but not before giving him an envelope containing a flash drive, $20,000 in cash, and a photo of the young woman he's supposed to kill before he gets a second twenty thousand.

Once he gathers his wits and realizes what has just happened, Nick races out of the bar after the woman, but she has disappeared into the night and is nowhere to be seen. Totally confused, Nick returns to the bar, finishes his drink, and, of course, is still sitting there, dazed and confused, when the REAL hit man arrives and gets a good look at him.

Of course the logical thing for Nick to do would be to call the cops and turn the whole mess over to them, but then the story would stop dead in its tracks and we wouldn't have the guilty pleasure of watching poor Nick get put through the wringer.

John Rector is a master of taking ordinary people like Nick White, who are usually down on their luck anyhow, putting them into situations like this, letting them make the wrong decisions, usually one after another, and then letting it all play out. It's always great fun watching him do this and Ruthless is a very worthy successor to Rector's earlier books like The Cold Kiss and The Grove.

Suffice it to say that Nick decides not to go to the police but that he should at least warn the young woman who has been targeted for death. And as any fan of noir fiction knows, that means that the excrement is about to hit the fan. This is a book with any number of diabolical twists and turns, one that will keep readers turning the pages very quickly. It's a great summer read.

Dead Girls Are Depressing

The Lovely BonesThe Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well that wasn't a happy happy good time...

The Lovely Bones is going to be difficult to review without spoilers, so if you haven't read it yet I'm gonna have to go ahead and ask you to leave, m'kay?

Why am I not surprised to learn that Alice Sebold was raped at a young age? Because only someone who'd been through something as horrific as that would write a book like this. I'm not just talking about the subject matter, but rather the tone. Everything about this book is a victim's silent scream. Suzie, the dad, the surviving seems like everyone has someone taken from them. Maybe even the mom. I mean after all, the life she wished to lead was raped from her after she had the chance to lead it.

Honestly, I thought this was going to be even more depressing than it turned out to be. There's an unexpected hopeful strain through out, a nice pairing with some of Sebold's better writing.

On the other hand, some of her writing is irritating. Most notably were the many instances in which she attempts to utilize suspense writer techniques. As readers we are expecting a divulgence of information regarding the focal murder of the story. So, it's a big old tease when Sebold abruptly states "I saw him." Many times out of the blue she starts a new paragraph or section with just such a line and then goes on to talk about the family dog or some other nonsense. It's bullshit.

Overall though, this isn't bad. At times I enjoyed this look (maybe not the POV from which the story's told) at the after affects of a young girl's mysterious murder. The grieving period for family and friends, and the various paths each of them takes, is portrayed with authenticity. Some grieve harder than others. This isn't a murder mystery, this is real life. It's not always interesting or entertaining. Sometimes it's just sad and thought provoking.

So yes, I did like The Lovely Bones, but as for my tepid 3-star rating, all I can say is, Oprah lied. She told millions to read this and their perseverance upon that endeavor eventually got me to do the same. I read it. I was not Oprah-amazed. Why blame her? Because if she hadn't kicked it all off with her recommendation, I never would've read this. It's just not in my wheelhouse. Thus, I never would've had the opportunity to give this a lower rating. So, if you feel 3 stars is too low, blame Oprah.

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Friday, July 3, 2015

Martyrs & Monsters

Robert Dunbar
Uninvited Books
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Robert Dunbar has been called one of the "saviors of contemporary dark fiction" and an "avatar of literary horror." Martyrs & Monsters runs the gamut of this extraordinary author's narrative range, embracing vampires and sea serpents, werewolves and swamp creatures... as well as a host of nightmares for which no names exist. Whether set on an orbiting space station or within a haunted tenement, these terrifying tales are steeped in a passionate intensity that renders them all but unique within the genre, and all boast a sophistication that qualifies them as that rarest of rare commodities: horror for intelligent adults.

My Review

I loved Martyrs & Monsters for its variety of rich, intense stories, and its diverse cast of characters, many of whom are troubled people who struggle through life and live on the edge.

These disturbing and unsettling stories are not graphic, but they will creep up on you and won’t let go.

Though each story in this collection will linger on in my memory, a few favorites stand out:

Getting Wet – Very murky, damp and unsettling. Tim and Conrad were extremely well developed considering the short length of this story. They were not especially likable, but their life experiences and the tragic events in the story made me feel very deeply for them. The ending left me breathless and managed to be sexy and revolting at the same time.

High Rise – It’s a contemporary ghost story. It’s also about the relationship between two brothers and the sacrifice one makes. The ending shattered me.

Mal de Mer – A beautifully written, evocative story that left me shaken. I love the sea - its mysteries, turmoil, tranquility, and lack of consciousness. This haunting, disturbing and erotic story explored aging, loneliness, and the emotional toll of being a caregiver.

Explanations – Wagner and Jimmy love comics and old movies. Wagner owns a comic book store. When Jimmy gets a job at Wagner’s store, their friendship deepens and obsession grows. Wagner’s wife has had enough. Dark, sad, and humorous.

I would recommend this collection of stories to those who love thoughtful and intelligent horror.