Monday, November 30, 2015

Choose Your Own Relationship Fail

Love Is Not Constantly Wondering If You Are Making the Biggest Mistake of Your LifeLove Is Not Constantly Wondering If You Are Making the Biggest Mistake of Your Life by Anonymous
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thrills and chills! ZOOMIDDY ZOOOOM!!! Space chases! BLAMMO!!! Laser blasts! All this excitement and more is promised on the back of this book:

"You are an ace starfighter pilot in the Galactic Space Force. Shot down over a mysterious planet, you have been taken captive by a race of giant, super intelligent ants."

But soon enough you discover Love Is Not Constantly Wondering if You Are Making the Biggest Mistake of Your Life " actually about your relationship with a young woman named Anne, and your struggles to cope with her alcoholism." Wow. That's not your usual Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) book, where via second person narration you most often play the hero of some great adventure or mystery.

The text has nothing to do with sci-fi. It's about the relationship. The illustrations and your choices are written as if you were reading the sci-fi aspect of the story, but it's only a metaphor for the struggles of the main character author. It stays like that until the end when fiction and reality intermingle in a surreal nightmare.

Those of you who've been following my reviews (and I thank you for that) know that I'm a fan of the CYOA books. Have been since I was a kid and I still love going back to revisit the old books now and again. But I'm just as excited when I find a new CYOA [Who Killed John F. Kennedy? (Lose Your Own Adventure #1)], even if it's a parody or not exactly in keeping with the old school style.

This one uses the CYOA style, and seems to have a level of reverence for it, while not adhering to it entirely. Let me explain. With this one there are no page numbers, just dates upon which incidents happened...

You are bored so you decide to give Anne a call. She answers. You ask her what she is doing. She replies, "My roommate."

"Hey, wake up!"
And that was the moment Anne dropped the snake on your face.

It is three in the morning when the phone rings, and you answer to the sound of Anne sobbing hysterically. You can hear the sounds of a car. She says they are coming. She was at a party, and they are coming, and she is sorry. The line goes dead.

Unlike other CYOAs, reading this straight through from beginning to end is perfectly a-okay. Actually, it's probably the smart move if you want to understand the story in a linear fashion. Besides, half the time you're not given an action choice, but rather told to turn to such-and-such a date. When there is a choice given, quite often it is done to underline a point or express a darkly-humored truism as relates to the cyclical nature of the abusive relationship. Yes, believe it or not, humor does play a hand in this, perhaps as laughter is used in therapy.

There is more give-and-take to the relationship than the examples I gave above, creating a very telling memoir that does not show the author in the best of lights at all times. The writing is accomplished, providing a smooth read on an engrossing subject that draws the reader in, making you pull for these fucked up kids. Will they survive the dangerous rollercoaster ride or will it all go off the rails?

Right up until this very minute, I've been unsure whether to give this 4 or 5 stars. While it's not perfect, it did evoke a lot of emotion in me. Sure, that emotion came in the form of sadness, pity and disgust, but it was all very visceral. And it kept me on the edge of my seat, because disaster was around every corner. Yes, I was glorying in horrible accidents and intentional horribleness. Is that so wrong?

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This Is No Three Hour Tour

The RaftThe Raft by Robert Trumbull
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Three naval airmen from a downed plane spend over a month in an open raft upon the South Pacific Seas with no food, water or cover from the sun and live to tell the tale. Wow. I need to stop bitching when I get a little sunburn or miss lunch.

This memoir was put together by Robert Trumbull in 1942 soon after Harold Dixon, Gene Aldrich, and Tony Pastula underwent their trying ordeal. It's told from Dixon's perspective. He was the pilot and senior to the other two. He gives his opinions relatively freely. His descriptions of their journey are novel-worthy, making for one heck of a nail-biting read.

Some of the details, like what they were doing and where it took place, had to be left sketchy because the war was still ongoing. But that doesn't detract from the essence of their story. I've read a few sea survival biographies and this ranks right up there with its storms, sharks, deprivation, hope and despair. Heck, this even includes an encounter with natives, like it was some kind of fanciful 18th century adventure tall tale. At times I felt like I was reading of Captain Bligh's post-mutiny survival voyage or a better version of Robinson Crusoe.

If reading The Raft doesn't sound like your thing, perhaps you might watch it? It was recently made into a movie, Against the Sun, starring Malfoy... description

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Friday, November 27, 2015

Spare Some Change

Gamal Hennessy
Nightlife Publishing
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


Martin is young, arrogant and drunk when he decides to harass a homeless man on the train. But he doesn't realize the power that the old man wields in the tunnels. He can't escape from the wrath of the deranged torturers who want to punish him for the sins of everyone who has ever abused them. Will he be able to live through their brutality and see the outside world again?

My Review

I’ve had this book on my Kindle for ages and can’t remember if the author provided me with the copy, or if I snagged it when it was free.

Even though I now live in a small town and am relatively insulated from the problem of homelessness, I work in the city. Going back and forth to work every day, I see the haunted eyes of people begging for change, sleeping in doorways and park benches, and riding the buses and subway. This poses a dilemma for me, as I am constantly reminded of my relative wealth. Even if I spend nearly 4 hours a day commuting to work and have a significant amount of debt, at least I have 3 meals a day and a roof over my head. Do I walk on by, or do I carry a stack of singles that I can periodically hand out to those who appear the neediest. I have learned that not all beggars are homeless. There are those with disabilities, or those struggling at minimum wage jobs and dealing with huge medical expenses. I recently met a man begging on the corner right next to the Starbucks I frequent. He had a friendly greeting for everyone who passed by and talked about his recent layoff and various medical problems to those who stopped to listen. One day, I gave him a dollar. Another day, I gave him two. Another day, I gave him five and bought him a coffee. A few weeks later he was gone. Somehow, I don’t think he collected enough to have the knee surgery he needed or buy necessary medications. He could have been a fraud, but I don’t want to believe he was.

So ignore the sloppy editing and read this short and terrifying story about what happens to a very drunk, but privileged man who mistreats the wrong homeless person. It will be that much easier to dig deep into your pocket and show your generosity in time for the holidays.

Thursday, November 26, 2015


Legend (Drenai Saga, #1)Legend by David Gemmell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An unfathomably numerous Nadir army heads to the mighty stronghold of Dros Delnoch to either accept surrender or slaughter their defenders. The old legendary warrior Druss known by many names such as Captain of the Ax, the Axman, Deathwalker, and the Silver Slayer comes to Delnoch in search of a worthy fighting death. When he arrives he realizes he can't just fight because the warriors of Dros Delnoch need him to lead.

Much of the tale of Legend seems to revolve around dying well. There are a lot of deaths and the ones that occur in battle are honored above all others. Since the story revolves around outnumbered protagonists taking part in a siege it makes sense. With that being said the story is quite bittersweet with a mostly realistic view of the depravity and destruction of war.

A part of the story I didn't like was the quick blazing love between Rek and Virae. I get that their is only so many pages to tell a story, but everyone knows if you are going to have a meet cute and want to speed up two characters falling in love then you need a montage. I guess it doesn't work the same in books as it does in 80s movies. Needless to say at this point I didn't buy Rek and Virae falling instantly in love for no real reason. That being said their relationship and devotion to one another was really well done after they fell in love.

I also didn't like the continual shifting from one point of view character to the next without a transition or even a line break to signal a different point of view. I found it a bit frustrating, but not to the extent it kept me from reading the book.

I really enjoyed the arthritic legend Druss. He really lived up to the legend despite being weary because of age. He is a warrior through and through and I enjoyed reading about him. For a man who insisted he was just a warrior and no leader he lead the men of Dros Delnoch admirably.

It's time for a Now You Know Moment. Did you know that the recurring term in Legend, baresark, is the Scandinavian term for berserker? Well now you know.

Overall I am generally dismayed to rate classic books because quite often the authors of today have borrowed from the classics and the plot points which were once uniquely spectacular now seem commonplace. I fear this was partially the case for me with Legend. Much of the story felt familiar and what made it special is unfortunately lost on me reading it 31 years later.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015


ThinnerThinner by Richard Bachman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Some guys-- a lot of guys---don't believe what they are seeing, especially if it gets in the way of what they eat or drink or think or believe. Me, I don't believe in God. But if I saw him, I would. I wouldn't just go around saying 'Jesus, that was a great special effect.' The definition of an asshole is a guy who doesn't believe what he's seeing. And you can quote me.”
Richie “The Hammer” Ginelli

 photo Thinner20Movie_zpsvr8ydode.jpg

William Halleck is a damn fine lawyer, a rising star in his firm, and well liked by judges and police officers. His life was coming together nicely and without too much extrapolation he could probably anticipate the continuing arc of his success. There was really only one thing that he was fighting against on a daily basis...his weight. The scales were not his friend. He was a stress eater, a man who would rather have two Big Macs peeking out of their wrappers than the goosepimple naked Coors Twins cooing his name.

He is 6’4” and weighs 251 pounds, which isn’t exactly fat if you are a professional football player bristling with heavy musculature, but if you are a white collar worker who doesn’t exercise and eats high calorie, high carb meals from breakfast until bed, the weight gain is going to settle right around your bread basket. I’m 6’4” and weigh 200-205. If I were to put on 50 pounds, I would be obese according to all the BMI charts. Given the fact that I’m retired from any form of athletics except shooting a few hoops in the driveway and going for walks, that 50 pounds would be the worst kind of weight gain, and I would be looking for new pants several sizes larger. Some reviewers/readers have questioned whether Halleck at 6’4” and 251 pounds was actually obese, which might say something about the current state of the American waistline. A nation floating down the river deNILE.

Halleck was a chubby checker, unable to see his feet when he was standing upright on a scale. Pissing was simply an act of faith because for Halleck to see willie perform, he would need to put mirrored tiles on his bathroom floor and walls.

Libido is usually the first to go when people become overweight. Their desires and lusts are exchanged for french fries, strawberry pie, and milkshakes, but Halleck didn’t have that problem. In fact, at the moment that his life was about to go off course, he was almost ready to cross off a bucket list item right up until the time he…

hit a woman with his car.

His wife, Heidi, out of the wild blue decides to be spontaneous. She’s not a prude, but she has never given any indication that she was uninhibited enough to go searching for Billy’s fishing tackle while he was steering a moving vehicle.

Now, he didn’t just hit any woman. Oh no, to completely screw up your life you have to hit a gypsy with a vengeful father. Taduz Lemke is a gypsy patriarch who might be anywhere between 106-120 years old. He knows things that the rest of the world has forgotten.

 photo Stephen_King_s_Thinner_zpspitkpfru.jpg
Robert John Burke stars in the 1996 film version.

When he touches Halleck’s cheek and whispers the word…thinner, William starts to lose weight at an alarming rate.

He has been cursed, not just cursed, but gypsy cursed.

“You were starting to sound a little like a Stephen King novel for a while there.”

Wait, what was that about Stephen King?

Back in the late 1970s and through the mid-1980s, Stephen King was writing more books than could be published. In those days publishers believed that an author could only publish one book a year successfully. King decided to create a pseudonym as Richard Bachman so he could publish more than just one book a year. He was also having doubts about his own success. Had he just gotten lucky? Could he produce a best selling book without Stephen King emblazoned on the cover? The Bachman books were doing ok, but they did a lot better after a bookseller named Steve Brown in Washington D.C. thought the style shown by Bachman was very similar to the writing style of Stephen King.

 photo RichardBachman_zpsug4hlvps.jpg
Meet Mr. Richard Bachman. The actual subject of the photo is Richard Manuel, the insurance agent of Kirby McCauley, who was King's literary agent.

The truth was out, and Thinner became a bestseller. Brown showed a lot of class. He went to the publisher first to show what he had discovered and asked what he should do. King called him and asked him if he would like to do an interview to tell the world how he made his discovery. For those interested, here is a link to Brown’s discussion of the discovery:

So the reference to himself that he put in Thinner was a tongue in cheek, knee slapping moment of poking fun at himself.

 photo Stephen20King20and20Tom20Holland_zpseo1wbutv.jpg
Stephen King and Tom Holland (director of the film) on the set. King had a cameo role as Dr. Banger.

Halleck is now losing two to three pounds a day, and that is with eating as much food as he can stuff into his stomach. He is desperately searching for the gypsy caravan so he can convince the prehistoric gypsy to take the curse off, but the flame of vengeance still burns in the heart and soul of Taduz Lemke.

He is going to need some convincing.

Halleck knows just the guy.

Richie “The Hammer” Ginelli, an Italian mobster whom Halleck helped defend in court, is a man with a code regarding helping friends in need. Out of all the people Halleck has tried to explain his situation to Ginelli is the only one who believes him.

Ginelli is a terrific character. He is certainly someone you will not forget. I thought that Stephen King, erhh Richard Bachman, put real flesh on the bones of all the characters. The plot is taut like a quarter bouncing off a nubile bottom and crackles like a corn crib on fire. In my opinion, one of the best Stephen King, erhhh Richard Bachman, books I’ve ever read.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sour Candy by Kealan Patrick Burke

Sour CandySour Candy by Kealan Patrick Burke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Sour Candy, Kealan Patrick Burke weaves a dread inducing psychological horror novella that seriously wreaks mayhem with your sanity.

Phil Pendleton was more than willing to pay a visit to Wal-Mart to restock on chocolate sex rewards, the memory of Lori in pink silk undies (with leather paddle and ball gag, fun times) and hot shagging fresh in his mind. When the kid screamed like a banshee and shattered his love lust euphoria.

An unsettling scream queen style screech from a boy no less and something strange is about to take place. A mind fuck of phantasmagoric and inexplicable proportion starts in the Sour Candy section. This isn't the last time Phil will see this young boy but he'll wish it was, with every ounce of his soul.

Next up Phil is involved in a car accident and the driver of the other car, yep it's the boy’s Mother.

'Marsh studied him as one might a particularly exotic species of insect. “I’m asking you all of this, Mr. Pendleton, because when the officers went to your house, the child you just described seeing with Mrs. Bennings is the one who opened the door.”

A true Woah! WTF moment and Phil, well Phil's life is suddenly changed and me, I'm tripping. Kealan Patrick Burke never disappoints and just to reassure you, there is definitely no horror of the ball gag variety, Sour Candy is one of the best psychical horror novellas I've read and KPB is pretty fucking awesome.

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Snowblind II: The Killing Grounds by Michael McBride

Snowblind II: The Killing GroundsSnowblind II: The Killing Grounds by Michael McBride
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Michael McBride takes us back to the Rockies and once more we're blind in the snow, we're in the killing grounds, the panic is mounting and the tensiometer is pinging like a metal detector in a shipping container.

Seven years ago John Avery's girlfriend went on a skiing trip with friends, none of them were ever seen again and he's searched for them, relentlessly, he was even a suspect.

Sheriff Wayne Dayton once shot a man who staggered into a diner carrying a severed head, a tortuous ending to a harrowing journey that is not easily forgotten. A conservation biologist searching for a missing bighorn sheep finds a video camera hidden in a tree and evidence of the missing party is finally discovered.

'A scream from the television cut him off. It was loud and clear and filled with so much raw terror that the hackles rose along his shoulders and neck.'

Sheriff Dayton investigates, resulting in a group setting out to ascertain exactly what happened all those years ago. Darkness and a freak blizzard put them in the killing grounds of a predator even Arnie would struggle to get away from.

There's a cabin hidden in the snow and the trees, on a wall inside is scrawled the names of those unfortunate enough to realise that there's definitely no hiding place, not here. And a warning 'They come at night'.

Snowblind 2: The Killing Grounds is another exemplary suspense filled horror from McB, in a perfect setting for terror, the pace and trepidation rise exponentially until it's just unbearable. Will there be any survivors in the most extreme of conditions and if there are, can the U.S. law department take them out (kill them that is, not for lunch). Well worth finding out and I do recommend the two Snowblind novellas, heavy on terror, light on humour and there’s a good deal of pronounced nail-biting and heart pounding tension going down.

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The Prophet

The ProphetThe Prophet by Michael Koryta
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Austin brothers haven't spoken in years, not since high school when their sister was abducted and murdered when one of them should have been driving her home. Now, Kent is a football coach and Adam is a hard-drinking bail bondsman. When Adam unwittingly sends another girl to her doom, the two brothers must work together to find her killer...

Holy. Shit. This was one hell of a book.

The Prophet, while appearing initially to be a crime book, is really about what happens to families after a tragedy. In this case, it's about how Marie Austin's death sent her brothers in opposite directions and how another girl's death eventually brought them back together.

Adam Austin can't seem to get past his sister's death and hides from it with alcohol and a simmering capacity for violence. Kent Austin threw himself into his career as a high school football coach and the church. It would have been easy for Koryta to make either of them a stereotype but they are both well-rounded characters. It's a testament to Koryta's skill that he made me care about Kent's high school football team's winning season, which takes up a large part of the book.

I can't say enough good things about this book. Koryta had me guessing up until the end. It knew it wouldn't be a happily ever after ending but it still hit me like a shotgun blast to the chest. I may have let a man tear escape before the final page was turned.

The Prophet looks like a fairly standard crime book on the surface. A psychopath is on the loose and police can't seem to catch him. A certain wise man likened The Prophet to Mystic River, which I think is very accurate. The Prophet is one of those books that transcends genre and proceeds to kick ass on several levels. Five out of five stars.

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Monday, November 23, 2015


A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian TrailA Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail pressed all my favorite buttons: Humor. Adventure. Danger. Storytelling. Nature. Local/personal interest. Et cetera.

I even liked that the author Bill Bryson is a American-Brit ex-pat/transplant and thus an outsider giving his opinion as a stranger in a strange land. Bryson's humorous, well-researched, yet relaxed writing is what I always hope for when embarking upon a book like this.

A trek upon the Appalachian Trail is supposed to be relaxing, if strenuous, and if a bit of history and humor get mixed in then all the better. For those like myself who grew up in New England, the lure and legend of the trail was spoon-fed us from an early age, right along with Johnny Appleseed and the ride of Paul Revere. Those of us too lazy to make the actual hike can sit back and read Bryson's book while thinking about how swell a jaunt would be.


While I enjoyed hearing about the local spots I'm familiar with like Mt. Washington in New Hampshire (a hiker from Pepperell, MA the tiny town my mom is from is even mentioned, woohoo!), it's Bryson's relationship with his friend Katz, a larger-than-life character who joined him periodically on the trail, that really ties this whole book together. The hijinks are raised when Katz enters the scene, making a normal hike in the woods into an adventure, perhaps more than it needed to be, but I'm grateful either way!

Bryson's writing and the personality that comes through made more palatable his occasional soapbox tangents. The guy loves nature preservation and he's not happy when man fucks with it, so every once in a while the reader must wade through a lecture on why the trail is essentially lucky to be alive. For all that, I loved this book just about in its entirety and look forward to reading more by Bill Bryson, a writer who I've taken an immediate shine to, a reader-writer bond strengthened by my own private pleasure at discovering we share December 8th as a birthday.

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Blood and Dirt

Lloyd A. Meeker
Wilde City Press
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Family squabbles can be murder.

Psychic PI Russ Morgan investigates a vandalized marijuana grow in Mesa County Colorado, landing in the middle of a ferocious family feud that’s escalating in a hurry. Five siblings fight over the family ranch as it staggers on the brink of bankruptcy, marijuana its only salvation. Not everyone agrees, but only one of them is willing to kill to make a point.

Russ also has a personal puzzle to solve as he questions his deepening relationship with Colin Stewart, a man half his age. His rational mind says being with Colin is the fast track to heartbreak, but it feels grounding, sane, and good. Now, that’s really dangerous…

My Review

Even though I was assured this story was a standalone, I’m a stickler for order. So I purchased and read Enigma, the first Russ Morgan mystery, and was even more excited to read the second in what I hope is going to be an ongoing series.

Ellis Landry hires Russ Morgan to find out who vandalized his sister’s marijuana grow. What starts out as a simple investigation of a vandalism incident turns out to be much more complicated as Morgan assesses the dynamics of the Ellis/Landry clans using his empathic abilities and, as other facts and feelings begin to emerge, he decides to carry a firearm.

When Russ is not unraveling a tangled web of lies and deception, he is scared of his developing relationship with Colin Stewart, a paralegal he met during his first case, and a man nearly half his age. Russ has achieved sobriety, but still deals with pain from his past. Fortunately, Colin is very patient and mature for his years.

This was a clever, engaging, and thoughtful mystery that deals with toxic families and the fragility of new relationships. I loved the first-person narration of this story that allowed me to connect with Russ on a deeper level and I enjoyed alternating glimpses of his professional and personal life. He’s a very likable, well-rounded character who is easy to spend time with.

I very much look forward to more Russ Morgan stories.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Falling Kingdoms

Falling Kingdoms (Falling Kingdoms, #1)Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

He said, "I must tell you that while I was forced to guard you and you were making my life harder by being so stubbornly annoying, I fell in love with you for no apparent reason."

She said, "Truly?! While you were guarding me I also fell in love with you despite you not letting me have my way. It's clear that we must be wed since we love each other so."

I said, "I'm too old for this sh**."

Falling Kingdoms was very very young adult. I thought perhaps it was along the lines of a young adult story that is more mature and interesting in nature, but that wasn't the case. I blame Joe Abercrombie his young adult stories made me forget what real young adult stuff looks like, but truly this is my fault it says its genre is young adult. Reviewers kept mentioning how many people died in the story too which made me think it was a more mature young adult, but the majority of the deaths had little weight to them and hardly felt real.

I know I shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but a books cover should have something to do with the book. There is no cool hooded warrior taking on all comers and winning against impossible odds as the cover hints at. Truthfully there is barely any fighting except for the last 60 pages or so.

So although I didn't give Falling Kingdoms a high rating please fans of the young adult genre don't let that dissuade you. I came in looking for the young adult A Game of Thrones not kids with magic and swords proclaiming their love and hate in a nearly elementary school fashion.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015


World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie WarWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”The book of war, the one we’ve been writing since one ape slapped another was completely useless in this situation. We had to write a new one from scratch.”

With most apocalyptic situations, I think the hardest part to deal with is that there are no wrong decisions or right decisions. There are simply too many variables to consider if your ultimate goal is to survive. The most meticulously planned strategies can still result in failure. You make the best decisions you can and then hope for a bit of luck. Should we barricade ourselves hoping to be saved, or go North hoping the zombies will eventually become popsicles when winter hits? Are we safer in the underground tunnels of Paris or on a cruise ship or living in the woods by ourselves? Whatever decision you make, you must think long game and short game. The short game, the immediate concerns, involve food, water, and shelter. The short and long game both come into play when trying to figure out how to avoid becoming zombie chow.

Once you survive the first wave of contagion, then what?

This book is written as an investigative report, collecting all the experiences of survivors from around the world. Different cultures reacted differently to the apocalypse. Some were more successful than others. The learning curve, unfortunately, has to be short with apocalyptic situations, especially if the hope is to actually salvage civilisation. The lights go out, and many of the comforts we’ve become accustomed to are gone instantly, and the possessions that have come to define us, such as electronic devices, suddenly become useless.

If the whole idea of a zombie apocalypse is too wild a concept for you to grasp, you might be relieved that for the most part the zombies are really just part of the background. What Max Brooks is really dealing with goes well beyond the concept of zombies and focuses more on how people survived the collapse of civilisation. He could have used microbes or conventional war or a devastating meteorite hitting the earth or any of the other fascinating concepts that people have come up with as ways to end the world. It reads like books of a similar nature that collect the stories of people who survived World War Two. The scope is huge and impressive. Brooks addresses aspects about a zombie apocalypse that I have never thought about before.

Quislings ”Yeah, you know, the people that went nutballs and started acting like zombies.” Ok, I’ve read a handful of zombie books, not enough to make myself an expert, but certainly enough to have some background on the lore of a zombie apocalypse. WTH? Now Brooks didn’t just make this term up. It is a term from WW2. ”A quisling is a person who collaborates with an enemy occupying force. The word originates from the Norwegian war-time leader Vidkun Quisling, who headed a domestic Nazi collaborationist regime during the Second World War.”

The minds of survivors, I’m sure, snapped in all kinds of strange and wonderful and terrifying ways, but unfortunately pretending to be a zombie was a quick way to find yourself...well...dead. First, any reasonably sane human who notices you lurching toward them, performing your very best mimicry of the undead, will smash your brain. Second, you don’t blend with the zombies. They know you are alive. You become a zombie delight!

People also just went to sleep perfectly healthy and didn’t wake up. This was called ADS, short for Asymptomatic Demise Syndrome or Apocalyptic Despair Syndrome. ”It killed as many people in those early stalemate months as hunger, disease, interhuman violence, or the living dead.” I’ve heard of things like this happening to people who experience long term stress situations. The body just reaches a point where the brain decides to just shut down the power to the spacecraft and let the mind drift away.


People will put up with a lot as long as there is hope that someday their situation will improve. Babies die when they are not held. People die when things become hopeless.

Brooks also told stories about zombies underwater. WTH? Yeah, people reanimated as the living dead on ships and eventually managed to fall off the ship in the water. It wasn’t unusual for zombies to just walk out of the water onto beaches or grab divers or attack fishermen in boats. Somehow they are more scary underwater than on land. It gives me the shivers just thinking about it. I’m having a Jaws flashback.

During and after WWZ, people had to relearn things that our grandparents and great grandparents knew.

A chimney sweep. ”I help keep my neighbors warm.” he said proudly.

A cobbler. ”You see those shoes. I made them.”

A shepherd. ”That sweater, that’s my sheep’s wool.”

A gardener/farmer. ” Like that corn? My garden.”

”That was the upshot of a more localized system. It gave people the opportunity to see the fruits of their labor, it gave them a sense of individual pride to know they were making a clear, concrete contribution to victory, and it gave me a wonderful feeling that I was part of that. I needed that feeling. It kept me sane for the other part of my job.”

The other part of his job?...killing zombies. Several of the survivors talked about how important it was not to think of them as people or of who they were or of who they might have become. They couldn’t see them as people or what they were doing was genocide.

This is by far the most serious zombie book I’ve ever read. The stories are compelling. This is a panoramic view of a society in crises. The observations are thoughtful. The writing is convincing. By the end I had the feeling I’d just read a history book, not a speculative zombie apocalyptic book.

The book is unfilmable, but the movie industry knew a catchy title when they saw one. They certainly borrowed aspects from the book, but really the movie should be considered a completely different entity. The zombies in Brooks book are the George Romero lurching, yucky living dead. In the movie, they are super charged, fast moving, aggressive, nasty creatures. The virus in the movie is fast acting. Someone bitten is transformed within seconds. In the book, the virus takes much longer to take effect.

Did it bother me that the director Marc Forster took such liberties?

Not one bite bit.

I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. I was thoroughly entertained. I certainly intend to watch the movie again. So read the book to discover new depths to an overly exploited genre, and watch the movie to experience a whirlwind of fear and dread. Just a suggestion, have someone else hold the popcorn.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

The ExorcistThe Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty was released in 1971, we've all seen the subsequent film released in 1973, you might have read the book but an altogether different experience is guaranteed to scare the pants off you with the audiobook. Narrated by the author who won an Oscar for best writing/screenplay based on material from another medium for the Exorcist and I have to say this is easily the best production and performance from any audiobook that I've listened to.

Powerfully gripping, a story that is truly frightening with characters that are riveting and completely absorbing. Every character was perfectly fleshed out, I both liked and likened the detective William Kinderman to Peter Falks Colombo always that one more question or insight. Forever bordering on annoying and continually grasping at straws but really enjoyable, the film doesn’t show any of that as well as the book.

Damien Karras was superb, a compelling character that the film could never quite portray adequately enough and then the impact of Father Lankester Merrin and the attempted exorcism. One word fanfuckingtastic. Merrin has short page time but he is a significant presence all the same. Regan, lovely and sweet, for a short time anyway, until she starts to manifest different personalities and becomes quite the opposite of lovely and sweet. Vomiting, cursing and using a religious cross for a purpose altogether different to what it was intended for.

This is demon possession horror and its done both horrifically well and with immense impact. From the different impersonations by the demon to the relationships of the characters entwined in the story, everything is perfect. Obviously this has been reviewed to death so this is more a profession of adoration for a masterpiece than a review and I really need to watch the film again it feels way to long since I last watched it. *Just watched it and rightly justified as one of the best horror films of all time but the book, well the book is even better, simple as that*.

Absolutely nothing compares to this and it’s without doubt the best and easily my favourite horror story, in fact any bloody story. I rate it that highly and the audio narration by the author adds a level that's nigh on impossible to surpass in the realms of horror and audiobooks. Intense just doesn't seem to cover it. If it's been a good while since you last delved into The Exorcist then it might be time for a revisit.

And I think another star is needed.

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Apeshit by Carlton Mellick III

Apeshit  Apeshit by Carlton Mellick III
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

What the fuck can I say about Apeshit, well pretty often, almost as easy as the flip of a coin, the story went from flat-out batshit crazy to head shaking incredulous wonder.

We have six college kids taking off for a break to a country retreat, one of the kids grandfather has died and left him the cabin. So that’s where they are heading. There's plenty of weirdness in this story, on the way up the perilous mountain road to the cabin they run past an area full of dead animals and a random dead bloke at the side of the road. The animal apocalypse it seems but that’s pretty tame as expectations should go.

Now these aren't your average college kids, one's a tattooed cheerleader sporting a mohican who happens to be in a relationship with two of the guys. She spends the majority of the book running round with her intestines hanging out, performing the odd lasso trick. There's a couple who don't have sex and it might be said, get up to some pretty funny sexual activities. That's not funny haha, that's fucked up funny. One guy has had an alleged urinary tract infection for a number of months that's prevented him taking part in the shagging Olympics going down but oh! fucking no, stupid boy, he's had an altogether different operation that... yeah you'd have to read it.

They arrive at the cabin and its total madness, total fucked up mayhem and yes the review does completely deserve this many expletives, there's mutants and a heap load of freakish, rifuckingdiculously queer and downright outlandish shit going on.

Did I enjoy it? I don't think I'll ever be able to answer that, it felt weird and it’s written with an extremely simplistic writing style. This author is as nutty as a dive bomb into a swimming pool full of peanuts and he certainly entertains but I'll be forever torn between genius and padded cell.

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The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Out of work and gripped by a serious drinking problem, Rachel still rides the train to London and back every day, fantasizing about a couple she sees living near a house that used to be hers. When the female half of the couple goes missing, Rachel is convinced she knows the answer. But who would believe a drunk?

Every once in a while, a book is seriously hyped and I keep it at arm's length for as long as a I can. Sometimes, I regret it, like with The Martian or Gone Girl. The Girl on the Train was similarly hyped. How could I resist for long?

Well, as much as The Girl on the Train is hyped as the next Gone Girl, it ain't no Gone Girl. Here are my thoughts.

The Girl on the Train is told by three viewpoint characters: Rachel, the alcoholic jobless divorcee, Anna, Rachel's ex-husband's new wife, and Megan, the female half of the couple Rachel is entranced by. None of them are good people but I wouldn't put them in the league of Amy of Gone Girl fame. They're all varying degrees of messed up.

Rachel's drunken detective playing is entertaining but also sad. She just can't let go of Tom and is determined to help Megan's husband figure out what happened to her.

While I think Paula Hawkins does a great job of juggling three viewpoint characters and serving up plate after plate of deep-fried red herring, it still feels like an attempt to cash in on the Gone Girl hype to me. Gone is the unreliable narrator. Unfortunately, she got the less than completely sympathetic leads part right. However, it was pity I felt rather than revulsion.

As long as you aren't expecting the second coming of Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train is a gripping thriller. I wolfed it down in near record time. There was just a little something missing. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Monday, November 16, 2015

Unexpected Flavors

Not Becoming My Mother: and Other Things She Taught Me Along the WayNot Becoming My Mother: and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way by Ruth Reichl
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Expecting a comedic Shit My Dad Says diversion? Keep moving. Not Becoming My Mother is not the book you're looking for.

Having read another of food critic Ruth Reichl's books, I rashly assumed this too would be light-hearted and humorous. It's not. In fact, it's a rather depressing look at the repression that became the keystone of her mother's life. Instead of quirky-funny stories about a mad-capped mom as might be expected by the first few pages, the reader is treated to sad tales of psychotherapy and antidepressant drug addiction.

While not a hoot of a read by any means, this is an insightful cautionary tale, the sort to give any feminist the willies. Ruth's mother grew up in a time when American women fought for suffrage rights, were not allowed into the male-dominated business world, tasted the ironic freedom of hard labor during WWII, and then had it taken away and replaced with the surprising drudgery of doing absolutely nothing. A life of idle boredom was the spoils of war for middle class women in America, and the long, slow death of Ruth's once creative and ambitious mother.

Through discovered letters, Ruth pieces together her mother's past, learning the hows and whys behind her mother's odd behavior. Not Becoming My Mother is at times touching and heartbreaking. It is also short and feels a tad perfunctory, like a feature story Reichl the journalist extended beyond the normal allotted newspaper article word count.

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Friday, November 13, 2015

Travels with Lizbeth: Three Years on the Road and on the Streets

Lars Eighner
Ballantine Books
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


The true story of a modern Robinson Crusoe and Huckleberry Finn, a homeless man and his erstwhile companion, a dog named Lizbeth, and their unbelievable, funny and poignant adventures on the road and on the streets.

My Review

Travels With Lizbeth is a candid and thoughtful chronicle of Lars Eighner's three years of homelessness. The author writes very eloquently and with a sense of humor about his friendships, traveling companions, jobs, and hardships. He is a keen observer of people and places and the love he has for his dog, Lizbeth, is heartwarming. Eighner sheds light on the problems that still exist today within the U.S. medical and mental health care systems and debunks common myths about homeless people. He writes without self-pity, yet very humanely about a problem many people would rather forget existed.

A wonderful book!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Lord of the Silver Bow

Lord of the Silver BowLord of the Silver Bow by David Gemmell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lord of The Silver Bow is book one in a reimagining of the Trojan War. It revolves around a man known by many names. Those familiar with the Trojan War know him as Aeneas, but in this book he's also known as Helikaon and The Golden One. The man himself is one fit for the era. Helikaon is strong, brave, and brutal. His brutality has earned him no friends among his enemies, but then who has friends among their enemies.

I went into this book really not having a clear idea of what to expect. I think the author wanted it that way because there was no true continuous storyline other than Helikaon is a lost man trying to fight his demons to find his way and that Agamemnon wants to conquer all.

In many ways this story seemed quite true to life. David Gemmell hit many different areas such as duty, honor, pride, shame, love, and lust. He displays some truly human qualities in the characters which made me feel their emotions right along with them.

There were only two things I found I didn't enjoy about Lord of the Silver Bow. The first thing was that the story skips to some truly random point of view characters that seemed unnecessary. The second thing is that the middle fluctuated from interesting to boring so often that I wasn't sure if I could finish this book. The author ended the book quite well though so I must say I was more than satisfied.

One last positive to mention is that Odyseuss, in all his tall tale glory, appears in this book. He's quite the character and absolutely left me smiling.

After finishing book one, I know I'll be heading back to David Gemmell's Troy to finish this interesting series.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Ghosts of Watt O'Hugh

The Ghosts of Watt O'HughThe Ghosts of Watt O'Hugh by Steven S. Drachman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Watt O'Hugh the Third is a gunslinging cowboy in a wild west show but he's also something much more. When J.P. Morgan gets Watt thrown into a Wyoming prison, what has he gotten himself into? And can he bust out and reunite with the woman he loves?

The Ghosts of Watt O’Hugh is the first part of a memoir written by a time-traveling cowboy. Watt goes from roaming the West to starring in a Wild West show to finding himself railroaded by J.P. Morgan into stopping whatever it is that's going on in the paradisaical mountain town of Sidonia.

As you might be able to tell, The Ghosts of Watt O'Hugh is a genre-bender with an epic scope. It's also a tale of lost love since Watt can't put his feelings for Lucy Billings aside.

The book was actually pretty funny at times, although there's an underlying current of sadness. There were enough unanswered questions to keep me plowing through the book when I should have been doing other things.

I liked this book but I wanted to love it. I don't know if it was a case of wrong book, wrong time, but I felt like I was in the dark for a lot of it. Watt's a pretty interesting character, though, and I'm curious about what finally shakes out. I'll probably wait until the trilogy is completed, though. Three out of five stars, though I plan on re-reading it once the trilogy is complete.

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Monday, November 9, 2015

Dry Sailing

The Autobiography of a SeamanThe Autobiography of a Seaman by Thomas Cochrane
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my favorite '90s bands, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion spat lyrics that often included their band name or shrilled, "You gonna know my name!", as if they were doing their own advertising right there and then, in song, because if you don't blow your own horn...fuck, no one else will.

That's how it was back in the old days. You had to toot your own flute to get ahead, and sometimes just to get your own, your just desserts. Military leaders of the past especially had to head up their own public relations. Some had rich and influential friends and relations who might round out the PR team, but mostly it was DIY.

Such were the times for Admiral Lord Cochrane, one of the courageous and daring British naval captains during the Napoleonic Wars. Forester's Hornblower series and Patrick O'Brian's long-running Master and Commander series both modeled their heros after Cochrane. So exciting was his career, little in the way of fiction needed to be invented by either writer. And so effective was Cochrane against the enemy, that the French named him "The Sea Wolf" and that notorious megalomaniac Napoleon would write about him in his post-war diaries.

Never heard of Cochrane? Well there are reasons for that...

Having served aboard numerous ships, Lord Cochrane gained insight into the workings of the navy and had ideas to improve matters. To do so, one needed to change laws, so he took up politics, joining the House of Lords. However, Cochrane's ideas for change pigeon-holed him as a naval reformer. It was a bad name as far as his bosses at the Admiralty were concerned. A reformer was a "radical" and those were considered as dangerous as liberals to conservatives.

But all Cochrane wanted was to do away with naval excess and costly dockyard practices, namely the thievery and bribery undermining the service. All the same, this made him an enemy of the establishment, who saw nothing wrong with the way things worked.

Cochrane, having some of his father's inventiveness in him, was also known as an innovator. Along with "radical", "innovator" was another scarlet letter stamp. Again, this sounds like it should be a good thing. However, the British Navy was fond of tradition and not fond of anything that might disturb the old ways. They'd been successful up to that point and "you don't fix what ain't broke!" huff-huff, grunt and grumble...

The situation is almost too absurd. Here was this brilliant young naval officer evading ships of the line, harrying the enemies coast and halting its trade, disrupting the progress of enemy troops, taking ships six times the size of his own in tonnage, crew and armament, and yet his achievements were constantly overlooked, his commendations for junior officers ignored. In essence, he was doing all and more that the British Navy asked of their captains and they just wanted him to go away. Very shabby treatment indeed. Ah, if only his politics aligned with the crusty old gents lining their pockets with the King's gold, a good deal of which belonged in the pockets of the officers and sailors for doing all the dirty work as was the "custom of the service," which might be conveniently overlooked now and then or out-and-out ignored if a technicality could be grasped upon. There's hypocrite defined for you.

One of the most egregious cases of discrimination against Cochrane came when he once came up with a smart way in which to keep ships afloat longer, which was summarily shot down regardless of its merits. When the same idea was later presented by an unrelated 3rd party, the money-saving idea was accepted and was about to be implemented right up until it was discovered it was Cochrane's idea, and the whole thing was scrapped. The Tory government preferred to lose money and ships rather than use the opposition's ideas. And if ships sunk faster, the shipbuilders providing His Majesty with new ships certainly were in favor of the status quo. That's politics.

Much of Lord Cochrane's The Autobiography of a Seaman rails against such naval abuses and laments the aforementioned discrimination --RECORD SCRATCH!!!-- "Hold your horses, Koivu!" you might be thinking. How much sympathy and assistance does an admiral and lord need or even deserve? In the case of Cochrane, much. His lordship was a nobleman in name alone, being that he was the "second son" of a father who spent the entirety of his fortune on inventions that never struck gold. His promotion to admiral only came years later as the government and its practices changed, and even then it took a pardon by the Crown to reinstate him so he could gain his admiral's flag.

By now, if you're still reading this review, I'd say this book might be for you. It can only be recommended to those who've enjoyed the kind of historical naval fiction as mentioned above or by those who love pure naval history at its rawest. For herein are described, without affecting much drama, events like the burning of a ship that took over 600 lives. No sir, no melodrama shall be employed! The narrative uses a dry descriptive style similar to one Cochrane would've used in his official dispatches to his superior officers. Having said that, he does thankfully lace in a little more colorful detail than those officers would've thought proper.

Granted, by modern standards this is dry and most readers not used to such plain language may be bored. If you want to attempt it anyway, I suggest keeping an ear open for the true meaning of his mild language in order to visualize, for instance, the carnage he is suppressing. Think of it in the same way you imagine the horrific scenes Hitchcock refrained from showing in his films. When Cochrane says a sailor was "cut down by shot" (a concentrated cluster of large marble-sized lead balls) or that a soldier fell fifty feet from a wall and was "in bad shape", you can freely imagine the worst.

The sea actions described are interesting to those eager for insight into war stratagem. Cochrane's fight against the Admiralty and Tory government might intrigue political historians. Everyone else might want to pass on this one, though it would be a shame not to get to know a historical figure so deserving of our remembrances, one who fought against a tyrant who himself stated how much more effective Cochrane would have been had he the support of his own government.

Admiral Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald

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Your Own Alternative Jesus

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood PalLamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mel Brooks and Monty Python have been there, done that.


Christopher Moore retraces the steps of those comedy greats of the past in his Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, a lighthearted take on what Christians call "the greatest story ever told."

Sure, it's a good story, but it's also rife with parody potential and humorists have been squeezing it for laughs probably since it was first told. That being the case, Moore's book travels a well-trodden path and so the laughs just didn't come for this reader. Certainly it was an enjoyable enough read. It wasn't until the end that I had to push myself to finish what was becoming an increasingly dry, straight up retelling of Jesus' crucifixion. Prior to that, Moore takes a few popshots at other religions during the son of god's trek through self-discovery and sometimes his aim is true.

Lamb... is quite a good book, and yet I may seem to be down on it. I blame hype. When you hear and read a great deal of praise for a writer, as I did for Moore, your expectations rise to an unreasonable height. I'm afraid mine were higher than he could reasonably obtain.

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Friday, November 6, 2015


Mark Laita
Abrams Books
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Photographer Mark Laita unveils a pantheon of spectacular snakes in this electrifying collection. Inciting both allure and alarm, shining pastel pythons and vibrant green vipers slither across the pages. An illuminating essay by William T. Vollmann accompanies the images, delving into the associations with snakes that haunt our collective imagination.

From the iridescent blue Malaysian coral snake to the candy-cane-striped albino Honduran milk snake, the aptly named beautiful pit viper, and the gleaming black mamba, the world’s most dangerous and gorgeous snakes are pictured in Serpentine, showing off their fascinating colors and textures—as well as the sensual forms their movement creates. Through Laita’s lens, there is nothing they can do, no position they can take, that fails to be anything but mesmerizing.

My Review

I’ve been fascinated by all things reptilian since childhood, and that interest persists today. It’s just an interest, not an obsession, so there’s no need to worry about me filling my apartment with monitor lizards and turning the thermostat to 80 just so they can be comfortable like Ron Huff did.

By the time I reached the sixth grade, I amassed a little collection of books about reptiles and memorized their contents, so I felt pretty confident that I could identify any I came in contact with.

During show and tell, when my teacher was looking for volunteers to get up close and personal with a boa constrictor, my hand shot up. Even though I knew that snakes are not slimy, its warmth and smooth texture still surprised me. I liked the feel of its strength and solidity while it was draped around my neck and wondered why people would fear such magnificent creatures.

Since then, I’ve seen lots of reptiles at zoos, and a furious rattler at Mt. Diablo National Park that was blocking traffic, but didn’t have the opportunity to handle a snake again until I attended a reptile show at PetSmart. Once again, my hand shot up when the handler was looking for volunteers. It turned out I was the only one with a boa constrictor around my neck while all these little kids were watching. Too bad they were missing out on all the fun. My husband was clear across the store playing with a Rottweiler pup named Bruiser and wanted nothing to do with me while I was wearing the boa necklace.

This book is all kinds of awesome! The plain black background enhances the color, texture, beauty, and graceful motion of a wide variety of snakes. There is a nice introduction by William T. Vollmann and a glossary featuring each breed’s vital stats. It looks great on my coffee table and I’m sad about having to lug this great big book back to the library.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Great Bazaar & Brayan's Gold

The Great Bazaar & Brayan's GoldThe Great Bazaar & Brayan's Gold by Peter V. Brett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before becoming the fearsome tattooed warrior The Warded Man, Arlen Bales was a messenger. The Great Bazaar and Brayan's Gold shows two of Arlen's notable messenger adventures.

Brayan's Gold depicts Arlen's first overnight trip as a messenger. From nearly the beginning things go wrong for the demon magnet Arlen Bales, but Arlen is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure his trip goes as planned. Arlen's fearlessness is on display in this novella in absurd proportions.

The Great Bazaar takes Arlen to multiple desert locations most notably Fort Krasia. Arlen has risked his life and wealth in search of the battle wards of old yet has repeatedly come up empty handed. Thanks to a boast from the khaffit Abban, Arlen is once more prepared to risk his life to obtain the battle wards.

These short stories make me love that wild man Arlen Bales even more. Arlen repeatedly refuses to be swayed from his long term goal of freeing the world from demons. Arlen just doesn't seem to fit with most of humanity who cower behind their wards at night yet call that freedom.

The story introductions, excisions, and Ward Grimoire are all interesting additions that show just how The Demon Cycle came to life for the author Peter V. Brett. I especially enjoy the Ward Grimoire because it has detailed explanations of all the wards in the series along with images of the wards.

I love The Demon Cycle series and in world novellas so The Great Bazaar and Brayan's Gold give me the best of both worlds.

5 out of 5 stars

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2015


The Turn of the ScrewThe Turn of the Screw by Henry James
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“No, no—there are depths, depths! The more I go over it, the more I see in it, and the more I see in it, the more I fear. I don’t know what I don’t see—what I don’t fear!”

 photo the-innocents-1961_zpsjib312lw.jpg
Screen shot from the 1961 version of The Innocents based on the James short story.

A governess is hired to look after the nephew and niece of a man who has inherited the responsibility for the children after the death of their parents. He is very explicit in his instructions to the governess that he is not to be bothered with excessive communications. The governess is young and pretty and wants to impress her new employer by doing exactly what he wishes. She wants to be seen as competent, and in a sense this need to please proves to be a vulnerability that, as she tries to shield and protect, she actually puts everyone at more risk.

Risk of what you might ask?

That becomes the unknown element of the story. The reader doesn’t really know what to be afraid of. What nature of evil are we dealing with?

The children are ethereally beautiful. The governess is compromised immediately by preconceived notions, that we all have to a certain extent, that beauty equates to goodness. ”I was dazzled by their loveliness.” When the boy Miles is kicked out of his exclusive school for unrevealed reasons, the governess cannot fathom what he could have possibly done to deserve this level of embarrassing punishment. It was inconceivable to her that he was capable of anything remotely improper.

As the governess begins to try to understand her young charges, she also begins to discover that there are swirling questions about what has happened to other people who have been associated with the children in the past. She cross examines the housekeeper and more carefully the children, ferreting out bits and pieces of information that leave a murky picture in her mind. The reluctance which everyone shows in speaking about the past makes the governess more and more suspicious that something potentially perplexing lies in the truth.

She starts to see dead people.

”I was ready to know the very worst that was to be known. What I had then had an ugly glimpse of was that my eyes might be sealed just while theirs were most opened.”

Her first thought was to protect the innocence of the children, but maybe what she should have been more worried about was protecting her own innocence. It becomes a game of ignoring these phantoms in the hopes that the children would not become aware of the existence of these ghosts, of Quint, the butler, and Miss Jessel, the ex-governess. Both of these people were obsessed with the children when they were alive. The question becomes what do they want with the children now?

Of course, without confirmation of the existence of these supernatural events from other people, one does naturally tend to start questioning one’s own sanity.

Henry James weaves in these awkward interactions between the governess and Miles. There are moments when the young lad seems to be attempting to seduce his governess. He calls her ‘my dear,’ which sounds innocent enough, but when coupled with innuendos, the words take on a more unseemly connotation. The governess is not totally immune to the charm of the handsome boy. “Of course I was under the spell, and the wonderful part is that, even at the time, I perfectly knew I was. But I gave myself up to it; it was an antidote to any pain, and I had more pains than one.”

Scholars have debated whether the governess was actually seeing the phantom manifestations or not. There is certainly a desperation to how she attempts to protect the children, fully determined to keep the situation under control without having to contact her employer. We watch her naivety crumble as she is battered by the strange and distant attitudes of the children and the extraordinary circumstances of the spine-chilling past intruding on the present. I was firmly on the side of believing the governess was losing a firm grasp on her sanity, but then James throws a wrinkle into my firm resolve when Miles makes this statement to the governess that they should not miss his sister and the housekeeper (after they have fled the circumstances):

”I suppose we shouldn’t. Of course we have the others.

Or is Miles just playing her.

This is a short story, but it is a short story by Henry James. He has some of the same convoluted, difficult sentences that show up in his novels. They may bewilder on a first read, but after another go they start to make more sense. I’ve read enough James to find those complicated sentences, when they appear like Gordian Knots, more amusing than frustrating. This tale left me jangled and apprehensive as if an apparition were still strumming their fingers along the length of my sciatic nerve. If you read it on the most basic level as a ghost story, you will certainly find it unsatisfying. As I started to understand the deeper psychological implications of the interplay between characters, I started to realize that this is a tragedy with elements of horror that left lasting traumatic issues for those that survived.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Skinner by David Bernstein

SkinnerSkinner by David Bernstein
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Skinner is a supernatural overcoming the monster horror story from David Bernstein. A simple premise with three couples on their way to a cabin retreat, they attempt to drive over a mountain during an inexplicable storm. First filling up with gas at a rather creepy 'last fuel stop', they encounter an old man surrounded by and wearing wolf pelts.

Going up the mountain the snow worsens and they narrowly avoid running over, yep, the old man from the gas station, by plummeting down the side of the mountain. It's then a conveniently found cabin in the woods and a battle for survival scenario as one by one they succumb to a foe that has been playing this game for an eternity.

What we have is a fairly standard horror story that plays out somewhat like a movie script, more an intricate description of events as they happen and to be honest I was a little bit bored by the whole thing. There's the usual inner group squabbles, a bit of deception and questionable loyalties but I really didn't care for any of the characters, nor whether they lived or died.

The story wasn't too predictable regarding who survives, it just didn't grab my interest. I think it was more the style than anything, very little character depth and some cringe worthy conceptual metaphors. I mean comparing falling down a cliff in a car to shoes in a tumble dryer set on the highest possible speed and smells compared to the sharpness of a thousand newly minted pennies. It just didn't work for me, I normally read and highlight the good, the bad and the ugly in any story, and when I go over the notes if there's lots of things that are grouped by a 'nah' and there's no quotes I liked then it doesn't bode well.

A book that plays out like a movie has to have some way of getting involved with the story, I've read stuff like this before and enjoyed it. Over the top, riotous fun, with some humour, anything in fact to make you want to pick it up again, sadly this didn't have much in the way of redeeming qualities. If you like your stories in a sense almost articulated, simple to comprehend with little concentration required you might enjoy this. On the other hand if you want to experience a story, think about it, even when you're not reading it, desperate to get back to it, then this won't be for you.

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Tortured Souls: The Legend of Primordium by Clive Barker

Tortured Souls: The Legend of PrimordiumTortured Souls: The Legend of Primordium by Clive Barker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tortured Souls is set in the 'first city' of Primordium, a city of degradation, corruption and violence. On the periphery of this story is the ancient being known as Agonistes, for two thousand years he has walked the earth, making God's art from flesh or so he proclaims. A transformer of human flesh, if a supplicant comes to him, lost to hopelessness and desperate for revenge. If he agrees to the terms set, then Agonistes will remake the supplicant through a combination of art, magic and pain in the image of their monstrous ideal.

The story starts with assassin Zarles Krieger, whilst on a routine political murder ordered by the Emperor himself, he completes his nefarious task and then as he arranges his victim for maximum effect he is interrupted by the daughter of his victim, Lucidique. She implores him to look what is going on around them and Zarles Kreiger is persuaded. He seeks Agonistes in the burned desert with dreams of making Primordium a republic, singlehandedly and ending the dynasty of an Emperor.

Lucidique's meeting with Agonistes is under slightly different circumstances, kidnapped she is killed in view of the flesh transformer (that’s not one of those metal ones), her vengeance will be sated and she is changed almost beyond recognition.

Both become abominations in the eyes of others but it doesn't stop them entering into an unlikely affair that directly results in a shifting of power in Primordium. The relationship between the scythe master and his lover is almost a thing of beauty, amidst the carnage and depravity, brutal and ferocious yet undoubtedly loving. Lasting beyond death, yet even though she sought him out, Lucidique was never to cross paths with Agonistes again.

Tortured Souls: The Legend of Primordium is a beautifully vivid and passionately dark tale, I recommend the audio and that's probably the most cost effective method of enjoying this story. It's not on kindle and I think was only published by Subterranean so it’s a costly one if you want the book.

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The Shepherd's Crown - Spoilers!

The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld, #41; Tiffany Aching, #5)The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Upon the death of Granny Weatherwax, the elves seek to invade the realms of man once again. Can Tiffany Aching rally the other witches of Lancre and The Chalk and protect her two steadings (and the rest of the world)?

Here we are, the book Terry Pratchett was refining when Death finally showed up to claim him. PUT THE MANUSCRIPT DOWN, PRATCHETT. YOUR WORK IS DONE, or something to that effect. As a result, it doesn't quite feel finished but it was enjoyable just the same.

The Shepherd's Crown is a tale of acceptance and changing times, much like many of the later Discworld books. A male witch? Humans living alongside goblins? Elves trying to invade a world moving into an age of iron and rails?

Discworld goes out with a bang when Granny Weatherwax dies in the first few pages and the elves seek to take advantage of the power vacuum. Tiffany has to deal with being Granny's successor, herding the other witches, and deal with Geoffrey, who may in fact be the first male witch on the Disc, all the while contending with massing elves and their fallen queen, Nightshade.

Like I mentioned, Pratchett was working on this book when he passed and, as a result, it doesn't feel finished. While the standard wit and wisdom of Discworld is there, it's a little thin and feels unrefined. Still, I found many parts hilarious and others touching, par for the course for a Discworld book.

While I've enjoyed many Discworld books more, the final tale of Tiffany Aching and the Disc was quite satisfying. I'll miss you, Terry. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, November 2, 2015

Horribly Good Halloween Story

The Riggle Twins: A Selection from Bad Apples: Five Slices of Halloween HorrorThe Riggle Twins: A Selection from Bad Apples: Five Slices of Halloween Horror by Gregor Xane
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A spooky Halloween story that marries creepy with gory in just the right amounts!

The Riggle Twins is a delightfully devious tale from Gregor Xane, one of the few authors here on Goodreads who hasn't tried to force me to read his work...and so I read his work.

Two evil twins...well, I suppose calling twins evil is redundant...terrorize the neighborhood in revenge for past Halloweens in this quick and enjoyable story. Some good folks and some disagreeable folks get done over all in the name of the greater good evil.

It's a light read, but a nasty one. Those who can't stomach a bit of violence might want to pass on this one. I'm glad I didn't though!

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