Thursday, December 31, 2015


My Uncle NapoleonMy Uncle Napoleon by Iraj Pezeshkzad
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”Once upon a time I was like you, too...very sensitive...very melancholy...but time changed me...a person’s body is formed in the workshop of his mother’s body, but a person’s soul in the workshop of the world.”

Our unnamed narrator is a teenage boy who finds himself pulled in all directions by his own burgeoning feelings of love, the squabbles of his extended family, and the generally confusing advice he gets from everyone he knows. He knows one thing for sure, that he loves his cousin Layli, and if he can’t have her for his own, he will just have to kill himself.

The drama of young love, so easy to believe that it is all consuming.

His main obstacle turns out to be his own father, not for the traditional reason that his father doesn’t feel the girl is a good match or the family is not good enough, but because his father has embroiled himself in a personal vendetta to take Layli’s father down a peg or two.

Revenge, as they say, is best served cold, but our narrator’s father is too clever, too ambitious, too impulsive to let the slights against his character remain unchallenged. The Dear Uncle Napoleon is the patriarch of the family. None of his brothers and sisters have moved very far away; in fact, they all live around the same garden and courtyard. Anything that happens to any of them is quickly known by all.

They are all obsessed with one another’s business.

Dear Uncle Napoleon fought in the war, and his stories and his memories about his exploits have grown from minnows to whales. It isn’t completely his fault; his manservant, Mash Qasem, over the years has inserted himself into his master’s memories of the war and continues to add his own fabrications to the odes of war.

Dear Uncle Napoleon has always been an admirer of Napoleon. Fortunately, his delusions about himself have not expanded to the point that he believes that he actually is Napoleon, although as the plot unfolds it becomes touch and go as to whether his mind will remain tethered by slender strands to the truth or whether he will completely be taken over by his own delusions. Not helping the situation is that the British have invaded Iran (the book is set during WWII), and he is convinced that they will arrest and execute him for his daring feats against them in the past war.

The narrator’s father has a fine time playing on those fears.

There is another cousin, Puri, a horse faced young man scared of guns and women in equal measure, whom Dear Uncle has promised will be married to the beautiful Layli.

OH NO!!!

Uncle Asadollah Mirza, who happens to be my favorite character in the book, is a philandering admirer of widows and wives. He is one of many who have known the charms of Tahereh. ”I became aware of a twinkle in Asadollah Mirza’s eye. When I looked in the direction he was looking I saw in the dimly lit porchway the beautiful glittering eyes of Tahereh.” She is not only beautiful but frequently available. A man can easily find himself in her arms despite the fact that her husband, Shir Ali the Butcher, has killed two men by cleaving them in two and beat up several others who dared to try and woo his wife. ”Shir Ali, the local butcher, was a horrifying man. He was well over six feet tall; his whole body, from head to toe, was covered in tattoos, and there were numerous knife scars visible on his head. His character and temperament fitted his terrifying body exactly.”

Asadollah Mirza is a lover not a fighter. Lust is a sacred feeling for him and must not be ignored. Luckily for him, Shir Ali has found religion and has set aside his cleaver for a leg of mutton as his weapon of vengeance. Asadollah wouldn’t survive his neck cleaved in two, but he might survive a broken skull.

In his mind, as well as the minds of many other men, the allure of Tahereh is worth the risk.

So our Narrator, without other resources for advice, turns to Asadollah who tells him the same thing over and over that he must take Layli to San Francisco. Somewhere along the line the family has seen the movie San Francisco (1936), starring Clark Gable and Jeanette MacDonald. The starlet has become the symbol in their minds, representing sexual allurement, and taking someone to San Francisco is a euphemism for matching the stem with the flower petals (I guess describing a euphemism with another euphemism isn’t exactly a definition, but if you haven’t figured out what I’m referring to you might identify perfectly fine with our naive Narrator.).

By making love to Layli, our hapless Narrator will force the hand of the Dear Uncle, and he will have to let them marry or face potentially embarrassing the family with a pregnancy out of wedlock. The plot, of course, must take a different turn.

The police are frequently called to the family compound for anything from potential murder to a missing watch. The police add even more humor to a humorous novel. Their interrogation methods are basically to keep their suspects from thinking too much. ”Your answer? Quick, now, immediately, at the double!” This leads to some hilarious answers that lead to more and more trouble for the family.

Mash Qasem begins every statement with: ”Why should I lie?” which makes everyone distrust what he is about to say even more. He isn’t alone; all the characters seem quite comfortable with swearing on everything holy that they are not lying when they are most assuredly telling incredible whoppers.

Everyone is trying to manipulate everyone else. Problems are exasperated by more and more meddling. Those too clever prove too stupid. Those too stupid prove to be too clever. All the characters seem to have too much time on their hands. The plot is like trying to watch three events simultaneously at a circus. It is truly an amazing book and considered by many to be the masterpiece of Persian literature. I haven’t read enough literature from Iran to make that judgment, but I will certainly agree that it is a wonderful book full of contradictions as to how I perceived Iran. There is rampant adultery, the consuming of vast quantities of alcohol, and the breaking of many Islamic commandments. All of which contribute to several scenes that made me laugh out loud. I think Iraj Pezeshkzad was poking fun at the conservative veneer that exists over the entire nation. Certainly, it is exaggerated for comedic effect.

The book was banned at one time in Iran. Pezeshkzad lives in France due to the fact that he was too politically active in the 1970s to live comfortably in the country of his birth. The book was made into a very popular TV series. There are few people in Iran who haven’t met Mash Qasem, Asadollah Mirza, or Dear Uncle Napoleon, either through their TV sets or coming to life in their minds through the printed pages of possibly a black market copy of the book. Iranians are discouraged to read the book, but I will say I for one encourage not only Iranians, but people of all countries to read this marvelous addition to literature. These characters will imprint themselves on you, and for most everyone they will recognize someone in their own family who could have been a member of this cast. I want to thank my friend E____ who recommended this book to me. E____, may you someday experience the same freedoms in your country that I do in mine.

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Fall of Kings

Fall of Kings (Troy, #3)Fall of Kings by David Gemmell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

How Fall of Kings should have ended

(Note: All endings are written by me in an homage to
How it Should Have Ended. They aren't spoilers, none of this stuff happened although I would've enjoyed any of these endings more than the actual ending.)

Possible ending #1

"Lord Helikaon," said Khalkeus.
"What is it Khalkeus? I'm busy with preparation for our next steps in the war with the Mykene," said Helikaon.
"That's what this is about Lord. I've found a way to massively increase the range of your ships fire hurlers. The increase will enable the ship to throw fire for miles rather than a few hundred feet," replied Khalkeus.
"Do it then Khalkeus," Helikaon said while his icy blue eyes saw right through Khalkeus.

Fast forward to the siege of Troy

"We are close enough now to burn the sieging Mykene army to the ground," said Oniacus.
"Let's rain fire on Agammenon's ambition and end his reign of evil," said Helikaon.
The jars of nephthar were hurled for miles shattering into the armies of the west as men were soaked. Then the fire flew through the air for what seemed like days before it finally ignited and burned Agamemnon's ambition and men to ashes.

Possible ending #2

"Come do your daughterly duty Andromache", Priam said while groping all over her body.
Suddenly Hektor stepped around the corner.
"Father I was speaking with my brothers and we are tired of you raping our wives. So we decided to give Agammenon exactly what he wants you, your gold, and your city," Hektor said with a tone as cold as winter.
"My son you can't mean...." Priam mumbled as the Eagles and Antiphones bound and gagged him.

Fast forward to the armies of the west arriving at Troy

"There are no men, women, children, or animals to be seen," Achilles said.
"Battle King, Battle King," a soldier screamed as he ran to Agammenon. "You must see this my King."
They all headed into the unlocked doors of Troy to find Priam bound and gagged sitting in his treasury with a parchment on his chest that read, "We surrender the city and the gold as you demanded and included the King Priam as a bonus." It was signed by all Priam's sons, daughters, grandson/sons, and granddaughter/daughters.

Possible ending #3

"You are a coward Achilles," Agammenon sprayed spit as he snarled the words.
Achilles said nothing, but in the time it takes a man to sneeze he drew his sword and decapitated Agammenon with his head making a heavy thud sound as it hit the wall. Achilles scanned the speechless crowd, shrugged his massive shoulders, and said "Come now, I can't be the only one who was thinking about doing that."
All the men in the meeting except Menelaus laughed. Odysseus laughed so hard wine came out his nose and he couldn't regain his composure.

In Fall of Kings and the entire trilogy David Gemmell really captured Odysseus well and that was the strongest part of the series. The rest of the series was fairly plain and average.

My biggest gripes have to be Gershom's storyline and the epilogue. I really don't see the point of the detour Gershom's story became. It doesn't fit the book or the story at all. It's inclusion just seemed pointless. The epilogue was a rushed attempt to show the future yet it didn't really add anything of value to the story.

The Fall of Kings was an adequate conclusion to the retelling of the Trojan War.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Darkest SecretThe Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood

The Darkest SecretThe Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood starts off with witness statements about a young girl missing, presumed kidnapped. We then go to the events surrounding the girl’s disappearance and the Fathers 50th birthday weekend celebration. The past timeline is interspersed with the present where the Father of the missing girl dies in mysterious circumstances handcuffed to a hotel bed and the majority of the cast prepares for the funeral. The death is not expanded on and he turns out to be a soulless man who deserved much worse than the cards he was dealt in life.

What really happened on the weekend of the disappearance is divulged as a finale and there's a bit of a twist that I saw coming from seventy two and a half miles away, or pretty much the beginning. The character development holds the story together by something like the last strand that's just about to break but to be honest the story bored the pants off me for the first two thirds and was altogether far too predictable with no real shocks or anything that gripped me.

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman is an enchanting, almostly adult fairy tale that totally gripped me from start to finish. I listened to the audio narrated by Neil himself and its absolutely fantastic, I was literally hanging on every word and it’s very easy to disappear from life and immerse yourself in his narration.

Now my exposure to Neil Gaiman has been fleeting, I read his novel American Gods a good few years ago and The Sandman graphic novel series more recently but listening to The Ocean and Neverwhere in the past couple of weeks has invigorated a profound appreciation of his work and set me on a bit of a Gaiman quest. I'll be reading and listening to a lot more from Neil himself over the next few months and adding him to my top 5 authors, I think he definitely deserves it.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a man's recollection of a fantastical and breathtakingly engrossing story from his childhood memories. Our nameless narrator, avoiding a funeral finds himself at a house that plays on the fringes of his conscious and when he is invited to sit overlooking the water, wondrous and terrifying memories surface and at the heart of it a girl named Lettie Hempstock.

It's a story set in our world but with a little extra magical spice, add to that a young boy suffering at the hands of a beautiful but monstrous nanny and his only refuge being Lettie, the youngest of three generations of woman living on a farm close by. There's a world that exists outside the knowledge of the many and its left to the few to guard against wayward spirits and demons, there's always a cost though.

Gaiman teases a beautiful and exquisite tale, the audio adds significantly more of his vision, a precious whisper to be absorbed and coveted, something that you would love to hear again and again.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is simply magical.

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The Secret Place

The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad, #5)The Secret Place by Tana French
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A boy is found murdered on the grounds of a girl's school. One year later, Holly Mackey drops a photograph into the lap of Stephen Moran, a Cold Case cop in Dublin, indicating someone at St. Kilda's knows who the killer was. He takes the photograph to the Murder Squad and gets paired with Detective Conway. Will this be Moran's big chance at getting on the Murder Squad or will the case tear him apart?

The Secret Place is Tana French's fifth entry in the Dublin Murder Squad books and the last to date. It's also kind of a step back after the events of Broken Harbour. I shall explain eventually.

The Secret Place, while a murder mystery at first glance, is an exploration of the politics of being a teenage girl. Tana French mines deep into Megan Abbott territory in this one. Two groups of girls take center stage in Conway and Moran's investigation. About half of them are actually interesting.

Julia and Joanne, the two ringleaders, were the most interesting characters in the book, not surprising since I found teenage girls pretty alien back when I was a teen. From their cliques to their opposing leadership styles, they painted a vivid picture of what life as a teenage girl must be like. Most of the other girls seemed like set dressing for most of the story.

The relationship between Conway and Moran was very well done and I enjoyed it immensely when Frank Mackey was added to the mix in the later chapters. Being something of a loner, I empathized with Stephen a lot of the time. I felt for Conway, too, gunning for her chance to finally prove herself to the guys on the Murder Squad.

While Tana French was at the top of her game in a technical sense in this outing, I did not like The Secret Place as much as its fore-bearers. For one thing, I disliked the shifting viewpoints, a departure from her previous outings. I understand what she was going for but it felt a little lazy in comparison to previous books. I liked how things unfolded but I would have preferred a different method.

My much bigger gripe was with the supernatural angle introduced around the 35% mark. Combining genres is something I normally enjoy, like mixing chocolate and peanut butter. In this case, it was more like finding a pubic hair in your omelet. It was completely unnecessary and brought me out of the story every time it was referenced.

I was pretty surprised at the big reveal, which was not actually a great shock since Tana French clearly has had my number since In the Woods. Like all of French's books, I was a little sad when the story was over, doubly sad in this case since I'm out of Tana French books. While it wasn't my favorite of hers, Tana French writes one hell of a book. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, December 28, 2015

I LOVE Star Wars, But This?...Not So Much

Outcast (Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi, #1)Outcast by Aaron Allston
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Is this lazy writing or a rushed production? Maybe it's both.

Aaron Allston's Outcast, in which the Jedi order is being subverted, kicks off the nine-novel "Fate of the Jedi" series for the Star Wars franchise. Allston would write three of the novels, while two other writers worked on the other six, and all this was done within three years.

That's a lot of writing in a short period. It would seem like they just wanted to pump this stuff out. I mean, nine books in three years is a lot. On the other hand, it's only one book per year for each writer. That should be doable without rushing things. Quality should be maintained.

However, some poor writing got published here. Too many smiles and glares are "offered" and "given". I lost count of the number of times an expressed emotion was given to someone else. After a while I stopped giving fucks.

Maybe Allston is a shitty writer. Or maybe he could've or would've done better given time. Outcast reads like an early draft in which place-holder text is left on the page in order to expedite the writing process. A writer at leisure would go back and revise, remove redundancies, vary the language, make sure the damn words have the correct meaning for what is being said, etc.

I don't care about the vast expo dumps or the tropes trooping about. This is a sci-fi soap opera. I get that. I'm just looking at this from a reader's perspective. The ability to run your eyes over the page without tripping up on some non-sensical sentiment or having the 4th wall busted down because a repetitious phrase is hitting your eyes with the consistency and irritation of a Chinese water torture device.

That truly is unfortunate, because if you're a Star Wars fan, young or old, there's good to be found within these pages. The action scenes (occasionally gratuitous now and then, but not a big quibble) are handled well. Plus, our old friends Luke, Leia, Han, C3P0 and R2D2 are all here. Joining them are a platoon of sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, and grandkids. The warm-fuzzy of familiarity brought on by beloved characters goes a long way in fostering forgiveness for a book's other faults.

Aunts...Who Needs 'Em?!

Aunts Aren't Gentlemen (Jeeves, #15)Aunts Aren't Gentlemen by P.G. Wodehouse
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A case of pink spots on Bertie's chest (maybe it's a touch of malaria, who's to say?) sends him to the country on doctor's orders to rest and relax. Rest and relax? If you've ever read a Wodehouse, you know that's not bloody likely.

Troublesome aunts, daffy explorers, strong-willed dames along with their ardent suitors, crusty landlords, and charming cats all conspire against poor old Bertie Wooster. His butler Jeeves seems to be his only ally in this perpetually-yet-vaguely 1920s, god-help-us world.

Wodehouse did it again! Well into his Jeeves & Wooster series, the insanely prolific writer of the early-to-mid 20th century churned out another quality book replete with a finely paced plot, delightfully nutty characters and enough laughs to fill The Laugh Factory with wall-to-wall guffaws.

At this point, I'm predisposed to enjoy anything by Wodehouse, so perhaps Aunts Aren't Gentlemen has received a gratuitous star in the ratings from me. If you're already a fan, this will crank your chucklebox. If you're new to Wodehouse, I might suggest -NAY!- I would suggest starting with something else. Go ahead, ask me. I'm full of suggestions!

READER'S NOTE: Aunts Aren't Gentlemen is alternately titled The Cat-Nappers.

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Friday, December 25, 2015

Orphan's Quest

Pat Nelson Childs
Glynworks Publishing
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


Rokey, a poor orphan, has lived his entire life sheltered within the walls of the Noble Contemplative Monastery. Growing up, he never dreamt anything would haunt him more than the riddle of his parents' identity. But at seventeen, Rokey is discovering that while his roommate, Ely, can think only of girls, his own feelings draw him toward other boys instead. Soon the question of whether or not he is a "samer" is occupying his mind to the exclusion of all else. But when a tragedy results in his expulsion from the only home he has ever known, and an unknown enemy begins trying to kill him, Rokey's mind abruptly returns to the mystery of his parentage. Solving that puzzle, he determines, could mean the difference between life and death. On the road, Rokey soon meets up with a charming elf named Flaskamper. Captivated by the handsome young man, the elf promptly volunteers his help, as well as that of his three unlikely companions. Before long, the five become swept up in the effort to solve the riddle of Rokey's origins and to find out who is trying to kill him, and why. Along the way, Rokey endures some harsh lessons about disappointment and betrayal, but also delights in the joy and excitement of first love. Foiled in initial attempts, Rokey's enigmatic foe escalates the attacks. As the young orphan and his new-found friends pursue the trail of clues that leads them across the land of Firma, they find themselves battling an ever-deadlier array of assassins. When they finally do uncover the truth, it is in the last place Rokey had ever expected to find it.

My Review

Rokey is a 17-year-old orphan who spent his childhood in the Noble Contemplative, a monastery where young men from all over are educated and trained for their future vocations. While his roommate and closest friend, Ely, thinks about girls, Rokey discovers early on his attraction to boys. An unfortunate accident has resulted in Rokey’s expulsion from the monastery and the only life he’s ever known. During a robbery, Rokey is rescued by a handsome blond elf named Flaskamper and his friends. Together, the group embarks on a journey that will forever change Rokey and his friends.

Orphan’s Quest is a riveting fantasy novel that kept me flipping pages until the wee hours of the morning. Despite the use of common fantasy tropes and some predictable situations, the author has created a well-drawn world filled with likeable and believable characters. The love that develops between Rokey and Flaskamper is touching and develops at a natural pace.

The simple language and uncomplicated plot make Orphan’s Quest a story that should appeal to young readers. The adventures, suspense and romance make it a fun read for adults too.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story and look forward to reading more by this very talented author.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Star Wars Battlefront: Twilight Company

Star Wars Battlefront: Twilight Company (Star Wars)Star Wars Battlefront: Twilight Company by Alexander Freed
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Galactic Civil War bitterly envelops the known galaxy. The Rebellion battles on for the freedom of the galaxy despite overwhelming odds. One unit tears through the toughest battles against The Empire and that unit is the Sixty-First Mobile Infantry otherwise known as Twilight Company. They get the worst jobs but the company survives. When Twilight Company captures a high profile officer their chances of survival seem slimmer than ever.

I have to say Twilight Company surprised me in a good way. I didn't have particularly high expectations for a companion novel to a video game, but the novel was really solid. The author captured the grit that the Star Wars series has often lacked and had some tough yet believable characters as well.

While the Star Wars series has numerous amounts of nameless characters dying in battles, Twilight Company introduces a lot of characters the reader can grow to care about that just don't make it. It makes the story somber at times, but it demonstrates the true danger and sacrifice people face fighting for the Rebellion.

Two characters stood out above the others in the story for me and they are Namir and Brand. Namir is a veteran soldier who doesn't believe in the rebellion, but instead believes in helping Twilight Company survive. Namir is a complex character and it was easy to relate to his feelings. Despite his gruffness I wanted to see things go well for him.

Brand is quite different from Namir yet she stood out to me. She is a former bounty hunter who was hired to kill the Captain of Twilight Company, but instead joined them. She is a strong capable woman whose motives are hard to understand. Brand is fiercely loyal to the company and serves in her own unique manner.

Twilight Company was probably the best video game companion novel I've read to date. I'd happily read more about their missions in the future.

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

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Knight's Shadow

Knight's Shadow (Greatcoats, #2)Knight's Shadow by Sebastien de Castell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As Falcio val Mond deals with the increasing side effects of poison, new dangers arise that the Greatcoats must solve. Falcio fights with whatever time the poison permits to save his homeland from civil war.

Knight's Shadow is a solid sequel to Traitor's Blade. All the primary Greatcoats have returned and find themselves once again going against impossible odds to earn justice and freedom for all.

I really enjoyed the increased Greatcoat interaction Falcio had in this book compared to the first of the series. There is no massive gap where Falcio is fighting solo to save a girl by impossible odds and that was certainly an improvement.

It was nice that the author took a moment to ensure that everyone was pronouncing Falcio's name properly in the story. As a rumor of Falcio's exploits are being spread throughout Tristia his name is mentioned as Falsio which in truth was the way I thought his name was pronounced. Thanks to this moment we learned his name is pronounced as Falkeyoh.

My main grievance with Knight's Shadow and this series thus far as a whole is that everything seems overly convenient. The perfect things happen at the perfect moment, time and time again. There are at least a few moments that go from Falcio and friends being screwed until A voice called out to Falcio and the team's savior arrives at just the right time. That got old for me.

Knight's Shadow is really a solid book and sequel with some interesting ideas.

3 out of 5 stars

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

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Leviathan Wakes (Expanse, #1)Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”Way I see it, there’s three ways this can go,” Miller said. “One, we find your ship still in dock, get the meds we need, and maybe we live. Two, we try to get to the ship, and along the way we run into a bunch of mafia thugs. Die gloriously in a hail of bullets. Three, we sit here and leak out of our eyes and assholes.”

 photo Expanse_zpssyq7ej9z.jpg

Well, really, the story begins when some alien species shoot a payload of virus at Earth and misses. This virus is capable of turning the human race into piles of nasty, smelly biosolids. Luckily for Earth, this contagion from space gets caught in Saturn’s rings which keeps it from ever reaching its intended destination.

Holden is the second in command of an iceberg hauler. When he sees his ship Canterbury blown into dust particles by pirates, while the ship was trying to respond to an SOS, his world is suddenly expanded and contracted. Expanded by the beginning of a conflict that will spread across the known universe, but his world has also contracted down to the confining corridors of the small ship that he and his remaining crew members are trying to keep afloat.

The universal conflict might be more than a little bit Holden’s fault. He broadcasts out to the world the existence of incriminating evidence that Mars might have had something to do with the pirates. The writers behind the name James S. A. Corey might be making a point about the misuse of disseminating wrong information on the internet. How many people believe it even when it doesn’t make sense?

This section of the universe is shared between Earth, Mars, and what are called the Belters. Belters are people born in the asteroid belt. The Belters are generally taller, fitter, and tend to bastardize language much the same way as immigrants to America bastardized English. I kind of think of Holden as Gavrilo Princip, the man that touched off WW1 by assassinating Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Holden meant well; to him information is meant to be shared so that it can be analyzed and expounded upon. People unfortunately jump to conclusions without examining the evidence too closely, especially when the potential for war has been brewing for some time. The major powers in the universe are just looking for the right catalyst to start a war. Holden, inadvertently, provided the match.

”The moral complexity of the situation had grown past his ability to process it.”

So there is some lethal goo out there trapped in the rings of Saturn. Knowing humans to be the “curious monkeys” that they are... what do you think happens next? Yeah, they just can’t help poking a stick at it.

Things go from bad to worse in a hurry.

Vomit zombies...need I say more?

Okay, maybe just a bit more because there are more stages to this thing.

”A flock of softball-sized spiderlike things crawled through the corridor, leaving a slick sheen of glowing slime behind them. It wasn’t until he paused to knock one off the cart that he recognized them as severed hands, the trailing wrist bones charred black and remade. Part of his mind was screaming, but it was a distant one and easy to ignore.”


As a counterweight to Holden is the cop Miller. He sees the world through rose murky colored glasses. He has seen the worst of people, so he doesn’t need to speculate about what people are capable of. He is on the case of a missing rich girl, and even after he is fired from his job, he continues to hunt for her. It turns out she is connected with the OPA, a Belter resistance group, and also she is somehow mixed up with the goo from space.

Miller hooks up with Holden and his crew, but it is an uneasy alliance. Holden’s righteousness and Miller’s cynicism mix like oil and water, but actually with the universe hanging in the balance their differing views create a middle which is generally where the right answers can be found.

So pull up a bowl of fungal curds and a cup of something that tastes close to coffee and have a blast watching the crew of the Rocinante cartwheel across the universe barely surviving one disaster after another as they do everything they can to stay alive and save the world.

The SyFy Channel has just launched a new series called Expanse that is based on the universe created by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck in this series of books. I haven’t watched the episodes yet because I really wanted to read the first book before watching any part of the TV series. If I have a complaint about the book, it is that it does feel a bit bloated, but the fact that it is unapologetically calling itself a space opera I feel kind of snarky even broaching the subject. The world building is fascinating, and from what I have read, the books will continue to add pieces to this world as the book series progresses. I have plans to read at least two more.

One last little tidbit from Miller which I found rather funny as I’m holding this 16 pound trade paperback novel in my hands: ”The OPA man, Anderson Dawes, was sitting on a cloth folding chair outside Miller’s hole, reading a book. It was a real book--onionskin pages bound in what might have been actual leather. Miller had seen pictures of them before; the idea of that much weight for a single megabyte of data struck him as decadent.”

I just blew you a raspberry Miller.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Incurables by Jon Bassoff

The IncurablesThe Incurables by Jon Bassoff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'It’s a mean old world, isn’t it?'

Beginning in 1953 The Incurables by Jon Bassoff is a character driven tale with its heart set in madness and its thoughts desperate for tranquillity amidst the Incurables of society.

Thirty-two hundred lives he’d saved, give or take, and he wasn’t done yet. The famous Dr. Walter Freeman, the pioneer of the transorbital lobotomy but when his time is deemed over, there's no going back so he kidnaps his latest patient and it’s time for pastures new.

'Without hesitation, he grasped the ice pick and jammed the point into the tear duct. He then gripped the hammer and struck the ice pick, once, twice, causing an audible crack. Back and forth, back and forth he cut. Then, with a twisting movement, he withdrew the ice pick, all the while pressing his gnarled fingers on Edgar’s eyelids, preventing hemorrhaging.'

And that is a transorbital lobotomy, Woah WTF, this apparently, effectively treats patients with a history of anxiety, depression, insomnia and bouts of homicidal mania. Dr Freeman and Edgar find themselves on the carnival circuit wanting only to help those in need. And with a sign.

'The Amazing Dr. Freeman and his Transorbital Lobotomy. Ending Mental Anguish Today.'

Durango Stanton, sixteen year old Messiah, is also on the carnival circuit with his father, usually found sat cross-legged on a homemade throne, wearing a crown of thorns while dear old Dad preaches all the truths the sinners don't want to hear. And then there's Scent, a young woman who sells her body to survive, her Mother has loads of money hidden away, waiting for her lover to return, forcing them to live in poverty. So we have one crazy Father, one crazy Mother and as if sent from heaven, the good doctor.

“It’s the town. Out here in the middle of nowhere with all them ghosts whispering from beneath the bloody dirt. A town full of incurables, a town full of sinners, a town run by the devil. And wherever the devil is, God is sure to follow.”

The Incurables sees Jon Bassoff back to his best following a slight stutter with Factory Town, Scent was easily my favourite character, seemingly a fragile young thing with a dark side desperate for reparation but will she get what's due? In a place where insanity blossoms amongst the hopeless and faith doesn't mean a thing, only death.

I received The Incurables from Darkfuse & Netgalley in exchange for an honest review and that’s what you’ve got.

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A Stranger's Grave by Craig Saunders

A Stranger's GraveA Stranger's Grave by Craig Saunders
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've said before that Craig Saunders writing style fits succinctly with my inner core and A Strangers Grave is definitely one of my favourites.

Elton Burlock is out of prison after a long 26 year stretch for murder, longer than it should have been but that's something at the heart of his story, along with the reason he went to jail. You would think a murderer an evil man but Elton is far from that, he's an old man now just surviving.

The only job Elton can get is the keeper of an old graveyard in a small Norfolk market town, the first headstones were laid in 1756 but something much older came in 2007. A trio of angels carved in basalt and polished to a black sheen, the evil those angels bought was older than anything.

And when the first murder occurs, who is the obvious suspect?

'But he screamed, then, because as he came she came, the old one, and she drove splinters into his spine and tore out handfuls of his lungs until he could scream no more, snapped his neck, broke his skull, tore into his brain, her worm-ridden tongue licking and licking and eating his eyeballs from behind.'

So there's death in the graveyard, the odd ghost with evil intent, still-born children buried in a strangers grave, a grave that can never be too deep and some laughs around two fat coppers.

'They both set to running as fast as two fat coppers can in a dark cemetery if they don't want a broken neck or a coronary, because of intuition, but also because both policeman knew that whatever happened next, neither one wanted to get to the screamer alone.'

From reading Craig Saunders work you can tell he doesn't waste much time on masses of research, the writing flows effortlessly from darkness to humour in the blink of an eye and I've got visions of him chuckling away in his legendary shed, maybe it's got a little bar and pool table for relaxing. But at the end of the day I really enjoyed A Strangers Grave, the protagonist carries enough baggage to make for an arresting character coupled with a disturbingly creepy setting and a quite wicked story. Craig Saunders does it again.

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King of the Bastards

King of The BastardsKing of The Bastards by Brian Keene
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With Albion in chaos, Rogan and his nephew wash up on a foreign shore. The primitive tribesman of the foreign land are being terrorized by a shaman with an alien god on his side. Can Rogan set things right and find his way back to his former kingdom?

I've made it no secret that I'm not fond of the typical Tolkien via Dungeons and Dragons style of fantasy that dominates the genre these days. When I want fantasy, I'm more into the Leiber/Howard/Moorcock style. Thankfully, King of the Bastards is just such a novel.

Rogan is an aging barbarian, like Conan if he survived to be sixty. Rogan reminds me not only of the lgendary Cimmerian but also Karl Edward Wagner's Kane and David Gemmell's Druss the Legend. In short, he's the baddest mother on the planet and not ready to go to the grave just yet.

King of Bastards is an homage to the glory days of pulp fantasy. If you're squeamish about violence and rampant sexism, this isn't the book for you. Rogan is randy for being a senior citizen and doesn't mind talking about it. He also isn't shy about dealing out violence and gore.

The plot isn't very complex but Keene and Shrewsbury get a lot of mileage of out it. It's a fun pulpy romp full of violence, gore, and funny one-liners. Rogan and his nephew encounter one breasted Amazons, natives, ape-men, giant snakes, zombies, and all sorts of other things. References are made to Keene's Labyrinth mythos and the Thirteen, and there was a Dark Tower reference as well.

Much like the fantasy of yesteryear, King of the Bastards was action packed and short enough not to overstay its welcome. If you yearn for the fantasy of yore, King of Bastards is what you're looking for. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, December 21, 2015

Beautiful Pictures of Horrible Things

Gandhara: The Memory of AfghanistanGandhara: The Memory of Afghanistan by Bérénice Geoffroy-Schneiter
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Who destroys 1400 year old gargantuan statues? The Taliban, that's who. See, this is why we can't have nice things.

The Bamiyan Buddhas, carved from the stone cliffside in the Bamiyan Valley of eastern Afghanistan, stood for fourteen centuries until a rival organized religion came along and decided it was too much of a threat. They couldn't build up their own impressive monuments. Nope, they had to dynamite someone else's, least their own grasp upon the people be impinged.


Seriously, that is such weak-sauce.

Gandhara tries to salvage something of the remains. It gives a brief, and not altogether succinct, summary of the history, surmising upon the origins of this land where Greek art met Indian Hinduism. Author Berenice Geoffroy-Schnieiter, a French archeologist and art historian, is suited to talk about the French archeologists given permission to work in the area and unearth the ruins. Perhaps something was lost in the translation or perhaps the author isn't a gifted writer (that's no knock on Berenice, I mean, how many skills can one person excel at?!) as not all of this was described in an English easily digested. Or maybe I'm ignorant of the culture and art of that part of the world. Actually, yeah, that's more likely.

On the other hand, this slim volume is two-thirds photos. There isn't a lot of room for elucidation in an 80 page book when 60 of those pages are pictures. However, the photos are gorgeous and there are summary explanations at the back giving the pertinent details of each.


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Friday, December 18, 2015

Singer of Souls

Adam Stemple
Tor Fantasy
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


Leaving his life of petty crime and drug abuse behind, young Douglas flees from Minneapolis to Edinburgh, Scotland, to his stern but fairminded Grandma McLaren, who will take him in if he can support himself. Fortunately, few cities are friendlier than Edinburgh to a guitarist with a talent for spontaneous rhyme, and soon Douglas is making a decent living as the busker who can write a song about you on the spot.

But Edinburgh has its dangers for the unwary. The annual arts festival, biggest in Europe, draws all manner of footloose sorts, and when a mysterious but alluring young girl offers him drugs, Douglas's resolve fails him.

What follows isn't what he expects. Suddenly, Douglas can see, in all their beauty and terrifying cruelty, the fey folk who invisibly share Edinburgh's ancient streets. Worse, they can see him, and they're determined to draw him into their own internecine wars--wars that are fought to the death.

My Review

Singer of Souls is a very dark fantasy about a young musician and recovering heroin addict who leaves Minneapolis to start a new life with his grandmother in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Douglas draws in the crowds by using his guitar and voice to compose personalized songs about passers-by. While living with his grandmother and making a decent living, he manages to stay clean until he meets an unusual woman who presents him with a white powder that steers him off the path to recovery.

Instead of achieving the desired high, Douglas' life takes an unpredictable turn when the powder gives him the ability to see Edinburgh's invisible fey inhabitants.

I gobbled up this short, fast-paced, magical and very dark fantasy in two sittings. I loved the characters, the setting and the ability of the music to enchant and transform its listeners. The faeries and other magical creatures are not beautiful or enchanting. This is a dark and gritty urban fantasy with a horrifying ending that makes me want to drop everything and grab the sequel.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Heir to the Empire

Heir to the Empire (Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy, #1)Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Five years after Return of the Jedi, the leaders of the rebellion have formed the New Republic and are trying to establish it as well as they possibly can. The Empire is a shell of its former self, but not everyone considers it defeated. A Grand Admiral named Thrawn has become the leader of The Empire and he intends to crush the Rebellion for good.

Heir to the Empire wasn't very interesting. I wanted to stop reading it multiple times and now that I finished I realized I should have listened to myself. The book was really slow and rather than doing any real character development it simply leaned on the work the movies did. With the vibrant characters of Star Wars I would think that would have been fine, but it really wasn't. I hoped to love this series and I expected to at least like it, so it's incredibly disappointing how uninterested I was throughout nearly the entire book.

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Traitor's Blade

Traitor's Blade (Greatcoats, #1)Traitor's Blade by Sebastien de Castell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The King is dead, his magistrates the Greatcoats have been disbanded, and the Dukes are ruining the world one injustice at a time. Even branded as traitors the Greatcoats fight for justice and in this case it's for a girl marked for death by an evil Duke.

Traitor's Blade is a fantasy in a more classic sense of the genre. The Heroes are really good and the villains are the mustache twirling tie a girl to the train tracks type. It brings about a feeling of nostalgia for the simpler days when you knew who was good and who was bad within seconds of their arrival.

One of books biggest strengths to me came from the interaction between Falcio, Kest, and Brasti. The three of them were lovable loud mouths who were prepared to fight regardless of the odds. The other main strength came from Falcio's flashbacks. The flashbacks were entirely about Falcio's life as the entire book is in his point of view and many of them revolved around his interactions with King Paelis. A lot of powerful and emotional scenes played out in the flashbacks. Unfortunately not as many played out in the remainder of novel.

Like every book Traitor's Blade had its weaknesses which primarily revolved around Falcio going solo to protect Aline. It felt as though the author derailed his book by going overboard on a side quest. After finishing the book I see a bit of the importance of the particular quest, but I'd still say it took up too much of the novel. Another weak point to me was the number of times various characters shook their head in disbelief over how dumb Falcio was behaving. My particular issue is that each character did it nearly the same way.

This book also was lacking in scenes with the Tailor. That old woman put a smile on my face whenever she opened her mouth.

Traitor's Blade is a solid debut and worth a read especially for those sick of all their characters being shades of gray.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015


Ghost Wars: The Secret History Of The CIA, Afghanistan, And Bin Laden, From The Soviet Invasion To September 10, 2001Ghost Wars: The Secret History Of The CIA, Afghanistan, And Bin Laden, From The Soviet Invasion To September 10, 2001 by Steve Coll
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Oh, okay, you want us to capture him. Right. You crazy white guys.”

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1979 is certainly a dividing line in my life. It was the year that Iranians stormed the embassy in Iran and took Americans hostage. This was quickly followed by the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. I can remember thinking to myself, Why do the Iranians hate us so much and why would anyone want Afghanistan? Like most Americans, before I could actually formulate an opinion about Afghanistan, I first had to go find it on a map.

If the hostage crisis didn’t sink Jimmy Carter’s presidency, certainly the utter failure of the rescue attempt hammered in the final nail. As a nation we were not used to feeling helpless in the face of a threat. We have always been a nation who firmly believes in never leaving a man/woman behind. It was disconcerting, maddening, to see Americans held hostage, and also to come to the realization that our government was helpless. The days became months and then years. 444 days. Americans would not have any significance as hostages if we didn’t value our own citizens.

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As a nation, we were all held hostage. Our faith in our government to protect us may not have been completely shattered, but it was most certainly compromised.

Steve Coll masterfully picks up the story in 1979 and brings it forward to 9/11. War, as we knew it, had changed. Even the Cold War, which was the byproduct of the dementia of two superpowers, had somehow satisfied the needs of those in power to wage war without actually, officially declaring it. As baffling as that time was, it is strange to feel so much nostalgia for it. It was an arms race, a war of brains rather than brawn. The invasion of Afghanistan changed the rules and left the Soviet Union vulnerable to fighting a lot more than a few ragged, underfed, undereducated poppy farmers.

The Players:
William J. Casey was the head of the CIA at this time. He still saw the Russian Bear as the greatest threat to America, and it was the reason he joined the organization. Ronald Reagan, as president, is a fervent anti-communist, as can be seen from many of his speeches going way back to when he was president of the Screen Actors Guild. The final piece to the puzzle that had to fall in place was one alcoholic, charismatic representative from Texas in need of a cause by the name of Charlie Wilson.

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You’ve heard the term Charlie Wilson’s war? Well, he gave it to us.

America went to war with the Soviet Union. Well...not technically. They funnelled money, loads of money into Pakistan. (Carter offered President Zia of Pakistan $400 million, which he rejected. Reagan offered him $3.2 billion, which he accepted.) The region was choking on all the money. America was intent on buying an embarrassing defeat for the Soviet Union. The CIA had to get creative though, because it wasn’t like we could outfit these Afghanistan rebels with weapons stamped with MADE IN AMERICA. Somebody had the bright idea to go scoop up all those Soviet tanks and weaponry that Saddam Hussein left scattered all over the desert when he retreated from Kuwait. They refurbished them and handed them off to “our allies” in Afghanistan. I always enjoy a good recycling story.

Of course, the turning point came when we decided to let the rebels use Stinger missiles.

What this all really adds up to is a destabilized region that has become ripe for a lunatic with an endless supply of money and an ego the size of Jupiter to take over. Need more hints? He was frogmarched out of his native country of Saudi Arabia and stripped of his citizenship. The average height of a man from Saudi Arabia is 5’6”. He was almost a foot taller. He’s kind of an a$$hole.

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The one and hopefully only Osama Bin Laden.

In the 1990s, America was going through a crisis of faith with the CIA. They were forcing veterans into early retirement and reducing the level of government commitment to the spy service just as Islamic terrorism was on the rise . If not for the emergence of George Tenet, the spy service might have slowly circled down the drain. He was exactly what the CIA needed, a gregarious, likeable man who knew how to talk politics.

Despite distractions from other world crises, including a near career ending domestic crisis involving a cigar and a blue dress, President Bill Clinton made several attempts to capture Bin Laden. He shot cruise missiles at him. He had the Persian Lion contacted, Ahmed Shah Massoud, possibly our best ally in Afghanistan, about a plan to take Bin Laden out. Unfortunately, American politics played a big part or most of us might never have known the name Bin Laden.

America relied too heavily on their two closest allies in the Middle East. ”Instead at first out of indifference, then with misgivings, and finally in a state of frustrated inertia--the United States endorsed year after year the Afghan programs of its two sullen, complex, and sometimes vital allies, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.” These were two countries that had their own agendas with Afghanistan. Sometimes they helped America, and sometimes behind the scenes they were working against them.

Bin Laden wasn’t really interested in the squabbles going on in Afghanistan. He couldn’t care less about Russia or the other European powers. He wanted to go after the country that would give him the biggest bang for his buck. The United States of America. “Like bin Laden, Al-Zawahiri (current leader of Al-Qaeda) believed that it was time for jihadists to carry the war to ‘the distant enemy’ because, once provoked, the Americans would probably reply with revenge attacks and ‘personally wage the battle against the Muslims,’ which would make them ripe for a ‘clear-cut jihad against infidels.’”

Power was achieved through attention. It makes me doubt that their true intentions were as purely religiously motivated as they would like us to believe. They wanted to provoke the United States into attacking them. It wasn’t about revenge as much as it was about achieving glory through blood.

The brains at the CIA were, meanwhile, realizing a few things as well. ”A lesson of American counterterrorism efforts since the 1980s was that the threat could not be defeated, only ‘reduced, attenuated, and to some degree controlled. Terrorism was an inevitable feature of global change.”

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Richard Clarke the American guru on terrorism.

As the Clinton administration was winding down, it became easier to start kicking decisions regarding terrorism and other policy issues down the road. Clinton didn’t want to make decisions that George W. Bush would have to live with. Bush, on the other hand, was almost punch drunk with a narrow presidential victory. Richard Clarke, the guru of terrorism under Clinton, had a hard time getting the attention of Bush or his National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, about the pending threats of terrorism. 2001 turned out to be a bad time to be switching administrations.

Steve Coll, step by step, takes us through the minefield of the Middle East. He shows the mistakes and why they happened. He explains the intent and why sometimes America was right and sometimes very wrong in their approach to problems. We were slow to understand the motivations of certain individuals. Sometimes we were too proud to see how vulnerable we were. Sometimes we meddled in things best left to a regional conflict. You will see each president, possibly in a different light, as Coll explains the politics and the underlying concerns behind their decisions.

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The Persian Lion had a vision for his country.

This is a book that, as I was reading it, I heard the snap of so many missing blocks of information fall into place. My understanding of how and why things happened the way they happened expanded exponentially. Our relationship with the Middle East is a complex and convoluted mess with misconceived and misinterpreted intentions on both sides. This is a serious book, well written, and meticulously researched.

Two days before 9/11 a Saudi Arabian man posing as a reporter blew himself up, sending shrapnel into the chest of Ahmad Shah Massoud. Bin Laden knew that once those planes hit those towers that America would come to Massoud. It was a huge blow to Afghanistan because finally everything would line up for Massoud to eventually control the country (with US backing), and Massoud could finally put into place the country he always dreamed of. As someone said: ”What an unlucky country.”

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

The GrownupThe Grownup by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Unbelievably The Grownup is my first read from Gillian Flynn and I did quite enjoy this dark little novella.

You may have seen this quote already but I have to include it because, well it's a legend, a quote amongst quotes. Chances are it might not stand up to the test of time but I'll never forget it and it introduces the stories protagonist and vocation.

I quit because when you give 23,546 hand jobs over a three-year period , carpal tunnel syndrome is a very real thing.'

So she's in the process of moving from hand jobs to scam artist in the guise of a fortune-teller when she meets Susan Burke. And soon she is employed to rid Susan's house of evil spirits and step-son Miles is integral. Then it's exploration of the demon child phenomena and it did grip me as things swung from is he? To isn't he? All told this was a story that keeps you guessing, some delicious twists and the kid is pretty likable for a possible sociopath, definitely interesting with an ambiguous finale.

A 3.5* rating

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Rain by Craig Saunders

RainRain by Craig Saunders
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been on a bit of a Craig Saunders splurge recently starting with The Estate, on to Rain and the final one being A Strangers Grave. And they just get better, dark fiction with a mixture of fascinating characters, occasionally funny moments, gripping plots but most of all just bloody good reads.

Rain starts with John March and his not too busy bookshop, in fact there's only one regular customer and he comes in attempting to sell a few books. Mr Hills last visit finished with him saying something a little odd John thinks briefly but what comes later is way past odd. Mr Hill dies that night and John is the beneficiary of two amazing things, firstly a will worth 5 million pounds.

And secondly a strange wooden box containing a lock of hair, a finger bone and a tooth in a jar of water. A simple message says. 'Blood and bone and hair and tooth'.

Then a phone call.

'You have something of mine. Give it back and I will let her live.'

Then comes the Rain.

Followed by screaming, sirens, and death, lots of it.

Smiley, Mandy and the rest of the gang aren't up to much, smoking some weed, you know the score. Until they're caught by a policeman, not your average copper, this one needs a job done and there's something not altogether right about this guy.

'Something in the man's eyes. Something cold. His eyes were black. Weird. Full-on black, like they'd been painted in by a kid. The others didn't look around. They sat silent, defeated.
Smiley looked into the policeman's eyes.
He wished he hadn't, but by then, he couldn't look away'.

The rain is alive, it has murderous intent and it’s fucking scary stuff. There's a lot going on to keep the interest alive, I have to say it's brilliantly imaginative and the evil contained within the rain combined with its urgent needs left me slightly staggered and more than impressed with Craig Saunders once more.

John March, his wife and her carers, Smiley and Mandy will face off against the unthinkable. And you can't help but run the gauntlet with them, every rain soaked step. This author has written some incredibly dark and gripping fiction, and it's a complete joy to slowly work through his back catalogue.

Recommended, no, more than Recommended and well worth dipping your toes into this murky water.

A 4.5* rating.

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White Picket Prisons

White Picket PrisonsWhite Picket Prisons by Kelli Owen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While on suspension, detective Mark Baker gets a letter from his sister, whom he hasn't spoken to in ten years. With pregnant girlfriend in tow, Mark goes to the isolated town his sister lives to check on her. Will he be able to break Sarah from her White Picket Prison?

White Picket Prisons is a fairly short tale of a town with its own set of biblical-inspired laws. Valley Mill seems quiet, almost idyllic, at first, until Mark and Gina figure out what's actually going on. It could easily be an episode of The Twilight Zone or Tales from the Dark Side.

It could have easily been a short story without a lot of meat on the bone but Mark's feelings about the ineffectiveness of the justice system he works for give the story the conflict it needs.

A few pretty chilling things happen in White Picket Prisons. Owen doesn't roll around in the gore and somehow I think that makes them that much more horrific.

This is the second Kelli Owen book I've read and won't be the last. She really has the knack for dark fiction. Three out of five stars.

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Monday, December 14, 2015

THE Penge Bungalow Murders

Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow MurdersRumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders by John Mortimer
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After reading four or five of the books and seeing a few of the tv show episodes based on them, the notoriety of London Barrister Horace Rumpole's greatest case "The Penge Bungalow Murders," much mentioned by himself, had reached legendary status. Yet, I'd never read about it. I didn't know the details, and so it took on a mysterious mythology. Unable to take the suspense any longer, I finally and joyously read John Mortimer's Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders.

This might be my favorite Rumpole to date!

It's a look back at the start of a career and a trip back in time that introduces long-known friends and acquaintances. Because the series begins in the midst, or rather in the twilight years, of Rumpole's career, Mortimer had Rumpole tell the story of his first big break via the act of writing his memoirs. That provided the reader a nice past/present reflection upon that lovable, wily and irascible lawyer.

Mortimer's writing is very smooth. His stock of character's are well-drawn, if a bit one dimensional, at least the usual supporting cast. The main players in whatever case Rumpole is working on are often dual-natured and Mortimer handles them just as capably. The plot of the typical Rumpole story, though not always a mind-bender, is crafted in a way to keep you guessing who dunnit for a decent length of time, and this one's no different. While not perfection, Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders gets an extra fanboy star from me and ranks as a topnotch entry in the series.

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Friday, December 11, 2015


Edited by Nicole Kimberling
Blind Eye Books
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Eleven stories of magic, mystery and the fantastic future, all featuring gay heroes. Swordsmen, cyborgs, magicians, ghosts, psychic lovers and enchanted lords fill this anthology with adventure, laughter and passion.This anthology features Spectrum Award Winning author Ginn Hale as well as award winning author and editor Lawrence Schimel and Lambda Literary Award Finalist Astrid Amara.

My Review

It is very rare for me to come across an anthology where I enjoy every single story. The nice thing about short story collections by different authors is the element of surprise. After each break, the reader gets introduced to a new set of characters, encounters different situations, and is exposed to a variety of writing styles. Each story in Tangle is highly imaginative and explores love and relationships between men.

My favorite stories in this collection are:

 Lord Ronan’s Shoes, by Astrid Amara, about a young man, Evander, employed by a king’s vassal to care for his vast shoe collection. Lord Ronan is a cold, cruel, and very attractive man. While on a mission to find new buckles for his master’s shoes, Evander comes across a very special pair of boots that changes the lives of everyone around him, including Lord Ronan. This story was sweet, humorous and a lot of fun.

Remember, by Astrid Amara, is about a man who is dreading his upcoming marriage to a woman he does not love, but needs to go through with the wedding in order to gain an inheritance. The bride’s family will not allow the wedding to take place until their missing heirloom rings are found, so, at his future mother-in-law’s insistence, the groom hires a mysterious magician to locate the rings. This was a fun and romantic story that ended happily for both the bride and the groom.

Crossing the Distance, by Erin MacKay, is about two boys who are telepathically bonded since childhood. Once they become of age, they are trained as “Relays”, using their telepathic skills to serve the army. A heartwrenching and beautiful story.

Ginn Hale’s Feral Machines is about a lonely man who maintains a wildlife sanctuary with only the three “synthetics” he purchased from a military surplus auction to keep him company. A very imaginative, compelling, and humane story.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Lost Stars

Lost Stars (Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens)Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Many of the major events of the original Star Wars trilogy are experienced through two childhood friends, Ciena Ree and Thane Kyrell. Ciena and Thane are life long friends who find themselves on opposite sides of war.

Lost Stars covers the lives of Ciena and Thane who happen to have been born the same time as the Empire. Their story starts at age 8 and continues on until after the end of Return of the Jedi. The story was good, but I was expecting more.

The biggest surprise I experienced in this story was seeing how people could defend the Empire. I understand that there are two sides to every story, but once the Empire blew up a highly inhabited planet because it's leaders were traitors to the Empire, I couldn't believe anyone could continue defending it.

Thane and Ciena started off as really interesting down to Earth characters. It was easy to care for each of them despite their faults until Ciena became the dumbest woman in the history of the world, even dumber than Lois Lane taking forever to realize Clark Kent is Superman...who knew glasses were all it would take to escape an investigative reporter and co-worker's attention. Ciena comes up for rationalization after rationalization for why the Empire is good even after witnessing it destroying a planet and a number of other atrocities it committed. She refuses to break her oath because her sense of honor is more important than actual people's lives...except Thane's. Thane was surprisingly the most patient loving man as he kept fighting for Ciena despite her being the enemy and working for the Devil Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine, and the Empire.

It was somewhat strange reading all these events through the new characters eyes because I knew the outcome of almost everything in the book. The only thing I didn't know was how events would effect Thane and Ciena.

Lost Stars was a good book that provided a fresh perspective on the original trilogy and it's effect on individuals.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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All You Need Is Kill

All You Need Is KillAll You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So what do you get when you mix Groundhog Day, a war manga, and Tony Stark's suit of armor he made in a cave? You get All You Need Is Kill. Keiji Kiriya is stuck in a loop fighting aliens to the death...well to his death. Keiji has died during each of his 158 tries to get out of the loop. Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day had it way easier than Keiji Kiriya.

For me All You Need Is Kill is a book with an interesting concept that falls short once Rita Vrataski gets her own point of view. I don't want to spoil anything so I won't explain any more then saying the author should've never tried to explain how the loops work. Perhaps that isn't fair, the best way to say it is don't explain something you don't fully understand. Time travel scenarios can be as messy and annoying as stepping in poop and tracking it all around your home. Let's just say the author was likely walking around a farm with serious nasal congestion before he headed home.

The story itself was intriguing prior to the Vrataski info dump. Poor Keiji has walked into a reasonable facsimile of hell. After the inevitable attempts to run away and commit suicide to escape the loops, Keiji decides to train his mind to help him win the battle. This part was enjoyable to see how he had learned to navigate his day and the battle with the proficient ease of 100 plus attempts.

All I Need Is Kill felt like a case of unfulfilled potential. Perhaps I'll have to watch the movie to find out if they did a better job utilizing the concept.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2015


Julius CaesarJulius Caesar by William Shakespeare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.”

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Beware the Ides of March. Beware to those that have aspirations to rule. You may encounter many enemies. People who will thwart your plans. People quite possibly afraid of your genius. People suffering from delusions of grandeur.

I always say keep an eye on the son of your favorite squeeze.

Marcus Junius Brutus, what a fickle man, you are running around like a plucked chicken looking for your missing head. ”He seems completely blind to reality, an ineffectual idealist whose idealism cannot prevent him from committing a senseless and terrible crime.” You let the insidious Cassius fill your ear with dilettante, conspiratorial nonsense. ”Cadaverous and hungry-looking, much given to brooding, and a great reader; a scorner of sports and light diversions, a very shrewd judge of human nature, and deeply envious of those who are greater than himself.” So the question remains, is Cassius the shrewd judge of character, capable of seeing the future, or is he the man consumed by jealousy who wants to see the mighty Julius Caesar fall?

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You fell for that first man of Rome, the republic is your responsibility, and all that. As it turns out, you aren’t the only dagger maestro in your family. Gaius Servilius Structus Ahala, a distant relative of yours, saved Rome from another tyrant named Spurius Maelius. Of course, that is all in the far distant past and might even be a myth, but Cassius knows the right buttons to push.

”And therefore think him as a serpent’s egg,
Which, hatch’d, would, as his kind, grow mischievous,
And kill him in the shell.”

You might have said the line Brutus, but the stench of it, the green gray smoke of it, smacks of Cassius. Wouldn’t it have been more prudent to see what Caesar intended to do with his power before you stab, stab, STABBED him to death?

“Et tu, Brute?”

That must have felt like a punch in the gut given that you had his blood all over your sword and hands at the time. Caesar’s parting guilt laden gift to you. I’m just putting a few thoughts out there in the wind. How’d you feel about Caesar putting the sausage to your mother? Did the bedposts banging against the wall feel like a drummer hammering your skull? Maybe Cassius doesn’t have to be that convincing.

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It must have been a real kick in the subligaculum when that hack William Shakespeare named the play after Julius Caesar. My god, man, you have four times the lines, and for most of the play Caesar is nothing more than an apparition. An annoying apparition, by the way, who keeps showing up at the most inconvenient times and saying things like, ”Let loose the dogs of war.”

Letting Marc Antony live was probably a mistake. He isn’t the brightest star in the firmament, but he is a brave soldier. A good leader, but better as number two than number one. You aren’t really a mad dog killer after all, so the thought of killing Antony is like crunching on the bones of a stale dormouse.

”Of course will seem too bloody, Caius Cassius,
To cut the head off and then hack the limbs,
Like wrath in death and envy afterwards;
For Antony is but a limb of Caesar.
Let’s be sacrificers, but not butchers, Caius.
We all stand up against the spirit of Caesar.”

Magnanimous of you, Brutus. Well said, but did you think ZOINKS after Antony dropped that rap battle speech at Caesar’s funeral.

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Marc Antony

”Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answer’d it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest–
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men–

You remember the one, right? The speech where he basically calls you a douche bag under the guise of singing your praises.

I’m not going to talk about the disaster at the battle of Philippi. I think that might have been where the term Caesar salad came into common usage. Marc Antony and Octavius join forces and break the will of your men. We are all ready, way past ready, for you to fall on your own sword. In fact, I would have happily given you a firm Caligae to the arse if you needed a little extra encouragement.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Strange Ways by Bryan Smith

Strange WaysStrange Ways by Bryan Smith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Bryan Smith fills a bit of a void for me, well written horror with a sprinkling of sex that doesn't require massive amounts of concentration, good fun basically.

Strange Ways is typically formulaic for Bryan Smith, the plot felt like I'd read it before after the first ten pages and stories about witches are pretty high on my must avoid at all costs list. These three witches are stunningly attractive, they've been alive for a long time using magic to remain youthful and they are powerful, big fucking yawn.

As soon as they arrived on the scene and there's three of them, I was immediately thinking of Go Kill Crazy and there's even a cross as Echo the tattooed stripper makes an appearance.

The White family are pretty rich, the kids spoilt to death, Alan at work with a prostitute while wife Marjorie is spying on the new arrivals for her brunch network. Three luxury cars arrive, one after the other and out step three woman, stunning, stunning and more stunning, the only difference being the colour of their long, lush, and glossy locks.

Marjorie is captivated and soon beholden to the witches, daughter Paige has seduced her teacher and is in the process of bribing him to kill her parents. Paige is the one shining light in this story, how can someone so young be so deliciously evil, well she manages it and with brass knobs on.

Meanwhile here we are at the witches abode casting a spell.

'The physical release she felt as the gathered energy exploded from her body was a sensation akin to a thousand orgasms experienced simultaneously.'

For fucks sake a thousand orgasms at the same time, will that be as much pleasure as pulling into a parking spot and realising the one immediately in front is free enabling a drive straight out experience, yeah must be.

I was more than a little disappointed with Strange Ways, the Bryan Smith magic was lacking, the whole affair was a bit predictable and there was the hint of a familiar pattern there.

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Seed by Ania Ahlborn

SeedSeed by Ania Ahlborn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Seed by Ania Ahlborn has been patiently sitting on my kindle waiting to be remembered until recently I came across the audiobook and at just over 6 hours immediately thought, yep that’s easily doable in a day, perfect.

Seed is an almost perfect slow building horror, it plans and executes a clinical attack on your emotions as the screw gradually turns and the tension ratchets to unbearable levels. It all starts with a car crash, as the protagonist and driver of the car Jack, sees something at the side of the road, something rooted deeply in the terror of his childhood.

Things deteriorate from that moment on, youngest daughter Charlie takes on the child from hell persona of Damianesque proportion and this family is about to suffer nightmares that grip the reader as tightly as the most terrifying homicidal maniacs bear hug.

'She knew there was only one way to get rid of the prickle that had burrowed into her heart: get up, stand over her sister again. Stand over her and wait until she stopped breathing.'

Seed was Ania Ahlborn’s debut novel and it really is a tremendous piece of work, it's not long, the author seriously doesn't beat about the bush and over describe, and I was heavily invested in the story, the characters and this family's plight. So you couldn't really ask for anything else and I'll certainly be reading more from Ania Ahlborn.

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