Friday, January 29, 2016

The Last Men on Earth

Mark Allan Gunnells
Red Door Productions
Reviewed by Nancy
2 out of 5 stars


The world as we know it has ended in plague. Only two men seem to have survived, traveling alone, forging a bond that one considers love and the other considers convenience. Until another survivor, a young woman, is added to the mix. How far will one man go for love...?

My Review

I like how Mark Allan Gunnells manages to create characters with substance in such a short format, injecting horrifying little twists and keeping the reader on edge. For that reason, I always look forward to reading his stories.

This one, however, was way too short for me to develop any feelings about the characters. The twist wasn’t especially surprising either.

After I reached the conclusion, my feelings ended up being similar to the story’s narrator.

“I felt nothing. Not guilt, not horror at my actions, but no particular pleasure either.”

Thursday, January 28, 2016

X-Men Legacy: Prodigal

X-Men Legacy, Vol. 1: ProdigalX-Men Legacy, Vol. 1: Prodigal by Simon Spurrier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is David Haller perhaps better known as Legion. He's the Omega Level Mutant son of Professor Charles Xavier. Which sounds great except that David is called Legion because he has at least 100 personalities in his head, who each have their own mutant powers. Oh and David struggles to keep control of these personalities. His father, with some help, built a mental prison to aid David's sanity and assist with his control of his powers. During the events of Avengers vs X-Men, Charles left David at a Telepathic Psyker commune of sorts.
David gets help for his mental problems while helping others. When Professor X was killed by a Phoenix possessed Cyclops, David's mental prison broke and the inmates are running loose. Now David must find a way to control the legion of personalities in his head, while he decides what to do now that his father is dead.

Prodigal was interesting as it is almost exclusively told from Legion's point of view. I really didnt know much about Legion except the facts and his role in Age of Apocalypse. Legion is a pretty awesome character. He's one of the strongest beings in existence, but he's hindered by the personalities in his mind. Any of his personalities can take over his body if they catch him in his mind and use their share of his powers. It's not hard to see why Professor X kept him in a coma induced state for much of his life.

David is also great because he has a fun sense of humor. He makes a ton of funny references and delivers some memorable lines.

"There it is "fight." These two've known nothing but violence and youse want to fix it at paramilitary spandex school."

"The dream is fine. I just think the way he went about it might have been (say it say it say it) wrong."

"The bloody X-Men there. Dad's technicolor mutant militia."

Prodigal was refreshingly familiar yet new and exciting. I wasn't expecting the storyline at all and I'm pumped to keep reading the series.

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Uncanny Inhumans: Time Crush

Uncanny Inhumans, Vol. 1: Time CrushUncanny Inhumans, Vol. 1: Time Crush by Charles Soule
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Thanos arrived on Attilan and threatened the Inhumans, Black Bolt sent everyone away through Eldrac the door. This resulted in many Inhumans scattering throughout the world. Since that day no one knew what happened to Ahura, heir to the throne of Attilan, the son of Black Bolt and Medusa.
It seems one person knew where Ahura was.
Black Bolt sent Ahura into the past with Kang the Conquerer to protect him from Thanos and the incursions.
Black Bolt also brought terrigen mist in order to allow Ahura to undergo his Inhuman transformation.
Since the incursions appear likely to destroy Earth, Black Bolt asks Kang to keep Ahura. Kang agrees, but only under the condition that Ahura will belong to him even if the Earth is saved. That Ahura would belong to Kang forever! Black Bolt agrees. After Secret Wars ends and the world is restored, Black Bolt goes to reclaim Ahura and Kang is not amused.

Time Crush was interesting and intense. I am familiar with Kang the Conqueror, but I didn't fully comprehend how dangerous someone who controls time could truly be. Kang is not an enemy any wise person would choose which really demonstrates how desperate Black Bolt was to save Ahura. This was especially touching because Black Bolt in the past had allowed Ahura to go through a lot of bs because the genetic council feared him and because they didn't provide the OK for Black Bolt to reproduce. I'm glad to see the genetic council and a few other annoying parts of the Inhumans have gone away. Ahura and Black Bolt have a tense relationship to say it nicely. Despite all that Black Bolt has no intention of letting his son down again.

This volume was the first time I ever read a comic book arc as it was released. It was fun to do because I am currently obsessed with the Inhumans. Ever since Marvel announced an Inhumans movie and Black Bolt unleashed the terrigen bomb over New York, I've been paying close attention to the Inhumans. Uncanny Inhumans is the main title of the new Inhumans movement and I've been really pleased with the results thus far. It's fun that they've included the original Inhumans along with the Nuhumans, who are Inhumans who didn't know they were Inhuman until the terrigen cloud transformed them.

Time Crush was a great start to the Uncanny Inhumans and I'm excited to see where the story heads in the future.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016


In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship EssexIn the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”I turned around and saw him about one hundred rods [500 m or 550 yards] directly ahead of us, coming down with twice his ordinary speed of around 24 knots (44 km/h), and it appeared with tenfold fury and vengeance in his aspect. The surf flew in all directions about him with the continual violent thrashing of his tail. His head about half out of the water, and in that way he came upon us, and again struck the ship."
—Owen Chase, first mate of the whaleship Essex.

 photo Sperm20Whale20attack_zpsqtog9pqm.jpg

“There she blows!” was as much a part of my vocabulary as a child as “Launch the torpedoes” or “Geronimo” or “Remember the Alamo.” I wasn’t using it correctly, as I was not hunting whales in the middle of Kansas, but I did use it as a rallying cry for a charge against my childhood chums as we chased each other from one end of the farm to the other. Of course, in 1820 when a sharp eyed lad in the crow’s nest spotted a spume on the horizon, he would yell down to his crew mates, “There she blows!” and the chase would be on.

The Nantucket ship Essex was commanded by a newly commissioned captain by the name of George Pollard. The ship, an old vessel, had always been thought of as a lucky ship, given that it had returned so many profits to the owners. Much of the crew was green and were on their first whaling voyage. The ranks of Nantucket sailors had been filled out with some African Americans and some men referred to as offshore men, meaning that they were not of Quaker Nantucket stock.

Early in the voyage, they hit a squall that nearly heels them over. “For the green hands, the sound alone was terrifying: the shrieking of the wind across the rigging and then a frenzied flapping of sails and creaking of the stays and mast.” Can you imagine that sound? I’d be convinced that I was about to perish, especially when the ship begins to list. Captain Pollard does not spring into action as quickly as he should, but does finally give the right orders, and the good ship Essex rights herself.

It was a foretaste of what was going to be a disastrous journey.

In the 19th century, over 200,000 sperm whales were harvested for their spermaceti. (770,000 in the twentieth century. We always improve at killing things.) A normal sized whale will have about 500 gallons of this semi-waxy substance in their heads. When exposed to air, it turns to a semi-liquid and guessed sperm. This oily substance was used to lubricate machinery during the industrial revolution and to light lamps. Eventually, this oil was replaced by lard and then by petroleum, which probably saved the sperm whale population from extinction. Yea, petroleum industry! The whalers also harvested the ambergris from the digestive tract of the whale, which was used as a fixative in perfume. Women didn’t know it, but when they sprayed those beautiful scents on their necks and wrists, they were also spraying whale digestive juice on their carefully coiffed skins.

 photo d8eca934-8ff4-4911-a720-a226d9850ad2_zpslvw32ntl.jpg
A sperm whale, what a beauty!

In this era, they did not have harpoons that are shot out of a cannon; they had to row right up next to the whale, and someone with the right skill and strength thrust the harpoon into the side of the whale. These are large mammals, the largest toothed whale, reaching upwards of 80 feet long (now only about 65 feet which has been attributed to the excessive hunting of the largest males who, therefore, did not have a chance to pass on their genes.) and weighing 45 tons. They also have the largest known brain of any extinct or modern animal weighing in at 17 lbs. If they can avoid the harpoons of man and keep out of the reach of Orcas, they can live up to 70 years. Once the harpoon was in the whale, the sailors became the fastest moving humans on the planet as the whale would try to escape by fleeing at upwards of 27 mph while pulling the boat and crew along with it.

It is about finding that sweet spot in the harpoon so it is balanced perfectly in your hand. You can smell the whale. You can hear the grunts, groans, and farts of the rowers as they try to keep you level with the creature. Your face is slick with whale spume and sweat. You know you might only have one chance at this. You let go the thunderbolt in your hand and hope you will hear the meaty impact of a man killing a god.

It wasn’t unusual for green hands to upchuck over the side as they watched the death of a whale. Nathaniel Philbrick gives a description below that left tears stinging my eyes. There is something so majestic about a whale that even the most primitive thinkers among us must feel on some level that killing a whale is an affront against a higher power. When you kill something larger than yourself, something that displays such intelligence, you have to feel the world has been diminished.

”When the lance finally found its marks, the whale would begin to choke on its own blood, its spout transformed into a fifteen-to twenty-foot geyser of gore that prompted the mate to shout. ‘Chimney’s afire!’ As the blood rained down on them, the men took up the oars and backed furiously away, then paused to watch as the whale went into what was known as its flurry. Beating the water with its tail, snapping at the air with its jaws--even as it regurgitated large chunks of fish and squid--the creature began to swim in an ever tightening circle. Then, just as abruptly as the attack had begun with the first thrust of the harpoon it ended. The whale fell motionless and silent, black corpse floating fin-up in a slick of its own blood and vomit.”

 photo Moby20Dick20Rockwell20Kent_zpsjflnn9rs.jpg
As I was looking through Rockwell Kent’s art for Moby Dick, I was surprised how well I remembered each of the sketches even though I haven’t read the book for decades.

So they take the oil, some blubber, and the ambergris; those parts had ready value that made Nantucket in the heyday of the whaling era very wealthy. ”The rest of it---the tons of meat, bone, and guts---were simply thrown away, creating festering rafts of offal that attracted birds, fish, and, of course, sharks. Just as the skinned corpses of buffaloes would soon dot the prairies of the American West, so did the headless gray remains of sperm whales litter the Pacific Ocean in the nineteenth century.” As I was reading this, even before Philbrick brought forth the comparison to the eradication of the buffalo in the same century, I was having flashbacks to Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams.

I had to stop and go read something else for the rest of the day. I needed a break to absorb what I had read and also to create some distance between myself and the horrifying images of whales dying that Philbrick so vividly shared with me.

As I did with the buffalos in Butcher’s Crossing, I also found myself rooting for the whales.

Something triggered in one whale, a monster 85 foot creature, who instead of fleeing from these puny humans turned around and crashed into them. ”Instead of acting as a whale was supposed to---as a creature ‘never before suspected of premeditated violence, and proverbial for its inoffensiveness’---this big bull had been possessed by what Chase finally took to be a very human concern for the other whales.”

 photo Sketch20of20Essex20by20Nickerson_zpsdiojdvyp.jpg
Thomas Nickerson, the cabin boy and youngest member of the crew, drew this sketch of the attack.

This St. George of the deep, more dragon than man, with two mighty thrusts with his head turned the Essex into a splintered, sinking wreck. This story of the Essex is what so famously inspired Herman Melville to write his masterpiece Moby Dick. A commercial failure when released, over time has proved to be a canon of American literature. The story of the Essex has continued to be taught in American History classes, inspiring children with the tale of survival. Moby Dick may not appear on many high school syllabuses anymore. The daunting 600+ page count is simply too much for the curricula of the school system, but I did see it appear on a college syllabi not too long ago; unfortunately only excerpts were being studied.

The survival of eight crew members out of a total of twenty is harrowing indeed. A new captain used to taking orders instead of giving orders listened to some bad advice from his first and second mates. 95 days in a boat could have been shortened to mere weeks if he had stuck to his original thinking. There are some interesting discussions about the demise of all the black sailors and of most of the offshore men. In fact, the only three offshore men who survived are the ones who opted to stay on an island rather than continue in the boats. The Nantucket men stuck together, and all five who stayed in the boats who survived were Nantucket men.

Philbrick will describe the effects on the body, experiencing extreme thirst and the metabolic rates. Women and older people with lower metabolism actually do better in cold water or in cases of extreme hunger. As gallant as vigorous men like to be, giving extra rations to women and older people, they actually, logically, should be keeping those rations for themselves. Men with high muscle content, who naturally need more calories, will suffer the quickest loss of mass and will die first.

Captain Pollard is older and slightly rotund, which gives him an advantage over the younger, leaner sailors. As food and water disappear, they must resort to the most desperate of measures. ”The men were not much more than skeletons themselves, and the story that would be passed from ship to ship in the months ahead was that they were ‘found sucking the bones of their dead mess mates, which they were loath to part with.’


There is a 2015 movie based on this book that is also called In the Heart of the Sea starring Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, and Cillian Murphy.

 photo In20the20Heart20of20the20Sea_zps5sqxrfgw.jpg
I love the visual that the movie poster conveys.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016


WonderlandWonderland by Jennifer Hillier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a boy goes missing, last seen on top of a Ferris wheel in Wonderland, and a rotting body is later found in the same amusement park, Deputy Chief Vanessa Castro sets her sights on the amusement park. What evil is lurking beneath the theme park's facade?

Wonderland was a bit of a rollercoaster, pun intended. Vanessa Castro is new to Seaside, a Washington town supported largely by Wonderland, a theme park. Since the entire town's livelihood depends on the park, she runs into quite a few roadblocks during her investigation.

For my money, a thriller has to have a certain amount of misdirection. This one certainly had its share. I thought I knew who the killer was at the 20% mark but I was in the dark until the book was nearly over. Hillier sidestepped a lot of the usual thriller cliches, although the obligatory insta-love/hookup was there.

I did like the Vanessa Castro character aside from the times where she was clearly thinking with her vagina. She was torn between duty and her love for her daughter, as well as having the guilt over her husband's death gnawing at her. Actually, a lot of the characters had hidden depths. Bianca Bishop, the sultry CEO of Wonderland, came from a broken home and wasn't the bwa-ha-ha villainess I originally pegged her as.

The disappearances of boys with the Wonderland look tied nicely into the park's sordid past. Like I said, Hillier led me by the nose through most of the story. She's a clever one. Another thing that I liked was that while Wonderland took place in a theme park, I wasn't beaten over the head with lots of carnie stuff. I'm looking in your direction, Joyland.

While I didn't think it was fantastic, Wonderland was a pretty good thriller and I'll read more of Jennifer Hillier's stuff. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Monday, January 25, 2016

A romping pantomime showcasing people's obsessions with secrets and confessions.

SurvivorSurvivor by Chuck Palahniuk
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"Pacy, inventive, often funny, dark, disturbing and plain weird! Welcome to the mind of Chuck Palancuick"

Testing, testing, one, two, three

Are you reading this?

Testing, testing, one, two, three

Is this thing on?

Testing, testing, one, two, three

Yes Chuck, I get that you like writing a lot of that literacy term called, drama of sensibility. Maybe it's time to look at using something different.

Survivor makes Fight Club look like a mild experience when leading towards the angst spewing forth from the authors mind. Pessimistic is the word I'd use. Half glass full sort-of-guy? No, more like empty glass sort-of-guy.

So, say hello to Tender Branson, our narrator and crazy-guy ex-cultist and now a handy man/chef, who is (soon to be) the last survivor of a religious suicide cult. The opening starts with Tender narrating how he hijacked a Boeing 747 and then leads on to how he found himself in that situation. Why's he hijacked a plane? He wants to go out in a blaze of glory (que Bon Jovi, thanks). While yapping into the recording blackbox, he tells the reader about his experience within the Creedish Cult, which is overlapped with narrative from his life outside the cult - that working for a rich-to-do couple and his past-time hobby - picking up the phone and giving those in need advice... to kill themselves. Life is dull, the world isn't kind, so why bother? Here's the empty glass sort-of-guy metaphor. Even when stardom hits, he is still the death-wishing, dull, pessimistic persona that begins to grate in the prose later. I did enjoy how Tender's stream of consciousness unravelled throughout the narrative. What I didn't, was how depressing the read was. I was feeling like I needed to shower after reading or grabbing something alcoholic to sedate myself. I was soaked in irony.

The writing style is just lax, informal, yes, lax to the point of being sketchy. At times I was having difficulty piecing together what was being said, especially between Tender and Fertility (great name). Their dialogue, at times, made absolutely no sense at time. It was in affect wordplay, that is all. Overlapping themes are placed to both confuse and entice the reader to piece together what the hell is going on. Very clever. We've got themes of religion, fame, pornography, sex, philosophy of life, drug abuse, how to eat and lobster and how to keep to your daily planner. Brilliant.

There are some strong comparison to Fight Club the social dissolution one man has against society, yes. Homemade recipes and self tips on how to remove stains too how to make bombs and chemical weapons, yes. One man's narrative with so many twists and turns, involving ambiguous characters and towards the end, leading to death, yes. Why change it if it isn't broken? Well, it's just lazy writing to rehash something over and over again. Take note. Good read, just a little on the 'read it, skip it' sort-of-thing.

We're all living within this fake plastic hotbed of social dissatisfaction - celebrities rule and we feed them.

Welcome to planet Earth.

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A man might be thought wealthy if someone were to draw the story of his deeds, that they may be remembered. Not so in this case.

Swords of Good Men (The Valhalla Saga, #1)Swords of Good Men by Snorri Kristjansson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"Swords of good men who are rather, dull!"

About a decade ago, there was a film released called The 13th Warrior which also, like this book, had a Viking/Fantasy theme. Based upon the writings of a real Caliph of Baghdad, Ahmad ib Fadlan - it was rather enjoyable. The tales of Beowulf weaved in, with the bowels of Hel being unleashed upon a small village in a relocation. Besieged on all sides to a unrelenting foe, it takes one man (a foreigner) to stem the tide. If you've read Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton, then your know the jeist of the film. Herein lies the problem with Snorri Kristjansson's Swords Of Good Men, it's almost a exact replica, with name and location changes to the previously mentioned book and film. As you might have gathered, the novel is essentially a non-historically/fantasy themed book. I'm not sure the places mentioned in Snorri's novel actually existed - I'm only guessing, but I don't recognise any of the locations by name.

Essentially the first 200 pages are really about setting the tone, for what I felt, was a fairly solid read. There isn't much going on, other than the author attempting to flesh out his characters (of which there are MANY). The main character here is Ulfir, a 'nobel' Swede, sent with his cousin Gerri (by the King of the Swedes) to familiarize himself with the Viking-way. During his time, Ulfir gets bogged down in a lustful romance and politicking within the town of Stenvik. While Ulfir is having his fun, religion is changing, there is the White Christ as well as the old ways (Thor, Freya, Odin, Valhalla, etc) battling for provenance over Norway. King Olav is attempting to bring the North of the country under his banner and belief of Christianity. While in the South, the old ways hold sway. So there is disagreement amongst the populace, surprise!

I'm rather telling a 'story' here, but to cut out the guff, the town of Sternik finds itself besieged by true Vikings. With Ulfir locked in, along with the Chieftain Sven, Harold, a rather brutish chap and pig-farmers to boot, things get interesting - to a extent. The real problem with the novel is that for 340 pages, it really gets bogged down with too much talking and not enough doing! I'm interested to see, from the authors point of view, how a town during this time would interact with each other, but not for 220 pages. There's no action, there's no broads, there's no booze! This is a book about Vikings right? Hmm.

Here is a small list of main/middle characters; Ulfir, Gerri, Sven, Harald, Sigurd, Egil, Audun (who is rather a awesome persona!), Skargrim, Thora, Valgard, pig-farmers, Lilla, Sigmar, Thorvald, Prince Jorn, King Olav, Runir, Harvar, The Twenty, Ragnar, Oraekja, Finn. There is more, I've just grown tired of listing them. It's was a real chore for me, to cut through the characters - at times I felt the narrative wasn't descriptive at all. Just literally putting a name down on the page doesn't work, you need to really flesh out a persona for the reader to 'imagine' - well in my opinion anyway. I moaned to someone that the characters seemed 'dead' and there was no real likeable one - well other than Audun towards the end, but I won't spoil that.

The authors prose style is solid, no flares of brilliance sadly. For example, when the first attack on Stenvik takes place. Sven's rousing speech is rather amusing, it's meant to inspire seasoned warriors:

"We will strike fear into them, we are the nightmares that frighten children..."

Children? The protaganist (in this novel) isn't a anti-hero, he is meant to be a likeable rogue not the opposite. So why say something that doesn't fit the persona you are trying to build. For me it just didn't ring true. There were other lines that didn't sit right with me also. I should go back through the book and highlight them, but I just don't have the time, sorry about that.

The mystical element to the book comes from Slude, a sort of wisp/witch/not sure-thing. She can command men by touch and sense alone, no not jumping in bed for a bit of rumpy-pumpy (what even is that?). I really felt this element to the book didn't need to be there. I feel fairly strongly that the story itself would have held up better without this. It kind of rubbished, for me, all those mighty warriors at her command. Mind you, they say Agamemnon had the mightiest host of warriors ever, and it didn't work out to well for him. Given that, he didn't have some harpy with magical powers!

If I was sitting with the author right now, I'd say cut out the mystical element and come out with something more befitting the theme and tone of the era. Make sure your characteristics of your main character fits with the personality. I admire anyone who can piece together a novel, but for me, this was a fairly bad read and haphazard at best.

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The Life and Times of Bill Bryson

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt KidThe Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bryson played my funnybones like a xylophone!

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is about growing up in the '50s. It's the sort of coming of age tale that educates along the way. God, I love this stuff!

It very much reminded me of the classic movie "A Christmas Story". Here on Goodreads, amongst all you worthy readers, I'm ashamed to say I haven't yet read the short stories by Jean Shepherd that the movie is based upon. But if they're anything like the movie then they're filled with remembrances of how things once were, which is the path Bryson takes. It's a nostalgic road at times. At others, it is sarcastic. Almost always it is humorous and engaging.

Bryson has a way with words and a talent for feeding you history without making you gag. He also has my kind of sense of humor, so together these things are bound to deliver at least a very enjoyable read. However, this Thunder Bolt rockets into the stratosphere with HYPERBOLE!!! You read that right, Bryson often, intentionally writes over-the-top when describing outcomes and consequences of his many childhood tales. "Little Johnny's" chemistry set doesn't just blow up, it lifts the roof off the house. This is how a kid would tell the tale and it sets the perfect tone, creating a book that really draws you into those heady kid days where summer vacations lasted years, simple joys or disappointments were end-game emotions, and anything seemed possible.

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Friday, January 22, 2016


Kathe Koja
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


As a sculptor of metal, Tess is consumed with the perfection of welds, the drip of liquid metal, addicted to the burn. Her solitary existence ends when she meets Bibi. A self-proclaimed "guerilla performance artist," Bibi pushes her body to the utmost in her dancing, sculpting it into a finely tuned machine. But the limits of her body frustrate her. With Tess, she creates a performance art of mobile, bladelike sculptures and human dance that becomes increasingly violent and dangerous. Still this is not enough for Bibi. Her desire to grow and transform leads her to body piercing, then to ritual cuttings and scarrings. And further. Though Tess breaks their partnership, she cannot stop Bibi's dark exploration of the limits of her body. Her search is self-destructive, all-encompassing...unstoppable.

My Review

After a second read, this book is still disturbing. The unusual prose style and choppy sentences may be irritating for some readers, but I found the writing very stylish, poetic, and sensual, evoking images and sensation, vividly portraying Tess' emotional pain, burning like the metal she controls and shapes to her will, and her friend, partner, lover, Bibi's gradual descent into madness.

Skin is very different from other horror books -- no creepy, supernatural happenings, no vampires or werewolves, or excessive amounts of blood -- just the very real pain of tortured human souls.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Secret Wars (2015-2016)

Secret WarsSecret Wars by Jonathan Hickman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Life, the world, and even the universe is ending. The reason, because two worlds are colliding.
The defenders of Earth 616 have done their best to stave off their end, but the time has come.
Some run from the end and suffer loss.
A few stand against the end...
and are rewarded for their efforts.
Doom is a God that saved the world and created the Battleworld.

The tagline leading into Secret Wars was everything dies and I must say the concept bummed me out. I was pretty negative about Secret Wars as it started and then my feelings were initially justified. The beginning was slow and the world felt like an extra science fiction version of Game of Thrones with a wall holding back the undead and specially chosen fighters who defend the wall. Everything changed when Reed Richards reappeared.

Doom had taken Reed's family as his own. Susan was his wife, Franklin his biological son, and Valeria his biological daughter.
The tension picked up because there was no way Reed would live in a world where his family was Doom's.

The pace moved quickly from there and the rest of the story was action packed. Some unexpected events took place and I happily read late into the night to finish the story.

In the end Secret Wars was surprisingly good and an undeniably emotional story.

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Old Man's War

Old Man's War (Old Man's War, #1)Old Man's War by John Scalzi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

We all have regrets and things we wish we could do differently if life would allow it. What would you be willing to do to have an honest chance to live life over again? In Old Man's War that's not a philosophical question it's a real choice and one that many senior citizens take gladly. One such senior citizen is John Perry who on his 75th birthday chose to live his life over again.

In order to get that second chance John joins the army, well the Colonial Defense Force (CDF) to be exact. The CDF only takes the elderly for recruits and the elderly are only too happy for a shot to do things over again. No one knows exactly what to expect short of a 2 year minimum term in the CDF fighting aliens over planets to colonize. Anyone who survives their term gets the opportunity to colonize one of the planets they and their brethren bled to claim.

Old Man's War has a remarkable concept in which the CDF only recruits the elderly to fight for them. The opportunity for a second chance is amazing as the recruits find out, but the work they're required to do is far deadlier than anyone could have imagined. As one of the military personnel so callously stated that after 10 years three quarters of the recruits would be dead, "But remember back home, you most likely would have been dead in ten years, too frail and old, dying a useless death." There are tons of encouraging pep talks like this, in all honesty this was one of the more encouraging pep talks of the book.

The first third of the book in many ways read like a comedy. A bunch of 75 year olds who just said and did what they want came together laughing, joking, and having a good time all while wondering how everything would go. This was the best part of the book to me.

The remainder of the book focuses on the former geriatric recruits as they've been transformed into warriors. I don't want to get into details of the change because that is easily one of the most interesting parts of book. The rest of the book reads like any other generic sci-fi story. People fight aliens, aliens fight people, and when many of the aliens win they eat the people.

Old Man's War has tons of creativity jammed into it starting with their remarkable concept. Some parts of the overall story don't make a ton of sense to me though. For example I don't understand why it's so crucial that the CDF goes around colonizing planets at all. At no point does the author inform us that the Earth has become dangerously over populated or that the natural resources have been exhausted so new resources must be found. One additional plot point made the concept seem a bit pointless, but as it's an important part of the end of the story I won't spoil it.

All in all Old Man's War was an interesting story that kept me intrigued from beginning to the end.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016


While the City Slept: A Love Lost to Violence and a Young Man's Descent into MadnessWhile the City Slept: A Love Lost to Violence and a Young Man's Descent into Madness by Eli Sanders
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

****Eli Sanders won the Pulitzer Prize for his compassionate reporting about this crime.****

”They had feared him, and it was fear of a certain kind. Not the primal, salable fear of violence, not fright of the unexpected arriving with sudden brutality from an unknowable beyond. Theirs was fear of a known man and an outcome not yet known but likely to be grim. Fear of a person who, regrettably, had lived and delivered pain already, a man intelligent enough to impress yet with seemingly no handle on when his disjointed thoughts, speech, and actions might be headed. Or, if he did have some premonition, no firm brake, internal and external.”

Sometimes crime is very easy to understand. Someone gets mad and kills their spouse, someone desperately needs money and robs a convenience store, or someone embezzles their company. We can understand the frustrations that motivate such crimes, but what we have a harder time understanding is randomness. A crime that doesn’t have a neat bow tying together the motivation and the deed.

I’ve puzzled over many acts of violence, trying to bring the threads together that culminated in such a seemingly irrational result. We want to understand because with comprehension we feel safer, in control. We can even convince ourselves that this violence has nothing to do with us because we will never find ourselves in a position to allow someone to hurt that. Reading about or hearing about violence, for most of us, is just a blip in our day, a blink of the eye, a shake of the head, and maybe a brief moment of reflection. We then watch a news story about a puppy saved from drowning.

A crime happened in this book, and if there had never been a crime, there would have never been a book, but this book is about more than a crime. It is about the failure of our society to understand that the crime is happening long before the final act of violence. I was pleased to see that the publisher has listed this book as a Social Science book instead of a True Crime book, though when I was a bookseller I would probably put the book in both sections. True Crime readers are ravenous for new material, and this is a book I would have wanted them to read. This is a book that goes beyond genre. Comparisons have been made to In Cold Blood because of the lyricism of the writing, and also because Sanders pushes beyond just the facts to discover a greater truth than just innocence or guilt.

We are very good at putting people in prison, but almost incompetent in our ability to treat the mental illness that contributed to their acts against society. Isaiah Kalebu finally did something that forced all of us to pay attention to him, but we had numerous chances to help him before things in his head reached critical mass. ”It was now a few weeks after his twenty-third birthday. In the span of four months, he had run a route that is typical in a system that routinely fails people like him, a route that led from his mother’s care to the police, from the police to the emergency room at Harborview, from the Harborview emergency room back to his mother’s care, from his mother’s care back to the police, and finally, from the police to jail.”

”What happened to him? How does somebody become this guy?”

Isaiah’s father was a strict and distant person. It is hard to say which hurt Isaiah the most: the occasional spats of hard discipline or the fact that his father had very little interest in him. None of us like to be ignored. We all need nurturing, and it is even better when we get positive attention from more than one person. Having layers of people who care about us give us multiple chances to be sustained by some well meaning advice or an act of kindness. America may put too much emphasis on independence. One of my aunts told her son to pack his bags and be out of the house as soon as he turned 18. She did relent and let him finish high school. In Europe, it isn’t unusual to have several generations living in a house, all contributing to the collective wisdom of the household, but probably also, at times, contributing to the discord as well. People have to learn to get along. Many hands shape each family member. A person growing up in that type of household has many examples to show him the way to live his life.

On his mother’s side, Isaiah is the fourth generation of a family tree filled with cases of mental illness, some treated, some not, some treated well, some treated not well at all. She does what she can for Isaiah as she fights her own demons and tries to hold herself together to stay out of the mental health care system. Too many of us see mental illness as a weakness, something conquerable with will power. It has taken me years to understand how incredibly naive that thinking is. If I had any doubts about the need for continued education about mental illness and the need to change our collective thinking about mental illness, Sanders eliminated any uncertainty with the way he systematically shows how we continue to fail people with mental illness. We criminalize when we need to treat.

”What Isaiah still didn’t have was a relationship with someone who had time to hear his whole story, someone who could sit alongside the young man, talk with him, look with him into his experiences, its beginnings, its possibilities. Instead, he continued to be seen in pieces. That is, whatever piece of him seemed most pressing in whatever particular authorities had to deal with him at a given moment.”

If we are judged by one of our acts and one of our acts alone, without someone caring enough to bring the full mosaic of our life together, the person we are seen to be becomes a very simplified distortion. We become angry that people or the system are looking at us with blinders on and can’t possibly see who we are when the sum of our parts are actually brought together. Isaiah was angry.

Isaiah finally did something that got our full attention.

He raped two women and killed one of them. ”Indifferent silence. Unanswered cries. A murderer and rapist running away through the night. Cruelty unchecked.”

We had chances to control this outcome. Isaiah was telling us through one action after another that he was building up like an overwound clock to something more tragic. Someone with the right qualifications could have looked at his mother’s past and his relationship with his father and seen a recipe for problems. Couple that knowledge with his actions, and one could unequivocally determine that the young man needed help. We failed him. We failed his victims. Sanders makes a great case for why the justice system needs to be updated and streamlined so that we see the accused, the sum of the whole, as well as the crime. He makes an even better case for why we all need to understand mental illness. Few of us are not touched by it either directly or indirectly. We need to quit seeing mental illness as embarrassing and as a battle that everyone must fight alone.

I was impressed by the compassion that Sanders brought to the victims Teresa Butz and Jennifer Hopper, but also to Isaiah Kalebu. We find out who they were/are beyond the ring of police tape when all three of their lives intersected and changed forever. If we think of this book as a True Crime novel, I can without hesitation say that it is the best I’ve read since In Cold Blood. If we consider this a book about social issues, I can say it is the best book of that genre I’ve ever read, but any book that expands my thinking and moves the needle on how I see an issue is certainly more than a book trapped in any one genre. Isn’t that one of the definitions of literature?

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Hell's Bounty by Joe R. Lansdale

Hell's BountyHell's Bounty by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hell's Bounty is a riotous and sometimes tortuous weird west horror gambol by the brothers Joe R. Lansdale and John L. Lansdale.

We start with shadows and wingy things at the belfry, and a wooden box containing red lights burning hieroglyphic-like inscriptions.

Quill has put many a man in Boot Hill cemetery, and as it happens a solitary woman, he's our bad guy but he's not your average bad guy. He's possessed by something particularly nasty that wants to end the world as we know it.

'He hadn’t liked her singing, caterwauling was more like it. She had sounded like a cat with a stick up its ass. Even the horny miners and cowboys in the saloon applauded when she hit the floor. She was not only a terrible singer, she’d had a face that could drop a raccoon out of a tree at twenty paces.'

Our bad guy come good guy is short fused bounty hunter Smith, he rolls into Falling Rock and sets off an explosive chain of events courtesy of the stick of dynamite he carries in his belt.

What's the single most important, no hang on, vital consideration when throwing a stick of dynamite with the intention of blowing the bollocks out of something? Well, if it's got a short fuse, then throw that fucker quick. Unfortunately Smith doesn't heed that advice and his next port of call is a wheelbarrow of body bits in the bar of Hell's waiting room.

Smith's not done, in fact he's regurgitated and immediately needed back up on the ground floor by Satan himself, the bartender from hell, the dead are rising at that behest of something old and evil, and Smith is the chosen one to save the day.

I enjoyed the first part of Hell's Bounty, there was plenty of humour amidst the saloon patrons with some great characters like Payday and Double Shot as the story unfolded. The final battle sees the return of legends such as Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickok and Quantrail to assist with the horde of the dead but I lost interest as the story gradually descended into an all-out action zombie killfest storyline. Silver disintegrates these dead folks and there seemed to be shed loads of it about, more common than dirt. All told started off good fun but ended up a touch repetitive with nothing that stood out.

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After The Fog Clears by Lee Thompson

After The Fog ClearsAfter The Fog Clears by Lee Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'You have to do what is uncomfortable to go anywhere worthwhile…'

After the Fog Clears is a harrowing tale of loss, betrayal and destructive madness all packed tightly into an emotional kaleidoscope.

After receiving a frightening call from his Nan, Luther Anderson rushes home through the deep fog and early morning stillness, speeding, his blood screaming he narrowly avoids a young child unwittingly playing at the roadside. Not quite as lucky is the Saginaw police officer Nathan Hazzard chasing Luther, he loved the chase but the fog was dense and he didn't see the child until it was too late.

'Listen to the squawk of a radio so you don’t have to hear the unrestrained volume of a torn-apart heart. Close your eyes so you can’t see a stricken mother outliving her little one; a woman who wishes she could follow him, to protect him, to never fail him again. Whisper to yourself, and to her, and to the thing she holds: Eventually the fog will burn away…'

This single act, the death of a child, sets off a devastating chain of events for all concerned, the cracks and obstacles blighting the paths of these characters are ruinously explored amidst deceit, disloyalty and ultimately, death.

Lee Thompson is adept at portraying flawed characters and their destructive actions, this story is certainly shrouded in darkness. It's difficult to see any goodness for the main part and there's no light at the end of this tunnel. The ending could have been handled differently in my opinion, for the half dozen characters this story revolves around to all come together in the same place was way too convenient. It didn't however ruin my overall enjoyment of the fluid writing and desperate characters.

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Boy's Life

Boy's LifeBoy's Life by Robert McCammon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While riding with his father on the milk route, Cory Mackenson witnesses a car plunging into a bottomless lake with a dead man handcuffed to the steering wheel. Will they figure out who the man was before the memory destroys them?

Yeah, that's not a great teaser for this. How do you summarize a couple years in the life of a young boy?

I tried hard not to like this book. For the first quarter of it, it wasn't hard. Boy's Life feels overwritten for what it is and Robert McCammon was trying so hard to write like Stephen King that you could taste it. I thought about tossing it back on the to-read mountain. Then it grabbed me. I wolfed it down in less than 24 hours.

While it has some crime and horror elements, Boy's Life is a coming of age tale more than anything else. It reminded me of Stephen King's The Body (aka Stand by Me) at first, but it's a lot more than that.

Cory is eleven when the story begins, growing up in a small Alabama town called Zephyr. While the mysterious dead man in Saxon Lake kicks off the tale, it's really about Cory getting older and world-weary in Zephyr. Since the story takes place in the early 1960's, the civil rights movement and Vietnam are lurking in the background, as are the rise of corporations.

Cory's adventures with his pals were a lot of fun but also harrowing at times. I loved the beast from the lost word and Nemo Curliss. For a twelve year old, Cory was sure in the middle of a lot of weirdness, though. The bit with Rebel added this book to my man-tears shelf. Was Vernon Thaxter a stand-in for McCammon himself?

I thought about giving this a five but couldn't. While I enjoyed the book immensely, I felt like parts of it were cobbled together from various Stephen King tales, like The Body, Christine, Pet Semetery, and others. Also, it seemed excessively wordy for what it was at times, like I mentioned at the beginning.

All things considered, Boy's Life was a great read. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, January 18, 2016

Your going in - tip of the spear, edge of the knife. Ready? Let's go!

Horus Rising (The Horus Heresy, #1)Horus Rising by Dan Abnett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"When xenos threaten the existence of humanity - who you gonna call?"

Mangasm in print right here!!

What a opening Horus Rising has. I recall reading it for the first time many years ago and thinking "surly the end can't be the beginning of the novel." I was so confused. How wrong I was, we're now thirty novels into the series, with no sign of it ending. It's not just that juxtapose - the beginning has impact - it's forceful. It'll grab you and take you on a ride at terminal velocity. Best grab the sick bag!

Dan Abnett introduces us to the Luna Wolves, Space Marines from the planet Cathonia. You could argue that Horus Rising becomes overawed by a type of celebrity-showcasing of a who's-who of the 30K universe. It really doesn't though. What really makes this book stand out are the foundations laid. There is great emphasis placed on a shared-brotherhood, a camaraderie we see lacking in current 40K novels (in my opinion), along the lines of honour and a resolute secularism. There's intelligent prose to be found here, it's not all about being a superhuman with unmatched strength and stamina - there's also a philosophy of being. Loken is certainly searching for this throughout.

That being said, there's bolter-porn to be found here also, from the outset in fact. Do not fear, this isn't a philosophical treatise to bore you to death. It's a novel about conquest, that being the crusade that the Emperor has tasked/burdened the Astrates and humanity with (let's be honest, it's a big world out there). What really was a joy to read was the foes arranged against the Space Marines. You'd think it would be Orks or Elder, no no. Dan Abnett comes up with some of his own races. The Megarachnid are a biological being, they breed and consume, they seem to be a earlier existence of the Tyranids. There is also the Interex, former colonists from Terra who have found themselves devoid of contact with their human brothers due to the Age of Strife (warpstorms stopping space travel).

Characters really make a novel, this being no expectation. Dan Abnett has created some of the best characters in both 30/40K to date. We're introduced to the concept of 'The Mournvial' who are akin to a advisory council to Horus. Made up of 'worthy' captains of merit, such as Abaddon, the first captain, Aximand, Loken and Torgaddon. They rather remind me of the A-Team. Abaddon as Hannibal, who comes across as a brilliant tactician, if a little hot headed. Torgaddon as the wise-cracking comedy relief, who becomes staunch friends with Garvial. Aximand is much more the level-headed member, so I guess that would make him Face. That leaves Garvial Loken, a individual who is the dissenting voice. He offers his own views, which help him to fit his role as devil's advocate within the Mournvial - he certainly isn't BA Baracus, but then I could see him saying "crazy fool" for my own amusement. He's too much of a starch arse for that.

There are some fantastic side characters of note. Eidelon, commander of The Emperor's Children, arrogant, aloof and altogether what I would call 'a tool.' Saul Tarvitz and Lucius are a wonderful foil, one being a pragmatist and shall we say grounded captain and the other hot-headed and cock-sure. They really complement each other. Although the Space Marines are the centre stage, the more human characters that populate "Horus Rising" are just as interesting. A primary iterator Sindermann and the remembrancer Euphrati Keeler are both interesting and very well written. Obviously Abnett uses them to give effective contrast to the Astrates. Did I mention First Chaplain Erebus of the Word Bearers? No, fuck him then!

It's obviously worth mentioning Horus *sarcasm*. He is charismatic, a leader. He is both humble and aloof - without appearing so. The Primarch uses such tools as the Mournvial to maintain, if you like, a neutral perspective, especially when engaging with military personnel. This is shown throughout the book and works fairly well, but at times did make me think that a leader should speak his mind at all times.

Horus Rising is one of those benchmark books, not just in Black Library's arsenal, but in the whole science fiction genre. It's Grimdark, space opera and an apologetic war mixed all into one bag.The series as a whole is getting more and more exposure, it's a New York bestseller. It's one of the best novels in the series, being the first, this is no small feat. Give it ago, even if you aren't a fan of Warhammer 40K, this series stands on its own. What do you have to lose? Do it, do it NOW.

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Mean magic with some rollicking dark[ish]/high[ish] fantasy thrown into the mix.

The Grim Company (The Grim Company, #1)The Grim Company by Luke Scull
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation."

I've used that quote many times to reinforce to students how important it is to be original when composing a essay. It's so easy to be influenced by a journal where you believe part of it answers the question to which you are posed perfectly. Perfection is a myth, something we strive to but find it frustratingly impossible to obtain - but maybe the perfection you seek should be from your own mind and thoughts, not other's. Aspire is different to inspire, don't you think? I believe this is a problem with The Grim Company - please read on.

My main problem with The Grim Company was that I had read the story before, or something very similar to it. There are too many parallels to other stories I've read by writers such as Joe Abercrombie, Glen Cook, George R R Martin and many more. Of course writers are going to be influenced by other writers, but for me this wasn't a original story. I'm going to try to explain why I think this and also my relative disappointment with the characters created by the author - this being they (to me) came across lifeless and devoid of, well, character.

Grim Company is a debut high/dark/grimdark fantasy trilogy by Luke Scrull. The Gods are dead, slain by the Magelords some five centuries ago. Humanity is on its own, but now they are ruled by those mages. There is one who can challenge the mages, Davarus Cole who has Magebane - a weapon that makes him impervious to sorcery. Cole has a destiny, to become a hero. He yearns to slay Salazar, a Magelord who rules Dormina with a tyrannical flair. To help him reach this goal, he has The Shards, who are a group of rebels - although Cole finds himself held back by their leaders lack of action, Garrett.

While this is going on, demonic forces are gathering to the north. The only thing standing between them are a loose confederacy of Highlander tribes (basically Vikings). A Shaman, who commands these forces - meanwhile he is pursuing the former Sword of the North, Bordar Kayne, who fled along with Wolf aka Jerek to the south. Their paths become entwined with members of the Shard.

In-between this we're presented with the Eremul , the Halfmage, a mage who Salazar let live on account he hides his magical abilities and turn informant. Life's a bit crap for Eremul, as he is half the man he use to be, literally speaking. His manservant Issac, helps Eremul get around (so to speak) and turns into a rather adapt aide for both his master and, well everything he turns his hand to.

There is another side story going on (four in all) which introduces the reader to Ylandris, a sorceress, who seduces the King of the North so she can realise her dream of becoming queen. What she begins to realise is that the King isn't really in command and finds herself thinking how to depose the Shaman aka Magelord of the north.

So here's my problem with the characters - Bordar Kayne personality is devoid of anything that would appeal to the reader. It's wooden, like it's been hammered out and played out by the writer many times over for perfection. The author does describe The Sword of the North as 'in his prime' many times over - but then continually reinforces to the reader how he is old and flagging, aches and pains override his ability to fight. However he seems to walk through anything thrown at him. It doesn't help as Bordar dialogue read like it was forced by the writer to give him some ounce of personality. Now his companion Jerek is likeable up to a point, but after a while his personality grated at him. It was like he was thrown in only to give it a Mark Lawerence-esque "fuck, cock and cunt" linguist lesson to the reader. I've no problem with rough language in a story. After a while, you just think that character has nothing to offer but that 'fun' trait. He is easily prone to violence, even a flipping alchemist annoys him, for no reason other than being one. Females, he doesn't like females... 'cunts' apparently. In fact the only person he 'half' likes is Kayne and even then they almost come to blows.

I want to talk about Davarus Coles, possibly the worst leading character I've ever come across in any fictional story I've read. I'm not just saying this for impact or trying to be 'edgy and cool' - he sucks! Seriously, the story goes he has a destiny; to follow in his father footsteps and become a hero. Fine, understandable in a way. He is neither the anti-hero which some of George R R Martin's and Mark Lawrence present us in their stories, but a insufferable, deluded, annoying, whining git. He rather reminds me of that person who big themselves up constantly, but when it comes to doing something, they fall way short. He has such cliché lines like; "I'm a hero, this is what I do." I get the author has written this character that way, but too much 'page time' has been given to a character who actually brings nothing to the story.

Having said that I did end up rooting for the bad guy, Salazar - wrong? Maybe, but then the heroes in the story weren't really written in a way where I'd end up rooting for them. We end up finding out why he helped kill the gods and why he is so hard on his people. It's explained in a way where you feel for the bad guy! The Magelords may have become ruthless and unforgiving in their rule, but once the explanations is there, well I felt it was justified to a point. The Halfmage was interesting in his witty retorts to those who mocked him. The story isn't helped by dialogue that (as I've mentioned) seemed to be forced out by the author - I'm trying best to explain how the majority of main characters came across to me; false and lifeless would be the best analogy I can come up with.

There are some interesting world creations though; The Augmentors, sort of a magically enhanced police force appealed. They are a extension of Salazar's power and gifted with differing abilities such as; enchanted armour, blurring speed, never tire, etc. Talking about magic, I wanted to mention that I'm not a fan of fantasy with heavy magic involvement within its pages. However Luke Scrull does make the magic subtle mostly. Mind you, on a scale that borders on genocide.

I think the real problem with The Grim Company is that there is no defined protagonist or anti-hero - there all just mixed together in the hope they carry the story. There doesn't seem to be any real antagonist either. Salazar isn't such of a bad guy, just the 'guy' who is put there to make you feel like there is some kind of evil in the world - it just didn't sit well with me - that was my conclusion towards the end. Another issue for me was the predictability of where the story was going. Something many reviewers have mentioned but glazed over. The story is very A-B, you know where Cole is heading. I've mentioned Salazar.

So the last thing I wanted to mention was how similar part of the story is to GRRM. To the north we've got demonic powers looking to come south and devour the people of Trine in The Grim Company. The people are weak, both those who are defending the north and those south - due to civil war and a populace being ruled in a iron vice. GRRM - same thing when you think about it. Though the powers north are presented as a more 'natural' evil. There is civil war in Game Of Thrones the north is weakened due to the death of Ned Stark, due to this civil war for the crown. The Grim Company a death of a important Magelord weakens the people. Game of Thrones the king is poisoned and the realm reverts to civil war. Hmm. In The Grim Company the Demons are coming and the people are near powerless to stop them - well unless Kayne goes back north and walks through them. Much like this novel.

Apologies if I sound a little cynical - I found the similarities to similar to a few other author's stories. Imitation is fine, but there is a limit surely. I did enjoy a few of the characters as mentioned, but didn't find the story original enough to warrant me liking it more. In fact it borrowed heavily from other fantasy novels, in my opinion. I'm not suggesting plagiarism as it's not. Maybe you will find it differently, in which case I hope you do as there are some ideas here that could possibly work really well.

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Heroic Flyers

The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany 1944-45The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany 1944-45 by Stephen E. Ambrose
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Slow down with that zipping and zooming about, whipper-snapper! This is a far tamer tale. Like the planes Stephen E. Ambrose is describing herein, his prose plods along at a steady, satisfying pace. These are not jet fighters, these are workhorses carrying out a task.

The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany 1944-45 is just as much the story of George McGovern as it is of the pilots and crews of those famous World War II bombers. McGovern is most famously known as the Democratic candidate who lost to Nixon in the 1972 election, the year the Democratic National Headquarters was raided by Republican operatives in the dead of night during a little incident you may have heard of called Watergate. Prior to that, he piloted one of these finicky, taxing aerial beasts.


Ambrose wisely uses McGovern's wartime experience as a template and as the narrative thread for his treatise on the B-24, infusing a dull, non-fiction text with a human element, a technique in vogue with popular, modern day historians. The people like a good story. McGovern's life is perfectly entertaining in this context, but Ambrose heightens his book's readability by adding in the stories of other pilots and those of McGovern's flight crew. All of which turns a book about a plane into something much more humanistic. The reader can't help but develop an attachment to these courageous men.

The Wild Blue is a solid niche book for those familiar with WWII, but who want to have a deeper understanding of this specific facet of the war.

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Friday, January 15, 2016

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City

Nick Flynn
W.W. Norton & Co.
3 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Nancy


Nick Flynn met his father when he was working as a caseworker in a homeless shelter in Boston. As a teenager he'd received letters from this stranger father, a self-proclaimed poet and con man doing time in federal prison for bank robbery. Another Bullshit Night in Suck City tells the story of the trajectory that led Nick and his father onto the streets, into that shelter, and finally to each other.

My Review

The bold and colorful title and cover caught my eye at the library. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read another depressing memoir about homelessness, but since it took place in Boston, a city I’m quite familiar with, I decided to give it a go. There were some darkly humorous moments, as I’d expected from the title. Overall, this was a poignant, honest, and intense story about Nick Flynn’s relationship with his absent, alcoholic, and delusional father.

I learned after I started reading the book that Nick Flynn is a poet. This must explain his writing style, random scenes, and frequent jumping back and forth in time. It took me nearly half the book to warm up to Flynn’s style and start really caring about the characters.

There are lots of exquisite and evocative passages and inventive turns of phrase that I know will stay with me long after I return the book to the library, and I wish I could love this story more than I did. I wonder if it was the author’s style that made me feel distanced from the characters and kept me from empathizing with their situation until much later in the story.

Still, this unusual memoir is definitely worth reading.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Superman: Birthright

Superman: BirthrightSuperman: Birthright by Mark Waid
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

"Here it is, the support group for people who hate fictional characters."

I walk in, sit down, and patiently wait my turn.

This is your first time here, right? Why don't you stand up and introduce yourself.

"Hi I'm Terence and I hate a fictional character."

Hi Terence the group says in unison.

"Hi, so the fictional character I hate is Superman."

Gasps, shocked faces, and the rustling sound of people sucking air sharply through their teeth is all I hear.

"Oh come on I can't be the only one. I mean yes you feel for old Kal-El when his parents send him away to save his life as a baby, but after that it's all downhill with Mr. Perfect."

The group stands up and file out of the room as though I said the place was rigged to blow.

"I mean come on, his disguise is glasses and a slumped posture. For all the technology available in the comics, facial recognition software apparently isn't one of them."

Superman: Birthright was touted to me as the best of the best Superman comics. Unfortunately I am predisposed to highly disliking hating Superman. I agreed to give it a try and I found what I always find when I experience Superman, I didn't like all. Superman as a character has always been disinteresting to me because he's practically perfect. It grates at me deep within my soul and I can't ignore my frustration. For me the only time I want to read about Superman is when he's fighting Doomsday or Darkseid so that Mr. Perfect can have a real challenge.

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Sword of the North

Sword of the North (The Grim Company, #2)Sword of the North by Luke Scull
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So rather than gaining freedom the city of Dorminia has traded one magelord tyrant for another. Shockingly the new tyrant, The White Lady, cares even less about the people of Dorminia than their old tyrant Lord Salazar. While her public appearance is graceful and caring she's far more depraved than Salazar. She quickly moved to dispatch all threats such as the arrogant Davarus Cole while working him out of the narrative of Lord Salazar's downfall.

The Sword of the North at it's best for me left me feeling indifferent. I had one brief moment that my pulse raised and I wanted to see what would happen next, but the majority of the time I wasn't concerned for the characters or the events of the book. Please don't misconstrue what I'm saying as though the author Luke Scull is a bad writer because I don't believe that's the case. My problem with this story is that if every character except perhaps Brodar Kayne were to fall down a well, I wouldn't even waste the energy to secure a rope to throw down to them. It's hard to care about a story when the thought of the point of view characters dying just makes me want to shrug my shoulders.

The overall creativity that Scull has infused into his story is disturbingly intriguing. I found the increased knowledge of the White Lady's handmaidens unnerving in a good way. The overall plot that the world has been ruined because the magelords killed the Gods is interesting conceptionally although I often can't help but wonder if they could die then how could they be Gods.

The Sword of the North isn't a bad story and I'm certain anyone who likes the characters will enjoy it more than I did.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016


The ReefThe Reef by Edith Wharton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”In every nerve and vein she was conscious of that equipoise of bliss which the fearful human heart scarce dares acknowledge. She was not used to strong or full emotions; but she had always known that she should not be afraid of them. She was not afraid now; but she felt a deep inward stillness.”

 photo edith-wharton_zpsjctgypud.jpg
I've always really liked this photo of Edith Wharton.

No one was more surprised than George Darrow when the girl he was wooing married Fraser Leath. He may have dallied a bit. He may have flirted with other girls a bit too much, but the intent was always that Anna was to be his bride. Leath sent her a flurry of presents, which certainly helped his cause, but the underlying concern for Anna was whether she could ever really trust George Darrow.

He was a smooth talker, a convincing man. He was elegant, intellectual, and attentive. A man who could stay calm in the face of the most piercing accusations.

As a contrast, Fraser Leath had more of a relationship with his collection of snuff boxes than he did with his wife. He was a man of means, but too unimaginative to really know how best to use his money. He may have actually died of boredom.

Anna and George kept in touch by writing occasional letters to one another. Yes, before Facebook people actually communicated with each other with more than just pithy comments, or by sharing pictures of their cats, or by sending a nudge, though I can’t help but see some parallels with Facebook in the sense that George and Anna were old flames finding each other once again.

Hooking up with an old girlfriend via Facebook has about the same appeal for me as swallowing a gallon of gasoline and throwing a match down my throat.

Maybe things will work out for George and Anna... or maybe not.

Edith Wharton is mischievously cunning and, of course, throws one more twist into the champagne. Her name is Sophy Viner.

So much of life is about timing. Anna wanted George to visit, but after he has left London and arrived in Paris, a telegram caught up with George to wait until later in the month to visit. He suspected cold feet and felt the frigid draft of rejection start to feather his neck.

After all Anna escaped him once before.

George was in a strange frame of mind. He was caught between negative suppositions and yet stirred by the heady first sips of an altered future. With Anna, he had started to see himself differently. ”Everything in him that egotistically craved for rest, stability, a comfortably organized middle-age, all the home-building instincts of the man who has sufficiently wooed and wandered….” At this very moment, when he questioned the dreams he had sketched on the canvas of his mind, he met Sophy Viner. She was between jobs, short on money, lost, and incredibly young and lovely.

A gentleman must offer his assistance.

Her passion and excitement about the theatre, about the fine restaurants, and a glimpse of a different life increased his own enjoyment. She was a ”shimmer of fresh leaves.” A temptation in a time of doubt.

Sophy has a larger role to play, but you will have to read the book to find out. Anna does discover that Sophy was more than a casual acquaintance of Mr. George Darrow.

Anna and George did patch up the misunderstanding over the delay in seeing each other, but Anna was naturally distrustful, as if the impressions she had of a younger George still applied to an older George. ”She reflected with a chill of fear that she would never again know if he were speaking the truth or not.” It became clearer why she married Fraser. Could it be because he was too thick headed to ever conceive of any form of duplicity? She seemed to forget how unhappy he made her. He hardly fulfilled her.

George Darrow made her knees turn to water.

Everyone in this novel finds themselves in an impossible situation. Half truths become hidden agendas, and eventually everything becomes wrapped in tendrils of lies that even start to erode the truth.

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Morton Fullerton, the creature who provided a “sexual education” for Edith Wharton.”

Now Edith Wharton is projecting some of her own troubles with love onto George. I’m not sure George ever had a chance at a fair shake. Edith had an affair with a man named Morton Fullerton. He was the love of her life and an intellectually stimulating partner. Her husband suffered tragically from debilitating depression, and she had been living in an intimacy desert for many years. Unfortunately, Morton found other young women stimulating for something other than intellectual discussion.

He broke her heart.

”How could she have thought that this last moment would be the moment to speak to him, when it seemed to have gathered up into its flight all the scattered splendours of her dream?”

Henry James liked this book, referring to it as a ”triumph of method.” He was very good friends with Edith Wharton and also introduced her to Morton Fullerton. I do wonder if James, when he presented Fullerton, was trying to create a situation where he provided the means to stimulate her writing. (Yes, I’m alluded to the thought that James might have been a pimp.) Wharton should have slipped Henry James a happy pill in a tall glass of bourbon and slapped him around a little bit. He could, at the very least, have given her a better compliment than saying this novel was a ”triumph of method” (YAWN!) or maybe a heads up that Fullerton, though charming, was a slippery serpent.

I am truly sorry that Fullerton crushed her, but this novel would have been a different book, probably not a better one, if she had never met him. Tragedy and triumph are both elixirs to a writer. I hope the experience of writing was cathartic for her though I’m sure she restrained herself. ”...and the things she really wanted to say choked in her throat and burned the palms of her hands.”

I always wonder, after finishing a Wharton book, why it takes me so long to read the next one. Her books are always a pleasure, even when they break your heart.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Killchain by Adam Baker

Killchain (Year of the Zombie Book 1)Killchain by Adam Baker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Killchain by Adam Baker is Infected books opening novella in their year of the Zombie series. Twelve authors, twelve zombie novellas and all to celebrate 15 years since the publication of Infected Books first novel, David Moody’s Autumn.

Set within the same world as Baker’s bestselling novels Outpost, Terminus and Impact, Killchain takes place at ground zero, Mogadishu in Somalia where a dead satellite crashed. The virus entered the population and quickly spread leaving the infected flesh hungry zombies.

The Russians are here desperately seeking an antidote and also here, not trusting them an inch are the Americans with rookie CIA field operative Elize Mahone. Her first live mission to assassinate the leading Russian surgical specialist using a troubled young man willing to die for their cause.

The Zombie horde are getting closer, the hit needs to be done before they can get on the last flight out but betrayal is the ruination of many a good plan and this one's no different. Elize's luck just ran out. This story doesn't concentrate so much on the battle against the Zombies but more on the political games of the superpowers in the form of four people, two on the mission, one having second thoughts about killing himself and one unfortunate enough to be caught slap bang in the middle of it.

This was my first read from Adam Baker and I enjoyed it, the story gets interesting as Elize tries to fortify the mind of her kamikaze attacker and her mission partner discovers a double cross.

A 3.5* rating.

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Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and DisturbancesTrigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'I don’t understand parents. Honestly, I don’t think anybody ever does.'

Trigger Warning is a short story and poem collection by Neil Gaiman intent on finding those little pressure points that cause the most unease and arouse reflection, maybe even disturb you a mite.

There's some little gems here but first I'll explain why I like Gaimans wondrous prose and fascinating stories. He thoughtfully exploits the story twist and role reversal better than anyone but it's the little things that stick with me, shown perfectly in The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury.

'I went to the shelf and the dictionary was gone, just a dictionary-sized hole in my shelf to show where my dictionary wasn’t.'

Now that sentence probably wouldn't appear in most people's favourite quotes and to be fair it's easily passed and forgotten, but it stayed in the forefront of my mind as I listened to the audio. So much so that I spent 30 minutes desperately trying to find it in the kindle version. This perfectly shows the way Neil Gaiman thinks and writes, exploration of a mute fancy that no-one else would even consider wasting a second on, all in a sentence and that's why I love it.

Gaiman travels far and wide in this collection, from the last of the Time Lords to Sherlock Holmes and honey bees, from the fancifully dark fairy tale to Shadow from American Gods traveling through my home region of the Peak District encountering ghosts and murder.

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains is a haunting tale of travel and treasure, family and murder, darkness, revenge and regret, desire of the soul. A true delight and I will certainly revisit the illustrated version of this story.

‘The Misty Isle is not as other places. And the mist that surrounds it is not like other mists.’

Nothing O'Clock sees the return of the Doctor and a foe worthy of terror, what can only be described as strangeness beyond belief starts with a person wearing an animal mask buying a house for cash. It soon becomes wholesale as property everywhere is being bought for cash by people wearing animal makes and they want one thing, for you to ask them the time.

Sherlock Holmes makes an appearance in The Case of Death and Honey as Mycroft breathes his last and case of research in a far off land into honey and a particular bee. The Sleeper and the Spindle is a delightful cross of fairy tales with Sleeping Beauty and Snow White and the seven dwarfs.

There's far too many stories and favourites to mention them all but safe to say I enjoyed this immensely, Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite authors and an incredibly talented guy. The absolute perfect medium to pull back that thin veil between worlds and explore the darkness beyond. A simply masterful story teller.

Just as captivating is Neil Gaiman himself talking about the stories and those little triggers, things that upset us, leave our heart beating overtime, shock, not gore but mind messing at its best.

'What we read as adults should be read, I think, with no warnings or alerts beyond, perhaps: enter at your own risk.'

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