Monday, February 29, 2016

Rebel Yell That Could've Been Louder

Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in ChiefEmbattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief by James M. McPherson
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wow, that was incredibly adequate! If you don't want to be overly impressed with a historical work on the American Civil War, Embattled Rebel is where it's at!

Who wants deep insights, anyhow? I'd rather hear a broad recap of the entire war with the occasional tenuous link to Jefferson Davis' role as President of the Confederate States of America. Sure, James McPherson might've dug deeper to given the reader a more meaningful account of Davis. We might've learned more about the man's motivations. However, McPherson stuck to his guns and kept his subject at a distance. Bravo!

Yes, yes, this was a rather thorough retelling of the Civil War from the South's perspective and I definitely have a better understanding of their strategy as well as Davis' reasoning for the moves he made, but let's be honest, I didn't know jack shit about the South's side of the story prior to reading this book, so anything would've been more than nearly nothing. This was more than nothing.

Very serviceable writing here, as well. I don't recall the last time I read the placing of one word after another in such good order without them venturing into lyrical territory at least once in a while. McPherson laid it out pure and simple. No frills here folks! So few in fact, he might've been writing about the ancient Spartans.


Sunday, February 28, 2016

Champions of the Galaxy Wrestling Card Game


Back in the olden days, I ate, drank, and slept professional wrestling.  For years, I noticed ads for Champions of the Galaxy, a pro-wrestling game using cards, charts, and dice with characters straight out comic books.  I think I was fifteen when I finally plunked down my precious thirteen bucks and gave it a shot.  My world was changed forever.

Before I knew it, I was running a wrestling federation, recognizing my own titles, and basically nerding it up hardcore.  With the dawn of the internet, it became a snap to share your results with other promoters and nerdification reached unheard of levels.  As time drew on, my focus shifted to things less likely to keep me from getting laid, although I still occasionally bust out the dice, cards, and charts and play a few shows.

The game features easy to learn mechanics.  It takes minutes to learn but the simplicity is what has kept the game going for the better part of three decades.  Couple that with great art and memorable characters and you've got a winner on your hands.

These days, Champions of the Galaxy is 30 years old and Filsinger Games, the parent company, now features an online version and other card games featuring the same engine, like Legends of Wrestling, Ring of Honor, and 80's Mania Wrestling.  There's also a documentary chronicling the game and a live event DVD featuring real world wrestlers portraying characters from the game!

Several years ago, Tom Filsinger and company decided to revisit the original edition with new, full color art by Darryl Banks.  Take a gander at these!


To fans of professional wrestling and comic books, I cannot stress the fun factor and replay value of Champions of the Galaxy.  I have countless fond memories of spending an evening building feuds, booking title matches, and recording results.  Five out of five stars.


Fender Lizards

Fender LizardsFender Lizards by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

High school dropout Dot Sherman's life was going nowhere, working at the Dairy Bob and living with her mother, grandmother, and siblings, until her uncle started living in a van in the front yard. Now, she's forming a roller derby team and searching for her long lost father...

As I've said many times before, Joe Lansdale is one of top five favorite authors. He brings the usual mojo to the table in this one.

Fender Lizards is the story of a roller-skating waitress trying to get her shit together before she ends up like her mother and her older sister. Dot plasters her older sister's no good drunk boyfriend with a 2x4 pretty early in the proceedings, setting off an interesting chain of events.

I liken Joe Lansdale's writing to sitting on tailgate having a conversation with the man and this tale is no different. However, I felt like I've read it before. It felt like pieces of other Lansdale books at times. Hell, the man writes books as often as a dog licks its asshole so it's no wonder he treads familiar territory a time or two.

I've got some mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, it's par for the course Joe Lansdale, prominently featuring interesting characters, white trash awesomeness, hilarity, and Joe's trademark front porch wisdom. On the other hand, I feel like it's nothing new. How many coming of age tales does Joe need to write? 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, February 26, 2016

The Cocoanut Grove Fire


Stephanie Schorow
Commonwealth Editions
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars




Stephanie Schorow’s excellent Drinking Boston briefly mentioned the tragic Cocoanut Grove fire, an event I had no knowledge about prior to reading. 492 people died in the blaze, and over a hundred were injured. The glamorous Cocoanut Grove nightclub was frequented by couples and families celebrating special occasions, celebrities, servicemen, politicians, and athletes. Famous people were not immune to the horrors of that tragic night of November 28, 1942. Several members from entertainer Mickey Alpert’s house band perished, along with Buck Jones, a Hollywood cowboy star. Fortunately, the Boston College Eagles suffered a devastating loss to the Holy Cross Crusaders and canceled their victory celebration at the Cocoanut Grove.



This concise, well-researched and very readable little book provides a history of the nightclub and its owners - first Mickey Alpert, then Charles “King” Solomon, a mob boss who controlled Boston’s bootlegging operations, and finally, his lawyer, Barney Welansky, who used his connections with the Mafia and corrupt city officials to willfully violate the safety standards in existence at the time by overcrowding, blocking side exits to prevent guests from walking out without paying their tabs, using highly flammable decorations throughout the nightclub, hiring unlicensed electricians, and employing minors.



Not only does this book provide details about the fire and its aftermath, it also tells the stories of victims and survivors who courageously rescued others from the fire and the firefighters who tirelessly battled the blaze and hauled out hundreds of charred bodies. There was the head cashier who perished for refusing to leave her post and the club’s profits unattended, and other staff members who waited to be rescued and ended up losing their lives. There were numerous reports of cash, wallets, watches and rings stolen from burned and trampled bodies. There were heartbreaking stories of people who survived the fire only to die horrible deaths later on.

Boston City Hospital (now Boston Medical Center) and Massachusetts General had their work cut out for them. Though treating extensive burns was their major focus, there were large numbers of patients with severe respiratory problems from inhaling smoke and toxic chemicals, infections, and fluid loss. During this time, there were considerable advances in burn treatment, as well as the use of penicillin, which was used by the military and not yet widely available to civilians.



It makes me sad to know that greed and corruption is still the order of the day in Boston.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Ghosts of Tristan Basin

Ghosts of the Tristan Basin (Powder Mage, #0.7)Ghosts of the Tristan Basin by Brian McClellan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Tristan Ghost Irregulars, along with all the other militias fighting for freedom in Fatrasta, have been called to defend Planth. An overwhelming brigade of Kez are headed to Planth, including Privileged and Wardens. The story takes place 8 months prior to the events of Promise of Blood.

Ghosts of the Tristan Basin is a story about Taniel and Ka-poel's time fighting the Kez in Fatrasta's war for independence. Taniel is busy doing what he does best, using a little powder mage magic to eliminate the enemy two bullets at a time. I found Taniel interesting in this novella because he is different than when he's introduced in Promise of Blood. He's seemingly more thoughtful and concerned about people than he is anytime in the main series. That could easily be attributed to the events that took place before the beginning of Promise of Blood and perhaps he's suffering from PTSD of a sort from the Fatrasta war.

Despite expecting this story to be carried by Taniel and Ka-poel, it was Mad Ben Styke that stole a lot of attention. He's a lancer with magically enhanced armor who is known to ride into hopeless situations along with his Mad Lancers and save the day. He was quite memorable and I have to wonder if this was on purpose since the next book in the series is supposed to be happening in Fatrasta.

The story was a good one and it definitely has me excited to see what happens next in the powder mage universe.

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Ready Player One

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

You’re I'm not quite evil geeky enough. You’re semi-evil I'm semi-geeky. You’re quasi-evil I'm quasi-geeky. You’re I'm the margarine of evil geeky. You’re I'm the Diet Coke of evil geeky, just one calorie, not evil geeky enough.

I'm not even easily identified as a geek. If I was walking down the street you couldn't point me out as a geek. After talking about superheroes in high school a friend of mine called me a mimic because I could fit in with any group.

I bring this up because it's likely a large reason Ready Player One didn't resonate with me as it did with so many of my full fledged geeky friends. I'm just not quite geeky enough. Another big reason is that I was only a little kid in the '80s so a lot of the references were lost on me.

Ready Player One was a slow starter for me. The standard dystopia future and the large info dumps were annoying. If I had to rate the story at that point I would've given it 2 stars. I wasn't all that into the story until about 100 pages were left and then I couldn't put the book down. At that point most of the info dumps and standard dystopia future references had vanished so it helped me finally get into what was happening. I would've given the last hundred pages 4 or 4.5 stars.

The massive online world of OASIS sounded really interesting and it wasn't hard to see how that could get addictive. If such a game existed even scaled down for today's gaming systems I don't think I could resist picking it up and playing it like crazy.

Ready Player One had some really enjoyable moments. I imagine someone who remembers the '80s well would enjoy far more than me because of its reverence to the '80s.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

AN INSIGHTFUL, HONEST ACCOUNT OF BASEBALL AS YOU'VE NEVER KNOWN IT

Ball Four: My Life and Hard Times Throwing the Knuckleball in the Big LeaguesBall Four: My Life and Hard Times Throwing the Knuckleball in the Big Leagues by Jim Bouton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“A ballplayer spends a good piece of his life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”

 photo Jim20Bouton_zpsj686qsd2.jpg
Why you looking at me that way, BOWton?

This is probably the most controversial book and the most honest book ever written about baseball. It is interesting how the words honest and controversial seem to travel together like a Harley Davidson with a sidecar. Jim Bouton won two World Series games in 1964 with the New York Yankees, but in 1965 he developed arm troubles that turned the pitching phenom from a starter into a bullpen pitcher. When we catch up with Jim, he is with the Seattle Pilots expansion team, trying to learn how to throw a knuckleball in an attempt to resurrect and lengthen his career. Now if you haven’t heard of the Seattle Pilots, don’t feel bad because I’d never heard of them either. They only existed for one year, 1969, and then they were moved to Milwaukee to become the Brewers.

Probably few would remember this organization except for the fact that Jim Bouton was with the team. He was taking notes and immortalizing most of the one year this team was in existence. This book hit baseball players/managers/owners like a psycho nun with a steel studded ruler was rapping their knuckles over and over again. I wonder how the baseball commissioner, Bowie Kuhn, felt about the book? Ahh yes, he called Ball Four “detrimental to baseball.”

 photo Jim20Bouton20Card_zpsnyxvxff0.jpg

Now a normal writer can’t buy publicity like this, but Bouton was still trying to pitch in the major leagues, and the reaction certainly made things more difficult for him. The book went nuclear. Athletes, in general, who are not known for reading, were reading this book, and for the most part, they had negative reactions. Most weren’t quite as vocal about it as Pete Rose, who anytime Bouton was pitching screamed from the dugout steps: ”Fuck you! Shakespeare!”

My question is who told Pete Rose about Shakespeare?

The controversy was over Bouton revealing the everyday stupidity that sometimes colossally bored baseball players got up to. Not to mention the rampant alcohol and drug abuse, greenie anyone? Greenies were speed, and pretty much everyone on the team was using them, at least in their minds, to ramp up their abilities on the diamond. Wrapped around all this was the serial infidelity that was just considered one of the perks of being a professional ball player. One of the coaches of the Pilots would always remind the guys before letting them off the plane to go meet up with their wives…”Act Horny”.

 photo Jim20Bouton20and20Mickey20Mantle_zpsaspuvouh.jpg
1964 after a World Series win. Mantle and Bouton were still friends.

Now all of that was bad enough, but where Bouton stepped over the line for many baseball fans was revealing the less than stellar lifestyle of the legendary Mickey Mantle. Sportswriters have a long history of protecting athletes. Most recently, though it was common knowledge among reporters, nothing was reported on the infidelities of Tiger Woods. His image, as far as the public was concerned, was that of a brilliant athlete with the perfect wife, the perfect life. The press was well aware of Mantle’s excessive epic drinking and his infidelities, but never wrote a word about it.

Then comes along Jim Bouton.

Bouton is a rookie on the Yankees, and one of the first stories he tells about Mantle is the whole team gathering around him on the rooftop of their hotel that, by the way it is angled, gives them a bird’s eye view into hotel rooms across the way. They could watch women undress. I’m not sure, since this was a group effort, that we can even really call this Peeping Tom or Toms. The guys called it ”Beaver Shooting,” and they put a good bit of effort into finding ways to see women exposed. One player drilled holes into the connecting door of his hotel room so he could spy on whoever was in the next room. In another case a player drilled a hole through the back of the dugout wall so he could peek up the skirt of an unsuspecting fan. They had mirrors that they would slide under hotel room doors. The list goes on and on.

It was almost a pathological obsession.

It reminded me of one time when I was about fourteen, and I was hanging out at the bottom of a set of stairs at the high school waiting for a friend when several girls started down the steps. I looked up to see if it was my friend coming, and my line of sight gave me a perfect uninhibited view of the girls’ underwear. I was gobsmacked. I was turned to stone. I forced my eyes away after what felt like fifteen minutes, but was only probably a fraction over a second. I was sure they knew! They were of course oblivious, but it didn’t keep me from turning thirteen shades of red as their mingled perfumes brushed by me.

Beyond the controversy, the book provides an incredible view of what it is like to be a ballplayer. The paranoias, the insecurities, the unfairness, the pranks, and the joys when a knuckleball breaks off the plate the way it is supposed to. The constant worry about being traded or sent down to the minor leagues. ”Us battered bastards of baseball are the biggest customers of the U.S. Post Office, forwarding-address department. I’ve seen letters chasing guys for months, years even. Sometimes you walk into a clubhouse and there’s a letter on the table for a guy who was released two years ago.”

Now certainly, Bouton created more stress for himself because it wasn’t long before everyone in the clubhouse knew he was writing a book. He had a sneaking suspicion that the head office might not be all that happy to know he was keeping track of their activities, and the ball clubs antics, and the decisions that were being made behind the scenes. He had the normal ball players paranoia times ten.

 photo Jim20Bouton20Knuckleball_zpsztcpuopb.jpg
You, too, can learn how to throw a knuckleball.

I have to admit it was fun coming home from work each day and spending some time with the Seattle Pilots. They might have been all too human, but they were certainly real. I have to hope that this book also had some positive impacts on professional baseball. I hope that clubs took a look at the drug use and the after hours carousing. I have a feeling a few wives had a few questions for their baseball playing husbands. Maybe even some ball players seeing themselves in this light, exposed (that would only be fair), made some changes to how they conducted themselves. This wasn’t the era of exorbitant salaries, but they were certainly making more than the average American who came to see them play. Whether they wanted to be or not, they were/are role models not only for kids, but for fans of all ages.

Now, I have to go back to work. Anyone got a greenie?

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visithttp://www.jeffreykeeten.com
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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Welcome to Night Vale by: Joseph Fink, Jeffrey Cranor

Welcome to Night ValeWelcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

During my long unemployment and issues with my health, I kind of jumped off into the world of podcasts, Welcome to Night Vale being one of them.

This book is a surreal journey one moment and the next a trip through a basic normal town. The trick with this is there is no difference between the bizzare things and deep bone shaking weirdness and horror that seems to be everyday life in Night Vale and the basic bland everyday, that is what most all small towns usually are.

That being said, the question is...Is there really any difference in Night Vale and small town USA where you are from?

Listen to the podcast a bit first and dip your toes in before you read this, do NOT expect much story structure or much sense, but if you love the weird and want your mind blown, check this out.



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Lustlocked (Sin de Jour #2) by Matt Wallace

Lustlocked (Sin du Jour, #2)Lustlocked by Matt Wallace
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

YET another home run by Mr Wallace, if you have not read Envy of Angels, fucking do it. It is a ton of fun and this keeps the fun and chaos at a demented and wild pace. Yes, I still don't like novellas, and yes, damnit.......I dropped what I was reading to read this and burnt through it like it was a crack rock and I had the itch for the pipe, so there!

No seriously, there is not nearly enough dark just wrong kind of fun in fantasy or scifi and this story and series has it in spades.

I am kind of down sick, so apologies for being short, but I made my point I think. Go give this man your monies!

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Monday, February 22, 2016

Little Tidbits on the Bubbly

The Little Book of Champagne TipsThe Little Book of Champagne Tips by Andrew Langley
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I found this coffee table book on top of a tv, so at first I didn't know what to do with it, it being out of its element and me being currently drunk on tacos.

Once I got the reading underway, I found this a quite enjoyable, light and informative slip of a book on the bubbly, aka Champagne.

I'm no expert on the stuff. Wines in general are not my strong suit, but even I knew quite a bit of what's between the soft covers of The Little Book of Champagne Tips. Then again, many a page found me exclaiming, "Oh really?" and "The hell you say!".

Slim, yes, and even so, half the pages are just numbers, by which I mean the page number (ALL BIG LIKE THIS 42) is on the left and the text is on the right, thus doubling the book's page total. Cheap, yes, but this is just a coffee table book, after all.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Stepford Wives

The Stepford WivesThe Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Johanna, Walter, and their children move to Stepford, everything seems perfect. A little too perfect, in fact. Why do all the Stepford wives live to do housework and please their husbands? Is their a conspiracy afoot or are Johanna and her friend Bobbie imagining things?

The Stepford Wives is a paranoid thriller by Ira Levin. There is also quite a bit of social satire as well. What would a community be like if all the women behaved like the stereotypical 1950's style housewife?

It's a pretty creepy book, though Levin eases you into the waters little by little so you don't notice all the dead animals around the pond until you're up to your neck in it. The feel reminded me of Jack Finney's Body Snatchers a bit. When will it be Johanna's turn to join the ranks of the sexually charged housewife drones?

On the negative side of the scale, the book is very much a product of its time. All of the male characters seem like they'd be right at home working with Don Draper. Also, the 1972 publishing date wasn't all that far removed from the book's 1950's portrayal of male and female cultural ideals. Now, over 40 years after the book was written, everything seems quaint and a little ridiculous.

3.5 out of 5 stars. I'm throwing in an extra .5 for the level of creepiness.

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Friday, February 19, 2016

Something Remains



Hassan Ghedi Santur
Dundurn Press
4 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Nancy



Summary




Andrew Christiansen, a war photographer turned cabdriver, is having a bad year. His mother has just died; his father, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, gets arrested; and he's married to a woman he doesn't love. To make matters worse, Sarah, the gifted actress from his past, storms back into his life, bringing with her a hurricane of changes and the possibility of happiness.

Keeping Andrew sane is his beloved camera through which he captures the many Torontonians who ride in his taxi. Also keeping Andrew rational is his friendship with Zakhariye, a Somali-born magazine editor grieving the death of a son. Through Zakhariye we glimpse a world beyond Toronto, a world where civil wars rage and stark poverty delivers everyday sorrow and anguish.

Something Remains probes the various ways humans grieve when the lives they build for themselves fall apart. It speaks of the joy we find in what remains and the hope that comes with life putting itself back together in ways we never imagined.



My Review



It is often difficult for me to review a book right after I finish reading it. I need time to process it, allowing thoughts, feelings, impressions, and emotions to penetrate my consciousness. Is this a book that will stay with me for the long haul, or one I will forget just as soon as I close it?

Something Remains, a debut novel by Somali-Canadian writer Hassan Ghedi Santur falls somewhere in between. This is a gentle, moving and immersive story that takes place in Toronto and shows the perspectives of a diverse group of characters as they cope with grief, loss, unhappy marriages, and the disconnect felt by immigrants struggling to find an identity in a racially and ethnically heterogeneous city.

There is Andrew Christiansen, a former war photographer who now makes his living driving a cab and indulges his passion for photography by capturing brief glimpses of his passengers’ lives on film. Even though his wife, Rosemary, is a childhood friend and neighbor, their marriage is one of convenience rather than love. Andrew’s friend, Zakhariye, is a Somali refugee working as a magazine editor and grieving the accidental death of his only child. Andrew too is dealing with the pain and devastation in his family caused by his mother’s recent death.

I know this all sounds really sad, but this is not a story that relies on intense drama or tragic situations to manipulate the reader’s emotions. Time is taken here to develop the main characters, showing their unique perspectives on events and allowing the reader to bond and empathize with them. Besides the sadness, there is also a feeling of hope as the characters carry on with their lives despite their burdens and gradually find joy again.

While I felt the main characters, Andrew and Zakhariye, were sufficiently developed, I wish the female characters were treated with the same care. Now that several months have passed since I’ve read this book, I only remember their undesirable qualities.

There is a heart-rending scene where Andrew’s father, Gregory, after a long cry, is looking inside his dead wife Ella’s walk-in closet, fingering and smelling her garments, lost in memories:


“He scoops up the heavy, beaded cerulean dress Ella wore to Gregory’s best friend’s wedding and wraps it around his neck. Then he snatches a black jacket and the red-and-gold scarf with the frayed edges she used to love wearing with the dress. He continues to take his wife’s clothes off the hangers in this manner until most of them adorn him. These pieces of clothing are all he has left of Ella, and he isn’t about to relinquish them.”

This is a lovely book, and even though many details are now fuzzy, I still remember how I felt while reading this on a long drive. I enjoyed spending time with these characters and visiting a city I hope to see in real life one of these days.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

City of Blades

City of Blades (The Divine Cities, #2)City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Five years after the Battle of Bulikov, retired General Turyin Mulaghesh is called on once more to serve Saypur. Prime Minister Shara Komayd has an off the books mission for her, find a missing ministry official and investigate a miraculous substance. The worst part of all is Mulaghesh has to travel to Voortyashtan otherwise known as The City of Blades. Voortyashtan was the land of the divinity of war and death Voortya and despite being a ruin since the blink, it's still a dangerous place.

The City of Blades was surprising in many ways. The biggest surprise was that the author decided to make a sequel to City of Stairs. It was surprising, not because City of Stairs was a bad book, but because the events that unfolded were so monumental that it seemed unlikely a sequel could be as good as the original. Unfortunately I don't believe the sequel was as good as the first book. The main reason for that is it was just too similar to the original. The events in City of Stairs should have been a one time event, not something that could happen again...ever. Yet that's what happens in many ways.

The next large surprise was using City of Stairs support character Turyin Mulaghesh as the main protagonist. I know many people loved Mulaghesh, but all I remembered about her was that she was a foul mouthed woman who was in charge in Bulikov. I didn't dislike her, but I certainly didn't feel she should be the main protagonist. I'll admit I did grow to appreciate her as the story went along, but I still would have preferred Shara Komayd and Sigrud running the show.

Not only is Shara Komayd not the main protagonist, but she is relegated to a similar role that Vinya Komayd played in City of Stairs. She's calling the shots, but unlike Vinya, Shara has lost the support of seemingly everyone and she's certain she'll be out of office soon. I really missed Shara's presence.

In the end I have to say, City of Blades was just not as good as City of Stairs.

3 out of 5 stars

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

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The World of Ice and Fire

The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of ThronesThe World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The World of Ice and Fire is quite the interesting book that tells the history of Westeros as well as other parts of the world. Since the book is listed as on going history rather than a novel I'll list out what I think was the good and the bad.

The Good

- The first and foremost thing that is good about this book is the artwork. The artists did a truly phenomenal job.

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- Aegon's Conquest. Aegon's Conquest is told in the same styling as the novella The Princess and The Queen which gets into some interesting details although it's still mainly summarized.

- Tywin Lannister. I don't know if anyone else ever wondered exactly how and why Tywin decided to exterminate the Reynes and the Tarbecks, but that information is in the book. Also we get to see that Tywin was basically always a competent, determined, and if need be a violent man.
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- The history of the Kings. I liked the history of the kings because it went through what could easily have been novels and novels of information rather quickly and succinctly. Although I do prefer the styling of Aegon's Conquest to the other summaries in the book.

- The book is supposed to be a compilation that was to be presented to King Robert by Maester Yandel (which are Martin's co-authors made into a maester). Unfortunately Robert and Joffrey died before the book could be finished so the book was instead passed to King Tommen. I thought it was an easy yet nice touch to tie the book into the main storyline.

The Bad

- George R.R. Martin's choice to have co-authors who summarized his summaries. It took away from the richer details by Maester Gyldayn (Martin's maester persona) by continually editing down his information to generally not much more than the facts. Martin seems determined to capitalize on this editing by eventually releasing his full summaries of the lives of the Targaryen kings in a book I believe he intends to title Fire and Blood. Unfortunately we don't get that in this book.

- One silly thing I couldn't overlook was that fact that two Lord's of Riverrun were named Elmo and Kermit. They are father and son so it's impossible to ignore the likelihood the names were chosen from Muppet counterparts.

- After the lives of the various Targaryen Kings we go into history of each of the 7 Kingdoms which starts to feel a bit tedious particularly in the Kingdoms we know well from the main story line.

- The histories of the other countries are so fact based with little story telling that it gets more than a bit dull at moments. I would've preferred stories told in major events as was done with Aegon's Conquest.

The Intriguing

- While this likely doesn't mean anything to anyone else, I noticed that the only currently living characters who happen to have artwork in the book are Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow. This may not mean anything or perhaps it's a further hint to the believed incredible importance of Dany and Jon in the remainder of the series.

In the End

- I enjoyed The World of Ice and Fire and although I doubt I'll ever read the entire book again, I'm certain I'll go back to it from time to time because some of the histories are astonishing.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

EMBASSYTOWN BY CHINA MIEVILLE

EmbassytownEmbassytown by China Miéville
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Now the Ariekei were learning to speak, and to think, and it hurt.”

I’m addicted to language; we all are.

While reading this book, I thought about language. I haven’t really thought about it from the standpoint of it not existing or that it is something to be discovered, like traces of gold in a California riverbed. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have language. The ability to express myself has served me well. Not that I haven’t said the wrong thing or said the right thing at the wrong time, but I usually have the ability to explain further and give what I say deeper meaning. I can change minds and can have my mind changed by exchanging words. Language is the foundation of who we are.

The Ariekei did not have language before the humans arrived. They were a hive of sorts, able to communicate without spoken language. The humans refer to them as The Hosts, which is exactly what they are. They allow the humans to build a city named Embassytown.

I can remember the first time I went overseas and spent nine days in Italy. I didn’t know the language but always managed to find Italian people who spoke enough English for us to communicate with each other. After having nine days of barely speaking any English, certainly a lot less than what I was used to, my arrival at San Francisco Airport was, for lack of a better term, a system overload. My mind was so starved for the English language that all the filters or barriers that I normally have for sorting language were gone. My brain was attempting to listen to and process every ongoing English conversation that was within my range of hearing.

My cat...the weather was...I bought these new shoes...Do you like this coat?...Will they serve us a meal…What did he mean by that?

I was catching just pieces, most of them jumbled together as my mind was trying to sort each conversation, but without success.

My cat was new shoes like this mean.

It was like touching the edges of insanity.

The Ambassadors who are sent to interact with The Hosts are paired. They have two minds that make one voice. They are identical and kept that way. When one gets a scar that can’t be healed, the other is given an identical scar. They are rarely apart, and when circumstances do part them, they are lost in much the same way I’d feel if my left arm and leg just detached from my body and walked into the next room. Very interesting, I would think to myself, and then I would try to finish typing this review with one hand.

Our heroine is Avice Benner Cho, who is an immerser who has just returned to Embassytown after years of deep space exploration. She cannot speak to the Ariekei, but she has become a part of their language. They call her…”There was a girl who was hurt in darkness and ate what was given her.” As things become more unstable between The Host and the colonists, Avice wants to evolve in their language. ”’I don’t want to be a simile anymore,’ I said.’I want to be a metaphor.’”

The interesting thing about Avice is that she really isn’t a hero. She is more like a professional traveller who sits in the hip cafes, eats the unusual food, sees the sights, goes to parties, and occasionally has a brief sexual encounter with someone interesting. She has been married several times. Sometimes to women, sometimes to men. In Embassytown, she has sex with ambassadors which... since each one is actually plural... means she is a very busy girl during those encounters. Her experiences while travelling have evolved her thinking about what is strange. One of her best friends is a digital presence that can move from one droid to another. Like us all, she does struggle with seeing things that go beyond just exotic, those things that go beyond a frame of reference of what we know. For us to be comfortable, new things have to have something about them that allows us to have at least a handle of understanding.

”Once I heard a theory. It was an attempt to make sense of the fact that no matter how travelled people are, no matter how cosmopolitan, how biotically miscegenated their homes, they can’t be insouciant at the first sight of an exot (slang for exotic) race. The theory is that we’re hardwired with the Terre Biome, that every glimpse of anything not descended from that original backwater home, our bodies know we should not ever see.”

The world that China Mieville creates in this book is in some ways vague, certainly unsettling. The world building takes a backseat to exploring the concept of languages and their value. Though he does give us glimpses of what this world looks like. ”When they regrew the city the Ariekei changed it. In this rebooted version the houses segmented into smaller dwellings and were interspersed with pillars like sweating trees. Of course there were still towers, still factories and hangars for the nurturing of young and of biorigging…. But the housescape we overlooked took on a more higgledy-piggledy aspect. The streets seemed steeper than they had been, and more various: the chitin gables, the conquistador-helmet curves newly intricate.”

As the Ariekei learn language from the Ambassadors, things take a sinister turn as segments of The Host population begin to become junkies. ”Ambassadors are orators, and those to whom their oration happens are oratees. Oratees are addicts. Strung out on an Ambassador's Language.”

Where my addiction to language happened over a long arc of time, comparable to beginning with marijuana to evolving to cocaine to finally needing heroin, The Host’s addiction begins with heroin and wants the next better thing than heroin…NOW.

Things get scary

”We knew the Ariekei would breach our defences. They entered the houses that edged our zone, found their ways to rear and side doors, large windows, to holes. Some came out of the front doors into our streets and tore apart what they found. Those with remnants of memory tried to get to the Embassy. They came at night. They were like monsters in the dark, like figures from children’s books.”

A war over a need for language.

I don’t know how else to say this...the book is brilliant, simply brilliant. I’ve been a long time fan of China Mieville and will eventually read everything he has ever written. The concepts he explores in this book had me thinking about my own relationship with language, with learning, with my addiction to hearing and being heard, to writing my thoughts and to reading what others have written.

I once knew a woman in Phoenix whose grandfather walked out to get the morning paper, poured some coffee, and flipped the paper open, like he does every morning, to start reading.

He couldn’t read.

He’d had a small targeted stroke during the night that erased his ability to read. The thought still sends a shiver down my back to think that I could lose the ability to read or the ability to speak or the ability to hear.

I’m a junkie for language.

You will have to have patience with this book. Mieville circles the plane over Embassytown and just drops his readers into the city. Shortly after stowing your parachute, you are going to feel out of kelter, exposed, behind a step, and will begin to feel nervous that you won’t catch up. You will. With every chapter, you will begin to know more pieces of the puzzle until you are eventually able to assemble a shimmering vision of this city, these people, and the situation which has lit the fuse to a powderkeg.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Burning Midnight by Will McIntosh

Burning MidnightBurning Midnight by Will McIntosh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Yup, guess what I read another young adult title. Why?!?! Kevin?!?! are you that hard up for books?? Yes..and shut up for a second, I'll explain.

I am a fan of Mr. McIntosh, still am even though he wrote a YA title, (and I did like it, didn't LOVE it, but liked.) I also am fairly huge into collecting things/potential hoarding, which is central to the theme. I really have liked the other books I have read from this author as well. HOWEVER, my complaints about young adult titles are in full effect here, contrived romance, stiff characters, you know the rest.

So if I hate the genre, why the three stars and why the like? If you follow my reviews, I do not write reviews for books I don't like. I don't believe in talking about stories or books I didn't care for. I write to share my love of books and stories, so 3 stars is AS low a score as you will see me give.

Mr. McIntosh had a great idea, he is a good writer...he just wedged this into a typical cookie cutter story.



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Monday, February 15, 2016

I Was Told There'd Be Laughs

I Was Told There'd Be CakeI Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This won awards, was a best seller and was heralded by critics? I feel like the publishing world needed a darling in 2008 in the humorist category and chose Crosley for lack of a better.

Occasionally humorous, sure, but I couldn't get past the notion that this was the humor of the spoiled, the unchallenging laughs of white privilege, the shrug-it-off-and-smile of upper-middle-class woes, such as forgetting your keys, leaving your wallet behind, spending hundreds on a locksmith after locking yourself out of your Manhattan apartment, enduring an annoyed boss because you're a kid just out of an expensive college who has no real marketable skills, getting lice at summer camp...at summer camp...jaysus, even the book's title has a "let them eat cake" sense of careless entitlement.

Credit where credit's due, Sloane Crosley is a decent writer and a decent humorist. She can turn a good phrase now and then, enough to garner spot laughs through out.

The problem is a lack of material worth writing about. Come on, a whole chapter on the computer game The Oregon Trail? Admittedly, I've written about the game in a book of mine, for about a paragraph, not a whole fucking chapter! This book feels like the author is just too young, lacks any meaningful life experiences worth writing about, and is stretching the hell out of what little has happened to her.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Up in Honey's Room

Up in Honey's RoomUp in Honey's Room by Elmore Leonard
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Carl Webster comes to Detroit looking for some escaped German POWs. Will Honey, the ex-wife of a friend of the POWs, be his salvation or his downfall?

Yeah, I made the teaser way more exciting than the book. I hesitate to call any Elmore Leonard book bad but this one was definitely on the shitty side of good.

For my money, Elmore Leonard does his best work when pitting guys with various degrees of sleaze against each other in either Miami or Detroit and peppering it with slick dialogue. While this one has a Detroit setting, it's set in the 1940's which kind of removes a lot of the cool factor. Also, German POWs who barely speak English do not have the slickest dialogue in crime fiction.

I felt like I missed something regarding Carl Webster's past relationships with the POWs and why he was so determined to go after them. Turns out I was since that was previously detailed in Comfort to the Enemy and Other Carl Webster Stories.

While I thought Carl Webster was a cool guy, I also feel like he was Raylan Givens with a lick of paint. Actually, since Carl Webster has about as much written about him as Raylan Givens, maybe the writers of Justified drew some material for Raylan from Carl. Either way, I felt like this could have easily been a Raylan Givens story with minimal modifications.

My biggest gripe with this was that nothing happened for most of the book. I think the book suffered because the time period was a departure from Leonard's usual and the characters didn't lend themselves to his usual magic. Two stars. I refrained from giving it one star because the book didn't actually suck but it's definitely a bottom shelf Leonard.

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Off World


Jonah Bergan
Edge
4 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Nancy



Summary




What really brought Taine to that backwater little world? Taine’s a hunter. He’s a red-skinned and black-eyed Lowman by nature, and a hunter by trade. Some hunters work in flesh, others in secrets, and some few work to set right what’s been set wrong. It’s a big galaxy and there’s always plenty of work for a hunter like Taine, so you got to wonder, what with all that at his feet, what really brought Taine to that backwater little world?



My Review




I was thrilled to get the opportunity to read this, as I love science fiction that features well-developed nonhuman species that possess significantly different physical characteristics and psychological lives than their human counterparts. Even better if they have empathic abilities!

Taine is a Lowman hunter, a red-skinned, black-eyed alien referred to by the hicks who inhabit the backwater world he is traveling in as “redder” or “devil”. The story starts off with Taine’s purchase of a young, blond slave he names Sunshine. He later picks up an apprentice named Tanner, who is roughly 5 years older than Sunshine. The three men embark on an adventurous journey fraught with hazards. Even though Taine is big and strong, they are living in a female-dominated society where men are seen as inferior and slavery (sexual and manual labor) is legal and acceptable.

This is an ambitious, compelling tale that is cleanly written and edited, with sharp dialogue that helps move the story along smoothly, and an exploration of life in a repressive society, sex discrimination, slavery, and human/alien relationships that occasionally get mired in wordiness.

Not only does Taine have awareness of life around him, he has the ability to penetrate and manipulate thoughts, and feed on a person’s “essence”. While this may leave a human exhausted, it will not cause them any harm. It is Taine who could be harmed be feeding, not knowing what darkness, complexities, or conflicts may reside in human minds.

While the first two-thirds of this story revolves around the three men, the last third introduces the dangerous and powerful witches who invade planets and enslave men, subjecting them to harsh mind control experiments. Taine’s struggle to shield himself from the witches’ influence and domination, and efforts to save the lives of Tanner and Sunshine was riveting, but I was disappointed that interesting minor female characters were given little page time. Many unanswered questions and certain unresolved plot elements beg for a sequel.

Overall, a worthwhile read.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Last Colony

The Last Colony (Old Man's War #3)The Last Colony by John Scalzi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After retiring from the Colonial Defense Force, John Perry and Jane Sagan started a new life on the Human colony Huckleberry. The two of them live with their adopted daughter Zoë, work local jobs, and have a farm. All of that changes when they are approached to be the leaders of a new human colony which will be colonized by people from other human colonies. There is more to this arrangement than they were told and the family finds itself once again forced to fight to survive.

John Scalzi shows another part of his universe with The Last Colony. In Old Man's War we learned about how The Colonial Union gets recruits,  makes them fighting ready, and the dangers of the universe. In Ghost Brigades we see the inner workings of the Special Forces and the increased danger they face. The Last Colony shows what life is like as a colonist and it's dangerous and boring. A whole lot of farming is involved which made the beginning drag quite a bit.

John Perry, Jane Sagan, and the colonists got thoroughly screwed in this book. It was shocking to see how even after such betrayal what people could be capable of doing. I'd like to think people would be smarter than this, but the colonists are probably similar to the majority of individuals in the world.

The story has a lot of moving parts and an air of mystery. Unfortunately for me most of it seemed quite obvious. It was good to see John Perry again, he's just as funny as a sarcastic young man as he was as an old man. I still don't like how neatly Scalzi wraps up his books and The Last Colony was no exception. I did like how he left the ending open for future tales.

The Last Colony was a solid conclusion to the Old Man's War trilogy.

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Fool and the Dragonox

Fool and the Dragonox: A Prequel to A Tale of Light and ShadowFool and the Dragonox: A Prequel to A Tale of Light and Shadow by Jacob Gowans
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Teenagers can often be quite dumb. Those of us who have been teenagers can attest to that and those of you who are still teenagers it isn't your fault, but you can be foolish to say it nicely. No teenager is dumber than a teenage boy trying to impress a girl he likes. That's bad enough in real life, but can be even worse in a fantasy world featuring mythical fire breathing creatures around.

The Fool and the Dragonox is a short story that's incredibly relatable to anyone who has been a teen. We've all either had or known someone who had a friend who adults didn't approve of, a love interest, a sibling you can't say anything to without adults finding out, and had more than a fair amount of foolish notions.

The story revolves around Henry, a carpenters son, and his best friend Ruther, the bad influence according to Henry's parents. It's a quick read that seems appropriate for the opening chapter of a book. Henry is training to be a carpenter and is love with the local Lord's daughter Isabelle which needless to say doesn't sit well with the Lord. One night Henry sneaks out with Ruther, Isabelle, and his sister Maggie to see a Dragonox which is as bad and dangerous as it sounds. After Ruther whispers the idiotic idea that Henry should ride the Dragonox to impress Isabelle, Henry heads to do just that because he clearly knows nothing of women and doesn't have the common sense that says you can't get the girl if your dead. Regardless the fun starts there and I must admit I was laughing rather than being concerned.

The Fool and the Dragonox was a funny short story and I'm interested enough to check out the main series now.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

THE BIG SHORT BY MICHAEL LEWIS

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday MachineThe Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”The ability of Wall Street traders to see themselves in their success and their management in their failure would later be echoed, when their firms, which disdained the need for government regulation in good times, insisted on being rescued by government in bad times. Success was an individual achievement; failure was a social problem.”

The real estate market in the United States after several years of frantic growth peaked in 2004, which was the year I decided to start buying properties. I was able to secure 6% interest on about any property I wanted to buy with no money down. I had an 800+ credit score, which had bankers salivating when I walked in the door. I put everything on 30 year notes to give me more cash flow.

The first time I bought a property, the banker wrote it up as an ARM (adjustable rate mortgage). He showed me how much lower my payment would be. Of course, what he didn’t explain was what the payment would look like when the interest rate went up. (I’m the offspring of a farmer and had the opportunity to watch my father negotiate several mortgage notes. My father always said to never trust a banker and, furthermore, never trust that a banker knows what he is doing.) When I told the banker I wanted a fixed mortgage, he looked shocked for a moment. He said, “I haven’t written a fixed note in so long that I’ll have to look up how to do it.”

Warning bells were going off in my head.

My friends and acquaintances from all over the country were buying properties. Many were buying properties they could not afford and knew it, but they were hoping to ride the positive wave of escalating property values which would allow them to keep tapping their equity to pay their bills. Many of them fell into the category of subprime mortgages. ”A subprime mortgage is a type of loan granted to individuals with poor credit histories (often below 600), who, as a result of their deficient credit ratings, would not be able to qualify for conventional mortgages.”

Michael Lewis talks about ”thin file FICO scores,” which are people with short credit histories, but have good credit. One example that Lewis uses is a Mexican strawberry picker making $14,000, who qualified for a loan for $750,000 all because he hadn’t proved he couldn’t pay.

Anyone with any sense, you don’t need business acumen for this one, can look at that situation and KNOW with certainty that strawberry picker will not be able to make his payments. The whole lending system, from the big boys on Wall Street down to the loan officer in your local bank, was making and encouraging too many loans destined to fail. It was ok though because they were going to bundle them together with a bunch of other notes and sell them to someone else.

Unfortunately, and I blame the car industry for this, Americans are much more interested in a lower payment than they are in how long it will take to pay off a note or how much interest they will end up paying. What is the first thing a car salesman asks a car buying prospect? How big a monthly payment can you pay? It doesn’t matter what type of car or how expensive that vehicle is; what is important is what they are capable of paying per month. Car loans used to be three years in length. Now, most people take seven years to pay off their car. They have no idea how much they will have paid for that vehicle at the end of seven years. I recently bought a new Jeep Cherokee, and when they brought the paperwork, I realized that they hadn’t even asked me if I wanted a five year or a seven year note. They automatically wrote it up for seven. I had them change it to five.

So that same mentality transferred over to mortgages. It was easy to talk Americans into ARMs because of the lower payment offer (interest only) compared to a fixed rate. In most cases, I can guarantee they were never offered or shown a fixed rate. ”Interest only ARM mortgages were only 5.85% of the pool in early 2004, but by late 2004 they were 17.48% of the pool, and by late summer 2005 25.34% of the pool. To say that everything was getting out of balance was an understatement. We were being set up for a disaster. If the real estate dipped or remained flat, the whole, forgive the pun, house of cards, was going to come down. Home owners had to keep gaining equity to stay afloat.

2009 was the year that I decided to refinance all my properties. The interest rate was unbelievably low, and one of my fears was that the paradigm would shift and interest rates would begin to climb. I was on a fixed rate of 6%, which historically that was a great rate for home mortgages, but the interest rate I was about to get was going to blow my mind.

4.25% (now you can probably write a primary loan for less).

Not only did they give me that rate on my primary home, but also across the board on all my rental properties. My main goal for refinancing was to lower the interest, but also to take my 30 year mortgages and put them on 15 years.

The banker said some interesting things to me. One was that they were willing to waive the fees if I’d write new 30 year mortgage notes. He showed me how much lower my monthly payments (ahh yes that old stratagem) would be compared to the 15 year notes. He said that if I wanted to pay them off in fifteen years, all I would have to do is make bigger principle payments. This is extremely bad advice. Most people never make an extra payment on their car or house or with some, totally insane consumers, even their credit cards. They pay the minimum they have to pay.

One of the problems with most loan officers is that they really don’t understand the loans they are writing. I had one property that had a house with a trailer house on the same lot. I could almost hear the pop in the banker’s head when he realized there was a trailer house involved. They don’t finance trailer houses. I explained that the trailer house needed to be considered personal property; I had plenty of equity in the house to meet the criteria for the loan. I had to go up the chain of the bank until finally I was talking to some guy in Milwaukee who got what I was saying and approved the loan. I don’t like the fact that the person who makes the decision about any loan I make is not the person sitting in front of me, but that is the banking system we work with now.

The crises of 2008 should have never happened. Regulations on banks and Wall Street had been relaxed. Without regulations they went crazy. They lost their minds. ”There were more morons than crooks, but the crooks were higher up.”

This book focuses on the handful of brokers who could see the crash coming and decided to bet against homeowners being able to make their payments. It was dicey because if the government stepped in and shored up those home loans, they would lose their bet.

They won, and they won big.

At the time, I supported President Bush’s administration stepping in with a bailout for Wall Street. I was wrong to do so. I was afraid of a further collapse that would bring even those of us who were solvent down with the ones already under water. (I do believe that the bailout of the auto industry was an astute decision that ended up saving that industry and thousands of blue collar jobs.)

I have only a few thousand in the stock market these days. I took my money out and bought a business. I wish more Americans would invest in something tangible, like a business or real estate. I’d rather that when Wall Street goes crazy with greed again, and they will, that they don’t have the retirements of middle class Americans to lose on some greedy short term gain venture.

My advice to everyone is to really KNOW your finances. Don’t assume that a banker or accountant knows what is best for you. Don’t put your future in someone else’s hands. Use their expertise to educate yourself. Don’t over leverage yourself under the assumption that you will make more money in the future. Buy at a price you can afford now, not what you think you will be able to afford later. If you are thinking about buying a home, the concept of buy low and sell high should apply. If possible, wait for a buyer’s market. Buy below market if you can so that you have some ready made equity already in your home. (The quicker you can get enough equity, usually 20%, in your home to avoid PMI payments the better. Private Mortgage Insurance protects the lender if you default on your loan though THEY benefit you pay the premium.) Don’t fall in love with a house until you own it. Don’t ever risk money you can’t afford to lose.

This is a painful book to read from the standpoint of the recklessness, the greed, the foolishness that all contributed to the 2008 subprime mortgage crises. I wasn’t shocked to learn that the “experts” didn’t even know what they were selling or buying most of the time. They didn’t understand their own acronyms. Like, what the fxxk is a CDO (collateralized debt obligation), and what the hell are tranches? It’s okay for me not to know, but these people at Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, UBS, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley didn’t really understand what they were either. These supposedly best and brightest were blinded by greed. They couldn’t see that the track in front of their roaring train loaded with subprime mortgages...had disappeared and the gorge they fell into was... deep.

I’m really looking forward to seeing the movie.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Tedeschi Trucks Band Let Me Get By

First of all, I am still learning this posting process, so apologies for any formatting issues or the sparse nature of this post, it will lack bells and whistles and other shit.

I was told I could write about music, so being one of the things I love and me being a huge fucking music snob, I jumped on the chance. I really as a younger teen and as a man wanted to play guitar. I was told I had a superior ear for music but unfortunately my hands don't want to cooperate. That being said, I have fallen in love with many guitar giants such as Stevie Ray Vaughn and Duane Allman as well as more modern heroes like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani.

In the end, it was blues, jazz and southern style rock that called to me most, Warren Haynes, Black Crowes, the jam band scene and eventually Derek Trucks. Derek is a GUITAR GOD, the man has been playing and releasing CD's since he was 13 or 14 and the further along he went, the better he got and the more his true voice was realized.

In 2010, Derek's band merged with the band of his wife, singer and guitarist, Susan Tedeschi, to form the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and this is their third studio album. While the 12 piece band has ripped up the concert stage and blew us way on CD, I believe this album is the beginning of their TRUE potential.

In a music industry and world filled to the brim with sugar filled throwaway "music", the soul and passion and power behind the 10 songs and the bonus CD (YES buy the deluxe package) flat destroys anything on the radio today.

This is how music should be, if you are a fan of the real deal, these guys, dear readers, are the real deal.
go throw money at them here.

I'll shut up, just listen.

All The Birds in the Sky By: Charlie Jane Anders

All the Birds in the SkyAll the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is gonna be hard to review. First of all, I read a TON, but rarely and I mean rarely, do I get touched by a story or characters. This story in spots hit me like a train and I loved the fact that as rich and totally weird as the world was, there were hints of more. That might have been my wreck of a brain trying to fill in holes, but as a total world building slut of a reader, that hit all my good spots.

IS this book perfect? In this humble reader's opinion, yes. Did I give it a perfect score, no. Why call it perfect and not rate it 5 then you moron??!?! (Geez...enough with the questions, hold on, I'll tell you.)

The only, only reason I docked a star on this wonderful work, is entirely personal. The main relationship hit a bit too close to home for me. A sign of great characters is when the reader can identify totally with what the writer puts on paper, and well there was a moment in this story that just plain hurt. I am not a fan of crying reading books, that being said, if you are a fan of any of the authors I review, give this a read.

No, scratch that... even though I told you damn near nothing about this story, if you are a child/adult of the past 30 odd years, you should read this story, give Charlie Jane Anders your money, then beg her to write more.

I leave you with this quote, and the only spoilerish thing I will ever state about a book. "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". Arthur C. Clarke


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Monday, February 8, 2016

Delicious action and Jack always gets the girl for the win.

Die Trying (Jack Reacher, #2)Die Trying by Lee Child
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"If you go down to the woods today...you are in for a BIG surprise"

Die Trying improves on some of my issues with the previous instalment, though there are also some downsides. Which is a good thing, as hopefully those issues will be improved later in the series. I whizzed through this book. I took the father to a game of cricket (please note I'm not a fan... of... very... slow... sports). But it gave me a chance to finish this novel, BOOM.

Jack's just taking a leisurely walk downtown Chicago, and happens to be walking into a dry cleaning store (not sure why, but there you go). He bumps into a woman (surprise!) who he later finds out is named Holly. She's just picked up her weekly dry cleaning (handy that), then all of a sudden two guys surround them and are bundled into the back of a van. Four days later, there in Montana and 'guests' of rather a loopy bunch of individuals who believe there is some kind of UN conspiracy to over-throw America (among other... things). We're talking over a hundred people in this little Waco-style nut-house. The whole posit on why there are doing what they're doing was unbelievable. I laughed, good comedy, although unexpected is always welcome.

Holly is a high-flyer in the FBI, up and coming and loved by all her colleagues. The good thing about Holly is she can hold her own. She isn't the traditional damsel in distress. She kicks arse, even with a busted knee. I liked her in the sense she didn't need rescuing, well not as much as Roscoe in the previous novel Killing Floor. So kudos to Lee Child for that, as it seems he must have listened to his reader's after receiving feedback about that novel. McGrath, Brogan and Milosevic begin the hunt for her (there all FBI "FBI FREEZE SUCKER"), but it's slow going for them. McGrath I particularly liked as he came across as a 'older' mould of Jack Reacher. Throw in General Garber, who was Reacher's former commanding office, then it makes for good reading - if a little samey.

Talking about samey - how many times does Lee Child's need to describe in 'second' detail what happens when a firearm is fired. Seriously, it's literally every time a M-16 or a Barreta was fired, BOOM... "Gas chamber, 5000th of a second, sending the bullet to speeds of 2000 mph..." - then next time that weapon is fired, the exact same thing again. Sure it was interesting to read the first time, but rein it in a bit. We get you've down your research on weaponry, which is obviously needed for such a character as Jack, but well.. just *yawn*.

Here is the real problem. I've mentioned this before in another review. Jack Reacher is invincible - he is untouchable. He's been up against no one who can challenge him physically or psychologically. No wounds so far, oh apart from a nick on his wrist from a handcuff. No competition means you know how fights are going to play out. You've a bunch of Southerners who are about as organised as a village meeting in Killing Floor then in this novel, a bunch of deluded revolutionaries who have little or no military training. There's a hundred of them. A hundred for Jack to take down "with a little help from his friends." Beau Borken, the villain and bad guy "que Marvel villain music please." He has brainwashed all these people, all these families. It is said in the novel he is charismatic and a born leader. Personally I found him to be the reverse, a deluded guy with inflated opinions. Welcome to the real world I say! Lee Child's is on to a winner, obviously with Jack Reacher. He is the type of person everyone wants to be; strong, athletic, deceive and a winner with the ladies. Hey, I'm not saying this is a bad thing, but for me it's all a bit one-dimensional - again.

There's no realism here, which is good as it's a piece of fiction right? Wrong, surely Jack Reacher is meant to be living and breathing in a real world. The bullets that propel from guns seem to confirm to physics, hmm *rubs his head*. No one can hit Jack, no one can shoot him. Maybe it's actually a science fiction novel? He is surrounded by a invisible force field? Maybe he was mind probed, hence why is stronger than oak and fights harder than any other man ever born. When it comes to a fight, I've always believed your only as good as the next man put in front of you. This is true to a extent, Reacher can only fight who is put in front of him - much like a boxer. So hopefully the man who invented Jack puts more worthwhile adversaries in front of him to take on.

I've not much else to say really. Good points? Holly is a good point as I've mentioned. The chemistry between Jack and Holly is just about right. Mutual respect and a lot of eye-goggling going on. Not sure on the potential rape scene that went on, made me cringe a little. These type of books, your either going to love or loath them. I'll give anything ago... it's good to have a open mind about fiction, but not erotic fiction - why read it when you can do all that for real, haha. You can't do what Jack does for real, otherwise you'd be a smelly vagrant who will most likely land in jail for murder #1, twenty times over.


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I'm sure Jack Reacher is a tea drinker- discuss!

Killing Floor (Jack Reacher, #1)Killing Floor by Lee Child
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"Money money makes the world go round..." - some song by LL Cool J

I shouldn't like this book, I really shouldn't. Jack Reacher is such a cliché character; American, save-the-day glorified yawn. BUT he is actually really likeable, in a sort of don't-wash-can't-wash sort of way. Personally I think Lee Child's shows a really deft hand at making what seems like a simple story complex and takes a generic character and makes them interesting. He didn't take the standard wise-cracking lead character, which seems inheritant in these type of thrillers - he made Jack Reacher more believable by making him 'human' - by making him seem like he has nothing to lose and will go to any lengths (aka Jack Bauer "24") to get what and where he needs to. Protect the people you care about and love, failing that, revenge seems to work just as well as any emotional cocktail. This is also fallible character creation, it makes for a archetypal character that isn't ever EVER going to get threatened or hurt (really). This (for me) destroys any belief the reader has of this guy walking through fire to get to his end goal - he'll get there without much trouble.

The jeist of the story has Jack Reacher (I did write Jack Bauer then, see, so comparable for me) travelling around the good old USA, a vagrant, ex-military type, tall (wear those platform shoes Tom Cruise). He finds himself travelling south, down to a small town called Margrave. Within hours he becomes embroiled in a murder case in this perfect little town. Hurled into the local police station, he thinks he has a clear cut alibi - until certain individuals start to make life difficult for Reacher. This seemed a bit weird to me, he seemed guilty before proven otherwise. Process of a just system, not in this case. Jack has to unravel himself from this case, but things become personal for him as more and more evidence comes to light. At least he didn't drop the soap in the prison shower room - well he might as well have.

That's the essence of the story. What I'm really hoping for, as a new reader to this series, is a over-arching story. What I'm not hoping for is individual stories that are just that. We're see.

Here's the real problem, Jack Reacher seems invulnerable, much like Jack Bauer. I never felt any real threat to his life. I've not served in the military, I'm actually the first not to in generations of my family. My understanding is your only as good as your training - from what I get from Reacher, he doesn't seem to conform to that ethos. He gets a few slaps, but other than that, he walks through guys like there nothing. That part, even though this is a story is unbelievable. I also found it difficult to fathom that Jack hooked up with the best looking woman in town (Roscoe) within a short space of time. This is a guy who has effectively been living rough for years. The women in the book are there ONLY to be rescued and throw about a bit of frenetic sex. I'm not the sort of guy who gets all riled up about equality in novels, but sheez one-dimensional characters are something you write when at school.

As for the writing style, it's basic. Nothing brilliant - the novel is word heavy in the sense of content, which is a good thing. Lee Child's is great with descriptive narrative, not so great with character development. Characters names are all handled using their surnames 'Finlay, Roscoe, Picard etc etc'. So this makes them less personable and in a sense less believable.

Killing Floor has it's good and bad points. I like it as I do like this sort of anti-hero persona, but I also disliked it for the lazy character development (among other things). I'm sure this will appeal to people, given the lengths Jack Reacher goes, very comparable to Jack Bauer in that sense. What else can I tell you? Lot's, but I'm going to tear into this novel and then the review is going to lose any balance to it. So that's a wrap!


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Case Closed. No More Parker Pyne For Me, Thanks!

Parker Pyne InvestigatesParker Pyne Investigates by Agatha Christie
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Fantasy Island for the mystery set!

This isn't Agatha Christie's typical who-dunnit mystery. Half the people that come to "investigator" Parker Pyne for help are just bored. Makes sense since that's who he advertises for, those who are unhappy and don't know what to do about it. So, his clients are often people with money who want someone else to make life interesting again for them...

That is difficult for me to swallow. I come from a background where money had to be hard-earned, penny by penny. As I've aged I've also learned the value of time. I tend to loath people who say, "I'm bored" and I feel "killing time" deserves capital punishment. It is murder after all. So, I found the very premise of Parker Pyne Investigates repugnant.

Much of this book is wish fulfillment. A client meets with Pyne, unburdens his woes, and then Pyne sets up an improbably scenario in order to spice up that person's life. In these short stories, Pyne sets up thrilling adventures and minor mysteries to put a little pep in his client's lives. More than once the issue is little more than a husband or wife who's bored with the other. So Pyne creates jealousy and soon they both realize how foolish they've been, how much they still love one another, and they live happily ever after. I honestly could've slept my way through this book.

There are a few actual crimes solved herein and occasionally Pyne flashes Sherlockian genius. Pyne is no Poirot, other than his girth, but occasionally Christie can't help but mix in some of that crafty Belgium's cleverness. However, there's not enough character in this character. Again, his girth aside, Pyne is flat. The most interesting things about him are his intuition into human nature and his unintentionally absurd notion that lying to your significant other is the key to a solid relationship. Yes, I understand "white lies" are what is meant or at least what it could be explained away as, but it honestly sounded like ridiculous, archaic advice column mumbo jumbo. Hell, this whole book is mumbo jumbo!!!



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Friday, February 5, 2016

Obernewtyn



Isobelle Carmody
Tor Books
4 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Nancy



Summary



For Elspeth Gordie freedom is-like so much else after the Great White-a memory.

It was a time known as the Age of Chaos. In a final explosive flash everything was destroyed. The few who survived banded together and formed a Council for protection. But people like Elspeth-mysteriously born with powerful mental abilities-are feared by the Council and hunted down like animals...to be destroyed.

Her only hope for survival to is keep her power hidden. But is secrecy enough against the terrible power of the Council?


My Review



Despite its flaws, I really enjoyed Obernewtyn. Most of the characters were interesting enough; but not all were developed that well. The main character, Elspeth Gordie, seemed realistic enough; an emotionally distant child suffering the pain of losing her parents, spending her childhood in a variety of orphanages and possessing powers she has to keep secret. I also enjoyed her misfit friends, Matthew and Dameon, the enigmatic Rushton, and the mind-speaking animals. I wish some of the characters would have been developed more, like the doomed Cameo and the other girl, Selmar. The villains, Madame Vega, Alexi and Ariel were too one-dimensional to be interesting. Ariel was even funny at times, though I'm certain Carmody didn't mean for his character to be humorous.

I love post-apocalyptic fiction, and Carmody did a great job creating a society controlled by a fearful religious faction. I grew to care about the characters and the fate of the Misfits, but would have liked more background information on the world outside Obernewtyn. The magical abilities of the orphans were convincing and explained in great detail. At times, however, I felt the author overused Elspeth's magical abilities to conveniently get her out of jams and found it a little contrived at times.

While the story didn't seem overly original to me, the totalitarian society controlled by a religious faction fearful of the Misfits' mental abilities was interesting, as well as the variety of things one can do with her mind.

Obernewtyn was short, easy, and fun to read. It invaded my nightly dreams and allowed me to have fun fantasizing about what life might be like possessing such mind powers. Had this book been written when I was a child, I know it would have been very enjoyable.

The cover artwork by Donato is stunning, too.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

X-23: Innocence Lost

X-23: Innocence LostX-23: Innocence Lost by Craig Kyle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Weapon X, a lot of time and money was put into him. He was an incredible weapon even after he escaped. Scientists in labs tried to turn test subjects into their next weapon, but they couldn't find anyone who could survive the adamantium bonding process. Eventually the man running the scientists decided to truly recreate Weapon X, but due to unforeseen circumstances they had to settle with something a bit different.
description

Innocence Lost is X-23's origin story. It took 23 attempts to recreate Logan and even then compromises had to be made. To some extent having a girl as a weapon is more dangerous, primarily because it's more unexpected. The comic book world like it's real world counterpart is a sexist place. No one fears a little girl until her claws pop out or she pulls a gun.
description
In the same extent I have to say I felt worse for her than I would have if she was a boy. It makes no sense, but that thought kept popping into my mind.

Reading Innocence Lost left me silently chuckling to myself. The reason is because no one has learned that a weapon that can walk, talk, and choose who it's going to kill is a bad idea. I mean haven't they seen any of the Terminator movies? Even their own history was bad, since Wolverine killed a good amount of the scientists and guards after he had adamantium bonded to his skeleton.

Innocence Lost is kind of a heart wrencher, which also means it's a really good comic.

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