Thursday, March 31, 2016


ViciousVicious by V.E. Schwab
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Victor and Eli began their relationship as college roommates. They even became friends in their own way. When Eli comes up with a theorem on how to create extraordinary abilities the two young men become lab partners, assistants, and guinea pigs. Things don't go as smoothly as they had hoped. 10 years later Victor walks out of prison with one objective, to get revenge on Eli. Over the same 10 year period Eli now going by the name Ever believes he has been reborn as an angel of death, executing all those he can find with extraordinary abilities.

Vicious introduces the world to two of the most unlikeable people you could meet, Victor and Eli. They are both insufferable arrogant pricks who aren't concerned with much more than themselves. It's a rare thing when the protagonist and antagonist are so unlikable, but by the end I was rooting for one more than the other.

Fortunately Vicious has one character that is easy to like in Sydney. Sydney is a completely innocent 12 year old girl and her ability is one that couldn't directly be used to harm anyone. While she is young, she's not foolish or blinded by her self importance like Eli. Sydney at one point thinks she isn't sure if good exists, but she doesn't see it because it's coming from her.

V.E. Schwab certainly came up with an intriguing method for how to empower ordinary's frightening, but intriguing. The powers themselves also had a genuinely unique feel to them even though some of the powers are commonplace in the comic book world.

Vicious is a tale of revenge that stretches over a long period of time while being told in flashbacks and the present. If you like your protagonists semi to fully evil then I imagine you'll enjoy Vicious.

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A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of Magic (A Darker Shade of Magic, #1)A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kell has the rare power to travel between parallel worlds. He's from London, the Red London. Red London is a nice place where magic flows freely and smells like flowers. He's able to travel to two other London's Grey and White London. Grey London is a man built place where magic doesn't exist. White London is a horror where magic is fading and people kill for any little bit of it. There was once a Black London, but it's the stuff of nightmares and legends.

Kell is an adopted Prince in Red London because of his powers. He travels to each London to carry correspondence between their respective rulers. He also has the bad habit of smuggling between worlds which is highly illegal. When something goes terribly wrong after returning from White London, Kell is forced to flee to Grey London where he encounters Delilah Bard who happens to be a thief. After robbing him Lila finds herself helping him save all the worlds.

A Darker Shade of Magic is one imaginative tale. From the travel between Londons to the blood magic of Kell creativity is abounding.

The complexity of the world lead to the first 100 or so pages to be all world building. The storyline was light so it wasn't hard to get through, but I did find myself wondering if there was actually a plot to the story. The plot is there and it's the standard solid save everything from evil story.

The biggest weakness I found in the book were the characters. I was indifferent regarding Kell, his family, his bad habits, and his life in general. I'm not weeping tears because he didn't feel as though he was hugged enough by his adoptive parents. I really just didn't like Lila. She was obnoxious and she took Barron's father like love for granted. He didn't ask anything from her yet she just kept taking from him. Taking was what she was good at though. Her transformation as a character felt totally unwarranted. All the other characters felt pretty standard and didn't draw my attention.

A Darker Shade of Magic is a solid yet unspectacular story.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016


Prince of Fools (The Red Queen's War, #1)Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”I’m a liar and a cheat and a coward, but I will never, ever, let a friend down. Unless of course not letting them down requires honesty, fair play or bravery.”

Prince Jalan Kendeth is tenth in line for the throne. His grandmother, the spry 70 year old Red Queen, may have prudently dropped him down the list due to a whole host of his self inflicted bouts of poor conduct. He doesn’t exactly stipulate his disgruntlement, but we get the idea that he believes he might be more deserving of, say, eighth in line. I think we can all agree though that several warm bodies between Jalan and the throne is an excellent idea.

As I’ve watched the Windsor boys grow up, one of the things that has always made me smile to think about is how much more fun Prince Harry can have being the spare rather than what Prince William can have being the heir presumptive. Prince Charles I always think of as the man who is still waiting. He is trying to live long enough to be king, but with each passing year he looks more and more fragile, while his mother, Queen Elizabeth, looks like she is good to go for decades yet.

Prince Jalan is even further removed from the throne than Prince Harry, though if William and Katherine keep having children, Harry might find himself someday in the double digits on the list of succession. Not a problem for Harry, and really, truth be known, Jalan doesn’t want the responsibility of...well...anything. He drinks too much when funds allow him. He gambles too recklessly whenever someone will extend him credit. He has one sore finger, barely healed, from the last time he didn’t pay his debts. He is glib of tongue and has hands that deftly survey the landscape of a woman’s body well before she has even decided yes or no. Jalan often finds himself making a mad dashes for freedom from a woman’s bed chamber, a half step ahead of her well armed and murderous relatives.

Jalan is not a very likeable person. He is not a very productive or useful person, and it isn’t such a bad thing that he is a natural born coward, but it is annoying that he constantly reminds us about his lack of courage. “Humanity can be divided into madmen and cowards. My personal tragedy is in being born into a world where sanity is held to be a character flaw.” After all, few of us know how we would react in the midst of a battle until we are actually in the middle of a conflict. I could see myself screaming and running as fast as I can in the other direction if I’m faced with a line of giant Vikings or even midget ninjas. Or I might be overcome with bloodlust and charge like a bloody fool with the intent of planting my battle axe into someone’s skull. I don’t know and frankly hope I never will, but if I proved cowardly, I would do my best to gloss over that detail.

My sneaking suspicion is that Jalan is not the coward he thinks he is. He just may not have encountered the proper motivation to be courageous.

His grandmother, the Red Queen, has a sister called the Silent Sister, who for whatever reason seems to have a special affinity for haunting Jalan. She gives him the heebie jeebies.

She turned that awful face towards me, one eye dark, the other milk and pearl. It had felt hot, suddenly, as if all the great hearths had roared into life with one scorching voice, sparked into fury on a fine summer’s day, the flames leaping from iron grates as if they wanted nothing more than to be amongst us.

She curses him. Well, in the Broken Empire how is one to know if someone cares for them if they don’t put a big, fat, nasty curse on them. This curse is a pairing curse, and Jalan finds himself with an albatross around his neck in the form of a Viking so large that he makes other Vikings look like underfed wastrels. His size is not the problem, but his desire to launch himself into the middle of every conflict he encounters is a huge problem. See, the curse doesn’t allow Jalan to ever be very far away from the Viking, so whenever Snorri Ver Sagason decides to make a mess of blood and guts out of someone or a whole tribe of someones, Jalan is forced to be right in the middle with him.

They must break this curse before Snorri gets Jalan killed!

Now this story is running parallel to the Broken Empire trilogy starring Jorg Ancrath. Jorg and Jalan exist in the same world, but that is about as much as they have in common, and in this book they even breath the same air for a very brief amount of time. The meeting that left me chortling was between Jalan and Katherine Ap Scorron, who has a relationship with Jorg Ancrath that would be labelled complicated on Facebook. I was already wincing before there was an audible double crack. “I've always felt that the placement of a man's testicles is an eloquent argument against intelligent design.” Jalan discovers that Katherine, despite how she looks, is not a hot house orchid waiting to be plucked by any random prince who happens to find her mildly attractive.

Despite his murderous tendencies, I warmed to Jorg rather quickly, but I found myself struggling to appreciate Jalan as much as I thought I should. He is honest about himself almost to a fault, but he lacks that ambitious drive that made me begrudgingly respect Jorg. The world that Mark Lawrence has created in the Broken Empire trilogy continues to be extended in Prince of Fools. I am certainly curious as to where Lawrence will take his characters next and what more he will reveal about this world forever altered by the explosions of thousands of suns.

I’ve officially called off the search and undisclosed reward I called for to find Mark Lawrence in my review of King of Thorns. My agents must have been getting close, despite the slippery cold warrior tactics of Mr. Lawrence because he finally capitulated and sent me a signed copy of Prince of Fools. Thank you, Mark, for your generosity, but really, was it the Nubian Nightmare or the Russian Wrecker who finally made the writing pen tremble in your hand?

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Snakewood by Adrian Selby

SnakewoodSnakewood by Adrian Selby
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ok, I am a bit torn, first of all, Snakewood has a extremely cool idea for a fantasy world, and then wrap it in one of the most difficult, obtuse ways to tell your story, in another words..not good.

I read reviews for this before hand, so I knew that it jumped perspectives and viewpoints so IF you go into the book with that in mind, it takes a bit of the edge off, but if you DON'T, you will drop it quick. That is a shame because there is hints of cool all throughout and I am intrigued once you get past the author trying to be all "fancypants" with his storytelling.

If you like the grimdark fantasy and willing to suffer a little bit, check this out, the story pacing is all over the damn place and there is NOT a likeable character in the bunch, there is a very interesting concept behind the world and honestly me being a world building freak, my three stars are almost solely based on it.

So dear readers, I leave the choice up to you, take a chance or not.

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Javelin Rain by Myke Cole

Javelin RainJavelin Rain by Myke Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First of all, The Shadow Ops books are automatic buys for me, and if you follow my ranting reviews you should have already read this series, and I will not spoil any of you slow arses who haven't yet. (so there)

Myke Cole's world and storytelling gets tighter, better and more bad ass with each book and how the HELL that's possible is beyond me. It is the perfect storm, the balance between strong well developed fantasy and sheer fist pumping badassness (that's not a word, I'm on a roll I don't care) Even though it is the middle book in this current trilogy it really doesn't in my opinion suffer from middle book syndrome, matter of fact, I think it is among if not his current best book.

Yes, I am a unabashed fan, and not objective at all, but if you want a terrific read for the upcoming summer months, go buy all the Shadow Ops books, give this man MONEY! He has stories to tell, and wargame stuff to buy. A strong 27 out of 5 stars from me! (common core math)

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Monday, March 28, 2016

Nothing Fishy About The Big Oyster

The Big Oyster: History on the Half ShellThe Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell by Mark Kurlansky
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The title of The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell is a nod to The Big Apple and could very well be considered a solid stand-alone history of New York itself.

Mark Kurlansky's book titles do not get the reader's blood pumping:


You'd half expect to fall asleep before finishing the intro. But keep pushing on and you'll find a highly enjoyable read filled with interesting facts. Seriously, Kurlansky can make oysters and cod interesting. That's impressive!

The Big Oyster takes us through the history of the oyster, its life cycle, its biology and its importance to mankind.*

That last topic mainly focuses on North America's relationship with the oyster and more specifically New York city's, for Manhattan and this particular shellfish are particularly linked in growth and decline. It doesn't seem to matter if you're a Wall Street fat-cat or a loincloth-wearing native, humans used and abused the little buggers. Though I enjoyed the detailed descriptions of both (with a great section on the "Gangs Of New York" Five Points area), it's the whens, hows, wheres, and what fors that make truly make The Big Oyster a fascinatingly good read!

* FUN FACT: Did you know pearls do not come from oysters?

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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Archie vs. Predator

Archie vs PredatorArchie vs Predator by Alex de Campi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Archie and the gang return from spring break in Costa Rica, a teenage Predator follows them back to Riverdale. Will anyone survive the carnage that ensues?

Confession time: I read my share of Archie comics when I was 11-12 and have much love for the Predator. How could I not give this a chance?

What do you get when you mix the saccharine, G-rated teen comedy of Archie with the wholesale carnage that is the Predator? You get a bizarre comic book the likes of which have never been seen!

The first issue was a little light on the Predator but had more blood than the all the previous Archie comics I've read combined. When the Predator gets to Riverdale and starts his mass decapitations, things get gory in a hurry. Seeing someone's head and spinal column get yanked off, drawn in the Archie style, is something to behold.

The body count is surprisingly high. Since it's not bound by the Archie continuity, whatever that is, no one is safe and very few people walk out alive. It's a surreal contrast to the never-changing, ever-teenage world of Archie I remember.

Four stars, mostly for the book's train wreck appeal. That's all I have to say about that.

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The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia

The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule HistoriaThe Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia by Patrick Thorpe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hyrule Historia is a book celebrating 25 years of Zelda games.

Confession time: I played a shit ton of video games from the age of 8 until sometime in my late twenties. A lot of that time was spent playing various Zelda games.

Hyrule Historia is packed with info about the various games, fitting them together in a nice chronology and explaining why almost every damn one features Link, Zelda, and Ganon, despite taking place at different points in the timeline. A lot of focus was put on The Skyward Sword, which was the most recent release at the time of this book's publication. It also made me want to buy a Wii on which to play it.

The games other than Skyward Sword were given a few pages each. Did you know Zelda was named after Zelda Fitzgerald? It was interesting to see how the games evolved over time and it made me want to fire up the N64 to play Majora's Mask again, which I did. Since I hadn't played it for almost fifteen years, it's like a whole new game!

The remainder of the book was unused concept art, which was very interesting, and some translated manga, which was kind of meh.

For the Zelda enthusiast, Hyrule Historia is a must have. Now if you'll excuse me, I have masks to collect.

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Ink and Shadows

Rhys Ford
DSP Publications
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars


Kismet Andreas lives in fear of the shadows.

For the young tattoo artist, the shadows hold more than darkness. He is certain of his insanity because the dark holds creatures and crawling things only he can see—monsters who hunt out the weak to eat their minds and souls, leaving behind only empty husks and despair.

And if there’s one thing Kismet fears more than being hunted—it’s the madness left in its wake.

The shadowy Veil is Mal’s home. As Pestilence, he is the youngest—and most inexperienced—of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, immortal manifestations resurrected to serve—and cull—mankind. Invisible to all but the dead and insane, the Four exist between the Veil and the mortal world, bound to their nearly eternal fate. Feared by other immortals, the Horsemen live in near solitude but Mal longs to know more than Death, War and Famine.

Mal longs to be… more human. To interact with someone other than lunatics or the deceased.

When Kismet rescues Mal from a shadowy attack, Pestilence is suddenly thrust into a vicious war—where mankind is the prize, and the only one who has faith in Mal is the human the other Horsemen believe is destined to die.

My Review

Having already read two Rhys Ford stories, I knew I was going to enjoy her first novel in a new urban fantasy series. I expected complex and believable characters, frenetic pacing, and a unique storyline. While the story mostly met my expectations, there were a lot of flaws that were difficult for me to overlook.

First, the pacing could have been more consistent. There was so much exposition in parts of the story that slowed my reading down enough that I had to set it aside and pick up something else. At times, the story moved along at such a blistering pace that I had to reread sections to make sure I didn’t miss anything important.

While I enjoyed the world building, imagery, grittiness, and horror elements, the wordiness and awkward sentences got to be wearisome, confusing, and painful at times. The shifting points of view made me dizzy and I often found it difficult to figure out which character was performing the action.

“Standing against one another in the kitchen, they touched casually, although Death was cautious, knowing Ari would take even the slightest hint of intimacy and run away with it. Ari had laid siege more than once around the dark-haired immortal, each time falling back and licking his wounds while promising never to approach again, then swearing under his breath when he renewed pursuit. Now they were at a rare peace, Ari circling and looking for an opening while Death was seemingly unaware.”

Rhys Ford knows how to write scary scenes and conjure horrific imagery. I really loved the descriptions of Kismet’s nightmarish, dreamlike paintings of the sinister characters that dwell behind The Veil and the believable portrayal of his struggle with the heroin that keeps those visions at bay. Unfortunately, The Veil is thinning and the shadows of the immortal world are clashing with humanity.

I loved the relationship and banter between The Four Horsemen – Death (Shi), War (Ari), Famine (Min), and Pestilence (Mal) and the human, Kismet. This is not a romance, though the budding friendship between Mal and Kismet and the love and respect between the two oldest Horsemen, Shi and Ari, lead me to think there will be some emphasis on the romance in future installments.

I appreciate the diversity of the characters and the inclusion of well-rounded women.

Despite the flaws in this story, I am invested enough in the characters and look forward to continuing the series.

Thursday, March 24, 2016


SnakewoodSnakewood by Adrian Selby
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Kailen's Twenty was a legendary group of mercenaries. They were so capable that whoever hired them won. Many years after they disbanded the members of the Twenty are being hunted down.

Promises of mystery, intrigue, and betrayal along with magic made Snakewood sound really interesting. Unfortunately those aspects weren't displayed in a compelling fashion. The story starts off with a scholar recounting various stories written with significantly different pacing. The choice to tell the story this way broke up any flow the story established. I personally feel this type of storytelling just hinders the success of first books in a series. The recounting of various stories and varied time periods is far more appropriate for a sequel, world book, or basically any story where the world is already established.

The story also bombarded the reader with terminology specific to the story with no explanation of what any of it means. The characters in Snakewood all utilize plants for a variety of purposes. A myriad of poisons are produced using the plants as everyone seems content to poison their adversaries. The characters also use a special drink called fightbrew to empower their fighters to battle. These brews take a toll on the users as their skin changes color from repeated use of the brew. I can imagine this being interesting with some early explanation, but the way things are explained just makes it all frustrating.

My biggest issue is that the general storytelling kept me from liking any of the characters. I can get past significant issues if I'm interested in the characters involved in the story, but when that's absent I quickly become disengaged.

In the end I have to say Snakewood wasn't for me.

1 out of 5 stars

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

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Ink Mage

Ink MageInk Mage by Victor Gischler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The city of Klaar is impregnable. It's Long Bridge and massive walls have never been bested by an enemy...until it was betrayed by one of their own. The Duke and Duchess were murdered, while their daughter Rina Veraiin was able to escape with the help of her bodyguard and teacher Kork. Kork following the Duke's last wishes takes Rina to an old mage who bestows upon her the special tattooed based magical power of an Ink Mage. Rina sets out to get help to reclaim her home.

When I read the synopsis for Ink Mage, it sounded interesting to me so I decided to give it a try. I didn't imagine I'd enjoy it as much as I did. Victor Gischler created an interesting world with compelling characters and amazing abilities.

By far the most interesting part of the story was the abilities of an Ink Mage. It's an old power that mages tattoo on people. A power source is tattooed on the back called a prime and additional tattoos can be added to provide different abilities. I've seen tattoos used to bestow power in other series, but never in such a unique fashion. It's somewhat akin to the wandering warriors from old stories who travel from master to master in search of new techniques. The difference is that instead of teaching techniques mages gift them to those seeking powers by tattooing them. No lessons needed really, it's simply a matter of gaining the tattoo and learning to wield the power.

The story is told from multiple point of views. The protagonists are the primary point of view characters, but the antagonists also receive point of view chapters from time to time. I enjoy having a story told by multiple characters, it gives a more diverse experience and allows the reader to really understand a multitude of characters rather than just one.

Ink Mage was perhaps one of the more sexually graphic fantasy novels I've read in a while. There is no fade to black when things get physical. There are quite a few of these scenes as a myriad of prostitutes appear throughout the story.

In the end I have to say Ink Mage was really a good story. I'm excited to read the sequel.

4 out of 5 stars

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

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016


American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964 by William Manchester
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”

 photo Douglas20MacArthur20West20Point_zpsczuluj8y.jpg
Douglas MacArthur at West Point. Following in his father’s footsteps.

The blare of trumpets, the clash of arms, the screams of the wounded, the bullets whizzing through the air, and the acrid smell of cannon smoke were all part of the life of Douglas MacArthur since the day he was born. His father’s exploits hung on him like a second skin. At the Battle of Missionary Ridge in 1862, Arthur MacArthur Jr. seized and carried the regimental standard to the top of the hill and planted it. He was 18 years old and 8 feet tall. By 19 he was a colonel. By 1899 he was a Brigadier General and at the Battle of Manila. In 1901 he was a Major General and appointed the Military Governor of the Philippines.

This is a lot to live up to. It is difficult, in some cases, to see the amount of influence a father has on his son, but in the case of the MacArthur’s, you don’t need much speculation. It would have been perfectly understandable if Douglas had decided to go into a profession that was different from his father’s, but in many ways they are cut from the same cloth. Douglas MacArthur’s own son, Arthur MacArthur IV, went his own way, a polar opposite direction from his father, even to the point of being a recluse and avoiding the spotlight his father craved so much.

 photo I20Will20Return_zpss36ap5h3.jpg
MacArthur’s famous ‘I will return’ photograph. He promised when he was forced to leave the Philippines that he would return and liberate that nation. He also knew a good photo opportunity when it saw one.

William Manchester’s book covers MacArthur from cradle to grave. Douglas was a momma’s boy, but in no way did that make him weak or unsure of himself. It did make him dependent for the rest of his life on other people to do those things for him that he didn’t want to take the time to do for himself. He was an avid reader and book collector. He added to his father’s library clear up until the time the collection was lost in Manila during the Japanese occupation during WW2. I cringed along with him at the descriptions of the books turned to charcoal. His second wife, Jean, was the perfect companion. She was with him as much as possible, even following him into war zones. She and his son were both trapped with him in the Philippines and were part of his daring escape. Jean was a wife, a mother, and a constant comfort to him.

 photo Douglas MacArthur world war one_zpsslfr5qzb.jpeg
Brigadier General Douglas MacArthur looking very comfortable with himself in 1918

MacArthur really became MacArthur on the battlefields of WW1. He was horrified by the slaughter and the useless losses of life due to the hubris or incompetence of commanding officers. He was a legitimate war hero, earning seven silver stars. By the end of his career he had been awarded almost every ribbon for heroism that was available. During WW2, troops, weary of the war and tired of being in harm’s way, referred to him as Dugout Doug, which is ironic given his propensity to put himself in harm's way needlessly. When he was asked about his insistence on remaining standing where bullets are flying by like buzzing bees or where bombs were exploding close enough to hear the whine of the shrapnel, his answer gives us a good idea of why he felt it was necessary: ”If I do it, the colonels will do it. If the colonels do it, the captains will do it, and so on.”

He is considered one of the best tacticians of World War Two. Where Ulysses S. Grant and George “Old Blood and Guts” Patton ground up soldiers in their command giving new definitions to the term cannon fodder, MacArthur developed campaign strategies with the intent of sparing as many GI lives as possible. His men killed ten Japanese soldiers for every one of their own they lost.

 photo MacArthur arriving in Japan_zpswbbcrxpd.jpg
MacArthur arriving in Japan to take charge.

His most remarkable work, in my opinion, was when he was overseeing the occupation of Japan from 1945-1951. He gave equal rights to women for the first time in the history of that country. He abolished adultery laws that were geared only towards punishing women. It has been estimated that he saved over 2.1 million Japanese lives with inoculations alone. He was more than a soldier during this time. He was a statesman. Though I may have questioned his ability to be POTUS in the past, after reading Manchester’s observations of his job performance during this period of time, I have reevaluated his qualifications.

MacArthur was beset with paranoia for most of his career. Some of it was based on fact. Some of it was just a highly intelligent brain with too much time to think about why he was passed over for a promotion or how a man who was once an assistant on his staff (Dwight D. Eisenhower) became his boss. I think part of the issue that MacArthur had with Washington and the presidents he served is the amount of time he spent overseas away from the politics. He was getting most of his information second hand or from telegrams that don’t always convey the full meaning of what someone means. It is so much easier to mislead yourself on what someone thought when you are reading a telegram much the same way we misinterpret text messages or emails. The human face to face element is missing and so much communication is lost when you can’t read the other person’s facial expressions.

For the most part, Washington and the command staff of the army were hands off in regards to MacArthur. He was able to do what he wanted to do and, generally, with a lot less in regards to supplies than say the generals operating in the European sector of the war.

 photo Douglas20MacArthur20Korean20War_zpsonzsqzxc.jpg
MacArthur still exudes that same confidence and swagger in Korea that we see in his face as a young man in World War One.

I’ve always been a bit hazy on what happened in Korea. Manchester is enamoured with his subject so he may have put a rather rosy spin on these events. It was the first modern war that the United States fought that was not really a war, but those now dreaded words... policing action. It is a first cousin to conflicts in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, to name a few, that the United States have continued to mire themselves in clear up to present history. In World War Two objectives were clear--destroy the enemy and push them back to where they came from. In Korea, politics played such a heavy hand. The war became more about the struggles between politicians in China and the United States. The Koreans were pawns in a much larger conflict between communism and capitalism.

Terms like 38th parallel became phrases that Americans became familiar with.

 photo 38th20Parallel_zps1shfsx9j.jpg

Manchester makes the case that a lot of the problems between MacArthur and President Truman stemmed from the fact that no clear objective had been handed down to MacArthur. What is considered a win? What are the objectives? I think that Truman was unsure about the right answers to those questions. I don’t think anyone expected as many Chinese to pour across the border in defense of the North Koreans either which changed the whole complexity of the situation and bordered on beginning World War Three. My uncle was in that war, and he described to me scenes of unarmed Chinese running behind the Chinese soldiers who had rifles, waiting to pick up their weapon when they were killed.

Crazy right? A type of crazy that is somehow sane in a country with people to spare.

He also told me about capturing Chinese “soldiers” dressed in rags, without wearing any shoes in temperatures below zero. The GIs would give them clothes and boots and as the trucks would leave to transport them to a prisoner-of-war camp, coats, shirts, pants, socks, and boots would come flying out of the back of the truck, out of ignorant fear that the US was merely trying to contaminate them with some deadly disease.

It was unnerving to be fighting people who were seemingly unhinged.

I can remember how irritated I was by the Rolling Stone article that lead to President Obama dismissing General Stanley A. McChrystal. Of course, it wasn’t difficult to draw comparisons to Truman’s dismissal of MacArthur in Korea. It was a very unpopular decision with the American public. In fact, Truman’s approval rating fell to 22%, which is still the lowest rating ever of a sitting president.

I think the problem lies in the amount of power that a commander has, running a war a long ways away from the civilian power in government. He has autonomy, and for most of MacArthur’s career, the president and joint chiefs of staff were willing to let him have as much power as he felt he needed. Korea was a political war, which also means that politicians were more concerned about everything regarding that war. They are worried about perception as much as they are worried about winning. Roosevelt was a man so comfortable in his own skin and also shared so many natural characteristics with the dramatic MacArthur that he could have probably handled the situation without creating a political nightmare for himself at home. Truman made assumptions about MacArthur’s intentions that also showed his own insecurities with his own political power.

MacArthur was wrong to embarrass Truman by communicating with Congress, but I really feel that he was trying to get some definitive answers about the overall objective they were fighting for in Korea. He wanted to make sure his boys were dying for the right cause. MacArthur might have been talking about WW1 when he made this statement, but it applied equally well to Korea. ”It’s the orders you disobey that make you famous.” Unfortunately, his dismissal from Korea cast a long shadow over a brilliant career.

MacArthur impressed me again in his twilight years when he begged President Johnson not to escalate Vietnam. He took one last stab at saving thousands of American lives, but unfortunately, Johnson was too insecure not to “stand up” to communism in Southeast Asia.

 photo Douglas20MacArthur20Statue_zpspuuu5vzj.jpg
Statue of MacArthur at West Point.

There is always an ending, and MacArthur had one last chance to embrace the pageantry.

”I’m closing my fifty-two years of military service. When I joined the Army, even before the turn of the century, it was the fulfillment of all my boyish hopes and dreams. The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on the Plain at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have long since vanished. But I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed, most proudly, that ‘Old soldiers never die. They just fade away.’ And like the soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty.’ The word was a hush: ‘Goodbye’.

After spending several weeks with Douglas MacArthur, I have to say that when I read his farewell speech I had a lump in my throat.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Brotherhood of the Wheel by R.S. Belcher

The Brotherhood of the WheelThe Brotherhood of the Wheel by R.S. Belcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I want more of this yesterday.

Urban fantasy done absolutely 130 percent correctly, tons of action, fun, great characters I cared about, and a world that hinted at much deeper (which by God, he better go back to)

This tale rocked pretty much from top to bottom, seriously took me about 2 days to read. My issues are few, I only docked it one star, this was mainly due to how things wrapped up. The final act was a bit too tidy and clean, but considering I hope this is a new series, it's easily forgiven.

go buy this and buy Nightwise too, pay Mr. Belcher so he can feed my jones with new stuff.

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The Fireman by Joe Hill

The FiremanThe Fireman by Joe Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read a ARC of this, and I am a bit torn. First of all, Joe Hill can WRITE, (well duh..) I enjoyed this book cover to cover, I loved the concept, I loved the characters, the dialogue was crisp and realistic, and the world was deep and very interesting. These are all things, checkmarks for me wanting to read your stuff and buy your book.

He hits them all, and goes way above the mark in all counts, so Kevin, you ask, what's the damn problem?

In my opinion, it all feels too familiar, Mr. Hill's writing for obvious reasons, bears a bit of his famous father's footprint. The Fireman is a great read, and will be a great movie or television show or whatever option it has already gotten from Hollywood. It is worth your time and money, but can you read it without feeling deja vu? no..

take that as you will, the strength of the story is worth the read.

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Monday, March 21, 2016

A Bit of Fry and...Fry

Fry's English Delight: Series 1 (Fry's English Delight, #1)Fry's English Delight: Series 1 by Stephen Fry
Audiobook Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've loved Stephen Fry since the days when I discovered the Blackadder series, so I had to have a listen to these audiobooks, even if the subject matter is a little boring.

I doubt this will appeal to most people. It's about words and language, where they come from, what their meanings are, and why they exist. Writers and readers, that might be the limited audience scope for this.

Series 1 deals with puns, quotations, metaphors and clichés. I have a love-hate relationship to all of these language forms. Hearing their origins and such was really interesting to me. However, even I found it hard to be fully engaged through out, so I can't imagine someone who's not interested in the wordsmith arts having any interest in this whatsoever.

Fry does an excellent job guiding us through the many interviews and soundbytes used herein. The writing is quite clever as well. All in all, this is good stuff for the very few who go in for it.

Fry's English Delight: Series 2 (Fry's English Delight, #2)Fry's English Delight: Series 2 by Stephen Fry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm a big PG Wodehouse fan and his Jeeves & Wooster series is my favorite of the many...lord have mercy!...the many books he wrote over a long career. There have been numerous attempts to turn Wodehouse's work into tv shows and pretty much all have failed, at least on some level. The best attempt was a version of Jeeves & Wooster starring Hugh Laurie of "House" and his long time comedy partner, Stephen Fry. Fry's Jeeves is spot on.


It's for this reason and many of his other great performances that I love this man and will watch or read anything by him.

So, that leads us to Fry's English Delight a brainy series about the English language. Not exactly a riveting topic for most, but like I said, I'm a Frynatic. I'm also an avid reader and writer, which are really the only kind of people I could envision this series appealing to.

Series 2 includes talk on jargon, elocution, accents, spelling, gibberish and more. Interesting topics with entertainment value. Well produced. Witty stuff from Fry as usual.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Star Wars, Vol. 1: Skywalker Strikes

Star Wars, Vol. 1: Skywalker StrikesStar Wars, Vol. 1: Skywalker Strikes by Jason Aaron
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the aftermath of A New Hope, The Rebellion is struggling to get along. When Luke Skywalker comes face to face with Darth Vader on a raid, his destiny takes a turn. Who will the Empire send after him? And who is the mysterious woman stalking Han Solo?

Imagine my surprise when I returned from the inescapable Christmas morass to find this sitting in my cube.

Confession time: There were several times in my life when I binged on everything Star Wars. I've got a hundred or so action figures in a box in my basement and I've read quite a few of the Expanded Universe novels. I wasn't planning on reading this since I thought Dark Empire and Dark Empire II sucked and haven't been up for Star Wars comics much after that.

Jason Aaron's tale hit all the right beats and actually felt like a Star Wars comic rather than a comic that happened to have Star Wars characters in it. I liked the Boba Fett subplot but I loved the revelation of who was stalking Han Solo. I thought there may have been a few too many shout outs to Return of the Jedi, though, with the speeder bikes and the garb that resembled Lando's disguise.

John Cassady's artwork was spot-on for the most part, although I thought his Darth Vader could use a little work. He did a good job on the Big Three's faces, however, and did a great job on the action.

Overall, I think this volume did a good job at building the beginning of the bridge between Episodes IV and V and I'll be ready to take on more, should they cross my path. 3.5 out of 5. The Force is strong with this one.

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Friday, March 18, 2016

The Merit Birds

Kelley Powell
Dundurn Press
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars


Eighteen-year-old Cam Scott is angry. He s angry about his absent dad, he s angry about being angry, and he s angry that he has had to give up his Ottawa basketball team to follow his mom to her new job in Vientiane, Laos. However, Cam s anger begins to melt under the Southeast Asian sun as he finds friendship with his neighbour, Somchai, and gradually falls in love with Nok, who teaches him about building merit, or karma, by doing good deeds, such as purchasing caged merit birds.
Tragedy strikes and Cam finds himself falsely accused of a crime. His freedom depends on a person he s never met. A person who knows that the only way to restore his merit is to confess. "The Merit Birds" blends action, suspense, and humour in a far-off land where things seem so different, yet deep down are so much the same.

My Review

I read this book while on vacation in Puerto Rico, so it was very easy for me to get accustomed to the tropical climate of Vientiane, Laos and get absorbed by the foreign setting and cast of compelling characters.

There was Cam, an 18-year-old Canadian who is angry about his mother’s decision to change jobs and live in Laos for a year. There was Somchai, Cam’s neighbor and first friend in Laos. There was Nok, a masseuse struggling to support herself and her brother, Seng, while gradually developing a friendship with Cam, who is one of her clients. There was Seng, a street vendor who desperately wants to go to America.

This is Cam’s story. While we get his perspective of events, we also get a glimpse of Laos and its inhabitants through the eyes of the secondary characters. There is beauty and warmth, but also incredible pain and hardship.

As Cam grows more accustomed to his environment and his life becomes intertwined with those of Somchai, Nok, and Seng, he begins to mature, even as a tragic event complicates all their lives.

This is a lovely, descriptive story about the importance of family, friendship and community that starts at a leisurely pace, picks up speed toward the conclusion, and ends on a satisfying note.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Tale of Light and Shadow

A Tale of Light and ShadowA Tale of Light and Shadow by Jacob Gowans
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Henry is a wealthy carpenter who wishes to marry the Isabelle from a pauper noble family. There is genuine love between the two, but unfortunately there is also a heinously evil father Lord Oslan between them. Lord Oslan is prideful, poor, and has no friends. For some reason he worries about what people think of him, but the truth is everyone who knows him hates him. Since Henry isn't a noble despite his wealth and the dowry he'd pay for Isabelle, Lord Oslan refuses to give Henry the right to marry Isabelle.

So A Tale of Light and Shadow isn't what I was expecting. I read the short story The Fool and the Dragonox and I was expecting at the very least more magical creatures, but sadly there weren't any. There is the slightest hints of magic with a tiny bit displayed, but it seems rather worthless. The story could basically be summed up as evil noble Dad literally ruins his daughters life. The betrayed lovers along with their friends and family run away to save Henry and Isabelle's love and all their lives.

It has been a while since I've encountered mustache twirling tie a girl to the train tracks kind of villains, but this story has two of them. I can not express enough how evil these two men actually are. Maybe no one hugged them as children or perhaps they needed to be spanked, but these guys are monsters.

One of the things that bothered me is how dumb can protagonists be. How many times does someone have to try to kill you before you stop trusting the kind things they say? For me I think once would probably be enough, but perhaps under the craziest of circumstances twice. Henry and Isabelle have that doe eyed naivete that makes you want to smack them for their sakes. They trust the evil Dad and listen to their friends when the say just hear him out or give it a try. If that's me I'm saying "do you even listen to me? That fool tried to kill me and you are saying hear him out??? You must have lost your d**n minds." But that's not Henry and Isabelle.

So the majority of the book is spent with our heroes running away. Which is awesome to read about. It's my own fault I knew the story was about a carpenter I guess I just thought he'd get powers or powerful friends. I know they say don't judge a book by the cover, but I thought the back cover was a safe haven from that counsel.

The back cover says:

An Emperor Hunts Them. (That's true)
A Dark Prophecy Betrays Them. (I must have missed that)
An Epic Journey Awaits Them. (Agree to disagree)
Six friends embark on a quest against insurmountable odds. (That's mostly true)
Only love and friendship can save them (Yet to be proven true or false)

The back cover gave me a politicians answer. Kind of true, somewhat true, some truth in it, but not 100% true.

A Tale of Light and Shadow was a disappointment and I don't imagine I'll continue with the series.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016


Missing, PresumedMissing, Presumed by Susie Steiner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”Misanthrope, staring down the barrel of childlessness. Yawning ability to find fault. Can give off WoD (Whiff of Desperation). A vast, bottomless galaxy of loneliness. Educated: to an intimidating degree. Willing to hide this. Prone to tears. Can be needy. Often found googling ‘having a baby at 40.’

Age: 39

Looking for: book-reading philanthropist with psychotherapy training who can put up shelves. Can wear glasses (relaxed about this).

Dislikes: most of the fucktards I meet on the internet.”

Detective Manon Bradshaw did not post this rather honest dating assessment to her profile. After all, the purpose of a profile is to actually convince men to contact her. No, she cut and pasted another woman’s profile that she thought sounded enticing. She shaved a few years off her age, because she knows very well how desperate being single and 39 sounds to men because it sounds desperate to her, too.

When Cambridge student Edith Hind goes missing, you would think a case of this magnitude would allow Manon to set aside her own problems and throw herself into the task of finding this woman, but the insecurities, the loneliness, bleed into all aspects of her life.

She sometimes bursts into tears for no discernible reason.

The case is odd from the beginning. There is next to nothing to go on. There are no easy to grasp handles, no ready made suspects, and those few peripheral people of interest who can be loosely tied to Edith have iron clad alibis. Her father is a prominent surgeon named Ian Hind. Let me rephrase that her father is Sir Ian Hind and is a doctor for the ROYAL family.

Oh crap.

There is always pressure with a case like this. A beautiful, affluent, bright white girl goes missing, and the press is already up everyone’s nostrils for information, but then you add in a prominent family with ties to the Crown, and suddenly everyone has to think about more than just doing their job. They have to think about covering their arses. They have to think about the future of their careers. They have to consider that one misstep might have them brushing up their CVs for a career outside of government work.

A body washes up from the river, a young man, a young black man.

Somehow it seems tied into the disappearance of Edith Hind, but there are too many pieces missing from the puzzle. Drugs would be one angle, but according to everyone who knew her, drugs were not of interest. She did causes, not drugs. She was almost militant about saving the planet and participated in city lot gardens. She grew chard. She beat people over the head with chard. Look at me, I grow Chard! She was a self-serving narcissist.

Spoiled little rich girls have time to fuss around with growing chard in abandoned city lots, but most of the rest of the world has to spend their time worrying about making a living, or if you are a 39 year old police detective, finding yourself a man to make babies with. She finds a man, unexpectedly, the natural way but loses him over a few ill chosen words.

”One minute you are loved, and then you are not.”

We spend most of our time with Manon, but Susie Steiner also devotes chapters to the other characters, the members of the police team, the parents, Edith’s best friend Helena, and her handsome boyfriend Will. We meet Tony Wright, convicted rapist, who is a cool cucumber under interrogation. He knows something; everyone knows something, and slowly, methodically the pieces start to fall into place. This is such an authentic police procedural that I felt like a fledgling recruit for the Cambridgeshire Police Department.

The characters are all fully developed. Within a few chapters, I felt like I knew Manon, that I could pop down the street and take her out for a beer so she could cry on my shoulder about the latest bloke she met online. Edith’s mother Miriam is particularly well drawn.

”He has been crying in his study. She heard him on her way up the stairs an hour ago, had stopped, one hand on the banister, curious to hear his upset expressed. Man sobs are so uncommon, they were quite interesting. His were strangulated, as if his tears were out to choke him. Hers come unbidden, like a flood, dissolving her outline, and it’s as if she has failed to stand up to them. A weakness of tears.”

Miriam feels weak, but she will prove to be strong. ”Fear is physical.”

The depth of the characters is impressive. Steiner reveals their souls and clothes them in truths.

This book transcends genre. To call it a mystery or a detective novel or a thriller is too restrictive. This is a book that will appeal to readers who want more than just a clever plot or a likeable protagonist. This book has those qualities, but also has lyrical, insightful, honest writing that insures that you will be thinking about this book and these people for a long, long time. There is a twist that will knock you on your arse, and then just as you stumble to your feet, the second twist will knock you back down again. It’s ok though because you will probably need a few minutes of staring at the ceiling, letting these revelations unravel what you thought was true and start a new strand of understanding.

The buzz is going to grow as more and more readers discover this book, so put a kettle on, put out a plate of cookies, and let yourself become part of the buzz.

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HHhH by Laurent Binet

HHhHHHhH by Laurent Binet
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”This is what I think: inventing a character in order to understand historical facts is like fabricating evidence. Or rather, in the words of my brother-in-law, with whom I’ve discussed all this: It’s like planting false proof at a crime scene where the floor is already strewn with incriminating evidence.

 photo heydrich_zpsfyy8klq1.jpg
I don’t know how to describe him any other way except that he has a punchable face.

This is a book with a plot ensnared in the arduous process of conceiving a historical novel. Laurent Binet is writing about the assassination of the Nazi Reinhard Heydrich and the men who killed him in Prague. Binet shares with us the concerns he has with taking too many liberties with what is known truth and what are his reasonable speculations. Was Heydrich riding in a forest green car or was it black? Does it matter?

His girlfriend Natacha reads the chapters as he writes them. She is involved in the process to call him to task whenever he breaks one of his own rules about writing historical fiction. ”When she reaches the second sentence, she exclaims: ‘What do you mean, “the blood rises to his cheeks and he feels his brain swell inside his skull”? You’re making it up!’”

He sheepishly deletes the line, but then later in the day he puts it back in because every other line he tries to replace it with lacks... precision. Oscar Wilde has that famous quote regarding this exact predicament: “I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”

Of course, Binet doesn’t know exactly how Heydrich may have reacted to a piece of bad news, but he does know that, given what he has read about him, more than likely anger, dark consuming anger, is the only way that someone, especially as disturbed and self-absorbed as Heydrich, could react. He was picked on as a child. He was called ‘the goat’ due to his appearance and his awkward sounding voice. The anger against humanity could have begun there. The question is, did his childish tormentors create him or did they sense on some feral level that he was going to be the architect of something evil? No one could have guessed the magnitude of the holocaust that he was going to unleash. He acquired many more nicknames once he found his home in the Nazi party: ”the Hangman, the butcher, the Blond Beast, and---this one given by Adolf Hitler himself---the Man with the Iron heart.”

The Nazi party attracted the outcasts, the angry, the perverted, and the brilliantly demented. They were men who wanted to have power over people and dreamed up creative ways to hurt them, but even among them, Hitler had to look for a man cold and calloused enough to exterminate legions.

Reinhard Heydrich was the perfect man for the job.

I want to return for a moment to Binet’s struggles with speculating about Heydrich’s physical reaction to a particular piece of bad news. Nonfiction in many ways fails to tell the truth by the very process of stripping away all the elements that are not known. We know that things are discussed, but usually those dialogues are not recorded for posterity. A good writer will read everything he can find on a historical person he plans to use in a novel. She will read everything she can find about the period. He will read letters and diaries to glean bits and pieces of information that will lend more authenticity to his novel. She will know the type of pen that was in the hand of a letter writer or the shapes of stains on the walls of a prison cell or the color of frilly underwear a mistress wore for her German lover.

When a writer has done this much research, he knows instinctively (although still subjectively) how a historical figure will react to a situation. Reasonably accurate dialogue can be written, most assuredly better written than the original discussion. The point of historical fiction is to make people come alive more than what can be accomplished by staying strictly within the facts of what is known.

I do appreciate it when a fiction writer does not alter events known to be true. Though even that I can forgive if they notate those deviations in the forward.

 photo Heydrich20Car_zps55cm1onl.jpg
Was the car dark green or was it black?

Reinhard Heydrich is a man ripe for assassination. He is careless and frequently seen riding around Prague in a convertible car without bodyguards. The people who know him despise him, and the rest of the world would, too, if they knew what he was doing. ”Heydrich is well aware that everyone considers him the most dangerous man in the Reich, and it’s a source of vanity for him, but he also knows that if all the Nazi dignitaries court him so insistently, it is above all to try to weaken Himmler, his boss. Heydrich is an instrument for these men, not yet a rival. It’s true that in the devilish duo he forms with Himmler, he is thought to be the brains. (‘HHhH,’ they say in the SS: Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich---Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich.’), but he is still only the right-hand man, the subordinate, the number two.”

He is dangerous because he is ambition twined with ruthlessness.

Binet will introduce us to the assassins. They are men from Czechoslovakia and Slovakia, who are willing to risk their lives parachuting back into enemy territory to kill a man responsible for so much misery. As he gets to know them, he becomes attached to them. He wants to save them. He wants to write their life after their acts of heroism. He could create a hidden door that will allow them to escape. He could change the circumstances and give them a chance to fight their way clear...but then that would be breaking the rules.

 photo kubis_gabcik_zpsr7a4r6lw.jpg
Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, young men who proved too much for Heydrich.

I remember years ago H. W. Brands, who frequently shows up on the History Channel, was discussing the death of Lincoln. He must have been researching him for his Ulysses S. Grant biography, but one of the things that he talked about that really stuck with me was that he found himself tearing up as he wrote about the assassination of Lincoln. That event that he knew so well still inspired an emotional reaction in him that caught him by surprise. As writers, we would love to write a new ending, but of course, in the case of Lincoln, he couldn’t have died at a better time to insure his legacy.

This book was a constant struggle to write. Binet tries to adhere to his own self-imposed rules. He questions everything he has written. He wants to do it right. His perspective outside of the novel shifts. I can relate to that. I question my life all the time. Why do I do this? Why don’t I do that? Is what I write really worthwhile? Will someone see through the facade and ridicule me? Am I worthy of the subject?

”When I watch the news, when I read the paper, when I meet people, when I hang out with friends and acquaintances, when I see how each of us struggles, as best we can, through life’s absurd meanderings, I think that the world is ridiculous, moving, and cruel. The same is true of this book: the story is cruel, the protagonists are moving, and I am ridiculous. But I am in Prague.”

I am frequently ridiculous.

I want to close with one last quote from Binet about the responsibility that writers feel for those they leave in the shadows.

”Worn-out by my muddled efforts to salute these people, I tremble with guilt at the thought of all those hundreds, those thousands, whom I have allowed to die in anonymity. But I want to believe that people exist even if we don’t speak of them.”

Sometimes though, a writer can pluck a person, let’s say one who is buried in an unmarked grave with 33,771 other Jews in Kiev, and sheath him in flesh, pump blood into his veins, and free his tongue so he can tell a story left untold.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Avengers vol 1 : Avengers World by Jonathan Hickman, Jerome Opeña (Illustrator), Adam Kubert (Illustrator)

Avengers, Vol. 1: Avengers WorldAvengers, Vol. 1: Avengers World by Jonathan Hickman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is how you do big ideas and play "long ball" story telling in mainstream comics, I love the form, and as a lifelong fan (at least 35 years) I understand the constant rebooting of comic lines, sales are key.

But you remember when story and art were key? Mr. Hickman's Avengers is my second favorite Avengers story, It nails characters, it spans worlds, great dialogue, great action and all around worth reading.

Read the whole story, start with one read it till the end, pick up New Avengers and Ultimate Avengers too, I shall not steer you wrong.

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The United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas

United States of JapanUnited States of Japan by Peter Tieryas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brilliantly powerful alt history tale that is pure brutal energy from start to finish. I loved alternate histories as a kid, but unfortunately my library carried little beyond Harry Turtledove, (no slight to the man, but as a massive young consumer of books, it got old fast.)

Fast paced, great characters, broken messed up people that even with flaws you care for. It is amazing at the total change of the world with just minor changes in history.

If you want to peer behind the curtain, this a buy for you, see what could of have been. Small warning, there are several extreme cases of violence and horrible acts in this story, so if that's a sticking point with you, consider yourself warned.

great story, will check out more from Mr. Tieyras

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Whimsy and Soda

Whimsy & SodaWhimsy & Soda by Matthew David Brozik
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whimsy & Soda is a collection of bizarre Jeeves and Wooster pastiches.

By and By, Bertie: Bertie wakes up from a bender at the Drones club to find he's a parrot. Can Jeeves return him to normal?

The opening tale sets the tone for the collection. Brozik does a great job of capturing Wooster's voice and Jeeves' mannerisms.

G.E.V.E.: Jeeves goes on vacation, leaving Bertie in the care of a robot butler. Will Bertie survive without Jeeves to get him out of the soup?

G.E.V.E. is a funny little tale. I loved that Rossum was his creator.

A Scandal in Bohemia: The King of Bohemia is being blackmailed by Irene Adler and comes to Bertie for assistance. Good thing Jeeves has been eating more fish than usual...

Jeeves cracks this case a lot quicker than Sherlock Holmes.

Bertie Wooster and the Offer of Admission: On his 11th birthday, Bertie Wooster gets invited to attend Frogparts academy.

Heh. Wooster could have been Harry Potter.

A Bertie of Very Little Brain: Fresh from a jaunt in Narnia, Wooster and Jeeves get saddled watching a familiar boy and his familiar teddy bear.

I knew where this was going when the author's name was A.A. Moon but it was still a fun little tale.

Bertie and Earnest: Bertie shares an apartment at 123 Sesame Street.

I never would have imagined a Wooster-Sesame Street crossover but it works.

Jeeves Your Own Adventure: A choose your own adventure starring you as Jeeves.

This one ended with me driving off without Wooster so I'm counting it as a win.

Back to the Wooster: Doctor Emmett Brown shows up at Wooster's door. Hilarity and time paradoxes ensue.

Great stuff. I love that Wodehouse himself is thrown into the mix.

Jeeves and the Immovable Object: Aunt Dahlia hires a scrivener to transcribe a manuscript and finds he won't leave the office once his job is done. Can Jeeves get rid of him?

Jeeves and Wooster go up against Bartleby, the Scrivener. Good stuff.

Ix-nay on the Roadway: Jeeves and Bertie pick up an odd pedestrian who was almost hit by a car.

Ford Prefect!

Jeeves and W--: Jeeves goes to Gotham City to attend to a certain millionaire playboy.

Yup. Jeeves and Batman.

The Painting of Bertram Wooster: The Jeeves and Wooster version of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

This review's gripping conclusion: I dug this collection as a hole. The stories captured the flavor of Jeeves and Wooster shorts while stirring in an extra dollop of weirdness. I'd like to see Brozik write another collection.

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Monday, March 14, 2016

Lost Interest in The Lost Spy

The Lost Spy: An American in Stalin's Secret ServiceThe Lost Spy: An American in Stalin's Secret Service by Andrew Meier
Review by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Lost Spy: An American in Stalin's Secret Service is a far more titillating title that what's between the covers.

This is the story of Isaiah Oggins, American/Russian Jew with Communist ideals and sympathies for the plight of oppressed workers. Very little is known about him, especially after he went underground overseas to work as a Communist spy. Oggins' wife is just as interesting and much of the book revolves around her story. It also spends a large number of pages on their sickly and crippled son Robin, a stamp collector and scholar who spent 40 years of his life studying medieval falconry...40 years of his life studying medieval falconry.

Everything about Oggins is/was/is hush-hush. He was a spy prior to WWII, he was a captive during the Cold War, and when the Americans showed interest in re-Patriating him, he was seen as too valuable and possibly damaging to the Soviet cause to be released. Like any spy, his operations were kept under wraps. When the USSR fell and their vast secret files were left open to the eyes of the world, some information was garnered. Then Russia went back to its old ways, closed the doors again and much spy-craft information from the period was once again hidden from view. No doubt certain governments obtained all the necessary info, but they're certainly not going to tip their hand for the likes of some random journalist looking to write a biography.

Perhaps the material is so lacking that nobody should've bothered attempting a book on the subject. Even as scant as the available material is, it still could've been handled better in more deft hands. For instance, there's a whole lotta flash backs and flash forwards goin' on here. Some heighten the tension and suspense, while some give away the ending and spoil what little thrill this story possesses.

The Lost Spy will be of interest almost solely to those who delve deeper than than average joe into the world of underground intelligence, and even they'll be hard-pressed to find this ho-hum book more than mildly satisfying.

Sunday, March 13, 2016


Alhazred: Author of the NecronomiconAlhazred: Author of the Necronomicon by Donald Tyson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Abdul Alhazred gets his lover, the daughter of the king, pregnant, he's forced to eat the roasted fetus, along with his own genitals. Mutilated and near death, he is left to die in the Empty Space, the great desert. But that is only the beginning of his journey to becoming the greatest necromancer in existence...

After reading Tales of Alhazred, I jumped at the chance to read this. Much like the time I drank a twelve pack of Angry Orchard, it was too much of a good thing.

Since I read Tales of Alhazred first, this book had a lot to live up to. Sure enough, it chronicled his meetings with Martala and Altrus, as well as his mutilation. Things hinted at in the collection of short stories were given life, like Alhazred's time with the ghouls.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. How could I not with its mixture of swords & sorcery and the Cthulhu mythos? Alhazred learns from a wide variety of teachers and gets into a wide variety of adventures. So why did I only give it a three?

It was too damn long! This could have easily been two or even three books. I feel like Cthulhu rose from his eternal slumber and went back to sleep in the time I was reading it. There were a lot of times I yearned for something major to happen. It probably would have worked best as a collection or two of short stories rather than the never-ending tale of wandering around the Middle East.

Three stars. I didn't like it as much as Tales of Alhazred but I'll read more of Alhazred's adventures at some point.

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Friday, March 11, 2016

Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again

Donald J. Trump
Threshold Editions
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars


Look at the state of the world right now. It’s a terrible mess, and that’s putting it mildly. There has never been a more dangerous time. The politicians and special interests in Washington, DC, are directly responsible for the mess we are in. So why should we continue listening to them?

It’s time to bring America back to its rightful owners—the American people.

I’m not going to play the same game politicians have been playing for decades—all talk, no action, while special interests and lobbyists dictate our laws. I am shaking up the establishment on both sides of the political aisle because I can’t be bought. I want to bring America back, to make it great and prosperous again, and to be sure we are respected by our allies and feared by our adversaries.

It’s time for action. Americans are fed up with politics as usual. And they should be! In this book, I outline my vision to make America great again, including: how to fix our failing economy; how to reform health care so it is more efficient, cost-effective, and doesn’t alienate both doctors and patients; how to rebuild our military and start winning wars—instead of watching our enemies take over—while keeping our promises to our great veterans; how to ensure that our education system offers the resources that allow our students to compete internationally, so tomorrow’s jobseekers have the tools they need to succeed; and how to immediately bring jobs back to America by closing our doors to illegal immigrants, and pressuring businesses to produce their goods at home.

This book is my blueprint for how to Make America Great Again. It’s not hard. We just need someone with the courage to say what needs to be said. We won’t find that in Washington, DC.

My Review

I believe all politicians are liars and more concerned about their own careers than they are about their supporters, so I find reading these types of books a waste of time. I also generally lean to the left politically, although my views on certain issues may be considered centrist, or even right.

So I walked out of the library quietly, not making any eye contact with anyone, with this book surreptitiously tucked away in my jacket. When I got to my car, I tucked it under a plastic grocery bag, lest someone see it and vandalize my car.

While I’m mostly feeling the Bern, there are some things I actually like about Trump.

- He’s a successful businessman. Even though he has no political experience, he knows about running companies, managing people, and focusing on the big picture. He is also influential enough that he can get people to help him in those areas where he lacks knowledge.

- OK, I agree he’s crass, arrogant, and narcissistic, but I like that he’s challenging the stifling political correctness that hinders intelligent debates and instills fear in those who have opinions counter to prevailing wisdom.

- He has enough money not to have to rely on special interest groups.

- I believe he sincerely loves America and wants the best for it.

So read this book, or not. Aside from pontificating on his greatness, he actually says things that make sense and I can stand behind.

And there’s a cute picture of him as a little boy with blond hair and plump, kissable lips.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Eagle in Exile

Eagle in Exile: The Clash of Eagles Trilogy Book IIEagle in Exile: The Clash of Eagles Trilogy Book II by Alan Smale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the aftermath of the attack on Cahokia by the Iroqua, Gaius Marcellinus finds himself once again grieving over lives lost because of his decisions. While he grieves he realizes every Hesperian life lost weakens their chances of survival when Roman armies return. Gaius is committed to do whatever he physically can to protect Cahokia from all threats, especially Roma.

Eagle in Exile is in many ways the typical middle book in a series. There is a lot of setup, the pacing is slow, and many of the events don't feel all that meaningful. In many ways this book has made Gaius the Wanageeska into a Paul Revere of sorts going from place to place exclaiming, The Romans are coming, The Romans are coming. That's to be expected because that's undoubtedly one of the major points of the book, but that took the forefront for far too much of the book.

While I enjoy the concept of the book and some of the execution, there were some things that just bothered me. The primary point that bugged me is how Gaius could learn to love the people who slaughtered his friends and soldiers. I just don't understand how he could so deeply appreciate them after what they did to his legion.

The other point that bothered me is Sintikala and Gaius's budding relationship. I didn't think Gaius's interest was established well in the prior book and no additional time was spent in explaining why they clearly have feelings for one another.

The last quarter or so of Eagle in Exile was spilling over with excitement for me. The events at the ending really kept me engaged and interested. Despite significant tension and uncertainty, the events played out in a believable and enjoyable way. I really appreciated that because the author could have easily chosen quick unbelievable ways for the story to continue, but he faced the events of the book head on rather than slinking away.

Eagle in Exile was a solid sequel and I imagine fans of Clash of Eagles will enjoy it.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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

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A Crown for Cold Silver

A Crown for Cold SilverA Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Famed General Cobalt Zosia led her army into battle and overthrew an empire twenty years ago. Once there was nothing else to accomplish or conquer, she retired and faded into legend.

Now Zosia's husband and village were destroyed for no reason. She heads out to avenge her loved ones.

A Crown for Cold Silver quickly proved it was not a book for me. The writing style felt dull and uninspired. The characters were hardly believable and I didn't have any clue of what was happening in the world. I enjoy books where I can connect and relate with the characters, but such characters were absent for me.

I unfortunately didn't find any aspect of the book that caught my interest. The name choices were strange as well and I found myself guessing at how the majority of them were pronounced.

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

1 out of 5 stars

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Wednesday, March 9, 2016


Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair GameMoneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“The pleasure of rooting for Goliath is that you can expect to win. The pleasure of rooting for David is that, while you don’t know what to expect, you stand at least a chance of being inspired.”

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This book came out in 2003, and the movie version came out in 2011; yet, it is amazing to me that despite the success shown by the Oakland As under the guidance of Billy Beane, baseball, for the most part, is still focusing on the wrong things. Just recently the manager of the New York Mets, Terry Collins, who commands one of the best teams in the world, said in an interview after the World Series:

“I’m not sure how much an old-school guy can add to the game today,’’ Collins told USA Today. “It’s become a young man’s game, especially with all of the technology stuff you’ve got to be involved in. I’m not very good at it. I don’t enjoy it like other people do. I’m not going to sit there today and look at all of these (expletive) numbers and try to predict this guy is going to be a great player. OPS this. OPS that. GPS. LCSs. DSDs. You know who has good numbers? Good (expletive) players.”

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Terry Collins said: “Shit Happens” at a press conference. Billy Beane must have rolled his eyes.

The MLB network show Hot Stove was incensed that Collins would make such a statement in this day and age, especially since they could track several “gut” decisions he made during the World Series that probably cost them a chance to win it. The most glaring error was when he decided to pull the pitcher, Matt Harvey, in the 9th inning of game five only to change his mind and send him back out there after Harvey complained. Collins looked into the player’s eyes and saw what he wanted to see. It was the third time through the order. Harvey had pitched brilliantly, but statistically, that bad word that Collins doesn’t like. When you look at the Royals, they get to pitchers late. The Royals got to Harvey and knocked him out of the game, which left a mess for Jeurys Familia to come into the game to try and save.

Royals Win!
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Eric Hosmer going off the Billy Beane script for success, but man, was it dramatic. I about had a heartattack.

The Royals deviate from Billy Beane ball at many junctures. One being the most dramatic play of the series when Eric Hosmer steals home. Beane does not believe in stealing bases, too risky, and if you steal a base on a Billy Beane team, you better make sure you are safe. The Royals also occasionally bunt to move a runner, which doesn’t fit the Beane philosophy. He believes in managing outs and never giving up an out to advance a runner. The Royals have speedy wheels and frequently turn bunts into base hits, which would probably keep them from finding themselves subjugated to a Billy Beane lecture. You can go off script, but just be right.

The Royals are a homegrown team. Most of the players have come from the farm club system, although they are a bit too athletic and good looking for a Billy Beane ball club. One of the things that Beane talks about is getting away from players who could sell jeans. He should know; he was one of those players that looked like a Greek God in a uniform. He was drafted in 1980 along with another phenom that even those people who don’t follow baseball probably recognize his name...Darryl Strawberry. Beane was an interesting enough prospect that, for a while, the Mets were even considering taking him in the draft first instead of Strawberry. Both were amazing specimens of what we want athletes to look like. The Mets ended up taking Beane, too, but with the 23rd pick. Beane had all the physical gifts to be successful, but sports is not just about the body; it is about the mind. Billy had a lot of expectations for himself, and those expectations became insecurities that eventually evolved into a gifted player being unable to play the game.

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Billy Beane on the verge of a stardom that somehow eluded him. He is exactly the player who Billy now tries to avoid.

He asked for a job in the As front office, and that began an odyssey in search of those players who were ”ballplayers”, not pretty head cases, not players that hit home runs and created RBIs, but players that could control the strike zone. As he tore apart the As organization, he got rid of the scouts who were still insisting on signing Apolloesque ballplayers and sold off overpriced talent. Ownership wasn’t giving him much money to work with anyway, so instead of buying expensive talent, he had to sell expensive talent and replace it with a motley group of players whom no one else wanted, but who had the one important element he wanted most, OPS (on base plus slugging), i.e. these guys knew how to get on base.

These players had a menagerie of interesting things wrong with them that had other clubs looking to get rid of them, which made them perfect for Billy Beane. One pitcher had club feet. They were below average fielders. They were overweight. They threw sidearm pitches. They were older players on their way out. They were players too green for any other team to consider playing them.

You can’t win with players like this!

Well, maybe you can. Exhibit A: The standings at the end of the season in the American League West in 2002.

Wins Losses Games Behind Payroll
Oakland 103 59 ---- $41,942,665
Anaheim 99 63 4 $62,757,041
Seattle 93 69 10 $86,084,710
Texas 72 90 31 $106,915,180

Now the interesting thing is notice the payroll compared to the wins. The more money a team spent the fewer games they won. If I had been the Texas Rangers owner, I’d be looking at these results and think to myself, What am I paying for?

Baseball is in love with RBIs and Home Runs. They think those are the things about baseball that put butts in seats. As the Royals made their way through the playoffs in the American league in 2015, they encountered two teams that depended on the home run to win ball games. The Royals hit 95 home runs in 2014, which placed them dead last at 30th among major league baseball teams. In 2015, they improved to 139 home runs, but were still 24th in the league. Their opponent in the playoffs in 2015, the Toronto Blue Jays, were 1st in all of major league baseball with 232 home runs. Their other opponent, the Houston Astros, hit 230 home runs and were second in the league for home runs.

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Jose Bautista hit several dramatic home runs in the playoffs, including the famous bat flip home run, but despite those fence clearing bombs, they were unable to advance in the playoffs.

Jacking up home runs might equal playoffs, but it doesn’t seem to equal winning world championships.

Even the Mets hit 177 home runs for 9th in the league. They did win the pennant, but still fell short of winning a world championship. To my eye, they are a more complete offensive ballclub than Houston or Toronto and will be contenders again this year, but not because they hit a lot of home runs.

So why is major league baseball so reluctant to embrace the philosophy of Moneyball? ”Anti-intellectual resentment is common in all of American life and it has many diverse expressions.” For instance, preferring high school players in the draft over college players, even though statistically college players do better. College athletes have played against stiffer competition. They have honed their skills. They have more reliable stats to give a general manager a better clue to how they will perform at the next level.

I admire the Mets. They are a terrific team. I still have a lot of nostalgia for Gary Carter and the Miracle Mets of 1986, and if the Royals hadn’t been playing against them last year, I would have been rooting for them in the World Series. I have to say that Terry Collins’ comments about basically comparing statistics to voodoo was disappointing to me. I don’t mean to pick on Collins, but his comments came after he made several decisions in the face of a pile of data to the contrary that probably cost his team at least a better chance to win the World Series. He is not alone. Baseball is still filled with owners, GMs, and managers who believe that home runs and RBIs are the most important statistics and the best way to win championships.

The Royals, after all, are an anomaly, right?

It was the same things teams were saying about the As in the early 2000s.

I think of all those ballplayers who really know how to play the game, who are stuck in the minor leagues because they hit too many singles or walked too many times, and didn’t launch enough missiles over the back fence.

I loved this book because I’m a fan of baseball, but the book had a much bigger impact on me. I started thinking about and applying Billy Beane principles to my own business. We are a company mired in traditions and traditional thinking and long overdue for an overhaul in philosophy to meet new challenges. Like all companies, we need to become more efficient, more lean, more targeted to what wins ball games rather than what creates a big splash. I’m buying copies of this book for the rest of the management staff, and we are going to talk about singles and doubles and managing our outs. Maybe we, too, can get our Royal on.

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