Thursday, June 30, 2016

Age of Myth

Age of Myth (The Legends of the First Empire #1)Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From a human perspective the Fhrey are gods. They appear to be immortal, they are unbeatable in battle, and they utilize magic no human can hope to match. All these notions are shattered like glass when a rock flies through it in the form of a human blade that kills a Fhrey. That blade was wielded by a young human man named Raithe. Raithe is now known as something else, the God Killer. The Fhrey not appreciating one of their own being killed by a filthy stinking rhune, retaliate by destroying two human villages and everyone in them. The Fhrey while never seeming so vulnerable, have never been so dangerous. What will happen to mankind when the Fhrey come to exterminate them?

Age of Myth was a really enjoyable book, but it was a slow start for me. Likely because I never read any of Michael J. Sullivan's Riyria stories other than a short story. Age of Myth and it's sequels are supposed to prequels of the Riyria series, but I can attest that no prior knowledge is necessary to enjoy this. The story started out slowly as one unfortunate event led to another, but it came together as the story continued. I saw more than a few familiar elements of other stories I enjoy in Age of Myth, but overall it was done in a way that was definitely enjoyable.

The rulers of the world in Age of Myth are the Fhrey. A Fhrey is blessed naturally with long life, so long in fact they appear to never age to humans. A normal Fhrey has proven to be far beyond a man's ability to fight, but there are even stronger Fhrey known as the Miralyith that use a magic called the Art to wield the forces of nature. Many of the Miralyith actually believe they are gods because of the seemingly unstoppable power they wield. The Fhrey seemed quite similar to Tolkien's elves from The Lord of the Rings. The Miralyith reminded me of mix the privileged from the Powder Mage series and elves. Utilizing the elements from the with their hands along with incredible arrogance are the two main qualities Privileged and Miralyith shared.

The story boasted some strong characters such as Raithe, Malcolm, Persephone, and Suri. They each played pivotal roles in the tale as it went on, but I'd like to focus on Suri. Suri was raised by a mystic that lived near the dahl, the ancient Tura. Because of this Suri doesn't understand much of the people of the dahl's ways. She thinks they are crazy to live in homes made of dead wood rather than in the forest with living trees that make great neighbors. She also believes when people say obvious things that they are playing a silly game. She immediately responds by saying something obvious as well. I'm not doing it justice, but it's clear that the clever young Suri thinks everyone from the dahl is a little bit off.

Age of Myth was a pleasant surprise. I will absolutely be looking forward to the next book in the series and I will have to find some time to read the Riyria series to better appreciate what's going on.

4 out of 5 stars

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

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Extraordinary X-Men Vol. 1: X-Haven

Extraordinary X-Men Vol. 1: X-HavenExtraordinary X-Men Vol. 1: X-Haven by Jeff Lemire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fate of mutantkind is once again in peril. The release of the terrigen cloud when Attilan fell has had unexpected consequences on mutants. The terrigen makes mutants sick with a disease called M-Pox. Storm has relocated the Jean Grey in order to protect as many mutants as possible from the cloud and the disease.
As always the X-Men can't simply hide themselves when something sinister is afoot.

I have to say my immediate thought when I heard the storyline for X-Haven was Marvel Studios was flexing their muscles with the Inhumans while casually threatening Fox that they can exterminate all the mutants from the comics. I can't say that there weren't moments that confirmed that thought, but I have to admit they did a good job with the story. An interesting group of X-Men were chosen with Storm as their leader and things get wilder as the story progresses.

While the disease and mutant extinction storylines are far from unique the world has changed due to Inhuman interference. They are mentioned everywhere and even when rampaging characters display crazy powers the question is now Inhuman or mutant. Thanks to the M-Pox mutants still are the more hated group though. Which seems unbelievable since the Inhumans were the cause of the terrigen cloud.

X-Haven was a good story and I look forward to where the Extraordinary X-Men head next.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016


The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil WarThe Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War by Victoria E. Bynum

”It was easy to see why the legend had endured. Its characters were larger than life: men bound to one another by kinship, economic status, and membership in a paramilitary band armed against the Confederacy; women equally bound by kinship and unfettered by the chains of ladylike behavior; and even some slaves, although Piney Woods, Mississippi was not a major slaveholding region. Towering above all other characters in popular memory were ‘Captain’ Newt Knight, the grandson of a slaveholder, and Rachel Knight, the slave of Newt’s grandfather. Their relationship added the specter of interracial intimacy to the story.”

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Newton Knight

There is a misconception regarding the County of Jones in Mississippi. Some think this county seceded from the Confederacy, but the real truth is they never left the Union. They remained loyal to their federal government, and some men even left to join the Union army, but a group of men, some deserters from the Confederate Army and some slaves, banded together to form a resistance to what they considered to be an invading force.

Rachel was a slave, a pretty woman with light skin. Her descendents tried to convince people that she was of Spanish heritage as a way to excuse her dark eyes, dark hair, and tinted complexion. It is all rubbish, of course, just people putting their racism on display when what they should be is feeling proud that, despite her circumstances, she became a woman to be reckoned with. Ethel Knight wrote a damning biography of Newt but maybe unintentionally revealed the more interesting part of the story. ”Ethel not only restored Rachel’s historical role, but she also unveiled a powerful, larger-than-life woman who had endured slavery, sexual exploitation, the Civil War Reconstruction, and Mississippi’s mounting campaign for white supremacy and racial segregation. Most strikingly, Rachel seemed to have had as much impact on the world around her as it had on her.”

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Rachel Knight

Rachel had three children before the Civil War; all the children were obviously from white fathers. As a slave, she didn’t have much choice who bent her over a table and flung her skirt up. The raping of female slaves was an epidemic in the South. ”Between 1890-1920 white Southern literature---especially newspapers---commonly portrayed interracial sexual relations as the product of sex-crazed black ‘fiends’ ravishing innocent, virginal blondes, rather than as the product of white men raping black women or of blacks and whites participating in consensual sexual relations.”

The interesting thing is, when these wealthy planters impregnated their slaves, they were condemning their own offspring to slavery. In their minds, they were helping to create more workers for their plantations. There is a disconnect in this reasoning that has me thinking that sex with their slaves, basically having a harem at their disposal, was more important to them than any thoughts of their own blood being condemned to a life in chains.

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I’m sure Hollywood, in the new movie starring Matthew Mcconaughey, will make it a love story between Newt and Rachel. The author Victoria E. Bynum doesn’t necessary disabuse that notion, but I couldn’t help thinking, was this love or was Rachel just being practical? White men found her attractive. Maybe she was with the alpha dog to keep from having to fend off the attentions of the other men. She had children with Newt, but what makes me feel a bit unsettled about buying the love story is that he also rumored to have had children with her daughter. What the heck was going on out there in the deep Mississippi woods? To further complicate the picture, he remained married to his wife Serena for the rest of his life.

Men joined Newt out of fear for their lives. They didn’t want to die on a battlefield, fighting Yankees for rich planters. It wasn’t exactly safe being with Newt’s band; many were caught and hung or shot. They were also suffering economic hardship from being away from their homes to go to war. When the Confederacy passed the Twenty Negro Law which allowed any Southerner with twenty or more slaves to leave the war to go home to help with harvest, it became clear to many men that the Confederate Government was only worried about the very richest of the rich. Does the man with twenty slaves really need to go home? It seems to me that this small demographic had plenty of help to bring in the harvest. It was the man with no slaves, with a wife and a passel load of children, who needed to go home to help.

Of course, the bulk of the soldiers were poor men with either a small acreage or were sharecroppers without land. If you let those guys go home, there would be no army. I know many thought they were going to war to defend their “raights,” but in reality they were fighting to defend a system in which they had no skin in the game.

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12.2% of the population of Jones County were slaves. This was the lowest percentage of any county in Mississippi. These were not men who aspired to be slave owners. Bynum traces back the history of these men as their ancestors came from Georgia and South Carolina to Mississippi to live simple lives and avoid the corruption of ”over civilisation.”

There was always something a little different about Jones County.

Victoria E. Bynum is descended from one of the men who joined Newt Knight in his armed resistance to the Confederacy. I’ve done some research on my own family, and one of the things that happens is that as you collect the data and begin to put together a picture of who your ancestors are, you start to change how you think about yourself. Discovering your roots is important, but there is always the risk that you will discover that you are descended from scalawags or unscrupulous men or a murderer. To me that just adds spice to the stew that is a family tree. Bynum confessed that, once she finished this book, she was going to miss living every day with these people who were so unique, so brave, and who resisted when many more should have.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Sudden Appearance of Hope By: Claire North

The Sudden Appearance of HopeThe Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am not sure what I expected reading this. A friend gave it to me and I, being the book hoarder I am..took it. I know a guy in the town I live in, due to reasons I don't fully know, can't remember anyone literally moments after he meets them, he writes you down in a notepad he keeps in his pocket, his condition absolutely horrifies and amazes me, I couldn't imagine it.

Hope, the character in this book, has sort of the reverse issue, after a short while, people forget her. I am not breaking my rule about spoilers..Hope takes her condition somewhat by the horns and the life she leads and the things that occur to her are heartbreaking and thought provoking and one of the more interesting tales I have picked up recently.

Check this out, and cheers to my friend who thought I would like it, I did.

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Dench Tells More

And FurthermoreAnd Furthermore by Judi Dench
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dramatic actors...they're so goddamn dramatic!

This auto/biography (told by her to a biographer, who patched it all together) mostly discusses Judi Dench's time in the theater, so there's plenty of scenes relayed about actors behaving badly. Not only actors, but directors as well...and it seemed to me, mostly men. I don't think Dench intended to bag on theater dudes. It just happens that, for some reason, the male of the species often acts atrociously towards their fellows. I think the embarrassingly obvious, child-like lies are the worst. But I digress. And Furthermore is so much more than all that pettiness.

This is at least Dench's second autobiography. I haven't read the first, but I'm led to believe it is more fleshed out, more of a standard biography. This book fills in some of the blanks missed in the first, apparently. However, it can be read as a standalone and still be enjoyable. I know my three star rating might seem low to some, but I did enjoy this. Contrary to my opening, I do like hearing the behind the scenes stories of what happens backstage or when the cameras aren't rolling, and Dench gives you countless such anecdotes, mostly on the kind, glowing, positive side.

The book reads generally in a linear timeline, starting with a few brief childhood recollections, slipping straight into the beginnings of her stage career - a long, varied and rewarding career - before diving into her movie work. Although she claims not to be adept at penning biographies, her joy and pleasure in acting is readily apparent in her words. If you've admired her work or even if you just have an interest in British theater over the past half century, you could do worse than flipping through these pages - pages and pages of which mention icon stage performances including countless Brit actors name-dropped like hot potatoes!


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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Honky Tonk Samurai

Honky Tonk SamuraiHonky Tonk Samurai by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When an old lady shoots some video of Leonard kicking the shit out of a dog abuser, she tasks Hap & Leonard with finding her missing grand daughter in exchange for not informing the authorities. Hap & Leonard are soon up to their eyebrows in a stew of blackmail, prostitutes, and a testicle taking killer called The Canceler...

The dynamic duo really stepped in a steaming pile in this one. Brett, Hap's girlfriend, bought Marvin Hanson's detective agency and the boys are now legit private eyes. Their first licensed case might be their last. Honky Tonk Samurai brings a few of the Hap & Leonard supporting cast members together like the A-Team. Jim Bob Luke, Cason, and Vanilla Ride all have pretty big roles as Hap and Leonard try to unravel the case. Booger, the newbie, was much more interesting than I originally thought. Complicating matters are a young woman who may be connected to Hap, bikers, the Dixie Mafia, the Barbecue King, and The Canceler.

This story is vintage Lansdale. The jokes are hilarious, the writing is crisp, and the violence is gore-soaked. Since it's Hap and Leonard we're talking about, I knew asses would be kicked and shots would be fired but the climax was even more than I expected.

Honky Tonk Samurai is much beefier than the previous two H&L outings but Lansdale's latest tale is balls to the wall for much of its 350 pages. I lost track of all the quotable lines I meant to remember in the mad rush to the end.

While the climax was great, one of the twists nearly had me shitting myself. One of my few complaints with the series is that all the wisecracking makes you forget lives are at stake. No more! The book left so many unanswered questions that I hope the next Hap & Leonard book is already at the press.

Four out of five stars. If you can handle 350 pages of pure Mojo, get it now!

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Miracleman, Book Three: Olympus

Miracleman, Book Three: OlympusMiracleman, Book Three: Olympus by Alan Moore
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Aliens come looking for Miracleman. Winter, Miracleman's daughter, begins speaking before she's a month old. Miraclewoman makes her presence known. Kid Miracleman returns. A utopia is created.

The third Miracleman volume is kind of a disappointment. Firstly, it's a wordy son of a bitch, huge blocks of purple prose on every page. Secondly, apart from Kid Miracleman returning, it's pretty damn boring. Utopia is just as uninteresting as it sounds. Not only that, Miracleman went from being a revisionist Captain Marvel character that was bursting with potential to looking more like his ancestor, Superman.

All that being said, it's still an interesting piece of comic book history and asks the same question as the Squadron Supreme miniseries that came out shortly after this. What would happen if the superheroes took over the world? Too bad what Miracleman, Miraclewoman, and the Warpsmiths cook up is on the bland side. Two out of five stars.

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Scared Stiff

Sara Latta
Zest Books
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


Everyone knows what it is to be afraid. But phobias take the normal (and even helpful!) human emotion of fear to a much more visceral, even primal, place. For some people, it’s a spider that does it. For others it’s a clown, or a trans-Atlantic flight, or even just a puddle of water. It’s the thing that stops us in our tracks, sets our hearts racing, and stands our hairs on end. Scared Stiff takes readers on a journey through these experiences—using biology, psychology, and history (not to mention pop culture) to explain where our phobias came from, how they affect us, and how we might eventually overcome them.

Inside You’ll Also Find:

✳ An explanation of the history behind each of these fifty phobias, and a discussion of notable people who have suffered from the fear
✳ Sidebars that highlight famous phobic moments from history and pop culture
✳ Updates on how successful the various phobia treatments have been

Phobias are no laughing matter, but sometimes the first step to overcoming our anxiety is understanding that sometimes we’re afraid of some really weird things. So whether you’re looking for perspective, information, or just want to know what keeps Madonna and David Beckham up at night, this is the book for you. (Bibliophobes, however, should probably keep their distance!)

My Review

This is a fun and easy-to-read guide on 50 different types of phobias.

The phobias are listed in alphabetical order and include the Greek and Latin terms from which they originate. There are interesting little tidbits of information along with quotes and a mention of phobic celebrities.

Author Libba Bray is afraid of dolls (pediophobia). Stephen King says, “Dolls with no little girls around to mind them are sort of creepy under any conditions.” I’m a little disappointed that Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter’s pediophobia was not mentioned, nor the fact that he gave it to his character, Tig.

I was familiar with many of the phobias, because I have mild versions of two of them and know people (or read about people) with some of the others.

My discomfort with large, crowded spaces (agoraphobia) can probably be attributed to a trip with my dad to the Bronx Zoo when I was 8 years old. He held my hand most of the time, but let me go while he was taking pictures. A large group of kids crowded in front of the elephants my dad was photographing and we ended up getting separated. I panicked when I couldn’t see him, so I tried to get around the kids. A man walking ahead was wearing a black and gray tweed winter coat and a black fur hat with earflaps, just like my dad, so I ran up to him and grabbed his hand. When he looked at me, I realized he wasn’t my dad. Just before my heart dropped out of my chest, my dad grabbed my hand and scolded me for wandering off.

A more recent experience is mentioned here.

I can’t say I’ve had any negative experiences with spiders (arachnophobia), but I’ve had a love-hate relationship with them for a long time. I’m fascinated with them when I look at pictures or see them in enclosed displays. When they are jumping, creeping around, or emerging from hidden places, I totally freak out. When I moved out of my last apartment, the easiest way to move boxes of books I had in the basement was up a short flight of stairs and out through the bulkhead door. Knowing there were lots of long-legged spiders and their hideous webs there, I lugged the heavy boxes up the steep basement stairs, through the kitchen and out the door. I’m still not sure why I loathe spiders, but don’t suffer a fear of snakes (ophidiophobia).

Some of these phobias are quite common:

- Social phobia – 7 to 13 percent of Americans

- Trypanophobia (fear of needles) – 10 percent of Americans

- Aviophobia (fear of flying) – 6.5 percent of Americans

Others are rather unusual:

- Urophobia (fear of urination) – This fear occurs more frequently in men than in women.

- Coprophobia (fear of defecation) – While I’m not a major sufferer, I feel uncomfortable doing my business in crowded restrooms and try to avoid it when possible.

- Taphophobia (fear of being buried alive) – Before stethoscopes were invented, this fear was very legitimate! Shortly before his death in 1875, Hans Christian Anderson asked a friend to make sure his arteries were severed before he was buried.

In the back of the book, the author includes tips on overcoming your fears, including seeking professional help, and a list of resources.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

All-New, All-Different Avengers, Vol. 1: The Magnificent Seven

All-New, All-Different Avengers, Vol. 1: The Magnificent SevenAll-New, All-Different Avengers, Vol. 1: The Magnificent Seven by Mark Waid
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a new threat appears on the Earth, a new team of Avengers is formed to face it.

This volume is an origin story of the All-New All-Different Avengers along with some minor fights.
I really thought I would like this Avengers lineup. As soon as I saw the lineup I thought, I like Miles Morales, Iron Man, and Ms. Marvel so this should be awesome. I have to say I was disappointed. I found out I didn't like Ms. Marvel as much as I thought I did. Who would have thought that I wouldn't relate that much with a teenage Muslim girl from Jersey City?
I still like Iron Man and Miles Morales the new Spider-Man, but that's just two characters on a larger team. I'm largely indifferent about Falcon as Captain America, Lady Thor, Vision, Nova, and Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel. It's hard for everyone to get enough page time with such a large lineup and being apathetic about the majority of the team led to me not being that excited about this volume.

My other complaint is the Avengers are only viable when facing incredibly difficult odds. Anything else should be overkill, but for some reason this particularly capable group of crime fighters aren't nearly as competent as a group. Each of these characters headlines their own comic, they should easily be able to throwdown against any normal villain.

Despite the incredible film success for the Avengers, I have rarely found Avenger comics that hold my attention and unfortunately the All-New All-Different Avengers are no exception.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016


The Monster of FlorenceThe Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”This is the nature of the evil of the Monster of Florence. And this is the nature of the evil in each and every one of us. We all have a Monster within; the difference is in degree, not in kind.”

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The number of victims involving the Monster of Florence are staggering, those murdered and those accused.

We are all potential killers. Each and every one of us is capable of killing someone, usually that would be while protecting ourselves or protecting someone we love. Then there are those who live in a world of revenge fantasy. They are sensitive to every slight. They keep lists in their heads of every negative thing that has ever happened to them. They are a bomb building inside, and given the right circumstances, the fuse could be lit. They might kill their family or friends or coworkers and feel justified in doing so. They know who they kill. It is very personal.

Then there are what I think of as the soulless people, not in a religious sense, but people lacking a fundamental empathy for others. They are missing something critical that allows them to value life. They are empty and angry. They kill indiscriminately. They walk into night clubs, movie theaters, malls, schools, or churches and kill whoever happens to be there. They might say they have a cause or a specific hate, but fundamentally what it really comes down to is they hate us all.

The Monster of Florence killed 14 people, 7 couples, over the course of a decade...and he got away with it.

Douglas Preston decides to move to Florence, Italy, to write his next thriller. He has fond memories of living in Florence as a teenager and wishes to recapture some of the excitement and wonder he felt in 1969. Of course, as we get older we realize that gossamer wrapped memories are nearly impossible to recreate. Moments of true magic are fleeting and fickle and belong to the age that created them. So maybe Preston didn’t think he could recapture the Florence of his youth, but he certainly didn’t have a clue that he might be imprisoned.

It isn’t his fault.

What was he supposed to do.

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Mario Spezi the Florentine reporter who spent decades hunting a Monster, and kept the pressure on the police much to his detriment.

He meets a reporter by the name of Mario Spezi, and he tells him a story. It is an intriguing story of murder, mayhem, Sardinian gangsters, sex, and illusive facts. These are the very things to make a writer’s nostrils quiver like a bloodhound catching the scent of a quarry. To add some more spice, the very olive grove in the backyard of the villa that Preston is renting was the scene of one of the most horrific double murders in Italian history. Most people would be alarmed to discover that such a terrifying event had happened in the place they have chosen to live, but for Preston it seems like his muse has given him a gift.

A living, breathing serial killer trumps a sketchy idea for a thriller.

The police files are full of false leads, bungled investigations, wild speculations, lost clues, and political pressure. Men are arrested and convicted of being the Monster of Florence only to have the true Monster kill again. If this were a novel, the reader would not be able to believe the level of incompetence shown by the Florentine detectives.

There is a desperation to catch the killer, not only because he is murdering necking couples, but also because he is screwing with the sex lives of the entire city. It has been speculated that 1 in 3 people in Florence was conceived in the backseat of a car in the Florentine Hills. As the murder tally grows, more fear is produced. The result is a frustrated city full of people in need of sexual release. The burner needs to be turned down on the boiling pot.

And what about the poor peeping toms or Indians as they are called? Those men who, almost on a professional basis, go out every night to creep around The Hills looking for a good vantage point to watch couples making out. Those perverts are also in need of release, one hand working furiously, as they live, at least for a moment, vicariously through the steamed windows of someone else’s passion.

It begs the question, with so many of these men out there every night, it is almost inconceivable that none of them ever saw anything suspicious. Of course, it is hard to explain to the police why a man is out in the Florentine Hills…ALONE, but then is a man ever alone when he has some spit and a firm hand?

As Mario Spezi and Douglas Preston sift through the evidence and become critical of the investigations initiated by the police, detectives start to focus on them. This is frankly baffling. ”As an American, an author and journalist, I had always enjoyed a smug feeling of invulnerability. What could they possibly do to me?” When two burly cops come to pick him up for questioning, his invincibility starts to feel like a house built on sand.

He became trapped in his own thriller.

I can certainly understand why Douglas Preston became so enthralled with this monstrous tale. He and Spezi even offer up their own ideas about who the killer was, and certainly convinced me that, in the end, the Florentine police abandoned a line of inquiry too soon that would have yielded the identity of one of the most notorious serial killers in world history.

Florence will never be the same for Douglas Preston.

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George Clooney

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is Douglas Preston

The movie starring George Clooney (playing Douglas Preston) is due for release in 2016. I’m not sure at this point how loose an interpretation the movie will be of the book, but if you’re Preston you have to be thrilled that people will associate your name with Clooney’s face. Yes, George Clooney played me in a movie.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Up With Watership Down

Watership DownWatership Down by Richard Adams
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


When I was in school, the teachers played the movie version (the one with Art Garfunkel songs, Zero Mostel as the bird, and a bevy of well-respected English actors providing voice-overs) of this epic drama of courageous rabbits and us kids just bawled. The sadness, she was too much!

It's been 30, maybe 35 years on since then and I figured, despite the tears, I have fond memories of the story, so why not finally read the book? Well I did and I cried at the end again, god damn it.

It's not an overly sad ending to be honest, however, I cried because author Richard Adams ends his book with the passing of life. The relatively long life of one of the rabbits depicted here is shown coming to an end and that shit gets me every time (ie Bilbo as he passes on to the Grey Havens...friggin' hell, I've got something in my eye). It makes me think of living out a long, beautiful life with my wife and then eventually having to say goodbye to her for the final time as we pass away. Dang it, it's getting to me again...

...just talk amongst yourselves. I'll give you a topic: Watership Down, which is the more important theme, the friendship bond or the struggle for survival? Discuss!


Okay, I'm back.

Another lovely thing about this epic novel is that it started out as an oral tale Adams told to his daughters on car trips. The best stories are organically homegrown. Plant the seed, water it, let it grow, nurture it and in the end you'll have...well, you'll have a plant, but you get what I mean.

In the intro it was revealed to me that apparently Watership Down is a real and locatable place out west of London, I think in the Hampshire area. So, now I've got another reason to go back to England, to track down the Down!

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Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Drive-In 3

The Drive-In 3: The Bus TourThe Drive-In 3: The Bus Tour by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jack, Grace, and Steve leave the Drive-In behind for the open road in a bus. On their quest for answers, they encounter a catfish of enormous size and find things leading them to question the nature of their existence.

The third volume in the Drive-In series takes everything in a whole other direction. It keeps the lost world flavor of the second book but sends the gang on an odyssey to parts unknown. The first half is straight up Lansdale but the second half moves into Phillip Jose Farmer territory.

I didn't enjoy most of this book as much as the previous two, mostly because of the lengthy section inside Ed the giant catfish. Once they escaped the catfish, the book felt like a Twlight Zone episode written by Richard Matheson collaborating with the previously mentioned Phillip Jose Farmer. Either I read that Lansdale liked PJF in the past or just inferred it from some of his stranger writings.

The Lansdale flavor is in full effect here. I read a few lines out loud to my special lady, interrupting her Harry Potter read. Lansdale can wax philosophically with the best of them, in his trademark front porch style.

Anyway, the ending was fantastic, a stew of World of Tiers, Wizard of Oz, and The Dark Tower, in my opinion. While this is the final Drive-In volume, as far as I know, I'd eagerly read a fourth. 3.5 out of five stars.

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Fire in Boston's Cocoanut Grove

Paul Benzaquin
Branden Press Publishers
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


A detailed account of the deadliest nightclub fire in history.

My Review

Reading Stephanie Schorow’s excellent, but short, The Cocoanut Grove Fire, made me hungry for more details, so I borrowed Paul Benzaquin’s history, which is far more comprehensive. It was first published in 1959, and while the language felt dated in places, it enabled me to feel closer to an event that occurred well before I was born and helped provide more insight into life in the 1940’s.

Paul Benzaquin began his career as a journalist for the Boston Globe in 1948 and later became known as a talk radio host.

His crisp, lean writing style worked well for imparting facts from that tragic day on November 28, 1942, while the tension and energetic pacing would have worked well for an action-packed thriller.

“First came a fast-moving puff of black smoke. A rosy dart of flame shot along the ceiling fabric for ten or twelve feet. It was instantly followed by a massive ball of flame – bright, noisy, and terrifying. It seemed to burn in the air, without need of fuel. Suddenly everyone in the room was in motion, desperately seeking escape.”

Schorow focused more on the history of the nightclub and its owners and government corruption, while Benzaquin covered life stories and details surrounding the aftermath of the fire, including significant medical advances made in the treatment of burns.

In the center of the book there are photos of Cocoanut Grove guests, some of whom were among the dead or injured, including Western star Charles “Buck” Jones. There are harrowing photos of servicemen, firemen and volunteers who helped evacuate victims, and pictures of the building after the fire. There is a photo of Clifford Johnson, who recovered from massive burns and made medical history, only to die in a fiery car crash in 1956.

At the end of the book is an acknowledgment section outlining the author’s sources of information and the individuals and groups who contributed toward his research. He spoke with reporters, photographers, fire and police departments, government officials, medical personnel, and survivors who shared their stories.

492 people died in this fire, making it the deadliest nightclub fire in history. Because of this tragedy, laws have been made and fire codes revised to ensure the safety of people in public buildings.

This is a detailed, informative, and gripping story of the events and people involved. Very highly recommended.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Faith and Moonlight: Part 2

Faith and Moonlight: Part 2Faith and Moonlight: Part 2 by Mark Gelineau
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Roan and Kay are students of the Faith School now. While they should be the happiest they've ever been, they are both disturbed by their dreams. Roan fears his past and Kay fears what she's becoming.

Faith and Moonlight: Part 2 is a case of the other shoe dropping. Not in a bad way, but in the sense that the school isn't the cheery place for talented students Roan and Kay believed it was. Like many fantasy schools, the Faith School is far more brutal than it appeared on the outside. Roan and Kay are fighting not just for their futures, but perhaps their lives as duels between students can become devastating and the possible future for those who don't make the tournament is dismal.

In the last book I was more interested in Roan as a character. His back story and devotion were significant. Roan doesn't show much growth in this story outside of learning more about the Faith School from Gideon and Dreah. Kay on the other hand had her deep well of fear and uncertainty turned into something quite intriguing. There are rumors that others have taken things to gain entrance in the Faith School and some say at least one person who did so became a monster because of it. Kay's worries are what makes this story work because it doesn't seem to simply be in her head like the last book.

Faith and Moonlight: Part 2 is a strong continuation in the unorthodox Echoes of the Ascended series.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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

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Invincible Iron Man, Vol. 1: Reboot

Invincible Iron Man, Vol. 1: RebootInvincible Iron Man, Vol. 1: Reboot by Brian Michael Bendis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tony Stark is concerned he hasn't been spending enough time in the lab. He's supposed to be the cutting edge for technology, but his Iron Man suit is behind the times. So Tony made a new, all in one suit.
Meanwhile Madame Masque is playing a dangerous game in Latveria that Tony is determined to stop. He receives help from the most unexpected of individuals.

Reboot was really good. Brian Michael Bendis's Tony Stark is more akin to the film version of Tony played by Robert Downey Jr. The brilliance, arrogance, humor, and occasional self loathing are fully on display and it just made the story a lot of fun.

Unbelievably Victor Von Doom, healed face and all after Secret Wars, has appeared to help Tony.
Doom isn't sporting a single recognizable part of his Dr. Doom outfit, but his power hasn't change at all.
For some unexplained reason Victor, who now looks like a simple businessman, wants to help Tony. He even goes through the effort to prove he's genuine.

Everything about Reboot was really fun. I hope to see Tony and Victor keep teaming up as the series continues.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016


The Yellow WallpaperThe Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression---a slight hysterical tendency---what is one to do?”

Well, one must quit being a silly goose and get better.

The baby is fine; thank goodness, the baby is fine. It is safe, safe in another room. Away from the horrid yellow wallpaper. This wallpaper is an artistic monstrosity, an assault on the senses. It is so yellow it reeks of...yellow.

”It is the strangest yellow, that wall-paper! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw---not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things.”

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In such a room, too, a beautiful room with windows and light. John brought her here for a vacation away from the daily cares of their normal lives, to help her with her nervousness. She hasn’t been the same since the baby was born. She knows that, not that she was ever normal before, but something has shifted, an awareness of self that is tuned to a different frequency.

The wallpaper is hideous. It claws at her mind.

She should be happy, after all there is the baby. The girl is taking such good care of her baby. ”I cry at nothing, and cry most of the time. Of course I don’t when John is here, or anybody else, but when I am alone.”

It doesn’t happen if no one sees it or hears it.

In the middle of the night, lit by moonlight, the wallpaper moves. She touches it; she studies it. ”The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get out.”

She must write. They don’t want her to write, but those who write must write. It is not enough to write in the mind. The words must be taken from her mind to make room for more words. Words are precision, clarity, sanity.

John thinks it is best for her to rest in the room. The room has become the extent of her universe, and the wallpaper is more alive than she is. ”All those strangled heads and bulbous eyes and waddling fungus growths just shriek with derision!”

If she escapes the wallpaper, what then?

I kept thinking as I was reading this story that I hope Robert Louis Stevenson had the chance to read it, but probably not. This story was published in 1892. He bought a place in Samoa in 1890 and was cut off from most of the literary world until his death in 1894. It is certainly a story that would have appealed to his own obsession with the horrors of the mind. The building tension from a fairly typical domestic scene to the final horrors is so gothic and is still sending a cascade of shivers down my spine. Charlotte Perkins Gilman grew up under the tutelage of women who believed strongly in equality. Her father’s aunts, Isabella Beecher Hooker, a suffragist, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Catharine Beecher, helped raise her after her father abandoned the family. Charlotte tried marriage. She even had a baby. Those attempts at being “normal” didn’t work out, but it did give us this wonderful autobiographical and, in my opinion, nearly perfect short story.

Charlotte grew up in an era where it was difficult for women to have any say in their fate. If they became too “hysterical,” they were locked up in an insane asylum. They were seen as delicate creatures, incapable of making rational decisions for themselves. I still believe that many women suffer from postpartum depression and still feel the need to hide their symptoms. After all, aren’t they supposed to be joyfully happy to be new mothers? There are too many women still trapped in the walls behind yellow wallpaper.

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When Charlotte Perkins Gilman finds out she is dying of breast cancer in 1935, she takes control of her fate. In her suicide note she writes that she ”chose chloroform over cancer”. In the end, she escapes the yellow wallpaper on her own terms.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Living on the Volcano By: Michael Calvin

Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football ManagerLiving on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager by Michael Calvin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am not a real big sports person (suprise)..I come from an area that sports mostly consist of American football, baseball and basketball. So, always being the one who wanted to be out there, when I finally got into watching and being a fan of sports, I fell in love with hockey and recently soccer.

Why? mostly because of the passion and sheer borderline insanity fans have for their teams and clubs, Mr Calvin's book is a interesting well written book into a job that has to be maddening, nerve wracking, probably like a huge drug to those people who truly love the beautiful game.

I couldn't do this job, managing a football club on any level has to be one of the hardest jobs in all of professional sports, but I applaud those who love it enough to give everything they have to it.

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Monday, June 13, 2016

The Unknown Dumas

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte CristoThe Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nothing can live up to the exciting, over-the-top adventures Alexandre Dumas concocted, except maybe the real life exploits of his father.

The subtitle "The Real Count of Monte Cristo" is speaking of the writer's father Thomas Alexandre Dumas, a mixed race soldier from the former French colonies in the Americas. He was the basis for the tragic, wronged, swashbuckling heroes of The Count of Monte Cristo, the Three Musketeers tales, and more.

Tom Reiss' biography tries to bring back the memory of an unfortunately forgotten hero of the French Revolutionary Republic. General Dumas rose up from a common soldier to lead thousands during France's Revolutionary Wars. Reiss portrays a man passionate about the cause and willing to risk his life in the most daring of ways for the ideal of equality for all.

The Black Count marches linearly ahead at an admirable pace, mixing the history of father and son (and even grandfather as it applies to his future generations), tantalizing and revealing at just the right moments. A high quality history text that, regardless of dwelling rightly upon human atrocities, can't help but entertain considering its adventuresome subject matter.

Reiss certainly seems biased towards his subject and even tries to put General Dumas on a pedestal...literally by the end there is discussion and lament over a statue of him. However, if you can forgive him his slant, I think you'll find this a highly enjoyable read!

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Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Drive-In 2: Not Just One of Them Sequels

The Drive-In 2: Not Just One of Them SequelsThe Drive-In 2: Not Just One of Them Sequels by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jack, Bob, and Crier leave the Orbit Drive-In behind for the open road, encountering dinosaurs, slithering strips of film, and a martial artist named Grace. Will they find the end of the road before Popalong Cassidy finds them?

As you might be able to tell from the synopsis, the second Drive-In book is stranger than a fever dream. While in recovery from their crucifixion, Bob and Jack, with Crier, venture out into the wasteland the Earth became while they were trapped in The Orbit. A woman named Grace shows up and suddenly Jack decides they're heroes. As a man who has gone titty-blind (as Lansdale calls it) on occasion, it wasn't hard to relate to the guys in this one.

As with the last book, I read this book shortly after the dawn of time so I remembered very little about it. Much like the first book, it's a fun book full of gore, cursing, cannibals, and funny dialogue. The Lansdale wit, while still in its adolescence, was present in droves.

It's a pretty slim tale but a lot of interesting and often times hilarious shit happens. I liked it a little less than the previous one, though. It didn't feel like a retread in any way, unlike most sequels. Popalong Cassidy had big shoes to fill after the Popcorn King and left the shoes empty enough to leave blisters. Still, the aftermath was quite bizarre and I'll be taking my third trip to the Drive-In shortly. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Stealing Serenity

Tami Veldura
Bottom Drawer Publications
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


“Serenity,” a photograph worth four million dollars, was sold at auction to an anonymous bidder. Stealing it will represent the largest payday Daniel will have ever had. To make that happen, he poses as a photography curator to attract the attention of Kearin, the auction house owner.

Kearin takes Daniel under his wing to work in the non-profit branch of his business, but it’s a cover for his desire to see Daniel naked, bound, and needy for the camera. Kearin has a client interested in a very specific portfolio—filling the request would put him at the top of his field.

Daniel thinks he can use the modeling to get closer to “Serenity.” What he doesn't expect is to fall for Kearin's brand of intensity instead. So does he go for the photograph or Kearin's heart? He wouldn't call himself a master thief if he couldn't steal both.

My Review

Daniel Hogan is a thief with big plans to steal a $4.3M dollar photograph titled Serenity, so he insinuates himself into the good graces of Kearin Gerard, owner of Gerard Photography, the company who organized the sale to an anonymous bidder.

What Daniel didn’t anticipate was the intense attraction he felt for Kearin. His strong personality and personal photo collection piqued Daniel’s interest even further. He has no intention of letting his desires get in the way of obtaining information about the person who possesses Serenity, and takes every opportunity he can to look for clues. In the process, he learns more about Kearin, whose computer he now has access to. Kearin’s photographs of bound young men and the peaceful expressions on their faces captivate Daniel. He is surprised when he learns Kearin is looking for a model and doesn’t hesitate to accept.

This story takes place a little over a two-week period and is told from Daniel’s perspective. Each fragment has a date, time, and location, but the story is told in linear fashion. The tension builds up, as Daniel gets closer to learning about the anonymous bidder and getting his hands on the photograph. Meanwhile, the sexual tension between Kearin and Daniel becomes intense as Daniel submits to the restraints while being photographed.

There is no romance or sex here, just desire, slow-burning eroticism and elegant descriptions of Shibari. Kearin is an ambitious man who is looking to enhance his career and Daniel badly wants that photograph. While I enjoyed the details of Daniel’s bold art heist, it was Kearin’s elaborate knotwork and Daniel’s submission in front of the camera that captured my interest.

This was a very well-written and cleanly edited story with two well-developed main characters and a small cast of secondary characters. The conclusion was clever and open-ended, but I was a little dissatisfied at how some details were addressed, like what was so special about this photograph?

“Daniel felt his eyes focus on the far wall of the studio as Kearin ducked low, and he saw it. Serenity. Stripes of blue and green. A photograph framed subtly on the wall, so nondescript in performance that it could easily be glanced over. Just another design photo. Just another print."

Really? This was worth $4.3 million dollars? Since such a large part of the story was focused on the art heist, I need a much better description than that!

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed this imaginative and erotic story and definitely plan to read more of this author’s work.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Faith and Moonlight

Faith and Moonlight (Faith and Moonlight #1)Faith and Moonlight by Mark Gelineau
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Roan and Kay are orphans that are lucky to be alive after a fire destroyed their orphanage. The two find themselves with a chance to enter the School of Faith, but they are much older than the normal applicants. They are given one month to prove they belong. They desperately hope to stay and to stay together.

Faith and Moonlight is one of the short stories that makeup the Echoes of the Ascended series. The series is made up entirely of novellas and short stories. This is my first experience with this world and I learned halfway through that I'm starting in the middle. That didn't seem to matter overall, although I imagine there are certain aspects of the world I'd understand more if I started at the beginning. I plan to do just that when I have a chance.

Roan and Kay attempting to enter the School of the Faith is loaded with familiar storylines. An amazing school only for the worthy and an unexpected chance are the few I can mention without spoiling anything. The characters are interesting. Roan is incredibly strong individual and absolutely devoted to Kay. Kay on the other hand was raised an orphan likely from birth so hope is a four letter word to her that was dangerous to speak or think about. Her doubt seems to be eating her alive from the inside.

Faith and Moonlight was a good short story with rich world building. There is a lot to like in the story so I will absolutely be sure to read more stories in the Echoes of the Ascended series.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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

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Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows

Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your VowsAmazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows by Dan Slott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Peter Parker isn't just Spider-Man anymore, he's a husband and a father.
He's doing his best for his family and his home. When heroes start disappearing Spidey heads to Avengers mansion to find out the cause. A group of heroes were already there discussing just that.
As the team prepares to face the Regent, they call a team of heroes who are at a prison break to join them even though all the prisoners escaped. One prisoner in particular forces Spidey to swing home rather than fight with the Avengers.
Peter saves his family while the Avengers are annihilated.
Peter vows to protect his family over the entire world as the Regent culls the remaining population of superpowered heroes.
"That was the day The Avengers died. That every last hero died. Even 'Spider-Man.' It just looked like him standing there. But that was just me. Peter Parker. A Dad in a stupid red and blue suit. That was the day I learned what trump's great even greater responsibility. "

I think being a Dad made me really love Spider-Man Renew Your Vows. As a father I can't imagine anything I wouldn't be willing to do to protect my family and seeing Peter Parker's decisions in this miniseries really hit home for much as a man with spider powers in spandex could. To watch Peter Parker choose to hide rather than fight to protect his family was touching. Peter was completely unwilling to place his family in harm's way.

This is easily the best Secret Wars miniseries I've read so far. The funny thing is I only picked it up because my library had the individual issues and I thought sure why not. This was really really good and I was griped by the events taking place. The focus was far from Secret Wars overall which makes this a great story on it's own. I can't get past how good this story was.

Spider-Man Renew Your Vows is the best comic volume I've read in a while.

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