Wednesday, August 31, 2016


JulianJulian by Gore Vidal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”We are toys, and a divine child takes us up and puts us down, and breaks us when he chooses.”

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Julian II

Julian was a child raised in the midst of turmoil. After the death of Constantine the Great in 337AD, there was a huge power vacuum in the Roman Empire, and Julian’s cousin Constantius II methodically eliminated all those who could potentially threaten his reign or those of his brothers. One of those executed was Julian’s father.

Julian and his brother Gallus were spared.

Their youth may have spared them, but in Julian’s later writings, he wrote that he believed that only at the urging of Empress Eusebia, by the thinnest of margins, were they saved. The very thing that nearly ended their lives, that dangle between their legs, also made them valuable to the family. Constantius II and his brothers were having difficulties spawning male children to assume the throne. If the Empire was to remain in family hands, then Gallus and Julian would be the only means with which to do so.

The boys are sequestered away under the tutelage of Bishop Eusebius in Nicomedia. It is never a bad thing to be out of sight and out of mind; after all, Constantius had already proven that he was not squeamish about getting family blood on his hands. As has been proven time and again, absolute power corrupts absolutely. ”First the tyrant plays harmless games: ...plays practical jokes; and no matter what he says and does, everyone laughs and flatters him, finds witty his most inane remarks. Then the small jokes begin to pall. One day he finds it amusing to rape another man’s wife, as the husband watches, or the husband as the wife looks on, or to torture them both, or to kill them. When the killing begins, the emperor is no longer a man but a beast, and we have had too many beasts already on the throne of the world.”

The boys live in constant, real fear that one day someone will arrive with a summons for them to see the Emperor. This directive can indicate two very different intentions. They could be receiving a promotion, or the more probable one is they are being set up to be executed. Any wild rumor can be the end of them. It would certainly give anyone a different perspective on life living under the constant threat of death. The older they become the more dangerous they become to Constantius.

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Coin of Constantius Gallus, brother of Julian.

Gallus is sent for and made Caesar of the East in 351, which was a position representing a trial run to show his loyalty to Constantius and prove his ability to be the heir to the empire. Unfortunately, Julian’s brother proved unreliable. Gallus had shown signs of instability as a boy; power did not quell these tendencies, but merely enhanced their vulnerabilities. His head was separated from his body in 354.

And then there was one.

In 355, Julian is named Caesar. Being named Caesar is equivalent to being chased by angry, snarling German’s with ”Their dyed hair worn long, and hangs about the face like a lion’s mane,” down a long, dark alleyway where every door is locked, and all you can do is keep running to the end. Eventually, the worst you can imagine is probably going to happen.

Every shadow that falls across your doorway is a potential assassin. Herculean sphincter and bladder control would be imperative for anyone wanting to wear the purple.

Julian would have rather been a philosopher or even a philosopher priest if he must. Before being conscripted into the family business, he spent a short glorious time in Athens learning from the very best philosophers. Books were his solace for the rest of his life. ”As long as I could read, I was never entirely wretched.”

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Coin of Constantius II.

One of the conditions that Constantius made for Julian to be named Caesar was that Julian had to marry his sister, Helena. When someone is setting you up on a date and they keep talking about your potential date’s sparkling personality, you know they are not one of the blessedly lovely people. Helena *shudder* hopefully had at least a great personality, because unfortunately *shudder* she looked TOO much like her father. ”Helena was a good woman but our moments of intimacy were rare, unsatisfactory, and somewhat pathetic, for I did want to please her. But it was never pleasant, making love to a bust of Constantine.”

Julian is remembered as the Apostate. He was such an advocate of Greek philosophy that he wanted to return the Empire to the Neoplatonic paganism. Constantine the Great, Julian’s uncle, was the first Roman Emperor to proclaim himself a Christian, but also the first to sign a decree that allowed tolerance for Christianity.

It is really remarkable how fast Christianity took over such a large part of the world. “No other religion ever considered it necessary to destroy others because they did not share their same beliefs.” I guess, if you are intent on eliminating the competition, growth happens exponentially. With convert or die being the only options, most people will waver in their firmest beliefs. Who is to say, after all, who you worship in the cathedral in your head?

Julian’s rise to power came relatively quickly after this mass conversion to Christianity, or Galileanism as Julian liked to refer to them because he didn’t feel they were very “Christian” in the way they conducted themselves. The point being, there were still a lot of people who might be professed Christians, but were actually Pagans in their hearts, so when Julian adopted Hellenism and brought back the old Gods along with the sacrificing of animals, there were numerous people who were happy that he brought back the old ways.

The Galileans were furious and began plotting his assassination. They are not alone; Julian’s enemies are as innumerable as a field of wheat.

I’ve read that part of the attraction of Christianity is the single God concept. Trying to keep a whole multitude of Gods straight and who is responsible for what was confusing and difficult. To worship one God under the Pagan system was to offend another, and sacrificing animals was frankly expensive for most people. It was a huge deal for Constantine to convert, and it was also a huge deal for Julian to bring back Hellenism. It sort of reminds me of the whiplash between Catholicism and Protestantism that happened in England in the 16th century.

Religion, unfortunately, has proven a very effective way to divide us.

Julian did not try to get rid of Christianity. He just wanted religious tolerance so that everyone could worship the way they wanted. He did remove a lot of Galileans from positions of power, which created a lot of adversity for him, but it was necessary because he needed people loyal to him. This would not be an abnormal thing, but when people feel they are being persecuted for religious reasons rather than political reasons, even though in this case the two were wrapped together, they take it much, much more personal.

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Coin of Alexander the Great.

Julian was a surprisingly good military commander and soon conquered Gaul and put down several uprisings. Julian saw himself as a student of Alexander the Great and wished to experience the same level of success in war as his hero. He was in the midst of conquering Persia when he died. He was a commander who threw himself in the fray, which is honorable, but ultimately detrimental to the cause if he is taken or killed. Controversy swirls around his death, and Gore Vidal has some very distinct opinions of what he felt happened.

Vidal starts this book with a series of letters between two philosophers, Priscus and Libanius, who both knew Julian well. They are attempting to edit and prepare Julian’s journals for publication, which of course is still a hot potato in 380AD. I actually found myself chuckling several times as these philosophers betrayed their own sense of pride, petty jealousies, and false memories. Most of the story is told from “the discovered journals” of Julian. This blending of the journals with the uncertain memories of the philosophers is a remarkable achievement of historical fiction writing. Like his book Lincoln, Vidal brings the central characters to life in Julian and makes the reader feel the fear and uncertainty of Julian’s childhood. He places the reader on a camp stool in that tent in Persia as Julian gives his final commands. From beginning to end you are there.

I do wonder if Julian had lived longer if religious tolerance would have taken root and been more of a standard right of all people? Why do we care so much how someone worships or for that matter whom someone sleeps with and how can some of us believe that a man’s skin color can have anything to do with his character? It seems we always work so hard to discover how we are different instead of putting that same work into discovering what we have in common. Julian had the right ideas, but he would have had to set aside his lust for conquest and exchanged it for the much more difficult task of maintaining peace.

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Monday, August 29, 2016

Cannery Row

Cannery RowCannery Row by John Steinbeck
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Steinbeck wrote one book about the Arthurian legends. However, he wrote a few books using the Arthurian legend model and Cannery Row is one of them.

Here we have a marvelously fun tale, almost a tall-tale, about the bums, prostitutes and common folk living on the California coast south of the San Francisco bay area in and about Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea during the Great Depression. Mischievous scamps get up to no good and little comes of it. All of this is inconsequential and yet intrinsic to human nature.

I finished Cannery Row a week or so ago. It's taken me this long to think about how I wanted to review it. That's not because it's a particularly deep and thought-provoking book. I just needed to examine my feelings, and besides, I feel like Steinbeck's work deserves reflection, even his lesser work.

Is this a lesser Steinbeck work? It's heralded by many and often included in "top Steinbeck" lists. I don't see it. Don't get me wrong, it's quite good, 3.5 stars good I'd say, but it's more of a collection of character sketches loosely tied together rather than a fully realized novel. Ah, but they are incredible sketches!

Cannery Row and Tortilla Flats fall into that Arthurian legend model as stated earlier. These are adventure stories in which "heroes" go on quests in an attempt to obtain whatever is their holy grail. Are there morals and lessons to be learned along the way? Sure. Is any of this meant to be much more than entertainment? I don't think so, but that's me. This is highly enjoyable and I think that's what Steinbeck was going for.

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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Hap and Leonard

Hap and LeonardHap and Leonard by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hap and Leonard is a short story collection featuring Hap and Leonard. I'm going to chunk it up and review each piece separately. I'm pretty sure I've read most of the stories before but my memory isn't what it once was.

Introduction by Michael Kortya: I'm always interested in what one writer writes about another. Kortya echoes my feelings on Hap and Leonard and Joe Lansdale in general. He also refrains from spoiling the shit out of stories, which is growing increasingly rare in introductions.

Hyenas: After Leonard kicks the shit out of a trio of guys at a bar, one of them offers him a job. Can Hap and Leonard get the man's kid brother away from the bad crowd he's running with?

I could cheat and do a cut and paste job from my review of Hyenas but I won't. Hyenas is a novella length distillation of what Hap and Leonard books are normally like. Much like last time, my favorite line was "Brett thought it would be cute if we got matching guns with our initials on them."

Veil’s Visit: Leonard gets arrested for burning down the crack house next door again and Hap's friend Veil takes the case.

In this tale. Lansdale introduces Veil, a lawyer friend of Hap's that later makes an appearance in Captains Outrageous. Veil's backstory and defense of Leonard make for a memorable tale.

Death By Chili: Hap and Leonard tackle the mystery of a dead champion chili cook. Was it suicide or... murder?

This tale is mostly conjecture, peppered with Lansdale wit, and followed by Lansdale's own chili recipe.

Dead Aim: When their friend Marvin Hanson offers them a job, Hap, Leonard, and an axe handle Hap named Agnes find themselves putting the fear of God into a woman's abusive ex-husband. Things quickly prove to be much more complex than they originally thought.

Dead Aim was hilarious, as usual, but I thought it could have used more action. Also, the plot slithered all over the place.

The Boy Who Became Invisible: Hap recounts a tale of his youth, the tale of the boy everyone picked on.

The Boy Who Became Invisible is a powerful tale because it's all too believable and very relatable. I remembered the ending but it still hit pretty hard.

Not Our Kind: This tale chronicled an early encounter featuring a teenage Hap and Leonard and some bullies. The guys were cracking wise but things didn't go as they usually do.

Bent Twig: Brett's daughter is into drugs and hooking again and Hap goes looking for her.

Bent Twig is a tale of loyalty, both of Hap for Brett and Leonard toward Hap. The boys get into the usual shit storm, complete with jokes, and things are very satisfying.

Joe R. Lansdale Interviews Hap Collins and Leonard Pine: Lansdale interviews the dynamic duo. It's short, funny, and has the all too true line "It's the family you choose that counts."

Afterword by Joe R. Lansdale: Lansdale talks about the genesis of Hap and Leonard and writing the books, confirming that Hap is something of a stand-in for Lansdale himself.

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Man From Primrose Lane

The Man from Primrose LaneThe Man from Primrose Lane by James Renner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Widowed writer David Neff is at rock bottom when his agent drops the tale of The Man From Primrose Lane into his lap. Will a new book to work on bring him out of the funk he's been in since his wife's death or will his obsession kill him?

Before I get down to business, let's all be honest with one another. Most of the books we read are of average or less quality and are just an entertaining way to pass the time. This book is not one of those. This one grabs you by the genitals and infects your thoughts while you aren't reading it.

The Man From Primrose Lane is one hell of a crazy read. The titular character is a local eccentric who was known as The Man with a Thousand Mittens to the cop who found his corpse, complete with fingers in a blender. In life, he was always seen wearing mittens and had a closet full of them when he died? Interested yet? What if I told you the MFPL had a painting of David's dead wife in his basement? Or that he has a notebook about another woman's daily habits that just happens to resemble David's wife?

This is one of those books that I cannot divulge the plot of without ruining it. Suffice to say, it is a cleverly written mind bender. Part detective story, part bat shit crazy. Your brain might fold in on itself like a black hole before it's finished.

What the hell else can I say without spoiling things? I like how Renner uses David going through the withdrawals for his depression meds as a good way to reveal his back story using flashbacks. I had a feeling who The Man From Primrose Lane was about 30% into the story but I had no idea how complex things really were.

That's about all I'm prepared to reveal at this time. If you like genre-bending, thought provoking reads, you could do a lot worse than this. This is in the top two or three books I've read so far in 2016. Perfect score.

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Drax The World's Greatest Detective

Drax Vol. 1: Galaxys Best DetectiveDrax Vol. 1: Galaxys Best Detective by CM Punk
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After a successful mission with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Drax heads off to kill Thanos.
He crash lands while searching for Thanos and tries to help find missing people and stolen goods in order to get his ship repaired.

The first issue of Drax started off really solid so I got excited and bought all the following issues. That was a mistake. Drax isn't bad, but it's not great either. The volume centers around Drax which seemed like a good thing, but it ended up being like someone playing a piano by only pressing one key.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016


Gai-Jin (Asian Saga, #6)Gai-Jin by James Clavell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

”So easy to be swallowed up, by the weather and gardens, kind skies and tender rain, best music, poetry, exotic foods, abundant silks and clothes makers, exquisite carp and singing birds, the alabaster-skinned beauties of the court, and of Kyoto’s Floating World,...without a care in the world except to seek the next pleasure.”

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After conquering China, the traders of Europe are now focused on opening up trade relations with Japan. They are perched precariously on the edge of the Islands in a small town where ongoing negotiations with the Japanese are taking place. The traders have a loose alliance between themselves but also continue to jockey for the best opportunities. There is gold. There is coal. Fortunes could be made.

The Struans are in Japan, represented by the heir apparent Malcolm. He is the descendent of the great Dirk Struan, who built a shipping empire out of nothing but his own grit, ambition, and strong will. Dirk, though long dead, is a constant presence in the lives of the family. Every decision they try to make is weighed and measured against the interpretative wisdom of the ghost of Dirk Struan. Malcolm’s father, Culum, son of Dirk, dies young from the stress and strain of being Tai-pan and from abusing himself with alcohol. Malcolm is not yet 21, the age set by Dirk that a man must reach to become Tai-pan. His mother, Tess (Brock) Struan, is the defacto Tai-pan until Malcolm can be formally sworn in.

While on an outing with friends, Malcolm is attacked by ronin shishi Samurais and seriously wounded. This unleashes a storm of incriminations back and forth between the British representatives and the Japanese. The British navy are actually in port protecting the business interests of the traders. They are on the verge of a war with the Japanese, but cooler heads realize that they only have to wait for the Japanese to start fighting each other.

There are two storylines: one follows the Gai-jin (foreign) community, and the other follows the political battle that is taking place among the Japanese. These stories become entwined as the Japanese are forced to do business with the Gai-jins because they need their cannon, rifles, and ammunition as they prepare for the internal struggle for power that is about to begin.

Lord Toranaga Yoshi, Guardian of the Heir, is trying to be the king maker. The Shogun is a young boy, and the Emperor is a distant figure. The government is weak, and there are too many powerful, ambitious samurai who are ready to fill the power vacuum. Yoshi survives several assassination attempts just as he orders assassinations against his rivals. He makes alliances that he knows are a slender reed blowing in the wind. He needs Gai-jin weapons, and he needs them before his enemies can obtain them for themselves.

Malcolm has become infatuated with the beautiful Angelique Richaud. He is recovering from his wounds and frustrated that he cannot be the man he once was. ”Now, watching her dancing, center of a universal admiration, and lust, breasts in large part fashionably revealed, slender ankles enticing eyes to seek further under the billowing hoops of apricot silk, he felt himself hardening. Thank God for that, he thought, much of his rage evaporating.” Every man who spends a moment in her presence is in lust with her. The men, among themselves, refer to her as “Holy Titties.” She has a secret that could spoil her plans to marry Malcolm, and this brings her under the control of ”Me, André Édouard Poncin, servant of France, spymaster, killer, expert on the vileness of human nature, me the great cynic, in an instant I had fallen in love. Madness! But true.”

From all descriptions Angelique is beautiful, but it reminds me of the line from the movie Whiskey Tango Foxtrot when it is explained to the Tina Fey character that in New York she might be a 6, but in Afghanistan she is a 10. So the question remains, is Angelique a 10 in Paris or is she a 10 just on the shores of Japan?

The Gai-jin’s, coming from much more oppressive countries in Europe, are enamored with the freedom with which the Japanese conduct themselves sexually. ”There’s no such thing as sin in Japan, original sin, any kind of sin.” The men visit the brothels regularly, and much of the business conducted in this book between the Japanese and the Gai-jin are transacted in the whorehouses. Many of the men have permanent concubines, as well. Their lust is a source of exploitation for the Japanese.

The Japanese prostitutes, who work in places with such enticing names as The Floating World, are disappointed with sex with the Gai-jin men. The men are only interested in first position, commonly referred to as missionary style. These women, well versed in every conceivable variation of sex, never get a chance to show the skills they have been taught or to have the opportunity to introduce the men to Baiting the Hen, Cherry Blossom Time, Near and Far, Over the Dragon, Springtime Planting, or Stealing the Honey. Unfortunately, James Clavell does not offer definitions or explanations for what each of these intriguingly named acts would entail.

I appreciated the excitement that was created in the community when one of the men obtained something more precious than gold. ”I’ve an advance copy of the last chapter of Great Expectations.” While recovering from his wounds, Malcolm is reading The Murders at the Rue Morgue. Clavell always expresses the importance of books in people’s lives. I long for the days when books ruled supreme before the internet, video games, TV, and movies became the preferred forms of entertainment for most people.

This is a beast of a book, with 1000+ pages and with what feels like a hundred characters. In this edition, James Clavell provides a character list in the back of the book with a short description for each person. Because I read this over a longer than normal period of time, it was nice to be able to easily refresh my memory by taking a peek at the list. Clavell has never managed to create characters as compelling as Dirk Struan and May-May in the novel Tai-pan. Tess Struan, the mother of Malcolm, comes the closest, but she is in Hong Kong for the entire period covered by this book. She is the daughter of Dirk’s arch rival, Tyler Brock. She is a tough, determined, compelling woman, often referred to as The Hag, who is completely allied with Struan despite her blood relation to the Brocks. She is quite capable, with just a hiss of displeasure, of making a man’s “balls jump.” So even though she is not in Japan, her influence crosses the waves and continues to make men nervous who are making decisions she may question.

I never did warm to Culum or Malcolm; both are pale comparisons to Dirk. Both felt the pressure of trying to live up to their illustrious ancestor. I have high hopes that Ian Dunross, the Tai-pan of Struans in the book Noble House, will finally provide me with the strong willed, smart, cunning character I so adored in Dirk Struan. I did break one of my unwritten rules by watching the miniseries based on Noble House before reading the book. If Pierce Brosnan’s portrayal is any indication, I do believe I will find Dirk finally alive and well in Ian Dunross.

Despite my issues with the characters and the length of the book, I still enjoyed the journey. The intrigue developing between the Japanese and the constant friction between two diametrically opposed cultures kept the pages turning. As Angelique wraps Malcolm around her little finger, we can see a showdown coming between the beauty and the hag. I wouldn’t recommend this book for anybody except the most die hard Clavell fans. As I mentioned before, I highly recommend Tai-pan and then Noble House before attempting to read Gai-jin.

This book is subtitled the Epic of the Birth of Modern Japan, and that it is, by God.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Twilight of the Dragons By: Andy Remic

Twilight of the Dragons (The Blood Dragon Empire, #2)Twilight of the Dragons by Andy Remic
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First, I will admit to being a huge Andy Remic fanboy, so take that however your happy self wants too. If you like your fantasy kick arse, epic, dark and just all around awesome, jump into book two of The Blood Dragon Empire.

True villains, great heroes, tons of fighting, action and GREAT STUFF. Wonderfully fun fantasy for GROWN FOLK...yes, that's you.

Give Andy Remic your money, seriously..go buy the whole series, then find his other books, buy them too. Thank you to the wonderful overlords at Angry Robot for the ARC and for feeding the beast that is my appetite for books.

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Monday, August 22, 2016

A Bit of Levity

The Man with Two Left Feet and Other Stories (Jeeves 0.5)The Man with Two Left Feet and Other Stories by P.G. Wodehouse
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm on jury duty. A particularly nasty case. I needed something light, humorous and non-taxing to take my mind off of it this weekend. Enter P.G. Wodehouse!

Wodehouse is my old fallback when I need a pick-me-up. His comical characters, daffy slapstick and witty turns of phrase threaten to induce knee slaps and a general feeling of being tickled in the best possible way.

The Man With Two Left Feet and Other Stories is a very precise title. There's the titular (tee-hee..."tit") short story, which wraps up this collection, along with quite a few other shorts. Perhaps my favorite, and definitely the most inventive stories herein, are the ones from the point of view of a dog. Those were not only humorous, but well-crafted as well.

Other stories revolve around relationship misunderstandings (a Wodehouse template), the inability to dance and forlorn love. I was surprised and a bit let down by the number of non-humorous, purely dramatic (often melodramatic) pieces here. I know that sort of will-(s)he-won't-(s)he love story was en vogue around the time this was published, but I didn't realize until this book that Wodehouse wrote such straightforward romances. They weren't bad, but meh and unexpected. But hey, at least there weren't any golf stories in this collection. I'm not a big fan of Wodehouse's foray on to the links in prose form.

My favorite of his books are the ones that include the Wooster and Jeeves characters, which appear in here once. The Man With Two Left Feet and Other Stories as a whole is an early work and the Wooster/Jeeves story happens to be the very first appearance of that dynamic duo. They and some of the other characters in the story, who also appear in later Wooster/Jeeves stories, are not quite fully incubated yet. I don't entirely recognize them. I actually found that interesting, to see where and who these beloved characters had once been.

Though it was not the best Wodehouse I've ever read, and I doubt I'll ever reread this, I'm not disappointed overall. It was good enough to clear the docket and get my trial temporarily dismissed.

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Briar Patch Boogie

Briar Patch Boogie: A Hap and Leonard NoveletteBriar Patch Boogie: A Hap and Leonard Novelette by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hap and Leonard go fishing and encounter a dying woman with an arrow sticking out of her side.

Briar Patch Boogie is a short Hap and Leonard story featuring some crazies who hunt people for sport. It takes place after Honky Tonk Samurai. In fact, it answers some questions left after that book and may be considered somewhat spoilerish.

Anyway, our boys crack wise and try to do the right thing while not becoming human pincushions. Like I said, it's a short tale and I've pretty much said all I can. It's a quick and enjoyable read. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Heavenly Table

The Heavenly TableThe Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When their father dies, the Jewett brothers are left without guidance until they decide to emulate their hero, a dime-novel hero called Bloody Bill Bucket. Their bloody trail crosses the paths of a farmer named Ellsworth Fiddler and a hobo named Sugar. Will the brothers make it to Canada alive to live out their days in peace?

I got this from Netgalley.

The Heavenly Table is the tale of the three Jewett brothers and the people they encounter after striking out on their own after their father Pearl dies. Dirt poor and ignorant of the ways of the world, Cane, Cob, and Chimney take up robbing banks in the manner of their dime-novel hero, Bloody Bill Bucket.

The tale Donald Ray Pollock crafts here is full of violence and dark humor. There's drinking, killing, whoring, and even a trained chimpanzee. The five plot threads repeatedly intersect until almost everyone is dead. Pollard the bartender, Sugar the bum, Jasper the sanitation inspector, Ellsworth Fiddler, the farmer with terrible luck, and Bovard, the secretly gay army officer, all flitter around the edges of the Jewetts' tale, periodically intersecting with them. Jasper, the outhouse inspector with a wang like the size of a baguette, was my favorite of the supporting players.

The Jewett brothers were an interesting mix. Cane, the oldest and smartest, was the leader. Cob, the simpleton, stayed with the others out of loyalty, and Chimney, the hothead, was lucky he survived childhood. Much like Knockemstiff, the setting was a vivid part of the story. The town of Meade felt so real I could almost smell it at times.

When things finally came together at the end, it was one bloody encounter after the next. I was glad the people who lived through it lived through it. The dark humor was unquestionably my favorite part of the story. I repeatedly interrupted my lady friend's Harry Potter reading with talk of going to the Whore Barn and other questionable things.

With the Heavenly Table, Donald Ray Pollock serves up another heaping helping of country noir. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

New Avengers: AIM Everything is New

New Avengers: A.I.M. Vol. 1: Everything is NewNew Avengers: A.I.M. Vol. 1: Everything is New by Al Ewing
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Roberto da Costa aka Sunspot bought A.I.M. altering their moniker to Avengers Idea Mechanics. From Avengers Island the new A.I.M. sends out the New Avengers to help defend the world.

Everything is New was an OK introductory story. I missed Sunspot buying A.I.M. and that transition so perhaps I'll have to swing back around to read that, but otherwise it's an introduction to the New Avengers. New Avengers is a fitting name because they compiled quite the new team with a single experienced Avenger in Hawkeye. I've heard of all the members of the team except for Songbird. These are C level at best heroes who I imagine a casual reader doesn't know exist.

The storyline was pretty straightforward except for one surprise, a certain character who appeared to die during Secret Wars is still alive. I won't spoil it, but it's quite the surprise which I envision will lead to some pleasant story complications in the future.

Everything is New was just fine, but now I wonder if it can be more than that. Time will tell.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016


This Census-TakerThis Census-Taker by China Miéville
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”I knew that, by whatever means he’d killed it, it was not to eat. I wanted to cry; I stood still.

He had it by the neck. Its brown body was bigger than a baby’s. Its shovel head lolled and its nasty hook beak twitched open and closed to snap faintly with each of my father’s steps. The bird’s broad feet dangled on the ground and bounced on stones as if it were trying to claw itself incompetently to a stop.”

There have been wars. Civilization has fallen backwards and stalled in place. People are getting by, but others have lost everything and are on the verge of losing what little life they have remaining. ”A haggard man used one of the huts as a home. He lay on a sagging mattress, his head on his pack, surrounded by rubbish--paper, porcelain shards, food remains, and unidentifiable debris. His hand was over his eyes. He looked like a failed soldier. Dirt seemed so worked into him that the lines of his face were like writing.” There are also orphaned kids living together in town who band together for mutual survival.

The boy’s father is a key maker. He makes keys to fit old machines. He makes keys to change the weather. He makes keys that turn the locks on hearts. There is a mysticism about what he does. Superstition has become almost a religion, but like Voodoo, it only works if you believe.

The boy lives on the hill. He is an uphiller. He has seen things. He knows things about his father that others need proof to believe.

There is the hole in the cave, a deep hole. A hole that might go to the center of the earth. When his mother disappears, the boy has nightmares. ”I thought of my mother’s hands hauling her up. Of her climbing all grave-mottled and with her face scabbed with old blood, her arms and legs moving like sticks or the legs of insects, or as stiff as toys, as if maybe when you die and come back you forget what your body is.”

But his father insists his mother is still alive.

When the man who counts people arrives, he might be the only chance the boy has to find out the real truth about his father.

This is a very strange novella, with many of the Kafkaesque aspects of being trapped into circumstances that seem inescapable. I was frequently confused for the first third of the book, but after reading numerous China Mieville novels, I knew I just needed to hang in there, and eventually this world he was creating would become more substantial, and the clouds would part enough for me to see the ground. By the end of the book, I wanted more. I wanted to fold the book out like an accordion and find the rest of the story. I wanted the lost notebook with the feverous scribbles of the where, what, and when. I can see it in my mind’s eye, written in faded red and blue ink whose words map out the future.

There are Gothic elements to the book, the shapes in the shadows, the menacing unknowable, which also helps ratchet up the ever heightening sense of terror. I felt my own tension increase as I, too, tried to find a way that the boy could escape a fate too unmentionable to put into words. This is not the place to start when reading Mieville, but it is a fascinating new wrinkle in an already outstandingly creative career. This book shows Mieville’s ability to stretch his already prodigious talents into worlds beyond where he has already been before.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Last Days of New Paris By: China Mieville

The Last Days of New ParisThe Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am a huge fan of Mieville, the man writes some of the most insane and beautiful things on paper. Although I am still warming up to the shorter story, China weaves a mad, tripped out tale of an alternate history WWII and Paris. Honestly, that is the most normal part of the whole book.

To me, his work is taken as a whole, everything is part of everything else if that makes sense. Beautiful swirls of chaos and surreal imagery, read this under the influence of something. (I didn't say that outloud)

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Monday, August 15, 2016

The Cost of Courage

The Cost of CourageThe Cost of Courage by Charles Kaiser
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well that was a big ol' disappointment. I was hoping for an engaging narrative of life as a French Resistance fighter during WWII and this fell far from the mark.

I wanted to hear about the hardships and underground tactics, the struggle of the people and their sacrifice. I got a little of that, but mostly I got a whole lot about a rich French family and how they didn't really want to talk about the war. Certainly this family suffered tragedy at the hands of the Nazi. Torture, incarceration and death was indeed the cost of their courage. But sadness and loss alone do not make much of a book. There's a reason obituaries are short.

Description of the family's struggle are minimal or occasionally inconsequential. Details of the war in general are used as lengthy filler. It feels like this book was stretching out what little story it possessed. One of the principle participants wrote a "dry" memoir of 45 pages on the topic of her and her family's involvement in the resistance. Charles Kaiser didn't think that was enough, but I think she got it right.

I listened to The Cost of Courage via audiobook and that was a bad choice. For some reason, the author decided to read this himself and he is a terrible reader, one of the worst I've encountered on a professional production.

Much of the book is written in present tense. I guess that was Kaiser's attempt to make the history more exciting, to make it feel more immediate, in hopes of turning passive prose into something actively impactful. It didn't. Honestly, listening to him it sounded more like he was reading the scenes and actions from a movie script:

"Jack and Jill go up a hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack falls down and breaks his crown. Jill comes tumbling after."

What made it worse was Kaiser's habit of trailing off at the end of each sentence. Imagine reading the Three Little Pigs like this:

"AND THEN THE BIG BAD WOLF HUFFED!!! AND PUFFED!!! and blew the house down."

*whooosh!* goes the wind right out of the damn sails.

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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Rumble Tumble

Rumble Tumble (Hap and Leonard, #5)Rumble Tumble by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When someone brings Brett news of her daughter wanting out of the prostitution business, Hap & Leonard, with Brett in tow, go to Hootie Hoot Oklahoma to find her. But does Tillie want to be found?

My Hap and Leonard re-read continues with the fifth volume, Rumble Tumble. The Hap and Leonard tradition of kicking ass and cracking wise continues, this time featuring pistol-whipping, steroided up bodyguards, hookers, bikers, drug dealers, and one red haired little person.

Rumble Tumble isn't my favorite Hap and Leonard novel. After reading two others in relatively rapid succession, some of the luster has worn off. It also represents a slight dip in quality, along with the next book, Captains Outrageous, before Joe brings the gang back in style in the seventh book, Vanilla Ride.

However, an average quality Hap and Leonard book is still a lot of fun. There is still great humor and a brutal conclusion that is probably the most violent one in the series at this point. Not only that, there are some great character moments with Hap, Leonard, and Brett. Hap and Leonard never pass through the fire unscathed and Hap feels pretty worn out by the end of this book.

While it's not my favorite, Rumble Tumble is still packed with mojo and a fun read. 3.5 out of five stars.

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Friday, August 12, 2016

The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today's

Heather Mac Donald et al.
Ivan R. Dee Publisher
2 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Nancy


Undoubtedly the United States needs a liberal and welcoming immigration policy, geared to the needs and interests of the nation. In this urgent new book, three astute observers argue that we have lost control of our southern border, so that the vast majority of our immigrants are now illegal Mexicans. Poor, uneducated, and unskilled, these newcomers add much less to the national wealth than they cost the taxpayers for their health care, the education of their children, and (too often) their incarceration. The Immigration Solution proposes a policy that admits skilled and educated people on the basis of what they can do for the country, not what the country can do for them.

My Review

“A nation that cannot control its borders is not a nation.”
― Ronald Reagan

This collection of essays by Heather Mac Donald, Victor Davis Hanson, and Steven Malanga explores the economic and social consequences of illegal immigration and proposes sensible solutions for controlling and securing our borders.

While these essays were very readable and thought-provoking, I couldn’t help but notice what was missing. When I’m reading books like this, I like to know what works the authors have cited so I can do my own fact checking. Some of those works were mentioned throughout the text, but it would be so much easier for this information to be presented in one place.

On the plus side, this is a short book that covers a wide variety of issues in just enough detail to make this reader want to explore further.

I am liberal on a lot of issues, but my views on immigration tend to lean towards the right. I advocate the world’s nations have a right to maintain sovereignty and a strong cultural identity. I dislike the idea of open borders, so many of the ideas presented by the authors make sense to me. I also dislike the idea of building walls and increasing military presence at borders, because these solutions can be prohibitively expensive and I question their effectiveness in stemming the flow of humanity.

As an American of Puerto Rican descent, I took offense to Heather Mac Donald’s essay on Hispanic family values. While some of the facts presented may have been accurate, her use of anecdotal evidence and hostile tone left a bad taste in my mouth.

For instance:

“The fathers of these illegitimate children are often problematic in even more troubling ways. Social workers report that the impregnators of young Hispanic women are with some regularity their uncles, not necessarily seen as a bad thing by the mother’s family. Alternatively, the father may be the boyfriend of the girl’s mother, who then continues to stay with the grandmother. Older men seek out young girls in the belief that a virgin cannot get pregnant during her first intercourse, and to avoid sexually transmitted diseases.”

I know there are problems and challenges faced by Hispanic communities. I believe many of them can be addressed by learning the language of the host nation and assimilating into its culture. We are not doing immigrants a favor by offering bilingual education. It obviously hasn’t solved the high Hispanic dropout rate.

In her essay, “Mexico’s Undiplomatic Diplomats”, Mac Donald explores how Mexico provokes illegal immigration by its own corruption and interference in US internal affairs, especially pertaining to immigrants. (Why does the US need 47 Mexican consulates?) It can be read here.

The final essay by Steven Malanga offers a common-sense approach to immigration that serves US national interests.

- Preferences given to immigrants based on work skills and education. Countries such as Australia, Ireland and Canada have different methods of handling this. Stop admitting unskilled workers who provide little benefit for the economy.
- Restrict social welfare programs that attract immigration from poor countries and eliminate government benefits to those in the US illegally.
- Ensure businesses verify workers’ legal status before employing them.
- Fully enforce immigration laws that are already in the book.
- Increase efforts to secure borders.

If you stop feeding them, they will go away.

It is important to know who lives within our borders. Our national security depends on it.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

All-New Inhumans: Global Outreach

All-New Inhumans, Vol. 1: Global OutreachAll-New Inhumans, Vol. 1: Global Outreach by Charles Soule
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Queen Medusa has decided to send a diplomatic team to assist the world with the effects of the terrigen mist cloud. The team will travel the world in the Royal Inhuman Vessel, R.I.V. for short, following the terrigen cloud and helping the new Inhumans in the process.
In most countries the R.I.V. will likely be received with no incidents, but unfortunately the terrigen cloud is headed for the dictator state, Sin-Cong.

I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting from All-New Inhumans, but this volume wasn't it. This volume is a blending of the Inhumans of old with their unique status as a self governing body and the new Inhumans who are popping up around the world because of the terrigen cloud. They are lead by Crystal, the sister of Medusa.
Crystal has significant diplomatic skills mixed in with the fact that she's one of the strongest Inhumans thanks to her elemental powers. Rounding out the team is Gorgon, Flint, Naja, Grid, and Swain. Swain makes her first appearance in All-New Inhumans as the captain of the R.I.V. and she posses some unknown gifts thanks to terrigenesis.

The All-New Inhuman team is a self sustained humanitarian group sent to assist new Inhumans along with the countries who aren't sure what to do with them. The difference being they have superpowers that won't allow anyone to easily push them around.
They also have the approval of the United Nations along with some unexplained backing of SHIELD and it's liaison Daisy Johnson.

All-New Inhumans currently appear to be a title designed solely for those intensely interested in the Inhumans and their new place in the world thanks to Black Bolt's actions in Infinity. I'm very interested in the Inhumans so Global Outreach was an enjoyable volume for me.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016


The Devil in the Kitchen: Sex, Pain, Madness and the Making of a Great ChefThe Devil in the Kitchen: Sex, Pain, Madness and the Making of a Great Chef by Marco Pierre White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”And so I took my first step along the long, bully-laden, work obsessed, sleep-deprived, nicotine- and caffeine-fueled, passionate, hot and winding road that would end with three Michelin stars.”

 photo Marco20Pierre20White_zpslumewfk2.jpg

I don’t cook, but oddly enough I enjoy reading about chefs and the skillet laden road they travel to create food that makes their customers close their eyes and raise their hands to the food gods in supplication.

It is really all Anthony Bourdain’s fault. I read Kitchen Confidential after catching his show on the Travel Channel. I enjoyed his humor on the show and hoped that his amusing commentary would show up in the book. Reading the book was just like how I would expect a conversation to go with Bourdain. He was hilariously irreverent about everything. He certainly convinced me that cutting edge chefs had a lot in common with the dissenting, maverick attitudes of the gunslingers of the Old West. Only pistols at noon are exchanged for frying pans.

”From the moment my chef pals and I got a look at Marco Pierre White’s first cookbook--and at photos of the Man Himself, in all his haggard, debauched-looking, obsessively driven glory---we dreamed of nothing more than to be just like him. He made history.”
-- Anthony Bourdain

To say that White is driven is an understatement. His desire to be the best chef in not only Britain but in the world completely dominated his life from the time he became conscious in the morning until the time he passed out at night. He wanted three Michelin stars more than he wanted to be rich or famous. He blew up his marriages. He threw condiments at his staff. He called them demeaning names. He tortured them. It was impossible for anyone to match his expectations for himself. ”In the kitchen, the first three weeks was the toughest period for the new boys. By the end of it they were usually fucked, having lost a stone in weight, gained a dazed expression and cried themselves dry. That was when the shaking started---and when many of them left. One day they were there, the next they were gone. If they could make it into the fourth week, they were doing well.”

 photo Gordon20Ramsey_zpswhqg5q9n.jpg
You might recognize Gordon Ramsay, who worked for the temperamental White for almost three years before having enough of the tirades.

THE Mario Batali or as he was known in White’s kitchen Rusty Bollocks is one of those guys who worked for him. He was an especially favorite target for White because he was fat and nice. So you would think, now that Batali is one of the most famous chefs in the world, that he might want to skewer White for some of that rough treatment. Let’s check in and see what Batali says about him: “Marco is a gift to humanity, with more passion per pound than anyone else I have ever met. His story is genius, his voice his own….Marco is still my hero.”

WTH? Batali must be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. I would love to eat White’s food, but after reading about how he treats his workers, I’d rather scoop horse crap off the sidewalks of London than work for this guy. I’d rather be the chief bedding washer at a Moroccan whorehouse than work for this guy. I’d rather jack off a bull for semen collection than work for this guy. Whoa! Wait! I think I found the line in the sand...okay I’d rather work for him than do that.

He does become the youngest chef to ever win three Michelin stars, but each star is stained with the sweat, blood, and tears of anyone who ever labored for him. White worked for every great chef in Britain to learn as much as he could from them and then apply his own particular twist to their own greatness. He too was tortured by the system the same way he tortured his own staff, and like with the food, he put his own particular twist on that as well. He was on top of the world, untouchable. He had women slipping up to his private office for a quickie while their husbands waited patiently in the dining room for them to return from the “bathroom.” He threw diners out of his restaurant if they complained. If someone could not understand what he was all about, he did not have time for them.

 photo Marco20Women_zpsc85y7kst.jpg
Women were waiting in line to see The Devil in the Kitchen.

He even went into business with the toughest man in London, My-Cool Caine. Of course, they had a falling out as well, not surprising. You don’t mess around with Caine, and you don’t mess around with White. It was like putting two rocks in a blender.

White does mix in some tips on cooking that are more about seeing food differently. Seeing an egg for more than just an egg: ”Cook’s brain. It’s the ability to visualize the food on the plate, as a picture in the mind, and then work backward.”

”For instance, let’s just think for a moment about a fried egg. It’s not the most inspired dish, but then again, if you can’t cook an egg, what can you cook? And actually, a perfectly cooked fried egg is quite beautiful.”

I’m an eggoholic, so I was visualizing the clouds parting, and a ray of sunshine beaming down to turn the yolk to a yellow flame.

It really comes down to the fact that Marco Pierre White may not have been the easiest man to like, but many of the people who worked for him loved him. The tree of successful Chefs who learned from him and passed his knowledge onto another generation of chefs is wide and deep with numerous branches that can be found in just about any high-end restaurant in the world. He is still to this day the youngest chef to EVER win three Michelin stars. He was the grandson of a chef, the son of a chef, and his brothers were chefs, so the stove was his cradle. Sauces were his milk. He made music with skillets and ladles. He became the Mick Jagger of the kitchen.

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Monday, August 8, 2016

Classic Fantasy Goodness

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia, #1)The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It dawned on me the other day that I'd never read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. What an oversight! I had to fix this.

I knew the story. When we were kids, one of my cousins was all about this book and liked to tell me about it. I remember absolutely bawling my eyes out when the 1979 cartoon version aired on tv and Aslan was subdued. And then I also knew it through the more recent movie adaptation. Now, having read the actual book, it turns out I already as good as read the book. It varies very little, especially from the most recent movie version. And why should it? It's simple, straight forward, short and with very little story-fat to trim off. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is seriously a sleek book! There's barely any filler, just a straight forward narrative that takes you through the adventure.

And what an adventure! This is the kind of story young dreams are made of! What impressionable young mind could not get caught up in a fantasy of monsters, magic, evil queens, heroic lions and more with boys and girls to follow into a mystical land, leaving behind the mundane?

The only thing about the story that I could speak negatively about is its everything-and-the-kitchen-sink tossing in of whatever legendary beast Lewis could think of, plus, what the hell, let's throw in Santa Claus, too! African savanna animals, Greek mythological beasts and Old Saint Nick...sure, why not?! Maybe it wouldn't bug me as much if I didn't know that Lewis made fun of his friend Tolkien for writing fairy tales, and then he comes out with this, one of the most fanciful of fairy tales, where any manner of childhood fancy comes true. Bah, let's leave these sour grapes.

I respect Lewis the writer and thinker. I've enjoyed reading and contemplating a variety of his works. And even at the advanced age of 43, I found myself sucked into this story. I may be over 30 years beyond the target audience, but I still found plenty to love about The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe!

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Sunday, August 7, 2016

Bad Chili

Bad Chili (Hap Collins and Leonard Pine, #4)Bad Chili by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A local biker is murdered and Leonard is the prime suspect. After being bit by a possibly rabid squirrel, Hap gets out of the hospital and starts investigating. Can Hap and Leonard escape a web of blackmail, murder, bikers, and less savory things?

My reread of the Hap and Leonard books I haven't written reviews for continues. In this, the fourth volume, Lansdale introduces a couple new characters to the Hap and Leonard mythos that will be important for years to come: Hap's hot nurse girlfriend Brett and Jim Bob Luke, the cockiest detective in the world. At least one long-running character makes his exit.

The case starts simple enough. A biker who'd been seen with Leonard's boyfriend is found shotgunned to death and all fingers point to Leonard, who goes on the lam. Hap tries to hide Leonard while figuring things out and steps in a hornet's nest of grease nappers and brutal videos of gay men getting raped.

This is the fourth Hap and Leonard book I've re-read and I'm continually shocked at how brutal the early tales were compared to the more recent ones. Even though the Lansdale humor is in full effect, I never get the feeling the guys are working with a safety net, a feeling common in series detective books.

As usual, the bad guys were pretty vile, although I wasn't sure who the true villains were for much of the book. Since I was a beardless young man the first time I read this, it was like reading a new book for the most part. The ending was pretty brutal, as a lot of Lansdale endings were in the early days. Uncle Joe sure doesn't mind putting his characters through the meat grinder.

The Hap and Leonard series continues to roll on, mojo style. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, August 5, 2016

Nelson & Caleb

Kaje Harper
MLR Press
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Nelson Dunn has a settled routine - an evening security-guard job, days off for his therapy dogs, occasional club sex, and good books. He sometimes dreams about more, but he's made himself content. So when Hurricane Lauris strands Caleb Robertson at his house, Nelson has mixed feelings about having an attractive guy in his space. Especially when nothing more can possibly happen.

Caleb went to the hospital to get the cast off his broken foot. Instead, he finds himself waiting out the storm with Nelson, his three dogs, and a very wet cat. It's less of a hardship than he'd have expected.

My Review

I enjoy stories about people who are forced together by events out of their control, and this was no exception. It is also my first experience reading Kaje Harper. It definitely won’t be my last.

Nelson Dunn is an ex-cop who now works as a security guard. In his free time, he and his three dogs, Bonnie, Troy, and Snaps, volunteer at a local hospital. Nelson derives enormous satisfaction from seeing the smiles on the young patients’ faces.

Unfortunately, a hurricane is brewing and the hospital is making emergency preparations, so Nelson’s visit is cut short. He recognizes the voice of a man who works in the same building where he is a guard and offers him a ride home.

Caleb Robertson was visiting the hospital to get his cast removed, but learned that it needs to stay on another two weeks. Though it sucks to be incapacitated in such bad weather, he is grateful for Nelson’s invitation to stay at his house, as the storm becomes increasingly more dangerous.

Though the men are spending a lot of time together in close quarters and eventually act on their mutual attraction, this is not a light, fluffy romance where life is simple and the emphasis is solely on the physical. Both Caleb and Nelson have been hurt by past events and have decided a solitary existence is best. Even though the span of this story is just a few days, the men take their time getting to know each other and gradually opening up about their insecurities and imperfections accompanied by the stress, anxiety, and uncertainty of dealing with an unpredictable storm.

Nelson likes to have a plan, while Caleb is better at improvising. Nelson likes to write and Caleb likes to draw. Both love their pets dearly, but Nelson is passionate about dogs while Caleb prefers cats. Their differences and similarities make them very well-rounded and realistic characters who work well together when presented with challenges.

This was sweet, sad, and beautiful. No excess drama or angry outbursts, no shocking revelations, just quiet, powerful and touching moments.

And adorable pets.

So good.

Thursday, August 4, 2016


UnboundUnbound by Shawn Speakman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Unbound is a collection of short stories from various authors in the fantasy genre. Overall this is a good collection. The only thing I would have liked to see is at minimum a paragraph talking about what world these stories appear in because it's not clear where a reader should go if he or she wanted to read more about the characters and their world.

I reviewed these stories not in the order they appear, but in the order I chose to read them. I didn't review all the short stories, these are just some that stood out to me.

The Siege of Tilpur by Brian McClellan

Many years before Promise of Blood, Tamas was a sergeant who desperately wanted a promotion. Tamas had two things against him though, he's a commoner and a powder mage. Commoner's aren't to have ambition and powder mage's were marked for death in some countries just for being powder mages. Being the man who takes the wall and breaks the siege of Tilpur was Tamas's best chance at a promotion. When he finds out the Adran army is withdrawing from the siege, Tamas takes desperate measures for his advancement and to save lives.

Tamas is a very different man in The Siege of Tilpur than he is in the Powder Mage trilogy. He's just as arrogant, but more subdued than he was in the novella Servant of the Crown when he shot the lower part of a nobles earlobe off in a duel. Tamas knows what he's capable of and realizes he has a nearly impossible task in front of him in order to be promoted in the Adran army.

I really enjoyed The Siege of Tilpur because first Brian McClellan is an awesome author and second Tamas is one intense devoted character. He loves Adro even though those who rule it don't acknowledge him and some outright despise him. It would have been far simpler for Tamas to join The Wings of Adom who seem more concerned with merit in their ranks instead of noble blood. Tamas took some crazy risks just for the hope that someone would overlook his common blood and promote him.

The Siege of Tilpur is the reason I chose to read Unbound in the first place and I have to say I am not disappointed by that choice at all.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Small Kindnesses by Joe Abercrombie

Shev owns a dump of a husk house. She's trying to do the right thing, she even helped an unconscious mountain of a woman into her bed just that morning. Unfortunately she has a past that won't leave her alone. Shev is the best thief in Westport which means people come to her when they want things stolen. She can often say no, but when the son of a powerful man comes she has no choice but do as he says.

Small Kindnesses wasn't bad, but an introduction to the short story would have been great. I wasn't sure what world this story took place in, which happens to be Abercrombie's First Law world. I also couldn't tell when it was taking place, the only identifier I noticed was a young Severard appears and he works for Shev. So I imagine this is at least a decade prior to the events in The Blade Itself.

Lord Grimdark himself is back and Small Kindnesses is just a sample of his dark creativity. I'll have to check out Abercrombie's website to figure out if this story ties into a new book. It certainly seems like it does as this story reads like the first chapter or two of a longer book.

3.5 out of 5 stars

The Ethical Heresy by Sam Sykes

The story begins with some heretics against the Venarium being tortured, witch burned on the stake style with magic thrown in there. The story is told from the perspective of the apprentice Dreadaeleon. Dread isn't the sharpest, but he has some ability. He and fellow apprentice Cesta are pressed into service while searching for the leader of the Heretics and things get crazy from there.

The Ethical Heresy was my first exposure to Sam Sykes and I have to say I liked it. This story was a mash up of Wizards, Jedi child snatchers, desertion, and consequences. It reads much better than that mini description, but those were all familiar territories I noticed. In the end I have to say I will be checking out more of Sam Sykes books because of The Ethical Heresy.

4 out of 5 stars

The Game by Michael J. Sullivan

The employees of DysanSoft are facing an impossible issue. A character in their game Realms of Rah isn't following his programing. Many games have glitches like characters walking through walls or falling into the sky, but that's not what they're facing here. It appears a giant dark green troll named Troth has gained sentience. DysanSoft's president wants answers, but the employees just don't have answers.

Michael J. Sullivan takes on a highly philosophical idea in a familiar technological format in The Game. Troth is eerily aware of the world he lives in and he's asking the big questions of where did he come from, what happens when he dies, and why is the world like this. Troth's creator Jeri Blainey recently asked the same questions herself when her father died and wonders how could Troth be this way.

I've seen many stories like The Game that attempts to answer the unknowable parts of life and I find them all interesting in their own way. They are thought provoking, but in the end they only leave me with more questions. The Game was certainly an unexpected short story in the Unbound collection.

3.5 out of 5 stars

A Good Name by Mark Lawrence

Firestone is a young tribal man who just passed his manhood trial. Unfortunately he has anger in him which he unleashes on a member of his tribe over something trivial and is sent to face the king. Nothing from that point on goes as he once expected.

A Good Name is likely a story I could appreciate more if I got into the Broken Empire series. I tried reading the first book before and wasn't a fan so perhaps it's time to give it another try. The writing in the short story is solid yet unspectacular.

3 out of 5 stars

The Farmboy Prince by Brian Staveley

The Farmboy Prince is one of those short stories that's easy to appreciate without being familiar with the main story or world the story exists in. Peasants are peasants and these peasants knew their place. A bit vulgar, but when the POV character is rough around the edges it only makes sense that his vocabulary matches.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Madwalls by Rachel Caine

I liked the writing style of Madwalls, but the story made absolutely no sense to me.

3 out of 5 stars

Jury Duty by Jim Butcher

Jury Duty is a Harry Dresden Law and Order episode. An ex-con gone straight is being set up to go to jail because of supernatural interests and Dresden can't just let that happen. This was a pretty good short story even with the fact that I've barely read any of the Dresden books. Short stories like this one make me feel like I should give the main series another try.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Pride's Spell (Sin du Jour #3) By: Matt Wallace

Pride's Spell (Sin du Jour, #3)Pride's Spell by Matt Wallace
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

OK, I told you a LONG damn time ago to read the Sin du Jour series and here we are book #3 and you haven't picked it up yet. WHAT are you waiting for??? Remember that time when you walked in on that famous ass British T.V. chef that screams lot and those two fantasy authors and those chickens at that El Ray network party? YEAH, that time..well that unholy sight produced these babies, and Thank the Lloyd and his mercy that they did.

These books are too damn fun. I am not reviewing one..I love them all like the pokemons. READ THIS SERIES!

(I'm done yelling now) 38 beans in a bowl of nine bean soup!

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Dark Matter By: Blake Crouch

Dark MatterDark Matter by Blake Crouch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A good buddy of mine gave me this book, and while we don't have exactly the same taste in books, I NEVER turn books away. I am very very glad I didn't, I consumed this book in two sittings. A brilliant science fiction thriller that I will call "The best movie that you haven't seen yet." It reads very much in my eyes screenplay like, which I have discovered that it will be a movie eventually.

Fast paced, beautiful concept, and fun from start to finish. BUY it, consume it and then haunt Mr Crouch's social feed and tell him to write more stuff.

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Monday, August 1, 2016

The Original Vet Author

Every Living ThingEvery Living Thing by James Herriot
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a joy to discover I had one more unread book to read by legendary vet and author James Herriot! I thought I'd read this one back when I was downing these books like they were water, but I guess I missed it. Many of the stories are familiar, but I realized that's probably because they were used in the tv series, all the episodes of which I've seen a couple times over.

Every Living Thing has all the wonderful goodness of the first four books in the series. Plenty of veterinarian triumphs and failures with that human-to-animal and vice versa connection ever present in Herriot's work. The remote English windswept countryside comes to living-breathing life as a backdrop to the well-described trials and tribulations of the vet, the farmers he served and the cows, horses, dogs, cats, sheep, etc etc etc that so enveloped their lives.

Once I realized I hadn't read this one before I really started to get into it. After all, this is probably the last Herriot book I'd ever read. I've loved them so very much that I wanted to learn more about his world. I went online and found the town of Thirsk, UK, which I'd once driven through in search of the veterinarian practice where he worked. I didn't find it then, back in ye olden pre-smart phone days, but I found it now on Google Street View, which even allows you to step inside the house and have a look around! I also read a Wiki page to two about Herriot and his books, and came to find out that many of the characters I suspected were completely fictional were actually real! Of course the names have been changed, but I was surprised that they were actual people, because the way Herriot portrayed them, they seemed too ridiculous to be true. I'm thinking mainly of "Mrs. Pomphrey". I learned the sad news that back when I originally read these most of the people, including the writer himself, were dying of old age, ailments and accidents. Bummer.

But always, Herriot balanced the happy with the sad, and Every Living Thing strikes that balance perfectly. It's a great finish to a great series!

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This Generation's James Herriot?

Never Turn Your Back on an Angus Cow: My Life as a Country VetNever Turn Your Back on an Angus Cow: My Life as a Country Vet by Jan Pol
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This ain't no All Creatures Great and Small, but it ain't bad neither!

Jan Pol is a veterinarian practicing in Michigan and the star of a reality show on Nat Geo Wild. In fact, it's the channel's most popular show.

Never Turn Your Back on an Angus Cow is Pol's cash-in-on-popularity book. I don't blame him! I don't think he even wanted to write it, but when the people want it, you do what you got to do.

It's apparent that writing isn't Pol's number one strength. He's an immigrant from the Netherlands, so English isn't his first language. Plus, he's a doctor, damn it, not an author! There are occasional awkward phrasings and a few repetitions. However, all in all, it's a good effort.

Any time a vet writes a book about his/her adventures in large animal practice, it's going to be compared with James Herriot's beloved work. It just is. Pol is no Herriot. He isn't trying to be. Herriot was a grand storyteller, who added fictional flourishes to his factual narrative. With this book, Pol just dishes out case after case without embellishment or much flair. Certainly he is a character to rival those found in the Herriot books, but he is a 100% real person and that comes through in his writing.

Pol has come under scrutiny since his show began airing. Seems some viewers don't like the way he's handled some of his cases. That gets addressed in the book and it's nice to hear his side of the story.

Warts and all, this is an enjoyable story that I recommend to anyone with an interest in animals.

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