Monday, October 31, 2016

Getting Lost in a Past Re-imagined

The Lost World (Professor Challenger, #1)The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Who doesn't wish dinosaurs weren't still around? Well, maybe not the big bitey ones, but how cool would that be?! Hell, I'd even take the huge, face-ripping ones too if it were an all-or-nothing deal. I figure a little survival of the fittest would do this world good.

Since that's not likely to happen during my lifetime, I'll console myself with movies and books. The Lost World is a good place to be for those of us looking to get lost in a dino world.

This is a forerunner of the what-if history throwbacks to the Jurassic period. Being an older work it suffers for the style of the day. Sometimes writing styles of various eras aren't all that bad, but this one's no good. Nothing kills the momentum, surprise and thrill of reading when the author preempts a thrilling surprise scene by announcing that "a thrilling surprise happened and I'm about to tell you about it!". Damn it man, we can decide if it's thrilling, and furthermore, do you even know what a surprise is?!

Arthur Conan Doyle did better work with his Sherlock series. This book is a fun adventure, but it's not a great read. The set up takes a while. The action moves a bit and the stakes are fairly high, but "a bit" and "fairly" shouldn't be the descriptives used to describe this.

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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Marvel Masterworks: Doctor Strange, Vol. 1

Marvel Masterworks: Doctor Strange, Vol. 1Marvel Masterworks: Doctor Strange, Vol. 1 by Stan Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Marvel Masterworks: Doctor Strange contains the Doctor Strange stories from Strange Tales #110-111, 114-141 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

Since there's a Doctor Strange movie in the works starring Benedict Cumberbatch, I decided it was time to read the original Doctor Strange stories, since most of my previous Doctor Strange exposure was from the 1990s Doctor Strange series and the various times he guest starred in other titles.

For those of us who don't know, Doctor Strange was an uncaring, egotistical surgeon until a car accident damaged the nerves in his hands, leaving him unable to perform further operations. A distraught Doctor Strange makes his way to the Himalayas and meets the Ancient One, his first step toward redemption and his role of Sorcerer Supreme.

Most of these stories are only 8-10 pages long and, by the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth, are they formulaic. The template goes as follows: A foe of Doctor Strange's, usually Baron Mordo, hatches a scheme. Doctor Strange assumes his ectoplasmic form and uses his amulet to save the day. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The book really shines once Strange is given more pages and Ditko settles into his rhythm. It's very interesting to see Ditko's art evolve as the series progresses. The stories become more and more complex, spanning over a year of issues. The story that beings with the The Defeat of Doctor Strange and evolves into the quest for Eternity must have been something to read as the monthly installments trickled out.

A lot of key elements of the Doctor Strange mythos are introduced, namely Doctor Stephen Strange, Baron Mordo, The Ancient One, Dormammu, and Clea, although she doesn't yet have a name in this volume. This is a 50 year old comic so I'm unable to judge it by today's standards. Stan Lee's writing is pretty hokey, though I love his repeated mentions of Hoggoth, Raggador, Cyttorak, and Dormammu. The Dread Dormammu, in particular, because he eventually becomes Doctor Strange's main foe.

The art pretty sweet, though. Steve Ditko depicts the various realms is blazing, psychedelic form. I can totally see why these stories are so well-regarded art wise. The Mindless Ones and the Dread Dormammu are very cool and the otherworldly landscapes are truly something to behold, a crazy panorama of vivid colors and bizarre shapes.

For its place in comics history, the crazy concepts, and the psychedelic Ditko art, I'm giving this four out of five stars. The Stan Lee writing isn't without its charms in a Silver Age kind of way but has definitely not stood the test of time and I'd grade the collection much harder if I took that under consideration.

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Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga Deluxe Edition

Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga Deluxe EditionLegion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga Deluxe Edition by Paul Levitz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Legion of Super-Heroes suffers a series of setbacks, leaving them vulnerable. When a mysterious manipulator sends his powerful servants to retrieve magical artifacts, the Legion heads for the fight of their lives...

Confession time: When I was in the second grade, one of my favorite comics was Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes. What kid wouldn't like a team of 50(!) super-powered teenagers from various planets in the 30th century. The Great Darkness Saga has been on my radar for years, as it is cited as one of the greatest super-hero comics of the 1980's. Did it live up to the hype?

First, some caveats. This is very much a 1980s comic. There is an over-abundance of cluttered word balloons, the writing is simplistic, and the characters are a bit on the thin side. Much like an X-Men trade I read a few years ago, the cover of this one spoils who the villain is, which I would have liked to have pieced together alongside Brainiac 5. Way to ruin the surprise, DC!

However, this is a pretty epic tale, especially for the time period. The mystery villain is gathering his strength after a thousand year sleep and has some big plans in the works. The Legion is in disarray after a series of setbacks, involving the return of Computo, Khunds, Legionnaires retiring, and a lot of other stuff and the when the apocalyptic scheme goes into place, it's a wonder anyone survives.

Since DC has gone to the "dark side" in recent years, I'm surprised they haven't scavenged the main villain's plot for one of their company-wide, momentum-killing crossovers yet. A planet full of pissed off Superman-level people under the thrall of an all-powerful menace threatening damn near everything seems like money in the bank to me.

All gripes aside, The Great Darkness Saga was a trip down memory lane, a reminder of innocent times and what made me like the Legion in the first place. All of my old favorites were in attendance: Wildfire, Mon-El, UltraBoy, Braniac 5, even Matter Eater Lad, whose super powers I appreciate much more as I approach 40. Did my brain conveniently forget UltraBoy always announcing which of his powers he was using? Note to those unfamiliar to the Legion: UltraBoy had all the powers of Superman but he could only use one at a time.

While it wasn't my favorite 1980s comic storyline and seems a little hokey by today's standards, it was damn good for its time. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, October 28, 2016

Aki's Love Song

Sedonia Guillone
Ai Press
Reviewed by Nancy
2 out of 5 stars


Since high school, Tamotsu has watched his best friend Aki grow from a rebellious but musically talented teenager to one of the most popular music artists in Japan. Though he’s been secretly in love with Aki for years, enduring the endless string of admirers Aki takes for lovers, Tamotsu suffers silently because he knows deep down that he is really the one person in the world Aki turns to for true friendship and solace.

But when Aki unveils an unknown and haunting love song he’s composed in secret during a concert, Tamotsu fears that Aki has finally found someone he can have a lasting relationship with. Only such a deep, abiding passion could inspire a song that beautiful.

Is Aki really saying good bye to him in the only way he can, through his music? Or is Aki telling Tamotsu something else?

My Review

"His breath shortened as Aki began to sing, a slow, heart-rending ballad about unrequited love and the tremors of his heart in the presence of the one who was completely unaware.”

In many ways this was similar to Soy Sauce Face. Two Japanese men deeply in love for years and unable to express their feelings toward each other, one physically slight while the other is hardened from manual labor, and one very loyal and protective while the other flits from one loveless relationship to another.

While reading about Jun and Tomo’s relationship made me feel like I was cocooned in a warm blanket, Aki and Tamotsu felt a little distant, making it difficult for me to connect with them. I suspect much of that had to do with the third-person narration, which felt like all telling and not much showing.

By the end of this competently written short story, I was unable to summon a single emotion.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Hidden Universe Travel Guides: The Complete Marvel Cosmos: With Notes by the Guardians of the Galaxy

Hidden Universe Travel Guides: The Complete Marvel Cosmos: With Notes by the Guardians of the GalaxyHidden Universe Travel Guides: The Complete Marvel Cosmos: With Notes by the Guardians of the Galaxy by Marc Sumerak
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Marvel Universe is quite vast thanks to it's many locations from Earth to Asgard along with the many alien planets and alternate universes. The Guardians of the Galaxy provide commentary on the known Marvel Universe.

The Hidden Universe Travel Guides: The Complete Marvel Cosmos is a Marvel history lovers dream. The attention to various locations alone is staggering as newer locations such as the Quiet Room and the Alpha Flight space station are included. I was surprised to see the inclusion of alternate universes as the majority are only visited once over a short period of time.

The Complete Marvel Cosmos is a solid book full of the tidbits honorary Marvel historians live for.

3 out of 5 stars

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

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Captain America: Sam Wilson, Vol. 1: Not My Captain America

Captain America: Sam Wilson, Vol. 1: Not My Captain AmericaCaptain America: Sam Wilson, Vol. 1: Not My Captain America by Nick Spencer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sam Wilson, formerly Captain America's sidekick Falcon, has donned the name of Captain America.
Because of a few I'll advised choices Sam finds himself without the support of SHIELD and with the general public angry at him. He's a super hero on a budget now.

I've given Sam Wilson a few tries as Captain America and I'm just not a fan. Something about him is lacking in the role. The storyline in this issue wasn't overly compelling as it takes a shallow yet realistic look at political issues the country is facing and how corporations are able to get away with a lot because of their role in the economy. It's weird seeing a supervillain rant about corporate profit structure and the nature of business in such a detailed sense. I don't imagine younger readers would have any appreciation for this, but perhaps the politics would go over their heads and therefore lead them to simply see kicks and punches. The storyline isn't one I'm particularly interested in either though.

The title says it best, Sam Wilson is Not My Captain America.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water LiliesMad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies by Ross King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”It is difficult to separate discussions of an artist’s ‘late work’ from romantic associations of blind seers offering up unutterable visions from beyond the threshold, or of old men raging against the dying of the light. But it is undeniable that as his eye filmed over and his vision slowly dimmed, Monet, ‘who caught and sang the sun in flight,’ focused ever more intently on the fleeting rays of light that he had always chased and cherished.”

 photo 9571ee58-f6c1-4133-b82d-9e8607247956_zpsv2p3bmug.png
Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet

Claude Monet, along with the artists Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille, started a new movement of painting that eventually was known as Impressionism. The name was taken from Monet’s painting Impression, Sunrise and was meant as a derogatory term. Three other artists joined their band of independent artists: Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne, and Armand Guillaumin. They wanted to paint in the outdoors and take advantage of the spontaneity and vibrant colors of nature. They, in particular Monet, wanted to show paintings that went beyond just what the eye could readily see. Monet had very acute vision. ”’He sees differently from the rest of humanity,’speculating that he was acutely sensitive to colors at the ultra-violent end of the spectrum.”

Later in life, that spectacular vision of his was shrouded with cataracts. He had several painful surgeries that restored some of his vision, but his sight never fully recovered. Regardless, he continued to paint until the darkness that only death can bring snuffed the last light out of those remarkable eyes. Those eyes that could see and share so much that we cannot see.

I’m convinced he was a genius.

It wasn’t just his remarkable eyesight, but also the tantrums he threw when he couldn’t quite master on canvas what he saw in his eye. Every time he started a new painting, he attempted to make not a painting that was a perceived masterpiece to other people, but a masterpiece that captured the details exactly as he saw them. He would use up to twelve layers of paint in an attempt to recreate the perfect ripple or glimmer or splash of color. When displeased, he would slash canvases and kick holes in them with his feet. Geniuses throw the best fits just read about the epic outbursts of Mozart or Beethoven or Steve Jobs.

Monet was angry at himself, at his human limitations.

His best friend, the warrior French politician Georges Clemenceau, if he were around during one of these explosions, would brave the wrath of the painter and grab paintings out of the reach of the vengeful artist. At times, Monet did feel like he was at war with his canvases. I refer to Clemenceau as a warrior because he fought twenty-two duels and survived them all. He also took on the bureaucracy of the French government and managed to tame them and focus them long enough to win WW1 by the sheer force of his will.

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Monet in his garden.

Clemenceau and Monet were an odd match for friendship if one only looks at the surface details of who they are, but they were both accomplished in their fields. At times, they were the very best in their fields, and that level of achievement sometimes makes it difficult to find people one can consider an equal, a confidant who could truly understand the frustrations of being perfectionists.

Monet did for water lilies what Vincent Van Gogh did for sunflowers. His gardens in Giverny were a marvel, nestled into a town that was famous for its fairytale beauty. He built a house festooned with bright, bold colors. It was always hard to pry him away from his home, his studio. How wonderful that he found the place he most wanted to be, and it took a great temptation to get him even to go to Paris for an exhibition of his work.

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Monet’s dining room at Giverny. The vibrant yellow became known as Monet Yellow.

There are always strange nuances that I discover when I read a biography of any person. Monet may have never been the Monet who paints water lilies if his second wife Alice had not put her foot down about female models. It was either the models or her. Monet decided it was easier to work on landscapes and leave the nude models to his fellow artists. What some critics will say is that ghost feminine shapes in the leaves can be spied in most of his paintings. Are they seeing what they want to see or was Monet craftly adding the beauty of women in the swirls of his paint? Paintings can be interpreted in a number of ways, the same way stories can change meaning depending upon who reads them.

I’ve read several Ross King books and will read many more. He fills gaps in my knowledge and makes the subject of his book, Brunelleschi's Dome or Machiavelli or Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci, come alive, whether the subject be made of stone, paint, or flesh. Highly Recommended!

 photo UK20Mad20Enchantment_zpsmr7yrgto.jpg

I elected to buy the British edition of this book because the book itself is a work of art. They printed one of Monet’s waterlily paintings on the canvas boards, and instead of a dust wrapper, they chose to put an elegant belly band around the book. The band allows more of the beautiful boards to show. It is nice to see a publisher putting the extra effort into improving the reading experience.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Crosstalk by Connie Willis

CrosstalkCrosstalk by Connie Willis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is my first Connie Willis book, I have a few but never got around to reading them (yes..I am VERY BEHIND don't remind me).

I dug it, Crosstalk really comes across like a script idea for a movie or tv show. Well written, decent pace, and good characters. My issues are few, I didn't care for the main characters, the world is very accurate and reading it I realized how much I dislike alot of the information age. I am a huge info junkie but now a days everyone knows everything about everything almost the second it happens.

That bugs me.

That being sad, a fun book that could use some editing, but worth the read.

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Like a Wodehouse Murder Mystery

Strong Poison (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, #6)Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was reading this, feeling a whole lotta deja vu and just wondering which came first, Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey series or PG Wodehouse's Wooster/Jeeves series, when out of the blue one of Sayers' characters name-drops Jeeves!

For me and the sort of reading I enjoy, this hit the spot! It was like reading a murder mystery penned by Wodehouse. And if you're been reading my reviews, you know he's one of my favorite authors. There's something very Wooster-like about the foppish Wimsey. The style, language and flippancy of '20s/'30s England mirror Wodehouse almost to a tee.

The major difference is in the slightly more serious tone. This is about a murder trial, after all. It's not the most devilishly clever of murder mysteries, but it's good reading and I will definitely pick up another in the Wimsey series!

Rating Note: This was a strong 3.5 stars. I'll give it 4 stars for sheer enjoyment over any sense of writing quality.

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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Indian Country Noir

Indian Country NoirIndian Country Noir by Sarah Cortez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Indian Country Noir is a collection of noir tales focusing on Native Americans.

Helper: As two men are coming for him, Indian Charlie remembers the past deeds that brought them to him. This story starts the collection with some action and dirty deeds. Good stuff.

Osprey Lake: On the run after a hold up, Don and Heather hole up in a secluded cabin built on a sacred hill. I could feel the biting cold while reading this. I felt bad for Heather as the situation unfolded.

Dead Medicine Snake Woman: A former marine sees a woman thrown off a subway platform and tries to help. But does the woman really exist? This was an interesting tale but I'm not precisely sure what happened. Was it a tale of a man fighting a monster or fighting the monsters inside himself?

Indian Time: Fred, an Indian man, gets time with his kids for the first time in two years. He and his girlfriend teach them about their heritage. This was an emotional tale with a great ending.

On Drowning Pond: A homeless woman drowns in a pond under suspicious circumstances. In the years following, numerous men are found dead under similar conditions. This one was pretty spooky and illuminates the plight of Native American alcoholics.

Daddy's Girl: Daniel Carson is hired to track down a missing girl and retrieve some stolen money. Will he bring her back alive?

This one was a fairly standard PI tale with a Native American lead. The ending surprised the shit out of me.

The Raven and the Wolf: Detective John Raven Beau is hunting for the killer of a cop, a man calling himself The Wolf.

This one reminded me of the last one, only the Native American lead is a cop, not a PI. So far, The Raven and the Wolf is neck and neck with Daddy's Girl as the best story in the book.

Juracan: Papo goes to Puerto Rico for a wedding and gets entangled in sinister dealings involving the Taino, the indigenous people of Puerto Rico.

This one was long and convoluted. I'd be lying if I said I enjoyed it. The Taino culture was interesting, though. A deposed drug dealer forces a PI to create a new identity for her in exchange for a list of meth dealers on all Indian reservations.

This one had some twists and turns. The ending was pretty sweet.

Lame Elk: After a beating during a drunken bender, a man offers Lame Elk a chance to turn his life around.

This was a touching, depressing tale about an alcoholic not really being given a chance to make things right.

Another Role: Washed up Indian actor Harry Garson gets tapped to play the role of a lifetime. But is it too good to be true?

Yes, yes it was. Another Role was a tale of double and triple crosses. Pretty good.

Getting Lucky: Lucretia "Lucky" Eagle Feather meets a gambler in an Indian reservation casino in Michigan. Will he get Lucky?

Lawrence Block penned this tale and it's one of the stars of the show. There's some kink and a great twist ending, as befits the master.

Prowling Wolves: Ira Hayes struggles with drink and flashbacks after Iwo Jima.

This was a pretty powerful tale.

Quilt like a Night Sky: Boone Lone Rider finally comes home.

Geez, this was a dark note to end the anthology on. Another story of a Native American laid low by substance abuse.

End Thoughts: I thought this collection was much better than the last Akashic Noir book I read, Prison Noir. The best stories of the collection, in my opinion, were Getting Lucky, Daddy's Girl, and The Raven and the Wolf. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Tigers and Devils

Sean Kennedy
Dreamspinner Press
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


The most important things in Simon Murray’s life are football, friends, and film—in that order. His friends despair of him ever meeting someone, but despite his loneliness, Simon is cautious about looking for more. Then his best friends drag him to a party, where he barges into a football conversation and ends up defending the honour of star forward Declan Tyler—unaware that the athlete is present. In that first awkward meeting, neither man has any idea they will change each other's lives forever.

Like his entire family, Simon revels in living in Melbourne, the home of Australian Rules football and mecca for serious fans. There, players are treated like gods—until they do something to fall out of public favour. This year, the public is taking Declan to task for suffering injuries outside his control, so Simon's support is a bright spot.

But as Simon and Declan fumble toward a relationship, keeping Declan's homosexuality a secret from well-meaning friends and an increasingly suspicious media becomes difficult. Nothing can stay hidden forever. Soon Declan will have to choose between the career he loves and the man he wants, and Simon has never been known to make things easy—for himself or for others.

My Review

Declan Tyler is a famous, but closeted, football player. Simon Murray is a film festival director. These two very different men meet at a party that Simon is forced to attend by his best friend, Roger, and his wife, Fran. Declan and Simon hit it off instantly, but they are in for many difficult times ahead.

Because of Declan’s fame, both men have to deal with lots of media attention, which eventually casts a spotlight on Declan’s sexuality and creates problems for Declan and Simon, both within their relationship, and among their friends, families and colleagues. As if this is not difficult enough, Declan and Simon are typical of many men who have a problem with communication. Misunderstandings and hurt feelings are rife, but Declan and Simon really love each other and are determined to make their relationship work. They are very fortunate to have loyal, understanding and supportive friends who stand by them.

Tigers and Devils is a sweet, angst-filled, emotional, humorous and heartwarming romance. While the guys do have sex, it is subtle and non-explicit. The emphasis here is on the relationship. The main and secondary characters are well-developed, interesting, and complex. It is refreshing to read a gay romance with likable female characters. Football is a significant part of the story and helps move it along, but if you’re not a fan, don’t worry. There is just enough detail to give the reader a picture of the sport without bogging down the plot.

Oh, did I mention the story takes place in Australia? And thankfully there are no Americanisms! Sure, I had to look up a few terms, but that certainly didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the story. I loved the glimpse into Australian life and culture.

I loved spending time with Simon and Declan and enjoyed the full-length of this story. My only complaint is that it ended.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Doctor Strange, Vol. 1: The Way of the Weird

Doctor Strange, Vol. 1: The Way of the WeirdDoctor Strange, Vol. 1: The Way of the Weird by Jason Aaron
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Magical creatures are fleeing their normal realms and appearing on Earth.
The cause isn't clear, but what is clear is all things magic are under attack.

The Way of the Weird shows what life is like as the Sorcerer Supreme and it sucks. For all the grief other heroes like Spider-Man go through this volume made it clear that Stephen Strange likely has the worst hero job. The others at least get acknowledged for their actions, but to the general public Dr. Strange gets little credit for his sacrifices. A few new aspects of magic were revealed in this issue and I'm not sure how I feel about them. Magical heroes aren't the titles I normally read, but this was pretty good.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Dream StoryDream Story by Arthur Schnitzler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Am I sure? Only as sure as I am that the reality of one night, let alone that of a whole lifetime, can ever be the whole truth.”

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The Bride (1918) by Klimt

It all begins with a confession of sorts as his wife Albertine tells him of a fantasy she had involving a man that she saw on their vacation. Fridolin also confesses that he had desired a young woman on the beach.

It seems fairly harmless after all.

When we marry, we don’t go numb from the waist down and the neck up. We continue to notice attractive people and continue to be titillated by charming and intelligent ones, as well. It could be a ruggedly handsome waiter in a restaurant or a pretty pearl wearing bartender or a French beret wearing poet or a saucy librarian with libidinous thoughts. There are a host of emotions that are involved with noticing that our spouse is interested in some other person. If it is one sided, it can just be amusing or mildly annoying. If the interest is reciprocated, then it can unleash a torrent of reactions from fear to pride to jealousy to finding your spouse that much more alluring because someone else recognized those qualities that you may have started to take for granted.

Flirtations or mild crushes, in most cases, just adds a bit of spice to life.

For Fridolin, this confession of his wife, even though his confession is very similar, unmoors him. It is as if the possibilities of his life are suddenly opening up to him, and women whom he met every day suddenly take on the glow of possibility. Soon after the dream confessions, Fridolin, who is a doctor,, is called out to a client in dire health. Unfortunately, his trip is for naught as the man has passed when he arrives.

Thus begins one of the strangest evenings, an odyssey really, of Fridolin’s life. By the end of the night, he has met a series of women, all women who are interested in sleeping with him and all whom he would like to sleep with. In thinking about which he would prefer, he canot decide. ”To the little Pierrette? Or to the little trollop in the Buchfeldgasse? Or to Marianne, the daughter of the dead Court Counsellor?” It does not matter for they are all about to be replaced by a woman he is on the verge of meeting in precarious circumstances.

”Fridolin was intoxicated, and not merely by her presence, her fragrant body and burning red lips, nor by the atmosphere of the room and the aura of lascivious secrets that surrounded him; he was at once thirsty and delirious, made so by all the adventures of the night, none of which had led to anything, by his own audacity, and by the sea-change he felt within himself. He stretched out and touched the veil covering her head, as though intended to remove it.”

He has fallen into a secret sex club with the help of his piano playing friend Nachtigall. He isn’t supposed to be there. He was never supposed to meet this woman with the burning red lips. He is supposed to be home with his wife and daughter.

Though it is an evening fraught with sexual possibilities, he is like a man walking through a museum admiring the intriguing paintings, but touching none of them.

His wife has more dreams to confess.

 photo arthur-schnitzler_zpss6f74utp.jpg
Look at all that hair the young Arthur Schnitzler had.

Arthur Schnitzler’s work was considered filth by Adolf Hitler. Anything that upsets that goose stepping, stiff necked, little pipsqueak should be read by the rest of the civilized world with reverence. Schnitzler was born in 1862 and died in Vienna in 1931. If he had lived long enough, the Nazis would have most certainly beaten him and had him thrown in some damp hole for being the Viennese Henry Miller, a few decades before Miller knew he was Miller. If his writing was not enough of an incentive to bring him to the attention of the Third Reich, certainly his Jewish ethnicity would have condemned him just as quickly.

Schnitzler had numerous affairs, sometimes with several women at the same time. He kept a Journal for most of his life and dutifully recorded not only every assignation, but every orgasm. A bit OCD about the adventures of his willie, wouldn’t you say? The venerated Viennese doctor of psychology Sigmund Freud said in a letter to Schnitzler, "I have gained the impression that you have learned through intuition – although actually as a result of sensitive introspection – everything that I have had to unearth by laborious work on other persons." Was there a bit of Freudian jealousy in that observation? Does Freud need some time on his own couch? Fridolin may have thought about making conquests of women, but Schnitzler turned thought into deed.

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Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut. Is it just me or do those wire rimmed glasses make her look very naughty!

Stanley Kubrick directed a film based on this novel called Eyes Wide Shut, (1999) starring the then married Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise. I know I watched the film, but I don’t remember a bloody thing about it. I must have been plastered or snogging or both when I watched it, so I must apologize for not being able to make at the very least some pithy remarks comparing the film to the book. I have a feeling the two may have very little to do with each other, but I’m sure out there in GR land, there are several people who can weigh in on whether the film conveyed Schnitzler’s thoughts or was just a jumping off place for Kubrick/Kidman/Cruise to explore their own ideas.

A quick read with some fascinating observations about relationships, the brain, and our natural/unnatural attractions to the people we come into contact with.

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Monday, October 17, 2016


The Triple Agent: The al-Qaeda Mole who Infiltrated the CIAThe Triple Agent: The al-Qaeda Mole who Infiltrated the CIA by Joby Warrick
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reading this was pretty much like watching Zero Dark Thirty. It's about the man who blew himself up in 2009 at the CIA base Camp Chapman at Khost in eastern Afghanistan.

Seven American CIA officers and contractors, an officer of Jordan's intelligence service, and an Afghan working for the CIA were killed when al-Balawi detonated a bomb sewn into a vest he was wearing. Six other American CIA officers were wounded. The bombing was the most lethal attack against the CIA in more than 25 years. - Wikipedia

"Al-Balawi" refers to Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi a doctor, who spent much of his free time using an alias to write fanatical diatribes for fundamentalist Islamic sites online. Jordanian agents got ahold of him, thought the converted him into a mole and sent him off to supposedly infiltrate al-Qaeda leadership. It appeared he had.

Appearances deceived.

Balawi went to al-Qaeda and they turned him into one of their most successful weapons. A video surfaced of Balawi with the radical Islamist group's number three man, Ayman al-Zawahiri. It appeared Balawi was treating the ailing Zawahiri. Balawi's intimate knowledge of these ailments, which were known in detail by the CIA and Jordanian agents, seemed to lend credibility to his claims of infiltration. Relating such details gave the pro-western forces hope that they had themselves a reliable mole.

Not all were convinced. But U.S. pressure for results rashly hastened as face-to-face meeting with their relatively new supposed double agent. And then the shit hit the fan.

The title, The Triple Agent, might be technically correct, but its validity is tenuous at best. I believe it's used to titillate and entice. When thinking of a "triple" agent, one imagines an intelligence officer of brilliant cunning and possessing the wherewithal to lie convincing while maintaining the appearance of cooperation. Balawi may have been smart, but it seems he had little need to display cunning. After he was sent off to join al-Qaeda as a double agent, the CIA/Jordanians had very little contact with him. It doesn't take a hardened veteran of spycraft to keep the sort of cover Balawi had to keep. He just didn't make himself available and said next to nothing until the CIA literally opened their gates and gave him free access without the usual checks and precautions.

The book mostly stays on topic, veering off only to give background to an event, idea or person in order to infuse the whole with a greater understanding. The Triple Agent is only as long as it ought to be and that's a big plus.

Don't let the 3 stars fool you. This was quite good, imo, and I really enjoyed it. Perhaps I'm unfairly docking it a star for its subject matter. I already knew the basics of the story, a story without much depth. Man hates western ideals, man blows self up and takes western agents with him. It's fascinating, emotional, and horrible and it's over quite quick.

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Poetry or just religion re-write?

The ProphetThe Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kahlil Gibran is a name that's been revolving around the fringes of my to-read possibilities. As one of the most widely read writers in the world, how could he not?

The Prophet combines faith and philosophy in a series of questions and answers on life and death and all the big topics in between, all delivered in a style similar to the Socratic Method...except that it's not really promoting any kind of critical thinking. Yes, there are some fundamental truths to be gleaned herein, same as you'd find in the Bible for example. But then there are passages that essentially say: don't bother learning, you know it all already. I guess you just have to coax it out of yourself by yourself. Or just listen to God. Have faith and you'll know all you need to know. Oh, and don't bother talking. Gibran says talking murders thought. Certainly it's tough to get any thinking done while someone is talking to you, but is really does help your thoughts to evolve when you talk things over with others with experience and wisdom.

Poetry isn't my thing anymore, so I was hesitant to read The Prophet. Luckily it's not poetry. Well, it's "prose poetry". But to me this sort of writing has very little resemblance to poetry...which is a good thing, as far as I'm concerned. However, many of the lines do have a certain poetic flair. There is a melodic flow and it is a pleasure to read, especially when one of Gibran's philosophical tidbits rings true.

I'm not surprised this saw a resurgence in popularity with the counterculture of the 1960s. This offers up the sort of loose philosophy that would attract those in search of something to believe in outside of organized religion. There was some good to be found within the pages of The Prophet. There was also some good within The Bible. I'd rather read this again though. It's a lot shorter.

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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Miracleman, Book One: The Golden Age

Miracleman, Book One: The Golden AgeMiracleman, Book One: The Golden Age by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

People struggle to live in the utopia Miracleman and Miraclewoman have created.

The Golden Age is a collection of single issue stories, slice of life tales set in the world Miracleman and Miraclewoman have created. While well-written, not a hell of a lot actually happens.

It pains me to rate something Neil Gaiman wrote less than a four but The Golden Age is pretty boring. Parts of it read like a trial run for things he later made magical with The Sandman. Buckingham's art also feels like a prelude to greater things. I will say that The Golden Age feels a lot more polished and less dated than in places than Alan Moore's take on things earlier in the series.

I respect The Golden Age's place in the Miracleman pantheon but I can't muster a whole lot of enthusiasm for ever reading it again. Three out of five stars but it really had to work for them.

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Friday, October 14, 2016


Jordan Castillo Price
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


The hunt is on.

Pretty young men and women like Michael's best friend, Scary Mary, are disappearing from underground goth clubs all over Detroit. For over two years, Michael has been scouring the midwest for buried newspaper articles and obscure medical reports, and now he's finally pinpointed the source of the problem. Too bad he can't exactly go to the cops and tell them his friend was murdered by vampires. Since it's his duty to start wiping out the scourge, he's posing as bait—and he's got a bag of sharpened hickory stakes to do the job.

Everything should go smoothly, given the amount of preparation that Michael has put into the hunt. He's got a practiced repertoire of come-hither eyeliner looks and a full blister-pack of the date rape drug Rohypnol. But he didn't count on Wild Bill showing up.

Wild Bill is a vision in spiked hair and scuffed black leather—exactly the type of guy Michael would have fallen for…if he'd ever had the chance. Unfortunately, with a vampire in his sights, Michael has no time for an actual date. Despite his best efforts, it seems there's nothing Michael can do to shake Bill loose. Looks like they're in for a wild, wild ride.

My Review

Michael is sitting in a bar awaiting the vampire he spent two years tracking. There’s no way that a hot little number with bleached blond hair who calls himself Wild Bill is going to distract him from his mission.

Though Wild Bill is persistent, Michael rebuffs him and suddenly is face to face with his vampire. As Michael is getting ready to leave the bar with the seductive vampire, Gray, Wild Bill decides to intervene.

“I had dibs on Michael,” said Bill. This was news to me. “But I might be willing to share.”

And share they do. While Michael is figuring out a way to finish the vampire permanently, the men’s blazing sex is heating up my Kindle.

I enjoyed reading Michael’s perspective of events, his thoughts, his sexual desires, and loved the dialogue between the characters. There are a few surprises and twists that keep things really interesting.

This is a short, humorous, erotic story that is just enough to hook me in and buy the rest of the series so I can learn more about these characters and see what the future has in store for them.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Uncanny Inhumans, Vol. 2: The Quiet Room

Uncanny Inhumans, Vol. 2: The Quiet RoomUncanny Inhumans, Vol. 2: The Quiet Room by Charles Soule
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So what do former Kings do when deposed from their throne? Open a night club of course.
The Quiet Room is the place where Black Bolt gets to express his freedom, have a midlife crisis, and play bouncer.
The Quiet Room is a multi use club that features gambling, conference rooms, and seemingly much more. Ennilux, the Inhuman run company, just happens to be having a conference there to show off their newest invention which will shortly be ready for sale. Unfortunately it's stolen and Ennilux is holding Black Bolt, The Quiet Room, and New Attilan responsible if it isn't returned.
Black Bolt's associate Reader is tasked with getting it back.

The first volume of the Uncanny Inhumans, Time Crush, was excellent, but The Quiet Room is a mixed bag. It has some interesting moments such as the origins of Medusa and Johnny Storm's relationship,
a special prisoner keeping the Unspoken company in New Attilan's dungeons, and learning the back story of Reader.
A large portion of the story is devoted to The Quiet Room which was first introduced in the Secret Wars story Inhumans: Attilan Rising. The Quiet Room was fine as some throwaway story's location and the business of an altered Black Bolt, but it's not so interesting for the deposed King of the Inhumans in this volume. It's hard to know much about a guy who basically never gets to speak his mind without the risk of killing the person listening. Perhaps night club owner was Black Bolt's dream as he learned to hone his especially destructive power as a boy. If I never see The Quiet Room again, I'd be perfectly fine.

The characters also have mixed performances. Ahura, Reader, and Iso were quite interesting. Particularly Ahura and Reader. Their actions will undoubtedly lead to some more interesting stories in the future. Iso continues to display a keen mind and high IQ. Frank McGee and Inferno finally had some page time in Uncanny Inhumans, but neither were particularly memorable. That's unfortunate because I really enjoyed them both in the series Inhuman. Frank was Frank and perhaps he'll never be more than a former cop with glowing eyes. Inferno didn't really even do anything. If he was removed altogether and not replaced it wouldn't have effected the story whatsoever.

The Quiet Room was spectacular in moments and overall it was a solid entry. I do however hope the storyline gets back to the more exciting adventures in the first volume.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders By: Joshua Foer

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden WondersAtlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The world is a weird and wonderful place, and the Atlas Obscura does a bang the hell up job of showing the strange, amazing and downright bizarre corners of this big blue ball we live on.

I am a information junkie and between this beautiful book and the website, my jones is fed on many levels. If you have a wanderlust, this book will make you extremely happy, if you are like me and just like knowing things..this book will make you extremely happy. (do you get my point)

So get your passports out, load this puppy on your tablet, and on the way to the airport or out of town, stop and get you a physical copy too, (its a great addition to your shelf, for whenever you return from parts unknown)

12 stars out of 5, that's a steal of a deal of a meal (something like that)

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Monday, October 10, 2016

The Rise of ISIS

Black Flags: The Rise of ISISBlack Flags: The Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

OH! ISIS! I thought they were saying Icees, as in...


Well, now that I'm up to speed on radical Islamic terrorism, who wants to invite me over to their bbq, so I can be the life of the party? Cuz nothing says FUN like bringing up politics and religion at a social gathering! Just look how enjoyable Facebook is these days.

All silliness aside, Black Flags is a solid way to understand how ISIS came to be. A good number of pages are also spent on Al Qaeda and Bin Laden, but the real focus is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the thug turned religious zealot and leader of a violent fundamentalist movement.

Joby Warrick gives the reader plenty of details on Zarqawi's past and what made him who he eventually became. It's not an in-depth character study that a psychologist could publish a paper on, but I certainly know the man much better now than I ever have.

But do I know the real story? I mean, what's Warrick's bias? He's certainly not kind to the Bush administration's handling of terrorism for most of this book and seems to side more with the CIA. And what does Warrick know? He worked for the Washington Post and as far as journalists go he seems to be the one most well-connected to what happened after 9/11. However, even the most well-connected journalist generally isn't going to have intel on the government's secrets and what went on behind the scenes.

As an average-joe-know-nothing, us readers will just have to be satisfied with what we can glean from folks like Warrick. That's not a terrible problem, because this was an enjoyable read and I'm looking forward to moving on to Warrick's next book The Triple Agent: The al-Qaeda Mole who Infiltrated the CIA.

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The Ghost of Oscar Wilde

The Canterville GhostThe Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Almost witless. By which I mean this is nearly free of wit.

That's a problem for Oscar Wilde, a writer whose career was based on his rapier wit. But I'm sorry fans, I just don't see it in The Canterville Ghost.

In this story we have your typical set up where Americans come to the UK, buy up a castle, ghost-included, and then proceed to dash away hundreds of years of well-cultivated English tedium. (And I like their tedium, so that was a drag...)

Wilde's commentary on stuffy Brits and cocky Americans is broad and soon played out. All that's left is a sappy love story.

Well, that and a ghost story that's used for some good comic effect. The only problem with this part of the story is that recently it's been done a bajillion times. That's no fault of Wilde's, mind you! I don't blame him. But the fact it, these days the old put-one-over-on-the-scary-ghost bit has been done ad nauseam. If only we'd all read this book before being inundated by recent tv and movies...

Still and all, this is an Oscar Wilde book and as such it's still good reading even with all of its faults. Yes, I've bashed it good here, but look up there at those shiny three stars. That's a solid thumbs-tepidly-up if I ever saw one!

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Sunday, October 9, 2016

Prison Noir

Prison NoirPrison Noir by Joyce Carol Oates
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Prison Noir is a collection of tales written by people who are or were prison inmates.

Shuffle: Shuffle is a short tale about a man in a segregated unit who unexpectedly gets a new cellmate. It's a tale of isolation, both forced and by choice.

I Saw An Angel: A woman with only six days until parole struggles to make the right decisions. Also, there's some smuggling of LSD into the prison via an orifice.

Bardos: When an old man dies just months shy of his release, another inmate ponders the nature of time and the Tibetan book of the dead. Of the first 20%, this one was easily my favorite. It's an interesting slice of prison life.

Trap: A first time inmate experiences jail and likens himself to a mouse on a glue trap. This one had some insight but I'm still waiting for a story with a little action in it.

A Message in the Breath of Allah: When he's convinced Allah isn't hearing his prayers, a prisoner finds another way to send Him his message. This story was pretty chilling and one of my favorites in the collection.

Tune-Up: An inmate tries to form a band with other inmates while avoiding the usual pitfalls of prison life. Another good story with a great ending.

Foxhole: An inmate learns that nothing is free in prison and winds up in the hole. This one was another of the good stories.

There will be seeds for next year: After a failed suicide attempt, an inmate returns to his usual routine. Shit, this was one powerful tale of hopelessness and broken dreams.

Immigrant Song: An illiterate immigrant flees trouble in Mexico, only to wind up in prison in Michigan. Another slice of prison life, this one with casual violence.

Rat's Ass: An inmate gets busted making prison wine and begs another inmate to help him get out of it. This was an interesting tale of eventually coming of age in prison.

Milk and Tea: A female inmate recounts the abusive relationship that led her to prison while talking about what prison does to a person. This was the best story in the collection so far.

Angel Eyes: A good-looking new fish gets targeted by Gorilla Black, a prison rapist. Things don't go as expected. This is the kind of story I've been waiting for since I bought the collection. Dark and brutal.

How eBay Nearly Killed Gary Bridgway: Mike's wife is nearly broke after he winds up in jail. Fortunately, the serial killer in the next cell's autograph goes for $400 on eBay. I didn't think there would be any funny stories in this collection but this one was fairly humorous.

3 Block From Hell: This is the tale of a prisoner who feels he's doing the world a favor when he kills other prisoners. It was one of the top stories in the book but contained an error. It was Violet who became a blueberry in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, not Veruca Salt.

The Investigation: Five inmates have to come clean about a murder. This one was a good note to end the collection on with it's talk of being a snitch and how no one sets out to spend decades of their life in prison.

End Thoughts: I picked this up for a buck ninety-nine and it was worth it. It wasn't quite like I thought. With the word 'noir' in the title, I expected more criminal acts and violence. It was still good, though. 3 Block From Hell, Milk and Tea, and Angeleyes were the best.

3.5 out of 5. I may have to give some of the other Akashic Noir books a look.

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Friday, October 7, 2016


J.L. Merrow
Samhain Publishing
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars


Limericks, lies, and puppy-dog eyes...

Jude Biggerstaff is all the way out and loving it - mostly. The Anglo-Japanese university graduate is a carnivore working in a vegan cafe, an amateur poet with only one man in his life. His dog, Bubbles.

Then there's "Karate Crumpet", a man who regularly runs past the cafe with a martial arts class. Jude can only yearn from afar, until the object of his affection rescues him from muggers. And he learns that not only does this calm, competent hunk of muscle have a name - David - but that he s gay.

Jude should have known the universe wouldn't simply let love fall into place. First, David has only one foot out of the closet. Then there's Jude's mother, who lies about her age to the point Jude could be mistaken for jailbait.

With a maze of stories to keep straight, a potential stepfather in the picture, ex-boyfriends who keep spoiling his dates with David, and a friend with a dangerous secret, Jude is beginning to wonder if his and David's lives will ever start to rhyme.

Warnings: Contains a tangled web of little white lies, a smorgasbord of cheesy limericks, a violin called Vanessa, some boots that mean business, and the most adorable little dog ever. Poetry, it's not...

My Review

I liked this story…mostly.

Jude Biggerstaff is out and proud, loves his eyeliner, lives with his mom, is a meat eater who works at a vegan café, and looks younger than his 22 years. Though he has a degree, he’s unsure of what he wants to do long-term. The one thing he is certain about is his attraction to Karate Crumpet (aka Dave), who saves Jude from a trio of muggers.

This story made me laugh out loud…a lot.

Told from Jude’s perspective, the reader is privy to his insecurities, his directness, his creativity, and the deep affection and protectiveness he has for his mom, his best friend, Keisha, and his dog, Bubbles. The chatty dialogue and rambly inner thoughts wore me out at times, but I loved Jude so much that I was able to overlook this.

Still, this wasn’t free of problems.

While I appreciated the diversity of characters, and loved that Keisha is mixed race like Jude is, I didn’t appreciate the fact that Keisha was fraught with so many negative stereotypes that I couldn’t help but be offended despite my overall enjoyment of this story.

“It’s not her fault she’s skint. She’s applied for loads of jobs, but she never finished uni and she got fired from her last job because she had a shouting match with the boss in full view of all the customers.”

She also lives in a roach-infested flat with piece-of-shit roommates.

I liked the sharp differences in Jude’s and David’s personalities, but I couldn’t help but find David in some ways was more immature than Jude was. I can't imagine these two men could have a future together.

So this book was a mixed bag for me.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Amazing Spider-Man: Worldwide, Vol. 2

Amazing Spider-Man: Worldwide, Vol. 2Amazing Spider-Man: Worldwide, Vol. 2 by Dan Slott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Peter Parker continues to run Parker Industries his own way. He utilizes his company to help against the worst his enemies can throw at him. Good thing because Mr. Negative has arrived with some of Spidey's friends under his control
and Zodiac is about to complete their mission.

Worldwide Vol. 2 seemed to be overall better than the first volume. Peter is using Parker Industries to help the world in many ways, but he's missing some of the consequences. Some of the things he's missing will surely take a nibble on his spider backside. Outside of that Peter may have actually gotten past his Parker luck.

I'm not overly familiar with Mr. Negative, but his mini arc with Cloak and Dagger was a welcome reprieve from the all Zodiac all the time. He makes a more interesting enemy especially since his motives were actually completely understandable and not actually evil at all.

I forgot to mention it last volume, but I like the super hi-tech Spider suit with it's glowing eyes and spider. Peter has come up in the world and he deserved a Spider-Man suit that demonstrated that.

Worldwide Vol. 2 isn't flawless, but it was action packed and pretty fun. I'm interested in finding out where this new global Spider-Man heads to next.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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Wednesday, October 5, 2016


The Archimedes DeviceThe Archimedes Device by C.M. Hanna
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”The safest general characterization of the European scientific tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Archimedes.”

Reviel Netz

 photo Archimedes_zpspqamuw7u.jpg

I do believe that Leonardo Da Vinci is better known to most people than Archimedes. Not to take anything away from the extraordinary mind of Da Vinci, but if we are making a list of the most brilliant minds throughout history, Archimedes should be talked about with the same hushed awe as Da Vinci. He was a mathematician who used math to design and create war machines (Da Vinci was employed to design war machines, as well.) to protect his native city of Syracuse, Sicily. War is always inconvenient to scholars. He also ”proved a range of geometrical theorems, including the area of a circle, the surface area and volume of a sphere, and the area under a parabola.” Moreover, he anticipated modern calculus and numerous other standards of mathematics upon which current science and math are built.

He lived from 287 BC to 212 BC. To think about what he accomplished living in that time period is simply stunning. Leonardo Da Vinci came along much later, during the Renaissance, living from 1452-1519. Now during the Renaissance, the great minds of that era showed an interest in Archimedes’ works. The problem was that much of what he wrote was lost during the Middle Ages, which brings us to our story.

This novel opens in Alexandria, Egypt, in 48 BC with the invasion of the Romans and the burning of the Great Library. A scholar, a member of the secret society of Pythagoreans, is having to make a choice of what to save from the library.

He has only his two hands.

Does he save great works of literature? Philosophy? No, he knows without a doubt what he must save. He must save Archimedes. Through the smoke and the falling timbers, he lays hands on what he was looking for and, against the odds, finds his way back out of the building and thus... begins the journey of a book. To call it a book is an overstatement. It is a piece of papyrus with the designs of an amazing machine etched by the hand of Archimedes. This astonishing piece of ingenuity has been ignored for almost 2000 years.

Society cannot be trusted with such a valuable object, so the Pythagoreans must protect it, along with numerous other important works throughout history, from those who can’t understand the importance of it.

 photo library-alexandria-destruction_zpspjxt8gyz.jpg
The burning of the library of Alexandria, one of the most tragic blows of knowledge lost.

The authors take us on a tour of the historical world. One of my favorite stops is in Constantinople in 1204. Another invasion, this time Venetians, is putting books, art, and not to mention people at risk. We meet Halldorr, an oversized Varangian warrior, who is trying to stave off the attackers, and a nun named Simonis, who has a much different once again save the Archimedes papyrus from destruction. Now she is no ordinary Nun, just as Halldorr is no ordinary man. She has been trained in the most deadly arts of self defense by the Pythagoreans. Needless to say, they are meeting for the first time, under the most perilous circumstances, and unfortunately, it will be a brief meeting. That is the fickleness of fate, to show you the missing half of yourself, but only long enough for you to recognize who you need just as you watch them slip away.

And then there is Joannes Scutariotes, a 15th century scribe who shows up in our story in Venice, then Spain, then Hispaniola, with the crew of Columbus and then Cuba. He is on the run. He is a rogue Pythagorean who has absconded with the Archimedes papyrus as a form of revenge against the Society for denying him the love of his life. A Pythagorean in love is a very dangerous thing. This is one of those cases where the authors took a real life person and fictionalized aspects of his life for the purposes of plot. They include a list in the back of the book of all the historical people who have a played a part in their story. They also list all the historical artifacts that are used in the story, as well. Very handy reference devices that proved very helpful.

I’ve given you a small taste of the time machine moments when the authors take the reader back in time, but woven in amongst those tasty treats is a modern day treasure hunt for the lost Archimedes papyrus. Joannes did a very good job of hiding it by making everyone believe he destroyed it, but of course at heart, he is a Pythagorean despite his rogue tendencies, and he could no more destroy such a work as he could put out his own eyes.

The academic Ruth Sanders has found something that makes her believe that she is on the trail of something spectacular. She draws the attention of the odious Edouard Raleigh (yeah, he changed his name and, man, does it sound cool). He is a man interested in antiquities and is willing to do anything to lay his hands on any and all artifacts that are sellable. He pays men to raid archaeological digs, and in the process, he steals history. Providence is lost when the artifact is taken from where it was found, and all it becomes is a piece of expensive decor for a collector or a one percenter.

Edouard makes a very good living.

He is also ruthless.

Ruth is joined by her daughter Rebecca, Mark Whitmore, a treasure hunter, and the mathematical savant Lucas. They are soon on their way to Italy to follow the convoluted clues left by Joannes while staying one step ahead of the Italian authorities and the unsavory Edouard Raleigh and his goons.

So what is the Archimedes Device? It is not for me to tell you, but I will tell you that a monk, much later than when Archimedes designed his device, Richard of Wallingford in 1327, rediscovered the concepts that Archimedes discovered 1,500+ years earlier. Knowledge that was lost for centuries. That is a new standard for being ahead of your time.

 photo Richard_of_Wallingford_zpsiu1ojxim.jpg
Richard of Wallingford, though brilliant, was late to the party by 1,500 years.

I don’t read much in the way of thrillers anymore, but I found the concept of going back and forth in time compelling. A mystery carried forward for centuries certainly held an appeal to this amateur historian. The authors have done their research and do a good job of placing the reader comfortably in the various eras, whether it be 48BC or 1492 or 2016. The paperback is 600+ pages, but don’t let that dissuade you because the pages will turn quickly. I enjoy those books that within a few pages you realize that you have to know the outcome.

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Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston ChurchillHero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”I don’t like this fellow, but he’ll be Prime Minister of England one day.”

Sir George White regarding one Winston S. Churchill

 photo churchill_correspondent_zpszw62yhuj.jpg
Isn’t he precious? Winston Churchill on the cusp of greatness.

Winston Spencer Churchill was an easy man to respect, an easy man to love, but a hard man to like. I don’t know if there has ever been a man more convinced of his own importance or with a clearer vision of his destiny than Winston Churchill. There are contenders throughout history, one being Theodore Roosevelt, who was the subject of Candice Millard’s first book. Napoleon comes to mind. Julius Caesar was willing to conquer his own country of Italy to be the man in charge. I’ve known some paler versions. One thing they have in common is that they believe completely in their abilities. They believe without a doubt that fate is on their side. They wake up every day thinking that this is the day that, finally, everyone will recognize how important they are. Because they believe in their own destiny so fervently, their ambition knows no bounds.

When we meet Winston Churchill in Hero of the Empire, he has just lost an election for parliament. He is desperate to live up to his family name. He is a direct descendent of John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough, who never lost a battle. Winston’s own father, Randolph, was a dynamic member of parliament, who unfortunately suffered a debilitating illness, which cut his career tragically short. His mother Jennie Jerome, an American, was considered one of the most lovely and desirable women in the world at the time. Lord d’Abernon once said that “there was more of a panther than of a woman in her look.”

 photo Lady20Randolph20Churchill_zpsdvsohmcy.jpg
Lady Randolph Churchill.

It is always interesting to look at pictures or portraits of these great beauties from another era. I find them fascinating because their beauty is not always readily apparent, by our modern standards, from just gazing at their likenesses. Jennie was certainly not a demure British rose and seemed to be one of those women who really enjoyed the company of men. She had many lovers during her marriage, including Bertie, the future Edward VII, who was nicknamed Edward the Caresser due to the number of conquests he had as Prince of Wales and even as king. Like Winston, he was another man who could never seem to get his mother’s attention (Queen Victoria) unless he acted up.

So here is Winston, practically being choked by the enormity of fulfilling his own idea of who he is supposed to be, fervently praying that the brimming war with the Boers in South Africa becomes a reality.

He needs a means to prove his bravery, which will be the first step in obtaining all his other ambitions.

He gets his wish. He quickly obtains a position with a newspaper and heads to South Africa as a correspondent. Not, of course, before spending a small fortune on alcohol and other certain amenities that would insure a certain level of comfort for the young aristocrat.
The Boer War, which this is technically the second Boer War, is being fought over some very lucrative gold and diamond mines the Boers control that Britain would like to obtain. The other underlying issue is that, since Great Britain disapproves of slavery, the slave holding Dutch Boers do not want to become part of the British Empire.

 photo Boers_zpsgbvooyze.jpg

The Boers are not soldiers, just farmers and businessmen. They disdain the thought of wearing a uniform. They are very disappointed to find the British soldiers dressed in a much more prudent khaki than the lobster red uniforms for which they are famous. While the British still march in formation, this is 1899; you would have thought they’d have learned something from 1776, and the Boers, like the American Revolutionaries, fought a guerilla style war from cover. They approach war like a business. They aren’t there for glory or to be remembered for dying valiantly. They are there to win, and the only way they can win is by killing as many British soldiers as they can. They prefer to live to talk about their exploits.

One of Winston Churchill’s favorite mottos was ”Toujours de l’audance.” The famous quote of ”Georges Danton, a leader of the French Revolution who was eventually guillotined” translates as ”Always more audacity.”

If Winston were to die, which is a ridiculous thought... remember his destiny, then he wants to make sure he dies bravely and oh so spectacularly.

Now, I’m not going to go into any detail on Churchill’s capture and escape because that is why you all need to read the book. The only thing that I want to mention about that part is that there is a moment when he is reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped and, given his circumstances, he identifies quite strongly with the main character, David Balfour. RLS shows up everywhere!

Candice Millard, as always, does an incredible job taking a slice of history and filling in enough details before and after to give the reader what they need to know to understand the significance of the moment. If you don’t know very much about Churchill, this is a great place to start. If you know quite a lot about Churchill, you will still find nuggets of information that you didn’t know before. Millard does a thorough job of researching her subject matter. She puts out a book about every five years, and that is because of the time she spends sifting through original documentation to insure that she has her information as correct as history can be. She has a fluid writing style that had me flipping pages like I was reading a novel.

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There were these very bright lights shining on her face so I wasn’t able to get a clear picture with my iphone, but as you can see behind Millard, she gives a picture slide with her presentation.

I was fortunate to finally meet her at an event at the Watermark Bookstore in Wichita. She lives in Kansas, so I knew it was only a matter of time before I finally caught up with her. I asked her several questions about President Garfield. Her book Destiny of the Republic, about the assassination of the president, was superb. She told me that she was convinced that, had he lived, he would have been one of our greatest presidents. There are a lot parallels between President Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, so it is no surprise that her first book The River of Doubt was about Roosevelt’s journey through the Amazon. Men like Roosevelt and Churchill are fascinating, and writers have written many comprehensive books about them. I think what makes Millard a special writer is that she takes an event in time and defines the person by how they reacted to that event.

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And here is Candice Millard about to sign the books that are now permanently residing in the stately Keeten Library.

So don’t hesitate to meet Winston Churchill or Theodore Roosevelt or James Garfield under the deft guidance of this talented historian. Pamela Plowden, Winston’s first real girlfriend and lifetime friend offered some great advice about Churchill. ”The first time you meet Winston you see all of his faults, and the rest of your life you spend in discovering his virtues.”

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