Friday, November 17, 2017

The Dark Collector


Vanessa North
Self-Published
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars



Summary



Jeffrey Kuyper was a once-in-a-generation talent and I was his muse.

Jeffrey's death shocked the art world and upended my life. His last portrait is an intimate reminder of our final weeks together. Now it's up for auction and I want it more than anything. When a cold-mannered man in a dark suit outbids me, I'll agree to anything to buy it from him--even a weekend in his bed.


My Review


So unexpectedly beautiful.

Oliver Conklin is grieving for his lover of 5 years, who died in a car crash a year ago.

Jeffrey Kuyper was an artist and a Dom inspired by his young, submissive lover.

Now Jeffrey’s estate is up for grabs and all Oliver wants is his last painting. With just a wave of the paddle, the Dark Collector, a big fan of Jeffrey’s work, is now its owner.

He agrees to sell Oliver the painting on the condition he spend the weekend with him and do whatever he asks.

Oh, how I wanted to hate the Dark Collector. He took advantage of Oliver and disregarded his grief. It was his smile, his soft expressions and tenderness that warmed me up to him. Their sex is kinky, passionate, and so full of emotion. Oliver likes the feeling of being “owned”, but he remembers that this is nothing more than an arrangement they made.

Gradually, the Dark Collector helps Oliver find himself and find peace.

“Is that what I’m doing? Making peace? I watch myself in the mirror as I lick the last few drops away. How long has it been since I’ve cared at all about the person I see in the mirror? Can the muse exist when the artist does not? How can this stranger, whose name I don’t even know, see me if I can’t?”

This is an exquisitely written story that explores a man’s grief, love, and healing. The ending is sweet and made me cry happy tears.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Hero, The Sword, and The Dragons

The Hero, The Sword and The Dragons (Chronicles of Dragon, #1)The Hero, The Sword and The Dragons by Craig Halloran
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nath Dragon may look like a man, but he was born a dragon. He's a rare dragon, a great dragon, like his father and grandfather before him. His father and grandfather were born dragons, became men, and had to earn their scales to become dragons once more. Nath is trying to do just that, but has yet to earn a single scale after countless years. So Nath continues to save dragons in hopes to become a great dragon like his father.

The Hero, The Sword, and The Dragons was a really solid story. A light and easy read for sure with some complexities that were quite interesting. It's also sophomoric at times like an eye roll inducing uncle with lines like this, "Nath Dragon is my name; saving dragons (and other things) is my game." I wish I could say that was the only line like that in the book, but there are quite a few more which is shocking since the story isn't even 200 pages long.

Nath is a solid character who purely desires to help dragons and please his father. He doesn't visit home often because he's ashamed that he's still scaleless. Nath has that loveable oaf type of personality yet he's a fierce fighter. His personality is offset by his mostly serious travel companion the dwarf Brenwar. Brenwar felt similar in personality to Gimli in the Lord of the Rings films in that he's a good friend, travel companion, and warrior.

The Hero, The Sword, and The Dragons wasn't a stunning story, but it makes me want to know what happens next when it ends. Any book that leaves me feeling like that when I put it down, is a pretty solid book in my opinion.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

MONSIEUR BY LAWRENCE DURRELL

MonsieurMonsieur by Lawrence Durrell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”I dozed on my bed until sunrise and then set out resolutely to find a coffee, traversing the old city with affection and distress, hearing my own sharp footsteps on the pavements, disembodied as a ghost. Avignon! Its shabby lights and sneaking cats were the same as ever; overturned dustbins, the glitter of fish scales, olive oil, broken glass, a dead scorpion. All the time we had been away on our travels round the world it had stayed pegged here at the confluence of its two green rivers. The past embalmed it, the present could not alter it. So many years of going away and coming back, of remembering and forgetting it. It had always waited for us, floating among its tenebrous monuments, the corpulence of its ragged bells, the putrescence of its squares.”

We first meet Bruce Drexel when he is traveling home to Avignon after learning of the “suicide” of his best friend, Piers, who was more like a brother to him. In fact, he was his brother-in-law as Bruce is married to Piers’ sister Sylvie. The three of them were close, so close that idle speculation might allude to the fact that Bruce married Sylvie only to be closer to Piers (his lover). Their friend Rob Sutcliffe was so struck by their entwined relationship that he made them the subject of one of his novels. Sutcliffe, too, has perished, but his lingering shadow keeps slithering along the walls of the plot, long after he has gone, by way of his notebooks and letters. Given that I am an amateur reviewer, I couldn’t help, but laugh at his description of reviewers. ”The reviews of his new book were all bad or grudging. A critic is a lug-worm in the liver of literature.”

I can’t imagine that Lawrence Durrell ever had to suffer bad reviews, of course not.

This lug-worm in the liver of literature will squirm on.

The fact that Bruce was returning from a post far from the gothic dilapidated halls of Verfeuille and his wife Sylvie left behind begs the question of the current status of their relationship, and with Piers now gone, is the connection too tenuous to continue? There was once passion. ”When I closed my eyes the darkness throbbed around us and once more I returned to relive, re-experience the soft scroll of her tongue which pressed back mine and probed steadily downwards across chest and stomach to settle at last, throbbing like a hummingbird on my sex. I held that beautiful head between my palms like something disembodied, and rememorised the dark hair cropped down, and then spurred up into its chignon, the crumpled ears of a new-born lamb, the white teeth and lips upon which I would soon slowly and deliberately graft back my happy kisses.”

The soft scroll of her tongue and then throbbing like a hummingbird --quick, someone dash a pail of ice cold water in my face. Let me just say, it has been too long since I’ve read Durrell, but what I do remember from reading him before is the weight of every one of his sentences. His words choices are lush and unusual. His supporting characters are all fascinating, and each adds new levels of interest to the plot and, in some cases, new insight into the trinity of main characters. ”Toby as a victim of the historical virus could not look at the town without seeing it historically, so to speak--layer after layer of history laid up in slices, embodied in its architecture.” As another sufferer of the historical virus, Toby and I would be fast friends or fast enemies if our interpretations of history differed. Or maybe Piers and I would have been that special kind of friends for our mutual love of books. ”Though he had always been a bit of a dandy his choice of apparel was scanty, but choice, with a distinct leaning towards clothes made for him in London. A couple of medium-sized trunks were enough to house personal possessions of this kind; but the books were a different matter--Piers could not live without books, and plenty of them. This explained the sagging home-made bookshelves knocked together from pieces of crate.”

Probably about 80% of the bookshelves in my house have been knocked together by myself, not of crate, but of cheap pine. I build shelves myself because I have to take advantage of every square inch of my library, so shelves are designed to go from ceiling to floor to not lose precious book inches.

The characters are so interesting, do we even need a plot? Indeed, we do. The issue really revolves around: ”Trash was taking an English lesson with a French whore who had the longest tongue in Christendom. What happiness he knew, in all his innocence, what pride in this girl with the slit of a mouth--so spoiled and gracile a slender body.” Ok, I’m just messing with you. The plot does not revolve around the whore with the longest tongue. Though once you read those couple of sentences, one can’t help pondering the benefits of having such a long tongue, given her chosen profession.

The trio of Bruce, Sylvie, and Piers met a guru who led them into the deserts of Egypt for a mind expanding experience with the help of mind altering drugs. Akkad then infused his discussions with pearls of infinite wisdom that made it seem that he may possess the answers to all the greatest questions. They were all impressed, but Piers felt like he had finally found what he had been looking for his whole life. Something larger than himself to believe in. Is it a religion, a philosophy, or a cult? The most successful spiritual organizations manage to blend some of all three.

The circumstances of Piers’s suicide were, needless to say, suspicious. Unless he found and ordered a do-it-yourself guillotine kit or figured out how to rig a flashing blade with springs and levers, then someone had to help him, or should I say murder him? As Bruce pulled the pieces together, it became more and more clear that the cult in the desert may have very well had a hand in executing, as Piers liked to call himself, the last of the Templars.

The subtitle of this novel is The Prince of Darkness , and certainly there are gothic overtones throughout the whole novel. The setting is around World War Two, but the book has a decided Victorian feel to it. There is more light in the world in the 1940s, but this novel definitely feels like a time when darkness was only lightened by flickering candles and dancing gas flames. The writing, as I’ve mentioned, is so evocative and so succulent that I had black ink on my teeth and (normal lengthed) tongue as I masticated each sentence, trying to steal Durrell’s vast talent...and make it mine.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Gluttony Bay (Sin du Jour #6) By: Matt Wallace

Gluttony Bay (Sin du Jour, #6)Gluttony Bay by Matt Wallace
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Matt Wallace makes me physically ill, I have made my problems with novellas known, it all boils down to my reading speed. YETTTT, EVERY SINGLE TIME a new Sin du Jour book comes out I drop what I am reading and devour it like I have never read a book before.

This series of books is what I call the best Netflix series that hasn't been made yet, Tons of fun, characters that you will love and wild, but awesomely good stuff.

Do yourself a favor, go get all these books, sit down and ENJOY YOURSELF.

3000 stars out of 5

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Dogs of War By: Adrian Tchaikovsky

Dogs of WarDogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an incredible view into a very very possible future. Dogs of war will make you think about the future of warfare, science and mankind. Actually, more like the nature of being. (yes, I am being vague...but I don't spoil things remember)

Great, very deep characters, which is an accomplishment considering the premise of the story, cracking action and great pace to the tale, This is a great holiday read if you like your scifi with a military edge.

Highly recommended.



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Monday, November 13, 2017

Duped and Loving It!

Shutter IslandShutter Island by Dennis Lehane
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Good lord, I was not expecting that! Heck of a good read, in my book!

Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island started off well for me and my tastes. Federal Marshals going into an insane asylum/prison on an inescapable island in Massachusetts during post-WWII to find a missing crazy woman, who apparently escaped. Love the setting, the characters, everything!

From here on out this review contains all kinds of spoilers, so you just stop right here, Miss I-Haven't-Read-This-But-Plan-To.

description


The set-up story roped me in. It took me far too long to figure out what was going on. I caught the signs Lehane shoved my why, but I willfully ignored them. Yes, looking back on them, I ignored them like a step-child.

Though the anagrams, the numbers, and then the very obvious prophetic dreams all stuck in the back of my head and told me that thins weren't as they seemed, I ignored them all in favor of trying to figure out Rachel Solando's impossible escape.

In my defense, I didn't know a thing about the book before reading it. I know people loved it, so I intentionally avoided spoilers. Glad I did!

It felt inventive to me. Maybe others weren't so fooled, but I was and I'm okay with that. I was taken in and frankly, I love it! I'm glad a book can still dupe me like that. Probably if I read more psychological thrillers I wouldn't be so impressed. But I am. 5 Stars!

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The Flattening of the Earth

The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first CenturyThe World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century by Thomas L. Friedman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Fucking flat-earthers...Oh wait, that's not what he means? All right, maybe I'll read it."

That was me about five or so years ago when friends kept insisting I read The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman. Finally, when my wife recently bought tickets to a local Friedman talk, I resolved to read the damn thing.

I'm glad I did. It's really good. I'm not saying it's prefect (I'll get to that in a minute), but this is a must read at least for a certain few people with their heads in the clouds. For one, it's a great book for folks who don't understand what has happened since the advent of the internet. Give this as a gift to your dad or gramps. If they don't use it as a doorstop, they'll get a hell of an education on the modern ways of business and sociability.

The other group of people that need to read this, or really any book like this, are those cretins who troll, lurk and spew upon the comment section of "news" articles online. Everybody seems to have an indisputable, unshakable opinion that they take for fact and which they feel the need to spray all over the internet. They are the modern version of every family's uncle from the good ol' days who would show up at family events and holidays seemingly for the sole purpose of annoying everyone else while starting an argument with another alpha male about politics, religion, economics and any other myriad of topics that most sane people know is off-limits around family and friends you wish to retain as such. The real crime in all this is that they don't usually know what the fuck they're talking about. They have one biased, uninformed talking point on whatever the subject is they'll let you hear it.

So yes, I do feel like a book like this is helpful for a segment of the population, especially in these particularly stupid days in the American dark ages. The problem is, at 600+ pages, this book is 300 pages longer than it needs to be.

description

The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century is not brief. That's because it's written as a journalist would write a book. This is a book-length feature article. Friedman makes a statement, maybe backs it up with data, and then gives an example via a full-blown biography on a business or entrepreneur. It's all good stuff. Some of it's even enjoyable. But it's more than necessary for what's actually being said. He could've done more with less. I honestly doubt I would've gotten through this if I hadn't gone with the audiobook version and had a cubic buttload of yard work to do.

Now, that's not to say didn't enjoy this or that I didn't get something out of it. I did. I am getting old and so some of these whippersnappers with their new fangled gadgets befuddle me. However, I did grow up in the age when personal computers were first coming into the home. I even had a Commodore 64, baby! So I'm not at a total loss in the computer age. On the other hand, I am a bit of a recluse and I'm not big into global politics and the economy, so sadly I am having to catch up on that and a book like this taught me a thing or two. So, let's call it a good stepping stone for the uninitiated.




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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Bannerless




Carrie Vaughn’s “Bannerless” is a science fiction book of ideas. Ostensibly a mystery, this short novel is really an exploration of the ramifications of the effect of scarce resources on society. But unlike the summary on the cover of the book, the main character Enid, an “Investigator” does not expose cracks in foundation of the society. What she does is enforce the laws of this community run society. Essentially, the Investigators are judge, jury and enforcer of the Coast Road rules. They travel from town to town to make sure the Coast Road polities are obeyed. The most stringently enforced rules deal with over-consumption. After the “Fall”, the apocalyptic catastrophe that killed millions and decimated society two generations or so ago, the remaining people had to band together to make it.


Small communities sprung up and down the Coast Road, grew their own food, hunted or fished and made do with a small amount of technology that survived plus the books and treatises saved by the founders. Vaughn imagines that birth control would be one of the main technologies that would survive this catastrophe. The Coast Road society uses the ability to control birth and control population to ensure that the towns and households do not over consume scant resources. People are only allowed to have children (obtain a Banner) if the community or their household can show the ability to support more children. And people who get permission proudly display their banners.


Needless to say that if people try to illegally gain a child, the Investigators are quick to punish the household by either splitting them up or taking children away from their families and parents or punishing the community by banning children for a time. In Enid’s mind these transgressions should be punished severely. Several times Vaughn depicts Enid’s anger as an Investigator. Her fear of what happened before and her desire to not have it happen again.


The novel is split into two halves. Enid and Tomas, her co-Investigator, and mentor, have been called to Serenity, a small community down the Coast Road, where one of the citizens has died under suspicious circumstances. The only mystery is whether the man, who appears to be bannerless, that is born without permission of the Coast Road, and ostracized in Serenity fell or was pushed to his death. Although the “culprit” is easily identified early on, it is Enid’s investigation of the reasons for his death that is the key. Serenity is a town run by a counsel made up of Ariana, Philos and Lee, three heads of households in the town. Enid’s discovers that Ariana requested the investigation, but has ulterior purposes. Philos, who runs the Bounty household, has run roughshod over the town for a while and Ariana wants to take him down. But while Enid pursues her investigation, she runs into Dak, a troubadour that she had journeyed with in her youth.


This is the second part of the novel. In a series of timeline shifts, Vaughn skips back and forth from the present to the past. Enid tells of the time before she was an Investigator and went down the Coast Road, visiting various towns and making love with Dak, a sweet playing musician. Enid journey is both a journey of discovery of who she is and who Dak is, but also a reinforcement in many ways of the benefits of the Coast Road society rules. Enid discovers that she wants to be useful and stand on her own merits, while Dak is a little hollow at his core, and Enid discovers does not want to get involved with Investigators or society. His wandering ways are as much a part of his reaction to what happened to him as a kid as Enid strong center are hers. Enid will also run into people in an abandoned pre-fall city, where a woman with three malnourished children is surviving in a nomadic existence. This is a woman who will not accept the population controls of the Coast Road and telling says to Enid, that the Coast Road "takes your children away"


Enid and Tomas investigation of Serenity, Dak, Ariana and Philos will reveal the tensions in a society that values control of resources and rules against freedom to do what you will. In the end, greed and power are always a danger to societal rules.


The real question for the reader is whether Vaughn through Enid makes her point. Is the Coast Road’s society just. Can religiously controlling reproduction and resources ensure that a society can grow responsibly? The jury is out for this reader. But Enid is very convinced and diligently pursues punishment for the people who want to break her society’s rules.

Cycle of the Werewolf

Cycle of the WerewolfCycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Under the light of the full moon, a werewolf stalks the people of Tarker's Mills. Can anyone stop... The Cycle of the Werewolf?!?!?!?

I first read this in high school, younger than my dog is now. It took me a few chapters to realize that Silver Bullet was based on it. Anyway, I found it for a buck at a yard sale a couple years ago and decided I could use a reread.

Like Kemper told me while I was reading it, Cycle of the Werewolf is essentially a Stephen King calendar. Each chapter is a month out of the year the werewolf is stalking the town, accompanied by one or more of Bernie Wrightson's fantastic illustrations. Stephen King's writing is as crisp as ever. Also, he wrote this during his prime so it isn't bloated or over-written in the least.

I actually prefer the movie in this case. It has a lot more depth. Marty Coslaw doesn't show up until halfway through the book. The book and movie hit most of the same beats. I think the book might rely on Bernie Wrightson's illustrations a little too much. For the most part, it's just a collection of werewolf attacks with not a lot else going on. That being said, I did like the structure, with every chapter being a month of the werewolf's reign of terror.

While it is strictly a B-list Stephen King book, Cycle of the Werewolf is by far the best Stephen King novel ever turned into a movie starring Cory Haim and Gary Busey. Three out of five stars.

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Friday, November 10, 2017

Unprison


Yamila Abraham
Yaoi Press
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars



My Review



I love the cover and was keen on reading a prison romance. The title, though, led me to suspect that this story would be light on the violence and hardships associated with prison life. In that area, my expectations were met.

Ryan Burgess is an 18-year-old Princeton freshman who likes to party and dabbles in cocaine. Even his rich and influential father could not keep Ryan from getting a 25-year sentence for drug trafficking.

The fear of rape constantly looms in the back of Ryan’s mind, as all the men he encounters are much larger and stronger than he is. He meets a compassionate soul named Donnie who gives him tips on survival and advises him to hook up with Ray Harrison, a 48-year-old long-time inmate who will offer him protection.

“I buried my face in my hands and let out something between a scream and a groan. What the fuck was wrong with me? I’d trusted the first asshole I met here and now he was auctioning my ass off to the highest bidder.”


Though Ray is attracted to Ryan, his primary interest is in friendship. The rest is negotiable. Ray promises that he won’t make Ryan do anything he’s uncomfortable with – either personally or in the various jobs he gives him.

30% into the story, I was sure that nothing bad would happen to Ryan, so I focused my attention on the developing relationship between Ryan and Ray. Though Ryan didn’t want to be called “kid,” he was indeed Ray’s kid and Ray was his “daddy.” Their relationship was sweet and intimate, and the sex kinky and adventurous. While I loved Ryan’s growth in prison, I would have liked some tension, danger, and suffering. Despite that, the portrayal of life in a medium-security prison felt authentic, perhaps even more authentic than what we see in movies or on TV.

Fortunately, Ryan didn’t have to serve the entire sentence and was paroled after three years. The ending felt rushed and the happiness a little too easily earned, but overall this was a sweet and satisfying story.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

To the Towers of Tulandan

To the Towers of Tulandan (Lays of Anuskaya #0.5)To the Towers of Tulandan by Bradley P. Beaulieu
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The Maharraht Khadija has reached out to her former mentor and teacher the Aramahn Ashan. She seeks his assistance with a powerful yet difficult to reach boy named Nasim. Ashan chooses to come despite suspecting Khadija's masters wish to use the boy as a weapon.

To the Towers of Tulandan is listed as a prequel to the Lays of Ansukaya series. Despite being a prequel it seems crucial to have read at least the first book in the series before reading this story. The story begins as though the reader has full knowledge of the world's terms and magic systems. Seeing as I haven't read any of the books in the series this prequel was more slow and confusing than anything else.

Unfortunately I didn't find anything in this short story that I enjoyed. The characters personalities and actions could often be summed up in a single word. Khadija is angry, Nasim is distant, Ashan is insightful, and the others mostly seemed various degrees of mad. The story itself begins as a clear cut case of radical fighters resisting those who occupy their country. Shortly afterward it turns into a science fiction philosophy story mixed with incomprehensible powers, unclear motives, and lots of vague questions asked. The story is only 50 pages or so long, but I found it difficult to finish. Perhaps if I read another book in the series first I'd feel differently.

The Towers of Tulandan is a prequel that requires reading at least one book in the series in order to understand and likely to appreciate it.

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

LEONARDO DA VINCI BY WALTER ISAACSON

Leonardo da VinciLeonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”Although generally considered by his contemporaries to be friendly and gentle, Leonardo was at times dark and troubled. His notebooks and drawings are a window into his fevered, imaginative, manic, and sometimes elated mind. Had he been a student at the outset of the twenty-first century, he may have been put on a pharmaceutical regimen to alleviate his mood swings and attention-deficit disorder. One need not subscribe to the artist-as-troubled-genius trope to believe we are fortunate that Leonardo was left to his own devices to slay his demons while conjuring up his dragons.”

 photo LeonardodaVinci20dragon_zpsc7ff85di.jpg

This paragraph made my blood run cold, not because I thought about how different the world would have been if Leonardo da Vinci had not been Leonardo da Vinci (tragic for sure), but because it made me wonder how many potential geniuses we are drugging into “normalcy.” Are some of the great artists and innovators of the 21st century hidden beneath the layers of a cornucopia of drugs?

I remember, as a child, reading a biography of Leonardo da Vinci. I thought that he had the coolest name I’d ever heard. My name seemed so pedestrian in comparison. I was even more struck by the term that still best defines him…Renaissance man. I wanted to be a Renaissance man. Unfortunately, I have fallen woefully short of that title, but the eclectic books I choose to read still show that that original desire to be a well rounded person is alive and well. In an age of specialisation, I find myself to be an outlier. I am asked so many times a year...how do you know that?

<I read.
I ponder.
I am gifted with infinite curiosity.
I want to know things just for the sake of knowing them.


”’Talent hits a target that no one else can hit,’ wrote the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. ‘Genius hits a target no one else can see.’”

Whenever I read anything about Leonardo or gaze upon his paintings/drawings, I feel that same pang felt by Antonio Salieri whenever he would read that latest music composed by Mozart. I am awed by Vitruvian Man and Mona Lisa, but I am enamored with Lady with an Ermine, the portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, mistress of the Duke Ludovico of Milan. Ludovico commissioned the painting after Cecilia gave him a son. There are so many things about this painting that arrest my attention. The alert, coiled energy of the ermine, looking as if it will jump out of the frame of the picture into my arms any second. The slight upward tilt of her lips, implying the hint of a smile. The enormous limpid eyes. The long elegant fingers that would have been a gift to a concert pianist. I can imagine the Duke coming to see her and just sitting in her rooms and watch her do...anything.

 photo The20Lady20WIth20an20Ermine_zpsoefr0f8u.jpg

While in Milan, Leonardo was also working on the famous bronze horse that was going to be three times bigger than any sculpture existing at the time. Unfortunately, this is one of the many great pieces of art by Da Vinci that was never finished, but in this case war was at fault. The bronze for his horse was used to make cannons, to no avail. The French take Milan, and troops used the clay model he had made, a masterpiece in itself, for target practice. Da Vinci left many unfinished paintings in his wake: The Adoration of the Magi, Battle of Anghiari, and Saint Jerome Praying in the Wilderness, just to name a few. Despite being unfinished, these paintings rocked the art world, and students flocked to see them.

We have about 7,200 pages of Da Vinci’s notebooks, about a quarter of what he wrote. These notebooks are filled with sketches of inventions, few realized and most centuries ahead of their time, scribbles of ideas, doodles, and detailed drawings of his research into anatomy. Walter Isaacson absolutely loaded this volume with plates of Leonardo’s artwork, but also of pages of his notebooks. One, in particular, was very moving. I know I’ve seen this very image before, but life creates changes in all of us; something seen at 20 may not have near the impact on the same person who sees it at 50.

 photo Leonardo20Da20Vinci20fetus_zps2x7gfx3y.jpg


There is something just so fragile, so human, so perfect about it that I felt overcome by the beauty of...us.

He worked for a variety of powerful, diverse men, from Ludovico Sforza to Cesare Borgia to Francis the 1st of France. Leonardo was a sensitive man, but also had a very astute interest in war. He offered many times in his life to make machines of war for various patrons. ”The brutality of war didn’t repulse him as much as it seemed to mesmerize him, and the goriness he described would be reflected in the drawings he made for his battle mural:

”You must make the dead covered with dust, which is changed into
crimson mire where it has mingled with the blood issuing in a
stream from the corpse. The dying will be grinding their teeth, their
eyeballs rolling heavenward as they beat their bodies with their fists
and twist their limbs. Some might be shown disarmed and beaten
down by the enemy, turning upon the foe to take an inhuman and
bitter revenge with teeth and nails….Some maimed warrior may
be seen fallen to the earth, covering himself with his shield, while
the enemy, bending over him, tries to deal him a deadly blow.”


So vivid, without him even picking up a brush, we know this mural would have been unsettling and would not at all idealize the splendors or nobility of war. It might have even given a psychopath like Cesare Borgia pause.

 photo Peter20Paul20Rubens_zpsaeqinkm1.jpg
Peter Paul Rubens reimagining of what Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari would have looked like.

I’ve read other books by Isaacson so I knew that the genius of Leonardo da Vinci was safe in the hands of the writer who has specialized in writing about some of the greatest minds in history. Da Vinci comes vividly to life in this biography and the magnificent plates scattered throughout the text of his life’s work. This is a beautiful, heavy book, printed on high grade paper, and will make the perfect gift for those of infinite curiosity.

 photo Jeffrey20Keeten20Da20Vinci_zps2dqtmo6r.jpg

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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Senlin Ascends By: Josiah Bancroft

Senlin Ascends (The Books of Babel, #1)Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an amazing piece of work, and honestly..I don't remember how I came across it. But as the crud goes around my house and town and I am deep in a sinus med fueled delirium. I pick up this book.

Beautiful language, amazing world and incredibly readable, even though I was a bit in a fever dream (hah) I was sucked in and was not going to leave.

Pick this up, this is WORTH your time, (I'm still sick..so I make less sense than usual)

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Monday, November 6, 2017

Obligatory Ready Player One Review

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

All the kids are reading it! And here I am, late to the party as usual. Actually, I wasn't even invited...as usual.

Ready Player One has generated the kind of phenomenal interest few could have predicted. The book seems to appeal greatly to 80s nostalgics and romanticizers. There are a few people from my generation who wish they'd never left the 1980s. There are also a few millennials who wish they could've lived it. The former seem to be forgetting and later is apparently unaware of how shitty the 80s were at times, what with the threat of Russians invading Red Dawn style or the fear of getting nuked out of existence in a quick and decisive WWIII. Plus neon and big hair sucks!

Ready Player One revels in Atari, Dungeons & Dragons, early computer games, and 80s movies (leaning heavily on sci-fi), so this is ALL UP in my wheelhouse. I should be going gah-gah over this. I admit, I did enjoy the romp down memory lane for a while, but fairly soon the light plot wore on me.

This book reads like a movie in which the kids save the day, very much like War Games. This is all just a game as a matter of fact. The threat of avatars dying does not hold the same tension as a person losing their life. That's not to say author Ernest Cline forgot to add the human-life threat, it's just not there for some of the book's biggest moments. In that way it reminded of Ender's Game.

The main character plays and wins the video games I grew up on in order to save the day. I should have been loving this book. But most everything comes too easy for him. He's great at this game. He gets lucky, because he just happened to have recently studied/mastered the next game thrown at him in this contest to become rich and rule the virtual world. The motivations that book this book didn't move me. In the end, it's not bad, but I just don't understand the raging hype for this one.

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Genghis Khan was a Swell Guy

Genghis Khan and the Quest for God: How the World's Greatest Conqueror Gave Us Religious FreedomGenghis Khan and the Quest for God: How the World's Greatest Conqueror Gave Us Religious Freedom by Jack Weatherford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genghis Khan was a baaad man...if you were a shitty ruler who oppressed your people and lived fat off the sweat of those less fortunate.

Jack Weatherford knows his subject inside and out. He's written numerous books on the Mongols and the khan in particular. He did an excellent job in helping me garner a better understanding of perhaps the greatest ruler of all time.

Genghis Khan and the Quest for God: How the World's Greatest Conqueror Gave Us Religious Freedom succeeds in portraying Genghis Khan as a man to be admired for his ability to gracefully accept the religious beliefs of our cultures and nations when he had absolutely no need to. In fact, it would seem to behoove him to squash the beliefs of all who came under his power, if for no other reason than to have uniformity of belief under his sway entirely.

Instead, this man had the wisdom and foresight to allow the people he subjugated to retain their believes, whatever they may be. That did away with the necessity of fighting a secondary religious war with highly fanatical partisans.

As I was flying through these pages I was remained of a modern day parallel that may help you understand the kind of ruler Genghis Khan was. Think Khaleesi from Game of Thrones. Both are warlike and brutally slaughtered many, but both brought about freedom for the previously oppressed. Yes, I'm drawing on fantasy fiction for an analogy, but hey, the legendary stories that make up Genghis Khan's life seem like they have to be the stuff of some master writer's wild imagination.

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Sweet Sequel

Sweet Thursday (Cannery Row, #2)Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was in Monterey quite recently and even visited the Steinbeck house in Salinas, so I thought it would be a damn good time to read another Steinbeck. As per usual, it was a really good read and as per usual, I was right. But then again, it's always a good time to read Steinbeck!

Having said that, I do worry every time I read one of his books, because all the character's always die and it will always be sad. The amount of hyperbole in that previous sentence is nothing to the level of my forgetfulness when it comes to Steinbeck's solid sense of humor. For like Cannery Row, Sweet Thursday is actually a comedy.

That makes sense, since Sweet Thursday is a sequel to Cannery Row. Most all of the old characters are back and their aims are almost exactly the same. Poor old Doc is set upon once again by Mac and the boys in their attempts do something nice for their beloved friend. Of course, they have their own happiness in mind and their ways and means aren't conducive to well-laid plans, so yes, things fall apart. That's the whole point.

I could see someone docking the book for being a repeat and coasting on the coattails of a successful predecessor, but that someone is a douche. Shut up, sit back and enjoy the fact that a major novelist gave you more of a good thing!

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Sunday, November 5, 2017

A Pretty Mouth

A Pretty MouthA Pretty Mouth by Molly Tanzer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Pretty Mouth contains the tales of multiple generations of the Calapash family.

My first exposure to Molly Tanzer was Vermilion. When I learned Colleen Danzig from I Am Providence was based on her, I figured I was due to give her another look.

A Pretty Mouth is really fucked up but in the best possible ways. I was hooked from the opening story. Speaking of which, Bertie Wooster loses a bet and Jeeves has to help one of Bertie's friends, Lord Calapash, with his bathtub-bound sister, who is addicted to the secretions of a bizarre octopus. From there, the weirdness train rolls backwards, exploring the various members of the Calapash clan throughout history, all the way back to the beginning of the line in ancient Rome.

Each story is written in a different style, from the Wodehousian language of the first story, to Bronte, on down the line. The stories all have a Lovecraftian undercurrent, with the Calapash's being known for their look, not unlike the Innsmouth look. There's sex, incest, twincest, murder, sorcery, Lovecraftian horror and lots of crazy ass shit.

The homages to various Lovecraft tales were well done and didn't feel like Lovecraft pastiches alone. Molly Tanzer put her personal touch on each tale, writing in a variety of styles, bringing a freshness to the Lovecraftian subgenre.

A Pretty Mouth hit the sweet spot for me. About the only negative thing I can say about it is that I wish it was twice as long. Four out of five stars.



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Friday, November 3, 2017

Saved


A.M. Arthur
Briggs-King Books
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars



Summary



He didn’t want an alpha to save him, but fate had other ideas…

Braun Etting was raised to know his place as an omega by his alpha father’s cruel words and fast fists, and he expects nothing but violence from the alpha who may one day mate him. His older brother Kell mated a cruel alpha who abuses him daily, and Braun is terrified of that seemingly inevitable future. When Braun’s father dies in a car crash, leaving Braun an orphan, he’s sent to a halfway house for omegas. But on his fourth night there, he witnesses a horrifying crime that sends him fleeing to the streets alone—and edging into his first heat.

Tarek Bloom is settled in his workaholic, single lifestyle, even if it is somewhat embarrassing to be a twenty-eight year-old unmated alpha. He enjoys his job as a constable, helping people and solving problems, so he isn’t prepared for his life to flip upside-down when he walks into his beta friend Dex’s apartment to help with “a problem.”

The problem turns out to be an unmated, nearly in-heat omega orphan who Dex and his husband rescued off the street last night. The even bigger problem is that Tarek feels the mating bond for this terrified omega immediately—and he’s pretty sure the omega feels it, too. But Braun hates alphas as a general rule, and no way is he giving in to the bond. All mating leads to is violence and suffering, so no thank you. But Tarek’s gentle kindness slips under Braun’s emotional shields, and Braun begins to want. To dream. All Braun has ever known is violent alphas, but Tarek is determined to make Braun trust him—and to trust in the idea of their happily ever after.



My Review



Braun Etting is a young Omega living in an alternate version of the United States where no females and three classes of males exist – Alphas, Betas and Omegas. Alphas are the most powerful in physical, economic and social spheres. In order to reproduce, an Alpha must mate with an Omega while he is in heat and at his most fertile. Betas enjoy much of the same rights as Alphas, but they are unable to reproduce. Omegas are the nurturing parents, valued only for their ability to bring more Alphas into the world.


“Only an alpha/omega coupling could create children, and alphas were the top prize. The biggest earners, the CEO’s, the inventors and the powerful. It was considered an honor to be omegin to an alpha offspring, and doubly so to birth two. Only one omegin in history had ever given birth to four alpha children, and he had a small marble bust in his honor at the Museum of Natural History.”


In this world, Omegas are treated as third-class citizens. They are unable to inherit property and unable to drive, unless they are mated and then only with their Alpha’s permission. Because the laws disfavor Omegas, they are vulnerable and subject to the whims of cruel Alphas.

When Braun’s abusive Alpha father dies in a car crash, Braun is sent to a halfway house for his own safety as he’s approaching his first heat.

This story explores the injustices and cruelty of this system, Braun’s deep distrust of Alphas and the infinite patience of his future mate, Tarek Bloom, a forward-thinking constable, and a sweet, likable Alpha. It was easy reading, compelling enough, and comfortably unchallenging, perfect for recovering from a bout of bronchitis. Unfortunately, it was also bland and derivative while I was looking for something more thought-provoking and intense.

While I enjoyed the setting, the tension, and the developing romance, I would have liked more nuanced characters, particularly the villains. Tarek was far too perfect and not at all alpha-like. Though he loved and supported Braun, I found him too indulgent and Braun too childish and petulant. I enjoyed the secondary characters, Serge and Dex, quite a bit more.

The events surrounding Braun’s brother, Kell, captured my interest, but I’m not sure if I plan to continue this series.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Nightblade

NightbladeNightblade by Garrett Robinson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Loren dreams of becoming a great thief known as the Nightblade. An honorable thief if such a thing is possible. Loren's dreams provide her comfort as her reality is far from enjoyable. Her parents are cruel people who physically beat her and verbally berate her. When her chance arrives, Loren flees her home with a wanted wizard named Xain. The constables who pursue Xain, begin to pursue Loren as well and trouble begins to follow her wherever she goes.

Nightblade is largely a PSA of the dangers of running away from home. No one will debate that Loren's home life is horrible due completely to her parents abuse, but Loren compounds her problems. When she encounters the wizard Xain, he tells her he's a wanted man. Despite that Loren can think of no better companion for the road than a wanted wizard. By all means run away from home, but don't head off with a fugitive from the law for goodness sakes. The first part of the book could easily have been called, Making Bad Worse: Loren's Story or How to Make Bad Decisions and Run for Your Life.

Loren continues to make mind boggling decisions as the story proceeds. I wish the girl was just dumb, but she shows her intelligence from time to time. Loren makes the wrong choice over and over again. Each poor choice leads to increasingly poor choices that multiplied the amount of people who wanted her dead.

Nightblade had some good parts. The most prominent part was the mystery surrounding Loren's blade. When Loren ran away from home she stole a blade her parents kept hidden away. The blade seemed far too fine for her parents to own and seemingly everyone who saw it had a notable reaction to it. Some of these reactions were quite intriguing and the mystery that shrouds the blade travels through the story.

Nightblade was a tale of poor choices and unfortunate consequences.

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

SAFE BY RYAN GATTIS

SafeSafe by Ryan Gattis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Ricky Mendoza, Junior, wasn’t my real name, just one I took as my legal back when it seemed smart to. Like, the real me died back when I changed it and what’s left of me just floats.”

Everybody calls him Ghost.

Sometimes a man has to move on from a name and start over. A new name is like shedding your skin. It is a chance to redeem and be someone closer to whom you wanted to be before things went sideways.

Ghost is an addict who doesn’t use.

A man takes a chance on him, teaches him how to crack safes, and now Ghost is about to disappoint him.

”Betraying this man, I’ve never hated myself so much in my life as now. I feel shame bursting up inside me, telling me, once a junkie, always a junkie. Telling me, I can’t ever be loved, or trusted, Telling me, I’ll break his world and everything in it if I haven’t already stolen it first.
It’s what I am.
Stupid.
Selfish.
Worthless.

I grab a big breath and use it to try to kill this negativity inside me. Or at least get it quieter. Because if I don’t, I’ll spiral. And I can’t do that. Not now.”


The DEA calls him and needs a safe popped at a drug house. Ghost has lost the ability to smell, and he knows what that means. The Big C is back, growing tumors in his brain, but before he checks out he decides he needs to do something to help others. It is 2008, the housing crises is cresting, and people, good people, are losing their homes.

He takes $887,000 from the safe.

He’s going to pay off some mortgages. He is a street wise Robin Hood on a mission of self-destruction.

Time has become compressed. Between the DEA and the drug dealers Rooster and Glasses, from whom he stole, he knows it is only a matter of time before they catch up with him. He has to keep moving and stretch his life. He has to steal more.

Glasses wants out. He has a son now who turns him all gooey inside. ”I feel like there’s a secret room inside him, a room inside a room even, one that I can fill up with good things and advice, stuff he should know if I talk to him at night like this. The more I do it, the more I can build a voice in the back of his brain that will guide him through everything even when I’m not here.”

The streets have left their scars on Glasses. Rooster has taught him a lot. Glassas wants to pass his knowledge to his son without his son having to experience the streets. He has to get his son away from all of this, and the only way he can do that is if he burns Rooster down. The DEA has frozen all his assets, all that money Glasses put into Best Buy stock when it was cheap. The only way he gets it back is if he gives them Rooster.

Oddly enough, Ghost and Glasses both end up working for the DEA, but pulling strings from different ends. As Ghost drives around LA, listening to a mixtape from his dead girlfriend, Rose, and Glasses contemplates how best to stay alive while playing the role of Benedict Arnold, little do they know they are on a collision course that will leave one or both of them dead.

”It’s Rose’s fault that I think stories are one of the most powerful things in the world. More powerful than knives and surgeries. More powerful than bullets. Because stories live past you. Stories can get into other people and live there too. Stories are like glasses, kind of. They change how you see the world.”

I’ve never read Ryan Gattis before. Not only was I impressed by the deft way he handled this duel plot, but also how he humanized monsters. Because most people, even bad people, aren’t monsters once you peel back the bark they have built between themselves and the world. They have been hurt. They have been forced to hurt. They are caught in a tragic play, and survival is paramount. They are capable of terrible acts, but they are also capable of extending compassion, as well. They are broken human beings who, if given the choice, would live a different life, but early on the street grabbed them and never let go. They learned to survive and became people they were never meant to be. This is a hardboiled, gritty, street wise novel that is not only heart pounding thrilling, but also incredibly moving.

FSG sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
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Monday, October 30, 2017

Fore-runner? More like Bore-runner! *rimshot*

The MoonstoneThe Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I guess a review of this requires me to say that Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone is one of the first mystery novels ever written. Now that I've got that out of the way, let's get on with the review.

This English drama/mystery started out great. It also started out much the same way many English drama/mysteries of the period would start out: in the manor house. It also used the popular-in-its-time epistolary form of storytelling, with about a half dozen characters taking up their pens to relate their portion of this story.

What is the story? Well, it starts off like an adventure with a mysterious diamond discovered in a faraway land. The diamond is passed down as inheritance and then it is stolen. Lovers are torn asunder and the mystery of the missing diamond must be solved if love is to prevail.

In fact, love plays a large roll in this, so large actually that I'm inclined to call it a romance as much as a mystery. If memory serves, it is even referred to as such as a subtitle, as in The Moonstone, a romance.

Regardless, if you've come solely for the mystery you'll be disappointed in much of this. As I say, it started out great. The first quarter or so of the story is related by the butler and much of his portion of the tale involves the facts of the case. He's also a colorful character, who it seems Collins enjoyed writing about. After him, we move on to less charming characters such a fanatic Christian, a lawyer, a physician, detective and one of the principle suspects involved in the disappearance of the diamond.

The faults, for me, in this novel are its overlong explanations, its unnecessary sidebar storylines, occasional repetition, and the time spent dwelling on the mundane. Many scenes could have been easily reduced, some could have been dispensed with all together, and the book would've been all the better for it. All in all, it's not horrible. I'd put it in league with Dickens' middling work. Not worth rushing forth to read, but I wouldn't dismiss it altogether.

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A Modern Classic

The English PatientThe English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This feels like a classic piece of literature, one of those core foundation books taught in American Lit classes at liberal arts colleges. Perhaps it's because of the all classical references Michael Ondaatje places in the mouths of his character the English patient. Perhaps it is in the storytelling, concerning itself with the cerebral and almost entirely devoid of action except in the backstories. The poetic choice of words themselves may be the cause. Perhaps it's the World War II Italian countryside setting that draws one back and ages these pages.

I don't know. I stopped trying to know long before I finished The English Patient. I just let those words wash over me like a bath for the mind.

Here is a lengthy summary if you care to know more, but I would skip it and just dive right into the book: http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/english...

Though I think this is a brilliant novel, I wasn't entirely blown away. It drags in places and is a tad too self-consciously literary for my tastes these days. And yet, despite these personal taste flaws, I still have to give this five stars. It's too good to be lumped into with the sea of four star books I've read, many of which are quite good, but few of which attain the unearthly feeling one gets when reading The English Patient.

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Black Box Inc. is an action packed urban fantasy quest novel



The team is the thing in Jake Bible's "Black Box Inc.", a nifty urban fantasy quest novel. Bible spins a convincing and fun tale, throws in some likable, but unusual characters and good dialogue Sporting some interesting world-building, a main character with a quasi-magical talent and a road trip with continuous action sequences, it is a book that fans of fantasy with modern weapons and action can sink their teeth into. My minor quibble is that Bible seems to assume that everyone has already met his characters. So it feels like there is not enough character introduction in the beginning, but once the story gets going, it is not as important.


Chase Lawter is the leader of Black Box Inc., a company that takes advantage of Lawter's talent to manipulate dimensional energy, that he calls the “dim” to create objects. Lawter speciality is the creation of boxes that he can seal and lock away. He is the only one who is able to open the boxes. Lawter’s partners are Harper Kyles, a weapons specialist, who grew up with the fae, and not in a good way, Sharon, a zombie businesswomen, who is in charge of billing and Lassa, a 7 foot yeti, an oversexed bi-sexual, who you would think would be a gunner, but who is really in charge of logistics and transportation.


After a night of drinking, Lawter wakes up naked covered with blood in his apartment, with no memory of what happened the night before. He is met by Travis, a shapeshifter, who just happened to come by and found him in this state. Meanwhile, the team soon discovers that Iris Penn, the bartender at the local watering hole, and who Lawter has romantic feelings, although unrequited, is missing. While on an amusing visit to the local constabulary, Bible introduces Teresa, Lawter’s banshee lawyer.


Teresa starts to file legal papers, but Harper cannot wait and uses blood magic to arrange a visit with Aspen, a fae assassin. The fae want Lawter to do a job for them and the fae, who are the heavies in Bible’s world do not like Lawter, who they call the “defiler of dimensions”.


So the team and Teresa go to the faerie dimension, where they meet Daphne, the evil fairy godmother, and that is typical of Bible’s fun sense of humor, who wants Lawter and his team to go on a road trip to steal the devil’s soul in Hell, or a world that looks like Hell, which is populated with citizens, who look like evil imps and demons, but who are not really that, year right. While the team has good intentions the road to Hell is fraught with violent predators, who want nothing better than to eat, maim or kill Lawter There will be an attack by harpies, a turncoat, an evil fae guard and a host of other troubles.


Even Hell is not what it seems. Will Lawter and his team trust the fae devil they know in Daphne or make a contract with Lord Beelzebub, who you know wants his contract signed in blood. It’s hard to know which bad guy to trust. But you have to know that the team will be able to turn the tables on somebody.


Bible is able to set up a really fun quest novel with engaging characters. While the quest novel is a standard fantasy trope, Bible’s inventive dialogue, amusing situations, unusual characters and action packed plot sets it apart.


It is a fine time to join Lawter’s team on their next adventure.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Lying Eyes


Robert Winter
Self-Published
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars



Summary



This bartender’s art lies in more than mixing drinks …

Randy Vaughan is a six-foot-three mass of mysteries to his customers and his friends. Why does a former Secret Service agent now own Mata Hari, a successful piano bar? Where did a muscle daddy get his passion for collecting fine art? If he’s as much a loner as his friends believe, why does he crave weekly sessions at an exclusive leather club?

Randy’s carefully private life unravels when Jack Fraser, a handsome art historian from England, walks into his bar, anxious to get his hands on a painting Randy owns. The desperation Randy glimpses in whiskey-colored eyes draws him in, as does the desire to submit that he senses beneath Jack’s elegant, driven exterior.

While wrestling with his attraction to Jack, Randy has to deal with a homeless teenager, a break-in at Mata Hari, and Jack’s relentless pursuit of the painting called Sunrise. It becomes clear someone’s lying to Randy. Unless he can figure out who and why, he may miss his chance at the love he’s dreamed about in the hidden places of his heart.

Note: Lying Eyes is a standalone gay romance novel with consensual bondage and a strong happy ending. It contains potential spoilers for Robert Winter’s prior novel, Every Breath You Take.




My Review



After meeting Randy Vaughan, sexy older bartender in Every Breath You Take, I was thrilled to get the opportunity to read his story and find out why he is not in a relationship and why he retired early from the Secret Service.

Those mysteries and a few others gradually get solved as Randy learns more about Jack Fraser, an English art historian who is extremely interested in a post-impressionist painting Randy purchased while he was in London. Meanwhile, a homeless teenager is assaulted outside Randy’s bar and Randy, all big muscles and soft heart, dispatches his assailants and brings the kid home. Danny has secrets, but doesn’t hide the fact that he finds Randy hot. Though this is an awkward situation for Randy, he remains firm and never allows their relationship to move beyond friendship. While Danny is living with him, Randy also hides his weekly visits to an exclusive leather bar. To his surprise, he discovers the sexually submissive Jack shares similar interests.

I loved Jack’s passion towards his job and found the story rich with interesting details and history of post-impressionist art and was fascinated by how much work and research goes into determining the authenticity of a painting. While Jean-Pierre Brousseau was a fictional artist, he sure felt real to me. I also loved the glimpses into Randy’s warm and caring personality. Despite his skittishness about relationships and his gruff exterior, Randy cares deeply about his friends, treats his employees well, and is devoted to Danny’s care.

This was a perfect mix of romance, mystery, and suspense that was a lot of fun to read. Weighty issues, like overcoming the pain of betrayal, and learning to trust and forgive are explored, lending depth and complexity.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story and hope Danny will make another appearance.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Reaper

Reaper (#1, Duster and a Gun Saga)Reaper by Gregory Blackman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Horace McKidrict doesn't remember two years of his life. McKidrict plans to learn what happened to him by hunting down the first being he remembers after his two year time gap, a demon called the Abaddon. While angels fight for heaven and demons fight for hell, reapers like McKidrict fight for humanity.

Reaper feels very much like a knockoff demon hunter story. My initial thoughts go to the Supernatural TV show, most specifically when Angels were revealed to be real. It also has the vibe of the Supernatural episode where Sam and Dean travel back in time to meet Samuel Colt in a Western era monster hunting mashup.

Horace McKidtrick could be any one of numerous bland monster hunting characters. He's mean, carries a gun, and tends to work alone. Plus demons shutter when they know he's after him. It's all pretty cliché unfortunately. I didn't find any particularly interesting original material.

Reaper was a below average monster hunter story packed full of familiar tropes.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

THE BLACKHOUSE BY PETER MAY BOOK ONE IN THE LEWIS TRILOGY

The Blackhouse (Lewis Trilogy, #1)The Blackhouse by Peter May
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Knew, too, that it wasn’t just Mona he wanted to run away from. It was everything. Back to a place where life had once seemed simple. A return to childhood, back to the womb. How easy it was now to ignore the fact that he had spent most of his adult life avoiding just that. Easy to forget that as a teenager nothing had seemed more important to him than leaving.”

Detective Fin Macleod is sent back to the place where he was bred, born, burnished, and raised as an orphan. A murder has happened on the Isle of Lewis in The Outer Hebrides of Scotland in the very town Fin was from, Crobost. The murder has similar characteristics of brutality to a murder he has been working on in Edinburgh. He had only come back to the island for the funeral of his aunt since he left to go to school in Glasgow, so everything there is tinged in the sepia tones of the past. The tender threads that held his marriage together with Mona snapped with the tragic death of his son. The sorrows and desperations of his current life outweigh the dread of dredging up memories of his unhappy childhood. When you grow up in a small community, they remember everything you’ve ever done: the good, the bad, and the ugly. In some ways, you never escape the fallacies of your youth, when everyone’s memory is so long.

The irony is that he is going back to investigate the murder of Angel Macritchie, who despite his name was certainly no Angel. There is no one from Fin’s past who inspires more terror wrapped nightmares than Angel Macritchie. With a long list of grievances perpetrated against nearly every male member of the community and more than a few females, most everyone's a viable suspect, but then a brutish murder like this comes from more than just someone harboring a grievance.

This murderer is twisted and depraved.

As Fin investigates the murder, trying to find a motive that would fit such a crime, he also finds himself sifting through the debris of his own memories, his own failings, and those he hurt the worst as he flailed to adulthood. There is no one he hurt worst than the lovely girl from the farm who loved him from the first moment she laid those cornflower eyes on him...Marsaili. She is still on the island, now married to his best friend from school, Atair MacInnes.

”A blink of moonlight splashed a pool of broken silver on the ocean beyond. There was a light on in the kitchen, and through the window Fin could see a figure at the sink. He realized, with a start, that it was Marsaili, long fair hair, darker now, drawn back severely from her face and tied in a ponytail at the nape of her neck. She wore no makeup and looked weary somehow, pale, with shadows beneath blue eyes that had lost their lustre. She looked up as she heard the car, and Fin killed the headlights so that all she could see would be a reflection of herself in the window. She looked away quickly, as if disappointed by what she’d seen, and in that moment he glimpsed again the little girl who had so bewitched him from the first moment he set eyes on her.”

Fin treated her terribly. That’s what we seem to do to those who love us the most. Peter May gives us this relationship from the first flowering of love, through the lust, and onward to where we see the tearing apart of their entwined lives. Fin tries to explain the unexplainable.

”’Please,’ she said, almost as if she knew that he was going to tell her he had always loved her, too. ‘I don’t want to hear it. Not now, Fin, not after all these wasted years.’ And she turned to meet his eye. Their faces were inches apart. ‘I couldn’t bear it.’”

This reader couldn’t bear it either. Don’t you dare say it, Fin.

Because we know so much about Fin and the numerous times when he experienced crushing setbacks in his life, we can’t even condemn him. (Ok that isn’t completely true. I’m still pissed at him.) The one person who could have sustained him is still connected to the very island he was trying to escape. Marsaili washes back upon the shore of the Isle of Lewis as part of the debris that is the shipwreck of his life.

The Churches of Scotland dominate island life, each vying to be more severe than the next as proof that their sect is more religious than the others. Swings are tied up on Sunday so no child will be tempted to be lifted from the earth on the Sabbath. Belief in a higher being drowned by madness. This overbearing influence warps minds and deforms bodies under the crippling weight of guilt that can never really be forgiven, but must be carried on the soul like piles of jagged black stones. We must be reminded of our sins so we stay afraid of our creator.

There is a rock off shore called Sulasgeir, where ten selected men go each year to harvest the guga’s offspring. It is a bloody massacre, and fortunately, the government only allows them to take 2000 birds a year. The fledglings have to be the right age to taste the best. If they are too large or too small, they are allowed to live. Fin was a part of that group one year before he left for college. It is a dangerous experience for the men, among the craggy rocks that prove to be tinged with tragedy. Why do these men do it every year? Tradition? ”But Gigs shook his head. ‘No. It’s not the tradition. That might be a part of it, aye. But I’ll tell you why I do it, boy. Because nobody else does it anywhere in the world. Just us.’”

This book is so much more than just a murder mystery. I felt completely immersed in these people’s lives. I wasn’t always happy about it. There were times when it made me feel uncomfortable. I read this on the plane to San Francisco for a visit to Goodreads Headquarters, and I’m sure many of my fellow passengers wondered what I was reading that was making me grimace and squirm in my seat. Once on the island, Fin remembers things that were tamped down so deep they were nearly forgotten. He burns with shame at his own failings, laid so bare, and tries as best he can to fix the wounds he left in others as he tries to live with the lacerations that life has inflicted on him. There are twists and turns and revelations. By the end, I could not deny that Peter May has written a novel that I will never forget. Hebrides Noir.

”And then he felt it. The cold bite of iron, the movement of the ring as his fingers closed desperately around it, and held. And held. Almost dislocating his shoulder as the sea pulled and jerked, before finally, reluctantly letting go. For a moment he lay still, clutching the mooring ring, washing up on the rock like a beached sea creature. And then he scrambled for a foothold, and then a handhold, and the strength to propel himself upward before the sea returned to reclaim him. He could sense it snapping at his heels as he found the ledge of the rock…. He’d made it. He was on the rock, safe from the sea. And all that it could do now was spit its anger in his face.”

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Blackwing By: Ed McDonald

Blackwing (Ravens' Mark #1)Blackwing by Ed McDonald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

one of the best fantasy's of the year..period. A horrific wasteland that you want no part of, but a book you can't stop reading. Strong characters, great action, a interesting world that you want to find out more about. It hits all the buttons.

If you haven't picked this up go do it....(you can thank me later)



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Monday, October 23, 2017

Black Goat Blues By: Levi Black

Black Goat Blues (The Mythos War #2)Black Goat Blues by Levi Black
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great urban fantasy, I already said elsewhere that I love Lovecraftian stuff way more when Lovecraft doesn't do it. The Mythos war is a great series and Black Goat Blues is a tight, bloody, action packed visceral work. It is a pretty by the book urban fantasy series, but the sheer force and wonderful vision of the world and the characters make it worth the read.

I look forward to more of this world. check it out

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Breaking Good!

A Life in PartsA Life in Parts by Bryan Cranston
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

That was really good. I mean really good! I knew I was going to enjoy it, because I'm a Brian Cranston/Breaking Bad fan, but this was exceptional.

Acclaimed actor Brian Cranston is a surprisingly good storyteller and the man has some stories to tell! I found this online in audiobook form with him doing the reading and that, imo, is the best way to read an autobiography. Who better to relate their life story than the person who lived it? Sure, some people absolutely suck at reading and shouldn't be allowed in a recording studio. Cranston's not one of them. He's got a great reading voice and he knows the passages requiring special inflection. At certain points, he acts this book and it's all the better for it.

As I alluded to earlier, Cranston has had an interesting life. From early childhood onward, his life has been a rollercoaster of unlikely twists and turns, pockmarked by the occasional emotional landmine. Even his parents provide intrigue and his take on their colorful pasts gives insight into his own.

After a thorough and thoroughly enjoyable retelling of his youth and early career paths, A Life in Parts takes us right up through Breaking Bad and a bit beyond. Being such a big BB fan, I knew I was going to enjoy that part of the book. However, I was extremely pleased to find myself fully engaged through out this most excellent autobio.

I give my highest recommendations for Cranston fans. Hell, I'd recommend this even if you weren't familiar with his work. If you like a good biography, this one won't let you down!



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Boston Crime in the '90s

A Drink Before the War (Kenzie & Gennaro, #1)A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A crime drama set in '90s Boston?! Yes and thank you!

I came of age in the 1990s just 45 minutes outside of Boston. So much of this book speaks to me.

What didn't feel as intimate was the race relations/strife plot. There was one black family in my sleepy little suburban hometown when I grew up. I'm sure we had racists, but racism wasn't a thing because there weren't races, just a bunch of whities. The subject didn't come up unless it was in the newspapers. The city had its problems, has had its problems right along. A Drink Before the War touches upon Boston's race problem in a grand, as well as intimate, way.

Plot summary quickie: Two private investigators are tasked by local politicians to retrieve certain documents. The pair end up in the middle of a gang war. But something deeper and darker is going on, which pushes our heroes to go above and beyond the call of duty. Also, during the investigation one of the investigators struggles with memories of his own past while the other deals with an abusive husband. Big and small, political and personal storylines pulse throughout A Drink Before the War.

I loved the two main characters, maybe not as people, but at least as well developed characters. Why not as people? Well, no one is clean. I mean, just about everyone in this book has flaws. Some are bigger and harder to overlook than others. But Dennis Lehane was looking to prick his readers' moral repugnance and he did a hell of a job, all while telling a fast-paced thriller.

There's nothing wrong with this book from my perspective. So why didn't I give this a five star rating? It's fantastic! And yet, it doesn't quite feel like a masterpiece. Maybe it's because it spends most of its time in the dirt. You feel filthy after reading this one, tarnished by the crooked politicians, the degenerates, gangland violence, unrepentant slayings, etc. However, that was its intent and it succeeds...oh man, does it ever succeed.

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Friday, October 20, 2017

City Knight




T.A. Webb
Self-Published
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars




My Review


If I decide to embark on a series, I like to test the waters by reading the first book. If that book ends in a massive cliffhanger, it makes me grumpy. I don’t mind gentle hooks to encourage a reader to buy the next book, but I hate being manipulated into it because the first book is not complete.

So I’m really glad I read this compilation of five stories (which really should have been written as one story) rather than subjected myself to the torture of cliffhangers and unresolved loose ends.

City Knight: Working It

I have a weakness for rent boys and cops. I also love May-December romances. I’m so happy this story has all three! Ben Danvers is hustling his way through college while Marcus Prater is a retired cop still patrolling the streets of Atlanta because of a promise he made. Though both men are broken and haunted by events from their past, they form a solid connection that moves from humorous banter, steamy sex, and tender feelings to something much deeper. This gripping little story packed a whole lot of powerful emotions, but the cliffhanger was just cruel.

Knightmare

This story starts where the first left off, with my heart in my mouth. While Marcus is embarking on his search, so desperate to impart the bad news he received and protect his new lover, we meet his friends, Wick, Chance, Archer and Zachary, and get a taste of the grief that still haunts him. Marcus is not the only one feeling pain, though. Because of three little words uttered by Marcus, Ben flees into the night, feeling he is unworthy and damaged even though he wants to be loved so badly. When Ben’s past comes crashing in, Marcus shows how growly, possessive and fiercely protective he is. Their last love scene was so charged, so passionate. I love these guys together and want all the best for them, but their hardships are not yet through with them.

Starry Night

After the difficulties faced by Marcus and Ben in the previous two stories, I was relieved that this story tied up some loose ends and showed some growth in Ben’s and Marcus’ relationship. At times, though, it felt cluttered with too many visits from Marcus’ friends while he was recovering from his wound. A little more background on his friends may have helped me to enjoy this one more. I found myself skimming to get back to Ben and Marcus.

Knights Out

Just when I thought this series was starting to lose steam, new plots and characters are introduced. Ben and Marcus are happy together, but they have not forgotten about the young men selling their bodies who need their help. There is more tension, tears and heartbreak as they search for a missing rent boy. I enjoyed learning more about Marcus’ background and the touching reunion with his brother. No cliffhanger, just a sad ending and a gentle hook leading to a mystery that needs to be solved.

Darkest Knight

Marcus and Ben are a couple I won’t forget anytime soon. Though Ben is still dealing with anxiety from his assault, he and Marcus are as solid as granite. They continue to learn about each other, disclose painful memories and work together to find a killer with Ben as bait. This story concluded with a few loose ends, so I’m hoping there will be new installments.

Each of these riveting and suspenseful short stories explores sorrow, love, friendship, human degradation, and the good we are all capable of. I’m a little unhappy that this collection is loosely connected with another set of stories by different authors. I probably won’t seek them out, but I’ll happily read anything T.A. Webb writes.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Mage Hunter: Blooded Snow

Mage Hunter: Blooded Snow (The Ursian Chronicles)Mage Hunter: Blooded Snow by Ty Johnston
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sergeant Guthrie Hackett is mere days from being released from the army. Unfortunately the plans of a new life are shattered along with the lives of his squad as they are massacred in an ambush led by a witch. Hackett is allowed to live to tell the story of what happened. Before Hackett can return an Ice Witch forces a power upon him in order to ensure her survival.

Mage Hunter: Blooded Snow is an average story that is overly short. It feels like the first few chapters of a larger book. Looking at the sequels the author appears to have written them in an issue type of format. Based on that not much happened in the story, but a lot of foundational storylines are being laid.

Unfortunately nothing was particularly unique or interesting in Mage Hunter: Blooded Snow. Enemies raiding borders, ambushes, magic, and witches are all common in fantasy stories. The power bestowed on Sergeant Hackett could potentially be interesting because I don't imagine the tiny amount of information the story shared about his power is all he can do.

Mage Hunter: Blooded Snow is a common fantasy tale that mildly kept my interest.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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