Monday, September 18, 2017

Siege Line (Reawakening Trilogy #3) By: Myke Cole

Siege Line (Reawakening Trilogy #3)Siege Line by Myke Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Myke Cole keeps knocking it out of the park, Siege Line is damn near perfect military fantasy with a ton of heart to go with the blistering action. The Shadow Ops universe is a scifi/fantasy nerd's perfect storm. It hits all my loves, great world, amazing action, strong dialogue and terrific characters.

Go search out Mr. Cole's books, give him a try, then thank me later when you are out of money and waiting on his new book.

8991 stars out of 5.

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The Ruin of Angels By: Max Gladstone

The Ruin of Angels (Craft Sequence, #6)The Ruin of Angels by Max Gladstone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are few things in the world of science fiction and fantasy that make me happier than a new Craft Sequence novel, Mr. Gladstone is on a short list of authors that I drop whatever I am reading to read their new work.

If you haven't read the Craft Sequence books, DO. The Ruin of Angels is a beautiful thing, Mr. Gladstone shoves the square peg of a wonderfully deep and rich fantasy world into the smooth circle of reality and it works. There are weird and wonderful things happening everywhere, world full of gods and it's all everyday occurance. Truly a great thing...awesome story, cool characters and great, amazing world.

GIVE MAX GLADSTONE YOUR MONEY!!!! 48959 out of 5 stars.

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Old Grump Treks Across the UK

The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in BritainThe Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain by Bill Bryson
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For all its stogy, stoicism and unspoken rules of social etiquette, England is a peculiar place full of strange people doing odd things. Many and more are found here in The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain.

American-born writer Bill Bryson has been living in England so long he's written a sort of 20th anniversary sequel to his popular Notes from a Small Island. While The Road to Little Dribbling may sound like more of the same, Bryson made sure to steer clear of the sights he visited the first time around.

Following very loosely what he has dubbed the Bryson Line...


...the longest straight line through Great Britain that doesn't cross the sea, Bryson samples a bit of the countryside and a little of the city life in the heart of England and Scotland. It's often a delightful and upbeat view of the land and its people. History buffs and jolly old England enthusiasts will find a lot to love here.

On the other hand, this is not a book for the young. Middle-aged, part-time curmudgeons will find a kindred spirit in Bryson, who gets grumpy over the littlest of nuisances:

"Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a little oik of a kid about 13 years old in a Chelsea shirt at a bus stop eating a bag of crisps. When I came back a few minutes later the boy was gone and the crisp packet was on the ground. There was a bin three feet away. It occurred to me, not for the first time, that if Britain is ever to sort itself out it is going to require a lot of euthanasia."

He's that old greybeard in the group that's always asking "but why?" (much like a 5 year old actually) and who will argue a pointless point to everyone's annoyance and just won't let it go.

But for the most part, Bryson likes England and in this book he mostly likes what he sees, so the reader is treated to a lovely tour of a quaint country with a fairly congenial tour guide in The Road to Little Dribbling. Recommended!

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Steinbeck's Russian Journal

A Russian JournalA Russian Journal by John Steinbeck
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Right after WWII people in America were curious about the Soviet Union in a big way. It coincided with a time when author John Steinbeck and world-renowned photographer Robert Capa were at a loss for what to do next. A scheme was hatched up to do a bit of light investigative journalism and see what was up with post-war Russia.

This wasn't political, so much as a social call. Steinbeck and Capa really just wanted to see what was going on in the lives and minds of the people.

They went to Moscow...


And they visited farmers in the provinces...


One thing you'll notice from the above photos (besides the ubiquitous recurrence of Stalin) is the general lack of men. A generation of males had been lost to war and the remaining women were left to carry on.


The people of Moscow came off as cold and officious. Everything needed to be categorized and catalogued. Steinbeck describes one meal in which hours elapsed before food hit the table, not because the cooks were slow. Rather, the paperwork that needed to be filled out and distributed to the proper authorities delayed the kitchen from even beginning.

The country farmers, though less educated, seemed freer and happier, even if they were worked ragged due to a lack of mechanization that had been available to them pre-war. However, they were welcoming and generous.

As it turns out, right after WWII, just about all people in Russia were curious about Americans in a big way and they had many questions for Steinbeck and Capa, so many that at times it seemed the journalists were becoming the story. Those interested in either gentlemen will enjoy some of the slight insights given herein. I've noted in his other autobiographical work that Steinbeck comes off as an impish trickster at times...though his friends might just flat out call him evil. Nonetheless, his sense of fun brings a welcome lightness to the text.

This is not to say the text is particularly heavy. In fact, this is quite a light read. Steinbeck seems to strike a good balance of post-war doom and gloom with hope and promise for a brighter future while relating it all in the easy-going manner of a master storyteller. This may be outdated and not give you an idea of what Russia's like today, but it's a nice sample of a recent historical time and place. Highly recommended!

A Capa and Steinbeck selfie...

(I apologize if not all photos are from this book, as websites like Pinterest have begun to make online photo attribution rather difficult.)

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Loch Ness Revenge

Loch Ness RevengeLoch Ness Revenge by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When she was a child, Natalie McQueen watched the Loch Ness monster kill and eat her parents. Now, she's back at the Loch to get some payback!

As I've mentioned in other reviews, I spent a lot of my pre-teen years reading about cryptozoology, although I didn't know the term for it at the time. I spent countless afternoons reading about weird monsters, usually in books written by Daniel Cohen. Hunter Shea must have read some of the same books.

Loch Ness Revenge is just what the title says it is, a bloody tale of monster-hunting and carnage. It's also a hell of a lot of fun.

Natalie, plagued by night terrors, has been wanting to get revenge on the Loch Ness Monster for most of her life. Now, with her twin brother Austin and his monster hunter friend Henrik, she gets her chance.

This book was a hell of a lot of fun. Natalie and her friends have no idea how ill-equipped they are or even the number of monsters they face. Hunter references a lot of Loch Ness lore and theories, like the debunked surgeon's photo and the ideas that Nessie is some kind of plesiosaur or new form of seal.

While there's a lot of bloodshed, there's also a good amount of humor, although never when it would detract from the horror. Shea's writing has quite a punch to it and the story never feels like it's overstaying its welcome. While it's not a long book, it was the perfect length for what it was.

This was my first Hunter Shea book and now I'll probably be reading the rest of his cryptozoological horrors. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

The Last Place You Look

Kristen Lepionka
Minotaur Books
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Sarah Cook, a beautiful blonde teenager disappeared fifteen years ago, the same night her parents were brutally murdered in their suburban Ohio home. Her boyfriend Brad Stockton - black and from the wrong side of the tracks - was convicted of the murders and sits on death row, though he always maintained his innocence. With his execution only weeks away, his devoted sister, insisting she has spotted Sarah at a local gas station, hires PI Roxane Weary to look again at the case.

Reeling from the recent death of her cop father, Roxane finds herself drawn to the story of Sarah's vanishing act, especially when she thinks she's linked Sarah's disappearance to one of her father's unsolved murder cases involving another teen girl. Despite her self-destructive tendencies, Roxane starts to hope that maybe she can save Brad's life and her own.

With echoes of Sue Grafton, Dennis Lehane and the hit podcast Serial, The Last Place You Look is the gripping debut of both a bold new voice and character.

My Review

Thanks to karen for bringing this to my attention and making it possible for me to get a copy from NetGalley. Because I forgot my password and took too long to get a new one, I decided to grab it from the library instead. Amazingly, I was the first to get my hands on a brand-new copy. Curses to Trump and others who want to defund our public libraries!

Despite the high ratings for this story, I expected a conventional crime novel with a badass PI who could do no wrong. Roxane Weary is nowhere near that perfect. Though she’s smart and competent at her job, she drinks way too much and has difficulty with relationships. She’s also grieving the death of her cop father, a man Roxane had a stormy relationship with despite their likeness in character.

Roxane takes on a difficult case involving a missing teenager and her black boyfriend, Brad Stockton, whose time on death row is fast running out. What seems like a cut and dried case turns out to be far more complex and connected to an earlier case her father was involved in.

This story explores racism, small-town secrecy, and family relationships that are not so harmonious. It was easy to pick up and difficult to put down. I was ready to be disappointed at figuring out the villain so soon and instead encountered more twists and surprises. The tension and excitement became so overwhelming at times that I forgot to breathe!

I liked that Roxane was in a relationship with Tom, her deceased father’s former partner, and Catherine, a woman who drifts in and out of her life. Her bisexuality was very positively and realistically portrayed. It was organic, treated as one of many aspects of her life and not just added in for titillation. Roxane is not promiscuous, indecisive, or just going through a phase. Kudos to Kristen Lepionka for helping to dispel ugly myths about bisexuality and creating such a fascinating character.

Can’t wait to see where Roxane’s life will take her next.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

JLA: Earth 2

JLA: Earth 2JLA: Earth 2 by Grant Morrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A mirror world exists, it's antimatter to Earth's matter, evil prevails over good, and life isn't fun for anyone. Welcome to Earth 2.

I've near been a dedicated comic reader so until recently I knew next to nothing about Earth 2. Season 2 of the Flash revolves around breaches to Earth 2 being open so I decided to read about Earth 2. It's basically what I expected, but things are a bit more convoluted. Evil wins over good on this antimatter Earth and people's hearts are on the other side of their bodies. The characters aren't simply the opposite of one another for the exception of Lex Luthor and Superman/Ultraman. Even then Ultraman's origin differs significantly from Superman's.

Earth 2 is a cool concept, but the storytelling was just OK.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Cadillac JackCadillac Jack by Larry McMurtry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”I make my share of mistakes, but one I never make is to underestimate the power of things. People imbued from childhood with the myth of the primacy of feeling seldom like to admit they really want things as much as they might want love, but my career has convinced me that plenty of them do. And some want things a lot worse than they want love.”

 photo larry-mcmurtry1_zpsegag5xh2.jpg
Larry McMurtry or Cadillac Jack

Cadillac Jack derives his name from the transportation he preferred to use for travelling all around the countryside, a ”pearl-colored Cadillac with peach velour interior.” He is a retired rodeo cowboy who has found his true calling in life, chasing down antiques along with a series of women in every port of call. Love and lust are indistinguishable, whether he is talking about a gold leafed, quadripartite, Russian icon or a long legged, curvy, antique store owner. He does sometimes play up his ancestry from Texas, especially when he is seducing women in, say, the Washington D. C. area.

”What I supposed, when I finally set off for Georgetown, was that even a lady who owned three trendy stores might derive a faint buzz from the combination of doeskin jacket, yellow boots, albino-diamondback hatband, and Valentino hubcaps, not to mention six feet five of me.

In the event, Cindy hardly gave the combination a glance.

‘It was a little over-studied,’ she said later, with characteristic candor.”

Over-studied or not, Cindy, though engaged to be married, does the be bop bang with Cadillac Jack.

He has an ex-wife, Coffee, who calls him nearly every day. He is never far from a woman he knows he can spend some time with, whether he is in Spokane, Washington, or Hope, Arkansas, or Montpelier, Vermont. If he thinks he will lack for company, he can always talk some woman into going on the road with him in search of the next great find.

Needless to say, Cadillac Jack has impulse control. If it sounds good, he doesn’t hesitate. If he could just find one new object or meet a new interesting woman every day, how could he ever die?

”One of my firmest principles is that those who sell should not keep. The minute a scout starts keeping his best finds he becomes a collector. All scouts have love affairs with objects, but true scouts have brief intense passions, not marriages. I didn’t want to own something I loved so much I wouldn’t sell it.”

You might have to get Jack good and drunk before he would ever admit it, but he feels the same way about women. He is romantic, but to keep the blush alive, he has to drift in and out of their lives and keep searching for that next woman with object issues of her own. The women who are in the trade, whether they are sellers or buyers, are most likely to understand him, however briefly, anyway.

Jack also makes a lot of lifelong friends along the way. One of them I felt an instant affinity for, as well. ”On nights when he wasn’t too drunk to hold a book, he read himself to sleep with Thucydides, Livy, Suetonius, Gibbon, and Napier. Every ugly suit he owned had a raggedy Penguin paperback in the inside pocket, always history.”

When Jack finds out that the Smithsonian is selling off warehouses full of objects, so much blood goes to his groin so quickly that he nearly passes out. He spends a good part of the book trying to get a line on a score to beat all scores, but at the same time, if he swings a deal like this, will he ever be satisfied with a pair of boots once owned by Billy the Kid or with a set of Rudolph Valentino hubcaps? Climbing the mountain to the top just might ruin his life.

 photo Larry-McMurtry_zpspofecqwb.jpg
Larry McMurtry

It has been a long time since I’ve read a Larry McMurtry book. He came into my mind the other day because I was thinking about one of the times I met him. He was doing a signing in Tucson. I brought up a first edition of All My Friends are Going to Be Strangers. He was tickled to see a copy. He offered to buy it from me. I said I might be more interested in selling it to you after you sign it (author signed it would at least double in value), which made him laugh. As I was reading this book, I couldn’t really separate the man that I had met on a few occasions with the man in the pearl-colored Cadillac.

McMurtry was known through the book industry as a wheeler and a dealer for books, as well as anything unusual or rare or beautiful. He was more a collector than a seller, but I’ve known of at least once when he sold off part of his book collection. Unique objects are wonderful to own, but sometimes they get used up, and one must depart on an odyssey for something new, something special.

I just briefly glanced through some of the reviews regarding this book before I started reading it. Like with most of his books, the reviews always seem to say something along the lines of, I’m not a prude, but the sex just got to be too much. I think anytime anyone starts a sentence with I’m not a prude followed by... but... they are defining themselves as a prude. Nothing wrong with that, but it is interesting that they don’t just say the amount of sex in the story made them uncomfortable. They are uncomfortable with their uncomfortableness.

I will close with a few lines that I really liked from the book that couldn’t be worked into the review. ”But a lot of hard-drinking, fast-fucking grandmothers had lost their hero.” Quite the visual McMurtry has placed in your mind, but how about this one? ”The juice of many men would stain her lips for a time, before she reduced them to mulberry-colored pulp.” Stain just really makes that line shudder worthy, or how about the bored, Rubenesque youngsters he meets in a hot tub whorehouse? ”That why we work at the Double Bubble. I’d rather suck off Congressmen than sit around the house.”

Consider yourself duly warned. If you are looking for a book that shows off his literary capabilities, grab a copy of his Pulitzer Prize winning novel Lonesome Dove. For me, I’m going to be thinking about Cadillac Jack for a long time. He might just pull up someday in my driveway with a book so perfect that it cleans out my bank account.

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Monday, September 11, 2017


A Brief History of TimeA Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Isn't it amazing that a person can read a book like A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking and come away feeling both smarter and dumber than before he started? What a universe we live in!

It's quite short and generally a quick read. Not every page is filled with mind-numbing theories and brain-busting equations. Some of it is just history, say on Newton and such. However, there were a few pages worth of passages where my wee brain felt like it was getting sucked into a black hole...mainly during the black hole segment.

I've forgotten so much since I left school, and since school was such a long time ago, some of what was taught back then is now outdated, so it was nice to read this refresher/cleanser.

I came away with a better understanding of the Big Bang theory and why it's plausible. I'm trying to sort out the time/space quantifiability thing. That's going to require a reread...and probably further study elsewhere.

Surprisingly, I also came away with the idea that God and science can coexist. I didn't expect that. I figured someone like Hawking would be like, "God? Pssh, whatever." But that's not his take at all, or at least that not the impression this book left me with.

A Brief History of Time was written with accessibility in mind, knowing full well idiots like me wouldn't buy it, read it or recommend it if it were impossibly dense. Hawking's sense of humor even comes through on occasion, which is always appreciated in these sciencey texty thingies. So, I'll probably move on to his Briefer History... next and I'd be quite willing to read others as well!

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Marple on a Mystery Train

4:50 from Paddington (Miss Marple, #8)4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An enjoyable quickie. Fittingly, it's the sort of mystery quick-fix you could finish on a train, say London to York...or better yet, London to Paris!

In 4.50 from Paddington an old lady witnesses what she believes is a murder on another train traveling alongside hers. The police have nothing to go on besides her story and they're disinclined to believe her. In steps Miss Marple, that aged busybody. With the help of a young acquaintance, Marple strings together the evidence from the sidelines.

In fact, Marple appears in this book very little. Scenes play out, red herrings are dropped about the reader commingled with the real story, and Marple stitches them together or assists with helpful advice from afar before arriving on the scene to deliver the decisive blow in the end.

I believe this is only my second Miss Marple and as I said, it was quite enjoyable. Sure, it's a tad quaint in a "Murder She Wrote" way, but it's a nice change from the bloody-minded crime novels. I'd give it perhaps 4 stars if it had a touch more depth and ingenuity. But the premise is good and on the whole it's a perfect diversion for a short journey.

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Sunday, September 10, 2017


BaitBait by J. Kent Messum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Six heroin addicts wake up on an island in the Florida keys with no idea who they wound up there. The only thing standing between them and a top quality heroin fix on the next island is an expanse of shark-infested water...

When J. Kent Messum hit me up to review an ARC of this, I hesitated at first. Until I read about the sharks and the heroin, that is! Who doesn't like grim death sports? Welcome to the Heroin Games! May the odds be ever in your favor...

Jokes aside, this was pretty bad ass. While the characters weren't super-detailed, who the hell expects them to be? They're chum for a bunch of sharks!

The structure of the story added a lot to the experience, using shifting viewpoints and different points in time to tell the stories of the unwilling contestants before they wound up being shark bait for some sick bastards' amusement.

I felt like I was sitting right alongside the spectators on the boat, wondering who would be devoured next. I was wrong about who the last person standing would be, a nice surprise.

There's some serious gore in Bait. I let out a few audible groans during this, disturbing my dog. The suspense of the shark attacks was masterfully done. The ending was good and, as I said, a nice surprise.

Bait is a chum-spattered good time, a lot of fun in a time when we could all use some. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, September 8, 2017

"Dark Sky" Stuck in a Revolution Story Drowns out Fun Vibe of first book

"Dark Run", the first book in Mike Brooks "Dark" series was a blowout fun read.

A scamp spaceship captained by Ichabod Drift, a rogue and ex-privateer, not afraid to step across the legal line, and crewed by a likable set of characters, including Tamara Rourke, an ex-spy, who thwarted a plot to drop a nuke on Amsterdam, and then went after the potential perpetrator by conniving and fooling the military that they were a select crew employed by Rourke's old spy organization, it had all the great elements of old style science fiction spaceship books. I re-read it again just before reading Dark Sky, the second book in this series, and it still held me in thrall.

"Dark Sky", not so much.

Although readers may clamor for more of the same thing, its not unusual for a novelist to try to do a different story. But this story, is just not that much fun. Revolutions are not fun and when our fun crew gets " stuck on planet during a revolution" all the fun bits that we liked in the first story disappear.

We all know the story, although Brooks re-tells it slightly differently. The setting is interesting, the planet is subject to intense storms so all of the people live underground. The planet was settled for its ore and the miners are treated horribly by the governor and the far flung Russian empire that runs the planet for the ore.

The miners start the revolution to oust the government just as Drift and his crew arrive on planet to smuggle information off planet to the system's strongman and casino owner. Naturally the crew ends up split up, with Drift and two of his crew, Jia Chang, his pilot and her brother Kaua, the ship engineer, stuck fighting for the local security forces, while Jenna, their computer slice (hacker) and Apirana, (their muscle) end up separated when Apirana gets wounded and Rourke lands with the revolutionaries.

While Drift ingratiates himself with the outnumbered chief of the security forces by helping them in a gun battle, Rourke convinces the patriots of her worth (based on her knowledge of security forces protocol). Meanwhile Jenna and Apirana soon join Rourke, but Apirana is hurt. Making matters worse for our crew is that another spaceship is on planet as well, this one led by Ricardo Moutinho, a bad apple, whose only redeeming quality is the size of his equipment. Moutinho's crew has also been separated during the early days of the revolution, so he and Rourke end up working together with revolutionaries.

In the end, the two split crews have to work together to get off planet before government forces come to put down the revolution. Its all very predictable.

Fun crew, some good dialogue. Tired story.

I am hoping that Brooks finds a fun story in the upcoming third book.

Art in Transit

Keith Haring & Tseng Kwong Chi
Random House Publishing
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars

My Review

I left New York in 1976, so I never had the pleasure of seeing Keith Haring’s subway drawings.

As someone who was brought up never to deface public property, I have mixed feelings about graffiti art. The closest I’ve ever come to practicing the art form was the childish drawings I did on our apartment walls in colored pencils. As I got older, and graffiti proliferated on every public space in New York City, my dad always told me he’d break both my arms if he ever found out I was drawing or hanging out with kids who did.

So you can imagine how daring I felt when my best friend and I drew on buildings and sidewalks using colored chalk. Knowing the drawings would be washed away with the next rain kept me from feeling guilty about defacing public property. Our art was nowhere near as sophisticated as the colorful drawings made by experienced practitioners using spray paint, but I get why people enjoy doing it. It is a way to express oneself and prove our existence by leaving a mark.

I hated the scribbling, the crude stick figures, the hearts with initials inside. To me, that is graffiti vandalism. What I do enjoy is the colorful art that engages the viewer.

Keith Haring’s subway drawings were done in chalk on the empty black paper panels used for advertising. They were artistic, imaginative and confrontational. They had to be done quickly, as he faced fines and arrest if the transit police caught him.

The chalk drawings didn’t last very long, so Keith’s friend, Tseng Kwong Chi, volunteered to photograph the works.

One of my favorite drawings is next to the movie billboard advertising Amin: The Rise and Fall. The radiant babies drawn on the 1982 issue of Penthouse featuring Morgan Fairchild made me laugh.

While this is a wonderful documentation of Keith’s art, it also does a nice job capturing the diversity of the people who ride the subways and shows a glimpse of 80’s culture. I had forgotten how skanky the NYC subway system was in those days.

Sadly, Tseng Kwong Chi died of AIDS complications in 1990, just weeks after Keith did.

I’m glad this book exists.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Core

The Core (The Demon Cycle, #5)The Core by Peter V. Brett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Warded Man Arlen Bales and the Shar'Dama Ka Ahmann Jardir in their passion to rid the world of demons have unintentionally triggered a swarm which threatens to devour mankind. All hope is not yet lost as Arlen has a plan to exterminate the Mother of Demons by going to the Core.

Peter V. Brett saved his best for last as The Core is an exceptional novel and ending to the Demon Cycle series. All the characters from the series seem to have a part to play or a mention from Rusco Hog to Arlen's old sweetheart Mery. The tensions are high and every character displayed their true selves by the end...for better or worse.

The fear of the night returned in The Core. Humanity thought the night was terrifying before the return of the combat wards, but they didn't know what terror truly was yet. The mindless demons were never far from a Mimic to lead them when the Mind's were away. The Mind demons made their former battles look like a warm-up act as the true show was displayed in The Core. I didn't imagine just how devastating or sadistic the Mind's could be.

The true strength of The Core and the series as a whole was it's characters. The main stars lovingly grew from page to page and book to book until they were warriors worthy of the great demon war. My pulse raced as I devoured the book and anxiously sought to know what happened to everyone especially Arlen and Jardir.

The Demon Cycle couldn't have ended in any finer way than it did in The Core. This book is now one of my all-time favorites. In fact I think I'll flip to page one and start reading it again.

5 out of 5 stars

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

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Cloak and Dagger

Cloak and Dagger (The IMA, #1)Cloak and Dagger by Nenia Campbell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An organization of mercenaries called the IMA had their mainframe hacked. One of their operatives Michael Boutilier follows his leads to a man named Rubens Parker. He plans to apprehend the man, but when he arrives at his house he only finds Parker's daughter, Christina, who he takes as a hostage.

I'm not sure what I expected when I picked up Cloak and Dagger, but I didn't expect what I read. There are so many things that irritated me about this book. The utter lack of sense from the majority of the characters was alarming. Christina for instance had quite possibly the worst parents of all time. I mean how can people be scared enough of an organization that they flee the country yet they don't consider taking their child or having her hidden away. Nope just leave a note on the fridge saying to get out of the house. The note should have read, "if you're reading this, your father and I have completely screwed you. Sorry hun. Love Mom. PS: don't forget to diet, no one likes a fat hostage."

If the parents were the only thing that bothered me in the story, then I could have read it without being annoyed. Unfortunately there is more. Christina has practically no sense of self preservation. The girl gets kidnapped and she can't stop giving her kidnapper attitude. What does a kidnapper have to do to instill fear? Michael hit her repeatedly, pistol whipped, and attempted to rape her. Only the rape attempt slowed Christina's mouth down at all. Where is the girls common sense? I don't know the answer because it certainly isn't on display in the book.

In all honesty I felt like Christina wasn't the only hostage in Cloak and Dagger. As a reader I felt like the story held me hostage in hopes of a coherent enjoyable story that didn't arrive. In it's place the story was long and meandering with lots of kidnappings, imprisonments, and out of nowhere emotions. The storytelling as a whole fell flat throughout the entire book.

1.5 out of 5 stars

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017


The Night MarketThe Night Market by Jonathan Moore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”He didn’t know what was going on with him. He felt so hollowed out, he could almost hear the rush of the emptiness inside him. It was the blank sound at the mouth of an elevator shaft.

He had no idea what would fill that hole, no sense of what he was looking for.”

”I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in the fingertips
It burned like fire
This burning desire
I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was one empty night
I was cold as a stone
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for”

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m looking for---U2

The ethereal sounds of the Joshua Tree album kept floating through my head as I read this book, played at a slower speed so Bono’s enunciation was elongated. Blue and red electric sheep froliced on the periphery of my vision. I watched my cell phone spin slowly in a pitcher of water. Bubbles streamed upward as if it were drowning. I put a book on top of the pitcher, not a good book, but one of those books that trees weep over the making. I’d already turned the TV to face the wall. I unplugged everything electronic in the house. It took a sledgehammer to break my computer into enough jagged pieces to ease the bubbling anxiety in my stomach. I looked at the scattered plastic pieces on the lawn and resisted the urge to fling them over the fence or better yet throw them into the nearest bog and watch them sink from view. I shut the blinds to keep from looking at them.

Where’s Deckard when you need him?

I’m writing this on a Big Chief Tablet with a #2 pencil. (I tore the cover off the tablet because the Indian was inducing me to buy Indian Motorcycle Cigars.) Old school, you say? Well read this book, and you might think that old school is as hip as you want to be. I have a friend who is going to pick these pages up and take them to another friend and so on. Some brave soul in Russia will be the one who actually loads my words up to the web. I hope the glow worms in his head don’t make him give me up for a lifetime supply of Black Aria perfume.

Need, want, desire. Who can separate them anymore?

”Three women were taking shelter from the rain beneath the bar’s awning, their faces lit by the paper-thin glowcard advertisements they held. Every few seconds, one of the women would tap a glowcard against her cell phone to consummate a purchase. Discarded screens pulsed like LED embers around their feet, twinkling with soft music and looping videos.”

If you resemble this ensemble, then you probably should stop reading this review now because it is probably pointless. This review will not tell you what you want to hear. It will not liberate you. You are probably already lost.

What do I tell you about Ross Carver? He is a cop who lands in…”gray moss. Like a carpet of it spread across a rot-shrunken log. Carver could see the bones of his fingers, could see the riverine fissure marks in his skull where patches of scalp had eaten away.” He is thrown into a decontamination unit along with his partner, Jenner. He wakes up in his bed with no memory of...well...much of anything. His beautiful and intriguing neighbor Mia is sitting by his side reading a book to him.

It all feels right with a serpentine twist of something very wrong.

"If she's not crazy," Jenner said, "then she knows something. But maybe it's not the same thing she's telling you."

There is absolutely nothing wrong with Mia’s apartment, though.

”He saw no TVs, no computers, no telephones and no radios. Instead, she had books. Hundreds and thousands of hardback volumes on shelves built throughout the apartment. It smelled like the Rare Books room of the San Francisco Library--aged leather and the exotic musk of dry paper.”

Oh sweet nectar...daddy’s home.

Mia peels the labels from her wine bottles. That might sound eccentric, but not to me. I want to drink a bottle of wine because I’ve chosen to drink a bottle of wine.

Carver, the poor bastard, really tries, but he is caught in a situation where, even if he wins every battle, he will still lose the war. The conspiracy is bone deep. To bring it down, he’d have to reboot civilisation and leave it...dark. This book is set in the near future, or so they say. I’m the one sitting here watching my cell phone drown in the present, or is it already the past?

Jonathan Moore has written a loosely connected San Francisco trilogy which frankly ends with a glow-rious bang. The writing is top shelf; the thrills bring chills, and the noir atmosphere drips with the metallic essence of Blade Runner. It is only science-fiction if you don’t want to believe.

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Monday, September 4, 2017

Last Days

Last DaysLast Days by Brian Evenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Former undercover cop Kline is at rock bottom, depressed and missing a hand, when a religious sect forcibly drafts him into service, ferreting out the killer of their leader. But is the leader really dead? And what sacrifices will Kline have to make to finally learn the truth?

This was one powerful little book. I devoured it in one sitting while waiting for car repairs, wondering how the rest of the patrons weren't shaken up by the events within.

It starts simply enough. Kline is at rock bottom when the phone calls start and eventually will look upon rock bottom with great fondness as he bores through the earths crust into greater depths of blood, fanaticism, and severed body parts.

When the tale begins, Kline is minus a hand courtesy of a gentleman with a meat cleaver on his last undercover job. The calls start and a certain religious sect who equate amputations with salvation make him an offer he can't refuse.

Kline skate the edge of sanity throughout most of the tale and goes through a large succession of meat grinders. The book has a creepy paranoid feel throughout. The simple put powerful style reminds me of Richard Stark in some ways, clipped and brutal.

As Kline descends into a haze of carnage and chaos, you have to wonder that even if he does survive, would he be better off dead? The Brotherhood of Mutilation makes for a great foil, probably because the idea isn't that far-fetched.

In The Last Days, Brian Evenson uses the tried and true hard-boiled PI template to tell one hell of a horror story. Four out of five stars.

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Much less rapey than Casino Royale!

Live and Let Die (James Bond, #2)Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It might have been For Your Eyes Only...


...or more likely Octopussy...


...but I want to say Live and Let Die...


...may have been the first James Bond movie I ever saw. Regardless, it stands as one of my first recollections of the thrilling spy and his over-the-top escapades.

I LOVED these movies as a kid. As an adult my fervor wore away, but remnants of that love never left me and eventually I became intrigued enough to check out the novels out of a curiosity to see how true the movies were to the books. Also, it just so happened that as a kid I spent some time down in Florida, where part of this novel takes place, thus upping the intrigue slightly.

In this, the second installment in the series, British spy James Bond is sent to America. After taking a beating from operatives of SMERSH, a Soviet counterintelligence agency of Fleming's making, Bond is set on a bit of revenge. Does that make him, a white Brit, the ideal spy to infiltrate the black organized crime scene? Perhaps not, but woohoo, let's go along for the ride anyhow!

There's plenty of action in Live and Let Die, but there's also a little social commentary and local color. Fleming did some research on this and that and he wants to show you what he learned. That's how this book reads at times. I like detail and setting a scene, just don't go Moby Dick on me. This is far too short to come near that, but it edges towards it at times.

The movie differs from the book in a few ways. It's been a while, but if I recall correctly the focus is on drugs over pirate treasure, and it's set at times in New Orleans, not Florida. The blaxploitation is still there though!

Ah, racism. It's hard to talk about this book without mentioning it. The constant use of the word negro alone is cringe-worthy. There are very few portrayals of positive, black community role models. Many are depicted as still being under the spell of Caribbean voodoo.


However, this is a spy thriller, not a political commentary. The "bad guy" and his henchmen are black, so they're going to be portrayed negatively. It seems some have mistaken the racial overtones within this book to be blatant racism. For instance, the chapter title "Nigger Heaven" is a reference to a pro-black and pro-Harlem renaissance novel of the same name. If you didn't know that, you would indeed form a low opinion of Fleming...unless you're a white supremacist. But I don't see hatred here by Fleming. Some of his characters may reflect prejudiced attitudes, but others do not. M, the pinnacle of intelligence herein, sees blacks as coming into their own and rediscovering their own attributes after throwing off the yoke of oppression. Anyhow, that's enough of that. I'm a middle aged white guy and so I'm apparently predisposed to turn a blind eye to racism against minorities. However, that's not me. I stand for equality right down the line. Anyway, back to the book...

When comparing the movies to the books, it's tough on the books (at least what I've read so far). The movies are designed to squeeze every bit of excitement they can out of the story. Here, the books are a little more leisurely when it comes to the action. Perhaps Fleming was remembering his own experiences working for and with intelligence agencies during the war. It was no doubt not half as exciting as it's portrayed in the movies.

In summary, this is not essential reading unless you're a diehard for spy books. If anything approaching un-sanitized racial discussion triggers you, I'd steer clear too. But hey, those who prefer their hero not rape anyone, take heart! Live and Let Die is much less rapey than Casino Royale!

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Sir Harry Hotspur Of Humblethwaite

Sir Harry Hotspur Of HumblethwaiteSir Harry Hotspur Of Humblethwaite by Anthony Trollope
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you've read every Austen book and finished off Gaskell as well, if you've watched up all of Downton Abbey and polished off Upstairs, Downstairs too, and yet you still want more uptight British aristocracy drama from the Victorian/Edwardian era, Sir Harry Hotspur Of Humblethwaite by Anthony Trollope is just what you're looking for!

This book is all about the social mores of the times, mid 19th century rural England. Watching these characters act and live by these intricate and sometimes convoluted rules of behavior can be frustrating for the modern reader. In this respect, Trollope excels himself, exceeding all expectation for a trying read indeed!

If you've read Sense and Sensibility, the plot of Sir Harry Hotspur Of Humblethwaite will feel very similar to that of the Marianne Dashwood storyline. The good girl wants the bad boy and there's nothing that can be said by her rational, thoughtful friends to dissuade her, because they are rational and thoughtful, thus too cold to understand true love. Kids will be kids, as the saying goes. You can lead a girl to Colonel Brandon, but she'll drink up Willoughby until she bursts!

None of the above truly mars this novel. What makes this a less-than-stellar read is the author's fourth wall breaking and use of exposition in place of storytelling: Dear reader, let me tell you about the feelings of these characters rather than showing you. Again, different eras, differing tastes. I'm not saying Trollope couldn't do it, but he didn't...for the most part. Don't get me wrong, there are some quality dramatic scenes that play out in a satisfying way, which save the book from being an utter drudge read.

However, this was not a pleasure. It was mostly mechanical and dull in many places, while the ending is rushed and melodramatic. I could still recommend this to those who REALLY go in for the Austen/Downton kind of thing, but only them.

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Friday, September 1, 2017

Keith Haring: The Authorized Biography

John Gruen
Prentice Hall
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Keith Haring's talent was first recognized on subway platforms, where his trademark chalk-drawn figures could be seen for the price of a token. By the time of his death in 1990 at the age of thirty-one, Haring's career had moved from underground New York to the most prestigious galleries and museums in the world.

Here Keith Haring's story is told by those who knew him—and by the artist himself. He candidly reflects on all aspects of his life, including his approach to art, being gay, and how he came to terms with AIDS. John Gruen masterfully combines Haring's own words with the observations of those who knew him best, including art dealer Leo Castelli; Madonna; artists Roy Lichtenstein, Francesco Clemente, and Kenny Scharf; Claude Picasso; Timothy Leary; and William Burroughs, among others. Haring emerges as both a courageous and enigmatic personality—a champion of art for all people.

My Review

I became familiar with Keith Haring’s artwork while doing the AIDS walk in Boston with my friend, Mark, and a few of our close friends. Though it wasn’t the height of the AIDS epidemic, there were still an alarming number of deaths. Mark wanted to walk to honor the memory of his former partner, who died two years before. Our little group did three more walks together before Mark died of AIDS in 1995.

Keith Haring’s Ignorance=Fear, Silence=Death was one of his well-known artworks that raised AIDS awareness during a time when people had little knowledge and a lot of fear. People who had the disease kept silent for fear of stigmatization. I saw it on t-shirts, buttons, and posters. It was bright and colorful, with three yellow figures against an orange background. Each figure has eyes covered, ears covered, and mouth covered, and each has a pink “x” across their chest, representing the disease.

While I was aware of Keith’s death at 31 in 1990, I knew very little about his short life.

John Gruen’s biography is a perfect introduction to the artist’s life and work. Told chronologically from Keith’s perspective and through the eyes of family, friends, teachers, lovers, peers, collaborators, and employees, the reader gets a candid and intimate glimpse into a life lived fully and passionately in between gorgeous illustrations. Keith’s unflagging energy and devotion to his creative work, even after diagnosis, is inspiring.

He was a versatile artist, starting out with chalk drawings in subways and moving on to complex designs on a wide variety of surfaces. His work was colorful, energetic, and imbued with a childlike innocence. At the same time, it was personal and intense.

Madonna said it best:

“Anyway, I’ve always responded to Keith’s art. From the very beginning, there was a lot of innocence and a joy that was coupled with a brutal awareness of the world. But it was all presented in a childlike way. The fact is, there’s a lot of irony in Keith’s work, just as there’s a lot of irony in my work. And that’s what attracts me to his stuff. I mean, you have these bold colors and those childlike figures and a lot of babies, but if you really look at those works closely, they’re really very powerful and really scary. And so often, his art deals with sexuality – and it’s a way to point up people’s sexual prejudices, their sexual phobias. In that way, Keith’s art is also very political.”

If you love Haring’s work and want a glimpse into the gritty 80’s New York art scene, this is your book.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Civil Blood

Civil Blood (Best Left in the Shadows #2)Civil Blood by Mark Gelineau
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Someone is attacking one of Pious Black's Captains and setting up Alys in the process.

Civil Blood like it's predecessor Best Left in the Shadows is a mystery. Someone is setting Alys up and of course she won't tolerate such foolishness. Who could it be and what does this individual want? Oh Alys will find out.

Civil Blood delves into what led to the rift between Alys and Dax. I have to imagine if they each were honest with one another it would change things, but they each hold back which appears likely to lead to misery. That being said their relationship seemed much better in Civil Blood than it did in the duos previous novella.

The hints of the largely story of Echoes of the Ascended are driving me nuts. I really wish the authors chose a more fleshed out format than novellas. There is so much I need to know, but the novellas stick to their single story more than anything.

Civil Blood was a solid mystery and addition to the larger Echoes of the Ascended series.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017


Henry VHenry V by Christopher Allmand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”Although king, Henry V did not rule alone. It is easy to see him as a man closely involved in the affairs of ruling his kingdom, taking decisions, implementing them, in general stamping his personality upon events. Such an observation is generally well founded: Henry was very much a king who ruled.”

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Henry V

Kenneth Branagh is the face of Henry V for me. As I was reading this book and picturing Henry striding through his life, I was seeing Branagh. The 1989 movie was the first Shakespearean play I saw on the Big Screen in a movie theater. Seeing the play so vividly depicted sparked an interest in Shakespeare’s plays that has never waned for me. When others think of Henry V, they might think of Sir Laurence Olivier, who played Henry in the 1944 version. Hollywood doesn’t make movies of Henry’s life; they make movies of William Shakespeare’s play.

In comparison to most kings, Henry was a rock star. He first showed his mettle fighting against the Welsh during the Owain Glyndŵr revolt, which gave him the confidence to stand up to his father, who had been suffering from ill health for some time. In 1413, his father died, and Henry was chomping at the bit to be in charge.

He had plans.

French plans.

He was inspiring to his men. He was a natural tactician. He was highly organized, which was a trait that served him well campaigning in France where he was outnumbered, outgunned, and fighting men who were defending and preserving their country. Henry quickly rolled up some victories that gave him confidence to continue.

Henry’s goal: add the throne of France to that of England.

He was not the first English king to claim the throne of France, but he was the first one who did not take the settlement of lands in exchange for renouncing his claim. He believed that he was going to be king of France, and maybe if he had lived longer, he could very well have pulled it off.

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Kenneth Branagh giving the St. Crispin’s Day speech in the 1989 movie.

His big moment came at the Battle of Agincourt. I’m sure he gave a great rousing speech for his men, but it is doubtful that he had one as rousing or as memorable as the one Shakespeare writes for him in the play.

Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

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Depending on which historian you believe, Henry was outnumbered either 4:3 or 6:1 or somewhere in between, but all historians agree that he was indeed outnumbered. His men were tired and had been dreaming for weeks of going home. They certainly were not in the best shape to fight a battle against fresh French troops.

The English had a few things on their side.

A young, healthy, inspiring King. In contrast, the French King Charles VI was not even at the battle due to a psychotic illness that frequently debilitated his mental proficiency.
80% of their army were the fabled English Longbow archers.
Their king situated them so that the French had to cross an open, freshly plowed field that had been rained on heavily the night before. The French sunk to their knees in the muck.

It was frankly a slaughter. Approximately 9 Frenchmen died for every Englishman killed. Thousands were captured, and this led to the one black mark that resides on the otherwise sterling record of Henry V.

He ordered the prisoners executed.

It was shockingly unchivalrous. He was preparing for a French counter attack, and his fear was that, if the tide of the battle turned against him, those French prisoners would join their compadres. Henry could only spare a handful of men to contain the prisoners, and they would be easily overwhelmed by the sheer number of prisoners. The other problem, of course, was how to go about executing thousands of prisoners in a short period of time. Fortunately, only a few prisoners were executed before Henry reversed his command. He must have felt confident that victory was his.

Still it showed a ruthlessness previously unrevealed. Henry’s ambition knew no limits. He had high ideals for himself as well, not only in war, but also in the management of his kingdom. He wanted to be a good steward in addition to being a conquering hero. Agincourt fulfilled the expectations that he had for himself and confirmed for his subjects that their king was worthy of shedding blood for, besides providing him with the funds he needed to continue his quest for the French throne.

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Henry V effigy at Westminster.

Henry V died on page 182 with 261 pages remaining in the biography. Unless you are George R. R. Martin, this is a bit of a pickle to find yourself in, losing your main character before you are even half way through the book, but Christopher Allmand made the decision to separate out major topics, like the Army and Navy, Papal Relations, Family Circle, Parliament, and Finances, to name a few. Most biographers would have chosen to weave those elements into the plot surrounding the life of the main subject.

The reader could choose to abandon the book after 182 pages, but they would be foregoing a plethora of information about the structure of medieval England in the early 1400s. For me, it was a lot of bonus material that added to my understanding of a time period I’m woefully ignorant about.

I still struggle to separate the King Henry V in real life from the King Henry V who Shakespeare created. Certainly, Shakespeare captured the essence of the man. The grand promise of a king who, if he had lived longer than 36 years, quite possibly could have permanently changed the configurations of Europe. As it was, dying so young, he left his nation vulnerable, with only a baby in swaddling clothes to take his place. If he had lived, the Wars of the Roses, in which his son became such a pawn in the struggle for power, may never have happened. With his success on the battlefield in France, he did achieve a wife, Catherine of Valois, daughter of the French king, and a treaty naming him heir to King Charles VI of France. Henry inspired loyalty because he had very tangible goals and a natural ability to make everyone believe that it was impossible for him to lose.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Song for Quiet (Persons Non Grata #2) By; Cassandra Khaw

A Song for Quiet (Persons Non Grata, #2)A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am reviewing both books in the Persons Non Grata series at the same time (this one and Hammers on Bone). I have spent the year trying to read things I don't usually, horror and novellas, and honestly, I am kind of glad I did.

I recently told a friend of mine, (Hey Dan) I thought that some writers did Lovecraft better than Lovecraft did himself (weird sentence there..) Ms. Khaw happens to be one of them. As a reader who enjoys the Chulthu mythos more than the actual Lovecraft works, I love the fact that while her characters maintain a deep level of humanity, the beings encountered in the world have a more visceral punch than the dry, cosmic horror usually brought out. The things they face are not remotely like us, for the most part we are beneath them and they will do whatever they want. To me, that's where the horror lies. The things that lie under the surface of our perfect little world will destroy you, eat you up and never stop just because you scream. That's the kind of punch that makes Ms. Khaw's stories a strong read. I spent 2 hours and read them both, and can't wait for more.

If you like your horror on the more weird alien side, these are for you.

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Monday, August 28, 2017

“Life is fucking long, especially if you're stupid.”

I Suck at GirlsI Suck at Girls by Justin Halpern
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I actually enjoyed this more than Justin Halpern's famous Shit My Dad Says. Probably I took to it because it speaks to me on a personal level. I was an unfortunate participant in my own version of so many of the embarrassing moments of adolescence described herein. Also, it has a lot of bathroom/locker room humor and part of my brain is still 13.

The book takes you from lil' Justin's first revelations on the concept of sex right up to his proposal of marriage. It felt like more of an autobio than Shit My Dad Says, but you still get quite a few pearls of wisdom from dear old dad:

“Life is fucking long, especially if you're stupid.”

“...human beings fear the unknown. So, whatever's freaking you out, grab it by the balls and say hello.”

“Most people are stupid. Nothing seems like a mistake until it’s a mistake. You stand in front of an electric fence and whip your dick out to take a piss on it, it’s pretty clear you’re about to make a mistake. Other than that, you pretty much have no way of knowing.”

What really brought this one to life for me were the little everyday interludes:

Eventually my dad got home from work and set his briefcase down.
"So. How was practice?' he asked.
"It was good. Why? Did you hear it wasn't?" I said, trying to keep my cool.
"Son, no offense, but you play Little League. It's not the Yankees. I don't get daily reports about who's hitting the shit out of the ball.”

After reading and not being as blown away by Shit My Dad Says as everyone told me I would be, I thought I was done with Halpern's work. However, I read this because it was available and I needed a laugh at the moment, and the upshot is that I enjoyed it so much I'm quite willing to seek out his next offering.

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

I Am Providence

I Am ProvidenceI Am Providence by Nick Mamatas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a writer is murdered at the Summer Tentacular, the annual Providence-based HP Lovecraft convention, Colleen Danzig plumbs the depths of the assembled fandom to find his killer. Can she stay alive long enough to find the murderer?

I Am Providence is a murder mystery set at an HP Lovecraft convention. It shows the dark underbelly of fandom, putting the fans under the microscope.

Colleen Danzig, the plucky heroine, goes through quite a bit of hell over the course of the book, both in her sleuthing and in the way fandom sometimes treats women in general. The other patrons of the convention remind me all too much of the kind of vocal fans one finds online.

The plot was very serpentine, or squamous, I guess. I had no idea who the killer was up until the end. Mamatas threw a barrel's worth of red herrings into the mix.

I really liked the parallel structure of the book, alternating between Colleen's point of view and that of the murder victim as his body decayed on a slab at the morgue. While free of Lovecraftian beasties, the book still had a undercurrent of nihilism and cosmic horror throughout.

I guess my only gripe would be that I didn't care for the ending. However, it rang true to most Lovecraft endings so it was pretty fitting.

With I Am Providence, Nick Mamatas tears the face off of Lovecraftian fandom and shows what lies beneath, warts and all. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, August 25, 2017

The Judge's House

Jonathan Strong
Quale Press
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars


The judge's house contains mysteries unknown to Lawrence and Nancy Huggins, who have moved in next door. Reassigned to a small-town branch of his Chicago bank, manager Lawrence and pediatrician Nancy find themselves the sole African American professional couple in Rockvale, Illinois. They are also the only townsfolk to have befriended their reclusive next-door neighbor, old Will Turley. After Will dies accidentally, he leaves his grand brick house, with all its contents, and which has been for decades his refuge from the torments of his youth, to them.

My Review

I like the premise of this novella, which starts with the death of an older man from a fall on the ice outside his house.

Inexplicably, Will Turley leaves his house and its contents to his neighbors, Lawrence and Nancy Huggins, a black professional couple transplanted from Chicago to the small, predominantly white town of Rockvale.

While they were not close friends, the Hugginses have invited Turley to their home and cooked him dinner on numerous occasions while others kept their distance from the solitary old man.

This quiet story explores the lives of Lawrence and Nancy, their daughter, Chloe, and their friends and acquaintances. It also gradually connects us with Will Turley’s troubled past, as Lawrence and Nancy learn about each other and their neighbor while sifting through the contents of their new home.

This is a story that deals with starting over and fitting in. It explores human relationships – between family members, friends, neighbors – and the secrets that keep them apart.

I started out enjoying the spare writing style which felt a little old-fashioned even though this is a modern story. I like the chapter titles which make it easier to find a quote or significant event. As I continued reading, I found the pacing sluggish, the details sparse, and felt distant from the characters and events. By the time I finished, I was very underwhelmed.

Thursday, August 24, 2017


SkinshaperSkinshaper by Mark Gelineau
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mireia has been waking up in the middle of the night screaming, Ferran's tattoos burn, and Riffolk wonders why he ever followed along. The trio have entered a deserted mining town and sense a horrid Ruin is near. When they find a survivor hanging from a cage, they vow to enter the mine to rid the world of the horror.

Skinshaper felt more frightening than Rend the Dark, but somewhat less enjoyable. Perhaps it's my own fault as Rend the Dark has been my favorite novella of the Echoes of the Ascended series. Perhaps I put too my pressure on the sequel. It delivered just not quite as I envisioned.

The Ruins are absolute monsters and the Skinshaper was no exception. I found myself a bit grossed out contemplating the results of the Ruins powers. It was disturbing.

Skinshaper like all the stories in the Echoes of the Ascended seem to be a tease. The writing draws me in, but ends too quickly for me to get fully enthralled. I do hope to see a larger book instead of the smaller novellas in the future.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017


Rules of CivilityRules of Civility by Amor Towles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”She was indisputably a natural blonde. Her shoulder-length hair, which was sandy in summer, turned golden in the fall as if in sympathy with the wheat fields back home. She had fine features and blue eyes and pinpoint dimples so perfectly defined that it seemed like there must be a small steel cable fastened to the center of each inner cheek which grew taut when she smiled. True, she was only five foot five, but she knew how to dance in two-inch heels--and she knew how to kick them off as soon as she sat in your lap.”

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Lower Manhattan 1938.

Eve Ross, a New York transplant from Indiana, is one of those friends that manages to always have a good time whether she is in a jazz club or on her way to a funeral. She is an energy vampire. She takes it. She gives it. As one party ends another one begins. Katey Kontent is Eve’s sidekick. She was born in New York and enjoys the octane fueled experiences with her friend, but she can never throw herself into the fray quite the way Eve does. She’s always more reserved, more willing to observe and ponder events rather than be lost in the moment.

It is 1938.

They meet Tinker Grey, a well groomed, well heeled banker who is a man in need of a good time and Eve and Katey are the right two gals to provide it. He has the money. They have the energy. Katey is used to taking a backseat to Eve and as their dueling relationship starts to evolve with Tinker it is no secret that as much as Tinker appreciates Eve he is developing a serious crush on Katey. Eve is a force of nature and provides the whirlwind effect to any outing, but if a guy wants a moment to have a quiet drink and a deeper conversation Katey is the right ticket.

--”Eve leaned toward Tinker confidentially.
--Katey’s the hottest bookworm you’ll ever meet. If you took all the books that she’s read and piled them in a stack, you could climb to the Milky Way.
--The Milky Way!
--Maybe the Moon, I conceded.”

She is HOT and she READS? YOWZA! She reads everything from Charles Dickens to Agatha Christie and appreciates that pendulum of reading experiences equally and for different reasons.

”I read a lot of Agatha Christies that fall of 1938--maybe all of them. The Hercule Poirots, the Miss Marples. Death on the Nile. The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Murders...on the the Vicarage, and, ...on the Orient Express.
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I read them on the subway, at the deli and in my bed alone.
You can make what claims you will about the psychological nuance of Proust or the narrative scope of Tolstoy, but you can’t argue that Mrs. Christie fails to please. Her books are tremendously satisfying.
Yes, they’re formulaic. But that’s one of the reasons they are so satisfying. With every character, every room, every murder weapon feeling at once newly crafted and familiar as rote ( the role of the postimperialist uncle from India here being played by the spinster form South Wales, and the mismatched bookends standing in for the jar of fox poison on the upper shelf of the gardener’s shed). Mrs. Christie doles out her little surprises at the carefully calibrated pace of a nanny dispensing sweets to the children in her care.”

If you are still not sure that you want to be friends with Katey Kontent than how about this.

”In retrospect, my cup of coffee has been the works of Charles Dickens. Admittedly, there’s something a little annoying about all those plucky underprivileged kids and the aptly named agents of villainy. But I’ve come to realize that however blue my circumstances, if after finishing a chapter of a Dickens novel I feel a miss-my-stop-on-the-train sort of compulsion to read on, then everything is probably going to be just fine.”

Katey when she needs a moment of contemplation, a place to be alone with her thoughts she finds an empty church. I too find a church most spiritual between services when the thunder of religious verbosity is dissipating into the distance. In New York such churches are works of art, good for the soul and the intellectual mind.

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St. Patrick’s New York

”St. Patrick’s on Fifth Avenue and Fiftieth Street is a pretty powerful example of early nineteenth-century American Gothic. Made of white marble quarried from upstate New York, the Walls must be four feet thick. The stained-glass windows were made by craftsmen from Chartres. Tiffany designed two of the altars and a Medici designed the third. And the Pieta in the southeast corner is twice the size of Michelangelo’s. In fact, the whole place is so well made that as the Good Lord sees about His daily business, He can pass right over St. Patrick’s confident that those inside will take pretty good care of themselves.”

There is a car accident and Eve is hurt the worse of the three. Guilt, a powerful tool, swings all of Tinker’s attention to Eve. Any burgeoning relationship he has with Katey comes to a skidding halt with the shattering of glass and a great beauty marred by scars. They don’t see as much of each other, but when they do there is still a trip of a heartbeat.

She can’t get him out of her head.

He isn’t who he seems.

He is more and less than what she believed.

Tinker’s brother provides a little insight into what makes Tinker more than the sum of his parts.

”Never mind that he speaks five languages and could find his way safely home from Cairo or the Congo. What he’s got they can’t teach in schools. They can squash it, maybe; but they sure can’t teach it.
--And what’s that?
--That’s right. Anyone can buy a car or a night on the town. Most of us shell out our days like peanuts. One in a thousand can look at the world with amazement. I don’t mean gawking at the Chrysler Building. I’m talking about the wing of a dragonfly. The tale of the shoeshine. Walking through an unsullied hour with an unsullied heart.

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Mother Nature competing with Tiffany

Yeah, I know, I had to take a moment and spend a little time thinking about that line as well. I do know that perfection, those amazing moments where everything lines up from the moon to the breeze are few and far between. They need to be logged, carefully wrapped in gossamer, and placed in the deepest, safest vault of your memories so that when things go to crap they can be retrieved, savored, and hope can be restored that more of those moments are in your future. Life can never take everything away from you. Like most of us Katey doesn’t end up anywhere near where she expected, but 1938 is a year of those gossamer wrapped memories that can bring a whimsical smile to her lips when she is forty, seventy or a hundred and seven.

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