Friday, April 21, 2017

Garden of Fiends: Tales of Addiction Horror


Mark Matthews et al.
Wicked Run Press
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars



Summary



The intoxication from a pint of vodka, the electric buzz from snorting cocaine, the warm embrace from shooting heroin--drinking and drugging provide the height of human experience. It's the promise of heaven on earth, but the hell that follows is a constant hunger, a cold emptiness. The craving to get high is an intense yearning not unlike that of any other blood-thirsty monster.

The best way to tell the truths of addiction is through a story, and dark truths such as these need a piece of horror to do them justice.

The stories inside feature the insidious nature of addiction told with compassion yet searing honesty. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental deaths, and some of the most incredible names in horror fiction have tackled this modern day epidemic.



My Review



As a person who has dabbled in illicit drugs and gone through periods of excessive alcohol use, I feel fortunate not to have succumbed to addiction like some of my friends and family members have. Even though I now drink little and haven’t touched drugs in years, I understand the allure of drugs and alcohol and how difficult it can be for the addict to stop using. While the decision to use drugs is mostly voluntary, for many people it takes a lot more than willpower to stop. That is why effective education about the dangers of drugs, prevention measures, and treatment for addicts and their family members is crucial. I feel for those who are coping with an addicted friend or family member. I’ve been there. It can wear you out emotionally and physically. A little empathy, however, goes a long way.

Thanks to Mark Matthews for providing me with this compelling, moving, and devastating collection of stories that compassionately portrays the effects of addiction on users and those who love them. It deeply unsettled me, invaded my dreams, and brought back some painful memories. Addiction is indeed a human tragedy. I agree with Mark when he says in the introduction, “The best way to tell the truths of addiction is through a story, and dark truths such as these need a piece of horror to do them justice.”


The stories:

★★★★★ A Wicked Thirst by Kealan Patrick Burke. I have a number of KPB’s books on my Kindle, but haven’t read them yet. There is no better time than now! Told from the alcoholic’s perspective, this reader felt his keen thirst and slow destruction. This story was so deeply affecting and powerful that I set aside my half-finished glass of wine.

★★★★★ The One in the Middle by Jessica McHugh. After finishing this amazing story, I learned it is an excerpt from The Green Kangaroos, which I promptly purchased and eagerly look forward to. In a near-future world, where Atlys is a popular street drug most effective when injected into the testicles and the rich have developed a taste for unusual dishes, we learn about Perry Samson and journey on his path toward ruination. This story left me feeling sad and horrified, yet needing to know the characters more and spending time in their world. Is it wrong for me to want to hug Perry? One of my favorite stories in this collection.

★★★ Everywhere You’ve Bled and Everywhere You Will by Max Booth III – Jeremy is a recovering heroin addict, but the people in his life and a series of bizarre events lead him to relapse. Blood I can handle, but spiders? Eek! I liked the energetic pace of this story and the dash of humor. Towards the end, it got a little too weird for me and failed to make a real impact.

★★★★ First, Just Bite a Finger by Johann Thorsson – When we think of addiction, we mostly think of drugs and alcohol. In this potent little flash fiction, we get to see how difficult it is to quit.

★★★★ Last Call by John F.D. Taff – Though Ted attends meetings, he is having a hard time staying sober. His well-meaning sponsor provides him with a quick cure. Ted learns the hard way that there are no shortcuts to sobriety. This story packed a punch and brought a tear to my eye.

★★★ Torment of the Fallen by Glen Krisch – Only Maggie’s online acquaintances on the paranormal boards know she can see demons. When a homeless man posts on a forum she visits regularly, Maggie travels hundreds of miles to see the father who abandoned her and help take away his demons. But demons always lie and never welsh on their deals.

★★★★★ Garden of Fiends by Mark Matthews – This story is told in alternating perspectives, by Tara Snyder, a heroin addict and Gregory Snyder, the father who tries desperately to protect her. There is an interesting cast of characters that help add depth to the story and magnify difficulties faced by the characters. There is Tara’s addict boyfriend, Brett, Gregory’s wife, Heather, who lovingly tends the urban garden that feeds her soul and all the neighbors, and the homeless man, Lorenzo. Gregory’s good intentions go awry. Addiction affects everyone who cares about the addict. A heartbreaking story and one of my favorites in this collection.

★★★★ Returns by Jack Ketchum – I love ghost stories and this one is so poignant and humane, not at all the gorefest I would expect from Jack Ketchum. Jill’s alcoholism starts gradually and worsens when her husband of six years dies after getting hit by a cab. Dying is far less painful than the ghostly visit to his wife and seven-year-old cat.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Doctor Strange: Season One

Doctor Strange: Season OneDoctor Strange: Season One by Greg Pak
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Doctor Stephen Strange seeks out the Ancient One for the magic to heal his hands.
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After speaking to the Ancient One and an encounter with Baron Mordo, Stephen decides to stay and train. After learning of magical rings Stephen and Wong head out to secure them with the help of a young woman.

Dr. Strange Season One seems like a different Dr. Strange story. Clearly the story is being reinvisioned, but I'm not familiar enough with his original story to know how much is different or the same. The biggest surprise for me is that Wong is not only a student of the ancient one, but that he's so antagonistic towards Stephen.
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This story read like an extra magic version of the Lord of the Rings, enough that the author jokingly calls their female companion their hobbit on multiple occasions.

Dr. Strange Season One is an OK story, but I'm not sure it provides the most accurate portrayal of Dr. Strange and Wong.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Phantom Pains (The Arcadia Project 2) By: Mishell Baker

Phantom Pains (The Arcadia Project, #2)Phantom Pains by Mishell Baker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed the first book of this series and honestly, this one is stronger, BUT I gave it slightly lower rating...why you ask? (no, you didn't ask..but I'm writing this )

I'll tell you later, The Arcadia Project is a fresh, inventive and deeply human. As a person who has suffered from depression (no spoilers) I really identify with the premise and throughly enjoy that the characters are flawed and not perfect.

That being said, I think the main character and the illness she deals with and it an important part of her being, in this book...it got to me. It hit a bit close to home, so I dock it a star for making me think about the past, STILL..a great read go get book one and this and get with it

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Aesop's Fables

Aesop's FablesAesop's Fables by Aesop
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These moral lessons were my bible.

...when I wasn't made to learn my bible as a kid.

The other day I realized I didn't know all of Aesop's Fables. Certainly I've read a few and heard many more, but I'd never sat down and read the whole thing. So I rectified that.

Now I can see why some of the lesser known fables are lesser known. Not every one of these often-anthropomorphic tales of animals wise and woeful is a winner. None are terrible, but every once in a while one of them doesn't quite resinate.

A Cock is walking around the farm and sees a pearl. He excitedly picks it up. The other cocks laugh. "You may have a treasure," one says, "but I'd rather have corn any day."

Moral: The ignorant despise what is precious only because they cannot understand it.


However, most of them knock the moral lesson right out of the park and make for a solid basis of wisdom with which to live a decent life by.

The Tortoise and the Hare - Slow and steady wins the race.
The Crow and the Pitcher - Use your wits.
Belling the Cat - Saying you'll do something is one thing, doing it is quite another.
The Ants and the Grasshopper - Work before play.
The Young Crab and His Mother - Lead by example.

There's others about humility and being a good person to your fellow man, but I'm not awake right now and can't seem to find them online. Trust me, they're there.


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Raven Stratagem (The Machineries of Empire 2) By: Yoon Ha Lee

Raven Stratagem (The Machineries of Empire #2)Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you have not read Ninefox Gambit, DO IT. This is how hard scifi should be done, wild ideas, vivid worldscapes and the limits of science and space and physics stretched out to the max.

Raven Stratagem continues that trend, A world that reminds me of the brutality of warhammer and the strangeness of the Iain Banks Culture series. Jedeo, one of the leads, I totally love. He is a total weapon, smarter than everyone (in this world that says something) and 41433984 steps beyond everyone else, and APE CRAP crazy, made my day.

IF you are a scifi person, give Mr Lee your money and read this series, it will make your week.

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Lion's Pride: The Turbulent History of New Japan Pro Wrestling

Lion's Pride: The Turbulent History of New Japan Pro WrestlingLion's Pride: The Turbulent History of New Japan Pro Wrestling by Chris Charlton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lion's Pride is the story of New Japan Pro Wrestling.

As with a lot of guys my age who were wrestling fans during the 1980s and 1990s, Japanese wrestling always held some mystique. I didn't see a single Japanese wrestling match until the dawn of the internet made it much easier to get tapes and such. Lion's Pride lifts the veil and reveals the inner workings of one of Japan's biggest wrestling organizations.

As with all talk of Japanese wrestling, the book starts with Rikidozan and the Japanese Wrestling Association. From there, it follows the career of Antonio Inoki and his formation of New Japan. The many exoduses of talent are covered and New Japans ups and downs are many. Antonio Inoki, like many owner-wrestlers, booked himself over the rest of the talent time and time again. It's a wonder New Japan survived long enough for him to retire.

The book talked a lot of the creation of stars like Tatsumi Fujinami and Riki Choshu in the 1980s, Keiji Muto, Masa Chono, and Shinya Hashimoto in the 1990s, and Tanahashi and others for the new millennium. The book concludes in 2015, with the rise of Bullet Club and the launch of New Japan's streaming service.

Lion's Pride was really informative, highlighting some backstage stuff I wasn't privy to and expanding on a lot of things I'd only read about on Wikipedia. The writing was pretty good for a book of this type. I did think the organization was a little weird, deviating from the main narrative to talk about completely unrelated things. For the most part, however, the book did what it set out to do. Three out of five stars.



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Friday, April 14, 2017

Sticks & Stones


Madeleine Urban & Abigail Roux
Dreamspinner Press
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars



Summary



Six months after nearly losing their lives to a serial killer in New York City, FBI Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are suffering through something almost as frightening: the monotony of desk duty. When they're ordered to take a vacation for the good of everyone's sanity, Ty bites the bullet and takes Zane home with him to West Virginia, hoping the peace and quiet of the mountains will give them the chance to explore the explosive attraction they've so far been unable to reconcile with their professional partnership. Ty and Zane, along with Ty's father and brother, head up into the Appalachian mountains for a nice, relaxing hike deep into the woods... where no one will hear them scream. They find themselves facing danger from all directions: unpredictable weather, the unrelenting mountains, wild animals, fellow hikers with nothing to lose, and the most terrifying challenge of all. Each other.


My Review



It’s just as well FBI agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are required to take a mandatory vacation after failing their psychological evaluations. Six months later, they are still haunted by the Tri-State murders. A relaxing hike, a chance for the guys to explore their simmering attraction, and spending time with Ty’s family is just what they need.


“If Zane could survive a trip to West Virginia to meet the Gradys, he could live through anything. Like a cockroach.”


It’s not that easy, though, as both guys are great at keeping a lid on their emotions. On top of that, they are each dealing with issues from their pasts. Zane is hurting from the death of his wife and recovering from an addiction to drugs and alcohol. Ty is a former Marine who is suffering from PTSD, troubled by nightmares and flashbacks.

While this story is not as action-packed as the first, there are very gripping moments that had this reader flipping pages well into the evening. It began with the mysterious ATV tracks and ended with Ty’s sorry encounter with a cougar. Though they have to deal with bad guys on the trail, the focus of this story was on Ty’s and Zane’s deepening relationship and the interaction with Ty’s family.

I especially liked Ty’s brother, Deacon, who is a psychiatrist and more aware of how Ty and Zane feel about each other than they are themselves. His mother, Mara, is warm, loving, protective, and bakes amazing pies. Ty’s father, Earl, has a gruff, military bearing. The complicated relationship he has with his sons made it difficult for me to warm up to him, but there was no question his love was strong, especially when Ty’s life was in danger.

Just like in the first book, there were unbelievable scenes and stupid mistakes made. The writing style seems a bit more controlled, or maybe I’m just getting used to it. I love the slow-burning romance, the humorous banter, and the tension in Ty’s and Zane’s relationship.


“What he was afraid of, he’d come to realize, was not dark spaces or falling from great heights or being buried alive. His greatest fears, in the end, were letting down those he loved and saying the words “I love you” without any hope of hearing them in return.”


I’m enjoying this series so far and look forward to more danger and thrills, as well as seeing Ty and Zane overcoming their fears and insecurities.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Darth Maul - Son of Dathomir

Darth Maul - Son of DathomirDarth Maul - Son of Dathomir by Jeremy Barlow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Darth Maul and his Shadow Collective are in disarray from Darth Sidious's actions.
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Maul's Mandalorians have a plan to save him.
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Maul's mother intends to help him eradicate Darth Sidious.
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Son of Danthomir wasn't as good as the previous comics because it got prequel gunk all over it. It has the disappointing General Grevious (who never received a decent introduction to the film series), Count Dooku, and the Droid armies. It just is less fun thinking about what Maul might have been when I have to see all that garbage. I now realize this comics and it's predecessor directly tie into the Clone Wars TV show. I imagine the creators didn't want the two series storylines to go to waste so it was utilized in comic form.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

CANNERY ROW BY JOHN STEINBECK

Cannery RowCannery Row by John Steinbeck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Doc would listen to any kind of nonsense and turn it into wisdom. His mind had no horizon and his sympathy had no warp. He could talk to children, telling them very profound things so that they understood. He lived in a world of wonders, of excitement. He was concupiscent as a rabbit and gentle as hell. Everyone who knew him was indebted to him. And everyone who thought of him thought next, 'I really must do something nice for Doc.’”

 photo Cannery20Row_zpsuqwq6fdw.jpg
Cannery Row

Doc is one of those fictional characters that never leaves a reader’s memory. This book is dedicated to a man by the name of Ed Ricketts who was a marine biologist with a lab, like Doc, on Cannery Row in Monterey, California. Whenever I discover that a fictional character is based on a real person, it seems to lend extra life to that fictional person. It puts bones under the skin and blood in the veins.

It becomes evident, very quickly, how much John Steinbeck admired Ricketts. The biologist has a profound impact on his writing and also on the writing of Joseph Campbell, who, like Steinbeck, lived in Monterey and spent as much time in Ricketts’s lab as possible. The influence of Ricketts on Steinbeck is palpable in The Pearl, Cannery Row, Sweet Thursday, The Log of the Sea of Cortez, The Moon is Down, and The Grapes of Wrath. Ricketts’ death, killed tragically young when his car is hit by a Del Monte Express Train just up the hill from Cannery Row, has a profound impact on many people. Steinbeck’s writing suffers after the death of his friend, and in the opinion of many critics, his writing after 1948 is diminished, except for his final epic East of Eden.

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Edward Ricketts

It makes me wonder, would we know John Steinbeck’s name if he’d never met Ed Ricketts? Or what if he had never been influenced by what he experienced while living in Cannery Row?

It is a place at the right time tailor made to inspire a writer.

“Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses. Its inhabitant are, as the man once said, "whores, pimps, gamblers and sons of bitches," by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, ‘Saints and angels and martyrs and holymen’ and he would have meant the same thing.”

Lee Chong runs the grocery store which is really a general store because you can find just about anything that you need and most things you never knew you wanted. Lee never discounts. Everything is the price it was when it was first carried in the door. He “rents out” a building he acquired as trade for an overdue grocery bill to a group of layabout guys who work when they have to, but choose not to work when they absolutely don’t need any money. It was interesting to see a bit into the mind of Lee as he ponders the universe and weighs the benefits and risks of any investment. He has an ongoing financial battles with the boys from The Palace Flophouse and Grill, which is the rather creative name the guys decided to use to refer to the Lee Chong storage shed, as they try to tempt him into their many doomed enterprises.

There is also Dora Flood who manages the Bear Flag Restaurant, but she is more accurately described as Madam Flood as the Bear Flag Restaurant isn’t a restaurant, but a whorehouse. She gives twice as much to charitable organizations as anyone else. She bends over backwards (Not so much over a bed anymore) to help people in need. She never turns a whore out when they get too old to be productive. "Some of them don't turn three tricks a month, but they go right on eating three meals a day." She is a whore with the heart of gold, but with an astute head for trying to not agitate the more conservative wives of the community.

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Ed Ricketts’s lab on Cannery Row.

Doc is lonely, but he isn’t alone. He doesn’t have a John Steinbeck living next door or a Joseph Campbell living down the street, but he never seems to lack for female companionship. Whenever the Sistine Choir or Gregorian Chants can be heard coming from Doc’s laboratory everyone knows he is in the midst of wooing well on his way to fornicating.

Doc takes a road trip down the coast of California to collect some specimens for his laboratory. We travel along with him and as the towns are listed off...Salinas, Gonzales, King City, Paso Robles, Santa Maria, and Santa Barbara I had a distinct heart pain of longing for the Golden State. He stops off frequently to sample the local cuisine and also manages to cross a very unusual concoction off his bucket list. “If a man ordered a beer milkshake he'd better do it in a town where he wasn't known.” He orders more than once while on this trip a healthy slice of pineapple and blue cheese pie. It sounds so weird that I have to try it.

Steinbeck sprinkles in some poetry from Black Marigolds by E. Powys Mathers. It is sensual and evocative poetry.

Even now
Death sends me the flickering of powdery lids
Over wild eyes and the pity of her slim body
All broken up with the weariness of joy;
The little red flowers of her breasts to be my comfort
Moving above scarves, and for my sorrow
Wet crimson lips that once I marked as mine.

Steinbeck includes several stanzas and with each one I read my appreciation for Mathers continued to grow.

 photo Cannery_row_poster_small_zpsjb2tcquu.jpg

This book is an ode to a friend, an ode to a period of time when I can tell Steinbeck may have felt most alive, and it is an ode to Cannery Row. A perfect storm of diverse elements that contributed to making Steinbeck one of the Great American Writers. There is a film version of the book starring Nick Nolte and Debra Winger which I have queued up to watch sometime this week. It looks like they muck up the film version with a love story, but I will reserve judgment until I’ve actually watched it.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Sins of Empire (Gods of Blood and Powder, #1) By: Brian McClellan

Sins of Empire (Gods of Blood and Powder, #1)Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yet another in my series of digging into my stack :) Weirdly enough, I didn't finish the first trilogy, not because I didn't like it, (it was amazing) I just got sidetracked, soooooooooooo I went looking into the files and found this.

THIS is terrific, easily the best thing I have read from Mr McClellan, and I WILL go back and finish the first trilogy now. If you want a fresh take on fantasy and a slightly different view, read this stuff todayyyyyyyy.



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Miserere: An Autumn Tale by: Teresa Frohock

Miserere: An Autumn TaleMiserere: An Autumn Tale by Teresa Frohock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finally had hit the bottom of my reading stack and was looking around for things to read, I saw that a few goodread folks I trust had read this, and being the hoarder I am...I HAD it, but never cracked it.

Yay for boredom, and for once I took reviewers advice, This is an amazing world and a great tale, I loved the twist on the religious aspects and I felt for the characters and you could FEEL the good and evil in this story.

Step out if you haven't read this, and do.



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Monday, April 10, 2017

Rip Van Magoo

Rip Van WinkleRip Van Winkle by Washington Irving
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh Magoo, you've done it again! I read Rip Van Winkle when I was a kid at some point in time, and yet I remembered it best from the Mr. Magoo animated version.

I couldn't find that old nearsighted thespian's take on the Irving classic, but here's his rendition on Frankenstein. Bloody masterpiece! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWlDZ...

Perhaps basing your knowledge of literature on a super-condensed, 20 minute version of a novel hundreds of pages long isn't a sound idea, but in the case of the quite short Rip Van Winkle it actually was just fine. Having reread it and matching it up with my recollection of the cartoon, which admittedly I haven't seen in about 30 years, I think it holds up well.

Hahaha...wouldn't Washington Irving be proud to be reading this review if he could? To have his enduring work reduced to its questioned quality in condensed cartoon form; "My god," I imagine him saying, "what an honor!"

This story of a wastrel (quite familiar to me in the form of folks I've known) gone off the reservation only to return bewildered to an unfamiliar home is a great piece of European folklore carried over to America. Bewitching beings beyond the fringe (yes, I'm stealing the phrase from Cook & Dudley) played a big role in the faerie stories of "the old country". It's nice to see them transplant so well to the wooded reaches of colonial (on the cusp of post) America.

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Sunday, April 9, 2017

Night of the Living Trekkies

Night of the Living TrekkiesNight of the Living Trekkies by Kevin David Anderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a zombie outbreak hits a Star Trek convention, it's up to Jim Pike, hotel manager, to get his sister and her friends out alive...

This showed up in my ebook deals a couple days ago. I'm a Star Trek fan and I liked zombies before the concept was run into the ground so this promised to be some brain-chomping good fun.

And it was. There are plenty of Star Trek references for the Trekkers and lots of zombie goodness for the fans of the reanimated. When you've got Klingons, a woman dressed like Princess Leia in the bikini from Return of the Jedi, and a red shirt named Willy Makit, you can't help but have a good time. While the Star Trek piece supplies the humor of the book, it doesn't go to a ridiculous level and the zombies still feel like a viable threat.

Jim Pike, a veteran of Afghanistan, denies the depths of his Star Trek fandom until it counts, and he steps into his Captain's tunic admirably. The book wound up feeling like Die Hard with zombies more than anything else.

Night of the Living Trekkies is a fun diversionary read. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, April 7, 2017

Cut & Run



Madeleine Urban & Abigail Roux
Dreamspinner Press
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars




Summary



A series of murders in New York City has stymied the police and FBI alike, and they suspect the culprit is a single killer sending an indecipherable message. But when the two federal agents assigned to the investigation are taken out, the FBI takes a more personal interest in the case.

Special Agent Ty Grady is pulled out of undercover work after his case blows up in his face. He's cocky, abrasive, and indisputably the best at what he does. But when he's paired with Special Agent Zane Garrett, it's hate at first sight. Garrett is the perfect image of an agent: serious, sober, and focused, which makes their partnership a classic cliche: total opposites, good cop-bad cop, the odd couple. They both know immediately that their partnership will pose more of an obstacle than the lack of evidence left by the murderer.

Practically before their special assignment starts, the murderer strikes again this time at them. Now on the run, trying to track down a man who has focused on killing his pursuers, Grady and Garrett will have to figure out how to work together before they become two more notches in the murderer's knife.



My Review



There was so much wrong with this book: the writing style (switching POVs within the same chapter), the dialogues that felt off, the feats of strength performed with serious injuries, the unbelievable scenarios that had me shaking my head at times. The sole purpose for women in this story were to be killed or to be used as a sperm receptacle.

If poor writing drives you nuts, give this one a pass. Do not read this if you enjoy clever mysteries, efficient police work and effective investigations. Sloppy detective work abounds, and the FBI are made to look like a bunch of bumbling incompetents. I figured out the villain in no time at all, and you will too. The villian’s methods and twisted mind, however, captured my interest and I enjoyed the incorporation of classic stories.

Despite these egregious flaws, I gobbled up this story like it was the last meal before execution. It was funny, sexy and suspenseful. I loved the prickly Ty and Zane, their anger, fights, their inability to communicate, and their swoon-worthy sharing of feelings.


““You said I wouldn’t miss you.” He drew in a long breath, and his voice was even quieter when he spoke again. “You were wrong.””
“I can’t concentrate on anything, not when all I can think about is you.”

On to the next book!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers

Lockjaw and the Pet AvengersLockjaw and the Pet Avengers by Chris Eliopoulos
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reed Richards approaches the Inhuman Royal Family to obtain their help locating the infinity gems and keeping them from Thanos. Lockjaw just happens to locate the mind gem
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and after trying to alert the humans,
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he teleports off to find some animal assistance.
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Lockjaw's Pet Avengers are born.
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I read Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers because of the number one Inhuman canine Lockjaw. It's a shame that every other character could talk, but he couldn't. He had some sort of telepathic link with Throg, the frog of Thunder, but no words left the big dog's month. The story isn't bad as long as you enjoy an intelligent animal story where they know what's best and the humans are clueless.

I have to say this story would have probably been better if Lockjaw was solo. The other Pet Avengers didn't add much and I had never heard of Hairball or Ms. Lion. The others helped out, but Lockjaw did the heavy lifting, most of the time.

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

THE PLANTAGENETS BY DAN JONES

The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made EnglandThe Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England by Dan Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”A king who fights to defend his right has a better claim on his inheritance. Struggle and largesse allow a king to gain glory and territory.” --Bertran de Born

 photo 93a83671-a140-4230-864d-fa871fe436fe_zpsis9y9rce.png
Empress Matilda

It all begins with a shipwreck.

200 of the most beautiful and powerful men and women of England and Normandy board The White Ship to travel from Normandy to England. They are exuberantly drunk, and the crew of the ship is also three sheets to the wind. Out of all of these important people, there is one who is head and shoulders more important than the rest...William the Aetheling, named for his grandfather William the Conqueror. He is the heir apparent to the throne of England.

The 17 year old drowns along with everyone else.

Henry I is not only devastated by the loss of his son, but also knows that the death of William has put his kingdom in jeopardy, for he has no other legitimate sons.

Call it fate or luck or insight, but Stephen of Blois, cousin of William, is also a member of that party, but he elects not to join the others on that ship. He books passage on a different boat with a crew maybe not completely sober, but less intoxicated. He survives the passage to England.

When Henry dies, he tries to leave his kingdom to his daughter Matilda. He brings all the important, most powerful men of England to his death bed and makes them swear allegiance to his daughter. They do, but they must have had the fingers of their left hand, as they held the hand of the King with their right hand, crossed behind their backs.

The crown has barely settled on the head of Matilda before it is violently knocked off. Stephen of Blois, who is also a grandchild of William the Conqueror, becomes King. England descends into a costly, bloody civil war. Matilda is supported by her half brother Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester, who is by all accounts an honorable and capable leader and probably, if he had been legitimate, would have made a very good king.

 photo Geoffrey_of_Anjou_Monument_zpskek1uhlm.jpg
Geoffrey of Anjou, the donor of sperm.


Matilda married Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou, and starts having babies, almost in a mercenary sense because her goal is to see a son of hers on the throne of England. Plantagenet is from the latin planta genista, meaning sprig of broom. Geoffrey adorns himself with the yellow flower of this shrub, and the nickname sticks. He is a warm, expansive man whom people adore. Now by all accounts I’ve read, Matilda is condescending, cold, and a manipulating woman, not well liked by those of high breeding or low breeding. Geoffrey, luckily, is a man among men because he braves the frigid landscape of her bed and produces three healthy sons, though I have visions of Empress Matilda being one of the first dominatrixes in history with a whip and a commanding voice instructing Geoffrey to mount up or bear the consequences.

I have a particular interest in the Plantagenets due to a marriage between James Ives and Anna Ashley in 1799, which happens to also be the year that George Washington dies. Now, James and Anna are my 4th great grandparents. My mother was an Ives, and I am directly descended from James. Anna was of a bluestocking family of Vermont. Her father, Elisha Ashley, served with the Green Mountain Boys in the Revolutionary War and also is the patriot who allowed me to join the Sons of the American Revolution. I’m not really sure how James landed such a catch because little is known about him. I like to think that he was a charmer. Anna is not only of a good American family, but she is also descended from the Kings and Queens of England.

Previously, I had believed that my connection with the throne of England ended with Henry III, who ascended the throne as a 9 year old after the death of his odious father, King John. When Henry’s son Edward took the throne, I was the victim of primogeniture as I am descended from the second son, Edmund Crouchback.

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Edmund Crouchback depicted with St. George.

Great name, eh? The Crouchback refers to the crossed back and his service in the 9th Crusade. Well as it turns out, Edmund might be off the throne but, when his great granddaughter Blanche of Lancaster marries her cousin Henry IV, his descendents do reach the throne once again.

One needs a scorecard and vast wall spaces for family trees to keep track of the genealogy of the Plantagenet family. Dan Jones does provide some very nice maps and family trees that are a constant source of references to me.

Henry II, the first son conceived in that frigid marriage bed of Matilda and Geoffrey, now King of England after some more bloody fighting with King Stephen, marries the amazing Eleanor of Aquitaine. I believe she is the only woman to marry the King of France and the King of England in history. She is intelligent, educated, and powerful in her own right. She is a catch for any man, even a king. ”Eleanor had been a magnificent queen whose influence had straddled three important reigns and who had loved and guided her sons even when they behaved unwisely.”

Their third son, Richard Ist the Lionheart, becomes King of England. He spends so much time out of England that his brother John, the fifth son and baby of the family, tries to take over England. Doesn’t really work because, once Richard returns, John’s support folds up like tent in a gale force wind. John does reach the throne when Richard dies from a crossbow arrow after exposing himself needlessly to danger.

Now there is an interesting fly in the ointment of absolute power for John. His brother Geoffrey, who is the brother between Richard and John, has a son named Arthur of Brittany, who by the rules of primogeniture should have been King of England after Richard. Richard, in fact, had named Arthur as his heir whenever he left England.

The problem for John goes away when Arthur mysteriously disappears. Dan Jones offers an explanation, but I will let you read the book and see what you think. John is half the man that his brother Richard is, illustrated best by his contemporaries who refer to him as John Softsword.

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King John signing the Magna Carta

John mismanages the affairs of the kingdom and alienates almost everyone. He raises money by kidnapping the mistresses and children of priests and extorting the priests for money for their safe return. He makes widows pay huge fines to remarry. He tries to seduce wives and daughters of his supporters. The affairs of the kingdom are in disarray, and he keeps ceding more and more of the kingdom that his father and brother built to the French. All of these weaknesses of John’s eventually lead to one of the most famous documents in English and world history. The Magna Carta is signed on the 15th of June 1215. Basically, the lords of the land are tired of his shit and want to share more of the power. For the first time in history, controls and rules are imposed on a king.

John’s son Henry III becomes king of England at age 9. His main contribution to history is that he renounces his claims to empire and becomes a peer of the King of France. Henry II is rolling around in his crypt.

Fortunately for England, his son Edward I is made of sterner stuff and is a strikingly tall and virile man. The nickname the Scots give him is Longshanks. He is a good tactician and builds the English army into a fearsome fighting force that conquers the Scots and the Welsh at every turn.

His son Edward II is a weak, ineffectual ruler who surrounds himself with his young peers who prove to be unsuccessful in guiding Edward or the affairs of England. He prefers the company of his friends, such as Piers Gaveston, rather than his Queen Isabella, daughter of the King of France. She is not amused with his behavior nor in the way he treats her. She feels more like a maidservant who is getting bent over a chaise lounge from time to time rather than a daughter of a king. When the time is ripe, with the help of her husband’s numerous enemies, she overthrows him and installs her son as king. Rumor has it that she had her husband killed by having a hot poker inserted up his rectum as a commentary on his preference for his male friends, but Dan Jones believes this is just a story to further discredit her husband and strengthen her son’s hold on power.

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Edward III

Edward III has a problem. He is underage, and it takes him years to wrest power from his mother and her lover. He does grow into a very good king, more like his grandfather, and wins numerous battles against the French, reclaiming much of the territory that was once held by Henry II and Richard I. The famous English longbow becomes the deadliest weapon on the field of battle under his reign. Everything is going well, but then his very capable son Edward the Black Prince, weakened by diseases acquired on his numerous journeys to fight in the Middle East, dies before he can become king. This is a devastating loss for Edward and for England. When Edward dies, Richard II comes to power at the age of 14.

Rewind the era of Edward II. Richard II puts his friends into positions of power they are hardly qualified for. He annoys the royal families. Numerous heads are lopped off when the lords have power, and then when Richard reasserts himself, more heads are parted from bodies.

There are so many points in the Plantagenet era when they should have lost power. John, Henry III, Edward II, and Richard II are all legitimately bad kings who could have ended the reign of the Plantagenet family. Fortunately, there are strong kings, such as Henry II, Richard I, Edward I, and Edward III, who prove to be powerful, capable rulers who, especially in the case of the two Edwards, overcome the incompetencies of their immediate predecessors.

Citizens of a realm will put up with a lot as long as their king is strong. They don’t mind dying for an effective king who shows leadership and ability, but they do mind dying for a weak king who is much more worried about his pleasures than the safety and concerns of his kingdom. Fortunately, there are men and women willing to stand up to those Plantagenet kings who prove unworthy, and thankfully, there are more capable members of the family available when they need them the most.

I know the Tudors have received more attention in recent years than their predecessors, the Plantagenets, mainly due to a strange fascination with Henry VIII and his numerous wives, but I think that most people will find this overview of the Plantagenets equally fascinating and might even discover themselves believing, as I do, that the Tudors are merely a ragtag band of usurpers to the true kings and queens who built England. Wonderful overview. Highly Recommended!

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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Witchy Eye By: D.J. Butler

Witchy EyeWitchy Eye by D.J. Butler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very interesting and entertaining alt history/fantasy book I picked up on a whim. Solid, fun story, great characters and I really enjoyed the author's different take on our world.

I railed last year about "young adult" books and although I am not totally sure that this falls under that genre, I seem to be changing my mind slowly but surely about them.

This is totally worth your time to read, and I personally look forward to any future trips into this world.

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Monday, April 3, 2017

Not As Great As The First

America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren'tAmerica Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren't by Stephen Colbert
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Another one? Ugh, what is it with me and duds lately?

America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren't feels half-assed. It doesn't help that Colbert draws attention to it by playing up that aspect of this very quick audiobook. He hams it up by acting put upon by his publisher to push out another book on the success of the last.

The thing is, stripping that away, this feels rushed and light on content. Ooooh the filler! Sooooo much filler. This has more filler than an embalmed Phyllis Diller. What's that even mean? Doesn't matter, because you see what I did there? Just padded my word count, thank you very much! Too often that's what you get in America Again.

Of course you also get a fair amount of that wonderfully tongue-in-cheek Colbert humor; that razor-sharp wit. America and what's wrong with it from the perspective of his faux conservative talk show host character provides most of the content, which admittedly got at least two solid snort-chuckles out of me. Maybe two and a half. And that's basically how I rated this one. It's a 2.5 at best. Unfortunate, because I love Stephen Colbert. I just don't love this book.



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Sunday, April 2, 2017

Dark Matter

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

On the way home from the local bar, Jason Dessen is ambushed by an unknown assailant in a geisha mask. After being injected with something, Jason wakes up and his world has been turned upside down...

As I mentioned in the past, I tend to resist books with any amount of hype attached. I even passed on this when it initially came up on Netgalley. However, the gang at Goodreads made me change my mind. So, yeah, the gang was right. Every once in a while, a book feels like it was written with my admittedly peculiar tastes in mind. This is one of those books that caught lightning in a bottle.

As with reads like The Man from Primrose Lane and The Great Forgetting, I'm going to keep this as vague as possible to retard spoilage. Dark Matter is a thriller with a science fiction bend. The What-the-fuckery level is quite high and I wolfed it down in two sittings. It's so damn readable I want to punch Blake Crouch in the junk.

Jason Dessen made for a great lead, a scientist with a loving family and a life he wasn't that enthused about. When he wakes up in another life, he quickly finds himself driving up diarrhea drive on four flat tires.

Since this wasn't my first ride on the weirdness wagon, I tipped to who the masked man was before the big reveal. However, I had no idea the magnitude of the mind fuck headed my way. I pretty much cleared my calendar to wolf down everything after the first 24%. It was that damn gripping.

The ending was great. I kind of guessed how things would go but Crouch hit the ball out of the park.

I don't really know what else I can say without spoiling things. I didn't think Blake Crouch could top Pines but top it he did. Dark Matter is a Twilight Zone episode written by Phillip K. Dick. 5 out of 5 stars.

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