Sunday, May 28, 2017

Fatal

FatalFatal by John Lescroart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Kate cheats on her husband, she only meant it to be a one time thing. However, Peter, the man she cheated with, has other ideas and his world disintegrates around him. Six months later, Peter winds up dead in the ocean of a gunshot wound...

On the heels of reading You Will Know Me, I was in the mood for more domestic suspense so I picked this up when it showed up on Netgalley.

Fatal is an interesting animal. The first half is set when Kate has an affair with Peter, right up until a terror attack puts Kate and her best friend Beth into the hospital. When the book picks back up, Peter is dead, Beth, who happens to be the homicide detective who catches Peter's case, is on crutches and Kate herself is still recovering from a brush with death.

Who killed Peter Ash wound up being a serpentine affair involving a lot of sex and a couple murders. As with a lot of mysteries, things wound up being really complex. While some of the twists caught me by surprise, a few of them were obvious and one I found a little far-fetched.

I thought the characters were a little weak. Beth was the only one I felt any attachment to. I didn't care about Kate before she had the affair and she mostly faded into the background in the second half of the book. The ending was a little unsatisfying but it was open ended enough to allow Lescroart to write another book with Beth as the detective, something I'd be up for.

Anyway, I guess I'll give this the safety rating of 3. It was engaging at times but it isn't going to set the world on fire.

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Friday, May 26, 2017

The Klockwerk Kraken


Aidee Ladnier
MLR Press
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars



Summary



When the right space pilot walks into his bar, a desperate bartender uses all his wiles (and tentacles) to talk the man into business and his bed--but the spacer is still enslaved by his past and isn't sure he can deal with a two-handed lover, much less one with six.

As the supply shipments stop coming, Teo Houdin needs all his tentacles to keep his waystation bar open. Facing a riot by thirsty miners stranded in the backwater of the galaxy, Teo helps a greenie space pilot buy a ship in return for a regular haul of liquor. But he longs for the courage to invite the enigmatic spacer to fill his lonely bed as well.

Still smarting from his newly implanted navigational ports, Jimenez knows owning his own ship will prevent him from ever being bought and sold again. For a former slave, transporting cargo through the emptiness of space sounds like paradise, but after meeting the compassionate and sexy Teo, his heart feels empty, too.

At the edge of the galaxy's spiral arm, can Teo convince Jimenez that the heart has its own tentacles and theirs should be entwined forever?


My Review



Betentacled Teo Houdin is proud proprietor of the Klockwerk Kraken, a unique bar located in a remote outer space way station, which makes it difficult for Teo to keep a regular supply of booze on hand. Though he comes from a large and loving family, Teo craved independence and wanted to see more of the galaxy, so he left the planet of Celos.

Jiminez is a former slave adjusting to normal life and looking to buy a ship in order to ensure he remains free.

When Jiminez sets foot in Teo’s bar, their attraction is instant. Teo helps Jiminez find a suitable ship with the condition that Jiminez obtains regular shipments of liquor to help keep Teo’s bar running. While the men act on their feelings early on, the relationship takes time to develop. Jiminez is guarded, secretive, has scars and low self-esteem, and is deeply affected by his past trauma. This conflicts with Teo’s warmth and openness in expressing affection. I love how Teo wears his feelings on his tentacles!

While their sex was blazing hot, this was more than romance and erotica. Jiminez gradually opened up to Teo about his past, his fears, and his love for poetry. There was also an engaging plot that revolved around a mysterious fire and Jiminez’ possible culpability. The world that Teo and Jiminez inhabit was skillfully described without an overload of unnecessary detail or technical jargon, so one does not have to be a science fiction fan to enjoy this story. It should appeal to those readers who enjoy space operas with a dose of erotica.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. It was fun, lightly humorous, comfortably paced, sexy and touching.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Inhumans vs. X-Men

Inhumans vs. X-MenInhumans vs. X-Men by Charles Soule
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The terrigen cloud has been a threat looming over the heads of every mutant alive. Beast has been working with the Inhumans on a solution, but he has run out of time. The terrigen cloud is making the Earth uninhabitable for mutants. Beast warns the X-Men first.
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They decide to destroy the cloud and defeat the Inhumans. War over the survival of mutant kind is coming to New Attilan.
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Inhumans vs X-Men was really bad. There is no other way for me to say it. I like the Inhumans and the X-Men, but this entire event was unnecessary. As happens so often in events characters behave out of character so that the story can advance. The majority of the series is spent with the Inhumans having no clue why the mutants are attacking them. These characters have relationships with one another and rather than talking the X-Men go right to fighting. The Inhumans generally try to survive not knowing why anything was happening.

Marvel spent years building to Inhumans vs X-Men and it was a letdown in practically every fashion. Stories like this one make me wonder why I bother reading comics at all. It was all just bad. It's such a shame.

1.5 out of 5 stars

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Deja Vu All Over Again

The Age of InnocenceThe Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yeah, you could call this The Age of Innocence. On the other hand, a more suitable title might be Anna Karenina Revisited. Here are a few similarities off the top of my head:

- It's a novel based on societal etiquette.

- A lovely woman is plagued with an unloving husband and somewhat ostracized from said society due to divorce.

- A young man rushes to marry his fiancé before troubling thoughts of cheating overtake him.

- The fiancé is a virtuous, virginal airhead.

- And finally, the adulterous woman comes equipped with a very Anna Karenina-esque European flair. Their sensibilities are remarkably similar.


Did Edith Wharton steal everything but the title? I don't know, but if you told me she read and admired Tolstoy's book, I wouldn't be surprised. However, let's set the accusations aside.

This is a damn fine novel. It's poignant. It's well-plotted. It's funny. The characters pop to life. New York society of the 1870s is set as well as any Broadway stage.

Deficiencies? Perhaps there's a little too much telling over showing, but I'm not complaining.

Indeed it's difficult to fault Wharton on any point. This is a solid novel.

Beyond the novel, it's difficult to fault Wharton even if she did pilfer the plot. Yes, she came from a very wealthy family and much of her time was spent penning novels from the comfort of her luxuriant bed, dropping completed pages upon the floor to be collected and collated by a servant. But looking deeper you discover all the good she did during the Great War. And when you learn how she put herself in danger by reporting from the front, well, you can't help but admire the woman. She's got true grit, even if it is gilded grit.





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Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Girls

The GirlsThe Girls by Emma Cline
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Evie Boyd's parents get divorced, she falls in with a bad group of girls, all following a would-be musician named Russel. Evie finds herself drawn to their lifestyle of living free and doing drugs, and particularly finds herself drawn to Suzanne. Will Evie come to her senses before she goes down a road she can never come back from?

The Girls is a story inspired by the infamous murder of Sharon Tate by followers of Charles Manson. Instead of a gore-strewn crime book, it's more about one girl's fall from grace after falling in with a cult. Evie Boyd is only fourteen when she meets The Girls and winds up living at the ranch. Her fascination with Suzanne leads her down a grim path, a path with murder at its end.

Anyone with a passing familiarity with Charles Manson knows where the book is heading from the start and Evie, in the framing thread, hints at it pretty heavily. Knowing there's going to be a horrible crash doesn't make it any easier to turn away from an impending car crash.

Emma Cline writes with literary flourish, painting an interesting picture of a girl who wants to belong and wants to be loved. Watching her get ensnared in the spider's web was a little painful at times. In the end, she has the right choice chosen for her but never seems to get her life back on track after that.

I'm not really sure how to rate this book. While it's generally well written, it feels over-written at times for what it is. (view spoiler)

Overall, The Girls is a good read but I don't think it's going to set the world on fire. It's a solid three out of five stars. Of the 1,244 books put out this year with the world "Girl" in the title, it's definitely in the top 50.

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Canes and Scales


S.A. Garcia
Dreamspinner Press
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars



Summary



Serpent Prince Linden of Ardaul is determined to drag his barbaric, power-hungry country into the modern age by encouraging learning, advances in the sciences, and tolerance. His insane brother Edward, the King, delights in making him pay for his efforts.

Long years of watching his back, fighting wars, and solving conflicts started by his cruel brother have taken a toll on Linden’s body and mind, and he needs a respite. When Linden meets an alluring young bed slave named Alasdaire, his weary heart responds. Alasdaire is an exotic mix of southern royal Totandian elf and human, and, although he’s also suffered hardship most of his life, his loving personality captivates the Prince.

Despite their differences, Alasdaire—canes, and Linden—scales, unite in body and soul, but their romance is nearly shattered by betrayal. When Linden becomes King, magical assassins, treachery, and threats plague them. They narrowly escape death more than once. The lovers must discover who wants them dead and more importantly, where they can turn for aid. Neither enemies nor allies are what they seem. Only time will tell who means to harm Linden and Alasdaire—the elves, the imprisoned Edward, or something even deadlier—and time is one thing they don’t have.


My Review



Lovely!

Canes and Scales was the perfect story for me to read while on my way to New Jersey for a friend’s wedding. This is a quietly absorbing, gentle, and magical tale of two very different men, their devoted love, and the hardships they endure – prejudice, betrayal, and treachery. It was extremely easy for me to get lost in this story in spite of traffic jams and bumpy roads.

(If you want to know why it was essential for me to get lost in a story while driving to New Jersey, then read my review of The Pines).

Told from alternating viewpoints, we first meet Linden, the battle-weary Serpent Prince of Ardaul, who is on his way to his cousin Keith’s country home for a much-needed vacation from wars and his crazy, power-hungry brother, King Edward, who despises the Prince’s progressive politics. Keith has provided his cousin respite from his duties in the form of Alasdaire, a 20-year-old half-elven pleasure slave.

Life is difficult for Alasdaire, who is lonely since his mother’s death and unwelcome in either the human or elven communities. Despite his noble status, he has been banished from his family home after committing a vengeful act against his father and is sold to Lord Keith. To ensure Alasdaire serves his sentence, he is forced to wear a Torvine Catch around his neck which will release poison needles if Alasdaire ventures outside the estate’s boundaries.

We learn more about Alasdaire’s and Linden’s past, and watch their relationship develop from one based on sex to something much deeper. There are formal dinners, noble visits and other activities to keep the men busy. Linden also keeps abreast of news in the city and palace affairs, and answers communications when necessary. There are 20 years between the men and I appreciated that their age difference is quite evident throughout the story.

There is treachery, separation, violence, healing Elven magic and Serpent power. While the sex scenes are delicate and understated, I found Alasdaire’s reading of erotic poetry while he is being pleasured by Linden extremely sexy. There are flowery declarations of love and minimal conflicts, but there is enough mystery, magic and deception to keep this reader flipping pages.

If you crave intense drama, relationship conflicts, and graphic sex, this is not the story for you. This is a beautifully written, highly descriptive fantasy story with steampunk elements that would be suitable for those readers who like a lot of sweetness amidst all the hardships and treachery the characters face.

I was thoroughly enchanted by Alasdaire and Linden and hope their story isn’t over.





Thursday, May 18, 2017

Captain Marvel, Vol. 1: Rise of Alpha Flight

Captain Marvel, Vol. 1: Rise of Alpha FlightCaptain Marvel, Vol. 1: Rise of Alpha Flight by Tara Butters
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Captain Marvel has accepted the command of the Alpha Flight Space Station. The station is tasked Earth's intergalactic defenses.
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Rise of Alpha Flight feels like Star Trek Deep Space Nine with super heroes. Which would be fine except I grew up with my father watching every single Star Trek and I can't take the space tropes anymore. This might be good for someone else but I was burned out on space Sci-Fi by the age of 15 or so.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

HELTER SKELTER BY VINCENT BUGLIOSI

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson MurdersHelter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

***DISCLAIMER: I READ THIS BOOK UNDER THE CONSTANT INFLUENCE OF THE WHITE ALBUM BY THE BEATLES.***

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Hello Charlie! You crazy F (expletive has been deleted because for some crazy reason I’ve got a bunch of kids following my reviews) R!!!

”’How are you going to get the establishment? You can’t sing to them. I tried that. I tried to save them, but they wouldn’t listen. Now we got to destroy them.”’
---Charlie Manson to a friend in the summer of 1969


The number of people killed by the Manson family in the 1960s and 1970s could be as many as 35. There are still bodies missing and murders that fit the profile of The Family that were never proven for lack of evidence. For the prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, the goal was to get Charlie Manson, along with his most fervent followers, out of circulation for a long, long time. From moment one he felt the strain of making a misstep that would give the judge or jury reasonable doubt. The most famous of these murders were the five people killed in, what is referred to as, The Tate Murders. The murder case was named for the wife of famed director Roman Polanski. Sharon Tate was not only brutally murdered, but was also eight months pregnant.

It changes the score, right? When you ruthlessly kill a pregnant woman, it isn’t just murder any more; it is a heinous crime against humanity.

Bugliosi, who wrote this book, does a wonderful job laying out the evidence and also explaining our legal system pitfalls. The crimes themselves, though interesting in a ghoulish, shiver inducing way, are in a sense immaterial when compared to the feral genius of Charlie Manson.

He wasn’t book smart, but he had his own brilliant way of discovering the weaknesses of most people he met and turning them into brainwashed zombie followers. He was a career inmate. He purposely committed crimes with the highest federal punishment (for instance like stealing the US Mail which has mandatory sentencing much higher than say stealing cars) to make sure he stayed in jail longer. When he was released from the prison for the last time, he begged the warden to let him stay. He understood prison, but he couldn’t understand the real world.

It only makes sense that he would create his own reality.

”I may have implied on several occasions to several different people that I may have been Jesus Christ, but I haven’t decided yet what I am or who I am.”

Most of the people he brought into The Family were between the ages of 17 to 27, with a heavy emphasis on 17. He had a man by the name of Paul Watkins, who was a good looking lad, who would hang around areas where high school girls would be and recruit them into The Family. There was no end of young women from middle class families who had runaway from their families or wanted to. Manson offered them a haven in the desert.

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Paul Watkins, the pretty boy girl recruiter. Charlie would say, “Paul I’m horny. Go get me a new girl,” and Paul would go get one.

He would interview them, discovering that generally they had Daddy issues, and exploit their resentments against their parents. All he was offering was freedom and free love and plenty of drugs, but in reality he was breaking them down so that they would do what he wanted without question. He would first have sex with them. Then, have them have sex with a woman. (Don’t be uptight, girl. It is all part of being free.) Then, they would over time have sex with all the men in the group. He would organize orgies in which they had to participate or face excommunication from the group. By this time, he had shattered the pillar of their moral compass and now had fresh clay to build them back up into who he needed them to be. The transformation from who they were to who he made them was truly disheartening and frightening to witness.

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The Manson girls look just like the girls we all went to highschool with. So the question is, how did he turn them into killers?

These girls came from very sheltered existences. They were angry at their parents for a whole host of reasons, but probably the unifying theme was that they didn’t want to be told what to do. Manson offered a delusional freedom that wasn’t free at all, but actually shackled them to him and his demented visions of chaos. One of the girls said, “I’ve finally reached the point where I can kill my parents.”

Manson became completely enamored with The White Album by The Beatles. He thought The Beatles were giving him specific instructions of what had to go down. Helter Skelter, which is the name of one of the songs on the album, became the defining words of the new world he hoped to create.

When he sent his minions out to kill the people at the Tate residency, he was hoping to start a war. He wanted to leave evidence that black people were killing white people, and then they would kill each other. The Black connections they were hoping to make were pathetically attempted, and at no time did the police think the Black Panthers or some other armed black resistance were behind the murders. The only whites who were going to survive this racial war were those living in the desert with Charlie Manson.

How do you get people to believe this stuff?

”Charlie was always preaching love. Charlie had no idea what love was. Charlie was so far from love it wasn’t even funny. Death is Charlie’s trip. It really is.”

He had his own agenda to get even with everyone. He wanted to instill fear. He wanted to destroy the world. He wanted people to pay for the shambles of his own life.

People have made comparisons between the mesmerizing abilities of Adolf Hitler and Charlie Manson. They were both small men with large ideas about who they should be. They could both convince people to do things that any rational person should reject. Neither one of them respected life. I usually don’t like comparisons to Hitler because he is often evoked in modern politics erroneously, but there are certainly some aspects about their characters and their power over people that makes the comparisons, unfortunately, very valid. At times Manson had hundreds of followers, a small army of potential assassins. All he had to do was say the word. They all wanted to make Charlie happy, and underlying all the love they felt for him was a real fear of the consequences of disappointing him.

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It is scary to think about how easily Manson gained control of these young people. I’m sure there were people who spent five minutes in his presence who started looking for the nearest exit, but his ability to convince people of his own importance and power is fortunately a very unusual trait among madmen. Could another Manson come along? Absolutely! Will they find followers? Absolutely! This book was thoughtful and well researched and certainly proved to be a page turner for me, sometimes deep into the heart of darkness.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Soccermatics: Mathematical Adventures in the Beautiful Game By: David Sumpter

Soccermatics: Mathematical Adventures in the Beautiful GameSoccermatics: Mathematical Adventures in the Beautiful Game by David Sumpter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once again I dive into one of my current obsessions, soccer. But this time I temper it with something I dislike a great deal, math. Math and I have had a long history of never understanding each other and constantly looking for ways to avoid figuring out our differences. But in pursuit of my new love, I decided to team up with my nemesis to win over the heart and mind of the beautiful game.

(That sounded better in my head) Mr. Sumpter does a terrific job of showing how mathematics applies to the world around us, and by using his love of soccer, he shows the in's and out's of statistics and numbers in the game. He also explains the geometry of formations and how as the game changed, the way it was played changed.

All in all, it deepened my current obsession and is quite the enjoyable read if you are a fan of either subject.



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Killing Gravity By : Corey J White

Killing GravityKilling Gravity by Corey J. White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

FUN?!?! yes...very fun. However, while this is a rocking space opera that honestly wouldn't be out of place on a network somewhere, I kinda give it a 3.5586 stars.

Really cool characters, cool story, tons of action, but the whole thing feels like its missing something. It seems like this was a bigger story and the author cut big chunks out sort of at random. I understand the novella form and although I am still not a huge fan of reading them (mainly due to my reading speed) I totally get it.

I did have a lot of fun reading this, BUT next time I really wish there was a bit more meat on the bone so to speak.



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Monday, May 15, 2017

Good Ol' Tried And True Rumpole!

The Trials of RumpoleThe Trials of Rumpole by John Mortimer
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There's an old shoe familiarity to these Rumpole books that suits me just fine.

Rumpole, a barrister in London's Old Bailey, is a lovable curmudgeon. Yet John Mortimer has also portrayed his main character as a sort of knight in shining armor. He gets to the truth and prevails, even if it means finding a known criminal innocent of the crime he's been charged with. Sometimes the truth results in an outcome that isn't what Rumpole himself would desire, but that's life, and life is drawn up rather realistically in this otherwise often humorous series.

With Rumpole books you get crime, court room drama, cheeky humor, quick yet insightful character studies and a nice slice of life from the various strata of London society. Often Rumpole is defending "the lower orders", the criminal class as it were. That's his forte. He doesn't mind if a little blood is involved in his cases, in fact he kind of prefers it that way. Another lovable trait for the reader to latch on to.

In The Trials of Rumpole, the second book in the series, Horace Rumpole relays a few of his memorable cases in short story form. Mortimer does a smart job of tying them together enough to make them feel linear, as if you're reading a single, homogeneous novel.

Another clever move on Mortimer's part was to make each of these books (at least the half dozen or so I've read) all self-contained. So, if you've never read a Rumpole book, you can go ahead and start with whichever one you find first. Sure, Rumpole will reference some past trial and it might make you feel like you're missing out on backstory. Don't worry about it, the old curmudgeon always does that. Like the typical elderly gentleman on the brink of retirement, he likes to reminisce about his past triumphs. Sit back, slip on that old shoe and enjoy the tale.

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt BoeThe Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a student from the Ulthar Women's College goes missing with her dreaming lover, Vellitt Boe journeys across the dreamlands to find a way to the waking world to bring her back. With a cat in tow, will Vellitt be able to find Clarie Jurat?

Ghouls, ghasts, and gugs, oh my! The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe is a new spin on HP Lovecraft's The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, with less racism and more women! It was already on my wish-list when it popped up on Netgalley.

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe is Vellitt Boe's quest across the dreamlands to bring home Clarie Jurat, a student at her college. Clarie fell in love with a man from the waking world and Vellitt must bring her back before things go pear-shaped. Her odyssey takes her from one end of the dreamlands to the other and eventually, to the waking world.

I have to say I like what Kij Johnson had done with HP Lovecraft's Dreamlands. While the setting is still what Lovecraft created, complete with Randolph Carter and assorted horrid creatures, she puts her own stamp on the tale by having a middle-aged woman take center stage.

The writing is way more accessible than HP Lovecraft's and reads more like Neil Gaiman's Stardust. She treats the mythos with respect while expanding upon it and telling her own story.

The only thing I can really complain about is that it wasn't longer and Kij wasn't able to work all of the Dreamlands staples into it. 3.5 out of 5 stars.


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Friday, May 12, 2017

Chicks With Guns


Lindsay McCrum
Vendome Press
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars



Summary



In Chicks with Guns, Lindsay McCrum has created a cultural portrait of women gun owners in America through photographs that are both beautiful and in a sense unexpected. The book examines issues of self-image and gender through the visual conventions of portraiture and fashion, but the guns are presented here not as superimposed props but as the very personal lifestyle accessories of the subjects portrayed. And it defies stereotypes often associated with aspects of the popular culture of both guns and women. Like the 15-20 million women gun owners in this country, the women we meet in Chicks with Guns (their portraits are accompanied by their own words), reside in all regions of the country, come from all levels of society, and participate seriously in diverse shooting activities. The women here are sportswomen, hunters, and competition shooters. Some use guns on their jobs and some for self-defense. They may not all be classically beautiful, but in these photographs they all look beautiful, exuding honesty, confidence, poise, power and pride. They are real women with real guns that play a part in their lives. By focusing her camera respectfully on this particular aspect of the American scene, gun-wielding women and girls, Lindsay McCrum sheds new light on who we are in America today.



My Review



“I think all women should know how to drive a manual transmission and handle a gun.”
― Kate

I learned about this title while I was looking at Girl's Guide to Guns

So thrilled that my library had a copy!

The photos are gorgeous, the stories interesting and inspiring. Plus, I'm learning about firearms I hadn't heard of before. The only complaint is from my old eyes, wishing that the print used for the women's stories was just a little larger. I like the diversity of backgrounds featured, the variety of shooting activities and reasons for owning firearms, and the fact that not all the women are young. Many of the women come from hunting backgrounds, others are sport shooters, or just enjoy shooting targets, some are in law enforcement, and others merely want to protect their families.

When I get better at shooting, maybe I will be in a future edition posing with my Walther PPQ or the Ruger 1211 10/22 rifle my husband got me for Christmas, but I'm not nearly as photogenic as the women who grace these pages.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Avengers: The Children's Crusade

Avengers: The Children's CrusadeAvengers: The Children's Crusade by Allan Heinberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two of the Young Avengers Wiccan and Speed look like twins, have the same name as Wanda Maximoff's children, and have the same powers as the Scarlet Witch and her brother Quicksilver. Wishing to know the truth the Young Avengers set out to find the Scarlet Witch Wanda Maximoff.

The Children's Crusade continues the storyline started in Avengers Disassembled and continued in House of M. Wanda's powers got out of control and she altered reality harming millions and depowering the majority of the mutant population. I was vaguely aware that this was a large scale continuation of that story line so I was interested to see how things went and I have to say things were a bit crazy. I really appreciated the mocking comments made about Civil War. It was hard not to mention heroes fighting each other because it seemed to be happening practically ever issue in the volume.
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A lot of information was revealed about Wanda and the what led up to Avengers Disassembled. It was helpful because it seemed crazy to me that Wanda's abiltiies went so over the top.

There were a few parts that were too convenient. Clearly there was some sort of plan in place to continue stretching out the events of M-Day. It was rather annoying the way things were explained and interfered with at times. It felt like someone decided Wanda had to be a hero again so some twisting of the facts was needed.

All in all the Children's Crusade was one enjoyable story.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

THE LOST CITY OF THE MONKEY GOD BY DOUGLAS PRESTON

The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True StoryThe Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story by Douglas Preston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”I peered out the window, transfixed. I can scarcely find words to describe the opulence of the rainforest that unrolled below us. The tree crowns were packed together like puffballs, displaying every possible hue, tint, and shade of green. Chartreuse, emerald, lime, aquamarine, teal, bottle, glaucous, asparagus, olive, celadon, jade, malachite--mere words are inadequate to express the chromatic infinites.”

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Douglas Preston was always interested in lost civilizations, so when he got the chance to join an expedition into the mosquitia jungle in Honduras to find the Lost City of the Monkey God, he was more than interested, he was all in. There had been many explorers before who had attempted to find this “mythical” place, but except for the Indiana Jones style journalist Theodore Morde who emerged from the jungle in 1940 with a horde of fascinating objects and a story of finding the fabled White City, there had been nothing to substantiate the legend. Morde committed suicide shortly after returning from his adventures, taking his secrets with him.

Had he been cursed by the Monkey God?

The team focused in on one valley that was isolated and difficult to access easily on foot. They were going to bring new technology to the search by borrowing what is called a lidar machine. It shoots thousands of lasers at the jungle floor from a plane. It records the reflections that bounce off the objects on the ground. The software eliminates leaves, trees, and any other objects that are not part of, hopefully, the man made structures hidden beneath the canopy.

All hell broke loose over the use of this technology. The academic world, outside of the normal petty jealousies, suspicion of success, and paranoias that afflict all centers of higher learning, seemed to be more offended by the use of this technology, as if the expedition were cheating by using it.

See, the problem was the lidar mapping found not one large site of manmade structures, but two. The irrational feeling that they didn’t deserve these finds because they didn’t outfit an overland mission that went blindly slashing through the jungle hoping to stumble upon something interesting, and the fact they didn’t lose about a third of their party to disease, snakebit, and jaguar attack in the process, is frankly ludicrous.

I do have to admit it does take some of the romance out of the whole swashbuckling archaeologist image that I grew up with. The cities were still there unmolested because no one had been able to penetrate the jungle effectively to find them.

Despite being able to drop into the site with a helicopter, and despite having better gear than what most explorers can haul into the jungle in the traditional overland expedition, the group still experienced difficulties with, to name a few, sand fleas, torrential rain, and snakes. Let me share a bit about one particular snake that kept turning up over and over again in the ruins of this civilization.

”The fer-de-lance, he said, is known in these parts as the barba amarilla (Yellow Beard). Herpetologists consider it the ultimate pit viper. It kills more people in the New World than any other snake. It comes out at night and is attracted to people and activity. It is aggressive, irritable, and fast. Its fangs have been observed to squirt venom for more than six feet, and they can penetrate even the thickest leather boot. Sometimes it will strike and then pursue and strike again. It often leaps upward as it strikes, hitting above the knee. The venom is deadly; if it doesn’t kill you outright through a brain hemorrhage, it may very well kill you later through sepsis. If you survive, the limb that was struck often has to be amputated, due to the necrotizing nature of the poison.”

*Shudder* #reason number one why I don’t go into the Honduran jungle.

So why did this civilization abruptly disappear at around 1500? Preston pulls together some pretty good theories regarding that event. Some are based on the greed of the rulers doing to their civilization the same thing that the rich and powerful are currently doing to the United States. Unmitigated greed makes even the most robust economies vulnerable to a similar collapse. The celebrated author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond, has some wonderful examples, and Preston shares that wisdom with us, as well. The one that I found most interesting points to a celebrated event that happened in 1492 when Christopher Columbus “discovered” America.

The foreigners came and ”withered the flowers.”

Preston includes a wonderful chart that show the catastrophic effect of native populations making contact with the disease ridden crews of the Columbus exploration mission. ”What would a 90 percent mortality rate mean to the survivors and their society? It does not just kill people; it annihilates societies; it destroys languages, religions, histories, and cultures. It chokes off the transmission of knowledge from one generation to the next. The survivors are deprived of that vital human connection to their past; they are robbed of their stories, their music and dance, their spiritual practices and beliefs--they are stripped of their very identity.”

There is no proof that the diseases that killed so much of the indigenous population of the Americas was also the culprit that killed the civilization of the Monkey God, but the timing does make it a valid consideration. It was unavoidable that the Old World would meet the New World, so it was just more a matter of when.

The Monkey God expedition members returned to their regular life, relieved that they did not come down with any major diseases; the bites and rashes that they all suffered from disappeared, but then weeks later over half the group had a sore appear that would not heal. It became a miniature volcano. After much deliberation by doctors and contagious disease specialists, they determined that they had come down with leishmaniasis. Among the half that came down with this frankly disgusting and alarmingly difficult disease to contain was Douglas Preston. It is called white leprosy if that gives you any indication of what it does to the body once it gains enough control of your immune system.

The curse of the Monkey god?

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My signed copy of the book also came with a signed postcard of the author in the mosquitia jungle. Ephemeria is always fun for a collector.

I just finished reading The Lost City of Z, set in the Amazon, a few days ago, and it seemed a perfect pairing to read a similar book about another lost city further north in Central America. Any thoughts of chucking my rather pedestrian job as circulation manager/owner of a farm publication and joining a jungle expedition have been firmly squashed like a blood bloated flea beneath the tread of a kevlar boot. Not to mention, even the thought of tangling with one of those damn Fer-De-Lance snakes makes me break out in hives. I am a firm believer in doing my jungle travelling from the safety of my favorite reading chair.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com I also have a Facebook blogger page at: https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten

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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Boy on the Bridge By: M.R. Carey

The Boy on the BridgeThe Boy on the Bridge by M.R. Carey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't really like zombie apocolypse type tales, it is mostly my view, as there are many great stories in the genre. I really liked the companion book to this, The girl with all the gifts, as this is a prequel.

I loved the facts that both books focused and built alot on the characters, showing the humanity in a world that was fast losing its grip on it. That to me, is the main enjoyment...not your typical take on the zombie genre.

If you liked the first book, you will like this book, that underlying current of hope in the story makes it worthwhile.

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Monday, May 8, 2017

A Bad Man Doing Bad Stuff For Good Reasons

The Hunter (Parker, #1)The Hunter by Richard Stark
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Parker is a BAAAD man! Actually, a better descriptive would be "dick". Parker is a dick. I don't remember the last time I met a main character this reprehensible...Perhaps Humbert Humbert from Lolita, but he was more of a perverted douche.

Now, that's not to say Parker doesn't have his reasons for committing various murders and beating his wife to the point of torture. He was double crossed, after all. Of course, this happened during a heist in which he planned to do the double crossing. See what I mean? Dick.

If you're looking for gritty crime set in a nasty underworld, The Hunter a good place to look. If you're looking for top-shelf writing, look elsewhere. If you want action and bad guys getting their comeuppance, look no further.


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Sunday, May 7, 2017

After I'm Gone

After I'm GoneAfter I'm Gone by Laura Lippman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When small time gangster Felix Brewer fled Baltimore in 1976 to escape jail time, he left his family and his mistress in the lurch. When his mistress went missing ten years later, everyone assumed she'd gone to live with him in hiding... until her body was discovered years later. Now Roberto "Sandy" Sanchez, a consulting detective, is on the cold case. Can he find what happened to Felix Brewer and who killed his mistress?

I've read a couple of Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan mysteries and decided to give this standalone a shot when it showed up in my BookGorilla email one day.

While there is a murder mystery, After I'm Gone is more about what happens to the people left behind. Felix Brewer left a wife, three daughters, and a mistress behind when he fled for parts unknown in 1976.

The story is told in several threads, chronicling Felix's days before he ran, Bambi Brewer and her girls as time went on, and Sandy Sanchez, trying to figure out what happened to Julie between her disappearance in 1986 to when her body was discovered years later. Sandy doesn't have much going for him besides his job, an aging detective who gets seduced by a photo of Julie from the 1970's.

Bambi and the girls are varying degrees of messed up after Felix ran out on them. Watching the train wrecks their lives become was grimly fascinating. I was actually surprised at how Michelle matured through the course of the book. I didn't guess Julie's killer until Bambi handed the answer to me. The whole Brewer family seemed like likely suspects.

While it was more straight up fiction than the murder mystery I expected, I still enjoyed After I'm Gone quite a bit, particularly the last 20%. The destination was well worth the journey. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, May 5, 2017

Her Majesty's Men


Marquesate
Camouflage Press
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars



Summary



Her Majesty's Men is the story of two soldiers in the British Forces and of a friendship taking unexpected turns. In the eyes of the Army they are just two mates who are close. But from the revelation of personal secrets, ensuing hatred and aggression, through terror and danger, to loyalty, triumphant strength and courage, grows their own realisation of what they are: comrades first and foremost, but something else too, something more significant. The two Royal Engineers, Sgt Tom Warren and SSgt Alex Turner, learn to understand the real meaning of loyalty and strength. Their fight for survival cuts through all the discipline and rules, to tie them together in a unique bond of companionship and trust.



My Review



This is the story of two British solders, Alex Turner and Tom Warren, who are comrades, best friends, and eventually, lovers. Though Tom is discreet about his sexuality, he trusts his friend enough to come out to him. Unfortunately, Alex reacts harshly, putting a temporary strain on their friendship. Alex's behavior sucked, Tom’s crush on Alex bordered on obsessive, and the short sentences and terse dialogue didn't appeal. The Britishisms I expected were largely absent, so Alex and Tom could have been American solders as well. I nearly set the book aside for something else, but glad I continued.

The story improved significantly later on as aspects of Alex's past are revealed and the tension ramps up when Alex and Tom are on a mission and put in life-threatening situations. I'm not a huge fan of “gay for you,” but this was well done and very believable. Alex gradually explores his own sexuality and growing feelings for Tom and becomes a much more likable character. There are a number of explicit violent scenes, but these did not feel gratuitous. They added tension, excitement and gave the guys an opportunity to display their courage, bravery and sacrifice. Their lovemaking was brutal and passionate.

I liked how the story took place over a period of years, keeping it from feeling “insta-lovey” and allowing both characters to heal from their physical and emotional wounds. It was easy to feel the men’s strong connection and deep care and respect they had for each other, which can be hard to accomplish in a short story.

The brief glimpse of the women in the men’s lives (Tom’s sister and two daughters and Alex’s ex-wife) was not an unwelcome interlude and added a touch of sweetness, but felt a little tacked on and unnecessary.

Despite the minor flaws, this was a very solid and enjoyable military romance.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

THE LOST CITY OF Z BY DAVID GRANN

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the AmazonThe Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”How easily the Amazon can deceive.

It begins as barely a rivulet, this, the mightiest river in the world, mightier than the Nile and the Ganges, mightier than the Mississippi and all the rivers in China. Over eighteen thousand feet high in the Andes, amid snow and clouds, it emerges through a rocky seam--a trickle of crystal water.”


By the time it reaches the ocean, the estuary of the Amazon river at the mouth is 202 miles wide. A trickle becomes one of the mightiest forces on the planet.

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Colonel Percy Fawcett, the legend that launched a thousand explorers.

Candice Millard, in her book about Theodore Roosevelt’s trip through the Amazon, summed it up nicely: ”The rainforest was not a garden of easy abundance, but precisely the opposite. Its quiet, shaded halls of leafy opulence were not a sanctuary, but rather the greatest natural battlefield on the planet, hosting an unremitting and remorseless fight for survival that occupied every single one of its inhabitants, every minute of every day.”

David Grann, the author, became fascinated with Colonel Percy Fawcett after he stumbled upon a treasure trove of his journals. He wasn’t alone. Thousands have also found his story fascinating; hundreds have been so inspired by him as to go into the Amazonian jungle in search of him, their heads dancing with visions of being the next Henry Morton Stanley to find a famous missing explorer.

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There are as many visions of what El Dorado looks like as there are explorers to look for it.

On his final journey to the Amazon in 1925, Fawcett was determined to finally find El Dorado, or the City of Z as he liked to call it, but he…disappeared without a trace.

Not that it is difficult to disappear in a jungle as dangerous as the Amazon. Everything from the most microscopic insect to infections to pumas are trying to kill you, not to mention the local tribesmen who may think you are interesting enough to let live or even more interesting to roast on a spit. There was one description that made me shiver: ”Espundia, an illness with even more frightening symptoms. Caused by a parasite transmitted by sand flies, it destroys the flesh around the mouth, nose, and limbs, as if the person were slowly dissolving. ‘It develops into...a mass of leprous corruption.’”

So why do Amazonian explorers insist on trying to conquer such an inhospitable place?

Because it is there.

But also because there are people who feel an itch so intense that they have to go somewhere as far away from people as possible. ”Indeed, some might say that explorers become explorers precisely because they have a streak of unsociability and a need to remove themselves at regular intervals as far as possible from their fellow men.” I resemble that comment, but my solution is less glamorous. I’m more likely to descend into the bowels of my library and let my books take me to Istanbul, Manchu Picchu, Gettysburg, or even, yes, to places as inhospitable as the Amazon. I can navigate the river without coming down with some hideous infection or being drained dry by a vampire bat because my arm flopped outside the netting in the middle of the night or feel the sting of a poisonous arrow puncturing my neck. My martini stays dry and at the proper temperature, too.

Besides the desire for discovery, Fawcett was fortunate to have an iron constitution. While other members of his party were dropping like flies from a host of illnesses or injuries, he just marched on. He lost several key years to the trenches of WW1, and when he emerged from the war to start finding funding for his final trip, he discovered that his patron, the Royal Geological Society, was broke. He had to find financing elsewhere. America beckoned.

Fawcett believed in small parties rather than large, heavily armed parties for exploring the Amazon. He had a rule that I think said a lot about his character, but also about his depth of wisdom. ”Die if you must, but never kill.” Unlike other European and American explorers, he was not in love with his guns. He was there to explore and discover, not conquer.

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Percy’s son Jack Fawcett looking very fit for his venture into the jungle.

Decades after his final dispatch from the jungle, Fawcett’s wife and remaining family (he took his teenage son Jack with him) continued to believe that one day he would emerge from the jungle with a tale so epic that only Homer could tell it properly. Grann, too, like so many others before him, became infatuated with what became of Fawcett. He is not made in the same mold as Fawcett, or really any explorer. He is short, pudgy, and not athletic, but he is helped by some modern conveniences that Fawcett would have snickered at the prospect of using. If you so dare, strap on your machete and hack your way through the Amazon with Fawcett, and see if the jungle will eat you or make you into a legend.

”Those whom the Gods intend to destroy they first make mad!”

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The movie was released April 17th, 2017. I have not had a chance to watch it yet.

As a companion volume, I would recommend reading Candace Millard’s equally fascinating book The River of Doubt.

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Justice League of America's Vibe, Vol. 1: Breach

Justice League of America's Vibe, Vol. 1: BreachJustice League of America's Vibe, Vol. 1: Breach by Geoff Johns
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cisco Ramon also known as Vibe gained amazing abilities and this is his origin story.
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I literally only read this because of Cisco's portrayal in The Flash.
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If not for this portrayal, I imagine I would have never even known about Vibe. Cisco despite being different than his TV counterpart is still a really likeable character. Incredibly kind hearted, but not nearly as goofy. His origin story is the basic one for superheroes. An accident happened that gifted a teen with powers to help him protect the Earth. Unfortunately gaining his powers caused him to lose his oldest brother Armando.

The first two-thirds of this story was really enjoyable. Cisco was using his powers and gaining fame thanks to A.R.G.U.S. putting him on their Justice League team.
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Cisco took his job seriously and did his best. Unfortunately the last third got into some weird mainly side story that derailed the great direction the story was traveling in. If not for the last third of the story I give this 4 stars without a doubt.

Vibe is an interesting title and I'd definitely read any other adventures of Cisco Ramon.

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Monday, May 1, 2017

The History of D Company During WWII

Dog Company: The Boys of Pointe du Hoc--the Rangers Who Accomplished D-Day's Toughest Mission and Led the Way across EuropeDog Company: The Boys of Pointe du Hoc--the Rangers Who Accomplished D-Day's Toughest Mission and Led the Way across Europe by Patrick K. O'Donnell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wants to be Band of Brothers and doesn't quite get there.

First off, I have the greatest respect for what these soldiers went through. It's because of that respect that I give my honest opinion of this book. Those who served in WWII deserve recognition for all they did. The men of Dog Company deserve a better book than Dog Company: The Boys of Pointe du Hoc--the Rangers Who Accomplished D-Day's Toughest Mission and Led the Way across Europe .

That's not to say this is a bad book. However, the legacy of Dog Company could have been better preserved. The writing herein is at times mediocre. Most of the time it's adequate.

The lay-out of the story is what suffers the most. O'Donnell repeatedly points to Pointe du Hoc as the pinnacle of Dog Company's accomplishments during the war. REPEATEDLY. And then he describes the Pointe du Hoc event in the middle of the book and then goes on to tell the reader what D Company did for the rest of the war in Europe. Putting the climax in the middle of the book makes for a second half that drags. It seems like O'Donnell was stuck in the linear storytelling mindset and didn't know how to tell the tale otherwise.

His characterization falls short of Band of Brothers as well. I didn't get the sense that I really knew these guys. O'Donnell tried to make them feel like old friends, but it never clicked.

However, the subject matter itself provided the bond needed to make one feel heartbreak upon reading of the death of one of these valiant soldiers. It truly was an amazingly horrific time in recent history. If nothing else, Dog Company is yet another testament to the valor and horror.

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