Monday, July 31, 2017

The Witness for the Prosecution

The Witness for the Prosecution: A Short StoryThe Witness for the Prosecution: A Short Story by Agatha Christie
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wait...what?! Dang it! I've been duped again!

A man accused of murdering an old woman for her money must rely upon his wife to set him free. Seems simple enough until it's discovered that the wife is not so reliable.

This is one of those stories that plays well with modern readers with its twists aplenty. Highly recommended for all, especially mystery lovers looking for a quick fix!

View all my reviews

A Spot of Murder

Clouds of Witness (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, #2)Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey's family is neck-deep in the soup...the murder soup! (Most delicious!)

The police aren't much help, so with the help of his friend, Chief Inspector Detective Guy Man And Other Words Charles Parker, Wimsey attempts to solve a devilishly difficult case involving his brother, sister and sundry others related and not.

This is all very hoity–toity, upper English society stuff where a spot of murder is nothing next to the accusation of cheating at cards. Bunch of silly asses, if you ask me, but there you have it!

Dorothy Sayers (no relation to Gale, that I know of) was a P.G. Wodehouse fan and her mysteries are very Wodehousian. It's sort of like reading a book in which Bertie and Jeeves solve a murder, so this is right up my alley!

Highly recommended for Agatha Christie fans looking for slightly better developed characters and more of a sense of fun.

View all my reviews

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Trespasser

The Trespasser (Dublin Murder Squad #6)The Trespasser by Tana French
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When a pretty young woman winds up murdered, detectives Conway and Moran catch the case. Her boyfriend looks like a slam-dunk for it but why are they being rushed to book him? And why does Conway think she's met the vic before? Can Conway and Moran get the killer behind bars before the case eats them alive?

Antoinette Conway, second banana from The Secret Place takes center stage in this one. Conway, the odd (wo)man out on the Dublin Murder Squad, trusts no one and suspects everyone. From her tortured past to her tortured present, she may be one of the most complex French leads yet. Her relationship with Stephen Moran, her partner, Detective Breslin, the senior D shadowing them, and her absent father drive the tale.

Tana French's writing is as rich as every but flows really well. Unlike a lot of literary-leaning works, I never once thought the writing didn't serve the story. The style was accessible and went down like moderately-priced wine.

The plot seemed straight-forward. While I knew it couldn't be as simple as it initially appeared, French had me doubting myself quite a bit. Every twist exposed new wrinkles in the case, making the book really hard to set aside. There was one twist I should have seen coming half a mile away but I ran into it like a station wagon plowing a deer.

The last 25% was maddening! I looked around at my co-workers wondering how in the hell they could be so calm with all the shit going down! The last fifty pages or so were pure torture. Everyone was in shit up to his or her neck and I thought the whole squad might go up in flames.

The ending was the dog's breakfast I knew it would be, just like most Tana French books. While it wasn't happily ever after, life goes on with the Dublin Murder Squad. Five out of five stars.

View all my reviews

Friday, July 28, 2017

Cherry Pop Valentine

Debbie McGowan
Beaten Track Publishing
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars


Their band’s new single is due to be released in four days’ time and lovers Sven and Flavier are beyond excited. It’s tipped to be a big hit, and Flav can’t wait to see the online reaction to the promo film he’s made.

But when he joins Sven in bed, he couldn’t even begin to imagine the fallout that will ensue when he awakes, and all his dreams are shattered with just one click of an upload button.

Can he fix the damage caused by that one careless click or will he be condemned to endure Valentine’s Day alone?

My Review

Sven and Flavier are bandmates and have been lovers for 10 years. Sven is experienced both behind the camera and in front of it. He’s a sharp dresser, lead singer, and has a secret talent that is now known to the 12,000 people who viewed a private video Flavier accidentally uploaded in place of their band’s promo video.

Will this disaster be the end of their relationship?

I don’t often read stories about established couples and found this one to be unique and refreshing. It’s a short story, so we are not given an extensive background of Sven’s and Flavier’s relationship before or after the incident. In spite of the lack of details, the deep love Sven and Flavier have for each other is clearly evident and the hurt, pain and regret felt by Flavier is heartbreaking.

Nicely written, sad, sweet, and very erotic. I just wish it were a little longer.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

A Reaper of Stone

A Reaper of Stone (A Reaper of Stone #1)A Reaper of Stone by Mark Gelineau
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Elinor is one of the King's Reapers. Her duty is to destroy the old and usher in the new. Most specifically for the changeover of property when a noble line has ended. Elinor finds herself in the position to do what's easy or do what's right.

A Reaper of Stone is the first short story of a much larger series Echoes of the Ascended. I, not understanding that series was split into bite size bits, had already read some of the stories farther along in the series and now I'm getting back to the beginning.

A Reaper of Stone is a good short story, but it feels more like a novella in the middle of two larger novels. The story drops the reader in with little explanation on anything really. Even after reading the description and the story I couldn't completely explain what a reaper is or any of the many other things just mentioned in the story.

Despite being unaware of a great many things I enjoyed the character development of Elinor. Elinor is an orphan that joined the academy. Unfortunately most at the academy were nobles that despised the fact that an orphan could join their ranks. As is to be expected Elinor has been forced to endure ridicule and much worse because of her orphan background. Now as an adult and an officer of the King, little has changed in the way nobles and those who serve them treat Elinor.

A Reaper of Stone has rekindled my interest in the Echoes of the Ascended series. Though I do hope all the stories aren't as small and lacking explanation.

3.5 out of 5 stars

View all my reviews

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


Burning Cold (Cara Walden Mystery #2)Burning Cold by Lisa Lieberman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”Lost souls, all of them.

We were there in 1956, when the Soviets came back crushed the Hungarian revolution. Fleeing the country in a borrowed Skoda sedan the color of dried blood, we passed scores of refugees escaping to the West. Some rode in carts piled with belongings but most walked, carrying a suitcase or two, small children trudging alongside the adults on the muddy roads. Hungarians held no illusions about their fate when order was restored. They’d been ‘liberated’ once before by the Russian Army.”

 photo Budapest201956_zpsrmdfaqoz.jpg
This is the way the city of Budapest looked when the Walden’s arrived.

When the actress Cara Walden discovers that she has a half brother in Hungary, she drops everything, including her honeymoon--or should I say her honeymoon gets relocated to war torn Budapest?--to go find her brother in the middle of a chaotic revolution. Jakub, her new husband, is not only on board with this crazy mission, but as it turns out, he is more gung-ho than Cara wants him to be. Not to be left behind, her older brother Gray also accompanies them on this wild adventure in what they hope is a lull in the fighting before the Soviets return. Can they find their brother before the Soviets regroup and attempt to crush the rebellion? Will Cara be longing for the safe confines of a movie set, or will she be able to make a difference that will be something bigger than anything she has done before?

Lisa Lieberman, whom I have dubbed the Queen of the Hollywood Noir, brings to life Hollywood of the 1950s. This is the second book in what I hope will be a long running series of mysteries featuring Cara Walden. Lisa has graciously agreed to answer a few questions that were on my mind after reading the book.

Jeffrey Keeten: I like the way you drop the titles of books into your mysteries. You mentioned a book I’m very fond of, New Grub Street by George Gissing, and also the author George Orwell. A Dante quote actually becomes integral to the plot in Burning Cold. The main character, Cara’s older brother Gray, seems particularly, precociously, well read. From what I’ve read, actors from this time period were voracious readers. For me, books and life are inseparable. I get the impression that you, as well as your characters, feel the same way?

Lisa Lieberman: I was once waiting for a train, back in my high school days. I was sitting on a bench in the station, reading Agatha Christie and trying to ignore two boys nearby who were talking about girls. It was not an enlightened conversation. “What about her?” one of them said, indicating me. The other, who seemed to be the more expert of the two, dismissed me in two words: “too intelligent.”

My characters exist in a world where nobody would ever say that — a world very much like Goodreads, now that I think of it. That Dante quotation you mention, I found it because I joined a Group Read of The Divine Comedy. For months, I had the Clive James translation on my Kindle, always available should I need to kill time in the dentist’s chair or while waiting to pick up my daughter from tennis practice.

Primo Levi has a chapter in his last book, The Drowned and the Saved, about what it meant to be an intellectual in Auschwitz. He did not have the consolations of a religious believer; prayer was no use to him. “Culture was useful to me,” he wrote. The memory of books he had read as a student before the war brought him solace in Auschwitz. Dante, most of all. He’d memorized vast portions of The Inferno in his classical high school and would recite passages to his fellow inmates. These efforts “made it possible for me to re-establish a link with the past,” he wrote, “saving it from oblivion and reinforcing my identity.”

I gave that to Zoltán (Cara and Gray’s long lost Hungarian brother), who’d survived the brutal penal camps of the Stalinist Rákosi regime. Prisoners really did recite poetry to one another, to keep their spirits alive. I discovered this while researching Stalin’s Boots, a nonfiction essay I published on the failed 1956 revolution. They created a sort of university in their cells at night, the educated inmates sharing their knowledge with their fellow prisoners from the working-class. Here’s how Cara came to understand what it meant, having Dante’s words in prison:

Abandon hope, all who enter here. The dreadful inscription that Dante placed on the gates of Hell. Zoltán had brought the poet’s unflinching vision into the darkness of Recsk to remind his fellow prisoners of the terrible beautiful pain of being alive, and that may very well have been what saved them. “Even a nightmare can be endured, if you are given the words to describe it,” I suggested.

JK: “Marlene Dietrich sashayed into the room wearing a man’s suit that made her look anything but boyish.” Dietrich is essential to any Hollywood Noir story so I was glad to see her making a cameo in your book. Which Hollywood icon can we look forward to seeing in your next book? (Dietrich has been quoted as saying that she dumped John Wayne because he didn’t read. My kind of girl!)

LL: The next book is set in Vietnam in 1957, during the filming of the Joseph Mankiewicz version of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. (Greene seems to be my co-pilot these days. Burning Cold builds off the Carol Read film of The Third Man, and I’m planning on taking the crew to Cuba next, à la Our Man in Havana.) But, getting back to Hollywood icons, Audie Murphy starred in the Mankiewicz film, and you wouldn’t believe the shenanigans that went on behind the scenes in Saigon.

JK: I’ve always had a fondness for the marriage of Nick and Nora Charles. Novels of the hardboiled variety seem to focus on the divorced, the bitter, and the miserable so I must say it was a breath of fresh air for me to see a couple in this type of novel who are crazy about each other. I do know they are in the lust more than the love phase of their relationship, but it feels like their relationship will play a big part in future novels. How do you see this relationship growing over the series?

LL: I recently watched The Thin Man and was shocked by how much Nick and Nora drank! Dashiell Hammett is reported to have said, when asked about his hobbies, "Let's see, I drink a lot." Cocktails aside, I love the banter between those two while they’re solving crimes. I love French caper movies, with their sexual frisson. All those depressed middle-aged guys with an attitude and a drinking problem get tiresome after awhile. I promise banter and lust as Cara and Jakub settle into married life while continuing to venture together into dangerous places.

JK: You have done extensive research on Hungary. Do you have special ties to that country?

LL: Actually, I do, but I wasn’t aware of this when I was writing Burning Cold. I knew that my father’s family had emigrated to America from some remote part of the Austro-Hungarian empire at the end of the nineteenth century, but the Dual Monarchy, as it was called, was so vast. Also, Jews moved around a lot, and nobody knew exactly where the family lived. But recently, some Lieberman cousin has done genealogical research and found the ship’s records for our paternal grandfather, whose last place of residence turns out to have been a town in the borderlands of eastern Hungary and Ukraine — an area not far from the Tokaj wine region where I’d decided, on a whim, that Cara’s father was born.

In fact, it was pretty random, making Robbie Hungarian. There were quite a few Hungarian expatriates in Hollywood during the golden age, actors like Bela Lugosi and Peter Lorre, and two of my favorite directors, Michael Curtiz and George Cukor. I guess it was a kind of tribute, putting Robbie in that crowd, but he was well-assimilated. He’d changed his name from Roby Szabó to Robbie Walden and buried the past. His origins were immaterial in All the Wrong Places. There was no reason to think that Hungary would figure in a future book.

Then I started writing a nonfiction piece on the failed 1956 revolution and found myself getting drawn into the tragedy of the events. Next thing I knew, I was trying to figure out what would bring Cara to Budapest in the middle of a revolution. I’d already established that Robbie didn’t practice monogamy. Cara and her brother Gray were the products of different dalliances, and there’d been other women in between. What if Robbie had fathered a son back in Hungary? Zoltán would be close to forty by the time of the 1956 uprising. I imagined him as a purist sort who’d run afoul of the Communist regime. Now he’s one of the leaders of the rebellion, unlikely to survive the street battles, given his unwillingness to keep his head down. What if Gray and Cara learn of his existence and decide to go in during the lull in the fighting to bring him out before the Soviets came back? Once I came up with the idea of modeling the story on the movie The Third Man (produced by Alexander Korda, another non-monogamous expatriate Hungarian!), I was thoroughly committed. But who knew that I’d be tracing my own family history when my characters wound up in that border town in Tokaj? I chose it simply because I liked the name, Mád [pronounced Mard]. “We’d be mad to go there,” Gray says at one point. “Mard,” Cara corrects him.

JK: Movies have always been a great solace to me, and sometimes it isn’t the traditional great movies that I slide into the Blu Ray player to help me chase the blues away. The 13th Warrior, Before Sunrise, and To Have and Have Not are three movies I can think of off the top of my head that swing my mood in a positive direction. If things are really dire, it might take a Thin Man marathon. Since you are the Queen of Hollywood Noir can you share with us the five essential Lieberman movies that help you chase away the blues?

LL: Numero uno is Singin’ in the Rain, closely followed by Yankee Doodle Dandy. Generally, I need rousing song and dance numbers to cheer me up, but on those occasions when I want to wallow in it, there’s always A Star is Born. Poor Judy Garland. Two other sure-fire remedies, one with fizz (and Garbo), Ninotchka, and for pure catharsis, nothing beats a James Bond car chase with gadgets Goldfinger Car Chase Scene or ski chase The Spy Who Loved Me Ski Chase Scene.

JK: I know that you went away from a traditional publisher and self-published this book. More and more writers are going that route. I get emails from writers all the time complaining about the lack of support or marketing from publishers. They find they are doing most of the work anyway to promote their books, so why not take the next step and publish their book as well. Could you share with us some of your experiences with the process?

LL: I’d still be traditionally published if Five Star hadn’t dropped their mystery line in 2016, just as I was putting the finishing touches on this book. It’s very difficult to change publishers mid-series, but there are so many resources available to indie authors these days, and I’m finding that I like having everything under my own control. My standards are pretty high, and I don’t like how publishers are cutting corners. I hired first-class editors and was fortunate in being able to use the same production team to format the manuscript and design the cover — I loved the noir look of All the Wrong Places and wanted to keep the “brand.” I even treated myself to a glamorous new headshot.

As for publicity, my rule is that I have to enjoy what I’m doing for its own sake, and I’ve come up with some creative marketing strategies, such as lecturing about classic movies on a luxury cruise liner (I got a free trip to Asia, to scope out Vietnam for the third Cara Walden mystery, and brought my bridge game up to snuff). The mystery writing community is very supportive. My membership in Sisters in Crime gets me into public libraries to speak about writing with fellow mystery authors, and I’ll be on panels at some upcoming conferences this fall, including Bouchercon, the big mystery convention, which is in Toronto this year, a fun place to visit (I’m bringing my husband along).

 photo LIsa20Lieberman_zps5kqsd8nx.jpg
Lisa Lieberman looking 1950s glam.

JK: Since your novel takes place in the 1950s, I’ll ask yet another movie question. What five films from the 1950s are Lieberman essentials?

LL: The fifties was such a great decade, film-wise, I had a hard time narrowing it down to just five, but since you insist, I’ve come up with one Fellini film, Nights of Cabiria (1957), starring the magnificent Giulietta Masina; Billy Wilder’s noir masterpiece, Sunset Boulevard (1950); and three from France because I am, after all, a French historian: Bob le Flambeur (1956), a hip gangster film by Resistance-hero-turned-filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville (Melville was his nom de guerre and, by the way, you have to pronounce Bob the way the French do, “Bub,” as opposed to "Bahb," which is how we Americans say it); The 400 Blows (1959), still Truffaut’s best film, as far as I’m concerned; and The Earrings of Madame de… (1953) by Max Ophuls, a historical drama that is sheer perfection.

Burning Cold will be out September 12th in paperback and ebook. Lisa is giving away twenty copies of the first Cara Walden mystery, All the Wrong Places, in advance of the launch. Sign up to win a free copy at Passport Press

All the Wrong Places Review

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:

View all my reviews

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Godblind By: Anna Stephens

GodblindGodblind by Anna Stephens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

WOW, the ladies are busting out with the SERIOUS, BRUTAL grimdark as hell tales, Godblind is a ripping, bloodsoaked dark fantasy that honestly..leans a bit to me, to the classic old school fantasy.

The characters are well developed, the world is cool, the action is sharp and bloody and brutal. I dug every page of this, sometimes the world reminded me of the old Conan novels, I have been a big fantasy rip lately and this hit all the highspots for my jaded mind.

If you like your fantasy so raw you need a crime cleanup unit after, check this out.

View all my reviews

Spoonbenders By: Daryl Gregory

SpoonbendersSpoonbenders by Daryl Gregory
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Daryl Gregory outdid himself with Spoonbenders, I read this in one sitting. A huge ton of fun to read, great characters, fast paced story, wonderful premise.

I am getting really slow with my reading, but I picked this up after reading the blurb and on the strength of Mr. Gregory's previous book, Afterparty.

If you like smart, kinda sorta urban fantasy (maybe?) check this out...

View all my reviews

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Past is Now!

It Can't Happen HereIt Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It can. It is.

This book is the Nostradamus of our political past, present and potential future.

Check out GoodReads' stats for It Can't Happen Here:

If you're viewing those stats in the future, when the graph no longer covers as far back as 11/8/2016, you will have missed the HUGE spike in activity on this site for this book. Prior to the momentous astounding absolutely fucking unbelievable election of 11/9/2016, interest in this book was hauling in pedestrian numbers, being shelved as to-be-read around 8 to 12 times a day on average. The day Trump was elected it shot up to 174 and has remained in the dozens, if not hundreds, ever since.

Why? Because It Can't Happen Here, a book written in 1935, parallels almost precisely what is happening right now. At times it's eerily similar. Political tactics, attitudes, slogans, etc etc, so much of it mirrors what is being said and done here and now, on both sides of the left/right coin.

You know all about it already, so why read the book, right? I mean, after all you're living it. Well, perhaps your eyes aren't as open as you think they are. In fact, that's a big part of the problem. So, open them up and read this book...before it gets burned.

View all my reviews

The Sultan and the Queen

The Sultan and the Queen: The Untold Story of Elizabeth and IslamThe Sultan and the Queen: The Untold Story of Elizabeth and Islam by Jerry Brotton
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you hadn't heard, America and the Islamic world haven't been getting along too well lately. Whenever something like that happens it makes me want to learn more about "the other side," whatever that may entail. So, with that in mind, I recently read The Sultan and the Queen.

I was quite unaware of the connection between Elizabethan England and Islam. I suppose if I were English, reading Jerry Brotton's book would feel like opening a door to a backyard you didn't know existed.

The setting is this: Queen Elizabeth has followed in her father, King Henry VIII's footsteps, pushing on with the Protestant thing, much to the chagrin of Catholic Europe. This means that round about the mid to late 16th century England didn't have many European friends. In an effort to increase trade and stockpile allies, QE1 sent off envoys to the Mediterranean from Turkey to Morocco in search of new pals. Well, honestly, she just wanted a someone with a bit of money and power to stick a thumb in Spain's eye, so that the impending Spanish invasion of England might fail.

Fail it did, but mostly for other reasons. The Ottoman Empire was reluctant to enter into any agreements with a small, weak nation essentially on the other side of the world. Morocco was generally down with it though, and that might've hampered Spain's domination somewhat.

Anywho, you get plenty of this sort of thing and many other "fun" facts in The Sultan and the Queen. My sarcastic quotes there are because this is a texty history book about trade relations. That's only going to appeal to a certain kind of reader. I mean, I enjoyed least to a certain extent. It did drag on at times and so I found myself putting it down and moving on to other things all too readily.

I also found Brotton's tendency to linger on Shakespeare and Marlow's plays with Moors as the subject to be distracting and unnecessary. Yes, I'm sure historians are a bit pressed for examples of English/Ottoman relations and interactions, so relying on fiction of the period must be tempting, but it goes on too long, well beyond its usefulness. Time and again Brotton dives into the dissection of plays to the point where you wonder if that wasn't the book he really wanted to write.

It's all good reading, mind you. The writing is solid. It's just that the topic, and/or manipulation of the topic, is occasionally tedious. In the end, any boredom I felt in that regards is my own damn fault. I knew what I was getting myself in for. Hell, it's all right there in the title! So read that title and if it sounds good to you, then I highly recommend this!

Side Note: This book clears up that whole fallacy about Shakespeare and whether he wrote Othello among other things, because "how would an Englishman who never visited the Middle East know all those details about them?!" Well, he didn't need to visit such foreign lands. The foreigners came to him. Diplomats, especially from Morocco, were in London in the years prior to him (and Marlowe) writing such works.

I received this from Viking, but I don't accept freebie books from anyone unless they're aware that I'll give it an unbiased, honest review.

View all my reviews

Sunday, July 23, 2017


BlisterBlister by Jeff Strand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After an unfortunate incident, cartoonist Jason Tray goes to his agent's cabin to hide out for a while. In the company of some drunken locals, he spies on local legend Blister, a woman with a disfigured, burn-scarred face. The next morning, he returns to her father's house to apologize and they become friends, which a lot of people are strangely against...

Jeff Strand earned his spot on my 'read everything by' list with such gems as Wolf Hunt and Kumquat. This one has been on my radar for a long time.

Based on the setup, I thought this one would be a lot like Kumquat. While there are some similarities, they're different kinds of books. While this one is also an unlikely love story, it's also about secrets in small towns and what people will do to keep them hidden.

Jason and Rachel, aka Blister, share a lot of witty banter and I thought their relationship developed pretty realistically. Blister's backstory was pretty twisted, as were a lot of the things that followed.
Strand could have phoned in the supporting cast as a bunch of small town rubes but I thought their motivations made a lot of sense in the context of things.

Jeff Strand's writing reminds me of a more serious Christopher Moore, hilarious when it needs to be and pretty horrific when the situation warrants. I was scared for Jason when the shit finally went down. Also, I felt like a rube a couple times since there were a few twists I should have seen coming. I kept looking at how much of the book I had left, wondering how there was so much book left to read. And then Strand would kick me in the gonads.

Blister was everything I hoped it would be and more. It's criminal that Jeff Strand isn't selling crazy numbers of books. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

View all my reviews

Friday, July 21, 2017

See Right Through

Sara Winters
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars


Devin Salvo has always remained three steps ahead: in chess, on the pitch, and in his love life. His every desire is within arm's reach, except the one person Devin has always wished would be his in the end. All it takes is one conversation to open his eyes to a new possibility, one moment to change what Devin believes about friendship and love and one person to change the rules of the game.

Sam Marshall has been fighting his feelings for his friend and roommate for two years. When an opportunity presents itself, he makes his move, only to be faced with the very real fear that what he sees in Devin, the potential waiting to be realized, may be more than their friendship can handle.

My Review

Michael, Sam and Devin are roommates and best friends. Dev wants Michael, but Michael is straight. Michael feels strongly that Dev and Sam would be good together, but Dev vehemently disagrees. Sam quietly likes Devin even though Dev treats him like shit. Dev doesn’t care for their attractive neighbor and rugby teammate, Lee, because even though he doesn’t want Sam and can’t have Michael, he doesn’t want Lee to either.

Oh, the drama!

I knew that Sam would get his man in the end, and it was fun spending time with the guys while they’re playing rugby or chess, and during their long, soul-searching discussions while still managing to evade their feelings for each other.

As much as I enjoyed this story, I’m still not convinced Sam and Dev belong together and I don’t really have a desire to spend more time with these characters, except maybe Lee.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Age of Swords

Age of Swords (The Legends of the First Empire, #2)Age of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After the destruction of Dahl Rhen by the Fhrey, Persephone sets out to call a council of all Rhune Chieftains in order to appoint a keenig to lead them in the inevitable war with the Fhrey. When the council attempts to make Raithe the keenig he refuses. He believes the fight is unwinnable because of the Rhunes pitiful weapons. Persephone makes a pact with three Dwarves that's she's met to help them rid their home of a giant in exchange for Dherg swords and shields. Persephone and her party of women don't know the danger they've volunteered to defeat until they have no choice but to fight.

Age of Swords is the second book in The Legends of the First Empire series. If any fans of Riyria were worried they wouldn't like it, I'd have to say there is no reason for concern. Michael J. Sullivan tells a fresh tale about the heroes of that age while having many subtle tie-ins to the original series. The strength of storytelling along with the excellent characters make this story quite strong. Age of Swords is also much more of an ensemble cast lead by Persephone and Raithe while the original series revolved around Royce, Hadrian, and Arista. The book also utilizes a number of point of views characters.

The story is massive with multiple storylines going on with an overarching goal of trying to defeat the Fhrey in war. The task seems immense, but Persephone would die before she gives up. Persephone really takes charge and felt like the central character in Age of Swords. Her determination is truly remarkable.

There is so much I'd like to say about Age of Swords, but unfortunately there isn't much I can reveal with spoiling the story for others. Suffice to say Age of Swords is a strong sequel to Age of Myth.

4 out of 5 stars

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

View all my reviews

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


BurrBurr by Gore Vidal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”In the half-light of the cemetery, Burr did resemble the devil--assuming that the devil is no more than five foot six (an inch shorter than I), slender, with tiny feet (hooves?), high forehead (in the fading light I imagine vestigial horns), bald in front with hair piled high on his head, powdered absently in the old style, and held in place with a shell comb. Behind him is a monument to the man he murdered.”

 photo Aaron20Burr_zpsi4qwwjhl.jpg
Aaron Burr

Aaron Burr is, without a doubt, one of the most fascinating figures in American history. He cuts his own swath, leaving a wake behind him that rocks the tender foundations of this newly minted country. He is honorable and dishonorable in equal measure. He is a highly skilled lawyer (he will need those skills to defend himself) and an accomplished politician. Today, he is not as well known as Benedict Arnold, but in a series of events that are more lurid than the plot of a dime novel, he nearly supersedes Arnold as the most loathed man in America.

It is hard to believe that this controversial figure was nearly the third President of the United States. In 1800, one of those pivotal years in politics, Burr makes a deal with Thomas Jefferson to allow him to be president if he insures that Burr will be made vice president. Burr can bring the key New York votes to Jefferson. Interestingly enough, in the first ballot, they tie 73-73. With the way we venerate Jefferson (with a few reservations about his association with Sally Hemings), it is interesting to think about how close he comes to NOT being the third President of the United States. Really only because Burr upheld his promise, one of those times when Burr was maybe too honorable, did Jefferson achieve his ambition (though he insists in true Cincinnatus style that he never desired the Presidency).

The Aaron Burr of this story is really a surrogate for the wicked wit of Gore Vidal. I’d like to think that Burr was exactly how Vidal portrayed, the enigma of charm and enticing, irreverent behavior. His observations on the founding fathers is frankly hilarious. He describes George Washington’s ”womanly hips” and other aspects of his character that are even less flattering. What did he think of Jefferson? ”Meanwhile, I presided over the Senate. I also dined quite frequently with the President who continued to delight and fascinate me with his conversation, not to mention his wonderful malice which was positively Shakespearean in its variety.”

Or how about a description of an older Jefferson after two terms in the presidency.

”The smile was a swift baring of yellow teeth; the lips were gray tending to blue where most men are pink or red. I suppose it was the winter season that made him look like the last ashes of a once-fierce fire---soft, fine, white, no trace remaining of the foxy, red-haired man he had been save for the tarnished bronze of freckles.”

Ahh, yes, Mr. Vidal, you can most definitely write.

This story is told through the eyes of Charles Schuyler (not of the prominent New York Dutch family, unfortunately), a young writer who has been granted access to Burr because Burr has taken a shine to him. We learn in the later chapters exactly why Burr was so forthcoming with the young lad. Charles is there to listen to the Burr stories, write them down, and organize them into some semblance of a biography. Burr cautions the reader, or is that Vidal? ”My side of the story is not, necessarily, the accurate one. But you flatter me. And I like that!” Burr is in his 70s and has weathered more than his share of scandals. He is more interested in not being forgotten than he is in being venerated. Bad press will work as well or better than good press. Even on the social front, he is rather debonair about potential impropriety. ”Whenever a woman does me the honour of saying that I am father to her child, I gracefully acknowledge the compliment and disguise any suspicion that I might have to the contrary.”

A true gentleman, and yet; somehow still a cad!!!

 photo Aaron20Burr20Statue_zpskhfpygkh.jpg
I love this badass statue of Aaron Burr at the Museum of American Finance.

Vidal explores his growing conflict with Alexander Hamilton, which escalates under the spidery web of insinuations that Jefferson glibly whispers in the ears of those around him. Burr is defined by this brief moment in time, involving two pistol shots, leaving one mortally wounded and immortalized and the other disreputed and, in many measures, driven to more desperate acts when he finds himself on the run out West. Those actions lead to the term “treason” being associated with him, but really it is more about making him pay for the death of Hamilton.

Vidal also explores the spurious comments that were made about President Martin Van Buren’s parentage. Politics have certainly reached a new low with our most recent election, but have no delusions; there was mud slinging, eye gouging, malicious slander, ankle biting, and generally unseemly behavior from the very beginning of our country.

 photo Gore20Vidal-1972b_zps1opzgtff.jpg
Gore Vidal looking very dapper in 1972.

Vidal takes us behind the scenes and shows us a more tarnished view of the Founding Fathers. At times this book is irreverent, but under the guise of Burr’s memories, one does wonder if this isn’t closer to the truth than the idealized version of history we are spoon fed with the American flag draped over our shoulders and the Statue of Liberty sitting rather provocatively in our laps.

I chuckled. I giggled. I gasped. The book is serious though. I don’t want to leave people with the impression that it is farcical or a spoof. Vidal does his research. He considered adding the long list of sources that he read and consulted to write this book for he wanted to stay out of the range of the rabid politicos who would not necessarily appreciate his interpretations of history. He elected to let them say what they will in true Aaron Burr fashion. Highly Recommended to those that want to experience an alternative view of our venerated Founders.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:

View all my reviews

Monday, July 17, 2017

George Martin Side Dish

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms (The Tales of Dunk and Egg, #1-3)A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is just what I was looking for! Old timey, good-doer knights and squires doin' good in an old timey setting!

I had picked up a fantasy book a few weeks ago that I hoped would satiate my current reading desires, but alas no. So I turned to George R.R. Martin. He's always a good bet. I like his writing style and I'm familiar with the world he's built. Sure, there's such a small amount of fantasy in his work that, aside from mention of dragons in this particular book, it could almost be called historical fiction for its similarity to the York and Tudor War of the Roses back in the 15th century.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is a collection of three lengthy short stories that follow the adventures of a hedge knight and his squire. Any fan of the Song of Fire & Ice series will recognize many of the names dropped herein even though these stories are set about a hundred years prior.

So what you get are some fun action/adventure tales with a helping of Seven Kingdoms history. It's a well-balanced combination. Seldom was I inundated with one or bored with the other.

The stakes are high enough to make you care surprisingly deeply about the two main characters by the end of the book. There's good, solid tension through out. And yet, the stakes aren't "Save the World or Bust!!!" high, which is a nice departure from the epic fantasy of the day.

In summary, this is a very enjoyable distraction that will entertain the dickens out of Martin's fans!

View all my reviews

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Man Lies Dreaming

A Man Lies DreamingA Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the Auschwitz concentration camp, a former pulp writer named Shomer imagines a world where the Nazis never came to power and a certain dictator is a down and out private investigator named Wolf. Wolf is hired to find a woman named Judith Rubinstein, who may have been smuggled out of communist Germany. Can Wolf find Judith and figure out who is pulling the strings of his former allies?

I stumbled upon this book during my brief alternate history binge during what 2.0 called my Summer of Love. Since I dug The Bookman and HebrewPunk, I gave it a shot.

Grown from the same literary roots as The Man in the High Castle, A Man Lies Dreaming is a tale of what might have been, if the communists had risen to power in Germany in the 1930s instead of the Nazis.

Using Shomer as a framing device, Lavie Tidhar shows who Hitler might have become without power, a fearful, hateful, pathetic man with little direction. Parts of the tale are darkly funny, which makes sense since Shomer is dreaming the tale to forget about the horrors of Auschwitz.

I'm not sure why Wolf being a loser private detective in London works so well but it does. Wolf takes a more blows to the head than Lew Archer as he tries to track down Judith Rubinstein, making a lot of enemies in the process. Wolf is a slightly sympathetic lead until you remember how things went in real life. It's pretty satisfying to read the ass-kickings he takes and to see his impotent rage. Not to mention the kinky sex...

The books ends a little differently than I thought it would but it was still satisfying. Tidhar's copius research is apparent in the afterword, which I normally don't read. Thankfully, he doesn't suffer from the "work all research into the book" syndrome a lot of authors suffer from.

Lavie Tidhar has come a long way in the short time I've been aware of his work. A Man Lies Dreaming is both a great alternate history detective tale and a commentary on racism and the way we treat immigrants, something that sadly never goes out of style. Four out of five stars.

View all my reviews

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Salt of Your Tears

M. Caspian
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Three works of m/m erotica from M. Caspian

In His Skin: Harrison offers Dylan the world. All he asks in return is Dylan follow a few simple rules.

Asking For It: Cole was looking for one night of casual sex. Garrett's going to give Cole everything he thought he couldn't have.

A Song in the Blood: Corran MacKenzie signed up to fight a war that wasn't his. In the desert he found Sephtis. And his fate.

My Review

Spare, yet richly evocative.

Dangerous, yet beautifully erotic, seductive and mesmerizing.

These stories may certainly push your limits, but there’s no denying the strength of these characters as they seek fulfillment of their emotional needs and desires.

In His Skin

Dylan is a man of no words. However, his suffering, his devotion and his longing are palpable. I loved this story.

Asking For It

On the outside, Cole is a buttoned-up middle-class kid who aspires to a career in finance. On the inside, he needs what the corporate world can’t provide. Garrett the bartender will take good care of Cole. This kinky and sweet story made my toes curl.

A Song in the Blood

Gorgeous, chilling and intense. Since he was a little boy, Corran has needed it to hurt.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Introducing Boston P.I., Spenser

"The office of the university president looked like the front parlor of a successful Victorian whorehouse."

Thus opens the novel that introduced Robert B. Parker's most famous creation, Boston P.I., Spenser. Spenser was a former cop who'd been fired for insubordination, and he was also a veteran of the Korean War. When The Godwulf Manuscript was published in 1973, he was apparently somewhere in his middle forties, which means that when Parker wrote his last contribution to the series in 2011, Spenser would have been in his early eighties. With the publication this year of the latest book in the series, written by Ace Atkins, Spenser would be pushing ninety.

For a guy that old, he still does amazingly well. More important, for a series this long--now forty-five books--the character and the concept have held up very well. Truth to tell, the series had begun to falter a bit toward the end of Parker's life, but Atkins has put it back on track and restored it to its former glory.

From the beginning, as suggested by the opening sentence above, Spenser was a world-class smart ass. He was also a very tough guy, wise to the ways of the world, and, naturally, hugely attractive to the ladies. He worked by his own rules, and for Spenser, the ends almost always justified the means. He was a very worthy successor to the generation of tough-guy P.I.s who had come before him.

In this case, a very valuable manuscript has been stolen from a Boston University. The manuscriptnappers are asking $100,000 for its safe return, but this is not one of the more stellar universities for which Boston is known. They don't have a hundred grand, and so the university president hires Spenser to get the manuscript back.

Spenser's main lead is to a group of campus radicals. Almost immediately, someone is murdered and the stakes are raised significantly. The murder and the theft are obviously related, and Spenser soon finds himself caught between the university officials, the cops, some local mobsters, a lot of uncooperative students and a particularly nasty faculty wife. Naturally, none of these will pose any significant problem for Spenser, but things will get very dicey along the way.

Rereading the book after a very long time was a lot of fun, and it's held up very well, especially for a book that's now forty-three years old. Mainly that's because the character of Spenser seems somehow almost timeless and the story moves along so well that you don't even stop to think about all the modern technology that Spenser doesn't have at his beck and call.

The character is obviously not fully formed yet. A couple of characters are introduced who will accompany Spenser through the entire run of the series, but Parker is still feeling his way along here, and it was interesting to go back and see the character again as he initially appeared.

This is the book in which Spenser meets Brenda Loring, who will be his first significant love interest. I liked Brenda a lot, and like many another fan of this series, I rue the day when she disappeared from the series only to have Spenser wind up with the insufferable Susan Silverman. Happily, that doesn't happen for a while, which is one of the reasons why so many of the early books in this series are among the best of the lot. All in all, this was a great trip back down Memory Lane.

Sins of Empire

Sins of Empire (Gods of Blood and Powder, #1)Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fatrasta is a nation at conflict with itself. It subjugates a people group and their desire for equality. The Lady Chancellor uses not only her secret police the Blackhats, but also employs the Riflejack Mercenary Company led by Lady Vlora Flint. Fatrasta has also buried it's heroes who helped win them freedom, most notably Ben Styke. Styke has spent 10 years rotting in a Fatrastan labor camp. Fatrasta's problems may be worse than they initially feared, as a long silent threat appears to have returned along with an object best left buried.

I have to say before I even begin that I was worried I wouldn't like Sins of Empire or the new series. My reason being is that Field Marshal Tamas was far and away my favorite character in the Powder Mage trilogy. I wasn't sure if I'd enjoy the storytelling with him gone, especially as my other favorites Bo and Ka-poel were no where to be seen. Even worse the only character mentioned returning from the original trilogy was Vlora who I didn't care for.

As Sins of Empire began my worries seemed more reasonable as the story largely resembled Promise of Blood. The story has a mysterious man causing trouble in Gregious Tampo. Tampo seemed largely similar to Vetas from the intital trilogy. It also has a spy investigating in blackhat Michel Bravis who was similar to Inspector Adamat. Around the halfway point in the novel, I have to admit I had no idea what I was in for. Brian McClellan borrowed some familiar elements, but they didnt lead to the same results at all.

Sins of Empire is a massive story with many moving parts and various characters. In many ways it's a mystery as multiple investigations are going on that play massive parts in the story being told. I didn't particularly love any one character, but the book played out as a true ensemble cast.

Any reader who came to enjoy Brian McClellan's Powder Mage trilogy owes it to themselves to read Sins of Empire. It was a strong start to a new trilogy.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS JeannetteIn the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”About the same time the sun vanished, the ice began to move again. The noise was terrible---first the sounds of the ice warring with itself, then the more dreadful sounds of the ice warring with the ship. The turbulence started early on a cold November morning. De Long was awakened by a ‘grinding and crushing---I know of no sound on shore that can be compared to it,’ he said. ‘A rumble, a shriek, a groan, and a crash of a falling house all combined might convey an idea.’”

 photo USS Jeannette_zpsyxagv5jg.jpg
USS Jeannette

Little was known about the Arctic in 1879, but there were a lot of theories regarding the best way to reach the Arctic and also regarding what the explorers would find once they reached their goal. Though the science of these theories may have been suspect, the enthusiasm that these theorists possessed was infectious and represented the desire that most explorers, amateur and professional, had for discovering the secrets of the Arctic. One such theory, that there was a warm polar sea on the other side of the ice barrier, was used in a story by Edgar Allan Poe called The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.

 photo George20Washington20De20Long_zpsdhzoj4ix.jpg
George Washington De Long

George Washington De Long had long been bitten by the pagophilic bug. When the chance came for him to command a vessel to explore a route through the Arctic, he gleefully volunteered. With the financial assistance of the very rich owner of the New York Herald, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., they found a ship, refitted it for Arctic travel, and christened it the USS Jeannette, named after Bennett’s sister.

De Long and Bennett were an odd pairing, a matching of the self made and the silver spooned. De Long was very serious, but also determined. He was not afraid to ask for what he needed or go after what he wanted. Bennett was born rich and was quite capable of acting like a self-obsessed ass. ”Bennett had a habit of strolling into one of the finest establishments in Paris or New York and snatching the table linens as he proceeded down the aisle, smashing plates and glassware on the floor, to the horror of the dining patrons, until he reached his reserved table in the back. (He never failed to write a check for the damages.)” I couldn't imagine myself sitting there and allowing a man to walk by and yank my meal out from under my nose without taking exception. (Duel level exception.) He also lost an engagement by arriving at his fiancee’s house roaring drunk and pissed in the fireplace. I’m sure he had some good qualities, but on the most basic human level, he was lacking manners and completely undisciplined.

Bennett was the man who sent Henry Morton Stanley after David Livingstone. He sold piles of newspapers by, in a sense, creating news. As it turned out, Livingstone wasn’t in need of finding, so this idea to explore the Arctic felt like a similar story opportunity to Bennett.

 photo James20Gordon20Bennett20Jr._zpsxpqu8wxs.jpg
James Gordon Bennett, Jr.

The subtitle of the book is ”The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette.” The grand part was the excitement and anticipation of preparing for the trip with the hope of returning as conquering heroes of the frozen North. The whole rest of the trip was the terrible part, tragic really. They become trapped in the ice and spent two years drifting with an ice pack until the day the ice shifted and crushed the Lady Jeannette into pieces.

Then began a desperate bid for survival that took them across the ice with the help of their dogs and three small boats. They fought hunger and frostbite…”...when he pulled off his boots, Leach saw that his toes were turning blue-black, the skin and nails curling backwards, like feathers singed by a flame.” Needless to say, the conditions were abominable with howling winds, storms, and cold temperatures that plunged well below anything most of us will ever experience.

I was enthralled. I could not put this book down. Once the tale sunk it’s icy needles into my bloodstream, I was freezing off important body parts right along with the men of the Jeannette. Hampton Sides benefited from the fact that numerous members of the crew made detailed journal entries. They were well aware that what they were attempting was historic. One of the poignant aspects of the book was the letters that Emma and George De Long wrote to each other while apart. Here is one of my favorites from Emma:

”All this will be forgotten when we meet again; it will seem only as a bad dream---a fearful nightmare that has been successfully passed through. However dangerous your surroundings are at present I can still trust God and hope a little longer. I often dream of you and you seem all right, only sad and not as strong as you used to be. Oh darling! I cannot show you my love, my sympathy, my sorrow for your great sufferings. I pray to God constantly. My own darling husband, struggle, fight, live, come back to me!”

 photo Emma20De20Long_zpskh1oahyd.jpg
Emma De Long

The bravery and resourcefulness that was exhibited by nearly every crew member spoke to the wonderful job that De Long did in finding the right men for this arduous and dangerous trip. A few suffered from melancholy as the months passed, but most of the crew was intent on carrying their own weight and contributing to the well-being of the entire group. George Melville, a distant relative of Herman Melville, was the Macgyver of the group. He could take any pile of junk and turn it into some amazingly useful piece of machinery. He went on to have a long, successful career in the Navy. ”Melville presided over an expansive redesign of the fleet, largely completing its conversion from wood to metal, and from wind to steam power. When he retired, in 1903, the U.S. Navy boasted one of the most powerful modernized fleets in the world.”

Pull on your boots and your thickest parka, and experience the grand and the terrible. You will find, like me, that you will become fond of these men and maybe even more fond of their dogs.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:

View all my reviews

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Court of Broken Knives (Empires of Dust, #1) By: Anna Smith Spark

The Court of Broken Knives (Empires of Dust, #1)The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't like to put labels on books or anything for that matter, but if you are a fan of the "grimdark" such as Joe Abercrombie, the queen of the genre has arrived.

This is a fucking beautiful book, an immense, sprawling world that every shadowed corner is alive. You know why some people are in love with the dark? its the promise of what may be there, Ms. Spark fulfills that promise and more.

if you are a fantasy fan and you haven't read this.......fucking read it.

hail to the queen

20 out of 5 stars

View all my reviews

Kings of the Wyld (The Band, #1) by: Nicholas Eames

Kings of the Wyld (The Band, #1)Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am so glad I found this. There was a time where my brain consisted of heavy metal music and swords and magic. Kings of the Wyld is to me a very fresh take on a fairly common fantasy trope and in the running for my fantasy books of the year. Wild, rowdy and just damn fun, the older I get, the more I want my reads to make me smile and engage me.

If you are of the older generation, it will tug a bit at your feels too, a super read all the way around, I will be hitting the road and following the band, Mr Eames.

200 out of 5 stars

View all my reviews

Kurt Wallander Is Challenged by Two Very Perplexing Cases

As the fifth entry in this series opens, Swedish police detective Kurt Wallander is looking forward to his upcoming vacation, but then he answers a call to a farmer's field where a young girl has been standing all day in what appears to be a catatonic state. Just as Wallander arrives, the girl douses herself in gasoline and burns herself to death. Wallander is naturally horrified and cannot imagine why the girl would have chosen to end her life, especially in such a painful manner. His task now is to identify the young woman and notify her family of her fate. This will prove to be a difficult process.

Shortly after the girl's death a retired Swedish Minister of Justice is murdered by someone who smashes his head with an ax and then takes his scalp. Wallander and his team are on the case, but have no obvious suspects. For the remainder of the book, the P.O.V. switches back and forth between Wallander and the killer who is on a mission that becomes clearer as the book progresses. As it does, a couple more men will be murdered and scalped and it becomes pretty clear that neither Wallander nor anyone else on his team will be going on vacation anytime soon.

This is another very intriguing and entertaining entry in the series and, as always, it allows Mankell to make observations about a number of social issues. There are a number of troubled families in this book, for example, including Wallander's own. His difficult relationship with his daughter, Linda, has significantly improved, but his father is slowly sinking into dementia and Wallander realizes that they will have little time to repair their fragile relationship. 

The plot is compelling and moves along swiftly; as always the characters are very interesting, and all in all, this is a book that should appeal to large numbers of crime fiction fans.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Over Sea, Under Stone

Over Sea, Under Stone (The Dark Is Rising, #1)Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper
Reviewed by Jason KOivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Nancy Drew-esque adventure in which some kids with the last name Drew attempt to find the Holy Grail.

"Another book on the Arthur legend?" I groaned before commencing a hearty dismissive snore. I guess I didn't read the description close enough on Goodreads or on the back of the book. I knew it was YA, but expected magic. Even sampling of it. This was not the fantasy novel I was looking for.

These days reading about three English kids romping around the Cornwall seaside in search of King Arthur's grail is just not my cup of tea. Don't get me wrong, it's a damn fine book! I think if I was growing up in the '60s when this was published, I would've been over the moon to get my hands on Over Sea, Under Stone. Now though, there's a plethora of much more fun fantasy to be had.

View all my reviews

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Joking Hazard

Joking Hazard
Publisher: the creators of Cyanide and Happiness
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Back in the day, my girlfriend at the time turned me on to Cyanide and Happiness, a webcomic that was in alignment with my own twisted sense of humor.  Now, a decade later, the keys to the universe are in the hands of me and 2-4 of my closest friends.

Joking Hazard is a card game for people with a dark and twisted sense of humor.  The box includes 360 cards, each a panel from a Cyanide and Happiness strip, and the instruction sheet.  The game is pretty simple.  Whomever's turn it is flips over a card from the deck, adds one of their own to the strip, and the remaining players try to end the comic strip in the funniest of ways.

For example:

Yeah, it's a hilarious experience.  The replay value is pretty high.  We've played a few times now and it hasn't worn thin yet.  I'm chomping at the bit to get the expansions for even more demented fun.

Joking Hazard is a hilarious game that should appeal to fans of Cards Against Humanity and dark humor in general.  Five out of five stars.

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Trouble With Elves

Therese Woodson
Dreamspinner Press
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


Cal Martin loathes Christmas music, especially the clichéd carols pumped through the mall speakers on endless loop. Even worse is the holiday-themed hell of Santa's Village that looms right in front of the sports store he manages. It's yet another hurdle for Cal as he tries to survive the world of retail during the soul-sucking holiday season… until he catches a glimpse of one of Santa's elves and becomes infatuated with the cheery, gorgeous guy dressed in candy-cane tights.

Of course, just walking up to the guy and asking him out isn't easy, and a botched attempt at matchmaking ends up turning a simple courtship into a mess for the gossip page. What can Cal do to overcome his social ineptitude, correct erroneous assumptions, and maybe have a merry little Christmas of his own?

My Review

Cal is a former baseball player with a bad knee now managing a sporting goods store at the local mall.

Though he hates Christmas music and actively avoids the Santa’s Village near his store, a certain elf has captured his interest.

This was adorable, sweet, and funny, with just enough problems and misunderstandings to counteract the sugar.

I adored all the characters, even the annoying ones, and loved the perfect ending.

A holiday treat that can be enjoyed all year long.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Inhuman, Volume 3: Lineage

Inhuman, Volume 3: LineageInhuman, Volume 3: Lineage by Charles Soule
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

New Attilan faces off against Ennilux over Iso and Lineage finally makes his move.

The Nuhumans get put to the test defending New Attilan.
They get some help from an unexpected place. I really like the Nuhumans along with the new Inhumans created for the series. The new characters are quite a diverse cast. They broke the old mold for Inhumans all being part of Attilan and following Black Bolt and the Royal Family.

Looks aren't everything, but perhaps it's best to be more skeptical of a guy who looks like the devil. Lineage always seemed as though he was up to more than he was saying and in this volume he proved that. description

All the Nuhumans got some attention in this volume and they are an interesting bunch. Mixing them in with the Royal Family has been positive overall.
I think Inhuman was a good start, but they need to make a lot more Nuhumans to even come close to being a viable MCU replacement for mutants. The effort put into strengthening the Inhuman brand is already paying off and I'm looking forward to the Inhumans future.

View all my reviews

Monday, July 3, 2017

Dirty Ol' Bryson

Neither Here nor There: Travels in EuropeNeither Here nor There: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Huh. Turns out Bryson is a dirty ol' bugger!

This travel-across-Europe journal is fun, educational and entertaining. I love travel and I like learning about far-off places. Europe has been done and overdone, yet I still find it fascinating.

Bryson's recollections are from when he wrote the book in the '90s as well as from a previous trip he and his friend Katz took. Regardless of when the reminisces come from, details ring true from the experiences I've had of the same places, such Paris and parts of Italy. Apparently some things never change. However, it was cool to get his take on the place.

At times he gets a little grumpy, but overall this is lighthearted and goodnatured. He has a adequate store of patience and his take-it-as-it-comes attitude keeps most of this from sinking into endless gripes.

Fun as this was, it's not my favorite of the six or so of Bryon's works I've read to this point. I haven't found this in his later books, but earlier on his writing seems to show a distracting obsession with sex. That's fine. I mean, I'm a dirty bird too, but I really don't want to know about the fetishes of a mid-aged man. I am one and it's not pretty. Hey, I'm sure that's someone's bag. Somewhere out there some sad sod is thinking, "I wonder what gets boring, bald and wrinkled old Phil from accounting off?" But that's not me...not yet anyhow. Who knows maybe someday my sexuality will warp in an unexpected way.

Oh, who am I kidding...*zip*

View all my reviews

A Little Light On The Funny

Seriously... I'm KiddingSeriously... I'm Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

5 GLORIOUS STARS!!! is what I wanted to give Seriously...I'm Kidding when I first picked it up. The peace and kindness message is great, but this lacks the funny far too much for an autobio from a comedian.

I love Ellen DeGeneres. Wait, let me back up. I love the idea of Ellen DeGeneres. I really like her show. Her stand-up...meh. Unfortunately, this book is more like her stand-up. This very quick read (actually, I listened to her read it and it was only 3 cds) is filled with her silly titter-inducing jokesque things. It's also filled with fluff. There are whole chapters of filler. There are sections of her making nonsensical noises, her eating, and her saying nothing. Literally intentional silence. As if that wasn't bad enough, there's a whole bit about dreams. I would've preferred more silence.

I'd say about halfway through I thought Seriously...I'm Kidding deserved about 3 stars, but the latter half took a complete nose-dive. Very boring, tedious even.

That's sad. I had high hopes. I guess I'll go back to checking out Youtube clips of her show. Those crack me up.

View all my reviews

Sunday, July 2, 2017

White Jazz

White JazzWhite Jazz by James Ellroy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Dave Klein, the dirtiest cop in town, catches a burglary, he quickly becomes entangled in a web of drugs, prostitution, and murder...

James Ellroy's four volume treatise on family values and the integrity of the Los Angeles police department comes to a conclusion in White Jazz. White Jazz ties up some nagging lose ends leftover from the previous three volumes. Gone is the "trinity of sin" structure of The Big Nowhere and L.A. Confidential, replaced by a first person narrator, a throwback to The Black Dahlia.

Ellroy's machine gun style is ratcheted up to an insane degree in this one, the short choppy sentences hitting like the needle of a sewing machine. Honestly, it got a little hard to follow what was happening at times. However, the crazy style added something to the book, giving it a frantic, paranoid feel.

The story itself continued in the vein of the previous two; the corpse of the integrity of the LAPD was exhumed, violated in every orifice, and buried again. What starts as a burglary investigation tears the scab off of the gaping wound of the LAPD's narcotics division and exposes the infection beneath, namely their longtime relationship with the Kafesjian family. Dave Klein, a cop, lawyer, and mob enforcer, finds himself navigating a maze of filth to figure out just what the hell is going on, caught in a power struggle between two of the most powerful men on the force.

After finishing LA Confidential, I mentioned that I thought Dudley Smith was James Ellroy's Randall Flagg. After reading this book, I stand by that. The master manipulator was in fine form in White Jazz, doing his puppeteer act from the sidelines for most of the book. Once all the cards were on the table, the book got so frantic I thought I might have an anxiety attack.

As with the previous books, the dialogue and relationships between the characters threw a lot of gas on the fire. Klein's complicated relationships with his sister and Glenda, as well as Junior and the rest, made him another of Ellroy's shitbird characters that you couldn't help but root for, especially since all the other shitbirds had a lot more blood on their hands.

While I didn't like White Jazz quite as much as the other two books in the LA Quartet, it did a great job wrapping things up. Hell, when the three previous books are of such high caliber, they're hard to follow. Four out of five stars.

View all my reviews