Thursday, August 31, 2017

Civil Blood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017


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

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

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Henry V

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

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

He had plans.

French plans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The English had a few things on their side.

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

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

He ordered the prisoners executed.

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

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

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Henry V effigy at Westminster.

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

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

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

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, August 28, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

I Am Providence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, August 25, 2017

The Judge's House

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


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

My Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 24, 2017


SkinshaperSkinshaper by Mark Gelineau
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017


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

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

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Lower Manhattan 1938.

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

It is 1938.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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St. Patrick’s New York

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

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

She can’t get him out of her head.

He isn’t who he seems.

He is more and less than what she believed.

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

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

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Mother Nature competing with Tiffany

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

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The Dover Demon

The Dover DemonThe Dover Demon by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thirty years ago, four teenagers saw a creature the newspapers named The Dover Demon. Now, people are seeing the creature again and the four people's lives are going to converge. Will any of them survive?

I think Hunter Shea and I would have a lot to talk about. There was a five year period where I was into UFOs and an even longer time when I was fascinated by cryptids. How could I not give this a shot?

The Dover Demon uses the Dover Demon sighting in 1977 as a jumping on point and runs with it. The four people who saw the creature are leading very different lives when their shared past surfaces again. Kelly is an alcoholic. Sam runs a comic book shop and has a son, Nicky. Tank and Stephanie are happily married. When Nicky and his friends go looking for the Dover Demon after reading a blog post, the apple cart gets upset in dramatic fashion.

I love what Hunter Shea has done with the Dover Demon here, tying it with lots of staples of UFO lore and linking lots of different aspects of UFO mythology. Not only that, this is one balls-squeezing read. I wolfed it down in one long sitting, occasionally making noises of surprise and/or disgust.

Shea's writing reminds me of Richard Matheson's, not overly flowery but really punchy and evocative. There's some Kingliness in it as well, although it's from the early days of Stephen King. Some of his descriptions were nauseating and the mind-bending effects of the Dover Demon(s) was pretty disorienting. Also, he has a gift for suspense. I never once felt like the characters were working with a safety net. Unless they make safety nets out of razor wire these days...

Either Hunter Shea is one of my new favorite horror writers or he had me abducted and brainwashed by aliens. Either way, 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy By :Kliph Nesteroff

The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American ComedyThe Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy by Kliph Nesteroff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love this type of book, jumping deep into the histories of things I love. I always had a deep love of all things comedy and Mr. Nesteroff does an excellent job covering the history of the artform from its beginnings to current day.

I rounded up to 4 from 3.5 however, here's why. Comedy, although being a broad subject, Mr. Nesteroff glossed over alot of stuff. He gives short shift to several artists, which I don't know if I can blame him due to the length of directions the topic can go in, BUT..I didn't like that. Then, there was a LOT of focus on the negative aspects, the sex, the violence, the substance abuse..again, I am sure it makes for a more entertaining story, but really? is it that necessary?

That being said, wonderful history of the funny men and women in comedy, I recommend it.

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Calcio: A History of Italian Football By: John Foot

Calcio: A History of Italian FootballCalcio: A History of Italian Football by John Foot
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am still deep into my current obsession with the beautiful game and I decided to jump off into some leagues I knew nothing about.

This is a well written, very informative and complete history of football in Italy. I consumed it and enjoyed every page. Now I definitely know why I am drawn to the sport. It has by far the most passionate, most diverse, just outright wild and awesome fanbase.

If you have any love of soccer, football, whatever you call it in your neck of the woods, this history is for you. Deepen your base and expand your mind, you won't be disappointed.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Acid Bath is a Blood Bath of a Production

Acid BathAcid Bath by Vaseleos Garson
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was not...what's the word I'm looking for?....good. This was not good.

I don't blame the story, so much as the production. I got Acid Bath from the Black Gold library system and listened to this short story during one quick walk down to the post office and a bit of yard work on my return. Unlike most audiobooks, it was produced like a radio drama with sound effects and ambient music, none of which was particular necessary. Aside from the overlong playing of some adult contemporary pop-schlock at the end, it didn't add or detract from the overall experience.

What really did detract from the reading was the voice, cadence and pronunciation of the narrator. He sounded like a robotic German struggling with the English. This was perfect for the robot speaking parts, but those were minimal.

The story itself is solid. It's a nice, quick action piece set on an asteroid, where a human is pitted against mechanical aliens wishing to do some testing on their captive. The author wastes no time and jumps right into it. We get very little character depth, but that's hardly to be expected in such a short work. The plot could've been deepened with a craftier twist ending, but hey, this was written in the '50s, so I'm willing to give it that forerunner, originator pass.

Not a bad little story, but I would suggest just reading it. Don't seek out this audio version.

Audio adaptation: 1.5 stars
Text: 3.3 stars

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The Continuing Tales of Uthred of Bebbanburg

Warriors of the Storm (The Saxon Stories, #9)Warriors of the Storm by Bernard Cornwell
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Dashingly handsome Uthred of Bebbanburg's life story vikings along in Warriors of the Storm, the ninth book in the Saxon series.

First off, Uthred is never described as being handsome in the books. That is a tv fabrication. Okay, I just needed to get that out of the way.

Anywho, this is a serviceable book that continues the saga admirably. It's not anything special. No major historically related events take place. It's more personal. In fact, at one point Uthred has to rescue his daughter and son-in-law.

It does feel like maybe Bernard Cornwell is wrapping things up. A prominent character from earlier books bites the dust, and when that begins to happen the end is often nigh. However, we're talking about an author who's learned his lesson about rushing a good thing along just to get to the end. With his Sharpe series, Cornwell ended up going back and writing prequels because a tv show had developed and fans clamored for more. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Saxon series double in size before he's done with it. However, it probably should've already ended. I mean, at this point it feels like he's having to pull out of his ass new ways to get Uthred into hot water.

Having said that, if he does keep putting out more and more of these, I will keep reading them. It's enjoyable stuff and I'm fully invested in the characters. "Please sir, may I have some more?"

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Friday, August 18, 2017


Throat SprocketsThroat Sprockets by Tim Lucas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”I wondered if I hadn’t been so deeply affected by Throat Sprockets because it had given this unfinished something deep within me, after all these years, the teeth it needed to access a body-temperature flow of nourishment.”

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A tasty well defined neck.

Our unnamed narrator frequently escapes to the sticky floored darkness of his favorite pornographic theater to relax and eat his lunch. His trenchcoated companions are barely a distraction in the periphery of his vision. If we are trying to place him on the scale of perversity, he ranks a bit above average, but certainly not in the red zone. He is a garden variety, breast man.

Until he sees Throat Sprockets .

”The director had a thing for women’s throats.”

His wife, Paige, starts noticing some changes in his behavior. He has always liked to give her shoulder massages, which always culminated with him groping her breasts. She can count on the fact that he is a breast man, and she has the breasts to keep him happy, but then he starts giving her massages that end with a special fixation on her neck. Her breasts, ready to be offered as a reward,...are...ignored.

Puzzling, but not alarming.

He continues to watch the film at every opportunity. His behavior becomes even more strange, more emotional. ”Men cry, but we tend to be moved to tears quietly, as quietly as we masturbate. Men are raised to purge themselves in strictest secrecy…”

He knows this need is not natural. He is developing an unnatural appetite. It scares him and invigorates him. He begins listening to different music. ”It was all about throat music. He couldn’t have cared less about the content of the music, he was after the substance of it, the texture, the sex of it, the husky vibrato. He was burrowing, digging, chewing into sounds, completely unconcerned with melody, ignoring everything but the simple conceit that these sounds coming in moans and coos and wanton wails and soaring arias were an erotic discharge pouring into his ears from women’s throats.”

If Paige’s breasts had grown to the size of cantaloupes and had sprouted wings, he wouldn’t have cared less, nor would he have been moved to desire if she had grabbed his head and stuck his face in her cleavage . His eyes would have been locked on the pulse in her throat.

The marriage ends when she has to defend the silky contours of her neck with a kitchen knife keeping his brandished teeth away from her cervicibus. His admiration for women’s throats has grown into a full on erotic obsession.

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Just a nibble please!

He works as an advertising writer, and soon he starts to realize that all of his ideas are centered around his interest in the concepts expressed in Throat Sprockets. He starts to realize that his desires are not as unnatural as he thought. The term sprocketing is becoming a known term, and whole groups of young people are becoming chokers, offering their necks and their blood to those who have found a desire that exceeds their sexual lusts. It is on the verge of an epidemic.

His descent into madness continues to spiral downward; each spiral is tighter and moving faster. He seeks the well spring of the film. The director proves elusive, but he does find some people involved with the film. He pays exorbitant amounts of money for anything connected with the film that will give him a better understanding. The question is, can he save himself before…”I hear the sound of a garroted camera as my blood runs out of film.”

This isn’t a vampire book. It is actually a fascinating journey of erotic obsession. I happen to find women’s necks very attractive, but I have no interest in the blood that pulses beneath the skin. Beauty for me is best left unmarred...well...maybe mussed a bit. For our narrator, it isn’t enough to gaze upon say the beauty of a dark round mole on a lovely female neck. He wants to consume it. He wants to possess it. I’ve learned over the years that those things that most of us might find unnatural or even disgusting are the very things that turn other people on. Any perversity that you can conceive is something that someone else has turned into an obsession. To say it is unnatural or unique may not be as true as I would like to believe. As Google releases more and more information about our true online interests, which actually are a more honest representative of our true desires than we would ever reveal in a survey, we might discover that our neighbors are more kinky than we had previously thought.

 photo Neck20piercing_zpsm3pfli5m.jpg
Oh my what nice hardware you have my dear.

Tim Lucas explores the dark side of desire. He does so with evocative sentence structures and dangles all kinds of threads for the discerning reader to pull on to open up the truth about your own obsessions. The book left me wondering if I have even found my kink. If the narrator had never seen Throat Sprockets, he would have lived out his life being perfectly fine venerating breasts. Is there a song or a movie or book that will reveal a desire I had no idea I possessed? Am I living a lie while unknown desires are dormant in some dark corner of my mind? Read this book at your own risk, my friends and followers.

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The Rainbow Connection

B.J. Sheppard
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


Living a care-free party life-style, junior journalist and gay lifestyle reporter, Liam Adams thought he had it all; the money, the job, the endless supply of men in his bed. But when his work causes him to question the very foundation of the life he has built for himself, Liam finds certain areas are glaringly lacking. All it takes is one assignment to unravel the very fabric of his promiscuous antics, compounded by the arrival of a long-forgotten tryst. With the rusty screech of the mailroom guy’s trolley wheels, Liam lands head-first in the arms of something bigger; something more.

As the romance burgeons between Liam and the Mail-Manny of his dreams, each article he writes proves to uncover something new and never realized about himself, namely that all the one-night-stands in the world could never give him what he truly wants; love. In a slapstick commentary through the eyes of the world’s most hypersensitive journalist, watch as Liam’s story unfolds in the most ridiculous of fashions, leading him straight into the arms of love, via The Rainbow Connection.

My Review

Oh, what a loathsome character Liam Adams is! It was so hard for me to care about him initially, that I was tempted to set aside the book more than once. But who am I to judge? It’s not as if I’ve never made bad decisions, or had contempt for some of my co-workers, or gotten stinking drunk at lunchtime. So I kept reading, and while I never fell in love with Liam, I grew to appreciate his thought process, his sense of humor, his witty sarcasm, his view of the world, and empathized with him that at 28 years old, he has never been in love.

Liam is an aspiring author and works as a journalist for an online gay magazine. He’s good at his job and thrives on deadlines. When he writes an article about the reasons women love to read gay romances, and puts his soul into his work, he begins to see what he’s missing and yearns for more than the casual one-night stands he’s accustomed to.

“I wrote it with hope and I wrote it with my newfound sense of belief that, man or woman, the words of these books were reaching out to people. That it was the journey that mattered. And it flowed out of me like a red wine hangover. Pressure be damned; it was inspiration. I hit send, and off it went, through the interweb to that special place where things go that I have no idea about, ready to be read by our entire readership. I hoped, as I pressed send, that the people who read it would have their own journeys.”

I loved Liam’s relationship with the mail clerk, Manny, that started with a sizzling fuck on Liam’s desk and progressed to dinner and conversation. I also loved his boss, Lourdes, a tiny sassy woman with a penchant for wine.

“On days like these I was glad we were of the same ilk. Any other boss would have canned me on the spot, but not Lourdes. She liked a drink as much as the next hobo and I was completely convinced she sprinkled Prozac on her cornflakes in the morning.”

Liam writes various articles of interest to the gay community and before long, his hilarious and unorthodox methods of research lead to problems in his newfound relationship. At the same time, I enjoyed the solid friendship between Liam and Lourdes and the significant growth in Liam’s character as he and Manny overcome communication barriers and start becoming honest with each other. Once Liam starts to think with his heart, he becomes a much better person, and one I gradually started to like.

Life is never simple, though. With Liam’s boss in rehab, a nasty new boss makes his life very difficult. Even though there is a love interest and hot sex, this is not a typical romance. Each character is unique and well developed, with strengths and flaws. Don’t look for the traditional happy ending, for you won’t find it here. No one is fortunate enough to have everything work out for them, and I’m really glad the author chose to write an unpredictable and more realistic ending. I’m confident that Liam’s strength, capacity for love, humor, and good friends will help him get through life’s difficulties.

I’m very much looking forward to the next installment!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Broken Banners

Broken Banners (A Reaper of Stone, #2)Broken Banners by Mark Gelineau
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Aldis, a friend from Elinor's time in the academy, has gotten himself and the men he leads into trouble. Many of them lay dead in the field and others are locked in cages. Elinor cannot stand to see the King's soldiers and her brethren in such a state.

Broken Banners is similar to A Reaper of Stone as it centers around the greed of nobility and sees Elinor and her forces up against much stronger forces. Elinor is still determined to set things right even when it isn't easy.

While I enjoyed Broken Banners the novella format of the series is getting frustrating. This is the second story featuring Elinor and yet it hasn't even hit the 200 page mark. More questions have arisen yet a date for an answer isn't in sight. Even when it is, will the follow-up be another 70-80 page novella. It's hard to be patient for books as they come out slowly at times.

Broken Banners was a solid addition to the Echoes of Ascended series. I hope the next stories are either longer or come out much closer together. In the meantime I'll be waiting to see how Elinor's story continues.

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Monday, August 14, 2017

True Stories

True StoriesTrue Stories by Jon Scieszka
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Guys Read: True Stories has some women doing the reading too, and it's not nearly as macho as the title might lead you to believe. Furthermore, you can't describe your book as "100% amazing, 100% adventurous, 100% unbelievable" and put out this less than stellar collection of stories!

It's not terrible by any means, yet I had more hope for this than it delivered. I thought it was going to be all kinds of exciting, but only one or two of the stories lived up to the hype. The lead story about a early 19th century America ship's crew getting stranded in the Sahara was more harrowing than exciting. The somewhat tall tale of a bear attack was mostly just goofy. The endearing memoir-like remembrances of a Vietnamese girl trying to weasel her way into her pack of brothers' activities was totally out of place. As an audiobook, its performances varied in quality as well.

Now, it should be noted that this was produced for elementary school students and maaaybe high school kids, though I think they'd consider some of this stuff hokey....That's a word kids these days use right? Hokey? Anywho, the stories don't go into great detail, however, they are quick and mostly entertaining to a certain degree.

The producers make a BIG deal about these stories being non-fiction and thus real. Reality seems to be an important learning tool these days. I'd like to believe that comes from a place of integrity, where learning the facts is the pinnacle of importance. Unfortunately, it's more likely the publishing company is trying to push the "reality" angle, because of the ubiquitous role reality tv plays in the lives of American youth these days. "Cashing in" I believe is the phrase.

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Atlas Obscura

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden WondersAtlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Atlas Obscura is a guide to the world's strangest places.

I've been a fan of road trips almost as long as I've been an obscure facts nerd. This book combines the two in a fashion. I first came across it in an issue of mental_floss and was lucky enough to score a copy for Christmas.

Atlas Obscura has a lot of information on bizarre places around the world crammed into it's 400+ pages, from a penis museum in Iceland to a graveyard in northern Iran with penis-shaped tombstones, to other strange places that have little or nothing to do with penises, like pyramids in the northern part of Sudan or a baobob tree in South Africa with a bar inside. And that's even before America gets any coverage.

The book is organized by region for convenience. The photos in the book are really well done and most entries have one. There are footnotes containing other nearby oddities, which would be a great help if someone was planning an Oddity Odyssey. Some of the articles are on the Atlas Obscura website but many are just for the book.

I could spend paragraph after paragraph rattling off interesting bits from the book but it's best experienced for yourself. This book makes me want to take a drive from the cryptozoology museum in Maine to the ruins of Fordlandia in the Amazon. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Mr. Jaguar

K.A. Merikan
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars


Mike Miller’s life has gone to shit. The formerly popular high school quarterback now works at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. The last thing he needs is meeting the guy he used to bully at school and seeing him all sorts of polished up. James is now the proud owner of an amazing silver Jaguar and a self-made millionaire. It seems that the day couldn’t get any worse for Mike, but James ‘Lovelace’ Austin might just turn out to be his golden ticket out of the job he hates.

When James Austin meets Mike Miller, his high school crush and tormentor all in one, working at an old, dirty gas station, it feels as if the stars have finally aligned in his favor. He wants to finally get his revenge on the guy, but when Mike turns out to be gay, the whole afternoon takes a turn for the surreal. Instead of just humiliating Mike at his workplace, James decides to hire him for a weekend at a conference he’s attending. A hot guy by his side is the only accessory James needs to rub his success in the faces of his frenemies.

Only problem is, a gay Mike Miller might be too much of a blast from the past than James ever expected. If James wants his nerdy heart safe from the hunky jock, he needs to keep Mike at arms length. The task would be a lot easier if Mike wasn’t unashamedly hitting on James. Or is it just James’s money Mike is after?

My Review

James Austin owns a Jaguar and has a very successful career. Though he makes a lot of money and lives very comfortably, he has no love life.

Mike Miller works at a shabby gas station fixing other people’s cars, but doesn’t make enough to afford his own.

When James stops in for gas and a wash, he eventually recognizes Mike was football quarterback in high school, and the guy who pushed James in a cold shower while the entire team watched.

Underneath the anger and humiliation hides unresolved lust. James learns that Mike is deeply closeted and his bullying was just an inept attempt to get James to notice him. In spite of Mike's past behavior, James finds he is now very attracted to him.

Mike badly wants out of his job and sorry life, so he accepts James’ offer of $2,000 to accompany him at a weekend conference.

For the rest of the story, both characters thoroughly annoyed me. Though I was tempted to set the story aside for something else, I gradually found myself tolerating the men’s stupid jokes, sexual innuendos, and enjoying their developing feelings. It’s no longer as simple as James flaunting his wealth and Mike obsessing about sex.

One thing that did bother me, though, was the amount of work-shaming going on in this story. Mike may have been a loser in some ways, but it’s not because he has a dead-end, poorly paying job. I was tired of reading about his bitterness and wanted him to act like a professional. Let’s face it – the economy sucks and not everyone can work at a job that pays well and suits his or her abilities and education. There is no shame in washing cars or making sandwiches. So hold your head up and show some pride in your work. Professionals exist at all levels in every field. And remember, people, it’s just a job. We are so much more than our jobs.

The characters redeem themselves in the end and I got a few laughs, so this wasn’t a bad way to kill some time.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Best Left in the Shadows

Best Left in the Shadows (Best Left in the Shadows #1)Best Left in the Shadows by Mark Gelineau
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A rich girl from the right side of town was beaten and brutally murdered. Her body was found in the wrong part of town and it will surely draw attention.

Best Left in the Shadows was a miss for me largely because it's among my least favorite tropes. Forbidden love, wrong side of the tracks, and detective tale wrapped up into one is a hard sell for me, but I wanted to continue the Echoes of Ascended series so I read it anyway.

The story revolves around Alys and her former lover Dax. Alys is from the wrong side of the tracks, Lowside, she deals in secrets and is friends with questionable individuals. Dax is from a well to do family on the right side of the tracks, Highside, he's also a magistrate and the detective trying to find out who murdered the girl. I'm afraid if my eyes roll any harder they may stay that way.

If you love forbidden love, wrong side of the tracks, and or detective stories Best Left in the Shadows may be for you. If all those tropes make you cringe or yawn then it may be best to avoid this one.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Unholy Consult (Aspect-Emperor, #4) By: R. Scott Bakker

The Unholy Consult (Aspect-Emperor, #4)The Unholy Consult by R. Scott Bakker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this series a LONG time ago, and upon reading this final installment, I find myself somewhat torn.

First, being the world building freak that I am, Mr. Bakker's skill is on full display, you would be hard pressed to find more of a deep, expansive world and history than you do here. The frigging beginning of the book has a recap of the previous tale which is dang near long as some books I have read. That isn't the issue with me, You read best pack a lunch and have your big boy pants on because there is depth on depth on depth in Mr. Bakker's world.

The problem is...while the soaring expanse and pure holy crap grand scale of the world slaps you in the face, the story and the characters leave me feeling cold. I know that bleakness is part of the overall story but I feel that in all this world, the "heart" is cut out of it. It might be me, but when I was younger, the arrogance of this epic world building would appeal to me, but as I progress (I hope) in my pursuits of literary works, I want the story to move me, and in the end, it doesn't.

Is the series worth a read? Yes, the scope of this world is mind blowing, but just be prepared to come out cooler than you go in.

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Monday, August 7, 2017

A Long Wait For Nothing

Unusual Uses for Olive Oil (Portuguese Irregular Verbs, #4)Unusual Uses for Olive Oil by Alexander McCall Smith
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After a near ten-year hiatus, the long-awaited (well, by me at any rate) fourth book in Alexander McCall Smith's comedic Portuguese Irregular Verbs series finally arrived!

I enjoyed the heck out of book number one. Then the following two became a little Candide-like or Monty Python-esque in their wackiness as our hero Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld became embroiled in far flung adventures. This fourth book, Unusual Uses for Olive Oil is a return to the sedate wordsmithing of the first book, and perhaps I really didn't want what I'd been wishing for.

This book is boring. There's no too ways about it. It's lacking in a sense of fun. Oh yes, there's plenty of wordplay and that's all very well and good, but poking fun at Germans and how they take everything literally, as well as the pedantic nature of language professors only goes so far before it becomes tiresome.

I can and do recommend this for word-lovers and those looking for some light academic japery. If you like reading satire on the foibles of the learned, have at it! I got a chuckle or two between the covers of this one and you may, too!

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An Adventure in Satire

Gulliver's TravelsGulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So much more than just a fantastical tale of a man journeying to mystical lands. This is thinly veiled satire...super thin.

A seafaring Englishman ends up in four fairytale worlds where people are small, gigantic, smarties in the maths, and where people are horses. By the second journey you'd think he'd be done with all this, but in the end he's done with humans and has trouble living amongst his own kind.

Written in the old style where listing off occurrences constituted an adventure and a perfectly well constructed story, Gulliver's Travels can be at times a tedious read. It's filled with a laundry list of actions ("I did this and then I did this"), and when you think some tension or conflict is a brewin' you get simple expedients flatly stated ("I was faced with an obstacle and so I overcame it by doing this.") After a time it all becomes trying and uninspiring, making the turning of pages ever more difficult.

However, if you've come to this book looking for condemnation of the human race's worst foibles, you've come to the right place. Swift dispatches venom towards the leeches of humanity. Lawyers, for instance, get blasted left, right and center. I'm one of those people that feels we're not much better, and sometimes not any better, than base animals, so I was okay with the author's bashing of my fellow man. Those who don't understand anything beyond "Humans! We're #1!" aren't going to like this.

Regardless of its faults, I'm glad I finally got around to reading the original, full-length version. In school I read an abridged and sanitized version, which left out all the mentions of genitalia and bodily functions. This is much better with all the pee and tits included!

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Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Animal Factory

The Animal FactoryThe Animal Factory by Edward Bunker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Ron Decker is convicted of selling narcotics, he winds up in San Quentin. Earl Copen, a long-time resident, takes him under his wing. As friendship buds between the men, can Ron stay alive long enough to get paroled?

Prison life has always held a strange fascination for me. By most accounts, The Animal Factory is one of the better prison novels.

Written during one of his prison stints, Edward Bunker crafts a tale of two men trying to get by in San Quentin. Not surprisingly, it carries an air of authenticity. There's an undercurrent of despair and desperation beneath Earl Copen's bluster. In Ron Decker, he sees hope that he long abandoned for himself.

Prison life in The Animal Factory is navigating a maze of violence, drugs, and death. Earl teaches Ron to survive in prison and what it is to be a man and a friend. It's a little deeper than I thought it would be going in.

The ending was a good one, one of self sacrifice and showed that a glimmer of goodness resides within prison walls. All things considered The Animal Factory was damn good. Edward Bunker's depiction of prison life in the 1970's is stark and brutal and I can't imagine that prisons have gotten better since then. Kids, stay out of jail! Four out of five stars.

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Friday, August 4, 2017


K.A. Merikan
Acerbi & Villani Ltd.
2 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Nancy


October 1907, Honeyhill

Twenty years into the zombie Plague

Victor is a man of delicate sensibilities, not fit to do backbreaking labour on a farm ran by the mob. Upon arrival in Honeyhill, he decides he needs an anchor, an alliance with one of the guards, if he wants to survive. That anchor comes in the form of Crunch, a hunky ex-sailor with a pair of tight leather trousers and a ruggedly handsome face.

But from day one, Victor knows he won’t last long with the hard physical work assigned to him and the torment he suffers at the hands of a sadistic guard. He needs to run, and his new alliance might prove to be a burden instead of solace.

If Crunch wants Honeyhill liberated, he needs to focus on his job, not on protecting Victor, one of many new arrivals on the farm. Distraction is the last thing he needs after months of undercover work. But it’s hard not to get seduced by Victor’s big brown eyes and fingertips that don’t know work. Hundreds of people depend on Crunch keeping his identity a secret, revealing it could be fatal for both him and Victor, and a failure of his mission.

Thankfully, Victor would never be dumb enough to try and escape through a forest that’s swarming with zombies. Would he?

My Review

So much promise, so disappointing.

London in the early 20th century, zombies, a prisoner/guard romance, a labor camp ruled by a powerful family, and sweet, sweet honey. What’s not to love?

The story starts out with Victor, a young singer, and other prisoners being transported by cattle car to the Dal family’s work camp, known as Honeyhill, where they will serve their sentences. Since Victor is blindfolded and hands bound behind his back, he has no idea where he is going.

“Suddenly, the struggle to raise above the others was gone as the wagon filled with cool air and the crowd moved, carrying Victor with it. He frantically clutched at the fabric of someone’s skirt, but the stream of people came to an abrupt stop with a loud bang that made Victor’s ears ring. The air filled with a new smell, smoky, a bit like fireworks.”

Besides the wrong word usage here, how in the world did Victor manage to clutch at someone’s skirt while his hands were tied behind his back?

Sadly, there were many instances of odd word choices and awkward sentences which distracted me from the story.

Right off the bat, Victor is a very unlikable character. Before he’s even out of his bonds, he’s already making eyes at an attractive guard named Crunch. He’s desperate, lonely and hungry and wants to ally himself with someone who has influence and control over others. Unfortunately, he has not given any thought whatsoever to his dire circumstances, which suddenly don’t seem so dire now that he’s found a love interest. Maybe it’s just me, but when I’m reading a prison story, I’d like for the incarcerated character to suffer a little and endure some hardship. Instead, Victor comes off as needy, manipulative, and immature.

Crunch was a far more interesting character. Unlike the other prison guards, he has an agenda of his own. While working to bring his own plans to fruition, he is also very protective of Victor and is charming when showing a bit of vulnerability and insecurity. Crunch feels lucky to have Victor, as Victor would likely not be interested in a man like him in the real world.

The best moments in the story for me were the creepy, tense scenes involving the evil guard, Sharp, the zombies, and the bees.

Considering that the story took place in 1907, there was little here that made the setting, clothing, mannerisms and dialogue feel authentic. Perhaps, with more world building, this could have been effective as a steampunk novel or alternate history. As it is, the background is flat and the romance unconvincing. I am happy that the authors ended the story realistically, without a schmoopy epilogue.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Rend the Dark

Rend the Dark (Rend the Dark #1)Rend the Dark by Mark Gelineau
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once the world was filled with horrible monsters called Ruins. The massive Ruins were sent back to the Dark from whence they came, but the clever and patient ones remain. The remaining hide in plain sight and are a blight on those who do not believe the old stories. Fortunately the world still has acolytes of the Order of Talan watching over it.

Rend the Dark was the first story I heard about in the Echoes of the Ascended series and the one I was most excited about. I don't like to watch monster movies, but reading about the creatures of darkness that go bump in the night is quite exhilarating for me.

Rend the Dark has the familiar tropes of many monster hunter stories yet that doesn't bother me in the least. The ancient Ruins hide among men, hidden from all except those with special abilities like the sight. Ferran and Mireia are two such special individuals. They arrive at the call from Warden Aker of suspicious activities in the Greenhope march.

Ferran and Mireia are a quality duo that I truly appreciate. Ferran has a deep hate of the ancient evil and a desire to prove himself worthy. Mireia seems to have a deep compassion for people along with devotion to the cause. I look forward to more stories about them.

Rend the Dark is easily my favorite story in the Echoes of Ascended series thus far.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017


TopazTopaz by Leon Uris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”’Look up Wilson and Roosevelt’s declaration-of-war speeches to the congress and work up a case we need it,’ the President said.”

 photo Cuban20Missile20Crisis_zps1fppw8rx.jpg
Nothing suspicious about all that!!

The Cuban Missile Crisis is, in my opinion and the opinion of many others, the closest we have come to World War Three. The citizens in America and Russia were not the only nervous people; the whole world was nervous. The struggle for power, as history has shown, never contains itself just to the principles involved. It bleeds into every corner of the world, or in this case, the radioactive fallout drifts where the wind will take it. The Russian President Khrushchev was convinced he could intimidate the young, brash American President Kennedy.

Well, if you know your history, you know who...blinks.

When Kennedy turns to his aide and asks him for those speeches given by Wilson and Roosevelt, even though I know he never uses that speech, it still sends chills down my spine because it really shows how close the world came to being annihilated.

 photo Topaz20car20shot_zps3xuchtw6.jpg
John Forsythe plays Michael Nordstrom in the 1969 movie.

This story begins with the defection of Boris Kuznetov, a highly placed Russian official who learns he is about to be executed, but instead of placidly accepting his fate he approaches Michael Nordstrom, an American intelligence officer, with an offer of information for his life and the lives of his family. Once in America he will only talk to the French intelligence officer Andre Devereaux.

Kutznetov reveals that there is an operation called Topaz, involving highly placed KGB agents in the French intelligence community. What I didn’t know is that Topaz is based on the true events involving the Martel Affair, or more interestingly referred to as the Sapphire Affair.

This is a steaming pile of radioactive information to have land on Devereaux’s plate, but the Americans need him to do something else for them. He needs to go to Cuba and confirm that those shapes in the U2 overflight pictures are truly what they think they are. Andre is French, and he can just say no, but there is a Little Dove in Cuba whom he would like to see by the name of Juanita de Cordoba, whose husband was a hero of the revolution.

Getting into Cuba is not a problem. Getting out of Cuba with the information about the missiles turns out to be extremely difficult.

 photo Topaz20Andre_zpsp8yw7uqy.jpg
Frederick Stafford is Andre Devereaux in the movie version of Topaz.

Let’s make a quick list of Andre’s problems.

1) He might end up in one of the many, many prisons that have been created since the revolution in Cuba. Viva la revolucion! Well, for some. The problem with most revolutions is that the ones who kicked the bastards out become the new bastards.

2) Rico Parra, a powerful Cuban official, wants The Little Dove for himself. He is pathological in his desire to possess her.

3) Andre’s wife, Nicole, leaves him and moves back to France because he doesn’t pay enough attention to her in Washington DC.

4) President Pierre La Croix doesn’t trust the Americans and doesn’t trust Andre because Devereaux believes that France’s future has to be tied to America. La Croix has Napoleonic visions of where he believes France’s future lies.

5) Who can he trust? There are highly placed KGB moles in his own government. Those same people will most certainly want him dead or discredited or, better yet, both.

6) Andre’s daughter is involved with a writer who has tweaked the noses of the wrong people with his incendiary writing. Telling the truth to a near dictator like La Croix is never safe.

7) Andre has narcolepsy, which when he is really tired or stressed can be temporarily disabling. It is a harbinger of more health issues on the horizon.

 photo Topaz20Hitchcock_zps29bexhuh.jpg
The Hitchcock cameo...can you spot his rotundness?

It is no wonder that Alfred Hitchcock decides to make a movie of the book. He stays reasonably faithful to most of the part of the book set in the 1960s. Leon Uris actually helped with the script, but he and Alfred butt heads over the character development of the villains in the story, and another writer, more conducive to Hitchcock’s ideas, is found. In the later part of the book, Uris devotes some time writing prologues about Devereaux’s adventures during WW2. This gives the reader some background, not only on Devereaux, but also the people he is most closely associated with. The very people who now are the top suspects to be the KGB moles in his government.

 photo f9da0525-ab54-46f5-8f01-3166505f2fd7_zpslwvowbdg.png
Dany Robin plays Nicole Devereaux in the movie.

This is really an intriguing piece of Cold War writing with a convoluted series of plots that kept me puzzling over potential outcomes. The only misstep that dates the book is some statements made by Andre’s wife, Nicole, about how she should have given herself over to her husband. I read them out loud to my wife hoping she would see the logic, but all I received was a series of eye rolls and complaints about feeling nauseous. Like most people, Nicole does want her spouse to conform to her vision of what she wants him to be--someone powerful, but less involved in the day to day activities of keeping the world safe for democracy. I actually thought that Uris does a reasonably good job presenting a balanced view of her, but some of those statements she makes later in the book doesn’t ring true.

With all this extra background, now I’m off to rewatch the movie. It was a commercial bomb and did not resonate with audiences. I have a feeling that I will watch it with different eyes this time.

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