Monday, September 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

8991 stars out of 5.

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The Ruin of Angels By: Max Gladstone

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

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

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

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

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Old Grump Treks Across the UK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Steinbeck's Russian Journal

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

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

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

They went to Moscow...

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And they visited farmers in the provinces...

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

Impressions:

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

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

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

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


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

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Loch Ness Revenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, September 15, 2017

The Last Place You Look



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




Summary




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

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

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


My Review



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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 14, 2017

JLA: Earth 2

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

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

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

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

CADILLAC JACK BY LARRY MCMURTRY

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

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

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Larry McMurtry or Cadillac Jack

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Larry McMurtry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, September 11, 2017

"S-M-R-T!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Marple on a Mystery Train

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Bait

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, September 8, 2017

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



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

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

"Dark Sky", not so much.

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

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

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

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

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

Fun crew, some good dialogue. Tired story.

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

Art in Transit


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



My Review



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m glad this book exists.



Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Core

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 out of 5 stars

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

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Cloak and Dagger

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

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

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

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

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

1.5 out of 5 stars

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

THE NIGHT MARKET BY JONATHAN MOORE

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

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

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


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

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


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

Where’s Deckard when you need him?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh sweet nectar...daddy’s home.

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

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

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

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Monday, September 4, 2017

Last Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Much less rapey than Casino Royale!

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

It might have been For Your Eyes Only...

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...or more likely Octopussy...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Sir Harry Hotspur Of Humblethwaite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, September 1, 2017

Keith Haring: The Authorized Biography



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



Summary



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

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



My Review



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

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

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

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

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

Madonna said it best:

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


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