Sunday, November 19, 2017

Ghost Walk

Ghost WalkGhost Walk by Brian Keene
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Ken Ripple decided to build a haunted road, The Ghost Walk, he has no idea what horror will be unleashed. Can Amish sorcerer Levi Stoltzfus stop unspeakable horror from entering the world and devouring it?

I've read a couple Brian Keene books (The Lost Level and King of The Bastards) in the past and the hints at his Labyrinth mythos grabbed my attention. So, when Ghost Walk popped up for 99 cents for one day only, my decision was made.

Ghost Walk is the tale of an evil trying to enter the world and the man trying to stop it. Levi Stoltzfus is a very compelling character, hearkening to Roland Deschain of The Dark Tower series and The Rider from Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter, although he's not a ripoff of either by any means. Levi is a sorcerer who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty, as long as it's God's will, and is surprisingly heartless at times. Seriously, Levi has a lot of potential and I hope Keene has him live up to it in future books.

The menace isn't as compelling as the character but is fairly chilling since it plays on its victims' worst fears. The way Levi dealt with it seemed logical given the workings of magic in Keene's universe. There was a little gore but not near as much as Keene is known for. The writing isn't spectacular but is more than adequate for the job. While he's no Elmore Leonard, Keene's dialogue is still pretty slick, balancing the horror with humor.

I don't really have many gripes with this book. I probably should have read Dark Hollow first but I didn't feel in the dark by any means. Reading more Brian Keene and Levi Stoltzfus will be one of my 2017 priorities. Four out of five stars.



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Friday, November 17, 2017

The Dark Collector


Vanessa North
Self-Published
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars



Summary



Jeffrey Kuyper was a once-in-a-generation talent and I was his muse.

Jeffrey's death shocked the art world and upended my life. His last portrait is an intimate reminder of our final weeks together. Now it's up for auction and I want it more than anything. When a cold-mannered man in a dark suit outbids me, I'll agree to anything to buy it from him--even a weekend in his bed.


My Review


So unexpectedly beautiful.

Oliver Conklin is grieving for his lover of 5 years, who died in a car crash a year ago.

Jeffrey Kuyper was an artist and a Dom inspired by his young, submissive lover.

Now Jeffrey’s estate is up for grabs and all Oliver wants is his last painting. With just a wave of the paddle, the Dark Collector, a big fan of Jeffrey’s work, is now its owner.

He agrees to sell Oliver the painting on the condition he spend the weekend with him and do whatever he asks.

Oh, how I wanted to hate the Dark Collector. He took advantage of Oliver and disregarded his grief. It was his smile, his soft expressions and tenderness that warmed me up to him. Their sex is kinky, passionate, and so full of emotion. Oliver likes the feeling of being “owned”, but he remembers that this is nothing more than an arrangement they made.

Gradually, the Dark Collector helps Oliver find himself and find peace.

“Is that what I’m doing? Making peace? I watch myself in the mirror as I lick the last few drops away. How long has it been since I’ve cared at all about the person I see in the mirror? Can the muse exist when the artist does not? How can this stranger, whose name I don’t even know, see me if I can’t?”

This is an exquisitely written story that explores a man’s grief, love, and healing. The ending is sweet and made me cry happy tears.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Hero, The Sword, and The Dragons

The Hero, The Sword and The Dragons (Chronicles of Dragon, #1)The Hero, The Sword and The Dragons by Craig Halloran
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nath Dragon may look like a man, but he was born a dragon. He's a rare dragon, a great dragon, like his father and grandfather before him. His father and grandfather were born dragons, became men, and had to earn their scales to become dragons once more. Nath is trying to do just that, but has yet to earn a single scale after countless years. So Nath continues to save dragons in hopes to become a great dragon like his father.

The Hero, The Sword, and The Dragons was a really solid story. A light and easy read for sure with some complexities that were quite interesting. It's also sophomoric at times like an eye roll inducing uncle with lines like this, "Nath Dragon is my name; saving dragons (and other things) is my game." I wish I could say that was the only line like that in the book, but there are quite a few more which is shocking since the story isn't even 200 pages long.

Nath is a solid character who purely desires to help dragons and please his father. He doesn't visit home often because he's ashamed that he's still scaleless. Nath has that loveable oaf type of personality yet he's a fierce fighter. His personality is offset by his mostly serious travel companion the dwarf Brenwar. Brenwar felt similar in personality to Gimli in the Lord of the Rings films in that he's a good friend, travel companion, and warrior.

The Hero, The Sword, and The Dragons wasn't a stunning story, but it makes me want to know what happens next when it ends. Any book that leaves me feeling like that when I put it down, is a pretty solid book in my opinion.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

MONSIEUR BY LAWRENCE DURRELL

MonsieurMonsieur by Lawrence Durrell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”I dozed on my bed until sunrise and then set out resolutely to find a coffee, traversing the old city with affection and distress, hearing my own sharp footsteps on the pavements, disembodied as a ghost. Avignon! Its shabby lights and sneaking cats were the same as ever; overturned dustbins, the glitter of fish scales, olive oil, broken glass, a dead scorpion. All the time we had been away on our travels round the world it had stayed pegged here at the confluence of its two green rivers. The past embalmed it, the present could not alter it. So many years of going away and coming back, of remembering and forgetting it. It had always waited for us, floating among its tenebrous monuments, the corpulence of its ragged bells, the putrescence of its squares.”

We first meet Bruce Drexel when he is traveling home to Avignon after learning of the “suicide” of his best friend, Piers, who was more like a brother to him. In fact, he was his brother-in-law as Bruce is married to Piers’ sister Sylvie. The three of them were close, so close that idle speculation might allude to the fact that Bruce married Sylvie only to be closer to Piers (his lover). Their friend Rob Sutcliffe was so struck by their entwined relationship that he made them the subject of one of his novels. Sutcliffe, too, has perished, but his lingering shadow keeps slithering along the walls of the plot, long after he has gone, by way of his notebooks and letters. Given that I am an amateur reviewer, I couldn’t help, but laugh at his description of reviewers. ”The reviews of his new book were all bad or grudging. A critic is a lug-worm in the liver of literature.”

I can’t imagine that Lawrence Durrell ever had to suffer bad reviews, of course not.

This lug-worm in the liver of literature will squirm on.

The fact that Bruce was returning from a post far from the gothic dilapidated halls of Verfeuille and his wife Sylvie left behind begs the question of the current status of their relationship, and with Piers now gone, is the connection too tenuous to continue? There was once passion. ”When I closed my eyes the darkness throbbed around us and once more I returned to relive, re-experience the soft scroll of her tongue which pressed back mine and probed steadily downwards across chest and stomach to settle at last, throbbing like a hummingbird on my sex. I held that beautiful head between my palms like something disembodied, and rememorised the dark hair cropped down, and then spurred up into its chignon, the crumpled ears of a new-born lamb, the white teeth and lips upon which I would soon slowly and deliberately graft back my happy kisses.”

The soft scroll of her tongue and then throbbing like a hummingbird --quick, someone dash a pail of ice cold water in my face. Let me just say, it has been too long since I’ve read Durrell, but what I do remember from reading him before is the weight of every one of his sentences. His words choices are lush and unusual. His supporting characters are all fascinating, and each adds new levels of interest to the plot and, in some cases, new insight into the trinity of main characters. ”Toby as a victim of the historical virus could not look at the town without seeing it historically, so to speak--layer after layer of history laid up in slices, embodied in its architecture.” As another sufferer of the historical virus, Toby and I would be fast friends or fast enemies if our interpretations of history differed. Or maybe Piers and I would have been that special kind of friends for our mutual love of books. ”Though he had always been a bit of a dandy his choice of apparel was scanty, but choice, with a distinct leaning towards clothes made for him in London. A couple of medium-sized trunks were enough to house personal possessions of this kind; but the books were a different matter--Piers could not live without books, and plenty of them. This explained the sagging home-made bookshelves knocked together from pieces of crate.”

Probably about 80% of the bookshelves in my house have been knocked together by myself, not of crate, but of cheap pine. I build shelves myself because I have to take advantage of every square inch of my library, so shelves are designed to go from ceiling to floor to not lose precious book inches.

The characters are so interesting, do we even need a plot? Indeed, we do. The issue really revolves around: ”Trash was taking an English lesson with a French whore who had the longest tongue in Christendom. What happiness he knew, in all his innocence, what pride in this girl with the slit of a mouth--so spoiled and gracile a slender body.” Ok, I’m just messing with you. The plot does not revolve around the whore with the longest tongue. Though once you read those couple of sentences, one can’t help pondering the benefits of having such a long tongue, given her chosen profession.

The trio of Bruce, Sylvie, and Piers met a guru who led them into the deserts of Egypt for a mind expanding experience with the help of mind altering drugs. Akkad then infused his discussions with pearls of infinite wisdom that made it seem that he may possess the answers to all the greatest questions. They were all impressed, but Piers felt like he had finally found what he had been looking for his whole life. Something larger than himself to believe in. Is it a religion, a philosophy, or a cult? The most successful spiritual organizations manage to blend some of all three.

The circumstances of Piers’s suicide were, needless to say, suspicious. Unless he found and ordered a do-it-yourself guillotine kit or figured out how to rig a flashing blade with springs and levers, then someone had to help him, or should I say murder him? As Bruce pulled the pieces together, it became more and more clear that the cult in the desert may have very well had a hand in executing, as Piers liked to call himself, the last of the Templars.

The subtitle of this novel is The Prince of Darkness , and certainly there are gothic overtones throughout the whole novel. The setting is around World War Two, but the book has a decided Victorian feel to it. There is more light in the world in the 1940s, but this novel definitely feels like a time when darkness was only lightened by flickering candles and dancing gas flames. The writing, as I’ve mentioned, is so evocative and so succulent that I had black ink on my teeth and (normal lengthed) tongue as I masticated each sentence, trying to steal Durrell’s vast talent...and make it mine.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Gluttony Bay (Sin du Jour #6) By: Matt Wallace

Gluttony Bay (Sin du Jour, #6)Gluttony Bay by Matt Wallace
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Matt Wallace makes me physically ill, I have made my problems with novellas known, it all boils down to my reading speed. YETTTT, EVERY SINGLE TIME a new Sin du Jour book comes out I drop what I am reading and devour it like I have never read a book before.

This series of books is what I call the best Netflix series that hasn't been made yet, Tons of fun, characters that you will love and wild, but awesomely good stuff.

Do yourself a favor, go get all these books, sit down and ENJOY YOURSELF.

3000 stars out of 5

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Dogs of War By: Adrian Tchaikovsky

Dogs of WarDogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an incredible view into a very very possible future. Dogs of war will make you think about the future of warfare, science and mankind. Actually, more like the nature of being. (yes, I am being vague...but I don't spoil things remember)

Great, very deep characters, which is an accomplishment considering the premise of the story, cracking action and great pace to the tale, This is a great holiday read if you like your scifi with a military edge.

Highly recommended.



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Monday, November 13, 2017

Duped and Loving It!

Shutter IslandShutter Island by Dennis Lehane
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Good lord, I was not expecting that! Heck of a good read, in my book!

Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island started off well for me and my tastes. Federal Marshals going into an insane asylum/prison on an inescapable island in Massachusetts during post-WWII to find a missing crazy woman, who apparently escaped. Love the setting, the characters, everything!

From here on out this review contains all kinds of spoilers, so you just stop right here, Miss I-Haven't-Read-This-But-Plan-To.

description


The set-up story roped me in. It took me far too long to figure out what was going on. I caught the signs Lehane shoved my why, but I willfully ignored them. Yes, looking back on them, I ignored them like a step-child.

Though the anagrams, the numbers, and then the very obvious prophetic dreams all stuck in the back of my head and told me that thins weren't as they seemed, I ignored them all in favor of trying to figure out Rachel Solando's impossible escape.

In my defense, I didn't know a thing about the book before reading it. I know people loved it, so I intentionally avoided spoilers. Glad I did!

It felt inventive to me. Maybe others weren't so fooled, but I was and I'm okay with that. I was taken in and frankly, I love it! I'm glad a book can still dupe me like that. Probably if I read more psychological thrillers I wouldn't be so impressed. But I am. 5 Stars!

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The Flattening of the Earth

The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first CenturyThe World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century by Thomas L. Friedman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Fucking flat-earthers...Oh wait, that's not what he means? All right, maybe I'll read it."

That was me about five or so years ago when friends kept insisting I read The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman. Finally, when my wife recently bought tickets to a local Friedman talk, I resolved to read the damn thing.

I'm glad I did. It's really good. I'm not saying it's prefect (I'll get to that in a minute), but this is a must read at least for a certain few people with their heads in the clouds. For one, it's a great book for folks who don't understand what has happened since the advent of the internet. Give this as a gift to your dad or gramps. If they don't use it as a doorstop, they'll get a hell of an education on the modern ways of business and sociability.

The other group of people that need to read this, or really any book like this, are those cretins who troll, lurk and spew upon the comment section of "news" articles online. Everybody seems to have an indisputable, unshakable opinion that they take for fact and which they feel the need to spray all over the internet. They are the modern version of every family's uncle from the good ol' days who would show up at family events and holidays seemingly for the sole purpose of annoying everyone else while starting an argument with another alpha male about politics, religion, economics and any other myriad of topics that most sane people know is off-limits around family and friends you wish to retain as such. The real crime in all this is that they don't usually know what the fuck they're talking about. They have one biased, uninformed talking point on whatever the subject is they'll let you hear it.

So yes, I do feel like a book like this is helpful for a segment of the population, especially in these particularly stupid days in the American dark ages. The problem is, at 600+ pages, this book is 300 pages longer than it needs to be.

description

The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century is not brief. That's because it's written as a journalist would write a book. This is a book-length feature article. Friedman makes a statement, maybe backs it up with data, and then gives an example via a full-blown biography on a business or entrepreneur. It's all good stuff. Some of it's even enjoyable. But it's more than necessary for what's actually being said. He could've done more with less. I honestly doubt I would've gotten through this if I hadn't gone with the audiobook version and had a cubic buttload of yard work to do.

Now, that's not to say didn't enjoy this or that I didn't get something out of it. I did. I am getting old and so some of these whippersnappers with their new fangled gadgets befuddle me. However, I did grow up in the age when personal computers were first coming into the home. I even had a Commodore 64, baby! So I'm not at a total loss in the computer age. On the other hand, I am a bit of a recluse and I'm not big into global politics and the economy, so sadly I am having to catch up on that and a book like this taught me a thing or two. So, let's call it a good stepping stone for the uninitiated.




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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Bannerless




Carrie Vaughn’s “Bannerless” is a science fiction book of ideas. Ostensibly a mystery, this short novel is really an exploration of the ramifications of the effect of scarce resources on society. But unlike the summary on the cover of the book, the main character Enid, an “Investigator” does not expose cracks in foundation of the society. What she does is enforce the laws of this community run society. Essentially, the Investigators are judge, jury and enforcer of the Coast Road rules. They travel from town to town to make sure the Coast Road polities are obeyed. The most stringently enforced rules deal with over-consumption. After the “Fall”, the apocalyptic catastrophe that killed millions and decimated society two generations or so ago, the remaining people had to band together to make it.


Small communities sprung up and down the Coast Road, grew their own food, hunted or fished and made do with a small amount of technology that survived plus the books and treatises saved by the founders. Vaughn imagines that birth control would be one of the main technologies that would survive this catastrophe. The Coast Road society uses the ability to control birth and control population to ensure that the towns and households do not over consume scant resources. People are only allowed to have children (obtain a Banner) if the community or their household can show the ability to support more children. And people who get permission proudly display their banners.


Needless to say that if people try to illegally gain a child, the Investigators are quick to punish the household by either splitting them up or taking children away from their families and parents or punishing the community by banning children for a time. In Enid’s mind these transgressions should be punished severely. Several times Vaughn depicts Enid’s anger as an Investigator. Her fear of what happened before and her desire to not have it happen again.


The novel is split into two halves. Enid and Tomas, her co-Investigator, and mentor, have been called to Serenity, a small community down the Coast Road, where one of the citizens has died under suspicious circumstances. The only mystery is whether the man, who appears to be bannerless, that is born without permission of the Coast Road, and ostracized in Serenity fell or was pushed to his death. Although the “culprit” is easily identified early on, it is Enid’s investigation of the reasons for his death that is the key. Serenity is a town run by a counsel made up of Ariana, Philos and Lee, three heads of households in the town. Enid’s discovers that Ariana requested the investigation, but has ulterior purposes. Philos, who runs the Bounty household, has run roughshod over the town for a while and Ariana wants to take him down. But while Enid pursues her investigation, she runs into Dak, a troubadour that she had journeyed with in her youth.


This is the second part of the novel. In a series of timeline shifts, Vaughn skips back and forth from the present to the past. Enid tells of the time before she was an Investigator and went down the Coast Road, visiting various towns and making love with Dak, a sweet playing musician. Enid journey is both a journey of discovery of who she is and who Dak is, but also a reinforcement in many ways of the benefits of the Coast Road society rules. Enid discovers that she wants to be useful and stand on her own merits, while Dak is a little hollow at his core, and Enid discovers does not want to get involved with Investigators or society. His wandering ways are as much a part of his reaction to what happened to him as a kid as Enid strong center are hers. Enid will also run into people in an abandoned pre-fall city, where a woman with three malnourished children is surviving in a nomadic existence. This is a woman who will not accept the population controls of the Coast Road and telling says to Enid, that the Coast Road "takes your children away"


Enid and Tomas investigation of Serenity, Dak, Ariana and Philos will reveal the tensions in a society that values control of resources and rules against freedom to do what you will. In the end, greed and power are always a danger to societal rules.


The real question for the reader is whether Vaughn through Enid makes her point. Is the Coast Road’s society just. Can religiously controlling reproduction and resources ensure that a society can grow responsibly? The jury is out for this reader. But Enid is very convinced and diligently pursues punishment for the people who want to break her society’s rules.

Cycle of the Werewolf

Cycle of the WerewolfCycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Under the light of the full moon, a werewolf stalks the people of Tarker's Mills. Can anyone stop... The Cycle of the Werewolf?!?!?!?

I first read this in high school, younger than my dog is now. It took me a few chapters to realize that Silver Bullet was based on it. Anyway, I found it for a buck at a yard sale a couple years ago and decided I could use a reread.

Like Kemper told me while I was reading it, Cycle of the Werewolf is essentially a Stephen King calendar. Each chapter is a month out of the year the werewolf is stalking the town, accompanied by one or more of Bernie Wrightson's fantastic illustrations. Stephen King's writing is as crisp as ever. Also, he wrote this during his prime so it isn't bloated or over-written in the least.

I actually prefer the movie in this case. It has a lot more depth. Marty Coslaw doesn't show up until halfway through the book. The book and movie hit most of the same beats. I think the book might rely on Bernie Wrightson's illustrations a little too much. For the most part, it's just a collection of werewolf attacks with not a lot else going on. That being said, I did like the structure, with every chapter being a month of the werewolf's reign of terror.

While it is strictly a B-list Stephen King book, Cycle of the Werewolf is by far the best Stephen King novel ever turned into a movie starring Cory Haim and Gary Busey. Three out of five stars.

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Friday, November 10, 2017

Unprison


Yamila Abraham
Yaoi Press
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars



My Review



I love the cover and was keen on reading a prison romance. The title, though, led me to suspect that this story would be light on the violence and hardships associated with prison life. In that area, my expectations were met.

Ryan Burgess is an 18-year-old Princeton freshman who likes to party and dabbles in cocaine. Even his rich and influential father could not keep Ryan from getting a 25-year sentence for drug trafficking.

The fear of rape constantly looms in the back of Ryan’s mind, as all the men he encounters are much larger and stronger than he is. He meets a compassionate soul named Donnie who gives him tips on survival and advises him to hook up with Ray Harrison, a 48-year-old long-time inmate who will offer him protection.

“I buried my face in my hands and let out something between a scream and a groan. What the fuck was wrong with me? I’d trusted the first asshole I met here and now he was auctioning my ass off to the highest bidder.”


Though Ray is attracted to Ryan, his primary interest is in friendship. The rest is negotiable. Ray promises that he won’t make Ryan do anything he’s uncomfortable with – either personally or in the various jobs he gives him.

30% into the story, I was sure that nothing bad would happen to Ryan, so I focused my attention on the developing relationship between Ryan and Ray. Though Ryan didn’t want to be called “kid,” he was indeed Ray’s kid and Ray was his “daddy.” Their relationship was sweet and intimate, and the sex kinky and adventurous. While I loved Ryan’s growth in prison, I would have liked some tension, danger, and suffering. Despite that, the portrayal of life in a medium-security prison felt authentic, perhaps even more authentic than what we see in movies or on TV.

Fortunately, Ryan didn’t have to serve the entire sentence and was paroled after three years. The ending felt rushed and the happiness a little too easily earned, but overall this was a sweet and satisfying story.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

To the Towers of Tulandan

To the Towers of Tulandan (Lays of Anuskaya #0.5)To the Towers of Tulandan by Bradley P. Beaulieu
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The Maharraht Khadija has reached out to her former mentor and teacher the Aramahn Ashan. She seeks his assistance with a powerful yet difficult to reach boy named Nasim. Ashan chooses to come despite suspecting Khadija's masters wish to use the boy as a weapon.

To the Towers of Tulandan is listed as a prequel to the Lays of Ansukaya series. Despite being a prequel it seems crucial to have read at least the first book in the series before reading this story. The story begins as though the reader has full knowledge of the world's terms and magic systems. Seeing as I haven't read any of the books in the series this prequel was more slow and confusing than anything else.

Unfortunately I didn't find anything in this short story that I enjoyed. The characters personalities and actions could often be summed up in a single word. Khadija is angry, Nasim is distant, Ashan is insightful, and the others mostly seemed various degrees of mad. The story itself begins as a clear cut case of radical fighters resisting those who occupy their country. Shortly afterward it turns into a science fiction philosophy story mixed with incomprehensible powers, unclear motives, and lots of vague questions asked. The story is only 50 pages or so long, but I found it difficult to finish. Perhaps if I read another book in the series first I'd feel differently.

The Towers of Tulandan is a prequel that requires reading at least one book in the series in order to understand and likely to appreciate it.

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

LEONARDO DA VINCI BY WALTER ISAACSON

Leonardo da VinciLeonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”Although generally considered by his contemporaries to be friendly and gentle, Leonardo was at times dark and troubled. His notebooks and drawings are a window into his fevered, imaginative, manic, and sometimes elated mind. Had he been a student at the outset of the twenty-first century, he may have been put on a pharmaceutical regimen to alleviate his mood swings and attention-deficit disorder. One need not subscribe to the artist-as-troubled-genius trope to believe we are fortunate that Leonardo was left to his own devices to slay his demons while conjuring up his dragons.”

 photo LeonardodaVinci20dragon_zpsc7ff85di.jpg

This paragraph made my blood run cold, not because I thought about how different the world would have been if Leonardo da Vinci had not been Leonardo da Vinci (tragic for sure), but because it made me wonder how many potential geniuses we are drugging into “normalcy.” Are some of the great artists and innovators of the 21st century hidden beneath the layers of a cornucopia of drugs?

I remember, as a child, reading a biography of Leonardo da Vinci. I thought that he had the coolest name I’d ever heard. My name seemed so pedestrian in comparison. I was even more struck by the term that still best defines him…Renaissance man. I wanted to be a Renaissance man. Unfortunately, I have fallen woefully short of that title, but the eclectic books I choose to read still show that that original desire to be a well rounded person is alive and well. In an age of specialisation, I find myself to be an outlier. I am asked so many times a year...how do you know that?

<I read.
I ponder.
I am gifted with infinite curiosity.
I want to know things just for the sake of knowing them.


”’Talent hits a target that no one else can hit,’ wrote the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. ‘Genius hits a target no one else can see.’”

Whenever I read anything about Leonardo or gaze upon his paintings/drawings, I feel that same pang felt by Antonio Salieri whenever he would read that latest music composed by Mozart. I am awed by Vitruvian Man and Mona Lisa, but I am enamored with Lady with an Ermine, the portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, mistress of the Duke Ludovico of Milan. Ludovico commissioned the painting after Cecilia gave him a son. There are so many things about this painting that arrest my attention. The alert, coiled energy of the ermine, looking as if it will jump out of the frame of the picture into my arms any second. The slight upward tilt of her lips, implying the hint of a smile. The enormous limpid eyes. The long elegant fingers that would have been a gift to a concert pianist. I can imagine the Duke coming to see her and just sitting in her rooms and watch her do...anything.

 photo The20Lady20WIth20an20Ermine_zpsoefr0f8u.jpg

While in Milan, Leonardo was also working on the famous bronze horse that was going to be three times bigger than any sculpture existing at the time. Unfortunately, this is one of the many great pieces of art by Da Vinci that was never finished, but in this case war was at fault. The bronze for his horse was used to make cannons, to no avail. The French take Milan, and troops used the clay model he had made, a masterpiece in itself, for target practice. Da Vinci left many unfinished paintings in his wake: The Adoration of the Magi, Battle of Anghiari, and Saint Jerome Praying in the Wilderness, just to name a few. Despite being unfinished, these paintings rocked the art world, and students flocked to see them.

We have about 7,200 pages of Da Vinci’s notebooks, about a quarter of what he wrote. These notebooks are filled with sketches of inventions, few realized and most centuries ahead of their time, scribbles of ideas, doodles, and detailed drawings of his research into anatomy. Walter Isaacson absolutely loaded this volume with plates of Leonardo’s artwork, but also of pages of his notebooks. One, in particular, was very moving. I know I’ve seen this very image before, but life creates changes in all of us; something seen at 20 may not have near the impact on the same person who sees it at 50.

 photo Leonardo20Da20Vinci20fetus_zps2x7gfx3y.jpg


There is something just so fragile, so human, so perfect about it that I felt overcome by the beauty of...us.

He worked for a variety of powerful, diverse men, from Ludovico Sforza to Cesare Borgia to Francis the 1st of France. Leonardo was a sensitive man, but also had a very astute interest in war. He offered many times in his life to make machines of war for various patrons. ”The brutality of war didn’t repulse him as much as it seemed to mesmerize him, and the goriness he described would be reflected in the drawings he made for his battle mural:

”You must make the dead covered with dust, which is changed into
crimson mire where it has mingled with the blood issuing in a
stream from the corpse. The dying will be grinding their teeth, their
eyeballs rolling heavenward as they beat their bodies with their fists
and twist their limbs. Some might be shown disarmed and beaten
down by the enemy, turning upon the foe to take an inhuman and
bitter revenge with teeth and nails….Some maimed warrior may
be seen fallen to the earth, covering himself with his shield, while
the enemy, bending over him, tries to deal him a deadly blow.”


So vivid, without him even picking up a brush, we know this mural would have been unsettling and would not at all idealize the splendors or nobility of war. It might have even given a psychopath like Cesare Borgia pause.

 photo Peter20Paul20Rubens_zpsaeqinkm1.jpg
Peter Paul Rubens reimagining of what Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari would have looked like.

I’ve read other books by Isaacson so I knew that the genius of Leonardo da Vinci was safe in the hands of the writer who has specialized in writing about some of the greatest minds in history. Da Vinci comes vividly to life in this biography and the magnificent plates scattered throughout the text of his life’s work. This is a beautiful, heavy book, printed on high grade paper, and will make the perfect gift for those of infinite curiosity.

 photo Jeffrey20Keeten20Da20Vinci_zps2dqtmo6r.jpg

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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Senlin Ascends By: Josiah Bancroft

Senlin Ascends (The Books of Babel, #1)Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an amazing piece of work, and honestly..I don't remember how I came across it. But as the crud goes around my house and town and I am deep in a sinus med fueled delirium. I pick up this book.

Beautiful language, amazing world and incredibly readable, even though I was a bit in a fever dream (hah) I was sucked in and was not going to leave.

Pick this up, this is WORTH your time, (I'm still sick..so I make less sense than usual)

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Monday, November 6, 2017

Obligatory Ready Player One Review

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

All the kids are reading it! And here I am, late to the party as usual. Actually, I wasn't even invited...as usual.

Ready Player One has generated the kind of phenomenal interest few could have predicted. The book seems to appeal greatly to 80s nostalgics and romanticizers. There are a few people from my generation who wish they'd never left the 1980s. There are also a few millennials who wish they could've lived it. The former seem to be forgetting and later is apparently unaware of how shitty the 80s were at times, what with the threat of Russians invading Red Dawn style or the fear of getting nuked out of existence in a quick and decisive WWIII. Plus neon and big hair sucks!

Ready Player One revels in Atari, Dungeons & Dragons, early computer games, and 80s movies (leaning heavily on sci-fi), so this is ALL UP in my wheelhouse. I should be going gah-gah over this. I admit, I did enjoy the romp down memory lane for a while, but fairly soon the light plot wore on me.

This book reads like a movie in which the kids save the day, very much like War Games. This is all just a game as a matter of fact. The threat of avatars dying does not hold the same tension as a person losing their life. That's not to say author Ernest Cline forgot to add the human-life threat, it's just not there for some of the book's biggest moments. In that way it reminded of Ender's Game.

The main character plays and wins the video games I grew up on in order to save the day. I should have been loving this book. But most everything comes too easy for him. He's great at this game. He gets lucky, because he just happened to have recently studied/mastered the next game thrown at him in this contest to become rich and rule the virtual world. The motivations that book this book didn't move me. In the end, it's not bad, but I just don't understand the raging hype for this one.

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Genghis Khan was a Swell Guy

Genghis Khan and the Quest for God: How the World's Greatest Conqueror Gave Us Religious FreedomGenghis Khan and the Quest for God: How the World's Greatest Conqueror Gave Us Religious Freedom by Jack Weatherford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genghis Khan was a baaad man...if you were a shitty ruler who oppressed your people and lived fat off the sweat of those less fortunate.

Jack Weatherford knows his subject inside and out. He's written numerous books on the Mongols and the khan in particular. He did an excellent job in helping me garner a better understanding of perhaps the greatest ruler of all time.

Genghis Khan and the Quest for God: How the World's Greatest Conqueror Gave Us Religious Freedom succeeds in portraying Genghis Khan as a man to be admired for his ability to gracefully accept the religious beliefs of our cultures and nations when he had absolutely no need to. In fact, it would seem to behoove him to squash the beliefs of all who came under his power, if for no other reason than to have uniformity of belief under his sway entirely.

Instead, this man had the wisdom and foresight to allow the people he subjugated to retain their believes, whatever they may be. That did away with the necessity of fighting a secondary religious war with highly fanatical partisans.

As I was flying through these pages I was remained of a modern day parallel that may help you understand the kind of ruler Genghis Khan was. Think Khaleesi from Game of Thrones. Both are warlike and brutally slaughtered many, but both brought about freedom for the previously oppressed. Yes, I'm drawing on fantasy fiction for an analogy, but hey, the legendary stories that make up Genghis Khan's life seem like they have to be the stuff of some master writer's wild imagination.

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Sweet Sequel

Sweet Thursday (Cannery Row, #2)Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was in Monterey quite recently and even visited the Steinbeck house in Salinas, so I thought it would be a damn good time to read another Steinbeck. As per usual, it was a really good read and as per usual, I was right. But then again, it's always a good time to read Steinbeck!

Having said that, I do worry every time I read one of his books, because all the character's always die and it will always be sad. The amount of hyperbole in that previous sentence is nothing to the level of my forgetfulness when it comes to Steinbeck's solid sense of humor. For like Cannery Row, Sweet Thursday is actually a comedy.

That makes sense, since Sweet Thursday is a sequel to Cannery Row. Most all of the old characters are back and their aims are almost exactly the same. Poor old Doc is set upon once again by Mac and the boys in their attempts do something nice for their beloved friend. Of course, they have their own happiness in mind and their ways and means aren't conducive to well-laid plans, so yes, things fall apart. That's the whole point.

I could see someone docking the book for being a repeat and coasting on the coattails of a successful predecessor, but that someone is a douche. Shut up, sit back and enjoy the fact that a major novelist gave you more of a good thing!

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Sunday, November 5, 2017

A Pretty Mouth

A Pretty MouthA Pretty Mouth by Molly Tanzer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Pretty Mouth contains the tales of multiple generations of the Calapash family.

My first exposure to Molly Tanzer was Vermilion. When I learned Colleen Danzig from I Am Providence was based on her, I figured I was due to give her another look.

A Pretty Mouth is really fucked up but in the best possible ways. I was hooked from the opening story. Speaking of which, Bertie Wooster loses a bet and Jeeves has to help one of Bertie's friends, Lord Calapash, with his bathtub-bound sister, who is addicted to the secretions of a bizarre octopus. From there, the weirdness train rolls backwards, exploring the various members of the Calapash clan throughout history, all the way back to the beginning of the line in ancient Rome.

Each story is written in a different style, from the Wodehousian language of the first story, to Bronte, on down the line. The stories all have a Lovecraftian undercurrent, with the Calapash's being known for their look, not unlike the Innsmouth look. There's sex, incest, twincest, murder, sorcery, Lovecraftian horror and lots of crazy ass shit.

The homages to various Lovecraft tales were well done and didn't feel like Lovecraft pastiches alone. Molly Tanzer put her personal touch on each tale, writing in a variety of styles, bringing a freshness to the Lovecraftian subgenre.

A Pretty Mouth hit the sweet spot for me. About the only negative thing I can say about it is that I wish it was twice as long. Four out of five stars.



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Friday, November 3, 2017

Saved


A.M. Arthur
Briggs-King Books
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars



Summary



He didn’t want an alpha to save him, but fate had other ideas…

Braun Etting was raised to know his place as an omega by his alpha father’s cruel words and fast fists, and he expects nothing but violence from the alpha who may one day mate him. His older brother Kell mated a cruel alpha who abuses him daily, and Braun is terrified of that seemingly inevitable future. When Braun’s father dies in a car crash, leaving Braun an orphan, he’s sent to a halfway house for omegas. But on his fourth night there, he witnesses a horrifying crime that sends him fleeing to the streets alone—and edging into his first heat.

Tarek Bloom is settled in his workaholic, single lifestyle, even if it is somewhat embarrassing to be a twenty-eight year-old unmated alpha. He enjoys his job as a constable, helping people and solving problems, so he isn’t prepared for his life to flip upside-down when he walks into his beta friend Dex’s apartment to help with “a problem.”

The problem turns out to be an unmated, nearly in-heat omega orphan who Dex and his husband rescued off the street last night. The even bigger problem is that Tarek feels the mating bond for this terrified omega immediately—and he’s pretty sure the omega feels it, too. But Braun hates alphas as a general rule, and no way is he giving in to the bond. All mating leads to is violence and suffering, so no thank you. But Tarek’s gentle kindness slips under Braun’s emotional shields, and Braun begins to want. To dream. All Braun has ever known is violent alphas, but Tarek is determined to make Braun trust him—and to trust in the idea of their happily ever after.



My Review



Braun Etting is a young Omega living in an alternate version of the United States where no females and three classes of males exist – Alphas, Betas and Omegas. Alphas are the most powerful in physical, economic and social spheres. In order to reproduce, an Alpha must mate with an Omega while he is in heat and at his most fertile. Betas enjoy much of the same rights as Alphas, but they are unable to reproduce. Omegas are the nurturing parents, valued only for their ability to bring more Alphas into the world.


“Only an alpha/omega coupling could create children, and alphas were the top prize. The biggest earners, the CEO’s, the inventors and the powerful. It was considered an honor to be omegin to an alpha offspring, and doubly so to birth two. Only one omegin in history had ever given birth to four alpha children, and he had a small marble bust in his honor at the Museum of Natural History.”


In this world, Omegas are treated as third-class citizens. They are unable to inherit property and unable to drive, unless they are mated and then only with their Alpha’s permission. Because the laws disfavor Omegas, they are vulnerable and subject to the whims of cruel Alphas.

When Braun’s abusive Alpha father dies in a car crash, Braun is sent to a halfway house for his own safety as he’s approaching his first heat.

This story explores the injustices and cruelty of this system, Braun’s deep distrust of Alphas and the infinite patience of his future mate, Tarek Bloom, a forward-thinking constable, and a sweet, likable Alpha. It was easy reading, compelling enough, and comfortably unchallenging, perfect for recovering from a bout of bronchitis. Unfortunately, it was also bland and derivative while I was looking for something more thought-provoking and intense.

While I enjoyed the setting, the tension, and the developing romance, I would have liked more nuanced characters, particularly the villains. Tarek was far too perfect and not at all alpha-like. Though he loved and supported Braun, I found him too indulgent and Braun too childish and petulant. I enjoyed the secondary characters, Serge and Dex, quite a bit more.

The events surrounding Braun’s brother, Kell, captured my interest, but I’m not sure if I plan to continue this series.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Nightblade

NightbladeNightblade by Garrett Robinson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Loren dreams of becoming a great thief known as the Nightblade. An honorable thief if such a thing is possible. Loren's dreams provide her comfort as her reality is far from enjoyable. Her parents are cruel people who physically beat her and verbally berate her. When her chance arrives, Loren flees her home with a wanted wizard named Xain. The constables who pursue Xain, begin to pursue Loren as well and trouble begins to follow her wherever she goes.

Nightblade is largely a PSA of the dangers of running away from home. No one will debate that Loren's home life is horrible due completely to her parents abuse, but Loren compounds her problems. When she encounters the wizard Xain, he tells her he's a wanted man. Despite that Loren can think of no better companion for the road than a wanted wizard. By all means run away from home, but don't head off with a fugitive from the law for goodness sakes. The first part of the book could easily have been called, Making Bad Worse: Loren's Story or How to Make Bad Decisions and Run for Your Life.

Loren continues to make mind boggling decisions as the story proceeds. I wish the girl was just dumb, but she shows her intelligence from time to time. Loren makes the wrong choice over and over again. Each poor choice leads to increasingly poor choices that multiplied the amount of people who wanted her dead.

Nightblade had some good parts. The most prominent part was the mystery surrounding Loren's blade. When Loren ran away from home she stole a blade her parents kept hidden away. The blade seemed far too fine for her parents to own and seemingly everyone who saw it had a notable reaction to it. Some of these reactions were quite intriguing and the mystery that shrouds the blade travels through the story.

Nightblade was a tale of poor choices and unfortunate consequences.

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

SAFE BY RYAN GATTIS

SafeSafe by Ryan Gattis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Ricky Mendoza, Junior, wasn’t my real name, just one I took as my legal back when it seemed smart to. Like, the real me died back when I changed it and what’s left of me just floats.”

Everybody calls him Ghost.

Sometimes a man has to move on from a name and start over. A new name is like shedding your skin. It is a chance to redeem and be someone closer to whom you wanted to be before things went sideways.

Ghost is an addict who doesn’t use.

A man takes a chance on him, teaches him how to crack safes, and now Ghost is about to disappoint him.

”Betraying this man, I’ve never hated myself so much in my life as now. I feel shame bursting up inside me, telling me, once a junkie, always a junkie. Telling me, I can’t ever be loved, or trusted, Telling me, I’ll break his world and everything in it if I haven’t already stolen it first.
It’s what I am.
Stupid.
Selfish.
Worthless.

I grab a big breath and use it to try to kill this negativity inside me. Or at least get it quieter. Because if I don’t, I’ll spiral. And I can’t do that. Not now.”


The DEA calls him and needs a safe popped at a drug house. Ghost has lost the ability to smell, and he knows what that means. The Big C is back, growing tumors in his brain, but before he checks out he decides he needs to do something to help others. It is 2008, the housing crises is cresting, and people, good people, are losing their homes.

He takes $887,000 from the safe.

He’s going to pay off some mortgages. He is a street wise Robin Hood on a mission of self-destruction.

Time has become compressed. Between the DEA and the drug dealers Rooster and Glasses, from whom he stole, he knows it is only a matter of time before they catch up with him. He has to keep moving and stretch his life. He has to steal more.

Glasses wants out. He has a son now who turns him all gooey inside. ”I feel like there’s a secret room inside him, a room inside a room even, one that I can fill up with good things and advice, stuff he should know if I talk to him at night like this. The more I do it, the more I can build a voice in the back of his brain that will guide him through everything even when I’m not here.”

The streets have left their scars on Glasses. Rooster has taught him a lot. Glassas wants to pass his knowledge to his son without his son having to experience the streets. He has to get his son away from all of this, and the only way he can do that is if he burns Rooster down. The DEA has frozen all his assets, all that money Glasses put into Best Buy stock when it was cheap. The only way he gets it back is if he gives them Rooster.

Oddly enough, Ghost and Glasses both end up working for the DEA, but pulling strings from different ends. As Ghost drives around LA, listening to a mixtape from his dead girlfriend, Rose, and Glasses contemplates how best to stay alive while playing the role of Benedict Arnold, little do they know they are on a collision course that will leave one or both of them dead.

”It’s Rose’s fault that I think stories are one of the most powerful things in the world. More powerful than knives and surgeries. More powerful than bullets. Because stories live past you. Stories can get into other people and live there too. Stories are like glasses, kind of. They change how you see the world.”

I’ve never read Ryan Gattis before. Not only was I impressed by the deft way he handled this duel plot, but also how he humanized monsters. Because most people, even bad people, aren’t monsters once you peel back the bark they have built between themselves and the world. They have been hurt. They have been forced to hurt. They are caught in a tragic play, and survival is paramount. They are capable of terrible acts, but they are also capable of extending compassion, as well. They are broken human beings who, if given the choice, would live a different life, but early on the street grabbed them and never let go. They learned to survive and became people they were never meant to be. This is a hardboiled, gritty, street wise novel that is not only heart pounding thrilling, but also incredibly moving.

FSG sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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