Monday, October 22, 2018

Block's Best?

A Ticket to the Boneyard (Matthew Scudder, #8)A Ticket to the Boneyard by Lawrence Block
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This might be the most intense Matt Scudder book yet!

Block kept up the tension by putting his main character at risk. That's something you can't do in every book, not in a detective series, and still maintain realistic integrity. But slid it in now and then and wow does it heighten the suspense!

Creating a thoroughly despicable and tenacious villain is helpful, too. It's been a while since I've hated a character quite as much as James Leo Motley. (Is it mandatory that all serial killers have three names?)

An almost perfect balance is struck between Scudder's professional and personal life. When Block allows his main character to breathe it makes sense and paces the book quite well.

A Ticket to the Boneyard continues Block's Scudder series in great style!

View all my reviews

Friday, October 19, 2018

You Never Cared



Michele L. Montgomery
Self-Published
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars



Summary




Jordan is a golden child — wealthy, popular, the self-professed ruler of the senior class. Jordan is also a bully, a bully whose group of friends mercilessly tormented seventeen-year-old Casper for being different, for being poor, for suffering silently. Random acts of abuse from his classmates were par for the course in Casper’s life, until one night, the bullying evolved into a hate crime and he, unable to endure, longing for peace, finally took his own life.

You Never Cared is the heartbreaking tale, told in Jordan’s words, of a life stolen, of love lost, and of a soul compromised. But ultimately, it is a story of forgiveness and redemption. As Sammy, Casper’s friend and lover, attempts to cope with the anguish of his boyfriend’s loss, Jordan attempts to own his part in the crime, trying to make amends but knowing his only hope is to carry on Casper’s legacy, to work to build a better future for boys and girls who, like Casper, just need a strong voice to encourage and stand up for them.



My Review



Bullying is an epidemic that has troubled teachers and students for years. The psychological and degrading effect it has on its victims is far more lasting than any physical wounds.

I am glad there are realistic works of fiction, such as this story, that explore the negative effects of bullying on the victim, the victim’s classmates who witness the bullying, and the bullies themselves.

17-year-old Casper takes his own life as a result of bullying that has gone too far. This story is told from the perspective of Jordan, who allowed his friends to torment Casper, and who was once his friend until their lives went in separate directions.

Sadly, this story did not have the emotional impact on me that it should have. Maybe there were too many “I” sentences, too much introspection, too much telling and not showing. I just couldn’t feel Jordan’s pain, suffering, and remorse, while Sammy’s agony broke my heart. I wanted to understand why Jordan allowed a friend to suffer and I wanted to be convinced he was sorry, but I didn’t like him any better at the end than I did at the beginning.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Riyria Sampler

The Riyria SamplerThe Riyria Sampler by Michael J. Sullivan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First and foremost I must mention that the Riyria Sampler is free on Amazon and Michael J. Sullivan's website. Michael J. Sullivan's site has various format options while Amazon only offers a Kindle edition.

The Thieves

This short story is one I'm familiar with as it's in the omnibus Theft of Swords. Hadrian and Royce find themselves about to be robbed until a choice word changes the conversation. I do enjoy reading about Royce being helpful.

3 out of 5 stars


The Viscount

A woman asks for help, Hadrian springs to her aid, and Royce scowls.

The Viscount perfectly explains Hadrian and Royce's personalities. Hadrian sees himself as a hero and is willing to do good for good's sake. Royce is brooding and jaded while exuding an air of danger. The two are opposites in seemingly every way yet they balance each other's shortcomings.

The Viscount while simple provides a good look into the members of Riyria.

3 out of 5 stars


The Jester

Riyria has been hired by a candle makers widow to help find a treasure. A dwarf Jester left pieces to a map and dangerous traps for any who would come looking.

The Jester is a solid short story that depicts the kind of mess Riyria usually finds itself in. Nothing ground breaking occurs. This is the type of short story that truly doesn't add much to the larger story although it reinforces the duo's effectiveness and relationship.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

EVO BY DIANE MAY

EVOEVO by Diane May
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”’From the info we have so far the virus kills between forty-eight and seventy-two hours after infection, and its R naught number is 16-20.’

Marchiori’s brows knitted. ‘R naught?’

‘Basic reproduction number. It shows how many people a single infected individual can contaminate. Basically how fast it spreads.’

‘And I’m assuming this is a bad number.’

‘Well, if you think back in 1918--when they didn’t have all the highways and skyways to travel on in a matter of hours from one part of the planet to the other--there was a worldwide outbreak of the swine flu that killed nearly fifty million people, and the R naught number was 1.4-2.8, then yes, I’d say it’s beyond bad. Probably closer to end-of-the-world plague, rotting corpses in the streets, death of civilization as we know it.’”


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This isn’t a virus you can run from. If let loose on the world, it will eventually find every nook and cranny of the earth, every mountain cabin, island retreat, and Arctic station. Even the rich who cocoon themselves from the world will find themselves equally susceptible. Possibly it could reach them when their maid brings their 5 o’clock martini sprinkled with a sneeze she could not contain as she plunked a fat green olive in the vodka.

So the point is, you can’t hide from it.

The only solution is to stop it before it can jump on a horse of the apocalypse and ride across the curve of the Earth with the scythe of death flung wide.

Of course, you might be fine.

Maybe.

If you have a very special gene, the G Gene. Which if you say it really fast, it sounds a bit like the ratcheting of a shotgun or the ringing of a sale on an old fashioned cash register. The Cha-ching of the G Gene.

Who would develop a dangerous virus like this? The Americans, the Russians, the Israelis, Muslim terrorists? Or how about Marvin, the chubby pimple faced twenty-seven year old, living in his mom’s basement, a proud member of the involuntary celibate group INCEL (yes, it really does exist.), who dug out the chemistry set that Uncle Ted gave him for his twelfth birthday and began experimenting on the neighborhood cats and his nieces and nephews until he had the superbug that would separate the population chaff from the plump kernels.

That boy was just never quite right, but no, it wasn’t Marvin, nor was it any of the other potential government/terrorists entities who might be looking for a break-glass-only-in-case-of-emergence Z solution to world domination.

It is something much more insidious, a billionaire who knows he has the G Gene with immunity from the virus. He is deluded and arrogant enough to believe that he is Thanos, about to save the world from overpopulation inspired starvation. ( I never really thought of Thanos as an environmentalist until Infinity Wars. Batshit crazy environmentalist, but still technically a Planet First kind of guy.)

Yes, Von Eckstein is a super villain, and who do you call when you need to fight a super villain? Well, I call Bond, James Bond, with a shaken not stirred martini cocktail in hand, ready to point him to the epicenter of this fiendish plot in a bunker in Verona.

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Juliet’s Balcony. Photo supplied by Diane May. (photo credit: www.ricwebdesign.com)

Wait? What? Verona? The home of Romeo and Juliet? The center of passion and unrequited love? It can’t be. It is such an endearingly cute, damn town. How could something so horrible be created in such a place? It is dastardly clever, in my opinion, to hide something hideous among the lovely architecture and beaming tourist trade.

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Piazza Brà. Photo supplied by Diane May (photo credit: www.ricwebdesign.com).

So the author, Diane May, does not call Bond, but she does bring in the American Alexander O’Neal, who works for some agency so secret that I wonder if he even knows really who he works for, and my favorite character of the book Verona Police Detective Livio Marchiori. I do have hopes that he will prove to be a replacement for my beloved Italian Detective Aurelio Zen, created by Michael Dibdon. (If you have not seen the trilogy called Zen starring Rufus Sewell, give it a look. It is fantastic.)

Now Marchiori is plagued by more than the threat of a life changing/ending superbug. He has a new partner who is more annoying than useful at this point. He has an American dark ops agent who is frankly out of control. He has a woman he must protect because she inadvertently stumbled into the virus plot who also seems intent on self-destruction. He has a crazed psycho killer who seems to be able to use hypnosis to induce people to kill themselves.

WTF?

”I can’t control it, she realized and a crushing wave of panic stormed over her. He was controlling her, controlling her own brain, telling her body what to do. It felt as though two entities lived inside her skull. Hers and his. A dark presence that she just couldn’t fight against.”

I give that a double *shiver*.

This is the perfect book for a long plane ride, or an afternoon on the beach. It pairs well with a chilled white wine or with a more robust merlot. Smoke them if you got them, but I wouldn’t recommend a funny cigarette of the “joint” variety as the natural paranoia induced by such a repast could be increased exponentially by the treacherous weavings of this insidious plot. I did dance with the book a few times, but when I did finally settle into the cadence of the writing I finished it in a single afternoon. There are original concepts, Q-esque gadgets, and a plot that will keep the pages turning. There is a hit the brakes with both feet plot twist that may leave even the most jaded among us feeling good about humanity. Oh yes, and there is unrequited love. How could a novel largely set in Verona be written without a dash of love?

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Picture supplied by Diane May. (photo credit: www.ricwebdesign.com)

Diane May lives in Verona and after plying her with all the charm I possess I convinced her to let me fly to Verona to sit down with her for an interview. (Some of this statement is a lie.)

Jeffrey Keeten: Excuse the pun, but where/when/how did this "germ" of an idea of a plot come together for you? What got you started writing?

Diane May: What got me started writing was Isaac Asimov’s The Naked Sun. I read it when I was 13 years old and loved it so much that I didn’t want it to end. So when it inevitably did, I decided to continue the story because I couldn’t bear the thought of having to leave the amazing world he had created. I soon discovered that my words didn’t seem to hold the same magical power though, as my characters seemed adamant on remaining lifeless stick figures and they didn’t jump off the page the way his did. But I kept at it, I read and wrote, I even won writing contests in school (because my literature teacher made me write stories when she discovered I was good at this), but I never actually considered writing for readers. I only wanted to write for myself, to create worlds and characters and, more often than not, I would do this in my mind without even putting it down on paper. Until one day when my husband found a novel I had written while I was at university and he loved it so much that I started writing for him. He’s always been an avid reader, just like me, and from that moment on he also became my critic, editor and motivator. And… the rest is history.
As for the idea for this story… well, I’ve always been fascinated by two things: genetics and the universe. I watch documentaries and Ted Talks about them, and one day, after watching an amazing BBC documentary about genetic engineering, I started picturing in my mind the scenario in Evo, more specifically the part at the end. And then I did some research and found out that we’re actually not that far from this scenario and that there are already scientists who are officially working on extending our current lifespan. And then I started thinking about illegal genetic experiments and what happens when we play with things that are beyond our understanding. Because no matter how much medicine has advanced, we still don’t understand how a tiny change in our DNA will affect human evolution in the long run. And so Evo was born.

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Diane May (photo credit: www.ricwebdesign.com)

Jeffrey Keeten: I could tell you are a military brat because you are very comfortable with your descriptions of weapons and military/spy gadgets. I particularly liked the cell phone sized gadget that messed with cameras for 60 seconds. I could use one of those walking around in the States given all the camera lens trained on us wherever we go. Can you share a bit of your background while being a military family? Did the government move you around a bit?

Diane May: Yes, it did… a lot. The first time it happened I was eight years old and I cried and cried because I didn’t want to leave my friends. The second time it happened I was eleven and I promised myself I would never make friends again. And so I started reading more – I was already in love with reading – and never left the house, except when I had to go to school or my mum told me to take out the garbage. My parents got worried because I would read between one and three books a day, depending on the length of the book, and I completely refused to go out and make friends. But I was happy because books never left you and they were portals to magical, wonderful worlds. However, there’s much more to life as a military brat than just the pain of constantly making friends and then losing them. I lived on military bases at times, I became interested in guns and military technology, I even learnt the Morse Code when I was 15 and most of my friends were either like me or soldiers… And you know what’s interesting? That even now as an adult who hasn’t lived on a military base for over twenty years, I still see army as a home and men and women in uniform as completely trustworthy.

The gadget you mention is purely my invention, as is the black bag O’Neal uses to destroy evidence during his mission in Moscow. And by the way, if the army is interested in making them they can go right ahead and do it, I hereby give them permission. :))

JK: You take us to America and also give us a peek of Transylvania. Have you had a chance to visit the other places besides Verona that are featured in your novel?

DM: Actually, I was born in Transylvania and I still go back there every few years. I also visited Germany and other countries in Europe, but I’ve never been to Africa. Sibiu, the city I mention in Transylvania, is the city I was born in and it’s close to Dracula’s Castle, which I visit quite often as Dracula is my uncle and he can get really grumpy if I don’t go and see him. Kidding! But here’s an interesting fact about me: I was born at two am on a full moon night in a town shrouded in a fog so dense that it looked like an impenetrable gray wall, and wolves were howling in the dark forest at the edge of the town. There was a terrible wind that night and when I came into the world and cried, like all babies do, a gust of wind opened the window and swept through the room so violently that the small white blanket the nurse was about to cover me with flew out of her hands and into the darkness outside, never to be found again. My grandma crossed herself and told my mom to always keep a crucifix by my head in the cot so the strigoi (vampires) can’t take me.

Vampires apart, Transylvania is an amazing place with breathtaking scenery, superb cities (see Sibiu, Brasov, Sighisoara), delicious food and wonderful people.

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Picture taken by Diane May. (photo credit: www.ricwebdesign.com)

JK: You mentioned to me when we were corresponding about your book that you worked as a Juliet secretary which I found fascinating. Could you explain to my friends and followers what that job is exactly?

DM: If you’ve seen the movie Letters to Juliet, you might remember this quote: “There is a place in Verona where people who suffer can leave a message to ask Juliet for help.” That place is called Juliet Club, it’s real and it receives tens of thousands of letters and emails every year from people from all over the world. The story of the Dear Juliet letters started in the 1930s when Ettore Solimani, Juliet’s Tomb keeper, began gathering the letters people left at her grave. Moved by their stories and wanting to help them, he started replying and signed as Juliet’s Secretary and, in doing so, created this decades-old tradition. Now there’s an army of volunteers who do this, and although you’d be tempted to think that since we’re living in a highly technological era the number of emails the Club receives far exceeds that of the letters written by hand, the truth is that when writing about the matters of the heart people still prefer to use good old-fashioned pen and paper. When you’re there and you see all those letters written in so many different languages and coming from the four corners of the Earth, as Shakespeare would say, you understand that the one thing all human beings have in common, no matter their age, nationality and social status, is the need to love and be loved. Some write because they seek advice, others need hope and reassurance that they will sooner or later find their soulmate, and a few just want to say thank you for having met the one they want to spend the rest of their lives with. When you sit down at that table, open a letter and start reading it you fully understand why Ettore Solimani couldn’t throw them away and felt compelled to write back. Reading something which comes straight from the heart and soul of another human being is so powerful and so moving that it tears down all your walls and defenses and settles in your heart, and you find yourself unable to ignore it; it becomes your problem, your priority. And the answer you send back has a piece of your heart in it. What Juliet’s Secretaries do is not just simply answer letters, but send out hope; hope that time and obstacles don’t matter, that one day we will meet the one we’re destined to be with for the rest of our lives.

JK: One of your villains, the enhanced ability Hypnotist, was a guy that the X-Men might find themselves fighting, yet the way you presented his abilities it seemed so plausible. I can't think of anything more frightening than having someone who can control our actions and be able to take over our minds. Did/do you have nightmares about this guy?

DM: Ah, this is a tough question. When I first started thinking about him, picturing what he does and how he does it I tried to look at it clinically, like a scientist merely observing what happens in an experiment. This helped me to become somewhat immune to him, but writing those scenes still sent shivers down my spine and made my heart beat faster. The very idea of hypnosis scares me because we don’t fully understand how the mind works, yet we are arrogant enough to claim we can control it. Believe it or not, what gave me nightmares while writing the book was not his ability to take over our minds, but the reasons behind it, the thirst to kill and the fact that he’s completely devoid of any positive human emotions. And when I wrote the scene where you find out why he is the way he is, you know what kept me up at night? The fact that I could understand him, I could actually see that tortured little boy shedding his humanity and crossing over to the dark side. And I felt sorry for him.

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Diane May (photo credit: www.ricwebdesign.com)

JK: So what are you working on next? Is this a first of a series or do you intend to write stand alone novels?

DM: When I wrote Evo I intended it to be a stand alone novel but after receiving reviews and messages where people told me how they loved Livio Marchiori, the homicide detective in the book, and how they would like to meet him again, I’m now thinking about writing a series with him as the main character. I already have some ideas in mind so that’s definitely a possibility, but the book I am currently working on is another stand alone novel, a crime thriller called Till Death Do Us Part. And trust me when I say it, there’s a new serial killer in town and he's looking forward to meeting you. ;)

JK: Yes! I’m so glad to hear that you will be bringing Livio Marchiori even more to life in a future novel!

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
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Monday, October 15, 2018

The Razor's Edge

The Razor's EdgeThe Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm giving this five stars. I don't know if it's exactly perfect, but I liked a bit better than Maugham's other most famous works which I highly enjoyed, Of Human Bondage and The Painted Veil, so that's saying something!

Looking at it, The Razor's Edge appears to be a sort of family saga. Maugham places himself into the center of the story, the author of some repute who gets invited into society for being the interesting, up-and-coming artist of the day. This gives him the opportunity to peek into the lives of the family members and relay the details to the reader.

The actual central figure is Larry Darrell, a WWI pilot suffering from PTSD. Larry turns away from society life to seek the meaning of his own life. This afford Maugham the opportunity to Herman Hesse-up his book with transcendentalism.

Actually, that was probably the whole point of The Razor's Edge. The family saga is a mere backdrop. However, I liked and appreciated Maugham's couching his religious pondering in a story. You might even call it a parable, for Larry is a very Jesus like figure, a loving and caring man who seems to be able to perform miracles amongst the sinful masses.

This may not be five stars for everyone, but I'll freely recommend it to everyone.

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Sunday, October 14, 2018

Pentacle

PentaclePentacle by William Meikle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When John, the concierge of a haunted boarding house, hears something in the basement, he goes down to investigate and finds tapes left by the previous man to hold his post. As he listens to the tapes, he's horrified to find the exact events on the tapes unfolding around him...

Broken Sigil was my first William Meikle book and this book is part of the same mythology: creepy ass houses that draw troubled people to them, people who bear sigils carved into their flesh.

This one is all suspense, glimpses at the horrors from beyond that threaten to break through into our world. It's all John can do to keep the house in order, much less fix whatever has caused things to come unraveled. As with a lot of great horror, Meikle provides enough hints for readers to fill in the blanks and supply a lot of the really horrible shit themselves.

Pentacle reminded me of 14 a bit, probably because of the mysterious setting and the contraption in the basement. I really like the mythology Meikle is building on here and plan to track down the related works at some point.

In a time where I can't seem to find enough time to read, William Meikle has proved time and time again that I can count on him for a solid story every time. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, October 12, 2018

Criss Cross


Jordan Castillo Price
JCP Books
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars



Summary



Criss Cross finds the ghosts surrounding Victor getting awfully pushy. The medications that Victor usually takes to control his abilities are threatening to destroy his liver, and his new meds aren't any more effective than sugar pills.

Vic is also adjusting to a new PsyCop partner, a mild-mannered guy named Roger with all the personality of white bread. At least he's willing to spring for the Starbucks.

Jacob’s ex-boyfriend, Crash, is an empathic healer who might be able to help Victor pull his powers into balance, but he seems more interested in getting into Victor’s pants than in providing any actual assistance.



My Review



Criss Cross is the second story in the Psy Cop series. Once again, a well-written, fun, fast-paced and suspenseful story told from Victor’s perspective. On a fishing trip with his former partner, Maurice, Vic discovers that his ability to see and communicate with the dead is amplified when he sees dead faces in the water. Meanwhile, his former partner, Lisa, informs Jacob that Vic is in danger, and Vic wants to figure out why he is scratching Jacob. Vic needs answers from Lisa, but she is in a training center in California for psychics and is unreachable. So Vic asks his new partner, Roger, to take him to California.

What a ride!

This is a very satisfying and engaging story that blends elements of mystery, suspense and romance. The reader is given a little more background about Victor’s past, and it is easy to understand why he behaves the way he does. Jacob is really showing what a sensitive and fiercely protective guy he can be. It is so obvious that he loves Vic and is willing to give him the time he needs to trust in their relationship.

The sex scenes are hot, sweet, and emotionally intense.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Wrath of Empire

Wrath of Empire (Gods of Blood and Powder, #2)Wrath of Empire by Brian McClellan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Landfall has fallen. The Dynize have taken over and are bringing in their armies. Lady Vlora Flint and Ben Styke are fleeing with their troops while protecting the refugees. Michel Bravis remains in Landfall attempting to help refugees escape the city. The Red Hand and his forces have enacted a plan that will require Vlora, Ben, Michel, and their allies to do their part and perhaps end the Dynize threat for good.

Wrath of Empire is a solid sequel to Sins of Empire. Anyone who has read the Powder Mage trilogy or Sins of Empire will undoubtedly have a great feel for how the story will go. The story has multiple point of view characters, intense army battles, espionage, and more than it's fair share of arrogant pricks.

The best part of the story for me is that Brian McClellan really delved deep into the psyches of Ben Styke and Michel Bravis. The reader gets to learn of both of them as men fully and they each go through intense quests externally and internally. Ben starts to look at himself and who he was and does not like everything he sees. Michel is forced into a massively uncomfortable spot on minimal information and the results aren't entirely what I expected. I didn't care for him at all at the end of the first book so the change was enjoyable.

The third point of view character, Vlora, I wasn't entirely thrilled with. Vlora had a quote about herself that summed up her storyline in this book,
"She wasn't going to fight her way out of this -- her only chance was to talk. Unfortunately, she was not good at talking."

Vlora truly since the start of the story has done a magnificent job of making enemies instead of friends. She did a reasonable job making a few friends, but a bit of diplomacy would have saved her untold amounts of turmoil. I can say that Vlora does care deeply about her troops and she's willing to do whatever she can to protect them. Her growth just seems minimal.

The strange part about the book they continues to bother me slightly is the Dynize. They seem to behave as stereotypically Asian people despite being a bunch of red headed characters. They have their family name before their name like Asians like Ka-Sedial. Their dress is a more Asian style. Seemingly everything about that reads as though they should be Asian. I just find the choice to be odd. I have to continually remind myself they are a bunch of redheads as I continually picture Asian people when I read about their interactions.

Wrath of Empire suffers from the same shortcomings as it's predecessors as the villains are largely unexlpored. In the Powder Mage trilogy there was no particularly main villain rather than a nation against another nation. The occasional villain would appear such as Duke Nikslaus or Kresimir, but the story never delves into these individuals enough to make them the enjoyable adversaries they should be. The same problem exists in this series. Outside of the elderly Ka-Sedial and a few of his minions there is no one to specifically root against. It just focuses on the nameless Dynize who are out to get the protagonists. I wish the story would delve into an strong antagonist or two as it would increase the tension for me.

Wrath of Empire was solid, it's best trait however is it left me excited to read the conclusion of the trilogy.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

BORN TO BE POSTHUMOUS: THE ECCENTRIC LIFE & MYSTERIOUS GENIUS OF EDWARD GOREY BY MARK DERY

Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward GoreyBorn to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey by Mark Dery
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”Only now are art critics, scholars of children’s literature, historians of book-cover design and commercial illustration, and chroniclers of the gay experience in postwar America waking up to the fact that Gorey is a critically neglected genius. His consummately original vision--expressed in virtuosic illustrations and poetic texts but articulated with equal verve in book-jacket design, verse plays, puppet shows, and costumes and sets for ballets and Broadway productions--has earned him a place in the history of American art and letters.”

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I first experienced Edward Gorey without even knowing I was in his world. The introduction to PBS’s long running series MYSTERY! was where I first brushed up against the uniqueness of Gorey’s imagination. I was in 8th grade. I can remember sitting there completely taken aback, unsure of what I’d just seen, but I knew I’d never seen anything like it before. Every week I watched the opening very carefully looking for anything that I missed the week before. It never occured to me to find out who the creator was of this wonderful opening or pursue other work by him. I wasn’t a fully developed researcher and collector of those things that pleased me...yet.

So when Little, Brown contacted me to see if I was interested in reviewing a biography of Edward Gorey, I felt a whole host of emotions. A) Even though I had occasionally browsed his books, I had never really allowed myself to be seduced by his work. B) I’d been in a Victorian phase for many years now and still had never delved into the carefully cross-hatched Victorian figures that Gorey created. C) This book could be the impetus to encourage me to finally launch a full out investigation of all things Gorey. D) I was thrilled with the opportunity to maybe finally close a circle begun when I was 13 years old.

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Gorey was all that I hoped he would be. He was a voracious reader. He took a book with him everywhere so that any time he found himself waiting in line or stuck in a boring situation he could pull out his book and take himself elsewhere. He had over 21,000 books in his library at his death. He watched over 1,000 movies a year. Think that is impossible? Not if you don’t sleep. He was a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, cats, and, most of all, Balanchine's ballet performances. To list all the things he enjoyed would maybe be contained in a scroll ten feet long if one wrote them in small, spidery script.

Gorey considered himself asexual. ”Thomas Garvey coins the useful term glass closet to describe ’that strange cultural zone’ inhabited by people in the public eye who ‘simultaneously operate as both gay and straight. Gorey kept perfectly mum about his true nature to the press; he only spoke about it in his art.’” I think that Gorey did not want to be pigeonholed as anything really. He was fussy about just being considered an artist when he really saw himself as a writer first. He was flamboyant in his appearance with wearing floor length fur coats year round and sporting rings on every finger. Supposedly, there was a lot of gay coding into his artwork for book covers that he designed for writers such as Herman Melville for Anchor Books. Looking at any form of art with an eye for overt or hidden symbols always makes me a bit nervous. Sometimes you find what you are looking for because that is what you want to find.

That all said, every crush that Gorey had throughout his life was some form of unrequited love for a member of the same sex. I wonder when we will reach a time when we are not categorized by our sexual preferences. Gay musicians/artists/politicians, etc. are still pressured by interest groups to declare their sexual preference, but by doing so they are generally suddenly defined first by their sexual preference, and everything else they do almost becomes a footnote to that revelation.

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The melancholy deaths of Gorey’s children.

His books were dominated by infanticides. They caused parents to be uneasy and made it hard for booksellers to categorize his work. The awkward size of his books was also difficult and forced many publisher’s to design counter displays for his books at the register. Kids, in general, I have found, love his books. The creative deaths of the children in his books could be scary, but we do like to be frightened, especially when Gorey leads us onward to an ending that leaves us smiling.

He didn’t mind confusing us either. ”N is for Neville who died of ennui.” Or how about this one: ”Still later Gerald did a terrible thing to Elsie with a saucepan.” What terrible thing could anyone do to another person with a saucepan? The mind of the reader was forced to ponder and ponder some more. Usually, I ended up laughing at the scattershot directions that my mind went, trying to pluck the right thread that would lead me to where Gorey intended me to go. Or maybe he wanted the readers to lead himself to his own meaning.

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Clavius Frederick Earbrass

One of my favorite stories of his was ”The Unstrung Harp”, which was about a writer named (C)lavius (F)rederick Earbrass. ”’The best novel ever written about a novelist,’ Graham Greene called it in all apparent seriousness.” The book covered all the hazards of a writer’s life: ”disappointing sales, inadequate publicity, worse than inadequate royalties, idiotic or criminal reviews, terrors of the deadline and the blank page.”

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The idea to have Gorey design the sets for the Broadway production of Dracula was simply a moment of brilliance. He threw himself completely into the project with “every leather-bound volume lovingly rendered of the books in Dr. Deward’s sanatorium library”. The bats, skeletons, death’s-head pansies, coffins, mummified corpses, Dracula’s watch chain strung with teeth, the drapes, and the exquisite wallpaper were all drawn with delicate care. This showed the world that Gorey was much more than just a cartoonist or “children’s” book author or really categorized any which way except that he was capable of showing exceptional talent in whatever medium he chose to express it. The show ran for 925 performances over three years and made Gorey a wealthy man.

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I was constantly, gleefully googling arcane references while reading this book. Gorey’s interests were wide and varied. By reading about his interests, I expanded my own passions, and really anyone who cares about the creative process should read this book. He was a Renaissance man, not only in talent but also in the way he found the world so fascinating. People might have been disappointing, but then he could always create more acceptable characters with the nib of pen. I will certainly be pursuing many more lines of inquiry inspired by this book. Mark Dery will take you on a journey into the development of a creative mind and introduce you to a man who figured out a way to live his life the way he wanted to. So few of us get that opportunity.

My thanks to Little, Brown who supplied me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Priest of Bones (War for the Rose Throne #1) By: Peter McLean

Priest of Bones (War for the Rose Throne #1)Priest of Bones by Peter McLean
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am sort of torn about this one. First of all, let me say I enjoyed this a good deal more than it will SOUND like I enjoyed it.

The descriptions of the story you read are very accurate, it is in its essence an historical style crime story wrapped in a low fantasy setting. It hit the spots for me, interesting world, I enjoyed the characters although they weren't anything you haven't seen before. Well done action, and although I felt slightly where the tale was headed I enjoyed getting there. And the ending...I am on record about that type of ending...(but in all honesty, well done Mr. McLean)

Ok, now you are confused, am I ragging the book or did I like it? I LIKED it..it is well worth your time and I say now the War for the Rose Throne series of books will be on a few lists in the next year or two.

So I stop ranting now and GO READ folks!

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My Own Devices By: Dessa

My Own DevicesMy Own Devices by Dessa
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every so often, you have a "click" in your head, something you see, or hear, or taste or etc and so on, occurs and all this time, whatever the heck it is that you didn't like or know about makes TOTAL sense.

That being said, I always have been a big music fan but never a hiphop fan, then one day surfing I ran across "Bolt Cutter" by Doomtree...then it was that loud resounding CLICK.

I was drawn to Dessa that day, her words, her presence is full in effect in this collection of essays, You will feel every beautiful word..that I promise you.

Read this, I don't have enough stars to rate it, so I give it one Andromeda galaxy worth of stars out of 5 (come back when you do the math)

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Monday, October 8, 2018

Nice and Easy...with a Convoluted Plot

Blonde Faith (Easy Rawlins #11)Blonde Faith by Walter Mosley
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another solid addition to the Easy Rawlins series.

I've read books from three of Walter Mosley's series and private detective Rawlins is so far my favorite character. He's old shoe comfort, easy like Sunday morning, and a good mix of thoughtful and tough. His courage makes sense and his honor is admirable.

I really like that these books are set just after LA's Watts riots of '65 when the city was in racial tumult. It adds tension to just about every scene.

Blonde Faith has a more convoluted plot than others in the series that I've read and I dug it. It played well off of Easy's concerns for his family.

Strongly recommended.

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Easy on the Hippies

Little Green: An Easy Rawlins Mystery (Easy Rawlins #12)Little Green: An Easy Rawlins Mystery by Walter Mosley
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins series is one of my "comfort food" reads. And it's not even a guilty pleasure like so many of my other comfort reads, because Mosley is a damn good writer and he's got it all going on with these books! I love the characters, setting, pacing, plotting...it's all good!

It's the late 60s in LA. Hippy culture is everywhere, but the peace and love message that started in San Francisco has got mixed up with weirdos, drugs and crime down in the City of Angels. Black detective and WWII vet Rawlins is just getting over a very serious car accident that put him out of commission for two months. He comes in and out of a coma like a junkie trying to get clean. Everything's a bit hazy at best.

As a favor for a friend, he goes looking for a missing young man on the Sunset Strip and comes into contact with all manner of colorful characters. You can tell Mosley is having fun reliving his memories of LA during this period. I believe he was finishing up high school in South Central at the time all this would have taken place. Much of his past has been poured into this series.

Little Green, the 12th Rawlins book, keeps this beautiful soul train rolling down the tracks. It's so very solid, yet it's not without fault. For one, the "mystery" is solved halfway through, and yet the story keeps going. Yes, there are reasons for it, but it does give a reader a strange feeling when you're midway through and you've essentially already arrived at the end, only to be told there's a new destination and you've got to keep going. But it's a minor quibble, because having to read more of this glorious writing is no chore!

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Sunday, October 7, 2018

Fungoid

FungoidFungoid by William Meikle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a horrible rain falls, ravenous fungus infects anyone it touches. Can Shaun make his way across Canada to reunite with his family before the fungus consumes the world?

Fungus and its life cycle have held a fascination for me since my first morel hunt and fungal fiction like City of Saints and Madmen holds a place in my heart. Fungoid now joins them in my chest cavity.

It started simply enough with rain, rain that burned and unleashed some kind of super fungus that consumed everything organic. The end of the world has arrived and it is by fungus. Imagine not being able to let a drop of rainwater touch you or you'll die horribly. That's the gist of things, at first, anyway.

Meikle uses several viewpoint characters to show how the fungoid chaos has spread across Canada. There are a couple hazmat guys, a mycologist, a woman taking care of her sons and the man on his way home to them. Some characters live and some die.

It's not until the fungus starts fruiting that the crazy shit really starts, when the fungus starts using its adaptations to kill even more people. I'll keep things vague but things went from bad to worse very quickly.

Fungoid is a survival horror tale somewhat reminiscent of John Wyndham's "cozy catastrophres," although there's nothing cozy about it. It's Fungin' great! Four out of five stars.

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Friday, October 5, 2018

Amid the Darkness


Leslie Lee Sanders
Self-Published
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars



Summary



Weeks after an asteroid strikes Earth, hurling Elliot and Adam into a fight for their survival, the two take shelter in an underground compound known as Refuge Inc. Shaking their past seems impossible as it comes back to haunt them, weakening the foundation of their relationship. Elliot, hung up on guilt over his former actions, tries to right his wrongs which leads him face-to-face with the troubling secrets of the compound. Adam's run-in with the enigmatic prophet makes him question Refuge Inc. and the survivors' future.

Working together to uncover the mysteries of Refuge Inc. not only reveals much about the sunless world beyond the compound walls, but exposes the truth about the compound's occupants … including themselves.

If their haunting pasts continue to dominate, it will steer them directly into a miserable future and their companionship will forever suffer. Either way, they are forced to prepare for the ultimate fight for survival.  Can they fight together and make it out on top?



My Review



This is the second story in the Refuge, Inc. series and I liked it quite a bit better than the first. Adam and Elliot are now living in Refuge, Inc., an underground bunker designed to protect people from the devastation outside. Adam and Elliot provide their names, occupations, and hand over their meager possessions to a man in white. Pets are not allowed, however, so Titan is taken away to the canine nursery.

The doors are closed, and Adam, Elliot and hundreds of frightened and injured survivors are given medical care, assigned pods and given duties based on their previous occupations and experience. Elliot is in food service and preparation and Adam is in law enforcement. No one needed to know that in his previous life he was really a dancer who dressed as a cop.

Life at Refuge, Inc. sounds too good to be true, and it is. There are plenty of characters here with devious motives and bad intentions. There was the prophet, a strange guy who Adam saved from being stabbed. There was Patrice, the woman who tried to stab him. There was Tami and her friend, Anita, who were the first survivors that Adam and Elliot met. There was also Jena, Adam’s fiancée who abandoned him, and the mysterious Mason.

I enjoyed the heavy focus on the plot – the mystery, suspense, action. I liked the variety of interesting secondary characters and the growth and development of Adam and Elliot. Elliot is less needy, whiny and more understanding. He is willing to back off and let Adam make his own relationship decisions and instead becomes more focused on the events within the compound. Adam gradually becomes more open and learns to accept himself. Both men are more mature and responsible, and the love they feel for each other continues to grow.

Though I enjoyed this story overall and it ended well for our heroes (and Titan), I don’t feel a need to continue on with the series.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Black Bolt vol. 1 Hard Time

Black Bolt, Vol. 1: Hard TimeBlack Bolt, Vol. 1: Hard Time by Saladin Ahmed
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Black Bolt wakes to find himself caged and chained.
description
He is in the very prison he intended for Maximus, but he learns even his treacherous brother doesn't deserve such a cage. Black Bolt must find a way to escape without his powers and with whatever allies he can find, including the Absorbing Man Crusher Creel.
description

Hard Time was a bit of a let down. It didn't truly delve into any aspect of Black Bolt. It's rare for him to be able to speak, but rather than him saying or thinking anything interesting he's largely acting kingly. This is funny considering his long ordeal through Inhuman and Uncanny Inhumans that saw him abdicating the Inhuman throne. I guess old habits are hard to break.

The story is straight forward once the scene is set. Black Bolt and the others are in an inescapable prison that is no longer the prison it was intended to be. It's a place of torture, death, and rebirth. The protagonists spend all their time working on escaping.

Hard Time felt unnecessary and didn't feel compelling at all.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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Wednesday, October 3, 2018

THE MAN WHO CAME UPTOWN BY GEORGE PELECANOS

The Man Who Came UptownThe Man Who Came Uptown by George Pelecanos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”When he read a book, the door to his cell was open. He could step right through it. He could walk those hills under the big blue sky. Breathe the fresh air around him. See the shadows moving over the trees. When he read a book, he was not locked up. He was free.”

The best thing that happens to Michael Hudson is getting locked up.
The second best thing is meeting prison librarian Anna Kaplan Byrne.
The third best thing is the day he opens a book and lets the magic happen.

The body might be caged, but books are time machines, enablers of armchair travelers, and facilitators for readers to live hundreds of lives in one lifetime. They can be a raft in a turbulent life. They can induce emotions that have never been felt so strongly before. They can give the reader a code by which to live his life. They can be a balloon tied to the wrist of the crushingly depressed that gently lifts them up.

Books are as dangerous as black sorcery, as compelling as white witchcraft, as powerful as a wizard’s staff. Is it any wonder that they were burned by the Nazis as if they were a living entity or by the Inquisition as if they were a heretic of flesh and bone?

Anybody need to be locked up? If you don’t read, maybe some time in solitary will cure you of your affliction.

”To him, a book was like a painting that hung in a museum. It was like a piece of art. There was nothing that compared to holding a book in his hands and scanning the words on the page. It made him ‘see’ what he was reading. It was how he dreamed.”

*Fist bump* to all the readers out there that do more than read, but also see.

Phil Ornazian is a man on the make. He is a private investigator who helps find people. He recovers lost valuable objects. He robs criminals. Most of the time he tries to do the right thing, but there are no lines between right and wrong for him. They blur into one another with vast amounts of room for interpretation. It might take a wrong to make a right. He lives by the Ornazian code of conduct.

Ornazian has a chat with a witness, and next thing Michael Hudson knows, he is free. When Ornazian pulls up in his black on black Ford Edge and makes sure that Hudson knows why he is walking around wearing something other than an orange jumpsuit, Hudson has a sinking feeling that staying straight is going to be difficult when you owe a guy like Ornazian.

Being free is generally an illusion for most of us.

George Pelecanos’s reverence for books is on full display. Books are dropped into the plot like exploding hand grenades. I was adding books to my want-to-read list on Goodreads as fast and furious as a Halo video game grand champion blowing through the early levels. My brain was lit up like a flamethrower. I was eating up pages like they were coming out of a Mickey Mouse pez dispenser. As if I weren’t hooked enough, Pelecanos mentions Don Carpenter’s book Hard Rain Falling, which is one of the best hardboiled books I’ve ever read, right up there with Black Wings Has My Angel by Elliott Chaze and the best of Raymond Chandler.

So bring this book, and let’s take a walk uptown together, and see how much trouble we can get into.

I want to thank Little, Brown and Ira Boudah for sending me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
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Monday, October 1, 2018

A Slave's Story

Twelve Years a SlaveTwelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A powerful and apparently true firsthand account from a free black man sold into slavery and his first to be free again.

Twelve Years a Slave is gut-wrenching stuff written by an immensely readable writer. Northup's journey is incredible...almost too incredible to believe. One has to continually remind oneself that he was not born into slavery, nor was he taken from overseas. His education is evident. This is no ignorant man denied an education and made to struggle along communicating with English as an untaught second language. In his accounts of his time upon Louisiana plantations he often is clearly more intelligent than his masters. So accustomed have we become to hearing former slave accounts relayed in some kind of pidgin English that it makes this cleanly and concisely related narrative seem like a fabrication.

The brutality is so finely detailed, the complete lack of justice so well elucidated and the story unfolded so seamlessly, that a reader wouldn't be faulted for mistaking Northup for an established novelist.

Twelve Years a Slave is gripping for its subject and execution, and I highly recommend it.



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Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Dunfield Terror

The Dunfield TerrorThe Dunfield Terror by William Meikle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a strange glowing fog descends on a Newfoundland town, Frank and the rest of the snow plow crew try to save their neighbors. But what does the fog have to do with a bizarre experiment on the Dunfield in the 1950s?

In the chaos that ensued during the tribulations at DarkFuse, this went on sale and I snapped it up. I passed on it when it showed up on Netgalley, thinking it was a pastiche of HP Lovecraft's The Dunwich Horror. I was wrong.

You can see the confusion, though. It doesn't take much to get from Dunwich to Dunfield and William Meikle has written his share of Lovecraftian tales. However, this was more of an homage to The Colour Out of Space by way of the The Philadelphia Experiment.

The story is told in two threads: the present day and the time of the Dunfield experiment and its aftermath. The parallel structure does a lot to enhance the dread. If scientists couldn't contain the fog, how the hell can a crew of snowplow drivers?

Frank and his neighbors have been haunted by "the fucker" for decades, a glowing fog that warps and kills anything it touches. When the fog shows up during a blizzard, things go south in a hurry. The isolated townsfolk drop like flies and Frank knows there is very little any of them can do. The juxtaposition of the blizzard with the fog makes for some tense moments, pitting otherworldly horror and the everyday horror of death by exposure or frostbite.

The experimental thread focused on the horrors of the unknown and things men wasn't meant to know. The weird tech reminded me of Pentacle, making me think it probably takes place in the same universe, and also The Fold and 14. I also thought it was great how Meikle used The Philadelphia Experiment for the basis of a horror novel.

I feel like I've come to the William Meikle party late but I'm here for the duration now. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, September 28, 2018

Before the Darkness



Leslie Lee Sanders
Self-Published
Reviewed by Nancy
2 out of 5 stars



Summary



After an asteroid strikes Earth, a series of violent earthquakes destroy secluded Phoenix and leave survivor Elliot struggling to stay focused in the bleak aftermath. And then he meets fellow survivor Adam. Together, the two search for reliable shelter and other survivors while distant murky clouds fast approach. Their hunt for shelter leads them down an alternate path when they find spray painted symbols directing them to a mysterious place: Refuge Inc.

As ominous clouds slowly shut off all light to their devastated world, they are forced to come to terms with their pasts and their growing attraction for each other.

Neither thought their pasts and personal crises would affect their ability to endure the horrors they're forced to live through. Neither thought they would be drawn so close to one another in the aftermath of an unimaginable catastrophe. By working together, can they continue to survive? Or will the mystery of Refuge Inc. cause diverse expectations and lead them to decisions that further threaten their lives?



My Review



I love post-apocalyptic stories and was thrilled to get the opportunity to read this short novel about two survivors drawn together after their city and everything they knew and loved was destroyed by several massive earthquakes resulting from an asteroid that struck somewhere near the west coast.

Elliot had been walking for many hours. Exhausted, hungry and thirsty, he had no idea where he was or if anyone else survived. He eventually meets Adam, and both men are ecstatic that they are not alone. They talk a lot – mostly about the things they need to do to stay safe, about their lives before the asteroid struck, and about how scared they are. Oh, and they find time to have sex too.

I like my end of world stories fraught with danger and desperation. A little crime and violence and real struggles for survival wouldn’t hurt either. The main problem with this story is I never felt the characters were in any real danger despite the fact that the world they knew no longer exists. There was a developing romance, coming out issues, guilt, clinginess, whining and insecurity. The two main characters exhausted me at times and I often wished they would just shut up and get back to their business of surviving.

Two things kept me reading – the search for Refuge, Inc. and the injured dog, Titan. Just when the story started to get interesting and the search was over, it ended. I’m curious about how the men’s lives will change and am planning to dive into the next book.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Barren

BarrenBarren by Peter V. Brett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tibbet's Brook has embraced the arrival of the fighting wards. The Brook has formed a militia and many of the town's elders have reaped the rewards of magic by growing younger once more. Selia Square, the woman known as Barren, is one such woman. The return of her youth has rekindled many parts of her. Selia seeks love in the arms of a young woman while trying to protect the Brook from the coming demon swarm.

Barren was an interesting story that really highlighted the life or Selia. When I first heard that Peter V. Brett was working on this story I didn't imagine it would be as compelling as it was. I hadn't read The Core when I first heard Brett was working on Barren and didn't know what a scandal Selia had been involved in during her youth. Loving a woman in the wrong family in a time and place where such was considered an abomination by many.

The story also reinforced one thought I always had regarding Selia Barren, that she does not play around. Selia from a young age was willing to put herself in harm's way to protect a person regardless of if she had to stand up to the Watches or a coreling. Selia will stand for what she believes in and protect everyone she can. It was good to see her get a chance at love even if she was somewhat uncomfortable with what people would say.

It was interesting to see what happened to Tibbet's Brook since it didn't really get it's own story conclusion in The Core. The Brook took to fighting demons with similar fervor to Cutters Hollow. It didn't have the wardcraft the Hollow possessed thanks to Arlen and Leesha, but it was innovative in lesser ways. Brett did a good job involving characters many people were likely to have forgotten about such as Brine Broadshoulders.

Barren is a good novella that brings closure to the good people of Tibbet's Brook along with a peek into Selia Barren's life.

4.5 out of 5 stars

I received the book for free through Goodreads First Reads.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

WILDLANDS BY ABBY GENI

The WildlandsThe Wildlands by Abby Geni
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”But it was Tucker who worried Darlene the most. Something was happening to him--something she could not identify. He was speeding up, growing more intense by the day. Their great loss had created a mechanism inside his person--buried in his chest or the core of his brain--and it was always humming. She could practically see the vibration of the engine beneath his skin.”

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It all begins with a storm. The swirling finger of a vengeful god spins down out of the sky and destroys Mercy, Oklahoma. The McCloud family has already suffered loss with the death of their mother, but now they find themselves orphans and homeless. They are the unluckiest family in a county of unlucky people. ”I remembered Tucker telling me that luck was no lady; luck was a mean drunk who didn’t know when to stop punching.”

Tucker always sees things differently. After the storm, it is as if something tears loose in him that has been held together by slender tendrils of what we call normal. He was always high strung an emotional whirlwind who was cursed with feelings that ran too deeply. ”My Category Five Brother.”

Darlene is the oldest, and when this storm takes away the McCloud house and their father, it also blows away all of her dreams of what she has planned to become. She sells their story to every news organization that is willing to pay. This creates conflict with Tucker, who sees it as unseemly. All Darlene is trying to do is get enough money to buy a dilapidated trailer and keep the family together.

I grew up in a small town so I understand the inherent jealousies, the prideful assertions about what is right and wrong, the cliquishness of the church going crowd, and a misguided concept that they are the righteous and all those folks in the big cities are fools on a one way express train to Hell. Small town values, my ass. The town of Mercy might be split on whether Darlene is doing the right thing, but the ones that think it is shameful make sure to let her know how they feel.

Pride is a luxury most can’t afford to buy.

Darlene is stuck in the caldron, trying to keep her two sisters, Jane and Cora, fed and having some kind of normal life. Tucker takes off. The McCloud unit, already destabilized by the missing pieces, now has to adjust to yet another smaller orbit. It is as if a moon has disappeared from the sky.

If truth be known, Tucker wants to bring down the Age of Humans. He would have fit in fine with Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang. He tries to team up with like minded individuals who ultimately disappoint him. Their commitment to saving the Earth is more of a hobby than based on a firm set of convictions. Tucker is untethered from the law. I keep thinking of the American-abolitionist John Brown, who was considered bat shit crazy, but who, through his actions, raised the awareness of the plight of slaves in the South. He forced people in the North, who may have been indifferent, to have to reconsider the issue. James McBride in his National Book Award winning book The Good Lord Bird really brought John Brown alive for me.

Maybe we just have to have a Tucker McCloud or a John Brown come along occasionally who will shake us out of our indifference and have us start to wonder, why is this cause so important to these seemingly insane men? Are they insane or are they the only people seeing clearly? Just by forcing people to ask WHY, the needle moves from indifference to an openness to wanting to understand.

When I lived in Arizona, I knew some people who were members of Earth First! This was an environmental awareness group started by Dave Foreman, who was inspired by Abbey’s book The Monkey Wrench Gang to become more involved in the fight to save the environment. They were considered terrorists (before that word took on even more meaning) by the FBI. I guess, if inspiring terror in the greedy capitalist pricks who were clear cutting timber in Arizona is considered terrorism, then yes, they were. It was a doomed organization, just like most environmental efforts have proven to be. The government squashed them.

Tucker, unable to find the properly motivated partner, finally decides that he needs someone who can be taught his vision of the world. He convinces his nine year old sister Cora to come on his quest to save the world. He can say he needs help, but what he really needs is a witness. He needs someone to observe and understand exactly what he is trying to do. ”Studies showed that 80% of people on the lam traveled west.” Well, Tucker is no exception. They are going to create havoc from Oklahoma to California.

This was a solid four star book for me until Abby Geni let me spend some significant time with Tucker McCloud. You can disagree with the young man, but you can not deny that he is committed to what he believes. He sees the end of days, but in some ways, just the fact that he chooses to fight back shows that he still thinks the tide can turn in favor of the Earth. He isn’t spouting rhetoric in some classroom in a university. He is creating the smoke and walking through the center of it, limping and grinning.

I also really enjoyed Abby Geni’s book The Lightkeepers, which is set on a small island off the coast of San Francisco. She is a storyteller who is shining a light on the plight of nature. She isn’t even crazy like John Brown or insane like Tucker McCloud, but maybe there is a part of her that wishes she were.

My thanks to Counterpoint Press and Megan Fishmann who sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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 24, 2018

Block On Writing

Telling Lies for Fun  ProfitTelling Lies for Fun Profit by Lawrence Block
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Crime writer Lawrence Block's book on writing is one of the best I've ever read. By being specific and giving practical advice from long experience, it's much more helpful than many others.

Telling Lies for Fun & Profit is like a 47 chapter course on how to write like a pro...well, hold up! It doesn't propose to turn you into the great American writer. You won't necessarily become a rich and famous novelist because of this book. What I mean is, Block gives you a career's worth of tips on how to hone your craft after you've mastered the basics. Quite literally, you must be able to arrange your nouns and verbs in the right order before a book like this will be of any use to you. Sound simple enough? Well, you'd think so...

Having read a dozen or more how-to-write books from established writers, I found that Telling Lies for Fun & Profit treads on some familiar territory now and then. But even when it did, I still garnered some useful knowledge just from Block's unique take on a subject. Even if it wasn't completely unique, it would at least have a fresh angle to its approach.

One of my favorite parts was when Block admitted that he essentially hates writing. Here's the whole excerpt. I'll underline the specific part, but as a whole it makes more sense:

...writing’s not much fun.

I really wonder why that is...It’s been my observation that painters, both professional and amateur, love to paint. They get genuine enjoyment out of the physical act of smearing paint on canvas. Sometimes they’re blocked, sometimes they’re frustrated, but when they’re painting the very process of creation is a joy to them.

Same thing certainly holds true for musicians. They only seem to feel alive when they’re performing. The jazz musicians I’ve known spend their afternoons practicing scales and such, work all night performing, then jam for free at an after-hours joint until dawn, just for the sheer pleasure of it.

In sharp contrast, almost every writer I know will go to great lengths to avoid being in the same room with his typewriter. Those of us who are driven to produce great quantities of manuscript don’t necessarily get any real pleasure out of the act; it’s just that we feel worse when we don’t write. It’s not the carrot but the stick that gets most of us moving.

I don’t mean to suggest that there’s no positive pleasure connected with writing. I enjoy getting ideas, for example—both the initial plot germs and the ideas that develop in the course of extended work on a novel. And I very much enjoy having written; the satisfaction of having completed a taxing piece of work can be monumental.

This latter pleasure, come to think of it, is a negative one, isn’t it? When I’m delirious with joy over having finished something, my joy stems in large part from the fact that I do not have to work on it any more, that the dratted thing is over and done with. So it’s nice being about to write, and it’s nice to have written. But is there no way to enjoy writing while it’s going on?

One thing that impedes enjoyment, I would think, is that writing’s hard work. Painters and musicians work hard, too, but there’s a difference. You can’t really relax and go with the flow while you’re writing—at least I can’t, and if anyone can show me how, I’ll be delighted to learn. Writing demands all of my attention and focuses me entirely in the present. I can’t let my mind wander, and if my mind wanders in spite of itself I find I can’t write, and when I want to write and can’t write I find myself possessed of murderous rage.

When a painting doesn’t go well the artist can keep on painting and cover it up. When a musician’s not at his best, the notes he plays float off on the air and he can forget about them. When I’m off my form, the garbage I’ve written just sits there on the page and thumbs its nose at me. And when it gets into print that way, it’s there for all the world to see, forever.


Painters and musicians would probably quibble over a few points there, but from a writer's perspective, it was nice to hear this sort of stuff from a seasoned professional.

From the standpoint of a fan of Block's fiction, this was also fun to read, because it was written in the early '80s. By then he'd published countless books and even completed a series or two. At the time though, he was just getting back into the flow of working on his Scudder detective series, the one that most Block fans seem to regard as his best work. To hear him talk about it with uncertainty provided a nice, autobiographical insight.

Highly recommended to writers, as well as to Block's fans!






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A Honeymoon Gone Wrong

Deadly HoneymoonDeadly Honeymoon by Lawrence Block
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After being attacked by some underworld thugs, instead of a rolling over and playing the victim, a couple decides to get revenge on their attackers.

This was originally one of Donald Westlake's (aka Richard Stark) ideas, which his friend Lawrence Block asked to use since Westlake didn't think he would ever have the time to get around to it. As Richard Stark, he was busy pumping out volumes in his Parker series. Block took the idea and ran with it. Without realizing it, his course veered somewhat from Westlake's original idea, so by the time he was done, he had completed his own book, one that would not have existed without his personal touch.

The story itself is solid. The execution is decent. Since Block's career spans from the '50s to today, this late '60s book could be called an early work. As such it suffers somewhat. Block's easy, flowing style wouldn't really click into place until the '70s. So Deadly Honeymoon feels a little stiff in places. Generally it's not bad, but for instance, towards the beginning the narrative skips an emotional beat and that threw me off for a while. I needed the closure of a certain reaction from one of the two main characters that I didn't get and didn't set right with me. It took a while for me to get over it and except that it just wasn't going to happen. Eventually though, the thrilling tale that is this book took over and I could enjoy it to its satisfying conclusion.




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Friday, September 21, 2018

Among the Living



Jordan Castillo Price
JCP Books
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars



Summary



Victor Bayne, the psychic half of a PsyCop team, is a gay medium who’s more concerned with flying under the radar than in making waves.

He hooks up with handsome Jacob Marks, a non-psychic (or “Stiff”) from an adjacent precinct at his ex-partner’s retirement party and it seems like his dubious luck has taken a turn for the better. But then a serial killer surfaces who can change his appearance to match any witness’ idea of the world’s hottest guy.

Solving murders is a snap when you can ask the victims whodunit, but this killer’s not leaving any spirits behind.


My Review



Among the Living is told from the perspective of Victor Bayne, a cop in Chicago’s Paranormal Investigation Unit. He is a Class 5 medium, with the ability to communicate with the dead. At the start of the story, Victor is attending a retirement party for his former partner, Maurice. He nearly crashes head first into Detective Jacob Marks, who eventually becomes his lover, and gets called in to investigate a very unusual homicide.

Victor is assisted by his new partner, Lisa Gutierrez, a cop who is not quite what she appears to be, Jacob, and his partner, Carolyn, a psychic investigator who is able to detect lies.

This is a very well-written, fun, fast-paced and suspenseful story that is the first in a series. Victor is not very comfortable conversing with the dead and takes pills to suppress his abilities. He is flawed, lacks self-esteem, hates shopping for clothes and is self-centered. Jacob is gorgeous, sexy, a sharp dresser, and hot for Victor. These two very different guys made a perfect pair, and I enjoyed every moment with them as they successfully solve a series of homicides and develop a relationship.

There are a few well-written sex scenes, but Among the Living is not a traditional romance where the main focus is on the physical and emotional relationship. Jacob and Vic are busy guys...there are crimes to solve and wayward spirits to deal with, but they do make time for love.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Inhumans: Once and Future Kings

Inhumans: Once and Future KingsInhumans: Once and Future Kings by Christopher J. Priest
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Black Bolt is the King in waiting as the Living Terrigenesis also known as the Unspoken is the regent King. The Unspoken became King after the death of Black Bolt's parents. All has gone well with the arrangement until the alpha primitives attempt to execute the Unspoken. Black Bolt, Maximus, and Medusa are convinced by a smart alpha primitive that their lives are in danger because they embarrassed the Unspoken by saving him. They flee Attilan seeking help.

Inhumans: Once and Future Kings is a story that just seems off. I've read up on the history of the Unspoken and the story simply made him seem vastly different. It largely reads as though it's the Unspoken's own account of the situation. He views himself as a benevolent regent preparing Black Bolt and Maximus to lead.

The story pins the blame largely on the Seeker

while also depicting Medusa as an angry impulsive young woman.


Outside of the strangeness of the story's continuity it was a solid look at the Inhuman Royals. They all get some page time and outside of Medusa's rage they behave in a consistent manner to other stories I've read about them. The story wasn't groundbreaking in any way.

Inhumans: Once and Future Kings is an average take that doesn't seem to agree with prior Inhuman tales.

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