Monday, December 10, 2018

The rhythm of crime writing

Mortal Stakes (Spenser, #3)Mortal Stakes by Robert B. Parker
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Parker was really starting to get into a rhythm with these Spenser stories. You can see the character coming to life. Everything feels more natural and at ease.

The triangle of deceit he created in Mortal Stakes is not diabolically ingenious, but it suits. Spenser is shown sorting out the clues he gathers and going through a methodical process to get to the bottom of it all. I thought perhaps Parker took a shortcut to the main baddies rather too quickly. It was almost like Spenser was drawn to them for no apparent reason other than getting the show on the road.

Extra points for this one due to the inclusion of the Boston Red Sox, my favorite team. Hell, the major reason I started reading these was because they take place in my home city (well, I lived 45 minutes outside of it, but it's still "my city" in a way.) Anytime a writer wants to use Fenway Pahk as a setting is wicked pissah with me!

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Spenser Goes to Europe!

The Judas Goat (Spenser, #5)The Judas Goat by Robert B. Parker
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spenser goes on a working holiday to Europe and the Olympics. Hawk joins him. And then there's some canoodling with Susan.

This fifth episode in Parker's famous Spenser detective series keeps the ball rolling, but rolls it in a different direction. If I were to guess, I'd say Parker probably had taken a vacation to Europe and wanted to incorporate it into his books somehow. He managed and the result is fun.

I'm surprised to hear myself say that about The Judas Goat, because the topic/Spenser's target is a group of militant racists and the less of those in my life the better. I generally don't even want to read about them. But I suppose reading about Spenser kicking their butts is fun!

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Friday, December 7, 2018

Still Life

Jaime Samms
Dreamspinner Press
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


When Allan Song’s ex, Mac, shows up to model for the life drawing class Allan teaches, he turns everything upside-down. Mac is still as infuriatingly attractive as when Allan first met him—and still trying to figure out where he fits on the gender spectrum. He’s more than a little out of control, and he’s taken some stupid risks that have come back to haunt him. If they’re going to get back together, Allan wants a real relationship—but for that, he and Mac will need to look below the surface.

My Review

I thought this was going to be a light, sweet Christmas romance. I’m really glad it wasn’t, as I’ve overdosed on holiday sweetness and am now craving conflict, intense emotions, and deep feelings. Jaime Samms delivered and after reading just one story, I now count myself among her fans. I also liked that the blurb for the story was kind of vague; still intriguing, but not enough to reveal too much information about the characters or spoil the plot.

Allen has known his roommate, Mac, for two years. Allen has always liked men, but Mac is straight, well at least until he starts flirting playfully with Allen while he’s working on his term papers and distracts him even further by coming out of his room in a dress. Jump ahead a couple of years to Allen’s classroom, where he is teaching art and Mac is the life drawing class’s model. By this time, the men are living separate lives, even though it is obvious they haven’t moved on.

It was just a small incident that caused Al and Mac to break up during a family visit at Christmas, but alcohol, flirting, insecurity, and stubbornness have blown the incident out of proportion and created a huge rift not only in Al’s and Mac’s relationship, but in Al’s relationship with his family.

The men are in for difficult times as they try to reconcile their differences and move forward. They are stubborn, hurtful and unwilling to bend. Despite all that, they are deeply in love with each other. A pregnancy, a death and the possibility of a major life-changing event conspire to bring the men back together. As they begin to admit their wrongdoings and deal with the consequences of their actions, they will become stronger individually and as a couple.

This story is far from a typical romance. Relationships, family life and friendships are explored realistically and a wide spectrum of emotions portrayed. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and loved both Mac and Al. I hope they have the strength to face the challenges ahead of them.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Thor: God of Thunder, Volume 2: Godbomb

Thor: God of Thunder, Volume 2: GodbombThor: God of Thunder, Volume 2: Godbomb by Jason Aaron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The origin of Gorr the God Butcher is revealed. description
His family died trusting in gods that couldn't be bothered to help. So Gorr has devised his own plan with the help of time travel. He created a godbomb to annihilate every god who ever has and ever will live across all time in an instant.
The only thing left standing in his way are three Thors from different time periods.

Godbomb was a good conclusion to the tale of Gorr the God Butcher. It's easy to see why Gorr turned out to be the way he was and how he grew to despise all the gods. He's truly sympathetic because all he sought was help and what he got in return was seeing his entire family including his children die in front of him.

The three Thors were interesting.
I really wanted to see more of the All-Father Thor because he's the character who has been seen the least among the three.

Godbomb had some solid writing and I definitely enjoyed it.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2018


The End of the End of the Earth: EssaysThe End of the End of the Earth: Essays by Jonathan Franzen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”If you stand in a forest in Southeast Asia, you may hear and then begin to feel, in your chest, a deep rhythmic whooshing. It sounds meteorological, but it’s the wingbeats of Great Hornbills flying in to land in a fruiting tree. They have massive yellow bills and hefty white thighs; they look like a cross between a toucan and a giant panda. As they clamber around in the tree, placidly eating fruit, you may find yourself crying out with the rarest of all emotions: pure joy. It has nothing to do with what you want or what you possess. It’s the sheer gorgeous fact of the Great Hornbill, which couldn’t care less about you.”

I always love those moments when something reminds me of how insubstantial I am, compared to the forces of nature. The ultimate feeling of insignificance for me was to see, in a flash of lightning, a tornado, in all its beautiful glory, just off the road from where I was riding in a car. The sight of this destructive power of swirling winds inspired instant terror and awe, and as the lightning faded, the terror for me increased exponentially with the descending of complete and utter darkness. I was so unnerved I buckled my seatbelt (this was the 1980s) as if that act would shield me from the onslaught of such a power entity.

I’ve been remiss about reading Jonathan Franzen novels. I’ve liked what I have read. He has a self-deprecating style that allows me to see the human in the writer, even as he dazzles me with insightful prose. He questions his own beliefs and is a master at disputing both sides of an argument within himself. This could lead to indecision, but that doesn’t seem to be an insurmountable hazard for him. He still continues to move forward, even as he keeps a tongue pressed into his cheek to remind himself that he could be completely wrong in his assessment.

Franzen is a Bird Lister, and winged beasts figure prominently into these sixteen essays. As a gently mad book collector, I am always excited to find someone whom I can perceive to be more insane than myself. These bird listers go to great, sometimes dangerous, lengths to check a bird off their list. Franzen’s excitement at seeing a Jamaican Blackbird, or an Opal-rumped Tanager, or a Saint Lucia Black Finch are equal to my own excitement at finding a rare Graham Greene, or a bright copy of a Virginia Woolf vastly underpriced, or say an interesting appearing book by an author I’ve never heard of before. Of course, I slide my new acquisition onto my bookshelf, while he hopefully retains at least a mental image of the bird he has spotted. He might be slightly more mad than I.

Franzen’s girlfriend offers to go with him anywhere in the world. He suggests the idea of going to Antarctica, which he regrets almost immediately. He is unsure why, out of all the destinations in the world, he chose to torture her with the idea of attempting to vanquish the frozen, southern extremes of the planet. ”By this point, I, too, had a developed a vague aversion to the trip, an inability to recall why I’d proposed Antarctica in the first place. The idea of ‘seeing it before it melts’ was dismal and self-canceling: why not just wait for it to melt and cross itself off the list of travel destinations?”

I like the practicality of waiting for Antarctica to melt and crossing it off the bucket list. I’ve become more annoyed with the whole concept of a bucket list in recent years. This list has become a grand piano, suspended over my head, ready to fall on me the moment I show any weakness or hesitation in accepting an opportunity to cross something off the list. The list is not stagnant, either. As I cross things off, more things are added. It is a list that can not be conquered; by design, I am destined to fail.

The book is not all about birds, who are harbingers of the end of the end of the earth, as his title suggests, or about climate change. He also talks about his relationship with William Vollmann and his reverence for one of my favorite writers, Edith Wharton. He drops in a few mentions of writers like Rachel Cusk, whom I have not read, and Karl Ove Knausgaard, whom I have not read enough of. If I read a grouping of essays and don’t come away with an expanded book reading list (which is in some ways worse than a bucket list), I am disappointed.

Moreover, Franzen delves into the research of Sherry Turkle, who explores the impact that technology is having on who we are. ”Our rapturous submission to digital technology has led to an atrophying of human capacities like empathy and self-reflection, and the time has come to reassert ourselves, behave like adults, and put technology in its place.”

I have recently started feeling better about our future relationship with technology. I’ve heard more and more dissatisfaction coming from people twenty plus years younger than myself, so it isn’t just nervous old fuddy duddies, like me, who are starting to understand the diminishing returns of more advanced technology. It is the same theory as being rich. Once you reach a certain level of comfort, your happiness meter starts to plummet with the more money you acquire. What most people find is that you are happier when you are comfortable financially, which could be equated to reaching that level where technology is helping to improve your life. The trouble begins when money starts to rule your every thought or when technology begins to take over your life.

The big questions that Jonathan Franzen seems to be seeking answers to in writing these essays are, can we adapt our thinking enough to save the birds, save the planet, and in the process liberate ourselves from our own destruction? The environment should not be a political issue. Scientists are in agreement about the starkness of the facts. We should not be putting ourselves in a position where nature can bring her absolute worst against us. The tornados, the wildfires, the hurricanes, the torrential rains, the droughts are all punishments, increasing in frequency and velocity, as we continue to abuse this lovely, lovely blue planet. We, whether we want to accept the task or not, are the elected stewards, and we must make better, tougher, more responsible decisions going forward.

I want to thank Farrar, Straus, Giroux for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Monday, December 3, 2018

A Brownstein Memoir

Hunger Makes Me a Modern GirlHunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Way more serious and far less funny than I expected. Also, very little about Portlandia. One sentence to be precise.

But that's okay! Having loved Sleater-Kinney and collected 7"s from that band and her prior, Excuse 17, back in the 90s, I probably would've read this book anyway. I'm always ready to hear more stories about riot grrrl and Olympia!

Back then her S-K bandmate Corin Tucker was the one I gave a shit about. I'd fallen in love with Tucker's voice from her previous band, Heavens To Betsy. The tremulous tone yet strident thrust of her borderline manic singing filled each song with a dangerous urgency. You felt like at any moment, this was a person who might come spectacularly unhinged and, emotionally or physically, you could be caught in the crossfire.

There is plenty about Tucker in Carrie Brownstein's Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, but that's the thing, this is Brownstein's book. It's about her journey, and wow, it turned out to be a hell of a ride! Without giving away too much, she endured a youth that could easily have turned her into a societal nightmare, another soul damaged by upbringing that might have continued the cycle and spread the negative over others. Instead, she found a niche and fought for it. She became a success in one chosen field (music), then another (acting), and now she's succeeded as an author, too. That's determination!

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Friday, November 30, 2018


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


Victor Bayne’s job as a PsyCop involves tracking down dead people and getting them to spill their guts about their final moments. It's never been fun, per se. But it's not usually this annoying.

Vic has just moved in with his boyfriend Jacob, he can’t figure out where anything’s packed, and his co-worker is pressuring him to have a housewarming party. Can’t a guy catch a break?

On a more sinister note, Vic discovers there’s absolutely no trace of him online. No trace of anyone else who trained at "Camp Hell," either. Everyone Vic knows has signed a mysterious set of papers to ensure his “privacy.” The contracts are so confidential that even Vic has never heard of them. But Jacob might have.

What other secrets has Jacob been keeping?

My Review

I really enjoyed the fourth story in the Psy Cop series. When Vic browses the internet, he realizes his name, the name of the psych training institute where he was institutionalized (Camp Heliotrope), and the names of others he knew there cannot be found. Jacob is asked to help solve an unusual sexual assault case. Vic is starting to learn more about his abilities. And everyone has secrets… even Jacob.

Secrets is another fun story that introduces new characters and revisits old ones. Lisa Gutierrez, Vic’s second partner, is back and coming to terms with her psychic abilities. Crash, Jacob’s ex, knows about Jacob’s case and Vic reveals his jealous side. As always, Jacob can’t get enough of Vic.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Thor: God of Thunder, Volume 1: The God Butcher

Thor: God of Thunder, Volume 1: The God ButcherThor: God of Thunder, Volume 1: The God Butcher by Jason Aaron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Someone is hunting down and killing every god they can find.
Thor has fought this God Butcher
and he surprisingly survived. Now the butcher carries out his work and he's saving Thor for last. The butcher has been a thorn in Thor's side for thousands of years
and he's seeking to stop him.

The God Butcher is hands down the most interesting and well written Thor story I have ever read. It also is the first time I've ever seen Thor depicted in a manner that he or other eternals are prayer answering helpful gods. Seeing Thor come to the aid of people on a far off planet that needed water was surprising to say the least.

Witnessing Thor so shaken and uncertain is also surprising because other than times he's been depowered, Thor always presents himself as in search of a good battle and generally jovial. Thor is pensive and desperate to stop The Good Butcher and he's getting increasingly aggravated at only finding dead gods rather than their killer.

The God Butcher was thrilling and I'm excited to see where the story heads from here.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018


A Ladder to the SkyA Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”I was a good-looking boy and I brought him back to life. I may have taken advantage of his good nature, but why not? I flirted with him, made sure that I remained sexually ambiguous at all times. Always a possibility but never a certainty. I led him on to the point where he was so overwhelmed with desire that I think there was literally nothing he wouldn’t have done for me, had I asked. And then, when I got everything I needed from him, I wrote….”

What’s wrong with that?

Well, a lot, but then the world is full of givers and users, and sometimes the givers become users, and when circumstances become dire enough, even users can sometimes become givers. We all have users in our life, those people who always remind us of how good a friend we are when they need something, but when we need something in return, suddenly they are not as good a friend as they professed to be. Hopefully, none of you have a Maurice Swift in your life.

Other reviewers make comparisons with Patricia Highsmith novels, which is spot on, but Swift reminds me the most of the main character (I’d tell you his name, but part of the subterfuge of the novel is his identity) in A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin. If you like novels involving sociopaths, who are infinitely fascinating because of their ability to walk among us and seem reasonably normal, then definitely put the Levin on your reading list.

Now the question becomes, as you get to know Swift, is he a more garden variety sociopath, or is he a full out psychopath?

The book explores the idea of harm, or should I say degrees of inflicted harm? Is stealing ideas really wrong? Does a man’s life story belong to him once he has told it to someone else? Is taking a good idea poorly written by another writer and turning it into a much better presented story really immoral? After all, isn’t the idea just lost in bad prose until someone, say a Maurice Swift, who is a good writer, can salvage it for literature?

Swift’s father is a plumber by trade, and the family intends for Maurice to be a plumber, as well. To them, writers only come from well-to-do families who can afford to give their offspring an Oxford level education. There is this great scene that, in varying degrees, plays out in families all over the world when a child comes to their parents and says I want to be a writer, painter, dancer, or musician. Mention any of those professions, and it will send a finger of fear down any middle class patriarch’s back. Swift makes the mistake of mentioning to his father D. H. Lawrence’s modest background before becoming a well respected author as an example that a plumber’s son, too, can become a writer.

”’That D. H. Lawrence only wrote filth,’ replied his father. ‘Naked men wrestling with each other and posh pieces having it off with the gamekeeper. Queer stuff, if you ask me. Written for poofters with fancy ideas. I’ll not have any of it in the house.’”

I think Dad might have a flair for writing himself. ”Posh pieces having it off with the gamekeeper.” It got me all tingly.

One of my favorite parts of the book is when Maurice Swift, as the companion to yet another writer he is using to gain influence in the publishing industry, visits Gore Vidal. Now, Gore appreciates a chiseled pair of buttocks and a rigid, muscular stomach as much as the next gay man, but he is no one’s fool. His interactions with Swift are simply marvelous. The sexual teasing and charm that Swift has used so effectively on other male writers is more of an irritation to Gore, who may have seen some of himself in the foppish hair, good looks of Swift. (Of course, Gore had been better looking, whittier, and more elegant.).

”He felt a sudden desire to anger-fuck the boy, then toss him over the cliffs into the sea below, to watch as his body bounced off the rocks and his bones smashed into a thousand pieces.”

Goodness, now there is a frightening view of the mind of an aging man who finds the manipulations of youthful, mercenary exuberance to be something to shatter rather than preserve. Of course, if Swift had been more polished and less overtly, coldly calculating and had displayed more naive charm, then maybe he might have had more success lowering Gore’s defenses.

If Swift had been born with a creative mind, would he have been so feral in his interactions with his mentors, his “loved” ones, his proteges? If plot ideas were bubbling out of him like an erupting Vesuvius, would he have felt so much desperation? Is he willing to let himself become more psychopath than sociopath? I don’t think Swift would have ever been very likeable or a model of human behavior, but maybe if he had been blessed with an inventive well spring of a mind, his impact on those he associates with would be less catastrophic.

”’I suppose it’s difficult to talk about a work in progress. You never know who might steal your ideas.’” There is a reason why writers are careful about discussing plots or letting too many people read their work before it is finished. You don’t have to know someone like Maurice Swift to feel the need to be careful. I remember once in college I was writing some fiction for fun and someone I knew, with whom I shared it, took all the characters’ names in my story and used them in a story he was working on. It was really WEIRD. I kind of laughed it off, but at the same time I felt violated, like something had been stolen from me. He acted like it was no big deal.

Unbridled ambition can be a positive thing in the lives of those surrounding it, or it can be a fast moving car that leaves people it touches crushed, bereft, and walking down a lonely road, watching the taillights disappear over the horizon. This is a cautionary tale about the hazards of beauty without substance. Do not be fooled.

I can’t really imagine a serious reader or writer who would not like this book. Given the numerous points of potential discussion this novel provides, it would make a great book club book. How far would you go to be successful? You may not go as far as Maurice Swift, but what degree is acceptable? Maybe you will find out things about your book club members you never knew before!

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Monday, November 26, 2018

The Power Walking Dead

Rise of the Governor (The Walking Dead #1)Rise of the Governor by Robert Kirkman
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Realizing there wasn't enough horror in my reading world and being a fan of The Walking Dead tv show, I figured a book based on the backstory of one of the franchise's most notorious characters was a safe bet for some good reading. I was correct!

Rise of the Governor is wall-to-wall anus-puckering tension and heart-thumping action. The author's workman-like prose powers the story forward at an almost non-stop pace (jesus there's a lot of dashes going on here!) from beginning to end.

And what an end! I was legitimately bamboozled by a nice twist the author added. It was necessary to my overall enjoyment. I mean, it would've been a dang good book without it, but with it Rise of the Governor is elevated a notch or two in my overall estimation.

A powerful start to the Governor's saga!

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Superb Steam!

Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School, #1)Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fantastic fun! Packed with Wodehousian humor!

Whip-smart author Gail Carriger kicks off a diabolically clever girl's school espionage series in style!

Whereas Austen prodded the society she was associated with, Etiquette & Espionage pokes fun at the Regency, early Victorian and Industrial Age manners and dress in a way that brands it with a slap on the ass!...a loving one though. It's clear that Carriger has an affinity for the period.

Set in a steampunk world, the book is all gussied up in the sort of lavish detail that evokes a magical world. The addition of supernatural creatures and the fantastical school makes one leap to make Harry Potter parallels, but actually the overall tone of this is more like Jonathan Stroud's wonderful Bartimaeus triology.

Clever, funny, and flat out fun!

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Friday, November 23, 2018

The Darker Side of Trey Grey

Tara Spears
T.O.S.O.L. Books
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars


No one told Trey Grey that life could be dark and unpredictable. With the death of his father when he was eight, his mother’s departure from Earth on a syringe full of Heroin and the brutal abuse of his stepfather, Trey learned these lessons all too well on his own.

Now at twenty years of age, he is nearing the completion of his accounting degree and can finally glimpse the end of his life as a prostitute, the only profession he has ever known.

Wracked by nightmares of Willie’s years of abuse, and controlled by severe obsessive-compulsive disorders as a result, he seems to have a tentative handle on his own life. That is, as long as he keeps a death-grip and no one touches his Camaro, kitten.

But even the best laid plans can be torn to gory bits.

His savior comes in the unlikely form of a spiky-haired blond named Justin, after a night of drunken debauchery that neither of them seems able to forget. Justin might just need Trey as much as Trey needs him.

Trey travels through his fearscapes and begins to find his own forgiveness, but at what cost to the manic-depressive Justin? Will they be able to live through the trauma of each other’s lives and find their own version of normal?

My Review

First off, I really hope that the author sent me an uncorrected review copy and this was not the final published version. I would have been very annoyed if I had paid $3.99 for it. Though my tolerance is higher for errors in self-published books, there were so many here that they threw me out of the story on many occasions. Typos I can handle, but constant misuse and abuse of words was much harder to put up with.

“too” instead of “to”

The club was roué, fashionable and raunchy all at once.

She has a reprobation toward sex.

My hips thrust fallaciously…

And it goes on…

The woman-hating that goes on in the m/m romance genre is so prevalent, that it wasn’t a surprise to me here. It’s OK to include well-developed, interesting, intelligent female characters with full lives in stories that focus on men’s relationships. Women are part of men’s lives too, if not as lovers, then certainly as mothers, sisters, friends, or co-workers. They don’t all have to be bitchy, bitter, lonely, gossipy, or meddlesome.

There were inconsistencies in this story that were a little off-putting. Halfway in, Trey and Justin knew each other for a week. 232 pages later, they knew each other only 3 days. In either case, they fell in love just a little too quickly for my liking, particularly considering Trey’s history of physical and emotional abuse, his mental illness, and his years working as a prostitute. Justin, like Trey, has difficulty with relationships. He is also deeply insecure and suffers from depression. Even though this is Trey’s story, I wish Justin’s mental illness was portrayed a little more convincingly. He was a very strong character while supporting Trey and didn’t show evidence of his depression. Other times, he was needy and insecure.

Some of the medical and psychological aspects didn’t ring true either. I’m far from an expert, but I would think if you stab yourself with a 3-inch wide butcher knife, you would do more damage than just nick your diaphragm. Trey’s suicide attempts and self-harming behavior were treated far too casually. Realistically, he would have had to be evaluated by a psychiatrist and receive extensive treatment, or even hospitalization, if he was determined to be a risk to himself.

Trey’s physical, sexual and emotional abuse by his stepfather was shown in flashbacks. He had recurring nightmares, and difficulty enjoying sex, until Justin entered his life. Despite the inconsistencies and inaccuracies here, I felt the author realistically portrayed the effects of severe child abuse on adult survivors and created two broken but strong characters that were very easy to care about.

I enjoyed being a part of Trey’s and Justin’s lives as they handle their struggles and cope with life’s challenges. Their strength drew me in and kept me involved right up to the very end.

Flaws notwithstanding, I am very much looking forward to the sequel.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Gates of the Dead

Gates of the Dead (Tides of War)Gates of the Dead by James A. Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The gods were defied and demanded the men who defied them to be their sacrifices. Then one of the gods brethren were struck down and the gods determined to wipe the world clean and start over. They want Brogan McTyre dead, but he has powerful help and other plans. Plans to end the gods that murdered his entire family.

Gates of the Dead was an enjoyable conclusion to The Tides of War trilogy. Brogan has had one goal since partway through the first book of the series, to kill the gods who killed his family. He's been fortunate to have trustworthy friends and unlikely allies. It helps that the gods indiscriminately try to kill everyone because of the choice of a few individuals. They are truly a petty bunch.

This book had reasonable explanations to the series questions which were largely provided by the Galeans. The gods told Galea much about the world and their nature including the truth about the demons and gods themselves. The Galeans didn't know or understand everything, but they had substantial knowledge of the world and unveiled it to Brogan and his allies.

The gods were honestly just massive pricks. I guess becoming an unquestioned power could make anyone arrogant and dismissive, but they and their servants the He-Kisshi took it to another level. I seldom have wanted a group to be destroyed as badly as the gods and their servants.

Gates of the Dead was a fun revenge tale told on a massive world altering scale.

4 out of 5 stars

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

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Monday, November 19, 2018

An Admirable Western

The Quick and the DeadThe Quick and the Dead by Louis L'Amour
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shakespeare this ain't, but boy howdy The Quick and the Dead is a damn good time!

Yeah, dialogue is often stilted and the character of Con Vallian sometimes comes off as a deus ex machina kind of guardian angel. However, there's still a lot to like here, such as some of the characters' development as the book progresses. A strong female is always a pleasant addition to westerns. The story's pacing is good with a solid amount of action, balanced with timely introspection.

For such a short book, Louis L'Amour manages to pack in plenty of punch. Recommended for western fans!

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Friday, November 16, 2018

The Trouble With Tony

Eli Easton
Dreamspinner Press
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


As part of the investigation into the murder of a young woman, Seattle P.I. Tony DeMarco poses as a patient of Dr. Jack Halloran, the therapist who treated the victim at a Seattle sex clinic. This isn’t the first time Tony has gone undercover, but it’s the first time he’s wanted to go under cover with one of his suspects. He can’t help it—Jack Halloran is just the kind of steely-eyed hero Tony goes for. But he’ll have to prove Halloran’s innocence and keep the doctor from finding out about his ruse before he can play Romeo.

Dr. Halloran has his own issues, including a damaged right arm sustained in the line of duty as a combat surgeon in Iraq and the PTSD that followed. He’s confused to find himself attracted to a new patient, the big, funny Italian with the puppy-dog eyes, and Tony’s humor slips right past Jack’s defenses, making him feel things he thought long buried. But can the doctor and the P.I. find a path to romance despite the secrets between them?

My Review

I generally like dark, gritty stories that are troubling, unsettling and reveal human nature in all its beauty and wickedness. Every once in a while, though, I need a break and enjoy a light, humorous and warm-hearted story that makes me smile and love humanity for at least a few minutes. After glancing at the cover and title, I just knew that The Trouble With Tony would be a lot of fun.

Tony DeMarco is an ex-cop turned P.I. hired by the parents of a young woman who died of a drug overdose. Further investigation reveals that Marilyn White received treatment at Seattle’s Expanded Horizons, a sex therapy clinic that not only treats sexual dysfunction, but also specializes in surrogacy.

Dr. Jack Halloran, an ex-combat surgeon who was seriously wounded and suffers PTSD, is one of the suspects. The doctor respects his patients’ rights to confidentiality, so it is tough to get any kind of information from him. Tony decides the only way to solve this case is to become Jack’s patient. Since Jack doesn't believe Tony’s story about being a sex addict, Tony decides to tell him the truth – that he is unable to find Mr. Right and has only ever enjoyed sex with four guys, the last relationship being two years ago.

First, the doctor has to rule out physical causes and conducts an examination.

“Five minutes, it’ll be over. Five minutes, it’ll be over. Yeah, but during those five minutes, a murder suspect is going to be looking at my dick. How did that happen?”

Now, Tony’s “picky dick” is at attention whenever Jack is around, leading him to think that Jack will be number five.

The mystery was lightweight and predictable, but it is the relationship that develops between Jack and Tony that is the focus of this story. Serious issues, like Jack’s PTSD and previous injuries take a back seat to the humorous banter and hot sexy times.

This story was warm, funny, entertaining, and made me feel all sunny inside. I will definitely be reading more by this author.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Black Bolt, Vol. 2: Home Free

Black Bolt, Vol. 2: Home FreeBlack Bolt, Vol. 2: Home Free by Saladin Ahmed
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Black Bolt travels back to Earth.
He seeks to set things right as much as he can.

Home Free and the entire Black Bolt series was pretty forgettable. Nothing of any real importance happens and it's all one big set up for Black Bolt to take a hard look at himself and to try to make things better. It just seemed unnecessary and only moderately entertaining.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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Wednesday, November 14, 2018


NightwoodNightwood by Djuna Barnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”’You know what man really desires?’ inquired the doctor, grinning into the immobile face of the Baron. ‘One of two things: to find someone who is so stupid that he can lie to her, or to love someone so much that she can lie to him.’”

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Baron Felix is a man of pretenses. He is not really a baron at all, but his father had perpetrated the deception his whole life so Felix’s filial legacy is to carry on the social duplicity. ”He kept a valet and a cook; the one because he looked like Louis the Fourteenth and the other because she resembled Queen Victoria, Victoria in another cheaper material, cut to the poor man’s purse.” Notice there is no mention about how good a valet he is or how good a cook she is. It is all about how they look and, when looked upon, what value they convey to the people whom the “Baron” needs to impress.

I am left wondering if his Victoria is the young Victoria, more in the vein of Jenna Coleman from Masterpiece, or the older Victoria, as portrayed by Judi Dench in Mrs. Brown. Louis the Fourteenth, we can only hope, looks as dashing as George Blagden from the Ovation show Versailles.

The theatrical production of the Baron’s life is maintained by his own performances, but also by the supporting cast with which he chooses to surround himself.

Baron Felix becomes enamored with a beautiful American named Robin Vote. It is best that, if your life is a sham, you do not allow yourself the indulgence of love, exploitation yes, but love...never.

If Felix were observing more carefully and not blinded by the aurora borealis of infatuation, he may have noticed that Robin is not really interested in anything but having a good time. Raising children, being a supportive wife, or being faithful to a husband are, by definition, selfless acts, and she is incapable of performing any of those roles with any level of believability. Felix needs to make a new casting call.

Robin bounces from Felix’s bed into the arms of Nora Flood, who wants to take care of Robin, but Robin wants the world collectively to take care of Robin. Jenny Petherbridge, a woman incapable of creating her own happiness, has made a life of looting other’s happiness. She soon has Robin, at least temporarily, under her control.

Robin leaves in her wake not a satisfied audience, no tears brimming at the corners of their eyes, fond memories, or even brilliant soliloquies to explain her behavior. She follows the brightest star until it dims in comparison to another.

We could generalize that everyone in this novel is horrid to everyone else. Jenny stealing Robin from Nora could be seen as inducing unhappiness in another, but frankly can any of us steal someone from someone else? Doesn’t a foot, an elbow, quite possibly a heart already have to be out the door before a lover can be absconded with? Baron Felix is a charlatan who makes a living out of contrived theatrics. It is hard to feel sympathy for him, but at the same time he is left nearly shattered by Robin leaving him. It isn’t even so much that Robin leaves, but she just seems to drift away.

Robin is the truly destructive force in the novel, whose beauty is a ”sort of fluid blue under skin, as if the hide of time had been stripped from her, and with it, all transactions with knowledge.” She could be a stand in for any of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. That might be a job she could stick with.

And who is there to pick up the pieces of each of these fractured relationships? The doctor, Matthew O’Connor, a man uncomfortable in his own skin, but who seems to somehow induce trust in those around him. ”Why do they all tell me everything then expect it to lie hushed in me, like a rabbit gone home to die?”

One character refers to the doctor as a ”valuable liar,” but he does seem to be the most honest with himself of anyone in the novel. He has desires he can only indulge in private, but he doesn’t deny any revelations about himself. He is, almost universally, the most liked person in the novel. Even T. S. Eliot, in the forward, feels the novel drags until the appearance of the doctor. I admit there is no tale of any relevance without the doctor, but there are some fascinating passages in the early pages that, despite how discombobulated I felt with the plot, are still rife with intricate sentences I enjoyed reading and reading again.

Djuna Barnes has a discerning eye and a flair for bold sentences. Some critics have said that only poets can truly enjoy Nightwood. I think that what is required of the reader is some patience. If you are confused, it might be that Barnes has you right where she wants you. Read on; do not let her scare you away. You will experience some descriptions or thoughts that you have never read before. Do not indulge in cannabis or go beyond a two drink minimum while reading this book. You will need your wits about you; maybe this book is better served with a cuppa and a piece of dark comforting chocolate.

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Monday, November 12, 2018

Picturesque Wales in the '50s

TestimoniesTestimonies by Patrick O'Brian
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Almost 200 pages into a 224 paged book and now something finally happens?! Jeez Louise! The only reason I muscled through all that nothing is because I love Patrick O'Brian's work. I was sure there would be a payoff, and there was, but it came in the third to last chapter with no preamble, no teasing along, not even the tiniest of tidbits to make a reader's hope linger.

Testimonies is O'Brian's first adult novel. He had written a few as a boy and made a name for himself. That name must have been somewhat deflated by these meandering pages of character sketches and setting description.

Since the book is set in the hilly wilds of Wales and because O'Brian is an expert scene describer, these pages often make for gorgeous reading. His prose flows like a breeze over grassy downs, occasionally whipping through a craggy pass atop some barren rise. Truly, you will say, this is a master wordsmith.

However, at this point in his writing career O'Brian seemingly hadn't discovered plot yet . The book is not entirely directionless, but the point of it all is elusive at best. I can't recommend this, except to O'Brian fans looking to read his complete works, but neither can I claim this to be an outright failure. The characters are so very real - he did after all create them from his time spent in Wales - that one does grow an attachment to them. All the same, one wishes they'd do something.

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A Biography of Patrick O'Brian

Patrick O'Brian:  A Life RevealedPatrick O'Brian: A Life Revealed by Dean King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Patrick O'Brian is the Irish writer of the Master & Commander series, who isn't Irish.

Patrick O'Brian had nothing to do with World War II...except he was a spy.

Patrick O'Brian isn't Patrick O'Brian.

There is a great deal of secrecy and veiled history for such a seemingly benign author of such a pleasant literary series of polite manners and seafaring adventure set during the Napoleonic Wars. I fell in love with that "Aubrey/Maturin" series years ago, read it over numerous times and moved on to other works by the author. At some point I wanted to know more. Dean King, who has written a number of books about O'Brian and his work, clearly also fell in love with the author. You really feel it in his approach.

I'm glad he made the attempt at this difficult task. It couldn't have been easy. So little is known about the man, because the man wanted little to be known about himself. In an effort to distance himself from a less than ideal upbringing, family and flawed marriage, he moved overseas and took on a new personae and detested anyone who defied it, even his loving brother. This seems to have rubbed off on some of his fans, who have not taken kindly to King's intrusion and revelations about their favorite author.

Patrick O'Brian: A Life Revealed does a fantastic job keeping the timeline in order and moving along. A parallel was made to O'Brian's books and especially the series he's known for. Almost all of the books are given a little synopsis and imbued with historical significance as relates to the author. In fact, it took me as long as it did to read this because I found myself setting it aside to read other O'Brian books that I hadn't gotten to yet. That was fun, but it did make this lengthy tome seem even longer. I'd imagine it would probably seem a chore to anyone other than an O'Brian fan, but for the hardcore among us this is highly recommended!

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Friday, November 9, 2018

Hard Fall

James Buchanan
MLR Press
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Deputy Joe Peterson is Mormon and in the closet. Then ex-con Kabe Varghese lands in town on parole. When a tourist falls off the mountain, Joe finds he needs the help of this cliff climbing adrenaline junky to solve the case. Will Kabe tear him apart or does Joe need to fall hard before he can start living?

My Review

I was looking for a light, sweet romance. Hard Fall was definitely the wrong choice. There is the death of a tourist to be solved, a cop trying to reconcile his religious faith with his desire for men, and a young mountain climber with a tight body who's run afoul of the law and worms his way into the cop's heart.

The relationship between Deputy Sheriff Joe Peterson, a Mormon, and Kabe Varghese, an ex-con who is staying with relatives while serving his parole, starts off slowly and gradually builds up intensity when Kabe’s help is enlisted to investigate a climbing accident involving a German tourist.

The mystery was rather disappointing, since it was obvious early on who the killer was. What I really enjoyed about this story was the relationship between two very different men, the interaction with a variety of people in the community, some supportive of their relationship and some not, and the issues Joe and Kabe have to deal with when their relationship comes in conflict with church teachings.

Hard Fall is told in the first person, from Joe’s point of view. His character is extremely well drawn, even though I had some difficulty in the beginning getting used to his country dialect. Joe is strong, smart, and faithful. Kabe has an attitude and a smart mouth, but Joe makes him feel safe. These guys are so different, yet so perfect together.

The sex is hot and intense, not gratuitous, and the mountain climbing scenes were breathtaking and realistic.

Great story!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Royals Vol. 2: Judgment Day

Royals Vol. 2: Judgment DayRoyals Vol. 2: Judgment Day by Al Ewing
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Inhumans continue to seek the source of the power. They are looking for the creator of their creators. In the future The Last Inhuman continues searching for something important.

Judgment Day had me holding out hope for a strong conclusion and a fitting ending to the question of Inhumanity. Unfortunately the story devolved into generic science fiction and shifted in one truly unexpected way. It's just a shame to get to the conclusion of another Inhumans series and to feel utterly let down.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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Wednesday, November 7, 2018


The House Next DoorThe House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”If we find that all our efforts have failed and someone buys the house, we shall set fire to it and burn it down. We will do this at night, before it is occupied. In another time they would have plowed the charred ground and sowed it with salt.

If it should come to that, I do not think we will be punished.

I do not think we will be alive long enough.”

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Colquitt and Walter Kennedy live in an upscale neighborhood among people of similar socioeconomic status. They are all friends who barbeque, have drinks, and rely on each other for support in times of trouble. The women are attractive, and the men are still handsome, even though their sparkling 20s have become a distant memory. They are all as reasonably happy as anyone can expect to be.

That is until the house was built.

The empty lot next to the Kennedy’s has always been there. It has never been developed because it is a strange shape. An architect would need imagination to design a house to set on it properly and not be considered an eyesore. Kim Dougherty is that architect. He is young, ambitious, and determined to build a beautiful house that will be a monument to his genius.

Colquitt likes the lot next to them being empty. It gives them more privacy than the other houses in the neighborhood, and the trees, bushes, and plant life provide a burst of varied colors throughout the year. Deer, rabbits, and even more exotic wildlife can be spotted moving in the relative safety of this green sanctuary. It is an oasis among urban development.

The house that emerges, as if it just pushed its way up through the crust of the Earth from the fiery depths of hell, is gorgeous. It is more than just a house. It is a work of art. It is state of the art.

Evil, of course, is never ugly. To seduce, evil must be beautiful.

Colquitt is more tuned into the unseen elements around us than the rest of us. Walter knows. ”I am, he says, a sensitive. Not in any silly, conventional psychic way; we have both always laughed at that. But in the fact that I feel currents and whorls and eddies keenly, even when, perhaps, they are not there.”

There is something sinister about that house. Something that takes the very best from people. Something that makes them feel desires they should never feel. Something that slowly drives them...mad.

You will meet the parade of owners from Pie & Buddy Harralson, to Buck & Anita Sheehan, and finally Susan & Norman Greene, and watch perfectly ordinary people change before your eyes. The question is, where did this evil come from? It wasn’t there before the house was built, so what brought it there?

I never really ever expected to read an Anne Rivers Siddons book, but when I was researching best horror/gothic books, this book appeared on almost every list. I was intrigued, and I’m so glad I picked up a copy. The Kennedy’s are very likeable with their adoration for one another, their evenings of relaxation together, sharing drinks, and enjoying each other’s company. The foul presence of this entity next door encroaches upon them bit by bit until it is impossible for them to ignore what they don’t want to believe. The plot is a slow burn with unusual but small things happening that can be shrugged off as odd, until things more insidious begin to happen that can not be easily disregarding any longer.

They must do something!

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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency #1) by: John Scalzi

The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency #1)The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have read several of Mr. Scalzi's books. so I thought I knew somewhat what to expect..I was pleasantly suprised and a bit in awe at what I have read.

This is a TERRIFIC beginning to a series, and the awe comes in at the language and how the author manages to flesh out a world and a universe with some extemely to the point writing. It is a fast paced, well done science fiction tale that has an economy to the writing that is rare in this genre.

I loved it, consumed it in two sittings, and started book two.

Definitely give it a read if you haven't already.

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The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky: A Novella of Cosmic Horror By: John Honror Jacobs

The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky: A Novella of Cosmic HorrorThe Sea Dreams It Is the Sky: A Novella of Cosmic Horror by John Hornor Jacobs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The recent spout of authors doing Lovecraft better than Lovecraft CONTINUES!

This is a beautiful book, and it captures the pure dread of "cosmic horror" isn't the shock and blood and gore you read in some horror, it's the viseral punch, that slow sneaking itch at the back of your neck. It's the feeling that you are a small fish in a deep, deep body of water...THAT is the true horror that is throughout this masterfully told tale.

top ratings, One eye written in blood over 5 glowing this TODAY.

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Monday, November 5, 2018

Smiley's People

Smiley's PeopleSmiley's People by John le Carré
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Smiley comes out of retirement was his people come under attack in this aptly named conclusion to the Karla trilogy.

This is fantastic stuff! Taut tension, high stakes, personal vendettas...ah, it's all wonderful. The characterizations and conversations are finessed with an admirable subtly. The Cold War settings descriptions put you in the middle of these depressingly drab locations. John le Carré is on fire in Smiley's People!

It's far more cerebral cold war spy novel than say Fleming's stuff. This means more talk, less action. That's going to bore some readers. It almost bored off this reader, but I held in there and, man, the payoff... Tremendous!

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Friday, November 2, 2018

Body and Soul

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


Thanksgiving can't end too soon for Victor Bayne, who's finding Jacob's family hard to swallow. Luckily, he's called back to work to track down a high-profile missing person.

Meanwhile, Jacob tries to find a home they can move into that's not infested--with either cockroaches, or ghosts. As if the house-hunting isn't stressful enough, Vic's new partner Bob Zigler doesn't seem to think he can do anything right. A deceased junkie with a bone to pick leads Vic and Zig on a wild chase that ends in a basement full of horrors.

My Review

In the third installment of the Psy Cop series, Vic and Jacob are spending Thanksgiving with Jacob’s family. Vic wants to be a good boyfriend and tries to wean himself from the Auracel that prevents him from seeing ghosts, but keeps him high most of the time. Their Thanksgiving holiday is cut short when Vic gets a call to investigate the case of three missing people, including an alderman’s nephew.

Once again, I can’t get enough of this series and was flipping pages well into the night. Vic’s quirky personality and humor is always entertaining, the protective Jacob provides stability while helping Vic come out of his shell, and the unusual case Vic is asked to solve requires the full use of his psychic abilities.

We get to meet lots of new and interesting characters, some living, and some dead. The sex is always sizzling, as Vic and Jacob’s relationship grows deeper. I loved this story and can’t wait to find out more about Vic’s troubled past.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Royals Vol. 1: Beyond Inhuman

Royals Vol. 1: Beyond InhumanRoyals Vol. 1: Beyond Inhuman by Al Ewing
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

All the terrigen on Earth is gone, meaning the current generation of Inhumans will be the last. The Inhumans are resigned to this fact until Marvel Boy,

a Kree from another dimension, comes along promising he can help the Inhumans find out who they truly are by heading to the Kree home world of Hala.

Beyond Inhuman has terrible artwork, well maybe it isn't terrible but it's cartoony and not in a great way. Now that I got that out I find myself intrigued. The dual storyline of the present and the distant future with the last Inhuman has left me curious to find out more. The remaining aspects of the storyline seem to simply build up the tension for what will happen next. The story did a good enough job to make me want to know how the tale ends.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2018


Killing CommendatoreKilling Commendatore by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”Our lives really do seem strange and mysterious when you look back on them. Filled with unbelievably bizarre coincidences and unpredictable, zigzagging developments. While they are unfolding, it’s hard to see anything weird about them, no matter how closely you pay attention to your surroundings. In the midst of the everyday, these things may strike you as simply ordinary things, a matter of course. They might not be logical, but time has to pass before you can see if something is logical.”

Our Narrator for this tale, unnamed, is a gifted portrait painter. He can capture the true inner nature of a subject and is astute enough to understand that people want to see what is best about them revealed. For most of us, who we are goes well beyond what we look like on the surface, and this artist is an expert at capturing those hidden layers in our surface reality.

This life is soon to be a part of his past. We meet the Narrator at the point that his wife Yuzu has just informed him that she wants a divorce. She doesn’t want to talk about it. She doesn’t want to explain herself. She just wants him to accept what she wants. After six years of marriage, I think anyone who wants to dissolve the union probably owes the other person an explanation. “It’s not you; it’s me” kind of thing at the very least. Our Narrator is puzzled but accepts the situation, packs up his artist’s materials, and goes on a walkabout, or to be more precise a driveabout.

This is a theme in many Haruki Murakami books, the grand quest. The people he meets and the situations he encounters in this brief journey do have a lasting impact on his life, on his art, and the future plot of this novel.

He ends up in a mountain retreat, staying in the house of the respected artist Tomohiko Amada. He is alone up there but finds that he is perfectly suited to a life without people. He can focus on his art and feels inspired to be working in the studio of such a celebrated artist. He is done with portrait work and wants to finally explore art without restrictions. He has created a perfect storm of creativity, and he feels reinvigorated about painting. The question is, how long can the world be held at bay?

The house is like many houses of old people, filled with things from a certain era. Records instead of CDs, for example. Murakami mentions the pure pleasure there is in turning a record over, to listening to songs in order because records used to be carefully arranged to lead a listener in a direction to achieve greater understanding, as the songs built beautifully upon one another. Now, people buy the single they hear on the radio and never listen to the rest of the album. It is a real bastardization of the craft of music. It is consuming without finding the soul behind the music.

Murakami also takes the opportunity to talk about books as well.

”All the books on Mr. Amada’s bookshelf were old, among them a few unusual novels that would be hard to get hold of these days. Works that in the past had been pretty popular but had been forgotten, read by no one. I enjoyed reading this kind of out-of-date novel. Doing so let me share--with this old man I’d never met--the feeling of being left behind by time.”

Readers who have followed my reviews for a long time (I do appreciate your loyalty and your input into what I read) will know, without me saying this, the almost pathological curiosity I have about reading what we can term “lost books.” Books that may have even had a large audience at one time but now are not read at all, or even more enticing, those books that never did find an audience but are actually minor masterpieces. When I dive into these books, I feel like I’m an archaeologist discovering buried treasure that deserves to see the light of day again. How about those fat WW2 books from the 1950s? Many of them have merit and should continue to find new audiences. How about a book like Mortal Leap by MacDonald Harris? This book has been out of print for decades, but it is a seriously entertaining and deep novel that has been...lost.

So for me having an opportunity to explore a personal library that is suspended in time, filled with books from the 1930s, 1950s, or even 1980s, would be as conducive to raising my pulse rate as having Salma Hayek nibble on my neck.

The other part of this quote that really resonates with me is “being left behind by time.” Several of the characters in this novel, even the young girl Mariye Akikawa, who becomes so intricate to the plot, struggle with accepting the importance of gadgets, like cell phones. The pressure for each and every person on the planet to own and pay those alarming, high fees for service is frankly too overwhelming. To not own a cell phone these days is almost like not being a human being at all.

I will admit I’ve always been fascinating by new breakthroughs in technology. I owned a computer when they were really too expensive to own personally. I watched with fascination as the internet came into being, chunk...chunk...chunk a few loaded pixels at a time. I’ve always loved science, even when I haven’t fully understood it. However, now technology seems to be intent on not freeing me, but confining me. It owns me rather than being a tool for my own edification. I hear more and more people say to me, why do they have to know anything if they can just google it? There are so many things wrong with that statement that I could write a whole dissertation on what the true meaning of that statement means to the future, but I’m going to keep to one part of it. How will people know what to google if they don’t have enough reference points already in their mind to start with?

I’m starting to believe that I am a man on the verge of being left behind, and it doesn’t scare me one bit. I may move in with the artist in his time stamped house, and while he paints, I’ll read and write. We will have tea at three with crumpets.

The plot becomes more and more convoluted as the world does start to encroach upon the artist. When I say world, I may not mean this world. A ringing bell in the middle of the night from underground sets off a series of events that revolve around a painting called Killing Commendatore by Amada that is carefully wrapped up and stored in the attic. The subject of the painting is a scene from the opera Don Giovanni. The last time I was in Prague, they were showing Don Giovanni in the theater it debuted in for the first time since the original showing. Needless to say, I scored tickets, and the experience was as magical as I could hope for.

When you read and travel, it is amazing the cool associations a person can develop that adds enjoyment to future reading and traveling experiences.

His wealthy neighbor, Wataru Menshiki, offers him an outrageous amount of money to paint his portrait. He seems intent on becoming good friends, as well. Unfortunately, through trial and error, I have discovered that people expressing that much interest in me usually means they want something from me. I’d like to think that I’m infinitely fascinating, and that is enough reason for people to want to spend time with me, but I’ve been disabused of that idea. The artist is of the same mind as me and looks with suspicion upon this offer of friendship. What is Menshiki’s true motivation?

There are many philosophical concerns, psychological growth, supernatural occurrences, including astral projection sex, and some wonderful descriptions of the artistic process all within the confines of this novel. Most readers should find parts, or maybe even all of these elements, as aspects that they can identify with. This book reminds me somewhat of Murakami’s masterpiece Kafka on the Shore, but it lacks that something something that would have had me genuflecting to the deftness and creativity of his genius. Normally, I rate books against other books in their genre, but with Murakami, like say Charles Dickens, I can only rate him against his own body of work. A contemplative book that tries to slow the world down and remind us that fast is not always better and new is not always an improvement.

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Monday, October 29, 2018

Hot Bill On Bill Action

Shakespeare: The World as StageShakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really short, but really enjoyable!

It's not a surprise that this is short. First off, it belongs as part of a series of concise biographies. Secondly, there isn't much known about Shakespeare, so biographies of him should be short. Why go on and on about something if there's nothing to go on about?!

The larger of them tend to devote many pages to dissecting the plays. Bryson does not. That was a little bit disappointing...but only a little. I've spent enough time dissecting them. I'd rather just work on enjoying these days, not analyzing them.

I'm glad Bryson touched on the authorship question. "Did Shakespeare write all this stuff?" I entertained the notion when I encountered it back in school, but having looked at the evidence and given it a good think, I've come to the conclusion that it is a ludicrous question. Bryson agrees and lays out why.

Is this a scholarly work? No. But have you seen some of what passes for such? I'm okay with this. It seems like sound logic deduced from absorbing sound work on the topic. After all (and for example) one of the leading proponents of the anti-Shakespeare movement was a woman who wanted to claim all of the plays for her cousin Sir Francis Bacon. She was biased and, as it turns out, crazy. Her book on the subject was widely dismissed at the time of publication as ridiculous, but the idea lingered, took shape and went on to have a long second life in quarters that rely on scanty evidence or none at all. And yet they persist. It all seems absurd.

Anywhoodle. Looking for a basic bio on Shakespeare? Here it is!

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Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Croning

The CroningThe Croning by Laird Barron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Don Miller has been married to his wife Michelle for 60 years and has been in the dark as to what goes on on her mysterious trips most of the time, beginning with a trip of theirs to Mexico decades ago that saw him beaten, scared, and out of his mind. What has she really been up to all these years and will Don survive the knowledge if he ever uncovers it?

Benoit Lelièvre of Dead End Follies has been singing the praises of Laird Barron for the last couple years. When this popped up on the cheap, I couldn't say no.

While I heard Laird Barron wrote cosmic horror, I immediately thought he'd be mining the H.P. Lovecraft vein, Cthulhu, shoggoths, and such. I was wrong. The vein he's working is all his own.

I had no idea what to expect with The Croning. It started with a very dark retelling of Rumpelstiltskin. At first, I was scratching my head but the book does a great job of establishing the Children of Old Leech as something that's been on earth a while. It also does some foreshadowing of events yet to come in the main tale.

The main tale tells of an ill-fated jaunt to Mexico that was Don's first brush with the horrors that lurk in the shadows. From there, it bounces back and forth between Don in his middle age to Don as an octogenarian, with Don walking the line between normalcy and sanity-blasting cosmic horror the entire time. When Don figures out what his wife's anthropology trips are really all about, it's far, far, far too late.

The odd structure does a lot to let the reader experience a lot of the disorientation Don normally feels. He's forgetful in the extreme and kind of a doormat. Although, being a doormat is probably the best one can hope for after sanity-testing revelations in a cave in Mexico. For my money, Old Leech and his children are more horrifying than Cthulhu ever as been. Earth is already in their clutches and it's only a matter of time.

Laird Barron's writing has a poetic flourish to it. I highlighted quite a few quotable lines on my kindle. He definitely a pulp author with a poet's heart, like Raymond Chandler or Robert E. Howard at times.

What else is there to say? The writing was fantastic, the story was compelling, and the horrors were horrifying. I'm glad I have a few more Barron books on my kindle. Five out of five stars.

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Friday, October 26, 2018

Small Miracles

Ellen Holiday
Dreamspinner Press
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars


When runaway Cal Harrison steps into a bar to escape the freezing rain, he meets Matt Kirkland, who buys him a meal and eventually takes him home for the night. But Cal's been on hard times, and he doesn't believe something as good as Matt could possibly happen to him. Not without setting him up for disaster. So Cal leaves—only to discover Matt’s not just a rich kid but a well-known millionaire. Soon Cal begins to question whether he should have swallowed his pride and left his difficult life behind.

My Review

Even though this was a little too sweet and unrealistic for me, I couldn’t help being swept away by the plight of the main characters - Cal Harrison, who fled the home of an abusive stepfather and is now living on the streets, and Matt Kirkland, despite having everything he needs and more money than he knows what to do with, feels a void in his life.

The heart-wrenching first scene when Cal walks into a bar, dirty, dripping rain onto the floor and shivering, effectively conveys his desperation, his discomfort, and the harsh realities of homelessness. He doesn’t have the money to pay the $5.00 cover charge. Matt not only pays the cover, but buys him drink and food as well.

Matt wears down Cal’s resistance and takes him home. Their sex is warm, intense and magical. But once it’s over, their separate worlds come into conflict. Cal takes his damp clothes and flees Matt’s apartment.

For the first time in quite a while, Cal feels comfortable, safe and secure. Can he trust Matt not to disappoint him like others in his life have?

I liked the way this story explored situations that can lead to homelessness and the difficulties and indignities one must endure. Cal’s life is tough and Matt proves he’s not an unfeeling millionaire.

It’s all too good to be true, but surely there’s no harm in occasionally indulging in the fantasy that people are basically good and have your best interests at heart.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Thanos vol. 1 Thanos Returns

Thanos, Vol. 1: Thanos ReturnsThanos, Vol. 1: Thanos Returns by Jeff Lemire
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Thanos has returned to reclaim what was his. The only problem, Thanos is dying.
He searches for a cure while others like his son Thane, conspire against him.
Even weakened he is still Thanos.

Thanos's Return is pretty mediocre. There is nothing particularly special about it any way. Thanos is back, people either want to kill him or escape him. It was cool to see the Elder of the Universe The Champion though.
I'd also say the artwork is very solid.

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