Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Crown Tower

The Crown Tower (The Riyria Chronicles, #1)The Crown Tower by Michael J. Sullivan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Some unexpected things are happening and a university professor appears to be behind them all. Professor Arcadius has brought together a fighter without equal and an incredibly skilled thief. The two are polar opposites and hate one another, but Arcadius has managed to convince them to do one job for him. To steal a single book from a seemingly impregnable fortress.

The Crown Tower could easily have been titled how Hadrian met Royce. Michael J. Sullivan made a good point in saying that Hadrian and Royce wouldn't have been an instant success as a team because of their differences. It's amazing neither tried to kill the other one. For anyone who has read Riyria Revelations suffice to say Hadrian is even more of an optimist while Royce is far more pessimistic.

The story is told largely from three prospectives. Two of these prospectives are obvious as they come from Royce and Hadrian. The third, for me at least, was unexpected. The third prospective came from Gwen. I have to admit I rarely gave Gwen much thought despite her unique position and abilities in Riyria Revelations. I also have to admit, I wouldn't have cared in the least to see her storyline almost completely abandoned. There were at most two or three things about her I was curious about and those simply didn't warrant the number of pages spent detailing her rise from prostitute to lady of her own house.

The Crown Tower was good, but didn't quite hit the spot for me. I did find myself feeling the old Riyria magic towards the end of the book though.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

DYNASTY: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE HOUSE OF CAESAR BY TOM HOLLAND

Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of CaesarDynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar by Tom Holland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Octavian the man. Augustus the God.

”When people think of imperial Rome, it is the city of the first Caesars that is most likely to come into their minds. There is no other period of ancient history that can compare for sheer unsettling fascination with its gallery of leading characters. Their lurid glamour has resulted in them becoming the archetypes of feuding and murderous dynasts.”

The women are schemers, and the men are ruthless. Even Augustus and Claudius, who are considered the more humane and least insane of the Caesars, also wade through the blood of their enemies, those confirmed and those suspected, to maintain their always tenuous hold on power.

”Tiberius, grim, paranoid, and with a taste for having his testicles licked by young boys in swimming pools.

Caligula, lamenting that Roman people did not have a single neck, so that he might cut it through.

Agrippina, the mother of Nero, scheming to bring to power the son who would end up having her murdered.

Nero himself, kicking his pregnant wife to death, marrying a eunuch, and raising a pleasure palace over the fire-gutted centre of Rome.”


”The first Caesars, more than any comparable dynasty, remain to this day household names. Their celebrity holds.”

I discovered Tom Holland when I picked up his first book Lord of the Dead, which was a novel about Lord Byron as a vampire. Of course, Lord Byron would make a perfect vampire. I then started hunting down his other horror novels as assiduously as Van Helsing, and in many cases I had to order them from England to be able to read them.

Then he disappeared.

Or so I thought.


Then I discovered his book Rubicon, which ends where this book begins. At first, I thought it must be a different Tom Holland, but after some research, I discovered it was the same man, a horror scrivner remade into a writer of the horrors of history. He doesn’t list his novels in the first few nonfiction works; after all, he has become a serious writer of history and doesn’t want to muddy the waters with claiming those rather lurid novels that I found to be delicious fun. (As I’m writing about them, I’m getting the itch to go read one again.) In this book, listed along with his nonfiction work, are those early horror novels. He must have reached a point in his career where he no longer had to think of those books as orphaned children, written by another man who was lost in the fetid, murky waters of pulp fiction.

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There is a vampire horror novelist still lurking behind those eyes.

The significance of this for you, dear reader, is that his nonfiction books are written to entertain you. That does not mean they are not serious in nature for it is obvious he has done his research. He has a practiced eye, from writing to fiction, to know what readers want to know. For instance, Augustus saves the empire twice from complete destruction, which is actually fascinating with all the power struggles that the death of Julius Caesar causes. What is equally fascinating is that as Augustus grows older and becomes a God (the wheels might have started to come off the chariot), he becomes more conservative. He imposes those views on a traditionally hedonistic Roman population. The problem is the only child of his loins, Julia, doesn’t get the message, or she feels that being the child of a god that she is beyond reproach.

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Julia, one of history's most famous adulterers.

The stories regarding her infidelities are numerous and legendary, but for me, the following statement attributed to her actually makes me gasp. ”Far from dismissing the rumours of adultery, she dared to mock the censoriousness of those who spread them. How could the stories that she had cheated on Agrippa possibly be true, she was once asked, when Gaius and Lucius look so very like him. ‘Why,’ she answered, ‘because I only ever take on passengers after the cargo-hold has been loaded.’”

There are plenty of people to scurry back to her father and relate these outrageous statements to him. Whether there is truth in all the allegations that land at her sandals, who can say? She certainly does not quell those rumors, but merely breathes more life into them. The end result is that Julia is exiled to an island by her dictorial father. Ovid, the poet concerned with the artistry of the bedroom, in particular seducing married women, is another thorn in the godly backside of Augustus. He too pushes things too far and is exiled, which is worse than death to a man obsessed with culture.

It is hard to like Augustus in his later years simply because he becomes more concerned about his own immortality, even more than preserving the few remaining members of his family. His heirs have been dropping like flies, and the rumors of his wife Livia poisoning them to clear the way for her son by her first marriage, Tiberius, are becoming harder to ignore.
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Germanicus and Agrippina by Rubens, the power couple of the Roman Empire representing all that Rome believed themselves capable of.

Germanicus and his wife Agrippina are the apple of the eye of the Roman Empire. They are not only a beautiful power couple (bigger than Benniffer or Brangelina), but they are also proving very capable quelling any uprisings across the wide expanse of the reach of Rome. She, unlike most Roman wives, travels with her husband on his military campaign so his successes are more their mutual achievements, and that makes the people of Rome love them even more. When Germanicus dies under rather odd circumstances, that clears the way for Tiberius.

Tiberius is so stiff necked and puckered assed that he was must have squeaked like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz when he walked. Holland sums him up very well. ”Bloodstained pervert and philosopher-king: it took a man of rare paradox to end up being seen as both.” We focus on his perversions, but he is actually very capable. Before succeeding Augustus, he wins several critical military campaigns. He just is horrible at promoting himself. He feels above it all and winning is just what he is supposed to do. Why should it be a surprise to anyone? He spends a good deal of time on his pleasure island of Capri and basically tells the world to go screw itself. He has a peaceful reign but, like all the Caesars, certainly becomes ruled by rampant paranoia.

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Tiberius

It isn’t paranoia if people are really trying to kill you. The problem with the House of Caesar is that they don’t always target the right people or, in the course of suppressing conspiracies, bring death to such a broad sweep of people, who may or may not have been involved in a conspiracy, that they leave their friends about as equally depleted as their enemies.

Next in line is the infamous Caligula, who kills just about everyone who could possibly be considered a legitimate heir. He is the son of Germanicus, and any empathy that he was born with must have been burned out of him in the course of watching his family members die one by one. Tiberius’s comment was: ”I am rearing them a viper.”When Caligula is killed by his own Praetorian Guard, well mostly for being a psychopathic asshole, the only real option as his successor is his gibbering fool of an uncle.

Claudius survives numerous purges of his family by acting like a simple minded, helpless imbecile. The senators that bring him to power probably have it in mind that he will be easy to control.

He is not.

He is a student of history and natural science. He is infinitely smarter than anyone could comprehend. Because of his infirmities, he mostly has to travel through the eyes of others. Ambassadors knowing his interest in the arcane bring him specimens from all over the world. (If you have not watched the miniseries I, Claudius starring Derek Jacobi, it is excellent.)

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Claudius

When Claudius breathes his last, the empire is left with Claudius’s great nephew Nero. His mother is Agrippina the Younger, daughter of Germanicus. The rumors of imperial incest between mother and son run rampant throughout Rome. Instead of denouncing those rumors, much like Julia, he embraces them. ”It was noted that he kept as one of his concubines a woman who looked exactly like Agrippina. And that whenever he fondled her, or showed off her charms to others, he would declare that he was sleeping with his mother.”

When Rome burns and Nero is one of the main suspects (after all his main concern is beautifying Rome, and how better to do that than to have a clean canvas to start from), he blames those pesky, noisy, obnoxious Christians. Between 900 and 1000 are killed and murdered (St. Jerome calls them martyrs.) in various creative ways. We don’t know for sure if the Christians had anything to do with the burning of Rome, but given the Sodom and Gomorrah events being sponsored and encouraged by Nero, I can see them convince themselves that burning Rome would be doing God’s work.

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Nero was a cheeky looking bastard.

Nero believes strongly in applying pageantry to all aspects of his life, including executions. ”Spectacle, illusion, drama: these were the dimensions of rule that truly mattered. Attentive though Nero might be to the grind of business, his true obsession was with a project that he felt to be altogether worthier of his time and talents: to fashion reality anew.”

Augustus dies in bouts of blood, possibly from a poisoned fig. Tiberius may have been smothered by a pillow. Caligula is hacked to pieces by his own guard. Claudius may have been poisoned, but the wily, old bastard might have just died from old age. Nero commits suicide moments before a sentence of death is to descend upon him. The women don’t fare any better. They are starved to death, exiled, beheaded, run through with swords, and poisoned.

What a family! Despite their best efforts to destroy themselves they manage to hang onto power from 27BC to 68AD. It isn’t long after their passing, despite the bloody uncertainty of their reigns, that Rome misses them.

They must have missed the flair, the pageantry, and the insanity.

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Monday, August 13, 2018

God Help The Child

God Help the ChildGod Help the Child by Toni Morrison
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Giving a Toni Morrison book only 3 stars seems ridiculous in light of some of the 4 and 5 star ratings I've doled out. What I'm saying is, Morrison can write the pants off of most writers. Whether you like her stuff/style or not, it must be admitted that the woman can string together one word after another in a very pleasing manner.

Having said that, God Help the Child did not enthrall me as others of hers have. I'm not 100% sure why. There could be a number reasons, here are some of them:

There weren't too many characters in this one that I particularly liked. Most were repulsive in some way shape or form, at least the main characters, of which there are nearly a half dozen. It's not that Morrison did a poor job creating them, it's that she did too good a job and by chance I'm not a fan of who these people are.

Another issue might be that I prefer Morrison's stories when they're set in the past. This one was her most modern setting yet, out of the books of hers that I've read. I love when she sets the scenes of days past. She does it so well and her style meshes with bygone eras like peanut butter and chocolate.

The subject matter here -child molestation- is particularly hard reading. The characters may be fictional, but that doesn't lessen the kick-to-the-gut feeling you get every time the narrative focuses on the subject.

All in all, it's a tough read. Certainly not bad, just tough for the aforementioned reasons.

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Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Winter Box

The Winter BoxThe Winter Box by Tim Waggoner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Todd and Heather's marriage has been on the rocks for some time. When they get trapped at home with no power during a blizzard, they're forced to confront their problems by the terror that lurks within... the Winter Box!

Okay, I made The Winter Box sound like a Twilight Zone episode. I guess it could be but it's more like a ghost story/cautionary tale.

Todd and Heather have drifted apart over the years and the specter of divorce is lurking in the background. When they get snowed in, weird things start happening and they're forced to work on their marriage, though it may be too late.

The Winter Box is a chilling tale in many ways. The blizzard and power outage are the least so. Much more chilling is what they let happen to their marriage and the shitstorm emanating from the Winter Box.

I've said many times that ebooks have once again made the novella a viable form and this is a prime example. The Winter Box is a fantastic story. I can't say enough good things about it. Five out of five stars.

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Friday, August 10, 2018

The Other Side


Shawn Lane
JMS Books LLC
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars



Summary


Dr. Ray Carmichael is a wealthy African-American doctor and political activist running for office on the platform that the brutality and corruption of the local police force is out of control. Nick Sorenson is a white cop who grew up poor and almost lost his life in gangs and crime before turning his life around by joining the police force.

When Ray’s brother is beaten by a couple of police officers after a traffic stop, Nick is the Internal Affairs detective put in charge of investigating the incident. Dr. Carmichael's obvious distrust of the police force rubs Nick the wrong way, and the man becomes a pain in his neck. Too bad, because neither of them can deny their attraction to each other.

Ray has Nick removed from the case when he decides he’d rather date the man than fight with him. In spite of their differences, they begin an affair and grow closer. Until an explosive incident at a family gathering puts nagging doubts in Nick’s head -- he's not sure if they can overcome the differences that separate them.

When Nick is about to lose everything important to him, will he realize his budding relationship with Ray is worth trying to see the other side?



My Review


I read The Other Side in one sitting and was blown away by the intensity and emotional depth of this story. Dr. Ray Carmichael is a wealthy African-American doctor who is running for political office and has little use for the police department. Nick Sorenson is in charge of the investigation of police misconduct involving the beating of Ray’s brother. In spite of the obvious differences between the men and the conflicts that stem from their value differences, there is no denying the physical attraction they both have for each other.

I’ll admit it took me a little while to warm up to the hoity-toity Dr. Carmichael, with his custom-tailored suits, Bel-Air mansion, and full housekeeping staff. What did he know about the real world, the struggles of poor and working-class people, the cars that won’t start, the low-paying jobs, the impact of drug abuse on the addict and their family?

At first, I thought there was no way a relationship between Ray and Nick could ever work. They had different upbringings, came from different social classes, and had different problems. Boy, was I ever mistaken! I enjoyed watching these two men as they struggle, resolve conflicts, and develop love and respect for each other.

A very moving, sexy, and satisfying romance! I will definitely be looking for more of Shawn Lane’s work.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

We Ride the Storm

We Ride the Storm (The Reborn Empire, #1)We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Through war empires rise and fall. War is ready to tear down the Kisian Empire. Some like Princess Miko, a daughter of a traitor, will fight to preserve the empire. Some like exiled Rah e'Torin will fight because he has no choice. One woman, Cassandra, fights to make the voice in her mind go away. Blood will be spilled as a storm wipes away an empire.

We Ride the Storm reads like a low magic version of A Song of Ice and Fire. There are bastards, traitors, secrets, horse lords, and so many lies. If that was where the similarities ended I wouldn't mind, but two of the three point of view characters felt heavily inspired from A Song of Ice and Fire.

Princess Miko was perhaps the most naive and needy character I've seen since reading Sansa Stark in A Game of Thrones. Miko seems to go through Sansa's arc as she begins as considerably naive with some plots of her own and becomes massively manipulative as the story continues. She seemed to be too naive to survive, but like Sansa she kept managing to stay alive. Miko did have some differing qualities from Sansa as she was incredible with a bow and she has some political sense.

Rah e'Torin, the exiled Levanti captain, hung on to his honor more than any character I've seen since Eddard and Robb Stark. Rah would rather be executed than submit and it was only the threat of death to those under his charge that got him to go along at all. Rah is stiff necked and determined. Honestly he seemed like a gigantic pain to have around. He and the rest of the Levanti felt like a slightly more civilized version of the Dothraki from A Song of Ice and Fire. They love their horses and are deadly fighting from them. They are nomadic people who care nothing for wealth and civilization as a whole.

The third point of view character, Cassandra, is the one who received the least amount of page time. Cassandra happened to have the only story I felt was truly intriguing, but she gets massively ignored in the second half of the book. It seems Cassandra has another woman's mind living in her body and in order to ignore it she drinks. The other woman can take control of Cassandra's body at times and she largely disagrees with everything Cassandra does. The other woman can do even more interesting things than that, which is why I wanted a lot more of her and a lot less of the Kisian War. I forgot to mention Cassandra is also a whore assassin and apparently very good looking despite her being a little old for a whore.

Dom Leo Villius is the one other character of note. He has an interesting arc and he's incredibly mysterious. He has some power or someone powerful backing him and I would have much rathered see his point of view rather than Miko or Rah.

The war storyline was largely predictable. Nothing happened that truly felt like a shock. Nothing happened that even excited me. Generally I enjoy a good war story, but I found myselt wanting to know the origin of the other woman in Cassandra's head or how Leo could do the things he did.

We Ride the Storm is a story that had quite a bit of under used potential. I'm curious to see if the sequels will focus more on the interesting tidbits rather than being a lesser version of A Song of Ice and Fire.

3 out of 5 stars

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

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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

HAVOC BY TOM KRISTENSEN

HavocHavoc by Tom Kristensen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”Behold the man. But wasn’t it a lie to maintain that he had sought for the spiritual? He with his Mongoloid features? The infinitude and intractability of the soul?

Anyway what had come of it?

A ruined marriage and a lost job. Here he was. Brawling and broken window panes. Tawdry seduction and infidelity. Ridiculous conversion and a home gone up in flames. Hallucinations and havoc. And Ecce Homo! Was it a man who stood here? And whiskey, whiskey, whiskey!

I have longed for shipwrecks,
For havoc and sudden death.”


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Ole “Jazz” Jastrau has a respectable job writing book reviews for the newspaper Dagbladet. He has an apartment, a wife, a child, and all the books he could possibly read. He has the same dissatisfaction that all people have, wondering if this is it. Is this all? These are mild concerns, but then two communist friends shove their way into the apartment, on the run from the police, and in the course of their discourse with Jazz, they shove wedges and crowbars into the cracks of his insecurities and make them into yawning chasms of all consuming rebellion.

He begins to drink too much.

His wife and child move out.

The books, his livelihood, piled about his apartment are oppressing him with their demands to be read. ”It was impossible to escape one’s fate. There lay the stack of review copies---waiting, waiting.” There are many of us reviewers who have suffered from a cacophony of imploring overtures, not only from new books and their anxious authors, but also the books from the past that still haunt us with their beseeching appeals for our attention.

”Yes, of course. He was going to resign. It was like peeling a whole layer of opinions from himself. He no longer wanted a steady job as a producer of opinions. Infinity---was that not what he was seeking? He wanted to be an infinite person, one who was initiated into the mysteries.”

Jazz is railing, in his own fashion, at the shape of the world. He doesn’t see what he gains from being a productive member of it, except increasing levels of responsibility and a growing distance from what makes life real.

Whiskey seems to be the quickest way to go to the dogs. If he becomes a drunken lout, little will be expected of him. He can focus on reaching the divine, which frankly, whatever that is becomes more and more muddled in his mind. Whiskey induced philosophical hallucinations of Jesus and Nietzsche lead to an ill-fated attempt by Jazz to convert to Catholicism.

Giving up the religion of economics to clutch at faith? Leaping from one blazing inferno into yet another?

In the introduction, Morten Høi Jensen sums up the novel perfectly. Havoc should come with a health warning. Tom Kristensen’s novel, about a thirty-something literary critic who loses himself in a maelstrom of drink, jazz, and sex, is one of the most disturbing and absorbing accounts of self-destruction in modern European language.”

There is music. ”This feeling was tempered somewhat, as it was by the jazz from the worn and scratchy records on the phonograph.”

There is drink, of which Tom Kristensen has firsthand knowledge. ”On more than one occasion, his nighttime exploits landed him in a cell at the local police station, where it was joked that Kristensen didn’t have enough blood in his alcohol content.”---Morten Høi Jensen

There is sex and the accompanying worry of disease. A woman by the name of Black Else keeps showing up, and despite warnings from his friend Vuldum that she is diseased, Jazz can not stay away from her. By attempting to avoid her, he just keeps finding her. After an unwise assignation, he sees her as a vision caught against the backdrop of a fire from across the street. ”...fiery shadows, bloody shadows. The naked female body floated upright but obliquely through purple waves, arms outstretched above its head. A greenish darkness lurking in the shadowy armpits. Black Else! Her breasts became so full in the reflections of the red light flickering on the yellow skin. Feminine curves. Just then a tongue of flame shot up across the way and ignited another curtain--an elongated feminine arm, a demanding feminine body, supple, alluring, devouring. A raging fire. Yes---a woman.”

There is seduction. Not by Jazz, but of Jazz by a married woman named Luise Kryger. ”The neck of the pajama top had fallen aside, and in the glow from the pink fabric one of her breasts, which had come to view, shone with a fresh and youthful charm, and the dark nipple caught his glance and fascinated him by its disproportionate size, so large was the brown aureola surrounding it.”

That dark nipple is going to cause Jazz all sorts of irritations with the unwanted attentions of her cuckold husband, who keeps trying to usher him out of town with a cluster of Øre notes.

There is also the heady backdrop of Copenhagen pollution. ”Standing beneath this wide-open expanse they both instinctively drew a deep breath of cool evening air, seasoned with gasoline and perfume and the fetid odor of many people, to which was added the acrid aroma of metal and coal smoke from the subterranean railway---a slightly intoxicating draught of poisonous liqueurs that the big city had to offer in spring.”

This book has never been out of print in Denmark since it was published in 1930. There is a good reason for this, because the concerns of Jazz are the same concerns of the modern age. As society demands more from us for less in return, and we become aware of the true shambles our belief in the system has made for us, the urge to drop out becomes more and more appealing. There is a cautionary tale mingled with the booze, slutty encounters, and the “deviant” music that going to the dogs creates just as much anxiety as being a productive member of society. Hedonism certainly has some attractions, but the cost proved too high for Jastrau and, in the end, to be equally dissatisfying. Perhaps we all should do some unpeeling, but at a moderate speed so we don’t find ourselves face down in a gutter with a mangy critter licking our sweaty, whiskey swollen faces.

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Monday, August 6, 2018

Not the Best Block, But Still Damn Good

Out on the Cutting Edge (Matthew Scudder, #7)Out on the Cutting Edge by Lawrence Block
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not topnotch in the Scudder series, Out on the Cutting Edge is still nonetheless a quality Block book.

While the three star rating (it would be closer to 3.5 and I rue GR's lack of half stars!) might seem low for a "quality" book that I would still recommend, I have my reasons. The biggest problem with this one is that our aging, alcoholic, ex-cop turned unlicensed private detective hero Matthew Scudder doesn't really solve the crime. I mean he puts the pieces together, but the pieces fall into his lap by chance.

HOWEVER! He does solve another crime that you might not have seen coming. There's a nice twist towards the end. But that's part of the problem. A lot happens at the very end and the lead up to it is long and drawn out due to a lack of action. Scudder books could hardly be called "action-packed" by the longest of stretches, but usually there's a little more balance. Even the tension, that harbinger of action, is mostly absent.

None of that hardly matters though. I can still find a good deal of enjoyment in these books even when the plot doesn't pack a punch and all we do is watch Scudder go on dates and to AA meetings. Block's descriptions of NYC from back in the day (this one is set in the late Summer of '86, if I have my baseball references correct) and his excellent characterizations are utterly enjoyable to lose oneself in. He makes you feel like one of Scudder's buddies (if Scudder had anyone you could call a "buddy"), just hanging out with him during his wanderings about the city, like taking a Sunday drive with someone real chill. But no one here is what you would call "cool". These people have seen some shit and have the scars to prove it. The good guys, the bad guys, and all the guys in between (actually most fall into the "in between" category) have been slapped about by life. In this series, Block paints life perfectly.

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Sunday, August 5, 2018

Tampa

TampaTampa by Alissa Nutting
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the surface, Celeste Price and her husband are the perfect couple. He's a cop and she teaches junior high. However, her secret ravenous lust for young boys threatens to tear them apart...

Yeah, this is one of those polarizing books. It asks the uncomfortable question "If a gorgeous 26 year old teacher wants to bed a very willing 14 year old student of hers, is it really rape?" A wise man once wrote "the best villain is the one who thinks he's the hero" and Celeste definitely thinks she's in the right.

The book is written in a funny, vulgar style, so much so that you forget you're reading about a sociopathic child predator at times. The style reminds me of a more humorous, more vulgar Megan Abbott. The plot, however, is a sexuallized reverse Lolita, I guess. Celeste pursues and persuades a boy into a sexual relationship with her and they furiously bump uglies until the train gets derailed. A couple derailments, in fact. In some ways, it reminds me of a Jim Thompson book. You can tell how abnormal Celeste is and know it's only a matter of time before everything goes to several shades of shit.

The book made me feel dirtier than the floor of a porno theater but it was compulsively readable. It simultaneously made me wish I had a Playboy centerfold for a teacher in eighth grade and made me glad I didn't.

Uncomfortable but readable is my final feeling on the book. It was a gripping read and I'll be interested to read whatever Alissa Nutting writes next. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, August 3, 2018

Somatesthesia


Ann Somerville
Self-Published
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars



Summary



2042, post-peak oil America. The FBI and NSA have been merged into a single entity — the Federal Justice Agency — with wide-ranging investigative powers across state borders. Within it, a small core of elite agents, Special Crime Investigators, are brought in on the most difficult, dangerous cases to offer their expertise and abilities.

New SCI Devlin Grace meets his partner, enhanced agent Connor Hutchens, for the first time. Connor is odd and damaged — but with the ability to hear, taste, feel, see and smell well beyond the senses of ordinary people. Together they must solve a dangerous, perplexing case before more children are killed or mutilated - and resist their growing attraction to each other, which could put their careers and their safety in great peril.



My Review



In 2042, America finally comes to its senses and decreases its use of oil significantly while relying on solar, wind and water power. As a result, automobiles have become nearly obsolete and trains have become the primary mode of travel for commuters and industry alike. The cost of imports has become prohibitively expensive, forcing people to become more self-reliant and produce more local products. Crime is still prevalent, and the Federal Justice Agency, a group of elite agents with jurisdiction over state borders, strengthens its crime-fighting abilities by pairing up agents with scientifically enhanced senses with “normal” agents.

Devlin Grace is new to the agency. He’s devoted to his family, committed to his work, and protective of his new partner, Connor Hutchens.

Connor is the enhanced half of the duo. Although he has superior hearing and sight, he has a social anxiety that makes it difficult for him to interact well with others. His childhood was traumatic, having been abandoned by his real parents and then losing his adoptive parents along with his eyesight in a car accident. He was then adopted by an emotionally distant Japanese scientist who provided a good life and security for his young charges as he experimented on them.

Though the two men couldn’t be more different, they work well together and efficiently put their brains and abilities to use in solving a series of bizarre kidnapping cases. Despite agency rules against fraternization, it is inevitable that the two men eventually fall in love.

I enjoyed the fast pace of this story, the growth of Connor and Devlin in and out of their relationship, the well-developed secondary characters, and the twists and surprises that made me think, made me laugh, and brought a tear to my eye. I felt the ending was wrapped up a little too quickly and neatly, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story.

Another winner from Ann Somerville!

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Little Wren and the Big Forest (short story in Unfettered II)

Unfettered IIUnfettered II by Shawn Speakman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Little Wren and the Big Forest

The forest near Wren's house is something of a mystery. Only her father ever enters, but only just slightly. When Wren's brother enters the forest following a sheep, he doesn't reappear. Wren's father and mother follow until only Wren remained. Now Wren could follow her mother's instructions or she could enter the forest to see if she can find her family. Wren may be little, but she's no coward.

Little Wren and the Big Forest is a fairy tale about the dwarf Gronbach. He's a vile clever creature who cares only for himself. Wren is a simply written girl like any protagonist of a fairy tale. The story is simple, but it's point is achieved, do not trust Gronbach.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

A TOWN LIKE ALICE BY NEVIL SHUTE

A Town Like AliceA Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”I suppose it is because I have lived rather a restricted life myself that I have found so much enjoyment in remembering what I have learned in these last years about brave people and strange scenes. I have sat here day after day this winter, sleeping a good deal in my chair, hardly knowing if I was in London or the Gulf country, dreaming of the blazing sunshine, of poddy-dodging and black stockmen, of Cairns and of Green Island. Of a girl that I met forty years too late, and of her life in that small town that I shall never see again, that holds so much of my affection.”

 photo A20Town20Like20Alice_zpsghvocj8q.jpg
There was a 1981 mini-series starring Bryan Brown and Helen Morse.

Our narrator is a solicitor by the name of Noel Strachan who is ”as solid as the Bank of England, and as sticky as treacle.” He becomes involved with an estate that seems to be a straightforward affair, but soon it evolves into his most all consuming case.

It involves a woman named Jean Paget, to him more of a girl, but as we learn her story, we find out just how much of a woman she really is.

Paget’s story is based on true events. This story is set in Malaya, but the real story is set in Sumatra. The women and children taken by the Japanese during the war are Dutch, not British, and Nevil Shute gets many things wrong. Some of that is translation problems, and some of those are changes necessary to tell the story he wants to tell. The Japanese take all foreign nationals in Malaya prisoner. They separate the men from the women, haul the men off to camps, and don’t have a clue what to with the women and children.

So they march them in what turns out to be random directions towards mythical camps for women and children that never materialize. With every brutal mile, their ranks are thinned, and the youngest woman among them becomes their de facto leader.

Jean Paget.

She befriends a truck driver from the Australian outback, Jim Harman, who steals much needed supplies at great risk. Eventually, he is caught.

”’I stole those mucking chickens and I gave them to her. So what?’ said Joe.

The ’So what?’ turns out to be a very big deal indeed.

”’They crucified him,’ she said quietly. ‘They took us down to Kuantan, and they nailed his hands to a tree, and beat him to death. They kept us there, and made us look on while they did it.’”

This is a story that Paget tells to Noel Strachan, and he shares the story with us. Over the course of the novel, she continues to write to him about her life. Despite the age difference and the impracticality of a relationship, it is easy to see that Strachan has fallen in love with Jean Paget, and as it turned out, so did Joe Harman.

Joe Harman is based on a real man by the name of Herbert James ‘Ringer’ Edwards. He was every inch the man that Shute describes in his novel.

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Look at that jaunty angle to his hat.

In this edition, there is a wonderful afterword by Jenny Colgan. She makes the case that writers, craftsmen and craftswomen, like Nevil Shute, Bernard Malamud, Elizabeth Taylor, Robertson Davies are largely forgotten by the reading community today. Interestingly enough, I have several books by all these writers in my personal library. I am the consummate pursuer of writers, exactly like Shute, who have been relegated to the past, left for dead, but who are in need of a resurrection with a new generation of readers. He has certainly left his mark on me. I think about Shute’s book On the Beach at least once a week. It is one of my favorite post-apocalyptic books. I have a feeling I will be similarly haunted by A Town Like Alice.

Nevil Shute Norway is his full name. To keep his engineering life and his writing life separated, he existed under Norway in one and Shute in the other. He became caught up in the disastrous airship craze between the world wars, and he is brought to life so vividly by David Dennington in his historical novel The Airshipmen.

Shute’s writing style is crisp, concise, and straightforward. There is romance, but he presents it in such a practical fashion that the plot never bogs down in the melodrama of star crossed lovers. ”But Shute was a storytelling craftsman to his bones; an aeronautics obsessive-- there are very few authors who are also excellent engineers. He never constructs a lazy or shoddy sentence, any more than he’d have let the wings fall off one of his aeroplanes.”

After receiving her legacy, Jean ends up in the outback of Australia, being exactly the can-do woman she was in Malaya. She wants to build the sparse few buildings of Willstown into the next Alice Springs. I find this part of the story so inspiring. She is such an natural entrepreneur. She asks the right questions. What do people need? What do people want that they don’t even know they want it yet? What must we do to make each venture profitable? How does she keep the young women from running off to the big cities? No young women means there are no young men. In many ways, she is like Bugsy Siegel who envisioned casinos in the desert. She wants to build A Town Like Alice.

She uses her legacy to build something.

There is one major plot twist which is dangled so masterfully by Shute, but the reveal is not a grand fireworks affair. That just isn’t Shute’s style. He brings it in subtly, as if to say,...of course, this is what really happened.

Poor Noel Strachan meets the girl of his dreams forty years too late, but fate does at least let him meet her. You, too, can meet Jean Paget and Joe Harman and get to know what poddy-dodging means and ringers, but more importantly, if you love a good story as well crafted as the airplanes you trust your life to, then you should be reading Nevil Shute. His books should not be forgotten. Blow the dust off them in your local library and paperback exchanges, and let his stories live in your mind as they do in mine.

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Monday, July 30, 2018

Adventure and Politics in the Far East of the Early 19th Century

The Thirteen-Gun Salute (Aubrey/Maturin, #13)The Thirteen-Gun Salute by Patrick O'Brian
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Out of all of O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series up to this point, The Thirtheen-Gun Salute gets further away from the sea battles and life aboard ship to really delve into the interior of a new and exciting frontier (in the eyes of the characters as set in a pre-"Planet Earth" world) and paints a not-always-pretty picture of diplomacy in the Far East as it was some 200 years ago. O'Brian describes Maturin's romp into the countryside in such flowing and absorbing detail that it reads as vividly as watching any of those fancy nature programs David Attenborough makes.

There are no naval battles in this, the thirteenth episode of the saga. I mention it because that is such a big draw for many who read these kinds of books. However, this is Patrick O'Brian we're talking about, so all the rest that makes up this book is well worth the reading, because the reading makes you feel as if you're living it. You get the sense of an early 19th century voyage around the globe. You feel the tension of a diplomatic mission that may sway the war one way or another in this part of the world. You climb the 1000 steps to the ancient Buddhist temple where it shouldn't be on an island in Muslim Malaysia, and there you connect on a personal level with an orangutan. It's all amazingly detailed.

But action? No, this one's not filled with action. That being said, our courageous hero Captain Aubrey is still busy. He has a ship to run while contending with an envoy whose inflating sense of self may threaten everything.

Intelligence agent, naturalist and ship's surgeon Dr. Maturin takes center stage for much of The Thirteen-Gun Salute. It is a part of his character arc that culminates in a satisfactory, if somewhat devious, finish of a storyline that has been going on and on for book after previous book.

This is a gorgeous and subtle piece of fiction that can be enjoyed by fans beyond the action/adventure genre that one would assume it is. If you're new to the series, perhaps don't start with this book, but otherwise, this is highly recommended!

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Sunday, July 29, 2018

Two Lost Boys

Two Lost BoysTwo Lost Boys by L.F. Robertson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Andy Hardy's appeal comes up, Janet Moodie catches the case. Andy is on death row for raping and murdering two women with his brother, Emory. Can Janet get Andy's sentence reduced to life? And what hold does the Hardy boys' mother have over them?

Recently, the people at Titan hit me up to read Forever and a Death. I said I would and added that I'd take anything else they wanted to send my way. This showed up not too long after and I'm glad I'm kind of a book mooch.

Two Lost Boys is a legal thriller but it's also an exploration into family secrets and how people become who they are. As Janet mines Andy's past, she unearths more and more dark secrets Ma Hardy would prefer to keep hidden. I saw some of the twists coming but I was still pleasantly surprised in places.

Janet Moodie is far from the usual thriller heroine. She's middle aged and a widow, living with her dog after her husband's suicide years before. She's not Wonder Woman but she gets things done. I liked her right away.

Since the case hinges on Andy being mentally disabled and not deserving of the death penalty, lots and lots of dirty laundry gets aired. Andy seems less like a criminal than an unwitting dupe and the worst person in the Hardy family sure isn't him. After the thirty percent mark, the book had its fangs buried in my brain stem and I couldn't get it out of my mind.

Even though legal thrillers are normally as welcome as a fart in an elevator on my bookshelf, I really enjoyed this one. Four out of five stars.



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Friday, July 27, 2018

May We Shed These Human Bodies



Amber Sparks
Curbside Splendor Publishing, Inc.
Reviewed by Nancy
2 out of 5 stars



Summary



May We Shed These Human Bodies peers through vast spaces and skies with the world's most powerful telescope to find humanity: wild and bright and hard as diamonds. A whole sideshow's worth of heartbreaking oddballs and freaks.

Amber Sparks is a Washington DC based author whose work has been widely published. She's one of today's freshest literary fiction voices, drawing on fables and mythologies as inspiration for her fiction that explores the human yearning for understanding and uniquely captures her generation's struggle with today's hyper-techno-crazed world. This is her debut story collection.



My Review



This strange, experimental, imaginative collection is full of brilliant ideas and explores serious issues, but I felt many of the stories were a little too clever, wispy and insubstantial as air. I like the combination of magic realism, fantasy and horror and the variety of stories. There was enough weirdness and bizarre situations to capture my interest, and my enjoyment of stories by Aimee Bender and Kelly Link drew me to this collection. Unfortunately, the character development was lacking and I felt no connection to anyone. I’m sad these stories are already starting to slip away.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Awakening

The Awakening (Metal and Stone, #1)The Awakening by Kevin Potter
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Dragon slayers are hunting all the dragons they can find. The Dragon council deliberates on what to do. While the dragons could likely destroy the humans they fear destroying the Earth in the process. The dragons eventually decide to enter a long hibernation like sleep for an undecided length of time. When Dauria is awakened it clearly seems someone is conspiring against her and perhaps all the other dragons as well.

The Awakening wasn't what I was expecting when I picked up this book. I had the film Reign of Fire in mind when dragons are unearthed and they quickly devastate the world. These dragons are much more like people even though it seems they have the destructive power the dragons have in Reign of Fire.

The book quickly falls apart for me when Dauria is awoken and the book reveals that dragons have magical powers. The problem specifically wasn't that they have magical powers though, the problem is that they can magically transform into humans at will. My immediate thought becomes why on Earth would the dragons hide away from humanity's dragon slayers when they could simply transform themselves and remain hidden. I don't know if the dragons are immortal as long as they aren't killed, but any reason outside of that makes them look ridiculous. The story implies the dragons went to sleep for easily hundreds of years and that seems like a lot of life to skip by taking a nap to hide away from defeatable foes they could simply blend in with.

The rest of the story seems to be a quick mystery for Dauria as she is stuck in human form and is trying to learn how to fix herself and help the dragon council. Dauria is unfortunately not interesting and the book didn't delve into her backstory enough to make the reader care for her.

The Awakening is an average at best story.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Just the Funny Parts: ... And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking Into the Hollywood Boys' Club By: Nell Scovell

Just the Funny Parts: ... And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking Into the Hollywood Boys' ClubJust the Funny Parts: ... And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking Into the Hollywood Boys' Club by Nell Scovell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After enjoying Ms. Scovell on the Never Not Funny podcast with Jimmy Pardo, and his declaration of how great her book was........I scooped it up. As a untalented writer(myself) I always enjoy the inside views of writer's lives and the process, trials and errors in their careers.

Ms. Scovell has an easy flowing style (obviously, her resume is a laundry list of well written shows) and my mind is wobbly still at just HOW long I have been listening to the words this lady has written, because I guarantee if you are a like age as myself (45) you have watched something she has been a part of.

A fun, moving and deeply interesing read if you are a pop culture fan, check it out.

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Monday, July 23, 2018

Austen is good even when she's bad

The WatsonsThe Watsons by Jane Austen
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Two stars seems pretty low, especially for an Austen, but this is an unfinished work after all, and as such it's actually quite good!

The problem is that the unfinished part seems mostly to be the plot. The Watsons meanders along quite aimlessly. A pretty girl goes to a ball. There is an unsuitable but nice young man there who all the ladies adore but who is not marriage material. There's an old man about to die, so his meager fortunate will probably be past on to his bevy of women (There's always an old man with a trunkload of women to look after in Austen's books), and there is a bit of controversy between said women, mostly regarding matrimonial affairs. It's all very ho-hum and in need of a tension injection.

Austen had gotten quite a few words on paper before this was left unfinished. Too many words without any discernible direction. It made me wonder why she would progress in such a manner. Why write all this with no clue what the plot will be? Maybe she hoped it would come along eventually and she good go back and wedge it in there.

Regardless, this is still a pleasure to read for its Austen-esque style. You can see all the set pieces in place and her usual characters are taking shape. I enjoyed just letting the words flow over me as she create her scenes. Beautiful stuff.

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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Cold Cotton

Cold Cotton (Hap and Leonard)Cold Cotton by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Who would have thought Hap not being able to get a boner would get everyone into so much trouble? When a potential therapist calls Brett Sawyer's detective agency, she hires the gang to figure out who is harassing her. Things quickly spin out of control and Hap and Leonard quickly find themselves balls deep in trouble.

Cold Cotton is a Hap and Leonard novella set some time after Honky Tonk Samurai. The boys wind up being caught up in a web of greed and murder. Oh, and Hap is as impotent as a eunuch. There's also a nymphomaniac, a Rottweiler, and wall to wall witty banter.

The story is hilarious, as most Joe Lansdale books are, and very entertaining. Since it's a novella, the laugh density is pretty high and it doesn't overstay its welcome. Hap and Leonard are in fine form, although Leonard doesn't get as much attention as I would have liked. Nice to see his relationship with Pookie still going strong, though.

That's about all I'm prepared to say. I'm beginning to like the Hap and Leonard novellas better than the novels. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, July 20, 2018

Murder, Romance, and Two Shootings


Todd Allen Smith
NineStar Press
2 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Nancy



Summary



The scent of his own blood shakes away the disbelief of the gunman entering the city council room. Todd remembers that smell and can’t deny that he is once more the target of a gunman’s bullet.

Healing from his physical wounds is the easy part, grounded in gratitude for his very survival. Rebuilding his life will be the hard part. But he is reminded he is luckier than others whenever he thinks of his friend Rick who was murdered.

After the first time he was shot, Todd had to learn to walk again, but now he faces the bigger challenge of learning how to love.


My Review



I expected a dark, edgy thriller with a smattering of romance. What I got was something entirely different.

Author Todd Smith had the misfortune of being shot not once, but twice. The first time was during a robbery attempt after moving to a new city. The second occurred on his job reporting on the Kirkwood City Council meeting after he returned to his home state of Missouri. An enraged citizen, complaining of how the city was screwing him over and hurting his business, was responsible for multiple fatalities, include that of the mayor. Todd was lucky to escape with his life, though he suffered a serious gunshot wound to the hand.

This is not a thriller, or romance, or crime novel. It is a fictional account based on the true story of Todd Smith’s life. While names, characters, places and businesses may have been the products of the author’s imagination, it was clear that Todd Smith, the main character, was the author. While the reader learns of the grim circumstances surrounding Todd’s two shootings and the brutal murder of a close friend, we get to watch him grow as a character and get a glimpse of his friendships, his co-workers, his family and his relationships.

The story was fraught with minor errors that I hope were caught in the final version, shallow characterization, and stilted dialogue. I knew that Todd felt pain when he was shot. I knew he grieved over his friend Rick’s brutal slaying. And I knew that he was in love with David. I just couldn’t feel any of it.

Blatant authorial intrusion early in the narrative was disconcerting and confusing. Was I reading a memoir or a novel? The journalistic reportage and dual presence of author and character kept me distant from people, places, and events. I wanted Todd the character and not Todd the author.

Perhaps this would have worked better as a memoir. Though the story was compelling and held my interest throughout, the style left me cold.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Tome of the Undergates

Tome of the Undergates (Aeons' Gate, #1)Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A revered priest hired a band of adventurers to be his escort. The band consists of Lenk a man with a sword and a voice in his head, Denaos a career criminal, Kataria a pointy eared savage, Gariath a monster known as a dragonman, Dreadaelon a young wizard, and Asper a cursed priestess. This unlikely group takes on a high priced job to retrieve an especially dangerous book, the Tome of the Undergates, when it is stolen by a demon.

Tome of the Undergates simply fails to hold my attention. It has interesting enough writing, a diverse group of characters, and some mystery but I simply don't want to know any more about any of them. The book is too long for me to be so disinterested in what's happening.

One of my biggest problems with the book is that the characters are largely stereotypes who don't seem to have any overly intriguing characteristics. I should deeply care why Lenk has a voice in his head that speaks to him and what Miron isn't telling everyone, but it's largely a yawn for me. The only moment that stirred anything for me was when Denaos was called in to torture someone for information. Unfortunately that feeling was fleeting.

Tome of the Undergates simply wasn't a book for me.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

NJAL'S SAGA

Njal's SagaNjal's Saga by Anonymous
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”Gunnar got ready to ride to the Thing, and before he left he spoke to Hallgerd: ‘Behave yourself while I’m away and don’t show your bad temper where my friends are concerned.’

‘The trolls take your friend,’ she said.

Gunnar rode to the Thing and saw that it was no good talking to her.”


 photo Njals20Parchment202_zps1sxuabiu.jpg

The events of Njal’s Saga took place between 960 and 1020 in Icelandic society and were written about in the thirteenth century. What was so unexpected for me was to discover, in such an ancient culture, the power that women had in, what I assumed was, a patriarchal society. Before I started reading Icelandic sagas, I had the image in my mind of the stereotypical, he-man, Viking Icelander, who ruled his home with an iron fist. That was not the case at all.

Hallgerd was famous to scholars of the sagas because she was such a diabolical character. She took any slight against her honor very seriously, meddled in others affairs without fear of impunity, manipulated, connived, and ultimately cost seven men their lives in a feud with Bergthora, the wife of Gunnar’s friend Njal. There was an inordinate amount of goading by women of their husbands in the sagas to push men into conflicts to defend family honor. The women, for the most part, did not really come off that well. They were depicted as shallow, petty, and quite willing to start an all out blood war over some perceived insult, even if the slight was unintended.

If a man did raise his hand to his wife, he risked having her burly male relatives appearing on his threshold to give him an attitude adjustment.

Most disagreements between men, some of them caused by women, were settled at a gathering called Althing. Men would get together and discuss who did what to whom and how much compensation was expected to be paid to make up for the loss of a life or of property. Again, surprisingly more civilized than anything I would have expected. Because of the alliances between people, either through blood or marriage or friendship, blood feuds were taken seriously. If things were not settled amicably between families, all of Iceland could find themselves in a civil war.

In these sagas, there were several moments when things became very precarious. As Hallgerd and Bergthora sparred with one another and convinced either their relatives or men who worked for their husbands to kill someone from the other family, the possibility of a savage blood feud erupting became precariously plausible. If not for the peaceable nature of their husbands, even more lives would have been lost as these women conducted their own bloody chess match where the pawns were men’s lives. Njal and Gunnar kept passing the same bag of silver back and forth as compensation for the deaths of their kinsmen to keep the peace.

Njal was considered one of the wisest men in Iceland, but though many came to him for consul, including Gunnar, his own sons frequently avoided asking him for advice, which eventually led to disaster. ”’I’m not in their planning’ said Njal, ‘but I am seldom left out when their plans are good.’”

Gunnar was level headed and anticipated problems before they actually materialized, but found himself often unable to stop the consequences. He was so mild mannered, but once his ire was raised he could become a fierce and formidable warrior. I really grew to appreciate his character as his story was told.

Throughout the sagas were foreshadowings or prophecies of what the future would hold. When Thorvald, son of Osvif, decided to marry Hallgerd, yes that Hallgerd, the future wife of Gunnar, his father couldn’t help but feel the match would be a costly one for his son. ”’Her laughter doesn’t seem as good to me as it does to you,’ said Osvif, ‘and the proof of this will come later.’”

Indeed, it did.

Hallgerd had a couple of marriages before Gunnar and was known for being difficult to get along with, but she was beautiful, and men continued to be dazzled by her appearance and thought they could handle her conniving and manipulations.

Despite the very civilized manner with which compensation was handled in this society, there were still plenty of points in the saga where bloody conflict broke out, and there was much lopping of hands, arms, legs, and heads off. Skulls were split. Torsos were skewered. Scars were made. One of my favorites was when:

”’This is the first time I have laughed since you killed Thrain.’

Skarphedin said, ‘Then here’s something to remember him by.’ (Terminatoresque)

He took from his purse one of the molars he had hacked out of Thrain and threw it at Gunnar’s eye [different Gunnar from the main character] and knocked it out onto his cheek. Gunnar then fell off the roof.”


Or how about this encounter with THE Gunnar.

”Gunnar saw a red tunic at the window and he made a thrust with his halberd and hit Thorgrim in the waist. The Norwegian lost his grip on his shield, his feet slipped and he fell off the roof and then walked to where Gizur and the others were sitting on the ground.

Gizur looked at him and spoke: ‘Well is Gunnar at home?’

Thorgrim answered, ‘Find that out for yourselves, but I’ve found out one thing--that his halberd’s at home.’

Then he fell down dead.”


I’ve heard that some people find these sagas tough to read. Within a few pages, I found a rhythm with the way the stories were told and within a few chapters I was caught up in the lives of Gunnar and Njal. The introduction was a great prep for reading the sagas and provided me with insights that helped me enjoy my reading even more. There were many creatively described, bloodthirsty moments as well as some detailed legal proceedings that confirmed for me the importance of laws to balance the scales between the strongest and the weakest. This Icelandic culture around 1000 AD was a society trying to evolve away from their bloody, barbaric past and move toward a civilisation where every life was precious, and the arts could be appreciated as much as the glitter of a sharp sword blade.

Also see my review of The Saga of the Volsungs

and my review of King Harald's Saga

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
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Monday, July 16, 2018

An Epic of Epic Proportions!

The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1)The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Now that's an epic!

It's been a long time since I've read such a large book by an author I've never read before. There's uncertainty in doing that. You don't know if the author is someone who will pay-off such an investment of time. However, I've read enough reviews by you swell people here on the Interbone to feel confident that Brandon Sanderson can and will deliver the goods.

And he does with The Final Empire, the first book in his Mistborn series. I'm not a huge fan of epic fantasy, sure I love GoT and such, but I don't delve much deeper into it than the basic popular stuff that everyone loves. Having said that, I love Sanderson's world-building, characters, and the magic system he has created here. I don't know if "inventive" is the right word, but I was intrigued by it all.

Certainly there are some slow moments in this chunky tome. Sanderson explains things quite thoroughly at times and that makes those times drag. But during those times, I had to remind myself it was all for the greater good. Stick with it and you shall be rewarded!

Highly recommended!...but you probably knew that already. I've been pretty dang slow in getting to this one.

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Bubba and the Cosmic Blood Suckers

Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-SuckersBubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the early 1070's, Elvis and his team of monster hunters go up against bloodsuckers from another dimension.

While Hap and Leonard are the Joe Lansdale creations I enjoy the most, the really weird stuff like Zeppelins West are what brought me to the dance. When this came up on Netgalley, I couldn't resist.

Ever wonder what landed Elvis in that nursing home in Bubba Ho-Tep? This goes a long way in explaining things. I remember at least one other Lansdale story featuring Elvis from one of his short story collections. Anyway, Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers is one of Lansdale's stranger tales.

When Elvis wasn't performing in Vegas, he was fighting monsters and spending a lot of time in an isolation tank, drugged out and searching for some cosmic truth. The Colonel held Elvis' mother's soul captive, which explains why Elvis hooked up with the son of a bitch in the first place.

When strange things show up on an unfinished film of Elvis', the crew springs into action to fight some parasites from another dimension. It's way funnier than it sounds.

The trademark Lansdale wit is in full effect. My wife was clearly wondering what I was laughing at but learned long ago that it was better not to ask. The story was short and satisfying, like a hand job in a porno theater. Landale does a great job juggling humor and violence and Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers is no exception.

To say more would be to risk spoilage. If you're a fan of Bubba Hotep or any of Joe Lansdale's crazier tales, this one is not to be missed. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Whiskey and Wry



Rhys Ford
Dreamspinner Press
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars



Summary


He was dead. And it was murder most foul. If erasing a man’s existence could even be called murder.

When Damien Mitchell wakes, he finds himself without a life or a name. The Montana asylum’s doctors tell him he’s delusional and his memories are all lies: he’s really Stephen Thompson, and he’d gone over the edge, obsessing about a rock star who died in a fiery crash. His chance to escape back to his own life comes when his prison burns, but a gunman is waiting for him, determined that neither Stephen Thompson nor Damien Mitchell will escape.

With the assassin on his tail, Damien flees to the City by the Bay, but keeping a low profile is the only way he’ll survive as he searches San Francisco for his best friend, Miki St. John. Falling back on what kept him fed before he made it big, Damien sings for his supper outside Finnegan’s, an Irish pub on the pier, and he soon falls in with the owner, Sionn Murphy. Damien doesn’t need a complication like Sionn, and to make matters worse, the gunman—who doesn’t mind going through Sionn or anyone else if that’s what it takes kill Damien—shows up to finish what he started.


My Review


Even though I didn’t totally love Sinner's Gin, the ending was such a surprise that I was on pins and needles awaiting the next story.

Damien Mitchell, guitarist, and one of three band members who died in a car crash, is actually alive and well. Well, not totally well. He’s shut up in a mental institution, pumped up full of drugs, and with no memory of that strange couple that calls themselves his parents. His memories are just starting to return, and now he’s on the run because someone is trying to kill him.

Like Miki St. John in the previous story, Damien is a very damaged character who is wary and distrustful of others. He grew up with a very abusive father and a neglectful, alcoholic mother. The only person in the world he can trust is Miki, and now that Damien knows he’s alive, he is determined to find him. Only Miki will be able to fill in the blanks of his life.

While searching for Miki, Damien holes up in a dumpy attic apartment while busking at Finnegan’s Pub. The owner, Sionn Murphy, takes an instant liking to him. The attraction is mutual, but I appreciated that their relationship moved along at a slow pace, allowing me to feel the intensity of their growing love for each other.

Their sex scenes were hot, but one of the hottest scenes in this story for me was the kiss they exchanged while drinking coffee and eating glazed donuts.


“The small piece of paper Sionn used mopped up a bit of crème, and Damien leaned in, angling his chin up. He kept his eyes down, trying not to overtly inhale the woodsy green cologne Sionn wore or stare at the faint stubble scruffing the man’s strong chin. He already knew Sionn’s eyes were flecked by pale sky-blue specks around his pupil with a black ring running around his irises, but Damie didn’t stare into them, not when the man’s breath whispered over his jaw and fingers scraped crème from Damie’s cheek. There must have been a dollop of crème left somewhere, or maybe Sionn had more than a bit of it when he’d bitten into the donut, because when his lips met Damien’s, their kiss tasted of milky sugar and hot cinnamon.”

Sigh….

As much as I love Sionn Murphy, I didn’t find him to be as fully fleshed out as Kane was in the first story. Other than owning a pub, he doesn’t seem to have much of a life at all other than to be the perfect boyfriend for Damien. There were only glimpses of difficulties in his past, with details that were fascinating enough, but lacking. I wanted to know a lot more! Even his physical description was vague and I found myself glancing at the cover to help me picture what he looked like. Damien is on the left in full color and sexy scruffiness, while Sionn’s ghostly pallor blends in too well with the background. Just like the cover, Sionn was a little too much in the background for my liking.

The things that annoyed me in Sinner's Gin were much less prevalent in this story, for which I’m grateful. The Morgan/Finnegan clan was genuinely loving and supportive without feeling annoyingly smothering and intrusive. I also liked the larger focus on Donal, the patriarch of the clan. He’s full of compassion and wisdom and the kind of person one would be proud to call dad.

The villains were downright evil to the point they were caricatures. They would have been a lot more believable with the nuances and shades of gray that exist in humanity. Their crimes were over the top and I rolled my eyes a few times, but at the same time I found myself holding my breath and unable to stop reading until the very end.

Overall, this is a worthy addition to the Sinners series. I am definitely looking forward to the next two stories and hope that Miki and Damien will soon be getting a band together and making music again.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The City Stained Red

The City Stained Red (Bring Down Heaven, #1)The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Lenk and his crew were hired to fight for a priest named Miron Evenhands. When the time comes for them to collect their pay, Miron vanishes. In their attempt to find the priest and get their money, Lenk and his crew encounter more than they bargained for.

The City Stained Red literally revolves around Lenk's crew not getting paid. While not getting paid for your work would be devastating for a normal person it seems far too dull a reason for the characters to wade into conflict. When the fighting begins and the dying follows it seems like the right time for the crew to cut their losses, but they simply double down.

In the books defense I didn't know that the Aeons' Gate trilogy revolved around Lenk and his crew. If I knew that I would have never attempted to read The City Stained Red first. There is so much backstory and world building that the reader should already know. The characters clearly have history with one another and picking up from this book is an inadequate way to get to know them.

The City Stained Red really couldn't keep my attention, but perhaps I'll try it again after reading the Aeons' Gate trilogy.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

BEARSKIN BY JAMES A. MCLAUGHLIN

BearskinBearskin by James A. McLaughlin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”The giant trees were like dormant gods, vibrating with something he couldn’t name, not quite sentience, each one different from the others, each telling its own centuries-long story. On the forest floor, chestnut logs dead since the blight had rotted into chest-high berms soft with thick mosses, whispering quietly. Something called out and he turned to face a looming tulip tree, gnarled and bent like an old man, hollowed out by rot, lightning, ancient fires.

His skin tingled.”


 photo Tulip20Tree202_zpspz9btku8.jpg

Rice Moore felt the pain of parting from a dear friend when he left the desert around Tucson. He could see those thousands of saguaro cactuses in his rearview mirror and wondered when he would be able to see them again. Circumstances were against him ever see that gorgeous desert again because he had gotten himself on the wrong side of a Mexican drug cartel.

”While Apryl crouched beside him with her .22 in her hand, cursing, Rice experienced a sensation of detachment, thinking here he was in his first firefight, and that instead of a scientist he’d become some kind of ridiculous desert outlaw--a dilettante Clyde to Apryl’s only slightly more credible Bonnie, and that the bullets going by sounded sibilant, like insects.”

Any romanticism he might have felt about locking horns with the cartels was quickly dispelled when he found himself in a Mexican jail, and Apryl...well, there are things worse than a Mexican jail.

He took a job in Virginia as a caretaker of a nature preserve. He used the name Rick Morton, which slid around on his skin like an ill fitting suit. The previous caretaker had been viciously attacked, so the theory in hiring Rice was that any gringo who could stay alive in a Mexican jail might be able to handle himself with bear poachers and biker gangs.

Rice started spending so much time in the woods, laying in wait for poachers, that he had trouble returning to the meager civilization of his cabin. He began having hallucinations and hearing forest voices talking to him. He was certainly a man who threw himself into his work. He became part of the woods he was protecting. He even went beyond that. ”He tried to fit the cow pelvis over his head to wear it like a ceremonial Pleistocene headdress, but several fused vertebrae at the sacrum got in the way. He laid it on the ground and broke off part of the sacrum with a a rock, and this time it fit, resting on his crown, and he could see through the holes.”

Rice’s father gave him some great advice that could almost be my creed.

”When you slack off, what you’re really doing is choosing to fail because you didn’t try hard enough. It was a rational choice, his father had said, for people who would rather fail on purpose than risk finding out they’re not good enough, but if you made that choice you should at least be honest with yourself about what you are doing.”

When people write me and ask me how I’ve done so well on GR, they always seem disappointed when I say hard, consistent work. They were hoping I had a trick of some kind that would help them be successful without having to do the heavy lifting.

Read. Write. Repeat.

This is a slow burn of a novel with mystery elements, but really James A. McLaughlin wrote a book that ventures more into the realm of a literary novel. The lyrical prose, of which I’ve shared some in this review, are to be savored like biting off hunks of wild honeycomb. Your tongue will tingle with the resonance of the words. There is plenty of action, but it is low key, more personal, and more like real life than the explosive action flicks that fill movie theaters. Between pissed off local bikers, aggressive bear poachers, a DEA agent with an unnatural interest in Rice, and a Cartel assassin, people are having to wait in line for a chance to try and take him down. One thing I can assure them all about is that Rice ain’t going anywhere...bring it on.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Trail of Lightning By: Rebecca Roanhorse

Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World, #1)Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had heard ALLLLLLLLLLLLL KINDDDDDDDDDDDDDDSSSSSSSS of things about this book, and being a fan of the genre and book fiend all around, why not?

Read it, devoured it...now...bit torn. I said, I am not going to review this, but then I realized what it was.

This is a minor diversion so bear with me, I am a huge fan of the show M*A*S*H and while it has nothing much to do with the book..what happened did. My parents got a new TV, a BIG beautiful Hi Def monster of a set, you can count hairs on heads with this thing, and thumbing through stuff I came upon the first episode of MASH. In crystal clarity, I had forgotten how well the first episode sets up what you are going to see, who the players are and what they mean to each other.

Then.......boom it hit me. Although Trail of Lightning is a terrific urban fantasy, what bugged me is that it hit all the "points" most urban fantasies do..if you read the genre regularly, chances are better than not you will see the beats coming. That being said, the pace, and the new world and the mythology that the author brings to the table, makes the read so damn fun, that YOU DON'T CARE.
Ms. Roanhorse has a great voice, and I will almost bet that by the time she finishes this series (and I will read them) any quibbles I have I probably won't have anymore.

check this out, quick ton of fun read for what's left of your vacation.

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Monday, July 9, 2018

Wicked Good Starter to Wicca

The Beginner's Guide to Wicca: How to Practice Earth-Centered SpiritualityThe Beginner's Guide to Wicca: How to Practice Earth-Centered Spirituality by Starhawk
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not looking to convert. Although being called a warlock does sound cool! I've been reading a lot of stuff like this for research. Boning up on religions lately and this is yet another.

The Beginner's Guide to Wicca is a very basic intro to wicca. That's not a knock on it. After all, that's what it sets out to be. Just keep that in mind. You're not getting deep insights here, just the basics. I'm only just starting my research into wicca, so this one made sense to me at the time.

Another bonus was that I found it at the library on audiobook, so I was able to listen to the whole short thing while I did the dishes and cleaned the house. The narrator might have been the author herself, I'm not sure. Regardless, whoever read it had a nice casual-yet-knowledgeable approach. This was a good, bit-sized intro that spoon fed me the basics. Just what the shaman ordered!

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