Sunday, June 24, 2018

C is for Cthulhu Coloring Book

C is for Cthulhu Coloring BookC is for Cthulhu Coloring Book by Greg Murphy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The C is for Cthulhu Coloring Book is a 48 page coloring/activity book featuring the uncolored artwork from C is for Cthulhu: The Lovecraft Alphabet Book.

I got this for being a Kickstarter backer for Sweet Dreams, Cthulhu, an upcoming kids book, and it's pretty cool.

It features the artwork from C is for Cthulhu before it was colored, plus some bonus illustrations, some of which weren't in C is for Cthulhu. Also, there are activity book standards like getting Cthulhu out of a maze and a word search featuring various Lovecraftian names. And a Cthulhu mask you can cut out and wear around the house!

I think the coloring book version lacks some of the punch of C is for Cthulhu: The Lovecraft Alphabet Book but if you're going to expose your child to the horrors of cosmos and man's insignificance at an early age, he or she might as well get to color as well. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, June 22, 2018

When One Door Opens


J.D. Ruskin
Dreamspinner Press
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


Summary


Logan Sellers's parole officer has issued three commandments: stay sober, stay employed, and stay out of trouble. At first Logan thought those three simple rules would be easy to follow. But that was before he accepted a side job assisting his boss’s housebound agoraphobic nephew, Caleb.

Caleb is deceptively normal for a guy who hasn't left his apartment in three years, and his friendly, caring personality tugs on heartstrings Logan didn’t know he had. But hitting on his boss’s nephew is asking to be unemployed. Logan has enough problems with booze on every corner and a supervisor trying to jump into his bed. He doesn’t need to work out how to free Caleb from the anxiety that keeps him in his apartment; he needs to keep his nose clean, attend his AA meetings, and make a fresh start—alone.

If only his heart would get with the program.


My Review


I think I may have a mild case of agoraphobia. The last time I experienced a little panic attack was several years ago while I was in Poland. I wanted to go to church and light candles for my close family and friends who passed away while there was no mass in session. But no, my husband’s parents insisted we attend mass. Even though we arrived 5 minutes before mass started, there was a line of people starting to form just outside the door. All the pews and most of the seats were occupied, but we did find just enough room somewhere in the middle. Once we were seated, I let go of that breath I’d been holding. When mass was over and everyone got up to leave, I gradually inched my way to the door until the sea of people was no longer moving. Even with my husband and his parents standing right behind me, I felt totally vulnerable. What if a fire started? What if people got trampled or suffocated? What if someone noticed my flushed cheeks? Suddenly I felt faint and broke out into a sweat. I had a wild urge to start screaming and pushing the people standing in front of me in order to get the crowd moving. We eventually got out and I took many invigorating breaths of cold air. My mother-in-law realized she left her scarf behind and looked in my direction. I shook my head and told her she was on her own. No way was I going back in there.

Caleb’s problem is so much worse. He hasn’t left his apartment in three years, not even when the radiator broke or when he fell in the shower and seriously injured himself. I never really thought about how dangerous this affliction can be until after spending time with Caleb and feeling his fears and anxiety.

Logan has his own issues to deal with. A woman comes on to Logan at a bar and her jealous boyfriend takes a swing at him. Fueled by alcohol and rage, Logan pummels the guy who took a swing at him into the ground along with injuring three unfortunate patrons who tried to restrain him, one of them his best friend, Michael. For that stunt, he spent a year in prison. Now he’s on parole, attending anger management classes and AA meetings. Logan works as a package handler and is trying hard to avoid the temptations of alcohol. A relationship is the last thing he needs, but when he starts his part-time job delivering packages to his boss’ nephew, Caleb, Logan’s resolve begins to crumble.

Caleb is blond, cute, and has a good heart. In spite of his affliction, Caleb is a very strong character. He has a successful web design and editing business and is determined to maintain his independence even if he is unable to leave his apartment. Caleb and Logan are really good together and both are willing to work hard to help each other stay strong as they confront their issues. I loved their humorous banter and their growing connection. The sex scenes were light and infrequent, and though I loved the fact that the emphasis was on the developing relationship, I would have liked to see more buildup of sexual tension. At times, their sex seemed brief and perfunctory. Caleb’s agoraphobia was handled sensitively and felt authentic. I found his progress, struggles and setbacks believable. There is no simple cure and the road to recovery continues to be bumpy. Logan’s struggles were also believable, but I would have liked to see a glimpse of his past and how he came to struggle with alcohol. Much was made of his height, physical strength and dominant behavior, and little of his vulnerable side.

There are lots of wonderful and fully-developed secondary characters. Harrison Klass, the floor manager, and Caleb’s uncle is a man with secrets, guilt and regrets, but he wants what’s best for Caleb. John Dabb is Logan’s parole officer with a penchant for M&M’s and secrets of his own. Stacy is Logan’s AA sponsor and was instrumental in helping him find the right meeting. There was Min and her grandfather of Meng’s Market, who fulfilled Caleb’s grocery orders and the friendly old woman who lives across from Caleb. And there was Logan’s best friend Michael who demonstrated his investigative skills, but got such short shrift in this story.

So why ruin this story with a tiresome, loathsome, one-dimensional villain like Karen Foster? Karen is Logan’s supervisor and the kind of woman everyone loves to hate. She’s a liar, manipulator and a thief who uses sex to further her agenda and makes Logan’s and Caleb’s lives difficult. I know she was there to provide an opportunity for Logan to manage his anger, but I could have done without her and her machinations which did absolutely nothing to enhance the plot. Then again I might have enjoyed this subplot if Karen were a different sort of character.

This is a very well written and cleanly edited story. Despite its flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope to see more of Caleb and Logan.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Crooked Kingdom

Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows, #2)Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Kaz Brekker and his crew broke into and escaped from an impenetrable prison. Unfortunately their reward was a double cross. The man who broke his word will wish he never spoke to Kaz because he loves to break people down brick by brick. Limited resources and allies won't stop Kaz and his crew from getting their revenge and the money they're owed.

Crooked Kingdom was a good completion of the Six of Crow storyline. It's rare to see a two book series, but the author pulled it off well. When Kaz's scheming face appears it spells disaster for those who've crossed him.

Like Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom revolves around thievery and friendship. The character I came to like the most through the entire series is Inej. She like the others have done what they must to survive, but Inej still has a level of mercy and kindness to her that make her a strong protagonist. Plus I imagine for the exception of Kaz she suffered the most prior to the series being kidnapped, enslaved, sold as a prostitute, and eventually being unwillingly indentured. I would have imagined her to be as jaded as Kaz, but it never gets near that point for her.

Crooked Kingdom was a good conclusion to an enjoyable story.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

THE BLACK PRINCE BY MICHAEL JONES

The Black Prince: England's Greatest Medieval WarriorThe Black Prince: England's Greatest Medieval Warrior by Michael Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”At six years old he had been created the first duke in English history; at sixteen he had won fame by his bravery at Crecy; at twenty-six he had astounded Europe by capturing King John of France at Poitiers; at thirty-six he had sealed his supremacy as a military leader with his victory at Najera.”

But Edward the Black Prince would never be king.


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Edward, The Black Prince

As I’ve been reading about the Plantagenets, a pattern has emerged of weak English Kings being followed by strong English Kings. King Henry III was fairly ineffectual and really only managed to hang onto his throne due to the courage and tactics of his son the future Edward I. Edward would wage effective war on the Welsh and the Scots. He was a commanding presence in height and temperament. His son Edward II was not a chip off the old block and was eventually overthrown by his French wife, Isabella, and her lover, Roger Mortimer. There were rumors that Isabella had her husband murdered by having a hot poker inserted into his arse, a harsh commentary on his preference for the company of men. Edward III at age 17 staged a coup against Mortimer to take back his throne, in more than just name, and had Mortimer hanged. His she-wolf mother was put under house arrest and shuttled about from castle to castle to keep her safely away from influencing the affairs of court.

Edward III proved a very competent king, not only as a ruler but also as a conqueror of France. The English longbow was proving to be a very effective weapon, and he used it to his best advantage. Not to take anything away from Edward III and his strategies, but until I read this book, I had no idea just how important his first born son and heir was going to prove to be in conquering France. The Battle of Crecy is where the Black Prince won his spurs holding the line against terrible odds and, even more astounding, at the tender age of 16. The Battle of Poitiers is where he was even more impressive, taking on a French army at least twice as large as his own and inflicting catastrophic casualties on the French with very few losses on his side. To make the victory absolutely complete, he also captured King John of France.

If the Black Prince had lived to succeed Edward III, I can easily imagine that France would have remained part of England for much longer and, who knows, potentially forever. Thomas Walsingham wrote: ”For while he lived they feared no invasion of the enemy, no onslaught of battle. Nor, in his presence, did they do badly or desert the battlefield. He never attacked a people he did not conquer; he never besieged a city he did not take.”

The pattern of weak king/strong king would have been broken, and the age of chivalry that directed so much of the Prince’s actions would have flowered and been the guiding light of knights of England for another generation. I have to believe that, if he had become Edward IV, his son, the boy made king at age ten, would have certainly had a much better chance to be a better king.

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Edward’s Tomb at Canterbury Cathedral

Edward the Black Prince died on June 8th, 1376. King Edward III died July 5th, 1377. Due to the rules of primogentry, Richard is crowned king. Edward III’s second son to survive infancy was Lionel who unfortunately passed at the age of 29, but the candidate I am most interested in is his third son, John of Gaunt. He may have never had the success of his father and brother, and as de facto regent of Richard II, things were not exactly smooth with the nobles, but I feel that putting a man of 37 on the throne instead of a 10 year old boy would make more sense. Because of the illnesses of his father and his older brother, the responsibility of governing had been on John’s shoulders since 1370 anyway.

John’s son Henry would depose Richard II and become Henry IV. Really, Henry had no choice after Richard declared him disinherited and confiscated all of John of Gaunt’s land and wealth.*Sigh* maybe there were just too many royal male Plantagenets with varying degrees of legitimate claims to the throne of England to avoid a conflict. Richard was such a despised and weak king that the script really writes itself.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

There are a few things I want to highlight that speak to the character of the Prince.


First, he pardoned a very important writer. ”He paid 16 pounds toward the ransom of a young squire, a budding poet who had been captured by the French in the small skirmish after the army left Rheims. The man’s name was Geoffrey Chaucer”. All of English literature thanks you, Sir Edward.

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Joan, Fair Maid of Kent

Second, he married for love. He was the most eligible bachelor in all of Europe and could have used marriage to form alliances with key allies, but he decided to marry the most lovely woman he had ever met, his cousin, the widowed Joan of Kent. They were completely devoted to one another, and unlike most royalty in similar circumstances, Edward did not keep mistresses. It was part of his code of conduct that supported his devotion to chivalry. The Black Death was on course to kill over a ⅓ of the population of Europe, so with the almost certainty of an early death looming over them, it may have contributed to what would be perceived as a selfish decision.

Third, he gave away so much of his wealth that many of his servants, by his death, were richer than he was. He was certainly searching for a higher idea of how to conduct his life beyond just possessing wealth or the trappings that accompany such riches.

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Jean Froissart

The author, Michael Jones, relies heavily on the writings of Jean Froissart, a contemporary of the time, who for the most part seemed to try as best he could to tell the truth of the times without the bias of an affiliation with a country. I have not read Froissart’s writings, but will certainly be investigating him in the near future. The style of this book reads like a novel and brings the Black Prince alive, as well as the contemporary figures who permeated his life. The Castile campaign, when he put the odious Pedro back on the throne, showed how his sense of obligation (ill advised treaty) could sometimes overrule his own ideals. He wasn’t perfect, but certainly his early death was a lost opportunity for England. ”The Black Prince was a shooting star in the medieval firmament. His martial endeavour, his courage, and the full living of a chivalric life entranced his age--and, if we properly restore his military reputation, it can also fascinate our own.”

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Monday, June 18, 2018

Singing the Praises of Jeeves

Jeeves & the Song of SongsJeeves & the Song of Songs by P.G. Wodehouse
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's deja vu all over again!

Once I got going I soon realized I'd read this before. Not specifically this book, but the stories within it. You see, Jeeves & the Song of Songs is also "Jeeves & the Song of Songs", which is to say it is the title of a book and the title of a story. In the case of this book, it is the titular story, and it kicks off a bevy of solid stories in the Jeeves & Wooster line.


"Jeeves & the Song of Songs" - Bertie Wooster is embroiled in an old chum's romance. Too much of the same song proves its undoing, perhaps for the best. This little number is a classic and was included in the Hugh Laurie/Stephen Fry tv version of Jeeves & Wooster.

"Indian Summer of an Uncle" - One of Bertie's uncles is about to make an ass of himself matrimonially speaking and Bertie's been tasked with putting an end to it. This is one time where Wodehouse treads a bit rough on class distinction. Irregardless, it's not one of his best.

"Jeeves and the Kid Clementina" - Bertie has a thing for Bobbie Wickham and tries to do a good deed for her at a girls' prep school. Doing good deeds for others never does Bertie any good. Things fall apart, as per usual. This is Wodehouse in classic form and this story sets the parameters used in a number of his full-length books.

"The Inferiority Complex of Old Sippy" - An old pal has no backbone, so Bertie hatches up a scheme to get him his just desserts. Bertie ought to know by now that it's best to let Jeeves come up with the schemes, but alas, all goes amiss and Jeeves must tidy it up in the end. I think this might be the only story in this collection which I hadn't read before. It's not bad!

"Jeeves and the Impending Doom" - One of Bertie awful aunts is covertly trying to hook him up with a job he doesn't want when she invites him over to the house. A friend of Bertie's is trying to keep a job with Bertie's aunt that he doesn't like but needs, and Bertie must help him keep it by keeping safe the unpleasant blighter who the aunt is trying to secure Bertie's job with. Make sense? No? Welcome to the world of Wodehouse!

"Jeeves and the Yuletide Spirit" - Jeeves is looking forward to a trip to Monte Carlo. Bertie is thinking about marriage to that Bobbie Wickham gal. Jeeves realizes how unsuitable the match would be well before Bertie figures it out, and goes to great lengths to make his master see the light. Jeeves inevitably saves the day in all these stories, but seldom does he long for anything more than for Bertie to dress more conservatively. It's nice to see a little personal desire out of the man.

All in all, Jeeves & the Song of Songs puts together a very solid collection of Wodehouse shorts. I'm a big Jeeves & Wooster fan, so I didn't mind the reread and was happy to find at least one new one herein. This would make a good primer for the newcomer!

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A Letdown at Blandings

A Pelican at Blandings (Blandings Castle, #11)A Pelican at Blandings by P.G. Wodehouse
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A Pelican at Blandings, the 11th book in the Blandings Castle series, was a big disappointment for me. I always expect P.G. Wodehouse to buck me up with his humor, but this one lacked the funny.

It's typically Wodehousian in its convoluted plot, but the writing feels dull. I have a tendency to blame the author's mounting years, after all he was about 88 when he wrote this, however he did go on to write another half dozen or so novels, and the one or two I've read were much better than this.

No, the problem is that this feels more like one of his early works where romance tended to trump comedy. The plot is fine, but the comedic edge is missing. There's too much exposition all together, but also redundant explanations, especially in the dialogue, which in other books Wodehouse was smart to gloss over. Sure it's important to keep your readers abreast of the action, but at some point you need to be aware not to beat them over the head with it.

Ah well, I still have about 40 or 50 more Wodehouses to read. I'm sure I'll better another good one in there somewhere!

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Sunday, June 17, 2018

C is for Cthulhu

C is for Cthulhu: The Lovecraft Alphabet BookC is for Cthulhu: The Lovecraft Alphabet Book by Jason Ciaramella
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

C is for Cthulhu is an alphabet book for kids. There is a page for each letter of the alphabet and artwork and a little snippet of prose depicting a character, place, or feature from the Cthulhu Mythos whose name begins with that letter. I think you get the idea.

I got this for being a Kickstarter backer for Sweet Dreams, Cthulhu, an upcoming kids book, and it is pretty damn sweet.

The artwork is spectacular, cute but still somewhat disturbing. The thing the artwork most reminds me of is Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Almost all of my favorite Lovecraftian beasties are well represented. From Abdul Al-Hazred to Zombies, the artwork knocks it out of the park. If I had to pick three favorite illustrations, they would be Black Goat with a Thousand Young, Hastur, and Shoggoth.




This particular digital version also includes unused concept art and some new art that had to be created for foreign editions.

I couldn't be more delighted with this book. If you want to start blasting some youngster's sanity at an early age, I couldn't think of a better place to start. Five out of five stars.

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Friday, June 15, 2018

Freedom

Jay Kirkpatrick
Dreamspinner Press
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Summary


In a future Earth, Patrick Harvey, newly promoted Class One Empath, dreams of the independence his position brings and the apartment he’s saving for. His first solo assignment is treating John Doe 439, a man found outside the city, battered, traumatized, and apparently mute.

Despite a strong taboo against Empaths forging romantic relationships, Patrick realizes he feels a strong attraction to his patient. Soon he learns the man is a high-level Psychic Talent named Jac. Then Jac reveals that there are abusive people hunting him for his gifts, and Patrick’s uncomplicated world explodes.

Jac needs to meet up with his companions and flee the city before anyone else can find him—but it may be too late. Word of Jac’s talents has leaked to Central Government in Chicago. If Jac wants to retain his freedom, he needs to run—now. And if Patrick wants to explore a relationship his society tells him he can’t have, he’ll have to exchange the safe fetters of his job for the uncertainty of liberty.


My Review


While I’m not one to judge a book by its cover, it makes me very happy when the cover is directly relevant to the story and characters within and captures their essence so perfectly. Just one glance at the cover and I knew that life would not be easy for Patrick, Jac and other sensitive individuals possessing empathic abilities.

Patrick Harvey’s abilities were sufficient enough to land him a position in the Empath Center. Even though he misses his friends, he feels lucky to live a comfortable life and not have to endure the subsistence living conditions of the Outside, on the outskirts of New Las Vegas. His first and most challenging assignment is treating Jac, a man who has endured so much emotional pain and trauma that his mind is a chaotic jumble and he is unable to communicate. Patrick uses his empathy to gain his trust and learn the source of his suffering. It takes a bit of time, as Patrick learns that Jac deeply distrusts the white uniforms of the Empath Center staff. The more he discovers about Jac, his friends and family, his strong empathic abilities, and a life totally different from anything Patrick ever knew, the more he begins to question his own life and values. 

The first part of the story, Confinement, was about Jac’s treatment at the Empath Center. There were glimpses into Patrick’s life, his friendships and his work. A vibrant cast of characters is introduced, and Jac’s talents are revealed. Though pain and desperation permeates the first half, making it intense reading, I was gripped right from the start and fell in love with Patrick and Jac. The second part, Escape, is told in multiple viewpoints, is fast-paced with much less emphasis on Jac’s and Patrick’s developing relationship and more on their relationship with their friends, their growth and change. Escape is not easy and Patrick and Jac really have their work cut out for them. Jac’s talent makes him attractive to his enemies, who just want to break him. Thanks to their supportive friends who have a desire to build a strong sense of community, there is hope for those with talents.

If you like thoughtful science fiction in a dystopian setting, well-drawn, strong and diverse characters, intense emotions and an engaging plot, then look no further. 

This is the first novel by Jay Kirkpatrick and I certainly hope it won’t be the last.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Six of Crows

Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A foreign scientist has developed a drug that makes people with powers become super powered. The downfall is they become badly addicted as the drug leaves them in shambles. The scientist has been captured and a merchant from Ketterdam wants him rescued. He hires the criminal Kaz Brekker with the promise of a ridiculous amount of money. Kaz pulls together an eclectic group to pull off the seemingly impossible heist.

Six of Crows is a story of thievery and companionship. All the familiar heist aspects are present. The criminal mastermind that frequently makes the possible impossible. His varied crew including a spy, a gunner, a powered person, an explosives man, and a reluctant participant. Six of Crows would hardly be accused of being overly original, but it's characters are excellent. The author made six fully developed characters to care about and wondering what would happen to them next kept me reading.

The story is a young adult novel so the normal tropes were readily seen. There were complicated relationships and all the characters were teenagers. I always have a hard time imagining a bunch of teens being capable of doing remarkable things, but they didn't constantly behave like teenagers which helped.

Six of Crows was a solid book, but I don't know if I enjoyed it enough to see what happens next in the series.

3.5 out of 5 stars


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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

THE NASTY BITS BY ANTHONY BOURDAIN

The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and BonesThe Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones by Anthony Bourdain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

***RIP Anthony Bourdain 1956-2018***

”Eating well, on the other hand, is about submission. It’s about giving up all vestiges of control, about entrusting your fate entirely to someone else. It’s about turning off the mean, manipulative, calculating, and shrewd person inside you, and slipping heedlessly into a new experience as if it were a warm bath. It’s about shutting down the radar and letting good things happen. When that happens to a professional chef, it’s a rare and beautiful thing.

Let it happen to you.”


 photo Anthony20Bourdain_zpsjs1ecequ.jpg

Anthony Bourdain took his own life on June 8th, 2018, in the Le Chambard Hotel in Kaysersberg-Vignoble, Haut-Rhin, France. When I heard the news, I was shocked, and then I was surprised that I was shocked. I’ve been following Bourdain’s career since his show No Reservations launched on the Travel Channel. I even watched the shorter lived Layover, but where he really put his best work together was when he moved to CNN and launched Parts Unknown. I gleefully read his first book Kitchen Confidential and came away from that reading thinking I should have been a CHEF. They seemed to be the epitome of cool! I can only imagine how many people have been inspired to try to make a living in the food industry after reading Bourdain’s incendiary book. In the 1980s, chefs started to become rock stars, and Bourdain rode that wave of expanded interest better than just about anyone. He was bright, witty, sarcastic, unafraid of the camera, and even willing to be embarrassed to give his audience more entertainment value.

Sometimes we just winced.

He was acerbic, mean spirited, world weary, kind, thoughtful, and honest about his true beliefs. Certainly, there was a part of me that wanted to be him because his life seemed so free, so uninhibited, so epically fulfilling. Like some medieval maps though, there were parts of his life labelled... here be dragons, here be demons.

He’d been a junkie, a petty thief, a man of uncertain character. His story was one of remarkable self renewal, a rediscovery of purpose. A phoenix rising from the ashes.

The demons in his head had never left. They were in a dark corner of his brain doing push ups, lifting barbells, hitting punching bags, skipping rope, getting ready for the moment when someone leaves the gate unlocked.

This book is a collection of essays, all originally published prior to 2006, that Bourdain had written mostly for magazine publication. In these short pieces, he was angry at one moment and exuberant in the next. He was mad at obese people taking up too much space on a subway or a plane. He was dismissive of other celebrity chefs. As expected he shared the details of wonderful meals he had eaten in exquisite, mouth watering detail. He instructed us on how to interact with the wait staff at restaurants and believe me some people need some help with this. He tried to eviscerate food in Las Vegas, but soon learned to appreciate it with grudging respect. Anthony Bourdain was a lot of things, but he was not a snob.

He loved Vietnamese food and admitted that great Vietnamese food can be found all over the world, but the rapture of eating pho or bun cha on a cheap plastic stool in the street is a whole different experience. ”But Vietnamese food in Vietnam, when outside the window it’s Hanoi--a slice of an apartment building with faded, peeling facade just visible across the street; women hanging out laundry; the chatter of noodle and fruit vendors coming from one flight down; the high, throaty vibrations of countless motorbikes…” All of that natural gritty ambiance added to the eating experience.

I always say books are never just books, and food certainly is never just food. Once I’ve experienced great food in a country and I taste it again, even at my own dinner table, the memories of eating that dish in Scotland, San Francisco, Budapest, Paris, Rome, Prague, or New York still haunt my tongue and elevate my enjoyment of that food beyond just the flavors and spices that make it great.

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Being the book crazed fiend that I am, I appreciated, almost as much as his talent with expanding my palate and making foreign climates accessible, his great love for books. He mentioned his favorite books at several points in these essays, but I’ve also seen him talk about his love of books in interviews and as segments during the filming of his TV shows. Here are just a few I’ve seen mentioned:

Ways of Escape and The Quiet American by Graham Greene
Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
The Kitchen by Nicolas Freeling
The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola
Flash in the Pan by David Blum
Stoner by John Williams
True Grit by Charles Portis
Between Meals by A. J. Liebling
The Devil all the Time by Donald Ray Pollock
The Works of Daniel Woodrell
The Works of William T. Vollman
The Works of Ross MacDonald.

Bourdain was, without a doubt, a serious, dedicated reader.

 photo Anthony20Bourdain20reading_zpskrxdczwm.jpg

While reading this book, every time he says something like ”Every day that Gabrielle Hamilton (owner of the restaurant Prune and author of Blood, Bones, and Butter) likes me? It’s reason to live” or he reacts to something by saying that it is worth hanging yourself in a hotel shower, I felt a sharp pain in my stomach. I watched the eight episodes of season eight of Parts Unknown this weekend, and sprinkled throughout those episodes are several moments where he says, ”It’s a reason to live,” which of course carried a poignancy, knowing that on June 8th, 2018, he had run out of reasons to live.

I’ve heard psychologists discuss the signs of suicide, but those signs could be applied to just about everyone I know. As a nation, we are so unhappy and stressed out of our minds that it shouldn’t be a surprise to us that the suicide rates have reached epidemic proportions. On average, there are 121 suicides a day in the United States. If 121 people a day were dying from say Avian Flu, we would be freaking out. I’m sure all of those people showed “signs.” I’m sure I show signs on a weekly basis, like every time I look at my TBR stacks, but I would be equally depressed if I didn’t have stacks of books waiting TBR, as well.

I can always count on books being a reason to live.

Anthony was in a dark place for the few days before he killed himself, but he was routinely depressed. So how do any of us know what THE sign is? How do we gauge the point with which a friend or family member has reached the tipping point?

Anthony Bourdain’s suicide seemed so impulsive. What if he had been able to wait just one more day? I have no doubt that he had planned it, thought about it, considered it many times over his lifetime, so like a good sous chef, I would bet he had done his prep work. For all his brash, prickly exterior, it was evident to those of us who have followed his career for a long time that all of that toughness was just a shell hiding the kind, gentle soul beneath. There was more than a bit of the romantic poet in him, maybe more Byron than Shelley. He could be a harsh critic, especially on himself. In the closing pages of this book, he criticized each of these articles and explained some of the external and internal forces that were conspiring to influence his writing at the time. He offset the cynical, seen-it-all attitude with a lyrical, jubilant, almost boyish awe of those he admired, whether they be a chef, a writer, a painter, a musician, a taxi driver, a bartender, or a Mexican dish washer.

I haven’t forgiven him yet.

His mother, in an interview after his suicide, said, “He had everything. Success beyond his wildest dreams. Money beyond his wildest dreams.” I can feel the confusion and anger in his mother’s words. It is selfish for me to be angry at him, but I am. I needed him out there flailing away at the world and being at least one bastion of sensible truth against the Left, the Right, and the preconceived notions of small minds.

 photo anthony20Bourdain20black20and20white_zpsuqfdmuio.jpg

He took joy in being wrong about a place or a person, especially when he found out a place he had dismissed had hidden gems or a person he had dissed had hidden depths. The way he saw the world was frankly inspiring.

A person might first watch his show for the travel or the food, but once hooked, they kept watching for the insights into foreign cultures, the real people, the commentary on global politics, the philosophy about living a good life, and the friendships that are available to all of us if we are open to having them.

He gave us hope for what our life could be.

Did we fail you, Tony? Did we disappoint you?


My compass might be spinning, but I’ll eventually get it locked back into due North again. What else can I do?

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Soldier (Rise of the Jain #1) By: Neal Asher

The Soldier (Rise of the Jain #1)The Soldier by Neal Asher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I haven't read alot of Mr Asher's work, but I do know most of what he writes is in my "wheelhouse" lots of wild ideas, interesting worldbuilding and tons of action.

The Soldier, which is the start of a new set of books, delivers that. It is a 10000 miles a second. It has a ton of the boom in it and it rips along. You always win me over with the weird and outlandish science...so its a good time and a fast read.

That being said, I dock it one star, due for the fact for all the shooting and zooming and booming, the story came across a bit thin, granted this might be because its part one..so I am taking that with a grain of salt.

All in all.......if you are fan of military scifi, and have NOT read Neal Asher ...pick it up

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Eisenhorn Omnibus By: Dan Abnett

Eisenhorn (Eisenhorn, #1-3)Eisenhorn by Dan Abnett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I never was one much for what you might call police procedural type books. However stick them into another setting (such as my apparently eternal Warhammer dive) and I am all over them.

Inquistors in Warhammer are basically the law, they keep chaos at bay and enforce the will of the emperor. I will say upfront that in my list of favorite characters in science fiction, Eisenhorn is on that list. Over the course of the omnibus, he goes from "good cop" to a very well rounded out, broken character that realizes what he is fighting and is more open to the world around him.

Fast paced, action packed, and just well done all round. If you into military scifi or just great action storytelling, this is it (but you probably know this already)

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Monday, June 11, 2018

A Santa Barbara Murder Mystery

Nothing That Is OursNothing That Is Ours by D.J. Palladino
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A murder mystery set in Santa Barbara in 1958. The only words in that sentence that don't excite me are A, set, in, and in. So I knew this was going to be a good read!

D.J. Palladino's So Cal noir crime novel is so much more than the hardboiled detective fiction it's modeled after. It includes the brilliant mind of Aldous Huxley and his drugs with Dennis Hopper tagging along and doing his Apocalypse Now character. Frank Lloyd Wright grumbles on to the scene at one point. There's also incest, local politics, secret government projects, and an underwater fantasy world. And the scary thing is that much of this is based upon fact!

Our hero is a newspaper man, who comes from an influential well-to-do Santa Barbara family. He's also made his own bones with a successful work of fiction, which is interspersed throughout Nothing That Is Ours. A novel within a novel as they say. Anyhow, said hero has to -just has to- figure the whos and whys of a body that washed up on shore with some rather peculiar wounds. He also has to deal with his insatiable attraction to his cousin.

This is a very clever book that often revolves around intellectuals bandying witty gibes. It's not your typical whodunnit. Nonetheless, I was so intrigued by it all that Palladino held me until the very end, because hell, I wanted to know who dunnit!

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A WWI Choose Your Own Adventure???

World War IWorld War I by Gwenyth Swain
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Choose Your Own Adventure styled book on World War I seems disrespectful. CYOA are written for fun. It would be like doing a Mad Libs for 9/11.

Once I got past that feeling and got done to reading this thing --and read it I did, for I can not help myself when it comes to a CYOA-- I actually enjoyed this a good deal. It treats the war and its participants with the honor they deserve.

Unlike all CYOAs I've read, in this You Choose book you choose from three different characters to play: a Belgian nurse, a British Tommy, and an American ambulance driver. Because it's broken up this way, while maintaining the usual short CYOA number of pages, the storylines within World War I: An Interactive History Adventure are necessarily short. Usually you get about a dozen pages per story before surviving or dying.

And there is a lot of dying in this one. More than any other CYOA I've ever read. Author Gwenyth Swain didn't pussyfoot around the bloodiness of this particularly gruesome war, at least not considering this was probably written for someone around 10-12 years of age.

Yes, it is short, so much of the war is criminally curtailed, but still, I learned a tidbit or two. Seems there's always something new to learn about this seemingly insane war no matter how much I read about it.

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Friday, June 8, 2018

Angel and the Assassin



Fyn Alexander
Loose ID
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars





Summary


Kael Saunders loves to dominate handsome, masculine men like himself. Being in charge is his way of life whether it be in his work with the Secret Intelligence service, his personal life, or in the dungeon. The last thing he expects when he is out on a hit is to fall in love with Angel, an eighteen-year-old boy desperate for the love and guidance of a Daddy. Yet Angel also has a passion for being spanked and restrained. Two very different men find love in a world of skilled assassins, Bosnian terrorists, and dungeon play.



My Review


Kael Saunders is a professional hitman. Angel is an 18-year-old who had the misfortune of being the sole witness to the assassination of his bad-tempered stepfather, an arms dealer working with the Bosnians. Kael really shouldn’t let the boy live, but Angel needs a Daddy and Kael is quite taken with Angel despite the fact he is not his type at all. They have hot sex while Angel’s stepdad’s corpse is cooling downstairs and then take a first-class flight to London.

This is just the beginning of a weird, unbalanced relationship where somehow, Angel and Kael learn to work together to meet each other’s needs. Kael is tough and ruthless, having grown up with a single mom. Though well educated, he’s had to defend himself from those who mocked his poverty. He’s in control of his own life, and he’s accustomed to being obeyed. Angel, on the other hand, retains his sweetness and innocence despite being abandoned by his mother. For a long time he’s dreamed about finding the Daddy who will love, cherish, and guide him.

This was a fun, kinky, suspenseful and intense story. Despite its flaws, I greedily gobbled it up.

The good stuff

I found Kael a rather fascinating character. Though he is a remorseless killer, he must confront his inner demons in order to be the Daddy that Angel needs. His neatness and cleanliness, which is an asset on the job, carries over to his home life and borders on pathological. Angel, a typical teenager in certain ways, manages to disrupt Kael’s sense of order and throws him off balance. I loved their conflicts and Kael’s loss of control when it comes to Angel. It made him more human.

Ever since the death of Kael’s friend, Misha, he planned to keep a written journal of his life. I love these brief interludes that provided insight into Kael’s behavior and showed glimpses of his past.

Kael’s complicated, contentious relationship with his boss, Stephen Conran, is one of the best parts of this story. These men share a history, as we learn from Kael’s journal.

The sex – raw, steamy, passionate and intense, especially the scenes in the dungeon.


The annoying stuff

Angel lied about being 20. He’s actually 18. Many times I thought he was 13 or even younger. He throws tantrums, he’s defiant, he lies, he cries, and he has a “blankie” that Kael rightfully threw in the dumpster. Yet he lectures Kael about his own psychological shortcomings. His behavior was annoyingly inconsistent.

As much as I enjoyed Angel’s growth throughout the story, there were some things that were too unbelievable for me. With no firearms experience, Angel managed to shoot and kill two men from 20 feet away.

The overuse of the word “daddy.”

I’m sad that Loose ID has gone out of business and these books are now out of print. I’m hoping they will be released again so I can gobble up the sequels.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Melokai

Melokai (In the Heart of the Mountains #1)Melokai by Rosalyn Kelly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ramya is the Melokai of Peqkya. She's been the Melokai for a long time and believes her time is up. When she goes to the prophet Sybilya to learn her fate she instead receives a shocking prophecy fortelling trouble and a wolf claiming the throne. Ramya is prepared to fight off all who dare challenge Peqkya, but she is not prepared for love. Ramya finds herself thrown off balance by her personal life while preparing to defend her home.

Melokai is so different from what I expected. The cover promised warrior women or at least a warrior woman, which is somewhat seen towards the end of the book. People talk about fighting, but very little is described. What the book does go into detail about is sex of all types. The book has male prostitutes, female prostitutes, inner species, homosexual, gang rape, and I'm probably forgetting some other types of sex. This read like a woman's romance novel for much of the book.

Those aren't the only unexpected aspects of the book. The book also features lots of human like animals or animal like humans. Pekya's people are described as cats. I'm not positive they actually are cat women or if it's simply a moniker for them. Pekya does have talking cats called clever cats which are largely messengers. Next comes Drome and these people are definitely part camel. They have humps on their backs that can store water. The Trogrs seem to be part bat. They don't have eyes, but them hum to see what's happening around them. Then there are the wolves who have evolved the ability to stand on their hind legs like people. They also must have opposable thumbs or something near enough because they are described as being able to hold weapons. At the end are the Fertilians who seem to be plain old humans.

So Peqkya is shown to be a horrible place to live as a male. Peqkya men are kept alive for reproduction, pleasure, and slave labor. What's worse is Peqkya has a specialized position for men known as pleasure givers. These men's only job is to please women sexually. It doesn't sound bad at first until you realize they have to have sex with any woman who demands it at any time. I know it still doesn't sound too bad. What makes it horrible is if any of these men can't perform or do not please the women they are with they have their cocks cut off, shoved in their mouths, and then are sentenced to death. So yeah, not so great. Peqkya is the home to the main point of view and title character the Melokai Ramya. It was challenging to care what happened to a place that treated men in such a worthless fashion.

My largest problem with the book is in the end there aren't many likable people. I felt somewhat sorry for Ferraz, his fellow pleasure givers, and the other Peqkya men. I also felt for Queen Jessima of Fertilian who was forced into a loveless marriage to a much older King who cries out his dead wife's name while having sex with her. The negative actions of these characters seemed to stem from their unfortunate lot in life. I couldn't feel for any Peqkya women due to their complicit nature in thoroughly terrifying the men around them with the constant threat of death.

Melokai was not at all what I expected from the description and the cover.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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

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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

THE BOY AT THE DOOR BY ALEX DAHL

The Boy at the DoorThe Boy at the Door by Alex Dahl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”The ladies at the tennis club will whisper frenziedly behind my back, and this little town will doubtlessly be rocked by the scandal of it all; after all, it is no little feat to single-handedly bring junkies, drug abuse, abandoned children, and murder to a small, wealthy town in Norway.”

Cecilia Wilborg has the seemingly perfect life with a loving husband, two beautiful, suitably bratty daughters, a distinctive, ostentatious, bronze Range Rover, and a palatial home that reeks of disposable income. Cecilia doesn’t have to work, but she does dabble at interior designing, which she happens to be good at, but the job is just a way for her to check another box that shows all the other women in her social group that she can really do it all.

Her life is a facade, but you aren’t going to want to read this book for the image Cecilia portrays. As well lit as the exterior will be, what you will want to do is open the door that leads to the empty frame behind the storefront and see what resides in the darkness behind the glamour. The smoke and mirrors. The mistake that could bring her whole glittering life down into a jagged pile of lies and endless deceits has crept out of the darkness.

It all begins, innocently enough, with a boy left at a pool. Cecilia is asked to give the boy a ride home, and through gritted teeth, charity does not come easily to Cecilia, she does just that. The problem is there is no home, nothing but a dusty abandoned house that couldn’t possibly be a proper home for a child.

So now the boy at the pool is the boy at her door.

This convergence of ”a sexy Scandi gym-bunny fashionista” and Tobias, the dusky, seemingly orphaned child, has another life line bisecting with theirs, and her name is Annika Lucasson.

She is an unrepentant junkie. She will do anything for smack. Line the men up and let them have their way as long as there is the warm embrace of a hit of smack at the end of that line. ”If only you could get clean seems to be the consensus of every teacher, doctor, therapist, social worker I’ve ever met. They just don’t get it. I don’t want to get clean, never have. Smack is the only friend I have, even if it is a friend that wants to kill me and will most likely succeed.”

Cecilia has a well developed, muscular, feral instinct for survival, and as one stack of half truths collapses, she is deftly assembling a whole new web of tangled deceptions. She will do whatever it takes to hang onto the life she has created. ”What Cecilia wants, Cecilia gets.”

Who is Annika? Who is Tobias? For that matter, who is Cecilia?

Cecilia Wilborg is the type of woman I want absolutely nothing to do with. People who have too much money and view the world from the most shallow of all perspectives leave a large environmental footprint that the rest of us have to navigate around. They take up too much space, use too many resources, and feel entitled to all of it because they can afford to buy anything and everything they desire. In my opinion, it is good to wish for something. To have to wait to obtain something. To not have every impulsive want fulfilled immediately.

I have so little in common with Cecilia that I can’t even imagine having a conversation with her, never mind reading a whole book about her. Despite my misgivings, I could not put this book down. I was flabbergasted, annoyed, manipulated, terrified, and most oddly enough...sympathetic.

This is the most unusual book I’ve read that falls into my Nordic Noir category. You are probably not going to like Cecilia, and no one will be able to deny that her human fallacies may be more abundant than normal, but I think we can all relate to our own fear that our own weaknesses can destroy us at any time. Think of the one mistake, seemingly buried in your past, that can be the bomb strapped to the underpinnings of your present life. Cecelia’s fuse is lit.

I want to thank Elisha Katz and the Berkley Publishing Group for providing me with a free ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

American Hippo By; Sarah Gailey

American Hippo (River of Teeth, #1-2)American Hippo by Sarah Gailey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed River of Teeth, thought it was a cool idea, but it didn't just light me on fire. That being said, I never got around to the second novella.

I found this collection and I have changed my views on the story. I much more enjoyed the story told "as a whole piece" and I would gladly return to the world Ms. Gailey created now. The misgivings I had I mostly got over.

This is a viseral violent ride and a lot of fun for some summer reading. check it out.

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Wolfsbane By: Guy Haley

WolfsbaneWolfsbane by Guy Haley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another Warhammer dive..while I am not a big fan of the Space Wolves chapter, this book really make me like their primarch Leman Russ. As the Horus Heresy rages on and sides begin to form, Russ gets thrust into a situation he knows he probably can't win, and honor keeps him in it anyway. I love when these books get their pace built up and move along at ripping speed.

This was a terrific installment if you haven't read it already and you are a fan, pick it up.

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Scars (The Legion Divided) By: Chris Wraight

ScarsScars by Chris Wraight
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I jumped back into my Warhammer dive (yeah, yeah, I know..) and while I am a fan, it can tend to lean a bit to sameness over time, grimdark gloom and doom space shoot em ups. (Don't jump on me WH40K fans, that is a serious over simplification of the universe strictly for purposes of this review)

That being said, I have found myself loving when an author delves and gets the meat off the bone of a chapter or a group in this vast scifi playground. I have loved what Chris Wraight has done with the White Scars. He has taken a legion into a different direction than the rest, gave it an almost entirely different feel than most of its counterparts and still maintain a place among their brothers.

THAT I can get behind. Scars is a ton of fun and I will search out Mr. Wraight's work in this universe.



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Monday, June 4, 2018

Parker Heads West

Appaloosa (Virgil Cole & Everett Hitch, #1)Appaloosa by Robert B. Parker
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There's a new marshall in Appaloosa and his word is law.

Virgil Cole and his dependable sidekick Everett Hitch are lawmen hired to settle a podunk town out west. Bad guys abound. A woman shows up looking for love in all the wrong places. Trouble's a'brewin' boys!

This is a new-school western framed perfectly in the old school style. Robert B. Parker (better known for his Spenser detective series) seems to have been made to write this leather-hide rough action-adventure stuff.

Oh the brooding! So much brooding! This is all about tough guys talkin' tough, being tough and takin' no guff! Yeah, there's a woman or two here to represent the sex, but they're mostly whores, or shrews seeking men. This is not to say Parker seems to have anything against women, he just portrays his distant western setting as a place that "good" women wouldn't go.

Appaloosa's not high literature. It's a nice, quick fix for your "old west" needs, and as such, it's actually quite well-written comparable to some others I've read. So, thumbs up from me and I'll probably be reading another one of Parker's Cole & Hitch books on some future day when I want to feel like the Marlboro Man. Yeehaw!!!

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Agatha Christie's After the Funeral

After the Funeral (Hercule Poirot, #29)After the Funeral by Agatha Christie
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I used to make fun of Scooby Doo and how the gang would unmask the villain at the end, specifically how the villain would inevitably and hurriedly admit to the crime. Then I started reading Agatha Christie's books and I realized where they picked up the habit.

Now, don't get me wrong, Christie's mysteries are wonderful reads. So much fun! I especially love Hercule Poirot. It's a shame it takes such a long time for him to show up in After the Funeral. Much of the groundwork is laid out by a lawyer before Poirot arrives on the scene to tie it all up neatly.

The body of this book is quite good. The murderer is nicely disguised. The red herrings are well-stocked. But then comes the end. It's a satisfactory end as far as solving a crime goes, however, here again the murderer blurts out the truth. Certainly Poirot has the person cornered and it would just be a matter of a trial to have the person convicted, but then that wouldn't be as dramatic, would it? No. It would be more realistic though, and that's the problem with such endings. They somewhat tarnish an otherwise fairly believable story.

But that is a minor point as far as my enjoyment of the entire book goes. Yes, I have spent a good portion of a rather short review going on about it, but honestly, everything else about After the Funeral is a good read through and through!

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Sunday, June 3, 2018

Psycho

PsychoPsycho by Robert Bloch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Mary Crane skips town with $40,000 of her boss's money, she drives and drives, bedding down at the Bates Motel. She meets Norman Bates, who harbors secrets even more interesting than stolen money...

Everyone knows the basic beats of Psycho due to the iconic Alfred Hitchcock film. Woman gets knifed in the shower, psychotic mama's boy, etc. When it popped up for ninety-nine cents, I figured, what the hell? Shooting Star / Spiderweb was pretty good. Psycho was definitely worth the buck.

Inspired by real-life serial killer Ed Gein, Psycho is a tale of mental turmoil and the way it shapes the life a man dominated by his mother. And some woman gets killed and her boyfriend and sister try to figure out what the hell happened. Despite knowing quite a bit going in, Psycho was still a suspenseful read. Since stuff gets lost in translation from book to movie, a lot of it was still surprising. Of course, not having seen the movie in something like thirty years helped...

Bloch's prose is pretty tight. He doesn't waste a lot of time on flowery language, and knows how to ratchet up the suspense. I can see why Hitchcock chose to adapt it, though he chose to focus on different aspects than Bloch. The book and the movie are definitely different animals.

Psycho probably didn't have quite as much of an impact on me that it should have but that's because it's been dissected and imitated to death in the decades since it was written. It holds up really well compared to a lot of suspense novels written during the same era. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, June 1, 2018

Spirit Sanguine


Lou Harper
Samhain Publishing Ltd.
4 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Nancy



Summary



Is that a wooden stake in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?


After five years in eastern Europe using his unique, inborn skills to slay bloodsuckers, Gabe is back in his hometown Chicago and feeling adrift. Until he’s kidnapped by a young, sexy vampire who seems more interested in getting into his pants than biting into his neck.

Harvey Feng is one-half Chinese, one-hundred-percent vampire. He warns Gabe to stay out of the Windy City, but somehow he isn’t surprised when the young slayer winds up on his doorstep. And why shouldn’t Gabe be curious? A vegetarian vampire isn’t something one sees every day.

Against their better judgment, slayer and sucker succumb to temptation. But their affair attracts unexpected attention.

When Chicago’s Vampire Boss makes Gabe an offer he can’t refuse, the unlikely lovers are thrust into peril and mystery in the dark heart of the Windy City. Together they hunt for kidnappers, a killer preying on young humans, and vicious vampire junkies.

However, dealing with murderous humans and vampires alike is easy compared to figuring out if there’s more to their relationship than hot, kinky sex.

Warning: Fangalicious man-on-man action, a troublesome twink, cross-dressing vampiress, and role-playing involving a fedora.


My Review



I like my vampires moody, ambiguous, and deadly.

Though Harvey Feng is potentially deadly, you’d have to push him real hard before you get to see that side of him. Most of the time, he’s just a sweet, friendly guy without a mean bone in his body. He’s also a vegetarian and a Buddhist who rarely drinks human blood, instead drinking a formula of his own invention. Even though he’s not a mean vampire, it didn’t take long at all for me to warm up to him. Harvey is adorable and funny, even during the grimmest of circumstances.

Gabe Vadas comes from a family of vampire slayers, but he’s having second thoughts about his profession. In spite of his doubts, his Uncle Miklos’ words, “the only good vampire is a dead vampire” help him to focus on the task of pursuing and killing the attractive, sexy vampire he encountered in a crowded Chicago bar. Gabe gets a taste of Harvey’s strength and agility and the merciful vampire lets him go. When Gabe uses the electronic tracking device in his jacket to locate Harvey again, he is nearly successful at killing him. Gabe is puzzled by Harvey, so different from the vile and aggressive “bloodsuckers” he and his uncle chased in Europe. Gabe’s life is further complicated when Harvey asks him to see a movie. He is strong and clever while he’s pursuing rogue vampires, but resistant to exploring his deeper feelings about Harvey.

Their story is divided up into three sections. In Seeing Red, Harvey’s and Gabe’s relationship develops. Though they are natural enemies, it is clear early on that they are smitten. Harvey learns a few things about Gabe’s past, and Gabe learns about the customs, behaviors and quirky habits of vampires. Harvey’s vampire friends, Stan and Ray, are introduced, as well as his cute, chatty friend, Dill, who badly wants to be turned into a vampire and ends up going missing. Gabe helps a frantic Harvey find Dill and winds up getting a job offer from Victor Augustine, Chicago’s head vampire.

In The Cheerful Corpse, Gabe and Harvey work together with Denton Mills, a pierced and taciturn man with a special knack for seeing how people died, to solve the murders of two willing vampire snacks. The mystery was satisfying and fast-paced, and I enjoyed seeing Gabe’s and Harvey’s relationship grow. Gabe shows how protective he can be, and both men have a slight possessive streak that made me laugh.

In Bad Blood, Gabe and Harvey’s investigation of mysterious deaths at a hospice lead them to the highest level of the vampire hierarchy in Las Vegas. Gabe starts to show his vulnerable side and their sexual role-playing becomes more intense.

This was a fun and satisfying story that kept me absorbed right up to the very end. I loved Gabe’s and Harvey’s very different personalities, their sizzling chemistry, the challenges they face, and the vibrant cast of secondary characters.

I very much look forward to the sequel.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Book Expo Report - From the Front Lines


I was at Book Expo America on Thursday in New York City.  Many readers, librarians, bookstore employees and bloggers go to Book Expo to score books ("Readers").  But the major publishing houses are there for business.

There were approximately 212 free books given out by publishers on Thursday. On Friday, there are about 178, so there are plenty of books to acquire that are signed.

However several observations:

The main room where the publishers are is organized much more for publisher business. Separate areas (away from the Readers). This made more room for walking and opened up the area.

Unlike in prior years, it looked like Penguin Random House did not have any individual books for signings. In addition, there were fewer unsigned free books around.

The autographing area was set apart from the main room.  Again no chairs for the tired or infirm. Cold concrete floor. There were 15 lines there.  My recollection is there have been as many as 20 lines in the past. Also several signings were 30 minutes.  So while you could get optimally 212 books, based on timing and having the autographing area set far apart from the publishing houses, it was tough to get back and forth within the time period that books were available.

If you intend to go on Friday, make sure you are there early so as to go to MacMillan and get tickets and for certain other authors who need tickets. Bring a rolling suitcase and check it. Best place is under the stage near starbucks.

Plan out your strategy to get the books.  Dont get every book. Its impossible. Try to get the ones you want.

Big name authors have big lines.  Maybe check out genres first and focus on that.


The Blacksmith's Son

The Blacksmith's Son (Mageborn, #1)The Blacksmith's Son by Michael G. Manning
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mordecai was adopted. He has known it his entire life and he loves his adpoted parents dearly. He knows nothing of his birth parents, but that won't stop the things he inherited from his birth father from completely changing his life. Mordecai has magical powers and nothing will ever be the same for him.

The Blacksmith's Son first and foremost feels like a young adult novel. It's jam packed with standard young adult tropes. He's an adopted boy who learns he's special and from a noble family. His specialness will change the world. The story is chalked full of absurd dialogue that may entice a younger audience, but made me roll my eyes. I wish the book was simply listed as young adult so I knew what to expect immediately.

The story engaged me quickly with an action and panic filled prologue. It is told from Mordecai's birth mother's perspective on the events that caused Mordecai to live with the Eldrige's. The only unfortunate part about this was it ensured that the story would have little mystery as the reader learned about Mordecai's past before he did. It also made the book's title largely irrelevant as there is no point when the reader thinks of Mordecai as simply the blacksmith's son.

The magic system in the book was at times shaky. First I'd have to say the magic in the book is convenient overall. Different people discovered there powers at just the right moments to save the day. It runs somewhat contrary to the idea the story provided that mage's needed to have a teacher to learn magic. That was true at times, but clearly untrue at other times.

The point of views in the story were challenging. The point of views switched quickly at times with little indication they were switching. All the characters except Mordecai were telling the story in first person present while Mordecai was a strange mix of first person present and past. In more than one occasion I imagined a somewhat older Mordecai reading this book to someone and inserting comments along the lines of boy was I foolish. There are more than a few such instances in the book.

The Blacksmith's Son is an imaginative story that could have used some additional editing.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

HUE 1968 BY MARK BOWDEN

Huế 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in VietnamHuế 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam by Mark Bowden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”It would require twenty-four days of terrible fighting to take the city back. The Battle of Hue would be the bloodiest of the Vietnam War, and a turning point not just in the conflict, but in American history. When it was over, debate concerning the war in the United States was never again about winning, only about how to leave. And never again would Americans fully trust their leaders.”

The Tet Offensive took the Americans completely by surprise. The way the NVA and Viet Cong were able to move thousands of troops through Southern Vietnam and lead a coordinated attack against major South Vietnamese targets was baffling. Intelligence had alerted General William Westmoreland that there were enemy troops massing for an attack against Khe Sanh; so even when reports started filtering back to him that the Marines at Hue were in the middle of a shit storm, he just simply wouldn’t believe it.

It was precarious politically for Westmoreland to even admit there was a problem. As word started getting out about the assault on Hue and reporters began dispatching stories, it became apparent that, for a battle that didn’t exist, it was producing way too many American body bags.

Mark Bowden tells the story of Hue not only from the perspective of the American Marines and the ARVN but also from the perspective of the NVA and Viet Cong survivors. The Communists fully expected when they took the Citadel at Hue that the population would rise up and join their cause. They saw the South as subjugated people under the yoke of Saigon and the Americans. It was shocking to discover that the population of Hue was afraid of them and certainly did not see them as liberators.

Well, then the executions started. Almost 5,000 Hue civilians were executed by the NVA and Viet Cong for being perceived supporters of the Americans. What a wonderful way to win friends and influence people. By the end of this battle, over 80% of this beautiful, historic city would be in ruins. The civilian population would be moving like refugees in their own city as the battle swept them from one side to the other. Neither side was very discriminate about who they shot. As the Marines experienced more and more casualties and watched their friends being zipped up in body bags, the Vietnamese, whether enemy or ally, were beginning to be seen as Gooks.

”They got plumed. They were erased from the earth. One minute they were there, living and breathing and thinking and maybe swearing or even praying, just like him, and in the next second two hale young men, both of them sergeants in the US army, pride of their hometowns had been turned into a plume of fine pink mist--tiny bits of blood, bone, tissue, flesh, and brain--that rose and drifted and settled over everyone and everything nearby. It --or they-- drifted down on DiLeo, who reached up to wipe the bloody ooze from his eyes and saw that his arms and the rest of him was coated as well.”

The fighting wasn’t what the Marines were trained to do. As an organization, they had not fought a battle in a city since Seoul back in 1950. Colonel Ernie Cheatham dug through several footlockers that traveled with the Fifth Marines looking for any booklets that might help teach him how to fight a block by block street fight. Fortunately, he found a couple of old pamphlets that would prove helpful.

The United States population was already becoming weary and distrustful of the war in Vietnam. The Battle of Hue in 1968 was the point when those for the war started to become outnumbered by those against the war. ”On February 27, Walter Cronkite ended a special CBS News documentary with commentary bolstered by his own reporting at Hue: ‘We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and in Washington...It is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.’ Weeks later, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced he would not seek reelection.”

I don’t know if there has ever been a newscaster before or after who had as much influence on the American people. If you lose Cronkite, you lose America.

After the bloody conclusion of Hue and the NVA and Viet Cong were stumbling back north with a fraction of the troops they sent south, there was an opportunity for the US to possibly put an end to North Vietnam incursions. The Marines who made it out of Hue were packing up, ready to head North to continue to push the advantage they had won. Politically, this was the beginning of the end of the war and this advantage, so obvious to the soldiers on the ground, was not exploited.

”Many of those who survived are still paying for it. To me the way they were used, particularly the way their idealism and loyalty were exploited by leaders who themselves had lost faith in the effort, is a stunning betrayal. It is a lasting American tragedy and disgrace.”

Maybe if the Marines had been allowed to keep rolling North after Hue, Saigon would look like Seoul or Tokyo. Those two cities benefited greatly from being allies with the Americans after the war. I hope my review has shown that this book is about more than just a battle. It is about a series of mistakes that actually led to the promise of an end to the war. The NVA and Viet Cong finding out that the South was not going to rise up to help them was demoralizing and certainly had those soldiers questioning some of the politically motivated beliefs that had been part of their doctrine.

Bowden will introduce you to the soldiers who fought at Hue. He will show you what tactical decisions were being made on both sides of the conflict. He will show you the influence of politics and the impact that a decision made in Washington or Hanoi had on the men and women in the foxholes on the front line. He will show you the growing distrust of leadership that ultimately turned Vietnam into a quagmire. He left me with much to ponder. Highly Recommended!

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Monday, May 28, 2018

Epic Or Bloated Period Piece?

The Given Day (Coughlin #1)The Given Day by Dennis Lehane
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a surprise! I am really surprised that a historical-fiction about Boston, Babe Ruth, and more didn't interest me more than this did.

The Given Day is a broad-ranging drama about Boston in the late 1910s. The war is ending, jobs are in demand, money is getting tight everywhere, terrorism is putting fear into the hearts of all, segregationist racism is still rearing its ugly head, and the little guy is getting the shaft.

There's a lot going on in The Given Day, maybe too much. I wasn't overwhelmed by it all, but the preponderance of historical detail bogs down the human story at the heart of this.

The Irish immigrant Coughlin family is the heart of this novel. Sticking with them through out the book might have provided a better, or at least, more concise story. But of course, you can't discuss Boston back in the day (hell, even these days) without bringing up its contentious past regarding poor race relations. So that required Lehane to create his representative of the black community, Luther Laurence, who we spend just about as much time with as we do with the Coughlins. Lehane also wanted to give us a grand vision of Boston, and the country, in the late 1910s, so he added a whole storyline with Babe Ruth, who was just coming on at the time, and who was notoriously traded from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees at this time, much to the chagrin of long-suffering Sox fans for the better part of a century. The problem with adding this story to the mix is that it makes the whole thing tip to the unwieldy side. Weighing in at 700+ pages, I felt every bit of it.

I'm a Lehane fan. I even really liked the sequel to The Given Day. But this one, while perfectly fine, did not suit me quite like I thought it would. Besides its length I might also cite the somewhat comical portrayals of the antagonists herein. At times they come off as Scoobie-level evil-doers.

But hey, this is Lehane and he's a damn good writer, so putting all the complaints aside, this is still a solid book. There is PLENTY to enjoy here. If you are a fan of history and want to know what was going on in Boston 100 years ago, this is a great read for you!

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Haley's Jack London

Wolf: The Lives of Jack LondonWolf: The Lives of Jack London by James L. Haley
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Holy shnikeys, did I ever underestimate Jack London! Growing up, I only knew him from his Alaskan adventure stories. Later on I discovered his semi-autobiographical stories of working both sides of the law in the San Francisco bay waters. However, only now did I learn of his strident socialism.

There's a reason for that. It's been downplayed. Even after his death he was investigated by the FBI and McCarthy for his socialist leanings. Since the public loved him so dang much for Call of the Wild and White Fang, the best the government could do was suppress his leftist history. So, schools cut that part of his life out of his history. It's a shame, because as it turns out, he wasn't a raving anarchist, but a moderate socialist who believed in a restrained capitalism. He felt an unleashed capitalism allowed for the excesses that created robber barons and labor abuses. He was absolutely right. Look at Chicago at the turn of the 20th century. Hell, look at America at just about any dang time!

Politics weigh upon James L. Haley's marvelous biography of the writer, but it's done with balance. Politics were as much a part of London's life as was his writing and love life. These aspects of London intermingle and entwine perfectly throughout Wolf, while capturing the essence of a man and mind ever changing.

London's life was one of striving, of defeats and of victories. His life is a prime example of the American rags-to-riches dream. He is the ideal of the modern reader's fascination with the "troubled protagonist" in fiction. London was a highly nuanced man and this book paints all of that complexity perfectly.

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Sunday, May 27, 2018

Savage Jungle

Savage Jungle: Lair Of The Orang PendekSavage Jungle: Lair Of The Orang Pendek by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After recovering from their ordeal in Loch Ness Revenge, Natalie and Austin McQueen head to the Sumatran jungle with their friend Henrik to find the legendary Orang Pendek, primitive ape-like humanoids. Specifically, they're looking for the Orang Pendek that killed Henrik's father. Can they find the lost city of Gadang Ur and the Orang Pendek that dwell there so Henrik can quench the desire for revenge that threatens to consume him?

Since I am medically unable to resist one of Hunter Shea's cryptid books, I pounced on this one a few minutes after I finished Forest of Shadows.

Savage Jungle is an Indiana Jones-type of jungle adventure, combining the thrills of Raiders of the Lost Ark with the gore of most of Hunter Shea's books. It's one hell of fun read.

After recovering at a resort for a couple months, the McQueen twins attempt to return the favor Henrik Kooper gave them in the bloodbath that was Loch Ness Revenge. On their expedition, they encounter lost ruins, relict populations of dinosaurs, and the cryptids of the subtitle, the Orang Pendek.

I actually preferred this one to Loch Ness Revenge by a slight margin. Maybe it was the jungle setting or the relentless action. The expedition got chewed up by dinosaurs and shat out the other end. It would not have shocked me if they were all killed. Shea even detailed Orang Pendek culture to such a degree that I wouldn't mind a return trip to Gadang Ur. Not to mention some breadcrumbs left at the end. The characters speculate that their experience at Loch Ness might have led to humanity taking off their blinders in regard to the unknown and there are some hints dropped toward the end at more linked adventures with the survivors of this one, something I'm definitely on board for.

Instead of another tired Indiana Jones sequel or remaking The Mummy, Savage Jungle would make a fantastic summer blockbuster. Four out of five stars.


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