Sunday, January 21, 2018

Champion of the World

Champion of the WorldChampion of the World by Chad Dundas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disgraced former lightweight champion Pepper Van Dean has just parted ways with the carnival in a violent fashion when he's approached by Fritz Mundt, another former wrestler. Mundt's offer, training Garfield Taft for a shot at the world champion, Strangler Lesko, is too hard to pass up. Can Pepper claw his way back to the big time as Garfield Taft's trainer?

As I've said in other reviews, I've been a fan of pro wrestling off and on for most of my life. When a coworker recommended this, I eventually threw it on the pile. Hell, there aren't many novels about pro wrestling that I can think of other than Hoodtown.

Champion of the World takes place in the roarin' 20s, the golden age of pro wrestling. Frank Gotch has just retired and wrestling is on the down swing. Garfield Taft is fresh out of jail and has a big chance to win the title from Strangler Lesko. Pepper, his wife in tow, heads to Montana to train Taft. Things eventually go off the rails...

When the story starts, Pepper is working at a carnival for twenty five bucks a week, wrestling audience members and doing the hangman's drop, being hung by his neck ever night, saved only by his neck and back muscles. Crazy shit and that's just the beginning.

I'm not into historical novels or sports novels but I enjoyed Champion of the World quite a bit. While real wrestlers like Frank Gotch, Farmer Burns, the Zbyszkos, and others were mentioned, the characters are fictitious. Although I suspect Strangler Lesko was based on Strangler Lewis. And Fritz Mundt owes something to Toots Mondt. I could go on and on. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I love the way Dundas wove wrestling history into the tale.

Pepper's last shot at glory kept me interested in the book during the slow parts. As the truth behind Pepper's past, as well as Taft's, was revealed, the book became harder and harder to put down. The eventual respect between the grapplers was one of my favorite parts of the book.

The last 25% was pretty shocking. There was a swerve and things got a little crazy. I was a little disappointed by the ending but it was pretty much the only way it could go down.

For wrestling fans, particularly those of the golden age of wrestling, this one is not to be missed. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, January 19, 2018

Second Chances


T.A. Webb
Dreamspinner Press
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars



Summary



Mark Jennings is at a crossroads. His finance job in the Atlanta nonprofit scene stresses him out, his mother is dying, and his relationship with Brian Jacobs has crashed and burned. He needs a distraction, some way to relax, and a massage seems like just the thing. He never expected his massage therapist, Antonio Roberto, to become his best friend.

Despite their differences—Antonio is a divorced single father—the two men forge a firm friendship that weathers Mark’s reconciliation with Brian and Antonio’s questionable taste in women. Over the years, Antonio remains constant in his support, though others in Mark’s life come and go through a revolving door.

When a young boy runs away from the group home where he works, Mark finds another door opening. Through it all he holds on to the things his loved ones taught him—about family, about friends and lovers, about life and death. Most importantly, he realizes that sometimes the greatest gift of all is a second chance.



My Review




Even though many of my friends heaped enthusiastic reviews on this story, and I’ve read and enjoyed T.A. Webb’s reviews and know he’s a thoughtful guy who writes from the heart, I still put off reading this.

My mom died recently, so I wasn’t sure my somewhat fragile emotions would handle reading about a man who is losing his mother to liver disease and at the same time trying to get over the pain of betrayal by his cheating ex.

I’m so glad I put my misgivings aside and snagged a copy.

Told from the perspective of Mark Jennings, we are privy to his thoughts, feelings, memories, and reactions to the people and situations in his life. I really liked being in his head. Even though many of Mark’s thoughts and casual conversations were peppered with f-bombs and delivered with a subtle sense of humor, his life and his pain were very real and his character felt like a composite of people I’ve known. This made him so easy to relate to, and his experiences that much more heartbreaking and believable.

“You listen close, ‘cause I ain’t saying this but once. That boy is my family now. He’s got a home, he’s got people that love him. And don’t think we don’t know how to fuckin’ hide a body when we need to.”

Now who wouldn’t want a guy like Mark in their family?

This is a story of love, forgiveness, loss, and hope. It is a story of friendship and families, made and born. It is about imperfect people who made mistakes. It is told over a period of 11 years, so nothing ever felt rushed.

I loved the exploration of youth homelessness and foster care in the US.

A couple of gripes:

- Certain events were given only minor coverage when I would have preferred to witness them.
- Some events felt a little too easy, too contrived, and didn’t jive with the rest of the story.

I’m glad I finally read this story. Along with the many tears I shed were plenty of smiles. I’m very much looking forward to a sequel.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Palace Job

The Palace Job (Rogues of the Republic #1)The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While trapped behind enemy lines, Loch's inheritance was stolen from her. Loch plans to steal the most valuable part of the inheritance back, a priceless elven manuscript. In order to do that Loch along with her trusted friend Kail assemble a colorful team to get the job done.

The Palace Job was quite different than I anticipated. The description makes the book sound like it's funny, but I doubt I laughed at anything that happened or was said. I did smile a few times such as when Kail described what he did to people's mothers.

Much of The Palace Job was just ok. I wasn't particularly interested in the formation of the team for the job or the early going. It all felt too familiar. It was very much like a fantasy Ocean's 11 with Loch and Kail as versions of George Clooney and Brad Pitt's characters. Loch was the typical brilliant mastermind with countless contingencies to ensure success.

As the book progressed the tale took on very different tropes. Rather than a simple heist story, prophetic and save the city tropes emerged. The shift was a welcome one as I don't particular care for heist tales.

Revealing characters motivations sooner is one small change that would have vastly improved my reading experience. Revealing two characters motivations in particular would have significantly altered and improved the story. Those characters are Loch and Archvoyant Silestin. When Loch is putting together a team to complete the heist it seems as though her only motivation is to improve her financial circumstances. As the tale moves forward Loch has much more poignant and heartfelt motivations for her actions. Archvoyant Silestin seemed like the normal pompous politician. Not someone particularly worthy of being robbed. As the tale continues it's revealed that Silestin is much different than he's displayed in the early going.

The Palace Job is a heroic tale masquerading as a common heist story. Unfortunately it waited until almost the end to reveal it's true nature.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

THOMAS CROMWELL: SERVANT TO HENRY VIII BY DAVID LOADES

Thomas Cromwell: Servant to Henry VIIIThomas Cromwell: Servant to Henry VIII by David Loades
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”Master Cromwell...you are now entered into the service of a most noble, wise and liberal prince… you shall in your counsel given unto his grace ever tell him what he ought to do, but never what he is able to do...for if a lion knew his strength, hard were it for any man to rule him.”
---Sir Thomas More


 photo Thomas20Cromwell20Holbein_zps4ermi4nx.jpg
Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein

Thomas Cromwell has been dead for 478 years, yet his name still evokes a smidgen of fear in my belly. He became so powerful at one point that people discussed very quietly the two-headed beast (Henry VIII and Cromwell) running England. Right up until the point that Cromwell is hauled away to the Tower, he was the most influential advisor to the king.

Cromwell’s problem was he got mixed up in the business of the wives of the king, and when he was able to do exactly what Henry wanted, which was usually to clear the way for the next one, he was fine, but once he showed some resistance to one wife being booted for another, then he was subjecting himself to the wrath of one of the most petulant, self-indulgent kings to ever wear an English crown.

And believe me that is saying something.

The fascination that people have with Henry VIII and his wives never seems to wane. I’ve never been a fan of the Tudors. I feel my lip curl up in a grimace, or maybe the beginnings of a snarl, every time I run across some reference to the bloated pisspot.

I can only say that because Cromwell is dead. His large ears are long stilled.

Is that a pounding I hear at yonder door?
Just the wind.


I do though have a fascination with the enigmatic, hyper intelligent, ruthless Thomas Cromwell. He rose as high as a self-made man of low birth can rise. His first boss, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, valued his counsel and his adaptability to situations. Wolsey fell out of favor with Henry VIII when he failed to achieve the annulment of the king’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Anne Boleyn, that mischievous, ambitious, cock-tease, convinced Henry that Wolsey was dragging his feet in the process. She was not a patient woman, but then maybe she was starting to run out of excuses to keep Henry from plucking her rose before she had a crown nestled down on her auburn tresses.

 photo Anne_boleyn_zpsazojjmk6.jpg
Anne Boleyn

I’m sure Cromwell took note of the downfall of Wolsey, so it is interesting that he too became a victim of kingly, pettish, spousal dissatisfaction.

Is that the sound of mail-clad fingers tapping at my window?
For the love of all that is holy, it is but an errant branch from a maple tree.


With the major religious schism that Henry caused, along with his dissolution of the monasteries and nunneries, he made many enemies domestically and abroad. As he lopped off the heads of wives, it also became more difficult to find an alliance with a foreign power. Kings were known for using their daughters unmercifully as political pawns, but even the most hard hearted father would have a difficult time subjected his daughter to that ulcerated, fickle headed, imbecile in England.

My Scottish Terrier has just raced to the drawbridge. I can only hope she can hold them off long enough for me to finish and post this review. There will be some bloody ankles, I’ll wager, before they can reach my chamber door.

Cromwell survived the beheading of Anne Boleyn, despite the fact that she was instrumental in his rise to high office. David Loades said it was her head or his, but I think it was more a matter of both their heads rolling together, so it was only practical to save the one that could be saved, his own. A wagon tethered can be quickly untethered, as Cromwell later learned with his own “supporters” when his time came. Next was Jane Seymour, whom Henry married one day after Anne’s head rolled across the stone pavers of the Tower. Seymour gave Henry a son.

Hallelujah! God be praised. Peace can now reign upon the land.
Not quite.


Seymour died in childbirth and became the only one of his wives to receive a queen’s funeral. As much as I hate to attribute any human qualities to Henry, I do believe he truly mourned the death of Jane. She never had a chance to displease him, and she did give him that much cherished son, sickly and fragile though he be, who would hopefully secure the throne of England in Tudor hands. After all, there were still plenty of Plantagenets lurking about. Usurpers, who Henry’s father was, as he took the throne by conquest from the last Plantagenet king, Richard III, never rested easy in their hold on power.

Usurpers are like everyone else beset by insecurities; most of us would fit that description, who believe that any minute some toothless crone from the back of a ruly crowd is going to yell the words…FRAUD.

 photo Anne20of20Cleves_zpsllumntvo.jpg
Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein. She may not have the face that launched a thousand ships, but still, come on Henry, she’s not mugly!

So Cromwell was not resting easily with the future of the kingdom residing on the slender, shaking shoulders of Henry’s son, Edward, and pressed Henry to remarry. The Duke of Cleves was in dispute with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, with whom Henry was having issues, but then who didn’t he have issues with? So the Duke’s daughter, Anne, was a good strategic match on paper. Henry did dispatch the court painter, Hans Holbein, to get real likenesses of all the potential queens of England. Either Holbein was too flattering in his portrayal of Anne or Henry was just not mentally in the mood for the match from the beginning. You have all heard of love at first sight. Well, Henry experienced loathing at first sight. Months later, he swore the marriage was never consummated due to the inability of Henry to mask his repugnance long enough to get the English flag to rise.

He might have tried extinguishing the candles, lying back, and thinking of England.

Meanwhile, Henry became enamored with the 17 year old Catherine Howard, who seemed to have put the lead back in the royal poxy pencil.

Here we go again.

I cannot deny the battering at my door. I must hurry!

So…”Cromwell was quite prepared to act ruthlessly, even when political and religious issues were not involved, but he was always concerned to use the due process of the law.” David Loades talked about what is known of the statesman and how little is known of the man himself. Hilary Mantel explored the man more than the statesman in her excellent duo of books Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies. We saw the charitable man (he fed 200 men and women every day at his house, an early soup kitchen) and the man interested in intellectual pursuits. I couldn’t help but like, nay love, the man whom Mantel shared with us. Can a man be so ruthless in his politics and so kind in his private life?

I’d like to think so.

Loades did an excellent job of separating the myth from what can be proven and painted a portrait of a man who was the consummate loyal official. Cromwell, in the course of the dissolution, made sure that Henry retained enough lands to make him rich enough to not have to go begging for money from the royal families and made sure that those same families were rewarded with enough land that they would have to support the crown in the future. He made Henry the first English king to be Royal Supreme.

 photo Thomas20Cromwell20Cartoon_zpskhibyeq4.jpg
Thomas Cromwell, a man of no illusions.

Cromwell’s head was rather sloppily parted from his body. The executioner must have been an incompetent fool, or maybe Cromwell whispered in his ear that he would be coming for him from the afterlife and that made his hands slippery with sweat, but either way it was a botched job. Henry was soon remorseful at his impetuous, foolish decision to execute Cromwell. ”It was not long before Henry was regretting his precipitate action in getting rid of him. Policy continued to be in the king’s hands, but government would never be the same.”

Unhand me, you loutish brutes! A pox on all your whoreson houses! Could someone please send books to The Tower?!?!

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Monday, January 15, 2018

The Witty Silliness Continues

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (Hitchhiker's Guide, #2)The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Had I read this? I couldn't recall. I knew I'd seen the old tv version, but I wasn't sure I'd actually read the book, so I read it. And why not? It's a hell of a good book, and I'd do it again!

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is kind of the continuing adventures of Arthur Dent. Honestly, while he's a focal point of book one, he doesn't factor into the sequel as much. This is more about Zaphod Beeblebrox and Ford Perfect, as well as the kitchen sink's worth of whatever zany ideas Douglas Adams wanted to throw into the works.

I say "zany ideas" as if they are a haphazard, careless collection of ramblings, but Adams does actually stay on topic for much of the time. That topic is humanity's futility. We're a go-nowhere race going nowhere fast. Adams basically says we've been given two million years worth of time to do something with ourselves before it's all over, and frankly we will fuck it up. Oh well!

While not as sharp as the first book, this is a worthy successor and I plan to continue reading the remaining books in the series, which I'm pretty sure I haven't read yet.

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John le Carre's Perfection!

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, SpyTinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I didn't understand half of what I just read, and yet I loved it all the same!

In John le Carré's (real name David Cornwell) Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, a British intelligence service known as the Circus has been compromised by a mole, a supposed Soviet double agent. Former agent George Smiley is called back from retirement to ferret him out.

This is more of a psychological suspense novel than an action-filled James Bond spy thriller. Smiley is getting up there in years and though he's conversant with a handgun, he's not about to go galavanting about blasting up the countryside. The whole novel is much more sedate than you might expect when you think of "spy thriller". And yet in ways, this book is undeniably thrilling!

Here, I think this passage from Wikipedia explains it better:

Most of Cornwell's novels are spy stories set during the Cold War (1945–91) and feature Circus agents as unheroic political functionaries aware of the moral ambiguity of their work and engaged in psychological more than physical drama.[21] Cornwell's books emphasise the fallibility of Western democracy and of the secret services protecting it, often implying the possibility of East-West moral equivalence.[21] Moreover, they experience little of the violence typically encountered in action thrillers and have very little recourse to gadgets. Much of the conflict is internal, rather than external and visible.

When you read a book like this, you get the distinct impression that the author has lived this life. Frankly, it was quite clear to me that John le Carré worked in the secret service. You can't whip out that kind of jargon and insight with only a casual acquaintance with the topic. I've read a few spy novels before and this makes them look childish in comparison.

The writing itself is topnotch. The character crafting, the stage setting, and the nuance of plot all come off so seamlessly. If there was a little more action, it wouldn't go amiss, but lack of action aside, Le Carré pens books that are an absolute pleasure to read.

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Friday, January 12, 2018

Bound for Trouble


EM Lynley
Dreamspinner Press
Reviewed by Nancy
2 out of 5 stars



Summary



Daniel "Deke" Kane is a broken man, facing the end of his career in the FBI. He's on desk duty after a botched drug raid left the suspects and two children dead. He's got one chance to prove himself, or the only thing he'll be investigating is the Help Wanted ads.

Ryan Griffiths has been on the run for ten years. Forced onto the streets when his father kicked him out, Ryan earns his living in other men's beds. Finding his john dead in a hotel room drives him under the radar until a favorite client gives him a chance at a safe, clean life. But Ryan's relatively stable new world shatters when Deke Kane catches up with him.

When Deke's tasked to take down a drug dealer with terrorist ties and a taste for the dark side of BDSM, his only chance to get close is the suspect's interest in Ryan, and he convinces Ryan to become a confidential informant. In return, Deke offers Ryan immunity from his past. As Ryan falls under the drug lord's domination, Deke finds himself falling for Ryan.

Now Deke has to choose between Ryan's safety and his own future.


My Review



FBI agent Deke Kane was nearly up for a promotion, but screwed up disastrously during a drug raid, causing the deaths of two children. Now he’s desk bound, once again having to prove his worth to his bitchy and flirtatious supervisor, Serah, and to himself.

He gets a second chance on a high-profile case involving Maksim Petrov, a Russian arms dealer with terrorist ties. Though the higher-ups are hoping Deke makes another mistake so they can justify firing him, Serah micromanages every aspect of his investigation in order to keep her record clean.

Deke knows that Petrov frequents the Club Kiwi, a male strip club. His best option is to send in a confidential informant, Ryan Griffiths, a former stripper now gainfully employed in retail and trying to forget his old life.

The attraction between Deke and Ryan is instant, but Ryan is distrustful of the FBI. He also wants justice for his friend’s killer. While Ryan works undercover at a BDSM club as a server and paid submissive, and Deke joins the club to conduct his investigation, their chemistry sizzles.

This is not a simple cop/rent-boy love story. Deke is focused on the investigation while exploring his kinks and watching Ryan fall under Petrov’s spell. As Deke’s feelings for Ryan grow, he becomes more and more concerned about the role Ryan is playing, his desire for pain, and the dangers they face.

Since Ryan and Deke have not spent a lot of time really getting to know each other, it was hard for me to believe their love was real. The investigation details were riveting, but the plot was over-the-top and not very believable. There is a smidgen of graphic violence and lots of kinky sex.

As much as I enjoy hot sex scenes, I need to be emotionally invested in the characters. I wasn’t.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Jersey Devil

The Jersey DevilThe Jersey Devil by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Jersey Devil sightings spike, Sam Willet and his family head to the New Jersey Pine Barrens for a reckoning sixty years in the making. With a cryptozoologist and a van full of firepower, will they be able to bring down the devil and live to tell the tale?

My young eyes first encountered the legend of the Jersey Devil in Monsters You Never Heard of sometime before the age of ten. I thought it was kind of lame and forgot about it until it was featured in an early X-Files episode. Anyway, since Hunter Shea is the bee's knees, I figured I'd give this one a shot when I saw the price dropped to ninety-nine cents. I'm cheap, what can I say.

The Jersey Devil is the story of Sam Willet and his family's axe to grind with the Jersey Devil, who terrorized Grandma Willet six decades earlier. Aided and abetted by a noted cryptozoologist, they walk into the Pine Barrens. Some of them even manage to hobble out.

This book is about as gentle as a trip to a slaughterhouse. Character after character are introduced, only to be fed through the Jersey meatgrinder once you feel something toward them. The body count is off the chart. The Devil's origins are explored and its mythology is expanded upon. And its many children go on a feeding frenzy...

I'd say this is the goriest Hunter Shea novel I've read yet and the threat of the Jersey Devil was probably the worst. After a while, I was just hoping one or more members of the Willet clan would survive.

The Jersey Devil is a gory good time, highly entertaining but definitely not for the squeamish. Four out of five stars.

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Fallen Gods

Fallen GodsFallen Gods by James A. Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"The gods took my family from me! They deserve nothing but death and destruction!"

"Tell your gods I'm coming for them! Tell your gods that I'll see them dead for what they did!"

Brogan McTyre and his friends are wanted alive. The gods demand these men be sacrificed or they'll end the world. Brogan has other ideas. Thanks to the help of his friend's wife who studied under the Galeans, he has learned there is a way to kill the gods. Brogan is determined to find this weapon and kill the gods.

Fallen Gods is a strong story set in a hopeless world. I can't get over the overwhelming weight of the hopelessness. At any moment the gods through their servants the Undying can demand nearly any person as a sacrifice. They offer compensation that may appease a slaveowner whose slave was taken, but never the husband or father who just lost their wife or children like Brogan McTyre. Strangely enough it's revealed that rules are established by the gods that no more than one person should be taken from a kingdom in any month so as to avoid the very scenario Brogan found himself in where his entire family was taken. Gods do as they wish it seems, but actions have consequences and I do love to see horrid people get their comeuppance whether they are men or gods.

The author does a great job displaying how different people are dealing with the end of the world. Many are hunting Brogan despite not faulting his actions, some wish him dead, and most simply want life to return to normal. I enjoy the diversity of characters in that they all come from different walks of life. The addition of point of view sections from the king's was strong as the gods are no more fair or caring with them than they are anyone else.

Fallen Gods was quite enjoyable, I look forward to the conclusion, and I hope to see these ravenous gods be sacrificed for the good of all.

4 out of 5 stars

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

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Banished

Banished (Street Rats of Aramoor: Prequel)Banished by Michael Wisehart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

13 year old Ayrion is so skilled at his tasks that people believe he's a cheater or a liar, at least that's what the head of his clan believes. Ayrion has a gift others in his clan don't have, he has the magical powers of a wielder. Ayrion tries to live in a world where doing his best gets him into trouble.

Banished is the prequel to the upcoming Street Rats of Aramor series. This story focuses on Ayrion's life with the Upaka. A few aspects of the Upaka's way of life surprised me. One of them being they live underground in the city once known as Rhowynn before it's destruction by the volcanic Ash Mount. The city is now known as the Lost City.

Another aspect of Upaka life I didn't realize in The White Tower is that the Upaka are more than just mercenaries or they can be. I didn't understand the reaction Ayrion received in The White Tower and when he left the Lost City in Banished, but now I realize that Upaka are generally called in when killing needs to be done. They will take any job except killing one of their own if the money is right. That's the basis for their civilization so it's not hard to see why people would react negatively to their presence.

Ayrion literally suffers for being too good. He suffers for that in The White Tower and he suffers from that in Banished. He's so good others can't stand it. It's truly a shame as he's just trying his best, his best is just so much better than others that it causes resentment. I just hope that every story about him doesn't involve people hating him because he's better than them.

Banished is a solid look at Ayrion's youth and the Upaka society.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

THE LEWIS MAN BY PETER MAY

The Lewis Man (The Lewis Trilogy, #2)The Lewis Man by Peter May
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”Gunn… couldn’t take his eyes off the face of the young man locked in the peat. Although there was a shrivelled aspect to this features, they would be recognisable to anyone who knew him. Only the soft, exposed tissue of the eyes had decomposed. ‘How long’s he been here?’

Murdo’s laugh was lost in the wind. ‘Who knows? Hundreds of years, maybe even thousands. You’ll need an expert to tell you that.’”


 photo Bog20Man_zpsnfgiokrb.jpg

I remember when I first heard about Bog People. 2000 year old corpses were being pulled from the earth, perfectly preserved like the one above. The historical data gathering possibilities had my head swimming with the revelations that would hopefully be ascertained. When a body is found in the peat on the Hebrides of Scotland, the first thought is, here is another time capsule from the past. From the past indeed, but not two thousand years, not even a thousand years or a hundred years.

The Elvis tattoo on the man’s forearm precisely dates that the corpse became a ghost fifty some years ago. If this were an episode of the Twilight Zone or an Outlander traveling through standing stones or a Jules Verne Time Machine situation, maybe we would need to call in Mulder and Scully to investigate, but this is a straightforward, hide the body in the peat and hope no one finds it scenario.

Meanwhile, Fin Macleod has quit his job in Edinburgh and decides to move back to the island to repair his parent’s derelict croft and, at the same time, make amends for the way he treated his ex-girlfriend, Marsaili. He doesn’t, frankly, deserve her, but maybe he does, at this point, deserve some forgiveness. What we do as young men and women should have an expiration date as we prove ourselves to be better human beings. The weight of our past transgressions can never go away, but it can be made lighter.

In the first book, I had a hard time forgiving Fin. Marsaili’s love for him was so pure, so unconditional. For her, he was her soulmate from the very moment she laid eyes on him as a wee lass. He broke her heart, and in the process, he broke my heart, too. What a tribute to the writing of Peter May that he managed to put me in the book and experience Marsaili’s pain as my own.

When they test the DNA of the peat bog corpse, they discover that he has to be a close relation to Marsaili’s father. And it is truly a What the Hell moment. Her father is suffering from alzheimer's and dementia. He remembers the past better than the present, but even those memories are becoming fragmented. It is difficult for him to tell a coherent story as his mind drifts from decade to decade like a spinning wheel that occasionally stops only to start again.

He isn’t who he says he is.

Marsaili, already struggling with a series of drastic situations going wrong, now has to face the fact that she isn’t who she thought she was. With only her Dad’s uncertain memories, she and Fin have to go to Edinburgh and start the journey to discover who her father really is and what happened to the man in the bog. Revelations take them to other islands in the Hebrides with the hope they discover enough information to prove that he father was not the killer of the bog man.

At one point, Fin comments that the only time you notice the wind is when it stops. I live in Dodge City, Kansas, which is routinely considered the windiest place in the United States, so when he made that comment I knew exactly what he was talking about. The weather is a constant threat on the Hebrides.

”It was a filthy morning, the wind sweeping in explosive gusts across the point, bringing with it waves of fine wetting rain, and laying flat the new-growth spring grasses. But he didn’t mind. He had grown up with this. It was normal. He loved to feel the rain stinging his face. He loved, too, the way the sky would open up at unexpected moments to let the light through. Flashes of cold, blinding sunlight on the surface of the ocean, like pools of mercury. They could last minutes or seconds.”

You have to love it, or you start to hate it.

The island is dominated by a harsh, unforgiving, suffocating religion. Fin’s friend from his childhood, Donald Murray, put aside his wild ways and fully embraced this religion as he got older. Fin finds Murray and his beliefs too much to take. ”Faith is a crutch of the weak. You use it to paper over all the contradictions. And you fall back on it to provide easy answers to impossible questions.”

Maybe a bit harsher than what I would have said, but certainly Fin and I would find agreement on this subject.

Peter May ensnares the reader and soon has you walking down a road on Lewis Island, being blown sideways by the wind and hearing the ”tireless legions of riderless white horses crashing up against the stubborn stone of unyielding black cliffs.” The plot will wiggle into your brain and haunt your dreams until you give up and turn the light on to read a few more chapters. The smell of cut peat, the woodsmoke when it is finally dry enough to burn, and the howling wind that makes music with the eaves of your croft and whistles a tune through any hole found round your windows or doors will send shivers through you. You will be there wanting to leave, wanting to stay, but knowing you will return for book three.

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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Armored Saint (The Sacred Throne #1) By: Myke Cole

The Armored Saint (The Sacred Throne, #1)The Armored Saint by Myke Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well, I walk into 2018 and get proven wrong, RIGHT out the gate. First of all, spoilers, I am a huge fan of Myke Cole. However, I didn't figure he could top my beloved Shadow Ops universe. I apologize Mr. Cole.

The Armored Saint knocks it out of the park, Myke's move in dark epic fantasy is a punch in the mouth and after he smiles at you and you ask for another. The only way to describe this book is terrific top to bottom. I want more, I want the next installment and I wanted it two days ago.

Get on it, Mr. Cole.

highest rating, 340495 out of 5 stars, (yes it's not even math, more of an abstract expression, geez)

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Monday, January 8, 2018

Stories of Life, Canada Style

Dear Life: StoriesDear Life: Stories by Alice Munro
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is Winesburg, Ohio for Canada.

I hesitated to use that analogy, because Ohioans and Midwesterners in general are so very Canadian it just seemed redundant. However, in Dear Life Alice Munro has written the same kind of truly reflective snippets of life that made Sherwood Anderson's work the well-respected, and frankly, forgettable novel it is.

Stories about everyday events and the less-than-dramatic moments of an average joe's average day do not enthrall me. I do, however, enjoy really well-crafted prose that "gets to the heart of the matter" and that's what we have here. Munro has presented us with a piece of work that flows with the ease of an ancient, flat river. Any turbulence is under the surface. You may not be swept away, but you will be transported comfortably and carefully to an inevitable conclusion.

I will not remember these stories. They tired me with their tedium. But I respect the hell of out the accomplishment that is Dear Life.

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A Detective Fiction Forerunner

Fer-de-Lance (Nero Wolfe, #1)Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm givin' this sucka three stars, seeee?! Ya wanna make somethin' of it, tough guy?...Yeah, that's what I thought.

Actually, Fre-de-Lance by Rex Stout is more cerebral than tough-guy as far as detective fiction goes. Oh sure, there's some strong-arm scenes and a line like "Don't try no funny stuff, ya got me pal-y?" wouldn't be out of place here. However, as many of those you find, you'll discover just as many classical allusions and erudite quotables.

This is in great part due to the eccentric genius Nero Wolfe, who owns and operates the detective agency. However, he is too corpulent and immobile to be the true hero of the story. That mantle rests upon the able shoulders of regular good guy Archie Goodwin, the man on the street, the guy who gets the job done. Archie narrates the story and his witty one-liners and occasional snark are a great joy to read.

One of the early ones in the detective genre, Fer-de-Lance leaves the reader guessing who killed who and why. Very solid red herrings and perplexing twists abound. This book will satiate the mystery lover.

This why only three stars? Well, as one of the longer books in the Wolfe series, Fer-de-Lance lumbers along at a slower pace than necessary, adding more pages than are probably needed to tell this tale. But hey, this was back when Stout was just starting out and you can hardly be surprised when a new writer goes long. Plus, this being one of the early detective stories, he didn't have down pat the bebop-beat timing and double-time swinging pace that hardboiled detective fiction would eventually be known for.

Definitely worth giving it a shot!

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Friday, January 5, 2018

Vampire Claus


Robert Winter
Self-Published
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars



Summary


’Twas the night before Christmas, but what’s stirring is a little more dangerous than a mouse.

Taviano is nearly two hundred years old and never wakes in the same place twice. Weary and jaded, the vampire still indulges in memories of childhood Christmases in Naples. He lingers in shadow, spying on mortals as they enjoy the holiday.

When Taviano spots a handsome young man in Boston loaded down with presents and about to be mugged, he can’t help but intervene. Soon he’s talking to joyous, naïve, strong-willed and funny Paul, a short-order cook who raised funds to buy Christmas presents for LGBTQ children. Before he knows what’s happened, Taviano is wrapped up in Paul’s arms and then in his scheme to get the presents delivered by Christmas morning.

A vampire turned into a Christmas elf… What could go wrong?

Vampire Claus is a 30,000-word standalone gay romance about a lonely vampire and a fearless mortal with no instinct for self-preservation. A heartwarming ending, no cliffhanger, and a young man who discovers he has a thing for fangs. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?


My Review



Taviano was just 22 when he was turned into a vampire nearly 200 years ago. Having spent many years wandering, the lonely, nomadic vampire has decided to observe the city of Boston from the top of St. Stephen’s. The evening mass, the snowfall, and the Christmas trees seen through apartment windows, all make Taviano long for his childhood in Naples, Italy.

With his human life now over, Taviano skulks around in the dark, taking nourishment from the dregs of society. Over the years, Taviano has learned that he doesn’t have to kill his victims in order to satisfy the bloodbeast that lives within him. Though he still believes he’s a monster, his human feelings and memories remain intact.

It takes a near mugging and an encounter with a bright, compassionate young man named Paul to help Taviano recover his humanity, use his powers to help the less fortunate, and discover he is not the monster he’s always believed himself to be.

I loved the warmth, the strong connection and the steamy love scenes between Paul and Taviano. I enjoyed the glimpses of Taviano’s past and the fact that Taviano’s bloodbeast has his own underlying motives.

As much as I loved Paul’s kind spirit, his excessive use of slang drove me nuts.

This tender and funny romance is full of surprises and Christmas joy, with just enough danger and tension to keep it from feeling like a Hallmark movie.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and would definitely read another story with these two as long as Paul learns some proper English!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

HOWARDS END BY E. M. FORSTER

Howards EndHowards End by E.M. Forster
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

***New mini-series begins showing on Starz in the U.S. April 2018.***

”Discussion keeps a house alive. It cannot stand by bricks and mortar alone.”

 photo Howards20End_zpssqdrkkh0.jpg

I’ve fallen in love with the Schlegel sisters twice now in separate decades. I plan to keep falling in love with them for many decades to come. They are vibrant defenders of knowledge, of books, of art, of travel, of feeling life in the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, and spleen on a daily basis. Margaret and Helen have a brother, Tibby, poor lad, who is plenty bright while at Oxford, but in the family Schlegel home, he is struggling to keep up with the thoughts expressed that keep expanding past him.

Compared to most people, they are rich. Compared to most rich people, they are poor. Their ancestors left them with enough capital to insure that they don’t have to work for the rest of their lives, can travel a bit, can go to the theatre, and can buy books as they need them. They are very attuned to their privileged position and are frequently tempted to reduce their capital by helping those in need. How much money do they really need or, for that matter, really deserve to have?

Improbably, the Schlegel sisters become friends with the Wilcoxes, a capitalistic family who have a different idea of money. Is there ever enough? Helen forms a temporary attachment to the younger Wilcox which throws each family into a tizzy as to the suitability of the match. Margaret begins a friendship with the wife, Ruth, that proves so strong that it throws a few wrinkles into the plot regarding Ruth’s family and the inheritance of Howards End.

Ruth passes away suddenly. ”How easily she slipped out of life?” Her insignificance in life becomes even more pronounced in her death.

E. M. Forster based Howards End on his childhood home, The Rooks Nest, which had been owned by a family named Howard and referred to as the Howard house. Thus, the name Howards End is a not too subtle reference to that family home. I have to believe that it might have represented a lifetime longing he had for those childhood years he spent in that home. In the novel, Howards End goes beyond being an estate and becomes almost a character, a Shangri-La that I began to pine for from the very beginning of the novel. The Sisters have only brief contact with Howards End through the early part of the novel, and my trepidation grows as the plot progresses. Will they ever have a chance to consider the house a home?

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Rooks Nest

The Schlegel’s befriend the Basts, who are certainly in much reduced circumstances compared to their own. By mere chance they are discussing the Basts situation with Henry Wilcox, who promptly puts doubt into their mind about the future validity of the company Leonard is working for. This sets off a chain of events that cause a series of ripples that change the course of several lives. There certainly is a word of caution in meddling in others’ affairs. Sometimes we can think we are helping, only to cause even more problems.

Improbably, Margaret and Henry Wilcox form a friendship that becomes romantic. The eldest Wilcox son, Charles, is not happy about the attachment. He and Margaret are so far apart in their views of how the world works or should work that they have difficulty communicating well enough to reach a point of mutual respect. ”They had nothing in common but the English language, and tried by its help to express what neither of them understood.”

Margaret’s odd relationship with Henry causes a rift between the sisters that is, frankly, painful to experience. Forster makes sure that I, as a reader, at this point can no longer be objective. The relationship between these siblings is a precious thing and to think of it torn asunder is impossible to accept. They know so well how to entertain each other, to finish each other’s thoughts, and share a general agreement on most things that other people who bump around in the orbit of their reality feel like intruders.

So the marriage between Margaret and Henry is unsettling to Helen and me for numerous reasons, but this statement might sum up how we feel pretty well: ”How wide the gulf between Henry as he was and Henry as Helen thought he ought to be.” There is probably someone we could feel is good enough for Margaret, but not just Margaret but Helen and this reader as well (see how invested I am?); for whomever either girl would marry would have to slip seamlessly into the state of euphoria that already exists in the Schlegel household.

Henry is not that person. ”He misliked the word ‘interesting’, connoting it with wasted energy and even with morbidity.”

It is becoming impossible to think that Howards End will remain nothing more than a shimmering presence in another reality.

 photo Forster_zps4q9qmeab.jpg
E. M. Forster, portrait by Roger Fry.

The Schlegel sisters are really the best friends any reader could hope for. We would be so enriched by the opportunity to know them and practically giddy to be able to call them friends. It is unnerving that something so strong, like this relationship between sisters, can be so fragile. I haven’t discussed the fascinating nuances of plot that will add further weight to the interactions between the Schlegels, the Wilcoxes, and the Basts, for I want everyone to read this book and marvel at the words and thoughts that Forster tosses in the air for you to catch. I want you all to be as haunted as I have been, to the point that you, too, will have to go back to the place you first met these characters, these ghostly beings, and read and read again turning these phantoms into tangible beings you can almost touch.

”Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its highest. Live in fragments no longer.”

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
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Dragon Bones and Tombstones

Dragon Bones and Tombstones (Chronicles of Dragon, #2)Dragon Bones and Tombstones by Craig Halloran
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Nath and Brenwar continue their search for dragons to rescue. After walking into a trap, the duo are forced to retrieve an object of power that a Necromancer was somehow unable to retrieve.

Dragon Bones and Tombstones really felt kiddy to me. I realize the series is intended for a young audience, but the first book was enjoyable enough. I was physically pained by lines such as this, "I bet you think I'll thank you, don't you, Nath Dragon? The truth is, I'd consider it if I weren't so evil and you weren't so good." That just doesn't work for me.

Nath and Brenwar are a goofy pair. I can imagine the target audience of kids to tweens would enjoy their banter. I on the other hand was wondering what I saw in the first book that encouraged me to read this one. It kind of feels like when you meet someone at a dark club and you've been drinking. In that instant the person seems quite attractive to you, but when you manage to see them in the daylight you wonder how drunk you were and how dark that club was.

Dragon Bones and Tombstones is intended for a young audience and I won't make the mistake of continuing the series.


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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

This is not Fame "A from what I re-memoir" by: Doug Stanhope

This Is Not Fame: A "From What I Re-Memoir" by Doug Stanhope
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Today's world is one of apologies, of hurt feelings, and constant, overbearing political correctness. Stanhope is none of these. Crude, the definition of self destructive, pretty much a stumbling mess of a human being. This is Not Fame is a collection of lewd tales that lead you to wonder, "How is this guy still living?"

That being said, few people can tell a story like Doug Stanhope. A drunken swirl of chaos, debauchery, and all around UN politically correct as you possibly can get, buried in the dirt...is a true gem of a collection of stories.

When the world ends, Stanhope will be glowing in the dark in his kingdom of ash, lighting his smokes off a radioactive cockroach, he will have a great story to tell...eventhough he probably won't remember it.

If you like your humor dark and dirty, this is for you.

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Monday, January 1, 2018

Christie's Little Pigs

Five Little PigsFive Little Pigs by Agatha Christie
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another fun whodunnit!

This time around Hercule Poirot is tasked with digging up a 16 year old murder cold case. Everyone is satisfied with the previous resolution, except for one person. And that person asks Poirot to look into it. Of course, once he gets those little grey cells working, he finds something amiss.

In play form, this quicky still manages a modicum of depth within the story and characters, not a trait mysteries are always well-known for! And the plot is just as slippery as many of Christie's novels. The woman-scorned premise is a trifle basic, but only so much as the characters themselves falsely believe. It actually has a nice twist to it.

I could do without the usual and ad nauseam admission-by-the-perp ending. It's a laughable tool of expedience, which I should be thankful for (because nobody really wants to read a boring trial with an inevitable ending, do they?) and yet it never ceases to inadvertently assume me.

A very strong 3.5 stars!

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A Short Review of Chandler Short Stories

Red Wind: A Collection of Short StoriesRed Wind: A Collection of Short Stories by Raymond Chandler
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A dame loses her pearls. Said dame saves a detective. Said detective tries to recover those pearls for her.

Then a little dude ends up dead. A slightly odd couple from West LA gets roped in. An investigating copper gets duped and then gets sore about it. And that's not all! I mean, geez louise, there's a lot going on for such a short story.

Red Wind is a fast talkin', fast movin' street-level crime thriller from Raymond Chandler that only comes up short due to it being so dang short. Seriously, this story could use a few more pages to breathe a bit more.


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