Wednesday, February 28, 2018


In The Shadow of 10,000 HillsIn The Shadow of 10,000 Hills by Jennifer Haupt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”After her family was murdered, she didn’t speak for a month Maman tells her, although it felt longer. She stayed in her bedroom, listening to the rustle of the pines in the forest that seemed to cry for her; the fear had drained her of tears. Most of the people in her village were dead. It was being alive, not the deaths, that was somehow shocking. Her existence seemed to be an accident of fate, her life spent waiting in this room in Lillian’s home, this room that was not hers. She was paralyzed, for the inevitable correction.”

The inevitable correction, when the universe finally realizes that she is still alive. It doesn’t have to be a boy with a machete and a wild look in his eyes. It could be a Biblical bolt of lightning from the sky, or maybe she just falls down dead as if her life string has been plucked.

It is hard to live when being alive feels like an offense against the natural order. When being alive feels like a mistake, as if the angel of death just missed scooping her off the earth by a fraction of inches. The swoop of the scythe makes a sound of displaced air as it...misses her.

Nobody escapes this life without losses, but for most of us it is a slow trickle spaced out over decades, so the burden grows, and we can adjust to the weight even though we feel whittled down, weaker, exposed, moved up in line to be the next one to be taken. We are the only species on Earth who knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that we will die. As children we are barely aware of that inevitability, but as we age that awareness grows steadily to the point that we have to even start preparing for it.

For Nadine, a lifetime of loss is crunched into two minutes of madness.

During the Rwandan genocide, a million people, most of them of the Tutsi tribe, were massacred in a matter of a 100 days. 10,000 people a day. Rape has always been an unfortunate part of war, but in the Rwandan genocide it was used as an act of war. It was an insidious tactic to instill fear and make sure that even the survivors were left forever scarred.

This story is not about the genocide, but about the ability of people to grieve and find the scattered pieces of themselves so that they can forge a path to a new life. It is the story of three women. I’ve already introduced you to Nadine. Let me give you an idea of the woman Lillian Carlson. She is an activist in the United States. When Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated, she is disillusioned with her ability to make a difference. She finds that she can make a difference in the lives of orphans in Rwanda. She takes in as many as she can and even more than she should have, but when children have no one she chooses to be their someone.

The third woman is Rachel Shepherd, who is searching for her father. He disappeared when she was a child. With some amateur sleuthing and the benefit of the internet, she traces him to Kwizera, the place of hope built by Lillian in Rwanda. Henry ties these three women together. He knew Lillian in Atlanta and never forgot her. He is the perfect father for Rachel, attentive, fun, and always as interested in her as he is interesting for her. He proves to be the same great substitute father for Nadine when he comes to Rwanda to find Lillian again.

He proves to be an enigma for all three women. He is amazing, and then he just disappears. He is a famous photographer, and maybe, just maybe, he sees things too clearly through the aperture of his camera.

How about this for a snapshot of Kwizera? ”The backyard, if you can call it that, is more of the same, a slash of red dirt and scrubby bushes with some kind of irrigation ditch tricking down the center like a tear. But it’s not totally hopeless. There’s a tall stack of lumber to one side, a rusty green tractor that may or may not work, and an assortment of shovels and rakes splayed on the ground. Two monkeys sit atop the tractor, examining a purple gardening glove. One flicks his tongue at it like a child might test the flavor of a lollipop.”

To some, all they see is desolation in that scene, but for me, all I see is a chance to make paradise.

Jennifer Haupt spent a month in Rwanda interviewing victims of the genocide. She was there as a journalist, but came home with a story that she felt compelled to tell. It is a novel, but like many novels nothing in this book is untrue. We must tell the stories to try to keep the dangerous fallacies of the past from becoming the future. I came away from this book thinking about how life continues after tragedy. I thought about how important it is for survivors to continue to live for those who perished. I thought about how hard it is to find a path when the universe feels so arbitrarily brutal. This book is about finding a place beyond grief and about gathering those around you who need you as much you need them and discovering together a path that will raise you all up together.

I want to thank Jennifer Haupt and Central Avenue Publishing for sending me an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

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In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and the Birth of Modernist ArtIn Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and the Birth of Modernist Art by Sue Roe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”It is a wonderful thing how much courage it takes even to buy a clock you are very much liking when it is a kind of one everyone thinks only a servant should be owning. It is very wonderful how much courage it takes to buy bright coloured handkerchiefs when everyone having good taste uses white ones or pale coloured ones, when a bright coloured one gives you so much pleasure you suffer always at not having them. It is very hard to have the courage of your being in you, in clocks, in handkerchiefs, in aspirations, in liking things that are low, in anything.”
---Gertrude Stein

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The young Pablo PIcasso, circa 1904, photographed by Ricard Canals i Llambi.

As I continue to add prints of Modernist and Impressionist painters with a few Da Vinci’s and Vermeer’s to my growing collection,I find it so inspirational to have surrounded myself with such divergent artistic concepts. When I look at a Matisse or a Picasso or a Vlaminck or a van Dongen or a Modigliani or a Dali or a Van Gogh, their expressions of ideas are so unique to them that it is as if I’m seeing the world through their eyes. I can steal the eyes of a painter, at least briefly, and even once my eyes have flicked away from the painting, the dazzling array of colors can transform my reality into a Matisse or a Picasso masterpiece.

I decided to paint some of the walls of my house a celery green. It is bold. Bolder than I expected, but maybe there was a part of me as I looked at those color chips that wanted to break loose from the safe color scheme of beiges, grays, and creams. A benefit I hadn’t expected is this color sensuously frames the art on my walls and seems to give each painting more depth. I also discovered that looking at celery green makes me happy. So when I read that quote by Gertrude Stein, I thought about my celery green and the reactions I’ve received so far from neighbors and friends who see this, dare I say, courageous color for the first time and look like they have just bit into a piece of raw rhubarb.

Americans came to Paris to experience the Montmartre district, to see the scandalous shows, drink too much, flirt with beautiful Parisian girls, and hopefully brush shoulders with some of these almost famous celebrity painters. These painters are known in certain circles, but not known as well as they soon would be. These Americans were being shown paintings unlike anything they had ever seen before, and for those who could really SEE these paintings, they were mesmerized and bought as many as they could afford. I can only imagine, when they returned to America and unboxed some of these lurid beauties with vivid colors that overwhelmed the eye, what reactions they would have received from friends and family. Those paintings might even have left some of the viewers, with a delicate disposition, feeling as if they have been punched in the gut.

It is interesting to observe the varied reactions that people have to bold colors before we can even discuss, say, a painting of a woman with three noses.

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Henri Matisse circa 1891.

Sue Roe deftly balances all these diverse personalities who came together in Paris at the turn of the century and she shares these wonderful stories that vividly bring them back to life. The fashion designer Paul Poiret, who was immersed in this dynamic culture, shared a story that has stuck with me long after finishing the book. ”Many years later, Poiret remembered watching Vlaminck and Derain as they trudged along the riverside, forced to move out of their lodgings (their shared studio, presumably) when the landlady grew tired of giving them credit. ‘I can still see them by the flowery banks,’ he reminisced, ‘their boxes of colours under their arms, their canvases piled in a wheelbarrow.’” The book is full of intriguing snapshots, daubed in paint. These brilliant, impoverished painters were just beginning to have an idea that they were part of another renaissance in art. Another one of my favorite vignettes is of a clever, fussy writer : ”Marcel Proust sat quietly at a corner table drinking hot chocolate like a pale-green ghost.” To think of him out in the Montmartre district, observing all that decadent behavior, made me smile.

The women of Montmartre were probably some of the most liberated women on the planet in the early 1900s. They were models, lovers, dancers, mistresses, and in many ways their emancipation added fuel to the creative energy of the artists, writers, designers, and buyers who flocked to Montmartre to be inspired. One of the most alluring of these creatures was Fernande Olivier, who caught the eye of many painters, but absolutely captivated Pablo Picasso.

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”Here she was now, the beautiful, tall redhead. She seemed languid, aloof, more voluptuous than the girls he was accustomed to, with strong, vivid features and a contrasting aura of lightness. From now on, wherever he went, he kept seeing her.”

The rivalry between Matisse and Picasso was one of those necessary driving forces that makes really great artists keep creating masterpieces. They would cringe and look with awe in equal measure whenever they viewed each other’s latest creations. Their relationship was cordial, honest, but sometimes mildly disagreeable. As Francoise Gilot (muse of PIcasso) put it: ”‘In their meetings, the active side was Pablo; the passive, Matisse. Pablo always sought to charm Matisse, like a dancer, but in the end it was Matisse who conquered Pablo.’” There are many great artists of this period; one of my favorites is Amedeo Modigliani, but without a doubt, the names that emerge as champions of the era are Matisse and Picasso.

I always find reading about artists so inspirational, even more so than reading about writers. I’m not sure why, except maybe that there is so much more for me to learn about artists. I don’t usually pick up overviews like this, but Sue Roe does such a wonderful job capturing the place and the people with such precise sketches that I am indebted to her for moving the needle of my understanding of the artists and of this era forward in a leap rather than just a bound.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Lucius: The Faultless Blade By: Ian St Martin

Lucius: The Faultless BladeLucius: The Faultless Blade by Ian St. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am still exploring my current fascination with Warhammer and jumping deep into the chaos(bad guy) side of things. Without getting too far into lore, each of the legions of space marines that joined and went over to the bad side of things follow various evil deities, and Lucius and his faction serve a being who is into extreme sensations, indulgence in pain and pleasure. These guys have overdone it to a point that their bodies don't feel anything so their search for sensation has moved to a sadistic and horrifying level.

I really dug this book, rarely in my view can you enjoy a tale with no "good guy" Lucius and his band are HORRIBLE beings. Murderers who visit mass destruction on people just because they can. But this tale is a super fast paced gore fest of Warhammer violence. Very well written look into the legion of the Emperor's Children and the horrors within. If you are squeamish..go the other way, if you want a fast paced look into the chaos space marines, come on in, if you dare.

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Monday, February 26, 2018

Diamond Smuggling Is Forever!

Diamonds Are Forever (James Bond, #4)Diamonds Are Forever by Ian Fleming
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bond slips into the diamond smuggling market and the American mafia.

Not a bad installment in the Bond series. I don't recall ever seeing the movie version, so I can't say if they parallel much or at all, but I can say that Diamonds Are Forever makes for a fine little read.

It's not exactly the most exciting spy thriller ever. In fact, there were a number of spots through out the book that had me ho-humming. It seems like Fleming wanted to flex his prose muscles a bit with this one. There are some nice descriptions of characters and places, but they do tend to slow down the action a bit. Or perhaps there just wasn't all that much action to begin with. I guess there was a shoot out and a tense, butt-clenching moment during a hot mud bath scene, but that didn't really even involve Bond.

There are also some racial issues with Diamonds.... I was listening to this on audiobook and during a moment when I wasn't paying the closest of attention, I thought I heard a distressingly racist passage. Racist dialogue is one thing, but when the writer includes it in the narrative it's an entirely different thing. I don't know, I could be wrong. I didn't bother going back to verify. Maybe I should have, but ya know, I just didn't feel like wallowing in that kind of mire. If I were black, I'd probably just stay away from the Bond series all together. For example, I know "negro" was once acceptable, but its usage comes from an error of an era that ought never to have happened and one that needs to be burned, buried and put in the past forever.

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Jesus Christ!

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of NazarethZealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jesus was no messiah, but rather a kind of zealous bandit. This is what you will take away from biblical scholar Reza Aslan's Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.

After having read the book, I can't disagree with his conclusions. Not everything Aslan proposes rings true or is backed with solid evidence. But hey, we're talking about a sketchy 2000 year old history here! No matter where you stand on the topic, a lot of so-called "facts" about Jesus are clearly tenuous at best. However, Aslan's suppositions on some key points seem solid.

As a kid, I was baptized, circumcised and christianized. I understood what all that meant and had a vague notion that they didn't all jell together, but lately I've been reading up on the world's religions for shits and giggles, and just it has occurred to me just how disparate these acts and ideas are: how divorced from Catholics were the Baptists; how peculiar it seems for a Catholic to undergo a very Jewish ritual with the wee-willy snipping. Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth drove home these points.

The book starts off playing all nicey-nice, acting as if everything's kosher, there ain't nothing wrong, and we're all gonna act cool like a bunch of Fonzies. However, by the midway point Aslan really begins tearing down Jesus, denying the miracles, calling him out on his lack of messianic achievements, and basically attempting to reveal that Jesus was just a Jewish hero, not a Christian god. That's not going to sit well with the people that love their Baby Jesus and Virgin Mary. And honestly, if you want to believe in the Bible with all your heart and refuse to see any fault in it, go ahead. Cling to your beliefs if you feel it's doing you any good. Just avoid faith-shaker books like this. Me, I enjoyed this. I'm not all caught up in the myth, the legend, the whatever-it-is. I don't need all the extracurricular Christian activities, I just like the "be a good person" message and I'll continue to live by that, regardless of what really happened 2000 years ago.

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Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Damned Highway

The Damned HighwayThe Damned Highway by Brian Keene
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Uncle Lono leaves Colorado behind and heads east for Arkham, Massachusetts, in search of the American Nightmare. He winds up caught in a conspiracy that will see Richard Nixon raise Cthulhu from the depths of the ocean to destroy the world...

After reading Fear and Loathing in Innsmouth in Whispers from the Abyss, I was delighted to discover this work existed. Dr. Gonzo visiting Miskatonic University, Arkham, and Innsmouth, written by Brian Keene and Nick Mamatas: how could I lose?

The subtitle of this work is Fear and Loathing in Arkham so I knew what I was getting into. The Damned Highway is written in a voice very similar to Hunter S. Thompson. Only his drug-addled psyche could withstand the cosmic horrors of the Cthulhu mythos.

Without giving too much away, this is a road book peppered with references to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the Cthulhu mythos. Uncle Lono encounters Deep Ones, Cannocks, shoggoths, fungi from Yuggoth, and a lot of other crazy shit. It's a good mix of comedy and cosmic horror.

I have to admit I was a little skeptical at first but Keene and Mamatas did a great job weaving Hunter S. Thompson's style with Lovecraftian horror. Casting Nixon as the villain was a great touch. The last sixty pages or so were really hard to put down.

The Damned HIghway is a fun piece of Lovecraft-inspired fiction, penned by two of the best currently active horror writers. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, February 23, 2018

Quid Pro Quo

Aleksandr Voinov and L.A. Witt
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


For the past six months, Jared’s been selling sex at Market Garden, a London club that caters to the better-off. But business is slow in the run-up to Christmas, when businessmen and bankers are too busy bickering over bonuses to rent themselves a little high-class action.

Though Jared’s wallet finds the downtime unnerving, the rest of him rather enjoys the opportunity it gives him to admire Tristan, an old hand in the club whose reputation usually sees him well-booked. Jared has been crushing on Tristan for months — he’s no more immune to Tristan’s cockiness and confidence than the johns, and those are just Tristan’s inner qualities.

Just as Jared’s about to chat Tristan up, a businessman asks for something a little different: he wants to book them both. They agree — and Jared finds himself going from crush to mind-bending lust as he’s made the pawn in a sexual power game. Tristan shows him how a pro handles a john while delivering the top-shelf sex for which the Market Garden is so rightly renowned.

My Review

“I’m curious to find out if everything I’ve heard about you through the grapevine is true.”

The Market Garden is a high-class club in London frequented by the wealthy and staffed by a stable of young men who are paid very well to please their clients and cater to their kinks.

Jared is a college student and new employee at Market Garden who’s very much attracted to the popular and in-demand Tristan, though he’s not really sure Tristan feels the same way.

An American with a pocket full of cash wants Jared and Tristan together. The negotiations between client and prostitutes were fun, erotic, and extremely torturous for Jared, who would do this even if there were no money involved. I very much enjoyed how all three men took things slowly, ramping up the tension, and going all out to please their client and each other.

Though this is a short story at just 36 pages, it is well crafted, extremely hot, and it is complete. But why stop here? You’ll want to find out if Jared and Tristan fall in love, get to know Nick and Spencer, and meet the Market Garden’s owner.

This is a wonderful start to a terrific series.

Thursday, February 22, 2018


Malice (The Faithful and the Fallen, #1)Malice by John Gwynne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Giants and men have battled one another throughout the history of the Banished Lands. The giants lost the great wars of the past yet some of their fortresses still stand and giants still hold them. Prophetic utterigs appear to be coming to fruition and High King Aquilus summons the Kings of the banished lands to forge an alliance to stand against the rising darkness. The prophecy states two will arise as champions of darkness and light, the Black Sun and the Bright Star. All will be forced to choose a side in the battle to come.

Malice was a solid story overall. No groundbreaking ideas are present so anyone looking for unparalleled originality should look elsewhere.

One thing above all else surprised me about Malice, I struggled to connect to the characters for the majority of the book. I usually can find someone to root for, but I didn't feel anything for the characters until I had some brief stirrings for Corban and Cywen around page 300. It wasn't until page 580 or so that my heart was pounding and I firmly felt engaged in any part of the story. Even then it was still largely only Corban and Cywen. The other point of view characters didn't elicit any feelings from me.

The story was long and felt long. Malice has a slow build up. I believe at least two years pass from the first to last chapter. A lot of the story was spent seeing the lives of the point of view characters Corban, Cywen, Veradis, and Kastell. The writing was fine, but I struggled to keep my interest especially early on. The last 40 pages or so were really interesting.

Malice was a solid start to the series and the ending left me somewhat curious as to what happens next. I may continue the series, but not right away.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018


March Violets (Bernie Gunther, #1)March Violets by Philip Kerr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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”Back in the bedroom, she was still standing there, waiting for me to come and help myself. Impatient of her, I snatched her knickers down, pulling her onto the bed, where I prised her sleek, tanned thighs apart like an excited scholar opening a priceless book. For quite a while I pored over the text, turning the pages with my fingers and feasting my eyes on what I had never dreamed of possessing.”

I have to appreciate the fact that Bernhard “Bernie” Gunther compares having sex with a beautiful woman with the same excitement that a scholar/book collector might feel with possessing a rare book.

I knew I was going to like this guy.

Bernie has been watching with bitter amusement as the powers that be are slowly sanitizing the city of, in particular, their malicious anti-semitism, in preparation for the 1936 Olympic Games. They do not want to offend all those people who will be coming to Berlin from all over the world to see Jesse Owens kick some Aryan ass.

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It is inconceivable that a black man can beat the best athletes of the master race. ”Watching the tall, graceful negro accelerate down the track, making a mockery of crackpot theories of Aryan superiority, I thought that Owens was nothing so much as a Man, for whom other men were simply a painful embarrassment. To run like that was the meaning of the earth, and if ever there was a master race it was certainly not going to exclude someone like Jesse Owens.”

The Nazis are even letting books that have been previously banned reappear in local bookshops. A woman even says to Bernie that he better run down and buy Alfred Doblin’s great novel Berlin Alexanderplatz and read it before it is banned once more.

My question is, if the Nazi Party truly believes that what they are doing and what they believe is correct, then why do they feel the need to hide their behavior from other people?

Bernie used to be a Bull for the police department, but has found that his personality is better suited to private investigation. He might still have to deal with hypocrisy, but he doesn’t have to work for hypocrisy. He takes a job working for the ultra wealthy Hermann Six, who wants him to recover a necklace that was stolen from his daughter’s house the night that she and her husband were murdered. Bernie also almost meets Six’s movie star wife, Ilse Rudel. ”I watched her walk towards the library door behind me. Frau Six---I couldn’t get over it---was tall and blonde and as healthy-looking as her husband’s swiss bank account. There was a sulkiness about her mouth, and my acquaintance with the science of physiognomy told me that she was used to having her own way: in cash.

Bernie about catches a chill as she walks by him. She’d eventually warms up.

The case takes Bernie places he never wanted to be, like in the middle of a power play between Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler. He also has the distinct displeasure of meeting Reinhard Heydrich. Truly, this is a trio of SOBs who, if there is such a place as hell, should be burning at the deepest, darkest, stankiest level of perpetual agony. ”I am Obergruppenfuhrer Heydrich,” which just about makes me toss my cookies.

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Reinhard “Psychopath” Heydrich

It is difficult living in a society in so much upheaval. People are disappearing, concentration camps are already being established, and no one knows what the code for living is anymore. It changes, and given time, everyone feels like eventually they will trip up and be punished for some infraction that they didn’t even know existed.

”You are Nothing, Your Nation is Everything.”

Just when you think that Bernie has taken all the thumps to the head, the body blows, and the mind twists of multilayered lies that he can take, he gets sent to Dachau by the Gestapo to extract information that is dire to key individuals important to the party. He finds it or he stays. Needless to say, he is incentivized. ”His luck hadn’t so much run out as jumped on a fucking motorcycle” and is heading for the horizon.

Philip Kerr manages, between all the hardboiled dialogue, to layer in a real sense of what is really going on and how everyone at every level of society is being affected by such a radical regime change. It is like a galloping horse that no one is strong enough to haul back on the reins and slow it down. It is truly a scary time for all German people, even those who feel like they are in the favored groups. For Jews, we all know what they go through; I just had no idea it was beginning this early. Some of the hardboiled dialogue is really good; some is ridiculous, and sometimes it is hilarious, as well. I’m definitely looking forward to the other two books in the Berlin Noir trilogy. I’m also looking forward to picking up Doblin’s book before it disappears from the stores again.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Fabius Bile: Primogenitor By: Joshua Reynolds

Fabius Bile: PrimogenitorFabius Bile: Primogenitor by Joshua Reynolds
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am still off on my Warhammer kick and I found this book. I have tended so far to find the chaos side of the Warhammer universe more interesting. Fabius Bile is a scientist, a total madman, for those who don't follow Warhammer, the simple version of him is imagine Dr. House from T.V. with no good redeeming qualities at all. He has a plan for the universe and his kind and honestly that's all he really gives a flip about.

But life and other factors come to call and he gets embroiled in a wild, bloody high speed affair that is a reallly fun read.) If you like military scifi, chances are you already know about these books, if NOT..check it out.

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Monday, February 19, 2018

Half the Fantasy, But Full of Enjoyment

Half a King (Shattered Sea, #1)Half a King by Joe Abercrombie
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm glad I finally got around to reading an Abercrombie, as well as this particular fun adventure placed in a brutal world, which I'd heard so much about!

In Half a King a young, but wise prince is placed into a surprising circumstance that immediately turns upon its head. He must "come of age" real goddamn quick. It's sink or swim, baby!

Half a King feels serviceable. The plot and characters march forward with an inevitable predictability. Our prince hero kid goes through the paces, learning from this person and that experience, and growing a bit through each phase of the book. Regardless of the predictable path, Abercrombie has still created some fun scenes filled with rollicking action, as well as a colorful character or two. And yes, twists and turns do eventually spark the story a bit by the end.

I don't know if you'd mark this down as a complaint, but this is listed as a fantasy book, and I wasn't really feeling the fantasy. Aside from mention of elf ruins, there is nothing fantastical about this. It's just humans doing medievally type things. Swords and kings and battles and ministers and such, but no magic or monsters whatsoever. That's sorta fine, because I don't really enjoy it when everyone's flying about blasting fireballs or whatever, but there seems like there should be some non-human stuff happening and/or at least something slightly unfamiliar herein.

All in all, this was a good read and I'll be looking for more of his books in the future.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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Hamish MacBeth: Deuce

Death of a Cad (Hamish Macbeth, #2)Death of a Cad by M.C. Beaton
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Okay, so that was a little better than the first book. Good enough for me to continue on with the series? Perhaps.

Small town constable, Hamish Macbeth solves another murder before the big boys at the bureau can suss it out. That seems to be an ongoing theme: seemingly slow-witted and ambition-free local bobby outdoes the top brass. A little bit unbelievable...except that I've worked under some really thick fuckers in my day, so yeah, I can suspend disbelief on this one for a bit longer.

The characterization is still ham-fisted though. Lots of upperclass twits in Death of a Cad, which revolves around a successful playwright and the murder of an annoying twat by one of the toffs staying at the local castle. There's just too many stereotypes prancing about saying ridiculous things for this to be taken seriously. And it's also not quite ridiculous enough to be considered a comedy.

The will-he-won't-he, will-she-won't-she play between Hamish and the castle debutant is not a romance I can pull for. I just don't care if they hook up. However, Hamish himself is a likable enough guy with a good set of morals and seems like the kind of blue-collar hero I could root for, so I'll likely give book three a try some one of these days.

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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Final Reconciliation

The Final ReconciliationThe Final Reconciliation by Todd Keisling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Metal band the Yellow Kings are on their first tour when they meet Camilla Bierce, the woman who will be their downfall...

I was tangentially aware of The King in Yellow for years after playing Call of Cthulhu: Horror Roleplaying and my interest was further piqued by True Detective. When I read the synopsis for this, I was all in.

Told by the lone survivor of the band thirty years in the future, The Final Reconciliation is the tale of the disintegration of a band as they record an album, both personally and mentally as the walls of reality thin and fray. I knew they were fucked when Camilla called Los Angeles Carcosa but the depth of the penetration was still pretty surprising.

As the dreams and visions of red-robed faceless things in an alien golden city become more and more intense, things go so far off track the rails are no longer visible.

The writing feels more like noir than horror, not a bad thing in my book. There's just enough foreshadowing in the narration to make you dread the ending that's barreling toward you. I had an idea about what Camilla's goal was fairly quickly but the ending was still a punch in the sternum.

I've read other mythos stories involving musicians, Bleeding Shadows and Crawlin' Chaos Blues springing to mind, but The Final Reconciliation is the best so far. Five out of five Yellow Signs.

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Blood From a Stoner

L.A. Witt
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


Greg Dawson’s not sure which he regrets more—becoming a vampire or becoming a software engineer. Immortality? Not all it’s cracked up to be. The job? Way more headache than it’s worth, especially on those increasingly frequent nights when he’s overworked and hangry. With a deadline looming and his hunger growing, he’s nearing the end of his tether. Then relief comes from an unexpected source—Zane Webber, the hot programmer Greg’s been fantasizing about for two years.

Disregarding company policy, Zane lets him feed, but kind of forgets to mention he’s got some weed in his system. The next thing Greg knows, he’s high as a kite… and he likes it. He wants more. Except how much of that high is secondhand weed, and how much is the electric and undeniable chemistry between him and Zane?

That chemistry draws them back to each other again and again, and suddenly their downtime is full of sex, smoke, feeding… and emotions. The only problem is that Zane’s a mortal. If they’re in this for the long haul, then Greg has to either turn Zane or accept a future of watching him wither and die. Greg doesn’t want to lose Zane, but he also can’t stomach condemning him to this “life.”

And if they can’t find some middle ground, they’ll have no choice but to let their love go up in smoke.

My Review

Everyone knows the pluses and minuses of vampire unlife. You can live forever if you’re careful to stay out of the sun. You never have to worry about the problems associated with aging. Your senses are sharper. On the downside, life can become very lonely when family members, friends and lovers die. The only thing vampires can feed on and digest is blood, so no going out with friends to try that new neighborhood bistro.

In Greg’s and Zane’s world, vampires live alongside humans, so they must do what society expects of them, like work and pay taxes. While companies are required to make reasonable provisions to accommodate vampire sleep patterns, they can certainly be exploited in other ways.

“Staring at the warm lights from distant offices, I wonder if the occupants are as frustrated as I am. If they’ve fed recently. If someone told their bosses that vampires only need to feed about once a week – even less if we get a nibble here or there – and if that made their companies decide they don’t actually need to take lunch every day. If I ever find out who told that to the powers that be at TekNorth, not to mention the legislators who exempted us from the mandatory break laws, they’re going to have a very disgruntled and hangry vampire on their hands.”

Greg Dawson is unhappy with the grueling hours and frenetic pace of his work as a software engineer. The one bright spot of his job is the programmer he’s been crushing on for two years.

Zane Webber has a thing for fangs. He also enjoys his weed. Even though marijuana is legal in Seattle and TekNorth turns a blind eye to its use as long as it doesn’t impact performance, feeding coworkers is against company policy. Nevertheless, Zane offers himself to a tired and hungry Greg.

This is a funny, sweet, and steamy story. I loved how Greg’s and Zane’s relationship progressed from feeding, getting high and sexy times to something much deeper. While the story was told from Greg’s perspective, the author did a great job conveying Zane’s emotions and feelings. I very much enjoyed their highs and lows.

A perfect story to cuddle up with on a cold winter night.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Book of Swords

The Book of SwordsThe Book of Swords by Gardner Dozois
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Book of Swords is a compilation of short stories. I list my reviews in the order I read them, not the order they appear in the book. These aren't reviews for all the short stories, but rather the ones I found interesting.

The Sons of the Dragon by George R.R. Martin

Aegon the Conqueror had two sisters who were also his wives. With each of his wives he had one son. His oldest son and heir Aenys was born to Rhaenys. His youngest son Maegor was born to Visenya. The Sons of the Dragon tell the history of the sons of Aegon the Conqueror.

George R.R. Martin is back with another fake history story. I have to admit I do find them interesting even though I'd rather he'd write another Dunk and Egg over the fake history if he's not ready to release another book in the main series. Aenys becomes King when his father dies, but he's no warrior or great decision maker. He fails to understand why everyone doesn't love him. Maegor on the other hand is a character whose name and reputation stand out to me from the main series. There are more than a few mentions of Maegor the Cruel and his well deserved nickname. For instance Maegor slaughtered the men who constructed the Red Keep in order that no one could reveal the keep's secrets. Maegor also hanged knights naked after they turned over their leader and opened the gates to him.

The Sons of the Dragon is another piece of Westerosi history for those interested in such things. It's quite comparable in quality to the stories in The World of Ice and Fire.

3.5 out of 5 stars

The Best Man Wins by K.J. Parker

A young man comes looking for a sword-smith and asks for the best sword ever made.

The Best Man Wins is my first time reading anything by K.J. Parker and all I can say is I don't want to judge an author on a short story. The story was entertaining enough, but it largely felt like a prologue to a larger tale. No names are shared until nearly the end of the story so the characters are simply the smith and the young man. The young man wants the best sword ever and stays to watch it being forged. The smith despite learning the young man was ignorant when it comes to swords, still does his best to create such a masterpiece. He does so largely for money, but also so his name can spread for creating such a sword. A mild twist caps the tale which ends in an average at best manner.

3 out of 5 stars

The Smoke of Gold is Glory by Scott Lynch

One night a year a former thief and current storyteller vows to tell the truth about his last quest. Climbing the mountain in the Dragon's Anvil in order to steal the dragon's treasure.

The Smoke of Gold is Glory is overall a straightforward treasure quest. Famous thief Tarkaster Crale has run out of luck. His reputation and unwillingness to work with the proper guilds has left him an outsider with an empty stomach along with empty pockets. He heads to Helfalkyn in desperate hope to do what's never been done, steal the dragon's treasure. He runs into some old friends and heads to the mountain.

I can't say I found any part of this tale particularly interesting. I have little appreciation for the classic quest tropes like this one. None of the characters particularly stood out either which didn't help anything. The ending was unexpected, but not particularly satisfying.

The Smoke of Gold is Glory isn't what I expected from Scott Lynch. I would have preferred a short story on Locke Lamora. It's been so long since Lynch has had a new story featuring him and Jean that reading a pale imitation in Crale was simply unsatisfying.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Her Father's Sword by Robin Hobb

Her Father's Sword is a familiar tale of a village that has just been Forged. It was raided during the Red Ship Wars. The story follows Taura, a young woman who saw her father taken by the raiders. The tale centers around her anger that her mother gave away her father's sword for shelter. The whole tale should be obvious for anyone who has read any of Fitz story. No one believes their loved ones would come back as selfish zombie like beings, until they see it.

3 out of 5 stars

The Hidden Girl by Ken Liu

A general's daughter helps a nun with a challenging problem. After completing the task, the nun steals the young woman and trains her to steal lives as an assassin.

The Hidden Girl was really enjoyable. This is only the second writing of Ken Liu's I've read and I feel like I should see what else he has published. I can't say I totally understand what I just read, but it's Buddhist origins provide some compelling storytelling and abilities that are quite different than what I'm used to reading.

4 out of 5 stars

Final thoughts

I have to admit I don't really enjoy anthologies that much and The Book of Swords is no exception. Each time I read an anthology it's for the exact same reason. The book has a story from an author I really like set in their popular world. In this book it was George R.R. Martin's The Sons of the Dragon. I read that first and then head back to the glossary to see if there are any other stories from authors I like. I read those stories next especially when they are set in a world I enjoy. After that I go to the beginning and read through the other stories. I've rarely ran into an anthology that I've known more than 7 authors of which I probably only like 3 of them.

Short stories are not, in my opinion, the best way to get interested in an author's work as their novels can vary considerably from their short stories. Short stories seem to be a good way for authors to dabble with genres that they usually don't write in, which is fine. My preferred short stories are in world novellas that tie into the world providing greater back story or history. That type of short story is generally what gets me to crack an anthology in the first place.

The Book of Swords, like every anthology I've ever read, was a mixed bag that had some interesting stories and many forgettable ones.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018


Babylon BerlinBabylon Berlin by Volker Kutscher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”When would they return? In the darkness even the smallest noise seemed infernal; the quietest of whispers grew to a roar. Silence itself became an interminable throb in the ears. He had to pull himself together, to ignore the dripping sound of his own blood as it hit the hard, damp floor.”

 photo Babylon20Berlin20Gereon20Rath_zps06vtqf96.jpg
Gereon Rath, played by Volker Bruch

Inspector Gereon Rath arrives in Berlin, to a city in turmoil. The underground fleshpots are catering to every bizarre whim or dark desire that a man or woman can envision. Booze is flowing through the tangled web of bars, in quantities large enough to fill the river Spree. The dancing in the nightclubs reflects the frantic and desperate nature of those trying to make a go of it in the German capital. The cabarets are soulful and sad and full of boys dressed as girls and girls dressed as boys.

That is the nightlife, but the daylight brings more tumultuous chaos. The workers are dissatisfied with low pay and terrible working conditions. They are filling the streets with their protests, and the socialists are taking full advantage of their discontent. In the background, the Nazis are gaining power behind the fiery speeches of this scrawny corporal who is still fuming over his inability to make a go of it as an artist. Failure has bred contempt in him for those he believes are responsible for the downfall of Germany. ”On the wall hung a framed photograph of that Hitler, a strange bird with a Charlie Chaplin moustache.” Yes, in 1929, he is still perceived for whom he really is by most reasonably intelligent people.

Gereon Rath has more than one moment when he wishes he could go back to Cologne, but he would only be stepping back into the fine mess he left there. He is assigned to vice in a city where the philosophy followed by most is anything goes. Hard to make headlines or influential friends by busting up the party. He catches a break of sorts when an unidentified, brutally tortured body of a dead Russian shows up in the middle of a case he is working. He is too ambitious to turn the case over to homicide.

 photo Babylon20Berlin20Svetlana_zpskorhak60.jpg
Lana Nikoros, AKA Countess Svetlana Sorokina

Little does he know that he is going to be thrust in the middle of a gangland style battle going on between two factions of Russians and their search for what is being called Sorokin’s gold. Not to mention he has to deal with a host of dirty cops, the Nazis, am organized crime boss called Dr. Marlow, and the Countess Svetlana Sorokina, AKA cabaret singer Lana Nikoros, who might be the most dangerous of the lot. Whether they are motivated by greed or a cause, they all want the gold. Rath is also introduced to a powdery substance that proves irresistible.

”He had reckoned with all sorts of possibilities: with seeing stars, a variety of colors, bright lights, but all he felt as he snorted the white powder was numbness. His whole nose was numb. He wouldn’t have noticed if someone cut it off, but when he felt the cocaine taking hold of his brain, all of a sudden he was wide awake. It is as if someone had turned the music up, and yet he could understand the numerous voices talking over one another considerably better than before. He felt himself positively oozing energy and lust for life.”

”If you want to hang out, you've gotta take her out, cocaine
If you want to get down, get down on the ground, cocaine
She don't lie, she don't lie, she don't lie,
If you got that lose, you want to kick them blues, cocaine
When your day is done, and you want to ride on cocaine
She don't lie, she don't lie, she don't lie,
If your day is gone, and you want to ride on, cocaine
Don't forget this fact, you can't get it back, cocaine
She don't lie, she don't lie, she don't lie,
She don't lie, she don't lie, she don't lie,

 photo Babylon20Berlin20Charlotte20Ritter_zps9zcofcl0.jpg
Charlotte Ritter

Rath falls in love/lust with the beautiful police stenographer Charlotte Ritter. Just as quickly as he finds love, he mucks it up by using her to further his career. (He also breaks the cardinal rule that one should never, ever shag the landlady.) Rath is a mess on about all levels, saved only by the fact that he is a pretty good detective. To make it in the city of vice, he will have to go beyond just bending the rules; he will have to break them over his knee.

A convoluted mystery, to say the least. Keeping track of all the various, suspected entities that go way beyond what I’ve mentioned in this review had me wondering at times if I was reading a Russian novel, but I did enjoy the flavor of 1929 in one of the most vice ridden cities in the world at the time.

Your pleasure is their pleasure to serve.

For those who have been watching or want to watch the Netflix series, the character of Charlotte (Charly) Ritter, portrayed in the series by Liv Lisa Fries, is a far cry from the woman depicted in the books. She is much more pedestrian in the books, but in the Netflix series she is frankly frilling awesome. Svetlana Sorokina, portrayed by Severija Janusauskaite, has a much bigger role on the screen than she had in the book. She is so manipulative, calculating, and as cold as a Siberian storm.

Basically, the writers of the TV series have taken the characters of the women from the book and expanded their roles. This takes the story from being a good story to being one of the more intriguing TV series I’ve seen in a long time. If I had not seen several episodes of the series before reading the book, I would have been happier with the book. Still, I’m on board to read more of the books and see how the characters develop as Volker Kutscher takes them through more sordid Berlin adventures.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Magnus the Red: Master of Prospero by:Graham McNeill

Magnus the Red: Master of ProsperoMagnus the Red: Master of Prospero by Graham McNeill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am a fan of Warhammer40k. In my view as a lifelong science fiction and fantasy fan, the Warhammer universe is basic goofy fun. What kid wouldn't love super soldiers, aliens and terrible danger wrapped in a big bow of explosions and bullets and swords?

I picked up reading The Primarch series on a whim and I needed a palete cleanser for my brain. I flew through this tale, enjoyed it and hit me.

My realization probably isn't a new one, but I will state it anyway. The Warhammer40k world bears a huge resemblance to mythology. The Primarchs, the emperor, all the players are just gods and demigods with all their flaws and massive power just making their way through the universe in a constant battle.

Yeah, you all knew bad. Magnus is a good read, very fast and if you are like me, a casual fan of the universe and love to see the backstory and history of characters, check it out. You will be happy.

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A few moments with Jeff Salyards

The Bloodsounder's Arc (your first trilogy) was amazing dark military fantasy; are you looking to return to that universe?  Or can we expect something new?
Thanks for the compliment; I’m really glad you enjoyed the series. I could see returning to that universe someday. I’m sure there is a lot left untapped, and I obviously left the door open at the conclusion of Chains of the Heretic. There are certainly other stories that could happen there, either with some of the existing characters, or wholly new ones. But in the meantime, you can expect something else. I worked on a novel the last couple of years that might end up getting picked up, or might end up in ashes in colossal dumpster fire. Since its future is totally uncertain (and if it does end up torched, I’m going to have some serious red-faced regrets about blabbering about it), I’ll tell you about a new project I’m embarking on instead. A beaten down snarky investigator, a soilipsistic priest, a sutler’s widow trying to keep the business afloat and her kids out of harm’s way (spoiler alert: she doesn’t); a dangerous, addictive, and crippling magic system run a Fume Lord (think mafia boss) in a bustling sooty city-state; some primitive firearms (hand cannons and matchlock arquebuses) but plenty of blunt and sharp instruments. It might be another trilogy or extended series, or possibly a series of connected but conclusive and self-contained novels—still not sure about that. But it is dark fantasy—I am sure about that part. It’s in the early stages—just working on worldbuilding, character sketches, developing the storylines—but I’m excited by the prospect. So it will be similar to Bloodsounder. Only, you know, different. (How’s that for a compelling elevator speech?).

As a book review site, we are always looking for new reads, what is currently in your to-be-read pile? What are you reading that is so good, you can't put it down?
 My to-be-read pile is monstrous. Mountainous. Though mountains don’t usually grow, so we’ll stick with monstrous. I want to check out Red Sister by Mark Lawrence, the new fantasy series by Myke Cole, been meaning to read City of Stairs, a bunch of Kameron Hurley books on the list. John Gwynne, N.K. Jemisin, Miles Cameron, Martha Wells, and on and on. And this is just in the science fiction/fantasy genre. So, basically, yeah, I need about ten more hours in the day. Or a clone giving me book reports. As for recommendations, I just finished Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan, which was great. I’ll definitely be reading the rest of that series. And I have a copy of Red Country by Joe Abercrombie in my backpack for a long flight coming up this weekend which I have every confidence I’ll love.

I am a huge gamer, are you a gamer?  If so, what are you currently enjoying?
 I used to game like a maniac in my wildly misspent youth. Bask in the day, I grew up on single player classics like Fallout, Baldur’s Gate, Diablo, etc. But these days, with overscheduled daughters, a relentless day job, and trying to get this writing gig off the ground, I sadly don’t have as many free hours as I used to. That said, I still managed to play a couple of games the last few years. I really enjoyed Pillars of Eternity—it was a beautiful homage to a lot of the old school CRPGs I loved and lost hundreds of hours in, but still offered some interesting twists and takes on the familiar tropes. A real hoot. I also got a big kick out of Divinity Original Sin 2, which again tugged on all the nostalgia strings while still offering some new wrinkles and enhancements.

What advice would you give young writers today?
 Write. A lot. Crazy amounts. Ditto on reading. There is no surer way to improve your craft than to sit your ass in the chair and do it over and over, and to check out what other writers are cranking out (not as a reader not for pleasure, but as a student trying to glean new techniques or solutions, as someone willing to analyze and reverse engineer your craft). Sure, it’s fun to talk about writing, think about writing, to go down the Reddit rabbit hole or endless argue on forums, to sit in a coffee shop brainstorming wild new worlds and dreaming up fantastic horizons. But words don’t write themselves—you have to invest, really throw yourself into it, and not let yourself off the hook to do a million other things instead. So that’s the first thing: create some raw material. Get the words down. And allow yourself permission to suck, because unless you’re the rarest of the rare, that first draft is going to have tons of suckage. Then when you have the raw material, you have to be critical, sometimes vicious with it. Maybe get some solid beta readers to give you a fresh perspective, or join a writer’s workshop or take some classes, if for no other reason than to develop some thick skin and refine your own antennae about what works or doesn’t work on the page/screen. But however you get there, you have to be willing and able to take a ruthless look at what you have, identify those things that don’t work, maybe cry a little, and then kill your darlings and make the manuscript better. And better. And still better. Revision is what separates a great book, even a moderately good book, from all the other crap out there. You’re going to need to roll those sleeves up and be prepared to get filthy, no matter how long it takes or what the scope. Maybe it means gutting entire chapters or sections, or maneuvering them around a lot to reshape the contours of the story, the flow. Maybe it means adding a lot more detail to flesh something out or ground the reader properly. That’s the big stuff, but you have to sweat the small stuff, too—the line editing, the language parsing, the consideration of a thousand choices for a given sentence or scene and the recognition that different choices could well improve the quality or strength of the text. Basically, be prepared to work your tail off, and don’t be too precious with your material. (Note: I often fail doing one or both of these.)

What inspired your books in the Bloodsounder's arc?
 I read Froissart’s Chronicles a hundred years ago, about a chronicler accompanying a military company in the Hundred Year’s War. And I thought, what would happen if a chronicler wasn’t a respected member of the party, had no idea what the real agenda or stakes involved were, and still went along for the ride. I liked the idea of a callow, painfully curious, and sometimes totally incompetent scribe trying to figure out what the hell was going on without getting himself or anyone else killed in the process. So that was the initial inspiration, born of the tried and true tradition of the “What if. . . ?” game. Thanks for inviting me to do the interview!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Marple in the Mirror

They Do It with Mirrors (Miss Marple, #6)They Do It with Mirrors by Agatha Christie
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a very strong 3 stars as I quite enjoyed this Agatha Christie quickie!

Having said that, They Do It with Mirrors reads like a Christie-by-numbers novel, written by rote like a facsimile of previous work with just a few of the words rearranged. The characters, the setting, the plot and the outcome, it's all been done before.

I haven't read too many Miss Marple's. The old dear and the settings/situations she's placed in are quite quaint and not entirely my cup of tea. Having said that, I wouldn't say no to further Miss Marples. Reading this series is like spending time with a clever granny, and who doesn't need some of that in their lives?!

They Do It with Mirros may not be one of Christie's absolute best, but it works and should satisfy most mystery readers.

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Trusting Toni

HomeHome by Toni Morrison
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I need a dose of lyrical prose to just wash over me, I know I can turn to Toni Morrison.

Morrison always delivers something beautifully rendered, even if heart-rending, such as a Korean War vet whose having a damn hard time finding his way home.

Home jumps about from place to place, person to person. Home is, as they say, where the heart is, and Home is full of heart, albeit an often sad heart.

Do not come to this book expecting a linear story following a single character with a sole purpose. This novel gathers up various and variant pieces of people and constructs their parts in ways that get to the heart of their deepest matter. Some may find this style confusing. Fans of William Faulkner will find it familiar. But damn near everyone should give this book at least a moment of their time.

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Sunday, February 11, 2018

Whispers from the Abyss

Whispers from the AbyssWhispers from the Abyss by Kat Rocha
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whispers from the Abyss is a collection of 33 tales inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

When Kat Rocha hit me up on twitter about Whispers of the Abyss 2, I checked out the lineup and plunked down my money, receiving this one as well in the bargain.

It seems everyone and their Deep One cousin puts out a Lovecraftian anthology these days. The thing that separates Whispers from the Abyss from the squamous pack is that the tales are pretty short, 2-10 pages, designed to be swallowed whole in a single sitting.

The subject matter and tone of the works are all over the spectrum, from dryly hilarious to chilling. Some of the stories were a little too short and needed a little more room to breath but I knew that going in. The presentation was top notch.

Like all anthologies, the stories vary in quality. A couple didn't do much for me but the collection as a whole was above average. Standouts include Fear and Loathing in Innsmouth, My Friend Fishfinger by Daisy, Age 7, The Substance in the Sound, and The Decorative Water Feature of Nameless Dread. Fear and Loathing in Innsmouth was by far my favorite tale of the collection. Much in the same vein as The Damned Highway, Dr. Gonzo heads to Innsmouth, looking for hints of Richard Nixon's corruption.

For today's reader on the go, Whispers from the Abyss is a great collection of scaly, tentacled horror. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, February 9, 2018


Joseph Hansen
University of Wisconsin Press
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


Fadeout is the first of Joseph Hansen's twelve classic mysteries featuring rugged Dave Brandstetter, an insurance investigator who is contentedly gay. When entertainer Fox Olson's car plunges off a bridge in a storm, a death claim is filed, but where is Olson's body? As Brandstetter questions family, fans, and detractors, he grows certain Olson is still alive and that Dave must find him before the would-be killer does. Suspenseful and wry, shrewd and deeply felt, Fadeout remains as fresh today as when it startled readers more than thirty years ago.

My Review

“Do you know these lines, Madge? The weight of the world is love. Under the burden of solitude, under the burden of dissatisfaction, the weight, the weight we carry is love…”

It was a real pleasure getting to know Dave Brandstetter. Though this series has been on my radar for a while, knowing this first book was published in 1970 put me off reading. Many of the stories I’ve read from the 70’s and 80’s featuring gay characters have ended tragically or portrayed their lives unfairly.

Dave Brandstetter is an insurance investigator working for his father’s company and investigating the death of entertainer Fox Olson. He’s also grieving the loss of his longtime partner, Rod, who died of cancer.

As the case unfolds, we also get a glimpse of Dave’s life with Rod, his relationship with his father, and his dedication to his job as he attempts to solve a complicated case. Unfortunately, an insurance claim cannot be paid out until a body is found. As Dave spends time interviewing the Olson family members and gathering evidence, he comes to the conclusion that Fox is still alive.

Joseph Hansen’s writing is terse and to the point. Though it’s not a style that will appeal to every reader, it works well with this story, giving it a realistic and unsentimental feel. The short sentences helped move the story along at a brisk pace, yet there was enough substance to make me feel very deeply for the characters. There is an undercurrent of sadness throughout that didn’t move me to tears, but left me with a very heavy, depressed feeling.

“It was only remembering the good times that kept you from taking the knife from the kitchen drawer and, holding it so, tightly in your fist, on the bed, naked to no purpose except that that was how you came into the world and how your best moments in the world had been spent – holding it so, roll onto the blade, slowly, so that it slid like love between your ribs and into that stupidly pumping muscle in your chest that kept you regretting.”

Dave Brandstetter is a wonderfully refreshing character. I very much look forward to accompanying him on new cases and hope he finds love again.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Hath No Fury

Hath No FuryHath No Fury by Melanie R. Meadors
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Heaven has no rage, like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury, like a woman scorned.

The quote above is from The Mourning Bride by William Congreve and it's the origin of the quote everyone is familiar with, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." The quote from Congreve has been misunderstood and changed. In a similar way the importance of women has been misunderstood and changed over the years. It's laughable for many people living now to believe that women are simply good for cleaning, sex, and having/taking care of children, but not long ago that was the thinking. Hath No Fury seeks to put ridiculous stereotypes about women to bed by showing all types of heroines. Not all are warriors, but all fight for what's important.

The reviews below aren't for all the short stories, but rather some of the ones that caught my attention.

The Scion by S.R. Cambridge

Chemical weaponry changed the world forever. Their use killed most infected by them, but those who lived were different. They believed they were special and chosen by God so others nicknamed them the faithful. Some settlements survived and fought off the faithful yet the war seemed never ending. Nika Zawisza is a ranger for one of those settlements. Her prospects for a long life are bleak especially when her family motto is, "the women in our family die young." Nika and her sister Kaja are sent to discover what happened to the power station that supplies their home.

The Scion isn't terribly original yet it scores some points on an emotional level. The story is filled with the common apocalyptic future tropes such as war that broke the world as we know it, survivors who aren't truly human anymore, and frightening changes to the remainder of society. The biggest one that caught my attention was the way the people made sure their babies didn't "turn out funny." Men are sent from different settlements to impregnate the women who wish it. It literally sounded as though women lined for these out of town men to attempt to impregnate them.

The strength of the story comes in the relationship between the Zawiska women particularly Nika and Kaja. Nika is the point of view character and she recounts the women in her family that she knew including her mother and aunts. It seems they all die young. Kaja seems to be the exception because rather than being a fierce warrior she's scholarly. She didn't become a ranger like the women in her family, she apprenticed with the settlements biochemist unfortunately Kaja was still known as "Kaja, who hasn't a use." The sisters time together just felt realistic and somewhat touching.

The Scion was a good short story that feels like an excerpt of something bigger.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Casting On by Philippa Ballantine

A group of women in a war torn land sneak away to an abandoned library to sow. One day these women unexpectedly find a wounded man who was barely alive. The only problem is that he's an enemy solider. These women having lost husbands, sons, fathers, and brothers to the war effort decide to help him anyway.

Casting On was a touching story on the strength and resolve of women. These ladies could have reported the soldier or simply pretended not to see him yet they all decided as a group to fix something rather than helping others destroy. Such resolve was impressive and it felt realistic overall. My only complaint is that the story feels like the beginning of a much larger and more engaging tale, yet it ends before it can get to that point.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Burning by Elaine Cunnigham

Burning is a hard story to give a synopsis for as I'm not entirely sure what all just happened. From what I can tell the world in which burning exists has magic. The most notable magic is telepathy and dragons. Some of the telepaths reach a higher rank which earns them the title of Torch. Torches have the power to control dragons with their minds. This story is about Rue, a powerful telepath who has recently been bestowed the title Torch.

3 out of 5 stars

A Dance With Death by Marc Turner

Jenna is an assassin and it seems someone wants to kill her. Considering her line of work, she probably deserves it.

A Dance With Death reads as though it's literally the beginning of a larger book. Just as things begin to get really interesting it's over. This story is the book equivalent of telling someone how hungry you are and them giving you a single cracker.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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

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City of Light

City of Light (Traveler's Gate, #3)City of Light by Will Wight
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Incarnations are all loose as the Hanging Trees have been destroyed. Alin is transforming Enosh into a version of Elysia as the madness of Incarnation overtakes him. Leah, Simon, and Indirial hunt down Incarnations until the Incarnations mysteriously go missing.

City of Light was a fitting conclusion to the Traveler's Gate trilogy. The conclusion has many reveals including the beginning of the Hanging Tree process. The book also had some heart wrenching moments that I didn't really think it was capable of providing. Valinhall's Travelers find themselves on the front line assisting Leah in ending the Incarnation threat. They also played heavily into the story in more than a few unexpected ways which is always a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

Valinhall's Travelers and territory made the series for me. Simon, Indirial, Kai, and the Eldest all were incredibly interesting characters. At the end my favorite character was Simon. Simon's growth from House of Blades to City of Light was immense. Simon hardly resembles the scared boy caring for his mentally broke mother by the end. For a boy whose only desire was to be able to save a friend and fight Travelers, Simon achieved far more than he initially set out to achieve. It makes me smile thinking about it.

Unfortunately I have to say the other two key characters Leah and Alin never quite came to life for me. Leah was slightly interesting in City of Light which is an improvement over the last two books where I had no real interest in her. Alin was more interesting in this book than the prior two because his Incarnation created complexity in a vain generally unlikable character. His madness forced him to listen to the various color's thoughts which truly were far more interesting than Alin.

City of Light was a good conclusion to an enjoyable series.

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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man by Siegfried Sassoon

Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting ManMemoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man by Siegfried Sassoon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”My memory of that summer returns like a bee that comes buzzing into a quiet room where the curtains are drawn on a blazing hot afternoon.”

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Siegfried Sassoon by Glyn Warren Philpot

The poet Siegfried Sassoon made the decision to write his memoirs as fiction, but as I read this book, it became readily apparent that whatever was fictionalized was a marginal part compared to the pages devoted to preserving his memories of England before the hell of world war changed things forever.

George Sherston, AKA Siegfried Sassoon, is a young man of modest means. His family left him a small legacy that allows him to drift through life without working for a living. His Aunt Evelyn susses him up properly:

”’George is a boy who ought not to be interfered with too much,’ she would say. And I agreed with her opinion unreservedly.”

If truth be known, more than fame or money or prestige, I most crave to not ”be interfered with too much.” I’ve thought about trying to put my personal desire into words for many years, but until I read those words by Sassoon, I’d never really found the proper ones before.

The first two thirds of this book is devoted to fox-hunting, horse racing, cricket matches, reading, gazing longingly at young men he admired, and enjoying what would turn out to be the last few years of a naivety that England would never be able to reclaim. These memories of halcyon days sustain Sassoon as he fights the mud, the Germans, and the creeping fear of insanity. There has to be a thought, a niggling belief, that if he survives the war that he can return to those days when his most pressing concern was the color of his hunting jacket or the fit of a new pair of boots.

There are reviewers/readers who find this section of the book tedious because they are unable to associate themselves with fox-hunting or cricket or a seemingly aimless life, but knowing what awaits Sassoon over the very next horizon certainly gives me perspective on why he wants to capture his memories of this time in print. It establishes not only what he loses, but similar stories can be told of many of the officers summoned to fight in the war that was supposed to end all wars.

His sensitivity, that would later plague him in war but make him an excellent poet, is also apparent by an utterance that he makes during his first fox hunt. ””Don’t do that; they’ll catch him!’ I exclaimed.” He is referring to the fox and to someone about to alert the other riders and dogs to the proper direction taken by the fox. Of course, this statement is baffling to the rest of the field. Sherston is not there to catch the fox. He is there to enjoy the ride, the jumping of fences, and the comradery of men intent on the same purpose.

Sassoon/Sherston is just beginning to get a glimmering of what he wants to do with the rest of his life. It will all be compressed very shortly when he finds himself among the bombs, blood, and horror of war. When you believe you will die at any moment, long term life goals become irrelevant, even painful to contemplate.

Of course, when war breaks out, George Sherston does his duty, as do most young men of English descent. He volunteers. Given his level of education and pedigree, he begins life in the military as a second lieutenant. He lands a cushy job directing matters of transportation that keeps him out of the trenches. Messages start coming in of friends who have been killed, but these are abstract thoughts, like hearing about a natural disaster that happened two thousand miles away.

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Siegfried Sassoon

This changes with the death of his friend Dick Tiltwood, who is based on Sassoon’s friend David Cuthbert Thomas. Sassoon never gets over this death. It is the one that disperses all the illusions of detachment. ”A sack was lowered into a hole in the ground. The sack was Dick. I knew Death then.”

The war is a shock for men on many levels. Discovering that you are expendable. That you are just a faceless number, a cog in a wheel of a grinding machine. You might be the apple in the eye of your family, but in the military, you are a sacrifice to send into No Man’s Land, into the teeth of machine gun fire. The way men are recklessly expended in World War One is frankly criminal. War crime trials should be held for the victors as well as the losers.

I’m going to continue on with book two in the trilogy, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer. The writing is mostly rather light for Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man. I have a feeling the tone will change for the second book. Hopefully, the Whizz-Bangs will fly high and wide.

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Monday, February 5, 2018

Scottish Mystery

Death of a Gossip (Hamish Macbeth, #1)Death of a Gossip by M.C. Beaton
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Question for Beaton/Hamish Macbeth fans: Are they all like this?

I like a good murder mystery/detective story, and with the Hamish Macbeth series at 32 books and still going strong, I thought this might be my next favorite series to launch myself into. So I started at the beginning and gave Death of a Gossip a go.

This book is a jack of all trades and a master of none. It's a little bit romance, a little bit mystery, and a little bit comedy. It does all of them adequately to erratically, and never does it wow on any level. The romance is trite, the mystery is all right, and the comedy oh so light.

Some of the characters are only just sketched out and some come off like stereotyped caricatures. It seemed like Beaton was still feeling her way around the town constable and central figure of Macbeth. I'm guessing (hoping) that with such a long series, Macbeth eventually gets fully fleshed out.

I'm not a big romance fan to begin with, so take this review with a grain of salt. I love Austen's stuff, but I really dislike modern romances. A rom-com I can manage now and then, if the com is particularly strong. Unfortunately the com was almost nonexistent in Death of a Gossip. Irregardless, I vowed to give it the ol' college try and I've already started on book two!

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Getting to Know Hinduism

Great World Religions: HinduismGreat World Religions: Hinduism by Mark W. Muesse
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These Great Courses are great! If you're not hearing Tony the Tiger in that line, I don't even know how to talk to you.

Seriously though, I'm really enjoying them. When I first discovered them I thought they were on par with those Learning Annex "courses", which do not have a good reputation. However, Great Courses puts together very solid lectures from highly qualified teachers. The dude who did this one, Mark W. Muesse is a Harvard-educated professor.

This lecture is an overview of Hinduism, and I mean overview literally. This is a quick, entry-level course that touches upon the basics: the important philosophies and beliefs, the major gods, etc. That's fine, because it's exactly what I was looking for. Since I'm a Hindu noob, anything deeper would've been right over my head.

Muesse is a good speaker, who clearly conveys his thoughts. Even so, I still felt slightly confused by concepts like the Vata. This is where the value of an intro course like this ends. You get a mere taste of a belief system, not the intricacies. Also, the history and world impact of Hinduism was brief. Little more than Gandhi's movement was touched upon. Again, further research will be necessary, however, this is a solid first step introduction and I highly recommend it for the beginner.

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Sunday, February 4, 2018

Heroes of Red Hook

Heroes of Red HookHeroes of Red Hook by Brian M. Sammons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Heroes of Red Hook is a collection of Lovecraftian tales starring men and women of color, LGBT people, and other people spurned by society in the 1920's.

I contributed to the Kickstarter for this so it was high time I read it. Heroes of Red Hook contains eighteen tales, ranging from average to exceptional. Unlike a lot of collections of this type, I didn't consider a single one to be a dud.

It started a little rocky, though. Out of the first four, only two contained elements of cosmic horror. However, things soon kicked into high gear.

The tales featured a wide range of Lovecraftian elements, though Shub Niggurath, Dark Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young, made more than its fair share of appearances. Quite a few of the tales feature characters that welcome revisiting.

Standouts of the collection include Beyond the Black Arcade by Edward Erdelac, The Backwards Man by Tim Waggoner, Hungry Ghosts by Cody Goodfellow, and Men and Women by Oscar Rios.

Heroes of Red Hook is a very well produced anthology of Lovecraftian tales, in content, theme, and presentation. If you're looking for a compelling anthology of cosmic horror, this one shouldn't be missed. Four out of five stars.

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