Thursday, May 31, 2018

Book Expo Report - From the Front Lines

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

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

However several observations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Blacksmith's Son

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, May 30, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, May 28, 2018

Epic Or Bloated Period Piece?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Haley's Jack London

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, May 27, 2018

Savage Jungle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, May 25, 2018

Edward Hopper: Painter of Light and Shadow

Susan Goldman Rubin
Harry N. Abrams (Publisher)
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


This captivating biography of the celebrated American painter Edward Hopper follows his youth, includes information on his education, and chronicles his journeys to Paris and his settling down in Greenwich Village to pursue his artwork. The book documents his career as a commercial artist (how he first earned a living) as well as his eventual success as a great American painter. Among the artwork included are NIGHTHAWKS, CAPE COD EVENING, and HOUSE BY THE RAILROAD. A comparison is made to other artists of the period such as O'Keeffe, Pollock, and Marin to round out this unique offering.

My Review

“If you could say it in words, there’d be no reason to paint.”
― Edward Hopper

When I requested this from the library, I was expecting an oversized coffee-table art book, not a 48-page book written for young readers.

I dove in anyway, and found out that good writing is good writing, whether it is for children or adults.

Even though I probably wouldn’t hang Edward Hopper’s paintings in my living room, they are deeply affecting. I love them for their realism, the vivid and unsentimental portrayals of American urban and rural life, and characters that are so serious, gloomy and reflective that I’d like to reach into the painting and learn what they are thinking.

This book features Hopper’s early paintings and portraits, his etchings, and the later work that finally gained him real recognition, when he was in his 40’s. In between the pictures and photos, the reader learns about the artist’s life – his family, friendships, his struggles and success.

A quick and enjoyable read.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Kings of the Wyld

Kings of the Wyld (The Band #1)Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Saga is viewed as very best band of mercenaries ever, but that was many years ago. Since then the band broke up and it's members went their separate ways. After many years past, Clay Cooper finds one of his old bandmates at his door. Gabriel arrived with the hopes that the band can get back together to save his daughter Rose who is trapped in a siege by the monstrous Heartwyld Horde. The Horde is an army of over one hundred thousand monsters. Clay declines until his own daughter's word's sway him to help. Clay and Gabe set out to get the band back together and save Rose.

Kings of the Wyld was a really good book. Even though it's really good, I found myself being underwhelmed early on. Throughout the book there are numerous metaphors between the kind of band Clay's part of and a normal band. Gabriel for example is the front man, the band go on tour, and the bands even have bookers that find them gigs. Early on in the story that bothered me, but I moved past it to really enjoy the story.

The book has excels in two ways. First it has awesome characters. The reunited Saga are an excellent group that the story revolves around. Clay Cooper despite being a mercenary is considered a good guy who's liked by all. Gabe is the visionary and the wounded heart that's willing to die saving his daughter. Moog is a total goof yet comes up with excellent albeit risky plans. Matrick is simultaneously incredibly responsible and yet a total mess. Finally, Ganelon is a killers killer, but still there for his friends. Their camaraderie and lengths they are willing to go for one another is what makes the book good.

The world building is the second way the story excels. The author crafted an immense world, with detailed creatures, unique problems, and more to explore than anyone could in a single book. As the story ended I was curious to keep exploring the world and it's inhabitants which means great world building to me.

Kings of the Wyld is a book that undoubtedly deserves it's hype.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018


WarlightWarlight by Michael Ondaatje
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Mahler put the word schwer beside certain passages in his musical scores. Meaning ‘difficult.’ ‘Heavy.’ We were told this at some point by The Moth, as if it was a warning. He said we needed to prepare for such moments in order to deal with them efficiently, in case we suddenly had to take control of our wits. Those times exist for all of us, he kept saying. Just as no score relies on only one pitch or level of effort from musicians in the orchestra. Sometimes it relies on silence. It was a strange warning to be given, to accept that nothing was safe anymore. ‘Schwer,’  he’d say, with his fingers gesturing the inverted commas, and we’d mouth the word and then the translation, or simply nod in weary recognition. My sister and I got used to parroting the word back to each other—“schwer.”

Nothing is safe, and no one can be trusted.

The war is over, but not for everyone. Those who had been working in the shadows during WW2 are now being asked to transition to a new war that would eventually be referred to as The Cold War. Some, like Rachel and Nathaniel’s mother and father, want to walk away from their clandestine work, but with the powerful enemies they have made, that is proving impossible. They either know too much or they have thwarted too many insidious plans.

Of course, we can only speculate because Rose Williams does not talk about her life during the war. To her children, her life is an enigma that can only be unraveled with truth serum. She is not an ideal mother. She is distant when they want her to be warm. She gives cryptic advice when they need her reassurances.

Rose admits: ”My sins are various,” which is still an obscuring statement, but about as close to a personal admission as Nathaniel will ever get from her.

And then their father and mother disappear.

Rachel has just turned 16, and Nathaniel is 14. They are left in the hands of a man they call The Moth and another more dynamic personality called The Darter. The family makes a habit of assigning people nicknames; Rachel is Wren, and Nathaniel is Stitch. We can call them nicknames, but knowing the background of their parents, we can’t help but think of them as codenames. Names to call someone that won’t reveal them for who they really are.

The Moth and The Darter are an odd pairing, but then these are unusual circumstances that require people who can protect them rather than be the surrogate parents they wish for. The interesting friends and associates, especially of Darter, who Stitch and Wren come into contact with provide a view of alternative lifestyles that are sometimes disconcerting, but whether they know it or not, those brief contacts with those people are expanding their definitions of what a normal life looks like. The contact is brief indeed. Just when they start to know someone, they disappear, never to be seen again, which each time is like losing their parents all over again.

One woman, in particular, proves memorable, especially for Stitch. She is Olive Lawrence, an ethnographer with way too much class to be the girlfriend of a barge rat like The Darter, but there is something about him that fascinates her. ”There was something in these professional women that suggested it was not a case of The Darter’s selecting them but of the women’s choosing him; as if Olive Lawrence, a specialist in distant cultures, had stumbled suddenly on a man who reminded her of an almost extinct medieval species, a person still unaware of any of the principal courtesies introduced in the past hundred years.”

School becomes a secondary concern for Stitch as he starts to help The Darter with his rather clandestine midnight activities. He might be ferrying greyhounds from other countries to be used in one of the numerous illegal betting tracks, or it might be something much more dangerous. Stitch is a natural at covert activities.

(view spoiler)

Later after college, he is recruited by some branch of British Intelligence, and he uses that time and the things he learned from The Darter to “liberate” files from certain locked cabinets to learn more about his parents, especially his mom. His mother remains a nebulous creature, impossible to hold, impossible to know. He is lost in ”the maze of his mother’s life.”

Will he ever know the truth?

I’ve noticed some readers have thought this tale meanders or that the circumstances are implausible, but I must say that, for me, the meandering makes it feel more like real life (life is rarely linear), and whatever might have been thought of as implausible is actually very plausible for me. I read a lot of history, and it is rife with so many events that defy believability that I must contend that anything that anyone can think of has been done by someone somewhere. The circumstances of this novel do not come even close to stretching the imagination. I don’t even like the word implausible. It is a word of limitation that closes the mind. Nothing in my world is implausible, not even that gray area between fiction and reality.

This was a wonderful, evocative reading experience that certainly is still haunting this reader. It reminded me that there are so many unknown heroes, not just from our wars but also from the nebulous times in between conflicts, when wars are extinguished before they start, when our secrets are kept safe, and when lives are snuffed in the shadows.

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Monday, May 21, 2018

Fantasy-based Choose Your Own Adventure

Keep of the Ancient King (Fantasy Forest, #4)Keep of the Ancient King by Mike Carr
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I went home for a visit and to my surprise I found a Fantasy Forest book! I don't know what the hell it was doing in the back of a closest at my mom's house. It wasn't one of mine from when I was a kid and I don't remember my brother getting into these. Oh well! Don't look a mysterious gift horse in the mouth!

Fantasy Forest was a made-for-children offshoot of the Endless Quest books, which were the Dungeons & Dragons version of the Choose Your Own Adventure books. Did you get that? To put it plain, Fantasy Forest books were fantasy-genre CYOAs for youngsters. Probably 8 to 10 would be a good age.

The Keep of the Ancient King doesn't have too many kings, but there is a prince, as well as a few trolls, minotaurs, dwarves and assorted baddies. In this light fantasy, some evil dudes have taken over an old keep and the Good Knight and his cohorts enlist the services of an innkeeper's dainty daughter to fight that evil. In this CYOA you are that girl. And might I add, you make a lovely little girl!

Since this is written for kids the adventure moves quickly along and the text does not go deep into characterization or scene description. That's fine and I probably would've been a-okay with the writing had I read this back in the day at an appropriate age. So yeah, ignore my three stars. I just picked a rating to pick a rating. This could've been anything. And it probably will be rated anything by anybody with widely varying appeal depending on the reader's age and gender, and their level of love for horsies. That last part is really important in Keep of the Ancient King.

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A Story of the Korea War

Give Me Tomorrow: The Korean War's Greatest Untold StoryGive Me Tomorrow: The Korean War's Greatest Untold Story by Patrick K. O'Donnell
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My grandfather fought in the Korean War. I can't really talk to him about it. Couple that with my impression that he's also not going to be with us much longer, so a natural and deep desire has brewed within me to know something of what he went through. This leads me to a book like Give Me Tomorrow: The Korean War's Greatest Untold Story by Patrick K. O'Donnell.

I know so very little about this war. The reasons for the conflict, the region, the location of individual battles, etc etc, it's all new to me. My ignorance hindered my enjoyment of this book. It made following the story difficult because I was trying to envision where it all took place, and while O'Donnell did a decent job describing terrain and conditions, I still felt lost.

That didn't deter from my appreciation of the story told and of the sacrifice made by the soldiers of George Company, the featured unit of the book. What they did during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir was incredible. Absolutely unbelievable. I highly recommend Give Me Tomorrow. It gave me a footing from which I will continue my education into a largely forgotten conflict.

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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Forest of Shadows

Forest of ShadowsForest of Shadows by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Five years after his wife dies unexpectedly, John Backman takes his daughter, sister-in-law, and her son to Alaska to investigate a haunting. But the worst enemy of all may be the xenophobia of the townsfolk of Shida. No, I lied. It's the dark forces that threaten to consume whomever lives in the house...

In Forest of Shadows, Hunter Shea takes an unconventional, unsuspecting family to Alaska and exposes them to some staples of horror fiction, namely ghosts and a haunted house.

I've said before that one of Hunter Shea's strengths is his knack for creating likable characters. This is very true in Forest of Shadows since I loved John Backman and his family. His daughter Jessica was a believable kid who just wanted to be close to her father. Sister-in-law Eve let her own marriage fall apart to take care of her dead sister's family. Liam's a toddler and kind of a non-factor. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I quickly got attached to John and his family. Unlike a lot of horror or thriller novels with their forced hookups, I really wanted John and Eve to get together. Why you gotta be such a tease, Hunter Shea?

While I've never been to Alaska, Hunter Shea painted a vivid picture of the life of an outsider in a small town, both from the points of view of the Backman family and the local characters, like Judas and Muraco.

The haunting was a many layered thing, not just ghosts wanting people out of their house. It had some creepy moments but shit really got real near the end. I did not see the ending coming and it was one of those punches in the gut that knocks the wind out of you and folds you in half.

Forest of Shadows is a creepy good time. Hunter Shea does it again. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Bright City Lights

Declan Sands
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars


Sometimes it's harder to be together than it is to be apart.

Rabb is an alpha shifter, a werewolf, who likes to defy both the odds and authority. He prefers the city lights over the open spaces most shifters enjoy.

Brant is a politician with a secret that's becoming harder and harder to contain. As mayor of Bright City, he's determined to keep the city free of shifters to protect his secret.

The two men share a fair amount of distrust, along with a smoldering history that threatens to drag them under again. But when shifters begin to die in Bright City, Rabb and Brant need to find a way to work together again. Especially when one of them inadvertently steps right into the murderer's deadly path.

My Review

Rabb Miller is an alpha wolf-shifter who prefers city life to the quiet, nomadic existence preferred by other shifters. As mayor of Bright City, Brant South’s strict “no shifter” policy comes into conflict with Rabb’s desire to operate his legally obtained shifter bar. Early on, two of Rabb’s people are brutally murdered, and Rabb thinks Brant has something to do with it.

I loved the smoldering chemistry between the two men and the trust that gradually develops while they are working together to solve the murders of shifters. Their history and Brant’s secret created a lot of tension and conflict. A well-rounded cast of intriguing secondary characters adds depth and brings life to this story. The mystery was satisfying, and the story was well written and cleanly edited.

So why only 3 stars?

Immediately after reading this, I caught a bad cold and was sick for nearly a week. When I attempted to write this review after I felt better, I had to revisit many parts of the story to refresh my memory.

Though this story was fun and highly entertaining, there wasn’t a lot here that felt fresh or innovative. While I was satisfied with the character development, the setting felt a little insubstantial. I would have liked to know more about Bright City, and how shifters, vampires and humans came to inhabit it and how they handle the problems of discrimination and prejudice. At times, the story felt cluttered, making it feel more like the beginning of a novel rather than a short story. At other times, I felt there was so much more that could be explored.

Despite its flaws, this was an enjoyable story that was difficult to put down. I’m looking forward to revisiting these characters.

Thursday, May 17, 2018


RedshirtsRedshirts by John Scalzi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Universal Union's flagship the Intrepid is a deadly place to be. Every time they go on an away mission someone dies. The captain, chief science officer, and Lieutenant Kerensky always manage to survive though. Ensign Andrew Dahl, who just joined the Intrepid, has learned about the away mission mortality rate up close and personal. He's watched other members of the Intrepid avoid away missions as though their life depended on it. Dahl is sure something is wrong and he intends to find out what that is and how to stop it.

Redshirts is a thinly veiled parody of the original Star Trek series. The story gives voice to the plight of those nameless redshirts who were slaughtered on seemingly every away mission. Unfortunately that premise is the best part of Redshirts.

After the deadly away missions have been established, the story seems to run out of ideas quickly. There is little in terms of descriptions and the story is heavy in dialogue. I felt like Scalzi wanted to beat me to death with the word said. I don't know that I've ever read a story this short with so many uses of the word said.

Redshirts simply became uninteresting too quickly and didn't manage to come up with a worthwhile ending.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018


Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001-2016Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001-2016 by Steve Coll
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”America failed to achieve its aims in Afghanistan for many reasons: underinvestment in development and security immediately after the Taliban’s fall; the drains on resources and the provocations caused by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq; corruption fed by N.A.T.O. contracting and C.I.A. deal making with strongmen; and military hubris at the highest levels of the Pentagon. Yet the failure to solve the riddle of I.S.I. and to stop its covert interference in Afghanistan became, ultimately, the greatest strategic failure of the American war.”

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Logo of the I.S.I.

I had read some about our struggles with the Inter-Service Intelligence, the Pakistani version of the C.I.A., during the Afghanistan War. I had no idea the extent of that struggle. They were considered our staunches allies in the region, bought and paid for many times over, but as history confirms, allies who do not benefit from a common cause rarely stay allies. In this book, Steve Coll broke down all the aspects of this war from the good, to the bad, and finally the downright ugly.

When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, tens of thousand of Pakistanis flooded across the border to fight the American coalition. Someone must have forgotten to tell these Pakistani volunteers that America was not the enemy. We were in Afghanistan to bring down an organization called Al-Qaeda and their allies, the Taliban. The difference between the two was hard to distinguish. The priority was Al-Qaeda, which was an organization formed by the planner of the 9/11 attack Osama Bin Laden. The Taliban, who were responsible for most of the civilian deaths in Afghanistan from 1996-2012, were a hardline, militant, religious organization, who believed in a harsh adherence to Islamic Sharia law. They committed brutal, violent outrages against the Afghan population, with women bearing the preponderance of their religious imposed restrictions.

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President Hamid Karzai

Early on in the war, during the George W. Bush administration, we relied heavily on the I.S.I. for intel, guidance, and help, but as the war dragged on with Bin Laden still at large and few definable goals achieved, skepticism with Pakistan and Afghan President Hamid Karzai were beginning to erode trust. By the time Barack Obama inherited not only the war in Afghanistan but an ill-conceived, and in my opinion, illegal war with Iraq, he was disillusioned with both Pakistan’s loyalty and with Karzai’s ability to make decisions and implement them.

”Most Afghans may not want the Taliban to return, but there is an old adage: if the guerillas do not lose, they ultimately win….” The one hard and fast truth was eventually the Americans would go home. Political pressure would become so heavy that some president would find a way to declare mission accomplished and bring the troops home, probably before a midterm election. How would you win a war against an insurgency that simply melted back into the civilian population or into the hills, or crossed over into Pakistan and thumbed their noses at the stupid Americans? What Karzai knew and what the I.S.I were equal aware of was that, once the Americans left, they were going to be left dealing with the Taliban.

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Taliban militants

It was logical that progress was not moving at the rate it should because the I.S.I. had an eye to the future. They had several goals that did not necessarily contradict themselves when seen through a lens focused on a rapidly approaching change of objects: make the Americans as happy as you can; take as much money from them as you can possibly extort; tip off the Taliban to key intel that will hopeful insure survival for Pakistan when the next regime change occurs.

”The potency of Al Qaeda’s ideas and tactics further challenged a Pakistani state that was weak, divided, complacent, and complicit about Islamist ideology and violence.” A weak government, and yet they possess nuclear weapons. I’m not even going to get into the animosity between Pakistan and India, which fueled the allure in possessing or at least controlling Afghanistan. What was very scary for me to learn was that, if the attempted Nissan Pathfinder bombing in New York City in 2010 had been successful, there was a very good chance that the US would have declared war on Pakistan. The perpetrator, or should I say the near perpetrator, was Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani born US citizen with ties linking him to I.S.I.

Thank goodness the bomber proved to be inept.

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The Bomb that didn’t go off.

Was Pakistan our allies or future enemies? Were we nearly at war with I.S.I. or with all of Pakistan? On May 2nd, 2011, Team Seal 6 conducted a raid in Pakistan to kill Osama Bin Laden. He had been living under the noses of the I.S.I. for years. Was this incompetence? Complicity? Trust had completely evaporated between the I.S.I. and the C.I.A./American military at this point in time, and Pakistan was not informed of the raid. They first learned of it when the Seals had to blow up a grounded disabled helicopter. Needless to say, the embarrassment that such a large military operation was allowed to invade Pakistan without resistance was felt with deep humiliation. Scars like this ran deep and wide.

If the US had informed Pakistan of the raid, would Bin Laden have still been there? All the kudos in the world to Obama for making the call to conduct the raid, even though positive identification of Bin Laden’s presence had not been confirmed. He did what Bush failed to do. He found the mastermind of 9/11 and had him terminated.

Coll did go into detail on the secret prisons, in my opinion illegal prisons, to get around US law (shaky legalities here) which would allow them to torture suspects. Unfortunately, we are split in this country regarding the benefits and morality of torture. I still have discussions with people who are convinced that torture is not only viable, but should be used indiscriminately if there is even the possibility of garnering useful intel. There is a cost, too high, not only to those we torture, but also to those we ask to do the torturing. The other day I was watching a film, Rupture starring one of my favorite actresses Noomi Rapace, and when she was strapped down to a table, made helpless, I had to turn the TV off.

I couldn’t abide it.

Legions of mistakes were made in Afghanistan by all parties involved. By the end of this book, I finally felt like I was closer to unraveling the enigma of Afghanistan. The Afghanistanization, which couldn’t be called that because of the connotations with the failed Vietnamization, was hard to get off the ground as Afghan soldiers, trained to replace Americans, started turning their weapons on their “allies” and escaping to join the Taliban. I know this is a tough subject for many of you. It is a tough subject for me, as well, but I felt like I needed to know more so that I would have additional facts at my fingertips whenever I find myself in a heated discussion about the misguided wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Coll’s first book, in what will be a trilogy, called Ghost Wars, was also excellent and a great precursor to this book.

”The last month has been a blur of shittiness.”
From the Afghanistan journal of Lieutenant Tim Hopper.

That about summed up the whole war.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

A Veil of Spears (The Song of the Shattered Sands, #3) By : Bradley P. Beaulieu

A Veil of Spears (The Song of the Shattered Sands, #3)A Veil of Spears by Bradley P. Beaulieu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I will not even attempt to cover up my love for this series, THIS is how you DO EPIC FANTASY and do it RIGHT. Ceda's story continues and the magic, and the world. and the action and the pacing and everything is how it is supposed to be. Young writers take note, this is how you do it.

This is a great series, make yourself happy and start from the beginning and read them all.

(apologies for short review, but I only gush so much in one day, my tank is empty)

589 stars out of 5

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The Poppy War By: R.F. Kuang

The Poppy WarThe Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was an amazing read, 2018 is hitting on all cylinders right out of the gate. Deep worldbuilding, interesting ideas and a Asian inspired grimdark style bleak as hell fantasy? YES PLEASE!

There was no issues with me and this book, I look forward to more. The story felt young adult-ish to me but then I was quickly proven wrong, and I like when I am wrong. The fantasy elements had a interesting bend and although the dark almost overshadowed the story telling, I am eager to see where this goes.

High recommendation, if you are into the grimdark, this is your jam...maybe fantasy debut of 2018 (its early..but this will be tough to beat)

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Monday, May 14, 2018

Spenser Getting Into Mischief Again

Sudden Mischief (Spenser, #25)Sudden Mischief by Robert B. Parker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A local bookshop owner recommended this to me after I mentioned I was into detective fiction, specifically Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder series. It was a fairly on-the-nose suggestion.

I'd never read anything by Robert B. Parker, which is surprising because his books are EVERYWHERE. You almost can't walk into a book store or library without bumping into one. So, I'd seen the name a million times. I'd heard he did a "Spenser" series. I am old and from the Boston area, so I was familiar with the old Spenser tv show. But I never put the two together. Now I know. A Boston-based detective fiction series?! Sign me up!

The plot is decent in Sudden Mischief, but the pacing is a little slow. Or perhaps it's the subject matter that hampers the action. This one is more about relationships than your usual crime novel, even a typical Scudder.

But I enjoyed Parker's style and that's the important thing. Even if this one didn't knock my socks off, I'd be willing to try more, because I already feel like I can trust the writer. For the most part, his prose flows. And when it isn't flowing, it's marching. I'm okay with that, as long as we're going forward.

With that in mind, I'm on to the next Parker!

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Salvatore's Adventure Continues

Luthien's Gamble (Crimson Shadow, #2)Luthien's Gamble by R.A. Salvatore
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The tale of Luthien of Bedwyr continues.

Luthien's Gamble focuses mostly on a revolt to take back a duchy from a bad hombre. It also delves into luuuv just a little bit.

There's a lot of fighting in this one and right from the get-go. You can tell Salvatore's a D&D player, because much of his fighting is described in terms of "strikes" and "hits". This might seem a bit impersonal, but I suppose it's best to keep a bit of distance from the hardcore reality of battle when you're trying to write a mostly lighthearted adventure story.

The fun characters from book one are all here and they're further rounded out. Brindamour, the wizard who seems to controlling the puppet strings, shows up more in this sequel. I can't tell if he's suppose to an all-powerful omniscient or what. He actually adds some comic relief in a scene or two. I'm sure it'll all be clear in the final book, which I'll be reading soon enough.

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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Tortures of the Damned

Tortures of the DamnedTortures of the Damned by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After New York falls victim to a trio of attacks, the Padilla family and their neighbors band together for survival but how can they survive against disease, fried electronics, and animals gone bloodthirsty?

After taking on the Dover Demon, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Jersey Devil, Hunter Shea takes on the apocalypse. When an EMP fries everything electronic, an unknown disease runs rampant, and something turns animals against humans, the Padilla family of Yonkers, New York, and their neighbors, Buck and Alexiana band together to survive and find out what happened. Things do not go well.

The post-apocalyptic genre is a little played out these days but Hunter Shea makes it fresh by leaving out zombies and focusing on the trials and tribulations of the Padilla family. Life without electricity is hard, even without rats, bats, horses, cats, dogs, and birds all gunning for them. Not to mention disease, gang members, and the threat of starvation. The apocalypse won't be fun, kids!

Daniel and Elizabeth struggle to keep their family together when obstacle after obstacle fall into their paths. Nothing is easy and no one is safe. Casualties are numerous and the body count is high. No one is unscathed for long and some of them have the shit "scathed" out of them.

I've mentioned it before but Hunter Shea is the master of introducing characters, making you care about them, and then having them die horribly. Tortures of the Damned is no exception. It's hardship after hardship, right until the heartbreaking ending. I knew it would end badly but couldn't set the book aside for long. Like a trainwreck, I just had to see it.

While it wasn't the usual subject matter for Hunter Shea, Tortures of the Damned was one gripping read. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, May 11, 2018

Horatio Slice: Guitar Slayer of the Universe

Oleander Plume
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Horatio Slice is NOT dead. Gunner Wilkes knows a secret. Heartthrob rock star Horatio Slice is not dead. Sure, Gunner may turn heads with his big brain, good looks, and gym-built body, but his mind is on one thing only: returning his all-time favorite rocker and secret fanboy crush to Earth. Yes, there are VAMPIRE PIRATES. Fame and stardom were starting to wear thin for Horatio Slice, but when he was sucked through a magical portal while on stage at Madison Square Garden into a jail cell in a strange dimension called Merona, his confusion quickly cleared upon meeting his sexy, dark-haired cellmate, a vampire pirate named Snake Vinter. Snake filled Horatio in about life in the universe, jumping from dimension to dimension, and craftily avoiding the wrath of gnarly-mask-wearing leather queen King Meridian—a guy nobody wants to cross. The metal ship is named Frances. And on Snake’s metal ship live eight identical blond Humerians, who proudly display their bodies in carefully crafted trousers, as well as a wild assortment of untamable, man-hungry travelers and stowaways. But someone has hacked into Frances’ mainframe, demanding that Snake and crew deliver Horatio Slice to King Meridian, or feel his wrath. All the zany magical comedy of Mel Brooks, an adventure not dissimilar to Indiana Jones meets Barbarella, and men, men, horny men, of all shapes and sizes, Horatio Slice, Guitar Slayer of the Universe is wild, fun, pornographic fiction for anyone who loves the masculine, the feminine, and all identities in between. Even more so, it’s for anyone who can handle laughs that won't stop coming.

My Review

Gunner Wilkes doesn’t believe that Horatio Slice, his favorite rock star, died two years ago during a concert. Extensive research convinced him that Horatio actually disappeared through a portal into another dimension. Gunner uses his college education and skills to build a device to return Horatio to Earth. The rock star appears naked in Gunner’s room. Sex and hilarity ensue.

This book pulled me in right from the beginning and kept me riveted until the end. Though I was tempted to read in one sitting on a long flight, I decided it was better to pace myself and prolong my visit with Horatio, Gunner, Snake Vinter, a sexy vampire pirate, the identical oompa loompas, and a motley assortment of delightful characters, human and alien.

Horatio is on the run, trying to avoid capture by King Meridian. After a quick stop at his house to pick up clothes, the boys embark on an erotic journey through the universe, where enemies abound, Horatio’s music is lethal, Gunner finds himself, and enduring friendships are formed.

This highly imaginative, amusing, engaging, and wildly adventurous story is totally full of steamy hot man sex, but there’s a whole lot of love here too.

I’m happy.

Thursday, May 10, 2018


Foundryside (Founders, #1)Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sancia is a specially skilled thief who accepted a job that can pay beyond her wildest dreams. The target is a simple box in a safe at the Tevanne docks. When curiosity gets the best of Sancia she learns she's stolen a device that could forever change the magic like scriving that has built Tevanne. She decides to flee rather than hand it over. Before she even has a chance to do so her contact is murdered and she escapes a trap that would undoubtedly lead to her demise. Sancia has to keep running, but she unfortunately doesn't have the resources to get far. She's forced to make previously unthinkable allies and to take risks that could lead to the destruction of Tevanne itself.

Foundryside is an intriguing book jam packed with world building. It's clear the author intends for Foundryside to be the first in a series as it establishes the history of the world along with the detailed day to day science of the world's unique attribute, scriving.

I've read and watched many stories that go into detail about scientific details of a world, but I don't know that I've ever seen one explained as thoroughly as scriving. Scriving at it's core is the process of making an item believe something different about itself through a complicated process filled with sigils and fueled by lexicons. For example weapons in the world similar to crossbow bolts believe when fired by the bow that they haven't been fired by the bow, but instead have been falling for hundreds or thousands of feet. This increases the attack velocity and power of the bolts which in turn makes a useful weapon into something inhumanly devastating.

The most interesting part of the story was Sancia herself. Sancia is a scrived human. Scrived humans shouldn't exist, but Sancia does. Her powers are a gift for stealing and fleeing, but a nightmare for everyday life. Sancia learns about anything she touches. If she touches a table for example she learns it's physical attributes such as where it's weakest or if any grooves have been carved into it. This is extremely helpful for her when she's on a job as such an ability is very useful on a wall or tunnel. The problem with her ability is she can't turn it off. Sancia keeps her skin covered most of the time and has to avoid human contact so she isn't overloaded by her ability. Sancia as a person is simply a survivor who is doing her best in a hard world.

Foundryside is largely a mystery to unravel and it is filled with stunning surprises.

4 out of 5 stars

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

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Wednesday, May 9, 2018


The Hell CandidateThe Hell Candidate by Graham Masterton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”I want you to understand that a strong nation doesn’t necessarily have to be a repressive nation. I’m not a prude or a puritan. I’m not a harsh disciplinarian. I’m strong because I’m a man, with a man’s appetite. Just like I want my women to be strong, with a woman’s appetite. We can be powerful without being narrow-minded. We can be leaders without being canting moralists. We have a rich nation, crowded with fruits to be relished and enjoyed. Food, drink, beautiful women. They’re all ours for the taking. Ours for the unashamed taking.”

Jack Russo joined the campaign of the senior senator from Colorado for President when Hunter Peal was still a moderate, but something happened after they stayed in an old, creepy house in New Jersey. His whole message changed.

”Hunter was the master of illusion. He was also a master of euphemism. It was at a Kansas delegation caucus that he coined his famous phrase about ‘moderating the material expectations of the less productive members of our community’-in other words, taking steps to make sure that the deprived stayed deprived.”

Hunter was suddenly vastly different, more aggressive, way more right of central. He wasn’t the only one experiencing changes. Jack was seeing things that made him start to believe the rigors of the campaign trail were catching up with him. His girlfriend Jennifer had never looked like this before. ”Jennifer’s eyes were totally white, like marble. Two tiny pupils seemed to be indented in them, just as if they were the eyes of a statue. They stared at me with utter coldness, utter indifference, and as I stared back at them I became aware of a chilly rustling somewhere in the room, as if an invisible spirit in a frosted clock had slid out of this world and back into the next.”

Jack was rather attached to Jennifer’s pink, flexible, soft flesh and had never had any lustful Pygmalionesque desires for cold, hard stone, regardless of how beautifully it was carved. He also saw a dark, bristling shape running across the lawn that raised the hackles on his neck.

And were the statues on the lawn...moving?

Jack Russo, you poor bastard, you have landed in a Graham Masterton horror novel!

Jack wasn’t the only one to notice the 180 degree change in Hunter Peal’s political ideas. The whole Peal staff was alarmed, especially when polling showed this bastard was going to win. ”I never thought the day would come when this whole country would throw sweet reason out of the window and vote for nothing but personal prejudice and individual gain. I never thought the day would come when I’d go along with it, either.”

Does that sound vaguely familiar? Like maybe something that happened in American politics recently? Or how about this. ”The choice you have made tonight is the first step in making our nation GREAT AGAIN. Powerful again. Rich again. And self-assured again.”

Jog any memories?

As if things weren’t bad enough, Peal had acquired psychokinesis powers, which meant he could project illusions to those who were listening to him. He could conjure up flights of B-52 bombers or wheat fields as far as the eye can see.

What the FRILL is going on?

Well this.

”It was a huge, bulky outline, as dark as sin. But its eyes glowed slanted and orange, like the eyes of a wolf, and on its head were two curved horns. It stank of stale incense and animal sweat, and it was grunting with grotesque delight.

‘Jennifer!’ I yelled. And then I whipped back my bedclothes and seized hold of the demon’s body with both hands.

It felt horrifying. It had bristles all over. Bristles that were prickly and sharp with some kind of static electricity. Bristles that crackled and spat and numbed every muscle in my fingers.”

Dare he think it? Had Hunter Peal been possessed by the Devil? Jack had a choice: he could quit the campaign and go back to Butte, Montana, or he could stay around to try and save the nation from Hunter Peal. ”The ancient Greek tragedy writers would have loved this one. They would have called it The Fall of Russo and had me putting my eyes out in Act IV”

All fine and good for Russo to say, ”Hey, let’s save the world,” but his girlfriend Jennifer was the one that the beast had a real boner for. Except for a few delusional Goth chicks, I don’t think that forming one half of the beast with two backs with Satan is on most women’s bucket list. Call that a **Double Shudder** moment.

The interesting thing about this book is it was written in 1980 as a response to President Ronald Reagan’s campaign, even though Masterton drops Reagan’s name in the book a few times to make sure that he can not be accused of actually saying that Hunter Peal was based on Reagan. With the advent of President Donald Trump, it was suggested to Graham to revive this book. I can’t think of why!

The book is a blast to read, but I will issue a few cautions. The sex is GRAPHIC. Masterton has written several sex manuals in his long tenure as a writer, and believe me, the guy likes to explore the full repertoire of sexual experience. So if you have even a thimbleful of prudishness, you might avoid this book or skip through those scenes.

The writing is actually really good for what I would consider a pulp horror novel. (This book was a suggested reading from Paperbacks from Hell that I reviewed recently.) I used several quotes from the book in the writing of this review, and those only represent a smattering of the many notes I made as I was gasping and shivering my way through the reading of this psychotic novel. There are also several DON’T OPEN THAT DOOR moments in the book that were such vintage horror delights, erhhh I mean dreadful petrifying experiences.

The moral of the story is Be Careful Who You Vote For!

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Monday, May 7, 2018

Leading the Band of Brothers

Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick WintersBeyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters by Dick Winters
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Major Dick Winters was a diligent soldier, caring humanitarian and just who you'd want to lead a troop of men into the worst of war zones.

He is most well-known from Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks' World War II miniseries Band of Brothers, which dramatized the valiant efforts of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division from D-Day through to the end of the European stage of the war.

Major Winters' memoir takes a brief glance at his youth before diving headlong into his time with the army and his involvement in WWII. It finishes just as briefly, rounding out his post-war career and retirement, with a coda comprising some of the leadership topics he lectured upon for audiences towards the end of his life.

Winters' friend, the historian Stephen E. Ambrose wrote a great book about Easy Company's accomplishments. It takes a broad view of the war and the company as a whole. Then there are memoirs by other company members, such as non-commissioned officer Sergeant Donald G. Malarkey, which focuses much more on the men, their personalities and individual achievements. Winter's book is somewhere in between.

Beyond Band of Brothers is an officer's look at the war, and a very competent officer he was! The prose is soldierly efficient. Winters lavishes praise upon the men he served with and only occasionally he is critical. You can tell how damn proud he was to serve with these men, even when he's not flat out telling you.

I've watched the miniseries a number of times. I've read a few books about this company. I know the men's names. I know their faces. It is truly amazing what the went through. I'll always be thankful.

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I Love You Betty White!

Here We Go Again: My Life in TelevisionHere We Go Again: My Life in Television by Betty White
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I knew Betty White went back a few years, that she was part of the Mary Tyler Moore set, but I didn't realize she went all the way back to the very dawn of television! Radio, even!

Here We Go Again (probably a reference to this being her second or third biography) is a really nice and compact look at the history of television programing, especially in the early years. It's short, which is to its merit, and it is sensibly focused on White's career, but nevertheless I learned a thing or two about tv, and that's something I didn't expect to get out of a slim Betty White bio!

I also didn't realize that she was such a model of feminism. I don't know for certain, but I'd be surprised to hear that she was a card-carrying member of the movement and that she marched with Gloria Steinem (certainly nothing like that is mentioned in this book), however, White did her part for women's rights simply by working. Her career came about at a time when women weren't expected to have careers. She went through two men who wanted her to stay at home in order to pursue a life in showbiz. She was good at entertaining and so that's what she did, damn what the men had to say about it. It's that kind of gumption that truly moves a movement!

White never even relates her career or what she did to achieve to feminism. The whole episode is just a matter of course with her. No, what she champions, if she's going to champion anything, is animal welfare. She loves her pets, talks about them throughout the book, and has devoted her free time to animals in general. Again, it's just something she does. Never did I feel like she was saying "oh look at me, I'm such a good person for caring!". No, she simply cares for all creatures great and small.

A well-balanced book, even when dealing with the truly tragic moments of her life, Here We Go Again is highly recommended to anyone interested in this lovely lady. And how can you not love her? It's amazing to think it's 2017 and she's still with us! Still able to totter out there on stage to make an appearance and even cognizant and quick enough to deliver a one-liner, and the woman is creeping up on 100! She's outliving her earliest fans. A lot of people are going to be sad when she goes, and because of this book I better understand why.

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Sunday, May 6, 2018

Good Guys

Steven Brust's "Good Guys" is a mashup of the private investigation fantasy subgenre, a subgenre that is right in my wheelhouse. Brust is an old pro, the author of the famous "Vlad Taltos", who has published 30 novels. He knows how to write. This book has a cool sort of vibe, kind of an old style detective story. Its stripped down of a lot of unnecessary chatter. Kind of a spare Dashiel Hammett style but with all kinds of Brustian flourishes, including a group doing the investigation, a female Schwartznegger and no female love interest. So while it's grounded in classic detective mode, Brust dots the prose and story with his own style. It works very well as a detective novel, but at the same time, Brust has a monologue with the readers, do we think the investigators are really working for the right side? Keep that in the back of your mind as you read it.

We first meet the team, Donovan Longfellow, aka Laughing Boy, Marci, the mage, and Susan, aka Hippie Girl, the muscle as they investigate how a man was has been killed in broad daylight in a restaurant and no one saw a thing. They all work for the "Foundation". Donovan reports to Becker, his handler in the Foundation that Marci thinks a magical stop motion spell of some kind was used to kill the victim. The Foundation, seems to be run like a business. Donovan works for a field unit that investigates the use of magic in the field.

Brust does not use big information drops to explains things. Rather as part of the story little dollops of information are revealed merely as part of the story. So when Becker suspects that there might have been a magical device used, he goes to the Foundation's Artifacts department to have someone do research. It seems Donovan's job, in part is to stop the leaking of knowledge of magic to the public.

But now a man has died of a mysterious heart attack, and when the team investigates, they are ambushed by a gunman. Hippie Chick disables the gunman. So the killer seems to be trying to stop any investigation. But Donovan just lets the man go after questioning him, as he is merely a hired gun.

It seems the killing is tied to the Mystici, another magical organization. Donovan knows of the Mystici, who also have magical employees, but they are not nice people. Donovan owes the Foundation his life so he works for them, and he likes to think they are the good guys. As Hippie Chick explains, they pay us so little money we must be the good guys.

As the case progresses, Donovan's group discovers that the people getting killed are all associated with the Mystici, whose magicians, sometimes help out bad people. And that the people killed are all dying via magical means in worse and worse ways.

And Donovan and his team are still  being confronted by the killer or his associates in worse and worse ways.

So the good guys are both trying to stop the killers and at the same time trying to survive the killers themselves. But the killers are not killing good people. And Donovan works for the Foundation, that knows the Mystici sometimes lines it pockets by helping bad people. But the Foundation is also employed by the Mystici to protect them.

So who really are the bad guys here. Its a gray world out there.

It's a conundrum that Brust leaves for us to figure out. But I like Donovan's style, and when the real bad guys hurt the good guys, an eye for an eye still passes for justice in my book.

We Are Always Watching

We Are Always WatchingWe Are Always Watching by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When the Ridley family falls on hard times, they're forced to move in with Abraham Ridley, Matt's father. Grandpa Ridley is a real son of a bitch but he's nothing in comparison to the Guardians, persons unknown who have been harassing the Ridleys and the other folk of Buttermilk Creek for generations...

Hunter Shea is the man and I was planning on reading this anyway when I won a copy on Horror After Dark. Thanks!

This isn't your usual Hunter Shea book. I'm a tremendous fan of his creature features starring cryptids and the mayhem they incite but this one was different, a slow-burner with more of a psychological bend.

Since time out of mind, the people of Buttermilk Creek have been harassed by the Guardians, people or creatures that leave threatening notes and that are constantly watching their targets. When West's father, Matt, suffers a brain injury leading to chronic vertigo, their lives fall apart and they leave NYC behind to live with his grandfather. Abraham is an asshole of the highest caliber and blames the family for the Guardians springing into action once again after years of silence.

The book feels like a coming of age tale at first. West is a likeable kid, a fan of horror movies and books. He's enamored with the only pretty girl in town that he's met and wonders about the truth of the Guardians and his own family's troubled past. When shit goes down, he acts in a very believable way and is in no way a Gary Stu.

Hell, the whole Ridely clan is subtly nuanced. Debi resents her husband's condition and keeps on trucking. Matt feels inadequate and pissed off because of his vertigo but can't help but lash out at his family. And Abraham has more than his share of skeletons in his closet.

The book is a slow burner but reaches a fever pitch around the 75% mark, when it goes from coming of age psychological horror to a fucking blood bath. I was felt like a mile of bad road after finishing it.

As always, Hunter Shea continues to impress the shit out of me. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, May 4, 2018


Grady Hendrix
Quirk Books
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring bookshelves, shattered Glans water goblets, and smashed Liripip wardrobes. Sales are down, security cameras reveal nothing, and store managers are panicking.

To unravel the mystery, three employees volunteer to work a nine-hour dusk-till-dawn shift. In the dead of the night, they’ll patrol the empty showroom floor, investigate strange sights and sounds, and encounter horrors that defy the imagination.

A traditional haunted house story in a thoroughly contemporary setting, Horrorstör comes packaged in the form of a glossy mail order catalog, complete with product illustrations, a home delivery order form, and a map of Orsk’s labyrinthine showroom.

My Review

“You don’t want to go out on the floor? Tough titty, said the kitty. I don’t want to go on the floor, either, but having a job is all about doing things you don’t want to do. That’s why they pay you money for it. Life doesn’t care what you want, other people don’t care what you want. All that matters is what you do.”

I really enjoyed Paperbacks From Hell, so was eager to read another book by Grady Hendrix. This one appealed to me, because I have a weakness for haunted house stories, and I’m not so old that I can’t remember the retail hell I was subject to through my late teens and 20’s – the long hours, the split shifts, the repetitive tasks, the surly customers, the managers who micromanage, yet are never around when you really need them, the ass-kissers, the incompetents, the motivational talks, and the low pay.

There were no throwaway characters here. Each one was unique, and very much like people I’ve worked with. Amy needs her job, yet she loathes the monotony of her tasks and her committed boss who beats his employees over the head with corporate doublespeak. She wants out, and her boss promises her a transfer if she agrees to work with him and the bubbly Ruth Anne, who never forgets anyone’s birthday, to determine the cause of the vandalism, mysterious graffiti, and funky smells and stains inside the store.

The IKEA-like setting is vivid, and I love the illustrations that introduce each chapter featuring store items, each designed for a specific purpose – most benign, others more ominous.

The tension ramps up when Amy and Ruth Anne encounter Matt and Trinity, two fellow employees hiding out in the store on a ghost-hunting mission. Together they discover that Orsk employees are not the only ones who have performed repetitive, torturous tasks.

This was a light, fun read with just the right amount of humor that never overwhelms the very real horror faced by five Orsk employees.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Age of Iron

Age of Iron (Iron Age, #1)Age of Iron by Angus Watson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dug Sealskinner is a simple man and mercenary looking for a steadier job. He's heading south to join up with King Zadar's massive army. On his way to join them he gets sidetracked by a battle that sounds simple, but changes everything. Dug finds himself traveling with an intelligent young girl in Spring along with Lowa, a woman who's seeking vengeance against Zadar for his betrayal.

Age of Iron was quite different from what I anticipated after seeing the cover and reading the description. I only expected a war hardened protagonist and battles galore, but the story is more than that. Age of Iron is quite humorous at times, touching at others, and sickeningly brutal at other times. I'm not generally a squeamish person when it comes to reading, but there were a few instances I thought I might be sick because of what I read.

Age of Iron is compared to Game of Thrones and Joe Abercombie's books in the description. I can't say I agree with the Game of Thrones comparison, but I would definitely say Age of Iron is like Abercrombie's First Law series. The only difference being Age of Iron has two completely likable protagonists in Dug and Spring. Dug while being a realist, is a genuinely good guy who would help when he has the chance. Spring is simply something else, but in the best way possible.

The story itself was a familiar one of revenge and fleeing. Lowa was one of Zadar's best warriors until Zadar sent the order to kill her and her archers. Zadar's men succeeded in killing her archers, but Lowa escaped and plans to find out why she was betrayed in addition to murdering Zadar. Lowa is largely cold-hearted which is understandable considering the circumstances.

Age of Iron was an enjoyable tale and I'm curious to see what's next for Dug, Spring, and the others.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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Wednesday, May 2, 2018


The Song of AchillesThe Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”He was a marvel, shaft after shaft flying from him, spears that he wrenched easily from broken bodies on the ground to toss at new targets. Again and again I saw his wrist twist, exposing its pale underside, those flute-like bones thrusting elegantly forward. My spear sagged forgotten to the ground as I watched. I could not even see the ugliness of the deaths anymore, the brains, the shattered bones that later I would wash from my skin and hair. All I saw was his beauty, his singing limbs, the quick flickering of his feet.”

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Madeline Miller studied Latin and Ancient Greek from Brown University and even more interestingly studied at the Yale School of Drama, specializing in adapting classical tales for a modern audience. I ignored this book when it first came out because I had read The Iliad twice and plan to read it many more times if the Gods grant me enough time to do so. A reimagining of Homer’s words? There is enough debate over translations of the original source documentation without adding in additional controversy over Miller’s interpretation of events.

Or so I thought.

After all, aren’t these books designed for a “modern audience” who will never even attempt to read Homer? I am not the target audience, as there is very little modern about me. I have ancient book dust permanently lodged in my lungs. I cough, and the air is redolent with the scent of decaying leather and the intoxicating smell of the slightly hallucinatory book fungi. Miller is doing good work, though, bringing Homer to life for a new generation. Her books are not for me.

Or so I thought.

When her book Galatea came out, I barely even flinched. A mild flickering of interest, but I was up to my eyeballs in books to read so I easily dissuaded myself from giving it much thought. Deciding to read Galatea would also mean that I would need to read Song of Achilles first because I do believe that books by serious authors build upon one another. I wasn’t taking Miller serious...yet. Part of my resistance came from the fact that I’m not a big fan of Achilles. He might have been ”The Greatest Warrior of his Generation,” but I didn’t find him very heroic. Now Hector, poor doomed Hector, to me he was the hero of The Iliad. I didn’t really want to read a book glorifying Achilles and how effortless it was for him to kill a hundred Trojans in one lazy, bloody afternoon.

Or so I thought.

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The lovely and talented Madeline Miller.

I fully expected Miller to fade back into the woodwork of academia, but then this year she published Circe. With one raised Nadalesque eyebrow, I thought to myself, now Circe is someone I don’t know nearly enough about. The five star reviews started raining down on me like thunderbolts from the fingers of Zeus. Cupid shot a quiver full of arrows at me, piercing me in numerous appendages until I looked like Saint Sebastian. If I could have gotten my hands on that pink tinted, chubby, precocious toddler, I’d have turned him over my knee and paddled him with his own bow. Really, I must confess that my new found love for Achilles, Patroclus, Briseis, Chiron, Odysseus, and even Madeline Miller herself could be the result of those love poison tipped arrows. Regardless, does it matter the reason why?

Even in an addled state, there is no way I would ever confuse great writing for poorly conceived writing. As I was reading through my notes and savoring favorite passages again, now that Cupid’s fog has cleared from my mind, I must say Miller is a wonderful, lyrical writer.

It all begins with a rape. The Greek Gods want to reward Peleus for being such a good subject and decide that he should be given a sea nymph named Thetis as his bride. ”It was considered their highest honor. After all, what mortal would not want to bed a goddess and sire a son from her? Divine blood purified our muddy race, bred heroes from dust and clay. And this goddess brought a greater promise still: the Fates had foretold that her son would far surpass his father. Peleus’ line would be assured. But, like all the gods’ gifts, there was an edge to it; the goddess herself was unwilling.”

The Gods whisper in his ear. Don’t even bother trying to woo her with kelp flowers, Aquaoir Ocean aged wine, or shrimp cocktail. The Greek Gods, being rampant assaulters of unsuspecting, pink cheeked, mortal maidens, have no compunction about advocating rape. Jump her on the beach, take her, and make her thine!

The Greek Islands are lousy with half Gods. You will meet many of them in the course of this story. Achilles is the greatest of them all. Greater than Hercules. His chosen companion is Patroclus, the disgraced and banished son of a king, an odd choice in many eyes as the closest friend of the greatest warrior. Patroclus is, after all, rather unremarkable at...well...everything. It doesn’t matter, though, because Achilles is good enough at everything for the both of them.

Thetis is rather annoyed at his choice. She doesn’t feel that Patroclus is good enough to spend so much time with her son. Her favorite greeting for Patroclus is: ”You will be dead soon enough.” With Patroclus being the narrator of this story, it is rather poor judgement on her part. Any quest I’ve been on I have always plied the narrator with honeyed wine and the most succulent figs in the hope that I would be rewarded in the prose and poetry of his/her telling of the tale.

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Achilles and Patroclus by Barry J.C. Purves

Homer skates around the closeness between Achilles and Patroclus, although much can be read between the lines. There is also the possibility that some homophobic Christian hundreds of years later made some deft corrections to the original, obscuring any overt reference to a homosexual relationship. Homer may have been blind, but his ears must have heard the rustling of the reed mats whether he was an “eye” witness to the Trojan War or an interpreter of events many years later. Madeline Miller wades into the sweaty bedsheet truth of the matter, and yes, the Greatest Warrior to ever live is light in his sandals.

Miller puts flesh on these ancient bones, Gods and mortals alike, and brings a freshness to one of our most venerated stories. Though I resisted, it turns out that Madeline Miller was writing these books for me. She has also given me a burning desire to read The Iliad again while her interpretation is still imprinted so deeply in my mind. I have a feeling my reading experience will be deepened and her observations will glow like phosphorus between the lines.

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