Monday, July 30, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, July 29, 2018

Two Lost Boys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, July 27, 2018

May We Shed These Human Bodies

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


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

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

My Review

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

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Awakening

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

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

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

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

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

The Awakening is an average at best story.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, July 23, 2018

Austen is good even when she's bad

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Cold Cotton

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, July 20, 2018

Murder, Romance, and Two Shootings

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


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

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

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

My Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Tome of the Undergates

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018


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

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

‘The trolls take your friend,’ she said.

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

 photo Njals20Parchment202_zps1sxuabiu.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed, it did.

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

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

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

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

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

Or how about this encounter with THE Gunnar.

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

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

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

Then he fell down dead.”

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

Also see my review of The Saga of the Volsungs

and my review of King Harald's Saga

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Monday, July 16, 2018

An Epic of Epic Proportions!

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

Now that's an epic!

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Bubba and the Cosmic Blood Suckers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Whiskey and Wry

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


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

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

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

My Review

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The City Stained Red

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018


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

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

His skin tingled.”

 photo Tulip20Tree202_zpspz9btku8.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read. Write. Repeat.

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

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Trail of Lightning By: Rebecca Roanhorse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, July 9, 2018

Wicked Good Starter to Wicca

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, July 8, 2018

Black Site

Black SiteBlack Site by Michael Patrick Hicks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a bunch of clones search for the origins of human life through genetic experiments, they uncover something far older and more sinister...

Black Site is a sf horror novella with Lovecraftian overtones and one hell of a read. Alpha and his fellow clones were innocently dabbling with genetic manipulation when they accidentally unleash a life form from the dawn of the universe. Awesomeness ensues.

As impressed as I was with Revolver, Black Site is even better. It has that claustrophobic feeling that the Alien movies share as well as an undercurrent of insanity. MPH has crafted a brutal horror tale here. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, July 6, 2018

Let's Go Play at the Adams'

Mendal W. Johnson
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Surely, it was only a game. In the orderly, pleasant world Barbara inhabited, nice children -- and they were nice children -- didn't hold an adult captive.

But what Barbara didn't count on was the heady effect their new-found freedom would have on the children. Their wealthy parents were away in Europe, and in this rural area of Maryland, the next house was easily a quarter of a mile away. The power of adults was in their hands, and they were tempted by it. They tasted it and toyed with it -- their only aim was to test its limits. Each child was consumed by his own individual lust and caught up with the others in sadistic manipulation and passion, until finally, step by step, their grim game strips away the layers of childishness to reveal the vicious psyche, conceived in evil and educated in society's sophisticated violence, that lies always within civilized men.

More than a terrifying horror story, Let's Go Play At The Adams' is a compelling psychological exercise of brooding insights and deadly implications.

My Review

“No one can bear to know humans and bear being human.”

This is an unpleasant, nasty book. Nevertheless, it was difficult for me to put down. Comparisons have been made to Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door which I haven’t read yet, as both books are apparently loosely based on the 1965 murder of 16-year-old Sylvia Likens. The difference here is that the five children acted on their own, without any adult influence.

After looking at the lurid cover pictured in Grady Hendrix’s Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror Fiction, I knew I had to find a copy. Copies start at over $80 on Amazon, so I was very fortunate to find one at my local library. I expected low-quality pulp fiction writing, but was surprised what a smart, taut thriller this was. The violence and savagery is understated. What is deeply disturbing and unsettling, however, is observing the children’s behavior and interactions with their captive. Through alternating viewpoints, the reader gets a glimpse into the minds of the children, as well as their 20-year-old babysitter’s physical and emotional suffering.

I was finishing up this book while visiting with my stepdad today. A 10-year-old neighbor came over and brought a few items from the corner store along with his change. I then warned my stepdad about trusting kids with his money and the danger of letting them step foot into his house. He just looked at me funny. When I got home, I side-eyed my 13-year old neighbor who was sitting on the balcony and wondered just what cruelties he was capable of inflicting on the adults in his life.

I’ll be fine in a few days.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Age of War

Age of War (The Legends of the First Empire #3)Age of War by Michael J. Sullivan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Fane and the Fhrey loyal to him intend to wipe out Nyphron, his followers, and all of humanity. Nyphron is preparing to use humanity to overthrow the Fane and take over the Fhrey. In order to do that Nyphron needs the keenig Persephone and he proposes marriage to her in order to gain control over humanity through her. Persephone, despite her feelings, seriously considers the proposal to protect her people from the wrath of the Fane. The Age of War is upon them all and sacrifices must be made in order to survive.

Age of War is so so good. This was one of those books that kept me reading late at night and early in the morning. Sleep simply wasn't necessary while I was reading Age of War. I never imagined I could enjoy a prequel book so much and it's making me want to reread Percepliquis because I just know I'm missing all kinds of tie-ins.

If the deaths in Age of Swords were too heavy a weight for anyone to bear then be warned that Age of War may leave people crying. The weight of events picks up significantly as Nyphron reclaims Alon Rhist. He allows those inside the choice to simply do nothing rather than attempting to capture or kill The Galantians. His fellow Instarya agree and war preparations on both sides begin. Persephone is forced to deal with the various Rhunes, their needs, and distrust for one another.

The world building, tie-ins from Riyria Revelations, and the characters really made the book stellar. The world is growing steadily and Michael J. Sullivan does an excellent job bringing his various writings about this world together. The characters are amazing, but in Age of War one stood out to me most. That character is Tesh. The starved Dureyan survivor has taken his chieftain's advice and is learning all he can about the Fhrey in order to exact revenge. Tesh trains seemingly endlessly and his progress is showing. He's become one of the best archers and has gained the name Techylor from the great Sebek for his prowess with a sword.

Age of War is a great story and a necessary book for anyone who enjoys Michael J. Sullivan's writing in the Riyria world.

5 out of 5 stars

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

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Monday, July 2, 2018

A Mixed Bag From Block

The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep (Evan Tanner, #1)The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep by Lawrence Block
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Is this a caper comedy? A spy thriller? Revolutionary tract? Social commentary? Who the hell knows, but it doesn't matter. The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep by Lawrence Block is just good, solid fun!

Evan Tanner is a complicated fella. A war vet with terminal insomnia, Tanner put his eight hours -give or take- to learn and practice a good many things. He's a multi-talented individual who decides to use those talents to steal a massive pile of gold. Will he put it to good use? Probably...perhaps. That's not really the point. This is about good old action-adventure good times...I think.

At times I felt like I was reading a James Bond novel. This was assisted by Block mentioning Bond about a dozen times. Then the story will take a comedic turn and it feels more like Candide. The comedic turns pile up so much that when the book switches gears and becomes very For Whom the Bell Tolls with a dryly-related and graphically bloody revolution it's somewhat jarring. Hell, it's very jarring to have women and children getting cut in half and heads blown off by gun fire after you've settled into a lighter, more humorous style.

This is the first in the Tanner series and one of Block's earlier books. Not earliest. I believe he had at least ten years of published work under his belt already. So, while this is rougher than his later work and a bit stiff, The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep is still competent material with an exciting flair that makes for flat out fun reading. I'll probably continue on with the series in the future.

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Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Sound of Broken Ribs

The Sound of Broken RibsThe Sound of Broken Ribs by Edward Lorn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Belinda Walsh's husband leaves her homeless and penniless, she goes out looking to ruin someone else and runs down writer Lei Duncan. Only Lei Duncan lives and isn't in the mood to be ruined.

The Lorn hit me up to read an ARC of this and I was game. After all, he's never let me down before. This books kicks the Lornography up several notches.

The Sound of Broken Ribs is a horror novel about loss, revenge and pain. If you had the chance to get revenge upon someone that wrecked you life, would you do it? How would you go about it?

Edward Lorn's writing has always reminded me of a young Stephen King's: lean, evocative, and powerful. Actually, this reminds me of Stephen King in another way. Lei Walsh is run over while running along the road.

Anyway, the writing is lean and mean and the twists cut right to the bone. Every time another twist hit me like a speeding car, I'd look at the number of pages left and wonder "What the hell else can happen to these characters?" Sure enough, worse things were always lurking around the curve.

Lei's road to recovery and revenge was painful. I even felt sorry for Belinda's hit and run ass. This book is one calamity after another and almost impossible to put down.

I can't praise this book enough. If I hadn't already anointed Edward Lorn the Future of Horror, I would with this book. Five out of five stars.

* You can buy The Sound of Broken Ribs here.

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