Monday, October 15, 2018

The Razor's Edge

The Razor's EdgeThe Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm giving this five stars. I don't know if it's exactly perfect, but I liked a bit better than Maugham's other most famous works which I highly enjoyed, Of Human Bondage and The Painted Veil, so that's saying something!

Looking at it, The Razor's Edge appears to be a sort of family saga. Maugham places himself into the center of the story, the author of some repute who gets invited into society for being the interesting, up-and-coming artist of the day. This gives him the opportunity to peek into the lives of the family members and relay the details to the reader.

The actual central figure is Larry Darrell, a WWI pilot suffering from PTSD. Larry turns away from society life to seek the meaning of his own life. This afford Maugham the opportunity to Herman Hesse-up his book with transcendentalism.

Actually, that was probably the whole point of The Razor's Edge. The family saga is a mere backdrop. However, I liked and appreciated Maugham's couching his religious pondering in a story. You might even call it a parable, for Larry is a very Jesus like figure, a loving and caring man who seems to be able to perform miracles amongst the sinful masses.

This may not be five stars for everyone, but I'll freely recommend it to everyone.

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Sunday, October 14, 2018


PentaclePentacle by William Meikle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When John, the concierge of a haunted boarding house, hears something in the basement, he goes down to investigate and finds tapes left by the previous man to hold his post. As he listens to the tapes, he's horrified to find the exact events on the tapes unfolding around him...

Broken Sigil was my first William Meikle book and this book is part of the same mythology: creepy ass houses that draw troubled people to them, people who bear sigils carved into their flesh.

This one is all suspense, glimpses at the horrors from beyond that threaten to break through into our world. It's all John can do to keep the house in order, much less fix whatever has caused things to come unraveled. As with a lot of great horror, Meikle provides enough hints for readers to fill in the blanks and supply a lot of the really horrible shit themselves.

Pentacle reminded me of 14 a bit, probably because of the mysterious setting and the contraption in the basement. I really like the mythology Meikle is building on here and plan to track down the related works at some point.

In a time where I can't seem to find enough time to read, William Meikle has proved time and time again that I can count on him for a solid story every time. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, October 12, 2018

Criss Cross

Jordan Castillo Price
JCP Books
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Criss Cross finds the ghosts surrounding Victor getting awfully pushy. The medications that Victor usually takes to control his abilities are threatening to destroy his liver, and his new meds aren't any more effective than sugar pills.

Vic is also adjusting to a new PsyCop partner, a mild-mannered guy named Roger with all the personality of white bread. At least he's willing to spring for the Starbucks.

Jacob’s ex-boyfriend, Crash, is an empathic healer who might be able to help Victor pull his powers into balance, but he seems more interested in getting into Victor’s pants than in providing any actual assistance.

My Review

Criss Cross is the second story in the Psy Cop series. Once again, a well-written, fun, fast-paced and suspenseful story told from Victor’s perspective. On a fishing trip with his former partner, Maurice, Vic discovers that his ability to see and communicate with the dead is amplified when he sees dead faces in the water. Meanwhile, his former partner, Lisa, informs Jacob that Vic is in danger, and Vic wants to figure out why he is scratching Jacob. Vic needs answers from Lisa, but she is in a training center in California for psychics and is unreachable. So Vic asks his new partner, Roger, to take him to California.

What a ride!

This is a very satisfying and engaging story that blends elements of mystery, suspense and romance. The reader is given a little more background about Victor’s past, and it is easy to understand why he behaves the way he does. Jacob is really showing what a sensitive and fiercely protective guy he can be. It is so obvious that he loves Vic and is willing to give him the time he needs to trust in their relationship.

The sex scenes are hot, sweet, and emotionally intense.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Wrath of Empire

Wrath of Empire (Gods of Blood and Powder, #2)Wrath of Empire by Brian McClellan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Landfall has fallen. The Dynize have taken over and are bringing in their armies. Lady Vlora Flint and Ben Styke are fleeing with their troops while protecting the refugees. Michel Bravis remains in Landfall attempting to help refugees escape the city. The Red Hand and his forces have enacted a plan that will require Vlora, Ben, Michel, and their allies to do their part and perhaps end the Dynize threat for good.

Wrath of Empire is a solid sequel to Sins of Empire. Anyone who has read the Powder Mage trilogy or Sins of Empire will undoubtedly have a great feel for how the story will go. The story has multiple point of view characters, intense army battles, espionage, and more than it's fair share of arrogant pricks.

The best part of the story for me is that Brian McClellan really delved deep into the psyches of Ben Styke and Michel Bravis. The reader gets to learn of both of them as men fully and they each go through intense quests externally and internally. Ben starts to look at himself and who he was and does not like everything he sees. Michel is forced into a massively uncomfortable spot on minimal information and the results aren't entirely what I expected. I didn't care for him at all at the end of the first book so the change was enjoyable.

The third point of view character, Vlora, I wasn't entirely thrilled with. Vlora had a quote about herself that summed up her storyline in this book,
"She wasn't going to fight her way out of this -- her only chance was to talk. Unfortunately, she was not good at talking."

Vlora truly since the start of the story has done a magnificent job of making enemies instead of friends. She did a reasonable job making a few friends, but a bit of diplomacy would have saved her untold amounts of turmoil. I can say that Vlora does care deeply about her troops and she's willing to do whatever she can to protect them. Her growth just seems minimal.

The strange part about the book they continues to bother me slightly is the Dynize. They seem to behave as stereotypically Asian people despite being a bunch of red headed characters. They have their family name before their name like Asians like Ka-Sedial. Their dress is a more Asian style. Seemingly everything about that reads as though they should be Asian. I just find the choice to be odd. I have to continually remind myself they are a bunch of redheads as I continually picture Asian people when I read about their interactions.

Wrath of Empire suffers from the same shortcomings as it's predecessors as the villains are largely unexlpored. In the Powder Mage trilogy there was no particularly main villain rather than a nation against another nation. The occasional villain would appear such as Duke Nikslaus or Kresimir, but the story never delves into these individuals enough to make them the enjoyable adversaries they should be. The same problem exists in this series. Outside of the elderly Ka-Sedial and a few of his minions there is no one to specifically root against. It just focuses on the nameless Dynize who are out to get the protagonists. I wish the story would delve into an strong antagonist or two as it would increase the tension for me.

Wrath of Empire was solid, it's best trait however is it left me excited to read the conclusion of the trilogy.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2018


Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward GoreyBorn to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey by Mark Dery
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”Only now are art critics, scholars of children’s literature, historians of book-cover design and commercial illustration, and chroniclers of the gay experience in postwar America waking up to the fact that Gorey is a critically neglected genius. His consummately original vision--expressed in virtuosic illustrations and poetic texts but articulated with equal verve in book-jacket design, verse plays, puppet shows, and costumes and sets for ballets and Broadway productions--has earned him a place in the history of American art and letters.”

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I first experienced Edward Gorey without even knowing I was in his world. The introduction to PBS’s long running series MYSTERY! was where I first brushed up against the uniqueness of Gorey’s imagination. I was in 8th grade. I can remember sitting there completely taken aback, unsure of what I’d just seen, but I knew I’d never seen anything like it before. Every week I watched the opening very carefully looking for anything that I missed the week before. It never occured to me to find out who the creator was of this wonderful opening or pursue other work by him. I wasn’t a fully developed researcher and collector of those things that pleased me...yet.

So when Little, Brown contacted me to see if I was interested in reviewing a biography of Edward Gorey, I felt a whole host of emotions. A) Even though I had occasionally browsed his books, I had never really allowed myself to be seduced by his work. B) I’d been in a Victorian phase for many years now and still had never delved into the carefully cross-hatched Victorian figures that Gorey created. C) This book could be the impetus to encourage me to finally launch a full out investigation of all things Gorey. D) I was thrilled with the opportunity to maybe finally close a circle begun when I was 13 years old.

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Gorey was all that I hoped he would be. He was a voracious reader. He took a book with him everywhere so that any time he found himself waiting in line or stuck in a boring situation he could pull out his book and take himself elsewhere. He had over 21,000 books in his library at his death. He watched over 1,000 movies a year. Think that is impossible? Not if you don’t sleep. He was a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, cats, and, most of all, Balanchine's ballet performances. To list all the things he enjoyed would maybe be contained in a scroll ten feet long if one wrote them in small, spidery script.

Gorey considered himself asexual. ”Thomas Garvey coins the useful term glass closet to describe ’that strange cultural zone’ inhabited by people in the public eye who ‘simultaneously operate as both gay and straight. Gorey kept perfectly mum about his true nature to the press; he only spoke about it in his art.’” I think that Gorey did not want to be pigeonholed as anything really. He was fussy about just being considered an artist when he really saw himself as a writer first. He was flamboyant in his appearance with wearing floor length fur coats year round and sporting rings on every finger. Supposedly, there was a lot of gay coding into his artwork for book covers that he designed for writers such as Herman Melville for Anchor Books. Looking at any form of art with an eye for overt or hidden symbols always makes me a bit nervous. Sometimes you find what you are looking for because that is what you want to find.

That all said, every crush that Gorey had throughout his life was some form of unrequited love for a member of the same sex. I wonder when we will reach a time when we are not categorized by our sexual preferences. Gay musicians/artists/politicians, etc. are still pressured by interest groups to declare their sexual preference, but by doing so they are generally suddenly defined first by their sexual preference, and everything else they do almost becomes a footnote to that revelation.

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The melancholy deaths of Gorey’s children.

His books were dominated by infanticides. They caused parents to be uneasy and made it hard for booksellers to categorize his work. The awkward size of his books was also difficult and forced many publisher’s to design counter displays for his books at the register. Kids, in general, I have found, love his books. The creative deaths of the children in his books could be scary, but we do like to be frightened, especially when Gorey leads us onward to an ending that leaves us smiling.

He didn’t mind confusing us either. ”N is for Neville who died of ennui.” Or how about this one: ”Still later Gerald did a terrible thing to Elsie with a saucepan.” What terrible thing could anyone do to another person with a saucepan? The mind of the reader was forced to ponder and ponder some more. Usually, I ended up laughing at the scattershot directions that my mind went, trying to pluck the right thread that would lead me to where Gorey intended me to go. Or maybe he wanted the readers to lead himself to his own meaning.

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Clavius Frederick Earbrass

One of my favorite stories of his was ”The Unstrung Harp”, which was about a writer named (C)lavius (F)rederick Earbrass. ”’The best novel ever written about a novelist,’ Graham Greene called it in all apparent seriousness.” The book covered all the hazards of a writer’s life: ”disappointing sales, inadequate publicity, worse than inadequate royalties, idiotic or criminal reviews, terrors of the deadline and the blank page.”

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The idea to have Gorey design the sets for the Broadway production of Dracula was simply a moment of brilliance. He threw himself completely into the project with “every leather-bound volume lovingly rendered of the books in Dr. Deward’s sanatorium library”. The bats, skeletons, death’s-head pansies, coffins, mummified corpses, Dracula’s watch chain strung with teeth, the drapes, and the exquisite wallpaper were all drawn with delicate care. This showed the world that Gorey was much more than just a cartoonist or “children’s” book author or really categorized any which way except that he was capable of showing exceptional talent in whatever medium he chose to express it. The show ran for 925 performances over three years and made Gorey a wealthy man.

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I was constantly, gleefully googling arcane references while reading this book. Gorey’s interests were wide and varied. By reading about his interests, I expanded my own passions, and really anyone who cares about the creative process should read this book. He was a Renaissance man, not only in talent but also in the way he found the world so fascinating. People might have been disappointing, but then he could always create more acceptable characters with the nib of pen. I will certainly be pursuing many more lines of inquiry inspired by this book. Mark Dery will take you on a journey into the development of a creative mind and introduce you to a man who figured out a way to live his life the way he wanted to. So few of us get that opportunity.

My thanks to Little, Brown who supplied me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Priest of Bones (War for the Rose Throne #1) By: Peter McLean

Priest of Bones (War for the Rose Throne #1)Priest of Bones by Peter McLean
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am sort of torn about this one. First of all, let me say I enjoyed this a good deal more than it will SOUND like I enjoyed it.

The descriptions of the story you read are very accurate, it is in its essence an historical style crime story wrapped in a low fantasy setting. It hit the spots for me, interesting world, I enjoyed the characters although they weren't anything you haven't seen before. Well done action, and although I felt slightly where the tale was headed I enjoyed getting there. And the ending...I am on record about that type of ending...(but in all honesty, well done Mr. McLean)

Ok, now you are confused, am I ragging the book or did I like it? I LIKED is well worth your time and I say now the War for the Rose Throne series of books will be on a few lists in the next year or two.

So I stop ranting now and GO READ folks!

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My Own Devices By: Dessa

My Own DevicesMy Own Devices by Dessa
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every so often, you have a "click" in your head, something you see, or hear, or taste or etc and so on, occurs and all this time, whatever the heck it is that you didn't like or know about makes TOTAL sense.

That being said, I always have been a big music fan but never a hiphop fan, then one day surfing I ran across "Bolt Cutter" by Doomtree...then it was that loud resounding CLICK.

I was drawn to Dessa that day, her words, her presence is full in effect in this collection of essays, You will feel every beautiful word..that I promise you.

Read this, I don't have enough stars to rate it, so I give it one Andromeda galaxy worth of stars out of 5 (come back when you do the math)

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Monday, October 8, 2018

Nice and Easy...with a Convoluted Plot

Blonde Faith (Easy Rawlins #11)Blonde Faith by Walter Mosley
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another solid addition to the Easy Rawlins series.

I've read books from three of Walter Mosley's series and private detective Rawlins is so far my favorite character. He's old shoe comfort, easy like Sunday morning, and a good mix of thoughtful and tough. His courage makes sense and his honor is admirable.

I really like that these books are set just after LA's Watts riots of '65 when the city was in racial tumult. It adds tension to just about every scene.

Blonde Faith has a more convoluted plot than others in the series that I've read and I dug it. It played well off of Easy's concerns for his family.

Strongly recommended.

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Easy on the Hippies

Little Green: An Easy Rawlins Mystery (Easy Rawlins #12)Little Green: An Easy Rawlins Mystery by Walter Mosley
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins series is one of my "comfort food" reads. And it's not even a guilty pleasure like so many of my other comfort reads, because Mosley is a damn good writer and he's got it all going on with these books! I love the characters, setting, pacing,'s all good!

It's the late 60s in LA. Hippy culture is everywhere, but the peace and love message that started in San Francisco has got mixed up with weirdos, drugs and crime down in the City of Angels. Black detective and WWII vet Rawlins is just getting over a very serious car accident that put him out of commission for two months. He comes in and out of a coma like a junkie trying to get clean. Everything's a bit hazy at best.

As a favor for a friend, he goes looking for a missing young man on the Sunset Strip and comes into contact with all manner of colorful characters. You can tell Mosley is having fun reliving his memories of LA during this period. I believe he was finishing up high school in South Central at the time all this would have taken place. Much of his past has been poured into this series.

Little Green, the 12th Rawlins book, keeps this beautiful soul train rolling down the tracks. It's so very solid, yet it's not without fault. For one, the "mystery" is solved halfway through, and yet the story keeps going. Yes, there are reasons for it, but it does give a reader a strange feeling when you're midway through and you've essentially already arrived at the end, only to be told there's a new destination and you've got to keep going. But it's a minor quibble, because having to read more of this glorious writing is no chore!

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Sunday, October 7, 2018


FungoidFungoid by William Meikle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a horrible rain falls, ravenous fungus infects anyone it touches. Can Shaun make his way across Canada to reunite with his family before the fungus consumes the world?

Fungus and its life cycle have held a fascination for me since my first morel hunt and fungal fiction like City of Saints and Madmen holds a place in my heart. Fungoid now joins them in my chest cavity.

It started simply enough with rain, rain that burned and unleashed some kind of super fungus that consumed everything organic. The end of the world has arrived and it is by fungus. Imagine not being able to let a drop of rainwater touch you or you'll die horribly. That's the gist of things, at first, anyway.

Meikle uses several viewpoint characters to show how the fungoid chaos has spread across Canada. There are a couple hazmat guys, a mycologist, a woman taking care of her sons and the man on his way home to them. Some characters live and some die.

It's not until the fungus starts fruiting that the crazy shit really starts, when the fungus starts using its adaptations to kill even more people. I'll keep things vague but things went from bad to worse very quickly.

Fungoid is a survival horror tale somewhat reminiscent of John Wyndham's "cozy catastrophres," although there's nothing cozy about it. It's Fungin' great! Four out of five stars.

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Friday, October 5, 2018

Amid the Darkness

Leslie Lee Sanders
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars


Weeks after an asteroid strikes Earth, hurling Elliot and Adam into a fight for their survival, the two take shelter in an underground compound known as Refuge Inc. Shaking their past seems impossible as it comes back to haunt them, weakening the foundation of their relationship. Elliot, hung up on guilt over his former actions, tries to right his wrongs which leads him face-to-face with the troubling secrets of the compound. Adam's run-in with the enigmatic prophet makes him question Refuge Inc. and the survivors' future.

Working together to uncover the mysteries of Refuge Inc. not only reveals much about the sunless world beyond the compound walls, but exposes the truth about the compound's occupants … including themselves.

If their haunting pasts continue to dominate, it will steer them directly into a miserable future and their companionship will forever suffer. Either way, they are forced to prepare for the ultimate fight for survival.  Can they fight together and make it out on top?

My Review

This is the second story in the Refuge, Inc. series and I liked it quite a bit better than the first. Adam and Elliot are now living in Refuge, Inc., an underground bunker designed to protect people from the devastation outside. Adam and Elliot provide their names, occupations, and hand over their meager possessions to a man in white. Pets are not allowed, however, so Titan is taken away to the canine nursery.

The doors are closed, and Adam, Elliot and hundreds of frightened and injured survivors are given medical care, assigned pods and given duties based on their previous occupations and experience. Elliot is in food service and preparation and Adam is in law enforcement. No one needed to know that in his previous life he was really a dancer who dressed as a cop.

Life at Refuge, Inc. sounds too good to be true, and it is. There are plenty of characters here with devious motives and bad intentions. There was the prophet, a strange guy who Adam saved from being stabbed. There was Patrice, the woman who tried to stab him. There was Tami and her friend, Anita, who were the first survivors that Adam and Elliot met. There was also Jena, Adam’s fiancĂ©e who abandoned him, and the mysterious Mason.

I enjoyed the heavy focus on the plot – the mystery, suspense, action. I liked the variety of interesting secondary characters and the growth and development of Adam and Elliot. Elliot is less needy, whiny and more understanding. He is willing to back off and let Adam make his own relationship decisions and instead becomes more focused on the events within the compound. Adam gradually becomes more open and learns to accept himself. Both men are more mature and responsible, and the love they feel for each other continues to grow.

Though I enjoyed this story overall and it ended well for our heroes (and Titan), I don’t feel a need to continue on with the series.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Black Bolt vol. 1 Hard Time

Black Bolt, Vol. 1: Hard TimeBlack Bolt, Vol. 1: Hard Time by Saladin Ahmed
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Black Bolt wakes to find himself caged and chained.
He is in the very prison he intended for Maximus, but he learns even his treacherous brother doesn't deserve such a cage. Black Bolt must find a way to escape without his powers and with whatever allies he can find, including the Absorbing Man Crusher Creel.

Hard Time was a bit of a let down. It didn't truly delve into any aspect of Black Bolt. It's rare for him to be able to speak, but rather than him saying or thinking anything interesting he's largely acting kingly. This is funny considering his long ordeal through Inhuman and Uncanny Inhumans that saw him abdicating the Inhuman throne. I guess old habits are hard to break.

The story is straight forward once the scene is set. Black Bolt and the others are in an inescapable prison that is no longer the prison it was intended to be. It's a place of torture, death, and rebirth. The protagonists spend all their time working on escaping.

Hard Time felt unnecessary and didn't feel compelling at all.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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Wednesday, October 3, 2018


The Man Who Came UptownThe Man Who Came Uptown by George Pelecanos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”When he read a book, the door to his cell was open. He could step right through it. He could walk those hills under the big blue sky. Breathe the fresh air around him. See the shadows moving over the trees. When he read a book, he was not locked up. He was free.”

The best thing that happens to Michael Hudson is getting locked up.
The second best thing is meeting prison librarian Anna Kaplan Byrne.
The third best thing is the day he opens a book and lets the magic happen.

The body might be caged, but books are time machines, enablers of armchair travelers, and facilitators for readers to live hundreds of lives in one lifetime. They can be a raft in a turbulent life. They can induce emotions that have never been felt so strongly before. They can give the reader a code by which to live his life. They can be a balloon tied to the wrist of the crushingly depressed that gently lifts them up.

Books are as dangerous as black sorcery, as compelling as white witchcraft, as powerful as a wizard’s staff. Is it any wonder that they were burned by the Nazis as if they were a living entity or by the Inquisition as if they were a heretic of flesh and bone?

Anybody need to be locked up? If you don’t read, maybe some time in solitary will cure you of your affliction.

”To him, a book was like a painting that hung in a museum. It was like a piece of art. There was nothing that compared to holding a book in his hands and scanning the words on the page. It made him ‘see’ what he was reading. It was how he dreamed.”

*Fist bump* to all the readers out there that do more than read, but also see.

Phil Ornazian is a man on the make. He is a private investigator who helps find people. He recovers lost valuable objects. He robs criminals. Most of the time he tries to do the right thing, but there are no lines between right and wrong for him. They blur into one another with vast amounts of room for interpretation. It might take a wrong to make a right. He lives by the Ornazian code of conduct.

Ornazian has a chat with a witness, and next thing Michael Hudson knows, he is free. When Ornazian pulls up in his black on black Ford Edge and makes sure that Hudson knows why he is walking around wearing something other than an orange jumpsuit, Hudson has a sinking feeling that staying straight is going to be difficult when you owe a guy like Ornazian.

Being free is generally an illusion for most of us.

George Pelecanos’s reverence for books is on full display. Books are dropped into the plot like exploding hand grenades. I was adding books to my want-to-read list on Goodreads as fast and furious as a Halo video game grand champion blowing through the early levels. My brain was lit up like a flamethrower. I was eating up pages like they were coming out of a Mickey Mouse pez dispenser. As if I weren’t hooked enough, Pelecanos mentions Don Carpenter’s book Hard Rain Falling, which is one of the best hardboiled books I’ve ever read, right up there with Black Wings Has My Angel by Elliott Chaze and the best of Raymond Chandler.

So bring this book, and let’s take a walk uptown together, and see how much trouble we can get into.

I want to thank Little, Brown and Ira Boudah for sending me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Monday, October 1, 2018

A Slave's Story

Twelve Years a SlaveTwelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A powerful and apparently true firsthand account from a free black man sold into slavery and his first to be free again.

Twelve Years a Slave is gut-wrenching stuff written by an immensely readable writer. Northup's journey is incredible...almost too incredible to believe. One has to continually remind oneself that he was not born into slavery, nor was he taken from overseas. His education is evident. This is no ignorant man denied an education and made to struggle along communicating with English as an untaught second language. In his accounts of his time upon Louisiana plantations he often is clearly more intelligent than his masters. So accustomed have we become to hearing former slave accounts relayed in some kind of pidgin English that it makes this cleanly and concisely related narrative seem like a fabrication.

The brutality is so finely detailed, the complete lack of justice so well elucidated and the story unfolded so seamlessly, that a reader wouldn't be faulted for mistaking Northup for an established novelist.

Twelve Years a Slave is gripping for its subject and execution, and I highly recommend it.

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