Monday, December 31, 2018

A New Celtic Legend

In the Region of the Summer Stars (Eirlandia, #1)In the Region of the Summer Stars by Stephen R. Lawhead
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(I received an audiobook version of this courtesy of Macmillan in exchange for an honest review.)

Historical fiction writer Stephen R. Lawhead has been on my radar for a little while now, so when I was offered a copy of his latest, I jumped at the chance to read it!

If you like all things Celtic, In the Region of the Summer Stars is the book for you! Druids, faeries, war chiefs, oh my! I made an extensive study of the Celtics years ago and really enjoy learning about their culture, so this book rolls all over my wheelhouse.

Fast-paced action moves an exciting story that feels like a legend. At a Welsh tribal clan gathering, questions arise over what to do about invading Dane vikings. A hot-blooded young prince of a sort is confused by a lack of concern that an potent enemy upon their doorstep is not being taken more seriously and he goes off to investigate.

Part action, part mystery and a whole heaping helping of history go into In the Region of the Summer Stars. Lawhead has clearly put in tons of research. He layers on the details, occasionally bogging down a scene here and there, but perpetually building depth within his world to a degree reminiscent of Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth. History buffs should enjoy this, while fantasy fans will find the druids and Lawhead's version of faeries earthily intriguing.

The always excellent John Lee was the perfect choice to narrate this. His deep timbre lends gravitas to the story and further strengthens its legendary qualities. The publisher has uploaded a sample from the book on Soundcloud. So, if you're interested in seeing if the narrator works for you or whatever, here's the clip:

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Friday, December 28, 2018

Camp Hell

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


Victor Bayne honed his dubious psychic skills at one of the first psych training facilities in the country, Heliotrope Station, otherwise known as Camp Hell to the psychics who've been guests behind its razorwire fence.

Vic discovered that none of the people he remembers from Camp Hell can be found online, and there’s no mention of Heliotrope Station itself, either. Someone's gone through a lot of trouble to bury the past. But who?

My Review

I really enjoyed the fifth installment in the Psy Cop series, even though it felt a little long in places. Unlike the previous stories, there is not just a criminal case to be solved. Vic is eager to find out more about his past in the psychic training facility known as Camp Hell and enlists the help of a therapist, who helps him recover his memories and also happens to be his ex-lover and fellow “inmate” in Camp Hell. He and Jacob also want to find out who is spying on them and why no records of Camp Heliotrope exist. The always-frisky Crash has a more significant role, as well as Vic’s new partner, Bob Zigler. The paranormal aspect in the story has been turned up a few notches, as Vic begins to use his abilities to their full potential. Even Jacob discovers hidden talents.

Vic’s and Jacob’s relationship continues to grow deeper and the sex is always hot and intense.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Secret Warriors Vol. 2: If Trouble Must Come

Secret Warriors Vol. 2: If Trouble Must ComeSecret Warriors Vol. 2: If Trouble Must Come by Matthew Rosenberg
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The team has gone their separate ways and Quake is trying to hunt down whoever killed Phil Coulson.

How do I say this without being a horrible nasty critic? If Trouble Must Come had many things that were no good about it and few things that were actually good. Ah screw it, this was hot garbage. I've enjoyed the Inhuman movement overall and the ups have generally balanced the downs in the worst case scenarios, but this was dreadful. The story was all over and not particularly interesting. The characters were accurate enough, but they were largely unenjoyable. I generally really like Quake, Ms. Marvel, and Inferno but they were all annoying. I also really dislike this version of Karnak. The total nihilism is weary and seeing him be so disconnected was painful.

In the end If Trouble Must Come was just bad.

1.5 out of 5 stars

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Wednesday, December 26, 2018


Madame BovaryMadame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”Before her marriage, she had believed that what she was experiencing was love; but since the happiness that should have resulted from that love had not come, she thought she must have been mistaken. And Emma tried to find out just what was meant, in life, by the words bliss, passion, and intoxication, which had seemed so beautiful to her in books.”

 photo Madame Bovary_zpsypdg9unz.jpg
Mia Wasikowska plays Madame Bovary in the 2015 movie.

Before she is Madame Bovary, Emma is keeping house for her father on a remote farm. I wonder what would have happened to her if Doctor Charles Bovary had not been summoned to set her father’s broken leg? It is inconceivable to think of her married to a farmer or a tradesman or being swept away by a travelling peddler. She is beautiful enough to be a duchess or a marquise, a pretty bobble for the dance floor, or an elegant adornment for the dinner table, and certainly, the perfect fine drapery for a night at the theatre.

Charles just expects her to be a wife. A woman to manage his household. A woman to uplift him and give him confidence to keep trying to better himself. He is successful in a dull and conservative way, and whenever he tries to raise himself up further, perhaps in an attempt to win the respect of his pretty wife, he is met with utter failure. There is nothing romantic about him. He is steady and completely devoted to her. Whenever he tries to express grand passions, somehow these attempts lack the ability to ignite the flames of desire or evoke the effervescent emotions that her novels tell her are the indications of true love.

Her frustrations, once contained in a heavy ball beneath her heart, begin to unravel like many hissing snakes, and her docile nature becomes viperous. ”She no longer hid her scorn for anything, or anyone, and she would sometimes express singular opinions, condemning what was generally approved, and commending perverse or immoral things: which made her husband stare at her wide-eyed.”

Other men desire her, even Charles’s father, who is a retired army officer and a man of the world, who will take any opportunity to pull her to him in a deserted hallway or tug her into a dark alcove for a reasonably platonic cuddle. Men can sense her dissatisfaction behind the cute dimple of her smile and the twinkling stars in her eyes. She is ripe for the plucking. Being a man well experienced with the betraying beguilement of beauty, I would like to think that I would be impervious to her charms. I would only have to clutch the slenderness of my wallet to realize that a woman of her insatiable need for material things would only lead me to disaster and ruin. Of course, there is this: ”And she was ravishing to look at, a tear trembling in her eye like water from a rainstorm in the blue chalice of a flower.”

Most men will meet many beautiful women in their lifetimes, but of course, the crux of the matter with a woman like Madame Bovary is knowing that with a little effort she can be least for a time. Two men are led into catastrophic affairs with Emma. These indiscretions prove even more disastrous for her. ”There are souls who endure endless torment? They are driven now to dream, not to take action, to experience the purest passions, then the most extreme joys, and so they hurl themselves into every sort of fantasy, every sort of folly.” Recklessness can prove too exhilarating, even intoxicating, but rarely does it lead to long term happiness.

The other problem that Madame Bovary has is a lack of funds. Her husband makes a good living, but he can not even begin to keep up with her need to possess fine things, or to conduct a lifestyle better suited to an aristocratic pocketbook. This is a theme of particular interest to Gustave Flaubert. In fact, he wrote a whole book called Dictionary of Accepted Ideas, condemning the very worst detrimental aspects of having too much money and not enough curiosity. ”What he despised, really, was a certain type of bourgeois attitude. It included traits such as intellectual and spiritual superficiality, raw ambition, shallow culture, a love of material things, greed, and above all a mindless parroting of sentiments and beliefs.”

An immoral, grubbing moneylender sinks his talons into Emma’s soft pale skin like a blood sucking leech. He takes advantage of her naivete concerning the truth worth of hard currency and plays upon her covetous nature for decadent things. She is so close, with an extended line of credit, to living a life of frivolous fun, buoyed by a series of passionate, heart fluttering affairs, that she can almost see it, almost taste it, and almost believe she can obtain the life she has only read about. As Vladimir Nabokov says, ”The ironic and the pathetic are beautifully intertwined.”

Emma’s mother-in-law believes the books she has been reading are the reason for the faults in her daughter-in-law’s character. ”Wouldn’t one have the right to alert the police if, despite this, the bookseller persisted in his business as purveyor of poison?” I have to admit I laughed out loud. As much as booksellers would like to claim to have diabolical control over readers, we have to defer to the writers. In fact, Flaubert had to defend himself in court for charges of immorality regarding the publication of Madame Bovary. Nothing drives book sales like a court of law trying to deem a book too scandalous for people to be trusted to read it. To me, this book encourages morality and fiscal responsibility. I don’t see how, given the tragic nature of the book, someone would read this book and want to emulate Madame Bovary.

However, I do understand the feeling that some women have of being trapped in a cage, even if it is a gilded one. The responsibilities of life can make one feel the itch to be reckless, unfettered, and pine for romantic assignations that will awaken youthful desires. Maybe this book is more of a how-to manual on how not to conduct oneself with torrid affairs and fiscal carelessness.

This novel is considered the first example of realistic fiction. This translation is 311 pages long. Flaubert had over 4500 pages of rough drafts that this relatively slender volume emerged from. The lyrical nature of the writing attests to the stringent diligence that Flaubert insisted upon to craft each page of this novel.

I couldn’t help, of course, but think of Anna Karenina as I read this book. I read and reviewed Tolstoy’s masterpiece earlier this year. It is easy to condemn both of these women, but who among us has not had destructive desires which we have either indulged in or at least coveted? Both women are fully drawn characters, completely exposed to our critical judging eye, and at the end of the day, deserving of our pity. Either woman would have made a wonderful heroine for a Shakespearean drama. I can hear the gasps from a 17th century audience.

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Monday, December 24, 2018

The Second First Lady

Abigail Adams: A LifeAbigail Adams: A Life by Woody Holton
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been looking for a good bios on the nation's founding mothers and I found one!

Having read bios on the male versions of the Washingtons, Adams, Jeffersons, Hamiltons, etc...etc...etc...I wanted to see the revolutionary period through the eyes of the women of the day. Abigail Adams is an important figure of the time and the fact that I didn't know her hardly at all rankled with me. Having read Woody Holton's Abigail Adams: A Life I feel like I know more than I could ever need to know.

I've read and seen numerous books and films on her famous husband John. Each mentioned and portrayed Abigail as a stalwart companion and alluded to her importance to him, but they never went into great detail as to why. They made it clear that the two were a good match, but didn't explain her role in the partnership. Holton has it covered!

As a biographer Holton is often generous and kind to Adams. You can tell she has an ally here in this author. Positive and affirming language was employed in places where negative terms could just as well been used. Example: never once did Holton label Adams a war profiteer, and yet that's just how she kept her family's fortune from ruin and even enriched it. The woman did what she had to and what her husband would not, though he benefited greatly from her efforts and seemed to generally turn a blind eye to anything he might see as being morally beneath him (that being said, there was a whole lotta stuff John thought was morally beneath him!).

What I enjoyed most about this was the look into the domestic side of life during the American Revolution. It's a period I've studied a good deal and usually that study ends up focusing on the war side of things. It's more exciting and there's more readily found information on the fighting aspect, as well as the government-forming period later. How the household was kept together seldom gets much play and so I appreciated that.

It was also great to know one of the country's forerunners in female equality. Like the sign-wielding parade marchers, Adams may have urged her husband when he was forming the new government to "remember the ladies", but more than that, she just went out there and showed how a woman could handle economic affairs, such as starting a business, managing estates and trading on the market. This at a time when women weren't allowed to...well...they just weren't allowed to! The husband controlled the wealth in those days. But Adams got around that and made a success of it. Without her, a lot of a people in her extended family, John included, would have been sunk.

Really solid read! Highly recommended!

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Friday, December 21, 2018

There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays

Shawn Lane
MLR Press
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars


Fashion designer, Mackenzie Grayson, has no intention of going home for Christmas...until his sister calls and uses guilt to talk him into spending two weeks over the holidays at his family's home in California. With his best friend, Connor, in tow, Mac returns to California, a place he has mostly avoided after a bad breakup. Mac no longer does serious relationships, but maybe some time spent with Connor under the mistletoe will make this a more magical Christmas than either of them would have dreamed of.

My Review

Shawn Lane is my go-to author when I’m looking for something sweet, sexy and uncomplicated. This story is the perfect holiday read.

Mackenzie Grayson missed Christmas with the family last year. This year, his sister wasn’t going to have it. She wants the whole family together, including Karl, her husband’s brother. Mac had a brief fling with him a couple of summers ago and worries things could be a little awkward when they meet again, even though both men were not looking for anything serious. After a bad breakup with a man he loved, Mac vowed not to get emotionally involved with anyone again.

Over dinner, Mac decides to spring the news of his holiday plans on his best friend, Connor. A couple of days before his departure, Mackenzie learns that Connor ‘s boyfriend broke up with him and he arranges a plane ticket so Connor can spend Christmas with him and his family.

Connor is absolutely adorable! His bouncy personality, curly hair and bright green eyes were a contrast to Mac’s seriousness. It is obvious that Mac loves him, even though their relationship has never moved beyond friendship.

I loved how Mac’s mother put Mac and Connor in the guest room with only one double bed and a sprig of mistletoe in the kitchen with that special wisdom mothers have. That combined with a bit of eggnog and Christmas spirit made Mackenzie realize that special someone was with him all along.

This is a very cute story that made me smile.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Secret Warriors Vol. 1: Secret Empire

Secret Warriors Vol. 1: Secret EmpireSecret Warriors Vol. 1: Secret Empire by Matthew Rosenberg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hydra Captain America sent Quake's team into an ambush. They all died except Quake and now she's fighting back.
She knows she needs help and she seeks some Inhuman assistance.

This Secret Warriors does not resemble the original Secret Warriors at all really. The only overlap is Quake is involved, but she's a vastly different character and the story is meant to be funny. The writer constantly pokes fun at the Inhuman's powers being copies of other Marvel characters. It's particularly poignant with Inferno who at one monent is referred to as "The Inhuman Torch." It's kind of funny though seeing as Inferno can't fly and his flames can seriously burn him as well. All in all I didn't find it funny, but I did smirk occasionally.

I'm not sure what the Secret Warriors can truly accomplish, but I'm willing to read on for now.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Salem's Lot by Stephen King

Salem's LotSalem's Lot by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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From the 1979 movie version of Salem’s Lot

”It would be years before I would hear Alfred Bester’s axiom ‘the book is the boss,’ but I didn’t need to; I learned it for myself writing the novel that eventually became Salem’s Lot. Of course, the writer can impose control; it’s just a really shitty idea. Writing controlled fiction is called ‘plotting.’ Buckling your seatbelt and letting the story take over, however...that is called ‘storytelling.’ Storytelling is as natural as breathing; plotting is the literary version of artificial respiration.”

This nugget of wisdom is shared by Stephen King in the introduction to the 2005 illustrated edition of Salem’s Lot. I have to say that I completely agree with this philosophy. I have talked to many would-be writers who are so bogged down in getting the outline of their story completely figured out that they never actually get to the writing part of the process. I like having a few concepts in my head before I start whacking away at that mesmerizing whiteness of the blank page, but if I have it all figured out,...then why write it? The fun part is discovering the nuances of the maze before I find the exit.

Stephen King grew up in a small town in New England, and it seems like he has been waging war on small towns every since. ”There’s little good in sedentary small towns. Mostly indifference spiced with an occasional vapid evil--or worse, a conscious one. I believe Thomas Wolfe wrote about seven pounds of literature about that.” I, too, grew up in a small town and fully intend, in the scope of my writing, to eviscerate some of the more heinous aspects of small town “values.”

I love Paul Bettany’s line from the movie Knight’s Tale. Chaucer: “I will eviscerate you in fiction. Every pimple, every character flaw. I was naked for a day; you will be naked for eternity.” I always like to say that my career is littered with the corpses of my enemies.(Hyperbole) Just a word of warning for those still breathing: I will reveal you for the bloody bastards/bitches you are in my fiction. If you think it isn’t probably is. #evillaughwahaha

Jerusalem’s Lot is that typical small town that King loves to destroy on a regular basis, and this time his weapon is...vampires. The Marsten House, the scene of unspeakable tragedies, has been left empty for many years. It is a grand mansion falling into ruin by the very evilness that seems to fester in the walls and the rafters clear down to the bedrock. Ben Mears has come back to town to write about the place and intends to actually stay on the premises, but learns on his arrival that the house has been sold. Who would really want to stay there anyway? ”The house smelled. You wouldn’t believe how it smelled. Mildew and upholstery rot and a kind of rancid smell like butter that had gone over. And living things--rats or woodchucks or whatever else that had been nesting in the walls or hibernating in the cellar. A yellow, wet smell.”

The Marsten House is the perfect place for a vampire named Barlow and his assistant R. T. Straker to take up residence. The first clue should have been the initials; remember Dracula’s assistant...R. M. Renfield. The one word name as well...Barlow…. What does he think—he is Prince?

Yes, he does, and much, much more. He is, ultimately, a God fashioning people in his own image.

As Barlow picks off the residents of Jerusalem's Lot one by one and turns them into an army of hungry vampires, a small band of misfits start to fight back. After all, who else, but the freaks and oddballs would believe that there really are vampires? ”An old teacher half-cracked with books, a writer obsessed with his childhood nightmares, a little boy who has taken a postgraduate course in vampire lore from the films and the modern penny-dreadfuls.”

Barlow has certainly had better men and women than these who have tried to destroy him. He has become overconfident and underestimates the courage and resolve of this disenfranchised band of eccentrics he is dealing with. Check out this condescending speech he lays on Ben Mears:

”Look and see me, puny man. Look upon Barlow, who has passed the centuries as you have passed hours before a fireplace with a book. Look and see the great creature of the night whom you would slay with your miserable little stick. Look upon me, scribbler. I have written in human lives, and blood has been my ink. Look upon me and despair!”

No one is more shocked than Stephen King that his idea for a vampire hoard destroying one of his loathed small towns turns into an inspiring, uplifting novel of the weak fighting back against the most powerful. It is a slow burn of a plot. King uses the early pages of the novel to let us get to know these people before we see them tested beyond normal human endurance. Fortunately, his working title of Second Coming was vetoed for the published title by his wife Tabitha who, rightly so, decided it would be a better title for a sex manual. It is a nice ode to the classic vampire myth and manages to add some original stake splattering moments to the genre. Salem’s Lot has become a classic of fanged literature. King proves his storytelling chops.

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Monday, December 17, 2018

A Memoir for Dratch Fans

Girl Walks into a Bar . . .: Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife MiracleGirl Walks into a Bar . . .: Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife Miracle by Rachel Dratch
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can understand why Rachel Dratch isn't beloved by the masses and getting lead roles in blockbuster rom-coms. I get that. But the woman tickles my funnybone and that's all that matters to me!

Perhaps it's partly that we're both from Massachusetts and I can't help but root for a hometown gal, but really what I really love is her off-beat humor and those out-of-left-field characters she's known for.

Qrplt*xk, the mutant offspring of Angelina Jolie and her brother

If you're not a Dratch fan why are you here? This is not the book for you. If you're hoping for some SNL insights, yeah, you'll get some in Girl Walks into a Bar, but they're limited to her experiences on the show and she doesn't do a lot of dirt-dishing. She is great at framing a story and she's got plenty of showbiz tales to tell. The first third of the book is about her journey up to SNL and the "What happened with 30 Rock?" aftermath. That is topnotch, fun stuff! Very well-written and performed on the audiobook.

The later two-thirds take on a much more personal tone and the subject matter veers off on another course. I'm being vague as not to spoil the content for potential readers. Suffice to say, if you're a Dratch fan, this second movement of the autobio should retain your interest. If you're not a fan, it'll probably be hit-or-miss whether or not you're interested in the specific topic(s) she dwells upon. I'll go so far as to say it's heavily relationship related.

The wife and I listened to this over the course of three long car rides and we enjoyed it so much we were actually looking forward to jumping back in the car asap!

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Friday, December 14, 2018


Alexandra Kolossa
Taschen Books
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


By the time of his death from AIDS at the age of 31, Keith Haring (1958-1990) was already a wildly successful and popular artist. Haring's original and instantly recognizable style, full of thick black lines, bold colors, and graffiti-inspired cartoon-like figures, won him the appreciation of both the art world and the general public; his work appeared simultaneously on T-shirts, gallery walls, and public murals. In 1986, Haring founded Pop Shop, a boutique in New York's SoHo selling Haring-designed memorabilia, to benefit charities and help bring his work closer to the public and especially street kids, with whom he never lost contact.

My Review

“I live every day as if it were the last. I love life.”― Keith Haring, 1987

This is a lovely book and a wonderful introduction to the work of Keith Haring. If you read John Gruen’s biography of the artist and found it lacking in artistic analysis, this book is the perfect companion. Reading both books will provide a full picture of the artist and the man.

I would like to time travel to 1982 to see the Keith Haring exhibition at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York, which was given a two-page spread on pages 25 and 26. At that time, I was not yet familiar with the artist’s work. It wasn’t until the late 80’s when I got to know his powerful AIDS-themed works.

I love Haring’s versatility. Starting out with chalk drawings in subway he moved on to a wide variety of surfaces, creating complex designs that were bold, colorful and energetic.

Keith Haring was an artist for the people. Though public recognition was important to him, acceptance by museums was a lot slower in coming. It wasn’t until after his death that his work was shown in major exhibitions.

“Everything happens for a reason. And I’m sure everything always happens at the right time and in the right place.”
― Keith Haring, 1987

The illustrations are well organized and the text is easy on the eyes. This is a worthy addition to any art library.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Servant of the Crown

Servant of the Crown (Heir to the Crown #1)Servant of the Crown by Paul J. Bennett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Gerald is an old soldier who finds himself banished from the army, scapegoated, and nearly executed if not for the influence of his lifelong friend the Baron of Bodden. Instead he's sent away to work at a royal estate that rarely sees visitors. Gerald meets a young girl with an enormous secret and treats her largely like a daughter. This relationship changes life for him forever.

Servant of the Crown is a touching story about friendship, loyalty, and politics. I kind of wish I knew that before I picked it up because I was expecting a story about warfare. This isn't the kind of book I would have chosen to read if I knew what to expect. The story is light on battles, but has a lot of heart.

Gerald and Anna's relationship is a happy tear inducing drama. They're both alone. Each is without a family and they become that for one another. Gerald gets to help raise Anna like the daughter that he lost and Anna gets a father figure with the utmost integrity. I felt bad for Gerald overall, but it seems Anna got a better deal having Royal power along with Gerald as her father figure.

Servant of the Crown is a nice story.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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

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Wednesday, December 12, 2018


Will Work for DrugsWill Work for Drugs by Lydia Lunch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”But I’m too far gone now, too fucked up, too ill spent to really carry through. Shot to shit and forced to struggle against it. Broken down, battered. Used too much up. Nothing left inside my angel’s saving graces, that busted little cherub with dirty feet and greasy wings whose tender ruby-rich kisses have resuscitated so many burning embers and dying remains that I have become a mortician’s reanimator, stuck forever in a purgatory that so many dying men have come to rub their poison against.

Even my breath has become toxic. An aerosol taint of glue, sugar water, paint fumes, dead roses, and runoff. But young boys don’t know that yet. Don’t see it, can’t smell my true essence over the sweat of their own passion. Over the smell of their own vinegar, saltwater taffy, dirty towels, steam heat. They wouldn’t recognize it even if they did.”

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I knew vaguely of her existence, but I never really saw her until she showed up to have lunch with Anthony Bourdain on what would turn out to be the last episode of Parts Unknown. We see people all the time. We may even read their books or watch their TV shows or catch them in a movie, but we don’t always SEE them. So when I say I “saw her,” I mean that I finally created space in my brain for her. She is part of the Jeffrey D. Keeten universe now. If Lydia Lunch were to read this, she would probably kick me in the nuts, tell me to Fuck off, and be mildly offended that in 2018 I’m finally acknowledging her existence. Violence, profanity, and a marshmallow center are all part of the essence of Lydia Lunch.

She was born Lydia Anne Koch, but that name really doesn’t mean anything. The name Lydia Lunch means something because she earned it. She got the name because she stole food to feed her friends. People would see Lydia coming and know that lunch was coming with her.

I will contest her statement in the opening quote that she is “shot to shit.” I don’t believe it for one second. She might be tired, but after watching numerous clips of her talking about numerous subjects, she is far from worn out. Her soul has been on the verge of drowning, but her indomitable spirit, I’m convinced, will always breaks the surface of the water. Even shipwrecked deep at sea, somehow she will wash up on shore.

When she was twelve, she was living with her pathetic dad, who liked to have his buddies over for poker night. ”By 9:15 they were all shit-faced. Drunk as fuck and squealing like the insufferable sex pigs that they were. I was forced to play waitress, barkeep, and Barbie doll. Keep their busted cups full of rotgut, the pickled pigs feet coming, the corn dogs warm, and smile like I meant it. Yeah, right...Give me something to smile about, assholes.”

The scene only deteriorated from there, after her father ran out of money, but even amongst the barbarity of this situation, she related the impending nightmare with threads of humor that made me feel uncomfortable. Hmmm, Lydia Lunch making people feel uncomfortable. That would be her stock in trade.

 photo Lydia20Lunch20Smiling_zpsjzbojh56.jpg
I had to look through a lot of pictures to find one of Lydia really smiling or is this the fake smile? The wattage is dazzling.

In the back of the book, she conducted some interviews with several writers, but the two I really enjoyed were her discussions with her friends Hubert Selby Jr. and Nick Tosches. Selby discussed why it took so long, ten years, for him to write his book The Willow Tree. Some writers reading this might really identify. ”I’d write for a few weeks, then one day I’d get up to go inside and write and I’d get close to the door, but something would just pick me up and throw me out of the room.” The writing spirits had deemed him unworthy or at least in the wrong frame of mind. As if to say, come back when you are really serious, Selby! Don’t waste our time!

Writers take note of the following exchange:

Lydia Lunch: “What is a year overdue?”

Nick Tosches: “Garbage, complete, wretched, DRECK. I have to do two magazine stories, and then a book, and it’s all wretched dreck and I just need to work my way out to freedom. If I had the money I would just give everybody their money back and not do any of it. It’s too much.”

There was so much to unpack in this brief exchange. First of all, there was no way Tosches would be comfortable enough to be this honest with a normal reviewer but, given that he knew Lydia, she would truly understand that what he was talking about liberated him to just lay all his fears and anxiety right out on the cigarette scarred and wine stained table. Writers get asked to do projects they don’t want to do, as do most people in all professions. Writers are sometimes so desperate for money or validation that even a small roll of dough dangling before them will be too much of a temptation to resist. Nick freely admitted he was not the right writer for these projects, and then he was drowning in his own feelings of inadequacy.

The additional problem was that, with these projects hanging over his head, it was impossible for him to do the writing he wanted to do as well. The use of the word freedom resonated with me. He gave up his freedom, maybe too cheaply, and is now steeped in regret. So the moral of the story for writers is be careful about accepting money for projects for which they are ill suited. You know your capabilities better than the people offering the money, so don’t trap yourself in a project you are going to hate. On the other hand, if you are starving, take the fucking money.

This is a slender volume, and yet I could go on and on about about so many more things I found fascinating to think about. Keying on Elton John’s suggestion to get rid of all religions to have a chance at world peace, she took that thought a step further and suggested we should get rid of God. In typical Lydia fashion, cut the head off, not the tail. She made a very compelling argument. There are purple prose that feel over the top, but yet coming from her, they are merely part of her persona, and it would be unnatural for her thoughts to come at us any other way than as red hot, shotgun pellets that burrow and burn their way to the bone. ”An abstract portrait rendered in spunk.”

 photo Lydia20Lunch20Cigarette_zpsjxw8jdvv.jpg

This book will be too much for most of you. You’ll have all kinds of reasons not to like it. The book is uncomfortable, exaggerated, self-indulgent, criminal, and oh my goodness, a woman being very unlady like.

”We, especially as women, need to insist upon our Pleasure.

Demand our Pleasure.”

You may not understand her, but don’t try to marginalize her. You’ll get BURNED! Writer, photographer, actress, food provider, and musician who is still trying to make sense of a fucked up world.

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Monday, December 10, 2018

The rhythm of crime writing

Mortal Stakes (Spenser, #3)Mortal Stakes by Robert B. Parker
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Parker was really starting to get into a rhythm with these Spenser stories. You can see the character coming to life. Everything feels more natural and at ease.

The triangle of deceit he created in Mortal Stakes is not diabolically ingenious, but it suits. Spenser is shown sorting out the clues he gathers and going through a methodical process to get to the bottom of it all. I thought perhaps Parker took a shortcut to the main baddies rather too quickly. It was almost like Spenser was drawn to them for no apparent reason other than getting the show on the road.

Extra points for this one due to the inclusion of the Boston Red Sox, my favorite team. Hell, the major reason I started reading these was because they take place in my home city (well, I lived 45 minutes outside of it, but it's still "my city" in a way.) Anytime a writer wants to use Fenway Pahk as a setting is wicked pissah with me!

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Spenser Goes to Europe!

The Judas Goat (Spenser, #5)The Judas Goat by Robert B. Parker
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spenser goes on a working holiday to Europe and the Olympics. Hawk joins him. And then there's some canoodling with Susan.

This fifth episode in Parker's famous Spenser detective series keeps the ball rolling, but rolls it in a different direction. If I were to guess, I'd say Parker probably had taken a vacation to Europe and wanted to incorporate it into his books somehow. He managed and the result is fun.

I'm surprised to hear myself say that about The Judas Goat, because the topic/Spenser's target is a group of militant racists and the less of those in my life the better. I generally don't even want to read about them. But I suppose reading about Spenser kicking their butts is fun!

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Friday, December 7, 2018

Still Life

Jaime Samms
Dreamspinner Press
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


When Allan Song’s ex, Mac, shows up to model for the life drawing class Allan teaches, he turns everything upside-down. Mac is still as infuriatingly attractive as when Allan first met him—and still trying to figure out where he fits on the gender spectrum. He’s more than a little out of control, and he’s taken some stupid risks that have come back to haunt him. If they’re going to get back together, Allan wants a real relationship—but for that, he and Mac will need to look below the surface.

My Review

I thought this was going to be a light, sweet Christmas romance. I’m really glad it wasn’t, as I’ve overdosed on holiday sweetness and am now craving conflict, intense emotions, and deep feelings. Jaime Samms delivered and after reading just one story, I now count myself among her fans. I also liked that the blurb for the story was kind of vague; still intriguing, but not enough to reveal too much information about the characters or spoil the plot.

Allen has known his roommate, Mac, for two years. Allen has always liked men, but Mac is straight, well at least until he starts flirting playfully with Allen while he’s working on his term papers and distracts him even further by coming out of his room in a dress. Jump ahead a couple of years to Allen’s classroom, where he is teaching art and Mac is the life drawing class’s model. By this time, the men are living separate lives, even though it is obvious they haven’t moved on.

It was just a small incident that caused Al and Mac to break up during a family visit at Christmas, but alcohol, flirting, insecurity, and stubbornness have blown the incident out of proportion and created a huge rift not only in Al’s and Mac’s relationship, but in Al’s relationship with his family.

The men are in for difficult times as they try to reconcile their differences and move forward. They are stubborn, hurtful and unwilling to bend. Despite all that, they are deeply in love with each other. A pregnancy, a death and the possibility of a major life-changing event conspire to bring the men back together. As they begin to admit their wrongdoings and deal with the consequences of their actions, they will become stronger individually and as a couple.

This story is far from a typical romance. Relationships, family life and friendships are explored realistically and a wide spectrum of emotions portrayed. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and loved both Mac and Al. I hope they have the strength to face the challenges ahead of them.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Thor: God of Thunder, Volume 2: Godbomb

Thor: God of Thunder, Volume 2: GodbombThor: God of Thunder, Volume 2: Godbomb by Jason Aaron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The origin of Gorr the God Butcher is revealed. description
His family died trusting in gods that couldn't be bothered to help. So Gorr has devised his own plan with the help of time travel. He created a godbomb to annihilate every god who ever has and ever will live across all time in an instant.
The only thing left standing in his way are three Thors from different time periods.

Godbomb was a good conclusion to the tale of Gorr the God Butcher. It's easy to see why Gorr turned out to be the way he was and how he grew to despise all the gods. He's truly sympathetic because all he sought was help and what he got in return was seeing his entire family including his children die in front of him.

The three Thors were interesting.
I really wanted to see more of the All-Father Thor because he's the character who has been seen the least among the three.

Godbomb had some solid writing and I definitely enjoyed it.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2018


The End of the End of the Earth: EssaysThe End of the End of the Earth: Essays by Jonathan Franzen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”If you stand in a forest in Southeast Asia, you may hear and then begin to feel, in your chest, a deep rhythmic whooshing. It sounds meteorological, but it’s the wingbeats of Great Hornbills flying in to land in a fruiting tree. They have massive yellow bills and hefty white thighs; they look like a cross between a toucan and a giant panda. As they clamber around in the tree, placidly eating fruit, you may find yourself crying out with the rarest of all emotions: pure joy. It has nothing to do with what you want or what you possess. It’s the sheer gorgeous fact of the Great Hornbill, which couldn’t care less about you.”

I always love those moments when something reminds me of how insubstantial I am, compared to the forces of nature. The ultimate feeling of insignificance for me was to see, in a flash of lightning, a tornado, in all its beautiful glory, just off the road from where I was riding in a car. The sight of this destructive power of swirling winds inspired instant terror and awe, and as the lightning faded, the terror for me increased exponentially with the descending of complete and utter darkness. I was so unnerved I buckled my seatbelt (this was the 1980s) as if that act would shield me from the onslaught of such a power entity.

I’ve been remiss about reading Jonathan Franzen novels. I’ve liked what I have read. He has a self-deprecating style that allows me to see the human in the writer, even as he dazzles me with insightful prose. He questions his own beliefs and is a master at disputing both sides of an argument within himself. This could lead to indecision, but that doesn’t seem to be an insurmountable hazard for him. He still continues to move forward, even as he keeps a tongue pressed into his cheek to remind himself that he could be completely wrong in his assessment.

Franzen is a Bird Lister, and winged beasts figure prominently into these sixteen essays. As a gently mad book collector, I am always excited to find someone whom I can perceive to be more insane than myself. These bird listers go to great, sometimes dangerous, lengths to check a bird off their list. Franzen’s excitement at seeing a Jamaican Blackbird, or an Opal-rumped Tanager, or a Saint Lucia Black Finch are equal to my own excitement at finding a rare Graham Greene, or a bright copy of a Virginia Woolf vastly underpriced, or say an interesting appearing book by an author I’ve never heard of before. Of course, I slide my new acquisition onto my bookshelf, while he hopefully retains at least a mental image of the bird he has spotted. He might be slightly more mad than I.

Franzen’s girlfriend offers to go with him anywhere in the world. He suggests the idea of going to Antarctica, which he regrets almost immediately. He is unsure why, out of all the destinations in the world, he chose to torture her with the idea of attempting to vanquish the frozen, southern extremes of the planet. ”By this point, I, too, had a developed a vague aversion to the trip, an inability to recall why I’d proposed Antarctica in the first place. The idea of ‘seeing it before it melts’ was dismal and self-canceling: why not just wait for it to melt and cross itself off the list of travel destinations?”

I like the practicality of waiting for Antarctica to melt and crossing it off the bucket list. I’ve become more annoyed with the whole concept of a bucket list in recent years. This list has become a grand piano, suspended over my head, ready to fall on me the moment I show any weakness or hesitation in accepting an opportunity to cross something off the list. The list is not stagnant, either. As I cross things off, more things are added. It is a list that can not be conquered; by design, I am destined to fail.

The book is not all about birds, who are harbingers of the end of the end of the earth, as his title suggests, or about climate change. He also talks about his relationship with William Vollmann and his reverence for one of my favorite writers, Edith Wharton. He drops in a few mentions of writers like Rachel Cusk, whom I have not read, and Karl Ove Knausgaard, whom I have not read enough of. If I read a grouping of essays and don’t come away with an expanded book reading list (which is in some ways worse than a bucket list), I am disappointed.

Moreover, Franzen delves into the research of Sherry Turkle, who explores the impact that technology is having on who we are. ”Our rapturous submission to digital technology has led to an atrophying of human capacities like empathy and self-reflection, and the time has come to reassert ourselves, behave like adults, and put technology in its place.”

I have recently started feeling better about our future relationship with technology. I’ve heard more and more dissatisfaction coming from people twenty plus years younger than myself, so it isn’t just nervous old fuddy duddies, like me, who are starting to understand the diminishing returns of more advanced technology. It is the same theory as being rich. Once you reach a certain level of comfort, your happiness meter starts to plummet with the more money you acquire. What most people find is that you are happier when you are comfortable financially, which could be equated to reaching that level where technology is helping to improve your life. The trouble begins when money starts to rule your every thought or when technology begins to take over your life.

The big questions that Jonathan Franzen seems to be seeking answers to in writing these essays are, can we adapt our thinking enough to save the birds, save the planet, and in the process liberate ourselves from our own destruction? The environment should not be a political issue. Scientists are in agreement about the starkness of the facts. We should not be putting ourselves in a position where nature can bring her absolute worst against us. The tornados, the wildfires, the hurricanes, the torrential rains, the droughts are all punishments, increasing in frequency and velocity, as we continue to abuse this lovely, lovely blue planet. We, whether we want to accept the task or not, are the elected stewards, and we must make better, tougher, more responsible decisions going forward.

I want to thank Farrar, Straus, Giroux for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Monday, December 3, 2018

A Brownstein Memoir

Hunger Makes Me a Modern GirlHunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Way more serious and far less funny than I expected. Also, very little about Portlandia. One sentence to be precise.

But that's okay! Having loved Sleater-Kinney and collected 7"s from that band and her prior, Excuse 17, back in the 90s, I probably would've read this book anyway. I'm always ready to hear more stories about riot grrrl and Olympia!

Back then her S-K bandmate Corin Tucker was the one I gave a shit about. I'd fallen in love with Tucker's voice from her previous band, Heavens To Betsy. The tremulous tone yet strident thrust of her borderline manic singing filled each song with a dangerous urgency. You felt like at any moment, this was a person who might come spectacularly unhinged and, emotionally or physically, you could be caught in the crossfire.

There is plenty about Tucker in Carrie Brownstein's Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, but that's the thing, this is Brownstein's book. It's about her journey, and wow, it turned out to be a hell of a ride! Without giving away too much, she endured a youth that could easily have turned her into a societal nightmare, another soul damaged by upbringing that might have continued the cycle and spread the negative over others. Instead, she found a niche and fought for it. She became a success in one chosen field (music), then another (acting), and now she's succeeded as an author, too. That's determination!

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