Thursday, December 19, 2019

Blood of Empire

Blood of EmpireBlood of Empire by Brian McClellan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ka-Sedial and the Dynize Empire are on the cusp of creating a new god. Vlora, Ben Styke, Michel Bravis, and many others go to extremes to prevent that from happening.

Blood of Empire was largely what I expected from the conclusion of the Gods of Blood and Power series. Lots of intrigue and battles. I was hoping to see if Brian McClellan had something more or truly unexpected in store for this book, but he unfortunately didn't. Blood of Empire is the first book in the Powder Mage universe that I got from the library rather than buying since Promise of Blood and I did end up buying Promise of Blood later on.

My challenge with this series compared to the novellas and the Powder Mage trilogy is I haven't found someone to truly route for. I've somewhat enjoyed Ben Styke, but he doesn't fill my desire for a lead character. I'm more indifferent to Vlora and Michel although I have to admit, they really came alive for me in this final installment. Ben, Vlora, and Michel all face significant personal trials in this book. They grow from them in a truly organic sense becoming more human by the page. This was a huge shift for me when it came to Vlora and Michel because they were largely forgettable in the prior two books.

In a lot of ways the entire Gods of Blood and Power series felt like a sequel to the Powder Mage trilogy. Unfortunately not in a good way. A lot of the aspects felt copied from the original series despite being in a new location and having some different abilities. I did enjoy it, but just not as much as the first series.

As far as Blood of Empire specifically goes, it's pretty even with it's predecessors in this series. It's a good book, but not one I imagine finding myself desiring to revisit. On top of lacking a truly compelling lead, the book lacks a compelling villain. The story describes Ka-Sedial being incredibly evil, but he's seen so rarely that he's more of a looming danger than an active villain.

Blood of Empire was a solid conclusion to the Gods of Blood and Power trilogy.

3.5 out of 5 stars

View all my reviews

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Age of Death

Age of Death (The Legends of the First Empire, #5)Age of Death by Michael J. Sullivan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With Suri in the hands of Fane Lothian, Nyphron is convinced he no longer has a chance of winning the war. Persephone finds herself alone. Her brave friends who went to save Suri are dead, but Malcolm tells her that there's still a chance they could return. The group who willingly entered the land of the dead are the Rhunes only hope.

Age of Death like Age of Legend ended in a cliff hanger. At least I know I won't have to wait too long for the last book of the series, but I really wish the story progressed further.

Age of Death clearly shows that in this world, death isn't the end. The reader is granted a view of the afterlife and the realms within it. The history of the world and the gods are mentioned in some detail which was interesting to say the least. The gods aren't exactly what I imagined they would be.

I love the work put into the various characters. I find myself enjoying all of them and what they add to the tale, which is rare. Michael J. Sullivan puts them through what appears like hell at times and they all face it differently. I know it's not reasonable to expect a happy ending for all of them, but I hope things all turn out for the better for each one of them.

Age of Death was a really enjoyable read. Now I just have to wait for the series conclusion, Age of Empyre.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone

Rachel Lynn Solomon
Simon Pulse
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Eighteen-year-old twins Adina and Tovah have little in common besides their ambitious nature. Viola prodigy Adina yearns to become a soloist—and to convince her music teacher he wants her the way she wants him. Overachiever Tovah awaits her acceptance to Johns Hopkins, the first step on her path toward med school and a career as a surgeon.

But one thing could wreck their carefully planned futures: a genetic test for Huntington’s, a rare degenerative disease that slowly steals control of the body and mind. It’s turned their Israeli mother into a near stranger and fractured the sisters’ own bond in ways they’ll never admit. While Tovah finds comfort in their Jewish religion, Adina rebels against its rules.

When the results come in, one twin tests negative for Huntington’s. The other tests positive.

These opposite outcomes push them farther apart as they wrestle with guilt, betrayal, and the unexpected thrill of first love. How can they repair their relationship, and is it even worth saving?

From debut author Rachel Lynn Solomon comes a luminous, heartbreaking tale of life, death, and the fragile bond between sisters.

My Review

After reading the heartbreaking and thought-provoking Inside the O'Briens, I went in search of more fiction that deals with Huntington’s disease.

This is the story of fraternal twin sisters Adina and Tovah, two teenagers who have gradually grown apart.

Can one enjoy a book and at the same time be glad it’s over? Perhaps I’m just too old to read about 18-year-olds with their volatile emotions, their self-centeredness, and their never-ending drama. Add to this boiling cauldron a mother with early symptoms of Huntington’s disease and the upheaval that results when both sisters decide to take the genetic test to determine if they have inherited the gene. One of the twins has it and one doesn’t. This story very thoughtfully explores what it means to live with the possibility of inheriting a rare genetic disease and watching that disease slowly take the life of a parent as well as the survivor guilt experienced by the one who manages to escape this fate.

There are pros and cons to predictive testing. On the positive side is an increased ability to plan for the future and a life without worry or uncertainty about getting this disease. On the negative side, receiving a positive result is likely to be emotionally devastating to the individual. In Adina’s case, she experiences anger, despair, suicidal thoughts, and engages in self-destructive behavior. All of this makes it difficult to like her at times, but the author has done a wonderful job creating well-rounded characters that are easy to empathize with. While the sisters are both extremely competitive and share many of the same problems plaguing teenagers their age, it was good to have both of their perspectives, as their personalities, beliefs, and attitudes are very different. Another good thing is the presence of loving parents. So often, parents are absent or insignificant characters in fiction for young people.

While I was exhausted by the time I reached the story’s conclusion, I can’t deny that this debut was beautifully written, engaging, thoughtful, and convincing. I very much look forward to more of Rachel Lynn Solomon’s novels.

“The fear is never far away. My broken heel reminds me the disease could sneak up on me at any moment. One day I will twitch when I want to be still, rage when I want to be happy, forget when I want to remember. It has happened to my mother, and it will happen to me. We are a doomed family – but we are not done fighting yet.”

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The United States is no more. Birth rates have plunged to a terrifying low and the Republic of Gilead has taken over to right things. The problem in their collective mind is people have gotten away from living life in a biblical manner. Gilead's changes started slowly. The first step was banning all women from working, but things got much worse. Gilead gathered their "natural resources," women they've deemed to be unwed who've had children. Gilead has tasked these women to have children for their commanders and their barren wives. In Gilead only women are deemed barren because it can't possibly be a man's fault. Offred is a woman who has had everything except her life stripped from her. Even the name Offred is not the one she was born with. It means of Fred, the commander whose household she's assigned to. She had a child with her husband, but her husband was divorced. In Gilead their marriage isn't recognized and so she's been taken to be a handmaid and her daughter was given to another family. The work of a handmaid is being forced to lay upon her commander's wife's knees as he attempts to impregnate her once a month.

"Ordinary, said Aunt Lydia, is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary."

So I don't know if Margaret Atwood should be viewed as an incredible writer or if she be viewed as a troubled sadistic mind. Atwood crafts an astonishingly terrifying and tortuous world with the Republic of Gilead. When people talk of men hating women and only valuing them for their bodies, they could easily point to the characters in this book. I don't have the imagination to fully appreciate the horror of this world. To strip all women of so much of their lives and some women of basically everything, makes me sick to think about. They did it to make things "better."
"Better never means better for everyone, he says. It always means worse, for some."

It's only better for men. For some women it's bad and for many it's a living hell.

So I realize this is an old book and much of the current interest is due to the TV show. That being said, past this point there will be spoilers and they won't be hidden.

You've been warned

There's absolute truth that people will do what they must to survive and this book is no exception. I accept that and know it's true. The handmaid's choose systematic rape, psychological torture, and having their identities erased just to stay alive. As Offred said, there is some choice. Not a great choice as the other choice is being labeled an unwoman and being sent to the colonies to clean toxic waste without protection. It's a death sentence plain and simple.

I also recognize that people are capable of incredible amounts of evil often in the name of some greater good. The rulers of Gilead literally steal rights from all women. They aren't allowed to read, own property, and to make choices for themselves. That's still kind compared to the life of handmaid's. The insane thing is the need for survival causes so many men and women to conform to the system rather than risk their own lives.

The only thing that felt unbelievable to me was the handmaid's themselves. Women being kidnapped and subjugated to unspeakable things is terrifyingly common historically speaking. The psychological torture and systematic rape is also not historically uncommon. What gets me is the power the rulers of Gilead still allow their wives. They have complete power over any woman they choose. So creating the handmaid's, with the men being limited in the way they can interact with them seems surprising. Granted the book only shows Offred's commander who doesn't seem devout at all. He flaunts the laws and doesn't seem overly concerned about it until the very end. Perhaps some of the rulers of Gilead are true believers, but Jezebel's makes me doubt it. I'm surprised the country didn't just scoop up the fertile women and split them up among the most powerful. Perhaps allowing a polygamy or creating harems because these powerful men must have heirs of course.

The Handmaid's Tale is a well written horror story of sorts that's too realistic to ignore.

View all my reviews

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Pile of Bones

Pile of Bones (The Legends of the First Empire #0.5)Pile of Bones by Michael J. Sullivan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The mystic Suri hears the sound of Elan itself. It helps her in times of trouble and at times reveals things she wasn't meant to find. Pile of Bones takes us back to a time Suri stumbles on a secret even her wolf Minna wasn't able to help her with.

Pile of Bones is a solid short story that displays Suri more like she was in Age of Myth. Suri's a wide eyed explorer. She listens to the trees, the Earth, and animals. Listening, learning, and exploring is Suri's life. It was nice to be reminded of the character at a younger age when things were simpler. There's not much I can get into that won't spoil the story. Needless to say if you loved Suri in Age of Myth, then this is a must read short story.

View all my reviews

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Warrior Prime

Warrior Prime (Ink Mage Legacy #1)Warrior Prime by Victor Gischler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The threat of war has brought the Helvan envoy Peyne Erlich to Fryia. Unfortunately, his stay is short lived. The King's Ambassador sends him back to Helva with an urgent message about Ink Magic before Peyne can even unpack. However the ship he sails on holds an unexpected challenges and Zayda. Zayda's father's financial failure led to her being sold as a slave to pay his debts. Rather than being forced into prostitution, she finds a different path. Zayda has been made into an Ink Mage and forced into a magical collar meant to control her. Peyne and Zayda find themselves forced to trust one another in order to survive.

Warrior Prime is a continuation of the series A Fire Beneath the Skin. Many years have passed since A Painted Goddess, but some old characters are seen and mentioned in the book. The story has it's own compelling factors as Zayda is fighting to remove the magical collar that's use to control her while Peyne is trying to reach Helva to warn the King about Ink Magic.

The main characters felt similar to Ink Mage as Zayda resembles Rina and Peyne reminds me of Brasley Hammish. Zayda is a young woman who receives the prime suddenly like Rina. They are both forced to seek out new tattoos to assist them towards their goals. They each set out on significant treks with the hope of restoring their lives. Peyne and Brasley are both womanizers who drink, gamble, and steal. I realize Brasley was forced to change over the course of A Fire Beneath the Skin, but Peyne is nearly Brasley in Ink Mage.

I did appreciate the villainous Meddigar. He's a wizard who inadvertently stumbled onto Ink Magic and used his knowledge to ingratiate himself to the Fryian royalty by not only making them Ink Mages, but also providing a way to control them. Meddigar isn't completely evil, but he's truly selfish, self centered, and justifiably paranoid. Meddigar would rather take his money and secrets and disappear rather than deal with Fryia, but the Grand Sultan wants his cash cow protected, at least until he can gain the secrets for himself.

Warrior Prime felt just a little too similar to Ink Mage, but was an enjoyable story.

3.5 out of 5 stars

View all my reviews

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371

MK Czerwiec
Penn State University Press
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


In 1994, at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, MK Czerwiec took her first nursing job, at Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, as part of the caregiving staff of HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371. Taking Turns pulls back the curtain on life in the ward.

A shining example of excellence in the treatment and care of patients, Unit 371 was a community for thousands of patients and families affected by HIV and AIDS and the people who cared for them. This graphic novel combines Czerwiec’s memories with the oral histories of patients, family members, and staff. It depicts life and death in the ward, the ways the unit affected and informed those who passed through it, and how many look back on their time there today.

Czerwiec joined Unit 371 at a pivotal time in the history of AIDS: deaths from the syndrome in the Midwest peaked in 1995 and then dropped drastically in the following years, with the release of antiretroviral protease inhibitors. This positive turn of events led to a decline in patient populations and, ultimately, to the closure of Unit 371. Czerwiec’s restrained, inviting drawing style and carefully considered narrative examine individual, institutional, and community responses to the AIDS epidemic—as well as the role that art can play in the grieving process.

Deeply personal yet made up of many voices, this history of daily life in a unique AIDS care unit is an open, honest look at suffering, grief, and hope among a community of medical professionals and patients at the heart of the epidemic.

My Review

Never have I been so moved by a graphic novel as I have with this account of M.K. Czerwiec’s career as a nurse in an HIV/AIDS care unit.

Her story begins in 1993, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, and before effective retroviral drugs existed. Though much of this story centers on patient treatment and interactions with other caregivers, there is a lot of thought-provoking exploration of living with a terminal disease, the fluid boundaries between caregiver and patient, and the emotional toll death takes on us all.

This thoughtful, simply written story is deeply moving, powerful, and a worthy addition to modern AIDS literature. While this graphic novel deserves every one of its 5 stars, I have a few minor quibbles that didn’t at all detract from my enjoyment.

One of the sentiments expressed towards the end bothered me a little. “This was our plague. It was devastation of a generation, a couple of generations…” I never liked that AIDS was referred to as the “gay plague.” This implies the disease only affected men and was a punishment.

The art was simple, and there were annoying blank pages between sections. This may just affect the e-book.

Some of the panels contained too much text and were at times difficult to read.

Though much progress has been made, many people around the world are still dying of AIDS because of fear, social stigma and ignorance, so I am glad for this novel’s existence. I was happy to find the e-book at my local library, as I can’t justify paying over $20 for a graphic novel.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

A Hero Born

A Hero Born (Legends of the Condor Heroes, #1)A Hero Born by Jin Yong
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Two men who are brothers at arm's befriend a Taoist. The Taoist helps choose names for their unborn children and leaves them. These two men are betrayed and murdered. Their wives are captured and their family lines are in jeopardy. That's only the beginning of this generational tale.

A Hero Born is a story that struggles from things outside of it's control, at least in the US. It's an old book that was first published in the 1950s. On top of that it's translated into English which undoubtedly costs it much of it's flair. The writing just feels simplistic even though the foundations of a strong story are undoubtedly present. The descriptions are lacking, but that's largely a factor of the time period it was written in more than anything.

My biggest disappointment may be that the book just doesn't describe the fighting in a compelling fashion. I thought that the fighting may be the books saving grace, but it was mostly forgettable.

A Hero Born is a story out of time and it's native language. Unfortunately nothing really stood out about it.

2 out of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

View all my reviews

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Daring Greatly

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and LeadDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

...nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as believing that I'm standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen.

That quote above is one of the reasons I picked up this book and why I'm willing to actually write about it. I read this sort of book from time to time, but I never review them. I couldn't say why exactly, probably that shame thing Brené Brown goes into throughout the book. I'm dreading this even as I write it because I know I'll put this out there and admit that I'm a mess to anyone who cares to read this. I doubt and berate myself much more than anyone could possibly know. As the book would tell me I've accepted a shame perspective on myself. Apparently there's a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is healthy and honest. It says I did something foolish, I made a mistake, I lied, and many other things. I own that my actions were wrong through guilt. Shame on the other hand says I'm a fool, I'm a mistake, I'm a liar, and other distorted statements. It reinforces deep within that I'm bad and this is why. Not that I did something bad, but that I am bad . Life is hard enough without me adding to it by killing my own self-worth.

Daring Greatly may not help everyone personally, but it will help everyone relate to some people in their lives who can't stay out of their own way or out of their own head. Maybe it's the person who has so much potential, but is too scared to try. Maybe it's the person who completely crumples under criticism. I've personally spent a long time learning tidbits this book explains and slowly putting those morsels into application. I'm both excited and terrified to read about how much more I have to uproot just to feel like my perception of nearly everyone else.

Daring Greatly is a book worth the read and it could truly change your life or the life of someone close to you. I'm amazed such a book exists and I'm grateful to have read it. Now I just have to apply what it says. Please wish me luck.

View all my reviews

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Diane Pharaoh Francis brings the goods in her excellent "The Witchkin Murders - Magicfall"

Diane Pharaoh Francis “The Witchkin Murders – Magicfall” is a great addition to the paranormal urban fantasy oeuvre. Francis knows how to write interesting stories and this “kitchen sink” urban fantasy successfully melds the paranormal, post-apocalyptic, romance and detective genres in the first in a new series about a much changed world after Magicfall and the Witchwar. The world erupted in a cataclysm, magic was strewn around affecting a vast slice of people. Magical creatures have come out of closet and a war was fought prior to the start of the novel. Now humans and the magical creatures live in an uneasy peace, both needing each other. But some humans have gained powers as well and have stayed hidden. But the time for hiding for one of them has ended.

Kayla Reese is an ex-cop, who quit the force four years ago when magic caused her transformation into something else. Her ex-partner Ray Garza is still on the force. When Kayla left the force abruptly, without revealing the reasons, Ray erupted on her hurt and shocked. They have not talked since then, although Garza has been spying on Kayla.

On Kayla' way back into town, she stumbles onto the remnants of a murder scene. Three witchkin shifters have been gruesomely killed and staked out in a park. Kayla calls Ray to have him investigate. The police arrive in force, but are reluctant to investigate. The witchkin are not their jurisdiction.

But it seems across town another crime has occurred, two prominent citizens have been kidnapped, and they were secretly witches with familial ties to Kayla. Now Kayla and Ray are forced to work together to investigate both the murders and kidnappings. And we also learn that Ray has been having problems with Kayla leaving the police force because he had emotional feelings for her, feelings that have become harder to hide. Now they will be forced to work together and face their feelings.

Soon enough we learn that Kayla can transform into a 35 foot long magical sea dragon and that Ray has been hiding that he has magic.

Francis expertly doles out the revelations slowly about Kayla’s powers not wanting to give away the store in one big gulp, but there is much more to Kayla and these Witchkin murders than we first suspect.

There are big players involved, gods have come to town and are engaged in murder as the preliminary steps in a god war, which it will be up to Kayla, Ray and some witches to stop.

While the novel builds a little slowly through the first few chapters, there is plenty of action to go around. These detective magical mashups are like quest novels, with the investigation, impelling the action forward like the traditional quest. Kayla will soon have to learn to harness her powers and Ray will have to confess his feelings and his magical skills.

I know that Francis has won a few awards for Romance novels, but I thought the Romance angle was a little overdone. But liked the magic confrontation as Kayla comes into her powers and understands her new place in this world. The ending fight has all of the best elements of fantasy magical battles, and the characters and story are rock solid.

Definitely worth a read. Cannot wait for the next.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Calling the Ball

C.L. Mustafic
NineStar Press
3 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Nancy


A vacation to the sunny, seaside, resort city of Durres, Albania puts some space between Henrick Kohler and his closeted ex, Klaus, giving him time to get his life back together. While there a chance run-in with superstar footballer, Valentino ‘Tino’ Alessi, sends Henrick running in the other direction. With no intention of being either another notch in someone’s bedpost or their secret lover, he offers friendship but nothing more. He doesn’t want to risk his heart with what he sees as just another Klaus, but with the added ability to ruin his life on a much more spectacular level.

Tino can’t catch a break, even doing a nice thing for a fan lands him in hot water. When he’s suspended until his latest mess is straightened out, Tino does the only thing he can think of—he goes holiday home hunting in his favorite resort town. Tino falls hard and fast for the blond Austrian who wants nothing to do with him romantically, but he accepts the offer of friendship when his efforts to woo Henrick get him nowhere.

Friendship is what they agree to, but both men realize there’s just something there neither of them can deny. What will it take for them to overcome everything and realize there’s no time like the present to grab on to what they want?

My Review

After reading two titles by C.L. Mustafic, I know that I enjoy her writing style and that she’s not afraid to take risks. I really hate when authors stick to one formula just because it’s successful. A bonus for me is that I love football (soccer) and lively, picturesque European settings. So I knew I couldn’t go wrong with Calling the Ball.

Early on, Henrick receives the devastating news from his closeted lover and co-worker, Klaus, that he is getting married. Henrick is unhappy being Klaus’ secret relationship and wants more than just sex, so he decides to end it and go on a much- needed holiday to a seaside resort in Albania.

While lounging at the pool, Henrick lays eyes on none other than Valentino “Tino” Alessi, a closeted professional footballer beset by scandal. The attraction is instant and mutual, but Henrick guards his heart closely. Tino is persistent, though, and soon their flirtation leads to friendship.

This is a slow-burn romance and a light, relaxing read. I loved the alternating viewpoints, allowing the reader to get to know both characters equally. I adored Tino, despite his not being able to take no for an answer, but I found Henrick to be immature and indecisive. The constant push and pull annoyed me to no end. At times, I couldn’t understand why Tino was so attracted to Henrick. The sex, when it finally happened, was so lacking in sensuality that I could have cried.

For a story about a pro footballer, there were precious few sport details. And there were frequent occurrences of “the man”, “the other man”, “the smaller man” which I found annoying and distracting.

It’s a good story overall, just not a great one.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Dawn of Wonder

Dawn of Wonder (The Wakening, #1)Dawn of Wonder by Jonathan Renshaw
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Mistyvales is a quiet place where the children of nobility and commoners are able to befriend one another. One such pair of friends is the royal Kalry and the commoner Aedan. Life seemed perfect until one day an officer rides into town with a warning. Life is never the same for Aedan afterwards. He eventually finds his way into a special military academy, determined to change the world for the better.

How can I possibly explain Dawn of Wonder? I believe it's best explained as though it's a story told by the MCU Ant-Man's character Luis.
A needless and rambling long answer to a simple question.

This story gives possibly every detail in the beginning with the exception of characters bathroom schedule. I don't believe I've ever wanted to know as much about a single character as the book tells us about Aedan. The book feels longer than it's 712 pages. I really just wanted some additional editing to highlight the book's strong points and remove the aspects that simply weren't worthy of the pages. The fortunate thing is near the end of the book the author finally speeds the story up by jumping from one year to the next after a chapter or so.

With all that being said I thought Dawn of Wonder was good. I was largely interested in what was happening with Aedan. He has some amazing gifts and luck in the coming of age tale, but unfortunately he had some horrible events take place that shape him and the way the world perceives him.

Another downside is the story isn't particularly original. It has many of the basic coming of age aspects. Farm boy with amazing abilities goes off to the special school to hone his abilities. He's haunted by abuse in his childhood and other unfortunate events. I could largely predict what was going to happen next with a few exceptions.

Dawn of Wonder was an average story that displayed some promise.

View all my reviews

Friday, July 5, 2019

In Sarah Gailey's interesting Magic For Liars, Ivy Gamble uncovers the truth about a death in a magic school

“Magic for Liars” Sarah Gailey’s new mystery about a mysterious death in the library of a magic academy is unexpected. It’s more an exploration of the human condition than a book about magic, and yet magic, is at the heart of the novel. In a way this novel is a retelling of Icarus and hubris. But mostly it’s about relationships, and loss, and love, and life itself. Gailey delves deep into the aspects of magic that most fantasy authors never have the nerve to tackle- that is real life issues of birth control, abortion, cancer and death. Can Magic cure cancer and if not, why not. Typically fantasy authors shy away from the challenge. Gailey, however, doesn’t just delve lightly, she peels the band aid off in one huge yank. And for Ivy Gamble, the down on her luck private detective, who has been affected by magic her whole life. Not because she has magic, but because her manipulative, and mean twin sister Tabitha does. So to Ivy, Tabitha goes all the glory of magic, all the bright hues, all the specialness, and to Ivy, is the drabness of regular life, the hurts and slights of life. But it is Ivy Gamble, a 14 year private investigator, who trolls the depths of philandering spouses and failed marriages who is hired by the headmaster of the exclusive Osthorne Academy to investigate a death at the school. And leave it to the unmagical Ivy to figure out not one mystery but three. This is not a book for everyone. Don’t expect magical fun a Hogwarts with a little mystery thrown in. This short book is not for teens. It’s for fantasy readers who want to be challenged in their understanding of the plusses and minuses of magic and its affects. Magic and the magicians, who practice it, do have limits.

Ivy Gamble is a private investigator, who has spent her entire career investigating the dregs of married life – cheating spouses and those who think their spouses are cheating. She is tired and defensive, wounded from losing her mother at a young age to cancer and hurt from the fact that her twin sister, Tabitha, has magic and she doesn’t. But its more than that, its also that Tabitha tortured Ivy, not literally, but by toying with her emotions when she was a kid.

Mugged and stabbed in the hallway of the dirty stairway in front of her office on the first few pages of the novel, Ivy ignores the wound and soldiers on with her down on her heels life- a stab wound is just one more thing to ignore, and in the pages of the novel, there are plenty of other wounds less physical and more emotional that Ivy throws into a garbage can in her mind and closes the top.,
But life starts to look up. She gets a new client, Marion Torres, who wants her to investigate the strange death of Sylvia Capley, who was found bisected in the library of Osthorne. The death has been ruled misadventure by the Magical police, a spell miscast. But Torres does not believe it. Because in a sense, Capley was merely the health teacher and couldn’t cast such a spell. So Torres wants Ivy to investigate, and already knows a Gamble, because Tabitha, Ivy’s sister teaches at the school already.

On one of her visits to the school, Ivy is confronted by Mrs. Webb, who recognizes Ivy is hurt and takes her shoulder apart right in front of her and cures the infection. Its a vivisection in detail. Ivy is amazed about her skill, but wonders about whether that same skill can be used to cure other deathly ills. The headmaster tells her it cannot, that Mrs. Webb is one of the foremost healers of the time and others could not even attempt to cure cancer or other deathly perils.

Ivy starts her investigation by questioning some of the students – Dylan DeCambray who thinks that he is the Chosen One, the culmination of a long family prophecy, who will change magic forever and his sister Alexandria and her posse – Brea, Melissa and Courtney. But it’s not only about the investigation. Ivy is now living on campus, in the dead teacher’s apartment, and Ivy can envision herself as a student at the school, and for her investigation to succeed, she takes on a role she has wished for her entire life, that of a magic user like her non friend sister.

Ivy has skills, she is after all a pro in discerning liars and manipulators and the games people play. So she quickly notices that Alexandria has a strange power over her friends, and she also learns about the relationship between two students, which may have resulted in unintended pregnancy consequences. It seems that the dead teacher was the go to for birth control and other potions. But Ivy also has a heart to heart with her sister. It seems an attempt to clear the air and resume a relationship cutoff when they were teens by Ivy’s jealousy of her sister’s powers, her belief that her sister did nothing to help their sick mother and Tabitha’s meanness. Ivy was traumatized both by the loss of her mother and by the loss of her sister, but maybe this investigation will give her a chance to re-connect. Reconnect to her humanity and reconnect to her sister, but does Tabitha really want to re-connect?

Galley smartly has Ivy get involved with a teacher at the school, Rahul, the physical magic teacher, who can connect some of the dots about magic that Ivy does not know, but also can break the wall that Ivy has used to separate herself from life. And although Ivy lies to him too, that she is a mage like her sister, it’s really a white lie to help with the investigation, although it’s also to make Ivy feel better about herself because she just “knows” from her experience with her sister that Rahul would think differently about a person who doesn’t have magic.

While living in Capley’s apartment on campus, Ivy finds a journal, with an obsession about magic. But since Ivy does not speak magic she needs help in deciphering some of it. And Ivy also discovers that a crucial part of the medical file on Capley is missing. Finally Ivy also uncovers a big secret through her adept questioning and intuitive leaps that one girl was pregnant and needed a surgical medial abortion, a spell that requires a lot of magical training, which was illegally cast not long before the death of Capley. It’s a spell that reveals to Ivy something this reader had figured out – the name of the killer. And while talking about this in the library, Ivy uncovers something else, the Chosen One.

So in the end, Ivy solves three mysteries and maybe at the very very end, gives herself a chance to have a real life.

As stated above, do not go into this book looking for a fun little mystery about kids in a magical school. This is an adult book for adults.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, The Power Behind Five English Thrones

The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, The Power Behind Five English ThronesThe Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, The Power Behind Five English Thrones by Thomas Asbridge
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”In 1152 King Stephen of England decided to execute a five-year-old boy. This child--William Marshal--had committed no crime. He was a hostage, given over to the crown as surety for his father’s word, a pawn in the great game of power and politics then being played out within a realm wracked by civil war. When William’s father promptly broke his pledge to the king, declaring that ‘he did not care about the child, since he still had the anvils and hammers to forge even finer ones,’ Stephen was furious.”

 photo William Marshal_zpsmkfqnhwo.jpg
William Marshal

In his fury, Stephen sent the boy Marshal to the gallows. On the way, William asked the soldier leading him to his fate if he could play with his spear. The spell of Stephen’s fury was broken by this display of childish curiosity. He realized in that moment that, though he could place the blame of the boy’s death on John Marshal’s obstinate refusal to comply, the sin of the death of such an innocent would stain him forever, and he, by instigating an English Civil War, already had enough stains for one lifetime. Stephen had little idea that he was saving the man who would one day be regarded as the greatest knight that England has ever produced.

There was an interesting parallel with the 70 year old William Marshal in 1216, and the 5 year old in 1152. He had beaten incredible odds to rise to being the most famed Earl in all of England. When he was asked by a dying King John, a man he couldn’t help but loath, to preserve the crown for his eight year old heir Henry III, Marshal couldn’t refuse. The odds against holding off Louis of France with the remains of the battered Royal army were slim. It would have made more sense, after weighing those odds, that William would have spirited the boy away somewhere safe (Ireland?) and prepared to make terms with the French to better his own advantage. I couldn’t help but think that the defenseless boy of five was still inside him, staring through those aging warrior eyes at this helpless boy of eight.

History was changed the moment William decided to uphold Henry’s right to the crown. One man stood in the way of what many thought was the inevitability of French rule. At 70, he led the charge into the decisive Battle of Lincoln that saved the Angevin dynasty. There wasn’t another man in the kingdom who could have inspired the wavering Royal army and convinced them that victory could still be theirs.

 photo William Marshal shield_zps4tmj9cth.jpg
If you saw this shield coming at you on the battlefield, you had best have your affairs in order or turn tail and run to live to fight another day.

Of course, a lot of things happened to Marshal between the ages of 5 and 70. He quickly became one of the most trusted knights in the kingdom, and so it only made sense that Henry II would assign Marshal to his oldest son, Young Henry. I could almost hear the conversation...make a man of him. The 12th century was so fascinating because this dynamic ruling family, full of strong personalities, was constantly jockeying between themselves for power. The sons were impatient to share power with their father, and this anxiousness led to more than just squabbles at the dinner table, but evolved into outright war. Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the most intelligent and powerful women of any century, also battled with her husband and usually favored her sons over her husband. With many royal dynasties struggling to produce heirs (the later Tudors were particularly unfruitful), Henry had produced four boys, and all of them were chips off the old block, intent on asserting their rights most forcibly to receive more favor from their father. William found himself carefully picking his way through this political minefield. One misstep and all that he had obtained for his family would be lost.

As impressive as William was on the battlefield, I found his political astuteness even more spectacular. Being too supportive of one family member might have spelled doom for him when the inevitable power shift occurred. He unhorsed Richard at one point in protection of Richard’s father, Henry II. The only man to ever do so against Richard the Lionheart. When Richard came to the throne, it could have been the end of William Marshal, but Richard had too much respect for him as a warrior and as a statesman to let an old grudge stand between them. Later when Richard was away on crusade, William Marshal was tasked with keeping the youngest brother, John, in check. He gave John enough rope to let him play at ruling the kingdom, but not enough to allow him to hang himself by outright treason against Richard. William realized that there was a good possibility that John would one day be King, and he did not want to antagonize him, nor did he want to disappoint Richard.

The Plantagents were often referred to as the Bloody Dynasty, and these were early days in their rule. There were many more family disagreements soon to come. The War of the Roses made a bloody ruling family bloodier. A case could be made that the very thing that should have made the Plantagents strong, fruitful loins, might actually have ultimately lead to their downfall.

At 43, William Marshal finally married the 17 year old Isabel de Clare, the daughter and only heir of Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke, known as Strongbow. William went from a landless knight to one of the richest men in the kingdom overnight. He had passed on several other opportunities to marry young women of property, which at the time I thought...what are you doing, man? I should have known that he had his eyes on a greater prize...the fertile lands of Ireland. They had ten children together so, though it was an arranged marriage, basically Isabel was the prize sold off to a valued ally, the marriage by all accounts seemed to be one based on mutual respect, and dare I

 photo William Marshal saves England_zps1vmcrrow.jpg
William Marshal saved England.

We might not have ever known the story of William Marshal except for the French bibliophile named Paul Meyer who attended a Sotheby’s auction in London in 1861 and saw a rare medieval manuscript of the life of William Marshal. He could not compete in the bidding with the wealthy, rather insane collector Sir Thomas Phillipps, who ended up buying the manuscript. It became buried in his vast collection and could have been lost forever except that twenty years later Meyer, still obsessed with what he had seen of the manuscript, was granted access to the Phillipps library to try and find it.

Thomas Asbridge has given us a very readable version of Marshal’s life, drawing heavily on the medieval manuscript, but also finding some confirmation of some of the assertions from other sources, such as the Anglo Saxon Chronicles. The manuscript was the first written account of a medieval knight, and this important relic inspired Asbridge to do his best to clear away the cobwebs and unravel the myths surrounding William Marshal and those he served.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:

View all my reviews

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Inside the O'Briens

Lisa Genova
Gallery Books
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


Joe O’Brien is a forty-four-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband, proud father of four children in their twenties, and respected officer, Joe begins experiencing bouts of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements. He initially attributes these episodes to the stress of his job, but as these symptoms worsen, he agrees to see a neurologist and is handed a diagnosis that will change his and his family’s lives forever: Huntington’s Disease.

Huntington’s is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure. Each of Joe’s four children has a 50 percent chance of inheriting their father’s disease, and a simple blood test can reveal their genetic fate. While watching her potential future in her father’s escalating symptoms, twenty-one-year-old daughter Katie struggles with the questions this test imposes on her young adult life. Does she want to know? What if she’s gene positive? Can she live with the constant anxiety of not knowing?

As Joe’s symptoms worsen and he’s eventually stripped of his badge and more, Joe struggles to maintain hope and a sense of purpose, while Katie and her siblings must find the courage to either live a life “at risk” or learn their fate.

My Review

Alice Wexler’s brilliant scientific memoir, Mapping Fate, made me want to further explore the horror that is Huntington’s disease, so I decided to check out Lisa Genova’s fictional account of a Boston-area family who is affected.

Joe O’Brien, a Charlestown police officer, finally agrees to see a neurologist when his symptoms begin to affect his job performance. Not only does his diagnosis change his life, it also affects the lives of his wife, Rosie, and their four children, who have a 50% chance of inheriting this incurable and crippling disease.

While this story explores the disease and its devastating impact on Joe, it also, through the perspectives of his children, explores what it means to live a life at risk.

I loved getting to know the O’Brien’s, with all their quirks and flaws. I would have liked some deeper insight into the family’s relationships, particularly between the two sisters, Katie and Megan, and Joe’s relationship with his own sister, who moved across the country. I wanted to know more about what it was like for them growing up with a sick mother and not understanding what was wrong.

It must be difficult to watch a parent deteriorate from a disease knowing that there is a 50% chance a child may or may not get it. Though predictive testing is available for those at risk for Huntington’s, results from testing can have a major impact on every aspect of one’s life and the decision must be thought through carefully.

Lisa Genova does a wonderful job portraying the human, personal side of Huntington’s disease and the difficulties surrounding the decision to be tested. This is not the best fiction I’ve ever read. The prose, while not dazzling, is light, functional and accessible. I cared deeply about the O’Brien’s and appreciate the author’s efforts to raise awareness about this rare neurogenetic disorder while avoiding excessive sentimentality and melodrama.

I very much look forward to her other novels.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019


White JazzWhite Jazz by James Ellroy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”All I have is the will to remember. Time revoked/fever dreams--I wake up reaching, afraid I'll forget. Pictures keep the woman young.

L.A., fall 1958.

Newsprint: link the dots. Names, events--so brutal they beg to be connected. Years down--the story stays dispersed. The names are dead or too guilty to tell.

I'm old, afraid I'll forget:
I killed innocent men.
I betrayed sacred oaths.
I reaped profit from horror.
Fever--that time burning.
I want to go with the music-spin, fall with it.”

Lieutenant Dave Klein is in the middle of so many treacherous situations that the spread on whether he will live to see 1959 is carrying long odds. The only way he might live that long is if he is in jail awaiting trial, but even then powerful people, like the gangster Mickey Cohen or the Chief of Detectives Edmund Exley, better be convinced his lip will stay buttoned or something most sinister will happen to him before he ever gets a chance to flap his gums.

He’s got a lot to talk about.

”Killings, beatings, bribes, payoffs, kickbacks, shakedowns. Rent coercion, muscle jobs, strikebreaker work. Lies, intimidation, vows trashed, oaths broken, duties scorned. Thievery, duplicity, greed, lies, killings, beatings, bribes, payoffs, Meg--”

I’d like to tell you that Klein is an innocent, caught up in the machinations of a corrupt system, and that he is crusading to do the right thing, while trying to work the ends against the middle and the middle against both ends, but the truth of the matter is, he is as morally corrupt as the city he is paid to protect.

You need a witness tossed out a window? Call Klein.
You want a rival neutralized? Call Klein.
You need an illegal payoff dropped off? Call Klein.

Klein is a most resourceful young man just trying to make enough money to finish law school.

Some of you may have noticed the mention of Meg at the end of his list of sins. She is his business partner in a block of rentals. He is head over heels lustful in love with her. The problem is, incest is a sin, and my, my, my does Klein want to sin, sin, sin with his sister Meg.

So the trouble begins when Exley calls in Klein to investigate a burglary of a “sanctioned” drug dealer’s house. The guy’s name is Kafesjian, and his illegal activities are fronted by a string of dry cleaning stores. It doesn’t take long for Klein to realize that the story surrounding the Kafesjian burglary has a lot of sordid intrigue attached that goes well beyond the parameters of what he is supposed to be investigating. Exley, you remember Exley from L.A. Confidential, has made it clear that anything regarding Kafesjian is not to be touched. In fact, don’t even turn the rock over to start with.

As if Klein doesn’t have enough to do on his plate, Howard Hughes, yes that Hughes, calls him up and wants him to find a girl. It seems one of his actresses, Glenda Bledsoe, has gone off the reservation, and her contract with Hughes gives him exclusivity on what films she can work on, and he had her sign a morality clause as well. What? Hughes has someone sign a morality clause? Most actresses in Hollywood of the 1950s had to resign themselves to the fact that, sooner or later, they were going to be summoned to Hughes’s estate to service the beast.

Well, Klein doesn’t exactly follow Hughes’s instructions because he falls in lustful love with Glenda, which frankly proves a nice change of pace from the mooning he has been doing over his sister.

Feature:”Tall, lanky, honey blond. All legs, all chest--a grin said she never bought in. A little knock-kneed, big eyes, dark freckles. Pure something--maybe style, maybe juice.”

That “never bought in” part is what really drives Klein crazy. She isn’t an innocent, but yet there is something untameable about her that allows her to feel free to give Hughes the double middle finger salute. Klein doesn’t need to be made any more insane, but this woman is going to put another layer of care on the mound of unsavory deeds he can’t find a hole deep enough or big enough to bury.

Klein even gets caught up in the ongoing feud between ex-partners Edmund Exley and Dudley Smith. He has to play Exley and Smith and rely on their natural high levels of paranoia to keep them from realizing that Klein isn’t playing either one of them straight. One thing he knows is that Exley is the Wyatt Earp of Los Angeles. Whenever the gunfire has ended and the smear of accusations have been wiped off the wall, as the smoke clears, Exley will always be the last man standing.

Don’t bet against Exley.

The plot is, needless to say, convoluted with shotgun splattered sentences and what I can only describe as scat speak. James Ellroy takes us into Klein’s head, and what we get isn’t necessarily cohesive sentences, but broken pieces of thoughts, sometimes unfinished. Yet they convey the tortuous twists of guilt and fear that is wrapping around Klein’s brain tighter and tighter with every new revelation, with every new indiscretion.

I read quite a few hardboiled books a year. I don’t know why, but I always seem to get a hankering for them in the summertime when my blood runs hotter anyway. I have to say that there is no one working in the genre today, or maybe ever, who brings a more realistic view of the sordid underbelly of society. In fact, Ellroy makes other writers look almost naive about the extremes of human nature and the true motivations that make people into brutal, self-destructive, untrustworthy, shameful versions of themselves. If you were in trouble in Los Angeles in 1958, you didn’t call the LAPD because you might end up needing to be saved from them.

Hush hush, keep these SINsations on the QT.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:

View all my reviews

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The charming "Kingdom of Exiles" by Maxym M. Martineau is a winning fantasy

“Kingdom of Exiles” by Maxym M. Martineau is a captivating fantasy with interesting characters, good world-building , magic, and a brooding romance that heats up over time. Leena is a Charmer, with the rare magical gift to enchant magical animals and monsters.  She is in exile from the Charmer homeland of Hireath. A victim of an unscrupulous member of the Charmer Council.  She is forced by circumstances to sell her captured monsters, a crime in Hireath. She is in the midst of such a sale, when she is accosted by a member of the Cruor, a group of undead assassins, hired to kill her by someone from Hirearth.

 Used to bartering in the world outside of Hirearth, Leena barters with Noc, the male guild master of the Cruor; she will give four assassins a magical beast in exchange for their termination of the assassin contract.  It’s a good bargain, but as with any bargain, it’s the unwritten rules that get you, and Noc holds back a major catch, that unless Leena dies, he will die.

The story alternates between Noc chapters and Leena chapters so we get two perspectives of the action.  Leena’s charms as a Charmer and a woman soon come to captivate Noc and the other members of the assassin group, and Noc is soon entranced. Leena is running from her demons, an evil Charmer, who used one of Leena’s monsters against her, but Noc is running from death, his death and the death of countless others, caused by a curse that he bears, that even dying and being reborn as a Cruor has not vanquished.

Martineau’s depiction of the magical forces in the novel shines.  The Cruor have magic, the guild leader can revive dead people and once a member of the guild, the assassins can become shadows, vanish and reappear, and move incredibly fast. Noc, has his own powers as well.  However, Martineau powers up the appeal of the novel with her magical creatures, who come alive on the page. Form the amorphous Iky, a short timer from the beast realm, but an invisible creature able to grow limbs and become solid to the Gyss, a magical creature, who grants wishes but claims a powerful penalty for each.

But the story is not limited to Leena’s creatures. There are some cool battle scenes.  Leena ability to discern which creature will suit each of  the assassins on the quest and gifting of them. There is also the budding romance between Noc and Leena.

Noc, however is looking for his own beast, because he wants the curse lifted.  But Noc does not want to love Leena because of his curse, but he cannot kill her because of his attraction to her and hope that he can lift the curse. 

For a book about a quest with assassins, they come off as honorable and likeable. It is Leena’s past that catches up with them and Leena and Noc will have to join together to defeat the evil Charmer bent on torturing Leena into submission.

This charming novel should be on your short list for the summer.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019


Swan SongSwan Song by Robert R. McCammon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”The sky was filled with waves of moving, blinking stars. Wheels of light rolled across the darkness over the trailer court, and streaks of yellow fire zigzagged upward into the haze that obscured the moon. Thousands upon thousands of fireflies were passing overhead like galaxies in motion, their signals forming chains of light that stretched from west to east as far as Swan could see.”

 photo apocalypse_zpsbn5ibjzt.jpg

It would be pretty, right? All those missiles streaking across the midnight sky. The end of the world wrapped in the gossamer of sparkling, awe inspiring enchantment. Once the guidance system tells these glowing tubes to descend to the earth, they explode into these nearly perfect, cylindrical, fiery mushroom clouds that reach for the sky.

”It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.”---R.E.M. (Oddly enough that song was released in 1987, the same year as this novel.)

Well, maybe not so fine. I’ve had debates about end of the world scenarios. People talk about what they would do to survive, but my hope is to be at ground zero. I like culture and civilisation and don’t really want to scramble about in a Mad Max world. Of course, if by some chance my book lined ivory tower were to survive, I would really appreciate it if someone would drop off a bit of food and a bottle of red wine occasionally.

Josh Hutchins, a world weary professional wrestler known as the Black Frankenstein, is on his way to Garden City, Kansas, for a match when the world decides to end. Someone would think that Kansas would be a good place to be for a post apocalyptic event, with its small population and lots of desolation. It would be my state of choice, especially for a zombie apocalypse, for those reasons and the fact that the horizon goes on forever in every direction. Line of sight, right? From my tower window I can see those lurching, slobbering brain eaters coming from miles away.

Unfortunately, there are strategic military reasons why the Russkies would want to blow up Kansas, and they have more than enough of these glowing tubes of destruction to wreak havoc in every state of the Union. Josh finds himself, after the fallout, the guardian of an orphaned nine year old girl, whose trailer trash name is Sue Wanda, but fortunately, she has been nicknamed Swan.

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Well, try having an apocalyptic event, and you will find out.

Now Swan is a very special young lady, and as she grows up over the next seven years, her natural affinity for growing plants evolves into something quite spectacular. “‘Everything can think and feel, in its own way,’ she replied, and she looked up at him. The eyes in her young face were very old, Josh thought. ‘Bugs, birds, even grass—everything has its own way of speaking and knowing. Just depends on whether you can understand it or not.’”

Josh, in the midst of all this destruction and hardship, has had his own epiphany about life. ”Josh opened his fist and drew his arm back. The insect kept going, out of the light’s range and into the darkness on its purposeful journey. Who am I to kill such a thing? he asked himself. Who am I to deliver death to even the lowest form of life?”

Swan, you see, can bring apple trees back to life. She can plant corn seeds in infertile, radiated soil and make it grow. She is the most important human being on the planet, and there are people looking for her.

There is Sister Creep, well not as creepy as her name would imply, is seeing visions and knows she must find Swan to give her something she will need desperately in her coming battle against pure evil.

There is Colonel Macklin who, with the help of his teenage henchman, Ronald Croninger, has built what they call the Army of Excellence (AOE) and are marching across the midwest killing all who refuse to join them and stealing the food and supplies of everyone they encounter. Assimilate or perish.

There is one creature more insidious than Macklin and Croninger and their whole army combined. You can call him Friend, *shudder*, or The Man with the Scarlet Eye, or The Man of Many Faces, or if you want to try to think of him as something more human, you can call him Doyle Holland. He knows he has to destroy Swan because she is a beacon of hope amongst the chaos. “‘Hope hurts me,’ he said. ‘It’s a disease, and you’re the germ that spreads it. We can’t have disease at my party. Oh, no. It won’t be allowed.’”

So what is Doyle exactly? He isn’t a man. A demon? The devil? He can shape shift, manipulate, control minds. He takes credit for all the chaos and evil in the world.

Doyle can feel the power of Swan, and she can feel his weaknesses. It is an unsettling meeting. ”He blinked uncertainly, and in his eyes Swan saw fire and savagery, a core of pain past human suffering and so furious that it almost ripped her own heart to shreds. He was a scream wrapped up in straw, a little, weak, vicious thing gnashing inside a monstrous facade. She saw what he was made of, and she knew him very well.”

Swan is also suffering a radiation inspired malady, as are many people, that is called a Job’s Mask. ”Her head was covered by gray growths that had begun as small black warts, had thickened and spread over the passage of years, had connected with gray tendrils like groping, intertwining vines. The growths had covered her skull like a knotty helmet, had enclosed her facial features and sealed them up except for a small slit at her left eye and a ragged hole over her mouth through which she breathed and ate.” They can feel their faces shifting under the growths. (view spoiler)

The epic post-apocalypticThe Stand by Stephen King was published in 1978, and this novel was published in 1987. Some could say Swan Song is an ode to King; some will say it owes a lot to the King novel, and some would say they enjoyed The Stand more. I have read The Stand recently, and I must say that I enjoyed Swan Song much more. The writers chose different ways to destroy the world. It doesn’t really matter what destroys civilization the point of post-apocalyptic stories is what the writer makes of the wreckage and hopefully the redemption. King had his religious prophets, and McCammon had, for me, a much more compelling character in an earth goddess trying to lead humanity back on the path to civilization. I liked the plotting and flow of Swan Song better than the plot devised by King for The Stand.

They are both epic length novels each weighing in at around 1000 pages, but for me Swan Song was more smooth sailing than The Stand. I read Swan Song extremely quickly, in just a few days, while I lingered over The Stand for a couple of weeks. In this heavyweight bout, the winner is…Swan Song in the glowing green trunks.

May there really be an earth goddess among us waiting to save us from ourselves.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:

View all my reviews

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Car Crashes & Other Sad Stories

Mell Kilpatrick
Taschen Books
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


An incredible and utterly unique historical document. This book contains selections from the photographic collection of one Mell Kilpatrick, a news photographer from South California who relentlessly pursued his profession during the 40s and 50s, capturing images from the plentiful crime scenes and in particular automobile collisions that came his way. Kilpatrick was an obsessive witness to the effects of the post-war explosion of car culture in California, and through his lens he repeatedly viewed the fatal consequences of speed. technology and reckless abandon. His work might have remained lost and unknown, sealed away in his locked darkroom, untouched since his death in 1961, if it hadn't been brought to light by collector and dealer Jennifer Dumas, who found the 5,000 negatives and realised she'd stumbled upon something very special. Although he covered other 'stories' apart from crashes, including shots of everyday life in the small towns he visited, it is the roadside images that dominate the collection. They are an unsparing archive of human tragedy. Picture after picture unveils yet another tableau of disaster with infinite variations -- the fragile shells of cars collapsed and upended, corpses hidden or fully revealed, stoic cops and laughing bystanders dealing in different ways with the reality of sudden death. It is this combination of the banal or ordinary and the appalling horror of the moment of impact that makes Kilpatrick's work a fascinating experience.

My Review

While this disturbing and unpleasant book is far from my favorite Taschen books, I can’t give it less than 4 stars. The black and white photographs are mostly of car crashes that occurred in southern California in the 1940’s and 1950’s. While some photos just show the demolished car, others show the twisted, lifeless bodies that will never again enjoy a car ride. The other sad stories referred to in the book’s title are murders, suicides and pedestrian deaths.

It’s a truly gruesome find, yet there is an artistic, evocative quality to many of the photos. Mell Kilpatrick started his career in 1948, photographing evidence for insurance companies, as well as car accidents and crime scenes.

One of my favorite photos in this collection is of a young man with a bloodied face and wrapped in a blanket sitting by his totaled car while what appears to be his parents are standing on either side looking down at him with stern expressions. Mom’s hands are akimbo and dad’s are in his pockets. Behind the car, there is a police officer and curious onlookers.

When I was no longer able to look at the corpses, I focused on the other details in the photos – the car wrecks, the empty beer cans strewn in the back seat, the laughing teenagers, the shocking lack of safety features in cars.

I would have liked more details about the photos other than street names. Maybe knowing the names and ages of the victims would be too much, but I’m kind of morbid like that.

Even though lap and shoulder safety belts were around in the late 60’s and early 70’s, I was never forced to wear them as a child and my mom always refused to wear them for fear of wrinkling her clothes. My brother and I loved the freedom of sliding side to side in the bench seats. It was easy to crawl around on the floor, open the windows, or even snuggle up next to the rear window. Little did we know we were riding in a death trap.

This is definitely not for the squeamish, and certainly not a book I’d leave laying around for my guests to look at.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Steven Kotler's "Last Tango in Cyberspace" meandering plot dooms this near future thriller

Steven Kotler channels his best William Gibson, in the new sci-fi thriller “Last Tango in Cyberspace”, which plot centers on corporate greed, drugs and eco-terrorism. Unfortunately, Kotler does not completely pull it off.   One problem is the meandering plot.  Marketed as a thriller, one could wish for more action.  Instead, Kotler overindulges in a veritable smorgasbord of near future predictions. From a deep dive into marijuana variants that only Seth Rogan could understand to bar code branded people to vegan people who are eating grown cultured beef, the novel is full of ideas about the future.  And some are interesting. There is a deep dive into animal rights and why people should be more protective.  But Kotler tries too hard to fit some of them in.  And Kotler also seems to have a fascination with “Dune”, the Frank Herbert, magnum opus, which will play a significant role in the story.  Even the title is cited several times in the text, as if the author is trying to convince the reader that the novel is about cyberspace, when in reality it’s mostly about drugs and the cyberspace connection is merely a loose tie-in.

Judah “Lion” Zorn is an “empathy tracker”, who is able to discern emerging trends in society. Sir Richard, who runs Artic Pharmaceuticals has hired him to track down the leader of a cult, who may have information about a new drug about to hit the market. The drug helps with autism, so Artic’s motives may be good.  The problem is that the new drug increases the empathy that people feel for others, including animals. So a noted hunter, who may have taken the drug, is found dead, his head mounted like the other prey he killed on the wall of his trophy room.  And there may be cross interests at work. Jenka, who works for Arctic is in charge of “special creatives” is involved. His assistant Penelope, is also a player, who will become more important to Zorn as the story progresses. The Cult leader will be met on the way but missed but then found again.  Arctic Pharmaceuticals motives will, in the best cyberpunk tradition, to be grey at best.

I found the novel to be a slow slog. It does pick up in the second half, but there is still too much meandering around. There are many sharp science fiction speculative ideas in the story, but digging out the nuggets is not worth the time to discover them. Kotler can hold your interest, but there is better fare out there.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019


Proust's Overcoat: The True Story of One Man's Passion for All Things ProustProust's Overcoat: The True Story of One Man's Passion for All Things Proust by Lorenza Foschini
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”At the ball, Marcel Proust sat down in front of me on a little gilded chair, as if coming out of a dream, with his fur-lined cloak, his face full of sadness, and his night-seeing eyes.”--Marthe Bibesco

 photo Proust by Cocteau_zpskoc3wr8o.jpg

Jacques Guérin was a man of elegance and charm. He made a fortune from the perfume business, showing a savvy mind for marketing, for anticipating shifting market trends, and for outmaneuvering his competitors to gain market share. He was a very successful person if we are weighing people on a capitalist scale.

Being a perfume baron didn’t make him interesting to me, not in the least. Now Guérin the collector of rare books, manuscripts, and fine things, that was a man I found to be fascinating. Guérin was a Proust fanatic, but he also appreciated and supported other writers. In fact, he gave Jean Genet safe haven on more than one occasion when he was down on his luck or just emerging from prison. I loved the way Genet described his friend and benefactor. ”There is no better way to express my gratitude than by proclaiming the joy I feel in knowing a reader for whom fetishism is a religion.”

Guérin had met Proust’s brother, Dr. Robert Proust. The meeting did not go well. It was only after Robert died that Guérin found himself caught up in a desperate struggle between the widow and the remaining possessions of the great Marcel Proust. She despised her connection with a man who was unabashadely homosexual, wrote such extravagantly embarrasing books, and showed such disregard for the bourgeois way of life. Mrs. Robert Proust wanted to destroy or sell everything in her possession that had once belonged to Marcel. Backyard bonfires destroyed numerous notebooks and letters. Inscriptions were ripped from books. It was enough to bring anyone who loved literature to their knees. A malicious assault like this on the ephemera of a writer denied all of us those glimpses of the man behind the words.

Guérin was determined, through begging and with satchels full of cash, to save what he could. It was interesting how vehement stances might be based on moral issues, but that money almost always softened the fervancy of the need for punishment/destruction.

The author Lorenza Foschini was not only telling us the story of Guérin, the foremost Proust collector, but also of her own search for Proust’s fur lined overcoat. ”If I try to imagine Proust. I close my eyes and see him covered in his dark coat, as he was so often described by those who knew him. Reading In Search of Lost Time, I can only visualize the Narrator swaddled in his otter-lined overcoat.” Proust was sickly and spent most of his time in bed, writing, writing, and writing some more. He was determined to capture all his memories in exquisite detail before the Grim Reaper, who had been resting a chin on his shoulder his entire life, could finally collect his soul.

This was about a collector, a fur lined overcoat, and a writer who died with very few possessions, but who left us with a treasure trove of his wonderfully composed thoughts.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:

View all my reviews

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Dark City

Sarah Kay Moll
NineStar Press
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


Jude has a tender heart. Yet he was born into a criminal empire and groomed from childhood to step into his father’s violent footsteps. To survive, he created a second personality. Ras is everything Jude isn’t—cruel, remorseless, and utterly without fear, as incapable of love as Jude is of malice.

But when Ras meets a ruthless socialite, he begins to feel a strange stirring of emotion, a brush of Jude’s passion against his own dark heart. Meanwhile, Jude finds himself with a knife in his hand, the evil in Ras’s soul bleeding into his own.

As the walls between them crumble, they could lose everything—their lovers, their family, and their hold on the dark city itself.

Coming together could break them…or make them whole.

My Review

Sarah Kay Moll is a new author and I’m really glad I took a chance on her first novel. The enticing cover suits this stylish and romantic crime story perfectly.

Dark City is dark, as a story about the Russian mafia should be. Jude, the youngest son of a powerful crime boss, is a gentle and sensitive soul. In order to cope with the violence in his world and fulfill his father’s expectations, he creates Ras, a second personality who can perform those brutal deeds the gentle Jude cannot.

I liked the structure of this story. It jumps back and forth between Jude’s complicated relationships with his family, particularly with his father and older brother, his childhood and the incidents that led to the fracturing of his mind, Ras’ work with the syndicate, and their two loves – the ruthless and ambitious Scarlet who has a great deal in common with Ras, and Ash, the kind-hearted prostitute and drug-addict Jude wants to take care of.

There is a vibrant cast of characters, many of them damaged and unlikeable, but certainly not one-dimensional. The beautiful and vivid descriptions of Jude’s city bring it to life in such a way that it also feels like a character in the story.

Dark City kept my attention from beginning to end. It is a character-driven story that explores Jude’s conflicting feelings about his abusive father, who in his own way loves Jude and wants the best for him, and the rivalry between his older brother, Eli.

If I say any more, I’m afraid I’ll go into spoiler territory, so I’ll stop here. Can Jude/Ras be whole again? Can mafia bad boys have a happy ending? You’ll have to read it and see for yourself.

Though this is an imperfect story, it is a brilliant first effort. I’m honestly surprised at the negative reviews, though I attribute that more to what readers expect from a certain genre rather than the quality of the story. Dark City may be too dark for those looking for a romance and is too sweet for those looking for a crime novel. For those looking for something a little different, you can't go wrong. I am confident that Sarah Kay Moll’s next novel will be a winner.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Age of Legend

Age of Legend (The Legends of the First Empire, #4)Age of Legend by Michael J. Sullivan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The war rages on until it reaches a stalemate. Persephone tries to forge a peace only to see her ambassador betrayed and taken captive. An unlikely group seeks a legend in order to save their friend.

Age of Legend is an enjoyable book, but I just don't see how they could end it where they did. Worst of all it caught me completely off guard because I was only 86% of the way through the book according to my Kindle. I can't believe I have to wait another year at minimum to learn what happens next. That just kills me.

Age of Legend has all the usual style and substance of Michael J. Sullivan. Excellent world building and thrilling plot points. I also love so many of the characters. They just complement one another so well. Persephone takes a major back seat as this book is largely carried by Brin and Tesh among others. The devotion between characters is truly touching as well.

Age of Legend is a great book even if I'm disappointed with the cliffhanger ending.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, May 22, 2019


Pimp: The Story of My LifePimp: The Story of My Life by Iceberg Slim
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“A pimp is happy when his whores giggle. He knows they are still asleep...all whores have one thing in common just like the chumps humping for the white boss. It thrills ‘em when the pimp makes mistakes. They watch and wait for his downfall.

A pimp is the loneliest bastard on Earth. He’s gotta know his whores. He can’t let them know him. He’s gotta be God all the way.”

 photo Iceberg Slim_zpsi2b4vujw.jpg
Iceberg Slim

Iceberg Slim, AKA Robert Beck, attends Tuskegee University until he is expelled for selling bootleg liquor. What are the rules for capitalism? Supply and demand. During the ludicrous prohibition, he is merely supplying the liquor that his fellow students are demanding. This is only the beginning of his life as a capitalist who always seems to be on the wrong side of the law. ”Why did Justice really always wear a blindfold? I knew now. It was because the cunning bitch had dollar signs for eyeballs.”

Justice is only for rich, white people.

I would have more sympathy for Iceberg Slim, trying to find the best way to hustle, if he hadn’t been such a brutal asshole. The world has never been a fair place, and the rules are never applied evenly. A banker can write a loan and front load all the interest, but a loan shark who does the same thing is breaking the law. The pharmaceutical companies can make trillions pumping out drugs to a population who doesn’t need them, but if a drug dealer does the same thing, he goes to jail. At 18 years old, Iceberg Slim, then known as Young Blood, decides to become a pimp.

I had someone make a point to me recently that, by making prostitution illegal, we are depriving women of a means of making a living. Again, we are a capitalist country, and yet women can not legally supply the demand for sex by taking money for providing a service. Women can have all the sex they want for free, but they risk jail the minute they ask for a fan of C notes in exchange for it. Isn’t that anti-capitalism? So if the morality is about women having sex out of wedlock or not for reproduction purposes, isn’t that happening right now all over the world in bedrooms, back alleys, bar bathrooms, backseats of cars, no tell motels, the boss’s desk at work, golf greens, back rows of movie theaters, etc., etc., etc.? By making it illegal, we also give jackasses like Young Blood the opportunity to impose his will on women to go out in the streets and hump for him.

If a woman leaves one abusive pimp, there is always another one waiting to take his place. It seems to me, we need to make prostitution legal, and just like the current battle for women’s reproductive rights, boot the men out of the equation...well, except for when they want to exchange their cabbage for getting their pipes clean. Men should be customers only.

Making prostitution against the law didn’t make it go away. So who is the customer for a young, black whore looking to score some scratch?

”A lot of them are clean-cut high muckty mucks in the white world. Some of them show me pictures of beautiful wives and cute children. It makes me feel greater than those white bitches living in soft luxury. Those white broads got Nigger maids they laugh at. They think we ain’t good for nothing but clowning and cleaning. It would give them a stroke to see their trick husbands moaning and groaning and licking between a black whore’s thighs.

They coming because those cold-ass white broads in Heaven ain’t got what these black whores in Hell got between their legs. Black and low as I am. I got secrets with their white men those high-class white bitches ain’t hip to.”

Oh yeah, there is demand alright.

First thing Iceberg needs is a whore, and after being made a fool of more than a few times, he finally meets a woman who fits the bill. ”Through the blue mirror I zeroed my eyes in on the target. My ass bone starched on stiff point. Her big peepers were two sexy dancers in the velvet midnight of her cute Pekingese face.”

Runt, as he calls her, is frequently difficult to control. She has opinions. She has demands. Since she is humping all the money for this enterprise, she even thinks at times she should have a say in how the business is conducted. She even threatens to leave. The first line of defense for a pimp is to use psychology. The most important rule of pimping is to find out the life story of every whore under his control. Convince them of the dangers of navigating the streets without his “protection.” Use everything you know about her to undermine her confidence in herself. If psychology doesn’t work, he must move to verbal threats, and if that doesn’t work, he grabs the nearest coat hanger and whales the living shit out of her. She’ll be out humping on the streets again before the heat from the stripes he lays in her flesh has cooled.

Iceberg Slim says he has had over 400 whores working for him at various times, no more than a few at one time, but it just shows that the streets burn them out or they just plain got tired of Slim’s shit. It must have been a relief for many of them the times Slim went down for a hitch in the joint. For all his hard work, Slim never seemed to achieve his ultimate dream, to be like Sweet Jones. ”A gleaming black custom Duesenberg eased into the curb in front of me. The top was down. My peepers did a triple take.

A huge stud was sitting in the back seat. He had an ocelot in his lap dozing against his chest. The cat was wearing a stone-studded collar. A gold chain was strung through it.

He was sitting between two spectacular high-yellow whores. His diamonds were blazing under the streetlight. Three gorgeous white whores were in the front seat. He looked exactly like Boris Karloff in black-face.”

That sounds more like a freak show at the carnival to me. Who’d want to be that?

 photo Iceberg Slim 2_zpsyn7iipm4.jpg

By the time he hits his 40s and he is doing another jolt in yet another steel casket, he realizes that his time is up. Pimping is a young man’s game, and he can’t stack no more time behind bars. He turns to writing his life story in the 1960s, and Pimp is the first of several books he publishes. His influence on gangsta rap is undisputed. Several films have been made based on his books. Most of his reading audience are black initially, but as word got out, his readership continues to grow. I’ve always wanted to read Iceberg Slim to experience the colorful vernacular of his writing style. My peepers were often popping out of my head over his poetic use of street slang. There is a glossary in the back if his meanings are not immediately apparent.

”Scottish author Irvine Welsh offered that ‘Iceberg Slim did for the pimp what Jean Genet did for the homosexual and thief and William Burroughs did for the junkie: he articulated the thoughts and feelings of someone who had been there. The big difference is that they were white.’"

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:

View all my reviews