Wednesday, June 19, 2019

WHITE JAZZ BY JAMES ELLROY

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.

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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 SONG BY ROBERT R. MCCAMMON

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.

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Sunday, June 9, 2019

Car Crashes & Other Sad Stories

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



Summary


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 PROUST

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.

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Saturday, May 25, 2019

Dark City


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



Summary



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.


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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

PIMP: THE STORY OF MY LIFE BY ICEBERG SLIM

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.’"

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Saturday, May 18, 2019

Seventh Inning Stretch


J.M. Snyder
JMS Books
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars



Summary



Every year, a local hospice hosts a charity baseball tournament played by four gyms in the Richmond area. This year, the gym where Matt diLorenzo works is chosen to compete. When Matt misses another staff meeting because he’s “busy in bed,” his co-worker Roxie signs him up to captain one of the gym’s two baseball teams. The first person Matt plans to recruit is his lover Vic Braunson -- who somehow gains superpowers from their lovemaking -- and those superpowers will definitely help out on the field.

Unfortunately, the gym has segregated their teams into staff and members. Matt works at the gym; he heads the staff team. Vic, a member, is asked to play on the members’ team.

Disappointed, Matt suggests they abstain from sex for the next week to avoid giving Vic any powers that might help his team win the ballgame. But before long, Matt discovers that keeping his hands to himself is easier said than done. And when the two teams face off against each other, he finds it almost impossible to keep his mind on the game.

Through the mental connection they share, Vic picks up on Matt’s lustful thoughts. They ruin his concentration, and threaten to throw the game. Matt wants him, badly. So Vic corners his lover in the locker room during the seventh inning stretch to find out just what Matt has in mind ...



My Review




Seventh Inning Stretch is fifth in the Powers of Love series. Matt and Vic are fast becoming one of my favorite couples. Their telepathic ability is strong and enables them to avoid the communication problems that exist in other relationships and forge a deep bond.

When Matt is a half hour late to his job at the gym and misses a staff meeting, he learns that the gym has been chosen to compete in a charity baseball tournament and he is the captain of one of the teams. Unfortunately, the teams are broken up into “staff” and “members”, so Vic will be unable to play on Matt’s team.

Matt suggests they abstain from sex so that Vic doesn’t have an unfair advantage in the game. Matt is not too thrilled about playing against Vic and even though he suggested abstinence, a week is just too much.

I loved how Matt used their psychic ability to thwart Vic’s concentration during the game. Who knew Matt had such a competitive streak?

This was a funny, sexy and very enjoyable story.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mapping Fate: A Memoir of Family, Risk, and Genetic Research


Alice Wexler
University of California Press
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars



Summary




In Mapping Fate, Alice Wexler tells the story of a family at risk for a hereditary, incurable, fatal disorder: Huntington's disease, once called Huntington's chorea. That her mother died of the disease, that her own chance of inheriting it was fifty-fifty, that her sister and father directed much of the extraordinary biomedical research to find the gene and a cure, make Wexler's story both astonishingly intimate and scientifically compelling.

Alice Wexler's graceful and eloquent account goes beyond the specifics of Huntington's disease to explore the dynamics of family secrets, of living at risk, and the drama and limits of biomedical research. Mapping Fate will be a touchstone for anyone with questions about genetic illness and the possibilities and perils of genetic testing.


My Review



“The ambiguous condition of 50% risk is extremely difficult to maintain in one’s mind, if not impossible. In practice, a 50-50 risk translates to a 100% certainty that one will or will not develop the disease.”
― Nancy Wexler, Genetic Russian Roulette

Before reading this book, I was aware that singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie died of Huntington’s disease in 1967. What I didn’t realize until after I read this book was how cruel this disease is. Symptoms usually develop between 30 and 50 years of age. In the early stages, patients may experience mild cognitive symptoms and psychiatric changes. Later on, they experience chorea, or abnormal involuntary movements, in different areas of the body. In later stages of the disease, individuals may have difficulty walking, speaking, and swallowing. Pneumonia and heart disease are the leading causes of death for people with Huntington’s disease.

Daniel Mundy’s (1976-2014) battle with Huntington’s disease:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzAPh...

This scientific memoir is utterly fascinating, despite the fact that some of the science went over my head. Still, I feel that Alice Wexler did an admirable job writing a compelling story about family, living with the risk of disease, and the innovation and efforts by her father, her sister, Nancy, and the scientific community that led to the discovery of a genetic marker for Huntington’s in 1983.

Alice’s mother, Leonore Sabin, was 53 in 1968 when she was diagnosed with the disease. Her father and three brothers had already died. Her husband, Milton, started the Hereditary Disease Foundation, and dedicated his efforts to inspiring researchers and caring for his sick ex-wife.

Nancy’s work with the foundation took her to the fishing villages near Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela, where about 1 in 10 people have Huntington’s disease.

Despite the grim subject matter, I found this very hopeful and optimistic. Even though there is still no cure for Huntington’s disease, there are drugs that can help alleviate certain symptoms and the option for those at risk to undergo genetic testing to find out whether they will develop HD in the future.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Texas Ranger: The Epic Life of Frank Hamer, the Man Who Killed Bonnie and Clyde

Texas Ranger: The Epic Life of Frank Hamer, the Man Who Killed Bonnie and ClydeTexas Ranger: The Epic Life of Frank Hamer, the Man Who Killed Bonnie and Clyde by John Boessenecker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Texas bred tough men, and none came nay tougher than Frank Hamer. He was to the Lone Star State what Wyatt Earp was to Arizona and what Wild Bill Hickok was to Kansas.…Mexican smuggler, the Ku Klux Klan, corrupt politicians, the Texas Bankers Association, and Lyndon B. Johnson. His iron courage was forged in the flames of fifty-two gun fights with desperadoes. In an era when crooked police were a dime a dozen, he could not be bought at any price. Though a white supremacist of the Jim Crow era, he saved fifteen African American from lynch mobs. He was the greatest American lawman of the twentieth century.”

 photo Frank Hamer_zpsubyyazzq.jpg
Frank Hamer

If not for Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, nobody but Texas historians might have remembered Frank Hamer, Texas Ranger. The Barrow gang, between 1931 and 1934, robbed stores and banks across the Midwest and the Southwest. They killed at least nine police officers and numerous civilians in their reign of crime. They were lauded by the press and loved by the public. They were two poor kids from the urban slums of West Dallas. They were never going to be famous any other way than to become Bonnie and Clyde.

Barrow and Parker were running rings around law enforcement. They were on the move constantly and never stayed in one place for very long. They had an enhanced feral sense to know when law enforcement was closing in, and even when it looked at several points they might finally be trapped, they still managed to find a way to get away. By the time the state of Texas came to Frank Hamer to ask for his help in apprehending them, there were hundreds of law enforcement personnel who were already out looking for them. Frank Hamer was retired and running a successful security business for the oil industry, so the state of Texas had to put him on the payroll as a Special Investigator. The $130 a month was laughable, but this wasn’t about the money for Hamer; this was about nine police officers who were no longer going home to their families.

We all know how the tale of Bonnie and Clyde ended, but if you don’t know the story, it is compelling reading. I really enjoyed Jeff Guinn’s book Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde. Guinn peels away the myth and glamour; and yet, even after being shown the warts and psychotic behavior, I still couldn’t help but feel an immense sadness for what happened to them on that road in Bienville Parish, Louisiana.

The memories of that day made Frank Hamer shift in his seat, too. He would talk about his other exploits, but he never wanted to talk about Bonnie and Clyde. ”Soon after the ambush, a publisher contacted him with a proposal to produce a book about his life. When he declined, the editor asked, ‘How much would $10,000 mean to you?’

Hamer’s blunt response: ‘No more than a Mexican dime.’”


Hamer was famous in Texas during his lifetime. His exploits were well recorded in the newspapers of the time. He was in fifty-two gunfights during his illustrious career, and he didn’t always emerge unscathed. Hard to say how much lead was still residing in the folds of his flesh, to be buried with him when he finally succumbed to the passage of time. Yes, even legends die, but their legacy can continue to live well beyond them. John Boessenecker took that part of the job very seriously.

The story of Hamer’s life was filled with near death experiences and derring do, but one of the most impressive things that I discovered about Hamer was his willingness to put his life on the line against angry white mobs intent on harming black prisoners. He did it time and time again. I shouldn’t have been so flabbergasted, but I must say that I was when I learned how often Texas mobs were still storming jails to perform acts of vigilante justice on accused black prisoners. I was well aware of all the atrocities perpetrated during slavery and even during Reconstruction, but it was frankly appalling to see how frequently it was still happening in the decades right after the turn of the century.

One situation, which will remain in my mind forever, happened in Sherman, Texas, in 1930. The Texas Rangers, including Hamer, were called in to protect a prisoner accused of raping a white woman. Thousands of people gathered around the court house, demanding that Hamer let them have the accused. He refused. They stormed the court house, and Hamer and the Rangers held them off by using their gunbutts to knock them back down the stairs. Hamer decided to lock the accused in the vault so that, if the mob did overcome the Rangers, at least he would have had a chance.

The mob burned down their own courthouse.

”As flames roared out of the courthouse windows, the frenzied mob changed, ‘Roast him! Roast him! Roast him! Burn him alive! Burn him alive!’” This was the sanitized version of what they were actually chanting.

It wasn’t just the many wars we fought in the twentieth century that made it one of the bloodiest centuries in history. Texans must not have had much faith in their justice system or were too impatient to see punishment administered to those they thought were guilty. Hamer failed that day, but there wasn't much he could do against people who were willing to die to see the object of their hatred destroyed. These mobs weren’t burning a rapist. They were burning a black man who had the audacity to touch a white woman. They were carrying forward the torch of racism.

During the 1948 Democratic primary for a senate seat, Frank Hamer was called in to investigate election fraud. His friend, Coke Stevenson, was announced the victor with a 362 vote lead, but as the night continued, more votes started trickling in, and somehow Lyndon B. Johnson emerged the victor by 87 votes. Hamer realized very quickly from looking at the late returns that precinct 13 in Alice, Jim Wells County, was where the biggest flip happened. When he finally acquired the tally sheet (the precinct captain did not want to give it to him), he discovered that 765 votes for Johnson had be crudely turned into 965.

Despite discovering this outright fraud, Johnson was still seated as the victor. Needless to say, Hamer was furious.

How important was this election? Johnson wouldn’t have been in a position to be tapped by John F. Kennedy for the the vice president nomination in 1960 and probably would have never been president of the United States.

Boessenecker made a good case that Hamer was the greatest lawman of all time. Hamer found himself in numerous tight spots, and most of the time he came out on top. The author didn’t shy away from writing about the times that Hamer got it wrong or when he might have even bent the very laws he was sworn to uphold.

”One day he might be remembered as the greatest lawman of the twentieth century. But history can be cruel, casting a blinding light on some deeds while relegating others to the shadows of oblivion. In our collective memory, Frank Hamer still remains the man who killed Bonnie and Clyde. Perhaps this book can help restore him to his proper place in the American story.”

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Saturday, May 4, 2019

Jonathan de Shalit's "A Spy in Exile" is about an Israeli hit squad actions in Europe









Jonathan de Shalit’s “A Spy in Exile” is not going to be one of my favorite spy novels of this year. I had problems with the title. I had problems with the story. I had problems with the introspection and retrospection. In general it was an okay read.

Starting with the title, it’s a bit of a misnomer. Although there is some spying, the novel is essentially about special agents of Israel, who are tasked with taking out Israeli’s enemies- that is killing them. Assassination, wet work and counter intelligence. Spying is generally considered government sanctioned watching and recruiting of people for the purpose of ferreting out information that may be harmful to the country the spies work for. There is another group of special forces that work for countries as well. Seal Team 6, Delta Force and other counter- terrorist forces of the USA are tasked with fighting external threats. But they are uniformed soldiers. Not a hit squad who operates in the shadows.

Which brings me to the latest book by Jonathan de Shalit, the misnamed “A Spy in Exile”. De Shalit, a former Mossad agent writing under a pen name, latest novel is about Ya’ara Stein and her assassin squad. Clearly, the title could be better, but, its likely calling the heroes assassins or a hit squad would be problematic. So I am sure that is why it’s called “A Spy in Exile”.

The novel has two main operations set in the near present involving Stein’s hit squad. But de Shalit, also has tied Stein’s story to another story set in the past, which naturally links up to Stein’s story plotline in the last part of the novel. The past thread in the story is about Yosef Raphael, a sculpture in post-World War II London, who has been recruited by Israeli intelligence to help the nascent state against its enemies. It’s a winding thread of a story episodically interspersed during the main novel parts. The tie-in does make for an interesting digression and casts some of Stein’s actions in a more positive light at the end of the novel.

Stein, who has been kicked out of Mossad for taking vengeance into her hands in a prior book, is asked by the Prime Minister of Israel, to recruit a hit squad of special agents, who will go after Israel’s enemies and take them out. The squad will be “off the books” only beholden to the Prime Minister. Israel will show that it is a force that punishes its enemies. De Shalit does a good job of fleshing out his characters. There is Ann and Helene’s romantic relationship, Sayid, the Arabic Jew, who is trying prove himself and Nufar, the daughter of a criminal, who became a hacker for Israel cyber forces and now is looking for more. The members of Stein’s squad are a diverse group, who have real feelings and thoughts. De Shalit clearly captures these feelings. But all of this fleshing sometimes turns too much to introspection and a psychological deep dive into the characters. It’s a little bit of a slog to get through all of this introspection and feelings. Interspersed in the novel are two or three instances of ruthless violence. But it’s not enough to sustain the idea that this is a “thriller”. It’s a slow read at best.

After learning about the members of the squad, Stein takes them to Germany to train. While training, Stein is approached by an old colleague, Matthias Geller, who is the head of BND’s Hamburg Station. Geller has lost a lady love, who entered his life, lived with him briefly and then disappeared. Stein understands that this woman could be a problem. If she was a spy, Geller’s career could be in jeopardy. So she starts to look into the woman and her squad investigates her background. Using Israeli assets and other tools, Stein and her team discover that the woman has a familial relationship to a famous terrorist group that operated in Europe in the past. They also discover that she may have been recruited by Russian operatives, who are planning to use old terrorist’s family members to commit bombings and other atrocities in Europe. Russia wants to show the West that it too can act with impunity but not be tied to the acts. Stein’s group ends up thwarting the woman’s individual group’s plan for an attack, but not before Stein takes extreme actions and torture against her to thwart the plan and to protect Matthias. It is cold blooded but that is why Stein, who was chosen exactly because of her ruthlessness, was recruited by the Prime Minister.

In the second operation, Stein’s group is given what appears to be two kill orders against enemies of the Israeli state. Although it’s not completely clear whether there was one kill order and one operation just decided on by Stein because the target hurt her family. One of the targets is a convicted felon already in custody in Europe. The other is an Iman, who has spread hate and discord. Stein plans two operations to take them out. In one of the operations, a young child in Britain will be killed, and although Aslan and other members of the squad are troubled by the inadvertent death, Stein feel this “collateral damage” is warranted. War is messy. But you do not expect your allies to kill innocents. You will have to make up your own mind about whether this is an acceptable outcome.

The British are not happy with the operations or deaths of their citizens on their home turf and will go hard to find the culprits. Meanwhile Mossad will also investigate the operations, as the outcome against the Iman took out a valuable British double agent. So the last part of the novel will be Israel’s investigation of Stein and the tie-in with Raphael in the past.

The novel was a bit of a slow read. Not that thrilling. Too much introspection for my taste. While the writer surely knows the trials and tribulations of the special agents that make up the spy organizations of the world, it was not that enjoyable to read about it. Stein displays an inherent ruthlessness that stands in marked contrast to the more introspective members of her squad. In some ways the novel punctures the belief that Israel acts heroically. De Shalit makes the point that some innocents’ deaths are acceptable in order to keep Israel safe from its enemies It’s a hard lesson, that de Shalit tries to lessen with the final actions of Stein, who acts to keep Raphael’s last secret safe.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Lavender in Bloom


Lily Velez
House of Capet Publishing
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars



Summary



A heartbreaking tale about love and loss...

It’s the year 1802 in Avignon, France.

Noah Capet has spent most of his young life living simple and unvaried days in the hushed countryside of southern France. Quiet, reserved, and diffident, his preference for existing is to do so in solitude, keeping to himself both in town and on his family’s farm—a predilection that’s altogether disrupted when a newcomer to town by the name of Jeremie Perreault begins an unremitting quest to befriend him.

Jeremie is everything Noah is not. Charismatic and gregarious, he leaves a trail of charmed admirers in his wake wherever he goes. Expressive and idealistic, he talks without end about his deep love for old books and his spirited dream to one day travel the world on a literary pilgrimage.

Over the course of a single summer, the two form an unlikely friendship, but just as quickly as it develops, it soon entirely dissolves as they’re forced to face the truth of what has unexpectedly emerged between them.

Lavender in Bloom is a tender and tragic coming-of-age story about first love and self-discovery, and a poignant reminder that time is fleeting and always takes with it the choices we’re too afraid to make.



My Review



This was a lovely, sad story about the doomed love of Noah Capet and Jeremie Perreault in 1800's France. The writing was wonderfully evocative and I enjoyed the lush descriptions of the French countryside. Noah was naive and reserved, while Jeremie was charming and passionate about everything, especially books. While I can understand that Noah’s tragic past has made him virtually a recluse, at the same time I was frustrated with him throughout most of the book for his paralyzing fear. I wanted him to embrace life, express his feelings, and fall in love.

I went into this knowing it was going to be a tragic love story. And I was OK with that, because sometimes I enjoy reading sad stories that break my heart and allow me the physical and emotional release of a good cry. Sadly, this didn’t deliver.

I liked the slow burn of their relationship, the tentative touches, the sweet kiss, but the love mostly felt one-sided until much later on in the story and what should have been a heart-wrenching ending made little impact, as I was not fully invested in Noah’s character or convinced of his feelings for Jeremie. I was expecting the author to tack on the very predictable Romeo and Juliet ending rather than a realistic open-ended one that hopefully will lead to Noah’s growth.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Sixth Kingdom

The Sixth KingdomThe Sixth Kingdom by James A. Moore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Read it here for free

Bron McNar, king of Stennis Brae, teaches his young son of the gods, their servants, and the sixth kingdom the gods destroyed.

The Sixth Kingdom provides a snippet into the world of the Tides of War. It also serves as a lesson and warning about obeying the gods. I'm at a bit of a disadvantage as I had already read the entire series by the time I read this short story. All the information it contains has been explicitly explained in the series. I would have appreciated this much more if I read it earlier.

The Sixth Kingdom is a solid short story that fits between The Last Sacrifice and Fallen Gods.

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Sunday, April 28, 2019

Suzanne Palmer's debt space opera "Finder" is a terrific read






"Finder" by Suzanne Palmer is a terrific space opera adventure with a very likable main protagonist, an involved three dimensional war and aliens. Some might think the novel is overstuffed (and it is), but Palmer pulls it off by keeping the story moving, the situations fresh and the characterizations true and clear. Light and breezy, full of likable characters and chicanery. It’s a con, it’s a reverse heist, it’s a war and it’s got alien contact and alien meddling. But it’s a big fun read and that is its why it should be on your list.


There are two main parts to the novel.


Arum Gilger, is a crime lord who has carved out a position of power in a deep space harvesting system colloquially called Cernee, which is loosely run by an appointed Governor. Palmer has populated the small space area with colorful habitats including “Leakytown”, the “Wheels”, “Blackcans” and “Halo”, which soon feel like part of our world and with a bunch of oddball inhabitants that cannot abide with the central government. The system has three main powers - the Vann family, a family of female clones who are lichen farmers, Harcourt a smuggler and tycoon, who is ably assisted by Bale, and Gilger, who has designs to run the system. Gilger's evil henchman is Borr Graff, a member of the fanatical Faither clan, who hate clones. Harcourt, cannot move against Gilger directly because Gilger has threatened Harcourt's daughter, who is at school on Mars. The main station between the various habitats is Central, which is connected to the other habitats. Gilger, however, has stolen a sentient spaceship from the Shipmakers of Pluto and now has more power to force the issue and take control of the system.


Dropping into this shaky system is Fergus Ferguson, a conniver and an irrepressible "repo man" from Earth, who has been hired by the Shipmakers of Pluto to recover the Venetia's Sword, the stolen sentient starship. After a run in with Gilger's forces, who attack Mother Vann, the matriarch of the Vann family and Ferguson at Central, Ferguson tells the family that he is there to reclaim the ship which will hurt Gilger's operation. Fergus will also get help from Mari, one of the younger Vanns


As part of his elaborate con to steal back Venetia’s Sword, Fergus will pose as Mr. Anders, the head of a fake technological firm and "invent" a device to read light waves to see what happened in the past, as a way of showing who orchestrated the attack on Mother Vann. The scheme is designed to make Gilger move the Venetia's Sword so as to block the device. And to get past the sentry drones and mines protecting the ship from theft, Palmer laughingly has Fergus manipulate "sex toys" and tennis balls and use them to destroy the drones. The scene to take control of the Venitia’s Sword is some really good reading. And Fergus shows yet again his smarts and willingness to take risks.


But it’s not all fun and games, because Gilger attacks the system hard and Fergus intervention cannot prevent the ensuing war for control. And just when the action gets intense, the Asiig, the alien race that has been dogging the system in their technologically advanced starships makes an appearance. Harcourt thinks the Asiig are there because of Fergus, but the answer is more complicated. But Fergus is saved by the Asiig and changed as well.


It seems the Asiig have morals about who to help and who not.


The second half of the novel involves Fergus and Mari’s efforts to help the Vanns, Harcourt and the other inhabitants of the system after he has been “altered” by the Asiig and to thwart Gilger. There will be a trip to Mars where Fergus and Mari has to find Harcourt’s daughter before Gilger’s goons harm her. Fergus past during the Mars rebellion will come in handy and so will Fergus’s power to zap people from the changes that he received from the Asiig. Like I said the novel is a little overstuffed.


Space opera seems to be making a big push back against the fantasy dominated shelves of the local bookstore, and this novel is at the spear head of this new wave of space based novels. The biggest issue I have with the novel is its length. Its not a page thing. Its just when you think the action is over, some new item rears up, but it is such a fast read that each episode only adds to the overall story. So while I think the whole Mars part of the story was not completely necessary, it helps Fergus to discover what was done to him and ties off other loose ends. Plus it give us a respite from the actions around Cernee.


In the end, Fergus will return to Cernee with Bale and Mari to return the fight to Gilger and to take back the Venetia's Sword which is still stuck in Cernee space. It will be bloody and hard but a lot of good scenes.


Suzanne Palmer’s debut novel may have a few flaws but she has invented a world, system and characters that are well worth visiting.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Silent Army

The Silent Army (Seven Forges, #4)The Silent Army by James A. Moore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thanks to the Silent Army the City of Wonders has been spared, at least for the moment. The Sa'ba Taalor and their gods still want the City destroyed and the Sa'ba Taalor are obedient more than anything else.

The Silent Army was a letdown. After the first two books set the stage and the third book brought the war to fruition, I expected a truly grand finale. Instead the story simply felt stretched for little reason. It was very much more of the same with some shrouded occurrences that don't get fully resolved. The ending was confusing and unfulfilling as well.

The author built some truly intriguing concepts, but he chose not to explain things in the end or even expand them enough to be satisfying. There are questions I still want to see answered, but I don't know if there will ever be greater resolution which is annoying.

The Silent Army was disappointing and I wish The City of Wonders and The Silent Army were combined into one book. It would have been less frustrating.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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Saturday, April 20, 2019

Bound: Forget Me Knot


H.B. Pattskyn
Dreamspinner Press
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars



Summary



Jason Kennly needs to get a closer look when he spots a gray leather collar from across the dealers’ room at a science fiction convention, even if there’s no way he can afford it on his college student budget. After all, looking is free. But then he spots something he wants even more than the collar: leather booth owner Henry Durand, who insists Jason try it on. When Henry asks Jason to be his model at a bondage demo, Jason agrees despite his lack of experience as a sub and ends up spending a no-strings-attached weekend exploring his kinky side with a virtual stranger.

Then the con is over, Jason and Henry go their separate ways, and it’s back to real life. Coming to terms with his identity as a submissive and masochist isn’t easy for Jason. Suddenly he has to face fear, doubt, and a best friend who’ll do anything to get him away from “that creep” and back together with the ex-boyfriend who ignored him. All Jason wants is to be with Henry, but what if that means becoming his slave?


My Review



I don’t read a lot of BDSM stories just because I associate them with pain and I really don’t get off on pain.

With the right partner, however, loving dominance and submission, bondage, spanking, and blindfolding can be extremely erotic.

Jason puts a lot of trust in Henry early on and though their sex was blisteringly hot, some of their encounters made me squirm a little. Boundaries were pushed, but I trusted that Henry would respect Jason’s hard and soft limits and at no time did he betray my trust.

Trust works both ways, according to Henry:

“I only just met you too, Jason. Trust is a two-way street. You have to trust that I’m not a psycho, and I have to trust that you’re not gonna go telling all your friends ‘bout how some creepy old dude raped you. I have to trust that you’re not gonna have second thoughts in the morning and call the cops.”

Henry may be an experienced Dom, but he also has a vulnerable and tender side that is not sufficiently explored in this story. Jason lacks confidence, has difficulty communicating his needs, and desperately needs acceptance. His on-off relationship with his boyfriend, Terry, is frustrating. Terry has been rather inconsiderate on numerous occasions and Jason is unable to let Terry know what he wants and needs. His best friend, Kendra, borders on being too meddlesome, but she genuinely cares for Jason and has a very good reason to be concerned about his relationship with Henry. Jason does not have a good relationship with his father, who was unexpectedly saddled with him after his mother’s death. Despite Jason’s flaws and his inability to effectively deal with the difficulties in his life, I found his character genuine and difficult to dislike. I enjoyed being a part of Jason’s thoughts while coming to terms with his submissive nature and enjoyed his conversations with Henry.

Though the time they spent together was rather short, Henry is eager to teach Jason while at the same time forming a gradual connection.

I hope in time they will fall in love and have a more balanced relationship. As things are now, Jason’s precarious situation has me very worried and he still has so much growing up to do. 

I’m very much looking forward to the sequel.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Following the Shimmer

Following the Shimmer (Seven Forges, #3.1)Following the Shimmer by James A. Moore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Read here for free

Desh Krohan discovered the people of Louron have no fear of the Sa'ba Taalor and he sent Tataya to discover why.

Following the Shimmer reveals Louron's biggest secret and their reason they are so unafraid. It's explained in a simple easy manner. My only real complaint is it's so short that it doesn't have an opportunity to truly get into the Shimmer.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

THE KREWE BY SETH PEVEY

The Krewe (Herbert and Melancon #1)The Krewe by Seth Pevey


”When you run over a human being with a train, there isn’t so much as a bump for those people riding or conducting inside the cars themselves. People are just too soft, and trains too hard and inestimably heavy. It might as well be mud under the flanged steel.”

When Felix Herbert, the frequently stoned underachiever, finds out his older brother Robert, the always overachieving doctor, has committed suicide, he doesn’t believe it for even one millisecond. When he discovers that his brother was wearing an angel corkscrew mask before he stepped out in front of that train, there is no doubt in his mind that his brother was trying to leave a clue to lead him to the truth.

Who and what drove Robert beneath the wheels of a train?

Fortunately, Detective Melancon is on the case. ”Detective Melancon was old and thin. His clothes fitted poorly and were of a forgotten color. But his eyes were bright, pale blue, piercing, and his mouth seemed far from tired. He cleared his throat and sat down.” His sixty-two year old body might remind him all too often that his best years are a distant memory, but his mind, honed by experience, is still as sharp as a butcher’s blade.

The Herbert legacy was made in pork, and as Felix begins to wield the power of his family to open those doors, closed to most of New Orleans society, he will need the steady hand of the honor-fixated Herbert family butler, Tomas De Valencia to help guide him. Felix, in his obsessive search for the truth, can quickly become mired in trouble so deep that even the Herbert fortune won’t be able to distract him.

Everyone Felix knows has been wanting him to grow up and accept the responsibility his family position has made possible for him, but now, with needing justice for his brother, he will have to finally become the man that everyone has been waiting for him to become.

And who is driving the black Plymouth that keeps following him all over town?

Felix may not have trained in the medical field, but with spending several years trying various illicit and prescription drugs to keep a hazy barrier between him and real life, he has a working knowledge of the effectiveness of most drugs. When he finds a drug called Scopodol is part of the swirling mists surrounding his brother’s death, he knows this is the clue that could lead him to the killer.

How does all this tie into a carnivale organization called The Krewe?

If his brother’s death is a suicide, who exactly keeps chasing him all over New Orleans? Felix has to discover skills he never knew he had. ”How to Survive a Foot Chase in 1000 Quick Steps.” He can tell he is getting closer to the truth by the level of interest that is being paid to his actions.

Tomas, Melancon, and Felix might not be Hollywood casting for the three musketeers, but together they prove to be a relentless trio against the diabolical schemes of the most ambitious and fiendishly driven villain I’ve met in a long time. It will take the combined efforts of all of them to have a chance to bring Robert’s killers to justice.

I caught up with the author, Seth Pevey, lounging in his hammock, under a Spanish moss draped Bald Cypress tree, sipping a Hurricane with... fortunately... no storm clouds on the horizon.

Jeffrey D. Keeten: Tell me a bit about where the inspiration to write The Krewe came from?

Seth Pevey:New Orleans Mardi Gras is a big deal, to put it lightly. The entire city shuts down for days, and most of the elite, old-money families are deeply tied in with its machinations, one way or the other. Local nabobs wear masks, drink out of flasks, ride horses down the main thoroughfare of the city while being hailed by the crowds. I always thought, watching those parades growing up, that the situation was just so ripe for mystery and intrigue. Who are those people behind the masks? What is going on behind the scenes of this incredibly expensive, excruciatingly planned party? Therein were the seeds of "The Krewe.”

JDK:I found the characters of Tomas and Melancon to be much more interesting than your main protagonist. That could be because I am older and love to see wisdom being appreciated over, say, youthful enthusiasm. What are your plans for those two characters going forward?

SP:Melancon is the main focus of book #2, Roots of Misfortune, and really kind of the main character of the series, despite how things open in the first book. Tomas, as you've hinted at, is meant to be the sort of moral bedrock of the crazy, chaotic NOLA of the novels. I can't say much more than that without spoiling what I have planned, but know that both older characters will be dispensing their wisdom in more adventures to come.

JDK:With the voracious, Kindle loving readers chewing through books like a beaver on amphetamines, do you have any plans to write some short pieces, say a 1.5 or a 2.5, to keep your series in front of them while you write the third novel?

SP:At least the beaver would eventually burn out! I see the Kindle market only getting bigger and more voracious as time goes by. I do have some plans for short, free (or .99c) novellas, which may be prequels or dive more deeply into particular characters. But, I'm not one of these writers who can churn out a book every eight weeks, unfortunately. So, I may end up just taking the hit to sales in order to produce the quality that I need to satisfy myself. I do seem to be getting faster as momentum and experience build and have some pretty ambitious plans for the future.


JDK:Lena Troxclair is a great villainous character. You've combined beauty and the beast into one person, which is frequently confusing to people who meet her. Is she beautiful, or is she horribly disfigured? Tell me about how that character evolved in your mind?

SP:The villain is always secretly my favorite character in a thriller/mystery, particularly if they are done well. For me, the best villains were always coming out of left field-- those that made you drop your guard and then stabbed you in the back. Lena has a beautiful face, but a disfigured body with a bit of a hunchback. That beauty is only a mask. It's nothing but a weapon in itself. The idea of "face" played largely into my construction of her: a person who places all their energy on controlling what you see when you look at them, while secretly hiding something toxic on the inside.

JDK:If you were working in a bookstore, what section would you shelve The Krewe? The young adult market is exploding right now. I came away thinking this could work well as a YA book, given the morality, good versus evil, no steamy sex scenes, or gory violence parameters of the plot.

SP:I don't like gore for gore sake, or sex for sex sake, in books or film. At the same time, I think some of the themes in my work (drug addiction, the darkness of humanity, the futility of resisting death and decay) might not lend "The Krewe" to a kid's summer reading list. I still hope they'd read it (and other dark, disturbing books) because all those things do exist and are going to have to be dealt with at some point in a kid's life. I sure read the darkest stuff I could get my hands on when I was a kid and relished every second of it. To answer your question more directly though, the book is written to be in the thriller/mystery section, and hopefully one day to sit in it's place in the "local fiction" section that's in every independent NOLA bookshop. That's the dream.

JDK:Speaking of no steamy sex scenes, there were no romantic entanglements in the book. I haven't read the second book yet, but do you have plans to bring romantic interests into the plots of the series?

SP:Absolutely-- Roots of Misfortune will definitely satisfy if you enjoy a little romance with your mysterious deaths and disappearances. I tend not to like romantic subplots all that much, but the characters led me there, and I couldn't say no to them.

JDK:What other interests besides writing do you have? I've heard rumors that you are a Cleaner for the mob, which must be exciting. By denying it, you are confirming it.

SP:I talk far too much to work for the mob. I bought an old house in the country and have been fixing it up, learning all that's involved with that, and really enjoying it. I also read a lot, obviously. I have a nice treadmill parked in front of Netflix as well, and that is something I'd recommend to anyone who loves story but feels guilty about binging. Besides that, I work in the family business (real estate) and make frequent trips down the road to New Orleans with my wife for the food, music, and festivals.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten

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Book Expo is returning to Jacob Javits in New York City -- May 29-May 31 This is the Book Trade Show you need to attend


Book Expo America is returning to the Jacob Javits Center in New York City on May 29 to May 31.  This is a huge trade show by the publishing industry -- with tons of book professionals for book professionals.  Besides the publishers, librarians, book sellers, bloggers, reviewers, authors and celebrities roam the halls of the Javits Center. And, there will be brand new books, both recently published, about to be published and advanced reading copies of books. Its a madcap way to see and obtain a ton of books. While the event is not free, there are a lot of free books to be had.

Books are what makes this event so special.  The publishing industry pulls out all stops to bring in authors who sign their soon to be published books, both fiction and non-fiction, young adult and children, mysteries, popular and expected best sellers.

The industry provides a huge amount of free books over the three day event, which authors sign.  Its a great way to get your hands on the newest books that the industry is highlighting.  I find that many books are in the young adult, teen and children area, which makes the event very good for librarians looking for new books for up and coming readers.

A good strategy is to get the Book Expo guide to the author signings and plot out which books based on the synopsis and what can be gleaned on line to determine the best books to wait on line for (or go with a whole passel of co-workers) as there are too many free books available at the same time to score (I mean obtain) the books that you want.

The event typically has some big draws. Sonia Sotomayor, the United States Supreme Court Justice is giving a speech on Thursday May 29 from 6:15 to 7:15 pm about her life and what made her write a children's book.   All you need is  your pass.

In addition, the Book Expo typically has Author breakfasts. On May 30, the Adult Book and Author Breakfast will include Rachel Maddow, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Malcolm Gladwell among others.  On Friday, May 31, the Children's Book and Author Breakfast (a 1000 attendee event) will be co-hosted by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush, daughters of President George W. Bush and  they will be joined by actress Lupita Nyong'o to discuss her new children's book along with Tomi Adeyemi and Eoin Colfer, the author of the Artemis Fowl books.

Typically at Book Expo there are some authors that the show ranks as so illustrious that the show only allows select people into get their books.  There typically is a line prior to the show to nab red tickets to get into the lines for these books and these tickets are on a first come first serve basis. This year the Book Expo is also selling an Avid Reader Pass which will allow you access to certain authors online before the Book Expo and you will get a "front of the line pass" so you get to skip to the head of a line.

Another technicality is that there are two areas to obtain books.  The Book Expo typically has 10-15 separate lines in an author signing area where people stand in line for books.  In addition, the major publishing houses also offer free books, but typically give out tickets to their book signings at their stands prior to the book signing.  No ticket, no book, so it pays to go to the Publishing houses prior to obtain your ticket. 

Finally, its a good idea to get to Book Expo early because the publishing houses also give out free books especially on Thursday and Friday morning before the events get started.  Surf their areas to get free books.