Sunday, June 15, 2014

Last Kind Words Saloon

This was a major disappointment. I've heard a lot about McMurtry as an author. Saw this new book and decided to check it out. I'm very glad that I checked it out from the library instead of buying it. This was just awful. I'm not even sure what he was actually trying to do. It reminds me of one of those lousy westerns from the late seventies or early eighties. You know, the ones that liked to throw names around even though they didn't mean a thing. You might have Wyatt Earp and Buffalo Bill Cody save President Grant from a KKK army under the command of a Mexican General. In fact that plot might have been better than the one presented here. A near as I can tell we have an aging Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday watching the days go by. Along the way they join up with Buffalo Bill, who loses his show, then dies. All of this before they head down to Tombstone. Never mind that at the time they went to Tombstone Earp and Holiday were in their early 30s. And that Bill Cody didn't die for another 30 years after this. And that somehow Wyatt's third wife becomes his second wife. And that this whole thing smells worse than the random character thrown into story whose entire vocation is skinning skunks. Do yourself a favor and skip this book. At least it's a short book, but I feel that Larry McMurtry owes me for the four to five hours of my life I lost to this dismal mess.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


Hello dear friends. Sorry to have left you for the last few months, but life has been crazy. My wife and I just had our third child a month ago and there has not been much time for reading. There has been even less time for writing. I hope to remedy that very soon. For those who don't know me well let me say that we already have two boys: Sean (13) and Elliot (11). Both are autistic and so they already take up a lot of time. add to that their newborn sister and the fact that reading is, alas, not my full time job, you have the recipe for slow blog posts. I do have 5 reviews that I need to write, so that should keep me busy for a little while. For now I will leave you with the cause of my lack of sleep and loss of reading time.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Life Lessons From The Great Myths by J. Rufus Fears

Throughout the history of mankind myths have given us our higher. In this wonderful series Professor J. Rufus Fears looks at a number of these myths and examines what they meant in their own time and what they can teach us today.

The myths in this series cover the entire period of Western Civilization. From Gilgamesh and The Bible all the way through the Greek and Roman periods, the Medieval period, and up to our own times. Fears examines the kernel of truth in many of these myths and shows that most have some form of history behind them. He also shows that these stories convey truths that can serve in our own time. This means that while there is some history in the myths we shouldn't get bogged down in debating every historical fact. Instead we should look at what truths these stories convey and learn.

I am sure that there will be those who object to Dr. Fears' selections. They focus entirely on what we call the Western Tradition. Of course this encompasses nearly four thousand years of literature and history that spans the Middle East, the Mediterranean, the British Isles, and North America. These myths are the myths that inform us in the modern world. They contain the wealth of a cultural heritage that we ignore to our own poverty of mind and spirit.

Throughout the course there are a number of themes that Dr. Fears draws from these stories. Some of them are intended to resonate deeply with the audience in our own time. On multiple occasions he discusses the problems associated with pre-emptive war, particularly in the Middle East. Perhaps the American leadership and the American people could have avoided many of the mistakes of the past decade if we had spent more time reading the classics and less time on other subjects. He shows us the importance of following your dream.

This is true of the characters in the myths as well as those who pursued the study of these myths. On several occasions he points out the intrepid amateurs who ignored the "pot-bellied" professors and found Troy, Knossos, Mycenae, and other locations deemed as mere fantasy by the experts of their time. This is just one sample of the dry humor that he shares. Personally I found Dr. Fears speaking style to be quite enjoyable. With his soft Southern accent and the subject material he often reminded me of a preacher delivering a classic sermon that would be discussed in great depth after church.

I have read myths since I was a very young child and have always enjoyed them. In college I majored in history and took as many English courses as I could. There I saw first hand what damage has been done to our culture in the university setting. History and Literature studies no longer examine the higher aspirations and truths. Instead, History has become a dull plodding world of sociologists. There are notable exceptions, as the Great Courses show us. Literature studies have fallen prey to the post-modernist and the Freudian. It is refreshing to find a professor who still remembers that our stories, whether we call them history, legend, or myth, are what  make us truly human. I plan to get everything I can find by Professor Fears and I hope that you will as well.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Noah by Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel, and Niko Henrichon

Noah is in imaginative retelling of the well known Bible story. This has been a labor of love by filmmaker Darren Aronofsky. The story takes place in a bleak landscape, this ante-dilluvian world is no paradise. The ground no longer produces food and the inhabitants are vicious. Led by their king Tubal-Cain the society is depraved and violent. In the midst of this unpleasant world we find a righteous man: Noah. After he receives a vision from God (in the book God is called The Creator) Noah and his family leave their home and go off to find a safe place. Along the way they rescue a young girl who joins their family. Of course everyone is familiar with the main parts of the story. Noah builds an ark and his family, along with the animals, are saved when God destroys the world.

As I said, this is an imaginative retelling. This book was adapted by the authors from the screenplay. There are a lot of interesting points about this book. First of all it is not a simple rehash of the Bible story. There are many additions. At least I don’t remember rock giants in the Bible. This should not worry the reader. While the authors have taken a great deal of liberties with the actual narrative they did maintain the important themes of the story.

The primary theme is sin and redemption. The first row of panels show the fruit being eaten. The second row shows the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. The world of Noah is bleak. Man has misused the planet and its resources. This misuse has caused drought. In all of this there is only one righteous man. Noah is not a flawless man. Early on we see that he has a temper. Noah has visions that involve the destruction of the world. He goes to the capital city to warn the people. He is ignored and physically thrown out. After his message to change and repent is ignored Noah comes to believe that God wants to destroy the human race completely. Now God does not say this anywhere, this is Noah’s assumption.

This is the central theme of the story. Sin has ravaged the planet and judgement must come. This is not some simple environmentalist story as some have said. People are not bad because of the environment, rather selfishness and greed have led to the destruction of resourced for personal gain. Noah’s assumption that God wants to destroy mankind is wrong. God doesn’t want to eradicate man. Rather he wants to restart creation. In fact Noah is the only one who could be taken as an extreme environmentalist and he is shown to be without compassion and almost in danger of losing his own humanity. This extremism is shown when he tries to kill his own granddaughters because he is afraid that they can keep the human race going. His own actions lead him to be isolated from his family as he goes off to live in shame. This is one of the great moments of redemption in the story. It is his daughter-in-law who brings him back to the family. Even though he tried to kill her children she still shows him love and returns him to the family.

In the end Noah may not be a faithful retelling of the Genesis story, but it is a wonderful examination of the themes of sin, judgement, repentance, and mercy. Most of all it is a story that should make people think and talk about the subject. This is what any great story should do. Pick this up and read it. Then think about it. Then discuss it. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Little Demon in The City of Light

Paris was an exciting place in 1889. The new Eiffel Tower was a visible reminder that the city itself was one of the marvels of the modern world. Science and culture thrived in the new and fragile Third Republic. The scientific community was exploring new and fascinating fields. Among these fields was the new fad of hypnotism. In France two main schools of thought struggled for dominance. One of the main points of contention concerned the amount of free will that the subject under hypnosis retained. The Paris school argued that subjects under hypnosis could not be compelled to act against their own moral code. The rival school in Nancy claimed that subjects had no free will at all. This academic debate would soon be put to the test in a sensational murder trial.

Gabrielle Bompard was a young, free spirited girl who came to Paris to escape her father and step-mother. She soon became the mistress of Michel Eyraud. Eyraud was a shady business man who spent most of his time cheating people out of their money. Together with Gabrielle he murdered an acquaintance of his. After disposing of the body they fled to America. The police case for the missing friend ended up in the hands of Surete chief Marie-Francios Goron. Goron was able to discover the identity of the murdered man’s body, and was eventually able to connect the murder to Eyraud and Bompard.

Bompard fled Eyraud in America and returned to France. She claimed that she was not guilty of any crime because she had be forced under hypnosis to help in the murder. Eyraud was captured in Cuba and returned to France. The case would fascinate the Parisians and would be the first time that hypnosis was used as a murder defense.

The Little Demon In The City of Light is a fascinating book. The story itself almost seems like a convoluted murder mystery. Steven Levingston keeps this true story of crime moving along at a wonderful pace. The dogged Goron chasing down every clue, refusing to be stopped by inept police work in other parts of France. The shifty, murderous Eyraud with his manipulations. Most of all there is the character of Bompard. The young woman was an enigma. Was she a clever seductress, the “LIttle Demon?” Was she a simple minded victim of the stronger Eyraud? Like all real history the truth is often unknowable. We have to decide for ourselves about this young woman.

This is a fascinating story and deserves to be known. Levingston is an excellent writer and really brings this story to life. If you like history, true crime, or mystery novels, do yourself a favor and get this book.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Chase by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

Stolen art, an avaricious former government official, a lot of junk food, and loads of sexual tension. These are the main themes in The Chase the new novel in the Fox and O'Hare series by bestselling authors Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg. This time around the team have a new mission and a tight deadline. A valuable artifact is about to be returned to China from the Smithsonian Museum. There is only one problem: it is a fake. The real item had been stolen years earlier and instead of admitting the loss the government covered it up by displaying a forgery. Now Special Agent Kate O'Hare of the FBI has to team up again with her secret partner, international criminal Nick Fox. Their job is to find out who stole the item and retrieve it before the Smithsonian hands the fake over to the Chinese government.

Fox thinks he knows who stole the item so he hunts down an old "business" partner. That leads him to the identity of the person who now owns the artifact. That's where the real trouble begins. It is in the very private collection of Carter Grove, former White House Chief of Staff. Grove is retired from government service and now runs an international security firm. Grove loves two things: power and art. With the resources of his firm Grove can build and tear down governments in third world nations. His employees are cold blooded killers. With his resources Grove will be the most dangerous opponent that Fox and O'Hare have faced yet.

The Chase is a fun, cute novel. The plot seems to be secondary to the book. The story only seems to exist in order to form a loose narrative for the interaction between Fox and O'Hare. More importantly in this novel it exists to discuss two things: Kate O'Hare's complete lack of femininity and her crush on Nick Fox. Her lack of anything feminine is driven home time and again. In fact it becomes a rather tedious theme. She dresses poorly, she has a sparsely furnished apartment with a punching bag, and most of all there is her diet. Her diet is enough to make even the strongest stomach feel nauseous. The similarities to the Sandra Bullock film Miss Congeniality are unavoidable. On the other hand is her almost girlish crush on Nick Fox. When she is not eating some form of lousy food she is fantasizing about Fox. The contrast between the two sides of her character do not give her depth, they simply appear to be two different cardboard cutouts that are pasted together. This appears to be a fairly standard motif in "tough girl" literature and film.

The cardboard cutout characters abound in the book. There is Nick Fox, the international thief, who is also brilliant, and cunning, and, most of all, beautiful. The rest of the team are fun if predictable. There is Willie, the Driver. She loves to drive anything with an engine. Cars, boats, planes, it doesn't matter. Give her an instruction manual and she can fly an unfamiliar plane with no trouble. Of course her large, surgically modified bust is also an important character in the story. It makes an appearance when an easy distraction is needed. There is Boyd Campbell, the actor who only lives for his art. More than once his new career in commercials is interrupted for the good of the team. Poor Boyd doesn't appear to have much a future. No one seems interested in the deep emotional depth he keeps trying to bring to mouthwash and pancake commercials. Then there is our villain, Carter Grove. He is rich and ruthless. Not only is he a thinly veiled member of the Bush team, but he is also rich. How can a villain be more predictable, or two dimensional.

All of those criticisms aside the novel is actually fun to read.  It is a light hearted take on what has become a very serious genre. In many ways the Fox and O'Hare novels are more like a television series. If you demand that your books be full of dark, brooding characters and intense scenes of violence and sex then you might want to pass this novel by. If you want a light, enjoyable book and enjoy fun television shows like Rizzoli and Isles or Burn Notice then you should enjoy this book as well. I know that I did.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

47 Ronin by Mike Richardson and Stan Sakai

Title: 47 Ronin
Author: Mike Richardson
Artist: Stan Sakai
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: March 4, 2014

“To know this story is to know Japan.” This statement is made on the title page of this book. According to the author Mike Richardson this is an old Japanese saying. The story of the 47 Ronin is certainly a compelling story. The true events behind the story took place in the feudal society of early eighteenth century Japan. The story itself is simple enough. A nobleman named Kira insulted a hotheaded nobleman named Asano. During the quarrel in the palace of the Shogun Asano drew his weapon on Kira. It was a crime punishable by death to draw a weapon in the house of the shogun. Lord Asano, was convicted and ordered to commit seppuko, a ritualistic suicide. Asano’s legacy was further disgraced when his family was stripped of its possessions and his samurai were cast adrift as ronin. Even though Kira should have been punished as well his influence allowed him to go free, even though he instigated the event.

After one year forty-seven of Asano’s samurai, led by his chief retainer Oishi Yoshio, banded together, attacked the residence of Kira. They killed his retainers and then killed Kira. Even though many admired them for avenging their lord they were convicted of murder and ordered to commit seppuko. They did so and have been honored by many as the embodiment of the Bushido code ever since. 

This story has spawned art, plays, books, operas, songs, poems, and film. Now it has come to the world of comic books. For Mike Richardson, founder of Dark Horse Comics,  this is a work of love. He has studied the story of the 47 Ronin for over 25 years. He finally decided to write the story. The book is well written. The pace is just right for the story. He doesn’t make the mistake of many writers and clutter up the story with a lot of historical background, rather he lets the story unfold for the reader. There are a lot a powerful moments in this book. Oishi knows that he and his men have to make everyone believe that they are broken and pose no threat. To this end they abandon loved ones, take menial jobs, pretend to be drunks.

Stan Sakai was the perfect artist to bring this story to life. Best known for his Usagi Yjimbo series, he has a wonderful grasp of the traditional look of the period. For this book he drew is inspiration from Ogata Gekko, a well known Japanese artist form the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Gekko created a well known set of prints based on this story. Even though Sakai may have used Gekko as his inspiration, his style is all his own.

This is a moving and powerful story and deserves to be treated with respect. Richardson and Sakai have done just that with this outstanding book. I recommend that you pre-order this book now. 

The Shadow, Volume 3: The Light of the World by Chris Roberson and Giovanni Timpano

Title: The Shadow, Volume 3: The Light of the World
Author: Chris Roberson
Artist: Giovanni Timpano
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Release Date: March 4, 2014

Who knows what evil lurks in the the hearts of men? The Shadow of course. This time The Shadow is up against a dangerous opponent. There is a serial killer on the loose and the police have no leads. All they know is that the victims are killed with swords. The killer is a mysterious woman who calls herself The Light. The Light, is killing sinners in order to free their divine soul from their corrupt flesh. 

So now The Shadow must track down and stop The Light in order to end this killing spree. If you find that last sentence to be ironic then you are getting the point of the story. Nothing is as it seems. Chris Roberson is doing an excellent job as the writer of The Shadow. Bad pulp fiction is easy, but good pulp fiction is hard. Roberson writes excellent stories. The pacing is amazing. The story never slows down, but you feel like you have read a full book by the time you get to the end. I love the subtle ways that he brings images and ideas into the story. At one point you think that the story is going to revolve around another Seven Deadly Sins killer, but it's not that easy.

Roberson is able to to tell this story so effectively thanks to the amazing art work of Giovanni Timpano. Timpano does an excellent job of capturing the look and feel of the 1930s. There is a lush, rich look to the pages. This is pulp fiction art at its best. Together Roberson and Timpano have captured the feel of the classic Shadow stories while at the same time making the stories feel modern. 

This is a treat for any lover of classic pulp fiction. If you love great pulp fiction then get this book and enjoy.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Blood Royal by Eric Jager

It was a cold November night in 1407. In Paris, the Duke of Orleans, younger brother of the King and the regent of France, was returning to his lodgings after dining with the queen. He was suddenly attacked by a group of armed men. They pulled him from his horse and hacked him to death. The group of armed, masked men then made their way through the streets terrifying any one who dared to look out of the doors or windows. Then simply vanished. The subsequent investigation and discovery of the person responsible for this action would affect the next twenty-five years of French history.

Louis of Orleans was an unpopular figure. His brother, Charles VI, suffered from recurring bouts of madness. Louis had been appointed regent to act when Charles was indisposed. Louis used his position to raid the national treasury for his own gain. He was a notorious womanizer who routinely seduced the wives of other nobles. He was also in a type of cold war with his cousin John, the Duke of Burgundy.

 In charge of the investigation of the murder was Guillaume de Tignonville, the provost of Paris. de Tignonville soon discovered the culprit. The man who ordered the assassination was none other than his cousin, the Duke of Burgundy. This revelation would plunge France into civil unrest for the next twenty five years. Henry V of England would use this unrest to invade France. The Burgundians would help the English in the war against the French crown.

This is a fascinating story about a turbulent time in French history. Jager does an excellent job of piecing this story together. The French aristocracy, particularly the royal line, comes across as one big dysfunctional mess. It’s the kind of story one would expect to see on an HBO original series. Illicit affairs, madness, opulent balls, murder, and mayhem. Against this story of the highborn Jager deftly weaves the stories of those less know to history. He gives us the story of the honest de Tignonville. A man whose integrity worked against him in the end. Readers of Shakespeare will recognize this figure and recall that he recaptured his honor by dying at the Battle of Agincourt.

We also get a glimpse of the justice system of medieval France. The public gibbets, the ways in which nobles and the clergy could escape justice. We also see the lives of normal Parisians. The beginning of the book gives us a glimpse into the lives of the men and women who lived and worked in the area where the assassination occurred. Dr. Jager’s writing is quite good. As a professor of literature at UCLA he is very knowledgeable about the period. He never falls into the trap that catches so many professional historians. He doesn’t beat the audience to death with obscure information and theories that add nothing to the narrative and only serve to impress the writer and other academics. This book is very scholarly and the material is well sourced. It is also well written and enjoyable to read.

I can highly recommend this book to lovers of history and to anyone who loves a good crime drama as well. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Spy For Hire by Dan Mayland

Mark Sava has retired from the CIA and is taking it easy in Kyrgyzstan. He is spending his days playing board games with the old men of his new hometown. His girlfriend Daria is trying to be supportive, but she is ready for him to get back to work. In the meantime she is running several orphanages in the region. The action in the novel starts when two men forcibly remove a young boy from one of the orphanages. There is only one road out of the region so Daria calls Sava and asks him to stop them. He does and suddenly finds himself in the middle of an international crisis. This small boy seems to be wrapped up in some scheme that involves the CIA and Saudi Intelligence. Sava has few people he can trust. Before he knows it his own distant past comes back to trap him.

Now, with the help of only a few close friends and some old trusted colleagues he has to face down agents who want to use this boy to manipulate the future of a nation. Sava has to balance all of the stories he is hearing against the well being of the child. Since everyone seems to be telling him half truths his job is that much harder. Along the way Sava has to confront some of his own personal demons.

The book is well written and very interesting. You don't find a lot of novels focusing on this the Central Asian republics that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. While Sava shows himself to be tough as nails he tends to use his brain for than his brawn. His enemies are cunning and devious, so is he. They show themselves capable of kidnapping, so does he. He is not an anti-hero though. Sava may bend the rules, but he still operates by a code. In many ways Sava reminds me a lot of Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon. 

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good spy thriller novel. This is my first Sava novel, but it will not be my last. I hope to see Sava, Daria, and the rest of this new crew back in action soon.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Graveyard of Memories by Barry Eisler

A young man with no roots. A CIA agent manipulating government officials. A handicapped girl. Organized crime. These are the elements that make up Graveyard of Memories, the new John Rain thriller from Barry Eisler. This novel takes us back to the start of Rain’s career as an assassin. At the start of the novel John is a half Japanese, half American veteran of the war in Vietnam. He has returned to Japan, the land of his birth. He is working as a bad man for the CIA. He makes regular cash drops to a contact. He is told nothing and asks no questions. 

Everything falls apart when a group of punks jump him. As a cocky young agent he decides to take them on. In the fight he drops one of the punks hard on the pavement and kills him. The police don’t care, but there is a hitch. The punk he killed was the nephew of a powerful Yakuza boss. After an attempt on his life, Rain decides that the only way to stay in Japan is if the yakuza boss is dead. So he asks his handler for information needed to track the boss down. His handler agrees, but only if Rain will first kill a government official and make it look like an accident. Rain agrees and carries out his first hit.

Everything seems to go well as he embarks on his personal mission. Too well. Now he is suspicious of every one around him. To make matters more complicated he falls for Sayaka, a young Korean girl in a wheelchair. This young woman will introduce him to one of the passions that will define his later life: jazz music.

This book will set the stage for the man that Rain will become. At the beginning of the book he is a raw and untrained. As the story progresses he realizes that he must learn to pay attention or die. Eisler does an excellent job in developing his character. At the start he is young, arrogant, and not the most likable character. As the story progresses he grows quickly.

One of the most impressive parts of the book is Rain’s relationship with Sayaka. Eisler’s treatment of the difficulties facing a wheelchair bound young woman is moving and powerful. The young John Rain may be a bit of a blundering doofus at times, but the tenderness and passion he shows towards Sayaka help to both grow the character and our liking for the character. It is fascinating to watch this character kill several people with alarming skill and confidence, then to turn into a bumbling fool when trying to interact with this young woman. 

This is a very enjoyable novel. The story is based around real life events. The CIA was heavily involved in “financing” Japanese politics in the 1960s and the 1970s. Eisler was meticulous in his research about Tokyo in 1972, the year this novel takes place. He makes the city come alive for those of us who know little of the city or the culture. Most importantly the characters are fascinating and well written. All of the research, steamy sex scenes, and great action would not mean a thing if it wasn’t for the characters. Do yourself a favor. Get this book and get ready to have a good time.  This was my first Rain novel, but I can guarantee you that it will not be my last. 

From Jesus To The Church by Craig Evans

The first generation of Christianity is a subject that still continues to fascinate both scholars and general readers over two thousand years later. In this short volume Dr. Evans examines several topic concerning this first generation. This book grew out of a series of lectures given at a conference. In his introduction Dr. Evans states that his primary purpose is to examine the conflict between the family of Annas, the high priest, and the family of Jesus of Nazareth. He sees this conflict as underlying many of the violent confrontations experienced by the early church in Judea.

Dr. Evans gives an excellent background to the conflict. He traces the history of the first centuries BC and AD. During this period there was a lot of conflict between the leaders of the temple and reformers. Many groups accused the priestly leaders of corruption. Movements such as the Essenes rejected the leadership of the Temple completely and separated themselves from the larger Jewish community. Into this world came Jesus. His cleansing of the Temple was part of a larger conflict within Judaism.

Evans wanders over several topics in this volume. In fact the book only brushes by the thesis from time to time. This does not diminish the overall quality of the book. There is a lot of fascinating information throughout the book. He spends a good deal of time examining the conflicts that existed in the first Christian generation. As Gentiles began to come into the church a conflict grew between those who believed that the new converts needed to observe the laws of Moses and convert completely to Judaism and those who believed that this was no longer necessary.

While the book feels a little scattered and even redundant at times it contains a lot of excellent information and by examining the conflicts the early Jesus movement faced, both external and internal, Evans shows us the rich, diverse world of that period. This book is written as an academic book and so the general reader should be aware that there is some very technical writing here.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Deal by Adam Gittlin

Jonah Gray is a rising star in the world of New York Real Estate brokers. High dollar deals, women, booze, and drugs dominate his life. Then the opportunity of a lifetime comes his way. An old friend who owns a multi-billion dollar Russian oil company contacts him. It seems that his friend has decided to diversify his holdings and wants to invest in real estate. This is a huge deal There is only one hitch. The deal has to take place in three weeks. Jonah and the other associates at the small firm where he works go after this deal with everything they’ve got.

Then, without warning, everything starts to fall apart. He is used to juggling his job and his lifestyle, but when he meets a girl who seems to good to be true the lifestyle comes crashing in on him. On top of that he is unwittingly dragged into a heist. Now, as he scrambles to keep his life from falling apart and to make this deal happens he learns that you have to be careful who you trust and that everything that he knows is true may be built on lies.

The Deal is a fast paced, interesting novel. I have to be honest and say that I didn’t like the book very much at first. The story is told as a first person narrative. When the book begins Jonah Gray is a dope snorting, weed smoking, alcoholic, womanizer whose repulsive personality is only matched by his excessive ego. So when you have an immoral narcissist as your narrator the story can get old quick. I pushed on through and I found myself enjoying the story. There are a lot of plot twists and turns. At one point they can seem almost absurd when you look at them from the outside, But it works very well in the novel.

The author, Adam Gittlin, works in the world of commerical real estate so the parts of the novel dealing with that world are very informative. The characters are not very sympathetic at first, but that just gives Gittlin a lot of room to develop these characters. He does this very well. By the end of the book you find yourself interested in Jonah Gray. The Deal is full of surprises and plot twists. Overall it is a very good book. I recommend the book to anyone who enjoys a good thriller. The next Gray novel is scheduled to release in March. I look forward to reading it.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Night of the Hunter by R. A. Salvatore

In The Companions R. A. Salvatore brought Drizzt’s old friends The Companions of the Hall back to life. He did this in an amazing original way. Our heroes were not simply resurrected, instead they were given the chance to come back as newborn children. When they were born they had all of their memories of their past life and were fully conscious of this from the moment of birth. The book followed the first twenty-one years of the new lives of Cattie-Brie, Bruennor, and Regis as they grow and develop in their new personas. Each of them faces challenges and each of them grows in understanding as they prepare to meet again in Icewind Dale to stand beside their friend Drizzt.

Night of the Hunter picks up where both The Companions and The Last Threshold end. Readers of Salvatore’s Drizzt books know that he likes keeping a lot of different plot strands going at once. In Night of the Hunter this tendency is taken to the limit. There are at least four main plot lines going throughout the book. There are several other minor ones as well and they all touch, move on, bump in to another, and ricochet off that I felt at times like I needed to keep a score card to keep up with every character and plot happening around me. We follow more intrigues of Menzoberranzan as the Baenre family seeks to increase it’s powerful hold on the city. These intrigues include the new Drow city of Q’Xorlarrin that is being constructed in the ancient dwarven city of Gauntlgrym. Add to that the continuing story of Drizzt and his new friends, and the more recent companions of Drizzt and you have quite the story.

The primary story line follows Drizzt and the Companions as they work their way back to Gauntlygrim. Their mission their is to find their old friend Thibbledorf Pwent who has been turned into a vampire. They want to find a way to put him to rest. It is great to watch the old companions adventure together once again. At the end of The Companions we see that Wulfgar chose to join them as well. For the first time we get a happy Wulfgar. The barbarian lived a life torn by conflicting duties in his first life. Now he is back for the adventure. He plans to live life to the fullest. Regis has also changed and is anxious this time around to be a full member of the companionship, not just a tag along. Cattie-Brie is now the wisest of the team. Her communion with the godess Mielikki has imparted a lot of knowledge and understanding. Bruennor is driven as never before to bring his people together. Drizzt seems a bit overwhelmed, first at the return of his companions from beyond the grave, then with the new dynamics that this team represents. Along the way he will have to face some uncomfortable truths.

If I have one complaint about this book it is that it is too short. I see that Salvatore has a lot that he wants to do with this new story. In many ways Night of the Hunter feels incomplete. It feels like there is a lot of setup for the next book or two. In that sense the book feels incomplete. That doesn’t diminish this volume at all. It is a great new chapter in the Drizzt saga. 

Over the years Salvatore has stood out in the fantasy genre with his abilities to grow and mature his characters. I’ve often been amazed at the emotional depth found in these stories that are on the surface simple sword and sorcery adventure novels. As he embarks on a strange and wonderful new adventure this skill is still there. Night of the Hunter is first and foremost a fun book. Salvatore manages the multiple plot lines with his usual skill. The fight scenes, one of Salvatore’s hallmarks are brilliant as always. His ability to include plot lines that contain everything from great political intrigues that may well change the world, to the emotional trauma of a single character caught up in that change keeps the story fresh and intriguing. Salvatore’s books are rarely ever slow and this volume keeps the pace moving. You find yourself flying through the book and at the end you are amazed that he is able to pack so much story into less than four hundred pages.

I received a free e-book copy of this volume for reviewing purposes. One way that I know I love a book is that immediately upon finishing the free e-book I pre-order the hardcover edition. I have limited space for books on my shelves so I only buy physical versions of books that I want to keep and read over and over again. This book lans in that category. Let me encourage every reader of the Drizzt saga to buy this book. If you have never read Salvatore’s Drizzt books then let me encourage you to start. This is some of the best fantasy writing out there.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Reaver by Richard Lee Byers

Last year a major new even began in the Forgotten Realms. The Sundering is a world changing event that is ushering in new changes to the Dungeons and Dragons gaming system as well as the world of the Forgotten Realms novels. The first three novels dealt with established characters. Some are relatively new and some have been around since the beginning of the Realms. Now in the fourth book bestselling author Richard Lee Byers introduces us to a new character: Anton Marivaldi. Marivaldi is a reaver, a pirate known for his bloodthirsty ways.

The novel opens with Marivaldi and his crew searching after Stedd Whitehorn, a boy who appears to be a prophet of Lathandar, the god of the dawn who was believed to have been slain. After capturing the boy Marivaldi’s crew turns on him and takes him prisoner as well. The wily Marivaldi is able to escape with Stedd. During this time the entire Sea of Fallen Stars is experiencing a major environmental disaster. The rain has fallen almost without a stop for a year. Crops are almost non-existent and the people are hungry and scared. Into this void has come the worship of Umberlee, the dreadful goddess of the sea. Her chosen is a former pirate Evendur Highcastle who she raised in undeath. Now Umberlee wants the blood of Stedd Whitehorn to increase her power. Szass Tam, the lich-lord of the Thayans wants the blood of Stedd Whitehorn. Stedd wants to preach the return of Lathander and help bring an end to the rains. Before the book is finished strange companions will come together as allies in the battle between the Chosen of Umberlee and the Chosen of Lathander.

Anton Maribaldi is a great new character. He comes from an honorable past, but has fallen to a low station. No matter how hard he tries to stay bad the young Stedd keeps talking him into doing the right thing. Normally I am not fond of stories where characters go from murderous rouges to honorable characters. Most of the time the transformation doesn’t make sense. Somehow Byers is able to make this transition believable. So much so that we almost forget about the bloodthirsty actions in the beginning of the novel. 

As the Sundering moves towards the finish we see change coming to the world. Old gods thought dead seem to be returning. The Spellplague seems to be coming to an end. Hope is returning to the world. Where will the future of the Forgotten Realms take us? I don’t know, but I can’t wait to make the journey.

After reading The Reaver I certainly hope that the future of the Realms holds more Anton Marivaldi stories. The book is well written. The characters are well rounded and interesting. This is great, classic sword and sorcery fiction. If you enjoy a good fantasy adventure novel then stop here and enjoy The Reaver. Afterwards, do what I plan to do. Go buy more of Richard Lee Byers novels and read those as well.

Red Hook by Gabriel Cohen

Red Hook
Gabriel Cohen
Open Road Integrated Media
Release Date: February 4, 2014

If you like well written crime novels the let me suggest that you pick up Red Hook by Gabriel Cohen. This is the first novel featuring Cohen’s detective Jack Leighter. Leighter is a top notch detective working for a special branch in Brooklyn. He is not assigned to an actual precinct, but instead works crimes throughout Brooklyn. He draws a case with a young murdered Dominican. There isn’t much to go on. The young man had a wife and two kids, a full time job, and now enemies. Everyone seemed to like him, but someone worked him over, stabbed him, and tried to hide the body in a canal

Leighter has very little to go on, but he just can’t let the case go. It isn’t that he has a lot to do with his life. He has been divorced for fifteen years and is unable to maintain any stable relationship. He barely speaks to his son. The one constant in his life is the job. Leighter is a complex character and as he investigates the case his own life begins to unravel at the seams. 

Red Hook is well written and spends as much time developing the character of Jack Leighter as it does on the actual case itself. You find yourself drawn into the character and you want to learn more about him. In many ways the book is about the end of an era. Leighter grew up in the working class community of Red Hook during the fifties and the sixties. He was the son of a Russian immigrant who came to the US and found would as a longshoreman. That neighborhood was killed when city planners decided to build a highway through the middle of the community. They uprooted shops and houses, and others had to move because of the noise. Now the area of his childhood is run down and killed with drugs and violence. Leighter must come to grips with the demons in his own past before he can move on and create stable relationships. Like Red Hook he has been scared by the world. The only question is will he be able to turn his own life around before it is too late.

Red Hook is a well written and enjoyable crime novel. The characters are intriguing and at the end you will look forward to reading the next Jack Leighter novel.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Adversary by Erin M. Evans

In her two Brimstone Angels books Erin Evans introduced us to the young tiefling warlock Farideh. The Adversary picks up where Brimstone Angels: Lesser Evils left off. Farideh is still trying to protect her sister Havilar form learning that they are descended from one of the most powerful warlocks and as such are considered collector’s items by certain devils. Faridah strikes a bargain with a devil to protect the two sisters for ten years. The devil keeps the first part of the bargain by suddenly dropping them seven and a half years in the future. The knowledge that they lost that time drives a wedge between Faridah and Havilar.

Farideh still has to keep her end of the bargain. This requires her to go to a hidden fortress, even though she doesn’t know what will happen. As she drops through the portal her one time traveling companion Dahl tries to stop her. Instead he is dragged along. Now they are trapped in a hidden fortress far from their friends. While Dahl hides in the nearby village Ferideh is forced to help an old enemy with some experiment involving the Chosen of the gods. These individuals are connected in some way with the cataclysmic events coming to the world of Faerun. Now Farideh and Dahl have to find a way to stop the schemes and plans that are swirling around them.

This is the third book featuring Evans’ character Farideh. Unlike many fantasy writers Evans takes time to develop her characters and to make us really care about them. Farideh is a very sympathetic character. She made a poor deal to protect her sister in a world that holds a powerful prejudice against her race. Havilar is tired of being dragged around in the maelstrom of her sister’s decisions, but she knows that she can’t abandon her. Then there is the failed paladin Dahl. Ever since final rejection by his order he has taken to drink. Now he has to overcome his own feelings of anger and guilt and try to save hundreds of innocents.

The Adversary is also the third book in the new Sundering series from Forgotten Realms. The books in this series are connected to each other only loosely. As the books progress you can see the events moving towards some end. Like The Companions and Godborn, The Adversary links the author’s character with wider events in the world. Over the last few years novels in the Forgotten Realms world have mentioned the Netherese Empire’s actions in collecting the Chosen of the gods. Now, for the first time, we see what is happening to these chosen.

Evans is an excellent writer with a great touch for making her characters really come alive. The pacing is perfect and story is compelling. I look forward to seeing Farideh and company again very soon. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

An Officer And A Spy by Robert Harris

“Kill the traitor! Kill the Jew!” These words rang out on the streets of Paris on the fifth of January 1895. As Captain Alfred Dreyfus was publicly degraded after being found guilty of espionage by a court martial. Dreyfus, a young artillery captain in the French army was accused of passing along military secrets to the German nation. Among those convinced of his guilt was a Major Georges Picquart. Picquart had been promoted to the head of the “Statistics Section.” This was the name of the military counter intelligence agency. Among his many duties his superiors told him to keep an eye out on the Dreyfus case. They wanted to make sure that no appeal would ever be able to stand.

Picquart did as he was told. That led to a problem.  As Picquart began to close in on another suspected spy he began to have doubts about the evidence used to convict Dreyfus. Before long he asked too many questions and was himself the target of the military establishment. Eventually the whole of France would be drawn into this affair and the repercussions would still be felt over a century later.

This is the story that bestselling author Robert Harris set out to tell. An Officer and A Spy is told in the first person by Colonel Picquart. The book is very well written with meticulous attention to detail. The world of late nineteenth century Paris comes vividly to life. We meet a fascinating cast of characters. In addition to the military officers we also meet Emile Zola, George Clemenceau, and many other influential figures from this era.

One of the most important aspects of the Dreyfus Affair is the that it served as a focal point for the rising anti-Semitism of the period. Harris covers this quite well, He brings out the open hostility of many in the military towards Jewish officers. I found one of his footnotes rather chilling when he pointed out that the officer in charge of the initial Dreyfus investigation was the father of the Vichy official in charge of Jewish affairs during the German occupation. In many ways the Dreyfus was the first glimpse of what was to come in the next century.

This is a great novel. As always, Harris keeps the action moving and the characters interesting. I highly recommend this book.

Death of an Old Sinner by Dorothy Salisbury Davis

Death of an Old Sinner, a classic 1958 murder mystery by Dorothy Salisbury Davis will be released in ebook format this February. This is the first book featuring her character Mrs. Morris. Mrs. Morris is a housekeeper for General Ransom Jarvis. The old general comes from a good family in New York. In fact one of his great granduncles was a President of the United States. The general is a bit of rascal and his income is tied up in debts. His son controls the purse strings and keeps his father on a tight leash. The general decides that he can make some extra after going through the President’s old papers in the attic. The President was had also been the Minister to England and left blank pages in his diary from those years. The general decides to add forged entries in the diary that would show that his forbearer had engaged in an illicit affair with a married noblewomen while in England.

All of this is completely unknown to his son who is about to run for governor. When the General dies suddenly foul play is suspected. The general’s latest mistress seems to be connected to organized crime. Now his son, the determined Mrs Morris, and an investigator from the District Attorney’s office are on the case. This is a fun story that harkens back to the classic days of detective fiction. People who enjoy Agatha Christie’s books should enjoy Mrs. Morris. Open Road Media is a digital publisher that publishes great books from the past in digital format. They are releasing all three of the Mrs. Morris mysteries in February. If you enjoy classic mysteries then do yourself a favor. Get these great books and enjoy.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Godborn by Paul S. Kemp

The Godborn
Paul S. Kemp
Wizards of the Coast

Erevis Cale is dead. At least that is what seemed to have happened at the end of Shadowrealm. Cale sacrificed himself to free his friend Magadon from the clutches of the archfiend Mephistopheles. If you haven’t read the Twilight War trilogy by Paul S. Kemp you really should. First of all it’s an excellent series. Secondly you will be lost in this book without the background.

During the Twilight War the god Mask helped Cale’s pregnant lover Varra to escape the Shadowstorm by propelling her forward into the future nearly 100 years. There she gave birth to their son. She gave him the name Vasen, the true name of Erevis Cale. Even though he is the son of a Shade, Vasen has been raised in an abbey that is dedicated to Lathander, the Lord of Light. 

The enemies of his father are looking for Vasen. It is believed that he is the key to unlocking the divine essence of Mask that has entered into Cale’s friend Drasek Riven, the Shodovar Prince Rivalen, and the arch fiend Mephistopheles. Mask seems to have left behind some unfinished business. Now Vasen and his new friends must fight to save the world from annihilation. To do this they first have to save one other person. That person is none other than Erevis Cale.

The Godborn is the eighth novel to feature the character of Erevis Cale. Like the other Cale novels this is a faced paced and well written book. The characters are fascinating. Kemp writes characters that have hard choices to make. Most of his characters are torn and conflicted individuals. They have to rise above the hardships that life has dealt them. Those who choose to fight and stand out always seem to emerge victorious, even if that victory is a glorious death in battle. Those who choose to take the easy way, who search for power to further their own benefit always seem to fall in the end.

If you have read the other Cale books then you will want to read this book. If you haven’t met Erevis Cale yet then get the other books and this book and read them all. I am looking forward to what Kemp has is store for the future of these characters. Whatever it is, it will be great.

The Companions by R. A. Salvatore

The world is changing. That is the theme of The Sundering, the new series from Forgotten Realms. In this six book series the writers promise us new and world changing events. The first novel in this series is The Companions by R. A. Salvatore. As a fan of the Drizzt series of novels I was very excited when I saw this title.

First with The Dragon King and then in Gauntlgrym the friends of Drizzt knows as The Companions of the Hall died. It was heartbreaking to lose these characters. In the following three books Drizzt spends his time trying to come to grips with his loss and move on. Little did we know that something this special and amazing was in store. 

There are so many surprises and changes in this book that it is hard to review. I don’t want to spoil any of the surprises. Let us just say that we get to see our favorite companions again. They have been sent back with a mission. They must help Drizzt in his greatest struggle. Their path back will be strange. It will be dangerous. As they move through the challenges before them they grow and mature in new and powerful ways.

Salvatore uses this book to really develop the characters of the Companions. After reading this book I can’t wait to see how the story continues. To avoid spoiling the story I won’t say much about the plot. I will say that this is one of Salvatore’s best novels to date and it made me laugh, it made my cry, and it left me wanting more. If you are a fan of the Drizzt novels then I suggest you buy this book now. 

The Shadow Protocol by Andy McDermott

The Shadow Protocol
Andy McDermott
Bantam Dell
Release Date: January 28

Adam Gray is America’s new secret weapon in the war against terror. He is a highly trained agent. He also has another advantage he is armed with PERSONA. This top secret device allows his team to copy the memories from a person and implant them in his head. The effect only last 24 hours, but during that time he is able to access the memories, emotions, and skills of the other person. Now captured terrorists can have their memories extracted and he can learn all of their secrets. There is only one secret that he does not know: his own past.

His memory before PERSONA have been wiped. On a mission to stop a radioactive device from falling into the hands of terrorists he is confronted by shadows from his own past. Now he wants to find out who he is. He wants to know why he lost his memory. Little does he know that sometimes the most dangerous thing of all is the truth.

The Shadow Protocol is the first novel in a new series from bestselling author Ady McDermott. Featuring the mysterious Adam Gray, his faced paced novel keeps the story moving and fresh. Too many action authors get bogged down in technical details about some firearm or technological device. Instead he gives us a great story with great characters. The enigmatic Adam Gray is a puzzle. He seems to have little personality, but he is a top notch field agent. Bianca Childs, a PhD in neurochemistry, is brought in to join the team when her own mentor, a co-creator of the project, is wounded in the field. Bianca is not at all ready for what is in store for her, but she rises to the occasion. The rest of the team are fun characters. McDermott does not fully develop them, but they are interesting and there is plenty of room for these characters to grow.

Faced paced and exciting, this is a great new series. Adam Gray and Bianca Childs are sure to become favorites among the lovers of action novels. Do yourself a favor and pick up this book.

The Arnifour Affair by Gregory Harris

Title: The Arnifour Affair
Author: Gregory Harris
Publisher: Kensington
Expected Release Date: January 28, 2014

Victorian London has known its share of detectives. The most famous is of course Sherlock Holmes. Now there is another sleuth looking for criminals among the masses of turn of the century London. The Arnifour Affair introduces us to Colin Pendragon and his partner Ethan Pruitt. Pendragon is an intelligent detective who has a penchant for weight lifting, wrestling, and solving crimes.

Lord Arnifour has been beaten to death and his niece, beaten into a coma, has been left for dead. The widow hires Pendragon to find the killer. The police suspect the gardener, but she believes him innocent. Pendragon quickly learns that is client’s family is anything but ideal. There seems to be nothing but lies, intrigues, deceptions, and run arounds at every step. As Pendragon tries to solve the crime he seems to get more hindrance than help from the family. That does not quell his determination. Before the story is over a great deal of sordid information will come out.

Inside this tale of murder and intrigue there is an additional story. A young man comes to the flat looking for help from Pendragon. The young man’s sister is missing. While searching for information on the murder case the detective and his streetwise partner take time to search for the missing girl. This search will take them from a poverty stricken tenement to Embassy Row. Before it is done this case will also provide many twists and turns and end up with a complete surprise.  

Pendragon is an interesting character. He is obviously a well-educated man, the son of a lifelong member of the British government. He has many of the anti-social attitudes that characterize famous detectives such as Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. Unlike Holmes he can be very charming when he wants to be. In many ways his character is more human, and therefore more believable than Holmes. His partner, Ethan Pruitt, is the narrator of the story. Pruitt’s background gives him an insight to the darker side of London.

There is a certain difficulty in writing books placed in a recent past. The Victorians, particularly the Victorian gentry spoke a certain way. We know a lot about this because this was the age of mass printing. We speak differently today. So an author writing a book set in that period needs to sound authentic, without sounding antiquated. Harris does a very good job navigating these difficult waters.

All told this is a well written and enjoyable book. I enjoyed this book and I eagerly await the next volume in this exciting series.