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Archive for April, 2023

Fantasy Friday Review – Harpy’s Flight

Friday, April 28th, 2023

Harpy’s Flight by Megan Lindholm

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)

HARPY’S FLIGHT, written back in 1983, was the first novel from author Megan Lindholm. Lindholm would later go on to write as Robin Hobb and is pretty successful. I’ve never read Robin Hobb, so I can’t say if this fantasy has anything in common with her later work, but I can say it does show signs of being a first novel.  This is the first in the “Ki and Vandien Quartet”, although I’ve also seen it listed as “Windsingers #1”.  It’s a mostly complete story but very obvious that there will be more.  It’s out of print – not surprising to me – so finding it will take a little searching.

It’s set in a fantasy world with five different species of sapient beings, although we only get to know Humans and Harpies, and the Harpies not much.  Magic doesn’t play much part in the book.  The world one of those common quasi-medieval places – a mostly agrarian society without technology.

Harpies killed and ate Ki’s husband Sven and their two children. She took her revenge, but she’s lost now without them.  She’s hauling goods for a shady character through a dangerous route the shipper insisted she take when a desperate man tries to steal one of her draft horses.  Instead of just killing the guy she takes him in. Vandien gives her dire warnings about the route she insists on taking, but of course she ignores all that.  But don’t worry – the horses do not die.

The book shifts back and forth through time, always with Ki’s POV, which I felt tended to slow things down. Much of it deals with the time she spent at her in-laws after telling them of Sven’s death. She hates being there and desperately wants to leave, she makes bad mistakes dealing with their customs, but stays out of obligation. To me, this went on much too long.  I wanted to shake her and say “Just leave already!”. However, that meant I cared about her as a character, which is always good.  There’s a huge ordeal on the trail towards the end that also went on much too long – I started skipping whole paragraphs.

This is not a fast-paced book. It’s much more focused on Ki’s past life, her emotions and grief about what’s happened to her than about the world she lives in, or even her current journey. We learn nothing about Vandien until the very end, and unless I missed it (quite possible) we don’t know why he was so desperate to get over the pass in the first place. I absolutely did not understand the motive of the person who wanted Ki dead, and here I’m almost certain I missed something.  Overall impression – it was just okay. I finished it but I confess I was impatient for the book to end. My preferences are for more action and less introspection. But the two characters have good potential, I like the traveling aspect, and I hope we see more from the other species. I have the other three volumes already and I’ll read the next.  As Hobb, the author has an excellent reputation, so I anticipate improvement.




Horror Review – All Hallows

Thursday, April 27th, 2023

All Hallows by Christopher Golden
Melissa B. (dragoneyes)

This wasn’t one of my favorite books by Golden but it was good. Set in the 80’s around Halloween, it had all the vibes that I was looking for. Small town, great characters and a spooky forest. The story line started of great but about halfway through, it lost its momentum. Still, the twist in the plot helped make up for that.

In this story we have many characters, which at times was hard to follow, that are all getting ready for Halloween in their own way. There is the yearly haunted forest that many love to go to for a creepy good time, there are trick-or-treaters putting finishing touches on their costumes, and families doing last minute decorations and getting supper ready. Everything seems perfect until it isn’t. We see the flaws and the struggles that the families run into. Not every family is perfect and this is the day that it all comes out.

Once it gets to Halloween night, our characters, in their own groups, start running into kids that are in costume that they don’t recognize. It doesn’t take long to figure out something is going on. As the night goes by, the newly arrived kids beg to be protected until midnight from the Cunning Man. Things build from there and then a whole lot of crazy starts happening.

What takes away from a really good story is the characters and their lives. At first this seems to be the cherry on top but as the story progresses, we learn about this girl’s crush, Then they bring it up… again and again and again. Or we keep hearing about the spouse’s infidelity… again and again and again.. This really wears on you. Every time something happens with that character group, the story stalls in back tracking on their issues then goes back to the action.

Still, even struggling with that and wanting to scream “I KNOW” so many times, I still enjoyed the book. I thought the Cunning Man was creepy and the kids creepier. Loving the 80’s and Halloween just made me right at home.

Non-Fiction Review – Roadhouse Blues

Tuesday, April 25th, 2023

Roadhouse Blues: Morrison, the Doors, and the Death Days of the Sixties by Bob Batchelor

Review by jjares


This is a different type of American band history. The subject is the organization, progression, and end of the Doors. I didn’t know what to expect at the beginning, but before long, I was enthralled. I was never interested in the Doors when I was a teen (although they were contemporaries), but this isn’t just about them. It explains the 1960s – one of the most turbulent in our history. The author sets the scene with the changes of the 1960s, with the end of Eisenhower and the beginning of Kennedy. Bob Denver became the songwriter (and later singer) of the period.


Raymond Manzarek was an American keyboardist with extensive experience in bands who had just finished his master’s degree at UCLA. He was walking along a Venice beach when he saw a friend (of two years), James Morrison, who was drifting (because he’d finished his bachelor’s at UCLA) and didn’t know what to do with himself. Jim was a poet and songwriter. Ray asked him to sing some of his songs. He recognized Jim’s specialness, a poet who could write songs. It was July 1965, and they decided to form a band “and make a million dollars.”


One thing that was critical to their success was that two were college-educated and decided to have a four-way decision process. They would give all four credit for the songs they wrote. They immediately got a recording contract with Columbia Records (Bob Dylan’s label). However, it didn’t work out. The Doors honed their skills at small LA bars (London Fog and Whiskey a Go Go) in 1966. Elektra Records gave them a record contract in late 1966.


LSD (acid) was still legal, and Jim often missed practices or gigs because of his alcohol and acid use. Before long, Jim started concentrating on booze (according to the author, extensive use of LSD would fry the brain). The author brings fascinating insight into Ray and Jim’s relationship. Jim was alone (he isolated himself from his autocratic father), and Ray became his elder relative who would emotionally support Jim in expanding his range (poetry, music, and voice).


It is essential to listen to the skills the band members brought to the Doors (the summary is at the beginning). There’s a good reason that all four band members were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. John Densmore used samba and bosa nova sounds in his drumbeats. Ray Manzarek was an organ virtuoso. Robert Krieger (the youngest member) and guitarist helped write songs. They each brought essential skills that helped create the Door’s unique sound.


The last few chapters discuss Jim’s death in Paris and its effect on the band. Then, the author ties the era together with the number of drug deaths (Jimmi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, etc.). He states there was no such thing as interventions or even assistance for drug and alcohol abuse at the time. However, soon after that rash of deaths, things changed.


Jim published two books of his poetry before his death, and others were published after his death. He always had a notebook with him, and when Jim was too drunk to contribute, the band members culled through his notebooks for inspiration while writing songs. I didn’t agree with all the views the author offered to explain the late 1960s, but it opened my eyes to how others might see this difficult time.

The author avers that the Doors are as popular as in the 1960s. They have sold over 100 million records and still counting.

Mystery Monday Review – The Case of the Lazy Lover

Monday, April 24th, 2023

The Case of the Lazy Lover by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


– Give up Mrs. Allred as a client. Let some other attorney take this case into his own hands.

– Why?

– Because you have no chance of winning.

In this 1947 mystery, super lawyer Perry Mason receives two $2,500 checks from a woman he’s never heard of before, Lola Faxon Allred. Plus, the checks, worth about $30K in 2023 money, are drawn on two different banks. Perry and his office manager Della Street then find out one of the checks is forged. Veteran readers of Gardner know that when there are two of anything – skirts, ice picks, illicit lovers – the Needle on the Complicated Plot Meter could spin right off the dial.

Bertrand C. Allred, a slick mining mogul who’s also Lola’s hubby, soon arrives at Mason’s office. He tells the tale that his wife Lola – supposedly, in her late thirties, at a “dangerous age” – ran away with a much younger lover, Robert G. Fleetwood. Not only that – Fleetwood was Allred’s right hand man and courted the daughter from Lola’s first marriage. Allred is not afraid of a cross-generational romance or scandal, because he’s ready to divorce his wife.

But Fleetwood remains problematic. Knowing all the skeletons in all the closets, only Fleetwood can provide blockbuster testimony against Allred’s company in a lawsuit. Allred says he needs to get in touch with the boyfriend-star witness Fleetwood, and pronto.

It soon turns out that the alleged lazy lover Fleetwood is not lazy at all, but is acting unmotivated and lethargic and blurry because he suffered amnesia as a result of car crash. Why was Allred lying? He can’t explain himself or his falsehoods, because he died in a car accident – or maybe on account of blows to the head, perhaps from a jack-handle wielded by his wife Lola?

The “lazy lover case” is perhaps one of the most difficult cases in the career of our favorite lawyer. Not only is Perry Mason’s client Lola lying – which is customary – but probably everyone associated with these events is lying as well. With the best intentions, though accidentally, trouble is also deepened by Mason himself. His nemesis Lt. Tragg can’t let a chance to gloat pass him by: “This is the first time not only Perry Mason’s client has a noose around her neck, but the great Perry Mason himself put it on her.”

The plot may seem a couple miles beyond confusing. There’s no courtroom climax. But it’s still good old Gardner – interesting twists, outstanding interrogation scenes, the reality of post-war America, typical of noir-light crime fiction, with a bit of humor and a surprising ending.

For fans of the series – a must-read.





Sci-Fi Review – One Way

Saturday, April 22nd, 2023

One Way by S.J. Morden

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)


Frank Kittridge is serving a life term in prison for murdering his son’s drug dealer. One day he gets a visitor with an interesting proposal. Agree to build the first human habitat on Mars, and although you’ll still be a prisoner, you’ll be out of this cell. You get to do something for all mankind.   Frank thinks about it for a short minute and agrees.

Sent to a desert training facility, he and seven other convicts are given a six-month training course in how to build the Mars base. Each of the seven has a specialty and is supposed to  have one backup person, although Frank sees very quickly that all of them will be needed to do the actual construction work.  Brack, the boss, is verbally abusive, the training is exhausting, and the other convicts are, unsurprisingly, not particularly agreeable people.  But they persevere, and at the end of the training they’re frozen and sent to Mars.

The disasters start instantly. The supplies, which have been sent ahead over a period of years, have not landed where they are supposed to. So not only is the shelter a long ways off, but there’s very little food or water. Marcy, the transport specialist, and Frank her backup are defrosted first and sent out to recover the supplies. But wait, it gets worse…

Accidents are bound to happen in the hostile Mars environment. Are they really accidents though? What does Brack do all day, he’s certainly not helping the crew.  As their numbers dwindle, Frank has to get to the answers if he wants to live.

Shady corporations forcing desperate men to take on almost suicidal missions is not exactly a  new theme.  Morden does a good job providing excerpts at the beginning of chapters to explain how the corporation came up with their proposal, but I just couldn’t believe in it. Morden’s future isn’t far enough away for me to believe in such a shift. Nonetheless, he builds it up logically, and if you ignore all the real-life roadblocks it kind of makes sense.

I found Frank to be pretty dense. Their tablets have oodles of capability, but he never explores it, and is surprised every time someone else tells him about a capability. He doesn’t question the unbelievable promise Brack makes him before the trip begins. There’s not much to say about the other characters, they only get time as they interact with Frank. We’re limited to just a few flashes of character development plus learning what crimes they committed to get there.  You’ll notice that Frank’s crime makes him more sympathetic than the others.

This book won’t provide any surprises for the reader, but it’s a decent adventure with good pacing, a good sense of place and enough technical details to feel real-ish.  It also doesn’t end Frank’s story, which continues in the sequel NO WAY.  I haven’t decided if I’m curious enough to go there or not.




Mystery Monday Review – A Nest of Vipers

Monday, April 17th, 2023

A Nest of Vipers by Andrea Camilleri

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


The 21st mystery starring Inspector Salvo Montalbano is set in the small town of Vigata, Sicily in 2008. Wealthy businessman Cosimo Barletta is found dead of a shot to the head. He has been ushered from this vale of tears by two culprits.

We know this because when cranky Medical Examiner Pasquano did the autopsy, he found that Barletta was killed with a paralyzing potion put in his Sunday morning coffee. Frozen in his kitchen chair, he was then shot from behind, presumably by a second party that didn’t realize Barletta was already hoisting a glass of marsala with his ancestors.

Montalbano has his two subordinates, Fazio and Augello, investigate Barletta and his background. The signor was a businessman with sharp elbows and no ethics, not above a lucrative loan sharking racket that deprived victims of their businesses, marriages, and sanity. Barletta paid for a good time but also lured young girls into affairs with money and presents. He also coerced them with pictures of them in compromising positions. Barletta’s son Arturo and daughter Giovanna are chips off the old block, because both cast aspersions on the other in the dispute over Barletta’s will, which has gone missing.

This is definitely not the strongest blend of mystery, comedy and drama that Camilleri has produced in this long-running series (see The Voice of the Violin or The Potter’s Field). It is fairly easy to figure out who is behind the murders. In his middle fifties, Montalbano is getting slow-witted and easily distracted, but he gets to the bottom of things in the fullness of time. I wonder if the reader being able to figure out whodunit before the hero is part of Camilleri’s trickeries – he’s a tricky novelist first, a mystery writer second.

But reading a Montalbano story is like settling down into a familiar sofa. The tale mixes scenes of the silly comedy and sharp wit with a harsh drama of family dysfunction. At work, we meet the usual parade of ladies man Augello, detail-obsessed Fazio, bumbling Catarella, and twisted prosecutor Tommaseo. Salvo’s GF Livia shows up from Genoa and Montalbano clashes with her over a mysterious hobo who lives in a cave near Salvo’s beach front house.

For foodies, the culinary excursions at Enzo’s trattoria and warm-up meals by housekeeper Adelina at home on the terrace when the weather is nice add to the usual beautiful atmosphere of Sicily. The nostalgia of home cooking takes some of the heaviness of the story away.




Non-Fiction Review – The Basque History of the World

Saturday, April 15th, 2023

 The Basque History of the World by Mark Kurlansky

Review by jjares

It doesn’t take long to understand that the Basques have affected world history far beyond what their small numbers would suggest. The Basques are Europe’s oldest nation, although they are not a single nation but spread over parts of Spain and France. Their land area is slightly smaller than New Hampshire. Their Euskera language is an isolate (unrelated) to any other European (or other country’s) language. Even the Basques have no idea of their origins.
The author is quite taken with the Basques; his book discusses the Basques’ influences in the world alongside the occasional Basque recipe. Mark Kurlansky is an accomplished journalist and has an eye for detail. Kurlansky’s question is: How did such a small Basque population profoundly affect the world?
A few of the Basque attributes, innovations, or creations:
– Espadrilles (lace-up shoes),
– First to play sports with balls,
– Created jai alai game,
– First Europeans to cultivate tobacco,
– First Europeans to eat chili peppers and corn,
– Basques were the second Europeans in the Americas (Vikings were first),
– Basques were great shipbuilders and sailors.
– Many Basques accompanied Columbus and other early explorers.
– Over 50% of the Basques have 0 blood.
– Over 50% have Rh-negative blood.
– This accounts for their small populations until recent times.
– The Basques invented beach resorts and racing regattas.
The Basques are firm believers in capitalism. Generations ago, they broke the Dutch control of chocolate. This caused the price to drop significantly, but the Basques used that to create a larger market for the product. When the Dutch sold it, only the very wealthy could afford it. The Basques made it available to more people. The Basques introduced banking and capitalism to Southern Europe.
The most famous Basque was St. Ignatius Loyola, who formed the Jesuit religious order; they specialized in missionary work. Today, the Basques are vital Catholics (the most devout in Europe). A strong network of Basque-speaking parish priests serves them. The Basques are family-oriented and seem clannish because they operate in a weak government, which forces them to rely on each other, not the government.
Kurlansky points out that Spain would slip into a third-world region without Catalan and Basque productivity. The last few chapters explained in great detail the Spanish Civil War and the years of Francisco Franco. Those years were devastating for the Basques. However, since Franco died in 1975, the Basques have enjoyed a resurgence.
Because the Basques were early adopters of industrialization, they had jobs and did not have to migrate out of their homeland or assimilate with other cultures. Once Franco was gone, the Basques slowly reinstated their cultural policies. Although there are still seven dialects of their language, in the 20th century, they created a single written language. As a result, there has been an explosion in Basque literature and culture.
This book answers everything you’ve ever wondered about the Basques. It is a fascinating history of a small group of people, united by language, culture, and religion, which have lasted longer than just about any other culture on earth.