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Movie Review – Jumanji: The Next Level

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!

Following up on 2017’s Jumanji:  Welcome to the Jungle, Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, and Kevin Hart return in Jumanji: The Next Level.  They are joined by Danny DeVito, Danny Glover, and Awkwafina to round out the cast of this enjoyable romp.

If you’re looking for high cinematic art, look elsewhere.  If  you’re looking for a great couple of hours eating popcorn and laughing until it hurts, this one is for you.

Just as in the last movie, a group of friends are pulled into a video game world and have to defeat the game in order to go home.  A twist on the theme happens when one of their grandfathers and his elderly friend come along for the ride.  There is a ton of slapstick comedy and a lot of heart-warming sequences slathered on the storyline like melted butter on a $10 bucket of popcorn, but it works.

The plot moves along pretty quickly, with a few slower parts to allow the characters some interaction that didn’t include screaming or running.  I certainly didn’t notice the 123 minute runtime.

If you saw Welcome to the Jungle, you know what the acting is like.  Dwayne Johnson and the rest of the cast seemed to enjoy themselves in this one.  The part of Ruby Roundhouse, played by Karen Gillan, gets more screen-time than in the first installment, so we see her character develop a bit more.

The visual effects were about par for the course for a modern movie.  The animals and settings they portrayed were realistic enough, but also cartoonish enough to remind you that the movie is set inside a video game.

While there is a bit of rough language in the dialogue, I wasn’t uncomfortable with it.  It did seem to be more prevalent than in the 2017 movie.  Both movies are rated PG-13.

Overall, I’d recommend The Next Level for families with older children or teenagers.  It made for a great mid-winter evening getaway.

Book Review – Eerily Familiar

Alma Boykin wins the 2019 “Best Use of a Knock-Knock Joke in Urban Fantasy” award with Eerily Familiar.

Something hunts the hunters . . .

Something waits in the shadows, watching. Lelia Chan and her Familiar, Tay, hear vague rumors of trouble among the shadow mages. Everyone’s heard rumors before, and keeping her boss happy is more important. Then a painting tries to capture her friend. When her mentor and good friend André and his Familiar Rodney both go missing, Lelia has to take charge.

She’s not ready. No shadow mage ever is. But she’ll find a way or die trying.

Things worse than than death hide in the shadows. And they LIKE meeting over-confident young mages

After setting the table over the course of her last two or three books in the series, Alma Boykin serves the main course in Eerily Familiar.  We swing back to concentrate on Lilia Chan and her Familiar, Tay in this one, but all of the other main characters in the series make an appearance.

Even as Ms. Boykin continues her exquisite development of Lilia, we also get to know other characters, such as her boss Arthur and Andre the shadow mage, better.  I think that the depth of Boykin’s characters, regardless of which of her books you’re reading, are my favorite part of her writing.

The plot has a delicious tension running through it from cover to cover.  Eerily Familiar isn’t a thriller, but keeps a steady pace that is easy to slip into.    I read it in one sitting, but it could also very easily be broken up into several quiet evenings.

I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where this series goes.  Several plot lines point toward further adventures in the series.  If you’ve enjoyed the series so far, you’ll enjoy Eerily Familiar.

Book Review – Distinctly Familiar

Distinctly Familiar, Alma Boykin’s latest collection of short stories in her Familiar Tales series, reunites us with old friends and introduces several new ones.

Temptation lurks in marshes between the land and the sea…

Lelia and Tay discover a new puzzle…

Fundraising collides with a spell gone awry…

A mage discovers the impossibility of arguing with almost two-thousand-pounds of Familiar…

There’s something distinctly familiar, and Familiar, about these urban fantasy short stories, set in a world like our own, almost.

Merging excellent storytelling with a wry wit, the author brings us back to Lilia and Tay Chan as they make their way through life, as well as introducing us to new characters.  These include mages in Europe and an American geologist who has an octopus as a Familiar.  All of the stories in Distinctly Familiar are entertaining, but Power and Pivo was my favorite.

The artistry that Ms. Boykin uses to draw characters, both old and new, across multiple books is amazing.  By now, I know exactly how Lilia Chan and Tay look and sound, but even new characters such as Barbara and Magda immediately come to life as you read the first few pages of their story.

Go back and read the rest of the series, then enjoy Distinctly Familiar.

Book Review – Clearly Familiar

Alma Boykin’s fifth book in her Familiar Tales series, Clearly Familiar, fills out the series’ characters and the world they live in.

Wandering wolverines, catfish in the sky, owls that can’t fly straight… Welcome back to the Familiar world, where magic and the mundane coexist (and collide).

These short stories introduce some new characters and revisit familiar (and Familiar) ones, including Morgana and Smiley Lorraine, Dr. William Lewis and Blackwell, and Shoshana Langtree. Sorcerers gone mad, heavy weather, and the thin line between insanity and magic, all standard fare in this Familiar place and time.

All of these short stories are engaging and entertaining. However, the story dealing with Shoshona, an artist with a link to the supernatural, was my favorite.  We also learn how Morgana met Smiley, and meet more of the magical characters who inhabit this world.

You need to start at the beginning of this series in order to understand a lot of the links in the web that Ms. Boykin is weaving through this series. However, that’s not a bad thing.  Clearly Familiar is merely the next in a line of excellent collections that I hope stretches well into the future.

Book Review – Deep Pink

Sarah Hoyt’s newest work, Deep Pink, takes a sharp left turn into strange territory and entertains us as its main character tries to find his way back to the main road.

Like all Private Detectives, Seamus Lebanon [Leb] Magis has often been told to go to Hell. He just never thought he’d actually have to go.
But when an old client asks him to investigate why Death Metal bands are dressing in pink – with butterfly mustache clips – and singing about puppies and kittens in a bad imitation of K-pop bands, Leb knows there’s something foul in the realm of music.
When the something grows to include the woman he fell in love with in kindergarten and a missing six-year-old girl, Leb climbs into his battered Suburban and like a knight of old goes forth to do battles with the legions of Hell.
This is when things become insane…. Or perhaps in the interest of truth we should say more insane.

The work of a master storyteller, Deep Pink explores the adventures of a man who is offered a second chance, but has to fight to win it.  As always, Hoyt’s characters are engaging and entertaining.  The worlds Leb finds himself in are drawn in Technicolor, and I found myself chewing through this story just to find out what happens next.

This is a fast read, but it grabs you on page one and keeps hold until the last sentence.  I’m hoping Deep Pink is the beginning of a new line of stories from Sarah Hoyt.  If you enjoy light-hearted paranormal fiction, this one is for you.

Book Review – A River of Horns

Peter Grant brings us a meticulously researched and expertly narrated, true-to-life western in A River of Horns.

Walt Ames and his Texas partner, Tyler Reese, know that the U.S. Army is bound and determined to push the Comanche and Kiowa tribes onto the reservation for good. Once the Texas Panhandle is pacified, millions of acres of land will become available. They aim to be among the first to set up a ranch there – but that’ll take money… a whole lot of money.

How do you raise money for a cattle ranch? By selling cattle, of course! Buy them where they’re cheap, sell them where they’re dear, and use the profits to bankroll your project. It sounds simple – until storms, floods, fires, cow thieves and stampedes show up. They’ll have to buy their cattle in blood, as well as money…

A River of Horns is a departure from other westerns where you either get a Snively Whiplash (kids, ask your parents) or treacherous Indian out to destroy the hero.  Grant tells the story of people working against the elements and the odds as they gather and drive a large herd of cattle across the Texas prairie.

You can tell that this series is a labor of love for the author.  Every detail is researched and explained in a way that makes even the casual fan of the western genre pay attention.

A River of Horns doesn’t read like a page turner, but I was surprised to find that I had read it cover to cover in just a few hours.  The plot is steady as the wind across prairie grass, but moves along smoothly enough that the reader doesn’t get bored.

If you enjoy good westerns, this one is for you.  Take some time and read the rest of the series, then have fun with A River of Horns.

Book Review – Trouble in the Wind

Chris Kennedy and James Young have brought out the third book in their Phases of Mars alternate-history story collections, titled Trouble in the Wind.

Eighteen outstanding authors. Sixteen stories of ground warfare that never happened.

Throughout the human experience, historians have wondered, “What if?” What if Sherman had fought for the South in the U.S. Civil War? What if Germany had fought to the end in World War I? What if World War III had actually happened?

Wonder no more, for these questions, along with many others, are answered within the pages of this book. Told by a variety of award-winning authors, like Sarah Hoyt and Kevin J. Anderson, the 2018 Dragon Award Winners for Alternate History, S.M. Stirling, the 2019 Dragon Award Winner for Alternate History, David Weber, a three-time Dragon Award Winner for Best Military Science Fiction, and Brad R. Torgersen, the winner of the 2019 Dragon Award for Best Science Fiction, “Trouble in the Wind,” deals with ground combat that never happened in our world…but easily could have.

The third book in the exciting “Phases of Mars” anthology series, there is something for everyone inside! From fighting Hannibal at the Battle of Cannae, to the early death of Napoleon, to scouting the bush in Angola, “Trouble in the Wind” traces a history of ground warfare…that wasn’t. From warfare in Taylor Anderson’s “The Destroyermen” series…to S.M. Stirling’s “Black Chamber,” this book has it, so come aboard and find out “what if” all of these things had changed history…just a little. You’ll be glad you did!

Inside you’ll find:
The Sting of Fate by William Alan Webb
To Save the Republic by Sarah A. Hoyt
Here Must We Hold by Rob Howell
The Heretic by Monalisa Foster
Secondhand Empires by Brad R. Torgersen
A Shot Heard ‘Round the World by Kevin J. Anderson & Kevin Ikenberry
Marching Through by David Weber
To the Rescue by S.M. Stirling
The Blubber Battle: The First Falklands Campaign by Joelle Presby & Patrick Doyle
Drang Nach Osten by Christopher G. Nuttall
Fighting Spirit by Philip S. Bolger
An Orderly Withdrawal by Taylor Anderson
Mr. Dewey’s Tank Corps by James Young
Soldiers of the Republic by Justin Watson
Unintended Consequences by Peter Grant
Nemo Me Impune Lacessit by Jan Niemczyk

Picking a favorite story from this collection was impossible.  Many of my favorite authors contributed to it, and it introduced me to several new authors that I will be tracking down and reading.

Each of the stories takes an event in military history, changes one or two things, and then explores “What if?”.  If you enjoy military history and fiction, you’ll definitely find something you enjoy in Trouble in the Wind.

I’ve already checked the first two books in the series out of Kindle Unlimited, and I’m looking forward to enjoying them.

Book Review – Possum Creek Massacre

Cedar Sanderson’s second book in the Witchward series, Possum Creek Massacre, is an engrossing, fast read that’s perfect for a long night in front of the fire.

Renowned for her witch hunting skills, Detective Amaya Lombard knew that being summoned from the coastal rainforest of Oregon to the backwoods hollers of Kentucky meant the case was something special. From the moment she arrived at the magic soaked scene in an abandoned farmhouse she knew how bad it was going to be. She had no idea just how complicated it was going to get, professionally and personally. Now she must catch a killer before they catch her. The roots of evil plunge deeply into the past, and the blood soaked history of Kentucky’s witch warded houses and barns may hold the key to keeping her alive in the present.

Sanderson expands and brings the character of Amaya Lombard to life in Possum Creek Massacre.  Even though we got to know her in the first book in the series, she becomes three-dimensional as she tries to solve a series of murders in the Kentucky hills.

The author teases this yarn out a bit at a time.  The world she shows us, from the mountains and the folk who live in them, to the country hospitality Amaya is shown, is painted in vivid detail without dragging into overly-done description.

This is not a page turner, although there are a few sections where I found myself rushing to find out what happens next.  Rather, it is a study of a woman thrown into a strange place to solve an even stranger mystery.  This character-driven story pulls you in and holds you close as you explore it.

Possum Creek Massacre is definitely recommended for readers who enjoy richly-drawn stories with endearing characters.

Book Review – The Grey Man – Sunset

Jim Curtis returns to his Grey Man series.  Sunset is a wonderfully written capstone to a wonderful series of stories.

Whoever said retirement was quiet never met John Cronin…

The old man may have retired for the final time from the Sheriff’s office, but there are still cows to run, court cases to testify at, and consultation calls to tap decades of experience. And that’s not even counting the cold cases he’s still trying to solve…

With his granddaughter Jesse running the gun store and managing the ranch books, and her husband leaning how to fill Cronin’s shoes on investigations and arrests, John is keeping busy training the next generation, while settling a few old scores!

Curtis continues the story of John Cronin and his family.  Sunset shows us how the torch is passed to the next generation, but we also learn more about Cronin and his past.

By now, we know this world, so the author is able to concentrate on the story and the characters who live in it.  The story is well paced and brings many threads in the Grey Man stories to full completion.  There is action to be had here, but Sunset is more of a story about people and how they live and enjoy life.

If you’re looking for a good book to curl up with for an evening, Sunset is for you.

Review – Heart of a Soldier

I first heard about Rick Rescorla as a young private in 1989.  My First Sergeant was a Vietnam vet with a 1st Cavalry Division combat patch, and among his war stories was talk of a fearless lieutenant he had met there.  I learned more about him when I read and reread We Were Soldiers Once, And Young a few years later.

Imagine my shock at finding out that Mr. Rescorla was not only among the dead of 9/11, but was also a hero of that infamous day.  Heart of a Soldier tells his story in a very human manner.

From Pulitzer Prize winner James B. Stewart comes the extraordinary story of American hero Rick Rescorla, Morgan Stanley security director and a veteran of Vietnam and the British colonial wars in Rhodesia, who lost his life on September 11.

Heart of a Soldier is the extraordinary story of war, love and comradeship, danger and heroism, told by a Pulitzer Prize winner who is one of our finest writers.

When Rick Rescorla got home from Vietnam, he tried to put combat and death behind him, but he never could entirely. From the day he joined the British Army to fight a colonial war in Rhodesia, where he met American Special Forces’ officer Dan Hill who would become his best friend, to the day he fell in love with Susan, everything in his remarkable life was preparing him for an act of generosity that would transcend all that went before.

Heart of a Soldier is a story of bravery under fire, of loyalty to one’s comrades, of the miracle of finding happiness late in life. Everything about Rick’s life came together on September 11. In charge of security for Morgan Stanley, he successfully got all its 2,700 men and women out of the south tower of the World Trade Center. Then, thinking perhaps of soldiers he’d held as they died, as well as the woman he loved, he went back one last time to search for stragglers.

Heart of a Soldier is a biography of Rick Rescorla and his life-long friend, Dan Hill.  The story starts as they meet in post-colonial Africa, and progresses through a lifetime of combat, family, and friendship.

While both men’s leadership and heroism in Vietnam is discussed in detail, this is more than a gathering of war stories.  We learn about how they were brought up, their plans for life, how they diverged from those plans, and the ending one of them chose.  We get to know their families, their life after the military, and how they lived as men.

Heart of a Soldier isn’t an action story, although there is action throughout the first half of the book.  It’s not a romance, although romance plays a large part in Rescorla’s later life.  Heart of a Soldier is the story of two men from very different backgrounds who never forgot the meaning of honor and duty, even until the very end.

If you believe that such men deserve to be learned about and remembered, I think you’ll enjoy Heart of a Soldier.

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