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Audiobook Review – I Heard You Paint Houses

Rather than watch DeNiro and Pacino chew on the scenery for three-plus hours in The Irishman, I decided to just listen to I Heard You Paint Houses.  I’m glad I did.

The Irishman is an epic saga of organized crime in post-war America told through the eyes of World War II veteran Frank Sheeran, a hustler and hitman who worked for legendary crime boss Russell Bufalino alongside some of the most notorious figures of the 20th Century. Spanning decades, Sheeran’s story chronicles one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in American history, the disappearance of legendary union boss Jimmy Hoffa, and it offers a monumental journey through the hidden corridors of organized crime: its inner workings, rivalries, and connections to mainstream politics. Sheeran would rise to a position of such prominence that in a RICO suit against The Commission of La Cosa Nostra, the US Government would name him as one of only two non-Italians in conspiracy with the Commission. Sheeran is listed alongside the likes of Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano and Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno.

Charles Brandt did a masterful job of mixing quotes from Frank Sheeran’s discussion of his life with historical facts to make The Irishman / I Heard You Paint Housesinto an interesting living history lesson on the American underworld in the second half of the 20th Century.

The book covers Sheeran’s life, starting with his youth in Depression-era Philadelphia, through his service in World War II, and his career as a soldier in organized crime and the Teamsters.  We get to meet people like Russ Bufalino and, of course, Jimmy Hoffa.

The author spends quite a bit of time humanizing his subject, which makes his crimes even more shocking when they are discussed.  Sheeran goes into detail about his deeds, explaining how he would approach and eliminate his targets, how crimes were planned and executed, and how the syndicates controlled government, business, and the unions.

If you’re looking for an insider’s look at crime and the people who live in its world, this one is a great source.

Book Review – The Reservist

J.R. Handley joins Nick Cole and Jason Anspach in the 6th volume in their Order of the Centurion series: The Reservist

They promised him one weekend a month. The House or Reason swore the 9th would never leave their gentle homeworld. But after Kublar, things changed for Sergeant Fetch and the Caledonian Reserve Legion Corps. Thrown into a meat grinder conflict in a desperate bid to hold the line, it doesn’t matter whether you’re reserve or active, only that you kill and survive.

A searing tale of combat and honor at any price from a wounded veteran of the War in Iraq who fought to keep the MSRs open from Mosul to Tikrit.

Short version – The Reservist is one of the best pieces of military fiction I’ve ever read.  I got as much out of it and enjoyed it as much as I did Starship Troopers and David Drake’s Redliners.

The Reservist follows a part-time soldier who has to become a warrior and a leader when the world falls in on his unit before they’ve even geared up.  The action is relentless, punctuating a story of personal growth and loyalty to those who stand with the main character against an evil and intractable enemy.

Even with all the action to grab you, it’s the characters who hold on.  Fetch and the soldiers who fight with him are drawn in vivid Technicolor throughout the book.  The details that make them individuals and not cardboard cutouts make their suffering and loss even more impactful.

I read The Reservist from cover to cover in one sitting, and I completely lost track of time while I was reading.  Handley paced this one perfectly.

If you’ve read the other Galaxy’s Edge books, you’ll enjoy this one.  Even if you haven’t, if you enjoy good military fiction, science fiction or not, then you’ll love The Reservist.

 

Audiobook Review – Galaxy’s Edge: The Best of Us

Karen Traviss enters Galaxy’s Edge by taking us back to Earth and the beginning of the series’ future history in The Best of Us:

Half the world is a wasteland; the other half is on borrowed time.

The West has been devastated by epidemics, bio-terrorism, war, and famine. Asia has shut its borders to keep the threats at bay, and some with power and influence have already abandoned Earth. Now an escape route a century in the making – the Nomad mission – finally offers hope to a small town and a secret research centre hidden in a rural American backwater.

Shrouded in lies and concealed even from the research centre’s staff, Nomad is about to fulfil its long-dead founder’s vision of preserving the best of humanity to forge a new future. But who decides who’s worthy? The mission is now in the hands of a unique AI called Solomon, and an encounter with a band of military veterans reshapes his plans for mankind’s future after the arrival of a scientist with a grudge threatens the whole mission.

Don’t miss this breathtaking new series from New York Times best-selling author Karen Traviss as she explores the dramatic origins of Jason Anspach & Nick Cole’s Galaxy’s Edge universe.

It’s not often that the umpteenth book in a series can be read without having to go back and read the rest of the series, but The Best of Us is that rare gem.  It’s set in the Galaxy’s Edge universe, exploring events hinted at by Tyrus Rex and Goth Sullus, but it doesn’t depend on the other Galaxy’s Edge books to stand on its own and shine.

Traviss takes us back to the collapse of the United States and introduces us to what could be the founders of the world Jason Anspach and Nick Cole created for us in Legionnaire and it sequels.  She paints a bleak picture of a future in which our world is on the brink of starvation and dissolution, but also has sparks of hope.

This tense, tightly woven tapestry is set in rural America a decade or so after bio-terrorism and nuclear holocaust brought civilization to its knees.  Her characters strive toward the same goal, but the story’s conflict arises when they try to get to it using vastly different means.

Where Galaxy’s Edge is wonderful military science fiction highlighted with political and heist subplots, The Best of Us is entirely driven by Traviss’ characters and how they deal with life, the past, and their own futures.  There is the old soldier and the farmer, trying to keep their folks safe and together.  The author also introduces us to managers and scientists who have been shielded by the increasingly harsh conditions outside their bubble.  Intermixed with all of this is Solomon, an artificial intelligence that tries to guide all of them toward a better tomorrow.

The plot does not race toward its conclusion. This is a book that takes its time, letting us get to know the characters.  Fred Tatascoire did a good job giving all of them voices and painting their pictures through words, tone, and pacing.

Whether or not you’ve enjoyed the other Galaxy’s Edge books, The Best of Us will make for great reading or listening.

Audiobook Review – Galaxy’s Edge: Takeover

Jason Anspach and Nick Cole begin Season 2 of their Galaxy’s Edge series with a bang in Takeover:

Every disaster brings an opportunity.

Goth Sullus and his empire have fallen.

With the Legion and the rest of the galaxy watching from the still-smoldering galactic core, Carter, a former legionnaire turned private contractor, and Jack Bowie, a Navy spy with nowhere left to turn, sign up to work for an enterprising private contractor looking to make a statement on the planet Kublar.

Plans are in motion dating back to the Savage Wars, and as the galaxy rushes to fill in the vacuum created by the fall of the Imperial Republic, the bodies are hitting the floor.

But every plan has a reckoning…

Takeover is the thrilling aftermath of the final, desperate execution of Article Nineteen and the looming rebirth of the Legion and the galaxy itself as Galaxy’s Edge: Season Two begins!

Takeover is set in the aftermath of the death of Goth Sullus and the Republic.  The stories of Carter, a former Legionnaire, and Bowie, a former spy, intertwine as their new employer tries to wrest control of Kublar from what’s left of Republic forces.

Carter’s story is pure military fiction.  Raids, battles, and gunfights burn through his tale.  Any reader who enjoys run-and-gun fiction will get their money’s worth just from Carter.

The plot of Bowie’s exploits is more understated, but just as riveting.  This is pure cloak-and-dagger storytelling, and it’s done masterfully.  There’s a lot of action here, but it’s short and violent when compared to Carter’s firehose of non-stop combat.

Both stories are done by masters of the art.  The plots flow beautifully, and I found myself glued to Takeover as Ray Porter read it to me.  His narration was spot on, changing tone and cadence when switching between the two plot lines.

If you’ve enjoyed the first season of Galaxy’s Edge, you’ll love Takeover’s introduction to Season Two.

Musings

  • This morning, while I was driving back to the house, the title “The Wights of Their Eyes” popped into my head.  I have no idea where that came from or where it will take me, but it goes in the ever-growing file of things to write about.
  • Following the family tradition of “Boo got sick last week, so Dad gets sick this week”, I’m sick.
  • Luckily, it’s not flu.  This particular brand of not-flu includes headaches, fever and chills, body aches, listlessness, and a smart mouth.
    • The doctor said that the smart mouth might be congenital.
  • NyQuil fever dreams are enhanced when you fall asleep watching a docudrama about a nuclear power disaster.
  • Nothing says “hectic couple of months” like finding two claim tickets from last year and saying “Oh, yeah, I need to call my gunsmith.”
  • I’ve been listening to biographies of mafia figures lately.
    • Some authors become too close to their subjects, sometimes literally.  It seems to cause some kind of Stockholm Syndrome in which the author writes the life of a worthless, conniving, manipulative scumbag as if he were some modern-day Robin Hood.
    • In this version, however, Robin Hood puts two behind Little John’s ear because the Sheriff of Nottingham is getting too close.

Musings

  • Going back to work after a little over a week off was just as much fun as it sounds.
  • For some reason, I got a hankering to watch a police procedural.  I ended up purchasing the first two seasons of Law and Order.
    • I’m 10 episodes into the first season.  There are 22 episodes in the first season alone.  It’s hard to remember when a TV series had more than 10 or 12 episodes to a season.
    • I’d forgotten just what a shit-hole pre-Giuliani New York was.  Looking back, it was almost as bad as large cities in California are now.
    • I’d also forgotten about the clothes and hair from that time.  Some of it made me cringe, some of it made me wish it hadn’t gone away.
    • The acting is as good as I remember it.  I’m especially liking Michael Moriarty’s role as Benjamin Stone.  To be honest, I don’t plan to continue to watch the series much after that character leaves.
    • It’s interesting that many of the issues discussed in this 30 year old television program are still with us.
      • Drugs – The focus is on cocaine and the crack epidemic.  Now, we’re worried about meth and heroin.
      • Guns – This comes up several times in the first few episodes.  There’s a serious bias against civilian ownership and use of firearms, especially handguns, in the plots of these episodes.  After 30 years of progress in gun rights ebbing and flowing, I wonder how these same sequences would be written.
      • Race Relations – Honestly, the friction I see between white and black characters from 30 years ago could be lifted, updated with new fashions, and reshot almost word for word.
    • One subject that appears several times is AIDS.  It’s easy to forget that HIV and AIDS were a death sentence back then.
  • The search for a new house is starting to ramp up.  Irish Woman and I have discussed our must-haves, wants, and can’t-haves.
    • Since putting Boo through private high school in a few years will cost more than it would to send him to college, we’ve decided to move somewhere the public schools are better than the holding pens Louisville calls their schools.
    • So far, our biggest points of disagreement are subdivisions (me no likee), the amount of land we want (I want more), and the existence of a pool on any new property (me also no likee).
    • She wants a nice house in a nice neighborhood with lots of nice kids so that Boo can make nice friends and have someone nice to play nice with.
    • I want a few acres of mixed woods and open fields, with a creek running through it, and clear fields of fire out to the main road.
    • I keep pulling up listings for North Dakota, Arizona, and Texas, but She Who Shall Not Be Named is not interested.

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.

A Yuletide Missive

Ruarin, Lady of Eyre and loving wife to DaddyBear the Minivandian, considered the broad sheet of vellum laid out before her.  She absently ran the feathered end of her quill under her chin as she carefully chose her words.  Then, with a sigh, she dipped her pen in a well of irridescent green ink and began writing.

Dearest friends and family,

I pray that this missive finds all of you in good health and better cheer. As the year draws to a close, it is time to reflect on the blessings and adventures we have all encountered over its course.

My younger son, Elsked, continues to grow like a weed.  He will most certainly surpass me in height before this time next year.  He does well in his studies, and has been granted permission by Sister Maeve to read selected tomes from the locked section of her library.

Ruarin paused for a moment to consider the consequences of allowing her son to peruse books with such titles as “Fire Salve in the Care of Drakes and Wyverns” and “Tie a Rope to the Stars:  Astronomy for the Experienced Cyprian Mage”.

Elsked is preparing to ascend from the Corps of Adventurers to the Forest Guides after the New Year.  He and his friends have enjoyed spending time learning the ways of the Adventurers, but all look forward to the true adventure that lies ahead of them.  Their leader, Master Ryoan, is an accomplished fire mage, and has taught them most of the ways to start and control a flame that do not require magical ability.  Elsked has worn me out with his inquiries on how to initiate and use fire with his magic, but for the sake of all of our sanity and shrubberies, I am waiting until he is a bit older before beginning that instruction.

The memory of her son returning from a campout with burned spots from embers on his uniform brought a smile to her face.  The memory of missing spots in his father’s beard made her chuckle even now.

Lytterin continues her studies in Tenochtitlan.  We hope that she will complete her theoretical courses and begin practical instruction in the spring time.  For those of you who have not heard, she has changed her concentration from the healing of wounds to the safeguarding of those in peril.  I understand that her advanced studies will send her to many new places, and I hope to be able to tell you about her quests by this time next year.

Dozhevir and I are both doing well.  He recently returned from a trip to the far North, where he assessed the possibility of repopulating his homeland.  His gift of a fine snowstag pelt and a necklace made from the teeth of an ice drake were wonderful surprises at Christmas.  Elsked and I are considering which enchantments to place in the necklace.  Currently, the most popular choice is a spell which will make the wearer comfortable, no matter how hot or cold the weather gets.

Ruarin ran a hand over the fur blanket across her shoulders and sighed at its warmth.

I continue my work to catalog the healing herbs that grow wild in the hills above our home.  I was shocked to find that several unique, useful examples of kossaki death olive and goldwart grow here, but have not been reported to the community of Healers at large.  The descriptions of the plants and how they are to be prepared and used for different maladies is done, although I continue to work on the illustrations.  It’s just so hard to get gold leaf to lay correctly.

To her right, a bunch of dried goldwart twinkled in the candlelight.

In the coming year, my husband and I plan to take Elsked to Eyre for his first meeting with the High King.  He is excited at this prospect, although I expect he shall be even more so once he learns that the King’s enchanter will be blessing Elsked’s sword while we are there.

Ruarin stopped to dip her quill once more.  She made a mental note to have the master-at -arms work with Elsked on his sword handling.  The blessing would come after the boy had demonstrated that he was ready to wield it, and Elsked seemed to take after his father in favoring the axe.

As the year closes and we look forward to the promise of the new year, please remember that we keep all of you in our prayers and hope to see you all soon.  Take care of one another and please write to let us know how life goes with you.

Love always,

Ruarin, Dozhevir, Lytterin, and Elsked

The Lady of Eyre read through her letter, then nodded as she found it to be acceptable.  After sprinkling a bit of pollen from the goldwart onto the ink to set it,  she raised her hand over the vellum.

Mittere,” she whispered, feeling a touch of magic flow through her fingers and into the paper.  It fluttered is if it were about to take flight, then multiplied into many sheaves of paper.  With a rush of wind, each of the copies flew from the window and out into the night.

“I never get tired of watching you do that,” a deep, gentle voice came from the doorway.  Ruarin turned to see her husband leaning against the portal.  He wore the sweater she and Elsked had made for him as a Christmas gift.  She was pleased to see that it did, indeed, go well with his green eyes.

“Everyone will get it by morning, my love,” she said quietly. “I expect to see a few replies before the next feast day.”

“Good, good,” the Minivandian said as he offered her his arm.  “Now, let us take a rest together. Your son plans to keep us both up very late tonight to welcome the New Year.  Would you honor me with the first dance after the feast?”

The Lady of Eyre smiled and winked at him, then took his arm.

“I would be honored, my lord,” she purred.  “It’s not often that we dance anymore.  We should make a habit of it.”  Her husband patted her hand as they walked down the stairway to the great hall.

“Perhaps, my love, perhaps.”

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.

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