Wednesday, February 24, 2016

recent read; The King's Gold (Captain Alatriste, #4)

Someone was just discussing shorter, series novels. You know - ones you could consume in a day and enjoy.

The Captain Alatriste novels - while not quite in the ballpark - are very close. They are historical action adventure and aren't too thick. They're enjoyable, and present enough characters and history without bogging you down. Arturo Perez-Reverte writes these with a deft pen.

This time around, in The King's Gold, Diego Alatriste and his faithful protege, Inigo Balboa have returned to Spain from combat in the Netherlands. Soon Alatriste is contracted to pull together a Dirty Dozen style of Spanish rogues to save the King's gold from embezzlement. Intrigue, sword fights, dark alleys soon follow. As one man says to Alatriste, he might have been in danger fighting in Flanders, but he is in far more danger in Seville.

Looking back over my review of The Sun Over Breda, I did note the many historical asides were padding and slowing that story. In The King's Gold, such interruptions were minimal. The only bit I found padded was a journey up a river. It could have been tighter, but word counts are word counts. This is still a shorter novel read.

This one really was a fun, quick read with a hint of foreshadowed tragedy. (We are told where Alatriste will make his last stand, as Inigo - as an old man -  is the narrator of these novels.) I missed these stories, I need to get to the next one sooner.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Of bald eagles and used books

This weekend we went to the Pioneer Valley area of western Massachusetts. My mother now lives with my sister. My sister and her husband needed to be away for the weekend. So, we packed up and went to stay with Gram and the dogs.

Man, I needed that.

We've visited, of course, many times, but it has been years since I stayed out there for a weekend. When I was single, I dog sat for them quite often. It was really nice to be out in the country - my sister's house is nicknamed "The Shire" for good reason.

Saturday morning started off just right. I was headed to the town market and a bald eagle came cruising along at treetop level - down the middle of the road in the center of town, and over the car.

Aside from reading, games, dogs, television, playing, and visiting, my brother-in-law also got to stop by for a few hours. I took advantage of that and took a short loop to explore used book stores.

First stop was the Montague Book Mill - a quaint spot. It's housed in an old saw mill converted into used book store, artist gallery, cd/DVD/vinyl store & restaurant.

What a spot for a book store.
Then, 15 minutes north to Greenfield for Federal Street Books, which has books coming out its pores. Lots of shelves to peruse. I ran out of time. I hadn't planned enough time and I didn't pump the street meter enough. I came out with books but I had to leave more on the shelves.

Other bird sightings included a pair of pileated woodpeckers and red-tailed hawks.

Drove through Deerfield enough that I should find a good book on the 1704 raid.

Waiting for someone to get home soon!
After the chaos and disorder in the workplace the past few weeks, the getaway was a welcome distraction.

My kids want to do it again, and so do I.

Banks of the Connecticut River

Thursday, February 18, 2016

recent read: Locke & Key (Vol1: Welcome To Lovecraft)

Joe Hill will be a guest at NECON this July, and it is time to start reading some NECON writers.

I have NOS4A2 on my Kindle, but it's a doorstop, even as an ebook. I do plan on reading that one. But, I grabbed the entire Locke & Key run on digital sale awhile ago. Thought I'd start on that.

This is a nifty horror comic. After a high school guidance counselor is murdered by juvenile delinquents, his wife & children move from CA to Lovecraft, MA. The ancestral house they return to is magical. Or, at least, it is magical if you are a kid. There are keys and doors. This arc focuses on a door that makes you a ghost. There is also a malevolent spirit trapped in a well. And with demonic aid, one of the murdering punks escapes prison and heads toward Lovecraft.

Suspenseful stuff. Disturbing sometimes because of real cases where teenagers have done such horrid things.

But, what I also liked about this story were the reveals. It is very much setup as an onion. Backstory is revealed as the story moves, giving aspects to the story that weren't obvious at first.

I will be continuing on with the next arc. I hope to read the entire thing by summer. It shouldn't be too hard, it is a fairly quick read. Though, I am sure you might miss stuff if you read too fast. I know Hill said something at the end of the run about having it all setup at the beginning, the reader just needs to pay attention.

Monday, February 15, 2016

recent read; The Gurkhas

It's been a really long time since I sat down and read some history for fun. Most of my history reading has been fiction research these past many years.

The Gurkhas by Byron Farwell was one of my father's books. I might have even given it to him. I don't remember.

They are one of those fighting elite groups you hear about, and I knew next to nothing about them.

Farwell's book in an excellent learning tool. He provides enough stories, facts, anecdotes and history to provide a solid foundation. The chapters were easily digestible; just the right length with enough action and stories to keep the academic drudgery at bay. These hardy soldiers from Nepal are a wonder to read about.

I learned a lot. In this post 20th century, post Cold War, where mercenaries are scorned, it is interesting to note that technically that's exactly what the Gurkhas are. But they've been so ingrained with British service, (and later India, too,) the general public doesn't think of them that way. I knew nothing about the chaos and horrible slaughter that followed India's independence and the partition of Pakistan and India. It was a blood bath the Gurkhas policed and much of the world never heard about.

This book was written in 1984, and runs right up through the Falkland Islands War. It is interesting that it ends discussing the future of the Gurkhas - stationed and operating then out of Hong Kong. Of course, all of that probably changed in 1997. I'll need to followup sometime.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

recent read; The Seeds of Nightmares

The Seeds of Nightmares by Tony Tremblay

Tony Tremblay has had horror stories published in various venues, and here he collects them together with a few previously unpublished offerings to round out the book. (Some of those tales were published under his penname, T. T. Zuma, for those keeping track.)

Tony shows variety and knows how to punch with a strong ending. His strongest strength is luring a reader into the story with grounded reality and characters, supplemented with a setting of quiet horror, before he unleashes the big horror, gore and/or darkly fantastical elements.

There are thirteen stories in this collection. I'll highlight a few of my favorites.

Things start off with a bang in "The Strange Saga of Mattie Dyer" - a Weird West tale, with plenty of weird to go around. "The Old Man" delivers straight ahead noir. "The Burial Board" is another tale of old times, featuring the gruesome practice of leaving a dead family member on a wooden board during winter until the spring thaw allows burial.

"Husband of Kellie" offers a zombie tale packed with emotional punch.

"The Pawnshop", from Wicked Tales, appears here, too. I really enjoyed its blend of noir meets Twilight Zone oddness.

"Chiyoung and Dongsun's Song" features the strangest twisted folk tale romance I've ever read.

The other stories are solid, too and all worth a read.

Another fun aspect of this collection are the author's notes that preface each tale. I enjoy author notes. For some reason, I enjoy them even more for short stories collections and anthologies.

Tony Tremblay is an author in the horror realm whose work is worth keeping an eye on - and more importantly - to enjoy reading.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Cold Corner of Forgotten History

I had originally written this article as part of the short-lived revival of Rogue Blades Entertainment's blog/website. Recent actions of the Frontier Partisans made me decide to dig it out and post it here.

“Never have any of our soldiers been on American soil, but your soldiers were on Russian soil.  These are the facts.”

When Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev made that statement during a tour of the United States in 1959, he sent people scurrying to their history books.

Lost to American history, but never forgotten by the Soviets, the Allied incursion into Russia in late 1918 set the tone of future East-West relations throughout the Cold War. Perhaps it was an embarrassment of ineffectualness – if not outright failure – that caused the American Russia expeditionary forces to be largely forgotten by American history. Or, perhaps other theaters of the Great War overshadowed and overwhelmed their actions. But memories of Allied interference in the dawn of the Red revolution fueled the Soviets’ Iron Curtain paranoia.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Where The Wild Things Are

In our town, there are some raptor cages at the back of the high school. My son attends a preschool at the high school. So, in the mornings when it's not too cold, the birds are out in the enclosures. There is a permanent resident, a Kestrel named Hayley. And, they usually rotate a larger raptor with other wildlife rehabilitators. This year we have a barred owl named Scout.

We had an exciting moment last week. As we drove around the corner, we spotted a wild Cooper's hawk, perched atop the kestrel enclosure. I joked about "cousin Coop" coming for a visit. But, I knew in reality the larger hawk was looking for a meal. Technically, Cooper's hawks are falcons - short wings, long tail and they primarily prey on other birds and even bats, sometimes. It didn't surprise me that they would go after a kestrel.

I did not want to spook away the Cooper's hawk by opening the car door, so I put down the passenger window and took an awkward photo with my cell phone.

I only had a brief glimpse but I did not see the kestrel flying around in a panic and I didn't hear any distress, though I wasn't close, either.

But hey  - neat photo and the kestrel was safe in her enclosure.

I posted this photo to the Science Center Facebook page, thinking they would enjoy it. They asked me for my phone number to ask some questions.

I got the call this morning.

Hayley the kestrel was found dead in her pen on Sunday. *sad face*

She was a healthy little bird, and now they think the hawk might have harassed her into fatally harming herself in the pen. Autopsy pending.

Before this, the only suspect was a house cat that comes around and might have induced the bird into a similar panic.

Sad, but I'm glad I could shed light on their mystery.

Monday, February 1, 2016

recent reads; The Pulp Feast of Philip Jose Farmer

Well, I went there. Yes, I did. I'd heard and read all the warnings about the graphic content, and that the sequel novels were more pulp action and probably more to my liking. But, I felt I needed to start at the start. Yes, I read Philip Jose Farmer's A Feast Unknown.

Lord Grandrith (Farmer's Tarzan pastiche with extra bits added) faces off against Doc Caliban (Farmer's Doc Savage pastiche with extra bits added) as they battle across Africa. It turns out these men are immortal, servants of "the Nine" - a world-ruling cabal. Eventually the two men learn the Nine have been orchestrating most of their lives, including the setup to kill each other.

Admittedly, predictably not my cup of tea. The sexual graphic stuff I was all right with. Other stuff I could do without. Some of it borders on "body horror" when you think about it. I felt the tone shifted from weird to snide to outright farce by the end. Pretty much rated X, for real.

Titan edition
I enjoyed Lord of the Trees more, as Farmer gave us more of a straight forward pastiche of Tarzan with his Lord Grandrith character. Seeking revenge on the Nine, Grandrith again fights his way across Africa. In some ways it felt like a re-tread of the first portion of A Feast Unknown, with the graphic content dropped. Much more of a PG-13 tone. Or even PG.

I did feel the action was repetitive, though, in and of itself. It felt like one of those novellas stretched to a short novel. I probably won't give it a re-read. I have too many original ERB Tarzan stories to read, and perhaps even Farmer's authorized pastiches of Tarzan.

Original ACE Double cover, backed with THE MAD GOBLIN
The Mad Goblin follows along the same lines. The action takes place in a German castle and village. The action occurs simultaneously with the events of Lord of the Trees, as Doc Caliban hunts down one of the Nine who has defected and is at war with both the Nine and Doc Caliban & Lord Grandrith.

The action felt more varied, here, though it also felt a touch repetitive and stretched beyond its natural length.
Original ACE Double cover
I've not read much Doc Savage, so I didn't bring any baggage to The Mad Goblin. Maybe that's why I enjoyed it the most of the three novels.

Titan reprint
Like Tarzan, I am far behind on reading original Doc Savage stories. I'd prefer that to re-reading The Mad Goblin

You could probably read Lord of the Trees & The Mad Goblin without first reading A Feast Unknown. You might be missing the backstory but that wouldn't take away from the adventure.