Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Philly Cheesesteaks for the Win!

So, on Friday I will have been in business at Surfer Sands, in Long Beach, Washington, for two weeks. It's been a lot of fun, with its share of challenges - the first day I was open, we had a huge windstorm and power failure just as I was getting ready to bake our fresh hoagie rolls. I found an old manual scale to weigh the dough instead of the electric one, then zipped home and got my Coleman generator to keep the proofing oven heating. We opened right on schedule and had a very good day!

I've had a couple of sellout days already; when we run out of the fresh-baked bread, we have to close. Today's sellout was right at our normal closing time, so it worked out perfectly. Our main draw is the Cheesesteak sandwiches, and we have several standard varieties, plus a lot of popular variations, like the Bacon Lover's, Garlic Lover's and a spicey one called the South End.

Love the challenge, and am having the time of my life!


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Darkness Falls

For those few remaining readers out there.

I'm fairly certain this blog is going to go down at some point. G-Suite has twice now been unable to process my domain registration renewal payment, and I am quite frankly sick and tired of their lack of any human beings in the support system. Reaching the screen where one can update payment methods is so convoluted that I have simply given up on it. If I get sufficiently motivated at some point, I will perhaps approach another hosting company about transferring the blog, but it's doubtful, as my transition into business owner is eating up all of my available time.

Thanks for your support over the last seven years.

Jon

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Forgiveness: A Journey to the Center of the Hurt by Robert E. Marshall

My son loaned me this book, and he in turn got it from his sister, who probably got it directly from the author, a personal friend and her family's pastor. I've heard him teach a number of times, and shared time with him and his family on occasion, so the funny thing about reading his book is that I "hear" the narration in my head in his voice, which has a distinctive and homey southern feel. An odd effect.

I don't particularly feel that I have any traumatic incidences of being hurt by people in my past, for which I need to practice forgiveness, but still this book has made me pause to think about those sorts of issues, and to consider whether I have forgiveness issues when it comes to the smaller "offenses" against me. What was it Thoreau said about "the unexamined life"?

Anyway, a good book on forgiving and being forgiven.

Transitions

Just so y'all know that I'm still alive and well.

I'm still reading, but I just haven't felt motivated to write about what I've read.

I was in the IT business for about ten years, and after careful consideration, decided that life is too short to keep doing something I no longer enjoyed. The only thing I'll miss there is the friendships made.

I decided to return to doing something I loved -  being a chef.

Since last fall, I've been looking into some possibilities, and this week I'm finally inking a deal to buy a small sandwich shop on the beach.

Let the adventure begin!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Relentless by Karen Lynch

A Book Bub freebie, with an intriguing title, this book was a pleasant surprise, for the most part.

Sara is an orphan who lives with her uncle, near Portland, Maine. A side note - every time they mentioned Portland in the story, I thought of Portland, Oregon - not the same thing - ah, well. Her mother disappeared when she was eight, and her father was murdered brutally shortly after that, so she went to live with her uncle Nate. Somehow or other Sara discovered that her father was killed by a vampire; I don't recall that it was ever explained how she figured that out.

Sara also discovered that she is able to heal animals - and non-humans - and has befriended a young troll named Remy, who sets her up with plenty of non-humans to heal. She is also best friends with two young werewolves, Peter and Roland, but she doesn't know that they are shapeshifters at first; this story brings her to the point of revelation of that little tidbit. When the three of them go to a club in Portland to hear a friend's band, they have a run-in with a vampire, who really really likes the taste of Sara, and becomes obsessed with capturing her. She is rescued by Nikolas, a mohiri (half human/half demon race that has as its mission the killing of vampires) who claims that she is a mohiri, too, and wants her to come live with her new-found relatives and be trained to fight vampires.

The rest of the story is about Sara's fight against fate and fight against the darker powers of the supernatural world. A pretty good read - might be worth buying some of the other books in the series to find out what becomes of Sara and friends. PG-rated, too (just for violence).

Monday, January 23, 2017

Death at La Fenice

When one of the music world's top conductors dies during intermission of La Traviata during a performance at La Fenice in Venice, Commissario Guido Brunetti is given the investigation, and a mandate to solve it quickly, by his very political boss, Patta. Brunetti rapidly discovers that, like many wildly successful, temperamental perfectionists, the conductor has many who might be angry enough to kill him, but he also has a turbulent and murky past, dating back to his connections with the Nazi party during the second world war.

This is the first book in the series, so I was already familiar with the main characters, but it was interesting to see how Leon skillfully introduces us to Guido's political and ineffective boss, Patta, his wife and children, and his wealthy in-laws, as well as some of his colleagues and allies in the struggle against crime.

A very methodical investigation of the maestro's past and present associates eventually leads the good dottore to an unexpected conclusion, and justice is oddly done.

The Empire's Corps by Christopher Nuttall

I've had this book on my radar for quite a while, listed on my wish list on Amazon, and when it dropped in price to the point where I felt I could take a risk on a new (to me) author, I bought the Kindle edition. I was not at all disappointed.

Christopher Nuttall tells a very entertaining tale of Captain Stark and his understrength band of Imperial Marines who are exiled for the crime of being too competent to the planet of Avalon, which is experiencing the results of the Terran Empire's decaying strength. They bring along the family of a dissident professor who has written a book that has been banned by the Imperial Senate, also now exiled to Avalon.

When they arrive they find that the well-intentioned but perhaps not very competent planetary governor is facing a triple threat from bandits in the countryside, radical insurgents called the Crackers, and treason within his own planetary Council. It is Stark and his company's job to defend his government from all adversaries, and it's not going to be easy.

A well-told, fast-paced tale, with plenty of sequels already written. What's not to like?

Friday, January 20, 2017

Split Second by Douglas E. Richards

A new author to me, prompted by a freebie on BookBub, I believe, Doug Richards tells a story about what could be the physics discovery of the century; a way to harness dark energy. Nathan Wexler is the brilliant mind behind the discovery, but very early in the course of the story he and his fiancee, Jenna, are kidnapped and when the kidnapping goes sour, he is murdered, leaving her to escape and try to find out why he was killed, and by whom.

She enlists the aid of  a former Army Ranger turned private investigator, to help her discover the criminals - there are two groups competing to steal Nathan's research - and get justice.

There's a pretty good section on the nature of time, from a scientific and philosophical standpoint; the sort of thing that many of us beat into the ground in late-night dorm room bull sessions, but perhaps more cogently and soberly laid out.

Unfortunately after a while, things bog down in the maneuvering between the two groups trying to capture Wexler's research and exploit it, and I didn't care enough about the characters at that point to find out what happened to them or their time machine.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Monster Hunter Memoirs: Sinners by John Ringo and Larry Correia

Either of these authors, on their own, can twist a pretty darned good yarn, but when Ringo gets the opportunity to write in Correia's world...look out! I have definitely noticed that the gratuitous sex for which Ringo was known in his Ghost series is only mentioned here, and never explicit, which may be a sop to Correia's morals and sensibilities, but it doesn't take much away from the story.

Chad "Iron Hand" has to leave Seattle suddenly, a few steps ahead of vengeful trailer park elves, and gets reassigned to MHI in the Big Easy, New Orleans. Monster hunting in New Orleans is an order of magnitude crazier than most other places in the country, which is a pretty good summation of the city in a number of ways, but the amount of "hoodoo" going on seems to bring out more, bigger, badder beasties.

From swarms of giant poisonous frogs to carnivorious crawdads, Chad and the MHI team really earn their PUFF bounties. Chad acquires a gentleman's gentleman, buys a home, and both gains and loses new friends over the course of the book, including a centuries-old vampire known simply as Jack, who seems to have a proprietary interest in the city, and may prove to be an uneasy ally against the recent invasion of zombie-come-latelies.

I'm not certain whether it will come to a climax in the next installment, but there's definitely the groundwork laid in this book for a confrontation with some deeper force or forces causing the monster outbreaks in New Orleans, where the combination of amateur and professional conjurers has made it far easier for the supernatural to gain entry.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Stoke the Flames Higher by Peter Grant

I've been waiting for the fifth book in the Maxwell saga for quite a while now. Peter Grant had some health issues for a while that slowed its publication down, and then when I finally got it for my Kindle, I had a rather large TBR pile, but I finally got around to it the other day, and was very pleased with the story. Grant continues to refine his craft and delivers a very tight, gripping novel.

There's a very good scene that begins the book which sets up (or reminds us, anyway, if we've been away from the series too long) Steve's martial arts skills - he receives his fifth dan belt in Karate. So, we don't find it improbably later on in the story that he is able to overpower and disarm professional thugs. Steve's band of covert operatives get a new assignment ferrying a diplomatic party to a planet where a fanatical religious sect is fomenting a revolution, and is also exporting their brand of guerilla warfare to a neighboring planet, where one of Steve's best friends is posted with his space Marines, so Steve is hoping to be able to mix a bit of personal pleasure with business this trip.

Things turn out to be closer to catastrophe than anyone thought, and when things hit the fan, Steve has to rescue his diplomats from the rebels in the middle of a coup attempt, get off planet, and warn his friend about a devastating surprise attach which is on its way.

Still lots of upside to go in this series, though Grant has begun branching out into other genres, including Westerns, and has a couple of Fantasy proposals on the table for this year. I read a couple of rough draft excerpts - I think they're gonna be fun, too.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Second Life of Nick Mason by Steven Hamilton

Hamilton definitely does a good anti-hero story. By all rights, Nick Mason isn't the kind of character most of us would empathize with, growing up rough and getting into a habit of crime with a small gang of petty thieves through his teen years. He tries to go straight when he marries the love of his life and has a daughter, but the lure of one last big score is too much for him to pass up, and when the job goes bad, a friend gets killed, and he lands in prison for twenty years, everything he wanted is now lost.

The story picks up after Nick has spend five years in jail, when a crime lord who is also behind bars picks Nick to be his outside man, and arranges for the evidence that convicted him to be tainted, so that he is released early, on the condition that Nick will do whatever the boss commands. The boss's business associates back home are getting out of line, and a group of corrupt cops are grabbing a piece of the action, so Nick's assignments involve killing people who are betraying the boss.

Like I said, not exactly the kind of hero I'd pick, but somehow Hamilton makes it work, and makes us root for Nick, perhaps in the slight hope that there is redemption somewhere to be found, and that he can eventually break the chains that bind him to the crime lord and finally go straight. A dark tale, but engrossing and well written.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Death and Judgement by Donna Leon

The story follow the case of a murdered lawyer, with impeccable credentials and a list of A-list clients, as Commissario Brunetti methodically works his way to a conclusion. We see a bit of fun development of Leon's minor characters, like the administrative assistant, Elettra, who seems to have a talent for moving an investigation along with her contacts in the Italian phone company, saving Brunetti the time and trouble of obtaining an un-obtainable warrant.

The trail leads into the seamy underside of the sex trade, where hordes of women from South America and Eastern bloc countries are lured to Italy with the promise of a great job, only to betrayed into prostitution and effectively white slavery once they arrive. Again, the official justice system in Brunetti's country doesn't deliver, but Brunetti finds the anwers he's looking for and the perpetrator meets an untimely end.

The theme of all of these stories seems to be about corruption and abuses by the rich and powerful, and it's all expressed with a particularly Venetian sense of fatalism.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Ash by Jaymin Eve and Leah Stone

A slightly different take on the monsters. Vampires were created when bats with a virus bit humans, and are the usual stronger, faster, bloodsucking night dwellers. When they breed with human women, the male offspring are called Ash, with many of the same abilities as vampires, including the need to drink blood, but who are able to move around in daylight. An uneasy truce with the humans has been reached, and the Ash live in Hives located in major cities. The place of this story is Portland, Oregon.

Charlie is a college student who believes herself to be human, but one day she makes the terrifying transformation into a creature which is not supposed to exist, a female Ash. She is taken into the Hive and submitted to "the culling". There are too many Ash created each year, so they must earn their way into the existing vacancies in each hive by fighting each other to the death. With the help of the chief enforcer of the Portland hive, Ryder, and a powerful vampire sponsor, Charlie gets through the culling and is admitted into her new life.

But there are mysteries surrounding her origins and what abilities she might have, so she is drawn into conflicts with larger political implications.

A quick and fun read.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich

So, it seems to me that this series has very nearly run its course. How many ways can Stephanie destroy a car? Evanovich is starting to repeat herself, unless you think getting a car crushed by a fire truck is materially different from getting one crushed by a garbage truck. Stephanie's relationships never move forward, and there's really no personal growth to speak of. We've seen the characters do most of the same things over and over again, and the jokes are wearing a little thin. Stephanie hasn't learned how to be effective as a bounty hunter after twenty books, so I think it's time to stop expecting that it may happen at number 21. It's been fun while it lasted, but I think it's time to move on.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton

This author came highly recommended by Orson Scott Card, so I picked up this "young adult" (I think the term has evolved a bit from my young adult reading days - lots of sex and violence which never would have flown in the sixties and seventies) novel, as well as another one by Hamilton geared towards adult audiences - I'll get to that one soon.

Hamilton sets up a situation where we are rapidly roped into caring about a completely amoral protagonist, Michael, who experienced a horrific trauma as a child which left him bereft of speech, and who has become an obedient slave to a criminal organization, which uses his lock picking and safe cracking abilities to further their ends.

First, we just have to know what sort of event could leave him an orphan in the care of his uncle, who runs a liquor store, and unable to speak of it. Second, we want to see how he's going to extract himself from a situation which is certain to lead eventually to either death or long term incarceration.

Hamilton strings out the bits and pieces of revelation for us like bread crumbs trailing through the dark forest, until the final chapter.

Not recommended reading for any young adults I know, but a good novel, none the less.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Dressed for Death by Donna Leon

This one took forever for the person reading it (there's only one copy in the entire area's library system) to finish it and bring it back, so I could read it next. Having been to Venice and spending a little time in the surrounding region, it's very interesting to read about adventures and misadventures taking place there.

Commisario Brunetti isn't a flashy sort of detective; in fact, he reminds me a bit of Peter Falk's Colombo, whose persistence and dogged attention to detail eventually solve the crime, though in Italy's corrupted justice system the perpetrator may not be punished in exactly the way we'd expect here at home.

In this, the third in the series, Brunetti's family vacation is put on hold as he is called to the Mestre area of the mainland to investigate the beating death of a male transvestite prostitute behind a slaughterhouse. But in Leon's novels, things are seldom exactly as they seem, and nothing is as simple as an uncomplicated beating death of a gentleman of the evening.Brunetti's investigation leads him into the shadowy world of banking and of charitable foundations with shaky foundations, and leads from a crime of passion to one of calculation.

This is another good one from Leon.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Wrapping it Up for Christmas

As I was so bad about getting reviews written, it's a little tough to say just how many books I've read by checking the posts here, so I have to rely on my Goodreads account, which says it was 83, quite a bit off my peak numbers, but apparently this may be the "new normal".

The awards:

Best new (to me) author - David B. Coe's Justin Fearsson series
Best Fantasy - Son of the Black Sword by Correia
Best Urban Fantasy - Monster Hunter: Grunge by Ringo and Correia
Best Science Fiction - Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen
Best Mystery - Commissioner Brunetti stories by Donna Leon (also a new author for me)
Best non-Fiction - Clinton Cash by Peter Schweizer

Oddly, I seem to have slipped away from reading science fiction - there were only a few novels of that genre in my pile this year. I need to do better on that, but so many of the greats have passed on, leaving no serious contenders, and most of the new authors have gone political, instead of focusing on telling a good story.

My New Years' resolution will be to write reviews more consistently. As long as RL cooperates...

Happy 2017!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

More vignettes

Explosive Eighteen, by Evanovich, is actually one of the least explosive novels in the series, aside from Lula and Stephanie setting off a warehouse fire with a grenade launcher. Stephanie continues to date both Morelli and Ranger, with predictable fireworks on that front. She shows a bit more mettle here than in most stories, managing to fight off a stalker several times on her own. Another bit of mind candy for these cold winter evenings.

Crimson Death, most recent in the Anita Blake novels (though it took me a long time to get it from the hold list at the library, so for all I know there may be another one written by now), actually manages to get nearly halfway through its 700 pages before the first graphic sex scene, so that was refreshing. What was not refreshing was the relationship discussions that have now replaced bloody action sequences. Anita gets recruited to solve a vampire problem in Ireland, helping out her old friend, Edward, and there really isn't any violence to speak of until after they arrive there. I think the best part of the book is actually the last 100 pages. Anita's powers continue to grow, and I think she and Jean Claude are finally going to get very political. I can't recall if she's used the powers she gained back in Obsidian Butterfly before, but they came into play here, which was pretty cool, and she seems to be slowly learning to deal with what she gained from the Mother of All Darkness bit by bit. Also some new powers gained by her secondary triumvirate with Damian and Nathaniel. The boys are growing up at last.


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Time flies

And another month goes by of crazy times.

Read the latest by Bujold, Penric's Mission, which is fun, but too short, and which introduces a love interest into Penric's saga.

More Stephanie Plum novels for light reading, always reliable for a chuckle or two.

Tried Murder in the Place of Anubis, by Linda S. Robinson , as recommended to me by a friend, but found it not all that interesting after all, I'm afraid.

Finished Magic Binds, by Ilona Andrews, which was very engrossing, and kept me up long past my bedtime. It got mixed reviews on Goodreads, but I found it to be one of the better ones in the Kate Daniels series.

Read A Curse on the Land, by Faith Hunter, sequel to Blood of the Earth. Interesting buildup to a rather disappointing finale. Will still read the next book in this series - Hunter's work does have its peaks and valleys.

Created to be God's Friend, by Henry T. Blackaby, was an interesting take on the life of the patriarch Abraham. Gives one hope that we can be used of God despite, or perhaps because of, our faults and failings. I had read his study, Experiencing God, some time ago and found it insightful, so was happy to pick this book up at a garage sale.

One of my finds during my travels had to be read simply because I'd never read anything by the legendary musician, and A Salty Piece of Land by Jimmy Buffet was reasonably amusing.

Enjoyed a new iteration of Toby Daye, in Once Broken Faith by Seanan McGuire. A bit of a locked room mystery, solved in only the way that Sir Daye can.

I think I got The Red Queen by Jeb Kinnison recommended to me at According to Hoyt. It may be Kinnison's first novel, and it's a pretty decent read. If he continues to improve his writing as the series moves along, it will be well worth the money. This is what I would consider a "near future" novel, set in a very plausible future when political correctness and progressive policies have gotten a touch out of control, especially on college campuses. A new take on time/dimensional travel, vaguely reminiscent of Tunnel in the Sky, by Heinlein.

That's all I can remember reading in the last several weeks, though there might be more.

Sorry for no in-depth reviewage.







Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Twelve Sharp by Janet Evanovich

Stephanie appears, after a brief hiatus in Eleven on Top, to have returned to her job as a bounty hunter, since all of her other career choices ended badly and briefly in that novel. She is still mostly in love with Morelli, but lusts after Ranger (as do Lula, Connie, and most other women who see him).

Things are busy at the bail bonds agency, and it's a bad time to lose Ranger's services for the more dangerous apprehensions, but he jumps on a plane on personal business in the opening pages, and isn't available to help Stephanie and Lula in their shenanigans.

It turns out that someone has kidnapped his daughter, and is trying to assume his identity, as well. When he decides he has to have Stephanie, too, since Ranger has "had" her, things begin to get dangerous, and she plays stalking goat in order to find and capture the impersonator.

In the middle of all of this plot, there are plenty of the usual frolics, with Grandma Mazur joining a band with Sally and Lula, and causing her usual scenes at funeral home viewings, even for the new owners of Stiva's.

Pretty good story; a quick read.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Blood of the Earth by Faith Hunter

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. It's been almost a month since I last posted something. Job changes, a divorce in the family, a death in the family...been a crazy Fall.

This novel is a "spinoff" from the Jane Yellowrock books, and I think there's actually a novelette or short story out there somewhere that tells the tale of how Jane met Nell, the heroine of Blood of the Earth. Nell is an exile from her family and her cult-like church, living on a small farm in Tennessee, and she seems to have some earth-witch type of powers which tie her to her land, to the forest and to her herb and vegetable garden. She survives mostly by trading the fruits of her labor (literal and figurative) with locals at farmers' markets and selling at a cooperative's roadside stand. She does mostly without modern conveniences; there is no cell service in the Soulwood, and the way she was raised in God's Cloud of Glory Church makes her wary of being "on the grid".

To escape what would have surely been a disastrous marriage to one of the church leaders, she entered into a polygamous arrangement with John and Leah, who lived on their own land adjacent to the church compound, and when they both passed away, she inherited the land. The new generation of church leadership would like to get the land - and Nell - back, and as the novel begins they threaten to return her forcefully to the bosom of the church.

Enter Rick LaFleur and his PsyLed team to alter the dynamics of the situation. They are in pursuit of a group of kidnappers who may have ties to her old church, and they recruit her as a consultant to help them investigate whether the men have joined forces with her old antagonists.

A worthwhile read. There's already a sequel out, and I'm going to have to do some research to find the story that ties it all together.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Quote of the Indeterminate Time Period

From Donna Leon's Death in a Strange Country,

"The secret of police success lay, Brunetti knew, not in brilliant deductions or the psychological manipulation of suspects but in the simple fact that human beings tended to assume that their own level of intelligence was the norm, the standard, and to work on that assumption. Hence the stupid were quickly caught, for their idea of what was cunning was so lamentably impoverished as to make them obvious prey."

Vignettes, Too

Still no time nor motivation to actually review anything in depth. I finished off five more of the Stephanie Plum mysteries, which are always good for a chuckle or three. Picked up a new series that a friend at work recommended, by Donna Leon, The Commissario Brunetti series which take place in Venice; really fun reading when you are at least somewhat familiar with the islands, lagunas and piazzas of La Serenissima.

Read Clinton Cash by Peter Schweizer, which was not particularly surprising in its description of the global reach of the former first family's money grubbing influence peddling, but which got me to wondering whether this isn't just the tip of the iceberg, and if most global business operates in the same corrupt fashion, with the willing collusion of the world's political class. The magnitude of the dollars, rubles and francs involved is simply mind-boggling.

Picked up a trio of ebooks by a blogger whom I've been following for years, The Grey Man series by J.L. Curtis; Vignettes, Changes and Payback. Good adventure fiction, set in the U.S. Southwest. He published a fourth novel around Labor Day. It will be on my TBR pile soon.

A couple other books that I have partial reviews written for. I'll try to finish those off and get them up on one of my better days.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Yeah, I know

Life remains extremely busy, and though I am still reading steadily, I just don't have much time to think or talk about what I've read. The birth of a new grandson, a medical vacation, and too many other things occupying my time and mind. Maybe a few more vignettes up this weekend.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold

This novella, set in Bujold's world of the Five Gods, picks up the tale of Penric - all growed up, trained as a Learned now - a couple of years after the events of Penric's Demon. When a temple investigator named Oswyl shows up on the trail of a murderous shaman, the young scholarly fellow sets out to help justice be done, though perhaps not in the way that Oswyl intends.

Bujold seems to be trying to express a theme I've heard discussed in a few sermons regarding how the Gods get their work done in the mundane world - usually by sending their servants, willing or not, to go take care of things. When you whine about, "why does God allow this to go on? Why doesn't he do something?", the answer seems to be to get up off your tail and do your part, miracles may follow as required.

Not the best of her Five Gods stories, but amusing enough.