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.